Chapter 1: Of Heaven's Obsession With The Colour White
One could never be truly out of practice, regarding creation, God supposed. Especially since She still liked recreating things She had already created, every now and again. Sometimes She even changed them up a bit, simply for the fun of it. Some flowers and animals and who-knew-what-not. As such, She knew what She was doing, She was God, after all, it just had been a while since She had created this specific sort of being.
She concentrated on feelings and warmth and brightness, adding a tiny spark to it all and there it was: A tiny ball of light, pulsing softly against Her hands as if trying to encourage Her. She chuckled, a truly marvellous sound, and cooed at Her creation. This tiny being, Her gift to the world as it was right now, fascinated her, somehow. It had not been properly shaped yet, not even in its incorporeality, had not quite stepped into existence quite yet, was just standing with one foot in the doorway of the universe and yet it was so eager to please, so eager to bring joy with its light pulsing.
She blew into Her hands with care, blew breath into newly shaped lungs and ruffled feathers on newly formed wings. The angel, still glowing with grace in Her hands, giggled. It was a high, joyful sound and God thought that laughter had always been Her favourite sound to hear. She smiled.
For a while, the two of them simply existed, the angel trying out the body they had been given, not knowing, not even suspecting, that their corporeality was not quite as natural as they surely assumed. They blinked, then stretched their arms high into the sky as if they wanted the sky itself to pick them up and moved their wings in tentative, fluttering motions.
Finally, the angel opened their mouth and made a noise. It had no meaning, not yet, it was simply another experiment, another muscle stretched and examined, so to speak.
God chuckled at the slightly garbled sound.
“You’re a curious one, aren’t you?”
The angel simply blinked and made another noise, something that almost qualified as a brabble, followed by a gurgling noise that sounded closer to meaningful words than the previous attempts already.
God did not know how much time they spent together nor how much time it took until speaking with Her new creation yielded the expected results, but soon the angel spoke their first words.
“Mama” they had called Her and something inside of Her had shifted at hearing such a decidedly human term applied to Herself. Something warm and soft and somehow twitchy that made Her throat clog up a bit.
Time, She supposed, would not make you truly forget how to create but it would soften your sharp edges in its everflowing stream.
Maybe that was the reason why She proceeded to show Her creation, Her child in a way, She supposed, how to fold their wings and how to hide them in a pocket outside of all corporeality. When they asked for them, She’d tell them stories about anything and everything, softly combing through the honey blonde hair of Her creation. She provided warmth and love in such measures that the angel could not properly grasp the meaning of the words “cold” or “loneliness” yet.
Life was easy, these first few stolen moments of infinity at the beginning.
Soon, however, they began to ask questions. It was not that they had grown restless or were tired of this simple existence in the light of God, it was mere curiosity driving them. They wanted to know more about the world that could produce stories wonderful enough for God to tell them to Her new creation, wanted to know about heaven and what exactly angels were, how earth looked and felt and smelled and what the true meaning of the word “cold” was.
God smiled a sad smile, then. She had planted that seed of curiosity in Her creation and She had known that sooner or later this moment had had to come. The moment when She would have to release Her angel into the world she had gushed about. Still, She would miss the quiet moments with this tiny being that had already grown on Her.
She caressed the cheek of Her being and smiled when they leaned into Her touch with a soft sigh and a content hum.
“Love, I fear it is time.”
The angel looked up at Her with these big trusting eyes and God furrowed Her brows with a frown. She pressed a kiss to their forehead, combing through their hair one last time.
She clothed them in a white, flowy summer dress with light blue embroidery, caressed their cheek again and whispered:
“Your name, my lovely child, shall be Maebelle. And… you are loved. Never forget that, child.”
With those words God’s presence vanished, leaving Maebelle behind. Well, vanished might be a bit harsh. Really, God’s presence was still there, ever present, just dimmed down. In a way, God was present like an artist who, although they had left the room, left little pieces of themselves in their art and could thus still be vaguely felt and vaguely met this way.
However, to Maebelle, who had enjoyed the privilege of God’s presence for her entire existence so far, this dimmed down presence still came as a shock.
Thus, she* simply sat on the pristine white marble floor that felt decidedly not-warm under her hands and absentmindedly thought that this had to be what “cold” meant.
*God had explained to her the concept of gender and Maebelle had been very confused by this. She had asked which one applied to her and God had essentially shrugged and said:
“Whichever feels right for you, love.”
Since Maebelle did not quite understand what the difference was, she had decided to go with “she” for now, which was apparently the most popular option for the appearance of her corporation.
For a while she sat on the ground. Simply sat, knowing nothing of urgency or deadlines or time as a concept that applied to her yet. She sat and traced the golden lines in the marble with tiny fingers, marvelling at the sheer width and emptiness of this place. It seemed bright and endless and had she not paid very close attention to the colour descriptions and identified this one as “white”, she might have wondered if this could be the ocean. However, she also remembered the ocean being not quite as empty. Mama had claimed it to be full of fish and corals and all sorts of big and tiny beings.
Not the ocean then, she concluded and tapped onto a big golden spot in the marble before she decided to explore this not-ocean.
Getting up was the first hurdle in the way of her goal. Really, she had practised this, but her corporation, shaped like a three-year-old, did not help her in the slightest with its wobbly legs and unsteady feet.
At some point she managed, though, and traipsed around the place, looking out for anything that might catch her attention. Surely, this would have been much more successful, had there been anything at all that could have possibly accomplished such a feat. As it was, however, Maebelle only saw white white walls and white white columns connecting the white white ground with the white white ceiling. Really, she was not quite sure what exactly she was hoping to find, but it should no matter, for before she could have possibly found anything in the vast not-ocean, she was found herself.
There, right in front of her, stood a big person. Not quite as big as mama had been right in the beginning but bigger than She had been later on during their time together.
The person had curly bright hair that fit in beautifully with the white marble floor, the very white, bare walls and the white, soft looking wings protruding from their back. Their eyes widened comically and their previously purposeful stride had been entirely abandoned in favour of simply standing right in front of her.
The angel, for that was what this big person was, although he would argue that he was quite short for a male-shaped human, was surprised to see a child in heaven.
Well, no. Not necessarily surprised to see a child in heaven per se. Children died often these days, as much as that thought tugged at his heartstrings and made him remember words of hopeful disbelief at the prospect of children dying.
More accurately, he was surprised to see what he assumed to be a mere human child in a section of heaven that was not at all meant to be explored by the immortal souls of the deceased and functioned much like a staff-only-sector. Essentially, this part of heaven was for angels, in particular, those who had reports to give, orders to receive and paperwork (dreadful paperwork) to deliver. In short: This corridor led to the offices of the archangels and this specific angel had, just moments ago, used his very purposeful strides to (politely) escape heaven and these very offices again, after giving his reports.
“Uhm.” The angel fumbled with the collar of his blouse, not particularly well-versed in interactions with children as a whole. He, himself, had never been one, really, and although he blessed children every now and again, he had always stayed hidden, then. It was simply easier that way than having to lie through his teeth or to assure the family that he was not some creep but rather an angel of the Lord.
Besides, while they were cute, human children rarely had any insights to offer that were worthwhile, the angel thought.*
*Anybody who has spent a significant amount of time with any human child that has grasped even the barest notion of speech can attest to the wrongness of the angel’s thought.
“My… my name is Aziraphale, little one. What… what might be yours?”
He was almost contemplating bowing to the little girl in front of him or kissing her hand or anything he had done in his long, long life to greet somebody unfamiliar but he remembered that he had recently been laughed at for that behaviour* and reached his hand out for a handshake instead.
*Probably because it was entirely over the top to greet people this way who were not of noble blood or other such nonsense. The precise comment Aziraphale had received in between the bouts of laughter had been: “Angel, I am not the goddamn queen of England. Why did you do that?” Tears of laughter had been spotted and then promptly removed.
“I am Maebelle.”
The girl, Maebelle, eyed the hand that was stretched out to her and grasped it with both of her very small hands, gently patting it. Aziraphale smiled a strained smile. He was not quite sure whether this was a new custom or an indication that he had done something wrong or some sort of other nonverbal sign. As his, uhm… acquaintance... liked to point out: He was not quite up to date on, well, anything, really. Regardless of the actual meaning of the gesture, Aziraphale found it to be quite endearing, in a way that had everything to do with his fascination for most everything that humans were up to.
“Alright, Maebelle, dear. Are you lost? Can I help you find anybody? Your relatives? Parents, maybe?”
A nagging voice at the back of his mind notified him that this was a potentially touchy subject if her parents were still alive or, worse, downstairs with the competition. However, this was an unprecedented case for Aziraphale, so surely nobody could blame him for being a smidge, a tiny bit, infinitesimally unprepared for the situation at hand.
Least of all management, really! They had, after all, allowed this situation to form in the first place - and be it through negligence only!
The little one simply looked at him, her eyebrows furrowed, a slight pout on her face and her head tilted to the right.
“Mama left me right here, just now? But now she’s gone.”
By the tone of her voice, this should have been common sense but Aziraphale had no idea how one human soul could have accidentally slipped past the other angels, let alone two. Therefore, it certainly was no common sense, no matter what tiny little girls thought, thank you very much!
He tried to come up with some kind of feasible explanation but he came up short. Maebelle had officially done it: She had completely and utterly confused the angel in front of her.
Said angel was grasping at straws by now.
“Alright, dear. Uhm… absolutely no problem. What is your mama’s name, then? Can you tell me that? I am sure one of the other angels around here will know where to find her and then everything will be alright.”
Aziraphale was doing his absolute best to console the lost child in front of him, albeit more because he was under the impression that this was what you did when you found a lost child, not because Maebelle was truly in need of any consolation.
He then nodded to himself as if to assure himself that this was truly the most logical and best course of action, which was, coincidentally, precisely what he was trying to do.
Meanwhile, Maebelle contemplated the question she had been given while gnawing softly on her bottom lip. Did her mama have a name? She had been told by Her that She was called by many names, a myriad of them, but that it ultimately did not matter all that much to Her.
“Mama is mama”, she concluded with a determined nod and a satisfied little smile.
Truly, Aziraphale should have expected this. Most three-year-olds did not know the names of their parents, after all. Due to the aforementioned lack of experience with children, however, he had not. He fumbled with the beige blouse he was wearing.
“Okay… alright. That is fine. Uhm… do you, perchance, know your last name, then, dear?”
Maebelle tried to remember whether or not she had gotten such a thing as a last name and after thoroughly reviewing the entire lot of the sparse amount of memories she had made so far said:
“I am Maebelle.”
And there was that.
Now, thwarting all the evils on earth could wait for a while. Largely, because the evils would wait and expect him at 4 pm precisely at a fancy little diner called “Tullio’s” in Italy but also because he had found himself a mission he intended to fulfil:
Finding the little girl’s mother and safely reuniting her with her daughter as fast as possible.
“I will pick you up, Maebelle. Is that okay?”
Aziraphale was not quite sure what the standard human protocol for picking up children was, but better to be safe than sorry. Maebelle simply nodded and raised her arms in his direction.
Careful not to harm the child he scooped her up into his arms, pushing one of her honey blonde locks behind her ear so it wouldn’t get caught in her face and spread his wings.
Maebelle looked at the big, white wings with fascination. Such soft looking things! So pretty! But before she could truly contemplate whether she was allowed to touch them or not, she found herself pressed to Azrira- Ariza- the blond person’s chest, flying through heaven.
Aziraphale heard a laugh, high and bell-like and coming distinctly from the general direction of his arms. He could not help but smile at a sound so absolutely filled with joy, although God knew that this was certainly a worrisome, not at all smiling-appropriate situation.*
*God, in reality, did not consider this situation worrisome in the slightest and would have been offended, at least a little, had Aziraphale not felt any inclination whatsoever to smile at such a cute laugh.
Imamiah was a simple angel, they thought. They did as they were told, they did not ask questions and, most importantly, they did not whine about it. Really, if they thought about it, they had quite a nice job. They were stationed in heaven at what one might call a reception desk, complete with a little golden bell and an entirely too neat stack of folders that were all perfectly white and did not house a singular speck of dust.
Imamiah greeted human souls upon their arrival, added their information to the infinite amount of folders with Other information and sent them on their merry way over to the residencies.
Easy, straightforward and if they ever got bored there was always the option of starting a conversation with one of the recently deceased about whatever it was, that was currently going on on earth. And that tended to be quite a bit. They had no idea how the agents who were sent to earth for a short while kept up with the constant change, let alone the single agent who was permanently stationed down there.
Not even a century had passed since they had spoken to their last human out of boredom and already everything, including the greeting conventions and the clothes humans wore, had changed. Polite things were now impolite and what exactly were “fireworks”, even?
That last human had been quite charmed by them, as they remembered.
Well, no use fretting, Imamiah thought and plucked a lone speck of dust out of the air that had had the intention of settling down on one of the impeccable white folders.
This speck of dust, mind you, was not quite pleased to be removed from what was considered a piece of prime real estate amongst specks of dust only to be unceremoniously shoved into a bin filled with other specks of dust. The speck frowned and earned pitying murmurs from its peers. They had all been there.
All in all, Imamiah thought, it was a pretty normal day in heaven. Of course, they did not mean to assume how normal it was for anybody aside from themselves, but really, there was nothing that would happen today that had not happened already and even if it did, it would surely not affect them in any significant way. They liked that about their job.
Somebody must have heard the angels thoughts and felt greatly offended and possibly challenged by them, for what happened only a short while later would have such an impact on poor Imamiah that they’d ask to be assigned another position in heaven as soon as possible and for an indefinite amount of time, possibly forever.
They would be granted that request.
Somebody was flying in their general direction. Pretty unusual already but no reason to worry, much less to practically beg for a new job. That the person was flying at an almost unreasonable speed was a slight reason to worry, but Imamiah knew that this likely only meant that a message of utmost importance, that was too sensitive for prying eyes, ears or noncorporeal appendages, had to be delivered. That corridor did lead to the archangel offices, after all, and God knew they had lots and lots of important messages to deliver and absolutely no patience.
Really, Imamiah only began to worry when they could identify* the angel approaching them:
Principality Aziraphale, formerly Angel Of The Eastern Gate Of Eden, the one and only long-time agent of heaven on earth since day one. The freak. And he was headed to their neat and peaceful desk. Hallelujah. Imamiah did not swear but in that moment they really wanted to.
*Identifying an angel as an angel in heaven was pretty hard since everything was permeated with holiness and the divine. Angels, in general, didn’t feel much different. However, identifying a singular, specific angel as that specific angel was quite easy if you were a less-and-more-than-human being and had met that angel before. Their graces had a unique feeling, much like a signature. Imamiah, having met Aziraphale before and having had the incredible urge to avoid meeting him ever again had memorized his presence and could thus identify him and feel the appropriate amount of dread and worry.
Now, seeing Aziraphale in heaven at all was a rare occurrence. He was really dedicated to his work, Imamiah had heard. They had also heard that he seemed to enjoy it and while they were of the opinion that no self-respecting angel could ever truly enjoy the fullness and the noise of earth, they were also of the opinion that Aziraphale was a great many things but a self-respecting angel was not among them.
That… outlier was typically only in heaven to personally confirm his filed reports and then promptly returned to earth without lingering. That meant that usually Imamiah did not have to speak to him or meet him at all and they were grateful. Now, standing in front of Imamiah’s white desk, he seemed very much inclined to linger, however.
“Imamiah”, Aziraphale said and placed his cargo, a small human girl, on the desk, promptly knocking over two folders and making the bell vibrate and ring.
The principality cringed.
“So sorry about that… Uhm, you would not happen to have any documentation about the current human inhabitants of heaven, would you?”
Imamiah pointed wordlessly to the fallen folders.
“Right. Sorry again.”
Aziraphale fiddled with the collar of his blouse for a second, absentmindedly straightening it out.
“Could you help me locate the mother of little Maebelle over here? I found her in one of the corridors and she appears to have lost her there.”
Imamiah scoffed. Of course, they could. They had no idea why in the heavens two humans would wander around the corridors but that was not their department, not their job. And they were relieved, if they were honest with themselves:
Straightforward orders that would remove Aziraphale from them as soon as possible, that they could deal with. They turned around and reached for one of the folders that was in no way distinguishable from any of the other white folders but they knew this specific folder contained information about the organisation of all the other folders, sorted according to different parameters.
Another loud thud followed by a slightly quieter thud, the ringing of a bell, a startled gasp and a high-pitched giggle sounded behind them, more or less in that order. At that point, they were afraid to turn around but something prompted them to do so regardless.
Regret. Imamiah was filled with regret.
On their usually immaculate desk stood a toddler, the same one Aziraphale had placed there, with a smile on her face and wings protruding from her back. Repeating: Wings protruding from her back. But worst of all, the spreading of said pair of wings seemed to have led to another folder falling down and knocking over the dustbin.
The specks of dust cheered at their miraculous release, promptly began to settle on any surface they could find and vowed to dedicate an entire government-sanctioned and paid holiday to the glorious happenstance leading to their freedom and to their saviour.
Imamiah, in sharp contrast to the joy of the dust specks, felt a vein throb on the forehead of their corporation. A noise left their throat, not unlike that of a seal. Then they went into shock for a bit.
Aziraphale, who was much more used to change than the average angel, had already gotten over most of his own shock and instead gave into the weird desire to state the obvious:
“Oh. You are an angel.”
He immediately felt stupid afterwards, but considering the unexpectedness of the situation, he thought he could be forgiven. Wasn’t that officially what heaven was all about, anyway?
Maebelle simply nodded.
“But… you are a child!”, Imamiah sputtered.
To clear up any confusion, dear reader, angels were not typically children, especially not toddlers. Neither after their “birth” or, more accurately, their creation, as non-corporeal beings nor did they choose child-shaped corporations. Containing the grace and consciousness of a concept as large and unimaginable as an angel was already hard for an adult-shaped corporation.
Doing the same with something as small and unsteady as a child instead would only needlessly complicate things and was incredibly impractical. Besides, no angel ever truly wanted to live through the condescension that came with looking like a child without a handler on top of the hassle that was going to earth or interacting with humans in heaven (the two most common reasons to be issued a corporation) to begin with.
Maebelle nodded again.
Aziraphale furrowed his brows.
“I don’t recognize you. What department are you from?”
Again, dear reader, angels were capable of recognizing each other by the feeling of their grace, had they memorized it. Angels, and Aziraphale in particular, had a very good memory, so not recognizing another angel was an almost sure sign that they had never met them before. Something, that became more unlikely with every year that they existed.
Maebelle looked at him, her head tilted to the right.
A secret, then, Aziraphale concluded and something in his stomach clenched uncomfortably.
“Uhm, what are your assignments then, ma’am? Can we be of any assistance?”
If head office had gone through enough trouble to issue an angel with a child-corporation, that angel had to be on an incredibly important mission and was very likely much higher up in the hierarchy than he was.
He swallowed and thought of his Arrangement with a capital “A”. Had they found out about it, after all? Was heaven on its way to drive him out? Was he going to Fall?
Dread boiled and bubbled in his stomach and turned into panic.
If this was a test, then surely he had passed it, right?
Suddenly he wished he had bowed and kissed her hand in greeting.
“I don’t have one.”
Oh. Oh no. Either this was untrue and she really was testing him somehow or this was true and he had interrupted her from going to get a new order in the archangel offices. He was miserable.
(In his misery and fear he did not question why she would have allowed him to derail her from her important tasks in the first place and had he questioned it, he would have come to the conclusion that this was, assuredly, a test as well.)
“You must be on your way to the archangel offices then, I am dreadfully sorry for interrupting you, ma’am. I could…”
Aziraphale was slowly inching away from the tiny form of his superior, who was tilting her head to the right again. This time the gesture made him nervous.
“Can you take me there?”
Aziraphale’s heart stopped and skipped a beat.
“Oh, sure. Of course, ma’am.”
He waited for her to get down from the desk, noting that he could not see Imamiah around anymore, although he still sensed their presence.
Maebelle did not get down on her own, instead opting to raise her hands in his direction again. And again he picked her up. This time, however, he was more hesitant, afraid to offend or arouse suspicion.
His superior did not seem to mind, snuggling herself closer to him and pushing her face into his blouse.
Aziraphale’s heart pounded deafening rhythms in his ears and Maebelle must have heard it too, maybe that had been the reason why she pressed her head into his chest in the first place.
He swallowed and noticed his hands getting sweaty.
“So, have you ever been to earth?”
His voice sounded meek, even to his own ears.
“No, but I heard it’s pretty.”
Aziraphale blinked. Where in heaven would she have heard that? Everybody here seemed to think that it was a dreadful, horrible place only useful for its inventions and the eventual end of it all.
“From mama, of course!”
He had not realized that he had spoken his thoughts out loud. When the words fully registered, he took a closer look at the angel in his arms. She did not have to pretend to be a mere human toddler anymore, he was already aware of her angelic nature. So why would she continue to speak about the fictional mother of her character?
“Mama?”, he asked thus.
Maebelle stopped pressing herself to Aziraphale’s chest and looked at him with an incredulous look that decidedly fit as well to the face of a toddler as beef fit onto a vegetarian’s plate.
“Yes”, her voice sounded patient, “you know her. She is tall and warm. Pretty, pretty eyes. Smells like mama and home. You can feel her everywhere here. Dim, though.”
His throat felt dry and raw. This angel, whoever she really was, was bold enough and felt close enough to Her to call The Lord, God, “mama”. Something registered in his mind and blinked in big bold letters: He was done for.
This could not take a good end.
He would Fall and be cast out from Her light and end up in the pits of hell with a new name and a new agenda. It was a small comfort, that he already knew someone who could show him around. If that somebody would even want to associate with him after he Fell.
“Why do you call me ma’am?”
Aziraphale blinked at hearing such a question out of nowhere.
“Why do you call me ma’am?”
He shrugged in a helpless way that was supposed to indicate his unconfirmed but assumed lower rank and his fear to upset her in any way.
“I’m sorry. Does “sir” appeal to you more? Or any other honorific?”
“Not really. Just Maebelle.”
By now he was practically vibrating with nervosity, so he simply nodded, not trusting his voice with such precious cargo as his emotions. Just-Maebelle smiled at him and there was a soft pang in his chest. He might have thought about it, had he not been busy feeling deadly afraid and concealing that fear the best he could in that second.
Reaching the archangel offices did not improve the situation in the slightest. If you asked Aziraphale, reaching the archangel offices only marked the beginning of a steady spiral downwards, quite literally too. At least the quiet that had been there in the corridor had been filled by something:
Just-Maebelle’s breathing noises, his footsteps, their voices and the rustling of cloth.
This new, all-encompassing quiet was stifling in comparison.
Pages upon pages were turned, feathers scratched on parchment to leave their inky trails and angels moved between the individual offices with flapping wings and stomping feet, all without making a single sound. He knew this was supposedly so the archangels could concentrate better on their work, but being used to earth where even the quietest place had at least some remnants of sound, it unnerved him greatly and distracted him more than any noise ever could.
In his arms Maebelle began to squirm, pressing her face against his blouse for a minute and then deciding that not hearing and not seeing what was going on at the same time was worse. She turned her head again. Although he still felt nervous about her and everything she did, he could not fault her for this. Maybe she’d catch sight of one of the colourless motivational posters entirely in white and gold and feel slightly encouraged by them. He found them terribly depressing to look at.
“Ah, Aziraphale”, somebody said and somehow it was almost as unnerving as the absolute quiet had been.
“Did you forget something?”
The archangel’s face was scrunched up in some kind of emotion that Aziraphale could not place right now. He shook his head.
“No, Gabriel. I have been asked to escort and accompany Maebelle here. She does not currently have a specific task, and-”
Gabriel tuned Aziraphale’s voice out and examined the grace of the particularly small angel in his arms. He came to the conclusion that he did not know this tiny angel. This was not unusual for him. He made it a point not to interact with too many angels below him in rank if he didn’t absolutely have to.
They tended to want something from him. A promotion or a good word put in with one of the other angels or an opinion on when and where the next holy war ought to take place and, frankly, he was sick of it. Nowadays, Gabriel was busy.
Currently he was busy with practising how to look busy and exude an aura that screamed:
“Don’t bother me, there are immortal souls at stake!”
He fancied himself to be quite successful.
So, really, it did not concern him that Aziraphale had somehow found a small angel, he only wanted to get rid of the nuisances - both of them - as soon as possible.
In a stroke of genius he remembered a complaint Aziraphale had filed in the year 3475 BC. Something about hell sending myriads of demons to earth all the time and him being largely alone with thwarting their wiles.
A ridiculous complaint, really. There were lots of angels on earth. Just for a really really short amount of time. Gabriel couldn’t blame them for that. The last time he had been on earth himself had been roughly 1500 years ago. He’d dutifully given the entire standard procedure, including the “Be Not Afraid, I Am An Angel Of The Lord”-spiel, notified Mary that she was pregnant with God’s child and congratulations for that and then he had looked at a sundial, sucked in some air and said “Would you look at the time, I have to be off again.”
He had gladly gotten out of there and after arriving back in heaven he had showered for two weeks straight in holy water to get all the grime, filth and sin of earth out of his pores and out of his essence.
“Mayella, is it?”
Gabriel waved his hand in her vague direction. It hardly mattered anyway.
“Alright, your new assignment is to thwart the wiles of hell on earth. Full time. Aziraphale here is going to show you the ropes. He is an expert on the field.”
Gabriel nodded and quietly congratulated himself for a job well done, already thinking about his evening plans instead.
“With me?”, Aziraphale’s annoying voice piped up.
Gabriel rolled his eyes and was glad that he’d only see him again in about a century. Later, if he could arrange it.
“Of course. You wanted some support down there anyway, didn’t you? Now go. Wiles don’t thwart themselves, I’d imagine. We’d be out of a job, otherwise.”
Maebelle decidedly liked this new development. Not only was she allowed to go see the world that she had wanted to see anyway, she was also allowed to stay with the nice and comfortable person with the pretty blouse and soft wings. With that worry out of the way she pressed her head into said blouse again, smelled the by now familiar smell and drifted off to sleep. It had been a rather eventful first day in heaven for her, after all.
For Aziraphale, this message had an entirely different meaning. It meant that his theory was likely correct. That he was being watched and tested and that the little being in his arms was actually dangerous, despite her looks. It was just a matter of time now until everything would blow up in his face. And not even a lot of time!
Very likely, he thought, the whole ordeal would be all done and wrapped up by 4:15 pm that very same day after he’d either fail to show up to his important appointment in Italy or after he would show up but with another, possibly incredibly powerful angel on his heels.
Aziraphale took a deep breath and cursed quietly.
Chapter 2: To Hell With Manners
Maebelle’s first day of existence away from The Almighty had also been her first day in heaven and would now become the first time that she’d meet the wondrous creation called “Earth”. Now, after roughly 5500 years, give or take a few decades, it was easy to forget how one might have felt on their first day of being. Most humans didn’t even remember that funny little detail merely a decade afterwards. The memories of how exhausting it was to suddenly exist away from the glorious warmth and unconditional love of a mother were suppressed by some and simply forgotten by others.
Angels, especially, made it a point not to remember how much comfort they had taken in simply basking in the remnants of her presence in heaven before leaving to go and do their jobs on earth, fancying themselves very independent and graceful creatures.
The truth, however, was, that it was terribly exhausting, which was why Maebelle was fast asleep when she was first brought upon this world, tiny fists buried in the blouse of her fussy and more than just slightly nervous caretaker and leaving a bit of drool on it.
Aziraphale himself was still caught in a myriad and one emotions. For one, he was put out by Maebelle genuinely sleeping, having never developed a taste for it himself and knowing only one superhuman entity who had ever truly gotten into it. That a high-ranking angel would do something as time-consuming, impractical and human as sleeping did strike him as odd. Another tiny seed of something planted in the soil of the principality’s mind, then left forgotten.
Currently, they were on a lush, rolling hill near Florence. Wildflowers bloomed around him, automatically reaching out to him. Bees buzzed and they had almost reached the wooden bench in which somebody had carved the initials “C&F” with a tiny heart and somebody else had attempted to carve a bad word out of it. At least, Aziraphale always assumed it had been somebody else that attempted that. He was familiar with this hill and everything on it, including the very polite family of birds that lived in one of the trees he always walked past, because he liked a good, long stroll sometimes to clear his head and reminisce when he needed to get out of the house.
Besides, it made him be seen by others, giving him the appearance of a normal human and, when he wanted or needed to go to another place for a blessing or a minor tempting as per the arrangement, it gave him an alibi for not being in his home. Nifty, he thought.
He had grown attached to his small cottage in Florence and the beautiful scenery it had to offer. It did not hurt, that Aziraphale’s friend Leonardo currently resided in quite an agreeable distance from said cottage.
Now, the plan to appear on the same hill he had gone to to miracle himself to heaven in order to remain inconspicuous had been a good one. A great one, even. However, he had not accounted for another human-looking being accompanying him out of nowhere - why would he have? His plan also definitely did not include the exorbitant amount of questions that would inevitably be asked when a known bachelor living alone in his flat turned up with a toddler in his arms from an innocent stroll outside of the city.
Therefore, he was not as prepared as he would have liked, which is to say not at all, when one of the guards at the city gates asked about the girl in his arms. This had happened a lot to him, today, being unprepared, and he found that he did not care for it much.
“Uhm, this is…”
A familial relation would be easiest to justify her staying with him but what self-respecting relative of his would hand over their daughter to him with no supplies and no explanation on a hill? Like some sort of lurking bandit! Not that Aziraphale actually had any relatives to speak of, but if he had any, then surely none that would be this irresponsible!
“Maebelle. I found her on the hill. The poor dear was attacked by…”
He returned to his previous thoughts. Aha!
“bandits. She is the only one I found there.”
He quickly miracled a few bruises and some dirt onto the girl in his arms who made a slight whining noise in her sleep and scrunched up his blouse in her tiny fists.
The guard furrowed his brows and frowned, making a slightly distressed noise.
“What do you intend to do, Signor Fell?”
He, and subsequently his alias, was well known among the guards of the city due to his strolls. They did not know that most of these took so long because he had decided to dine in Paris or get a snack in Constantinople. No, like sensible men they simply assumed that he either had a secret lover (a popular theory) or was one of those eccentric men who found God and themselves in nature rather than in a church.
The bets on this were surprisingly even.
“I intend to give her a home.”
The guard simply nodded. Had this man been anyone other than Signor Fell, he might have put up much more of a fuss at the prospect, but everybody was quite sure that Azira Fell had escaped the dreadful English isle and moved to Florence due to his lack of appreciation for the fairer sex. All of Florence - or all of Florence that had met him - agreed unanimously on that story although it had never been confirmed by the man himself in any way, shape or form.
People did not pester him about it, letting him keep his low profile, if one could call the infamous reputation of the man a low profile, and went about their own business. After all, Signor Fell was also a smart and kind man. Everybody who had spoken to him and some people who had not were under the impression that they could come to him with any problem and he’d have a cup of tea, a piece of advice and probably a book on the matter.
They were correct.
The guard, Antonio, waved him through and wished him a nice day and Aziraphale smiled at him and quietly congratulated himself for a job well done.
His cottage in Florence was quite simple in his opinion and if he had one feature of it that made it worthwhile visiting, much less owning it, it would be the large amount of space that had been there to be filled up with books, scrolls and knick-knacks he liked.
Another definite plus was: Nothing in his home was white, aside from the paper of his books, maybe. The closest he ever came to white was a light cream colour on the walls with a pinkish tint, that had too much warmth to remind him of heaven.
Large shelves of polished dark wood covered the walls of his favourite room like ivy, only making space for some windows that allowed the sun to reach him and provide natural light.
Multiple armchairs and sofas were strewn about the room in all kinds of colours and from all kinds of places, but the centerpiece was a cedar wood table with a few chairs so he could write himself. Often times it was notes he wrote. Sometimes about a particular topic, if he needed more information and sometimes simply to collect his favourite quotes in one place. Somewhere in a cupboard there were at least ten notebooks filled with his own neat script that quoted Sappho and Dante and countless lesser known authors back at the inclined reader. Aziraphale had kept these since the invention of writing - one of the best ones, if you asked him!
It was one of the sofas, a peach coloured one with soft green pillows, that Aziraphale was approaching now to lay down his cargo. He did not have a bedroom, never had, because that was precious space he could fill with more books instead and he never slept anyway, so this would have to do for now. His face scrunched up when he inspected the stain of drool left on his carefully cared for blouse and he miracled it away.
Then, he sat down in a beautiful indigo armchair and buried his hands in his hair.
What could he do?
How could he get through this tricky situation?
He could not bring an angel to a secret meeting with a demon and he could also not simply NOT turn up to their meeting. In the best case, Crowley would be simply worried for a while thinking something had happened to Aziraphale in heaven, in the worst case scenario Crowley would believe he had stood him up. Even the best case scenario seemed not particularly desirable to the angel.
He breathed in the familiar scent of chamomile and ink drifting around the place and took a look at Maebelle sleeping on his sofa. He could… he looked at the clock, a large apparatus from Germany that could even show minutes and seconds accurately, and determined that he still had half an hour left. Another look at Maebelle. Sleeping like this she looked so human. Sure, she still felt entirely too holy for that, but -
No, she was decidedly not human and that was why he could justify leaving her alone to sneak away to his meeting. Maybe she would not even wake up until he came back! Yes, he -
“Are you alright, angel?”
Aziraphale turned around with remarkable speed, his fists raised up defensively before he whispered:
“Really, what is-”
He was shushed by Aziraphale who pressed a finger to his lips and nodded his head in the direction of Maebelle, fast asleep on his favourite sofa, to show why he should be quiet, for God’s sake! Crowley’s eyes widened. Technically, Aziraphale could not see that behind the shades the demon insisted on wearing since 41 AD, but one did not spend 5500 years with somebody without picking up on some of their mannerisms.
“What the hell are you doing with a kid, Aziraphale? Does the Ineffable Plan (He said “Ineffable Plan” like others might have said “bastards” or “maggots”) require you to kidnap kids now?
Aziraphale bristled at that, affronted.
“I did not kidnap her! How could-”
“‘s she yours, then?”
This time the demon’s voice did something strange. Its tone was not quite right, somehow but Aziraphale could not quite put his finger on it. He shook his head and motioned for Crowley to follow him outside.
“The girl is an angel. I suspect she is supposed to keep an eye on me.”
His hands fidgeted with each other first, then with his blouse.
“Not a very vigilant guard dog, then”, Crowley joked but Aziraphale could see that little dimple in his left cheek that only ever showed up when he tried to suppress a frown.
“Can we, can we go to lunch a little earlier?”
Crowley nodded and snapped, transporting them to “Tullio’s” in Venice.
“Tullio’s” was a beautiful diner that always smelled of spices and tomato sauce and had the best polenta Aziraphale had ever eaten as well as some delightful almond-based sweets that he could not pronounce and had Crowley order for him whenever he wanted them. It had beautiful decoration, including a statue of a woman with a snake coiled around her shoulders that seemed oddly peaceful and flowers in delightfully painted vases. One of the boards on the wall had a spelling mistake that was somewhat endearing. When Aziraphale had first showed it to Crowley, he had laughed quite loudly and enthusiastically and after some careful consideration (and asking Leonardo about it) he had come to the conclusion that it had a dirty double meaning and was not so much a spelling mistake as it was a pun.
While they were waiting for their food to arrive* Aziraphale talked about his day in more detail and brought Crowley up to date on the entire situation, including the reason why he now had a child-sized angel to show around earth.
*Crowley had ordered for both of them already, because he had said that he wanted to show a certain dish to Aziraphale that involved lots of “o”s. It had made his head spin, when Crowley somehow pronounced it flawlessly in one go. Italian always had been one of Crowley’s favourite languages.
Crowley nodded very seriously. Twice, in fact. Then he bit his lower lip and said: “Huh.”
Aziraphale stared at him.
“Kind of weird”, Crowley elaborated, “that she’d let you take her away just like that. Much less let you pick her up.”
The angel shrugged helplessly. Truly, it was strange but he could hardly criticize a high-ranking angel for staying true to the role they were playing.
“Also weird”, Crowley added after taking a sip of his alcoholic beverage, that had miraculously arrived early, “that she’d sleep as an angel who’s never been to earth before. Did you ever sleep?”
“Not since the beginning of time.”
One of the waiters, having heard only the tail-end of their conversation nodded in agreement.
“Then why would she sleep? Isn’t your lot all about productivity? Carpe diem? A rolling stone gathers no moss?” A slightly more mischievous look.
“Ora et labora?”
Aziraphale shrugged again, just as helpless and clueless. Before he could even attempt to fumble through an unlikely answer, a waiter with huge bags beneath his eyes came to their table and placed some food in front of them. They (Aziraphale) thanked the waiter, then the angel began to chew on whatever the dish with too many “o”s was called and thought about what to do now. He would surely Fall. The only question was when.
Had Crowley not been adequately convinced that his favourite angel was really and truly worried then the way he ate now would have tipped him off. While he seemed to enjoy the food* he did not dig in with half the gusto or a quarter of the joy with which he usually did and his face was strained, almost furrowing his eyebrows but not quite, his mouth set in a straight line.
*And Crowley would have been offended had he not been enjoying it. He had tried lots of dishes in this specific restaurant to find the one Aziraphale would enjoy the most. To find out that he knew the angel too little to properly order him food would have been a solid sucker punch to the stomach.
Something was fishy about the whole angel business. Something was not quite right and he was unsure whether in a spooky or a funny way.*
*He was also unsure which one of those he would prefer. He liked spooky, sure, but Aziraphale decidedly did not, albeit he did like “gloomy” on occasion, much to Crowley’s chagrin. After everything was said and done, though, it was Aziraphale who had to spend more time with his superior. So, funny. He was hoping for funny.
Something about all of this did not quite add up. As far as he was concerned, heaven was full of prideful bastards and not the good kind. Funny, that pride should be a sin if heaven was so full of it. To admit to needing help, much less asking for it, seemed out of character. Then again, he had not been there for a while. Maybe company policy had changed? Maybe they were all joyfully joining hands, dancing in a circle and singing “Kumbayah”.
Yeah, fucking likely.
Aziraphale, despite having been on earth for ages and part of the Arrangement for a few centuries now, still struggled with asking for help, which was why Crowley was always on the lookout for any sign of distress coming from him on the celestial plane.
He did his best to only scan for distress, though. Spying on another immortal’s emotion was technically really rude. Like eavesdropping.
But technically he was only honouring their Arrangement, looking out for the angel, and he had been able to prevent about two discorporations, five ugly wounds and seven mean-spirited comments that would surely have hurt Aziraphale’s feelings so far.
All while successfully selling his presence at the right moment as a mere coincidence, then strategically inviting the angel to lunch regardless of the time of day and teasing him. Distracting Aziraphale from the fact that Crowley was there very deliberately and not at all by chance alone was a challenge, but a welcome one.
The mystery revolving around the small angel in Aziraphale’s cottage in Florence, however, was not welcome. For once in his life he would just like clean-cut, simple answers, please.
None of that will-they-won’t-they, none of that agonizing anticipation and the riddles. He had Fallen for asking questions that even after 5500 years he did not have one singular blessed answer to! A scam, really! He’d be sure to leave a scathing review and a strongly worded letter.
Was the girl trustworthy? A simple yes or no question, really.
If one of those funny oracle people back from Greece was still around, he might have asked them. Not that they were even close to correct or clear. They were pretty vague most of the time but even the most practised, toughest, high as a kite oracle had a hard time to vague-ify a simple yes or no. Really, their answers had about the same chance to be correct, in this specific scenario, as flipping a coin, but Crowley thought them to be significantly more fun than flipping a coin.
Besides, he had-
Distress! A big clump of panicking emotions announcing themselves in big bold waves broadcasted loudly and openly on the transcendental plane. Across from him, the angel’s eyes widened and his breath became almost imperceptibly faster.
“That is Maebelle”, Aziraphale whispered.
Crowley nodded. He had almost suspected something like that. If this was truly her first time on earth (which he doubted) or her first time after a long while on earth (which he found to be more likely) she might have run into something that she was not familiar with. Maybe something particularly dark or noisy or human. Or somebody had broken into Aziraphale’s cottage and she did not know how to deal with it. He took another sip of his drink and turned around to his favourite angel with a smug grin to make a joke about jumpy angelic prissies, when he noticed the myriad of emotions flashing over his face.
The smile melted off of his face and he put a hand onto his shoulder.
“Should I come with you?”
The words had left his mouth without his permission, but when he saw Aziraphale’s eyes light up and his face relax, he could not find it within himself to regret them.
The relaxation lasted for all of ten seconds before Aziraphale’s face scrunched up again, his brows furrowing and Crowley could practically hear the angel overthink things.
“Maybe, maybe you could? Hidden, of course! Do you still know how to”, he waved his hands around, “obscure your presence? Or just, just be a snake for a whi- but of course you don’t have to! I would really apprecia-”
Crowley pushed his shades up a little bit, lifting them and looked into eyes that he had long ago determined to be his favourite colour.
“Of course I’ll come with you. And being a snake is the easiest thing.”
Aziraphale relaxed so suddenly that it almost looked like an elastic band snapping, not that those were invented yet.
“Oh. Oh, I thank you, dear. I cannot stress enough how much this-”
“Yeah, yeah. Shut up.”
His face felt hotter than it ought to. Maybe he had done the angel a favour, but nothing truly worthy of thanks. After all, he was not nice, thank you very much!
Crowley quickly paid their waiter, emptied his glass in one swift gulp and walked out of there with Aziraphale, turning into a snake and wrapping around the angel’s arm before feeling the familiar tingle of one of Aziraphale’s miracles on his scaly skin.
They were in Florence again. So far, so good.
Crowley slithered down from Aziraphale’s arm and slithered into a patch of higher grass, doing his best to think snakey thoughts and to dim his demonic aura.
“Azira!”, a high pitched voice said, stumbling over the “r”.
His favourite angel walked over to a small honey blonde figure and somehow they did look kind of related, was Aziraphale sure he was not his? Sure, Aziraphale’s hair was lighter than hers and her hair resembled waves far more than the curls he had gotten used to seeing, but how did angel genetics work anyway, right?
He shook the thoughts off and prepared himself for an assault, a surprise attack or maybe some mean words. Anything that would mean he’d have to step in!
“Oh”, he heard Aziraphale say.
“Can you help them?”
The high voice sounded so full of hope and sadness.
He tried to see what exactly was going on, but from this perspective, all he could see was Maebelle reaching out her cupped hands to Aziraphale with a pout and a scrunched up face.
“Ma’am, I am sure that you can miracle a bird healthy again yourself.”
Crowley appreciated the narration of the events. He was sure that the angel stated the obvious on purpose so he could follow along and it was genuinely very helpful. It made his job easier.
He watched the pout transform into a frown.
“I never learned how to do that. Mama didn’t show me.”
Had Crowley not currently inhabited the body of a snake, he would have raised an eyebrow and snorted. If this truly was some kind of trap then it was the least believable trap he had ever encountered, including that one time that a child had tried to catch him in a stone circle. Everybody knew how to miracle. He had met a bunch of angels and an abundance of demons and even the lowest ranking demons knew how to miracle, even if the sheer strength of these miracles differed.
When they had all been angels, before humanity had come around to invent time, they had all been on earth and miracled this and that, which was why every single angel and demon had been on earth at least once before, even if it had been a work in progress at the time.
You were shown how to properly will reality to do your bidding by any angel nearby who had already gotten the hang of it and off you went, doing your job.
Not knowing how to do miracles was simply not a believable story.
From his place in the grass it was hard to make out but Aziraphale seemed startled as well but he shrugged and blew some air into Maebelle’s hands. Crowley heard faint chirping and something flew away. The smaller angel bounced up and down and then attacked the larger one.
Crowley was already preparing to return to his human-seeming form to let some fists fly, but they… simply seemed to be cuddling?
He was confused and if his gut had sternly told him that something was strange before, then it was full out screaming at him now with the volume of a particularly passionate mountebank who was one coin away from their desired evening meal.
Angels in general were not very touchy, which he knew because it had taken a little while (around 3000 years) for Aziraphale to get comfortable with the casual touches that were now the norm between them and he had complained to Crowley before, that he now had to actively remind himself not to accidentally touch anybody’s hand when handing over his reports in heaven. Crowley had laughed about that, he remembered.
Now, he wasn’t so sure what this situation meant or how to navigate it. He tried to pry for the grace of the smaller angel. It may have been kind of rude but this was for the safety of his friend. His only friend. He was sure there was a special clause in the “How To Be Polite” rulebooks that specified exactly what to do if one had to choose between the life of a friend and being polite.* Crowley, however, did not give much of a damn about such a useless thing as manners anyway. At least not when Aziraphale did not sit next to him to raise an eyebrow, tut and say: “Manners, dear.”
So he pried.
*There was, in fact, such a clause and, true to fashion, it recommended to look for a new friend which would entirely be impossible to do if one was impolite. Crowley would have scoffed at that, had he ever truly read the book instead of simply seeing it on the bottom of a precariously balanced stack of books.
He found relief, joy and an overwhelming amount of love. It was suffocating. It was stifling and overwhelming and he might have coughed, had he currently had that ability. He stopped prying.
He had not felt this much love in quite a while. Really, he was not all that sure that he had felt this much love since his creation.
The Good Part was, that he had not felt a smidge of ill intentions, no negativity, no resentment. It was almost scary how positive an angel could be. So much love.
The Bad Part was, that Aziraphale’s paranoia was starting to rub off on him.
He devised a plan that would force Maebelle’s hand. After all, he had always been good at unveiling the true nature of things.
First, he had to get rid of Aziraphale, though. Maebelle might try to deceive the angel she was tasked to deceive but surely she would show her true colours to a demon if only to smite him. Couldn’t do that without a miracle or two. Maybe a flaming sword. And Crowley was resilient. He’d get out of there. He always did, somehow.
It was almost as if Aziraphale had read his thoughts, which was rubbish because if Aziraphale could read thoughts he would probably never spend time with him again. Instead, he was probably feeling the slight miracle that Crowley had used to position a note in his hand. The angel muttered something about tea and began walking back to the cottage, after quickly glancing at his hand.
Maebelle was entranced by a butterfly and most likely did not even notice the absence of the other angel. Perfect.
Crowley slithered out of the grass and dropped the protection around his demonic aura. He hissed in a quiet but noticeable way and waited for Maebelle to notice him. Finally, she did.
“Oh, hello there!” A smile was on her face and her voice sounded like it would soon overflow with joy.
“You are so pretty!
The little being approached him and looked at him closer. Soon, he thought, soon she’d drop the act and openly tell him that she knew of his demonic nature.
“Oh”, she said and Crowley was sure he had her.
“Oh, I like your eyes, snakey.”
Crowley physically recoiled and hissed, this time in a more threatening fashion.
The angel in front of him imitated the noise and giggled. He was not standing for this! He was a fear inducing demon from the depths of hell and to have an angel mock him like this was demeaning!
He firmly rearranged his position, now raising himself up to her height, staring directly into her eyes while hissing and letting his aura ripple and send out threatening waves. She ought to be afraid now! Or at least, she should now know that he was a demon for sure! He was not hiding his presence at all anymore.
Finally! The girl moved! He had intimida-
She kissed his forehead and giggled again.
“Thank you for showing me your pretty eyes from close up.”
There was only so much mockery Crowley was willing to take and they were quickly approaching that line.
He slithered backwards and his form elongated, sprouting bones and stretching skin. Then, he stood there in his human form. Complete with the shades, the red hair and the, frankly, judging look.
The angel looked at him like he had hung the stars*, slack-jawed and with almost shimmering eyes.
*He had, in fact, done that. Albeit, not all of them. Most of them, though, no matter what Gabriel would tell you. Crowley, in general, could only recommend to tune Gabriel out at all times. It saved a lot of energy and kept you more peaceful and relaxed than a day at a proper Roman thermal bath.
“Can all snakes do that?”, Maebelle asked and confirmed that one of two theories, possibly both, were correct:
The angel was a complete and utter idiot and nothing that Aziraphale and he ever did would properly alert her to anything unusual.
The angel really had no clue about the Arrangement and her task had nothing to do with them at all.
In any way, Aziraphale had been paranoid and stressed for absolutely no reason.
Then, a realization hit him: This angel was asking questions. Sure, none as fundamental and full of doubt as his own had been (and oh, did that thought hurt) but questions nonetheless. He could work with that. Maybe, if he answered some of her questions, he would be able to gather some information about her, her priorities and her personality as a whole.
“No, only I can do that.”
Delightful, really, if it did not hurt to hear another angel ask that question.
“Because I am Fallen. A demon.”
She nodded in consideration, then reached her hand out to him.
“I am Maebelle. Nice to meet you, sir ma’am dear Fallen.”*
*Maebelle had, due to her day of exploration, picked up on the fact that people seemed to use titles and honorifics to greet each other. Since she had not really found a pattern yet when to use which one, she had simply decided to use all of them.
Crowley shook her hand.
“Crowley.” He squinted slightly and made a humming sound.
“Have we met before? Maybe somewhere around 2000 BC? You seem familiar.”
Mentally, he patted himself on the shoulder for this tactic. He was pretty sure he had never seen that angel before, but her reaction could be interesting.
He fancied himself quite good at reading a person even without prying, if he so chose.
He was prepared for almost anything. For shyness and blundering and anger and condescension.
He was prepared for the “No” that Maebelle uttered. The “this is my first day of existing” that followed, however, had him almost choking on his own saliva. When he could finally breathe again and the angel stopped fretting about it, he poked her cheek.
“You are a child”, Crowley stated.*
*Maybe Aziraphale would have been comforted, had he witnessed the scene and realized that the demon was just as prone to stating the obvious when in shock as he was. He was not present, though, and neither Crowley nor Maebelle would mention this to him.
Maebelle nodded and when she noticed how nodding made her curls bounce, she nodded a little more enthusiastically.
“You are a snake”, she stated back.
“Yes, but you are a child and an angel.”
He made a few gestures that somehow said everything yet nothing at all. Maebelle nodded again.
“You are a snake and you have pretty eyes.”
Crowley nodded numbly, staring off into the distance. This was all too much to comprehend right now. He had gone from worried to more worried to tense to relieved to baffled and really, nobody should-
“Sir madam dear Crowley?”
“I think you should visit heaven soon. Your grace feels very weak.”
His grace. He did not know whether he should laugh or cry at that. His grace. The thing that had been ripped out of the fabric of his very being when he Fell. The thing that had burned away and left him empty with only pain to fill that void.
A sharp laugh escaped him that hurt his throat and he felt a headache coming, his forehead thrumming. Emotions pressing themselves against his head in a pounding rhythm like tangible things.
He continued laughing because if he stopped he’d surely cry and he couldn’t have that, now, could he? He did not trust his voice. Regardless he pressed out the words:
“Ssssee you later. I have to go. Important appointment.”
She waved at him and he miracled himself away to his flat.
He sat down onto his only armchair with an odd lump in his throat and a throbbing headache and definitely no tears streaming down his cheeks and made a note to tell Aziraphale that his guest was harmless. A child, really, in every sense of the word.
Yes, he’d do that. Right after the sobs stopped rocking his body. As soon as he could breathe around the lump in his throat. Right after his mind would stop playing the words “your grace” on an endless, innocently spoken loop. Right after that.
Procrastination had always been Crowley’s invention.
Maebelle, meanwhile, had no clue that she had reduced a demon to tears, thinking that the snake person had been nice and that she had liked them. Today she had found out she liked snakes and butterflies and bees and frogs and birds. She had found out lots and lots of things in general that she had not known before, even though her mama’s stories had prepared her a little for them, of course! Like how the animals behaved that mama had told her about and actually putting a face to the name, so to speak.
A nice human with painted lips and shiny golden spikes on her ears had told her which animals were which, when she’d asked and Julia, that was the human’s name, said she liked flowers. After talking to Giorgio, who had funny hair on his* upper lip, she had learned the names of some plants as well and given Julia a few dandelions as a thank you.
*Mind you, Maebelle still did not understand anything about gender. Not after just a few hours on earth. If you put ten humans in front of her, she would not know which pronouns to use, not even if all of them used the ones that were most popular with their type of corporation. She was able to learn these two’s particular pronouns, however, simply by listening and from talking to both of them she had found out that Julia used “she” and Giorgio used “he” and there was that.
She had talked to two guards at a gate who had talked with her about getting some water to cool the bruises and to clean off some dirt. One of the guards had whispered something about robbers but then they had been kicked by their friend-guard and stopped. She was not quite sure what they meant with bruises and dirt though, she felt fine. Regardless, this seemed like a good opportunity to learn something else.
What she had learned was this: Wells were funny and big and made an “ey-koh” when you shouted stuff into them. She had liked that.
Yes, her day had, all in all, been fun and everything, but now, after helping a bird and meeting a snake human, she wanted to go back to where she felt safe and protected. Where she could smell Azira’s familiar smell and know that nothing would happen. All comfortable and calm.
She toddled along the cobbled streets, smiling at the plants shyly poking out their stems and leaves in between the stones and at the bugs that crawled along the ground or on the walls and at the people who passed her. Sometimes, they even waved at her.
She spotted the painted human and rushed towards her, quickly embracing her leg.
“I saw a snake today!”
Julia chuckled and patted her head.
“That must have been scary, honey.”
“Not at all! They were really nice! Pretty eyes and bright feelings!”
Julia chuckled again. Ah, to be young and full of imagination again. She turned around to the other human next to her.
“This is Maebelle, sweetie. I told you about her and the flowers. Maebelle, this is my husband, Nicola. He is an artist.”
Maebelle nodded, shook his hand and said “hello” and “thank you” all nice and with manners, like Julia had explained them to her.
“What does an artist do, exactly?”
Nicola’s head bobbed from one side to the other and his brows furrowed.
“Well, art is better experienced than explained, I believe. Maybe you want to come and watch me work with Julia tomorrow? If your parents allow it, I mean.”
Maebelle did not think that her mama would have anything against her learning what art was, so she nodded.
“Do your parents maybe want to meet us first, so they know who we are?”, Julia asked and threw a Look at her husband that seemed somewhat fond yet exasperated.
The angel shrugged. She thought that mama probably already knew those two, what with being called the Almighty and being everywhere, if faintly. She was also not quite sure whether Azira really liked her. Sure, they would not hurt her in any way and they felt safe and nice, but their feelings had been all murky since they had left that one angel with the desk.
“Hmm. My mama is in heaven. I can ask Azira about that, though.”
The two shared another Look, this one harder to decipher for Maebelle.
“Signor Fell is your father?”
Maebelle shook her head.
“Azira takes care of me. Orders from an angel.”
Nicola smiled at her and ruffled her hair. She decided that she liked him and his friendly smile.
“Alright, honey, then I believe it’s time for you to go home. It’s getting dark.”
She nodded obediently and waved at the nice humans, already looking forward to meeting them again the next day.
She’d have to ask Azira what a “husband” was, though. Now, that she thought about it, she had many questions thrumming in her head that were in desperate need of answering!
Aziraphale was peacefully sitting in his kitchen, peacefully sipping on his chamomile tea and peacefully overthinking every decision he had ever made in his entire, very long, life that led to this cursed day. When he suddenly heard noises in his house, he startled before remembering the new guard dog he had been assigned. He sighed into his tea and read another one of his favourite quotes from notebook number two. Sappho was applicable to all situations in life, he liked to think.
“Azira!”, a high voice called and he sighed into his tea again.
“Azira! May I go out with Julia tomorrow and watch Nicola make art? Do you want to meet them first?”
He considered this. He had met Julia and Nicola before and they probably would not have anything on him that would warrant a Fall. Besides, any time she could not watch his every move and report it to the archangels was a good time in his book.
“Of course you may go, if you wish. I know those two already.”
She smiled at him like he had hung the stars (which he had not) and thanked him profusely.
He could barely hold back a grimace at the way that his God-given name was shortened yet again.
What could she possibly want now? Would she suddenly shed her corporation, flick hellfire at him that she had hidden somewhere and get it over with? Would she utter a secret codeword and he’d Fall? He didn’t know. It was exhausting, not knowing and by now he could almost understand why some of his fellow angels had Fallen for some answers.
“What exactly is a demon?”
Aziraphale choked on a sip of very peaceful tea.
Chapter 3: Too Big For Words
Aziraphale remembered the Great Fall. It was hard not to when there had been so much bloodshed, angels rebelling against God and fighting their fellow angels.
He remembered swords being thrust into corporations and blood staining colourful cloth in gold.
He remembered the shouting, the awful noise and his own blurry vision, obstructed by tears and sweat as he watched on.
He remembered being tasked to lead a group of angels against their brothers and he remembered the smell of wings and flesh burning as his brethren Fell.
But worst of all: He remembered the feeling of their graces, their essence being ripped away from him by force.
Back then, before humans had gone around to invent time, feeling the emotions of other angels had been as natural as breathing had been to Her corporeal creations, as natural as loving. Heaven had been gentler in those times. The shock of the Great Fall, of being severed from brothers in arms, from coworkers and friends and sometimes from lovers had led to an unanimous and unspoken decision to keep your emotions for yourself, lest you were forced to live through this kind of pain ever again.
Even those that did not fight, the blessed few who had been on earth or deep in the uttermost corners of heaven at the time had felt the Fall and maybe it was worse not to know why someone was forced to feel such pain. These angels had been informed after it had all happened, of course. Aziraphale knew some of them in passing and the look of pure shock that they had sported when they were told…
It was therefore unthinkable, unimaginable, that an angel should not know what demons were. Especially not after 5500 years of heaven speaking about them non-stop with disdain and the explicit message to never be like the foolish angels who Fell.
This was why the question threw him off so much, that his body was currently struggling to remove a sip of chamomile tea from his lungs. Tears sprang into his eyes and his voice sounded croaky when he said, very intelligently and thoughtfully:
“Demons, Azira. What are they?”
His mind helpfully supplied the words “trap” and “test” and “fraternizing” when looking at Maebelle’s earnest face but the question seemed strangely sincere. He licked his lips and fumbled with his blouse, then licked his lips again for good measure.
“You see, there is, uhm, Good, yes?” He made a vague all-encompassing gesture upwards.
“And that is what we angels are supposed to do. Good, I mean. Yes. And Good is, essentially, what God says. She has a plan after all and we can never truly hope to understand it. It’s”, he smiled, “Ineffable.”
Another vague gesture.
“But there is also Bad and Evil. And angels who go against Her will, they… they Fall.”
The words felt heavy on his tongue and yet they were not enough to describe the agony of feeling an angel Fall.
“And when an angel Falls from grace they become a demon. They’re cut off from God, then, for defying Her and they can never come back and redeem themselves. They are unforgivable.”
He made a sort pause and Maebelle’s head thrummed with the realization of the meaning of these words.
“Demons tempt humanity into sin. Like stealing and such. They try to guide them away from the right path and we are supposed to thwart them.”
Aziraphale nodded, quite content with the explanation he had given.
Maebelle also nodded, a frown on her face. She crossed her arms.
“Well”, she said and furrowed her brows, “that’s stupid.”
A fearful gasp left his lips and he built up the barriers around his grace in anticipation of the incredible pain that came with the Fall of an angel, closing his eyes. The seconds went by like syrup lazily dripping from a spoon as he waited. His breath seemed the only indicator of time. Nothing happened. No stench of burning, no pain.
When he deemed the appropriate waiting time to be over, namely, when the anticipation became too much to handle, he opened his eyes to see a small angel with crossed arms and a pout on her face glare unhappily at the ground, her face going through some weird scrunchy motions. He swallowed.
“Why… why do you think that God’s will is, hmm, stupid, Maebelle?”
She looked at him with wide, glassy eyes and a trembling lower lip.
“Well, they just made one mistake, right? And maybe they did not even mean to? I thought mama was all about forgiveness? She has so much love for all of us, all of creation. Why would she not forgive them?”
There was something jarring about hearing such complex thoughts with the voice and clumsy pronunciation of a three-year-old. There was something even more jarring about an angel, your superior, throwing themselves into your arms (or, well, legs) and crying for the suffering of the Fallen.
He had never seen an angel cry before. Not even when the pain of the Great Fall was still fresh.
He adjusted himself so Maebelle was now actually resting in his arms instead of simply clinging to his legs.
It was almost terrible, he thought, that the first time he experienced a crying angel was when said angel cried for demons of all things but he immediately felt bad for that thought. A question crept into his mind and whispered what Crowley would say if he saw an angel cry for him. A seed that had been planted in Aziraphale’s mind grew into a sprout.
As tears stained his blouse he realized the absurdity of the situation. Of holding a crying angel in his arms, being able to feel her warmth on his skin and her sadness dripping into his grace. Something within him snapped into place with an anticlimactic “click” and a low hum, although he was not aware of it yet.
Maebelle’s head hurt after crying so much and her cheeks felt weirdly crusted with salt and dried tears. She decided that the feeling of crying itself was not all that bad but that the “afterwards” was quite a mess. Azira was being nice about it, though, and they felt less murky, which was an added bonus. They also gave her some water to alleviate the headache and that helped significantly.
“Azira”, she said and there were still some sniffles in there, “which pronouns do you use?”
They blinked at her in confusion.
“Oh, just whichever one is most common for my corporation.”
She tilted her head to the side.
“Right now that would be ‘he’ and ‘him’, Maebelle.”
“Alright. Thank you, sir madam dear Azira.”
He chuckled at that and she smiled at him. And maybe, just maybe, Azira did not quite detest her like she thought he did.
She softly separated herself from him and looked outside. The sun was already rising again. Somewhere between their talk and the crying and hugging and calming her down the night had just gone by. A little sad, if she thought about it. The night simply going by without her there to appreciate it and see what it was that was so fascinating about it. But there would be many nights to come and maybe one day she could fully experience one.
She looked at Azira.
“I have to go see Julia and Nicola now. The sun is up again.”
He nodded in agreement.
“Oh, but you should change your clothes. Humans are very peculiar about wearing the same things all the time these days.”
She blinked a few times, looked at her feet, then at her hands, then at Azira with a troubled expression.
“But… I only have this?”
Azira sighed tiredly and gestured at her.
“You are an angel, Maebelle. Just miracle some new ones. It’s fine. It is a necessity to blend in with humans. Gabriel won’t be mad.”
“I already told you that I don’t know how to do that.”
“Right. Right, I am sorry. Of course. Any particular style you would prefer?”
“Whatever you think would look nice… but I’d like to keep the dress, please.”
A snap later he held a dress in his hands that was a little more beige than the last one.
“You can dress yourself in the dressing room if you’d like.”
He gestured in the direction of said dressing room which she knew because she had taken the liberty to explore the house a little after waking up yesterday.
“Thank you very much”, she chirped, took the soft fabric into her hands and toddled off.
The air felt cool on her skin when she peeled herself out of the beautiful white-blue dress her mother had given her. She took a look in the mirror and noticed the golden flecks on her body. Funny little things, those. She was not quite sure what they were or how they worked but they were shiny and a gift from her mama, like her body had been. She liked them.
With only a little bit of acrobatics, she put on the dress and noted that it smelled like Azira and had a certain sense of “Azira” woven deeply into the fabric that kept this dress anchored in reality, and not just in the little apricot details on the fabric itself. She noted that Azira smelled like lavender and chamomile and paper but also like something else that she had not smelled yet and thus could not identify.
A look into the mirror in one corner of the dressing room told her that she looked alright and that the dress swung around her in a funny way. Yes, she was ready to face the world and learn what an “arrtiste” was.
Aziraphale watched the door close behind Maebelle and buried his hands in his curls. Something was decidedly not right with this angel and he was not quite sure what the reason was but it made him more paranoid than he had ever been. Maebelle simply did not seem to fit into the picture of angels that he had made for himself after years upon years of living with them and being one himself. For one, she lacked the commonly spread ineptitude to blend in with the humans. In fact, for somebody who claimed to have never been on earth, she was awfully good at appearing like the toddler she was posing as. So good that she slept, consumed some kind of sustenance (even if it had been only water so far) and did not use any miracles at all even when not observed by humans. She did not miracle small things or big things and he was almost sure that her claim that she did not know how to do it was not that far off from the truth.
Then there was the fact that she had cried for the Fallen and hugged him, willingly touched him to seek comfort. He did not know what to make of that. A part of him wished for Crowley to be there with him. Maybe he would have picked up on something that had escaped Aziraphale. After all, the demon had always had a keen eye for observation and a tendency to ask questions that enabled him to see everything a little more critically, a little clearer.
His hand ghosted over a pocket on his blouse. The one that now housed the note that Crowley had miracled into his hand the day before. The one that told him that Crowley would visit him again after a week at most and share any insights and information he could gather in that time. If Crowley did not return after the promised week the note gave Aziraphale explicit permission to look out for him on an occult scale, meaning he could snoop around with his grace.
He hoped fo the sake of everything that was holy that he would not have to snoop around.
Crowley never missed any of their appointments by more than he considered fashionable. If he had to snoop around that meant trouble.
Aziraphale sighed and patted his knees. Right. Time to get to work in countless libraries to see if he could gather some information himself before Crowley turned up. He did not want to be shown up by the demon after all. That, and he genuinely needed those answers. Well, maybe the books he had collected in his home could help him figure out the mystery behind such an oddly behaving angel. Not without a good cup of tea and a sensible system of approaching this, however. A good cup of tea would certainly make this easier.
Sun shone down onto Maebelle and she skipped to the meeting place, feeling giddy and excited. The air felt like somebody had drenched it in water and there were fascinating little bugs zoning about that reminded her of Azira a little, what with their endless jittering and constant movement. There were tiny flowers peeking through stone cracks and there were stone cracks in particular, deliberate looking shapes. Somebody had left a small cart in a back alley that was filled with interesting looking wooden crates.
Before Maebelle could properly take in anything else she reached the large place with the water hole, the well, that she had been to yesterday. Another look around the place revealed wooden structures being built up and people carrying crates filled with fruit and animals to those structures.
Her head whipped around to the source of the noise and sure enough, there was Julia waving at her and smiling at her with those painted lips and the bright smile that reminded her of mama a little, although it was more crooked than mama’s. It had the same general feeling of kindness to it.
“Come over here, sweetie. Nicola already went to the workshop. Wanted to get some preparation in before you came so he wouldn’t bore you. A right saint, that man.”
Julia sighed happily and sent out a tiny ripple of brightness that made Maebelle smile. She reached for Julia’s hand.
“That is nice of him.”
Julia nodded in agreement and began to swing their joined hands back and forth.
Although Maebelle’s bottom lip was surely not happy with that sort of treatment, Maebelle bit on it for a while before she decided that it surely could not hurt to ask the question that she had in mind. Then again, she had thought the same about that question with the demons and that had made her cry in the end…
“Julia?”, she said and the painted human hummed.
“What is a ‘husband’?”
Julia sent out waves of brightness yet again and chuckled lightly before tapping Maebelle’s head once.
“A husband is a man who you are married to. Somebody you promised to stay with for the rest of your lives. And sometimes, when you get lucky, like I did, you love him and he loves you back.”
“Are you Nicola’s husband too then, when he is yours?”
“No, sweetheart. I am a woman so I am his wife. But I suppose the sentiment is still the same.”
Maebelle nodded and her nose scrunched up a little in an effort to understand the logic behind that sentence in much the same way in which an elementary school kid tries to understand that every rectangle is a square but not every square a rectangle.
Julia chuckled again.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, sweetie. You’re what? Two?* Three? You still have time to worry about all this boring adult stuff later on.”
*Julia did not know that she was entirely correct with her first guess if you added the word “days” instead of the socially accepted and generally implied “years” that tended to follow the said number. She was also correct to say that Maebelle had time to think about all of this later on. In fact, she had all the time in the world until said world ended and made way for the Great Battlefield Of The Apocalypse and even then she could probably squeeze in a thought or two about what a husband and a wife really were, when you got right down to it and where, if you were honest with yourself, the differences laid.
Maebelle was led through a nicely painted wooden door, then a sort of reddish cream coloured corridor and after three more wooden doors, he stood in a room that was big and cool and smelled of wet earth, dry dust and of metal.
On a wooden table-like thingy (a workbench, as she would later find out) Nicola stood and sharpened a strange-looking tool on a stone.
He raised his head and saw the enthusiastic waving of his wife. A big smile stretched across his face and Maebelle could not help but think that she liked earth with all its kindness and the people who lived on it. If people could feel so bright just from seeing others then it had to be a wonderful time that everybody was having. She was glad.
“Ah, Julia, my love. And you brought Maebelle! Excellent. Now, my current project is for a church, so it’s a demon, alright? But don’t worry. If you’ve been a good girl and stay true to God’s ways, demons cannot do anything bad to you, alright?”
She nodded. Really, she doubted that demons were that bad anyway, having met one and being quite fond of him. She did get a little sad again, however, remembering her talk with Azira and that demons were all alone and abandoned by mama.
“Ach, love. Did you have to tell her that? She would just have thought him a mighty pretty bloke if you hadn’t. Now the poor dear is shaking.”
“M sorry, Maebelle. There really is nothing to worry about, though.”
She nodded again and with an apologetic look, he led her to a large something that was veiled with a sort of blanket that was beige and seemed like it had seen better days with the frayed edges and the weird spots on it.
“There. You can unveil it if you want.”
He laid her small hand onto the fabric. It felt as rough as it looked, a little crusted and not at all like the soft fabric on Aziraphale’s couches or in his dressing room.
“Just pull”, Nicola instructed.
And she did.
Nothing yet. Aziraphale took another sip of his tea and made a noise in the back of his throat that communicated a certain sense of “I am not outright swearing right now, but I’d like to.” Nothing. He had carefully read and studied ten books on angels and demons already. Sure, he had not expected to find something on the first page of the first book and he also did not expect a handy little square annotation that said: “If ye be an angelle onto whom another angelle watcheth yet a moft ftrange onne: Prithee followeth these inftructionf!”
It would have been ridiculous to expect something like that, after all. What he did expect, however, was to find some kind of answer.
Maybe a reference to angels who had been created after the Great Fall, shortly before The Garden had been a thing. Or a reference to causes for divine memory loss. At this point, he’d even take a passage about demons successfully posing as angels as a potential answer. Anything that was not the gaping nothingness of answers he was currently faced with.
Well, maybe not anything. He had, for example, already given up on finding something about child-shaped angels and reasons for their appearance. As bright and enlightened as some humans were regarding the ethereal, they were also obsessed with the idea of very small pudgy toddler angels to the point that a “cherub” in human imagination had drifted off from the truth so far that he had actually laughed the first time somebody showed him a painting of a “cherub”. He was not sure how any of the actual cherubim would take humanity’s interpretation of them but he, personally, thought it to be hilarious.
Unfortunately, that meant that the corporation was a problem for another day but surely there had to be some kind of reference? Maybe even to an angel called “Maebelle”? That alone might help him tremendously!
He took another sip of his tea and grimaced. After miracling the tea hot again, he turned to his stack of bibles - now with steaming tea and renewed vigour.
Maebelle was looking at a human who stared at the sky with stone tears in his stone eyes and her heart squeezed in sympathy.
“Are they okay? Why do you catch the stone humans? They look sad!”
She had really thought that Nicola and Julia were nice people but now they went around and kept another human in captivity like this! That was not right! And Julia even had the audacity to laugh while Nicola turned a bright shade of red.
“Sweetheart”, Julia’s smooth voice cooed, “he is not actually alive. It’s just stone. Nicola made him and he obviously did a great job, although he does not want to listen to me when I tell him so, hmm?”
“Why?”, Maebelle said.
Nicola shrugged, his skin still red.
“Well, you know, she is my wife and sometimes I think that she HAS to say-”
Maebelle shook her head.
“No, I mean… uhm… why do you make this?”
Nicola visibly relaxed.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it? According to the church, it is also supposed to carry a message and looking at it might help our poor primitive souls understand the truth of the universe and earn us the love of God. But really, it’s more about beauty and expressing yourself, you know? For when it all gets too big for words.”
Maebelle nodded although she really did not understand it at all. Especially not the part about earning the love of mama. Her love had simply been there from the beginning. She was not sure why it would have to be earned.
However, soon another question with a more immediately accessible answer arose:
“Can I touch the statue?”
Nicola nodded and a tiny hand met a large statue.
The stone was cool, unliving, unfeeling and drinking up the warmth of her skin greedily. Maebelle was fascinated by how human this stone seemed: The crinkles around his eyes, the smooth skin on their arms and stony cloth wrinkling as if it truly was nothing but linen draped over a body. And at that moment Maebelle understood that art was marvellous indeed and that humanity, capable of creating such beauty and of enough understanding for their fellow beings to trap their very essence in the unforgiving, unyielding stones that surrounded them, could never be truly bad. She was glad. She would not like for all of humanity to Fall from grace. They were all so incredibly deserving of love and forgiveness that she was sure her heart would break if even a single one of them would have to be cut off from Her.*
*Mind you, dear reader, the poor dear did not know about Hell yet. She knew about Falling exactly as much as Aziraphale had told her and he had neglected to mention Hell. Mae did not really know about Death or what happened afterwards to human souls either. She would find out at one point, though. Of course, she would. One does not stay on earth without experiencing at least the closeness to either of these things and without asking questions about them. However, Maebelle had an advantage that most philosophers and thinkers did not have: She had the ability to simply check and get these questions answered.
“He is really pretty”, Maebelle said and Nicola nodded in thanks.
“Ah”, he said, “but he is not done yet. Step back a little and watch.”
A hammer was raised and soon the loud clang and thump of hammer meeting chisel meeting stone sounded through the room.
It was fascinating to watch, looking more like Nicola freed a human from the stone that had been there all along, simply peeling him out of a cold marble shell rather than him shaping the stone this way by sheer will, imagination and skill.
Art truly was fascinating.
This lasted for five days. Five days of Maebelle going to Nicola and Julia early in the mornings and coming back in the evenings. Five days of Maebelle tentatively standing in the doorframe, hesitant to approach Aziraphale who was caught up in a pile of books. Five days of Maebelle fearing that she had done something wrong. Five days of trying to connect and failing. Five days in which Maebelle finally learned the meaning of the word “loneliness” even if she was with Nicola and Julia. She decided that she did not like being lonely.
Aziraphale barely noticed that time had passed, too focused on the smallest of clues and the tiniest of details. And he had not found anything useful, that was maybe the most frustrating part about it all. Tons of books. Shelves full of books. Books that belonged to collections in Peking, Saint Petersburg and Vienna. Books upon books that held so much knowledge. Books that he’d have to return. And not a single one of them could help him. It made him want to tear his hairs out one by one. He made no progress at all and it was almost worse that with the amount of stress the situation put on him he could not even properly enjoy reading those books. It was a crime in and of itself that he had been robbed of the enjoyment of reading and that the authors had been robbed of his appreciation for their works.
He was just getting started on his mental rant when he was already interrupted again.
A demon suddenly appearing on the table in front of you will do that to you, no matter how focused you are on your inner rant.
He had not quite realized how worried he had been that the other angel had done something to him until he could stop being worried. His heart felt significantly lighter already, now that at least one of the things that had been eating at him had been removed.
“Hello, angel. Listen. This is about Maebelle. Did you notice something strange about her?”
“Wha- why? Yes! Yes, my dear boy. That was the whole reason I was concerned in the first place!”
“Yeah. I know. I know. But, uhm, something specific. Something new? Something that”, he gestured to the book towers, “could be a reason to send you into a frenzy like this?”
“Alright, alright. She… asked me what a demon was. Then, when I told her - I thought this was a test, Crowley - when I told her, she said that it was stupid and then… she cried?”
He saw Crowley swallow and nod, shoving his sunglasses higher up on his nose and making a noncommittal sound.
“That checkssss out… alright. That checks out…”
Crowley mumbled for a short second, then straightened up.
“Good. I have an explanation for all this: Maebelle is a child.”
Aziraphale sighed. He did not have time for Crowley’s shenanigans right now. If he was honest with himself, then he was growing frustrated with the demon. Partially because of the fruitless search, he was sure, but also because Crowley was saying things in that way of his that Aziraphale just did not quite understand.
He did not even have to say anything before Crowley already raised his hands in a placating manner and said:
“No. Nonono, angel. She is an honest to Satan child. She is, like, a week old by now. Se said so herself, but I wasn’t sure whether it was true. But it checks out. She is a new angel. A small baby child angel. Fledgling. Capisce?”
Oh. Oh…. What?!
“But… but that is not possible! The last angel was made, oh, I don’t know, thousands of years ago! If I remember correctly he is on demon watch duty. Has been for a while. And, frankly-”
That was when Aziraphale lost track of his own words and simply let the mindless rambling take over. He was almost sure that he heard himself talk about the concept of pigeons at one point or another in his stream of words, however, that was related to Ionah (the angel on demon watch duty) or Maebelle or anything at all, really.
He took a deep breath and Crowley looked at him with that expression again.
Crowley smiled a slightly sardonic smile.
“Finished?”, he asked.
“Quite, I think.”
“Is there no way to check up on that? Her being a newer angel, I mean. Like, a list or some folders that some poor sod has to sort or something? Thought heaven was all about that bureaucracy stuff.”
The demon moved his hands in a few fluid movements that held no real meaning but that Aziraphale had seen often enough to decipher as the more elegant, deciphered version of a shrug.
He thought for a while, being not too familiar with the organization of heaven as somebody who was rarely ever there. Then he gasped.
Crowley raised an eyebrow.
“And why, pray tell, did you not think of that earlier?”
“Oh, hush. As if you always think of everything in the most opportune moments.”
His face felt hot and he really hoped that the blush he was surely sporting right now was a small one that could easily be overlooked.
Aziraphale patted his knees and then stood up.
“Alright, dear. Can you hold the ford over here while I check up on that?”
Crowley mockingly saluted him.
“Yes sir. Should be easy, really. Where is your little angel at the moment?”
Aziraphale opened his mouth and then grimaced when he realized that he did not know.
“Aziraphale. Angel. Don’t tell me you lost the child.”
He straightened his collar.
“She is not lost. Just… uhm… misplaced.”
Crowley breathed a deep breath.
“Just… just go. I’ll do my best to find her. Good luck.”
Aziraphale smiled an awkward, slightly crooked smile and waved goodbye before leaving.
Instead of taking the main entrance like he did when he was on the move due to official missions, he sneaked in through the backdoor like a kid who sneaked out past their bedtime for the first time and was now coming back, slightly ashamed but also filled to the brim with adrenaline. As such it was no surprise that what happened to Aziraphale next was what happened to any first-time-rebel: He got caught.
One minute he had been enjoying the familiar smell of paper in the archive and appreciating the vastness of knowledge collected there, the next he found himself face to face with an angel with light brown skin and short brown hair, flecks of gold on their face.
“Oh - oh! Hello, Imamiah. How extraordinarily nice to see you here. Are you looking for something as well?”
Imamiah was a patient angel. They had to be to sort the amount of files that they had already sorted throughout their life while also keeping everything in perfect order and spotless, in flawless condition.
They were patient when explaining to the human souls how to get to the residencies after their death and they were patient when directing another angel to a certain folder, file or even paragraph that they were looking for.
However, there was a point where even the most patient and understanding angel had to draw a line. Imamiah, as they had calmly but determinedly decided, drew that line at an angel called “Aziraphale” and it was a strong, thick line with exclamation marks on both sides and bold letters stating: “Do not cross!!!”
So naturally, when they saw Aziraphale in the archives*, the new workplace they had transferred to after filing an application for relocation, the new workplace that was supposed to be, if nothing else, decidedly Aziraphale-free, something within them snapped. Their eye felt weirdly twitchy and they were sure that the professionally trained business smile that they had been successfully directing at humans for more than 5000 years looked like a horrible grimace right now.
*They had been neglecting the “sensing another angel’s grace” part of looking out because they had been too caught up in their work (sorting 3000 files in sector B after a new system of their own devising) and too relaxed to be vigilant. After all, they had been counting on a refractory period of at least a century before they’d have to look out for the freak again. Thus, the shock was even greater when they suddenly stood face to face with him.
And then - and then that… that hooligan of an angel had the nerve - the audacity to ask if they were looking for something. Peace and quiet. They were looking for peace and quiet.
But while Aziraphale only visited heaven from time to time, when he did he apparently drove out any notion of peace and quiet so effectively that it took half of a century for the traumatized peace to fearfully poke a head around the corner and slowly tiptoe back into heaven.
And here he was. Again. Way too soon. Way. Too. Soon.
“No. I work here now, Aziraphale. What is it that you are looking for? Maybe I can help you?”
Something petty within them hoped that they had genuinely no clue how to help and that they’d have to ask a colleague to fetch whatever-it-was for the freak, effectively getting rid of him.*
That was not very likely, though. Imamiah was nothing if not organized and they had been the one to implement the entire sorting system in the first place. If they could not help, then nobody could, really.
*Of course they could lie but Imamiah was the type to be strict and unyielding with their moral code. Said moral code did, incidentally, line up perfectly with the Ten Commandments and two other rules that were self-imposed, namely “Thou shalt keep an organized and easily understandable system in thy work.” and “Thou shalt not allow filth to befall thine environment.” They followed these simple rules with religious commitment and as such lying had never been an option in the first place.
“Oh, how kind of you! Thank you!”
Ugh. That smile again. Really, no angel had any business being that happy. None. Especially not one that was forced to work down on earth.
“I am looking for files on the youngest angels. Do you have them here?”
Imamiah sighed and nodded. Of course they did. They didn’t even have to consult the sorting index for that one. Only recently had they relocated the folder on angels sorted by age because nobody ever asked for that one, most of them opting to go for angels sorted by name if they looked for an index of angels at all. Well, except for Aziraphale of course. Why were they even surprised?
For a second Imamiah seriously considered Falling just to avoid the winged menace to their sanity that was Aziraphale. With their luck, though, Aziraphale would surely Fall shortly after them and then what? Besides, they had heard terrible things about the organizational skills of Hell and really, the only thing keeping them somewhat sane and functioning right now was the knowledge that a nice shelf in sector B was only waiting for them to return and sort a few thousand identical white folders by the amount and type of miracles contained within them. Nice and soothing repetitive work that also gave them something to memorize.
“Sure. Follow me please.”
Really, Imamiah deserved sainthood for this. Sainthood and an entire church named after themselves. Maybe a promotion to the rank of archangel. Sure, Raphael may have hung the stars but had he stayed polite and helpful when faced with the literal worst angel in recorded history?* He had not.
*That included Ionah and his sketchy, unspecific notes on hell’s machinations who was pretty high up on Imamiah’s “Persona Non-Grata” list and even Lucifer himself, at this point. Yes, Lucifer may have rebelled against God Herself and Fallen for that but at least he did not bother Imamiah. As such he was far higher up in his good books than Aziraphale and at least a little higher up than Ionah.
They walked through the rows passing three hundred twenty-seven of them. Then they stopped in front of one that was in no way distinguishable from any of the others, grabbed a folder that looked just like any other folder in the room, thrust it into Aziraphale’s hands and said:
“There you go.”
“Ah, yes. Thank you so much, again, Imamiah. I seriously doubt that I would have found this without you. Can I thank you in any way?”
Imamiah grumbled. He could leave them the hell alone.
That was not what they said, though. They said:
“No, it’s quite alright. Enjoy the files but please put them back when you are done.”
Aziraphale nodded at these words in that nauseatingly cheerful manner and they went, walking with slow, deliberate steps that were supposed to communicate that they were not fleeing, per se, but pointedly ignoring the other person by now. Absentmindedly, they plucked some dust out of the air.
There it was! The folder that would finally answer all of the questions that Maebelle had opened up! Now, finding her entry in that folder should be pretty easy, Aziraphale thought. After all, according to Crowley’s theory, she should not only be one of the youngest angels to live but rather THE youngest.
And he was right. Finding Maebelle’s entry was as easy as opening the file and immediately flipping to the last page where a cheerful drawing of Maebelle waved at him.
Neat handwriting informed him that Maebelle did not really have a known official rank, no overarching purpose or a lying bone in her body:
She truly was a mere week old. Or, well, six days, to be precise.
Aziraphale read the entry. Then he read it again. Then twice more. He felt like he needed to sit down. Crowley was right. Maebelle was a child. She was a week old. A week old and he’d completely left her alone! He had lost her and been so cold to her for the past few days! He had pretty much neglected her!
A terrible nauseating feeling crept up along his oesophagus and he identified it as guilt. Realization upon realization metaphorically punched him into his stomach.
He had to raise an angel now! He was, after all, the only other angel immediately available on earth! Did Gabriel know about this? About her being such a small, new being? Oh! Could she even read? Probably not. The poor dear! And could he properly explain everything to her?
A new feeling washed over him. It was excitement and giddiness and fear.
Maebelle truly did not know anything about pain or fear. She knew nothing of the bad parts of this world and she knew far too little of the good parts of the world, as far as he was concerned.
This had the capacity to become very hard, he realized. To teach a new angel how to be proper and good when he was not too sure whether he was all that proper and good himself. After all, he had just hurt a small new being and be it through negligence only.
He liked to act confident in his holiness with Crowley but sometimes the other angels looked at him in that funny way - like he was on the brink of Falling and they were surprised that he had not been pushed over the edge yet.
But, he decided, he would do his best. He’d teach this new little angel everything he knew. Whatever the price may be. This angel would be alright. It would have him, after all.
He put the folder back where it had been before and left.
Finding Maebelle was not as hard as Crowley had assumed it would be. Mostly, because he remembered that he could simply look for her on a celestial plane and make sure she was safe that way.
He walked to a large plaza with a nice cobblestone well and could not look as fast as a voice shouted:
A small figure rushed to him and he had just finished shouting back:
Then said tiny figure fell onto the ground.
He approached a little more frantically than he would like to admit.
“You okay, kid?”
Maebelle nodded but looked at her knees and the gold colour spilling from them.
“Fu-”, Crowley glanced at the child, “-n. Fun… Fun!”
Up until that point he had not known that one could say the word "fun" this angrily. He rushed to grab into one of his pockets and miracled up a piece of fabric that he could wrap around her knee. No need to let anybody else see evidence for her divine ancestry.
“I fell”, the small voice said.
“Am I a demon now?”
Despite knowing that she was probably referring to what had happened just now, his heartbeat immediately went into overdrive and he laid a hand onto her forehead, scanning her grace.
His heart calmed down, albeit reluctantly, when he realized that no, the small angel had not gotten herself cast out of heaven directly after telling him she was new here.
“No. Still an angel.”
Maebelle nodded. He nodded back at her. They simply nodded at each other without real purpose until Maebelle’s nods started to get sluggish and she yawned.
“Want me to carry you home, little one?”
She nodded and raised her hands at him. His heart gave a small squeeze and he carried her back to Aziraphale’s house, grabbing Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” from a table and settling himself and th small child in his arms on one of the couches. Maebelle snuggled into his form, sighing softly.
Then his voice filled the room as he read to Maebelle stories of a man so self-obsessed that he could not reciprocate the love that humanity offered him and of a nymph who turned into a tree to avoid an unwanted suitor.
That was how Aziraphale found them: Both fast asleep on Crowley’s favourite couch in his study. His heart felt light in a strange way and all in all, there were a lot of confusing emotions humming and thrumming in his chest.
He went to make some tea in the kitchen. They might want some, when they woke up, after all. Besides, Aziraphale had a complicated talk to have, then. He’d have to apologize to Maebelle and to at least tell her the reasons for his behaviour. Not to justify them, dear God, no. Simply to make her understand that it was not her fault at all how he had treated her. There was a lot that could happen during that conversation, a lot to unpack. If you asked Aziraphale then complicated conversations were always easier with tea. Or alcohol, but that was not a viable option for obvious reasons. And not all that smart to begin with. It did work for conversations with Crowley though and that was what counted, in the end.
Aziraphale then, while his kettle with tea merrily boiled on the stove, miracled himself some books about children and childcare from, well, anywhere and contemplated how he could teach her how to miracle things and how to fly. Could she even fly with her tiny wings yet?
Taking over the guardianship of a small angel was, as it turned out, not quite as easy as one might believe.*
*Mothers and Other Relatives might have been in the habit of calling quiet, nice and well-behaved children “angels” but really, when you got right down to it angel children were children first and foremost with the small difference that Maebelle had gotten a small headstart from God Herself regarding language and some motoric abilities, albeit not all of them.
When he was done with taking notes on basic parenting skills he thought about teaching Maebelle how to read and which book to use for that.
He gathered some Homer, some Sappho and a bible.
He thought about adding Ovid’s “Metamorphosis” but he simply couldn’t find it. At least not until his eyes wandered to a small table next to Crowley and Maebelle’s couch.
A smile spread across his face and he whispered:
“How nice of you.”
It was almost a little weird not to get any protest in return, but it also felt nice. No, nice was not quite the right word. As he miracled up a blanket and put it over the napping forms of Crowley and Maebelle he found it: The right word was “domestic”. It felt domestic.
Chapter 4: The Seventh Day
Waking up was, hands down, the worst part of sleeping. That was one thing that Crowley was fairly certain of. He yawned, jaw clicking in that disconcerting way that it had always clicked in and attempted to stretch his body when something unfamiliar caught his attention.
Firstly, there was a small warm weight on his chest. Maebelle, his drowsy brain supplied. This weight moved in small, fidgety movements sometimes and he could feel breath on his skin in even intervals.
Secondly, there was a blanket covering both of them that he could not explain. He was sure that he had not had a blanket when falling asleep. The hideous pastel tartan pattern on it, however, was a strong clue that this blanket belonged to Aziraphale and he would go with that assumption until proven otherwise, which he doubted would happen. Seriously, the sixteenth century had so much to offer regarding style and elegant looks and Aziraphale chose to stick with tartan of all things! A travesty!* Almost a crime, really.
*He also found it to be terribly endearing but he would be blessed and doused in holy water before admitting that, ever. There were certain aspects of a demon’s reputation that he just was not willing to part with quite yet.
His sleep-drunken brain vaguely registered how he hummed and how his hands carded through soft and silky locks of hair. The clock ticked with noises that seemed loud in the quiet of the moment, he could even hear the whirring of the gears inside if he concentrated. There was also the telltale smell of boiled herbs wafting through the air.
“Hmm. Aziraphale made tea”, he murmured into the room. Only the ticking of the clock answered him and he blinked a few times.
Relaxation crashed into him like a raft on a flooded river might crash into the stones on the sides. He had not expected it, honestly, had not mentally prepared for it, but here it was. If he hadn’t been so relaxed at the moment he might have been disconcerted or stressed by how quickly that relaxation came. As it was, though, he simply blinked once more and licked his lips lazily.
That was when he saw Aziraphale peek through the door with a concentrated look and exactly one cup of tea that had little wings as the handle which was ridiculous. He immediately closed his eyes and faked the steady breathing that he had noticed in Maebelle.
“Crowley”, Aziraphale whispered through the room.
Crowley made a noise that he thought sounded like somebody who slept and had just entered the REM phase while it actually sounded more like an asthmatic dog running a marathon. Aziraphale chuckled and Crowley’s heart jumped a little. Bless that angel!
“Crowley, I know you are awake.”
Crowley opened one eye, tentatively.
“Sleeping demons don’t open their eyes, dear.”
A sly smile spread across Crowley’s face - he could feel it in the way the corners of his mouth curled up. Aziraphale had once told him that he looked like he was planning a robbery when smiling like that.
“Ah, and you know that how exactly? Seen many demons sleep, haven’t you? Watched them a little before smiting them, huh?” Crowley gave a wink that even he had to admit was a little much but he was still sleepy and he would absolutely use that excuse to shove all the blame far far away from him. Hell would probably be proud, too.
Aziraphale, meanwhile, took a sip of his tea and put one hand onto his hip, humming contently.
“Just the one, dear.”
Oh. Okay. Good. Crowley’s throat felt a little clogged up and he certainly felt smitten in that moment. Distraction. Right! He focused on the child in his arms, watching a small chest rise and fall with every breath. There were even small freckles on her face that he hadn’t noticed before! Would you look at that! And how interestingly small her little fists were compared to his long and slender fingers. Especially-
“Do you think she will forgive me?”
Crowley raised his head again, taking in the tense form of his favourite angel, seeming smaller now than only seconds before, practically holding onto the cup of tea like it was a lifeline. A deep breath left Crowley’s lungs.
“I don’t know. She might. Might not. That’s not in our hands anymore, angel. Don’t worry about it.”
Aziraphale nodded and stared into the distance with that absent look that he usually reserved for deep thoughts about restaurant choices and arguments why he could not do the blessing and the temptation in Sweden this time around.
“She doesn’t have to”, he then said, still with that far away look.
Crowley was confused now.
“Forgive me, dear. I mean, I-” Aziraphale took a shuddering breath and smiled crookedly.
“I really haven’t been much of an angel to her, have I?”
“You were worried.”
The angel shrugged.
“Doesn’t make it right.”
Oh, this was serious. Aziraphale did not really leave away the subject of a sentence with his prim and proper grammar. That was Crowley’s thing and every now and then Aziraphale would tease him about it and say: “Grammar, dear.” Then Crowley would say the exact same sentence that he’d said before, deliberately leaving out or shortening as many words and grammatically important structures as he could without the sentence completely losing its meaning.
“Listen, Aziraphale. You’re right. You made a mistake. Do you plan to make it again? Leave the kid to her own devices again?”
Aziraphale looked at him like he had proposed that they take some of these fancy fireworks and light them up in his library.
Crowley just shrugged and made a throwaway gesture with his hand, which was hard when one of his arms was currently being hugged by a small angel and something was digging into his shoulder.
“Then that’s all you can do for now. Past’s the past. Just tell her what you wanna tell her and when all’s said and done”, he threw his hand out again, “I’m here, alright? You won’t get rid of me that easily.”
A wobbly smile spread on Aziraphale’s face as he nodded.
“Thank you, dear.” His voice sounded croaky.
“If… if you’ll excuse me… I’ll, I will just…” He left the room and Crowley closed his eyes again. Silly, overthinking angel.
When Crowley woke up again it was because the bundle of warmth on his chest was moving. He blearily opened up one eye and stared into the pudgy face of a toddler with red marks on it that had clearly been made by the fabric of his clothes.
“Good morning.” He yawned again, jaw clicking away.
“Morning”, an excited voice chirped back.
Maebelle buried her face in his chest again and laid there for a while, not moving, while he softly stroked her back.
“‘d you sleep well, kid?”
He felt the answering nod more than he saw it since somebody refused to raise her head from his chest again. Unintelligible mumbling came from her direction.
“What was that?”
She rolled her head to the side so at least her mouth was free now when she spoke again.
“I saw pictures again.”
Crowley blinked, simply staring at her in incomprehension before realizing what she likely meant.
“Oh, you dreamed! What did you dream of?”
She shuffled around on his chest until she had found what he assumed to be a more comfortable position.
“Well, mama was there. Everything was pretty and clean and smelled nice. Dunno anything else, though.”
“Yeah. Dreams are sneaky ba-ad boys. Sneaky bad boys. Yep. Just don’t wanna be remembered, sometimes.”
“I think they’re like clouds”, Maebelle began, sitting up and looking at him with a serious expression.
The door opened before she could elaborate on her thoughts.
“Oh. You two are awake!”
Aziraphale looked horrible. Not to the normal eye, of course. Any stranger that might have seen him looking like this would see the exact same eccentric, frumpy man that they could have seen any other day as well when looking at the angel. Crowley was not any stranger, though. No. Crowley saw the wrinkles in the usually impeccably ironed clothes* and the crooked collar that seemed like Aziraphale had adjusted it just a few times too often.
*Aziraphale had been all over that when the Chinese had invented these hot water pan thingies to even out their clothing. He had claimed that it looked professional and neat and Crowley had never found it within himself to tell him that it really did not make much of a difference in the togas he was wearing at the time.
Maebelle waved reluctantly.
Aziraphale’s hands were shaky when he raised a beautiful china cup with blue details into their direction.
Maebelle nodded slowly, like she was deliberately making the choice to move each muscle along the way. Her hands were fiddling with each other. Crowley gave her an encouraging smile and a thumbs up.
“Uhm”, Maebelle looked at Aziraphale and Crowley could not see her expression anymore.
“Can I - may I help you make it?
Aziraphale visibly brightened.
“Yes, yes of course! Just follow me to the kitchen.”
Crowley would never understand why Aziraphale had a kitchen but not a bedroom or even just a bed crammed in somewhere in the house when sleeping was so much fun. But to each their - ughmpf! That was a tiny knee in his digestive organs.
Maebelle climbed down from the couch and he watched as the two angels left the room. He sighed. Somehow he just knew that this would be a long day. Something in his gut was telling him that. Then again, that might have just been the fault of the knee that had resided there just minutes ago. He heard the clock ticking again and decided to get some more lazing done. You never knew when the next lazing opportunity would come around, after all.
“Now, Maebelle, dear: Tea is always best when you brew it yourself, no matter what Crowley will tell you. Miracling it up does not taste the same! Trust me, I drank tea since shortly after its invention. There is a difference!”
Maebelle nodded dutifully like this was the most important information she had ever gotten and watched Azira go through the motions as he explained to her why exactly he did what he did to ensure that his tea was the best that it possibly could be. Occasionally she was allowed to help, for example with plucking out some tea leaves out of a beautiful wooden box, by far her favourite parts of this educational experience. Although she did like the smell too.
It was weird, she decided, to go from no interaction with any angel at all to cuddling and making tea together. Not bad-weird, though. Actually, it was nice to be called “dear” again and she liked Crowley in general.
There was, however, still a heavy feeling sitting in her stomach, making it clench uncomfortably any time Aziraphale looked at the door.
She tugged on a strand of her hair, noting how it bounced a little when she stretched it out and let go again.
“Do you hate me?”
Azira looked at her with wide eyes and a mouth that kept opening and closing, his hands moving in frantic motions that made no sense to Maebelle.
“No! Dear God, no! Definitely not! I just… look, dear.” Azira took a deep breath. “As soon as the tea is done, you, Crowley and I are going to have a talk about this, alright? Just… just know that I am really sorry for how I treated you. It was terrible behaviour from my side and… yes.”
Maebelle nodded. She did not quite know what was happening or what would happen but she knew that she would find out soon and for now that was enough. The kettle shone beautifully in the light, she found as she inspected the kitchen tools that Azira kept around. Only a few of these made sense to her, namely the knives and spoons. Nicola had a few tools for his art that looked similar and he had explained their function to her by showing her how they worked similar to spoons and knives respectively.
She was currently in the middle of inspecting a funny looking thing with funny bits sticking out when something screamed. She flinched, pressing her hands to her ears and threw her head around in an effort to find the source of the screaming.
Aziraphale looked at her with furrowed brows.
“What is wrong, dear?”
“Screaming”, she said, her voice sounding weird and muffled through her hands.
Could Azira not hear that? Was there something wrong?
“Ah”, Azira said and nodded.
“That is perfectly normal. It means our tea is done. But careful, it’s going to be hot.”
He poured some tea into three very pretty matching cups and balanced all of that on a tablet that he carried to the book room where Crowley still lounged on the wide chair.
“Alright.” Azira put the tablet onto the small table next to the wide chair that housed Crowley, gesturing for her to sit down in another wide chair. She chose a blue one and climbed up, then watched Azira as he simply sat down to Crowley. While there were a lot of things he did that she could not understand, this was not one of them. Crowley was comforting to be around and had she known that she was allowed to settle down next to them she might have done this as well.
Then Azira began to speak and she listened closely, hoping for answers.
“Before I start with any of this, I want you to know that you don’t have to forgive me for any of this. I would honestly understand if you did not and if you want to I’ll help you file an application for relocation to heaven right away, when this is done. Do you… is that alright for you?”
Maebelle nodded and then listened some more as Aziraphale explained his thought process and how he had thought she was a high-ranking angel out to monitor him for “unruly behaviour”. That was precisely where she interrupted him.
“But… uhm, Azira? Why are you afraid? You are not in trouble? Right?”
He stiffened, his eyes darting across the room, as he fiddled with his collar. A nervous laugh escaped his lips.
“You see… uhm… that is a good question! An excellent question, really. I ought to… well, it’s, so…. uhm.”
“He hangs out with me.” Crowley shrugged and adjusted the position of their legs, their knees now brushing against Azira’s for just a second. Maebelle’s forehead wrinkled as she scrunched her brows together.
“Why is that bad? You are really nice! Are they”, she tested the unfamiliar word on her tongue, “yell-us?”
Azira laughed but it was not a very happy sound, permeated by the murkiness that she had grown to dislike.
“I am an angel and he is a demon, dear.”
A nod. That much she knew already.
She said: “And I am an angel too and Julia is human and Crowley is also a snake.”
There was a certain pride in her voice, listing all these things she knew for sure. When you came into the world with virtually no knowledge at all any little morsel of knowledge had to be savoured like a glorious feast.
One question remained though:
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Azira shook his head.
“Dear. I work for heaven, yes?”
She nodded. That was, as far as she had understood from Nicola’s ramblings and Julia’s thrown in slightly more coherent snippets of information, the place where she had met mama for the first time, where she had spent most of her not-quite existence and where Azira had found her.
“That means”, Azira said, “that I perform miracles and do good and”, he fumbled for words, “follow the way, yes?”
She nodded again. There had been a few miracles that she had seen and according to Julia angels were meant to do all sorts of good. Like, being nice to people and animals and plants. ‘Following the way’ seemed a little more abstract and she was not quite sure what it meant but then again, neither was Azira, so that seemed fine.
“And Crowley is a demon”, Azira added, looking at her with his head tilted to the right.
Maebelle got that. They had, after all, already talked about that part. About angels Falling and hurting and being cut off from God.
“Don’t worry, Azira”, she said, helpfully, “as long as you are a good girl and stay true to God’s ways the demons cannot do anything to you.”
“Besides”, she continued, “I don’t think Crowley would do anything mean to you anyway. They are very nice.”
This time it was Azira who snorted while Crowley had a weird facial expression that Maebelle couldn’t really name if she tried, much less interpret or understand.*
*That facial expression, dear reader, was roughly the equivalent of an “error”-message in the sense that it showed two wildly contrasting and conflicting emotions. On one hand Crowley’s instinctual reaction to deny the claim kicked in. The one that made him protest when his name was even thought somewhat close to the word ‘nice’ and that made him glare at Aziraphale with scary regularity by now. On the other hand, however, there was the fact that Crowley was actually not as un-nice as he’d like to be with a special portion of patience specifically reserved for children. That was the part of him responsible for not protesting verbally - which he would not hear the end of, later, when Aziraphale and Crowley were alone for a second.
Azira nodded in a wiggly sort of way and shifted a few times on the wide chair.
“Yes, but he works for hell. And therefore our respective head offices would not condone us meeting at all. Heaven and hell are, after all, on opposite sides of the war that is to come. So, you see, meeting up with him without any effort or intention to smite him is basically fraternizing with the enemy. Do you understand that?”
Maebelle nodded, paused and immediately shook her head. She did note, however, which pronoun Aziraphale used for Crowley and made an effort to remember that one.
“Not a word. What’s a ‘hell’? Who is ‘War’ and why are they coming? And I do not know any of the last words.”
“Alright. So, hell? Great big place stuffed to the brim with demons and beasts and all kinds of vermin. Somehow too warm and too hot. Lots of leaking things and no system at all. At least none I’ve noticed. Terrible view too. Can’t recommend.”
He shrugged in an exaggerated fashion and smirked.
“‘s basically where demons go after Falling and where the bad humans go. Y’know? After they die. Then there’s-”
“Humans can Fall?!”, Maebelle screamed.
But… but humanity was so nice and so good. She was starting to seriously get cross with her mama, if She could simply be mean to so many people and leave them all alone.
“It’s all about choices”, She had said at one point and choices had seemed very nice at the time. A good idea, over all.
But if this was what those choices brought… were they really worth it?
The punishment that came with making the wrong choices… were the people okay with that?
She resolved to asking Julia and Nicola later on.
Crowley shrugged again.
“Yes, in a way humans can Fall, I suppose. It’s all a bit different for them, though, what with all the choices they make from the beginning of their lives. Anyway, yeah. Heaven and hell are kind of on opposite sides because, even the aesthetics reflect this, one of them is boring and the other a mess and they both think they’re right. So they have to fight over who’s the better one.”
Crowley took a breath and looked a little older, suddenly.
“And War, well, I guess she is a person too, but we were kinda speaking about the end of the world when Armageddon comes and everybody dies and heaven and hell use earth as their battlefield.”
Maebelle’s head swam with information.
“That last part, complete bull- complete nonsense, by the way. The angel means that heaven and hell would not like us to be friends because they’re mean and don’t like us or each other.”
“Alright”, Maebelle said and nothing was really alright but she’d need a while to process all of this before she could properly figure out what she thought about this.
“So…”, Azira started lamely… “That is what happened and why I ignored you. I am so very sorry, again, and I hope you understand that none - not a single thing of this - is your fault. You did nothing wrong. I am just”, his face scrunched up funnily, “stupid.”
He took another deep and very audible breath.
“So, dear, if you want to go back upstairs”, he pointed to the sky, “then I’ll support you.”
She fidgeted and put a strand of her hair behind her ear.
“Could we… could we maybe just spend some time together instead?”
Aziraphale’s heart soared inside of his chest. He was not yet forgiven, he knew, but he had been given a chance. A chance that he intended to make use of!
Next to him, he felt the sofa move. Crowley stood up, slapping his own thighs and beginning to mumble about it being time and him really having to go.
“No!”, Maebelle shouted.
He watched as his face shifted to an incredulous look. There had always been a certain appreciation within him for the incredible expressiveness of the demon. Crowley was always brimming with emotions, almost overflowing and that showed a courage Aziraphale could not help but admire.
“No?”, Crowley looked at him over his sunglasses, then at Maebelle.
“No”, Maebelle repeated. Her determined expression shifted to a softer, more vulnerable one with wide eyes and softly arched eyebrows.
Crowley’s face went through a million different emotions and expressions and settled on one that, in Aziraphale’s mental catalogue containing all things Crowley, was labeled “I want you to think I am annoyed and don’t care but, actually, I am touched”.
“Fine”, Crowley said. There could not have been a surer sign that Aziraphale’s assessment of the expression was entirely correct.
“What’d ya wanna do then, kid?”
Aziraphale watched as Maebelle stared at the ceiling and bit her lip.
“Can we go out and take a walk? I think Julia said that that’s a good way to get to know someone. She got to know Nicola that way.”
Aziraphale stood up.
It was Sunday, anyway, so the guards were probably already wondering why he had not taken a walk this week yet, aside from the one on Monday.
They walked out of the house and he heard himself say:
“Here, take my hand. It’s safer this way” at the same time at which Crowley simply silently offered his hand to Maebelle. He held his breath.
This choice felt significant, somehow. Like it was filled to the brim with symbolism. God liked bothering with that sort of thing, he knew. Maybe this would show what kind of angel Maebelle would become. Whether she chose God or Satan. Whether she-
His thoughts were interrupted by a soft touch on his hand and he watched with an open mouth as Maebelle walked in-between them, one of their hands in each of hers, swinging their arms back and forth enthusiastically.
He had not expected that, to be honest. Then again, if he was honest with himself, he had not correctly predicted any of Maebelle’s actions so far. By all means, he should have expected to be surprised.
“So”, Maebelle turned her head to him, then to Crowley, then back to him.
“What is your favourite colour?”
She was looking at Aziraphale now, so she was probably expecting him to answer as well. He thought for a second on how to describe his favourite colour. The golden hue with a very special lime green tint to it that simply radiated a sense of safety to him.
“Yellow”, he said and Maebelle nodded, already turning her head to Crowley.
“Mine’s blue”, Crowley said without hesitation and Maebelle beamed at him in obvious elation.
“I like blue too!”
A soft expression flashed over Crowley’s face and, oh, sometimes Aziraphale wished that Crowley was still an angel so that he could feel free to express his feelings without holding them back.
But, and it was only with hesitation that this thought came to him, maybe he would not express them at all, were he still in heaven.
After all, emotions were a sure sign of softness and softness was not what heaven was looking for in soldiers that were meant to fight for them.
Maybe it truly didn’t matter what sides they were on. Maybe-
He shook his head. Best not to speculate. Thoughts like these were what led angels to Fall.
“And what is your favourite animal?”
This time it was Crowley who asked, grinning at Maebelle all the while. She looked deep in thought, brows furrowed and her hand absentmindedly squeezing his a little.
“That is hard”, she complained.
“I like so many animals. I like ladybugs and rabbits and I like dogs. But I also like snakes and lizards and pigeons. And you are a snake and I like you!”
She pointed at Crowley.
“And snakes are so pretty too! Hmmm….”
A pause in which she stared at the sky ensued.
“I think I like snakes best. And dolphins!”
“Where in all of Florence have you seen dolphins, my dear?”
Aziraphale looked at her and noticed how she puffed her chest out a little, obviously proud of herself.
“Statues! Nicola showed me some and told me how smart and nice dolphins are!”
Alright. That made sense.
“So, Azira, what is your favourite animal?”
He did not even think about that one.
“Mine are snakes too. And owls”, Crowley added.
Maebelle nodded in a very understanding manner, then smiled a bright smile:
“We all have the same favourite animal!”
And with that realization, they had reached the gate with some guards standing in front of it in an obviously bored position.
“Ah, Signor Fell! We were getting worried about you! And the little one looks better too!”
The guard with the black hair turned toward Maebelle.
“What is your name, pumpkin?”
He bent down, squatting in front of her and reaching out one of his hands.
Maebelle eagerly took it and shook it.
“I am Maebelle! Nice to meet you!”
The man smiled at her.
“What is your favourite colour?”
The guardsman looked taken aback, likely not expecting such a random question.
“Um… I like green.”
Maebelle seemed satisfied.
“I like blue.”
Meanwhile, Crowley had talked to the other guard, the brunette one, answering any and all questions that were standard procedure. Aziraphale was not quite sure which questions that were because he had not been asked these questions in ages, being somewhat famous and infamous among the guards.
After a relatively short amount of time, they were good to go.
“Goodbye! See you later!”
The guards waved at them and Maebelle waved back before grabbing both Crowley’s and Aziraphale’s hands again, smiling brightly the entire time.
The path they took was familiar to Aziraphale but now, exploring it with Crowley and Maebelle by his side, it felt different, somehow.
Maybe it was because the emotional turmoil within him had finally calmed down to normal levels or maybe it was because of Maebelle excitedly pointing out all kinds of mundane things.
From flowers that she deemed pretty to animals like butterflies and bugs to one particularly smooth stone that caught her attention.
“Yes, dear. That one is quite pretty, hmm?”
Maebelle agreed easily, her head following the movements of the insect until she could not see it anymore or it stopped holding her attention - Aziraphale was not sure which one of those was the case.
What he knew, though, was that Maebelle now let go of them to run toward the wooden bench excitedly.
Ah, yes, he knew that one. Although he was not quite sure why Maebelle thought it was interesting enough to run towards it.
He shared an amused look with Crowley who looked so very relaxed right now that Aziraphale almost audibly sighed.
It was hard for both of them to relax when they met up, usually. Not because they did not enjoy each other’s company but rather because the feeling of betraying their sides - the danger of being caught - was looming over them like a raincloud determined to hide every last trace of the sun’s existence.
Now, though, it seemed to have molten away and Aziraphale found himself to be grateful. The peace within their little bubble of existence was palpable and he relished it.
“Look! The wide chair has pretty cracks!”
This confused him. The bench had seemed in an alright condition the last time he had walked past in the beginning of the week with Maebelle on his hip and a lot on his mind. It was not impossible that he’s missed it starting to crack after all this time. Regardless, he approached the bench on which Maebelle now sat, tracing patterns on the backrest of it. He took a second to comprehend what he was seeing, then he giggled.
“What is it, angel?”
Crowley approached him, the slightly dried up grass crunching beneath his feet.
“Those are letters.”
He pointed to the ‘C&F’ carved into the bench.
“And a heart”, Maebelle added.
“And a curse word.” Crowley grinned.
“Oh, do shut up, dear.”
Crowley stuck his tongue out at him and Maebelle imitated him although the gesture, coming from her, lacked any of the well-calculated sarcastic wit and sharpness that Crowley managed to put into it.
In short: It looked adorable when she did it, her small baby tongue barely poking out of her mouth.
He very nearly cooed at that delightful display. Instead, though, he pointed accusingly to the child with a teasing smile on his face, turned to Crowley and said:
“Oh, you wily old serpent! You cannot resist tempting the youth even on the supposed day off! Are not even Sundays holy to you anymore?!”
Aziraphale dramatically draped himself over the bench, careful to avoid Maebelle who still sat there.
The grin on Crowley’s face changed its inflexion and he quickly grabbed Maebelle and held her high up into the air while she squealed in joy.
“You have seen right through me, oh righteous angel! I have corrupted this child to do my bidding which is why I know she will join my side when I invoke the wrath of the Great Dog In The Ocean to instigate a”, he made a dramatic pause, “tickle fight!”
With those words he plopped Maebelle onto Aziraphale’s lap and began tickling him.
Aziraphale laughed, being quite ticklish, and squirmed.
Then, to his and Crowley’s delight, Maebelle joined in and tried to imitate Crowley’s movements.
Between laughs Aziraphale raised his hands in surrender.
“Mercy! Mercy! You are clearly superior!”
Crowley immediately let go off him and plucked Maebelle from his lap again, holding her into the air and looking her into the eyes.
“Today has been a great success for us, my lieutenant. The Great Dog In The Ocean will be pleased.”
Maebelle giggled and gestured for him to get closer to her. As Crowley complied, she pecked him on the cheek.
“Is there really a great dog in the sea?”
“Nah. Sorry, little one, I made that one up.”
Maebelle wiggled a little in Crowley’s grasp.
“That is fine. Julia says, making things up to play can be a lot of fun. And I had fun. Did you had fun?”
“It’s did you ‘have’ fun, my dear”, Aziraphale piped up while Crowley simply nodded.
“That’s good, then.”
“Fun is important to have. Nicola said so.”
She nodded with an air of importance that amused Aziraphale greatly.
Crowley lowered her a little, now holding her against his hip.
Aziraphale stood up from the bench and approached them, a question heavy on his tongue.
“So, Maebelle… you really cannot read, can you?”
Crowley laughed quietly as Maebelle shook her head. Softly, at first, then a little wilder.
“I don’t even know what that means”, she cheerfully announced and Aziraphale’s mouth was gaping in horror.
Sometimes he forgot how little she probably knew. That definitely had to change!
Crowley watched in amusement as Aziraphale went on a rant about writing and its meaning and how it was the closest to immortality humans could get. It was (for lack of a better word) cute how passionate the angel was about literature. Even more so when the young angel in his own arms sucked on her own fist and listened to the rambling with rapt attention.
It had been a surprise for him, to be included in this outing. He had almost been certain that Maebelle would want to spend time with Aziraphale alone, now that he had stopped being a knobhead about the whole situation. Maybe they would want to bond over the divine glory they felt or something*. But instead they were simply hanging out together, her behaving like a pretty regular human toddler aside from the vocabulary and certain moments. A toddler with an apparent inclination toward imitating him, at the moment. Endearing.
*Crowley had not been an angel in quite a long time. In fact, angelic bonding time back when he had still been an angel had consisted mostly of working together on something that was in some way related to the future existence of the planets - earth in particular.
Anybody who has ever been part of a group project before knows that this could only have ended in one of two possible outcomes:
Either it was an extreme bonding experience and you felt like you understood your team a little better afterwards, proud of the result and your accomplishments or you hated absolutely anything and everything when it was done, but most of all your teammates.
Maybe that had contributed to people joining Lucifer and the boys.
This was not quite the status quo of heaven anymore but Crowley had Fallen before being able to find out what exactly heavenly team-building exercises consisted of nowadays. He had simply chosen the first thing that popped into his head.
Crowley watched a small butterfly struggle a little in the wind.
On a whim, he redirected the air, making it ignore the small white thing that it had been teasing and play with wavy honey blonde hair instead. It was instantly rewarded when the girl in his arms smiled at the movement of her hair, shouting gleefully when it flew into her face and obscured her vision.
He felt his own hair being blown back by the breeze and he had to admit that it was nice.
Then, something tugged on his sleeve.
“Can you let me down, please?”
Wordlessly he did, watching as she inspected a few flowers, ran around on the hill and tried to imitate a few bird calls.
Time was not quite as meaningful to him as it was to other beings, him being practically immortal, but he was nevertheless surprised when the evening rolled around, dying the sky a hot pink colour that impressed Maebelle.
They were walking back now, Maebelle resting against Aziraphale’s chest this time.
The guards greeted them once again, Maebelle giving each of them a flower that she had picked at some point during the day. Crowley also wore one in his hair. A pretty white one that contrasted heavily with his hair and his overall aesthetic, but it was hard to deny the kid anything. Especially when she looked at him with those big brown eyes and her slightly tilted head, her entire being screaming ‘hope’ at him.
Besides: He looked stunning with that flower in his hair and he knew it!
Aziraphale would have liked to sigh* but he didn’t.
Instead, he smiled a smile that spectators might have described as ‘serene’.
*Largely because Crowley really did look stunning with a flower in his hair.
Today had been a largely uneventful day, considering how nervous he had been when anticipating it.
He had expected tears and anger and lots and lots of stress.
He had expected mistrust and nervosity and a struggle to connect with each other.
He had expected a taxing day.
Instead, he had gotten an incredible, relaxed day filled with joy and youth and wonder.
A second chance, walking through Florence once again with Maebelle in his arms. But this time she was awake and fiddled with his hair while mumbling something incoherent about sheep. Crowley, walking next to them, laughed at that.
“Ah, you’re doing great, kid!”
That was another thing he had noticed today: Crowley was great with children. He always had been, really. The evidence had always been there but somehow experiencing it for himself was something else entirely.
A tiny spot within him got all warm and gooey in that familiar way that he had come to associate with Crowley, when experiencing that and he found himself surprised not to be surprised by that find.
He breathed a deep breath, trying to ground himself back in reality, back where a tiny child currently needed him and where Crowley looked beautiful with a flower in his hair.
Right now, the air smelled like rain and sweet pollen. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear the shouting of mothers trying to get their children to finally come inside. This time he did sigh.
“I like sheep”, Maebelle murmured.
He had focused on her early enough to actually make out the words.
Next to him, Crowley raised a singular eyebrow, a skill that Aziraphale knew he was quite proud of, and said:
“Have you ever seen sheep?”
Maebelle shook her head.
“No. But Nicola told me about them. His uncle has a farm. They sound nice. And they go ‘baaah’!”
“That’s right, kid! They’re also pretty soft. Their hair is where wool comes from.”
Maebelle’s mouth opened, forming a small “o”.
“Yes, dear. Really.”
They arrived at his house right as Crowley told Maebelle how to make cloth out of wool. Aziraphale hadn’t even known that Crowley knew how to do that!
“Alright”, Crowley said after entering.
“I’d better be off, now. Got wiles to do and some evil to spread. You know the deal.”
Maebelle waved at him.
“Bye bye! See you tomorrow?”
Something flashed over Crowley’s face before he shot Aziraphale a questioning look. After 5500 years of communicating, he was fairly sure about the meaning of this (unlike a certain set of nuns several centuries afterwards). Aziraphale nodded.
“Sure, kid. See you tomorrow.”
He turned a little to the side.
“Oh, and angel: Don’t forget to miracle the little one a bed, okay?”
Aziraphale took a look at the child in his arms and yeah, Maebelle seemed pretty exhausted.
“Thank you”, Aziraphale said to the empty space where Crowley had been only seconds ago.
He looked down at Maebelle again.
“Alright, dear. Time to add another room to the house.”
He blinked at the hasty movement. Maebelle looked down onto her hands that were resting on his arm and bit her lip.
“Can I… could you maybe just put a bed in the book room? I”, her voice started to become quieter, almost too quiet to properly understand it, “I don’t want to be alone.”
Oh. His heart gave a painful little squeeze.
“Sure. Do you want anything specific for the bed?”
“Can it be blue?”
He simply gestured to the bed that now stood with them in the room and was rewarded by a joyful if tired smile.
A blue nightgown appeared in his hands.
“Uhm… can you maybe help me?”, Maebelle fidgeted with her hair and he simply nodded.
She was already yawning when he walked out of the room, resolving himself to make some tea and miracle it to be quiet.
He turned around.
Her voice sounded small and insecure and slightly shaky.
“Azira, don’t leave me, please. Not… not ever again. Yeah?”
Something in his throat felt tight.
“Do you promise?”
Her eyes looked at him. Big and brown and so hopeful. He swallowed.
A relieved sigh left her little frame, along with another yawn.
“That’s good then. I did not like being alone.”
He watched her breathing even out and buried his hands in his hair.
He was so glad that Maebelle had asked Crowley to come over the next day. Crowley seemed to know exactly what to do while Aziraphale felt lost and confused most of the time.
And now he had made a promise he was not sure he could keep! How irresponsible was that?
But, he thought, as he settled into an armchair in the very same room as Maebelle, using a dimmed down version of his halo to reread some of Sappho’s poems, he’d be damned if he wouldn’t try his best to keep it.