Gabriel found Her on the edge of creation, where She walked on nothingness and left trails of divinity bleeding behind her. "Lord?"
She turned her attention to him, and Gabriel closed half of his eyes. He could look on Her -- all angels could look on Her -- but it was unwise to look long with any particular eye. He cycled through his, smooth with practice. "My Gabriel," She said, fondly, and something like feathers brushed over him.
"Lord," he said, again, "no one can find Raphael. Did she Fall?"
She had a thousand thousand eyes, iridescent, blue and green and colors he had no name for, and they surrounded him. The feathers of Her invisible wings passed over him and through him, setting his energy swirling. She coalesced into Her four-limbed form, in which she was short and rawboned, her two eyes still blazing with color but the rest of her quietly, immensely, terrifyingly contained.
She touched his energy with her fingertips, and he shivered into his four-limbed form, as well. "Gabriel," she said, smiling. "You are lovely like this."
She drew a world close to her. It was unformed, barely more than raw firmament shaped into a sphere. "I am going to make a kind of creature," she said, "like these forms of ours." She spun the world between her hands. "It will live here, and we will watch them. I am giving them free will. "
Gabriel closed both of his eyes, this time. Having only two was difficult; he couldn't cycle them properly. "About Raphael--"
"Do not worry about Raphael," she said, and disappeared in something like a clap of thunder, except that thunder hadn't been invented yet.
The Principality Aziraphale failed to protect the Tree.
The Almighty, though angry with the humans, seemed unperturbed by Aziraphale's failure. "It was to be expected," She said, when Gabriel asked. "I didn't put him there to succeed."
"Why did you put him there?" asked Gabriel, and She smiled. Her smiles were terrifying: lovely as the dawn, Her teeth like long knives, or stars, or shadow.
"I wanted to see what would happen," She said.
"Don't you know?" he asked. "You know everything."
She smiled again, and didn't answer.
He closed his eyes against Her glory.
Aziraphale stood in the floodwaters, and Gabriel stood next to him. The water was cold, and the shapes of drowned things drifted through it.
"I think this must be what Hell is like," Aziraphale said, "with the damned like this, under the surface, never able to rise to Heaven again." The bloated body of a goat bobbed by, its hooves to the sky. Aziraphale sighed, and touched it, reduced it to its component atoms. "I saw the demon Crawly," he said. "Before the flood."
"The Serpent," Gabriel replied. Crawly -- what a horrid name -- had come up once or twice, in other reports from angels stationed on Earth. He appeared to have a creative streak, which Gabriel had never imagined of a demon, not that he spent a lot of time imagining things about demons. "What's he like, really?"
Aziraphale frowned. His wispy white hair stuck to his forehead; Aziraphale wore a physical body because of his long-term residence on Earth, and so odd things happened to it. It got dirty, sometimes, and had to have its hair and nails trimmed, and just now it was wet and going wrinkly about the fingertips. Gabriel found it mildly disgusting, but it didn't seem to bother Aziraphale at all. He supposed that one would have to get used to it, to do the job. "Wily," Aziraphale said. "Wearing a human body these days, a tall one with hair like a dwarf star."
Tall, with hair like a dwarf star : that burning, peculiar shade of red. Gabriel felt an awful suspicion take root in his heart.
"Lord," he said, an instant and a thousand years later, "about Raphael. Did she Fall?"
"Raphael," She said, firmly, "is busy ."
This time, thunder had been invented, and the clap of it She left behind shook Gabriel to his ethereal core.
Gabriel loved being part of visions; humans raised their faces to the light and became, for an instant, both angelic themselves, and cringing, terrified animals. He thrilled to it. Sandalphon, soft-footed, came to him afterwards. "The humans are saying Raphael was present, in the vision," he said, his teeth flashing gold in Heaven's light.
"Not that I saw," Gabriel said.
Later, when he went to ask Her about it, he found only the Metatron. The Almighty, it seemed, was no longer taking his calls.
Six hundred years later, another rumor of Raphael. This time, he did not even try the Almighty: he went instead to the angels stationed on Earth. "If you see Raphael, tell me," he told them, and they pressed their palms together and bowed to him.
"Raphael?" said Aziraphale. "I've never met Raphael. Why would she be here? Ought I to -- " he turned, and looked around, wildly. In the small room where he lived, there were sheets of papyrus and rolls of parchment scattered about, a heel of bread half-hidden, a jug of wine. Clearly, he'd been eating, which was very peculiar. Gabriel resolutely ignored it.
"Just in case," he said, breezily. "I don't expect her to show up, but if she does. You'll let me know?"
"Of course," said Aziraphale, one gold-ringed hand pressed to his breast. There was a smudge of ink on his forefinger. Honestly , had he no pride?
None of the angels ever reported a sighting, much to Gabriel's annoyance.
primus: the communion of angels and demons
The bus rumbled under their feet. Crowley slumped against Aziraphale's shoulder, feeling his friend's quite unnecessary, but very welcome, breathing. Aziraphale, for his part, turned Agnes's prophecy over and over in his fingers. "Crowley," he said, slowly, "do demons ever commune with each other?"
Crowley shifted himself more upright. "Mm," he said. "It's how we get any kind of really detailed instructions, usually. Not very pleasant, having Dagon up your nostrils lighting your brain on fire, but it gets the job done."
Aziraphale wrinkled his own nose at the thought. "I suppose it's efficient," he said, but it made his insides clench sickeningly: angels usually communed to share mutual peace and celestial love. To have something so precious turned into an impersonal delivery system struck him as wrong, like a nasty greasy smear on the pages of a book.
Not that he was given to much communion, but if he was.
Crowley was still talking. "Ordinary things, they'll use radio or TV, but complex -- they don't trust us, you know, so it's direct into the central cortex." Crowley cleared his throat. "Metaphorically. I don't think we have a central cortex. Do angels have a central cortex?"
"Certainly not," Aziraphale said, slightly offended, and then shook himself. "I was thinking about this prophecy," he said. "If we commune -- if we're very careful about the energy transfer, we might be able to hide each other."
"How do you mean?" Crowley said, snatching the prophecy out of Aziraphale's hand and glaring at it, as if it could be threatened into giving up its secrets.
"Well," Aziraphale said, "bodies and faces is easy, we don't even need to commune to swap faces. But no angel would ever mistake me for you just because I looked like you. If we exchange enough energy, I'll feel enough like a demon -- and you'll feel enough like an angel --"
"No," said Crowley. "What if we explode?"
Aziraphale set his mouth in a thin, stubborn line, and Crowley groaned. Aziraphale pressed his lips together; he knew that groan, and he knew he'd already won the argument.
"Can we at least wait until we're back at my place?" Crowley asked, and Aziraphale smiled at him, bright-eyed and closed-mouthed, delighted and sure.
Crowley's flat had very little furniture, and looked as if no one lived there. Aziraphale, who had never thought about it before, suddenly realized why it was they always had to drink at his place, even if they were drinking Crowley's alcohol: Crowley's flat, except for the gorgeous, verdant houseplants, wasn't intended to be a home. The office contained a single table and an ornate chair, and a puddle of melted demon on the floor; the lounge was the most forbidding lounge Aziraphale had ever seen, with a flat, black television taking up most of one wall and a flat, modern, backless sofa in the middle of the room.
It did not look like the kind of place one could enjoy watching the television, but of course that wasn't the point of it.
Aziraphale sat on the uncomfortable sofa, tucking one leg under the opposing thigh, and Crowley, scowling, flung himself down beside him. Their knees brushed, and Aziraphale turned toward him and held out his hands.
"This isn't going to work, angel," Crowley said, but took Aziraphale's hands anyway.
"Oh, hush," said the angel, and reached out with his energy, careful and cautious as always, but determined. He might not have done this for a few thousand years, but he'd been rather skilled at it, and it wasn't the sort of thing one forgot. It was similar in principle to the kind of healing he'd done of Anathema's arm, and he performed those kinds of miracles all the time.
Oh Lord, heal this bike, Crowley drawled, in his memory, and he had to repress a smile. He was, in truth, sometimes a bit too good at joining things together, as if part of him wanted to knit up everything, firmly and snugly, so that it could never be put asunder.
Come to think of it, that's probably why he'd given in on this whole Apocalypse-halting business in the first place, that underlying impulse.
He wound his ethereal essence into Crowley's demonic one; flowed into Crowley as easily as water mixes with vinegar, and Crowley's fingers clamped down on his. "Angel," Crowley said, shakily. "Angel, that feels --"
"Good?" Aziraphale asked, and Crowley laughed a little, gasping. Aziraphale concentrated, drawing a bit more of Crowley into himself, letting the dwarf-star glow of Crowley's being diffuse through him, pushing his own nature outwards into the demon until the scent of ozone and icemelt threaded its way through Crowley's own.
Carefully, he gathered the strands of their beings, wove them into sheathes for each other: a skin that was more than seeming, but less than complete communion.
Crowley's head was on his shoulder, and he was leaning into his chest; both of them were trembling. Aziraphale drew back slowly, and unclamped his fingers from Crowley's hands. They'd left red marks on each other's skin. Between them, invisible even to themselves, their energies twined like rope. "There," he said. "That should do it." His voice shook, and he swallowed, hard. "Not...not going to explode?"
"No," Crowley said, but he was trembling violently. "Oh, that feels strange. I think I need a drink." He flapped one hand towards a wall, which swung open, and revealed a kitchen. Aziraphale investigated, and found a well-stocked liquor cabinet and a delightful selection of food in the fridge. He made up a tray and brought it back to the lounge. Crowley hadn't moved, although he was rubbing his hands on his thighs as if they hurt.
Aziraphale shoved a tumbler of whisky against his chest, until Crowley fumbled for it. "Crowley, are you all right?"
"You," Crowley said, and then ruthlessly got control of his voice, "your energy is -- I'd forgotten how it feels, angel, when it's someone you like."
The Hell of it was that it worked. Heaven couldn't tell he wasn't an angel -- or, at least, couldn't tell what he really was. Gabriel's horrified "it's worse than we thought" had been satisfying, though Uriel's "what is he?" was worrisome. He didn't need Uriel curious about Aziraphale.
Maybe Alpha Centauri should still be in consideration if Heaven started snooping, that's all. Nice weather, lovely small furry creatures, and the main sentient lifeforms had recently discovered distilling alcohol.
Aziraphale's hand in his was warm and soft, and Aziraphale's untangling of their energies and withdrawal of himself gentle and fast, so fast. He let his face melt back into his own, and released the angel's hand reluctantly. He fancied he could still feel Aziraphale's essence infused into his core, and he didn't want to let him go, not yet. Aziraphale's delight in their success was infectious, and he wanted those warm clear eyes on his skin, wanted to share smiles and tiny brushes of fingertips.
They had lunch. Aziraphale was in high spirits, his face bright and open, and Crowley let his voice roll over him, and didn't even make a show of protest when Aziraphale called him a good person. Ridiculous, but he felt indulgent today. Lunch turned into drinks in the back room of the bookshop, and Crowley was smiling at his wine when Aziraphale said, "You meant that we're part of humanity, now, didn't you? 'All of us against all of them.'"
"Yes," said Crowley. "Or on their side, anyway. We chose, didn't we? Not to be on Heaven's side, or Hell's side."
Aziraphale laughed, softly. "Will they leave us alone long enough to figure how to be on humanity's side, do you think?"
Crowley swirled his wine and watched it track back down the sides of the glass and rejoin the golden-yellow mass of liquid in the bottom. "In a way," he said, "we've shown them how to unify, haven't we? They know that we can -- that demons and angels can -- work together. Be something larger than themselves. Make those choices." He dipped his finger in the wine and licked it clean. "They certainly united against us, anyway." He drained the glass.
"For what it's worth," Aziraphale said, reaching over and refilling it, "I'm glad I chose you, Crowley. And them. It was the right thing to do, and it would have been right even if they'd destroyed me for it."
"You didn't Fall," he said. "I was afraid they'd try that . I don't think the communion would have held, if they'd done that rather than try to kill you."
"It would have held," Aziraphale said, soft but certain. "I'm very good at joining things, Crowley."
"You know how when you un-knit something," Crowley said, abruptly, to his wine.
Aziraphale frowned. "Yes," he said.
"I feel like that. Like you un-knit me but I'm all," he gestured with his wineglass, "all kinked up."
Aziraphale made a valiant attempt at keeping a straight face, but failed, collapsing into a cascade of giggles. "Are you going to ask me to tie you up?" His feet skidded on the floor and he slid out of his chair, still giggling. "We can ask Madame Tracy for pointers!"
"How do you know what kinks are?" Crowley asked. "I wouldn't've said it that way if I thought you knew what kinks are."
Aziraphale wiped his eyes with his pocket handkerchief. "My dear, I've lived on this planet more than six thousand years. It takes me a while to catch on to new things, but not that long." He held out a hand, and Crowley pulled him up to his knees, and then harder, a good solid tug so that Aziraphale fell into him on the creaky old sofa.
Aziraphale rolled to the side and tucked himself under Crowley's wineglass arm, his body warm and soft and solid all along Crowley's side. "As far as I know, only the Almighty can cause a Fall," he said. "You said it was Gabriel and Uriel and Sandalphon? They don't have the authority."
"Hastur and Beelzebub could've put you in deep," Crowley said, shaking his head to get Aziraphale's hair out of his nose. "Might be worse than Falling, that."
Aziraphale sighed and pressed more closely to Crowley's side. "Good thing they didn't, then," he said, contentedly, appropriating Crowley's glass and settling in for the night. Crowley closed his eyes, and went to sleep to the sound of Aziraphale's breathing.
secundus: an apple worth the trouble you got into for eating it
Gabriel brought Uriel and Sandalphon with him to speak to the Metatron. The Metatron would not doubt him, but he very nearly doubted himself -- doubted what he had seen, what Aziraphale had done. They stood before the Metatron, and Sandalphon touched his hand, sending a brief pulse of love along the old, slow, soul-deep communion between them.
"What is he?" Uriel said, her beautiful face turned up to the Metatron's light. "What sort of angel can withstand hellfire?"
The Metatron frowned, and looked inscrutable. "An experimental one," he said, but Gabriel thought he sounded unsure. As if the Almighty had given him an answer he had to translate, and the translation was shoddy at best.
"Some experiment," he muttered to Uriel, sotto voce . "An experiment in what, in driving me to -- to questioning ?"
Crowley woke with Aziraphale’s essence thrumming through his own, like the beat of mighty wings. He’d never been certain what it was that celestial stock had instead of nerves, but whatever it was, his were throbbing with ecstatic fire. His head was in Aziraphale’s lap, Aziraphale’s hand was in his hair. “Aziraphale,” he said, helplessly, fumbling along the cords of entwined energy.
“Hm?” Aziraphale said, blinking down at him from behind the book he’d been reading. “My dear?”
Crowley squirmed, arched his back. Aziraphale's essence traced down his spine, plasma-hot and pure. “Pleassse,” he said, “pleasssssse, angel, let me go.”
Aziraphale frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Crowley twisted and rolled away from Aziraphale’s hand, thumping his knees and elbows hard onto the floor, drawing himself into himself violently until he was alone in his body again. “You were communing,” he accused, trying not to tremble, or to weep.
Aziraphale had dropped his book, had one hand pressed to his chest. “I didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t notice.” His eyes were wild, lost.
“I could feel you,” Crowley said, getting to his feet. “All through me. How did you not notice ?” He felt wretched, broken with the agony of having Aziraphale with him, and then not with him.
Aziraphale looked up at him, still wild and lost. "I was so content," he said, helplessly. "As if some part of me was healed by having you in communion."
"We can't," Crowley tried, and his voice cracked. "We can't do that again, angel. I can't take it."
Aziraphale nodded, dropping his eyes to his hands, folded in his lap. He seemed small and still and frightened, stripped bare and tragic.
"I'd better go," Crowley said, and stumbled out, away from Aziraphale, into the warm summer evening.
He'd gone from one Hell to another, only in this Hell, the punishment for his friendship with Aziraphale wasn't destruction, it was being torn away from him, feeling his essence reach out across the distance between them, ragged and desperate.
His houseplants quivered as he misted them.
"As if some part of me was healed by having you in communion--"
He sat in his ornate chair in his office, and shook, and shook, and shook.
If only he could sleep. All his best ideas happened when he was asleep.
After two days, he started drinking.
Drinking was boring, when done without Aziraphale.
He lay on the floor, staring up through the leaves of his plants. The sunlight moved through the room slowly, and he waited, starved for light, starved for warmth. It touched his leg, then his belly, and he slammed his palms down onto the floor, and shouted.
He scrambled to his feet and out of the flat, leaving the sun and plants behind him.
Aziraphale had been alone before, but never lonesome , not really. He'd always been able to visit the main office, before; now he didn't dare, and no one had come to him. It was a relief, but he felt cut off from the others, even if they hadn't really understood humans very well. A peculiar loss, one he thought wouldn't trouble him, and yet...and to top it off, Crowley was avoiding him. He couldn't blame him, he supposed; the inadvertent communion seemed to have hurt him -- Crowley had twisted away from him, shaking, his face agonized. It hadn't seemed to hurt him at all when they'd switched on purpose, but perhaps the unconscious nature of it had brought too much of Aziraphale into him?
He hadn't seen the demon in a week, and his mind kept replaying the moment Crowley had torn himself free, breaking their communion, his knees hitting the floor, his amber eyes wide and shocked.
The shop bell rang, and he turned, wiping away tears, to see a customer he vaguely recognized. The man smiled at him, shyly. "Mr. Fell?"
The man bit his lip, and smiled again. "We met the other day. You were, ah..." He trailed off, and looked worried. Oh -- the man who'd spoken to him on the street, after his fight with Crowley. "Are you all right?" the man said, frowning.
Aziraphale smiled, weakly, well aware that he'd very evidently been crying. "Perfectly," he said.
The man blushed. "Good. That's. Good." He turned to look at a bookshelf, but Aziraphale could see he was watching him out of the corner of his eye.
The customer turned back to him and took a deep breath. "Perhaps this is a bad time," he said, "but I was wondering if--" The bell rang again, and this time it was accompanied by a shout: "Angel!"
Relief swamped him, abrupt and dizzying. Aziraphale called, "Back here, my dear."
Crowley came around a stack of books and drew up short. The customer gave him a savage look, which he didn't seem to notice. "Have you been crying ?"
"It's nothing you need worry about," Aziraphale said, but Crowley reached out and nearly brushed his fingers over his cheekbone, not quite touching.
"Is this about the thing the other day?" he said, low in his throat.
"Don't," Aziraphale said, pulling away. He desperately wanted Crowley to touch him, to tuck him under his arm, or sleep with his head in Aziraphale's lap, but the last time--
Crowley dropped his hand and cleared his throat. "About that. I've had an idea. Let me take you to dinner."
Aziraphale couldn’t stop the sound he made: helpless, desperate, relieved. He hadn’t driven Crowley off; Crowley hadn’t come here to end their friendship in person. Before he’d even finished making the noise, Crowley had hauled him in and held him warm and safe and close. He could feel Crowley holding in his essence, keeping himself apart — just the barest, faintest hum of demonic energy against his own ethereal energy — but Crowley’s fingers were in his hair, Crowley’s throat under his brow, Crowley’s arm around his shoulders. “Drinks first, I think,” Crowley said, fondly.
The bell rang as the inquisitive customer saw himself out, and the door locked behind him. Crowley steered them both to the back room, never once letting go, and lowered Aziraphale to the old, battered sofa, covered in a paisley throw that had seen better decades. He let go, then, and tried to pull back, but Aziraphale laced his fingers around his back and pulled him down, into his lap. "I missed you," Aziraphale said, to his belt buckle, and pressed his face into Crowley's hip.
Crowley sank down, his knees around Aziraphale's thighs. "Yes. I know. Me too, angel. It's--" he waved a hand at the air around them "--compatible energies, that's my theory. We're, you know. Friends. If we were both angels, we'd've been communing since the start, eh?"
"Probably," said Aziraphale, setting his fingers firmly into Crowley's belt loops.
"And, you know me, only commune for work, now and then, and you -- you don't really seem the type to commune with just anyone."
"No," said Aziraphale, looking worried.
"Right, so, it's probably just that we're a bit, ah, communion-starved? Got some of that good, you know, friendly communing, our energies don't want to go back."
Aziraphale sighed, relieved all over again. It was as good an explanation as any, and better than some he'd come up with. Especially the one where Crowley hated it, and by extension, him. "So what do we do about it?"
Crowley was silent for a few seconds, as if he hadn't gotten that far in his thinking. Perhaps he hadn't; he was an excellent planner but usually it took him some time. Then he said, slowly, "Maybe we let it happen? I mean, not accidentally, but -- maybe we do it more. Then it won't happen accidentally."
"Oh," said Aziraphale, suddenly warm and content. "All right, then."
tertius: time to leave the garden
"I can't find the Principality Aziraphale," Uriel said. "The most recent Earth observation files place him at his bookshop, but he seems to have gone dark, somehow."
"Keep looking," Gabriel said, grimly. "He's got to turn up sometime."
"I've always been afraid of consequences," Aziraphale said, some time later, against Crowley's shoulder, at an ebb. "Of what my side might do to me. Of what your side might do to you."
Crowley stirred against him, his movements languid, as if he were trapped in honey, swimming against some slow tide. "We're our own side now," he said. "'M not going to punish you."
"No," said Aziraphale.
Dawn and night and dawn had come, and gone, and come again.
"I can't tell where you end," Crowley said. "Aziraphale. What are we doing?" He burrowed into Aziraphale's body, held on, felt Aziraphale shift like an earthquake or the surge of a vast and nameless sea.
Aziraphale breathed: salt water, the ocean that was between them, that was them. It filled his nostrils, his lungs, his belly. Crowley's weightless weight on his thighs, buoyed by the flow of their beings, held him down, lifted him up.
He tried to draw back, to fill his lungs with air and speak human words.
Crowley whimpered into his neck.
Another wave dragged them under.
There was icemelt in Crowley's veins, ozone-scent rising from his hands, lightning crackling through him, the blazing heat of a red dwarf star in his chest.
He dug his fingers into Aziraphale's ribs, held on as if he could be saved from this drowning.
Aziraphale came back to himself slowly. Crowley lay, still as death, on his chest, their legs tangled together. He could still sense the demon's energy, star-bright and fire-clean, but no longer part of himself. "Crowley," he said, and Crowley stirred.
"What time is it?" he asked, and Aziraphale laughed and slid his fingers into Crowley's hair.
"Time? Better to ask what day it is, I think," Aziraphale said.
"Don't know," said Crowley, lazily. He rolled to his side and pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket. "Phone battery's dead."
"Are you a demon or aren't you?" Aziraphale said, and Crowley grinned and miracled his battery back to life.
"The eighth of July, angel."
"Well," said Aziraphale, counting backwards, "we've only lost a week. Do you want to go have an ice cream?"
The day was ferociously hot, though not a patch on some parts of the world, Crowley reminded himself. They ate ice cream next to the bandstand, standing in the shade it made and listening to insects humming.
"I can still feel you," Aziraphale said. "There's still a connection between us."
Crowley bit his cone, shattering it under his teeth, and said nothing.
"And I don't want to commune with you accidentally," Aziraphale said. "But intentionally? Do you think we might? Every now and then?"
Crowley swallowed, both his ice cream and the lump in his throat that felt like longing. "I don't see why not," he said, and Aziraphale's smile lit up every shadow in his heart.
They finished their ice cream, and then, daringly, he tucked Aziraphale's hand into his elbow. Aziraphale stepped close and tightened his plump, strong fingers on Crowley's arm, and walked slowly with him through the park.
Uriel touched his arm. "Aziraphale has been spotted," she said. "He's with the demon Crowley."
"Of course he is," said Gabriel. Honestly, it was exhausting, and he'd just as soon ignore the whole thing. But the Metatron insisted they at least try to bring their wayward angel back to the fold, and so he straightened his jacket. "Coming along?"
"Wouldn't miss it," she said.
The voice came from behind them as they stood in Aziraphale's back room, considering which bottle of wine most suited a warm, affectionate mood.
They turned, and the Archangel Gabriel frowned at them, Uriel at his side. Gabriel was wearing a long, dove-gray overcoat, and Uriel a silver puffer jacket; Crowley, whose concession to the weather was a bootleg Velvet Underground t-shirt and no jacket at all, raised his eyebrows. Aziraphale stepped half in front of him, protectively. "Gabriel," he said. "Uriel. What a delightful surprise." His tone said that if it were up to him, they would be surprised right into a column of hellfire. Crowley had to admire the amount of venom the angel managed to inject into his sweet voice.
"Must be rubbing off on you," he murmured, and Aziraphale pinched his thigh sharply, below the eyeline of the Archangels.
"You're coming back to the office," Uriel said.
"We need to find out what happened to you," Gabriel put in. "Something's wrong with you, Aziraphale, and we need to find out what."
"There's nothing wrong with him," Crowley snarled, over Aziraphale's shoulder. "What's wrong issssss you, bothering ussss."
"Hush," Aziraphale said, and Crowley subsided. "I'm not going anywhere with you, Gabriel. I no longer work for you. That's as simply as I can say it, I'm afraid."
“You’ll do as I say,” Gabriel said, furiously. Uriel moved to a fighting stance beside him.
"No, I won't ," Aziraphale said, furious in his turn. "If that damns me, then it damns me, but I don't think it does -- or it would have, already. Take it up with the Almighty if you don't like it, but I'm not coming back." Crowley laid a hand on his back, let his fingers bleed into the ether, feeling the movement of Aziraphale's wing muscles beneath his skin. He extended his energies, let them slide into and around his friend's, the communion deepening easily: you are not alone.
"No," choked out Uriel, suddenly, and groped for Gabriel's arm. Gabriel took two steps back, his face filled with horror.
"No," he said, and clapped one hand to his mouth. "Oh Lord, please. No, not this."
Aziraphale looked over his shoulder at Crowley, who shrugged. He hadn’t even put on a maggoty face or anything.
Gabriel stared at them, his lips trembling, and then he turned and held Uriel's hands. "We're going," he said, and the two Archangels vanished in a flash of light.
"What in heaven's name do you suppose that was about?" Aziraphale asked, mystified.
"I have no idea," Crowley said. "Wine?"
Gabriel wept, soundless and tearless, into Uriel's shoulder. She clung to him, strong as oak and stronger. "Raphael," he said, muffling his words in her neck, and she dug her fingers into his back.
"We imagined it," she said. "It cannot be. We must have imagined it."
"You asked, what is he? " Gabriel said, drawing back from her, searching her face. "He's --"
"No," she said. " No. "
"We always wondered if Raphael Fell," he said, wanting to put it into words: what he'd seen, what he'd felt. Crowley joining Aziraphale in communion, and their joined presence, so terribly, terribly familiar, so long lost. "Part of her Fell. Part of her is the demon Crowley." He closed his eyes.
"Aziraphale," she said. " Aziraphale. "
"We should have known," he said, pressing his face to her skull. "An experiment , the Metatron said. They're both the experiment."
quartus: perhaps one day we could have a picnic
The heat wave continued, and Aziraphale decided he really ought to wear fewer layers. Even in linen suits and gauzy cotton shirts, he felt over-warm. For the first time in nearly a century, he opened the chest that contained all his sportswear — he’d kept every item of clothing he'd ever bought, or nearly: clean and pressed, carefully stored in a cedar chest with lavender sachets tucked into the folds. He sorted through the stacks of clothing, and found his old tennis outfit. Oh, he'd loved tennis, back then! The soft, striped trousers still fit perfectly, without even a hint of a miracle, and he rolled the sleeves of the shirt up above his elbows, delightfully casual. He thought about Crowley’s clothes, the way Crowley looked in a t-shirt, the bare knobs of his wrists. Perhaps it was time for more modern clothes?
Crowley's jaw dropped when they met in the park. "Angel," he said, "are you feeling all right? No fever, or anything?"
"I'm fine," Aziraphale said, and then, "I was thinking it was time to see a tailor."
"Yesssss," said Crowley, eyebrows raised high above the rim of his sunglasses, "I know about you and buying clothes."
"That's just it. I haven't, not since -- oh, around 1970 or so, my dear. Shirts and underthings excepted, of course." He looked up at the sky, where an exceptionally fluffy cloud was drifting, all on its lonesome. "I decided to really lean into the whole Obviously Gay Wealthy Eccentric Bookshop owner, you know, when I didn't like the clothes, and I've just -- done that ever since."
Crowley circled him, slowly, sniffing delicately -- at the lingering cedar-and-lavender scent, no doubt -- and then smiled, broadly, his sharp eyeteeth glinting. "Why angel," he said, "you're dressed for a picnic ."
"I suppose I am," Aziraphale said, inexplicably pleased at the thought. It was a beautiful day, just sunny enough, the singular fluffy cloud drifting across the sky. Of course he ought to be dressed for a picnic, on such a day.
"Come on," Crowley said. "I know you've got a hamper back at your shop. We're going to pack it full and have a proper time of it."
They picnicked under a tree, dappled shadows on the ground, far enough from other people that Crowley took off his sunglasses and lay on the blanket, looking up at the sky through the branches. "I like being so aware of you," Aziraphale said, one hand on Crowley's shin. "It's been rather lonely, all this time, you know."
"I could always, more or less, tell where you were," Crowley said, eating a berry. "If I looked, I could find you." He gestured vaguely at the air above his head. "Now it's -- more. Like I'm a compass, and you're north."
"Oh," said Aziraphale. "How lovely." He leaned against the tree-trunk. "I like being on your side," he said. "And on humanity's side." He held up another berry, and Crowley opened his mouth so he could drop it in. "I suppose, in some ways, I'm not really an angel anymore. Not if it's a, a political alignment, anyway."
"You haven't Fallen," Crowley said, softly. "You're still ethereal. I'd know if you weren't."
"I disobeyed two Archangels," Aziraphale said. "That's not possible, not really, for angels. I must be something different, mustn’t I?"
"I've always thought it's our choices that make us who we are," Crowley said, which sounded like demonic logic to Aziraphale. Or, perhaps, human logic. The thought that perhaps he’d become a bit human, and that Crowley had, too, pleased him in a way he couldn’t possibly have explained. "Choices, Aziraphale. Not the accidents of our biology. If we have biology. Or our belief in the Almighty, in whatever it is that formed us. It’s our choices that really matter."
"We can't not believe in Her," Aziraphale said. "She exists. That's a fact of the universe."
Crowley pulled up some grass and let it fall, dusting the picnic blanket. The hot scent of soil and greenery rose around them. "We can believe She hasn't got the right to interfere in human affairs," he said, slowly. "We can believe it'd be better if there were no -- no sides, no Heaven and no Hell, getting their fingers all over everything and if we're lucky , only canceling each other out."
Aziraphale took his hand. "If angels can fall towards human," he said, slowly, "without Falling -- then demons can rise. Perhaps what it means to be human is to be where the falling angel meets the rising demon."
"Am I rising, then?" asked Crowley, smiling up at him, eyes wide.
Aziraphale leaned down, wanting to shelter them both in the arch of his wings. He settled for bending over Crowley, close enough to feel breath on his face. "Oh, my dear," he said. "Of course you are." Crowley looked up at him, dwarf-star red hair against their picnic blanket, his spirit rising up to meet Aziraphale's falling, something new under the sun.