If an archangel were going to come to him, it was perhaps least surprising that it was Uriel.
News of Aziraphale's treason had been very limited.* Only Gabriel, Uriel, and Sandalphon had been in the execution chamber. They'd probably told Michael, but not anyone else. Gabriel was, Aziraphale now recognized, the sort of crazy that's gone through sane and out the other side; the kind of company man who has lost a sense of reason in maintaining a sense of loyalty. Michael was playing a long game of some kind, and Sandalphon was just what the humans would call a psychopath.
* They'd intended to put out the press release after Aziraphale's execution.
But Uriel was a bit more of an enigma, and so when they showed up in the bookshop, it seemed almost rational.
Mind you, Aziraphale was having none of Heaven's nonsense anymore. He'd asked Crowley -- tit for tat in re: holy water -- for some hellfire, and Crowley had said absolutely not, it was far too volatile, especially around the books. He'd had a point but, as much as it pained Aziraphale to admit it, books were immaterial if Heaven wanted you dead. Eventually they'd settled on a compromise, and the Hell Aga stood in a corner of the shop with the tip of a poker eternally heating in it.
When Uriel manifested in the bookshop, Aziraphale blanched for a second, then remembered the Hell Aga and reached for the poker tucked into its infernal oven, brandishing it defensively. Uriel eyeballed the glowing poker warily.
"Aziraphale," they said, eyes never leaving the red glow. "I've come under a treaty flag."
"Funny, I don't remember agreeing to any treaties before you consigned me to hellfire," Aziraphale retorted.
"Fine. A flag of surrender, then," Uriel said, spreading their hands and their wings, showing they were unarmed. "I only want to talk. I have...."
They paused so long Aziraphale grew suspicious, until finally they sighed.
"I have questions," they finished quietly.
Aziraphale lowered the poker. "Questions?" he asked.
"About...what you did up in Heaven," Uriel said. "And I have questions about the divine. I have had. For some time."
Perhaps he was soft, as Gabriel had said, but Aziraphale also knew a confused child when he saw one. He put the poker back in the Hell Aga and tugged on his waistcoat.
"Well. I shall make us some tea," he said.
Uriel frowned. "Why?"
"It's the done thing down here," Aziraphale explained. "Come with me."
Uriel had stood by while Sandalphon hit him, had cheerfully made jokes about abducting him, and had calmly watched Aziraphale (or, at least, someone they thought was Aziraphale) step into hellfire. He ought to at least be petty to them, if not outright angry at them. But Aziraphale knew how it could feel to be so desperately concerned about what exactly was going on Up There and have to hide it. Aziraphale had only had to do it on the rare occasions he visited. Uriel had nursed this secret worry in the heart of Heaven for years.
And anyway, forgiveness was sort of a cornerstone of the platform. Despite his current relationship to the divine, Aziraphale saw no reason to throw away a perfectly good philosophical concept just because he shared it with Her. Anyway, his objection was more to Her agents; who knew what She Herself really meant by any of it.
So he sat in the back room and watched Uriel hold the teacup in their hands and not drink from it as the whole story poured out, all the doubt and fear and worry of decades, lately intensified by the world almost ending. And when it was done Uriel put the teacup down and looked at him like he was supposed to know what to say.
"I understand your concern, and obviously I share some of your worries," he told them. "I'm just not sure why you came to me, Uriel. I'm on the outs with Heaven for sure."
"But you've got power," Uriel said. "You're immune to hellfire."
"Ah. Yes. Well..." Aziraphale sipped his tea to give himself time to think. "That's just a parlor trick when you get down to it."
"Could you teach me?"
"Now, Uriel. That's not really what you want." Aziraphale cocked his head. "Let me see. You like being an angel, you must do -- I mean, who doesn't? I certainly do. You don't want to fall."
"No!" Uriel looked horrified.
"So your options are limited at best."
"But that's just it, don't you see? No more limited than yours, and you've found...a way around Heaven. A way to rebel without falling. What even are you, now?"
This might be bigger than he could handle alone, but the situation was a bit delicate to bring Crowley into it, at least right now. Aziraphale considered what to say.
"I think, mainly, I'm an exile," he said. "I don't know if I'm in what you could consider active rebellion. Although, there's a thought," he added. "Should you like to stay on Earth? I've been here six thousand years, since the very beginning, you know, and that's a great deal of it, I think. Being in amongst the humans and such, it really does give one a different perspective. And the food's quite good."
Uriel looked shocked. "You eat their food?"
"You needn't if you don't want to, but the first time you smell a good sizzling steak, feel free to change your mind," Aziraphale said with a small smile. "Look, nobody upstairs ever checks the paperwork so long as the paperwork keeps coming. Just tell whoever needs to know that you've been transferred to Earth and start sending reports back. Eventually they'll think they've mislaid your transfer. I'll help you out with the first few. And you can stay with me if you like. I'll tell people you're my new assistant."
Uriel gave him a curious, shy look. "I could just...come down to Earth and stay here? Just like that?"
"Until you've sorted yourself out, of course, my dear."
"But what will...what will happen, Aziraphale?"
Aziraphale set his tea down and rested a hand on Uriel's arm reassuringly. "None of us know, I'm afraid. That's what makes all the difference."
"Could I think about it?" Uriel asked.
"Of course. Come round anytime," Aziraphale said, and meant it. But he didn't really expect Uriel to take him up on it.
Uriel returned three days later with two other angels. It wasn't the best possible timing. Crowley had enticed Aziraphale out to sushi for lunch, and then Aziraphale had invited him back to the shop to consult a book about sake brewing, and in the middle of the discussion* there was Uriel. Two children were standing just behind them, peering around.
* Including the tasting of some sake Aziraphale had recently acquired.
Aziraphale sucked in a breath and sobered up immediately. Crowley, behind him, peered through his sunglasses at the angels for a second and then leapt forward with a roar. Only Aziraphale's quick grab at his belt to haul him backwards prevented him from causing some kind of divine incident.
"You motherfucker, I know who you are!" Crowley yelled, as Aziraphale wrestled him back. "You come here, you come here to lay a hand on my angel -- "
"Crowley, stop this at once!" Aziraphale commanded, and something in his voice must have told Crowley how serious this was, because he did actually stop, turning to give Aziraphale a shocked look. "It's not what you think," Aziraphale said.
"What I think? What, that Uriel the fucking righteous just drops in for tea?" Crowley demanded.
Aziraphale squared his shoulders and tipped up his chin imperiously. "Go into the back room, sit down, and shut up," he ordered.
To his surprise, Crowley obeyed, slinking away with a hiss over his shoulder.
Aziraphale tugged on his waistcoat nervously, turning back to Uriel.
"I'm so sorry. Demons, no manners, you know how it is," he said. "Hallo, who is this?" he added, bending to smile at one of the children Uriel had with them. A little younger than Adam, perhaps, but...with much the same energy, somehow.
"They don't have names," Uriel said. "They are b'nai elohim. Was that Crowley the demon just now?"
"Don't mind him, he's a big softie really," Aziraphale said nervously.
"His angel?" Uriel asked, their tone delicate.
"Figure of speech, Earth colloquialism," Aziraphale said, because he'd been trying not to think about that himself too much. "Hello, lovelies," he added, crouching to be on level with the children. "So you're b'nai elohim, are you? Why's Uriel brought you here, hm?"
"They're miserable in Heaven," Uriel said. Aziraphale looked up at them. "They want their Mother."
"Well, why wouldn't they? And She doesn't answer, does She?" Aziraphale asked. Uriel shook their head. "I'm sure you've heard the ways of Her are ineffable," he said to the children, who nodded.
"Could they stay here with you? It's just -- some of the other angels are unkind..." Uriel spread their hands.
"It must be very hard to be so little," Aziraphale murmured. "Of course, my darlings. Of course. You too?" he asked Uriel, looking up.
"I can't," Uriel said.
"Well, when you can," Aziraphale replied, and Uriel nodded. "Will anyone notice they're gone?"
"Not for a long time."
"Then say no more. Come, children. I'll make cocoa and you can sit and read. I've loads of good books," Aziraphale said, offering his hands to the children. "Uriel."
"Be safe," Aziraphale said. Uriel nodded and vanished.
When he led the children into the back room, Crowley was sulking, but at least he was sober.
"What did that -- " Crowley bit off what was clearly meant to be a curse when he saw the b'nai elohim. "What did they want with you?"
"Children, this is Crowley," Aziraphale said. "Crowley, these are two b'nai elohim. Uriel's left them in my care for now."
"B'nai elohim?" Crowley hissed. "Sons of Her? Literally? What're they doing here?"
"Having some cocoa and then a nice evening in with a book," Aziraphale said. "Do you know, my dears, Crowley once spent six years raising a human child?"
The b'nai elohim looked at Crowley speculatively. The smaller one said, "What do you wear those glasses for?"
Crowley grinned. "So I don't scare children with my eyes," he replied, and tipped them down, waggling his eyebrows. Both b'nai elohim shrieked in surprise, but the bigger one darted forward to pull the glasses off his face entirely.
"What've you got eyes like THAT for?" the bigger one demanded.
"Crowley's a demon," Aziraphale said.
"Oooer," they chorused.
"And if you aren't careful I shall eat you whole," Crowley promised them solemnly. He swooped forward, picking them both up by the waists, slinging one over each shoulder in a fireman's carry. They kicked their bare feet in the air, laughing, their combined weight almost tipping him backwards.
Aziraphale caught his eye.
"Go on," Crowley said. "I'll keep the little ones entertained."
Aziraphale nodded, and went to make cocoa.
In commentaries on biblical apocrypha, on which Aziraphale prided himself as being something of an expert, b'nai elohim was generally believed to be a simple alternate term for angels. This was incorrect, but humans may be forgiven for making the error.
In reality, such as it was, b'nai elohim were to Her as Adam Young was to Satan: angelic children. The last time b'nai elohim walked the Earth regularly was antediluvian, before the flood. The adult b'nai elohim of the time no doubt got up to some mischief, fathering (and sometimes mothering) the Nephilim, but they couldn't be blamed for all of it. Humans, after all.
The point was that, since the flood, the remaining b'nai elohim had been kept in Heaven and deliberately prevented from growing to adulthood, just in case. Not since Noah's forty-day cruise had any of them come to Earth, let alone been allowed to age*. The children had been kept at what looked like about ages nine and eleven for a long, long time.
* Except for that one time, but he's had enough stories written about him.
In Aziraphale's view, the divine had put up the rainbow to promise She would never send such a flood again, so they were safe there, and anyway it was cruel to try and keep someone a child forever. So Aziraphale, entrusted with two stolen b'nai elohim, fearlessly and with malice aforethought began the process of raising them.
It didn't take long to settle the children in. He named the bigger one Miriam, which she accepted gravely, and the littler one Damascus, because they liked the sound of it. It helped that humans would find it a neutral sort of name, since Damascus's gender changed by the minute.
The children were generally well-behaved, if a little rowdy. They romped around the bookshop like they owned it, and they broke a few statues and vases. But they did drive off a great many customers, which Aziraphale appreciated. And he was pleased that they adored "Wicked Nanny Crowley" and always got excited when he came round to take them out into London and teach them all about humans and the wonderful planet that was now home. Aziraphale could see they missed Heaven, but not as much as many would, and he tried to keep them happy on Earth. He supposed he should put them in school somewhere, but given their voracious reading and Crowley's lessons abroad, they were getting a pretty well-rounded education.
Between the usual business of the bookshop and minding two unruly little angels, the months flew by. Autumn turned to winter and winter to spring, and by summer Miriam was getting taller and Damascus was getting bolder, the little sprite.
"What shall we do when we're grown, Aziraphale?" Miriam asked him one day, sitting on the counter of the bookshop, swinging her legs idly, heels bumping the cabinets. He made them wear shoes outside, but inside they preferred to go barefoot, and there was no reason not to let them. He rather missed the barefoot, carefree days of Eden himself.
"That is entirely up to you, if all goes well," Aziraphale replied. "What would you like to do?"
"Suppose I ought to work miracles and such."
"You certainly can, but you shouldn't feel obliged," Aziraphale replied, catching Damascus as she (for the moment) ran past. "Nah-ah, my little one, where are you going?"
"Ice cream cart!" Damascus cried, pointing through the window. "Please, Aziraphale, oh please!"
"Goodness, you'd think I never fed you. Go on, then," Aziraphale let her go.
"But if I'm not to do miracles, what am I for?" Miriam pressed.
Aziraphale set the books he was cataloguing aside, leaning against the counter. "You know, not long ago, I wondered that myself. I thought I was part of a Great Plan, your Mother's Plan."
"Isn't She your Mother too?"
"She's my creator. There's a bit of a difference. You'll understand better when you're older."
"You always say that."
"It's always true. You'll be older soon enough, in any case. The point is, wing of my heart, that there is no Great Plan," Aziraphale told her, chucking her under the chin. "There is an ineffable plan but we can't possibly know it, and even if we could, I doubt we could stop it. So one muddles along as best one can. And I have learned, though it took me six thousand years, that in order to do my best, I must...I must find joy in existence. If what I do brings me no joy, not even joy in a job well done, then it can't be part of your Mother's plan."
"But what's that mean?" Miriam asked.
"It means that there is no predestination for you, even if you are the Son of Her," Aziraphale told her. "You must make your own path."
"But that's scary."
"So it is," Aziraphale agreed, as Damascus burst back into the bookshop with a dribbling cherry ice lolly in one hand and an ice cream sandwich in the other. She pressed the ice cream sandwich stickily into Miriam's hands as she ran past.
"Got you a present, Miriam!" she called. "Also, Nanny's coming, I saw the Bentley!"
"Well, I'm sure Nanny has an adventure planned for you," Aziraphale said. "Better eat up before he gets here."
Crowley, perhaps out of habit or perhaps to put Damascus more at ease, always showed up for proper field trips as Nanny: long curled hair, conservative skirt set, stylish black hat. Today he was in full Crowley form, tight trousers and snake-buckle belt and all, so perhaps he just wanted to take them to lunch.
"Angel," he said with a toothy grin. "Let's go driving."
"Nothing over fifty in London," Aziraphale warned.
"Ninety when we get outside of it."
"Eighty and you don't take your eyes off the road."
"Done. Come along, monsters, Aziraphale says I can go fast!"
Aziraphale, distracted as usual by Crowley's city driving, didn't notice where they were headed as soon as he should have. When it became evident they were driving to Tadfield, he sighed.
"What do you have planned?" he asked.
"Nothing you'd disapprove of," Crowley answered.
Aziraphale had to admit, watching Miriam and Damascus play at pirates with the Them and Adam, that the children seemed happy. Wensley and Damascus went bug-hunting, and Pepper let Miriam try her bike. Adam showed both of them how to make Dog's leg twitch when you scratched his neck. But it was just one idyllic afternoon, Aziraphale reflected, as they sat on the footboard of the Bentley and watched them play.
"Perhaps we ought to bring them up here more often," he said to Crowley. "Do them good to play with other children more. Especially Adam. He understands."
Crowley grunted rather than answering, which was rarely a good sign.
"Crowley, what've you done?" Aziraphale asked.
"The thing is," Crowley said, "There's some people in town who'd like to adopt. It's a nice place to grow up, Tadfield. As you say, lots of love in the area."
"Who?" Aziraphale asked sharply.
"This fellow Tyler, for example." Crowley tilted his face up to the sun, almost visibly freckling as he did so.
"Tyler? The loud man with the dachshund?"
"Never been able to have a child, you know. Something or other with the adoption always fell through. Gave up years ago. But he'd dote on a daughter. I've met his husband; he'd love a child like Damascus to pieces, and that's still rare down here. They're humans, they're built for this sort of thing. They'd love both of them better even than you or I ever could."
"You think I should entrust two b'nai elohim to a middle-aged mortal, his husband, and their dachshund?" Aziraphale asked. "If they even want to stay here, which they should decide and not you or I."
Crowley was silent for a while, listening to the screams of children at play, and then he turned to him.
"Yes, I do," he said. "And yes, they will."
RP Tyler, the busybody of the village, was known in Tadfield for three things.
1. Being a know-all who stuck his nose in where it didn't belong;
2. Being the owner of a dachshund that had an unfortunate tendency to widdle on the floor when nervous; and
3. Being, with his husband Marcus, the ferocious and implacable father of two of the six children who comprised the Them.
Miriam and Damascus flourished in Tadfield, as Crowley had sensed they would. Despite Mr. Tyler's dislike of London on general principle, they visited rather often after adopting the children, to take them to art museums and such. There was one specific bookshop that the Tylers liked to visit, even while complaining loudly about Soho. The proprietor always had treats for the children and often very good theatre tickets as well. And his boyfriend might look like a delinquent, always loitering about the shop, but he was especially good with teenagers.
After Crowley found a home for the b'nai elohim in Tadfield, Uriel began to visit more often. It was as though they knew that Aziraphale now had the time free to help again. They didn't bring any more b'nai elohim, but every few months Uriel would appear with an angel or two in desperate need of a cup of tea and a kind word. Aziraphale took them all in, sat them down, and gently and quietly spoke with them about their doubts, their fears, the pain and confusion they felt when they considered carefully Her workings and the half-answers or no-answers Metatron provided.
It had never been Aziraphale's intention to found a sort of secret society of angry angels. Certainly he'd never imagined he might run a halfway house on Earth for them. But every time Uriel showed up, Aziraphale would soften and embrace the poor things, and then Uriel would be gone, and it wasn't like Aziraphale was going to send them off once they'd arrived.
Crowley found places for a lot of them. Aziraphale never knew why the demon bothered, but eventually he just accepted it. It was like Crowley had a radar -- Uriel would drop off their latest case, Aziraphale would take them in, and then Crowley would come round within the week, claiming there was a job open in this library or that restaurant or at some museum, and did Aziraphale know anyone who would suit?
And off the angel would go, curious and trepidatious, and when Aziraphale checked in on them they'd be happy. Learning. Somehow Crowley always got it right*.
* Even Crowley seemed surprised by this when Aziraphale pointed it out one day, and slowed the Bentley to a record twenty miles an hour for almost a full thirty seconds.
And time passed, and Aziraphale never felt sorry, not once.
Which must mean it was part of Her plan, he supposed, though he didn't discuss that in front of the others, more numerous by the day.
"So I suppose I'll go to Oxford once I've done my A Levels," Damascus said, just as the spicy tuna roll platter arrived. "I'm thinking of taking a degree in theology," he added impishly.
"What does one do with a degree in theology?" Crowley asked, bumping his shoulder against Aziraphale's as he took off his sunglasses. Nearly everyone employed in the restaurant at this point was an angel, and those that weren't were well used to Crowley by now, which made it something of a refuge.
"Make trouble," Damascus replied. "I'm going to write a thesis about gender identity in medieval angelology."
"Apt," Aziraphale pronounced.
"Yes, I thought so," Damascus said. "Father says I was born to raise hell and I suppose he's not wrong."
"How are your fathers?" Crowley inquired.
"Getting on, you know. Father's never happy unless he's in the middle of some civic row. Dad says it keeps him young. They send their regards."
"Convey ours in return," Aziraphale said, but Crowley was frowning.
"Nanny?" Damascus asked, tilting his head at Crowley.
"Do you hear from your Mother, ever?" Crowley asked.
Damascus shrugged. "Not since before we left Heaven," he said softly.
"I'm sure She's very proud of you," Aziraphale said. "Even if She doesn't say."
Crowley pointedly ate a piece of sushi. Damascus sighed.
"I know you think the best of everyone," he said, "but I don't think Mum even notices us."
"Her loss," Crowley said.
"Rather," Damascus agreed.
"Only it isn't fair," Aziraphale blurted. "I'm just so proud of you and your sister, and it isn't fair She doesn't seem to care at all, and there's so many angels who do, everyone who's come to the bookshop since, and -- "
"Aziraphale," Damascus said, cutting him off gently. Aziraphale gave him a wretched look. "It doesn't matter. Really, it doesn't. Dad and Father, the kids from Tadfield, you two and all the others, that's all we need. And I think...I think there's a greater plan in all of this. All the angels coming to Earth. Uriel keeps us informed, you know."
"They really shouldn't -- "
"Someday the ineffable plan will play out," Damascus continued implacably. "And when it does I just think you should know that it won't be just the two of you and all the humans. It'll be all of us, too."
"You can't know for sure," Aziraphale said.
"There's going to be a war," Damascus said. "But we'll protect you. Same as you protected me and Miriam. Same as you protect everyone Uriel brings to you."
"I would never ask you to," Aziraphale said.
Damascus gave him a sunny smile. "That's why, you know," he said. "That's absolutely why."
It took Gabriel more than a decade to come back to Earth. By the time he did, Miriam was working as a lawyer for a humanitarian aid charity, and Damascus was just finishing their Ph.D.
In the intervening years, the angels on Earth had developed a sort of joke: if you spilled your drink or broke a plate, made some minor little mistake in front of another angel, you'd look up at them and laugh, don't tell Gabriel.
But it was also very serious. Don't tell Gabriel we're on Earth without papers from Heaven ordering us down here. Don't tell Gabriel that Uriel brought you here and Aziraphale took you in. And definitely, definitely, don't ever tell Gabriel about Crowley.
Crowley found them jobs, of course, but more importantly he found them their places in the world. He introduced them to humans who would at least accept them for who they were, even if they didn't know what they were. Aziraphale took them out for lunch or to the symphony or along with him on trips to buy rare books, but Crowley made dark jokes about Her and remembered everyone's Arrival Day and made it all seem...okay.
And everyone could see that Crowley adored Aziraphale, and that Aziraphale loved Crowley in some kind of near-incomprehensible way that went above how angels just Loved Everything. And if that kind of happiness was available to an angel who chose Earth over Heaven, then it couldn't be a wrong choice, could it?
The only warning Aziraphale had about Gabriel was Uriel arriving in his shop one day, half-conscious, wings filthy and bleeding.
"He's coming, Aziraphale," they managed, as Aziraphale carried them to the back room of the shop. "Be careful, be careful, he knows and he's coming -- "
"Hush, dear," Aziprahale soothed, laying them out on their stomach on one of the couches, fussing over the state of their wings. "Don't fret yourself. Stay there, I'll be right back."
He called Crowley from the shop phone, but it went to voicemail. "Crowley, it's me. Uriel says Gabriel knows. I've got to stay here, they're hurt -- tell everyone to keep well away from the bookshop. Tell Miriam and Damascus they'd better go to Tadfield, they ought to be hidden enough there. I'll call them too. Right, cheerio," he said, and rang off. He called the children and left similar messages for them; voicemail might have been one of mankind's more helpful inventions but he had to say he didn't care much for this modern trend of never answering one's telephone.
It took the better part of an hour to get Uriel's wings sorted. Aziraphale made sure Uriel was unconscious for it. He glued delicate splints to several of the bones, then combed away bits of broken feather, trimming them when they were still held on by parts of the shaft. He cleaned the blood out of the remaining feathers in order to see what kind of damage was underneath and did his best to bandage the wounds. None of them were deep, thank goodness, mainly just places feathers had been pulled out at the quill, but best to keep them clean in any case.
When it was done, he went back out into the bookshop, intending to make another few calls now that Uriel was seen to. The angels who had been on Earth the longest were really settling in -- some could even drive -- and he could have them round up the newer ones and keep them safe. If it came to the worst, Gabriel would only get him and maybe Uriel, as long as everyone else kept their distance.
He was just reaching for the phone when the bookshop doors burst open, splintering apart, and Gabriel appeared amid the destruction.
Aziraphale! he roared, in a voice that shook the ground, and he was across the shop before Aziraphale could react. He picked Aziraphale up one-handed by the collar of his shirt and thrust him against a bookshelf, knocking his head against the wood so hard he saw stars. Aziraphale tried to kick, but Gabriel pinned him in with his body, which might as well have been a stone.
"I'm gonna beat you so badly you Fall," Gabriel said in his ear, and knocked him against the shelf again. Aziraphale's vision blurred. "Tell me where the b'nai elohim are, and I might not do the same to them."
Aziraphale gasped, head swimming.
"You took two b'nai elohim and I will have them. You tell me where they are!" Gabriel insisted.
"Hey, Gabriel," a voice said. Aziraphale, over Gabriel's shoulder, could see Crowley's silhouette leaning in the broken doorway. "Remember me?"
"Crowley, you -- " Aziraphale managed, before Gabriel threw him to the ground with a teeth-jarring thud. Crowley leapt for the archangel, the strike of a snake in the way he moved, but Gabriel backhanded him so hard he flew across the shop, shattering a table when he hit it. Aziraphale tried to get to his feet, but Gabriel caught him around the waist and rolled him over onto his back.
Gabriel didn't have a flaming sword but he did have a sword, and it manifested in his hand. The tip pressed lightly to Aziraphale's throat. Crowley scrambled out from the wreckage of the table on his knees, hissing.
"One demon?" Gabriel asked Aziraphale, grinning. "That's what you thought would help?"
"Actually, he called Crowley," said a new voice, "and Crowley called me. Sorry I'm late," Adam Young added, stepping through the remains of the doorway. "Had to pick up some mates on the way."
"No, no," Aziraphale groaned, because Miriam and Damascus were coming through behind him. "Children, you should have -- " he stopped, because the pressure of the sword increased.
"You let them grow up?" Gabriel demanded, rage mounting. "You let the b'nai elohim GROW UP?"
He lifted the sword for a stabbing strike, and Aziraphale closed his eyes --
Stop, Miriam commanded.
Gabriel froze, arms still upraised.
There was a general air of surprise from everyone, Miriam included; Aziraphale hadn't known she had that kind of power. Perhaps that was why the other angels had kept the b'nai elohim so young for so long.
Gabriel twisted his head to look at her in a way that, while not impossible, seemed very anatomically unlikely.
"What have you done?" he asked. "Let me go this instant, child."
"Don't think I will," Miriam said, gesturing with her left hand. The sword clattered to the ground. Damascus came forward, helping Aziraphale up, waving for Adam to help Crowley. Everywhere hurt, especially his head, but Damascus smoothed a hand over his hair and the pain receded. Miriam had lowered Gabriel's arms and was standing in front of him now, studying him.
"Uriel's in the back room, in a bad way," Aziraphale murmured to Damascus. "Go, help them and get out of here."
"Fraid I can't run," Damascus said cheerfully. "Don't worry. Nanny called for backup, too."
"I remember you," Miriam said to Gabriel. "You're smaller than I remember, though."
"Your Mother will hear about this," Gabriel threatened.
"Yeah? Will She? Will She hear about how you lost two of Her sons for years and then, when you found them, attacked two other angels to get to them?" Miriam asked.
Gabriel had not seemed to consider this.
"I was sent by Metatron," he said.
"Gosh, wonder if he'll like you ratting on him to Mother too," Miriam replied.
"You should know, Gabriel," Crowley coughed, leaning on Adam's shoulder but still, clearly, prepared to be a smartarse, "he didn't just let them grow up. He sent that one to law school."
Miriam gave Gabriel the thinnest of lawyerly smiles.
Gabriel's eyes flicked to Adam and Crowley. "Does Hell know you're consorting with b'nai elohim?" he asked.
"Hell can get fucked," Crowley said. "Ask them if they'd do anything about it even if they did know. Didn't Michael tell you what happened down there, last time I visited?"
She clearly had. Gabriel's expression flickered.
There was a rustle of wings, and Aziraphale, who didn't think this situation could get more tense, saw Hasael walk in.
Hasael was one of the first angels Uriel brought him. He was built like several bundles of sticks tied together with twine and had only really settled into Earth after discovering punk music. He was a delightful fellow, but he had very strong political views and very much enjoyed fighting people who disagreed with him about things like universal basic income and dismantling the prison system. In Heaven he'd been a celestial archer. He had his Earthly crossbow casually tucked under one arm.
"Heard there might be trouble. Thought I'd come make more," he announced.
"No trouble here," Miriam said, eyes still locked on Gabriel's.
"Really? Pity. Gabriel, old son, haven't seen you in a dog's age. Oi, Iscoah, Jehoah, look who's here, it's Gabriel!"
"You called Iscoah?" Aziraphale asked Crowley, now that he'd got his wind back.
"She picked up," Crowley shrugged, unrepentant, then grunted as the movement jostled him.
"I like Iscoah," Adam said.
"Everyone likes Iscoah. That's not the point," Aziraphale replied, exasperated, as two more angels walked into the bookshop. Iscoah, formerly one of Heaven's better (and thus more deeply frustrated) civil engineers, was in her Earthly construction gear and carrying a large hammer. Jehoah, who had come to Earth with her and hadn't left her side since, was carrying something even more terrifying if you knew how engineers' minds worked: a clipboard.
"Don't you dare even talk to me about new drywall right now!" Aziraphale snapped. Iscoah scowled. She was adamant that the bookshop needed a complete remodel, and Aziraphale was equally as adamant that she keep her filthy hands off his walls.
"Def'nitely going to have to get a new door though," Jehoah said. "This one's not up to code anymore."
"He kicked it in!" Aziraphale gestured to Gabriel.
"That's a workplace safety vi'lation," Jehoah intoned.
"What shall we do with you, Gabriel?" Iscoah asked, choking up her grip on the hammer.
"What are they doing here?" Gabriel hissed at Miriam through clenched teeth.
"Same thing I'm doing here, I reckon," Miriam said. "Growing up."
"Aziraphale's too polite to do this," Crowley put in, doing his best to saunter up to Gabriel while still leaning heavily on Adam for support. "So let me take a swing. Gabriel. Hi," he said, taking off his sunglasses. Miriam stepped back so he could take her place. "AJ Crowley. Don't think we were properly introduced last time."
"I remember you, Gadreel," Gabriel said.
"There's a name I haven't heard in a while," Crowley said to Adam.
"Would you prefer Crawly?" Gabriel asked.
"Sass," Miriam said disapprovingly.
"Well, I'm sure he thinks we don't actually have the upper hand," Crowley said. "See, even if he doesn't run to Mother, or to Metatron, he knows he could come back here with half a dozen other angels and burn this place to the ground. If he really wanted to take you back, Miriam, he'd find a way."
"He'd have to go through me," Hasael said.
"And he would," Crowley replied. "He went through Uriel. How is Uriel, Aziraphale?"
"They'll heal," Aziraphale said. He wasn't sure where Crowley was going with this, but it was clear the only person who didn't know Crowley was about to make a very cruel point was Gabriel.
"On the other hand," Crowley continued, turning back to Gabriel, "You didn't know Hasael was on Earth, did you? Or Iscoah and Jehoah. Gosh, I bet somebody missed Iscoah, the architecture of Heaven must have got even more drab without her. Still, nobody brought it up; everyone's problem is nobody's problem, as usual."
"You think I'm worried about three stray angels?" Gabriel scoffed.
"I think you ought to be. Because you're expecting a full head count up top, and if these three are missing, I wonder who else is?" Crowley asked. "More to the point, you've got a minor rebellion on your hands. I count five angels and two b'nai elohim in this building alone who've defected. Clearly there's a segment of Heaven not happy with the current administration, as it were."
"There are millions of angels in Heaven. We'd know if you had more than a handful," Gabriel said.
"Sure. But now you know there are a handful who've left. And maybe more than a handful who are curious. Questioning. The way I see it, you don't know who's really behind you anymore," Crowley said. "And if you tried to lead an assault on Earth, that might put the question out in the open. If you tried to rally the troops now, every angel in Heaven would have a decision to make."
"That's not true," Gabriel said in a low voice, but Aziraphale could tell he was lying to himself.
"Well, I am a demon. Lying is what I do," Crowley agreed. "But my point, Gabriel, is that the next war can't be angel against demon and likely won't be angel against human. The way things stand now, I imagine the next war will be angel against angel. No skin off my nose, more for my side. But I doubt Herself will smile on the angel who triggers the second divine civil war."
"He's really good at that," Hasael remarked to Miriam.
"He's had practice," Miriam said.
"You took two b'nai elohim," Gabriel said. "You can't be forgiven that."
"I can't be forgiven anything," Crowley grinned, but it was a dark, feral thing, and there was real rage behind it. "I'll take credit for it if you like, but really that was all Uriel. And I don't think Uriel's looking for forgiveness from you!"
Crowley's voice rose to a shout, and he pushed Gabriel backwards; Iscoah and Jehoah grabbed an arm each, pinning him, and Hasael twisted a hand in his hair, holding his head up.
"Scurry back home now, you petty, useless little bully, before I rake your wings to shreds," Crowley growled, and when he bared his teeth, the fangs of the serpent were more than evident. "I've eaten rats more frightening than you. I am the serpent in the garden and if you ever show your face here again you'll see just how persuasive I can be in Heaven as well. The fall of Lucifer will be nothing to what I'll do to you if you touch the b'nai elohim. Come near Aziraphale again and I'll burn Heaven where it stands."
"Crowley," Aziraphale said quietly. "That's enough now. Enough, dears," he said, and the others released Gabriel, who smoothed his coat down fussily. He couldn't meet Aziraphale's eye, and it suddenly became clear how all this looked -- the children, the angels, Crowley, all of them terrifying, and all of them ready to obey Aziraphale's word.
"Gabriel, the b'nai elohim are happy here, and they're doing good works," Aziraphale said. He bent and picked up the sword, offering it blade-down. Gabriel flinched back minutely, then looked furious at himself. "We don't want to make trouble for Heaven. If She wants Her sons, She can send for them Herself and see if they still come when She calls. In the meantime, I am the Earth's Principality. I'll see to my domain. It's no longer your concern."
"We'll see what Metatron has to say about this," Gabriel said darkly, taking the sword, but Aziraphale already knew the answer would be nothing.
With an upward glance, Gabriel vanished.
"Well," Damascus said to Crowley, in the silence that followed. "Now I know why nobody gets on your bad side. Show me your teefs, Nanny, I want to see the fangs again -- "
Aziraphale was opening his mouth to respond with a gentle scolding when Crowley reached out and pulled Aziraphale into a hug, right there in front of everyone, which was frankly as shocking as anything else that had happened. He could feel Crowley searching for injuries, and healing the few little aches Damascus hadn't seen to. When Aziraphale looked, he found much worse injuries on Crowley and quietly whisked them away.
"You were very gallant, dear," he said, letting Crowley go. "Thank you, children, even though I distinctly told Crowley to tell you to stay away."
"Have you ever known me to do as I'm told?" Adam asked, grinning. He slung an arm around Miriam's shoulders and kissed her cheek. She elbowed him off, rolling her eyes.
Iscoah and Jehoah, uninterested in small talk now that Gabriel was gone, were already poking at the splintered door, murmuring to one another about weather stripping and decorative molding. Hasael had wandered off to flip through the rack of LPs that Aziraphale had grudgingly started stocking at his request. Aziraphale looked around for Damascus, and saw them disappearing into the back room.
"I should check on Uriel," he said to Crowley. "Don't let Iscoah start remodeling."
"Don't be long. I promised them dinner," Crowley said.
"Two shakes," Aziraphale replied, ducking into the back room. Damascus was sitting on the floor next to the couch where Uriel lay.
"Will they really be all right?" Damascus asked.
"Nothing broken that can't be mended. I don't think they'll be going back any time soon, though. Not sure how we'll keep moving angels down who want to leave."
"Uriel had friends up there. Someone will step in," Damascus said. "I don't suppose Gabriel knows everyone who's down here, either. We could send someone up as a spy. I could go in disguise!"
"Don't even think about it," Aziraphale warned. Damascus gave him a cheeky grin, then turned back to Uriel. "It's best they rest for now. Their wings need time to heal."
"Every time I think I know the ineffable plan, it turns out I don't," Damascus said.
"I believe She thinks that's the point."
"I thought for sure it'd be Heaven and Hell against Earth. But Nanny's right, isn't he? The way things are going now, it'll be angel against angel. All over again."
"We can hope not," Aziraphale said, and was surprised to find he meant it. He didn't want a war at all. Not anywhere. "Perhaps Heaven will sort itself out before then. Perhaps some of our people down here might go back and help. A great lesson of life on Earth is that change is always possible. Now, let's let Uriel rest," he said, helping Damascus up. "Crowley says he promised you dinner, and I have to deliver."
The Ritz, of course, always held a special place in Aziraphale's heart, but they didn't go there very often anymore. He and Crowley would, sometimes, but usually if they dined out they had at least two or three other angels with them, and most angels didn't have the table manners yet for the Ritz. Besides, Adam said he didn't like the "frou frou."
If Adam had his way they'd probably have gone to the terrible "Five Guys" place which had opened just a few blocks from the bookshop around the time Adam moved to London. Hasael would have demanded Nando's, and Miriam and Damascus would have backed him, and Crowley would have taken Adam's side* just to annoy everyone. It was best for all concerned if Aziraphale made it dinner by decree, which meant they would be eating at his favorite little Italian restaurant, down an unassuming side street in Mayfair.
* Crowley approved of Five Guys purely on the basis of the gluttonous amount of chips they gave you, even if he didn't particularly care for hamburgers.
Iscoah and Jehoah didn't like Earth food and would rather go off to find a new door for the bookshop, so they left them to it and Crowley put a minor curse on the threshold to make sure nobody would go inside. Everyone strolled out into the evening with the swagger of victors of a schoolyard scuffle, Damascus and Adam linking arms, Miriam discussing some protest or other with Hasael, and Aziraphale walking with Crowley, who seemed content to stroll along quietly.
"You know," Aziraphale said, "I've been picturing you up in Heaven, a ruddy big black snake, whispering into all those angels' ears. It really ought to make me angry, but I just keep smiling to myself."
"I suppose it would be funnier to go as a snake, if a bit less inconspicuous," Crowley replied thoughtfully. "Imagine me slithering round all the arcades and colonnades of Heaven."
"Would you really go up there to start a civil war?" Aziraphale asked.
"Angel, I'd go to Heaven just to put tacks on Gabriel's celestial desk chair," Crowley replied. "Putting doubt in the minds of all the angels? That'd be a pleasure trip."
"How would you do it?"
"Same way I fell, I suppose," Crowley said. "I'd ask questions."
"That does seem to be the problem, questions," Aziraphale sighed.
"They're no end useful, though. Come to think of it, that's how I did the civil war down here."
"You never did, Crowley," Aziraphale said, disapproving. "Which one? English or American?"
"Norwegian," Crowley said, clearly very satisfied with himself.
"The Norwegians had a civil war?"
"Lasted over a hundred years! Most of the twelfth century and half the thirteenth. There's a whole era named after it."
"I don't believe you," Aziraphale said. "Where was I?"
"I don't know. Probably off founding monasteries."
They bickered over the 12th century all the way to dinner, which at least provided a reassuring sense of normality to the others.
The new front door was on the bookshop when Aziraphale and Crowley returned. Adam had promised to take Damascus and Miriam home, and Hasael had gone off to his job as a bouncer for a nightclub, but Crowley lingered, as he often did after these meals. As he let them in using the new keys left taped to the door, Aziraphale noted with pleasure that they'd carefully removed the Hours sign from the old door and put it on the new.
Uriel was awake, sitting up on the couch with their wings folded away, a cup of tea in one hand. They hadn't yet got the hang of drinking it, but they seemed to like to hold it as if they someday would. Crowley settled into an overstuffed chair with a sigh, stretching his legs out, and cocked an eyebrow at Uriel.
"Down here for good, eh?" he asked, while Aziraphale poured himself some tea.
"It seems that way. I'm so sorry, Aziraphale," Uriel said.
"Sorry for what, my dear?" Aziraphale asked. "We knew sooner or later something would happen. I'm just glad you got out in one piece, more or less."
"Iscoah and Jehoah told me what happened."
"Then I'm sure you're aware that we're fine, and likely safe for at least the immediate future. What I'm concerned about right now," Aziraphale added, settling in across from them, "is you."
"You're staying this time, so we must make arrangements. You can stay with me until you get your feet under you, of course, or a couple of the others have spare rooms if you'd rather."
"Oh, I'd...like to stay here, if that's all right."
"Perfectly. Tomorrow we'll have another look at those wings and then I'll take you to see some sights. That'll be fun," Aziraphale said. "If you'd like a job, which I do recommend -- gets you out of the house, you know -- Crowley will find you one, but not until you're healed up."
"I don't need the wings to do work," Uriel pointed out.
"No, but rest will help them heal faster."
"What sorts of things do you like to do, Uriel?" Crowley asked, slouched so low he looked like he was asleep.
"I don't know. In Heaven I mostly followed Gabriel," Uriel said.
"Until you very much didn't," Aziraphale pointed out.
"All the times you've ferried others down here, you've seen a bit of the planet by now. Anything pop out at you?" Crowley asked.
"Well, I quite like musical theater," Uriel ventured.
"Not The Sound Of Music," Crowley groaned.
"Don't listen to him," Aziraphale said.
"At least let it be Cats!"
"Definitely don't listen to him," Aziraphale repeated. "Music, there's a start. Do you play anything? I'm fairly sure I have a pianoforte around here somewhere."
"I used to be very good on the lute," Uriel said.
"Strings, strings," Crowley murmured. He tipped down his sunglasses, studying Uriel over the tops. "Do you know, I think I have just the thing. Anyway, angel, have you got this in hand?" he asked, sitting up a little.
"I think so, yes," Aziraphale said. "Off you run."
"I'll be by in a few days. Give them some decent music to try, would you?" he said, and swaggered out the door.
"He's a strange one," Uriel said.
"None stranger, thank goodness," Aziraphale replied. "Come along. I'll give you a proper tour of the bookshop."
Three months after Gabriel was sent packing, Youfiel showed up. Aziraphale hadn't seen her in centuries, and never on Earth. She just walked into the bookshop like a normal person, albeit a normal person wearing a lot of ethereal pastel pink, and peered around.
"May I help you?" Aziraphale asked warily. He edged a little towards the telephone.
"Yes, I'm here about a position," she said.
"A position?" Aziraphale repeated, baffled.
"I understand you're in need of a new...deliveryperson," she said. "After your last one left to sell...electric guitars*, is that right?"
* The things Uriel did to an electric guitar made Aziraphale pretend not to wince and made Crowley beam with joy. Uriel and Hasael were forming a band, which might have been Crowley's idea.
"Ah," Aziraphale said, pointing upward. "That kind of position."
"Indeed. There are one or two deliveries waiting, you see, and I thought I ought to introduce myself and see if I fit the bill."
"Are you sure you understand the risks? It's not a very well-paying job and it can be quite perilous," Aziraphale said.
"Oh yes. Although I did have a question..." Youfiel studied her pink-manicured nails shyly.
"Of course. Happy to help."
"Uriel mentioned...sushi? It's a food you eat?"
"Let me take you to lunch before you return," he said.
After Aziraphale waved Youfiel off from the doorway of the bookshop that evening, Crowley slunk up behind him and said in his ear, "She's almost definitely a spy for Gabriel."
"Oh, she was," Aziraphale agreed. "She isn't anymore."
Crowley drew back, startled, and followed Aziraphale into the bookshop. "What?"
"She asked about sushi, said Uriel recommended it. Uriel never had sushi before they left Heaven. Had to be a spy," Aziraphale replied.
"So what did you do to her?"
"Omakase," Aziraphale said with relish. "Followed by a matinee of that delightful new musical playing at the Savoy Theatre."
Crowley's brow furrowed. "Les Mis?" he asked, perplexed.
"She cried when Jean Valjean died," Aziraphale told him. "Anyway, she's on our side now. We had a nice long chat."
"You -- you tempter," Crowley laughed.
"I am not!"
"You tempted her with earthly delights, literally."
"I can't help it's such a delightful planet," Aziraphale said. "That's not tempting, that's education."
"You did a wile, that's what you did," Crowley said, lounging against one of the bookshelves. "Wily old angel!"
"Well, you've been very slack in the wile department, someone has to," Aziraphale replied. He picked up a book and leaned in, bracketed by Crowley's long legs, shelving the book next to Crowley's head. He tipped his face up to Crowley's and gave him a small, beatific smile.
"All of us against all of them," Crowley said softly. "More of us every day."
"Yes, but just now, only the two of us," Aziraphale said. "Care for some wine?"
"I thought you'd never ask."