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Before the Water Rises

Chapter Text

“If you're not reading, angel, you ought to be paying attention to me.”

Aziraphale looked away from the rain sleeting down the windows. For just a blurred moment, Crowley had longer hair and his eyes, rather than being covered by an expensive pair of sunglasses, were bare and burning with fury that wouldn't die down for another hundred years.

How much I missed him, Aziraphale thought. How I tried not to think of him, and how much I thought of him anyway.

Crowley cocked his head to one side, coming to sit on the arm of Aziraphale's chair. He buried his face behind Aziraphale's ear, making an inquisitive noise.

“I know you don't need to be that close to sense emotions,” Aziraphale said with a slight smile. “And I would tell you if you asked anyway.”

“Doesn't hurt to keep in practice. You're sad today.”

“I suppose I am. The rain has me remembering.”

“Ought not do that,” Crowley said. “I never do.”

It was a lie, but they both knew it, so Aziraphale only reached up to run his knuckles gently over Crowley's cheek. How marvelous that he was permitted to do this now. How terrible that it had taken so long.

“Hm. I was thinking about the Flood.”

“Good weather for it, I suppose. What about it?”

“It was such a terrible fight. And we never made up.”

Crowley looked at him curiously.

“We didn't?”

Aziraphale frowned.

“No. We didn't see each other for a century, and then it was an accident at all that we ran into each other in Babylon.”

“Wasn't.”

“No, it was a century, a hundred years flat, I counted-”

“No, angel,” said Crowley, half-fond and half-exasperated, “It wasn't an accident that we ran into each other again. Babylon was Tamaat's beat that year. I was meant to be in Ninevah, but I traded with her because I heard... Well. Because I heard that you were there.”

“I never knew that,” Aziraphale said with some surprise.

“S'true. I spent about forty years mad, a decade married, thirty years thinking I was over it, ten years realizing I wasn't, and ten years keeping an eye out for you.”

“I was back in Heaven for a great deal of that century,” Aziraphale said thoughtfully. “Babylon was the first time I had been on Earth again, after.”

“And such a den of sin and iniquity you found. Those were fun times.”

“Oh, yes,” Aziraphale said, making a slight face. “You were so very eager to take me to see the dancing that I never got to...Well. Say any of the thousand or so things I was going to say to you. I spent a great deal of time thinking of them in Heaven, and then when I actually saw you, they flew right out of my head.”

“A thousand things? Really?”

“I itemized them once. It came out somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve hundred, give or take.”

Crowley looked genuinely stunned, and Aziraphale took his hand, rubbing his thumb over the back of it gently.

“Did you believe I never thought of you at all?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, especially back in those days. I was still the Demon Crawley, bad and damned and seductive and all that.”

“I think you underestimate yourself, darling.”

In one practiced motion, Crowley took the book from Aziraphale's hands and swung around straddle his lap, hands lightly on Aziraphale's shoulders.

“Got in your head, did I?” he leered.

“My heart, actually.”

Crowley groaned, tilting his head forward to rest with dramatic frustration against Aziraphale's.

“Angel, you're turning an expert seduction into something inexcusably maudlin and romantic.”

“What a pity for you,” Aziraphale said, reaching up to scratch his fingernails firmly along the short hair at the back of Crowley's neck. The demon shivered and then leaned into Aziraphale's body with a sigh.

“And now you're using things told in confidence against me. What a rotten angel you are.”

“Ah yes, because shouting yes, yes, do that more, I'll kill you if you stop is being told a thing in confidence,” Aziraphale said dryly.

His hand stilled for a moment, thinking again of how terrified he had actually been of being a rotten angel, how he had thought that any touch, any brief comfort in something besides Heaven and its plan was a sure ticket to Hell and damnation. Sometimes it was a good thing he had given up the flaming sword.

Crowley squirmed meaningfully on his lap, but Aziraphale's touch turned slower, fingertips instead of nails, and Crowley melted against him with a sigh.

“You can be sad if you need to be, Aziraphale,” Crowley said gently. “I'll still be here when you're done. And you will be done in a while. It doesn't last forever.”

“I know. And I'm not sad, not exactly. And... I apologized to you so much that week before the flood. I couldn't say anything without falling all over myself.”

“You were practically brand new. We both were.”

“And I don't want to apologize to you now,” Aziraphale said thoughtfully. “I'm not sorry we did what we did. And I'm not sorry for what I said to you, either.”

“It hurt,” Crowley offered a little stiffly, and Aziraphale shrugged.

“Some things do.”

“Bastard angel. Then I'm not sorry for anything I said either.”

“I wouldn't want you to be.”

Crowley gave him a skeptical look.

“So no makeups for us, then. Are we just going to continue as we are?”

“Perhaps we'll find a good way to make up for the flood sometime in the next thousand years. I'm hopeful.”

“Oh, well, that's a good prognosis. Guess I'll stick around to see how it all turns out.”

“Lovely. I have complete faith in us.”

They listened to the rain for a while. The rainbow had held up. There was nothing to be afraid of in the water or the thunder. Nothing to be afraid of anymore at all.

“You're not the only one who gets a little glum on rainy days, y'know,” Crowley said eventually. “I never went back to see Mahlah and her folks after I flew off in a hissy fit. By the time I thought to look for them again, there were Hittites everywhere, and I didn't even know where to start.”

“Mm.” Aziraphale shifted a little, and he might have excused himself to make a cup of tea if Crowley weren't wrapped around him so firmly.

“I mean, they must have pitched us in the rubbish bin, and gone on to God at some point,” Crowley mused. “I never found any of 'em in Hell. Had an alert posted for yonks. Couldn't have done them much good, but I figured I could sneak them into a corner or something...”

“Mm, yes,” Aziraphale said, making another try for the kitchen. This time, however, Crowley curled around him a little tighter, popping up to look him in the face.

“You're acting rather suspiciously, angel,” Crowley said. “What, did they have to settle for one of Heaven's worst neighborhoods or something?”

“They.. they never got to Heaven,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley sat up quickly, staring.

“Wait. They're not in Heaven? Where-”

Aziraphale closed his eyes, covering his face with his hands. If he had had his wings out, he would have covered himself with them too.

“Angel, what have you done?”

“I went back a week later to have a try at introducing them to God,” Aziraphale said, mortified. “I had such good intentions! I had... I had miracles lined up, and... and writing! I was going to give them writing well before they should have had it because I thought they'd be so impressed...”

“And there I was losing sleep over some fish nets. All right. So you came back to help them see the way.”

“I did, I was going to. And then in the middle of trying to explain why you might want a written record over an oral one, that older man with the strange thing on his head-”

“That'd be Nur, and that was his hat.”

“Yes, Nur, he started having chest pains, and I couldn't explain cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Mahlah fast enough, she just thought I was beating him, and... and...”

“And what, angel?”

“I panicked,” Aziraphale said miserably. “I had a soul I couldn't allow to pass to Hell and couldn't sneak into Heaven and... and they had never made me give the keys back, you know.”

“Wait... keys? Oh Satan, you're telling me...”

***

Cradled in a hidden corner of the world that corresponded to no precise location and that could never be plotted on a map, Eden is mostly silent. It continues as it was never made to stop, and it is as perfect as a multitude of angels mad with love for creation and for their creator could make it.

These days, it's mostly used as a picnicking spot for angels, fallen and otherwise, skiving off of work for a bit of fun, and on occasion for the Archangel Gabriel's infrequent and poorly-attended team-building exercises. Mostly they stay to the western part of the garden, the most tame and civilized bit that resembles Kew Gardens. There's no real need to go mucking around in the east, which has more hills, more fruit trees, more goats and incidentally a few generations' worth of friendly pagans from what eventually turned into modern Turkey.

Herodotus mentioned them as the cult of a pale round god, savage goat riders that used their nets to snare people and enslave them. Gerald Gardner suggested they were a tribe of snake worshipers who were beloved of a beautiful red-haired goddess, and in all ways they sought to emulate her kindness and her patience. They're both wrong, of course, but close to the eastern gate there remains a log daubed with red ocher and a rock decorated with curlicues of white chalk. Sometimes, a particularly diligent person will leave an offering of roast duck, but as the pair themselves haven't been by yet, it's not considered a requirement.

An ageless woman with a snake tattoo on her wrist walks through a grove of olive trees, and speculatively, she reaches up to pluck a pair of gleaming olives. She pops them one after another into her mouth. They are salty and sweet at once, unique in the garden and utterly unknown outside of it.

“Not bad,” she says with satisfaction.