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Before the Water Rises

Chapter Text

The storm clouds were gathering, and the ark reared up against the sky like a pregnant rhino.

As a matter of fact, the rhino was pregnant, and it, along with the egrets who had managed to lay three eggs, and a capybara that had started to look as if it might have been on its last legs, was throwing everything out of order.

The animals were meant to come two by two, and nowhere in the holy command did it say anything about babies or widows. It was leading to all sorts of questions about species integrity, unfair advantages, and overpopulation of some very narrow niches. In the middle of Noah's shouted pleas for understanding and clarity, Aziraphale slipped away, because after all, there was nothing to be done.

Six days, and the water was coming. It did not care about proper pairs, genetic diversity or anyone who didn't happen to be standing on a jolly big fuck-off boat.

Bitter?

Maybe.

Yes.

No point in hiding it when there was no one to hide it from. He was the only angel on Earth for the moment, and for perhaps the first time, he felt glad of it. Aziraphale was glad the others were snug up in Heaven, because who knew what he would do or say if he came across one of them now, especially after Crawley's little stunt a few days ago.

That's more the kind of thing you'd expect my lot to do.

It had felt like a corruption of some kind, like throwing a bad apple in the barrel to spoil the lot or adding just that drop of ammonia into chlorine to make chlorine gas. However, he had looked at the demon and found that Crawley wasn't looking at him or even at the ark up on the mountain. Instead he was looking at the people around them, the people who, if the great plan was followed, would all be under water in a week's time.

Aziraphale had been trying very hard not to look at them, but when Crawley looked, he looked, and then he saw all their faces, all their individual faces, and hadn't Saraquael been so proud of that particular algorithm?

“No two alike!” Saraquael had said excitedly at the design meeting. “No repeats, ever, just purely unique, all the way out!”

Purely unique, Aziraphale thought, staring around at all those dear and different faces that would never come again, and something in the vicinity of his stomach lurched.

That vaguely nauseated feeling had stayed with him after Crawley slunk away, and even as the event came on, even as he knew that that meant that God's will was approaching and that by definition everything was running as it should, it didn't let up. He didn't want to be on an ark filled with fractious animals and terrified humans, so, angelic privilege, he slipped away.

The area around Mount Ararat was famous for apricots. As Aziraphale walked among the perfumed groves, he held out his hand and the trees he touched went from blossom to fruit with a delighted shiver. It was a sullen kind of rebellion, to spend miracles so frivolously. It was as if he were declaring to the world that the people who weren't on the ark still deserved something good, something precious and divine.

It's just fruit, he told himself savagely when the act started to comfort him. What the bloody use is it?

No one would know, or care. This would all be gone with the rest in-

Aziraphale stopped, startled by soft voices just over the rise. The moon was set, an unlucky time for anyone but warlocks and thieves to be out, but for some reason, he did not think the voices belonged to either. Curious in spite of himself, he went invisible and came up over the rise.

“-so, you know, it would just be fabulous, don't you think?” Crawley was saying.

He stood across the fire from a middle-aged woman who was staring at him with undisguised suspicion. She wore a charm carved from the jaw of an ox to ward off evil, but the large stick in her hand suggested that she had other means of warding off evil if the charm failed. A tiny baby goat slumbered at her feet, incurious about the strange things that were going on around it.

“No, that doesn't sound fabulous at all,” she said. “Excuse me if I am a little suspicious.”

“Look, what do you want?” Crawley asked testily. “Do you want gold? I can give you enough to make you a queen in Nineveh if there's anything left of Nineveh after this. You'd like being a queen, I can tell. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had to do as you said?”

“Everyone already does what I say,” the woman said. “I'm the one that knows how to get a stuck kid out of a goat. That goes a long way, you know.”

Crawley looked at her blankly.

“Um, good?”

“And gold doesn't. We're still on barter here.”

“Of course you are,” Crawley groaned. “All right, not gold. How about babies? Uh, strong sons, beautiful daughters, or vice versa. If you want, I can give you a hundred...”

It was a temptation, Aziraphale realized. A little strange that Crawley was tempting those doomed to die in such a short while, but maybe that was the point, to collect souls that wouldn't have time to redeem themselves. However, it didn't seem to be going as well as Crawley's reputation might have suggested.

The woman stared at him with undisguised horror, taking a tighter grip on her stick.

“Twice was enough for me!” she exclaimed. “How are you so bad at this?”

“I have been doing this since before you lot knew what sex was,” Crawley said, a little shrill. “I am bloody fantastic at this!”

“No, you're not!” said the woman, shaking her stick at him. “And I am not building your rotten little boats in the middle of kidding season, when half the village is down the cough and-”

Wait...

Boats?

Aziraphale's brain was not human. It was not constrained by the limits imposed by eighty-six billion neurons or a mere nine hundred trillion synapses. Instead, it was a vast and terrible thing, capable of processing an entire universe's worth of truth and coming up with a picture of what it all meant. He knew that it wasn't possible to save everyone from the deluge, knew it like migrating birds knew true north. It was impossible.

However.

The people of this broad valley. The river and marshes thick with tall reeds and cattails. The right miracles here and there to aid them...

The answer came back: maybe.

His heart trembled with grief and with doubt. It wasn't sure. It wasn't everyone.

Then he heard the woman give Crawley a solid thump with the stick (apparently he had offered her beauty, and that went over poorly), and Crawley was still talking, almost pleading, and Aziraphale made his decision.

All right, let's see if I can do the voice without a warm-up...

BE YE NOT AFRAID.

A light, colder than fire, brighter than the stars, flooded the area where women and demon were stood, and they both gasped in shock, stepping back from each other like toddlers caught fighting.

What the holy fuck-!” shouted Crawley, and the woman took a better grip on her stick even as she stared up at the flaming apricot branch in wide-eyed terror.

MAHLAH, DAUGHTER OF TIRZAH. YOU HAVE BEEN FOUND WORTHY.

“Um... I'm pretty sure I'm not...” she hazarded, less like someone who thought she was wasn't worthy than someone who learned a long time ago that being worthy was another way of saying stuck holding the bag.

NO, NO MISTAKES HERE. VERY SURE OF OURSELVES. YOURS IS THE MISSION, AND YOURS IS THE GLORY.

“The... glory of building boats.”

YES. MANY BOATS. ALL THE BOATS. AS MANY BOATS AS CAN BE MADE.

“Can't someone else...”

NO. GREAT IS OUR NEED, AND GREAT IS OUR FURY! DO NOT DEFY US!

Mahlah flinched at that, cringing a little, and Aziraphale felt a sting of guilt. He didn't want to bully her into building boats any more than she wanted to build boats, but he was smart enough to know that one was better than the other.

YOU WILL HAVE HELP, IN THE FORM OF THE DEMON BY YOUR SIDE AND ONE OTHER. YOU WILL NOT BE ALONE.

Mahlah eyed Crawley dubiously, who looked faintly offended.

“How about a bunch of professional boat builders from Byblos?” she said hopefully. “That would be helpful.”

NO. THIS IS YOUR MISSION. THIS IS YOUR GLORY.

A pause.

WHAT WE SAID EARLIER. ER. BE NOT AFRAID. WE MEANT IT. WE'RE HERE FOR YOU.

The burning apricot branch went out, the holy light went dark, and Mahlah turned to Crawley with an accusing stare.

“Don't look at me,” Crawley said. “You had best get started. I'll be along to help shortly.”

She muttered something under her breath that likely didn't bear repeating, but threw the sleepily protesting kid over her shoulders and walked off into the darkness. Aziraphale gave it a slow count of ten and went visible again.

“You!” Crawley said in genuine surprise.

“Me,” Aziraphale agreed, and then he stumbled.

He would have hit the flinty ground face-first if Crawley hadn't been there, grabbing him by the shoulders and holding him steady. For a moment, all Aziraphale could feel was a moment of pure warmth and gratitude before sense reasserted himself. This was a demon, this was the Enemy, and he straightened up and wobbled back out of Crawley's grasp.

“You all right?” Crawley asked cautiously. “You don't look all that steady.”

“Fine, I'm fine,” Aziraphale said, his voice a little high. “Just fine. You know, just an everyday thwarting of the will of God. Just me, going against the great plan, assuming I know better than the Almighty!”

His breath was coming too fast, his heart was beating out of his chest, and his thoughts, unlimited and vast, were pinging to the edges of known space and ricocheting back to him with the force of asteroids. It felt as if his skin was on fire, and he could still feel the warmth of Crawley's hands on his shoulders, and how good that had been, and oh God, was this how sex felt? Was this sex? Had he somehow managed to have sex with a demon while subverting the will of the Alpha and the Omega-?

“Hey. Hey, hold still. Let me look at you.”

“Wha-”

Crawley laid his hands on either side of Aziraphale's face, holding him still. His touch was firm, but not painful, and by the light of the dying fire, his slit eyes glowed gold.

Oh, how lovely, Aziraphale thought.

“That's right, angel, calm down. Just look into my eyes... good, and now look up, as high as you can without moving your head... very good.”

Crawley's hands moved fast, from Aziraphale's face to combing through his hair to feeling along his hairline and just under the collar of his tunic. Aziraphale yelped a little when Crawley pulled up the hem of his robe to reveal his sandals, but he dropped it again almost immediately, nodding with an authoritative air.

“No scales, no weird eye stuff, no hooves, and you don't smell at all like sulfur. I'd say you're good.”

“I'm not...” Aziraphale trailed off, wondering if it was somehow impolite to speak of such things to someone who had suffered it.

“Fallen? Doesn't look like it. Seems like you're just fine.”

Aziraphale let out a breath of relief, pressing his hand over his chest where his heart was just beginning to slow down.

“I'm sorry-” he started, but Crawley was already dousing the fire and packing up his scanty belongings.

“We should get a move on,” he said, and Aziraphale blinked at him.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you were the one who promised the human we'd help,” he said. “Me, I was just hoping to tempt her into doing it herself, and then I'd pop off for a bit of a break somewhere the water wasn't rising. I've heard the place that's going to be Tokyo is pretty nice this time of year.”

“Were you just going to leave?” asked Aziraphale, a little outraged without knowing why.

Crawley raised an eyebrow at him.

“Weren't you? Angels mostly just do the announcements. They don't usually stay to get their hands dirty.”

“Well, no, I suppose not...”

“But you told her that I was going to help, me and 'one other.' I presume that's you unless you're hoping that big purple-eyed fuck was going to come down?”

Aziraphale choked back a laugh. Surely that was only because he was hysterical and not because he privately thought the Archangel Gabriel was just a tiny bit of a prick.

“No... I suppose I didn't.”

“You don't have to,” Crawley said, his voice too innocent. “I mean, I'm going. I'm involved now. But you don't have to do anything you don't want to, I guess. I bet she doesn't even remember that 'one other' was promised. You probably wouldn't even make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, would you?”

Aziraphale gave Crawley a long, level look.

“Are you seriously trying to tempt an angel into helping and saving lives?”

Crawley's look was instantly disgusted and shocked.

“What? Me? No, absolutely not! That's not what I- oh, oh blessed hell, seriously? No, I was not!”

“Of course not,” Aziraphale said. “Angels don't subvert the will of God, and demons don't tempt people into good acts.”

Crawley looked a little uncertain, but he nodded.

“Right. Glad we got that settled.”

They paused. The sun was coming up. Five days until the flood.

“Well,” Crawley said. “Shall we?”

Aziraphale sighed.

“I suppose we shall.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Five days until the flood, and the reeds along the nameless marshes west of Mount Ararat grew up lush and green, taller than a grown man, thicker than the hair on a cat's back.

Of course it was a miracle, one last glimpse of out of season greenery for those who were doomed to perish. The reeds that usually grew along the marshes were usually thin this type of year, almost white with new growth. These recalled the area at its peak, something that would surely grieve those fated to die in the coming deluge.

Of course it was a curse. The tall reeds were the perfect place for people to fornicate outside the views of their lawful spouses and the ideal opportunity for the crocodiles to make off with the kiddies.

“Crawley, I don't believe crocodilians are native to the region,” Aziraphale said. They stood up on a rise watching as Mahlah stood at the center of a large group of resigned people, pointing emphatically towards the reeds.

“Eh, Hell doesn't know that,” Crawley said. “Not great on fauna, most of them. That's what comes of staying downstairs so much.”

Down by the marsh's edge, one of the men was trying to outshout Mahlah. Judging from his slightly more elaborate hat, he was in charge of something and wanted to make that clear. Mahlah, however, seemed to have all the authority that came from being the one who knew how to get stuck kids out of goats, and she shouted right back. In the end, she shouted more loudly, and reluctantly, the group moved out towards the reeds.

“I don't know if there's all that much more we can do, miracle-wise,” Aziraphale said worriedly. “We can't magic the boats up for them, that would be far too obvious. I just can't stand the thought of not doing more.”

“Well, there's one more thing we could be doing,” Crawley said, tucking the hems of his robes up into his belt. “Come on, angel, or have you never worked a day in your life?”

Aziraphale blinked, likely looking a little too long at the demon's bare legs. No, no hooves there, either. All in all, a very regulation set of legs. No reason to stare at all.

“I... what?”

“Come on, Crawley said, bumping him lightly on the shoulder as he passed by. “It'll be a novelty for you.”

***

It was a novelty, and he hated it.

Aziraphale was firmly of the belief that he had been designed for a few very specific tasks. He guarded things, he ministered to things, he smote evil when it was appropriate to do so, and he was rather excited about how the written word was due to take off locally in some little while.

He was not built, he decided, for sloshing around in mud up to his knees, bending down to cut reeds with a knife that went dull as soon as he looked at it, and hauling great piles of the drippy green canes up to the bank. It was hot, wet, awful work, and despite the advancing end of the world, he might have done some choice malingering if it weren't for Crawley.

Crawley was always somewhere in sight, and the demon worked with a grim determination that made Aziraphale feel ashamed of himself. He was an angel, for heaven's sake, and this was one day in the vast eternity he was to be given. He could hardly say it wasn't worth spending some time in the muck (even if he was queasily certain he had stepped on a frog at some point) on even the off chance that he might make some difference.

So he kept on, falling into a dazed rhythm, learning to accept the fact that his skin might never unwrinkle from the water, ignoring the fact that his entire body wanted to let him know that he was not made for such thing.

After this is all over, I shall find a dim and utterly dry place where I have to lift and carry no things and stay there for a good few centuries, he told himself. It did not matter if such a place did not exist yet. He would make it up if he had to.

At least the aches and pains of a corporeal body kept his mind away from more dangerous thoughts, like whether he was subverting the will of God and the equally terrible thought, that he would fail to do so. And that was a stickler, wasn't it? What did it mean if he and Crawley succeeded in their little plan? Would it mean that God's will could be so easily thwarted? Would it mean that they were actually acting under Her aegis in the first place? If so, what did that mean? Was it a test? Would She test them, and if so why-

Azirapahale's thoughts were interrupted when a great slosh of water hit him square in the face. He couldn't get more wet, but he sputtered, dropping the reeds he had been carrying with a sharp cry. He looked up to figure out what else had gone wrong, and there was Crawley, holding a bucket with a cheerful carelessness and smiling almost angelically.

Oh what you must have been, Aziraphale thought. Then he felt obscurely ashamed of himself, and he didn't know why.

“Sorry,” Crawley said. “I had to get out a bit of badness. Part of being a demon, you know.”

“What?”

“Demons have to get out a certain bit of badness at regular intervals. Otherwise it builds up, and well. Murders and blights. Thought I'd get it out of my system before it caused any trouble.”

It was on the tip of Aziraphale's tongue to tell him that it was in no way true, and then he wondered if just as angels could sense love, if demons could sense other things. They must, he realized, for their temptations to work.

“Oh, I see,” he said instead. “Might I see that bucket for a moment?”

Crawley gave it to him and then sputtered with shock when Aziraphale scooped up an enormous amount of water and dumped it over his head.

“Angel! What in the lightbringer's name?”

“Baptisms,” said Aziraphale with a straight face. “Part of being an angel, you know. We have to baptize things or that goodness gets all pent up. Then it's all burning bushes and leveled cities.”

The look that came over Crawley's face was a strange one. Delight mingled with confusion mingled with something else, and Aziraphale might have just stood there trying to figure it out if a cry hadn't gone up that someone saw a crocodile.

“There are no crocodiles in Anatolia!” he cried impatiently, turning towards the source of the fuss (there wasn't, it was just a particularly predatory-looking log), and by the time he turned back, Crawley was gone, and he had no reason not to get back to work.

The day stretched on forever. In the purpling dusk, the great bundles of reeds were set upright on the edge of the marsh to dry, and Mahlah led her people back to their houses where there were still chores to be done and goats to be tended. They were exhausted, and Aziraphale knew they would be much more exhausted by the end if they were lucky.

How little time they have, and how much of it they have to spend struggling.

He hadn't realized he had said it out loud, until Crawley shrugged.

“That's what you lot wanted, isn't it?” he asked. “No more free rides? Woman gets a bite of an apple, and that's it, everyone pays in misery for all eternity.”

“That's not what happened,” Aziraphale said stiffly.

Crawley half-turned to him, raising an eyebrow.

“Beg your pardon, but I was there. And so were you.”

Aziraphale went a little warm under his damp collar, and he looked away from Crawley. Surely that hadn't been what had happened. Honestly, he had spent quite some time learning not to think about it, and it was almost rude of Crawley to bring it up again.

Crawley, however, didn't seem to notice Aziraphale's discomfort, instead scenting the air.

“Oh, that's nice, they've killed a goat. You should come up and try some if you've not yet. They do something fun with rubbing dried leaves all over it, I dunno what it does, but they're very keen-”

“I shouldn't,” Aziraphale said shortly, though there was a small part of him that did think that sounded rather intriguing. “I should be back at the ark. Overseeing the... well. Overseeing.”

“Suit yourself,” Crawley said, “but remember to be back dark and early. We're going to need to dry out all this lot before they can get to the tying, and then there'll be more reeds to cut.”

Of course there would be, and Aziraphale heard Crawley's line about the woman and the apple in his head again before he brushed it off.

“Yes. I'll be back tomorrow I'll see you then.”

“Of course. See you then, angel.”

Aziraphale opened his wings, grabbing the air and spiraling up and away from Crawley in a matter of seconds. When he glanced down, he saw that the demon was still standing where he had left him, looking up with a strange expression on his face.

 

Chapter Text

Four days before the flood, and the people of the village woke up to find that overnight, the bundles of reeds they had cut had gone from green to gold, all water drained away and the stalks left crisp and dry.

It turned out to be a good thing he had returned to the ark last night, as the pregnant rhino had gotten an idea in her head that the wall of her stall was her enemy and decided to treat it accordingly. It was a shame about the wolpertingers in the next stall over, and it took Aziraphale a goodly while to get her calm and placid again. Then there was Noah wanting to know how many different species of small rodents there really were, and what counted as a species anyway if you didn't have a DNA sequencer on hand, and whether it was really a good idea to bring along that many keen little pests who likely had all sorts of ideas about grain houses and plagues, and it was all a little too much.

He told himself that no one noticed when he slipped out the back, winging his way back to the valley in time to help Crawly with drying out the reeds. They had worked silently through the very late night and very early morning, and every time it seemed as if they were done, there was another stand of reeds that they had missed. By the time the rooster crowed, they staggered up the rise to collapse under the branches of an olive tree, too tired to do much more than sprawl and to hope that someday their feet would dry out.

The tree was as twisted as a good story, ancient enough to be long past bearing, and absently, Aziraphale reached up to touch the gnarled bark. He had thought he was too tired for much more than staring at the lightening sky, but he was wrong. Above them, white flowers opened up, filling the air with a woodsy scent, and then the flowers dropped off, replaced by small green berries.

“Not much point of that,” Crawley said quietly. “Water's rising soon.”

“I know, but it was dreaming of flowers and fruit, how it missed them and what the world looked like when it was young. It's the oldest tree in the valley, and it's the only one that remembers.”

Aziraphale cringed away when Crawley moved suddenly, sitting back up with a start. Everyone said he was soft, and all the warnings about demons rang in his ears. Had Crawley been waiting for him to exhaust himself with one last miracle? Had he...

“Hey, hey, it's all right. Come here. Your hair's a fright.”

Aziraphale blinked and sat still as Crawley carefully brushed the fallen flowers out of his curls, the demon's touch as light as rain. It felt good like rain did too, though Aziraphale mostly abhorred getting wet, and he couldn't stop himself from leaning into Crowley's hands just a little. It was nice, so nice...

“Wait, is this a... a seduction?”

“No, this is wondering how your hair just hangs on to those blessed flowers like that. You're like an ewe, all these curls. Why, do you want it to be a seduction?”

“Of course not,” Aziraphale said, offended. “I am an angel. We are above such things, and immune.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course we are! We are the most pure and the most far-seeing-”

Suddenly, Crawley was closer than he had been a moment before, close enough that Aziraphale could see that the glint of his sharp teeth. Crawley's hand, which had been flicking flower petals out of his hair, trailed lightly down Aziraphale's face, and the sensation sent a tremble through the angel's body. A single finger traced the skin directly under his collar, and Crawley smiled when Aziraphale licked suddenly dry lips.

"Never seen anything like you before," Crawley murmured. "Nothing so very fine or sweet..."

"You can't," Aziraphale said, half-desperately and hoping he hadn't pronounced it as please continue. 

“Are you very sure?” asked Crawley.

Oh, Aziraphale thought faintly. This is temptation, then...

He knew that the answer was to say of course he was, to storm off in offended indignation and to thoroughly ignore Crawley for at least an hour. That was proper. He learned a lot about himself, however, when instead he had to grope to find the words as if he were looking for spectacles on a crowded nightstand.

“I...that is, we can't... No. I mean. Yes! Yes, I'm sure.”

Crawley sat back with an easy smile, that heat turned off as if he had flicked a switch. Maybe he had.

“Ah well. Chat me back if you change your mind.”

Aziraphale realized that he was still leaning forward as if Crawley was still touching him, and he sat back in embarrassment, his face flaming. Sometimes, the people upstairs were entirely right about him.

“Would you want me to?” he found himself asking, and that made Crawley look at him curiously.

“Well, yeah, of course. Seducing an angel, every demon's got that on the bucket list, haven't they?”

“Oh. That's not very flattering, is it?”

“Doesn't need to be,” Crawley said with a supreme amount of confidence. “I'm very good at what I do.”

“Still, I can't help but think it would work better if, oh... I don't know. If you made the person feel as if they were special. That's what I thought earlier anyway, and I liked it better than being on a bucket list.” He wasn't actually at all sure what a bucket list, but he wasn't saying so at this point.

“Er, yeah?”

“Wouldn't you like it?” Aziraphale asked earnestly, turning to Crawley. “If someone said you were special, I mean. And then you would know that they were only there because of you, and that they were only doing the things that they were doing because of you. You would know that they had really... seen you, I suppose. Not the thing you try to be or the thing you pretend to be, but you, the part of you that you always wished could be seen. Wouldn't... wouldn't you like that?”

Crawley was staring at him, his face still and his hands where they had fallen on his lap twitching a little. Aziraphale smiled wryly.

“I've done it again, haven't I?”

“What?”

“Oh, you know. Talking too much. I'm rather famous for it in Heaven, you know, or infamous. Always jabbering away, me. The joke is that that's why I get assigned to Earth so much, or at least, I hope it's a joke...”

“I don't think you talk too much at all, angel,” Crawley said faintly. “I... I rather like it.”

“Oh, that's very kind of you, thank you,” Aziraphale said. “Oh look, they're beginning to get started. I suppose we should head down...”

“We don't have to yet...

Aziraphale smiled at him.

“Weren't you the one teasing me about never having worked a day in my life? Have you never worked two in a row?”

Before Crawley could answer, Aziraphale saw that the green fruit of the olive tree had darkened to a lustrous reddish black.

“Oh splendid,” he said, reaching for a branch. “Do you like salty foods?”

“Er, yeah, I s'pose...”

“Here, hold out your hand.”

Almost nervously, Crawley did, and Aziraphale deposited two plump olives in his palm.

“Oh this is a very old tree,” Aziraphale said with affection. “Almost extinct, this variety, and as delicate as they are, they likely won't survive the... well. We might as well enjoy them while we have them.”

“I don't eat much food,” Crawley said, chewing hesitantly. “Don't need it at all.”

“But, my dear,” said Aziraphale, quite forgetting himself, “do you like it?”

Crawley swallowed, and he appeared almost shy when he looked at Aziraphale.

“Yeah. Yeah I do.”

“Well, that's splendid! Or, maybe not, since this species isn't going to be around in a week. But there's something very close that grows down in what will at some point turn into Italy-”

Later, Aziraphale would realize that he had chattered about olives all the way down the mountain, and that Crawley had not shushed him or interrupted or told him he was a dreadful bore once.

Who knew that a demon would be so fascinated with olives, he thought, pleased. Perhaps there is some middle ground we could all find after all.

 

Chapter Text

Three days before the flood, Aziraphale felt as if his body had been placed in a large vat and then trodden upon in the hopes that wine would come out. Crawley, he thought, was holding up a little better, but by the end of a long day of tying the dried reeds into bundles that would then go on to be tied into larger bundles that would then somehow turn into boats, they were both stretched out on the banks by the water, staring up at the darkening sky.

You will have help,” Crawley muttered, doing a passable imitation of Aziraphale's presentation voice. “the blessed idiot demon standing there who didn't have the sense to get a move on when the getting was good, oh he'll help you. He loves that sort of thing. So very much a demon thing to do, helping...”

“Oh hush, I'm here too, aren't I?” Aziraphale grumbled. “And I do not sound like that.”

And I don't sound that. I also don't sound like a great honking goose when I stepped into the clutch of frogs that Crawley warned me about just five blessed seconds ago, not me.”

“I thought you were pointing at a different spot!” groaned Aziraphale. “It was disgusting, and if all you can do is make fun, I shall go find someone else to collapse next to.”

I could collapse next to anyone I like, but instead I always make sure to collapse next to- Augh, why!”

Aziraphale turned his head to see a child of some five or six years standing close by, a stick in hand, and an offended and bewildered Crawley clutching his side.

“Oh, well done, child,” Aziraphale said. “Do it again, and I shall bless your line unto the fourteenth generation.”

That must have sounded like a good deal to the child, because they prodded Crawley again in the thigh, making the demon sit up with a glare.

“Do it again, and I'll curse you to spit up frog eggs for eternity,” he snapped. “Why in the name of Satan are you poking me with a stick?”

“Mahlah said to come get you and to bring you to the village,” the child said. “She wants you up for dinner tonight.”

Aziraphale blinked.

“Oh, that's kind of her...”

“Where does the stick come in?” Crawley asked.

“Mahlah said that sticks are gifts from the unknown that let us explore without being bitten.”

“That sounds exactly like a thing Mahlah would say,” Crawley said. “I see she hasn't explained superior reach and demonic speed yet.”

Before Aziraphale could do anything, the demon lunged at the child, eyes flashing yellow fire, teeth bared and fingers hooked into claws.

Nononono, no, this isn't happening, I trusted him, no, he can't, he can't- babbled Aziraphale's mind even as he threw himself towards Crawley, a sinking feeling in his belly. Even as he moved, he knew that he was too late, that demonic speed wasn't an exaggeration. Crawley was faster than he was, but he hadn't known that Crawley would...

“Hey, watch yourself!”

The voice, familiar, indignant and utterly calm, made him stop more than the words did. He came to a halt just short of Crawley, who was holding the child upside down by their ankles, giving them a brisk shake that only produced muffled snorts and giggles.

“You were just...”

“Yeah, I was- oh. Oh, I see.”

Something flickered across Crawley's eyes, and then he shrugged. Aziraphale stepped back, the sinking sensation in his belly turning into something hot and ashamed.

“Crawley, I wasn't implying...”

“Yeah, well. Can't be too careful these days. Demons about and all.”

Aziraphale cringed.

“It wasn't meant-”

“Anyway, we're due at the village, aren't we?”

Crawley addressed the question to the child, righting them and holding them up to eye level. The child, Aziraphale couldn't help but notice, hung in Crawley's hands like a particularly inert species of rag, completely relaxed and at ease.

“Yah. For duck.”

“Hey, duck. I like duck. Let's go.”

Crawley tucked the child under his arm, turning towards the village where someone had already lit the cooking fires.

“Um...”

“Don't worry, angel, I'll make your excuses. I know you've got a lot of responsibilities up at the big blessed boat.”

“It's called an ark,” Aziraphale said, but he was speaking with no one at all, Crawley walking away and not looking back.

He wavered for a moment, trying to work up some kind of righteous indignation that might cushion the guilt welling up inside him.

Well, I can hardly be blamed for thinking the worst, demons canonically are the worst...except for the fact that he's the only one here and helping. And he's been sloshing around in all this wet just as much as I've been, and of the two of us, he's the far better-natured...and... and...

Despite suspecting that he had actually told the First Lie, Aziraphale wasn't a very good liar yet. In the years to come, he would refine it to something between an art and a science, twisting oh I love this into oh this is a pleasant way to pass the time with a completely platonic colleague, but it was early days yet. He was still learning, and he couldn't come up with a way to believe that he hadn't been a complete prick.

When he got up to the village, there were a dozen ducks turning on the spits, people chattering and jostling for the comfiest grass mats around the fires, and children and goats dashing about with mad abandon. Everyone was exhausted, but there were some people slapping out a rhythm on their bare thighs while others did a circle dance in half time, hanging on to each other's arms and more swaying than anything else.

It took Aziraphale a few moments to find Crawley, who was seated back from the brightest gleam of the fires and speaking with Mahlah.

“Well, of course sticks are gifts from the unknown. I mean, without them, we'd have to touch things with our hands right away. That's no way to live, is it?”

“Look, I'm not arguing, but I need to point out that as awe-inspiring as sticks are, there's an entire world of things out there better than sticks.”

“There's not, actually. As a society, we're still basically on the edge of survival, living in a constant tug of war between viable success as a social group and devastation at the hand of whatever petty disaster might wipe us out. Sticks, and their cousin, the humble rock, give us the basic tools we need to get a little ahead of the curve.”

“Oh. Rocks,” Aziraphale said, too eagerly. “Always like a good rock myself. They're lovely.”

He cringed when Mahlah and Crawley both turned towards him. Mahlah only looked curious, but there was a kind of polite flatness to Crawley's expression, something too civilized to be scorn, but somehow twice as cutting.

“Well, I wouldn't go that far, they're not sticks,” Mahlah said presently. “Your friend told me you couldn't make it tonight.”

“Well, er. There's a lot going on at... But. You know. Everyone needs a break, and...Well. I was invited?”

Mahlah smiled suddenly, coming over to clap a hand to his shoulder.

“You were, no doubt about it. Go and have a seat. What do you like?”

“Er, the... diffraction of light across very deep water, and feeling of satisfaction upon almost finishing a difficult task?”

It was what he always put down on the team-building worksheets that Gabriel insisted on every few hundred years, but for some reason he felt that that wasn't what Mahlah was looking for.

“Honestly, you're as a bad as the other,” she said. “We haven't got any of that around here. How about some acur and duck? Your friend's having some duck and wild asparagus.”

“Oh that sounds all very fine,” Aziraphale said dubiously, and Mahlah nodded.

“Go on, sit down. I'll send it over in just a shake.”

Aziraphale glanced down at where Crawley sat cross-legged, elbow on one knee, chin in his hand and looking deliberately away from Aziraphale. Aziraphale might have given up, but then it struck him to wonder if the mat that Crawley sat on might not be a little wider than it had been before, just enough room, perhaps, for someone else to sit down.

Aziraphale settled next to Crawley, fussing needlessly with his robes for a moment.

“So... what did you ask for? She said I was as bad as you were.”

“The iridescence of sunset over the scales of a newborn lizard and that sensation you get when you wake up at night and know you have another four hours to sleep,” Crawley said reluctantly.

“Oh,” said Aziraphale. “That sounds rather nice.”

“Thought I was going to pick something nasty, didn't you,” muttered Crawley, still not looking at him.

“Crawley...”

“S'fine. I don't care.”

Obviously he cared very much, and Aziraphale wrung his hands a little in distress. He wasn't sure he had ever been in this situation before. Angels mostly just descended, passed on their messages and left, no hurt feelings involved at all.

Unless the hurt feelings come after, Aziraphale thought with a creeping horror. How would we ever know?

A young man approached, a large wooden platter weighed down with food to share between them. There was roast duck, still steaming, stalks of gently fried asparagus and slices of acur, green, raw, and fresh to take the edge off.

“Oh, thank you,” said Aziraphale, dimpling a little. “This all looks quite marvelous.”

The young man lingered for a moment.

“Mahlah said you two had come to help us...”

“Yeah, that was certainly a thing she was told,” Crawley said pointedly, a stalk of asparagus between his teeth.

“Well. Um. When the water comes, I've been thinking about how in the world we're all going to get fed, you know? There's eggs from the ducks, and a certain number of goats, but that won't last long. What are we going to do then?”

The stalk fell out of Crawley's mouth, and his yellow eyes went wide.

“Er...Eat?”

The young man nodded, biting his lip.

“Well, that's a very good question,” Crawley said. “A very good question. I like questions myself, and of course they have an answer...”

“Fish,” Aziraphale said. “Fish in the water. The first few days, it'll be a normal flood, but then as the seas overflow and as new channels are cut into the mountain, there will be fish.”

He had seen it in the plans, how all this land would be a sea in the years to come, remaining for some little geological while before it drained again. The fish would be strange to the people of the valley, but they would be edible, and so they would survive.

“Oh! That sounds good, I'll make sure everyone packs their rods and baskets...”

“No, here, let me give you something else to help,” Crawley said, and Aziraphale felt the little shimmer in the air that indicated a small miracle was being worked. To his surprise, Crawley pulled from his robes a roll of cord, stretching out a length and clipping it with a quick swipe of his sharp thumbnail.

“All right, now watch, because I'm only going to show you this once, yeah?”

The young man did, and Aziraphale, absently nibbling a sliver of duck, watched as well as Crawley stretched out a length of cord and with a series of lark's head knots and square knots, produced a small net, handing it to the young man with a grin.

“There you go. Make it big enough and that'll catch you more fish than some silly little rod.”

The young man grinned, taking his prize off into the crowd, and Crawley gave Aziraphale a defiant look.

“Don't care if they're not meant to have that for another few generations. Not even a-”

Crawley stopped short as Aziraphale took his hand, squeezing it between his own. Aziraphale, for some reason, felt as if he might cry. What a silly thing for an angel, who was closest to God and therefore never meant to be unhappy.

“Oh you clever thing,” Aziraphale said softly. “You're right, you're so right, and they can use the nets to carry things without worrying about fabric bags holding water and weight. That was brilliant.”

“You know, just doing my part to... to spread the uneven and unjust application of technology,” Crawley managed. “Dunno what this lot might do with nets. Might go mad with the power of it, rampaging across the world. With their nets. Build an empire, crush those without nets under their heels...”

“Do you even believe that? Why, I think underneath it all you might actually be quite-mmph!”

The next word was lost when Crawley slapped his palm over Aziraphale's mouth, suddenly closer than he had been before.

“Hey. Let's not have any of whatever it was you were going to say, all right? That's not what's meant to be said about Hell's own best tempter when he's on the job, and I could get into a lot of trouble if it got out that I was being... well. Best not even to think it.”

It was too late, of course, because Aziraphale had thought it, and he was thinking it now. However, he nodded, and Crawley lifted his hand away from Aziraphale's mouth, a slight hint of red across his cheeks.

Aziraphale licked his lips automatically, and Crawley twitched a little.

Oh, no, he's worried. I'm simply terrible at this.

“I won't say it,” he said earnestly. “I'll keep it quite to myself, I promise.”

“Er. Maybe you don't have to keep it all to yourself...”

“But there is something I wanted to say.”

“Yeah?”

Aziraphale thought hard. He wasn't always very good at words, but there should be a way to say what he knew needed to be said without triggering some kind of Hell down on Crawley or Heaven down on him.

“Earlier this evening... I was guided by what I thought I knew, rather than what I had actually seen and experienced. I... I was unkind to someone who has... behaved in every way as he should and shown me nothing but...the world as I hope and pray it might truly be. I wanted to say that I am grateful for the lesson, whatever comes after, and that I am deeply sorry for what I said and what I thought. I will do better in the future.”

Aziraphale felt too shy to look at Crowley, instead touching his mouth again where he could still feel a slight tingle from the demon's touch. He jumped when Crawley tugged his hand down.

“Hey, don't do that,” he said. “Eat your food before it gets cold.”

They sat in the darkness, picking at their platter as the fires went out and the humans went to bed. Soon enough, the moon rose, but neither of them saw much reason to move. They stayed where they were, watching over the sleeping people and talking quietly about the the stars that circled high over their heads.

 

Chapter Text

Two days before the flood, and a sense of urgency started to take over. Even the people who had quietly and not so quietly called Mahlah and her two foreigners insane couldn't ignore the dark clouds massing to the west, or the fact that the splatters of water coming down were too cold by far for the spring rains.

“It can't come out of nothing,” Aziraphale said to Crowley not long after mid-morning. “They've got Pareviel on it, and they've been harvesting water for this for months now. Last time I was up, they were saying they weren't sure how long they could hold all that water before having to let it fall.”

Crawley grunted in response, tying off his last reed bundle before handing it off to a sturdy teenager to be taken down to the shore. He looked around for the next, seemingly puzzled when there wasn't one to be seen.

“Crawley, we've done this section,” Aziraphale said, and the demon only nodded.

“Right.”

Aziraphale watched with some consternation as Crawley moved towards the next, head down and feet barely clearing the ground. He fidgeted for a moment, nibbling on his lower lip. He had already suggested that the demon stop to rest twice and gotten a distracted hissing for his trouble both times.

Wait. I wonder if...

“Oh... oh dear!” he said, tipping himself over. It was possibly the world's least convincing fall, but Crawley with his back turned didn't see that part. By the time he turned around, Aziraphale was down on the ground, prodding cautiously at a completely unhurt ankle. The demon was by Aziraphale's side in a flash, bending over to examine the damage.

“Ah, angel, I told you to be careful, there's all kind of roots sunk into the ground here...”

“Oh, it's just fine, I should think,” Aziraphale said truthfully. “Only perhaps help me over to the tree so I can see for sure?”

“You really ought not be allowed out,” Crawley said with sigh, and he gave Aziraphale a hand up. Aziraphale took it without thinking, and then he blinked, just barely keeping himself from pulling back.

“Why, you''re as cold as ice,” he said in surprise. “Whatever's the matter?”

Crawley grumbled in irritation, but he didn't pull back. Aziraphale remembered at the last moment to limp at least a little as the demon helped him towards the nearby tree and setting them both down on the grass there.

“'m mostly a snake, remember. Cold blooded, and the sun's been hiding all day. Don't suppose you know how long it's going to do that, do you?”

“Forty days and forty nights, according to the board they put up,” Aziraphale said absently.

“Board?”

“Oh, it's something Gabriel put up. It's a long strip of paper with marks on it, and every day we move a little paper ark a mark closer to the end.”

“And then what?”

“We're meant to feel some sort of sense of accomplishment, I think. I don't quite understand it myself...”

Aziraphale realized that he was rubbing Crawely's hands, trying to get some warmth back into them. He almost stopped, but he could see that Crawley was getting a slightly unfocused look in his eyes, his shoulders dropping down from his ears, his head drooping slightly. It was better than how cold and miserable he had looked before, so Aziraphale kept at it, moving his hands from Crawley's hands to his wrists and then to his upper arms, rubbing briskly. The demon was chilly all over, and Aziraphale made a disapproving noise.

“Goodness, you are done in, aren't you?” he murmured, and he could tell that Crawley was because the demon only nodded, sighing a little.

'Yeah. I should have been long gone by now.”

Aziraphale fought down an unfamiliar pang at his words, refusing to wonder why he felt that way.

“Oh. I suppose you still could...”

“Nah, I'm committed now. I want to see how this turns out. If it. Well. You know.”

If we made a difference, Aziraphale didn't say.

“And anyway, you'd be lost without me,” Crawley said, a little more cheerfully. “How's your leg?”

Before Aziraphale could answer, Crawley reached down to squeeze his fingers around his ankle, his touch gentle and probing. There was no pain, of course, but the demon's touch sent a bright spark of sensation through Aziraphale's corporation, something a bit like being tickled, something that made him gasp a little. Crawley frowned.

“Hmm. Does it hurt here too?”

Crawely's hand moved from ankle to calf, and Aziraphale had to swallow hard before he trusted himself to speak.

“No, no pain at all,” he said, wondering if he was getting warmer. There was a tension in his lower belly that hadn't been there before, a feeling of being somehow unsteady despite sitting on the ground. His shoulders itched as if his wings wanted to come out for some extra balance.

“Are you sure? It's a bad idea to let this kind of thing go. It can lead to all sorts of problems in the future.”

Crawley was sitting so very close to him now, close enough that Aziraphale realized he could reach out and touch a lock of the demon's long hair. It hung so invitingly over Crawley's shoulder, so pretty and red, and Aziraphale had always thought it looked so soft...

“Angel?”

“Um?”

Aziraphale blinked, meeting Crawley's gaze and he could see that that rest must have done Crawley some good as well, because his cheeks were flushed pink, and his eyes looked brighter, more gold than yellow.

“Angel,” Crawley said, swallowing a little. “Are you all right? You look a little. um. Peaky.”

How special you are, Aziraphale didn't say. How rare and lovely. I have never seen anything like you before...

Crawley's hand came up, slow enough that Aziraphale could have pulled back if he wished to. He had absolutely no wish to do so. The demon pressed a cool palm to Aziraphale's cheek, and Aziraphale pressed back, eyes almost fluttering closed before he remembered himself.

“You're warm. Do angels run warm? Is that normal for you? I don't remember...”

Aziraphale opened his mouth, and there was absolutely no telling what it was going to come out before a thunderous boom split the sky.

The flood, Aziraphale thought, scrambling to his feet in a panic. It's come, we've miscounted, oh why didn't I look more closely at that dratted board...

Then he heard the people down on the bank shrieking, followed by the boom of an unfortunately familiar voice.

I DO NOT THINK I HAVE TO SAY BE NOT AFRAID EVERY TIME I SHOW UP!”

“Gabriel,” gasped Aziraphale. “What in the world, he never comes down, you have to...”

He looked over at Crawley, shocked to see the demon on his feet but pressed back against the tree. He was shaking a little, eyes gone pale yellow, and his fingers dug into the bark.

“Crawley, what's the matter?” Aziraphale hissed in agitation, because he could see the figure of Gabriel moving up the plain towards them. He would be on them in a few moments, and if he found Crawley here...

Aziraphale took Crawley by the shoulders, turning so he could look him in the eye. It seemed to help, because Crawley took a breath, a gasp for air that Aziraphale recognized.

“Crawley,” he said firmly. “Snake. Right now. You have got to...”

There was a poof and suddenly Aziraphale's hands were full of two yards of large black snake, the head as big as his fist, the muscular body curling around his forearms.

“Oh! Um, please, if you could just...”

Crawley seemed to take that as an indication that he should coil his way around Aziraphale's neck and shoulders, looping himself up and around with remarkable grace.

“Er...”

“Aziraphale! There you are!”

“Oh! Um. Archangel Gabriel. What a pleasant... what a surprise, I didn't expect to see you down on... on Earth...”

The archangel scowled, flicking an invisible bit of dust off his cashmere robes. He glowed slightly, as if soaking in all of the available light and putting it back out only begrudgingly.

“Neither did I. I got a report from Noah saying you haven't been back to the ark for a while.”

I am going to put a colony of dormice into his bed, came the very unangelic thought. Then we'll see about species diversity.

“Oh, well, there is in fact, a very good explanation for that, you see,” Aziraphale stammered. “I was, um. Just. Out here. Looking. For this fellow!”

Crawley let out a surprised hiss as Aziraphale gestured at him. Aziraphale felt Crawley squeeze around him a little, stronger than he looked. He decided to take that as encouragement.

“This little guy?” asked Gabriel dubiously.

“Oh yes,” said Aziraphale. “You see... ah. He was an escapee. From the ark. And the species is due to be terribly important throughout Asia Minor in the years to come, just terribly, profoundly important. Would have been a disaster if we just had the one on board, you know. Imagine, he came all this way, the wily little serpent, before I finally found him...”

Gabriel glanced down at the riverbank, where Mahlah and her people were lashing the bundles of reeds into wide hulls, working with ropes made from peeled reeds. It was exhausting work, and the sharp edges of the split reeds could cut straight through skin given the least provocation.

“What's going on down there?”

“Oh... er...”

Housesss,” hissed Crawley in Aziraphale's ear. His forked snake's tongue flickered against Aziraphale's earlobe, sending a shiver straight through him that almost made him fall over for reason.

“Houses!” Aziraphale yelped, and when Gabriel gave him a curious look, he continued. “Um. They're making houses. It's spring, so the people in the region... make new houses. Out of reeds. It's very connected to the, the cycle of the year New year, new houses.”

“Oh.” Gabriel considered for a moment. “Weird.”

“Well, it's a sort of a- a local custom, one tied to traditions that go back to-”

Not your job, Aziraphale. Your job is back on the ark, with the righteous. You know that, right?”

Aziraphale, who recognized that particularly tone, nodded. His part as an active participant in the conversation was over. He was on to the portion where he nodded and agreed.

“It's a big responsibility, champ, I know, but I also know that you're up to it. You just need to focus. That's all, just focus, and we all know that you're going to do stellar work. I don't mind telling you that we've got real expectations for you, but we wouldn't if you weren't capable, you know.”

Aziraphale made a polite noise of agreement as Crawley squeezed him a little.

What a prick,” Crawley hissed, and Aziraphale had to choke back a laugh.

“Really, you've been doing good work, but if you just applied yourself a little more, maybe laid off that new thing people are doing, you know, with the jaw going up and down-”

“Eating?”

“Yeah, that one, eating. Just maybe skip it once in a while, you know? You're getting kind of round. You're an angel, and you know Expectations. I know you don't want to disappoint us, but you can't disappoint yourself, either. Have high expectations for yourself, like we do.”

Aziraphale could feel his face heat up a little. He knew that there were expectations, that's what made them expectations. He didn't see why Gabriel had to go on about it. He didn't see why it always made him feel so very small.

He also didn't know why Crawley squeezing him firmly around the shoulders helped, but it did, even if he knew he should be embarrassed to have the demon see this sort of thing.

“So yeah, that's all. Michael thought that you'd muddle along all right, but I thought maybe if I got down here, and touched base that it might help you keep it all together, right?”

“Oh. Yes, Gabriel. Very much so,” Aziraphale muttered.

Gabriel beamed.

“Good to hear it, buddy,” he said. “I had better get back on with things upstairs, have to make sure Pareviel doesn't throw a diva fit and let it all go a little too early. And Aziraphale?”

“Yes?”

“I love you, all right? We all do.”

“I know. I love you,” Aziraphale said dutifully.

With a boom of thunder, the archangel was gone, and Aziraphale let out a shaky sigh. The world was so much bigger without Gabriel in it, but it always took a moment to get used to it again. He reached up without thinking to stroke the sleek black coils around his shoulders. They felt so nice, warmed to his own body, so kind.

There was a puff of air, and instead of a snake coiled around his shoulders, there was a demon leaned up against his back, his arms around him just as tight as the snake had been.

“What a prick,” Crawley said again, and Aziraphale sighed.

“He's not, really,” Aziraphale felt the need to say. “He's just very... very blunt, you know. Honest He says what's on his mind without thinking.”

“He should think about it,” Crawley hissed. “We don't say that kind of thing in Hell. We don't make you say I love you after we've hurt you.”

“He did not make me say anything, you just don't understand,” snapped Aziraphale, suddenly irritable. It happened sometimes after he had a talk with Gabriel. He felt tired and raw and downright snappish.

He shook his head, stepping out of Crawley's arms. For a moment, it almost felt as if the demon clung to him, but then Crawley let him go.

“Angel...”

“I'm not going to abandon all of this,” Aziraphale said. “I'll go back to the ark now, but I'll be back around sundown to help dry out the reeds and maybe tie some more boats if there are still bundles left. I... I may not be here tomorrow, because that's when Noah is closing up the ark for good. I'll need to be on board, but I'll come if I can.”

He thought Crawley might protest that, being left with the last day on his own, but the demon only nodded.

“I know you will, angel. You know you've done good work here, right? These people, they've got a fighting chance because of what you've done.”

Aziraphale swallowed hard. Why did that hurt so much? For a second, he thought he might humiliate himself and cry. If Crawley had reached for him and touched his face as he had before, he might have done; it was just too much.

Instead, he took several deep breaths and straightened up, nodding.

“Have you warmed up a little?” he asked. “You're looking a little better.”

“Yeah, you're as good as a sunbeam in summer,” Crawley said. “And your ankle?”

“My what?”

Crawley raised an eyebrow.

“Your ankle? The one that you hurt?”

“Oh. Um. It's fine now. Jolly good.”

“Oh Satan, are you a bad liar,” Crawley said. “You know that, right? You're lucky you only have to lie to angels who don't know better. Don't think that you can get away with that kind of thing with someone with two wits to rub together.”

For some reason, that made Aziraphale laugh, and he felt lighter than he had a few moments before.

“I won't,” he said. “I'm.. I'm sorry if-”

Crawley waved him off.

“Nah, don't worry about it. Get on back to the ark before you get in more trouble. I'll see you tonight.”

Aziraphale wanted to say perhaps a half-dozen things. He said none of them, instead putting out his wings and sweeping into the sky. He wasn't looking forward to getting back to the close confines of the ark, the groaning timbers or the groaning humans, but at the very least, he could look forward to seeing Crawley again that evening.

That made it so much easier.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was the day before the flood, and dawn meant a pale and ugly light leaking through the clouds. This early, it only lit up an an angel and a demon by the river, soaked to the skin, cuts laddered up their arms and legs from the sharp reeds.

Aziraphale and Crawley stood on the bank, counting and recounting the boats settled on the water. There were no more bundles, no more rope, no more reeds and no more time, and Aziraphale could barely breathe.

“It's not enough,” he said, his voice hollow. “It's just not enough...”

“It will be,” Crawley replied. “Of course it will be.”

Aziraphale laughed at that, making the demon glance at him with worry.

“Is that a real hope or a lie meant to comfort me? You're a better liar than I am...”

“It's certainly not hard,” said Crawley, refusing to be offended. “It's hope. You gave them that, remember.”

“No, you did. I heard you. With Mahlah that first night. If I hadn't, I would have... just ripened some apricot trees and done my job.”

Crawley considered that for a moment.

“You're honest this morning, angel.”

“It's the end of the world, why shouldn't I be?”

A cold wind swept down from the mountain, bringing with it a cold splatter of water that made them both flinch. Crawley turned to him, a surprisingly gentle look on his face.

“Can I tell you a secret?”

Aziraphale nodded. Crawley stepped a little closer, lowering his voice.

“Worlds end all the time. Every day. Kid falls and skins their knee, that's the end of the world. Girl gets her heart broken, world over. Angel falls from Heaven, that's done. Every day, angel, a world's ending. And the next day...”

“A new one begins?”

“No. Tomorrow, if you're still around, you get to make the world again. That's what's coming, all right? For all these people. It'll be enough.”

Who did you used to be? Aziraphale wondered, and when Crawley flinched, he realized with horror he had said it out loud.

“Oh God...”

“You seem a little new at this, angel, so I'll give it a pass,” Crawley said with a wan smile. “There's always a price for getting to the new world, and it's usually who you used to be.”

“I'm sorry. It seems like I'm always apologizing to you.”

“So far, I've always accepted. You can't be doing too badly.”

A light rain began to fall. It wasn't so different from a spring shower, but Aziraphale knew that it wouldn't stop, not for prayers, not for curses, not until the old world was washed away.

“I need to get back to the ark,” he said reluctantly. “I-”

“Don't say sorry for leaving us,” Crawley said. “We're going to be just fine.”

Aziraphale tried to find a smile for him, feeling far less brave than he thought he should for a moment like this.

“Of course.”

His wings came out, and he was ready to make his way back to the ark before the doors closed, but Crawley took his hand.

“Hey. Want to know another thing about the end of the world?”

“What?”

Crawley pulled him against his body, one hand coming up to rake through his hair. He opened his mouth to cry out just as Crawley kissed him, hot and hard and demanding, everything he had been afraid of, everything he couldn't stop imagining. There was no burn of hellfire, no strike of lightning from above, only Crawley pressed against him and a kiss that tasted like bonfires and water over stone.

He was breathing hard when Crawley let him go. The demon looked at him with something that was half defiance, half fear, and Aziraphale swallowed. His mouth felt used in a way he wasn't accustomed to.

“When the world ends, you can leave what you don't want behind and never worry about it in the world to come.”

You can forget me if you want to, Aziraphale heard. He shook his head.

“And if I don't want to leave it?”

The sun had apparently hidden in Crawley's smile. It came out slow and sweet, and Aziraphale's wings spread out as if in response to that warmth.

“Well. Then I'll see you in the new world, angel.”

Aziraphale knew himself. If he stayed much longer, he wouldn't be able to leave. There was an insidious part of him that wondered if that would be so very bad, but it hadn't yet gotten the traction to really make itself heard. It needed another five thousand years, countless clandestine meetings, at least one weekend stranded in Iceland, crepes, books, rats, rescues, fights and reconciliations. It would get there eventually, but it wasn't there yet.

With one great sweep of his wings, he was a hundred feet up in the air, and this time, he didn't let himself look back at Crawley as he flew towards the ark.

***

At dawn the next day, the world shook with a clap of thunder, and the sky opened up. On board the ark, Aziraphale felt the timbers shake as the animals panicked. The larger ones, the dangerous ones, he had spelled into an enchanted sleep, but the ones who were penned secure and safe were allowed to be terrified out of their wits.

The rain fell in sheets, and after a few moments on deck, Aziraphale retreated into the ark, bolting the hatch behind him. He shook the water out of his hair, wincing a little as he heard the soft wailing of Noah and his family.

They were fine. They were certainly righteous. At first, he had even been impressed by them as God's chosen representative humans to survive the deluge. However, the more time he spent with them, the less difference he could see between them and the people of Mahlah's village, the less he could point to to say ah yes, I see, that is why you are to be spared. Yes, that makes complete sense.

Aziraphale ventured further into the hold, past Mammalian Carnivores A-G and sidling through Birds, Sized Lammergeier to Great Fuck-Off Bastard. He only wanted to get away from the humans for a little bit, as awful as that sounded, but he found himself in Reptilia, and then in Snakes, which was divided into Venomous, Non-Venomous and Maybe Venomous. He patted the side of the titanoboa that hissed at him curiously and gingerly stepped through the pen holding the various cobra species that were still sorting themselves into a kind of feudal governmental system, and he kept looking until he found a pair of black snakes curled together, just a hint of their red bellies showing.

“Hello, darlings,” Aziraphale said softly, sitting down outside their box. “I hope you don't mind if I sit with you a bit.”

They hissed at him in a friendly sort of way, and after a while, he coaxed both of them into curling around his body, one around his shoulders, the other one piled like a rather self-satisfied coil of rope in his lap. They were both very handsome snakes, and pressed against his skin, he felt surrounded by their slow and sleepy thoughts. Food-not food? Not hungry, warm warmer? Safe? Safe? Warm-safe? Warm, safe!

“I really ought not play favorites, but you do so look like someone I know.”

They didn't answer him, of course, but Aziraphale chuckled a little anyway, running a finger along a long spine.

“Oh, we met ages ago. I'll admit, I was having a rather terrible day. Oh, you wouldn't mind hearing more? Well, I don't want to bore you, but all right. It was a nice day. All days had been nice so far...”

***

Between one thing and another, if one thing was the rhino giving birth, and if the other was the discovery of four or five dozen new species of beetle that Aziraphale surely hadn't accounted for, forty days passed.

Aziraphale opened the hatch to the deck, the fresh air and light stunning him and leaving him a little dizzy. The sky overhead was momentarily too much, and then he forced himself aloft, looking at at the calm seas around him where once there had been orchards and plains and people. In the distance, he could see the hazy shape of land, the flanks of mountains that had once thought they knew what sea level was.

He spared barely a glance for the rainbow overhead. It wasn't a promise made to him, and so he ignored it.

The coast, he thought. If they've survived at all, they'll be on the coast...

The fears that he had been pushing into little boxes at the back of his mind threatened to open, unlocked with words like drowned and sunk and lost, but he pressed them closed again. At some point, Aziraphale suspected he was going to need to have a crying, screaming fit of some kind, but he was an angel. He could probably put it off for decades if he had to.

Below him, Noah and his family came up on deck, exclaiming at the calm, pointing at the rainbow in relief. They would be fine, he thought. God and all of Heaven were looking out for them. Surely that meant that one lone angel could be spared.

He wheeled a great circle around the ark (let them think it was a blessing if they liked), and Aziraphale flew west into the new world.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Seven days after the rains stopped, Aziraphale was still flying along the coast. He didn't dare fly as fast as he could for fear he would miss something, so he moved at a crawl, endlessly scanning the beaches and the inlets for fires, for footsteps... for wreckage.

I don't accept an empty new world, he thought. I won't.

As the sun set on the seventh day, however, he saw bright red sparks on the plain, like crocodile's eyes above the water. He turned away from the sea towards the grasslands, finally flying as fast as he could, finally letting his heart beat again, because until now it had been frozen in ice

Closer now, and he could smell roasting goat, hear laughter and singing, and it was people, thank God in all Her mercy, it was people.

Aziraphale landed among them without a second thought, and suddenly he was surrounded by the people of Mahlah's village, pounding him on the back, clasping his wrist, hugging him, asking him where he had been, they were afraid he had drowned-

It was momentarily overwhelming, but then Mahlah was cutting through the crowd like a middle-aged shark, shooing people back to their tasks, telling them they would get cursed if they made pests of themselves. He noticed that she had a fresh tattoo curling around her wrist, a snake with beautifully detailed scales and a curious tongue flicking down over the back of her hand.

“Oh, I don't mind, I'm not going to curse them,” Aziraphale protested, and she grinned at him

“You might not, but I would. It's been a long deluge. Good to see you again. I figured you would be fine, but he was getting worried.”

“He- Oh! Well, no need for that, I was more worried about the lot of you, I mean.. .the waves...” he gestured vaguely. “Did... did everything turn out all right?”

“Lost a few. Four drowned, and Nijah's girl choked on a fish bone,” Mahlah said, her voice brisk and refusing to linger. “But overall, yes. Boats are brilliant, you're brilliant, and if you stick around for a bit, we have a surprise for you.”

Aziraphale's head swam a little. He wasn't used to this, he realized, not the welcome, not to people who spoke to him with fondness, not to the ways that humans elided grief in favor of other things like surviving without breaking down into screams...

Mahlah seemed to sense his tumult, if not the precise reason for it, and she nodded towards the dark grove of trees to the west of the makeshift shelters.

“He's over that way. Go get him, won't you? We're going to get started soon.”

“Oh... um, yes, of course. Thank you.”

She grinned at him, showing off a gap between her teeth and more relief than he knew she'd ever talk about.

“Of course you're welcome.”

He made his way through the crowd, which was a quarter of the way to being pleasantly anesthetized with palm wine. He wove through people who cheered to see him, narrowly dodging a little child who stood in front of their friends with their arms spread wide.

“Fish!” they proclaimed. “There will be fish!”

Another little child leaped up, brandishing a handful of string.

“No, here, I can do better than that. Now watch, 'cause I'm only going to show you once!”

That rang a bell that Aziraphale was sure that he should have been following up on, but then he was among the trees, the warm fires behind him and the cool night in front of him. He also realized that he could hear a voice rising in anger.

“Look... look, I think I'm being very reasonable here! You're the one who's mucking this all up. Just put in the work, that's all I'm asking for...”

“Crawley, who are you-”

He blinked at the scene in front of him. It was Crawley alone in the clearing, facing off with a tall tree that looked distinctly unimpressed, surrounded by...

Aziraphale reached down, picking up an olive that had one bite taken out of it.

“Crawley?”

Crawley let a couple of uneaten olives fall out of his hand, eyes wide and round.

“I... that is. I wanted you to have. I remembered they were good, and you...”

He trailed off and apparently found it easier to glare at the innocent tree than to continue with whatever he was trying to say.

“And this one just isn't cooperating. This one has decided that it's going to be a defiant little brat, and do as it feels is right, regardless of what it should be doing. This one has no idea what it's dealing with...”

Aziraphale dropped the half-eaten olive and came to stand next to Crawley. He honestly didn't think he could bear having any distance between them at all, not when he had been looking for him for so long.

“It's doing just what it ought,” he said with a slight smile. “I told you that that species was too delicate to survive, remember? We don't have those anymore.”

“But...”

“This one is another variety, aren't you, dear?” Aziraphale said, turning to the tree. “Ah yes. I know you. You're going to be so popular in the years to come...”

He plucked a pair of green olives, concentrating for a moment. When he looked up, satisfied, his hand was damp with saltwater, and he chose the prettier one, turning to Crawley.

“Here...”

Instead of taking the brined fruit with his hand, Crawley dipped his head down to take the olive between his teeth. Aziraphale's breath caught for no good reason when he felt the brush of the demon's lips against his fingertips. He thought he had imagined it until Crawley grinned at him slyly.

“I like it,” he said. “It's good. You're good, too.”

“Er, well, it rather comes with the... the wings and the halo, doesn't it?” asked Aziraphale, stammering a little.

“No, not really,” Crawley said, stepping a little closer. He took the other olive from Aziraphale's hand, and before Aziraphale could ask him what he was doing, he pressed it into the angel's mouth, letting his fingers linger over Aziraphale's bottom lip.

I did not know those nerves did anything, Aziraphale thought, only remembering to chew and swallow after a moment.

“Good?” asked Crawley, not stepping back.

When Aziraphale nodded, he beamed like the sun.

“I did a good job too, didn't I?” he asked softly. “Got everyone packed up and on board. Mostly kept them all afloat. That's good, right?”

“Very,” Aziraphale said. “It was very good...”

“Quietly, please. Don't know who's listening...”

Before, in the old world, Crawley had told him not to say such things at all, but maybe things were different here. Maybe he didn't care anymore. Maybe Aziraphale didn't either.

“It was very good of you,” Aziraphale whispered, reaching up to trace the curl that fell over the demon's shoulder. “Kind when you didn't have to be, better than anyone could have expected. So very good.”

“Yes, very,” said Crawley happily. “Tell me how special I am, too.”

“Absolutely special,” Aziraphale agreed immediately. “Nothing in all the wide world like you, Nothing as bright or as clever...”

There was absolutely no telling where it might have gone from there. Aziraphale only knew that that wasn't the end of what he wanted to say to Crawley. It felt as if the words had gotten bottled up over the last forty days, and the only person it was possible to tell those words to was finally in front of him.

He felt as if he were teetering on the edge of something, almost ready to fall, but oh, it didn't matter when he had wings, and Crawley had wings...

A harsh artificial coughing interrupted them, so loud that it made sleepy birds burst from the trees and the angel take a step back in surprise.

“What in the world...”

“It's Chakir,” Crawley said with a sigh. “I taught them that. It does beat the stick at least, doesn't it?”

Aziraphale watched, perplexed, as Crawley walked over to the small child who was still coughing hard enough that they had landed on their rear.

“All right, point made, kid,” Crawley said, helping them stand. “What's up?”

“Mahlah says we're ready to start,” said Chakir. “and that the goat's done.”

Crawley frowned at this, but Aziraphale nodded.

“She actually sent me to bring you back,” he said half-apologetically. “Something about a surprise. We probably ought to nip along.”

Now Crawley looked downright mutinous, but Aziraphale reached over to squeeze his arm gently.

“We can see what's going on, and then... maybe we can go somewhere else for a bit?”

“Like where?” asked Crawley.

“Anywhere you like,” Aziraphale offered, and he could hear a strange echo of those words coming from somewhere. Angels weren't necessarily temporally linear beings. It could have come from the past or the future, but that wasn't important now. He put it away.

“Anywhere?” asked Crawley, heaving Chakir up on his shoulders.

“Don't make me regret saying that.”

“Never.”

“Then yes.”

***

Aziraphale was ready for the crowds this time, and there was Crawley to buffer him somewhat, Crawley, who seemed to know everyone and their goats, their various ailments and their hobbies. That made it very easy for Aziraphale to smile and nod, soaking in the joy and relief and good will like a sponge.

This isn't right, he thought briefly. We're ethereal beings. We shouldn't be known like this.

It wasn't forbidden, not when Heaven's angels would still be delivering messages and doing Her will here and there for some little while, but it was certainly irregular.

Then someone put a cup of palm wine into his hand, and he was telling some dear lady about how to salt-brine olives, and it got a little hazy from there. The crowd had tipped the balance from being a quarter drunk to being more than halfway, and at some point, Crawley's arm had fallen over his shoulders as the two made the rounds. Crawley's weight steadied him, and Crawley's body acted as a wall he could shelter against when the crowd got a little too tight.

Oh, I'm actually mingling, Aziraphale thought with some delight. I'm terrible at this in Heaven.

He couldn't tell whether it was the third cup of palm wine or the demon that helped, but he liked both of them so much. He especially liked them together when Crawley turned to say something in his ear and he could smell the sweet alcohol on Crawley's breath too. They were drinking the same thing, warmed and happy under the same stars, and somewhere in the traitorous little box that he liked to hide under the hosannas and the glorias, he wondered why Heaven never felt like this.

He was just wondering if the goat was on offer when Mahlah stood up on a large rock, commanding all the authority of a slightly tipsy woman who still knew how to best get a stuck kid out of a goat.

“All right, everyone,” she said, clapping her hands briskly. “It's time. Just like we talked about.”

Aziraphale looked around in confusion as a the village's young men and women seized hold of what looked like a painted log that had been tipped up on its end. An ancient frowning face was carved into it, and somehow, it seemed like the frown got deeper as they started to drag it away.

“What's that?” he asked, and Crawley rolled his eyes.

“Oh, it's whatsit. The Great Unknown. They've been worshiping it for yonks, and that big fella over there with the look like he bit a lemon and then bit an ice cream bar made them put it on a boat.”

“It's... It's a god?”

“I guess? I wasn't talking much theology... Oh don't give me that look, angel, it's been a busy forty days.”

Aziraphale supposed Crawley was right, but he was distracted by the movement of the crowd.

“Where are they taking it?”

“Dunno...”

They both followed the crowd a short distance into the nearby field, where a shallow pit had been dug. With an unceremonious effort, the log... deity... mascot... log was heaved in and people started using spades to bury it.

“Oh, wow,” Crawley said in surprise.

“Took some doing to convince the old folks about this,” Mahlah said coming up to them. “Truth be told, it was a long time in coming. We're getting past the point where our needs are going to be met by a lump of wood that represents everything we don't know in the world. Before the flood, a lot of the folks in the area were taking up with much more interesting gods. High time, too, I say.”

Aziraphale's head spun a little, and it wasn't just because of the palm wine.

“Er, that's...I mean, you're getting rid of it, so... so that's good...”

“Never liked it much,” Mahlah said. “Some of us have been looking for something new for a good long while. Let me tell you, it is not an easy choice.”

Aziraphale brightened a little.

“Oh! Well, that's fine. Here. Let me tell you about-”

“Oh, don't you worry,” she said with a broad wink. “We understand.”

“Really?” Aziraphale said with relief. “Oh thank goodness...”

“Yup. Don't have to save us twice. Ah, here we go...”

Aziraphale turned just as the last spadeful of dirt was thrown over the fallen god. Then a log and a large rock were rolled up over its grave, the log stood upright on its end and the rock settled against its base.

Wait...

The log was daubed with orange ocher pigment at one end, and the rock had been artfully inscribed with white chalk curlicues on the upper side.

Oh... oh no...

As he watched, platters of duck meat, fresh acur, and asparagus were placed in front of them.

“The food in front is for you,” Mahlah was saying. “I mean, you can just eat with everyone else since you're here right now, but I understand that gods do something with food in front of their effigies. I don't pretend to know about that sort of thing, so just let us know what works.”

Aziraphale was trying to make words come out of his mouth, but Crawley spoke first.

“I got to be the stick,” he said with some pleasure.

“Yeah,” said Mahlah, half-apologetically, turning to Aziraphale. “Hope that's all right. You said that thing about liking rocks, and he was here for all forty days and forty nights while you were away. You can say if you don't like it. Shadha's working on representational art. We're not all particularly sold yet, but it is rather promising.”

“No!” he burst out. “No, you can't do this! We're not... that is, we're not.. we're not God. God is... God is.. everything, and.. and...”

Mahlah looked at him curiously.

“Did God send you to help us, then?”

Aziraphale felt his heart sink like a lead weight.

“... No.”

“Did... God make sure that we didn't lose more people than we had to?”

“No, She didn't,” said Crawley, and Aziraphale couldn't argue with that because it was true.

“Well. I'm going to say that that's a pass then for us,” Mahlah said, as if she were deciding not to buy a particularly suspicious goat. “I'm sure she's fine for some people, but it hardly seems like she likes us all that much.”

“No, you don't understand,” Aziraphale said, or tried to say, but the words refused to come out. They seemed tangled in his throat, and the more he tried to force them, the tighter his throat got. There was blackness edging his vision, and no matter what argument he tried to marshal, he couldn't work it around to where Mahlah wasn't right, to where God really did love them all as much as She was supposed to.

“No,” he said, almost pleading, and it felt as if the world was rushing by him, his heart tight as a drum, and this must be what falling was. This was what he had been terrified of, and it had finally happened, as he knew it must, because he wasn't a good angel, he was... he was...

Suddenly there were arms around him, tight enough that something in him cried out in relief. There was a boom of displaced air, and the wind that sang over him was a dozen degrees cooler than the plain had been.

He felt Crawley start to let him go, but he shook his head, his fists buried in Crawley's robe.

“No, please,” he begged. He should have been ashamed of himself, but why bother? The worse had happened, and if he had to beg for some kind of solace, he would, because he certainly no longer deserved it.

Deserving or not, Crawley's arms stayed tight around him, the demon murmuring comforting words into his hair, rocking him a little as they both knelt on the rocky ground. Aziraphale buried his face in the crook of Crawley's neck, willing the world to go still, just so he could have a moment to think, just so he could...

He blinked. The wind had stopped, and when he looked up into the sky, the clouds paused, half-veiling the face of the moon. There were a dozen small birds frozen in flight, so close he could make out their oildrop eyes, their iridescent wing feathers. The world was stiller than it could ever be, and he pulled back to look at Crawley.

“You looked like you needed a breath,” Crawley said. “Better take it, I can't hold this long.”

Aziraphale did as he said, and Crawley cheated a little, letting go of the moment and immediately catching the next so that Aziraphale could have another. Between the two breaths, he realized that he wasn't fallen (no scales, no weird eye stuff, no hooves), and that he was more or less the same angel he had been before, albeit shaky and nauseated, When time started again, the wind blew, the clouds hid the moon entirely and the angel turned towards the demon on the mountaintop.

“We have to go back there,” he said. “We have to explain to them that they're wrong, that they must turn and worship-”

“No.”

Aziraphale stared at him.

“Crawley, you must be joking,” he said. “We didn't save them just to let them be damned.”

She was going to damn them,” Crawley said, his voice tight. “Wasn't She? You don't drown someone in a fuck-off flood when you're going to be welcoming them with open arms above, do you?”

Aziraphale winced because that was true.

“The... the people who died in the flood. They were non-believers. You heard her. They worshiped false gods, shadows on the wall. They didn't have a chance, but Mahlah and her people do, Crawley. They can be redeemed, put on the right path. They have a chance.”

Crawley hissed at that, baring his fangs.

“Yeah, and you know what else Mahlah has? She has a son named Issam who went off with a trading company last rainy season. He heard about these big tall goats from Arcadia, hardy in the hot weather, tough in the cold. Wanted to go see if they were really so great and bring back a couple of mated pairs if they were.”

Aziraphale wanted to clap his hands over his ears, but even as wretched as he was, he knew that that would have been unworthy. He put his hand on Crawley's arm, pleading. Crawley shook him off.

“Only guess what! She doesn't have him any more! Instead she's got a big empty place where he used to be, and the knowledge, hard, fast and sure, that he's dead, because that flood, angel? That was a killing flood, and it was meant to kill her, and Issam, and Chakir, and Iyad, and Mufid, and every other damned person not in a big fuck-off boat!”

Aziraphale could feel that tightness in his chest again, the world closing in, and this time he fought it, grimly aware that if he let it happen, he would drown under Crawley's words, under the weight of what had happened, under forty days and forty nights of water...

“Stop it,” he gritted out. “Stop it...”

“Why should I?” Crawley snapped. “Are you so eager to see Mahlah go begging favors from Someone who killed her son? Was it that easy to forget what all that water was for when you were snug and safe on that boat? Was it nice to spend all that time playing cards with the blessed and the righteous while the rest of us were learning how to survive every fresh new hell the water threw at us? Why should I-”

“And you're just going to let them be damned after all that?” Aziraphale demanded. “After all of the pain, and all of the terror, and all of the suffering, you're going to let them be damned when they have a chance that the rest didn't have?”

For a moment, something flickered across Crawley's eyes, something lost and strange and sorrowful, but then he straightened up, proud as the Morningstar and as unyielding.

“Did you forget that I'm in the business of souls for Hell?” Crawley asked, his voice cold. “Did you forget what I am?”

“I never forgot,” Aziraphale said. “but I think maybe you did.”

The world froze around them without any need of a miracle, either demonic or angelic. Some words, Aziraphale realized, could never be taken back.

Crawley's jaw snapped shut, his eyes went hard as citrine and his wings, black, glossy and beautiful, came out. With a single flap, he was off the mountain, staring down at Aziraphale with fury and contempt.

“Do whatever you want, angel, only now you can do it alone. I'm through.”

A moment later, Aziraphale was alone on the mountain top. The clouds parted, bathing the world in moonlight, and Aziraphale forced himself to take a breath, and then another, and then another.

 

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.