Chapter 1: Poppy
In the Beginning, Dramatis Personae
Metatron (The Voice of God)
Raphael (An Archangel, better known after the Plague of Justinian as the apothecary “Crowley”)
Michael (An Archangel)
Gabriel (Also an Archangel)
Sandalphon (An Angel)
Aziraphale (A demon who did not so much Fall as Take a Wrong Turn Somewhere)
Full Chorus of additional angels, demons, Romans, Byzantinians, traveling bards and minstrels, alchemists, druggists, would-be saints and sinners, Vikings, and Scots
Various plants and herbs
In the Beginning, Slightly South
Raphael finds a demon wandering aimlessly by the edge of a cliff.
He watches them meander back and forth, their dirty blond hair flopping about limply. Normally, Raphael would have simply smited them on sight. They are a demon, and demons are for smiting as Sandalphon and Gabriel always say. This one, however, does not appear to be doing anything alarming or remotely threatening. For the time Raphael has watched, all they have down is nervously peer over the side of the cliff and look exceptionally lost.
“Demon,” he calls.
They jump with an odd little squeak and nearly fall over the cliff. Raphael grabs them by the wrist without thinking. The demon upon seeing him makes another, slightly loud squeak. Their corporation has a round, notably pockmarked face. Their eyes, very wide, are a strange, murky sort of blue.
“Archangel,” the demon says, very high and very scared.
“Raphael,” Raphael says, and he pulls the demon away from the cliff edge. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh!” the demon blurts, stumbling as Raphael lets go and immediately taking a worrying step back. “I—I don’t know. I was told… well, I really don’t know. I think I’m lost.”
Raphael stares at them. He looks around again. The cliff is a sun-bleached rocky outcrop far enough from Eden that the demon could actually be lost. Adam and Eve and the twins are a good way further to the north-east, watched over by Michael and Uriel. Raphael had come down this way for a walk, drawn by curiosity regarding the rock composition.
He stares for so long the demon calms down enough to start staring back. Their strange eyes flicker over Raphael, first to the spear he carries on his back and then over his corporation’s hair. Face. Shoulders. Downwards.
When they look up again, Raphael feels puzzled.
“Where were you going?”
“Oh!” the demon exclaims, and they jerk backwards again, yet another step closer to the edge of the cliff. “I… don’t know. If I can tell you. Not because I’m hiding anything! I don’t know if I know. Sorry!”
They flail awkwardly. Very nervous. Raphael eyes them. He doesn’t sense any deception. He wonders if perhaps there’s something just a little off about this demon that is not necessarily evil. Perhaps they were one of the poetic angels before they Fell. Raphael has always found that lot rather odd, and most of them had Fallen along with the musically inclined.
Which was a shame, Raphael thinks privately. He misses the music. Especially the singing.
“Well,” Raphael says because if the demon doesn’t know what they are doing, they aren’t necessarily doing anything worth smiting, “you should be more careful.”
The demon’s mouth falls open. They boggle.
“Careful?” they squeak.
That, upon reflection, does sound suspiciously like concern. Raphael grimaces. He crosses his arms to prevent himself from putting his hand to his mouth. Michael had called him out on that habit. Angels are messengers of the Lord. They shouldn’t go around covering their mouths.
As the First War continues to engulf Creation, Raphael finds himself worrying about the growing strictness of his fellow angels.
“It’s quite messy,” Raphael answers, attempting to quell his discomfort by talking, “falling off a cliff.”
The demon opens their mouth. Shuts it. Opens it again, looking more shocked than before.
“That’s true,” they says, blinking and looking over Raphael’s face, “but how do you know that?”
Raphael thinks of Gabriel, in a moment of curiosity, letting himself freefall on one of Saturn’s moons. The crater the impact created was spectacular. Dazzling even, although that might have been a side-effect of Gabriel’s corporation exploding. They ended up having a good laugh, but neither of them will be doing that again.
There’s a lot of things that Gabriel and he will not do again.
“What’s your name?” he asks instead of acknowledging the demon’s question.
The demon blinks. Tilts their head. Blinks again.
A shy, slightly gap-toothed smile spreads their chapped lips.
Egypt, circa 1250 B.C.E.
Raphael is shivering.
He standing on an outcropping overlooking a village. The sun is nearly set. A jackal cackles.
The Pharaoh has denied Moses once again.
Raphael is not, in fact, cold. It is impossible for him, an archangel, to feel cold. He has survived in the emptiness of the universe, before the Light itself was made. He cannot be chilled any more than he can become frostbitten or burnt.
Crouched next to him, Aziraphale shifts.
“Are you cold?”
Raphael doesn’t respond. He pulls his thighs up against his chest. Wraps his arms around his knees and presses the nails of his right hand against his lips. It doesn’t stop the shivering. His spear sits heavy on his back.
Aziraphale shifts again. They sit with their legs crossed and elbows tucked against their hips. Like this, the demon is noticeably bigger than Raphael, who wants for some odd reason to make himself as small as possible.
He hasn’t yet been discovered in the company of Aziraphale, but that isn’t why he wants to squish his corporation so small that he could disappear.
God is angry.
“You know,” Aziraphale says, running their hands through their hair, which is long and out of place in Egypt, “I think I was supposed to go to Australia. Not here. But I must have made a wrong turn. I was coming from China.”
Raphael snorts. This hurts his corporation slightly with how tightly he’s huddled upon himself.
“You went in completely the opposite direction.”
Aziraphale smiles slightly. It is an unpleasant look. All of their teeth are sharp and overlap in multiple, uneven rows. It reminds Raphael of a shark. Or a lamprey.
This is the only thing about Aziraphale that is remotely threatening. Every time they’ve run into each other since The Beginning, it has been because Raphael is embroiled in some new human disaster and Aziraphale is lost. The demon has the worst sense of direction Raphael has ever encountered.
“I do try to ask directions,” they explain, shrugging in a way that isn’t exactly apologetic. “But, well, it hardly matters most of the time if I get to my destination or not.”
Raphael swallows. The sun is nearly down. The village lamps are lit, and the weak breeze carries up the scent of evening meals.
Aziraphale inhales, blinking on the different scents. Meat. Spices.
“This is so peaceful,” they comment.
When morning comes, the firstborn of all households, even their livestock, will be dead.
Raphael bites down on the partially detached cuticle of his thumb.
He doesn’t say anything.
Athens, 430 B.C.E.
Pestilence is riding and Athens is in chaos.
Raphael watches from the window of his apothecary as a man, bent and hacking, steals a fish fillet only partially cured from the side of a stall. He contemplates shouting to alert the stall keeper or possibly running after the man. Instead, he simply watches the man stumble away, gnawing feverishly at the half-cured fish. His tunic is two sizes too large. The remnants of his belt threaten to let the tunic come completely undone.
Raphael rubs the cuticle of his left thumb over his lips absentmindedly.
It would do the healthy stall keeper no good to try and catch him. Such a minor case of theft would be pointless to try to take to court. It isn’t as if the court has time for much these days. The plague is contagious and galloping in the summer heat. Athens is also embroiled in yet another conflict with Sparta. Since the plague began to fully take hold, there have been increasing desertions.
Athen’s war is not going well.
Raphael was also recently reprimanded by the Metatron for performing too many miracles. His ears were still ringing when he, in a fit of pique, set up this apothecary on the edge of the market square. If he can’t miracle away illness, he can at least ease people’s suffering.
The plague, without his constant intervention, is spreading faster.
Raphael stares as the man, clutching his stomach, stumbles out of sight as people, upon noticing his uneven progress, jerk away.
Panic gallops on Pestilence’s heels.
“Oh dear,” a voice murmurs, very nervously, “did you see that man?”
Raphael turns. The demon Aziraphale is standing in his shop’s doorway, peering out where the man is turning up an alleyway. Aziraphale’s entire presence radiates their usual distraction and no small amount of uncertain concern.
A part of Raphael wants to be surprised. The other part, which has grown since The Beginning, simply wonders how Aziraphale got lost this time.
Spending the last three-thousand years give or take among humans has changed Raphael in ways that creep up and take him aback like this.
“I think he stole that fish,” the demon murmurs, faintly aghast.
“Aziraphale,” Raphael says, “what are you doing here?”
The demon jumps. Whips their head around. There’s no hair to flop about as the demon has cut it short. It also appears, from the battered armor and rust-stained tunic, to have chosen to be a he. Raphael doesn’t remember the demon looking quite so sun-kissed the last time they met, but he hadn’t been particularly focused at noticing details back then.
They had both been rather distracted by the sight of the Nile turning to blood.
“Raphael?” Aziraphale says, and he stands in the doorway, wavering as if he can’t decide if he should back out or come in. “Are, are you the apothecary?”
Raphael steps away from the window. He tucks his hands into the fabric of his toga. Aziraphale watches the motion, his strange, murky eyes unchanged from their last meeting.
“Stop blocking my door,” Raphael says.
“Oh!” Aziraphale says but comes inside.
The shop is small. Aziraphale fills about half of the space that Raphael himself does not fill. He looks around at the modesty of the space, his interest upon the workstation that Raphael has herbs laid out to dry. He peers with a bright sort of curiosity that would make him appear innocent to any human observer.
“This is opium and fennel,” he says, looking back to Raphael in surprise. “You’re preparing tinctures?”
Raphael steps across the shop. Aziraphale watches him, not unpleasantly. He never feels of ill-intent, even with his endless questions. They’ve encountered each other on and off throughout the years, notably as waters rose in the Great Flood. Aziraphale had found him directly after Raphael and Gabriel finally had the fight that had been brewing between them since they began to disagree about humanity over Cain and Abel’s tragedy.
“The Lord does not design Her creations to suffer,” Raphael choked out as Aziraphale crouched uncertainly next to him. “The Lord loves us all.”
Aziraphale cast him a tight look and didn’t say anything. He hadn’t asked why Raphael’s corporation was so bruised. He didn’t need to.
Raphael spread his wings to shield them from the rain as the world drowned around them.
Raphael doesn’t like to think about those days.
“Yes,” he says, watching Aziraphale blink. “To ease their suffering.”
Constantinople, 541 A.D.
In a moment that everyone forgot:
Raphael kneels. Brow pressed to his hands, which are clasped together. Raphael’s back curves on the uneven, cool floor of the hovel. It is empty of its former inhabitants, but it still stinks of their death throes. There are not enough carts to carry the bodies. There are not enough people to cart the bodies.
The Emperor Justinian has declared increased taxes to finance the war effort.
“Lord,” Raphael whispers.
Out in the garden, fresh graves have been dug. Raphael’s hands are coated in dirt. They are clasped so tightly they tremble.
Everything smells of rot and death.
“Lord,” Raphael whispers again.
He cannot find words.
There is no answer.
Chapter 2: Rhubarb
Before the Beginning, Alpha Centauri B
A flock of angels are playing with helium.
Raphael watches them while Michael braids their hair. God has just Created hair, and Michael and Raphael are experimenting with style. Gabriel and Uriel aren’t particularly interested in hair, so they’ve kept theirs short. Lucifer has already decided he enjoys his hair long, Light-filled, and flowing. The other angels haven’t gotten to try it out yet.
“I like this colour,” Michael comments as they thread their fingers over the crown of Raphael’s head. “Red suits you.”
Raphael smiles, tiling their head back to look at Michael. They smile back. Their hair, dark as the absence of Light for the moment, twinkles with the bits of stardust Raphael wove into it earlier. It looks wonderful.
Michael nods. “Red,” they say, quite solemnly, “makes me think of someone who loves deeply.”
That makes Raphael laugh. They glance back towards the other angels, who are still entertained by the helium. They watch one angel fumble a mass of the element until it smashes into a loitering amount of hydrogen. The resulting explosive reaction makes the angels scatter, tittering with glee.
“You should keep it like this,” Michael says, still solemn.
“Sure,” Raphael says, comfortably.
Later, during the First War when Legions of demons shriek and cower at the sight of red hair as much as their distinctive spear, Raphael realises Michael might have been onto something.
Kingdom of Gwynedd, 664 A.D.
Crowley is tired.
It is a human feeling. Crowley is not sure exactly when he started feeling tired. Perhaps it has to do with how much he indulges in sleep. He picked up the habit at some point in 590 and hasn’t been able to shake it. Michael, in the rare times they talk beyond business nowadays, reminds him that he is spending too much time with the humans.
“Also the name thing,” Michael says, not long after she appears unannounced and finds him dozing in the breeze coming through an open nave window. “What is a ‘Crowley’, Raphael?”
“‘s just a name,” Crowley says, still rubbing sleep from his eyes; he feels like he could sleep for a century. “I can’t always be introducing myself and making a scene.”
“Raphael,” Michael admonishes him, reaching out to take Crowley’s hands from his eyes with a mighty scowl; she catches sight of the state of his cuticles and scowls. “You are an archangel, not some fell creature of silly whims.”
Michael is right. Crowley doesn’t stop using the name, though, because humans have come to know the angel Raphael too well. Humans are awed and terrified of Raphael. After all this time on Earth, he knows he can do the best work when human suspect him only being a particularly adept apothecary. The apothecary Crowley, who regularly assists their local priests, is someone they can trust.
But for that trust to last, Crowley sometimes has to allow the humans who comes to him to die. To walk away from his care healthy but scarred or missing a limb or two.
Not everyone can be a miracle.
Michael and Gabriel and Uriel have reminded him of this far too many times to count.
“You’re lucky that you don’t Fall,” Gabriel snapped the last time too many of Raphael’s miracles caught attention, “with how flagrant your excess is!”
“Excess?” Crowley shouted back, forgetting himself briefly.
One of the rhubarb stalks he’d been in the process of boiling when Gabriel showed up jumped out of the pot and into the hearth, unable to handle the escalating mood. They both looked at it. The fire spat embers and the half-cooked rhubarb made a vaguely pathetic noise before beginning to burn to sweet-sour smelling goop.
“Argh,” Crowley said, turning and reaching for the fire iron.
Gabriel snapped his fingers and the rhubarb discorporated. Crowley gripped the iron. Clenched his teeth. His spear, which leaned against the wall at the foot of his bed and next to his chest of clothes, glowed faintly.
Behind him, Gabriel’s wings, hidden from the human eye but nevertheless there, rustled.
“Raphael,” he started.
Crowley’s head whipped around so quickly that his corporation’s neck popped. Strands of his hair, coming loose from his working braids, batted his face. Gabriel’s expression was somewhere between contrite and contrary. His right hand was still raised. His posture was perfect.
For some reason, this enraged Crowley anew.
“You dare,” he said, clenching his fire iron so tightly that it warped in his hand, “talk to me about excess.”
“That isn’t excess,” Gabriel said, standing straighter.
Crowley forced himself to put the iron back next to the hearth before he could throw it through Gabriel’s face.
“There was no need,” he snarled, “to miracle my rhubarb away!”
“You’re spending too much time on this,” Gabriel shot back, spreading his arms to indicate not just the absent rhubarb but the entirety of the little shop and docile. “We have Great Work to do, and you’re spending excess on human whims!”
“Whims!” Crowley says, more of a burst of sound than anything else. “The suffering wrought by Pestilence is not a whim.”
“All things may be in excess,” Gabriel snarled back before going back to whatever paperwork he pulled himself away from to scold Crowley with a rumbling POP!
Crowley was left standing in the middle of his shop, mouth open to shout at Gabriel some more and abruptly robbed of his target. He stood for a long moment. He felt like he was about to explode.
He turned, doused the fire, grabbed his cloak, and stormed down to the pub for a drink.
He got ten steps out his front door there before a customer, clutching a swaddled babe, turned up his garden path. She stood for a moment, eyes wide. Whatever Crowley’s expression was must have been terrible.
Even so, she straightened. Her wan, shadowed face turned steely with determination.
“Are you the apothecary Crowley?”
Crowley’s corporation does not tire any more than it needs food or drink. He does not need to sweat in heat nor shiver in cold. He does not need to rest, let alone sleep.
Back in his shop, he takes the babe’s hand. The necrosis of later stage plague has already set in, and the limb up to the shoulder has evidence of gangrene. The babe makes no noise, chapped and split lips open in uneven, weak breaths.
The mother, watching Crowley’s expression, swallows a cough. Her jaw is clenched. She tries to hide her despair as she breathes in through her teeth.
“There’s naught to do,” she admits. “No priest will see her.”
To ease their suffering
“I understand,” Crowley says, laying the babe’s hand down and standing. “I will give you something so she may suffer less.”
The mother looks down. She brushes her fingertips over the babe’s sand-coloured hair. She doesn’t smile or frown. Her eyebrows draw faintly together.
Moving to his work station, Crowley feels tired.
Kingdom of Dumnonia, 682 A.D.
It is storming and the new graves are full of rainwater.
Crowley sips from a cup of strong wine. It’s his third. He rests his head on the wall of the inn, watching fat raindrops splatter the window. Around him, people filter in and out, subdued and damp. The bard and minstrel that arrived just after Crowley are setting up to earn a bit of coin to pay their stay. Crowley aims to be drunk by the time they start whatever tale they think will entertain tonight.
He has just received a second jug of strong wine when he makes to pour himself a glass and finds himself face to face with—
The demon Aziraphale squeezes into the empty chair next to him, pale brows crawling high on his pallid countenance. Crowley hastily rights the wine jug as his cup threatens to overflow.
“I’m going by another,” he says, tongue feeling slightly lazy. “Crowley.”
Aziraphale blinks twice rapidly. “Crowley?” he says, faintly dumbfounded.
Crowley is too drunk and tired to be more than numbly annoyed. “Yes,” he says, probably sharper than needed.
“Oh,” Aziraphale says, ducking his head slightly like he expects to be hit. “Crowley.”
Crowley feels bad. It isn’t as if Aziraphale is responsible for his mood or any of the plethora of issues that contribute to it. To Crowley’s knowledge, he isn’t even sure if he’s ever seen Aziraphale do anything remotely evil aside from perpetually getting lost and accidentally mucking about in a war every century or so.
Apologise, he thinks.
“I,” Aziraphale says, interrupting Crowley’s thought process, “didn’t know you were here. Last time was—”
“Rome,” Crowley grunts, picking up his cup and feeling vaguely thwarted but drunkenly unable to remember quite why. “I left. I’ve been here for… business.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale says again, and from the subdued edge to the injection, he’s very aware of the plague dead piling up everywhere from the church yard to the sides of the roads, too. “Yes. I should have guessed.”
Crowley doesn’t say anything. Aziraphale has a tankard of partially watered mead, and the sticky sweet scent makes him want to throw up. He concentrates on drowning his corporation’s sense of smell with another gulp of strong wine.
The bard is singing about a great battle of godly warriors against a legion of barbarians from the North. Crowley swallows and resists the urge to throw his cup. It’s just the Gaels or the Picts.
“You’re drinking pretty heavily,” Aziraphale observes.
Crowley puts his cup down. Turns an eye on Aziraphale, who has his stinking tankard in hand. His seat isn’t directly facing any particular table or flat service, and he scrunches himself against the wall as if to will himself small. Aziraphale isn’t a small demon. He’s actually larger than Crowley if he would sit up straight.
“What are you doing here?” Crowley asks, and it’s a little loud, but the inn is noisy as the crowd gets into the bard’s tale.
“To be honest, not sure,” Aziraphale says with an awkward, lopsided shrug.
He takes a careful sip of his tankard. Crowley watches him swish the liquid around in his mouth, considering taste and texture before swallowing. It is also a very human thing to do.
Several people have started singing along with the bard’s chorus. The minstrel, sensing a warming audience, sets a more exciting beat.
This isn’t the mood Crowley wants.
“How is it?” he asks instead.
Aziraphale smiles. Small. If he stretched his corporation’s lips too wide, his multiple rows of serrated teeth would be too obvious. It makes Crowley grateful all that is odd about him to the human eye is his hair.
“Sweet,” he answers, very pleased. “You know, some humans think this is the drink of gods.”
Crowley shakes his head. That’s a mistake. He presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose and between his brows to ground himself against the sensation of spinning.
The crowd is getting louder.
He should sober up.
He doesn’t want to.
“Ra—Crowley,” Aziraphale says, and he’s close but not touching. “You should sober up.”
If he could, he would laugh. A demon talking sense to an angel. This demon who seems to show up at the strangest times in the strangest of places, awkward and always terribly uninformed.
Crowley reaches out. His fingers find Aziraphale’s tankard but not his hand. He pushes against it without much force. Back towards Aziraphale. It gives. Like Aziraphale has no substance or ability to fight him.
He doesn’t. He isn’t a Duke of Hell. Crowley is an archangel. He has enough power to smite a Duke of Hell to a simple memory, no sludge or dust to even note their discorporation.
He wonders, not for the first time, why Aziraphale doesn’t run away.
He also wants, very intensely and very suddenly, to not be alone.
He opens his eyes. Looks at the tabletop.
Next to him, Aziraphale is still.
“Drink with me?” Crowley asks.
It sounds desperate. It probably is.
Aziraphale shifts. The tankard moves away from Crowley’s fingertips. He looks over. Aziraphale has brought it to his lips. He takes a couple of gulps before lowering it again. He licks his lips to get the residue. Crowley, settling his arm and hand back around his wine cup, wonders how he doesn’t cut his tongue on his teeth.
The bard ends his tale to enthusiastic applause. The minstrel’s apprentice is already making his rounds to collect a bit of coin. Crowley and Aziraphale are blocked from the apprentice’s progress by a group of workmen, who have shoved their table backwards during the last chorus. They are also themselves blocked from leaving.
Aziraphale smiles. Lips only. His pockmarked cheeks have dimples. An amused light swims in his murky blue-green eyes.
“Looks like that’s the best course,” he says.
He holds out his tankard.
The bard and minstrel start up again for some other bloodier, bawdrier tale. Probably about the Battle of Badon, since the bard is already listing the deeds of Cedric of Wessex.
Crowley lifts his cup. He smiles. His lips feel numb.
“I hope so,” he says.
Chapter 3: Asparagus
In the Beginning, Eve of the First War
Raphael is scared.
They stare at Gabriel, who carries a weapon. Raphael does not know its name, nor how to use it. It is tall and thin, made of hearty wood from the Tree. The blade at one end is long and sharp, flexible enough to slip through obstruction and sink deeper.
He shoves it at Raphael for the third time like it is burning him. Raphael does not take it. He stares as it bounces off their essence and floats in the space between.
“Our Lord bids you,” Gabriel says, voicing the Word. “Take up thine Holy Spear! Rally the Kingdom of Heaven! We stand united against Lucifer the Adversary, false lord of Fallen Legions, false lord of Hell!”
A sensation. A dying star.
Raphael does not take the spear.
They look at Gabriel.
They do not understand.
“What do you mean?” and their voice is doing something odd; it sounds outside of their own body. “Lucifer—”
“Is Fallen,” Gabriel says, a shout that breaks on the second syllable.
The star is dimming.
Raphael feels the supernova.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s exactly what I said!” Gabriel chokes.
He swipes his hands over his face. Eyes. Bits of water with a higher saline content float about in the thin atmosphere of around a partially formed ice giant in Maffei 2. Raphael doesn’t understand what this is. Why this is happening. Why Gabriel’s eyes are producing water.
(Later, Raphael will have the disconcerting realisation it was in that moment that God invented crying.)
“Fall?” Raphael asks, and they feel alarmed and nervous and intensely an emotion that they would come to know all too well: grief. “I don’t understand? What is ‘Fall’?”
Gabriel looks at them. For a moment, there is a flash of wide-eyed wonder. It gives away to a strange, terrible fevered look. Gabriel surges forward. He presses himself against Raphael. Wraps his essence against theirs. Sadness, anger, confusion, and fear pour through Gabriel in waves.
Raphael cups their hands around Gabriel’s head. Curls their fingers into his short-cropped hair. Presses lips to forehead. Temple.
“Gabriel,” they murmur. “Gabriel.”
It doesn’t soothe Gabriel at all.
“I forgot you couldn’t know,” Gabriel whispers, and the anger that presses up against Raphael hurts. “You’ve been out here too long.”
It is not a criticism. It is not a compliment. It is simply Truth. Galaxy development and solar system planning is Raphael’s divine mandate. Overseeing the Dominion of Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven is Lucifer’s duty, and everyone knows how Lucifer likes things to be just so. Raphael’s tendency to experiment with different resources and enjoyment for examining objective failures runs counter to Lucifer’s workstyle. It is best that they work on the opposite end of the universe.
It wasn’t always like that. Lucifer used to be so patient. He helped Raphael learn to weave combustible molecules when Light was new and Day only just formed. Raphael treasures those memories. They do not know what changed.
“I don’t understand,” Raphael whispers.
Gabriel draws back. Looks at them. The wetness to his corporation’s eyes and cheeks and nose are still there. Tears and mucus.
He stares at Raphael as if this is the most precious moment in Creation.
(Much later, Raphael realised:
This is where things fell apart.)
“I love you,” Gabriel says.
He means it. His voice is made of the Word.
“It is time you came Home.”
Aachen, 808 A.D.
It is just past dawn and Aziraphale and Crowley are harvesting asparagus in the garden.
The garden is much larger than it should be for the modest space Crowley has behind his current shop. Humans when they view it find it extraordinarily cramped or oddly sparse, unable to comprehend the Purpose of the space. The garden has escaped Heavenly reprimand because space around an angel is relative and Crowley works the garden without performing miracles. It doesn’t entirely adhere to earthly time or logic, but that issue mostly occurs due to Crowley’s occasional drunken venting to the plants. They try to please him as best they can.
They are also extremely suspicious of Aziraphale, who has been getting lost regularly enough that even the perennials recognise him.
“You know,” Aziraphale says, crouching next to the basket of freshly harvested white asparagus, “I find it funny every time I come across you mucking about in the dirt.”
Crowley concentrates on digging into the soil over the asparagus plantings and dislodging another stalk. Aziraphale makes an excited little noise at the successful motion. He’s wearing the heavy fur and leather garb of a Viking warrior, incredibly out of place in the early summer heat. He is doubly odd in context of Crowley’s garden, which is jogging at a steady pace towards a bountiful early harvest.
“Why,” Crowley grunts, dropping the stalk into the basket.
“Well,” Aziraphale says, leaning forward to pick the stalk up; he plucks a rag from his pouch and starts to clean off some soil that clings to the tip, “a lot of angels don’t seem to like getting their hands dirty.”
“A lot of angels,” Crowley says as he raises his knife above the last planting, “are not creative enough to get their hands dirty.”
“A shame,” Aziraphale agrees, carefully brushing dirt from the asparagus.
Crowley smiles. He jerks the knife and pulls up the last asparagus. Aziraphale takes it and sets to work cleaning it as well. Crowley sets the knife down against the mound of dirt and stands up straight. He lifts his arms and stretches with a long groan, feeling the cricks in his corporation’s neck and lower back pop.
“Aah,” he sighs, dropping his hands back down and wiping them on his work vest. “Would you carry them back with me so I can put the tools away?”
“Certainly,” Aziraphale says, grinning with his many teeth as he stands up.
Crowley’s shop is by far the nicest that he’s had since he began living as an apothecary. It is within the city walls, and the king’s physician visits him when Charlemagne comes into town in the winter. The aristocracy and merchants are therefore very keen on his services, and they send their attendants with requests to cure venereal diseases and warts more often than the pox. A part of Crowley feels ill-used. The other part, which has come to crave sleep and liquor, grudgingly understands.
Eve and Adam were cast out of Eden in part for foul distrust. To humans, Crowley is an apothecary who is, by evidence of Charlemagne’s patronage, dependable and good at his job. They perceive him as a little mysterious but they trust him, especially with sad and distasteful matters.
The Lord did not Create Raphael for Judgement. Raphael shaped and planned the stars.
Crowley, setting his tools away in the large cabinet in his shop’s foyer, feels tired.
“Where should I put—oh! What’s this?”
Aziraphale has walked past Crowley to look around the two workbenches. He peers curiously at one of the three manuscripts that Crowley has out on the main bench. Holding the asparagus basket in his arms, he smiles, eyes bright as they flicker over the half-finished diagram of a foot affected by boils. He glances over to Crowley, who is still partially in the tool cabinet.
“I didn’t know you were working on teaching texts,” Aziraphale says.
“I only started recently,” Crowley says, rubbing his right thumbnail against his upper lip.
There’s a sense of excess to his status and location. Crowley attempts to justify it by taking the occasional apprentice and devoting time to converse with scholars and other apothecaries. It is awkward sidestepping their occasional questions to where he received his training, and he’s felt pressured to do better at blending in with humans. Oddly, this effort to be social led to receiving a communication from the Metatron a couple weeks ago, complimenting him for the production of the Ada Gospels.
The fact Crowley then spent two days asking his scholar clients questions to figure out what the Ada Gospels are is neither here nor there.
He watches Aziraphale move away from his enthusiastic examination of the manuscript to put the asparagus basket next to the box of fresh eggs and a jug of separating cream. The demon senses his gaze and looks back to him, eyebrows raised.
Crowley shifts. He turns towards his hearth, picking up the fire iron to prod it to life with a tiny miracle of a spark. His left hand is already at his mouth. The feeling of his rough cuticles against his bottom lip is comforting.
He thinks about the scholars who seem to run circles around him, talking about God and theology and misinterpreting that as The Word. He thinks about his apprentices, who soak up his teachings and flow with never-ending questions. He thinks about his corporation and how it will not age, and that he will eventually have to leave this place and these humans, too.
He thinks about Aziraphale, who gets lost in every way and yet somehow always finds him.
He thinks about Gabriel, crying next to an unfinished solar system in Maffei 2.
I don’t understand
“Aziraphale,” and it is outside of himself, small and full of things he has never been able to identify, “do you think I’m stupid?”
The hearth crackles pleasantly in the sudden silence.
Soft. Small. Crowley turns his head. Aziraphale stares at him. Gobsmacked.
Crowley nips a slightly raised edge of the cuticle of his left ring finger.
“I heard what you said,” Aziraphale says.
He stands up straight for once. In the Viking garb, he looks massive in Crowley’s shop. He has a hatchet and hunting knife on his belt, and there’s a sword sheathed under his cloak. His hands are in view. Clenched into fists at his side.
He is extremely angry.
“Who told you that?” he demands.
It’s loud. Crowley realises that he has never heard Aziraphale raise his voice before. He has never seen Aziraphale angry. It doesn’t make him frightened of Aziraphale, but it is shocking all the same.
Even enraged, Aziraphale doesn’t look like a demon at all.
“Look,” Crowley says, “forget I—”
“No!” Aziraphale shouts, and his hands clench even tighter, knuckles white as the asparagus they harvested together. “Crowley, who told you that?”
Crowley stares. Not because Aziraphale is shouting at him but because Aziraphale’s face has peeled open. His skin and eyes stretch and reshape. His jaw warps, his teeth showing in his half-shifted state.
It’s the most fascinating form Crowley has ever seen.
Somehow, realising this makes him feel even more upset.
He turns back towards the fire. The flames are higher than they should be. He thinks about poking the wood that he never has to replace with the iron. Chews his cuticles.
Behind him, Aziraphale feels like a glacier carving a new valley.
“No one,” Crowley whispers.
He feels very small.
Boots on the floor. Aziraphale doesn’t make noise when he walks anymore than Crowley does. He stops at Crowley’s back, leaving space to account for his wings. Aside from The Beginning, when Crowley grabbed him, they have never touched.
Crowley glances around. Doesn’t bother trying to move his hand from his mouth or the fire iron out of the hearth. Aziraphale stares at him, his corporation back to his usual human-like form. His jaw works. Clenching and unclenching. His eyes move in tiny, rapid flicks in their sockets. This close, Crowley realises there are faint, dull flecks of gold around his pupils.
“Stop,” Aziraphale says, soft and almost gentle. “You’re making your hand bleed.”
It’s true. Crowley makes himself take his hand away from his mouth. Pull the fire iron out of the hearth. He stands for a moment, right arm and the fire iron hanging by his side, and watches his cuticles and skin reknit themselves.
Aziraphale breathes in. Out. He shifts, tucking his thumbs under his belt. His teeth gash against each other.
He takes a deep breath.
“Times like this,” he says, a mullish note to his tone that makes Crowley look up, “I wish I could tempt you to, to something. Anything! Just so you won’t think yourself into a hole. But you’re the most untemptable creature I have ever come across because you are concerned about everyone but yourself.
“And,” he forges on because Crowley started to open his mouth; he gets louder and higher with each word, “the first remotely selfish question you ask is do you think I’m stupid—and you ask me, a demon! I’m supposed to lie! And I don’t want to because you are the only non-stupid angel I’ve ever encountered! I wonder every single day since I met you how you keep your faith when you are surrounded by complete idiots!”
Crowley’s mouth is still open. Aziraphale sucks in another breath. He blinks rapidly, but his focus never leaves Crowley’s face. There is a soft rocking to his body, tipping him slightly more into Crowley’s space and then away.
Sharks have to swim constantly or they will drown.
“You’re not stupid,” Aziraphale whispers; he smiles, all teeth. “I wish you could believe me.”
Crowley shuts his mouth. Swallows. Aziraphale sucks in air through his teeth. He looks down. Between them. At his feet in their boots. At Crowley’s feet, bare in the comfort of his own shop.
Outside, the bell tolls. The city is beginning to wake up.
A deep breath.
“Would,” Crowley starts, working through the tightness in his throat, his chest, “you help me peel the asparagus?”
Aziraphale chokes. A laugh. He looks up. Blinks rapidly.
“Your feet are dirty.”
Standing with Aziraphale, staring at his pockmarked cheeks, murky eyes, and too many teeth:
Crowley feels love.
Chapter 4: Edelweiss
In the Beginning, During the First War
Raphael rests their head against the trunk of the Tree.
The Garden is quiet. The weather is, and always has been, perfect. An occasional light breeze rustles the leaves. There are pleasant, wispy clouds. The sun shines with only a hint of directness, warming but not overly so.
Distantly, to the Northwest of the Garden, there is the sound of thunder. Uriel’s corps is engaged in War. Michael is on her way to provide reinforcements. They are attempting to break Beezlebub’s stronghold on the entrance to the sea. Gabriel is reorganising the cherubs on the east part of the Wall.
Raphael has been given leave until their left wing heals. A demon under the command of Mammon threw an ax through their wing during the last skirmish. The ax was bathed in Hellfire. They hadn’t known that it was possible for a wing to explode like that. Michael, abandoning her charge, cleaved the burning remnants of the wing with her sword, threw her banner over Raphael, and took them back behind the lines.
They both received a reprimand from the Metatron for abandoning their posts. Raphael doesn’t remember what was said other than the fact it happened. They spent most of the conversation drifting in and out of awareness, head pillowed on Gabriel’s lap. Gabriel kept braiding and unbraiding Raphael’s hair. They remember, vaguely, quite a lot of shouting.
“I’m sorry,” Gabriel kept saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—”
He was ignoring the Metatron.
Somehow that was the most disturbing part of the ordeal.
A soft footfall jars Raphael from their woolgathering.
“Oh!” a light, Wordless voice says.
Raphael shifts. Looks down.
“Eve,” they say, and they lift their left hand in a little wave. “What brings you here?”
She smiles up at them. Her dark hair is wild, and she combs it back from her face with her fingers. Through the Tree, a thin beam of sunlight lights her. Her blunt, straight teeth glow through her wide lips.
“I saw a shining from within the Tree’s foliage,” she says, pointing upwards to where Raphael’s spearhead rests beyond the curve of a branch. “Now I see it is the Sun’s Light reflecting from thine Holy Spear.”
Raphael turns just enough to see that she is correct. Their spear’s head is catching the Light just so that it’s probably sending a beacon through the Garden. Possibly visible from the Wall or outside. They wince inwardly.
“Thanks for telling me,” they say, reaching out to adjust it.
The movement necessitates moving from their repose against the Tree’s trunk. Raphael cannot completely hide their wince as pain and a full essence ache informs them, quite thoroughly, just how wounded they are. None of the other archangels or angels are half as good at healing arts as Raphael. For massive work like this, they would be more of a hindrance than a help.
Raphael is, in fact, resting in the Tree specifically because it helps speed up their recovery time between self-healing sessions. They are not looking forward to knitting the muscle they recently finished regenerating to the new juncture of the shoulder.
Eve continues to watch them. She tilts her head to the right and then the left, behaviour clearly copied from other interactions with angels or the Garden’s animals. It is innocent and so very curious.
Despite their pain, Raphael cannot help but smile. Eve’s entire being brightens. She steps forward, feet in the soft mossy soil between the Tree’s roots. She rests her hands against the trunk, leaning comfortably against it. Imitating how she has just seen Raphael.
“Archangel,” she says, “what are you doing in the Tree?”
“Oh,” Raphael says, suddenly very awkward.
Gabriel and Michael have spoken to Adam and then Eve about Lucifer and the Evils he has wrought, but it is the tacit agreement that the First Humans not be told of War. They are God’s favourites, and they are sheltered within the Garden by Her Word. Gabriel’s post and charge of the defense of the Garden has therefore proved essential. Lucifer’s jealousy of God’s love for the First Humans has doubled his efforts to take the Garden by force as well as trickery. Since Gabriel fought Lucifer at the Gate, each and every conflict has seen the forces of Hell become more brutal in action and wicked in tactics.
Something in Raphael’s core aches just thinking about this.
At the foot of the Tree, Eve is still watching them. Waiting patiently. Guilelessly.
Raphael rubs their fingers over their lips.
“I am thinking,” they say, nails resting against their lower lip, “that my Spear could use a rest, and I think what better place to rest it but among the branches from which it was made.”
Her eye light with excitement. “Oh, that is very considerate, Archangel!” she says, looking to the pole of the spear and then about the trunk and branches of the Tree. “I am sure that the Tree is pleased to see the Good Work carried out by thine Holy Spear.”
“Oh,” Raphael says, possibly even more awkwardly, “sure.”
“Well,” Eve says, straightening and beaming broadly, “I shan’t intrude upon thine Holy Spear’s repose any longer! Thank you for answering these questions, Archangel. Good day!”
“Good day,” Raphael says as Eve turns and meanders pleasantly back into the heart of the Garden.
They watch her progress. How she stops by a clump of blackberry bushes and examines the half-ripe berries. How she listens to the sound of birds up in a willow tree, and how she leans against the willow’s trunk to see their bright plumage. They watch until she finds Adam, who is eating walnuts and sugarcane with Sandalphon, who teaches them how to cut it and what parts to chew to get to the sweet juice. It is an extraordinary show of patience from Sandalphon, who isn’t particularly keen on the First Humans or any of the animals. They even look like they’re having fun together.
Raphael turns their sight away. They pull their left wing into the corporeal to examine it. Nearly as wide as the Tree’s foliage, it is entirely bare of feathers. The bones and muscles have been reshaped, but the complicated nerve network needs to be activated before they can start detail work.
Lucifer and Raphael are the only ones who can do a comprehensive healing entirely on their own. Michael and Uriel have some limited talent, and Gabriel only enough to avoid blowing himself up. They used to laugh about this, back when they were spinning stars together and accidentally blowing themselves up.
“Well, I guess you do need me,” Lucifer chuckled, squeezing Raphael’s shoulder and grinning, “or you’ll have to do all the dirty work yourself.”
The memory, once so treasured, feels like Raphael has been run through with their own spear.
Lucifer is Fallen.
Raphael presses their fingers over their mouth and reactivates their nervous system.
Later, when Raphael is amongst the Picts and half-listening to his human drinking companions roll their eyes over Hadrian’s Wall, he thinks back on that day. Upon his spear, which rests strapped to his back with its shining head covered. He remembers Eve’s smile in response to his own. The pain, dulled in memory but the reality far too well understood, of self-healing his wing.
“‘Ey, Crowley,” one of the humans says, grinning when Raphael jerks back to attention, “going off with the fairies there?”
“Hah hah,” Raphael says before pointing at the wine jug, “why’s that empty?”
“You’re right,” the man says, mock solemnly.
He raises his arms to shout for another. Raphael watches his companions pick up their cups. They toast each other and drain the dregs in anticipation of a fresh jug. Raphael doesn’t join them. His cup is already empty.
He thinks of Eve and how she clutched Abel’s body and wept.
Perth, Scotland, 1351 A.D.
The city gates have trapped the plague within. The dead have piled up spectacularly as the plague gains footing after the winter thaw. The church graveyard is a mess of open, new, and half-made graves. They have run out of diggers. They have run out of time.
Gabriel appears in the sacristy unannounced. Crowley, however, is so engrossed in his conversation with the priest that neither of them notice. The priest coughs roughly, himself affected by the plague, as he pulls out the Lent vestments. There is no one who will be able to wear them when the liturgical calendar turns in a week’s time.
“We can cut these up and put strips over the ruined faces,” he says as Crowley helps him lay them out atop the vestment cabinet. “A gesture at best.”
”A sincere gesture,” Crowley says, reaching out to support the man as he coughs wetly into the handkerchief they’d soaked in lavender oil. “To soothe those who are still able to mourn.”
“Aye,” the priest croaks, lifting his eyes and spotting Gabriel with a horrible start. “Jesus Christ!”
“No,” Gabriel says, very puzzled as Crowley whips around in shock, “I am the Archangel Gabriel.”
“You idiot!” Crowley moans as he lunges to catch the priest, who tips over in a faint.
“I am not an idiot,” Gabriel says, quite irritated.
Crowley ignores him. He shifts the priest into a sitting position on the ground, propping the man’s head against raised knees. He doesn’t look to be coming out the faint anytime soon. It is not due to a miracle. The plague is sapping his strength faster than Crowley had anticipated.
“Damn,” Crowley mutters.
“Raphael!” Gabriel exclaims, scandalised.
“Gabriel!” Crowley shouts back, straightening and turning to face his fellow more out of frustration than actual desire to converse. “Why are you here?”
Gabriel eyes him. It’s an unusually shrewd look, especially coming from him. Crowley is suddenly very aware that he is dressed in his working clothes, which are exceptionally dirty. Not just because of his usual mucking about in the garden but because he is now the only apothecary left in Perth. This is the same situation he was in before he left London and prior to that Milan.
It is impossible for him to contract the plague. Crowley is beginning to feel like he is losing his mind.
“You’ve been moving around a lot,” Gabriel says, and Crowley definitely feels the edges of lunacy scraping at his consciousness. “The Metatron asked that I check in on you.”
“The Metatron asked,” Crowley echoes numbly. “Of course.”
Gabriel eyes him. Crowley, feeling extremely fragile, cannot keep eye contact. He looks back at the priest, who has still not woken up. It’s the wrong choice. If the priest dies now, then the dead in the graveyard cannot be buried. People will move into the church, overpower the two brothers left, and loot it, spreading the plague and its chaos further as they flee the city. It will happen anyways at the rate things are going, but Crowley had foolishly thought he could slow the chaos down enough that a replacement priest could be identified and arrive in time.
“Do you like this human?” Gabriel asks.
It is the wrong thing to ask.
“Do I,” Crowley says, a voice and being outside of himself, “like this human?”
He turns. He looks at Gabriel. At his Heavenly robes. His clean skin. Pale and broad hands and feet.
Crowley is abruptly, incredibly hysterical.
It is not the type of hysterical that requires calming. It is something that blooms from deep roots and seeds in his core that he deliberately starved.
A hundred years ago in Arezzo, as he ground a poultice of flour, olive oil, and charcoal, Aziraphale sat next to him eating honey cakes. The cakes had been a gift from a widow who could not pay in coin but would not accept charity. Aziraphale had shown up just in time to eat them fresh, dressed as a warrior of the Golden Horde. He rested his chin on his free hand, licking the honey that dribbled off the cake onto his fingers.
“If I told you it would ease the wounds of many,” he murmured, nudging the fennel jar closer to Crowley with his elbow and picking up another honey cake with his sticky hand, “would you come with me to battle?”
“Is this a temptation?” Crowley asked, half-joking as he pinching a few seeds to add to the moltar.
“I can’t tempt you,” Aziraphale said, and it wasn’t angry or jesting; it was, especially from him, the truth. “Even if you agreed, you would still be doing Her Work.”
Crowley paused. He looked away from the moltar. The pestle rested heavily in his hand. He watched the honey cake drip onto Aziraphale’s palm.
“What do you mean?” he asked because Aziraphale wasn’t looking at him; he was already darting his tongue out to lick the honey. “All angels do Her Work.”
Aziraphale shook his head. He opened his mouth and took a large bite of the cake. He chewed with sharp up and down motions of his jaw. Swallowed. He glanced back at Crowley.
He looked more than a little sad.
“You know,” he said, soft and gentle and confessional, “I didn’t mean to Fall. I just… got lost.”
In the sacristy, looking at Gabriel among the relics, vestments, and records:
Crowley does not understand, not fully. But he did not eat the Fruit from the Tree. He only carries the wood upon his back. He does not raise it without the Word, and the Word does not come from anyone but the Lord Herself.
The Lord loves all of Her Creation.
It is each individual’s choice to love each other.
“Gabriel,” Crowley says, and it is not begging; it is not consolation; it is a warning: “do not insult me.”
Gabriel scowls. He makes to take a step forward, but something that crosses Crowley’s face gives him pause. He looks down at the priest. Back at Crowley.
“That human is dying,” he observes.
“I don’t know if you noticed,” Crowley says, and it’s a little high and very unpleasant, “but that’s kind of what humans do. Especially right now. With the plague.”
“Ah,” Gabriel says.
He eyes Crowley as if he’s something dangerous. Or a little disgusting. Probably a mixture of both.
“Raphael,” he says, and he shifts slightly, “I was only told to come and see what you are currently up to, but I think you should come Home.”
“Home,” Crowley echoes.
“Yes,” Gabriel says.
He smiles. It stretches his face. It doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Visit with me and Michael,” he says, and it is like they are cater-cousins again, planning a game on Saturn. “You haven’t been Home in a long time.”
If Crowley wasn’t hysterical before, he certainly is now.
“You know,” he says, and there’s a sensation beginning deep in his core, a thousand thorns to protect the blooming flower, “humanity thinks this plague is divine punishment.”
“Well,” Gabriel scoffs, rolling his eyes. “That’s stupid. It’s Pestilence and the suffering they must endure for the First Sin.”
You don’t understand
“That is divine punishment.”
“No,” Gabriel scoffs before he realises his mistake; he winces with his entire corporation, his wings rustling; he draws himself up to say: “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yes, you did,” Crowley says, and he doesn’t even know what he sounds like. “You are an angel, Gabriel. You shouldn’t lie.”
Gabriel stares at him. Crowley stares back.
When the Great Flood was decreed, they fought. Gabriel’s scepter against Crowley’s spear. Gabriel had always been much more skilled in close combat. He ducked Crowley’s spear and struck him across the face. There was no winning. There never was.
Later, on Earth, Crowley sat atop a mountain. He spread his wings to shelter Aziraphale who offered simple, quiet companionship. Raphael had not bothered to hide his swollen face. The storm made his tears as he wept.
Slowly, wordlessly, Gabriel turns.
He stops. Turns. The stony coldness to his gaze:
Crowley swallows. He wants to run away.
But Crowley is also Raphael.
They learned to be brave.
“Do you blame humans?”
Gabriel’s jaw clenches.
“Blame humans,” he echoes, the words inching through his teeth. “Blame them for what?”
You don’t understand
Crowley looks upon Gabriel, so clean and solid and stony, and in that moment:
He pities his fellow and forgives him.
“Go Home,” Crowley says, and he feels calm, more so than he remembers ever being before. “I cannot.
“I am needed here.”
Gabriel closes up. Goes still and steely and hard. He stares at Crowley as if they have never met before.
“God be with you,” he bites out.
There is a sharp POP! Crowley is left to stare at the space where Gabriel was for a long moment.
“And with you,” he says to the empty air.
He feels lighter somehow. Cleaner. Not himself.
It is not good. It is not bad. It simply is.
Crowley is not sure what it is.
They look around. Down.
The priest gapes up at them. Wide-eyed and wondering.
“You are an angel,” he whispers.
Their wings are white. Their spear rests easily across their back. Their body is clean. Their working clothes have been made anew.
Slowly, with more purpose than they have ever felt or owned:
Crowley raises their hand.
“Yes,” they say, “and you will live. But you must forget this happened.”
They snap their fingers.
March of Carniola, 1351 A.D.
After packing up in Perth, Crowley goes to find Aziraphale.
It takes a little longer than expected.
In all the time they have known each other, Crowley has never specifically gone in search of Aziraphale. Back when they were Charlemagne’s favoured apothecary, they came to look forward to encountering Aziraphale. They began to prepare for his inevitable appearance by having a little wine or sweets on hand. They knew, objectively, that they should not enjoy their time in a demon’s company, but being around Aziraphale, talking about manuscripts and going out to drink and watching Aziraphale eat, was pleasant and stimulating. It was also dependable that somehow, despite Aziraphale’s truly atrocious sense of direction, he would always find Crowley.
He finally finds Aziraphale wandering around the Karwanks not too far from an isolated village so small it doesn’t even have a chapel. Aziraphale, who is lazing about on his stomach in the grass, is rightfully taken by surprise when Crowley appears beside him. He screams. The sound echoes throughout the mountain range.
“Crowley?” he squeaks, sounding exactly like the first time they’d met. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“Oh,” Crowley says.
They look down and realise they are clad in full angelic glory. With a snap, they are back in their tabard and working robes. The effect is possibly less reassuring than it could be. He is still unusually clean.
“Apologies. Am I glad I found you. I have had…” They flap their hands, feeling quite floaty. “It’s been a very strange day, you see.”
It has, in fact, been two and a half months. But that is neither here nor there.
Aziraphale stares up at him. Mouth slightly open. Far too many teeth.
“Crowley,” he says, very carefully, “have you been eating your poppy plants again?”
“What?” Crowley asks before laughing, maybe a little too loudly. “No. I only did that once. I do learn.”
“You do,” Aziraphale says, and he stands up cautiously. “Did you actually come here to find me?”
“Yes,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale stares at them. Blinks.
“Oh,” he says, and he smiles, very wobbly, “thank you. That’s really very nice.”
“I brought some wine,” Crowley says, and they hold out the first of several bottles in his satchel along with two cups. “It took me a while to find you, and I went through Graves. This is a clairet.”
Aziraphale takes a cup, expression more than a little gobsmacked. “You need to tell me what happened,” he says as Crowley pours them extremely generous glasses. “I know it’s really you because what other angel has hair like yours, but you’re acting really strange.”
“I’ll tell you all about it,” Crowley says, holding out their cup, “but I need to be drunk first. Cheers!”
“Cheers!” Aziraphale agrees with a laugh.
They sit down and drink the bottle together. Aziraphale, as they open the second bottle, finds the biscuits that Crowley had purchased when they went through Porto. He tucks into them with gusto, murmuring about butter. Crowley nods along, watching how Aziraphale’s sharp teeth cleave through the biscuits and gnash as he chews.
By the time they start the third bottle, Crowley is pleasantly drunk. They stretch out on the grass. Trail their fingers with their chewed cuticles and awkward edges over the soil. Aziraphale is content to chop through the last of the biscuits, humming in satisfaction.
“I would try to tempt you to one,” he says, licking the last of the crumbs off his fingers, “but we’ve already had that conversation.”
Crowley smiles. They watch the grass germinating beneath their touch. A few flowers have begun to peek up through the ground cover. White and wooly petals with just a hint of yellow florets. Crowley touches their fingers to one. Rubs the soft fuzz.
They look up. Aziraphale looks down. He blinks. Sparse lashes gentle over murky eyes. The deep of the ocean. Flecks of the jewel of the sea.
Jesus, the poor lad, once said:
I have compassion for these people who walk beside me.
Crowley shifts. Sits up. They slip their fingers under the bloom. Pluck it gently from its stem.
They hold it out. Brush the petals over Aziraphale’s upper lip. Lower lip.
Aziraphale breathes in.
Opens his mouth.
Crowley’s fingertips rest against Aziraphale’s bottom lip as he swallows the flower whole.
A slow breath out.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale says, softly, reverently, before lunging.
Crowley doesn’t put up any resistance. Aziraphale tumbles them into the grass and flowers. They lie prone as Aziraphale blankets them, callused hands reaching up to curl and thread through Crowley’s unbound hair.
Aziraphale rests his elbows against Crowley’s upper chest. He gazes down at Crowley in wonder.
“Is this about the plague?” he asks as Crowley lifts their arms to wrap around his waist.
“Yes,” Crowley says, leaning up and pressing their left cheek against Aziraphale’s own so they can whisper against his ear. “And no. I have an Arrangement to offer you.”
For a moment, Aziraphale is still.
Then, with sure and steady slowness, he lowers himself. He lies over Crowley, their heads pressed together over the grass. He inhales. The scent of the soil. The curve of Crowley’s neck.
Crowley looks at the sky. Blue and splattered with thin clouds. The summer brings the height of Her and Pestlience’s glories.
“I love humanity,” they say.
Aziraphale smiles. Lips and the scrape of sharp teeth against the shell of Crowley’s ear. Small, and sympathetic, and deeply, achingly understanding.
“Yes,” he says.
Crowley curls their fingers over Aziraphale’s back. They watch the clouds move. Slow and unhurried.
“I cannot ease their suffering,” they say because they must; they are an angel; this is the Truth; “It is arrogant to think I can.”
They think about the millions of bodies. How they pile up in the graveyards, inside homes, in ships, on the roadside. Rotten limbs. Bloody, boil-covered flesh. Flies, feasting upon eyes.
They think of Eve and Adam, eating walnuts and sugar cane in the Garden.
Aziraphale breathes in against Crowley’s skin.
He is smiling.
“I am a demon,” he whispers, and his teeth close over Crowley’s earlobe on that last syllable; sharp and stinging and sure. “I do not worry about arrogance. I am perfect to help you.”
“Yes,” Crowley says.
Aziraphale draws himself up. He smiles. Hundreds of teeth glint. Arching above Crowley, he gleams with natural power. A warrior and predator.
But his eyes are soft.
“In exchange,” he says, and he shifts, knees against Crowley’s hips, “would you share some of your love with me?”
For an angel to love a demon—
For a demon to love an angel—
Crowley smiles back.
“Looks like that’s the best course.”