Chapter 1: weekend at crowley's
“Nah, you’ve got it all wrong,” Crowley was saying to Aziraphale, “it wasn’t really aliens, it was all a metaphor for, er, communism.”
They were on their way back to the bookshop, following an afternoon screening of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which was one of Crowley’s favorites, due to all the creeping ennui and arguing.
Aziraphale had thought it was rubbish for pretty much the same reasons that Crowley enjoyed it, but he hadn’t minded sitting through it. Not with Crowley’s face was so close to his, lit by the slow-moving colors on the screen, calm and happy, deep in appreciation— that was nearly better than any film, even the fully comprehensible, non-Soviet ones, in Aziraphale’s educated opinion.
“Crowley, I need to tell you something,” Aziraphale said. He could hardly bear it anymore. There was fondness leaking out of his every pore; he’d explode if he didn’t do something about it.
“Yeah? That my taste in cinema is unimpeachable, respectable, laudable, even? Cause there’s no need, I already know—”
“No. Listen!” Aziraphale tried to sound serious without sounding angry, because he wasn’t angry, he just wanted Crowley’s full attention, at this exact moment.
“‘M listening, angel,” said Crowley, eyebrows drawing together. And then he stepped off the curb, and he was looking back over his shoulder attentively at Aziraphale, who had stopped on the pavement, rather feeling that he should be standing still while delivering his proclamation.
Aziraphale took a breath, opened his mouth, and then Crowley was immediately hit by a car.
There was a too-late screech of tires, and then an awful crunch of impact. Crowley went up like a birthday balloon, released from the sticky hand of a curious child who just wants to see what’ll happen.
His limp form seemed to hang in the air for one long moment before landing, with a sickening thump, on the pavement.
It was not hard to see that he was dead.
Aziraphale’s first thought was, naturally, Oh dear. There go our dinner reservations.
This was quickly followed by a wry observation on the irony of Crowley’s corporation meeting its end at the hand (grille?) of a large car going far too fast down a London street.
Lastly came a thought which likely should have been further up the queue: that the process of getting a new body just might, this time around, present some unwelcome difficulties for Crowley.
Rushing into the road, now relatively distressed, Aziraphale knelt down at Crowley’s side. The hems of his second-best jacket stained with the blood spilling out from the various lacerations on the poor demon’s motionless body, but he paid it no mind. He could hear screams and sobs and shouts from all corners, the honking of horns and the outraged yells as the murderous vehicle accelerated and swerved away from the scene of the crime.
Then he heard someone off to his left crying “Mr. Fell! Mr. Fell, oh no!” and he realized: this was Soho, right in front of his shop. The people around here knew him, and more to the point, they knew him and Crowley, as a single unit. Especially in the days since the averted Armageddon, which had seen them spend more and more time in each others’ company: they were waved at as they walked together, customers would remark upon the absence of Crowley if he was missing from the shop for more than a few days, and the baristas at the cafe across the street would start to prepare both of their regular orders, even if only one of them had walked in.
It followed logically, then, that unless Aziraphale wanted to come off as some kind of emotionless sociopath who was merely flustered and/or inconvenienced at the sudden and gruesome death of his best friend, he’d need to put on a show.
All things told, it was not that hard. As one of the young ladies from the sex shop next door dialed 999, he began to howl, “Oh, the humanity! The cruelty!” and prostrate himself over Crowley’s broken form.
He’d always considered himself a bit of a performer at heart, after all. He’d been in the chorus for some of Euripides’ early works, and his two-night understudy appearance as Polonius at the Globe had been one of his proudest moments.1
And then there was his rendition of Crowley himself; sure, the costume had done most of the work, as it were, but Aziraphale thought his physical and vocal evocation of the demon’s swagger and style had been laudable.
So it was with great passion that he keened, lamented, and even ululated. He gave some thought to rending his garments, but decided that his jacket had already been through enough (what with all of the bodily fluids) and instead focused on drawing up tears to his eyes. He thought of poor Crowley drowning in piles of paperwork, with his noxious co-workers cruelly pointing and laughing, and that was enough to send him into a relatively genuine mess of sobs.
“Oh, dearest Anthony,” he moaned, for the benefit of the gathering crowd, “speak to me, speak to me…”
He could feel a thrum of grief moving his whole body now, a deep sensation emerging from where his hand was clutching at Crowley’s unmoving chest, it was almost like a vibration of his very skin, was this the kind of immersive physicality that energized the bodies of real actors, up on stage? It was intoxicating, it was magical, it was— no— wait, hold on— it was actually something vibrating beneath his skin, inside the pocket of Crowley’s jacket.
It was also, he noticed now as he emerged from his theatrical trance, playing a pop song very loudly.2
Aziraphale extricated Crowley’s ringing mobile phone with difficulty, squeamishly working his hands around the sticky patches of blood that dampened the corporation’s torso.
When it emerged, the caller ID on screen read: HEAD OFFICE. Aziraphale swallowed hard, a flutter of anxiety surging up his throat.
By now the ambulance had arrived and, in what he took to be a positive review of his performance, Aziraphale was motioned inside by the paramedics. As Crowley’s body was hooked up to all sorts of terrifying-looking medical machines, Aziraphale tapped the phone to pick up the call and raised it nervously to his ear.
“Aziraphale. It’s me.”
With a noise like a wet bubble of snot popping in a giant nose, Crowley was unceremoniously deposited into Hell.
A decrepit office chair spun creakily under his sudden weight, and his hands shot out instinctively to grab the edge of the desk and steady his motion. He noticed, with panic-heightened perception, a slight gossamer wiggle around the edges of his fingers.
Crowley let out a wordless groan of unhappy epiphany, as he realized exactly where he was, exactly what had happened, and all the implications thereof.
He looked about him, taking in his surroundings. The room was dark and cramped, smelly and humid, and unfortunately just as familiar to him as the street corner he’d just been so rudely discorporated on.
His cubicle in Hell had been the site of many a demonic triumph over the past six thousand years, as well as many a wasted hour, in the early days, spent unsuccessfully campaigning for a better desk. “I deserve it,” he’d say, “look at my record!” And then Dagon or whoever would nod approvingly and tell him that he was such a good role model for the other demons, so it’d be irresponsible of management, really, to let him lock himself away somewhere separate, don’t you see?
It was that sort of thing, really, that had led to him spending more and more time up on Earth.
There on the wall was that unfriendly large NO SMOKING sign, next to the sticky, peeling poster that read, helpfully, YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELF TO BLAME. Not true, thought Crowley sourly, it was the blasted car that hit me.
Last time he’d been at this desk was to fill out the debrief paperwork from the Antichrist delivery assignment. It had taken him six full days, not counting the extra day on either end he’d had to spend waiting in various queues. When he’d finally escaped back topside, in desperate need of a shower and a nap and then another shower, Aziraphale had been waiting with a bottle of adventurous Napa Valley cabernet and a sympathetically open, if characteristically judgemental, ear for Crowley’s kvetching.
The sole good thing about being back at his desk had only ever been the promise of getting to leave. Now, unlike then, though, it wouldn’t be as easy as simply heading back up the escalator.
But this had to be just a temporary inconvenience, it just had to be. He couldn’t let himself think about it as anything other than that, or else he’d go mad.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” Crowley slammed his hands down onto the surface of the desk. Without a body, it wasn’t quite as satisfying a sensation as it should’ve been. “I don’t need this, I really don’t need this , I had dinner plans, for someone’s bloody sake—”
“Oi! Quiet,” said a reedy voice from somewhere close by. The accent was thick and Northern, the register presumably female. “Some of us are trying to work.”
Crowley pushed back in his chair, as best he could with two of the casters sticking (as a rule, no rolly chair in Hell was fully functional), and peered around the side of his cubicle wall.
A wide and incurious face met his on the other side. She was a young demon, with pin-straight black hair to her shoulders and mottled patches of shiny, chitinous emerald up her cheeks. Perched on the crown of her head like a hair bow was a large green beetle, and she was wearing something black and elaborately frilly, like the burial gown of a dead Victorian child.
“Who the Heaven are you? What happened to Nestor?” Nestor had been Crowley’s neighbor Downstairs for almost 900 years; a tall and hulking gorilla of a demon with a permanent, phlegmatic cough and an affinity for curses of the epidemiological sort.
“He got promoted,” said the beetle demon, “due to Ebola. I think he’s up in the third circle now. Got his own office and everything, like.”
“Good lad,” muttered Crowley. “Always knew he had it in him.” He looked over at the demon’s desk, which was covered in heaps of papers that Crowley recognized with a twinge of sympathetic nausea as Hell Entry Form 84-Q (for souls damned due to sins falling under Category 7DS-3, “lust”).
“Where were you before, then?”
“Oh, I was stationed in Tokyo. You ever heard of upskirt photos? That was one of mine,” she preened.
Crowley stuck a tongue out in distaste, which the demon seemed to take as a compliment.
“I’m just waiting to be issued a new body,” she continued, “as the old one got asphyxiated in a crush at a J-pop concert.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
She shrugged. “Not that bad, all things told. They put me on desk duty, processing the damnation backlog. Been a really interesting year. I’ve learned about so many new fetishes—”
“Hold on— a year?” spluttered Crowley. “Wh— it never took that long before, just a couple of weeks, maybe—”
“Well, Ligur was the head of the Death & Discorporation Committee, remember? With him gone, the queue’s gone down the shitter.”
Crowley resisted the urge to slam his head against the wall of the cubicle, but only barely. Every time, he thought disconsolately. How does it always come back to me every time?
“What’ve you got to be heading back up there for, anyway?” the demon continued. “Place is rubbish. Way too many humans. Too bright, too cold.”
“What have I got? What have I got? ” Crowley hissed. He could feel the beginnings of a rant bubbling up in his currently nonexistent chest. He hadn’t stopped the Apocalypse with his own two hands3 just to end up back here, where Aziraphale wasn’t, to hear his beloved Earth dissed by some junior clerk who wouldn’t know a good time if it took a creepshot up her big fluffy skirt.
“Hang on,” interrupted the demon before Crowley could explode in outrage, her shiny eyes narrowing in recognition. “You’re not— you’re that Crowley bloke, aren’t you?”
“Depends on who wants to know.”
“Er, it’s just me,” said the demon, looking around, as if her question might have actually been asked by someone other than herself. “Yasti.” She stuck out a long, curved fingernail at her face; it was the same color as the beetle atop her head.
Crowley allowed himself a small smile. “Yup. I’m Crowley. The one and only.”
“Bugger me,” said Yasti, “I heard all about you. My supervisor was at your trial. The holy water thing, how’d you manage that? Some people were saying it was all a setup, but I—”
He held up a finger, and she fell respectfully silent.
“If you’ll excuse me, Yasti, I’ve got to make a call,” he said, and then reached for the touch-tone telephone sitting on a corner of his desk. Wincing at the grimy, sticky texture of the keys, he dialed his own mobile number.
It rang just long enough to make him worry, but finally the call picked up, answering with an unmistakable “Hello?”
“Aziraphale. It’s me,” said Crowley, relief flooding his incorporeal form at the sound of the angel’s voice. “Reporting live from You Know Where.”
“Crowley! Are you alright?” asked Aziraphale.
“Fine, fine. You know how it is. What about you, are you— hold on, is that a siren? Where are you?”
“In an ambulance, idiot,” said Aziraphale, “with your dead body.”
“Oh. Right. How’m I looking?”
“Not well at all, dear boy. There’s a great deal of… effluvia.”
“Mangled, would you say?” pressed Crowley, unable to help himself.
“Exceedingly so.” It sounded like Aziraphale was about to go into more detail, but then he interrupted himself suddenly with a moan of distress so over-the-top and ridiculous that Crowley had to bite down on his fist to choke a laugh.
“Sorry, sorry,” Aziraphale said, now in a low whisper. “Paramedics all around, I’m trying to keep up appearances. I put on quite a show out there on the pavement. Ruined my coat, weeping over your expired form. Lots of wailing.”
Crowley grinned. Damn, what he would’ve given to see that.
“Are they working on me? The paramedics. You can tell them to give it up, if I’m down here it’s a done deal, there’s not much they can do.”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” said Aziraphale. “Best to let them have some hope while they still can. It’s really quite inspiring to watch.”
From her chair, Yasti was observing Crowley’s side of the phone call unfold with careful insectile scrutiny. “Is that the… you know?” she whispered, pointing a finger up to signify Heaven. “The angel?”
Crowley scowled at her. He’d really hoped that word of his affiliation with Aziraphale hadn’t managed to leak out to Hell at large.
But Eric, the loose-lipped disposable bastard, had probably started blabbing about the trial he’d witnessed Upstairs the second he’d stepped back off the escalator. Demons may be a stupid bunch but generally they could put two and two together; it wouldn’t have taken a genius on Crowley’s level to figure out that there was a personal connection between the demon that couldn’t be killed, and the angel who was similarly immune. It made Crowley itch all over, it did, to think of anyone down here even knowing his angel’s name, let alone associating it in conjunction with his own.
Speaking of Aziraphale and affiliation…
“Listen, Aziraphale— if they’re about to declare me legally dead, there’s something you should know,” said Crowley, tearing his eyes from Yasti’s hypnotic gaze and staring instead down at his desk calendar. It was still turned to August 1990, and had gone moldy around the edges.
“Is it about your obituary? Because I’m not writing yours again, not after your unfounded criticism of my last one, it was accurate —”
“No— no. Er. Alright. Last time I updated all my human paperwork, about five years ago, I, ah. I listed you as my next of kin.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale. “Well, of course. I know how much you have tied up financially. Wouldn’t want some public treasury solicitor getting their hands in any of that, certainly. Did you put me down as your brother? I remember that’s how we did it in Delhi. Ooh, that stampede was brutal.”
“No,” said Crowley, “not that.”
“Your cousin, then? Nephew? Long-lost childhood pen-pal?”
“I. Well. The thing is. You’re actually my husband. Um. Legally speaking.”
There was silence on the end of the line, a loud silence filled with the sounds of beeping life-support machines and the whine of the siren.
Finally, Aziraphale spoke. “You mean to say— you got us married? ”
“Just as a precaution, I never really thought I’d end up discorporated again, it’d been ages, you just don’t get stampedes or assassinations like you used to —”
“You got us married, and you didn’t tell me?” Aziraphale’s tone had by now climbed up into a frequency range hitherto unknown to angelkind, squeaking like a rubber duck.
Crowley abandoned all pretense of self-control and began to gently bonk his head against the stained, nubbly cubicle wall, softly enough so that Aziraphale couldn’t hear. Yasti watched him, unblinking, a perverse and knowing smile growing crookedly across her round face.
In retrospect, he probably should have gone off to find a phone somewhere where there were no dimwitted lust-demons to silently mock his pain.
In retrospect, really, he probably should have not gotten drunk while doing up the will of good old Anthony J. the 3rd and caused a marriage license to miraculously manifest in a filing cabinet at the Westminster Register Office. This whole mess, upon reflection, was probably punishment for that one terrible moment of hubristic joy.
“I’m sorry,” said Crowley morosely, his eyes closed and his forehead pressed to the wall. “I’m sorry, I should’ve known it would make you uncomfortable, angel. Really, it was just a silly lark, a— a bit of demonic mischief. Stupid mistake, I swear once I get back up there I’ll put it to rights—”
“Crowley, look, I—” Aziraphale interrupted, and then there was a loud BEEP , and his voice cut off as the line went dead. Crowley cursed as an automated message played in his ear:
“We’re sorry, this line is out of minutes. Please contact your supervisor to purchase more. Or just go fuck yourself.”
“Out of minutes? What kind of wretched, useless, bloody machine— I was in the middle of something!” he snarled, slamming the receiver back down. He hadn’t even gotten to the really important bit yet, the bit that Aziraphale actually needed to know.
Yasti pursed her lips. “You’re never down here, I wouldn’t expect you to know how things work,” she said officiously. “Nobody actually uses those old phones anymore, they’re just for decoration. I don’t even have one over here. If you want to talk to topside, just use a media kiosk. Can have you coming out of the radio, or the TV, or in a newspaper, whatever you like.”
Crowley always hated those inconvenient interruptions from Downstairs, breaking into his Netflix marathons and Spotify playlists like they owned the place, but he had to suppose Aziraphale wouldn’t mind.
“That’ll do in a pinch,” Crowley said approvingly, and rose from his seat. “Come on,” he said, motioning to Yasti, “you’re coming with me.” As far as partners in crime went, she was no angel, but if he was going to be faffing about with demonic technology he needed someone who knew what they were doing. This was a rather time-sensitive situation.
“But I’m supposed to be doing paperwork— ”
“Yasti! You’re a demon, aren’t you?” Crowley said authoritatively, looming over her now.
“Well, ah, yes.”
“And demons do what they’re supposed to do , do they?”
“Um. No? Not— not generally. But, well. I tend to, because my supervisor is a real hard-arse...”
He stared down at her. Yellow slits met onyx orbs. “Your supervisor,” he said, curling the world around his tongue with as much contempt as possible, “probably learned everything they know from me. Understand?”
He could see the gears in her mind turning. No sensible demon would turn down the prospect of cahoots, especially with someone as notorious as Crowley. If she knew what was good for her, she’d start thinking of ways to double-cross him as soon as his back was turned. Finally, she nodded.
“Smart girl. Now, up you get. Time for me to be on TV.”
“Daddy, why didn’t we just shoot him with a gun? That’s how they do it in the movies.”
“Wouldn’t have worked,” Mr. Kovensky said, as he carefully scraped the dried blood off of the fender of his large black car into a small glass container. “It would’ve sensed the intent. I told you, doing it with the car was the simplest and cleanest way. The element of surprise is everything, with creatures like that. Can’t give them long enough to play their tricks.”
“How long till we can go get him?” Cyn was sitting in the passenger seat, kicking her legs idly out of the open door as she watched her father collect his occult sample. She was twelve years old and had none of the haunted solemnity one type of person might expect of a small girl reared at a funeral home, nor the sprightly, protagonistic spunk another type of person might expect. To her father’s dismay, Cyn had been blessed with a quality her teachers at school had described as being “bang on average.” She was the second-most-normal child in her grade. She had mousy brown hair and mousy brown eyes and regarded her father’s cabalistic hobbies with reflexive skepticism.
Mr. Kovensky checked his watch. “We can go in an hour or so. They’ll have it in the morgue by then, and we’ll just nip in, give our regards to Dr. Besser, and be on our way.”
He sealed the glass container with a neatly-cut square of rune-inked linen, and then got to work changing out the license plate of the car.
“And nobody will come looking for him? Family, friends?”
“It’s a demon , Cynthia,” said Mr. Kovensky. “It hasn’t got family, or friends. It’s not really a person, not like you or me.”
Cyn carefully considered telling her father about the blonde man she’d spotted,4 conversing with their quarry, moments before her father single-mindedly plowed the so-called demon down and then sped away.
But that would introduce an element of uncertainty into the proceedings. She couldn’t predict how Mr. Kovensky would react to the news that this demon might actually have a friend. He might very well decide they needed to go find another stupid old book or set up more smelly candles or sing more weird songs, and she’d already had quite enough of all that for a Monday.
So, in the interest of bringing closer the hour when she’d be back in her bedroom above the mortuary, watching today’s new Zoella video, Cyn kept quiet.
“Hello? Crowley? Hello?” Aziraphale hissed desperately into the phone, to no avail. The line was dead.
He tried re-dialing the HEAD OFFICE contact in Crowley’s phone, but as he didn’t know Crowley’s desk extension the call got routed to the central operator. A tired voice answered “Hell Front Desk, what the Hell do you want,” and Aziraphale got so scared he nearly flung the phone down onto the blood-covered floor of the vehicle.
At this point, the ambulance roared up to the hospital, and Aziraphale was hustled urgently inside to a somber waiting room as the paramedics carted Crowley off.
He felt exposed in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves, having folded his stained jacket away into a spare pocket of non-space, for careful attention when he had a moment later.
And he was uncomfortable at being separated from Crowley, having to remind himself stridently that that wasn’t Crowley anymore, Crowley was back Downstairs at his desk, where no further harm could befoul him.
Unless, of course, the existential terror instilled in the gen-pop of Hell by Aziraphale during the trial had already dissipated, in which case all bets were off and anything could happen and, and, and—
“This really is quite the pickle, isn’t it?” he sighed to himself.
He considered trying to get through to Crowley again but had a fairly rational fear that the receptionist would be able to tell, just by his voice, that he wasn’t exactly an Authorized Caller. Probably some kind of protocol would be tripped and he’d be putting Crowley in more trouble than he was already in.
He tapped his fingers impatiently on the arm of the chair. It was your classic waiting room chair, the type which under normal circumstances would be quite uncomfortable, but in the presence of an angel’s weight had grown an extra two inches of cushioning and a soft linen seat cover.
Just typical, really, that Crowley couldn’t have waited to get discorporated until they were inside the bookshop. Aziraphale didn’t quite know how that would’ve worked, considering the automotive aspect of it all, but he did know that if that had been the case, he’d have been able to grab a nice book to tide him over while he waited for Crowley to get back in touch.
But here he was, the bookless wonder. With little else to do, he turned his attention to the waiting room at large.
There was only one other occupant, a few seats down from him. A middle-aged woman with a deep-creased forehead, sniffling helplessly into a tissue.
Aziraphale got up and sat down again next to the poor woman.
“There, there,” he said kindly, “it’s alright.”
She looked at him with shining, red-rimmed eyes. “Thank you, but it’s really not,” she said.
Her name was Jessy, and she told him how her young daughter had suffered a fall during a gymnastics competition; a freak accident that had injured her spine. The girl had been rushed into surgery, but when Jessy had asked if she’d ever walk again, they said it wasn’t likely.
Aziraphale nodded understandingly. “She’ll be just fine,” he told her.
“I wish I could believe you,” she sniffed.
It was just a small nudge, really; the surgeon was competent, but the injury was devastating. Aziraphale simply gave the surgeon’s confidence a little miraculous boost, and that was enough to ensure he was able to reconnect the damaged nerves with unsurpassed ease and success.
“I promise,” he said, laying a gentle hand on Jessy’s shoulder, “she’ll recover. I have a good feeling about it.”
He sat consoling her for a little while longer, and then her phone rang. “Sorry, it’s my brother— I should give him an update—” she excused herself, and Aziraphale nodded understandingly.
He picked up a six-week-old issue of Woman’s Weekly from the table, and paged through it reluctantly. He was halfway through an article about Meghan Markle’s skincare routine when the words started wiggling around on the page.
Aziraphale? Aziraphale, are you there? It’s me, sorry about getting cut off back there, I ran out of minutes on my blasted desk phone, but look, I really need you to make sure that—
Aziraphale startled at the sound of his name. A doctor had entered the waiting room, looking around, and Aziraphale rose to meet him at the entrance, leaving the magazine behind.
“Mr. Fell, I’m Dr. Michaelson. I’m very sorry, but…”
He was saying something deeply heartfelt, no doubt, but Aziraphale was suddenly very distracted by the television on the wall behind him. There, in the middle of a program featuring a lot of women in heavy makeup sitting around a big glass table, was Crowley. He’d gotten up onto the table and was waving urgently at Aziraphale. The women didn’t seem to notice.
“...Mr. Fell? I need to make sure you’ve understood me. I know how hard this must be to hear but—”
Aziraphale blinked, shook his head. “Excuse me, I— what was that?”
Dr. Michaelson frowned. “Your husband, Anthony. We did everything we could, but… he didn’t make it. I’m so sorry. Due to the manner of death, the coroner’s called for a post-mortem, so we’re transferring the body to the morgue…”
Aziraphale tried to arrange his features into an appropriate expression of bereavement, but he was finding it quite difficult to mourn Crowley when the very demon himself was hopping up and down on the muted television, windmilling his arms, trying to get Aziraphale’s attention. The closed-captioning on the bottom of the screen was scrolling rapidly, reading: ** DONT LET THEM OPEN ME / UP YOU REMEMBER WHAT / HAPPENED IN PADUA RIGHT / THAT WAS NASTY / THEYD HAVE TO / QUARANTINE THIS PLACE **
Adding a second level of difficulty to the entire endeavor was the wild and sparkling sensation he’d felt run down his whole body when Dr. Michaelson had spoken the phrase Your husband, Anthony. It lingered in his fingertips and fizzed at the nape of his neck and tied his tongue in a knot. Husband.
But it had just been a joke, right? A stupid mistake. That’s what he’d called it. That’s all it was.
Aziraphale forced his attention back to the doctor long enough to nod his way through the signing of various forms. Once the man had given his final condolences and disappeared back through the door, Aziraphale hurried over to the television and began whispering to it.
“Crowley! What do we do? Because you’re quite right, we do not want a repeat of Padua.”
Some explanation: In 1538, Crowley had been the victim of a business deal gone wrong. They’d slit his throat in the night and sold his body to the university.
Thus far in Crowley’s modest career of inconvenient discorporation, his body had been buried, burned, drowned, and stoned, but nobody’d made the mistake of trying to cut it open yet. But then good old Andreas Vesalius had to go and attempt a dissection, in front of a full lecture hall. Key word being attempt.
It was messy. There was a lot of black ichor. There was a great deal of noxious dark smoke, billowing over the assembled crowd. Some students heard hissing in their ears; others felt slick shapes slithering over them in the darkness. And an enormous amount of screaming, naturally.
Crowley being otherwise occupied by that point with paperwork, Aziraphale had been forced to act as clean up crew. He had to assume that Crowley would do the same for him, after all,6 and he could certainly justify his extensive miracles in that specific case as falling well within the purview of thwarting demonic activity.
Crowley’s face filled the screen; his mouth moving silently as the captions unfurled on a delay. ** GET TO THE MORGUE / YOULL HAVE TO STEAL THE BODY **
“You can’t be serious!” Aziraphale hissed. “How would I even do that?”
** YOU ARE VERY CLEVER YOULL / COME UP WITH SOMETHING ANGEL **
On screen, Crowley gave him an encouraging thumbs up.
Aziraphale sighed, straightened his bow-tie, and went off to go kidnap a corpse.
“Got to give you credit,” Yasti said, “the marriage thing is a classic.”
He shot her a frown as he fiddled with the arcane controls of the kiosk, trying to get access to the hospital’s PA system. “Come on, make yourself useful, help me figure this bloody machine out. It’s still— ugh, fuck, it’s stuck to the TV in the waiting room, I think—”
She let out a shrill, obnoxious laugh. “No, seriously. What a move! Binding an angel to you like that, and he never even knew! Such a power-play, marking your territory— so dominant, ooh!”
“It’s— it’s not like that! It’s not some fucking fetish thing, you disgusting little—”
Yasti leaned over and pressed a button on the kiosk. The switch he’d been tugging at finally moved under his hands, and he swallowed his insult with a gulp.
“You’re welcome,” she said, smelling of silicone and metal.
Aziraphale had the kind of face that people just loved to give directions to, so he found his way down to the morgue quite quickly.
The hospital’s esteemed pathologist was inside, along with his assistant, and Aziraphale made himself inconspicuous against the corridor wall as he sent them both miraculously on a wild goose chase to the far end of the hospital.
Entering the room, Aziraphale stared unhappily at Crowley’s body, bare and mutilated underneath the white sheet that covered it.
“Oh, must I?” he sighed to himself.
The tannoy in the corner of the morgue crackled to life. “Yes, angel, you definitely must.”
Aziraphale let a smile spread freely across his face at the sound of Crowley’s voice. “Very well,” he said, emboldened now, and snapped his fingers.
Underneath the sheet, Crowley’s uninhabited corporation cleaned itself up. Lacerations and bruises melted away; bones knitted themselves back together. Another snap, and it was clothed in a close approximation of what it had been wearing before Crowley had been so rudely ejected from it.
Aziraphale lifted the sheet to admire his handiwork. To him, of course, it was simply an inanimate object that happened to bear a strong resemblance to his dearest friend. But if things were arranged properly, a human might very well look at it and see a nominally alive, if rather motionless, middle-aged man. The sunglasses certainly helped.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale mused aloud, “where might I find a wheelchair?”
“Now we’re cooking,” answered Crowley. “Is there a cupboard nearby?”
Working on that tip, Aziraphale retrieved a metal wheelchair from a supply cupboard in the hallway outside the morgue, then set it up next to the table.
“How the hell are you so heavy?” he grunted, heaving the body down and into the chair. “You’re all skin and bones! You never eat!”
“Full of sin,” crackled Crowley’s voice smugly from the tannoy.
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. He positioned the body in the most lifelike possible manner, and gave it one last long once over.
“I’m taking care of the CCTV from here, so don’t worry about that,” said Crowley. “Did you do the people from the street?”
“Aziraphale. The people from the street , that saw me get discorporated. They don’t need to go on thinking they saw someone die horribly, when they really didn’t. It’s not… well, er. It’s a waste of trauma, s’what it is.”
“Oh, dear. No, of course, you’re right,” said Aziraphale. “I didn’t even— I was a bit focused on—”
“Your performance, yeah. I understand. Just, you know. If you could.”
“Very well— okay. None of them will remember it tomorrow.”
“Good. Now get out of there!”
Gosh, there were so many people in a hospital— doctors and visitors and patients, all bustling around with purpose and intention. Aziraphale’s forehead began to slick with sweat as he navigated his way around the place, transporting the lifeless corporation in the chair ahead of him. A nurse nodded at him and he gave a nervous wave in return; then it was back up in the elevator next to a tired-looking porter, and down another long corridor alongside a pack of chattering medical students.
Finally, he was closing in on the exit, with no one the wiser. Nobody had yet approached him to say, My good sir, it seems readily apparent to me that you are toting a corpse through these hallowed halls, and we must take it upon ourselves to correct this inappropriate situation by any means necessary.
Then, of course, he heard a voice call out from behind him.
“Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!”
Aziraphale reluctantly slowed the chair to a stop and turned around. He was already wincing, thinking he was going to have to pull some unfriendly trick in order to get out of the situation. He’d been hoping to avoid that sort of thing at all costs— he was the nice one, after all.
But there, her face glowing with joy, was Jessy from the waiting room. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re still here, I just had to let you know— you were right! I don’t know how, but— they did it! The surgeon told me she’ll be walking again within the year!”
“That’s— that’s wonderful news,” said Aziraphale. He tried to direct all of his nerved away from his face and towards his hands, which were gripping the handles of the chair in white-knuckled tension. “I’m very happy to hear it.”
Jessy unfortunately chose that moment to turn her attention warmly towards the dead body in the chair. “And who might this be?”
“Oh, this is my… husband,” said Aziraphale, his heart pounding. “He’s, ah. He’s a bit indisposed.”
To Aziraphale’s horror, Jessy reached over and patted the corporation on the arm. “You’re a lucky man,” she said to it.
Oh, quite the opposite, Aziraphale couldn’t help but think grimly.
Crowley was sitting on the dirty floor, his back leaning up against the kiosk. Aziraphale had managed to heave the body into a black cab, so Crowley was now speaking to him over top of the Ed Sheeran playing from its sound system. They were, naturally, arguing.
“Well, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation if you’d been looking where you were going! ”
“Oh, this is my fault, is it? I was paying attention to you, you were about to say something! What were you about to say, anyway?”
“…. Let us just say it was the driver’s fault.”
Aziraphale’s uncharacteristic willingness to place blame on someone other than Crowley should have tipped Crowley off to the fact that he was currently being steered purposefully away from a certain area of the conversation. But over the phone, some nuances were lost, namely the telltale darting of Aziraphale’s eyes and the nervous fretting of his fingers at his shirtsleeves.
“Out of curiosity,” said Aziraphale’s voice in Crowley’s ear, “were you ever planning on telling me that in the eyes of the law, we’ve been husband and husband for five years?”
“Angel, can we not talk about this right now? You’re kind of in the middle of a sensitive operation there, and I’m not there to help you if you run into any Nazis. We need to focus. ”
“It’s 2019! There are no more Nazis!”
“Christ, you need to watch the news—”
Yasti leaned down and whispered, “Tell him you want to tie him up and touch his arse!”
“ Yasti!” Crowley hissed. “Fuck, no! This is not the time!” And you’re way off the mark, he didn’t say.
She raised an eyebrow at him, and he immediately wondered if he had protested too much.
“Who is that?” said Aziraphale suspiciously. “Is there someone there with you?”
“Nobody. It’s nobody!” Somehow, Crowley was far more embarrassed at the thought of Aziraphale knowing he was willingly associating with another demon than he was at the whole marriage thing.
“Mm. Crowley,” hummed Aziraphale’s voice through the handset.
“Does this make me a widower?”
“I know I’ve got a black armband around the shop somewhere. Perhaps a veil?”
“Please, you really—”
“This corporation here wouldn't miss a few locks of hair, would it? I suppose I could have a mourning brooch done up...”
And look, here was the thing: Crowley was stuck in Hell without a body, and it was probable he’d have to endure unthinkable indignities in the very near future in his quest to regain access to Earth. But right at that moment, he was smiling all the same, because he had an angel’s voice in his ear, being utterly stupid and stupidly charming, and as long as he had that, he could pretend things were going to be alright.
“Where the hell could it have gone!” Mr. Kovensky moaned frantically, sliding open drawer after drawer in the hospital morgue.
“Back to Hell?” suggested Cyn. “That’s where he’s from, right?” She’d taken up a perch on one of the unoccupied autopsy tables and was, once again, kicking her legs back and forth. She wished she had an iPhone. Jenny and Kera from school had iPhones, and they could watch TikTok wherever they wanted.
“No, love,” said Mr. Kovensky, “it doesn’t work like that, only the demon itself is sent back to hell, not the body, the book said—”
“Maybe the book got it wrong,” said Cyn.
Mr. Kovensky ran a hand through his thinning hair, shaking his head in panic. “It can’t have done. There’s— there must be something going on, something else going on…”
Cyn may not have held her father’s pastimes in very high esteem, but she did love him, and she hated to see him so distressed. He had a lot riding on this acquisition, or so he’d told her. She now wondered if that included money. Money that could, perhaps, go towards the purchase of an iPhone or an iPhone-adjacent device.
With all the infallibility of pre-teen logic, she decided that she’d tell him all about the demon’s friend in the morning.
“Look, Crowley! You’ve got mail!” Yasti giggled.
“Ah, fuck,” groaned Crowley, taking a good long look at the massive stack of paper that had appeared on his desk sometime during their expedition to the kiosk.
What he really wanted to do was go to bed. Of course, there was no time down in Hell other than “too late,” but at the moment he was still running on GMT like a cartoon coyote treading the thin air five feet out from the cliff edge, and it was past his bedtime.
He didn’t have a bed down here, though, and more importantly, he didn’t have a body. He couldn’t sleep without a body. He couldn’t get drunk, either. Shit.
He sat down in the half-broken desk chair. It was very uncomfortable, and made him miss his own office throne and Aziraphale’s back room sofa in equal, voluminous measures.
“Let me help you,” said Yasti.
“I have been discorporated before, you know,” he shot back, leafing through the mound of mandatory paper. Had Form D-889 always had this many pages? “Believe me, I know what I’m doing.”
Yasti smiled that awful smile again. Did she have to do that? “Oh, I didn’t mean with the paperwork.”
“You didn’t seem to respond well to my suggestion earlier,” she said, digging something thick and puke-green out from the mess of her desk, “but I know there’s something for everyone. Even you. I’m sure I can find it somewhere in here. I’m very good at taking notes, you know.”
The object was a large notebook. The Book Of Kinks And Fetishes And Sex Stuff By The Demon Yasti was scrawled on the cover in spidery black handwriting.
“Oh, this is hell.”
“Well, yeah,” said Yasti. “That’s where we are. Now, how do you feel about erotic asphyxiation?”
It was going to be a long, long night.
1 A reviewer in attendance had described it as “A foolish offenfe to the Art of Tragedie,” but Crowley had assured Aziraphale, with great fervor, that the reviewer did not know of what he spoke, and sure enough, Aziraphale never saw the man’s name in print again. [^]
2 The song was California Gurls by Katy Perry, but there existed no circumstances, however extenuating, in which Aziraphale would have been able to identify this.[^]
3 If pressed, he would stand by this. “I’m the one who stopped time!” he’d be the first to tell you. “It really took it out of me, but if I’d not done it, who knows how it all would’ve ended up!” [^]
4 He’d first caught her eye because she recognized him from a very memorable birthday party she’d attended last year. 5
5 Warlock wasn’t her friend, exactly, but exceedingly normal children had to stick together. Or rather, they did stick together, sort of automatically, like dull brown Cheerios floating together in milk due to natural surface tension. [^]
6 What happens if you cut an angel’s body open, you might be asking— but trust me. You really, really don’t want to know. [^]
Chapter 2: there was an attempt
As it turned out, being a widower, and being Crowley’s widower specifically, mostly just involved espionage and subterfuge of various degrees of complexity.
“It’s just that marriage is a sacred pact, you must understand,” said Aziraphale from atop his shelving ladder, “and I find it quite inappropriate, perhaps even offensive to the spirit of its sanctified nature, that you would treat it as a simple jape, a mere legal building block that composes but one part of your elaborate pretense of humanity. Do you see, Crowley?”
There was silence in the bookshop. Aziraphale stared down at the dead body on his sofa. It failed utterly to acknowledge his presence, or his point of view.
He had to admit, the lifeless corporation really was a poor substitute for the real thing. It didn’t even talk back! No grunts of objection, no scowls of opprobrium. Not even a sneer, corners of the mouth curling up in a way that read of obligatory yet half-hearted disapproval.
Aziraphale leaned his head against the ladder and sighed. With no mocking rejoinders issuing forth, he felt brave enough to continue.
“It saddens me, really,” said the angel to the corpse, “that a ceremony which I would love nothing more than to experience alongside you, to the deepest and fullest of its eternal meaning, is something you’d wave away as— as simple mischief. ”
He began to descend the ladder. “Oh, but listen to me. I’m just a mawkish old silly. And you’re not one for commitment, for something so unchanging. I know, my dear. I know.”
Sitting down on the sofa next to the corporation, he patted its shoulder sadly. He’d preserved it with a quick miracle once he’d lugged it back inside the shop, but the resulting scent of vague angelic nothing that now hung about it was nowhere close to the sharp-edged, musky warmth of Crowley’s smell that Aziraphale craved.
“I miss you,” he said. “Shameful, I know. It’s been hardly twenty-four hours! I remember we’d go hundreds of years without seeing each other, and I’d be none the worse for wear. Oh, Crowley, what’s happened to me?”
The initial indignity of Crowley’s rude removal had faded by now, a full day later, to be replaced by a kind of grinding dissatisfaction at his ongoing absence. It was the kind of feeling Aziraphale would have never allowed to gain purchase in the days prior to the averted Apocalypse, when the scaffolding that supported his loyalty to Heaven had ostensibly still stood, if rather more rickety and unstable than it ought to have been. But that shielding had all been dashed to pieces in the aftermath of his subsequent retreat to Their Own Side, leaving his heart unguarded and vulnerable, and so here he was, missing a demon.
“Well, I must be off,” he told the dead body, rising from the sofa. “It’s that day of the week, as I’m sure you know. I’ll be back later— don’t you touch anything while I’m out!”
“Round and round and round I go… where I stop… only Lucifer knows….”
“You’re gonna make yourself sick,” said Yasti, reappearing in the doorway of the dark office.
“That’s the goal.”
She held up the fresh stack of 84-Q’s she’d been assigned. “Don’t you have paperwork to be doing?”
Crowley kicked out a leg, halting the counterclockwise spin of his half-broken desk chair. The nausea was immediate but he knew very well he couldn’t actually vomit without a body, so he just let it wash over him in a dull, self-pitying wave.
“I did finish it,” he said. “While you were out meeting with your supervisor. S’done. All turned in.”
“No way. Already?” Yasti situated herself back into her cubicle, and within seconds he could hear her pen uncapped and already scratching away at the new pile of paperwork. Crowley disliked being reminded of how simperingly diligent other demons were. It made all the commendations he’d received for things he’d not lifted a finger in contribution to all the more hatefully useless in retrospect.
“Yes way, already. I told you, I’m getting out of here as fast as hu— as demonically possible. I’m meant to be seeing Fleabag live on the West End in a week’s time, do you know how difficult those tickets were to get hold of?”
From behind the partition came a snort of disbelief. “Yeah, right,” Yasti said, “not gonna happen. Listen, my hearing date for a new body is on Thursday, and that’s only after twelve months’ wait. You’ll be here for ages and ages and ages. Your prick will shrivel up and fall off, it’ll miss that angel’s little—”
“ Please be quiet,” Crowley groaned, leaning against the cubicle wall.
It’s not that he wanted to be there, stuck in that dirty little office, with only a perverted insectile colleague for company. But any time spent out and about in the sprawling, congested labyrinth of Hell naturally came with the danger of being spotted by some of the place’s antagonistic higher-ups. He was fairly sure that none of his more powerful enemies were currently aware of his sequestration, and if he could be in and out of there without Beelzebub or her cronies being any the wiser, it would save him a lot of trouble.
So Yasti it was, and Yasti it would have to be.
“We had a wager on, you know,” said Crowley mournfully. “The angel and I. Over how I’d get discorporated next. He said I’d get shot. I had my money on me getting pushed onto the Underground tracks.”
“And what would you have got, if you won?” came Yasti’s inevitable query. She rolled out on her own chair around to Crowley’s area, presumably so she had a better view of the look on his face as she toyed with him. “Would he’ve had to... let you suck him off in public? Voyeurism, is that your thing?”
“I hate you,” Crowley growled. “He was going to have to buy me dinner! ”
“Dinner? Is that a metaphor for something?”
“Fucking hell, it’s— it’s not all about sex!”
“But you want to fuck him, you do, yeah? Come on, give me something to work with here!"
Crowley’s mouth was drier than a Great Courses lecture on supply-side economics. “I can’t— I’m not discussing this with you! Satan almighty, I need to get out of here...”
“I will figure you out, Crowley,” Yasti threatened, “or I’m not the Infernal Times bestselling author of 666 Ways To Make An Effort! ”
Crowley could not bear to dignify that with a response. He instead turned away, sprawled himself face-first out on his desk, and found his eyes level with that musty old calendar, untouched for decades.
August 1990… August 1990… Hold on. Something about that month…. What was it?
He sifted back through the capacious archives of his memory. Six thousand years and things tended to get a bit jumbled up; he had to approach his destination sort of sideways, wandering through a trip to Mexico City (no, that was ‘94), Cats on Broadway (‘82, uuughh), and the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery at Cape Canaveral in ‘88 before, finally— Eureka.
Sometime in the latter third of August ‘90, he’d gone with Aziraphale to see Ghost at the Leicester Square Odeon. They’d had a good laugh about the inaccuracy of the getting-dragged-to-hell scenes1 and Crowley had taken careful mental notes on Patrick Swayze’s stylishly piratical outfit.
By the end of the film Aziraphale was sat there with eyes shining, brought to tears by Sam’s touching final embrace with Molly. Crowley, in the interests of maintaining his personal brand, said a silent thank you to his shades for shielding the current state of his eyes, and had loudly announced that “Sam Wheat” was a stupid name and that the movie had been utter garbage.
Anyway, the point was, the point was— he had an idea.
Crowley got up and headed for the door. “BRB,” he muttered to Yasti.
“Are you off to have a wank? Can I come watch?”
“If you try to follow me, I’ll discorporate you,” Crowley said automatically on his way out.
“I’m already discorporated, you idiot!” she called after him, but to her credit, she did not get out of her seat.
Kovensky & Sons Funeral Home had stood in Kensington for over fifty years. To the everyday customer, the well-regarded mortuary was known for reasonably-priced funerals and competent cremation.
But in a small, neatly-kept workshop off to the side of the morgue, a separate but not wholly unrelated business had been running in parallel for that half-century. For the discerning Londoner, there was no better place to go for a custom curse or a high-end haunting than Kovensky & Sons.
Dennis Kovensky had taken on the business from his mother about a decade ago, after her death. Estelle Kovensky had been a committed practitioner of black magic, a severe, gray-haired woman with a voracious appetite for all things necromantic, cabalistic, and diabolical. She’d built up a network of loyal patrons across the city, and trained her eager son up in the ways of the dark arts.2
Mr. Kovensky, for his part, upon taking over, had refined Estelle’s expansive pan-occultism into something a little bit more straightforwardly marketable in the modern age. He was a craftsman, specializing specifically in custom-created magical objects. As a mortician, he had easy access to the myriad types of human remains that were required for the most arcane rites, and his library of dark texts, built upon his mother’s already-impressive collection, was the envy of Satanic scholars the city over.
It was good work. Honest work. It certainly earned him twice over what the funeral business did, with about half the effort. But no matter how many dazzling displays of dark power he put on, his daughter just refused to take to it.
It was all of those apps and algorithms, he just knew it was. There was no conjuration or ceremony that could possibly be expected to compete with Minecraft. He was ashamed, at times, of how relieved he was that his mother wasn’t alive to see it.
Currently, young Cynthia was once again stunning him with her lack of commitment to the family business. How could she have kept this information from him since yesterday?
“Darling, are you sure it was talking to him?”
“Positive, Daddy. He was smiling at him, right before you hit him.”
Cyn stared at her father, wondering if she was going to be rewarded at all for this generous disclosure.
Instead, he pulled out a map of London and unrolled it across the surface of one of the morgue tables. It was covered in scribbles and circles and lines in red ink. She’d seen him working on this map late at night in his office over the past few weeks, effortfully triangulating the demon’s whereabouts.
“I was commissioned to create a very unique artifact,” he explained, “and the final component required was the heart of a demon. Artifacts like this are rare because it’s nearly impossible to locate a demon using traditional methods.”
Cyn wrinkled her nose. Everything her father did was a traditional method . “So... how’d you even find him, then?”
“I got lucky. I wouldn’t have even accepted the job if I hadn’t already been hot on the trail. This demon… something changed recently. Something was affecting the type of protections it usually maintained. It was almost like it’d… given up on being a demon? I don’t know, but whatever it was, it meant it was easier than it should’ve been to track it down. And it had been spending a lot of time in Soho.”
Cyn picked at her stubby fingernails. She wished she could get cool sharp nails like Billie Eilish had. Maybe if she convinced her dad they were somehow demonic or Satanic…
“That man you saw, he might have just gotten to the demon before me, bound it somehow….” Mr. Kovensky continued. “Christ, that’s just what I need, I have this market cornered and I will not have my supply chain interrupted by some upstart wannabe Faust!” He rubbed at his temples. “Or… or maybe it bound him to itself, some kind of human slave… Either way, we’ve got to go back to that street corner. Ask around about that man.”
“And let me guess,” said Cyn with a roll of her eyes, “you need me to come along, because it’ll be good experience.”
Visions of a parallel universe in which his daughter was an enthusiastic participant in his endeavors swam before his eyes, nearly bringing him to frustrated tears.
How was he supposed to know, how difficult it was to ensure the survival of an occult dynasty when the sole heir was far more concerned with Instagram than incantations? Surely, his mother never had to put up with this kind of lip from him. No, he’d had the Key Of Solomon memorized back-to-front before he even entered secondary school!
And this was her last real summer holidays before academics would start to take over her spare time. She was a smart child, and the teachers were pressuring her to start adding all those extracurriculars and honors classes… It was his last chance. If he didn’t get her on board now, Kovensky & Sons was doomed. Satan preserve him, she could end up a doctor or a lawyer or a project manager.
“Yes,” he said firmly. “You’re coming with. It will be fun,” he said. It was less of a promise and more of a threat. She stuck her tongue out at him.
Crowley did not run down corridors. He did not run at all, if he could help it. When he tried, it was like a snake trying to run, which is to say, it resembled a crime against nature.
But merely thinking about getting in touch with Aziraphale was enough to upgrade his habitual saunter to a pace that could be described, generously, as “speedy.”
Crowley wished he could’ve been sitting at the kiosk all morning long, keeping the angel company through his gramophone or his radio as he puttered about the shop, assembling book displays according to some arcane taxonomy incomprehensible to anyone but himself.
But of course, Aziraphale was his own person, and had always been perfectly independent and self-sufficient. Crowley already thought he’d been pushing it these last few months, with all the time he’d been spending hanging about, being an annoyance— surely. Aziraphale was relieved to finally have some time alone.
Reaching the kiosk, Crowley cycled through every audio device in the bookshop, but Aziraphale didn’t answer. He tried the PA system at the Tesco down the block from the shop, and the CCTV in the bakery across the street, with no luck.
Where could Aziraphale be? Crowley tried to shuffle through the known permutations of the angel’s schedule in his mind. He knew where he himself would be on a Tuesday afternoon, certainly, he’d be tending to his plants, as he did at that time every week, but—
His heart leapt to his throat as he dialed the kiosk into the television back home at his flat. The view looked from the far wall of the office, out to where he could see the plants standing tall and lush in their dedicated atrium.
“Aziraphale?” he called tentatively.
“I’m over here, my dear!” Aziraphale’s bright head popped out from amidst the greenery, just a tiny square inch of blonde on the kiosk’s smudged glass.
Crowley’s heart, still in his throat, began to pound wildly, choking him with embarrassing exuberance. He eked out a few semantically-empty syllables before managing, “Are you... watering my plants?”
“Sorry for imposing,” called Aziraphale, “I just thought it’d be such a shame if they suffered just because you happen to be, er, incapacitated. Your monstera was very happy to see me, I told her she was looking beautiful and she practically blushed.”
Crowley made a mental note to reprimand Aziraphale for complimenting his plants later; he had more pressing matters at the current moment.
“Angel, listen, listen— I just had an idea— I’ll be Patrick Swayze!”
“Is that a politician?”
“No, no— Ghost, d’you remember, the film? We saw it together! Recently! Well, in the 90s— Patrick Swayze, his unfinished business keeping him on Earth, that’s me! All the paperwork’s been submitted, so there’s no reason I’ve got to hang around down here twiddling my thumbs, when I could zoom right back up to—” he stopped himself short of saying to you “—to London!”
“Crowley,” said Aziraphale slowly, “if you wanted to frame this plan in familiar terms, you could have referred to a much more recent incident than a film I haven’t thought about in decades.”
“Oh. Er. Right.”
Crowley didn’t like to think about Aziraphale getting discorporated. He didn’t like to think about the bookshop fire, or what came after. When amusing himself with memories of the angel’s temporary inhabitation of Madame Tracy, his mind tended to zoom right over the preceding hours in the habitual manner of an impatient millennial using the 10-second skip button to bypass a Squarespace ad in their favorite podcast.
“Anyway,” Aziraphale went on, “As I recall, you didn’t even like that film.”
“That’s not the point!” said Crowley. “Look, you’ve got the corporation on hand, so I just need to get into the transport room, go back up as a ghost, and then re-possess it , while I wait for my hearing date. Not the most elegant solution, but simple as anything, and we’ll be able to make it to Fleabag! ”
“But… one can’t possess a dead body, can one?” Aziraphale mused.
“No, but that’s where you come in,” said Crowley, who’d thought this out. “There’s a book, the Codex Catabascum—”
Aziraphale’s face of shocked outrage was legible even through the heavy pixellation of the kiosk screen. “ Crowley! You could hardly expect me to have access to such a volume, of all people— one of the most dangerous, demonic books of all time— I’d never —!”
“Aziraphale, I own it.”
The angel’s head whipped around in fear, looking about him as though expecting the book to come creeping in down the corridor, brandishing a knife dripping with blood.
“Not there,” said Crowley, “it’s in storage , I— I’ve got a little unit, out in North Harrow. I need you to go get it, and then take it back to the shop and use it to perform a reanimation ritual on the corporation.”
It was a familiar dance; Crowley drew himself up and readied himself for an intensive round of temptation.
“Come on, it’s just a few incantations!” he interjected. “It won’t hurt you, and it’s not like Heaven’s paying attention, I promise, you’ll be fine—”
“Alright, alright, Crowley, calm down,” said Aziraphale. “No need to throw one of your hissy fits, I’ll do it.” He folded his arms, and looked up attentively, as though awaiting further instructions.
Crowley blinked, staring at the angel on the kiosk screen. That hadn’t taken nearly as much coaxing as he’d expected it to.
Aziraphale cleared his throat. “This storage unit, then— where do you keep the key?”
Ah. There it was. “Well,” Crowley said, “about that…”
As it turned out, being a widower, and being Crowley’s widower specifically, mostly just involved espionage and subterfuge of various degrees of complexity.
Aziraphale affixed the sleek Bluetooth earpiece he’d found in one of Crowley’s desk drawers with some difficulty to his left ear, and then tapped it as instructed. “Alright, it’s on,” he said. “I must look very stupid. Do I look stupid?”
Crowley’s face disappeared from the television in the corner, and then his voice was coming through the earpiece as if he were standing right next to Aziraphale.
“Just a bit, you do, yeah. Can you hear me alright?”
“Oh, yes!” said Aziraphale excitedly. “Ten-four, and all that. So, what’s the plan?”
“Look, I know how ridiculous it is,” said Crowley, “but you’ll need to, ah. Pretend to be my husband. In order to get in.”
But it’s not ridiculous at all, thought Aziraphale, it’s very nearly all I’ve wanted since that night with the books, when you walked down the aisle towards me… He shook away the thought as Crowley’s voice in his ear led him out of the flat and guided him off to his destination.
Twenty minutes later, the building loomed up as Aziraphale exited the cab. This was no ordinary self-storage lockup, no, this was a monolithic bulwark of physical security, a great gray single-serving megablock of an edifice devoted to protecting the valuables of London’s hyperrich.
Crowley, never one to do things by halves that he could do by doubles, had taken a room on the same floor that housed Victoria Beckham’s shoe archive and Brian Eno’s collection of master tapes.
“Name?” asked the security guard at the front desk, when Aziraphale nervously approached.
“Ezra Fell,” said Aziraphale. “My husband is— was a client here. He is, er, recently deceased. So I’m afraid he isn’t able to come round to— um—”
“Unlock the biometrics,” Crowley prompted.
“—to unlock the biometrics,” Aziraphale repeated.
“Sorry to hear it, sir,” said the guard, not sounding sorry at all. “Can I see some ID?”
Aziraphale handed over his human ID and the guard dutifully pecked at her keyboard, squinting at her screen. “Yes, there you are, Crowley, Anthony J, husband of… I’ll mark the profile deceased. Do you plan to close out the account?”
“No! Don’t close it!” hissed Crowley.
“Not at the moment, no,” said Aziraphale politely. “I just need to retrieve some… sentimental items, you see.”
“Mm. Well, there are some security questions,” she said dryly. “It’s just protocol, you understand, but if you can’t answer them, I’m afraid I can’t let you in.”
“No problemo,” said Aziraphale brightly. “Bring it on!”
“Oh no,” said Crowley.
“First one…. where did you meet your spouse?”
Before Crowley could stutter out the answer for Aziraphale’s benefit, the angel had already spoken: “The Garden,” he said, with confidence.
“That’s right... Next one. What was your— well, his, I suppose— childhood nickname?”
Again, Aziraphale beat him to it. “That’ll be Crawly.”
“Yup. Okay, just one more. What’s his favorite place on Earth?”
Oh. Aziraphale couldn’t say he knew the answer to this one, not off the top of his head. The question implied a place that currently existed, so not the Garden again… perhaps his flat? New York, Aziraphale knew he loved New York, or possibly that little wine bar in Florence, or—
“The bookshop,” said Crowley in his ear, sounding lock-jawed and mortified.
“The bookshop,” repeated Aziraphale to the guard, “or it might say A.Z. Fell and—"
“Alright, yes, that’s the one,” said the guard, who was giving Aziraphale the strangest look. It might have been due to the huge smile that was suddenly occupying most of his face’s real estate. “I can take you up now, sir, if you’ll just come with me.”
The guard took him into a large freight elevator and up to the third floor, then down the hall, stopping eventually in front of a heavy iron door. She typed in a passcode, and the door slid open, revealing darkness beyond.
As Aziraphale stepped inside, bright lights flicked on overhead, and he gasped, his hand fluttering to his heart.
It was more of a vault than a room, really, with high ceilings and gray concrete-slab floors and walls, but that was where the resemblance to Crowley’s flat started and ended.
“Oh, Crowley,” breathed Aziraphale, awestruck. “I never knew—”
“ Don’t,” growled Crowley, but Aziraphale could hardly contain himself. He walked forward into the crowded room as if in a trance, his eyes drawn to the nearest object. A large Grecian amphora, 6th century BC if Aziraphale’s eyes didn’t deceive him (and they never did), depicting a man that could only be Crowley, lounging amongst grapevines, playing a lyre.
“Crowley, why on Earth have you been keeping this all here? It’s not as if you’re full up back at yours! ”
In his ear, Crowley defensively muttered something about minimalism , but Aziraphale was hardly paying attention. Looking out into the room, he could see paintings, stacked dozens deep against the walls, some gilt-framed and some laid bare on their wooden stretchers. Sculptures stood on plinths and platforms, surrounded by furniture from centuries past— an ornate writing desk, a jacquard armchair, a beautiful stone table.
Off to the side, a long metal rack held a series of clear garment bags, all carefully enclosing outfits that sent flutters of nostalgic recognition through Aziraphale. Even he didn’t keep clothes around for that long, not for centuries, preserving them as Crowley must have done using minor miracles to keep the 12th-century monk’s robes and 16th-century doublets pristine.
There were rows of filing cabinets, all neatly labeled. Aziraphale could only guess that they held a best-of of Crowley’s correspondence, going back at least a millennia. And then— oh, the books. Shelves of them, cases of them, crates of them lining the walls, carefully stacked and organized, their spines straight and shining.
It was a veritable Wunderkammer, a gloriously appointed museum, a shrine to Crowley’s past in marble and mahogany. Aziraphale felt a surge of privilege wash over him as he walked through the aisles of the archive, as though he was navigating his way deep inside Crowley’s very soul. When he’d stepped into Crowley’s flat for the first time, that night after the showdown at Tadfield, he’d taken the sleek emptiness of the place at face value— but he’d never been more pleased to be proven wrong.
“Please don’t touch anything,” said Crowley territorially, “it’s all organized very particularly—”
“I wouldn’t dare, my dear,” said Aziraphale kindly, even though his fingers itched at that very moment to brush themselves along the metal frame of the filing cabinets, open them up and then dig deep inside. He’d not saved any of his letters from Crowley, over the years— it was simply too dangerous to keep them around. But Crowley had always been freer from those kinds of qualms, and a fervent hope was stirring inside Aziraphale that if he could just take a look, he’d see his own words speaking back to him, out of the past.
“The Codex Catabascum is in one of the boxes in the back, should be, ah, the far right corner. Necromancy is in with the other demonic texts.”
Aziraphale obediently began to meander over in that direction, taking comfort in the fact that Crowley couldn’t see him taking his sweet time lingering over every square meter of memorabilia.
“Listen,” said Crowley, “the queue for the Earth transport room is always ridiculous, so if I want to make it up there by the time you have the corporation ready for me I’d better be off.”
“Alright,” said Aziraphale distantly. He was admiring a beautiful golden pendant hanging around the neck of a bronze bust; the sculpture was of Crowley, as Aziraphale remembered him around 1230, and the necklace was one he recalled the demon as being fond of in Tenochtitlan, a few hundred years later.
“Just lock up when you leave, angel— and don’t touch anything!”
With that, the line went silent. Aziraphale pocketed the earpiece and turned his attention to the books. As directed, he found the most wicked and cursed books in the far right corner of the room.
“ The Bylaws of Hell, 894th Edition… ooh… The Bone Turner’s Tale… fascinating… Satanic Beasts A to Z… my, my…”
And then, somehow, half an hour had passed, and Aziraphale was looking fretfully around him at the piles of books that had accumulated in his vicinity. These were the sorts of books he’d always shied away from, for reasons of propriety, but now, with Heaven more or less off his case, he realized that there was nothing stopping him from filling up the gap in his collection.
He’d found the Codex Catabascum easily enough but, despite Crowley’s admonishments, he simply couldn’t help himself from digging further into the collection. And now, with a surge of covetousness, he was thinking, it’d rather be a waste of a trip to only return back to the shop with just the one book, wouldn’t it…
“Oh, I’m sure he won’t mind if I just take the whole box, would he?” Aziraphale murmured.
Humming happily to himself, he deposited the books back into the box and, with a gentle touch, miracled it to be light enough to carry with ease.
At the door, he paused and gave the vault one last, long glance. He would have spent hours here, if he could have, inside the very veins of Crowley’s life.
Something tugged at his mind— the third security question. He wondered if this was how Crowley felt, every time he stepped into the bookshop.
Aziraphale turned the lights off when he left, but he closed his eyes and imagined himself still inside the whole way home.
“Oh, surely that’ll be Mr. Fell you’re looking for,” said the barista, after Cyn described the man she’d seen talking to the demon. “He runs the old bookshop, right across the street.” The barista frowned. “Although,” they continued, “he doesn’t actually open it up very often. Like today— middle of a summer Tuesday, tourists everywhere, and it’s closed!”
Mr. Kovensky gave Cyn a meaningful look, which she parsed as: closed means he’s not there means we’re about to break in. She rolled her eyes back at him.
“Thank you so much,” Mr. Kovensky told the barista. “We’ll just go and... pay him a visit.”
He must have come off more transparently sinister than he intended, because the barista’s eyes narrowed. “Hold on, are you police or something?” they asked. “Mr. Fell’s no criminal, he’s just the loveliest man, I can promise you that—”
“No, no,” demurred Mr. Kovensky, “he’s just, ah. In possession of something of mine, that’s all.”
“Right,” said the barista, looking over at Cyn. “Didn’t think coppers had a Bring Your Kid To Work Day, anyway.”
“I’m not a kid,” said Cyn, as her father led her out of the cafe. “I’m twelve!”
The queue for the transport room, like most queues in Hell, was impossibly long and disorganized.
Crowley stood, impatient. His foot tapping against the sticky floor may have been incorporeal, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still a disgusting sensation.
He’d been waiting for what seemed like forever. Demons kept trying to skip ahead, of course, because they were demons, but Crowley’s reputation from the trial was a benefit in this situation— all he needed to do was give them a good glare and they’d scramble, terrified, back to their place.
Finally, he was closing in on the front. He could see, through the door the queue fed into, the great glowing globe of the Earth that, with a touch, would transport him back to London, back to the bookshop, where surely by now Aziraphale had accomplished the necessary conjurations to prepare his corporation for re-occupation.
He wasn’t really looking forward to occupying a dead body, all things told; he’d heard from demons who’d done it before that it was mildly unpleasant at best and legitimately painful at worst. But as uncomfortable as it might be, he really couldn’t imagine it being worse than staying down in Hell for a single second longer. The place was already starting to creep into his bones; his current disembodiment had made him even more vulnerable than usual to the miasmatic darkness that suffused the environment. He was itchy and irritable and he wanted a nice glass of wine and he wanted Aziraphale to…. well, never mind that.
Three demons ahead of him in line…. only two demons ahead of him now…
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the prodigal slime. Just couldn’t stay away, could you?”
Oh, no. Oh, fuck no. He would know that greasy voice anywhere.
Stay cool, stay cool, he’s scared of you, just like the rest of them, isn’t he? Crowley told himself, before coaching his face into a louche, unaffected smirk and turning around.
“Heyyyyy, Hastur,” he said. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“No, I don’t think I do,” said Hastur, sneering pityingly. “Fancy meeting you, that is.”
“Then you could just walk away,” suggested Crowley, with an illustrative wave of his hand.
“Not. Gonna. Happen,” said Hastur, stepping forward with each word until he was right up in Crowley’s face. His breath stank of… well. Poo.
“If you’re headed back to Earth,” Crowley said, motioning to the queue, “there’s a line, you know, and the end’s over there.”
“Oh, no,” leered Hastur, “that’s not why I’m here.”
Crowley could tell Hastur really wanted him to ask why he was there, which he absolutely refused to do, so finally Hastur cleared his throat and said, “Shax is on transport duty this century, you remember Shax, don’t you? Well, I’m just stopping by to order him to not let you in, under any circumstances.”
“How unsporting of you.”
“I’m putting you on the no-fly list,” emphasized Hastur. “You’re not getting back up to Earth, no way, no how. Not without a body.”
“Okay,” said Crowley, trying to regain control of the situation, “well, you know what, my paperwork’s all turned in, so I’ll be getting a new body soon enough, anyway—”
Hastur’s laugh was somewhere between the sound of roadkill expiring violently on the side of the road and a kitchen knife in a garbage disposal.
“About that,” he said, “I’ve already spoken to Amy,3 she’s running the Body Board now. Took her up on a favor she owed me from a few centuries back, and she agreed to keep your application at the bottom of the stack. Permanently.”
“I— wh—” Crowley stuttered, searching for words but eventually landing on a silent death-glare. Finally, he threw his hands up. “Nope, not doing this right now. Not gonna stand here talking to you. Just can’t be bothered.”
“Say hi to Yasti for me,” said Hastur as Crowley moved to turn away.
“You— you know Yasti?” he said, stopping in his tracks. The ceiling of the corridor was low, but Crowley suddenly felt like he was floating out of his body, hundreds of feet in the air.
Hastur’s smile was cold enough to bring him back down to Earth. Well, down to Hell. Which was much farther to fall.
“I’m her supervisor. See, she’s the one who told me you were back down here, conveniently discorporated. And I thought, isn’t that nice? A bit of payback, after what you did to me in that car of yours, and it would be a real shame if you managed to slither out of it, like at your trial.” He spat out the word trial like it was a dirty word, and Crowley suddenly remembered Aziraphale telling him how Hastur had been the one to advocate continued punishment, before being overruled by Beelzebub.
If Crowley opened his mouth now he knew he’d say something really stupid, so instead he satisfied himself with flipping Hastur two middle fingers before storming, utterly incensed, back to his office.
“Your supervisor is Hastur???” he roared, as he entered the dim little room.
Yasti didn’t even look up from her paperwork. “I would’ve told you,” she said, “but you literally never asked.”
“Hell’s a big place!” he groaned. “I mean, what are the chances?”
“Million to one, ain’t it?”
“But why? Why did you even have to tell him? I had a whole plan, and now it’s ruined—”
“Why? Why?” Yasti spun around on her chair now to face Crowley. “Cause I’m a demon, for fuck’s sake! Satan in Hell, you have really gone native like everyone said! And besides,” she continued, her iridescent green nails glimmering under the fluorescent light as she gesticulated, “Hastur was so pleased with me for telling him about you that he gave me a promotion!”
Oh, of course it was all about office politics. At the end of the day, wasn’t everything? Even Armageddon!
Crowley sat down angrily and pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes. He missed his shades; it would've been so much more satisfying if he could've thrown them down onto the desk first.
Right now, Aziraphale was probably drawing up the sigils for the resurrection ritual, salivating over every beautifully illuminated page of the Codex Catabascum. Crowley couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell him that it wasn’t going to work, that he’d been barred indefinitely from returning to Earth.
What had even been the point of that whole humiliating exercise, then, guiding Aziraphale inside of his vault, letting the angel see in living color how much of a damned sentimental loser Crowley was? It couldn’t have all been for nothing.
He closed his eyes and visualized those Fleabag tickets, sitting in an envelope on Aziraphale’s desk. I can figure this out, he thought insistently. I will figure this out.
The first thing Aziraphale noticed when he returned to the shop was the big black car parked across the street by the cafe. It was familiar in an uncomfortable way, though he couldn’t quite place it at first.
The second thing he noticed was that the door to the shop, which had certainly been locked when he’d left earlier in the day, was now slightly ajar.
He pushed open the door cautiously, box of books balanced against his hip, stepped inside, and flicked on the light.
Immediately, he was witness to a bizarre sight: a middle-aged man and a young girl were intently carrying Crowley’s corporation across the floor, held horizontally like a piece of goth plywood.
The box fell to the ground with a thump, books scattering all over the floor by the entrance, as Aziraphale shouted, “Sir and madame! Unhand that corpse at once!”
The girl immediately let go of the body’s feet and scrambled away from the scene, leaving the man staggering under the weight of its upper torso.
“Look, I’m doing you a favor, getting this out of here,” panted the man, whose bald pate was glistening with exertion. “This demon is dangerous, sir, we need to remove it for your safety, trust me—”
“That demon is my husband!” thundered Aziraphale, with righteous fury.
The intruder’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “I’m sorry, what? Is that some kind of joke? Demons don’t have husbands!”
Aziraphale, already ashamed on his own behalf for the instinctive outburst, was further thrown off by this retort. I suppose you’re right, they don’t, he thought glumly. Oh, I’m such a fool.
But he put on a brave face and puffed out his chest and said, “Well— well, this one does!”
The man shook his head. “Mr. Fell, I’m a professional, I can see what’s going on here. This demon bound you to it even in death, and now if we take this body away it’ll drain your life force quick as anything. Such a sorry state to be in.” Still holding an arm under the corporation’s shoulder, he reached his other hand into his pocket and pulled out a dark red amulet hanging from a bronze chain.
“Cynthia, get back here!” called the man towards the girl who Aziraphale assumed to be his daughter, who’d slipped behind Aziraphale and had been examining the books that lay on the ground. She walked with what seemed like passionate reluctance back towards the body, where her father stretched out the amulet to her, and she grabbed hold of the chain.
“The Seventh Unbinding, Cyn, say it with me, let’s help get this fellow free from the clutches of this terrible monster—” And then the man began to chant, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose, and Cyn chanted along, though she did not exactly seem to be giving it her all.
“Oh, really, now. I’ll not be having any of that in here,” said Aziraphale, and with an impatient snap of his fingers the amulet shattered and fell to the ground. The man shrieked and fell backwards, letting go of the corpse completely. Cyn looked up at Aziraphale with a look more impressed than scared. What a curious child, Aziraphale found himself thinking.
“What— what did you— how did you—” stuttered the man, staring at the shattered pieces of what surely used to be a very expensive occult instrument.
Aziraphale could feel divine wrath beginning to stir beneath his skin, which was never ideal in the best of circumstances, but the terrible impoliteness of the whole situation was finally sinking in. Rather involuntarily, the lights in the shop began to flicker and the bookshelves began to judder and shake.
“If you please, I must insist that you leave at once!” Aziraphale’s voice, now magically amplified, echoed throughout the shop with terrifying power.
The man scrambled to his feet, grabbing for his daughter, nearly hyperventilating with fear. “Come on, Cyn, quick— let’s get out of here!”
They made a run for the exit, leaving the corpse sprawled out like a limp starfish in the middle of the rug. Then the black car was screeching away from the curb and off down the street, and Aziraphale shook his head.
“Goodness me! The very nerve of some people! ” he tutted to himself, brushing off the front of his clothes, and began to pick up Crowley’s precious books from where they’d fallen.
How do you solve a problem like Yasti?
Crowley needed to get her back on his side— well, not back, as she’d never really been on it at all, but she was the only person close to an ally he had down here. How best to do it, though, when she’d already proven herself to be utterly annoying, unsympathetic, disagreeable and disloyal?
With demons, as with humans, you just had to give them what they wanted— or at least what they thought they wanted— and then let them make the ensuing choices for themselves...
His eyes caught on the touch-tone telephone on his desk. They widened, and then they narrowed.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the cubicle wall, Yasti was scribbling away at another 84-Q. This one was the entrance form of a human named Kelsey Mortimer, who’d had a thing for diapers.
Stupid Crowley. Worst demon ever. Doesn’t even have any fetishes, Yasti thought, filling out the details of Kelsey’s worst, most fecal fantasies.
“Wow, look,” came Crowley’s voice, floating over the partition, “it seems as if my phone has been refilled with minutes. I better call the angel, to tell him about what happened.”
The beetle atop Yasti’s head twitched, but she kept her eyes down and continued scratching away at the form, checking off all the little boxes on page 13. 4
“Hi, Aziraphale,” Crowley was saying now, his voice gone all low and silky, “Uh huh... Yeah, I’ve got some bad news… Hastur showed up and ruined everything . So I won’t be heading back up there… mmhmm… yeah… I know... I’m sorry, I know we planned to, you know… do that thing you like…”
Yasti stopped writing, and looked up.
“... yes, with the ropes, and the olive oil, and the vibrating…”
Crowley’s voice dropped to a whisper, which meant that Yasti simply had to press her ear to the partition in order to make out what he was saying…
“... make you scream when I bite down on your…”
Yasti listened, and listened, and listened some more, and then finally she lost control around when Crowley lustily hissed about something to do with a banana. Clapping with glee, she pushed her chair out from behind her desk and hurtled around the partition.
Crowley let out a scandalized gasp, hoping that the deep heat which had suffused his face during the entirety of that rendition could double realistically as the shame of being overheard.
“ Excuse me! This is a private conversation! Sorry, Aziraphale, I’ll call you back.” He slammed the phone back down into its cradle and folded his arms, trying to look as put out as possible.
Yasti’s face was shining with pride, like a mother watching her child come in first at a very explicit spelling bee.
“Crowley! You…. Oh, wow! ”
Behind his chair, Crowley pinched the palm of his hand in an effort to keep a straight face. It didn’t really work, because neither his fingers nor his palm were corporeal, but luckily Yasti’s eyes were so misted over with affection he doubted she was paying attention to his microexpressions.
“You shouldn’t have heard any of that, how— how dare you!” he declaimed indignantly.
“Oh, Crowley, I feel so awful now,” Yasti said. “You really do just want to fuck that poor angel senseless, leaving him bruised and broken and barely breathing!”
A furiously embarrassed laugh rose up in Crowley’s throat, which he managed to cover up by turning it into a sort of strangled cough.
Yasti was twirling her pen in her hand, obviously contemplating making some kind of proclamation. Come on, girl, Crowley thought desperately, out with it, out with it…
“You know,” she said finally, “that promotion Hastur gave me, it’s awfully plush. I’d get to do some actual torturing , y’see, instead of just dicking around with paperwork, so it’d be such a shame if I have to spend the next few years back in Japan after they give me my new body on Thursday...”
He raised his eyebrows, willing her to continue.
“I mean,” she went on, “really, I didn’t like being up there all that much… and you— you have so much to go back for, all that whipping and edging and rimming and choking and bananas... So, I mean… I guess I could... “
She stared at him nervously. “I could trade you my hearing date. You could go in on Thursday and get a new body, instead of me.”
“Are you sure?” Crowley asked. He always liked to make sure that they were sure.
Yasti nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, yes,” she said, “if I go back topside it’ll just be temptation this, invention that— plus, I can never figure out how to turn off the damned menstrual cycle in the bodies they give me. I’d much rather stay down here.”
From the mess of her desk, she pulled out a red appointment slip and, with a snap of her fingers, erased her own sigil from the signature area.
“Here,” she said, handing it to him. “Hastur can’t do anything to stop you from taking the appointment once you’ve signed this, it’s not his department.”
Crowley quickly took the slip from her and added his demonic sigil. She beamed at him.
“Much appreciated,” he told her, and she nodded, eyes still brimming with fulfillment, before scooting back to her desk and starting back up on her paperwork.
Five minutes later, Crowley was sneaking out of the office as quietly as possible, and hurrying towards the kiosk.
Aziraphale was halfway through chalking out the second sigil required for the necromantic ritual. He meant to have finished ages ago, but he kept on getting distracted by the Codex’s gorgeous calligraphy.
Suddenly, his radio switched on, and a few bars of Bolero played before fuzzing out into Crowley’s voice. “Aziraphale? You there?”
“Crowley, hello, I’m so sorry, it’s very nearly ready, there was a bit of a holdup—”
“Never mind that now,” said Crowley, and quickly explained everything that had just happened: Hastur’s interference with plan A, Yasti’s subsequent gift of a second chance.
Aziraphale frowned, towards the end of the recap. He had the sense Crowley was leaving something out. “But— my dear, however did you convince her to just... give you her hearing date?”
“Not important,” said Crowley, a little too dismissively for Aziraphale’s comfort. “Anyway,” he went on, “there’s no guarantee it’ll even make a difference. Hastur hates me so much, he’ll probably figure out a way to mess this up as well.”
“I’m sure it won’t come to that,” said Aziraphale, though he wasn’t quite sure if he believed it as he spoke it.
“Well, I guess we’ll find out. For now, just take advantage of the peace and quiet,” said Crowley ruefully. “You can probably actually get some work done without me round.”
“Perish the thought! I work far better with you nearby, I thought you knew that.”
Aziraphale smiled indulgently for a moment before he remembered Crowley couldn’t see him over the radio. “Yes, Crowley, I do,” he assured him. Gosh, if Crowley hadn’t realized that, Aziraphale hated to think about what other misapprehensions he was laboring under…
“Well. Ah,” said Crowley. “Um. Now that Hastur knows I’m here, who knows who else could be out for blood. I’d better stay close to my office until the hearing— I probably should go.”
“Mmm. I’m hanging up.”
“Then you hang up first!”
“I couldn’t possibly,” said Aziraphale, “because you are the one controlling my radio, my dear.”
“Ah. Right. Yeah.”
“Stay safe down there,” said Aziraphale quietly.
“I’ll be fine, angel,” said Crowley. “But I really do have to go. I’ll see you soon. I promise.”
Crowley put the kiosk receiver down, and before he could even let out a complicated sigh, he heard a shriek from beside him.
“You liar! ”
He turned around. Oh, this was just the ticket.
Yasti was standing there, her head-beetle twitching furiously.
“You serpent! It was a set up! That was a one sided phone call! You didn’t have any minutes! You don’t want to fist him or piss on him or use any kind of fruit in any of his holes at all!” She pointed at him accusingly. “You’re— you’re just a sappy little romantic, is what you are! That was a temptation— you tempted me!”
He smiled at her. Big and wide and sharp as anything, a classic Crowley grin. “You got me.”
“Oooh, I’m going to… I’m going to….!!” she fumed for a second more, her hands balling up into fists, before finally she let out a defeated sigh and just glared at him.
“Well. We’re even now, then,” she said after a minute, much calmer.
“I suppose we are, Yasti,” Crowley said, and clapped a gracious hand onto her shoulder. “I suppose we are.”
Together, they began to walk back down the corridor to the office.
“I bet you’re not even really a top,” Yasti grumbled, and Crowley nearly tripped over his own feet right then and there.
Aziraphale didn’t feel much in the mood to clean up the half-chalked sigils that surrounded the corporation, in its supine position on the floor. He considered opening up a bottle of wine, but thought better of it— how unfair of him would it be to drink alone, when Crowley, discorporated, couldn’t join in?
Before Armageddon, he wouldn’t have thought twice about having a nice drink on his own. How strange was it, now, that it felt so utterly wrong to even consider it.
Aziraphale realized he hadn’t even told Crowley about the intruders, about how that odd man and his strange daughter had likely been the ones behind the discorporation in the first place. He supposed he hadn’t wanted to add anything else to Crowley’s laundry list of stressors; it would just have to be a silly little story they could laugh over once he got back to Earth on Thursday.
But would he get back to Earth on Thursday? He really hadn’t seemed as confident as Aziraphale would’ve liked on the subject.
And Aziraphale couldn’t imagine what Crowley was going through down there, the kinds of torments and degradations he could be subject to even between now and his hearing. The thought of just sitting up here on Earth in relative comfort, waiting, seemed suddenly, absolutely intolerable to the angel. No, no— there had to be something he could do...
He walked over to the box of books, lying open on his desk, and the dark red cover of The Bylaws of Hell, 894th Edition shone back up at him.
And here was the universal constant, as experienced over the millennia by the Principality Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate, bookshop owner, and general enthusiast for the written word:
When the going gets tough, the tough get reading.
He made himself a cup of cocoa, put on his glasses, and opened up the book, flipping through it until he found what he was looking for.
“ Section XLVII,” he began, “Discorporation, Embodiment, and Codes of Conduct Applying Thereof…”
1 “It’s not that it wouldn’t be cool, if demons got to be the ones to go up there and grab the humans ourselves. Would probably be a right riot. But it’d be like working actors moving a chair in a union house. THAT’S MY JOB, he’d shout at you!” Then someone had thrown popcorn at the back of Crowley’s head and hissed, “Shut up and watch the film!” [^]
2 This included not only demonic conjuration but also customer service and accounting. [^]
4 Did this human take the Lord’s name in vain while engaging in the smearing and/or spilling of bodily fluids in a sexual context? Y/N [^]
this is absolutely too indulgent to put in the ACTUAL canonical footnotes, but I must acknowledge that when crowley spoke the words “unlock the biometrics,” somewhere in another time and place the tenth doctor experienced a territorial shiver.
huuuge thank you to everyone who commented on chapter 1! <3 gratitude also to the good place s3 now on netflix for being a terrific Hell Bureaucracy inspo.
btw, the plan is for ch3 to be the last real ~chapter~ and ch4 to be a coda/epilogue! so BUCKLE UP!!!!
Chapter 3: the angel defense
“I suppose I’m feeling rather Orpheus-esque,” said Aziraphale pensively. “Perhaps I should be carrying a lyre?”
It is a well known fact of life in Hell that bonds between demons are generally strengthened by mutual betrayal.
This phenomenon might go some ways towards explaining the scene in a dim, cramped office off Corridor N in the Seventh Circle of Hell, on the eve of a very important administrative hearing.
Crowley and Yasti were sitting on the dirty floor, sprawled out against the wall to the side of their unoccupied cubicles, passing a blunt back and forth. It was a poorly-rolled abomination that had been secreted away in the voluminous frills of Yasti’s dress for who knows how long, saved for a special occasion. Since neither of them were in possession of corporeal bodies at the moment, they weren’t getting high, but it was the spirit of the thing.
Yasti took a drag, and then blew out a ring of smoke. It shaped itself into a finely-rendered cock and balls before dissipating into the grimy air of the office. “But that’s a brilliant plan!” she was saying. “The airbase, the diplomat, switching out the babies— pretty good organization! How did it go wrong?”
“Rather good organization, see, that’s what I said!” Crowley agreed vehemently, taking the blunt from her. “But nobody accounted for, you know. Ineffability.”
Yasti wrinkled her nose, and not because of the rank stench of Satan’s Armpit (hybrid). “Ineffability? What the Heaven does that mean?”
Crowley shrugged, and sighed. In the smoke that billowed from his lips he thought he caught a glimpse of a familiar eye, its corners crinkled in the hint of a smile. He quickly waved his hand through the cloud to clear it away. “Oh, who even knows anymore.”
Yasti retrieved the blunt, took another drag, and sent the smoke straight into Crowley’s face. When it cleared, she was looking right at him, with those beetle-black eyes.
“Crowley,” she said, “what is it about him? I mean, the way Eric talked about him, he was just… a frumpy little angel. Dressed like a librarian. Not exactly tall, dark, and handsome— or huge and gold and divine either, if that’s your thing.”
“M’not gonna talk about it.” He snatched the blunt from her shiny nails and occupied his mouth with it.
She punched him on the shoulder. “Come on! Tell me! Is he well-hung? Thick like a horse? Has he got a knot like a dog, or—”
“Yasti!” hissed Crowley, his face going red. Then, quieter: “You wouldn’t understand. You— you couldn’t understand.”
He gritted his teeth. “All you demons, you don’t get it. You’ll never get it. He’s— he’s just—”
“He’s just what?” pleaded Yasti. Her mouth twisted, as though she were making an active effort to not proffer up more erotic suggestions.
Crowley slid down the wall until he was lying flat on his back, staring up at the decrepit popcorn ceiling of the office, mottled with mysterious wet spots and jagged holes. Piercing its way through the strong skunk of the weed, the humid, earth-rot scent of Hell crept through the core of him and made him long, more viscerally than ever, for the gentle paper-and-wood smell of the bookshop, the waft of bright ozone masked by that new cologne that floated his way whenever the angel walked past.
“He’s him, Yasti. He’s always been. When everything else changes, when I change, because I find some new part of myself to get angry at, some new scab to pull, he’s there. Always the same. Bringing me back.”
Crowley held the blunt out to Yasti without looking; she took it and politely smoked while he monologued.
“And even so, I… well, I just never let myself hope it would get as good as it is now. I don’t think I even let myself understand how good it’s been, until I got discorporated… Just the two of us. I always dreamed it would end up like that, even before I learned how to dream… didn’t figure that out until Rome… But I wanted him before that, I think. No, I know I did.”
He could hardly believe what was coming out of his mouth. These were things he’d barely admitted to himself, let alone a stranger, let alone a fellow demon with a crooked grin and an obsession with anything that vibrated . Maybe it was the placebo of the THC, or perhaps it was just a side effect of being separated, the space beside him where Aziraphale should’ve been filling up with all the things Crowley could only understand clearly in his absence.
But it was true. All of it was true.
“When I get back, which I will, ” Crowley said, so softly he wasn’t even sure if Yasti could hear, “I’ll… I’ll tell him.”
“ Tell him, oh, is that what we’re calling it these days?” Yasti blew out another cloud of smoke, which formed quickly into a very risqué tableau involving Crowley, Aziraphale, and lots of leather straps.
Crowley hissed, blushed, and kicked out a foot, scattering the image into fading gray wisps.
“Hey! What was that for?!”
“...You didn’t get his hair quite right.”
Aziraphale, even in all his readerly broad-mindedness, had to admit that an exhaustive read-through of Hell’s labyrinthine legal code was not nearly as edifying, nor even a fraction as entertaining, as his marathon of Agnes Nutter’s nice and accurate prophecies. That feat of endurance now seemed positively pastoral compared to this puzzle of demonic legalese, laid out in tiny 8pt print on page after onionskin page before him.
Though, it was fitting, in a way. The problem currently facing him wasn’t a question as blissfully simple, in retrospect, as “where is the Antichrist.” No, that was a mere word-search in the back of a children’s magazine, compared to the three-dimensional Sunday crossword of the issue at hand.
Objectively, Aziraphale knew the stakes were much lower. The world would not come to a violent end if Crowley couldn’t return to Earth.
But wouldn’t it, though?
Aziraphale rubbed at his face blearily. Even after what must’ve been years of storage in Crowley’s capacious vault, the book still retained some lingering hellish properties, enough apparently to make Aziraphale’s eyes water and his throat itch in what resembled a mild but incredibly annoying allergic reaction.
The book, already a tome some five inches thick, turned out to have been imbued with extra-spatial properties so as to accommodate thousands of additional pages of elaborate statutes, plus a fair few woodcut illustrations.1
It was all rather upsetting. And not in the way Aziraphale might have expected— he’d steeled himself for graphic depictions of torture, so he was ready for that when it came. But no, the real terror was how similar so much of it was to the equivalent legislation in Heaven. There were entire subsections that had seemingly been copy-pasted. To Aziraphale, it was just another sad reminder of the utter meaninglessness of the “sides,” a demonstration of the fundamental flimsiness of the comfortable illusions he’d long clung to. How had Crowley ever tolerated that stubbornness, that pig-headed loyalty? What had Aziraphale ever done, to deserve to done such unswerving patience? If the Antichrist had never chosen to rear his blue-eyed little head and upend their lives, how long would have Crowley waited?
Anyway, at this point in his research, Aziraphale was beginning to have the sense that he might be about to have an idea. But the contours of that idea were frightful, towering in their implications.
No, no. It simply wouldn’t do. There had to be another way...
He was just readying himself to dive in for another bout with the book, when there was a knock at the door.
“We’re closed!” he shouted automatically. He hadn’t opened the shop since Crowley had been discorporated, which he told himself was entirely due to the fact of a dead body lying in state in the back room— though the fact of the matter was that even if the corpse hadn’t been present as such, he simply wouldn’t have had the emotional fortitude to engage in his traditional facade of customer service.
The knock sounded again, more urgent this time.
“Still closed,” called Aziraphale distractedly, staring down a paragraph regarding the proper hourly rotation for Hell’s security brigade.
“Mr. Fell, open up!” came a voice through the mail slot. “Please, I need your help!”
Aziraphale didn’t like being interrupted when he was reading. Only Crowley was allowed to do that and safely avoid suffering the consequences of Aziraphale’s annihilating glare of exasperation.
Reasoning that the knocking might never stop unless he showed his face to the interloper and delivered the glare in person, he folded a bookmark into the Bylaws and got up to open the door.
On his stoop was the young girl from yesterday— Cyn, wasn’t it? She looked harried and tired, as though Aziraphale’s shop was the last stop on some kind of tour de whining.
“Look, you can’t have the body,” Aziraphale began, but Cyn was already shaking her head.
“Not here about that,” she said dismissively. “Look, that amulet you broke— apparently to be able to do that you have to be, like, mad powerful.”
“Well,” said Aziraphale, and left it at that, admitting nothing. He hadn’t kept the same corporation for six millennia without knowing a thing or two about self-preservation; this was in contrast to Crowley, who had a tendency to shout about being a demon to anyone who’d listen, especially when drunk, and had gotten discorporated at least three times as a direct result.
“So now he’s gone mental, been drinking and moaning, and I’m sick of it,” Cyn continued. “He’s meant to take me to the Ariana Grande concert on Saturday and he can’t do that in his state, so I need you to come fix him. Un-scare him. I know you can. I know what you are!”
Aziraphale frowned. He was not very good with children.2
But despite his recent defection, he did still have full ownership of long-standing angelic sensibilities. A child needed help? Well, then, he would help the child.
“Alright, my dear,” he told Cyn. “Where is this father of yours?”
“Back at the mortuary. Come on.”
At the curb outside the shop, Crowley’s Bentley glinted in the evening light. Aziraphale stared at it warily, and then back down to Cyn.
“I can’t drive, you know, if that’s what you’re expecting,” he said to her.
She raised an eyebrow. “You never learned to drive? And you’re how old, like, forty?”
Aziraphale was flattered on behalf of his corporation, which was often evaluated at least a decade or more above that. Then, working backwards, he felt mildly ashamed.
“Just never, er, felt the need,” Aziraphale muttered, thinking wistfully of Crowley’s lead foot.
“Whatever,” she continued matter-of-factly. “I’ll just get another Uber. I took my dad’s phone, he’s so out of it he didn’t even notice.” She pulled out an iPhone and did something complicated on its screen that Aziraphale couldn’t parse. Minutes later, a white Ford pulled up to the curb, and Cyn headed for it with alarming willingness.
“My dear girl! You can’t— you’re not just going to get into a stranger’s car?” he admonished her, restraining himself from tugging her away from the vehicle. “It’s not even a licensed taxi! That driver could— he could be anyone! ”
She looked at him as though he were from another planet, which, to be fair, was not far off. “It’s an Uber. Look, the license plate matches. I’m not dumb. ”
“But you’re a child!”
“I’m not. I’m twelve, and I know what I’m doing. Now get in, Mr. Fell.”
Aziraphale grumbled the whole way to the mortuary, throwing skeptical glances to the driver’s glowing Google Maps navigation. He could hardly believe it was in any way qualified to replace the exhaustive Knowledge of the city streets that all London’s black cab drivers were required to obtain before even taking the wheel. He suspected that Crowley had something to do with this abomination, and resolved to bring it up at some point, once all of this had blown over.
They soon pulled up to a squat, nondescript building, with Kovensky & Sons Mortuary spelled out in black letters on its facade. Cyn led him inside, through the morgue with its shining metal tables, into the small room that served as the place’s center of occult commercial activity.
It smelled of incense and chalk. Glass-fronted mahogany cabinets along the walls were filled with the tools of the trade: dried rabbits’ feet, bound bundles of herbs, dowsing rods and jars of preserved eyeballs and gizzards. Large bookcases rose against the walls, filled with a diverse range of volumes, from the truly evil to the merely mischievous.
Cyn’s father was sprawled in a large leather armchair, leaning unsteadily to one side. In a shaking hand he held a large bottle of something brown, nearly empty. Catching sight of Aziraphale entering the room, the bottle slipped from his hand and shattered on the floor.
He cringed away, putting his hands up in a desperate cower, which made Aziraphale feel quite put on the spot. “Oh, you’ve come for me, I thought you would, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know, just smite me, do it fast, please, I repent, I repent—”
Cyn poked her head around from behind Aziraphale. “It was me, Daddy, I brought him.”
Her father’s eyes darted from her to the angel with growing terror.
“ You’re trying to get me smoted? Smited? My own daughter? Oh, Satan preserve me— I— I mean, er, God preserve me—”
“To help you, not to smite you! Mr. Fell, can you get on with it?”
Aziraphale sighed, straightened his waistcoat, and snapped his fingers. The broken glass reassembled itself into a bottle, its contents intact. Really, it was the least he could do.
“Now, what’s your name?” Aziraphale asked kindly, walking across the room and getting down on his knees beside the man’s chair.
“Dennis,” whimpered the man, avoiding Aziraphale’s insistent gaze. “Dennis Kovensky, and I swear, I didn’t mean— I didn’t know you were a— I repent, I really do—”
“Now, there’s no need for any of that,” said Aziraphale, rather futilely, as Mr. Kovensky continued to cringe away from him in pure existential horror. “Let’s see. What is it one says… Er. Be not afraid?”
This did not seem to have the desired effect, possibly due to Aziraphale’s unconfident tone, although now that he thought about it, it had never really been all that persuasive, even back in the day. He couldn’t imagine why they’d been so encouraged to shout it all the time. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to show the humans that they meant no harm, rather than make fruitless attempts to tell them?
This gave him an idea. He brought a hand to the side of Mr. Kovensky’s head, and with the smallest of miracles imparted the stable, calming truth of his intentions. Inside the man’s mind, the vertiginous presence of an unbearably powerful being resolved itself neatly into the form of a gently smiling middle-aged bookseller. While he was at it, Aziraphale sobered the poor man up as well.
Mr. Kovensky opened his eyes, blinked, and then looked over towards Aziraphale.
“Oh,” he said. “Hi.”
“See?” Aziraphale said. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
Mr. Kovensky swallowed, and then nodded minutely. “Yeah,” he said. “I, er. I see that now. Uh. Thanks?”
“Not a problem,” Aziraphale said, and stood up, dusting himself off.
“But you shouldn’t have done that,” Mr. Kovensky continued. “I mean. You didn’t have to— I didn’t deserve— I’m the one that killed the demon. Your— your demon.”
“Oh, I know that,” said Aziraphale. “I recognized your car.”
“You did? Then, why—”
“Because she asked nicely.” Aziraphale nodded to Cyn, and she spared him a small, grateful smile.
“You really are an angel…” breathed Mr. Kovensky, throwing his gaze heavenward.
“Oh, hardly, these days,” Aziraphale snapped, resenting the implicit connection Mr. Kovensky was drawing between him and Upstairs. “Consider me… retired.”
Mr. Kovensky frowned, and Aziraphale could see something sliding into place inside his newly-sober head.
“ Retired? The demon, too, then...? Is that why…?”
Trailing off, he leaned over the side of his chair and picked up a map of London, lying half-unrolled at his feet. As he opened it, Aziraphale watched with curiosity; then one of the sigils scribbled in red over Soho caught his attention, and with hardly a moment’s hesitation he snatched it out of Mr. Kovensky’s hand.
He read the notations, and his heart sank, as he understood.
He had been so selfishly grateful to have Crowley around that he hadn’t even wanted to consider practical repercussions— angelic interference with demonic protection due to long-term exposure, plain and simple, maddeningly obvious in retrospect.
Of course, if they’d put their heads together they could’ve certainly come up with a way around it. They weren’t stupid. (Well. Not usually. ) As Aziraphale recognized it now, it was a very simple issue that could likely be resolved with a few collaborative miracles.
But doing that would have meant acknowledging the phenomenon’s cause, the base reality of their sudden inseparability. And they didn’t do that, they didn’t talk about it, they never had— that’s what had led to stupid misunderstandings like Crowley apparently thinking a marriage certificate, of all things, was a funny little joke...
And it was fitting, wasn’t it, that just as Aziraphale was finally readying himself to make that first move, to take steps towards a better understanding, was the moment it all came crashing down around him?
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale sighed, bracing himself against a bookshelf as he put his hand to his head. “It’s my fault, it’s all my fault, my poor Crowley… ”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” said Cyn.
Aziraphale held out the map, his hand now shaking nearly as bad as Mr. Kovensky’s had been moments ago. “The only reason your father was able to track Crowley down and discorporate him was… well, it was because he’d been spending so much time with me. ”
Mr. Kovensky nodded, comprehension dawning. “Of course ,” he said, “your powers would cancel out his natural defenses…. I would never have thought to check, I mean, an angel and a demon? Spending enough time together for that to take effect? Impossible… Just… wrong... ”
This, of course, was really not what Aziraphale needed to hear at this exact moment. His face crumbled. “And now he’s stuck down there, waiting on a new body, and it’s because of me, because I didn’t… because I couldn’t say something sooner, because...”
He trailed off, and then straightened up, and handed the map primly back to Mr. Kovensky. “Apologies, I must be going. Much to think about.”
Mr. Kovensky took the map back, silently bemused, but as Aziraphale headed for the door, Cyn shouted after him.
“But hold on— wait, Mr. Fell! Can’t you bring us the demon’s body? If he’s going to be... getting a new one, like you said, he won’t be needing the old one, will he?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Aziraphale dismissively, turning around. “Anyway, if I can’t somehow… get down to Hell… there’s a good chance he won’t be getting a new body at all…”
When he spoke the words get down to Hell, he was surprised to find that it didn’t feel like he was making a choice; rather, it was more of a sudden understanding that he’d made the choice to go as soon as he’d read a particular passage in the Bylaws some hours ago, and his brain was only just now coming around to letting him know. There had never been any other option, not really, and now that he understood the full scale of his own culpability in what happened, the way forward was clearer than it’d ever been.
“ You? An— an angel? Going down to Hell?” said Mr. Kovensky. “Even I know that’s not possible!”
“I’ve done it before,” he said darkly, and he was expecting Mr. Kovensky to follow up this bizarre statement with another inquiry, but the man had been distracted by a sudden need to pat down all of his pockets.
“Hold on. Hold on— where’s my mobile gone?” he said.
“I’ve got it,” sighed Cyn, holding it up. “You were so out of it you didn’t even notice me stealing it right out of your trousers.”
“Give that back! I could ground you for that—”
“Well, maybe if I had one of my own, I wouldn’t have needed to take yours!”
“I told you, you’re not getting a mobile until you’re thirteen, and that’s final, Cynthia.”
“But what if I could get you the demon’s heart?”
“I— I mean. Sure. If you could. Phones for days, with the payment from that contract…” Mr. Kovensky let out a humorless laugh. “But you can’t! He’s not gonna give it up, he just said . And I’m not— well, you know. I’m, er. Not going to ask him.”
Cyn tapped the device against the palm of her hand, and then said: “Mr. Fell…”
“Please, call me Aziraphale.”
“Isn’t that an allergy medication? Anyway. Let’s make a deal.”
“I beg your pardon?” Aziraphale said.
“What… what do you mean, honey?”said Mr. Kovensky weakly.
Cyn shot a withering look at her father. “We make deals with demons every other week, Dad. Why can’t we do one with an angel?”
“I mean— well. It’s not exactly our area— ”
Cyn cut Mr. Kovensky off, turning back to Aziraphale. “ You need to get down to Hell, right?”
“I… I suppose I do, yes,” said Aziraphale.
“And we need that body. Don’t we?”
Mr. Kovensky nodded slowly, staring at his daughter as though she’d sprouted a third eye, and then a second head with three more for good measure.
“So,” said Cyn, with alarming alacrity, “a deal. In exchange for us providing you with the necessary black enchantments to get you down to Hell and help your husband acquire a new body, you agree to give us access to the old one once you can be sure he doesn’t need it anymore.”
“I… It sounds fair enough to me...” Aziraphale blinked, shook his head. He’d nearly forgotten he’d referred to Crowley as his husband last night in front of the child. It felt strange, hearing it come out of her mouth— almost like that made it more real. “But... how, though?”
“It can’t be that hard. Right, Daddy? I mean, it’s just like using hashtags to trick the Instagram algorithm. A few glamours, a protective binding or two, maybe a Dark Halo? What do you say?”
Cyn tipped her head expectantly, as Mr. Kovensky and Aziraphale locked eyes, and some measure of understanding passed between them.
Aziraphale cleared his throat. “Miss Kovensky,” he said, turning back to Cyn, “it seems you have yourself a deal.”
She grinned at him. “Oh, fuck yes. Wicked!”
“Cynthia!” gasped her father. “Watch your mouth!”
From outside the office, there echoed a pained howl: “Yasti!”
Yasti and Crowley looked at each other, and then with alarm towards the office’s large NO SMOKING sign. Both demons scrambled to their feet; the blunt was extinguished and shoved somewhere back into the non-Euclidean intricacy of Yasti’s copious ruffles.
Crowley hid himself against the far side of the double cubicle, out of view of the office’s entrance. Yasti brushed herself off and stood at attention, just in time for Hastur to come barreling inside. Clutched in his mottled hand was a yellow carbon copy of the appointment slip that Crowley had signed yesterday.
“This is— this is an outrage!” he shrieked. “You did this! I know you did this!”
Yasti made no move to confirm or deny this accusation, though the beetle atop her dark hair squirmed in discomfort.
“Where is he? He’s here! I can smell him. Smells like… like clean!”
This had the effect of making Crowley preen, just a little bit, in his hiding spot. The relief that his careful hygiene had persisted even through his discorporation gave him enough courage to step out from behind the cubicle and swing an arm around Yasti.
“Listen, Hastur, buddy, pal,” said Crowley, “I think you’re forgetting yourself. Yasti here hasn’t done anything wrong— I mean. Well. She hasn’t done anything right, that is! And you can’t fault her for that, can you? She’s learned from the best! A demon after your own heart, or lack of one. Isn’t that right?”
Yasti glanced at Crowley in amazement, before quickly turning back and nodding emphatically at Hastur. “That— that’s right, Duke Hastur. I thought, you know, just because you’ve given me a promotion, doesn’t mean I should stop doing my worst, no, you’ll not find me resting on my laurels! Demon is as demon does, isn’t that what you always say, sir? No sleep for the wicked! A betrayal a day keeps the angels away, right?”
Hastur’s mouth opened and closed a few times, fishlike, before he settled back into his habitual thin-lipped gape. “Well,” he said. “Er. That’s… well, that’s all right, then.”
Yasti smirked, not a little cheekily, and gave a small and clumsy curtsy.
“But whatever you think you’re planning, it’s not going to work,” Hastur went on, jabbing a finger at Crowley. “Fine! Go to your stupid hearing. Even with all your perfect paperwork you won’t be able to prove you deserve a new body. I can’t wait to watch the look on your face when Amy decides that you’re going to be stuck down here forever. ”
Crowley restrained the dangerous urge to leap forward and strangle a Duke of Hell only by shoving his hands into his pockets. He offered up a stock sneer instead, which was not nearly as satisfying.
“You. With me,” Hastur commanded Yasti with a harsh beckon. “We have a bit before the hearing, you can come shadow me on my torturing rounds.”
Sorry! mouthed Yasti silently at him, as she was led out. Crowley gave her a reassuring thumbs up, but when she was gone he collapsed down into his desk chair, for all the world like a souffle gone wrong in the oven.
He was fucked. He was well and truly fucked. The hope that had dared to surge through him earlier as he soliloquized pathetically to Yasti had now evaporated like the smoke in the air. A hearing date meant nothing if Hastur was planning on being there anyway. Nobody could out-argue a Duke of Hell on a boardroom floor.
Maybe this was the measure of it: his reward had come to an end, and it was still more than he’d ever expected. It had all caught up with him, and if he was to be condemned to a half-life of discorporated drudgery, at least he’d always have the memories of those months of freedom to sustain him for the rest of eternity.
And to make matters worse, the stupid chair was broken, so he couldn’t even have one last bit of fun scooting around the office before heading off to his doom. Fucking Hell, indeed.
Cyn was overjoyed at getting to stay up past her bedtime, and her father was just happy to be alive.
It had occurred to Dennis Kovensky, somewhere on the way back home from their visit to the bookshop, that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for his daughter to end up a management consultant, or a pediatrician, or an architect, after all.
By the time he’d stumbled into his workshop and the full implications of the encounter with Mr. Fell were flooding through his veins like fire, begging to be drowned in drink, he was cursing Estelle and the damned family business to Hell and back again.
He thought he’d gotten lucky, landing the plush contract to create a Dread Ring the very week he’d discovered a local demon with its defenses mysteriously down.
He hadn’t expected to be facing that demon’s guardian angel, to have his Erasmus Charm shattered with a single thought by a being in possession of such unearthly power as to make his very bones cry out beneath his skin for forgiveness, for grace.
And he most certainly hadn’t been expecting to be back at that strange shop a little over twenty-four hours later, working frantically through the night to prepare said angel for a dangerous descent into Hell itself.
As he took clippings of hair and nails and arranged them expertly on his neatly-kept set of ceramic sigil plates, he told himself that he was doing this for the sake of his business, that after all was said and done the angel would fulfill its (his?) half of their bargain. He’d have the demon’s heart for his use and he could deliver the product as promised, like the professional he’d worked hard to become.
But if he was being honest, he was hardly thinking about his important client, or the cheque that awaited him upon completion of the Dread Ring. He wasn’t doing this for personal gain, or even in honor of his late mother.
He was doing it for Cynthia, who had looked more engaged and determined while bargaining the deal with the angel than he’d seen her during any occult mission over the past year, ever since he’d started bringing her along.
And he was doing it for Aziraphale, because thanks to the angel’s ministrations he could look past his fear, past his longtime beliefs that placed the Host of the Almighty in direct opposition to his life’s work, and see what was really there: a scared man, a hopeful man, a man who just wanted to be with the one he loved.
The sky began to lighten above Soho as the final elements of the preparatory rituals were locked into place. Mr. Kovensky had been stunned to find a crate of magnificently demonic books just sitting there on the angel’s desk; books he’d sought for decades, books he thought were just rumors. He’d flipped through them eagerly and found many helpful directions; the legendary Codex Catabascum offered a useful deception charm that Mr. Kovensky doubted he would’ve been able to safely complete the third protective layer without.
Aziraphale had, with some trepidation, let Mr. Kovensky take the lead; he certainly seemed to know what he was doing, but really it was young Cyn’s presence that calmed him enough to submit to the unease of having various dark ceremonies performed upon his own precious corporation.
Because underneath all that snark and pop-culture obsession was a devilishly smart girl, brave and passionate and unendingly questioning, and Aziraphale thus found it more than fitting that she was the one to play a starring role in his reunion with Crowley.
“Okay,” said Mr. Kovensky, sweeping bone fragments off one of his spell plates and back into their red velvet bag. “That should do it, Mr. Fell. Those charms should hold for a good long while. How are you feeling? Ready to go to Hell?”
“I suppose I’m feeling rather Orpheus-esque,” said Aziraphale pensively. “Perhaps I should be carrying a lyre?”
“I know that one, we did it in school!” said Cyn, and then she wrinkled her nose. “Didn’t have a very happy ending, though. Be careful.”
“Don’t worry,” said Aziraphale. “I know those old stories very well. I was there for most of them.”
Aziraphale didn’t necessarily need to dress up, the occult magic had been directly applied to his corporation. But quite reasonably, he guessed that entering the bowels of Hell in his current get-up would attract unwanted attention even if his angelic soul had been made undetectable.
He remembered that a black hat had been left in his shop some months ago, and never retrieved; he donned that, along with a big black coat that had been similarly confined to the lost & found. Finally, he pocketed the sunglasses off of Crowley’s corpse. Not like it needed them, did it?
“If you don’t mind me asking,” asked Mr. Kovensky, continuing to pack up his supplies as Aziraphale dressed, “I’ve always wanted to know where exactly… I mean, how do you get there? To go, er, down?”
“There’s an entrance in the City,” he said, “I suppose I’ll walk, or get a cab…”
Cyn spoke up. “Daddy, can we give him a ride there? He doesn’t know how to drive.”
Aziraphale felt his face redden, but Mr. Kovensky agreed readily, possibly out of sheer curiosity, but at this point the angel felt he knew the man a bit better, and couldn’t rule out kindness as a motive either.
They piled into Mr. Kovensky’s car; it was just one strange thing after another this week, so Aziraphale hardly had it in him to remark even internally on the irony of being shuttled to Crowley’s side by the very weapon that had deposited him so far away in the first place.
“This is it?” said Mr. Kovensky, pulling up to the financial district address Aziraphale had given. “But it’s just… an office building.”
“I suppose it is,” said Aziraphale.
“Entrance to Hell, and all,” Mr. Kovensky said, “I just thought it’d be a bit more…”
“Hellish?” Cyn suggested.
Aziraphale didn’t quite think it was his place to inform the man that it was the entrance to Heaven too. He’d already been through a lot in the past day and change, and any further revelations about the closely entwined natures of Above and Below might really do a number on him.
“Should we wait here for you?” asked Cyn.
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” said Aziraphale, now looking a great deal more pale and nervous than he had when he’d left the shop. Swallowed up in his black coat and hat, he brought to mind an anxious albino rabbi. “I might be down there quite a while.”
He exited the car, keeping a tight grip on the leather briefcase he’d brought along, and waved a small goodbye.
“Good luck, Aziraphale!” called Cyn out of the window, as they pulled away. “And don’t forget about your half of the deal!”
When the car had disappeared around the corner, Aziraphale took a deep, steadying breath, looking up at the lobby entrance before him. From his pocket he took the sunglasses and put them on.
They had the desired effect: he suddenly felt taller, harder, cooler.
“Here I come, Crowley,” he whispered to himself, and walked inside.
Given the nature of time in Hell, Crowley supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised when he stepped into the boardroom for his hearing to find the committee already convened, and staring up at him with bureaucratic impatience.
Too late, he reminded himself. Always too late.
“Hi guys,” he said, offering a casual wave to the assembly.
This wasn’t anything like the extravagance of “his” trial; no howling audience of bloodthirsty demons, ready to see a traitor devoured. No, this was just your basic boardroom bust-up, which somehow managed to be just as terrifying, if not moreso.
At the head of the table sat Amy, a broad and sturdy demon with horselike ears that flicked irritably atop her head of coarse, shaggy brown hair. Beside her, a frail, cycloptic stenographer tapped away at an arcane, Victorian-looking shorthand machine.
On the other side of Amy was an administrative assistant, a Disposable Demon. Probably not the same exact one from Aziraphale’s trial, enough time had passed that that one had likely been fed to some pit or roasted for sport by a Duke or a Prince, but they were all named Eric and shared a sort of communal memory.
On the left side of the table were a handful of Body Board demons Crowley didn’t recognize, looking threateningly competent. And on the right side was Hastur, who wasn’t physically holding anything, but might as well have been chomping down on a big bag of buttery movie popcorn, for how eager he was looking to see Crowley’s chances at escaping Hell utterly demolished. Yasti was next to him, her nails tapping out a nervous tune on the particleboard table.
“Take a seat, Crawly,” said Amy, businesslike, motioning to the seat reserved for him at the far end of the table.
“It’s Crowley, ” he countered. Already, this was not off to a good start.
Eric pushed a paper in Amy’s direction, and she glanced down at it. “Ah, so it is,” she said, “but regardless, I need you to sit down so we can begin. I’ve got ten more of these hearings today and after that it’s Karaoke Night down in Pandemonium, so I’m not looking to do any overtime.”
“What’s your song?” Crowley asked, as he sat down.
She looked at him like he was an idiot. “It’s karaoke in Hell, the only song on any of the machines is ‘Fireflies’ by Owl City.”
Eric slid another packet towards Amy; Crowley recognized it as his completed re-corporation paperwork. He had run through it rather quickly, but he was an old hand at it, and in an ideal situation there was nothing in there that would jeopardize his chances at a new body… but this wasn’t exactly an ideal situation.
“So, Crowley. You need a new body. Now tell me, what exactly happened to the old one?”
And he told her, as best he remembered. Of course, he left out the fact that the reason he hadn’t been looking where he was going was because the angel he’d been fraternizing with pretty much non-stop since the non-pocalypse seemed like he was about to say Something, with a capital S, but that didn’t seem relevant to the inquiry.
“Discorporated by a simple vehicular collision?” said Amy. “That certainly shines an... interesting light on your recent claims of invulnerability and extra-demonic power.”
Crowley gulped. “Well, you know how it is,” he said, waving a casual hand. “Comes and goes.”
“I do not know how it is,” Amy said, “would you care to clarify? I’m sure Lord Beelzebub would be most interested in a report from me detailing the exact mechanisms behind your abilities.”
“Oh, come on, let’s not bother her with reports and such! Hasn’t she got enough to be getting on with?”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Amy, “but as we are all very well aware, you’re a bit of a special case... There are some who would be overjoyed to see you stuck down here working the janitorial shift until Armageddon comes for real.”
Crowley couldn’t help but glance at Hastur, whose blackened grimace of a grin was, of course, now on full, evil display.
Amy took a few minutes then to shuffle through the paperwork, muttering to herself and conferring with Eric. At one point she got up and discussed something with one of the Body Board members, a birdlike demon with blank white eyes and a beaky nose. They exchanged terse nods for a few moments before she returned to Eric’s side.
“Crowley, I’m afraid this isn’t going to pass muster,” she said, heaving herself back into her seat. “With all of the long-standing evidence against you, I just don’t think I’ll be able to issue you a new body based on the facts you’ve delivered. Perhaps you could try again in a century or two, after you’ve managed to work up some goodwill down here, but if I just gave out bodies willy-nilly to every low-level demon discorporated by an ordinary car accident, I’d be out of a job—”
And right at the moment Crowley’s heart felt like it was about to sink into cement, to be encased forever in the hardness and coldness of a great giving up, the boardroom’s door swung open, with a tremendous BANG!
Silhouetted in black against the flickering light of the corridor outside was the shape of a man; bulky in a dark coat and topped with a large hat.
“That was no ordinary car accident, I think you’ll find!” boomed a voice.
It was the kind of voice that would stalk most demons' nightmares, if most demons could dream; but most of them couldn’t, and for the one who could, it was the most beautiful sound in the world.
The figure stepped forward, letting the dim light of the boardroom illuminate it from top to bottom, and chaos erupted.
“Wh— what’s he doing here— how’d he even get in—!” screeched Hastur, leaping up onto his seat as if to avoid a rat scurrying along the floor, and flailing a hand madly in the direction of the intruder.
“That’s the angel Aziraphale,” said Eric, his eyes wild as he accessed the shared memory of all Disposables. “He’s— he’s not like the others…!”
Crowley’s face had gone slack with astonishment. Was this really happening?
Aziraphale seemed to have used up all of his available panache on his dramatic entrance, for he was now shuffling awkwardly around the table.
“Excuse me, excuse me, sorry, don’t mind me, pardon me,” he muttered, as he made his way past the row of terrified Body Board onlookers, to take a place standing at Crowley’s side.
There were many things that Crowley could’ve chosen to say at this juncture, but somehow the only thing that managed to escape his mouth was: “Are you wearing my sunglasses?”
“Sorry, here you are, my dear,” whispered Aziraphale, removing the shades in question and handing them to Crowley. Their fingers brushed, and it was a lot.
“Order! I will have order in my boardroom!” Amy neighed, slamming a hand down on the table and sending paperwork flying. “What is the meaning of this!? Explain!”
The room fell silent. Amy’s left ear twitched, and she stared at Aziraphale with barely-contained fury. In response, Aziraphale calmly shrugged off his coat and hat, and opened up a leather briefcase, from which he removed a large red book. He flipped it open and pointed, with a gentle finger, to the page he’d carefully marked with a colored tab.
“Section CLXXXVIII of the Bylaws of Hell lists a veritable litany of punishments for any angel or ethereal being caught entering Hell. However, careful study of the text will reveal that there is no specific prohibition against an angel being within Hell’s bounds. Given that I was able to enter Hell utterly unmolested and make my way here, I will argue that you have no recourse to remove me. Rest assured, I will leave more than willingly once I’ve said my piece. Are there any objections?”
Crowley’s grin was unstoppable in its spread across his face. Aziraphale had never met a loophole he didn’t want to stick his pretty little hands in and pull wide enough to rest inside.
The Body Board demons muttered to each other, and then looked up to Amy, who looked to Eric, and then back at Aziraphale. “Carry on,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Delightful! I think I shall,” said Aziraphale. He was still standing, and from where Crowley was sitting he seemed to tower like a giant. Then he bent down to remove something from his briefcase, and gave Crowley a small wink. If Crowley had had a body, it might have caught fire.
“To the point, then. Exhibit A. This map,” said Aziraphale, unrolling a large map of London marked up with red-ink scribbles, “was formerly the property of one Dennis Kovensky of Kensington, London, and provides definitive evidence as to the decidedly non- accidental nature of this discorporative event…”
Aziraphale’s current state was difficult to describe. His skin was crawling with the sheer pseudo-biological terror of being in Hell; despite Mr. Kovensky’s expert assistance, not even the power of the Codex Catabascum could erase the fact that he wasn’t meant to be here. But then, his heart was pounding fiercely with proximity to Crowley; even discorporated, the demon still managed to smell like clean laundry and aftershave and rich earth, like every warm comfort in the world.
And above all of this, Aziraphale’s head was ablaze with universal lawyerhood. As he pointed out the clear evidence on the map, establishing the proximate causes of Crowley’s disembodiment, his very essence was resonating with something distant and strange and very nearly bombastic. He found his words leaving his mouth with far more passion than planned, which he would have found more than a touch embarrassing if he hadn’t been so wrapped up in the thrill of it all.
“Pursuant to subsection 90 of Section XXXII of the Bylaws, exorcism is defined as any unwilling and unplanned removal of a demon from a corporation, Hell-issued or otherwise, by human intervention using occult tools . Sub-subsection 90-C further defines the tiers of exorcisms, and in this case Crowley’s discorporation would certainly fall under the most clear-cut not-at-fault category, Tier A, which encompasses all exorcisms with the end goal of material gain for the human.”
The Body Board demons scribbled away at their notepads, apparently fascinated by this novel defense. Eric and Hastur were staring at Amy, trying to judge her reaction. And Yasti was looking, more than a little awed, at Aziraphale.
“Additionally relevant,” continued Aziraphale, picking the Bylaws back up again, “is the fact that it is established in, let us see, Section XLVII of Hell’s legal code that sufferers of Tier A exorcisms are to be automatically provided with re-embodiment services, bypassing the hearing process that at-fault victims of murder, disease, accidental violent discorporation, et cetera must undergo. I believe I’ve offered sufficient evidence to prove Crowley as a member of the former category and not the latter, proving that his new body is, in fact, overdue. Are we agreed?”
Amy steepled her hands. The only sound for a terribly long moment was the horrid groaning of the boardroom’s half-broken ventilation system.
“I see,” she said slowly, as though it pained her to even hint at the idea that Aziraphale might be right— which it probably did. “But, angel. I do have one question.”
“Why should any of this evidence be admissible at all?”
There was a gasp of delight from Hastur’s side of the room; a hardly-audible groan from Crowley. Aziraphale ignored both and waited for Amy to finish.
“You’re not a barred member of Hell’s legal team. You weren’t called as a witness. By all rights, you shouldn’t be here. So tell me, why shouldn’t I toss out your testimony right now, and call an end to this madness?”
She seemed to be expecting Aziraphale to break under this revelation; on the contrary, he had prepared for it.
“If you insist,” he said, and threw a glowing smile in her direction. It seemed to throw her physically off-balance; Eric had to lay a stabilizing hand on her thick shoulder.
Aziraphale flipped now to a particular page in the Bylaws, the very one that had brought him down here in the first place, and took a deep breath. Everything hung in the balance. He was about to take a leap of faith….
“Section LXXV, Bindings and Contract Law, subsection 21. Any demonic familiar of non-demonic origin bound by contract issued in Hell or on Earth has a right to speak for, defend, and act in stead of said demon in any and all official capacities, as needed.”
“But— but hold on, that’s a servant clause,” one of the Body Board demons piped up. She wore cat-eye sunglasses and a huge beehive hairstyle, around which dozens of bumblebees danced and buzzed. “Meant to make it easier for a human slave or animal assistant of a demon to do their dirty work, sign for their packages and such. How the Heaven does that apply to you, angel?”
Aziraphale couldn’t make himself look down at Crowley even for a second before explaining. He thought that if he caught sight of the demon’s eyes, even behind the shades Crowley had surely put back on by now, he would lose every ounce of nerve he still possessed.
“You will find,” said Aziraphale, with great determination, “that this demon and I are married, in the eyes of Earth law. Legally speaking, I am his husband, and the contract of marriage is fully admissible in the context of Section LXXV’s inclusion of Earth-based contracts as a basis for subsection 21’s rule of representation. Therefore, you are obligated to accept the evidence that I’ve provided, given that I am acting in my capacity as legal extension of the demon whose case is currently being heard.”
And he tore his gaze away from Amy and looked down to Crowley, and Crowley hadn’t put his glasses back on, and his eyes were shining with something Aziraphale couldn’t hope to understand in this single tense, impossible moment that he was trying to survive.
Amy was now staring down at the paperwork scattered before her, ignoring Eric’s pokes and prods and the mutterings of her colleagues. She was thinking. Aziraphale held his breath; something squeezed his hand, when had Crowley taken it in his?
And just as she lifted her head to speak, there was an outburst from beside her.
“Hold on. Hold on. I will not tolerate this madness!” cried Hastur, standing up. “There’s no way you can let this stand, Amy, he’s a demon! A demon, married? That’s no contract, that’s a lie! An impossible lie!”
He glared at Crowley, with eyes that said I will destroy you.
“How can we take his word for it? He’s tricked this angel, I’ll bet the angel didn’t even know about the contract, because it was all a plot, a plan, to save his arse in case something like this happened! A selfish, one-sided ruse! I know the Bylaws too, angel, you forget— contracts and bindings covered under subsection 21 are the two-sided contracts.”
Amy tapped her pen against the table. “The Duke has a point. Care to comment, Aziraphale? Was this contract you speak of a known quantity, before the events of this week? Can you tell us with utter certainty that it was made in good faith on Crowley’s part, that it was meant in the sense of a traditional human marriage, with all of the commitment that implies?”
Aziraphale let his hand fall away from Crowley’s, as his heart juddered to what felt like a complete stop. Mr. Kovensky’s words rang in his head: Demons don’t have husbands.
And he wanted to say yes, yes, of course I knew all along, of course I know it was meant that way , of course I’m sure that he—
But hadn’t this been what he’d just spent the whole week fretting about? He wasn’t sure. Not at all. He’d always been a creature of doubt. Crowley had forever been the sure one, but Crowley wasn’t the one being put on the spot now, no, they were all looking to Aziraphale.
All the earlier bluster of his demonstration had fled his body utterly. He knew if he spoke and said what they wanted to hear, they’d probably believe him; angels didn’t lie, after all.
“I…” began Aziraphale, but the words wouldn’t come. A horrible uncertainty had lodged in his throat and refused to move out of the way.
And as he fidgeted, filling up with a sour, sad disappointment at himself at having come so far just to fail now, he heard the sound of a chair being pushed back.
Yasti had risen from her seat and was staring out at everyone with a strange, fixated expression.
“Listen, all of you,” she began, raising a hand. “My name is Yasti. I’ve been a demon of lust for three thousand years. I was spawned in the Howling Fields and I learned to smell the wants of skin and the movement of blood before I even learned to speak. I’ve seen humans stick their dicks in things you wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen kingdoms invaded for want of a good fucking, whole new religions spring up— for Satan’s sake, the fucking C of E!”
She was practically shouting now, the fervor of her words having stunned even the feeble stenographer into stillness.
“And that’s all there ever needed to be, friction and pressure and different types of goo to go in different types of holes… What could be better? What could be more powerful than desire, than the exultation of the physical? What could be greater than the hot and the wet and the slick and the forbidden?”
She looked over at Aziraphale, whose hand had found Crowley’s once more and could brook no thought of letting it go ever again.
“Forbidden, that’s really what I believed this was, at first,” she said, gesturing to the two of them. “I thought that’s all it could possibly be. A beautiful freakshow, something so hot in its fundamental wrongness, the flagrant flouting of taboo as simple exhibitionism…”
She took a deep breath. “But I was the wrong one. I can tell you, that what these two have… it’s real. It’s realer than any orgasm, any cry of pleasure or pain. It’s strong enough to stop the world from ending, as strong as any contract on Earth or in Hell. Powerful enough to teach me that there’s more to a relationship than who fucks who, and how they do it. Because maybe the greatest kink of all… is true love.”
Yasti’s face glowed with all the fervency of a new belief, strongly held. Silence reigned in the boardroom as the assembly took it all in; and then the first noise to break it was Hastur’s wheezing, groaning laugh.
“ True love? You’ve got to be kidding me, Yasti, he’s gotten to you too—he’s— he’s an aberration! If anything, all of that should prove he should be kept down here forever and— and tortured!”
Yasti’s crooked smile appeared, with a disbelieving twist as she turned to her supervisor. “An aberration? Because he loves? For Satan’s sake, you should talk, Hastur!”
“What— what do you mean—”
“I’m your direct report, sir, lest you forget. I spend half my time around you, cleaning up after you, doing your fucking paperwork better than you ever could. I was there that whole month after Ligur died, when you wouldn’t even leave your office, and I could hear Morrissey playing on repeat in there, so don’t try to deny it for a single second!”
“I didn’t— I never— what are you implying?!”
“You loved him, Hastur, and you miss him, and if there was a way for you to get him back then you’d storm up to Earth or Heaven just like Aziraphale stormed down here. That’s all this grudge is, jealousy and shame. You want to see Crowley punished because it’s as good a substitute as any for punishing yourself, for daring to feel! Can you tell me I’m wrong? Can you, sir? ”
And with this, Hastur sank back into his seat, mute and mortified; the frog atop his head seemed to visibly gray and shrink.
“I don’t think you’ll find the Duke has any more objections, Amy,” said Yasti, ever so sweetly. “And I know you’re ever so busy today, so we’d love to hear your final verdict, if you’ve come to one…”
Amy’s ears flicked impatiently, and she motioned to Eric; he passed her a stamp and an ink pad.
“For Lucifer’s sake, this circus has gone on long enough. All of you people are utterly insane. Demon Crowley, I hereby reissue you one standard human body, no upgrades or changes, effective immediately. Now get the fuck out of my boardroom, and get your scrawny ass back up topside. I don’t want to see you down here again, is that understood? Same goes for you, angel!”
She pressed the stamp into the pad, and then down again onto Crowley’s paperwork with a thwunk . Instantly, there was a puff of black smoke, and just like that— Crowley had a body again.
The boardroom erupted into cheers. Even the demons of the Body Board were clapping and hooting; Eric was wiping away a single tear as Amy shoved the paperwork back in his direction. Only Hastur remained seated and silent, jaw grimly set in anger and humiliation.
Across the table, Crowley locked eyes with Yasti. She was grinning at him, and he made a move towards her, he felt he had to say something, to thank her properly, but she shook her head and made shooing motions with her hands.
Get him out of here! she mouthed at him, nodding at Aziraphale, who was staring dazedly off into the middle distance. So Crowley grabbed the briefcase and the coat and the hat and then tightened his grip on Aziraphale’s hand, and he got him out of there.
The journey to the lift passed quickly, as they navigated the dark labyrinth of Hell’s corridors. Aziraphale somehow ended up leading the way a few steps ahead, their hands still entwined, and Crowley might have been worried by his refusal to look back at him, had he not known full well how the angel loved his stories. He couldn’t begrudge Aziraphale an understandable, harmless superstition, especially when the lift doors opened to the lobby and they stumbled out together and Aziraphale finally, finally, looked at him, eyes like a storm breaking at long last over a battered shore.
They rushed across that empty, echoing hall, the escalators thrumming behind them, heading for the doors, but then Aziraphale suddenly pulled Crowley to a halt in the middle of the floor.
His hands found Crowley’s lapels and then the back of his head and then the sides of his face, urgently evaluating, casting Crowley’s new corporation against some internal checklist.
“I’m all here,” Crowley said, “it’s me, it’s still me, everything present and accounted for, best I can tell.” He let Aziraphale’s belongings drop noiselessly to the floor; he wasn’t doing anything else with his hands right now, but he had the looming sense he might be about to.
“Crowley,” said Aziraphale, half-disbelieving, “I’m sorry I didn’t— I couldn’t—”
“Angel, fuck, what could you possibly have to apologize for? After all of that? My god, that was incredible! You were incredible!”
“I hated it when they called me that,” said Aziraphale, changing the subject. “ Angel, those demons down there, I— it’s so different when you say it. It’s always been so different.”
“And why do you think that is?”
Aziraphale’s hands had found their way surely down to Crowley’s shoulders, seemingly of their own volition, because when Aziraphale spoke he still sounded doubtful. “I’m sorry I couldn’t— when they asked me if I was sure, I just didn’t know, if you really meant — I mean, I know you said the marriage thing was— was just a joke to you, so I didn’t—”
“Oh, no, Aziraphale,” Crowley said, and the angel’s glance was so worrying that Crowley couldn’t resist sending one of his unoccupied hands to the small of Aziraphale’s back and applying a gentle pressure, trying to bring him in closer. “I didn’t mean that, I never meant any of that—”
“Then why on Earth did you say it?” said Aziraphale, resisting Crowley’s tug forward. God, could he be stubborn.
Crowley sighed. “Would you believe it was because I thought that’s what you wanted to hear? That you’d find the idea, presented sincerely, to be laughable and inappropriate?”
“Certainly, I’d believe you would be so idiotic as to think such a thing,” said Aziraphale. “But I would also believe you’d be smart enough to listen when I tell you…” And here he took a deep breath, and repositioned his hands back to Crowley’s face, where they lay warm and welcoming. There was nothing quite like having a body, was there?
“Tell me, angel. Please.”
“Being married to you would be nothing more than the greatest honor of my long, long life. I don’t doubt I haven’t wanted it for as long as you have, but if you’ll forgive me that, then I think we can very easily come to an understanding.”
Crowley didn’t dare speak. He worried if he did, the whole room might dissolve into darkness, and he’d be back down in that Hellish boardroom again, trapped and alone.
“Are we in agreement?” Aziraphale said quietly. “If so, I believe there’s something traditionally done…”
Crowley didn’t need asking twice. He surged forward in Aziraphale’s hands and kissed him with everything he had.
The vast room was absolutely silent and still around them, but in another sense, it wasn’t, and there was a great swell of stirring music3 and the camera crane swooped in from on high to down low in a tightening circle around them, so that every angle was captured in indelible Technicolor.
Crowley hadn’t expected Aziraphale to be soft against him because he knew Aziraphale better than anyone, and he knew Aziraphale’s hunger and willfulness as well as he knew the depths of his own sentimentality— and yet he still somehow had it in him to be surprised at the fierceness of the angel’s kiss, at the driving and desperate aggression with which Aziraphale’s mouth sought out every inch of his own. He wanted to flatten himself beneath that power, to be sublimated completely by angelic light.
After what seemed like forever and also no time at all, Aziraphale pulled away, hardly any distance, but enough to make Crowley sigh at the loss.
“Well,” said Aziraphale, catching his breath. “That was….”
“Yasti was right,” said Crowley, because he couldn’t think of anything more original, with his brain still being more or less offline. In a sense, he was referring to her bit about true love, and that was certainly what he meant for Aziraphale to understand; but in another sense he was thinking about a certain earlier quip, in the context of that bit about sublimation he’d just been occupied with…
“Oh, she was a sweetheart, wasn’t she? Your good influence, I take it,” said Aziraphale. Crowley responded to this with a mock-angry bite to the angel’s lip, and Aziraphale’s answering laugh sent a gorgeous shiver down Crowley’s brand-new spine.
A short taxi ride later and they were stepping back inside the bookshop. Crowley could hardly believe he’d only been away for barely more than three days. The discorporation already seemed like a distant memory— at least, it did right up until he caught a glimpse of what was sitting on the sofa in the back room.
“Fucking hell,” said Crowley, “look at that. What are we gonna do with him?”
The corpse stared back up at them, dead-eyed.
Aziraphale hummed. “A funeral, I should think,” he said. “I believe some... recent contacts I’ve made might be able to provide the appropriate services.”
Crowley nodded, and then sniffed the air. “You preserved it?”
“Oh, yes,” said Aziraphale. “I mean. You know, there’s... no rush at all.”
“Right,” said Crowley. He took off his shades, walked forward, and carefully placed them back on the corpse’s head. He didn’t really fancy the idea of getting stared at by his own eyes during whatever was about to come next.
He moved back to Aziraphale, and then brought his hand up to the angel's face. “Now," he said. "Where were we?”
1 Fig 2888-C: Proper Operating Procedure For Second Circle Standard Flaying Device Mark III, et cetera. [^]
2 Hence his disqualification from the position as the Wrong Boy’s nanny, which he’d initially argued he should get, as angels were fundamentally more nurturing, weren’t they? And besides, Crowley was far more qualified a gardener, was he not? In response, Crowley had laughed so hard he wheezed, and in the end, it had been a relief to be sequestered safely off in the capacious grounds of the Dowling estate, where he always had the opportunity to send Warlock off running back towards the house when he inevitably got fed up with the child’s incessant bothering.[^]
this chapter has been brought to you by:
- russell t davies era doctor who
- confidence man - confident songs for confident people (2018)
- michael sheen as roland blum
- balcony tea & coffee in koreatown los angeles
epilogue should be up later this week :) thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting! <3
Chapter 4: it's your funeral
“Dearly beloved,” read Aziraphale, from the paper in his hands that was staying miraculously dry, “we are gathered here today to commemorate the life of my late husband, Anthony Crowley...”
There had been clear skies over London before the funeral began, but once a small crowd of mourners had assembled, the heavens darkened rapidly. Great claps of thunder began to echo through the cemetery, and soon thick drops were splashing down on unprepared heads.
Almost none of the mixed bunch gathered at the graveside had thought to bring umbrellas, and it wasn’t long before most of them were shooting jealous glances at the sole attendee who had.
It was an interesting group, to put it mildly. There were bouncers and bakers, suits and spooks, parolees and pensioners. What connected them all was their affiliation with the man they’d known as Anthony J. Crowley III, a.k.a. the slimiest, slickest, flashest bastard to ever walk the streets of central London.
A little amoebic gathering of acquaintances had soon formed within the larger group, its members exchanging not-so-fond memories of the dearly departed. None of them could quite remember how they’d heard about the funeral, but they’d all shown up just the same.
“Fitting, innit?” said Big Jim, who’d been one of Crowley’s general contacts in the city’s criminal underground. “One last chance to fuck us over. Get us all wet and miserable while we stand about waiting to see him finally put six feet under.”
“Yeah,” said little old Sally Crewe, who’d run scams with Crowley’s father in the Swinging 60s, and had picked it back up again with Junior once austerity had really started kicking in. “He would, that one.”
“Sure as I am bald, he was a prick,” said Mr. Lerman, a sallow-faced banker who’d helped construct Crowley’s arcane and intricate offshore financial architecture, and for his trouble had been rewarded with a raid on his offices and six years in prison.
“Hey, now, let’s not speak ill of the dead,” said Gary Milton. He was a rotund contractor who’d regularly taken bribes to look the other way while Crowley snuck into various construction sites, and did God-only-knows-what inside half-built basements.
“Hang on,” piped up a short man in a dirty red coat who’d just arrived late— Prentiss the forger, who’d provided Crowley with a myriad of false credentials over the years. “Someone’s dead?”
“Yes,” said Sally, with a thin frown, “Anthony Crowley has passed on.”
“Come off it! Crowley’s dead? The Crowley? Not good old A. J. C.? He’s dead? ”
“This is his funeral, Prentiss, you knob!” hissed Big Jim.
“Ah,” said Prentiss, looking around carefully, “I s’pose it is. Would explain the rabbi over there, with the umbrella.”
“Dunno about that,” said Big Jim thoughtfully. “Woulda thought Crowley was an atheist.”
Sally let out a cackle. “Oh, no,” she said, “quite the opposite. You ever see him really sloshed? Get two bottles in him and he’d start ranting about God’s plan. His father was the same way, now that I think about it…”
They stood for a moment with this information, rain soaking them to the bone.
“Oi, Big Jim,” said Gary suddenly, “who is that?”
Big Jim narrowed his eyes in the direction of Gary’s pointing finger, and caught a glimpse of a lithe dark shape, a red-headed vision in a high-necked black dress. “Whoo-ee,” he said. “I didn’t know Crowley had a twin sister.”
“Ain’t she a sight?” breathed Prentiss, giving the fine lady a once-over. She was the spitting image of the deceased, with thick curls falling to shoulders whose pale skin peeked through black lace sleeves.
“Shh,” said Mr. Lerman, “the rabbi’s about to do the speech.”
“If there’s a good word to be said about Anthony Crowley, I’m just dying to hear it,” Big Jim muttered.
“Ha ha, dying, I get it,” said Prentiss. “Cos it’s a funeral, and all.”
“Shut up, Prentiss,” said Gary and Sally at the same time.
If it hadn’t been for the call coming in midday on Friday, Crowley and Aziraphale might not have left the bedroom above the bookshop for weeks.
But as it were, they happened to be taking a bit of a breather when the beige rotary phone at the side of Aziraphale’s supernaturally comfortable bed rang with shrill impatience. Aziraphale automatically moved to pick it up, ignoring Crowley’s groans as the angel shifted mere inches away from him in order to do so.
“Hello? … Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry I didn’t think to call, you must have been so worried—” Aziraphale paused, and frowned. “Oh. Yes... Mmhmm. Absolutely.”
Crowley had by now sat up, and was absentmindedly thumbing at the spot on his neck where Aziraphale’s tongue had been drawing lazy circles just moments before.
“Well, as a fellow business owner, I understand one’s priorities must always be— yes.” Aziraphale looked nervously at Crowley now, and the demon began to get the sense he was missing something here.
“Of course. You’ll have it within the hour— yes, I’ll tell you all about it. Alright. Pip-pip!”
Aziraphale hung up the phone, and Crowley raised an eyebrow. “Now, are you going to tell me what that was about?” he asked. “Or am I going to have to tease it out of you? Not that I’d mind having to try…”
“Well,” said Aziraphale, pointedly ignoring Crowley’s fingers creeping their way up his bare chest, “how shall I put this… I may have promised material use of your dead body to the occult mortician who discorporated you.”
In the end, Aziraphale didn’t have anything to worry about (though of course that had never stopped him before). After hearing the story, Crowley thought the whole business was hilarious, and agreed to accompany Aziraphale on his promised errand.
They loaded the body into the back of the Bentley and carted it off to Kovensky & Sons. At the curb, Mr. Kovensky was waiting with a helpful wheeled conveyance, but as Crowley stepped out of the driver’s side the man stumbled backwards in shock.
“I— I didn’t know he’d be coming—”
Aziraphale hurried around to Mr. Kovensky’s side. “Oh dear. Do you need me to do the…?” he said, holding up a hand towards the man’s head.
“No, no,” insisted Mr. Kovensky. “S’all right.” With a concerted effort he straightened up, swallowed down his fear, and offered his hand out to Crowley.
“Dennis Kovensky, at your service, sir, and I really must apologize wholeheartedly for my conduct in regards to your, er, manner of departure—”
“Oh, shut up, it’s fine,” said Crowley, though he made his grip bone-crushingly strong around the man’s fingers, just to keep him on his toes. “Not your fault we didn’t get our shit together fast enough to figure out the interference issue. No, you saw an opportunity, and you took it, and I respect that.”
They brought the body inside, and were met almost immediately with the appearance of a mousy pre-teen, peeking around the morgue door.
“Oh! Crowley, this is Cyn,” said Aziraphale happily as the girl approached.
Crowley glanced, alarmed, at Mr. Kovensky. “Sin? You named your child Sin? I know you’re a professional dark artificer, but even I think that’s a bit on the nose—”
“It’s short for Cynthia,” said the girl.
“Oh,” said Crowley. “Right.”
“She was quite instrumental in your retrieval. Came up with the whole idea of the deal,” said Aziraphale, wiggling his fingers at the word deal in a way that caught Crowley’s eyes right in the sweet spot between wanting to roll in exasperation and tear up in affection.
Instead, he lowered his sunglasses to give Cyn a good look. Her hair had been neatly plaited; she wore a purple t-shirt and looked wholly like a girl who had never even heard of a pentacle, let alone one who regularly spent her weekends enacting highly complex dark rituals. This appealed to Crowley; he liked people with a bit of depth to them.
“Your idea, was it?” said Crowley. “Pretty damn brilliant, if you ask me.”
She nodded, trying not to let her self-satisfaction and pride shine through, but Crowley could feel it all the same. He broke out into a wide, approving smile and brought the girl in for a grateful hug.
“I’ve never hugged a demon before,” said Cyn into his shoulder. “The ones Daddy summons usually smell really bad.”
“Typical,” tsked Crowley.
Aziraphale then brought up the matter of funeral preparations, and Mr. Kovensky assured him that the Deluxe Burial Package would be entirely complimentary, as a matter of recompense for the general inconvenience and chaos of the past week.
“You know,” said Mr. Kovensky, as he opened up the catalog, “I often get folks in here to pick out their own funeral arrangements. Terminal patients, the elderly, you know.” He looked Crowley up and down; the demon was the very picture of health. “But I have to say, this is most certainly the first time I’ve had a casket chosen by someone who’s already died. ”
In the end, after a mere half-hour of bickering with Aziraphale, Crowley managed to settle on an only slightly-flash black coffin, and a mid-sized dark marble headstone with a simple engraving:
Anthony J. Crowley III
“SO LONG, SUCKERS”
As soon as they finished up, the ever-antsy Crowley immediately wandered over to one of the morgue tables, where Cyn was sitting as she scrolled on her dad’s phone, and started pestering her about her favorite apps.
“Well, now that that’s all sorted, I better get started,” said Mr. Kovensky to Aziraphale, motioning back over to where the body lay, full of organs ready to be removed for occult purposes.
But he didn’t move to walk away; instead standing there and rubbing the back of his neck as he stared anxiously at his feet.
“Is there something wrong?” Aziraphale asked.
“No…” began Mr. Kovensky, and then shook his head. “Well. It’s just that… you do know what I’ll be doing with it, don’t you? A Dread Ring? I would’ve thought you… well, isn’t that the sort of thing your, er, type wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands…? You’re not going to try and... stop me?”
Aziraphale thought for a moment.
“Maybe I would’ve,” he said pensively, “a few years ago, perhaps. But I spent a very, very long time meddling rather ineffectively in human affairs— well, we both did. And I think we’re content now to let things play out without intercession. So no, I won’t be stopping you from doing your job, as you wish it to be done.”
Mr. Kovensky nodded at this sage advice.
“Although,” said Aziraphale with a smile, “if it’s really giving you that much trouble on your conscience… that’s not something to ignore. And that’s all I’ll say on the matter.”
With that, Aziraphale went to rejoin Crowley at Cyn’s side. Mr. Kovensky was left standing there, thinking about how his mother would be so disappointed in him right now.
“Dearly beloved,” read Aziraphale, from the paper in his hands that was staying miraculously dry, “we are gathered here today to commemorate the life of my late husband, Anthony Crowley...”
He looked out at the gathered mourners. Well, mourners perhaps wasn’t the right word. Crowley had been very insistent that this was to be a celebration, not a morbid affair.
That meant none of their friends, no Anathema or Madame Tracy or the friendly barista from the cafe across from the bookshop. Nobody who’d actually be sad at the thought of Crowley dead, even the lucky ones who’d know he wasn’t really gone at all. Just a delightful bouquet of various miscreants Crowley’d crossed in his day who would be only too happy to see him put in the ground.
“... Anthony was a wonderful man, adored by all who knew him…”
A dark, disbelieving snicker from the crowd came at this. Towards the back, Crowley winked at Aziraphale, and the angel nearly stumbled over his words, inconveniently distracted by the shade of cherry-red lipstick Crowley had chosen for his “disguise.”
“... his entrepreneurial spirit will be missed, as will his quick wit and gentle heart… He loved to garden, and he loved music… “
Aziraphale turned the page and continued to read.
“Crowley loved his car, which was very sexy and cool just like himself, and he probably should have been a movie star, and if you didn’t snog him before he got killed then boo-hoo you lose—”
And now Aziraphale realized, too little too late, that these were not the sentences he’d carefully set down earlier that morning at his roll-top desk. Crowley must have swapped out the page out when he was getting dressed, the devil.
Calling upon what he’d come to proudly consider his “chops,” Aziraphale managed to turn his uncontrollable giggles into what might have passed for choking sobs of grief, before crumpling up the offending page and shoving it into a coat pocket.
“Er. Ah. If anyone else has any memories to share, please, come forward…”
To his relief, a little old lady pushed her way to the front, and immediately started decrying Crowley as a swindler and a cheat.
Retreating to the back of the crowd, Aziraphale installed himself next to Crowley. “I hate you,” he said. “What was that?”
“Couldn’t resist,” said Crowley with a grin. He tugged at Aziraphale’s big black coat, pulling the angel towards him for a kiss.
“Darling, people will talk,” murmured Aziraphale. “The sister of the deceased, making a move on his widower? At the funeral? ”
Crowley pulled away, frowning. “Oh,” he said, “yeah, I guess you’re right—”
At this, Aziraphale narrowed his eyes. “Crowley, I believe you are supposed to say, let them talk.”
“Yes, and then you keep kissing me, and it becomes a story that all these fine people can tell around the Christmas table for years to come…”
Crowley glanced behind Aziraphale, and spotted Prentiss the forger gaping open-mouthed, elbowing Gary Milton to take a look!
“Can’t argue with that,” he said, and picked up where he left off.
They headed back to Crowley’s flat after the funeral, because it was a Tuesday afternoon and the plants needed care.
When they entered, Crowley noticed an odd scent, and every nerve in his brand-new body lit up in terror. He threw out a protective hand in front of Aziraphale and rushed inside, but was quickly relieved to find no demonic intruder.
Instead, on his desk lay a medium-sized matte black gift box, wrapped in an iridescent green ribbon. On top was an envelope, holding the kind of cheap condolence card sold in corner stores that you were always sure nobody ever actually bought. On the front was a watercolor illustration of a crying angel and, written in a grotesquely curly font, With Deepest Sympathy.
Aziraphale appeared at Crowley’s side. “Now, what could this be?”
Crowley opened the card so they could both read it.
dear aziraphale & aziraphale’s demon (｡’▽’｡)♡
so bummed i couldn’t make it to the funeral bbs! o(╥﹏╥)o i haven’t had time to reschedule my re-corporation hearing…. not that im complaining tho i mean after that shit i pulled hastur couldve had me hella demoted, but i think hes rly scared of me now hahhashdshdsdfsd so he’s keeping me super busy. it’s w/e!! (￣▽￣)ノ
anyway! plz accept this gift as a measure of my condolences. truly so sorry for ur loss lololol Ｏ(≧∇≦)Ｏ
Crowley very nearly made Aziraphale leave the room before he opened the box, but the sparking curiosity in the angel’s eyes unfortunately had the power to outweigh all of Crowley’s well-informed anticipatory shame.
The contents practically glowed; Crowley felt like he was in Pulp Fiction. Inside, resting on a bed of black velvet, was an Object. (It would not have done to describe it with anything but a Proper Noun.)
The Object was beautiful, to be sure. It was very large and very shiny and had an assortment of graceful curves that managed, without words, to convey an instant impression of almost terrifying amounts of potential pleasure contained within.
Aziraphale’s eyes were wide with curiosity as he gingerly poked the Object. It responded by vibrating slightly.
“We’ll, er, work up to it,” said Crowley, blushing furiously.
Leaving Wyndham’s Theatre after a tour-de-force performance of Fleabag that evening , Crowley slipped his hand happily into Aziraphale’s and tried to convince himself that this all wasn’t just an extended near-death experience his dying corpse was having as it expired on the Soho pavement a week ago.
“So, what now?” said Aziraphale.
“Well, we could go back to yours, open a bottle of—”
“No,” interrupted Aziraphale. “I mean. Generally speaking.”
“I dunno,” said Crowley. “I… did you have something in mind?”
“Well,” said Aziraphale, “we technically got married five years ago, which makes us well overdue for a honeymoon...”
Oh. Oh. Crowley’s brain began whirring in overtime as he tried to figure out how exactly to respond to this.
“Twenty years should be long enough,” said Crowley, at length. “Then I could come back as my own son, start everything back up here.”
This seemed to have been the correct response, because Aziraphale lit up with satisfaction. “And we’d have to get married again, of course,” he suggested.
“Oh, naturally. Twenty years long enough for you to plan the perfect wedding?”
“Maybe only just.”
“And where shall we spend this honeymoon of ours?”
Aziraphale made a show of putting his hand to his chin and thinking, even though with what he knew now Crowley could figure that the angel had long ago come to whatever his choice was, possibly before Crowley even got discorporated, possibly before Armageddon, possibly decades before that, even.
“How would you feel about the South Downs?”
thank you SO MUCH to everyone who’s stuck around for this whole adventure! this is the first multi-chapter fic i’ve ever finished in my got dang life and the fact that people have been following along (!!!) is not something i’ve taken for granted <3
@goosetooths on twitter drew this INCREDIBLE portrait of yasti!!! ;0;