“Are they here yet?”
Aziraphale startled slightly upon hearing Crowley’s smooth voice behind him. The angel need not turn around to know the demon was sauntering toward him, impatiently checking his watch.
“Patience, dear,” Aziraphale soothed. “The soul isn’t bound by human constructs. It does what it wants, when it wants.” He chanced a glance at his own timepiece. Crowley had a point. They really should have been here by now.
Crowley sighed dramatically, as was his way. “I know. But I just put a cake in the oven.”
A what? This time, Aziraphale did turn around. “Oh, well that was n—”
Crowley raised a finger. “No. Don’t you dare. Don’t say it—”
“Nice of you.” Aziraphale said it anyway, throwing Crowley a smirk.
Crowley rolled his eyes. “I told you not to say it!”
Oh, how Aziraphale loved to rile the demon up. He was so cute when he was riled. But at the moment, there were more important things to worry about.
“Did you remember the—”
“Strawberries?” Crowley cut in. “Yes.”
“Oh good; Lilly loves strawberries. And the cake is—”
Aziraphale beamed. “Oh, you really are—”
Crowley raised both index fingers this time. “Don’t!”
Crowley paused, and slowly started to nod as Aziraphale’s response registered. “Oh… Well, I… Well, Ye…yeah.”
Aziraphale smiled. Crowley really could be wonderful when he wanted to. And, truth be told, he wouldn’t have been able to put all this together without his help. Well, he could have, but he hadn’t wanted to.
Aziraphale turned away from Crowley, and looked out over the cosmos they’d created.
Below, fluffy, white clouds rimmed with pink and gold bordered a long, winding, marble staircase – the image of heaven Aziraphale knew human beings were most familiar with. After all, familiarity made change easier.
Above, hundreds of thousands of stars, and nebulae made up of their matter – Crowley’s contribution – and was that, Pluto? Oh, but of course Crowley would include Pluto, being named after the Roman god of death and all. Would Lilly and Douglas notice?
Aziraphale had made sure to light their way with something soft and natural. The more pleasant the sight, the easier the transition.
“I’m surprised, you know,” Crowley said, pulled Aziraphale out of his reverie, “that this would be the place.”
“The place for what?” Aziraphale asked. What was Crowley on about?
“Well, for Douglas,” Crowley answered. “This is all fine for Lilly, but—”
“Oh,” Aziraphale scoffed. “Did you hear him in church at all a few months ago?”
“Yes, and he’s got a lovely singing voice,” Crowley said, “but he’s not exactly the saintly type.”
Aziraphale nearly laughed. “Neither are you and you’re here.” He smoothed out a crease in his waistcoat. “And besides, you do remember the confetti Lilly rigged to come down on her sister’s head when she opened the hotel room door after her wedding, yes?”
Crowley smiled proudly. “Of course I remember! Who do you think put her up to it?”
This time, Aziraphale did laugh. Oh, he knew all right. “The same person who got it into Douglas’s head that he should follow everyone in the pool every time he let wind!”
Crowley stood up a bit straighter. “Absolutely!” He paused and then smirked at the angel. “And I suppose you're the one who told him to sing Tiny Bubbles every time he did.”
“Someone had to warn those poor souls!” Aziraphale said.
“Or, at least warn their noses,” Crowley quipped.
“But let’s not forget they good they’ve done,” Aziraphale continued. “All the time Lilly spent cooking for her family and community events, sneaking food into the hospital for Karen after that procedure. And that gentleman she administered first aid to in that shopping mall!” He paused to take a breath. “Douglas painted his grandmother’s house, free of charge, he made meals for his aunt after her cardiac arrest, and saved his brother from a knife attack!”
“His poor aunt had more food than she could handle,” Crowley mused. “Ended up throwing out a lot of it. Not even sure she liked half of what he made.”
“Yes, but it’s the thought that counts,” Aziraphale answered.
“Why?” Crowley asked. “Why is it always the thought that counts? Why isn’t it the deed itself, or, or… or something else that counts?”
Oh, Crowley. “They all count, dear,” Aziraphale said. “And besides, these two are—”
“Special,” Crowley interrupted gently.
“Exactly,” Aziraphale answered. “And—”
An unexpected smell his Aziraphale’s nostrils and he stopped. He sniffed the air multiple times. Was that oats? And apples? And brown sugar and cinnamon?
“Oh my.” He looked over at Crowley, whose nose was also skyward. “I thought you said you’d put a cake in the oven.”
“I did!” Crowley said. He pointed toward the smell. “But that’s not what I put in the oven; I made devil’s food cake.” He sniffed. “That’s…”
“Apple crumble!” Aziraphale exclaimed.
“Says the fiend who helped me put all this together and is now welcoming souls into it,” Aziraphale retorted with a smile.
Crowley shifted. “Shut up,” he muttered.
Soon, the sound of two voices laughing moved in with the smell of apple crumble, and Aziraphale’s heart swelled. He could see them now, walking up the stairs.
Lilly’s head was thrown back in laughter as Douglas joked about something, but she didn’t miss a step. In her hands was a ceramic dish with a tea towel draped over it to keep the heat in.
“Do you think I’ll be able to watch baseball games up here?” Douglas asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Lilly said. She paused briefly. “Hey, do you think I’ll finally get my dream kitchen?”
“I hope so!” Douglas answered. “I want more of your apple crumble!”
Aziraphale straightened his bow tie, smoothed out his waistcoat (again), and tugged at his overcoat to make sure everything was lying as it should. Then he gave his wings a flap to smooth out any wayward feathers. He had to look presentable after all.
Crowley merely ran a hand through his hair, letting the renegade strands fall where they may. Well, at least he looked good doing it. He didn’t even worry about his wings.
Lilly and Douglas reached the top step, stopped, and looked at their hosts.
Aziraphale's heart warmed and swelled again – so much he thought it would burst. Calm and happiness were all that radiated from Lilly and Douglas. Every one of their earthly trials and tribulations, their sadness, their pain; everything that had once ailed them was gone. Absolutely gone.
“Oh, hello,” Lilly said. “I wasn’t sure what the policy was for something like this, so I thought I’d bring a little something. Hope you like apple crumble.”
Crowley grinned. “Oh, we do.”
“Are you the welcoming committee?” Douglas asked.
“We are,” Aziraphale answered. “I’m Aziraphale, and this is Crowley.”
Together, they extended a hand—Aziraphale, his left, and Crowley, his right—as the warm guiding light shone behind them.
Aziraphale smiled. “Welcome home.”