Actions

Work Header

Burnt

Work Text:

The thing was, Crowley knew about the clandestine meeting at the church two weeks before it happened. He didn’t know the details yet beyond British Counterintelligence ordering him to make it not-happen, whatever it was. That was the problem with trying to put up with these particular humans. Everyone, bloody everyone, was so busy keeping secrets that they were forgetting to tell their allies their own bloody jobs.

Crowley could deal with this. If he could convince Below that he was working for MI5 for the sole purpose of feeding information to the Nazis, he could squeeze the details of this stupid church meeting out of the idiot humans before the event in question occurred.

The hilarious part of it all was that Crowley was, in fact, feeding intelligence to the Nazis. He’d just never bothered telling Below that he was using a code with a cypher known only to one member of the SS, a man who was now very conveniently dead. Therefore, everything he sent was useless, and even had the unofficial stamp of MI5 approval.

Crowley hated to send people telegraphs of complete nonsense. Nazi Germany received weather reports that were two weeks out of date and summaries of broadcasted radio dramas.

He’d been ordered to join MI5 in 1937—literally, Below had even sent an envoy to make certain of it—and was told to assist in the system’s continued decline and eventual failure. Yes, absolutely, he would get right onto not needing to do a blessed thing. The humans were fucking up their own domestic security so badly that he was practically kicking back his feet to collect a paycheck.

Thus, Crowley had spent most of his odd stint with MI5 trying not to tear out his own hair.

Crowley actually liked London. It was a bit like Rome, but without the need to constantly filter toxic levels of lead out of his system from drinking the wine. He wanted it to still be standing when this war and the Blitz was done with, so he could go back to enjoying its many pleasures…and its easily provided temptations, meaning he didn’t have to travel the entire stupid globe any longer just to fulfil quotas.

He’d gone and accidentally got rather famous for being good at this job. That was a very fast way to get into so much fucking trouble Downstairs; he’d all but miracled Command to have him listed as a security threat. Everyone important knew it was a lie, but Hell would only be paying attention to what the humans wrote down, and that was what mattered to Crowley.

Besides, it was definitely not his fault when Churchill decided in 1940 that maybe MI5 should get off of its arse and start doing its job properly again. It was also not Crowley’s fault that he was now stuck in this position until the war ended. If he bailed, he might as well leave the country with the next receding tide, because the immediate assumption by Command would be that Crowley was no mere security threat, but an actual fucking Nazi. He didn’t want to get shot again this century. World War I was enough, thanks.

Mustard gas was worse, though. He’s glad he didn’t invent that.

Fortunately, the Luftwaffe had started to slack off on trying to turn London into a crater. No reason given by the occasional telegraph the SS still dutifully sent to their London “spy,” but it was probably a stupid one. There were still a few too many Nazis running about for Crowley’s tastes.

Something was changing, though. Crowley could feel it, at least when he was trying not to choke on mortar, dust, gunpowder, and the smell of old blood saturating London’s fine air. He had no idea why, but the tide of war was slowly turning. Something was going to change this year, and it was going to be something big…which meant Germany was probably going to poke a few very large things with sticks before realizing the poked things had sticks of their own.

So: find Nazis, who’d scheduled themselves a meeting in a church near Westminster: check. Their meeting was scheduled on a night that the Luftwaffe was going to give the East End another pounding: check. Find out what said meeting was about: almost check. Thwart said meeting: work in progress.

“I should never have started that obsession with the occult,” Crowley muttered as he read through bits of notes collected by overworked spies, British and Nazi alike. Sometimes they would even interact, British and Nazi, with neither spy at all certain they were with an ally or an enemy—which, honestly, that just made things more interesting. “Even bloody Hitler thinks occult nonsense will win him the war. Funny; I thought the guns, tanks, planes, and the bombs were doing a fine job all by themselves. I suppose everyone is allowed their little distractions—”

Crowley stared at the first picture that fell out of his newest envelope. It’s of a beautiful woman, sort of intelligent in the ruthless way, utterly a Nazi. He’d encountered her a few times already, but she wasn’t aware of it. Madam Ruthless Nazi thought she’d been interacting with a fellow female Nazi spy.

He’d only done that bit a few times before the idea of making nice with Nazis left him retching into the nearest rubbish bin. He was a bloody demon, but hardcore fanatical Nazis who were just a nudge away from believing their Führer was God were just too evil to cope with.

The second photograph was of said beautiful ruthless Nazi in the company of an idiot.

Crowley groaned and let his head thump down on his desk. “Aziraphale, why are you hanging about with Nazis? Because if you’ve switched teams, it’s really polite to warn a body!”

He lifted his head and rested his head in his hands. “Okay. Occult meeting with Nazis. Definitely about books—oh, hello, thank you, Doreen, for actually including written information in your report. I’ll be thanking you with not tempting you into adultery with that co-worker of yours you’ve been fancying for the last month.” It was too bad, really. Doreen had married a bore, but she’s the one who didn’t word her wedding vows properly enough to give herself an outlet every now and then. Heaven didn’t mind the sex, but Hell had a thing for collecting the souls of those who willfully violated their vows.

“Mister Azarias Ziv Fell, volunteer, MI5 Special Services Branch,” Crowley read, raising an eyebrow. “Volunteer. For Satan’s sake, angel, next time just accept the stupid paycheck.”

Azarias Ziv, Hebrew. Someone must have been feeling nostalgic. Helped by God’s radiance.

All right, maybe someone was just feeling sarcastic. No one’s seen light or smidge of God’s actual radiance since 4004 BC.

Then again, this was Aziraphale. “Been at this since 1939 and not discorporated yet, that’s better than your usual track record. Too bad your report states that you think Madam Ruthless there is also MI5. Structure, people. This is why you actually structure your spy organizations!”

“Did someone do something stupid again?” Wells called from three desks down. They each had their own alcove, but it was the bloody Underground. Sound carried too well, and Crowley (with very few exceptions) had never given a blessing if someone heard his opinion or not.

“Not yet they haven’t. Give it about two weeks, though.” Crowley gathered everything back up, shoved it all into an envelope, and locked it inside his desk. Then he tapped the drawer once for good measure. Anyone trying to open that would not like the curse that followed them around afterwards.

Two weeks. He had two weeks to try to figure out if he could enter a church without dying immediately.

Ugh. Maybe he’d just kidnap the angel and then intercept the Nazis before they went into the church. That would be so much easier, except every time he tried to make a simple plan, it backfired. He still wasn’t certain if it was Hell just making his life difficult, or if he was his own worst enemy.

Crowley decided to hit a pub that was still standing and open for business on his way home. He needed a drink or six to warm up for the next event on his schedule.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Crowley was smart enough to know that he needed to approach this by layers of difficulty. He found himself a church that wasn’t properly consecrated first, which wasn’t all that hard to do anymore. Christianity had developed a lot of twists and turns in the last two millennia, and some of those sects put no stock in holy water or consecrated ground. Crowley appreciated that attitude, as it saved him a lot of grief and potential dying.

Faith, however—long, extended bouts of true faith—that could consecrate a place whether it was the original intent or not. Crowley chose a night when the bombs were falling in the north, pushed open the door, and stepped inside the church.

He immediately stepped out again, bent over and trying hard to breathe. He didn’t even need to breathe, but he did after that.

Faith. Heaven’s bollocks, that smarted. Consecration by faith wasn’t as powerful as deliberately consecrated ground, but it would still take the wind out of a demon’s sails.

When he could think clearly again, Crowley eyed his shoes. He rarely bothered with the real thing; he liked the feel of the ground beneath his feet. Better sense of balance, better sense of vibration.

Bare feet, even shape-shifted bare feet, were not going to work for this. Bollocks. He hadn’t been fitted for shoes since men’s boots went out of style, and he didn’t miss that level of restriction.

Crowley came back to the church the next night wearing leather shoes that were expensive enough to possibly see him thrown in prison for the extravagance. He really did understand the austerity measures, but that didn’t mean he had to put up with them. He needed to be able to walk, he needed flexibility, and he wanted to not be stuck with the desire to gnaw off his own feet the entire time he was wearing the stupid shoes.

Maybe if I just don’t breathe the entire time, Crowley thought, and stepped into the church again. He lasted for five minutes before the burning in his feet, and in his lungs, drove him right back outside.

Crowley sprawled on the ground outside the church’s fenced boundaries, staring up at the sky. The clouds were highlighted by distant explosions, orange and Hellish. “Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” he yelled. Then he got back up, dusted himself off, and stalked back inside for another round.

It only took a few days before he could sit in the front of the church, feet up off the ground, and not feel like he was suffocating. It was quiet in the church, rather peaceful. The people who attended services here—the ones who were still alive, anyway—must love this building. He wasn’t made to feel love, but he wasn’t blind, either.

He rather liked the minimalism of it. There was a plain wooden pulpit, not even painted, but no altar behind it, no nave. There was only a stained glass window that was not much more than a colorful smudge in the darkness.

Crowley thought about it for a moment before snapping his fingers, calling up a ball of flame that burned on the outside to illuminate the window. “An angel with red hair, a flaming sword, and making out with a dragon. Hello, Qaphsiel. Been a while, hasn’t it?”

“Yes. It really has.”

Crowley tried not to grimace as he glanced to his left. Qaphsiel was lounging on the pew on the other side of the aisle. “What do you want?”

“You’re sitting in a church dedicated to me. You said my name.” Qaphsiel shrugged. “It’s sort of a thing that happens.” He tilted his head. “Aren’t you worried I might smite you?”

“You don’t smite people in churches. It’s bloody rude,” Crowley retorted.

Qaphsiel smiled. “I did miss you, you know—”

“Don’t.” Crowley shook his head. “Just…don’t. It’s over and it’s done with, and you know it.”

“Is it? And here I thought our Mother’s first commandment was love,” Qaphsiel said. “It’s never too late, my friend.”

“Irredeemable. You recall what that word means, yeah?” Crowley gave him a withering stare. “Because I’ve never forgotten.”

Qaphsiel was as annoying as Aziraphale for not getting the bloody hint. “You don’t hate Her.”

Crowley scowled and turned away. “It would probably be easier if I did.”

“Easier for whom?” Qaphsiel asked, and then stood up as Crowley began to cough. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here. That’s enough marinating for tonight.”

“I’m not—” He kept coughing, almost doubled over with it, and barely noticed when Qaphsiel grabbed his arm to drag him out of the church. “I’m not marinating!”

“Mm-hm. Keep telling yourself that,” Qaphsiel murmured. He waited until Crowley recovered his breath, though part of that involved sicking up everything he’d drunk that evening.

“Are you going to try to smite me now?” Crowley asked, leaning against the cast-iron fence. “Be an easy job at the moment.”

Qaphsiel looked grieved in response. “Look at what we’ve become. We fear each other, hate each other, we want nothing more than to be at war with each other again—and for what?”

“Counting coup,” Crowley suggested.

“It does rather seem that way, doesn’t it?” Qaphsiel sighed. “I’m not Gabriel, or Sandalphon, or Michael, or Uriel—and really, I’m glad for that, because they frighten me, Astrologer.”

Crowley growled under his breath, but at least Qaphsiel had used his old title, not his actual bloody name. “You, of all people, have absolutely no reason to be afraid of Heaven’s bigwigs.”

“Fear of them? No.” Qaphsiel shook his head. “I fear what they might do.”

“Why?”

“You know how to read the stars. Look for yourself,” Qaphsiel said. Then there was a flutter of wings, and he was gone.

“Cryptic prick!” Crowley shouted after him, trying to ignore the painful sensation in his chest.

 

*          *          *          *

 

At the beginning of the second week, he made the first attempt with a properly consecrated Catholic church.

He promptly ran back to the street, swearing, because his jacket was on fire just from touching the bloody door. He doused the flames, ripped off his jacket, and then stomped on it for good measure.

Satan’s sake, he’d really liked that jacket.

Kidnapping the angel was starting to become the far more appealing plan. He could probably explain it to MI5 as extraordinary rendition or something. No, wait, that was for foreign governments.

In his head, Crowley tried to figure out how to write a memo to his current human superior officers that would reasonably explain why he’d kidnapped an MI5 Special Services volunteer. Nope; he was not that good. Everything he could think of made either himself or Aziraphale look like bloody Nazi spies. Getting them both shot would not put Aziraphale in a good mood.

Aziraphale hadn’t been in a good mood in 1862, either. Crowley really doubted that things had improved since then, but he couldn’t just sit back and watch Aziraphale get himself executed by sub-par Nazis. Part of it was the principle of the thing: friends do not let friends be executed by sub-par Nazis. Crowley hadn’t spent six thousand years keeping Aziraphale’s fluffy idiot head on his ridiculous idiot shoulders just to give up now. The other part, the part he tried his best to bury…well, everyone knew how that would turn out, including him, so that was nobody’s fucking business.

Crowley glanced at the church and then glared up at the sky. “I hate you. You do know that, yeah?”

The sky didn’t answer. Not that he expected Her to do so. She never did.

“Look. It’s not for me, all right? I know you don’t want me anywhere near your hapless little lambs,” Crowley said. “You don’t want me in your church. I really don’t want to be in your church, either. This is for him. One of yours, remember? Aziraphale? Ring a bell? Sappy dope who gave humans a flaming sword because he was worried they’d get themselves killed after you punted their arses out of the Garden? You know who I mean.”

He sighed and gave the church another look. “I know we don’t get on, but for once, just…please. I can’t let him die.”

There was also the part where he still had to do his job and thwart the stupid Nazi spies collecting occult objects. He didn’t need them alive, only needed to confirm their identities with Command, but that was a much lesser concern. If Aziraphale weren’t involved, he’d just divert a bomb or something to take care of the problem—

Crowley grinned. “Or something.”

He didn’t feel Her Presence. That wasn’t really a thing demons were ever offered. What he did feel, then, was the solidness of an idea, of the right path to take, and the firm sense that even if God gave no fucks about Crowley, She did, maybe, give a bit of a fuck about Aziraphale. That was enough for him.

Maybe it wasn’t even Her at all. Maybe it was Qaphsiel, deciding to stick his nose into things. Crowley decided that it ultimately didn’t matter, not as long as both he and Aziraphale were still alive when it was over with.

This time when he tried the door, his jacket didn’t catch fire. He burnt his fingers, but it was a quick sizzle, a warning instead of flaming death. “Yeah, yeah, I know, no holy water theft,” he added, and then walked into the church.

Crowley practically bolted up the aisle, wincing with every step, and then threw himself onto a pew near the front, hoping the pews didn’t count as consecrated ground. Fortunately for his burning feet, they didn’t. The air quality was a bit like breathing sulfur fumes, but more like the opposite. Unpleasant, but he could bear it.

He tucked his legs up on the seat of the pew, slumped back, and regarded the front of the first Catholic church, Christian branch number one, he’d been able to set foot in for…a while. Definitely been a while. The humans had figured out consecrated ground early on.

“300 AD or thereabouts, I think,” Crowley said to himself. Churches had been a lot simpler in those days, more in line with Jewish temples. They were places of gathering, places of teaching, shelters against the storm.

They certainly hadn’t been devoted to gigantic fucking displays of the Crucifixion hanging right behind the pulpit.

“That’s…really…” Crowley ran out of words and had to pause, considering the merits of the English vocabulary. “Can it be sacrilegious? I think it’s sacrilegious. It’s definitely offensive.”

The worst of it, Crowley decided, was the fake blood. Humans were bloodthirsty bastards even when they were at their most pious. Or maybe this was less about piousness than appearances. He didn’t really keep up with church crowds. They tended to want to bless him. After spending Medieval Europe in a state of perpetual discomfort from the constant blessings being performed bloody everywhere in an effort to stave off the Black Death, the sensation still made him feel ill.

“Do demonic miracles work in churches?” Crowley wondered, and then snapped his fingers.

Apparently they did. He took a moment to regard his handiwork, because he certainly wasn’t admiring it.

“You want to treasure and worship one of the most obscene moments in your history?” Crowley sneered at the altered Crucifixion, which was now displaying a rather realistic body, the nails in the right places, and a whole mess of genuine blood. “Deal with the real pain of it, because you lot have no fucking idea what that was like.”

Crowley stood up and turned to leave. “Yeah, okay, I’m still that bitter about the Crucifixion,” he admitted to no one. “Hope it was worth the bleeding and the dying, Yehoshua.”

He went back to his new flat in Mayfair that night, not the Underground. There were certain advantages in writing your own schedule, like removing his shoes in the privacy of his own home, miracling off a pair of cotton socks, and sinking burnt flesh into the cold water filling his bathtub. “Aziraphale, if you get me shot, I’m going to kill you,” he muttered.

Okay, he probably wouldn’t. Minor strangulation between friends was a thing, right?

Crowley lifted his left foot out of the bathwater and studied the burns. They were the worst on the soles of his feet, but the skin along the top of his arch was bright red and angry. There was even what looked like a lick of flame climbing his ankle. “So, that was about thirty seconds each way, about one minute total. I’m probably going to be in that other church a bit longer.”

He sighed and considered sinking all the way into the tub for an extended sulk underneath the water. He knew the limits he’d been granted tonight. There wasn’t a tolerance to build, not like what he’d done in a church consecrated by the faith of its parishioners. This was the tolerance for a properly consecrated holy church.

Crowley’s feet were never going to forgive him.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Aziraphale accepted his offer of a lift home. There was another bloody miracle for you.

“I haven’t seen you since 1862, and then you just…waltz into a consecrated church. Almost literally, even,” Aziraphale was saying, bright and happy, like they’d never argued over holy water at all.

Crowley nodded. He was doing his best to pay attention to Aziraphale, but he was also driving a car with feet that felt like they’d melted about five minutes ago. “Never learned to waltz. How close was I?”

“I never learned, either,” Aziraphale admitted, sounding a bit rueful. “I know the steps, though. Yours might have maybe had a bit of jazz mixed in with the waltzing steps.”

“That would’ve made it better.” Crowley let out a sigh of relief when he parked the Bentley in front of Aziraphale’s shop. “No bombs come whistling your way?” he asked, looking past the angel to regard the old building. He hadn’t been near it in seventy-nine years. It hadn’t changed at all. Maybe there was a new coat of paint on the outside, but otherwise—same bookshop. Same angel.

“No. I mean, I’ve had to discourage a few from landing too close, but…” Aziraphale hesitated. “Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I’ve been miracling more than a few bombs into landing as, oh, what is it they’re called when they don’t explode upon landing?”

“Duds.” Crowley glanced at him. “Do it as often as you want. The damage both sides wanted has already been done, angel.”

Aziraphale frowned. “I don’t like that idea. Not at all. It’s all so…so unnecessary!”

“Join the club, angel.” Crowley sniffed, wrinkled his nose against the mortar dust in his sinuses, and gave Aziraphale an expectant look. “Right then. See you around, I suppose.”

“Oh. Yes. Yes, that.” For a moment, Aziraphale had a very odd look on his face, as if he’d meant to say something entirely different. For the life of him, Crowley couldn’t figure out what it was.

“Yep. That.”

“Wait, I was meaning to ask,” Aziraphale finally ventured. “You weren’t living in Camden anymore, when I…when I checked. Where are you now?”

“Oh. Mayfair,” Crowley answered. “The Blitz has nearly destroyed the entire bloody neighborhood, so it’s not as if anyone else wants to live there.”

“Most of Mayfair is rubble at the moment. I suppose all I would have to do is look for a building that’s still standing with lights on to find you, wouldn’t I?” Aziraphale smiled as he said it, but it didn’t feel funny. Crowley didn’t think the angel was all that amused, either.

Nothing about any of this was funny. Crowley had realized decades ago that he’d chosen to sleep through the wrong fucking century.

“I don’t think Mayfair actually has working electricity at the moment. I’m probably just…” Crowley waved his hands rather pointlessly. “Still. Beats living in the Underground.”

“Why don’t you come in?” Aziraphale suddenly asked. “I’ve a lovely vintage leftover from 1913.”

“That’s…” Crowley closed his eyes. He really wanted to say yes. He wanted to put everything back into a box, leave it there, and forget it had ever happened. “That’s probably not the best idea.”

A century ago, Aziraphale would have deflated at once. He would have said, “Oh,” and that would be the end of it. Not tonight. Instead, Crowley heard, “Why not?”

“Nearly six thousand years we’ve known each other, and you thought I was asking you for a suicide pill, that’s why.” Crowley had no idea how the words were successfully emerging from his throat, but apparently stewing in outrage for nearly eighty years was great fuel. Who knew? “I asked you for help, and you immediately thought I was asking you to help me die. Six thousand years, and you really thought I would do that to you.”

This time, Aziraphale did deflate in obvious defeat. Crowley felt a moment of spurious victory, followed by a lot more spurious fucking guilt. “Oh.”

Crowley took his glasses off long enough to clear debris away from his eyes before the mortar dust from the bombing got worse. “Just…go home, angel. Please be more fucking careful next time. Pretty things tend to bite.”

Aziraphale hesitated a moment, but then he opened the Bentley’s passenger door and got out, hauling the bag full of books with him. He didn’t shut the door right off, though. “How did you know? About tonight?”

Crowley slid the glasses back onto his face. “Good night, angel.” Please let it go, he thought.

Maybe it was a very loud thought. “Good night, Crowley.” Aziraphale shut the door and then mounted the walkway skirting the bookshop. The concrete was jagged and uneven, evidence that something with concussive force had landed not all that far away.

Crowley had a terrible moment of flashing on digging through the rubble of wood, masonry, and books, trying to find a buried angel, before he put the Bentley into gear and floored it. Some things were just not worth dwelling on.

He could instead dwell on the fact that pressure on his feet was now really, really painful. Bless it all, this was bad. He thought nothing on performing several more bits of occult nonsense just to clear the roads so he could make it back to his flat in record time.

By the time he parked the Bentley in its shelter beneath the lower floor of what used to be a building, Crowley was clinging to the steering wheel, gasping for air that didn’t want to come. Pain was terrible. This was both kinds of pain together. He didn’t like that. That was stupid. He should have saved the other pain for a different day and gone in for that drink.

Crowley got out of the Bentley and promptly fell onto the road in an ungainly sprawl. Oh, yeah. That was the other reason he had to turn down Aziraphale’s offer. Walking was not a thing that was happening right now.

He debated for a moment between crawling or miracling himself upstairs. Right, there were stairs. No climbing. He had his dignity, after all. It might be just tatters of dignity after dancing around in a fucking church like someone pulled a hotfoot trick on him, but he still had it.

He miracled himself inside his flat, heaved himself back to his feet by using a doorknob and the wall, and switched on the lights. Then he glared at the fixtures until the lightbulbs flickered and glowed as they came to life.

“And don’t you forget it,” he mumbled, limping his way to the bedroom. He needed to remove his shoes. Then there could be water. Or he could just shove his feet, shoes and all, into an ice bath. That sounded heavenly. Hellishly. Nope, heavenly. He didn’t care right now about the distinctions as long as he could put out this bloody fire.

Crowley collapsed onto his bed and then promptly fell over backwards to stare up at the ceiling. That…was not progress. That was the opposite of progress. That was not getting these shoes off his feet, nor was it removing what were potentially melted socks.

Shit, he hoped he remembered to wear a pure fiber and not something blended with that new stretchy rubber nonsense. He didn’t fancy pulling melted plastic off his skin.

He closed his eyes. Trouble was, he promptly forgot to open them again.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Crowley awoke to a pounding noise. At first, he mistook it for a sound in his own head. He could feel his pulse drumming in his ears, and not in a good way. Then the pounding resumed, accompanied by words.

Was he drunk? Since when had he found time for that? MI5 hadn’t done official leave for months. Too many fucking Nazis. Even on the spy front, it was no fun—Nazis had terrible taste in booze.

He woke up again to the feel of something cold coming down onto his face. He panicked, shrieked, and punched at whatever it was.

“Ouch! Dammit, Crowley, stop hitting me!”

Crowley let his head drop back down onto his bed. Right. That was as far as he’d gotten after hotfooting it through a bloody church. “Aziraphale. What the fuck?” he rasped.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Aziraphale snapped. He appeared in Crowley’s line of sight, scowling and holding a wet cloth. “This time, leave it where I put it, or else.”

Crowley tried very hard to make sense of what the Heaven was going on. “Or else what?”

“Or else I literally glue you to this bed so you won’t move,” Aziraphale warned him. “Or if you want to discorporate by fire, that’s fine by me. Just say the word.”

Crowley rolled his eyes and didn’t protest the wet, squishy thing being placed on his forehead until he registered the temperature. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, that’s cold, angel, fuck!

“That’s your fault, I’m afraid,” Aziraphale said, and disappeared again.

“Can we go back to: Aziraphale, what the fuck?” Crowley asked, and winced as he registered the cracked, raspy quality of his voice. He sounded like he’d just spent three weeks in a pool of boiling sulfur. He felt like it, too. He didn’t think he could move even if his life depended on it.

Unfortunately, it might depend on it. Bless it, he was trying to make it through an entire century without discorporating!

“It occurred to me, rather belatedly I’m afraid, that you spent several minutes standing on consecrated ground,” Aziraphale replied. He sounded too far away. Crowley fought down an unreasonable jolt of terror that made no sense at all. “I honestly don’t know how you avoided bursting into flame, but…Crowley, why?”

“Because you’re an idiot,” Crowley slurred. The cloth wasn’t cold any longer. He suspected it might actually be smoking. “Just replace…head-cutting-off machine with…with machine guns.”

The next time he woke up was worse. He tried to shift forms in order to cling to Aziraphale, but nothing happened. He was too hot, too groggy, and Aziraphale was far too intent on drowning him in a tub full of ice cubes.

“I’m not drowning you!” Aziraphale sounded completely exasperated. “I’m trying to stop you from discorporating, you complete buffoon!”

“Nobody uses buffoon anymore unless it’s in a comic,” Crowley protested. He was sort of glad for the burning and the pain, because the whine he let out when ice water closed around his legs was exceptionally pathetic.

“I’m so sorry. I shall endeavor to update my vocabulary by a mere ten years,” Aziraphale snipped. “Now, stop clinging to my arm and get into the blasted tub!”

Crowley grimaced and made himself let go, sliding down in the bathtub until there were ice cubes floating right below his chin. Aziraphale never snipped or groused, not unless he was upset. “Wait. Where the hell are my clothes?”

“Your clothes turned themselves into smoldering rags that I had to get rid of,” Aziraphale said dryly. “If I’d been an hour later, I’m almost certain you would have self-immolated in your own flat.”

“Yay.” Crowley blew out a pathetic huff of air between cracked lips. “Not yay?” He thought about it. “Definitely not paperwork-yay.”

“No, I didn’t think you’d appreciate that part, either.” Aziraphale pulled over a chair rescued from the kitchen area that Crowley never used and sat down next to the tub. “If you can walk into a consecrated church, why would you even need to ask me for holy water, Crowley?”

Crowley scowled at him. “Because I normally can’t. Should’ve known that it would turn sour. She doesn’t do things for free.” Then he plastered his hands over his face as the full impact of what was happening struck him. “And now I’m paying for that favor in complete humiliation.”

“I’m just going to assume that you’re still hallucinating,” Aziraphale said.

Crowley peered out from between his fingers. “That makes it worse!”

Aziraphale shook his head, dipped an entirely different cloth in the ice water, and then wrung it out. “Back on your face. Maybe this one won’t start incinerating immediately.”

Crowley plastered it over his face entirely instead of just his forehead. “Thank you for my covering of shame.”

Aziraphale responded by chuckling. “Why are you, of all people, suddenly so concerned about humiliation?”

Crowley considered that with all of the mental prowess currently at his disposal, Then he splashed Aziraphale with icy water.

“What did you do that for?” Aziraphale sputtered. “Good heavens, that was cold!”

Crowley slid down and dunked his head under the water for a full minute or two. That helped. Then he pushed himself back up and blinked streams of ice water from his eyes.

Where did the stupid cloth go? Now he was stuck looking at Aziraphale.

“I did it because you already know the answer to that question.”

“I really don’t,” Aziraphale countered, but the snippiness had softened into concern. “I haven’t really had much time to think on this evening, especially since that was now yesterday evening.”

Crowley stared at him. “I am so sacked. Can you get sacked from MI5? No, wait. Church bombing. Never mind, they think I’m dead. That works out all right, then.”

“Are you really working for MI5?” Aziraphale asked. “It seems very undemonic of you, my dear.”

“Yep, really. Or I was. Am. Will be again. Whichever.” It didn’t escape Crowley’s notice that there was already significantly more water than ice in the bathtub. “I was literally ordered by Below to do so, but that was back when MI5 was a complete disaster. Make it worse from the inside, supply the Nazis with information, do Hell’s bidding, et cetera.”

Aziraphale smiled at him. “You supplied the Nazis with complete rubbish, didn’t you?”

“Course I did. I happen to like London,” Crowley muttered. “And now I’m lying naked in a bathtub of ice water next to an angel, and my feet really, really fucking hurt. Do I even still have feet? Because I was sort of concerned about that.”

“Yes, you still have your feet.” Aziraphale reached out and, to Crowley’s utter bewilderment, pushed strands of wet hair back from Crowley’s forehead. “I had to figure out how to heal them without hurting you. There were a few spots that were…quite displeased with things. I was more worried about intact than I was about unburnt, so the rest may well have to heal on its own time.”

“That’s all right. Tried it the first time with just my feet instead of human shoes. Didn’t work out so well,” Crowley said, and then braced himself before lifting his left leg out of the bathwater. “Yeah, that’s definitely worse than the last time.” He put his red, angrily blistered foot back beneath the water so he wouldn’t have to look at it. “How do you treat holy burns, anyway?”

“By not walking on consecrated ground?” Aziraphale suggested. “What do you mean, the first time?”

Crowley huffed in annoyance. “I mean the obvious, that’s what. The first time I walked into a church was two weeks ago. Started out with parishioner-sanctified, rather quickly realized real shoes were a necessity, and tried to work up a tolerance. S’not so bad for that sort of church, but a bloody properly ceremonially sanctified church? Not so much. Instant fire. I happened to like that jacket, too. Oh, and I talked to Qaphsiel for the first time in millennia, but that was just weird.”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes. “Crowley, how long have you known about the meeting in that church?”

“Eh. Two weeks?”

“And you didn’t tell me?” Aziraphale squawked in outrage.

“Of course not! Those spies would have scattered to the wind the moment they sniffed out that they were in for it, and then we wouldn’t have dead Nazis!” Crowley retorted. “Honestly, where are your priorities?”

Aziraphale gave him a long, steady look that Crowley didn’t understand at all. Then he touched his finger to the bathwater, refilling it nearly to the brim with ice. Crowley gritted his teeth and made a completely undignified noise as the temperature abruptly plummeted.

“That…that was a bit evil,” Crowley gasped out, resting his head against the back of the tub. “No, a lot evil. Good job.”

“My priorities…” Aziraphale waited for Crowley to focus on him again. “My priorities, Crowley, are currently sitting in a tub of ice water so I can keep them from burning to a crisp after they did something very, very brave.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Bah. That wasn’t bravery. That was me not wanting you to be stupidly dead.”

“Brave,” Aziraphale insisted, still with that same odd, intent stare. “You could have died just from walking through those doors. You could have died if I’d decided to be foolish and held our last…our last disagreement against you. You could have been shot. Anything could have gone wrong.”

“But it didn’t go wrong,” Crowley protested. “I trusted you to get it right. Well, except for the trusting the Nazi spy part, but the rest was fine.”

“That’s what I mean, though. Oh, I’m really getting this mixed up.” Aziraphale took off his coat and flung it over his shoulder, where it hung itself neatly on a peg meant for a dressing gown that Crowley probably didn’t own. “The last thing I said to you was entirely cruel, and still you…you trusted me.”

“Pfft.” Crowley shook his head. “You saying cruel things to me is nothing new, angel. I’m used to it.”

“But that’s my point! You shouldn’t have to be used to it!” Aziraphale slumped back in his chair and looked quite near to despairing.

Crowley wished he wasn’t feverish. Maybe he would understand what the Heaven was actually happening. “Why not? You remind me often enough. I’m a demon. You’re an angel. Not meant to fraternize.”

“See? See, right there. That’s what I’m talking about,” Aziraphale insisted, pointing at Crowley. “I used that word, and you just…you all but assimilated it into how things are!”

“Because that is how things are!” Crowley shouted. “For God’s sake, angel, why the fuck do you think I let you be for eighty years?”

“Because I hurt you.”

Crowley snorted. “I’m a demon. You can’t hurt a demon.”

Aziraphale breathed out a heavy sigh. “Crowley, my dear, who are you trying to convince? Because I don’t think it’s me.”

Crowley glared at him. Then he gave serious consideration to drowning himself in ice water.

His stupid corporation decided upon a third option. He passed out in the bathtub, instead.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Crowley woke up warm and comfortable, which definitely meant he was in his own bed. Warm and comfortable didn’t really happen anywhere else. He was also being held by someone equally as warm, soft as the bedsheets he’d procured at the end of the last century.

He must have been really drunk last night, but he wasn’t about to question whatever good fortune had granted Crowley someone in his bed. Someone who actually seemed fond of him, if the gentle clinging was any indication. That hadn’t happened in…in…

Centuries. Oh. That was depressing.

“Y’know, my last attempt at dating ended with him screaming and trying to drown me in holy water,” Crowley mumbled into his pillow.

“Attempted?” His clingy bed partner didn’t sound sleepy at all. Maybe they’d been awake for a while, debating their options.

“Attempted,” Crowley repeated, trying not to sound miserable about the entire thing. Used to be he could find a night here and there, just once in a while, and spend it with a human who didn’t think he was completely fucking terrifying. “Priest in the village wasn’t properly ordained. Con artist. Charlatan. Whatever. So: no holy. Just water.” They’d been rather miffed about his refusal to drown, too.

“It sounds like you must have been visiting a rather backwards place.”

Crowley huffed out a brief laugh. “Yeah. Kinda was.” He didn’t miss the Papal Inquisition.

“What did you do that your last, er, date found so offensive?” his gentle-voiced companion asked. Definitely a man. Crowley wasn’t overly particular about gender, especially his own, but he’d also been in love with an idiot for thousands of years who tended to stick to a male presentation. Waking up with a man, especially in the bloody 1940s, was definitely a plus.

“Took my glasses off.” Crowley couldn’t keep the misery out of his voice, and he definitely tried. He didn’t want pity. He hated pity. “Most people don’t like my eyes. I don’t mind them, but…”

That wasn’t quite true. He didn’t mind the color at all. It was very flash, very himself. It was the serpent aspect he didn’t care for. Crowley didn’t have anything against snakes—rather liked them, in fact—but that vertical pupil was a constant reminder that he was a demon. He was the first Tempter, the cause of humanity’s first bit of rebellion against God.

It was a constant reminder that the person he loved most would never see him as anything but the enemy.

“I like them.” The confession was so soft, Crowley almost didn’t hear it. “Quite a bit, actually.” The breath that accompanied the words was near enough to waft over his face, warmth that smelled of intriguing things.

If he hadn’t just spent the past two nights trying to self-immolate by way of delayed holy fire. If he hadn’t been sleepy, warm, and comfortable. If he hadn’t had to deal with that stupid church.

If. If. If.

It didn’t matter. Long before any of that had a chance to register in Crowley’s consciousness, he’d already crossed the short distance in his bed to kiss the man lying at his side.

He was met by enthusiasm, so thinking wasn’t exactly a priority, anyway. His lips felt a bit rough, but this man was so soft that even a closed-mouth kiss was blessed amazing. Then those lips parted, and Crowley couldn’t resist following, darting his tongue inside that warm mouth in eagerness to seek out and taste those intriguing scents.

Then there was a soft hand on his cheek, one that held him in place with gentle strength. “Crowley.”

Full awareness of where he was, who he was with, didn’t return in a rush so much as it sledgehammered itself into his skull. Crowley stared at Aziraphale with acid churning in his gut. The angel looked a bit surprised, but surprise was always a precursor.

Crowley practically flew backwards out of the bed. He landed hard on the wooden floor and kept retreating, not stopping until he bashed into a wall hard enough to crack the plaster. As quickly as awareness came it went, leaving a cloud of stifling panic behind.

What was left in his head was very simple:

He’d done something that was Not Allowed.

Doing things that were Not Allowed always had consequences.

Those consequences were never, ever pleasant.

His feet were already burning, hot fire that lashed its way up his legs and tore into his belly. His eyes were acrid with it, the stench of sulfur high in the air.

He curled up into a ball, arms wrapped around himself. It was always like Falling again. He could only ever wait for it to end.

Someone was saying his name. Crowley pulled back from the hands that tried to touch him, but it was too late. Those hands spread that fire, and now it felt like the whole of him was burning.

“Crowley! Crowley, please—please listen to me!”

Odd. They almost never used the name he’d chosen for himself.

He scrabbled mental fingers in the dirt until he regained a single scrap of self-control. He used it to open his eyes, to glance up at and recognize the angel hovering over him.

“This isn’t the sort of fire I can solve with ice!” Aziraphale said, wringing his hands. “You said you spoke with Qaphsiel. Was that true?”

Words. He needed words. He only needed one word.

‘yn.”

Aziraphale nodded and said more words, but that scrap of self-control was gone.

Why was he on fire again? God, what had he done now?

Hadn’t the first time been enough for Her?

Suddenly, firm hands were prying his arms away from his head. Crowley hissed at them and struck out blindly, his teeth closing on nothing. Then his head was shoved against the wall, his gaze forced to meet the eyes of a bloody ginger-haired angel.

Fuck, he was going to die.

“You actually might,” the angel agreed—rather sadly, Crowley thought. Odd.

Crowley hissed again when the angel kissed his forehead. That was a blessing bestowed, and he was already on fire…

“Please forgive me,” the angel whispered. “Kabaiel.”

Crowley shrieked as fire lanced down his spine. He tried to escape it, arching backwards until he felt like he was going to snap in two. His eyes leaked tears that he couldn’t control, carving lines of ice down his face. It was fire and electricity, the storm and the flame of creation.

It was recognition.

He’d never particularly wanted to be recognized. Easier to hide behind a mask, to shelter beneath shame. Easier to box away the parts of his soul that had once loved the stars with an unbroken heart.

Then there were two sets of hands on him, heat sinking through fabric. Silk. They were grounding him: soft, gentle touches from one, strokes of comfort from another.

At least this time he wasn’t naked in a bloody bathtub.

It took longer for more to filter back in. He was dressed in a set of black silk pyjamas he didn’t use very often, but it was the kindest thing Aziraphale could have put on his fevered skin. His feet were still red, and hurt like fucking blazes, but the worst of the damage was gone. Crowley’s head was resting on Qaphsiel’s shoulder, and he was shuddering with every pained breath he took.

“I’m sorry,” Qaphsiel said. “I know how you feel about your name, but it was all I knew to do.”

“The fuck are you doing here?” Crowley asked. He had a dozen more questions, but that was a good start.

“Aziraphale knew there was only one church in London dedicated to me, so he went there and requested my presence. Then he rather rudely teleported me here, but I forgive him the sense of urgency.”

“Aziraphale.” Crowley closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.” He had no idea if he was apologizing for the kiss, for this entire disaster, or for never being capable of being what Aziraphale deserved. It was probably all blessed three of them.

“You’ve nothing to apologize for. Not a blasted thing,” Aziraphale insisted, a wet burble in his voice.

Crowley instinctively reached into the ether and pulled out a handkerchief, holding it out without looking up. “You know if you cry that you always need more than one.”

“Yes. Thank you.” The handkerchief was taken from Crowley’s hand, but not without the brush of Aziraphale’s fingertips over Crowley’s knuckles. He shuddered again and snatched his hand back like he’d tried to stick it in holy water.

To distract himself, Crowley asked, “Why did you use my name? I hate that. I hate it.”

Qaphsiel sighed and brushed his fingers through Crowley’s short hair. “Cousin, you can’t have forgotten what divine fire is already. I know some demons chose to forget, but you did not.”

“Actual flaming fucking death?” Crowley returned snidely.

“No. Idiot.” Qaphsiel addressed Aziraphale next. “Is he always like this?”

“Oh, no. Usually it’s far worse,” Aziraphale answered.

Crowley felt his cheeks burn with the returning flush of humiliation. “Yeah, thanks for that. Fuck you both, by the way.”

“Consecrated ground is a conduit to divine fire, and the fire of creation is love.” Qaphsiel pats Crowley on the head. “Denying love is when it hurts the most.”

“Demons can’t love,” Crowley mumbled, because it was the last defence he had left.

“I watch everything, you know,” Qaphsiel reminded him. “It’s in the job description. You broke that rule on your very first day, so please don’t try to hide behind it now. It’s annoying. Come on. Up you get. Off this floor, into bed. Sleep it off. It’s not every day that one makes something new out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness.”

Crowley wanted to protest. He wanted to speak to Aziraphale, who was starting to sound as if he was well on his way to needing a third handkerchief. Much like the tub incident, though, his corporation had other ideas. He was asleep before he could croak out another syllable.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Crowley jerked awake to the feel of something cool and soothing gliding along the bottom of his right foot. He lifted his head and twisted around to find Aziraphale seated at the end of the bed, wiping something greenish-white onto the soles of Crowley’s feet. “What?”

Aziraphale glanced up and smiled at him. “There you are. How do you feel today?”

Crowley kept staring at him, trying to take in the sight of the angel sitting on the edge of his bed, stripped down to only his trousers and button-down shirt, sleeves rolled up to reveal his powerful arms. “Uh?”

“That’s more vocabulary than I’ve been getting,” Aziraphale said, as if that was an entirely acceptable response. “This is much better by the way, though you need to let this absorb into your skin before you put your feet on the floor. Otherwise you’ll leave footprints all over these lovely floors.”

Crowley blinked a few times, clearing the blurriness from his eyes. “What is that?” He flicked out his tongue to taste the air when his nose announced it wasn’t up for the job. “Mint?”

“Mint, among other things. It’s an excellent burn cream that the chemist recommended. Sometimes the human remedies on a human corporation really are the best,” Aziraphale explained. “There is even a painkiller in it, though I did have to nudge the chemist a bit so he would double the dose for someone with our tolerance for pain.”

“Right. Uh…thanks for nudging him.” It was the closest he could get to a safe thank-you. As he’d once said: his lot didn’t send rude notes.

Aziraphale merely nodded and then applied the mint-smelling cream to his other foot. “I think, with one more day of recovery, you might be able to walk around without pain. In the meantime, you’re to stay put.”

“Yeah. I’m okay with that,” Crowley muttered, resisting the urge to bury his face in his pillow. After years upon years of not touching as social standards changed, the angel was suddenly bloody well massaging his feet.

Except for a few casual bumps among crowds of humans, unexpected brushings of hands and trying not to trip over a few idiots, Crowley hadn’t been touched in literal centuries. Aziraphale, he concluded, was completely evil.

“Are you all right?” he heard Aziraphale ask a few moments later.

Crowley had resorted to biting his pillow at least an eternity ago in order to avoid making embarrassing noises. “Yep.”

“You do not look fine.”

“Ticklish,” Crowley said around the pillow. That wasn’t even a lie. He just wasn’t ticklish there.

“Hm. I’ll keep that in mind, then.” Aziraphale lifted a glass jar and screwed a metal cap back onto it, drastically reducing the scent of mint in the air. “Now, then. Since I have you effectively trapped unless you want to foolishly attempt to walk, we’re going to converse, you and I.”

Crowley made a valiant attempt at trying to climb through his own wall. The only thing he really succeeded in doing was scratching the Heaven out of his bed’s wooden headboard as he scrambled backwards.

Aziraphale was giving him such a sad look that it made Crowley’s heart lurch. “Oh, my dear. Just the idea of a conversation should not be so terrifying.”

“I just don’t want you to say it,” Crowley blurted out, and then cringed. “The thing I did the other day. Whatever day that was. Just forget it happened. Literally not in my right mind, it won’t happen again, just don’t—”

Don’t go. Don’t leave me on this planet to go at this alone. Please don’t leave.

“What if I don’t want to forget?” Aziraphale asked, the sadness turning into a sharp, pinning stare.

“You have to!” Crowley snarled, barely resisting the urge to pick up a pillow and fling it at the angel’s stupid face. “How many times have you reminded me of why you won’t even call me your friend? Opposite sides, Aziraphale! Please just…” He closed his eyes. “Don’t tease. Don’t hint. Don’t…don’t make like this is a thing you want only to back away tomorrow when you realize what it will mean. My heart is already broken, angel. I’d really like the pieces I have left not to be ground into dust.”

Crowley felt the bed shift and did his best to ignore it. Then Aziraphale startled the Heaven out of him by sitting down atop Crowley’s thighs. Aziraphale grasped his head with both hands, but far more gently than Qaphsiel had to pin him to the wall.

Aziraphale only tilted Crowley’s head so that Crowley had no choice but to look into pale blue eyes. “I want you to do me a favor. I know you told me once that you’re bound to Hell as one of the Fallen. Show me that binding.”

“Yes, that’s right, do this complicated thing while I’m completely distracting you,” Crowley responded, stuck somewhere between sarcastic and bewildered. “Sure, why not?”

He reached for that familiar link with Below, the one that could pull him Down on a stronger demon’s merest whim. The one that Marked him as other, as wrong. Sensitive humans who weren’t idiots picked up on that wrongness and gave him a wide berth when they crossed paths.

The only problem was that he couldn’t find it. “What the fuck?” Crowley scrabbled around in his sense of self the same way he’d scrabbled around in figurative dirt, hunting for a scrap of self-control. “What the fuck!”

“Crowley.” Aziraphale gently pressed his fingertips along Crowley’s cheekbones to gain his attention. “It’s not there any longer, dear.”

“WHAT THE FUCK?”

Aziraphale smiled. “You burnt it away, my dear. As Qaphsiel phrased it, you…er, rather marinated yourself in a consecrated building for a week, and then you stood on properly consecrated holy ground for far longer than any demon has ever done. None of them would even be able to set foot onto that sort of ground, not unless their motive was similar to your own.”

“Marinated? Wait, what motive?” Crowley asked in confusion. “Also, Qaphsiel is an arse.”

Aziraphale looked exasperated again. “Yes, marinated. Love was your motivation. Qaphsiel is a rather lovely individual when he isn’t malingering in a state of utter depression.”

“I’m still occult,” Crowley said when his heart remembered that it should probably keep beating, if only for appearance’s sake. “I’m not ethereal. You always know the difference, believe me.”

Aziraphale nodded, unconcerned. “That’s true. Qaphsiel did say you’d turned yourself into something new out of sheer stubbornness. You are still exactly who you were last month, but you are no longer bound to Hell. They have no control over you any longer.”

Crowley swallowed. “She burnt it away. Didn’t She?”

“I believe so, yes,” Aziraphale agreed quietly. “Qaphsiel thinks similarly, given the bargain you made with Her in order to enter that church in the first place.”

“I didn’t make any bloody bargains!” Crowley protested. “I just—”

“Just what?” Aziraphale asked. Crowley suddenly became very aware of the fact that Aziraphale hadn’t stopped touching his face.

“I asked Her to let me be capable of stepping into that church for you. I didn’t ask Her about anything for me,” Crowley whispered.

Aziraphale actually smirked at him, the bastard angel. “Aren’t demons supposed to be entirely selfish, with no hint of selflessness to them at all?”

“I’m really, really bad at obeying orders,” Crowley said, swallowing hard.

Aziraphale ran his thumb along the bone beneath Crowley’s eye and then let his fingers wander down Crowley’s neck. “I wonder if that depends on who is giving the orders?”

Crowley couldn’t help it; he let out a full body shudder that ran delightfully from his neck to his burnt toes. “It might.”

“Then we’ll start simply,” Aziraphale said, and this time his smile was sweet and warm. “Will you trust me?”

Crowley nodded. “Yes.”

Aziraphale’s smile widened. “Will you kiss me?”

The second shiver was strong enough to pop vertebrae in Crowley’s neck. “Yes,” he said, and pulled Aziraphale closer until their lips met, a brilliant slide of moist heat.

“My dear,” Aziraphale murmured against Crowley’s skin. “Will you love me?”

“Stupid question, angel,” Crowley replied, sliding his fingers into Aziraphale’s beautiful hair. “I already do.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Crowley took a sip from the wine bottle and stared up at the sky. He’d had to miracle the sky clear for the night to get a decent view of things. If this weren’t wartime, he’d have to leave London. Instead, the lights were all powered down for the night, the sirens wailing in the distance, as everyone huddled down and waited for the bombs to fall.

“Read the bloody stars,” Crowley repeated mockingly. “As if it was that bloody easy.”

Maybe some things were easier to remember than others, because after a few moments, he was lost in them. Crowley finished off the wine and leaned back on the roof of his flat, following patterns he’d learned to read over six millennia ago.

“Oh. Well, that’s not good.”

“What’s not good?”

Crowley patted the roof next to him. “Come here?”

Aziraphale wandered over, holding another bottle of wine and two glasses. He always had to bring a bit of civility with him, and Crowley loved him for it. Aziraphale sat down next to Crowley and then craned his head back to look up at the sky. “Qaphsiel said you knew how to read the stars. What did you see?”

“Oh. Armageddon,” Crowley replied, and Aziraphale choked on his first mouthful of wine.

“What?” Aziraphale gasped, miracling himself dry. “When?”

“About…seventy years from now.” Crowley frowned. “Maybe eighty. It’s not exactly a science, angel. It’s instinct.”

“I see.” Aziraphale poured himself a second, far larger glass of wine. “What are we going to do about it?”

Crowley grinned. What are we going to do about it? Aziraphale had said. Not Let’s enjoy the time we have left. Not Such a shame. Aziraphale’s first response was to fight back. God, thank you.

“I suppose that depends,” Crowley said. “Have your acting skills improved any in the last eighty years?”

“A bit, I suppose.” Aziraphale gave him a suspicious look. “Why?”

“Because we’re about to play dice with the universe.”