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Good Intentions

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The dishes cheerfully cluttered down the stairs, redecorating the steps. A clay bowl smashed quite dramatically at the friar’s feet. Brother Glynn had made it to the top, when Lord Catesby, blinded by some tremendous rush, nicked his elbow and sent the dinnerware on its current unorthodox path. Luckily, his own round body did not join the cutlery, but the skirts of his neat gray habit displayed a fascinating pattern of splashes and wilted vegetables.  

At least, the culprit had the decency to look startled by his own doing. The nonplused face looked up then down at the mess. Having stopped abruptly, the momentum still carried Lord Catesby’s thoughts forward. The man appeared desperate to make a way out for himself, hands twitching, shoulders turning to the stairs, while he stole glances at the door that he slammed shut behind himself. Honed thought years of experience, Brother Glynn’s inner voice urged him to stall the young man.

“My Lord… oh, what do you have here…” Catesby stepped forward mechanically, and the friar plucked a stalk of leek from the sweaty curls at his temple. “Not the best accessory to wear out of the house?”

“F-forgive me, urgent…”Catesby began, stopped, then looked down guiltily. “My apologies, Brother. Let me help you.” He crouched at the cleric’s feet, picking up a sharper clay chip. Although the cleric’s hands were not as nimble as they once had been, they appeared more steady than Lord Catesby’s.

David, Lord Wintour’s valet – one of the very few servants initiated into the plot, caught them picking up the pieces of pottery and stewed vegetables. As the young man rushed up the stairs with apologies, the familiarity of the hierarchy seemed to call Catesby to his feet. The master of the house nodded curtly, and hurried down the stairs, escaping the friar’s scrutiny.

Brother Glynn straightened his back with a sigh. He looked after the stiff-shouldered figure. The young man appeared to go into bouts of passion very easily. A mild sickness of youth, but sometimes it could lead to unhealthy choices.

“Shall I bring another cup of tea and soup up?” David interrupted his reverie. The young man built a rapport with the friar, offering much needed help with their … challenging charge.

“If it is not too much of a bother, there is plenty of stew still, and if you can bring up the whole pot of tea…” David offered him a supportive arm. “I shall… go see how the Father is. Thank you, David.”

 

With a heavy premonition, Brother Glynn opened the door to find his patient laying down, with blanket and sheets in disarray around him. Despite the mess, the thin body was posed very uniform; arms straight and palms down. Gerard’s pale hair, smoothed out during an earlier wash, was now rustled up in white tufts. The priest stared ahead at the blank ceiling. The old man sighed. In the past week, he noticed clearly Gerard’s perchance for the dramatic.

“Father,” he called to Gerard. The stare shifted, head turned, eerily diffused attention slid towards him. The friar met it with a stoic smile. “We had a bit of a tangle in the hallway. David will be up shortly with your dinner. How is your pain?”

“Oh…it is…better, I suppose… ” Gerard offered with a stiff swallow and no elaboration. Considering Lord Catesby’s dramatic exit, it seemed there was more to it than the cabin fever, expected after days in disabled confinement. Disturbed bandages at the shoulders attested to that theory, and the chemise now had a conspicuous rip that implied at least some type of violence. At that revelation, the grey bushy brows met in a frown.

The friar’s careful hands undid the shirt, pulling it down the priest’s shoulders to fall around his waist. To the accompaniment of stifled groans, they went about repeated cleaning. The bandages came off, lye and water still stung the abused skin. Brother Glynn dabbed a salve into the cuts on his side and front – these were healing so nicely. Done with re-arranging the dressings, he pulled a folded shirt of finer linen with detailed needlework from beneath the bed. As expected, Father Gerard eyed the garment with suspicion, beginning to lean on the friar. 

“This is too… fine for me to wear,” he protested.

“Don’t concern yourself. Our host is generous within his means,” the old man’s eyes crinkled at Gerard.

“Mmn,” was the only offered response.

Looking away, the angel leaned forward, allowing his damaged arms to be lifted, old shirt came off, new one slid coolly over his skin. Tying the lacing also demanded dexterity beyond Aziraphale’s means. Through the procedure he avoided meeting Brother Glynn’s keen gaze. However, he failed to hide the strained muscles of his jaw that moved as if he was chewing on all the troubling thoughts. Some mortals, however, had an annoying habit of putting two and two together. He expected the following question.

“Was there an argument?” The cleric finally, asked, finished with his work. “Lord Catesby appeared… agitated…”

Aziraphale looked up, then closed his eyes. It was easier being an angel – you could just pause the world. Humans had no such option, having to freefall through panic and somehow find their way to rational thought and action. How, they managed it, he wasn’t sure, but he was getting more familiar with the finer point. Crowley called this feeling – adrenalin. Sharp Adam’s apple bobbed nervously. He felt read by the cleric, but of course, the truth of him was beyond even the wise old man.

“It seems… our … opinions…differed on… certain matters. I hope we can come to an understanding…” He offered with hesitation. “Brother…Did… they tell you how I was hurt? I just now realized, not once have you asked.”

The old cleric looked pensive, settling the “priest” down against the pillows.

“What is there to know, my son? You were a child of God in need. That is my only concern.”

“Brother,” he tried to sit up awkwardly with dubious results. “Brother, you…you should be more mindful of the situation…here. It is not…”

He stopped, looked to the side, choosing the correct word, then-

“Safe. It is not safe for you…now that I am better… and we have Doctor Raphael visiting, you don’t need to be here, putting yourself at risk from—”

“…from?”

“…I…cannot say, I’m sorry. It’s best you do not know why. Trust me … it would be better if you leave now, before decisions are made that will endanger you.”

Brother Glynn leaned back in his chair, what a strange patient he had. So, the boy was worried about him. Was that what the fight was about? The monk was not naïve, although he did not know the exact shape of the danger looming, he could guess. After all, Lord Catesby famously failed with a coup two years ago. Closing his eyes, he heard a movement on the bed, his patient must have leaned in, waiting.

“No…no I don’t think I will go. Not now,” he finally answered, sitting forward again, and resumed preparing the fresh bandages.

“Oh…” the priest blinked owlishly at him – an endearing quirk. “Do you not believe me, Father?”

“I do,” Brother Glynn could not help his voice becoming even more wistful. “I do very much believe you, my son. I am not blind, nor deaf…not yet, anyways. No…I know what you say is true. Let me ask you, Father…will you leave? If I tell you, even in your condition, I can help you leave, will you go, yourself?”

The priest blinked quickly, looking away. He did seem to consider the offer, then shook his head slowly.

“I cannot… I-”

“-You feel you can do good here? You feel you can help them?”

“…I should…”

Brother Glynn smiled, he reached out and placed his hand on the young man’s discolored arm. The words that felt right came easy. “I am the same. I am old, nearly 70 now. I have few days ahead of me. I have seen people do terrible things, and also much good. I will likely see more, yet still I hope, and do the work as God wills it. You understand, yes?”

It appeared Father Gerard did, the mournful way he looked back at him. The friar nodded, settling on the silent understanding of their treacherous circumstance.

 

That was a very long day… Evening rolled around, weighing down on Aziraphale heavier than ever. Before heading to get some rest of his own, Brother Glynn helped the angel to sit up. He proceeded to place two books in his lap, one was the bible, but the other one, was a small printed novel, entitled The Unfortunate Traveller. The even rows of uniform letters brought to angel’s mind Herr Guttenberg, an inspired German fellow, who dreamt of literacy for everyone. The worn tome appeared to be an odd choice for a friar. The angel’s surprise, however, was dismissed with a cheerful encouragement to distract his mind with some colorful images of adventure, if only for a little while. Brother Glynn reasoned, the human imagination was God’s gift, wasn’t it? So reading the fruits of the human mind’s labor was worship in itself. Aziraphale thought back at a few grimoires that passed his hands, but assumed that could be a discussion for another time.

Aziraphale latched onto the familiarity of books. He missed the small study lined with his collection, and idly wondered if Cecil’s spies already desecrated his little personal Heaven. Someday, he wanted to open a shop to keep all his books on neat shelves.

His nature obligated him to leaf through the bible. Even the printed tome sat heavy in his lap. He started from the beginning, but found himself chuckling at the human elaborations and scowling at the finer points of female treachery. It was amazing how the basics of the story were reinterpreted, and then further abstracted. He thumbed through to the New Testament, looking for some peace of mind from that kind gentleman from Galilee, and indeed found some soothing words there. His mood soured however, as he reached the part with passions and Golgotha. Far from humanity’s finest hour.  

The fear and allure of power gave Hell a solid purchase to lead mankind astray, despite the best efforts of celestial emissaries. Yet at the same time, so many remained steadfast. How did they manage? His current predicament was a testament to human resilience. Here he was, a useless nuisance to his caretakers, who nevertheless showed to him nothing but the continual kindness. Humans were…so trying! And where do you begin to wrap your mind around the likes of Lord Catesby – a contradiction in terms incarnate – so wholly devoted to God, in what fashion he saw Her (or “Him”, as most presumed these days), that he tethered between misguided death and a horrific unimaginable sin. What would Crowley make of him? Gullible pawn, plaything, conveniently falling into the pit?

(If Brother Glynn could have foreseen this effect, he would have guided his hand to Psalms. Oh well…)

Hope, he had reminded himself to hope for a good resolution, even as said resolution seemed insurmountable, especially in this flimsy, base form he found himself trapped in! He could not complete his mission this way, or even take a shit with any aptitude!

Aziraphale’s mind yet again was heading for the loop of mental self-flagellation. Was it not his reckless action that resulted in the new bold light in Catesby’s eyes? His experiments with martyrdom enabled the volatile man to act on his outrageous plan, believing he was backed by Heaven. Aziraphale’s own action put the lives of good men at risk. The kindly friar, earnest Lord Wintour, misguided Lord Catesby. He had initially come with all those great hopes of vanquishing an oppressive king, saving Catholics, ending the confusing vicious cycle of martyrdom… had he even thought of the collateral damage? The numbers seemed to increase by the day. Was he himself ready to make this faceless statistically beneficial sacrifice just two weeks ago? On Heaven’s orders… just like Catesby…

Aziraphale blinked, realizing the aforementioned accursed form was slipping out of his control again. The banal fear pulsed in his veins, morphing into debilitating shame, pushing his mortal heart to skip and trip over his morose thoughts. He recalled the demon’s instructions and breathed, his lungs flexed soothing air in and out of their chambers. Accursed form! Its ---weakness was designed to push the soul astray!

He thought back to the last time he felt – anything besides pain, fear or sadness. A vivid image came to mind readily. The strange, visceral safety of the spell, and then the almost-light conversation he shared with Crowley a few hours ago. What a long day… He focused on it, a new and yet familiar feeling. A sense of being known by Crowley over all the millennia focused and amplified in one moment. He just never noticed it before. His f(r)iend’s presence (as irritating as it often was) had afforded the most freedom to him, before from drudgery of celestial bureaucracy, and now from the confines of human form...

Pacing himself, he retraced the patterns of the walls, and considered the ceiling, which had been considered more times than he cared to admit.

Crowley had said (“promised” was not in his vernacular) that he’d contact him again when he’d obtained more intel. Yes… “intel” …he wouldn’t mind if he had sent a line to check on him… a small word… a friendly voice in his head didn’t sound like the worst… he thought carefully a moment, biting on his lip absently. It was clear, he should not tell Crowley, yet, about the plot. He was not sure what additional ears would hear it, or whose good graces the demon had nestled himself in here in the human world. But…

With some effort, he turned to one side and watched the flame of the candle of his nightstand dance on the tip of its wick. He studied it fiercely in silence, and, with exasperation (seemingly at himself), engaged the link.

The signal lifted from the bed and stretched out, tentatively, past the solid wood of the walls, into the black expanse of night above, meekly extending an offer. If it wasn’t a hassle. If it was alright…could we?

The fragile line found its recipient in a very strange turmoil of, quite literally, flashing rage. Aziraphale heard the echo of split glass and even caught a whiff of smoke. Oh Goodness!

Concerned, he reached out again, more urgent, until he grasped Crowley’s spirit, exhausted and in dis-ease. His request for connection again and, pushing forward—

BUGGER OFF. The invitation was pushed away with a near-magnetic repulsion that made the angel retract through the link at a speed that made his human form arch, eyes wide open, momentarily confused and dizzy.

“…Bloody… twat,” he said to the crucifix over his head. Once the shock of the rebuttal faded, he covered his mouth with shock at his own words… that was definitely not him! Some of the demon’s penance for vulgarity must have rubbed off on him through the link, he reasoned, shifting and rutting in the bed.

“A little ‘no thank you,’ would have sufficed! No need to be rude! Demons! Really!” He stuffed the link away in the small light of his imprisoned celestial essence.

Having exhausted all other resources for comfort, the angel returned to his books. With resignation, he opened the second volume, and read the novel. As the scenery and action of the story caught him in its sway, he tipped his hat to Brother Glynn’s ability to soothe his patients in both body and mind so well. It was a long day…

 

***

 

Only one human lifetime ago, Crowley had decided to have some fun with one of the many alchemists cropping up in Elizabethan England. The man, who seemed on the fast track to becoming the Queen’s confidant, was John Dee. The young up-and-comer was brilliant in many aspects, inventing pulley systems and mathematical compositions that had given England’s royal fleet advantage in the previous war. He also charmed her royal highness with his accurate horoscopes. However, as some great minds do, he did not stop there. In his pursuit of glory and power, he became fixated on marrying science with every other crazy thing in the box. He grafted a variety of ancient texts from around the world, attempting to piece together a rather lopsided Leviathan of that primordial wisdom. And while many of his time were enamored with Buddhist or Judaic teachings, he set to making them instruments in attempts to manipulate the fabric of reality.

Crowley couldn’t blame him for trying; that with all the … religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants and all. The church was a biased institution, which used the clergymen to manipulate their respective parishes. Men of science found the restrictions frustrating, and in the early period of empirical thought, fancied applying math or even… architecture to the divine design. Go figure! Dee dedicated his life to searching for the pulley or gear of the Creator. He wished to use angels as instruments for ushering the Armageddon. (What is it with everyone and their mother so intent on that old thing?)

In Hell, the whole alchemy business was observed gleefully. Demons milked a possibility to muck up the Celestial paperwork for what it was worth. Some posed as angels in visions, some whispered recipes for holy cures that resulted in nasty boils on delicate parts. Crowley found all these attempts a bit pedestrian. He wanted to really create some gridlock.

John Dee seemed to be the answer to his prayers (metaphorically speaking). The Hermetical-alchemist-mathematician-advisor had begun studying the Steganographica, an ancient book written by an abbot documenting a cipher-like version of Hebrew. He hoped that it would allow him to speak with spirits. The (then) young alchemist, was thrilled to pour over such potentially revolutionary texts, but had little time to copy the script. So, to spur things up, Crowley had lifted the papers, while Dee entombed himself at the library, and added some fine-tuning, revealing to the human glimpses of actual Angelic language. The catch was, though, that as a demon, Crowley could not teach the complex pronunciation to his new charge. Had he spoken it, he would combust. The complexities of angelic tongue therefore escaped Dee on his first several tries. With exasperation, Crowley appeared to the alchemist in his best angelic disguise, to tutor his enthusiastic charge.   

Dee knew enough of Latin and Hebrew, which were at some point derived from Enochian language, however, the angelic tongue was safeguarded with an obscure pronunciation system with 75 tones, which was closer to… for the lack of a better reference - Chinese. The alchemist tried his best at reading out the annotated “summoning” (Crowley even tried to add musical notation!). He definitely looked the part, raising his hand and bellowing the arcane vowels at his crystal ball. However, the defective pronunciation turned the misleading intel that Crowley wrote for him into something truly psychedelic. For example, one receipt which was supposed to enlighten the celestial spheres with the news that Archangel Michael was having an affair with Beelzebub. Crowley was anticipating the inside investigation. It arrived however as “the Archangel Michael learned to breathe through his asshole and died when he sat down”. He would also attempt to report the second coming of Jesus to remote areas of the earth, but ended up starting a few crocodile cults, most of them very memorable, yet short-lived. As short lived as the followers who disturbed the reptiles’ siesta to offer venerations. The exception was the one in Iceland. For obvious reasons.

Despite Heaven’s growing suspicion, the messages stubbornly got caught on the heavenly frequency, as they were technically in Angelic language and had to be checked. Oh, the “blessed” gridlock! Crowley gave up trying to make sense, and even once had Dee read out his shopping list, which remained in records as an accidental love-ballad in which a demon professed his undying passion for an angel. Happens all the time with Chinese too.

Crowley continued to “reward” his charge with “angelic visitations”, granting him the vision of a gossamer gray, black-haired angel (whose strange gold eyes had vertical pupils... still better than eight-winged floating heads…) that foretold his summoner’s importance to both the British Empire and the coming Armageddon.

The tutoring lessons, which were hilarious for exactly one of its participants, continued for a few months and were becoming tiresome. Crowley gladly bailed after Hell got word that their celestial rivals were looking into all the ridiculous communications they were getting from Earth.

The incident seemed to have evolved further after he had left Dee to his own devices.

Even without Crowley’s magic, John Dee was not hard to find. Notorious, first for his accomplishments, now, he was renowned for his spectacular downfall. Which however, gave him an aura of misunderstood genius, attracting a few followers at Christ College. Queen Elizabeth begrudgingly threw him that financial bone, instating him as the Ward of the facility. Was it Dee, or an admirer now leaving similar handiwork scrawled on the form of his trapped friend Aziraphale?

 

That evening, after Crowley retired to his room, escaping the flighty diplomats and the incessant meddling of Cecil, he materialized his reliable old crystal ball, gave it a polish with a sleeve, and stared into it. It was prime scrying hour; Dee always preferred to delve into the ball late evening by candlelight. The demon waited patiently for the hook of an incantation to reach out through the flickering, bent flame reflecting in the glass. Then –

Swoop. His spirit warped into pitch black shadow, darting through the gap of distorted chants and reforming a split second later on the stone floor of Dee’s study.

The dry old man, who apparently had been bent over his own crystal ball moments before, toppled back in his chair from the force of the apparition and hung, tilted, until Crowley’s black boot stamped down on the wooden seat between the bony knees and swung him forward to a horizontal position.

“Hello, Johnny, been a while,” He drawled, leaning into the trembling man’s pallid long face. “Keeping the old lines burning, are you?”

“You’ve returned…Cassiel, oh sweet Cassiel, you’ve returned!” He cried out, raising his wrinkled hands up, almost touching Crowley’s face. The demon stood up, brushing off the feeling of being pulled through the eye of a needle. He didn’t care for scrying, but desperate times…

The demon took a glance around, and was surprised to find the library, once fastidiously managed, in disarray. He remembered it brimming with volumes, now only a few tomes were scattered on the vacant shelves. Some of the finer golden weights and scientific instruments that had cluttered the room were conspicuously missing. He raised one sharp brow above his shades.

“Did you have a bargain sale?”

Dee looked about the disheveled study, he sighed.

“They pillaged my home, my instruments… Years of research, gone!” He growled between his (remaining) teeth. “Oh Cassiel…it all went so badly…why did you leave?” the alchemist’s voice rose in a whine at the end.

Crowley sighed. Humans tended to get severely attached to the promises of glory, and proof of their own importance, especially when you pretended to espouse heavenly magic. He cleared his throat.

“My apologies…I had important…angel business. Why don’t you catch me up on things?”

With a “heavenly” audience, Dee began a litany of his many trials and travels. After his “success” with Crowley, he had been desperate to summon another angel. He enlisted the help of several like-minded alchemists, but the special spark was missing. Obviously, because what they were doing without Crowley was rubbish, but the “angel” was not inclined to reveal that just yet.

Finally, he miraculously met one Edward Kelley, whose scrying abilities seemed to predict minor future events. The alchemist begrudgingly noted that duller minds would consider Kelley’s premonitions mere “coincidences.” Crowley smirked into a small silver mirror and took a moment to appreciate how good he looked in the sheer robes. Even given that his anatomy had to be standard issue human imagination “angelic”. Popular precaution most of his kin followed – alchemists were… handsy folk. His attention dwindling, he tuned back into the drone of Dee’s words.

Through Kelley’s inspired suggestions to Dee’s summoning spells, they worked together to draw out the voice of an angel. Unfortunately, their devotion to days-long scrying and aspirations of speaking to God directly, were not at all appreciated by the alchemist’s many-suffering patrons (namely, Queen Elizabeth). With royal patience waning, his and Kelley’s families were forced to flee to the continent. There they found financing with Polish and Bohemian royalty. Boooohoooo…

“We ended up in Trebona, in Prague tasked with creating a Philosophers stone. At first it seemed our fortunes turned for the better,” Dee continued, rattling on with little encouragement from the bored “Cassiel”, who idly paged through the remaining books in his collection. “As we chanted and scryed, day, night, we started to get flashes from the ball again! I recall, an image of a hand, and eye!” Crowley’s brow rose over his spectacles, and his ears perked up. “… and I felt soon we would make her become flesh. And she did!

Crowley looked up, turned back to the half-crouched man in the chair.

“‘She’, did you sssssay? Who is ‘she’?”

Dee turned his drawn face back, fires licking at the worry-lines on his forehead, sharpening the crooked nose into a beak. He grinned, broader and broader.

“Why, Medini, of course,” He whispered. “Sweet Medini came to us.”

Crowley went still, calculating on the horrifying math adding up.

“You…sssssssummoned an angel?”

“Yes!” Dee breathed. “She was beautiful…oh, well… not as beautiful as you, dear Cassiel. Her hair and wings were the color of fire. He eyes held the Milky Way within them. Her bosom, oh... her bosom!.. Oh, Medini!”

Oh fuck, Crowley thought. It did sound like he’d actually managed to summon an angel… Heaven must have sent an agent to check… shit…

“Yes, but she kept blinking away. She would stay with us a moment, held by the echoes of my voice, with Kelley’s direction of tone, we managed to hold her and question her…longer and longer…until…she could not leave us. I think…it was quite distressing to her…but she had to understand, we needed her. She had a great purpose.”

No… this was completely utterly impossible.

How?” The demon hissed, clutching at the arms of the man’s chair and leaning in quite menacingly. “How did you do it? How did you hold her there?”

“It was another spell,” Dee answered, sounding a bit hurt with the demon’s lack of understanding. “The spells you and I worked on…Kelley, had an eye for how they fit. Corrected some small mistakes. He said, for the magic to work, I would have to speak them. There were many trials, so many, but eventually we came to it.”

“Kelley…did?”

“Yes, he was a natural, as if he heard the words himself!”

Indeed…

“What happened to the angel?”

“Oh…she spirited away one day. I think she was unhappy on earth, in our laboratory…we tried everything to have her come back…Kelley called to her in the crystal ball. She had strange demands… about our wives…”

Crowley looked at the man, suddenly gone quiet, lost in reminiscing…

What about your wives?”

“Well… Kelley told me… we had to… you know… cross-match, in a… variety… of configurations… but even after that she never returned.”

Kelley told you, huh… Crowley entertained himself with a detour into his vivid imagination.

“Did you see her go?” He returned to business.

“No, it happened while I was out. Kelley told me…”

The demon rubbed his temple, growling to himself. The entire affair stunk to Heaven. He wondered if Aziraphale knew of a Medini, who might or might not want mortals to shag each other silly in various configurations. And if she indeed, was returned safely to Heaven? Something told Crowley that it was unlikely. If she did, there would have been a major investigation. Heaven would want to hush it up if there was a way to trap them, for sure. He knew, he would have… Dee would have been found easily, probably disposed of. Yet here he is in front of the demon. It did not add up at all. If Medini was an agent of Heaven sent to investigate Dee’s prank-messages, the alchemist would have been implemented in weather it was: a disappearance, captivity or whatever else happened to her. It sounded way too similar to Aziraphale’s predicament, and the demon knew all too well not to believe in coincidences when such magic was involved. So! Where did the angel go, if she escaped? Why would she not talk? Was she… silenced… and did it mean that now Aziraphale was… mortal?

Crowley, sat down. Fuck!

“Where’s Kelley now?”

“Gone. Died. He had gotten himself involved in some alchemy scheme… died in prison, as I hear it.” Shit! However, he knew Dee and his propensity to record everything.

“And what of the summoning spell, John? Where did you write it down?”

“I wrote it down…in our little book, remember?” He offered wistfully.

Ah yes, it was a small, purple book that perfectly fit in the palm. Crowley stood up stiffly, then walked back to the shelves, looking over with more urgency than before.

“You won’t find it there,” Dee called over his shoulder, then sunk his chin in his hand. “It’s gone…lost with all my other treasures.”

Bloody hell, this was bad. Crowley nearly banged his head on the shelves in despair. Aziraphale will never get over this; neither would Heaven or Hell... Dee was not a reliable narrator, but everything indicated that the destructive nature of his prank seemed to be deepening by the moment. And now the spell was gone, and apparently, someone picked it up! But how did they know how to pronounce it? Hell tribunal loomed in his mind’s eye… No, not the time to delve into speculations about which specific tortures would top brass unleash upon his sorry ass… he let the thoughts skip across the mind like a stone over water.

Now, now, the book…

Crowley started pacing, measuring the stone floor, rubbing his temples and thinking over the circumstances. He folded his hands in front of him, appearing in parody to prayer. Finally heel-turning briskly, he pivoted back to the seated man, who was longingly staring at him. The alchemist smiled, hopeful for another prophecy.

“Johnny-boy,” Crowley started again, folding down his fingers and pointing at the man. “My friend…who knows you reside here? Have you had other visitors?”

“My daughter Katherine comes to see me,” He offered. “Oh, and the young fellows, scholars from Christ College came by sometimes. They were crestfallen when they saw the state of the library…not enough bones to pick through for their own betterment!”

That seemed to be the only thread he could follow at the moment. Christ’s Church was in Manchester, so-

A strange chord thrummed through the room. The vibrations felt foreboding. Crowley’s pointed ears adjusted to the solemn tone, and realized it was Dee chanting behind him. He turned back to see the man’s black eyes wide and glimmering in the candlelight, his thin lips curving to the Enochian syllables.

“And just what are you doing?”

“I cannot let you leave me again… I remember enough…” Dee said, then began again. The shadows in the room seemed to spasm for a moment, a chorus of rushing wind and primordial roar of flame, then-AND THEN-

…Dee stopped, blinking at the demon’s unchanged form. Crowley snorted.

“… Oi, my mother’s a what?” he asked, putting his hand on one hip. “Bloody old fool, you’re really hopeless on your own. Thanks for the info, best be on my way now, Johnny! By the way, I don’t have a mother!” The desperation and abandonment in the man’s face felt so good! Killing him would not garner such satisfaction as a promise of powerless eternity alone.

With a snap of his finger and the bend of space-time, the demon warped back through the crystal ball’s candlelight reflection and back into his own chamber. He stumbled a little upon touchdown, feeling a strange unsettling premonition. It interfered with the equilibrium of his vessel. Unbending his back, he gave a long questioning gaze into the ball swathed in crushed velvet. Again, he was reminded of what he had been told, of what had come about with his little prank on a silly alchemist. A flash of rage engulfed him, worse yet that he had only himself to blame. A bright crack split the ball into two jagged pieces, flames licking the cloth underneath it. Crowley felt the growl leave his throat, he clicked his fingers snuffing out the fire.

The mixture of anger and hopelessness welling up in his mind, choking his reasoning, disabling his senses… he staggered to his bed, dropping himself down on his back with a groan. He lay there, trying to recalibrate his body. The anger he felt was familiar, and he owned it, but the melancholy and terror, felt foreign and invasive. No…it felt…like his

“Bloody hell, Aziraphale, I can’t handle your sympathy pains at the moment!” He pushed the energy of the angelic angst out of his ethereal body. After a moment his vessel finally relaxed. The demon’s back sank against the pillow.

He felt a ripple in space and something landed on the bed next to him. Not having the energy or interest to lift his head, he tried to ignore it. Not one to be ignored, the now-fluffy feline form of Bentley jumped over to the edge of the bed and intrusively sniffed Crowley’s mouth. Luxurious black whiskers tickled the demon’s no less luxurious long nose.

“Bad choice,” his master said, noticing the familiar’s black coat. “Don’t let the king see you like that. He hates cats more than rats.”

Bentley’s ears wilted. He shook his head and in a blend of shadow, turned into a neat black dachshund with a wagging tail. With no further protests from his master, the creature curled up against the demon’s chest. The warmth wasn’t terrible. Crowley deigned to lift his hand and rub his thumb against the familiar’s neck.  

“…bloody angels…bloody humans…done with the whole lot of them,” He muttered against the embroidery.

 

***

 

Holding the horses’ reins, David watched with interest how his two lords toiled for a change, trying to roll the barrel up the plank onto the cart. David did not know who Sisyphus was, so he thought of dung-beetles instead. Amidst his metaphorical ponderings, Guido’s broad back appeared in the doorframe of the storage room. The cellars of the Lambeth lodgings were emptying steadily, even if not necessarily very quickly. The horses stood phlegmatically, chewing at their bits, shifting from one foot to another, awaiting the crack of a whip to set them going. Thomas accepted the barrel from Robert and settled it, leaning it towards the side of the cart, then secured it with rope. Their task took time and deliberation. With three barrels loaded, Guido got onto the cart with him. Even transporting the explosives along the uneven cobbled streets was as exercise in faith. Another cart, filled with firewood, was being steered by Catesby’s valet out of the gates. The lord thanked David, taking the rains and climbing up onto the seat. Despite the labor shortage the stubborn man refused to allow the servants to risk their lives. Thomas and Guido secured the last load and settled themselves next to their cargo. Percy would meet them at the storage.

Robert clicked his tongue and gently urged the horses on. David bowed to them as they rolled out of the gates on the heels of the first cart. Thomas watched the servant enter the house. There was a shadow in the priest’s window, but Thomas’s attention already turned to Guido. His friend was sitting in front of him, eyes closed, hands crossed. He looked tired, the late nights and the duties he had to perform with Percy during the day took a toll on him. He grasped at any opportunity for a nap. Thomas shrugged off a sense of loss at a wasted rare face-to -ace with a friend, and crawled up, settling behind Catesby instead. Darkening streets with candles being lit behind the mismatched gaps of windows rolled by. On their backdrop Catesby looked like a bird of prey, hunched onto himself.

In the fading light of day, the man at the reins appeared even worse for wear than Fawkes. Pale, with shadows under his eyes. Robert’s hands had a small nervous tremor, the kind he got when he was excited or worried. He was not immune to their nightly tours, after all.

“Aren’t you looking green around the gills?”

Catesby grunted, pulling at the reins to keep the horses’ leisurely pace.

“Did you talk to Father Gerard?” Thomas saw only a part of Catesby’s profile, the wide brim of his hat throwing shade over one tired eye. Yet, even at this angle the spasm that rippled through his cousin’s face was evident. No words followed. Thomas pressed: “How did he take it?”

“I am not sure… he…” Robert hunched even lower, completely obscuring his face behind wild hair and the hat.

“Why would you burden him this way? He did so much already, he staked his life for Our Lord in Heaven…”

“He hoped for a better solution,” Catesby’s voice was very quiet, body locking down into a pained resigned stance.

“Don’t we all”, Thomas sighed.

“I was so sure… I was so… it had to be him!” Thomas just listened. “All those dreams, these prophesies…” A shudder went through the speaking man.

Once triggered by Crowley’s careless prying, his subconscious went into overdrive; so many versions of the priest, angel, and sometimes even himself filled his nights. This kaleidoscope of delightful indecencies overshadowed anything he remembered from his own youthful indiscretions. At first, they were disconcerting, but he grew to anticipate them. Every night it felt like Gerard was getting closer and closer to him. It was not real and Catesby was perfectly aware of that. Yesterday thrust in his face an uncomfortable truth – he hoped, more than he was aware of.

Thomas had no idea what was going on in his cousin’s head. It did look however like something beneath these curls was more explosive than their cargo. He looked at the man’s hands, they were already shaking and they had three barrels of gunpowder to move on a steep descent. He regretted his timing.

Robert watched the cobbles disappear beneath the carriage into the dusk, the horses were obedient elderly mares, no sense of competition, just honest hard work. The rhythmic sway and clop put him into a waking trance. Thomas’s voice was a distant echo, Guido’s snores a soft rumble of waves lapping at his mind. He looked back to the last evening. The strange doctor leaving him with Gerard.

There was something disturbingly familiar and at the same time attractive about that tall, dark stranger. A handsome face, piercing eyes, prideful spread of shoulders. Brother Glynn appeared to like him. Catesby had no time to spare to figuring it out though as his attention was drawn to the priest.

Gerard on his bed looked rather pitiful. His tall body was emaciated from his ordeal, appearing small draped in covers and sheets. Objectively, rather unappealing sight. But it was not the looks that Catesby chased, this man was proof that visitation was not a figment of his imagination. This man was what called the Angel to them, his safety was Heaven’s priority. The pale presence gave him clarity. But the anticipated discussion left his mind muddled and sore with contradiction. The priest never objected to the dethronement of the king, and it seemed even to his death. In their many previous discussions, he noticed detached deliberation in him, humility in the face of necessity when Catesby mentioned how righteous God smites the infidels. It was what drove Catesby to him after Lady Dibdale’s execution. The Jesuit agreed then that surely such violence does not stem from any godliness that the Anglicans may preach. Now, after what they went through in the Tower… Gerard’s reluctance blindsided him, when he was so, so sure. Is Heaven still speaking through his lips? He could not allow the doubt back into his heart.

Then again, how naive of him to expect a man of God, whose kindness was palpable and courage indisputable, to accept in stride the full monstrosity of his plan. Especially the mass-murder part, or the way he phrased it to himself: the sacrifices of the unaware martyrs… Here Catesby reluctantly recalled a display of Spanish Inquisition, and groaned. Did not hapless victims of the Constable weigh similarly on Robert’s conscience? But he was not going after Anglicans – he was going after the Devil himself, the King and Lord Cecil… It took himself time to see that there was no other choice… years of burying people he grew to respect. Years of visits to the gibbet, salvaging what was left for a funeral in unmarked graves. And then, to come to accept a possibility of himself at the helm of such violence. Catesby clung to the belief, that given the choice, all of the collateral victims would choose their soul and eternity with their Lord in Heaven to the meager desperate Godless existence. Yet, he was the one making that decision for them.

But surely, with the help of God and His Angels, with just a bit of time… Gerard would also glimpse the inevitability of their action? Would come to support him… in every way. The thought resonated in his groin with an unexpected tug. He pressed his knees together, glancing at Thomas, whose attention slid across the windows lighting up as they rode along.

Looking at the fading kaleidoscope of cobbles beneath the horses’ legs, Catesby struggled with uncomfortable truth. What he expected and what was not given to him was not just unquestioning loyalty to the cause. His heart ached with residual hope.

 

Thomas watched the dark street for a while, turning to the dark face of his friend. Catesby seemed to go further and further away from him into a place where Wintour did not want to follow. Suddenly, Robert shivered and appeared to wake up, blinking.

“You are right, Thomas. I burdened him… and now we… need to find a way to keep him safe…”

“Safe? For us, or for him?”

“Safe…”

The laws of narrative causality took pity on the two men, and the solid dark mass of Guido shifted in his dream with a snort and a sigh, breaking the tension. Thomas’s face automatically turned towards the man. Even asleep his presence gave him a sense of normalcy. Deciding that for tonight they had enough drama, he moved to sit next to his friend. Guido was warm and smelled of horses and sweat. Probably, like most men in London, and very likely like Thomas himself. The questionable reek reminded Thomas that they were still alive. He closed his own eyes, shutting out the world filled with suffering and injustice. The cart jumped on a cobble and Thomas’s body froze, heart skipping a beat. When he allowed himself to breathe out and settle back, an uncharacteristic thought occurred to him – being alive felt good.

 

***

 

Crowley woke up, opened one yellow eye, and understood with perfect clarity that he needed a break. The weather was quite awful, fine drizzle hung in the air, fog slithered in through the gaps in the window frames. Chill couldn’t harm the serpent, but it made him sluggish. He burrowed into the blankets, and told the world to wait. No, really, he stopped the time for himself. So, when in the next ten minutes the page politely knocked on his door Crowley had another couple of hours of quality down time and was ready to face the reality. The reality was, that he did not want to go to Manchester and find out that his reckless shenanigans caused even more damage. With all the angel-commotion, he disregarded his own agenda of ending the martyr-factory that was the Catholic prosecution.

The king’s toilet was low-key, but still waters, obviously, ran deep. It appeared Cecil was more full of himself than usual, and the king seemed to be in the know. Northumberland was evidently not, cut down mid-tirade about the necessity to appease the Spanish envoy’s demands. Registering the drama, Crowley focused on Lord Carr. The king’s young lover was so earnestly devoted to the benefits of his position, and had become a reliable indicator of the king’s state of mind. The young man appeared satisfied. Apparently, the king’s sunny disposition translated into some good graces, if the boy’s slight limp was something to go by. Which meant, he should begin by making James talk.

The king emerged from behind the screens wearing another shade of red velvet. The valet was attaching a good helping of ruffle to the collar. Crowley caught the royal eye and demurely dropped his lashes behind blue tinted lenses that made his eyes look green. He swiped his glance towards Lord Carr and then back to the king, with a twitch of a brow and a brisk smile, part devilish, part vulnerable. The king’s breath hitched for a moment, and he adjusted his breeches discretely, stepping through the door.

The demon cocked his head, watching the courtiers filing out of the room after their liege. Cecil was last, and tried to give Crowley an arrogant glance; for once, the king’s bespectacled favorite was unaware of the pact with the Constable. Crowley held his gaze, lips twitched gently into a small smile under the always perfect moustache. The demon’s eyes grew narrow, one brow rose over the vexed gaze. Cecil’s paranoia reared its head at the display, and he left with a very strong suspicion that there was something up the man’s sleeve. 

 

True to his plan, Crowley enjoyed himself by ignoring the king during breakfast. Relentlessly. An old human tactic, but oh so effective. By evening, James would speak on any topic Crowley would engage with. Humans invented so many creative ways to mess with each other’s heads, who needs mind reading (anyway, mostly unreliable, because you never knew if you were reading reality, wishful thinking or false perception) when you can alter someone’s reality with a well-timed manipulation? He tried it on Aziraphale once, but it did not work; the angel did not even notice the attempt, and they ended up just not talking for half a century. Crowley was the one who gave up.  

No! No Aziraphale today. No angels, no demons, no magic, just good old fucking with the king’s head and maybe some other parts of him, if he felt so inclined to reward his royal minion. The recent chain of events, escalating in urgency and unpredictability, felt like a garrote around his demonic neck. Crowley almost craved the emptiness, solitude, and above all the control of the sepia space between his ears.

There was one more issue he had to address.  

 

***

 

Bentley scurried across the kitchen floor in his habitual rat form. Today’s pickings were generous as usual. The ham looked inviting; there were poultry and meats, pastry, breads, and for a less discerning customer – vegetables. However, deep within himself he felt there are better things he could aspire to as a true aficionado of mortal… mhhhmmmm… not as much the cuisine, as the verisimilitude of gastronomical experiences. Oh! He knew it when he saw it! On the bench, reflecting the warm orange glow of the fireplace, cradled in a wicker basket, shiny green-yellow half translucent beads of luxurious grapes. Fit for a king indeed. Bentley froze, his beady red eyes reflecting the object of his desire. There was plenty, a rat would take its fill easily. However, Bentley stalled, sitting on his hinder paws, giving the whole affair a good old ponder as he washed his whiskers. Having come to some conclusion, he jumped into the basket, snug between the bunches of taunt berries, tight coils, and soft leaves. A moment of black blur and he shrunk into a small round shape, burrowing beneath the leaf to have his fill in exactly the form that would appreciate the food the most. His antennae eyes bulged with unabridged culinary desire, the few neurons that were installed in a snail’s brain were firing on all cylinders.  

And… then!

Then… he felt a familiar pull of beloved master’s regretfully untimely summons. Bentley dissipated, creating a tiny sad vacuum between the lush green leaves with a barely audible pop.

 

Something small and round fell at Crowley’s feet and spun on its side. The demon looked down at an offending object. It was a rather large black grape snail still attached at the mouth to a shiny grape. Crowley raised one brow over the rim of his spectacles. Bentley wiggled at him his antennae-eyes that held a degree of indignation rarely seen in a mollusk. With what would have been a sigh, had he been a mammal, he blinked into a dachshund. Crowley picked him up without comment. And pointed through the window. 

The hell’s beast saw a pair crossing the inner yard. A tall and a short figure, dressed in unassuming, clothes that lacked the excess of aristocratic fashion, as well as any distinction of a uniform. Anyone would have taken them for visitors or petitioners with their wide brimmed hats, and nondescript cloaks of conspicuously similar cut and color. However, Bentley recognized the military bearing and stiff gait of a strange man who wasted his master’s time in the stables. The shorter man he did not know.

Crowley instructed him to follow the pair and lock in memory what he saw and heard. Presently, the demon could not be bothered with a live viewing of the chase. The small dog gave a curt, soft bark and was let onto the floor. Fiery eyes gave Crowley a loyal stare, the nails on the short bendy legs clicked across the stone floor as the creature hurried away. The demon smiled benevolently. It was good to feel some things never changed. The familiar disappeared discretely, with a last wilting glance at the grape right next to his master’s polished boot. But nothing tasted as good as his master’s graces felt.

Through the window, the demon saw a small black shadow attach itself firmly on the heels of the two Spaniards.

 

True to himself, Crowley spent his day in the delightful drudgery of the palace, recuperating. After a copious late lunch, he dogged Cecil until mid-afternoon just for the heck of it. The spymaster was good at keeping his secrets. Crowley, of course would get the answers from the king. However, assuming he would get all of the answers was quite imprudent. The spymaster never revealed the whole truth to anyone, let alone his majesty. Which only made it more fun, in Crowley’s book! Spite, competition, small and fairly large mind games. How he did miss it all. The simplicity of it…

From a pointed questioning, the demon got an inkling that whatever was brewing had something to do with the Spanish embassy, and therefore bode ill for the Catholics. So maybe Bentley’s excursion would shed some light on whatever was going on. Good, good… Crowley sprawled in Cecil’s guest armchair, going through the documents that the spymaster did not manage to hide from him yet. Cecil was seething. Crowley was mostly bored. Legers of the Catholic taxations, lists of suspects, dates of the raids. A whole untidy pile of folders from the Tower’s torture department. Wade’s disastrous scrawls were a cipher in itself. One folder caught the demon’s bespectacled eye; it was entitled “John Gerard”. Crowley blinked at it, and had to stop himself from immolating the whole lot of them. Failing to stop his own hand, he reached for the documents. He would regret later… but…

“Oh, our escaped priest…” Cecil nodded.

“Esssscaped? Did he? How?” Crowley effortlessly feigned surprise.

“Through the sewers… as does befit a rat,” Cecil’s crooked mouth bent even more out of shape around the dismissive syllables. “Someone helped him… we will get him in time.” He looked at the demon with a soulless stare. “Some other rat will squeal…”

Crowley held his gaze, and settled more comfortably into the chair. The demon’s long fingers paged through the folder, eyes swiping over the accounts of the tortures performed on the prisoner, with a verbatim record of what he revealed. There had been a lot happening before Cecil and Crowley joined the interrogation. He never stopped to ponder what the king’s advisor referred to as “gentle tortures”. Crowley’s eyes fell onto the pathetic man lopsidedly hunched over the table. A poisonous nauseating disgust ran down his spine. Lips wrapped around an incantation, quietly and deliberately.

There was a pregnant pause, the magic crackled, reframing the mortal’s personal reality. Lord Cecil’s eyes opened wide, lips parted in a scream that Crowley skillfully outsourced into another dimension. The scoliotic body jolted out of the seat with haste unfit for it. The abrupt motion unbalanced the man and he stumbled, went to his knees, grasping at the table. There was darkness before his eyes, the room dissipated into blood curdling nothingness.

“What isssss it, my Lord?” the familiar voice chased him, but the spymaster could not recall where he knew it from. Cecil found himself on a tall chair, studded with long steel nails. His legs were too short to reach the floor, so with every breath his twitching body was pushed onto the needlepoints, steel ripping into his flesh, spasming muscle, vulnerable tissue. Blinding pain pushed him to squirm, millimeter by millimeter shredding his sanity, violating him. Trapped hands twitched, braced between bars of metal, screws tightened and he heard his joints split before he felt it. When he jerked, feet reaching though agony for a leverage to stand up, tear himself out of the trap, his heels landed onto red hot iron, burning the soles off to the bone in an instant. The world stopped, and the spymaster lost ability to differentiate the shades of pain. He could smell his own burning flesh, and his mind was wrapping itself around the irreparable damage done to his body. Terror paralyzed him, his heart lost any semblance of a rhythm, the windpipe spasmed one final time. Lord Cecil died.

The spymaster blinked; he was lying on the floor, decorated ceiling was far away. Between ceiling and himself Lord Crowley’s face was hovering, feigning worry while exuding curiosity. Disoriented, the small man attempted to figure out how to start picking himself up. He managed to sit. Looking down at his fine breeches, stockings and shoes on the ever-crooked legs – all intact, Cecil lifted his hands, let the palms brush at the stiff fabric, dusting himself.

He groaned, blinking the illusion away, rubbing his eyes. Lord Crowley’s brow rose over the dark lens.  

“Vertigo…” he managed in a shaky whisper. “My eyes are not that good any more, I get dizzy sometimes…must have fainted…”

The spectacles obscured the owner’s eyes completely, reflecting at Cecil his own pathetic, shaken face. He took an offered glass of water, automatically taking a sip. Warmth and feeling were slowly returning to his extremities.

“Let me call a physician,” the demon knew no mercy. He sent the closest guard for the doctor. The one who was particularly fond of leeching and bloodletting – exactly what Cecil deserved and then some.

Not waiting for the medic, Crowley bowed out. Staying in a room with a folder, containing details of Aziraphale’s torture became quite… quite… much…

He needed to feel in control.

 

Bentley was still running his errands, Crowley stopped in a corridor looking out at the sun now hanging low over the horizon of uneven haphazard roofs. The light was yellow and forgiving, the kind of light that made the world golden and warm, and faces of people young again. He found himself at the king’s door, and was allowed in immediately. He blinked on the masking charm, and took his glasses off, stopping at the closed doors in a beam of light. He knew the generous illumination will catch his eyelashes, light up the fake dark amber of his eyes, sparkle on his trimmed goatee. Crowley settled in for a ride inside his handsome skull. He liked to think himself an artist at work, manipulating his tool – his perfect body, like a complex machine from a safety of his isolated mind. And he looked damn good doing it.

James came up to him, limping more than usual. Despite discomfort, the king leaned in and up, rising on tiptoes to place a kiss over Crowley’s smile.

“Your majesty appears to be in such splendid spirits!” the demon walked past the monarch towards the drink cabinet, and chose a bottle that he would normally enjoy had he had a sense of taste. Taking a sip, he turned to the king, who was extending his arm towards Crowley’s goblet. “What made your majesty so happy?” The king took a sip right where Crowley’s mouth touched the rim.

“Good news, Sir Anthony…” the king cut himself off, evidently remembering Cecil’s advice not to share the information. Then he looked at Crowley again, who stood with his arms crossed over his chest, embodying anticipation.

“Wherever from?” he feigned nonchalance, glancing out of the window and refusing to meet the king’s searching eyes.

He heard James’s chuckle.

“Do you really side with Northumberland, my friend?” the king asked him instead. Face sharpening with a definitive squint in shrewd grey eyes.

“I don’t really care for politics too much, your majesty. What I do care for, however, is that your reign is remembered as successful. And right now the Spanish appear…”

“They only appear, my friend…” James’s voice lowered, as he found a middle ground between keeping quiet and revealing his secret. He whispered it into Crowley’s ear. “Beggars can’t be choosers, Anthony. Catholic taxes sponsor this war. Spanish want to lift their burden – end the warhhh…” James breathed in a scent of lavender and smoke, clinging to Crowley’s dark hair. His hands slid over the demon’s chest, fingering the filigree buttons on the tightly shut always-black doublet, feeling the landscape of muscle under dark richly stitched velvet.

Crowley picked the snippets of information apart. So, there was some kind of double deal they made with the Constable. What were they playing at? Spanish meant to help Catholics, must be some kind of ruse again. He will have to do something about de Goya before the man left for Spain.

Crowley blinked, returning to the present.

James took the bottle of wine from him and settled on the bed, taking a decidedly unroyal swig from the neck. He patted a spot next to him, placed the wine on the floor and began popping the buttons out of the silver-embroidered loops. He wore a demure shade of blue in the afternoon; it actually made his muddy gray eyes look steely-clean.

“Your majesty relies on Lord Cecil…” Crowley watched the king disrobe. James proceeded to untie the fine lacing of his own shirt. Catching Crowley’s eye, he smiled.

“I rely on his lust for power… he needs me now. Which means, for now… I live…” the narrow lips formed words that did not match the light smile or a flippant tone. They did match the eyes however. Haunted and empty.

“What do you mean?” the demon cocked his head, watching the king’s nimble fingers. For a moment, he thought of Aziraphale – unable to untie his own breeches. He chased the image away.

“Well, for once, my mother…” the king’s hands stopped, but the voice remained calm, no doubt, lubricated with something he drank before Crowley arrived. “I saw her… passing… I wonder if he could have stopped it. But she was… inconvenient to…them,” calm and quiet. The demon had hard time keeping his brows from rising in alarm. He managed.

The king continued, looking down at his own feet. By the end of the day, his old injury and childhood sickness pulsed through his legs. He toed the inconvenient shoes off.

“If I wanted to live – I had to become a convenient king.” He looked up at Crowley and smiled tiredly. “There are things I can do for this country. If he allows me…”

Crowley remained quiet. James had a strange habit of sometimes catching him off-guard. It was not meant to raise pity, but rather the king needed to speak his mind to someone. And of course, a demon, who ingratiated himself to the king was a natural first choice. They haven’t had a chance to speak of politics lately, as the demon preferred to cut out the middle man and deal directly with the spymaster.

“Your majesty…” Crowley started and realized he had no idea how to finish. James spoke instead.

“I have loyalty in you and Robert… He is a bit of an idiot, and he is mostly loyal to what I can provide him with. But he has no mind and no interest for politics. God bless him!” The demon felt his lips twitch into a smile. Indeed. “But you, Sir Anthony, remain a mystery… Why would someone as accomplished remain loyal to me?” Crowley blinked. “Are you Catholic? In the few years I know you, that was the only cause you were behind…”

“No…” Crowley was unable to suppress a laugh. “Your majesty, that I am definitely not.

“Why then? Do you pity me…? No, don’t answer. I wouldn’t want to know… I would just rather have you.” The smile on the king’s face was directed at himself. This mediocre man was aware of his limitations, which to the demon made him wiser than most. The pathetic mortal… so much depth, yet so much petty evil. A sense of isolation is something a fallen angel in Crowley could relate to.

Words that usually served the serpent as his best weapon recently acquired a new tendency to betray him. Instead, the demon breached the two wide steps that separated them, and bowed low at an angle, sliding into a kiss already waiting for him on the king’s lips. Muscle memory perfected through millennia kicking in, he managed to skillfully curtail the royal thought process. It was better the man did not question him. For both of them, really… Crowley broke off at just the right moment to allow the king a breath. His distraction worked, questions forgotten, the man moaned into his mouth, pulling the air into his lungs and diving in again, grasping at the demon’s shoulders. The unfeeling fingers plucked James out of his chemise, pulling it over his head. Unyielding to the hands going around him, Crowley stiffened his back, playing coy. The game was learned and perfected, but he caught himself intrigued by the man underneath him. Crowley, still fully clothed, pushed the king onto his back, hovering, looking. The royal physique did not offer anything particularly attractive, the demon’s fingers slid along the dry body. For his own good, James lacked the gluttony of his predecessors, and was intent on compensating the weakness of his legs with exercise and walking. Aware of the scrutiny, he tried to cover himself. The king’s simpler desires were always in conflict with the deep-seated conviction that he was surrendering to an unredeemable sin.

Crowley’s lips now aimed at the king’s neck, where a sensitive trail led from behind the royal ear to the sharp protruding collarbone. Meanwhile, the demon’s hands were getting more and more adventurous around the dusty nipples. His lover leaned into the caress, attempting to reciprocate, with searching fingers that kept failing at coordinating an assault at the shiny buttons. With a surrendering moan James fell back, hands borrowing into the covers, overwhelmed by the skillful ministrations and a dose of magic. In the last year or so Crowley had learned how to play the king masterfully.

The demon pulled away and looked into the eyes by now completely blackened out by the pupils. On the bottom of these narrow wells, he glimpsed another James. Before his mother’s fanatical savagery, Elizabeth’s long shadow, Cecil’s manipulation… before the monstrous world molded that one young soul to become fit to survive, there was a man he could have been. That man was clever and maybe even kind, the way he struggled to reach out to Crowley, slide a soft palm against the demon’s cheek, the way he repeated his name and ached to please his lover.

The light within a singular human being fueled by endless possibilities, to Crowley appeared brighter than humanity ever shone collectively.  

He nudged the king’s thighs further apart; allowing his caress to acquire a definitive aim, he slid to his knees. Crowley took a moment, cocking his head to appraise the spectacle of his majesty at his mercy. It was a somewhat endearing sight, even though the demon’s vintage point accentuated specific nuances of the king’s predicament. Crowley smiled to himself.

Reading into the smile, and rather missing the point, James pushed himself to sit again, and embraced Crowley’s shoulders and neck. He placed a kiss into the serpent’s dark hair. The demon, caged against James’s abdomen, looked up. Yes, he could do that to a man, given a week or two. Probably to almost any man or woman. And he did it often. Sex revealed them to him, as easy as paging though a book. Simple caresses unraveled them, until they offered whatever he needed willingly.

Sidetracked, Crowley wondered, if anyone could ever open him up like that, and see him for everything he was. Probably not, after all, no human mind would be able to encompass neither the core of him, nor the experiences that shaped him through millennia. At least, the last time he tried… Well, it was instructive. He did not pursue a shadow of that memory. Demons were, of course, out of the question – backstabbing weasels with questionable hygiene – the lot of them.

And there is was again. A twinge in his heart followed by a vague visceral sense of unease. Just like last time, maybe a little bit less, maybe a little bit more.

Snuffing the unproductive sentiments out, Crowley kissed the royal stomach. The only residue of a dismissed turmoil was the urgency of his fingers, dealing with the buttons on the king’s breeches. As nature’s bureaucrat, the demon was thorough.

Preoccupied, he missed a note of surprise that echoed through his energy field briefly, retracting instantly into the ether.

 

***

 

Focused on the task at… mouth, Crowley failed to notice a tentative nudge, opening the link, which he had so rudely snapped shut last night. A nudge, of course, was from an angel, currently in a process of getting an unexpected eyeful.

It took a moment for Aziraphale to realize what he was seeing… was Crowley mending the man’s trousers or—

Oh.

Oh no.

He certainly was not, unless he was holding the needle between his teeth.

Oh for – GOD’S SAKE, CROWLEY!

One absolutely has to mention that the talented forked tongue probably had the dexterity to do that or even the embroidery, if the demon was thus inclined. However, the appendage in question was occupied otherwise.

Stunned Aziraphale’s attention (probably fueled with curiosity, but he would have never admitted it) travelled up the arching, shifting body, attached to a cock currently between Crowley’s lips. It then took the unwitting observer a few long moments to understand why the face, wrought with pleasure seemed vaguely familiar. The nagging feeling overrode the angel’s first impulse to break the connection instantaneously. And then it dawned at him that he never saw these pale thin features, or lackluster hair in such disarray and with so much emotion.

He saw them in the case file for his current mission that Michael slammed onto his table. It happened on a clear morning a few weeks ago. The Archangel appeared in Aziraphale’s small flat, when the angel was going through the new play by his old friend William. Attached to the file were heavenly imprints of the official portraits, including the one from the coronation. On the images, polished to look regal and serene, even if failing to be attractive, King James the First looked out at Aziraphale.

The shock of recognition forced the angel’s essence to withdraw with lightning speed, snapping back into his corporeal form with a painful jolt. It was becoming a habit. He gasped, lurching up as best he could, hands twitching in an attempt to grasp at the fire in his chest. The book he was feigning to read flopped down his stomach, and brought Brother Glynn’s attention up from some troublesome sewing project he was attempting. Having forgotten about his company, the angel froze, staring into the empty room. He squeezed his eyes shut. It did not help. It appeared the pervasive image burned itself onto his ethereal retinas. A quiet menacing growl filtered through the angel’s clenched teeth, as his heart worked overtime to pump all that blood, boiling with indignation.

Crowley! Crowley! The insufferable impropriety!

“Are you alright, father?” the weathered voice of the friar broke his focused anger for a moment. Nervously, Aziraphale looked over at the man and made a rather uninspired attempt at a smile. Faking nonchalance, he shifted awkwardly, trying to reach towards the book that had fallen open.

“Yes—this—swordfight is quite…exciting!” pushing the words out in controlled casual tone took real effort. However, politeness was the angel’s most prized quality. He did not wish to endanger it, or reveal something was wrong.

“You were reading? I thought you’d fallen asleep! You must have been very involved.” The old cleric stood up and helped to restore the book to Aziraphale’s lap, looking for the duel scene. Luckily, the book actually did have a few, the hapless angel just chose one at random, hoping the friar will not press for further literary discussion.

“Yes… I may have dozed off and dreamt of what I read… ” Aziraphale flinched internally at the feebleness of the excuse. He pretended to read again, in an attempt to end the conversation. The ability to act casual was failing him. His awkward fingers stiffly turned the page. With a smile, Brother Glynn allowed his attention to return to his work. Being granted privacy of his own mind, the angel turned again to the intimate scene he had just witnessed.

For starters, unable to decide what to be angry about first, he made a mental list. One, the fiend had been ignoring—no, repelling his calls. Two, he preferred to investigate the king’s crotch, rather than Aziraphale’s predicament, which, as Crowley himself had admitted, might have been the demon’s own fault! Three, he was in—“congress” with King James, the very man oppressing Catholics country-wide! Four, he was having sex, being intimate, sharing a bed… pleasuring the king! (Aziraphale failed to notice several numbered complaints had a recurring theme…it seemed ‘doing that’ with the king was the most offensive.)

Aziraphale was not born yesterday. Even if he himself did not understand the necessity of sexual intercourse, he knew it was a popular pastime among humans, rather than means to a reproductive end. He did not slant them for it. And to his knowledge, this specific way was favored as it would not produce surplus of offspring. Sexuality was an intrinsic lever installed into the whole free will package. A fascinating and volatile mechanism that demons thrived on abusing! He would not admit that lately it was more on his mind than ever before in the five thousand years of God’s green Earth.

He stole a glance at the friar, who could habitually while away the hours with mending. At the moment it was Aziraphale’s abused undershirt. Short fingers masterfully wielded a needle, sewing up a rip and now darning some threadbare patches. Aziraphale wondered if in his 70 years the kind man ever looked at another with more than godly love. Was he raised in a monastery, or joined of his own volition? Did he leave a life behind? Aziraphale met humans who had no qualms with celibacy. Some appeared to channel the passions into profound spirituality, some into every day kindness. A question hung of his tongue, but he bit it down. If this did not go well, he would have to spend a couple more very uncomfortable weeks in a company of a disgruntle medic. God forbid, no more tea!

That being said, Aziraphale suddenly realized that somehow, he always assumed in this respect Crowley was on the same page with him. That the demon would be above “playing fiddlesticks” with a human… somberly, Aziraphale wondered why would he think this way in the first place? Demons were different than his stock. They used whatever means necessary to turn the ears of mortals to treachery. Seducing leaders of countries was just a casual Tuesday for most of them. Why would Crowley be any different? They have spent more time apart than they ever did together, anyway. Just last century, the demon chased Renaissance in Florence, the Sodom of the day, while Aziraphale in Vatican attempted to mitigate the damage of an endless procession of corrupt popes did to the Catholic faith. The demon had secrets. The demon had… a life without him. The demon had sex, probably with countless mortals.

His thoughts jumped with alarm to the recent memory he had shoved away with embarrassment; Crowley was right there… Crowley caused the issue to “come up” in the aftermath of sharing a spell. Aziraphale pushed the memory out of his mind, but… what if… what if… as with the king? Would Aziraphale himself ever want this? If he stayed in this pitiful form…. Would he then… want… would he then… fall?

He caught himself wondering if Crowley enjoyed it? Having been too shocked, Aziraphale failed to register any sensory input, looking out of the demon’s eyes. The thought made his skin burn strangely. Distraught with where his thoughts were going, he focused on the most distressing point…

-and with the king! The king! The man who thrived on pain and torment of the fellow Christians! King James who had driven the lord of this house, a pious man, to plot mass-murder. Aziraphale could go on with a litany, but in reality, it seemed very logical for a demon to be around the court, he always was. Question was, in what capacity did he serve… and to what end? Could it be that Crowley had spoken to James, regarding Catesby’s and “Gerard’s” whereabouts? After all, he was supervising “Gerard’s” torture. Something angel so eagerly dismissed without a second though! Did the spell rob him of his mind too? In calling for Crowley’s assistance, had he invited a viper into Catesby’s home? Why else did the demon not think such an asset would be worth bringing up?

He tried to consider what he knew, which was very little. It had never been a problem before; Aziraphale would go one way, Crowley another. Somehow, sometimes, they met in similar circumstances, this being one of them. What was he actually doing, in England? With the king…well, Crowley was doing whatever Hell required of him. And sex… was a tool for the hell spawn, and whatever pleasures derived from it was likely to be reveled…

Aziraphale’s thoughts came full circle returning to the shocking act he glimpsed. He couldn’t, he could not think further on what he saw; it was so ridiculous to think of Crowley’s caustic, clever mouth around the monarch’s... organ… An immortal being! Crowley! Both blasphemous and ridiculous! Admittedly, the two words did suit the demon very well.

Aziraphale snapped the book shut – and met Brother Glynn’s surprised eyes.

“Sorry… this story is more exciting than I sometimes can handle!”

The old man’s brows rose and fell, clearly indicating he did not believe him, but was too tactful to pry. He pointedly returned to the darning.

Grasping at the logic, Aziraphale attempted to collect himself by turning his thoughts to the unnerving images and anger he felt last time he had reached out, and gotten his hand celestially slapped back. Breaking crystal, smoke. Something more was going on? And Crowley just did not feel like a traitor.

Either way, if the demon failed to help him, there would be one other possible way out… a very finite way out. Aziraphale felt a shiver run down his spine at the mare thought of it. His living body shrunk from the notion. However, he will cease to be a burden and danger to his hosts. Humans had learned after experiencing millennia in torment, how to flee, corporeally. Forbidden by the bible, even if some other belief systems were less categorical. Yet everywhere it was seen as a waste, to strike life out of one’s body – against nature, for nature always wishes to thrive – the anti-thesis of creation, in physical form. But…in this case…under these circumstances…And what awaited him… release from the vessel or…

He didn’t want to consider it yet, the most desperate act a living creature could execute. For he was indeed a living creature now…

The angel took a very deep very long breath, pushing down the indignation. He may want to straighten this king business out first, very pointedly, with Crowley. That was, if he planned to show his smug face in this house any time soon!

The angel flopped back and abandoned the novel. Brother Glynn still pointedly did not react to the apparent anguish happening next to him. One cannot really help someone who is not ready to accept help. He hid the tail of the thread skillfully and bit the rest of it off. He placed the folded shirt under the bed and rose to head to the kitchen.

Aziraphale watched him for a while. The sight calmed him down. Maybe a life in a monastery, even if it were some 30 more years or so, would not be so bad. He could truly help people. Only there, a demon would not be able to visit him. He closed his eyes and went back to the words of the Bible etched in his mind. He calmed himself by meditating on Proverbs, as it always brought some semblance of proper order to the world.

      

***

 

Crowley swallowed fitfully, and with a long breath, adjusted tightly buttoned doublet, sitting back on his heels. The king’s fingers slipped out of his hair and the demon took his hand, placing it at the monarch’s side. Aided with a well-timed spell, the mortal drifted off to sleep. Crowley stood up. Having moved the prone body to rest on the pillow, he snapped his fingers, rearranging the king’s clothes.

His own reflection in the mirror at the king’s bedside stalled him. Another short spell got rid of a translucent white streak on the velvet shoulder. Having smoothed his beard and rearranged the disturbed hair, the demon gave himself a conspiratorial wink, and without a backward glance, exited the room.

He was careful enough to soundproof the king’s chambers, so the guards were none the wiser, hearing only snippets of muffled conversation. If anything, they were surprised at how thorough the king was with his recent political pursuits.

“His majesty is taking a break,” Crowley’s voice came out low and hoarse – the limitations of the vessel. He cursed under his breath and healed the sore throat, restoring reasonable sensory input. With a nod at the indifferent soldiers, he marched away along the darkening corridor.

As he was… tending to his duties, evening had rolled around. The demon reached into the ether, wondering if the familiar was back already.

Bentley eagerly responded, inquiring if he should come back or follow the men further. It appeared the two were on their way back, passing the bridge with its gruesome decorations. The dusk hid the more grisly details of the decomposing limbs and heads. The expressionless faces peaked into the carriage window. Bentley sat under the driver’s seat in a rat form. The familiar found out the hard way that the Constable’s amulet precluded him from getting too close to the emissaries. Forcing himself to be at least in the same room drained his spirit. Even one of his lesser physical manifestations barely held up.

Crowley reached out and picked the shrinking spirit through the ether. With his last strength, Bentley changed into a more desirable canine form and whined quietly, soaking up the master’s energy. Crowley placed him onto the bed. Yellow eyes without shades appraised the damage. He stood up.

The small dog dozed off for a moment, and woke up feeling a dip in the mattress when the master landed next to him. One fiery eye opened, rolling towards a familiar scent. In front of him on a silver platter was a big bunch of grapes that looked way better than the king’s. Large and dark, with a delicate blue dusting, almost the size of plums. The demon took one, rubbed it with his fingers disturbing the powdery coating, popped it in his mouth and smiled. Only master smiled like that, all teeth and beard, it could almost seem like he did not care. Bentley opened his mind to Crowley’s invitation, and bumped his wet nose into the ripe berry, licked it, and finally felt the first burst of tangy flavor on his tongue.

 

Bentley’s memory preserved for him what the familiar saw. Crowley observed Lady Vaux looking out of the door, and into the pale grey eyes of her visitor. She stared the men down, alternating her attention between him and his shorter companion. It took her another moment to confirm that the two men were indeed the ones Father Garnet expected. Long enough for a small black mouse to dart between the three pairs of shoes into the dark hallway. The lustrous fur smoldered briefly as it passed next to the Constable’s boots. The dowager finally stood to the side to allow the Constable and his companion into the house. The tall man bowed to her, while the older one ignored her presence altogether, instead turning to the priest, who stepped into the corridor to greet them.

The Jesuit Superior bowed amicably, showing the men along the narrow, hidden stairs into his comfortable secret lodgings, and closed the door in the dowager’s face. Crowley took a mental note of the strange tension between the Jesuit and the lady. He knew her from Cecil’s reports – Catesby’s cousin. It made sense that Catesby’s kin hosted the highest-ranking cleric in London. The demon may have struck gold with his prying.

 

Garnet poured the wine – a generous gift the Spanish had presented to him. The Constable’s dark weary eyes followed him around the room, de Goya, dispassionate as ever, stared into one spot on the wall, like an automaton that had spun its gears out to rest. He stationed himself at the door, while Bentley squeezed himself into the furthest corner, feeling the heat of the religious paraphernalia and above all the ancient cross that hung around the Constable’s scrawny, wrinkly neck.

 

Crowley rubbed the dog’s head absentmindedly in quiet empathy. Bentley nuzzled his cold, wet nose into his palm in return.

 

The old men exchanged niceties, wine was poured again and sipped with evident connoisseurship. The Constable settled comfortably into Garnet’s padded armchair, leaving the owner of the room to consider with a long glance a stiff, high-backed wooden chair.

Crowley took a look around. He saw priest holes in recent years, but Garnet’s quarters were spacious and luxuriously furnished, doors divided the space into several rooms. It seemed the chamber they were occupying now was used to hold mass. Crowley wondered how many Catholics gathered in this place for worship. Did Cecil know? He will need to go by and leave a protective spell, Cecil’s interference now would be a disaster.

After all, he was failing to escape the angel’s reach today.

 

“Your grace, it is a rare honor to find myself in your presence,” Garnet started, facing his guest. “To what do I owe such pleasure?”

“My king sends his regards, Father,” the old man bowed with reserve. “Your service to Our Lord in these turbulent times is nothing short of a martyrdom! I am sure the Vatican is taking note!” In Crowley’s books, the Vatican had very little to do with God or any of Her agents.

“High praise, my lords. I am unworthy,” the cringeworthy exercise in false humility was a customary social dance both parties felt vaguely embarrassed, yet obliged to perform.  

“On the contrary,” the Constable placed his glass decisively on the table. The Jesuit Superior mimicked his gesture, succumbing to the hierarchy. “I have been informed about your recent pursuits. So admirable!”

“I am afraid the only thing I managed in the last year or so, is fairly successfully hiding from the prosecution… and losing some of the most valuable patrons,” Garnet slanted his eyes, seemingly unnerved at the dispassionate presence at the door. De Goya did not appear to notice the scrutiny, staring at the wall with utmost concentration.

“Modesty is so becoming our brethren. Indeed we received devastating news about the tragic passing of Lady Dibdale, such a generous donor to the righteous cause!”

“It was a tragedy…” Garnet shivered.

“It was a sacrifice befitting a martyr! What else could you do, but persevere as a beacon of light in these trying times in Lady Dibdale’s name.” There was a definitive dismissive note in the Spaniards tone. Judging by the escalating air of unease, Garnet heard it too.

“My only regret was that I could not join her on the gibbet that day… But Our Lord willst otherwise,” his response came at an unseemly haste.

“That would be irreplaceable loss, my dear friend. I shudder to think of such possibility. A young soul that ascended that day with her… our ranks suffered irredeemable losses already.”

“Yes…” Garnet’s face fell. Crowley understood what the man was referring to. He did not observe the execution, leaving the mortals to their barbaric devices. Cecil appeared to hold it against him. Hastur later recounted to him how he planned to borrow the “squashing under a weighted door” idea for a new subdivision of Hell they were currently troubleshooting.

“But I also picked up on some hopeful news!”

“What is it, my lord?”

“I heard one of our brothers survived the tortures of the infidels and moreover miraculously escaped from his barbaric confinement!” The Constable’s voice rose in celebration, accent becoming ever more pronounced.  

“Who may you refer to?” Crowley scrutinized both old men.

“Why the miraculous escape of Father Gerard, your young protégé!” Crowley felt secondhand how Bentley’s canine ears picked up a change in tone. A tension rising in the speaker’s throat.

“I am so cut off from the world in my confines…” the Jesuit lied through his teeth, a tremble in his throat was evident even to a human ear. The Constable picked it up too.

“His example needs to be celebrated! He may inspire, maybe even convert the souls to the one true faith. How can you not reveal this miracle to your parish?!” The Spaniards voice dropped, at the door, Miguel straightened his shoulders, attracting the demon’s attention. He was making such an effort to look professionally detached. Crowley gave him a once over.

“I am afraid I was not aware…” Garnet seemed frantic. “… of the recent… developments?”

The white eyes narrowed slightly.

“How most peculiar, for I have heard that it is no other than Lord Catesby himself, who aided Father Gerard, doubtlessly inspired by divine providence,” the Spaniard’s voice rose and fell to a whisper.

“Your sources are better than mine, your grace…”

“Surely, your generous donor, Lord Robert Catesby informed you?” The Constable appeared confused.

“I had not had the pleasure of conversing-”

“Then Father Gerard must be in even better shape than we expected, if you are not the one taking the lord’s confessions?”

“I…” Garnet looked cornered. Crowley wondered, why the old man would not take the opportunity to assure alliance with the powerful Catholic force. It definitely looked like the Jesuit knew more than what he was saying. So, he did not trust the Spanish. Why?

“Your attempts to protect Lord Catesby and his valiant plan is commendable, Father. But I assure you, I have been informed of the entire width and breadth of their holy task.”

“I am sorry, what do you mean?” Crowley could taste the mounting desperation in the room.

“Please, Father, you need not hesitate with me. Lord Catesby visited me in Madrid, asking for assistance with his dashing enterprise,” The Constable leaned forward, catching the other man’s eye. “At that time, I had no other means to help, but to caution him. Yet, recently… his Majesty had been reconsidering… the English Lion is proving to be quite… obstinate in certain regards. As long as he remains on the throne, England has no hope of salvation! Lord Catesby’s anointed solution, however radical, would benefit both our country and our brethren in Catholic faith. ”

Garnet moved away, as if physically escaping from the words of the delegate, his chair made a nauseating screech across the floor.

 

Crowley lifted a finger and paused the memory. He played back the words again…then once more, finding violent intentions toward James quite evident. Were the angel’s little conspirators…did they have the gall to – try to kill King James? His James? He curled his strained finger back down to a gnarled coil and resumed the memory.

 

“I…am afraid, there is no more information that I could possibly disclose to you. Whatever little I may know, is all entrusted to me under the seal of confession.” Garnet pulled out the big guns. Indeed, that was one thing that would stop him from revealing any further information, even if he were so inclined.

The constable seemed to size up the weight of the priest’s silence, then, glanced over to the bodyguard. Out of Garnet’s sight, the Constable’s companion gave a short nod. The Constable’s eyes widened. Miguel returned his gaze to the wall. Bloody hell, the strange dynamics Crowley noticed before, were now clear. Was de Goya the real Spanish agent, while the old man was a decoy? He remembered the stables, now more than ever getting to know the odd man more closely seemed like a worthwhile idea.

“I understand your concern,” The Constable began again. “We are, however, willing to help. If Lord Catesby or Father Gerard are willing to reach out, or you may find it in you to become a conduit of our assistance getting to him…Father.”

The low tone undoubtedly was a call for Garnet’s attention. The priest turned, measuring his gaze very carefully.

“I should hate for Catesby and his followers…or any of his associates… to be put in unnecessary danger…danger that we, under the seal of the Spanish Monarchy, could easily prevent.”

Garnet remained silent, busying his lips with this freshly poured wine. He swallowed unevenly, as if he were about to choke.

(Crowley had to ignore Bentley’s absent wonderings on wine during this memory, and grapes, and illustrious grapes that still waited for his attention at home. Grapes, Master! The demon pressed the excited thoughts down so he could hear better.)


“We shall stay in London for now, while these ‘negotiations’ with the current king continue.”

“Thank you, my lords! What a generous offer, if only I had any means of transferring it to Lord Catesby.” Garnet’s eye was twitching now. The constable nodded with a courteous smile, and requested a possibility to make a confession. As he had no access to a catholic priest otherwise. The young man, seemingly relieved at being offered a reprieve, exited, giving them privacy.

Bentley then had to back away as the holy vestiges were brought out, a soft murmur of the prayer permeated the room, scorching Bentley’s dark fur. He had to burrow deep into a mouse hole to escape the blessed onslaught, and could not catch what was further going on in the room.

Withdrawing from the memories, Crowley placed a hand on his familiar’s belly, giving it a grateful rub. He sat, staring at the wall, there was a slight discoloration, where a crucifix used to be. His head was buzzing with thoughts and possible machinations.

Bloody Hell… where to begin?

The Spanish were looking for Aziraphale too... Which was the least of today’s revelations! The angel gotten himself tangled up not just with the wrong crowd, but with every crowd! Did he know?!! Of course, he did not.. it’s Aziraphale!!! Things happen to him… like the Flaming Sword! The idiot was trying to save Catholics and got mixed into this travesty!!! He had not fully considered how dangerous Aziraphale’s inept gang of terrorists were… Who would, really! Oh you dumb little wanker! Crowley allowed himself to feel betrayed anyway, because what the He…aven!…. Not like he did not keep some things form him… Indeed, the angel would probably be scandalized had he seen what went on less than an hour ago. Good for you, angel, keeping all your secrets while begging for help! Prissy winged snot…

He smelled smoke again, and turned to look at the bedpost, withdrawing his arm and seeing a border of orange coal framing blackened wood. Oh, for fuck’s sake, he’d burned through a perfectly fine piece of mahogany…he sighed and busied his hands with stroking Bentley.

He was at least pleased to see the apprehension of Catesby’s holy man. No, Garnet did not seem to trust them enough to fully conspire. But he also appeared to be the kind of person who would not trust anyone, because he knew himself. But to Crowley who was present at the audience with the king, the intention was rather clear. What bothered him the most was however, the “valiant plan” of Lord Catesby – that sounded like a suicide mission. Kill the king? He couldn’t deny that James had agreed to tortures and executions that he himself felt were unneeded. You cannot tax the dead, James! Maybe he should have guided the monarch’s hand better?

There were only so many things Crowley could take the blame for in so many days. Manchester would have to wait. He would need to get details from Aziraphale about this ridiculous plan. It wouldn’t work, and with his own king in danger, he would have to be certain of it.