The king woke up to the familiar intricately carved canopy of his royal bed and knew without looking that Anthony was gone. He stretched, and reluctantly allowed himself a sigh. A beam of light cut between the curtains. The sounds from the corridor informed the king that he slept through the night — a gift more generous than a delightful caress.
Pulling his legs up, he planted them on the floor and shimmied out of yesterday’s breeches. As always, his advisor had not left him in any compromising state. Ever dutiful, even if tantalizingly distant. And sporadic…
There was no comparison for the man.
With Robert, every aspect was his by royal right, Anne as well although she begrudged it. There were others. Many. All eager to trade their favors for a title, illusion of power, or something as trivial as money. Any self-respecting courtier without natural charm paid an entourage of pretty boys to parade themselves on suitable occasions, vying for the king’s attention.
Only Lord Crowley never asked for anything. However, James was not naïve enough to trust in affection at court, and he owned a mirror. So, he waited for the other shoe to drop. Enjoying the game while it lasted.
And yet… last night something happened between them… His mouth twitched, remembering the moment of connection, as he idly planned how to spur on another meeting.
He breathed in, bracing against the air filling his lung, and with the pressure collected, yelled out for his servant. He would need a perfumed bath, and fineries, unmarred and increased, for his new venture.
Refreshed, the King threw himself into final preparations for the exhibition of his pet project — the new translation of the Bible — designed to ingratiate him to his subjects. Hated as he was by both Parliament and the court, no one dared to fault him for bringing the word of God to the common folk in their own tongue.
Curiously, even the Spanish agreed to attend. James forfeited Lord Cecil’s many warnings against overlapping the event with the embassy’s stay in Whitehall, ignoring the spymaster’s pleas not to insult the Constable with an invitation. However, after the humiliating take down during the official audience, they had it coming. When push came to shove, Cecil also assured him that the Spanish needed the peace as much as they did. So today, for a day James will set the rules.
The game, caught at the latest hunt had been roasting all day for the royal banquet that was to precede the festivities. At the table Lord Carr had managed to hustle himself closer to the King. In the watchful eye of the court, his lover knew to tone down his affections and made way for Queen Anne, who took her compulsory seat at her husband’s side with far less enthusiasm. She and Robert had an understanding, and exchanged polite nods, although young Robert did aim a wry smile at James, as he worried the skin of a grape with his thumb in suggestive caress. He got a wryer one in return.
There were some compulsory pleasantries and compliments on the venison. However, the ministers demonstrated their reluctance to engage with their highlander king, who spoke in unfathomable Scotsman’s drawl. Several of them the king had seen naked on more than one occasion. James felt that even the praise of the feast was framed as a rebuke to the king who constantly haggled for the budget.
The king looked for the dark familiar figure. He located Crowley further down the long table. The advisor’s bored eyes stared trough the steaming meat on his plate. Absently picking at it, he discreetly transported the pieces under the table, where the tablecloth rippled, disturbed by a wagging black tail. On the opposite row the Spanish were seated next to Lord Northumberland and his charge, Lord Percy, who recently became the head of the prince’s guard. Both invested in Catholic cause, now they were exchanging remarks in supplicating tones, seeking the Constable’s favor. James squinted at the suspicious tableau; however it was impossible to make out in any way what the conversation was about. The King accepted that both pro-Catholic men, despite their agenda, put their country’s welfare above any singular cause. Lord Cecil enjoyed occasional antagonism, and both of them agreed on keeping enemies close. On The Beagle’s advice he even placed Percy at a highly scrutinized position of the dauphin’s guard, which was a balance between trust and control.
What the King could not hear, but the demonic ears picked up effortlessly was the following heavily loaded exchange, that none the less ended shooting blanks:
“My Lord, we truly appreciate your patience and your humility,” Northumberland sighed.
“Beati qui lugent quoniam ipsi consolabuntur…” (1), the Constable arranged his weathered features into a perfect imitation of gravitas.
“We are truly blessed with your wisdom, my Lord…” Northumberland bowed his head over his plate. Percy next to him scrutinized the emissary. Unlike his uncle, he was privy to the detail of Catesby’s unfortunate visit to Madrid and was not too hasty to buy the evidently intentional display. He felt rather uncomfortable under the scrutiny of the old man’s dark eyes, wondering if it was his unfortunate fame of making quarrel with the king that garnered him such attention, or if the man knew something.
“I am but a traveler in this treacherous land, my dear friend, it is you, who faces the tribulations every day and yet finds the strength to work so hard towards the redemption of our brethren. “
“There is very little I can do…” Northumberland sighed in dismay. “We had hoped your Sovereign’s involvement could lessen this burden, my Lord.”
“I can only assure you that I am at your service. Or at the service of any of your friends who are passionate about our common cause!” The politician’s bushy brows could not convey more clearly his unspoken insinuation. Percy felt relieved that his uncle was not yet initiated into their cause. Northumberland was an easy target as an overt Catholic sympathizer. However, it was most unlikely that his involvement with Catesby had been in any way revealed. Still, he had to warn Robert about the strange charade that the emissaries were playing. That was until he heard the next words spoken: “Have you heard about the felicitous escape of one of our brothers?”
“Escape?” Northumberland looked perplexed, and Percy rose his inner voice in a grateful prayer for his own discretion.
“From the Tower! The word on the street is that one catholic priest escaped the torture through the miracle of our Lord!” The Constable took a sip of the fine wine and continued, eyes on the lord’s face. “Even after all the torture that had befallen him, the man was spirited away by Angels! It truly is a miracle for our age.”
Northumberland nodded, stroking his beard. “Violence breeds violence,” he conceded opaquely, weary of the specificity the conversation was acquiring.
“Someone must have assisted them! God bless them!”
“I am afraid the prosecution will intensify if men are overly-inspired…” Percy looked at his uncle. He was not much over forty but life at court made his age nondescript. His chestnut beard and hair sported quite a bit of grey, and lines around his eyes spoke of the burden he carried, everyday balancing between his faith and politics. He still cut a good figure, especially next to Cecil, who although was not much older himself, was prematurely aged by his ailment.
“Indeed, every Catholic is a martyr in this country…” The Constable nodded solemnly.
“God is testing us…” Northumberland smiled sadly, glancing at Percy, who feigned extreme fascination with a piece of pastry. He side-eyed Lord Crowley, who sat to the side and in front of them. The proximity of the king’s favorite unnerved him, although there was very little chance that the man would hear anything from the other side of the table with all the clatter, chatter, and distance between them.
Percy looked up at the King. James was distracted, sitting with a sour face flanked on both sides by the lords of the Parliament. He seemed so close and so vulnerable. Even pathetic in a way. His wife was leaning in to reprimand him, by the looks of her. Sodomite, foreigner, Cecil’s marionette. If not for the guards and the thin, sturdy armor under the king’s doublet... But he had no chance… not yet… And it was not just the king. Cecil and other Lords would simply trickle into James’s place — find another proxy. This Hydra needed to lose all of its heads in one fell swoop. Constable inquired about Lord Crowley. Percy was listening to Northumberland giving a reserved account: seemingly sympathetic to Catholic cause but does not form alliances with anyone.
King James glanced at Lord Carr, seeking reinforcement against a specific sense of loneliness that one feels under the scrutiny of a flock of vultures. Around him the lords’ assorted heads atop ruffled collars looked like bobbing fruits on plates, as they conversed between themselves in hushed tones with telltale eyes darting to-and-fro in his direction, then towards Cecil.
James drowned a tired frown in his wine watching over the rim of his goblet the timepiece of international politics click away. He tried to focus on the conversations around him, but it became tiresome after an hour… his thoughts turned to the amber eyes and soft lips, gaze unfocused. James looked down the table Crowley, who now sat stiffly, glaring at the man in Spanish reds and blues, who was standing right over his shoulder. The slate of black hair that fell across the trim back indicated that it was The Constable of Castile’s handsome bodyguard, who, if memory served, was quite limber in bed. The man bent down to speak into Crowley’s ear. The king’s advisor was listening, thoughtfully twirling his glass, watching the dark wine swirl almost reaching the rim, brows tight around his glasses. He appeared to decline something, placed the glass down, nervous fingers working against one another on the tablecloth, but the other man insisted.
The king smirked, devising a small vengeance.
He stood up, making sure to drag his chair on the floor. At the royal screech of his ascension, the tense conversations hushed, dishes clattered, and his court members rose to stand in respect. The Parliament lords may refuse His Majesty’s budget, but they could not refuse him his light exercises. De Goya and Crowley stretched out at attention next to each other, the Spaniard, now levelled with his victim’s pointy ear, attempted to resume the whispered conversation, but was curtailed by a pleading glance from the Constable on the other side of the table.
James made a show of looking disinterested in the commotion, and instead took a few steps back and forth, pretending his bad leg was acting up. He stretched it and patted himself on the thigh. His entire court waited in silence, glances exchanged in rare bipartisan mute disapproval. The wiser observers gave no additional looks, but stood in solemn rumination. Anne stared daggers at his majesty’s serene profile. James smiled sweetly at her. Cecil’s broad forehead had obtained a sheen of sweat and extra wrinkles. The advisor tried to silently communicate his displeasure across the rows of seats, balling his fist on the tablecloth. James could hear the familiar, repressed chortle of Lord Carr, who seemed to enjoy the joke (a decent sense of humor on this boy). He searched for Anthony, and was pleased to see the dour grimace on the man’s face had twisted up to a smile, almost despite his best efforts. The tall bodyguard had vanished from his side.
On his performative stroll back to his seat, he caught the eyes of a flabbergasted servant. The boy must have been new and unused to the king’s antics. He called out for more wine, taking him out of his stunned misery and sending him scuttling away to retrieve further refreshment. Everyone was relieved when the servant dared to come back, holding a brimming silver pitcher for His Majesty. Further drinks poured; the king sat again, and peace was restored to the table.
Robert gave him a beatific smile and raised his goblet in a toast.
In the next hour or so the mood of the room had changed considerably. No longer muttering and jostling for attention, the courtiers solemnly sat, pushing around the clean-picked bone on their plates in hopes of their king’s dismissal. Cecil appeared to be meditating on his outrage, eyes closed, completely motionless.
Starting to get restless, the King caught a quiet exchange to his left, discussing his royal failure and the daring escape of a Catholic priest from The Tower. The gossip both annoyed him and amused him. The strategic side of him chaffed at having the escape of a prisoner revealed to the public, but the discomfort was overshadowed by the schadenfreude of knowing one of Cecil’s intricate investigations was bungled so publicly. No doubt the Catholics were already weaving some mystical tale.
He glanced at Lord Crowley once more. The man looked positively fidgety and had the audacity of starting to glower again, propping sharp face on his palm. His dachshund had moved from the floor to his lap, its black muzzle making an appearance on the tablecloth and sniffing the remaining morsels from his enviable seat.
The king carefully placed his fork next to the plate, finished his wine, and rose in his usual, pronounced manner, followed with the clamoring and scrambling along the entire table.
“I am glad to have gathered you all here in this humble abode—” He gestured at the lavish decorations and framed ancestors on the walls: “— and appreciate your attendance.” (as if there were options…) “I myself and my loyal select wise men, are tirelessly working on bringing the words of our Lord to the English people. God and Man need no intermediary. Especially not the one who sits in Rome. I wish to show you the fruits of our labor. The printing press invented by our German brothers will truly make the hypocrisy of King Pope obsolete. Now, if you will…”
The normally-placid faces that oft regarded him with contempt seemed strained. He could hear muttering to the left and right of him. The Constable of Castile gave him an appraising look and returned his attention to Northumberland, who seemed unsure how to placate the man after the king made the core of the matter so very specific.
“If you will,” he punctuated, quite loudly, taking his wife’s hand. Anne observed him with humored reluctant admiration at his audacity.
The gallery, which normally held great works of art, was now wreathed in greenery, the candles filled it with yellow light, and the frankincense lingered. A choir of boys rose their fresh voices to the vaults of the spacious hall, filling uneasy air with English hymns. The clergy, the translators, and the printers stood among the printing tablets. Intricately crafted lithograph plate of the frontispiece of the bible took center stage, placed into a lavish frame. The first few printed pages flanked it. They were hastily put together on the king’s request. If anyone would care to read carefully, glaring mistakes graced the crisp new paper.
The courtiers glossed over the complex slots and indentions of the printing tablets, as well as the detailed work of the front page. They regarded with disdain the specially invited royal printer, Robert Barker. The man was gleefully explaining the workings of the press to a cornered duchess.
Taking his elevated seat at the front of long gallery, James assessed the damage. Cecil would eviscerate him on every aspect of this enterprise. And what is left of him would be primly reprimanded by Lord Northumberland, regarding disrespect towards their Spanish guests. So, he made sure to enjoy it thoroughly. No one was under any illusion what church the King belonged to. James was fairly confident that the collateral would be limited to the bruised egos, a common casualty in politics.
Out of idle curiosity, he sought out the Constable of Castile at the entrance of the gallery. Seeing the words of God crippled by the common English made the aging politician turn his heel, with Northumberland in tow. Strangely enough, the Spanish emissary remained, pale eyes scanning the crowd. James also noticed a patch of black sliding closer to the exit… Lord Anthony looked like he had a better place to be. And today His Royal Highness was having none of it.
The king stood, bringing his servants and the Queen to an epileptic start, as he went into the crowd, that parted like The Red Sea in front of Moses. He made a straight line for his target, claiming the trim waist with his gloved hand.
“Do you have another engagement, My Lord?” The royal whisper moved the intricate ruffle around Crowley’s neck. The advisor kept his head down, shades reflecting the king’s own face at him.
“You talk about leniency to Catholics, my friend…” ignoring the apparent discomfort of his advisor, he pushed the agenda: “But does it not strike you as hypocritical that The Pope is so averse to relinquishing the grasp on the Lord’s word?”
“Is this why you are doing this, Your Majesty?”
James chuckled without any mirth. “They get stronger the more I step on their throats. They bark louder than Elizabeth’s lapdogs over there,” a hand flicked dismissively at the assembly, thin lips twisted into a scowl, uneven teeth flashed. “Have you heard? We have a new martyr on our hands!” he looked up at Crowley’s face that turned into a pale unreadable mask. The king continued: “Some hapless priest managed to escape the Tower and now the streets are filled with heroic tales. Even such vermin can still do damage. I had to show them who truly cares about bringing the word of God to them…”
The narrow face froze even more, dark round circles looking out at the king like empty sockets of a skull. James felt a chill run down his spine and he took his hand off the man’s back. The small dog was anxious at their feet, its little curt barks stuck in its throat, blunted to anxious, short whines. He looked down and then up again. Crowley’s tall narrow silhouette grew, expanding beyond familiar outline, replacing the light around him with something like an endless blind spot. Visceral fear punched the air out of the king.
“He is of no consssssequencsse to you…” through the darkness of the tinted glass two yellow flames shone, the floor tilted and pivoted. Crowley’s hand closed on his shoulder like a vice, holding him up. “Persssecuting the priest will only make you look weak…. Sssscared…” quiet hissing voice was hypnotizing. James’s mouth opened and closed, mind going blank. Disoriented, he strained to recall what was he saying? Something annoyed him, and then unnerved him… Was it something Crowley said?
“I will not show such weakness…” James breathed out, the visceral sense of wrongness ebbed, as he was left wondering if the wine was to blame for the peculiar dizziness that overcame him just now. His advisor coughed out a tired laugh and took a step away.
“Milord, I do believe you’ve come to an excellent enterprise,” Crowley conceded, stroking his goatee thoughtfully. “To be the patron of bringing the holy word to the people… no one shall forget thissss!” gloved hand rose over the exhibited plates, elegantly encompassing the display with a pretty gesture. The letters moved in sublime configurations. The history will never get rid of all the “Wicked Bibles” that were to come from the jinxed press. “Alas, my duties call me away from this delightful company and you, my Liege…” Crowley drawled.
Recovered from his momentary dizzy spell, the king was about to mutter something tender back to the man, quiet enough for the two of them, but the sharp clearing of a throat stopped his words. Near the front of the gallery, he could see Cecil’s stoop form, eyes burning with repressed words for the king, urgent ones. James reluctantly dropped his hand from the advisor’s back.
“It appears I have incurred the wrath of Cecil,” a royal complaint was issued in a quiet mutter. Then with a sigh: “But you need to go anyway…” It was tempting to ignore Cecil, but in the event, it was possibly some other issue, maybe an uprising with torches and pitchforks, it was too perilous to ignore the spymaster.
Crowley faced him, a peek of his bewitching amber eyes glancing above the black sheen of his glasses. His grin became sharper, and James’s heart stuttered.
“It’sss not hissssss name on the cover, issss it?” Crowley’s dark low rasp had this quality of drowning out any other noise in the room. “I think, you should tell him that…” using the king’s reverie, Crowley fled the scene.
“Your highness, this was an ill-timed display,” Cecil began immediately, rushed but quiet so no one would hear. “The Spanish were not amused with this in the least. Why-”
“Why am I concerned with amusing the Spanish?” The king watched as being released, his inconsistent lover strode towards the exit. Something unsaid weighed on the king’s mind, as if the whole day he was grasping at shadows and now again he let Anthony slip through his fingers. How did he do it?
“…I only mean, your highness,” he began, severely troubled. “That one should consider the religious tones of such display, the Catholics—“
“Oh? Is paper printed with words so distasteful? I would have thought the public executions that you hold regularly would have fallen more to that category, yet here we are.”
“Sire, I only mean…” A dismissive wave of bejeweled hand interrupted him.
The spymaster traced the royal gaze and noticed the Spanish bodyguard sliding out of the door right after Lord Crowley. He witnessed the peculiar exchange earlier at the table — a curious turn of events that Cecil made a mental note to investigate.
Using the pause, the king turned his back to him.
“Sire, please, not now, we cannot-”
The embroidered royal cloak dragging behind him with a soft hiss, James ventured out of the hall.
The collection of finery — layers of clothing, jewels, ancient artifacts — worn at all times precludes the monarchs from moving with any stealth. At some point they stop trying. However, King James’s court in three years of knowing him, learned that there are times, when even if a king looks and moves like a bejeweled elephant, one does best by not noticing him. Especially when the said exotic animal floats out of the room to pursue his catamite. Only the very confused chief printer stopped his practiced speech mid-word to stare at the king’s unexpected departure. The tall ceiling reverberated with a collective sigh of relief, when the trailing cloak turned the corner into the corridor. Then the buzz of gossip started.
The king looked around the corridor, but the two seem to have disappeared. He made a few steps, beginning to feel rather foolish, when he heard a curt bark. James picked up his cloak, trying to make his approach less noticeable, even if the picture he presented was far from dignified, tiptoeing with a limp, lagging the heavy fabric awkwardly wrapped around one arm. Sure enough, the king found the two men in a shadowy alcove too occupied to notice him approaching. Especially, since at their feet Lord Anthony’s pet was glaring up at Lord de Goya with murderous intent, huffing insults in short barks and lunging its stubby body at the man’s long legs.
“I know, you sympathize with the Catholics, my Lord. Why are you so insistent on denying what everybody knows?” Fixing Crowley with a stare, de Goya pushed the annoyed advisor into the shadow. Bentley growled and made to snap at the toes of the Spanish boots, but was shooshed with a quiet hiss, and the attack was blunted in mid-air to a chomp.
“Why, my lord, I thought you wanted to fuck me, would my religious preferences affect your… ability to… dissssplay interessssst?” The dark circles of his glasses made a slow dive down insinuating which body part was complicit in anticipated display of interest.
De Goya appeared to be taken aback. Dachshund that breathed heavily at their feet, took that moment, to try and wriggle himself between him and the master. Observing the scene, James for a moment got lost in a very detailed and dirty fantasy featuring two men in front of him, stalling at the decision whom to place on top. He edged closer to the wall, deciding not to advertise his presence yet.
Having found his bearing, the infidel closed his fingers over Crowley’s biceps, crinkling the fine brocade. And this time pulled him closer bringing nose to long nose, almost tripping his captive over the dog.
“A dalliance is delightful, Signor, but a beneficial arrangement that can save Christian lives…”
“I serve my King and country in any way required of me,” Crowley’s voice was somewhat strained, face folded into a wince, but none the less clear. “Even by offering unpopular advicssse…”
“I know how you serve him…”
“Certainly, you know firsthand…” Crowley’s own hand pressed into the broad chest, pushing away. Grey eyes blinked, it must have escaped de Goya, that Crowley was with Cecil, when the spymaster interrupted their royal tryst.
“It was a lovely sight, mind you,” the advisor crooned, cocking his head and taking a step to the side, black lenses fixed on the covering king. Royal brows were furrower, but the distended pupils revealed that the blow landed where it was aimed. Sharp smile parted Crowley’s lips, inviting James in on the joke at the spy’s expense. Not that the king could do much — accusing the man of treason would serve no political goal, but he was now forewarned.
At the same time James did not notice how his mind wrapped itself comfortably around a suggestion not to question what would have happened had he not followed them.
De Goya looked taken aback, grasping for composure, he failed to notice the king. Crowley’s hand still on his chest decided to give his audience a final encore, and slid down, until his fingers hovered over the man’s sword-belt. Pale gray eyes followed the hand.
The king’s breath hissed between his teeth, disturbing the mise en scene.
De Goya finally glanced to the side, his gaze screeched to a halt arrested by the monarch’s critical stare. However, he showed little emotion, returning his haughty attention to Crowley’s face. If anything, the distraction appeared to restore his composure. James failed to take the measure of the man’s look for its intention.
Still in the thrall of his fantasy, the king mused, such a fine face, though it seemed set in stone… If he could have both of them, what a sight that would be. Lord Crowley finally balled his wayward fingers into a fist, and stepped away, letting Bentley insinuate himself between them and resume menacing growling, just waiting for the master’s order.
The tanned hand finally unclasped from demonic shoulder.
James let his train fall behind him and glided closer, making a show of picking the guarding dachshund up. Bentley regarded the royal hand wrapped around him with some nervous aversion, however the benefits of being closer to his initial target outweighed his reluctance towards royal perch. The black muzzle wrinkled, sharp white teeth flashed with a growl. At which point, Crowley pointedly rose one brow — the beast lowered his head dejectedly.
“Someone made up his mind…” James cooed to the dog, whose dark cherry eyes tilted up wonderingly.
“They say, dogs can sense what kind of person you are…” The King mused out loud, stroking the glossy black back. He reached into his pocket, and procured a piece of fashionable ginger-bread. An elusive luxury, fragrant with spices, that cost their weight in gold. He brought it to the animal’s cold nose. The half-closed eyes rebounded to round and alert and, after a frantic amount of sniffing and tentative licks, Bentley gobbled up the offering, tail whipping furiously against the sequined royal doublet.
James smiled to himself, but glared over his hardened brow at the emissary. A habit he picked up from Cecil.
“Your Majesty, may I relieve you of my dog?” Crowley recovered.
James moved to comply, but like a black caterpillar in death throes, Bentley wriggled out of his hold and dropped onto the stone floor, landing on its side with a choked cry. The king cursed but the dog regained his balance and skittered up to de Goya’s inlaid boots. It took one sniff, and cocked a stubby black leg.
A collective horror arose when they heard the hiss of urine hitting the floor and pattering across fine leather.
“Ah!” the victim of hellish wrath jolted away, shaking his foot. “Bloody beast!”
“Och, yer hoond has fyne marksmanship,” The King said wryly, emphasizing his usual accent. Crowley chortled behind locked teeth at the remark. De Goya looked up from his feet, his pale eyes flickering in the candlelight. James had managed to ruddy his features, sharpen his stare to malice, at least. With one simple compulsory bow, the emissary excused himself. After a few steps down the hall his smooth pace was interrupted with another shake of his boot.
James turned to Crowley, and opened his mouth to reprimand him for being touched with such familiarit-
“Thank you,” his sometimes-lover said.
Crowley finally managed to slip into the empty hallway of the adjoining building. He stopped for a moment to catch his breath. Bentley triumphantly hugged against his master’s boot, stood up on hind legs, scratching for attention.
Master, are you not proud? I almost unleashed hell’s fire upon the man, but thought some bodily waste was better. Did I do well, master?
“Well done! Congratulations on attaining the bare minimum of a low profile,” the demon muttered, picking him up to his chest, letting the little feet dangle. He looked around. Sure enough, he felt a presence of Cecil’s spy behind the column. He held Bentley closer and started walking. The man behind him, suddenly developed a crippling case of diarrhea. And a shadowy corner preferably not in the main corridor of the king’s palace skyrocketed up the list of the man’s priorities.
It might have been a bad idea to try and leave today, but circumstances were pressing. Apart from Bentley’s revelations and disturbing small talk at the table, during the night, Crowley ran a search through the soul register, looking for Kelley’s soul, and found no such man ever living, sinning, or for the fact dying. This disturbed him greatly, and he recalled how Dee specifically mentioned that Kelley did not pronounce the spell himself.
This begged to question, who was Medini? He doubted that it was an angel. Heaven would have been all over this, and Crowley would have been winked out of existence in no time. Maybe a nymph or dryad, some minor sprite who enjoyed masquerading as heavenly host. Dee was a good target for such pranks, and Bohemia was famous for some attractive nymphs. If Heaven knew… well, one thing for sure — Dee would not live to tell the tale.
Crowley glanced out of the tall window into the sunlit court. The day passed its noon and shadows started to slant and grow. He let out a hissing breath.
Master, yesterday and today, th ese men… felt… holy!
“Indeed…” the protection that the entirety of the Spanish embassy seemed to share was perplexing Crowley. It had been an annoyance at the table, a constant static that muddled his focus. Why were they prepared to protect themselves from demons? Was it some new Catholic standard procedure, a blessing for travellers? Or someone unearthed a rare relic and was selling it as amulets? Would not be the first time… and still. How timely! Being closely acquainted with the King of Lies, Crowley was aware that the Constable had some agenda that the amulets precluded him from discerning in more detail. He only glimpsed the scope of it before in the stables, and from Bentley’s intelligence report. Now, however, the onslaught of the energy when de Goya grabbed his arm was disorienting, his whole being rejecting it. Uncharacteristically, he even ended up with a splitting headache. The amulet or a charm that the man was wearing, stunted his demonic power. And the potency of it was amplified, it appeared, by whatever sentiment the wearer harbored. Fortunately, the demon in question had a fine wit about him and a clingy lover.
The only good thing about Spanish magic, was the obvious ethereal trail. He knew without looking if anyone from the embassy was following him. Meanwhile Cecil and other courtiers necessitated an effort, not to mention setting up confusion charms that would take hapless spies on scenic trips around London.
What was even more distressing, was their pointed inquiry about the “escaped priest”. Crowley was mulling over this during the meal, when de Goya assaulted his ear with conspiratorial, accented tones, “Señor, you seem in need of distraction. May I join you?”
He tried to wave off the offer without making a scene. “I fear it may compromise the seating arrangement, milord,” at that moment the pain began to settle in his left temple.
“Lord Northumberland spoke highly of you, Señor Antonio…” The bodyguard ventured further, ignoring Crawley’s discomfort. The Demon’s brow rose in disbelief, was he asking this here now? Then again, who would suspect such audacity? “If I could have a moment of your private time… on some later occasion?”
Luckily, very luckily, before a muttered oath or fire broke from Crowley’s mouth, the royal chair scraped across the floor, bringing the feast’s attention to James and smothering the burning sulphur from the demon’s chest. Standing up, he gave De Goya a bump of his shoulder for good measure. De Goya began speaking again, but stopped. It seemed, he picked up that Crowley was decisively not in the mood for political silly buggers. But as it turned out later, he took it as an invitation…
When the King himself parroted the angel’s escape to him, Crowley’s brow began to twitch over the mossy-green glasses. The escaped priest was the talk of the town, it seems. Idly Crowley wondered if the pamphlets about his martyrdom were being published already. Crowley’s sporadic act of mercy cast a long shadow that now encroached on his own station at the court. Bloody angel! All of England gossiped about his whereabouts. For a moment Crowley seriously considered erasing the memories of everyone in London. However, such encroachment on the free will, would not be easy to conceal.
He had managed to keep two globes of his professional and personal life separate. Now it seemed they were orbiting closer and closer, succumbing to the gravitational pull of one (former) celestial body called Aziraphale.
An unsettling thought came to Crowley, what if Spanish Inquisition was backed by Aziraphale’s side… that would explain the level of protection.
Would the angel tell him if he asked? Nicely? Worth a try... Something told Crowley, he would know if Angel was to lie to him.
Crowley did not harbor any illusions that the heavenly host was completely honest with him. After all, there were plenty of cards Crowley held close to his own chest. But he was no longer at a friendly bridge table, rather he was stepping onto some very ineffable chessboard, blindfolded, failing to grasp on whose side he is placed. And Crowley knew who played such games. She was all about Games.
“How’s about we go fer a wee canter, aye?” Crowley imitated royal accent, picking up his pace, as the guards bowed him through the tall doors.
Crowley found it easy enough to slip through the ether with his familiar and appear in the warp of the lengthening afternoon shadows in the stables. Bentley’s essence transferred into a stallion shape that Crowley made sure to have on standby at all times, after the close call with de Goya.
Crowley’s hasty retreat from the event was surely noticed, so he was indeed expecting someone to look in on him soon. The stableboy strapped a saddle on Bentley, giving him a few friendly pats and a carrot. Crowley mounted and they trotted out of the gates onto The Street, merging with the bustling traffic, keeping low profile while advancing parallel to the river. They splashed through puddles of muck that constantly dotted the fetid London streets, even those neighboring with the palace. The demon closed his eyes again and there it was, a demure sensation of magic following him. The man was probably waiting outside the gates. Or men… Crowley looked around and did not immediately recognise the pursuit. This was new… He would usually send Bentley over Thames with a snap of his fingers, after all Lambeth was right on the other side. But now he was wondering when to lose the tail without the tail knowing it was lost, and without magic.
Come to think of it, Southwark was next to London Bridge. Crowley knew a lovely establishment there, where the ladies dressed like nuns and offered a variety of strict disciplines to the discerning gentleman. Cecil’s spies, who attempted to follow Crowley would usually end up there. Or at the entrance of the Globe. Some of them, per Crowley’s arrangement with Aziraphale, felt compelled to stay and watch one of the plays. Although since they would usually report excitedly to Cecil afterwards, this ruse backfired — and the spymaster acquired interest in Willy. But skipping royal festivities for whores or theatre did not sound plausible. The Tower was next to the Bridge as well, he could pretend he has business there. And unlike Cecil’s men, the Spanish hardly would know they were played. At least there he could safely lose them.
He was trying to discreetly understand if the man was on foot or on horseback. It would be unwise to reveal that he knew about the surveillance. After all whoever it was, he did not yet betray himself. Now not only Aziraphale, but Crowley too had to do it the human way. He wondered, if a cloaking charm would work, or if the amulet would dispel it as well.
Bentley trotted along, Crowley made him go just a little bit too fast for someone on foot to follow, glancing into a small mirror in his hand for anyone to struggle after him. He rode into a market square, people bustling in his way. Carts and stalls, shrill calls of men and women selling wares off their platters. An elegant pass of a hand and a cart lost a wheel behind him, spilling apples across the road and sending street rascals into a frenzy. Someone stepped on a dog, the affronted animal retaliated with whines and growling furious barks. There was a wail from the same direction. Mayhem was intensifying, propelling a few souls on their journey southward. In his makeshift rear-view mirror, the demon surveyed the commotion and finally noticed a handsome stallion under a well-dressed man, dancing amidst chaos, long legs stepping between rushing children, hooves crushing fruit, while the owner of the cart was methodically cursing all of the men’s and the horse’s relatives. Seemingly peeved by the squabble, Crowley made an indignant face and turned onto a smaller street. Bentley wincingly stepped over the cobbles, with a squelching sucking sound. Houses overhung the streets as the builders attempted to extend the upper floors just a little bit further, creating precarious, rickety structures. Chimneys smoked the sky, waiting for the moment to combust and send yet another neighbourhood ablaze. With a gleeful, youthful yelp, someone tried to upend a chamber pot onto Crowley’s head, but a sudden gust of strong wind blew the contents into the room and all over the assailant. As an afterthought the demon cast a non-stick charm on Bentley’s handsome hooves.
They took another turn onto a parallel street and a twinge of magic returned. The horseman stayed behind — so there must have been someone else. This time the tail appeared to be on foot. With a theatrical glance at the sun and lengthening shadows, Crowley spurred Bentley on, giving the man a chance for some exercise, it was a long way to the Tower.
He stopped at the apothecary, getting herbs for Brother Glynn. While he was inside, he looked through Bentley’s eyes and finally got a good look at the man. It was the other bodyguard, the one who resembled Lord Carr — young and fresh-faced, and — come to think of it — absent from the banquet. Out of his courtly attire, in a brown leather doublet and tattered breeches that had seen better days, he looked like a messenger, a sensible disguise that did not make a running man appear conspicuous.
Crowley spurred Bentley on, he “did his errands” now he was “on his way”. Off the main streets he let Bentley speed up into a casual canter and diligently rode all the way to the Tower. The soldiers bowed, without question letting him through the gate.
The last thing Crowley saw was his first pursuer on the handsome steed between the closing gates. The magic would not work on the man, but would it work on the horse? An incantation slipped off his lips. A loud neigh was followed by a yelp, frantic clop of hooves and a meaty thud. Well, well, good to know…
He looked at the gallows in the yard, one of the executioners was washing the floor of the raised platform with a rag. Industriously crawling on his knees, getting into the cracks. People managed to maintain their “humanity” in the weirdest of ways. Small anchors that none the less managed to tether the soul. And those who tumbled, well… those were immediately obvious. Unfortunately, only to a demon.
Crowley closed his eyes for a moment, collecting his thoughts, casting a simple charm to delete his visit from the minds of the soldiers, and industrious executioner, then snapped his fingers.
Not risking being seen he magicked himself across the Themes, bypassing the dubious pleasure of riding past the public latrines and a display of severed heads on the bridge. He rode out of the small alley onto the riverside, giving Bentley and himself a moment to cool off and contemplate the new development. It occurred to him then that he had not let Aziraphale know he was coming.
Hardly paying attention to the road, he left it to Bentley who was more than capable of navigating the familiar path. Again he grasped at their thread of communication and made a few quick tugs, demanding the angel’s attention.
Silent. Stillness. No answer.
Crowley frowned to himself. Odd. He tugged again. Surely, he’d heard him?
Nothing…a cold nothing. An emphasized nothing.
The demon growled to himself, quick to irritation, especially today. Was the dolt not paying attention? The line should be very strong, especially after their last spell casting. He thought back to when last he felt Aziraphale… it was after the Dee fiasco… he barely remembered through the exhaustion and anger of that night, but faintly recalled the forlorn nature of the angel’s spirit reaching out to his. At the time, he had dismissed it as human melodramatics, but-
The jostle of Bentley’s pace threatened to tumble his fine silk hat off his braided black hair.
Focusing, he sharpened his essence and jolted his intent down the line — COME NOW!!- but the energy broke against a frigid blockade. What in Hell’s name, he thought.
Feeling his master’s unease, Bentley whinnied, slowing down, snorting. In a flinch, Crowley grasped the reigns tighter and sat stock-straight. He gritted his teeth, glaring into the unassuming sky. The sky did not have an answer for him either, then again, when did it ever. Did the angel sense the impending confrontation coming? Had he let his indignation slip through the ether? He felt the frustration of angel concealing the gist of the plot from him coming back with a vengeance, overriding the concern for Aziraphale being hunted by Cecil. Even if deep down he understood angelic reluctance to confide in a demon, but… Crowley effectively put his neck on the line in this one. He felt the angel’s presence, so at least he was alive, but there was no answer, no emotion, stillness. The link itself was not severed either.
“He better have a good bloody excuse for this,” He muttered to himself. Swallowing down an apprehension, he heeled his familiar’s side, breaking him only a few steps shy of a run.
That morning Aziraphale was reluctant to wake up. His eyelids twitched as he struggled to keep his eyes shut, rebelling against the impending reality. However, as his body healed, he needed less and less sleep, and was instead faced with mounting insecurity. This morning, it involved on top of all other things, acknowledging what he saw the previous evening.
The angel hazarded opening one eye. As he was no longer in danger, Brother Glynn moved to the room next to him. By now, the cleric must have risen already and was tending to his many errands.
He felt a pulse through the thread throb at his mind, again. Crowley sure made a lot of noise at this early hour. They had agreed for the demon to return in a few days… Did that incessant ethereal assault mean that the he will show up today? If the King would let him leave his side, or in this particular case — the front!
Aziraphale fidgeted, trying to fold himself harder into the bed as he committed to casually ignoring the silent ringing in his mind. Two can play this game, going a bit further, he outright blocked the “incoming call”. Blissful silence! He sat there, glowering at the wall, hoping against all angelic programming that the demon felt a fraction of the distress he felt yesterday!
A few minutes of scowling later, Brother Glynn came in with the habitual tray of breakfast. The old man’s trademark glide paused, accessing his patient’s face.
“My…did you sleep badly, father?”
“…Yes,” The angel managed to unclench his jaw for the reply.
The old man set the tray down on the table beside him and took a seat at his bed to fully appraise Aziraphale’s expression.
“Have I offended you?”
“No!” the Angel hastened to reply, distressed anew for having given such an impression. “It…it’s my head,” He managed.
Always gracious, Brother Glynn accepted the paltry excuse with a smile.
“Well then, I will see to some tea… I have some lovely ginger and turmeric; they do wonders for headaches. I also think, you should move more… Since you can walk the corridor already, how about after breakfast we take a walk downstairs.” He caught the angel’s eye, waiting for a show of enthusiasm. Instead, he received a dejected sigh of defeat and decided to make do with that.
By now, Aziraphale gotten used to ignoring the more visceral aspects of bowel movements. As a result, food was gradually regaining its charm. He even caught himself thinking how lovely it would have been to share one of their extravagant dinners with Crowley again. Right now, he slowly worked his way through the bowl of stew and even felt like appreciating the combination of bread with a nice scoop of gravy. One shoulder was healing faster than the other, he slowly raised his spoon, bending over to catch it between his lips. But it was working, nature was taking its course, his body was healing, accelerated with some demonic mojo.
Brother Glynn was making a point to refrain from side-eyeing him with doctorly concern. Yet the stubby fingers twitched in a curbed reflex to offer assistance whenever “Gerard” almost dropped the spoon, or a tremor would result in an unseemly splash on an oversized napkin in the patient’s lap.
A knock on the door unsettled the balance in Aziraphale’s battle with gravity, but disaster was averted, as the spoon landed in an empty bowl with a cringeworthy clatter. He glanced up at the looming face of Thomas, who bowed apologetically with a tired smile and waited for a moment until he received an inviting nod from the hosts.
Wintour’s tall frame crowded the doorcase as he stood there, hesitant, glancing from one man to another. Brother Glynn ushered him in and conjured a cup of tea. Some morning niceties were exchanged, and the elderly cleric excused himself, giving the two of them space.
After Brother Glynn left, the silence stretched, then stretched further. Thomas had entered a trance, eyes focused on his fingers, locked nervously in his lap. The handsome sharp face was scrunched into a frown. Bloodshot tired eyes glided over the polished wood of the wall to a simple plaster ceiling crisscrossed by sturdy oak planks. He must have just come back from one of Catesby’s outings. And now Aziraphale knew what these nights were filled with.
“Are you here because of what Lord Catesby confided in me yesterday?” Aziraphale inquired, offering a smile.
The grey eyes shot to him, then the man hid his face in his hands and rubbed it.
“Yes,” a laconic response hung in the air, but the angel was not trying to hasten something complicated being currently shaped between the man’s ears. The ceiling again arrested his attention.
“What did he tell you?”
“I believe — everything. I for one, cannot imagine more…” both shared a tired huff at this.
“I see…” a sigh. Then: “I am so sorry, Father, I tried to persuade him to keep you out of this.” Broad shoulders hunched, defeated.
“Now that you are implicated, you may be charged with treason!”
Aziraphale felt a nervous tick pull at his eyelid. But he composed himself: “Well, it appears I collect death sentences. I can hardly imagine they will manage to kill me twice,” he tried to lift the bowl to return it to the bedside table, and Thomas picked it out of his hands hastily. The spoon rattled, the handle scraping over the rim.
“You’ve done enough!” Wintour exclaimed, making a wide semicircle with the bowl in his hand, encompassing Aziraphale’s condition. The spoon took another screechy swirl until the crockery was finally settled on the table. It looked like Thomas would rather fling it at the wall. “I am so sorry…”
“Lord Wintour, would you like to make a confession? Whatever you say will be between you and God,” Aziraphale slid into the priestly role, a reflex installed as a default setting in every angel. Apparently, even the graceless shell of one.
“No, I wanted to talk to you…Father,” the official soubriquet, added as an afterthought, created a foreboding vacuum between them.
The “priest” folded hands in his lap, preparing: “Yes, my Son.”
Thomas looked at his face, then at the folded bruised hands, at the thin ankles sticking from the soft hose he wore, tied with a simple knot, probably by Brother Glynn. His brow knitted again.
“I… am losing faith, father…” Thomas looked into Aziraphale’s widening eyes and hastily corrected himself. “In what… in… Robert… he is not…” surfacing from his bout of stutter, Thomas took a steadying breath. “He is a fine and loyal man. But… I keep wondering… has he really understood that angel revelation correctly, Father?”
“Oh dear…” now here was an interesting new angle. Aziraphale cocked his head.
“You are certainly a good and godly man,” Lord Wintour lifted his gaze for emphasis. “We all know about your valiant pursuits; helping the poor, soothing the condemned. I saw you pray for Lady Dibdale —” there was an earnest tremor in the man’s voice: “Your words lift our hearts.”
“A prayer is a wonderfully healing gift indeed,” Especially when the prayer is heard by the intended celestial audience. Aziraphale smiled dutifully. Even humans get a word in, why not him?
“What if the Angel came for you… not for our cause, but because you were the worthy instrument in the Lord’s hands…” Thomas looked into the “priest’s” incredulous eyes. “Do you remember what the Angel said?”
Aziraphale coughed, choking on the all too vivid a recollection.
“I am afraid, details escape me, due to my injuries at the time,” he shivered at the sheer “rightness” and absolute “wrongness” of the soldier’s assumption. Well, after all, even the Angel part with a historical footnote would apply. “Perhaps, he just showed us the way out… I… am not sure…”
“No matter how much I think about it, I fail to see how Our Lord would approve of the method we chose.” Aziraphale inconveniently recalled in vivid detail the fall of Sodom, the Great Flood and winced. In front of him, Thomas went down to his knees. “I believe King James and Cecil are poisoning our country, but… others should not bear the weight of their sins… Father. If you could speak to him…”
“I wish Lord Catesby would revise his method indeed… yet my words are nothing next to a heavenly visitation”, Aziraphale smiled sadly at the irony that appeared to permeate every moment of his mortal existence from now on.
“But what can we do… there is so much grief every day that these two are still alive. So many more lives taken without any heed.”
“I wish I knew God’s plan for you, my Sons…” and how Aziraphale wished his did, lips folding into yet another hopeless prayer.
“How can we go on..?”
Indeed, Aziraphale looked around at the comfortable room. Talk about opportunities. Lord Catesby’s influence and wealth is what made this enterprise possible.
But the soldier continued: “I see no other hope for this country.” Now the man’s words were aimed at God Herself. Warm eyes trained at the ceiling, imploring the white plaster and dark seasoned wood. And Aziraphale looked on, wondering... Free will was a terrible burden.
“Lord Wintour. All we can do is seek another answer and hope. If there is one, surely, God will reveal it to you in He—…. His mercy!” Aziraphale took a shuddering breath, placing his hand on the man’s sturdy shoulder. “Let us pray for a merciful solution. For another revelation.” The Angel was wondering, if the sentiment was popular with other conspirators. But Catesby’s plan was solid. The worse part was that the man truly was a talented administrator.
“If only you could call that Angel again…” At the man’s words Aziraphale felt a stirring of an idea in the back of his mind... This impending unprecedented tragedy needed to be supervised and averted. A hope flared yet instantly dampened as the memory conveniently offered a rerun of the peeked indecency.
“That is up to The Almighty, yet we cannot depend on Heaven’s mercy alone,” sometimes one supplements with very unlikely sources.
Thomas sat back on his heels, half rose and planted his seat on the chair, facing the angel again. He looked better.
“I am so grateful that you confided in me your hope. I am afraid to hope, and yet, I am afraid of veering off God’s path even more…” Lord Wintour shook his shaggy head of hair. “If only there was a clear sign…”
Signs… If only Heaven knew what they supported. But no, Michael never cared about details. To them it was all just means to an end… correction, to The End. And the agents on Earth were caught in crossfire, unsupervised. No wonder he and Crowley were forced to…
Aziraphale’s stomach dropped… After what he saw, is it possible to consider Crowley an ally? The persistent thought returned. Wasn’t all this too much of a coincidence? After all, Hell was known for long cons. Craftsmen — you had to give it to the lot of them.
Lord Wintour looked up from his hands at the sound of a sudden swooshing inhale, to meet a pair of forlorn blue eyes. He traced the gaze, and turned to look at a perfectly harmless plaster wall with a simple crucifix casting a shallow shadow in the slanted morning rays.
“Father? What did you see?”
“Nothing,” Aziraphale spoke through a strained smile. But to what end? Aziraphale was not an Archangel, just a principality. And it was Crowley… he knew Crowley… did he?
Brother Glynn took his time, enjoying a much-needed respite downstairs in hallowed solitude. This was when he discovered with a vague surprise the knowledge that the Doctor was coming today. The friar smiled involuntarily. He and the Dr. Raphael established a rapport, even though he had to be doubly mindful with the young man’s surprisingly fragile joints. This meant, however, that it was wise to hasten Father Gerard’s morning exercise. The friar sighed, shoulders drooping, losing for a moment the habitual veneer of joviality. Then he stood up with a nod and headed upstairs.
As he opened the door with a cautious knock, his patient looked up with a small frown. Lord Wintour glanced at the priest, then at the friar, and lowered his eyes. The air was heavy, but the cleric did not detect any hostility.
Breaking the tension, Brother Glynn ushered Father Gerard to attempt a trip downstairs. Sometimes he was perplexed at the young man’s reluctance to exert himself. Most men he knew would rush to recover from injury, sometimes tripping themselves up in the process.
This time too, his patient hesitated and feebly voiced his concerns, still making to stand up from his cushioned perch.
“Luckily, we have Lord Wintour here,” the friar brushed his protests aside, beaming eyes reflecting morning sun. “He will be an excellent assistant to getting you safely downstairs.”
Thomas offered his hand enthusiastically.
With some help, Father Gerard was hoisted to his feet, and slowly made his unsteady way towards the door of the room, two men flanking him.
He trudged on out into the corridor trying to balance on weakened wobbly legs, sometimes leaning in a bit too much. Thomas caught him across his back, and Aziraphale felt tempted to just hang off the friendly shoulder. To add insult to injury, his shoes, a pair provided graciously by his guardian, were quite fine and sturdy, but decisively too large. Somewhere deep inside the angel’s compromised soul, a joke about short men with big feet flickered and died. Meanwhile, unphased by the lowbrow implication, the left shoe persistently attempted escape. It dragged and clopped on the wooden floor.
“Oh, Father, please make sure to move your feet, or else the task we undergo loses all merit,” The friar reprimanded him gently. Peeved, Aziraphale faltered for a second, tripping on the offending pointed toe, and landing heavily onto the right foot, sending a jolt of pain through the sore knee and hip. He hissed and almost cursed, pushing away, against the infernal nuisance of gravity. Why couldn’t people float? He focused, falling into a rhythm of one joint hurting after another.
“You’re doing great, Father!” Thomas chimed in his right ear. “I’m sure we’ll be down these stairs in no time.”
Stairs? His concentration shattered. The angel’s eyes widened and then narrowed, assessing the intimidating plunge of wooden steps. He looked to his left, Brother Glynn nodded with unfaltering smile that spelled out: Oh yes, we are doing this.
Unfortunately for the Aziraphale’s atrophying calf muscles side rails were yet to come into architectural fashion. Meanwhile, this whole business of gravity flourished. He closed his eyes and took a moment to grieve the loss of his wings and floating!
He propped himself on accommodating Thomas, and, sliding his side again the staircase wall, proceeded with the indignity of carrying his own weight. Precariously, he would drop down each step, fearing his calves would give in and send him down the entire flight, face-first. As if reading Aziraphale’s thoughts, Thomas fisted his collar, supporting his back. Step by step, they descended. The exercise was less strenuous than humiliating. As soon as the angel got used to one bodily function that he was now depending on, and already another miserable revelation waited around the metaphorical corner. The exertion combined with uncertainty and a largish breakfast made him somewhat breathless, limbs growing heavy.
“Just a few more steps…”
Aziraphale blinked and sharpened his focus. He could see the flagstone landing in front of him. He inhaled sharply, half laughing half rasping his breath out. The front of his foot dropped a little too soon against the step for a split-second and he felt his axis of balance knocked off, his body tilt and-
An arm caught him beneath the shoulder blades, squeezing out a yelp. He hung there for a moment, then timidly lifted his head and, through a curtain of pale hair, saw that aforementioned appendage belonged to Lord Catesby. As always, the man’s stern face was conveying the weight he carried in his heart, although could also easily indicate a mild case of indigestion. Aziraphale became aware of the alarming proximity to the black eyes that scrutinized his throat, and then returned to lock on his face again. They were this close only yesterday. The angel gasped and tried to ignore the memory.
“It was good luck you were there, cousin,” Thomas greeted the man. “Father Gerard was a little too eager to get downstairs!”
Catesby’s brow furrowed. He slid his hand lower, his other arm dipping beneath Aziraphale’s knees. The next moment, the angel found himself in a completely compromising position of being carried like a bride. The left shoe seized the opportunity and dropped with a soft thud. Thomas’s shapely brows shot up, he eyed the bewildered “priest” then looked over to Brother Glynn, who was waiting for the Lord to say something. And said he did:
“What possessed the two of you to take this man to such a task as this? He has been severely tortured! He could have injured himself further!” his voice was loud and hot from indignation. Aziraphale had to stop dying from embarrassment, a knee-jerk reaction apology spilling out of his lips.
“Lord Catesby, it was only a small-“
“You could have fallen to your death!”
They all glanced at the one bottom step Aziraphale had missed.
“…that’s a bit of an overstatement…”
The motherly tone that Lord Catesby adopted, made the angel yearn to miracle himself out of the room. Not to mention out of the firm grip of their gracious host, who was now pressing him into his doubletted chest for a lack of a better word — possessively.
“The Lord is very careful, but our patient will not be able to hold himself up without exercise,” Brother Glynn reminded in a pleasant tone. “The bone and muscle will not heal without stimulation.”
“There is a limit to stimulation,” Catesby parried, raising the friar’s faded brows. He then dived into a tirade, constantly glancing at the angel’s face right next to his. Imprisoned in the grasp, Aziraphale felt the fine hairs on the top of his head sway with the Lord’s breath. In response, Thomas’s face seemed to be retreating to behind his own hand and the friar obtained a saint-like tranquility as the litany continued, though his gray eyes did glance over to the kitchen where another of his calming brews was sitting on the coals.
“-and while I have all faith in the friar’s ability to heal his patient, I cannot abide such strenuous activity at this point!”
“In that case, shall we help Father Gerard back upstairs?”
“Will you really force him to drag himself upstairs as exhausted as he is?” Catesby stepped forward in his compulsory dramatic fashion, carrying Aziraphale who was petrified with embarrassment, humiliation, and alarm at the proximity of Lord Catesby.
At this particular moment in the space-time continuum, the rules of narrative causality delivered yet another blow. The front door flew open with a violent swing, a vacuum of crisp air and pale daylight piercing through the dramatic tableau that the four men presented. A sour thrill shot up the angel’s spine, hearing the heavy wood of the door bang against the wall, startling everyone around him.
There, in the rectangle of light, leaves wafting past his imposing silhouette, stood the good “Doctor Raphael”. Crowley always knew how to make an entrance. Out of the corner of his eye, the angel appreciated how the supple ends of his cape swayed in the breeze of the doorway.
The demon scanned the scene before him, one brow rising above the rim of sleek greenish glasses. Aziraphale’s one bare foot, curled up in demure modesty, eyes lowered, apparently mortified by his compromised position. The most popular escaped priest, apparently was busy playing the princess to Catesby’s prince. A tick shot through Crowley’s face, instead of a smile, his teeth bared in animalistic sneer…then formed into a basic grin.
“Well well…” Crowley muttered between his teeth, for a split-second letting his forked tongue show. “Quite a sight here. Am I late for something?”
“You’re always on time, it seems, good doctor,” Thomas half-laughed, desperate for a diversion. “We’ve managed to get Father Gerard out of bed, and he has made it down the stairs.”
“But Lord Catesby was worried I would not make it back, so he felt it urgent to assist me,” Aziraphale felt obliged to explain.
“My good doctor,” Brother Glynn greeted, always remembering his manners. “It is good to see you!”
“Good day to you too!” Crowley’s words were light, but his cornered gaze was glued to the holy friar approaching him, extending the scorching hand. Having begun to remove his black gloves, he hastily pushed them back on and braced himself for the impact of a radiant divine burn. But the friar’s hand only made an innocent pass, motioning towards the pot in the hearth.
“The tea is ready, let me take some up for you?” He suggested, smiling.
Crowley’s relaxed his braced muscles, supressing a sigh.
“Yessssss… that would be… agreeable.”
As the friar huddled off to his percolating pot, the demon looked back to the remaining three. Aziraphale seemed to be wriggling in Catesby’s grip, which still hadn’t faltered. The Lord’s eyes were trained at the demon, squinting, as if he was struggling to remember something. Crowley breathed slowly, blinking behind the lenses and easing himself into the mortal’s thoughts, curtailing the recognition and muddling the man’s memory a little bit more, so that he would fail to form any coherent recollection of the “angel’s” face.
“Lord Catesby, I believe I have recovered and can now manage to-“
“Oh nooo,” boomed ‘Doctor Raphael’, slapping one removed glove against his open hand. “I do believe you have been wrung too far by this exercise, my good Father…do prossssseed.”
Aziraphale shot a poisonous look at the demon, but it was curbed by Catesby’s abrupt turning away, blocking his view as they ascended the stairs back to his room. Crowley lowered his head, and the abandoned shoe came into his line of vision. He picked it up and habitually shrunk it to fit the angel perfectly. Then he noticed what he had just done and undid the spell with a small hissing curse. He stalked behind the procession, many heated calculations ticking away in his mind with every step as to how to lash the angel regarding his current position.
Catesby managed not to drop his passenger, and plopped Aziraphale onto the bed with barely a rustle. Thomas rushed to get them both out of the room, giving the medic space with no objection from their host. The strange Doctor reminded Catesy of the Angel, and the recollection of a dream he had the following night just would not fade. He hurried after Thomas, leaving the two men alone. Last glance at the tall dark figure bending down to place the shoe next to the priest’s bed, made him question himself. Why on earth would he ever think Doctor Raphael looked anything like The Angel… Positively, the only character that came to mind, looking at the man, was Marlowe’s infernal trickster.
Crowley stood up straight, and with a glance, magicked the door shut. The blue light flickered as his fingers snapped dryly — the door melted into the wall. Another illuminated snap — the room was plunged into complete silence, sound-proofed.
“We. Need. To Talk,” Crowley accomplished an impressive feat of hissing without any fricatives. Aziraphale again glimpsed the forked tongue between shapely lips and shuddered. But regained his composure and returned an arched brow.
“Indeed, we do,” he complied, crossing his hands over his chest… on the third try.
A nearby stool flexed and grew into an armchair, obediently sliding closer to the demon, who lowered himself onto the padded velvet. He took his shades off, and slowly closed and opened yellow eyes, pupils twitched, adjusting to the light, every bit a serpent, every bit a fiend. They spoke simultaneously.
“You… mumble … the king!”
“You plan to kill the king!”
How do you…? both thought, synchronized through the Link. They looked at each other, locking gazes, two sets of brows shot up.
“Fuck…” the demon cursed, finally recalling the brief distraction in the ether, when he tended to his royal duties. Aziraphale, however, unaware of Bentley’s expedition, was even more stunned and disoriented.
“Since when have you known?” the angel narrowed his eyes, recent suspicions rearing their ugly head.
“How much do you know?” he pried further.
“…What’s with the Rhodopis (2) act?” Crowley deflected, toeing the lost shoe. Too many things happened, layered, and bunched up in one right angel-centric mess.
“Don’t change the subject!”
“No, I… yes, I…well, can you really blame me?!” he shrugged. “So what’s with the pathetic theater…” the demon looked up again, fixing Aziraphale with a stare: “— getting close and personal with the idiot who wants to kill the king!?”
Aziraphale seethed, face reddening.
Crowley pushed further, getting carried away with the offensive: “Was that part of some brilliant strategy, or just recreational on your part?”
The angel sat up very straight, heart pounding with indignation. He would have jumped up, but couldn’t. Being human may have placed limits on his body, but boy, did it take off some shackles of his attitude. He wanted to yell… come to think of it, he could, the room was soundproof.
“How dare you!” with the vibration of his own voice, pushed down and squashed against mounting anxiety, something began to crack inside him. “YOU —” It fractured and crumbled. “— FIEND!” and all reason was abandoned in a single-minded necessity to completely and utterly succumb to despair.
Crowley moved back into the cushions at the sheer volume of the attack, blinking. Angel’s raised voice, screeched against the blackboard of his ego. He leaned forward.
“I dare? I dare?!” he huffed and crossed his arms. “I risk my gig for your ungrateful sssssssake!” But apparently moral high ground did not register with Aziraphale, who’s cheeks flushed, and eyes shone with confusion and fear. Instead of covering, he attacked.
“You planned it, you… ALL OF IT! Just confess, from the very beginning, from The Beginning, the Apple, the arrangement…” a shuddering breath barely fit through the constricted throat. “— took me long enough, but in the end, like all of your other hapless victims, I caved… such an idiot…”
At this point, rage spurred Aziraphale on, all his darkest fears and suspicions poured out, shaped into lashing words.
“Careful, now…” Crowley hissed, taking in the air. Voice going quieter as angel’s rose in shrill crescendo. He shook his head slowly in warning. After all he’d done for him, there was no way in He..aven for Aziraphale to.. do this...
“What’s next? Did you make me mortal to kill me?”
“Yeah, right, all this to kill one bloody angel! And who are you? You’re THAT important? Really?” he cocked his head pinning Aziraphale with unblinking darkening gaze. “You are ssssssso full of yoursssssself — everything is about you! You even took an opportunity to get a firsthand experience of torture. Angelssssss…” he hissed, voice getting lower and lower, veneer of humanity flaking off of it, “—hypocritessssssss, the lot of you! Or did I plan thisssss assss well? For FOUR and a half BLOODY MILLENIA? One… pathetic… ANGEL!”
Aziraphale quieted. Who was he, really? Crowley’s energy bubbling over the surface filled the room, tainted and alien as it were, angel leaned into it, unthinking, and recoiled. Inside of him, somewhere, Crowley felt like home. It devastated him.
“This is bad, Crowley… all of it…” he looked up, defeated, fighting against the visceral trust that was blinding him.
“Looks pretty shoddy from where I stand. You sure you want to drag your only hope through the mud? What next, join hands with Prince Catesby in planning to assassinate James…”
Aziraphale deflated completely, next words were barely audible:
“Do…does Cecil know?”
“What now?” The demon heaved a heavy sigh.
“Cecil…the guards… is this why you are here? Saving me, before they all get killed?” Large bony hands clasped each other. “Or are you here to finish me off yourself?”
“WHAT?” the quieter voice lulled Crowley into false sense of security.
But wait, there is more…
“I should have known… you in the Tower, you are ALWAYS cosying up to power. I just never knew just how cosy you were with them. How many had there been, how many kings went to Hell for fucking a demon?!” The angel bared his teeth, positively snarling now, quiet and toxic.
The demon in Crowley acted on a reflex, voice darkening to a low drawl: “All this silent treatment — because you were jealous of the king?” Feigning incredulity, the demon leaned back into the armchair and steepled his fingers. “Sure is a lot to risk for a boner. How human of you!”
“You are disgusting… You are ….”
“What… a demon?” The fiend smiled, showing two rows of very fine white sharp teeth. “Should I remind you-”
“Whore” the angel cut him off.
Crowley’s eyes narrowed with unkind gleam. There were many insults they exchanged over the millennia. There were times, when Aziraphale suspected him of… pretty much every vile thing in the book. He wasn’t always wrong. But, just look at the sheer pitiful contempt on the angel’s scrunched up narrow face. The disappointment.
Crowley stood up and bent down to the stubbled miserable face. The angel probably expected to be killed now. To go in the blaze of glory, defiant little befeathered shit. Instead, Crowley brought his lips close to the angel’s ear.
“Azsssssiraphale, my jealousssss little angel. It isssss all right. I can do it for you too. I know you want me to…” Crowley smelled of clean laundry and sulphur, quiet voice reverberated through the angel’s human body. The merciless interwoven spell dazed him, his hands shook, he was sweating with fear and sudden want. Crowley moved, to lock their eyes. “Or would you rather I wassssss…” the demon’s façade rippled, and now two bright yellow serpentine eyes shone on Lord Catesby’s face, as the whole figure shortened and widened in the shoulders.
The angel shrunk away from him, but Crowley hovered, palm flat on his chest, too warm for comfort. Pulling head into his shoulders, he tried to raise his knees, bumping into the demon’s legs.
“If this is all a game of yours, just get it over with and kill me… it’ll all be up to you then… There is even a chance that my soul will return to Heaven, either way this will end. A feather in your wing…”
“Whot? Was martyrdom not enough for you, you want to go all the way, now that there is an opportunity?” Crowley shapeshifted back, lifting his arm, and the angel shrunk into the wall, human instincts kicking in for a moment, disrupting valiant display. “I wonder, how you will ssssssing, the moment you realise how wrong you are…”
“Why me?” Aziraphale looked at the demon, who was still trying to play him. Was it artisanal pride? Or just plain cruelty? Did he make a bet with Hastur?
Aziraphale looked around, he was locked in a soundproof room with a demon who had him at his mercy. The most he could do is at least to go on his own terms.
He looked at Crowley’s sword belt. The demon forwent the larger weapons, playing doctor, but an ornate dagger remained on his hip. Aziraphale concentrated his will, pushing his precarious body to act swiftly, and lunged. His stronger left hand grasped the hilt, right going over it. Bending forward, he aimed at his own throat — if he cut the artery there, his vessel would perish. It did not require much strength, and it would not take long. But his fingers slipped, the blade angling sideways, scratching at his neck and in an instant, the dagger was slapped to the floor. Crowley’s hands spread his arms, pinning him to the bed, accidentally hitting Aziraphale’s head against the plaster wall.
“No” the angel wailed, thrashing, he could have given him at least that dignity. But hands held him like a vice. Blood seeped out of the small wound onto the covers. Crowley grabbed both his wrists with his left hand, twisting his joints upwards painfully, at an odd angle. His other hand clasped over the angel’s throat, stopping the blood with a short incantation.
Losing the battle, Aziraphale’s rasped for breath, vision blurring, sore overtaxed muscles and twisted joints gave up. He bonelessly sank into the mattress, stilling in complete defeat.
Crowley did not budge, only wiped his bloodied palm on the sheets, supporting himself on the free hand, and looked down at his captive. Yellow eyes did not blink, irises filled the eye, leaving no visible sclera, vertical pupils were fixed on Aziraphale. The demon was uncharacteristically dishevelled — dark hair escaped the neat ponytail, long strands spilling over, Crowley kept blowing them out of his eyes in vain. The tips tickled Aziraphale’s face. The angel nicked his cheekbone at some point, a bruise began to surface through the pale skin. Crowley did not have to breath hard, but the demon did anyway. He fell into the human habit — when his composure faltered. A reflex he worked on to stay undercover without constantly erasing someone’s memory of his lack of pulse.
Aziraphale closed his eyes, trying to escape the keen stare. He was surprised by the tentative warm tendrils of energy that darned and knotted the edges of the neck wound together. Pain in his joints retreated, and heat flooded his veins. The angel keened, pinned under the relentless sinewy body. Crowley’s eyes were closed and lips moving with incantation. Aziraphale’s joints kneaded back snuggly, muscles firmed and shaped. A rush of healing energy spilling out of the most ancient part of the demon, the one shard left form before the fall. The magic pulsed within every cell of Aziraphale’s body, he leaned into it, revelling in the supernatural brilliance.
“Crowley…” he rasped. “Crowley, stop, please… oh G…” No, no, no, no… what if She sees this…
“Shit!” Crowley blinked, regaining his wits, and recoiled, disorienting himself and landing gracelessly into the armchair. His insides shrunk, fingers borrowing into the soft black ruff at his throat. His hands shook… his hands never shook. Now they shook. Pathetic!
Aziraphale lay across the bloodied sheets, eyes tightly shut. Chest heaved laboriously; his fingers borrowed into crumped bedding.
“Angel…your…experimentation is a bit too extreme even for my tastes”. Crowley drummed his fingers on the fuzzy armrest.
“No…” came from the bed, feeble voice rejecting reality with all remaining strength.
“I will not let you die. And it is not because I want to hurt you myssssself,” Crowley closed his eyes and let out a long drawn out many suffering sigh.
“That’s cold comfort coming from you.”
Crowley shrugged, there were times he wouldn’t trust himself either. “What’ssss your other option?”
Aziraphale opened his eyes, and looked up at the ceiling. His hand came up to his throat.
“Yeh, angel, your other option sucks…”
“I can do it when you are not here…”
Exhausted, but refreshed, the angel tried to sit up, biding time before looking up, and meting Crowley’s narrowed gaze.
“You know you were wrong, angel. You may as well say it…”
“You do understand…”
“Perfectly. Still, I want to hear it,” he nodded to himself, cocking his head to the side, relentless.
“I am sorry…” Crowley observed the angel dying on the inside in real time. “This is a punishment for my arrogance!”
“Always about you…” Crowley smirked, but took mercy on him. “But right now, it’s us.”
Brother Glynn settled in the warm afternoon sun that filtered through the small kitchen window, which he polished to perfection. The house was so quiet today. Lord Catesby must have fallen asleep after the nightly excursion. Thomas was out on errands. The time slowed down. The friar tried to read a book but struggled to keep his eyes open. A thought crossed his mind, it was on his mind a lot in recent days. To a medic, who tended to Father Gerard’s body, it was quite evident that his patient healed in spurts. Every time after the Doctor’s visit he appeared to have lighter bruises and more freedom of motion. He made a mental note to look at the special treatment that was administered to his charge, but every time, something distracted him.
He side-eyed the tray of tea for the Doctor and Father Gerard which was cooling at his side. As he was drifting off, balancing precariously on the verge of a dream, he thought he saw a very clean black rat that sat up on hinder legs, took a biscuit from the plate and dipped it into the cup of tea.
Aziraphale pulled his knees up, noting that the joints did not hurt, experimentally he wrapped his arms around his knees — his body obeyed.
“You will have to pretend a little bit, but keeping you weakened is becoming dangerous”. The demon made a dismissive pass with his hand. “Everyone is looking for you. I will place a cloaking spell on both houses”.
“Your boss — Garnet…”
“Oh…” Aziraphale hid his face for a moment, collecting himself. “I don’t even know what I can tell you! It’s not my place divulging celestial affairs…”
So it was you… Crowley though to himself. Humans did go too far with this whole religious prosecution thing, but actual plot to kill the bloody king! And it’s James, not Henry, not crazy old Elizabeth, it’s James.
“How do you know all this exactly?”
“Ehhh… it is actually a long story… was an accident, really…” Crowley blinked nervously, coming up with a mitigating half-truth. If angel’s side was planning the coup, he needed a few cards up his sleeves too. “Angel… it’s the bloody king you plan to off!!!”
“And you are sleeping with him!” Aziraphale thumped the bedrest.
“Do not change the subject! So, this whole Catesby clusterfuck is your side..?”
“Of course not!!! Well… not like that!!” they locked gazes, apparently calculating the pros and cons of honesty and reasonable degrees of it. “So then, does it mean, all this grief… the Catholics’ persecution, it was your side!”
“Not exactly... it’s sssssssoooo complicated…” the demon slid fingers into his hair, further destabilizing the remnants of a ponytail. He was starting to get flustered all over again. “Now… to be frank, all this martyrdom businessssss is only lucrative for… your sssssside, really…” That had the exactly desired effect — Aziraphale bristled with indignation.
“How dare you!”
“ … think about it… what we get out of it is… maybe one sssssuper charged evil soul, or two… Cecil, James… maybe Wade, though people are strangely proficient in keeping their humanity…” He shrugged. “— then we get a number of greyscale victims of the circumstance, like your torturers, but your sssside are the ones who get an army of assssssscended martyrsss able to bulldoze us during the Apocalypse”.
Crowley saw that he was finally getting through. Good.
“So, what I was doing — was actually trying to curb the bloodthirssssty tendencssssies of mortals, who got us into this whole messss, and giving my ssside a fighting chance… in The End, you know…” he was slipping up and hissing again.
Aziraphale pointedly was not interrupting.
“Not doing any goooood deeeeedssss here, but it sssseems we are for once on the sssame page,” the demon opened his arms, and shrugged.
Aziraphale looked mortified and embarrassed now. Angelic programming merged with human and he suddenly felt hope, then he felt horrible for doubting Crowley. Then he remembered why he doubted Crowley, and, ironically, it might have been why he would actually consider trusting him this time… No good deeds, just common interest.
Crowley looked at the quiet Angel and magicked the blood stains off of him and the sheets.
“But you and the king…”
“This was easier. You do understand, this is standard procedure,” Crowley drawled, boredom oozing out of each syllable, making an effort to be a prick, but he was not technically lying. Him getting used to James had nothing to do with sex after all. Sex was just a means to manipulate gullible half-beasts that were humans. For some reason he felt compelled to elaborate: “I don’t feel any of it, that would really be unnecessary…”
Aziraphale’s cheeks flushed and looked like he was about to ask a question that Crowley could foresee. But he did not. Instead, he finally glanced up from his lap.
“So…it wasn’t on purpose…”
“Whot?” the demon bristled: “Bloody heaven, angel, speak plainly!”
He sighed: “I believe you and I have sewn quite a pig’s ear!”
“…aaaand ditch the metaphorsss,” Crowley emphasized his words with a dropping motion of his hands.
Aziraphale’s brow shot up, but he supressed a curse, and told the demon that his assistance in the dungeons — his angelic apparition — may have gotten them out of one tight spot but had put British parliament and his King in another.
He went on to recount Catesby’s confession, painting a grim picture of the explosive plan. Emphasizing that the mechanics were not known to Heaven, celestial plane merely seeking to stop the catholic persecutions. Crowley saw through half-truths, Aziraphale knew he did, none of them brought it up.
The demon’s face went from incredulous to grim and then to grimly amused. When Aziraphale paused to take a breath, Crowley let out a nervous laugh.
“Bloody humans, what new insanity will they come up with next!” he boomed, slapping his knee. “Blowing up parliament! That’s a new one for the books! And where are they to procure such an amount of gunpowder? FAAH!”
“…They have already procured it and put it in place…”
A choking snorting sound ungracefully escaped Crowley’s ruffled throat.
“Oh. Hmn, bloody… they managed that much? Quite impressive, really-”
“Yes, it is urgent! We must do something soon or there will be no turning back! There will be a…” He wanted to say that misguided, good people would die, but thought better to put it into the demon’s pragmatic terms. “— influx of martyred souls!”
“Well, surely you can explain this farcical plan won’t work to ol’ Mutton-chops, can’t you? Bat your eyes and-“
“But it just might!” exasperated with Crowley and the last few weeks in general, Aziraphale moved forward, sitting up. Brother Glynn’s book bit into his thigh, he grabbed and flung it, pouring his frustration into a childish gesture. Crowley automatically caught the volume and dropped it with a yelp, sticking fingers into his mouth.
“Oh…sorry…” Aziraphale looked down at the battered old tome of Revelations. “That is what I am saying… Catesby will not be assuaged, I have tried! (You tried? How did you try, Crowley thought, flexing singed fingers.) I do not know what magic you worked upon him, but he is hellbent on seeing it through! And he is good at planning.”
“And how shall I set this straight?”
“The same way you—we,” Aziraphale corrected, noting the slight glower at the accusing tone. “-set it crooked.”
“…Oh. Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
Aziraphale raised his brow, looking up, from where he stooped to retrieve the book. His healed body felt lighter, after weeks of dragging it at half-mast.
“Right, I will go polish my halo…”
“I hate it as much as you do,” Aziraphale plopped back onto his bed, stretching. “But it potentially can fix at least some of the more pressing problems.”
What if it doesn’t work? hung in the air. However, at this point neither supernatural being had the emotional capacity to address that possibility. A lengthy pause extended uncomfortably. The excitement was weaning and Aziraphale also quieted down looking out of the window at the deserted yard.
Crowley perked up, remembering why he needed to see the angel in the first place. His visit to Dee now seemed ages ago.
“You do not deserve me, angel,” he sighed dramatically.
Aziraphale was inclined to agree, nothing he did in his existence merited quite such a punishment.
“I have uncovered more details about your curse!” Crowley continued nonchalantly. “I know where it came from. I went aaaaall the way to Mortlake for it. I hope you appreciate it.”
Aziraphale blinked at that. He’d forgotten Crowley’s scouting mission. Then he recalled that the “prank calls” were his idea and for the umpteenth time regretted his decision to trust Crowley with the plot. Still, progress being made to unlock his divine nature and free him from his corporeal prison, brought a lost brightness to his eyes.
The demon exhaled the breath he didn’t notice he was holding. It was…nice, for once, to lower the temperature.
“Can you reverse it?”
“Ehh… not yet. Frankly, it all seems very fishy.”
Crowley recounted how Dee revealed that he had previously managed to make the celestial gibberish work with Kelley.
“This is very dangerous, Crowley, how did they manage?” the angel looked up at the demon, stunned. “Both of us would either be damned or immolate. Who taught them? Could a human just guess? … Dee is human, right?”
“Of course. He was as mediocre as the first day I whispered in his ear” Crowley flatly confirmed. “He tried to trap me there and could only manage a vague insult, instead.”
“Kelley on the other hand...” Crowley crossed his arms, and looked down. “His death was not registered in Hell… I mean, having done what he did, I doubt he would end in front of the Pearly Gates…” Crowley rubbed his hands nervously.
“Did he live at all? Have you checked?”
Crowley’s brow rose and twitched. “Do you have to ask?”
“No, he did not. There are plenty of men with the same name, and none of them ever crossed path with John Dee and went to Bohemia to swap wives.”
“I am sorry, what?” Aziraphale blinked, both brows shooting up.
“Apparently, apart from a way to combine enochian and dark magic, our friends invented swinging…”
“Crowley, they did not invent it…”
Crowley just looked at him.
Aziraphale continued: “It’s a disaster! So, who and why used the incantation this time? Why me?”
“No, apparently, Dee only used it once… and he was unable to pronounce anything when I saw him,” he shrugged and sighed.
“What happened when they used it?”
“Dee said they caught someone. But I doubt it is an angel. I mean, she escaped and if she’d go to Heaven to report…” Crowley made a slashing gesture with his palm across his throat, then cussed under his breath, as Aziraphale instinctively covered his own.
“Yeah… I would expect an investigation, but there were no reports from Bohemia,” Aziraphale admitted reluctantly.
“We know how trigger-happy Michael is,” Crowley gave an eyeroll.
“…indeed,” the angel shivered at the thought. “— hmmm…”
“There is a way though..?”
“I am surprised you didn’t think of it…” Aziraphale cocked his head.
“Yesssssss? I am lissssstening…”
“The Roster,” Aziraphale pronounced triumphantly. The human deed roster, held in Purgatory, documented any human’s deeds — good and bad — which were at the time of death weighed against each other. Both Heaven and Hell occasionally cheated by approximating which person had potential for sanctity or damnation. Enma constantly sent petitions to introduce special permission-slips for the willing to read, and as always, his petitions were lost in the paperwork limbo.
Due to its bureaucratic nature, The Roster registered the victim and the accomplices of the perpetrated act by their real name and species. At least they would know who the “angel” was, and maybe Kelley as well.
Crowley, refrained from commentary about rubbing it in, and sat back, adjusting his shoulders in a fit of secluded embarrassment. In the crook of his elbow, he flicked up a finger with a subtle, summoning swirl, picked his glasses up, holding them at one corner, and peeked through them. Before him cinders burned into a square, further folding into a scroll-like form. Aziraphale strained to look into the flickering light, his human eyes struggling to adjust.
“What? What does it say?” Aziraphale coughed out, sooty smoke rising off the glowing parchment.
“I may start to think, angel, that you are special…”
The demon looked into the squinting angel’s illuminated features, then shrugging to himself, he stood up and tilted the infernal scroll towards him. The angel tried earnestly to read the words, but the light only appeared as one bright blur. Crowley rolled his own eyes, took his lenses, and put them over Aziraphale’s ears. The angel twitched away from the touch and looked up for a moment with almost fear. The ear hooks magicked to a comfortable fit and his vision cleared.
He scanned through the account and on line 286 of Dee’s evil deeds there was:
“Crime: instigating suicide
Victim name and occupation: Medini a dryad (unjudged)”.
The roster continued: “partner in crime:…” and then his eyes seemed to lose focus, sliding over the patterns of letters, unable to grasp it. He blinked to reset them, fidgeted with the glasses, and strained the ocular muscles to…again, his eyeline was off kilter. Growling to himself, he tried several more times and his eyes could not approach the name.
“I have never seen such a thing,” Aziraphale balked. “On the blessed Roster? The celestial account of all humans? I mean, here is your name — Partner in crime: Demon Crowley crime of celestial minor misdemeanour.”
Crowley paused, looking from the document to the angel, whose eyes were hidden by the black sheen of his glasses. He found the image strangely captivating, especially paired with the grave expression.
“I’m just admiring my reflection,” He replied, smirking. The angel ripped the lenses off and tossed them back.
“It is the same for me,” Crowley nodded with a huff, reverting back to business. He took the glasses and tried again, now tipping his head to this and that degree for purchase in reading. Then sighing, he propped the glasses atop of his shaken hair, peering and thinning his slitted pupils. “What do you make of it?”
“What does it mean, Demon? What kind of magic is this? Hell’s?”
“Whatever this manipulation is, it is not by Heaven or Hell, it is something else… The Roster cannot identify him.”
The “priest” rubbed at his temples as the searing document was extinguished.
“This at least tells us something very suspicious surrounding Medini’s… suicide. She did not escape — she killed herself, poor soul! This Kelley figure… What do we know: he cannot pronounce the incantation, and he is hidden from The Roster. Who can be this powerful? A demon, angel…. or something else....?”
“An angel would fall for this… as much as I am loath to admit, it does sound… like it is our side…”
“But why me?”
Crowley opened his arms with a shrug.
“What does it mean, “unjudged”?”
“Nature spirits, they don’t get judged, they are a force of nature, they also do not die very often, rather they disintegrate and take another form. Which means, she is stuck in purgatory.” This time it was Crowley’s turn to go for enigmatic “Hmmm…”
“Sai no Kawara.”
A Children’s purgatory in Enma’s jurisdiction — a space where souls that cannot be judged went: children, insane, those whose deeds could not be weighted, as they were unaware of concept of good and evil.
Aziraphale slumped back. “Do you have access?”
“If I bring a soul…?”
“What do you mean?”
“Aziraphale…how do you feel about going to Hell?”
“…Fuck!” the angel enunciated.
His eyes stopped at the two shoes at his bedside, they looked smaller than before. The demon was always in the details.
- Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… (a translation from none other than The King James Bible!)
- Greek Cinderella, who married Egyptian king