Aziraphale is only slightly surprised when he walks into the back room of his book shop to find Crowley already there. He is sitting with his feet up on the table – although he quickly takes them down at Aziraphale’s glare – and seems to be reading a slim, bright purple children’s book. His frown of confusion is only half hidden by his sunglasses.
‘I don’t get it,’ he announces by way of greeting.
‘Get what?’ Aziraphale asks, dumping the latest battered cardboard box of deliveries on the table and picking up the already steaming kettle.
‘Immortality,’ Crowley replies. He doesn’t look up from the book.
‘One would have thought, after six thousand years, that you might have grown used to it by now.’
‘Not our immortality,’ says Crowley impatiently, finally looking up and waving the open book for emphasis. ‘Theirs. Humans. They’re obsessed with trying to live forever. They’re miserable enough with a few decades, what on earth do they want to prolong it for?’
‘Oh come now, it isn’t all that bad, is it?’
‘Not for us, no,’ Crowley’s eyes flicker briefly to Aziraphale’s and back to the page. ‘But we don’t have the sort of post-death opportunities that they do. If we were killed – I mean properly killed – there’d just be…nothing. It’s not like that for them, is it?’
‘Perhaps that’s what they’re trying to avoid, if you don’t mind my saying so,’ Aziraphale reasons.
‘I’d thought of that, but half the time what they do to avoid it is exactly what puts them on Down There’s list in the first place. They’d be better off improving what they have, than trying to extend it.’
‘Are you advocating a life of virtue, my dear?’ asks Aziraphale with a raised eyebrow. ‘I must say –’
‘No,’ Crowley interrupts firmly, ‘don’t put words in my mouth. I just can’t figure them out, that’s all. It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, I’ve got a choice. You’ve got a choice. We’d both choose up here – or down here, in your case – given the opportunity, I think.’ He pauses; Aziraphale nods, although it wasn’t really a question. ‘But we’ve got nothing to lose. The only ones we – well,’ he coughs, ‘we’re both here. Anyway. Say one human achieves immortality, right? Well, then they’d have to give it to all of their friends and family too, wouldn’t they? Or they’d end up alone. And all of their friends and family. And so on. The world wouldn’t be able to support them all. So either they’d be miserable from living out eternity alone, or they’d be miserable from the entire planet going to H – A Very Bad Place from instant massive overpopulation. Why would they choose that?’
‘Well, for all their strengths, humans do seem to have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them.’ Aziraphale shrugs casually, delicately dipping a biscuit into his tea and nibbling on it. ‘Besides, you’re the one who tempts them into these things, you know.’
‘It’s not just me. And we’ve been through this. They do worse things by themselves than anything I’ve ever come up with.’
He stops, and glances down at the book again, still open in his lap.
‘Did you just quote a children’s book in the middle of a philosophical argument?’
‘I wasn’t quoting anything,’ Aziraphale says, startled, ‘I was stating a fact.’
‘Right,’ says Crowley slowly, as though he doesn’t believe a word of it. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have had something to do with this –’ he checks the front cover ‘– JK Rowling person, would you?’
‘A bit of a nudge in the right direction, perhaps, nothing more,’ Aziraphale admits, trying for modest and preening a little too obviously for it to be at all convincing.
‘Right,’ Crowley repeats.
‘The bulk of the ideas were hers, of course.’
‘Of course,’ says Crowley, who can feel a lengthy explanation coming on and conjures up a bottle of wine and two glasses. Aziraphale reaches for one automatically.
‘My main role was with the publishers…’
Two weeks later, unbeknownst to Aziraphale, Crowley slips a certain purple-covered children’s book onto the desk of a certain film producer, and smiles. This should be entertaining.
Ten years after that the angel and the demon are still arguing over who won that particular round.
Eventually they call it a draw.