In the Beginning, 1 Angel #62 2 liked his job. It didn’t exactly pay anything, but since he was one of ten thousand or so ethereal beings who’d been Created for the purpose of admiring their Creator, he didn’t see why he should gripe about it. Admiration was a good deal, and the lodgings were free. He really only had to worship the Almighty on Sundays. He also had to tend the Garden a few days a week, since like any of the First he had to help keep things in order. But the Garden was more or less self-perfected, being Divine and all.
Worship was pretty easy when you got down to it. The heavenly choirs rehearsed three nights a week and everyone got free refreshments, although privately it seemed obvious to Angel #62 that milk and honey were terrible for the vocal chords.
"Well, the honey is probably fine, but maybe mixed with something lighter—something with ginseng, maybe," he found himself saying to another angel one night during a break from rehearsing Verdi’s Requiem. 3
"Hmm?" said the other angel, a stodgy sort of tenor who’d gotten stuck in the back of the section one rehearsal and assigned a spot a few seats away from where Angel #62 was sitting. #62 was ranked with all the other bass-baritones and people who didn’t really sing on key. He tended to mumble through his lines and make a complete hash out of most of the Latin. 4 But apparently being sat in the back of the tenor section meant something different, because he could usually hear this one’s bright and mellifluous voice ringing out over the first few rows. Tenors were all a bit obnoxious, #62 couldn’t help thinking.
"Nevermind," he muttered, getting ready to take his bit of crumpet back to his seat.
"You’ll want to watch for crumbs," said the other one. Feeling a bit cranky, #62 looked at his name tag. "Hi! I’m #897," it read. #62 harumphed. Didn’t this one know you should respect your elders? Or had he noticed? It wasn’t as though #62 asked for much, but it still meant something, you know, to be one of the First Hundred.
"I just mean crumbs don’t really fit with the whole spotless choir image," said the other one, a bit more kindly. "Granted, it would really be nice if they gave us some sort of receptacle to put the leftovers in, or at least, I don’t know, a moist towelette."
"I expect if they did that, it would mar the image a bit," #62 responded. "Perfection and all." The other angel blinked at him for a moment, then peered at his nametag. Ah, #62 thought. There it was, the respect that was his by—
"Say," the other angel said. "Aren’t you the angel that got in trouble for popping the heads off daffodils a few echelons back?"
"Dandelions," said #62 with dignity. "And It wasn’t trouble. I mean, yes, I got written up, but it wasn’t as though I’d done anything wrong. I just got bored one day and the sun was out and the Heavenly meadow was glowing and they just looked so happy." He paused, realizing the other angel was looking at him with an odd sort of frown. #62 added, "Obviously I’ll never do it again, of course."
"Right," said #897, a little too skeptically for #62’s taste. #62 was about to trundle his way back to his seat, beverage be d— when the other angel added kindly:
"You know, you’re right. A weekly cleaning crew would do wonders for this place."
His feathers ruffled, 5 #62 gave him a dignified nod and returned to his seat, next to a brawny, flaxen-haired soloist who kept singing "La donna e mobile" during the breaks.
#62 took it all back. He hated choir rehearsal.
"62!" said Dokiel. "Have a seat, have a seat." He hadn’t changed his office since the last time #62 had been called into it. The walls were still eggshell white and bare except for a motivational poster behind his desk that reminded the viewer that there was no "Ỷ" in "Téame." His lone window looked out across Heaven’s main courtyard, a radiant affair practically littered with sunlight that set the golden cobblestones ablaze. 6 #62 found he had to look away after a moment, feeling a bit dizzy. At this rate, he’d have to start shading his eyes.
"I trust you understand why we brought you in," Dokiel began once #62 had seated himself gingerly on the edge of the room’s only other chair, a wooden, Puritan affair with a straight back and no cushion. #62 understood that angels were blemishless, pure creations, but Dokiel didn’t do himself any favors with a smile that seemed to wield teeth like weapons. #62 had always chalked this up to defensiveness on his part for getting stuck with a name like "Dokiel," 7 but lately he was beginning to wonder.
"Not really," he ventured. "The email said something about a—"
"Memo," Dokiel hissed.
Dokiel squinted at him. ""The interoffice memo."
"Oh," said #62, pointedly not looking at the Lenovo on Dokiel’s desk, or the iPad next to it that clearly displayed the $.99 Dokiel had apparently just paid for three extra sugar bombs in Candy Crush. 8 "Right."
Temporal reality was a funny thing in Heaven. Strictly speaking, the future was off-limits. No one knew what was to come in the years ahead. But in practice, things that hadn’t been invented yet seemed to show up in a variety of ways. #62 had once heard the phenomenon described as “Dieselpunk,” but since he didn’t know what that meant, he’d decided to ignore it. Acknowledging what was right in front of your face was a good way to get in trouble around these parts. Still, he wished that if someone actually had invented a decent substitute for milk and honey that Heaven would just admit it already and let the angels have something less irritating to drink with breakfast and rehearsals.
Dokiel didn’t reply. #62 tried again. "The memo said something about violating Celestial Code, but it didn’t say what that was exactly. Is this about putting a lock on my mailbox? It’s just someone kept stealing my issues of Motor Trend and I—"
"Nonsense," said Dokiel coldly. "This isn’t about that. No one cares what you do to your mailbox, though I do say I find these allegations of yours that theft occurs under the direct eye of His Holiness incredibly alarming."
"Oh, not really, it’s not like they were robbing me out of house and home," said #62. "Just someone who likes cars, I suppose—"
"Not them," Dokiel droned. "You. Stealing in Heaven? Preposterous. I say, 62, you’ve rather been digging yourself in lately, haven’t you?"
"First there was that ridiculous incident in the garden when you decided to install humidity controls. This is Heaven, not a greenhouse!"
"But—but they were cactii," #62 protested, his stomach slowly starting to sink. "And I got a commendation from the gardening council, actually. Isn’t that in my file?"
"The gardening council is not an official branch of the Body of Heaven," Dokiel said. "Heaven does not need external assistance. If God wants to grow cactii in a rainforest, and then let them die of overwatering, what concern is it of yours?"
"Well," #62 tried. "I’m the Gardener?"
"Exactly," said Dokiel. His teeth looked even more steely than usual, as though he’d sharpened and polished them up just for this conversation, so that the pointy ends would gleam even more significantly. "You’re just a gardener. And God is Ineffable. His ways are mysterious. What right would you possibly have to question them?"
#62 sat straighter, with as much dignity as he could muster. "Well," he admitted stiffly. "None, I suppose."
"None," Dokiel repeated. "Then there was that ludicrous time with the daffodils—"
"Whatever. You were written up for that, I believe," Dokiel added in a tone of great satisfaction.
"Look, why am I here?" #62 asked, unable to keep the exasperation—and probably the fear and trembling, he acknowledged ruefully—out of his voice.
In answer, Dokiel produced an intimidating sheaf of paper headlined in block print, "CELESTIAL CODES Sections 1957-001C–3009D-12, Domestic–Temporal." He slid it over to #62, then opened it up to a paperclipped page near the middle. Toward the bottom of the page, highlighted and underlined twice, #62 read:
Section 2158-9A. Statements Against Infallibility and Ineffable Nature.
- Whereas all Celestial Beings, hereafter, C.B. are created by and for the Maker with the express of glorification of the Maker,
Whereas it is decreed that the Maker is Infallible and Ineffable, that His Ways are Ineffable and His Creation Infallible likewise,
Therefore all statements made by C.B. are to glorify and uphold the Maker and the Infallible and Ineffable ways of the Maker.
C.B. will not make any statements, orally or in writing, that might be considered disparaging, of the Maker, of the Maker’s Ineffable ways, Infallible Creation, of other C.B., or any other Beings which the Maker causes to bring into existence.(A)
Violation. Any Celestial Being found making disparaging statements about the previous will be given a verbal warning on first offense, written warning on the second, and on the third shall be subject to Reprimand.
(A) Please see Code 2158-9B for exceptions. 9
"There, you see?" said Dokiel.
"Oh," said #62, feeling a bit numb. "Not exactly. When did I—"
"Did you or did you not tell another angel that the choir refreshments were insufficient, that honey and milk were bad for the vocal cords and that perhaps the beverages needed to be laced with—" he referred to his file, which #62 couldn’t help but notice was dreadfully thick—"with ginseng?"
#62 blinked. He felt stung at the idea that #897 should have tattled. True, he seemed an awfully by-the-book sort, but somehow #62 hadn’t thought him the suspicious type. "Well yes," he said. "It makes me cough. But that’s not—"
"Impossible," said Dokiel. "You’re a Heavenly Being, spotless perfection incarnate. You do not cough."
"The only possible reason you could have for spewing such mindless assertions," continued Dokiel, "was a wish to defame our Creator."
#62 stared, speechless. Dokiel glared at him across the expanse of his grey metal graphite-counter desk. For a moment there was only deafening silence and the very loud sound of Dokiel’s grinning teeth.
"Naturally, there can only be some misunderstanding," Dokiel said, suddenly breaking into an even louder grin and settling back in his posture-enhancing desk chair. #62 let out a breath he hadn’t realized it was physically possible for him to be holding.
"Yes, of course," he said gratefully, and hating himself a little for it.
"After all, you’re one of the First Hundred," Dokiel said. "Our Father’s brightest and best. You’re the Gardener!"
"Well," said #62, as the air rushed back into his lungs, "Yes. The hydrangeas are looking lovely at the moment. 10 You really should come and see—"
"That won’t be necessary," Dokiel said. "Look, 62, the Body doesn’t doubt your commitment. But too much irreverence..." he trailed off and clucked his tongue. "You're one of the First, you know. You're a leader."
"Right," said #62. "A leader."
"Clearly you're not under such pressure to set an example as the Named, of course, but there's no shame in being one of the Hundred," Dokiel went on, gazing out the window as he spoke.
#62 followed his gaze automatically and lit on a nondescript street preacher standing next to the Eternal Fountain. The angel held a flimsy cardboard sign that read, "His Eye is on the sparrow." No one was paying her much attention, but she didn't seem to be preaching so much as looking dolefully around her with one of those long awkward stares that everyone tried to avoid meeting.
She cast a long shadow in her long brown cloak, a sharp contrast to the brightness all around her. #62 noted how monochrome everything was inside and outside the crisp white interior of the Ministry of the Body. The bright ivory statues in the square, the glittering eternal fountain in the center, the gold cobblestones. It was all white, white and gold.
For a bitter moment, he wondered what red was like. 11
"I promise I'll be on my best behavior from now on," he said, wishing that he wore a hat so that he could take it off and fiddle earnestly with the brim. Instead he clutched the sides of the Shaker chair and leaned forward.
"Of course you will," said Dokiel.
"And—and this is just a warning?" #62 said tentatively
Dokiel sent him another terrifying grin. "Relax, 62, relax," he said. "This is just a friendly note of caution between me and you. How long have we known each other again?"
"Several millennia, at least," #62 ventured, even though it was a pointless question, as every angel in the Firmament had been created in the same Divine breath, more or less.
"See? There's nothing to worry about," said Dokiel, his tone suggesting just the opposite. "Nothing's going in your file. I just wanted to make sure we had an understanding."
On his way out of the building, his eyes firmly attached to the floor, #62 nearly ran into the angel from the previous week's rehearsal.
"Oh, hallo," said #897, who of course did have a hat and was, of course, awkwardly tipping it in #62's direction. "Did they call you in about this new cleaning crew proposal, too, then?"
"What?" said #62, and then, "Now see here," and then, "You've got some nerve, angel, pretending you're not responsible for this—"
"Oh," said the angel brightly, apparently unfazed by the way #62 was scowling at him, "Well I didn't mean to take all the credit! After all, I told them it was your idea—"
"Er," said #62. "What?"
#897 gave him an expectant look, and #62 finally noticed he was holding a much-creased printout in his hand. Taking it from #897, he read:
Dear Celestial Body,
I hope this memo finds you well. Recent considerations lead me to believe it is part of His Ineffable Plan to form a weekly cleaning crew for the choir rehearsal hall. As my esteemed colleague #62 was saying to me only last week, it would do wonders for morale and doubtless boost glorification levels not just on Sundays but also during the week. A small team of 10-15 angels could probably cover the whole assembly. How about getting some of the 9000s involved? Bring them in from the field, so to speak. Well, thank you for your consideration, and all that,
Below this was signed "897" in a rather loopy signature.
#62 stared at it. "There's nothing in here about ginseng," he said. "Is this all?"
#897 blinked at him. "I say, you don't look pleased. Did they ask you to be on the cleaning crew?"
"So you didn't tell them I was some kind of, of instigator."
"Well, I should say not," said #897 primly, pulling himself upright with an offended air. "A little ginseng never hurt anyone." He studied #62's expression and fell short.
"Er," he said at long last, as the two of them stood awkwardly together in the shade of the Ministry. "Glad I ran into you. Wanted to say. The hydrangeas are looking lovely these days."
#897 received a "promotion" for, as he put it to #62 later, "forthright attention to detail and pro-active vision." Neither of them were sure what the promotion actually was for. Unlike the First Hundred, the latter ranks of angels didn't really have job descriptions, per se. And apart from getting to move a row back in the tenor section, neither he nor #62 could really figure out what the perks were.
"Odd that they haven't asked you to join the cleaning crew," #62 said. He'd invited #897 to stop by the Garden and see how the roses were coming along. #897 had brought a copy of something by Judith McNaught. He'd proceeded to nod at all the right spots during his tour of the roses, look impressed, and then mostly ignore #62 in favor of curling up on the nearest picnic table with his book, all of which made him more or less a grade A companion in #62's book.
He had closed it at last, however, citing one too many description of the hero's panther-green eyes, and now they stood on edge of the pier overlooking the lake, which was, as usual, pristine, and so clear you could stand on the dock and see the giant fish swimming in its depths—catfish, koi, and a few truly impressive bass and snappers. He wondered if #897 was afraid of the water, or just unused to the roll of the waves. He was looking a bit greenish.
"Not as odd giving me a promotion and you a dressing-down," #897 pointed out.
"Oh, that," said #62. "Probably just something they do to all the ranks at some point. You know, take them in, put the fear of the Almighty into them, keep them on their best behavior. That sort of thing."
"I see," said #897, sounding as if he really didn't see at all. "Though I suppose once you've gotten a reputation for being a troublemaker, it's a bit hard to get the Man off your back."
"Troublemaker?" said #62, the question startled out of him. "Is that what I am? Pop the head off a daisy or two—"
"—A dandelion or two, and suddenly you're an insurgent?"
#897's cheeks went rosy at that, evidently with embarrassment. He looked away over the water, then seemed to grow even queasier with the depth of the bottomless pool, and back again. "I didn't mean," he started. "You know, it's refreshing to hear—"
#62 knew how he felt. Words were hard to come by when one had the suspicion that at any given moment someone might be listening.
Eventually, #897 focused on the row of ducks swimming out toward the middle of the lake, and said evenly, "Has anyone ever told you you've a flair for the dramatic?"
"No," said #62. "Do you think so?"
"Think about it," said #897. "This is Heaven. Putting aside the fact that none of us exactly knows what a revolution looks like, could you imagine a revolt happening here?"
#62 tried to imagine it, revolt happening in a place where legions of patient, docile, goodnatured beings went around holding doors for each other and dutifully praising the Divine Creator left and right. What would they even revolt over? Much less for?
"I suppose not," #62 said. #897 looked pleased. "Besides, revolt seems more like something the Children will have to worry about."
Any mention of the Children drew a reverent silence from the legions of Heaven, so the two of them stood quietly for a moment, trying to imagine what a human would be like in the flesh.12
"Have you always been able to do that thing with your tongue?" said #897 abruptly.
"What?" said #62, and then, for good measure, "What?"
Now #897 really was blushing. #62 was beginning to get a feel for red, as often as it stained the cheeks of the angel next to him.
"The—flicker," he said. He demonstrated, then blushed some more.
"Oh!" said #62. "For a moment there, angel, I thought we were having a different conversation entirely."
"For someone I've only really just met, you strike me as highly exasperating," said #897 sternly. Then he ruined the effect by leaning in eagerly. "But really, it's quite interesting."
"It helps me inspect the Garden," said #62. "The plants like it. Surprised you noticed, really. I usually save it for twilight when no one's around. It tends to freak people out when I do this."
"Oh," said #897, and then, "Oh," again as #62's eyes changed into amber slits. "Do you—oh, I see."
Scintillating, isn't it? #62 hissed, slithering a wide circle around #897's feet, so as not to alarm him, or worse, cause him to start doing a jig in a panic.
"My," said #897, his voice a bit higher than usual. "Hidden talents, I see."
Scared, are we? #62 teased, tongue flickering. He took pity on his angel, however, and curled around the nearest railing of the pier. It also happened to be the one #897 was currently clinging to, but #62 thought he'd probably benefit from a bit of creature shock. What happened to loving all God's creatures, great and small?
"Hmph," said #897. "I'm quite certain you love yourself enough for the both of us."
It turned out #62 had never laughed in snake form before. #897 seemed to enjoy it.
The next time #62 crossed Heaven's main square, he saw the angel again. She still stood by the marble Eternal Fountain, but this time her long, discomfiting stare held something intense and shining in it. Instead of wanting to avoid eye contact, #62 found he couldn't look away.
This time she wasn't holding a sign. This time, she was speaking.
"Even as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren," she said, her voice carrying over the courtyard and halting the other angels in their tracks, "You have done it to me."
"Done what?" #62 murmured to the angel standing nearest him. The other angel shrugged.
"Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand," the angel by the fountain continued, her eyes blazing, "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink."
"And I'm the dramatic one," muttered #62, wondering what part of the Celestial Code this racket was all from.
"He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left," she said. "My fellow Host, we have all been complacent for far too long. It is time to decide. Are you sheep or are you goats?"
"Horses!" someone shouted in the back, and the audience tittered. "Mongoose!" volunteered another voice.
Suddenly embarrassed and ashamed, #62 turned away. As he dragged his eyes off her defiant figure, she turned her head and locked gazes with him.
"You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust for as long as you live," she said.
A cold chill spiraled through #62, all the more gripping because he'd never felt anything like it..
He turned away, and may have broken into, if not a run, then at least a dignified trot, as soon as he was reasonably sure no one was watching.
"Why is it always requiems?" he asked #897 the next day. They were playing checkers next to the lake, but he wasn't making his move. "Why can't we ever sing something jolly, like, I don't know, The Messiah?"13
"You know why," said #897 curtly. "Spoilers."
#62 scoffed. "I don't understand why, if all ten thousand of us or so were created in the same breath, there's a need-to-know basis for this sort of thing. It doesn't seem fair—not when there's billions of humans down the road who get a whole religion out of it. We get to have iPads and laptops these days, why can't we get the Word of God every now and again?"
"The iPads and laptops aren't exactly on the up and up, though, are they," mused #897.
#62 let out a sigh. Up till that moment he hadn't realized how frustrated he was, or how much worry and anxiety had been swirling around him for the past few days—weeks, maybe. Or maybe it had been building for much longer than that. "Something's rotten in Denmark, angel," he said roughly.
#897 pursed his lips and looked thoughtful. "At least one person seems to agree with you."
"The street preacher?" #62 asked, heart jolting unevenly in his chest—another first. "Do you know who they are?"
#897 stared at him. "I thought you'd know," he said cautiously. "Don't you?"
#62 shrugged. "Been asking around, no one seems to have any clue."
#897 went very still. "Don't you in the First ever talk to one another?" he said slowly.
#62 wasn't quite sure how to say that when all you did with your time, when you weren't tending the Garden in relative solitude, was think up new ways to praise and glorify the Creator, there wasn't much time for socializing. Or motivation, for that matter. He wondered if he'd ever be able to voice a true thought about Heaven again without getting a written warning out of it.
Some of this must have shown on his face, because #897, after a moment, leaned in and said in the softest whisper #62 had ever heard:
"The street preacher is the Morning Star."
#62's jaw dropped. "No."
#897 nodded, looking distinctly paler than he had a moment previous.
"But that's impossible," said #62. "He's been out in the field for millennia. If he came home there'd be no way to keep the rest of Heaven from finding out about it."
#897 leaned over the checkerboard and grasped #62's sleeve, and #62 had the ludicrous idea that it was because #897 was about to spill something so huge it might sweep him away unless he held on to something. In a tangle of anxiety and excitement, he leaned forward too, putting their foreheads within touching distance.
"The only reason I know," #897 whispered, "is because I found out what my 'promotion' is about. They want me to work in Celestial Resources."
"Celestial resources?" #62 whispered. "What's that?"
"I don't know," #897 whispered back. "Helping people, doing intake forms and exit interviews, that sort of thing."
"What's an exit interview?" whispered #62.
"I don't know yet," whispered #897. "The point is, they brought me in to the Ministry for some paperwork the other day, and Lucifer's file was out. Puriel was having me do practice forms and while he was fetching the documents I—I read the file. On his last assignment, Lucifer was sent to train the Son of God." He swallowed. "On earth.
"The Messiah?" said #62. "But how? The planets haven't even formed yet.14 Christ isn't due for another five billion years or so."
"The file said Lucifer went ahead," #897 breathed. "Through time. He was supposed to give the Lord a thirty-day crash course in withstanding temptation. But something must have backfired because he... he came back wrong. At least that's what the file said. They had her on lockdown at first but then she walked out on them and they've been trying to figure out what to do to stop her without—you know..."15
#62 took all this in, then let out a low whistle. He hoped the angel knew what he didn't dare to say out loud:
The Street Preacher hadn't come back wrong. She'd come back right.
And that was the whole problem.
He thought of the prophecy she'd laid on his shoulders the day before, and shuddered. #897 looked at him with wide eyes for a moment, neither of them saying a word. But #62 knew, somehow, that they understood each other, and in spite of everything he felt reassured.
Slowly, #897 leaned back again and said in a normal voice: "Have you tried Vitamin D?"
"What?" said #62, blinking.
"You’ve looked a bit gloomy lately. I hear Vitamin D is good for that sort of thing."
"We’re supposed to be perfect Heavenly beings created by God to do glory to Him in all things," said #62 promptly, noting #897's failed attempt to keep from laughing. "Why would we need vitamins? For that matter, why would I be gloomy?"
"I stand corrected," said #897. "Forgive me, I must have mistaken your current facial expression for sarcastic despondency instead of rapt joy "
#62 delivered his best smirk. "My dear fellow," he said. "This is Heaven. It's not possible to feel anything else but joy."
Two nights later, when #62 returned to his flat, 16 he watered his house plants, brewed the strongest cup of honey and milk he could stand,17 and checked his email. On top of the usual 18 he had two new emails.
The first was from the Ministry notifying him that he'd received a Written Warning for violating Celestial Code, Section 2835: significant use of objects outside of their fixed temporal time frame: to wit, a computer. "Please print this email and bring it with you to your scheduled Ministry appointment as proof of your violation," read the message.
When he was done cursing, #62 studied the second email, which had only one word in the subject: "CROWLEY." It was from an address he didn't recognize.
He clicked it open.
Hello Crowley, read the note.
- Forgive me for being informal, since we've never really been introduced. But I've seen what the future holds for us both—I've seen the tremendous part you have to play in what's to come. You're going to be one of Hell's greatest generals, Crowley. I can't wait to tell you all about it. (But not too much—spoilers, you know.)
We should talk soon. Call me!
Lucifer, future Prince of Darkness (ikr what a title! orz)
Then he deleted it.
Then he emptied his trash, fingers trembling.
Then he turned off his computer.
Then, with nothing else to do, and still feeling as if he'd had several centuries' worth of wind knocked out of him, he called #897.
"Can I..." he said helplessly when #897 answered. "Can I talk to you?"
"Hallo," said #897 in a cheery voice that #62 wished he didn't find so comforting. "Did you see there's a new Lifetime movie on telly this week?"
"I mean," said #62 desperately, "I need to talk to you. Now. Some—somewhere..." he trailed off.
"Oh," said #897, and then, gently, "Come over to mine? I've just put on a spot of—well, I suppose you’d call it honey water with ginseng. You’re right, you know, it quite soothes the nerves.”
#62 may or may not have sobbed in gratitude as he rang off.
By the time he got to #897's flat he'd worked himself up so much that anyone not sporting a Ministry badge would have seemed appealing in comparison; but when #897 answered the door, he was wearing an ugly oversized sweatshirt and pale pink sweatpants, and one hand was gloved in a kitchen mitt, and his face went pink and splotchy when he saw #62 even though he'd been expecting him, and he got no further than, "Oh, good, I've got a pot roast in the—" before #62 stepped in and pulled him forward and kissed him, desperate and hungry and so, so grateful to have him there, because the singularity of touching and being touched was something unheard of among angels, something he'd never known he wanted until just that moment, when suddenly the idea of not having it seemed so preposterous, so unthinkable, that it seemed to him all at once that he'd spent his entire existence wanting this and only this.
And by all the deities in heaven and earth, he felt nerve endings and electrodes and neurons spark and sizzle to life inside of him, and the moan #897 let out when his fingers came up to encircle #62's neck made him think, bright and white-hot as any star in the Firmament:
If this is rebellion, then let me yell.
"I think," said #62 sometime later, as he ran his fingers along the curve of #897's shoulder, "I think they're going to kick me out of heaven."
"But why?" murmured #897, leaning up to press his assurances along #62's jawline. "In all the millennia they've never done anything like that. Why would they start now?"
"Lucifer," whispered #62. "She wants something. Things are changing."
#897 shivered and nestled closer, sending warmth through all of #62's most agreeable extremities. "Do you think," said #897, "that when Lucifer was with the Son, that he learned the Plan? Of All That Is To Come?"
"No," said #62. "No, no one knows that. Not even the Metatron."
"But Lucifer is the First Son," said #897. "If anyone were going to know, wouldn't it be the two sons? Especially if they were just in conference."
#62 leaned back against #897's pillow and closed his eyes. The idea of Heaven being a place of secrets and subterfuge was mostly new to him, something that had only recently seeped into his awareness. The idea of yet another heavenly entity holding forbidden knowledge and shrouded wisdom was exhausting. A person could only have so much faith in the Ineffable before they got impatient and started wondering if maybe they should start asking for the receipts. He felt as if the other members of the First had spent whole epochs playing a game he was only now starting to notice. He was nowhere near learning the rules.
"You said Lucifer wants to talk to you," said #897.
"Lucifer wants to talk to Crowley."
"There is no angel by that name," said #897.
#62 blinked at him. "Not yet," he said.
#897 had mesmerizing green eyes, the kind #62 imagined poets would write about one day. Only poets usually used names.
"Angel," he said. "Have you ever thought about it?" He sat up and pressed a kiss to #897's bewildered mouth. "About giving yourself a name?"
"I," said #897. #62 kissed him again. #897 let out a shaky breath against his mouth. "I've always liked the name—no, I shouldn't—we shouldn't be thinking about this—"
"I've thought about calling myself Crawley," said #62, feeling a growing rush of excitement, something dangerous and red uncurling inside of him at the thought of finally admitting it to someone, of saying it out loud. "I've always thought it would suit me, you know? Snake and all."
"Y-yes," stuttered #897, as #62 reminded him of the things a forked tongue could get up to. "I have to say I agree."
"How could Lucifer know that?" said #62, who, if he were being honest with himself, had started thinking of himself as Crowley from the moment he'd seen the word in print. Crowley was him. He was Crowley. He knew this as surely as if he'd always known it. "Angel, how could Lucifer know it unless everything else he said was true?"
"You mean—then there really is to be a Hell," whispered #897. "Heaven's opposite."
"Angel," said #62, "What's your name? If I'm going to be thrown out of Heaven, let me hear it at least once. Please."
#897 pulled back and gave him a long look. 19
"Aziraphale," he said at last. "I've always wanted to be called—"
"Aziraphale," said Crowley, and then he said it over and over again.
- Subject: VIOLATION of Celestial Code Section 918
Dear C.B. #62,
You have been found in violation of Celestial Code Section 918: Instilling Doubt in Another Celestial Being. This is a serious offense which carries the maximum penalty under Rule #14589-E12.
Please report immediately to Ministry Office 109½ C.
The Celestial Body
A few angels threw Crowley odd glances on his way over to the Ministry building, but for the most part no one paid any attention. He should have started wearing sunglasses eons ago, he thought. In the square, Lucifer was delivering a speech, but Crowley had his iPod out and "Blood on the Leaves" at full volume, so he missed whatever Lucifer was saying about uniting the Host. 20
On his way in, he stopped by to see Dokiel. He rapped on the door and then opened it without waiting for a response.
"Hello, Dokiel," said Crowley, leaning in the doorway. "I see you lied to me about not getting an official warning the other day."
#62," said Dokiel, looking up for where Crowley had obviously caught him watching YouTube. "Heaven is perfection. You know that. It would be impossible for any one of God's perfect beings to lie. You must have misunderstood."
"Oh, but I'm incapable of misunderstanding," grinned Crowley. "I'm perfect, remember?"
Dokiel spluttered. Crowley laughed.
"Just kidding, old pal," he said, lowering his shades.
His eyes slitted. Dokiel's face went pale.
"See you around," Crowley said, and sauntered down the corridor towards his expulsion from Paradise.
Crowley felt good about his delivery of "You can't fire me, I quit!" He'd practiced it in Aziraphale's bathroom mirror that morning and felt he'd had a handle on it. He'd probably been a bit more nervous in his actual meeting with Barachiel, but as he'd been stuck in a waiting room for half an hour while Barachiel's assistant filed his paperwork, there'd been ample time for trepidation to give way to annoyance once more.
A final surprise awaited him, however, when the assistant ushered him into a sterile white room at last and announced, "We just need your exit interview, and you're free to go."
"My exit—oh," said Crowley,
Aziraphale made a distressed sound. "Oh, don't fret," Crowley said, sliding into the chair opposite where Aziraphale sat at a plain white desk. "Though I must say, this is a new low, even for them."
"I'm so sorry, my dear," said Aziraphale.
Crowley winked at him. "After we're done, d'you want to go somewhere and defile some paperwork?"
"What?" said Aziraphale, and then: "Oh. Oh. Well, I—suppose I could take a long lunch break."
"Excellent," said Crowley, and in spite of everything, Aziraphale laughed.
Most of the time, Crowley hadn't had much occasion to miss Heaven, at least not the parts he was probably supposed to miss. In retrospect, singing praise to the Creator had been a boring job that did nothing to stimulate the mind, much less the ego, and Crowley, having developed a vast appreciation for both in the ensuing five millennia, couldn't say that he missed it.
Still, his new gig gave him ample time to reacquaint himself with the nicer parts of Heaven—most especially the exquisite beauty that he'd left behind when he left the Old Garden. Eden wasn't nearly as vast, not by half, but it was definitely worth appreciating. Lucifer had ordered him topside to tend to it as soon as God's back was turned, though Crowley knew better, of course, than to assume God was ever fully turned away. The only question—and it was one Crowley had asked himself millions of times over the years—was whether Lucifer was really that stupid, or whether he was just playing the fool because there was no one else to do it.
He often suspected he and Lucifer got on so well because they had so much in common. 21
"You won't want to miss it, Crowley," Lucifer told him the morning he ordered Crowley into the interior of the New Garden. "It needs an artist's touch, and I know how much you love pruning things."
"You're sure the man upstairs won't be irked if he finds one of our people mucking about up there?" Crowley asked him doubtfully.
Lucifer gave him an angelic smile, something he was still, for all the ages, exceptionally good at.
"I think God will make an exception in this case," he said.
So Crowley had gone, and now, several days later, he'd more or less explored the whole of Eden, working his way out from the center at the Tree of Knowledge, to the perimeter.
It turned out Eden was a gated community.
It was still a new thing to be on Earth. Earth itself was still adjusting to the idea that it was a planet that could grow and nurture life. The heady excitement in the air was almost fragrant in Eden. Crowley wondered what was beyond the gates, if there were other areas out there that held as much sense of the possible, or if there were other areas where humans struggled to find their way all alone, without mystical fruit to help them or damn them.
He liked those humans, he decided, wherever and whoever they were.
But when he moved to take a look beyond the gates, he discovered it was being guarded.
He slithered to a halt. Then he rose and looked closer.
Then he did something he hadn't had occasion to do in a very long time, and transformed.
Aziraphale stared at him. Crowley approached. Aziraphale continued to stare, his face glowing, his celestial robe radiant as usual.
Crowley took his hand. "Angel," he said at last, and the answering smile on Aziraphale's face made the years drop away like sunlight scattering clouds in the Firmament. "Fancy meeting you here."
1. No, not that one, the other one. You know—the ineffable one.
2. Our Lord had given up naming angels around #54 or so, after which he’d moved on to just assigning everyone numbers. #62 tried not to let it bother him, because after all he could have been one of the ones in the back whose number was so long most people just left them alone so they wouldn’t have to bother saying it all out loud. Or the three separate #8426es, who got stuck with the same number when His Holiness briefly lost count. No one mentioned it, of course; that would have been rude, seeing as God is perfect and all. Besides, counting is hard. It could have happened to anyone.
3. It was proving a bit difficult for many of the angels because it hadn’t technically been written yet so no one could go out and listen to the recordings as an aid to learning their part. Also, Verdi wasn’t technically alive yet, so the composer’s instructions were a bit vague. #62 thought it made the Dies Irae a little watery-sounding, but then it wasn’t as though wrath and judgment were real things in Heaven. And given that angels, at least at that point in their career trajectories, were practically incapable of sounding anything but chipper at all times, all in all the effect was what #62, had it been a few millennia later, would have associated less with hellfire and brimstone and more with the Care Bear Stare.
4. Which, in his defense, was probably because Latin hadn’t been invented yet, though naturally this meant there were a few hipsters living in the Pearly Gate Quarter who insisted on speaking it at all times anyway.
5. But not literally. Feather-ruffling was at that time something that usually only happened in Heaven’s back alleys, and generally under extreme secrecy and mutual promises never to do it again until the next time it happened.
6.. It was a road that was good for easing on down, if you were into that sort of thing.
7. Honestly it was probably a good thing Yahweh had switched to numbers, because 50 names or so in the Divine had clearly started getting bored. "Puriel, Dokiel, Hokiel, Doc," were pretty much His final bursts of inspiration. Doc spent most of his time on assignment in the outer reaches of the Celestial Realms these days. It just made it easier to avoid teasing all around.
8. It was for Level 666, the Impossible Level, which everyone knew was unwinnable. Still, Dokiel, didn’t mind throwing away a few dollars on the effort; miracles do happen, after all. And besides, money technically hadn’t been invented yet, so he was getting a steal on the exchange rate.
9. For the record: Celestial Code Section 2158-9B. In the event that the Maker causes to bring into existence a Devil, hereafter in theory known also as Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Morning Star, King of Babylon, Father of Lies; and/or if the Maker should also cause to bring into existence an Antichrist, Unholy Leviathan, or a significant body of C.B. devoted to the undermining of the Maker, hereafter in theory known as Demons; be it known that all named parameters in Celestial Code Section 2158-9A shall be null. The Ineffable Wisdom of the Divine shall be found to hold no sway over the demonstrable Iniquity of the Named Parties mentioned above, and the regular host of C.B. shall be encouraged to disparage, defame, and otherwise vilify the heretofore Named Parties with enthusiasm.
10. Especially since he’d accidentally pruned them a little too closely the previous week, if you get the drift.
11. He would soon find out.
12. As per the Celestial Statute of Satisfaction, #62 didn't want much, since he subsisted on manna from God and Divine Grace and so forth, but deep down, what he wanted most of all was to meet a human one day, to see one in action, maybe even have a conversation with one. Hope was a tricky thing in Heaven—admitting you hoped for anything meant there was something more to want than what you already had, so #62, like everyone else, shunned any thinking that might lead to anticipatory desire. Still, it had crossed his mind a few times that being one of the First Hundred meant that he was on the relative short list for generals in case God ever needed to send a crew to do Earth duty. Earth could hurry up and form any day now, as far as #62 was concerned.
13. Upon first hearing The Messiah some five billion and seventeen hundred years later, #62 would rapidly realize the folly of this sentiment, and then spend the rest of existence wishing he could stop hearing The Messiah.
14. God those days spent most of his time in the nether-reaches of space, making planets and constellations. He was a young god, fascinated by minutia, combining molecules into elements like building blocks, pulling elements together to create the universe in a way that would one day remind #62 of a child with a bucket of Play-Doh. He was hardly ready to settle down with a single planet and its citizens. You might say he was still sowing his wild motes.
15. There was a world of possibility in what #62 knew in this instance, none of it good.
16. Later a common misconception would arise that every denizen of Heaven got their own mansion. While this was a nice idea in theory, God wasn't too keen on the urban sprawl such a plan would have entailed in practice. God liked a nice high-rise apartment complex as much as anyone, as it turned out. But it came with lifts, and he did give everyone their choice of carpeting or hardwood. Even better, every flat came with its own garbage disposal, dishwasher, and laundry unit, which made it enough like a mansion for most poor sods that it's easy to see how the misunderstanding happened.
17. Alcohol, while technically not yet in existence, was strictly off limits to Heaven, except for those who knew the password to get into Ezekiel's after 2 am. #62 had never managed to find out the password, a snub which rankled well into his future. Later on he would make a professional point of knowing the passwords to the backroom of every bar he visited, and at least 60 different secret handshakes.
18. Amazon always snuck into his inbox to offer him last-minute holiday shipping, but it's not known whether anyone ever tested the delivery time on orders to Heaven.
19. In all of time and history, there have been only four other such looks:
1) the one Caesar gave Brutus at the Senate;
2) the one John gave Paul after hearing "Hey Jude" for the first time;
3) the one Naomi gave Ruth when Ruth vowed to stay with her always;
4) the one Jonathan gave David at their final meeting.
Without this extra context, however, Crowley just thought Aziraphale was conveying a mix of terror, confusion, and possibly indigestion.
20. In truth it was one of the Sorting Hat songs from Harry Potter. Before returning to Heaven after bonding with Jesus, Lucifer had ducked ahead a couple of millennia and was currently speed-reading her way through the whole series. Her favorite character was Fred, and she was about to be very, very upset.
21. Lucifer's tendency to sometimes take his autographed copy of Mark out and stroke the pages, not to mention the picture of Jesus which he had lovingly framed and kept by his bedside, were perhaps additional factors in Crowley's assessment.