It was just the loveliest day, so sunny and bright, but not too hot. There was a delightful breeze keeping the temperature very pleasant. It was, in short, perfect flying weather. Aziraphale hadn’t flown for a while, but it wasn’t something one forgot, after all. It would be like waking up having forgotten how to walk - one might be out of practice and get out of breath a bit faster, but one didn’t forget. Which was why Aziraphale was quite confident and fearless despite standing on the very edge of his roof, about to launch himself into thin air. He took a deep breath of the warm, London-scented breeze and stepped off the roof. And immediately fell two stories and lay in a dazed and painful heap in the laneway behind the shop.
* * *
Crowley leaned on the Bentley’s horn, and swerved from lane to lane. The M25 might be a sign of great evil - and it was, he should know - but it wasn’t going to defeat him. He shot through the miniscule space left by the police cars and ambulances attending to the latest pileup and was away before anyone could register more than a horrified sense of shit-big-black-what-the-hell-was-that? His mobile was ringing again. He pulled it out of his pocket and checked the number. Aziraphale again. That was the third time in a quarter of an hour. Right. This had better be important. He put on his best hiss.
“What is it?”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale said, sounding shaken and scared. “Crowley.”
“Yes? You were expecting the Man Above? What do you want?”
“Crowley. I can’t fly, Crowley.”
“So take a train.”
“No. I mean -- I mean I can’t fly. I don’t have wings, Crowley.”
“Have you been at that bad whisky again?” Crowley scoffed.
“I’m not joking. I have. No. Wings. I need you to come see me. Please, Crowley. Please.”
“Fine. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Try not to fly into a panic before then,” Crowley said with a mean grin.
He hung up and calculated the distance to the next exit. Too far. Well, he’d passed one that would do him just fine not three minutes ago. The Bentley made a smooth and graceful U-turn and proceeded to scare the living daylights out of all the oncoming drivers.
* * *
He pulled to a halt in front of the bookshop and strolled inside. Aziraphale was waiting, wearing a hole in the floorboards with his pacing back and forth. Crowley was barely in the door when he had to shake the angel off.
“Stop clinging to me. It’s undignified,” he said in annoyance. “What’s the problem?”
“I can’t seem to locate my wings,” Aziraphale said in the very calm tones of someone who is about to have a fit of the vapours. “I jumped off my roof earlier and --”
“Didn’t realise you were the suicidal type,” Crowley sniggered.
“I wanted to fly,” Aziraphale said with great dignity. “But my wings didn’t open. They didn’t open because they weren’t there. I don’t know what to do.”
He sat down heavily on the chair behind the counter. Crowley got ready to be disgusted with him for crying, then saw the angel’s eyes were dry. He was staring into space, looking like he was trying to remember something important.
“My leg was broken,” he said suddenly, “it really hurt. Even when I fixed it, it hurt.”
“Don’t be silly,” Crowley said uneasily. “That was just your imagination. Do you want me to check it for you?”
Aziraphale shook his head.
“I’ll make you a cup of tea,” Crowley said, wanting to get away from this unusually quiet and miserable Aziraphale.
He paced across the kitchenette and back. Obviously the angel had made some mistake, and was now convinced of this wingless nonsense. People didn’t just lose limbs overnight. The thing to do was to talk some sense into him. He brought the mug of tea back in, and made Aziraphale drink it.
“Now,” he said. “Why don’t you start from the beginning? You decided to take a little flight, and . . . ?”
“And I didn’t have wings,” Aziraphale said dully. “I want my wings, Crowley.”
Crowley couldn’t help it. He flicked a glance to the bell over the door and made it jingle.
“When you hear a bell ring --” he started cheerily.
The mug of tea hit him right in the face.
“Don’t laugh at me, you, you bastard!” Aziraphale screamed.
Crowley stood frozen in position. Aziraphale had thrown scalding hot tea in his face. Aziraphale had sworn. Aziraphale didn’t seem to care that the book on the counter had been liberally doused with the tea that hadn’t made it onto Crowley’s person. This was serious.
“All right,” he said. “All right. Let’s get out of here. I can’t think when I’m surrounded by book mites.”
He thought himself dry and shepherded Aziraphale out to the car. He drove them sedately and calmly to Mayfair, and politely escorted Aziraphale up to the flat. He put the angel in an armchair with lots of cushions and told him not to move. He knew exactly how to calm him down, and was fairly sure there was a large angel-calming chocolate ice-cream gateau in the freezer. When he came back into the sitting room with a sinfully large slice of the gateau, Aziraphale was gone. Crowley put the plate carefully on the coffee table - no point in dropping it dramatically, not with a white carpet - and prowled down his hallway. The bathroom door was closed. And locked.
“Are you OK?” he called. “Are you getting sick?”
There was no answer. He put an ear to the door.
He could hear something. A low, rhythmical muttering. It didn’t sound like English. He concentrated, and picked out the word ‘holy’, and ‘angel’ and what he could have sworn was ‘come in, over’.
“Open this door!” he yelled, rattling it on its hinges.
No point in waiting, he thought, and kicked it open. Aziraphale was kneeling in a circle drawn on the tiles, mismatched candles placed around him. Crowley ran in and kicked the candles over and rubbed at the circle with a foot. Soap. The bastard had drawn it on with soap. He dragged the feebly protesting Aziraphale out of the bathroom.
“How dare you try to contact Heaven in my bathroom!” he hissed in fury.
“I just wanted guidance,” Aziraphale said wretchedly. “I feel so -- incomplete.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. He glared at Aziraphale and considered what to do. He thought he might start with taking off the glasses and rolling his eyes again. He settled for pushing the angel back down into the chair and giving him the cake.
“Here, eat this,” he said. “Just behave yourself, all right?”
Aziraphale began mashing the cake into a rich chocolatey paste. This was very serious, Crowley thought. He took the plate away again.
“Oh, all right. Show me the blessed wings.”
Aziraphale stood up quickly and looked like he was concentrating deeply.
“I was going to suggest you might want to take your shirt off, first,” Crowley said.
Aziraphale gave him a deeply bitter look.
“What’s the point? It’s not like I have wings that might damage it.”
Crowley stepped behind him and ran a hand over the shoulder blades. It all felt normal, if by normal you meant ‘not possessed of a bloody great pair of wings’.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “And you only noticed this today? When was the last time you flew?”
Aziraphale looked stricken.
“Not for a few years. Oh, Heavens. I don’t know how long they’ve been gone.”
“Hmm. Well, on the bright side, you’re still able to heal, right? You said you fixed your leg. And you’re still immortal - I assume. So, you haven’t turned human when you weren’t looking. You’ve just lost your wings. You’re pinion-challenged. You’re --”
A mug of steaming tea appeared in Aziraphale’s hand, and was held threateningly.
“Not that I’m insensitive to your loss,” Crowley said hurriedly. “And you’ve just proved my point about still having your abilities.”
Aziraphale sipped the tea and glared at him.
“And when,” he said in a poisonous tone, “did you last fly, Crowley?”
“Quite recently,” Crowley lied. “Would you like some whisky in that?”
Aziraphale held the mug out and let him pour a hefty dose of Glenfiddich into it.
“Be right back,” Crowley said calmly and walked off without a care into his bedroom, where he frantically tore off his jacket and shirt and spread his wings. Oh, shit. Nothing. He closed his eyes, and thought of the feeling of a good strong downstroke against the wind. Nothing. He imagined the pleasure of a really good stretch and what it was like to really shake your wings out.
“We’re not laughing now, I see,” Aziraphale said in a nasty voice from the doorway.
He had abandoned the tea, Crowley saw, and was drinking the whisky from the bottle. He wandered in and walked a full circle around Crowley.
“Dear me, Crowley,” he said. “You don’t appear to have any wings.”
Crowley held his hand out for the bottle. Getting drunk suddenly seemed like a very good idea.
* * *
“Haven’t flown f’years,” Crowley slurred, peering hopefully into the bottle of Hennessey’s. “Bastard’s empty,” he said, in a philosophical tone.
“Here,” Aziraphale said, holding out the bottle of Irish Mist he’d been nursing.
“That sh-sh-stuff is the devil’s pish,” Crowley said. “An’ dunask me how I know.”
Aziraphale began to giggle, and slowly toppled over onto the carpet. He waved a hand feebly about, which Crowley eventually interpreted as a plea for help. He propped the angel up again. Aziraphale fixed his gaze on the Irish Mist as much as he could and made a few mystic passes.
“Be healed,” he giggled, and took a swig.
“What’you turn it to?” Crowley asked.
“Good enough, gimme.”
Some time after they had emptied Crowley’s liquor cabinet twice over, they passed out.
* * *
Crowley woke up with the impression that the Golden Horde had set up camp in his mouth. There was a distinct taste of yurt. He’d been quite fond of the khans, he thought muzzily. Good senses of humour. The fermented mares’ milk, though. That had been a bit off. He was lying on something lumpy, he realised. And he was on the floor. His carpet shouldn’t be lumpy. He went back to sleep. A little later he woke up with the terrible urge to get to the bathroom right away, and the terrible knowledge that if he so much as twitched an eyebrow the Horde would start galloping over his head. The lumpy thing moaned and tried to crawl away. Crowley opened one eye and winced as the fury of the Mongols began. He appeared to be lying on Aziraphale, who didn’t seem to have worked out why he wasn’t moving very far.
Crowley rolled away, and decided that movement was not a good idea. No wonder they called it the demon drink. He wanted very sincerely to die.
“Asssssrefel,” he croaked. “I’m dying. Kill me off, quick. Or heal me.”
A hand flopped into his face.
“Get well soon,” Aziraphale moaned.
As far as a healing wish went it was fairly saccharine, but it worked, at least a bit. Crowley staggered upright and blearily looked down at the drink spattered angel. Aziraphale was looking up at him pleadingly, but Crowley had suddenly far more important things to worry about.
“Back in a mo’,” he gasped and ran for the bathroom.
When he returned, Aziraphale seemed to be trying to work out the foetal position from first principles. Crowley ruthlessly pulled him to his feet and forced the alcohol’s effects away. They both swayed on their feet, then charged for the kitchen.
“I always forget how much I hate hangovers,” Aziraphale said around a mouthful of chocolate covered truffles.
“Uh-huh,” Crowley agreed, shovelling a jarful of prawn cocktail into his mouth.
“Do you have bread? I want toast,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley waved a hand at the bread bin. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow at its contents.
“Sun dried tomato focaccia? Don’t you have anything like a batch loaf?”
Crowley materialised a sliced white loaf and handed it over. Aziraphale dropped slices into a toaster that hadn’t been there a moment before.
“What are we going to do?” he asked.
“I’m not sure there’s much we can do,” he said. “It’s not like it really changes our day to day lives. We’ll just have to soldier on.”
“I really want to fly,” Aziraphale said wistfully.
“Only because you can’t. You were perfectly happy walking or getting a lift before. You wouldn’t have flown a hundred yards if you could help it.”
Aziraphale assumed a brave, stoical expression.
“Yes. You’re right, of course. We’ll just have to do without them. I suppose it’s our cross to bear.”
“Please don’t use that phrase around me,” he said.
* * *
It didn’t change his life much, he thought. Apart from the urge to climb tall structures and throw himself off. He didn’t give in to that too often, because it wasn’t really satisfying to turn to a bird when what he wanted to do was feel his own wings. He just couldn’t make them appear. Become a winged creature, yes. But not be his own true form. Aziraphale was taking it really hard, he knew. There were books of religious art stashed all over his shop, with bookmarks stuck in them. Crowley hadn’t bothered looking at more than one of the books. Why wallow in misery? Aziraphale liked a good wallow. Crowley finally exploded when he stopped by and found that Aziraphale had decorated the shop with what looked like fifty years’ worth of Christmas cards. The kitschiest of them he had obviously brought to a photocopy shop and had blown up to A3 size.
“Enough!” Crowley roared. “Stop with the self-pity! We don’t have wings! Get over it!”
The shop’s sole customer fled. Aziraphale immediately locked the door in case more book lovers should dare to come in.
“I just like the artwork,” he said defensively.
“No one likes this artwork. You are feeling sorry for yourself. Feel sorry for me, for a change.”
“I thought you said I should get over it? I’m to get over it, but you’re not?”
“You’re pathetic,” Crowley hissed. “Bloody pathetic. You always have been. You lose your sword, your wings - have you checked for your halo recently? Why don’t you go drown your sorrows in a couple of litres of double-chocolate ice cream?”
He stormed over to the door and half tore it off its hinges. He was too angry to get into the car, so he stalked down the road. He heard running feet behind him. Let the bastard apologise for being a whiner, he didn’t care. Aziraphale was shouting something. With a start, Crowley realised it was coordinates. The bastard was calling in fire. On him. He turned and jumped the angel before he could get the final words out. People peered at them as they tussled. Suddenly they both stepped back, horribly embarrassed.
“Sorry,” Crowley muttered.
“Yes. Me too,” Aziraphale said, looking at his feet.
“It is a bit of a strain,” Crowley offered.
“Um. I still shouldn’t have tried to annihilate you.”
“Come on. We need a change of scene,” Crowley said.
He deposited the angel in the car and didn’t stop driving till they reached the Lake District.
“What are we doing?” Aziraphale asked, as Crowley booked them into a hostel.
“We’re going to be here a while. And we’re going to be walking. A lot. And we’re going to stay in this shitty hostel -- no offense, miss -- and then when we are thoroughly sick of this place we’re going to go home and be thankful for the benefits of civilisation such as the internal combustion engine and decent eating establishments.”
“Oh. Can we buy souvenirs?”
“Yes. Well, you can if you want.”
For the next week he chased the angel up hill and down dale till Aziraphale was ready to rain fire on any hapless daffodils he came across. When Aziraphale complained it was getting late, Crowley reminded him that they didn’t need sleep and Crowley could see in the dark anyway. After walking all night Aziraphale became very biddable, he was happy to find. The scenery was very lovely, and neither of them had an ounce of energy left to spare for feeling sorry for themselves.
After the first week, Aziraphale was no longer complaining or whining under his breath. Crowley didn’t believe in conversions, so he continued forcing the angel out on hill walks. After another week, Aziraphale was hounding him up hills and laughing heartlessly when he wanted a breather. It was doing him some good, Crowley thought, looking at a pink-faced and cheerful Aziraphale. The angel waved an unremarkable wild flower under his nose, and Crowley agreed that yes, it was very beautiful.
After a month, Crowley was ready to go home. The fresh air didn’t have the same comforting smell as the petrol scented London atmosphere. He brought the subject up at dinner.
“Ready to go back to London?” he asked.
Aziraphale’s face clouded over, and he stopped telling his story about the medicinal uses of the daisy family.
“No,” he said.
Crowley sipped his tea. The angel was looking stubborn. There was no point in trying to overrule him. He changed the subject.
“Want to go for a swim tomorrow?”
“Don’t be silly,” Aziraphale said in surprise. “In these lakes? We’d freeze.”
And he’s off, Crowley thought as Aziraphale began lecturing him on water temperature vs air temperature, the relevance of the wind chill factor and why seals managed to swim in the Antarctic. Aziraphale was his old self when he got a good prattle going, but it looked as if Crowley’d have his work cut out getting him back home.
* * *
At the end of their sixth week Crowley decided he was resigned to a rural life. The fresh air had charms of its own, and made him think of years when it had been the norm. The tempting and thwarting opportunities weren’t so bad either, he thought, at least in the summer. Once the tourist season was over, though, he’d probably have to head to a few towns to make up his quota. I could just leave him, he thought, he’d be all right. He thought about that for a full day, until it occurred to him that Aziraphale wouldn’t keep in contact. He’d be all over the place, walking round, and it was just no good suggesting he get a mobile phone. Crowley could get in trouble if he had to report he didn’t know where Heaven’s agent was hiding. And of course the Arrangement would go to pot. No, he decided, abandoning Aziraphale would be a bad idea.
Of course, it was hard not to abandon Aziraphale when he would insist on meandering off the path, stopping to examine flowers, or slugs or droppings. It was like he was planning to audition for a low budget nature-programme, Crowley thought, turning to see where Aziraphale had got to.
“Aziraphale! Come on!” he yelled.
The angel looked up from his latest find, peered at him through the evening twilight and waved cheerfully. Crowley grinned and took a step back. Let him run to catch up, it would be good for him. His foot slipped on the damp grass, and he felt his ankle turn under him. The pain was sharp, but nothing he couldn’t have healed with a moment’s thought. Sadly for him, his concentration was broken by falling over as he tried to compensate and put his weight on his other foot. With nothing more than a sense of surprise - at least at first - Crowley found himself sliding more and more rapidly down a very steep slope. Behind him he could hear Aziraphale shouting his name.
He came to a rest against an outcropping of rock. To be accurate, he thought muzzily, he had cunningly broken his fall by hitting it with his head. There was something he had meant to do, but he could no longer remember what it was. He had rather a bad headache, and he wanted a little nap. He felt quite warm and comfy as he closed his eyes.
There was a loud slithery noise and someone calling him. He opened one eye to find Aziraphale crouched over him, breathless and looking sillier than usual.
“Hello,” he said dopily.
“Idiot! Moron! Twit!” Aziraphale said, putting a hand on his forehead.
The muzzy feeling vanished and he felt much colder. He sat up, frowning at the patch of blood on the rock. That would have been an embarrassing way to go. It would have been even more embarrassing to have continued rolling down into the lake beneath. His ankle didn’t hurt any more, and in fact had the sort of cool tingly feeling that meant Aziraphale had been at work on it. Crowley looked up the hill and whistled. He was glad he hadn’t had time to register how steep it was on the way down.
“How’d you get down here?” he asked.
“I slid, and climbed where I had to. You idiot, why didn’t you look where you were going? You could have been killed. You almost were.”
Crowley brushed that aside with a nonchalant wave of his hand, then stopped to think. The light wasn’t good at all, and Aziraphale couldn't see in the dark. The angel had clambered down a slope he must have barely been able to see. Crowley felt worried and then enraged by the thought.
“Forget me, you’re an idiot for coming down here in this light. Are you insane?”
“Well if I was able to fly I would have been down to you quicker and safer. I’m so sorry I bothered,” Aziraphale snapped.
“Why didn’t you become a bloody owl, or something?” Crowley said.
“My first instinct was not to turn into something with a taste for mice,” Aziraphale said coldly. “Why didn’t you turn into a bird and save me the trouble?”
Crowley opened his mouth and then shut it again. He thought back to the feeling of his foot going, the fall starting. Useless instincts, he thought.
“Because my first instinct was to open my wings and fly,” he said slowly.
As he said it he felt something go inside him. He’d never actually believed his wings were gone, he realised. He had thought they’d be there when he needed them, would bear him up into the sky where he belonged. Stupid, stupid. They hadn’t saved him from falling. He stamped down hard on the thought. Aziraphale was looking at him closely.
“You’re crying,” Aziraphale said.
“Wind in my eyes,” Crowley said, suddenly very tired. “That’s all.”
“I flew over the Sahara once, at noon,” Aziraphale said softly. “The sky was a pale, pale blue, and the desert was almost white. I was the only living creature, the only moving thing. I was flying at top speed, but it was as if I wasn’t moving at all. It was like -- I felt -- I almost thought --,” he faltered. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said.
He wrapped his arms round himself and began to cry. Crowley looked away. He should materialise a new pair of sunglasses, he thought. They’d stop the blessed wind from getting in his eyes. He buried his face in his hands and shook with loss.
* * *
They sat, quiet at last, on the hill top. Crowley sneaked looks at Aziraphale every so often, but the angel always seemed fully occupied staring up into the sky. Crowley wondered if he were looking for other angels, or simply observing the stars. The sky was lightening when Aziraphale finally spoke.
“We should go back to London,” he said. “Or to some place else with people. We’re neglecting our work.”
His voice was sad but calm. Crowley peered at him sidelong.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “I’m all right. You?”
They were silent again. Aziraphale's face was peaceful, Crowley thought. The angel seemed to have achieved a balanced calm. Crowley immediately felt the need to pick away at him.
“Nice flying weather,” he said.
“Yes. It would be.”
Crowley was sorry he’d said anything so petty, seeing how the calm expression hadn’t changed. Aziraphale deserved better, he thought and considered how he might subtly apologise.
“Your wings were always a mess,” he said in a friendly, joking tone. “At least you don’t have to worry about grooming them any more.”
Aziraphale gave him a vaguely exasperated look, then shook his head in some private amusement.
“I didn’t have anyone to do them for me,” he said.
Crowley nodded. It was hard to do your own wings, and angels groomed each others’. The ghost of a memory floated up, the feel of someone’s fingers raking through his feathers, him laughing over his shoulder at something. He couldn’t remember why he’d laughed, or the face or name of the angel grooming him. It was quite gone. His own wings had always been perfectly groomed since he’d fallen. No sensible demon would let another at his unguarded back. Demons used brushes and combs, and had well-groomed wings. Angels used their fingers and didn’t look so neat. They had friends, though. He put a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder.
“I’d have done them for you,” he said.
Aziraphale gave him a grateful smile, and reached over to take his other hand.
“And I’d have done yours,” he said.
“Thank you,” Crowley said.
He smiled, mainly to himself. This had been quite a painless apology.
“We didn’t appreciate them,” Aziraphale said.
“We didn’t. We walked, or used your car all the time. Maybe that’s why we lost them. We miss them now they’re gone, but we never appreciated them when we had them.”
“Humans write songs about that insight, Aziraphale. Am I going to hear you on the radio?”
Aziraphale smiled, and squeezed his hand tightly.
“I appreciate your friendship, Crowley,” he said. “I don’t want to lose that. You’re a good fellow.”
Crowley snorted and readied a stinging reply. He paused. There was no one else to hear, and he would be sorry to lose his drinking partner. And the Arrangement, of course. He patted the angel’s shoulder.
“I like you too,” he said, just a touch of mockery in his voice.
He felt rather odd as he said it, and had a very strong sense of deja vu. He shook it off as meaningless, and patted Aziraphale’s shoulder again, getting another squeeze on his hand in reply. Good old Aziraphale, not such a bad sort, for an angel.
The sky was very bright now, and wisps of cloud hung palely over them. The light filled the valley beneath them and sparkled off the waters of the lake. This is the day, Crowley thought, not letting himself finish that thought.
“It’s going to be a beautiful day. This is a beautiful world,” he said. “We should be glad of it.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, smiling at him without reservation. “Oh, yes.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *