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Signs and Archangels' Trumps

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Crowley liked to say that lying was an art, and, like most artists, tended to describe that art in loving detail until people's eyes glazed over or they began making excuses about having to be somewhere else.1 The long and short of it, however, was that Crowley preferred half-lies when he was tempting, the kind with just enough truth to sound completely honest and just enough to hurt and prod someone into committing even more sins.

After the Incident, however, the lies Crowley prepared for Below hadn't had a whiff of truth to them. They were along the lines of, "No, lord, I wasn't trying to prevent the Apocalypse, I was trying to make certain the angel didn't botch things up," and "Yes, lord, the world not ending was rather a disappointment."  It took him some time2 to realize that Below didn't seem keen on mentioning the Incident to him or even on hunting him down. He supposed any mention of the Apocalypse being cancelled due to a lack of interest on the part of the Antichrist WAS rather embarrassing, but still, he'd expected some sort of retribution for mucking things up. And by 'some sort,' he meant something exceedingly painful and unfortunate. 

It wasn't until Crowley saw Hastur scurrying along a side street in London that he realized there might have been another reason Below hadn't questioned him or even hunted him down: they could have been slightly busy planning yet ANOTHER Armageddon, or at least something that meant Trouble.3 With a sort of sinking feeling in his gut, Crowley followed Hastur down the street and into a nearby graveyard.

He wasn't exactly surprised to see Hastur and Forcas (Duke of Hell and apparently the late, unlamented Ligur's replacement) bend over a basket and squint at its contents after exchanging the usual unpleasantries. 

"Really going to America this time?" Hastur said, voice echoing through the graveyard, and Forcas bobbed his head. When he spoke, his voice was creaky, the volume of it rising and falling abruptly, as though he'd only just received this body and hadn't quite figured out the whole concept of vocal chords. 

"Yes. Our lord decided THAT would be best after WHAT happened last TIME.... Keep away from PLACES like LOWER TADFIELD--" Forcas shuddered briefly, like the name of the town tasted blessedly awful on his split tongue. "--and from any lot who MIGHT interfere. And I'm to SWITCH the babes myself." 

"So it's off to America," Hastur said with dark satisfaction as Crowley inwardly winced. Apparently Below had heard the human saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" and twisted it into their own, terrible use. 

"Off to Los Angeles," agreed Forcas.

There was a pause at this, and then Hastur said, horrified, "The City of ANGELS?" 

"It's just its name!" Forcas protested, though even he sounded uneasy. "City's supposed to be as glorious as SODOM4, I was told." He peered at the bundle for one more moment, and then said, "Well, I'm off then. Got to CATCH something called a plane." 

"Ah, that's a horseless carriage that can fly, I hear," Hastur said wisely, nodding. "Go on with you then. All hail Satan."

"All hail SATAN," Forcas answered, and then tromped off with the baby. Crowley almost pitied whoever would be on that plane with the demon and what was apparently the Antichrist 2.0. It would no doubt be an unpleasant flight, in the way that having a root canal or your foot amputated was unpleasant. 

Almost pitied, because one, Crowley didn't do pity, and two, he was busy slinking back to the Bentley and wondering if he could manage to follow Forcas to America without getting caught.5 And also how quickly he could get over to Aziraphale's shop once he'd figured out the newest little Antichrist's full name and address. 

**

**

"What are we going to do?" Aziraphale asked, brow furrowed. "And you're absolutely sure that Hell didn't tell you anything about it?" 

"I don't blessed know, and no, I definitely would remember if Hell mentioned there was going to be a second Antichrist," snapped Crowley, scowling into his drink. "They're keeping me out of the loop, I suppose, since I was part of the Incident. Probably think I'll botch this job too. Though it isn't like I'm going to interfere--" Well, he wasn't going to be OBVIOUS about it at least, that was certain. Maybe just...find someone who could handle this with minimal fuss and prevent this second go at the end of the world without raising too many eyebrows. 

Like a certain Antichrist (retired).    

Crowley slowly began to smile, a half-relieved, half-dangerous grin that didn't diminish even when Aziraphale shot him a worried look. 

**

**

A few days later, a postcard arrived at a certain house in a certain town, the mailman dropping it into the mailbox with a shrug and single curious look. The postcard had a map of Los Angeles on it, with a certain suburb circled in red, and the words "Perhaps you'd enjoy a trip to America. The city of Los Angeles has someone you really ought to meet!" penned in a heavenly script that made Mrs. Young long to try her hand at calligraphy.

"Who do we know in America?" she asked, frowning at the postcard, and Mr. Young snorted. 

"No one. Just someone trying to sell us something," he declared, and promptly threw the postcard away. 

Neither of them noticed that when the trash collector came round, the postcard was no longer in the trash. 

**

**

Three weeks later, another postcard arrived. This one's cover was blank, except for the bit where someone had written in a name and an address that, had any of the denizens of Lower Tadfield known anything about Los Angeles, would have been recognized as the richest street in the city. On the back, next to Adam's name and address, was another scribbled message, this one in barely discernible writing that would have made an English teacher weep and which managed to produce an aura of desperation and urgency. "You ought to visit this fellow, especially within the next ten years. Really." 

**

**

"I think he's ignoring us," Crowley said, after the fifth postcard went unanswered and Adam still made no move toward America. "Why is he ignoring us?" 

"Maybe we need to make it clearer?" Aziraphale offered doubtfully. "Something like: 'Dear Adam Young, your half-brother the new Antichrist is going to cause some trouble in a few years and possibly destroy the world. Since you stopped the end of the world before, we thought you could do something about it again. Sincerely, some concerned friends.' As long as we don't put our names, we wouldn't be, er, directly interfering." He trailed off, shoulders slumping-- angels weren't very good at lying, after all, and even after centuries around Crowley, Aziraphale still hadn't mastered it, or the art of wriggling around the rules.  

"He knows what's going on," Crowley said. "He has to. He's just not DOING anything about it." He felt offended at this on a deep personal level as well as a more superficial one. What good was a retired Antichrist if he didn't step up and prevent more apocalypses? And why wouldn't Adam want to stop his little brother from breaking Earth? He hadn't wanted the Earth to be destroyed three, four (or was it five?) years ago, surely he hadn't changed his mind about it. 

"I think we're going to have to visit Lower Tadfield," he concluded glumly, and then shoved a box of chocolates across to Aziraphale. Angels and demons might not have endorphins to soothe, but there was something to be said for the whole placebo effect. Besides, Crowley consoled himself, he was only helping to contribute to the destruction of the rain forest with each bite of cocoa. 

They both nibbled on chocolate and tried to steel themselves for the meeting. 

"Besides," Crowley said after a long pause, licking the last of the chocolate from his fingers, "there's only a very small chance he'll do something horrible to us." 

"Oh, he wouldn't! He likes us," Aziraphale protested. 

"Liked," corrected Crowley. "Humans have a tendency to change their minds, or haven't you noticed? He liked us when he was ten and telling everybody to stop it with the whole Armageddon business. He might not like us now. He might WANT Armageddon."

"He doesn't," Aziraphale said firmly, but with a slight edge that Crowley recognized. It was the one Aziraphale got on rare occasions when someone (most times humans but occasionally demons or Crowley) had messed things up enough that Aziraphale was fighting not to see any flaws in that so-called ineffable plan of God's. 

For once, though, Crowley was too worried to try and tempt him into following that line of thinking to its conclusion.   

**

**

The former Antichrist was sitting on his front steps when they arrived, like he'd been expecting them. Crowley rather thought he had, because he didn't look surprised to see them and said only, "I've got some tea on. It'll be ready in a moment." Adam looked older, even Crowley could see that, taller and with the long, thin arms and legs of someone who'd woken up and found themselves sporting a few extra centimeters seemingly overnight. He had to be, what, fifteen by now, old enough to be tempted into looking at girls and the like. 

Not that Crowley would tempt him, that is. Centuries building up a sense of self-preservation told him he wouldn't like to try and tempt Adam into anything. After all, Satan had tried the same thing with Jesus (Crowley winced just thinking about the name) and look how Satan's luck had been going ever since, failed Apocalypse and all. 

Adam's mouth twitched into something resembling a smile, like he knew what Crowley was thinking.6 "Have some tea," he said, ushering them both inside. Then he looked hard at Aziraphale and added cheerfully, "Oh, they won't be home for ages yet, plenty of time to talk." 

"Thank you," Aziraphale said, accepting the cup of tea with hands that didn't quite shake, but obviously wanted to. Crowley tried not ignore the fact that his hands were doing much the same thing, clasping the tea cup very, very carefully. 

Adam let them both sip a bit at their tea before he spoke. "You'll be wanting to talk about this new Antichrist," he said, and Crowley very nearly choked on his tea. "I'll spare you some time. I'm not doing anything about him."

"Nothing?" Aziraphale said. "But he might--" 

"Break the world?" Adam shrugged. "Maybe. I reckon he should have the choice, same as I did." Then his eyes narrowed, and he was looking at them with eyes that burned too bright in his human face, and using a voice that didn't match his lanky, youthful frame. "Course, he isn't getting that same choice, is he? Your lots are going to be talking to him, trying to get him to start Armageddon like I didn't. All I had was humans, talking to me and living with me and teaching me 'bout how the world isn't perfect, but it's not terrible either. I reckon he won't get a Brian or a Wensley or a Pepper, to show him that, just an angel and a demon sitting on each shoulder." 

Crowley and Aziraphale both squirmed in their seats. "Probably," Aziraphale agreed. 

Adam sat back, looking satisfied, and Crowley felt something twist unhappily in his chest. Why did Adam look like he'd just won the argument? "Exactly," he said. "Which is why you two ought to let him have them. Well, not THEM them, but an American Them. Let him be human, let him make the choice on his own, without Heaven or Hell telling him to do anything." 

Crowley stared for a moment, stunned enough that his self-preservation briefly faltered, enough for him to snap, hissing in his excitement, "That'ssss a blessed sssstupid idea! What if he wantssss to end the world?" 

"He won't, if he gets the same chance as me," Adam said matter-of-factly. "Let him be human, and he'll choose the humans." 

"Just because YOU did doesn't mean he will! Just-- ssstop him! Take away his powers, he's still little, you can do it!" Actually, Crowley had no idea what Adam could or couldn't do, but it sounded like a better plan than letting the new Antichrist possibly destroy the world. "Or, or talk to him when he's older, tell him all about how blessed great Earth is and why he shouldn't destroy it." When Adam just kept looking at him, Crowley said in a voice that cracked on the last word, "I thought you wanted Earth sssafe!" 

Adam stood up, and something...shifted. Suddenly he was taller, and his eyes were even brighter, so that it hurt to look at them. "That's not fair," he said, and his voice was the quiet tone that people used when they were about to start throwing things. In Adam's case, it might be lightning bolts, and Crowley resisted the urge to slither away as Adam kept talking. "Earth isn't MY responsibility. It isn't, no matter what you say. I said no to being the Antichrist, that means I don't get a say anymore. I chose humans, and so I get a human life. Well, as close to one as possible."

He paused, and then shot Crowley a pointed look that felt a bit like a lightning bolt hitting him between the eyes. "Besides, who's been around since the Beginning?"

"Er," Aziraphale said awkwardly, and those bright eyes turned towards him. "If you want to be specific, none of us were, only God. But we, that is, Crowley and I, were there fairly soon afterwards, with the Rebellion and the bit with the Tree of Knowledge, but I don't see how you think--"

"You two have been on Earth since the first humans," said Adam. "Nobody else has stuck around here half as long. If anyone's going to be good at distracting Heaven and Hell and letting this new Antichrist learn about the world, it'll be you two." He nodded, half to himself, half to them. "Let him be human." 

The command settled into Crowley's bones, or would have if he had bones. Immediately his mind started racing, thoughts tripping over themselves in their rush to create a plan that wouldn't leave the seas turned to blood and the sun blackened in a decade or so. Next to him, he heard Aziraphale sigh. 

"Just-- let him grow up human?" Aziraphale said. 

"Let him grow up human," Adam agreed. "Things will turn out right."

There was a long moment that seemed to stretch on forever, even though Crowley knew it was actually only a minute or two. Time had a funny way of stretching and bending in its own way, though. 

Then Aziraphale sighed, a resigned exhale, and looked over at Crowley with that familiar, earnest look he knew too well. "We have to try," the angel said, and then patted Crowley's arm. "Besides, if we succeed, then it was all part of God's plan, wasn't it?" 

"I suppose I have a FEW ideas," Crowley said slowly, and watched Aziraphale begin to smile. 

notes

"People" generally being Aziraphale, and "somewhere else" being very, very far away.

Meaning three years and two months, give or take a few days. Time had a tendency to creep up on immortals, smack them upside the head, and then bolt snickering in the opposite direction when they looked around.

This wasn't the reason Hell hadn't dealt with Crowley.

What actually happened: 

Somewhere in the depths of Hell, shortly after the Incident, a demon had blinked four eyes in surprise at the bright red stamped "PUNISHED" on Crowley's file and then shrugged and sorted it into the correct pile. And somewhere else, Adam had smiled and gone back to scratching Dog behind the ears.

Hell had most of the composers. They also had most of the actors, directors, studio producers, writers, and even a good portion of the costume designers. 

Yes, he could, although it meant sitting in third class and having to convince the stewardess that he was actually in first class and really would like that whiskey and salmon, ta.

He did. Over the years since the Incident, Adam had tried not to use his powers too often, but sometimes people thought too loudly for him to block out. And Crowley thought VERY loudly.