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Not Too Late

Chapter Text

                The history of humanity was shaped by rebellion.

                Well, several rebellions. Lots of them. Okay, lots and lots of rebellions, spread out over thousands of years, led by thousands of people across the whole wide world.

                But if you go back to the very Beginning, it was one rebellion in particular that really set things in motion.

                No. Not that one.

                A little while after That One, another, seemingly tinier rebellion took place. One angel was about to break an order and change history. After the Serpent had slithered into the Garden, rules had already been made more brittle. Rebellion became possible in Heaven with the first fall of the angels, and now it had spread to Earth, the little green marble floating through space that was about to experience a whole lot of things it had never experienced before. The first promise had been broken. History, a list of bent rules and ignored orders that would extend through all time, was being unfurled. Through the midst of it all humanity would have just a bit of help, a nudge here and there, and, at the end of it all, there were two beings who would be frantically trying to ensure that it would not, in fact, be the end of much of anything, not if they could very well help it. The first seed of the corruption of humanity had been sown. One misbehaving angel was about to plant the seed of its salvation.

                No. Not that angel.

 

                The Guardian of the Western Gate of Paradise on Earth had been having rather a rough time of it. It was that bloody Serpent’s fault, he thought. If it hadn’t been for him, he could be eating figs or something. Instead his ears were still ringing from the hours of chastisement he’d just received in Heaven. No one technically knew which gate the Serpent had gotten through. That hadn’t stopped his higher-ups from giving him an earful, and although ears had only just been invented, the high-ranking angels were already proving very good at it. Still, it had to be better than being chastised by God himself*.

*This was a belief that higher-ups actively encouraged in religions across time and space. After all, higher-ups had to be for something, didn’t they?

                Now it was his turn to spread the message to the other angels stationed on Earth. He’d already done most of them. It was a simple set of rules, really. ‘Do not approach the humans unless given orders from Heaven.’ ‘Do not approach the Serpent.’ ‘Do not allow the humans back into the Garden of Eden.’ ‘Do not appear in a visual or physical manifestation on Earth unless you are explicitly told to do so.’ ‘I mean it, keep away from that bloody Serpent!’ All rather intuitive instructions.

                The angels were taking it well enough. Most of them found humans a bit funny anyway, and didn’t mind not having to talk to them. He’d done as he had been told and spread the message to every angel on Earth except one. That left only….

                Ugh. Aziraphale. Not that guy. So far he’d managed to avoid running into him here in the Garden. There was just something about the way he stared at you while you were talking, as though he already knew exactly what you were going to say and was planning his pedantic rebuttal five steps ahead. If he tried to spread Heaven’s words of warning to him, he’d probably end up being chastised all over again. ‘Now, you did make sure you never left your gate unattended, didn’t you? I’m sure I never did. They did tell us that the demons might be coming, and I’m sure if we had all listened, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now. Oh, I’m not blaming you, per se, I’m only pointing out that someone must have made a mistake, that’s all. It’s only logical.’ Of course, the Guardian of the Western Gate had never left his post, not even for a second. One couldn’t be too sure, though. The snake had to have gotten in somehow. That bloody Eastern Gate pain in the arse was the least likely person to have broken one of Heaven’s rules. Besides, where would he have had to go? And the Western Guardian did not relish the idea of talking to him after someone had made such a blunder. Talking to Aziraphale after someone had made a mistake was like being slapped repeatedly by the physical manifestation of the phrase ‘I told you so’.

                It’s hardly fair that I should be the one who has to pass on Heaven’s message to him, the angel thought. And then, because thinking ‘it’s hardly fair’ was a bit too close to a rebellion, he changed his thoughts to, It’s hardly necessary. I mean, what’s he gonna do? Go and chat with the humans about Heaven’s weaknesses? Tell them all about how some of the angels revolted and how disobeying Heaven’s orders is even a possibility? He’s not that stupid. He was so tired. The Earth wasn’t such a bad place, but it was harder to walk through than Heaven. The ground was too uneven. He had been walking all day. His feet felt heavy. His ears hurt. If he turned back now, he could make it back in time to watch the sunset from his own gate, all alone, in peace and quiet.

                The Guardian of the Western Gate frowned towards the East. He just wanted to go home. The figs were calling to him.

                He sniffed, then turned on his heel, and, whistling, marched back in the other direction. After all, what could go wrong? The rules are so obvious. It’s not like he’s going to go and have a chat with the bloody Serpent.

 

                At least, that was what should have happened. The Guardian of the Western Gate would commit his one and only offense against Heaven, which would go unknown forever. Heaven never checked up on the field agents to see if they were following the rules. They had assumed that if one of them had come into contact with the Serpent, they would know about it. The poor angel would probably end up seduced to the path of evil and would attempt to lead a rebellion against Heaven from Earth this time.

                Six millennia later, they had forgotten all about it.

                Thus was the beginning of the story we all know and love.

 

                But, a small rip in time and space appears, and reality is distorted, just one tiny bit. Just enough to make a butterfly go ‘oh, shit, a rip in time and space!’ and fly away before he is stepped on and crushed, to live a long and happy life instead.

                The angel headed for the figs.

                Then, he sighed, and turned back. It was no use. He was no rule-breaker. He would just have to keep walking until he reached Aziraphale’s gate and tell him the news. These rules were too important to go untold.

                So in this universe….

                By the time the Serpent slithered by later that day Aziraphale was long gone.

 

                And so, for ages, the angel and the demon knew only the versions of each other that lived in their imaginations. Aziraphale knew of the Serpent’s many deeds. The snake must have known of Aziraphale—he was the only angel who had stayed on Earth for long after the expulsion from the Garden. He’d been stationed to guard against the Serpent, who Heaven knew was still loose and posed the greatest threat to humanity’s virtue. Aziraphale was the one they left to fight him.

                This was all either of them knew: they were one angel and one demon, left alone, away from their peers. Left to strive against each other until the end of time.

                They avoided each other as much as possible. They did have their jobs to do, but they preferred to conduct their battles at a distance. They never had any contact.

                Until one day. After a few thousand years of foiling each other’s divine or satanic plans from afar, Aziraphale found a sigil carved into an important rock.*

*Rocks were very important, in the early days.

The sigil was plainly evil. It would spread malevolent energies up to three villages away. Aziraphale had seen the likes of it before, carved by the Serpent, of course. He had destroyed them all. But the snake had outdone himself this time. It was huge, intricate, and precise.

                In one corner of the stone, there were some smaller carvings that appeared out of place. Aziraphale approached them, squinting.

                They said, “Blast it it took me ages to carve this here leave my bloody sigil up this time you blasted angel”.

                In an infernal dialect, of course. But infernal was quite close to ethereal, and Aziraphale could understand it, even if it had likely been written without the expectation that it would ever be read.

                He almost laughed.

                But no. This was war. This was Serious. He destroyed the sigil, leaving only shards of stone upon the ground.

                On one of them, he wrote, “’Leave my bloody sigil up this time you blasted angel’ is not a proper angel-warding spell.’”

                He left, smiling to himself, and wondering if the demon would ever see it.

 

                Hundreds of years passed.

                Aziraphale found a shrine to a pagan god that was a direct rebellion against the church he had just spent the last decade building. In the same city. On the shrine was a new sigil—one that made it impossible for an angel to touch. And in a language that used to be common but had died a century ago were the words, “Take that you feathered fool.”

 

                They went on like this for a while, leaving each other vexed messages, never knowing what each other actually looked like. It was similar to a modern relationship that had started online, except this was of course a relationship of enemies.

                 In Egypt, Aziraphale warned the people that if they were ever approached by a man who called himself ‘the Serpent’, they should not listen to his advice, but run away.

                An urchin boy passed on a message to him. “‘Call me Crowley’, he says.”

                Aziraphale sent back the message, “No.”

 

                Then there was the statue of the Roman martyr.

                “If you make martyrs of us we will only come back stronger" said the engraving. Then, in a very simple form of early writing that couldn’t even be recognized as writing anymore, at least by any mortal, at the bottom it said “That goes for you too, you Serpent.”

                All good and well, until it was finally seen a few decades later. The Roman Empire had adopted Christianity. The statue still stood. Aziraphale heard news that someone had put graffiti on it.

                “If you use your power to oppress others you are no longer martyrs.”

                That one got under his skin. It was clearly meant to stir up rebellion, which would lead to violence and suffering—the demon’s number one goal. He had put it somewhere he knew Aziraphale would see it, taunting him. And surely he must have known that it wasn’t Aziraphale’s doing that the humans here had gotten carried away with their religious fervor. They were mostly concerned with keeping their power, anyway; encouraging a revolt would only make matters worse. It was politicizing religion. Things like that only caused strife. That was probably exactly what the demon wanted. It was only too easy to make humans think the way to serve their faith was by politicizing it; Aziraphale tried to stay out of it. It happened anyway. That Serpent was clearly involving himself, and he was trying to trap Aziraphale into doing the same.

                He cleaned the statue, and wrote something else on it, neatly, near the old engraving.

                “Those true of faith will not oppress others, but be their salvation.”

                A few more years passed. The politics grew worse. Civil war broke out, the two factions each citing their faith as their divine reason for fighting. The city was destroyed. The statue was demolished, but when most of the fighting had ended, Aziraphale returned to his home to sense that a demonic presence had been there, and to find the old engraving, broken apart from the statue, by his door.

                “Those true of faith will not oppress others, but be their salvation.” The factions had claimed it was their religious duty to fight each other, to rid the other side of their treacherous beliefs so that the one true faith could cleanse them of their sins. Aziraphale threw the stone against the floor. As though he had meant the words like that! But that was what the Serpent did. He twisted things. He made good intentions appear bad, and bad appear good.

 

                They had no contact for a while after that.

 

                A few centuries later, Aziraphale was in Asia, trying to encourage the growing trend of movements that supported peace. They also tended to support self-denial. It was strange, then, when one of the monasteries reported high levels of obesity. “They just couldn’t figure out where all the food was coming from”, the head monks had explained sheepishly. “It was anonymously donated, tons of already prepared food kept showing up on their doorstep, encouraging all manner of gluttony and indulgence.”

                Aziraphale smiled. He had never much seen the advantage of asceticism. If this was the worst the demon could do, he was going to have to step up his game.

                He told the monks that they didn’t have to worry, and if they were really concerned about the food causing the members to neglect their duties, they could donate it to nearby villagers, who could certainly do with the extra.

 

                A few more centuries, and the angel was back in Europe. Religious factions were fighting again. There was also culture, music, stories, some even being written down or printed, trade, science, discovery—all things that were wonderfully distracting. Aziraphale had to admit he was less involved with the big picture things, like building churches and monasteries—those all seemed to turn upside down in the end, anyway, erupting into conflict almost every time. He suspected the Serpents’ doing. As for himself, he was taking a different approach. He found that the best way to benefit humanity seemed to be through the little things—a bless here, a miracle there. Promoting kindness and compassion as best he could. Plus, it would be a lot harder for the demon to thwart such a plan. It wasn’t as though he was going to go around causing minor irritations and promoting pettiness in retaliation.

                Then, mercantilism was invented, then the Industrial Revolution occurred, followed by rapid urbanization, pollution, lowered living standards, colonialism, and the sense in general that people had to live their lives working uncomfortably all day, and the notion that any form of diversion was most likely sinful, which, ironically, led to people caring a lot less whether what they were doing was morally corrupt or not. Aziraphale had to hand it to the snake on that one.

                He tried a few different campaigns, including the publication of a vast series of pamphlets encouraging people not to be taken in by the wiles of greed and envy, which, like ghastly serpents, would creep into the most virtuous of hearts and spread their poisons therewithin.

                This was met by an anonymous letter ‘to the author’ in which Aziraphale was informed, in oddly familiar handwriting, that “the bit about serpents was a low blow.”

                Aziraphale, in the next pamphlet series, mentioned in a postscript that “One would have to aim low to hit one who crawls upon the ground.”

                The next year a new anonymous publication was put out satirizing Aziraphale’s and others like it.

 

                One year, an article was published in a popular newspaper about the “depravity and dangers of modern theater”. Aziraphale received a copy of the article, cut out, in the mail. An attached note said, “If you’re behind this, you’re missing out.”

                Aziraphale almost laughed. He almost laughed fondly, in fact, but of course that warm feeling was not fondness at all, but rage for the battle that had been brewing between them for thousands of years.

 

                Well. It was almost time.