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Serpent Delivery

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"No, my dear, Rand was not advocating for the dissolving of all government," Aziraphale said as he scooped a last bit of crème brûlée into his mouth.

The demon across the table only scoffed and slouched back in his seat. "Seems like the logical conclusion to draw after reading about her going on about how no one owes anything to anyone else."

Aziraphale merely smiled and wiped his mouth daintily. "I talked to her about that once. We went out for lunch, and I told her individuality was lovely, but we have a duty to protect and aid our fellow man."

"Fellow man, hmm?"

"It's merely an expression."

"How did she take that?"

Aziraphale winced. "She gave me quite a lot of points to the contrary and stuck me with the bill."

Crowley laughed and snagged a book off an adjacent table. "I think I would have liked her."

"Please clean your hands first," Aziraphale said anxiously. "I believe those are first editions."

The angel and demon were dining at home this evening. Home these days was a surprisingly spacious and luxurious apartment on the third level above Aziraphale's bookshop. The neighbors had been puzzled two decades prior as they could not recall the building having an additional level to it, but the bricks had looked as old as the rest of the building, so they certainly had been mistaken in their recollection. They were additionally puzzled by the rooftop garden which sprang up shortly after, housing a collection of very confused houseplants who grew frantically under dire threats that they'd be relegated to the cellar if they didn't comply.

The apartment was a curious blend of old and new, frequently scattered with books and scrolls dating well back into the BCs. The book in Crowley's hand only dated back to 1919 AD, but it was autographed by the author, which certainly helped its value. It, and the small collection of pulp novels sitting on the side table, had not been there that morning. But the afternoon had brought a brief visit from a certain young man once known as the 'Great-Beast-That-Is-Called-The-Dragon' but who now preferred his students call him 'Mr. Young'. And whenever he stopped in for a visit, a few stray comic books and pulp novels seemed to wander in to make their home in Aziraphale's ever-growing collection.

It had been some twenty years since the botched apocalypse. Aziraphale and Crowley considered it the best thing which had ever happened to them. In Crowley's case, Hell seemed to have decided he was an embarrassment best forgotten and had largely left him alone. Aziraphale heard rarely from his office, though occasionally he was still sent off on some errand of mercy or another. Mostly the pair had been able to quietly live their lives, spreading the occasional burst of goodness (or annoyance) into a world too busy with its own problems to really notice a little extra celestial or demonic influence.

They'd been relieved on a few occasions to have the antichrist living within driving distance of Soho. When a horde of heavenly hosts had clattered through London in search of an errant fallen angel, Crowley and Aziraphale had quietly nipped off to Tadfield, taking advantage of their sheer strength of Adam's aura to mask their own.

The second time they'd pulled that stunt, Adam had come looking for them, fully aware of their presence within his radar. He said it seemed to him that if they were going to take advantage of him, they ought to at least stop by the house for a proper 'hello'. And bring a brand of krisps from London which even the antichrist could not convince a set-in-her-ways grocer to carry.

Crowley and Aziraphale had visited once a year after that to see how their 'godson' was getting along. They always brought what Aziraphale referred to as 'gifts for the dear boy' and Crowley called, 'tributes to their overlord'. Whichever was right, Adam was relatively benign in his tyranny over supernatural influence in whatever region he considered his.

Adam had moved out of Tadfield after fifteen years of perfect weather had started making too many people suspicious. He'd been reading a great number of stories about the adventures a boy could get up to in boarding school, and a spot abruptly opened up for him at an ideal school for just the right sort of mischief. There'd been a subsequent number of stories in the paper about a friendly gang of boys catching a bank robber hiding out in their school, and a perfect record for the rugby team, despite a wacky series of misadventures regarding reaching every gaming event on time. Crowley just said they were lucky he hadn't been reading boarding school stories involving owls.

Once he'd moved on to the university, and from there decided to spend a few years traveling abroad, Crowley and Aziraphale had seen less of him. He'd stopped in unexpectedly this afternoon to say he was taking a teaching position in Wales. Aziraphale, who was very stuffy and very English, had muttered some choice things about how Wales wasn’t fit for anything except sheep. Crowley, who remembered far too many legends, was worried what Adam's overactive imagination might conjure. But they'd smiled, wished him well, and Crowley was a little relieved that the novels on the table had more to do with an American's adventures on Mars than Merlin or Gwydion.

The angel and demon had wondered on many occasions what was to happen to the son of the Great Adversary, but as neither of their respective offices seemed to have anything to say on the subject, they'd at last concluded Adam was simply being allowed to live his very human (albeit slightly extraordinary) life. Adam didn't get involved in any supernatural matters, and no one suggested he should. The apocalypse had ended with one more, very unique, human in the world, and that was it. Aziraphale suggested they get on with their lives and not think about it too much, a sentiment to which Crowley wholeheartedly agreed.

Crowley wiped his hands with exaggerated care before flipping through the book. He'd tease Aziraphale about his love of books, certainly. But if pushed too hard, one of them would end up on the couch for the night, and Crowley was very addicted to snuggling. Especially on a night like this which was threatening rain.

"I think at least one might be a duplicate of one I picked up at auction," Aziraphale hummed as he collected the dishes. They were clean by the time he arrived in the kitchen. He began stacking them back in the cupboards.

Crowley opened the book to its first chapter. "'In the shadows of the forest that flanks the crimson plain by the side of the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor,'" he read aloud. "'Beneath the hurtling moons of Mars, speeding their meteoric way close above the bosom of the dying planet, I crept stealthily along the trail of a shadowy form...'"

"Wait until I'm done, my dear!" Arizaphale called. "I can't enjoy it properly from here."

"Did you ever meet Burroughs?" Crowley asked, wandering from the table to the overstuffed sofa taking up a large portion of the living room. He'd never admit it, but he quite liked the old and comfortable furniture pieces Aziraphale had found to replace his modern and rather pointy ones. Especially the sofa. Many were the nights one of them sat reading aloud with the other's head propped comfortably in their lap. Crowley enjoyed the angel's fingers absently grooming his hair almost as much as he enjoyed playing with Aziraphale's curls. He settled down, leafing through the book in search of pictures.

"An American pulp novelist?" Aziraphale scoffed. "Really. I was far too busy in that century with other matters to hunt down the author of Tarzan." He said the name as if it was a bad word.

Crowley smiled and leaned his head back. His eyes sank closed as he listened to Aziraphale prattle about Willa Cather, although he wasn't sure what had brought her to the angel's mind. It occurred to him that he was happy. Happier than he deserved to be considering the life he'd led. But happy none the less. Maybe after 6,000 years on Earth, he was finally feeling a little old, but he couldn't think of anything he'd rather do for the rest of his existence but try out new dessert recipes to tempt the love of his life, and cuddle on this couch with the being he cared more about than any other in all creation. Maybe he was getting soft. He hadn't even threatened a houseplant in months. He smiled sleepily and thought he wouldn't particularly mind going soft.

Dimly he heard Aziraphale calling that he wanted to check something in his collection as he headed downstairs. Crowley settled deeper into the couch and tried to scold himself into staying awake until Aziraphale returned. Maybe just a short...

"YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE! GO HOME!"

The voice came from somewhere across the sea, and from Down Below, and from within Crowley's mind. He leaped fully awake, extending his wings in immediate instinct to flee, but it was far too late for that. More than 6,000 years and a lengthy Fall from grace too late. There was One Voice, One Being's command Crowley simply couldn't escape. He flailed and clung to his current plane of reality with all his demonic might, but in an instant, he was gone.

~

"I found it!" Aziraphale announced as he came through the apartment door, a novel in hand. "I already have 'The Gods of Mars'. I suppose I can always sell one of them. This is a bookstore after all, and I should keep up appearances. What do you think... Crowley? Where are you?"

Aziraphale stood staring at the empty couch. Crowley disappearing on a whim was nothing strange. But the odd scent of ozone and sulfur wafting in the air filled him with terrible dread. The angel turned a circle, reached for the phone, and realized with a sinking feeling that there was absolutely no one he could call in regards to a missing demon. Adam didn't get involved in supernatural matters, and the witch-finder army didn't extend its hunts to demons, if the army even still existed. And Aziraphale couldn't imagine the questions he'd get if he lit a candle and asked if anyone Up Above knew what had just happened. Because there was a lingering sense that SOMETHING had just happened.

He climbed up to the rooftop garden and stood among the plants, trying to dispel the feeling of utter tragedy clinging around him. But angels were too sensitive to these sort of things. Crowley was missing, and Aziraphale had a terrible sense of foreboding for what the absence meant.