It started as a normal Monday morning. Celia Ross went to her little cubicle tucked in the back of the call center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she’d worked for the last three years. She answered calls, she filled out service requests and feedback forms. At some point that morning the thought occurred to her: I’m not meant to be here.
It was true she had initially taken the job to get her through grad school and planned it to be a stepping stone for next steps after receiving her MA in religious studies. However, she hadn’t quite gotten around to any other steps beyond those she took when she walked at the graduation ceremony. She’d grown comfortable here and, while she didn’t particularly like getting yelled at by customers and didn’t particularly enjoy the little white lies she was required to tell on a daily basis, she was kind and courteous and patient with the callers, which was more than could be said for Phil or Diedre, whom she could hear shouting on the phone multiple times a week. It wasn’t that she never lost her temper - she was known for throwing pens into a target she’d drawn on the back padded wall of her cube as well as taking brisk walks down the stairwell after a particularly trying call. She was, overall, as kind as one could be in the customer service industry and had a certain knack for the work.
The truth was, she was bored. She’d spent the last two years translating various religious documents, holding interviews with various individuals of a multitude of faiths, and had written what was more or less a thesis on belief in the United States. Answering phones for $13 an hour wasn’t cutting it anymore. And on this particular Monday - a cool morning in mid-June, Celia turned off her phone, cleaned out her cubicle, and quit her job.
It was as if something hidden that had been hibernating in her gut, in her heart, in her soul had woken up. By the end of the week, she’d packed up her apartment and given notice, sold or put in storage what she didn’t need, and bought a one-way ticket to London. She ignored the glimmers of anxiety that appeared about her budget and her life as she’d known it. But something was telling her everything would be fine, as soon as she crossed the Atlantic.
She messaged an old friend, Allyson, whom she hadn’t seen in years but who’d let her stay with her on vacations back when she’d been traveling during college. Allyson at least might give her an idea of where she could stay indefinitely, or point her in the direction of a hostel not filled with students and backpackers. By the time she’d arrived to the airport for her flight, Allyson had offered her the guest bedroom in her apartment and given her references of bookshops that might be looking for a specialist in used and antique books. One shop in particular jumped out at her: A.Z. Fell and Co: Antiquarian and Unusual Books.
That name is familiar, Celia thought. Why do I know that name?
She sent a brief message to Allyson about the shop, just as they were closing doors for the flight. Perhaps they’d visited it on one of Celia’s past trips.
Haven’t been there, Allyson replied. I hear it’s fantastic but has odd hours. Owner is rather secretive and an incredible collector. Worth a look?
Yes, definitely, Celia replied.
Something about it was still odd about the name of the shop. Celia couldn’t shake it, even as sleep began to overtake her on the international flight.
At the same time in London, a certain angel was waiting for the kettle to boil, surveying his bookshop. It had grown a bit cluttered of late, as Crowley had been spending move evenings visiting the shop, drinking fine wine and dining on whatever cuisine Aziraphale had a particular hankering for at the moment.
“You know, angel,” Crowley had said to him the other night, sipping a fine Merlot Aziraphale had gotten at some point in the early 19th century, “a lot on this earth has changed since Adam - Tadfield Adam, not the other one - yet I’m here still waiting for… what is that human phrase… something about waiting for it to drop... point is, I’m nervous.”
“Nervous? Why?” Aziraphale refilled Crowley’s glass.
“It’s been quiet. Too quiet. I’d expect Heaven and Hell to step back and lick their wounds for a bit but.... It’s more like the calm before the storm. Something’s brewing.”
“What, do you think?”
Crowley narrowed his bright yellow eyes as he thought.
“Waiting for the shoe to drop… that’s the phrase.”
“Right. And what exactly are you expecting to drop, other than metaphorically?”
“Dunno,” Crowley curled his lip. “Something nasty, I suspect. They won’t play the Antichrist card again. It’ll be something we won’t see coming. A bolt from the blue.”
“You do you like your aphorisms,” Aziraphale sighed.
“You heard from that lot of saintly stuck-ups since the Switch?”
“No. Not exactly…”
A few months back, Aziraphale and Crowely had switched faces to prevent Heaven and Hell from destroying them (Crowley by holy water, Aziraphale by demon fire). They hadn’t spoken of it much since but Aziraphale noted that Crowley felt a stronger hatred for Gabriel and the other archangels since then. A level of hatred which made Aziraphale wondered what exactly Gabriel had said in what he believed to be the “incompetant” angel’s last moments.
“What is not exactly?” Crowley’s eyes went dark.
“Um… well I did get a note.”
Aziraphale rummaged through a pile of paper. “I know it’s somewhere… no, not that one… ahah!” He dug out a pristine sheet so white it nearly glowed.
“Dear Traitor,” he read. ““We prefer to correspond with you by letter due to the tainted nature of our relationship. Until further notice, we have no need of your services. Continue to stay out of our way and we will stay out of yours. We have work we are doing on Earth and under no circumstances do we want you involved in it. Should you need us, you know where to find us. You had better not need us. Gabriel and Company.”
“Ugh, Gabriel and Company.” Crowley grimaced. “Sounds like an awful boy band.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by boy band. Isn’t Queen a boy band?”
Crowley choked. “Absolutely not!” he nearly screamed. “No, it’s the principal of the thing. It’s about the style and the artistry and… and… how have you been on this earth this long and not been able to distinguish boy bands from Queen?”
“I suppose I’ll need someone to educate me, won’t I?” Aziraphale winked. Crowley looked flushed enough to burst into flames.
“Er… boy bands aside, why would they tell you that they’re doing if they don’t want you involved?”
“Many reasons. To flout how disposable I am. To show their disdain and anger. Or… perhaps to lure me back? Perhaps they think I’ll try to prove myself to gain back in their good favors.”
“It’s a trap, then?”
“I mean… unless they believe I’m redeemable.”
“Do you want that, angel?”
Aziraphale studied Crowley. Redemption sounded nice - on the surface. But he had moved far beyond any possibility of that - not just with Gabriel but with himself. It wasn’t anything he wanted anymore. In fact, the less he dealt with “Gabriel and Company’s” idea of good and evil, the better off he was. Besides, any kind of redemption with Gabriel met never seeing Crowley again and that was unthinkable.
“No,” Aziraphale said. “No, I don’t believe I do. I can’t want it anymore. Not… not knowing how they would just throw this whole world away. Destroy all these people… I… I keep thinking about how wonderful a boy Adam is and how… how once he didn’t serve a purpose they don’t care anymore. Lucky him, he gets to live a happy life with his friends and his dog. But what about the other people Heaven and Hell have given up on?”
“Look at you - doubting and asking questions about the Great Plan. Whatever could have happened to you?”
“You did,” Aziraphale answered impulsively. That shut up Crowley for a good bit.
Now, days later, the question was still haunting him. Despite the avoidance of Armageddon and a new sense of hope in the air, there was still a heaviness that seemed to cling to certain things. There were books that weightier than before. Certain streets felt darker and certain voices - those on the radio calling for certain demands to be met and certain people to be sent out of the country - had a painfully piercing tone. A human had once called Aziraphale an empath and, in human terms, that was probably correct. Aziraphale sensed emotion on a higher physical level - in terms of touch and sound, sight and smell. And on the rare occasion, taste. Perhaps that was what made him such a gourmand - to be able to actually taste the love someone put into food was a rare experience indeed.
There was another fear he had - something that was difficult to put words to. These meetings with Crowley had continued despite the absence of the Apocalypse, but a lingering concern remained that these dinners around town and afternoons at the park would cease now that neither one sought out the other for information or covert operations. However, Crowley continued to invite Aziraphale out for dinner and Aziraphale did likewise. He certainly hoped they’d established a sort of routine now. He couldn’t imagine his days without rendezvous with Crowley.
Something indeed was changing - Crowley was right about that. What exactly it was, they would simply have to wait and see.