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an unauthorised testament

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[1] Athens, Greece. 401 BC

Crowley strode across the gleaming gymnasium. Greece, urgh. He should have known.

He wasn’t a big fan of the whole aesthetic here. Lots of big open spaces and brightly lit squares, worryingly few shady corners for tempting the odd individual into acts of dubious morality. This building was no exception to that. Open to the sky, the bright sunlight pooled on the polished white marble, lighting everything with the sort of otherworldly shine that made him long for the invention of sunglasses.

He’d looked ahead. He knew what was coming.

The men were equally polished, their skin a burnished bronze as they rubbed each other down in oil and lounged around, occasionally interrupting their hard work with a laconic bit of discus play. It was just as homoerotic as it sounds. Those that had bothered with clothes wore various loose and flowing bits of white fabric wrapped around their hips. Next to them Crowley couldn’t help but feel like the eponymous crow, stalking through them in his dark and rather voluminous himation. He changed his walk, including a large percentage more hip movement.

They were giving him uneasy looks now. Good.

Aziraphale was easy to spot amongst these dark-skinned warriors. Even with his wings hidden, he stuck out: his skin was a little more golden than the last time Crowley had seen him, but still more of a marble than a bronze. He also seemed to have decided not to bother with clothes, and there was some lean muscle on show that definitely hadn’t been there the last time Crowley had stopped by for a chat (although he was still notably, gloriously softer than the other men). His pale hair was flecked with sweat and shining in the sun. The whole thing was rather ridiculously angelic. Which, you know, was fair enough – Crowley couldn’t quibble that. He was a demon flapping around like a bat in too much black fabric after all. Form determines function, etcetera. But it was a little bit over the top.

Crowley could tell immediately when Aziraphale had spotted him: his entire posture changed, and he sat up from the marble bench that he had been reclining on with some mortals. He said something to them, before gathering another one of those hip-mantle-thingies around his middle and striding across the room towards him.

“What on earth are you doing here?” he hissed when he was close enough for no one else to hear. Crowley merely raised an eyebrow.

“Taking in the view?” he answered with a leer as well defined as the abdominal muscles on display around the room, mostly only to see Aziraphale sputter. He was not disappointed.

“I can’t believe you’re in Greece,” he continued, when it became clear that Aziraphale needed a couple more minutes to recover. “How did you get that one approved?”

Aziraphale glanced quickly around them, then up at the sky with significantly more concern.

“Oh, shut up,” he whispered, grabbing hold of Crowley’s arm. “Not in public.”

The angel dragged him across the open courtyard, where they had been drawing quite a few perplexed looks. He led him in the direction of the stoa, the long colonnaded walkway that provided suitable nooks and crannies that Aziraphale probably thought had been designed for quiet conversations about books, but definitely had been made for slightly more illicit activities. Their audience, now clearly convinced that what they had witnessed was not, in fact, an argument, merely a sexually charged precursor to much more entertaining pursuits had lost interest.

“Don’t let the other angels catch you in here with me,” he remarked. “They might get quite the wrong impression.”

Aziraphale scowled. Unfortunately, it had about the same impact as a glance from an irritable bunny.

“Do you ever stop talking?” he said, with something of a huff. “And Greece is lovely, thank you very much.”

“I’m sure it is,” Crowley replied. “But isn’t there that whole paganism thing?”

Aziraphale looked pained.

“Well yes, alright, the Zeus business is a bit awkward, but it’s not their fault! They’ve never even heard of Christianity! How are they supposed to know any better? And they really are rather splendid people, you know. Perikles was lovely, a great man, really knew what he was about. I miss him a lot. And Sophocles! Have you ever seen a Sophocles play? Really wonderful stuff, incomparable. I would recommend Akhilleos Erastai, you know, if you are hanging around long enough. And Plato! What a guy. Has some wonderful ideas about caves. Hasn’t written any of them down yet but I’m telling you, once he sits down and knocks out that Republic book it is going to be a bestseller.”

“I’m sure,” Crowley said. “Although that doesn’t really erase the fact that you are an angel of the Lord that they have never heard of. I can’t imagine that the big cheeses are all that happy about you fraternising with pagans. Have you gone native? Been to any festivals?”

The tips of Aziraphale’s ears had begun to turn red. Crowley was delighted.

“You have, haven’t you? You dog! Poured libations on the old altar and hoped the big lady upstairs wouldn’t notice?”

“Look Crowley,” the angel began. “I’m on holiday. It is no business of theirs where I go or which civilisations I happen to meet. It’s been a very long time on duty and I deserve a couple of centuries off before the Great Event begins and I have to start putting in the hours again.”

The capital letters were clear in Aziraphale’s tone of voice. This was not just a big deal, but a Big Deal. Crowley was always very impressed with his ability to make things sound very important. He had never quite mastered it – his skill set lent more towards the ‘making things seem entirely unimportant so that people would do things without thinking about them thus setting off an inevitable and expertly crafted series of evil events’ end of the spectrum. Each to their own.

“Ah yes,” Crowley replied. “That whole son of God thing. Well, it all sounds splendid, but I’m not really here to talk about that. We need to discuss the Macedonia issue.”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes.

“What Macedonia issue?”

Ah, they were having a stand-off. Both teams were well-aware that each were invested in the Macedonia issue. The birth of Philip would happen soon, and then in turn his own son, Alexander, who eventually would earn himself the moniker of ‘the Great’ in some parts of the world (he would have rather less flattering ones elsewhere, but the angels would no doubt pretend that wasn’t the case, and that the combined hatred of thousands of people was a minor inconvenience). Even though both knew that the other team were involved in the development of this key historic moment, they were all pretending that there was absolutely nothing happening. Which, you know, was all well and good, but rather inconvenient. Crowley couldn’t help but think that he and Aziraphale could probably do better at both their respective jobs if they helped each other out a little, nudge-nudge-wink-wink style. In fact, he was well aware that the ideal situation would be if neither of them bothered to interfere with anything much, but he had a sneaking suspicion that Aziraphale would not be willing to enter into an arrangement like that.

Not yet, anyway.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, honestly,” Aziraphale continued, eyes darting around the empty colonnade as if expecting an archangel to jump out from behind a column at him. All these centuries, and he was still so concerned about being seen with him. It’s not like anyone had noticed before now. Crowley rolled his eyes.

Loud voices came into earshot, and both of them found themselves sinking just a little deeper into the niche that they were currently occupying – Aziraphale no doubt out of embarrassment about being seen with him, and Crowley – well, Crowley just because it was his natural state to hide in dark corners anyway, and he didn’t want Aziraphale to feel left out. Three very oily young men walked past, looking fairly surprised at seeing Aziraphale and Crowley – or perhaps, just at seeing them still with clothes on.

“Is every man around here chiselled from rock, or is it just the ones you hang out with?” Crowley asked, when they passed out of sight again.

Aziraphale looked a little offended at that. It made something rather unpleasant and slithery coil somewhere in the region of Crowley’s ribcage, and he did not enjoy that very much.

“You’re always such a brute,” the angel told him. “Do you do it deliberately?”

Crowley shrugged. That sensation was not fading, and it was increasingly uncomfortable.

“Can’t help it, you know,” he replied. “Demon, and all that.”

It was supposed to be quite a casual thing, a light-hearted response. Aziraphale was the enemy after all – it definitely was not a problem to insult him. But despite himself, he was well aware that there was an indefinable something in his tone of voice that implied an apology, even if he wasn’t particularly happy about it.

Aziraphale softened, just a little. For a moment they just stood in silence, looking out through the columns into the open courtyard beyond, side-by-side, their shoulders almost touching. A wrestling match had started between two naked men that was quite impressively athletic. One man’s hand slid somewhere quite interesting, and though Crowley’s head didn’t move, his eyes did flick to the side, just in time to catch Aziraphale suddenly find something unavoidably fascinating in the vicinity of the roof.

The angel caught him looking, and the last of the tension between them slipped away. Aziraphale’s eyes were warm, as if he was trying hard not to laugh.

“Are you going to be around long?”

“Why, have you missed me?” Crowley asked, trying hard not to smile now.

“You? Never.” Aziraphale cleared his throat, eyes still flickering from one column to the next, rocking a little on balls of his feet. “Your company, sometimes." 

He sounded so proud of himself for his little moment of sarcasm. If he wasn’t thousands of years old, it might have been cute.

“Was that a joke? I thought Uriel banned those a couple of thousand years ago.” Crowley’s voice was all mock-surprise, clearly joking too but with a tone just hard enough that Aziraphale would not get too concerned that they were getting too familiar. Angels tended to worry about that sort of thing.

“Oh, shut up, you terrible thing.”

But Aziraphale was smiling again, that small little curl of the mouth that made him look like he had won some small and petty game that only he had been taking part in.

“What were you thinking?”

Aziraphale was still looking rather pleased with himself, as if he had achieved something rather impressive by tempting Crowley into doing something with him – as if he hadn’t done it a thousand times before, even if he had never actually asked Crowley outright, even if the angel still acted like they barely knew each other whenever they came across each other.

“I know a great place for olives.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

And of course, Crowley was busy, he had many important and evil things to do and a quota to make, he certainly didn’t have time to go and eat olives and drink wine in the sunshine with a prissy angel on his holidays. He certainly didn’t have time to go and watch a play, and lie back as the sun set listening to the distant sound of a lyre, or spend the evening hearing all about the philosophers that Aziraphale was currently so interested in, the poets that he had met and the symposiums he had been invited to and the little slice of the world that he was enjoying here, if only for a brief couple of centuries. No, Crowley certainly couldn’t do any of that.

He did it anyway, even though he couldn’t quite escape the feeling that Aziraphale had played him slightly, somewhere along the way. That being said, he didn’t let himself get too upset about it - he felt it was probably okay to do the wrong thing, given that he was a demon.

Nevertheless, he spat olive stones at the heads of those passing by now and again, to make himself feel better about the whole thing.

 


 

[2] Cana, Galilee. 29 BC

 

“Oh, for the love of – what are you doing here?”

“What’s wrong?” Crowley asked, as he slid into the seat next to Aziraphale. “I thought you would have been glad to see an old friend. You’re sat here all alone like a gooseberry.”

“We are not friends,” Aziraphale bit back, taking a rather large gulp of his wine. “And what does that expression mean, anyway?”

Honestly. Sometimes he thought Crowley just made these things up to annoy him. Here he was trying to enjoy a nice human event and this damned demon – accurate, it wasn’t swearing, to anyone up there listening in on his own inner thoughts – had swooped in with that look on his face like he was here to ruin everything for everyone and would enjoy every single moment of it. He hadn’t even dressed in nice, festive clothes to match the occasion – he was in his usual drab black, dusty at the bottom from the sandy streets outside. Really. Who turns up to a wedding dressed in black? Only people up to no good, clearly. And bitter old aunts who don’t approve of the match (although the two of those are not necessarily mutually exclusive, in Aziraphale’s experience).

“Anything fun happen before I get here?” Crowley asked, instead of apologising like any normal supernatural entity would have done.

“Well, you missed the actual wedding part of the wedding,” he sniped, although the venom in his voice seemed to miraculously softened despite himself when Crowley pulled a half-empty flagon of wine out of the hands of a man passing by their table, and took the time to top up Aziraphale’s cup first. Of course, he didn’t have a cup of his own, but that wasn’t really the point. Crowley had been known to drink directly from the bottle before, and empty everything out before anyone else got to have a sip. Heathen.

He didn’t do it this time – instead he found a used cup, grimaced at it, flicked the dregs of the previous drink onto the floor, and then filled it up for himself.

“Weddings are the worst,” the demon told him, matter-of-factly. “All those promises and positivity and belief that things will be great. Absolute nonsense.”

He paused, studying the crowds around them.

“That being said,” he continued, after a moment. “Wedding parties are wonderful. So many bad decisions to be made, so many poor life choices to be helped along the way. Human desperation is great.”

Aziraphale wasn’t really sure why he was surprised anymore. He was glad he had wine. Things had been rather difficult for the last few decades, and he really wasn’t in the mood right now. He took another long drink. 

When he surfaced, he realised that Crowley was watching him, in that sly little way he had, out of the corner of his eye, like he didn’t quite dare turn around and face Aziraphale fully.

“Everything alright?” the demon asked. “You look a little wound up.”

“Fine,” he said, shortly.

“Oh yes, you certainly look it. Careful, or someone will come over here and accuse you of being in love with the bride. Or the groom. Or both – although, what a night that would be.”

Aziraphale didn’t look at him, just continued to steadily drink his wine.

“It’s a party,” Crowley continued, when it became clear that Aziraphale wasn’t going to say anything more. “Let your hair down. Have a dance. Get so atrociously drunk that you think you have lost your own feet. Find some winsome young human thing and indulge in some mortal sins. You’ll feel much better for it.”

“Oh, you would know, wouldn’t you?”

“Well,” Crowley replied, something that might have been a smirk lurking somewhere in his expression. “I suppose it is rather my thing.

“I’d say go to hell, but you already did that.” Despite himself, Aziraphale could already find himself cheering up. There was something rather impossibly enjoyable about arguing with Crowley. He supposed it was because Crowley never made him feel guilty about it. Which was obviously because he was a morally corrupt demon, and certainly not because of anything else.

“I bought you a present, by the way,” Crowley said, reaching into his robes in a way that probably should have raised the hackles on his neck. He could have been hiding any manner of secret weapon under there, after all. But either Aziraphale was getting soft in his – well, not old age, but age at any rate – or else he had, rather against his better nature, simply stopped being too worried about Crowley somewhere along the way.

He seemed to be rummaging around for quite some time, and right when Aziraphale had started to become convinced that it was going to turn into some sort of elaborate genitals joke, the demon pulled a box out. It was rather too large to have possibly fit in his robes, which meant that it was actually tucked out of sight in a nice non-corporeal pocket that Crowley had access to somewhere, which also meant that he absolutely had not had to spend so long looking for it in his clothing, which also definitely meant that he had been doing it to wind Aziraphale up.

There was a distinct smell of burning coming from the box.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Crowley was quick to interject. “Nothing is still on fire, and it is the normal sort, not my kind.”

“That’s not entirely reassuring,” Aziraphale remarked, but he still found himself reaching for the box anyway. He did like presents, and Crowley always managed to find the most exciting ones. Not that he had ever accepted any, of course. Ahem.

He prised the lid off, releasing a waft of dirty, smoky air. But then, inside –

“Oh, Crowley. Are they really?”

“If you are asking whether they are original scrolls that I just so happened to retrieve from the Library at Alexandria, then yes, I rather think I might be.”

“I hope you did not have anything to do with that terrible affair,” he asked, as he slowly lifted the first of the scrolls from the box. The complete poetic works of Sappho. Good lord, but he had loved the Greeks.

“Of course not,” Crowley said. “I was in the area, and I thought I’d grab a couple of your favourites.”

He stroked the sigma at the start of her name. It was heart-breaking, really, that mankind would lose the majority of her poetry. But at least now he had this, one final copy of her surviving works. Maybe he could find a way to leak the poems back to the public, one fragment at a time, over the centuries. By the time he was done, maybe civilisation would be civilised enough to actually appreciate her.

“Well, thank you,” he said, because he wasn’t really sure whether there was anything better to say. Crowley just nodded.

They sat in silence for a moment, watching the wedding party all around them.

“Whose wedding is this, anyway?” Crowley asked, as if trying to change the conversation, eyes following one particular figure around the room.

“Oh, something or other. John, maybe? Some distant relative of his mother is involved, I think. I can’t keep it all straight.”

“So, is this your life now? Just following him around from one place to the next, and seeing what happens?”

Aziraphale winced. He had been determined he was going to be good and stop talking to Crowley, but everyone else acted like he had been given the greatest of duties, that he should be grateful for being here, and here the demon was sounding incredulous and exactly how Aziraphale felt about the entire situation (also, you know, Crowley had brought him books). He had waited over three thousand years for the birth of the son of God and now he was relegated to babysitting duty whilst the other angels celebrated and waited for the interesting stuff to begin. All he had done for the last couple of decades was carefully follow Jesus around and make sure the little idiot didn’t get himself killed before the ineffable plan had a chance to happen, and the only interesting moment in the entire thing had been when twelve-year-old Jesus nearly fell down a well.

“You have no idea!” he exclaimed, reaching for the wine jug only to find that it was nearly empty. He splashed the rest of it in both their cups anyway. “He doesn’t do anything! Just wanders around and talks to people. Complete let down. He’s supposed to start doing miracles and so far, absolutely nothing. Just befriends a load of fishermen and gets tax-collectors to change their ways, not that it is really the fault of tax-collectors that they have to take people’s money, it is sort of there job, but there is no damn sense of nuance here.”

Crowley was staring at him now. Darn it. He wasn’t supposed to be telling the enemy this sort of thing.

But… well. Crowley didn’t really feel like an enemy, not in a real way. He wouldn’t have saved books if he had been, the angel was sure of it. Aziraphale wouldn’t have lifted his wing to shelter him from the rain that first time they spoke on top of the wall if he had. And Crowley didn’t really look like he was here to disrupt the great divine plan or do anything too troublesome. He would probably just convince a couple of mortals to make bad life choices and leave it at that. He never seemed to do anything too terrible when Aziraphale was around.

“Another drink?” Crowley asked, right as he realised that they were all out of wine. This did not seem to overly concern Crowley, however: he did not wait for a reply, but simply picked up their flagon and stood, wandering away through the crowds.

“The wine’s run out!” a worried voice called out when the demon had slipped out of sight. “What are we going to do?”

Aziraphale took a moment to observe Jesus. He was a reasonably attractive, but inherently average looking man. He supposed that was really the whole thing, wasn’t it – that anyone could be important and special and wonderful. It didn’t really matter what background they had or where they come from, what they had done or what they looked like – all that mattered is what they did with their brief life.

“M’back,” Crowley slapped the full flagon back down on the table. “Can’t promise the wine is any good, but it is certainly wine, and that is all that really matters.”

“Oh, you managed to find some then, did you?” he said, a little surprised. Crowley shrugged.

“Find some, made some – what’s the difference?” he poured some in their cups, a dark and heady red. “That’s why I said I couldn’t promise it was any good though.”

“Praise be!” someone shouted, from across the room. “The water – it has all turned into wine!”

“Incredible!” someone else called.

“A miracle!” cried someone else again.

“Jesus!” another voice rose about the crowds, full of joy. “Praise be to Jesus, son of God! Through his hands, a miracle has taken place!”

Aziraphale paled.

In fairness, so did Crowley.

“You didn’t,” the angel whispered. “You did not just accidently do the first of Jesus’ miracles for him, did you?”

This was all rather too much. The only option, for the angel of the lord, was to drink himself insensible. The cries of praise went up around them, and Jesus, buoyed up by the knowledge that he could in fact perform miracles, went on to heal four sick people that very night. Crowley, in full fairness, had to get himself equally drunk to forget the part that he had inadvertently played in the entire affair.

The wine, however, was surprisingly palatable.

 


 

[3] Thessaloniki. 380 AD.

 

“What are you doing here?”

The angel’s voice cut through the hum of the crowd like glass. If Crowley hadn’t seen him ten minutes ago, he might have been surprised at it – but he had been waiting for the angel to spot him, and as such, just continued to stare off into the middle distance, vaguely in the direction of the podium at the end of the central forum, where a man would soon come and stand and read an important proclamation from the emperors of the Roman world (the whole empire thing was just a bit complicated by this point, as far as Crowley was concerned. Multiple emperors, everyone having basically the same name, absolute nightmare).

“You know, one of these days you’re going to be happy to see me.”

Aziraphale did that thing that sort of looked like a glare but lacked any significant conviction. He was the only angel that Crowley had met – or at least, had met since he had ceased to be one of them – that managed to look so wildly disapproving but also so unwillingly pleased to see him at the same time.

“Don’t count on it.”

Aziraphale still came and stood next to him. Crowley considered that a win.

His hair was stupidly fluffy, Crowley thought, and his cheeks were flushed in excitement. Which… well, that was rather odd. Because today was not the kind of day that an angel should be happy about. The edict that would soon be read (and bloody hell was he getting tired of this century, so many edicts, so little time) was a definite win for his team. He had spent the last year ensuring that it happened, after all.

“What are you doing here, Aziraphale?” he asked, suddenly feeling a rather overwhelming sense of dread. The angel stared at him, confused, before waving a hand in the direction of the podium.

“I would ask the same question, but I assume that you’ve just come along to cheapen the event and tempt a few weaker souls to sin.”

Crowley blinked, slowly. He had it on good authority that it was rather disconcerting when he did that.

“Of course I’m here, angel. It is a pretty big day for downstairs.”

Aziraphale fixed him with a rather perplexed look.

“What on earth are you talking about? This one is one of ours.”

Poor old angel. Clearly too many years down on earth had messed up his perception of good and bad.

“The Roman Empire is officially naming Christianity as the state religion,” he said, as kindly as possible (it wasn’t very kind).

“Well, exactly!”

The two stared at each other, for a long hard minute.

“Oh, bollocks.”

It didn’t take long to get to the bottom of the issue. The angels, assuming that the spread and dissemination of the Christian faith on such a huge scale, had been playing hard to get the Roman Empire to name it as their official religion. Whilst it had been a legal religion for quite some time, this move would have introduced it to far more people, helping to spread the word of God on an unprecedented level. The demons, working under the assumption that any kind of organised religion would eventually lead to bad things happening, had been doing the exact same thing. And when we say ‘angels’ and ‘demons’, what we of course mean, is Crowley and Aziraphale.

They had found a place to drink now now. It wasn’t their first time, and the wine was still rather good. Aziraphale had come out with him often enough at this point that he had entirely lost his twitchy, staring-at-the-sky thing, and they were sat outside in the sun, looking out over the forum. They had completely ignored the reading of the edict, now they had both realised their plans were fundamentally useless. In fairness, no one else had paid that much attention either – but then again, humans tended to miss the important stuff.

“I should have bloody known it,” Crowley said. “The minute they said Emperor Theodosius god healed by a Christian in Thessaloniki – of course it was you. It’s Greece. I know it isn’t ancient Greece, but still. Where else would you have been?”

“I thought it seemed to good to be true,” Aziraphale was mumbling, already a little drunk. “I kept thinking, all of this is working really nicely, everyone seems very happy with everything. I even started thinking, ‘I wonder where that old snake is, I haven’t seen him around in a while…’”

In better circumstances that might have made Crowley feel rather pleased with himself, but right now all he could think about was the huge amount of paperwork he was going to have to fill in if anyone ever found out about this monumental cock-up. Instead, he just stared forlornly at his cup of wine, which refilled itself on order.

“You know what?” Crowley said. “I’m sick to the back teeth of these bloody Romans. This whole thing has gone on for long enough. No wonder we’re getting confused and trying for the same thing. I blame the Romans. Confusing everything, all the time. Can never tell who is a lunatic and who is an excellent statesman, the borders seem to change every year, and they have absolutely no sense of style. Togas or armour – where is the variety! Why can’t I wear bloody purple if I want to?”

“Oh, you’re not being fair,” the angel told him with perfectly angelic irritation.

“Do you not remember the Crucifixion?”

The angel shot him a dirty look.

“Well yes, shockingly I do.”

“Well, then surely you’ve realised by now that the Roman Empire isn’t exactly the best of places. What about when Nero burned all those Christians? All the ones fed to the lions in the amphitheatres - not exactly the best relationship between church and state.”

“Of course you only see the bad side. You forget all the wonderful and beautiful things that the Roman Empire has done as well.” 

Crowley stared at him, for a long hard minute.

“Oh, bloody hell. You just like them because you liked the Greeks so much, don’t you?”

The angel at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

"The Greeks and the Romans are not the same," he said rather primly. Crowley scowled at him.

"They are!"

“The literature is still rather spectacular though,” Aziraphale remarked, a little glumly. “And the art. All rather fabulous.”

“Did you see Prostibulum?” Crowley asked, mostly just to see an angel blush at the name of a rather raucous play about a male prostitute. He was disappointed. Aziraphale just looked impressed that Crowley had been to see a play without an angel buying the tickets.

They sat side-by-side for a while in silence, a demon looking out over the forum and surreptitiously flicking a little bit of temptation towards a rather unpleasant looking bishop with the tips of his fingers, and an angel struggling with some sort of internal quandary and pretending not to notice.

In the end, Aziraphale sighed, and capitulated.

“It has been a bit of a mess, hasn’t it?”

Crowley nodded. “Not just the Romans, if I’m being honest. When they explained this whole human thing, I have to admit I assumed it would all be a bit more straightforward. Not exactly what either side had in mind so far, I imagine. Thought it would all be a bit cleaner cut, myself. Easy distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. Turns out there is just a lot of… humans.”

“Some good ones though,” the angel interjected.

“Well yes,” replied the demon. “Some pretty awful ones too.”

“You know who I liked?” Aziraphale said suddenly, his entire posture changing and that undertone of delight returning to his voice. “Agrippa. There was a Roman you could stand behind.”

“I liked Caligula myself,” Crowley added. “Absolute wacko. Not often you get that much entertainment from an easy bit of temptation. That whole thing with the horse was hysterical.”

“Did that really happen? My goodness, I couldn’t believe it when I heard the stories.”

“Not quite,” Crowley said, trying very hard not to smile. “He didn’t try to make the horse a senator – he tried to make it the head of the praetorian guard. But close enough.”

Aziraphale snorted, and Crowley raised his cup.

“We will not see his like again,” he intoned.

“Thank Christ.”

Another silence, and Crowley shifted in his seat. He could feel the heat of the stone through the soles of his feet, the day slowly cooling.

“Fancy a walk?”

They went side-by-side, distance between them but not quite enough to make it look like they were not together. Aziraphale would still shoot him funny little looks sometimes, but Crowley was rather used to that. He was much more relaxed around him now. It seemed he had finally accepted that Aziraphale actually bore him no ill will.

The sun lay low in the sky, the bellies of the clouds above them coloured pink and gold. A beautiful evening, by anyone’s standards. And now there was no need to be in Thessaloniki anymore, Crowley felt an unavoidable desire to get out. He didn’t give Aziraphale any warning, just grabbed hold of his sleeve and winced a little at the funny, bone-tingling sense of displacement. In some non-corporeal but somehow still completely real way, Aziraphale ruffled his feathers at him in irritation. He didn’t like being moved like that – and Crowley could no longer remember how he knew that.

“A little warning,” Aziraphale huffed. Crowley shrugged in reply.

He had taken them to one of his favourite hill tops in northern Africa. There wasn’t much there, at the minute, though he had a sneaking suspicion that wouldn’t be the case for much longer – human beings were already showing an impressive predisposition for expansionism. But for now it was just the grass, and the rocks, and that same spectacular sky above them. He had a certain fondness for sitting on the ground – not that he would admit that to anyone. He made far too much of a fuss about his clothes for that, and there were far too many jokes about his other form to be made. But there was some truth to them, somewhere – spend enough time sliding around on your belly and being close to the ground starts to feel more like a natural state of existence. 

He briefly considered staying upright, in case the angel noticed, before deciding against it and throwing himself down on the grass.

“Sit down,” he said, with something of a huff. “I’ll clean off your robes if they get too dirty, you prissy old fool.”

Aziraphale consented. Crowley was rather a dab hand at removing stains, after all.

Crowley stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, legs extended. If he had been alone, he might have been tempted to wiggle his hips a little, just to give him the sensation of slithering. The angel perched rather demurely next to him, knees tucked up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them, as if he was trying to keep himself as small as possible.

“I was just thinking about… well, about what you have suggested in the past,” Aziraphale started, after a little silence. His hair was burnished almost to copper in the light of the sunset now, and his eyes looked like they were shining with some deep and internal glow. He was actually really rather stupidly beautiful, Crowley realised, with a rather sickening thud. I mean, he was well aware that, as an angel, Aziraphale was physically appealing – that was the point, after all. But he hadn’t realised that it was appealing to him.

He hadn’t said anything, he realised suddenly when he noticed that Aziraphale’s eyes were on him, quite sincerely and with a little concern.

“Go on,” he choked out, mercifully sounding much more relaxed than he felt.

“I’m not saying that I am willing to help you, of course.” Aziraphale said, just a little nervously. “Nothing like that. I’m not even going to stop actually doing what I am supposed to be doing…”

Not yet, at least, was left unspoken but still somehow vocalised between them.

“But I suspect that I wouldn’t be opposed to being a little more… communicative. Just to stop this sort of thing happening as often as it seems to. Its such a wasted effort. And I really don’t think there is anything wrong with occasionally informing each other about what we are up to. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? Not in the name of productivity.”

“You going to write me love letters telling me about your day?” Crowley said, masking genuine feeling with a rather extravagant lasciviousness. “Why, angel – are you trying to tempt me?” 

Aziraphale might have been pink, or it might have been the sun. But, as he lay down in the grass beside the demon, stretching out in the last light of the day, Crowley couldn’t help but feel that he was rather content anyway.

 


 

 

[4] Aachen. 811 AD.

 

“Well, I haven’t seen you for a decade or so,” Aziraphale called out, as a rather familiar black-clad figure appeared in the sleepy courtyard in front of him. “What on earth have you been up to?”

“Working harder than you, clearly,” Crowley replied. “Have you spent the entire decade eating French food and lazing in the sun?”

“Almost,” he replied, a little smugly. The firmness of his Greek athletic days were long gone – he leant rather more towards the wobbly end of the spectrum now, and rather enjoyed the comfort of this softer version of his corporeal form. Aziraphale had to admit – he was rather fond of this century. “What on earth have you been up to?”

“Vikings,” the demon said, wincing a little. “Never again. They’re all terribly hairy and insist on sticking horns in places that absolutely did not need horns.”

He must have caught sight of the unspoken twinkle in Aziraphale’s eye, because he stuck his (forked) tongue out at him and prowled closer across the courtyard, like a shadow even in direct sunlight, the darkness of his clothes in sharp contrast to the pale stone and bright flowers of Aziraphale’s current residence. He should have looked a little ridiculous, and certainly if the angel had tried to move like that he would have looked ludicrous. But in his long black tunic, black leggings and shoes that laced all the way up the calf (were they snakeskin? Surely not) Crowley couldn’t help but looking absolutely and quite over-dramatically wonderful, in Aziraphale’s obviously very objective and not at all blasphemous opinion.

“Not like that,” Crowley said, though if anything he sounded a little proud of the angel. “I meant aesthetically.

“Speaking of aesthetics,” Aziraphale said, managing to maintain a perfect straight face despite himself as Crowley half-fell into the little seat on the other side of the table. It was only a small wooden chair, but as ever Crowley managed to lounge in it like it was some kind of throne. “What on earth are you wearing?”

Crowley managed to make many things look good – Aziraphale would have had to be a lot less observant than he was not to be aware of that. But there was something absolutely baffling perched on his nose – they looked just a little like the eyeglasses that some of the nobles with poorer sight had just started to buy, but these were made of some dark, smoky quartz, some semi-precious stone cut and polished to a high shine. The frames were thin gold wire, looking like they barely held the stone in place, and they looked like they must have weighed an absolute ton.

“Picked them up in China last time I was over there,” Crowley said, sounding terrifically proud. “Judges over there are using them to hide their expressions in court, apparently – though I can’t say that is something that I’m particularly concerned about. They keep the sun off, and they stop mortals staring at me in absolute terror.”

“But surely that’s the point, my dear?” Aziraphale said, startling himself a little at the endearment.

“Plus,” the demon continued, “they make me look cool.”

“Hmm. I’m sure. Tea?”

Crowley nodded, and Aziraphale busied himself. It wasn’t often he could share his tea – it had not been introduced to Europe yet, and as such he was reduced to hoarding the loose leaf he had collected the last time he happened to be in the far East. It was a lengthy process to make tea but he rather enjoyed it (he suspected that one day humans would figure out how to speed it up and therefore probably ruin the taste entirely). The maid brought out the hot water, and Crowley looked around him at their surroundings.

Aziraphale had been given the house by the current king a few years ago, as a gift in thanks for his help. It was small by the gentry standards of the day, pale stone and flowers growing over everything in a way that left the gardener consistently baffled. Things were not supposed to grow quite so resplendently in this part of the Rhine at this time of year, but, well… Aziraphale did love flowers, and plants responded so well to a little bit of encouragement. He had learned that one from Crowley, whose eyes were now flickering from plant to plant behind his sunglasses with interest.

“Take cuttings from whatever you want, old boy,” he said, trying not to be gratified as Crowley immediately stood back up and conjured into being a small, sleek and silver pair of gardening shears, wandering away from Aziraphale’s quiet tea ritual to inspect the plants. He ignored the bold and brassy flowers as he always did, focusing in instead on the smaller ferns and perennials and alpines.

Aziraphale watched him gently touching the pointed leaves of an oversized sempervivum. A lovely little plant, and Crowley seemed to agree, because his scissors flashed in the sunlight, snipping off a small cutting from the underneath. Aziraphale had no doubt that Crowley would be able to encourage a full plant to grow from it – he seemed to have a knack for that sort of thing.

“It’s a sempervivum,” he told the demon, who nodded.

“Eternally living,” Crowley said, with a little huff of a sound that might have been a laugh. “Bet it can’t beat us.”

He returned to the table just as the tea was perfectly brewed, cradling his little cutting in his hands. There was something soft and simple about how proud Crowley was of his little acquisition, his gentleness as he wrapped it in a scrap of (black) silk that appeared from nowhere, resting it by the side of his cup as if to keep an eye on it.

Crowley took a sip and pulled a face. His fingertips glowed bright for a moment as he heated his cup, and again as he leant over and did the same for Aziraphale without asking. With tea at the perfect temperature, they sat together in silence for a moment, simply enjoying the birdsong.

“You’ve been here a while,” Crowley commented, when they were done. “I suppose you will have to move on soon?”

Aziraphale winced. He had been trying not to think about it. He was a natural tree, he couldn’t help but think – he put down roots wherever he went and leaving again was always a wrench. But it was true – people were already remarking and how little he had aged, and that was normally a good sign that the time to relocate was coming up.

“You know,” Crowley continued, when Aziraphale gave a glum nod. “I’m considering London, in the future. Once it gets big enough no one will pay enough attention to see that we don’t change. We’re a few centuries off that still, but it is good to think ahead. Buy some central land now, lease it in perpetuity to some fake far-off descendants, that sort of thing. What do you think? Want me to look into it for you?”

“What?” he asked, perplexed. “Both of us? In London?”

Crowley shrugged. “Don’t see why not. It wouldn’t do any harm, would it? And if either side worked out that we were both there, we could just say that we were keeping an eye on each other.”

Aziraphale shot him a look that probably should have been harder. “I am keeping an eye on you, Crowley.”

The demon’s mouth moved around in an interesting way, as if it was trying to avoid making a particular expression. He busied it with finishing his tea before he spoke again.

“You could keep a much closer eye if you wanted,” he remarked, probably only to make Aziraphale blush.

“I suppose London could work,” Aziraphale capitulated. “I hear it is going to be very nice, eventually.”

“Well, probably not nice,” Crowley replied. “I doubt it will ever be nice. But interesting – it will certainly be that. There is a plot of land I’d quite like to invest in now – I’m thinking of setting up a legal office, and eventually having them build something swish and fancy there to live in. Something high up, above the mud and the filth, where I can see the sky.”

“That’s not very demonic,” Aziraphale said, without quite thinking. “But I suppose I would quite like some sort of merchant establishment, one day. An apothecary maybe… or somewhere to sell scrolls, stories, that sort of thing.”

“I’m sure I can arrange something,” Crowley told him. “Leave it with me.”

Aziraphale found himself frowning, just a little, at a sudden thought. “Would there be enough greenery, though?” he asked the demon. “In the middle of a big city?”

Crowley sighed. “I’ll make sure there are some nice parks around, how about that?”

Aziraphale perked up immediately.

“With some animals? And trees?”

Crowley nodded. “I’ll get the land leased to the right people now. Or, you know, fake people. I’ll make sure there are some when… well, whenever you want to move there.”

Aziraphale could live with that. He quite liked that Crowley never put any deadlines on him, offered him things without any real request for anything in return. In an angelic hierarchy that sometimes seemed based almost entirely on reciprocal bureaucracy, it was quite refreshing. Of course, the sensible and very angelic part of his mind was convinced that the entire thing was probably part of some very long-term temptation plan. The other part of him though – the part that was more ‘Aziraphale’ than ‘angel’ – sometimes thought that it wasn’t, but he worked very hard to ignore that part, because if he were willing to admit to himself that Crowley wasn’t doing anything nefarious, he would have to consider why else the demon might keep turning up and offering him so many things. The demon was watching him carefully from behind his sunglasses, his expression hidden – and that thing he had said, about judges wearing them to hide their faces, that all made so much more sense now – but still so intense, wanting, needing something from him that Aziraphale couldn’t quite explain or understand.

“You’re not here to tell me that Charlemagne is one of yours, are you?” he said, a sudden horror washing over him. “Please don’t tell me you are. I’m not sure I can cope with that right now. I’ve been having such a lovely time.”

“Nah,” Crowley told him. There was a glass of something thick and golden and sweet-smelling in his hand now that had definitely not been there a moment before. “Those educational policies? They scream of nothing other than you, angel.”

There was a rather bright little burst of something behind his ribs at that, something that seemed to unfurl a little and grow slightly stronger as Crowley watched him over the rim of his rather ridiculous eyewear.

“It’s all rather good, you know. All these libraries and books and things. They’re going to call it a Renaissance one day, I bet.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, you daft old serpent,” Aziraphale replied, but it felt rather lovely to have someone pay attention to all the hard work he had been doing. He liked this little corner of Europe, he liked helping people on such a simple level, and most of all he liked the fact that he was encouraging learning. Of course, these policies only benefitted the wealthy and elite, but sooner or later that would change – and if his time on earth had taught him anything, it was that you had to take all progress one step at a time.

One step at a time – that was him and Crowley, when it came down to it, wasn’t it? Several thousand years, and they were just a few paces away from the starting line still, with the end of the race somewhere far away. There was so much left to see, so many people still to meet, so many fantastic things to experience on this planet, with these humans – and the only person that understood that, that really felt the same joy in it all as he did, was this ageless snake across from him, with his silly little sunglasses and the tiny plant cutting resting like a precious jewel in silk at his side. 

“This is excellent mead, you know,” Crowley said, inflection flat, mouth smiling.

“Oh, go on then. Pour me one, will you?” 

 


 

 

[5] Trebizond. 1269 AD.

 

Aziraphale hadn’t replied to his message. Of course, that was no real reason to panic, apart from the fact that Aziraphale was a prodigious and dedicated correspondent, who always replied to letters with single-minded devotion and the angelic conviction that every letter would be delivered without being waylaid or damaged (and of course, when an angel believes it, it is almost guaranteed to happen). Since they had started sending letters to each other, Crowley had never gone more than a week without getting a reply from Aziraphale – and not just rushed notes, either. No, he received pages, telling him what the angel was up to, with flowers pressed between the pages and extracts of poems he liked scribbled in the margins.

They were all rather over the top and flamboyant and it made Crowley’s chest flutter a bit every time he saw an envelope with Aziraphale’s elegant copperplate handwriting on it. He always found himself replying quickly too. Obviously he didn’t put flowers or poetry in there, but sometimes he drew little pictures of the new plants he was growing, or rough sketches of the sculpture he had seen in galleries, and yes, okay, sometimes just funny little cartoons of Crowley doing various demon-y things, but he was fairly certain that Heaven didn’t approve of that kind of illustration, so it was probably okay.

Admittedly, their correspondence had been slower of late – they had both been tremendously busy. Human progress was really rather a wonderful thing, but it did make for a busy schedule. And of course, Crowley wasn’t really worried, because the angel was bound to be fine, just caught up with something or other somewhere, and Crowley was definitely not going to make an idiot of himself tracking down one angel who had failed to reply to a letter who couldn’t even die

The fact that the last letter he received from Aziraphale had mentioned that he was in Trebizond had absolutely nothing to do with him being there right now. He had other business. And he may have heard mention of a man that might have been Aziraphale heading in the direction of some kind of church, but then again, that was supposed to be a decent place to visit this time of year, so he convinced himself he definitely would have gone there anyway and went himself. It was… not what he had expected.

Okay, so it had hurt a bit to walk into the Hagia Sofia, but there had been a massive pile of scaffolding in the middle under the central dome, and once he had climbed a couple of feet off the ground it barely hurt at all. It was worth it anyway, because several people had already described the painter to Crowley, and there was only one person he knew with hair like that.

“Having fun?” he asked, when he climbed to the top. Aziraphale jumped at the sudden interruption, though luckily, he had been mixing paint at the time and so Crowley hadn’t ruined the decoration on a church. Although, hold on a moment – that probably was something he wanted to do, wasn’t it?

“Good gracious, don’t creep up on me like that, you could have given me a heart attack!”

“Sorry,” Crowley said, completely unrepentantly. “What the hell have you been doing here?”

“Hush,” Aziraphale said, flapping at him with his paintbrush. Crowley had to vanish a blob of yellow paint that would have landed slap bang in the middle of his chest, and was tempted to get rid of the pain smeared over Aziraphale’s face too, but it was all far too sweet looking.

“Well, the Byzantines were sort of falling apart, so I thought, why not the Empire of Trebizond?”

“Haven’t we all been there?” Crowley replied, slowly turning in a circle. “Aziraphale… did you paint all of this?”

The angel shifted a little awkwardly.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I was talking to the builder, and one thing led to another, and then the scaffolding was built and the paint bought and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone…”

The paintings were… well, they were beautiful. Detailed and elaborate. The miracles of Jesus, scenes from his life – some of the ones that had made it into the Bible, and several more that history had already forgotten about. He had no idea that Aziraphale had been able to paint like this – I mean, technically he supposed Aziraphale would be good at anything that he put is mind to, but this… this was something else.

“Well, now I understand why you didn’t reply to my last letter.”

Aziraphale frowned. “Oh no, I didn’t, did I? Forgive me, my dear. Completely slipped my mind – I’ve just been having so much fun enjoying myself here.”

Crowley waved him off. “No need to apologise. Who doesn’t like the Silk Road, right?”

Aziraphale nodded, slowly. “It is very interesting here. Such a wild intersection of human life. But I meant up here, in the church… reliving all those memories. Thinking about it all, everything that happened, before the… well, you know. The Unpleasantness.”

“Understandable,” Crowley replied, squinting in some confusion at one element. “Errm, Aziraphale. Why is John a goose?”

Aziraphale scowled. “Did you ever meet him?”

Crowley shook his head.

“Then you just wouldn’t understand.”

“Ha,” Crowley said, as he caught sight of one particular painting, depicting one of these Biblical events that he had actually been present for (he’d been around for a lot of stuff before he fell, dealt a lot with the creation of the stars, but that sort of stuff had never made it into the holy books. “I remember this wedding. We had fun, didn’t we?”

Aziraphale smiled up at him from where he was sat on the platform. He rubbed at his nose, smearing the paint around more.

“Yeah, it wasn’t bad. Though we got so drunk that I don’t really remember all that much after you turned the water into wine.”

“And then Jesus took all the credit. Wanker.”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale chastised, though with significantly less ire than he might have done several centuries ago.

“Oh, hush. Wait a minute… is that me?”

Aziraphale turned an elaborate, fantastic shade of red. There, in the wedding scene, was a face peering out from behind a wall, tucked away and hidden but still watching. It was strange and a little out of place, but the portrait was unmistakable. Crowley’s face stared right out at him, every part in place but for his eyes, which were normal and human.”

Crowley stared at this version of himself for a long moment.

“Aziraphale… why did you do my eyes like this?”

“Oh,” the angel said. “I suppose… I don’t know, I didn’t want anyone freaking out, you know?”

Crowley nodded, slowly. There was a reason he wore sunglasses, after all. But all the same, there was something a little hurtful about hearing that, from Aziraphale. He wondered if the angel also found them strange to look at, whether he found them unappealing. He had never really considered that before.

“Well,” he said, abruptly. “Beautiful job, and all, but I’d better be off. Things to do, you know? Spain is wild this century, keeping me very busy. See you later.”

And then he was scrambling down the scaffolding before Aziraphale had a chance to say anything, half-running out of the church (although at least he had a reason for that). From the church he wandered aimlessly. He was surprised, more than anything, that he had never considered that Aziraphale didn’t like his eyes before now. The angel had let him let his guard down, had allowed him to relax. It felt mean-spirited, somehow. At least if it had been a demon it might have made a bit more sense – although Crowley was realistic enough to acknowledge that the only demon with enough imagination to pull off something on this scale was himself, and he had sort of starting shifting to more subtle things of late. Turns out there were a lot of very interesting old symbols and runes that no one had thought about for several thousand years that he was planning to incorporate into his future plans. Though he still hadn’t managed to come up with a use for the dread sigil Odegra.

Aziraphale found him hours later, in a bar. It wasn’t so surprising that Crowley was there, but it was quite a bit stranger that the angel had sought him out – it was the first time, as far as Crowley could remember, that the dynamic had worked out that way. Normally it was him trying to find Aziraphale, appearing wherever the angel happened to be – always a complete coincidence, of course.

“Oh, there you are,” Aziraphale said, with some considerable relief. “I’ve been looking for you for hours. What on earth are you up to?”

“I’m testing a hypothesis,” Crowley told him. His voice was hoarse, and a little unkind. “I’m checking to see whether it actually is possible for me to drink myself to death. Everyone says it isn’t, but I’ve always enjoyed proving people wrong.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, looking rather confused. “Fancy some company?”

They stared at each other, for a rather long minute, until Crowley nodded at the seat next to him. Aziraphale took it with some delicacy.

“Look,” the angel said, reaching for the bottle of wine. “I rather think I misspoke, earlier. I didn’t mean it to come out the way I did, about your eyes. You have to know that they don’t bother me, right? They are a part of who you are.”

Crowley narrowed those eyes at the angel, looking for lies. Unfortunately, Aziraphale exuded truthfulness from every pore. He was earnest and kind and he reached over to pat Crowley on the hand to emphasise his point, and Crowley felt his reluctance crumble beneath the brief moment of physical affection.

“I just wanted to include you,” Aziraphale said, quietly. “I couldn’t be bothered having to explain to the humans, but I still wanted you to be a part of the whole story. You never are – they never mention you. But you are just as deserving of inclusion as anyone else is. You’ve been there from the beginning. You’ve been with me since the beginning. And I just wanted that to be somewhere, even if it was just in this one church. In this one place. Pretty daft of me, I know. But still – I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make it sound like I cared about your eyes. Because I really don’t.”

“It’s alright,” he said, meaning it. And maybe it was. He let his sunglasses slide down his nose so Aziraphale could see his eyes properly, and he didn’t wince or look away. He just met Crowley’s gaze, and smiled in that warm, genuine little way of his. He started chattering away about the paintings, about the book he was re-reading (Petronius Satyricon, and there were some interesting stories in there that probably shouldn’t make it into a church fresco), about the spices he had heard of here and still had to try. Aziraphale grinned at him when he told the angel they could go and try them all tomorrow, and Crowley realises all of a sudden that he is happy again, and he didn’t even notice when it had happened.

“You’re a good soul, angel,” he said, and Aziraphale beamed at him.

“Well, that’s rather my thing, isn’t it?”

“Fancy going to the Black Sea when you’re done here? Hear there is some nice sun-bathing spots.”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes at Crowley. “You know it isn’t actually black, right?”

“Err, yes,” Crowley replied, and things were normal again, something settled down between them, soft and right. This is just a part of the game they were playing, the not quite, the not yet. It was a long one, but he didn’t mind waiting.

Time was the one thing that the two of them had in abundance, after all.

 


 

[6] Salem. 1692 AD.

 

Crowley sauntered into the bar looking like he owned the place, which Aziraphale was pretty certain that he didn’t, given that he had watched the owner leave several hours before. He glanced around the place, looking surprising to see it empty.

“They’re all at the trials,” Aziraphale said, glumly, before Crowley could even ask. “You’ll have to serve yourself.”

Crowley liked being behind bars, Aziraphale knew. The demon did not look particularly unhappy at the turn of events as he sauntered behind the counter and began to mix them drinks out of the bottles of dubious quality liquor. Aziraphale watched him, without actually paying all that much attention to what he was doing. He didn’t even react when he saw the mint appear from nowhere, nor the maraschino cherries, which looked rather startled to have been pulled so dramatically through time and space. The cocktail he eventually placed in front of Aziraphale was rather dubious looking, but it was certainly well-garnished.

“I suppose you’re here to check up on me,” Aziraphale said, when Crowley sat down at on the bench next to him and pushed the glass towards him. Crowley wriggled in his chair, just a little.

“Absolutely not,” Crowley replied. “Just happened to be in the neighbourhood and felt your moping from miles off, thought I’d come and say hi. Or else, this is the only bar in town and I just wanted a drink. Maybe I was in the area following up on that whole Roanoke thing – ha, they’re going to be so angry when they figure out the mystery. Anyway, pick whichever story you prefer.”

Aziraphale took a rather hesitant sip of the concoction Crowley had made. It was surprisingly palatable. He took a hard look at the bottles behind the bar – they looked quite a bit cleaner and had noticeably different labels than when Aziraphale had poured himself a very large gin earlier that afternoon. He had needed something substantial after the few months he’d had. The Salam Witch Trials were… well, to call them a trial was an understatement. More than two hundred people accused, and some of the most insensible beliefs imaginable. Aziraphale liked to think that he knew a fair amount about the devil, and he was pretty sure that He was not interested in stealing Goody Glover’s laundry, no matter how clean her linens might be.

“You know, Crowley,” he said, rather suddenly. “I wonder sometimes what the point of any of this is. This whole earth thing. Why is God even bothering? It’s not like She comes down here to tell the humans off when they get things wildly wrong. Why is She allowing these kinds of things to happen?”

Crowley looked shocked, and more than a little terrified. Not surprising, really – this was all wildly counter to traditional angelic optimism, and possibly bordered on insurrection. Of course, Crowley came out with this sort of thing all the time, but he was a demon, and it was rather par for the course.

“Just think about it,” Aziraphale continued. “Look at everything that is happening here. These women haven’t done anything other than offend their neighbours – sometimes not even that!”

Crowley nodded, hesitantly.

“Is this what you have been doing out here then? 

“Trying to talk some sense into them – but it is absolutely pointless. They’re all hysterical. They will not listen to reason or sense anymore. I mean, I knew the Puritans were a bit… well, you know what they were like, but I didn’t think it was going to get like this!”

He stared, rather forlornly, at the cherry in his drink. It seemed to stare back, which was rather disconcerting. Unfortunately, Crowley had that effect on a lot of fruit – particularly berries, and anything a bit naturally squishy. It made eating pavlova with him a rather miserable affair.

“And think about the trial of Galileo. Were you there?”

Crowley shook his head. That wasn’t much of a surprise, really. Crowley always tried to say out of Vatican affairs – too many angels and demons working the same scrap of land, he had often said – cooks spoiling the broth, and all that. Not to mention the fact that Rome wouldn’t exactly be the most comfortable of places for him to go. Aziraphale supposed you would need an angelic guide or at best an expert grasp of the city topography in order to avoid all the blessed land. In fact, if Aziraphale was remembering correctly, Crowley had entirely ruined a pair of shoes the last time he had been forced to visit the city.

“Well, I was,” Aziraphale continued. “Shocking. All he was trying to say was that the earth revolves around the sun – and you know what? He was right! Humans are so afraid of everything that they don’t know. It is inconceivable. What have we achieved? What is the point of all this? Surely this isn’t what She wants?”

Crowley was looking increasingly panicked, but unfortunately Aziraphale was not about to be stopped.

“Sometimes I wonder what the point of all of this is – I might as well fall and be done with it!”

“Angel,” Crowley interrupted. Crowley began. He glanced around them, to the heavens (well, the grimy, wooden ceiling) and then, with much greater concern, at the ground, before he shifted close enough to Aziraphale that he could feel the warm press of the demon’s shoulder and arm against his own. “Stop talking absolute rubbish. I know all of this is feeling a bit awful, and trust me, I should know. But think about all the good things – they published the first bible just eighty-one years ago! They discovered the Orion Nebula. Isaac Newton, Aziraphale! You lot love him!”

“Shakespeare died,” Aziraphale intoned, but he leaned back a little against Crowley’s shoulder. 

“Yeah, but that has to happen to all of them in the end. And wasn’t that terrible play a success in the end, just like I promised? Come on, how great has the art and literature and music all been. Think about all of that, instead. Cavallia – Caravaggio!”

“I do like Caravaggio,” Aziraphale muttered, more to himself than to Crowley.

“Yeah,” Crowley said, knocking their elbows together. “Come on, you can’t get yourself all down like this. Have you read any Antonio Rocco yet? I’ve got a first edition of that Alcibiades one. You’ll like that. S’Greek stuff.”

The angel levelled him a look, one that made it very clear that he knew the demon was trying to distract him and was trying not to be too pleased about it. It felt rather nice, actually, having someone care about how he was feeling.

“I’m not sure that’s quite what it is about, Crowley.”

“Tell me about it later,” Crowley said. “We have a lot to catch up on! You haven’t written me a letter in months, so you need to catch me up on all those boring nice things you have been doing.”

“Well, I did accidentally invent opera,” Aziraphale said. “It was rather awkward. I had to pay for Venice to build an entire opera house to show it in, I was so embarrassed.”

“That definitely needs further explanation,” Crowley said, grinning at him in that wide, ridiculous way that showed off too many teeth and made something tight and significant happen behind his ribs. Aziraphale was saved from having to think about that too much by their empty glasses, which Crowley got up to refill. Aziraphale immediately missed the warm press of his shoulder – he hadn’t even really noticed that it was there.

“Wait,” Crowley said, looking up from a bottle of gin. “How did you convince the bartender to leave you alone in here?”

Aziraphale was pretty sure that he looked as sheepish as he felt.

“Well, he might have just not noticed me when he locked up the place. I just sort of… faded into the background for a few minutes. I’ll leave some money for the things I drink!” he said in protest when he saw the grin on Crowley’s face. “I just didn’t really want to leave.”

“Fair enough,” the demon said, finishing the drinks with a twist of improbable lemon. Never let it be said that a demon didn’t know how to make great cocktails. They were far better at it than angels, who lacked the imagination to invent new recipes and generally felt uneasy with the idea of mixing different flammable liquids together.

“London’s looking good these days,” Crowley remarked as he took his seat again. “When was the last time you stopped over to have a look at it?”

Aziraphale shrugged. “I supposed I have been a little too dedicated to Italy of late.”

“Your second Renaissance is shaping up to be just as impressive as the Carolingian one, you know.”

Well, that was nice to hear. It made him look down carefully at the ice in his drink (where had that come from?), part delighted and part bashful.

“Thank you, my dear.”

“What do you say to a little trip?” Crowley asked. “Come have a look at how it is all shaping up in England. A lot more buildings, these days – you could come and see the one I’ve put aside for you.”

For him? Well, it wasn’t like he had forgotten that conversation from all those years ago. But he had not been quite certain that it was ever going to turn into anything real. He was pretty sure the tips of his ears were turning pink.

“Did you really?” he said, in the end. “Well, you really shouldn’t have.”

“There is a park just around the corner,” Crowley continued. “And I think there is scope for a balcony with some flower-pots, if you like. I’ve got some nice cuttings I can get ready for you.”

“I do like flower-pots,” Aziraphale hummed. He did. He had to admit, he didn’t really have much interest in actually picking or growing them – but he liked being around them, whispering to the bees, encouraging them to flower for longer.

“And you need to take a proper look at it anyway,” Crowley continued. “You need to decide whether you want it to be an apothecary or a bookshop or a bloody animal sanctuary. Because I’m not doing all the hard work, you know.”

And there it was, that tightness in his chest, that pain right between his shoulder blades where his wings would have nearly met had they been present in this corporeal form, the true heart of the angelic form, their centre. It had been a long time since he had seen his wings, he realised, even longer since he had seen Crowley’s. He missed them both – the black feathers with undertones of red, the white with undertones of blue, brushing the floor behind them, arched so much closer to each other than their bodies ever were, not quite touching but always with the potential to, if only one of them moved just a little. He would like to see their wings now, he thought to himself, as he watched Crowley sipping his drink, carefully not watching him. He’d like to see if they still arched towards each other, or if they actually touched now.

Slowly, after a long moment, Aziraphale nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “I think I’d like to come with you.”

“Come on then,” he said, standing up, and as he reached out a hand for Aziraphale he caught the flicker of feeling in the demon’s eyes from behind the sunglasses, the reluctance and the fear and the hope and the please. But then it vanished, and Aziraphale smiled, just a little, and took his hand, and let Crowley pull him to his feet.

“Lead on,” the angel told him. “Let’s go.” 

 


 

 

[7] Kitty Hawk. 1903.

 

“Bloody hell, it’s chilly.”

“It’s not that cold,” Aziraphale said, not even jumping as Crowley came up behind him. “You’ve just spent too much time wrapped up in blankets of late.”

Crowley was too busy breathing into his cupped hands to come up with anything particularly witty in reply, so he just remained silent. Aziraphale’s cheeks were pink in the cold, bundled up in a particularly atrocious plaid scarf. The clouds were grey and rolling above them – all in all, a terrible day to be standing outside in a field in the middle of nowhere in early December.

The scarf really was quite horrific, picked out in an awful combination of yellow, purple and sludge-brown, Crowley thought, rather cheerfully. It looked awful on him. Crowley had been waging a long-term war against Aziraphale’s sartorial choices for some time now. He replaced terrible choices with more stylish ones and waited to see if Aziraphale ever noticed. He rarely did. Crowley had a rather lovely tartan scarf in greys and greens that would look very smart indeed. The best part was, if Crowley left them somewhere obvious, Aziraphale would wear them without even really thinking about it, and then Crowley got to burn the offending articles of clothing in secret, gleeful delight.

“Nearly the new year,” he commented. Aziraphale winced.

“Don’t. I had far too much fun at the turn of the century and am still regretting it.”

“Just a quiet one this year, then?”

“With a book?”

“Hm. And a bottle of port, I think.”

“In the shop?”

Aziraphale shot him a look, one that said of course that’s where I’ll be, you know that is exactly where I’ll be, and if you happen to stop by I will pretend this exchange never happened and believe whatever it is you say about ‘being in the neighbourhood’ and ‘other plans falling through’ and I’ll have accidentally made enough dinner for two and we’ll spend the evening together and I’ll pretend that it is all a coincidence and that we didn’t plan anything at all.

Crowley gave him a smile, even when Aziraphale didn’t answer, just to make the angel roll his eyes and look away.

“I’ll have to stop by and drop off your Christmas present,” he said, still smiling a little. “I think you’ll like it. Early editors’ proof, won’t be out for a while yet.”

Aziraphale huffed. “You aren’t supposed to tell me that it is a book.”

“What, and you’re not going to get me a new plant-pot, or a bottle of brandy?”

“I would never buy you a Christmas present, you fiend. You are a demon. I’m sure you don’t even celebrate the Christian holidays.”

“Mmmhmm,” Crowley replied. Aziraphale would show up on Crowley’s doorstep on Christmas morning with a goose and a rather horrified look in his eyes at the thought of trying to cook it, just like he always did (it was okay, Crowley was rather good at roasting things. There was something rather demonic about it, at the end of the day). He had to admit, he was starting to get a little tired of this unending pretence.

“The nineteenth century was rather fantastic though,” Crowley added, to the silence between them. “I don’t blame you for celebrating it.”

Aziraphale frowned at him, as if waiting for the punchline.

“I thought you slept for most of it?”

Crowley shrugged. “Well, yeah. Quite a bit. Saw some things though, you know. And caught up on a lot of it when I woke up again in 1884.”

Aziraphale was still blinking at him, in increasing bewilderment.

“No, but really,” Crowley continued. “Think about it. the nineteenth century was amazing. So many fantastic things to happen. Do you remember Darwin?”

“Hmm,” Aziraphale replied. “We’re a bit conflicted about him, upstairs.”

“I was with him on the HMS Beagle. Remind me to tell you about that time with the turtle one day.”

“I’d rather not,” Aziraphale said with a shudder – but he was smiling too, despite himself. The tip of his nose was going red, and Crowley was pretty certain that it would start running in about an hour or so. Aziraphale was always on the brink of catching colds, feeling the strange sensations of sickness for a few hours before he miracled them away again. Crowley had taken to carrying around a series of monogrammed silk handkerchiefs, just in case. Aziraphale hardly ever remembered to return them to him, but that was quite alright.

“Napoleon wasn’t exactly great,” Aziraphale remarked. “Bit of a beastly fellow. Absolutely no appreciation for a good cheese, either. Worst man to have to a dinner party. Just complained incessantly about the Russians, and tried to show everyone his holiday pictures. Awful.”

“I mean, I’m not sure that was the worst of his crimes,” Crowley replied. “But he wasn’t the limit of it. Abolitionism – that was a great idea. Even if things haven’t exactly balanced out yet.”

“Yeah,” the angel said. “And they invented so much stuff too, in such a short amount of time! The camera! I’ve got one, you know, I keep taking pictures of absolutely everything.”

Crowley was well aware of that – he had been the recipient of a number of Aziraphale’s photographs, all put in pretty little frames. There were a lot of ducks involved.

“And have you seen paperclips! I don’t know how they come up with things like that. Incredible little things. Have completely revolutionised the way I do my paperwork.”

“Angel, you don’t do any paperwork.”

Aziraphale flapped a hand at him. “Well, you know, they would have done if I did. Besides, I could do paperwork if I wanted to.”

“Of course you could,” Crowley agreed, because it was true – no doubt it would be the most well-behaved paperwork in existence. Everything would be signed and would be ordered in the correct way all of the time, because the paper would be too worried about upsetting Aziraphale to do anything else. The main problem with it, Crowley suspected, would be that Aziraphale would simply forget entirely about it within several hours, and it would live out the rest of its days buried beneath collectors’ editions and old cups of cocoa.

“Gramophone records – honestly, I can’t imagine they will ever come up with anything as useful or practical for listening to music. Wonderful novels, too, such inventive new genres and ideas – did you read Carmilla? And the medical advances too - anaesthesia – what an amazing thing.”

“Cocaine!” Crowley countered.

Aziraphale tutted under his breath. “Beethoven, Austin, van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Yoshitoshi, Oscar Wilde…”

“Karl Marx?”

“Wasn’t he one of yours?”

Crowley looked scandalised. “Not at all. I assumed one of your lot were involved in that whole affair. Sounded like your kind of stuff, before it all went to hell.”

Aziraphale shook his head. “Nope. Guess that one was all on the humans.”

They looked at each other, both of them smiling, and then they both looked away quickly, just in case anyone had seen them. Not that anyone was watching, of course – the crowd on the field were all focused much more intently on the goings on in front of them.

“So much beautiful art last century. And music too.” Aziraphale sounded a little dreamy now.

“Bet you weren’t happy when they invented blue jeans, though.”

The angel shuddered. “Well, no, that one was something of a mistake. Combustion engines though! They bring everyone so much closer together.”

Crowley looked a little sheepish. “Actually, those are more of a long-term project of our team. Talk to me in a century about global warming. Apologies in advance.”

“Thanks for the warning. They brought the Olympic Games back though. That was rather wonderful.”

“Well yes, you would think so. One day you will stop loving the Greeks quite as much as you do.”

“Never. You know what else I liked? Test cricket.”

“Urgh,” Crowley said. “Of course you do. Personally, I have high hopes for international football. Particularly the fans. I think there is a whole new world of potential there to exploit.”

A man somewhere was making a speech, but neither of them was that interested in it. The crowd shifted closer anyway, excited faces peering towards machinery out of their view. Anxious old men stared at the skies, muttering to each other about the weather: young children tugged on their parents’ hands and demanded to be picked up, so they could see better.

“I have to ask you,” Crowley said, leaning in closer. “I have had my suspicions for a while, but since we don’t normally talk shop-”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Aziraphale said, a little sharply. Crowley rolled his eyes.

“Yes, of course, we never see each other, absolutely not. So, whilst we are here, I just have to ask – the Eiffel Tower?”

Aziraphale blushed.

“Oh, don’t.”

“No, but really. What on earth were you thinking?”

Aziraphale was squirming by this point. “Look, I know it is a bit… odd looking, but I saw the plans and I just thought, wow, now that would be a beautiful addition to the Parisian skyline, and they were going to go for something just so ugly looking, and all it took was a little bit of convincing. And see, I was right! Everyone loves it!”

“I mean… there were a lot of people protesting it, angel. And aren’t they going to pull in down in a couple of years, anyway?”

Aziraphale shot him another look. This one was rather briefer and screamed over my dead body.

“Give me time,” he replied. “I’m sure I can convince them not to get rid of it just yet. Trust me, give me a few more decades and no one will be able to picture Paris without it.”

The angel sounded so sincere that Crowley had to fight with himself for a minute to stop himself reaching over and ruffling his hair. The tower was bizarre looking, but he supposed that if Aziraphale liked it then he could learn to live with it.

“Well, the nineteenth century was great, we can agree on that at any rate,” he remarked, as a rather loud mechanical sound began from somewhere close by – things were evidently getting started. “And the twentieth century hasn’t been too bad so far either. Let’s hope this one is just as excellent.”

“Oh, I’m certain it will be,” Aziraphale said. Crowley would later use this as a prime example of the angel being very, very wrong, but neither of them were to know about that just yet. “Do you want to get closer?”

Crowley nodded, and they shuffled through the crowds, over the muddy ground and hard earth beneath it, through the heat of the human bodies clustered around them. By the time they got close enough to see what was happening they were pressed close together, their bodies pressed in one long line down their sides, their hands not quite touching. Crowley could feel the movement as the angel shifted impatiently.

“Have you met either of them?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley shook his head.

“You?”

“No,” the angel replied. “I think this one is all them, too. I suppose it shouldn’t be so surprising that they are trying – they have been thinking about it, making plans, for centuries.”

“And painting our wings for longer even that that,” Crowley added. “Think about that. Your beloved ancient Greeks, carving wings on their gods before they even knew about angels. They have been dreaming of the skies for thousands of years, angel.”

“Who can blame them?”

In front of them, a strange contraption – white fabric and box frames and a thing that looked almost like a canoe suspended in the middle of them, with the words ‘Wright Flyer’ painted on the side. Two men were standing in front of it, flipping a coin.

“What do you think they are betting on?” Aziraphale asked. “Who gets to go first, or who gets to stay safe on the ground?”

“Oh, definitely who gets to go first,” Crowley said, a note of awe in his voice despite himself. “You know people. They have the souls of adventurers, every single one of them. They made it together, but only one of them gets to be the first person to fly it – they both have to be desperate to be the one who does, the one who gets to bring humanity this next step.”

Aziraphale was looking at him, trying not to smile, a deep and irreversible fondness in his eyes.

“You old romantic,” he said.

“Shut up.”

They stood in silence as one man got in the aircraft, switched on the engine, ran their safety checks, and finally took flight. The cumbersome thing took off, and then soared above them, white against the dark sky, the world’s first successful aeroplane.

“Well,” Aziraphale said, quietly. “I suppose, no matter what else this century does end up bringing, they will always have this going for them.”

Crowley nodded.

“That’s one thing to hold on to, isn’t it? That humans, for all their faults and their flaws and their pain – that this century, they learnt to fly.” 

 


 

 

[8] London. 1996.

 

“Goodness, what on earth are you wearing?” 

Crowley paused in his saunter – really there was no other word for it – to look down at himself. His black jeans were rather artfully ripped and were the exact same colour as his black denim jacket. Clearly convinced that his ensemble was absolutely fine, he ran his hands instead through his hair, which he was wearing long and half-tied up at the moment. Aziraphale always found some secret delight in watching how Crowley’s looks changed with the times – himself had found an ideal cut of suit and sweater some decades ago and had never really bothered to change much since then.

Angelic beings don’t tend to put too much wear on their clothes.

“What are you talking about?” Crowley asked, clearly having finally decided that nothing notable was out of place.

“Those… shoes!”

“Oh!” Crowley said. “They’re called Doc Martens. It’s a fashion thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

“They look… heavy.”

“They’re fine, I promise. Want me to get you a pair?”

“Lord, no,” Aziraphale replied with a shudder, and Crowley smiled at him, eyes hidden behind his sunglasses but his teeth flashing just a little. 

“What are you doing here?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley shrugged.

“Just out for a wander.”

Right. Because the demon regularly went for walks that just happened to take him close to Aziraphale’s bookshop. Well, actually, that was true – Crowley did seem to stop by fairly frequently, so that might not have been a lie at all. But then again, Crowley was a demon, so maybe everything was an elaborate ruse. Bother. It was getting increasingly difficult to tell what-was-what these days. All Aziraphale had wanted to do was go out for a nice little wander and maybe have a chat with some of the other local proprietors he knew, have a look at the little bookstall at the market and the old antique shop and maybe stop by the greengrocers and the butchers, and then at that little plant stall to see if they had any of those orchids that they’d had in last week that Crowley would definitely like. And just because he was thinking about buying Crowley flowers didn’t mean that he actually wanted to see Crowley, or even that he liked him. It was just… well, who knows what it was. 

“Coffee?” Crowley said, cutting through Aziraphale’s internal conundrum and indicating in the vague direction of somewhere further down the street. Aziraphale found himself frowning, despite himself.

“What happened to tea? What was wrong with tea? I mean, yes, from a colonial perspective there is a lot wrong with the European’s relationship with tea, but what I mean is, coffee isn’t any better, and all of a sudden on every corner all you ever see are coffee shops these days, and no one bothers making proper tea anymore, it’s all teabags and no steeping and-”

“They do cake.”

Aziraphale brightened perceptibly.

“Oh, well, lead on then.”

They made it about five shops down before Aziraphale was distracted. “Is that a bookshop?”

Crowley made an exasperated noise, but Aziraphale just hummed in response. He knew the exact difference between the ‘pretending to be annoyed’ and ‘actually annoyed’ noises.

“Oh hush. I’ve been hunting for an early print of The Tale of Genji for a while, and this looks like just the kind of shop that might stock it.”

Crowley lounged in the doorway looked absolutely unscrupulous and attracting the concerned eye of the shopkeeper as he and Aziraphale talked stock and discussed a book fair happening in a few weeks, in which a number of first editions were rumoured to be coming up for auction. The whole time the young man stocking the shelves was shooting Crowley rather awe-inspired glances and seemed desperately to be trying to get his attention. Unfortunately, Crowley was watching Aziraphale instead, and seemed completely oblivious to the human’s charms.

“All done,” Aziraphale said, when he had wrapped up his purchased (he just couldn’t resist!) and had wandered back over to the demon. He had to admit a certain amount of pleasure at having Crowley’s total attention like that, though he knew it was probably terribly blasphemous for him to think that. “Cake?”

Crowley rolled his eyes at him but held open the door and gestured the angel through it anyway. He led the angel (“no more distractions!”) down the street to the little coffee shop, finding them a table and then ordering Aziraphale something called a latte, which the angel could grudgingly admit wasn’t too bad, though it still came a distant third to tea and cocoa. Crowley himself drank something tremendously black and bitter, but he kept stealing mouthfuls of the latte anyway, as if he had only ordered his own drink so it would match his aesthetic. Outside it began to rain, the sort of slow and lazy drizzle you only ever found in England, and the near-empty coffee shop developed that lovely, cosy atmosphere only ever acquired inside when the bad weather is inside, the windows steaming up and the chatter on the radio forming a background hum. It was warm, and soft, and an umbrella dripped steadily onto the floor by the door, the puddle catching the light from the overhead light and splitting into fractals.

“Do you remember what used to be around here?” Crowley asked him, and Aziraphale frowned for a moment before he realised – the church. The land it had once stood on had been reclaimed after the war, and he didn’t really like to go past there anymore. it made him feel peculiar, in ways he could not really explain.

That had been a strange evening, hadn’t it? Not just the events at the church – it wasn’t every day that you faced down Nazi fanatics over some books – but the aftermath of it too. Crowley had driven him home in silence, and when they had reached Aziraphale’s place had given him a funny little look and told him to please take better care of himself in the future, or something to that effect. Aziraphale had still been grappling with a rather momentous realisation about his feelings for Crowley that had punched him right in the brain cells when the demon had handed him his books, and so hadn’t been paying proper attention. It had only been later that he had realised what the unspoken words were, the don’t scare me like that and the don’t put yourself at risk like that and the don’t make me live in this world without you.

It had made something strange growl in his chest in ways that he was not entirely sure were heavenly. But, as ever, there just hadn’t really been time to sort things out after that, and Aziraphale had left that realisation tucked away in the corner of his mind, unable to sort it all out in his head, unwilling to come to terms with it, afraid of what it all might mean and before he had known it the decades had passed, the conversation had fluttered out of his grasp, and now they were here drinking coffee at a table so tiny their knees were touching and they were pretending they weren’t and he was having to fight the desire to touch Crowley’s stupid little man-bun to see if it was as soft as it looked.

“I stole one of the gargoyles,” Crowley admitted. “Went back the next day and nicked it from the rubble. He lives in my flat."

“I’m not even surprised anymore,” Aziraphale told him. “That sounds exactly like the kind of thing you would do. I bet you even named it, didn’t you? Is he called Dave?”

Crowley stuck his tongue out at him.

“It’s called Gloria, actually.”

They smiled at each other, and that brief moment could have been a decade.

“Want to go see a film later?” Aziraphale asked. It felt like the perfect sort of afternoon to go find an empty cinema and hide away from the rain for several hours. But Crowley pulled a face.

“Your films are always so depressing.”

What slander! Particularly from someone who had such terrible taste themselves. “You took me to see Jurassic Park, Crowley.”

“That,” Crowley replied, emphasising his point by waving his fork at the angel. “Is a masterpiece of cinema.”

Aziraphale goggled. “It’s about dinosaurs.

“Masterpiece.”

They stared each other down for a very long moment before Crowley grinned, and shovelled the last mouthful of his chocolate gateaux in his mouth.

“Alright then, what were you thinking?”

“The English Patient.”

The demon groaned. “You have to be kidding me.”

But Aziraphale knew well enough not to capitulate. He held Crowley’s gaze, until the demon threw his hands up in the air in frustration.

“Argh, alright, fine. We’ll go see it, but if I lose the will to live, then it is all your fault. Fancy a drive afterwards?”

“Where were you thinking?”

“The Channel Tunnel.”

All satisfaction that Aziraphale had felt at winning the cinema game rapidly fell away. Was Crowley absolutely mad? I mean yes, in many ways he was and Aziraphale had already known that, but really?

“You know you can’t actually drive that, right? It’s a railway tunnel.”

Crowley smirked. It was sharp enough to cut glass on.

“That shows a woeful lack of imagination.”

It was said with utmost confidence and authority, the kind of tone of the man who has already done the impossible thing and is now just waiting for everyone else to catch up with him.

“You have not driven through the Channel Tunnel,” Aziraphale said, flatly. Crowley just continued to smile back at him.

“You haven’t!”

“No, not yet. But I’m going to try for it tomorrow evening. After the last scheduled rail. I’ve convinced all the right people to conveniently be doing something else. Want to join me?”

“You’re absolutely mad,” he said, but he was smiling too as he said it, entertained despite himself. He found Crowley charming. He couldn’t help himself. And yes, Crowley was a demon, but he was also just Crowley, the same way that Crowley didn’t see the angel, just the Aziraphale: both of them something more than the sum of their parts. The Crowley who had left flowers on the Freddie Mercury memorial, who had followed the developments of the Hubble telescope with absolute glee, who hummed along to Alanis Morrissette on the radio, who was absolutely enamoured with the world wide web, and was constantly trying to get Aziraphale to get some of it in his shop, even though Aziraphale was quite willing to admit that he had absolutely no idea what it even was.

“We can be in Paris by morning,” Crowley said. “We can check on that old chunk of junk you love so much.”

“I would thank you not to call the iconic architectural marvel that is the Eiffel Tower that, if you don’t mind,” Aziraphale replied, without actually saying no.

The smiled at each other across the little table, and the rain continued to fall outside.

Cutting through their silence came the unmistakable sound of the conversation from the only other occupied table in the café, where two young women were having a very awkward and stilted conversation in which they both tried to assess whether they had come out together purely as friends or not. Aziraphale smiled to himself as he watched one of them grab the other’s hand across the table from the corner of his eye. They were beaming at each other, and whispering, and soon enough left the café, presumably to go on and do other romantic things together.

“Love is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?” Aziraphale said, a little dreamily.

“Well sure, until it all goes to hell,” Crowley replied, but he didn’t really sound like he meant it, only that he felt like he should say it.

“You know what I always thought were absolutely charming?” Aziraphale continued. “Human pick-up lines. I know I probably shouldn’t, that I should go on about the death of human culture over the last couple of centuries and so on, but I can’t. Are you a photographer, because I can picture us together; I seem to have lost my phone number, can I have yours; did it hurt when you fell from heaven-” 

“Yes."

Aziraphale blinked. “What?”

Crowley was looking at him with an absolutely earnest expression, which normally meant that he was up to no good.

“Well, I bumped my head a little.”

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes at him. “I thought you sauntered.

Crowley shrugged.

“Still hurt. Accidentally strained an ankle. It’s hard to saunter, you know. Absolutely underrated skill.”

“You’re absolutely terrible,” Aziraphale said, and then they were both smiling, huffing a quiet laugh under their breaths.

“So, what did you buy, then?” Crowley asked, nodding to the brown paper bag at Aziraphale’s feet. He didn’t need any convincing, and was quite happy to show off his purchased, though Crowley did snort when he saw the book for Victorian flower meanings (second edition, with lovely illustrations and only minor wearing on the spine).

“Oh hush,” Aziraphale said. “Like you haven’t read more books about plants than I have.”

“You can prove nothing,” Crowley reminded him, flicking through the pages. He was smiling a little, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, and Aziraphale watched the tip of his finger trace the lines of a crocus.

"If I was a flower, what would I be?"

Crowley stared at him. "What a ridiculous question."

Aziraphale beamed. "I think it is a lovely question. Now tell me what flower you have already decided on, you daft old serpent, and stop pretending to be cool."

The demon made a pained noise in the back of his throat. "You don't even know what cool means."

"I do so. I am very hip, I'll have you know."

Crowley took a deep swig of his coffee, wincing a little at it, clearly just to hide his look of absolute distress at hearing these words coming out of Aziraphale’s mouth. "I bet you don't even know what Nirvana is."

"The state of enlightenment?" Aziraphale asked.

"I can't tell if you're joking or not."

The angel just continued to smile at him, neither confirming or denying Crowley’s suspicion. In truth he did know, but only because Crowley had spent hours talking about them several years ago when that strange album with the baby on the cover had been released, but it was far more fun to watch Crowley squirm.

"You're a white calla lily," Crowley said in the end, begrudgingly, suddenly completely unable to meet Aziraphale’s eyes. Which was probably just as well, because the angel could already feel the tips of his ears going red.

"Hmm. That's a lovely answer."

Crowley reached over with his fork and stole a chunk of Aziraphale’s rather tasty cherry cake as if in retaliation.

"Do you want me to tell you what you are?"

"No," Crowley said. It was petulant, and clearly a lie.

"You're a sunflower."

"Fuck off," was the reply, but Crowley was smiling just a little, nonetheless. 

 


 

 

[9] London. Day 1 of the rest of their lives.

 

They left the Ritz when the waiters shifted from polite hints to outright telling them that closing time was an hour ago. Neither of them said anything, but they begin to walk, slowly and quietly, more of a stroll really, the kind of pace you take when you have nothing to do and all of eternity to do it in. They were pleasantly drunk, and though it faded quickly it left behind the lovely glow, the fuzziness around the edges. They took a long, meandering walk to nowhere, but when they found a corner that would turn them in the direction of the shop Aziraphale touched his elbow and shook his head.

“Let’s go to yours,” he said, and it is strange, because after all this time Aziraphale has only been in his apartment a handful of times, and even then normally only in the corridor, coming over only to pick Crowley up or to tell him off about something mildly irritating that Crowley had done, mostly only to get the angel’s attention.

“Alright,” he said, and Aziraphale’s hand remained on his elbow for several streets, a little gesture that should probably have felt awkward, but didn’t. He has been in love with Aziraphale for a long time, he knows. He isn’t sure when it happened. There were too many days, too many conversations, too many strange and long moments under an endless sky. Aziraphale’s hand is warm through his suit jacket. It feels right, to have him here.

“I was glad you were there,” he tells the angel, not really aware that he was speaking out loud. “At the end – or at least, when I thought it was the end – when I thought we were all going to die and the war would begin. I was glad you were there, with me.”

“My dear,” Aziraphale replied, smiling a little. “There isn’t anywhere else in the world I would have rather been.”

They paused. They were nearly at the apartment, and the street around them was quiet. There was still light in the sky, but the street-lights were flicking on, making everything warm and soft. It had rained earlier, when they were in their cocoon at the Ritz, and the streets were damp beneath their feet – the rain had washed away the smell of London, leaving just that indefinable city-after-a-rain-shower smell, clean concrete and liquid dust and the absence of grit.

“I mean it,” the angel said, with a firmness to his tone. “If I were to die – if either of us would – not just the end of our corporeal bodies, but real death – I would want it to be together. Is that terribly selfish of me?”

“Maybe a little,” Crowley replied. “But I feel the same way.”

“It’s not very angelic of me really,” Aziraphale said, and his hair was an absolute mess, curls sticking up in odd directions. Crowley reached out, to flatten some of them, but somehow his hand just ended up cupped around Aziraphale’s face instead. His skin was improbably soft, loose and warm, just the hint of cheekbone somewhere beneath.

“I don’t think it is really very demonic either.”

They stare at each other for a while, just smiling. A car passed and the moment faded. It didn’t matter. There is something calm and still and wonderful lingering between them – there will be many, many more moments. They keep walking, but as Crowley pulled his hand away from Aziraphale’s face the angel grabbed it, and now they were hand-in-hand.

“When did you know?” he asks, as they walk the streets. He’s not sure he has ever seen London this quiet – not sure he has ever really seen London quiet at all in the daylight – and wondered if the city knows, if the vast and living behemoth so close to Tadfield somehow knew what had nearly happened, if it was breathing a great sigh of relief and giving two supernatural beings a moment alone in thanks. It was quite possible. Stranger things had happened, just that week.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Aziraphale replied. “I suppose I’ve known for a lot longer than I possibly wanted to admit, even to myself.”

“Well, you are very prissy.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re an angel, darling. I suspect it comes with the territory.”

“I have seen you with your clothes, Crowley. I know exactly how prissy you can be.”

“Yeah, well,” Crowley said, and the words feel strange in his mouth. “I guess something from the old days had to stick around.”

They reached his apartment, eventually. It was neat and clean, and all remnants of demon goo have been cleaned out of it. Given that Crowley hasn’t actually been back to his apartment since everything had happened, he had to assume it was Aziraphale, when he had been wearing Crowley’s body. Which, given Aziraphale’s complete ignorance of bleach and the modern vacuum cleaner, not to mention that he seemed to view dust as an old friend, meant that Aziraphale had done it for Crowley. Well, maybe not the goo – that was probably quite disgusting. But the mess and the dirt and all that stuff, for sure.

It was nice, actually, being home. He hadn’t been… avoiding it, per se. But there had been so much to do, what with the whole body-swapping fiasco, and then his lovely Bentley had been there, just begging to be taken out, so he had spent about sixty hours cruising around narrow country lanes and overly-congested city roads that just so happened to clear of traffic the moment he arrived, and then he’d stopped by the bookshop, and then Aziraphale had smiled in him in a strange, slightly bashful way, and asked him if he wanted lunch at the Ritz, and then… well, he supposed then they were here, and now.

“I have to say,” Aziraphale said, stepping neatly out from behind him. “I did rather loathe how terribly minimalist it all is in here. Far more trendy than what I am used to, I’m afraid. But I did find the bookshelf.”

Ah, the bookshelf. Tucked away behind a recessed sliding panel. Couldn’t have books ruining the image, after all. They weren’t his thing, not like Aziraphale, but there were some that he had kept, over the centuries. Some beautiful pieces of human ingenuity that had made him feel in ways that nothing else could.

“Trendy,” he mocked. “Ridiculous.”

There was one left, open on the side table. He glanced at the cover and laughed.

“Melmoth the Wanderer. Never thought you’d have it in you, angel.”

But Aziraphale wasn’t listening, he had wandered away, to the plant room.

“Crowley?”

“What is it?”

“Your plants seem rather… agitated.”

“What?” he marched into the room, to the sight of all of his well-trained, definitely not well-loved plants shaking furiously at the angel. Agitated was a rather kind word for it. There was a pot of ivy that seemed like it was about to wrap itself around Aziraphale’s neck and strangle him. But then, all of a sudden, the plants immediately stopped. One small ficus burst into spontaneous bloom.

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, his voice all soft and warm. “Look at that. They were worrying about you.”

“Fuck off.”

But the plants were now growing at a rate that far exceeded the natural order. Their surprising delight at the return of their owner had prompted them to get rather remarkably affectionate.

“Oh dear…”

“I… ermm… Crowley?”

“Stay where you are, angel. They’re just plants. I’ll… ermm…”

But the plants were now wrapping themselves around him, fronds curling around his legs and his hips and his chest. One particularly adventurous one managed to get a frond right around his head, knocking his sunglasses off kilter and blocking his view. He would have just pulled them all off, but he didn’t want to break them. It had been a difficult enough few days without having to deal with the secret guilt that came from breaking his house plants.

“Right, that’s quite enough of that,” the angel said, and the plants seemed to shiver around Crowley’s body. “I know you’re very happy he is home, we all are, but you need to act properly, or he’ll get all huffy. Get off him now, go back to your pots, you lovely things. I’ll make sure he doesn’t go too far again.”

The leaves were still shivering, but they were also receding. A slow slide across his face, and then his angel came into view, smiling with mild exasperation at the plant still clinging to Crowley’s ankle. Even as the others retreated to their pots that little one remained, and in the end Aziraphale sank to his knees, reaching out to touch the pale green tendril with the tip of one finger, a slow stroke.

“I know,” he said. “I miss him when he is gone, too.”

And then the little plant was around Aziraphale’s finger instead, and he leant over to deposit it with the rest of its friends, and there was a strange and damp sensation in the corners of Crowley’s eyes that he had to blink to fight away. His sunglasses were still off kilter and he was pretty sure that one oversized rubber plant had completely ruined his hair, but he couldn’t move.

“Aziraphale,” he said instead, even if he didn’t really know what else to say.

“I know, darling,” the angel said, and he smiled up at Crowley as he came back to his feet, brushing at the threadbare knees of his trousers and reaching up to push Crowley’s sunglasses back into place, but the demon got their first, his fingers tangling with Aziraphale’s and the arm of the glasses, pulling them off his face. He didn’t really want to hide anymore.

“There you are,” Aziraphale tells him, and it is with such a deep and resolute fondness that Crowley feels galaxies in his chest, stars rising and falling and burning and dying and living, gloriously living, in that vast part within himself that should have only ever been darkness, but never truly had been. And there is so much between them, the knowledge and weight of so many years, the things that they have done together and apart, the world that they had both risked everything for that still lived, and breathed, the joy of thousands of years of exploration, and the love, the love, oh the love.

“What now?” Aziraphale asked him, his voice quiet and soft.

“What do you want?” Crowley said. Anything, anything you want, the galaxies scream. Anything for you.

“A holiday, maybe,” Aziraphale said, with such matter-a-factness that Crowley blinked in surprise. “To get away from all of this for a while, I think.”

Crowley tried to take a step backwards, to give Aziraphale the appropriate space, but he couldn’t, because the angel was holding on to both his wrists, his thumbs resting where Crowley’s pulse points would have been if only he had been human, and for a moment he wished that he was, just a little, because if his heart had been beating then maybe it would have alleviated the pressure within it.

“I was thinking a nice little cottage somewhere. With a field where you can lie in the sun and a conservatory where you can yell at your plants and a nice south-facing patio where I can read all day long. It’ll have to have a fireplace, of course, so we can sit in front of it in the evening and do whatever it is you’re supposed to do with open fires – I think marshmallows are involved somewhere? And I’ll make you dinner and you can make the wine better and we can sleep even though our bodies don’t need to, and I can kick my shoes off at the door and you can tell me off and…”

“That sounds nice,” Crowley interrupted. “How long were you thinking?”

“Oh, I don’t know. A few years, a couple of decades? We have lots of time, and I suspect, a large amount of accrued holiday pay.”

And then Aziraphale kissed him, that sort of soft, falling kiss that feels immediately and intensely right, and makes you wonder just why you haven’t been doing this sort of thing for the entire time you’ve known each other, that makes something bright and feral leap inside you, that makes you tangle your hands in their hair and your limbs around theirs with the gentle desperation that comes from never, ever wanting to let go. 

 


 

 

[10] Somewhere in the south of England. Day 3750.

 

It had taken them a while to find the right place. Both of them had exceedingly high standards and a number of rather excessive demands on the kind of place they were going to buy together. Aziraphale wanted a south facing garden, a large conservatory, and off-road parking. Crowley wanted an additional room large enough for a library, large windows, and an attic large enough to store a disproportionate number of stored knick-knacks. It caused the estate agent rather a lot of confusion until she realised that they were actually being so demanding about things the other wanted. 

They had quite a few requests about location, as well. They wanted somewhere with ready access to a post-office, significant distance from any apple orchards, and windows from which they could see no other houses.

That poor estate agent. Aziraphale had felt rather sorry for her. House-hunting with Crowley was an experience. Aziraphale knew that he was pre-disposed to seeing the good in everything: he went into every house with his hands behind his back and a pleasant smile on his face that did not waver no matter how much the house actually disappointed. He was not an intimidating person – he had long ago accepted this and did not mind in the slightest. Crowley, on the other hand, seemed to amp up every personality trait he had in the face of real estate purchase. His hips moved in such a way that Aziraphale ended up slightly concerned that he would dislocate a leg. His sunglasses got noticeably darker, his hair even spikier, and his voice seemed to hiss a lot more than normal as he assessed every possible black mould stain, warped floorboard or leaking pipe. He reduced more than several homeowners to near-tears in his ruthless questioning about drainage and the wiring.

“I just want it to be perfect, angel,” Crowley protested when Aziraphale had suggested that he could be a bit nicer after leaving one cottage rejected for its lack of storage space.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Yes, but what do you even want, darling?”

Crowley had sighed, and took Aziraphale’s hand in his own, his eyes still fixed very firmly on the road rather than at him. Crowley still touched Aziraphale sometimes with a gentleness that spoke of fear, of some deep-rooted expectation of rejection, of thousands of years of believing that this would never happen. Aziraphale just squeezed his fingers gently and didn’t let go, even when his hands started to get clammy. He always waited for Crowley to let go. Between them, the gear stick shifted, even though the Bentley had definitely never been an automatic before then.

“I suppose,” Crowley said, eventually. “I just want a place where I can see us both. All the ones we’ve looked at so far – I can see you in them, or me in them, but never both of us at once. They're either too country-farmhouse-rustic or too minimalist-open-plan.”

“That’s what redecorating is for, my love.”

Crowley had smiled at that, and his sunglasses had lightened again, so that Aziraphale could just about see his eyes through them again.

They found the right place in the end. Tucked back from the road with a large drive and a front garden full of wildflowers and potted lavender; a small kitchen and two large rooms downstairs. They added the conservatory (it was amazing how quickly contractors worked when Aziraphale was smiling at them, and how reasonable their quotes were when Crowley was tapping his foot) and knocked through the upstairs into one huge room and bathroom. Skylights were added to the roof so Crowley could look at the stars at night, and they put in the largest bath it was possible to commission so Aziraphale could continue his rather decadent pastime of reading erotic novels in the bath with a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. One of the downstairs rooms did indeed become a library, although Aziraphale insisted on Crowley getting his own bookshelves for his previously hidden historical collection, and his quickly growing selection of gardening books. The conservatory was quickly taken over by a wide variety of plants, as well as a pair of armchairs and a little table just the right size for two teacups so that Aziraphale could keep Crowley company while he hissed at the plants. He was cultivating an increasingly impressive array of tropical plants at the moment.

Bird of paradise flowers were entirely unsuited to a British climate, but evidently Crowley did not care about that, and the plants were growing accordingly.

The garden was large and sprawling, and Crowley was growing grapes in it. He had vague plans to try and make wine in the future, some time, if he could convince Aziraphale not to eat all the grapes first. Their vines put out a rather surprising abundance of grapes, mostly because Aziraphale whispered encouragement to them as often as he could. He kept that hidden from Crowley, who probably wouldn’t approve, though he rather suspected that the demon knew about it anyway. 

Their wardrobe was split in two – all dark on one side and all light on the other. He liked it, seeing all their clothes side-by-side like that. It looked like they fit together, matching, all soft blue and whites to deep reds and blacks. He let Crowley chose the furniture, all high-quality wood and slate grey fabrics, and then he bought Aziraphale very elegant and colour coordinated tartan print cushions and throws to go with them, even if he did roll his eyes when he handed them over.

It was nice, living with Crowley. He had never lived with anyone before and had always assumed that he was just the sort of entity that would need his own space and excessive quantities of his own company. But being with Crowley wasn’t like being with anyone else. Crowley seemed perfectly happy with absolutely everything he did. After thousands of years of being the primary disappointment of heaven, it was rather refreshing.

Sometimes Aziraphale forgot to get up from the sofa for several days if he found something particularly engrossing. Crowley just came and shoved him up and threw his legs over Aziraphale’s and shoved his own nose in his subscription copy of Gardener’s Weekly magazine. He let his tea get cold and Crowley warmed it up for him with his fingertips; he trailed his sleeves in sauces when he was cooking and Crowley waved them clean again; Aziraphale got caught up explaining plots and ideas and realised he had been talking for hours and Crowley was just sitting there nodding and listening, smiling just a little like he was absolutely content. Their bodies didn’t really need to eat but they had spent so many thousands of years that sometimes their bodies forgot that now – when his stomach rumbled Crowley would just go and get Aziraphale’s special biscuit tin (always containing the good parts of the selection box, and never the plain hobnobs or ginger nuts).

It was lovely. And he had been a little worried at first that Crowley would be overly bothered by just how affectionate Aziraphale had found himself to be, but instead he seemed to absorb it all with delight, like a snake on a hot rock.

When they were sat on the sofa, Crowley’s legs across him, Aziraphale’s hand would always find the softness of the skin Crowley’s ankle, strangely delicate beneath his thin skin; the hard line of his arms in the car, bent at the elbow as they gripped the steering wheel; finding the warmth of his pulse at his wrist when they walked along the street of the little village; tracing the lines of Crowley’s veins patterning his inner thighs; resting his forehead against the back of Crowley’s neck; rubbing sunscreen into his nose in the summer; pressing his palms against his scales in the winter when he got too cold and coiled back into his snake form under the covers; grabbing him by the hips in the kitchen to move him out of the way; tangling his fingers in his hair when they watched films; tracing the constellations of freckles across his shoulder-blades; straightening the feathers of his non-corporeal wings; in the bath, Aziraphale holding Crowley’s hands, blowing the soap suds of each of his fingers, one by one.

On the roof, in the middle of the night, kissing the line of Crowley’s collarbones as the demon told him all the stories etched into the stars.

Every touch, every individual moment picked out in the fabric of their lives, and Crowley seemed ecstatic each time, every kiss like their first, every moment equally precious, even though they had shared so many millions over their long existence. And every now and again, when they were talking about the old days or sharing stories about the portions of their lives apart, Crowley would get that look in his eye, something just a little bit lost, like he was trying to imagine what it would be like if they went back to how it had been before.

And all Aziraphale could do in those moments was wrap himself around Crowley as much as possible, press his face into the indefinable feeling of feathers that existed in a different plane of existence, and try to push as much love to him as possible. Honestly, they had been retired in the countryside for over a decade, and still the daft old snake seemed to worry that Aziraphale was going to change his mind.

He was an angel, after all. All angels were meant to love, he knew that – but he couldn’t help but feel, as blasphemous as it might have been, that he had been made specifically to be here with Crowley.

Yes, he had to say, he was rather happy with retirement.

He’d earned it, after all.

And now he got to have the best of times, the sun-kissed mornings watching Crowley sip coffee and glare at the honeysuckle and shrug himself into the thickest, heaviest robe Aziraphale had been able to buy him because he was always just a little bit chilly. And if bestowing endless love and affection on Crowley was the only price he had to pay – then he was more than happy to get his metaphysical wallet out.

“Darling,” he announced one morning, in the greenhouse. Crowley had his shirtsleeves rolled up, new freckles on his pale forearms from a weekend in the south of France investigating vineyards. “I have just had a very important revelation.”

Crowley reached over to the teapot sat on their little table, checking the temperature. “Oh yeah? What’s that?”

Aziraphale rested the copy of Gravity’s Rainbow that he had been reading on the curve of his belly. “You have saved me hundreds of times from silly little mistakes I have gotten myself into, haven’t you?”

Crowley hummed and nodded, still intensely focused on his Venus flytrap. The little thing was not being nearly vicious enough, as far as he was concerned – he had lectured it at some length the night before about the necessity of larger trigger hairs, but it did not seem to have got the message.

“I think that makes you my guardian angel.”

Aziraphale had never seen such an utter and tremendous moment of self-implosion. Crowley simply froze, as if his brain had switched right off, blinking slowly, staring in mild horror at the plant in front of him for perhaps the longest twenty-seconds that had ever happened. His normally rather pasty complexion had turned a rather alarming shade of tomato, and his eyes were the size of saucers.

“Um, darling, are you alright?”

Crowley span on his heel, his water mister in hand, and sprayed Aziraphale right in the face.

The angel spluttered, already laughing.

“Don’t you ever say that to me again!” Crowley hissed, sounding terribly embarrassed.

“But you are though!” he said again, and Crowley immediately reverted to snake, his blush hidden now beneath the scales but definitely there. The angel and snake stared at each other for a long moment.

“Are you done?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley moved his head from side to side in a very clear negative response.

“I’m sorry, darling,” the angel said, still smiling, and opened his arms. Crowley unwrapped himself, and slithered closer, letting Aziraphale pick up the long coils of him. The snake draped himself around his shoulders and refused to change back for three days.

Retirement was wonderful.  

 


 

 

[11] Atlantis. Day 10,052.

 

It surprised Crowley that they hadn’t made it to Atlantis before now – they had been travelling a lot in retirement, going to all the places they had talked about and seen in brief moments over the centuries to spend time there properly. It was nice, getting to do the things that normal humans took for granted. Airplanes, ferries, trains. Hotels, luggage, guidebooks (and hell, Aziraphale had a lot of guidebooks. Some of them were modern and useful, some of them described places that no longer existed in countries that had different names now, but Aziraphale still had fun trying to figure out what was what, and that was all that really mattered). Exploring cities with Aziraphale was always a wonderful experience – he always found the best bakeries and knew in advance where to procure the highest quality bottle of the local speciality.

But despite their touring, they had not made it to Atlantis. Perhaps too connected to the whole apocalypse business, they had just sort of avoided talking about it until enough years had passed that the memory of it all had lost their sharp edges. He was glad they were here, though – Adam went on a regular basis and was forever sending postcards and giving them long rambling speeches about all the fascinating things you could learn from the Atlanteans.

If it had been a real city, then it probably would have looked like a lot of other places that Crowley had seen over the centuries. But it wasn’t a real place – it was something created by a near-eleven-year-old antichrist’s imagination and willed into being by a series of creationist powers far superior to anything else on earth. Because of that, it looked like a cross over between every mermaid city and comic book underwater civilisation ever created.

Absolutely everything was covered in fish, or fish related motifs.

They had arrived at its port that morning, set for a nice long weekend away from their time spent doing very little and having a good time doing so. The harbour had been bustling, full of locals and tourists, and they had immediately headed away from the crowds to the quieter back streets, where they could wander without too many people around. In the last ten minutes, Crowley had already spotted sixteen seashell embellishments, four hammerhead shark paintings, and a rather impressive mosaic featuring a confused looking manatee.

“See, I told you a holiday would be nice,” the angel said to the demon, as they wandered through the streets that still, ever so slightly, smelled like the inside of a shell.

“I didn’t say it wouldn’t be nice,” Crowley said in reply. “I just said that we haven’t done anything to warrant a holiday, and that we went to Brazil two weeks ago.”

Aziraphale waved a hand at him, that little flappy thing he did when he knew that he was wrong but didn’t really have anything to say about it.

“Do you think there are any nice bookshops around here?” he asked instead, and Crowley smiled, mostly to himself.

“I suspect that even if there isn’t, some will miraculously spring into existence, just to make you happy.”

Aziraphale tutted. “Crowley, we’ve talked about this. It is very irresponsible of you to create businesses like that. People have to maintain them after we leave, you know.”

Crowley shrugged, his hands buried in his pockets. “I’m a demon, darling. We’ve been over this. Irresponsibility is my thing.

“Says the being that leaves automatic watering systems running for his plants.”

They went to the library first (Adam had told Aziraphale about it too often for it to be avoided) where the angel spent rapturous hours in the records room whilst the demon idly made a woman trip over a pile of books, dropping her coffee and ruining her shoes and coincidentally falling into the arms of her soulmate, who just so happened to be there at the time. Crowley supposed the evil part of it was separate to the outcome, which was really a coincidence and didn’t have anything to do with him, so it was probably okay.

He watched the two women walk off, presumably to start their lives together, and then went to drag Aziraphale away. He felt a bit bad about it, but he had spent entire weeks lingering in libraries in the past, and Aziraphale had made him promise to drag him away after a few hours.

The angel was prised from his manuscripts with minimal fuss, and the two went for lunch. It seemed the Atlanteans specialised in a wide variety of seafood, which felt oddly cannibalistic in a very illogical way. The sun came out whilst they were eating, heating up the city quickly and giving a rather charming lustre to the various statues of seahorses littering the place.

“Want to go to the beach?” Aziraphale said as they paid the bill (or at least, the bill was paid. The idea of money – and debit cards in particular – were something of an abstract one to the pair. Crowley had a very shiny black card that looked very impressive and was always full of money, mostly because Crowley could not conceive of a world in which he did not have money. He supposed it was more demonic to never pay for anything – but he always felt rather bad for not doing so. Aziraphale had no cards: instead, his old leather wallet always seemed to contain the exact change for every purchase he made, in battered old coins and notes folded up at least four times. Some of this currency had to change financial denomination rather rapidly, and there was at least one note that was having something of an identity crisis).

Crowley nodded in reply, and they made their way towards the front, but when they were getting close Aziraphale took his hand and pulled him away from the stretch of sand full of tourists, following narrow streets running roughly parallel to the shore until the emerged at a much smaller beach. Crowley didn’t mind following Aziraphale around – he was a natural wanderer but did always seem to end up exactly where he was supposed to be, as if the geography was too afraid to offend him. It didn’t have beautiful white sands, just normal yellow-ish stuff, but it was empty, and far nicer. Aziraphale carefully nosed off his shoes at the edge of the beach and rolled his ends of his trousers up very neatly, and Crowley watched him with a small smile on his face.

He didn’t bother doing anything like that – sand was always too afraid to stick to Crowley. He had made rather a point of that.

Aziraphale immediately went off to paddle, so Crowley spent his time collecting shells from along the shorefront. Anathema liked receiving them, and sometimes she made them into little hanging mobiles for his garden, which made very pleasant little clinking sounds in the breeze. But soon enough Aziraphale’s feet were crinkling and Crowley’s pockets were full, so they sat in the sand in the hot sun, on a blanket that had made itself conveniently available from a little pocket of non-corporeal space.

As did a bottle of champagne, but that wasn’t anyone’s business.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go visit some things, rather than sit here?” he asked, but Aziraphale shook his head.

“We have all week, and I have it from a reliable source that the museum isn’t planning on wandering off any time soon.”

“Oh, that’s alright then,” Crowley replied as he popped the cork. It was rather miraculous that the beach was still empty, despite the fine weather and the number of tourists currently visiting the city, but one sideways glance at Aziraphale’s little contented smile meant that the miracle made a lot more sense.

“Lie down, darling,” Aziraphale said, so he did. He had always thought, in the past, that lying on the ground felt right because of his whole snake-thing, and that was true, but if felt particularly look lying next to Aziraphale, who would stroke his hair and his face and occasionally feed him grapes from the bag at his side. He can’t really remember what it feels like to be an angel, not really, but he thinks that it couldn’t have been as good as this, even if he had been able to sense all of the love in the universe – because Aziraphale wouldn’t have been there, because Aziraphale hadn’t known him, hadn’t loved him yet.  He felt himself sinking into the ground, every muscle in his body slowly relaxing, the sunlight so good against his skin, an angel with his hand in his hair, wrapping his soft fingers around the strands and tugging gently, and his entire side is pressed up against Aziraphale’s side and everything feeling absolutely wonderful, and…

“Oh, darling,” Aziraphale said, some humour in his voice, Crowley barely listening because everything feels just far too tremendous. “You’re, err… you’re in public, my love.”

Well, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but Aziraphale was still scratching gently at his scales, so he wasn’t sure he could be bothered to really think about it all that-

Oh, wait.

He opened his eyes. Everything was a lot brighter, because snakes don’t have ears for sunglasses to rest on, and so they had fallen off.

Well, this was embarrassing. He hadn’t prematurely shifted like this for a very long time.

He risked a glance up at his angel, but Aziraphale was just smiling fondly, and yes, was still slowly and very lightly scratching at the scales right at the top of his spine, which was absolutely lovely as a feeling.

“It’s okay,” Aziraphale said. “No one saw you, there’s no one around, and I can’t say I mind being taken for a rampant snake enthusiast by any passing Atlanteans anyway. As long as the moniker ‘mad old snake man’ doesn’t make it back with us – I think that would cause some very odd looks back home, don’t you think?”

He smiled. Crowley tried to smile back, but that kind of thing is a lot harder with a snake mouth. Did make it a lot easier to eat things, though.

Crowley wrapped a coil around Aziraphale’s middle, which he did not seem to mind at all, and rested his head on the angel’s legs as he procured from one of his many jacket pockets a slim volume of a book (“You should always carry one with you, Crowley! You never know when you might get the chance to read a few pages!”). Crowley peered at the title: The Price of Salt. The pair of them sat in quite contented silence for several hours, until the sun began to dip and the wind picked up a chill and the Aziraphale’s cheeks were turning a little pink from the sun. Then Aziraphale stretched, replacing the black feather from Crowley’s wing that he used as a bookmark between the pages of his little book, and pressed a kiss to the top of Crowley’s head.

“Time to make a move, darling boy,” he said, as Crowley shifted back with quite a bit of effort (he had been very comfortable?”

“Hotel?” he asked, hopefully.

Ah, yes. Of all the things Crowley loved about travelling, hotels were very high up on that list. Not your average Travelodge, you understand – Crowley let Aziraphale pick where they went, but he chose the hotels, and only the most luxurious and extravagant would do. Every part of them seemed specifically designed to please him. Large beds with flawless white sheets and hanging drapes, chocolates left on the pillow, complimentary shampoos that always smelled of sandalwood. Room service! And mini-bars – all those tiny bottles (that, in Crowley’s case, never seemed to show up on the bill).

Aziraphale shot him a fond little smile.

“Hotel,” he replied. “Room service in bed?”

“Oh angel, you do speak my language.”

“Absolutely no rose petals this time though,” Aziraphale told him as he brushed the sand off himself. “It’s ridiculous that you keep convincing them all we’re newlyweds. We do not need all of the candles or massage oil, and whilst I’m quite happy to accept the complimentary champagne, the flowers are all entirely unnecessary.”

Crowley nodded, as if he agreed completely, and didn’t bother to tell Aziraphale that he had already booked them into the honeymoon suite, as he did in every single hotel they ever went to.

 


 

[12] Tadfield. Day 30,668.

 

The two of them had made their way to Tadfield the evening before, both of them having felt the immediate shift in the air. They hadn’t even said anything to each other – had simply got straight into the car and driven without stopping, all the way to Oxfordshire. It wasn’t every day the Antichrist died.

Adam had lived a long and happy life, full of all the dreams and wonders an eleven-year-old boy could have come up with. Dog had stayed by his side for a surprising amount of time for a dog, at which point it had been replaced by a series of other, suspiciously similar Dogs over the years. He had travelled the world and worked for charities and fallen in love and, at the end of it all, had moved back to Tadfield, where it had all started, the place that had shaped him as much as he had shaped it. The place that he had loved more than any other place in the world. 

He was the last of the Them left, and as Crowley and Aziraphale entered his room, he smiled at them.

“Hullo,” he said, a frail shell of an old man tucked up under the covers. “I did hope that you would stop by. I think I am probably off soon.”

“My darling boy,” Aziraphale said, which wasn’t what he had meant to say, but it seemed to do the trick. Adam grinned at them from the bed, and for a moment he was just that young boy again, the young boy standing between the world and its end, in his ripped jeans with his messy hair, the hopes of both sides pinned just on him. Aziraphale sank to his knees at the bedside, and very gently took Adam’s hand in his.

“I sent everyone away,” Adam admitted. “All the kids, and that. I’ve still got a bit of it left, more than enough to convince them all they had urgent errands to run this afternoon. I didn’t want them to have to see me go, you know. I’ve done all my goodbyes, I’ve taken away the worst of the shock and pain already. Do you think that is terribly selfish?”

“You’re allowed to be selfish,” Crowley said. He was standing somewhere close by, behind Aziraphale, and his words might have sounded a little callous, but his tone was soft with sadness. “Selfishness is a very underrated quality, in my opinion.”

“I’m a bit scared of it all, I have to admit,” Adam said. “Of the whole… what comes after. I don’t want to go down there – or up there, if I’m being honest. I’ve met a lot of angels and demons over the years, and the only ones I’ve ever liked are you two. I can’t say I am particularly inclined to spend the rest of eternity stuck with either group. Do you know… does anyone ever go anywhere else? Is there anywhere else?”

Aziraphale stroked his hand, the skin the consistency of parchment.

“I think that you can turn wherever you go into whatever you want, my dear,” he said, softly. “Just like you have done in life.”

“Or perhaps,” Crowley said, not much above a whisper “Perhaps you already have. Perhaps it is already out there, waiting for you – neither a heaven or a hell, but somewhere better than both of them, somewhere where it is always Saturday morning and never Sunday afternoon, where there is always a Dog ready to go on a walk with you.”

“Will they all be there?” Adam asked, his eyes pale and lined but somehow still just the same as they had been when he had been a boy and had decided to save the world. “Pepper and Brian and Wensleydale? Newt and Anathema? Mum and Dad, too?”

“Yeah,” Crowley replied. “I think they will be.”

“I think you might be right,” Adam said. “Sometimes, over the last few years, I have felt my mind begin to wander, and those old feelings, that old power, begin to shift deep down in body. I never was able to work out what it was doing, but now you’ve said that, it sounds right. It feels like maybe that it was I’ve been doing, when I’m dreaming.”

Aziraphale felt that awful tightening in the back of his throat, an overwhelming love for the man in the bed that had once been a boy whose hand he had held at the brink of the end of the world.

“There’s one problem,” Adam continued, looking between the two of them. “I’ll have everyone I love with me I think, if we’re right – apart from you two. You’ll still be here.”

Aziraphale felt a hand, sudden and warm, on his shoulder. Crowley was holding on just a little too tightly, but that was quite alright – Aziraphale needed the touch as much as he did, it seemed.

“That’s the beauty of it,” he told Adam, with a smile. “We might be stuck here, but we’re together. We always have been, really. So you don’t need to worry about us – we’ll always be okay if we’re together.”

“Besides,” Crowley added. “We can technically visit Heaven and Hell with the correct permits. I don’t suppose there would be anything stopping us from visiting Adam-Land, if you give us a passport.”

They stayed with Adam for the rest of the afternoon, quietly talking, until he slowly slipped beyond the veil. The current Dog, this one a scruffy mongrel (they had all been scruffy mongrels) had been asleep at the end of the bed. When his master passed away, the dog didn’t even open its eyes: he just huffed a long side, and followed Adam, as he had done ever since his first form had found Adam in the woods all those decades ago.

They stayed a while, as his body grew cold, making sure that he wasn’t alone. They only slipped out when they heard the car doors slamming outside, signalling the return of his family. They left through the back, and wandered the small streets of Tadfield for a little while, past the cottage where Anathema and Newt had once lived, passed the childhood homes of all of the Them, until they found the Bentley again and dried their eyes and held each other close for just a little while until they got in and drove back to their cottage again. It was dark by the time they were home, and Aziraphale switched every light on, pottering around, making tea and finding the biscuit tin. Crowley just sort of stood, in the middle of the living room, watching him. He took his sunglasses off, folding the arms carefully and placing them in his pocket, pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing it.

“Come here,” he said, eventually, and Aziraphale immediately capitulated. They folded themselves into each other’s arms, an embrace so tight that there was no space between them left at all, and Aziraphale could feel the rise and fall of Crowley’s chest in his own, matching his own, as if they were one.

“I do love you, you know that,” he said, after a while, and Crowley nodded.

“It never gets easier, when it is a human you care about,” the demon said, and he might have said more, but a shrill ringing sound came from the vicinity of the ground. They pulled apart, both of them glaring at the floor, for a long minute.

“I suppose that one is for you then,” Aziraphale said, and busied himself tidying up a little, straightening the throw on the sofa and sliding a rather well-loved copy of Smoke, Lilies and Jade back onto the shelf.

“Demon Crowley,” came a deep and booming voice from somewhere deep within the fireplace. “You are summoned to report immediately to Hell. Upper Level VI, Room XII.”

“It’s amazing,” Crowley said, off-hand. “The way they manage to speak Roman numerals like that. And more to the point, the fact that they still try.”

He clicked his fingers, and the ringing stopped immediately, before the voice had a chance to say anything further. A sudden and overwhelming panic lurched into existence behind Aziraphale’s ribcage.

“I suppose they are panicking because Adam didn’t turn up in hell,” Crowley said. “Absolutely typical-”

“You can’t go back,” Aziraphale interrupted. Crowley stared at him like he had grown a second head, absolutely perplexed.

“What?”

“No, I won’t let you.” Aziraphale was well aware that his voice was probably a little too shrill right now, but he found himself entirely unable to care.

“What on earth are you talking about, angel?”

“You can’t. I know I sort of understood that everything was awful down there from things that you said, and obviously it is Hell and everything, but that time I went there in your body, the things they would have done to you, Crowley! The pain they would have willingly inflicted on you, for the sake of it?”

Crowley was still blinking at him.

“No, don’t look at me like that, like I’m being an idiot. I’m not. They would hurt you. They charged you with sitting in a bath of holy water, for- no. I simply will not allow it.”

Crowley leaned back slightly, as if in shock. “You won’t allow it?”

“Nope.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

Aziraphale folded his arms across his chest, even though he had a lingering suspicion that it made him look like a puffed-up pigeon when he did so.

“I have never been ridiculous.”

Crowley was definitely smiling now, just a little bit.

“You are ridiculous on a daily basis. Yesterday you accused the toaster of liking me more just because you forgot to take your toast out on time and it burned.”

“Well, my toast never gets burned when you are dealing with it. It can only be favouritism.”

“No, darling – I just watch it and don’t try to read a book at the same time to make sure that it doesn’t get burned for you.”

Aziraphale couldn’t help but feel like he had lost track of his conversation somewhere along the way.

“Well, now you’re being ridiculously lovely and that wasn’t even the point of all of this anyway – the point was is that you’re not allowed to go downstairs.”

“Darling, why on earth do you think I would?”

“I… oh, well. I suppose you wouldn’t. But, you know, they called.”

Crowley threw his hands up in the air. “And heaven calls you every six months to try and convince you to come in ‘for a chat’. Have you ever gone?”

Aziraphale was immediately bewildered by that. “Of course not, why would I leave when I’m here with you?”

“Well, exactly!”

“What?”

Crowley reached out, and grabbed hold of his face, one hand on either cheek and infinitely gentle, always so gentle, as if he was afraid that he might break Aziraphale if he was too rough.

“You can be entirely infuriating, my love. I’m never going anywhere, without you, ever again. I won’t go anywhere further than the post office at the end of the lane to buy your bloody newspapers without you, have you not noticed that?”

That knot of tension that had formed so suddenly in Aziraphale’s chest finally started to ease. He gave Crowley a wobbly sort of smile and was rewarded with the feather-light touch of a kiss to his forehead.

“Well, of course I know that, and I wouldn’t want you to go any further anyway, I moved my armchair years ago so I could see the garden properly so I don’t have to worry when you go outside to spend half a century yelling at the flowers.”

“In that case, I’m glad we are equally stupid and entirely on the same wavelength.”

“Yes, it is good!” Aziraphale nodded emphatically.

“In that case darling, why are we still yelling?”

“Oh, we are, aren’t we? I’m afraid I’m not quite sure, you know.”

Crowley smiled, and it wasn’t a little twist of the mouth or a smirk, it was a full sized beam, huge and face stretching and the kind of expression that no one in the entire universe other than Aziraphale ever got to see.

“It’s because you are absolutely ridiculous, my love.” 

 


 

 

[13] Somewhere near the Euphrates. Day 83,789.

 

Despite everything they had tried, things had changed after Adam had died. It took a long time, of course – these things always do. But Adam’s own afterlife had shifted the balance noticeably. Before, souls only had a duel system to contend with – either Heaven or Hell, nice and simple. Gabriel and Beelzebub ran tight ships – they knew exactly which soul was going to where (or at least, their subordinates in Allocations did) and what the score was.

But Adam’s afterlife gave options. Adam let you choose.

Suddenly, souls that had previously been allocated to Heaven or Hell were simply just… not turning up. This caused some consternation – particularly because they still hadn’t really figured out what had happened to the Antichrist in the first place. Souls that didn’t quite fit into either camp were suddenly turning up in Adam’s World instead, a place where they didn’t have to watch The Sound of Music or live in a mess of buzzing insects.

Adam’s World was not for the very good, nor for the very bad, but for everyone else in between, everyone that was just a simple, normal person, who made good choices and bad ones. It was for those in pain, and those in need of comfort; it was for the war-torn and desolate, in need of their golden childhood memories, those who had hurt people and were sorry and those who had tried their best, even if it had never quite been good enough. It was where grandmothers could dance again, where soldiers could sing, where children who had never got a real childhood got to have one all over again, complete with their very own Dog. And once Adam had got it going, once he had figured out exactly what it was he wanted, he turned his eyes on all the other souls – the ones who had already been allocated.

That wouldn’t do, Adam had decided, and he had strode right up to Heaven and right down to Hell and had extended the offer to all the human souls in both – you can stay here, with the angels and the demons – or you can come with me, and be with the humans.

An afterlife of our own making. An afterlife on our own terms.

And of course, many had agreed. Too many. The years had shifted and so had the balance. Soon enough Heaven and Hell were not the most powerful armies in the universe anymore – Adam’s was stronger. So Heaven and Hell had united, had joined their forces, the most unusual of bedfellows, intent on shifting the balance back to what it had been. A war between the ethereal, the occult, and the very, wonderfully mundane. It had been inevitable, really – perhaps even ineffable. And this was where they would make their last stand, where everything would be decided – right here, where it had all begun, where the Garden of Eden had once stood.

Nothing was left of it now of course, nothing had been left of it for the longest time, but this sort of thing was important. Symbols matter – Crowley knew that better than anyone else, and there was a beautiful symbolism here, human beings defending their rights in the place where they had been cast out of Eden in the first place.

And now here they were, at the end of all things, on the side not of the angels or the demons but the Wardens of Adam’s World. They were leaders despite themselves, leaders they had never wanted to be, trying to save the souls that had once been human and were now the guardsmen of a new way, a better way, a way they were determined to protect.

They were sat, away from both armies, their wings stretched out but touching, wrapping around them both creating a small world in which they could live for just for the last few shreds of the night. With the rising sun would come the war, would come the end, would come whatever it was that would happen next. They had stolen away last night, after all the planning had been done and the blessings had been given, after they had given everything that they could until the morning. Just the two of them, an angel and a demon, spending the last few hours together, just as they had done the last time everything had almost-ended.

“It’s nearly time,” Crowley said, and his voice was heavy as they got to their feet. It had been a long time since they had gone to war. The spear in his hand had once felt like an extension of his body, but that had been an awfully long time ago. He was looking forward to putting it away again, when he could. He might not even bother taking it with him, if they survived. He might just leave it here, on the battlefield, and never touch its dark-stained wood again.

Aziraphale’s sword was stuck in the earth next to them. He didn’t seem to like touching it much either.

“I love you,” Crowley said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever really said it enough, as often as I should have done.”

“I have always known,” Aziraphale replied. “Even before I admitted it to myself. I’m an angel – I can feel it. And I love you. More than books and the earth and wine and… oh, bloody heck. You know all that.”

“Yeah,” Crowley said, and he kissed him. It might be the last one they ever had, after all, and he wanted to make it count. Aziraphale’s fingers were warm on his collarbones, his throat. Around them the sky grew lighter, and in the end, they had to pull apart, had to face everything that was going to happen. It felt like the hardest thing that Crowley had ever have to do.

The angel pulled the sword from the earth; the demon glanced up at the tip of his spear. Their other hands were intertwined.

“Do you think this will be the end of us, my love?” Aziraphale asked, and Crowley squeezed his fingers, gently.

“The end of the world? Definitely. Or, you know, not, these things are very difficult to predict. The end of you and me?” the demon hummed, quietly. “Never. Whatever happens, whatever atoms we are reduced to, mine will find a way back to yours eventually. What do you think?”

Aziraphale smiled. In his hand, a sword burst into flames.

“I rather like the sound of that.”

They looked at each other, between them all of time and space and innumerable small moments, just like this one: around them everything else narrowed down and all was left was the touch of their hands.

“It’s time,” Aziraphale said, as the trumpets of war heralded the dawn. Countless centuries, all leading to this.

“Together?” Crowley asked, even though he knew the answer, had always known the answer, ever since that first day on the wall when he had slithered up to him and seen those shaking hands and worried eyes and small smile that had lit something visceral and beautiful in the demon’s chest.

“Together,” Aziraphale said, and they stepped into the dawn of the very last war. 

 


 

 

[14] The stars. Day

 

Everything has to come to end, eventually.

The earth has gone, the solar system crumbling, the sun is cold. But the nebulas of the stars still shine out into the fathomless dark, the haze of the ruins of so many planets, the colours of the wreckage a spectacular show for anyone who might have been there to watch.

“Are you there?” asked the atoms of something that used to be a demon, into the eternal nothingness. It was gone now – the eyes, the forked tongue, the snakeskin shoes that seemed to cling just a little too close to the skin for comfort. But the corporeal form was just a part of what he was, and now here he was, everything that he had ever been reduced just to dust between the stars.

“Of course, I am, my dear.”

And there it was, an impossible reply, the shades of what had once been an angel. The tweed, the soft blonde hair, the scrunched up nose – they are all gone too.

“Oh good,” came the reply. “Here I was, thinking that you had abandoned me to boredom out here for all of eternity.”

The dust seemed to shift, somehow managing to give the impression of one knee folding over the other.

“Always so dramatic,” the second voice came, soft and affectionate. “Come over here, you old serpent.”

“Why?” the first voice said, even as the atoms of the nothingness seemed to shift, indicating, to any non-corporeal god watching, a reduction of the space between them.

“Well,” the thing that used to be an angel said. “Because I’d like you to sit beside me here, and hold my hand, and watch the ending of everything all over again.”

“I suppose I can do that,” was the reply, affectionate and warm.

Eventually, the universe will come to its final end. The ruins of planets and the dead suns will be swallowed up, the colours of the sky will fade to black, each and every star will twinkle out one by one. All of it, finally gone. Not with a bang, not even with a whimper – actually, the sound of universes ending sounds more like a pop than anything else. There will be a brief, timeless eternity of nothingness, and then, eventually…

Everything will begin again.

And, from somewhere non-corporeal, will stride two figures, still hand-in-hand.