The summer had already given way to fall, inching towards the winter that waited impatiently, and Aziraphale couldn’t help but recall the distinct smell of crisp apples when he sat drinking his cocoa, reading an astronomy book. He’d always been prone to fidgeting, often in the form of wringing his hands or pulling at his threadbare waistcoat, but since the Almost-Apocalypse, his physical nerves had seemed to vanish. His form felt much more familiar to the one that he’d been issued when he was assigned to guard the East Gate. His hand ached in his palm sometimes when he was especially emotional, pleading to have its rightful weapon back in it. All angels had been hardwired for this fight, and he was constructed as a soldier, after all.
However, on this night, despite not constantly glancing at the grandfather clock across him, nor being indulged completely in his book, he, very humanly, found his mind trailing off from beyond the page. His eyes glazed over as he pictured the cramped, unforgiving Hell he’d tried to saunter down towards in order to defy Heaven. He had internally remarked that the only redeemable aspect of the place had been poor lighting that hid what he was certain he did not want to witness. He recalled the look of betrayal on Satan’s face that he felt sure must have resembled God’s own when Her children disobeyed her before Eden. The feeling of being discorporated buzzed about in his bones beneath his “new” skin.
He hadn’t seen Crowley since they’d dined at the Ritz. It had felt almost normal when they did; thousands of years of lunches, temptations, miracles, all resolved themselves in the feeling of relief that fell over their table. However, when all the other patrons had finally dwindled away and Aziraphale suggested they “get a wiggle on,” Crowley simply nodded and drove him back to the bookshop, wordlessly. They didn’t always have to talk: that was the benefit of a 6000 year symbiotic relationship. However, this silence after everyone was almost permanently silent fell over them like a heavy, wool quilt that was known to irritate its user throughout the night. Aziraphale, in all his British politeness, wished Crowley goodnight and resisted the temptation to watch him skid away faster than needed.
That had been a few months ago, not that he was counting of course. They had forever again. But it didn’t feel like forever, not to Aziraphale, at least. The uneasy feeling of being immortal once more, but this time without a celestial side, brought Aziraphale to do something he hadn’t before. He haphazardly discarded his book to the floor. His mind had made itself up and he immediately grabbed his coat before reaching a harsh realization. Crowley always drives, Aziraphale softly reminded himself. He didn’t have a car, or any mode of transport really. What need was there when there was a perfectly nice - er, well not-all-together-evil - demon perfectly at your disposal. Feeling it slightly too off-putting to call Crowley to drive him to a place he wanted to go alone, Aziraphale resolved to take a cab.
Tadfield looked as it had when he last left, except for its trees having generally less leaves, none green, of course, but all the same nonetheless. Aziraphale tipped the cabbie over-graciously and began on foot to a little cottage he somehow remembered the way to. During this journey, he contemplated the major concern that had pressed forward in his mind, pushed aside worries of being kidnapped again for execution by the angels, or Hell simply creating a new Antichrist for the process to start over again, climaxing after another minute eleven years. No, this thought, to Aziraphale, was much more worrying. Have I begun losing my Grace?
This is a heavy question considering his Grace differed so greatly from his fellow angels. But, overall, Aziraphale, since walking straight into Hell - albeit not in his own corporal body - had felt some of his angelic prowess trickling from him. Thoughts of Falling came into his mind, but what he remembered from the angels that originally Fell, this was nowhere close to how that happened. Aziraphale recalled how, during the Heavenly Battle, the opposition suddenly dropped like their soul had been ripped out and they all screamed out in agony, before being forcibly flown out of Heaven, at varying rates and times. Those that fell the longest were set aflame, and these were the most notorious demons, Lucifer - er, Satan - being the one to burn the hottest. If Aziraphale were Falling, he would definitely know.
Despite feeling his powers growing weaker, miracles being clumsier, and his wings feeling extraordinarily heavy, Aziraphale found himself politely knocking upon the door of Jasmine Cottage, barely recognizing the horseshoe above the threshold. He adjusted his waistcoat and patted his hair, hoping he was not intruding. A messy-haired Newton opened the door, smiling politely with his eyes at his guest.
“Ah, Az…” he greeted, already having forgotten the angel’s name or not wanting to butcher it.
“Aziraphale, good boy,” the angel offered, “It’s good to see you, Newton. I hope I am not intruding, I know I didn’t call.” Newton thankfully stopped his ramblings by welcoming him in, leading him to the kitchen where there was already a kettle on the stove. The attractive Anathema was sitting reading a book on the counter (the first thing made Aziraphale grin, the other grimace). She heard the footsteps and jumped down, marking her book before abandoning it.
“Hello, Mr. Aziraphale, I didn’t know you’d be joining us today,” she said warmly. Aziraphale was inwardly very glad they were obviously not doing much of anything, for he didn’t know if he could handle being turned away by the first people he sought companionship from. “Where’s Mr. Crowley?” she added after a pause of thought. Newton’s face matched his girlfriend’s tone of voice as they both looked at their guest, who was now seating himself at their table. “I’m actually not quite sure. Haven’t been keeping track I suppose,” Aziraphale answered in a tone he wished was warm, non-committal, but still light-hearted.
The couple shared a look before deciding to move on for the sake of keeping things from spiralling too personal, or dark, if that were the case. Newton tended to the tea while Aziraphale chatted animatedly with Anathema about this and that. It was very much like talking with his fellow book-shop owners - mostly gossip of course - until Newton would comment here and there, adding a slight cherry on top. The angel found himself relishing in the companionship, but also realizing he was near the cusp of overstaying his welcome.
“Well, it seems I have exhausted all the time you two must have for a face from a dark day,” he finally added, his tea gone and his cup cold. Anathema’s face scrunched up in the way that Aziraphale had always been intimidated by. He was never good at reading women’s faces, much less trying to entertain them for too long. They were much more mischievous about what they meant underneath than men typically were. The only man Aziraphale had truly known to be like a woman in that regard was…
“No, no, Aziraphale. We love the company. To be honest, it’s just been me and Newt here since that day, and all the images are really fuzzy still, coming in and out. We see Adam and Them around, but only when they feel like it. We got the invitation to Madame Tracy’s wedding, well I already told you that-”
"I think Anathema is trying to ask why you came to see us today of all days. Or, even, who you really are?” Newton’s words unbalanced Aziraphale slightly. “Pardon? I’m a used bookshop owner, you know that,” he offered weaker than he had originally hoped. Newton didn’t mind, simply shrugged, “I just think it’s weird that you and Crowley showed up randomly that day - I mean, so did we but I know why we were there - and I know you guys were prophesied to be there and whatnot. There’s obviously something very supernatural about you, but you’ve never exactly, exactly come out to say what. I’d assumed that’s why you’re here to begin with.”
Aziraphale immediately began fidgeting. Dealing with humans being mixed up with supernatural affairs was always a strange business, because they knew more than Above thought they did, but less than Below assumed. The thought that, should he tell them and he be revoked his position also floated to the top of his mind. The angel found himself fumbling between the most comfortable answer, the one he was confident in giving (Well, we’re all a little special on the inside, you know that as well as I do. That’s just where my part fit into the grand scheme.): he’d given it hundreds of times to humans. However, that felt more deceitful than normal to be lying to the people he had sought out.
“Well, to put it very, very plainly. You see, as I said before, about the garden, back at the airbase, well,” he sputtered about, causing confusion to fall on their faces, before finally straightening his back slightly and remarking, “I’m an angel of the Lord. Crowley, a demon. You see, it was obvious that Armeggedon was supposed to happen, you saw my...boss, Gabriel, the Archangel, and the Prince of Hell, Beelzebub, on the tarmac. And, well, Satan, the demon, and Metatron, the mouthpiece for God. I, well, Crowley and I decided we would choose humanity instead of Heaven or Hell, because honestly, Gabriel tried to execute me without trial immediately after this incident, and Crowley had done nothing more evil than asking questions.
“Anyway, we decided to try to save humanity, because you would all just be a setting to have the Great War on, and that just didn’t sit well. And thus, we averted it all, with your help of course, and Adam gets to be a normal boy and…” Aziraphale felt slightly proud of getting through his summary without too much hassle, hoping Anathema and Newton had understood and went along. “So did you and Mr. Crowley become humans then?” Aziraphale’s cheeks reddened slightly at Newton’s blunt question. “Well, no, of course not! I was made from Her Grace, you can’t exactly, well...you can’t un-angel someone - well, see, I’d have to...Newton, I’m still genetically an angel, but that doesn’t give me much to work with, if you understand me.”
They nodded along, half-committedly, obviously slightly worried about the frazzled supernatural being in front of them, that they suddenly remembered being very friendly with a certain sword engulfed in flames. Anathema simply smiled at him, getting up and grabbed something, no one wanting to try to dissect the mess that were all of their lives. She handed him and envelope, suddenly getting a sour look on her face. “That’s your invitation to the wedding next year. It’s also addressed to Crowley, so if you could…”
“Relay the information, please?” Newton finished, adding, “I know the Madame and Sergeant are getting married soon, too, that’s why it’s so far out. But we’re pretty much married anyway.” Aziraphale wasn’t listening enough to see him grab her up and nuzzle her neck, much like he’d seen Adam and Eve do some six thousand years ago. Aziraphale’s eyes had been glued to this envelope, inviting him to be apart of a set of humans’ lives. He had never fully submerged himself in that manner before, but felt slightly giddy. This joy was only eclipsed slightly by his worries of how to relay the information to Crowley. He did wish she’d been able to make him his own.
Aziraphale found himself walking out of Jasmine Cottage about an hour before sunset, hoping to find Adam and Them before they’d have to be to bed, but acknowledging that their parents probably wouldn’t let them out that late. Either way, he had a long trek to get back to a place where he could find a cab, or a bus, or anything really. He halfheartedly wondered if there was a pub here in the small village of Tadfield, when he felt a strong breeze blow by his hips. “Adam, is that you?” his question was answered soon after when he laid his eyes on the small mutt dog following behind four bicycles.
Typical of the Them that were often seen as rude and disrespectful, especially to adults, they stopped for Aziraphale, offering him their full attention, as long as it was something that they cared for. Questioning or boring of authority granted them this image from the authority that was receiving it. Adam, however, often found adults fascinating and talked to them long enough to figure out if they were worth it. Aziraphale, in this case, definitely was.
“Hello, young dears. I hope you all remember me, from the Tadfield Airbase?” he quietly inquired. The other type of human - besides women - that often sent him for loops in conversation were teenagers, especially smart ones. He dimly remembered an exceptionally intelligent teenage girl from medieval times that believed him to be a kind, rich man from far away and gave Aziraphale the impression she was ready to wed. He shook this thought off as Pepper began, “Of course, you’re the guy that was a woman!”
Aziraphale nodded, half-heartedly, and asked, “How are you all doing? I came to check up on some of you.” The Them looked at Adam for this question, apparently operating under some rulebook they made up just for the four of them. The Not-Antichrist-But-Still-Might-Be still looked like he could be straight from a Kids Vogue edition, and his blue eyes shined as he said, “You’re the angel-type right? Where’s your demon?” Aziraphale, still reeling from the entirety of this conversation, stuttered about, unable to answer until Wensleydale added, “And don’t worry, sir, we’re very open-minded here in Tadfield. Well, those of us that are young, you know?”
Aziraphale pulled at his waistcoat, fidgeting to look for an appropriate response, “I’m not sure where Mr. Crowley is right now. But I am glad you are all doing well. How are your studies?” This elicited a laugh from all four of them, Adam slowly losing interest, despite the supernatural calling of this man. “Are you all going to Anathema and Newton’s wedding?” This desperate attempt from Aziraphale piqued their interest so much they all began losing sight of what they’d originally had in mind and stayed out as long as possible with the angel, before abandoning him one by one to head home. Adam was the last one left, declaring he couldn’t get in any more trouble than he was already in. “Why are you an angel?” This caught Aziraphale off-guard enough that he sputtered, “Why are you the Antichrist?” Adam, respectfully nodded, jumping onto his bike. “Mine’s cooler, you’ve got to admit. It’s a shame I’m not like I was before.” And with this he rode off, smelling like apples.
He’d spent two weeks trying to get into contact with Crowley. He’d just as easily assumed he was asleep, except he couldn’t help but thinking that he’d been taken, or worse, moved on. This led to him landing on Crowley’s doorstep, knocking for numerous minutes before moving to miracle it. His breath caught when his power didn’t work. His magic didn’t budge the door. He knocked a few more times before summoning all his Grace, fearing the worst at this point, to gimmick the door open. Finally, with some struggle with the doorknob, he let himself in. He found Crowley sitting on his couch, eyes absolutely glazed over. There was no remnant of any life in here, but Aziraphale caught a glimpse of a brown leaf amongst his green masterpieces.
“Crowley,” he nervously called out. The demon stirred a little bit before throwing his glasses on and draping himself similarly to before, just vertical this time. “Takeaseatangel,” he slurred, but not his typical drunken slur that Aziraphale knew so well. “Frankly, my dear, you look worse for wear,” Aziraphale offered as he slipped into the only chair in the room, sideways to the couch. Crowley didn’t respond, but made what appeared to be an attempt at a shrug.
There was an infinitely long silence, tinged with an atypical uncomfortable edge. “What day is it?” Crowley finally spoke, reaching for a full wine glass that hadn’t previously been there. As Aziraphale answered, the demon passed him the glass, grabbing another one from nothing. Jealousy made the angel shift uncharacteristically in his seat, trying to ensure Crowley didn’t catch on. He wasn’t seeming to have trouble with his miracles. Surely he wasn’t Falling. “I visited Anathema, Newton, Adam, and his little friends the other day,” Aziraphale started, slightly hopeful for true conversation. “Why’d you almost break down my door, angel?” Crowley asked, not angry, nor emotional at all, slightly flat and dull.
"Well, if someone answered their phone I wouldn’t have to. I never know if Hell will take you back for a second go.”
Silence fell once more before Crowley, slightly more deadpan, if possible, truthfully spoke, “I was shedding my skin actually. Fire tends to do that to my form for some reason. And, Lord knows I’ve seen my fair share of fire.” Aziraphale’s eyebrows scrunched up at his friend using the Almighty’s name without flinching.
“I apologize, angel,”
Silence fell again, this one slightly more comfortable, but much more unknown. “Look, I don’t apologize often, I ought to go first. I wanted to answer your calls, but I got a tip that Heaven and Hell were going to tag-team and get us both, so I had to take care of that and wanted to keep you as far away as possible. I got that handled and then immediately had to shed my skin, which you know is worse than being stuck in traffic. And I’ve just been too...afraid I’d upset you to call back or visit.”
Aziraphale had no response. Crowley was never this honest, ever. Most of his comments, when sober, were grunts or sounds that couldn’t be English. However, this made Aziraphale very anxious indeed, anxious that what he thought was happening was actually happening: he was Falling. “You are forgiven, Crowley,” this made the demon wince slightly, but enough that Aziraphale noticed. “Is that the only abnormal activity you’ve noticed these past few months?”
The demon hesitated before shrugging, obviously not wanting to tell Aziraphale what that body language meant. “Your turn, then. Out with it,” the demon was beginning to sound like himself. The angel felt nothing like himself, and his words reflected that. “Well, I wanted to ask you a question I’ve never, never quite...had the gall to ask I suppose and-”
“Out with it, angel,” Crowley said more understandingly than angrily.
“How did you know you were Falling?” Well, that was about the stupidest way I could have put that question, Aziraphale thought.
Crowley found himself filling up his wine glass very slowly before removing the metal that guarded his eyes, reminding Aziraphale of the cost of Falling. “Believe it or not,” he began just above a whisper, shaking slightly, “it is different for every demon. Beelzebub’s form shook so badly entering into Heaven that that is why they talk like that now. Can’t say much about the speech impediment, I guess, considering my own.” Another large gulp of wine ensued. Aziraphale was more physically in control but emotionally spiralling than he had been at the airbase.
“There’s rumors about Lucifer, er, Satan’s Fall. Some say his hurt the most, some say the least. I’d been close enough to see his face when he Fell, and I remember it distinctly. It was resigned. He knew what his decision meant and he knew how he played into the plan…” Crowley drifted off a bit, allowing for them both to fall back in companionable silence, the one they knew so well. “You know,” Aziraphale mused, “Michael was the closest to Lucifer in the Battle when he Fell. Refused to smite him. She’s destroyed the most demons of us all.” Crowley sucked at his teeth while he contemplated that series of events against his own.
“You remember Before, don’t you, angel?” His question was timid, like sleeping in Egyptian sheets too good to be ruined. Aziraphale found that question a reflection of his own musings. “Well, not as clearly as I probably should. Every other angel remembers a lot, but I just...don’t. Never have, really.” Aziraphale took another drink. Their wine choice was nostalgic, reaching the Babylonion era of humans not understanding how to make wine taste as it should. “I do.” And that was all Aziraphale needed to hear to gather his spirits up.
“Crowley, my powers are...well they are so weak. I feel myself being distanced from Grace. I...I don’t think I’m going to be an angel for much longer.” There, they were finally out. Aziraphale instantly felt better, but also felt that he needed Crowley’s validation that, of course you’re still an angel and joking that, what else would you be? “I don’t think I’m a demon anymore. Well, not really not-a-demon, but definitely not controlled by Hell anymore.” Aziraphale was shocked at Crowley’s statement. Was that all it was? He wasn’t controlled by Heaven anymore? Was it as simple as that?
Crowley laughed, turning bitter the moment it started. He downed two more drinks rapidly before standing up, holding onto his glass, glaring over at Aziraphale with some unknown emotion in his serpentine eyes. “It’s so goddamn funny, yaknow, angel-ish? Like, I’m immune to Hellfire, cuz I’m a demon, duh. But Holy Water, man, that stuff, it used to scare me shitless. Not anymore, no sir! Not Holy Fire, not Hellish River Water. They did...they did…” his eyes darkened immediately, and Aziraphale realized his demon had quietly sobered up and forced himself to do the same.
“I think that’s enough drinks for tonight,” Crowley finally answered for the both of them. “Crowley, we didn’t finish talking-”
“Need a lift home?” His face was pained, filled with shadows and dark circles that Aziraphale had not yet noticed to such a degree. Stubble painted his face like soot, wrinkles lining his lips and forehead from frowning, and his usually too-tight clothes hung dramatically and out of fashion from his hunched frame. “Crowley...what has happened to you?”
“I don’t feel like driving. I’ll put you up in the guest bedroom.” And with that, Crowley disappeared from Aziraphale once more.