Because Crowley has a vexing habit of being right in matters such as these, the Glorious End does come exactly as he said it would—with Heaven and Hell joining forces to sack the Mortal Realm. And while most would probably have expected it to be inked into the Great Plan with grace and blood and tears, it is actually typed, with clear bullet points and headings, in the font Papyrus. It is as follows:
Heaven's Five-Point Plan for Ensuring A Complete and Thorough Apocalypse
- The Coming of the Antichrist. Aziraphale had hoped thwarting Adam all those years ago in Tadfield would have put paid to it. But it turns out he wasn't the only child sired by Lucifer, and so when the Daughter of Darkness came into her own in a small town outside of Florida, there were no friendly angels or demons to sing her lullabies or teach her about respecting snails.
- The Fall of the Four Babylons. There have been many Babylons over the course of Earth's existence, and they're voted on once a millennia by an overworked and underthanked committee of Authorities. At the turn of the 21st century—specifically January 4th, 2000—the ballots were cast for Dubai, Birmingham, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires to become the new Four, and so it was. And then they fell. Boy, did they fall.
- The Rapture. It's been a long time since Aziraphale's been in the know, but he’d been under the impression the Rapture was meant to bring the Faithful home to their Lord and flock them to the meadows entitled to them thanks to the power of their belief, etc, etc. In the end, it's simply an exchange between allies; Heaven allows Hell to take point on this one. Aziraphale can still hear their screams as thousands of grasping, covetous hands shot out of the ground, out of the sea, and dragged them down to the fires below.
- The Sacrifice of the New Messiah. They found Adimu reading Fifty Shades of Grey under a tree at Prince Henry's Grammar and muttering angrily about bad negotiation and consent, and when she looked up at them there had been a glow in her eyes that had nothing to do with the afternoon sun. She’d taken the news of who she was and the role she was meant to play rather well—in that she grinned, gave a frighteningly exuberant "excellent!", and asked if-slash-when she would be given an edge weapon for the occasion. But having come to know her, it’s no surprise. She has such spirit for someone so young, such a willingness to do whatever it takes, and a bloodthirstiness that makes Aziraphale wonder if there had been another switched-at-birth debacle with the current Antichrist. He certainly doesn't remember Jesus being so enthusiastic about the prospect of wielding a hook sword. However, this part hasn't happened yet, and it never will as long as they can hold out.
- REDACTED. The fifth doesn't bear thinking about. In fact, it's so awful they just left this bullet blank.
So many cities have fallen since it began, so very many lives lost, and now here they stand in what's left of the second Babylon with the burst fracture fragments of the Selfridges Building scattered around them. And they're not alone.
Gabriel—who has oceans of blood on his hands from the innocents he murdered, from the children he slaughtered, and from the most faithful, who saw him descend from on high and still exalted him as he wiped their souls from existence—stands tall and pristine in his suit, without even a single scuff to be found on his expensive shoes. He smiles until his eyes crinkle at the corners, the way people do when they see ducklings toddle after their mothers in the park.
There are no ducklings, or parks, any longer, but there is rage. Oh, there is plenty of that, cold and merciless, shifting from a low simmer to a rolling boil in Aziraphale's belly, congealing the mass until it's burned clean and its sharp edges endlessly multiplying until he can’t move without it scoring his Grace.
“Give me the girl or take up your sword, Aziraphale!” In Gabriel's hand is Gjallarhorn, honed to a keen edge, ready to fly.
"That's like the fifth time he's mentioned your sword," Adimu says, confusion knitting her brow. "Surely he can't mean that thing."
Aziraphale looks down at the broken rebar he found and blessed in the thick of the fighting on the second day. It's been used to hack through angels and demons alike. A rather crude weapon, absolutely no finesse, nothing at all like a flaming scimitar but beggars can't etc, etc.
"I don't know why he's on about the sword. I gave it back."
"Well, maybe he means this." Adimu hefts her laughably enormous blade with ease. He has no idea where Crowley even got that thing, but she'd positively lit up when Crowley came swanning into the bookshop where they'd been holding up and presented it to her with a playful bow. "Maybe I'm meant to fight him."
"You are not. We're doing everything in our power to keep him from you,” Aziraphale says, but the rebar seems to disagree. It grows heavier and heavier until he can’t even hold it up. The sharp end, stained with black demonic tar and Grace, cracks when it hits the ground. “If he manages to get you, the Fifth Point moves forward."
"If he manages," Adimu agrees, vicious both in how excited she looks by the prospect of fighting an archangel and the way her thin fingers grip the hilt of her blade with such surety.
"Adimu, my dear, I appreciate the enthusiasm, you know I do, but now is not the time. If Gabriel manages to get his hands on you, the universe as we know it is over and I am not ready to give up crepes and bubble baths just yet. We have to get you out of here."
“And I'm not running, Mr. Fell.” Adimu brandishes her blade in his direction, and Aziraphale's anxiety is running so high that he almost dares her to do her worst.
Instead he says, quite pointedly, "No, we are all absolutely running."
"I won’t give him the satisfaction. If he wants me, he can come and get me.”
"Planning on it!" Gabriel carols. He even throws in a genial wave.
Aziraphale rounds on him and snarls across the battlefield, "You stay out of this, you–you horrible… pigeon!"
"Yeah, you tell him," Adimu mutters.
He ignores her and turns to appeal to the only other sane entity currently on the planet, the one who has always stepped up and done what needs to be done when everything seems lost. "Crowley, you have to run. Take Adimu and get as far away from here as you can.”
He waits for the standard spluttering and sarcastic flash bastard response, because Crowley has never met a situation he couldn't make quips about, and Aziraphale's gearing up to give him such an earful when he realizes that Crowley hasn't actually said anything.
In fact, he doesn't even acknowledge Aziraphale at all, not even to look at him. It shouldn't rankle as much as it does, shouldn't leave him feeling so bereft. A thorny, petty kernel inside of him whines that Crowley's always looking at him and why would he pick now of all times to stop? Though it's hard to tell with the sunglasses, Crowley's gaze is completely fixed on Gabriel, and there's an oddly contemplative lilt to his mouth that makes Aziraphale's heart race.
Then he realizes what the problem is. Crowley, for the first time in perhaps their entire history, has gone utterly still.
"What is it?"
Without breaking his stare with Gabriel, Crowley lifts his hand and waffles his fingers in a rather expectant manner. "Give us your hand, angel."
Oh, thank anyone still listening, Crowley has a plan. Of course he does. Aziraphale breathes out his relief and immediately puts his free hand in Crowley's, then waits for instructions. Thrillingly this has the same feeling as when he strutted away from the burning Bentley and growled Leave it to me in a way that made Madam Tracy go all tingly.
But instead, Crowley slots their fingers together with the ease of someone who's thought about doing it for a long time and drags him forward, bringing the back of Aziraphale's hand to his lips and smearing a desperate kiss against his knuckles once, twice.
The world tilts on its axis and then goes very, very quiet.
Crowley turns his head slightly, just enough for Aziraphale to catch the slight smile on his face. It's the same one he always wears whenever Aziraphale does something embarrassing or moans aloud at the first bite of his dessert in a public place. It always felt as though Crowley were enjoying a joke at his expense, but here, now, it looks helplessly fond. It looks as though there's no place else in all the universe he would rather be than here with Aziraphale. Perhaps it always has.
"Seems like the time for taking chances," Crowley says. "Figured I ought to do that now."
Aziraphale's eyes prick hot, and unbidden the memory of a little bench in Tadfield swims to the surface, breaking through the anguish, and he replays the gentle, yearning offer Crowley made after the world didn't end. You can stay at my place if you like.
There's something stuck in his throat, and he swallows hard, tries to dislodge it, but his eyes are burning and he can't stop thinking of Crowley on that bench, having just stopped time at Aziraphale's say-so to encourage a little boy into stopping what had been set in motion so long ago. He'd gone against his programming. He'd gone against Hell, and always had, and all he wanted was Aziraphale to meet him halfway.
And Aziraphale didn't, all the way to the Glorious End.
Crowley recoils a little, mortified, and it’s awful. “No?”
"Not now. Please don't do this now." Sobbing, he tries to wipe his eyes with the hand holding the rebar, but it won't lift high enough. He just drags the metal uselessly over the ground. "Oh, Crowley, you can't possibly do this at the end of the world—"
"Nope. Nope, none of that, stop it right now," Crowley sputters as he uses their tangled hands to bring Aziraphale right into the circle of his arms. Aziraphale's cheek fits perfectly into the space where Crowley's neck meets his shoulder, as if it were designed specifically for this purpose.
Around them, the howl of the wind and the crushing weight of the End fades into nothing, leaving them standing alone in a void, or not a void at all. A desert somewhere, somewhen else. A stopgap.
"We're out of time, angel," Crowley says quietly, but it echoes in every part of Aziraphale like the Divine Word. "Has to be now."
"It's my fault." An entire ocean seeps into his mouth, drowning the words. "I'm so sorry I didn't move fast enough to catch up to you. I should've been braver. I should have said it seventy years ago. I knew it then, just as I'd always known it, and I should've said it before you took another step away from that church."
There's a seismic shift as Crowley moves back a little. "What do you mean you knew seventy years… You mean the bit with the nazis? That's when you—"
Aziraphale sniffs, a little offended. "Well, I can hardly be blamed for being a tad bit slow on the uptake. Up until then, I wasn't sure that you—"
"I swanned into Paris dressed like a bloody commoner to stop them from Marie Antoinetting you for your standards! How could you not be sure?!"
The world comes back into startling focus, and, annoyed, Aziraphale takes a step back to defend both himself and his standards—it wasn't his fault that Paris was the best place to get crepes and that the Jacobins had no head for fashion—but it's washed away by the urge to reach out and sooth the eddies in Crowley's forehead with his thumb. "You said you were in the area!"
Adimu clears her throat. "So, uh, not to intrude, but Gabriel over there is looking a bit cross—"
"Of course I wasn't in the area," Crowley snaps. "There was a revolution on."
A thermal pocket trapped in his Grace blossoms inside of him, rushing to fill the hollows of his body and sliding up the back of his neck to pool in his cheeks. Oh, but he's soft. "You came… just for me?"
Crowley throws up his hands and sputters, "Oh, for the love of—of fucking course I did! 's what I always do!"
Well, there's only one response to that he can give, and it's to step forward and press so close to Crowley that he can almost feel their edges smudging together. He drops his forehead to that delightful space between Crowley's throat and shoulder, lets it cradle his weight, and nudges the terror and trauma of the last few days a little bit to the left, just enough that he can't quite see them.
"He's looking at his wrist, and I don't think he's actually wearing a watch," Adimu says.
"Aziraphale, of course I came just for you. Been doing it for centuries now." The shoulder beneath his cheek rises and falls with a sigh, and Crowley wraps a long arm around him, pulling him in impossibly tighter.
"Mr. Crowley, he's literally walking this way."
"You have always come for me, haven’t you, my darling? How could I not…" Aziraphale trails off, and he's not alone in watching the Christ Child die for love of humanity, and manacles are falling from his wrists in the Bastille, and no nazis are making off with his books, and a demon is in a bandstand begging him to run to the stars. Crowley is there, yet again, in his moment of need, when he can't protect himself from the injustices of faith.
Sometimes Aziraphale thinks The Almighty made him wrong—blasphemous to even entertain the notion—but what is he meant to think when, in his every moment of doubt and shame, a demon comes and rescues him? What is he to think when he's never felt as holy as he does now, standing in Crowley's arms?
Crowley sighs again. "I'll always come for you, you idiot."
"Oh, my dear, I'm so sorry I made you wait." He presses the words into slightly-scaled skin, where it's almost unbearably hot and smells of simmering silica trapped beneath stone—the way he's so often dreamed of doing. Except in his dreams it happens in the soft light of the backroom in his bookshop while they sway together to the sound of Bing Crosby crooning, Do I want to be with you as the years come and go? Only forever, if you care to know.
"Ehhh, no sense in coming over all maudlin about it. 's not the end of the world."
"How could you—this isn't the time to make jokes," Aziraphale complains. The air around them is shimmering, as a summer heat dances over asphalt at the height of the afternoon.
"'Course it is. An Apocalypse without laughter isn't one worth having."
"I'm not laughing, Crowley." Well, he kind of is, but it's not out of humor, and it's getting all mixed up with the crying. His stomach heaves and his mouth fills with saliva, and he thinks he might vomit. It's an entirely novel feeling. He hates it. He hates all of this.
Adimu says faintly, "Uh, guys?"
"We were supposed to have years. We were supposed to have time before this happened." Time for him to kill the last of the insidious weeds Heaven planted that whispered he's the enemy, he's a demon and therefore can never be trusted, he can't love you and never will. Time to make real the plans he'd made, the ideas and fleeting fancies, and he'd had every intention of it. He wanted to take Crowley's hand without a stitch of uncertainty. He wanted to walk with him over an uneven, overgrown patio leading to a cottage waiting for them somewhere quiet at the edge of the world.
"I think I've been patient long enough."
Aziraphale's heart stutters in the cage of his bones at the sound of Gabriel's voice, and he lifts his head and swallows down the terror that sparks within to see him standing mere feet away. Gabriel is still as handsome as ever, but a cold and cruel fury has taken up occupancy on his face. It's the same expression he wore during the First War, during the Casting Out, and it makes Aziraphale both mourn for his own part in all that mess and frighteningly angry about having it revisited upon mankind, who never truly deserved it.
Gabriel tilts his head up ever so slightly. "Take up your sword, Aziraphale."
"You mean this one?" With a growl, Adimu hefts her blade and swings it so the wicked edge stops mere inches from Gabriel's nose.
"What—No, that's—is your name Aziraphale?" He gives her a nasty look and slaps her blade down as one would a particularly annoying fly, and she stumbles a little from the impact. "You can wait your turn."
Naturally this long-awaited resolution would be interrupted. Aziraphale pulls away from the warmth of Crowley's embrace and turns to Gabriel, whose face is becoming less and less handsome and more slappable by the second.
"I don't have my sword," Aziraphale says, and for all he tries to be pleasant it comes out rather rudely. He can't find it in him to give a toss. "The Courier took it after the last one, so I honestly don't know what you mean when you say to—"
Except Crowley takes that moment to cheerfully interrupt with, "Give us a minute, Gabe. Just finishing up here."
"Finishing up what?" Adimu rightly asks, looking to Crowley first and then to Aziraphale, who can do nothing except shake his head, absolutely stymied. "I don't know what's going on. Are we fighting? Is this a fight?"
Crowley grins. It's the oddest thing, but it almost looks as though little pockets of smoke are seeping out from the corners of his lips. "Not yet."
"In two minutes, I'm taking her," Gabriel says, visibly inconvenienced, "and ending this."
"Her has a name," Adimu snaps.
"That eager to get on with it, hm? Far be it from me to keep you waiting."
In that moment, Crowley is perhaps the most demonic he's ever been. There's no soft fondness to be found in the clenched grin of Crowley's teeth, which seem somehow longer than they were seconds ago, their edges serrated, their crowns sharp as a knife's edge. Shadows cling desperately to the hollows of his cheeks and lick at the glowing embers that spill from beneath the dark promise of his sunglasses.
Aziraphale bites back a shaky gasp, but Gabriel snaps to attention, regarding Crowley with interest. The bland annoyance in his gaze goes hungry.
"You made me a promise once, demon." The ground beneath their feet quails at the sound of his voice. This isn't the idiot who made noise about buying pornography in his bookshop; this is the angel who delivered the Word to a trembling girl once upon a time.
Then the words catch up with Aziraphale, and he turns to Crowley and demands, "My dear, what is he talking about? What promise?"
The air around Crowley goes syrupy with molten heat, so much so that Adimu steps back with a pained hiss. Aziraphale fights against a grimace and loses, then sucks air through his teeth, because he has no idea what is happening, what they're talking about, and why he's so very scared about whatever is coming next. He has never been the most intuitive creature, but he knows that they're all teetering on the edge of something that will change everything.
"I did make you a promissssse, didn't I? And I alwayssssss keep my word, Gabe, assssssk anyone."
"You promised to take me for gelato and you never did," Adimu pipes up. For the first time since their introduction, she sounds afraid.
Crowley opens his mouth, closes it, and then opens it again. "Asssssk almossssst anyone."
"Enough!" It comes over them like an attack. Gabriel's voice is so powerful that Adimu is knocked to the ground, and it takes all of Aziraphale's strength—and the aid of his wings—to remain standing. "We're ending this now. Ad-Adee-Adi—whatever your name is—you wait right there. This won't take long."
Breathing out, Gabriel rolls his shoulders, and with the movement comes the unfurling of his wings. The first two snap open with a crack of thunder, and Adimu curls up and shrieks, too slow to cover her ears, which have begun to bleed. Aziraphale drops to her side and grips her tightly, brings her against him and shelters her as best he can with his wings. Gabriel's third, fourth, and fifth wings bloom, the shaft of each covert glinting silver in the light. The primaries end in points sharper than any edge weapon conceived.
The sixth wing ripples like water. The seventh is beyond description.
And as Gabriel activates them all, flapping them simultaneously to soar off the ground with a mighty blast of wind, Crowley stands firm, legs locked, head tilted back to watch him go.
"Time to get a jog on, Aziraphale."
Aziraphale jerks as though hit. Being hit would hurt far less. "What? No. No! I'm not leaving you."
"Find Adam." Crowley is standing right there, is so very close, but he sounds miles away. "I don't know where he and the ressssst of his terror squad have got to, but if there's any hope in ssssssstopping this, it's with him."
A fine tremor has started in Aziraphale's hands and it grows as it travels up his arms and over his shoulders, shivering down his spine. Where she's pressed against him, Adimu wraps her arms around him and shakes too.
"Crowley." Whatever he's about to say—whatever you're about to do, don't, please, come with us, i can't do this without you, i can't go on without you—dissolves on his tongue like clotted cream as Crowley reaches up and removes his sunglasses.
When he turns and looks down at Aziraphale, it's not with the golden gaze Aziraphale knows so well.
His eyes are wreathed in flame, and behind him bloom his wings, burning with the same fury as the stars he once helped create. Solar wind and smashed atoms sluice down his arms and gather in his hands, hydrogen chasing helium around his fingers, and the edges of him, the very outline of the form he chose at the very beginning at the entrance to the Garden, glow with righteousness. He's beautiful, and terrible, and holy.
The core of his Grace shakes and crystallizes with the knowledge of what this means, of what is about to happen, and Aziraphale closes his eyes to try and stop the tears from coming, but he can't.
"This isn't the end for us," he whispers. It's a promise, a declaration, and a vow, three layers of intent that form a perfect whole. Like Neapolitan ice cream. "It can't be."
"'Courssssssse it isn't," Crowley says. Stars quake and quake and quake, inhaling before a scream, and the sheer mass of his power pools into his core until it grows too heavy to withstand it. "Ssssssstill gotta take Adimu for gelato, apparently."
"Damn right you do," Adimu says, lifting her head from Aziraphale's shoulder to glare up at Crowley. "I'm holding you to that."
In the sky above the battlefield once called Birmingham, Gabriel raises Gjallarhorn to his lips and from its hallowed bell roars out the Calling. The forces of Heaven and Hell are coming to rain destruction down upon them in order to move their campaign forward to the last and final point. But they can't have Adimu, nor this world. Earth, with all its wonders, with its scattered histories and the echoes of stones and streams long forgotten, belongs to humanity. It belongs to Adimu and Adam and all their friends. It belongs to Aziraphale and, most of all, Crowley.
Exhausted, tear-stained, and suddenly so very, very full of determination, Aziraphale helps Adimu to her feet, looks up at Crowley, and says, "I love you, and we will see you very soon."
Crowley, breathing smoke, smiles the same smile he always has for only Aziraphale, and here, at the end of the world, it's the only consolation. "Take up your ssssssssword, angel."
The baying of Heaven and Hell grows louder as they get closer, and the entire world shines as Crowley's entire body goes up in brilliant, blinding flame. Aziraphale is almost sad he won't be here to witness as the love of his life lays waste to those they once called their superiors, but needs must. He and Adimu will find Satan's first child and bring an end to this End.
Exhaling, he touches his fingers to his lips and then brings them to Crowley's. "My darling?"
Crowley's smile parts around them in a grin, and he disappears into the supernova writhing around him, waiting for permission to be unleashed.
Where is the sword I gave you, Aziraphale?
"Do your absolute best."