Actions

Work Header

dawn breaks like a fallen vase

Chapter Text

When Adam reset the world, he did more than add a few books to Aziraphale’s shop.

Most people woke to find their lives a bit lighter. The air was clean, water clear—somehow, the kid had turned all the world’s energy green. A great number of impoverished nations found themselves better off, granted they’d been discussed on the evening news. Even a few world leaders had been demoted, replaced with the nicer, more erudite counterparts Adam’s dad had liked, and all the world’s nuclear weapons had disappeared overnight.

Crowley and Aziraphale had no way of knowing the full extent of Adam’s changes. But the angel could sense it, when he and Crowley met in the park and dined at the Ritz; everyone around them was happier, and there was human love in the air.

So much human love, in fact, that the angel hardly had a worry.

After they’d toasted to the world, Aziraphale had chosen a random topic and switched his mouth to autopilot. It wasn’t hard with Crowley around, to babble on about the wine and the food and all the things he was looking forward to doing now—a few plays he wanted to watch and restaurants he’d had his eye on—because the threat of their imminent death was gone and God, he felt so happy. Maybe his mood was aided by the love, or by the buzz of alcohol, but saving a friend from permanent destruction was also a hell of a stimulant.

They dined at the Ritz for hours. Aziraphale did most of the talking; he knew that Crowley was content just to watch him, behind dark shades and wine glasses. So they continued on that way, until after dessert, when during one of Aziraphale’s speeches about all the books he had the chance to read now—particularly, he’d been putting off Tolstoy a hundred years too long—a wave of love hit the angel so hard that it shut his mouth completely.

“You alright?” Asked Crowley, setting down his glass.

Aziraphale blinked a few times. “Yes,” he said, eyebrows furrowed, “of course. Just… a rather strong feeling.”

“Feeling?”

“You know, as I said the other day—it’s like how you can sense when something’s spooky—“

Crowley gave him a mock scowl. “Oh, not that word again, it’s demeaning—“

“And I can sense when something’s loved.” Aziraphale glanced around the Ritz, a large smile on his face, then back to Crowley. “I’ve been feeling it all day. Ever since this morning, the world has been a better place. And humans are falling in love with it all over again.”

“Or maybe you’ve had too much wine.”

“Maybe that,” said the angel, though both of them knew he was nowhere near intoxicated. 

Aziraphale gave Crowley a fond look and there was a moment of silence, perhaps the longest since they had arrived, before Crowley cleared his throat and spoke again.

“I’d like to go check on my car now. Take a ride, make sure everything works.”

Ah.

Aziraphale trained his eyes back to the table.

Maybe he’d been foolish not to see this coming. Of course they’d go their separate ways at some point today—they’d seen each other an awful lot the past week, had even spent time away from their own bodies. Of course Crowley would want some hours alone. Days, weeks—

“So if you’d like to, you could, you know, come along.”

Aziraphale’s eyes widened and shot back up to Crowley. The demon was looking away, towards the bill the waiter had placed in front of them. He summoned up a pile of cash, then proceeded to check through the bills, despite the near zero possibility he’d miracled anything less than the exact amount. Aziraphale watched him, unable to conjure a response.

“Oh, Crowley, I—“

“It’s alright. You don’t have to. I’m sure you want to go right back to the bookshop.”

“No! I mean, I do, but I’m more afraid—“

Aziraphale stopped himself, but Crowley had fixed him in a strong gaze. “Afraid of what?”

The angel swallowed. “I’m, ah… perhaps I’m just a bit wary. Of going separate ways. I mean, of leaving you. After all we’ve been through today.” Aziraphale gave him a nervous smile. “Maybe that’s irrational.”

Crowley was frozen for a moment, a mixture of awe and bewilderment on his face. “No,” he said, “that’s—that’s fine, actually. And perfectly rational. I also don’t want to, uh…” He gestured vaguely. “Go without… run off and leave you to...” Crowley dropped his hand and sighed. “Let’s just get going now, angel.”

Aziraphale couldn’t help but smile at him.

 

 

It was well past the middle of the afternoon by the time they reached the Bentley. Crowley was trying to act cool as they approached, stopping for a moment on the pavement, but his hand shook as he reached to touch the shiny top. His lip trembled, and for a moment Aziraphale was afraid Crowley might cry. He held up his hands to comfort him—but then the demon let out a large whoop, and his ensuing cackle scared Aziraphale almost as much as it did the passersby. He was practically screaming, for heaven’s—er, for Pete’s sake. Aziraphale tried to communicate this, but the message was lost amidst Crowley’s shouted praise for his car.

Finally, after circling it at least five times, Crowley got inside the vehicle. Aziraphale sat in the passenger’s seat.

“Let’s visit your bookshop.”

Aziraphale looked at him, eyebrows furrowed. “Don’t you want to go on a longer ride?”

“Nah. That can wait until tonight.” Crowley started the car; a wide grin shot across his face. “No ride is really that long, if I can help it.”

He shifted the car into first gear, and Aziraphale let out a good lord.

Then in a second they were at sixty miles per hour and Crowley was laughing, loud and unrestrained, while Aziraphale gripped the side of the seat and tried not to yelp. The speedometer ticked higher with each passing moment, and Aziraphale feared that at one hundred, the whole thing might explode, and they’d be sent back to their headquarters and everything they’d worked for would be utterly for nought—but they hit the number and nothing changed, and the speedometer simply shook in place.

As soon as it began, it was over.

“I‘m feeling a bit ill,” Aziraphale muttered as they stepped out of the car.

“Ah, you get used to it.” Crowley flashed him a smile, and the angel gave a weak one back; in truth, he didn’t feel that bad. “But, uh, if that really was—if I got too carried away—“ 

“It was fine,” Aziraphale said. “You deserve to have fun. You’ve been stressed lately. And there’s no need to worry about me.” He fixed Crowley in a hopeful gaze. He wanted to say it; he couldn’t bring himself to.

You didn’t go too fast.

But instead Aziraphale turned to smile at his bookshop. “I’d never have known it burned.”

“Lucky you,” Crowley said. He came to stand beside Aziraphale, who took note of his solemn expression. The angel held out his hand, palm up, and waited. And Crowley took it.

Aziraphale gave him a soft smile and lead him across the street. He couldn’t see Crowley’s eyes behind the glasses, but the demon’s smile, trained down at the street, was the purest he’d ever seen it. Crowley’s hand was cool, Aziraphale’s warm; they formed a happy medium, he thought.

They climbed the steps and Aziraphale placed his hand on the knob, feeling something swell in his chest. He pushed open the door. Their hands parted as they entered.

Inside the shop was largely the same. Adam’s red books stood out immediately, but his other changes were harder to notice. There was a shiny new iPhone on his desk; as Aziraphale brushed by the shelves, he smiled gently at the few first editions he’d lost over the years; and as he ventured further, he found that on a shelf in the back room Adam had left a two boxes of tea and a blue tin of biscuits, the kind grandmothers always had.

“The little bastard,” muttered Crowley, stalking into the back room. He held up the phone to Aziraphale. “He put the headphone jack back in. That was my stroke of genius, convincing Tim Cook.” Crowley was met with a quizzical look. “Nevermind. They’ll probably remove it again next year. But hey! After all my nagging, you’ve finally got an iPhone. And standing right in front of you is the perfect demon to show you the ropes.” Aziraphale was looking rather grim. “Or, you know, if you’d rather, we could go on the long drive I mentioned earlier.”

He took one glance at the glinting surface of the phone. “I think I’d prefer the drive.”

 

...

 

“Might I ask where we’re going?” Aziraphale said as he shut the passenger-side door.

“Oh, nowhere in particular.” He knew that was code for I just don’t want to tell you. So Aziraphale simply watched as Crowley started the car—much less frantically, this time—and watched as the speedometer came to rest at fifty miles per hour.

They sat in the silence of the low red sun, heading south, Aziraphale unsure of what to talk about. He’d exhausted all his topics over lunch, to be honest, so he sat back and listened to Queen as it played over the speakers. Breakthru. Crowley didn’t like it, for some reason. He ejected the disk and shut off the song halfway in.

The car was silent for a good minute, until the DVD slid back on its own.

I can dim the lights and sing you songs—

“Shit.” He ejected the DVD again. “Stay that way,” he told it.

Click. It started off so well—

He jammed his finger into the button again, staring the disk down as it appeared. A second passed. The disk popped back in. He slammed his palm against the button, took the disk, and threw it behind him. 

“You’ve seem a bit… nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” he hissed, eyes back on the road. “Why on Earth would I be nervous?”

“Because we faced down Heaven and Hell today?”

Crowley grimaced; he relaxed his grip on the wheel.

“I shouldn’t be nervous. Demons shouldn’t feel nervous.”

“And yet this one does. Then again, he’s not quite a standard model.” Crowley didn’t bother to defend himself; they both knew there hadn’t been any truth to his statement. “But anyhow,” said Aziraphale, “would it help if I go first?”

“What?”

“If I talk first. About what happened this morning.”

Crowley thought about it for a moment, bit his lip, then nodded.

The angel told him everything. Rigged trial, bath, demon destroyed before his eyes. It was all far more graphic than what had happened in Heaven, and yet… 

“I don’t know,” Crowley muttered. “I guess, somewhere, I still thought Heaven had some sort of... holy moral code. But they didn’t give you a trial. They didn’t give you anything. It was all so casual . At least Hell treated it for what it was. Gabriel acted like he was firing someone he’d had a month.”

“Well, in a way, they were ‘firing’ me.” Aziraphale gave him a shy smile, and Crowley almost smiled in return, but as he looked back to the road he found that once the words started coming, they were hard to hold back.

The speedometer ticked a bit higher.

“He told you—he told you to shut up and die already, and I almost gave myself away, then. Could’ve killed him. He didn’t have a right to talk to you like that.”

“He’ll never have the chance again. There’s no need to worry.” The speedometer wavered at sixty. “You said it yourself. They’ll leave us alone.”

“For a while, Aziraphale, and then what? We’ve got—we’ve got no one but us. We can’t take them on. And when they’re ready to find us, it won’t even be an issue, ‘cause we can’t use much of our powers without them knowing where we are.” 

Aziraphale reached forward to push the empty DVD tray back in, trying not to look at the speedometer. “Then perhaps,” he said, “perhaps we could spend a little while miracling what we need, and then after that we could... try to limit our miracles, or live without them.” Crowley stared in disbelief. “Humans do it their entire lives.”

“Yeah? And they live for, what, sixty years?”

“Nearing eighty, these days.”

“Doesn’t matter. They don’t have legions of Hell and armies of Heaven after them.”

They were going sixty-five, now. Crowley noticed him looking, and suddenly they were down to forty.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You don’t.” Aziraphale brought his eyes to the demon, slowly. “You didn’t last night, and you haven’t for a long time.”

Crowley opened his mouth the slightest amount, closed it, then kept his eyes on the road.

Neither of them could fully recall last night, before the reset. But Aziraphale remembered the warm feelings, the way Crowley’s cool hand felt on the bus ride; as Crowley drove, now, through rural hillside in silence, Aziraphale pieced together the dream he’d had, as he slept last night in the dark flat. He’d been back in the bookshop and Crowley had been there, holding two cups of tea. It’d been raining outside.

Crowley handed him a cup. What do you want? He asked. More than anything else?  

Well, some biscuits would be nice. Aziraphale looked up from the steaming tea to be met with confusion. Oh. I suppose you mean something… longer term. I’d like Heaven and Hell to stop bothering us, for one.

I can’t do that. Sorry.

Why not?

I’m restarting the world. But I can’t do anything about Heaven and Hell. Crowley’s voice was coming out a bit higher pitched, now, and Aziraphale was having trouble getting a good look at his face. If you succeed in your plan, they’ll be angry. They’ll start looking for other ways to kill you. They’ll start building.

Building what? Armies?

Weapons. Crowley—or rather, the boy wearing his face—turned to look at a bookshelf near the back of the store. His features blurred through the steam; the whole shop was blurry. After tonight, I can’t protect you from them. Not by myself. But there are more people on Earth than just me.

Aziraphale woke up, and Crowley stopped the car in the grass off the road. The angel waited a moment, gazing at the twilight sky behind the windshield. Then he stepped out. He shut the door, and as soon as Crowley had shut his, the demon took a step and lowered himself onto the grass, tilted his head towards the sky. He’d left his sunglasses in the car.

“You were right. Nowhere in particular,” Aziraphale said, looking out at the rolling hills, first stars.

Crowley shrugged, eyes unblinking. “Everywhere’s somewhere. Even if no one ever sees it.”

“No one but God,” Aziraphale corrected. “But there’s a trace of human love, even here.”

Crowley shifted his eyes across the sky. “Probably not on Alpha Centauri.”

“No, probably not.”

Aziraphale sat down beside the demon. Today, more than ever, he wasn’t sure what Crowley would say next. They’d both been happy just an hour ago, but Crowley’s moods were never that predictable.

“I made some of them, you know.” Crowley kept his eyes trained upward. “Made a lot of them. I literally put stars in the sky. Bunch of little specks that humans’ll never reach. And a bunch of dead, pretty rocks—for what? Why’s this the only one alive?”

“You want there to be life on other planets?”

“I don’t know what I want. But it seems like a big waste of space, if you ask me. And if humans ought to be the only ones, why make the universe so vast?” He took a shaky breath. “That was one of my first questions. She never answered me. She never even got mad at me for asking; She was silent. I was never told to stop, Aziraphale—how was I supposed to know?”

“I'm—I’m not sure.” Aziraphale looked down at the tiny flower, dark purple, between them. “I don’t think She really talks to anyone. She’s been that way for a while. Detached. They all claim to follow Her plans, but I think they’re just following what they want Her plans to be. And I suppose that means they can kill angels along the way.”

Crowley threw his hands up. “So in the end it’s all the same, see? Heaven just has a few rules, and Hell’s just a bit more obvious, and no one’s worthy of Her love anymore.” 

“I don’t think—“

“You do,” he snapped. “You don’t want to admit it, but none of those angels are much holier than demons. No one above or below or sitting in the grass on this little blue rock is any damn closer to God than anyone else. It’s just that some of us, you know, asked questions earlier than others. That some of us wanted a few of those stars for ourselves, and some of us—“ He paused. When he spoke again his voice was low, cracking under the weight of his words. “Some of us were never worthy of Her love from the start.”

Aziraphale didn’t know what to say. He watched the light drain past the horizon. The stars were forming.

“I think,” said Aziraphale at last, “it is she who is no longer worthy of yours.”

The angel turned his head, and he forgot how to breathe.

Crowley’s eyes were wide, and they were full of tears. His mouth was open, slightly turned down, and he was in the middle of a deep breath—but everything seemed to have stopped—everything but the sky above them, where the stars were twinkling on and breaking past the scattered cornflower clouds, sending some silent, unknowable awe into the angel’s every part, from the hands that reached for Crowley to the eyes that widened as Crowley fell, in slow motion, against Aziraphale’s chest. A pair of arms surrounded the angel’s waist, and a pair settled on the demon’s back, and both of them shook as Crowley cried.

And wrapped up in all the fear and awe, Aziraphale could feel the unfettered beat of Crowley’s love—not so much different from the human kind, if only a human could live a hundred lifetimes.

Aziraphale cried. He tinged his blue eyes with red and breathed in and out.

“Perhaps it’s blasphemy,” said Aziraphale shakily. “But it’s simply that if she never forgives you, never makes her love apparent, then she doesn’t deserve your devotion.”

It was really that simple. No lightning struck as he said it; no sulphur fell from the sky. Just tears.

“Then what about you?” Crowley said, his voice against Aziraphale’s chest. “Does she deserve yours?”

“I’m… well, I’m not entirely sure, anymore. But if I’m never to know her plans, I might as well... act on my own accord.”

“Aren’t you scared to say that?”

“I am. I’m absolutely—I’m absolutely terrified. But that won’t change the fact that I’ve fallen.” Crowley went still. “I’ve been in the process of it for a long while now,” Aziraphale continued. “They may not have banished me officially, but I’ve finished falling anyway. I just didn’t go to Hell; I’ve been falling down to Earth, and you’ve been falling up, and somehow we’ve met in the middle.”

Crowley pulled back, just slightly, enough so he could see Aziraphale’s sad smile.

“I’ve forsaken them,” Aziraphale uttered, “and I’m on your side.”

“And you really don’t mind it?”

“I’ve never wanted it more.” Then he pulled Crowley closer, closer, and rested his chin on Crowley’s head.

They stayed together until the Milky Way shone and all the tears had scoured the dirt.

There was so much more to be said, but neither of them wanted to disrupt the soundless hills of southern England. Come dawn, they’d need to wonder about the future, about how often to use their powers and when they should stop—where they should go and what could protect them. But for as long as they stayed beneath the stars, there was not another soul in the world.

And Crowley, somehow, was asleep in his arms.

So Aziraphale lay him down, in the grass beside the purple flower, and drifted away by his side.

 

 

As two beings slept, an eleven-year-old had started to enact an ineffable plan of his own.

To be fair, he’d had a little help.

God’s office hours weren’t really so limited if you happened to be the Antichrist.

She’d given him just a bit of advice. The rest was up to him, and to any other willful beings on his little blue rock.

 

Chapter Text

They woke before the sun had risen, arms still around one another. Crowley came to consciousness first—his head against Aziraphale’s chest, his arms loose around Aziraphale’s waist. He felt that some part of him should be abashed, to have fallen asleep crying in the angel’s arms, but somehow there was nothing but warmth.

After a moment he pulled back. In the slightest of light, the angel stirred, and as he opened his blue eyes in the pink, Crowley decided he was going to give Aziraphale everything he ever wanted. In a month or a year they might decide to swear off their powers, but until then, he was going to make sure Aziraphale had the best damn time of his life.

As the angel’s eyes focused upon him, he started to feel a bit of that bashfulness.

“Uh. Good morning,” Crowley said. He was still too groggy to stop a blush—a normal human wouldn’t be able to see it in the dark, but ethereal eyes unfortunately could. “Did you—uh, did you sleep well?”

“Wonderfully, despite the grass.” Aziraphale smiled. “Do you feel better today?”

“Yeah,” he said, starting to get a bit frustrated with the mushy atmosphere of it all—“and I’d like to get up now.”

Aziraphale laughed a little, and they let go of each other.

Back in the car, Crowley put on his sunglasses. “Thank you,” he muttered; he cleared his throat and continued on before Aziraphale could speak. “Anyway, yesterday, in the car, didn’t you suggest we limit our powers?”

Aziraphale’s fond smile was replaced with something more serious. “I did.”

Crowley kept talking, quickly. “So I figure, you know, we should use them fully while we can. Have a good time. Is there anywhere on Earth you haven’t been yet? Or off it, I guess?”

Aziraphale studied him. “I’ve been off it. To the moon. Anywhere else takes a tad too long.”

“Mercury’s not that far.”

“Hm. But isn’t Venus closer to—“

“Nope. Different orbital periods, different positions. Venus is on the other side of the sun now, so it’s farther.” He glanced at Aziraphale. “Oh, don’t look at me like that—like you thought I was stupid until five seconds ago.”

Aziraphale smiled a bit. “You’ve visited Mercury, then?”

“I visited all of them. And their moons. I liked Enceledus. Hated Io. But we probably don’t have time to leave Earth, so it doesn’t matter.”

“It does. I like when you talk about your interests.”

Crowley swallowed and resisted the urge to reach for his sunglasses.

“Besides,” Aziraphale said, “I’ve never actually been to the observatory in Greenwich.”

The slight frown on Crowley’s face faded as he turned to gape at Aziraphale. “ Seriously ? You do realise it’s been—what, three hundred years since that thing was built? And it’s right down the river?”

“Yes, but, you know, I always imagined there would be plenty of time. The end happened to be a bit more nigh than I expected.”

Crowley quirked an eyebrow and started the car.

The first Monday morning after Adam’s global reset was the happiest Monday morning in human history. Of course, it was still a Monday morning, so it was significantly less happy than the Sunday morning that had preceded it, and the Tuesday morning that would follow. But it was happy enough that many perfect strangers were smiling at each other, remembering to say “please” and “thank you” to their bus drivers, and telling their waiters to keep the change.

“It’s suffocating ,” Crowley said as they walked through Greenwich Park, Aziraphale lining up the edges of a napkin from breakfast. “I see what you meant about love everywhere.”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. He folded the napkin as they went. “You’re just upset because you bumped into someone and accidentally said ‘sorry’. Honestly, if we’re going to have the whole ‘our side’ business, you might as well stop pretending. You shouldn’t be ashamed to do something nice.”

“Yeah? I think you shouldn’t be ashamed to do something bad.”

Aziraphale fixed Crowley in a stare, held up the napkin, and dropped it on the grass.

“Alright,” Aziraphale said.

“That doesn’t count.”

“Why not? It’s about as bad as anything you’ve done in the last year.”

“I killed a demon!”

“Probably for good reason, so that proves my point.”

Crowley scowled as they started to walk again. “Fine. I’ll do a few nice things, alright?”

“I’m not telling you to do anything. I’m only saying you shouldn’t put up a front.”

But Crowley had decided to give Aziraphale what he wanted—and if it took a few non-demonic miracles to make him happy, so be it.

In the observatory museum, a little girl was having trouble seeing the antique clocks. Crowley lifted his hand and she levitated a few inches; Aziraphale tapped him quickly on the arm and whispered “stepstool”. Crowley grumbled and summoned one beside her. Failure .

During the tour of the old parts of the building, an older gentleman dropped his cane. Crowley rotated it upright, removed the dirt, and gave it a new coating of black paint. The man took one look at the cane and said “I’d like you to give me back my old one.” Aziraphale sighed and fixed it, giving Crowley a disappointed glance. Failure again.

He was standing around in the museum gift shop, grumbling, when he noticed a teenager with bright orange hair searching through black T-shirts. She held up a hanger to her chest; the shirt reached her mid-thigh. Crowley waved his hand and the fabric shrunk. The girl looked up at him in shock, dropped the hanger back on the rod, and fast-walked away.

Aziraphale came to stand beside him. “Oh, now look what you’ve done.”

“All I’ve done are good things .”

“But you’re trying too hard. I only meant you should let them happen without fussing.”

“Oh, right. Because this is still ‘putting up a front’.”

Aziraphale sighed. “No need to be offended. I was guilty of it too, as you well know—of trying to act the way heaven told me. Hiding my nature and bottling things up. It only ever ends badly, like last…”

“Like last night?”

“Well, yes—if we—if you talk about what bothers you more regularly, that sort of thing might happen less often.”

Last night .

Crowley remembered last night quite fondly, actually, despite all the crying. He’d been happy yesterday at the Ritz, and most of the afternoon, until the car had started playing love songs and he hadn’t been able to handle it anymore. Humans didn’t know a single thing about love, really. They didn’t know how it felt to love someone for six thousand years, how it felt for Crowley to still not know what he wanted. Really, all Crowley knew was that he wanted some kind of physical intimacy—he’d ended up in Aziraphale’s arms—no, he’d sought them out. And maybe he’d been a bit forward, a bit demanding. Maybe Aziraphale hadn’t liked it. Maybe he’d put up with it, just for Crowley’s sake, and the warmth had all meant nothing.

Aziraphale’s eyes, drowned in blue-violet sky.

The simple, honest way he’d uttered blasphemy, after six thousand years in fear of heaven.

As if God was merely human, just a parent who had severed her love—

who is no longer worthy of yours.

Surely, it had meant something.

When they were finished at the observatory, Crowley drove them back to his flat, mostly in silence. When they entered the building he didn’t miracle the elevator to reach them any faster, and simply nodded along whenever Aziraphale spoke. He hoped Aziraphale wouldn’t ask what was wrong. He didn’t.

Crowley didn’t have a couch, so the pair sat next to each other on the end of his bed, Aziraphale’s hands emphasizing his points as Crowley’s fidgeted with the buttons on the angel’s new iPhone.

“One month,” Aziraphale said. “We have at least that long before anyone comes looking.”

Crowley lifted the phone to his face and stared down the headphone jack. “Probably.”

“So we might as well use our powers until then. Stay diligent. Keep our eyes out for any new… angel- or demon-killing weapons.”

“You think that’s what they’re up to?”

“I’ve got good reason to believe it. Adam was in my dream, that night in your flat, and he told me they’d be building weapons.”

“Hm.” Crowley switched the ringer on and off again to feel the vibration. “He wasn’t in mine.”

“He said there’d be people on Earth who could help us. I’m not sure how we’re to find them.”

“He’s the Antichrist. He probably set it up so they’d come to us.”

“Probably so. Then if nothing happens after a month, I suppose, we can seek him out again.” Aziraphale lay his hands on his lap with a finality that said now, let’s not think about that again until we have to. He glanced at Crowley’s furrowed brow. “You took me somewhere nice, yesterday and today. Since we’ve at least a month of free time, I’d like to return the favor.”

“I’ve been just about everywhere on this planet, angel.”

“But when was the last time you went to Paris?”

Crowley finally set the phone down. “‘46,” he said, “I think.”

“Oh. That actually is a long time. I went last year.”

“Don’t tell me it was for crêpes.”

“No—it was for macarons, too.” Aziraphale smiled gently at Crowley’s raised eyebrows. “Do you want to go? See the sights, like tourists?”

Crowley conjured up a weak grin. “Of course,” he said. “‘Cause I’ve got to stop you getting into trouble.”

They arrived in Paris that Thursday afternoon. The staggering levels of human love had started to lower, but this was Paris, and there were still more people holding hands in the street than normal.

Crowley and Aziraphale hadn’t held hands since Sunday.

They’d been through a lot that day at Tadfield, and they’d feared for each other’s lives the next morning. They’d been a mess after the world hadn’t ended. That had been their excuse; in the absence of crisis, it didn’t feel right to reach for the angel’s hand.

Crowley almost wanted to be a mess again.

Aziraphale came to a stop on the pavement. Crowley laughed— of course they were staying at the Ritz. Aziraphale lead him through the blue and gold lobby and directly to the room. When they entered, Crowley’s eyes fell upon the couch, the wide windows, the white curtains… and two bedrooms. But Crowley hardly had time to reflect on his desires before Aziraphale was dropping their singular bag on the ground and making his way out again. “Eiffel Tower first,” he was saying. Crowley hurried after him.

In fact, he hurried most of the time down the street, trying to keep up with the animated angel. Crowley pushed tourists out of the way as they went, miracled through crowds as if he were parting the Red Sea. Finally, Aziraphale started to slow down as they entered the park below the tower.

“You know, much of Paris was against the tower’s construction,” Aziraphale said. “But it was well-received during the exposition. Over a million people saw it, then.”

“And there’s a million people here today. Are we really going to wait in that line?”

“Well, yes, we—“ He caught sight of Crowley’s grin. “Oh, no. No, you better not be suggesting that. We’d cause a scene.”

“It would only take a second. I’ll freeze them all. They’ll never suspect a thing.”

Aziraphale gave him a nervous glance, then looked back up to the tower, then back to Crowley again. “Alright,” he uttered. Then he reached for Crowley’s hand.

Crowley was frozen, and so were all the people around them.

He swallowed. He spoke slowly. “We can’t use our wings if you—if we’re that close.”

“Oh,” muttered Aziraphale, “right.” Then he let go, and both of them spread their wings, out from the folds of space.

Aziraphale looked at both of their feathers carefully. Crowley realised the source of the angel’s apprehension; their wings were still the same stark contrast.

“Were you hoping they’d be grey?” Crowley whispered.

“I don’t know,” Aziraphale said. Then, after a moment—“I think so.” And he was flying before Crowley could say anything back.

The Eiffel Tower was fine. Not much different than it’d been in 1946, though there were certainly less people back then. He’d been alone that night, atop one of the tallest structures in the world. He liked being up high, above all of creation, for foolish reasons he didn’t like to admit.

Maybe Aziraphale was right about putting up a front. It was the only way Crowley could deal with six thousand years of residual pain, and six thousand years of forbidden feelings. But now, with less of a drive to keep up appearances, the smallest things sparked a warmth in his chest. Aziraphale’s soft looks at little dogs on the street; his excited chatter as he recalled memories at certain landmarks; the look of longing he gave Crowley when there was a crêpe stand above the Trocadéro fountains, in sight of the Eiffel Tower; they both knew the crêpes wouldn’t be the highest quality, but you really couldn’t beat the view, and one of them had already materialised in Aziraphale’s hands, shaped like a cone and filled with whipped cream.

“There,” Crowley muttered. “Saved you the embarrassment of asking in French.”

“Why, Crowley, my French is much better than it was in 1792.”

Aziraphale was still smiling, despite the tease. It was almost too bright to look at. Crowley was thankful for the glasses.

“Yeah, and I’m sure if you’d been able to hold a stronger conversation, you could’ve just talked your way out of the Bastille.”

Aziraphale gazed down at the crêpe and smiled more softly. “I could’ve defied heaven with a miracle. But I needed someone to come along and give me the strength.”

Crowley didn’t know what to say, so he shut his jaw and watched Aziraphale eat.

The sun set quickly that day as the pair walked the Champs-Elysées—only so they could see the Arc de Triomphe and then escape to less populated areas. They strolled far enough away that, come twilight, Aziraphale suggested they take the metro back to the Seine for his next planned activity. When they stepped onto the train, there weren’t any open seats, and it was a bit crowded; Crowley’s shoulder was pressed against Aziraphale as they both gripped the pole. Aziraphale’s hand was just a centimetre below his, and he was trying not to think about how easy it would be to hold. With every stop, they bumped shoulders again and Crowley had to tighten his grip to make sure it didn’t slide. Truly, if ever there were a surer sign he’d gone native, it was how easily the angel affected him. Especially today. Especially here, in this stupid human transit system.

And yet, as they followed the crowd out of the station and into open air, he remembered angels that once had loved like humans did.

Before he’d fallen, he’d seen angels that loved, asked questions, held interests. Some of them fell with Satan. Some of them tried to keep loving, in certain angelic ways that transcended physical form. But all of that came to an end with the war, when angels either died or grew cold, and demons’ bloodlust overshadowed all else. Most of those lovers, he figured, had killed each other, killed themselves, or faced destruction over the next six thousand years. And so he had never told Aziraphale how he felt. Crowley understood that to love anything, in any form, was a death sentence—much less for love between an angel and demon. But then again, if heaven and hell were truly building a weapon to kill them both, it no longer mattered if they loved each other. They could die either way.

On the top deck of a lavish boat on the Seine, Crowley sat down beside Aziraphale and decided he’d confess whatever these feelings were before the week was out.

Unfortunately, this meant that tonight he was going to consume copious amounts of alcohol rather than think.

He drank much faster than Aziraphale did. They’d passed the Eiffel Tower and its shimmering reflection in the water by the time he finished his first drink. He’d ordered a few more by the time they’d turned around and passed the bridge of Alexander III, with its golden lions and winged Greek women. Soon they were passing under a bridge with railings full of locks. Crowley pointed vaguely at it. “That, there. See it? It’s stupid.”

“The locks?”

“Yeah. Ruin a good bridge, doing that.”

“Some people think it’s romantic.”

“Yeah, and humans also think it’s romantic to, y’know, stick parts of themselves inside each other.”

Aziraphale furrowed his brow, slowly. “Well, that’s what a lot of living things do.”

“And I don’t hafta like it. I tried it. Back in Rome. Awfully boring.”

“Is it that different from what angels used to do?”

Crowley stared. Then he narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “No, nah. They didn’t always have bodies to deal with. And that was… it wasn’t based on some crazy need. They were—it was—”

“Soft,” Aziraphale said.

“Yeah,” he responded, staring intently at the glass. “I guess.”

Several drinks later, past a bridge of stone and green metal, Aziraphale, too, was having trouble comprehending.

“So you don’t like it?” He asked, swirling the red wine around. “Not any of it? Of the, er, other stuff. Human things.”

No !” Crowley said, a bit too emphatically. “Not true. Some stuff’s fine. Why? You do?”

“Yeah, sometimes.”

“With who ?”

“Some humans. Over recent times. I think maybe three.”

Crowley didn’t like how that made him feel. “You liked them.”

“Well enough. They started it. Rather fun.”

Oh—it was making him feel a bit sick. “Don’t wanna talk about this anymore. Too stupid. Too much.” He’d said too much.

Crowley sucked the alcohol out of his system quickly, serving only to make his head throb more. He put a palm to it and shut his eyes; in a moment Aziraphale had sobered up, too, and had a hand on his shoulder.

“Are you alright?”

Crowley grimaced. “You keep tricking me into this.”

“Into what?”

Sharing my feelings .” He pushed Aziraphale’s hand off. “And don’t give me that ‘putting up a front’ bullshit. I’m—I just need to think about it myself, without you meddling.”

Aziraphale was looking rather concerned. “Do you want to go home?”

No . No, I don’t want to ruin this. Just... forget I said anything.”

That night they returned to two bedrooms.

When morning came, Crowley put on his best smile. And for the next mornings, next nights, Crowley didn’t snap at Aziraphale at all.

They spent four days visiting museums and restaurants. On Monday, they were finally getting around to the Louvre. Aziraphale was excited to show Crowley all the new additions since the forties, including the glass pyramid on top, which, as with the Eiffel Tower, had been hated by Parisians for quite some time. It seemed all humans ever did was hate the new things they’d eventually come to love.

Crowley and Aziraphale saw the classic pieces, too—Venus, Victory, and the Mona Lisa. There was no way to bypass the crowd by flight this time, but Crowley was more content to look at the picture opposite the Mona Lisa, anyway.

As they left the Louvre and ascended, the pair found themselves gazing out upon the Tuileries Gardens just as it started to rain. Crowley raised an arm as if to push away clouds, but stopped when he felt Aziraphale tap his shoulder; the angel had summoned a large grey umbrella. He was holding it out to Crowley.

Crowley stared for a moment, suppressing a blush. He curled his hand around the pole, pinky finger resting on Aziraphale’s hand. They held the umbrella in the middle.

The gardens were full of people, but Crowley managed to block them out as they walked through rows of round hedges. His mind was too busy spinning. Surely, Aziraphale knew the significance of the action—somehow, it felt like hardly anything had changed in six thousand years. They were still dancing around, except that it was Crowley, now, unsure of how to act.

Afraid to move any faster.

The clouds were starting to roll past, the rain a mere scatter. As the last drops fell, Crowley stepped out from under the umbrella.

It happened all too fast to warn the angel.

Aziraphale was looking away, towards the sky. He stayed that way for a moment, until, in the afternoon light, a rainbow formed.

“Look,” he said, “it’s beautiful.”

But by then Crowley was gone.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale stood still for approximately three seconds.

“Crowley?” He said. Then, louder—“Crowley?”

“Oh, Christ,” said a high voice from behind.

Aziraphale spun around to be met with the barrel of a gun. The gloved hand that held it belonged to a teenager with brown skin and bright orange hair, and she was currently scowling. “Do you two ever stop thinking of each other?”

Aziraphale glanced at the gun. It didn’t give off any ethereal or occult energy. Neither did the teenager, but he put on his best serious face anyway. “Where did you take him?”

“The same place I’m taking you. So I think it’s in your best interest to come along.”

Aziraphale blinked, and for one disorienting moment, he was in the sky—then they’d landed in some sort of Louvre storage room full of marble statues, and somewhere along the way he’d lost his grey umbrella. Aziraphale blinked a few more times. He wasn’t sure how the teenager had done it, or how they’d passed through the skylight above—but Aziraphale’s confusion was interrupted by the sight of Crowley, leaning against the nearby wall. He looked rather handsome that way. Aziraphale couldn’t help but give a huge smile of relief.

The teenager cleared her throat.

“Anyway,” she said, hint of a Brooklyn accent. “Sorry to interrupt your leisurely stroll, but I can’t have you running around in the open anymore.”

“Anymore?” Crowley asked. “Have you been—ohhh. I’ve seen you. Greenwich Observatory. Didn’t appreciate my miracle.”

“I did, actually. It got me on your trail. I just didn’t want you to find me out yet.” She waved her gun in Aziraphale’s direction. “I’d just stolen one of your books, after all.”

“You stole one of my—“

Reclaimed it. Sorry, but you’ll have to work with me from now on, or else you’ll be killed.”

“Yeah?” Said Crowley. “You’re gonna shoot us?”

The teenager rolled her eyes and tossed the gun behind her. It clacked against the ground. “That’s a Nerf gun I painted black. Lends weight to my moral arguments.”

Crowley raised his eyebrows and flashed Aziraphale a glance.

“You’re an angel,” Aziraphale said in awe. “A renegade angel.”

“Eh. I haven’t been doing much renegading, honestly. Heaven hasn’t been hunting me. When you’ve written a book of ethereal secrets, you’ve got a bit of a bargaining chip.”

“You mean to say that you’re—“

“Raziel, angel of mysteries.” She held out a hand. “Pleased to meet you again, Aziraphale.”

Crowley stared as the two awkwardly shook hands. “You know each other?”

“Slightly—I met her a few times in the days before the Garden. But truly, I do apologize for not recognizing you.”

“No worries. I’ve changed my appearance a hell of a lot.” Aziraphale glanced down at her clothes: leather gloves and a vintage bomber jacket over a Green Day shirt clearly lifted from Hot Topic. Aziraphale wouldn’t have had that insight, but even he could tell she looked like a loud American. “It’s unmistakable. Scares off the demons.”

“Demons?” Crowley asked.

“Oh, yeah. It’s been a few years since then, but hell was hot on my ass for a while. Then word spread I put holy water in my super soakers and they backed off considerably. I shot first and asked ethical questions later.” She looked Crowley up and down. “Didn’t get your name.”

“He’s Crowley,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley gave him a glare. “A very good friend of mine.” The glare faded.

“Oh, right. I’ve been listening to heaven and hell’s communications. Heard they botched your execution.”

Crowley opened his mouth, but Aziraphale spoke first. “Um, anyway—you mentioned you had a book of secrets?” Raziel nodded, and rolled her hand around as if to say keep going— “Is that the one you supposedly stole? I don’t remember having it.”

“Well, I really thought I’d destroyed the damn thing—long story, I was angry—but after the reset I felt its presence again. Antichrist must’ve put it there. Took, like, twenty hours to track it down. But with it restored...“ She reached into the pocket of her bomber jacket and fished around. “We’ll finally be able to break in to buildings and take on heaven and…” Raziel pulled out a lighter, a box of cigarettes, and two worn pencils. “Shit.”

“You don’t have it,” Crowley said, “do you?”

“I did. I literally just did. Then I went on the metro—“

“Oh, of course. And you don’t have the secrets memorized?”

Raziel didn’t answer him. She stuffed the items back in her pocket, retrieved the Nerf gun, and grabbed the two by the hand. “I feel it. Someone’s got it in an underground station,” she said, miracling a door open and dragging them through. They emerged into an empty back hallway as Crowley began to scowl.

“When you find this book—this book that we have no proof exists—what’s in it that’ll help us? Why should we come along?”

“I told you, you’re gonna die otherwise.” She let go of their hands and turned a corner. Aziraphale and Crowley struggled to keep up. “After they failed to execute an angel and a demon—which I guess were you guys—heaven and hell started conspiring to make better weapons. I know a few angels on Earth, and there’s strength in numbers, but there’s no way we can break into any facilities without some of those secrets. Besides, if the wrong human gets their hands on it…” Raziel didn’t finish the sentence. She’d stopped in front of a door, and she’d placed her hand on the knob, but for a moment she was frozen. Then Raziel sighed and turned around. “I can’t force you to come with me. But truly, honestly, I need your help. All of us are going to die if we don’t support each other.”

Aziraphale’s face softened. “How many of us are there?” He asked.

“Seven others,” she uttered. “And if heaven and hell are truly combining resources, we’ll be wiped out faster than you can say do-re-mi.”

“I’m willing, then.” Aziraphale offered a hand. Crowley furrowed his brow as she took it; Aziraphale noticed and gave him a sad smile. “What other choice do we have?”

Raziel turned and opened the door to a dark stone tunnel. Crowley gazed at it, at Aziraphale, and uttered an exasperated “ Fine .”

The tunnel sloped downhill for a long while, and the three walked in the silent glow of Aziraphale’s manifested light. The only sound was the occasional rumble from above, to which Raziel would simply mutter “stupid metro”.

The further underground they went, the more on edge Aziraphale became. Something awful was emanating from the depths of the Earth, leaving a foul taste in his mouth as it mixed with all his fears. And Aziraphale had plenty of those.

In the days since the boat ride, Crowley had been rather silent. Aziraphale was trying to figure out why. Had he said something wrong? He’d likened human activities to angels before the war—maybe he’d been wrong. Humans were a lot more physical, because they actually had bodies, and their passion, he’d argue, was even deeper, because they only had so long to feel it. These days, he and Crowley were more like humans than anything else, and Aziraphale rather liked the human method of going about relationships. Though he didn’t like to admit it, he wanted something similar with Crowley. But Crowley had been disgusted. Was he repulsed by human activities, or was he repulsed that Aziraphale liked them?

These were pointless questions, Aziraphale told himself—it wasn’t as though he’d find an answer soon. Crowley wanted time to think, and Aziraphale would not be one to deny him, but for the time being, they were rather at…

“An impasse,” Raziel said. Aziraphale’s eyes widened, wondering how on Earth she’d read his thoughts, until he realised she was referring to the pile of rocks before them. Raziel snapped her fingers and the rocks began to melt, seeping fully through the floor. As the passageway opened, the fear grew stronger, until it had almost enveloped Aziraphale entirely and choked the air out of him. Raziel didn’t seem to care. “Unfortunately, boys, I will now be welcoming you to the Paris catacombs.”

Ah, yes, he realized with a jolt—some powerful being had placed a curse on the Catacombs. They’d summoned the hell equivalent of a horseshoe over the door.

Aziraphale reached towards Crowley and grabbed his sleeve. Startled, the demon looked over to be met with Aziraphale’s nervous frown. Crowley raised his brow for a moment in sympathy, then turned to Raziel and scowled. “Nope. No way. That place reeks of death and demonic influence.”

“And you’re a demon, aren’t you?”

“But Aziraphale isn’t. And I don’t think it’s fair to make him frolic through fields of misplaced human remains.”

She looked at them, and in her eyes was something almost resembling sympathy. “Well, okay,” she said. “I’ll just be visiting my safe of supplies further down. We can figure something out when I get back.” And then Raziel was gone, her footsteps and her light disappearing down the passage.

“I don’t trust her,” Crowley whispered when all was silent. “We can’t even sense her power.”

Aziraphale kept gripping Crowley’s sleeve. He’d grown more accustomed to the dread, fortunately, and words weren’t as hard to muster. “She’s hidden it,” the angel whispered back. “That’s probably one of the secrets she knows. She’s not just making this up, you know—she really has a book. I hear it has blueprints for Noah’s arc.”

“And what else? Step-by-step instructions for planning a revolt against heaven?” Aziraphale rolled his eyes and let go of Crowley’s sleeve. Crowley kept going, voice rising to its usual level. “Might I remind you—it’s supposed to be our side, angel.”

“But it’s going all of us versus all of them. That’s what you said. Surely you didn’t mean us two joining the whole human race.”

“Maybe I did! That’d be better than teaming up with eight ragtag angels we don’t even know yet.”

“I know her!”

Crowley threw up his hands. “And you think you know what’s best. And you think you know what’s safe, but you don’t! And you’re going to get yourself killed, and there won’t be a single damn thing I can—“

Aziraphale grabbed his hand.

“No,” he said. And quieter—“No. I’m not going to let us keep doing this.” Crowley was staring, silently, at their hands. “We can’t let ourselves keep fighting, Crowley. I don’t know if it’s the Catacombs or the threat of heaven and hell that’s causing all this, but we need—we need to be civil. Or else none of this is going to work.”

Crowley swallowed. He opened his mouth to speak.

Just then, by an inconvenient twist of fate, something caught Crowley around the neck.

Aziraphale, at heart, was not a warrior. He had never killed anything, save for a few small animals, and he always brought them back to life. He had not even killed in the great war, because no one had been keeping track of that sort of thing, and it was much easier just to stay on defense. He had never killed a single soul, but when he saw the sudden intruder reach into a chokehold around Crowley’s neck, Aziraphale thought he might.

He’d summoned up a sword before he could think about it. It wasn’t flaming, but it was long and pointed and looked a lot like the one he’d once miracled for King Arthur. He was at the intruder’s side in a second and slicing—through air—its body had shrunk like a deflating balloon and morphed eight skin-colored legs, its abdomen dropping to the floor with a splat that sounded too wet to have come from the sleek, foot-long spider. It scurried past Aziraphale’s shoes and shot back into the air again, human head forming out of six eyes and fist forming seemingly from nowhere. It hit Aziraphale’s cheek before he had time to dodge. His head whipped around, and he stumbled backwards. By the time he’d regained his senses, Crowley’s face had fully become a snake. Crowley launched his open jaw towards the intruder, but only managed to close around bits of webbing as the spider plunged down again, leapt off the floor, and landed on Crowley’s hand, sinking in its giant, curved fangs. Crowley shrieked and flung the spider down the passage. It landed on its back, and as it struggled to turn over, a steady stream of water hit the spider right in the chest. It splayed its legs and melted from the inside out. Past the rising steam, Raziel pointed her Nerf gun towards the ceiling and blew off the muzzle.

Raziel’s smug look faded as she watched Aziraphale drop the sword out of existence and rush over to Crowley.

Oh, oh dear God—are you alright?”

Crowley clenched his teeth. He was cradling a bruised hand. He moved to clutch his wrist, and concentrated on the clear liquid, making it trickle out from two bite marks. As soon as the last drops had evaporated, Aziraphale put one hand beneath Crowley’s and hovered the other above. The angel made the marks and bruises fade, then took Crowley’s hand in both of his.

“Is that better?” He asked, trying to send as much warmth through his gaze as possible. “Anything more I can do?”

Crowley slowly raised his other hand. “Just let me help you, too,” he uttered, starting to remove the red mark from Aziraphale’s cheek. As it faded, the angel smiled a bit and closed his eyes; this left him completely oblivious to Crowley’s blush, no doubt because he found the angel particularly cute that way.

When Aziraphale opened his eyes again, they both remembered Raziel’s presence. Crowley cleared his throat, and Aziraphale turned and muttered “sorry” as he dropped their hands. Raziel let out a quiet laugh. “No, I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn’t have left you two alone. But we’re lucky I had the insight to fill my gun.”

“I suppose we are,” Aziraphale said, brushing off his coat despite nothing being there. “Do you know who that was?”

“Nope. Probably working alone, though. Hell always came after me in groups. Either way, it’d be a good idea to leave this place. The book thief has moved up and out of range.” Raziel slipped the gun into her pocket and raised a fist. Around her, rocks melted to the side and carved a circular space wide enough to fit the pure white wings she was spreading. The space extended upward to form an air shaft. “I’ll wait for you above, if you’re still up to help me.” Raziel flapped her wings and was gone.

Aziraphale waited a second before he turned to Crowley. “Well, are we? Still up to helping her, that is.”

“You already told her we’d—“

Aziraphale spoke quickly. “I didn’t consult you first. I should’ve asked. I’m sorry for that.”

Crowley narrowed his eyes. Then he gazed down at the ground and laughed a little. “Oh, alright. Dirty game you’re playing, guilting me into apologizing. But I’m sorry too. For, um… for blowing up at you.” He stepped past Aziraphale and towards the air shaft. He spread his wings. “Now, angel, let’s go after her.”

As Crowley shot upward, Aziraphale took a moment to smile to himself. Then he followed.

About a minute later, a teenager emerged from a manhole on the pavement, followed shortly by two significantly taller people, one of whom was muttering under his breath about the state of his clothes. They received a few strange looks as they placed the cover back over the hole. Raziel started to fast-walk immediately after, leaving Crowley and Aziraphale to follow behind.

“Do you know where it is?” Aziraphale asked, struggling to keep up.

“Yes—just in here.” Raziel entered a park and passed an old white building. In front of them was a fountain, with tiny sailboats floating in the wide pool beneath. The boats were each marked with a country’s flag, and tourists were walking along the side with magnetized sticks that somehow controlled them.

“There!” Raziel cried. Aziraphale and Crowley followed her pointer finger over tips of sails and heads of children to find two men in dark suits, a woman in a dress, and a young boy hitting his father’s arm.

“Dad, I want the American boat!”

“Well, son, it’s coming right around now.” As another boy with a stick ran by, Warlock yelled to get his attention and proceeded to start an argument.

By the time Crowley and Raziel had dragged their eyes away from the scene, Aziraphale had transformed. “Leave it to me,” he said in his West Country accent. Raziel, confused, glanced towards Crowley—he, too, had changed.

“I should go instead. I’m more intimidating.”

Aziraphale looked him over. He broke out of the accent. “Are you planning to intimidate the armed bodyguard? I think we ought to be amiable.”

“The kid just got into a fight over a stick. I don’t think diplomacy will work.”

“His father is a diplomat.”

“Well, why don’t we just go together?” Crowley said. Aziraphale gave him a sceptical look. “Work with me, angel. I’m being civil.”

Raziel groaned and reached into her pocket, revealing the back of her gun. “If you two just want to stand around, I’ll go ahead and—“

“No!” Aziraphale grabbed Crowley’s hand and started to pull him away. “We can do it ourselves, thank you very much.” Before they could get very far, however, the boy himself bumped into them.

“Sorry,” Crowley said. “I mean, sorry,” he said again, with an accent.

Warlock studied them and their fake smiles intensely. He put a hand to his chin in thought. “You’ve been wearing the same clothes for ten years,” he finally said. “That’s gross.”

“Nice to see you, too,” the nanny uttered. “Anyway, dear, we’re wondering if you happen to have picked up a book in Paris.”

Raziel came from behind them and stood on her tip-toes, whispering into Aziraphale’s ear. He furrowed his brow and repeated her words in his accent. “It’s small, dark blue but shiny, has… a new book smell.”

“Oh, yeah? Why should I give it to you?”

“We raised you,” said the nanny through her teeth. “I tied your shoes and buckled your seatbelts!”

“And I tended to the flowers in your garden!”

“Well, that was also mostly me,” muttered the nanny.

Warlock shrugged. “Whatever. It’s full of gibberish. I found it on the ground.” He reached into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a book. It was only slightly larger than a phone, but about as thick as any typically-sized book would be.

Raziel lunged forward to grab it. “Thanks, kid,” she said.

“Don’t I get any reward?”

Aziraphale rolled his eyes and made a gesture, and the American boat in the pond had grown a few more sails and holes for cannons.

“I have no idea how you did that!” He exclaimed in delight. “Thanks, Brother Francis!” Then Warlock ran off, and Aziraphale felt a little bit bad about rolling his eyes.

Raziel was staring at the book in a mixture of relief and contemplation. When she realized Crowley and Aziraphale were looking at her, she cleared her throat. “Anyway,” she began, “we should head somewhere private to discuss this.”

“Not your place in the Catacombs, I hope,” Crowley said.

“No. That’s just where I store some supplies. I’m going to take you to our actual headquarters.”

As the three left the park, they were watched by an American mother, who was elbowing her husband with a grin.

“Hah!” She was saying. “Twenty bucks!”

“Twenty bucks for what?”

“I bet you ten years ago that the gardener and the nanny were involved and you didn’t believe me.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “But you know, I still think you made up the part where he left her flowers.”

The sun had set by the time they reached the “headquarters”—a dark door marked by two red lanterns. A few well-dressed humans were entering, which seemed a bit strange until they stepped inside and Aziraphale realized it was an upscale hotel, full of red carpets and dark walls.

Raziel walked up to the counter and negotiated for a moment. She returned to Crowley and Aziraphale with a couple of keys. “Got you a room,” she said. “Most of the other angels have them. It’s easiest for us all to stay in the same place, if you don’t mind it.”

Aziraphale did mind it. They’d had a rather nice place at the Ritz, but he put on a smile anyway. Crowley didn’t say anything.

“Tomorrow, there’s going to a meeting with everyone else to figure out a course of action. But for tonight, there are few secrets in this book you might want to see.”

Raziel lead them down some stairs and used her key to open the door at the bottom. Inside was a room with solid blue walls and a bright blue pool casting reflections on the ceiling’s starry gold diagram. She took the book from her pocket and sat down cross-legged on the dark floor. Crowley and Aziraphale followed, though they were certainly less than happy to be sitting on the hardwood.

“The first few pages,” she explained, “just talk about angel hierarchy. That was the worst part to write. After that, I’ve described the process of falling.” She showed them the page titled “Fallen Angels” for just a moment, then kept turning.

“Did God tell you the reason?” Crowley asked, voice low. “Does she list the… I don’t know… specific causes for falling?”

Raziel was looking at him without expression. “No,” she said. “Never.”

Aziraphale gave a sympathetic smile as Raziel continued.

“It lists the original names of the angels that fell. At least, those who fell before I wrote this. Then we move on to angels’ abilities. And here’s the thing, guys—the thing heaven and hell don’t want their lowly minions knowing.” Raziel held up the book and pointed at the simple lettering.

Divine beings are capable of most any reality-bending power, granted they can imagine the action and hold belief in their ability.

“That’s it,” she said. “You can do almost anything . Our minds and emotional states are the only limits. After God demoted me from being her scribe, I tried to tell this to other angels, but they were all too stuck in their brainwashed ways, even to believe a divine book.”

“But stuff can still destroy us, can't it? We can’t imagine our way out of holy water,” Crowley said.

Raziel shrugged. “Maybe not. But even if we can’t change those fundamentals, we can at least hide our natures from detection.” Raziel flipped to another page titled “Auras”.

Hiding an aura makes it impossible to detect the nature and location of the individual; this one-time action can only be achieved when the individual eliminates their desire to be seen and heard.

“I was going to suggest you two try it, but I already know it won’t work.”

“Why not?” Aziraphale said.

She looked at them like they were dense. “Are you two really that dense?”

Crowley scoffed. “That’s a bit rude, now, isn’t—“

“It won’t work because you’re always wanting to blabber and argue with each other.”

There was a moment of silence. “Oh,” Aziraphale said.

Raziel rolled her eyes and went on. “Anyway, this book is mostly meant to explain the inner workings of things. So the rest of it is blueprints. She made me copy all these down.” She flipped past Noah’s Arc, all seven ancient wonders of the world, the Sistine Chapel, Notre Dame, and, rather confusingly, the Walkie Talkie building in London. “God said they’d all instill passionate emotions. But until recently, the blueprints didn’t extend beyond this year.”

Raziel stopped on the second-to-last page, titled “Heaven and Hell Weapons Facility”.

“This,” she continued, “is not something I copied down from God. It was there when the book reappeared. And from listening in on heaven and hell, I’ve deduced its purpose—to kill us—but not its location. So tomorrow with the others we’ll be trying to figure out where they’re building it, and how to proceed.” She smiled at them sadly. “For now, I’ll let you two go. You can sleep, if you want. Helps clear my mind, anyway.”

They stood, and Raziel slipped the book back into her pocket. “Thank you,” Aziraphale said. “I’m honored you trust us enough to share the secrets.”

Raziel shrugged. “I’ve watched you run around for a week. I already deemed you both non-threatening.” She waved, a single small motion. “Have a nice night.”

Crowley and Aziraphale went out the door. Before they shut it, Aziraphale glanced back one last time at Raziel’s face as it faded to an uneasy frown, hands in her pockets as she stared at the lights in the water.

They ascended to their room and unlocked it with a key. Upon entering, they found, once again, that there were two bedrooms. Crowley mumbled that he was going to take Raziel’s advice, and went off to the farther room. Aziraphale examined the plum purple walls, red velvet floors and soft chairs, then made his way through a threshold lined with gold to turn off the lamp and get into bed.

He hadn’t been sleeping, these past few nights in Paris; he’d mostly been sitting on the balcony of their Ritz hotel room. He’d been sitting and thinking, and tonight he figured he’d probably do that some more. In particular, he was distracting himself from thoughts of Crowley by thinking about Warlock, and how much nicer he’d been as a little boy, and how it’d been fun to play gardener. It would have been more fun if he hadn’t feared the boy’s powers for ten years. That brought Aziraphale’s thoughts to the actual Antichrist, and to the struggle he’d had over—well, over killing him. They’d been out of options; Crowley had wanted him to do it. And a part of Aziraphale had wanted to do it, too, if it meant saving everything, and in the rush of the moment that part of him had won out. Madame Tracy had stopped him, but she hadn’t stopped him from feeling awful about it in hindsight. He’d almost killed for a greater purpose, like angels in the fight against hell. Back then, Aziraphale had refused to kill, but on the edge of a second war, he’d almost acted like a cold-blooded soldier.

He’d almost acted like an angel. Maybe that’s what scared him, that even after he rejected heaven there’d always be some urge to—

There came a knock on the wall, and Crowley was there, in black pyjamas and unblinking eyes.

“I can’t sleep,” Crowley muttered.

“Funnily enough, nor can I,” Aziraphale said. He patted the bed beside him. Crowley hesitated, just for a moment, then climbed under the covers.

Three seconds later, Crowley spoke again. “I still can’t sleep.”

And Aziraphale couldn’t help himself. “Did you think coming in here with me would immediately solve the problem?”

“Maybe.” He turned to face Aziraphale, less than a pillow-length away. “You do have an amazing ability to distract me from my problems. By giving me new problems, usually.” When Aziraphale didn’t say anything, Crowley sighed. “Listen. If you’re up to it, I’d like to play a game.”

“What sort?”

“Game of questions. Just… asking questions.”

“So this is something you’re comfortable with, now?”

Crowley closed his eyes. “Don’t ask me that. I don’t know. But if I avoid talking to you much longer, another spider might come along and kill us first.”

Aziraphale smiled sadly in the dim light, hoping to ease his nerves. “Do you want to start?” He asked.

Crowley nodded. He took a deep breath. “When you said all that stuff, that night in the grass, did you mean it?”

“Yes, of course.” Aziraphale didn’t even hesitate. “Yes. And I don’t belong to heaven any longer.”

Crowley turned his head to gaze at the ceiling. “So you didn’t mind that I was a mess?”

“Of course not. If having complicated feelings over God is the criteria, then I’m perfectly a mess as well.” He let Crowley think about that. “My turn?”

“Yeah.”

“Right then. Um. Sorry to get back into it, but did it bother you, when I talked about human… activities?”

“Just say sex, for—for somebody’s sake.”

“But did it bother you?”

He was silent for a while. “Yeah,” Crowley said, sounding as though he’d rather talk about anything else in the world.

“It didn’t mean anything to me, you know. It was just an experience. And if we’re being honest, I don’t care enough to do that one again.”

“Okay,” said Crowley.

“But I’m sorry if you found my enjoyment of it to be repulsive.”

“No—Aziraphale, I don’t find anything about you to be repulsive . I was just… scared.”

“Of what?”

“It’s stupid. Don’t laugh.”

“I wouldn’t.”

Crowley shut his eyes again, tightly. “I was scared if you liked human things enough, you might want to spend more time with them, and less… with me.”

“You thought I’d choose humans over you?”

“...Maybe?”

Aziraphale let out a breath of air. “Honestly, Crowley, I—no offense to humans, but as we’ve established, they live for just about eighty years. One blink and they’re gone. I assure you, what we have is far stronger than any connection I could’ve formed in a human lifetime. And besides, you and I are both quite accustomed to living on Earth. If I wanted to do human things, I wouldn’t have to run off and leave you alone. From now on I’d like to—I’d like to experience things together with you.” Crowley opened his eyes and ventured a glance. Aziraphale was smiling, nervously. “That is, assuming you feel the same.”

“Yes.” He stated it calmly, at almost a whisper. His eyes were wide. “Of course.”

“Then that’s settled,” Aziraphale said.

“Settled,” Crowley said.

But they both knew it wasn’t quite.

And they didn’t do anything more, not that night, but when they woke up in the morning they’d found each other, Aziraphale’s arm over Crowley’s waist. Crowley didn’t mutter any nervous words when Aziraphale woke up, and when they moved away neither of them said anything. They just smiled.