they’ll be calling you a radical
“You know,” Aziraphale mused one day, while they were dining at the Ritz, “I wonder what has happened to Raphael?”
Crowley, who had been about to sip at his wine, did his best not to choke.
“What?” he said, when he could speak.
“Raphael,” Aziraphale repeated. “No one seems to have heard from him in ages, and it’s been a while since he’s been mentioned in the dispatches, by name at least. I did ask Gabriel about it once, and he nearly snapped my head off. It’s very odd.”
Crowley didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“You don’t say,” he finally said.
Because they’d known each other for so long, Aziraphale’s gaze immediately snapped to his, filled with sudden…
Suspicion was not quite the right word, but it was certainly in the right vicinity.
“You haven’t heard anything, have you Crowley?”
“Me? No, no.” Crowley shook his head, lying through his teeth. Aziraphale narrowed his eyes, and this time suspicion was definitely the correct word for the expression on his face.
“Are you quite sure?”
“What do you mean, asking me if I’m sure? Of course I’m sure. How would I know what an – an archangel is up to? I’m just a demon.”
It hurt to say the words, but it was the ache of scar-tissue rather than that of an open wound. After all, Crowley had had six millennia to get used to the idea.
Aziraphale’s gaze lingered on him a moment longer, not quite believing him, but unwilling to press when Crowley evidently didn’t want to be honest about the matter.
“Well,” said Aziraphale, at last. “You would tell me if it was important, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course,” said Crowley, and technically it wasn’t even a lie this time – because how could such a piece of ancient history be deemed important?
All the same, Crowley felt bad about lying to the angel. But then, Crowley had felt bad about quite a lot of things since the Fall, so what was one more?
Aziraphale changed the subject, and they moved onto rather less painful topics, and no doubt Aziraphale forgot all about it.
But Crowley didn’t forget.
He’d been the Healer, once. Raphael, third-highest of the archangels. And then he’d lost it all, and the worst part was that he hadn’t even meant to. He’d asked the wrong questions, that was all.
But those questions had gotten Samael to thinking, and then to acting, in the most dangerous of ways – and next thing Raphael knew, Samael was Falling and everyone who’d gone along with his rebellion was Falling too, and Raphael with them.
He’d been lumped in as a co-conspirator, as the one who had instigated the War in Heaven. Sometimes, in his darker moments, Crowley wondered if maybe that wasn’t the truth. Maybe he had started it all. But intent had to matter for something, surely? And he’d never intended any of this. It had been an idle question, and Samael – Lucifer – had just… run with it.
And so Raphael had burned, and his six wings had blackened to the colour of ash after the burning, no longer the shining white of Before. He’d Fallen into the Pit of Pandemonium alongside all the demons who had chosen to rebel, barely able to believe what had just transpired.
But as the demons around him turned on one another, none of them recognisable as the angels they had been, the demon that had been Raphael had realised that for better or worse, it had happened, and there was no going back.
At least he still had his wings, though. Most of the demons didn’t. Even Lucifer’s wings had morphed into something bat-like and strange. But the-demon-who-had-been-Raphael had kept his, all six of them, and they still looked more or less like an angel’s wings, despite their charcoal colour.
But they were a dead giveaway as to who he’d been – who but the highest of the high had six wings? – and so the demon that became Crowley kept them hidden away most of the time, and even then, on the rare occasions when he did bring them out, only brought out one pair. The other two pairs stayed tucked away out of sight, so that no one could claim he was anything other than an ordinary, lowly demon.
But he dreamed, sometimes – when he bothered to sleep – of unfurling all six wings and flying free, with nothing to hold him down or hold him back. It was as heartbreaking a thing to dream about as it was a nice one, and Crowley lost count of how many times he’d awoken with tears in his eyes over it. But he wouldn’t exchange those dreams for nearly anything.
He didn’t think that anyone knew him for who he used to be, not even Lucifer, who had lost himself completely in spite and rage and malice. There was nothing left of the brightest angel to ever shine among the Heavens, except for his power – and even that had warped into something unrecognisable.
The same thing probably should have happened to Crowley, but it hadn’t. Oh, certain of his powers had changed – he was a demon now, and that came with certain… aspects – but his biggest talent, his capacity to heal, was still there. There was a reason that the symbol of the Healer’s Staff was entwined with serpents, after all, even if no one else knew it.
Even as Crowley, he’d never stopped healing. In between the temptations and fiendish plans that Crowley took Hellish credit for, he’d stop off at the nearest hospital for healings, which he didn’t. He visited the children’s hospital more than anywhere else, bringing with him books and toys and, most of all, a tendency to dispense covert miracles.
He didn’t know if Heaven still logged each one, but he’d have known by now if Hell did, and they definitely didn’t. Crowley would have been hauled over the coals, otherwise – and not just metaphorically.
But no one seemed to know, just as no seemed to recognise serpent-eyed Crowley as the golden-eyed Raphael. They all took him exactly as he presented himself: which, while convenient, was also a little galling.
He should have outranked every demon in Hell but for Lucifer himself, with the sheer power still at his disposal – but even though he much preferred to go incognito, it rather rankled that everyone treated him like something on the bottom of their shoe. The only one who didn’t was, in fact, Aziraphale.
Aziraphale. He’d never known the angel Before – unsurprising, considering how many millions of angels there were, and how few of them the archangels actually interacted with. But he’d struck up a conversation with Aziraphale in the Garden after that whole apple business, more out of curiosity than anything, and had been – well, enchanted, really, by the kindness of the angel.
Aziraphale had given away his sword to two people who badly needed it, never mind that it wasn’t his to give, and… the wounds of Falling were still so raw, the memory of everything that Crowley had lost so vivid still, that to see even a small act of kindness, performed against the rules and restrictions that even angels had found themselves under…
Well, it gave the bitter, despairing part of the being who had once been Raphael hope.
It was a terrible and wonderful thing, hope. Some days it was all that kept Crowley going.
He had to wonder, though.
Had they even told the angels that Raphael had Fallen, alongside the others? Or had they kept up a careful fiction of him still being around, somewhere in the cosmos, but off on Important Archangel Business?
It made a certain kind of sense: after all, Heaven had already lost one of the archangels. What would the angels of lower station think, if they realised that Heaven had lost two of them? It could breed uneasiness and dissent, that kind of thing; and from what Aziraphale occasionally said, Crowley gathered that Heaven hadn’t been the same since the War.
Heaven seemed to have cracked down on any hint of rebellion, and even well-meaning angels like Aziraphale could run afoul of Heaven’s great bureaucracy, these days. Who ever heard of giving out demerits for too many miracles, for Heaven’s – Hell’s sake? Miracles were what Heaven was supposed to be all about! Why ration them? It wasn’t like Heaven was about to run out of the things. It was Heaven.
But Aziraphale didn’t seem to know that Heaven had ever been any different – and perhaps, for him, it hadn’t. Maybe he’d never seen the camaraderie that had existed between the archangels, or known the love they’d had for each other. Maybe the angels of lower status had never had that.
The archangels had been like brothers, once, Crowley thought – with a little wistfulness, and a great deal more bitterness. You’d never know it now.
He’d never been all that close to Gabriel, though – and these days he was glad of it. The archangel seemed to have moved up in the ranks since Raphael had Fallen, taking over his position of being in charge of what happened on Earth. That rankled, too, because Gabriel evidently didn’t care for the place the way that Raphael had.
Raphael had worked on the Earth, more than any of them. He’d been the one given the blueprints, and see that everything was put into place in time before She said let there be light. Maybe that was why he was so fond of the place. While Michael was busy with the troops and Samael was off lighting the stars – Gabriel had taken his orders from Raphael, back then, and a right little suck-up he’d been, too – it had been Raphael who had overseen the planning for the Earth.
He’d been so excited to see how it all turned out… only, when he had, it hadn’t been the way he imagined. Not at all.
But there was no point in having regrets. No good could possibly come of any of them.
When Crowley was charged with delivering the Antichrist to his human parents, he drove halfway to the location of the Chattering Order of St Beryl’s, before he thought what am I doing? and pulled over.
He stared into the back seat of the Bentley, where the infant Antichrist lay in his basket.
A tiny face looked back at him. There was none of the bleary-eyed bewilderment of normal newborns: instead the Antichrist looked back at him with a wide, curious gaze, and waved a chubby hand in Crowley’s direction.
Antichrist or not, he was just a baby. He didn’t deserve to have the fate of the world riding on his shoulders.
“Hello there. I’m your Uncle Crowley, I suppose,” Crowley murmured to him, and then said, again, “What am I doing?”
But the Antichrist burbled at him, and smiled. Crowley smiled back, because that was what you did with babies – even when the baby in question was the Antichrist – and tried to think things through.
If he went through with this, as he was supposed to, then in eleven years the world would almost certainly end. And Crowley hadn’t put all this time and effort into the Earth just to see it wasted. He wanted to see humanity continue to learn, and grow, just as they’d been doing ever since Crowley had tempted Eve to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden. He didn’t want to see it end, just because Heaven and Hell wanted their ultimate showdown.
It just didn’t seem fair.
If Aziraphale were here, he’d waffle on about the Great Plan and how it was ineffable. But Crowley knew better. He’d been an archangel once, and the Great Plan hadn’t always been on the books. It had been cooked up since the War, and honestly, Crowley thought it had more to do with the unFallen archangels than Her, at all.
The Great Plan was not the Ineffable Plan, and Crowley was determined to prove it, one way or another.
He sighed, and looked back at the baby Antichrist.
“The best thing for you would be to be raised by humans, with no influence from Heaven or Hell at all,” said Crowley to the baby. “Heav – Hell knows you’d be better off, and so would we. You could learn a thing or two from humans, take it from me. Free will, for a start. It’d be best if I just… lost you.”
Crowley paused. Ran his mind over the words that had just come out of his mouth.
“You know,” he said slowly, thoughtfully: “that might just work.”
As far as anyone else knew, the Antichrist delivery plan went off without a hitch, and he became a young boy named Warlock Dowling, whose father was an ambassador and Very Important, as far as the humans were concerned.
In actuality, the Antichrist ended up with an ordinary couple named the Youngs, who lived in Lower Tadfield, in England. They were excellent parents. Crowley knew this because he kept track of all the babies who had turned up that night.
(He’d made sure that the ‘left over’ child had been left as a foundling, rather than anything more unpleasant happening to him. Fortunately the baby had been adopted a few months later. By some funny coincidence, his adoptive parents lived in Lower Tadfield, as well.)
While little Adam was growing up in a loving home, being raised as a normal child, Warlock Dowling was being fought over by the forces of Heaven and Hell – namely, Crowley and Aziraphale, who took turns influencing the child.
The poor kid was going to grow up with either delusions of grandeur or a library’s worth of issues because of it, Crowley thought, but it couldn’t be helped. If this was to work, then no one, not even Aziraphale, could know the truth.
The worst part about losing the Antichrist accidentally-on-purpose was that he had to lie to Aziraphale about it, all the time. To pretend that Warlock really was the infernal heir, the Great Beast That Was Called Dragon.
It left a bitter taste in his mouth. But he knew the angel well enough to know that Aziraphale wouldn’t outright disobey Heaven on this – not yet, at least. Aziraphale moved at a glacial pace, and changed course just as slowly. If he did ever end up supporting Crowley’s ideas, it would take at least the eleven years they had left to change his mind on the issue.
So Crowley said nothing, and did his best to keep up the deception, and when it all got too much for him he went to look in on Adam.
There was a cottage in Lower Tadfield that no one in either Heaven or Hell knew about. Crowley had bought it a few days after the Youngs had brought Adam home. He hadn’t dared to use his usual name – Hell had ways of tracking that sort of thing. Instead, after much thought, it was Mr Raphael Milton who had moved in next door to the Youngs.
It felt beyond strange, using the name he’d abandoned so long ago. (The surname was his idea of a joke, obviously.) But no one struck him down for his hubris, so Crowley kept on using it.
He was never in Lower Tadfield for all that long, and rarely during the week. Most of the neighbourhood believed that he was a businessman who liked to keep his cottage for weekends away, to escape the hustle and bustle of his high-flying career.
But on the weekends that he could get away without arousing any suspicion, Crowley would drive down to his cottage. His garden was always the best-kept in Lower Tadfield despite his infrequent visits, and the envy of a number of his neighbours – even if they thought that his methods of gardening were a bit, well, odd.
Crowley spent a lot of time in that garden, threatening the plants into blooming beautifully, and keeping an eye on the family next door.
He was threatening one of the rose bushes, absent-mindedly healing the damage done to it by aphids as he did so, when a small, high voice asked,
“Why are you being so mean to your flowers?”
Crowley’s movements paused, and he looked down. Five year old Adam Young stood at his feet, looking up with a child’s innocent curiosity.
Crowley stared down at Adam. In all this time, he’d never actually interacted with the child.
“Because they’re not growing well enough,” said Crowley. “They need to put more effort into it.”
Adam’s brow crinkled.
“But what if they’re already doing their best? Mum says that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. That means that being nice does more than being mean,” Adam added, on a note of information.
Crowley wasn’t sure how to answer the artless question. It had never been about the plants performance, not really. It was more that he needed an outlet for all the – all of the angst and hatred that was piled on him from all directions: and the plants, as non-sentient living things, had become that outlet.
“It makes me feel better to threaten them,” said Crowley at last, wondering why he was bothering to be honest. “And they’re only plants. I’m not mean to – to people.”
Adam stared up at him.
“What’s your name?” the child asked, after a moment.
Crowley had thought through what to say, if this ever happened, but he still hesitated over the name he’d chosen to use.
“Raphael. And you’re Adam, right? Adam Young?”
Adam beamed at him.
“I thought your Mum only let you play in the back garden? What are you doing here, standing in my front garden?” Crowley raised an eyebrow.
Adam looked a little shifty.
Crowley sent the boy a look.
“Uh-huh, so you didn’t sneak your way out through that hole in the fence that your Mum keeps asking your Dad to mend, then?”
Adam looked even more shifty.
“No?” he tried, and Crowley levelled a finger at him.
“Don’t try and lie to me, I know when people lie,” he said severely. “Come on. Out with it. What are you doing here, Adam?”
Adam grinned sheepishly, and shuffled his feet.
“I wanted to see what you were doing. You’re always messing about with plants. And your garden always looks really nice. Mum says Dad should ask you what fer-til-izer,” and Adam sounded out the word, “you use so we have a nice garden as well.”
“Nothing to do with fertilizer,” said Crowley, and then, because he really was too much of a soft touch: “Do you want to help me plant some begonias?”
Adam’s face lit up.
Twenty minutes later, Crowley was saying, “Now pat the earth down – not too hard, but a bit firmer than that, alright?” when Deidre Young rushed out of her house, panic written all over her face.
“Adam! Adam, where are you!”
Crowley straightened up.
“It’s alright, Mrs Young,” he called over, and Deirdre spun around to face him, looking frantic. “He’s just been helping me plant the begonias. Thought it’d keep him out of trouble. Up you get,” he added to Adam, who was still kneeling among the plants, and covered with dirt, “and apologise to your Mum for sneaking out. Look, she’s worried.”
Adam bounced to his feet.
“Hello, Mum,” he said, looking sheepish again.
Relief, then wrath crossed Deidre’s face.
“Adam Young – when your father gets home–” she began, and Adam’s shoulders sagged. Deidre turned to Crowley with a thankful smile.
“Thank you so much for looking after him, Mr Milton. I hope he wasn’t too much of a bother.”
“Call me Raphael,” said Crowley, although it felt as weird as ever to ask someone to use that name. “And it was no trouble at all. You might want to get your husband to fix that hole in the fence, though.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Thank you.” And Deidre hurried Adam back inside the house, scolding him all the way, as mothers generally did when their offspring had frightened the life out of them.
Crowley waited until they were gone. Then he sank down onto the grass, and buried his face in his hands.
“Call me Raphael,” he muttered, into his palms. “Who am I kidding? I’m playing with fire, here.”
But he’d come this far, and he couldn’t stop now. Still, asking people to call him Raphael left him feeling deeply unsettled. The worst part was that in some ways, being called Raphael still felt right, six millennia after the Fall. Like a word that was on the tip of your tongue, all lined up ready to be spoken.
That, Crowley thought, could only lead to trouble. But it was too late to turn back now.
In the years that followed, Adam Young became a frequent visitor to the Milton cottage, as the neighbours called it.
Crowley got used to having the boy drop round and help him with the gardening. As it turned out, Adam was a keen gardener, with a good eye for plants. While Crowley spent his time threatening them into bigger displays of flowers, Adam went round the garden stroking their leaves and speaking to them soothingly, saying things like, “He doesn’t really mean it, he’s just got issues, you know.”
It made Crowley either want to laugh or cry, to see this son of Lucifer treating Crowley’s plants with such gentleness. He didn’t know which.
“Why are you called Raphael?” asked Adam, one day, when he was ten years old.
His eleventh birthday was only four months away, and Crowley had being doing his best to instil notions of responsibility and compassion into the child’s head with even greater urgency than before. He’d been subtle about it – Spiderman comics and a discussion of the concept with great power comes great responsibility had been one method – but he’d been taking pains about it, nonetheless.
“I hear you’ve been eating Mr Tyler’s apples,” said Crowley, instead of answering. “What do you keep doing that for? It only gets you into trouble. Everyone knows it’s you.”
Adam only grinned.
“There isn’t an apple that isn’t worth the trouble I get into for eating it,” he said, and Crowley jolted, and turned to stare at him.
There had been something altogether knowing in Adam’s voice, like they weren’t talking about apples anymore, or not just apples, at least–
–but when Crowley stared hard at him, the boy looked back with his usual easygoing expression.
“Suppose not,” said Crowley, eventually. He was frowning.
“Anyway, you’re not answering my question. Mum says I’m called Adam because a nun at the hospital suggested it, and Dad liked the name and so did she. So why are you named Raphael?”
Crowley went back to pulling up weeds, and wondered how to respond.
“It’s what I was named. I don’t know why.”
He knew exactly why, but he wasn’t about to say so.
“Alright, don’t tell me. Why do you always wear sunglasses? Pepper says that Mrs Dalloway says she saw you wearing them at night, even.”
“I have sensitive eyes.”
“Liar,” said Adam, without heat.
“My eyes are. A bit weird,” Crowley settled on.
“Can I see?” Adam leaned forward expectantly.
“Please? I won’t tell anyone, I swear.”
“Not even the Them?” he asked, because he knew Adam.
Adam looked hurt.
“They won’t tell, either.”
“Sooner or later, you’re going to have to stop telling them everything,” said Crowley.
Such as once you find out you’re the Antichrist, he finished in his head.
Adam shook his head.
“We’re best friends. And best friends never give up on each other.” His voice was filled with childish conviction.
Crowley said nothing. He went on weeding the garden.
“You’re really not going to show me your eyes?” Adam sounded disappointed. “Really?”
Adam lapsed into silence. Finally he said, “Do you have a best friend, Mr Raphael?”
Crowley paused for a second.
“I suppose I do.” His tone was non-committal.
“What’s their name?”
“Oh for–” Crowley rounded on Adam, suddenly fed up. “What’s this, twenty questions?”
“I’m just curious. There’s no law against being curious.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t stop being so curious about me, I’m going to tell your Mum you’re making a nuisance of yourself,” Crowley snapped.
Adam looked hurt. Crowley yanked on a weed harder than he needed to. It snapped in half in his hand instead of coming out of the ground.
“Go home, Adam,” Crowley said, in a slightly softer voice.
“Alright.” Adam still looked hurt. “If that’s what you want. I’ll go play with Them instead.”
Crowley watched as the boy slouched off, and sighed.
Adam was a good kid, and normally Crowley encouraged him to ask questions, it was just–
Why, today, did the questions have to be ones that pressed all of Crowley’s buttons?
The next day Crowley was gone from Lower Tadfield again, and back in London. After all – he had to try and lead Warlock unto temptation, didn’t he?
It was funny – for all that Adam was the Antichrist, he was a much nicer child than Warlock was. It just showed what the right parents could do – or the wrong ones, for that matter.
It was after Warlock’s eleventh birthday party, mere days away from the scheduled Apocalypse, that it all went pear-shaped.
Crowley and Aziraphale were in the Bentley, Aziraphale wearing half a birthday cake smeared across his clothes and a shell-shocked expression, which Crowley rather hoped meant that the angel hadn’t noticed him absent-mindedly healing the dove that Aziraphale had used in his magician act.
Crowley, for his part, had thought that the whole thing had disaster written over it from the beginning, and was grimly satisfied to have been proven right.
Fiendish little buggers, children.
“Are you sure we have the right child?” Aziraphale asked him, out of the blue.
Crowley stiffened, and then carefully relaxed.
“What makes you say that?”
“It’s just,” said Aziraphale. He stopped, and began. “Surely, there should be… signs, by now?”
“How should I know?” asked Crowley, deflecting, which turned out to be the wrong thing to say entirely.
“You’re the demon! He’s the Antichrist! Of course you should know!” said Aziraphale, and he took a deep breath. “Perhaps I should send a memo to Gabriel, just asking what ill omens I should be seeing, by this point – to make sure–”
Crowley experienced a stab of deep dismay.
“You can’t,” he said. “Then we’ll have angels and demons everywhere, sticking their noses in–”
“But if we’ve lost the Antichrist–”
“We haven’t lost him,” Crowley blurted, and then winced.
Aziraphale looked at him.
“Crowley, what do you know?” Aziraphale asked, and his was voice sharp.
“Nothing! Just… don’t go blabbing anything to Gabriel, alright?”
“Crowley, I insist that you tell me what is going on, right now–” Aziraphale was getting worked up, and Crowley realised that there was no help for it. It was time to come clean, and hope for the best.
“Warlock isn’t the Antichrist,” he admitted. “The real Antichrist is being raised elsewhere, away from the influence of either Heaven or Hell.”
Aziraphale stared at him.
“How long have you known?” The angel’s voice was accusatory.
“Tell me you haven’t known all this time,” said Aziraphale, and the look in his eyes…
“Look, I didn’t want to lie to you,” said Crowley, suddenly desperately afraid that this was where he’d lose the angel – not for a century or so of disapproving silence like the last time they’d really fought, but forever. “But you were all over the Great Plan, as though it’s the Ineffable Plan, when in reality it was probably thought up by Gabriel and his cronies–”
“How,” said Aziraphale, very scathing, “would a demon know about the–”
Some painful thing which had been stretched very thin inside Crowley over the past six millennia abruptly snapped.
“I know!” he shouted, and Aziraphale looked taken aback at the sudden burst of fury. Crowley took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. “I know, alright, angel? I know that the Great Plan of gearing up to a new war between Heaven and Hell during the End Times was never part of the Ineffable Plan, because it was never even a – a thing until after Lucifer Fell!”
“Just because you didn’t hear about it–”
“Fuck that!” went Crowley, and he was shouting again. “I know what I know, and there was no Heavenly plan for the destruction of Earth, Aziraphale! Not in the Beginning! Which means it came after, which means that it was the archangels’ doing!”
“But how do you know?” said Aziraphale, and Crowley closed his eyes and asked himself for patience.
“Because I worked on the Earth project, before – well, everything,” he said, and saw Aziraphale’s eyes go round with surprise. “I saw the blueprints and all, Aziraphale.”
“Said anything?” said Crowley, his voice bitter. “You never asked. And I wasn’t always a demon, you know.”
Aziraphale went silent.
“Look,” said Crowley, again. “You want to meet the Antichrist, I’ll take you there. But he’s – he’s just a kid, Aziraphale. He’s good-natured and kind and asks too many questions, and both Heaven and Hell would want to ruin him. As it is, in a few days he’s going to find out the truth about who he is, and I have no idea how much that’s going to hurt him.”
Aziraphale stayed silent. Crowley started the car.
“Buckle up,” he said. “It’s going to be a long drive.”
Once they were well on their way to Lower Tadfield, Aziraphale miracled away the cake and icing still on his clothing and asked, into the heavy silence: “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“Afterwards,” said Crowley, keeping his eyes on the road. “Once it was done. I was going to tell you the whole story, explain – oh, everything. Assuming that the Earth wasn’t destroyed, that was.”
“How could you possibly think to avert it?” asked Aziraphale, his voice still quiet. “Against all of Heaven and Hell? The Antichrist’s role is predestined. What could you possibly do, Crowley?”
Crowley glanced at the angel in the passenger seat. For once, Aziraphale’s face was unreadable.
Crowley looked back at the road.
“I gave him to people who would love him. To people who would raise him right – who would raise him to see people as people, not disposable or dispensable,” he said, his voice tight. “I gave him to people who would teach him to be kind, instead of cruel – whether it’s Hell’s deliberate cruelty, or Heaven’s unthinking sort.”
“Heaven isn’t cruel,” Aziraphale said, in protest.
“Yes it bloody well is!” Crowley’s grip tightened on the steering wheel. “When was the last time Gabriel had a kind word for you, Aziraphale? When was the last time any angel did?”
Aziraphale flinched, and Crowley regretted that his words were hurting the angel. But he had to make him see.
“Heaven isn’t what it’s supposed to be,” said Crowley. “Since when are angels kind, or compassionate, or forgiving? Not since the War in Heaven, that’s what. I miss the old days sometimes, I really do.”
He glanced at the turn-off sign to Lower Tadfield, and turned right.
“We’re almost there, so if you have any questions, ask them now,” Crowley added, as an afterthought.
Aziraphale looked at him.
“Why are you taking me to meet the Antichrist?”
“So that you’ll understand. So that you’ll see the goodness in him, as well as the spark of devilry. He’s basically human, angel, which means he’s got the capacity for both good and evil. And I’m hoping… that when the time comes…” Crowley trailed off.
Aziraphale said nothing as they rolled down the main street and turned into one of the small laneways of Lower Tadfield.
Crowley parked the Bentley in the driveway of his cottage.
“Where are we?” asked Aziraphale. He was sitting ram-rod straight in his seat. It wasn’t a good sign.
“My cottage,” said Crowley, getting out of the car and walking around it to open Aziraphale’s door.
“Your what?” Aziraphale craned his neck to look at Crowley.
Just then a bicycle came whizzing down the street, and stopped in front of Crowley’s cottage. Crowley turned to face Adam, and raised an eyebrow at the small dog trotting along behind the bicycle’s back wheel.
“Hello, Mr Raphael!”
Behind Crowley, Aziraphale sucked in a sharp breath.
“Adam Young,” said Crowley, ignoring Aziraphale’s gasp, “how long have you had a dog?”
“He found me on my birthday. It was like the universe was giving me a birthday present. He’s a good dog, Mr Raphael. He won’t be any trouble.”
The dog snapped at a butterfly meandering through Crowley’s garden, its tail wagging. Crowley could sense the lingering remnants of infernal energy surrounding the dog, and knew what it had to have begun its existence as.
Only Adam would convert a ferocious hellhound into a small and friendly dog of indeterminate breeding.
Adam’s curious gaze wandered to Aziraphale, still sitting in the car, his neck turned at what had to be an awkward angle, watching them both in shock and bewilderment.
“You didn’t tell me you had a guest,” Adam added. “Who’s he?”
“This is Aziraphale,” said Crowley, glancing at the angel. “He’s…”
And Crowley paused, because saying my best friend seemed a little presumptuous at the moment, given the rocky state of their relationship right now.
But Aziraphale answered for him, getting out of the car and aiming a somewhat shaky smile at Adam.
“We’re… acquaintances,” said Aziraphale to Adam. “Do you know him well?”
“We’re neighbours. Mr Raphael’s never here on school days, but he’s sometimes around on weekends. I help him with the garden, so he doesn’t spend time threatening his plants.”
“I’ve told you, they grow better if I threaten them.”
Aziraphale’s gaze darted over to Crowley at that, and the angel looked more confused than ever.
“He doesn’t really hurt them,” Adam added to Aziraphale. “He wouldn’t. He likes plants. But he thinks has to act mean, you know?”
Aziraphale took a deep breath.
“Yes,” he said, softly, and rather ruefully. “I think I know what you mean.”
Crowley stood still, and watched the angel.
“Anyway, I’m meeting Them by the raspberry patch, so I’ve got to go. I just wanted to say hello to Mr Raphael first.”
Adam gave Crowley a wave, which Crowley returned, before speeding off on his bike with the dog in hot pursuit.
There was a short silence.
“ ‘Mr Raphael?’ ” said Aziraphale, and Crowley could hear the quotation marks.
Crowley rubbed the back of his neck.
“Well, I couldn’t go calling myself ‘Crowley’, not here,” he muttered. “Hell might have found me, then.”
“Crowley,” said Aziraphale, and his voice demanded answers.
Crowley let out a breath.
“I was – Raphael. Once. A long time ago.”
Aziraphale’s gaze searched his face.
“What – what happened?”
Crowley laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound.
“Take a guess, Aziraphale.”
“No,” the angel was flustered, “I mean – but why?”
Crowley looked up at the sky for a second.
“I asked the wrong questions, and put ideas in Samael’s head that shouldn’t have been there. Apparently. So I gather, anyway. The burning and the Falling was a big clue, right there.”
Aziraphale’s expression was stricken.
Crowley looked away.
“But – but miracles are still being logged under Raphael’s name. I saw the register the last time I was Upstairs, so how–” Aziraphale sounded as though he was trying to understand.
Crowley shrugged, and didn’t meet his eyes.
“I heal people.”
“You heal people,” Aziraphale repeated.
“Under the radar,” said Crowley, and then, like he couldn’t help himself, “I never stopped, really. Temptation here, a healing there… no one ever seemed to notice it was me, so why not?”
He stopped there, because Aziraphale looked like he was struggling not to cry.
“I always knew that you were good, deep down,” said the angel, “but I never knew–” His voice wavered, and broke, and he met Crowley’s concerned gaze.
“I’m sorry, my dear boy,” said Aziraphale. Crowley tensed.
“For – making you feel that you couldn’t trust me,” said Aziraphale, eyes glistening with tears and self-reproach.
“No, no, you’ve been – rescuing me from my own folly for – oh, centuries at least, and how have I repaid you?”
“I didn’t do it so you’d repay me,” Crowley murmured, but he could see what Aziraphale was getting at.
“That makes it even worse,” declared Aziraphale. “Oh, Crowley, I’m so sorry.”
He sounded as though he meant it, so Crowley took a chance.
“Help me stop the apocalypse, then,” he said, and didn’t care that he was begging. “Please. Aziraphale. Think of all the people – think how many will suffer and die, and all just so that Heaven and Hell can throw a giant tantrum and fight over ground that was never meant to be theirs in the first place? It isn’t fair.”
Aziraphale was looking torn, pushed to the brink of what he could tolerate. But Crowley couldn’t give up. He took off his sunglasses, and met Aziraphale’s eyes with his own.
“I believe in Adam,” he said, and he meant it, Heaven – Hell – someone help him. “I believe he’ll do the right thing, rather than the righteous or the easy one. But he’ll need help.”
Crowley ran out of words, then. He stared at Aziraphale, hoping that it was enough. The desperation had to be written all over his face.
Aziraphale stared back.
“But what if we fail?” Aziraphale asked, finally.
“Then at least we tried. Besides –it can’t be any worse than what happens if the other side wins, you know.”
Aziraphale took a deep, shuddering breath, and Crowley waited, as tense as a coiled spring.
“Oh, very well,” said the angel, and Crowley sagged in relief.
“Thank you. Thank you, angel. Really.”
Aziraphale sighed, still looking conflicted.
“Tell me what your plan is,” he said, and Crowley pulled out his house keys.
“ Not here. Inside,” he said, and began making his way up to the front door.
After a moment’s hesitation, Aziraphale followed.
The next day Crowley woke, and he knew.
He stumbled downstairs, miracling on the clothing he’d left strewn over the bedroom floor, and found Aziraphale sitting stiffly in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea.
“It’s starting,” said Crowley.
“Yes, I know.” Aziraphale didn’t relax. “And not far from here, I imagine.”
“All we need to do is follow Adam, and get there in time to help.”
“And how do we find him?”
At that, Crowley managed a tired grin.
“We ask Mr Tyler.”
“And who is Mr Tyler?”
“The neighbourhood busybody,” said Crowley. “He keeps a particular eye on Adam and Them, since Adam is always stealing apples from his orchard.”
“And you have faith in this child?” said Aziraphale, before asking, “Them?”
“His friends,” said Crowley, grabbing the Bentley’s keys form the hook near the door. “Come on, angel.”
It didn’t take much driving to find Mr Tyler. He was walking down the main street of Lower Tadfield, muttering angrily to himself. He glanced around as Crowley pulled up alongside him.
“Sorry, Mr Tyler, but have you seen Adam Young? I need to have a word with him. Afraid he might be getting into trouble. You know how it is.”
That was enough to set off a small rant from Mr Tyler about that Young boy, which culminated in the information that Mr Tyler had seen him and his friends heading off towards the army base.
“The army base. Right.”
“Thank you, you’ve been very helpful!” Aziraphale called out, as Crowley began pulling away from the curb and rolling up the window as he went.
Aziraphale allowed a moment of silence in the car before asking,
“Do you think that’s where…?”
“It’s all going to happen? I don’t doubt it.” Crowley slammed on the accelerator.
It was a tense ride to the army base. Crowley didn’t dare switch on the radio in case Hell tried to contact him on it. Which meant, instead, that he and Aziraphale sat in silence, hoping that the world didn’t end before they got there.
When they arrived at the army base the gates were open, and the security guard that should have been guarding them was missing. Crowley didn’t pause or slow down. He drove straight through and kept going.
He only slowed when he caught sight of Adam and Them, standing opposite a figure that could only be Death. Even as Crowley slammed on the brakes and scrambled from the car, his heart in his throat, the winged and cloaked figure vanished.
“Adam!” Crowley called out, closing the distance between himself and the children.
Adam turned, the Them following suit, all of them looking confused at Crowley’s sudden appearance.
But before Crowley could feel any kind of relief, Beelzebub and Gabriel appeared, one bubbling up from below the earth with the distinct smell of sulfur accompanying their arrival, the other appearing in a bolt of lightning.
Out of the corner of his eye, Crowley saw Aziraphale pick up the sword that lay abandoned on the ground.
“Lord Beelzebub,” said Crowley.
“Crowley, the traitor,” said Beelzebub, their voice buzzing like a thousand flies. “Where is the boy?”
But Gabriel was already looking at Adam.
“That one, Adam Young. Young man, Armageddon must restart, right now. A temporary inconvenience cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the ultimate good.”
“As to what it stands in the way of,” said Beelzebub, looking at Adam, “that is yet to be decided. But the battle must be decided now, boy. That is your destiny. It is written. Now start the war.”
Adam stared at them.
“You both want to end the world, just to see whose gang is best?”
“Obviously,” said Gabriel. “The Great Plan. The whole point of the Creation of the Earth…”
“It bloody well was not,” said Crowley, because he’d had it up to here with all this Great Plan, Armageddon nonsense.
Both Beelzebub and Gabriel turned to glare at him.
“You are on very thin ice, Crowley,” said Beelzebub, at the time as Gabriel said, in a patronising tone, “And what would a demon know about the Great Plan, hmm?”
“I know because I was there,” said Crowley, and after six thousand years he was so very tired and so very, very determined. “Back when you were nothing but a little snot-nosed suck-up, by the way.”
Gabriel’s expression turned thunderous.
“Crowley,” said Beelzebub. “Shut up.”
Crowley only laughed.
“Please. I’ve had it. Had it up to here, with both sides. Adam has every right to keep things as they are. The world isn’t ending, so you can both go home.”
“Listen here, you little punk,” said Gabriel, advancing on Crowley and jabbing him in the chest with one finger, “I don’t know who you think you are, but I’m the archangel fucking Gabriel–”
“Snot-nosed. Suck up.” Crowley repeated his words with great emphasis.
Gabriel turned red with anger.
“I should smite you where you stand, for your insolence–”
“You wouldn’t have much luck,” said a prim voice, and Crowley glanced sideways at Aziraphale.
“Stay out of this Aziraphale, you’re in enough trouble as it is, losing the Antichrist for eleven years – you had one job–” Gabriel shook his head, and his gaze focused on Crowley again, his eyes burning with the petty hatred of someone who was used to getting his way in all things, and didn’t like it when people stood up to him.
Crowley grinned, just because he could.
“Go ahead. Smite me, then.”
“Maybe I will,” Gabriel snarled. Energy began to gather around him.
“As I was saying,” said Aziraphale loudly, “you won’t have much luck smiting Crowley, considering that he outranks you. Both of you,” he added, with a polite smile to Beelzebub.
“That lowlife isn’t–”
Crowley coughed slightly to regain their attention, and unfurled not one, not two, but three pairs of wings. The second and third pairs trembled a little as they unfolded to their full wingspan, cramped and aching after being folded away into nothing for so very long.
Crowley had the distinct pleasure of seeing Beelzebub go pale, and Gabriel turn speechless. His mouth curled up a little.
“Mr Raphael?” he heard Adam ask, and grinned further as he heard Gabriel choke.
“You might have told me.”
There was admonishment in the boy’s voice. Crowley glanced at him without losing sight of Beelzebub or Gabriel, the latter of whom was still making a landed-fish expression which Crowley found inordinately amusing.
So did Aziraphale, if his tiny, stifled smile was any indication.
“Yeah, well. I didn’t want to force you into one role or another. If I’d told you earlier, you might have felt obligated. Still, I’m sorry.”
“This isn’t over,” said Gabriel, all back to threatening bluster.
“Seems to me it is,” said Crowley. “As far as you’re concerned, anyway.”
Beelzebub looked at Adam.
“Your Father will not be pleased,” she said, and vanished.
Gabriel glared fiercely at them all, before doing the same.
“Well, now that that’s over–”
“What makes you think it’s over?” Crowley asked. “Oh no, we’re just gearing up.”
It was about then that the ground began to shake.
But Crowley turned to Adam, whipping off his sunglasses and staring into the boy’s eyes with great intensity.
“Adam, listen to me, this is very important. He’s coming, and you’re the only one who can possibly stop him.”
“Stop who?” Adam asked, looking confused and frightened. Crowley grabbed him by the shoulder, still looking into his eyes.
“Your biological father. Lucifer. The Devil. You can’t fight him: that will just start a different kind of war. But you need to come up with something, fast, because once he gets here, it’s all over.”
“But what can I do? I’m just a kid.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” said Crowley. “But it has to be you. Even I’m not powerful enough to stand up to Lucifer on my own. It took all the remaining archangels combined, last time. Right now, though, you have all this power running through you, and until it runs out, there’s practically nothing you can’t do. Alright?”
Adam looked lost.
“Adam,” said Crowley. “I believe in you. You can do it.”
The earth was rumbling now, as well as shaking, and Crowley was hard-pressed to stay on his feet even with his six wings acting as a counterbalance. He reached out to steady Aziraphale as the angel stumbled, while the Them clung to one another in a terrified huddle.
The Devil was pushing up through the earth, yelling threats and imprecations at Adam.
Adam took a deep breath, and began yelling back with the most important words he’d ever spoken in his entire life.
“You’re not my Dad!” he shouted, and Crowley felt the beginnings of something take hold with Adam’ s words.
He kept his hand on the boy’s shoulder, willing the boy as much strength and support as he could.
“Dad’s don’t wait until you’re eleven to say hello, and then turn up just to tell you off! If I’m in trouble with my Dad, it’s not you. It’ll be with my real Dad, the Dad who was there. Even Mr Raphael would have been a better Dad than you!”
“That’s it,” said Crowley, as Lucifer roared in fury, but found himself halted by an invisible force.
“Keep going!” Aziraphale added, putting his hand down on Adam’s other shoulder and feeding him bolstering emotions the same way that Crowley was doing.
“You’re not my Dad, and you never were!”
And somewhere, a very important thread snapped as reality was rewritten. Lucifer’s tether, his conduit to Earth, was abruptly gone.
Screaming and howling, the Devil was dragged back down through the earth and back to Hell, the ground closing over where he had been as though he had never been there.
The roiling clouds rolled back. A ray of sun burst through the clouds.
It was over.
Crowley closed his eyes and breathed.
Afterwards, once the dust had settled, Crowley offered to give Adam and Them a lift home. But Adam gave a weary grin, and said,
“Don’t worry about it, Mr Raphael. We’ve got our bikes still.”
Crowley looked at Adam. The child looked exhausted, all of the Antichrist’s Hellish energy entirely gone, now that he’d relinquished his status as the infernal heir.
“You sure?” asked Crowley.
“Yeah,” said Adam. “We’ll be fine. But… thanks. For everything. You know.”
Crowley rested a hand on Adam’s shoulder for a minute, and incidentally healing some of the boy’s terrible exhaustion.
“You’re welcome, Adam. Now go home, before anyone notices something’s wrong here.”
As Adam and Them got on their bikes and took Crowley’s advice, he turned to look at the two humans who had appeared part-way through the grand showdown.
“You should get going, too,” Crowley said, looking them over.
“Is it really over?” asked the woman.
“Oh, yes,” said Crowley. He amended, “For now, anyway.”
“For now?” asked the man standing hand-in-hand with the woman, his face pale from left-over terror.
“Oh, I’m sure they’ll come up with something,” said Crowley, because he understood how both Heaven and Hell worked. “Eventually. But until then, Adam’s bought us some time.”
The woman was still staring at him.
“Are you really the archangel Raphael?” she asked.
Crowley made a face.
“Not anymore. Now go on, get out of here.”
“Come on, Newt,” said the woman, tugging on the man’s hand. They too followed Crowley’s advice.
Which just left Aziraphale.
“I suppose that we should leave also, yes?” said the angel.
“Might be an idea. Come on. We can head back to the cottage, and…” Crowley hesitated, “talk.”
“That,” said Aziraphale, “sounds like the best idea you’ve had so far.”
When they got back to the cottage Crowley made them both a cup of tea, and they sat in the kitchen with its nice view onto the front garden, and Crowley answered every question that Aziraphale put to him, clearly and honestly.
“Are we alright?” Crowley asked, when the angel’s questions finally dwindled into silence. “Us, I mean. Our friendship.”
Aziraphale thought about the question for a moment. For once, he didn’t try to deny that they were friends, which Crowley supposed was some kind of progress. But then – they had just stood up against Heaven and Hell to stop the apocalypse, together. Even Aziraphale would be hard-pressed to deny that they were friends, under the circumstances.
“I – I think so,” Aziraphale said finally. “Just – promise me you won’t lie to me. Not again.”
“Never,” said Crowley immediately. “I didn’t like lying to you, honest. Hated every second of it. Promise I won’t lie to you ever again. Besides… you know all my secrets, now.”
“Raphael,” said Aziraphale, slow and thoughtful. “I never would have guessed. Although perhaps I should have.”
“Yeah, well.” Crowley scratched the back of his neck. “I’m not exactly what I used to be.”
“You know, I think you are,” said Aziraphale, still in that thoughtful voice. “Deep down. I think it’s just that people look at you and think, oh, a demon, and don’t bother to look any further.”
That came painfully close to Crowley’s own feelings on the matter. He winced.
“Angel? Shut up.”
But Aziraphale only smiled. The expression was warm and a little amused, and very fond.
Crowley felt his face heat. He busied himself with his cup of tea so that he didn’t have to do anything about the angel’s affectionate regard.
“I should probably say, now that it’s just us on our own,” said Aziraphale into the silence, “that I – well, I never meant it. When I said we weren’t friends, and that I didn’t like you. I was…”
“Afraid,” Crowley finished for him, because he knew the angel. “I know.”
“Can you forgive me?” asked Aziraphale.
“Of course,” said Crowley, without even thinking about it. Then he saw Aziraphale’s expression. “What, did you think I was going to say no, I’ve got to think about it? Aziraphale, you must know by now that I–”
Crowley broke off, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
But Aziraphale smiled at him. This time, the expression was a little sad.
“Oh, my dear Crowley. I know. Even if it took me far too long to get there.”
“Right,” said Crowley, feeling only a little embarrassed. “Good.” He looked down into his empty tea-cup.
“And you must know that it’s the same for me,” said Aziraphale. He added, primly, “Even if you did lie to me about the Antichrist for eleven years.”
“This is going to become a thing, isn’t it?” asked Crowley, with weary insight. “Every time we have an argument, you’re going to bring up the Antichrist, aren’t you?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“You are,” said Crowley, with certainty. “I know you.”
“I should hope so. We’ve only known each other for six thousand years.”
Aziraphale sipped at his tea.
The ring at the doorbell had them both freezing. Crowley automatically sought Aziraphale’s gaze, and found it as wary has his own.
“I should go and answer that,” said Crowley. But he stayed where he was.
It wasn’t that he was afraid, exactly. Few things could imperil an archangel, and Fallen or not, Crowley’s power levels were still the same as Before. They’d just… altered slightly in nature, that was all.
But he’d come home and he’d relaxed, and now he was tensing up again, readying himself for a fight that he’d thought was over.
The doorbell rang a second time. Crowley slowly got to his feet.
Aziraphale caught at his sleeve, the angel’s eyes filled with worry.
“It’ll be alright,” Crowley told him, and gently pulled himself free of Aziraphale’s grasp. He went to open the front door.
The Archangel Michael stood on the stoop.
Crowley stared, his eyebrows rising.
“Are you going to let me in or not?” said Michael.
“Probably not, if we’re being honest, here.”
Michael surprised Crowley by rolling her eyes.
“Oh, just let me in. I’m only here to talk.”
“You can do that just fine out here,” Crowley pointed out.
“Crowley. I’m a demon now, remember?”
“Whatever you wish to call yourself, you know me. Would I really be here on your doorstep, asking to be let in, if I meant you harm?”
“Be breaking down the door, more likely,” said Crowley, because he did indeed remember Michael’s approach to problem-solving. “Alright. You can come in. But only if you’re not snide about Aziraphale.”
“I accept your terms,” said Michael, and reluctantly, Crowley opened the door wide enough to let her in.
They went into the kitchen, where Aziraphale stared with round eyes at the sight of Michael. Michael, for her part, sat down on the nearest empty chair.
“You will, no doubt, be pleased to hear that Gabriel has been demoted from his former position,” she said, clasping her hands together in front of her. “I have once again been restored to the position of Commander of the Heavenly Host.”
“About that,” said Crowley, pointing a finger at her. “How’d you get demoted in the first place?”
Michael paused, and then sighed.
“I stepped down.”
“I stepped down, because what kind of leader was I, if I couldn’t tell that two archangels and who knew how many angels were fomenting rebellion–”
“Excuse you, I did nothing of the sort! All I did was ask the wrong questions, and next thing I know, I’m taking a swan dive into the fiery Pit! No intention of rebelling whatsoever!”
“Are you done?” Michael raised an eyebrow at Crowley until he took a seat. “As I was saying, if I couldn’t tell that so many angels were planning rebellion against the Almighty, what kind of leader was I? Only as it turns out, Gabriel was even worse.”
“Got that right,” Crowley muttered.
“So here I am.” Michael spread her hands. “Commander once again, trying to control the kind of civil unrest and doubt that we haven’t seen since the aftermath of the War in Heaven.”
“Not my fault!” Crowley glared at her. “What kind of stupid plan was the Great Plan, anyway? What gave you lot the right?”
“You’re quite correct, unfortunately.” Michael’s lips pursed. “Even Metatron has been willing to concede that perhaps… our interpretation of the Ineffable Plan was not the correct one. The Great Plan has been shelved.”
“Shelved?” Crowley’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Not abandoned?”
“With the way things are in Heaven at present? Not likely. Oh, I’ll call it off as soon as I can, but… the last thing we need is angels taking the initiative and trying to start a new war on Earth by themselves.”
“Are you sure that Lucifer won’t?” piped up Aziraphale. He shrank back into his seat a little as Michael eyed him.
“It’s difficult to say, at this point, but I think not. He’s angry, yes, but this whole thing has put him in a thoughtful mood. And you know what he’s like when he’s thoughtful,” Michael added to Crowley.
“My sentiments exactly.”
“I hate to interrupt, but what does the Devil being thoughtful mean?” Aziraphale asked Crowley, who explained.
“It means he’s going to be thinking outside-the-box, that’s what it means. Last time he got all thoughtful, half the Host ended up going to war with the other half. He gets ideas, you see.”
“Oh dear, that doesn’t sound good,” Aziraphale said, fretting.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens,” said Michael. “Who knows. Maybe it will turn out better, this time.”
“What, like when he invented galaxies while he was busy setting the stars alight? One can hope.”
There was a short silence, and then Michael said, “What I actually came down here to say is that I’ve ordered everyone to leave the two of you alone. Gabriel’s livid, but he knows that I outrank him, and hopefully he still has enough respect for that fact that he won’t try anything.”
There was a slight tug at the corner of Michael’s mouth.
“Besides, if it came down to it, I’m confident that you would win that fight – and not just because you’re more powerful than Gabriel is.”
“Well,” said Crowley, not disagreeing, and then he frowned as a thought occurred to him. “Hang on, how did you know that Lucifer’s in a thoughtful mood? I didn’t think you two had seen each other since you kicked his arse Downstairs.”
“We haven’t,” said Michael, and she coughed slightly. “We do, however… correspond, upon occasion.”
“Correspond,” said Crowley, flatly.
Aziraphale looked horrified, and also judgemental.
“Oh, both of you stop looking at me like that. Did you think that you two were the only ones who had come to an arrangement? You, at least, know how close Samael and I were, before the whole War in Heaven mess,” she added to Crowley, who couldn’t deny it.
“So what, you’re… pen-pals?”
“Something like that. Occasionally Beelzebub calls on his behalf, when he’s in a mood. A go-getter, that one.”
“I’ve noticed,” said Crowley, sourly.
But a second later a smirk touched his lips.
“You should have seen their face when they realised that I’d had the power of an archangel, all this time. They’re going to be questioning every interaction they ever had with me, probably.”
“You always were a wily one,” said Michael. She didn’t say it with fondness, as Aziraphale might have, but as a statement of fact – although there was that faint tugging at the corner of her mouth again, which Crowley knew indicated that she was amused and trying to hide it.
Crowley grinned back at her, because in spite of everything, he’d rather missed Michael.
“You know,” he said, carefully casual, “if you’re not going to be a disapproving git the way Gabriel was, there’s no reason you can’t drop round for tea now and again.”
He saw Aziraphale’s eyebrows fly up, but the angel didn’t comment.
“I’ll bear that in mind,” said Michael. “Which brings me to the other thing I wanted to discuss with you.”
“How in Heaven’s name are you still performing miracles?” said Michael, in the tones of someone who had been desperately wanting to ask that question for several thousand years, and had never had the opportunity until now. “You are, as you pointed out, a demon. How is it that you are still capable of healing?”
Michael glared at him, and he threw up his hands.
“No, really,” Crowley insisted, because it was as much a mystery to him as it was anyone else. “I just… didn’t lose the ability, when I Fell. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to rebel – I don’t know. Or maybe it’s just that I didn’t turn to violence and despair, the way the others did.”
“What a useless answer,” said Michael, disgusted. “It’s just ineffable, I suppose. How irritating. Well.” She stood up. “That concludes our business here, except for one thing.”
“And what is that?”
Michael held out her hands, and a long, sturdy piece of wood carved with holy sigils appeared in them.
“My staff,” Crowley breathed, stunned.
“You might as well have it – it’s not as though anyone else can use it,” said Michael. “Officially, it’s been mislaid. Some kind of filing mishap, undoubtedly. Don’t get caught with it, please.”
Crowley barely heard her. He reached out, tentatively, his fingers brushing the wood. When it didn’t burn or otherwise inconvenience him, he snatched it from Michael’s grasp, marvelling at the familiar feel of it in his hands.
He’d never thought he’d get the chance to hold it ever again.
“Thank you,” he croaked, past the lump in his throat. He met Michael’s eyes. “Thank you.”
“As I said, don’t get caught using it,” Michael warned. A pillar of light descended through the ceiling, and when it disappeared, the Commander of the Heavenly Host had vanished.
Crowley ran reverent hands over his staff, aware of Aziraphale watching him. With a thought, the staff changed shape slightly – to the smaller and rather less conspicuous form of a walking stick.
“Are you quite alright?” Aziraphale asked, when Crowley had blinked away the tears in his eyes and regained his composure.
“Quite alright, angel.” Crowley managed a smile that was entirely genuine. “Rarely better, in fact.”
He looked back down at his staff, and then back at the angel.
“You know, I haven’t done any healing at the children’s hospital, this week. I should rectify that. How do you feel about coming along?”
Aziraphale was silent for a moment.
“You know, my dear, I believe I would be honoured.”
The nurses all knew Crowley at the children’s hospital, smiling and greeting him by name. And when Crowley walked into one of the wards with Aziraphale trailing behind him, the angel’s arms filled with a bag containing the toys and books that Crowley had bought for the children, a tiny cheer went up from all the kids who were awake.
“It’s Mr Crowley! Hello Mr Crowley!”
“Jasmine, wake up! Mr Crowley’s here!”
“Who’s your friend, Mr Crowley?”
“This,” said Crowley, his voice deliberately cheerful as he took in the eager faces of the sick children, “is my good friend Aziraphale. He’s come to visit you too. Look, he’s brought presents.”
“Er, hello,” said Aziraphale. He had the oddest expression on his face. But then, for all that Crowley put up a prickly façade around most of the world, he’d never tried to pretend with the children. He had too much of a soft spot for them.
Probably seeing Crowley like this – so close to his essential, pre-Fall self – was throwing Aziraphale for a bit of a loop.
Crowley knew he’d adjust, eventually.
“Why do you have a cane, Mr Crowley?” asked Lucy, looking worried. “Are you sick?”
The children’s faces turned concerned. They knew better than anyone how terrible being sick could be.
Crowley lowered his voice.
“You want to know a secret? All of you?”
The children nodded.
“This is a magic cane,” Crowley announced, still in that low voice. Some of the children looked interested, others skeptical.
“What does it do, then?” asked Ianto, who was one of the children looking skeptical.
“I don’t know, what do you think it does?” Crowley grinned. “Tell you what, why don’t you take a look and see if you can guess?”
Ianto hesitated, but then nodded.
Crowley held out his staff so that Ianto could run his fingers along the sigils, and silently performed slow-working healing. It couldn’t be too obvious, of course… but over the next month, Ianto would find himself going into remission. A medical miracle, as it were.
The staff sang to Crowley’s ears as it amplified the strength of the healing, making the process easier for Crowley.
Aziraphale looked startled at the sound, but no one else seemed able to hear the staff’s joyful song.
“Does it always do that?” the angel asked in an undertone.
“What, the singing? I’d forgotten, but yeah.” He nudged the angel. “Hand out those presents, alright?”
It took a while to hand out all the presents – there were, miraculously, exactly as many presents in the bag as there were children – but every child got something that made their faces light up with joy. It was only temporary, but the healings that Crowley dispensed were rather more long-lasting.
Aziraphale was awkward around the kids, and most of the time his wondering gaze was on Crowley, but he got through the visit without saying or doing anything wrong.
Finally, as they left the hospital, Aziraphale spoke.
“I’d forgotten what it was like,” he said, and Crowley was about to ask what he was talking about when the angel went on talking. “The compassion of Heaven, I mean.”
“Not part of Heaven anymore, angel,” Crowley pointed out.
Aziraphale smiled, a little sadly.
“I know. And perhaps that’s why everything went wrong, Upstairs.”
Crowley squirmed in embarrassment.
“Oh, shut up.”
But when Aziraphale reached out to curl his fingers around Crowley’s, Crowley did the same back.
“What do we do now?” Aziraphale asked. “I can’t imagine that I’d be welcome in Heaven anymore – or at least not for a good long while – nor you in Hell. So what do we do?”
Crowley didn’t have to stop and think about it.
“Whatever we want, I suppose. Now come on, Aziraphale. Let me tempt you to some lunch. I’m sure there’ll be a free table at the Ritz.”
Aziraphale smiled, still a little worried, but willing to trust Crowley. And wasn’t that something, Crowley thought, warmth unfurling in his chest.
"There's a whole world out there we managed to help save. Might as well go and enjoy it. Shall we?"
"Why not?" said Aziraphale, and they walked out into the sunlight together.