In the Beginning, Dramatis Personae
Metatron (The Voice of God)
Raphael (An Archangel, better known after the Plague of Justinian as the apothecary “Crowley”)
Michael (An Archangel)
Gabriel (Also an Archangel)
Sandalphon (An Angel)
Aziraphale (A demon who did not so much Fall as Take a Wrong Turn Somewhere)
Full Chorus of additional angels, demons, Romans, Byzantinians, traveling bards and minstrels, alchemists, druggists, would-be saints and sinners, Vikings, and Scots
Various plants and herbs
In the Beginning, Slightly South
Raphael finds a demon wandering aimlessly by the edge of a cliff.
He watches them meander back and forth, their dirty blond hair flopping about limply. Normally, Raphael would have simply smited them on sight. They are a demon, and demons are for smiting as Sandalphon and Gabriel always say. This one, however, does not appear to be doing anything alarming or remotely threatening. For the time Raphael has watched, all they have down is nervously peer over the side of the cliff and look exceptionally lost.
“Demon,” he calls.
They jump with an odd little squeak and nearly fall over the cliff. Raphael grabs them by the wrist without thinking. The demon upon seeing him makes another, slightly loud squeak. Their corporation has a round, notably pockmarked face. Their eyes, very wide, are a strange, murky sort of blue.
“Archangel,” the demon says, very high and very scared.
“Raphael,” Raphael says, and he pulls the demon away from the cliff edge. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh!” the demon blurts, stumbling as Raphael lets go and immediately taking a worrying step back. “I—I don’t know. I was told… well, I really don’t know. I think I’m lost.”
Raphael stares at them. He looks around again. The cliff is a sun-bleached rocky outcrop far enough from Eden that the demon could actually be lost. Adam and Eve and the twins are a good way further to the north-east, watched over by Michael and Uriel. Raphael had come down this way for a walk, drawn by curiosity regarding the rock composition.
He stares for so long the demon calms down enough to start staring back. Their strange eyes flicker over Raphael, first to the spear he carries on his back and then over his corporation’s hair. Face. Shoulders. Downwards.
When they look up again, Raphael feels puzzled.
“Where were you going?”
“Oh!” the demon exclaims, and they jerk backwards again, yet another step closer to the edge of the cliff. “I… don’t know. If I can tell you. Not because I’m hiding anything! I don’t know if I know. Sorry!”
They flail awkwardly. Very nervous. Raphael eyes them. He doesn’t sense any deception. He wonders if perhaps there’s something just a little off about this demon that is not necessarily evil. Perhaps they were one of the poetic angels before they Fell. Raphael has always found that lot rather odd, and most of them had Fallen along with the musically inclined.
Which was a shame, Raphael thinks privately. He misses the music. Especially the singing.
“Well,” Raphael says because if the demon doesn’t know what they are doing, they aren’t necessarily doing anything worth smiting, “you should be more careful.”
The demon’s mouth falls open. They boggle.
“Careful?” they squeak.
That, upon reflection, does sound suspiciously like concern. Raphael grimaces. He crosses his arms to prevent himself from putting his hand to his mouth. Michael had called him out on that habit. Angels are messengers of the Lord. They shouldn’t go around covering their mouths.
As the First War continues to engulf Creation, Raphael finds himself worrying about the growing strictness of his fellow angels.
“It’s quite messy,” Raphael answers, attempting to quell his discomfort by talking, “falling off a cliff.”
The demon opens their mouth. Shuts it. Opens it again, looking more shocked than before.
“That’s true,” they says, blinking and looking over Raphael’s face, “but how do you know that?”
Raphael thinks of Gabriel, in a moment of curiosity, letting himself freefall on one of Saturn’s moons. The crater the impact created was spectacular. Dazzling even, although that might have been a side-effect of Gabriel’s corporation exploding. They ended up having a good laugh, but neither of them will be doing that again.
There’s a lot of things that Gabriel and he will not do again.
“What’s your name?” he asks instead of acknowledging the demon’s question.
The demon blinks. Tilts their head. Blinks again.
A shy, slightly gap-toothed smile spreads their chapped lips.
Egypt, circa 1250 B.C.E.
Raphael is shivering.
He standing on an outcropping overlooking a village. The sun is nearly set. A jackal cackles.
The Pharaoh has denied Moses once again.
Raphael is not, in fact, cold. It is impossible for him, an archangel, to feel cold. He has survived in the emptiness of the universe, before the Light itself was made. He cannot be chilled any more than he can become frostbitten or burnt.
Crouched next to him, Aziraphale shifts.
“Are you cold?”
Raphael doesn’t respond. He pulls his thighs up against his chest. Wraps his arms around his knees and presses the nails of his right hand against his lips. It doesn’t stop the shivering. His spear sits heavy on his back.
Aziraphale shifts again. They sit with their legs crossed and elbows tucked against their hips. Like this, the demon is noticeably bigger than Raphael, who wants for some odd reason to make himself as small as possible.
He hasn’t yet been discovered in the company of Aziraphale, but that isn’t why he wants to squish his corporation so small that he could disappear.
God is angry.
“You know,” Aziraphale says, running their hands through their hair, which is long and out of place in Egypt, “I think I was supposed to go to Australia. Not here. But I must have made a wrong turn. I was coming from China.”
Raphael snorts. This hurts his corporation slightly with how tightly he’s huddled upon himself.
“You went in completely the opposite direction.”
Aziraphale smiles slightly. It is an unpleasant look. All of their teeth are sharp and overlap in multiple, uneven rows. It reminds Raphael of a shark. Or a lamprey.
This is the only thing about Aziraphale that is remotely threatening. Every time they’ve run into each other since The Beginning, it has been because Raphael is embroiled in some new human disaster and Aziraphale is lost. The demon has the worst sense of direction Raphael has ever encountered.
“I do try to ask directions,” they explain, shrugging in a way that isn’t exactly apologetic. “But, well, it hardly matters most of the time if I get to my destination or not.”
Raphael swallows. The sun is nearly down. The village lamps are lit, and the weak breeze carries up the scent of evening meals.
Aziraphale inhales, blinking on the different scents. Meat. Spices.
“This is so peaceful,” they comment.
When morning comes, the firstborn of all households, even their livestock, will be dead.
Raphael bites down on the partially detached cuticle of his thumb.
He doesn’t say anything.
Athens, 430 B.C.E.
Pestilence is riding and Athens is in chaos.
Raphael watches from the window of his apothecary as a man, bent and hacking, steals a fish fillet only partially cured from the side of a stall. He contemplates shouting to alert the stall keeper or possibly running after the man. Instead, he simply watches the man stumble away, gnawing feverishly at the half-cured fish. His tunic is two sizes too large. The remnants of his belt threaten to let the tunic come completely undone.
Raphael rubs the cuticle of his left thumb over his lips absentmindedly.
It would do the healthy stall keeper no good to try and catch him. Such a minor case of theft would be pointless to try to take to court. It isn’t as if the court has time for much these days. The plague is contagious and galloping in the summer heat. Athens is also embroiled in yet another conflict with Sparta. Since the plague began to fully take hold, there have been increasing desertions.
Athen’s war is not going well.
Raphael was also recently reprimanded by the Metatron for performing too many miracles. His ears were still ringing when he, in a fit of pique, set up this apothecary on the edge of the market square. If he can’t miracle away illness, he can at least ease people’s suffering.
The plague, without his constant intervention, is spreading faster.
Raphael stares as the man, clutching his stomach, stumbles out of sight as people, upon noticing his uneven progress, jerk away.
Panic gallops on Pestilence’s heels.
“Oh dear,” a voice murmurs, very nervously, “did you see that man?”
Raphael turns. The demon Aziraphale is standing in his shop’s doorway, peering out where the man is turning up an alleyway. Aziraphale’s entire presence radiates their usual distraction and no small amount of uncertain concern.
A part of Raphael wants to be surprised. The other part, which has grown since The Beginning, simply wonders how Aziraphale got lost this time.
Spending the last three-thousand years give or take among humans has changed Raphael in ways that creep up and take him aback like this.
“I think he stole that fish,” the demon murmurs, faintly aghast.
“Aziraphale,” Raphael says, “what are you doing here?”
The demon jumps. Whips their head around. There’s no hair to flop about as the demon has cut it short. It also appears, from the battered armor and rust-stained tunic, to have chosen to be a he. Raphael doesn’t remember the demon looking quite so sun-kissed the last time they met, but he hadn’t been particularly focused at noticing details back then.
They had both been rather distracted by the sight of the Nile turning to blood.
“Raphael?” Aziraphale says, and he stands in the doorway, wavering as if he can’t decide if he should back out or come in. “Are, are you the apothecary?”
Raphael steps away from the window. He tucks his hands into the fabric of his toga. Aziraphale watches the motion, his strange, murky eyes unchanged from their last meeting.
“Stop blocking my door,” Raphael says.
“Oh!” Aziraphale says but comes inside.
The shop is small. Aziraphale fills about half of the space that Raphael himself does not fill. He looks around at the modesty of the space, his interest upon the workstation that Raphael has herbs laid out to dry. He peers with a bright sort of curiosity that would make him appear innocent to any human observer.
“This is opium and fennel,” he says, looking back to Raphael in surprise. “You’re preparing tinctures?”
Raphael steps across the shop. Aziraphale watches him, not unpleasantly. He never feels of ill-intent, even with his endless questions. They’ve encountered each other on and off throughout the years, notably as waters rose in the Great Flood. Aziraphale had found him directly after Raphael and Gabriel finally had the fight that had been brewing between them since they began to disagree about humanity over Cain and Abel’s tragedy.
“The Lord does not design Her creations to suffer,” Raphael choked out as Aziraphale crouched uncertainly next to him. “The Lord loves us all.”
Aziraphale cast him a tight look and didn’t say anything. He hadn’t asked why Raphael’s corporation was so bruised. He didn’t need to.
Raphael spread his wings to shield them from the rain as the world drowned around them.
Raphael doesn’t like to think about those days.
“Yes,” he says, watching Aziraphale blink. “To ease their suffering.”
Constantinople, 541 A.D.
In a moment that everyone forgot:
Raphael kneels. Brow pressed to his hands, which are clasped together. Raphael’s back curves on the uneven, cool floor of the hovel. It is empty of its former inhabitants, but it still stinks of their death throes. There are not enough carts to carry the bodies. There are not enough people to cart the bodies.
The Emperor Justinian has declared increased taxes to finance the war effort.
“Lord,” Raphael whispers.
Out in the garden, fresh graves have been dug. Raphael’s hands are coated in dirt. They are clasped so tightly they tremble.
Everything smells of rot and death.
“Lord,” Raphael whispers again.
He cannot find words.
There is no answer.