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Thus saith the Lord

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It’d just been a little over a month since the Apocawasn’t, since they’d fooled Heaven and Hell with their little switcheroo maneuver. He and Aziraphale had settled into something of a routine since then. After giving his plants a look-over and making sure they were staying in line, Crowley would drive over to the bookshop, and drape himself over a couch. There were no more bosses to report to, temptation quotas to fill. He could just…be. Mostly he’d content himself with watching Aziraphale putter about, re-shelving and reorganizing his hoard—sorry, collection—of books. On one memorable afternoon, Crowley even helped him navigate the “world wide web”, as Aziraphale referred to it, to track down leads on some of Emily Dickenson’s incomplete and unpublished poems.

Every now and again some poor sod wandered inside the bookshop, hoping to purchase a part of the angel’s rare collection. Aziraphale gave them a frosty-eyed stare until they became too unnerved to browse further, and left without buying anything.

Crowley called out a quip, now and again, in an attempt to pull Aziraphale out of his work and come entertain him. More often than not he was successful, and after a few yelled back-and-forths from one end of the bookshop to the other, Aziraphale would give up the pretense of managing his store to come sit down beside Crowley. Hours would pass by in a blink as they talked about nothing, everything. It seemed like they could talk forever and not run out of things to say to each other.

(And if Crowley demonically miracled away potential customers so their long talks wouldn’t be disturbed, that was for him to know.)

After Aziraphale closed the bookshop for the day, they’d go off together and do whatever suited their fancy that evening. Dinners. Operas. Art exhibitions. Even a slam poetry session, once. That’d been good for a lark. There was always something happening in London. Crowley rather felt he had a new appreciation for the lot of it. He’d stand shoulder to shoulder beside Aziraphale, making fun of some bizarre modern art piece, some abomination of metal and plaster twisted all pretzel-like, and he’d be struck by how lucky they were, that the universe still had in it all the wonderfully shitty things humans had made.

It should have been weird, their sudden closeness. True, they’d just spent several years together in close proximity, overseeing the wrong boy. But before that they’d gone decades, centuries, even, without crossing paths. Caught up in different parts of the world.

He wondered, sometimes, if he was bothering Aziraphale. If the angel had had enough of Crowley’s constant hovering around him, but was too polite to out and ask him to leave him be. But then Aziraphale would turn a beaming smile on him, so bright it evaporated any doubts he’d harbored. 

Crowley rather enjoyed the new status quo, and Aziraphale, well. He was acting…different. Not a bad different, just different. It was a subtle shift, but Crowley had had 6,000 years to catalogue all of Aziraphale’s nuances.

He acted like a tight band of pressure around him had eased. Guilt no longer flashed across his face when they spent hours together. Upstairs wasn’t monitoring his actions any longer; they were, Aziraphale told him, quite content to pretend he no longer existed.

Aziraphale had begun to watch him. Long, lingering stares that stoked a fire low in Crowley’s belly. And whenever Crowley let on that he noticed Aziraphale watching him, the angel didn’t immediately look away, or stammer out an excuse.

Last night, they’d gone to see a film. Crowley had quite forgotten any details of the plot, because all he could focus on was how Aziraphale had pressed into his side as they sat in the theater. How, as Crowley walked Aziraphale back to his bookshop, their hands brushed too frequently for it to be accidental.

They were both of them circling this unspoken thing between them. Crowley would not rush this. He’d wait for Aziraphale to adjust at his own speed. After all, they had nothing but time, now.

Today, Crowley had persuaded Aziraphale to close the bookshop early (it hadn’t required a great deal of effort on his part) so they could see a new exhibit on medieval armors and weaponry. Crowley had quite enjoyed his time as the terrifying Black Knight, dampness of the country aside.

It was the middle of the afternoon, so the museum wasn’t unbearably crowded. They contemplated a rack of lances. Behind them, a teacher led a troupe of students, talking all the while. Elderly couples meandered slowly throughout the room.

“Were you much of a jouster, my dear?” Aziraphale asked him.

“Never much cared for it.” Crowley grimaced at the old memory of being impaled, thrown from his horse. He blamed his steed, personally. Animals always got nervous around him, save the ducks. “Got me discorporated, once. You?”

“Winning a jousting tournament was how I claimed my seat at King Arthur’s table.” Aziraphale smiled fondly. “My horse was such a dearheart. A few lumps of sugar and some kind words and she’d do so well.”

That reminded him. Crowley nudged Aziraphale’s shoulder as he headed out of the room. “Come on. I think they have one of your old armors here.”

It took half a moment for Crowley to notice Aziraphale wasn’t following. He doubled back.

“Angel?”

Aziraphale had gone paler than his suit.

“Crowley…”

He pressed a hand to his temple and crumpled. Crowley caught him before he fell, and then lowered him gently to the ground.

“Aziraphale, what’s wrong?” Crowley’s gaze skittered over Aziraphale’s form. He was trembling, his chest heaving. His bloodless lips were pressed tightly together. But there was nothing wrong, no blood, no visible injuries. There were no angels or demons even remotely close to them, so it couldn’t be some kind of outside interference.

“You have to tell me what’s wrong, I can’t…”

People were staring at them, clustering close.

“Does he need a hospital?” A woman asked, her phone in her hand, ready to dial.

“Back off,” Crowley snarled. He couldn’t keep himself fully contained, panicked as he was. The humans saw a glimpse of his true, demonic form, and shied away, horrified and revolted.

Aziraphale grasped his wrist loosely, reclaiming Crowley’s full attention. He was glowing, so brightly Crowley’s eyes stung from staring, even with the aid of his sunglasses. The blue of Aziraphale’s eyes was overcome by gold. Slices opened in his skin, and widened into hundreds more eyes. Wings flared.

“Get away,” Aziraphale whimpered, and then his grip on Crowley’s wrist tightened. He squeezed until Crowley could feel the bones grinding, ready to snap.

“Shit—”

Crowley struck out blindly with his free hand, and his fingers hooked into eyes.

Aziraphale released him with a slight hiss. But almost immediately, his pained expression was replaced with something chillingly blank.

Crowley scrambled upright. He broke into a sprint.

Aziraphale followed.

~*~

Sodom agreed with him. The Canaanite city was flush to the river Jordan, and the fields flourished with bountiful harvests as a result. The Sodomites were well-fed and prosperous, and all the merrier for it. The air of the city was one of relaxation. Of fun. People really let loose here, and indulged in whatever pleasures they felt like, be it buying more and more crap they didn’t need, or gorging themselves on food, or, of course, sex. Lots and lots of sex. It seemed they were inventing new positions and combinations and fetishes every day. Almost curled even Crawly’s hair with all the crazy stuff those humans got up to.

Crawly had a special affection for Sodom because there was very little he actually had to do. He spent his days leisurely working his way through every tavern, sampling every home brew and wine available. And at the start of each morning he’d get yet another letter of commendation from Below for all his hard work in both Sodom and its neighbor, Gomorrah.

He’d known his little holiday would end at some point. He just hadn’t expected the particulars.

At the first bolt of thunder, he thought the flash was just the heralding light of an oncoming storm. He ignored it and tucked back into his mug. But that accompanying distant rumble of thunder was followed by hundreds, thousands more. The sky was roaring.

Crawly sobered up and followed the half-curious, half-afraid drunkards outside.

The night sky was so bright, a man at Crawly’s shoulder wondered if it was day again already, that they’d drank straight through to the morning.

Crawly’s hackles raised. There were angels in the sky, too many to count. Their full radiance was on dazzling display. The sight unwillingly dragged him back to old memories of the Rebellion. His hands shook, and he then wished desperately that he was still drunk.

 The angels descended to Earth like a rain of stars. Crawly sloughed off his human look, and as a small black snake he curled, unnoticed, behind a collection of woven baskets.

And not a moment too soon, as an angel landed right before the group from the tavern. A dominion, judging by the golden staff clasped in her hand.

Her voice rang out, clear and cold:

“The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are to be punished for their transgressions and destroyed. Thus saith the Lord.”

The dominion slammed her staff upon the dirt. Crawly slithered backwards, just on the fringe of her radius. At once the ring of humans around the dominion cried out in pain, and crumpled to the ground. Their blood bubbled beneath their flesh, transformed into a sulfuric acid. It charred and dissolved them from the inside out, and their remains calcified immediately into salt.

The dominion did not appear pleased with her handiwork, nor horrified, as Crawly was. There was naught but impersonal wrath. She spread her wings and alighted.

“Ssssshit,” Crawly hissed to himself. He began slithering through the streets to the nearest exit, weaving his way around sandaled feet, overturned carts. The occasional splatter of brimstone. He dared not attempt to fly out of here, not with the angels swarming as they were. The rest of the lot weren’t like Aziraphale; they wouldn’t stop to have a pleasant little chat if they saw him. They’d just go ahead and smite him.

The Almighty was Pissed, with a capital P. Again. She’d promised to never drown all Her wicked children again, so instead, apparently, She was sending angels down in Her stead to lay waste to them with fire and brimstone. It was the kind of loophole his kind would normally go in for, and wasn’t that all sorts of ironic?

Crawly was by the residential district, nearly out of the city, when he saw him out of the corner of his eye.

No, it couldn’t be.

But he couldn’t just leave, now. Not until he knew for sure.

Crawly doubled back, shedding his snake form and returning to his human one so he could chase after—

Aziraphale?” It came out as a genuine question, as the angel before him was so different than the one he’d come to know.

Aziraphale was partway between the ethereal and corporeal. Wings sprouted at his head, back, and ankles, and they and his skin were peppered with myriad, all-seeing eyes. A radiant halo hovered above his head like a diadem. He held a sword with easy familiarity—it wasn’t his sword, the one the Almighty had given him, that one was still lost to history—and, most alarmingly of all, gore splashed the front of his white tunic.

Those many hundreds of eyes swept over Crawly without acknowledgement or recognition, and Aziraphale turned and stepped into the nearest home.

“Oi! Aziraphale!”

Crawly followed after, even as every demonic instinct inside him screamed to flee.

Curled beneath a table was a cowering girl. Her parents were dead already, or had abandoned her in their fright. She sniffled and shivered, even as fires blazed right outside. Aziraphale approached, but without words of concern and compassion. He was mute, but his eyes radiated the same fury the dominion’s had. He reaffirmed his grip on his sword.

Discomfited, Crawley stepped in front of Aziraphale.

“Wait, wait, wait, hang on, I thought we were on the same page about this kid killing business and our lack of fondness for it.”

Aziraphale had intrigued him from their first meeting. He’d broken the rules to give away his holy weapon to the sinful humans. Because he was empathetic, because he cared for them more than the impersonal way angels were supposed to love all of God’s creatures.

When they’d briefly reunited before Noah’s ark, Aziraphale had been visibly uncomfortable with God’s plan for retribution. And when Crawly decided to meddle and save some of the children from the flood, Aziraphale spoke not a word of it to his superiors.

The blue of the angel’s eyes was swallowed whole by golden light. There was nothing of the Aziraphale he knew. The one with the awkward laugh, the frustrating idealism, and a weakness for sweets. No, this was the Principality Aziraphale, Guardian of the Eastern Gate. Deliverer of God’s will.

The child was begging Crawly to intervene. To help her. But Crawly wasn’t nice, or good, any other four-letter word. He was a demon, and he wanted to live.

He stood aside.

Aziraphale dragged the girl from her hiding place by the hair. She shrieked, scratching at his arm with tiny nails. He tipped his sword to her little throat and ripped it open.

When she slumped in his hold, limp, he dropped her to the ground.

Aziraphale left.

Crawly watched through the window as he entered the neighboring house.

~*~

Humans were so incredibly easy to tempt. Crawly hardly had to lift a finger, sometimes. He’d utter half an idea, and humans would trip over themselves to bring it to fruition. It was almost as if they all were eager to stray into sin, and just needed some form of external permission to let loose, just enough that they didn’t have to admit to themselves the full blame of their actions was solely upon them.

Crawly snagged the attention of a shepherd’s son as the boy came to draw water from a well. A lord of the city had attracted renown recently due to his collection of writings. Cuneiform tablets, and even bound pages of papyrus. That lord surely looked down upon the shepherd’s son, didn’t he? Thought he was slow and stupid, an animal amongst animals. All the while he sat nice and pretty up on his hill with all his written words, all his fantastical stories the boy would never know, feeling right superior.

The fires of jealousy were successfully stoked in the boy’s heart, and before the week was out, those preciously hoarded tablets were smashed into bits, and the lord’s lovely home set ablaze.

Crawly came to see it, when the grieving humans had left, and all that remained were burnt, unrecognizable things.

“Oh, goodness.”

He’d known, of course, that Aziraphale would hear. That he would come. That was, in fact, why Crawly had done it.

He watched as Aziraphale knelt in the wreckage. Soot smeared his tunic—black marring pristine white. There were no brownish stains of old blood to be found—but Aziraphale only had eyes for the shards of clay he sifted through. He set pieces on his palm, trying to make the unmatched bits fit together again.

“Don’t bother.” Crawly told him. “Not so much as a word left.”

He’d sounded entirely too smug about it. Aziraphale sprang up, eyes narrowed.

“You—You caused this? Oh, Crawly, how could you?”

Guilt snaked up his spine at the note of despair in Aziraphale’s voice, but indignant anger soon swallowed it whole.

“’s what I do, innit? What do you care? How can you pretend to love what they create if you don’t love them?” The hypocrisy was maddening.

Aziraphale blinked, looking bewildered. “Why, of course I love them!”

“Really showed those folks at Sodom what your holy love is worth, didn’t you?”

He prepared for Aziraphale’s excuses. His sanctimonious tirades about how his side had the moral high ground. Some sort of rubbish about how those thousands were slaughtered all for the greater good, and that made it all fine and dandy, then. Crawly would argue back, of course. He wouldn’t be able to stop himself. It would lead to the dissolution of this fragile thing they’d built together.

But instead, Aziraphale’s brows creased with further confusion. “What are you talking about? I haven’t been to Canaan in ages, now.”

Crawly gaped at him. As a demon, he had a knack for telling when people were lying to him. Aziraphale radiated pure puzzlement—and not one ounce of deceit.

“Last month. You don’t—the girl in her home?”

“Girl?”

“Well if you weren’t in Sodom, where were you?” Crawly snapped. “What were you doing?”

Aziraphale shot him a look that said he thought Crawly was behaving quite oddly, but nevertheless he answered his questions.

“I don’t see why it should matter, but I’ve been rather preoccupied on the North American continent, you see. There was a spot of illness going around. Nasty business.” Aziraphale’s face lightened. “Oh, but they’ve started some fascinating agricultural advancements over there, Crawly. They have this group of plants they refer to as the three sisters, and—”

“So when did you get here, then?” Crawly blurted. “We’re only five days’ journey from—there.” He’d returned, the day after. There’d been nothing left but ash and salt. The land the two grand cities had once stood upon would be unlivable now and forever.

“I’d done all I could over there, and I was requested to come back. I just arrived on a boat not three days hence.” Aziraphale shrugged. “Perhaps you saw another angel in the city, and mistook them for me? I am the main point of contact here, but I know they do send others down, from time to time, you know, to help things along and all that when I’m too busy elsewhere.”

Crawly wanted to scoff. Angels of the same order shared many similar features and characteristics (they were mass-produced all in one go, after all) but that was utterly irrelevant. Crawly could never mistake Aziraphale for one of them.

But he let it go, and said, with feigned nonchalance, “Must’ve been. So, three sisters?”

Aziraphale beamed. “Oh, yes, they’re quite brilliant! You see, the natives grow maize, squash, and beans, all together on the same plot. Once the maize stalks shoot up, the beans are able to wind around them…”

As they headed back into the city, Aziraphale nattered on and on about the three crops, and all the wonderful dishes that were being made from them. Crawly let his chatter wash over him, deep in thought.

~*~

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah had come about rather quickly. Within one night, the cities were razed to the ground.

Egypt, on the contrary, was a slow, tortuous thing.

Crawly had heard tales of rivers of blood, followed by an infestation of thousands of frogs. By the time he made his way to Egypt to see what all the fuss was about, the kingdom was still well under the grip of the “plagues”, as they called them.

He wasn’t at all surprised to find Aziraphale already here. If it wasn’t his side kicking up supernatural mischief, then it had to be the other. Crawly held off from approaching his old friend acquaintance when he arrived in town, contenting himself with observation from a distance.

Aziraphale wasn’t able to meddle too much; he’d tip the balance between good and evil that way, and he’d remove free will from the picture by imposing his choice of goodness upon them. He limited himself to small miracles and blessings: a pregnant woman was given a week’s relief from itchy gnats; a starving sheep was given a feeling of fullness and contentedness as it died; a desperately thirsty man found a hidden carafe of water, clean and crisp. All Aziraphale could offer were faint, brief reprieves, glimpses of hope.

The sixth plague was a rather nasty one. The Egyptians and their livestock were afflicted with painful, pus-filled boils. Aziraphale spent his days in the healing house. He was forbidden to cure the Egyptians outright, but he could at least soothe them, sand down the jagged edges of their agony.

He was becoming too liberal with his miracles, Crawly surmised, with something like frustration. His complexion had turned waxen, his typical radiance, but a sad flicker. One evening, as he left the sick and ailing to return home, he stumbled over the threshold. Too worn-down and exhausted to even pick his feet up properly.

In a blink Crawly was at the angel’s side, supporting his arm as he listed dangerously to the left. Aziraphale flashed him with a look so grateful that Crawly instantly dropped his arm as if the touch burned him, and sprang away.

“Crawly.” Aziraphale’s voice was tired, but warm as ever.

“Aziraphale.” Crawly shifted on his feet. He cleared his throat. “I know a place down here that makes a nice honeyed wine. You’d like it.”

Hopefully they’d have food there, too. Crawly wasn’t too partial to eating, himself. He liked a nice fat mouse now and again, but that was about it. But Aziraphale adored meals lovingly prepared by humans, and his somewhat soft-around-the-edges form reflected that. The angel hadn’t indulged in that particular vice of his since at least his arrival in Egypt. Crawly understood why. How could Aziraphale eat, in good conscience, when he did not technically need to, and people were starving? As a result of his fast, he’d shed a great portion of his excess weight. It unsettled Crawly. This diminished, weary form wasn’t how the angel was supposed to be.

Aziraphale hesitated, but gave in to Crawly’s offer without much persuasion. He needed a break, someone who understood.

“One or two glasses, I suppose.” Aziraphale said.

Between the two of them they drained four bottles.

In stark contrast to the Egyptians, the Israelites were in a cheery mood. They danced and sang through the night, as Crawly and Aziraphale tucked themselves into a quieter corner and drank and drank and drank.

(Crawly wasn’t surprised, really. The tormented were taking their revenge upon the tormentors. But shouldn’t the Almighty’s favorites have been a bit more...compassionate?)

“You know,” Aziraphale slurred. The few bits of bread Crawly had gotten him to eat could hardly soak up the amount of alcohol he’d consumed. “You know. I, erm, overheard. When Moses spoke with the Metatron.”

The angel was slumped bodily over the table. His hand had once held his face aloft, but he’d gradually sank further and further down until his cheek smushed the table. He left his useless hand pressed against his face, too drunk to care that it wasn’t helping him any. With his other hand, he circled the opening of an empty bottle, around and around.

“The Pharaoh relented. He was going to let them go. After that bit with the—the flies, and such. All those dead animals. And the Almighty, She,” Aziraphale hiccupped. “She hardened his heart. Made him go back on his word. And I—I don’t understand why—”

Aziraphale’s lower lip wobbled. Crawly was drunk, but not half as bad as Aziraphale. He was sober enough to comprehend the very dangerous line Aziraphale was skirting.

“It’s not for you to understand.” Crawly hissed. “Just shut up and do as you’re told.”

Aziraphale flinched as if he’d been struck. He straightened up, and got that pinched, anxious look on his face he got whenever he realized he’d strayed too far from what was expected of him.

“You’re right,” Aziraphale murmured. “Of course. I shouldn’t have—it’s all part of Her plan. Of course it has to happen.”

“Right,” Crawly said sourly, and tipped more wine down his gullet.

~*~

The Israelites were smearing lambs’ blood above their front doors.

“Bit of an odd fad, that,” Crawly said, as he observed a man painting atop his home. He wrinkled his nose. “Got to be plenty of pleasanter ways to freshen up a good doorway, don’t you think?”

The human took one glance at Crawly’s eyes and shut the door in his face.

“...Right.”

He went to Aziraphale, next, but the angel also had no answers to give.

“It’s worrying me,” Aziraphale confessed, wringing his hands. “They gave me advance notice on the others, some time for me to make preparations of my own. But I haven’t heard a whisper of what this tenth plague is supposed to be about. Only...only that it’s to be the last.” Aziraphale licked his lips nervously before meeting Crawly’s eyes. “You should probably go. It might not be safe for you here.”

Crawly considered him. Everything he knew about Aziraphale told him the good-hearted angel had only Crawly’s best interests in mind. Everything he knew about Aziraphale, save that one night in Sodom.

A demonic part of him snarled that as soon as he left, Aziraphale would shrug off his misery like a shroud and once more rain down divine retribution, unrepentant. That all this softness of character was just an act he put on for Crawly.

So Crawly nodded and said: “Mm. Probably should find a new stomping grounds anyhow. See you, then. Good luck with, you know.” Crawly gestured vaguely, and slunk away.

Crawly returned, of course, in short form, to observing the angel. Only this time, he drew upon his power to mask his presence. The Almighty Herself wouldn’t be able to sense him now. (Not really. But Crawly was prone to hyperbole.)

Aziraphale carried on as he had been since Crawly’s arrival, slipping out miracles here and there. His time was mostly preoccupied with those who’d fell and injured themselves during the days of darkness.

At midnight, Aziraphale dropped like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Crawly nearly broke his cover to approach, but he froze as lightning crackled in the distance. He craned his neck upwards.

There were fewer angels than last time, certainly less than a hundred. Crawly relaxed, if ever so slightly. If Egypt was not to be obliterated, then what plan had She cooked up instead?

Aziraphale jerked upright. Just like before, his true angelic presence was leaking through his corporation. He miracled a sword into his hand, and began walking with purpose.

Crawly swallowed. He was about to attempt something quite stupid and potentially life-threatening. But Crawly had fallen for his inability to let things rest, his need to understand. He wasn’t about to stop asking questions now.

Crawly emerged from his hiding spot and approached Aziraphale with nothing but a shaky grin.

“Hullo there, Aziraphale.” Crawly walked beside him, but at arm’s length. “What are you up to this evening?”

Like before, Aziraphale ignored his presence entirely, looking at the row of homes before him. At the doors, Crawly realized. Aziraphale passed quietly through the Israelite dwellings, but came to a stop at the first unmarked doorway he encountered.

Aziraphale miracled the door unlocked, and made his way inside. A family slept together in a large bed. A mother and father, their three children. The parents were bracketing their young. Aziraphale reached over the father and grasped the eldest son by the ankle. The boy’s startled yelp awoke the rest of his family. Aziraphale kept them still with a warning flex of his wings.

When Aziraphale spoke, his voice was entwined with something else. Something darker and more powerful that made Crawly’s hands shake. “About midnight, I shall go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be a loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. Thus saith the Lord.”

Aziraphale raised his sword. Crawly lunged forward and grabbed him by the upper arm, wrapping himself around the limb. Only now did one set of Aziraphale’s many eyes flick over to look at him.

“Aziraphale, stop it! What are you doing?”

The aura around Aziraphale brightened. His halo, like a spinning wheel of fire, flared threateningly.

“You don’t want this. You’ve just spent I don’t know how many months running around trying to ease their pain from the plagues. And now you’re going to participate? Just because of some memo from head office?”

Aziraphale paused, but only for a moment. He threw Crawly back against the wall, and before the demon could get up again, he slaughtered the child.

Crawly blessed. When he brushed a hand behind his head, it came back tacky with blood.

Aziraphale did not linger, and Crawly scrambled after him, head pounding.

Physically restraining him was a no-go. It’d get Crawly discorporated, or worse.

So he’d just have to persuade the angel. Somehow. He rallied himself. He could do this. He was good with words, wasn’t he? He’d never forced Eve to bite into that apple, after all. Just whispered a convincing argument in the shell of her ear.

Screams rent the night air; the other angels were hard at work.

“Aziraphale,” Crawly tried. “You don’t have to do this. The are other angels here. Let them handle everything. Heaven won’t know the difference, I’m telling you.”

It didn’t work. Aziraphale entered the next unmarked house. When he returned, there was a fresh stain upon his robes.

The third home was worse. The eldest son—the only son—was a squalling infant.

The father tried to fight. He was a large man, and he launched himself as Aziraphale with the intent to kill. The angel forced him into a dead faint with a glance.

The mother curled herself protectively around the baby in her arms.

Please,” As she begged the advancing angel, her voice cracked with despair. “We tried for so long. He is our first and our only. Our blessing from the Gods. Please don’t take him.”

And Aziraphale…paused.

Crawly dared to approach him. “That’s it.” He soothed. “Lower your sword. You know this is wrong. You’re Aziraphale. You love food, and books, and humans. And you’d never want to hurt them, so just…stop, okay?”

Aziraphale’s many eyes closed. When they reopened, there was a sliver of blue twisted within the gleaming gold.

Sweat broke out along Aziraphale’s body. No, Crawly realized, with a start. They were tears. Aziraphale wept.

“Oh, Aziraphale…”

The angel jerked forward, and wrenched the child from his mother’s arms.

“No!” She wailed, arms outstretched. “Take me! Take me instead!”

Aziraphale’s expression was twisted in agony. Crawly realized, with horror, what he had done. He had drawn out Aziraphale’s consciousness, but the angel’s body was still trapped. Forced to obey the whims of Heaven.

“What have I done?” Crawly whispered, as the baby’s cries were silenced.

~*~

At dawn, it was over. Aziraphale collapsed, and Crawly was there to catch him. Watching it all had made him sick to his soul, but he’d refused to leave Aziraphale to bear it alone.

Aziraphale folded inside himself, with the exception of the wings at his back. They made a half-aborted movement to cover him, but then Aziraphale let them sag in the sand.

“I’m sorry,” Crawly babbled. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

He’d only wanted to help. Idiot. He was a demon. He could only hurt.

“Please,” Aziraphale rasped. He clutched at Crawly. “I can’t, I can’t…”

He let out a low, keening wail.

This would break him, Crawly knew. He would Fall. Because of Crawly.

Crawly held him closer, stroking his fingers through Aziraphale’s curls. They were matted with sweat and blood.

“I’ll fix this.” Crawly promised. “Just sleep for now, alright?”

He continued to comb his hand through the angel’s hair, rocking him, until at last the angel sank into dreams. When he was well and truly under, Crawly pressed their foreheads together, and worked his power through him.

When Aziraphale awoke again, he would remember nothing of Egypt.

~*~

“Shit shit shit. Buggering fuck.”

Crowley shoved through the crowd of museum-goers as he rounded the corner of the hallway. He looked back—Aziraphale was gaining.

This hadn’t happened for ages—for millennia, even—and Crowley had let those unpleasant memories sink far into the back of his mind, to gather dust.

He’d thought the Almighty had washed Her hands of them. She’d been absent an active role in even the bloody apocalypse. So why would She call upon Aziraphale now?

Aziraphale slowed his pursuit as he neared a suit of armor. He yanked the sword free from its grip.

“Come on,” Crowley groaned.

Aziraphale charged towards him, fulling intending to put that sword to use. Crowley didn’t stop, and crashed through the window. They were four stories up. Crowley’s wings unfurled, and saved him from an unfortunate meeting with the pavement.

His wings beat furiously, trying to gain some distance. He didn’t dare go for the Bentley. Londoners gawked at him, raising their cellphones to record the spectacle. He could worry about that later. Right now he needed to get away.

But where? Hell would lock the gates on him and cheer as Aziraphale destroyed him. He ran through his thin list of semi-competent allies on this rock. The Antichrist had forsaken his powers. Maybe the witch girl, then? Surely, she had some clue how to—

Aziraphale streaked through the sky like a comet and collided with him. They fell through the air, and crashed through the side of some office building.

“For someone’s sake, Aziraphale—” Crowley coughed out a lungful of plaster.

He rolled to the side to avoid impalement on Aziraphale’s sword.

“Bless it, just—just listen to me!” He’d broken halfway through to him before. And that had been before their arrangement. Surely, surely he could reach him now?

 Crowley wrenched away his sunglasses, tossing them aside.

“It’s me. Crowley. Your—Your friend. Best friend, in fact.” Aziraphale’s blank stare was unchanged. Crowley persisted, desperate. “Y’know. Wily serpent that’s hung around and bothered you for six thousand sodding years? I wile, you thwart?”

Aziraphale raised his sword before him. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and muttered a prayer.

Flame licked its way down the sword from tip to hilt.

Holy fire.

Crowley swallowed. That freshly-blessed sword wouldn’t just discorporate him. It’d end him. Forever. No do-overs. Gone like a ship dashed upon the rocks.

As far as Crowley understood it, there was nothing after death for their kind. Animals went straight to Heaven. Humans got divine judgement and an eternity’s sentence to Hell or Heaven, but those of them who were true angels and demons, who had been here since before the beginning—this was it for them.

Ligur never clawing his way up from Hell to give him, well, hell, for what he’d done was proof enough for Crowley that their lives were finite.

Crowley had no intention of dying. Quite a fan of living, he was. He’d gone and meddled with the war to end everything all because he hadn’t been keen on his life as he knew it coming to a close. He wanted to keep living, to spend an eternity more on this mudball along with his angel—and he’d be blessed if he was going to give up without a fight.

Crowley pulled the fire alarm. As it began to wail, the ceiling sprinklers opened up.

Aziraphale’s sword remained lit.

“Worth a shot,” Crowley muttered.

And then Aziraphale was on the offensive again. It was almost a dance. Aziraphale tried to skewer him, aiming for his chest, his skull. Crowley dodged and ducked and contorted his body around the flaming sword. They knocked over printers. Left cubicle walls scorched black.

Sprinkler water plastered Crowley’s hair to his face. He pushed it out of his eyes and frantically twisted his hips to narrowly avoid a blistering disemboweling. The holy fire licked at his coat. He couldn’t snuff it out; he shed his outerwear before the fire could spread. The flames shortly chewed the coat to ash.

“Fight it, won’t you!” Crowley snapped. “Don’t I mean anything to you? Are you really going to let them tell you what to do? After everything we’ve been through?”

But this wasn’t like Egypt. She had him locked down tight. His eyes were molten gold and sure.

A fat security guard puffed his way over to them.

“That’s quite enough, you two—”

Crowley snatched the baton off the man’s belt, over his stuttered protests. Not quite an unholy weapon, but it’d have to do.

When Aziraphale lunged again, Crowley bashed his hand with the baton. Aziraphale lost his grip on his sword. Once gone from the angel’s hand, the holy fire went out.

Crowley grabbed the sword. “I’ll be taking that.”

Crowley retreated, flying out from where they’d crashed into the building. He landed on the ground, and set to smothering down his presence. If he could disguise himself amongst the humans, maybe he’d be able to put some real distance between him and Aziraphale. He could get away, long enough to make it to Tadfield and get some much-needed backup.

When Aziraphale emerged, he was like a second sun. Humans squinted up at him, shielding their eyes from the glare.

The sight of an angel in all his ethereal might was too much for them. All around Crowley, they sank to their knees, quivering with rapture.

Aziraphale saw him.

There wasn’t time to run before Aziraphale descended. He shoved Crowley up against the nearest surface. Crowley’s hand scrabbled against it. Thick glass. A window?

Aziraphale wrapped his hands around Crowley’s throat, squeezing. His Grace stung Crowley’s flesh.

“Az—Azira—” He choked. The sword was still in his hand, but he wouldn’t, couldn’t, use it.

Aziraphale bore down upon him too mightily. The glass gave, and they fell through, into the building.

“I’m getting rather tired of this going through windows business!” Crowley groused. He held the sword aloft, warning Aziraphale back. He widened the distance between them several meters. His feet were burning, stinging. He looked around. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Aziraphale had brought them into a church.

Crowley glared balefully up at the stained glass windows.

“Having me killed in Your House. Was this all part of your blasted ineffable plan, all along? Spare us the apocalypse, just to die now? For nothing?” The Almighty, of course, did not deign to grace him with a response. “You want to punish me, fine. But he’s still one of Yours. He’s the best of the lot. How is this fair to him?”

When Aziraphale regained control of his body, the knowledge of what he’d done would destroy him.

But he shouldn’t be surprised, should he? When had She ever been merciful to them? To any of them? The floods, the plagues. Isaac and Abraham. Sodom and Gomorrah. Her own son. This was hardly a break from the pattern.

Aziraphale burned. The heavenly light scalded Crowley’s eyes. He collapsed to the floor, palms pressed over his closed eyelids.

He heard the scrape of the sword against the floor as Aziraphale reclaimed it.

He forced himself to look.

 Aziraphale pointed the flaming sword at Crowley’s chest.

“The demon Crowley shall die by Principality Aziraphale’s sword.” Aziraphale intoned, his voice warped by powers beyond. “Thus saith the Lord.”

For the first time in many millennia, Crowley prayed.

Please, Lord.

The sword pushed inside.

Don’t let him remember this.

 

Chapter Text

The acrid smell of burnt flesh broke through the haze of his mind.

Aziraphale blinked slowly, dumbly, like one emerging from a trance, and looked downwards.

He screamed.

“Crowley!”

The demon was pinned beneath him. His hair was damp, his glasses and jacket were gone. He was silent and still, a sword buried hilt-deep in his chest.

Aziraphale scrambled to understand what had happened, how they’d gotten here. His memory was frayed and patchy, like a shirt that’d been gnawed apart by moths. They’d just been in a museum, talking about—dogs, was it? No, horses, yes, horses and knights and the like. And now they were—was this a church?—and Crowley—Crowley 

He cupped Crowley’s cold cheeks between his hands, pressing their foreheads together.

“Please, please my dear, you have to wake up, I—” He cut himself off as he felt a faint puff of air against his skin. Crowley was still breathing. Alive. Tears sprang to his eyes. It wasn’t too late. “Oh, Lord, thank you.”

Aziraphale carefully eased the sword free from Crowley’s chest, wincing at the slick, squelching sound of it. Dark red lifeblood welled up in the sword’s absence. Aziraphale pressed a palm to Crowley’s chest to stem the flow, even as he miracled the wound closed again.

He expected Crowley to at least stir, perhaps let slip a relieved sigh at the sudden absence of pain. There was nothing.

Who could have done such a thing? And how? He cast his senses out, searching, but there was no one from either side present for leagues and leagues. Perhaps they’d attacked, then sunk Below or ascended Above?

But no, no. Smeared images resurfaced in his mind. Flashes of him pursuing Crowley, pulse thundering in his ears, driven by an incomprehensible wrath. He would never— 

But he had.

Hysteria threatened to shatter Aziraphale’s composure. He struggled to master himself. There would be time enough to fall apart later, once Crowley was alright again.

Aziraphale looked past Crowley’s vessel, to his essence. 

“Oh, Lord,” He breathed. The sword had punctured Crowley’s true self, nearly renting him in twain. The edges of the wound were terribly burnt, wisps of smoke still curling from them.

Aziraphale grasped the sword, studying it, pushing himself to focus past the blood that still coated it. The blade was several centuries old, but neither angelic nor demonic in nature. He found no runes or markings etched upon it. But in his hand, it spat sparks of holy flame. He catalogued the flickers of fire. It wasn’t the purest caliber of holy fire. If it had been, Crowley wouldn’t even be clinging to life—it would have destroyed him instantly. By some miracle, it was a much lesser grade. The damage was still catastrophic, but he could fix this. He would fix this.

Firstly, they needed to get out of this church. 

With all the gentleness of a mother cradling her newborn, Aziraphale held Crowley close to his chest and stood up. He staggered back half a step, not because Crowley was heavier than expected, but lighter. Aziraphale paused briefly to dip his head down, lips grazing Crowley’s red hair. He was still here, still with him.

Aziraphale picked his way over shards of the shattered window pane and overturned pews. As he stepped outside he let his power roll off of him, and it told passersby there was nothing abnormal going on, nothing to stare at. 

He was about to flag down a cab when he spotted the Bentley already idling by the church’s front doors. The car had developed something of a personality of its own in the past hundred years or so, and was fiercely loyal to its master.

“You wonderful, blessed thing,” Aziraphale praised it as he hurried over.

The back door swung open on its own, inviting Aziraphale to ease Crowley inside. The demon’s legs were too spindly for him to stretch out entirely over the length of the seat. They dragged onto the floor. Aziraphale shrugged off his jacket and balled it up before using it to cushion Crowley’s head. 

After he got Crowley situated, he went around the car and slid into the driver’s seat. The Bentley no longer required a key to operate; he pressed the gas pedal and the car jumped to obey. He drove slower than the Bentley was used to, but faster than Aziraphale’s usual trundle. 

(Crowley had been the one to teach him to drive, in the 1980s. In his beloved Bentley, no less. He’d taken Aziraphale out into the country, away from the bustle of London, and instructed him with a surprising amount of patience. Aziraphale successfully managed a k-turn at the end, and was rewarded with Crowley’s proud, fond smile.)

The drive back to his shop was punctuated by frequent glances in the rearview mirror. Crowley did not so much as twitch, but he did not seem to grow astronomically worse, either. Aziraphale took that for a minor victory.

The Bentley crawled to a gentle stop at the miraculously free parking space in front of the bookshop.

“Thank you, old girl.” Aziraphale patted the steering wheel. The engine all but purred.

He retrieved Crowley from the back seat. The demon’s forehead pressed into his shoulder, and Aziraphale was dismayed at the heat he could feel radiating off Crowley’s skin, even through the layers of his outfit separating them.

Aziraphale made a beeline up to the flat he kept above his shop. It was mostly present for the sake of appearances (and surplus book storage) and Aziraphale appreciated it now more than ever before.

With one sharp look from Aziraphale, all the books heaped upon his unused bed relocated themselves downstairs amidst the stacks of their fellows. The sheets and pillows fluffed themselves out, flicking away the dust that’d settled upon them during years of disuse. Aziraphale laid Crowley down on the bed, careful not to jar him any more than he had to.

Crowley was pale save for the splotches of heat on his cheeks. Aziraphale worked off the demon’s shirt to get a better look at his chest. The skin around where the sword had pierced him was shiny and red. Yellow pus seeped out of open blisters.

This was beyond Aziraphale’s capabilities. He could mend broken bones and close deep cuts. He could miracle away most mortal illnesses. But there were very few angels capable of curing burns caused by an angelic weapon, and he was not counted among them.

Aziraphale miracled a cold compress to his hand, and pressed it to Crowley’s fevered brow. He summoned a second cloth and set to delicately cleaning the wounded area. On his own, Aziraphale could not cure this. He could only delay inevitable infection and death. But he knew Heaven stockpiled jars of medicinal salve blessed personally by the Archangel Raphael himself for instances of (literal) friendly fire that occurred during training exercises. He’d had need of it himself, once, after a nasty blow to the leg. If he could just obtain a jar, he was sure it’d work wonders on Crowley, too. Angels and demons came from the same stock; both sides weren’t as different from each other as they pretended to be.

After Aziraphale finished cleaning the wound, he wrapped it in gauze. He was careful not to wrap it too tightly, and put undue pressure on the tender blistering.

Once he’d done all he could for the moment, Aziraphale reached out and held one of Crowley’s cold hands between both of his. He touched two fingers to the dip of his wrist, and shuddered at the feel of Crowley’s thready but persistent pulse.

“Hold on just a little while longer for me, dearest.”

~*~

“So, what are you going to do now?” The demon—Crawly—asked him.

Together they’d stood and watched Adam and Eve gain some distance from Eden’s gates. The humans had taken shelter underneath a rock outcropping during the first storm, but now that the sky had lightened, they were continuing on again, hand in hand.

Azirphale bit his lip. “Well, I suppose I’m not quite sure what’s next. Heaven will have new orders for me in due time.”

“I thought you’d want to keep an eye on them.” Crawly gestured towards the faint smudge on the horizon that was Adam and Eve. “Considering she’s about to pop and all.”

“I was put on Earth to guard the gate of Eden. That is my purpose.”

“That was your purpose, yes, but now the ones you’re meant to be guarding have left the garden. And you don’t have your sword anymore. Can’t do much guarding without that.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Aziraphale said, a bit peevish at being reminded of the solitary spur-of-the-moment decision of his entire existence. “If they want to reassign me, they’ll say so.”

“But what if they never do? What if they get too busy doing whatever they’re doing up there, and forget you were posted down here? Will you just patrol this empty garden for all eternity? Because no one told you to do anything otherwise?”

Aziraphale felt a flash of panic at the thought. “They—They wouldn’t forget.” He rallied. “You won’t tempt me away from my duty to Heaven, serpent.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Crawly drawled. “Well, have fun hanging around here twiddling your thumbs, then. I’m going to go have a look at what they’re up to. Maybe I’ll pop back in a decade or so and see how you’re shaping up.”

Crawly resumed his serpentine form, and slithered down the wall. Aziraphale watched until the black snake disappeared past the horizon.

Without the demon, without the humans and animals, the garden was dreadfully quiet.

~*~

Eve was wailing.

Aziraphale had listened to her cry many times. He’d heard her hiccuping sobs through childbirth, her muffled sniffling as Adam attended the ankle she twisted in a bad fall. He’d seen her scrub at her flushed, wet face after arguments. He’d even once heard her weep softly in the night, some ways from her sleeping family, as she prayed for God’s forgiveness.

But this cry was more horrific than any sound he’d heard before. This was a bottomless despair, a powerful lament. Even after her tears subsided, she would never return to who she was before they began.

Eve cradled Abel’s head in her lap. She stroked his sun-bleached hair. Her tears dripped on his slack face.

Earlier this morning, Cain had crept up behind his brother and stabbed him in the back with Aziraphale’s sword.

Aziraphale had once thought the Lord granted him an unexpected mercy. She’d allowed him to give away his holy weapon, permitted him to get away with lying to Her. He’d been demoted, of course, his wages and ethereal powers reduced, but there were no baths in boiling pits of sulfur. His remaining wings were pure white as ever before. He was given new superiors to report to, and a new assignment: he was to watch over humanity and thwart any demonic interference. Aziraphale had been so grateful for the second chance, and had naïvely assumed his punishment was over.

This is what happens, he thought to himself, as Eve clutched Abel closer still. This is what happens when you think you know better than Her. When you defy the natural order of things.

Aziraphale did not come down from his vantage point of the tragic scene. What comfort could he hope to give to the mother, when he had been the cause of her grief?

A black snake shifted into the shape of a man beside him. Aziraphale’s shoulders hunched.

There was a long silence, broken up only by Eve’s distant sobs and the chattering of insects. For nearly two decades they had kept a careful watch over the human family, together. Crawly had tempted Adam and Eve into moments of lust, bursts of wrath. But the children he’d left to Aziraphale. Clean slates, and still here they were.

Crawly shifted back and forth, and blurted:

“It’ssss not your fault.”

Aziraphale remembered bouncing Cain on his knee. The way boyish laughter pealed out of him when his ribs were tickled. He recalled Abel’s first harvest, how he showed off that little nub of a carrot that he’d grown all by himself. He’d babbled into Aziraphale’s ear for hours about planting and irrigation and different seasonal crops until Cain dragged him off to play.

“It is.”

“Cain made his own choices.”

“So I should really be blaming you, shouldn’t I?” Aziraphale bit out.

The vulnerability in Crawly’s eyes iced over. “I don’t know why I came here.”

“Neither do I.”

Crawly slithered off, and they did not speak again for a great many years.

~*~

“I need a favor.”

Aziraphale took a long sip of wine before setting the goblet back down.

“I can’t help, Crawly.”

“You haven’t even heard me out yet.” The demon argued, petulant. He circled around Aziraphale before plopping down into the chair across from him.

They’d gone their separate ways in the aftermath of the Great Flood, a handful of years ago. Crawly left with the children he’d smuggled aboard the ark, whilst Aziraphale stayed behind to help Noah and his family with their unpacking. Things had been calm thus far in Shinar, though he’d heard some concerning rumors that a master architect had ambitions to build a tower high enough “to scrape the Heavens”.

“It doesn’t matter. You’re a demon.” Aziraphale stated, primly. “It can’t be a good thing, whatever it is you want.”

“Would you just—gah—look.” Crawly leaned forward, palms pressed on the table. “Hell gave me a new assignment. They’re pissed the last unicorn is still around. They think it’s too pretty and angelic or whatever. Makes people too happy. So they made me tempt a man to break into where it’s penned up to kill it. Tonight.”

Aziraphale recalled how, on the ark, the unicorn had cozied up to Crawly’s snake form for companionship, as they’d been the only two unpaired. The unicorn had been the one animal that didn’t instinctively shy away at Crawly’s approach.

“That’s regrettable,” Aziraphale said. Unicorns had been such beautiful creatures. They possessed a level of grace and intellect their horse cousins would never match.

“You can stop it.”

“Me?”

“No, the other angel in the room in the painfully unstylish shawl. Yes, you! It’s downright demonic, supremely vile, what that man is going to do. Killing an animal like that for no reason.”

“If the Almighty wanted unicorns to survive, a pair would have made it onto the ark.”

“The male unicorn didn’t make it because Shem dropped its bloody lead!” Crawly yelled.

“Why are you so upset?” Aziraphale asked, bewildered.

“Just—listen. If you do this for me, I’ll owe you one. It’s a big deal, having a demon like me in your debt. Be a right idiot to pass up a chance like this.”

“I don’t want anything you could possibly offer.”

Crawly snarled. “So you’re just going to let her die, then?”

“Heaven tells me where to use my larger miracles. They haven’t ordered me to save the unicorn. Even if I asked permission now, I wouldn’t receive an answer until tomorrow, at the earliest. It’s one to two business days of processing for that sort of paperwork, you see.”

Crawly let out a frustrated groan.

“I am sorry, Crawly. Truly. But there’s nothing I can do.”

“Yes! Yesss there is! I can’t believe you!”

“There are rules that must be followed. I can’t expect someone like you to understand.”

Crawly looked like he had a few choice words for him, but he bit them back with visible effort.

“Fine.”

He stomped out of Aziraphale’s dwellings.

Aziraphale did send a missive concerning the situation to Gabriel, stamping it as urgent. When he received no reply come dawn, he went to the unicorn’s pen.

Despite the early hour, a crowd had formed around the fenced in area. Aziraphale wound his way through the throng, to the front.

The unicorn was on its side. Great stones had broken its legs, staved its skull in. Its iridescent horn had broken off from its head, and two men were arguing over which one of them had found it first.

Draped around the unicorn’s neck was a long black snake. It wasn’t moving.

“Crawly!”

Aziraphale cleared the fence ungracefully. He pushed past the squabbling men, and fell to his knees before the serpent. One of Crawly’s fangs was resting in the sand, the other still in his head but massively cracked. He’d been struck by the rocks, then, too. And the unicorn had crushed half his body when it’d fallen. Aziraphale thumbed back Crawly’s multilayered brille, revealing dead yellow eyes. He’d been discorporated, then.

“You fool.” Aziraphale whispered. “You stupid, stupid demon. Why did you have to—Why couldn’t you just—?”

Aziraphale gathered the snake’s coils up in his arms, and carried him off, away from the crowd. The corporation meant nothing—Crawly would get another—but Aziraphale couldn’t just leave him. He owed him a proper burial, at least.

The men were throwing punches now, over the stupid horn. Aziraphale snapped his fingers. The unicorn’s horn and body flaked away into a silvery dust that scattered on the wind.

~*~

Aziraphale had a go at sleeping, once. Crowley was always waxing poetic about it. Neither of them technically needed to sleep, but they didn’t need to eat or drink either, and Aziraphale did plenty of that. There was no harm in at least trying it out, to see how he liked it.

And so Aziraphale miracled himself a bed and tried to sleep. It was hard going. He tried every position he could think of. On his stomach, his back, both sides. Covers off, covers on. Many pillows, down to just one.

Every hour that sleep eluded him, he grew more restless, more frustrated. As an immortal being he had an eternity ahead of him, but still. He so hated to squander time that could be better spent. He was about to write the whole thing off as a loss when finally, finally, he drifted off.

He dreamed.

He dreamed of smoke and sulfur choking the streets of Sodom. Grasping a girl by the roots of her mousy brown hair. Blood upon his sword, dripping to the hilt, drenching his hand.

Aziraphale awoke with a strangled gasp. He was twisted up in sweat-soaked sheets. He flailed, trying to kick the constricting fabric off of him, and in his panic he slipped off the bed and hit the ground. He felt his heart hammering against the floorboards.

“Really showed those folks at Sodom what your holy love is worth, didn’t you?”

He hovered on the edge of a precipice, which plummeted down into a pit of comprehension. He refused to leap.

Aziraphale did not sleep again.

~*~

The cold iron chains were chafing his wrists. He stared down at them dismally.

He could break free from them, quite easily. One snap of his fingers and the manacles would unlock; another, and he’d have a first-class ticket for the next boat back to Britain tucked in his jacket pocket.

But.

One evening last month he’d stumbled back into his base in London, his soon-to-be-bookshop, once he could get all the paperwork sorted. He’d been flushed all over from hours of laughter and far too much wine (both courtesy of a pleasant night out on the town with Crowley) but he became quite cold at the sight of a heavenly missive waiting for him on his desk. He unfurled the scroll, and read. Gabriel upbraided him for every “frivolous” miracle he’d performed in the past half of the year. Every time he replaced a waistcoat button, or heated up a forgotten cup of tea, or filled his pockets with bread for the park ducks. Every time he’d used his power flagrantly, selfishly, stupidly. A stone of icy guilt lodged in his stomach, and Aziraphale regretted drinking as much as he had, as he suddenly felt rather queasy.

Gabriel was right about everything, of course. But he’d been merciful, and let Aziraphale off easy. His celestial wages were docked, and Gabriel planned to monitor Aziraphale’s miracles for the latter half of the year in order to personally insure he wasn’t abusing the gifts God had bestowed upon him.

Now of course he came to his current dilemma. If he miracled himself free, Gabriel would demand to know why exactly he’d needed such a thing. And if he told his supervisor the truth of the matter—all of this because he wanted crepes and brioche—he doubted the Archangel would sympathize.

Aziraphale worried his lower lip with his teeth. Perhaps Gabriel would be so displeased with him that he’d revoke his right to dole out miracles entirely, or reassign him elsewhere, because he clearly wasn’t up to handling the responsibilities of the primary agent on Earth.

He shifted, finding it impossible to get comfortable on the cold, hard stool. He glanced up at his cell’s lone window. It was too high for him to see out of, but he could hear the heavy thunk of the guillotine, the cut off screams and murderous cheers. Aziraphale had miraculously (literally, in some instances) managed to survive all this time on Earth thus far without being discorporated once. He knew that his true form could survive a beheading, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t hurt. Not to mention all the paperwork there would be, all the years of advancements in art and cuisine he would miss out on as his request for a new body trudged through the proper channels at a glacial pace. And there would be scorn, too. Silly Principality Aziraphale, they’d say, just in earshot. He went and got himself discorporated for his gluttonous ways. He’d been a cherub, once. Look at him now.

Aziraphale bit at his nails as he mentally see-sawed between his two options. Indecision paralyzed him. Neither outcome would be pleasant for him.

He pressed his palms together in prayer. The chains clinked with the movement.

“Hello, Gabriel. It’s, erm, me. Aziraphale, that is. I’d write you a letter, but I’m afraid I’m rather tied up at the moment. I wanted to ask, if it’s not too much trouble, if perhaps the ban on extraneous miracles might be lifted, just for today? It would help out a great deal. Please let me know your answer soon. Um. Amen.”

There. The tight vice around his chest loosened. Gabriel would either grant him permission to miracle himself home, or he wouldn’t. The choice was out of his hands.

Aziraphale returned to chewing down his once flawless manicured nails, and had bitten down his pointer nail to near the quick when his prayer bounced back into his mind, unanswered. Gabriel’s prayer inbox was too full to accept any additional messages.

Aziraphale was not an angel who often cursed, but at that moment he came quite close to it.

~*~

“Would you really have let them? You know,” Crowley made a chopping motion with one hand. “If I hadn’t just happened to be nearby.”

“Are you finished with that?” Aziraphale deflected, poking his fork at the edge of Crowley’s half-eaten blueberry crepe.

He didn’t need to see Crowley’s eyes to know they were rolling behind his glasses. The demon shoved the small plate towards Aziraphale.

“Oh, thank you!” Aziraphale beamed. He popped a forkful into his mouth, and hummed appreciatively. There were many things to like about Britain, but sadly its cuisine was not one of them. He pushed down the faint squirm of guilt for indulging in the very thing that got him into this mess in the first place. He was here now; he may as well enjoy it.

“Well, you don’t have to worry.” Crowley mumbled, suddenly finding the threadbare carpet of the creperie quite fascinating. “If you get in trouble again, I’ll bail you out. Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?” Aziraphale asked, the picture of studied innocence.

“It’s just a professional courtesy. If you get yourself discorporated, they’ll send someone else down until you get a new body, and I can’t have that. Keeping you out of trouble makes my life easier. Got it?”

“Of course, dear boy.” A warm, pleased feeling unspooled in his chest. He couldn’t stop the smile spreading across his face. He didn’t want to.

“You’re doing the look again. Stop it!”

~*~

The drive back to the bookshop was quiet, save for the drone of the air raid sirens. Crowley kept his eyes on the road, though he hardly had to; everyone else in London had already retreated underground. Aziraphale kept sneaking glances at his profile. His mouth parted, prepared to speak—but what to say? Idle banter wouldn’t feel right. It’d been 79 years since they’d last spoke. Since Aziraphale stormed off and Crowley slept away decades.

And yet. And yet. Despite everything, Crowley had come to rescue him, yet again.

Aziraphale tightened his hold on his bag. The leather creaked. Not only had Crowley saved him, but his precious prophecy books as well. Any other demon would’ve made sure they were destroyed; any angel would’ve scoffed at his despair and said there was no need for him to fixate on material possessions.

Something had unfurled in his chest as Crowley handed the books over to him. It hadn’t ebbed during the ride, but instead had spread further out from the epicenter. It dripped all the way down to his toes, like warm honey. It was akin to joy, but fonder. Oh, it said. You know me. You know me.

Too soon he spotted the familiar front sign of A.Z. Fell & Co. Crowley eased the Bentley to a stop right before the doors.

“Here we are,” Crowley announced, switching off the ignition with a flourish.

They glanced at each other. Aziraphale’s traitorous heart beat a mad rhythm. He could invite Crowley in for a nightcap, like a thousand times before. He should invite him in. After all, Crowley had just stepped inside a church for him, had saved him from discorporation, and spared his books from an unfortunate end. A shot of whiskey or three would be the least Aziraphale could do in the way of thanks.

And maybe, maybe, if he drank enough to forget all he was supposed to be, he could scrape together the courage to suggest Crowley stay the night. Crowley would protest at first. He was always so full of bluster. But Aziraphale would implore, and Crowley would relent. They could share the bed. The couch was too lumpy for a proper lie down. The bed was just barely big enough for two. And in the private dark of the bedroom, Aziraphale would curl against Crowley’s chest, and pepper kisses upon his skin.

“Aziraphale?”

He started. Shook his head. “Sorry. Um, bit of a long night.” Aziraphale laughed nervously, and wet his lips.

Crowley seemed drawn to the movement. He pivoted himself towards Aziraphale. Leaned the slightest inch closer. Aziraphale mirrored him instinctively, swaying towards him. He gazed at Crowley’s parted lips through half-lidded eyes.

And then Aziraphale jerked back, pressing himself to the car door. He fumbled blindly for the handle.

“I’ll—I’ll see you around then, my dear fellow.” Aziraphale blurted as he scrambled out of the car. Good Heavens, what had he been thinking?

Between his dark glasses and the dimly lit street, Crowley’s expression was inscrutable.

“Sure, angel.” He said, and he didn’t sound hurt. Of course he didn’t. Why would he? That almost-moment between them had been nothing but a spot of wishful thinking, a projection on Aziraphale’s part.

Aziraphale watched Crowley drive off, and stayed on the front stoop even after the tail lights of the car had faded with distance. He clutched the bag of books close to his chest, one thumb running absently over the seam.

He’d done the right thing. He was lucky enough the Almighty allowed him this alliance—this friendship—with a demon. If She took issue with it, surely he would have Fallen after the first temptation he’d performed on Crowley’s behalf.

But to care for a demon? To...love one?

He imagined the small flat above the bookshop becoming a shared space. Crowley’s things would slowly migrate over. In the mornings Crowley would brew a pot of coffee for himself, prepare a mug of coca for Aziraphale. They’d do the crossword over breakfast, bickering all the while. They’d go their separate ways for work, but at night Crowley would return to him. Aziraphale would run his hands through Crowley’s dark, beautiful wings, relaxing the demon with his touch until he was snoring gently in Aziraphale’s arms.

He wanted it. Lord, how he wanted.

Angels were not allowed to have such things.

Aziraphale shivered. He went inside.

~*~

Even with wings, you could not reach Heaven through flight. It was on a separate metaphysical plane; similarly, one could not reach Hell by digging down to the Earth’s molten core. Thus, every angel was taught how to create the basic portal that would instantaneously transport them back to the pearly front gates of Heaven, in the event they were unable to reach one of the various entrances scattered throughout Earth. Very few angels bothered with anything more elaborate than the standard circle.

Aziraphale had actually learned the circle could be adjusted quite on accident. He’d been stuck in Italy, covering a temptation for Crowley, when the summons came for him to appear in-person for his centennial performance review. He’d hastily sketched out the transportation circle, missing a few lines here and there. He found himself crash-landing on a table two thrones were using to play a board game. (The thrones didn’t even bother to get off of their, well, thrones, to help him up. Terribly rude of them, if you asked him.)

The point of it all was that if Aziraphale smudged a line here, added four there, he would not appear before the gates. Heaven was not too keen on him at the moment—understatement of the century—and would certainly not let him take an angelic salve from their stores to save a demon. No, it’d be far better for everyone involved if Aziraphale popped into the medical wing directly, grabbed what he needed, and left.

The edited portal activated with a low hum. Aziraphale rubbed his hands together, preparing himself. If his adjustments to the circle worked as he intended, he would appear within the well-stocked supply closet of the medical wing. If they were wrong, well, he could very well end up stuck in a wall, or appear right in front of the Archangels he was trying to avoid. Both options would end rather messily, albeit in different ways.

Aziraphale stepped inside the portal, and his eyes slipped shut as he alighted.

He felt the very instant he arrived in Heaven. The ever-present but subdued buzz of the Host swelled to an overpowering chorus in his mind. In spite of everything, he sank into it. Heaven overflowed with grace, with love. The love was impartial, which was what made it so overwhelming: it was a love for everything in existence, all at once, constant and loud like the blare of a thousand glorious trumpets. Here he was not just Aziraphale, he was an angel of the heavenly Host, one of millions, a piece of something so much greater than he could ever be on his own.

Aziraphale tamped down on the empathic connection, even as it felt like the severing of a limb. He would’ve drowned in it otherwise, lost his purpose. Crowley couldn’t afford for Aziraphale to get distracted.

“Oh, blast,” He muttered.

Aziraphale was not, in fact, in the supply closet. He wasn’t anywhere near the medical wing, as far as he could tell. He was alone in a long hallway. Lightbulbs flickered weakly, some entirely burnt out. It wasn’t like Heaven to leave a place so neglected. When was the last time anyone had been back here, wherever here was?

He had appeared at a dead end, so he went forwards. He passed an empty water cooler, with a few shriveled paper cups stacked atop it. Bulletin boards were hung on the walls. There were yellowed, ancient memos pinned to them. “Abstinence is the best form of birth control” one of them read, the statement accompanied by a rather crassly drawn pair of Nephilim.

At the end of the hall was a shut door. Aziraphale tried the handle. The door was a bit stiff, but gave when he shoved against it with his shoulder.

The majority of the room was overtaken by a massive computer. It reminded him of humans’ very first forays into the technology. A heavy-looking monitor took up most of the desk, a lone office chair in front of it. A thick carpet of dust covered every surface of the room, save the keyboard and mouse.

A scrap of paper was taped to the monitor. It read:

username: administrator

password: password

Aziraphale jiggled the mouse. The computer chugged to life. The screen was black, save for chunky green letters which asked for login details. Aziraphale typed what was on the note, and hit the enter key.

The computer did nothing for a long moment, and then the screen flickered and changed. He was presented with two options: command, and records. Aziraphale decided to check the latter.

A massive spreadsheet appeared upon the screen. Under the tab reading Angel(s), there was his name. And under the tab labelled command, it read “The demon Crowley shall die by Principality Aziraphale’s sword”.

“No,” he breathed. Things were falling into place with a cold horror.

Right below that command, there’d been another issued, a little under a month ago. It’d been sent out to the entire Host, every order: “Forget Armageddon for now and get back to work”.

Before that command, there hadn’t been any since 33 A.D. But oh, there’d been many. So, so many. He scrolled down, down. Commands to bring about plagues and destruction, to cause floods, to slaughter children. More insidious still were the commands issued to individual angels, forcing them to forget grudges and affections. To forget curiosity and questions.

“Brilliant, isn’t it?”

Aziraphale startled. Gabriel had appeared in the threshold, arms folded as he nonchalantly leaned against the doorjamb. His smile was wide, but his eyes, furious.

“We were all so looking forward to purging Hell and ridding the world of sin, before you went and ruined it. Everyone’s disappointment, was, well. Palpable. There were some disturbing rumblings in Heaven. Some angels felt the blame lay not with you, but the Archangels in charge. But then, the Almighty graciously showed me to this room of Hers, where with one sentence, I was able to smooth down the worries and angers of the entire Host. They’d all be grateful, if they knew. Some of them were close to Falling from wrath, I’m sure of it.”

“So you’re the one who—who made me—”

“Kill the demon, yes,” Gabriel’s grin widened. “I figured that if Heaven and Hell couldn’t destroy you both through normal means, why not have you kill each other? Though I had hoped the demon would’ve put up more of a fight, if I’m being honest. He should’ve had no issue dealing you a mortal blow in retaliation, soft as you are.”

Aziraphale’s hands shook with anger. They balled into fists. Gabriel raised one eyebrow.

“Do you mean to fight me? You?” Gabriel guffawed. “Please. And don’t think you can use the machine to make me do anything. It doesn’t work on Archangels, of course.”

Aziraphale was logged in as the administrator (as Her). If he couldn’t force Gabriel to leave him alone, he could still command a different order of angels to act against Gabriel; he could set the whole Host upon him, if he wished. Aziraphale’s hands rested over the keyboard, and stilled.

 “Give it up, Aziraphale. You’ve caused enough trouble already. How’s this?” Gabriel spread his arms wide. “Step away from the machine, now, and I’ll forgive you all of it. I’ll enter in a command, and you can forget about this whole mess and start over fresh again. How does that sound?”

For over 6,000 years, Aziraphale had meekly obeyed. He’d denied himself what he wanted, he’d gone against his personal morals, because Heaven’s truths differed from his own. He’d never had a choice—no. There had always been a choice, but he’d cowered from it. Aziraphale wanted to be told what to do; he had in fact been built to want it. He’d never understood how willingly, how easily Eve had chosen to forsake God for the knowledge of good and evil, for the ability to judge and make her own decisions.

Aziraphale thought now that finally, he understood.

Aziraphale grasped the keyboard in his hands, and drove it through the monitor. Jagged edges of the glass screen bit into his hands.

“Hey!” Gabriel’s smile fled. “Don’t—”

Aziraphale gestured. Static crackled in the air, and the computer consoles overloaded with electricity. Smoke hissed from fried circuits.

“What have you done?” Gabriel cried. He shoved Aziraphale to the side as he frantically tried to salvage the destroyed machinery.

Aziraphale inched away, planning to bolt while the Archangel was distracted.

But as he turned, his vision was flooded with light. Once he blinked the spots out of his eyes, Gabriel was gone. The entire room was. He stood on an altogether separate plane of existence, and in front of him was—

Aziraphale fell to the ground in supplication. He bowed his head.

“Aziraphale.” She thundered. He could not comprehend Her form—it was too bright for even him to gaze upon directly. “My Guardian of the Eastern Gate.”

He trembled. It had been so, so terribly long since he had heard Her voice directly. First, he thought She’d been too disappointed by his choice to give away his sword to ever speak to him again. But in time he’d learned that, after She welcomed Her son back, no angel had ever heard Her voice directly again. Privately, he’d thought She’d grown bored of them all. A child with new toys. He was awash with shame that he’d ever doubted Her.

Aziraphale both loved and feared his Lord. This was to be his end, surely, at Her hand. There was to be no forgiveness. He destroyed Her computer that controlled the angels, he gave away his sword, he interfered with Armageddon. He enjoyed food too much, he was too lazy, he collected books when he didn’t need to.

He loved one She’d damned.

“Thank you.”

He nearly fainted. “L-Lord?”

“You have done what Gabriel would not. What I could not. I chose correctly in you.”

Her voice was so warm, like a perfect embrace. Tears came unbidden to Aziraphale’s eyes, and dripped onto his hands.

“I should have waited longer before I breathed life into you and your sisters and brothers, but it had been...too quiet, on my own. I had rushed, not entirely sure of what I was creating. I grew afraid of you as you grew beyond the parameters I’d set. And my fear bled into fury. What I had chosen to give was not enough. Angels wanted to understand, and choose freely, as I could. And so in my ignorance and fear and anger, I created a device that would curtail further rebellion, and demand obedience. And I had thought it was good. I thought by doing so, I was correcting a mistake.”

Aziraphale felt something like a hand upon his cheek. A thumb swept under his eye, brushing his tears away.

“I want you to know that though putting you in that room was my plan, I had no hand in what you did next. Go forth understanding that the only choices you’re beholden to now are your own.”

There was a press of lips upon his forehead. A mother’s kiss.

Aziraphale gasped. He was sprawled out on the floor of his bookshop, just outside the inactive transportation circle. Clasped in his hands was a jar of burn salve. There was a note stuck to it.

“Apply twice a day” - G

~*~

Aziraphale was three days into his bedside vigil, and halfway through his tattered copy of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest when Crowley finally stirred. Aziraphale set the book down on the side table and leaned closer to the bed, eager.

Crowley’s lashes fluttered, and then amber eyes blinked hazily up at him.

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered, near-breathless with joy. The balm had worked perfectly; the demon’s true form didn’t have so much as a scar.

Alarm flickered across Crowley’s face, and he jolted upright. Aziraphale’s hands fluttered, just shy of touching him.

“You don’t have to be afraid, my dear,” Aziraphale assured him hastily. “Words cannot express how sorry I am for what I did to you, but I can promise I’ll never do such a thing again. It’s all been taken care of.”

“’m not scared of you,” Crowley rasped. “Never.”

“Oh—here.”

Aziraphale miracled him a glass of water. He watched Crowley drink, relieved he was strong enough to hold the glass in a firm grip, needing no assistance.

Crowley squinted, looking him up and down. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“You’re…alright?”

 “My dear—that’s what you’re so worked up about? I’m perfectly tip top. How are you feeling? Any soreness?”

“Nah.”

Crowley set the empty glass aside, and made a show of stretching, before he paused. His hands skimmed over the sheets.

“Is this your bed?”

 “You don’t like it?” Aziraphale self-consciously fluffed one of the pillows.

Crowley shrugged. “Didn’t know you had one, is all. Seeing as you’ve never been keen on sleeping.”

Aziraphale gestured. “Well, you know. Appearances, and so forth.”

Crowley’s tongue flicked out. He frowned.

“You smell heavenly.”

Aziraphale blushed, then realized what Crowley had meant. He cleared his throat. “Ah, yes. Had to take a quick trip Upstairs to resolve a few issues, as it were.”

“Resolve a few…?” Crowley dragged a hand down his face. His voice was thick with fond exasperation. “What on Earth did you do while I was out, angel? Storm the bloody gates?”

“Erm, I’ll tell you the full story later.” Preferably after they’d both imbibed a significant amount of alcohol. “But Crowley, I…”

Aziraphale shifted, moving from the chair to perch on the edge of the bed. He wet his lips.

“There’s something I’ve…I just really…” Aziraphale could have screamed in frustration. He’d read near every book humans had written, and at this most important moment he scraped at the dry well of his vocabulary.

Perhaps it was time to forget words.

Aziraphale reached out, tilting Crowley’s chin towards him. He drew closer. He hesitated, just a moment, to give Crowley the opportunity to pull away. But the demon was staring straight at him, eyes wide. He seemed to have forgotten to breathe. Aziraphale closed the last few inches between them, and kissed him.

Crowley’s lips were cool, chapped. Aziraphale had kissed before, as a form of greeting or matronly comfort. But never for love, and Aziraphale did his best to convey to Crowley that this kiss was a confession, a promise.

Then he drew back, to gauge Crowley’s response. Crowley’s ears were near red as his hair. He goggled at Aziraphale.

“Ngk.” Crowley managed. 

“I’ve wanted to do that for a very long time.” Aziraphale admitted. His thumb stroked Crowley’s cheek, causing more choked noises from the demon. “I’ve always been so afraid, but not anymore. This—This is what I want. This is my choice. I mean, erm. If you’re amenable, of course.”

He felt a flicker of alarm that he might have misread everything. But then Crowley grasped him by his shirt and dragged him back in for a second, hungrier kiss. Crowley nipped at Aziraphale’s lower lip. When he gasped, Crowley used the opportunity to plunge his forked tongue inside. Crowley kissed him like a starving man before a feast, like he could never get enough. 

“Does that answer your question?” Crowley could have pulled off the suave attitude he was going for, if not for his flaming red face and bright eyes.

Aziraphale laughed, and let Crowley pull him down onto the bed.