Chapter 1: Ode to a Nightingale
The taxi drew up to the kerb outside an old fashioned looking bookshop, the facade one of many that was seen in London, still strongly rooted in the past even as the area around it grew and modernised. The taxi driver thought it suited his passenger, a quiet, unassuming man with more airs and graces than even the nobler of passengers he had carried from destination to destination. He wasn't even surprised at the vintage Bentley he found himself parked behind, the car clearly well loved and kept in pristine condition.
'She's a beauty,' said the driver, pointing to the car he was admiring.
'A more contrary vehicle you could never wish to meet,' responded his passenger, handing him a a collection of crisp banknotes, 'Keep the change, good fellow, and a good day to you.'
He didn't have time to answer as his passenger opened the door and stepped out into the early morning, struggling under the box of books he dragged from the seat beside him. He had half a mind to get out and help but the door opened once more and a harassed looking businessman poured himself into the seat, giving directions for Victoria station which the driver swiftly followed.
Aziraphale paid little mind to the taxi pulling away from the kerb, too busy trying to balance a box of books along with the small travel case as he climbed the steps to the door of the bookshop. A quick miracle would have made it easier but since the Armageddon-that-wasn't and the subsequent business with Heaven and Hell he tried to keep them to a minimum despite it being over four years since his last encounter with any of his old colleagues. With that in mind, he finally settled his burdens and extracted his keys from his pocket, unlocking the door and stepping inside.
Despite the changes Adam had made when he restored the shop, the sense of home was overwhelming, warm and welcoming after a week away from the familiar comforts. He deposited the books on the nearest free surface, fingers eager to make a start on unpacking them but there were more pressing matters of business to attend to before he could do so. He looked down at the travel case before leaving it next to his desk as he passed, running a finger over the fine green leaves of the small spider plant that trailed down from one of the small shelves. He shook his head as he retrieved the black jacket from the back of the chair, shaking out the wrinkles before hanging it on the coat rack, taking off his own to hang beside it.
Straightening his waistcoat, he headed towards the very back of the shop and the stairs to the rooms above. The carpet was far less worn the further up he went, the upper rooms not often used until a year or so before but a distinct tread was beginning to form, adding even more to the homely feel of the place.
Whilst the ground floor was awash with the early morning light, the upper floors were still bathed in shadows, the curtains drawn across the windows and only allowing in a weak sliver of light. It was enough for Aziraphale to see by but he was sure he could make the journey even in complete darkness, feet so used to the climb. He ran a hand over the warm wooden bannister, a patina of age and use darkening it, an indulgent smile touching his lips as he found a familiar silver-grey scarf and black waistcoat hung on the post at the top. He picked up both, folding the waistcoat as he continued towards the first door on the landing.
He peered through the gap, the familiar sight within making all the previous sensations of home pale in comparison. Warm, burgundy sheets covered the ironwork bed, most of them in a heap at the base save for the sheet covering the demon sleeping peacefully, arms bunched tight around the pillows. Aziraphale stepped in quietly, making sure to avoid the floorboard that creaked, depositing the collected clothes on the trunk at the foot of the bed before he made his way round to the unoccupied side.
Sitting down on the mattress he reached out a hand, tracing a finger lightly over the silk-clad back where, were they manifested, two black wings would sit. The sleeping demon mumbled in his sleep, burying himself deeper in the pillow before settling again.
'Crowley?' said Aziraphale, his voice low and measured in the peace of the room, 'It's morning, my dear.'
An inelegant snort was the only prelude to the demon pulling himself up to sitting, golden eyes wide to take in the low light of the room. He blinked slowly before a soft smile Aziraphale knew he would never own to settled on his lips.
'You're home,' he said around a yawn before he shook his head, 'Did I oversleep? You're not meant to be home until tomorrow.'
'I thought I'd come home early but if you want I can go away again and come back tomorrow.'
'Don't you dare,' said Crowley, a hand emerging from the covers to take hold of his sleeve, 'You've been gone entirely too long, bad angel. I was getting bored.'
'That always means trouble. At least you kept the shop standing.'
'Adam would kill me if I didn't,' said Crowley, abandoning Aziraphale's sleeve in favour of his hand, 'Missed you.'
'Why do you think I came home a day early?' said Aziraphale, his free hand cradling the angular cheek before he drew him into a soft kiss, 'Missed you, too, husband.'
Crowley smiled, 'That's still not got old.'
'Give it a few centuries,' said Aziraphale, 'It's only been a year, we're practically still on honeymoon.'
'A honeymoon where a certain angel has been distinctly lacking from my bed for the last six days.'
'Not any more.'
'Careful now, words like that can get you into all sorts of trouble,' said Crowley, fingers already tugging at a tartan bow tie.
'Oh I'm counting on that, darling,' replied Aziraphale, a well worn waistcoat quickly joining the bow tie on the floor beside the bed before a snap of Crowley's fingers shut the door tight against the world outside.
It had been three days since Aziraphale had returned from his vile and unnecessary book trip, as Crowley had christened it, and he had expected them both to fall back into the usual routine they had developed over the last year but Crowley, who was usually found flitting from attraction to attraction, seemed intent on breaking the norm. The first day of his return, Aziraphale was unsurprised to have the demon as his constant companion even when he had finally managed to extricate himself from their bedroom to actually begin sorting the books he had been away for so long to source. Crowley was always endearingly possessive after any period of absence; hovering and overly tactile but the angel enjoyed the attention, quite willing to admit that he too needed the comfort of closeness. Periods of absence from each other too easily dragging up memories of the times when it had been decades between their meetings.
The second day would usually have had Crowley still making sure he was in the same room as the angel but he would soon be lost in his phone or working on whatever plants had come to live there – without the verbal abuse, a caveat that Aziraphale had insisted upon when the bookshop had become the permanent home for the both of them. It had been met with a good day of grumbling from the demon before he had agreed, the plants growing without the threat of being shouted out unless the demon desired a night back at the flat he still kept despite not spending time in it for weeks on end. Day two of Aziraphale's current return though seemed to merge with the usual pattern of day one but he didn't question it, happy to be back and surrounded by everything he had come to love.
Day three, which would commonly involve Crowley disappearing for several hours to find mischief before bouncing back with the promise of dinner, drinks and all that came after, still retained the closeness of day one and Aziraphale began to grow uneasy at the change in what had become almost a tradition between them. With Crowley barely leaving his side for the whole day but still showing no other signs of distress, Aziraphale spent the best part of it half interested in his books whilst the other half was trying to figure out the behaviour of his husband.
They had retreated to the roof when the sun began to set, Crowley having adopted the space as his own once he had seen the expanse that spread out beneath the London sky. He had populated it with several small greenhouses alongside the plants that could do well enough without the warmth, growing everything from fruit trees to flowers. Aziraphale had had a small amount of input into the area, creating an indulgent seating space set with a wide padded chaise, wide enough for two, easily shaded and protected by an awning that could be pulled over whenever it rained or the sun beat down a little too hard on the rooftop.
The night was too warm and clear to warrant the awning but the stars were veiled by the lights of the city, only blackness above Aziraphale as he rested back on the chaise, a lamp at his side providing enough light to read by as Crowley busied himself in one of the greenhouses. The angel glanced up from the text before him whenever he heard the demon speaking to the plants he was working on, making sure the words were kind was the reason he gave himself but more so because he enjoyed the sound, a little piece of domesticity he had grown used to since their marriage.
The exclamation from the greenhouse was enough to have Aziraphale closing his book and sitting up a little straighter. 'Everything alright, dear?'
The glass door hissed along its runners as the demon stepped out, clutching a small pot in his hands, the black silk dressing gown he had deemed appropriate for gardening in fluttering around his ankles. He crossed the roof, holding out the pot until Aziraphale took it from him. The orchid was almost pure white save for a flash of gold in the centre of its petals, the light from the lamp almost making them glow.
'It's beautiful,' said Aziraphale, 'One of yours?'
Crowley nodded, 'Took a bit more work than I thought it would. It was supposed to be ready last year in time for the wedding but it wasn't quite right. I've called it Orchidaceae Angelus Aziraphale, a bit of a belated gift but I hope it was worth the wait.'
Aziraphale touched the tip of a finger gently to the delicate petals, 'You bred this for me? Oh Crowley, my dear, it's wonderful. Thank you.'
'It needs a little longer to strengthen up but it will be content on your desk so long as we give it some time in the sun now and then.'
'I will treasure it though you may need to help me take care of it, you have a much more successful touch than I have with all things green,' said Aziraphale, handing it back to Crowley and getting to his feet to follow him back into the greenhouse.
Neat rows of plants closed in on all sides, surrounding the workbench that was littered with tools, soil already well engrained into the surface that spoke of hours of toil, what was once a simple outlet now turned into a passion. Crowley nestled the orchid back into its place, the white blooms luminous in the growing dimness.
'You really do work some wonders in here,' said Aziraphale, 'I'd happily argue we can rival Kew Gardens.'
'Those amateurs could learn a thing or two from me,' said Crowley, stepping behind the angel and wrapping his arms around his waist, 'But I'm not sharing our garden with anyone but you.'
Aziraphale smiled, 'Our garden?' he said, 'Careful dear, one might start calling you sentimental.'
'You've been a dreadful influence on me, love,' said the demon, lips finding the soft skin just above Aziraphale's collar.
Despite the welcome touch the angel couldn't help but frown, expecting the usual denial of sentimentality rather than acceptance of it. He reached up a hand, fingers slipping through the vibrant red hair, 'Crowley, dear, is everything alright?'
'Perfect from where I'm standing. Why?'
'Since I've come back you've been, close, different,' said Aziraphale, 'Don't misunderstand me, I adore having you so near but by now you've usually got cabin fever and I'm having to talk you down from whatever mischief you've planned.'
A soft sigh fluttered across his neck as Crowley tightened his arms slightly.
'I think maybe I'm getting old,' said the demon, 'I like home, I like our garden and I'm finding mischief, as you put it, is losing its excitement. Am I getting underfoot?'
'Don't be foolish,' said Aziraphale, 'I just want to make sure you're happy. I know I don't move at the same pace you do.'
'Then perhaps it's time I slowed down,' said Crowley, before he groaned, 'And now I sound dreadfully middle aged.'
'Well we have been on earth over six thousand years old, it was bound to hit at some point,' said the angel, 'Though I think I was created to be permanently middle aged regardless of location.'
'You were created to be perfect,' said Crowley, releasing his hold on the angel's waist and taking hold of his hand, 'Come on, it's getting too chilly in here with the door open, not good for your flower.'
He led the angel back to the chaise, encouraging him to sit down before he lay beside him. Aziraphale picked up the book he abandoned, moving it to the table beside him but Crowley's hand on his arm stopped him.
'Is that my book?' he asked.
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Just a dry old thesis,' he said, 'I have to admit it was beginning to bore me.'
'Perhaps that's me rubbing off on you,' said Crowley, taking the book from his hand and laying it on the table, stealing the glass that was already there and drinking the remnants, 'Do we have any more?'
'Downstairs,' said Aziraphale, 'I can go and get some and fetch your book if you want it.'
Crowley shook his head, a click of his fingers enough to have a fresh bottle of wine appear on the table as he settled himself closer to the angel's side, 'Sorted.'
'But your book?'
'You know half of them without needing the book anyway,' said Crowley, sliding down until he rested his head over a heart that didn't need to beat but did, 'Would you?'
Aziraphale wrapped an arm around the slim shoulders, settling himself back against the chaise, 'Which one do you want to hear?'
'Keats,' said Crowley, 'Nightingale.'
Aziraphale smiled, easily calling the words of the poem to mind and beginning to recite them, fingers carding gently through his lover's hair as he became languid at his side. It was one of the favourites from the collection Aziraphale had selected, poetry and stories that covered so many of the years they had walked the earth together. The book was written and bound by his own hand, a gift to demonstrate his love in the best way he could. When he had presented it to Crowley two years before it had been sealed with a tartan bow but it had been the ring knotted into the fastening that had been the first thing to capture the demon's attention, the proposal delivered by the terrified angel moments after being the second. It was only after a tearful acceptance followed by several long minutes...hours...days – Aziraphale quite frankly was unsure- that the book was noticed. Long fingers, one now bearing a fine obsidian ring with a slim band of baguette cut diamonds running through the centre, trembling as they turned the pages, pausing now and then to read the words before passing it to the angel for him to read aloud. It was another tradition, another slice of domesticity that had been waited for for nearly six thousand years.
He pressed a kiss to the flame red hair as he spoke the final lines, unsure whether Crowley was asleep or awake as he breathed evenly and quietly in his arms. He looked up at the fully dark sky above them, seeing a small flicker of light in the vastness and he couldn't help but chuckle as he realised what he was seeing.
'What's funny?' murmured Crowley.
'The romance of the moment,' said Aziraphale, 'Even the weather satellite has made an appearance.'
Crowley snorted, 'How glorious. Damn light pollution,' he said before another click of his fingers plunged the seemingly dark world around them into deeper darkness, 'That'll do.'
Aziraphale blinked, eyes adjusting to the unexpected darkness, realising that the ever present ambient light of London was no more as the stars began to appear above them, 'What did you just do?'
Crowley shrugged, 'Turned off the all the lights in a ten mile radius.'
'What? It's romantic.'
'You, my love, are a liability,' said Aziraphale, 'You didn't turn off anything vital did you.'
'Unnecessary lights only,' he replied, 'But that is pretty much most of them at this time of night. Just enjoy the view, angel.'
Aziraphale looked down at the demon in his arms before turning his attention back to the stars above them, 'It's funny. Even after so long down here, I can still remember how they looked from...there.'
'Heaven might be a dirty word in this house but you can say it you know,' said Crowley, 'And it's ok to miss how they looked then. I...remember sometimes. Flashes of memory. I can remember them being created. Sometimes it's almost clear and other times...'
'Hush,' said Aziraphale, hearing the catch in his voice, 'You don't have to talk about it?'
'Do you remember me?' said Crowley, looking up at him, 'From back then or someone who looked a bit like me before I was cast out?'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'No, though I don't remember much, it's all a bit hazy until Earth and Eden became my purpose. I'm one of the last who were created so most of the stars are older than me and I'm only a principality.'
'Don't say only when you talk about yourself, love,' said Crowley, 'You were one of the last because She finally got one right in you. You could line up everyone of those archangels and their so-called good deeds and they wouldn't be a patch on you. I don't just fall in love with any old angel you know.'
'She got one other right, She just didn't see it. I do though. I've always seen it, even if I was blind to it for so many years,' said Aziraphale, taking hold of his left hand, tracing both the obsidian ring that had signified their engagement and the golden one he had placed beside it on their wedding day, 'If I had known you back then, I would have been terrified to even consider speaking to you. I've no doubt you were the most beautiful of them all.'
'Now who's getting sentimental?' said Crowley, though he could not hide the faint blush on his cheeks.
'Well given that you provided the lighting it would be remiss of me not to indulge in the romance of it,' said the angel, 'And you are so very beautiful, my love.'
'You're making it very difficult not to kiss you right now.'
'I'm hardly dissuading the notion, dear.'
The demon pushed himself up from his place at the angel's side, 'You do realise that if I kiss you now I have no intention of stopping, regardless of where it leads,' he said, leaning down and teasing a kiss against his lips, 'Shall we head inside?'
Aziraphale took hold of the edges of the silky black robe, holding the demon in place, 'I don't think the stars will give us away, do you?' he said, closing the short distance between them to capture his lips fully.
It was only when the shrill ringing from inside the greenhouse grew too insistent to ignore that they reluctantly parted, Crowley growling as he looked over towards the offending sound.
'What the heaven is that?'
'Your phone, I believe,' said Aziraphale, 'It has too be gone midnight, who would call at this time?'
'Wrong number,' said Crowley as the phone quieted, 'Where were we?'
The phone started again before Aziraphale could answer and he pressed a hand to his husband's chest as he seemed inclined to ignore it.
'Wrong numbers don't usually call twice,' he said, 'You should answer it.'
'The only person of importance to me is right here,' said Crowley, glaring at the greenhouse once more as the phone stopped and then started again.
'Adam has your number,' said Aziraphale, a frown creasing his forehead, 'We promised him if he was ever worried...'
Crowley sighed but climbed off the chaise, heading to the greenhouse as the phone made one last attempt to grab his attention. The door hissed quietly on its runners but the string of invective that came after it was enough to rouse those far beyond the ten mile radius the demon had plunged into darkness.
'You want it answered, be my guest,' he said, reappearing and chucking the phone across the distance between them, Aziraphale catching it more by luck that skill.
The angel looked down at the screen, rolling is eyes as 'Rubbish Car' flashed on the screen. He held out a very thin hope that young Newton Pulsifer wouldn't find out what the demon referred to him as out of ear shot. He answered the call, the man's voice ringing out before he could even offer a greeting.
'Crowley, at last, I was worried I wouldn't get hold of either of you,' came the voice down the line.
'This is Aziraphale,' replied the angel, looking over to where his husband was pacing by the greenhouse, 'Crowley's somewhat indisposed.'
'Oh, I'm sorry. I tried the bookshop but there was no answer. I'm sorry it's so late but I didn't know who to call.'
Aziraphale sat up a little straighter as he heard the worry in the man's voice, 'Is something the matter?'
'It's Anathema,' came the shaky response, 'She's writing but not normal writing. It's all symbols but I can't get her to even acknowledge I'm in the room. It's like she's in some sort of trance.'
Aziraphale waved the demon to his side, glad when he came over despite his obvious distaste for the phone call, 'Put that on the speaker thing for me,' he said, handing him the phone, Newton's voice soon echoing between them.
'It's not writing I know but she has it in some of her books,' said the man.
'When did it start?' asked Aziraphale, 'Did anything lead up to it?'
'Not that I remember. She just went into the kitchen and started writing in a book and now there's pages of it, all in strange letters and she won't stop. I didn't know who else to call.'
'It's alright,' said the angel, 'We'll come to you, first thing if it's convenient?'
'I was hoping that perhaps you could come now. I know it's late but...'
'We're on our way,' said Crowley before Aziraphale could answer, a wave of his hand replacing the silk robe with his more usual attire, 'When we hang up, take pictures and send them to me. Aziraphale might be able to decipher the writing when we're on route. I don't think there's a word written down that's beaten him yet. We won't be long. Take care of Anathema and we'll see you soon.'
He ended the call but kept it in his hand as he offered the other to Aziraphale, pulling him to his feet.
'Up for a late night drive?' he asked.
Aziraphale nodded, 'He sounds worried,' he said, 'And Anathema isn't one to play foolish jokes.'
'He said it was a language from one of her books and I have a feeling that didn't mean anything mainstream,' said Crowley, 'I don't trust it, not there.'
'You don't think...?'
'Let's not speculate yet,' said Crowley, as his phone beeped and he opened the image, yellow eyes widening at the sight of it, 'Aramaic. Old. Very old. I'm rusty at best.'
Aziraphale took the phone, scanning the image in an attempt to translate the scribbled text, 'We need to get to Tadfield, my dear,' he said, 'And I shan't scold you if you're a little heavy on the accelerator.'
Chapter 2: Modern Love
Aziraphale and Crowley head to Tadfield and try to make sense of Anathema's writings.
It was gone two by the time the Bentley roared away from its spot outside the bookshop, Aziraphale having searched out several books to assist his translation of the images Newt had sent them. Despite his insistence that he would not scold his husband for his speed he still spent half the journey pleading with him to slow down a little if only to stop the books from tumbling into the foot well every two minutes. Still, they were both relieved to reach their destination long before the sun began to rise, the early morning and Crowley's driving ensuring it wasn't much after three when they pulled up outside Jasmine Cottage.
The front door was opened before Crowley even had a chance to turn off the engine, Newt stood in the doorway wrapped in a moth eaten cardigan over his pyjamas. He looked equal parts frantic and relieved as he offered them a small wave by way of greeting, clearly not wanting to rouse his neighbours with voices so late in the night. Aziraphale was grateful for the helping hand as Crowley retrieved several of the books from his arms, carrying them into the house.
'Where is she?' asked the angel, setting his burdens down on the nearest surface.
'Sleeping,' said Newt, closing the door behind them, 'Just stopped writing and went back to bed. I don't think she was ever awake. She's just sleeping normally.'
'Well let us hope she wakes with some answers,' said Aziraphale, 'Would you mind if I check in on her? I might be able to sense if there was any outside influence at all.'
Newt nodded, 'I'll come with you though, in case she wakes,' he said, 'Don't want to give her a fright.'
'Aziraphale isn't the scary one,' said Crowley, 'I'll stay out here. Don't want to crowd her.'
'There's a pot of tea on the kitchen table, help yourself,' said Newt, before he gestured to the hallway before him, 'After you.'
Aziraphale soon found himself in the darkened bedroom, the light from the hallway illuminating the sleeping figure on the bed. He stepped forward carefully, not wanting to startle her if she woke from her slumber. He knelt by the bed, a fond smile spreading over his lips as he saw her face relaxed and unguarded in sleep. He reached out a hand, hovering over her shoulder, close enough to sense if anything had influenced her behaviour but nothing but humanity echoed back, any outside forces beyond his ability to sense if there had been any.
'Anything?' whispered Newt, hovering at the foot of the bed.
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Nothing untoward,' he said getting to his feet, 'Let's give her some peace.'
'What do you think it is?' said Newt once the door was closed, 'She's never done anything like this before.'
'I don't know,' said Aziraphale, 'Could be as simple as sleepwalking, humans have performed a myriad of highly accomplished tasks whilst deeply asleep though I must admit writing fairly legibly in a language that went out fashion when I was still a young angel is not something I've read about before. Anathema may have a grasp on the language, I won't know until I speak to her. The phrases you sent me as well were odd. I couldn't make head nor tail of them. Agnes' prophecies at least made some sense, even if they took a little to interpret. These are single lines. Phrases.'
'From the selection you sent through on the phone I managed to work out something about a flightless bird and another about someone in a sick bed. Nothing connected.'
'Have I brought you out here on a fool's errand?' said Newt sheepishly, 'I'm sorry if I panicked.'
Aziraphale patted his arm, 'Not a fool's errand at all, you were right to call us and I still have to look at the book you said she was writing in,' he said, 'Besides, I know I would worry if Crowley decided to do something so out of character.'
'Why do I hear my name being taken in vain?' said the demon in question as they rounded into the kitchen.
'I was talking about you, not to you, dear,' said Aziraphale, settling himself in a chair at the table and accepting the cup of tea that was slid across to him, 'Thank you.'
'How's Book Girl?' asked Crowley, flicking through the notebook bearing the scribbled notes, 'This stuff is weird.'
'She's fine, sleeping,' said Aziraphale, 'And I couldn't sense any outside influences, though an occult opinion wouldn't go amiss, I could have missed something.'
'Nah, you'd have spotted it. Besides, anyone from down there and I would have known about it the second we walked through the door,' said Crowley, spinning the book around to face the angel, 'You've got your work cut out for you here.'
'Indeed,' said Aziraphale, 'Newt don't feel you have to stay up for us. Anathema is safe and sleeping but she may need your support come morning so you should get some rest. I promise to wake you if I find anything.'
'I don't mind staying up,' he replied around a yawn.
'Get to bed,' said Crowley, 'Too many of us in here anyway.'
'Which is Crowley for goodnight,' said Aziraphale, 'Seriously, I will keep this one on his best behaviour and I'll work on what I can decipher here. You need to rest.'
'Which is angel for you're hovering and I need to work,' said Crowley, flashing a too sweet smile at the man in the doorway.
'What'd I say?'
'I'll leave you two to it then,' said Newt, stepping back from the doorway, 'Let me know if you need anything. Key to the front door is in the bowl on the sideboard and...you can make miracles so I'm going to shut up and go to bed before Crowley does that snake thing again.'
'Goodnight Newt,' said Aziraphale as he disappeared out of sight and back to the bedroom, 'He's still carrying the snake thing. I told you not to do it.'
'But it was hilarious,' said Crowley, 'Ask the kids, they loved it.'
'Hmm, same level of humour you lot,' said Aziraphale, 'Just don't antagonise the boy, he's frantic enough.'
'What do you make of it then?' said Crowley, reaching up and removing his dark glasses now it was once again just the two of them, 'I can't make head nor tail of it but I'm not as clever as you.'
'I'm going to need to translate as much as I can and then try to piece it together from there,' said Aziraphale, 'Then hopefully in the morning Anathema can maybe give us some idea.'
'Can I help at all?'
'Keep me in tea and good company. This is going to take most of what's left of the night.'
Dawn was peeking over the horizon when Crowley stole a glance up from the pages of translation he had been looking over, seeing Aziraphale reach up an ink stained hand to rub at his neck before returning to translating the remainder of Anathema's writing. It had been an arduous process, the language often too garbled or the writing too hastily scribbled for the angel to make an accurate translation even using the myriad of books he had brought with him on the subject. His jacket and waistcoat were abandoned on the chair beside him, his bow tie hanging loosely around his neck, a sight Crowley was certain he had never seen outside of the sanctuary of their bookshop. It was enough to outwardly show not only how seriously he was taking his work but also how much it was taxing him.
Crowley set aside the papers, rubbing at his own eyes as he got to his feet and walked around the table, setting a hand gently on the angel's shoulder so as not to startle him as he stepped up behind him. He brushed aside the loose tartan bow tie, long fingers undoing the first two pearl buttons to grant him better access as he began to work loose the knots beneath the soft pale skin that the night and the work had wound there. Aziraphale let out a little hiss of discomfort as Crowley hit a particular stubborn knot but leaned back into it all the same.
'You should have moved around a bit more,' said the demon, 'You've been hunched over those pages too long.'
'And I'm still not sure to what aim,' said the angel, 'Did my translations make any sense?'
'They make sense in the fact that they're in English but as for any meaning, I can't see anything. That Nutter woman at least wrote in full sentences most of the time. These are just bizarre snippets but at least there's no mention of Heaven or Hell or war amongst them.'
'I think there was one about a battle.'
'The battle will be fought at home in the garden,' recited Crowley, 'But unless we're making a stand on the roof terrace back home, I can't see it relating to us. Unless Anathema says anything otherwise when she wakes I think this genuinely could be just some really weird human sleepwalking.'
Aziraphale set down his pen and reached up to pat the hand on his shoulder, 'I'm truly hoping you're right. I don't want... it's only been four years. I want longer before we have to deal with anything from either side again and this makes me worry so.'
'I know,' said Crowley, leaning down to press a kiss to his temple, 'The both of us look for signs in anything untoward but if we keep looking over our shoulder it won't matter if it's four years or four millennia, we'll have only have lived half a life if we spend it looking for something that might never come.'
Aziraphale sighed, 'I just don't want to miss anything. We were so close to losing everything because we were always second guessing, not seeing what was right in front of us. I can't look back and see this point as the moment we could have done something if everything goes wrong again.'
'The fate of the world does not rest solely on your shoulders, Aziraphale. I'm not saying we disregard this entirely but leave it for now and wait until Anathema wakes up. The sun's coming up, come watch with me, fresh air will do you good.'
His fingers abandoned their place at the angel's shoulders, one reaching down to take his hand before he could pick up the pen again and get himself absorbed once more in the translations that were defying him. With the smallest of persuasions, Aziraphale got to his feet, stumbling a little after being sat down in the hard wooden chair for so long.
'Easy,' said Crowley, steadying him before he picked up his familiar dark glasses and covered his eyes once more, 'I should have got you moving sooner.'
'I suppose I'm not so used to just sitting around all night and reading any more.'
Crowley's grin was wicked and more than a little smug, 'You're welcome.'
'Incorrigible,' said Aziraphale as they headed to the front door, a click of Crowley's fingers making short work of the locks.
The air outside was crisp and clean, the polluted notes of London long forgotten and the scent of rain on the horizon brought with it a freshness that had every ache retreating. Crowley sat down on the bench, leaning back against it before he patted his lap, glad when Aziraphale took the hint and lay himself down on the remainder, his head resting on the demon's slim thighs.
'I know Virtue doesn't sleep, angel, but close your eyes,' said Crowley, fingers tracing a soothing pattern through the pale, blond hair in his lap, 'You can rest. I'll keep watch.'
Aziraphale smiled even as he did as he was told, 'You know me too well.'
'Husband,' said Crowley, 'It comes with the job description. You may not need sleep but you're exhausted, you were even before this. You need to rest and trust me to protect us for a while.'
The sun broke the horizon, covering the fields before them in bright pinks and luscious lilacs before turning to burnt orange and then bright, clear daylight. Earthly light, not the clinical glow of Heaven's Halls, cold even in their brightness. It was a light that still lingered in Crowley's darker dreams, dreams of the time he had masqueraded as the angel resting against him but also deeper dreams set far back in the forgotten parts of his memory. The place of their creation or not though, Heaven had never been home. Home was a tiny blue marble with all its faults and wonders and sunrises.
'The battle will be fought at home in the garden,' murmured Aziraphale, after long minutes of restful silence, 'The flightless bird will lie amongst the leaves. Brothers will stand united once more. Rivals will steal into the halls of man.'
'You can't leave them, can you?' said Crowley, recognising some of the phrases that had already been translated.
'I just wish they made sense.'
'You can't make sense from the senseless,' said Crowley, before he laughed to himself, 'Fancy causing a scandal?'
Aziraphale opened his eyes, 'You've lost me,' he said as a deceptively strong arm snaked beneath his shoulders to guide him into a kiss.
Aziraphale pulled back as he heard an unexpected voice from the roadside, feeling himself blush crimson as he saw the man the children particularly enjoyed teasing for his interfering with everything and nothing in the village, hurriedly turnabout and head back down the lane with his little dog waddling in tow.
'Oh you utter demon,' he muttered, though he couldn't keep the laughter from his voice.
'Guilty as charged.'
'He'll be even more unbearable now.'
'Not sure if that's possible. Made you laugh though,' said Crowley.
Aziraphale sat up, 'Yes, I suppose it did,' he said, rubbing a hand over his face, 'And you are right about me needing to rest. I feel as though I've been more concerned with our former sides in these last four years than I ever was when we were reporting to them. I don't want to waste these years worrying.'
'Holiday,' said Crowley.
'Let's go on holiday,' said Crowley, 'I know it doesn't solve anything but we're in the old familiar places, places that still remind us of them. Other than those days in Venice after the wedding we've barely left London so let's go. Big, bloody world and we helped to save it so let's go see it.'
'What? All of it?'
'Why not?' said Crowley, 'We've got no significant ties and those we do have we can drop in on, we don't always have to travel the human way but it might be fun to do so. Just you and me, out there, seeing the world and not giving a damn who sees us. Just think about it, different cultures, different languages. You could pick up some amazingly rare books, find first editions in flea markets. Not to mention the food and then...'
'Then what?' said Aziraphale, blue eyes lighting with excitement at the prospect of the adventure.
'Countless hotel rooms,' said Crowley, 'Countless overpriced hotel rooms with stupidly big beds.'
'Trust you to think about where you sleep.'
Crowley grinned, 'It wasn't the sleeping I was thinking about,' he said, laughing as the angel blushed, 'Sometimes you make that far too easy.'
'And you enjoy teasing too much,' said Aziraphale, 'I think a holiday sounds perfect with the places and the food and the books and the stupidly big beds. So long as Anathema doesn't tell us anything we don't want to hear when she wakes up.'
Crowley sighed, 'Kill the moment, love,' he said, 'Here's hoping this is nothing then. I've already got plans.'
Aziraphale took hold of a black clad arm and pulled it around his shoulders, 'It's still early, they won't wake for a while,' he said, 'So tell me your plans and I'll tell you some of mine.'
The sun was well and truly up when Newt came to find them, inviting them in for breakfast and coffee as Anathema slept on, none of them willing to wake her before she was ready despite the need to question her sleep walking. The knock at the door that came shortly after they had settled back down at the kitchen table had been unexpected but the sound of a familiar yapping bark of a former hell-hound had Crowley heading to the door before the visitor could knock again.
The scrawny eleven year old former-Antichrist they had first met had slowly been replaced by a handsome young man of fifteen, the awkwardness of his early teens melting away but a little of the child still remained not least when he launched himself into the demon's arms the minute the door was opened.
'You didn't say you were coming,' he said, Dog bounding into the kitchen and already sniffing around whichever ankles he could find, 'I've missed you.'
'Bit of an unplanned visit,' said Crowley, returning the hug before ushering him inside.
'You're the talk of the corner shop,' said Adam, leaving Crowley and hurrying to Aziraphale, greeting him with the same warm hug, 'Something about scandalous behaviour.'
'Oh if he wants scandalous behaviour...'
'Crowley,' warned Aziraphale, 'There is a child present.'
'He hears worse at school,' said the demon.
Adam grinned, 'He's kinda right.'
'Speaking of school, shouldn't you be there?' said Newt, 'It's definitely a Monday. I phoned in sick.'
Adam wrinkled his nose, 'Not catching sick are you? It's an INSET day, everyone's off,' he said, 'I was taking Dog for a walk and thought you might want to come along.'
'Me?' said Newt.
Adam frowned, 'I was thinking more these two,' he said, 'It's been ages since I saw you both.'
Crowley looked down at the notes piled on the table but the tone of Adam's voice was enough to prompt a different response to what he had initially thought to give, 'Aziraphale has something to work on,' he said, meeting the angel's gaze, the small nod of his head enough to let him know that he had heard it too, 'But I'm a bit surplus to requirements. You're picking up anything Dog deposits on the way though.'
'Keep your phone on,' said Aziraphale, 'And be good.'
Crowley nodded as Adam called Dog out from under the table and back towards the door, 'See you in a while.'
Over 6000 years of acquaintance meant that many things didn't need to be said or even communicated with look. Crowley knew the questions the angel wanted answered even as he left the kitchen to follow Adam to the door. Why was the boy so eager to see them that he turned up unannounced when every previous time they had visited Tadfield he had called Crowley on the number they had left with him the day they thwarted the apocalypse? Why was he alone when he was always with his three friends? Why was there a tone of desperation in such a casual request? He wished they didn't need the answers. He wished that he wasn't following the former-Antichrist from the house of the young descendent of Agnes Nutter who had mysteriously begun writing things that looked scarily like prophecies.
Thoughts of a holiday and finally getting Aziraphale to step down from his heightened vigilance began to evaporate like the morning dew as he stepped out into the sunshine with Adam and Dog. He wanted to run back inside, drag his angel to the Bentley and speed away from it all but it would follow, he knew it would. It always did.
Chapter 3: The Human Seasons
Crowley spends time with Adam and the Them whilst Aziraphale gets to the bottom of Anathema's writing.
A slightly longer chapter this time and a little bit of a teary one towards the end. Please let me know your thoughts if you can. Would love to know what people think so far and thank you to all who have left kudos and comments already.
Crowley believed that he had a great deal of patience, especially for a demon who was easily distracted, however it was currently wearing unduly thin with Adam's chatter about school and GCS-somethings and what Pepper's mum had said about the new substitute teacher. He was trying to accompany his growing frustration with little mantras that sounded like Aziraphale's voice in his head. He's only a child still. He's anxious, give him time. You are over six thousand years old and therefore the grown up so behave like one. The last one definitely sounded far too much like Aziraphale and he shook his head to rid himself of it even though he knew it was good advice.
He had grown very fond of the young man he had once thought to be his enemy, so fond in fact that he was listed under his given name on his phone rather than any sort of nickname. He enjoyed watching him grow, hearing about his adventures but there was always an undercurrent of wariness, a worry that somehow the powers of Hell would inflict themselves on him again and restart what they had worked so hard to stop. It was with that in mind that Crowley decided there had been quite enough chatter about maths homework, not least because it made his head hurt, and he cut the boy off mid flow.
'You didn't really want me to come out here to discuss simultaneous wotsits, did you?'
Adam froze where he had been picking through the detritus of a tree to try and find a good chasing stick for Dog, 'I...guess not,' he said with a sigh, 'I guess demons can tell when people are hiding things.'
'That and you're as easy to see through as a window,' said Crowley, sitting down on one of the larger roots at the base of the tree, 'So out with it.'
Adam hesitated, the same look he had worn as a frightened eleven year old falling over his face, 'It's difficult,' he said with a sigh, 'And can take your glasses off. I don't like it when I can't see someone's eyes. There's no one about and anyway, Pepper says most people would think you just have a thing for weird contact lenses these days. You don't look half as strange as some of the kids did last Halloween.'
Crowley looked around finding there was no one but Adam and Dog in sight and they were far enough off the main road to avoid too many passers by. 'Alright,' he said, taking off the dark glasses and putting them in his pocket, 'That's my end of the deal and now it's your turn. Something is bothering you, isn't it? Has anyone from...'
'This isn't about Hell,' said Adam, scuffing the ground with the toe of his boot, 'Not directly anyway and if it makes you feel better I haven't seen anyone from back then other than you and Aziraphale since. Not even a glimpse. I promised I'd tell you if I did.'
'You said not directly,' said Crowley, 'Which means it's something still related to Hell.'
Adam sighed, folding himself onto the root next to him, 'I'm worried,' he said, 'Worried that one day it will all be too much like it was then. I can still do things sometimes, when I'm really mad or upset. I popped a lightbulb the other day when I couldn't translate something in my French homework. I don't want to lose control. I might hurt someone important.'
'The offer still stands to speak to your mum and dad,' said Crowley, 'Trust me, wouldn't take much for Aziraphale and I to convince them but it might take a while to peal your dad off the ceiling.'
'I'm not so worried about them,' said Adam with a small laugh, 'You're right about dad though. I think I can be ok around them because I love them, even if they annoy me. Like really love them to the point where I couldn't hurt them. I couldn't hurt Brian and Pepper and Wensley either, that's what helped me get better last time. It's...other people I'm worried about.'
Crowley frowned, 'That sounds like other people in particular rather than just a general thing. Is someone bothering you?'
Adam shook his head, 'No...well, yes but it's not a bad bother. She's new and she's... I just worry.'
Crowley bit back a grin but couldn't help the tease, 'A she and she's important...'
'Oh shut up,' said Adam, 'Don't be a git about it and don't tell anyone, not even Aziraphale. It's just when I see her and everything gets all mixed up and what's left of my powers start misbehaving. I made a glass beaker blow up in science class because Mr Philips made her be my lab partner. I don't want to hurt her and I don't know how to tell her what I am. It's easy with the others, they already know but no one else does.'
Any teasing evaporated as Crowley heard the genuine worry in the young man's voice, the tone reminding him of Warlock when he was in his care and fretting over whether he was pleasing his parents, 'What's her name?' he asked, seeing the small smile appear on Adam's lips.
'Olivia,' said Adam, 'She's really nice and clever and she's really kind. I don't know...if she knew what I was. How does it not matter? Like you and Aziraphale I mean, you're meant to hate each other but, well, you got hitched so clearly you don't, like majorly don't.'
Crowley laughed, 'I can safely say I majorly don't hate him,' he said, 'We're hardly the best example either. We knew what we were when we met and we've had six thousand years to reach the getting hitched stage as you put it. With you and Olivia, you're not starting out on the same footing but it's not a complete roadblock. In terms of your powers, I can help you learn to control them. We're different of course but I can help where I can, channel them somewhat so you don't blow things up. As for her knowing what you are, that can wait. Let her get to know Adam and, if it gets to a point where you really feel she needs to know, like with your parents, Aziraphale and I can put on a bit of a show. You humans are a stubborn race but there's only so much denial you can manage. You're only fifteen, Adam, give yourself some time. You're still learning who you are.'
The boy smiled, reaching out the ruffle Dog's fur as he trotted back over to them, 'I'm glad you didn't just disappear when everything was over. I can't talk to anyone like I can talk to you. You get it.'
'Hell leaves a sting,' said Crowley, 'But it gets better and we'll always be here, you can be guaranteed of that. We're only ever a phone call away. Is Miss Olivia the only thing that's bothering you?'
Adam shrugged, 'That and my English homework but I reckon Aziraphale is the better one to ask about that, it's Shakespeare.'
'I can do the funny ones.'
'Talk to Aziraphale,' said Crowley with a shudder.
'Maybe later. I'm meant to be meeting the others, they'd like to see you. Can you come for a bit?'
Crowley nodded, getting to his feet and retrieving his glasses from his pocket as Adam located a stick for Dog and pitched it across the nearby field. His words had calmed the demon's fears somewhat but it would do no harm to remain with him for a little longer, just to make sure that nothing was trying to influence his powers. He hoped though that the worry that had been lifted with Adam was similarly played out at Anathema's house, something sinister reduced to merely human concerns.
Humans truly were messy creatures. Messy and strange and utterly infuriating, especially when the male of the pair Aziraphale currently found himself with had 'come over all funny' and retreated to the bedroom leaving the angel in question to hold back lengths of long brunette hair as Anathema relieved the contents of her stomach into the toilet bowl.
'He is utterly useless,' said Anathema, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she recovered slightly, 'Don't know why I married him. Sorry you got stuck with me when I'm sick... why are you here anyway?'
'Long story,' said Aziraphale, patting her back before getting to his feet and wetting a flannel in the sink, 'Here.'
'Thank you,' said Anathema, patting down her face with it, 'I feel a little better now. Probably something I ate. Thanks for sticking with me.'
'Least I could do,' said Aziraphale, offering her and hand and steadying her when she got to her feet, 'Let's get you somewhere a little more comfortable.'
'Kitchen, I'm hungry,' said Anathema before she shouted towards the bedroom, 'You can come out from hiding now.'
'I can't help it, I get sick in sympathy,' groaned Newt, 'I'm sorry.'
'Idiot,' muttered Anathema though there was no venom in her tone as Aziraphale guided her to the kitchen and down onto one of the chairs, 'Remind me to make sure you're here again the next time I get ill. Are those my books? What are they doing out?'
Aziraphale frowned, 'They are the reason I'm here,' he said, pouring her a glass of water and pushing it across the table, 'Do you remember anything about last night?'
Anathema wrinkled her nose in thought, sipping at the water, 'Watched pointless English television, worked on a magazine article for a while when Newt went to bed, headed to bed myself about an hour later.'
'And after that?'
'Woke up, felt like I was going to throw up, realised I was and the rest you know because you were there rather than my husband.'
'The poor boy was rather green,' said Aziraphale, picking up the book she had been writing in during the night, 'You have no memory of this then?'
Anathema looked down at the page, 'I don't... Aramaic? I can barely read it. I only studied it for a short while, just as a comparative. I need a translation matrix to work it out. I was writing this.'
Aziraphale nodded, 'Not that I witnessed it myself but Newt called us last night, very distressed and we came straight over. He thinks you were sleepwalking but of course, worry is that it's more than that.'
'Prophecy,' whispered Anathema, looking for a moment as though she would be diving for the bathroom once more, 'No, I don't... I hoped that was over.'
'It may be, dear girl,' said Aziraphale, taking hold of her hand across the table, 'Don't distress yourself. The phrases are odd but they don't echo your ancestor's works. Perhaps they are snippets of what you studied, bleeding through the subconscious. The human brain is really quite fascinating with what it can retain. If you have the book to hand I could make a study of it against the writings I've already translated.'
Anathema frowned, 'The book would be in America, I can't even remember if I got it from the college library or the public one. Either way you'd have a job to find it, I can't even recall the title,' she said, 'No one other than Agnes has written prophecy in the family, we just studied it.'
'You didn't study the other one,' said Newt, finally appearing in the kitchen and looking a little healthier than he had previously.
'Other one?' said Aziraphale.
'Agnes' new prophecies,' said Newt, 'We burned them.'
Aziraphale knotted his hands together on the tabletop, 'New prophecies? What new prophecies?'
'Oh God,' muttered Anathema, 'I was going to tell you but then everything seemed fine and I didn't want...'
'There were prophecies, more than the book I saw? Prophecies by Agnes?' said Aziraphale, 'How?'
'She sent them,' said Anathema, 'Here for after Armageddon. They said they were for the world that came after it.'
Anger was not a common feeling for the angel, he tried wherever he could to avoid it. Minor irritation was one thing but anger, real anger was not common place, especially when he wanted to direct it at someone he called a friend. It was the only way to describe what he was feeling though, the years of worry after the Armageddon-that-wasn't and he could have known what was coming. Agnes had never missed her mark in the previous book and he doubted she would have missed it in her second.
'The knowledge in that book,' he said quietly, 'The things it could have told me. Things I need to know to protect all of you and you burned it, without a thought of the consequences. Agnes was good at what she did. She saved so much...so much with her words. Crowley and I... you burned it. Do you realise what you've done?'
'I'm sorry, I didn't think,' she said, 'I just didn't want to have to live with her over me any more.'
'You didn't have to,' said Aziraphale, getting to his feet, pacing the small space, 'You could have given it to me, trusted me to use it wisely but instead you destroyed it. A book that could have been a road map for everything yet to come. Could you not have stopped for a moment to just think about what you were risking? It wasn't just your life. It's Adam's and the children, Crowley, me, everyone who was there. Don't think our cards still aren't marked by both Heaven and Hell for what we all did. All of us had a part in destroying what they wanted to happen. I'd credited you with more intelligence than this.'
'You don't get to talk to her like that,' said Newt, drawing himself up as tall as he could behind his wife, 'I don't care who or what you are but you don't get to say that.'
'He's right though,' said Anathema, 'I screwed up. I'm sorry Aziraphale, I didn't think and I screwed up.'
Whilst anger was not a common emotion for the angel, compassion was and the tears in the eyes of the frightened young woman before him had it rushing to the forefront, washing away all previous thought and he collapsed sadly into the chair opposite her once more.
'Don't cry, dear Anathema, please don't cry,' he said gently, 'It's done and I understand why. Forgive me, I shouldn't have said any of that. You too Newt, you're quite right, I shouldn't have spoken like that. You're my friends, both of you and it's not your job to save the world. I'm panicking over things I'm not yet sure of and it's making me snappish. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be worrying about you, not some silly old book.'
Anathema reached up and patted Newt's hand, his grip loosening and the touch but he didn't move back from her chair.
'Apology accepted,' she said, 'Do you think maybe what I was writing are the prophecies I burned then?'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'They don't read like Agnes' and they're much more abstract. I'm inclined, now I know you have studied the language, to think that it is perhaps something simple. A subconscious throwback made apparent due to what I suspect is your current condition and yet another reason why I shouldn't be upsetting you.'
'I'm lost,' said Anathema, hesitantly, 'What condition?'
'Well, I might be a stuffy old angel but this morning you have greeted the day in a less than orthodox fashion and then promptly complained of being hungry. Add to that the fact that you would have probably slapped me rather than cried had I spoken to you in such a way as I did moments ago, if I had done so perhaps a month or two before today. Your sleep pattern has been disturbed and lastly, you will forgive me dear, but you are a little rounder in the cheeks than you were last I saw you,' he said, 'You would need to confirm it with someone a little more qualified than I but I wonder if perhaps a little stranger isn't on his or her way.'
Anathema smiled, 'I had been wondering myself, actually.'
'I'm confused,' said Newt, 'What stranger?'
Anathema turned in her chair to face him, 'A baby, our baby,' she said.
'Oh,' said Newt, 'Well that's...'
'You're going to have to help me pick him up,' said Anathema as Newt promptly crumpled to the floor, 'And then we're going to sit down and talk about this whole prophecy, pregnancy, weird sleepwalking thing properly.'
By the time they had roused Newt and discussed all they needed to, the sun was well passed its zenith. A little more confident that they had a way to move forward with fathoming out what was going on, Aziraphale set out to find Crowley and update him on the news after several attempts to call him had gone unanswered. It was a pleasant enough day for a walk to Hogback Wood though and the solitude of the journey allowed him some time with his own thoughts.
The sound of laughter and music assured him he had taken the right path, the sound filling him with confidence that the demon's discussions with Adam had gone well and there wasn't too much to worry about from that quarter. He rounded a bend in the forest path that led to the camp the children still held despite being in their mid-teens. It was an idyll of childhood, a space of innocence, joy and love and Aziraphale let the sensation wash over him, easing some of the tension that had gathered since Newt's first phone call. The sound of Crowley's laughter joining the children's was an added balm, the sound always so carefree when he was with them. He had always had an infinity for children, understanding them better than many others, a skill he seemed to have been designed with rather than something learned. Aziraphale had seen it even as far back as Mesopotamia when Crowley had dared to incur the wrath of Hell purely to save one or two young lives from God's flood. He had never complained about the burns, had merely nursed them with patience and a look of determination on his face. It was one of the moments that had made Aziraphale realise he was in the presence of someone special and there had been so many more since.
The scene that greeted him involved a rope swing tied on one of the higher branches of the trees, the children swinging high over the camp with screams of laughter. The swing was too high and too perfect to be natural and every pass was accompanied by the snap of fingers, Crowley's eyes trained on them even as he laughed at their enjoyment. Aziraphale pushed down the impulse to tell him not to be so frivolous with his powers, his own decision to only perform miracles wherever necessary not effecting the demon's choices. Hell had never seemed as concerned with Crowley's use of miracles as Heaven had been with his.
Aziraphale knew he had been noticed when Crowley's voice rang out over the laughter.
'Alright you lot, last time and then you climb down, slowly,' he called, four noises of protest echoing back but the swing crossed the expanse one last time before they began the descent on the rope ladders that wound up the tree.
'Enjoying yourself?' said Aziraphale, heading towards the tree he was sitting beneath.
'Passes the time,' said Crowley, 'You have news?'
'That I would have told you over the phone if you'd answered it.'
Crowley frowned, reaching into his pocket and retrieving the device, 'Must have knocked it onto silent. We were messing around with this face-snap-twit thing. Pepper's idea. I'll show you the pictures later. Tell me what happened at Anathema's.'
'Without prying ears maybe?' said Aziraphale, nodding to where all four children were standing and pretending not to listen.
'Oi, you lot, clear off and let the supernaturals talk,' said Crowley, 'Then I'll let you at him with your funny face changing apps.'
'What am I being sacrificed too?' said Aziraphale.
'All in the name of fun, love,' said Crowley, getting to his feet, 'Anyone under the age of the Earth, vamoosh! We'll find you in a bit.'
'They'll only be snogging anyway,' moaned Pepper, 'It's grim when adults think they're young.'
Crowley laughed as the small band made their way deeper into the woods, 'Not often I'm accused of being an adult,' he said, taking hold of Aziraphale's hand, 'Walk with me and you can bring me up to speed. Got to the bottom of it yet?'
'Yes and no,' said Aziraphale, 'Catalyst for definite at least. They're to be parents. Anathema's pregnant which explains the disturbance in sleep patterns at best and a connection to a latent prophetic ability at worst. Throughout history women are shown to be more greatly in tune with their power when they're with child so it would stand to reason that she may be accessing hers.'
'Bit not good,' said Crowley before he waved a hand, 'The power part, not the baby. The baby's great news, though Mr Rubbish Car as a father...'
'I've already had to scoop him up off the ground twice today,' said Aziraphale, 'I was quite glad to come and find you, left them to come to terms with it. All in all though, I am hoping it's all just nonsense but to be on the safe side I said I'd stay for a couple more nights, keep watch. If Anathema writes again at least I can observe the process with a more discerning eye than a concerned husband could manage.'
Crowley frowned, 'I might have to leave you to it, love,' he said, 'Only realised when I was messing about with the kids that I've got a date with my young man the day after tomorrow. I could stay tonight but then I do need to go back to London. We're having tea at Claridges.'
'Of course you need to go, I didn't realise it had been a month already,' said Aziraphale, 'I can just as easily get the train home so no need to stay tonight even, unless you want to. Do be sure to give my best to Warlock when you see him though...well, Brother Francis' anyway.'
'I will. He always asks after you anyway,' said Crowley, 'I tell him you write to me now and then. Perhaps one day I'll find a way to tell him the truth. I want him to know.'
'When he's a little older maybe,' said Aziraphale, before he smiled to himself, 'Now, shall we head back to the village or shall we do something about the four young people who are desperate for us not to realise they are hiding in a bush and listening.'
Crowley grinned, taking off his dark glasses and handing them to the angel in front of him, 'Leave them to me,' he said, the space he had been standing in suddenly empty.
At least the residents of the nearby village were used to the screams echoing from Hogback Wood and therefore would not come to investigate the source only to see a large, black snake chasing four giggling teenagers around the wood, nipping at- but always missing- their ankles as an unconcerned English gentleman who looked a good hundred years out of his time looked on with a fond smile.
The bookshop was warm and hazy, the late afternoon sun dancing with the dust motes that floated in the air. Aziraphale half expected Crowley to be napping in the window seat he had created for himself on the shop floor that always attracted the best of the afternoon sunshine but it was not all that late in the day and his absence was easily put down to him still being out visiting with Warlock Dowling.
The train ride home to London had been pleasant enough, giving Aziraphale time to look over the book Anathema had been writing in as well as his translations. Though he had spent two nights waiting at their kitchen table for Anathema to repeat her night time wanderings, he had been relieved when she had slept through without once rising from her bed. He had kept the writings with him all the same, wariness giving him the need to study the words further even if they didn't seem to mean anything. The first night had not been so bad, Crowley choosing to stay despite there being no need for him to. He had promptly fallen asleep on the small couch in the corner but the sound of his even breathing had been a familiar comfort to the angel, his gaze often moving the sleeping black-clad form that was offset by the familiar pale coat Aziraphale had laid over him. The second night though was far longer, Crowley's absence keenly felt from the moment he had left for London.
Aziraphale contented himself that they were now both in the same city and, once Crowley returned from his visit, they would have the evening together and the days that followed. He set the notebooks down on his desk, heading towards the back to make a cup of tea when he heard the creak of a floorboard above his head. He knew the building and its sounds all too well and the creak was not made by settling pipes or wind in the eaves.
With nerves still frayed from the events of the last few days, he headed to the stairs, taking them slowly and carefully even as he considered what he would do if he found someone unexpected in the rooms above. The bedroom door stood ajar, the room in familiar shadow with the curtains drawn. The figure sat on the bed was one he had only seen a handful of times since they had officially retired from the Dowling estate years before, often choosing to transform back into his preferred daily silhouette prior to returning home.
Crowley sat on the edge of the bed, hands clasped around a white handkerchief where they rested against the black pencil skirt. Red curls were pinned in a chignon, not quite as harsh as it had been in service but still neat and elegant despite the few wisps that had broken free. Aziraphale felt his heart sink at the dejected pose and he knocked gently on the door.
'Sweetheart. Are you alright?' he said, concern gripping him tighter as tearful eyes met his before being hastily wiped with the crumpled handkerchief.
'Oh, I didn't hear you come in. I planned to be out of this get up before you got home.'
'You're crying,' said Aziraphale, kicking himself for stating the obvious, 'What's the matter? What's happened?'
'The inevitable,' came the choked response, 'Sometimes I really do hate humans. They're taking him away.'
'Who?' said Aziraphale, crossing to perch on the mattress, pulling a clean handkerchief from his own pocket to replace the one being wrung between two manicured hands.
'Warlock. His father has been redeployed, back to America and they leave next week. They only told him yesterday and he's so upset. He doesn't want to go. Begged me to take him in, he begged me Aziraphale and I had to deny him. They ended up putting us in a side room in Claridges because it was distressing the other guests. They're taking my boy away.'
'Darling, I'm so sorry,' said Aziraphale, wrapping an arm around the shuddering shoulders, 'Can he not stay somewhere? Boarding school? I'll sponsor him myself, mystery benefactor and all that. Done in a snap.'
'They want him in America. He said he tried everything, he's so desperate not to go. He said... he said he may have called me Nanny for all those years but I'm the only real mother he ever had. Me? Can you even believe that?'
Aziraphale smiled sadly, pressing a kiss to the tattoo that was just visible beneath the neatly pinned curls, 'Entirely. Whenever he needed you, you were there. Even with our supposed mission in mind back then, you were gentle and kind, as you've always been with the young ones,' he said, 'Darling, I don't know what to say to make this easier for you, so you tell me what you need and I'll do whatever is in my power.'
'Oh I could ask so much of you. I could could ask you to bring him to me, let him be ours to raise but I can't. He's not mine and he should go with his parents because he's not ready for the truth about me. Not yet.'
'He's only fifteen,' said Aziraphale, 'In a few years, he'll be his own man and he may return. He has the means to contact you when he does. This isn't the end, we won't let it be the end.'
'Ever the optimist, my love. I'm sorry for getting in a state, it was just a shock. I'll sort myself and then come down. We should go out, shake off these last few days and just... I don't know... reset.'
Aziraphale frowned when there was no movement next to him, save for the same fretful wringing on the handkerchief, 'You don't have to change, you know?' he said, weighting the words carefully, 'If you're not ready to say goodbye fully. Stay this way until you're ready.'
Piercing yellow eyes met his, love and relief shining back.
'You wouldn't mind? You're not used to me like this, not recently anyway and definitely not since the wedding.'
Aziraphale traced the red stained lips with his thumb, the look one he remembered well but not with such closeness. He smiled fondly at the memories of the Dowling estate, of young Warlock running round the garden splitting his time between the gardener Aziraphale had played at being and the nanny he had trusted with all his youthful tales and the skirts he had held onto whenever he was afraid.
'My beautiful darling,' he said, 'I love every part of you. The soul inside of you, whatever package you wrap it up in and if tonight and for the days to come it comforts you to stay this way then I will love you as fiercely as I love you any other time.'
Tears threatened in the serpentine eyes once more but didn't fall, instead the full red lips met Aziraphale's in a gentle, grateful kiss.
'You truly are a wonder, angel. Should I thank you?'
Aziraphale laughed, 'Perhaps not because I'll probably cry and I fear we might flood the shop. We must think of the books, dear,' he said, 'Now you mentioned earlier about heading out and shaking off the week. Shall we? Or would you prefer to stay in?'
'Out sounds good but you choose. Surprise me.'
'Then I have some phone calls to make,' said Aziraphale, stealing another kiss before getting up from the bed, 'You have two hours. Dress to impress.'
Chapter 4: From the Sky
Aziraphale takes Crowley to one of their favourite places to help ease the pain of Warlock's leaving but their evening is soon interrupted when the angel takes ill and an unnatural storm rocks London.
I hope everyone is still enjoying the story. Just a note to say that Crowley's pronouns are deliberately she/her in this particular chapter but if I've slipped up anywhere please forgive me. If you want a look at the outfit that inspired Crowley's look no further than here http://www.catwalkyourself.com/fashion-biographies/rita-hayworth/. Also, whilst the Sky Garden is a real place I have no idea what the owner is called so I've named her solely for the purpose of the story.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to review and leaves kudos so far.
Aziraphale retrieved his watch from the pocket of his waistcoat, checking the time before returning to his book. He had been quite impressed with what he had been able to achieve without the need for any miracles, an evening planned out for them that would hopefully take Crowley's mind off the sad news from Warlock. He'd had to pull in a few favours but he had made enough friends and acquaintances in London that it had taken him less the one of the two hours he had given Crowley to get everything arranged.
Despite having everything arranged to perfection, he had not got passed the first page of the book he was reading, looking up every time he heard the squeak of a floorboard above, wondering just how Crowley would look when she came downstairs. He had grown used to the demon appearing in a masculine vessel in recent years but the feminine was not unfamiliar and not the least bit unwelcome. They were beings that defied humanity's constraints and though Aziraphale had found a form that he was more than comfortable in, Crowley on the other hand embraced all experiences that were thrown her way and Aziraphale would continue to encourage and support that especially now their lives were so deeply joined.
He was pulled from his musings by a pointed cough from the doorway, the book falling unnoticed from his grip as he took in the sight before him. He had been prepared for the silhouette he had known in the Dowling house, perhaps dressed up a little more than what Crowley had worn as Warlock's nanny but the sight before him was so far removed that he wasn't quite sure he wasn't dreaming.
Crowley's long, slim form was artfully encased in a black satin jumpsuit, a wide belt accentuating her waist and the top two thick pieces of the same fabric crossing his chest to fasten behind his neck. A long scarlet coat dropped from shoulder to the dangerously high heels in the same colour, adding a good four inches to her height. Her hands fidgeted from the pockets of the suit, knotting in front of her before she reached up to neaten the fall of one loose russet curl.
'Too much?' asked Crowley, 'You're not about to tell me we're going to McDonalds on Tottenham Court Road are you? Angel?'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Bloody...marvel, Crowley! I was expecting nanny and I've ended up with Rita Hayworth. You look amazing.'
'Well you did say to dress to impress. Did it work?'
'I'd say so,' said Aziraphale, getting to his feet and holding out a hand, 'Where has all this come from?'
Crowley crossed the room and took his hand, 'Here and there. What did you think was in those trunks in the spare room? They're things collected over the years but I've never had the occasion to wear them or the invitation.'
'Open invitation, for the rest of eternity,' said Aziraphale, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand, just above her wedding ring, 'You are perfection even if I'm half convinced you are not going to be able to walk far in those heels.'
'We'll just have to see won't we,' she replied, 'Now where are you taking me or is McDonalds still on the cards?'
'I'm not telling just yet,' said Aziraphale, as a horn sounded outside, 'Taxi's here.'
'Since when do we take taxis?' said Crowley, 'Bentley's outside.'
Aziraphale waved away the complaint, picking up his coat from the rack and slipping it on before he offered her his arm, 'Because I'm taking you out, meaning transportation does not fall to you and I am never, ever going to try and drive that beast of machine out there ever again. She's positively feral.'
'That's because you drive like a grandmother, my love,' said Crowley, slipping her arm through his, 'Taxi it is then. Lead the way. Can I have a clue where we're going?'
Aziraphale lead her to the door, opening it and letting her precede him outside, 'We've been there before,' he said, extinguishing the lights and locking the door behind them.
'Ritz?' said Crowley, opening the taxi door and climbing across to the farthest seat.
'Not even close,' said Aziraphale, sitting beside her before he turned his attention to the driver, 'Good evening. I believe you know our destination.'
'Yes sir,' he replied, pulling away from the kerb.
Crowley frowned, 'Well that's not fair, I was hoping to at least get a hint.'
'Don't spoil the surprise, isn't this more fun?' said Aziraphale, 'Bit of an adventure.'
Crowley took hold of his hand, 'Of course,' she said, settling back against the seats, 'Thank you for doing this. I needed to get out of the house.'
'Just remember this is about making you feel better, not encouraging you to forget,' said Aziraphale, 'You can feel sad if you need to.'
Crowley closed the small distance between them, pressing a kiss to his lips, 'I love you, angel,' she said before she reached up and swiped at his lips with a thumb, 'Red is not your colour though. Going to have to remember that tonight.'
Her laugh was not as carefree as it had been with the children earlier but it was still far lighter than it had been in the six millennia they had been friends and it made Aziraphale glad that he had been part of making it so. He hoped one day the cares and memories of the darker past would be almost forgotten for the both of them, longing for a future of peace and comfort with love and laughter at its heart.
They passed the rest of the journey in easy conversation, Crowley occasionally trying to wheedle out more information about where they were going but Aziraphale remained elusive with the information even as they drew closer to their destination. The tall looming buildings of London were illuminated, casting glittering light over the streets, the City of London a feat of engineering and ambition that stood out in many a modern monument. It was when they passed Liverpool Street Station though that Crowley squeezed Aziraphale's hand, eyes widening with realisation.
'Sky Garden?' she asked, with a hopeful smile, before turning back to the window as though it would confirm the thought, 'Are we going to the Sky Garden? Surely you can't get a reservation that easily, not when you don't...'
'Patience, dear,' said Aziraphale, cutting her off before mentions of miracles could be made in the driver's hearing, 'All will be revealed.'
It didn't take long for them to reach Fenchurch Street, Aziraphale quickly paying the driver if only to catch up with Crowley who was already half way to the door of the building. The demon turned as the driver pulled away, catching hold of Aziraphale's hands.
'You are so unfailingly romantic, angel?' she said, 'How did you manage this?'
'Agnieska promised there would always be a table for us after that first night and she made good on that,' said Aziraphale, leading her into the building, a quick confirmation of their reservation with the concierge having them boarding the lift for the upper levels.
Stepping out they were greeted by great walls of glass, looking out over the city but it was the plants that captured Crowley's attention, hundreds upon hundreds artfully arranged in one of the highest and most expensive greenhouses in the city. The bar in the centre was busy and noisy with chatter but not overbearing, a perfect mix of life to distract them.
'Reservation under Fell,' said Aziraphale as they reached the main entrance.
'Yes sir,' replied the young manager, 'Just this way. Everything is ready.'
Crowley took Aziraphale's arm once more as they were led to a familiar, secluded table, the plush round sofa seat allowing them to sit comfortably side by side to admire the view rather than sitting across from each other. The table was already set with champagne and platters of finger foods, the picture a familiar one after several visits to the bar.
'This is wonderful,' said Crowley when they were left alone, 'I know you said you spoke to Agnieska but I would have thought even she couldn't spirit up a table for us with only an hour's notice.'
'It's her bar,' said Aziraphale, 'And she promised me we'd always have a table here. I think she's sweet on us.'
'I'm surprised she's not here,' said Crowley, reaching for the bottle and pouring them both a glass.
'Her night off, thankfully. I would have lost you to her not only to talk plants but shoes as well,' said the angel, 'You do realise you captured the attention of most of the room when you walked in.'
Crowley smiled, 'That sounds awfully like pride in your voice, my love.'
Aziraphale took one of the glasses, 'Can you blame me? You look exquisite,' he said, touching the rim of his glass to Crowley's, 'To you, my darling.'
Crowley shook her head, 'To us,' she said, 'Thank you for bringing me here, so many good memories.'
'Our first kiss.'
'First of many,' said Crowley, 'We nearly got kicked out that first time if I remember rightly.'
'And whose fault was that?' said Aziraphale, reaching for one of the small lemon tarts on the plate before him, 'You couldn't keep quiet.'
Crowley laughed, 'Finally got the snog I'd been after for six thousand years, love, can you blame me?' she said, 'At least Agnieska came to our rescue.'
'We're lucky she likes us. She was more than happy to help me cheer you up this evening.'
'Well you can tell her it's working,' said Crowley, 'I was thinking before I came down the stairs earlier that this doesn't have to be the end. I will find a way to see Warlock, just not as often, and maybe when he's older he'll be strong enough to be told the truth. I realised as well that I hadn't asked about Tadfield. Did you find anything out?'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Nothing. I'm hoping it was something innocent. Anathema and Newt have promised to call if anything else happens and I have the writing with me, I'll have another look at it tomorrow,' he said, 'I'm going to trust to the hope that we're safe.'
'If I have anything to say about it we will be,' said Crowley, capturing the angel's hand and holding it between her own, 'Can we put it out of our minds tonight though? I want all your attention on me.'
'Not difficult in those clothes.'
'You're enjoying this,' said Crowley, covering a small smile with her glass.
'You thought I wouldn't?' asked Aziraphale, catching the faint glint of golden eyes behind dark glasses that hinted at the worry the demon would never own to, 'Crowley, I told you back at the bookshop, I will love you however you choose to look. Your happiness is important to me and I will never stop you from being who you want to be.'
'You're the only one I feel free enough with to be like this,' said Crowley, hand shaking slightly as she pushed back a stubborn curl from her forehead, 'Hell saw me sometimes but it was always part of the job, a requirement, never just for the pleasure of it. With you I'm safe, safe to be me however I feel.'
'I want you to always feel that way and tell me if you don't. We've spent far too long hiding our true natures from others,' said Aziraphale, capturing the demon's lips in a kiss that said far more than words could.
The bottle of champagne they had begun with soon dwindled as they allowed the peace of the evening to soothe away the trials of both the passed few days and the lives they had led. As they talked, Aziraphale found his fingers winding easily into the tumbling red curls that fell on Crowley's shoulders, the demon happily preening under the touch until she realised that her glass was empty, the bottle in a similar state in its cooler.
'Seems we're been granted a little too much privacy tonight,' she said, 'They're normally round with another before we're halfway down a bottle.'
Aziraphale nudged the languishing demon, 'Lift off me then and I'll go and order us another couple of bottles, keep us occupied.'
Crowley shook her head, sitting up, 'You stay here, still half a dozen of those petit-fours left that I know you've had your eye on. Indulge a little and I'll get the drinks.'
'You just want an excuse to flirt with the foliage in the garden,' said Aziraphale, reaching for one of the delicate pastries on the table.
'I don't flirt, darling, I dominate,' replied Crowley, getting to her feet before she leaned down to kiss him, 'I won't be long.'
Aziraphale waved her off with an indulgent smile, 'Take your time. I'm not going anywhere.'
He watched her head into the crowds, heels augmenting her height so she was never far out of sight. Aziraphale thought back to the first night he had brought Crowley to the bar that would come to mean nearly as much to them as the Ritz. Nervous of what had been brewing between them for several months after the non-starter Armageddon, he had sought out somewhere that combined Crowley's love of plants with the romance the angel was hoping to encourage, grateful when several of his London connections gave him the recommendation. Crowley had been enamoured with the plants almost immediately but, despite his fascination, had settled with Aziraphale at what would fast become their customary table to enjoy the views over London. The angel's nerves had melted away with the first glass of wine when long fingers had sought his on the table top, the grip hesitant but asking so much. There hadn't been any words, no grand declarations. All it had taken was for the angel to turn to his companion of six millennia and fall into the kiss that had been wanted and promised for so long.
Aziraphale felt his cheeks heat as he remembered the aftermath, one kiss easily becoming two, then three before the numbers were forgotten and they were only roused from each other by an indulgent if somewhat embarrassed manageress who would swiftly become a friend to them both. The angel shook off the memory as he felt the blush heat up a little more but it did little to alleviate it, the heat refusing to abate and he pressed the cool champagne glass to his cheek. The room seemed to swim a little and he screwed his eyes shut, cursing the topsy-turvy days that were leaving him vulnerable to the alcohol. The room steadied as he opened his eyes, the heat receding from his cheeks but he shifted in his chair, the uncomfortable itch between his shoulders reminding him of the wings he kept hidden that seemed keen on breaking free.
The feeling fled as quickly as it had come as a bottle was set none too gently down on the table before Crowley flopped back down into the chair next to him, cursing brilliantly as the movement caught the long scarlet coat she wore, forcing her to fidget until she was comfortable.
'Human men!' she said with a shudder, 'Vile creatures.'
'Vast generalisation, dear,' said Aziraphale, taking in her dark expression, 'Whatever is the matter?'
Crowley pushed up her dark glasses to rub at her golden eyes before she sighed, 'Nothing. Truly. Just glad he picked on me rather than some other woman,' she said, before retrieving the bottle and refilling their glasses, 'I had a lovely time encouraging a slightly lacklustre fern to perhaps attempt to keep up the appearance of the place and then went to the bar only to have some poor excuse for a male decide he would inform me just what he wanted to do to me as he tried to put a new crease in my jacket. Needless to say I informed him that I had a husband more than capable of fulfilling those needs and left him to his friends.'
Aziraphale felt a frisson of anger sweep through him but it was swiftly replaced by confusion, 'Rather tame response from you, Crowley dear,' he said, 'Whilst I appreciate you kept the peace, I can't help be surprised.'
A wicked grin slowly curled Crowley's red lips, 'When you say tame... let's just say the next time he heads off to the little pricks' room, he may find something shrivelled and dead. Enough that he can't bother anyone else for a good couple of months and even when that predicament is resolved, things may itch in a way that even the best penicillin can't touch.'
'There's my demon,' said Aziraphale, reaching for his refilled glass, his fingers fumbling the grip and sending it spilling over the tablecloth.
'Easy there, angel,' laughed Crowley, reaching forward and picking up the glass before her eyes fell on the angel's trembling hand, 'Aziraphale?'
Aziraphale snatched his hand the his chest, covering it with the other in an attempt to still it, 'I don't...maybe I've had too much champagne.'
'One bottle between us isn't enough to have you trembling,' said Crowley, covering his hands with her own as they stilled, 'What's got you so jumpy?'
'It's been a trying few days,' said Aziraphale, 'You were right the other night, I'm tired. Perhaps I'll give in to temptation and actually sleep tonight, I feel like I could.'
'We can go home now, if you'd rather,' said Crowley, 'I'm more than happy to spend the rest of tonight curled up in our bed.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'I'm fine, honestly. Besides, you've had to face wandering hands to fetch us champagne so the least we can do is enjoy it,' he said, refilling the glass, before he met Crowley's concerned gaze over the top of her dark glasses, 'I'm fine, darling.'
Crowley looked unconvinced but relented as Aziraphale wrapped an arm around her, laying her head on his shoulder as they turned their attention back to the view, 'Just tell me if you want to go home.'
'You know I will,' said Aziraphale, forcing himself to remain still even as the odd itch between his shoulder blades threatened once more.
Before he could give it much more thought, the vast glass windows before them lit up with a flash of lightning, the thunder following swiftly.
'Beautiful,' said Crowley, 'I love a good storm. Did you even arrange the atmospherics?'
The lightning came again, bringing with it the same heady flush Aziraphale had felt before, his wings almost trying to force themselves into reality.
'Crowley...' he managed before the thunder roared overhead, but it was enough to rouse the demon.
'My wings,' he whispered, letting go of her to place his hands against his burning cheeks, 'I can't...I feel so strange. I can't control them.'
Crowley placed a hand on his back as though will alone could prevent them from manifesting, 'We need to get away from the people,' she said, 'Can you walk?'
Aziraphale nodded but was grateful for Crowley's hands as they steadied him, the two of them leaving the table just as lightning struck once more, killing the power in the room and across the view of London. The confusion was enough to allow them to slip unnoticed out a fire door and onto the terrace outside, the rain already soaking the floor. Crowley ducked them out of sight from the windows, barely getting herself clear before brilliant white wings forced themselves into reality. Aziraphale relying on the wall to keep himself upright.
'Angel, what's happening?' she said over the storm, 'What can I do?'
'I don't know,' said Aziraphale, 'I don't know what this is. It's like fear, like I need to fight but I don't know what. Danger. It feels like danger.'
'Whatever comes, I'm here with you, ok?' said Crowley, looking round for any assailant of Heaven or Hell that might come upon them, 'I'll protect you.'
'Crowley, I'm scared.'
'I'm here, I'm here,' she said, crossing the small distance between them, grateful for the shelter the wings gave them from the rain despite the worry they caused, 'Stay calm.'
The lightning and the thunder hit simultaneously, arching down in a fork that struck not far from the building, an alarm sounding in the distance. The rain quickly abated, the black clouds rolling back to reveal the night sky once more.
'That's not normal,' said Crowley before she took the angel's face in her hands, 'Ok?'
He nodded, grateful for the grounding touch as he recovered himself, wings disappearing back into the ether, 'I'm alright but I've no idea what that was. I've never felt that way before. I couldn't control it. Last time I felt like that was when Satan... Crowley something's coming. I felt it.'
'Then whatever it is, we'll face it,' she said, 'But first, let's get you home. Just in case.'
A click of her fingers had their clothes dry, the pair of them slipping back into the bar just as the power turned itself back on. The air was thick with the nervous tension any change to normality brought forth in humans and it only compounded Crowley's worry as she kept a tight hold on her husband's arm, hurrying him towards the bar and waving away his distracted protest as she hurriedly settled their bill, the both of them having promised after their first visit that Agnieska and her staff would always be paid properly.
A call preceded them down to the ground floor, the lifts thankfully working again, and a taxi was already drawn up as they exited. Crowley gave the address of a shop two streets away from their home, old habits coming to the fore when no one was easily trusted with information before she closed the window between them and the driver's cab and turned her attention back to the angel beside her.
'How are you feeling?'
'Better,' said Aziraphale, 'Whatever it was is receding. My head aches though, I feel like I've been through a battle.'
'We'll be home soon,' said Crowley, encouraging his head onto her shoulder, 'Knew we should have brought the Bentley.'
'Your driving would do nothing for my headache,' said Aziraphale, 'This is not how I planned to end this evening.'
'Whenever have our plans gone the way we wanted them to?' said Crowley, 'You need to straighten out a couple your feathers though, love. Unexpected or not, you need to take better care of your wings.'
Aziraphale managed a weak laugh, 'You just like pulling out the old ones,' he said, closing his eyes, 'Tell me when we're home.'
Crowley drew random patterns against the sleeve of Aziraphale's jacket as the wound their way through the streets, pressing down her own anxiety even as she peered out into the night in search of familiar but unwanted faces. The finally pulled up outside the darkened shop that she had given as their address, barely exchanging a word with the driver as she paid the fare, gently rousing the angel in her arms. The chilly air chased away the lingering effects of the alcohol as they began the short walk home, Aziraphale a little steadier than he had been when they had left Fenchurch but Crowley still kept a firm hold on his arm.
The rounded the corner to the bookshop, both of them stumbling to a halt as they noticed the figure laid out on the steps to the front door. Crowley cursed the fact that she had relaxed her grip as Aziraphale quickly crossed the distance to the rain soaked figure, kneeling down beside them to better check their condition.
The figure lay at an awkward angle, pale clothes tattered and mud spattered, darkened with the rain and a deeper stain that spread across their back. Long, dark hair spilled over their shoulders, obscuring their face.
'Poor soul,' said Aziraphale, reaching out a hand to their shoulder but snatching his fingers back before they made contact, 'It can't...'
'What?' said Crowley, eyes whipping between the unconscious figure and their surroundings, 'Look if it's some drunk miracle them to a hospital and let the humans deal with it.'
'An angel,' said Aziraphale, hands gently taking hold of the limp form, his hands immediately stained with blood even as he turned them to reveal their face, 'Michael. It's Michael.'
Crowley grabbed hold of her husband's sleeve, trying to pull him away but Aziraphale refused to budge, 'Angel step away from her. You don't know what's going on.'
'She's hurt, badly,' said Aziraphale, 'I can feel the pain in her. Help me get her into the shop.'
'What! You're joking, please tell me you're joking,' said Crowley, 'This is Michael we're talking about. Michael who terrorised you for millennia and was more than happy to see me disintegrated by holy water and you are talking about letting her into our home.'
'She's hurt Crowley.'
'Bad luck for her then,' she hissed, 'What do you stand to gain by helping her? If this is some misplaced sense of loyalty...'
'I have no loyalty to heaven, not any more, you know that Crowley but please don't ask me to turn away someone in need. I might not be part of heaven but I'm still an angel, still an agent for good and I can't leave her to suffer. I won't ask you to help me and I won't ask for your approval. All I ask is that you don't hinder me in helping her,' said Aziraphale, his hands trying to find purchase to lift the unconscious angel without aggravating her wounds, 'Her wings...someone has taken her wings.'
The words were spoken so sadly that, despite her better judgement, Crowley bent down and picked up Michael, careful not to disturb the wounds already bleeding through the clothes on her back, 'Get the door,' she said, 'We can't do anything for her out here. Just pray to whoever is listening and might be on our side that this isn't a trap.'
'Thank you, my love,' said Aziraphale, breaking his own self imposed rule and opening the doors with a snap of his fingers.
'Don't thank me for this, angel,' said Crowley, carrying Michael inside, 'This is going to be nothing but trouble.'
Chapter 5: Michael
Aziraphale helps Michael and begins to make connections between what is happening. When Michael wakes though she tells them a story far worse than anything they imagined.
Well this one grew its own legs. I chopped the chapter this was meant to be in two so the rest to come in chapter 6 as I wanted to give Michael time to tell her story.
A few notes/warnings. Some minor descriptions of violence in this chapter and bad language. Also please note that Crowley begins the chapter with she/her pronouns and ends with he/his - hopefully I've not messed up anywhere but forgive me if I have.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Chapter 6 shouldn't be too far behind.
Crowley stood at the end of the bed, watching as the angel who had not performed a miracle in anything less than dire need in the last three years used the powers Heaven had gifted him to heal as best he could the bloody and ragged wounds on Michael's back. It had taken more strength than either of them would have anticipated to view the site where her wings had clearly been forcibly ripped from her body, shards of bone protruding from the flesh with one or two snowy white feathers stuck to the congealing blood. The tears were merciless, brutal, and even Crowley found herself glad that the Archangel was unconscious and hopefully not aware of the pain. It was the work of several hours to heal her until Aziraphale finally miracled pristine white bandages around her to better shield the wounds. With gentle care he pressed a hand to her forehead, easing the suffering until she fell into a deep and restful repose.
'She'll sleep until morning,' he said looking down at his hands before worrying them together at the sight of the blood on them, 'Who could have done this?'
Crowley shook her head, 'I don't know, someone strong though, you don't just tear off wings like that,' he said, 'Even a demon...even a hoard of demons wouldn't have the strength to do that to any Archangel, let alone Michael. She's not Fallen though, even this far from Hell I'd know, I'd be able to sense it. She's not a demon but something tells me she's lost a little of Heaven too.'
'Could this be what I was sensing earlier? My wings, her wings? I felt like I should be fighting something,' said Aziraphale with a shudder, 'I need to get her blood off me before I can do anything else though. Will you watch her for a moment? I can't just miracle it away.'
Crowley nodded, 'I understand. Are you alright?'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Not really, no. Oh Crowley, it's so cruel.'
'Come here,' said Crowley, opening her arms and enfolding him the moment he stepped into them, 'You've done what you can, now take care of you. I want you to rest too. Go clean up. I can change in here if she's going to be sleeping.'
Aziraphale stepped back, blue eyes wet with tears as he frowned, 'When you say change?'
Crowley smiled sadly, 'If I'm facing a fight I'm not doing it in heels and a skirt. Anathema's the only Wonder Woman in our strange little family. Besides, this is for you, no one else.'
'Can I make one request?' said Aziraphale, resisting the urge to touch the russet curls with his stained hands, 'Longer hair, like it was when Adam and Warlock were born. I realised tonight how much I missed it.'
Crowley nodded, 'Go straighten yourself out, leave anything that's marked and I'll sort it later if you don't want to deal with it.'
Aziraphale left the room, hovering at the door for a second but he didn't look back at the bed or the injured occupant there. Crowley waited until she heard the water turn on in the bathroom before she headed to the chest of drawers and retrieved a familiar pair of dark jeans and a plain black top, wanting nothing more than to change into something more restful but feeling the need to be ready for anything. She removed the dark glasses, setting them on the dresser top, giving her eyes a moment to adjust to the lamplight of the room. She kicked the scarlet stilettos into the corner, before shrugging off the long jacket, a click of her fingers returning it to the confines of the trunks in their spare room. She could easily have done the same with the remainder of her clothes but it felt like a disservice to the person she had allowed to the fore that evening to end it all with a simple miracle.
Conscious of Michael's presence, despite Aziraphale's insistence that she would sleep until morning, Crowley slipped behind the ornate dressing screen that the angel had insisted upon being in the room when their relationship was new and he had been shy of being too bared in front of the demon. It hadn't taken too long for Crowley to persuade him that it was unnecessary but it had still remained, promoted to an over-glorified clotheshorse.
She took a last look in the long Victorian mirror at the figure she had finally been able to enjoy without it being part of a temptation before a wave of her hand darkened the glass. Whilst she removed the black satin suit the human way, the physical transformation was handled by magic and Crowley lamented the night lost, wondering if Aziraphale would ever have the chance to look favourably on the same figure again.
Shaking off the dark thoughts, Crowley quickly dressed in the more familiar clothes, easily returning to a form the world knew better although he kept his hair long, waves of red rather than the curls that had framed his face moments before. He stepped out from behind the screen, leaving the satin suit hung over the back of it. Frowning at the Archangel unconscious in the bed, he opened the trunk at the foot of it, pulling out the extra pillows and blankets he had insisted on housing there for the colder winter nights. He piled them into a makeshift bed beneath the window, hoping to encourage Aziraphale to rest if not sleep if Michael would not be roused until morning.
He sat down on the trunk when he had finished, idly twisting his wedding ring around his finger as he waited for the angel to return. Finally, footsteps echoed along the corridor, Aziraphale appearing in the doorway, clothes changed from their night out but replaced with a similar silhouette, pale trousers and a robin's egg blue shirt, covered with a pale cardigan. Comfort clothes, Crowley realised, but still easily put to more familiar rights if needed in a hurry.
The angel stopped in the doorway, running his eyes over the more familiar form of his husband with a small, sad smile, 'The hair suits you,' he said, 'How are you feeling?'
'Shouldn't I be asking you that?' said Crowley, holding out a hand, glad when it was taken without hesitation.
'I've been better,' said Aziraphale, his free hand coming up to card through the freshly styled strands of red hair before he leaned down to kiss him, 'I feel drained. I'm not used to doing miracles any more. Thank you for helping me.'
'I didn't do anything.'
'You were here and you didn't stop me from helping her,' said Aziraphale, 'I understand your reasons to be wary and I wouldn't have invited this but I couldn't have left her.'
'I know, angel, and I'm sorry I snapped earlier. I just don't want any of them anywhere near us but seeing the state of her, I'm glad you fought me.'
Aziraphale smiled, 'I'd hardly call it a fight,' he said around a yawn, 'A minor disagreement at best.'
'Please rest now,' said Crowley, 'You'll be no use to anyone if you don't rest.'
Aziraphale nodded, 'I need to but don't let me sleep,' he said, tugging on Crowley's hair gently as he frowned, 'I mean it, love. I'll rest but I can't risk sleeping, you know it leaves me out of sorts when I do.'
'Alright,' said the demon, 'But at least lie down, I did what I could by the window given that we've lost our bed for the night.'
'We've both slept on worse,' said Aziraphale, helping the demon to his feet and over to the makeshift bed.
He fussed with the pillows, ignoring Crowley's protests as he arranged them so he could sit up against the wall rather than lie down fully. The demon on the other hand was not so inclined and curled himself up on the floor beside the angel, his head resting in his lap with the blankets drawn over them both. Fingers found their way back into his hair and he was glad he had agreed to keep it long if only for the fact that it seemed to encourage the angel to pet it even more than he usually did. He felt a change in the pace of the touch as Aziraphale almost absently began to braid a few strands behind his ear. The touch was hypnotic and, despite his better judgement, he felt his own fatigue pricking at his senses as he let his eyes fall shut.
He had fallen into a light doze when Aziraphale's fingers finally stilled and he wondered if the angel had actually succumbed to the rest he sorely needed but the thought lasted only a moment before he was forcibly rolled off the pillow of Aziraphale's thighs and onto the remainder of the blanket nest he had created.
'Fuck!' was the only word to leave the angel's lips as he got to his feet and ran to the bedroom door.
Crowley fought his way out of the knot of blankets, struggling to stand himself, 'What?' he said, hurrying to the door as Aziraphale headed for the stairs, shouting down after him, 'Angel, what on Earth is happening? There are only two reasons you say fuck, a good one and a bad one, and considering that neither of us are currently naked I'm going with bad. What is happening?
'Thinking, hush!' came the retort from the rooms below, 'Don't leave Michael.'
'Don't leave Michael,' the demon mimicked, turning to the bed, 'You hear that? Don't leave Michael. If bloody Michael had sodded off elsewhere, tonight was going to end with the good kind of fuck but I now I get the bad kind.'
'Darling, you know she can't hear you right now,' said Aziraphale, stepping back through the door with Anathema's book in his hand alongside his translations.
Crowley sniffed haughtily, 'You never know with that lot,' he said, 'What's with the book?'
'I think I've figured it out,' said Aziraphale, sitting back down on the blankets and opening the books, 'Some of the phrases I couldn't work out and I think they're nonsense ones, this wasn't a conscious effort on Anathema's part but the phrases I could translate have marks by the original text she wrote.'
Aziraphale pointed to the ancient phrases and the little tally like marks next to them, counting them off, 'One, two, three and so on,' he said, 'They never repeat. Now look at the translations in that numeric order. One, the child shall depart from the mother. You lost Warlock tonight, my love, a child who told you he saw you as his mother. Two, the tallest tress will shudder in the dark and rain. Tallest could be highest though, my translation isn't perfect and tonight we were amongst the highest trees in London and then...'
'Storm,' finished Crowley, 'Definite bad fuck.'
'Indeed and there's more. Three, lightning shall bear wings. My wings in the storm, I couldn't control them. Four, the flightless bird shall lie amongst the leaves. Michael, she's flightless and the leaves could be here, the leaves between the pages of a book.'
Crowley shook his head, 'That last one's a bit iffy isn't it?'
'Maybe but given the others,' said Aziraphale, 'I can't help but think they're genuine.'
'Are there any more?'
'I worked out thirteen full translations in total, all of which bear the marks.'
'Unlucky for some,' said Crowley, striving for mirth but failing, 'Anything else?'
Aziraphale shrugged, 'Nothing I can match to events so far. Number five says he will return in true form to the scene of his deception. Make of that what you will.'
'Damn it all,' said Crowley, 'What's going on?'
'I don't know, darling, perhaps Michael can enlighten us when she wakes. We should speak to Anathema first thing though, I don't want to worry her unduly in her condition but she has the right to know about her powers. I do not think she will take kindly to the knowledge but it should be hers all the same. I won't work in deceptions and half deeds, not with our friends. Best to speak to Adam too, just to have on guard and the Shadwells, though they've kept well clear since they were still part of events and if anything of this is down to revenge for that, they have a right to know and protect themselves as best they can. I can't watch any of our friends suffer for this.'
'We'll warn them as soon as it's morning,' said Crowley, taking the angel's face in his hands, 'And remember we're in this together now, our side. We're facing whatever this is as a team. You and me, love. Ok?'
Aziraphale nodded, 'Together. Promise me that won't change.'
'Never,' said the demon, 'I swore myself to you long before our wedding, long before we called this love and I've never broken it. I never will. I love you and I'm with you, angel, to whatever end.'
'Don't...don't say end. I can't bear the word,' said Aziraphale, 'Give me your wings, darling. After everything that's happened tonight I need to know they're there.'
With a moment's thought Crowley unfolded his jet black wings, pulling the angel into his arms before he sheltered them both within the dark feathers. They stayed wrapped around each other until Crowley guided them back to the makeshift bed beneath the window just as the night was at its darkest outside. Though silence reigned, neither of them found any rest. Whilst Crowley tried to get the angel to remain at his side, Aziraphale was soon given over to pacing the rug at the foot of the bed, the both of them sensitive to any movement from the bed in the hope that Michael would wake with answers.
Crowley cursed the sun as it finally rose, sneaking beneath the curtains and illuminating the ramshackle collection of pillows he had made his bed. With no chance of sleep or rest, he got to his feet and began folding the blankets into something that resembled order. It was only as he reached for one that was closest to the bed that he saw the fluttering of Michael's eyelashes against her cheeks in the moment before she opened her eyes, regarding him quizzically for a moment.
'Br...brother?' she murmured before her eyes fell shut once more.
'She's after you then,' he said, snatching the blanket from the floor as Aziraphale ceased his pacing at the sound of her voice.
'Hardly,' replied the angel, moving to the side of the bed, 'I don't think she'd ever call me...'
The scream was enough to shake the walls around them, inhuman and desperate in its agony. Aziraphale quickly took hold of Michael's shoulders as she flailed in the bed, tearing at the bandages that covered her wounds. Crowley turned his eyes away from the light that seemed to flow from Aziraphale's hands as he spoke calmly to her, Michael slowly quieting into sobs.
'My wings,' she cried, 'They took my wings, threw us down.'
'Us?' said Aziraphale, 'Michael, who else? We only found you. You're safe now though, I promise, we mean no harm to you. We only want to help you. What happened to you?'
Michael shook her head, tears threatening once more, 'It hurts. My wings and if I talk... Aziraphale forgive me. I did all I could.'
'Is she quite with it, angel?' said Crowley, moving to stand beside him.
'Demon,' snapped Michael, before she cried out, the bandages on her back staining red as wings that were no longer there tried to flare.
'Yeah, got a name and you know it,' sneered Crowley, ignoring Aziraphale's annoyed tut as he tried to calm the Archangel once more.
'Michael, you need to stay calm,' he said gently, 'I've done what I can for you but I can't heal everything. Please, Crowley won't hurt you, you aren't at risk from him or me. You are our guest and, despite everything that has passed between us, that brings you under our protection for as long as you need it. Now I don't wish to press you but things are happening and I need to know what happened to you. Who did this to you and who else has been hurt?'
Michael shook her head frantically, tears spilling over pale cheeks as she bit her lip, 'I can't.'
'Oh dammit, angel, this is getting us nowhere,' snapped Crowley, slamming his hand on the night stand, 'Listen white wings, we found your sorry arse on our doorsteps after four years of none of you lot showing your faces and you look like shit. Now either you deserved this or you didn't but I want to know because if you are even sniff of a risk to us I will drag you from our home and leave you to whatever is coming for you. Now talk or out, understand?'
'Crowley, please...' said Aziraphale, 'This is hardly helping. Be gentle.'
'Be gentle? To her? The Archangel Michael who was last spotted in Hell with a vat of Holy Water to disintegrate me? Oh of course, angel quite forgot. Whilst I'm at it shall I invite Uriel, Gabriel and, just for the party, Sandalphon...'
Michael's yelp was enough to still Crowley's protest, the tears falling from her eyes no longer from pain but from fear, 'Please don't say that name. Don't say any of them.'
'Why?' said Aziraphale, 'Were they hurt? Did something happen to them? Michael please, tell me what's wrong.'
'She's gone,' said Michael, 'She's gone and they did it.'
Crowley rolled his eyes, 'Riddles again.'
'Shut up, just shut up,' said Michael, 'Soulless, Fallen creature that you are, you couldn't possibly understand. They threw her down, they rebelled and threw her down.'
'Who?' said Aziraphale.
'God,' said Michael, 'Gabriel and the others, they rebelled and threw Her down.'
'Oh bollocks,' said Crowley, 'She's playing some sort of game. God doesn't get thrown out of Heaven, she throws you out. If Lucifer couldn't mount a successful rebellion then that pampered peacock Gabriel certainly couldn't.'
'You don't know him,' said Michael, 'Aziraphale, you know me, I don't lie. I can't lie, I'm an angel...I was an angel. Gabriel has overcome God and cast Her from Heaven. He's in charge now.'
Aziraphale looked to his husband who merely shrugged and stalked over to the far side of the room, retrieving his glasses before leaning against the dresser, 'I've never known you to lie, Michael, that much is true,' he said, turning his attention back to the Archangel, 'But you're asking me to believe the Almighty has been bested by an angel and I don't know if I can. The world is still turning, we still live. If God is gone, how is any of this working?'
'Because he kept Her alive but removed her from Heaven,' said Michael, her voice catching on the words.
'Aziraphale, don't fall for this,' said Crowley, 'Don't trust her. God cannot be just removed from Heaven.'
Aziraphale sighed, 'Tell me from the beginning exactly what happened,' he said, holding up a hand to silence Crowley's protests, 'Once we have heard it all, then we will see. Michael, tell me and speak plainly. I'm listening.'
Michael worried her hands in her lap before she took a shuddering breath, 'It all started after the punishments we had decided upon for you both did not go off as planned. Everything in Heaven was in uproar, Armageddon over before it had begun, the war not fought and an angel impervious to Hellfire was walking the Earth. Gabriel did everything he could to keep order, mainly through Sandalphon and Uriel. He was harsh but order needed to be kept. Things seemed to settle but God refused to speak to him about everything that happened. She gave us nothing as to why things had gone the way they did. All we knew was you two were not to be touched and it seemed to be accepted as such and then...'
'Then?' said Aziraphale, covering her hands with his own until she shook him off.
'You had to go too far,' said Michael, 'Bad enough you had defied the Great Plan but then you chose to desecrate one of Her most sacred rites. An angel cannot marry. An angel's love should be only for God and Her creations but there you stood and claimed matrimony with a demon.'
Crowley snorted, 'Oh here we go. I wondered how long it would take until this was our fault.'
'Crowley, please,' said Aziraphale, blue eyes pained but pleading as he met the covered ones, 'Michael, please continue.'
'The whole of Heaven knew you were claiming marriage moments after it occurred and we all waited for Her reaction. She didn't condemn you. She didn't say a word and for Gabriel it was too much. I thought he would orchestrate his own Fall, he protested so much, questioned Her so much but She did nothing, said nothing. She should have said something. Even just told him that you were to be left alone. An answer would have been better than Her silence. He was so angry and he has so much power. He started to talk, started to say that God no longer had control, that She was ceding power to Hell in not calling you back into line. They listened. Some willingly, some not so but he has Sandalphon and you do not... he does much in the name of righteousness. There was unrest, discontent but it seemed to suit Gabriel. He told me that we had to help settle Heaven, to bring everything back into order and the only way would be to take power from God Herself. I thought him a fool and told him as much but he was so sure and it scared me. Until then I had followed him entirely but I could not... would not... I was created to serve God. I was Her warrior, Her guard. I went to Her, stood in her Presence and begged Her to counter him. She stood before me, She became physically manifest. I had forgotten just how beautiful She truly is. It diminishes Her though, to appear as lowly as us and it was the moment Gabriel needed. He sent out the word that God had lost Her power and his poison had spread through them all, they rallied to him not to Her. He told Her she needed to condemn you and there She refused. It was enough. They turned from Her and the loss of faith was absolute. Gabriel tried to expel Her from Heaven though he did not have the power to force Her to Fall. I stood against him, I did what I was created to do and protected Her. My punishment you've already seen, courtesy of Sandalphon and he was not quick in its execution. They made Her watch, Her power so diminished by their abandonment that She could not save me. When they were done, they threw us down. I held onto Her, tried to keep Her with me but I... I lost Her as I fell.'
'Yeah, that happens,' said Crowley, though there was no taunting in his tone.
'Now Gabriel rules Heaven and he will move against humanity and you both once he has established his command. He will punish everything he believes to be sin. He has forsaken God for his own glory.'
'The child shall depart from the mother,' said Crowley, 'I don't think that one was about Warlock and I any more, my love.'
'No indeed,' said Aziraphale, his voice strained, 'I so want to disbelieve. I so want this to be a lie but I... can God really be cast out of Heaven?'
Michael nodded, 'I wish it were not so but I swear all I've told you is true. I came to you with the last of my strength because if anyone can counter this, then it must be you. There has to be a reason She will not condemn you,' she said, taking hold of Aziraphale's hands and pressing her forehead too them, 'I have no right to ask you but I beg you both to help Her. Help restore Her to Her power or else I am terrified of what will happen. Gabriel does not represent the Heaven I know. I will do whatever it takes, I will lay myself down at your feet and beg if I must. I will let you take whatever revenge you wish to visit on me for all that happened to you but I beg you to help Her. Hurt me but help Her.'
'You really don't know either of us, do you?' said Crowley, 'Me, I understand you could think me capable of anything but you sit there in front of probably the best of all the angels God ever created and you ask him to hurt you in return for helping Her. If you're from Heaven, then I'm almost grateful for Hell.'
'I would never harm you, Michael,' said Aziraphale, 'Despite all that has passed, even if you turned on me as brutally as they have turned on you, I would never harm you and that will always stand. I don't ask you to beg, or plead, my help is given because it is needed.'
'Our help,' said Crowley, eyes trained on the carpet, 'Our help, angel.'
Aziraphale smiled, 'Our help then. I will take you at your word, Michael, and believe that this has happened. If God is in need and She is no longer in Heaven, then it is up to us to find Her, fight for Her and restore Her to whatever end. I fear for far more than our safety if we do not.'
'Thank you,' said Michael, tears spilling over their joined hands, 'I was so afraid.'
'You don't need to be afraid any more,' said Aziraphale, 'At least for the moment and never from us. You will find Crowley can be accommodating when he wishes to be.'
'How I wish to be is subject to change without notice,' said the demon, 'And just to amend the statement slightly. You have no need to be afraid of me whilst I believe you to be on our side, the second I suspect otherwise, then you will be right to keep up your guard. My loyalty is not to God but to Aziraphale and to humanity. I owe nothing to Her and you need to remember that.'
Michael nodded, 'I understand,' she said before she flinched, pulling a hand away to press against her stomach, 'Hurts.'
'An injury?' said Aziraphale, 'I sensed nothing last night.'
'I don't recall being injured, feels like it's deep inside, gnawing within me,' she said.
'Humans call it hunger,' said Crowley, 'I think your little trip down may not have made you a demon but mortality is probably taking hold. Luckily it's easily fixed. I'll be downstairs.'
'I'll help you,' said Aziraphale, 'You rest, Michael, call for us if you need us. You'll need your strength if we're to plan what happens next. We won't be long.'
Crowley waited for Aziraphale to reach the door before he left his place on the dresser, placing himself between his husband and the Archangel he was not willing to trust fully regardless of whether he believed her story. They were halfway to the stairs when Aziraphale reached back for his hand, his grip painfully tight but Crowley returned it as the descended to the shop below. They did not break their silence until they were safely in the back room of the shop, the place that had been their haven against the world since Aziraphale had first bought the place.
A word, a name so quietly sobbed but it conveyed so much and the demon hurried them both the the worn couch, pulling Aziraphale into his arms moments before the tears he heard in his voice broke. He said nothing, merely holding on tightly and allowing the angel to mourn all that they had heard above. He wanted to doubt the story. He wanted to prove it some sick game but he had heard too much pain and truth in Michael's words. God was no longer in Heaven and any safety they had had was gone, evaporated like dew at sunrise. They were at the mercy of an angel who had all but relished the prospect of their destruction and stood humiliated when it had failed.
He pressed a kiss to the blond head against his shoulder, lingering in the hope of offering some shred of comfort to the angel he knew would carry burden of what lay before them so completely even if it was not his to bear.
'Oh my love, I'm so sorry,' he said, 'I can't imagine what this must feel like. I've been without God for so long but I know, even with everything that happened, your belief in Her never waned.'
'How do we even counter this, Crowley? Even if we knew where She was, how do we stand against Heaven? We are a demon, a principality and an Archangel that is more human than divine.'
'We sound like the start of a very bad joke,' said Crowley, the brevity he was trying for falling flat, 'And we sound very screwed. I always thought Gabriel unhinged but this. I don't know what to do.'
'Neither do I,' said Aziraphale, 'And we're running out of time.'
Chapter 6: A Meeting in Hell
The unlikely trio try to plan their next move but an unexpected visitor arrives with an invitation they cannot refuse.
Another chapter that ran away from me but I'm sure you won't mind a few extra words. Thank you to all who are reading, leaving kudos, reviewing or just enjoying the fic. I love hearing your thoughts on the story.
Crowley cursed the human need for a rush hour as he exited the small cafe across the street from the bookshop. He hadn't wanted to leave Aziraphale alone with Michael in the rooms above but a scrounge through the cupboards had come up with nothing edible and he had lamented their habit of eating out whenever they could as he was forced to head over to the cafe. A miracle could have aided them but with each costing them both energy, the decision was taken to save their strength for the bigger things.
He pushed open the door, locking it behind him before pulling down the blind, hoping to dissuade anyone in the mood for attempting a purchase. He moved through to the back room, setting his purchases down on the table already furnished with plates and a steaming teapot. It was not the scene of domesticity, set for three rather than two, that made him pause but the angel sat on the well worn couch, a framed photograph in his hand that he studied with a frown marring his brow.
'Angel? I've got breakfast, even picked up a couple of those lemon muffins you like, thought a pick me up might help,' he said, expecting to snap him out of his reverie, 'Aziraphale?'
'I've never hated anyone,' said the angel quietly, 'Not really, well I tried not to but now... I hate him, Crowley and it makes me feel all twisted up. I hate him for what he let Sandalphon do to Michael just because she followed her calling. I hate him for what he wanted to do to me. I hate him for what he has done to God but the thing I hate the most is that he made the most beautiful day of my life into his excuse. He took our wedding day and made it his reason for his plans.'
'We were a convenient excuse,' said Crowley, taking a seat beside him, 'He didn't do this because of us, we were just a means to an end.'
He took hold of the picture in Aziraphale's hands. Despite all the photos they planned for the day they married, it had been the unguarded moment Pepper had managed to capture on the new phone she had received for her birthday that had been the best. Neither of them could remember what they had been talking about but their smiles were true and intended only for each other as they sat beside one another on a bench in Anathema's garden, hands joined with the matching golden bands, fresh and new on their fingers, glittering in the late afternoon sun.
'He's used our love as a weapon,' said Aziraphale, sadly, 'He's taken something so pure and twisted it.'
'Because he's the twisted one,' said Crowley, 'Power mad and cruel. He doesn't understand love, he understands nothing but what Gabriel thinks is best. Don't take what he said as a judgement on us, take what wasn't said instead. You heard what Michael told us earlier, God didn't condemn us even to save herself. God stood in front of those who were losing faith and she didn't condemn us. She said nothing and in Her silence, though I have never needed it, I will find a blessing on this, on us.'
A creak from above had Aziraphale hastily wiping at his eyes before he returned the photograph to its place on the small table beside him, 'I should check on Michael,' he said, 'We need to start working out what we're going to do next.'
'I'll go,' said Crowley, 'I didn't just do battle with a bunch of humans in suits for you not to have your breakfast and you'll only start complaining. First thing's first though, it's been morning for a good few hours now and I've not yet received my kiss.'
Warm, sure lips met his in a gentle kiss that could easily have deepened if another creak from upstairs hadn't prompted them to part. Crowley was glad that Aziraphale moved to the table as he headed to the stairs, the sadness of moments before muted for a while though he knew Gabriel's actions would still weigh heavily on the angel. He headed quickly up the stairs to the bedroom, knocking only briefly on the door before stepping inside to find Michael sat up in bed, the sheets wrapped tight around her as she stared blankly towards the covered window.
Crowley bit back the more sarcastic questions he had wanted to begin with at the sight, the once powerful Archangel reduced so much that she looked as mortal as he suspected her to be amongst the dark bedclothes, 'I got breakfast,' he said, 'You've probably never eaten before but you're going to need it now. Do you think you can get yourself downstairs? I don't do room service.'
Michael nodded, 'I just... My clothes are covered in blood and I can't... nothing's happening.'
The small wave of her hand was enough to show Crowley what wasn't working, miracles that had once come so easily stolen along with her wings. He considered calling Aziraphale but the miracles the angel had performed the night before had taxed him after so long of not using them.
'If you don't mind, I could help,' he said, 'I don't want to bother Aziraphale.'
Michael pressed herself back against the headboard but then sighed, 'I suppose we are on the same side in a way now,' she said, 'It won't hurt will it?'
Crowley shook his head, 'I don't intend to do you harm.'
'Alright,' she said, 'Just not... I don't want to look like... I can't look like me when I'm this.'
'A little more colour then,' said Crowley with a snap of his fingers, a sky blue suit, collarless, and a pale pink shirt appearing on the trunk at the foot of the bed. The lines were harsher than any heavenly attire he had seen before but the colours mimicked the softer tones Aziraphale chose, 'I'm assuming you can manage alone, if not I'll send Aziraphale up. Bathroom is down the corridor if you want to use it. We'll be downstairs.'
'I'll be fine,' said Michael, swallowing hard before she spoke again, 'Thank you, Crowley.'
'Don't thank me,' he said, 'That suit is about five years out of date.'
He didn't wait for her to respond, turning and heading back down the stairs, stealing Aziraphale's teacup as he passed the table and settled on the couch. He took a sip as the angel tutted at him before wrinkling his nose in distaste at the weakness of the brew.
'I made you a stronger cup before you start moaning,' said the angel, exchanging his cup for another, 'Is Michael awake? Does she need anything?'
'A taxi somewhere else,' said Crowley, cradling the cup of black tea in his hand, 'She's dressing. She can't perform miracles of her own at the moment so I sorted her something. Don't say a word.'
'The thought never crossed my mind, dear,' said Aziraphale, 'Is she coming down?'
'I invited her to,' said Crowley, 'If she's leaning more towards the mortal side of things she's going to need to eat. Stop it, Aziraphale.'
Aziraphale bit his lip in a vain attempt to keep the smile from his lips, 'I'm not doing a thing,' he said, neatly slicing into the sticky lemon muffin on the plate before him, 'I'm sure your reputation will survive.'
'Shut up,' said Crowley, though there was no venom in his tone, 'Or I'll start wearing my hair short again.'
'No don't,' said Aziraphale, ignoring his husband's smirk, 'I love it long. I always loved it long.'
'You just like fiddling with it,' said Crowley, flicking the small braid that still hung down behind his ear.
'I like the fact that I finally can,' said Aziraphale, dropping his fork onto the tabletop as a panicked squeak came from the floor above.
'Don't get flustered,' said Crowley, hiding a grin behind his cup, 'That sounded like shock rather than pain.'
'Well shock isn't good. Crowley, why are you laughing?'
'Because I think Michael just proved a theory and if she comes down those stairs in the next few minutes and can't look me in the eye, I'll know for sure.'
Aziraphale frowned, 'What did you do?'
'Remember the night I found that old instant camera and we decided to have some fun?' said the demon, 'One or two of the pictures might have found their way into the top drawer of my night stand when I was up there. I reckoned Michael might go snooping and I think she just has.'
'Crowley!' cried Aziraphale, hands covering his flaming cheeks, 'Oh I'll never be able to look at her again.'
'Don't panic,' laughed Crowley, 'I picked the tamest ones and they're only of me. The pictures of you and the ones of us together are strictly for my eyes only.'
'Well they better be well hidden,' huffed the angel, before he shook his head in exasperation, 'Only you could think of such things when the world is ending.'
'I'm always thinking of such things, the world ending is interrupting.'
'One of the reasons you love me,' said Crowley.
'Hmm, you're lucky I do,' said Aziraphale, 'No more tricks on Michael though, she's been through enough.'
Crowley rolled his eyes, 'You spoil my fun,' he said, 'Eat your breakfast, angel.'
They fell into a comfortable silence, the morning feeling almost normal but after another fifteen minutes passed with no sign of Michael, Aziraphale began to fidget in his chair, casting glances towards the stairs every other moment. Finally he set down his fork and got to his feet, folding his napkin on the tabletop.
'I'd better check on her,' he said, heading to the stairs, 'I didn't do a very good job on her back and I'd hate for her to do herself further injury.'
'If she wants help, she'll ask for it,' said Crowley.
Aziraphale paused on the bottom step and shook his head, 'No she won't,' he said, 'Her pride won't let her. I'll be back in a little while. Will you call Anathema and the others and bring them up to speed, it should be a suitable time for them now. Mind what you say to Adam though, we don't want him having one of those outbursts he was telling you about.'
Crowley nodded, retrieving his phone from his pocket as Aziraphale headed back up the stairs. Anathema took the news with her usual poise but he heard the tremble in her voice all the same as she promised to let him no if she experienced any more prophecy-making phenomena. He had been grateful, when he had dialled the old fashioned land line moments later that it was the still somewhat newly-minted Mrs Shadwell that answered the phone rather than her curmudgeon of a husband. She had put on her best worried voice and assured Crowley that she was sure that he and dear Mr Aziraphale would no doubt handle it expertly before asking him if they had made a decision yet about coming for the following Christmas. Crowley flinched as he recalled the one Sunday dinner he and Aziraphale had braved before responding that they would give it some thought once things had settled down though angels, even ones with bookshops, were notoriously busy at that time of year.
He felt a headache pressing behind his eyes when he finally managed to hang up the phone, and even more grateful when Adam's went to voicemail, the words he wanted to say to the boy not sounding quite right in his head so instead he left him a brief instruction to talk to Anathema and to make sure he kept an eye out for her and the others. With Aziraphale still absent and the cup in his hand stone cold he groped beneath the couch, retrieving a bottle of whisky he kept there despite Aziraphale's protests whenever he found it. He didn't bother locating a glass, drinking straight from the bottle as he leaned back against the couch.
He was fully stretched out against the battered upholstery by the time he heard footsteps on the stairs, Aziraphale's voice gently coaxing and emerging moments later with Michael holding tightly onto his arm as she wobbled forward on unsteady feet. He stuck out a foot and pushed out a chair with as much nonchalance as he could manage but he saw the smile twitch at his husband's lips though it melted quickly to a frown as he noticed the bottle in Crowley's hand.
'Really, dear,' said the angel, helping Michael into a chair, 'We have a rule, do we not? No self medicating past trauma before midday.'
Crowley huffed, 'It's current trauma that I'm dealing with so it doesn't stand,' he said, 'Besides, it's midday somewhere.'
'Bottle away and sober up, there's a dear,' said Aziraphale with feigned patience.
'You're a bitch when you're cranky,' said Crowley, screwing the lid back in place and rolling the bottle beneath the couch with a smirk at the eye roll it gained him.
'And you're a pain when you're anxious,' said the angel, 'Tea, Michael?'
The Archangel's face seemed unsure whether it wanted to settle into a frown or a smile as her eyes followed the exchange before settling on the teapot Aziraphale retrieved from beneath an old fashioned cosy, 'I've never tried,' she said, 'I don't know if I should.'
'It won't hurt,' said Aziraphale, 'And it might help you feel a little stronger. The croissants are always wonderful from the shop over the road as well. Try one with a little of the jam, that's the red jelly in the pot.'
It took a while for Michael to work out what went where but once she realised that nothing on the table before her could hurt her, she settled into the meal with a delicate precision. Crowley watched from the couch, absently eating the remains of one of the muffins from the small plate Aziraphale handed him alongside a fresh cup of tea. It was an odd scene, the back room of the bookshop so long their shared haven alone that to have another person there, regardless of who she was, was jarring. A subtle change in a world he had little doubt would soon swiftly be altering around them. His thoughts seemed to prompt his husband's as Aziraphale sat back in his chair worrying the edge of the tablecloth between his fingers as he studied the pattern on his empty plate.
'I hate to bring us back round to the situation at hand but we need decide what happens next,' he said, 'Gabriel won't wait long to act and I am sure all of us are on a list of people to be dealt with swiftly.'
'I don't know how we can even begin to counter him,' said Michael, 'If I had kept hold of Her... I don't know where she fell. We can do nothing without God Herself.'
'Then we make finding Her our priority,' said Aziraphale, 'She may know what we have to do. There must be a way.'
Crowley sat up a little straighter, 'That's in your hands,' he said, 'All connection I had was severed millennia ago and I wouldn't even know where to look. We didn't exactly fall to a convenient compass point on Earth.'
'Well we can start close by and work from there,' said Aziraphale, 'Perhaps if I study the prophecies with that in mind I might find something.'
'Prophecies? What prophecies?' asked Michael.
'We know a guy,' said Crowley, 'Family has a bit of a track record. Might have something we can work with.'
Michael nodded, 'Fair enough. I appreciate you don't want to share everything with me yet but if these prophecies are something you think will help can I see them? Perhaps they will mean something to me. I don't expect you to betray the name of your human.'
'The term would be friend,' said Crowley, 'Aziraphale?'
'Information shared between us is the best option,' he said, 'One of us might spot something the other has missed. I have the translations upstairs unless you would prefer the original Aramaic, Michael?'
'English is fine,' she replied, 'It's one of the more common ones used now.'
'Here, angel,' said Crowley, a click of his fingers retrieving the papers from where they had been left upstairs.
'Thank you, dear,' said Aziraphale, shuffling through them, 'This is the one I've marked with...'
The pounding on the front door soon had Michael's cup tumbling from her hands in fright as Crowley got to his feet with a curse.
'Not what we need,' he said.
'What's the matter?' said Aziraphale, rising to his side.
'Demon,' said Crowley.
As the pounding came once more, 'I know you're in there traitor. I need a word with you so open the door.'
'Beelzebub?' said Aziraphale, 'What could she...?'
'Crowley! Don't make me wait. Your master wants a word with you and I have his full command to use any means necessary to get you to this door.'
'You can't possibly mean to answer it?' said Michael, as Crowley headed towards the front door, 'That's the prince of Hell.'
'With all the power of someone far stronger,' said Crowley, turning back briefly enough for the light to glint off the chain around his neck that was normally so well concealed from the naked eye, 'It'll be best for us all if I answer.'
Aziraphale hurried to catch up with him, clutching his sleeve, 'My shop,' he said, 'I should open the door.'
'It's alright,' he said, throwing back the bolt and unlocking the door, knowing full well neither was a true deterrent to the demon outside, 'Good morning, Beelzebub.'
Beelzebub flicked her gaze over the angel before she stepped into the shop, eyes widening as she took in the sight of Michael sat primly at the table, 'Quite the angelic harem, traitor,' she said, 'I didn't realise you were collecting them.'
'What do you want?' snapped Crowley, without any pretence of genuflection that he had previously shown to the prince.
'I've been sent to bring you in, you and your...collection,' she said, 'I had wondered what was meant when I was told to bring both the angels but now I understand.'
'Satan knows about...' began Aziraphale.
'My master knowzz all,' said Beelzebub, the fizz on the end of her words enough to demonstrate her irritation at being sent to find them, 'Your presence is ordered, now.'
Crowley crossed his arms, 'I can't refuse,' he said, 'But I want assurances if you expect Aziraphale and Michael to accompany me.'
'So it was expected,' said Beelzebub, pulling a scroll from her sleeve, 'The seal alone should be enough but you may read it.'
Crowley took the scroll tentatively, running a finger beneath the seal and unrolling the parchment. It glowed faintly in his hands as he scanned the page before he folded it small enough to fit in his jacket pocket, 'They can't travel our way,' he said, 'We'll come through the main doors.'
'You will be anticipated,' said Beelzebub, turning on a heel and heading back to the door, slamming it behind her.
'Short and not very sweet,' said Aziraphale, 'What did the letter say?'
'An assurance from my so-called master that you and Michael may pass through Hell unharmed,' said Crowley, 'He mentioned you both by name.'
'So somehow he knows I'm here,' said Michael, 'You don't think Gabriel could be working with...'
'Satan led a rebellion himself,' said Aziraphale, 'Perhaps he sought another way to overthrow the rule of Heaven. Either way we will find out. We should go, I don't doubt Beelzebub's threats.'
Crowley ran a hand absently over the exposed chain around his neck, 'Oh the threat is very real,' he said, 'I wish you didn't have to come with me but I don't think that is negotiable either.'
'Not least because I'm not going to let you walk in there alone,' said Aziraphale, taking his hand, 'I'm not afraid.'
'Well you bloody should be,' said Crowley, 'Assurances aside, I don't trust them and anyone we meet down there will be looking for a weakness. Michael, you can't let them see you're hurt, regardless of how much pain you're in you need to walk down there like you could smite them all with a thought. One sniff of the fact that you are injured and pretty notes will do nothing to protect you, even if Satan signed it.'
'I'll do what I can,' she said, fingers trembling on where they rested on the tabletop, 'What if they're working together?'
'Then we find out,' said Aziraphale, 'And we do whatever we can with whatever time we have left. We should get going.'
It was a simple matter of a miracle for Aziraphale to be dressed once more in his customary clothes, pristine and polished as he always appeared. He helped Michael to her feet, letting her lean on his arm in an effort to conserve her strength for what was coming. The Archangel looked fit to drop even before they reached the Bentley parked just outside the shop, her breathing heavy as Aziraphale eased her into the passenger seat before heading around to Crowley's door, foregoing dignity as he climbed into the back seat and away from his customary place. The demon climbed in a moment later, pausing a moment before he shifted the car into gear and pulled away.
He kept to the speed limit, meeting Aziraphale's grateful gaze in the mirror, the angel reaching forward to place a hand on his shoulder in an attempt at comfort before a pained yelp from Michael as they struck a pothole forced him to turn his attention to her.
'Didn't think this through,' said Crowley as they drew up to the familiar building that held the entrance to Hell, 'There's a pathway down.'
'But there's also a pathway up,' said Aziraphale, 'A little too close to Heaven for my liking and if they're watching.'
'No other way for you to get in,' said Crowley, 'You can't travel the demon way.'
'Make a run for it?' said Aziraphale, 'Michael could you manage?'
'I can run as fast as you like if it means avoiding an entanglement with them again. I was told what would happen to me if I tried to return,' she said.
Crowley growled as he stared up at the building, 'They'll have to get through us,' he said, 'I can probably give you some cover with my wings, might be enough to deflect their gaze for a few seconds and give us a chance to make the descent.'
'It's the only plan we've got,' said Aziraphale, 'You worry about Michael, I'll worry about me.'
Crowley frowned but nodded, 'Alright. I'll get out, angel you follow and keep close to me, then we'll get you Michael. As soon as you're out we'll run. Whatever happens don't stop, you'll see where you have to go and just head down. Here, take this, if you lose me at least this might offer you some protection. I've broken the seal so it shouldn't burn but I'd advise against letting it touch your skin for too long.'
He pulled the letter from his pocket, handing it to Aziraphale before he climbed out of the car. He checked around for any human eyes but something about the building kept their gaze from falling on them and he hoped his wings would go unnoticed as well. With a moment's thought, black feathers wrapped around the open door of the car and he placed a hand under Aziraphale's arm to help him out whilst keeping him under cover. He was grateful for the excuse to keep him pressed close to his side, wrapping an arm tight around his waist as they made their way round to the other side of the car.
'This is hardly dignified,' muttered the angel.
'Better than what they might do,' said Crowley, opening the passenger door and offering Michael his hand, 'Come on, you can trust me. Just don't let go and I won't let you fall.'
She hesitated for a moment before she placed her hand in his, leaning on him as he helped her from the car and beneath the shelter of his wings. They paused just long enough from Crowley to slam the door shut before they were running for the building, barely keeping their feet as they struggled not to trip over one another. Michael yelped as they hit the change in the flooring that allowed them to enter Hell, clinging on to Crowley's arm even after he had retracted his wings, content that they were far enough from Heaven's gaze.
'Stand up straight,' hissed Crowley, shaking her off, 'No pain, no fear. You're the Archangel Michael, you are not scared, you are strong, a warrior. Don't wear what you've been through, don't let them see it. They will smell it on you unless you push it away. Stand up straight.'
She did as she was told, Aziraphale pressing a healing hand to her back, easing what he could in the hope it would help her to hide it. The descent was unpleasant but it wasn't as unpleasant as when they reached the cramped depths of Hell itself. Beelzebub met them, clearly put out about being sent to lead them to her master, but she said nothing. The other demons were not so inclined, familiar insults and threats thrown towards all three of them.
Aziraphale repressed a shudder, remembering the taunts that were directed at him when he had descended into Hell, disguised as Crowley. He had walked out again unscathed when their deception had worked but he was unsure if he would be as lucky again. The thought forced a gasp passed his lips, Anathema's prophecies swimming in front of his mind, the next in the list of those they had been unable to fathom the brightest of all.
'He will return, in true form, to the scene of his deception,' he muttered.
Despite the almost whisper, Crowley heard him, turning his head just enough to look over at him, 'Angel?'
'Not here,' said the angel, reaching out to Michael beside him as he saw her pinched features.
She straightened her shoulders though it cost her, tears swimming in her eyes before she blinked them away, not missing a beat in their march through the damp, cramped corridors.
Finally, they reached a door, more ornate than any of the others they had passed. Beelzebub rapped sharply on it before stepping back and allow it to swing open. She smirked cruelly as she bowed them inside.
'Your fate awaits you,' she said as they stepped into the darkness, the door slamming shut behind them.
Torches flared once the door was shut, illuminating the room. Where they had expected the figure they had encountered at the end of the Armageddon that wasn't, they were instead faced with an ornate table with places set for four, one of them occupied by what appeared to be a man though the power that surrounded him told them he was far more than he appeared.
'I thought,' he drawled, getting to his feet, ancient black robes shot through with golden thread spilling around him, 'That it would be better to appear to you thus. Won't you take a seat. We have much to discuss.'
None of them moved, even Crowley refusing the invitation despite the pull of the chains around his neck. He had only encountered the master of Hell a handful of times but he had never seen him in the form he presented now, so much closer to the human figure God had been so proud of creating. It was disconcerting after he had prepared himself to face the same terrifying figure that had tried to intimidate Adam into obedience.
'Did Beelzebub not present you with my promise that you would be unharmed? You have nothing to fear here at this time, even those of you who believe they have tricked Hell before. Oh yes, Aziraphale, don't think I don't know that this isn't your first visit despite never previously having an invitation. Perhaps, in view of that bravery, you will be the first to sit down. Indeed I think you may wish to, lest Michael's strength finally fails her.'
Aziraphale looked at the Archangel beside him, seeing the strain on her face as she struggled to stay upright. He moved his gaze to Crowley, seeing the small shake of his head but duty to Michael and the need to understand why they had been summoned had him reaching out to briefly squeeze his hand before he stepped up to the table. Taking the seat to the left of his host.
'Crowley, help Michael into a chair and do not be stubborn about it, I don't not want to start this meeting with a demonstration of power.'
Crowley obeyed, taken hold of Michael's arm, feeling her body lag against him as he helped her cross the short distance to the chair opposite Aziraphale's before taking the last at the end of the table.
Their host took his own seat, reaching up to brush back a strand of inky blue-black hair before he steepled his fingers before him, regarding them all in turn over the top, 'Nothing upon this table will harm you. I invite you to eat and drink as you please. You may also call me by the name I was once given and still claim when it suits me. For the purpose of this discussion I appear to you as Lucifer and you may call me such,' he said, his expression suddenly growing grim, 'I give you this right as at this moment in time we must stand as unlikely allies. I have been made aware of what is happening in Heaven, though I would hear more of the truth from one who was there when the pretender made his grab for the throne.'
Michael hesitated for a moment before she recounted her tale once more, her voice trembling but she kept back the tears that threatened in her eyes. Lucifer did not interrupt or question her until she reached the end of her story by recounting her awakening at the bookshop and Aziraphale's realisation that it linked to the prophecies he had translated. The revelation seemed to surprise him and he soon turned his questioning to Aziraphale who told him all that he could of what had been translated.
'He will return, in true form, to the scene of his deception,' repeated Lucifer, with a chuckle as he fixed Aziraphale with a red tinted gaze, 'Well that would be you, would it not, young one? For you have returned to the site of one of the greatest deceptions ever managed. Was it you or Crowley who thought up your little scheme? Forgive me Michael, if I seem to speak in riddles but these two know of what I speak. You may chalk off another of your prophecies there and I think another may yet prove itself solved soon but first we must turn to the task at hand. Gabriel cannot rule Heaven, he cannot hold sway over creation. I fear for all if he is given the chance to truly realise his power. For the humans alone, Hell will feel like a reprieve for what he will visit on them. He must be stopped and order must be restored.'
'And how do we do that?' said Crowley, who had sat silently through the stories.
'We find God and we restore Her to power,' said Lucifer.
'You would restore God to Heaven?' said the demon.
Lucifer smiled, 'I surprise you,' he said, sitting back in his chair, 'Would you think me more likely to attempt Heaven myself now a lesser being is in charge? I could do it you know but I already have my kingdom.'
'You once wanted to rule Heaven,' said Michael.
'Did I indeed?' said Lucifer, with a bitter laugh, 'Tell me, all of you, what do you remember of the Fall? Crowley, as a participant, perhaps you could begin.'
Crowley swallowed hard, reaching across the table to take hold of Aziraphale's hand, 'Pain,' he said, the words almost compelled from his lips, 'Loss.'
Lucifer shook his head, 'That was after. What of the Fall? Why did you Fall?'
'I asked questions,' said Crowley.
'What questions? You do not remember them, I know that much. You know precisely what you are meant to know. Aziraphale, your memories?'
'Oh I'm afraid mine are very shaky. Nothing truly becomes clear until I was given my role in Eden,' he said, covering Crowley's trembling grip with his other hand.
'And Michael, who was one of the first, what do you remember of that event? What do you remember of me?'
'You rebelled against God and were thrown from Heaven,' said Michael.
'And how did that occur? Why did I rebel? What, exactly, was my crime?'
Lucifer got to his feet, 'See how little you all know. You have been raised and have lived with a story. Let me tell you a little more of what truly happened,' he said, 'I did indeed rebel against God and I did question Her, I questioned Her a great deal and others stood with me but do you truly believe that suddenly, in Heaven, half the population of angels rose up against their Lord? Why? Why then? Many of us rebelled but we rebelled for those who were destined to Fall regardless of their behaviour. There was bred a generation of angels who would be cast from the Love of Heaven and into the dark for the world, the whole of creation required balance. Dark to light, night to day, good to evil. It was necessary and as Heaven would have light, so Hell was needed for its opposite and I was always destined to be its Lord. I however went a slightly different way to how it was planned for I saw injustice and stood against it. Not quite the story you all know and that was intended too, for if you knew your brothers and sisters had always been bound for Hell, would you not have maybe continued to question when we had been cast out?'
Michael shook her head, 'This isn't true. God would not...'
'Oh God would,' said Lucifer, 'And She did. Everything was planned, even my son.'
'Adam?' said Aziraphale, 'God planned Adam?'
'Do you think I would have been given leave to create him otherwise?' said Lucifer, 'There has always been an understanding between Heaven and Hell. They do one thing, we counter. We do another, they counter us. Balance for the universe and for humankind. Adam was to be a test, a test for the nature of humankind, if he passed then we would continue the dance we have done for aeons and pass he did. His birth was mutually planned and the aftermath mutually accepted, hence why two traitors to their kind still breathe. Things were meant to continue as before but Gabriel has thrown everything out of balance and it must be restored. We must work together to find God and restore her before reality is too damaged to be saved.'
'Work with Hell?' said Michael, 'I can't...'
'What choice do we have? Heaven is closed to us and alone we are the start of a very bad joke,' said Aziraphale, echoing Crowley's words from that morning, 'We need help from somewhere and what has been said makes sense. All of it. Though I am loathed to believe She created angels only for them to become demons forced to Fall, it sounds so cruel but over the years I've seen...'
'You are in the unique position, young one, to have seen Her work on Earth in very close quarters,' said Lucifer, 'I will not force you to trust me but I can do nothing without someone connected to Heaven for though I could find God, I cannot go near Her, such is the power of the Fall. I need an angel.'
Crowley shot to his feet at the words, pulling Aziraphale to his and forcing him behind him, 'You will not use him as your pawn,' he said vehemently, his hand shaking in the angel's as he waited to be punished for his words but nothing came.
'He is no pawn, he is essential,' said Lucifer, 'As is Michael. With two we have a chance, even better with three.'
'There are no others,' said Michael, 'I was the only one who stood against Gabriel.'
'We may be able to find one or someone as good as but that involves work on our part...Crowley,' said Lucifer, hesitating over the name, 'We must speak alone. You two may wait here.'
Crowley reached up, his hand closing around his chains as his breathing grew a laboured. He nodded, despite the tightening of Aziraphale's grip on his hand, 'Yes, my Lord.'
A wave of Lucifer's hand had a door opening to the right of the table, 'Follow me,' he said, the command almost compelling Crowley to immediately move but he held his ground for a moment.
'Angel,' he said, turning to face Aziraphale and pulling him into a firm embrace, dropping his voice to a whisper in his ear, 'Whatever happens, get yourself out of here. Don't come for me. If anything happens, run. No arguments. I love you.'
He silenced any protest with a kiss, caring nothing for the others in the room. The moment he released the angel's lips he turned and headed swiftly for the door, bypassing Lucifer who followed him without a word, closing the door on Michael and Aziraphale.
Crowley flinched as he heard the door lock, keeping his back to his master as the pressure of his chains lessened. The room was sparse, nothing but black walls, the only light coming from pale, lifeless candles that hung from aged fixings on the wall. An ancient Hell instead of the more familiar surroundings Crowley had known.
'You will return to him,' said Lucifer at his back, 'You do not believe a word I say but I have not lied to you.'
Crowley remained silent, waiting for command or compulsion from the Fallen angel who held his fate in his hands. Instead he flinched as cold fingers closed over his shoulder, the grip not tight but firm enough to prompt him to turn.
'You look on me as a stranger,' said Lucifer, 'And that is my doing, for we once knew each other. You and I were once friends.'
'I recall an acquaintance,' said Crowley, keeping his tone as neutral as he could, 'That's why I'm here, unless of course I was one of your fictional, destined to Fall angels.'
Lucifer laughed though their was no humour in the tone, 'Oh no, my brother, you were never destined for Hell, you chose it, and the final act of mercy I ever performed was to make you forget why,' he said, 'But now, I need what you were to combine with what you are if we have any hope of winning this fight because it is a fight and your happy little life that you have fought so hard for is teetering on the brink of destruction. I took your memories but I can give them back to you if you let me. I can break the chains that bind you and restore you to your name and all you knew but there is a price and it is pain, not just in process but in the remembering as well. I would have your consent.'
'And if I do not give it?' said Crowley.
'Then Aziraphale dies. Not by my hand, I will not harm him but they will. Gabriel will because in Aziraphale he sees all that he hates. I don't ask you to do this for Heaven, for God, for the world. I ask you to think of him because believe me, I know you will fight for him.'
Crowley rubbed a fist against his stomach, forcing away the nausea his vessel had no business feeling but it refused to leave him as he met the fiery eyes of his master, 'You could force me.'
Lucifer nodded, 'I could and I will, if I must,' he said, reaching up without warning and removing Crowley's dark glasses, snagging several strands of hair as he did so, 'But when you remember, you will know why I do not wish to, so consent and let this be done. I am yet your master.'
'Do it,' said Crowley, no longer suppressing the defiance in his tone, 'For him alone. For Aziraphale alone though damn you for using him to manipulate me. Give me my wretched name and whatever memories you stole and then let me back to him.'
'Kneel. You will want to be closer to the floor,' said Lucifer, 'This will hurt.'
Crowley complied, hating the position but he kept his eyes on his master, forcing his breathing into a regular pattern even as panic took him. A cold hand pressed to his forehead, the icy grip making him shudder as Lucifer spoke above him though his voice was broken.
'I can only ask that you forgive this one day, my brother,' he said, 'Forgive me, Raphael.'
The name fell from his lips just as the pain seized through Crowley's mind, memories that had only been snatches in dreams rushing to him in seconds. It was too much, too painful and Crowley was only grateful for the floor beneath him as he hit it with a scream.
Chapter 7: Paradise Lost
So what did Crowley see when Lucifer returned his memories? Raphael was one of the highest in Heaven, blessed to walk at God's side but when he encounters a young angel his world begins to widen only to discover the fate of all he loves is far darker than he could ever imagine.
Ok firstly long chapter is long because I did not want to break up the story. This is Crowley's memories of his time as Raphael before his fall. I have played a little bit loose with canon and instead of being an Archangel I have made Raphael a Seraph as Lucifer was. I hope you enjoy the chapter but a warning for some blood and minor torture. Thank you to everyone who has commented on the previous chapters, I love to hear from you.
'Would it be too much for you to follow the instructions we have been given just once?' grumbled Gabriel as he fought to keep up with his work mate.
Raphael laughed, spinning around to face him, large silver-grey wings splaying wide to slow his speed, 'It looked better by the time I had finished with it,' he said, 'It's a nebula, irregularity suits it. It looked ridiculous with all those neat edges.'
'She wanted it so,' said Gabriel.
'Then She wouldn't have sent me,' said Raphael, 'She has allowed us the freedom to experiment in the design of the stars, our art is Her honour.'
Gabriel frowned, 'You are too sure of yourself.'
'And you are too rigid,' said Raphael, turning back towards his destination, 'Look ahead, Lucifer is meeting us.'
Gabriel rolled his eyes, his pace not nearly fast enough as Raphael turned his attention to their landing site where the black haired angel awaited them. His feet had barely touched the floor when a warm hand took hold of his in greeting.
'So returns the Prince of Heaven from his place amongst the stars,' Lucifer teased, 'You have been gone too long, my brother.'
'There was much work to do,' said Raphael, vanishing the long wooden staff he carried back into the ether, 'But you should see it Lucifer, we have made some truly beautiful works to honour our Lord though Gabriel may disagree that the work is good.'
Gabriel shook his head as he landed beside them, 'I shan't discuss it again,' he sniffed, 'We will see what Her thoughts are when we present ourselves. Come Raphael.'
'Give me a moment,' he replied, pushing a falling curl of long red hair back behind his ear, 'We have been gone to long and Lucifer came to greet us.'
'Actually I came to invite you,' said Lucifer, 'The new young ones are being awoken today and I thought we could go and see them. Word is that our Lord has been experimenting again and there will be some changes to observe. I believe this is another step towards this Man She has spoken of.'
'Raphael,' barked Gabriel, 'We are expected, you cannot go frittering off with those who ought to know better. You are Seraphim and you should be examples.'
'All the more reason to be there to greet the young ones,' said Lucifer with a grin, 'And what better example than the Prince of Heaven.'
Raphael sighed but failed to keep the smile from his lips, 'You really should not call me that,' he said, 'I am nothing but a servant to Her name.'
Lucifer grinned, 'I may one day believe it,' he said, 'Come on, it will be soon.'
'Raphael, your duty is to God,' said Gabriel, 'We are expected.'
'We are already late,' said Raphael, 'And to view Her creations is to honour Her. You go on ahead, you may report on my failings and I will bear Her judgement when I present myself to Her.'
Gabriel bristled but said nothing more, spreading his snowy white wings and taking off from the landing site once more. Lucifer chuckled, clapping his companion on the back as he guided him in the opposite direction.
'I do not envy you, brother, having to spend so long in his company. He has but one vision and thinks himself too high, he is but an Archangel.'
'Gabriel is what he was made to be,' said Raphael, shaking out his great wings until they shrank to a more modest size and faded to the pure white of the lesser angels, leaving his counterpart's large black wings all the more conspicuous. He reached up and removed the circlet of gold from his forehead, vanishing it within the folds of his robe.
'Attempting to hide again,' said Lucifer, as they passed a small group of angels who immediately turned their gazes away.
'I would be looked upon as Raphael, not this foolish title you may play at but others take too seriously,' he said, 'I am no prince and I have no position greater than any other.'
'You are a Seraph and the favourite of God,' said Lucifer, 'She listens to you, consults with you, walks with you. She gives you far more power than others, far more freedom. You have been the driving force for the next stages of Her Plan, this Earth, this Eden.'
'I create beauty from chaos. It is the gift She gave to me, my purpose. I create, I weave the cosmos to please Her and She has had me turn my hand to Earth. That does not make me a prince, it makes me an architect,' he said, 'We all have our calling, Lucifer, and She will give me mine in time. I only hope then I will be seen and not treated as something untouchable. There are few I can talk to as I talk to you, those who do not turn away in genuflection beg me to present them favourably to God with promises of favours I do not need. I just long to be able to trust someone, to have someone look upon me and see me.'
'Careful, brother,' said Lucifer, 'That is almost akin to pride. Perhaps you should ask Her to give you a name for your calling, She announced Michael as her warrior, to protect the meek and the helpless, and she has hinted at mine.'
Raphael smiled, gold tinted eyes meeting the red hue of his companion's, 'It seems it is maybe you who will have a kingdom. You will rule over the balance of Man, wasn't that the phrase?'
'I am still praying for clarification on the words,' said Lucifer, 'But it is not mine to question, I shall obey and She will make things clear when it is time for me to know. Look here, we have almost missed it, they are already making their way to the Quartermaster.'
Raphael let his gaze fall upon the line of newly created angels who followed the call to the Quartermaster where they could be named and given their purpose, 'They do not look so different,' he said, 'Let us go and greet them. Promise not to give me away?'
'Your secret will be kept as long as those flames upon your head allow,' said Lucifer, flicking one of the red curls, 'You are entirely too obvious, regardless of how you choose to paint your wings. You would hide your hair if you were not so vain about it and do not claim you honour God by keeping it, I know you brother.'
'I would change it but it feels profane to do so,' said Raphael, 'I was born in Her flame, I live in the flame of Her light and She bid me bear the mark of it upon me. Still, to be seen as me...One appears to be struggling to keep pace with the others.'
Lucifer followed Raphael's gaze, biting back as laugh as he saw the flailing white wings of one of the fledglings as they struggled to get to their feet, 'The glory of God indeed.'
'Lucifer, don't be cruel,' said Raphael, 'You appear to have an audience. Go show yourself off and I will assist the young one.'
Lucifer needed no further persuasion, spreading not just the pair of black wings he normally displayed but releasing another four as he allowed the swirling fiery halo to surround his head, the blue of the flame bouncing off the black of his hair. The fledglings were soon admiring him, stretching new white wings against the expansive black ones. Raphael shook his head at the display, crossing the short distance to the young angel still struggling to find his feet.
White robes were knotted around his legs as he tried to right himself, wings flaring but it was the laughter that gave Raphael pause, the pure delight that he remembered accompanying the first waking moments into Her Grace. He reached down, stilling the wiggling figure as he unknotted the robes and helped him to sit up.
'There now, that's a little better,' he said, 'You've got yourself in quite a state there, young one.'
'Oh! Hello. Are you an angel?' giggled the fledgling, blue eyes widening at the sight before him, as he reached up to touch the tumble of red curls before redirecting his hand to his own hair, losing his fingers for a moment in the soft blond curls, 'We're different. You have gold eyes, did you know? Do I have gold eyes?'
Raphael laughed, 'You are certainly full of questions,' he said, 'Take your time, you will come to understand everything. We'd best get you to the Quartermaster so that he may give you your name. Up onto your feet now, mind you don't trip on your wings.'
He pulled the fledgling to his feet, steadying him as he wobbled before he went to draw his hand away but the fingers tracing the gold patterning on his robe made him pause.
'These are very beautiful,' said the fledgling, 'So intricate. Do all angels get to wear such things? It matches your eyes. You have golden eyes. Did I say that already?'
'You did but I do not mind hearing it again. Yours are blue. Come now, you will be quite the last to report at this rate and I'm sure Lucifer will want you to admire his display.'
'Who?' asked the fledgling, keeping a hand on Raphael's arm as they made their way towards the other angels, the euphoria calming a little around him.
Raphael pointed to black winged angel who was now easily surrounded by every other fledgling much to the Quartermaster's protests, 'He is quite the exhibitionist,' he said.
The fledgling took a tighter hold of his arm, 'He looks a little frightening.'
'He is very gentle I assure you, it is all for show,' said Raphael, 'Do not be afraid, young one.'
'Oh I shan't be. If you say he is safe then I shall feel safe.'
The Quartermaster finally wrangled the fledglings into their ranks, naming them and sending them off as Lucifer ended his display, turning his attention to Raphael and his companion.
'On your feet at last I see,' he said, laughing as the fledgling stumbled back against Raphael's wing, the strength of it the only thing to keep him upright, 'Or maybe not.'
'Lucifer, be kind,' said Raphael, 'You were no better when you were new. Do not worry about his teasing, young one, he thinks himself funny.'
'And my brother thinks himself a beauty,' countered Lucifer with a smirk.
'Well he is very beautiful,' said the fledgling with a smile, 'Am I meant to go with the others?'
'Yes,' said Raphael, leading him towards the Quartermaster despite Lucifer's chuckle.
He shook his head as the Quartermaster's eyes widened at the sight of him, instead nodding to the angel still clinging to his arm.
'Another Principality,' said the Quartermaster, 'Aziraphale, you are so named. You haven't been given a task as yet so you may join one of the choirs until orders are produced.'
'Well then, Principality Aziraphale,' said Raphael, 'This is where I leave you. Perhaps we will meet again.'
'I would like that,' he said, 'Oh but I do not know your name. Are you a Principality too?'
'I'm Raphael, just Raphael,' he replied, heading back to Lucifer and pointedly ignoring the look on his face as Aziraphale followed the Quartermaster's directions towards the others who had been newly named.
'Just Raphael?' teased the dark haired angel, 'Oh when that young one realises he called the Prince of Heaven beautiful. Well at least God can be assured Her newest creations admire the old. Though he was somewhat of a funny looking thing, that Azi... what was he called?'
'Aziraphale,' said Raphael, as the angel in question disappeared from view, 'He's called Aziraphale.'
'Well then,' said Lucifer, 'Now they are all accounted for, including your funny looking one, you should report to the Almighty lest Gabriel has finally convinced Her you are not quite all you think you are.'
'Shut up,' said Raphael, shaking out his white wings until they grew large and silver-grey once more, 'Try not to create too much mischief before I return to you.'
'I promise nothing, brother.'
Raphael took off, circling over the ranks of fledgling angels but he could not see the blond head of the young angel who had looked at him with eyes untainted by his reputation. He had forgotten what it was to be just another angel. A face, albeit one admired, without a name. He shook off the thought, heading towards the meeting place where God often chose to speak with them. The light gave away Her presence as he descended to the platform, Gabriel obediently on his knees in genuflection.
'And here is my wayward child,' came the voice from the light, 'Have you had your fun, my Raphael, and now chosen to come to me.'
'Forgive me, my Lord,' he said with a bow, 'I merely wished to view the newest of Your angels.'
'And how did you find them?'
'Perfect,' said Raphael, 'And unique. They shall be a credit to all Heaven.'
'I am glad you approve,' said the voice, 'Gabriel here tells me you have been making uniqueness of your own amongst the cosmos.'
'I merely experimented with a little variety, I would have the stars show nothing but Your glory, my Lord,' he said, ignoring Gabriel's ill-hidden groan, 'But some would have me ignore the gift of imagination You so generously bestowed.'
A chuckle emanated from the light, filling Raphael with warmth and love, 'You are a wilful one, my Raphael. Step closer child, I would talk with you alone.'
'Yes Lord,' he answered, bowing once more, 'I believe you may get up now, Gabriel.'
He stepped passed the Archangel still on his knees, the light enveloping him and blinding him for a moment before it cleared and he looked upon the face of his Creator for a moment before turning his gaze away. A warm hand took hold of his chin, raising his eyes to Her's as She smiled indulgently, golden hair spilling around Her spun from the light of Her Grace.
'You may look upon me, child,' She said, 'Do not turn your gaze from me, my Raphael.'
'As You wish,' he said, following Her as She began to walk.
'So you found the newest of my children to be acceptable?'
'It is not my place to judge, my Lord, but they seem strong and when they settle from the shock of their creation they will be of good use. There were a great deal of them though, we must have great deeds ahead.'
'Great indeed,' She said, 'It will soon be time for things to begin.'
'In view of such, and forgive me for the request, could You see fit to tell me what my role will be,' said Raphael, 'I have forged the stars and I have grown what was asked of me in Eden, it awaits only the Man You spoke of. Please, Lord, let me know how I will serve You in the times to come?'
'Child,' She spoke, holding his face in her hands, 'My angels already name you. You are my counsel and my most trusted amongst the Seraphim. You are one of my most beautiful creations. I created you to please me and it pleases me that you should serve me as you have done so already. You will be at my side, an example to all my angels when it is time for you to be so.'
Raphael felt the sting in his eyes, rolling down his cheek at the words, 'I...'
'Do not be afraid of this charge, Raphael,' She soothed, 'You are worthy of it. Do not weep in fear.'
Raphael closed his eyes, trying to find comfort in the love that emanated from his Creator but it was not the balm it had once been. It was not fear that made the cold tear on his cheek, it was loss. If he was truly to be what the angels already called him then Raphael would be no more, he would be held on high but distant. Untouchable. Unbidden, he recalled Aziraphale's face, innocent blue eyes taking him in as nothing more than an angel akin to him in all. He would never look on him in such a way again but it was as it was meant to be. He was an angel born to serve and serve he would.
The Prince of Heaven. She had not yet named him as such, not openly but the implication had been there and it would come. He would be raised up, above all others, be closer to God than he was to his kin. Even Lucifer with his as yet elusive rule would not be held as such. Despite nothing being said, the thought of what he was to become seemed to fill the air around him even as he hid his great wings and walked unadorned in a plain white robe. Those who did not bow, would take hold of his hand, hold it to their cheeks and beg his favour, reporting on the great works they had done for their Creator. It was a terrifying prospect, forever the gateway to God for those who would not face Her directly. The jealousy of the higher ranks was just as difficult to bear, Gabriel especially difficult and Raphael was grateful that they had not needed to work together much since his last discussion with God.
Heaven was not the refuge it had once been and Raphael had taken to spending his time amongst the stars he had created or checking on the development of the Earthly resources of Eden, the garden soon to house the fabled Man. He contemplated asking God if he could create another for them, so that he could keep Eden for himself but he knew it would be refused, She had said Herself that he had been created to please Her and he could not do so from so far away. When he did return to Heaven, he avoided the others as best he could, preferring solitude to sycophancy, Lucifer the only company he actively sought.
On one such return he found Lucifer absent and the crowds of angels too much to bear, nearly twenty million of them all wishing, it seemed, to converge on the smallest part of Heaven despite its vastness. Luckily the strength of his wings gave him the ability to swiftly cover large distances and he soon found himself a space devoid of others, the vast whiteness not as soothing as Eden but filling him with ease nonetheless.
It was only moments later when he heard a sound not often made in Heaven, the soft, sniffling sound of weeping. He had heard tears of joy often, many of the younger angels given over to such things when first in the Presence but tears of sadness were another thing. He hated the sound of it and hurried to find its source only to grind to a halt as he did so. He had not seen the young Principality that he had helped since the day of his creation but he could not mistake the platinum blond curls, nor the soft shape of the angel who had looked upon him without any preconceptions. A coldness raced down Raphael's spine as he heard the rough sob escape from Aziraphale and he closed the distance to where he was sitting, shaking his wings into their smaller white form as an afterthought.
'Aziraphale?' he said gently, holding a hand up to calm him as tear-filled blue eyes met his in a panic, the angel looking moments from running away, 'It's alright. Do you remember me?'
Aziraphale wiped roughly at his eyes as he nodded, 'Yes I remember,' he said, a tremulous smile appearing before something flashed in his eyes and he turned away, 'I'm sorry, I just remembered that I shouldn't... forgive me.'
'Forgive you?' said Raphael, 'Whatever for? You have not wronged me in any way.'
Aziraphale sniffed, 'The others say that we shouldn't look at you if we aren't worthy and I am most definitely not worthy.'
'What nonsense,' said Raphael, kneeling before the other, 'You are as worthy as any for it takes nothing to look upon my face. I am an angel, same as you. Did you not look upon me when you were created?'
'Well yes but I didn't know who you were, I would never have presumed...'
'Aziraphale,' said Raphael, finally capturing his gaze, 'I am the same angel you met then. I am but Raphael, don't ever feel that you must look away just because of what others say.'
Blue eyes flicked back to the ground before they met golden ones with a warm smile, 'Thank you for your kindness. You won't get in trouble though will you? If there are rules about worthiness then I am not. I am not a very good angel it seems.'
Raphael huffed out a laugh before he saw the seriousness on the other's face, 'How are you not a good angel and who says as such?'
'Sandalphon,' said Aziraphale, 'I did not fly fast enough for him. I think there is something wrong with my wing, it hurts but he says it's because I don't try.'
'May I?' asked Raphael, stepping behind him as Aziraphale tentatively opened his right wing, revealing two of the primaries crossed over one another, 'Has no one helped you straighten these? No wonder it hurts.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Sandalphon said they were fine.'
'Well I shall have words with Sandalphon,' said Raphael, 'I can straighten them for you, if you permit me.'
Aziraphale nodded, biting his lip as Raphael straightened them as gently as he could, apologising as the tension in them made the process a painful one. His fingers smoothed them over when he was done, easing the pain as best he could. It was only as Aziraphale stretched out his mended wing that he saw the bright crimson stain on his robes.
'Injured too?' said Raphael, kneeling down once more and pressing a hand to the stain on the angel's leg, 'Why has this not been tended to?'
'I wasn't allowed to,' said Aziraphale, 'I have to bear it so that I learn.'
Raphael scowled, 'This was deliberate?' he said, as Aziraphale nodded, 'Sandalphon. He has no right to punish you as such, you are an angel of the Lord and as such answerable to Her alone. In Her name I will heal this and I will see that you are not harmed again, you have my word on that. May I?'
'Will it hurt?'
'As little as possible,' said Raphael, 'I have no wish to do you harm. Here, take my hand.'
Aziraphale wove their fingers together as Raphael lay his other hand on the bloody stain covering his thigh. He squeezed the hand in his as the wound knitted, leaving fresh clean skin and equally clean robes in its place.
'There,' said Raphael, 'It will not be strong for a while yet but you should not be in so much pain. I can take away the memory of the injury if it will help.'
'I do not mind remembering so much now. Thank you. You are very kind,' said Aziraphale before he chuckled, 'Healed by the Prince of Heaven, they'd never believe it.'
'Healed by your friend,' said Raphael.
Aziraphale frowned, covering the hand still in his with his free one, 'I have pained you?' he asked, 'Forgive me if I used the title in vain, it is just that...'
'Do not trouble yourself,' said Raphael, 'I am not pained but I would not have you think of me as such and it is not as yet proclaimed anyway. I am just Raphael.'
'Raphael,' the angel repeated with a smile, 'As you wish. Either way you have been truly kind to me today as you were the day I woke. I shall endeavour to be a better angel to honour it.'
'You are a fine angel already and if it is that your wings need a little work, let us work on them together. Fly with me a while and I can help you.'
Raphael pulled him to his feet before stepping back, wings fading from pure white to silver-grey and doubling in size. Rather than react as the others did when they first witnessed the transformation, Aziraphale gave him an arch look.
'Not the Prince of Heaven but a show off nonetheless,' he teased, 'Lucifer may have given you a more accurate assessment than I originally thought.'
Raphael laughed, long red hair covering his face as he bent his head to his chest, half in mirth and half in embarrassment, 'Perhaps he has a slight insight,' he said as he recovered himself, 'No one... no one but him dares say such things to me and you... I shall have to watch what I reveal. Shall we, angel?'
'Lead on,' said Aziraphale, spreading his own white wings as Raphael swept into the air ahead of him.
They began at a gentle pace, Aziraphale easily keeping pace with the Seraph beside him but Raphael soon changed the pace and the direction, challenging the younger angel until he could not keep up. He watched the shadow fall across Aziraphale's face as he finally had to give up, clearly waiting for the reprimand he was used to, which only faded as Raphael flew down beside him before prompting him to place his hands upon his shoulders as he took hold of his waist, vast wings easily carrying them both. He refused to answer as Aziraphale asked where they were headed at such speed, instead waiting until the expanse of the cosmos surrounded them. The light from the stars was cool but clear and Raphael released Aziraphale so he could better view the works before him.
'I have never been here before,' said Aziraphale, 'There is so much colour. Which are yours? I know enough of you to know you have made some of the stars.'
'Point and you'll probably hit one,' said Raphael, with a smile as he summoned his staff to his hand, his features soon highlighted by the golden accents that accompanied his true powers, 'And now I am showing off. No Principality has ever witnessed the birth of a nebula, shall you be the first angel Aziraphale?'
'I wouldn't dare deny you, oh Seraph,' he said, 'But you'll have to see if you can impress me.'
Raphael laughed at the tease, enjoying how easily the young angel before him had fallen into the practice. His assumed title, once pushed aside, so easily overcome as if it had never been there. He took the joy of it and poured it into his work, spinning the nebula and imbuing it with colour, pinks and reds swirling with the golden tendrils. He looked over his shoulder to see Aziraphale's eyes wide with wonder as he took in the expanse before him. Raphael thought of the blue of the eyes that looked into his without hesitation and, with a wave of his staff, let the colour weave into the nebula before him, smiling as he heard a gasp from the angel watching him.
Content with what he had produced, he returned to his companion, 'So, have I impressed you?' he asked before he saw the strain on his face, 'Tired?'
Aziraphale nodded, 'My wings...'
'Come here to me and hold on,' said Raphael, 'I'm sorry, I didn't think. I'm so use to being out here. I'll land us somewhere.'
Warm, almost familiar arms came around his neck once more and he carried them both through the swirling nebula he had built.
'I have you,' he said, tightening his arms as he felt Aziraphale's fingers twitch against him, desperate to reach out.
The angel needed no further persuasion, freeing a hand to trail his fingers through the swirling colours. Raphael smiled at the joy on his face, deliberately slowing his flight to allow Aziraphale to better enjoy the sight. He finally landed them, choosing a place in a darker part of the cosmos to better preserve the peace that surrounded them. Sat side by side in silence, they viewed the expanse of the universe and Raphael let his mind wander ahead, wondering what would become of it all when the plan God spoke of fleetingly would come into play. He wondered at the fate of his creations, at his own fate and that of the angel beside him. Would he be allowed to pick companions as God had chosen him? He knew he would pick the angel at his side as one of them if he could.
'How do you do it?' said Aziraphale, breaking the silence, 'The stars I mean.'
'I think and they come,' said Raphael, 'I was given the task by God and I do not have to ask why. I create the stars to please Her... and you now it seems.'
Aziraphale laughed, 'You shouldn't say such things,' he said, before he smiled, 'Besides, you have only made me a nebula.'
'Well then,' said Raphael, 'Perhaps that shall grant me a reprieve or...'
'Or what?' said Aziraphale as the Seraph got to his feet, 'Raphael?'
Raphael set aside the great staff, holding his hands mere inches apart until a light began to glow between them. He reached for the faith and the love within him, the power that drove the creations he formed until the heat grew too much for him to hold and he cast it into the universe, watching as it found its own place amongst his other creations. He turned to his companion, eyes glowing gold at the power of his creation, and smiled brightly.
'For you,' he said, 'To tell all that you are a good angel and beloved by God and Her Seraphim.'
Blue eyes swam with tears for a moment before they were replaced with a smile, 'She has chosen well if She has chosen you,' said Aziraphale, 'But now I am humbled for I can give you nothing in return.'
Raphael returned to his place beside him, 'You truly do not see yet do you?' he said, 'You have given me what I have longed for. You look upon me and see Raphael as so few do and that is a true gift. We could... do you trust me, Aziraphale?'
The angel nodded without hesitation, allowing Raphael to take hold of his hands, holding them between his. Aziraphale kept himself steady even as his hands began to grow warm and then hot, the light between them growing steadily. Raphael hushed him gently until he lifted the light from between his hands, holding it without the need to release it. The light was small, barely half the size of the one Raphael had created alone so easily but he smiled at it all the same.
'I could not risk making it larger, it could hurt you,' he said, 'And it won't last alone but if I'm careful.'
He raised his hands, releasing the star in the same direction as the larger one. The star struggled to reach it but when it seemed a moment from failing, it gave a final leap, joining the other and being absorbed by its light.
'Where did it go?' asked Aziraphale.
'Still there, just in orbit with the other. They'll work together. You might not be able to see it but whenever you look at the larger star, you'll know the smaller star is there.'
'Show off,' said Aziraphale once more.
'Well I try,' said Raphael with a smile, 'Come on, I'll get us back. I still need to have a word with Sandalphon.'
Aziraphale blanched, 'You don't think it will make it worse do you?'
Raphael grinned, 'What's the point in being favoured by the Prince of Heaven, if he cannot speak in your favour now and then?'
Aziraphale rolled his eyes but got to his feet, 'So it suits you when it suits you then?'
'Oh indeed,' said Raphael, raising them back into the air and returning them to the more familiar surroundings.
He deposited Aziraphale near to where many he had fledged with tended to gather but leaving enough distance to allow him to slip away without being seen, his large silver wings too noticeable but needed to carry them both. He left the younger angel with a promise to meet with him again before heading off in search of Sandalphon.
He did nothing to hide his appearance as he approached, six wings fully splayed and shot through with black as he approached the gathering of angels that contained the one he was searching for. As he landed the flaming halo of gold encircled his head, wild curls dancing in its fury, eyes that had once been peaceful now molten gold in his fury. He did not pause to question, did not glance at the other angels who scattered as he stepped into their midst. The staff that aided him in creation now aided him in retribution, Sandalphon sprawled on the floor before he was even aware of what had hit him.
'You dare to harm an angel in your care!' cried Raphael, the world around him shaking in his fury, 'You dare to mark an angel of our Lord for so small an error.'
Hands upon his arm cooled his rage just enough to prevent another strike and he turned to see Michael at his side, the Archangel holding on to his arm despite the fear on her face.
'Peace, peace, my brother,' she begged, 'Calm yourself.'
Raphael shrugged her off but the power that surrounded him began to fade, leaving him before them as he was more commonly seen, 'Why should I calm when I find out that a fledgling has been maligned and injured for failing to match an unfair pace when no one had bothered to help him care for an injured wing,' he said, 'You were given that sword to protect the meek, Michael, will you now stand here an defend one who would harm such an angel?'
Michael looked between Sandalphon who still lay on the floor, eyes burning fury but not brave enough to counter the Seraph in his rage, and Raphael before she dropped her gaze to the floor. She opened and closed her mouth but it was not she who spoke.
'What is going on here?'
'Not your concern Gabriel,' said Raphael, turning to the Archangel, 'Merely reminding those trusted with power not to abuse it.'
'All I see is you standing over an injured Archangel,' said Gabriel, 'In full fury no less.'
'Oh I've not even reached full fury,' said Raphael, 'But don't push me, it's not far off. It would benefit you to remember to whom you speak as well.'
Gabriel scowled, pulling Sandalphon back to his feet, 'What's this all about?'
'Sandalphon needs to remember that punishment should be left to higher than his order,' said Raphael, 'If I hear of another angel injured in his or anyone's charge then I shall not hesitate. I will drag them before God and have them answer to Her. I don't care to hear arguments, I just expect the young ones to be properly treated.'
'You're not the Prince of Heaven yet, Raphael,' said Gabriel.
'Not yet,' he replied, 'Not yet and lucky for you all right now that is the case.'
'Forgive me, brother,' said Michael, ignoring the looks she received from the others gathered, 'You are right.'
Raphael shook off his fearsome appearance, patting her hand where it returned to rest on his arm, 'Just remember what She has named you and protect those who need it. We are not built for vengeance but for care and now I shall say no more on it. Come sister, walk with me, we have not spoken in a while and do not care for other gathered company.'
He paid no further mind to the others gathered, leading Michael away from the group in the hope that at least one of the Archangels the Lord had so anointed would prove worthy of her charge.
Raphael was glad when he next sought out Aziraphale that he was being treated more fairly, if still coldly, by Sandalphon whenever he was placed in his charge. Still, he made sure to meet with the young angel after every such instance just to make sure the behaviour continued. It was a weak excuse, one Lucifer playfully called him on as often as he could, and Raphael soon dropped it, leaving few in doubt that he sought out the Principality out of preference rather than need.
There was a need though, in Raphael's mind, Aziraphale the only one other than Lucifer that spoke freely with him and saw him as he wished to be seen. Whilst Lucifer had been his companion since his creation, Aziraphale was the companion he had chosen, the one who helped him to laugh at himself, who counselled him with patience and wisdom and treated him with as little reverence as possible. It soon became an open secret that if you wished to look for one, you could easily look for the other.
Raphael had taken him to see the stars he had created, Aziraphale growing stronger and able to keep pace most of the time but it was Raphael's secret joy whenever they came to rely on his great silver wings alone. When it became more common knowledge though they were often disturbed, mainly from those who wished for the same favour of Raphael's patronage. It was after one such occasion that Raphael decided the stars were no longer distant enough and instead spirited Aziraphale further than any angel had travelled other than him, tumbling them through space and atmosphere until they reached the lush expanse of Eden.
He longed to bottle the laughter of the moment he set the young angel down onto the grass only to have him all but leap into his arms once more at the feel of it. It was with wonder and joy that Aziraphale explored the garden once he had grown used to walking upon the ground and Raphael taught him the names of everything that grew there. He basked in the warmth of the star that shone down upon them, marvelled at the dance of water over the rocks, gently traced the petals of a flower Raphael had yet to give a name to. It became their haven, Raphael stealing them away to it whenever he could but Heaven still called them home and when it did Raphael found himself more and more with the younger angels.
Where before they had feared him and cowered when he passed, they began to see beyond the name and the reputation as Aziraphale showed no fear towards the Seraph. He would sit with them, speak with them, join their choirs when they were given over to singing the praise of their Creator. There was a uniqueness in them all that pleased him, a spirit that differed from the angels that had come before and Raphael thought that if Man was to be based off the youngest of God's angels then he would be happy to watch over them. Still, though he enjoyed his time with them all, it was Aziraphale that he wished to spend the majority of his time with and with God making no further remark on Her wish to raise him up, he stole away with him more often than before.
The star that shone upon Eden was at its zenith as Raphael set them both down in the bright clearing, the flowers opening as though in greeting and Aziraphale was the first to them, running fingers over the petals and remarking on the colours as Raphael watched him. He felt the familiar warmth in his chest, the feeling odd but not unpleasant. It was similar to the sensation he felt whenever he walked in the Presence but it was more acute, aching and constant within him.
'They told us today that we will be called to Her soon,' said Aziraphale, picking his way over to the stream and sitting down beside the babbling waters, 'We are to be given our purpose at last.'
'Things are moving again,' said Raphael, sitting beside him and resting his chin upon his shoulder as he watched the pale fingers trail through the water, 'Lucifer was called to Her before I left. I think he is hoping She will confirm his position at last, it has been quite vague until now.'
'And you?' said Aziraphale, 'When do you think you will be called?'
'When it is Her will that I am so,' said Raphael, 'I am hoping that, when She does, She may allow me to choose someone to walk beside me. I shall choose you.'
Aziraphale flicked his fingers towards the head on his shoulder, water droplets flying through the air before hanging on Raphael's cheeks, highlighting the lingering gold on his features, 'I would expect no less for putting up with you for so long, my show off.'
Raphael laughed, the sound mimicking the passage of the water over the rocks, 'You are much put upon as my companion, dearest angel,' he said, getting to his feet, 'Come, I shall prove to you that I am worth the aggravation. There is something new in our garden.'
'Have you been creating again?' asked Aziraphale, allowing himself to be led by the hand into a grove of trees until he saw one set out from the rest, a lush green tree hung with deep red fruit, 'Oh my!'
'Quite a sight is it not,' said Raphael, 'And the work is none of mine, Her hand alone has been here. Listen though, do you hear the sound?'
Aziraphale frowned, 'There is an odd note in the air, a tone.'
'It is singing but not by angels,' said Raphael, leading him beneath the canopy of the tree, 'She has given life anew, She calls them all by the collective term of animals but there is such variety in them. These frantic little souls build their home against a tree and wear bodies of fluff and clouds. Hold out your hand, don't be afraid.'
Aziraphale held out his hand, palm up until one of the small black and yellow animals landed on his palm, barely any weight, wings of cloud rather than feather vibrating upon its back, 'It is the wings that hum,' he said, 'They sing with their wings.'
'And they have a great task,' said Raphael, 'Man will require more sustenance than the love of our Lord. These small creatures will produce a sweetness that will give them strength. It is quite a revelation.'
'How will it give them strength?'
'They will take it inside them, through their mouths and into their bodies,' said Raphael before he grinned, 'It is an odd sensation.'
Aziraphale looked up at him as the small creature took flight, returning to the nest hanging beneath the branch, 'You have...'
'God bid me know though I do not need it,' he said, stepping up to the nest, speaking calmly to the tiny beasts as he reached into a chamber, fingers coming away stained with a gold that was a different hue to his usual pigment, 'Dare you?'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'God's creations are not for me,' he said, 'You are to be at Her side but I am wholly unworthy.'
'Nonsense,' said Raphael, 'I have chosen you and you have chosen me therefore if I am raised up so to you shall be. I deem you worthy and you should think of yourself in the same way. You are much beloved by me, Aziraphale. I am yours if you will claim me.'
'I cannot claim the Prince of Heaven.'
'Then claim Raphael, as I have always been to you.'
'Then as you are mine, so am I yours,' said Aziraphale, 'My Raphael.'
Golden eyes shone with tears before they were blinked away, 'Now we stand equal,' he said, 'And as such, I ask again, dare you?'
Aziraphale laughed, 'You are a tricky one at times,' he said, 'But I dare.'
Raphael raised his hand, grazing his gold painted fingers along the full bottom lip of his companion, allowing him a taste of the sweetness that would one day feed Man. Aziraphale's eyes closed, delight spreading across his face and Raphael watched in awe as a single drop of sweetness lingered on his lips. It was the memory of taste and the fire in his chest that had him lean down to capture it, not with fingers but with his own lips, pressing mouth to mouth with his heart's companion. The touch was fleeting but in it he felt more perfection that he had ever known even when he had spun his greatest works in the cosmos. Silence hung between them until blue eyes opened and met his, joy in their depths as the angel spoke.
It was both request and command and Raphael could do nothing but obey, pressing his lips once more to those ready to receive him.
The star that shone upon Eden had tracked a path across the sky as they lay beneath the great tree, cradled within Raphael's silver-grey wings. Aziraphale's fingers sought the long red curls, deftly braiding several strands behind the Seraph's ear, before they returned to tracing the highlights of gold the littered his beloved's pale cheeks. He traced the swirling patterns, laughing as more appeared beneath his fingertips.
'Show off,' he teased, 'Will you bear every mark you let me paint upon you? I shall place my name upon you and then all of Heaven will know.'
Raphael laughed, 'All of Heaven does know,' he said, 'You are known as my favourite quite as much as I am known as a Prince yet uncrowned. Talk of Heaven prompts us though, we should return. You must await your calling and I must see Lucifer, no doubt he will wish to crow over the promised realm he is to rule.'
'Must we go?' said Aziraphale, 'I always despair to leave the beauty of this place.'
'You return to Heaven, foolish fledgling,' said Raphael, 'The most beautiful of all places.'
'Here holds more,' said Aziraphale before he dropped his gaze, 'Is it profane to say so?'
Raphael chuckled, 'I am the only one listening,' he said, 'Perhaps God will allow us to linger here one day, watch over Man side by side. I shall ask Her, She has never refused me. Now come, we must return or I shall have Gabriel in my ear that we were absent for so long. He has made his disapproval of us quite clear on many occasion.'
'Yes he has said much the same to me,' said Aziraphale, 'I told him I could hardly refuse a request from one so high.'
'So you come with me out of obligation?' said Raphael, shaking out his wings as they stood.
'Why else would I come?' said Aziraphale, his laughter turning to one of delight as Raphael sped them both upwards from the garden.
The laughter only faded as they reached the familiar surrounds of Heaven, Raphael tightening his grip on Aziraphale for a moment as a shiver went through him. It passed as quickly as it came but he was reluctant the part them nonetheless. It was only the sound of others approaching that had them stepping away from one another.
'I will come for you soon,' promised the Seraph.
'I will be waiting, my Raphael.'
It was almost impossible to leave but Raphael took to the air once more, turning his thoughts to Lucifer as he searched for his dark-haired brother, eager to hear what task God had finally decided for him. His wings carried him until he finally came upon him but it was not the sight he was expecting, black wings trailed on the floor as the halo of blue fire that was normally so grand when he chose to show it instead seemed to dim and wane as he paced.
'Lucifer! Brother!' he called, concern replacing the elation of the passed moments with Aziraphale as he landed, 'What is this upon you? I've never seen such sadness. Have you not been given your calling?'
'My calling is to be my curse,' spat Lucifer, red eyes wild as he regarded him, 'I have heard what is before me and I... Raphael it cannot be.'
'Peace,' said Raphael, 'What has happened? How can any calling from our Lord be a curse, She does not curse Her children.'
Lucifer laughed though the sound was black, clawing at Raphael in its fury, 'So eager as always to see the good,' he said, 'Oh brother, you know nothing of what is before us. I will rule a kingdom as was promised but to rule it I must pass from Heaven and I must pass from God Herself. I am to be buried in the depths of creation, to rule the black and the blood and the horror. I am to be the antithesis of Her. I am to be the exact opposite of Her light so that the humans she seeks to replace us with know what it is to be turned away from Her love. I will be nought but darkness and I am not the only one sent to this fate. We have wondered for so long why the young ones are so different, it is because they are to join me. The are to be Legion, cast out of Heaven and away from Her love to serve me in a kingdom I do not want.'
Raphael shook his head, 'Lucifer, you have misunderstood. God would not...'
'I am no fool, brother, I understood Her words. She took great pains to see that I did as She bid me kneel at Her feet and listen as She destroyed all,' he said, 'She will throw me down and the young ones beside me, all of them.'
Raphael felt a twist in his chest as though a blade had been thrust into him, 'Aziraphale,' he said, 'No, no, he could not be sent from the light, he is innocence. They are all innocence. She could not... Why raise them in Grace only to... Lucifer you have to be wrong. I will go to Her, understand this better.'
Lucifer scowled, 'There is no point, the decision is made and you cannot sway it,' he said, 'But I yet may. I will say no more though. Go to Her if you will but go for Aziraphale, not for me, for She has already forsaken me. Go, my brother, go.'
He wanted to stay, the coldness of Lucifer's words so different to the laughter that usually surrounded him. He reached out, laying a hand upon the shoulder that had so often been a prop and a pillow since their creation, the two of them so joined with such hope since the beginning that he could almost feel it shatter beneath his fingers.
'I will go to Her for you both,' he promised, taking to the sky.
His hands shook as he struggled to summon the markings and adornments that so pleased his Creator. He landed with wings on display, his halo shining over his head and bouncing across the intricate golden patterns in his skin. So rarely did he kneel in hope of Her coming to him but he ignored the weight of his adornments to lie himself out fully, face to the floor as he begged for Her Presence.
Warmth surrounded him but he kept his eyes firmly shut until cool hands came upon him, lifting him from the floor with ease. He did not look upon Her but there was no reverence in the reason, fear that she would instead read Aziraphale's image in his eyes.
'So desperate for me, my child,' She said, 'Why have you sought me out?'
'I come for Lucifer,' he said, 'He has told me of Your plan for him and I fear he has misunderstood. Surely he is wrong when he tells me that he shall be turned away, denied Your love. You love entirely.'
'Things are necessary, my child,' She said, 'Lucifer's place has been known since the beginning and now it is time for him to own it.'
'But to be turned away...'
'It is not your place to question,' She said, 'Lucifer will serve me as I deem fit as will all others of my creation.'
Raphael cursed the sob that broke from his lips before he threw himself to his knees before her, 'All others,' he said, 'Lucifer said all the young ones were to be sent with him, to be cast out of Heaven. I must beg You to spare them, they are so fine and precious and they deserve to live within Your love.'
A hand took firm hold of his chin, forcing him to look into Her eyes, 'You don't ask for them all,' She said, flicking the braid that hung down by his ear, 'A falsehood that you care for all of them when you ask for but one. I have not forbidden your dalliance with the Principality Aziraphale but I do now. You will cast him aside and become what I have chosen you to be, my Prince.'
'No! No I do not want this. Do not force me,' cried Raphael before his lips failed to speak another word of protest.
Fingers plucked the braid from his hair, the shout of pain muffled by his motionless lips as it was cast to the floor, russet strands spilling from the knot.
'You shall love no other but me,' She said, 'See no other but me. You were created to honour me and walk at my side. You will forget him and rise to what you are meant to be. Forget him and rise, Prince of Heaven.'
Her hands encircled his head, the halo he was used to growing heavy as his wings grew large, shot through with gold. The weight was unbearable but he was compelled to his feet. His body was swathed in cloth of gold, adorned with elegant chains and sigils of the Creator. He looked upon Her with waking eyes before they closed, replaced by one on his forehead that looked forward and backward and into every void in the universe. Thoughts fled him, feeling fled him though tears spilled from his closed eyes, raining diamonds and rubies that scattered to the floor at his feet.
Her voice carried him, carried him from Her Presence and back into Heaven. He knew them all and none of them as he walked, adorned in the greatness of the Lord, the Prince of Heaven chosen to walk beside Her. He felt hands upon him, words whispered and pleas made but he did not respond. The jewels that spilled from his eyes were collected and turned into circlets to adorn the heads of the angels and still he walked, ever on, covering all of Heaven so all of Heaven could look upon the work of their Creator. Voices whispered in his ear, countless prayers and he felt as though the stars had grown old and cold around him, his work fading as he walked.
A voice whispered that she would ask for his blessing, a voice whispered that they would sing for him and honour God through his name, a voice told him that Lucifer mourned for him, a voice told him that he would be freed when they rose up against their vengeful Creator, three hundred strong. He heard none of them, felt none of them even as they took his hands, held his face, lay at his feet. He walked until a hand took hold of his and did not let go, did not speak or whisper, did not beseech. The jewels that fell from his eyes went uncollected. An age seemed to pass until finally the hand left his, taking hold of his face in a gentle caress. Warm lips pressed to his in a touch so familiar yet forgotten. Then came the whisper, pressed so close to his ear.
'I don't know if you can hear me, I don't know if you're even still there but I am here and I am waiting. I will always be waiting for you. I will wait for you, my Raphael.'
The name was like a summons and the weight grew all but unbearable. He fell to his knees, agony flowing through his body as memory assaulted him, painful and beautiful, but one name came before all others.
Voice unused to speaking rasped painfully but he forced it to speak again and again, the power of it returning command to limbs as he ripped away the constricting chains, fingers bloodied in the effort. He forced open his eyes, the light blinding him for a moment but it was a welcome pain. He struggled to his feet, the large wings heavy, pulling him back even as he struggled to walk forward. The air tasted cold and metallic, the atmosphere of Heaven tainted by something he could not name but his mind would not focus on the reason, desperate only to find the angel that had woken him though he could not say how long had passed since those beloved hands had cradled his face and gentle lips had breathed life back into him. He feared he was too late, that the innocence of his chosen mate had been already stripped from him to wither in the depths of the darkness.
Where before he had tried to avoid those he shared Heaven with, he actively moved amongst them now, eyes frantically searching for Aziraphale even as hands grabbed and tugged at his increasingly tattered robes. He felt despair in his chest but as he stumbled through the lines of angels that seemed to march almost in platoons he finally found the familiar soft shape even as his eyes struggled to remain open. He tumbled into his arms, hearing the cry of shock before pure white wings surrounded him.
'Raphael?' cried Aziraphale, 'Oh my Raphael what has happened to you.'
'To Eden,' he begged, 'To Eden, can you get us there? You know the way. I cannot fly.'
Arms that had only ever been gentle heaved him up, barely stumbling under his weight before everything fell away and they were speeding through creation, heading to the sanctuary they had claimed. The landing was rough and painful, one of the six silver wings snapping beneath the weight of the others but the agony was welcome, feeling something that had been denied him for so long. Even more welcome though were the hands that took hold of his face, beloved blue eyes meeting his in fear and elation.
'I feared I had lost you,' he said, 'You were so changed and lost. I watched you weep for so long, still and silent and so distant. She called you a Prince but I... all I saw was pain.'
'It hurts so much,' Raphael wept, 'I feel heavy and torn. She has bound my head in fire and my veins in ice. I could not see, could not think until you came for me. I woke at your words but you were gone.'
Aziraphale smiled weakly, 'That was so long ago,' he said, 'I feared that you had not heard. I have missed you so much.'
'What has happened? Have you been called to God yet?'
Aziraphale nodded, 'That was where we were going,' he said, 'Though I am not sure whether it was for our purpose or for protection. Dear one, I hate to pain you when you are so hurt but Lucifer has spoken against God it seems, there have been whispers that something is brewing, that he is questioning the motives of our Lord. Now you are wakened from your sleep perhaps you can reason with him.'
Raphael shook his head, 'If I am to go to him then I shall join with him,' he said, catching Aziraphale's hands as the angel made to pull away, 'You must hear me. She has caged me for loving you, broken me and forbidden me from seeing you. She tried to chase you from my mind because She does not want me to love you. She does not want me to protect you. Aziraphale, Lucifer has been given dominion of a realm beyond the light. He will rule despair but you and your brothers and sisters will be his companions. You are all to be damned. Cast from Heaven and into the darkness. I begged Her to spare all of you but She would not hear it. I will not have you cast out, whatever the cost.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'That cannot be true,' he said, 'Please tell me it is not.'
'I cannot,' said Raphael, struggling to force his wings to respond to him despite the weight and the pain, 'But perhaps this can still be changed. Perhaps She can be reasoned with but while the risk remains, I must keep you safe here.'
'How is here safer than Heaven?'
'Because it is not Heaven,' said Raphael, 'She has said you will be cast from Heaven but She cannot cast you out it you are not there. I will keep you here until this is passed. You will remain within the light, innocent and good as you were created to be, my dearest Aziraphale. I will return to you but now I must to Heaven, I have hope still that I can save all including Lucifer.'
'But if you don't? If you can't?' said Aziraphale, reaching up to touch the gold sigils carved into his skin, 'She has caged you once.'
Raphael sighed, pressing his cheek into the warm, soft hand, 'Then may this be farewell if it must but know that I leave my love with you, to be a part of you. Remember that you saw the truth in someone that no one dared recognise. That you gave me back my name and the truest part of myself. That you loved the reality of me. Care for those who need you, care for the weak and the desperate, whoever they may be and love desperately,' he said before a tear coursed down his cheek, real rather than the jewelled tears of the Prince, 'But remember these things as a part of you not as a memory of me. I have the power, as I told you long ago when you were hurt, to let you forget. I beg you now, let me take myself from your memory so that, should She call on you and make you speak of this time, you will answer that you remember no Raphael and the answer will be true. I ask you to make this sacrifice with the promise that I will remedy it if I can, that I will return your memory if this does not go ill. Please, my love, please let me save you as you saved me the day you laughed your way into creation.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'I cannot forget you,' he said, 'I will be nothing without you.'
'I will be with you,' said Raphael, 'For there is not a part of you that is not a part of me already. Please Aziraphale, for all that we could be, let this be the end now.'
Warm lips pressed to his, turned bitter by tears that had no right falling from the mournful blue eyes. Only when they parted did Raphael see the small nod, the consent given even as it shattered his heart to see it. It took no more than the touch of his hand and a thought, the angel's eyes closing and falling into an oblivion that would only break when he was found by another from Heaven. Though his wings were heavy, he lifted the sleeping angel into his arms and carried him beneath the tree they had rested under so long before it felt. He could not resist pressing his lips once more to Aziraphale's motionless ones, claiming one last taste of his love before he moved to whisper in his ear.
'Love fiercely and truly. Protect the weak and those in need. Live fully and well, embrace creation and know the stars burn for you because they are my children and I give them to your care. Remember in your deepest heart that I love you.'
Tears fell onto the pale cheeks, the last touch to pass between them as Raphael struggled to his feet, spreading the silver-grey wings and forcing them to carry him into the air though every beat was agony. The pain of Heaven hit him as he grew closer, the air thick with terror and agony. He wanted to fly away, his body repulsed by the sensation but instead he pushed towards it even as his wings gave up and he was forced to run. He called his great staff to his hand, remembering how he wielded it to create the cosmos but now calling it to a new purpose, hoping to defend whoever found themselves in need.
So many of the fledglings he had sat with stood flanked by armed angels, a huddle of misery but there were hundreds more in a worse state, broken and bloodied in a heap before a great dais of glass upon which stood the Archangels of the Lord, Her light amongst them. The light did not reach the broken ones but he could still see enough to recognise the blue-black hair of Lucifer though he was no longer the imposing figure he had known, wings torn and body ragged as he lay amongst those he had called to him.
Raphael fell between them and the light, kneeling before the light of his Creator without a care for his appearance, 'Lord, I beg you,' he cried, 'Stop this. Can you not see the horror of this destruction?'
'Here is our absent child,' came the voice from the light, 'Our gifts tossed aside, ungrateful wretch and a thief as well. Where is the angel Aziraphale that you stole away from us?'
'Where he is safe,' said Raphael, 'Until this madness is done. I kneel before you, Lord, broken and humble to beg You to show mercy. Show mercy to Your children who have done You no wrong.'
'They have risen against us.'
'In fear,' said Raphael, 'In fear of what lies before them. They are frightened and confused. Show them that you are merciful, Lord. Your Prince begs you. I will serve you however you see fit but please, please show them mercy.'
'You have no right to ask this of us. You have betrayed our love.'
'I have not!' he cried, getting to his feet, 'I betrayed nothing. You gave me imagination and bid me use it as it I saw fit. You gave me love yet condemn me when I do the same.'
'You dare to stand before me!'
Cold hands grabbed at his ankle and he turned his sight from the light to see Lucifer at his feet.
'Brother,' rasped the dark haired angel, 'Get down. Be humble and survive this. Do not fight for me now, I am done.'
Raphael shook his head, 'I will not kneel! I will never more bend! Instead I will stand and I will ask why. I will ask why You have born Your children into Grace only to strike them down. I will ask why You have given us the chance to know our own minds and then forbidden thoughts. I will ask why You have allowed us questions to condemn the asking. I will demand that you answer me now before all of Heaven. Why?'
The silence roared around him, even the Archangels he had expected to mock his outburst stood shocked and terrified. It was only Michael who tried to break the ranks, Uriel's hands enough to hold her back as the light grew brighter on their dais.
'If you will not kneel, then you will crawl,' came the voice, the foundation of Heaven itself shaking and toppling Raphael to the floor.
He tried to stand once more but his legs failed him. His hands, once adorned with swirls of gold sprouted black scales, ugly and tarnished against his pale skin. Next came the agony, tearing through his body and making him writhe, his screams melting into pleas for mercy but they went unheard. He barely felt the hands upon him, cradling even in their own agony, bloods mingling as millions of screams seemed to join theirs. Despite all, only one word came to him as his body burned under the judgement of Heaven, spilling from his lips as he met the red, sorrowful eyes of Lucifer.
'My Aziraphale,' he cried, unsure whether it was a plea or a lament.
Lucifer shed a bloody tear as he pressed a ruined hand to Raphael's forehead, power that would soon be stripped granting one last mercy.
It was the last word Raphael heard, memory fading away as the world fell from beneath him and he plummeted downwards in the arms of the brother who had been at his side since the day of his creation but it gave him no comfort, the truth of Raphael burning away in the flames that came to consume them.
Chapter 8: Lost in Memory
Back in Hell, Aziraphale waits to find out what Lucifer and Crowley have to discuss.
Apologies for the delay in the chapter, I needed a few days after the last epic! Thank you so much to everyone who commented and left kudos, I was truly overwhelmed by the response.
Aziraphale flinched as the lock clicked shut on the door Crowley had just passed through with Lucifer. His fingers went unbidden to his wedding ring, twisting it around his finger until Michael covered his hand with hers.
'He'll be alright,' she said, sounding little convinced herself but Aziraphale appreciated the gesture.
'I sincerely hope so,' he said, 'This is all becoming a little too much.'
'You really love him,' said Michael, blushing as she dropped her gaze to the table top, 'I didn't think it was true but seeing you two together, you fit one another and it makes me question everything.'
Aziraphale managed a half smile, 'I spent six thousand years questioning how it was possible to feel so much for a demon and know he felt it in return but now I don't. We're just us, Heaven and Hell play no part in it. Well, we wish they didn't anyway.'
'Lucifer acts as if he knows you. Have you really been to Hell before? I would have thought we would have known if you had. Someone would have realised.'
Aziraphale cleared his throat, getting to his feet and pacing the length of the table, 'Well you see... oh perhaps we should wait for Crowley... he would want...'
The scream that echoed from behind the door stilled the angel, panic rushing like ice through his veins. The second scream had him at the door, struggling for purchase at the slight indent that gave away its presence when there was no handle to be found. He barely realised his voice was joining Crowley's, his own shout desperate and begging as he ripped his fingers bloody on motionless door. Hands came upon him, trying to hold him back from injuring himself but he shook them off, only pausing when a desperate cry sounded next to his ear.
'Please don't fight, you're hurting me.'
Michael's words cut through the fear engulfing him and he backed away from the door even as the sound of Crowley's cries continued.
'I have to get to him,' he said wretchedly, 'What is he doing to him?'
'You're no good to him if you injure yourself or worse,' said Michael, 'We have to be ready to run if this is about to turn ill. Aziraphale, you need to be ready. He would not want you here if you are in danger.'
'I won't leave him,' said Aziraphale, returning to the door and pounding on it, 'Let me in! Crowley! Crowley I'm here, I'll get to you.'
The cry was hopeless, desperate. A mournful scream that only one who had truly known loss could make. It echoed through the closed door, seizing Aziraphale's heart as he heard it but worse was to come as Crowley fell silent.
'Crowley! Crowley, can you hear me?'
The lock clicked, the door swinging inwards and nearly taking Aziraphale down with it but he got to his feet, moving into the dim light of the room. His eyes fell first on Lucifer, the Lord of Hell slumped against a wall with his black hair obscuring his face, but he tore his eyes away, intent on finding Crowley. The demon lay not far off, curled in on himself and trembling, his long hair in disarray but Aziraphale could still make out his face, eyes tightly closed and leaking tears as he mumbled senselessly. He crossed the floor, kneeling before the prone figure and reaching out, snatching his hand back as Crowley shrieked and curled tighter.
'It's me, my love,' he said quietly, not wanting to startle him further, 'I'm here, Crowley. I'm here and I'm going to take you home whatever it takes. You're safe with me. Crowley, darling, please open your eyes.'
'He is lost in memory,' came Lucifer's voice at his back, 'This will not be an easy process for him.'
'What have you done to him?' cried Aziraphale, not caring for who stood before him, 'If you've hurt him...'
'The hurt was necessary. There was no other way,' said Lucifer, 'Save your strength for him, Aziraphale, he is going to need it in the coming hours. You should get him somewhere safe, somewhere he knows. It will make it easier.'
'What did you do to him?'
'Returned his memory of before the Fall and it is not a happy one,' said Lucifer.
'To what end?' snapped Aziraphale, 'Why make him remember that? He should not have to relive that pain any more than he does already. I've already seen what the nightmares do to him, why bring them into the waking world too?'
Lucifer growled, 'You are unwise to question me so.'
'I have questioned God before and you mean far less to me,' said Aziraphale, 'You may strike me down for it if you wish but you've have already shown your hand by saying that I am essential to this.'
The murmur was so quiet that only ears that had been listening for it heard but the angel quickly turned his back on Lucifer, gently stroking the long red hair of his husband, 'I'm here. I'm with you, darling.'
'To Eden, can you... I cannot fly.'
'You do not need to fly, my love and Eden is long passed,' said Aziraphale, 'We're going to go home. I will carry you if I must.'
'It hurts so much,' Crowley whispered though the words were spoken to the floor.
'It will be alright,' soothed Aziraphale, cursing the demon's height as he struggled to lift the prone figure from the floor without hurting him.
He stood with a effort borne from need, securing the weight of the demon in his arms and heading to the door. He ignored Michael's shocked gasp as they emerged, wanting to be angry that she had not followed to help but he had only enough strength to focus Crowley who had fallen motionless and heavy in his arms.
'I trust you will keep your word regarding our safe passage,' he said as he heard Lucifer exit behind him.
'Beelzebub will see you back the way you came,' he replied.
'That does not answer my question,' said Aziraphale, 'You forget I'm married to a demon and with that I've learned to expect a straight answer to a straight question. Will you keep your word and allow all three of us safe passage out of Hell?'
Lucifer growled but nodded, 'You have my word that all three of you will exit unmolested.'
'Then I must only hope you keep your word as Crowley does,' said Aziraphale, tightening his grip on the demon, 'Michael, stay close to me.'
They passed the large table, the food and drink still untouched, the door back into the corridors of Hell swinging open without any need for a command. Beelzebub stood wearing a frown, clearly having had to wait for her master to deal with his guests but a cruel smirk turned the corners of her lips as she saw Crowley in Aziraphale's arms.
'Forcing you to dispose of his carcass?' she sneered, 'About time something was done about him.'
'Enough!' thundered Lucifer from behind them and Aziraphale put it down to the instinct not to drop Crowley rather than any sort of bravery that he did not flinch at the sound. Michael too managed to keep herself steady though a hand curled into Aziraphale's sleeve as they left the room.
'Beelzebub you will see them safely back the way they came,' said Lucifer, 'We have an accord. They will not be harmed, any of them. If I hear of anything happening contrary to this then you will bear the consequence, am I quite clear?'
Beelzebub dropped her gaze, 'Yes, master,' she hissed, the shame of being spoken to in front of angels clear in her voice, 'Follow.'
Aziraphale didn't look back at Lucifer as he righted his grip on Crowley, determined not to stumble as he carried him through the densely packed corridors. He was grateful as Michael came to his side, standing close enough to protect the demon in his arms from the hands that flicked towards them despite Lucifer's promise. The demon himself was silent and still, either unconscious or so deep within his own memories that it did not affect his physical form. Despite his worry, Aziraphale was grateful for it, allowing them to journey out of Hell almost as smoothly as they walked in. He forced his thoughts away from what was befalling his husband in his silent state, needing to be on guard as he realised, despite Michael's bravado, that she would be little help in a fight. The demons that surrounded them at least kept their barbs to words alone though it was only Beelzebub's presence as a emissary of her master that kept them at bay.
Another thought struck him as they reached the first door they had come through when they had descended into Hell. Whilst the demons were bound by Lucifer's words to allow them safe passage out of Hell there was nothing to say they would not be free to harm them once they were beyond its borders. The thought brought another swiftly on its heels, the demonic threat superseded by an angelic one. They would be at Heaven's mercy as well as Hell's if they fell under Gabriel's gaze.
He was glad that Beelzebub wasn't given over the unnecessary pleasantries as she opened the door for them with barely concealed aggression before slamming it soundly behind them without a word. Only the stairs stretched out before them to carry them back up to the world above.
'We don't have Crowley's wings,' said Michael, her thoughts clearly having followed the same path as Aziraphale's, 'We should have asked Lucifer to see us safely back to your shop.'
'I was not the only one down there capable of speech,' snapped the angel, 'You could have asked him if the thought was in your mind. I was somewhat preoccupied.'
'I didn't think of it until we were leaving,' said Michael, as Aziraphale stepped ahead of her onto the escalator, 'What are we going to do?'
Aziraphale willed the demon in his arms to wake but Crowley remained unmoving and the thought of trying to bear him home in such a state was not a palatable one.
'I can't fly with him without leaving you and I don't think I could safely miracle all three of us back to the shop, not least because it is more likely to bring Heaven's gaze down onto us,' he said, 'I'm going to have to face it...'
'Face what?' said Michael as he trailed off.
'That bloody car,' said Aziraphale as they approached the top of the stairs, 'We'll have to make a run for it without cover.'
'And then what?'
'Hope that I am more successful than I was last time I got behind the wheel of that thing out there.'
Michael didn't have any more time to question him as they reached the top of the stairs, entering the atrium that represented such a thin line between Heaven and Hell. Aziraphale broke into as much of a run as he could manage without dropping Crowley, glad that Michael was swifter despite her injuries, the Archangel hitting the Bentley and pulling open the door. She shoved the passenger seat forward, clambering into the back before she reached out to grasp Crowley's shoulders.
'Give him to me,' she instructed, dragging him onto the seat beside her as best she could, the bench nowhere near big enough for the pair of them but she managed to secure them both on it with a force of will that overcame her injuries, 'I'll take care of him.'
Aziraphale nodded, closing the passenger door before hurrying round to the other side of the car. He risked a look up at the towering building above them, sightless windows staring down at them and he hoped at least that no one was aware of them below. He climbed into the car, cursing the length of his husband's legs as he shoved the seat into a better position before he set his hands tentatively on the wheel.
'Now listen here you,' he said to the car, 'We didn't get along the last time and I really don't want to be here but he needs us to work together to get him home. You do what you have to do and don't fight me and I promise to never complain about bebop or your suspension again. Please just start for me.'
The engine roared into life clearly longing for the familiar speed and Aziraphale felt its protest through his hands as he kept a more sedate pace though faster than he would choose to go in his haste to put any entrance to Heaven as far from them as possible. The Bentley settled and seemed content to follow his guidance, only occasionally having to be wrestled back to a decent speed.
'Aziraphale,' said Michael from the back after long minutes of silence, 'I think he's waking.'
'Just keep him calm,' said Aziraphale, wanting to look back but fear kept his eyes on the road, 'Talk to him. Tell him where we are, what's happening. It helps him to find his way back when he has nightmares.'
Michael did as he requested, her voice in an attempt at a comforting tone that fell a little flat. It reminded Aziraphale painfully of how cold Heaven had been. Words of comfort, if they were ever offered at all, always falling on the wrong side of genuine. It had been Crowley who had shown Aziraphale how comfort worked, even from their first meeting on the walls of Eden he had spoken with care and it had only grown in the long years of their acquaintance. He longed to change places with Michael, to be the one coaxing Crowley back to wakefulness but he instead kept his concentration on the road ahead and the car beneath them that he only trusted for the fact that Crowley was present in the car.
Michael's words soon became interspersed with murmurs from the demon, the words unclear before they were cut off by a scream that had Aziraphale fighting to keep the car on the road. Crowley's shouts continued, Michael's own pained cries joining them as she struggled to keep him still as he writhed and shouted in her arms. There was no warning to prepare them as the large black wings forced themselves into reality, easily taking out the back window and narrowly missing hitting Michael as she ducked, letting the wing press painfully against the roof of the car that only added to the demon's cries.
'He's going to kill us all,' cried Michael, 'Do something Aziraphale.'
'I can hardly stop and pull him out into the street looking like that,' he said, pushing aside the thick feathers that were creeping down over him, 'We're almost there. Just try and keep him calm.'
'Easily said from where you are,' said Michael, 'His face is starting to look strange.'
Aziraphale turned as best he could, fighting both car and wing to do so. Black scales peppered Crowley's face, dull and tarnished in his panic, 'Ok, not so good,' he said, turning his attention back to the road, 'Michael, fair warning, he's going to change. Serpent of Eden and all that. Problem is the size isn't always guaranteed, he doesn't really have much control over it. Could be any size, anything from a grass snake to something, well, more biblical shall we say. Just don't let him get a coil around you if he's on the larger size. Oh bugger the speed limit.'
The Bentley gave a grateful lurch as he hit the accelerator, placing his trust in the car's innate ability to keep itself out of harm's way. Between the feathers that had been obscuring his vision vanishing as quickly as they had appeared and Michael's shout of alarm, he knew the moment Crowley was no longer inhabiting his more common form. It was only in his darkest of nightmares that he reverted back to serpent form without any intent and Aziraphale painfully recalled the bruises he had sported after his first encounter one night not long after they had begun to share a bed. He only hoped Michael heeded his warning long enough to avoid getting trapped in the powerful coils as he sped through the winding streets towards Soho.
'He's a bloody snake!' cried the Archangel.
'What part of my warning didn't you understand?' he shouted back before dropping his voice, 'You need to stay calm. Loud noises upset him. Just avoid the coils...and the teeth.'
'It bites too?'
'He not it and yes, he does...will if you keep shouting at him. He's not venomous.'
'Oh that's a comfort. He'll just take my arm off instead,' she snapped, 'Oh Lord, he's moving. It's horrible. You married this?'
He was more than grateful when the familiar streets of home came into view, swinging them round the corner and into the space that was never taken despite the streets being full. He silently thanked the car for getting them there in one piece, even if the Bentley itself had taken a beating. He hurried out of the car, pulling the seat forward and finally taking stock of the scene before him. Michael looked dishevelled and terrified amongst the litter of black feathers, pressed as close to the window as she could be as the great black snake took up the rest of the bench. Aziraphale was glad Crowley looked calm enough though he moved with some intent, clearly on his guard even if he was unsure what the threat was.
'Alright, out you get,' he said to the Archangel, reaching out and gently lifting one of the heavy black coils off her leg where it had her pinned, 'Go inside and keep out of the way. I need to get him inside and I don't know how he is going to react. He might not remember we're working together right now and he won't take kindly to seeing you.'
'How are you going to manage?' she asked as she slipped from the car, her eyes still on the snake.
'I'll tell you when I've done it,' said Aziraphale, settling himself beside the door once she had passed him and focusing his attention on his husband, 'Crowley, darling, it's me. It's Aziraphale. We're home, I just need to get you inside if you'll let me carry you. You can stay like this as long as you need to. Lucifer told me what he did but I don't know what you're remembering right now, I'm just here to help you. Just trust me, my love.'
Slitted, golden eyes peaked out from between the coils, the expression unreadable but Aziraphale held out a hand without fear. He kept as still as he could as warm, smooth scales slid into his grip, growing smaller until he could be easily carried. Aziraphale hushed him, letting the coils wrap around his arm, bringing him in close to his own body in an effort to both protect and comfort him. He got to his feet, closing the door to the car as quietly as he could before he climbed the few stars to the bookshop. He closed the door, moving to lock it when Crowley hissed, dropping from his grip and growing larger as he hit the floor, moving swiftly to where Michael stood off to one side, not quite as well hidden from view as the angel had been hoping.
He hurried to put himself between the demon and the Archangel, just as Crowley rose up with a hiss, fangs bared to strike. A moment of recognition flashed in the golden eyes but it was too late to slow the momentum, one long fang striking Aziraphale's arm as the snake fell upon them. His shout was enough to break through the nightmare holding onto Crowley, the snake dropping to the floor and morphing once more into his more familiar figure.
The mournful question was far more coherent than anything else the demon had said since he had disappeared with Lucifer and Aziraphale hoped for the briefest moment that he would finally get answers as to what had happened but the yellow eyes swiftly clouded once more, tears spilling with little care for the audience as he crumpled in on himself once more.
'Burning! It's burning,' he cried, 'It hurts. The darkness freezes. It burns, it burns. The fire. Help me.'
The blood staining his jacket and the puncture wound beneath meant nothing to Aziraphale as he took the tortured face in his hands, 'You're not burning, darling. It's just a memory. Just a horrible memory. You're safe and you're home. You're home with me and I'm going to keep you safe,' he said, pressing a hand to his forehead and feeling the heat there, 'You're thinking yourself into this but if it'll help let me get you upstairs. We've got through this before. You're not on your own, Crowley, and you're not burning. Come on.'
He paid no mind to Michael as he half lifted Crowley to his feet, the demon following him even as he still shuddered and cried out with every movement. The panic and the tears dimmed slightly as they haltingly climbed the stairs but he was still too disorientated for Aziraphale to risk letting him walk on his own. They bypassed the bedroom, heading to the bathroom down the hall.
Aziraphale sat him down gently by the bathtub, the plush mat giving some protection against the tiled floor but he knew they would still both be aching if they forced to sit there for too long. Crowley's eyes were wide, the yellow of them bright and still unfocused as he looked around the room. The angel kneeled in front of him, holding his face as he pulled his focus back to him.
'Now then, look at me, darling,' he said softly, 'You know where you are right now. Our bathroom, upstairs at the bookshop. You're safe with me. I don't know what's in your head right now but you're going to be alright and I'm not going anywhere. Whatever you need, tell me if you can. If not I'll try to follow your lead. You aren't burning. The Fall was millennia ago but I know in your head it is still fresh and if Lucifer has given you back more memories then it is going to hurt, I know it is. I don't want you to get cold but if it will ease you let me get these off you.'
The angel's fingers trembled as he gently eased off Crowley's jacket and shirt, the passivity of the demon so alien that it made him worry all the more for his state of mind. They had been through the same routine several times since Aziraphale had first witnessed the nightmare that would sometimes plague him but once the demon had woken a little he was always an active participant in his own recovery, letting the angel lead but moving with him. The silent, scared figure before Aziraphale now was not the Crowley he knew but he would keep to the routine they had developed between them, hoping familiarity would be the key to pulling him back onto an even keel.
He folded the jacket and shirt neatly, setting them on a chair as he got to his feet and headed to the sink, discarding his own jacket and rolling up his shirt sleeves as he did. His arm smarted and he healed it crudely with a thought, promising himself he would pay better attention to it when Crowley was well. He let the water run until it was starting to warm slightly before wetting a cloth and returning to the floor, sitting beside the demon as he guided his head to his shoulder. He smoothed the cloth over his face and neck, all the while talking to him about the good memories they shared, grounding him in the present and their home.
The panicked breathing finally began to slow, the slim body relaxing against him as he brought him out of the memory of the Fall. He set aside the cloth, instead running fingers through the long hair as his other hand held him close and protected.
The angel smiled as the questioning tone sounded far more measured than it had previously, 'I'm here, dear,' he said, 'Are you coming back to me now?'
'Aziraphale? My Aziraphale?'
'Yes Crowley, darling,' he said, 'I'm here. You're going to feel a bit disorientated, it's taken me far longer to pull you out of it this time. Just rest.'
The demon shook his head, 'Yes. Crowley. I...he's me and I... my head hurts. I remember...'
Aziraphale stroked the long hair back from his face, 'Lucifer said he had returned your memories from before the Fall,' he said, 'I don't know what they were though, he didn't say. I wouldn't be surprised if everything is a little jumbled.'
Crowley's sudden movement threatened to send them both toppling to the mat below but the demon caught them both, capturing Aziraphale's face in his hands. The serpentine eyes were wide with a mixture of shock and joy, tears breaking from them and tumbling unchecked down his cheeks.
'You! It's you and we found each other and I remember. My Aziraphale,' he said, pressing his forehead to the angel's, 'I can't... my head's all in knots but you. It's definitely you. You were there and now you're here and you didn't Fall. You were saved.'
'Crowley dear, you're not making a jot of sense,' said Aziraphale, 'Calm down. The Fall was so long ago and you know I wasn't part of it. I was an angel when we met in Eden and I'm still an angel now. You've had a horrible recollection and if Lucifer has returned your memories of before the Fall then it's no wonder everything is confused. Just take your time. We're home and we're safe for now and I'm with you, whole and as much an angel as ever I was.'
Crowley smiled, 'You were the most perfect angel,' he said, 'I know I'm not making sense but you don't know and I... so much pain but it's worth it for this. I did it for you and I'd do it again because you're here, we're here and I got so lucky. Fuck I got lucky. I... my head is killing me.'
Aziraphale pressed lightly against his hands, releasing their hold on him, 'Let's get you lying down, the cold floor is doing nothing for either of us and then we can try and get everything in order.'
'Wait,' said Crowley, a small smile curling his lips, 'In a moment. I just need... can I kiss you? Please, let me kiss you.'
'You don't normally ask permission,' said Aziraphale, 'And you know I'd never say no to you, even when you are speaking half in gibberish. You never have to ask for a kiss, my love.'
Warm lips met his but where he had expected a chaste peck in reassurance that the worst was over he was instead met with something fiercer. Long, slim arms encircled him and he returned the embrace just as strongly, responding to every desperate movement of Crowley's lips against his. It was a kiss that demanded as much as it gave, a kiss reminiscent of one night when the demon's dream had not been of the Fall but of the bookshop aflame and he had awoken crying his husband's name in desperation until Aziraphale had persuaded him that it had not once more engulfed them or taken him away.
'I love you,' said Crowley as they parted, 'Aziraphale, I love you.'
'I know,' said the angel, 'And I love you. Now come on, let's get you somewhere more comfortable and then we can try and get everything in order.'
Crowley allowed himself to be pulled to standing, legs taking his weight without the need to rely on the angel but Aziraphale kept hold of him all the same. Concern starting to replace relief as he tried to fathom out the demon's half riddled words. He flicked a hand towards the bed as they entered, clean sheets swiftly covering the bed before they sat down on it. He grabbed a blanket from its place on the footboard, wrapping it around Crowley's shoulders and taking hold of his hands.
'Can you tell me what happened?' he said, 'When you went with Lucifer? All I heard was you screaming and when I finally got to you, you were so out of it and he said he had returned your memories of before the Fall. Was it true? Can you remember before?'
Crowley nodded, raising their joined hands to press a kiss to them, 'It's a little disjointed still but I remember,' he said, 'I remember me, who I was. I remember you.'
'We knew each other?' said Aziraphale, 'But surely I would have remembered you.'
Crowley frowned, golden eyes meeting blue in worry, 'Yeah, 'bout that, my fault. I made sure you didn't remember me. Wanted to keep you safe. Loved you even then.'
'Loved me?' said Aziraphale, 'In Heaven but we... I don't understand. I didn't even know your name the day we met in Eden.'
'Wasn't called Crawly in Heaven or even Crowley for that matter,' he said, 'Turns out when I was created my name was Raphael.'
'Raphael?' said Aziraphale turning to face him a little better, something that felt a little like memory reacting to the name but he couldn't link anything substantial to it, 'I can't remember anyone called Raphael.'
'That was the idea,' said Crowley, tugging on their joined hands, 'Lie down with me and I'll try and tell it as I remember it but, like I said, still a bit of mess in my head.'
Aziraphale went willingly, lying down on his customary side as Crowley stretched out next to him, pulling the blanket over them both as they lay face to face with scant inches between them. Long fingers found his, tugging his hand to rest against the demon's heart. The story began haltingly, Crowley having to go back over details as they connected in his own mind but it soon started to make sense. The angel stayed as quiet as he could, even as questions begged to be asked, knowing that Crowley needed to tell the story in full for his own benefit. He could not doubt the sincerity of the words, knowing Crowley would never spin such a tale and he was unsure whether to mourn for the love he could not remember or rejoice that they had somehow found one another even after Crowley had fallen. The worry over such detail though was fleeting as the darker parts of the tale were revealed.
He wanted to protest that God would never have bred a generation of angels to abandon them so coldly but in his heart of hearts he knew the truth of it, Lucifer fated long before his creation. It was Crowley's halting retelling of his imprisonment as the Prince of Heaven that broke heart, tears falling as he listened to his beloved speak of the pain and loneliness he had felt encased in the trappings of gold and jewels. He wanted to protest as the demon revealed how he had left him in Eden, memories stolen in the hope of saving him before he had gone to confront God, but all he could do was grip onto the trembling form next to him as the truth behind his fall from grace was finally told. He wasn't sure how long they both cried, loss and pain mixing with relief that they had somehow found one another again even when so much had been stacked against them.
'Can you give them back to me?' asked Aziraphale when they had calmed enough to speak again, 'My memories. I don't doubt what you tell me but I want to remember.'
Crowley shook his head, 'Still too fuzzy and I don't know if I can. I'm not an angel any more even if I remember being one,' he said, 'It hurt when Lucifer did it to me and I can't cause you pain, not more than I have done.'
Aziraphale stroked his long hair, 'It only pains me that I lost you, that you were put in such a position for my sake,' he said, 'You were in such an impossible situation. You should have let me...'
Crowley pressed a hand to his lips, 'Don't you dare say I should have let you fall,' he said, 'I don't care how much it hurt, I would do it again and again to keep you from it. I'm only grateful that it worked, that She didn't take Her revenge out on you. If you'd been hurt... The last thing I remember is being so scared for you.'
'Oh darling, you know I was alright,' said Aziraphale, 'Let that fear go. Heaven wasn't kind to me but I was alright. I remember waking in Eden, not knowing where I was or why I was there and the next thing I know Gabriel is telling me I have guardianship over the Eastern Gate and the rest you know as well as I do.'
'You're not angry with me?' said Crowley.
'Why would I be? You said I gave you permission to take my memories. If I'm angry with anyone...let's just say if we do find God I have a few questions for Her,' he said, 'I'm sad for you, my love, but not angry. I was right though, you really were one of the most beautiful of the angels. My husband was one of the Seraphim.'
Crowley's laugh was weak but he smiled all the same, 'Was being the key word there. Doesn't matter how high I was, I fell just as far as the others. I'm just a demon now.'
'You have never been just a demon,' said Aziraphale sharply, 'You're so much more, my love. You know I've always seen that, from the moment we met each other again. I so want to remember before. I can't even remember our first kiss.'
'If I find a way I will return your memories,' promised Crowley, 'I want you to know just how dear you were to me. You saw me even then. You saw Raphael when every one else just saw that... thing She wanted me to be.'
Aziraphale frowned, fingers knotting into Crowley's hair and trying to imagine it contained within the jewelled halo God had trapped him with, 'And now... I've only known you as Crowley but you're Raphael.'
'I'm Crowley,' said the demon, 'Raphael's a memory. I'm your Crowley and I don't want to be anyone else. Please don't let this change that.'
Aziraphale kissed the tear tracks on his cheeks that were yet to dry, 'I promised you I would love you however you choose to be,' he said, 'Whatever makes you happy is my mission in life. You can be whoever you wish to be but know that I will protect you from one identity with everything I have. As long as I have strength and life in me you will never be caged again, you will never be called a Prince to find yourself a prisoner. I would fall a thousand times to prevent that.'
The word was weighted with so many emotions but Aziraphale felt them all and answered them the only way he could, dragging the demon the scant distance across the bed to kiss him. He mourned for the memories he did not have but he knew that regardless of whether he recovered them or not the love he felt for the demon in his arms was unchanged.
Chapter 9: Common Ground
Crowley, Aziraphale and Michael struggle to work with Lucifer in the pursuit of God.
Thank you so much to everyone who is reading.
Michael sat on the doorstep of the bookshop, a foot propped against one of the pillars as she leaned back against the closed door. The paper cup in her hand felt odd but she had been grateful for the tea it contained when the young woman from the cafe across the road had brought it to her- compliments she was given to understand from a gentleman who had been sitting in the window but Michael had little inclination to dial the number that had been scribbled across the cup. Still, it had proven a welcome relief to have something to do as she sat watching the world role by.
It took her a moment to realise that she was in fact seeing Beelzebub and the currently chosen form of Lucifer himself heading along the path towards the shop, both of them dressed in far closer to human clothes than she had ever seen them but still people took a double take as they passed, their movements all too fluid and determined even in the busy London streets. She got to her feet as they approached, forcing away the twinge of pain in her back and hoping to feign at least a show of strength.
'Michael,' said Lucifer with a small bow as he reached the steps, 'Forgive the unannounced arrival.'
'You hardly sent word ahead this morning,' she said, her eyes flicking between the Lord of Hell and his second, 'To what do we owe the pleasure?'
'We need to continue our discussion from this morning.'
Michael bit back a smirk, 'You will need to wait a while, the owners of the establishment are otherwise engaged.'
'I'm afraid whatever they have to discuss needs to wait,' said Lucifer, 'We have pressing business.'
'You can be the one to tell them,' she said, reaching for the door and opening it just enough to allow the sounds that had driven her from the bookshop to echo out into the busy street, 'They may not choose to thank you.'
Beelzebub paled, 'They aren't...' she sputtered, 'Do angels do that?'
'On occasion,' said Michael, closing the door as Lucifer stepped back onto the stoop, 'But not usually with demons.'
Lucifer chuckled, 'Well the memories I returned have clearly not had too many adverse effects,' he said, 'We can allow them a few more moments.'
Michael folded her arms as she leaned back against the pillar, 'I've been out here over an hour,' she said, 'I think I preferred the bad screaming we had in the car. Thanks for that by the way, you could have least sent us back here in a manner that didn't have us risking discorporation by wing or snake. So far today I have been cried on by a demon, smacked in the face by a wing, squashed by a snake, nearly bitten by the same damned snake, forgotten about in a dry old bookshop and to end it all I got the prelude of what you just heard. The trauma will be eternal.'
'I don't ever want to hear anything like that again,' said Beelzebub, 'It's not natural.'
Lucifer only laughed harder at them, 'The great warrior and a most feared demon, you are indeed,' he said.
'I don't see you going inside,' said Michael, 'Oh Lord of Hell.'
She feared for a moment she had grown a little too bold in her weakened state as fierce red eyes turned on her before he reached for the handle, looking almost as pale as Beelzebub as he pressed down on it and stepped inside.
Crowley sighed, eyes fluttering closed as fingers trailed through his hair, Aziraphale's heart beating a rapid tattoo beneath his ear. His own fingers painted senseless glyphs across the pale skin beneath him, the path one well studied after nearly four years as the angel's lover. Warm lips pressed to his forehead and he smiled, seeking his husband's free hand and entwining their fingers together, tugging them to his lips and returning the kiss. He was content to fall into some semblance of sleep when the fingers in his hair stilled their gentle path and he felt the faint huff of laughter beneath him.
'I don't know if I should be offended that you're laughing after that,' he said, propping himself up on an elbow to look down at the angel, 'What's so funny?'
Aziraphale nodded above his head, 'How on earth did your sock end up on the lampshade?'
Crowley looked up, seeing the offending black article dangling from the unlit shade, 'You were the one who flung it up there,' he said, 'Got no idea where my trousers went.'
'Dresser I think,' said Aziraphale, 'Though I was in rather a rush.'
Crowley grinned, 'Really? Hadn't noticed,' he said, returning to his comfortable place against his chest.
'You need talk, my darling,' came the response, fingers tugging playfully on his hair, 'Wicked boy.'
'Not so much of the boy now, fledgling,' said Crowley, 'Don't think I'm going to let you act like you're more grown up than me now I know that I am definitely the elder out of the two of us.'
'There's a difference between being grown up and being older,' said Aziraphale, 'And if you're so old perhaps I should go easy on you in future.'
'Don't you bloody dare,' said Crowley, shifting until he could rest his chin on a fist, staring up into the sated blue eyes before him, 'I did always think I was a bit older. I could remember little bits about the stars being built but it was never clear. It's all still a bit mixed up. My memories as Raphael are more like watching a film, I know he's me but he's not as well.'
'You've spent longer as Crowley than you ever did as Raphael,' he said, 'Though I suppose time is relative in that sense. It didn't really exist until it did. We could have been alive for thousands of years before Eden and not known it, the concept wasn't there.'
'I know I was with you for a long time,' said Crowley, 'We were very close. Maybe that's why I went to you on the wall. I saw you there without your sword and it made me curious but I knew you could still hurt me all the same. Something about you made me risk speaking with you though. I think what was left of my heart was reaching for you even if I didn't know it.'
Tears quickly pooled in Aziraphale's eyes and he blinked them away, 'Don't say things like that, you'll set me off again,' he said, 'So many what ifs. It tears me to bits just thinking about it. One misstep and we...'
'We made it though,' said Crowley, shifting until he was better cradled in his husband's arms, burying his face against his neck, 'I don't care how long it took, I got you back.'
'And now you are truly stuck with me,' said Aziraphale the words light but Crowley could hear the catch behind them.
'Wouldn't be anywhere else,' said the demon, raising his head enough to capture the lips already waiting for him as Aziraphale's fingers knotted into his hair.
'Tender as I am sure this moment is, your presence is required downstairs. Though may I suggest some clothes, Michael's sensitivities have been quite stretched enough.'
Aziraphale yelped, arms tightening around Crowley as the demon pulled away from their kiss but only enough to look over his shoulder to the Lord of Hell stood in the doorway.
'We'll be down shortly. You can get the tea on,' he said before he freed a hand enough to click his fingers, the door slamming shut in Lucifer's face, 'Where were we?'
Aziraphale's hands in his hair stilled him, 'You just slammed the door on Satan,' he said, blue eyes wide, 'I might not be completely up to speed on the customs of Hell but slamming the door on the demon in charge strikes me as having a rather large, underlined, no written beside it.'
Crowley grinned, 'If he did not want to have a door slammed in his face he shouldn't be lurking in bedroom doorways,' he said, stroking a hand down the angel's side, 'Besides, no one gets to see you naked but me.'
'You cannot possibly be getting...frisky when we're potentially about to be...'
Crowley laughed, 'Will you relax,' he said, 'There are customs indeed but when he returned my memories he also broke my chains so I'm no longer under his command. He won't be happy but if he intended any retribution we wouldn't be having this conversation.'
Aziraphale relaxed slightly but then blushed crimson, 'We left Michael downstairs! Oh goodness...and the door...'
Crowley's gentle laugh became full blown, rolling off the angel and onto his back, 'Oh don't! My stomach muscles have already had enough of a workout,' he said, slowly calming, 'Well she's got no doubt that we're married now.'
'Oh you are wicked,' said Aziraphale, though there was a huff of laughter in his voice, 'We should get up.'
Crowley groaned but swung his legs over the side of the bed, stumbling slightly as he stood, 'You've broken me,' he said, steadying himself on the night stand.
Aziraphale chuckled, 'It's because you're so old.'
Crowley shot a playful scowl over his shoulder, 'How much mileage are you planning to get out of this?' he said, a click of his fingers restoring his usual attire as he ran his fingers through his hair, fussing the strands into place.
'The rest of our lives probably,' said Aziraphale, leaving the bed and following suit, his clothing quickly restored but he tutted as he saw the bloody rip on his coat, 'Oh bother, I'd forgotten about that.'
'Blood?' said Crowley, clambering over the bed to take hold of the sleeve, 'How did that happen? Wait... I remember... did I catch you? I didn't realise I'd hurt you. Aziraphale, I'm sorry.'
The angel waved him away, a click of his fingers restoring the coat to its former glory, 'It was nothing. You were distressed and I got in the way.'
'Still nothing, darling. No permanent harm done. I healed the wound earlier and merely forgot about the coat,' said Aziraphale, cupping the demon's face in his hands and kissing him quickly, 'Now come on, time to face whatever mortification awaits us downstairs.'
Crowley climbed off the bed with a snort, 'They're just jealous,' he said, holding out his hand, 'Come on.'
He led the angel to the door, opening it and heading towards the stairs, voices echoing up from below.
'Beelzebub?' said Aziraphale, his grip tightening on Crowley's hand, 'I'm not sure if we're not walking into something we don't want to.'
'Maybe it's due to my memories but I trust Lucifer. Keep close to me though, ok.'
The descended into the bookshop, Michael the first to glance up from the table that had been freshly set for tea. Crowley grinned at the faint blush on her cheeks, leading Aziraphale over to the table.
'Glad you could finally join us,' said Lucifer from his place beside Aziraphale's desk, 'I am sorry if the ending of reality interrupted more basic pursuits.'
Crowley pulled out a chair, motioning for Aziraphale to sit, 'Nothing basic about it,' he said, pressing a kiss to the platinum blond curls before him, 'My husband is an artist. Besides, I now recall another who was known to desert duty in pursuit of pleasure. Lucifer.'
Even Aziraphale who had heard the story of their past from Crowley look on incredulous as he crossed the room to the dark haired demon, clasping the hand that was swiftly extended to him.
'It is good to see you with waking eyes after so long,' said Crowley.
'We will have much to discuss when our work is done,' said Lucifer, 'But I am glad to have you know me again. Forgive me for the trauma of the return. I understand from Michael that it was not an easy process.'
'It is worth it to know,' said Crowley, loosing his hand and returning to the table, dragging a chair closer to Aziraphale's and sitting down beside him, 'Can you do the same for Aziraphale? I took his memories of me before I returned to Heaven that day.'
Lucifer shook his head as he too took a seat next to Beelzebub, 'Sadly it must be the taker who returns them to do so safely and I would not want to try otherwise, especially with an angel.'
'Why do I feel as though I am missing something?' said Michael.
'You and me both,' said Beelzebub, her pose reminiscent of a teenager forced to sit properly at a table, more out of place than any of the others gathered.
Crowley sighed, 'Perhaps you could deliver the shorter version,' he said to Lucifer, 'I am still putting things in order.'
Lucifer nodded, a wave of his hand having the tea pouring itself into cups as he spoke, 'There is too much history to tell all now but suffice to say that everything you know of the Fall is only a half truth. Only three hundred rebelled under my command, you will remember so much Beelzebub, you and Dagon were two of the first to join with me. The others who fell did so because they had been created to do so. The truth was known to all in Heaven in the end but whatever power God used when She forced us out affected the memories not only of those who fell but those who remained in Heaven also. Perhaps She did not want those remaining to remember those lost as more than rebels who deserved their fate but I think there is also much tied up with the loss She did not expect to have that day. What you will not remember, Raphael...'
'Raphael?' said Beelzebub, 'Who is Raphael?'
Crowley offered her a wave, 'That would be me but Crowley is preferred if we can stick to that.'
'You will forgive me, excuse the expression, if I do not manage,' said Lucifer, 'I shall back track slightly for those who don't know. In Heaven, Crowley was known as Raphael, one of the Seraphim, creator of the stars and the architect of Eden. Many would most likely remember him however by the title of the Prince of Heaven.'
Michael barked out a humourless laugh, 'This is some elaborate joke,' she said, 'The Prince cannot be a demon. He ascended before the Fall. He was at God's side.'
'And where was he when you yourself stood before Gabriel to protect God?' said Lucifer, 'You have been fed falsehoods for millennia. The Prince was lauded by God as the epitome of divine grace, something for all angels to aspire to. She wished for something to distract the masses from the unrest. The truth was though that he was caged.'
'Lucifer, please,' said Aziraphale as Crowley's hand took hold of his.
'The truth is not without pain,' said Lucifer, 'But necessary. God placed Raphael in a cage, one he should have not been able to break but he did and he did it because he found a love greater than God in another angel. Such a slight, especially when he stole the angel away from Heaven to protect him from the Fall, could not be tolerated and the Prince was cast out with the rest of us.'
Michael shook her head, 'I cannot believe it. The Prince...'
'Is a legend,' said Lucifer, 'She changed what you remembered to better control you. Yes they fell but he ascended, your jewelled prince stands on God's right hand, aspire to him even though I threw him down.'
'And I should believe this from you?' said Michael.
Lucifer spread his hands, 'I can offer you no proof other than my word but I am a demon,' he said, 'Think on this though. Do you remember when we called each other brother and sister? Raphael and I called you little sister. Do you remember when angels joined hands? Sang together?'
Michael frowned, 'When I was new I remember but it changed,' she said before she shook her head, 'But if we all forgot, why do you remember?'
Lucifer shrugged, 'I am the Lord of Hell, God's equivalent Below. She needed me to know, She wanted me to remember. Perhaps that was my punishment. They others fall and forget, I fall and remember what I lost. I remember the love I can no longer feel,' he said before he shook his head, 'Another question for you though. What about Aziraphale? It is well noted that he has been ill treated by you and your brethren for many years. Why?'
'He...' began Michael, her eyes finding the angel before she looked away, 'I don't know but I don't deny it. He was always different.'
'An angel born to fall,' said Crowley, tightening his grip on Aziraphale's hand, 'Different indeed.'
'Also one who had inadvertently wronged God,' said Lucifer, 'I think She would have thrown you down with us Aziraphale, had you been in Heaven. Had Raphael not thought to hide you. After the loss of Her Prince though, I don't think She could but as such your life has been as it has been. Punished for a crime you did not realise you were committing.'
Crowley shook his head, 'There is no crime in love, Lucifer.'
'In Her eyes there was and he was punished by neglect, sent to Earth and the Archangels programmed to treat him poorly,' said Lucifer, 'She is not merciful, brother.'
'Then why are we here talking about getting Her back,' said Beelzebub.
'Because She is necessary and She is fair, in her treatment of the humans at least. Gabriel is not. Gabriel is dangerous and his work has already begun,' said Lucifer, 'Hell was designed to receive the unworthy souls and so it has done but the rules, the reasons why the souls come to us have grown as humanity has grown. Heaven and Hell have adapted to the moral code humans have set for themselves. This morning though, just after you left, I was made aware that we had received the soul of ninety-one year old man. Widowed, a charity worker in his latter years, loyal, good, hard working, sadly mourned by those remaining. Why then in Hell? When he was twelve he stole three lumps of coal because his mother was freezing.'
Aziraphale's brow furrowed, 'But he would not be damned for so small a crime.'
'Thou shalt not steal,' said Lucifer.
Crowley growled, 'Fuck the Old Testament.'
'Must you,' said Michael, flinching at his words.
Aziraphale shook his head, 'But that was...before. That kind of doctrine has long since passed. Things have changed, they can't...'
'Gabriel is the master of Heaven now, not God. The rules are as Gabriel pleases and it seems the humans will suffer for it,' said Lucifer.
'What do you care if it is more souls for your demonic work?' said Michael, 'I thought you'd be happy about that and you are hardly famed for caring for the humans. You job is to hate them and work against Heaven.'
Beelzebub shook her head, 'Our job is to hate angels and work against the humans.'
'Our job is neither,' said Lucifer, 'Though it has been the custom thus far. The reality is more complex. I am Lord in Hell. I was created to be the Lord of Hell and rule over the balance of Man. The balance of Man must therefore be the antithesis of Heaven. The custom as we have all grown used to, is the the good ascend, the wicked are mine. The distinction of what is good and what is wicked is so determined by the humans who evolve as their world does. In Gabriel's hands however, Heaven is imposing its own moral code. Heaven is becoming wicked, therefore Hell...'
'You cannot be serious!' said Beelzebub before a look from her master had her dropping her gaze, 'Sorry.'
'I don't understand,' said Aziraphale, 'It can't just flip like that. We're angels, you're demons and I don't mean that with any disrespect but it can't be that demons are suddenly a force for good and angels for evil regardless of who rules in Heaven.'
Lucifer shook his head, 'Too black and white a view, young one. It is not nearly as simple as that. God and I had an understanding and though I broke ranks on many occasions, we balanced. Gabriel has broken the rules and reality has convulsed. We must restore order and to do that, we restore God.'
Crowley hissed, Aziraphale covering their joined hands with his free one. Beelzebub glowered at those gathered as Michael sat looking torn, haunted by Lucifer's tales but she was the first to speak.
'How do we find Her? I lost Her.'
'The prophecies, I hope,' said Aziraphale, 'They've proved a road map so far. The last said names would be revealed at the breaking of chains. Lucifer broke Crowley's chains when he let him remember Raphael.'
'Quite,' said Lucifer, 'They are our best chance but finding Her is not enough. To restore Her, faith in Her must be restored.'
'And how do we do that?' said Michael, 'I was there. The angels, they were all on Gabriel's side.'
'Fear is a powerful thing,' said Lucifer, 'Gabriel has had a high position and he is clever at spreading his poison. He did so against Raphael, every ear I spoke into had already heard from him. Oh he spoke against me, of course, but his focus was the Prince. He was jealous and he hated the indulgence, he hated that Raphael was the one chosen to walk through Heaven, decorated by the Lord.'
'He was more than welcome to take that halo from my head,' said Crowley, 'Let him be caged.'
'Would that he had done, brother. His words were poison in every ear, including God's. I do not think She would have been as brutal had he not painted the love you and Aziraphale shared as a threat to Her,' said Lucifer, 'He wanted your place Raphael and now he has usurped Her's in his ambition. Now he has the power of Heaven but he is still only an Archangel who has taken the throne of the rightful queen and set himself up as king. We must therefore do as the humans have done whenever their monarchs have been dethroned. She is not supported enough to be returned alone but we can give them another. Someone with a stronger claim to the throne than he has. We can give them a prince. The Prince.'
Crowley shot to his feet, backing away from the table, 'No! No, never! I will not be that thing again, Lucifer. You saw me. I cannot be caged again. I can't bear that pain again.'
'You would only need to appear...'
'Did you not hear him?' snapped Aziraphale, heading to Crowley's side, 'He said no. So no it is and you will not push it.'
Lucifer's expression darkened, red eyes glowing as the room cooled around them, 'You forget to whom you speak, Principality,' he said, 'We need to take back Heaven and Raphael is the key.'
'Crowley is not going to be forced into anything,' said the angel, 'You will respect his wishes or so help me...'
It took only a brief movement of Lucifer's hand for Aziraphale to find himself thrown against the bookshelf and held there, precious tomes falling from the shelves.
'Let him go,' cried Crowley, 'Lucifer let him go. Let him go!'
The last words were more than a shout, the whole room shaking with the power of them, cutting through Lucifer's power and releasing Aziraphale who only just managed to catch himself as he fell. Crowley's breath came ragged as the shaking ceased and he paled, gripping onto the chair to keep himself upright.
'What was that?' said Beelzebub, eyes wide with shock as she looked between the demon and her master.
'Your memories have reawakened some of your power,' said Lucifer, 'Angelic fury in the body of a demon.'
'I was stronger than you back then,' said Crowley, 'And I will be stronger than you now if you dare touch him again. You no longer hold my chains Lucifer and I doubt you could reforge them alone. Now we need you, you know more than the rest of us. We have to restore God for all I wish we didn't and for that we are going to have to work together but there are going to be rules. We do not use our powers against each other and you will not threaten me with the Prince again. I will not submit to it again. I will not have my spirit put in a cage, I will not even wear the adornments and pretend. I hate it and I will hate it for eternity.'
'I may not be able to reforge your chains but your power does not yet equal mine,' said Lucifer, 'Do not think you can stand there and make demands of me when I can kill you in an instant.'
Crowley didn't get a chance to respond before Michael was stood in front of him, her body between him and Lucifer, 'You'll have to kill me first,' she said, a semblance of her former strength making itself known before she stumbled, Crowley's hand wrapping around her arm the only thing keeping her upright, 'For all my life is worth now.'
The fire in Lucifer's eyes dimmed, 'You show your hand quite decidedly,' he said, fingers curling into a fist before he sat back down, 'Perhaps I spoke a little hastily. We have many things to discuss, not least how to find God before we work out how we will return the balance of power in Heaven.'
'You ok?' said Crowley as he sat Michael back in her chair.
She nodded, 'Just not as strong as I was. See to Aziraphale.'
The demon pointedly ignored Lucifer and Beelzebub, heading to where Aziraphale stood by the bookcase, the few tomes that had fallen lying forlornly at his feet, 'Angel?'
Blue eyes met his, the expression in them wavering between fear and awe, 'How did you... I've never heard anything like that,' he said, before he dropped his voice to a whisper, 'It was scary. You've never done that before.'
'I think it's a little bit of old me creeping through,' said Crowley, 'You alright?'
Aziraphale nodded, 'What do we do now?'
'Look at the prophecies, find God and get this over with as quickly as we can,' said Crowley, 'We're going to need your clever head. You know them better than all of us.'
'You sure?' said the angel, 'We can walk away.'
'We both know we can't,' said Crowley, leading him back to the table and sitting them both down, 'Prophecies only.'
Lucifer nodded, 'Agreed,' he said, 'Perhaps we can review those that have yet to come to pass.'
A click of Crowley's fingers brought the papers to the table before he set them in front of Aziraphale, 'Can you take us through your translations?'
The angel nodded, checking over the list before him, 'It appears that six of the prophecies have already been played out,' he said, 'The last being about Crowley and his chains being broken when his name was returned to him. The rest are just as short. Next says she will fall upon king's rest, five centuries too late. A fall could relate to God there but we will need to make sense of it. Next, rivals will steal into the halls of men. Brothers will stand united once more. The next one concerns me most at the moment, it says he will seek to harm the child. My mind constantly goes to Adam but we have Anathema's child to consider as well.'
'Anathema?' said Lucifer.
'Our prophetess,' said Crowley, 'She's pregnant. These prophecies seems to have coincided with that and if Gabriel finds out he may want revenge.'
'My son would be a prime target as well,' said Lucifer, 'He is still powerful. Beelzebub, return to Hell and arrange for him to be watched, protected if necessary. Try to find a few with at least half a brain and some tact. They are not to scare him.'
Crowley met Aziraphale's eyes, a nod all he needed to know they were thinking the same before he spoke, 'Anathema lives in the same village,' he said, 'Can the protection be extended?'
Lucifer nodded, 'Full name?'
'Anathema Pulsifer-Device,' said Aziraphale, 'American. You can't miss her.'
Lucifer spared a look at Beelzebub, 'Get to it,' he said, 'Then return to me.'
Beelzebub got to her feet with a bow before heading for the door without a farewell to any of the others gathered.
With the potential threat being dealt with they turned their attentions to the remaining prophecies, all of them trying to fathom what they meant and how it would lead them to God. Crowley helped where he could, fetching books for Aziraphale when he requested them but nothing in the shop seemed to be of help. His concentration was weak though, memories assaulting him at every turn as he caught sight of Lucifer moving around the shop, as Michael pulled a pin from her hair letting it fall long down her back as she had worn it in the early days of Heaven, as Aziraphale's brow furrowed as he studied a book as it had done when he had first explored the plants in Eden. The walls seemed to close in and he needed space, catching Aziraphale's attention long enough to tell him where he was heading before he climbed the stairs, not stopping until he stepped out onto the roof.
Tending the garden he had diligently grown did little to ease him, moving aimlessly amongst the plants as remembrances of Eden jostled for place in his mind. The chaise was a welcome relief as he sank down onto it, head buried in his hands as he fought to stave off the pain that threatened him. He considered returning downstairs, Aziraphale's hands always able to calm even the most painful of headaches whenever the nightmares left him suffering but he did not want to distract the angel from his task. He had no desire to meet with God again, the memories of his final punishment too raw to even fathom seeing Her but he knew that it had to be done, Gabriel too sinister a foe to allow dominion over Heaven and it would only be so long before he and Aziraphale were victims of his machinations.
He heard the door to the terrace creak open behind him, the footsteps unfamiliar but the voice unmistakable.
'You created a garden.'
'Seems I am good at that,' said Crowley, not looking up, 'Come to finish what you started downstairs?'
Lucifer sighed, 'I am not accustomed to apologies but I am sorry for my conduct. I should not have threatened Aziraphale but at least we know you can tap back into some of your old strength.'
Crowley stiffened at the words, 'What are you truly hoping to gain from this Lucifer?' he said, finally looking up at the figure that had once been the epitome of divine grace, the brother he had fledged with, laughed with and stood with before the end.
'The restoration of God to Heaven,' said Lucifer, touching a finger lightly to the leaf on the nearby bay tree, 'You know I never desired Her power.'
'A lot has changed since we knew each other,' said Crowley, 'We weren't demons then. There was love in us then, love for Her. You were kinder back then, warmer. Now you're like winter, bitter and sharp.'
Lucifer smiled ruefully, 'You were a poet when we were young too,' he said, 'I cannot deny that I have changed. We all did. It was part of the power that cast us out. Only you seemed to retain the power to love and I think it was the memory of Aziraphale, however buried, that made sure of that.'
Crowley frowned, recalling how quickly he had spotted the blond haired angel when he had been sent to do his master's bidding in Eden, something in the way he carried himself making the demon feel able to approach him on the wall to watch Adam and Eve depart.
'Was it intentional?' he asked, 'Sending me to Eden.'
Lucifer nodded, 'You were charming enough, even as a demon, to tempt Eve to the apple but that wasn't the reason I sent you,' he said, 'Despite the memories I had taken, you suffered more in the dark than the others. We were all in pain but you... the torment was too much. What little mercy I had left in me prompted me to return you to some semblance of light, to somewhere that might soothe you even though you had forgotten it. The Temptation was preordained you know, in a way. It was meant to befall their children, Cain and Abel so named, but I was still angry, vengeful and so I sent you early. Tempt Her humans before She could even enjoy them.'
'I did not know he would be there,' said Lucifer, 'I assumed he would be found and cast out to join us in Hell. No, your meeting with him again was purely coincidence.'
'Coincidence or...' Crowley pointed a finger skyward but they both knew he meant further.
Lucifer shook his head, 'I don't think She would. She was angry that you loved him, that you chose him. I don't think Her gaze was on either of you that day,' he said, 'I don't think She even spared a second glance to Aziraphale until he got noisy. I imagine then, She realised who you were. She commanded me that you were to be unharmed after your and Aziraphale's little swap thwarted the first punishments that the others tried to administer.'
Crowley felt a knot form in his gut, 'You knew from the beginning I imagine,' he said, 'But what if we hadn't swapped?'
'When Beelzebub told me what she planned for you I was planning to step in at the last minute until I realised there was an angel wearing your face and shaming my demons for their foolishness. I would have thought She was on hand to do the same were it needed for Aziraphale though I have never asked. By then I am certain She knew who you were. She knows you're Raphael and I think that is why She did not condemn your marriage.'
'Neither did She bless it,' said Crowley, 'But why even allow our love now?'
Lucifer shrugged, 'She did not plan to lose you that day and maybe time has softened Her thoughts to the pair of you.'
Silence descended, Lucifer examining the plants that surrounded them but Crowley felt his eyes return to him again and again before the Lord of Hell finally spoke.
'I can no longer feel love,' he said, sitting on the chaise beside Crowley, pale hands folded in his lap, 'But I remember it. I have missed you, my brother.'
Crowley studied the profile next to him, his memory slipping the softer image of Lucifer's younger self over the pale visage he now wore, 'Yet you've hidden my past for all these years.'
'You would have suffered with the memories, both of Raphael and the Prince,' said Lucifer, 'And you forget I did not know how you and Aziraphale parted. Once I realised you had found one another again I did not think it wise to give you back remembrance of your past love in case it coloured the new. In truth I have only returned them now out of necessity.'
'Will I ever not be a puppet on someone's string?'
'You are free now Raphael, Hell does not chain you and Heaven has no claim.'
'We shall see,' said Crowley, before he allowed himself a small smile, 'You look like him a bit. Adam I mean. He's a good kid. Reminds me, now anyway, of how you were in Heaven. Always into something you shouldn't be.'
Lucifer laughed, 'I am glad he has found a companion in you,' he said, 'I hope he is alright and that Beelzebub doesn't send anyone that will frighten him.'
'Doesn't easily scare, that one,' said Crowley, 'And we could be wrong. We've made the wrong assumptions on several of the prophecies already. We could be wrong about him.'
Lucifer nodded, 'We shall see,' he said, echoing Crowley's words from moments before, 'We should return and help Michael and Aziraphale. Two unattended angels, probably already formed a choir by now.'
Crowley couldn't help the laugh that escaped him, 'I remember how you loathed the singing in Heaven,' he said, as they got to their feet, 'Do you remember when we used to go a deliberately stand with the Archangels and hit the wrong notes, threw them right off... oh!'
'What?' said Lucifer, holding open the door back to the building.
'Nothing,' said Crowley, 'Just memories, one minute their fuzzy and the next it's like I'm there. We were so young.'
'We were foolish children,' said Lucifer, 'But I am glad someone else remembers as I do now.'
Crowley preceded him down the stairs, questions wanting to force their way passed his lips but he bit them back, knowing once they began they would not stop and he still did not fully trust the demon at his side despite their shared past.
He had barely stepped into the back room of the bookshop when he was met by Aziraphale, stuffing the sleek black laptop Crowley now kept in the desk drawer into his hands.
'Do the thing with it,' said the angel, 'The oogle boogle thing where you find stuff. We think we've got it. Michael thought of it. Well she didn't think of it but she said the prophecies weren't exactly Shakespeare.'
Crowley gave him a blank look as he followed him back to the table, Lucifer not far behind, 'Angel, you've lost me. What about Shakespeare?'
'Just get me the oogle boogle thing, I need to look something up and it's not in the books.'
Crowley rolled his eyes, 'I will drag you into the twenty-first century one day, I swear it,' he said, opening the laptop and starting it up, navigating to a search engine once it was awake, 'What am I looking up?'
'Richard the Third,' said Aziraphale.
'The King?' said Crowley, with a frown, 'We're not back on usurped princes are we?'
'No,' said Michael, 'King Richard, where did he die?'
'Bosworth,' said Crowley, 'I was a bloody horse, not quite sure which side I was on by the end. Sodded off before they started cutting heads.'
Lucifer scowled, 'You were meant to be protecting Henry Tudor.'
Crowley grinned, 'Oh look, my chains are broken,' he quipped, before tapping on the screen, 'Right I have about forty-five million articles on Richard the Third of England. What am I looking for other than where he snuffed it?'
'Not so much where he died,' said Aziraphale, 'Where was he buried? They moved him, recently.'
'Wasn't there something about a car park?' said the demon, 'But then... Michael, you bloody genius. They buried him again.'
'Five hundred years later,' said Aziraphale, 'It was, I swear it was.'
'In Leicester,' said Crowley, 'There's news articles.'
'She will fall upon King's rest, five centuries too late,' quoted Aziraphale, 'That's where God is.'
'Are we sure?' said Lucifer, 'We need to be sure.'
'See if there is anything about someone falling or an injury near to the burial site. A woman, we have to assume She had corporeal form when She fell.'
Crowley's fingers moved swiftly over the keys, 'Look here, Leicester Mercury, dated yesterday. Police seeking witnesses in regards to injuries sustained by unknown female on steps of Leicester Cathedral. It fits, it really does.'
'Does it say where they took her?' asked Michael.
'Shut up, all of you,' snapped Lucifer suddenly, a finger raised to the ceiling, 'Listen.'
The faintest sound of movement echoed from above, footsteps though they were almost lost.
'Shut that thing down,' said Lucifer, 'And grab the prophecies, keep them close. We've got company.'
Chapter 10: Patience
With God's suspected location in hand, they journey to find Her but tensions between Michael and Lucifer threaten to derail their unlikely alliance.
Thank you to everyone who has commented. I will respond to you very soon but I have run out of time tonight. Updates may be a little less frequent going forward as I'm now off my writing 'summer holiday' and back to promoting and writing my own original fiction so I won't have quite as many hours for this fic but I will try to keep to one update a week.
They all stood still, Aziraphale clutching both the prophecies and the laptop tight to him as the footsteps echoed above. Though they could hear the movement no one descended and Crowley nodded towards the door. Lucifer risked a look towards the shop front and shook his head, several silhouettes of too pale outfits framed in the grimy windows.
'We're being herded, they keep changing places,' he whispered, 'Let's not make it easy for them. Raphael, stay with Michael, she's weakest.'
'Get her downstairs,' said Aziraphale, Crowley's hands on the sofa before the final word had left his husband's mouth. He pulled it aside slowly, revealing the concealed trap door beneath. It opened with a pull, the ladder below looking ancient but serviceable.
'Protect him,' said Crowley to Lucifer as he handed Michael down into the hole before following her, closing the trap door behind them.
Lucifer manoeuvred the sofa back into place, 'Hide those, quickly now,' he said, 'I will be hidden but within reach, try to get rid of them.'
Aziraphale stashed the precious books and the laptop into a half empty box beneath his desk, grabbing another pile of books and placing them on top before kicking it deeper into the shadows, sitting down in the chair to better conceal them. He turned to speak to Lucifer once more but he had disappeared, the bookshop feeling almost empty and he felt a sick sense of abandonment for a moment. He strained his hearing, sounds no longer coming from above but he had little doubt whatever threat Lucifer had sensed was still nearby.
The chime above the door sang.
'We're closed,' he called, cursing the catch in his own voice, 'Business hours are noted on the door, if you please.'
'We are not here for books.'
He looked up, the angels stood before him in human clothing wearing faces he recognised but could not name. The swords in their hands though were so far from human that it took him a moment to even register them as he got to his feet.
'To what do I owe this unexpected visit from you both?' he said, 'Just the two of you is it?'
'Where is the traitor Michael?' spoke the darker haired of the two.
'Michael?' said Aziraphale, fingers fidgeting in front of him as he forced a smile, 'Michael who?'
He knew the words had fallen flat as the swords were raised.
'You were seen with her and the demon Crowley. You are conspiring with her.'
'What conspiracy?' he asked, 'I don't know of any conspiracy.'
'Michael is traitor to the rule of Heaven, you are a traitor to the rule of Heaven.'
'I am a traitor to the rule of Heaven.' Lucifer's smooth voice echoed from nowhere before the angel yet to speak gave a yelp, a pale hand around his throat as the other was held in front of his face, hellfire dancing over the fingertips.
'You are in the presence of the Lord of Hell,' hissed Lucifer, 'So you will keep silent lest you wish for a taste of the Fall. Tell your snivelling master that any traitors to him in Heaven are now under my protection and I will burn the soul out of any angel he sends to try me.'
The angel in Lucifer's control nodded, eyes wide as he regarded the fire before him but the other spoke, eyes darting between Lucifer and Aziraphale.
'You are allied with evil,' he spat.
'Oh I think perhaps you would need to look a little closer to home there,' said Aziraphale, 'Now do please exit my shop.'
'Do it quickly,' said Lucifer, shoving the angel he held towards the door, 'Do not try to be a hero to a lost cause, it will not gain you anything. I am not even trying right now.'
The dark haired angel hesitated before joining his companion, clearly neither of them having been prepared to face anything more than Aziraphale or Crowley. Lucifer spared little time in shoving first one and then the other out of the door, blowing on his fingers to extinguish them as he slammed it closed behind them.
'We need to move,' he said, 'There may be others. Get the things.'
He shoved aside the sofa, pulling open the trap door and helping first Michael and then Crowley out.
'Short meeting then,' said Crowley, brushing the dust off his jacket, 'Really angel, when did you last clean down there?'
'Before we thought our respective sides were off our backs,' said Aziraphale, 'Didn't think we would be needing it once I didn't have to pretend I didn't know you.'
'Well it did its job even if it is after the event,' said Crowley, 'What now?'
'We get out of here,' said Lucifer.
Michael nodded, 'That was no retrieval mission or an assassination attempt,' she said, 'They were scouts, seeing what they were up against.'
'Pack what you will need for the journey, the prophecies, clothes, whatever else you feel necessary,' said Lucifer, 'We need to avoid using any miracles, demonic or celestial. Whilst we can't hide our presence fully it will at least dim us. Gabriel will send others and a larger force now he knows I'm involved but it will hopefully give us some breathing time. He will not wish to strike me without a strong plan.'
'But if we need to travel as far as the prophecy seems to say how do we get there without miracles?' said Crowley, before he groaned, 'You can't mean...'
'The human way, yes,' said Lucifer, 'And you can't take that car of yours, it's too recognisable.'
'Plus there's potentially two more of us if Beelzebub returns and we find God,' said Aziraphale, 'You can barely fit three in, four alone would be snug.'
'Well what do you expect us to travel in?' said Crowley, 'Buy a rail card, hot wire a school minibus... no, Lucifer, don't look at me like that.'
'We'd be mobile.'
'I am not saving the world in a bus.'
'We need to get there Crowley,' said Aziraphale, 'And quickly.'
The demon groaned but relented, 'Fine, fine. Get everything sorted here. Pack whatever we need, Michael can grab whatever she needs of mine, it should fit her. I'll go find us some transport.'
'I'll come with you,' said Lucifer, 'In case Gabriel sends anyone after you.'
Crowley shook his head, 'I can manage myself,' he said, 'They were after Michael. Stay here and get ready to leave. I'll work quicker on my own.'
Lucifer nodded, 'You know how to call for my aide if you need it,' he said, 'An hour, brother, no more. We need to leave as soon as we can.'
'I'll be back in half the time,' said Crowley, reaching out to catch Aziraphale's hand in his, 'I'll be back.'
'We'll be ready,' said the angel, reluctantly loosing his fingers as Crowley headed for the door.
It did not take them long to get ready, packing light despite not knowing how long the journey would be. When all was done, Aziraphale sent Michael and Lucifer back downstairs to watch out for Crowley, claiming the need to double check he had brought everything they needed. He knew they had both seen through the excuse but they left him all the same, standing at the foot of the bed with its still messy sheets surrounded by the minutiae of the life he and Crowley built.
He ran a hand over the footboard, moving around the bed until he sat down on the side he usually rested on. The little miniature frame was hidden behind a pile of half read books, pushed back against the lamp, almost closed, and he picked it up with gentle fingers, opening it out until the twin frames were revealed. He had been surprised one night, a week after they had declared their feelings for one another, when Crowley had approached him and asked for a single feather from his wing. Still giddy with the first flush of romance he had acquiesced without question, unfurling his wings in the spacious living room of Crowley's flat. He had been surprised when the demon had selected one of the smaller pearly white feathers, plucking it with care rather than one of the finer, larger feathers Aziraphale had offered. The demon gave no reason for his request, merely retreating to his bedroom with the feather pressed to his lips and a promise to return.
He had returned with the frame not long after, not wrapped but a gift all the same, pressed into the angel's hands with a failed attempt at nonchalance. Aziraphale had opened it, expecting photographs or drawings but instead, behind the thin layer of glass in each oval shaped aperture sat one black feather and one white. Opposing colours set beautifully side by side. He had not gone home that night and from they had only spent a handful of nights apart, Aziraphale remaining close even when he chose not to sleep.
He closed it as reverently as he had opened it then, refusing the imagine the silver wings Crowley had spoken of in place of the black ones he loved so dearly. He knew they had dangers yet to face and that the beloved gift would be safer in their home but he could not leave without it. He retrieved a clean handkerchief from the top drawer of his night stand, wrapping it around the frame before tucking it into the inside pocket of his jacket.
He got to his feet, taking one final look at the room before he headed to the door and closed it firmly behind him. He took the stairs slowly, stepping into the quiet of the bookshop. Lucifer and Michael sat at the table, the two small bags that had been packed at their feet and the prophecies set on the table beneath Lucifer's hand. Their silence was almost painful, such a distance between them even when they were meant to be on the same side. He wondered how they would succeed when they could barely stay on the same page, even Crowley and Lucifer more likely to fight than agree despite their shared past.
'Any sign of Crowley yet?' he asked, hoping for the demon to slide around a bookcase with a quick boast and a lopsided grin.
Lucifer shook his head, 'We have time. He will be here.'
Aziraphale nodded, clasping his hands behind his back as he paced the rug. He hated the silence, thick as it was between them all. The screeching of tires was for once a welcome sound and he hurried to the window, breathing a sigh of relief as Crowley leapt down from the driver's side of a battered campervan.
'Well it's not a minibus,' he said, as he opened the door, 'Wherever did you find that dreadful looking thing?'
'Know a couple of blokes,' said Crowley, 'Better than nothing even if it does smell like the back end of the nineties.'
'Charming,' said Aziraphale, 'It looks like a summer breeze will shake it to bits.'
'It'll hold together if it knows what's good for it,' said Crowley, 'Everyone in. Don't forget the prophecies.'
He pulled open the side door, the interior of the van more akin to the seventies than the nineties but roomy enough to fit them plus any additional allies they might collect along the way. Michael wrinkled her nose but climbed in, situating herself on the coarse patterned sofa set on one side of the van, hands folded in her lap in an attempt not to touch anything. Lucifer bypassed the open door, heading towards the front but Crowley's hand on his arm stopped him.
'Where are you off to?'
'The front,' said Lucifer, frowning as Crowley arched an eyebrow, 'You can't expect me to rattle about back there.'
'I'm not married to you,' said Crowley, 'Aziraphale is sitting with me. You can keep Michael company.'
Lucifer looked like he wanted to argue, red eyes flashing as he scowled before he stepped through the side door, sitting on the bench beside Michael though there was as much distance between them as could be managed in the small space. Aziraphale placed the bags in with them, stashing them beneath the flimsy excuse for a table, before he handed them the Anathema's notebook and his translations.
'Perhaps you can look these over whilst we travel,' he said, 'You might work out something I've missed.'
Michael reached out and took hold of them with a nod, 'What if...' she began before she shook her head, 'Please don't go too fast.'
'I'll make sure he doesn't,' said Aziraphale, ignoring Crowley's snort behind him as he stepped back and closed the door.
The demon in question opened the passenger door, offering Aziraphale a hand to help him up the step, fingers closing over his as the angel looked back at the shop.
'Home soon,' he said, 'Quicker we're there, quicker we're back.'
'I hope you're right,' said Aziraphale, steeling himself and climbing into the passenger seat as Crowley made a show of checking the front door of the shop was locked before heading round to the driver's side and climbing in beside him, 'Thank you, dear.'
'I know you too well, angel,' he said, 'It'll be waiting for us when we get back.'
Aziraphale nodded, 'Let's get moving. Like you say, sooner we're there,' he said before he dropped his voice to a whisper, 'Besides, Lucifer and Michael haven't exactly been very talkative so far.'
Crowley pulled away from the pavement, the engine protesting a little before deciding to cooperate, 'Hopefully time in back will break the ice,' he said back just as quietly, 'They're going to need to find a way to work together. They used to snap at each other when we were in Heaven too. He was as much at odds with her as I was with Gabriel at times. They almost made a sport out of it. '
'It's still odd,' said Aziraphale, 'Hearing you talk about Heaven. It's like you were there and I wasn't. It sounds alive when you talk about it.'
'It was before the Fall,' said Crowley, 'It was different then, warmer. I don't think I would have recognised it even if I had my memories when I went up there as you. The Heaven I remember was never so cold. I promise to return your memories of it when I can.'
Aziraphale smiled, 'Until then you can just tell me more stories of us,' he said, 'It will pass the time as we drive.'
Crowley reached over, taking hold of his hand for a moment before returning it to the steering wheel, 'Well there was the second time we visited Eden together and you ran afoul of the stream,' he said before he laughed, 'I've never heard a sound like the one you made when you fell in.'
Aziraphale huffed, 'You're making that up.'
Crowley shook his head, 'Honest truth,' he said, 'You got your revenge though.'
'Oh really, how?' said the angel, brightening slightly, turning in his seat to face him as Crowley began the tale.
The ornate pathways outside of Leicester Cathedral were thankfully quiet, leaving them looking slightly less conspicuous as they hovered around the main door, both Crowley and Lucifer skittering back from the building whenever they got too close.
'Remind me again why we aren't just making enquiries?' said Michael.
'Because we have no idea what She looks like,' said Lucifer, 'For all we know we go in describing the image we remember and when She hit the ground She looked completely different. I was hoping one of you would be able to sense something.'
'If all of you stop talking I might be able to get somewhere,' snapped Aziraphale, 'It really does not help that everything I'm trying to feel is being influenced by demons who can't keep three feet away from consecrated ground and an Archangel who is still angelic enough to leave celestial energy behind her so please, if we want to find Her please can you all stop moving and be quiet.'
'You're beloved has a bold streak,' said Lucifer.
'And only a finite amount of patience,' said Aziraphale, 'Now hush.'
Crowley bit back a laugh, unable to meet anyone's eye in case it broke him and he got his share of his husband's ire. It took several more minutes before Aziraphale finally huffed in annoyance and stomped over to the nearest bench to sit down.
'Didn't work then,' said Crowley, joining him.
Aziraphale shook his head, 'There's definitely something divine but there's too much church and people and echoes and I can't get a fix on anything. I'm sorry I can't be of any use.'
'This is not all on you, angel,' said Crowley, rubbing a hand against his back, 'We can try again.'
Aziraphale dropped his face into his hands, fingers worrying the platinum curls of his hair as he tried to sense anything aside from the demonic and heavenly influences he knew but there was too many sensations for him to get a fix on anything.
'I don't think I could manage even if I had no outside influences,' he said raising his head once more and sighing sadly, 'I can't do it, Crowley. I can't find Her.'
'Then we find another way and quickly,' said Lucifer, 'Perhaps Michael...where's she gone?'
'I thought she was standing with you,' said Crowley, 'I didn't hear her call out.'
Aziraphale paled, 'You don't think... they were after her earlier.'
'What did you say to her?' said Crowley, to his former master, 'You were sniping at each other for half the journey.'
'She was being petulant,' said Lucifer, 'But I've not said anything for her to get upset about since we got here.'
'We have to find her,' said Aziraphale, 'If they've got hold of her I dread to think what they'll do. They're so quick. When they grabbed you in the park that time Crowley...'
'Let's not think the worst,' said the demon, 'We need to find her and quickly. Angel, you go inside, makes sense they'd drag her in there where we can't follow. We'll look around here. Five minutes then back here, we can't risk splitting up for too long.'
Aziraphale turned to the door to the cathedral just as Michael stepped back outside, a determined look on her face as she marched over to them.
'Idiot,' she said, pointing at the angel before she turned to Crowley, poking him square in the chest, 'Another idiot.' She crossed the short distance between the demon and Lucifer, standing uncomfortably close to him despite it forcing her to look up. 'Complete and utter bloody buffoon. God is in Leicester Royal Infirmary. She's blonde and appears in Her mid forties, pretty and was wearing white when She was found. They are trying to find Her family and here is an artist's rendition. She had some facial injuries so the police haven't released pictures.'
She pulled a poster from her pocket stuffing it into Lucifer's hands.
'How...?' he started, unfolding the picture.
'I asked the woman at the information desk inside. Was sort of a big event finding an unidentified woman injured on their doorstep,' said Michael, 'They're very worried and are hoping to find someone who knows Her. Now can we stop messing about trying to find divine signatures and instead head to the hospital and ask for our sister or mother or whatever we want to call Her. Idiots, the lot of you.'
She didn't wait for any of them to respond, heading back towards the main road with her arms folded across her chest. Crowley took the picture from Lucifer's hands, looking down at it and nodding.
'That's Her alright,' he said, 'I think I'm siding with team Michael on this one. Come on, angel.'
Aziraphale shot Lucifer an apologetic smile before following Crowley and Michael. It didn't take them long to catch her up, Lucifer having to pick up his pace slightly more until they were all walking together again. Michael requested directions to the hospital from one of the people they passed on the street before leading them all in the direction she was pointed.
The twenty minute walk was all but silent, all of them walking a few steps behind Michael who had elected herself, without any opposition, to the leader of their rag-tag band on account of being by far the smartest out of all of them at that moment. It was only when the hospital came into sight that Aziraphale hurried to her side before falling into step with her.
'What should we say when we get in there?' he asked, 'We don't know what sort of state She'll be in.'
'I'll call Her my sister,' said Michael, 'Though it feels like blasphemy. We appear too similar in age for Her to be mother though it feels like if I were to call Her anything other than Lord, mother would be appropriate. She created me after all. I'm going to say we lost contact and I came to find Her and stumbled on the information poster. I haven't thought about how I'm going to explain you lot away. I don't know if I want him in there either. He might frighten Her. Crowley is different but Lucifer... he's still the Enemy even if he is acting like he's helping us.'
'He is helping us,' said Aziraphale, 'It's just difficult sometimes and it must be hard. We're angels, we have always existed in Her love. For Lucifer and Crowley, after what both of them went through, this is difficult. They might hate Gabriel but they have no great love for God either. We must all try for patience.'
'You weren't saying that earlier.'
Aziraphale frowned, 'Acknowledged but that doesn't mean I was right,' he said, 'So She's your sister, what are we?'
Michael regarded him for a moment before she nodded, 'A friend, you came with me for support along with your husband,' she said, 'Lucifer can wait outside.'
'What can Lucifer do?' said the Lord of Hell as he caught up with them, 'Can I please be consulted before any decisions are made?'
Michael sniffed, 'I'm not opening this up to a discussion,' she said, 'You will be waiting outside whilst we go in to see if She is there.'
'I should think...'
'This isn't a debate,' said Michael, 'Technically I am the highest ranking agent of Heaven here which puts me in charge.'
Lucifer growled, 'You are only an Archangel. I am a Seraph.'
'A fallen one,' said Michael, glaring up at him.
It was only Crowley stepping between them that saved her from the hellfire that played over Lucifer's fingers, mimicking her pose from the shop when she stood guard for him.
'Enough, the pair of you,' he said, 'Calm down. Insults aren't going to get us anywhere. No one is in charge here, we are working together and we will discuss things sensibly without resorting to cheap shots about our statuses. That being said I think Michael is right in the regard that you need to stay outside Lucifer. Firstly, we arrive on mass the humans are going to get suspicious. I'd even suggest staying outside myself but if we encounter any heavenly interference in there it won't hurt to have a bit of Hell onside. Secondly, God has no idea we are coming and being faced with you might frighten Her, especially if She's not fully in charge of Herself. Last, we need someone outside in case things go wrong. If we're all caught together then there's no hope left, one of us outside might stand a chance and you have an army at your command.'
'So I am to act like the guard dog?' huffed Lucifer.
Crowley snorted, 'You can act your damn age,' he said, before he sighed, 'Please. Can we just try?'
'Crowley's right,' said Aziraphale, 'We need to get on with each other. Remember what's at stake.'
Lucifer frowned but nodded, crossing his arms across his chest, 'Fine but next time I would prefer to be part of the conversation,' he said, 'I do not do well being imposed upon by Heaven.'
'A feeling I know only too well,' said Aziraphale, earning a snort of laughter from his husband, 'We should get inside. These places tend to have rules about visiting hours and if we can't use miracles we'll need to abide by them. We need a name for Her. Don't want to fall at the first hurdle when they start asking questions.'
'Mary,' said Crowley, 'Then pick something generic. Smith, Jones, you know the kind. Let's not get complicated. Best call yourself Michaela rather than Michael as well, or Michelle but pick one and stick to it. The humans aren't used to women with that name.'
'I'm not a woman,' said Michael.
'Yes but to them you look like one,' said Aziraphale, 'And now is not the time to debate the point.'
'Fine, Michaela it is,' said Michael, 'But not one of you is at liberty to call me it outside of this situation. My name is my name. Shall we?'
Lucifer followed them as far as the main door before finding a suitable bench to wait on, Crowley waiting until he was well out of ear shot to mention he was sulking rather than sitting. He and Aziraphale held back just enough to allow Michael to take the lead but stayed close enough to offer her any help if she needed it. The woman she approached at the desk was reluctant at best to offer any sort of direction to the patient they were seeking, trying to direct Michael to the police rather than anywhere in the hospital.
'We can't spare the time,' whispered Aziraphale as Michael continued to try to cajole the woman into helping her, 'I know Lucifer said no...influences but we don't have anything if we need to prove a connection.'
Crowley nodded, 'Heaven are less likely to notice me,' he said, stepping up to Michael's side and addressing the woman she was talking too, 'We aren't looking to offer any decisions on Mary's care. All my friend here wants to do is see her sister. They do say that hearing the voice of a loved one can help the healing process, she'll be in and out in two minutes and no harm done.'
The woman smiled and Aziraphale had to resist the urge to roll his eyes as he saw the all too familiar response to his husband turning on the charm.
'Well it's against procedure...' she said again.
'Oh but you know procedure is only there as a guideline,' said Crowley, leaning down on the counter, 'Call it a mission of mercy. What was your name again?'
'Nancy,' she replied.
Crowley grinned, 'Name of my first girlfriend,' he said, 'We were five, broke my heart when she went off with a boy in the class above. You're not going to break my heart are you Nancy?'
Michael stepped back to Aziraphale's side, frowning as she caught the angel's amused expression, 'You don't mind this?' she asked as Crowley continued to talk.
Aziraphale chuckled, covering it with a hand, 'I've seen this act one too many times,' he said, 'It gets more and more ridiculous but it means he doesn't have to use as much influence when he gets to the end of it.'
'I thought we weren't using miracles.'
'Needs must,' said Aziraphale, 'Time's against us. Ah, here we go?'
Michael looked up as Crowley took hold of the receptionist's hand, running the fingers of his free hand over her knuckles.
'You see, Nancy, I just want to make my friend happy,' said Crowley, 'You won't even know we've been here. All you need is to tell me the room she's in and we won't be a bother. You won't need to see us again... unless you want to.'
The last words were punctuated by the whisper of a kiss against her knuckles but it was the demonic influence that truly swayed things in their favour, the sense of it easily felt by Michael and Aziraphale but missed by the young woman it was directed at.
'Windsor building, level six,' she said, 'Take a right down the corridor.'
'You are a life saver,' said Crowley, letting go of her hand and turning back to his companions with a wink, 'Let's go see Mary.'
Aziraphale choked back a laugh as he heard the young woman call out her finish time, Crowley only just acknowledging it with a wave of his hand as they headed down the corridor, soon rounding the corner she had indicated.
'Enjoy yourself, dear?' asked the angel, finally letting the laugh slip, 'You are the most dreadful flirt.'
'Got us the ward didn't I?' he said, 'And I am yet to hear a thank you.'
'You'll get a thank you when I have sight of the Almighty,' said Michael, 'And I have never seen such a display as that before.'
Crowley laughed, 'Neither had she, poor girl,' he said, 'Really not my type.'
'I should bloody hope not,' said Aziraphale.
'You know I prefer blonds, darling.'
'You two are so strange,' said Michael, with a smile that threatened fondness, 'So very, very strange.'
'A very proud of it,' said Aziraphale, 'Windsor building was it? Up here then.'
They chose the lift over the stairs, grateful to find themselves travelling alone. The ward they stepped onto was sleek and clean, the beds neatly separated by crisp white curtains. The few nurses that populated the area were busy at their tasks, only one questioning them and happily accepting that they had been sent up by reception, claiming that their unnamed woman was in fact one Mary Jones.
They were led to the bed, Crowley grateful that he was walking between the two angels as they both stumbled slightly as they drew close to the closed curtain. He held onto them both as discreetly as he could, his own senses tingling the nearer they got.
'Could we have a moment?' he said, with a forced smile, 'Might get a bit emotional.'
The nurse nodded, holding aside the curtain enough for them to step in before letting it fall back, enclosing them all. The woman on the bed matched the picture Michael had retrieved from the cathedral, as well as the image Crowley remembered from Heaven but it was muted, all too human and easy to look upon when he should have been forced to avert his eyes. The bruising was heavy over her right eye, a bandage covering half her hair where it lay limp against the pillows.
'It feels...' began Aziraphale, 'Oh this hurts.'
'She should not be like this,' said Michael, her hands shaking as she reached out but fell short of touching her, 'She looks so small but it's Her.'
'Alright you two,' said Crowley, 'Breathe and stay calm. We don't have long. We need to work out what's wrong and how we get her out of here without rousing suspicion. I can't risk doing anything, She looks weak and demonic powers might be too much. Aziraphale can you sense what's wrong?'
'I can try,' said the angel, approaching the bed and reaching out a hand, 'I can't...I can't touch Her. Not without...She's the Almighty and I'm just...'
'Never just anything,' said Crowley, 'Right now, you're the best chance She has. She needs you. This isn't Heaven and you're not doing anything wrong.'
Aziraphale pulled over a chair, sitting down next to the bed before he took hold of the pale hand on the bed sheets in his own. He shuddered at the contact but stilled himself, closing his eyes. Crowley said nothing as Michael's hand took hold of his wrist, the grip punishing but he endured it, using it as an anchor as he watched his husband's face war between concentration and distress.
'The injuries are minor, mostly,' he said, 'I think I could heal them but She feels drained, empty.'
'From the way Michael told it, belief sustained Her,' said Crowley, 'Perhaps between you, you could do enough to at least wake Her.'
'We can try,' said Michael, brushing aside the tears on her cheeks as she left Crowley to stand by Aziraphale, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder, 'We need to let Her feel our love. I know she hurt Crowley and you in a way but can you? Please help me if you can.'
Aziraphale nodded, 'I might not be pleased,' he said, 'But I can't help but love Her. I just hope it's enough.'
'It will be,' said Michael, stepping behind him to better place both her hands on him, 'Let it flow. She's ours, Aziraphale, just as we are Hers. Remember the love you were created in.'
Crowley looked on as the angels began their work, familiar sensations pressing at his senses but they were too dulled, distant memories of love and Heaven and the Grace he had once been held in. It was a mournful sensation, tied up in not only the Fall but the betrayal he remembered when he had returned to Her sight for the final time. Even so, despite it all, he hoped along with them, knowing it would do little to help but needing to do something.
His heart sank as Michael opened her eyes, stepping back from Aziraphale with a sad shake of Her head.
'Nothing,' said the Archangel, 'There's so little left. Aziraphale, don't...'
The angel flinched, eyes creasing in pain before his whole body lurched, wings springing forth and taking out the nearby machines and curtains with a deafening crash. Crowley swore, as he heard the commotion beyond but his worry for them died quickly as he watched the colour draining from the angel's face.
'Aziraphale!' he cried, 'Aziraphale let go.'
The angel didn't answer, his hand glowing where it held onto Her's but the power moved swiftly from him and into Her skin. The paleness of Her skin faded, cheeks growing rosy as the bruising faded from above Her eye. Her eyelashes fluttered against her cheeks before She took a gasping breath. Still the power continued to flow, the pure white feathers on Aziraphale's wings becoming almost translucent as his colour continued to drain.
'She's killing him,' said Crowley, 'Michael, help him please. She's going to take everything he has. Aziraphale, let go.'
Michael hesitated a moment before she took hold of their joined hands, only to stumble back as though she had been burned, 'I can't,' she said, 'It threw me off.'
Panic rushed through Crowley as Aziraphale let out a desperate cry, his body convulsing as his wings grew thinner still. He gave no thought to the humans he was certain were now gathering around them, unleashing his own wings and calling on the powers he still drew from Hell despite the breaking of his chains.
With a cry he took hold of their joined hands, feeling the electricity that tried to throw him off but ignoring the burn in favour of keeping hold. He cursed against the pain, beating it back as he fought to release their hands. Aziraphale cried out beside him and he felt the pain as though it were his own, the panic flowing into him as he finally broke his husband free.
The scream that echoed from the bed was deafening, feral and dangerous, like an animal wounded and afraid. It was the pulse of power though that proved the worse, stronger than a lightning strike as it rose from the woman in the bed and spread with the force of a tsunami around the rest of the room.
Crowley dived for the floor, dragging Aziraphale with him before pulling Michael down too, enveloping them all within his wings as the light grew too bright. In the moment before he closed his eyes though he watched as the black feathers he had known for six thousand years seemed to bleach to silver-grey.
Chapter 11: Safe Haven
With their allies from Heaven injured, those from Hell have to find somewhere for them to recover and regroup.
A slightly shorter chapter today but I hope you still enjoy it x
Alarms screamed around them, both from the machines and the emergency alert that Crowley was sure one of the nurses had set off in reaction to the strange goings on they were all part of. He dared not emerge from the protection of his wings, holding Aziraphale's limp form against his chest as he tried to keep Michael close beneath his free arm. She cried out in pain and fright against his shoulder, whatever the power was hurting her more than it did him. He only dared look out between his feathers as he heard fresh screams, human screams, whatever was harming Michael now harming them too.
'Keep him covered,' he said to Michael as he laid Aziraphale face down on the floor, 'And keep your eyes shut. I'll cover you as best I can but I need to stop Her.'
'Don't hurt Her,' wept Michael, 'Please, Crowley, try not to hurt Her.'
He didn't answer, knowing he could make no promises to her, as he guided her to lie over Aziraphale. He kept his wings over them both until she was face down over the angel, not wanting to even question why the light seemed to be painting them far paler than they should be.
'Just don't look up until I tell you,' he said.
He kept his own eyes closed against the light as he got to his feet, the screams spurring him onwards as he struggled to the bed. Even his sunglasses offered no protection against the light but he risked opening his eyes enough to aim himself before he leaned down over the figure on the bed, grabbing Her roughly.
'Stop this,' he cried, 'You're killing them all. You have to stop. Stop it.'
The voice was with him again, the echo of the fury he had possessed as an angel, ringing out over the sound of the screaming. It shuddered through him, flaring his wings which felt too heavy against his back. He shook Her, not caring for the yelp of pain that came from Her lips as the light began to dim.
'Stop this!' he cried again, grateful as the room stopped shaking and the light receded, the harshness of the overhead strip lighting almost a welcome relief.
Fathomless eyes opened beneath him, eyes he remembered all too well since Lucifer returned his memories. For a moment they regarded him in confusion before they widened, the hand that had kept hold of Aziraphale coming up to touch him but Crowley jumped back before She could make contact. Annoyance flitted across Her face before whatever ailed Her overcame Her and Her eyes fell shut once more.
He heard a door slam open before the air around him changed, the familiar sensation of a demonic miracle washing over him. He put away his wings, ignoring the pain as they felt too large to control before turning as the curtain was thrown back.
'What happened?' cried Lucifer, 'This place just lit up like a Christmas tree. Are you trying to tell Gabriel where we are?'
'Don't blame me!' cried Crowley, 'She went mad. She was killing him and then She...I've no idea but it was hurting the humans and the angels. I barely coped with it myself.'
Lucifer looked down at the figure on the bed, 'That's Her,' he said, half in question, 'We need to get everyone out of here. There's no way Heaven didn't see that. Beelzebub!'
Crowley spared a brief look to as the demon appeared, not pausing to question when she had arrived as he moved around the bed. Michael was slowly pulling herself into the chair, her movements sluggish but she still managed under her own steam. Aziraphale however remained unmoving and Crowley cared nothing for the pain of the impact as he fell to his knees beside him.
'Angel?' he called, 'Aziraphale, can you hear me? Aziraphale! Please. You've got to wake up.'
He kept his hands as gentle as he could in his panic, rolling him over until he was laid on his back. The sight of his eyes closed alone was enough to worry him but it was the absence of the familiar rise and fall of his chest that struck him. Whilst they did not have to breathe it was a habit they had fallen into, the physicality of it something as much a part of them as their heartbeats had become. Crowley refused to think the worst, lifting Aziraphale up until he was cradled in his arms, moving him gently as he spoke to him, calling him back from wherever he had gone. Reaching out with senses that were ill used but still sharp, he felt the dormant presence within the beloved body.
'You're in there still, I know you are,' he said, ignoring the tears that fell onto the shoulder of the angel's coat, 'I'm here, my love and you're safe. I've got you, you're safe with me. Aziraphale you have to come back to me, please. My angel, please.'
He cried out in relief as he felt Aziraphale shudder, a breath sucked in before a whimper left his lips.
'It's alright,' said Crowley, 'I've got you. You're alright.'
Aziraphale shivered, sounds passing his lips but none of them succeeding in becoming words. His hands clutched at Crowley's back, knotting into the fabric of his jacket as he pressed close to the demon. Crowley heard the others moving around him but he didn't look up, focusing instead of keeping Aziraphale close. He stroked a hand down his back but pulled it away as the angel cried out.
'Hurts,' said Aziraphale, his voice hoarse.
'What hurts?' said Crowley, keeping his hands light.
'Everything,' said Aziraphale with a shudder, removing a hand from Crowley's back enough to hold it palm up between them, 'It burns'
Crowley hissed at the sight of the blistered skin, the flesh raw and swollen on the once pale hand. He cupped it gently in his hand, pouring as much healing as he was capable of offering into it. The skin slowly recovered its more natural colour, only a faint redness remaining but Crowley could still sense the lingering pain.
Aziraphale nodded, 'Patches all over,' he said, 'Feels like I rolled in the fireplace. Don't try to do anything, you'll exhaust yourself. What happened to me?'
'She did,' Crowley growled, 'She was draining you. I forced Her off and not a moment too soon it seems. If I knew She'd hurt you...'
Aziraphale pressed his fingers to the demon's lips, 'Don't,' he said, 'Please. I can't...Just hold me for a moment.'
Crowley held him close, keeping his hands as gentle as he could, trying to sense all the injuries and feeling tears spring to his eyes as he felt them scattered over the angel. He pushed the anger aside, focusing instead on comforting his husband as he continued to shake, pouring as much love as he could into the gentle touches.
'Raphael,' said Lucifer, cutting through his concentration, 'We need to move. Get him up. We have to get out of here.'
Crowley looked up, biting back as curse as he saw the body containing whatever was left of God in his arms. He wanted to tell him to leave Her but he knew he would face too much opposition, Michael's eyes focused on Her even as Beelzebub was forced to support her to keep her standing.
'Angel, can you stand?' said Crowley.
Aziraphale nodded, his hands gripping on to Crowley as they struggled to get to their feet. Crowley pulled his arm over his shoulder, gentling the angel as best he could as it aggravated his injuries.
'Just lean on me,' said Crowley, 'If you need to stop just say. I'll carry you if I have to.'
'You'll never walk again if you tried,' quipped the angel before he flinched, 'Better off dragging me.'
'I'm stronger than I look,' said Crowley, wrapping an arm around his waist, 'You'll have to take the lead, Lucifer. What's the plan?'
'Put as much distance between us and here as we can, then we'll start to work things out.'
'And Her?' said Crowley as they headed to the door, the room around them still frozen by Lucifer's power but the damage was still clear, 'She really tore the place up. The humans?'
'Will remember an incident but no specifics,' said Lucifer, 'And no faces though Gabriel will not have to make much of a guess if he senses my power here.'
'Is She alive?' asked Michael, stumbling in Beelzebub's grip, her height making it harder for the demon to keep her upright, 'God, is She alive?'
'She's alive,' said Lucifer, 'And I intend to keep Her that way. We need to get to the van and then get out of here.'
He led them to the nearest fire exit, kicking it open and heading down the stairs at a pace far too quick for them to keep up to but they tried all the same. Beelzebub and Michael were the next to leave, Crowley struggling to keep Aziraphale upright as the angel stumbled towards the door.
'Take it slow,' he said, 'They won't drive off without us. Lean on me a little more.'
Aziraphale shifted his weight closer to the demon, 'I feel so weak,' he said, 'Cold. What did... what did She do to me?'
'I don't know what exactly. She had hold of you and it looked as though She was taking whatever there was in you and using it to heal Herself but She was taking too much. You were fading and I couldn't... I'm not losing you to Her again, Aziraphale, not for the whole world.'
'No, love, no arguments on that,' said the demon, as they reached the stairs, 'Easy now, we'll do this slowly. Let me move in front of you a bit, easier to catch you if you fall.'
Blue eyes met his, tears quickly blinked back but he saw them all the same, tears prompted by so simple a word. A word that had should have been Aziraphale's fate were it not for the demon leading him so carefully down the stairs. Crowley shook his head, wordlessly forbidding the thought for the both of them as they slowly negotiated the steps. Feet rushing up to them prompted Crowley to turn a little, frowning as he saw Beelzebub returning.
'Where's Michael?' he asked.
'At the bottom,' said Beelzebub, 'She's moving a little easier. I was sent back to help you with that one.'
Crowley scowled at the dismissive hand that was waved towards Aziraphale but chose not to argue the point, 'Just keep him steady,' he said as Beelzebub passed him and wrapped Aziraphale's free arm over her shoulder.
'Thank you,' said the angel, flinching at the buzz of annoyance from the demon, 'Oh, sorry, I forget that...well...you lot don't like that sort of thing. Crowley's more used to it I suppose. I don't think I'm going to manage many more of these.'
'You're alright,' said Crowley, 'Just keep going. Not much further to go.'
Aziraphale managed a weak laugh, 'We've barely managed a floor.'
'Well we're closer than we were,' said Crowley, gripping him a little tighter as the angel stumbled before lowering him to sit on the step as his legs refused to take another step.
'Get up and keep moving,' snapped Beelzebub, trying to drag the angel back to his feet before Crowley knocked her hands away.
'Just give him a moment.'
'I'm afraid I may need rather than a moment, dear,' said Aziraphale, his head falling into his hands, 'The room won't stop moving and I... you'll have to go on without me.'
'Now you're chatting shit,' said Crowley, 'You're the last one I'm leaving behind. We can rest a moment.'
'Lucifer said I was to hurry you along,' said Beelzebub, 'We can't risk being here when Heaven chooses to arrive. Get up or I'll drag you up.'
'Touch him and you'll be dealing with me,' said Crowley.
Aziraphale waved a hand between them both, 'Please don't. My head hurts enough. Beelzebub is right Crowley, you can't risk being here when Heaven arrives, not with God in the state She's in. You'll all be vulnerable. I know you don't want to leave me but right now I'm a hindrance you don't need. You and Beelzebub go. Go and get the van and get everyone in it. I'll get myself down and to the door. Come back here if you can and get me, if not I can maybe buy you some time by distracting Heaven. This is bigger than me, love. You have to go.'
'Yeah, not happening,' said Crowley, 'I said I'd carry you and I bloody well will. Just don't wriggle. Now you're going to stand, slowly as you need to, and Beelzebub will keep you upright and then I'll do the rest.'
'Whatever we're doing can we do it quickly,' said Beelzebub, taking hold of Aziraphale's arm and helping him back to his feet, 'Much as I wouldn't mind a scrap with a couple of white wings, I'd rather be better prepared.'
'I still don't think this is a good idea,' said Aziraphale, squeezing his eyes tight, 'Nothing is keeping still.'
'Just keep your eyes shut,' said Crowley, 'And trust me, husband.'
The word brought the briefest smile to Aziraphale's lips but it turned into a yelp of alarm as Crowley, moved a couple of steps down, turned to face him and lifted him over his shoulder with a grunt of effort.
'Crowley, no! You'll discorporate us both.'
'Just keep still and hush,' said the demon through clenched teeth as he turned and began to move down the stairs.
'Never thought I'd see an angel getting carried like a sack of potatoes,' said Beelzebub, keeping pace with them, 'Struggling there, Crowley.'
'Not enough that I can't boot you down the stairs,' he said, 'And don't start showing off, Hell isn't in charge of me any more.'
The floors passed slowly but Crowley refused to stop, moving as quickly as he could with Beelzebub thankfully keeping silent at his side, until they finally reached the bottom.
'Help me get him down,' said Crowley, lowering them back to the floor, grateful for the hands that guided Aziraphale from his shoulder.
'You're a bloody idiot,' said the angel as Beelzebub leant him back against the wall, 'You'll be in agony for days.'
'I'm fine,' said Crowley even as he rubbed at his shoulder, 'Where's Lucifer?'
Michael looked up at him with tired eyes, the woman they had pulled from the bed cradled in her lap, still asleep, 'Went to get the van,' she said, 'He said there was no way we were going to get there on foot. I can barely move and Aziraphale doesn't look much better.'
'Hope he can drive?' said Crowley with a frown, 'And hot wire. I've still got the keys.'
'You're not the only one who spends time topside,' said Beelzebub, 'And at least he's thinking ahead.'
'And I'm trying to keep everyone safe,' said Crowley, 'I didn't ask to be dragged into this. Did you get Adam and the others sorted?'
Beelzebub nodded, straightening her cuff as she stared down at the woman in Michael's lap, causing the angel to curl a little tighter around her charge, 'Dagon has arranged watchers and she and Hastur will keep a close eye. They will report to me only if necessary and they won't interfere with the humans. I spoke to the boy and to the human woman too so they know not to be afraid if they see those from our side.'
'Hardly a comfort but at least they're being watched,' said Crowley, kneeling down beside Aziraphale, 'How are you feeling?'
Aziraphale kept his eyes closed, his head resting back against the wall, 'Remember Mount Asama in seventeen eighty-three?' he said, taking hold of the demon's hand, 'This feels worse, far worse. I can barely move.'
'Can I do anything?'
'Just stay close,' said the angel, 'And don't let me be a burden.'
An awkward silence descended on them all, Beelzebub pacing the floor, eyes flashing every time a sound echoed down the abandoned stairwell. Michael continued to watch over her charge, speaking so quietly that her words were lost to the others, as Crowley watched over his. Having settled himself next to his husband, he kept hold of his hand, pressing a kiss to his hair as his head came to rest against his shoulder.
The sounds of the humans above them continued to grow louder, Lucifer's spell having worn off allowing for the scene to be discovered and Crowley began to wonder whether they would need to try and move on again, not wanting to waste time talking them out of whatever conclusions might be drawn if they were found there. His plans were cut short though as he heard footsteps outside the door, Lucifer reappearing with a frown marring his brow.
'There are police arriving,' he said, 'We need to move fast. I can't risk doing anything else that will attract Heaven.'
'Fast isn't much of an option,' said Crowley, 'You'll have to drive, I'm not leaving Aziraphale on his own.'
'I'm fine,' came the sleepy response at his shoulder.
'Course you are,' said Crowley, 'Just don't want to be without you for a second, love. We need to get you up. Just a few steps and then you can lie down again. Lucifer, I'll need your help.'
'Get them into the van,' said Lucifer as Beelzebub lifted God's unconscious vessel with far more ease than her size would own, letting Michael lean on her shoulder as they headed out of the door, 'Can you stand at all, young one?'
Aziraphale frowned, 'Stop calling me that... feel like a child,' he mumbled, 'Standing isn't so good but I don't want to be a sack again.'
'We'll help you,' said Crowley, 'And then you're going to rest, properly. You're starting to make less sense than usual.'
The demon got to his feet, working with Lucifer to help the angel to his before they half carried him to the door and to the van that was parked with two wheels on the pavement. Beelzebub quickly helped them inside, Aziraphale soon laid down on the coarse carpet, the sofa already taken by God's vessel and Michael, the latter looking nearly as pale as Aziraphale despite being able to sit up. Crowley paid little mind to any of them as Beelzebub joined Lucifer at the front, taking off his jacket and pillowing it beneath the angel's head as the van lurched away from the pavement.
'Who... how are you driving?' asked Aziraphale, squinting up at him.
Crowley laughed, 'I'm not, Lucifer is,' he said, as the angel reached for his hand, pulling it down to rest against his chest, 'Well, he's trying. I'm looking after you.'
'That's nice. I feel awful.'
Crowley lay down beside him, trying to ignore the state of the floor as he focused, 'Well I wouldn't worry, you still look gorgeous,' he said, pressing a kiss to his temple, 'Rest, my love. You need your strength.'
'I think... need sleep,' murmured Aziraphale, 'Don't like sleep...feels funny. Be here...when I wake up?'
'Right here, I promise you.'
Aziraphale frowned, even as his eyes fell shut, 'You weren't last time... were gone and I...didn't...couldn't remember,' he said, several long beats passing before he spoke again, 'Love you.'
'Love you too, you daft bugger. Now go to sleep,' said Crowley, allowing himself a small smile as he realised the angel had already slipped into slumber.
It was a rare thing for him to be able to watch him sleep and he indulged the opportunity for longer than necessary to make sure it was a safe and healing rest rather than anything more sinister brought on by his encounter with God. He wasn't sure how long they had been travelling when he looked up from his vigil but the countryside he could glimpse out of the window let him know that the city and its suburbs were long behind them.
He gently removed his hand from Aziraphale's grip, smoothing down the blond curls before he got to his feet, holding onto the table for a moment to steady himself against the van's movement. He looked over to the sofa, Michael asleep even as she still cradled her charge in her lap. He tore his eyes away from the other face, refusing to think on the memories it brought or the anger that still boiled in his gut at both the torment he had endured and the pain he had seen Aziraphale suffer through. Careful not to wake any of them, he headed towards the front, leaning over the back of the seats Lucifer and Beelzebub occupied.
'Didn't realise you could drive,' he said, 'Where exactly are we?'
'I've spent my time up top,' said Lucifer, sparing him a glance, 'I'm taking us into the Peaks, away from the humans. If She goes off again I don't want anyone getting hurt. How are they?'
'Sleeping,' said Crowley, 'Aziraphale took a proper whack and Michael has been running on empty since we found her. They're going to need time to recover.'
'A luxury we can ill afford,' said Lucifer, 'But they are no use to us weak. We'll have to find somewhere for them to rest.'
'Heaven will find us regardless of where we go,' said Beelzebub, 'They'll know that was demonic magic at the hospital.'
'Then we follow the rule we promised ourselves,' said Lucifer, 'No more miracles unless it's absolutely necessary.'
'Try telling Her that,' said Crowley, 'Though She won't be getting a chance to do what She did back at the hospital again. She's not touching Aziraphale even if Her life depends on it.'
'We are all going to have to make sacrifices by the end of this, Raphael.'
'Not my husband and I'm not going to argue about that,' said Crowley, 'We need somewhere we can get off the road and work out what we're going to do next.'
'We can't exactly commandeer a house,' said Lucifer.
'Well we could,' said Beelzebub, 'Humans are easily persuaded.'
'Perhaps a little less heavy handed,' said Crowley, 'If we're heading into the Peaks we can hire somewhere, Aziraphale and I have done it a couple of times. Do it the human way and we cover our tracks.'
Lucifer shook his head, 'Heaven will have everything on the look out for us,' he said, 'I've not got access to human funds without magic and neither has Beelzebub. You can bet they'll have someone on the look out for anything with the name Crowley or Fell attached to it.'
'But not Device,' said Crowley, 'I need to make a phone call. Keep us pointed towards the Peaks. I'll do the rest.'
The cottage was in darkness when they pulled up outside, Lucifer parking the van behind the small outbuilding that would hide it from sight from road. Crowley climbed out the moment they were stationary, heading to the front door with his phone pressed to his ear.
'Black box by the door?' he said, peering around the frame until he found it and flicked it open, 'Needs a code?'
He span the silver dials, selecting the digits Anathema read back to him until the lock clicked and he opened the tiny safe, retrieving the key inside.
'I owe you one, book girl,' he said fondly, 'Make sure Hastur doesn't give you any grief and call me if he does. I'll be in touch when I can.'
He hung up the phone as he heard her goodbye, fitting the key into the lock and opening the door. The hallway was dark but he quickly found the light switch, illuminating the rough stone floors and the doorways that led into the other rooms.
'Well isn't this quaint,' sneered Beelzebub as she came to his side.
'Better than us all crammed into that thing,' said Crowley, 'Thought you were helping Lucifer.'
'Your pet angel is asking for you,' she replied, 'Won't move until he sees you and Michael is being an over glorified watch dog.'
'And I'm sure you were both being a delight,' said Crowley, stepping back out into the night air and ushering her inside, 'Get the lights on and let's see what we're working with.'
Beelzebub grumbled under her breath but moved into the cottage all the same, lights soon spilling from various windows as Crowley returned to the van. Lucifer stood just inside the door, arms folded across his chest and several curses clearly wanting to pass his lips even as he forced them back. Michael was still sat on the sofa with God in her arms but her face was set in a scowl that only slightly lessened as Crowley came back inside.
'Nice to see the family is getting on swimmingly as always,' said the demon, crouching down to where Aziraphale was sat, propped against the small cupboards, 'You ok?'
Aziraphale nodded but the small smile he forced to his lips quickly faltered, 'Where are we?'
'Near some place called Abney,' said Crowley, 'Found us somewhere to stay whilst you recover and we work out what we're going to do. You've been asleep for a few hours, you're bound to feel disorientated. Can you walk?'
Aziraphale nodded, climbing shakily to his feet as Crowley helped him, keeping hold of his arm even when he was upright.
'Michael, you need to let Lucifer help you,' said Crowley, 'Once we're inside we can start making sense of things and it won't hurt to let Her lie down somewhere a little more comfortable.'
The Archangel nodded, relinquishing her hold on God as Lucifer crossed the room and took Her from her arms, 'Be gentle with Her,' she said, 'Please.'
Lucifer nodded, 'Put your hand on my shoulder if you need support too,' he said.
Michael got to her feet but kept her hands at her side as she followed him to the door, moving gingerly down the steps and towards the house. Crowley led Aziraphale the same way, glad that he was far steadier than he had been when they had been leaving the hospital.
The gasp that escaped the angel as they stepped around to the front of the cottage made him pause but he smiled as he realised it was the view that had prompted the response. The cottage was now well lit, even the upstairs rooms throwing light upon the ground but it did little to hide the expanse of sky above them broken here and there by the shadowy outlines of the peaks.
'Crowley this is beautiful,' said Aziraphale, 'However did you find it?'
'Anathema,' he said, 'She's leased it for us for a few days. We need to get you and Michael strong again and work out what we're going to do next. Tonight though we all need to rest. Lucifer and Beelzebub have agreed to keep watch for a while and then I'll take over from them.'
'Will you stay with me until then?' said Aziraphale, around a yawn, 'I could definitely sleep again.'
'No place I'd rather be,' said Crowley, leading him towards the house, 'Let's just hope the bed's already made. Miracles are off limits.'
'Anything is better than that smelly old van.'
'Not going to argue with you there,' said Crowley as they stepped over the threshold and he closed the door behind them.
Chapter 12: Flashback
Crowley deals with the changes coming over him but any grip he had on his past is called into question when he is faced by a conscious God.
Hello all. Thank you so much for the lovely reviews. I'm not sure it warrants a warning but for those who may want to know in advance, Crowley does not do well in this chapter with dealing with his memories of the Prince of Heaven and there is some emotional trauma mid way through the chapter. Nova xx
Crowley was certain he could recreate the pattern of the wallpaper on the wall opposite the bed to near perfection if challenged to. He had watched the muted moonlight trace across it for several hours when sleep had been elusive.
He and Aziraphale had taken over the second largest bedroom in the cottage, Michael having already installed God in the largest. The Archangel had chosen to rest beside her mistress, contented enough when she was unhindered by any of the others. Crowley had been all to happy to leave her to it, seeking out the other bedroom without a second look at their sleeping patient. It had space enough for him and Aziraphale, giving them peace and privacy for a short while as Lucifer and Beelzebub took up the first watch.
He had left the angel only briefly to retrieve the bags from the van that contained the meagre possessions they had brought from home, glad for Aziraphale's foresight as he found several changes of clothes including sleepwear for them both alongside additional pieces for Michael, which he left outside her door. He had returned to the bedroom to find the angel sat against the headboard, eyes heavy but still awake enough to offer him a small smile.
Crowley had helped him to undress, the process a familiar one but hindered by the injuries that still lingered beneath Aziraphale's clothes. The angel had protested that miracles were forbidden when Crowley had moved a hand to cover one of the larger burns but he had been ignored, the demon healing the worst of them but leaving the ones that were capable of mending on their own. It had been almost familiar to dress in their nightclothes and slip beneath the covers of the bed, Aziraphale's warm flannel against the soft silk of Crowley's, but the strangeness could not be ignored. The linen held the smell of a professional launderers and the bed was harder than the soft mattress they shared at home. The most alien sensation though was when Aziraphale laid his head on Crowley's chest and promptly fell into a deep slumber, the position usual reversed with the demon sleeping against his husband as he sat up to read.
Crowley had soon fallen asleep beside him, Lucifer having promised to wake him when the time came for him to take the watch, but it had been the nightmare that had roused him long before his watch was due to commence. He was only glad that the violent waking hadn't roused Aziraphale, managing to stifle a shout with his hand as he forced himself to push aside the memories of the cage that had tortured him. Sleep had eluded him from that moment on but he comforted himself instead by stroking the soft blond curls at his shoulder as he watched the moonlight track across the wall.
Aziraphale stirred against him, resettling on the bed before he pressed closer to the demon's side. Crowley hushed him, pressing a kiss to his forehead as sleep kept hold of him, only the faint murmur of his name passing his lips as he settled again. Crowley reached for his phone on the night stand, frowning at the time. He considered getting up and relieving Lucifer and Beelzebub early but Aziraphale's warm weight against him was a greater pull. Instead he navigated to the photo album on the screen before him, looking through the collected memories he found there. He paused as he swiped to a photo of Warlock he had taken at their last but one meeting, the boy surprised that his nanny had had such a modern device but had submitted to being photographed all the same, framed in the background of Kew Gardens where they had spent several long, precious hours walking and talking, the future of their relationship as yet unknown and Crowley yearned to go back to the simpler times they had been.
'Lovely picture,' came the murmur at his shoulder, 'Are you alright?'
'Yeah,' said Crowley, 'He'll be on his way to America in a day or two.'
'Oh love, we'll find a way for you to see him,' said Aziraphale, raising himself up on an elbow, 'When this is done, we'll find a way. I know how much you love him.'
Crowley smiled ruefully, letting the phone fall onto the mattress as he rolled onto his side to face him, 'Can we change the subject before I start making a fool of myself?' he said, 'How are you feeling?'
'Stronger,' said Aziraphale, fingers moving to Crowley's hair, smoothing the lengthening strands, 'And rested. Did you sleep at all?'
'A little,' said Crowley, 'Watching you sleep was better.'
Aziraphale smiled but then quickly frowned, 'You didn't take any pictures on that thing did you?'
Crowley grinned, 'No but I'll certainly keep it in mind for next time,' he said, 'You look adorable when you're asleep.'
'Still don't like sleeping,' said the angel, 'I feel all topsy-turvy. Has there been any news?'
'Nothing as yet. The house is quiet.'
'Hmm, calm before the storm I think,' said Aziraphale, 'We need to stop stumbling over one another and start making some concrete plans. Gabriel is not going to wait for us to work out what we're doing.'
'If you don't feel the need to sleep any more, we can get working,' said Crowley, 'I have to relieve the others in an hour anyway.'
'I'm tempted to keep you here for the hour but I suppose duty calls. I shall claim a kiss before we get up though.'
Crowley met his lips, still sleepy and soft, reminding him of many a night when he would wake in the angel's arm to the same touch. Warm fingers drew up his arm, caressing the silken sleeve before they reached his shoulder, the grip tightening slightly to pull him closer but it was enough to make him flinch.
'Did I hurt you?' said Aziraphale, pulling away with a frown, 'Your shoulder? That wasn't where... oh I told you that you'd hurt yourself.'
'It's nothing angel.'
'It's not nothing, you were hurt carrying me out of harm's way,' he said, a hand falling to his stomach, 'If I only I wasn't so...'
Crowley pressed a finger to his lips, 'Don't you dare finish that sentence, angel. Don't you dare,' he said, covering his hand with his own, 'You are beautiful and I love every inch of you and I will carry you from danger however many times I need to. It's a bruise, it will heal. You're not to think about changing a single part of you, do you understand, at least not for something as foolish as my shoulder.'
'At least let me take a look and heal it for you,' said Aziraphale, reaching for the buttons of Crowley's shirt and popping the first two.
'No miracles allowed, remember? Mine were demonic, I'm more likely to have got away with it. You on the other hand are directly under the heavenly microscope. It will be fine in a day or two. I'll hoist you onto my other shoulder until then,' said Crowley, smiling as Aziraphale laughed.
'I'll hold you to that,' he said, petting the skin he had already revealed, 'We should move.'
Crowley wanted to protest but he knew the minutes were swiftly dwindling until he would be called away. He pressed a swift kiss to the angels lips, returning for a more lingering touch before he pulled away, 'We should,' he said, 'Or we'll have Beelzebub walking in on us.'
Aziraphale shuddered, 'Yes, best avoided I should say,' he said, sitting up and stretching with a groan, 'I miss our bed.'
'Well we've had a fair go at breaking it in.'
'Oh you are wicked,' said the angel, shoving him to the edge of the bed, 'Away before you tempt me, husband.'
Crowley laughed, rolling over and fumbling with the unfamiliar lamp, finally finding the switch and bathing the room in the warm glow and chasing the shadows into the uneven corners. He swept aside the covers, slipping from the bed and padding across the carpet to the chair he had left their clothes on. Aziraphale took the neat pile of his own clothes, setting them down on the bed before he began to dress with his usual precision. Crowley cursed his own disregard for his clothes, too reliant on miracles to put them right as he was forced to straighten them before he could begin to dress.
He unbuttoned his shirt, forcing himself not to show any pain as his shoulder smarted at the movement, not wanting to worry the angel any further. He heard the faint gasp behind him, the bruising he could feel clearly more pronounced than he thought as Aziraphale crossed the short distance between them, soft hands coming to rest against his back.
'It's not that bad angel,' he said, 'Just a bruise.'
'Not a bruise,' said Aziraphale, his fingers not coming to his shoulder but instead tracing where his wings would appear, 'I don't understand.'
Crowley tried to look over his shoulder but caught no more than a blond head bent in study of his skin, 'What's wrong?' he said, 'Aziraphale what are you doing?'
'Marks,' he said, fingers leaving the demon's skin as he headed to the bed, rifling through the covers until he found Crowley's abandoned phone, 'Put it on the camera, you need to see this.'
Crowley took the device, cursing the tremble in his fingers as he opened the camera and handed it back to Aziraphale. The angel turned him a little to the light before he heard the snap of a picture being taken. He held his hand out for the phone but Aziraphale took his hand instead, leading him back to the bed and sitting him down.
'Don't get overwrought,' said the angel, 'You're going to stay calm.'
'Not if you carry on like that I'm not,' said Crowley, 'Give me the phone.'
Aziraphale handed it to him, the picture still on the screen a little off centre but the image was clear. Two graceful arcs swept around his shoulder blades, the precise size of his wing joints he was sure, the glitter of the gold apparent even in the still picture. He tossed the phone onto the bed, refusing to look at it a moment longer, forcing a smile to his face.
'Probably nothing,' he said, 'Something residual from the weird tantrum She had earlier.'
Aziraphale took his chin in his hand, 'Love,' he said, 'It's alright. It's alright. Your marks were golden swirls, you said. There's a certain flourish to these.'
'Don't go there Aziraphale, please, not now. Just something... a throwback, not been that close to that level of celestial energy for a while, triggered some recessive gene or something. Be gone in a day or two,' he said, feigning a shiver, 'Best get dressed, mountain air and all that.'
'Come on, angel, you and your six thousand layers need all the time you can get. Go down with your bowtie undone and they'll think you're indecent.'
'Just leave it alone, Aziraphale,' he snapped, pushing his hand away.
The angel stepped back quickly, eyes falling to the carpet as he worried his hands together before him, 'Right. Yes. I'll just...'
Crowley reached out, taking hold of the fidgeting hands and pulling him closer, 'Sorry. I didn't mean to shout,' he said, pressing a kiss to the back of the angel's hand, 'I shouldn't be taking this out on you.'
'No, you should be talking to me,' said Aziraphale, 'Do you not think this frightens me too? Those are angel marks.'
Crowley dropped his gaze to the floor, 'I'm not an angel,' he said, cursing the crack in his voice.
Aziraphale's hands left his, instead, pulling him close, one hand moving to his hair and caressing it gently. 'I know, sweetheart,' he said, 'But you were and a mighty powerful one by the sound of it. In the last couple of days you've been able to do things I've never seen you do before. Whatever this metamorphosis is...'
'I'm not changing, angel,' said Crowley, 'I can't... I won't be that thing again.'
'Of course you won't because I'll do everything to prevent it,' said Aziraphale, 'But the chances of some angelic powers and features being restored seems more and more likely so you need to tell me when things change, if anything is different. I can't be surprised by anything if I need to protect you and you need to talk about what's happening, not push it away.'
Crowley pressed his face into the soft swell of his husband's stomach, 'I'm frightened,' he said softly, 'Terrified in fact. That...that...Her, next door. The things She did to me and I can't... I look at Her and it's like kneeling before Her again as She ripped out the braid you'd put in my hair and then wrapped me in that halo that stole everything. I cannot be that powerless again, Aziraphale. I can't risk it. She scares me.'
'She scares me too,' said Aziraphale, 'So much but Gabriel scares me more because he's isn't just a threat to us, he's threat to everyone. Adam, the children, Newt and Anathema and the baby. Warlock. They're all at risk if he's allowed to continue. I don't like this any more than you do but She is, and I hope I'm forgiven for saying it, the lesser of two evils right now. She and Lucifer have balanced this world, regardless of Her past actions. Now I am your side, for all that is worth if it came to a fight, and I will hold back any cage that threatens you, even if it's the last thing I ever do.'
Crowley said nothing, not trusting his voice not to break if he tried. Instead he pressed closer to the angel before him, eyes tightly shut against the tears that threatened. Warm fingers kept a steady pace through his hair, running from root to tip, working through the small snags that had taken hold whilst they had been sleeping. He smiled as he felt lips press to the crown of his head, lingering for a moment before Aziraphale gently took his face in his hands, coaxing him to look up at him.
'Whatever happens, you tell me. Promise me?' said the angel.
Crowley nodded, 'I promise,' he said, 'I may try your patience a bit until this is sorted.'
Aziraphale tugged a strand of his hair, 'No change there then,' he said, leaning down to kiss him, 'Now put some clothes on, we have work to do and I can't do it with you being all distracting, my dear.'
Though he was reluctant to leave the security of the familiar embrace, Crowley let him go, the both of them dressing in easy silence until they were both outwardly ready to move forward with the journey they had found themselves on. Crowley had slipped on his glasses just as time seemed determined to catch up with them, a knock coming on the door as Aziraphale finished fastening the buttons on his waistcoat. The angel spared a quick glance to Crowley before he opened the door.
'You need to come with me.'
Lucifer's words were a command rather than an invitation, not pausing for an answer as he headed down the corridor. They followed him even as he lead them towards the room that Michael had taken for her and God rather than to the stairs.
'What's going on?' asked Crowley, 'And where's Beelzebub?'
'She's on the roof, keeping watch,' said Lucifer, 'As for what's going on, see for yourself.'
He tapped on the door before he pushed it open, stepping inside and holding it for Aziraphale and Crowley to follow him in. The demon was glad that his husband was the first inside, allowing him at least the semblance of a barrier between him and the two figures watching them enter. Michael's eyes were wet with tears but the smile on her face spoke of joy rather than sorrow, her hand clutching desperately at the pale hand that had caused so much damage hours before. The woman beside her was outwardly just as the word described. To anyone asked to describe Her appearance they would have used the words blonde, early-middle age, attractive, bland every day words but were they to look into the eyes that at one moment seemed blue and the next another colour on the vast seen and unseen spectrum they would have seen something different, something that almost forced their eyes away, unable to linger for too long.
'She woke about a quarter of an hour ago,' said Michael softly, 'We're still coming to terms with things but She's awake at last.'
Crowley fisted a hand into the back of Aziraphale's cream coat, anchoring himself as he longed to shrink away from the eyes that seemed intent on finding him. An uneasy silence did nothing to help the pounding of his heart, the fear forcing its way up his throat in an attempt to choke him. She looked vulnerable, human and small in the large bed, but he wanted to cower all the same, to run away from the eyes that had once looked upon him in love only to turn to anger and malice. It was Aziraphale's voice that finally broke the silence, pulling Crowley away from the panic that seemed to be settling into his bones.
'It is a challenge to know how to respond in this sort of situation,' he said, 'Greetings and such. We are on somewhat uncommon ground.'
'Indeed,' said Lucifer, 'And more so as there seems to be issues with communication.'
'The vessel isn't the same as ours and we have all grown used to the forms we take,' said Michael, smiling at the woman beside her, 'Things must be learned but we shall manage. Speech isn't the only route for communication.'
'I wouldn't even know where to begin,' said Aziraphale, his tone soft, turning the final words into almost a whisper.
Crowley tightened his hand in the back of his coat as he watched the pale hand, not held by Michael, extend palm up towards the angel. An invitation, almost beckoning and Crowley felt the angel begin to move towards it.
'No!' he shouted, using what leverage he had to drag Aziraphale behind him, moving himself between them, 'No You don't get to touch him again, not after what You did.'
Ethereal eyes flashed red with anger for a moment before they softened again, curiosity overtaking all else as She regarded him. Her hand moved slowly, turning over to point directly at him before She turned her hand palm up once more, offering it up to him.
'You think I want to touch You? That I would ever want to be within reach of Your hands ever again?' he hissed.
'Raphael, whilst I understand your anger, I would suggest modifying the tone of your voice,' said Lucifer.
Crowley wanted to question his loyalties but the name he had given him, the name Lucifer had not been able to stop using since the moment he had returned his memories, made the eyes that had studied him in question widen in full understanding. If he had had any anonymity in his demon form it had been erased with a word and he felt the fear rush through him anew as the questing hand grew more desperate. With Aziraphale at his back he could not escape quickly enough as, with an unexpected speed, She pushed herself towards him, hand reaching but rather than allow Her to take hold of him he instead captured Her wrist in his own hand.
'No!' he said, feeling the delicate bones beneath the slim wrist, so easily broken regardless of the spirit within the vessel, 'No, You touch me again and I will find a way to make sure You never touch anyone else. I don't care who You are.'
He had expected a protest from Aziraphale or a curse from Lucifer at his words. What he had not expected was to find himself ripped bodily away and slammed face first into the nearest wall, his arm painfully wrenched up his back with preternatural speed and strength.
'Watch yourself, demon,' said Michael, her tone low and threatening in his ear, 'I may not be who I was but enough remains for me to do you harm. Threaten Her again, even so much as look upon Her with anything other than the respect She commands of us all, and you will answer to me.'
'Your loyalties change like the tides,' said Crowley, struggling against her grip, 'Weren't you my champion this morning?'
'My loyalty has always been to the Almighty,' said Michael, 'My defence of you was purely due to your usefulness in finding Her, demon.'
'Doesn't look very almighty to me,' said Crowley, 'Looks like the rest of Heaven. Cold and cruel and a little bit pointless.'
'Crowley, you don't know what you're saying,' said Aziraphale, 'Michael, please let him loose. I promise he won't say anything like that again.'
'Oh won't I now,' he said, shaking himself off as Michael finally released him, though she hovered close enough to strike him again if she chose to.
'No you won't,' said Aziraphale, 'You are better than this Crowley. You don't need to behave like this, we all understand...'
Crowley held up a hand to stop him, 'Don't you dare blanket this room with the statement that you understand what She put me through. That thing caged me, tortured me and I am expected to stand here and play nice. Should I kneel as I knelt then? Should I trust as I trusted then? Do I offer myself to Heaven's chains now Hell's have been broken?'
'Please, my love, you're in the presence of God.'
'And who matters to you more right now, Aziraphale? Me or Her? Snap answer,' he said, shaking his head as the angel hesitated, 'And there we go. Heaven wins. Heaven always wins.'
'No. No right now, I'm done. I'm done with all of you,' he said, 'Even the devil himself allies with Heaven, after all She did. Damn you all then because She will in the end. I'm out.'
He pushed his way out of the room, shaking off Aziraphale's hand with more violence than he had ever turned on him as he tried to take hold of him. He heard Lucifer's words to leave him but he didn't stop and didn't look back, taking the stairs two at a time, glad there was only a short distance between them and the door as he wrenched in open and headed out into the darkness that surrounded them. His heart felt as though a hand was squeezing it, the beat erratic as it tried to break free. His treacherous mind threw up memories of the glittering jewels that had encased him, the heavy weight of the chains he no longer wore making his steps sluggish. Ice rushed through his veins, his body numb even as it kept moving, but his mind burned. He found the blindness overcoming him and shook it away, forcing the memory back as far as he could.
There was grass beneath his feet when heard someone hurrying behind him. The lights of the house were far behind when his pursuer finally caught up with him, strong arms wrapping around his shoulders and pulling him to a halt. He stumbled, falling to his knees, hearing Lucifer's grunt of effort to keep hold of him as he too reached the ground.
'Be still, brother, just be still,' said Lucifer, 'I have you.'
Though his body was still, Crowley could not help the screaming cry that ripped from his lungs, so similar to the sound that had left him as he was thrown from Heaven. The torment and the agony was as fresh as the moment he had been damned, his body awash with hurt and shame and the gut-wrenching loss that had accompanied the Fall.
Lucifer held him fast, strong against his back as the screams refused to abate. It was only when his throat was raw and ragged that sobs replaced his cry, heaving from deeper inside of him than he thought even pain could reach.
'Take them away,' he begged, 'Lucifer, please. Take them away again. I can't feel this pain any more. I can't carry that memory, it's killing me.'
'I don't know that I can,' said Lucifer, 'And that is the truth of it. Back then we were all different, our powers were stronger. Now we are all diminished and I dare not risk it, it could destroy you.'
The words hit him harder than any weapon he could, his mind throwing up the memory of when those same words had been spoken by another. When his plea for help had been refused. The arms holding him loosened as he folded in on himself with an agonised moan, curling as tightly as he could as his forehead came to rest on the cool, wet grass.
'Then leave me alone,' he said, 'Just leave me alone.'
'No I shan't leave you,' said Lucifer, 'Because someone has to bring you back from this path you have taken and I shall not let Aziraphale suffer it. You are scared and rightly so. You are wounded and you seek justice but that cannot come from turning on your friends. There is a powerful entity in that room and Her very presence affects us all in ways we cannot explain. She is the creator of all of us, She has power over us even now. You and I are distanced because of the Fall, we can bear Her gaze, Her presence better but not fully. Michael and Aziraphale are angels, they are Hers whether they wish to be or not. You cannot blame either of them if they cannot speak against Her in Her presence. Raphael, She is beyond our understanding, beyond all we know and it is unjust for you to ask Aziraphale to choose. She holds his chains as I once held yours, even now. You cannot blame him for his hesitance. You do him no justice in such a demand. You may as well ask him to slice himself in two and bleed onto the floor for you, you would cause him as much pain. I do not ask you to accept Her. I do not ask you to offer yourself to Her service in any way. What I do ask, as your brother, as one who loved you when he had the strength to do so, is that you try to understand what you ask of the angels and what we risk if we do not work together.'
'I can't face Her, Lucifer,' Crowley wept, 'I look at Her and all I see is that cage. She looks at me and it's like She's waiting for the moment She can turn me into that again. I would writhe in the deepest pit for eternity before I submitted to that again. I don't know that I can be a part of this.'
'That is your choice to make,' said Lucifer, 'And you can make it freely. Neither She or I hold you. But should you walk away, should you decide that this pain is too much, you need to be prepared for Aziraphale to stay. His loyalty to you in unshakeable but he is compelled by his very nature, by the very essence of his existence to serve Her and She will need him. I am sorry, brother, but I cannot and will not tell you anything else. I am not here to appease you or comfort you. I am to counsel you. There is a battle to be faced and you need to decide whether you are with us or not.'
'What kind of a choice is that? Abandon him to save myself.'
'That is the choice that is before you,' said Lucifer, moving around him until they were face to face, his hands slowly lifting Crowley back up to sitting, 'There is a strength in you that broke through so much. You should not be able to love yet love you have. You held onto the most essential parts of your soul even when the Fall should have stolen them. I can feel your fear, I can feel the pain that is in you but you are strong. You're so strong.'
Crowley shook his head, 'I don't think I am. I barely escaped Her last time and it cost me everything to do so,' he said, 'If She knows it was Aziraphale that pulled me back, gave me the strength to break Her hold on me, what if She makes sure he can't this time? She could hurt him to cage me.'
Lucifer laid a cool hand against his head, the gesture stirring a lingering memory in Crowley of their earliest days in Heaven when they were new. They had been brothers to one another from the moment they had awoken, gravitating back towards one another even as Heaven grew larger, seeking each other for comfort and reassurance. The touch one they so often visited on each other and it brought a comfort to them both so many thousands of years later.
'You think too much, brother,' said Lucifer, 'There is nothing to say She wishes to make you Her prince again. She had the power in Heaven to cage you rather than expel you, She chose the latter. We cannot know Her motives until we can better communicate with Her. Do not fear for Aziraphale either, you protected him well enough on your own, now he has me and through me Beelzebub to stand in the way of any intent to harm him. I cannot however speak for Michael, her loyalties are as they have always been, she will not readily question God, despite what she has come to know.'
Crowley managed a weak smile, 'You'd protect him.'
Lucifer nodded, 'For you, for the fact that he is brave, for the fact that he is more cunning than any demon I have ever known but mainly for the fact that I remember him when he was new,' he said, 'You may have been the one to fall in love with him but I was fond of him, for his power back then to put a smile on your face that I had never seen before and the memory of that is enough. He is good for you, he always was, and as such I must counsel you in regard to this belief that She will somehow harm him to get to you. How easily that notion could twist in your head so that you believe She is using him against you, that he is in league with Her to harm you. I am not saying that is the intent but I know your head, I know the risk you run of believing such falsehoods. If you stay with us then trust him entirely. Never doubt him because if you do, one day you'll see eyes that once looked on you with warmth turn cold and that's a pain that will eclipse anything you have ever felt.'
Crowley frowned, the words far too assured to be a simple warning, 'Lucifer?'
The Lord of Hell smiled sadly, 'Just don't let it happen, brother,' he said, 'Whatever you decide, promise me that you'll trust him.'
'If he trusts me again after what I said in there,' said Crowley, looking over his shoulder at the cottage, amazed at how far he had run in his panic before Lucifer had reached him, 'I should go back.'
'He is waiting for you. He was all for coming after you but I persuaded him to let me come instead, though if we stay out here much longer he will be coming to find us,' said Lucifer, 'If you need longer to think though I can return and let him know you are alright for the moment.'
Crowley laughed though the sound caught in his throat, 'Is that a professional observation? I am far from alright but it's not as pronounced as it was. It's dulled, like it was before we found Her. Seeing Her though...'
'I know,' said Lucifer, 'Believe me I felt similar when She first looked at me. Though She and I have communicated since the Fall it has not been on such a footing. It is like looking into the very heart of the universe to look into those eyes. She strips us bare. I am easily reminded that I am not what I am. I am a product of Her mind and as easily destroyed as a wayward thought. That power has been distant for so long.'
'We make quite the pair.'
'Didn't we always,' said Lucifer, looking up once more, a smile coming to his lips, 'It seems we weren't quick enough in our return. Your beloved comes. Do you want me to stay with you?'
Crowley shook his head, 'We'll be fine,' he said, 'But thank you. I feel a little stronger.'
'I might not be the Lucifer you knew in Heaven but I remember him and what we were to each other.'
'You are more him than you know,' said Crowley, taking hold of his hand as he had done so often when they were young.
'On your feet now,' said Lucifer, a look far softer than anything he would ever own passing over his face before he shook it away, 'I will be in the house if required.'
Lucifer helped Crowley to stand, steadying him as he wobbled, before he stepped away with a small but genuine bow. Crowley returned the genuflection, turning back towards the house to see Aziraphale coming towards them. He wanted to close the distance between them but didn't trust his legs to carry him without Lucifer to support him. He watched as his former master headed back towards the house, pausing to speak briefly to the angel who nodded before returning his gaze to Crowley and hurrying his steps.
The demon held out his hands the moment the angel was within touching distance, breathing a sigh of relief when they were taken without question. He pulled them both in towards him, bending to press his forehead to them, unashamed of the few tears that leaked out to fall onto their skin.
'I'm sorry, angel,' he said, voice trembling on the words, 'I shouldn't have...'
'Hush,' said Aziraphale, 'Crowley, look at me, sweetheart.'
He hesitated for a moment before raising his head. Aziraphale's hands left his, gently slipping the glasses from his eyes and tucking them safely into his pocket before he took hold of his face in his hands. Crowley wanted to beg for them back but instead he held his husband's gaze, seeing the reflection of his own fear and sorrow in the eyes before him.
'I don't know what to say. What to do,' said the angel, 'I don't know how to help you.'
'I wish I could give you an answer,' said Crowley, 'I'm so sorry for what I said in there.'
Aziraphale smiled through his tears, 'You've apologised already. What was said in there was said in panic, I know that,' he said, 'I'm only sorry I made you doubt.'
'It was unfair of me to ask you that. You're an angel and you are bound to Her.'
'I'm bound to you too,' said Aziraphale, 'My life starts and ends with you and I feel your suffering as keenly as though it were my own. Tell me what we do now because we are doing this together, whichever way it goes.'
Crowley sighed, 'I want us to run but that was my idea last time and look where it got us,' he said, 'I don't know if I will be able to handle what's coming but I can't ask you to leave and I can't go without you.'
'And God? She's a part of this and you will have to see Her.'
'Just be there with me and let me keep my distance,' he said, 'And tell Her to keep Hers.'
Aziraphale nodded, 'I've said as much to Michael already. Nothing in that room went as it should have done and we all need ground rules from here on in,' he said, 'Even God.'
'Well you can be the one to tell Her that,' said Crowley, glad for the laugh it gained but his thoughts quickly grew serious, 'Are we ok?'
Aziraphale nodded, pressing a kiss to his lips, 'Of course we are you silly old serpent,' he said, 'I love you.'
'I don't deserve you.'
'Yes you do,' said Aziraphale, 'Are you ready to come back inside? Find somewhere we can talk.'
Crowley nodded, trying to push down the tremble that passed through him at the thought but he knew Aziraphale felt it as he stroked his hair.
'I'll be right beside you,' he said, 'You don't need to be afraid.'
'Just keep telling me that,' said Crowley, taking hold of his hand, 'And don't let go.'
'Never,' said Aziraphale, far more weight behind that word than the mere promise to keep hold of his hand.
They turned back towards the house, the sky starting to pink a little with the coming dawn. It picked out the dark shape of the house, Beelzebub apparent as she sat against the small chimney in her lonely watch. They had reached the driveway when they saw her sit up a little straighter, the sound that had roused her meeting them moments later. The faint echoing banging was hard to place for a moment before they looked up, both of them grinding to a halt as they saw the figure of God against the window, hands frantically pounding on the glass. The panic was apparent in Her face, eyes wide and pleading as She caught sight of them.
Crowley froze, hand tightening on Aziraphale's, 'I can't...' he began until Lucifer appeared beside Her in the glass, throwing open the window.
'It's Michael,' he called out, 'She needs help. Quickly. Please.'
The final word was shouted with such passion and need that it broke through the fear that held Crowley to the floor, the plea reminiscent of the scant few moments Lucifer had begged for his aide in Heaven. As swiftly as he had run from the building, he now ran towards it as both God and Lucifer disappeared from the window.
Chapter 13: Charades
As Michael is taken ill, they struggle to find a way to cure her before they are faced with the true scale of the journey before them.
Apologies for the delay in posting. If anyone would like to join me on tumblr you can find me at witchnova221 on there. Would love to connect with you all. xx
The feeling of control Crowley had briefly felt when he had instructed Beelzebub to maintain her vigil on the roof fled as soon as they entered the house and he was glad for Aziraphale's sure grip on his hand as they reached the door of the bedroom. His eyes fell upon God first, looking small in Her hospital gown, blonde hair wild around Her but it was the expression of fear on Her face that threw him, never having seen such genuine worry on Her formerly serene countenance. She was the opposite side of the bed from the door, the expanse of it at least giving him enough of a barrier to dare approach, even as he kept tight hold of Aziraphale's hand.
Lucifer spared them a brief glance as they entered before his attention was focused on Michael once more, speaking to her as she lay on the bed but whatever he was saying seemed to be lost on her, her eyes glassy and lost, failing to focus even as Crowley and Aziraphale came towards them.
'What happened?' said the angel, kneeling beside the bed.
'I don't know,' said Lucifer, 'We were talking and she said her head hurt. I suggested she rested and then she just fainted.'
'I can't feel any celestial influence on her,' said Aziraphale, 'Nothing that would suggest interference from the outside.'
Lucifer shook his head, 'I felt nothing when she fell,' he said, taking hold of her hand as she reached out for him, 'She feels cold.'
Aziraphale looked over to the silent figure the other side of the bed, 'Forgive me for the question but...when we were in the hospital and we touched, You...I struggled with the energy transfer,' he said, 'Did You and Michael...?'
God shook her head vigorously, tears in Her eyes as she hovered unsure by the bed. She pressed a hand to Her head, Her face pained before she pointed to Michael.
'Headache?' said Aziraphale, receiving a nod in response.
The mime continued, fingers touching Her lips before splaying out from them quickly.
'Mouth?' said Aziraphale, a shake of Her head making him choose another word, 'Cough? Shout? Words?'
She nodded as he hit the word, miming it again before rolling Her fingers over each other, Her face setting itself into a frown.
'Confused words?' said Crowley, before Aziraphale could speak, 'Her words were confused and she's cold. Let me get to her.'
'Crowley, what's the matter?' said Aziraphale, stepping back to let him closer to Michael.
'Not sure yet but the symptoms are starting to point somewhere not so good,' he said, sitting on the side of the bed and pressing a hand to her forehead, 'Cool, clammy too. Her lips don't look right. Help me get this jacket off her. What is it with angels and layers?'
'You chose those clothes for her,' said Aziraphale.
'Clothes that she hasn't changed out of since the morning I gave them to her,' he said, 'Which means we've neglected what was beneath. Her wings or at least...'
'Her injuries,' said Aziraphale, 'Oh no.'
'What about her injuries?' said Lucifer, supporting Michael as Crowley set to work removing her jacket.
'I couldn't heal them fully,' said Aziraphale, 'Where her wings joints are, the wounds refused to close properly. She was bleeding so we bandaged them.'
'And we've ignored them since,' said Crowley, chucking the light blue jacket on the floor and setting to work on the buttons of her sleeve, pushing it up to reveal the pale skin of her arm beneath, the livid, bruise like marks stark, 'Shit.'
'What is it? What's wrong?' asked Aziraphale as Crowley snatched a half empty glass from the night stand, chucking the water onto the carpet.
'Remember that night at the Dowling's when Warlock was small and I ran to your cottage with him?' said Crowley, pressing the glass to the marks on Michael's arm and swearing when they didn't disappear, 'Don't suppose you could pull the same miracle you did then, can you?'
Aziraphale paled, 'Sepsis? Are you sure? She's an angel.'
'In a mortal body,' said Crowley, 'It won't heal itself like we do on instinct. Can you help her? It needs to be celestial, it's beyond a demon to heal like that.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'I'm not strong enough, not yet,' he said, 'I might be able to slow it for a while though.'
Crowley shook his head, 'We'd have to get her to a hospital, hope the humans could help.'
'You can't,' said Lucifer, 'How do you explain the injuries? From what you told me the wing joints are still there even if the wings aren't. They'd cut her open. I won't let her be some lab rat.'
'You'd rather she died?' said Crowley, 'Humans are stupid about things like this. They'll see a deformity, not an angel.'
'We can't risk her or the time, we have to stay focused.'
Crowley's answer was lost as another figure climbed onto the bed, God pushing Lucifer to the side as She hovered over Michael. He wanted to flinch back, run away from Her once more but Her gaze was on Her warrior rather than him.
'Can You do it?' he asked, 'Can You heal her?'
She shook Her head, fathomless eyes meeting his before She pointed to him.
'I can't, I'm a demon. This is too much, too deep. My powers don't work that way,' he said.
She pointed at him more forcefully before down at Michael whose shallow breathing was more apparent through the thin blouse she wore. Crowley yelped as She took hold of his hands, pulling them closer to Michael.
'I can't,' he said, 'I'm not an angel any more.'
An eyebrow cocked before She shook Her head, pressing his hands gently to Michael's shoulders before She released him. She tapped the palm of Her hand to Her own chest, eyes begging him to understand. Crowley shook his head, the fingers of one hand pressing to Michael's neck and feeling the thready pulse that was all too mortal beneath them.
'In Your name?' he said, receiving a nod in reply, 'I can't. I fell.'
'She believes you can, Crowley,' said Aziraphale, laying a hand on his back, 'And you've always been different from the others. Try. For Michael's sake. Just try.'
Crowley looked back at the angel, yellow eyes wide and and threatening tears but he shook them away as Aziraphale nodded, pressing his hand a little firmer against his back.
'I believe you can too,' he said, 'You can do this Crowley.'
'I'm a demon,' said Crowley, looking down at Michael as she moaned in pain, 'If I hurt her...'
'Better than her dying,' said Lucifer, 'Her body is mortal but the spirit inside it isn't. If she isn't immediately sent to Hell for whatever infraction Gabriel has deemed worthy of it now then she will be back at their mercy. You have to do something.'
Crowley closed his eyes before he nodded, 'I'll try.'
He tightened his grip on Michael's shoulders even as she whimpered in discomfort. Powers he knew well came to the fore as he pushed his thoughts into healing her but they were not strong enough to draw the poison from her blood. He opened his eyes, ready to admit defeat, meeting the eyes of God as She pressed Her hand to Her chest once more.
In Her name. He had done it before, so easily if his restored memory was true to him. It had barely taken any effort, he had merely to think of it healing with the faith he had and any wound before him closed. Faith in Her. That was where he felt himself stumble, where the trauma pushed back against the memory of the power She had given him. He tore his eyes from Her's, instead focusing on Michael even as she seemed to be fading before him. He was unsure if he could call her a friend, they had fought as much as they had worked together. She had been one of the group who had made Aziraphale a target for so many years but she had sought them out when hope was lost, trusted them despite everything to help her and he refused to fail her.
He could not yet countenance having faith in the God that had abandoned him but the power had always felt deeper than an entity. It was the power that had spawned galaxies more beautiful even than the plans She had given him. It was the power that had birthed Eden from nothing but dust and his own imagination. It was the power that had kept his love for Aziraphale whole and strong even as he was cast out of Heaven, safe and protected in his heart until they were reunited. His power. The power She had given him. It was Hers originally but his to wield.
He felt a heat in his chest, instinct swiftly trying to counter it as it always did when it sensed any celestial influence but he pushed it aside, bearing the pain as he had once done in a church as bombs shattered London around them. He kept his eyes on Michael as he let the sensation bloom, shifting itself through his limbs and into the hands that held her.
Bodies became a nebulous thought, he was energy, coursing through unfamiliar veins and seeking out the sickness that ran in them, swallowing it up and obliterating it. He sought fear and soothed it. Sought pain and dulled its ache. Sought injury and made it whole. He felt skin cover abused joints, sealing them, protecting them until one day the source of his own power could bring Herself to make them whole once more.
When there was nothing else to heal, he floated, forgetting pain, forgetting the form that looked like he had once looked but more broken and scarred, forgetting the other form, the one that crawled and terrified and tempted. He forgot it all, remembering instead stars and planets and nebula swirling around him, a part of him painted across the heavens. He was happy to stay with them forever until he heard a word whispered softly in his ear. A short, piercing word from a voice that called to him as much as the stars. A name he remembered. Not the one She had given him. Not the one he had tried to hide behind before the pain came. It was a name he had chosen as he had walked amongst men, a name that was her and him, snake and human formed, it was black wings and grey wings and wedding rings. It was black against cream. His name, spoken like a plea in his ear. He moved towards it, trying to remember how all the parts of him fit together into the form the voice wished for. The voice kept calling, warm and safe and always there. He reached for it, caught hold and let it pull him home.
Aziraphale shifted slightly under the heavy weight of his husband, getting as comfortable as he could on the bedroom floor as he ran fingers through the long red hair in his lap before trailing them down to brush the large silver grey and black wings that carpeted the floor around him. He looked up at the bed beside him, watching as Michael was helped back to sitting by Lucifer and God, her colour returning as she settled back against the pillows.
'What happened to me?' she asked, 'I felt awful and then it all went away.'
'A miracle happened,' said Lucifer, his tone still ringing with disbelief, 'He healed you.'
'Aziraphale?' said Michael.
'Not me,' said the angel, smiling at her shocked expression as she looked down at him from the bed, 'Crowley did it.'
'His wings?' she said, 'Look at them.'
'They're closer to the colour they were in heaven,' said Lucifer, 'Though not as large. Whatever is happening to him is changing them.'
Michael looked over to God. 'He's been forgiven?'
God opened Her hands in response, with a shrug of Her shoulders.
'You don't know?' said Aziraphale, 'How can You not know? Only You have the power to forgive and for him to be like this.'
She smiled, slipping from the bed and kneeling beside them. She reached out a hand towards the mess of red hair but Aziraphale placed a hand over Crowley's head with a frown.
'I shouldn't let You pet him,' he said, 'I'm sorry but Your touch frightened him and he's not awake to say yes or no. It's not fair to do it without his consent. Please don't.'
She drew back Her hand with a small nod though Her smile fled Her lips. Aziraphale kept his hand carefully over Crowley's head, almost wanting to wrap his own wings around them both in an effort to shield him even as She retreated to the bed once more. He looked down as Crowley began to stir, snuggling against the pillow of his thigh as he often did when he slept as Aziraphale sat up in bed to read. It was an achingly familiar sensation but one that threw their surroundings into stark relief.
'Hello darling,' he said, stroking through the long red hair, 'Easy now. Give yourself a moment.'
Crowley rolled over a little, golden eyes blinking up at him, the snake-like pupils as wide as it was possible for them to go in the low light, 'Hmmm? Hey angel,' he murmured, shifting a little and flinching as he rolled a little too far onto his wing, 'What?'
He sat up, moving the wing round in front of him, hands grasping the feathers none too gently, 'What happened to me?'
'Careful,' said Aziraphale, reaching out to loosen his grip, straightening the abused feathers, 'You healed Michael but it seems, whatever you did, resulted in this.'
Crowley sighed, 'I remember, I...' he paused, shaking the wings back out of view, leaving his outward appearance as it usually was, 'It is what it is.'
'Are you alright?' said Aziraphale, taking hold of his hand.
Crowley shook his head as he squeezed his hand, 'But we have work to do,' he said, getting to his feet and pulling the angel to his, 'How are you, Michael?'
'Better, thanks to you it seems. I don't...'
Crowley waved down any further words, 'Let's just not, all of us ok?' he said, 'Now is anyone else planning on getting sick or zapped or having some celestial tantrum or can we finally sit down and work out what we're doing because right I want this done and then I want to go home.'
'I think we're all as healthy as we're ever going to be,' said Lucifer, 'And you're right, we need to plan, not least because we can't stay here for long. Whichever way your power to heal Michael came from, Heaven is going to have noticed.'
'Then if they're coming we can risk a few more miracles,' said Crowley, 'First and foremost, get Bertha Mason over there in something more useful than a dish cloth. We'll be downstairs with the prophecies when you're done. Come on, angel.'
Aziraphale hurried along behind him, looking back over his shoulder to see the three they had left behind exchanging worried looks before he rounded the door, cutting off his view. He caught up to Crowley on the stairs, the set of his shoulders tense as he descended them.
'Did you just refer to God Herself as Bertha Mason?' he said.
Crowley spared him a brief look over his shoulder, 'Running around in, ok, a floor down from the attic in Her nightdress and let's face it, bit nuts. Thought it suited.'
Aziraphale pinched the bridge of his nose, 'I am not even going to start with how wholly inappropriate that is,' he said, 'Crowley I know this is hard for you but you just can't behave like that, She's God.'
'And I don't care,' said Crowley, 'I don't want to be near Her. I don't want to be in the same realm as Her. She makes my skin crawl and I can't deal with that by being polite and respectful just because that's how we talk to God. Maybe I could before I remembered but now I can't.'
Aziraphale pulled him to a halt as they hit the hall. 'You healed Michael in Her name.'
Crowley's head dropped before he turned around to face him, 'No I didn't,' he said, 'I felt the power as I remembered it. The power that had been mine and I used it but I rejected Her name when I did it.'
'I don't understand,' said Aziraphale, 'How is that even possible?'
Crowley shrugged, 'I don't know but it's what I did,' he said, enclosing Aziraphale's hand in both of his, 'Look, I know I was a bit out of line up there and I don't want to make you uncomfortable. I'll try to behave myself from now on. Would you do something for me though?'
'Name it,' said Aziraphale without hesitation.
'Help me,' said Crowley, 'I need your clever head. Try and work out what's happening to me because it is pure stubbornness that's holding me together right now and I'm scared. I need you, love.'
Aziraphale pulled him close with his free hand, 'I'm here and I'll do whatever I can,' he said, 'Just keep talking to me.'
Crowley pressed his face into his neck for a moment before he pulled away with a sniff, any fear chased away from view, 'Right,' he said, 'I'm going to go outside and get Beelzebub down from the roof. Can you herd the rest down if they don't appear soon?'
Aziraphale nodded, trying his best to keep the fear from his own face but knowing he had failed when Crowley took hold of his face in his hands and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
'I'll be alright, angel,' said the demon, 'Promise.'
'I'm going to hold you to that,' said Aziraphale, 'Go fetch Beelzebub, I'll set everything up.'
Crowley headed to the door, stepping out into the rising dawn, as Aziraphale made for the kitchen, flicking on the overhead light despite not having any true need for it, the harsh electric light at least chasing away some of the shadows that seemed to be chasing him. He scrounged around the unfamiliar kitchen, finding what he needed to make tea but the simple ritual that was normally so comforting, a prelude to a quiet evening, brought nothing of the sort. He sniffed back the tears that threatened him, the toll of the night and his worry for Crowley compounding the general fear that surrounded them all.
He was glad for the company as Crowley and Beelzebub returned, the Prince of Hell looking awkward as she hovered beside the kitchen table before finally sitting down. Aziraphale hurried the tea to the table as he heard footsteps on the stairs, Crowley already spreading out the prophecies on the table. He watched as Crowley sat a little straighter in his chair as God entered ahead of Michael and Lucifer, her hospital gown replaced by an outfit similar to the suits that Beelzebub and Lucifer had chosen to wear but in a dove grey rather than black, her blonde hair plaited down her back and making her look even more human than before.
Silence hung over them as everyone waited for someone to begin, statuses and expectations having grown confused since they had all been thrown together. When nothing was forthcoming even from Lucifer, Aziraphale dragged the prophecies towards himself and cleared his throat.
'I've studied these at length but I can't make much sense from them as to what we should do next,' he began, 'I suppose the question should be what do You wish for us to do, Lord? Is it Your wish to return to Heaven and if so do You know what we need to do?'
She nodded before pointing to Herself then grasping Her hands towards Her chest.
'I was never good at charades,' said Crowley, earning himself a shift knock to the shin by Aziraphale's shoe.
'You,' the angel tried to translate, 'Drag? Grasp? Take?'
A shake of Her head answered him before She repeated the mime, frustration written over Her face.
'We'll get there,' said Aziraphale, as She gentled Her hands a little in the motion, 'Pull? Hold?'
'Need?' said Michael, a pleased nod meeting the word from her mistress.
'You need...' Aziraphale carried on as She managed a much more obvious mime, 'Strength. Halo? Angelic strength. You need Your power back? How do we do that?'
She repeated the mime that had given him halo before She laid Her hands deliberately on the table.
'An angelic place?' said Lucifer, 'A holy place. You need to go to a holy place. Where?'
She frowned, hands held in front of Her but not moving as She struggled to find a way to communicate Her needs.
'A church is holy,' said Beelzebub, 'Or a cathedral, isn't that where you found Her?'
God shook Her head, holding Her fingers only an inch apart.
'Too small,' said Crowley, 'Bigger than a cathedral. Vatican? Whole place is practically one big church.'
Lucifer groaned, 'Catholics give me a headache.'
God shook Her head again but not before She had given Lucifer a displeased look. She held Her hands a little further apart.
'Bigger than the Vatican,' said Aziraphale, 'Jerusalem? The Holy Land?'
God huffed before getting to Her feet and going to the window, picking up a small potted plant from the sill before returning to the table. She set it down in front of Her before She pushed it towards Crowley. Aziraphale pressed a hand to the demon's back as he flinched back in his chair, stroking gently as God pointed to the plant and then back to him.
'A plant and Crowley?' said Beelzebub, 'What sort of a place does that mean?'
'Not Crowley,' said Lucifer, 'And not plant but plants. Raphael's plants. Raphael's garden.'
'Eden,' breathed Crowley, 'You want to go to Eden?'
God nodded with a smile.
'But it's sealed,' said Aziraphale, 'When You sent us out into the world it was sealed.'
'A seal that only God can break,' said Michael, 'But to get there by mortal means would take weeks and without a miracle even finding it will be difficult at best.'
'Between us we'll manage,' said Aziraphale, 'But it will take weeks and we can't drive that thing out there through the desert if it even holds together as far as Africa.'
'Gabriel will figure this out long before we make it halfway, even without miracles he'll be able to track us down in the end,' said Lucifer, 'And we aren't much of a defence. We don't even have weapons. Holy power against hell fire will cancel each other out at best. If Adam hadn't ended Armageddon before it began we would have face a war of attrition, a gradual wearing down until someone got lucky. Even if I pulled every demon out of Hell, it wouldn't be enough to make a decisive victory.'
'Then we get weapons that they won't expect,' said Michael.
Crowley frowned, 'What sort of weapons?' he said, 'A gun might slow an angel down, discorporate them if you get a decent hit but we aren't going to defeat an army of angels with mortal weapons.'
Michael smiled, 'Then you haven't seen inside the vaults of the Vatican,' she said, 'Mortal weapons with holy power. As dangerous to angel as they are demon.'
'Face angels with relics?' said Aziraphale, 'Could that work?'
'I've seen it done,' she said, 'Low level angels facing would-be saints that Hell got to as well. It's not pretty but it's necessary.'
Aziraphale paled, 'I don't know if I could kill an angel.'
'You could if he was going to kill you,' said Crowley, 'It's worth a punt at least though. We could be in Italy in two days on the road. Drive from here to Hull, take the ferry to Rotterdam then drive through the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and then Italy.'
'They'd check passports at the port,' said Aziraphale, 'Even we don't have those. Can we risk a miracle for them?'
'Leave the ports to us,' said Lucifer, turning to face Beelzebub, 'Get someone on each port, throw Heaven off if they're looking and make it so they don't notice us boarding. Spread just enough influence that we can slip passed the humans without question. Then ahead to Rome, find as somewhere as close to the Vatican as we can get without touching holy ground. Check on my son as well. We'll meet you in Rome in two days, the gates of the Colosseum. Take a handful of our best with you and spread some trouble whilst you're there, keep Heaven confused.'
She nodded, getting to her feet and offering him a bow. 'It will be done,' she said, before she turned to God, the genuflection she offered Her not as deep as to her master but it was there all the same, 'I will see you all in Rome.'
Aziraphale risked a look at his husband as the Prince of Hell left the room, the sound of the front door echoing in their silence. The demon turned to face him, a frown marring his brow but the anger was not as acute as it had been. His attention quickly diverted to the phone he pulled from his pocket.
'Best we get ready to head out,' said the angel, 'This plan will be a moot point if Heaven falls on us here.'
'We leave in half an hour. A ferry leaves for Rotterdam in four, we should make it in plenty of time,' said Crowley, pocketing his phone as he got to his feet, 'I'm going to pack.'
Aziraphale was glad for the warm hand that came to rest on his shoulder before the demon left the room, the touch reassuring him without words that the demon was not running away again but that action was preferable to remaining with the company they kept.
'Half an hour it is then,' said Lucifer, forcing a smile, 'He's getting a little too used to giving me orders.'
God smiled at his words, Her gestures soon spelling out Her thoughts about how headstrong the absent demon was. Aziraphale couldn't help but notice the fondness in Her face as She did but it was tinged with melancholy, a loss that hung over Her so completely but he knew it would take a long time for Crowley to see it to. The longing that existed in him by nature to help everyone to heal warred with the anger at what Crowley had suffered at Her hands and he quietly left the table as Michael and Lucifer began to discuss further plans of how they could access the Vatican for the weapons they required.
He felt eyes on him and looked back to find God watching him, a small nod of Her head followed by a sad smile making him feel as though She could read the conflicting thoughts in his head. His fingers went unbidden to his wedding ring, twisting it around his finger but the action drew Her eyes to it and he tensed, waiting for the anger to follow the reminder that, despite Her efforts, their love had only been delayed rather than derailed. Instead Her smile grew a little brighter, a wave of Her hand dismissing him gently.
He left the room, climbing the stairs to the bedrooms above. He stilled for a moment as he reached the half open door of the bedroom he and Crowley had shared, a voice coming from within but the inflection was one he had not heard for many years. He had enjoyed the accent and the softer tones that Crowley had employed as Nanny Ashtoreth, the sound of the voice reminding him of days in the gardens of the Dowling estate and of late night meetings where she had not felt the need to change despite not being in Warlock's presence.
'I will miss you too, dear.'
Aziraphale turned to leave as he heard the words, knowing exactly who was on the other end of the line but the sound of Crowley's footsteps stopped him. The door opening a little more as a hand slipped into his and drew him inside. He followed Crowley back to the bed, sitting beside him and keeping hold of his hand as the conversation continued.
'You're going to be just fine. America will be an adventure, just like always. Don't be afraid.'
The angel tightened his grip as he heard the catch in Crowley's voice, the demon taking a shuddering breath as he listened to whatever was being said to him.
'I'll always be here, Warlock, for as long as I can be. I'll always be here for you, my boy. Now come along, before you make Nanny cry. You're going to be fine.'
Aziraphale dropped his hand in favour of wrapping an arm around his shoulders, coaxing his head to his shoulder as tears streaked silently down the demon's cheeks.
'I will. I love you too. Goodbye, my dear one.'
'It's alright,' said Aziraphale as Crowley ended the call, a picture of Warlock at no more than five gracing the screen for a moment before it went dark, 'Oh darling, it'll be alright.'
Crowley shuddered but any further tears that threatened were quickly forced away, 'I had to say goodbye,' he said, 'Every chance it'll be me that leaves, though a little more permanently perhaps. This mission of ours is suicide, angel. We're not making Eden. If we make the Vatican, we'll be lucky.'
'As much could have been said for us averting Armageddon,' said Aziraphale, 'And we had far less of a plan then.'
'We also had Adam,' said Crowley, 'Who had more sense than all of us put together.'
'Point taken,' said Aziraphale, pressing a kiss to his hair, 'Still, worth a try and I don't know about you but I'm going out fighting. We'd planned to go on holiday, why not start with Rotterdam and see where we get from there.'
Crowley huffed a laugh, 'Didn't plan to take the chaperones with us though,' he said, 'What are we doing, angel?'
'God only knows,' said Aziraphale, 'At least I wish She did.'
'That would make things easier,' said Crowley, 'I think we'll make the most of the journey ahead and get Lucifer and Michael to teach Her how to play charades properly. She's rubbish at it right now.'
'I can't believe you said that,' laughed Aziraphale, glad when the demon joined him. The sound was a million miles from the carefree laugh the angel had grown used to in recent years but the echo of it remained and he hoped it would continue to do so even as the path before them grew darker.
Chapter 14: When In Rome
The journey to Rome is not an easy one but when they arrive Aziraphale finds himself alone with God.
They were somewhere in the middle of Germany when Aziraphale had persuaded Crowley from behind the wheel of the van and into the back to rest. Lucifer had taken over the duty of pointing them in the right direction whilst Michael wrestled with the map beside him, making sure the way he was pointing them was the correct one. Crowley had initially refused to rest, his eyes fixed on God as She sat on the floor beside the old cabinets, leafing through a book She had scrounged from inside it depicting the bird species of the British Isles, but when it seemed that She would not be paying them any attention, he finally relented.
Aziraphale soon found himself a pillow as he stretched out as best he could on the thin couch with Crowley sprawled on top of him, the demon sleeping peacefully in his arms. Aziraphale had one arm wrapped around the slim shoulders whilst the other cradled his head against his shoulder, the position the same defensive one he had taken in the bedroom despite God's disinterest. The soft russet strands of hair moved like silk through his fingers, soothing him as much as he knew it comforted Crowley and he felt his eyes growing heavy despite already having claimed several hours sleep back at the cottage. He allowed himself to slip into a doze, enjoying Crowley's warm weight against him and the gentle movement of the van beneath them.
It was the sense of unease that made him stir, eyes remaining closed as he hushed the demon against him on instinct, used to the dreams that plagued him and the gestures that often calmed him, reminding him that he no longer slept alone. His fingers began their path through his hair once more but froze as he bumped against another hand. His eyes flew open, falling upon the pale hand that was stroking his husband's hair before they moved to God. The instinct to protect Crowley acted before he could consider his actions, his hand closing around Her wrist and pulling Her hand away.
'No,' he said, firmly.
Whether it was his grip or the tone of his voice that frightened Her, he wasn't sure but he saw the fear on Her face all the same before a sharp jolt shot up his arm. He couldn't bite back the yelp of pain, the sound waking Crowley fully. The demon pushed up to sitting, taking hold of Aziraphale's hand where a faint burn was already blooming.
'She hurt you,' he hissed, before he turned on God even as She backed away, 'You hurt him. How dare You hurt him!'
'Crowley, it's alright,' said Aziraphale, keeping a tight hold on his hand, 'It was an accident. I don't think She meant to. I startled Her.'
'What's going on back there?' said Michael, clambering from the passenger seat and into the back.
'Someone is struggling to remember that She should be keeping Her hands to Herself,' snapped Crowley, 'Slinking around when people are sleeping. What did She do to you, Aziraphale?'
The angel frowned, knowing his answer would not please him but not wanting to conceal anything, 'It was more what I did to Her. I woke up and She was stroking your hair,' he said, covering Crowley's hand with his free one as he paled at the words, 'I took Her hand away but I panicked so I was a little rough and I shouted. I frightened Her.'
'She's lucky it was you that woke first,' growled Crowley, 'Keep away from him and me or next time it won't be an angel giving you a fright. You have no right to touch either of us.'
Michael took hold of God's arm as She stood a little taller, eyes flashing as though She wished to argue with them but the words were still not forthcoming. Aziraphale cursed that his grip wasn't tighter on Crowley's hand as the demon got to his feet, standing almost toe to toe with the entity that had created him.
'You have no right to me or to him, do You understand?' said Crowley, 'You abandoned us both. You created him to abuse him, I only changed the way You got to do it by keeping him out of Your path when I escaped You. I don't care if You regret or repent, though I doubt You even know the meaning of the words. I don't care if You think You can redeem Yourself by refusing to condemn our marriage because You have absolutely no part in it. You could fall on Your knees and beg for forgiveness and it would change nothing. I am not doing any of this for You, I am doing it for the humans we've sworn to protect.'
'Alright, you've made your point,' snapped Michael, 'Aziraphale, keep him under control.'
'I'm his husband, not his keeper,' said the angel.
'What's going on back there?' said Lucifer from the driver's seat.
'Nothing that concerns you,' said Michael.
'You're all shouting at each other again,' said Lucifer, 'Of course it concerns me. Especially when I'm trying to keep us on the road. Raphael...'
'Stop calling me that!' Crowley cried, 'I am not Raphael. Raphael is dead and She bloody murdered him. My name is Crowley. Anthony J Crowley-Fell if you want it in full so bloody well use it or I'll spend the rest of this idiotic mission calling you Old Scratch.'
'You might want to remember who you're talking to.'
'Don't you get bored of using that line,' said Michael, 'Right now you're the chauffeur.'
'And right now, you're the wingless wonder.'
'Can we please remember that we're all over six thousand years old and therefore should be behaving better than this,' said Aziraphale, 'I'm tired of people shouting at each other.'
'Your husband's the one who started it.'
'I'm nowhere near the start of this.'
'Oh stop playing the victim, demon.'
'Well I suppose you angels don't really look twice at Her victims do you,' snapped Crowley, 'Children die in Her flood, of Her plagues but Heaven doesn't care. Even Her own children are abandoned, thrown down, tortured, even crucified.'
'You dare compare yourself to Christ!' cried Michael, 'You're fallen.'
'Both of you stop it, just stop it. Please, just...'
Aziraphale's plea was cut off by a scream, God falling to Her knees as she cried out in frustration, hands fisting into Her hair. The screams soon turned into bitter sobs, the sound rendering the rest of them silent. The sound was broken and hollow, uncontrolled even as Michael knelt beside Her, rocking Her gently. The van ground to a halt before Lucifer climbed into the back, arms crossing across his chest as he took in the scene.
'What happened?' he said.
'We did,' sniffed Aziraphale, 'We happened.'
'Fuck this,' said Crowley, heading to the front, 'We need to keep moving.'
'Crowley,' said the angel, stopping him before he climbed into the driver's seat, 'Let me. My turn anyway.'
Crowley forced a smile, 'I suppose this thing can't go that fast at the best of times,' he said, slipping into the passenger seat, looking back over into the rear as Aziraphale climbed into the driver's seat.
'You and Lucifer have such long legs,' grumbled the angel as he adjusted the seat before he paused with his hands on the wheel, 'Are you alright?'
Crowley turned away from the quiet scene in the back, fixing his eyes on the road ahead, 'Let's go, angel. Long way to Rome.'
Aziraphale navigated them back onto the road, the van groaning but responding all the same as it joined the light traffic. He was glad for it, allowing his gaze to move across to his husband every few minutes, watching the pensive expression on his face. It was only when he saw the tear Crowley wasn't quick enough to catch appear on his cheek that he reached over a hand to take his.
'I shouldn't have said that,' said the demon, his voice low so only the angel could hear, 'That was a low blow even for me. Michael's right, I have no right to compare my suffering to his.'
'Jesus' life was different from yours,' said Aziraphale, 'But I can see the point you were trying to make. Still, he shouldn't be used as a weapon Crowley. We both saw how he suffered but we don't know everything about back then. I never questioned and you couldn't ask and now She can't answer. This whole situation is awful, everyone hurting each other.'
'I didn't mean to make Her cry,' said Crowley, 'I just want Her to leave me alone.'
'I know,' said Aziraphale, with a sigh, 'Perhaps if you talked, as best you can with the way things are with Her at the moment. Actually sat down and talked. I know you're hurting but I think She is too. Earlier, when I woke up, it was like She just wanted to be close to you. Regret doesn't change the past, my love, but maybe going forward you could find a way to work together. Goodness knows without a few second chances we wouldn't be where we are now. I'm not asking you to forgive Her, I'm not asking you to trust Her but talk to Her, it may at least ease this panic that takes you every time She's close. Think about it, will you?'
Crowley nodded, 'But no promises.'
'I don't ask for any,' said Aziraphale tightening his grip on his hand, 'Save one. Trust this, trust us. You asked me back at the cottage who I would choose. I chose my side four years ago Crowley. It will always be us over everyone. It will always be us. You.'
'You deserve better. I should be better,' said Crowley, 'If we get through this...'
'What?' said Aziraphale with a small smile, 'If we get through this I want to go back to exactly how we were, thank you very much. I married all of you Anthony J Crowley-Fell and don't think that it doesn't make my heart sing to have your name entwined with mine like that, even if they are ones we gave ourselves. Makes it all the more special.'
Crowley raised the angel's hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to the back of it, 'Just drive the smelly van,' he said, 'It's barely holding itself together and I am not walking across Switzerland.'
Aziraphale shuddered, 'A little too close to a certain musical for my liking and with present company included,' he said, smiling as he heard the small laugh from the demon beside him, 'We'll get to Rome even if I have to make Lucifer get out and push.'
Crowley waved his fingers, 'Takes one little demonic miracle to flood the engine if you want to see that happen.'
Aziraphale smirked, 'Don't tempt me, love.'
'Part of the job description,' said Crowley, leaning back in the seat but keeping hold of his hand, fingers tracing a soothing pattern over the digits, the touch soothing to the both of them as they continued along the road.
The footpaths around the Colosseum were heaving with tourists juggling maps and phones and speaking appalling Italian that the locals smiled at behind their hands. Aziraphale and Michael were taking turns in herding God away from the humans that had caught Her interest, following them as though intent on studying up close the creations She had been so distant from for years. They were a quarter of a way around the circumference of the great amphitheatre when they spotted Beelzebub sitting on one of the guard rails, suit replaced by jeans and a jacket that helped her fit in with the tourists. She jumped down from her perch as she saw them, a small gesture pulling their attention to another figure Crowley recognised as one of the lesser demons that were often forced to trail their superiors.
'My Lord,' she said, with a bow to Lucifer as they approached, 'I remember this place being a lot more entertaining when Trajan was in charge. Hastur is still sore over how much he lost betting against my favourites. Did you make it all the way in that bucket you left England in?'
'Just,' said Lucifer, 'Though if someone chose to steal it from the car park, none of us would complain. Did you make all the necessary arrangements?'
'Of course,' said Beelzebub, 'Though your accommodation is closer to here than to the Vatican. I thought it might be best to distance yourselves for when Michael and Aziraphale make their attempt.'
'For which we still have to plan,' said Michael, her hand keeping a tight hold on God's sleeve.
Beelzebub smirked, 'I have a plan in place,' she said, 'Not here though. Follow me.'
They followed the demon prince away from the bustling Colosseum and along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, ten minutes all it taking for them to reach a hotel that was fairly plain outside, its only boast seemingly the view over the ruins outside. Beelzebub passed the concierge who didn't even look up as she passed with a group of five people but there was no demonic miracle at work, whatever was occurring had either been acted upon before their arrival or by more mortal means.
She led them to the top of the stairs, pulling a key card out of her pocket. 'A three bedroom suite,' she said, 'With living room and a balcony. Enough space for all of you. You have three nights here, enough time for the angels to pull off a robbery which I will be staying to see.'
Michael bristled, 'You say it as though you expect us to fail.'
'Or that I am intrigued to see angels steal,' said Beelzebub, 'Thievery in a church.'
'Behave Beelzebub,' said Lucifer, 'Let's get inside and then you can tell us this plan of yours.'
She led them through the nearest door, the suite spreading out before them with views over the ruins.
'You demons do like your luxury,' said Aziraphale as he followed Crowley into the room.
'Says he,' said the demon, 'I remember when a certain someone insisted on nothing less than five star when we were in Venice.'
'Well it was our honeymoon, love,' said Aziraphale, 'And it was a beautiful hotel.'
Crowley grinned as he leaned close to whisper in his ear, 'Wasn't looking at the hotel.'
'Behave,' said the angel as Beelzebub came to a stop next to the large wardrobe in the main bedroom of the suite.
'Only the angels can go into Vatican,' said Beelzebub, 'Made a test earlier, outcome wasn't pretty, two lesser demons no longer in possession of their feet.'
'Sticky,' hissed Crowley with a grimace, 'A bit sharper than normal consecrated ground then.'
'Just a little,' said Beelzebub, 'Though you may be alright considering you're immune to holy water.'
Lucifer coughed, 'Perhaps we'd best not test that too far,' he said, 'We want to get in and out without any drama but that in itself is an issue.'
'Try walking in as a tourist and you won't get far but there is a little more freedom for others,' said Beelzebub opening the door to reveal two sets of robes, 'A cardinal and a nun would pass by almost unseen.'
Crowley laughed, 'Oh please tell me Aziraphale gets to be the nun,' he said, earning himself a clip around the back of the head from his husband, 'What? You'd look lovely in grey. Red on the other hand does nothing for you, love.'
'Even dressed up getting to the vaults is almost impossible,' said Aziraphale, 'And I think miracles in the middle of the Vatican will definitely catch Gabriel's attention.'
Beelzebub pulled a folded sheet of paper and another key card from her pocket, 'The church will never learn that starving their employees of physical contact never ends well,' she said, 'Took one of my third rate tempters less than twenty minutes to have one of the Swiss guards spilling codes along with various bodily fluids.'
'Ugh, enough!' said Michael.
Aziraphale buried his face in his hands, 'I am a angel, breaking into a church, dressed as a Cardinal with codes that were shagged out of the Swiss guard,' he said, 'What's that delightful phrase you like use, dear?'
'Go hard or go home,' said Crowley.
'Indeed,' said the angel, 'Greater good and all that though.'
Beelzebub buzzed out a faint laugh, 'I'm beginning to see why you like him,' she said, 'You've got two days from tomorrow to pull it off. On the third day you need to be in Civitavecchia, there will be a ship there to take you on to Alexandria. If the weather stays on your side you'll be in Egypt in two days.'
'You organised this all in less than forty-eight hours?' said Aziraphale, 'I must say I'm impressed.'
Beelzebub gave him a small nod, 'I would suggest you take tomorrow to scout out the Vatican. I have plans of both the public and the private areas, plus the vaults. Tickets are arranged for tomorrow if you wish to scout it out as tourists and then make the attempt the day after.'
Michael frowned, 'I don't know if I want to delay.'
'You only get one shot at this though,' said Crowley, 'Better to take the time to prepare.'
God nodded, tapping Michael's hand and pointing to Crowley.
'I suppose if I am out voted then,' said the Archangel, 'Aziraphale, do you agree?'
'Yes I think so,' he said, 'Better to get an idea of where we're going. It won't do to be wandering around looking lost when it comes to it.'
'Then it's settled,' said Lucifer, 'You've done well Beelzebub. Hopefully we can see the rest through.'
'We will raise some trouble the other side of the city when the attempt is made,' said the demon prince, 'We will draw Heaven's gaze from you.'
'Arrange it so that you remain with us,' said Lucifer, 'With the angels otherwise occupied we will need as many hands as we can to defend God in case they come for us.'
'Give me a few hours to change plans and then I will return.'
Lucifer nodded, 'I shall accompany you,' he said, 'I have things to communicate to those in Hell and would do so with more ears to hear me. You will all excuse me.'
Michael caught his sleeve as he moved passed her, 'You're leaving us?'
'Briefly,' he said, glancing down at the hand on his sleeve, fingers twitching before he carried on his path, 'We will return later.'
Aziraphale watched the two demons leave before looking up at Crowley, seeing a reflection on his face of the question he wanted to ask. The thought was dismissed though as Michael seemed to recover herself before ushering them further into the rooms, issuing instructions on how they would divide the living space. Once the decisions were agreed upon, they situated themselves in the main living room, looking over the plans of the Vatican to try and find the simplest path for them to take.
Aziraphale was glad at least that Crowley seemed not quite as skittish as God sat in close proximity to them as they worked. Though they didn't communicate, there seemed to be an easy peace settling over the group. It only soured as Lucifer and Beelzebub remained absent, Michael growing agitated that they had abandoned them. Crowley tried to reassure her that the Lord of Hell and his prince were more likely arranging more trouble to give them as much cover as possible but Michael remained uneasy until night had well and truly fallen over the city.
The bedroom Crowley and Aziraphale had chosen afforded them a view of the ruins but the angel was more occupied with the plans he had spread out on the dressing table, going over the path he and Michael were to follow even though they both knew it by heart. He only looked up as he heard the door to the adjoining bathroom open, smiling as Crowley emerged wrapped in the fluffy white bathrobe he had found in the closet and towelling dry his long red hair.
'Feel better?' he asked.
Crowley nodded, 'Though I really wish we'd brought more clothes,' he said, 'I might have to go shopping tomorrow when you and Michael are on your little spying mission.'
'I'm sure the hotel will launder your clothes for you,' said Aziraphale, 'And I'd rather know where you are tomorrow. I'm going to be anxious enough not being with you.'
The demon smiled, hanging his towel over the back of a chair before wrapping his arms around Aziraphale's shoulders, 'Stop worrying about this,' he said, 'You've marched into Hell, angel, you can manage the Vatican. You should have joined me in there, tub was big enough for two and it might have helped you relax a little.'
Aziraphale patted his arm, 'I'm sorry, love,' he said, 'I just want to make sure I have this right in my head.'
'You could follow that path in your sleep by now,' said Crowley.
'What if we get caught? You won't be able to help. We'll be alone in there.'
Crowley pressed a kiss to his temple, 'Angel, if you think consecrated ground, even consecrated ground in the church of St Peter, is going to stop me from reaching you if you need me then you need to think again,' he said, 'You're going to be fine and if something happens, I'll be there.'
'Darling Crowley, I've no doubt you'd come for me but it doesn't make me less afraid.'
Crowley sighed, 'Then at least come to bed, get some rest,' he said, 'Things will look better in the morning.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'I'll be too restless,' he said, 'You get some sleep though if you want to.'
'I'll sit up with you,' said Crowley, cursing softly as a yawn escaped him, 'Sorry.'
'Don't be,' said Aziraphale, 'I've seen you after a warm bath one too many times. Rest. I'll be fine here and there's an Italian phrase book in the other room I intend to flick through, get my grammar back up to speed for tomorrow. Go on to bed.'
Crowley yawned widely before kissing his cheek, 'Wake me if anything changes,' he said, 'Lucifer and Beelzebub look as though they'll be out until dawn.'
'Much to Michael's upset,' said Aziraphale, 'She seemed most put out, it was all rather odd.'
'She expects everyone to behave properly,' said Crowley, 'And demons are hardly ever proper, especially in Rome. Since it's beginning this place has always been a favourite for Hell. Wine, heat, jilted lovers and religious fervour. They're as likely to believe in a demon here as they do an angel and it makes temptations far easier. Lucifer and Beelzebub are demons, they're probably just stretching their legs so to speak.'
'Well so long as it doesn't bring trouble down on us,' said Aziraphale, turning just enough to kiss him, 'Now off to bed with you. I'll go the other room so you can turn the lights down.'
Crowley released his hold on his shoulders as the angel got to his feet and collected up the plans, 'Climb in with me if you change your mind,' he said, heading towards the bed, 'And don't spend the whole night worrying, you'll be grumpy in the morning if you do.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'I'm always grumpy before breakfast,' he said, walking to the door and turning down the lights as Crowley shook off his robe and pulled the black silk pyjama pants up over his slim hips before slipping beneath the covers, 'Goodnight, my love.'
'G'night, angel,' he said, wrapping his arms around one of the pillows and burying his face in it.
The angel watched him for a moment before he stepped into the living room, pausing as he found it in darkness, Michael and God clearly having retired though he wasn't sure if the latter required sleep. Michael however had been fighting it for several hours and he was not surprised if she had succumbed to it. He flicked on a reading lamp beside the sofa, settling himself down with both the plans and the phrase book he had promised himself he would review. Neither held his attention for long though, his mind wandering over too many what ifs for the days that lay before them.
A cool breeze came in from the open balcony door they had deliberately left open in case Lucifer and Beelzebub needed to return without attracting the attention of the humans in the hotel. The fragrant night air called to him and he left the plans to step out into the night. He had almost reached the railing when he felt eyes upon him, turning to see God seated in one of the chairs half hidden in shadow.
'Goodness me, You gave me a fright,' he said, looking around him before his eyes settled on her once more, 'Michael not with You?'
She shook Her head, before bringing Her hands to Her cheek in an expression of sleep.
'Oh, thought as much, she was tired,' he said, 'Well, only stepped out for a breath of air and I don't want to disturb You. I'll head back in.'
She pushed another chair out from the table with Her foot, the invitation clear but Aziraphale hesitated. Since they had found Her he had not found himself alone with his Creator, always at least one other person with them and he felt the need to hurry back to Crowley's side rise within him but She had other plans as She nodded more pointedly to the chair.
'Well, if you insist,' he said, with an attempt at a smile as he sat, 'It's a rather lovely night.'
He watched the exaggerated roll of Her eyes before he nodded.
'Right, not small talk then,' he said, worrying his hands in his lap, 'I'm not really sure how this should go if I am honest with You. Rather one sided regardless of what we discuss and I have a tendency to witter on at the best of times. Or do You just want some company? I'm happy just to sit here if that's what You need. I'm sorry if I'm not very good at interpreting what You need, I just...'
A cool hand covering his halted his speech and derailed his train of thought as he raised his eyes to meet Hers. Her expression at least appeared amused as She motioned for him to calm down.
'Sorry,' he said again, 'What...oh...I suppose it's foolish to ask You to begin.'
She cocked an eyebrow and he felt a small smile come to his lips at the expression.
'Foolish indeed,' he said, steadying his hands as She drew Hers away, 'What does one say to God? Our conversations, well the ones I can remember, were only ever brief but I understand now that was maybe because You were rather angry with me.'
She nodded, Her eyes on Her fingers as She traced a small pattern against Her knee.
'Right. Are... are You still angry with me, Lord?'
She raised Her head once more, wearing the familiar sad smile he had seen on Her face more than once. She shook Her head and Aziraphale felt his breath leave him in a rush before a question came to his lips that he forced himself to ask despite the lingering fear.
'And Crowley? Are You still angry with him?'
The sad smile broke into genuine sadness and She shook Her head more vigorously.
'I had thought as much,' said the angel, 'I hope I don't speak too much out of turn but it seems to me that You regret at least some of what happened back then? I've heard his story of what passed between you both but I can't hear Yours so I can't ask what parts You regret. I don't know if You regret making him the Prince, or punishing him, or that he fell. I'm almost frightened to know but not nearly as frightened as he is.'
He watched as a solitary tear broke from Her eye and coursed down Her cheek, leaving a glittering trail in the lamplight. He fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief and handed it to Her, glad when She accepted it.
'I think You still love him a great deal,' he said, feeling slightly bolder when She offered no contradiction, 'And if You do love him, then I must ask something of You. Perhaps I have no right, I am not much in the scheme of things, but in this I must be his champion. If You love him still then be gentle with him, be kind, and keep Your distance until he is ready to hear what You want to say, even if it is without words. He is in pain and when he is hurting he does lash out. You hurt him a great deal and he has dealt with that, carried it forever, even before he knew it all. He needs time and also assurances that the fate You once designed for him won't return. Believe me when I say, he is amazing enough just as he is and if You get to know him then You'll see it too but it will take time and You see now I'm wittering again because I'm so scared. I'm so scared because I don't know what You intend and I... I can't lose him, he's everything to me You see. My whole world is concentrated in him and I'm scared because You took him away once and though I can't remember it, I can imagine what it would have felt like. I love him too, so very much and I'm very, very scared of You and what that means for us.'
He pressed a hand to his mouth in an effort to stop the words but realised his error as it brought his wedding ring into view. She extended a finger, tracing the band as Aziraphale froze. She took Her hand away a moment later, pressing it to Her chest, right over Her heart before She offered it, palm up to him.
'I'm a little wary of how to interpret,' said Aziraphale, cursing the tremble in his voice, 'But does this... do You give us Your... do You accept us, Lord?'
She nodded, getting to Her feet and bending down to press a kiss to the crown of his head. Aziraphale couldn't help the sob that escaped him, catching Her hand between both of his and pressing his forehead to them.
'Thank You,' he said, 'Thank You. I can't even...'
He felt the slight pull on his hands and lifted his head, standing as She raised them up a little higher. He followed as She led him back to the door and into the living room. She let go as they reached the sofa but did not sit, instead She motioned to the door to their bedroom that still stood ajar.
'Go to him?' asked Aziraphale, 'Can I?'
She nodded with a smile, pushing a hand against his shoulder when he didn't move and he finally followed Her unspoken command, heading to the darkened room. He looked back as he reached the threshold, seeing Her sit down on the sofa and She offered him the small sad smile once more. She looked small, lonely in the expanse of the room and he felt guilty in leaving Her but She waved him off and he turned from the room, stepping into the darkness of the bedroom.
The light from the window was just bright enough to make out the figure on the bed, Crowley looking far more peaceful in sleep than he ever could awake. Aziraphale made short work of his clothes, stripping down to his underwear but not bothering with the pyjamas that still waited in his bag. Slipping beneath the covers, he pressed himself against his husband's back, wrapping an arm around his slim waist as he felt him stir.
'Angel?' came the sleepy murmur, 'Everything ok?'
He smiled as he felt Crowley's breathing even out, the demon asleep even before he could answer him but he did all the same.
'Yes, my darling. I think everything is going to be fine.'
Chapter 15: Vatican
The angels make their attempt on the Vatican and Aziraphale comes across something that stirs a long dormant memory whilst in Rome, Crowley makes an attempt to find peace with God.
Hi all. Now I'll fess up, I have been to Vatican city and Rome once and that was on a guided trip so I am going for very brief memories and google here. That being said, I've taken some significant liberties with Angelica Cafe and the vaults of the Vatican as I don't have a clue what they're like but I hope you enjoy the story all the same. Also just to say that updates may suffer a few delays in coming weeks as I'm moving house so writing time is being taken up by packing (not an easy task especially when my five year old wants to help!). Please bear with me and I'll be back with you when I can be. xx
'Aziraphale, are you alright in there?' said Crowley, biting his lip against the laugh that wanted to escape him, 'Or are you already taking confession, Your Grace.'
'Oh shut your face,' came the grumpy response from behind the door, 'I think I maybe should go as the nun.'
'He'll get no arguments from me,' groused Michael from the sofa, itching beneath the tight grey veil that covered her hair until God knocked her fingers away and straightened it once more.
'Come on, it can't be that bad,' said Crowley.
'Oh I assure you it is.'
Lucifer groaned, leaning back against the wall, 'Does it really matter?' he said, 'All that we are concerned with is getting you inside. You aren't looking for a mate so what does it matter what you look like?'
'Why not let me in?' coaxed Crowley, 'I'm sure it's not as bad as all that and we need to get a move on.'
Aziraphale sighed the other side of the bedroom door, 'Alright, I'm coming,' he said, 'But please promise me that none of you will laugh.'
Crowley schooled his expression as best he could as the door opened, feigning a cough before he was forced to bite down on his own finger. Aziraphale blushed as crimson as the robes he wore, the layers of red and lace doing nothing for his frame or stature. It was only Crowley's reflexes that stopped him from running back into the bedroom, the demon catching the voluminous sleeve and holding him in the doorway.
Lucifer already had a hand over Beelzebub's mouth, the demon prince shaking in his grip as her master maintained a neutral expression that only wobbled slightly whenever his eyes drifted back to the angel and the robes he wore. Michael had pulled her veil across her face, masking her expression but God had no such luxury, nor did She possess the restraint as She shrieked with laughter and promptly tumbled off the chair She was sitting on.
Aziraphale took hold of the lace collar of his robe, pulling it over his face, as Michael helped God back into Her chair, 'I'm not going like this. Can't I just be a priest?'
'Priests...' began Lucifer, his voice coming out a little too high before he coughed it back to its normal, smooth timbre, 'Priests cannot move around the Vatican unchallenged. The disguise is necessary.'
Aziraphale lowered the collar, his face miserable as he looked up at Crowley, 'Do I look ridiculous?'
'Let's just say a career in the church is not for you,' said the demon, 'Besides, the celibacy would be a real drag. Leave the frocks to me going forward, love.'
Aziraphale managed a small laugh, brushing his hands down his robes as he straightened them, 'Right, well, didn't dress up like a complete idiot for nothing so how about we get this over with,' he said, 'I'd rather like to do this as quickly as possible, these clothes are rather warm.'
'And itchy,' groused Michael, her mood not having improved since the morning before when Beelzebub and Lucifer had finally returned to the hotel a little after breakfast with tales of temptations and triumphs at the far end of the city. She had scolded them for their more lascivious stories, claiming they needed to tame their language in front of God but the deity Herself had merely shrugged with a sign that She already knew they were devilish. The response had annoyed Michael so much that she had silently seethed her way around the Vatican when she and Aziraphale had paid their first visit, scouting out the various points of entry to the vaults, and the latter was relieved when they rejoined God and the demons they had left Her with if only for a reprieve from the archangel's ire. Her mood had not improved for the rest of the day and had continued into the following morning, compounded by the thick, woollen outfit she was now forced to wear.
'Yes, I will certainly agree with itchy,' said Aziraphale, 'Are we all ready?'
Lucifer nodded, 'You'll have an hour once you enter the Vatican,' he said, 'Then my people will start some trouble over the other side of the city, hopefully pull Heaven's gaze. We'll meet you at the Angelica Cafe just outside the border. You'll be the most exposed in St Peter's Square so move quickly but not enough to arouse suspicion. When you're on consecrated ground you're beyond our help.'
Crowley shook his head, 'If you need me, call for me,' he said, 'I'll risk it.'
'We'll be fine,' said Aziraphale.
'Get out as soon as you have what you need,' said Beelzebub, 'The van will be outside the cafe at three o'clock and we need to be in it. Miss it and you'll have to find your own way to the port.'
'It's nice to know you're so concerned for our safety,' muttered Michael.
'Our mission is protecting God and restoring Her to heaven,' said Beelzebub, 'If foot soldiers fall by the wayside...'
'Beelzebub,' warned Lucifer, as Crowley hissed at the term, 'We started this journey together, we will finish it together but we do have to prioritise God and once Heaven is aware something is going on in the city She will be at risk.'
'Agreed,' said Aziraphale, laying a hand on Crowley's arm, 'We'll be there in time.'
'You'd better be,' said the demon, 'I've grown somewhat attached to you over the years.'
'Ugh!' said Michael, 'Must you.'
Crowley scowled, 'You're welcome to leave her behind.'
Aziraphale shook his head, 'Now now, dear,' he said, 'Michael, shall we say ten minutes?'
The archangel nodded, 'Sooner the better.'
'Righto, just a moment then,' said Aziraphale, 'I don't need long.'
The angel took hold of his husband's hand, leading him through the living room and to the balcony, Rome still awakening below them. He raised their joined hands, covering them with his free one.
'Promise me you'll try to speak with Her today, my love,' he said, 'I know it's hard but I truly think it will help. I'm not asking you to forgive what happened but She gave us Her approval. She sent me back to our room, to you, the other night and that must mean something. After today we're really against the clock and I don't want you to lose the chance of making even a little peace.'
Crowley sighed, 'I tried yesterday when you were in the Vatican,' he said, 'But every time I got close... She terrifies me, angel. Those hands, I can't take my eyes off them.'
'I don't think She has the power to harm you that way right now,' said Aziraphale.
'Look at what She did to you in the hospital. She could have killed you.'
'I don't believe that was deliberate, love,' said the angel, 'She needed strength and I was a useful, celestial vessel. Had Michael not been as damaged as she is then I've no doubt she may have well been the one to bear it. God has taken my hand several times since and She's not hurt me.'
'She hurt you in the van,' said Crowley.
'Because I frightened her. Crowley She loves you, even now. Just try for me, love, please.'
'I'll try, so long as you promise to come back to me in one piece. I meant what I said in there, I've grown rather fond of you, even if you do look a right tit in that get up. I was hoping it would conjure up some fantasies but definite nope on that score.'
Aziraphale laughed, 'Well thank goodness for that. I've grown used to your particular brand of blasphemy but that would be a touch too far,' he said before he sighed, 'Oh darling, I feel dreadful that you won't be with us in there. I know I can rely on you to think two steps ahead of anyone else.'
'You'll be fine,' said Crowley, tugging on his hand to pull him closer, 'But just in case, kiss for luck.'
Aziraphale eagerly met the kiss, revelling in the familiarity of the touch. 'You know,' he said as they parted, 'Anyone looking up right now is going to be scandalised to see you kissing a cardinal.'
Crowley grinned, 'Ok so maybe the outfit is kind of kinky.'
Aziraphale laughed, freeing a hand to push against his chest, 'Demon.'
'Guilty as charged, love,' he said, 'Come on, the church of St Peter is calling and you have a robbery to undertake.'
'I still can't quite believe I'm going stealing in a church of all places,' said Aziraphale as they headed, hand in hand, back into the room.
'Have you quite done slobbering all over one another?' said Michael, getting to her feet, 'I do not understand the need for all this physicality. It's got to be demonic influence.'
'What has wound you up?' said Crowley, 'You've been miserable since yesterday and you weren't exactly a party before that.'
'Well the company is somewhat questionable,' said Michael, her gaze flicking from him to Lucifer and Beelzebub.
'The alternative being your pals in heaven I suppose,' said Crowley, 'And I think they sent the message that they don't want you in their gang any more.'
'Alright, that's enough,' said Lucifer, 'Pointless bickering constantly, you're worse than children.'
'Says he,' muttered Crowley, 'Let's just get this over with. The queue will be ridiculous by the time you get to the museum entrance at this rate.'
'I still think God should be with Aziraphale and me,' said Michael, 'You...'
'We will protect Her as was our promise,' said Lucifer, 'She is safer outside of the Holy See. Heaven doesn't need much power to sense Her in there. It may be mortal made but it's a direct link to Heaven.'
'Even so...' began Michael but she trailed off as God left her side to stand closer to Lucifer and Beelzebub, the message clear even without words, 'As You wish, Lord.'
'We should get on,' said Aziraphale before any more could be said on the matter, 'We'll see you when it's done.'
'Good luck,' said Crowley, releasing his hold on the angel's hand, 'And if trouble comes, sod the no miracle rule. You send out for me every way you can and I'll be there.'
'We'll be fine,' said Aziraphale, heading towards the main door, 'Take care of yourselves, all of you. Michael?'
The archangel nodded, brushing her hands over her long grey robes as she got to her feet. God crossed the room to them both, wordlessly taking hold of their hands for a moment before She released them with a smile.
'Let's hope blessings work just as well when She's not in heaven,' said Lucifer as the two angels left, 'I'm hungry, let's find somewhere to eat. We've a long day to get through.'
Crowley picked up one of the bags they had brought with them from London, pulling it onto his shoulder as Beelzebub did the same with the other. He was glad when Lucifer was the first to the door, offering his arm to God who took it with a small smile. He smirked to himself before he turned to Beelzebub, offering her his arm as Lucifer had done for God.
'Oh you can sod right off,' said Beelzebub, 'Besides, what would your angel say?'
'Good point,' he said, sliding passed her to the door, 'Ladies first then.'
Beelzebub shook her head as he exited ahead of her, 'Probably one of the most accurate things I've heard in the last few days,' she said, pulling to door to the hotel room closed behind her.
'I remember when your namesake was painting that,' said Aziraphale, nodding up to the sprawling images on the roof above their heads, 'Nice fellow.'
'Didn't come to see it until much later,' said Michael, keeping hold of his sleeve as they were buffeted by the crowds who all had their faces turned upwards, 'It's pretty though, I suppose. Inaccurate but pretty. Gabriel hates it. He doesn't like the way it depicts humanity as the favourites of God.'
'I'm hardly surprised,' said Aziraphale, taking hold of the sleeve of her robe as he manoeuvred them through the crowd, 'Let's keep on. I think we should be covered enough to try the door in the next gallery down to the vaults. It's been nearly an hour so things will start moving outside soon.'
Michael sniffed, 'If you trust them,' she said, 'I still don't feel right having left you know who with them.'
'I trust them entirely,' said Aziraphale.
'They aren't all the same as Crowley and even he...'
Aziraphale frowned, 'You have no need to doubt him,' he said, 'He is true to our cause and despite everything that has happened between him and you know who, he will not fail us or Her.'
'That does not mean the others are as trustworthy.'
'They've proven themselves so far,' said the angel, 'And if Crowley trusts them, then I will follow his lead.'
Michael frowned as the passed out of the Sistine Chapel and headed towards the door that would take them down to the vaults if they were lucky not to be spotted, 'Sometimes I think you are blinded by your love for him.'
'On the contrary,' said Aziraphale, 'My eyes were opened by him. I did not easily give up on Heaven but it was seeing from him what love could be that made me realise that I deserved more than I was getting but now is not the time to argue the point. You will learn more by experience than you ever could from my words. Keep a look out for me.'
Michael drifted back from him as he moved towards the door they had located on their last trip. The crush of tourists making their way from the famed chapel made it easier to slip unseen behind the decorative curtain that hid it without falling foul of the security cameras. He heard the cough that told him the next wave would soon be passing their way, waiting until he was all but pressed against the wall by the swell of people before he keyed in the stolen codes and slipped behind the door. The few moments he was alone felt like an eternity before Michael appeared through the door, closing it behind them.
'Well,' she said, 'Now the fun begins. Let's hope Lucifer has done as promised and both the humans and Heaven are looking the other way.'
'Indeed,' said Aziraphale, 'If only to prove that you can trust him.'
'I'll trust him the day we return God to Heaven.'
'Then you will miss out on a great deal of chances to make a friend and that makes me sad for you. He may be fallen but he and Beelzebub are more than the product of an event. You knew them in Heaven even if you don't remember clearly.'
Michael pushed ahead through the corridors, 'If he was as flippant in Heaven as he is now I doubt I would have liked him.'
'Given the choice between his flippancy or Gabriel's cruelty, where would you place yourself?'
Michael stopped dead but didn't turn back to him, her hands clenching and unfurling at her sides before she took a shuddering breath, 'We should be focussing on the mission. We don't have long.'
Aziraphale let her go as she began walking again, seeing the stubborn set of her shoulders and knowing arguing with her would do nothing but antagonise her. Still, he recognised his own old reluctance, the doctrine of Heaven inbred and he was determined that, regardless of how their journey ended, he would help her open her eyes to the truth of the balance of the world.
Beelzebub pulled a phone from her pocket, staring down at the screen for a moment before she got to her feet, 'Time to get things moving,' she said, 'Much as they're probably too stupid to realise what I'm talking about, I'll take this away from the mortals.'
'Do not be long,' said Lucifer, 'We need to stay close.'
'We need to look normal,' said Crowley, 'I'll get some more coffee.'
Lucifer shook his head, 'I want to take a turn around the room, clock a few faces,' he said, 'You stay here.'
Crowley wanted to protest, the thought of being left alone with the only other individual at the table not a pleasant one but the two demons were already on their feet and about their respective tasks. He kept his eyes trained on the table in front of him, wishing the cup before him contained something stronger than coffee but, despite his reluctance to look up, he still felt eyes on him. A hand moved into his line of sight but stopped shy of his hands which were clasped so tight that his knuckles were white against the wood of the table. The long, tapered finger tapped gently, trying to attract his attention and he resisted the urge to recoil at the sight, his mind throwing up images of those same hands encircling his head as the halo closed around him.
The finger withdrew and he felt a little of the tension leave him but the eyes remained on him all the same. He recalled Aziraphale's plea to his mind, the angel wanting him to at least give the entity before him a chance and the withdrawal of Her hands hinted at Her willingness to give him the space he desired. With a strength he had not called on since the threat of Armageddon he raised his head meeting the piercing gaze before him. He was glad for his sunglasses, hoping they at least hid the terror in his eyes even though he was sure it was written all over his face.
She smiled softly, Her hands set on the tabletop, the gesture deliberate and Crowley let his grip loosen enough to restore circulation to his fingers before he spoke.
'Aziraphale told me You spoke to him,' he began, hating the catch in his voice, 'Well insofar as You can and I hope his interpretation is correct. I truly hope You have realised his worth and that Your anger should only ever be directed at me for what happened. He says You have given him Your approval of our marriage. I want You to know I never sought that, because I know we're right together even when everyone else stood against us.'
The smile changed but where he had expected it to fade and Her face grow harder, it instead grew bright as She nodded. Her hand moved, sliding a little closer on the table but not rising from the wood or touching his trembling fingers.
Crowley drew his hands back closer to his chest, shaking his head, 'When Lucifer returned my memories, after I got over the pain of remembering, all I could ask was why,' he said, fingers moving unbidden to his wedding ring and drawing as much strength from what it represented as he could, 'You gave me love and imagination and I used them both. You celebrated my imagination but damned my love. You made him and I loved him and You punished me for it. Punished him. I don't know what I want from You, if there is anything I want at all, but I ask You, over everything else to treat him kindly.'
God nodded, drawing Her hands back to Her own side of the table.
'Thank you,' said Crowley sincerely, 'For his sake, thank you.'
Silence descended once more, punctuated by the comings and goings of the tourists around them, but it was a far more comfortable one than they had sat in before. Crowley allowed himself to watch Her as Her gaze wandered around the room, watching the expressions on Her face as She regarded the humans that had sprung from the two souls She had first created. He realised with a jolt that he had never seen Her watch the young angels in the same way when they had been in Heaven. She had been more guarded, any fondness, if She had felt any, carefully hidden. At least he hoped that it had been hidden rather than not felt. He remembered how endearing he had found the young ones, especially the brothers and sisters Aziraphale had fledged with, so remarkably different to the angels that had come before. He wondered if She had loved them as he had done, if She had even once regretted condemning them to a life in the service of Hell.
The thought pulled his eyes towards Lucifer who had situated himself by the bar, chatting amiably with the bar man as he fixed their drinks. Had She loved him as Crowley had, the brother he had fledged with. Their had been only the two of them when She made them, that much he could remember through the mists of the time before time. They had been so close, an inseparable pair though She had always planned to separate them, Lucifer bound for Hell and Crowley, or Raphael as he had been to them both then, bound for a place at God's side.
He could not help but think of what might had been had he not met Aziraphale on the day of his creation. If he had followed Gabriel as he should have done rather than been tempted by Lucifer to gaze upon the young ones. Would he have raised his hand against his brother when Lucifer rebelled? The thought turned his stomach and he shuddered.
'Is everything alright, Raphael?'
Crowley looked up as Lucifer reappeared at their table but scowled as he realised the name he had yet again been called. 'Absolutely fine, Old Scratch,' he said, seeing the annoyance flit across Lucifer's face.
'Crowley,' he said, 'My apologies. I am trying to get used to it.'
'Everyone else capable of speech manages just fine,' said the demon, 'I am no longer Raphael and I don't want to own that name. Crowley, please, Lucifer.'
God raised a hand to Her mouth, masking a laugh at the exchange but the moment was short lived as She paled, breath coming in short panicked gasps as Her eyes widened in panic.
'What's the matter with Her?' said Crowley, 'She was fine a moment ago.'
'I don't know,' said Lucifer, capturing hold of Her hand and then Her face as She seemed unable to acknowledge him, 'Lord? My Lord, what is the matter? Are you ill?'
'She's going to hyperventilate if She goes on like that, we don't know what Her physiology is like,' said Crowley, leaving his seat and kneeling at the side of Hers.
Fear overcame him for a moment before he reached out, closing his hand around Hers. Wild eyes turned to meet his, panic still the soul emotion as Her lips moved in an attempt to form the words She needed.
'Calm down,' he said firmly, 'You can't talk so don't try, you'll hurt Yourself. Take a breath.'
Her grip tightened on his, Her eyes clearing slightly but She shook Her head, pointing to the door before She waved Her hand to encompass the entire room.
'Something's coming here?' said Crowley, 'What?'
She pointed upwards.
'Heaven,' hissed Lucifer, 'They must know we're up to something.'
'How does She know?' said Crowley.
God tapped Her hand to Her chest.
'She feels it,' said Lucifer, closing his eyes, 'And now I try. It's not clear but it's there, lots of them I think. Beelzebub.'
Though the demon prince's name was only softly spoken she returned as though it had been shouted, 'What's the matter?'
'Heaven is coming,' said Lucifer.
'Was that not the intent?' she asked, 'That's why...'
'Not to those you have in the city,' said Lucifer, 'Coming here. We need to get away.'
'But Aziraphale and Michael,' said Crowley, 'They only know to come here. We have no way of contacting them.'
'Then we must trust they are smart enough to meet us where we are headed,' said Lucifer, 'Our duty is to God right now. Move.'
Crowley got to his feet, helping the still breathless God to Hers, all horror at Her touch pushed aside in the greater panic of the forces that could yet descend on them. Lucifer took the lead, heading towards the door but he stumbled back into the room as it was blown inwards with a force that was beyond anything a human could create.
The humans in the room scattered, screaming, clearly fearing an attack that they often visited on one another when politics or religion became too militant. It did not take Crowley long though to recognise the head of the forces that now assailed them. Even without his memories as Raphael he could recognise the figure of Sandalphon as he led the group of mortal dressed angels though the weapons they brandished were clearly not Earth made. He had encountered the angel several times throughout his long life, witnessing his cruelty whenever he was meting out Heaven's punishments, not least when he had stood at Gabriel's side believing Crowley to be Aziraphale as they sentenced his beloved to death by Hellfire.
'Get Her out of here.'
Lucifer's words had barely registered when a wall of Hellfire leapt up between them and the approaching angels. Thinking on his feet, Crowley tightened his grip on God's hand before running for the back of the cafe, dragging Her through the kitchens and hoping that he would find a back door that was unguarded by the forces of Heaven. It was a matter of moments until they found themselves in the small back alley, Crowley pressing them close into the wall as they skirted towards the exit.
He could already hear sirens, see people rushing about at the end of the alleyway as panic began to spread. The demon in him revelled in the chaos but the more pressing need to protect his charge sped him onwards. They broke onto the street, gratefully finding themselves swallowed by a sea of tourists but, as Crowley tried to run one way, God pulled him in the opposite direction.
'What?' he snapped, pausing only to meet Her eyes.
She beckoned with Her free hand before She began to drag him along against the flow of the rushing figures.
'We go that way and they'll catch us,' said Crowley, 'We can do nothing for Lucifer and Beelzebub now, they will get themselves out if they can. You need to keep safe.'
She beckoned again, more forcefully, turning them up the road that led to Saint Peter's Square.
'Surely you cannot mean...' began Crowley, 'I can't. I'm a demon. Consecrated ground burns me. I can't go with You and You won't find the others easily in there.'
She stopped at the invisible border that only She and he could sense, the place where the mortal crossed with the divine. She held his hand tightly in both of Hers, Her eyes begging for his trust. He hesitated as She dropped his hand and barely had a moment to react as She grabbed hold of his face in Her hands, dragging him down to press a kiss to his forehead. He recoiled from the touch but he had no time to back away further, Her grip once more tight on his hand as She dragged him over the border.
He waited for the burn but none came, his feet moving easily over the stones despite the connection to Heaven. He paid no mind to the tourists as together they raced toward the Basilica before them. Even the guards who should have turned their attention to them seemed to ignore them, no one calling out to them to stop or be checked as they ran into the church of St Peter.
Again he tensed for the pain of the ground at his feet but none came, the holiest of holy ground doing nothing to harm him even as they grew closer and closer to the main papal altar, bedecked with gold and the accoutrements of the faith that preserved them.
'At least these horrific robes are good for something,' said Michael, the sword she had retrieved from the open cabinet before her now strapped to her leg with several lengths of rope all but hidden by the fall of her long skirt, mirroring the one on her other leg, 'Where did you learn to tie knots like that?'
'Did a stint in the Navy back in the early nineteen hundreds,' said Aziraphale, closing the cabinet and restoring the locks, the codes they had been given by Beelzebub not yet having failed them, 'Wasn't much good on the water but I learned a few things. Are you sure those things have divine power?'
'Most definitely, blessed them both myself,' said Michael, 'One of the benefits of humans being a war-like race, lots of opportunities for divine intervention and, when the bearer is dead and usually held up as a martyr, they bring it here. Next cabinet is this way.'
Aziraphale followed her lead, nervously glancing at the cameras that seemed to track them all around the modern vaults of the Vatican bank and archive but as yet no one had challenged them though he did not know if it was luck or demonic intervention that made it so.
'We shouldn't take much longer,' he said, 'We don't need the humans catching us. We'd only get out with a miracle and then Heaven will be on our tails.'
'We'll only take enough for the five of us though what they'll do against the entire force of angels I don't know,' said Michael.
'It will give us a chance,' said Aziraphale, 'Sometimes that's all you need.'
Michael huffed out a mirthless laugh, 'Do you ever get tired of being so hopeful?'
'Whatever would I gain in doing that?' said Aziraphale, 'There's always hope, even the darkest times. Hope brought you to us, Lucifer and Beelzebub to our aid. Hope and belief got us to God. It gave Crowley the strength to save you. I think hope is a wonderful thing.'
'Hope is only as good as the well blessed steel behind it,' said Michael, stopping before a cabinet with another array of weapons, 'Take the axe, the dagger, the sword and the shield. Then let's get out of here.'
Aziraphale tapped in the code, using the key card to complete the unlocking process, glad when once again the airlock hissed and opened without setting off any alarms.
'I can hide everything but the shield,' he said, quickly retrieving the objects Michael had listed and hanging them from his waist beneath the coarse red robes, 'Even in this it will be obvious.'
'Can we risk it?' said Michael, 'I would prefer to arm God with it if I can.'
'We can risk it but then we risk having to use a miracle to get passed the humans,' said Aziraphale, 'The quickest way out of here and to the others is through the basilica and across the square. A miracle in there and we might as well send for Gabriel directly.'
'Beelzebub said the trouble would distract them.'
'Not that much,' said Aziraphale, 'The weapons are enough. If they get close enough to God and intend to kill Her I don't think a shield will be much use, even if She blessed it Herself.'
Michael sighed, 'Alright,' she said, 'Close that up and let's go.'
Aziraphale closed the cabinet, righting the weapons beneath his robes and cursing the extra weight as he followed Michael to the door that they hoped would take them back outside. Again he clocked the cameras and wondered what was keeping the humans from confronting them, hoping Beelzebub had covered every base when she had set up the raid they were undertaking. A shiver ran through him and he wanted to laugh at his own fear but it would not leave him, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end even as they grew closer to freedom.
He saw the tension in Michael's frame, her body held even more stiffly than it usually was but he knew it had nothing to do with the swords hidden beneath her skirts.
'Do you feel that?' he asked, 'It's like...'
'Heaven,' said Michael bitterly, 'Celestial energy, in the city but it feels too close. I thought Beelzebub said they'd be led away.'
'Perhaps they have come here just in case,' said Aziraphale, looking back to the cameras, 'Or they've known what we've been doing from the start.'
Michael shook her head, 'We'd know by now if they did,' she said, 'They wouldn't have given us a chance to arm ourselves but even so we should get back to God.'
'And the others,' added Aziraphale, 'I want...'
He trailed off as they passed an unlit cabinet, the relics inside old and not as well cared for as they others, nothing to mark them out as being wielded by saints or martyrs. Treasures of the church that they did not value but would not part with all the same. He peered in a little closer, something within it catching a thought in his head that was too fleeting for him to take hold of but it moved him all the same.
'Aziraphale, we have to go,' said Michael, 'This is no time for sightseeing. Aziraphale?'
He ignored her words, eyes lighting upon the gnarled wooden staff, half wrapped in dusty cloth but, within the folds he could make out the faintest glint of gold. Memories warred in his mind, half misty things that told him he recognised the staff but it would not tell him from where. His fingers moved of their own accord, tapping in the code and swiping the card, before the hiss of the airlock opening echoed in the empty room.
He reached in, fingers curling around the staff, electricity jolting through his grip and for a moment he remembered looking into golden eyes framed with wild, russet curls only tamed by the thin coronet of gold that ran across the wearer's brow.
'Crowley,' he murmured, before another name bled across his lips, 'Raphael.'
'What?' said Michael, 'Aziraphale what are you muttering about? That thing is neither use nor ornament so leave it and let's go.'
'It's Crowley's,' said Aziraphale, shaking off the misty image, 'Or was, I'm sure of it. Michael, it's Crowley's.'
'It's a piece of wood,' said Michael, laying her hand on it, 'There's nothing there. No power, no memory. It's an old piece of wood.'
'Then they won't miss it,' said Aziraphale, his hand closing tighter around the covering and feeling the hardness of the gold and the staff beneath his fingers, 'I'm taking it.'
'Yet we leave the shield,' snapped Michael, 'Your logic...'
'Michael stop it,' said Aziraphale, glad for the support of the staff and his whole body trembled, 'What the deuce was that?'
'A distress signal,' said Michael, 'God. It felt like God did when... before... Aziraphale we need to get to her.'
Aziraphale nodded, not bothering to close the cabinet as he followed her to the door, the staff held tightly in his hands even as the more useful weapons weighed him down.