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after they switched back bodies, aziraphale began getting unwarranted visits from a certain archangel.

gabriel's visits scared the living Heaven out of him. once, he left an orchid on the check-out counter after he pulled out seven first-editions and tried to buy each of them, which annoyed aziraphale to no end. aziraphale was so certain that the orchid was laced with some sort of poisonous inhalant that, after gabriel left, he miracled it into a dumpster two streets over and set it on fire for good measure (frivolous miracles be damned), then placed a call to the fire department.

another time, gabriel came in with a gigantic bar of chocolate and said, "humans do enjoy... consuming this foodstuff, don't they?"

"er, well, yes. some of them," aziraphale said.

"and you—having lived among humans for six thousand years—enjoy consuming unnecessary foodstuffs, too, right?"

"i enjoy certain things," aziraphale said. "i have a more, er, well, refined palate than most. crepes delight me, as well as wine and—er, you probably don't have time for this."

"nonsense," said gabriel. "do you happen to like... cho-co-late?"

this he sounded out by studying the label of the giant chocolate bar.

"yes. chocolate. decently," said aziraphale.

"wonderful! i'll leave this here, then. some dull-witted human exchanged this with me for some fancy paper. i have no need of it. i'll be going back up soon. i really just... accidentally procured this atrocity as part of some... business i had to take care of. yes, some important business. i'll be off now. enjoy the choc-late, aziraphale!"

then he was gone, with a poof.

aziraphale was speechless.

 

***

 

he told crowley about the whole curious affair over a fresh chardonnay.

"he gave you flowers and chocolate? sounds like someone's trying to court you, angel," the demon said.

"impossible," said aziraphale.

"very likely," crowley corrected him.

"he didn't give them to me! he forgot the orchid, and he pawned the chocolate off to me out of convenience. he made that very clear—speaking of which, would you like some gigantic chocolate?"

crowley considered this. it was very tempting.

"no," he said.

"oh, but please. i have no earthly idea what to do with it. besides, i daresay it'll go splendidly well with your wine."

"absolutely not. your problem, your chocolate."

 

***

 

the next time gabriel appeared at the bookstore, he was carrying a box. aziraphale, who still had not broken out of the habit of being frightened whenever he saw the archangel, wished he was somewhere else so fervently that he almost miracled himself away. fortunately, the only part of him that disappeared were his socks.

"oh," he said. "gabriel."

"aziraphale, could you do me a favor and open this contraption?"

aziraphale eyed him with all the wary in Hell. "it's a box. surely you can figure it out yourself."

"no, i insist. please. would you do me the honor of opening this box?"

aziraphale was left with no choice. he opened it very fast while wishing nothing inside the box would harm him. a long length of smooth fabric tumbled out and onto his shoes.

"what... what is, er, why is there a cape in your box?"

gabriel had been smiling widely up until this point. now, he faltered. "it's not a cape, aziraphale. that's a crepe. you quite enjoy crepes, don't you remember? you told me that last time i visited."

aziraphale laughed—

and laughed—he couldn't stop. when he was finished, gabriel looked quite pink.

"no, it's a cape, not a crepe," aziraphale said.

"oh," said gabriel.

"crepes are, as you would call them, foodstuffs. and they taste divine—well, not divine, exactly, but close to it as you can get here on earth."

"oh. i see."

"maybe when you're down here next time on... important business we could pop over to paris for a quick bite to eat. try some, er, well, actual crepes."

he never expected gabriel to agree.

 

***

 

"you did what?"

"i... invited him to lunch."

"how could you? even you, angel! that, that bastard told you to 'shut your mouth and die' and threw you in hellfire—well, it was technically me he told, but he thought he was saying it to you—and now you're going to lunch with him?"

"well, perhaps he feels bad for acting in such an awful manner."

"even if he does, you're just going to forgive him?"

"forgiveness is what beings like me do."

"ineffable."

both of them glowered in opposite directions. they were at the ritz for lunch (they had gone for lunch together every week since Armageddon), and aziraphale had his eye on an appetizer that sounded positively lovely on the menu. unfortunately, the waiter had been put off by their snarling at each other and would not ask for their orders for ten minutes.

"i still reckon he's trying to court you," crowley said.

"that's just ridiculous!"

"doesn't mean i can't reckon it. look, angel, you've been around humans for six thousand years. all the signs are there. if gabriel were a human, there'd be no doubt he was trying to get into your pants."

"but he's not a human—and angels don't do those sorts of things," aziraphale said. "honestly, crowley, i'm ashamed you would suggest such a thing."

crowley did some furious backpedaling. "i'm just saying, not all angels are like you! some of them might have turned devious—being cooped up in Heaven all this time."

"gabriel—delivered—news—of the—immaculate conception! to the virgin mary!"

"are we sure it's that bloke?" crowley said. "because i'm having a hard time imagining him breaking that sort of news to mary—don't you lot in Heaven have angels that share the same name? i mean, you've got to—there's ten million of you. surely it was another gabriel."

"i... can't believe you, crowley!"

"what! all i'm saying—alright?—all i'm sssaying is that gabriel is a fuckwad."

"you shouldn't call anyone that, much less the archangel gabriel!"

"oh, ssso he'ss the archangel gabriel now, isss he?"

"you know what i mean—and lower your voice! you're hissing again."

"i'll hissss all i want to, angel," crowley hissed. "and i don't think you fully underssstand what i mean—"

"i'm not interested."

"he doesssn't dessserve you! he ssshouldn't get to have you."

aziraphale's eyes flamed. crowley would have rather stepped chest-deep into a pothole filled with holy water.

"dear boy, i may be a rather unimportant and cowardly angel, but i am certainly not an object! and the archangel gabriel is not courting me!"

aziraphale could hiss rather well himself, crowley realized, and hiss in a way that indicated what he hissed was final. crowley opened his mouth to form a retort—or maybe tell aziraphale he was actually very important and rather brave—but found that he could say nothing.

they resumed their glowering in silence.

 

***

 

the archangel gabriel was, in fact, trying to court the principality aziraphale. this, he made abundantly clear over a plate of crepes.

"according to the Almighty, third time's the charm," said gabriel.

"i beg your pardon?" blinked aziraphale.

"perhaps i did it all wrong, though."

"do try this one, my dear, it has chocolate—er, do what wrong?"

"i tried those silly human customs. honestly, i had no idea about any of them, i've stayed Up There for all these millennia while you've been down here, enduring... silly human antics. but the female in the flower shop told me all the steps, and it seemed as if they would work. i had hope—i believed."

"yes, yes." aziraphale smiled. at last gabriel understood. "i don't know what it is about humans, about the world, but they give me so much hope."

"that's not what i mean, aziraphale."

"oh. what are you trying to say, gabriel?"

gabriel winced. "i was trying to show... my affections for you. i've realized quite recently i have a lot of them. affections, i mean. regarding you, aziraphale."

"oh, Heavens," aziraphale said—and again, "oh, blessed sacred Heavens."

"i... love you, aziraphale. i feel a lot of love for you," said gabriel.

"oh dear," was all aziraphale could say. that blasted demon was right, he dared not say.

"if you would let me show you—i've been trying to court you, but i see that my attempts have gone unnoticed—if you would allow me to court you, though, aziraphale, i would do so forever. that is what i am offering. eternity. we angels don't love lightly, as you know."

"yes," aziraphale exhaled. his entire body felt flattened, squeezed of all its air. he couldn't possibly eat another bite. "i know, perfectly well."

"you could retire, come back to Heaven—"

"since when?"

"pardon me?"

"since when have you... felt this way?" aziraphale said.

gabriel winced. "since armageddon. of course, at first i resented you for preventing the war—we all did—but then i came to see how brave you were for standing up for the world."

aziraphale, who had never been called brave in his existence, coloured.

"Heaven thinks highly of you now."

"...do they?"

"yes. after the hellfire didn't burn you, we thought, maybe, that was the Almighty's Ineffable Plan after all—was for everyone to be happy."

gabriel reached out and covered aziraphale's hand, which was slightly sticky from powdered sugar.

"oh," said aziraphale. "well... er, you'll give me, er, time to think over your proposal?"

"of course," said gabriel.

aziraphale found he had never quite noticed gabriel's eyes before. they were a lovely colour, he realized. violet. he almost told gabriel this, then decided against it, for his corporation might have just burst into flames if he blushed any more.

 

***

 

aziraphale really didn't want to tell crowley about what had happened over the crepes. but, of course, crowley had to ask.

"how were the crepes, angel?"

he considered lying, but he'd never told a lie in his entire existence—it was against his entire existence. (except white lies, of course, but they perfectly acceptable because white was a heavenly colour.)

so, he told crowley in as few and dull words as possible. he expected crowley to hiss in delight and say something along the lines of i told you so! but aziraphale waited and waited, and whole minutes ticked by and crowley didn't speak.

"oh," was all the demon said, finally, with a glare at his glass of wine.

 

***

 

crowley had never experienced such a bout of self-loathing as he did after learning about the happenings of the crepe luncheon. he was an expert at it; he had practically invented self-loathing—and instilled it in just about every human in the world—and sent detailed reports about it back to head office—and thought he had experienced every form of it to date—but never had he hated himself as much as he did now.

"ssstupid, ssstupidarghh!"

he snarled something further in a very old and forgotten and evil language that made his plants shiver violently.

"SSSTOP it."

they could not stop; they were simply too afraid (in the same way humans could not keep from wetting their pants when they had a fright). crowley dumped each and every one of his plants down the garbage chute. he cackled as the machine ate them up, then immediately felt foul again. he sat in his throne, squirmed around in it, even gnawed at the armrests.

the problem was—the angel.

his angel—not that he was objectifying aziraphale, but after working alongside him for six thousand years, crowley found it difficult—and a little pain-inducing—to imagine him having an Arrangement with someone else. especially gabriel. the archangel gabriel.

for a moment, crowley practiced thinking that name with as much malice as he could muster. the fucking archangel.

then, he got down to business and attempted to wrangle his feelings. now, crowley was rather good at wrangling. he'd wrangled bulls and little demonic children and actual demonic demons. for example, he'd given hastur loads of good wrangling over the years.

feelings, however, were abstract, and crowley disliked the abstract almost as much as he did feelings.

after a couple of hours of honest feeling-wrangling, crowley uncovered the following truths:

  1. he was angry.
  2. not only was he angry—he was positively livid, although there was nothing positive about what he was feeling. he was negatively livid, a mass of black, blood-boiling, bruising, back-throbbing hatred.
  3. although the back pain was likely caused by his uncomfortable position in his uncomfortable chair, which he should have never bought in the first place, but it had been on sale and was a very demonic chair. oh, the sins he had practiced in it: sloth, pride, lust... and now wrath!
  4. he was also afraid.
  5. the fear was something that took him completely by surprise, though by all means, it shouldn't have. crowley had experienced quite a bit of it recently. after all, Armageddon had just been narrowly avoided, hellions had come to kill him and he'd fended them off with holy water, he'd thought aziraphale had died—
  6. oh. aziraphale.
  7. he was going to lose his best friend again—actually lose him this time.
  8. he didn't want to lose aziraphale.
  9. and it was his own fault crowley was going to lose him. he hadn't expected his teasing to actually come true, that gabriel was actually courting aziraphale. he had just liked to see his angel blush. never had he thought he was in danger of losing him. he should have never taken aziraphale for granted, he knew that now.
  10. if he'd only convinced aziraphale to go with him to alpha centauri, stayed there for a few centuries, and came back when everyone'd forgotten about them—if only they'd done that instead of switching bodies, then crowley would not be so cold and afraid, and gabriel would still be that annoyingly idiotic supporting character in their lives, and everything would be fine.
  11. as it stood now, everything was the opposite of fine. it was so much so (not fine, that is) that if someone had asked crowley how are you? he would have told them his dog died, then proceeded to bawl on their shoulder.
  12. but crowley was going to fix this.
  13. he sure was.

he always felt better making lists with thirteen items. thirteen was a bad and unlucky number, which was very good and lucky for crowley.

 

***

 

gabriel had taken to lounging around aziraphale's bookshop with his elbows planted on the check-out desk.

"surely you can take a break," he was saying. "how about this wednesday? wednesdays can't be too busy for you—nothing of importance happens on wednesdays, anyway."

"wednesdays are grandly important," aziraphale scoffed. "the first gunshot of world war one was on a wednesday."

"what i am saying is that the world can do without you for one day. come Up and see the stars with me, aziraphale. i bet you haven't seen them properly for six thousand years. the view is awful down here."

"i-i'll think about it," aziraphale said. "you know, while i do appreciate this, er, well, everything, i'm not, er... accustomed to this much attention. i've been mostly alone for, what, six thousand years?"

that was a white lie. he'd had crowley, hadn't he? because of the Arrangement, he'd never once felt lonely.

"of course," gabriel said quickly with a smile, too—and when had he become so gallant? aziraphale felt his face growing hot; his corporation really was most inconvenient.

"i'm afraid to say i've always been a bit old-fashioned," he babbled. "of course you're still waiting for my answer, and it would be lovely to see the stars up close—i've missed them, oh how i've missed them. i never got a chance to stay long when i came to make reports, did i? and to see the rest of Heaven! it must have changed so much since i came down."

"not too much," gabriel said.

"there's a human expression—time flies! though i feel as though i've stayed in mostly the same spot. i'm very set in my ways."

"time flies. hm. doesn't make much sense to me."

"oh, er, it simply means time passes very fast."

"well, it must seem fast to them. their lives are very short and insignificant."

"short? yes, very. it saddens me to think how brief a moment they have in this world. and then it's off to Heaven or Hell, both of which, i, er, must add, are quite dull compared to earth. insignificant, gabriel? oh no, i think not. what oscar wilde did in his life is still changing minds today."

"what are you trying to say aziraphale?" this, gabriel managed to say in a way that was not mean or impatient at all. it stunned aziraphale for a moment. this gabriel, soft and tender with love, was so unlike the one he'd known—or thought he'd known—for the past six thousand years. he spoke in a way that meant what do you want? tell me, and i will give it to you. i will do anything for you, and that thrilled and frightened and sobered aziraphale.

"i have a few loose ends to tie up," he said at last. "and then, gabriel, i will come see the stars with you."

gabriel smiled. "alright then. i'll get out of your ear."

"it's hair, my dear. you'll get out of my hair."

gabriel frowned like he'd try hard to remember that and took his elbows off the desk.

"well, then. tickety-boo!"

"is that another human expression?"

"no, er, well, it's one of my expressions."

gabriel surprised him by laughing and repeating, "tickety-boo."

and then he was gone.

aziraphale placed a hand to his heart and groaned.

"oh dear," he muttered, "oh, ugh... oh dear."

what the Heaven was he doing?

he knew, perhaps, only one thing: he couldn't tell gabriel no—hadn't wanted to.

he couldn't, for the existence of him, understand why. he felt he should hold a grudge against gabriel, an enormous grudge for all the mistreatment and looking-down-the-nose gabriel had done to him, but he was too much of an angel to do that, he supposed. if he were a demon, he'd have hissed get out and ssso long sssucker the first day gabriel had shuffled awkwardly into the bookshop wearing a tight grin. but now, aziraphale was rather endeared to that grin. he couldn't explain it. but it wouldn't be hard to love gabriel. no, he was an angel, and he loved everything already.

the phone rang.

"angel!" crowley said when he picked up.

"hm," said aziraphale.

"what? what's got your feathers in a twist?"

"oh nothing."

"you sound a little under the weather. you sure it's not raining over there?"

"well, you have windows in that car, don't you?" oh boy, he was sounding a bit snappish. luckily crowley didn't seem to notice.

"oh, i had to pop out of town for a quick temptation this morning, but i'll be back in the city in a jiffy."

"well, i take it that it went well."

"angel, whaddya say about oysters?"

"oysters? it's three o'clock."

"i haven't eaten since morning."

"you don't exactly need to eat."

"well, you don't need to either." something about crowley's voice made him sound hurt.

aziraphale sighed.

"i wanted to ssee you," crowley said with a light hiss. "we haven't gotten lunch since lasst week."

they had gotten lunch together every week since Armageddon.

"what has gotten into you?" aziraphale said. "back in the eleventh century we didn't run into each other for nearly two decades until 1066."

"yess but that was the eleventh century."

"i fail to see your point."

crowley made a series of grumbling noises that sounded suspiciously like "grippity frippity angel foo. nah nah nyah."

"you don't even like oysters."

"right. see you there in ten?"

"you haven't told me which restaurant and—and i haven't even agreed!"

"you know which one! it's the one you always go to for oysters," crowley said, and hung up.

"take care," aziraphale said to no one in particular, even though he knew no one did anymore. certainly not in london. and certainly not crowley.

 

***

 

after the oysters they went back to aziraphale's bookshop. crowley produced a bottle of red wine from the backseat of the bentley, and they went upstairs and got roaringly drunk. it reminded them of old times, before they had narrowly avoided not existing and before they felt like they'd both been shoved into a pressure cooker and were waiting for it to explode.

"sss'just like old times," crowley hissed.

"oh yes," aziraphale agreed agreeably.

"everything was so much suh... suh—sssimpler."

"throw an antichrist in there, and he messes it all up," aziraphale said. "not that i hold anything against that dear boy. dear adam. he's just... thrown everything off kilter, even though he didn't end up being bad and, and destroying the whole world."

"wonky," said crowley.

"yes," said aziraphale. "...bit too early to get drunk, in't?"

"nawww issa—it's a bootiful hour! sstill bright enough to sssee the glass!"

crowley flicked his hand, and aziraphale's wine glass (which was half empty as crowley saw it and half full as aziraphale saw it) topped itself up.

"crowley!"

"jusst helping you out, angel."

"you're acting peculiar today."

"what? m'not? whaddya say... peculiar? m'not!"

crowley threw back his glass, then tipped the bottle in vaguely the right direction.

"we could go somewhere, take a holiday. south downss is nice-sss, and so is the lake dissstrict—ooh i know how much you love the lake disstrict, angel, but i reckon you'd like sssouth downs even more—or even sssouth africa. keep hearin' nice thingsss about south africa. i got thiss thought jusss' today, driving back from the, that temptation. thought it'd be nice-ss to take a holiday. we've been working for them for thousandsss of yearsss, but now we're on our own ssside. i thought juss' today, drivin' back. i thought, i din't even need t'do it! i don't have to do another temptation for as long asss the world existsss—but of courssse i like one now and again."

"crowley."

"whaddya say, angel? a holiday, just the two of usss."

"crowley, there's something i have to tell you." aziraphale sobered up a little, taking the edge out of his veins, but leaving a little buzz. he couldn't deal with a hammered crowley unless he was a little drunk himself, after all. "i can't go on holiday with you."

"wha' why?"

"i'm going to be in Heaven for a few days."

"for what?"

"it doesn't concern you."

"wh-whaddya mean it doesn't con-sss-ern me? angel, lassst time you were there they tried to kill you!"

"well it wasn't—"

"yesss i know it was me—my point ssstill sstands!"

"well, you'll be happy to know it's alright. the situation's been cleared up. they don't want to kill me now. i want to pay a visit." a pause. "i thought i should let you know i was leaving."

crowley sputtered. "b-but you—you'll be back? right?"

"yes of course. i said only a few days."

"when d'you leave?"

"wednesday."

"what about after?"

"pardon me?"

"after you come back. sssometime after. will you go on holiday with me then?"

"i... maybe. we'll see, crowley."

the demon gave a delighted hiss. the angel looked chagrined.

 

***

  

aziraphale went Up.

the farther Up he went, the more anxious he grew. after all, what if it had been a hoax? what if Heaven had realized the trick he and crowley had pulled and had sent gabriel to gain his trust and now they were all lying in wait to ambush him? he supposed that it was fortunate he hadn't called ahead.

but that was all too ridiculous and deceitful, he thought as he shook himself, and not to mention, too human a thing to do.

aziraphale walked around Heaven. it was just as he remembered: bright, white, sunny. he explored thoroughly, and it delighted him—and when he was tired of exploring he happened to run into gabriel.

"aziraphale," he said, without surprise.

"hello, dear gabriel."

"you came."

"it's wednesday, down there." aziraphale felt his mouth growing dry for lack of things to say. this was a strange new feeling, and he couldn't decide if he liked it. "shall we go see the stars?"

they went to see the stars. gabriel had been right. aziraphale missed the view. everything had been so small, on earth. now he could see the entire cosmos, and he was wonderstruck. the greatness of the universe washed over him.

"will you stay?" said gabriel.

"not too long," said aziraphale.

"what's back there?"

"oh, er, you know, just a few friends here and there."

"humans?"

"mhm."

"they grow on you."

aziraphale grunted again. they were on their own side, crowley had said. somehow he was having trouble fully believing, as much as he wanted to. they would always be an angel and a demon, wouldn't they?

"we're already looking for someone to take over for you. a good guardian. some angels are even eager to give it a try."

"right... but i am still considering your proposal."

"of course. it's just that the office wants it to run as smoothly as possible, should they need to post a replacement on earth. if you decide to stay nothing would change."

"i could very well stay."

"you shouldn't."

"well, it's my decision, as you said."

"you must know, aziraphale, that there's always a right and a wrong, a good and evil."

but he no longer sounded smug and over-haughty like aziraphale remembered. aziraphale wanted to feel incensed, to storm away, but he simply stood beside gabriel and watched the stars, the ebb and flow of the galaxies. perhaps work-gabriel and real-gabriel had different personalities. aziraphale knew many humans who did that to cope with their soulless corporate jobs.

they watched in silence for a length of time. aziraphale could not say how much time had passed on earth, whether it was hours or days or years; time worked differently in Heaven.

eventually he said quietly, "i do."

 

***

 

he did not see crowley the day he returned. or the day after that.

on the third day, crowley came charging into his bookshop with a basket on his arm.

"what d'you think about cats, angel? a cat for the bookshop, specifically. there're lots of bookshops doing that nowadays. they have little coffee and tea shops inside and loads of cats so people can go and relax, pet cats and drink tea while reading their books."

"are you alright?" aziraphale had to ask.

"you didn't tell me you were back."

"you're a busy demon, crowley."

"yes. well. i have time for you, angel. always."

aziraphale shook his head. "not always. remember 1846? we'd been planning to pay a visit to the new pope pius, but you cancelled last minute. it was the pope for Heaven's sake!"

crowley did something with his face that looked like a pout. "you'd been mentioning it for two years. i know—i'm sorry. i've already apologized for that."

"i'm just trying to make a point," aziraphale sniffed.

"how about the reign of terror, though? i saved you from getting your head cut off!"

"i would have managed fine on my own—you did nothing i couldn't have miracled myself."

"1941, that church, those books then."

"i... i appreciated that greatly, crowley."

the demon's lips thinned, and aziraphale didn't realize he had smiled until long after he barreled on.

"anyhow what d'you think of cats?"

"er, they're alright, i suppose."

"i got you one."

"you—what?"

he thrust the basket under aziraphale's nose. there was a tabby kitten in there on a bed of blankets, looking very eager to get out.

"oh crowley... whatever will i do with a cat?"

"take care of it of course!" the demon said. "get it a litter box. let your customers pet it. that might distract them, make 'em less keen to buy books."

"well, er, how thoughtful of you."

crowley made a dismissive sound, then did a quick stroll around the shop.

"you could use some plants in here."

"crowley..."

"i'm just saying—i'm not trying to change your aesthetic... or whatever, but i could bring some of mine over—"

he stopped himself short. he'd just realized he didn't have his plants anymore.

"how're things with gabriel? did you see him Up There? he still trying to court you?"

aziraphale grimaced. "no, not anymore."

it wasn't technically a lie. things were paused. it was up to aziraphale to negotiate the next step, if the courting would take place or not. technically.

"oh." crowley stopped in his tracks, an eyebrow quirked. "that's good. so he's leaving you alone now. that's good, because we're on our side and—"

"crowley. i'm very busy."

"huh..." he wasn't wearing his sunglasses—aziraphale had just noticed—and his eyes were very yellow and stretched very wide.

"alright—yeah alright," crowley said.

he left the basket on the check-out desk and slithered out.

there was a foul taste in aziraphale's mouth. he tried to get rid of it by smacking a few times (to no avail), then lifted the kitten out of the basket.

"hello my dear," he said. "oh you're gorgeous, aren't you—do you have a name? no, i suppose you don't, i don't see a collar—did he expect me to name you? i wonder why he gave you to me all of a sudden—there's something wrong with crowley, don't you think?"

the cat yawned. aziraphale cooed at it, then brought it upstairs, where he sat down in an armchair and let it curl in his lap. he was thinking about crowley's suggestion, about the tea and cats, and how it didn't seem like a bad idea when—

he sneezed.

"oh bugger," he said—

and sneezed again.

the cat looked up at him in a way that said what'd you do that for?

"i can't help it my dear," said aziraphale. "it appears my corporation is allergic to you."

the kitten responded by snuggling closer to aziraphale, who sneezed again.

"i'm afraid—" another sneeze "—i'm afraid this isn't going to work, my dear."

the cat gave him a sidelong glance that was just a little evil.

aziraphale sighed unhappily. his eyes were starting to water.

 

***

 

he called crowley. admittedly, he was a little drunk; he'd gone over to the pharmacy to pick up some allergy medicine and washed more pills than he'd needed down with a glass of brandy.

"listen, cro—crowley. i've been a bit prickly lately, and i wanted to apologize for that," he managed through a belch.

"yeah, well. you have been, just a little bit. apology accepted," crowley said.

aziraphale snickered a little.

"angel, have you been—drinking?"

"n-maybe."

"i can't believe you—drinking without me! what's gotten into you?"

"i don't know... i have no idea, my dear boy." his eyes were still watering—damn this corporation! "though i found out—i'm allergic to cats."

"oh, that—that's—i didn't know."

"s'alright. you didn't know."

"say, what do you think i should name it?" aziraphale said.

"what?"

"the cat. what should i name the cat? you never told me it had a name, and it doesn't have a collar, i've checked."

"you—you're allergic, and you want to keep it?"

"i want to name it. Heavens, do you ever listen?"

"right. er, how about fluffy?"

"that's horrible—can you imagine having a name like fluffy? it's like... oh i know what it's like—it's like if you'd kept calling yourself crawly."

crowley made a very audible shudder.

"well? you've always been the more creative one."

"i dunno," crowley said. "name it after someone you admire. one of those humans, maybe. like oscar or willie or that chap who taught you the gavotte."

"shame it's gone out of style."

"hm?"

"the gavotte," aziraphale lamented.

"yes, well. just because it's gone out of style doesn't mean you can't dance it anymore."

"but i don't have anyone to dance with!"

"teach me," the demon said. "teach me, angel, and i'll dance with you."

 

***

 

aziraphale woke with a hangover and the face of gabriel looking down at him. surprisingly, he did not regret the latter.

"eurgh," he said, sitting up. "fell asleep before i could sober up. don't recommend that."

"what's it like—sleeping?" gabriel said.

"well, it's a lot like dying, except when you dream, but you wake back up."

at this point, he became awake enough to realize he and gabriel weren't the only ones in the room. michael and sandalphon—and oh, even uriel, who hung uncertainly in the corner—were there, although they appeared a bit fuzzy.

aziraphale rubbed his eyes.

"i'm sorry. this is a bad time," said gabriel.

"no, not at all." aziraphale tried standing up and managed, much to his delight. "please, what can i do for you?"

"actually—we came to apologize," said gabriel.

"we're sorry," said michael.

"immensely," said sandalphon.

"for how we treated you," said uriel.

"i hope you can forgive us—more importantly, me," said gabriel, "though i certainly don't expect you to. i acted in a very unforgivable way, and it only took the end of the world for me to realize that you valued this world, that it was worth valuing, and that i valued you, aziraphale. my rudeness was unacceptable, and i am very sorry."

"well! gabriel..." aziraphale stammered. "i hardly know what to say."

"it took me awhile to realize that my lack of apology was probably what was forestalling your answer. i'm ashamed to admit it had never occurred to me to inform you of my... new outlook."

"that's... very kind of you," said aziraphale.

"and i want to make it clear: i would be very glad for you to come back Up. there's a promotion lined up for you and everything. paperwork's done. nothing for you to worry about."

"i... i believe i'll need a little more time, to, er, to think things through."

"of course."

"it's a very big decision."

"i understand."

"it's not that... i appreciate everything you've done, dear gabriel. i really do."

"who wouldn't?" said gabriel.

michael, uriel, and sandalphon chuckled. aziraphale tried to smile.

"i'll give you my answer shortly."

"i'll be waiting," said gabriel. he fixed his coat. "nice cat, by the way."

they took their leave.

aziraphale watched from the window as they rounded the corner and disappeared. he then moved swiftly—swallowed a couple of allergy pills with water this time, gathered the cat-which-had-yet-to-be-named into his arms, held his breath just to be safe (he didn't really need to breathe at all), and trotted towards the nearest bus stop. the bus that would pick him up would drive out of the city and in the direction of lower tadfield, though its driver would not know why. 

aziraphale, too, scarcely knew what he was doing. he only did know that he was acting in the most logical manner possible, and he had to do it before his heart caught up to his common sense.

crowley was really the one to blame for giving him the blasted cat.

 

***

 

the phone rang and rang... and rang. crowley cursed and hung up. he swung his legs for a second or two, then picked the phone up again. dialed aziraphale's number again. the ringtone stretched on—and on—and on—and on—and—

crowley slammed the phone down.

"bloody angel."

they'd gotten lunch together every week since Armageddon.

crowley's hands curled into fists. there was a pressure building in his head. he could sense it: something bad had happened. of course, the angel could just be out on an errand and would come back safe and sound, but for some reason crowley knew. something bad had happened. or would happen. the important thing was that it was something bad, and it concerned aziraphale.

the hiss started deep in his chest and built into a furious pounding of the sea.

"ssssssssSSSSSSSSSSSSS."

 

***

 

newt was in the middle of folding over a french omelet when there came a knock on the door of jasmine cottage.

"i got it, sweetheart," anathema called, and there was the sound of footsteps headed toward the front entryway.

all the same, newt's concentration had been broken—and so was the omelet. he cursed under his breath and set about turning the mess in the pan to scrambled eggs instead.

"come in, mr. fell," he heard anathema say.

he slid the scrambled eggs onto two plates and popped a couple of slices of bread into the toaster (electrical appliances were beginning to warm up to him, although he and computers still had a long way to go) before venturing out to meet their visitor. he wondered who this mr. fell could possibly be. he had quite a funny name.

turned out, it was that bloke from the airbase. and he had a cat with him.

"hi," newt said. he wanted to eye the man warily, but instead found himself feeling quite trusting.

"good morning," said mr. fell.

"newt," said anathema, "you remember mr. fell from—"

"the airbase. yeah," said newt.

"splendid," said the angel. "then we're all friends here."

"i'm sorry to be so blunt, but why have you come?"

"an excellent question. the most straightforward answer is that i hoped i could persuade you to look after this kitten."

"oh," said anathema. "for how long?"

"as long as it lives," mr. fell said sadly.

"so you're giving it away? to us."

"i'm afraid i'm very allergic."

"sorry to hear that."

"my mum was allergic to a gerbil i had when i was still in primary school," newt said. "she was miserable but never told me about it. one day i realized she kept sneezing because of my gerbil, so i let it go in a sewer."

"that poor gerbil!" mr. fell said.

newt shrugged. "it's basically a rat. rats live in sewers."

"that's quite a terrifying story but... will you take the cat?"

anathema and newt exchanged a glance.

"sure," said anathema.

"we'd love to," said newt.

"what's its name?"

"oh, er..." mr. fell fixed the tabby with a lingering look. "his name is anthony."

"that's a rather human-sounding name," newt pointed out.

"yes, well, he already responds to it, so changing it now would just confuse him. poor thing." the angel shoved the cat into anathema's arms and wiped at his eyes. "i must get going. lovely seeing you both. goodbye!"

"see you later."

he walked away at an alarming speed. newt turned to anathema.

"strange man."

she nodded pensively, her eyes going dark and calculating. newt loved that look on her. she turned the cat over. it squirmed at being wrong-side-up, and she let it jump out of her hands. it trailed over to the rug and sat, licking its paws.

"that's a female cat," anathema said.

newt laughed. "really!" he squatted, held his hand out in what he hoped was a comforting manner. "come here, anthony. here anthony here!"

the cat, miraculously, went to him.

 

***

 

crowley, it seemed, had nothing to worry about, although appearances are often deceiving. on his way to aziraphale's bookshop he got a call from the angel.

"it's a bit late for lunch," aziraphale said, sounding tinny. "might i tempt you to dinner instead?"

"oi, that's my line!"

and so they went to the ritz, where a table was once again miraculously open and for which a reservation had miraculously been placed. crowley opened a bottle of champagne, and the drink fizzed up nicely but didn't spill over.

"what're we celebrating, angel?"

"the Arrangement," aziraphale said.

"bloody hell, is it some sort of anniversary?"

"don't think so."

crowley relaxed.

aziraphale raised his glass for a toast. "to the past six thousand years."

"and all the years that have yet to come," crowley added.

aziraphale smiled, and it was a beautiful, winning, bastardly smile, and crowley had nothing to suspect.

"to friendship," said aziraphale.

they drank.

 

***

 

a slick and oily businessman knocked on the door of aziraphale's bookshop.

"i want this over as quick as possible," said the angel.

a wad of slick and oily cash exchanged hands, papers were signed and the businessman left.

aziraphale circled the inside again and again, upstairs and downstairs, skirting around the armchair, which still bore a fine coating of cat hair. of course, things might have turned out differently if crowley wasn't a demon. he pondered this over and over. but the facts did not change. there would always be a Heaven and a Hell.

crowley was a demon. demons did not love. crowley could not love.

it was easy, really. the transitive property. he couldn't understand why he had agonized over it for so long. aziraphale's eyes kept watering. bloody useless things human eyes were. with a growl, he miracled all the cat hair away.

aziraphale needed someone to love.

he would miss his books. he walked up and down the rows of them, laying a loving finger on their spines. he would miss hot cocoa and sushi and old records.

and crowley.

it was better this way, he realized. better to part while they were still friends.

aziraphale found himself standing before the telephone. trance-like, he dialed.

"i thought i should let you know—i was issued a flaming sword, but i gave it away."

 

***

 

crowley held the box of chocolates with white hands. he had parked the bentley askew and didn't even bother to fix it, and he strolled into the bookshop so fast without an ounce of slither in his step that he didn't notice the small sign that read sold beside the door.

inside, he found aziraphale and gabriel lighting candles.

"the sword won't be a problem, don't worry about it..." gabriel was saying, trailing off as soon as he saw crowley.

"you!" they both snarled at each other.

"w-wha—crowley?" said aziraphale.

"what's he doing here?" said gabriel.

crowley hid the chocolates behind his back, then after a brief consideration, made them disappear altogether. "what's that bastard doing here?"

"nothing—nothing is wrong." aziraphale said to gabriel, "he's a rather nice demon, dear. he stopped Armageddon, remember?"

"all the same, he's a demon!"

"what—is—going—on?" crowley spat.

"please leave, crowley," aziraphale said. "i can't bear for you to see this."

"i thought you said he wasn't courting you anymore!"

"i'm sorry—"

"you lied to me?"

"no! not at the time."

"so—what, you're getting married?"

"n-not exactly."

"tell me aziraphale! what the bloody hell do you think you're doing?"

aziraphale drew in a deep breath. "i'm leaving, crowley. i'm leaving and this is goodbye."

"for... eternity?"

"for eternity."

"for forever?"

aziraphale nodded. there was nothing in his eyes.

crowley felt dazed. it was almost the same as being very drunk, actually.

"what about your books?" he said, very quietly.

"they'll manage. they don't burn books much these days."

"what about the food and the wine and the opera? they don't have that in Heaven."

"i'll manage."

"but the bird—and, and the mountain. do you realize how long you'd be watching the sound of music. you hate the sound of music!"

"i can't hate it. even you don't hate it."

"but eternity! listening to the hills sing for eternity! you can't, angel..."

"it won't be so bad, crowley."

"no—no." his glasses slipped to the floor. "you sssaid we'd go on holiday. sssouth downss, remember? or anywhere else, wherever you like. you were gonna teach me the gavotte! i sssaid i'd dance with you—i sssaid it and i meant it—you can't—"

"i'm so sorry... my dear boy."

all the candles were lit and placed in their spots. crowley tried one last time.

"you can't leave thisss world behind, angel! who'sss—who'll thwart my wilesss?"

aziraphale looked at him sadly. "it's better this way, believe me."

"but—b-but—!"

aziraphale took gabriel's hand, and they stepped into the circle. with a sneer from gabriel, they were gone.

gone.

but i love you, crowley had wanted to say. he sunk to his knees instead.

it was a poor excuse, anyway.

 

***

 

the new angel's name was mezziel, but that didn't matter in the slightest. his first night on earth, his television, which was unplugged, had sparked to life and bellowed at him DEMON CROWLEY WILL BE AT THE DOOR IN FORTY-FIVE MINUTES, and a timer had appeared, counting down.

mezziel, who was very frightened by the news, for he had heard downright nasty things about the demon crowley, fled to a pub.

crowley found him there an hour later.

"right. some things we need to sort out," he said, sliding up on the bar stool beside mezziel, whose eyes went as wide as dinner platters.

"you're—"

"yes."

"the demon—"

"yes!"

"c-c-crowley—"

the demon sighed. "listen here. you keep to your side of things, and i'll do my bit. manchester and glasgow are mine, for example, and you've got edinburgh and shropshire, et cetera. under no circumstance, ever—do you understand me—under no circumstance do we ever meet up, discuss plans, or work together. i don't want to see your pudgy little face ever again after tonight. got it? any questions?"

of course, mezziel had none. he shivered long after crowley had gone.

 

***

 

"you seem tired, love."

aziraphale smiled a bit at gabriel. "yes, just some adjusting to do on my part. haven't been Up Here in so long."

"i understand. time works differently on earth."

aziraphale allowed gabriel to pull him in. the archangel's arms were meaty and thick, and aziraphale felt like he couldn't breathe—even though he didn't need to. breathing was another thing, along with good food and sleep, that didn't exist in Heaven. feeling like you couldn't breathe, though, still existed.

"we could go see the universe. i could show you around—been a bunch of times. i'm practically an expert."

aziraphale laughed because it was what gabriel expected him to do.

"it'll be like a holiday."

"i suppose... that might be nice," said aziraphale.

"let's go to alpha centauri, then—"

"no, not there," aziraphale said immediately.

gabriel's grip loosened. "why not, love?"

"bad... bad memories." the feeling of needing to breathe hadn't gone away, felt like thorns were sprouting in his chest. he tried smiling. "let's go somewhere else, anywhere else."

"alright, andromeda's nice too. bit farther away."

"perfect."

"when would you like to leave?"

"now."

gabriel laughed. "now?"

"yes—now."

"alright."

so they flew, holding hands, into the deep coldness of space.