Morning did come to the Garden eventually, and it was almost unrecognizable; the greenery had been shredded by the wind and hail, and a portion of the Garden drowned beneath the flooded canals and the temperature had dropped low enough for frost to have formed. It was utterly still once the wind died away, with no sign of any of the animals, as though they’d been spirited away in the night.
The Tree had fared no better than the rest of the Garden with most of the leaves shorn off or shredded, every bloom torn apart and scattered, and where there had been ripening fruit were blackened scorch marks.
It was well after dawn when the storm finally blew over and the two angels reluctantly left their sanctuary under the tree. They stared in horror at the devastation, at a loss for what to do.
“Why destroy the fruit?” murmured Crawly, realizing there wasn’t even any on the ground, just more scorch marks.
“Did they destroy the animals too?” worried Aziraphale, doing a quick magical search but not able to find anything at all within the Garden. Thankfully there weren’t any bodies or scorch marks but it was cold comfort.
“Seems a bit much, don’t it?” Crawly slid their hand into Aziraphale’s.
“Yes,” whispered Aziraphale, clasping their hand tightly. “I, uh, I guess we should we fix the wall?”
Crawly shrugged. “It’s something to do.”
They started from the center and worked outwards, with Aziraphale working towards the outer side and Crawly towards the inner. They were still there when the light shone down from above and the black-winged angel ended up overhearing the whole conversation Aziraphale had with the Almighty. When the holy light was gone Crawly awe-stepped through the wall, staring at the white-winged angel in shock. When they almost began speaking they waved them quiet and awe-stepped them back to the safety of the Tree. “Aziraphale! Must have put it down somewhere?!”
“I panicked!” Aziraphale wailed, wringing their hands together. “Why did I do that, oh, I’m so dead, aren’t I? Beyond dead. Destroyed!”
Crawly took Aziraphale’s hands. “No, hey, look at me. I’m pretty sure there would be no doubt if the Almighty were done with us, right? I mean,” they gestured at the destruction of the Garden, “right?”
Aziraphale let out a slow breath and nodded. “Right, right… so, I guess we wait?”
“It’s not like we can fix this.” Hand in hand they walked to their spot and sat, shoulders pressed together, shivering in the ominous quiet.
Unbeknownst to anyone, miraculously sheltered from the wrathful storm in a small cozy nook between the twined Tree trunks, there was one small fruit, just barely kissed with frost and rapidly growing to ripeness.
Pock. It was an infinitesimal noise that on any other day would have been impossible to hear, but in the unnatural silence it seemed thunderous. The angels looked up for the source of the noise, looking around as there was another minute sound of something hard bouncing off of wood. A rustle of leaves and, “Ow!” as something thumped off of Aziraphale’s head into Crawly’s right temple and the angels fumbled to catch it before it could hit the ground. Crawly held open their hand and stared in surprise. “An apple? But… the Tree's never grown apples before?”
It was small with a skin of mottled gold and red but it gleamed like it was made of glass. Aziraphale smiled sadly. “Maybe the Tree’s trying to make up for the potato thing?”
Crawly snorted and pulled out their little obsidian knife, splitting the apple neatly in two, giving half to Aziraphale. “Well, here’s to the Tree. To finally giving us the perfect fruit.”
“To the perfect fruit,” smiled the white-winged angel. They bit into it at the same time, and it was perfect, perfectly ripe, with the perfect ratio of sweet to tart, crisp and delicious. “Ow, what the...” Aziraphale spat out the hard thing they’d had the misfortune to bite down on.
“I do not like that!” Crawly complained, poking at the small dark oblong object that had gotten wedged between their teeth. “Did any of the others have seeds?” they asked, holding it up in the light and realizing it was iridescent.
Aziraphale stared at the seed in their palm, where it gleamed like nugget of gold. “No, never.”
The angels exchanged a confused look and turned to stare at the Tree, which suddenly lit up with an eldritch glow. Crawly sucked in a knowing breath and grabbed Aziraphale and awe-stepped them away, both of them getting knocked into each other and off their feet as the thunderous blast of the Tree being smited caught up with them.
When they got their wits back about them what they noticed first was a bright blue sky filled with non-corporeal angels. Second they noticed they were inside the still smoldering hollowed out base of the Tree. Thirdly they realized they somehow still had the tiny seeds clasped in their hands.
“Are they aware yet? Ah yes, we’re ready now,” said Sandalphon.
“The angels known as Aziraphale and, ahem ‘Crawly’ will stand judgment before the High Court of Heaven, for insubordination, dereliction of duty and the corruption of the humans. Now stand!”
Crawly’s lip curled in a sneer as they climbed to their feet and began to brush themself off, using the movement to drop the iridescent seed in front of Aziraphale. The black-winged angel flared their wings into a rather aggressive pose as a distraction, as Aziraphale quickly dropped the golden seed beside the iridescent one and covered them with a handful of dirt as they pushed themself up. The white-winged angel stepped on the little mound they had made, squared their shoulders and flared their wings as Crawly had, holding up their hand.
“I beg your pardon, uh…?”
A sigh. “Archangel Phanuel.”
“I beg your pardon, Archangel Phanuel, but I really must protest-”
“Silence! You were seen on numerous occasions to be walking around the Garden together, leaving no one guarding the Tree. There’s no way you can justify-”
“Sandalphon told us to stay together if we were ‘too cowardly to be alone’!” snapped Crawly.
“There were threats coming at us from beyond the wall!” protested Aziraphale.
“Yes, well, when there were no threats, one of you was to stay with the Tree,” sneered Phanuel.
“Really? And when were we supposed to rest?” asked Crawly, and in the second row someone groaned in dismay.
“What?” Phanuel asked suspiciously.
“They asked, when were we allowed to rest? I was told that I was to rest at night while Crawly was to guard. Big on rest, the Almighty, isn’t that correct?” Aziraphale asked the assembled angels. They took a deep breath and asked, “Was this a lie?”
If non-corporeal beings could gasp in outrage, the arrayed archangels would have. As it was the susurration they caused was enough to stir up the embers and ash around the two small corporeal angels. “Angels do not lie!”
Crawly did not look at Aziraphale. “Really? Did we forget what resting means, Aziraphale?”
“I don’t believe so, Crawly. For resting is to cease to work in order to renew and refresh oneself after a period of strenuous activity,” Aziraphale said primly, ignoring the heat on their face. “Is this not so?”
Another, louder susurration stirred up the ash and embers, dusting Crawly’s black robe with pale streaks and singeing Aziraphale’s white robe with dark smudges. “How could you be resting while together? You are too different!” said another of the Celestials.
“We are also alone,” said Aziraphale. “These bodies do not like being alone. So we have had to be alone together.” Aziraphale’s eyes were drawn to the stiffly upright figure beside them, their black wings still flared as though prepared for a fight. “But Crawly is very restful company, and I’d have it no other way.”
Crawly had to look at Aziraphale then, giving them just a hint of a smile. “Aziraphale never ceases to amaze me. I’d have gone absolutely mad with boredom if they weren’t here.”
“Boredom? What is this boredom?”
A look of consternation passed between them. How to explain something so mundane to beings who had never even dealt with gravity? “It’s a failing of the corporeal brain,” said Aziraphale. “There are only so many times it can process the same thing before it tires and rejects all further instances of the same processes until it has recovered. The animals experienced it to some degree and the humans were extremely prone to it.” Crawly gave them a look and Aziraphale shrugged, raising their eyebrows to ask if they had any better explanation. “It took everything we had to keep them occupied or they might have torn the Garden apart looking for something new to do.”
“For my money, it’s the gravity,” Crawly added with a smirk. “A soddin’ menace, to be honest.”
A great many scoffing noises issued forth at that, and Aziraphale recognized the gleam in Crawly’s eye. The white-winged angel realized immediately what the black-winged angel was thinking and found themself frowning to cover the grin that wanted to escape. “You’re probably right, my, er, compatriot. We should probably get a commendation for dealing with the gravity alone.”
“Ha, right?! And another promotion! No one else’s as brave as us, what with the gravity and the rocks and the Things, and the blasted animals everywhere.” A sidelong look at Hastur, who was churning with agitation had Crawly’s grin going even sharper. “We’re just lowly guards after all. It’s not as though you ever told us what to do, or sent us any help.”
“Just us two, the lowliest of the Host. Guarding the whole of the Almighty’s creation. Alone.” Beneath the calm tone, Aziraphale’s fury leaked through.
“Makes you wonder who made that decision, doesn’t it?” said Crawly. “And why?”
That silenced the assembled angels rather neatly, and if they had had bums and chairs, they might have been shifting around uncomfortably from the seats beginning to get a little hot. “Oh, well, we were, uh, quite confident in your abilities to deal with one small garden. I mean, you are angels after all.” said Phanuel.
“Small being entirely relative, of course,” Aziraphale said, almost apologetically. “Do you know how long it takes to move a body from one gate to the other at normal walking speed? Half the day! And while the awe-step is useful for speed, it uses twice the energy walking does. That means needing more rest.”
“And yeah, sure, we can go completely non-corporeal, but that takes even more energy, doesn’t it?” Crawly added. “Especially if we want a body to wear again when we’re done. Seems there’s a lot of paperwork and red tape to get issued a new one if this one gets broken, eh Uriel?”
“Unfortunately, since we needed to guard effectively in this dimension, we could not spend our days in the ethereal plane twiddling our wings to waft about amongst the stars, now could we? Gravity, like responsibility, is unavoidable, and if we must fight a corporeal Thing, so must we stay corporeal.”
“Isn’t that right Hastur?” Crawly called. “Isn’t that what you told me? Might not remember much, but that one’s pretty clear in my mind. Need a body to affect the world you told me, eh?”
There was a drawn out silence as the angels milled about, trying to figure out how they had lost the upper hand in what had seemed like a very clear cut case against the two small but defiant angels. Apparently none of them had decided to remember the futures in which they didn’t get their way. “It can’t be that bad.”
Aziraphale’s eyes blazed in triumph, but the angels did not recognize it and assumed the two corporeal angels folding in their wings and making them incorporeal was a sign of resignation. “You’re welcome to prove us wrong, if you think you can,” drawled Crawly, inventing the dare.
Another interesting fact about celestial beings: the more powerful they are, the harder the transition to corporeal form is for them to adjust to. Humans typically get a handful of years of crying and peeing their pants to grow into to their senses, and then a decade’s worth of fine tuning and another decade of putting on the finishing touches. Instead we have phenomenal cosmic power in an itty bitty living brain, suddenly dealing with gravity and locomotion and limited input that is still so very overwhelming; Touch! Balance! Vision! Sound! Temperature! And that’s not even taking into account the emotions involved.
What the Celestials didn’t really comprehend was that life has a way of, metaphorically speaking, getting under your skin. Each moment inside their bodies—the beating heart, the rush of blood, every puff of breath, all those senses wide open to a world they had never been able to experience before—was another anchor pulling them back. Life is a hard habit to break and even if they did break it, the changes wrought could not be undone. Memories mangled beneath the steamroller of the senses were compressed into the tentative footing on which those fragile new bodies stood.
This was exactly what Crawly and Aziraphale had been banking on, and the gamble had paid off.
It was complete and utter chaos. A cacophonous tangle of feathers and limbs and a hundred voices crying out in shock when aura-projecting wing brushed aura-projecting wing and sent overwhelming sensations through unfamiliar flesh. It was a hurricane of confusion and emotions and ancient beings being suddenly subjected to gravity and corporeality, and in the center of the storm stood two trembling angels who could not risk looking at each other for fear of losing control and the very dangerous game they were playing. Crawly was crying from the effort to not give in to the laughter that wanted to break free. “Now what?” Aziraphale murmured, wiping at their tears with one hand and surreptitiously sliding their other hand into Crawly’s under the cover of chaos.
“Now we wait and see what they remember.” They stood shoulder to shoulder, clasped hands hidden in the folds of their robes, waiting for the others to get themselves into some semblance of order. There were tears and laughter and a few, including Archangel Phanuel, abandoned their corporeal forms and fled in horror from the experience and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky when the sudden presence of Gabriel brought fearful silence.
“What is the meaning of this?!” they demanded.
There was a lot of sheepish shuffling and staring down at the ground and the universal shrug of corporeal bafflement traveled through the crowd like a ripple in a pond. They had enacted the first instance of doing foolish things without fully understanding why, a tradition still carried on today by people throughout the universe.
“They decided that to properly enact justice, the entire Court has to understand the limitations of corporeality,” said Aziraphale truthfully, beaming up hopefully. They had a shivering sense that things could go very badly indeed in the next few moments, and Crawly’s hand tightened convulsively in theirs, showing they also had that sense of foreboding. “Of course gravity does take some getting used to, just like you said!”
Gabriel... hesitated. This wasn’t at all how they premembered things going. “And what was the verdict?” they asked.
There was a moment of almost palpable panic before Crawly said, “They didn’t come to one. How could they, without you? You are part of the High Court, aren’t you?” A sea of relieved faces nodded in agreement.
“Oh.” Another hesitation. “Well… if that’s what the Court has decided.” Of course the form Gabriel took was slightly bigger than any of the others, and they staggered around a bit, apologizing profusely when their wings brushed against another’s. “So sorry, wow, that, uh, very intense, isn’t it? Oh, I’m shaking. Why am I shaking? And my face is wet? Why is my face wet? Is that normal?”
“Oh yes,” said Aziraphale kindly, squeezing Crawly’s hand warningly when they hissed in triumph. “Definitely takes a while to get used to, we’ve found! It’ll pass soon.”
“That, that’s good,” said Gabriel, almost poking themself in the eye if not for one of the others stopping them and murmuring lowly in their ear. “Right, the judgment! I… You, Guardians of the Garden...”
“Retired now, of course, now that there’s no Tree to guard,” said Crawly, not feigning the sadness in their voice as they gestured at the wreckage.
“Kicked the humans right out too,” added Aziraphale. “Seems like more than enough punishment, as weak and vulnerable as they are. Probably be discorporated soon, what with all the, er, snakes and uh, lions, and-” Aziraphale stopped when Crawly elbowed them sharply in the side. “Seems the Almighty has abandoned this project, doesn’t it?”
Gabriel frowned, but couldn’t remember why that didn’t seem quite right. “Well, yes, I suppose so. Right, uh, then that’s all settled! Your superiors will have new assignments for you, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll forget you ever met. Better yet, make sure they’re kept apart, hmm?” Gabriel said to the others in a voice they thought was quiet, before they all ascended back to Heaven, leaving just Aziraphale and Crawly amid the smoldering ruin of the Tree.
Before they could say or do anything, a bright white light shone down, blinding with its intensity and when it was gone, so too were the remains of the Garden, leaving them alone on a small nondescript outcrop in the middle of the desert that had grown around what had been known as the Garden of Eden. They also had their new assignments and they shared sad looks before unclasping their hands. “I’m to work in the library,” said Aziraphale lowly.
“Back to working with the weather workers,” Crawly sneered. Most of them were just air-headed little Elementals that couldn’t even string a sentence together. “Could be worse.”
“Yes,” shivered Aziraphale. “Much, much worse.”
“I guess we’d better go.” They stared at one another for a long moment before falling into a hug.
Aziraphale couldn’t risk saying all they wanted to say for fear of watchers, but dared to whisper, “Always.”
“Always.” They turned away from each other and ascended back into heaven.