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Ineffable Bastards

Chapter Text

Crowley led Aziraphale off the bus, waiting until it had pulled away to turn towards their building, feeling a twinge to know the Bentley was gone. They felt another twinge when they looked at Aziraphale who was staring up at the building with a distant blankness of expression that Crowley understood all too well. “C’mon, angel, I think we could both use a drink.”

“Yes,” said Aziraphale hoarsely. The angel felt strangely distant from their feelings as they trailed behind the demon into the flat, which was both nothing like and exactly what Aziraphale had expected from Crowley. It was sleek and sharply modern and also coldly impersonal in most ways, aside from the odd pieces of art and the plants. The art got a few blinks from Aziraphale but there was no energy to analyze what they might mean after the day week decade they’d had.

The kitchen was slick with creamy white marble and terrazzo tiles, ebony cabinets that gleamed and stainless steel appliances that had never been used or even plugged in, though they were well stocked with food and drink. Crowley grabbed a bottle at random and a couple of glasses, bringing them over to the chrome and glass table with a small collection of colorful orchids in the center. “Salute.”

Aziraphale huffed and lifted their glass to toast before downing the drink and holding it out for a refill. Crowley obliged and they sat in silence for a while before Aziraphale asked, “Now what?”

“Now… I fall down and sleep for a while and you, you don’t really sleep do you? You should try it, great for getting away from your thoughts.”

Aziraphale sighed but shook their head. “I don’t think that will work for me, I’m afraid. I just keep thinking about Agnes’ prophecy. Face the fire.” Aziraphale shuddered a little. “You know what that means, don’t you?”

Crowley nodded, pulling off the sunglasses and rubbing at their tired eyes. “You’re in big trouble, angel.”

“We,” Aziraphale corrected, smiling a little when Crowley gave them a look. “I’ve toed the line for a long time, but you’ve danced around it, my dear, to the point that I’m not sure they even know where they drew the line to begin with. If heaven is going to ‘fire’ me, what’s going to happen to you?” Saying it aloud had tears burning in their eyes and they wiped at them hastily.

“Eh, they’re not that imaginative,” said Crowley in an effort to soothe, staring down into their glass. “An eternity in the pits being subjected to your worst nightmares. But it never works out that way,” Crowley said with a sneering laugh, finishing their drink and pouring them both more. “Eventually it’s not scary anymore! There’s only so many times you can relive-” Crowley broke off their words, darting a look at Aziraphale and looking away at the understanding in their eyes. “Anyway, I know the elemental who runs the pits, owes me a favor actually, I could get out like that,” they boasted, snapping their fingers and making another full bottle.

“I don’t think it will be quite so easy for me,” said Aziraphale. “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of an angel being put to true death before. How lovely to set a precedent.”

That startled a laugh from Crowley. “Never thought you’d be one for gallows humor.”

“Never thought I’d be the one on the gallows,” Aziraphale retorted with a grim smile. “I wonder how they’ll get a hold of the hellfire? I suppose the elementals could do it, but I know they’d make a rather big fuss.”

“Wait, what, they’re going to use hellfire?” Crowley demanded.

“That’s the only thing angels are really vulnerable to,” Aziraphale reminded them. “Same with demons and holy water I assume?”

Crowley nodded but their thoughts were whirling as an idea popped into their head but exhaustion had it whirling away again. “I need sleep. Are, is that-”

“You should rest,” Aziraphale said lowly, and used one of their lesser known powers to cover up that they were lying when they said, “I’ll be alright. I can just miracle up a book to pass the time.”

“Well, make yourself comfortable,” yawned Crowley, retreating to their bedroom.

Aziraphale let out a shuddering breath and pressed their hands to their eyes before taking the bottle and glass with them and wandering around the flat. Finding what remained of Ligur was unpleasant but the angel quickly miracled it away, laughing a little to see the opulent desk and chair. “Oh, Crowley.” They left the office and continued their wandering, trying to find a place that didn’t feel too big and empty.

They went past an oddly familiar statue of a giant bird and then down another hall, surprised to find themself in a glass-walled room that faced the east. Frosted glass gave the room privacy, but it was hardly necessary with the veritable jungle of plants crowded in front of the windows. There was a small potters’ table near the door stacked with empty plant pots and a half-empty bag of potting soil and Aziraphale set the bottle and glass down next to them.

They considered Crowley’s words and snapped their fingers, miracleing up a chaise lounge against the empty western wall. They also conjured up a set of sleep clothes straight out of a production of A Christmas Carol: a sleep shirt, night cap, slippers and a big plush robe to keep the chill out. Aziraphale changed into them and quickly realized they didn’t need the robe, or the night cap, not with how warm Crowley kept the flat. So dressed, they flicked off the lights before stiffly settling themself onto the lounge. Fidgeted around and made a couple pillows. Finally pulled the robe over themself as a blanket and curled onto their side, facing the windows, just barely able to make out the outline of the plants against the sky.

In the soft darkness, tears came then, and Aziraphale let them fall.

Crowley stared into the darkness and swore sharply. They had slept for maybe ten minutes before waking up, and no matter how or where they tried to sleep, they couldn’t. Frustrated, Crowley lurched from the bed with another curse and went in search of Aziraphale and another drink.

Their search started to get a little frantic when they couldn’t find the angel anywhere in the flat, until they heard the quiet sound of sobbing and the demon followed it to the sun room. Silently they eased open the door and stepped inside, easily finding the angel in the darkness and gathering them into their arms. The angel held on tightly and the demon pressed their face into the angel’s shoulder, wishing they could cry too. Wishing for a lot of things that couldn’t be.

When the tears began to subside Crowley started to withdraw but Aziraphale whispered brokenly, “Please,” and Crowley had no resistance to that. Eventually they ended up curled together on the lounge, just holding on to one another, neither saying anything, not know what to say or how to say it.

Sleep crept upon them both and soothed away some of the sharp edges of the day.

Crowley awoke slowly and then with a start as memory returned and with it an idea. They opened their eyes, unsure if they were disappointed or relieved to find themself alone on the lounge, tucked under a plush tartan robe that was still warm from Aziraphale’s presence.

They lingered in the warmth, letting the idea stew as they decided what to do about what had happened with Aziraphale. Resignedly they decided to pretend nothing had happened, as they had done so many times before. It was the work of a moment to miracle themself back into their normal clothes before they eased out of the sun room. They found Aziraphale in the kitchen, still nursing the same bottle, though it was significantly lower than it had been.

“Angel...”

“Hmm?” Aziraphale looked up from pouring themself another drink and slowly lowered the bottle back to the table at the glint shining in Crowley’s eyes. “What?”

I’m immune to hellfire.” Crowley did not mention that it still hurt like, ha ha, hell, but it wouldn’t kill them, and if they kept their cool, it wouldn’t even discorporate them.

Aziraphale snorted and started to take another drink. “Of course you’re immune, you’re a demon!” When the implication finally penetrated, the angel blinked in realization and shook their head. “But...”

“No, hear me out,” said Crowley, pacing as the idea took hold. “We can switch corporeal forms. You know it’s all but impossible for them to tell us apart when we make an effort. If we actually switch? They’d never know! Except that you don’t die!” They leaned on the table to push the point home. “Then I call in my favor and you’re out before you know it. Knowing them, they’ll probably still be reading my ‘crimes’ by the time I’m dusting the ash off your coat.” They were grinning down at Aziraphale, who was staring at them with wide desperate eyes. “We can do it. Trust me.”

Aziraphale sucked in a breath and looked away, rubbing at their eyes again. “Crowley, I… I can’t ask this of you. If they figure out that I’m, that you’re-”

“They’re already going to punish us,” Crowley said, impulsively taking Aziraphale’s hands. “If Agnes is right, and she’s been right about everything else, then they’re planning to kill you with hellfire right now.”

Aziraphale stared down at their hands and then back up at Crowley, seeing the desperation in their eyes and slowly nodded in agreement. It took a few tries before they could speak and they asked, “How?”

“Well, er, uh, it’s uh, I mean, it’s just skin and bone, right? We didn’t used to have them, they can, could, give us new ones if we broke them, so…” Crowley looked down at the angel’s hands still clasped in their own and blurted, “Kissing.”

“W-what?”

“I mean, like reverse kissing? The, the celestial version, with the wossname-”

“Auras?”

“Yeah, right, so we figured out ages ago how to keep our auras contained inside, so like maybe if we pull our auras in and push the bodies away at the same time? But also the opposite?”

Aziraphale blinked and had to wonder at themself when they realized they understood what Crowley meant even if the earthbound nature of the language was severely lacking in useful verbiage. “I think I understand. If we withdraw from our forms so that they are almost unbound from us, while pulling at the other form...”

“Yeah! No reason it can’t work, I mean, it’s worth a shot, right?”

“What if they make us reveal our wings?” Aziraphale worried. “Or ask us things we wouldn’t know or-”

“Angel, they’re not going to do that,” Crowley scoffed. “When was the last time you saw another angel with their wings out, aside from those ridiculous grooming-parties everyone hates? I haven’t seen a demon’s wings in, well never, beside my own. And we can practice the important stuff, right? Tell each other who’s who and all that.” They jiggled Aziraphale’s hands and gave them a cajoling smile. “Right?”

“We might not be able to,” said the angel, staring down at their hands again. “Then what?”

“Ugh, angel, just try.” It took a lot of concentration, and a dash of desperate belief, and they were looking at themselves. Crowley-as-Aziraphale quickly let go of their hands to stare down at their borrowed body, flexing their right hand, disturbed by the surprising weight of Aziraphale’s golden ring. “Well, see, so.”

“So,” said Aziraphale-as-Crowley, rubbing at their right temple where the slightly raised snake mark felt oddly tight and slightly numb. They took the sunglasses and slipped them on and after a moment, unfurled their wings, relieved to see that they had taken on Crowley’s blackened plumage. “That’s useful.”

Crowley-as-Aziraphale also unfurled their wings, staring at the unfamiliar white plumage and shaking their head. “I didn’t expect that.”

“All to our advantage, my, er, angel,” Aziraphale-as-Crowley said, cringing over the stutter. “We need to practice. But...” They looked across at themself, seeing Crowley in the posture and the expression and tried to channel some of the confidence the demon always seemed to have in spades. “Since this might be our last night on earth, would you give me the honor of grooming your wings?” The angel hid their smile at the shock the flashed across their own face. “You can tell me what I need to know while I do. And, er...”

“Only if, uh, only if you’ll let me return the favor,” Crowley-as-Aziraphale responded, feeling completely off kilter at seeing the angel play them. I wish I was actually that cool. Do they really see me that way? When they nodded Crowley turned the chair and straddled it, closing their eyes when the angel began to gently soothe the ruffled feathers. “Alright, so, here’s the main players...”

They had just switched places in the chair when something happened that made both of them shudder. “What was that?” asked the demon, sending out their senses but not detecting anything hostile in the area.

The angel was doing the same, but also cast a couple of quick spells, sucking in a shocked gasp at the result they got. “He undid it.”

“Undid what?”

Everything,” said Aziraphale, looking up into their own eyes and shaking their head at the oddness of that. “Adam, he put it back how it was somehow. It wasn’t spell magic.”

“So he wasn’t totally back to being just human then,” said Crowley lowly, gently running their fingers through the angel’s blackened feathers. “Do you think he...”

“Only one way to find out.”

The sun was just beginning to light the sky when Crowley-as-Aziraphale finished grooming their wings, both of them silent as they mentally prepared themself to enact the plan they’d decided on. The demon would go to the bookshop to see what there was to see, while the angel would wait at the flat, and then they would meet in the park and see if anything happened. As they pulled their hands away from the angel’s blackened feathers Crowley blurted, “I’ll find you.”

Aziraphale stood, doing their best to keep themself collected as they nodded. Crowley turned to go but Aziraphale reached out and took their hand for a moment, waiting until their eyes met. “I’ll find you too.”

Crowley gave them a small smile. “I’ll see you in the park, angel.”

“I know you will.”

Chapter Text

“G’morning, angel,” greeted Crowley, grinning when Aziraphale twitched and spun around. They leaned against the door, attempting for casual and just barely missing the mark. Everything had been missing the mark since the Armageddoff, especially after wearing the angel’s seeming while toasting in hellfire in heaven. Seeing the sneering loathing in the archangel’s expressions as they told Aziraphale to die. The only good of Crowley’s return to heaven had been wiping the sneers off their smug bastard faces. But there was a lingering itch between Crowley’s shoulder-blades that felt an awful lot like a bullseye.

Not a good morning,” snapped Aziraphale, flustered by Crowley’s sudden appearance and everything else, so much of Everything Else. Nervous energy had Aziraphale tidying up the nearest surface in a desperate attempt to keep Everything contained. Aziraphale wanted to go back to the old routine, but they were renegades now, with no one to order them but themselves and they were feeling… lost. Especially after wearing Crowley’s seeming amid the jeering crowd in hell. It had been a revelation, hearing the fear covered bravado of the fallen, as they’d watched one of their own be sentenced to obliteration for daring to rebel again. Something had followed the former angel from that place, a sense that something very not good was brewing.

“Under the circumstances, every morning we see is a good morning,” Crowley drawled, flinging themself onto the couch, sprawling as usual. Couldn’t help but smile at Aziraphale’s put upon sigh, leaning back to watch Aziraphale bustle about and quickly realizing that something else was bothering them. They kept looking, looking away, shifting the same few papers back and forth, a crease of worry between their brows.

“Tell me?” Aziraphale froze at those soft words, staring down at the table, hands beginning to tremble, bringing Crowley from sprawl to upright in seconds flat, the dark glasses sliding down the former demon’s nose at the sudden movement. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything!” And so much of that Everything was centered on Crowley, on feelings that had always shimmered below the surface and were repressed by fear and- Aziraphale groaned, eyes closed to keep Crowley from seeing the tears welling there, from revealing too much. It was all too much. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Really now, angel, I know it’s been rough-” Crowley was up and at Aziraphale’s side, at a loss for what to do for their distraught friend. There weren’t any words for what they’d been through together, and now there was a new weight between the old friends, a feeling of fragility that made Crowley worried. Worried, ha! Admit it old snake, you’re terrified!

“Rough!” squawked Aziraphale, eyes opening of their own volition to pierce Crowley with an incredulous stare. “Rough?! You…! We could…! And the…! And then the…!” Words wouldn’t come, not when stirred up with incredulousness and the sudden drumming of a treacherously hopeful heart at having Crowley standing so close, lovely eyes full of concern… and Aziraphale longed for more. So much more. Oh. Oh dear.

“You know what you need? A nice cup of tea, or maybe something a bit stronger, hmm?” Crowley cajoled in a barely concealed panic, guiding Aziraphale to a chair and hastily retreating to whip up a nice hot pot of tea with a splash of something else to help settle Aziraphale’s nerves. Busy hands meant Aziraphale couldn’t see what Crowley didn’t want them to see. Whatever that was. Probably nothing. Need a good long nap, that’s all. Century or two should do it. Right? Right. Nothing to do with that growing itch between the shoulder-blades. Or other complicated things. “There you go.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Aziraphale conceded, accepting the cup with a small grateful smile, relieved that the trembling and pounding heart had subsided while Crowley was making the tea. “It has been a bit of a trying morning. There was a letter in the post, some official thinking I haven’t paid some bill or another!”

“Really?” Crowley relaxed back onto the couch, sipping from a cup of considerably more ‘splash’ than tea while the ex-angel complained about the letter and early morning visit of said official, and it was almost like being back to before, until they were interrupted by someone entering the shop. Aziraphale hesitated, and Crowley could see the internal battle they waged for a second before they pushed out of the chair with a murmured apology. The former angel graced Crowley with a tiny grateful smile when the former demon also stood up and gestured for Aziraphale to lead the way back into the main area of the shop.

“Ah, Mrs. Ogg, I wasn’t expecting you today!” Aziraphale visibly perked up, surprising Crowley by greeting the old woman warmly. She was round and quite wrinkled, with a cackling laugh and the lingering scent of cat and pipe tobacco on her clothes. “This is my, ah, my friend, A. J. Crowley. Crowley, Mrs. Gytha Ogg.” She gave Crowley a knowing once over and a grinning wink before letting Aziraphale shuffle her away to talk in semi-privacy.

They conspired together near one of the shelves, Aziraphale beaming when the old lady cackled at something they’d said. Crowley slouched against the nearest shelf with feigned disinterest, straining to hear what they were talking about, but the ex-angel knew the shop, and Crowley, too well to allow eavesdropping. They talked for a few moments before she pulled a small paper wrapped package from her ratty bag, which Aziraphale quickly attempted to hide, slipping her a small fat envelope which she made vanish with much more success. They began moving back towards the door and Crowley made sure to not be looking in their direction. “I appreciate this very much, Mrs. Ogg. I really never thought I’d get my hands on it. Do let me know if you find any other interesting finds!”

“Coo-ee, almost forgot, found something odd when I was out and about and it made me think of you,” she announced, digging around in the bottom of her bag. She held up the singed scrap of paper in triumph before dropping it into Aziraphale’s outstretched hand. Crowley peered at the paper, feeling a shiver a dread. That bloody witch and her bloody prophecies- A quick flare of the senses made it clear that the Ogg woman was a witch as well, but her quick little warning look forbade probing any deeper and Crowley pointedly looked away, feigning a yawn. There was a moment more of muted talking before they parted with a handshake and Aziraphale waved at her from the door.

“How lucky was that?” Aziraphale led Crowley back into the back, filing away the paper for later and settling back into their chair. The reformed angel sipped their tea with a pleased sigh that almost turned into a hiccup when Crowley’s leg brushed against their own as they sprawled on the couch. I just need to keep busy with bookish things and stop wishing for… It has been rough, that’s all, and things will settle down now. Back to how things were.

“Eh? What was that all about?” Crowley asked, trying for bored disinterest and failing, trying to ignore the way Aziraphale had almost inhaled their tea when Crowley had dropped back onto the couch and their legs had touched. Stupid. The way they’d flinched but hadn’t drawn away. Stupid fool. Looking for meaning in everything. One day you’ll go too far, but that’s your pattern isn’t it? Stupid soddin’ fool.

The reformed angel made a concerted effort to act relaxed. “That, my dear, was me reacquiring a signed first edition I had the misfortune to sell back in 1904! Now I know I really shouldn’t have engaged Mrs. Ogg’s services, but really, the estate was being entirely unreasonable! I offered a perfectly acceptable amount for the book six months ago-”

“That, what, you what?” stuttered Crowley, all sorts of impossibilities coming to mind, glasses slipping down as they sat up to stare at the reformed angel in surprise. Those who could hear thoughts, had they been metaphysically eavesdropping on the not-a-demon-anymore, would have heard the mental equivalent of a record scratch noise. “Did you hire her to steal for you?”

“Goodness, no! Crowley, really, the things you say sometimes!” There was a blush darkening the ex-angel’s cheeks and a pointed lack of eye contact that had Crowley gasping in amazement.

“No… you didn’t? You did! Angel!” A shocked little laugh escaped Crowley.

“Under no circumstances would I ever resort to stealing,” Aziraphale chided, but the blush was not fading. “I… May have hired her to… apply leverage.” There was definitely no way Aziraphale would meet Crowley’s eyes while confessing such a shameless act.

“Now, tell me!” demanded Crowley gleefully. “What did she do?”

“Er, well… She’s a, well, you sensed she was a witch I assume? Well she, in her youth-” The retired angel could not stop blushing as the tale unfolded, of how Mrs. Ogg, while now a (mostly) respectable well known nurse and midwife, had in her younger days been a little bit easy with her affections. And very easy to talk to. With a very good memory. And a penchant for writing things down. And not at all shy about her interest in making some money in these hard times.

“I am shocked, Aziraphale!” Crowley could barely keep from chortling, seeing the poor ex-angel in a dither over something so mundane as indulging in a little bit of “leverage”.

Laughter turned to regret at Aziraphale’s dismayed expression and Crowley’s heart ached to see the tears well in the ex-angel’s eyes. “It was terrible of me, wasn’t it? It was just a book, but I wanted it and they’d made me angry, refusing to sell it to me. I told myself they deserved it. Oh Crowley, what am I to do? I really have fallen, haven’t I?”

“Give over, you have not fallen,” Crowley scolded, voice hoarse with anger and yes, resentment, pressing a black handkerchief into Aziraphale’s hands. “You really think something this mild, this human, would do it? After Eden? After six thousand years of fraternizing with a fiend? After stopping the bloody apocalypse in spite of the Great Plan? You’re too damned nice to fall!”

“Am I?” It felt like a slap, the way Crowley said the word, but the reformed angel couldn’t say they didn’t deserve it. Nice. They had thrown that word, dagger-like, at Crowley quite often. “But I’m not particularly kind, am I Crowley?” Aziraphale stared down at the black cloth twisted between their fingers, the silence dragging on and the words spilled out almost against their will.

“I’ve been terrible to you; selfishly risking your safety, letting you rescue me from my own folly time and again but always feeling superior because I was the nice one. I had picked the ‘right’ side and just had to rub your nose in it. Some friend I am!” Self-loathing brought a new sharpness to Aziraphale’s voice. “Angels shouldn’t take advantage of other people’s kindness! So, I’ve never been much of an angel either, have I?” Aziraphale’s mutable blue eyes, full of unshed tears and enough feelings to drown an old snake twice over, looked up beseechingly. “I am so sorry Crowley, I-”

Mmrring! They both started, staring at the dusty old phone. Crowley’s throat felt as dry as a desert, a lump formed where unspoken words had lodged and stuck. Desperate for escape, afraid of what the reformed angel’s next words would be, Crowley leaped to answer when the phone rang again. A few coughs cleared the lump enough to allow a bored, “Hallo?”

“A. Z. Fell?” It was a woman’s voice, sharp and old and clearly meaning business.

“No, that would be my associate,” Crowley drawled, daring a glance at Aziraphale, who was beginning to pull back from whatever blasted precipice that had been. “Be along shortly. May I ask who’s calling?”

Crowley waited, and waited, and just when it seemed like the caller had hung up, “This is Miss E. Weatherwax. I have a package for A. Z. Fell.”

“Great, we’ll come right over to pick it up. Ciao!” There was a quick affronted gasp but Crowley had hung up before she could respond, twirling on Aziraphale with a slightly manic smile. “Lovely Miss E. Weatherwax with a package for you. Get your coat.”

Even with Crowley’s prodding it took Aziraphale a good ten minutes to get sorted out. Directions given, Crowley zoomed out into traffic, staring stonily at the road as they drove out into the countryside, Freddy Mercury serenading them. Thoughts of a very disquieting nature would not stop churning in the not-a-demon-anymore’s mind, going around and around like some sort of hel- infer- awful carousel. And beneath it all, the itch was becoming harder to ignore.

They rode without speaking for almost the entire drive until Aziraphale realized the danger they might be going into. Especially in Crowley’s case. “I really don’t know that you should come in,” Aziraphale said, darting little worried looks in Crowley’s direction. The reformed angel was having a hard time reading the expression Crowley made in response, something between a grimace and sneer. Oh dear, if I can’t even say this without ruining things, Aziraphale couldn’t help but think, hands fisted in coat pockets to hide their trembling, how can I dare say any of that? “It’s just, Miss Weatherwax is...”

There was a drawn out pause that finally pulled Crowley’s eyes over to Aziraphale, looking hunched and miserable in the passenger seat. Need a distraction or we’ll be going over the edge for sure this time. “She can’t be that bad.”

“She is,” Aziraphale insisted with a small shudder, trying to focus on the matter at hand in spite of the growing ache over the reformed angel’s heart. “I usually hire someone to get my packages from her. Keep my distance.”

“Wot, another witch?” guessed Crowley, making a dismissive noise at the ex-angel’s hesitant nod. “You’ve got a right little coven going on,” the ex-demon snorted, garnering a halfhearted mewl of protest from Aziraphale. “So what’s this one do, hex the pensioners into selling you their dusty old tomes? Threaten them with warts and uh, what, bunions? That’s a thing, right?”

“She does no such thing,” Aziraphale scolded primly, rising to the bait as always. And feeling just the slightest bit reassured; their banter was solid ground, basically bedrock, while everything else about their strange friendship had turned into a sucking quagmire of doubts and regrets. “I will have you know that she’s a craftswoman and herbalist. She keeps bees. Very respectable.”

“Bees eh,” said Crowley, pulling up in front of the cottage Aziraphale indicated. It was on the edge of some nowhere little village built around the ruins of some ancient keep that hadn’t seen better days since a millennia earlier. The cottage itself looked to be even older than the keep, the front garden packed to overflowing with plants growing in lush but orderly fashion, garnering grudging respect from Crowley. The cottage’s land sat on the edge of a seemingly ancient forest Crowley had been sure didn’t actually exist in the world anymore. “You know what they say about women who keep beessss,” Crowley hissed, just to tease some good humor back into their friend’s expression.

“They don’t say anything about women with ‘beessss’,” Aziraphale protested, trying not to smile at Crowley’s playful smirk. Aziraphale frowned and quickly clambered out of the car when Crowley hopped out and started for the gate. “Wait!” The ex-angel breathed a sigh of relief when Crowley turned without touching the old wood. “We’ll go round back. She usually leaves the packages out back for pickup. Maybe she’s out on business,” said Aziraphale with a bit of hope.

They went around the side, past a battered old Fiat, to where the back garden overwhelmed them. Eyes closed against the dizzying riot of colors, Crowley inhaled the green freshness and the sweetness of the rainbow of blooms, and felt for just a moment, like they were somehow back then, with the glory of the Garden around them. With a shudder Crowley shook off the feeling, though the smells were inescapable. It was almost a relief to see poisonous herbs that hadn’t existed in that idyllic place. “Interesting choice of plants.”

Aziraphale had walked farther into the garden and was still enraptured by the scents and felt a little dazed to realize Crowley had spoken. “Oh, um, sorry, what did you say?”

“I said, interesting choice of plants,” Crowley repeated, pointing to a pretty array of blooms. “Foxglove, Nightshade, Rosy Periwinkle, all poisonous.”

“Most medicine is.” They both turned towards the voice, though Crowley could barely see her through the plants. It was another old woman, this one tall and thin, her steel gray hair pulled back in a severe bun. She gave Aziraphale a brisk nod. “I got your things ready, same as last time.”

Aziraphale let out a relieved breath when that was all she said. “I really do appreciate it, Miss Weatherwax,” the reformed angel smiled, moving closer to the porch. In exchange for a thick envelope, which vanished just as quickly as Mrs. Ogg’s had, she held outa battered old crate stacked with jars and things. When she went to stack another one on top, Aziraphale’s hand slipped.

Crowley jumped to help, catching the top crate before it could topple. The ex-angel’s grateful look had Crowley ginning slyly. “Careful there, angel, wouldn’t want to upset the beesss.” The sly grin vanished completely when Miss Weatherwax gave them A Look and suddenly there was a sharp edge to everything and the smell of ozone in the air. “What the-”

“You keep strange company, friend,” she said coldly to Aziraphale, who looked extremely worried, but her eyes never left Crowley, who didn’t dare move. Some primordial instinct knew better than that. Six thousand years seemed like a blink compared to what was in her eyes as she stared down though Crowley into G- Sa- Someone only knew where.

Aziraphale set down the crate and hurried to distract the witch from whatever it was she was doing to Crowley, who looked to have turned to stone. “Oh, Miss Weatherwax, really, Crowley isn’t- I mean, yes, technically, but at heart-” The words stuttered away as she turned her gaze on Aziraphale, who went cold with fear. I knew coming here was a bad idea. Why do I always let Crowley tempt me into things I know we’ll regret later? “Leave Crowley alone,” Aziraphale got out before breathing became impossible. But then Crowley was pressed between Aziraphale and the witch, and Aziraphale sagged against Crowley’s shoulder, gasping.

Miss Weatherwax blinked, then blinked again, seeing far more than either of them realized, and the dangerous feeling went out of the air. “Is that the way of it then,” she said, unfazed by Crowley’s silent snarling glower. “You’ve got a nerve, I’ll give you that, old snake.” Aziraphale stiffened at her tone, more defenses for Crowley ready to jumble out but the witch just shook her head at the pair of them. “At least you chose the right side this time.”

She snorted in amusement at their shock. “Imagine, thinking you’re the only ones, in a world this big and old. Did you think we wouldn’t notice what was happening in our own back yard?” She shook her head at them again when neither of them answered and clomped back into the cottage, closing the door with a faint dismissive thud.

They didn’t dawdle, scurrying to the car with the crates and peeling away down the road almost before Aziraphale had closed the door. Crowley seared the former angel with a look. “That was no mere witch!”

Aziraphale’s eyes were wide but weren’t focused on the road but instead inward, thinking furiously. “She… oh. Yes, I suppose that’s true-”

“Angel,” growled Crowley.

“Well we don’t mix do we? We and the… others. They’re mostly lumped in with yo- with demons, but they’re not, though, are they? Can’t have Fallen when you weren’t Risen to begin with.” Aziraphale’s mind was racing. “I mean, I know we’re not supposed to talk about the before but we all know there was one even if we can’t remember it. We fought some of them off, didn’t we, when the garden was new? And there are other books, of course, older ones...”

Crowley was about to growl again when understanding hit. Other supernatural beings, other gods. “What, are you saying she-”

The reformed angel shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know what she is. She said she was a witch so I always felt it was best left alone.”

“Whose side is she on?”

Aziraphale laughed faintly. “I think she’s on whatever side she wants to be on. I’m just glad she’s not on their side.”

Their eyes met and held before they both broke away with a shudder at the idea, staring silently out at the road as they made the long drive back. One more thing to worry about. But the big thing is over for now, thought Crowley, darting a glance at Aziraphale, who looked a million miles away. Has to be. But that worrying itch between Crowley’s shoulder blades only seemed to grow with that thought.

Back at the bookstore Aziraphale made an effort to shake off the worries that were beginning to make their wings itch, ignoring Crowley’s restless prowling and uncrating the items Miss Weatherwax had prepared while Crowley poured them both drinks. It wasn’t like the not-a-demon-anymore to linger, but Aziraphale wasn’t about to complain. The not-an-angel-anymore didn’t really want to be alone either. “Ooh, excellent, I’ll certainly have enough to finish the manuscripts.”

Crowley looked over at Aziraphale’s happy cooing, curiosity far too strong to keep away. “What is all this then? Looks like old fashioned ink?” The cap was open and Crowley sniffed before Aziraphale could stop their impulsive friend, who regretting it immediately. “Bloody hell-o, the really old stuff!” A violent sneeze wracked Crowley’s whole body, hard enough to ruffle even non-corporeal feathers and send their glasses flying across the room.

“It is,” beamed Aziraphale, radiating innocence at Crowley’s accusatory glare, slipping the offending bottle from Crowley’s hand. Somehow they had managed to not spill any of the ink. “And reed pens, quills of course, wouldn’t be accurate with modern pens-”

When the rolls of aged parchment were unfurled across Aziraphale desk, Crowley realized exactly what the reformed angel’s plan was. And when the ancient tattered manuscript was tenderly revealed, there was no containing the wicked smile. “A-zira-phale,” the former demon mock scolded as they slid the glasses back on, leaning over the desk and blocking the light so that the reformed angel had to look up. “You’ve become a forger!

That blush was back. “I most certainly have not!” protested Aziraphale, avoiding Crowley’s smirking gaze. “I am preserving them!”

“Really,” drawled Crowley, twisting around to get a look at the tattered parchment. “There’s barely anything there to pressserve. But enough there for referencesss,” came the low teasing hiss.

Still blushing, knowing Crowley was more right that wrong, Aziraphale let out a huff. “Well if I don’t then this will be lost to time and no one will get to see the rest of Sappho’s poems,” the reformed angel said, very secure in their reasoning. “I only ever got to meet her once but I remember all her poems, and it’s not like I’m selling them for profit-”

“Or prophet,” interjected Crowley, grinning widely at Aziraphale’s put upon expression. “So if not for gain then for what?”

“History. The betterment of human kind!” Aziraphale looked down at the tattered parchment with reverence. “The preservation of knowledge and wisdom passed down through the ages.” The ex-angel looked back up, expression pinched and confessed, “That has always been my calling, Crowley.”

“I know,” said Crowley quietly, quickly looking back down at the fresh parchment. “Won’t work though. Too new, no one’ll believe it.”

“They will.” The ex-angel’s smug assurance had Crowley looking up. “Because they have before.”

“When?”

“About thirty years ago. One of Mark Twain’s works.”

Crowley hissed, impressed. “How did you manage that?” The smugness faded into adorable sheepishness and the ex-angel’s mumbled reply was unintelligible. “Come now, don’t be shy-”

“I miracled them, all right?” Aziraphale made a face at Crowley’s arched eyebrows and taunting smirk. “I knew as good as they were they wouldn’t fool the scientists and such so I,” a finger waggle, “to make it work.”

“You used a miracle to create a forgery?” Crowley said, the smirk spreading and spreading into a unholy grin as Aziraphale fidgeted. “Angel, I didn’t know you had it in you. You’ve been very naughty.”

“It is a reproduction, not a forgery! They’re authentic documents just not-” Aziraphale broke off what they were saying, seeing Crowley’s triumphant grin, feeling like they were finally back on familiar ground. “Oh shut up,” snapped Aziraphale with a huff, but there was a hint of a smile under the disgruntled words. “If you’re going to be like that, go take a nap or something.”

“Don’t mind If I do,” Crowley laughed, and sprawled across the couch, clucking their tongue and wagging a teasing finger at the abashed ex-angel. Aziraphale glared and another chuckle escaped from Crowley at the sweet wickedness of it and that lingering hint of a smile in the reformed angel’s eyes. “So I have to ask, why not just,” finger waggle, “the originals back into shape instead? Prob’ly less work in the end, really.”

Aziraphale was beginning to think the blush would just become permanent. “Because they’re mine. I can’t just entrust them to anyone. They’re safer with me.”

“Ahh.” Aziraphale gave the former demon a warning look, but Crowley knew better than to point out all the flaws in that statement. When no more questions were forthcoming the reformed angel gladly settled into the so called preservation, pushing away Everything for a while with a relieved sigh.

Crowley watched them sink into the exacting work. Book “store” is right, thought Crowley not for the first time, picking up the nearest book from the stack nearby. Great big storage area pretending to be a shop. Not a “shop” either because no one’s allowed to buy! Might as well be a library, only no one’d be allowed to check them out either. Doesn’t like to share, does my angel.

The book fell from nerveless fingers back onto the pile, and Crowley darted a look at Aziraphale, who was too busy to have noticed Crowley’s sudden - sudden what? It wasn’t sudden at all though, was it? It had always been there, that heart-wrenching ache every time they parted, that insidious hope that welled when they reunited, never to be revealed for fear of discovery. The exasperated fondness that had only grown over the years. It just took the world almost ending for Crowley to allow themself to admit how important Aziraphale really was, if only inwardly. My angel.

An eternity passed while Crowley sat and watched Aziraphale work, darling Aziraphale, mumbling about this and that, quick elegant hands writing out the ancient poems as flawlessly as only a celestial being could. My Aziraphale. Crowley escaped into sleep, unable to think about what those words, that truth, really meant.

Chapter Text

A brief stabbing pain under the mark on their temple woke Crowley, who had a heart stopping moment of panic that they'd been captured again before the sound of Aziraphale's soothing mumbling intruded. The former demon eased upright and stretched, rolling their shoulders and neck to try to relieve the tension there.

The itch was spreading to Crowley's wings, but they wouldn't risk exposing them in such an unprotected place, not that Crowley would bring them into Aziraphale's space uninvited anyway.

It'd be like suddenly stripping to your underclothes in a friend's front room without even a by-your-leave. The corporeal wings of celestial beings are a manifestation of their power and a billboard announcing their feelings if you're fluent in their language. It was far too dangerous, having ones emotions writ large for just anyone to see in an unguarded moment. One wrong thought being telegraphed through the unconscious movement of their wings would have given everything away. Crowley had never risked it with a demon, and only a fool would risk it with an angel*.

(*Crowley had learned that it isn't smart to reveal oneself around those one doesn't have a formal pact with, not long before falling. Demons make and break pacts all the time and angels are currently forbidden from making pacts.)

It would not be an easy habit to break. That was assuming Aziraphale still...

Crowley scowled down at their watch, but couldn't seem to focus on the face. It was dark outside, but that didn't mean much when either of them could go a century or more without shifting a muscle, especially Aziraphale when enthralled by a project. Crowley checked their phone's time. Midnight, figures. Their eyes drifted towards the enraptured ex-angel. I should go. Let them have their space. But they wouldn't notice a parade marching through here, let alone someone being quiet. Maybe I should...

Crowley silently prowled around the shop, setting up a few magical alarms that would merely warn of intruders, knowing the reformed angel would frown upon anything more hazardous than that around the books. When it was done Crowley still hesitated, torn. They didn't want to go home alone, didn't want to try to figure things out alone, were so tired of being alone.

It was always a risk, allowing someone else into your space, but the reformed angel had been a perfect guest the night the world didn't end. Aside from complimenting the plants where they could hear it, and while wearing Crowley's form! It would probably take months to repair the damage. Was it really only a couple days ago? They had gone their separate ways after their long celebratory lunch, mostly because neither of them had known what to say or do. There was so much to say.

A part of Crowley had hoped Aziraphale would show up on their doorstep once night fell, but they had never materialized. It had seemed clear the reformed angel was setting the boundaries back to where they had been. But then earlier had happened, all those unspoken words. Crowley was terrified but desperate to know what the reformed angel had almost confessed.

"Aziraphale?"

"Hmm?"

"How long 'til you're done?"

"Just finished, dear. Perhaps we could go get dinner?" Aziraphale suggested hopefully, looking up from the manuscript and blinking a few times. "Oh, I was at that a while, wasn't I? Dreadfully sorry."

Crowley checked the time and chuckled. "It's almost 1 AM, angel." Aziraphale's face fell but Crowley waved them up. "Come on, we'll go back to my place. You've been slouched at that desk too long anyway."

Aziraphale quickly started putting things away, not wanting to waste any of the precious materials through carelessness, and making a token protest. "Oh, I'd hate to impose-"

"Never an imposition fr'you, Aziraphale," Crowley murmured, moving towards the door when Aziraphale looked up in surprise at their serious tone. "Come on, I'm sure we'll find something while you let things dry."

"As long as you're quite sure, Crowley."

"Always, angel." Crowley could feel Aziraphale's confusion but ignored it, slipping into the driver's seat and clasping very tightly to the wheel. The itching was getting worse and a headache was beginning to pound behind their eyes. Unsure what to do except hurry back to home territory with their only ally, Crowley sped off.

Aziraphale watched Crowley with a small frown of concern, but could tell from the their expression that it was better to not ask questions. As it was the annoying wing itch was distraction enough, and the ex-angel shifted restlessly when a worrying thought popped up. It this because we switched? mingled? whatever it was that we did before our executions? Did I... did I absorb some of Crowley's... demon-ness? Aziraphale risked a glance when Crowley shifted, pressing back against the seat like there was an itch along their spine that couldn't be reached. Did my angel-ness contaminate- or poison? Crowley in some way? Oh, oh dear. Aziraphale wiped a hand over burning eyes, refusing to let the tears fall and stared down at the golden ring on their pinky. Maybe I can fix it. Maybe if I...

Aziraphale jumped when Crowley spoke, trying to smile reassuringly when Crowley frowned. "Sorry, lost in thought. What did you say?"

"Just wondering where you were, angel. We've been parked for five minutes." Crowley tried to tease, but the itch was making it almost impossible to think. Another stab of pain had Crowley pressing a hand to the throbbing tattoo with a hiss. When they pulled their hand away, there was a smear of blood on their fingers.

"Crowley? You're hurt! Please, tell me what's going on."

Desperation had Crowley gritting their teeth, and speaking words they never thought they'd say again, to the only being they'd ever trusted enough to say them to. "I desire a boon, Aziraphale." The words crackled with power under the thread of pain in Crowley's voice.

Aziraphale couldn't help the shocked gasp that escaped but didn't hesitate to reply in kind. "Ask and be heard, Anthony J. Crowley, I attend you."

There was so much that needed to be said, that they wanted to say but the ceremony didn't allow for deviation and the pain was worsening. "I seek to mend all wrongs and reforge our bond."

Aziraphale nodded, eyes stinging with tears, and it took a second to swallow down everything they wanted to say to be able to say the proper response, "Such forged has lain quiescent but was never sundered."

It was never unspoken. They never broke it, even after... Crowley's eyes burned with tears they'd been cursed to never let fall and offered their hand in agreement. "Shoulder to shoulder?"

Mind brimming with questions there clearly was no time for Aziraphale clasped Crowley's hand and spoke the final phrase. "My wings to yours."

Occult power swept through them, renewing the bond and knocked the breath from both of them. After a moment, unable to sit still a second longer, Crowley all but jumped from the car and dashed inside. Glasses and jacket went flying as Crowley bolted through the flat towards the giant marble bathroom mortared with every type of magic against attack and scrying and filled to the brim with all manner of tropical plants. Their own little replica of the Garden.

With a ragged gasp Crowley's wings flashed into being, ink-dark feathers seeming to absorb the warm light gleaming from false sky-lights. They flapped, once, twice, but the movement did nothing to ease the sensation that was going from searing itch to freezing ache. Desperate, feeling as though they were suffocating inside an icebox, they flung off the rest of their clothes and slapped on the water, wings spread wide as droplets began to pour from the ceiling.

Aziraphale had followed as quickly as possible, only stopping to set a very unpleasant surprise by the door for anyone who tried to break in, before cautiously following the sound of running water towards the gleaming bathroom. "Crowley?" The ex-angel was shocked to see Crowley shivering under the downpour, hair and feathers drenched, blood seeping from the mark on their temple. Aziraphale paid no mind to the water, dashing to catch Crowley's shoulders just as the ex-demon began to collapse to the floor. "What's going on? Crowley!"

The sound Crowley made was somehow both bitter laugh and heartbroken sob. "I think they found a way to kill me after all, angel. Teamed up I think... Sssshould've... guessss'd." The burning frost was pervasive and growing, seeking out the soul embedded within the living vessel that trembled from the freezing cold searing pain, seeping through muscles and around bones, piercing eyes and lungs and heart, which failed under the onslaught.

"No, NO!" Aziraphale roared when Crowley's lovely eyes went dull and sightless, and if either side had seen Aziraphale at that moment, they would have been reminded why they had been the Guardian of the Eastern Gate.

"FUCK YOU!" Power the color of a bronze sword sharpened with noonlight exploded from Aziraphale and the ex-angel's suddenly corporeal stark white wings. Those quick clever hands darted towards the obvious source of Crowley's torment, the blackened wings, the feathers beginning to singe and flake away. "You will NOT take Crowley from me again! I won't allow it!" Power lanced away from hands that trembled not at all, into feathers heavy with the freezing embers of sanctified hellfire.

Crowley, lost in the dark agony of death, was caught in the sudden flood of golden light that washed away the pain and brought them back with a gasp. They slowly became aware of the feeling of Aziraphale's magic soothing frost-burned skin, their hands raking through burning feathers without a thought. "Ashera, no!" Crowley slurred and tried to push them away, tears falling where they hadn't been able to fall in millennia. Aziraphale was implacable and continued to pull the clinging embers from Crowley's feathers, burning them away, ignoring the pain of handling the sanctified hellfire and the building cold fire of Heaven's unholy judgment, only giving in when the last of the embers was gone in a pathetic puff of smoke.

"Why, wha-, no no nononono." Crowley scrambled upright just in time to break Aziraphale's fall, "Aziraphale, no, did they-" The angel nodded, eyes pressing shut as a shudder passed through the failing body. Thoughts still muddled Crowley had sense enough to do one thing.

"NO!"

The water, stopped, midair, crystalline and gleaming in the odd light of out-time. That last desperate heartbeat took an eon to pass, as Aziraphale reached up with the last of their power to press a shaking hand to Crowley's right temple, staring into Crowley's lovely eyes, irises still blown wide and awash with tears. How foolish I was, to hesitate. And now... "I'm sorry."

Crowley's face crumpled and contorted with fury and despair, eyes burning with the rage and love of a star gone nova. "You can't leave me, you bassstard, not now, not after all thisss!" When Aziraphale's hand slipped away, taking with it the last of the binding mark on Crowley's temple, the former demon called upon powers that they hadn't been able to use in millennia and dragged lightning-edged talons through Aziraphale's glittering ice-rimed feathers, shattering the icy acidic unholy water eating away at them. "You're mine, you hear? I won't let you go! Aziraphale! Stay, bless you, stay!" The words devolved into snarled half-spoken curses and pleas but the assault against the glass-sharp Heavenly whatever-the-fuck-it-was escalated into a frenzy.

"Ha!" Crowley yelled with sense of triumph when the last of the shards fell away and dissolved with a 'pft' of smoke, but triumph vanished when Aziraphale's eyes remained closed, and the fragile corporeal heart remained still, persisting only because of the timelessness of the moment. No no no no no, spiraled in Crowley's mind as they kissed those blued lips, pushing breath and life back into the dying vessel, reaching with the very core of their being into the freezing darkness, ready to follow Aziraphale into oblivion if need be. Don't leave me! Aziraphale!

Crowley! Light, golden and gloriously alive exploded into existence, burning away the darkness and they were back in their bodies, gasping and clinging to one another. Aziraphale shuddered, "Crowley?"

"I'm here, angel, I'm here," murmured Crowley, cursing and laughing when time slammed back into place and the suddenly far-too-hot-for-comfort water poured over them.

It took a bit of flailing around to turn off the taps and Crowley sat slouched against the wall afterward, wings half unfurled and quivering. They were unable to look away from Aziraphale, drenched and drained, clothes and wings completely saturated with water and coated with the inert ashy gray residue, but they were there, wonderfully, blessedly alive. "I will be very cross with you if you ever do that again, angel." Aziraphale's lips, pink again and full of life, curled upwards into an exhausted smile. The former angel's eyes opened, revealing they had shifted to green, and Crowley realized that drowning in them wasn't half bad really, all things considered. The itch and that building sense of doom were finally gone.

Aziraphale murmured, "You started it."

"Me?! I-! Wot-! You-!"

The fondly exasperated sputtering of a celestial serpent at a loss for words warmed Aziraphale's heart as nothing else could and laughter, joyous in a way the former angel realized they couldn't recall ever feeling before, bubbled up. Aziraphale caught one of Crowley's flailing hands and clasped it in both of their own, silencing the former demon's protests. "What would I ever do without you?"

Crowley's arms snaked around Aziraphale in a nearly-crushing hug. "You'd better not try to find out!" Crowley scolded, voice breaking, face pressed into their shoulder for a moment before pulling away to glare. "You barmy bastard, what the fuck were you thinking!?"

"Couldn't let you go, my dear. Very selfish of me, I'm afraid," Aziraphale murmured, startled by the tears running down Crowley's face. "Had to try."

"You feather-brained do-gooder, you died! You died and I couldn't save you!" Crowley crushed Aziraphale in another hug, easing up when Aziraphale squeaked. "Sorry, sorry-"

"It was so painful and dark and cold," Aziraphale whispered, needing to tell Crowley what happened, feeling the memory already beginning to fade. "Then I realized I was in the Garden, but there wasn't anything there but the sky and it was abyssal black and starless. I was so afraid, so alone."

Crowley held them tight, face pressed to Aziraphale's shoulder, heart breaking. "Angel..."

Tears welled, offset by a fond smile. "But then a million stars exploded into being, and the Tree was sheltering me and I sensed you and I wasn't afraid anymore." Aziraphale stroked a finger over Crowley's nearest wing-edge, considering as bits of sodden ash flaked away and disintegrated into nothingness. "I heard you call my name." Another gentle touch, more ash dropping away from inky feathers that seemed to have gained an odd sheen. "My wings to yours. Always."

Crowley frowned, pulling away from Aziraphale's touch, unable to deal with the feelings those words and gentle caresses were stirring up. They banished their wings back into the astral plane with a swirl of displaced soot. "C'mon, angel. Let's get you warmed up." The slight disappointment on Aziraphale's face melted into a surprised gasp as Crowley gathered the exhausted ex-angel close and lifted them up.

Aziraphale's arms slipped around Crowley's shoulders and held on tightly. "I can walk. Probably."

"You're exhausted, and shivering. And you just died to save me. Let me do this for you," said Crowley gruffly, moving towards the bedroom when Aziraphale nodded. Crowley set them down by the bed, carefully helped them from the ruined suit and into the nightshirt they'd used just a few nights earlier and then bundled them into the bed, clicking on the electric blanket. "Let me dry you off, eh?" Crowley urged, shrugging into a certain plush robe under Aziraphale’s heavy lidded stare. “Rather a mess, I’m afraid.”

Aziraphale didn’t have much will to resist temptation while cocooned in the lovely warmth. What had happened on Sunday felt like a dream, a lifetime ago, and it had been so very long since Crowley had helped care for their wings... It had only ever been Crowley. “T’would be lovely, thank you.”

Crowley clicked off the lights, grabbed a towel and climbed onto the bed, smirking as Aziraphale went boneless once they started gently grooming the dusty feathers. “Relax any more angel and you might just fall asleep for once,” Crowley teased, but there was an ache over their heart. It had been a very long time since they had allowed themself to touch Aziraphale, and after the all too brief interlude before they’d gone to play with fire, Crowley had hoped the angel would want to do it again.

"Mmm," Aziraphale hummed in agreement, too tired to even bother with full sentences anymore. Apparently dying took a lot out of a being. "Feels lovely. Haven't... since... forty one."

Since the church, since they'd gotten utterly drunk on homemade cider and each other in the shop's back room and- Crowley's gentle grooming faltered for a moment, but the former angel didn't notice. "Why not? Thought you said it was a big deal, grooming each other-"

"Dangerous." Aziraphale rubbed a knuckle against Crowley's leg, trying to soothe away the bitterness in their voice, thinking about the communal grooming gatherings that were like the most boring but also ridiculously fraught office parties in creation. Out of self preservation Aziraphale had created a 'show up, make nice, make excuse, vanish' routine that had kept them from having to ever reveal their wings. Being dismissed as inconsequential occasionally had its uses. "You know. Awful. Nosy buggers. Better with you, even without..."

"Angel." There was a world of meaning in that one word, and they lapsed into silence in the dimness, Crowley continuing to gently dry Aziraphale's feathers, wiping away the strange residue, soothing ruffled feathers back into place. They felt normal, well as normal as the corporeal manifestation of a celestial being's power could feel, but every once in a while the oblique light from the window would strike them just right to make them seem gold instead of white, with a faint sheen of what might be iridescence. But it was dark and Crowley didn't want to look too closely, nor think about any more surprises.

Crowley finished tidying Aziraphale's feathers feeling as though they were buzzing with energy yet at the same time exhausted. "All done, angel. Put them away," they murmured, nodding slightly with satisfaction as they furled and vanished. Crowley sat in the dark, listening to Aziraphale's quiet even breaths that spoke of true sleep, and finally dressed and left Aziraphale alone in the bed to rest, retreating to the office. With snap they miracled up a couch, turning on the tv and letting themself be lulled into a thoughtful stupor.

Chapter Text

"Bloody hell!" Crowley shouted in realization a few hours later, leaping up from the couch to storm around the room. They jumped when Aziraphale awe-stepped into the room, eyes glowing, golden power gathered in the former angel's hands.

"Crowley? What's wrong?" Aziraphale looked around the room blearily for danger, still somewhat exhausted but ready to do whatever it took to protect Crowley.

"Sorry, sorry, nothing's happened, here, sit before you fall," Crowley ordered gruffly, gently taking Aziraphale's shoulder and steering them to the couch before quickly retreating. "Didn't mean to wake you."

"What happened?" Aziraphale asked, watching curiously as Crowley began pacing the room.

"I remembered," Crowley hissed, eyes alight with fury. "Falling." They turned away from Aziraphale's solemn expression. "That, that whatsit, cold fire frozen ember bullshit! That's what it felt like when I was expelled! But it stopped, when, when I agreed to be on their side and they branded me." A poke at their temple where the snake mark had been. "And then they dumped me in the boiling sulfur with the others. Don't you get it? They've had a bloody Arrangement all along! Just shuffling us around like pieces on a chessboard! And I thought we were being clever," Crowley's scorned.

"Oh. Oh! Oh dear... Do you think, could it be they severed our bonds with the Hosts somehow? Perhaps they expected we'd die without them? Is that was why they let us go?"

"I don't know." Crowley rested their fists on the window ledge, glaring at nothing, their mind racing. "As long as we're not their pawns anymore, that's all I care about."

Aziraphale's expression turned very thoughtful, absently watching Crowley resume stomping around the room in frustration. What does it mean for us, for our powers, if we're not tied to the Hosts anymore? Does choosing the humans side count without there being a formal agreement in place? If only there was someone to ask. "You know..." Crowley stopped to look at the angel, who was staring into space. "I was thinking about what Miss Weatherwax was saying."

"Eh?" Crowley flung themself down onto the couch beside Aziraphale. "Wasn't paying a lot of attention I'm afraid, too busy trying to think of a way to escape."

Aziraphale smiled faintly in agreement. "That we aren't the only ones who've chosen their own side."

Crowley paused to consider but nodded. "Makes sense, don't it? Can't be the only bastards that don't fit in with them and their agenda. Ones who were never on their side to begin with."

"But it's like you said, if we're not pawns for their game, perhaps they don't have a hold over us anymore." Aziraphale liked chess of course, very thoughtful civilized game in the reformed angel's opinion, but the idea of being a mere pawn was rather... unpalatable. Especially considering the part they had played in moving humans about on their sides' behalf. But following the analogy to its logical conclusion had the reformed angel letting out a startled bark of laughter.

Crowley speared the former angel with a look, intrigued by the glimmer of, yes, wickedness, in those shining eyes. "What? What did you think of?"

Aziraphale tried to school their face into thoughtful contemplation, but the wicked glimmer would not be hidden. "Things change when a pawn visits the other side of the board you know."

Crowley eyed them with a touch of wariness. The former demon knew a trap when they saw one. "What do you mean? Change how?"

"They get promoted, 'rise' through the ranks, as it were. Not an easy feat, you see, surviving to make it through to the other side. Big risk means big reward."

Fond exasperation had Crowley growling, "Angel..."

"There's another term for it, of course." Aziraphale couldn't help but draw out the moment, wickedly pleased by Crowley's exasperated eye roll, barely able to contain themselves when they finally revealed, "They get Queened!"

The utterly stunned look on Crowley's face was simply priceless. "No." That tiny denial was fuel to the fire, though the ex-angel tried to suppress it, resulting in a choked giggle-snort. "No..." Giggles progressed to what could probably only be called chortles, until the final, "No!" had peals of the reformed angel's cathartic laughter ringing through the flat.

"You're making that up!" Crowley accused, but inwardly that old snake was basking in the radiant sound of the reformed angel's glee.

"I'm not!" gasped Aziraphale, wiping at their eyes, dissolving into another fit of giggles when Crowley hissed. "Look it up, I swear it's true."

Eyes narrowed to slits, head canted to give the chuckling reformed angel side-eye as only a serpent could give, Crowley summoned their smartphone and began to tap away, darting a playfully suspicious look at Aziraphale as they did so and setting off another spate of suppressed laughter.

Crowley's face was a journey all its own. The long drawn out groan and boneless sprawl back against the cushions, and the small, final, defeated, "Fuck," as the phone slid onto the floor was more than enough to set off another riot of laughter and Crowley couldn't help but join in. "Puns!"

"I know!" wailed Aziraphale, hands flapping as they fought to get their breath back. "Terrible!"

"They cursed my car, didn't they? Blasted witches and their blasted meddling," Crowley growled, but there was no heat to the statement, not while Aziraphale was collapsed beside Crowley with laughter, eyes shining with fondness and mirth. "Queen's Greatest Hits! The cheek!"

The laughter finally died away into residual giggles. "I believe that's what's called 'foreshadowing'."

Crowley sneered and rolled back to their feet. "C'mon angel, I've had enough thinking and talking for now. Your little café should be open, eh? Food will help."

"That does sound delightful." Aziraphale almost used a miracle to dress but stopped themself, remembering that they might not be able to recharge as quickly as they used to.

Crowley noticed the hesitation but didn't comment, giving them privacy to dress, waiting for them out in the hallway. Took their coat and helped them into it. "Food, then what?" Crowley asked lowly, smoothing their hands over Aziraphale's shoulders and nervously withdrawing, "Knowing you, books."

Aziraphale nodded, trying to hide their response to Crowley's action. Was that..? Are they..? No, just a kindness. Don't be more of a fool than you already are. "I do need to do some research."

They ate a luxurious breakfast before barricading themselves in the shop. Crowley acted as a sounding board and barkeep as Aziraphale bounced ideas around, pulling out book after scroll after manuscript. The reformed angel took copious notes but it was all speculation and eventually Aziraphale let Crowley convince them to get lunch then come back to their flat when they kept getting disturbed by potential customers.

Crowley set the books and notes onto their desk, cringing a little every time they thought of what Aziraphale must think of it, of everything in the flat. They retreated to the couch when Aziraphale entered the office with another pile of documents. "Desk's all yours, angel. Feel free to change the chair if you want, not really attached to it. To any of it."

"Oh, I don't think that will be necessary," said Aziraphale, diving into the papers and soon spreading them across the massive desk, standing over them as they mumbled, pointing out tidbits to Crowley, asking their opinion on parts. When Crowley dozed off curled up on one end of the couch, Aziraphale magicked up a black and red tartan blanket to cover them with before settling on the other end with one of the heftier books, a pad and pen on the arm as they started translating the text. Eventually Crowley stretched out some, settling into a deeper sleep with their toes just barely touching Aziraphale's leg.

A few hours had passed by the time Aziraphale rescued Crowley from almost falling off the couch for the third time. "Crowley? Are you awake?" Aziraphale murmured, smiling tenderly when they grumbled sleepily. "You should go to bed." Another grumble but no sign of getting up. With a hint of trepidation Aziraphale got up, relieved when Crowley still didn't stir and gathered up the unconscious former demon, carrying them into the bedroom and settling them gently under the duvet. The former angel indulged in watching them sleep for a moment, pressing a hand to the familiar ache over their heart before retreating to the couch to continue their research.

Barely an hour passed before the former angel was dithering in the hallway outside the bedroom, wringing their hands, walking up to the door to knock and walking away again before doing so. It's too forward. If they wanted my help they'd ask me. Aziraphale stared at the door, cringing in sympathy at the twinges of discomfort coming through the rekindled bond they shared. When they heard Crowley swear Aziraphale knocked. "Crowley?"

There were thumps and swears and after a minute a very disheveled Crowley yanked open the door. "What's wrong?"

"You tell me."

Crowley flinched away when Aziraphale stepped closer, hastily retreating into the room when the former angel tried to rest a hand on their arm. "It's nothing."

"It's not. I can sense something's wrong, with your wings?" Aziraphale said lowly, clasping their hands together to keep from reaching out again when Crowley began to pace.

"It's just a, a something from earlier," Crowley said, pressing the heels of their hands to their stinging eyes, trying not to cry in Aziraphale's presence. Worse than the pain in their wings was the reawakening of memories that had disturbed their rest; of being in the Garden with Aziraphale, just them, together against the world. It hurt almost as much as when Crowley had thought Aziraphale dead.

"Crowley," Aziraphale pleaded. "Let me help you. That's why you offered me the bond isn't it?"

"I... yeah, okay. Whatever it was, it's, uh..." The former demon's wings became corporeal and Aziraphale hissed in sympathy at the state they were in. The residue had hardened, binding the feathers together in an uncomfortable mess. "Can you miracle them? I tried and it didn't work."

Aziraphale hesitated. Celestial wings' nature often made them interact oddly with magic. "Sit?" Crowley sat at the foot of the bed, cringing and tense, clearly ready to bolt. "I think I need to touch them."

"I-" Crowley reared back, ashamed to see the fleeting dismay cloud Aziraphale's eyes. "I don't, it's not that... They're, they're corrupted, like me. Steeped in sulfur and hatred to make us resistant to hellfire. What if it was wearing my seeming that-" Killed you. Crowley tried to back away farther at the idea.

The former angel caught Crowley's hand and held on desperately. "It wasn't your fault," Aziraphale said harshly, easily reading the unspoken thought on Crowley's face. "They figured out our ruse somehow. You said it yourself, they teamed up, to inflict their vengeance upon us."

"You don't know that for sure," Crowley growled, staring down at Aziraphale's hands clasped around theirs, inanely realizing that the ubiquitous golden ring was missing from their pinky.

"That's true," Aziraphale said, startling Crowley into looking back up. "I don't know that we'll ever really be sure what it was. But it doesn't matter because we're still here." Aziraphale stared at the former demon, taking in their haggard expression, thinking of all the things that they had needed to put aside because the world was ending. "I'm on our side now, and if that means hellfire and brimstone, then so be it."

"No, Aziraphale..." The idea of their angel being subjected to that was like a knife in the gut.

"Let me help. Trust me, please?"

"I do, but-"

"No, no buts. This was not your fault! If anything it was probably mine, for letting Gabriel realize we even could team up. I wasn't as careful of you as I should have been." Aziraphale let out a shaky breath. "Our side was the side I should have chosen, but I was too afraid."

"There's nothing wrong with being afraid," protested Crowley.

Aziraphale just shook their head. "We're in this together. You tended me so, please, allow me to return the favor?"

Crowley stared into Aziraphale's bright blue eyes, at all the candid concern they held, and couldn't say no. Hea- hel- Somewhere only knew how they'd been lucky enough to win Aziraphale's regard. Crowley gave a terse nod and allowed their wings to relax open as far as they could and closed their eyes when those lovely angelic hands moved towards the mess of blackened feathers.

Curiosity and concern prompted the former angel to examine Crowley's poor beleaguered wings closely before they decided on a course of action. "I'm going to try a cleansing spell," Aziraphale said, waiting for Crowley to nod before setting the spell into motion.

It worked, on everything except Crowley's wings. "Figures," the former demon growled.

"I think I'll have to do it by hand," Aziraphale said, watching Crowley's expression worriedly.

Crowley grimaced but nodded, eyes still closed. "Alright." When Aziraphale didn't move Crowley cracked open an eye, misunderstanding their dismayed expression. "You don't have to."

"It's all my fault." Aziraphale's voice cracked. "If I'd-"

"Bullocks!" Crowley barked, startling former angel out of their train of thought. "If it's not my fault then it's not yours either!" When Aziraphale just stood wringing their hands Crowley whapped them lightly with their wing, sending bits of residue scattering, ignoring the twinge of pain the motion caused. "Now you listen here you st- brilliant bastard, you know something else would have gone wrong if we'd done it different. Both of us discorporated or, or if Warlock actually was the anti-christ? That would have been terrible, or-"

"Alpha Centauri." Aziraphale didn't realize they'd said it aloud until Crowley stopped to stare, their face going red and then pale. "Did you mean it?" It was barely a whisper.

"I, uh, of, of course I meant it angel, you, you're my best friend, oh don't do that, I can't deal with that," panicked Crowley, coming off the bed when tears welled in Aziraphale's eyes, stiffening for just a moment when Aziraphale's arms went around them before hugging them back tightly.

"You're my best friend too," Aziraphale confessed into their shoulder. You're everything, they couldn't say. "I just wanted things to go back to how they were, safe and comfortable and simple."

"I know."

"I'm sorry." Aziraphale pulled back enough to be able to see Crowley's face. "I hurt you and I'm sorry."

Crowley nodded, backing out of Aziraphale's embrace to sit back on the end of the bed. "Guess you owe me big time, huh," they joked half-heartedly, closing their eyes again and holding out a wing, needing that bit of distance to keep from saying or doing something they'd undoubtedly regret.

Aziraphale tamped down their disappointment at Crowley's withdrawal and turned towards the extended wing. The former demon's feathers were just as silken soft as Aziraphale remembered and they gently began to free them from the residue, fascinated to watch the ashy sheaths disintegrate into nothingness in their hands.

" 'Snot burning you, is it? The whatever it is?"

"Not at all, it seems completely inert now. I'm not hurting you am I?" Aziraphale worried when Crowley flinched a little.

"It's like getting tangles out of hair," Crowley explained. "Pulls a little, not a great feeling. It's, oh..." Their eyes snapped open at the sudden soothing warmth that dulled the pain, staring at the spill of golden light that diffused through their feathers from Aziraphale's hands. "Thanks."

Aziraphale gave them a small nod and continued their painstaking work, letting out a silent sigh when Crowley shut their eyes again. The former angel was startled to discover the inky blackness was coming away with the residue, revealing dark purple-blue feathers and they were enchanted to find little blazes on them that looked like stars and a few swirls that resembled galaxies. Crowley was deeply entranced by the time the inner side of that wing was clean, as well as the primaries and secondaries, and the former angel shifted to begin on the outer wing but gasped to see the sheen glowing with jewel tones when the light hit it just right.

Crowley instantly came back to awareness at their gasp, looking at Aziraphale in concern. "Angel?"

"Oh, Crowley, they're so beautiful," Aziraphale breathed, tilting their head to watch the play of light over the feathers. "Sorry to have disturbed you."

Crowley didn't move, too busy staring at their own wing in shock. "What the..."

Aziraphale answered the confusion in Crowley's eyes with a shrug. "I don't know. It seems that whatever it was has altered the very nature of your wings." Unspoken was the implication that it had altered Crowley's nature as well as Aziraphale's. "I've never seen anything like it. They don't feel different, just-" They gently shifted the former demon's wing, allowing the sheen to flare into greens and blues and purples. "I'm going to keep working?"

Crowley nodded and let themself be soothed by the relaxing sensation of Aziraphale grooming their wings. It was not something they had dared indulge in in a great many years and Crowley would never admit how terribly they had missed it.

Aziraphale was closely focused on their work, fascinated to discover Crowley's wings' outer feathers were a multi-hued dark gray reminiscent of storm-clouds. It was nothing they had ever seen before and Aziraphale wondered if their own wings had changed as dramatically. Considered, briefly, bringing them into being but resisted the temptation.

Crowley watched Aziraphale through their lashes, so many unspeakable words and emotions circling around in their head. "So what now? I'm glad to be done with the bastards, but what about you, angel?"

"I don't know," Aziraphale admitted. "It was so much simpler, you know, to just take orders. To tell myself I was on the 'right' side and not question anything."

There was an edge of scorn in Aziraphale's voice that Crowley had never heard before, and it made their heart break a little for the reformed angel. "I understand."

"I know we can't sit idle while they plan their next Armageddon. I need to do more research. Human texts on celestial beings are proving rather useless but I keep hoping I will find something useful among the dross. Doesn't help most of them were metaphorically up in the stratosphere or on death's door, or both, when they decided to make note of their so called discoveries."

The former demon sat and watched the former angel as they soothed Crowley's feathers and rambled on about what little they'd discovered, murmuring at the proper moments to show they were still listening before closing their eyes again. Beneath the surface those ancient memories were lurking, and churning in the back of their mind was the realization that Aziraphale didn't remember. Worse was the possibility that they had chosen to forget. Crowley had to know which it was. "Angel?"

"Hmm?" They had finished setting Crowley's wings to rights while talking but the former angel had continued to tenderly stroke their fingers through the feathers, hoping the former demon wouldn't tell them to stop. It made their heart ache, how much they had missed the act. Wished they dared ask Crowley to groom their wings again, just for the pleasure of the interaction. Even if nothing else would ever come of it.

"You ever read the really old writings? The ones that talk about the early days?"

Aziraphale frowned at the change of subject and shrugged. "Not in the beginning, of course, wasn't the done thing up in the Library but once I was sent down here... I admit, I was curious. Can't deal with books without running across them, of course. And most of them are used for prophecies, and I had to make sure they were intact-"

"I'm not accusing you, angel," Crowley soothed, opening their eyes to meet Aziraphale's curious gaze. "How many angels were guarding the Garden?"

Aziraphale's fingers stilled as their expression went blank for a moment, shifting into consternation as they realized that despite what the most accepted story was, they'd always known that they hadn't guarded the Garden alone. Had always, in the back of their mind, known that they'd known Crowley from before that last unforgettable night in the Garden, from before the fall. "Oh," they breathed, eyes wide as they gazed at Crowley, suddenly flooded with memories freed from whatever binding they had been locked behind.

"Didn't have much use for a sword, did I, flaming or otherwise," said Crowley, Celestial Serpent and Guardian of the Western Gate. The tightness in their chest loosened somewhat at Aziraphale's expression of recognition and they stretched their wings to their fullest before furling them back into the ether.

"Of course." It had been two, had always been the two of them, together against everything. Things hadn't really been 'black and white' in the beginning, and time had been much more malleable, until the humans had gotten the hang of pinning it down into minutes, hours, seconds. Of believing so hard in things that they became. Aziraphale quelled their habitual proclivity to dismiss it as human error, to keep pretending that there had never been anything before, anything other. There was no going back even if Aziraphale had wanted to; all that had happened had ensured that. "How could I have forgotten?"

Crowley cleared the lump from their throat. "We were made to forget, angel, to fit their agenda. Someone might have an ineffable plan but I think heaven and hell have come up with a few of their own."

"Yes, I think you are correct." Aziraphale's brows were drawn together in thought as they tried to make sense of the muddled memories. "I can't remember much of before Eden," Aziraphale admitted, getting a nod of agreement from Crowley. "I, I remember walking with you, when you'd Guard the Garden at night. You, we-" So many of the memories were foggy, but one was crystal clear. "I remember that last night so much clearer than most everything else."

Crowley stood up and started to pace, not wanting Aziraphale to see how much that memory hurt. Of huddling together as they waited for the storm to pass, clinging to one another as their world ended. "Yeah, everything else is a bit hazy for me too. I don't think I'd been kicked out yet, otherwise I couldn't have even been there, right? Aside from the Things, nothing else could break through the protections on the wall. And there hadn't even been a rebellion yet. Not that I rebelled. All I did was ask questions!"

"You were so fearless. I always wished I was as fearless as you."

Crowley laughed bitterly. "I didn't know enough to be afraid! If I had..." Crowley refused to think about it. "I remembered, some of those first days in the Garden," they whispered, rubbing at the ache over their heart at the bittersweet memories. "I was a loner before meeting you, but you were so open and friendly."

"Lonely, yes, terribly alone," Aziraphale agreed. "You were so n- kind to me when you had no reason to be. You fixed my feathers. Said you owed me." Aziraphale smiled at the realization of where their odd tradition had actually originated from.

"You kept saving me from falling on my face," Crowley smirked. "Fixing a few feathers was nothing."

Aziraphale was mortified to remember their attempt at flirting after Crowley had fixed their feathers and quickly changed the subject. "You taught me about the stars."

Crowley nodded and pulled up short to stare at Aziraphale, whose eyes had gone wide at what had followed that lesson. "You... We ate the fruit. We ate of the Tree."

"We weren't told not to," said Aziraphale, defensively. "Just to... not let anyone else eat of it," they finished weakly. "I mean, it was the Tree of Knowledge, surely we, as angels, already knew...?"

"I don't know. We didn't exactly fit in with the others before that, but we definitely didn't fit in afterwards. Imagine what would have happened if they'd found out."

Aziraphale shuddered. "They already had it out for us. You had to use healing herbs to save me from being discorporated."

"The Things had injured you and we couldn't magic it away," Crowley hissed, hands clenching into fists at the sudden recollection. "And the bastards wouldn't help us!"

Aziraphale sucked in a breath as another memory returned and they pressed their hands to their mouth when a strangled laugh escaped. Crowley gave them a worried look and Aziraphale choked out, "The animals! I, I yelled at, threatened! and you..."

Crowley couldn't stop the delighted laugh that escaped. "You put the fear of you in them!"

"I was so, so furious, and then Gabriel! If you hadn't stepped in I might have actually gone and tried to smite them," said Aziraphale in shock, but there was a little fizzle of energy at the memory, of how good it had felt to vent their righteous anger at the ones who deserved it. "You probably saved us both!" They stepped towards Crowley, aching to take their hand as so many of those ancient memories reminded them of doing and said solemnly, "You are as true of a friend as I could ever have hoped for. I am so glad and honored you offered me your trust, twice now."

"Even so, I didn't actually expect you to agree." But Crowley could remember hoping that perhaps the Guardian of the Eastern Gate had been just as lonely as they had been, and had felt as strongly about their friendship as they had. And then it was to be their last night together and there was no more putting it off. Time had just begun and it had already run out.

"Going back to heaven was..."

"Hell," agreed Crowley with a smirk. "Until they forgot about us."

Aziraphale's smile blossomed at the memory. "How didn't we get caught? All those trips to earth for 'research', goodness, and all those ridiculous reports you made."

"I'm not sure we didn't get caught. There was that retrieval you were sent on not long before I..."

"Oh, oh goodness." Aziraphale sat on the end of the bed as a sudden realization hit. "That book, about belief! Of course, of course, I should have seen it!"

"Seen what?"

"Some of our powers, they're because of belief, thousands of years of belief in what angels and demons are like." Aziraphale was staring into space as they scanned their memories. "Belief by not just ourselves but by humans, masses and masses of humans. But now we're cut off from that," Aziraphale realized. "We're not part of that anymore."

"So what does that mean for us?" asked Crowley. They took stock of themself and didn't really feel any different, but it was clear from Aziraphale's expression that the former angel did feel a difference.

"I don't know. Clearly I'm still able to cast ritual magic just fine but miracles..." How could they be worthy of miracles anymore, after all that had happened.

"There isn't really a difference, is there? I mean, I still can, could?" They frowned down at their hand and miracled up a fresh pair of glasses and slipped them on. "Yeah, still works."

"Maybe it's different for... former demons, I don't know," Aziraphale worried, wringing their hands together, fingers searching for the ring only to remember that it was no longer there. They flexed their fingers and forced their hands down onto their knees. "The real conundrum is what if it was belief that made us invulnerable to certain things?"

Crowley could see the beginnings of panic in the former angel's eyes. "Alright, I'll grant you that some of it might be from belief, but not all of it. Or even most of it. And right now we don't even know what our abilities are anymore, so it can't be belief driving them."

"What do you mean?"

Crowley held up their left hand and let it shift into the lightning edged talon they had used to free Aziraphale. "I think this is from before the Garden, maybe from before Eden." They let the lightning dissipate and the claws fade back into fingers. "And I don't think my wings looked like that in the Garden. Your wings have changed too, angel."

Aziraphale considered the strangely familiar golden-bronze radiance that they had called on to save Crowley. "Golden?" They nodded and Aziraphale hummed thoughtfully. "That will take some consideration. But one stop-gap solution would be to find people to believe in us, specifically."

"Er, not too keen on going all spooky on some random humans with the hope they'll think kindly of us," said Crowley. "And the ones who knew me aren't exactly the friendly type. So, who else can we talk to?"

Aziraphale considered for a moment. "I think the witches might be a good place to start. It was Miss Weatherwax who mentioned the others in the first place."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

They returned to Aziraphale's shop. Crowley lounged on the couch with a drink while sudden nerves had the former angel fussing with things on the desk before finally picking up the handset only to put it down again. "I don't actually know her number. Maybe we should-"

"Aziraphale." Crowley sat up. "It's okay. We don't have to do this right now." They fidgeted and asked, "Do you want me to call?"

"Oh no, I don't think she'd respond well to that at all." Aziraphale let out a little sigh. "It's just, I've never really had to ask for help before." A brief smile at Crowley before frowning at the phone again. "Not from humans anyway. Usually the other way 'round."

Crowley stood and leaned against the desk so they could be eye to eye. "Same here," Crowley admitted. "We'll need people on our side, though. They've tried twice now, I don't want them having a third go without us having someone on our side."

"And unfortunately, they won't give up their 'Great Plan' either," Aziraphale agreed with a heavy sigh.

"No, they won't."

Aziraphale let out a breath, throwing back their shoulders and straightening their clothes. "Thank you."

"Anytime, angel."

Bolstered, the former angel picked up the handset and gave it a quick tap, listening as it rang on the other end. They started a little when someone picked up and barked, "What?"

"Oh, ah, Miss Weatherwax? Hello. This is A. Z. Fell calling."

"Something wrong with what I gave you?" There was a definite edge of steel to her tone.

"No, no, it was all perfect, Miss Weatherwax, really. No, this is about... another matter. My friend and I were wondering if you would have time to talk? At your soonest convenience? Of course I'd understand if-"

"Tomorrow, noon, sharp. Bring food." Click. Aziraphale stared at the handset for a long moment before gently setting it back into the cradle.

"Well? I take it she wasn't interested-"

"Quite the opposite, actually," Aziraphale corrected. "We're to come tomorrow at noon with food." The reformed angel glanced at Crowley's complicated watch with a little frown. "When will we have to leave? How long will it take to get there? She said 'sharp' and I'd rather not test her."

"We'll get there on time, angel. Fear not."

Aziraphale let out a fond beleaguered sigh. "You are insufferable."

"But you're my friend anyway," the serpent cajoled, and was rewarded with a smile. "What food do you want to bring, angel? What do gnarly old country witches with beessss like to eat, you think?"

Chapter Text

They ended up bringing a bit of everything, and it only took a very small bit of magic to keep it all at temperature, considering the speed at which Crowley took those winding old roads. They skidded to a halt in front of the cottage with a minute to spare, though Aziraphale was sure that if they could age, they would have exited from the car with gray hairs. “Was that really necessary?”

“Well, you didn’t want to be late. Noon, sssharp.”

The reformed angel gave the serpent a withering glare, which bounced off Crowley’s knowing smirk quite ineffectively, and they began gathering up the wide array of take-out containers.

“After you, angel.”

Aziraphale caught a hint of Crowley’s trepidation and gladly took the lead around the side of the cottage towards the back garden. The scents and colors hit them again as they rounded the corner, and they both took a moment to inhale the heady scents.

“On time, at least.” They turned towards the voice, finding that Miss Weatherwax was sitting by her door, quietly watching them with eyes that seemed to see everything. “You may as well come in, we’ve got a bit until the others arrive.”

They took a moment to exchange a wary glance before Aziraphale led the way into the dark interior of the cottage, shoulders relaxing when nothing happened. They took a moment to look around the room, which was a large airy kitchen that had been very roughly updated some time in 1930. “Where should we set the food, Miss Weatherwax?”

She waved towards the massive old table in the center of the room. “There’s good enough. It’ll keep.” It wasn’t a question. “Sit, I’ll get the tea going.”

They did as told, instinctively choosing seats so that Aziraphale could keep an eye on her while Crowley kept an eye on the door and the garden. It took only moments for her to bring the pot to the table, as well as three battered old mugs. She gave Crowley a look as she poured out the tea and set the mug down in front of them. “I’ll see you as you are, old snake, while you’re under my roof.”

Crowley scowled at that, but snatched off the glasses and tossed them down beside the mug. “Happy?”

Miss Weatherwax met their eyes without flinching, and it was Crowley who looked away first. “Hmm.” She poured out a second mug for Aziraphale, who was watching Crowley with a crease of concern between their brows, but merely nodded in gratitude as they accepted the mug.

She poured her own mug and finally sat, taking a sip and settling back into her chair. “So. Tell me why you’re here.”

Aziraphale looked towards Crowley, who gave a terse nod and dared to take a taste of the tea. “Well, Miss Weatherwax-”

“Call me Granny.”

Neither paid any mind to Crowley’s choking cough and Aziraphale beamed at her. “Granny, thank you. Please call me Aziraphale.”

She nodded and looked towards Crowley, who had not yet recovered from almost snorting hot tea out their nose. “Oh, uh, Crowley, thanks.”

Aziraphale took another sip of tea. “Granny, do you know what happened on Saturday?”

She eyed them both for a moment before admitting, “I know it ended up not happening.”

“We… were supposed to help it along. And… we didn’t.”

“I see.” Granny pursed her lips and mulled that over for a moment. “So what do you want from me?”

Aziraphale hesitated, worried that no matter what they said, it would be the worst explanation they could have chosen. “We want to help protect this world from any more meddling from above or below. But we’re not sure how best to do that. We didn’t know who else to go to and it seemed likely you would know others to consult.”

She pierced Crowley with a look when they nodded. “Hard as it may be to believe, Granny, I love this ridiculous little planet just as much as m-, as the angel does. I don’t actually wish it or its inhabitants harm.”

“Hmm. So we give you guidance, and that means?”

Aziraphale let out a breath, nervously clasping their hands together. “Having a purpose, something greater than just watching life go on around me.” They leaned forward, speaking from their heart. “I want to help but I don’t know how best to do that anymore. I’m not sure I ever did.”

“Yeah, same.” Crowley fidgeted beneath her stare. “And I want them to pay.” Looked up into her eyes, let her read whatever she could there. “For what they did to me, to Aziraphale. What they still want to do to us and the world. Why should they be allowed to get away with it?”

She looked sidelong at Aziraphale who was unconsciously nodding in agreement to Crowley’s words and sat back in her chair, deep in thought. “What else would be gained if we agree to this?”

“We gain your trust, that means a great deal, and, well, your belief in us. Belief is very important in this sort of thing. Believing in things is very old magic, as I’m sure you know.” She was frowning but nodded. “We would of course grant our protection in return. Advice, if asked for, not that I would presume you would need advice, just that some of the younger ones might seek it. And I can, we can...” Aziraphale hesitated and looked towards Crowley, who nodded encouragingly. “We can teach humans how to use their magic to its fullest potential.” It made the former angel shiver just to think about how much both sides hated humans having magic. Offering to teach humans magic was as much a death sentence as anything else they had dared to do.

Granny made a dismissive noise, shocking Aziraphale. “What for?”

“Because they use magic all the time and you can’t fight what you don’t understand,” answered Crowley. “Heaven likes to call it miracles but I don’t think it’s really any different than what demons and humans can use.” A snap of their fingers and the table turned to gold. “Some of their powers can only be blocked by magic. Wards to keep them from spying on secret meetings, traps against those who’re trying to attack us-”

She waved her hand when Crowley would have continued and the former demon restored the table with another snap when she glowered. “You’ve made your point. So how do we keep you from meddling?”

Crowley’s smile sharpened. “You can’t. That’s where trust comes in. It’s a pact.”

“An arrangement of mutual trust,” interjected Aziraphale with a sharp look at Crowley before Granny could react to their taunting. “We are vulnerable, Granny, without anyone on our side. You said it yourself, we chose the right side this time. Well, we’d like to continue to exist and for this side to continue to exist with a planet for us all to continue to exist on.”

“Coo-ee! Esme?” called a familiar voice from the garden and Aziraphale and Crowley exchanged a glance. Mrs. Ogg appeared in the doorway, a massive mangy old tomcat draped around her shoulders and a couple small glass jugs of something Crowley hoped was stronger than tea. “Leave room for Magrat to park!” she called back over her shoulder, setting the jugs and the cat down by the door and dropping into the chair next to Crowley. “Been a rough week, eh?” she said to Crowley, who snorted at the understatement and was rewarded with a grin. “Thought you mighta been a part of that.”

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise Mrs. Ogg,” said Aziraphale, smiling down at the tom who let out a rusty purr and coated Aziraphale’s pants with tufts of dark fur. “And Greebo. Hello sir,” they said, letting out a grunt when the cat jumped up and began making biscuits on their lap. “I, ow, see, ow, he’s feeling, ow, much better!”

“Oh yes, a nice little visit with you perks him right up, it does. And I told you, call me Nanny.”

Thankfully Crowley had already swallowed the sip of tea this time. “I just bet it does, Nanny,” Crowley murmured. She winked at Crowley’s arch look and it was quite clear the witch was playing Aziraphale like a kazoo, since it didn’t take much of anything to get into the former angel’s graces. Even mangy old monsters that terrorize the whole neighborhood could manage it.

“I keep saying, don’t I Azi, that you should get a cat or two for the shop. Can’t be good for a soul, spending all that time alone,” she said, pulling from her ratty bag a very lumpy mug that had clearly been made by one of her many grandchildren, as well as a silver flask from somewhere upon her person. “There’s a weaned litter out in our Jason’s barn.”

“Oh, I’d love to, uh, Nanny, but-” It was at that point that Greebo noticed Crowley and froze, having never been faced with anything quite like this before. Humans trembled when Greebo walked by, snakes knew better than to sun themselves in his garden. A combination of the two should have posed no problem, but it was, oh it was. Greebo broke the stare and the sound barrier on his way out the door back into the garden. “They don’t like Crowley.”

Crowley shrugged when the witches turned to look their way. “It’s not like I have anything against cats, just most of th-ahh!” Crowley whipped around, lightning in hand, to confront whatever had just nibbled on one of their non-corporeal feathers. “Uh?”

“That’s You,” said Granny. A stately pure white cat was standing behind Crowley’s chair, tail up in a curious ? as she sniffed at the grain of residue she had dislodged, lazily swatting it into a pft of nothingness. She looked up at Crowley, who was staring open mouthed, and sauntered closer to generously curl her tail around their leg for a moment, leaving a single white hair to mark her approval.

“Hey,” Crowley protested and then suddenly the cat was in their lap and Crowley put their hands up like they were being mugged, which in a broad way, they were. “Ooh, ah, oh, I-”

“You seems to like you just fine,” Granny said, and Crowley’s sharp look caught the glint in her eye before she pushed up from the table to put the pot back on for more tea.

Crowley turned to Aziraphale and Nanny in bewilderment, scowling when Nanny just laughed. “Just pet her, love. She’ll let you know what she likes.”

Anyone could see the affection in the reformed angel’s eyes as they watched poor Crowley navigate their first actual interaction with a cat that didn’t involve mutual hissing. The two women who walked in certainly could, at least until it was hidden behind a warm but distant smile of greeting. “Hello.”

“Esk and Agnes,” said Nanny. “Meet Aziraphale and Crowley. A couple more will by later.”

The two smiled politely at Aziraphale and after a moment’s hesitation that only a celestial being or another witch would notice, offered the same welcome to Crowley. The younger, Agnes, was short and plump and dressed stylishly in dark colors, her face haloed by a riot of dark curly hair. The older, Esk, wore her mousy brown hair in a neutral bob, dressed in unassuming clothes that made her fade into the background.

This did not stop Aziraphale from recognizing her. “Dr. Eskarina Smith, what an honor to meet you! I found your most recent paper to be quite fascinating! Brilliant work.”

“I, oh, really? Well, thank you. Very few people read my work.”

“Oh, I read everything,” smiled Aziraphale. “I hope we can discuss your work at length some day?”

“Oh, er, I’d like that.”

“Let’s eat!” Nanny said, pouring some tea into her mug and wagging her flask in Crowley’s direction.

“Yes, please,” murmured the former demon with reverence, scooting the mug over with their non-petting hand. Being at the mercy of these witches, who had no reason to trust Crowley, having to hope they’d trust Aziraphale enough to take them as a package deal... On top of that it would take more than a minor miracle to get rid of the cloud of white cathair, and it was clear to Crowley they were being toyed with, and that the cat knew that they knew and would just give a slow blink and bat at their tie to demand more scritches. It called for a stiff drink and what they’d smelled in Nanny’s flask could just about get up and walk on its own.

The two younger women began getting plates and utensils while Aziraphale began to set out the still hot food, chatting about what they’d brought, doing all the small talk things that they knew Crowley wasn’t up for, not when they could tell how uncomfortable and exposed Crowley felt without their glasses on in the midst of so many strangers. It made Aziraphale smile to see that petting the cat seemed to be helping put everyone at ease.

They passed a pleasant while eating, mostly carried through by Aziraphale and Nanny. When they were done Crowley was temped to miracle the mess away but there was a glint in Granny’s eye that warned that that would not be appreciated so the old snake slouched out of their chair and helped Aziraphale and the younger women clear the table in the growing awkward silence.

Granny waited until they were seated again to say, “Our new friends here have come for advice.”

They all turned expectantly towards Aziraphale who began trying to explain. “We are, well, we were-”

“Angels.” All the women turned to stare at Crowley, who gave them a sardonic smile. “Long story short, Aziraphale knew how to keep their mouth shut but I asked too many questions and got, ha ha, ‘sent down’. We were ordered to meddle with humans but also to thwarting each other’s efforts since then.”

“But then they wanted to start Armageddon,” Aziraphale said, tugging nervously at their waistcoat. “And Crowley convinced me to help thwart the ‘Great Plan’. But our plans definitely did not go as planned at all and eventually our machinations were discovered.”

“Armageddon didn’t happen anyway, but we ended up burning our bridges.”

“While we were standing on them,” murmured Aziraphale as they held out their mug to Nanny, who gave them a healthy splash. The reformed angel explained, “They were going to put us to true death, via hellfire and holy water respectively, dispersing our souls such that we could never reincorporate.”

Nanny broke the heavy silence after a moment by giving Crowley’s mug another generous helping from her flask. “Well, congratulations on surviving,” she said. “How’d you do it?”

They shared a speaking look as Crowley took a long sip and it was Aziraphale that answered. “We switched places.”

“But-”

“It was a long-shot,” shrugged Crowley. “We’d had a warning from a witch. Agnes Nutter.”

There were definite signs of recognition at that name. “So you can imitate each other so well that not even others like you can tell the difference?” Agnes asked, speaking for the first time and going red when they both turned to stare at her in consternation. “What?”

“Your voice...” It was like two separate voices twined together.

“She’s gods-touched,” said Granny shortly. “Not that one, obviously, one of the locals.”

Aziraphale shook off the little shiver Agnes’ voice had sent over their wings and answered her question. “We’ve been doing something similar for ages you see. Our… bosses, weren’t too interested in the details, as long as orders were carried out. So if I’d been sent somewhere to inspire charity and Crowley was too busy to thwart me, I’d take over their assignment. It’s not hard to tempt people to do goodness, goodness for the wrong reasons still counts, and it was the tempting downstairs wanted more than the greater result, you see.”

“And if I’d been sent to sow chaos and discord, and Aziraphale needed to grant grace upon those deemed ‘worthy’, I’d perform miracles for people who got exactly what they deserved,” Crowley said with a wide, sharp smile.

“But...” This time Esk spoke. “Shouldn’t it have hurt? Consecrated ground, unholy ground?”

Aziraphale’s eyes went wide as they turned to Crowley, who swore. “Bloody hell! You’re right! It was barely more than an...”

“Itch,” finished Aziraphale grimly. “So that’s what caused it. Or precipitated it at least.”

“We had a very bad day yesterday. It started with an itch, like a target between my shoulder-blades and it spread to my wings.” A look at Aziraphale confirmed that their experience was the same. “It felt like holy water and hellfire combined. It, uh, it,” the words clogged Crowley’s throat as they looked at Aziraphale.

“It was almost the end of us but we saved each other, again,” said the ex-angel with a tumultuous smile at Crowley. “But we’re not sure what that means for us now.”

“Seems to me,” said Granny thoughtfully, “you’ve broken their hold over you, if you survived both at once. But is it safe to test it?” She was looking at Crowley.

Crowley cleared their throat and looked at Aziraphale who was frowning in concern. “A drop won’t kill me, angel. We need to know.”

“I’ve got holy water,” said Nanny, gesturing to the jugs she’d left by the door.

“That’s not holy,” sniffed Granny.

“That’s not water!” protested Agnes.

“Is too! Mostly. Got it blessed by a priest and everything!”

Granny made a disgusted noise and got up to fetch one of the jugs, thumping it down in the center of the table. When the jug rocked on the uneven surface and tipped over in Crowley’s direction, the former demon skidded backwards, eyes wide, hands out in a defensive stance, then Aziraphale was between the table and Crowley, the room suddenly bright with scintillating golden light that felt as thought it could turn to molten shards of glass at any moment.

STOP.”

It was easy to forget that Aziraphale, with their fussy scholarly air and warm slightly dotty smile, was most definitely not human. Even with Crowley’s eyes proclaiming their not-humanness, the human brain was very good at not seeing what it didn’t want to see, even when it belonged to a witch.

It could not be said that the witches were afraid, per se, but they might have agreed to feeling mildly worried, or perhaps slightly concerned. And they barely dared breathe or blink, as one does when one is definitely not afraid, with Granny sprawled halfway across the table, holding on to the tipped bottle. The candy-apple red sealing wax had popped free, bounced once, circled erratically and settled at the edge of the table where it visibly began to melt from its proximity to Aziraphale.

“Sorry. Never actually met anything holy water could work on,” said Granny, having to bite out every word when her body wanted to drop to its knees in true awe of the glowing reformed angel.

“Yeah, well, it usually works on me,” said Crowley with a snarl, one hand fisted in the back of the Aziraphale’s coat. They peered around Aziraphale at the bottle and tugged when they went to move away. “Wait, angel, are you sure-”

“IT WILL N- ahem, sorry. A drop won’t kill me either.” Aziraphale’s expression went soft at the worry in Crowley’s eyes. “I promise.”

The moment was broken by a little sniffle and they turned to see Agnes dabbing at her eyes. “Sorry,” she said, flapping her hand when more tears welled up. “Sorry!” she said, bolting outside.

Nanny patted Aziraphale’s arm when they gave her a dismayed look. “It’s alright, love, she just feels things a little too strongly sometimes and you’re still radiating a bit.”

Aziraphale looked down at themself and blushed to see that they were indeed still glowing. “I do beg your pardon,” they said, cheeks flushed with embarrassment as the light vanished and they tugged on their waistcoat self-consciously. “Haven’t done that in a long time. Got a little carried away.”

Granny set the jug upright and waved a hand, compromising with her weakened knees by sinking back into her chair. Esk let out a long shaky breath and closed her eyes against the spots still dancing in them. Nanny took a deep drink straight from her flask and waved for Agnes to rejoin them at the table, who slunk back inside and resumed her seat, still blushing in embarrassment. “Sorry.”

“I’m going to check the holy water now,” said Aziraphale, patting Crowley’s arm.

“Yeah, alright.” It took Crowley a minute to actually let go of them, both of them wary with every fibre of their beings as Aziraphale carefully uncorked the bottle.

Both of them frowned as the eye-watering scent filled the air. “Apples?” asked Aziraphale.

“Mostly. Made it myself,” said Nanny, almost reaching for her pipe before thinking better of it.

Aziraphale hesitantly touched a finger to the damp cork, feeling the usual inrush of power that holy water infused them with. They turned to show Crowley that nothing bad was happening besides very slow contact inebriation. “You don’t have to,” they said softly, understanding the fear in Crowley’s eyes.

It took a few false starts but Crowley stood and moved closer. Crowley took the cork and everyone let out the breath they’d been holding. The former demon stood turning the cork over in their hands, thinking hard. It had been a very long time since Crowley had felt the infusion of power from holy water but they had no doubt that they were experiencing it again. On a physical level it was just cool evaporating wetness and a very strong scent of mostly apples.

“So you’re both immune,” said Granny.

“Looks like it,” said Crowley, tossing the cork from hand to hand before stoppering the jug again, wondering what it meant.

“Hello?” Another woman and a teenage girl stepped into the room, trying to make sense of the tableau before them. The two not-humans were standing by the table, the witches all sunk into their chairs as though in relief, including Granny, and the very recognizable of scent of Nanny’s scumble.

“Wotcher, Magrat, hullo Tiffany dear. Meet Aziraphale and Crowley,” greeted Nanny. “Been an interesting afternoon! Did you bring dessert? Pull up a chair and we’ll explain.”

There was another flurry of activity as more tea was brewed and served and the newcomers revealed that they had brought enough Angel Food and Devil’s Food cupcakes so that everyone could have one of each.

The one called Magrat had a halo of frizzy blond curls, and was dressed in what would probably be called hippy clothes, with a lot of jangling jewelery, while Tiffany was dressed in an old tee-shirt and faded jeans that had clearly been handed down repeatedly, as well as a pair of well worn boots.

“Haven’t I seen you on TV?” Crowley asked Magrat, who pinkened.

“Magrat was recently elected to office.” Nanny grinned and with a tone of voice that could add in- and out-nuendos to the simplest of statements, added, “And married the long lost heir to the local ruin-”

Magrat went crimson and loudly cleared her throat to keep Nanny from saying anything more and asked, “If I may, why would they burn your wings but not the rest of you?”

“Our wings are more than just appendages, they are a functional part of our souls,” said Aziraphale. “Suffice to say destroying our wings would destroy us, while destroying this body, while painful and inconvenient, would not be true death.”

“They help us channel our power, especially while in corporeal form,” Crowley added.

“Can we see?” asked one of Agnes’ voices. The other immediately replied, “No, sorry, forget I-”

“Need more room,” said Crowley, snatching up their glasses and striding towards the door, letting out a relieved sigh to be out in the sun. It was almost too much, saying all this, putting themselves on the chopping block, risking Aziraphale this way. But what choice do we have? Running away was never really an option anyway.

The others straggled outside and Aziraphale came to stand beside Crowley. “Ready?”

Crowley circled around Aziraphale and nodded.

There were gasps of course, how could there not be. If the two celestials had been channeling their power the witches would have been temporarily blinded and probably sent to their knees, but as it was they just had to squint a bit and blink away tears if they stared too long.

Crowley’s dark wings, spread wide in the sun, shimmered with bold colors that seemed to flow and move as the primary feathers fanned apart to absorb the warmth of the sun. It was like a night sky veiled by an aurora.

Aziraphale’s wings, by contrast, had warmed from stark white to gold gilded with copper and bronze, the bright metallic feathers faintly clouded by iridescence that made them seem like a glorious ever-changing sunrise. Seeing the women blinking and squinting Aziraphale furled their wings, but hesitated to send them away.

“Too lovely in the sun,” said Crowley lowly, also furling their wings, “to put them away yet.”

Aziraphale nodded and turned expectantly to the witches. “Do you have more questions for us? We’ll answer as best we may.”

The witches shared looks and turned to Granny, who shook her head. “I think now it’s up to us.”

The reformed angel nodded, hesitated a moment but after darting a look at Crowley asked, “If we may, Granny Weatherwax, can we await your decision here, in your lovely garden?”

Granny’s eyes shifted to Crowley, positioned just slightly behind Aziraphale, taking long deep breaths, face turned up towards the sun and somehow without the jaded disdain that usually hovered around that smirking mouth. “Might as well. Shouldn’t be too long.”

She followed the parade of witches back into the house and shut the two of them out in the garden.

Aziraphale let out a shaky sigh, turning to Crowley. “Well, that went better than I expected.”

“I suppose,” Crowley said, summoning a certain black and red blanket and dropping down onto it, stretching their wings wide. “We’ll see what they decide. Not much in it for them, taking up with us. Makes ‘em even more of a target.”

“It seems like they were already making a target of themselves,” Aziraphale pointed out thoughtfully, wings partially unfurling to enjoy the sun as they pretended to watch the bees dancing with the flowers, instead watching Crowley from the corner of their eye. “I think we make very strong allies to have.”

“You are, anyway,” said Crowley, watching Aziraphale, their regard hidden by their sunglasses as the former angel relaxed into the sunlight. There was a sharp stab of guilt. They would have been safe, if it weren’t for you, said the nasty little voice in the back of their mind. They were content with their place, but you just had to push. Look at all they risked for you, died for you, and for what? Stuck with the likes of you? Selfish. “M’just a snake. Couple big fangs, do you a poison I s’pose in a pinch. Good at mucking up and slithering out of things.”

Aziraphale frowned at their words, feeling a sting of something they couldn’t name when they concentrated on the strengthening bond. “Crowley.”

So much warmth and affection flooded through the bond that Crowley had to close their eyes against the tears that sprung up unwanted. They could sense the reformed angel moving to stand beside them, and they had to look, losing their breath to see Aziraphale standing back-lit by the sun, hair aglow with light, green eyes so full of fondness for them it was almost heartbreaking. “My dear, you sell yourself far too short! You survived rebelling, twice over I might add! because of your wicked cleverness. And convinced the forces of hell they were lucky to have you! And yet you still nurtured a generosity of spirit I never found among those in the halls of heaven. Not even in myself.”

Crowley just stared for a long moment, warmed by Aziraphale’s words, as utterly enchanted in that moment as they had been in the Garden. Rolling to their knees and up onto their feet, Crowley recited, “But soft? What light from yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Aziraphale is the sun.” The words had been theirs, loaned out to the bard in a night of drunken revelry that had, for once, not come back to bite them in the ass, and they were as true now as they had been then.

The reformed angel blushed and shook their head. “Crowley.”

Crowley pulled off their glasses and took a step closer. “They speak: O, speak again, bright angel!”

Aziraphale’s heart beat a little faster at the intense look in Crowley’s eyes. “I thought you didn’t like the gloomy ones,” they murmured, shifting closer, aching to reach out.

“Oh, I like to pretend they fooled everyone and ran off together in the end,” Crowley said, making light of it, pretending their heart wasn’t pounding like a drum at speaking so impulsively. At wanting to close that last bit of distance between them and not knowing how. At being afraid to discover Aziraphale’s feeling didn’t run in the same vein as theirs, or as deep. “No saving Hamlet, though. Tragedy all the way down.”

Aziraphale smiled at that, trying to sort through their jumbled emotions, already complicated but now compounded by the returning memories of the Garden. Part of them wanted to confess all, but there was still so much that needed to be said and it never seemed to be the right place or time. They looked away from Crowley’s intense stare, looking out at the garden and thinking of the past. “It hurts to remember,” Aziraphale confessed.

Crowley defensively put the sunglasses back on, following Aziraphale’s gaze. “The Garden?”

“Us.” Aziraphale’s face went red at having said it that way, but didn’t take the words back when Crowley turned to stare at them. “How easy it was in the past for us to casually touch and hold hands and hug.” They darted a look at Crowley, who’d turned back to the garden, and worked up the courage to ask, “Has too much passed between us, Crowley, for us to have that again?”

“I… I don’t think so.” Crowley wiped their suddenly sweaty hand on their jeans and offered it to Aziraphale. “It was pretty nice.”

Aziraphale took it with a misty smile, shifting closer. “We don’t have to hide our friendship anymore.” We don’t have to hide anything anymore, they wanted to say. Now to make myself believe it.

Crowley nodded and shifted so that their shoulders touched, careful to keep their wings from touching. “It’ll take some time, to get used to it,” they admitted lowly, staring out at Granny’s garden, ignoring the familiar ache over their heart.

“That’s okay. I know someone who can stop time if we need it,” Aziraphale said lightly, eyes crinkling with a smile when Crowley gave them a startled double-take before smirking and bumping their shoulder.

They probably would have stayed that way indefinitely, if small needle-sharp claws hadn’t begun climbing Crowley’s legs. “Ow ow owowow, getitoff!”

Aziraphale smothered a laugh, rescuing poor Crowley from a swarm of very rambunctious kittens that had decided to use the former demon as a scratching post. They were content to climb all over Aziraphale instead and purred and meowed for attention. “Where did you come from, little ones?”

You.” Crowley glared at the smug white cat when she rubbed against their shins. “Got to be hers.”

“Oh yes, that would make sense.” Aziraphale smothered another smile at Crowley’s disgruntled expression. “I’ll just take them over here and help them work off some energy, shall I?”

Crowley grunted in answer and plopped back down onto the blanket to bask, unable to keep from smiling as the former angel began cooing at the kittens. The old snake had just closed their eyes when something small but with far more gravity than it should have landed right on their solar plexus, knocking the wind from their lungs. “Oi, You!”

She just blinked and kneaded a little before curling up on Crowley’s belly with a startlingly loud purr that seem to vibrate right through their chest.

“I’m as daft as the angel,” Crowley complained as their hands sank into the soft white fur and scritched the cat’s ear. “You’re cramping my style, You,” the celestial serpent hissed, scratching under her chin and getting a slow blink as her reply. “Ugh, fine.”

Aziraphale couldn’t help but chuckle at poor old Crowley, pinned down by a bit of fluff and purr. Crowley’s rude gesture just made the reformed angel chuckle more. They very much enjoyed playing with the kittens, and enjoyed even more watching Crowley bluster and grumble when they tumbled onto the old snake’s wings and curled up to nap. “Poor Crowley, should I move them?”

Crowley gave them another rude gesture, trying not to smile at their teasing. “Laugh it up, angel, I’ll remember this. You’re going to owe me big time.”

“Oh no,” said the reformed angel dryly, sitting down by Crowley’s feet on the blanket and unfurling their wings again. “Oh, woe. See how I tremble and quake.”

Crowley barked out a laugh, pushing up onto one elbow to get a better look at Aziraphale. “What’s gotten into you?”

Aziraphale inhaled deeply and looked out at the garden before looking back at Crowley, letting themself feel hopeful as they admitted, “Freedom. I don’t have to be the nice one anymore.”

The former demon drew down their glasses and gave Aziraphale a long considering look before a true smile curled their lips upward. “It looks good on you, angel.”

The sun was low in the sky when the witches reemerged, and they all stopped by the door to take in the sight before them. Aziraphale was sitting by Crowley’s feet, wings open to the westering sun, Crowley’s own wings pinned by sleeping kittens as they petted You, listening to Aziraphale lowly read aloud from the book.

It was You who noticed the witches first, giving a slight trill and having a long stretch before waking the kittens and leading them away. Aziraphale and Crowley quickly stood and dusted themselves off, sending their wings away as they moved towards the witches and met in the middle of the garden. “So?” asked Crowley.

“We have some terms to our arrangement,” said Esk to the two celestials, holding up a list written on the back of an envelope. When they nodded she read, “One, you will not alter, harm or control our thoughts, memories, feelings, bodies, souls or other biological or supernatural functions without consent.”

“Agreed.”

“Two, you will teach us all about magic and how to protect ourselves and others from those who will use magic to cause harm.”

“Agreed.”

“Three, you will only meddle in human affairs to thwart the actions of our enemies or to help those in need.” This was with a pointed look at Crowley who smirked.

“Agreed.”

“In return, we offer you our cooperation, in thwarting our enemies and helping those in need.”

“Agreed.”

“We offer you our trust; that you will keep your word, that you will protect us and teach us and give guidance when asked.”

“Agreed.”

“And we offer you our belief.” She angled a look at Granny, who sniffed but did not object. “That you are kind and clever, wise and just; that you know both good and evil and choose good; and that none may destroy your vessel or the spirit that burns within.”

The two celestials shared a surprised look but said, “Agreed.”

“You do understand the ramifications of this, don’t you?” asked Aziraphale, looking into their eyes. “This is very dangerous. You are risking your lives, possibly your souls-”

“We were already risking ‘em,” interrupted Granny. “Didn’t look like they much cared about us while they were staging the end of the world over in Tadfield, did it? Can’t be having with that. So, we have a deal?”

Aziraphale looked to Crowley, who pulled off their glasses and grinned as the sun dropped below the horizon. “We’ve got a deal.”

There probably should have been a clap of thunder, or the rumble of an earthquake, or the moon turning red as blood, but the evening held only the mundane sounds of billions of little lives being lived and the short wet squeak of a life being lost to Greebo.

“So, how would you like to formalize this?” asked Aziraphale, who had amassed documentation on a great many esoteric rites and secretive pacts, an unfortunate number of which were rather distasteful.

They both perked up when Nanny laughed and held up one of the jugs of ‘holy water’. “Oh, we’ve got that all planned out already, don’t you worry, Azi!”

Granny led them into the forest, straight to a meadow very recently shorn to expose a handful of towering ancient stones dropped there by a glacier and rearranged by people a great many years ago. They stood mostly upright in a wide rough circle and the inside had a smaller circle of stones around a blackened patch, with boulders, logs and one very rusty camp chair scattered around the firepit.

The witches moved around to what seemed to be their usual spots, with Granny anchoring the north side from on a boulder and Nanny on the south in the camp chair. “’Ere now, Aziraphale, you’re in the east, and you’re in the west, Crowley, right, so.” She patted her pockets until she found a battered box of matches and tossed them to Tiffany. “Get the fire started, Tiff and I’ll set to pouring our libations.”

You could practically hear Granny rolling her eyes as Nanny cackled, but she held out her freshly carved tiny wooden cup just the same when Nanny came around. The fire was crackling away merrily when Nanny poured Tiffany’s cup and then her own, carefully corking the jug and setting it safely behind one of the stones.

“Now we’re going to toast, then drink, and then toss the cups into the fire to seal the deal.” She held her cup aloft, waiting until everyone else had followed before saying, “Bottoms up!” Everyone quickly tossed the liquid back and somehow managed to all throw the cups in the fire at the same time.

It only lasted about ten seconds, but the pillar of flame that roared up lit the sky for miles around and would be the topic of speculation in the surrounding towns for a long time to come.

For the witches, it lasted a great deal longer than ten seconds, but also not, because they’d been momentarily blown outside of reality by the force of it. The witches still fundamentally looked the same in the vision, only surrounded by tangles and webs of magic made visible. Towering protectively above them were the two celestial beings they had just made the arrangement with, their wings encircling them protectively.

When the pillar burned out power steamrolled over all of them and they were back in their bodies again around the cheery little campfire, blessedly drunk and well insulated from what they had just witnessed. Mortals don’t go around looking celestial beings in the (sometimes far far too many) eyes too often for a reason, that being that they prefer their brains to stay between their ears and not turned into jam.

Aziraphale staggered backwards and slid down the face of the nearest standing stone with a little woozy sigh, startled to find their wings were out. Their eyes blearily focused on the tiny sputtering flames dancing along the edge of their left wing.

Crowley stumbled and splayed their wings, trying to keep their balance, but fell onto their rear with a thump. “Holy-”

“Hellfire.” Aziraphale hiccuped a laugh, poking a curious finger at one of the tongues of unholy fury, putting it out. “Huh. What’d turn holy water to hellfire?” There was a very dangerous crackling hiss from the west that none of the witches looked at, but Aziraphale smiled fondly across the way and blew out the remaining tongues of hellfire like birthday candles. “M’fine, Crowley, see? Just a tickle.”

“Mossstly applesss,” hissed Crowley at Nanny, trying and failing to get back into their human seeming.

“It is!” she insisted.

“And where them apples mostly from, ya loon?” Granny demanded from flat on her back.

“They’re from, oooh.” A pause while Nanny’s thoughts got themselves in order. “But it’s not like that anymore. Old place burned down ov’r a der- dor- ten year ago. Issa hotel er sommat now. Lots of posh cars and such. Haven’t a use f’r an orchard anymore so they sell the bushels cheap.”

“Wait, wait, waitwaitwait,” said Aziraphale. “Near Tadfield? Satin-ish nuns?”

“Sssatanic,” Crowley corrected. “You made sscider with unholy applesss?”

“They’re just apples, not a damned thing evil about them! I et dozens of ‘em myself.” Nanny was puffing away at her pipe. “I can sense the difference you know. We all can. Knew you wern’t any more evil than we are.”

Magrat struggled upright, checking her hair to make sure she hadn’t caught on fire because her brain certainly felt as though she had. “Maybe the area’s evil?” she suggested.

“And som’thin in the water hid it?” guessed Tiffany.

“Yeah, holiness,” said Agnes.

“Got burned away in the fire,” said Esk.

“I’m too drunk for this,” said Aziraphale. There was a long pause followed by a small, “Oh dear.”

Crowley’s words were not nearly so mild. They’d tried to burn the alcohol from their system as Aziraphale had, only to find that they couldn’t. “How long does this usually last?”

“Few hours,” said Nanny, puffing out a few smoke rings. “Usually. I tried a new recipe last year, ran short of my reg’lar bits ‘n’ bobs.”

“Let me guessss. Ol’ family recipe from Agnes Nutter?”

“P’rhaps. Done right by a lot of us, has old Agnes. You’ll survive a hangover.”

Aziraphale considered trying to get up, but thought better of it. “Can we have one of those bottles, Nanny? I think it’ll prove useful, when I can think clearly again.”

“Suit yourself. How about a song?”

Nanny serenaded her captive audience for a while, driving off the younger ones before Granny finally demanded help getting home and the two older witches tottered back to Granny’s cottage, leaving Aziraphale and Crowley alone with the smoldering fire.

“Hello,” murmured Aziraphale when Crowley slithered over, their large horn-crowned serpentine head bobbing drunkenly as they looked the former angel over. “That’s new,” the former angel said, gently touching Crowley’s face, surprised by how warm their scales were, sliding their fingers along their spiky brow to touch the closest horn.

“S’old,” corrected Crowley, resting their head on Aziraphale’s lap when they began stroking their fingers over Crowley’s scales. “Don’t like to remember.”

“No.” Aziraphale’s memories were blessedly dulled by Nanny’s scumble. Thinking of the past brought a terrible sense of grief, but there was righteous anger too. “It’s ver’ good that I’m too drunk to move.”

“Yesss,” agreed Crowley, coiling protectively around Aziraphale, too drunk to feel any trepidation at the contact. They let out a laughing hiss. “I don’t think we got the better ssside of the bargain.”

“No. We prob’ly should’ve asked what else they’d decided to believe about us first.”

Chapter Text

“What time do you think it is?” Aziraphale asked, laying in the center of Crowley’s serpentine coils. Overhead the sky was brilliant with stars.

Crowley looked up and hummed thoughtfully. “After midnight.”

“How do you know?”

“Moon set was at eleven-forty-ishhh,” they said. “I like the moon. Always been able t’sense it.”

Aziraphale nodded in agreement. “It’s a good moon. One of yours?”

“Oh, don’t think so, more of a ssstar and nebula fan, m’ssself. Lotsss of lightsss and colorsss.”

“Ahhh. That explains the wings. Very lovely, I thought to m’self, looks like an arr, arroor, hissy night rainbow. And the scales, quite beautiful.”

“Thanks, angel.” Crowley nudged Aziraphale’s shoulder. “Ssshould we go back to the garden?”

Aziraphale was taken back by the question for a moment until it dawned they meant Granny’s garden. “We prob’ly should. Ooh, the blanket’s there. Not sure I can walk though. Can’t really feel m’legs.”

“Not much help there,” said Crowley. “Can’t even find mine.”

Aziraphale hummed thoughtfully and realized they’d started humming one of the songs Nanny had been singing. “’Ere, help me up?” Crowley’s coils flexed and shifted, gently helping Aziraphale to their feet. They rocked unsteadily for a moment before calling up their magic.

Crowley blinked at the flash of light and blinked again. Instead of a human form there was a massive golden cat that looked like a cross of leopard and a cheetah with feathered wings, of a size to Crowley’s serpent form. “That’s a look,” said Crowley, rearing up and wobbling drunkenly.

“That’s better. More legs.”

“Haven’t seen that in...”

“Haven’t been able to use it since I was d’moted to principality. But I like this form so ha!” After a few stumbles they recalled how to use more than two legs at a time and rubbed up against Crowley. “D’you want a ride? Got extra legs.” Crowley slid onto Aziraphale’s back, draping their coils around the muscular frame between Aziraphale’s cupped wings, surprised when they began to purr. “You are very hug shaped.”

“Only to you, angel.”

When they arrived in Granny’s garden they found the others’ cars were all still parked, but there weren’t any lights coming from the cottage. Aziraphale paced around on the blanket and settled in, Crowley still draped over their back. “I think sleep might be our only option,” the cat grumbled after another attempt to clear the alcohol from their system.

“I’ll guard you,” Crowley promised lowly.

“I don’t think you need to, not here. I pity anything that comes here without an invitation.”

Crowley laughed. “Like us?”

“Yes.” Aziraphale yawned. “I’ve slept more in the past few days than all before. Ever before?”

“What’s Agnes Nutter playing at?”

“Long game.”

“Different game alt’gether,” Crowley murmured, coiling back around Aziraphale.

“Hmm.” The reformed angel’s thoughts dwelled on that until they drifted off to sleep.

Morning came far too early and far too brightly for everyone involved. Crowley woke up curled against the ex-angel’s leonine side, tucked under Aziraphale’s wing. “I thought I’d imagined that,” Crowley said to themself, uncoiling and shifting, scrambling to their feet with a groan.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale made a low growl when they opened their eyes and quickly shut them again. “Goodness, why do humans drink if they have to deal with this afterward?”

“Ridiculous, isn’t it,” Crowley agreed. “You might want to get human before they wake up, angel. Giant wingy extinct lions might be a bit alarming with this kind of hangover.”

“I suppose so.” The shift back wasn’t nearly as flashy and shortly Aziraphale was sitting on the blanket, clutching their head. “What was the part that wasn’t apples? Hammers? Anvils?”

“Why couldn’t they believe we’re immune to hangovers?” Crowley grumbled, helping Aziraphale to their feet.

“I don’t think anyone would get away with that with witches,” Aziraphale said, very slowly bending over to pick up the blanket. “We’re lucky it’s just a hangover.”

Crowley made a face. “Fair enough.”

When no more magic happened, Tiffany very cautiously walked out the back door, squinting against the brightness of the morning. “We’re making tea if you’d like some.”

The pair of them shuffled cautiously closer to the cottage, walking as thought they feared their heads might fall off. “Thank you, Tiffany. I am really rather parched and could do with tasting something not-apple.”

She snorted and nodded, then pinched the bridge of her nose in regret. “This is the strongest batch I’ve ever had. I’ve a feeling it had a lot more to it than Nanny lets on. Anvils and hammers perhaps.”

“Of that there is no doubt,” Aziraphale agreed with a chuckle. It was a relief to step into the darkness of the cottage where Agnes was putting the pot back onto the stove, the other witches nursing their mugs and looking the worse for wear. And drink.

Their combined discomfort shimmered across Crowley’s senses like static. “Bugger this for a lark,” Crowley growled. “Who wants a miracle hangover cure?” There was a low pathetic chorus of agreement and Crowley snapped their fingers, letting out a relieved breath when the miracle worked and everyone sighed in relief. “Hung over is no way to start an arrangement.”

“Thank you, my dear, that was rather uncomfortable.” Aziraphale settled onto the chair they’d had the day before. “I think the first order of business is to set up protections for all of you.”

“And here. Especially here,” said Crowley, looking out into the garden. “If you agree, Granny.”

She nodded. “I’m rather partial to it myself. Rather not have anyone coming uninvited.”

Aziraphale cringed slightly but beamed at Agnes when she handed them a mug of tea. “Excellent! And we can use this as your first lesson in magic!”

Crowley couldn’t help but grin when the younger women all let out a groan, and the old snake slouched against the doorjamb to watch Aziraphale in their element. It brought back very old memories as they began talking, of how much Aziraphale loved teaching, never making their pupils feel foolish for asking questions or not understanding. How heartbroken they’d been when they were ordered to stop teaching. Upstairs hadn’t liked that Aziraphale never limited themself to just the approved subjects, or to the approved pupils. It had been a hard time for the angel and only Crowley’s suggestion of opening a bookstore had perked them up. And then Paris, and what happened after Paris that had Crowley sleeping most of the next century away.

“Crowley.”

They jerked a little, coming out of their thoughts. “Sorry, angel, what was that?”

“I said, do you know when moon rise is? For this spell, it’s best if it’s cast at moon rise, calling upon the symbolic resonances-” The reformed angel explained the significance to the witches, and Crowley waited to interject the answer when Aziraphale paused.

It was then that Crowley noticed the looks everyone kept giving Granny. She didn’t seem any different to Crowley but it was clear something was going on under the surface. When there was a break in Aziraphale’s lesson Crowley made an excuse to saunter outside, going to lean against the apple tree with their back to the cottage.

Less than a minute later Granny was standing beside them and Crowley repressed a smile. Gestured out at the garden and asked, “How do you get everything to grow so well, Granny?”

“I listen. Sometimes I tells them, but mostly I listen.”

Crowley gave her a startled look. “Haven’t tried that before.”

She harrumphed and they stood in silence for a moment before she finally said, “I don’t like it.”

“Had a feeling.”

“It’s wizards’ magic. Ain’t got use for wizards or their nonsense.”

Crowley raised their eyebrows in question but didn’t break the silence.

“Men mucking about where they’re not wanted or needed. Fiddling with things they’ve no business with. It’s not right for witches to be playing with wizardry.

“What does sex have to do with it?” Crowley smirked at her frown. “Do you think magic cares what’s in your pants? Or your brain? Or your DNA? They don’t have any of those things and will use whatever power they can to make sure they get their war, Granny.”

She scowled, staring out over the garden. “They didn’t want to let Esk into their precious college. Too stupid to see the talent sitting right in front of them because it was inside a girl. Ignored the signs of things going wrong too many times to count. Useless old windbags, the lot o’ them. You can’t make us work together.”

“Er, fair enough. That’s not how we work anyway. But I suggest you think, Granny, about all those shut out when you divide everything into those neat little boxes. Female, Male, Young, Old, Witch, Wizard, Nice, Bad. Lots of people don’t fall neatly into piles. Aziraphale and I certainly don’t!” Another sharp grin, and just the slightest shimmer of magic made it clear Crowley could make their human body look any way they wanted. “We’re going to need every ally we can get if we want to keep our turf.”

“Is it? Your turf I mean?” she asked. “Seems you two came from a long way off.”

“We’ve made it ours.” Crowley inhaled and let out a slow breath. “And it made us. Can’t spend centuries in a place and not be changed. Where we were from doesn’t even exist anymore, except some rubble eaten by the sand.” They looked towards Granny. “Does it bother you, that we’re here?”

“I invited you.” She met their eyes. “Both of you. I may be old, old snake, but I’m ain’t dead yet. Plenty of time left in these bones to learn a new trick or two.”

Crowley’s lips lifted in the slightest of smiles. “And teach a few?”

She didn’t exactly smile but there was a definite glint in her eye. “Them’s who come uninvited with bad intentions should learn to watch where they step.”

“Granny?” They turned towards Aziraphale, who was standing worriedly beside the door. “We should get ready if we’re going to cast the spell today.”

Crowley looked towards her, one eyebrow raised and she huffed but went to rejoin the others. Crowley followed a minute or so later, following Aziraphale’s orders as they wrangled everything and one into place. Even the cats participated.

It was almost anti-climactic when nothing but the faintest shimmer passed over them when it was complete. It wasn’t until they moved closer together that any difference became obvious, as swirls of magic appeared around the witches and both Aziraphale and Crowley sprouted little translucent wings from their shoulders. “Excellent,” beamed Aziraphale. “Only those keyed to the spell can sense what it reveals, which will be a significant advantage against those of a magical nature. We really are prone to underestimating humans, especially those of us who don’t spend much time on earth.”

“Do you think it likely they’ll come here?” Agnes asked with both voices.

“I don’t honestly know. Better safe than sorry,” said Aziraphale with a reassuring smile.

“I need to be getting home,” Magrat said with a hint of reluctance. “Have a committee to oversee this evening.”

“Well, any time you’re in London, do stop in at my shop. And we’ll of course come visit,” Aziraphale said, expression wistful as the others all made their farewells, soon leaving just Granny and Nanny.

“Oi, dammit, I forgot, which of you cursed my car?” Crowley demanded when Nanny began gathering up her things. “Queen’s Greatest Hits?”

Granny frowned, clearly not understanding what Crowley was referring to or why Nanny was grinning. “What did you do Gytha?”

“Nothing, Esme.” She radiated such innocence that Aziraphale did a double-take. She said to Crowley, “I didn’t set the spell but I might be able to do something about it. I’ll need a good look at the car. Better yet you can give me a ride home. See you later Esme.”

Granny just rolled her eyes and waved them away, closing the door after them.

Aziraphale immediately agreed to keep Greebo calm in the back seat so that Nanny could sit in the front. Crowley just let out a heavy sigh and followed the witch and the lion to the Bentley. Nanny made a show of circling the car and poking around the interior before settling into the driver’s seat, grinning widely. “Coo-ee, you sure do have style, Crowley, no doubt about it.”

Crowley smirked and shook their head. “I’m not letting you drive it, Nanny. Honestly, I don’t know that anyone else could drive it, even if I’d let them.” Their eyes slid to Aziraphale, who didn’t seem to have heard their statement.

She gave a shrug and moved around to the passenger seat, giving a coo to the contented tom cat purring in Aziraphale’s arms. “Well, I can tell you who set it, though not how, or why.”

Crowley settled into the seat. “Tell me.”

“It was Agnes Nutter,” Nanny admitted. “I don’t know how she did it but it has her signature. I noticed it when I walked up yesterday. Follow this road down into town.”

Crowley did as told. “And do you know why?”

Nanny shrugged. “Some prophecy or other I assume. Any idea what it meant?”

Crowley looked into the mirror at Aziraphale, who was smiling faintly. “You explain it.”

“Oh, well, are you familiar with chess, Nanny?” She hummed in assent but kept her eyes forward, clearly a little put off by Crowley’s driving. “When a pawn makes it across the board-”

“Queened!” She opened her mouth, then shut it again, clearly deciding better of whatever she was going to say. “Turn right up here. So you’re saying she was trying to tell you, what exactly?”

“No idea,” shrugged Aziraphale. “I can’t imagine it was a phrase that would have made any sense to her, and clearly Queen the band didn’t exist yet.”

“But she’d know about power, and royalty is pretty darn powerful. And you was wearing a crown, Azi, in that vision.”

Aziraphale stared at her in shock. “I what?”

“We wondered if you’d seen what we’d seen. You had a sword and a balance and a crown. Terrible and grand, the pair of you.”

Crowley had been nodding in agreement but shot her a frown. “What? Why?”

Aziraphale and Nanny both gave Crowley a look. “You turned into a dragon, my dear.”

There was a swerve and a skid of gravel but Crowley recovered before they went into the hedge. “What the heaven do you mean I turned into a dragon?!” Crowley looked in the mirror at Aziraphale, and then at Nanny, trying to tell if they were joking. They were not.

“Horns, claws, wings,” said Nanny. “We figure they were visions of what you were, before, so to speak. Tiffany looked it up, seems dragons and serpents and seraphim were one in the same way back in the day.”

“Oh yes, they share a root-” Aziraphale broke off when Crowley glared. “Well it’s true. And I saw you with my own eyes.”

“All fifty of ‘em,” Crowley grumbled and Nanny didn’t bother to hide her laughter. Aziraphale pouted and Crowley soothed, “I’m kidding, angel. Couldn’t have been more that a dozen, tops.”

“I only saw two,” Nanny reassured Aziraphale, who gave her a grateful smile and the grinning Crowley a sneer.

“So our astral natures have changed. Maybe reverted, but maybe not. It’s something to think on,” Aziraphale said, looking off into the distance. “It’s a lot to think on.”

“For what it’s worth, I think we’ve got time before anything big happens,” said Nanny, pointing at a house to pull up at. It was in the middle of the village, with a nice little front yard carefully tended by some of Nanny’s many offspring. “Doesn’t mean they won’t try for you again, of course, but now you’ve got some friends, eh?” she said, giving Crowley a sharp smile that reassured the old snake in ways they couldn’t quite articulate. Much like with Aziraphale, it was easy to overlook Nanny as a ridiculous old woman, which she was, on purpose. There was clearly a quick mind behind the daffy smile, especially considering the company she kept.

“Yes.”

She beamed at the simple agreement and shuffled out of the car, readjusting something with an elastic twang before leading them through the gate up to the front door. Inside, she called out, “Coo-ee? Anyone?” When there was no response she waved them inside. “Welcome to my humble home. Have a seat and I’ll be right back.”

Crowley lounged in the nearest chair as Aziraphale wandered the cluttered living room, magicking away some of the cat hair from their clothes, looking through the many many pictures of Nanny’s extended family. Scattered among the similar faces were those of the witches, and even one of Nanny and Magrat with who could only be Granny as a younger woman, posing in front of a tourist trap somewhere in the United States. She was smiling. Aziraphale showed it to Crowley with a silent eyebrow raise.

“That’s unlikely,” agreed Crowley lowly, handing it back when they heard Nanny returning.

“Ay, Azi, can I get a favor? Could you make this look like the Bentley?” She passed an dented old toy car into Aziraphale’s hands and moved to stand in front of Crowley, who eyed her warily.

“Oh, uh, certainly.” Aziraphale was far more familiar with the car than the former demon realized, barely needing a moment to think about it before turning it around in their hands and offering back a perfect replica of the Bentley as it currently looked.

“Excellent.” Nanny took it and held it to her heart and closed her eyes for a moment before offering it to Crowley. “I hereby offer this sacred vehicle to the Guardian of the Western Gate, Herald of Dusk, Keeper of Secrets and Storms,” she said, wagging her eyebrows when they just stared at her, shocked to hear those titles again after so very long.

Crowley reluctantly held out their hand. “Er, I, uh, accept your generous gift, uh, giver of gifts?”

She grinned and dropped the toy into their outstretched hand, nodding when there was a little spark of something magical at the contact. “Out to the car now,” she ordered, forging ahead of them. She pulled a little vial out of somewhere and began moving around the car, dabbing little bits of the liquid on to it, silencing Crowley’s objections with a sharp look.

“Get in,” she ordered both of them, getting into the back and dabbing more spots inside the car while Aziraphale sat on the passenger side. “Put it here.” Crowley did as told, neither of them really surprised when magic began to gather at the edge of their senses. Clearly Nanny didn’t have any qualms about using ‘wizardry’, and using it well.

She pointed at the radio and, as expected, Queen began playing. “-big fat Fanny, she was such a naughty nanny-” A wicked grin creased her face and she finished the spell by letting one drop of the liquid fall onto the top of the miniature Bentley.

There was a pop that had nothing to do with sound, and a little spark of magic manifested out of the radio and drifted midair before being sucked into the toy with a sensation like having your ears pop, but on a metaphysical level.

Nanny corked the bottle and gave a pleased nod. “That should do it! Can’t fix the bits the curse already got ahold of I’m afraid, but it shouldn’t affect anything new. Keep it,” she said, waving it away when Crowley offered the altered toy back to her. “Who knows what trouble it’d cause if I let the babies play with it again after all that,” she laughed.

“I really appreciate it, Nanny. What can I do for you?”

It was clear the former demon was quite serious but Nanny just grinned. “Watching you make Esme squirm a bit has been payment enough, love. She’s my best friend but there’s times when she’ll drive you to drink. Speaking of which, both bottles are in the back, wrapped ‘em up in your tartan. I’ve a feeling they’re not for the regular drinking of by mere mortals. Don’t mix it with metal unless you want things to get very exciting.”

“I must say,” said Aziraphale lightly, “it was very lucky everyone had the time to come meet us on such short notice, Nanny. I do hope we didn’t upset anyones schedules too much.”

Nanny gave them a wink and a grin. “Lucky, sure.” She startled Crowley by leaning over and pressing a kiss to their cheek. “I’ll expect you back next week.” She clambered out and gave Aziraphale a big hug and a smacking kiss on the cheek. “Bring more of that sushi, will you Azi? Can’t get it for the life of me out here!”

“We will,” Aziraphale promised with a smile that might have been a little misty. They both waved when she stopped at the door and she gave them another grin before going inside.

They exchanged a look before the car started and they pulled away from the curb and Crowley navigated back towards London. “We have been played for suckers,” Aziraphale announced, their smile blossoming when Crowley let out a bark of laughter.

“Oi, have we ever!”

Chapter Text

The ride back to London was Queen free, but also conversation free, and Aziraphale didn’t know quite what to say when Crowley pulled up in front of the shop but didn’t seem inclined to get out of the car. The ex-angel nervously rubbed their hands on their trousers and asked, “Coming in?”

Crowley nodded and followed Aziraphale into the shop, locking the door behind themself and leaning back against it. “You’ve been over-thinking something.”

Aziraphale gave a little laugh and shrugged, wandering aimlessly. “I suppose I have. Rather a lot has happened, and I know you’ve got things to do and a life of your own-”

Crowley stiffened at those words. “I won’t stay if you don’t want me to.”

The blankness of Crowley’s tone was a knife to the heart. “No! Crowley, that’s not what I want whatsoever.” Aziraphale sighed, wringing their hands, trying to find the words and the courage to say them. “I enjoy spending time with you, having you here, I’ve always enjoyed spending time with you. But I don’t want to be a burden to you. Or, or a weight, holding you back from doing things. It’s not fair for me to keep you here just because I’m afraid to be alone.”

“You’re not a burden, angel, and we’ve got reason to be afraid.” Crowley pushed away from the door to prowl around. “And I… er I like being with you too. Figured you knew. Best friend and all that.”

Aziraphale gave them a faint smile. “Even so. Not fair of me to make you waste your time here.”

Crowley smirked. “It’s not like I’ve a lot to do now that we’ve gone freelance, angel.” They stopped prowling to look at the anxious ex-angel. “But I will need to look into some things...”

“Alone,” Aziraphale finished for them, nodding. “I understand. But, um, about, er,” they twisted their hands together, missing the soothing feel of the ring. “What about at night?” Aziraphale cheeks went red when Crowley’s brows winged upwards. “There isn’t really a place to sleep here, I mean, I’ve been needing to rest more often than I used to and I don’t want to risk falling asleep here but I don’t want to intrude-”

“Aziraphale,” Crowley grumbled, moving closer to murmur. “I gave you a key when I bought the place. You are always welcome. You’ve always been welcome.”

“I know you did, but I just assumed you were being ni- kind. Returning the favor. You never actually invited me over, you know. Until after...”

“What, you’re a vampire now, that I need to invite you over the threshold?” Aziraphale made an annoyed noise and Crowley chuckled. “You’re invited now, okay? I’m going to check on some things, alright? Come over when you’re tired, or just, need something or whenever. Stay as long as you like. Don’t compliment the plants!” Crowley warned with a mostly playful growl. “I mean it.”

“I know,” Aziraphale murmured. They tugged on the hem of their waistcoat, their smile going nervous as they shifted towards Crowley. “I’ll see you later?”

“I, yeah, course.” Crowley fidgeted and gave Aziraphale a quick tight hug before hurrying out of the shop. “Call me if anything happens, okay?”

“I will.” Aziraphale watched them go and switched the sign to open. They began to sort through the pile of mail they’d been neglecting the last few days, letting their thoughts drift back to how the shop used to be. For a long time they would barely sell a book at all, barely even opened the door. And it had been dark and miserable and musty in the shop, until Crowley had complained some time in the 1970s. It had taken a great many long roundabout conversations but they eventually convinced Aziraphale to clean the place up and to stock common books that it didn’t hurt to sell. That customers weren’t actually enemies, though even now Aziraphale wasn’t so sure about that sometimes. It brought a warm glow, looking at the shop now and feeling how much happier they felt in it, knowing it was because of Crowley.

When the door opened Aziraphale cringed and jumped up, hating the jolt of fear that went through their system. “Ah, uh, good morning. Can I help you with anything today?”

“Is it okay if I browse?” asked the young man, peering through his very thick glasses at the interior of the shop like he’d just found a treasure trove. “One of my colleagues suggested I come in.”

“Oh yes, feel free,” said Aziraphale, settling back down at the desk. “Let me know if anything piques your interest.”

The first customer was still wandering around when another one opened the door, again sending a jolt of fear through the reformed angel. By the third, they didn’t feel the need to jump up, ready to defend themself, and by the fifth, Aziraphale barely looked over from ringing up the second and third customers.

When not dealing with those in the shop Aziraphale spent time calling up customers who had orders ready, and when that was done, checking the newspapers for auctions and estate sales. One that caught their attention was a book fair to be held the following weekend, at a small private school the former angel had only heard of in passing. They circled the notice in red, looking up as that first man approached the desk with a book in hand, a hesitant smile on his older-than-first-appeared face.

And when he was about five feet away, magic swirled to life around him, invisible to all but Aziraphale, who instantly recognized the signature of wizardry. “You-” Aziraphale coughed and tried to keep their expression neutral. “Ah, haven’t been in before. You said a colleague recommended it?”

“Oh yes, uh, Dr. Eskarina Smith? She’s a colleague and former student of mine. She said you carried, uh, more esoteric works than most other bookstores?” Everything about the man spoke of caution, as thought he were worried Aziraphale would blow up at a moment’s notice.

“Yes...” Aziraphale agreed reluctantly. They looked down at the book, which was just a new work of fiction. “Is there something in particular that you’re interested in?”

“Uh, she, uh, mentioned books of prophecy?” He looked around to see if anyone was nearby and leaned closer to whisper, “And magic?”

“Yes.” Aziraphale let the silence go on, something they had learned over many years of dealing with people would get a confession faster than questions ever could.

“I, uh, me and a few of the others, well, professors mostly and a few students, are all, uh...”

“Wizards.”

The man goggled and looked around worriedly. “How did you know?”

“My sort can recognize the type,” said Aziraphale, rolling their eyes when the man blushed deeply and began shaking his head in denial. “Not that kind of type, er- what is your name?”

“Oh, uh, I’m Dr. Ponder Stibbons, over at the Unseen University.”

Maybe Nanny Ogg was being honest about who had set the spell, or maybe she wasn’t, but it didn’t matter because Crowley had more than a few tricks up their sleeves for tracking down a spellcaster. Especially with a very well preserved example of their spellwork sitting on the passenger seat. Once away from the bookshop, Crowley set the bespelled toy car on the dash and growled, “Show me.”

Magic coalesced around the toy, lifting it just enough so it could move freely and it swiveled towards the east. It wasn’t long before Crowley was pulling up in front of a shop with a sign proclaiming, “Boffo’s Novelty and Joke Emporium” and a display window showing a full set of stage magic props as well as fake poop, fake vomit and a very fake stuffed white cat. There was another display window, this one full of Spooky ™ decorations, another stuffed cat, black of course, as well as rubber monster masks, stage makeup and wigs.

Oh no, you have to be kidding me. Crowley stared at the shop with a kind of fascinated horror. Now we’ll have no end of bad stage magic. It never occurred to the former demon to not tell Aziraphale about the shop or what it carried. Only that it would be very regrettable.

The door didn’t have a bell or chime, instead a horribly real fart ripped through the hidden speakers. Crowley just sighed and prowled towards the counter where a man was industriously writing in a small notebook, brow furrowed with thought. He perked up when he saw Crowley and then his eyes went wide when he saw Crowley’s expression. “Ma! We’ve got a real one!”

“Alright, alright, just about got the fiddly bit done.” It was the archetypal voice of the Crone, scratchy and low, and when Crowley turned towards where it had come from the ex-demon had to blink to be sure what they were seeing was real. She had warts, and a hooked nose, and a pointy chin and hands that were mostly knobs. “Now, Derek, you shouldn’t make ass-” she pulled up short, “umptions. Oh. Well, you’re certainly a real something anyway. I’m Mrs. Eunice Proust.”

Crowley grinned. “And you’re a witch. Who cursed my car about thirty years ago?”

She didn’t pretend to not know what they were talking about and instead waved for Crowley to follow. “You know, she warned me this day would come, but I didn’t actually believe her? Should’ve known better, I suppose.”

“Of course,” said Crowley, staring as the witch led them into the basement, which was entirely set up as a laboratory. There were trial prosthetics in various stages of production, as well as a number of items in the process of being enchanted. “Agnes sure gets around for someone who’s been dead a few centuries.”

“She is a rather driven soul. But then, she is trying to save the world.” The witch waved Crowley towards a stool and settled herself down across from them. “Tea?” She waved towards a cauldron bubbling green and purple.

“Uh, no, thanks. So she tell you why she wanted you to curse my car in particular?”

“She didn’t actually. Met by accident when I was at a shop in Soho, they were having a séance, very delightfully spooky and silly of course. But then Agnes started whispering to me. We made a bargain, I let her cast a few spells, she helped with a few… issues, haven’t heard from her since.”

It was too neat, but Crowley didn’t want to press. “What other spells? Any of them involve a book store? A. Z. Fell and Co.?”

“How did you know?”

“Educated guess. Just, how do I take it off? It belongs to my, to someone I know and-”

“Then why in the world would you want to take it off? An anti-spying spell that’s been renewed by five witches and five wizards every solstice and equinox for the last two hundred and thirty years is probably worth my weight in, in I don’t even know what!”

Crowley stared. “I, uh, oh. That long? Wait a bloody minute, why’d they get an anti-spying spell and I got-”

“Like it wouldn’t be noticed by your bosses?” she interrupted. “Humans casting a blessing on a demon? A curse though, par for the course, eh? And it did its job, making it so neither side could listen in on you fraternizing with an angel,” she smirked.

Crowley was up on their feet, lighting in hand. “What do you know about us?”

It was her turn to blink. “Probably should have worded that better,” she said mildly. “Remember Agnes the dead prophetess? I know it’s not needed anymore because you’re out of their hands now. Also, your friend’s nature isn’t exactly a secret? At least not in my circle. You’re less well known but the retired nuns do tend to gossip and Nanny is very good at listening. Doubt the wizards noticed anything though, as long as they got their tenure or grants or whatever Agnes promised them for helping.”

Crowley let the lightning dissipate as heat creeped across their cheeks. “Oh. Right. Sorry.”

“I think tea would be a good idea, hmm?” Eunice got up and pulled an electric kettle out from behind the prop cauldron. Over her shoulder she said, “Also, Agnes told me to introduce Granny and Nanny to ‘the angel who Fell, shadowed by the angel who hath Fallen’.”

“Well hell.”

Crowley spent longer than they expected to at Boffo’s, going on a grand tour when Eunice offered. When they sat down to finish their tea she asked, “So, what’s it take to get in on the Arrangement?”

Crowley did not choke on their tea, but it was a close thing. “They told you about that already?”

Eunice stared for a moment then broke out into loud cackling laughter. “Witches are second only to wizards when it comes to gossiping, and only because they’ll use magic to do it faster.”

“Er, needs us both together. We can stop by some time, just, eh make it so you won’t need to go out or think much afterwards.”

She cackled again, clearly having heard all about it already. “Close early on Sundays if you’re both free. Usually have séances but oddly don’t have one booked this week.”

“Hmm, yeah, odd.” She grinned and showed them back out to the front of the store.

“We’ll see you on Sunday. Thank you for the tea, Eunice.”

“Night Crowley! See you then!”

Crowley tossed the toy car into the back and returned to the bookshop just as the last customer was being shooed out. “Hey angel.”

“Crowley, I was just going to call you. Impeccable timing as always,” Aziraphale said, busying themself with cleaning up the desk. “How was your afternoon?”

“Just Boffo,” smirked Crowley, flopping down on the couch.

Aziraphale frowned. “Boffo? Like the joke-”

“The ur-witch, Eunice, she helped Agnes set the curse on the Bentley.” Crowley smirked, watching Aziraphale fuss. “You knew.”

“Oh, er, well… Not exactly.” Aziraphale threw up their hands when Crowley arched an eyebrow. “I caught them.”

Them.

“Renewing the spell on the shop. I don’t think they saw me, but thinking about it, they probably planned it that way.” Aziraphale shrugged and sat down. “That’s how I found Boffo’s. And it was Eunice who introduced me to Nanny and Granny.”

“Yes, she mentioned it.” They watched Aziraphale for a long moment. “‘The angel who Fell, shadowed by the angel who hath Fallen.’” Like that didn’t have a few connotations with those word choices.

“Yes, that sounds like Agnes.”

“So how was your day?”

“Oh, I met a wizard.” Aziraphale smiled at Crowley’s expression. “A slightly neurotic man by the name of Dr. Ponder Stibbons, works at an odd private university. Esk was his student and is still affiliated there.”

“Wot, the wizardy witch? I’m pretty sure she was Granny’s student at some point first.”

“That would explain a lot. Anyway, seems Esk let Ponder know I’m willing to talk shop, so to speak, with those of a magical nature. He’d like to meet with us in private, next weekend. They’re having a book fair-”

“Should’ve guessed,” Crowley mumbled with a sly teasing smile.

“Well, it’s a perfect cover,” said Aziraphale primly but their eyes were smiling back. “And he did imply that there might be others who are interested in coming to the Arrangement with us.”

“The more the merrier,” Crowley agreed. “Eustace wants in too. Do you know any of these wizards?”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t actually. Ponder seems like a nice enough fellow.” Aziraphale made a face. “But I’ve been taken by nice before.”

“I think it’s best if I stick close to you for a while, until we know more about these wizards.” Crowley’s expression was set. “Both sides have no qualms about using human agents. We’ll see how they react to me.”

“Politely, if they know what’s good for them,” said Aziraphale sharply.

“Going to jump to my defense, angel?”

“Yes,” said Aziraphale bluntly, smiling a little when Crowley blinked in surprise. “Shoulder to Shoulder. We are equals, are we not?”

The ceremonial phrase made Crowley’s heart jump. “Yeah, course.”

“Well then, fairs fair, after all.” Aziraphale beamed and Crowley had no resistance to that. “So, how would you feel about dinner?”

“I feel just fine about it, angel.”

Chapter Text

Since discovering that Nanny Ogg’s mostly-apples holy water didn’t burn, there had been a growing fear in the back of Crowley’s mind, nebulous at first but they’d finally put words to it on the drive back to the flat after dinner on Thursday. What if I can’t protect Aziraphale from hellfire anymore? The Bentley had mostly driven itself home as Crowley thought up and discarded plan after plan, almost saying something to Aziraphale but biting back the words when they saw the former angel was deeply lost in thought. No need to worry them. Just need to be sure. What could go wrong?

They spent most of the night with Aziraphale continuing their research and Crowley shuffled off to the bedroom not long before dawn with a promise to meet Aziraphale at the shop when they woke up. Aziraphale, distracted, just nodded and gave them a vague smile, and when they came to check in the morning Crowley feigned sleep until they left the flat. Stayed in bed until they could sense Aziraphale was safely ensconced in the shop then sprang into action.

There are infinite ways of getting into hell; getting in unnoticed is another matter.

Crowley didn’t let themself think too much about what they were doing, knowing that would only trip them up, give them time to feel the fear burning in their belly. On foot, shifted to blend into the area, Crowley headed for the nearest area not likely to be visited by anyone with unhealthy curiosity.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of hellish activity in close-knit neighborhoods, only that they’re far more nosy and Crowley didn’t want to attract attention.

It took three different tries to find one not being guarded, and it ended up being one of the ones that Crowley had erased the location of in hell’s files not long before becoming Warlock’s nanny. It had taken years of planning, of offending Dagon and Beelzebub just enough to be put on file duty without tipping their hand and getting into real trouble. Showing just the right mix of resentful acquiescence and fearful obedience when the order had come. Just enough neatness to not be too closely supervised while making it clear that they loathed every moment they were there. It had been a very productive and had kept them distracted from dwelling on the very dangerous plans they’d made with Aziraphale.

The dread portal to hell was a cracked drainpipe in an old stone wall, not too far from what had been a churchyard back in 1941. Crowley had opened it themself in desperation when they’d discovered at the last moment the ridiculous mess Aziraphale had gotten themself into.

Checking with all their senses to make sure they were unseen, Crowley paused time and shifted into snake form, tasting the air to make sure they weren’t slipping into a trap before letting time restart. It was cautious going, but the reek of brimstone showed the way through the maze of broken drains and forgotten utility tunnels, until they eventually crossed over into the plane commonly called hell, shifting into their serpent form as they did.

The hellish place Crowley had used as an anchor was mostly abandoned and half formed, inhabited by things the less powerful, ie “dinner” shaped demons preferred to avoid. A giant dark mottled red and purple-brown venomous serpent with glowing yellow eyes and crowned with a pair of spiky white horns fit right in with the other monsters. Crowley, had they paid attention, would not have recognized themself but all of their attention was on their surroundings, wary of anything and everything. They paused near the portal and tasted the air, again checking with all of their senses and finding nothing dangerous within range.

There was no discomfort, no itch, at being on that plane, which was a relief but also confusing. So what am I? Can’t be an angel, apparently not a demon. Reformed demon? Retired fallen angel? Crowley began cautiously moving across the shifting landscape, closer to where the demons congregated. Wonder if I could get into heaven to pay the bastards a little visit...

After traveling for a little while Crowley realized that the area was unusually empty, with none of the usual hellish monsters roaming the area. They tasted the air again, risked spreading their senses even further but all they found was more emptiness. With a feeling of foreboding Crowley began moving faster towards the stability and relative safety of the inhabited areas.

A throbbing shudder passed through the abyssal firmament, causing a moment of disorientation and suddenly Crowley found themself in a cold monochrome desert that had a terrible familiarity to it. What the heaven? Since when are rifts opening between the dungeon dimensions and hell? They started looking around for a way back but froze when something screeched far overhead.

It was a massive Thing, far bigger than anything they’d seen back in Eden, with massive tattered wings like oily rags and it began to dive, tentacles and talons reaching out hungrily for Crowley. They had a moment of fear and regret and coiled up to strike, afraid it would be too little too late. No way of knowing if whatever had allowed them to destroy the Things in Eden would even still work after all that had happened, let alone if it would have ever worked on one in their own dimension.

Unexpectedly Aziraphale’s golden-bronze power bloomed over Crowley’s scales and the former demon was startled to see an illusion of a massive horned serpent leap forward twenty feet or so and slither hurriedly away from where the real Crowley still lay coiled. They remembered using the same ruse in the Garden and when the giant Thing fell on the apparition Crowley struck twice in rapid succession and froze, letting Aziraphale’s illusion hide them again.

The creature screeched in pain and anger and desperately tried to fly away as Crowley’s venom began to work on it, disintegrating into nothingness before it got more than a wings-breadth into the air. However, there were more screams in the distance, quickly getting closer.

Crowley, confused and jittery with fear and adrenaline took advantage of the momentary reprieve and quickly looked around, spotting a slowly closing rift and bolting towards it. They slipped through just in time, swearing inwardly when they found themself much nearer the inhabited parts of hell than they wanted to be.

After a moment they noticed a pair of lesser demons watching the rift from behind a pile of rotting detritus. Crowley lunged at them, flashing their fangs and when they bolted, Crowley took off in the opposite direction.They sent out their senses again and aimed for the nearest pool of hellfire, which had been the actual goal of their foray into hell, daring to pull on their power to awe-step (slither) to put distance between themself and the fleeing demons.

They didn’t have to go particularly far to find it, and Crowley didn’t let themself hesitate. They immersed themself in themindless rage,their whole massive serpentine body quickly engulfed in flames. Instantly Crowley realized that it didn’thurt, though there was a feeling of heavy pressure trying to push them away, like two magnets set wrong way around. Hellfire had always been almost unbearable - that was the point after all, that even the demons suffered from it, not that they showed it if they could bear it. It was now, as Aziraphale had put it, barely a tickle.

It wasn’t what Crowley expected, not that they had been sure what to expect, but it was a result and something to think about when not in the middle of enemy territory. They retreated and made their way stealthily back out using another of the erased portals. Once back in human seeming they went the long way around to the flat to make sure there were no followers or watchers.

Only a couple of hours had passed by the time Crowley slipped around Aziraphale’s still active trap. Still feeling jittery from the adrenaline, it was a relief to fling themself onto the couch and wrap themself in the black and red tartan blanket that they would never in a million years admit was growing on them. What the heaven happened? That was Aziraphale’s magic that saved me. But how? Was it something passive? It couldn’t’ve been active, not with Aziraphale up here in the shop, no way for the magic to reach so far… is there? They sank into thought and from there into a doze as the adrenaline wore off.

Earlier…

“Thank you and have a lovely day!” The door was just closing behind the only customer so far that morning when Aziraphale was suddenly overcome with the knowledge that Crowley was in danger. With shaking hands they locked the door and tried to find the former demon through the bond but the feeling was too distant and vague for Aziraphale to pinpoint to awe-step to. Desperate, they dug through their desk to unearth Nanny Ashtoreth’s small black compass.

Aziraphale rubbed their left thumb over the raised ouroboros/infinity decoration on the cover and whispered the words to activate the spell before opening the case. Inside the lid was a mirror and when Aziraphale looked into it they received a mental vision of Crowley slipping through the darkness in their snake form, approaching an opening in the fabric of reality that led into the abyssal planes. :Crowley! Stop! What the hell are you doing?!:Aziraphale called, but the bond was still too weak after the neglect of two millennia for Crowley to hear.

Then Crowley crossed into the abyssal plane, and Aziraphale expected to lose sight of them but after a moment of haziness there was hardly any interference at all. That’s… unexpected. Perhaps the bond..? The sense of danger was pervasive and Aziraphale could only be grateful that Crowley had sense enough to stay away from the more inhabited areas, though apparently not enough sense to stay out of hell completely.

The sense of danger continued to grow and Aziraphale was racking their mind trying to think of something, anything they could do that would help, but help against what? So far there wasn’t any obvious threat. And how? They were in a completely different plane! Suddenly the vision of Crowley shifted and a jolt of terror went through Aziraphale when they heard a monstrous flying Thing roaring. The former angel hastily cast a spell through the mirror from sheer instinct, though they had no idea if it would actually work, or if they were strong enough to send their power so far elsewhere.

A wave of relief swept through Aziraphale when the spell flared into being and the illusionary Crowley was attacked instead of the real one. They collapsed with relief onto the couch when Crowley’s venom destroyed the massive Thing, worried when the sense of danger lessened but didn’t abate entirely when Crowley escaped back into hell. Not exactly a surprise I suppose, it’s not as though hell is safe in any sense of the word.

Their words proved true when Aziraphale realized their illusion hadn’t survived the transition from the dungeon dimensions back into hell and Crowley was spotted by some of the Legion. Before the former angel could act Crowley scared them off and bolted, Aziraphale assumed, for the nearest exit.

Oh good lord, Crowley what are you doing?!

Aziraphale thought but didn’t say aloud some very angry and relieved things as the serpent slithered unharmed from the flames. They shoved themself up from the couch to anxiously pace the bookshop as they watched Crowley finally make their escape. They waited until Crowley was safely back in the flat before snapping the compass closed and slipping it into their pocket.

Unable to sit still, the former angel let themself out of the shop and started walking in a direction at random. Their mind was a quagmire of anger and hurt and worry but eventually, after thinking things over they came to a grudging understanding of Crowley’s likely motivations. Clearly Crowley wanted to know if they were still immune to hellfire. Which is logical, especially after the past few days. We will be very vulnerable if we’ve lost our personal immunities to our former allies’ weapons of choice. And while I know that Nanny Ogg’s concoction was holy, it wasn’t really the same as regular holy water. And also, I should know if I can still walk on holy ground, after… everything, perhaps not anymore. The rationalization of the ex-demon’s actions dulled the edge of their upset only slightly.

The sidewalks were full of people so Aziraphale slipped unnoticed into an alleyway before they hid themself with a spell and stopped to send their senses outward. They quickly found the closest bit of sanctified ground, a church situated inside a lovingly maintained brick building, nestled amid a thriving neighborhood.

Aziraphale paused in front of the bright red door, taking a deep breath and taking stock of their senses. Being on holy ground usually felt like sitting in the sun after a cold winter, gently filling them with warmth and energy. They could sense that the ground inside was sanctified, so they squared their shoulders and stepped inside.

It felt… neutral and that had Aziraphale at a loss. “I don’t understand,” they murmured. “Am I fallen or not?” They frowned down at the stone, walking farther into the church, looking around in puzzlement.

“Maybe holy water...” A quick look around provided a tiny holy font near the door and with caution Aziraphale dipped their left pinky into the holy water, garnering another puzzled frown from the ex-angel. If holy ground had been soft suffusion, then touching holy water was like being plugged into an electrical socket (they assumed). But this holy water was even less responsive, beading off of their skin like water off a duck’s back. They could sense the holiness as a distant benediction, but it was otherwise, unexpectedly, inert.

The former angel left the church deep in thought, wandering from one place of worship to another and finding the same result no matter where they went. Periodically they would check the bond, just to make sure Crowley wasn’t off doing something else- It took a few hours for them to feel calm enough to face Crowley.

Aziraphale hesitantly unlocked the door and stepped over the trap, quietly closing and locking the door again. “Hello?” They stood just inside the door for a long moment before calling out again, “Hello?”

Crowley jerked awake and fell off the couch, swearing under their breath when they heard Aziraphale’s uncertain greeting. They stumbled through the door with a mumbled, “Hey.” When they saw Aziraphale’s expression they stopped dead in their tracks. “Aziraphale?”

“Crowley.” All the remembered fear and anger rushed back upon seeing them and their icy blue eyes pinned Crowley to their spot. They took a deep breath and made themself ask, “Have a good morning?”

Crowley could have sworn the former angel’s breath misted in the air at the frostiness of their tone. “Oh... er, it was alright.” They swiveled to watch Aziraphale stalk towards the kitchen, following in their wake with a sense of morbid fascination. I’ve never seen them this way before. Maybe, maybe they know… Oh fuck, this isn’t going to end well. The words slipped out without thought, “How was yours?”

“Nice,” Aziraphale hissed, pulling out a glass and summoning up a bottle and pouring themself a hefty drink. “Nice, boring morning.” Aziraphale gave Crowley a mockery of a smile and tossed back the drink, pouring themself another one. “Sold some books, ordered some books. The usual.”

“Oh, er, that’s good, right?” Crowley cautiously moved to the other side of the counter, a little surprised that there wasn’t frost forming on the marble. “So... You’re, uh, you’re kinda scaring me, angel.”

The glass cracked against the counter like a shot and Aziraphale’s eyes blazed as the cold niceness evaporated into searing anger. “Am I? Good! Good, because you fucking terrified me today! You bastard!” And then the anger was gone, leaving just the memory of helpless terror and Aziraphale pressed their hands over their eyes as tears welled and fell. “You bloody bastard.”

Crowley stood stunned for a moment then came around the counter, reaching out to put a hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder but pulling away before they touched. “Angel-”

“I had a, a I don’t know what, that you were in danger!” Aziraphale dropped their hands to pierce Crowley with another hard stare. “I cast that spell from my shop and I didn’t even know if it would work!”

“Fuck, angel, I’m sorry,” said Crowley, their stomach dropping with the realization of what they had put them through. Crowley reached out again but let their hand fall. “I didn’t realize you could sense that.”

“Neither did I.” Aziraphale turned away to pace but then turned back. “You, you ass! You could have been discorporated or killed and I never would have known what happened to you! Just gone again, without word or warning or...” Their words dissolved into a sob and they caught Crowley in a tight hug.

“I didn’t think, didn’t know, shit.” Crowley stroked a shaking hand over Aziraphale’s back, murmuring apologies. “I’m so sorry. You saved me, angel. I was, I had to be sure I could still protect you from hellfire, I didn’t think anything like that would happen. Didn’t know it could happen. If you hadn’t... all I could think was,” I’d never see you again. Words and feelings clogged their throat for a moment and they swallowed hard before continuing. “But you saved me, angel, I’m so sorry.”

“I couldn’t find you, I couldn’t get to you,” Aziraphale said harshly, shrugging out of the embrace as anger returned. “How dare you? How dare you risk yourself so foolishly!”

Crowley was pale with fear. “You’re right, I shouldn’t’ve-”

“You always do this to me.” Aziraphale poured themself another drink, staring at the bottle as more words poured out. “You show up when I need you but when you might need help you just vanish on me. It’s supposed to go both ways Crowley. Do you trust me so little? Clearly, or you would have told me.”

“Aziraphale...” They watched the former angel gulp down another drink, heart plummeting when they turned towards the door, reaching out but not touching. “Don’t. Don’t go-”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Aziraphale growled but they pulled up short when they actually looked at Crowley, seeing the dread in their eyes, the outstretched hand that trembled. “My wings to yours. Always.”

Crowley’s breath hitched at the word. “Always.” They inched closer, letting out a shuddering breath when Aziraphale caught them in another tight hug. “Forgive me,” Crowley whispered brokenly.

“Of course,” Aziraphale murmured, more tears welling when Crowley hugged them back. “I was so scared and then you, you went right into the hellfire, like a holiday swim! Head first!”

“Nothing in there to hurt,” Crowley said self-deprecatingly, pressing their face against Aziraphale’s shoulder when they huffed out a reluctant laugh. “I promise, I didn’t think anything would happen. I’ve never heard of rifts opening in hell before.”

“It’s still hell!” Aziraphale squawked, giving them a little shake. “Demons and monsters and, and they want you dead!” The former angel pulled back, trying to read Crowley’s expression.

Crowley reluctantly let them go. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, clearly,” Aziraphale snapped. “Why do you do that? Do you really think I wouldn’t help you?”

“I was trying to protect you. Keep you from worrying.”

“I don’t need protection, I need...” You. Aziraphale turned away to pour another drink, swallowing it and the confession down. It was clear that whatever they had sensed, whatever the former demon might have felt in that long ago church, it had been thoroughly destroyed by Aziraphale’s betrayal. Friendship was more than they deserved, after what they’d done to Crowley. “Shoulder to shoulder. I want you to treat me as an equal, not as, as a duty, as a burden to be dealt with then set aside.”

That was a knife to the heart. “No, angel you weren’t, aren’t, I didn’t, don’t feel that way about you. But I couldn’t risk you more than I already was.”

Aziraphale’s fingers twisted together, seeking the golden ring that had been their worry stone for so long, balling them into a fist at the reminder that there was no going back. And the old hurts bubbled up and erupted. “Always felt like a miracle or a cruel joke, depending on what century it was. It didn’t, I couldn’t stop you when you’ve wanted to walk away. I never understood why you kept up the pretense as long as you have.”

Crowley put their hand over Aziraphale’s, drowning in their tear-filled eyes when they looked up and the words just spilled out. “You mean everything to me, Aziraphale, everything.”

Aziraphale shook their head in disbelief. “Then why? How could you just,” leave me, “...disappear, like that? We were… and then nothing until 1862. Where were you, that I couldn’t sense you?”

“I thought… I almost got us caught, angel.”

“...you what?”

Crowley smirked ruefully at Aziraphale’s stunned expression and at their own folly. The former demon gently urged them to sit on the couch, pacing the room as they explained. “After we pulled off that ridiculous thing with Napoleon-”

“Oh, what a mistake that turned out to be,” murmured Aziraphale. “You vanished not long afterwards.”

“Yeah. Had to do up a report about it. Eh, I figured, no one looks at these stupid things. Didn’t seem worth the effort of getting sober for. So I wrote it all out and signed it A squiggly-do-thingy C.” They gave Aziraphale a sheepish look. “Seemed funny at the time.”

“Squiggly-do... you mean an ampersand?” Aziraphale’s eyes went wide. “Crowley!”

“I know, I know! I’m a bloody idiot. So imagine how I felt when Dagon calls me in for a little chat later on, tells me they’ve got big plans for that guy so they’re very curious who A and J are, if I’d recruited other demons to help.” Crowley could almost taste the fear again at the memory. “I told them it just was my earthly name. I’d been using Anthony as an alias for a while by then, slap a J on, I though, yeah, that’ll cover it, all clear. Then Dagon asks why I kept mentioning an angel.”

Aziraphale gasped. “You didn’t!”

Crowley put their hands up helplessly. “Apparently I did. I was like, ooh, old adversary, put there to thwart me, but I tricked ‘em I did, don’t even know the half of it. Spun a whole tale about, you know, keeping an eye on you so I’d know who to target for tempting and such. They told me to kill you.” Crowley tried to shake off the feeling of horror that memory brought with it. “And I said, ‘Sure thing!’ and buggered off to the edge of hell for a nice long nap in snake form where I knew they couldn’t find me.” They flopped down onto the couch. “I’m good at hiding myself, but I can’t pick and choose who can sense me, it’s all or nothing.” They turned towards Aziraphale. “I couldn’t risk contacting you until it had blown over.”

“Oh.” Aziraphale slid a reassuring hand into Crowley’s. “They weren’t talking about just discorporating me, were they?”

“Nope. Had a requisition in for a vessel of hellfire and everything. They had hopes for him, you see, and the wars he’d bring, couldn’t let heaven intrude on that too much. They thought maybe it would even spark off Armageddon, but they think that about every war. Woke up for a bit at one point but everything was still in a tizzy so just went back to sleep, seemed safer. By the time I woke up again, Napoleon and all that was long done, but I knew…” Crowley looked down at their hands and stroked their thumb over the back of Aziraphale’s hand. “I knew one day I’d have to pick a side, angel, and I knew it wouldn’t be theirs.”

Aziraphale felt like their heart was breaking. “But then I said no and stormed off.”

“I thought I’d get you around to my way of thinking eventually, but you wouldn’t bloody listen, would you? You always could make me furious, so, yeah. I never really left, even though you couldn’t sense me, I could sense you, I always knew if you were in real danger.”

“Did, is that what I felt today? Oh, dear, did I, did I set that off very often?” Aziraphale asked contritely, recalling how many times Crowley had shown up to rescue them.

“Not often. Worst was the church,” Crowley chuckled and shook their head. “That would have been real bad for you.”

“Yes.” Aziraphale refused to think about that night, it was too painful, remembering how badly they had misread the situation. More recently were the terrible memories of how badly they had treated their one true friend. “After everything I said and did, you still gave me another chance.”

“Best friend, remember,” Crowley said with a broken smile. “Until I couldn’t... you were just gone and it didn’t matter anymore.” The former demon closed their eyes with a shuddering breath, holding on tightly when Aziraphale pulled them into another hug. Confessed around the lump in their throat, “I never meant it. I wasn’t really going to leave.”

“I didn’t mean it either,” Aziraphale whispered, undone by the former demon’s pain and grief. “I just, I wanted to prove you wrong, but then the evidence was right there in front of me and I couldn’t pretend anymore,” Aziraphale confessed. “I’d called you to tell you everything that I had discovered. And to, to apologize, but then...”

“What changed your mind?”

“When I tried to reach... I ended up talking with the Metatron and they wouldn’t, they weren’t interested in what I had to say about stopping the war. But then that buffoon, Shadwell, came in yelling about demons and backed me right into the circle, and before I knew it I was discorporated and you know, I think the Metatron meant to discorporate me on purpose? It hurt rather a lot and then I was being yelled into the rank and file. They called me a horrible excuse for an angel. And I said, you’re right. And I told them I wouldn’t fight in their war and I sent myself back before they could try to stop me.”

Crowley pulled themself up, wiping at their damp face, shaking their head a little at the tears they hadn’t shed in millennia. “I always knew you were brave, angel, but damn. You told the heavenly host to sod off and tried to face down himself with just a confused kid, a flaming sword and a disgraced demon, all in the span of a single day.”

“When you put it that way...” Aziraphale chuckled through their tears and offered Crowley a pale tartan handkerchief, garnering a fondly exasperated smile from the former demon, who glared at it until it turned black out of embarrassment. “I couldn’t have done it without you. I wouldn’t have done it without you.” They leaned forward and murmured, “You’re everything to me too. Have been from the start.” Aziraphale smiled a little self-deprecatingly. “I couldn’t fathom what you could possibly see in being my friend.”

Crowley stared down at the handkerchief. “I saw the one being who I knew I could count on.”

Aziraphale cringed. “I didn’t uphold my promise, to always be there for you.”

Crowley shook their head. “You came through, in the end. I was just scared out of my mind and didn’t see a way out. It felt like the fall all over again…” And this time I’d dragged you down with me.

“Oh.” Aziraphale’s hands wrung together with guilt. “And there I was, telling you I trusted the ones who had turned on you more than I trusted you. No wonder you were so infuriated with me. I… I certainly owe you for that.” They were rewarded with a small smile and an awkward silence.

Eventually Aziraphale broke the silence. “So... you went to test hellfire...”

“Yeah. It, uh, didn’t hurt or itch or anything to be back there-” Crowley had to smile when Aziraphale summoned one of their notebooks and began taking notes.

“Did it used to hurt?”

“Just the hellfire,” Crowley shrugged, watching Aziraphale’s pen scratch across the paper. “There’s a reason the main areas don’t have any hellfire. Usually it, uh, well it’ll grab you, have to give it a wide berth. It didn’t this time, didn’t hurt either.”

“Holy ground and holy water don’t feel the way they used to either,” Aziraphale murmured, looking up when Crowley twitched.

“How do you know?” Crowley demanded.

“Because I went to holy ground.”

Inarticulate noises spluttered from Crowley for a moment. “What?!”

“I went to churches,” the ex-angel said. “Synagogues, mosques, temples, anywhere else I could sense sanctified ground. Over a dozen of them.”

“When?”

“Before I came back here. When I realized why you’d... I knew I should check as well.” They looked up from their notes when the former demon growled. “I was just following your example, Crowley.”

Crowley threw up their hands. “That’s, but, just- it’s different, angel!”

“Yes. You returned to an abyssal plane where you’re wanted dead for treason, to fling yourself headlong into hellfire,” said Aziraphale with a hint of ice over hurt. “I had a walk. Dipped my pinky in a bit of water.”

Crowley deflated. “Er, when you put it like that...”

“Hmm.” Aziraphale gave them a sidelong look before returning to their notes. “I think this confirms that we are well and truly outside of their influence now. Upon further consideration I believe that what happened to us on Tuesday was not something sent but a, a passive reaction, to our actions.”

“To switching you mean?” Aziraphale nodded and Crowley considered what it might mean. “Wait, so, you think they don’t know that we’re… different? More different I mean? Changed?”

“Correct.” Aziraphale closed the book and sent it back to the desk with a flick of their fingers. “I can’t imagine them trying to assassinate us in secret. No, they would want witnesses to confirm our destruction.”

“The bastards do love to gloat,” Crowley agreed, vividly remembering the archangels’ expressions as they’d told Aziraphale to step into the hellfire. “That… could prove useful.”

That wicked glint sparked to life in the serpent’s eyes and Aziraphale smothered a smile. “Oh dear.”

“I’ve got an idea.”

“I’d be shocked if you didn’t.”

Chapter Text

It was close to sunset when they finally emerged from the flat and to the casual observer there would seem to be no difference in how they acted before the world didn’t end and after. But the casual observer would not know that until that moment, Crowley had spent almost every moment in Aziraphale’s company insuring that there couldn’t be casual observers. You had to know what and who you were looking for, had to know and counter Crowley and Aziraphale’s magical precautions.

As often as they spent time together after the fall, it was probably a miracle that Crowley’s vigilance had slipped so infrequently. Or perhaps the miracle was that heaven and hell hadn’t discovered them before they could stop Armageddon. Or, most likely, someone, or someones, had been helping all along.

They returned to the shop and set to work examining the anti-spying spell, primarily to see if they could replicate it over Crowley’s flat. The problem was actually being able to find it.

“Well, it must be extremely well made, if we are having this hard of a time,” sighed Aziraphale.

“How do we know they weren’t just lying?” Crowley slouched against the wall, watching as Aziraphale began to pace the sidewalk on the east side of the shop, the people flowing around them with hardly a glance

The reformed angel closed their eyes, trying to remember where exactly they’d seen the witches renewing the spell. “Because it was put here before… well, before you bought the building for me. It was the main reason I wanted this building even though it was outside the approved budget.” Aziraphale opened their eyes to give the serpent a bright smile.

“It was nothing,” Crowley lied, shoving their hands in their too tiny pockets to keep from rubbing the ache over their heart that seeing their angel smile like that caused. “‘Swot friends do.”

Aziraphale was caught by surprise when they sensed falsehood, quickly turning away before Crowley could notice. Their thoughts were completely derailed for a moment to realize Crowley had never actually lied to them before, or not so directly that they could sense it. They’d always assumed Crowley could hide when they lied, the same way Aziraphale could. They cleared their throat and said lightly, and honestly, “Well, it meant a great deal to me, my dear. A very grand and endearing gesture.”

“I, uh, oh, well,” spluttered Crowley. “Glad you liked it.”

Aziraphale was about to say more but one of the spell anchors finally pinged on their senses. “Ah ha! Ooh, they were clever. The anchors aren’t on the building at all, they’re in the sidewalk. Probably had to move them when the roads were paved. Come look at this, it’s really quite ingenious.” When Crowley moved closer Aziraphale gently pinged the anchor again, sending just a barely discernible flare of energy through the webwork of magic that they could both sense.

Crowley was impressed to realize the spell didn’t just block spying, it actively manipulated the perception of things near the web. “It camouflages us, makes us seem different.”

“No, not us... you.” Aziraphale was staring sightlessly into the astral plane, manipulating the spell with featherlight touches, discovering the intricacies of the spell. “It’s attuned to shield the shop and the surrounding areas from spying, yes, but it also actively hides you.” Aziraphale frowned as they considered, recalling the man who’d commented after what the reformed angel had come to mentally refer to as ‘the disagreement’. “But you were heard, and seen, on Saturday.”

“Wot? But, oh. I wasn’t, I didn’t do the thing, the making people look away thing. Didn’t seem to matter by then.” Crowley darted a look at Aziraphale, but the reformed angel was still seemingly enthralled by the spell. “Is that what got you in trouble?”

“So the spell somehow reacts to you using your powers and meshes with them,” Aziraphale was mumbling to themself. After a moment Crowley’s question penetrated and they blinked a few times and turned to look at them. “What? No! They had already accused me of being a traitor before you arrived.”

“What? What happened?”

“Michael, Uriel and Sandalphon cornered me, right on the street, and assaulted me. Archangels! Attacking other angels! I was just flabbergasted.”

“They attacked you?” It was a growl.

“Like a gang of schoolyard bullies,” sniffed Aziraphale, belatedly realizing that that probably wasn’t the best thing to be telling the impulsive serpent. “They knew you were in trouble too,” Aziraphale recalled. “More proof that you were right, about them having an arrangement all along. Two cliques of schoolyard bullies spoiling for a fight.” They sniffed and returned to talking about the spell. “How would the witches have attuned it to your magic do you suppose? I don’t recall you ever making a pact with anyone let alone real witches but I assume you wouldn’t have mentioned it to me anyway-”

“Pacts weren’t my thing,” said Crowley. “Too fiddly. More of a, ‘Eh, look at this thing you want to do anyway, why not do it and see what happens?’ kind of tempter really. Most of the time they’d already done it by the time I got there.” Crowley squinted at the foundation of the building, trying to remember how it had looked back when they’d bought it and memory had them looking for a specific mark- “This.”

In one of the foundation stones was a small incursion of shiny black material, barely visible beneath layers of grime. Aziraphale touched it, eyes going wide. “The obsidian blade?”

“A piece of it anyway. One at each cardinal point. Some of your lessons stuck,” said Crowley with a crooked smile, looking away when Aziraphale’s eyes went soft.

“Crowley...”

“Protecting my investment,” the former demon shrugged, shifting so their shoulders touched for a moment. “And my friend. You helped with the flat.”

“Of course.” Aziraphale rubbed their hands together and gestured for Crowley to precede them back into the shop. “Well, I think we can replicate this spell over your flat with a bit of preparation. Missed Solstice so we’ll have to wait for Equinox, but that should give us plenty of time to set the anchors. I’ll have to discuss it with Eunice of course, but I imagine she’ll be amenable. How exciting, we haven’t been part of a big working in ages.”

Crowley smiled at Aziraphale’s excitement. “What sort of things are we going to need?”

Aziraphale sat at the desk and after a bit of scrabbling for a pad that wasn’t filled with other research, began writing up a list. “Some of this we might need to get from Granny or Nanny, but others we can find ourselves. In fact, we could try to gather some tonight if you’re up for it.”

“Sure, ‘snot like I’m busy.”

It was not a great night for traipsing about in a nature preserve, the sky growing steadily darker with an incoming storm, but as they needed a swan’s feather, a black adder skin, fallen branches from a bunch of different trees, and wood from a lightning struck tree of any sort, there were only a few places to find most everything in close proximity, with a chance of the last if the weather continued to worsen.

They decided to split up in hopes of beating the storm, with Aziraphale pursuing the swan’s feather while Crowley went in search of a black adder to ask for a recent molt, both keeping an eye out for good fallen twigs for the ritual wands.

Aziraphale had just found a usable feather near where a few swans were paddling quietly on the water when a dozen Legionnaires led by Uriel appeared around them. They didn’t have to feign their surprise or the jolt of fear they felt as their hands were again bound with blessed cord. “Oh, no, please-”

“Quiet traitor! Hurry, before the demons get restless and try something without us,” Uriel ordered, striding away with the angels shuffling Aziraphale along in the archangel’s wake.

Awaiting them nearby was a dozen Legion, led by a Duke Igmuth who had recently been promoted after the loss of Ligur. Igmuth was very eager to prove themself, and Uriel was right to be concerned because Crowley was on the ground, Igmuth’s boot pressed to the back of their neck.

“Crowley!”

“Hey, angel. Ow.”

“Lord Igmuth,” said Uriel coolly, glaring at one of the Legionnaires and gesturing for them to silence Aziraphale. “Are you prepared for the exchange?”

“I dunno,” grumbled the demon, glaring down at Crowley. “Why’s it got to be so fast? This one deserves a little time in the pits before they’re destroyed.”

“Because the last time we wasted time, they tricked us and escaped their rightful sentences. I do understand you’re new, but I was assured Lord Beelzebub had briefed you on this.”

“Oh. Yeah.” One of the Legion leaned close and whispered in their ear for a rather long time. Duke Igmuth stepped off of Crowley and growled some more and admitted, “First time topside. Shoulda read the whole manual about gravity I guess.”

Uriel made a dismissive noise and waved for Aziraphale to be brought forward. “It does take getting used to,” Uriel agreed. “We will test them now, if you’re ready?”

“Yeah, yeah,” grumbled Igmuth, waving at one of the Legion that was carrying a large black urn that shimmered with heat. They set it down and lifted the lid, exposing what looked like a puddle of smoldering lava, blackened but breaking with sullen red heat as it moved of its own volition. Crowley was yanked upright and dragged towards the vessel, their hand plunged into the seething liquid, which roared up into towering flames at the contact, splashing over the side of the vessel and searing the ground.

Crowley grimaced and snatched their hand away, cradling it against their chest while Igmuth laughed, “Got it special just for you, straight from the source. No pretending it doesn’t hurt with this stuff.”

Crowley didn’t dare look at Aziraphale, who was standing far too still for their piece of mind. :It didn't hurt. Don’t blow it angel.: Crowley wasn’t sure Aziraphale could hear them but they continued to play their part. “Well, I feel real special. You’re welcome for the promotion, Igmuth, I know how hardly you worked for it.”

“Shut it,” Igmuth snapped, leering towards Aziraphale. “Got it special for your friend. We’re going to make you watch the angel die before the prisses give you a bath. So let’s get on with it.”

Uriel sighed and waved to one of the Legionnaires, who had a glass decanter filled with crystal clear water and tipped it over Aziraphale’s bound hands. Aziraphale didn’t react, eyes glued to Igmuth. “I blessed the water myself,” Uriel assured them.

“We’ll see if you did,” growled Igmuth.

Both sides stared at each other for a long moment before one of the Legion shoved Crowley towards the waiting line of angels. The Legionnaires did the same to Aziraphale and Crowley glared at the angels as fiercely as Aziraphale was glaring at the demons.

Hunting Season,” whispered Crowley when they were abreast of one another, hand still tightly cradled against their chest. Aziraphale’s eyes crinkled as they gave Crowley a tiny frown and continued walking.

“Finally,” Igmuth growled, grabbing Aziraphale by the back of their coat and shoving them down to their knees. “We should bring you back to hell, let you really suffer.” Igmuth took the vessel from the waiting demon and swirled it so that flames and embers spurted and seethed. “Maybe we should start at the toes and work our way up,” they taunted, grinning at the watching angels and at Crowley. “It will be a pleasure to watch you die.”

“You first,” said Aziraphale, and suddenly there were a dozen Aziraphales and Crowleys bolting in every direction, and more Crowleys and Aziraphales standing where angels and demons had been. Angel and demon turned on one another and themselves and it quickly became clear the two sides were pretty evenly matched.

“Say hello to my little friend!” cackled one of the Crowleys, as an Aziraphale wrested the holy water from the angel who had been carrying it.

“I knew you would betray us!” Uriel accused, lifting the vessel of holy water.

Igmuth saw Aziraphale throwing the holy water and threw the hellfire in response.

If holy water meeting the flesh of a demon was equivalent to a bit of sodium in water, then holy water being directly applied to hellfire was of a magnitude closer to a volcanic eruption. There was an explosion of superheated steam that blew those closest arse over teakettle, as well as peppering them with a very unpleasant spray of razor sharp shrapnel from the molten hellfire being turned into shards of obsidian.

When the smoke cleared only a handful had escaped being discorporated and they quickly fled when they realized they’d survived and would have to answer to their bosses for what had happened.

Crowley and Aziraphale had effectively made the two sides blow themselves up. It was of course not an original idea and it should be noted that Crowley has always enjoyed watching classic cartoons. It had been an educational afternoon for the angel.

Far above it all, perched at the top of a tree safely outside the blast radius, was a huge eagle-owl whose head turned this way and that to ensure the last of the stragglers were gone. Coiled around their neck, snuggled in among the feathers, was a black adder.

“Sense anyone?” Aziraphale asked.

Crowley tasted the air and sent their senses outward. “All clear.”

Aziraphale dropped from the tree, gliding down to the crater and landing on the edge, letting Crowley slither off before transforming back into their human seeming. “You are okay, aren’t you?” Aziraphale asked when Crowley had also shifted back.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Are you?”

“Yes. I heard you,” Aziraphale said with a faint smile, casting a spell to make the obsidian reveal itself to their sight. “It was a close thing, I must admit.”

“Same,” agreed Crowley, looking down at the blackened ground. They toed the dirt, carefully picking up a piece of the obsidian. “Looks a lot like what we’d found in Eden.”

They handed the piece to Aziraphale, who examined it magically and nodded. “Feels identical. This should work very well for our needs, and we will have more than enough to use for your flat and any other places we might wish to protect in the same fashion.”

Crowley grinned and picked up another piece of obsidian. “Think they’ll be teaming up again?”

Aziraphale hummed as they also began carefully setting the glassy fragments into a satchel they summoned out of the air. “Oh, I doubt it. You heard Uriel. No, I don’t think they will be quite so trusting of the opposition for the foreseeable future anyway. They will have to return to hunting on their own.”

Crowley laughed. “I told you it would work.”

“I admit that I had my doubts, but you were right. Do you think they will fall for it again though?”

“Oh, of that I’ve no doubt,” Crowley grinned. “It’s not like they’re going to tell the rest of their lot what really happened, are they? Igmuth sure isn’t, though I doubt they’ll still have the title of duke by the time they finish filling out the paperwork. No, they’ll say the other side had a booby trap and that it was a double cross and they might even believe it.”

“They might blame us,” said Aziraphale quietly, looking over at Crowley.

Crowley shrugged, tossing one of the pieces of obsidian into the air and letting it hover over their hand. It began to crackle with energy, giving off a faint auroral corona as it gently turned. “Let them come, angel. We’ve got more tricks up our sleeves.”

“You don’t even know sleight of hand,” Aziraphale said, giving Crowley a sly smile when they frowned and snatched the shard out of the air.

“Well I’ve got sleeves, haven’t I? As I’m inside my sleeves and I’m full of actual magic-” They made a disgusted noise when Aziraphale chuckled. “Just for that, I’m not giving you my desert. Ha, so there.”

Aziraphale pouted. “That is a dirty trick. Very wily of you.”

“Ah, ooh...” Crowley wagged a finger at Aziraphale, who was failing to hide their smile. “C’mon angel, let’s get out of here. Going to start raining at any moment.”

“Just one last thing to see to.” Aziraphale waved their hands and the crater filled itself back in and the grass grew back as though nothing had ever happened. “Just missing the-” There was a crack and a small sapling was hit by a jolt of lightning that didn’t actually come from the sky. “Secrets and storms,” Aziraphale murmured, watching Crowley carefully pluck a few singed branches from the lightning struck tree.

“What was that?” Crowley asked, offering them the branches.

“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale answered, giving them a fond smile as they accepted and slid the branches into the satchel. “I do think that’s everything, if you wouldn’t mind leading the way. Gotten a bit dark for me.”

“Oh, well, only one solution for that,” said Crowley, wiping their hand against their jacket before offering it to them. “I’ll keep you safe, angel.”

Aziraphale slipped their hand into Crowley’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. “You always have.”

“Always will.”

Chapter Text

When they arrived at the bookshop Saturday morning, Aziraphale was barely in the door when the phone started ringing and they hurried to answer before the caller could hang up. Crowley lingered by the door and finally flipped the sign to open before following Aziraphale into the shop.

“Oh, yes, I do see that your order was due in this week but- hmm, yes well, I will let you know the moment it comes in. Yes, goodbye.” Aziraphale let out a sigh and gave Crowley a smile as they sprawled onto the couch. “Seems I’ve mislaid Miss Tick’s book order.”

Crowley laughed. “Miss Tick? Like Mystic? Another witch?”

Aziraphale shrugged and began to dig around their desk. “Haven’t actually met her but seems likely at this point.” They darted a look at Crowley and asked lightly, “Would you set the sign to open before you go? I know you’ve got things to do...”

Crowley looked over the top of their glasses at the fidgeting former angel and smiled just a little. “Set it when we came it. Thought I’d stick around for a while, no rush to get anywhere.”

“Oh.” Aziraphale paused looking for the books to smile back. “I’m always glad of your company, and we do need to discuss how you set your spell to ensure we can replicate it properly… But first, Miss Tick’s books.”

Crowley watched them search for a while, saving one of the precarious stacks from tipping with a snap of their fingers and earning another grateful smile. “Er, angel, you, uh, you prob’ly shouldn’t leave your research out like this,” the former demon said, pretending to be nonchalant. “Lots of room at the flat if you want to bring it all there. Keep things more organized that way.”

Aziraphale hummed distractedly, their head snapping up when Crowley’s words finally penetrated. “Oh, but, you, it’s your place, Crowley, I know how my clutter gets on your nerves,” they said with a dismissive laugh. “Do you mind keeping an eye on things while I look in the back?”

Crowley swallowed their rebuttal and waved a hand. “Yeah, sure.” They let out a small sigh when Aziraphale was out of earshot and resolved to keep asking until either Aziraphale realized the former demon wanted them to, to what exactly? Move in? Live together? Right now it felt like Aziraphale was just having an extended visit, and Crowley wanted… permanence. Wanted it to be ‘our flat’ instead of ‘your flat’. So Crowley decided to start small; have them bring over all the research, and then books, then more books, and eventually things that weren’t books until eventually Aziraphale will just be settled in the flat with them.

Or they’ll make it clear they’re not interested.

Both options were terrifying in different ways and Crowley’s thoughts were circling around, trying to come up with plans to cope with either eventuality, when the shop’s door swung open.

Crowley peered through the bookcase to see a pair of men come in. The one in front was tall and lean, in a rather ragged burgundy hoodie, eyes darting around to take in everything, a worried expression on his face. The one behind was of average height but wide, with massive arms and wild orange-red hair that matched the color of his jumper. He gestured a little, then patted the taller man heavily on the back before sidling off towards the back of the shop.

Crowley just watched, not particularly concerned until the thin man approached the desk and magic whirled into being in Crowley’s sight, announcing the presence of magical ability. Crowley silently slid their feet to the floor and when the man moved closer, surged upright. “Can I help you?”

The thin man jumped at Crowley’s sudden appearance and twitched like he wanted to run, but instead he gave Crowley a sickly smile and spoke in a slightly-louder-than-necessary voice, “Oh, hello. This, uh, this is A. Z. Fell and Co. right?”

Crowley let the silence linger before finally answering. “Yes.”

“Oh, great, are, uh, are you A. Z. Fell?”

Another long drawn out silence, in which the very quiet shuffle of someone trying to be sneaky came from between the bookshelves. “No.”

“Um.” Another aborted urge to flee made the man twitch, and their eyes darted about, clearly hoping their friend would return and rescue them. “Perhaps you would know when A. Z. Fell will be available?”

Crowley lips curled back in a toothy smile as one of their magical alarms was triggered, silently alerting them and Aziraphale. They leaned towards the wizard, for what else could he be, and looked over the top of their glasses, yellow snake eyes almost glowing. “Sssoon.” They snapped their fingers just as the thin man tried to bolt and there was a very worried “Eek!” from among the shelves as scintillating golden light filled the shop.

Aziraphale was in the back, mumbling to themself, trying to remember where they had last seen Miss Tick’s book order, rather distracted and annoyed with themself for having misplaced it. “Crowley is right, I really do need to get more organized,” they thought aloud, sighing in relief when they spotted the books hidden beneath some of the research they’d been doing.

Just as they were reaching for the books they sensed one of Crowley’s alarms being triggered by someone using wizardry very close by. A moment’s concentration told Aziraphale all they needed to know. They’re fiddling with L-space! In my shop! The nerve! Book order forgotten, Aziraphale awe-stepped through the bookshelves, the scintillating golden light filling the little nook the wizard had secreted himself in.

“Eek!” The wizard flattened themself back against the bookshelf, clutching what Aziraphale realized was an unburned version of Agnes Nutter’s Nice and Accurate Prophecies.

Aziraphale sucked in a furious breath and grew to about ten feet tall and the light turned sharp and dangerous. “WHO DARES TO VIOLATE THE SANCTITY OF MY SANCTUARY?”

“Hey, Aziraphale,” drawled Crowley, pushing the unresisting thin man into the nook and snapping their fingers again, “looks like some more wizards came to visit.” The thin man returned to himself with a start, letting out a terrified moan when he saw Aziraphale and squeezing himself as far back against the shelves as physically possible.

“THIS ONE MANIPULATED L-SPACE! INSIDE MY SHOP!”

Crowley had only the vaguest memories of what L-space was but raised an inquiring eyebrow at the two wizards, who both cringed, well, cringed more. The former demon wagged a scolding finger at them and clucked their tongue. “You’ve made my friend very mad. What do you have to say for yourselves?”

The thin man held up his hands placatingly. “We can explain!” He looked towards the larger man, who grimaced and shrugged. “Yes, we’re wizards, we, uh, this is the Librarian, from the Unseen University, and I’m Rincewind, his assistant. We, uh...”

“YOU-, ahem, you called me looking for the Agnes Nutter book!” said Aziraphale, recognizing Rincewind’s voice. They pulled themself back together and held out their hands. “Give it here!”

The Librarian reluctantly handed it over with a disappointed sigh, recoiling in surprise when Aziraphale miracled it back to when it belonged.

“Yes! Yes I did call, you see we’d gotten word that there was a copy floating around and what with everything that was going on in Tadfield-”

“You know about Tadfield?” demanded Crowley.

Rincewind flinched back from their glare. “More or less,” he hedged. “We knew something big was gathering there, but there was just too much interference for Hex to get through.” Seeing their confusion he waved the words away. “Not important, anyway, last week we pinpointed the book’s signature to your shop, only it vanished and the shop was burned down? But then yesterday we heard Esk telling Dr. Ridcully he’d like the place. And clearly it’s not burned down anymore?”

“You know Esk?” asked Aziraphale, coldly. They reluctantly nodded. “And what did Esk say when you asked her about my shop?”

The two wizards looked down, abashed. “We didn’t… She didn’t. Thought it best if no one else knew.”

“So instead of consulting with someone who likely had pertinent information in regards to your intentions, you decided it would be a better idea to invade my shop and manipulate L-space with neither protections nor permission?” demanded Aziraphale, that dangerous light beginning to glow around them again.

“We-” Rincewind broke off when the Librarian started signing, making only a few noises for emphasis. “Uh, he says-”

“I understand him just fine,” said Aziraphale, signing and speaking in response. “I don’t care that you’re certified in L-space navigation, this is my shop and you’ve broken at least a dozen protocols, let alone puting all of my books in danger! ...Yes, I know it’s unreachable from outside, I made it that way for a reason!”

The Librarian drooped under Aziraphale’s glare. He began explaining and Aziraphale interpreted it so Crowley could understand, [We didn’t know you were…]

“Celestialsss,” Crowley hissed, looking over the rims of their glasses for a moment.

The Librarian recoiled but continued their explanation. [We assumed the block was from whatever undid the fire. We only risked it because we’ve been getting forebodings, omens, and even portentous events all over campus-]

“Really, that bad?” Aziraphale interrupted to ask. “Portentous events are much worse than omens, which are quite a bit worse than forebodings,” Aziraphale told Crowley in an aside.

Both wizards nodded. “We know the Nutter woman was actually accurate so we had to risk it.”

“Why? What are they about?” asked Crowley.

The two wizards exchanged a speaking look and the Librarian finally nodded. “That there suddenly won’t be a campus anymore, along with a good chunk of the area around it. Which is most of London.” Rincewind shrugged at their expressions. “Seemed worth the risk.”

“Well, I can tell you right now that there is no mention of a college, university, campus, school or academy in her book, as all of those predictions were based around the events in Tadsfield and her descendants.” Aziraphale’s expression made it clear that questioning their assessment would not be a good idea. “But I am quite familiar with a number of divination methods and could see what, if anything, I can find. I will need access to the campus and possibly to go inside some of the buildings.”

Rincewind and the Librarian exchanged another look before both nodded. “There’s going to be a book fair next week, starting Thursday...”

“That will do. We will find you there on Thursday, in the library.” Aziraphale and Crowley escorted them out of the shop and when they were gone Aziraphale melted into the nearest chair to do some deep breathing. “I forgot how disconcerting ‘stepping through books is.” They shuddered a little, trying to shake off the lingering oddness. “And these were just mundane books.”

“I got to hand it to you, angel, you can be plenty scary when you want to be.” Crowley briefly rubbed their knuckles against Aziraphale’s shoulder. “So what’s L-space again?”

“Oh, it’s just that books can warp space/time into infinite loops that connect all libraries, that’s what the L stands for, with all other libraries and even libraries that don’t technically exist except as potential energy. With some of the books I have, I locked off the loops here ages ago so that no one can wander in from outside without knowing the key spells.”

“Oh, is that all,” said Crowley dryly, making Aziraphale snort. “You know...” Aziraphale looked up when they hesitated. “There’s a lot of room at the flat that I don’t really use. If you wanted someplace safer to store your collection. Make it more secure that way.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that to you, my dear.” Aziraphale let out another dismissive little chuckle, but stopped when the former demon frowned at them. “Crowley?”

“Look, it’s a big modern building with climate control and fire whatsits and we can magic it up all we want, right, so...” Move in with me. Live with me. They paced away and back to Aziraphale’s side. “So, let’s use it to keep the important bits safe, yeah?”

“I...” At a loss for words Aziraphale clasped their hands together in their lap to keep from seeking the ring to soothe themself. “You don’t have to do that. We’re still friends even if you don’t want to share.”

“Yeah, course, but, but I don’t mind sharing with you.” Aziraphale’s expression was so tender Crowley had to look away before they did something foolish. “Yes, I mean it.” They cleared their throat and asked, “How’d you feel about sharing some brunch?”

“Extremely favorable,” said Aziraphale, again putting aside their tumultuous feelings. “That has been rather more than enough excitement for today.”

Chapter Text

They enjoyed a leisurely brunch and paid a visit to the park, both wary but slowly relaxing when nobody paid them any mind and nothing happened. They talked of nothing of consequence, both feeding the ducks handfuls of peas from the bag Aziraphale miracled up, the conversation barely stuttering when their hands touched as they reached for more. When the bag was empty they moved towards the Bentley in unspoken accord, both quiet on the brief drive back to the shop, caught up in their own thoughts.

Aziraphale was mentally running through ways of letting Crowley out of their impulsive offer without revealing how much they wanted to accept and how much they needed to decline. For fear of driving Crowley away with their clutter and chatter, sure the former demon would tire of it and them after a few weeks. And, Aziraphale admitted to themself, how could they cope with Crowley’s inevitable withdrawal if they became attached to spending so much time at their flat? As it was it would be devastating and they had made sure to keep themself mostly confined to the office. If it started to feel like home…

“Angel.”

Aziraphale blinked and looked over at Crowley when they realized they were parked, giving the former demon an apologetic smile. “Sorry, my mind was wandering.”

“Yeah.” Crowley opened their door and stepped out, coming around to walk with Aziraphale back to the shop. They quickly asked, “So, what would you like me to bring to the flat?” when the reformed angel opened their mouth to speak. “If you’re all right for a while, I could go check on a few things. Wouldn’t take long.”

“Oh, I, uh...” Aziraphale huffed out a breath, hating how relieved they felt to have Crowley’s persistence as an excuse to not say no. They unlocked the door of the shop and waved Crowley inside. “If you’re really sure? I’ve already made such a mess of your office-”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I barely used it, angel, ‘snot like you’re bothering anything.”

“Well… hmm, I need all my notes, obviously, and perhaps more of the books I’ve been using for research, and perhaps a few of my more delicate books and things...” Aziraphale was already leading Crowley into the back room so didn’t see their friend’s fond knowing grin.

When Crowley finally drove away, there were seven lovingly and carefully packed boxes in the Bentley, and a hastily stuffed satchel that barely contained their research notes.

The former demon drove directly to the flat as promised and, having also promised to not magic the boxes inside, retrieved the first box and settled it cautiously into the office. When the last box was inside Crowley stared at the stack of seven boxes and had to sit down when it hit them that Aziraphale was trusting them to take care of their books.

Needing an outlet for the sudden surge of nervous energy Crowley left the office for the kitchen, pulling out a new plant mister and filling it with water. Just as they were screwing the cap back on another thought occurred to them and a little smirk curled their lip. “I wonder...”

It wouldn’t do to call on heaven, no, that wouldn’t do at all after everything they’d both gone through. But there was one being Crowley had always believed in…

Half joking, half expecting a smitening bolt to manifest out of the air for daring to speak the words they closed their eyes, clasped the plastic bottle with both hands and murmured, “I bless this in the name of Aziraphale, Celestial Wossname, Guardian of the Eastern Gate, Herald of Dawn, Keeper of Lore and Law.”

There was a breathless moment and then a rush of warmth through the bond and Crowley opened their eyes, shocked to see the entire mister glimmering with golden-bronze light for a moment before it faded away.

Their pocket buzzed and they answered without looking away from the plant mister. “Hey angel.”

“Crowley? Is everything okay? I thought...”

“Felt that did you?”

“Yes, what was it?”

“I, uh, well, probably just blasphemed against you actually,” the former demon said with a shocked laugh. “I tried blessing some water in your name.”

There was a clatter as the handset slipped from Aziraphale’s fingers and they scrambled to catch it. “You, you did what?”

Crowley laughed again and shook the mister, spritzing a little into the air and sticking their hand through it, feeling an inrush of power, the same as they had felt from Nanny Ogg’s scumble. “It worked.”

“It did? But, you said you did it in my name? Not-”

“Of course not them!”

“No, no, of course but…” Aziraphale twined their fingers around the telephone cord, feeling a little breathless. “In my name? Really?”

Crowley closed their eyes, feeling a twinge over their heart at the disbelief in their angel’s voice. “Who else, angel? Our side. Always.”

Aziraphale let out a little sigh. “Always.”

Crowley looked over their shoulder towards the office, still wondering at what it might mean that Aziraphale had entrusted their books to Crowley’s care. “Angel, I uh-”

“Oh, hello Rose! Sorry, Crowley, I have a delivery I should see to. You, uh, everything is okay, isn’t it?”

“No, yeah, all fine, I’ll see you later.” Crowley listened as Aziraphale hung up before slipping the phone back into their pocket with a sigh. Probably best to discuss it in person. Maybe better to not discuss it at all. They looked again towards the office and that momentous stack of seven small boxes and turned away to growl at the quivering plants.

“Yeah, this is the real me today. The angel might be soft on you, but I most certainly won’t be.” Without thinking Crowley spritzed the nearest plant, jaw dropping open as a dozen gleaming new leaves shot out and unfurled. They lifted the mister to stare at it in shock.

Rose had grown up in the area, one of a revolving group of kids that had learned that as long as you left Aziraphale, the books and the back room alone you could always find sanctuary in the strange bookshop. Even when it aught be shut tight, the door would open to those in need and keep out those who meant harm. Aziraphale had unknowingly earned a bit of a reputation among the locals. “Hey, Aziraphale. You’re looking happy today.”

“Oh, I am,” beamed Aziraphale, waving her inside. “You know me and new books.”

“Yeah,” the young woman smiled. “But I thought maybe it had something more to do with your friend in the shades,” she said offhandedly, looking at Aziraphale sidelong as she set the box down, grinning when they blushed. “You make a handsome couple.”

“I, uh, oh, do you think so?” Aziraphale shook their head at themself and waved the question away. “We’re friends, have been for what, goodness, seems like forever.”

“Friends are good. But... you don’t look at them like they’re just a friend?”

Aziraphale’s fingers nervously shifted towards where the gold ring used to be before they clasped their hands together behind their back and they gave Rose a small smile. “Oh, er, well, you know how it is sometimes. They’re a very good friend, the best actually. Can’t ask for more than that.”

Rose didn’t like the sadness they could hear in Aziraphale’s voice. “They look at you like the sun rises and sets on you. At least that’s how Mrs. Chan described it.”

“They do? She did?” Aziraphale shook their head in denial. “Oh, but, Crowley is a rather facetious creature, so I wouldn’t read too much into their expressions, my dear. Very wily. And sarcastic. But sweet too, they just cover it up with, what did you call it, shade? But not shady, well, not usually, but at heart-”

Rose grinned at how sweet it was to watch Aziraphale be flustered over their friend. “I think you’re reading too little into it. Angel? As endearments go, that’s pretty top of the line.”

Aziraphale was staring at her, feeling a hint of concern. In all their years of clandestine meetings Aziraphale couldn’t recall Crowley letting a human hear them use the term. “When did you hear that?”

Rose smiled not unkindly. “You two had a rather public argument last Saturday? Charlie said it was a big one, something about moving to Hollywood?”

“Hollywood?” Aziraphale echoed in confusion.

“Someplace with lots of famous people anyway. Off among the stars?”

“Uh, oh. Right. The stars.” How many people heard that?

“And when everything was back to normal on Sunday we just figured you’d made up. Fair warning though, Karen’s been spreading a rumor your friend tried to set the shop on fire but no one believes her.” She went out for the rest of the boxes, pausing when she came back in and saw Aziraphale frowning and wringing their hands. “I’ve upset you. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”

“Oh, no, I’m not upset with you Rose, it’s, just, if I may? What, uh, exactly have I done that makes people think I am, um, romantically inclined, towards Crowley?”

“Well, the way you look at them, for one. Like they hung the stars and moon just for you.” She frowned to see Aziraphale wringing their hands even more. “I don’t think they’ve noticed, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Oh, well, that’s good. Was, er, there anything else?”

“You took off your ring.” Rose was too busy setting down the boxes to see Aziraphale’s stunned expression.

“My, my ring?” Aziraphale stared down at their right hand, at the pale spot where the golden ring had sat for a very long time. “I didn’t expect anyone to notice that.”

“Of course we noticed, you’re, er, very comfortable with yourself, so any little change is pretty obvious,” said Rose diplomatically, tapping away on her work tablet to pull up the delivery invoice. “And you’ve been spending a lot more time together. Seemed really happy?”

Aziraphale just stared. They weren’t really spending that much more time together, they just weren’t hiding it anymore. Except… spending the night in Crowley’s flat was very new. Sometimes they’d spend the night talking, sometimes in silence or with Crowley resting but still generally together. Was that really all that significant? In their heart of hearts Aziraphale wanted it to be.

“I’m really sorry-”

“You’re not wrong,” Aziraphale admitted, giving her a bittersweet smile. “About me anyway. About, er, but I don’t think Crowley- Not anymore. I treated them rather poorly, you see. I’m lucky they still want to be my friend after everything, so...” They gave a helpless little shrug and swirled their finger across the tablet to sign for the delivery. “It would be nice if you were right though. Maybe one day, hmm?”

“I think it will be sooner than you think,” said Rose encouragingly, patting Aziraphale on the shoulder. “Hey, look at that, the tablet didn’t crash this time! Maybe your bad luck with electronics is turning around,” she teased, making them smile.

“Perhaps my luck with everything is turning around,” said Aziraphale thoughtfully.

Rose gave them an encouraging smile. “I should buy a lottery ticket, see if some of your luck will rub off on me.” Her smile faltered. “I could use some good luck.”

Aziraphale gave her an understanding smile. “How is your mother doing?”

“Better, slowly but better. They never did catch the hit and run driver.” Rose shrugged and sighed. “She’s still not talking to me but at least she’s not telling everyone Mila and I are ‘hell bound devil worshipers’ anymore, so, small steps, right?”

“She’ll come around,” Aziraphale soothed, offering Rose a hug when she sniffled, rubbing her back as she cried into their shoulder. “There, there, dear. I know it’s hard. She does love you, I am absolutely sure of that. You just… upset her world and she has to find her balance again. I’d offer to talk to her but I think I’d probably just make it worse.” Aziraphale pretended to sleight of hand a miracled handkerchief from behind her ear and offered it to Rose when she eased away.

Rose laughed damply and accepted it, wiping at her eyes. “Oh, yeah, probably, especially with you and your friend being the main topic of discussion at the moment.”

“Oh. But, really? Surely there’s more important things to talk about,” huffed Aziraphale.

Rose smiled and shook her head. “Sometimes people want to talk about happy stuff, Aziraphale, and you two seem really happy together. But my lips are sealed,” she said, miming locking her lips together.

“Thank you Rose, I do appreciate it. Oh, let me… for your trouble.”

Aziraphale pressed some money into her hand, and she didn’t bother to protest, knowing they would somehow manage to slip it into her pocket without her feeling a thing, which was really amazing because they were so terrible at sleight of hand. Maybe that was part of the act. “Thanks. See you next week!”

“Give Mila my regards. Mind how you go.” Aziraphale waved and closed the shop door, switching the sign to closed and sitting down heavily in their chair to consider everything they’d just discovered.

Crowley went a little mad with the mister.

If Crowley’s plants had been luxuriously verdant before, they were now, simply, magical. They were somehow luminously green, their leaves lightly gilded with golden-bronze accents that gleamed. If any of them had developed spots or worse, wilted, after the last few days’ neglect, it was certainly not evident anymore.

The former demon actually contemplated putting the mister in the safe with Aziraphale’s empty thermos but had to laugh because they could just make more, and having it readily available was probably the smarter course of action, in case any more old coworkers showed up.

Crowley put the mister away and found themself facing the same thoughts they had tried to escape. They stared at the stark concrete walls, the pieces of art that seemed so ridiculously, cringingly obvious now that Aziraphale was spending time in the flat. Ugh, what the heaven was I thinking?

They wandered around the office, staring critically at the desk and the ridiculous throne. They snapped their fingers, making a face at the big overstuffed tartan chair they’d made, snapping their fingers again and sneering at the sleek black and chrome seat that looked vaguely like a headstone before changing it back and collapsing onto the seat to berate themself for being ridiculous.

“I don’t have to change my place just because Aziraphale’s going to keep some stuff here,” Crowley told the air, ignoring the little skipped heartbeat of terror and joy at the statement. “The angel will just have to live with it! If I let them muck about, everything will be tartan everywhere and books all over the place.”

They stared at the seven boxes and admitted, “I don’t mind the books, really.” Crowley lurched out of the chair and began to pace. “Aziraphale’s got to hate it here,” Crowley sighed, and admitted, “I hate it here.”

Frustrated with themself, Crowley fussed with Aziraphale’s papers and realized they’d forgotten the satchel of research in the Bentley. It was a relief to leave their circling thoughts and bound downstairs, impulsively deciding to go back to the shop after bringing the papers inside. It wasn’t like they really needed to spend time away from Aziraphale if they didn’t want to, there wasn’t anyone to hide their friendship from anymore. And it would be a welcome distraction from their thoughts, as there was always something new Aziraphale had read to talk about, or they could take a trip to the museum, or the park or something, anything. As long as it wasn’t staring at the dull gray walls driving themself insane.

Crowley waved open the door of the Bentley and pulled out the satchel, which failed to contain the myriad of notebooks and reams of loose paper, spewing them over the back seat and the floor.

“Ugh, angel.” Crowley began gathering the papers and slipping them back into the satchel, shaking their head to find Aziraphale had even taken notes on a scrap of parchment from their ‘preservation’ project, as well as what seemed to be a piece of papyrus. “What other little projects have you been up to angel?”

Contorting to check for any other escaped notes hidden under the seats, Crowley flailed their hand around and froze when they felt something that was definitely not paper and definitely didn’t belong in the Bentley. “What the hell?” After a moment they slowly withdrew their hand and stared at the golden ring that had adorned Aziraphale’s pinky for millennia.

They absently closed the Bentley’s door and brought the satchel up to the flat, setting it next to the stack of boxes, their thoughts entirely focused on the ring enclosed in their fist.

The former demon sat on the chair and opened their hand, holding the ring up to the light. There was a blackened crack bisecting the crest like a lightning bolt, the entire thing pitted as though it had been dipped in acid, and the gold was flaking off, revealing a dull gray metal beneath.

Crowley had assumed Aziraphale’s heavenly mark had vanished on Tuesday, the way their own hellish mark had, but apparently not. It was easy enough to figure out why it looked the way it did, but that left a lot of unanswered questions. When had it been, well, smited? How had it ended up in the Bentley? What did it mean? They set it down on the desk and stood to pace. “Why didn’t they tell me?”

They reached for the phone and turned away before picking it up. “No, not my business, right, that’s that. They’d have mentioned it if they wanted to talk about it. ‘Snot like they’ve had it since the sodding Garden and never once went without it until Tuesday. ‘Snot like I’ve noticed them constantly reaching for it since then or anything. Nah, nope, not important.”

Crowley finally decided to pretend they hadn’t found it and moved to leave but looked back over their shoulder, almost feeling as though their eyes were being drawn back to the desecrated heavenly mark. It sat alone on the desk where they could see the faintest gleam of sullen red light reflecting off of the pitted and flaking golden surface and they snatched it up and hurried down to the Bentley.

Aziraphale didn’t know what to think about everything so didn’t think about anything except sorting through the new books that had just arrived. Then about moving things around so that the spaces left by the books they’d moved to Crowley’s were filled in. And just as they were beginning to wonder if Crowley was going to be back soon, they saw the Bentley pull up outside and park.

And when a few pedestrians stopped to admire the car, Aziraphale realized Crowley wasn’t doing the make people look away thing, which they really should think up a proper name for-

Crowley opened the lock with a flick of their fingers and slipped into the shop, locking the door behind themself. “Aziraphale?”

“Back here,” they answered, their smile faltering when Crowley came around the bookshelf. “What’s wrong?”

“You tell me.” Crowley watched Aziraphale’s face as they held out their hand and revealed the ring.

Aziraphale gasped in shock. “You, you found it? Where?”

“In the Bentley. Under your seat.”

“Oh.” Aziraphale couldn’t look away but their hands curled into fists and they shifted backward when Crowley stepped closer.

Crowley growled when the silence dragged on. “You going to tell me what, how it got there?”

Aziraphale blinked and looked up at Crowley and then out the window at the people milling about, realizing that while they were safe from magical spying, the whole neighborhood was full of people who could, and had, heard and seen far more than the former angel had ever wanted them to. Aziraphale pushed themself up to their feet. “Not here. Somewhere more private, if you don’t mind?”

Crowley eyed them for a long moment before nodding, closing their hand around the ring again. They led Aziraphale back to the Bentley, sitting in stony silence as Aziraphale got into the passenger seat. It was a short, familiar drive and Aziraphale sat up when they realized they were heading back to the flat. “Oh, but-”

“It’s the most private place I know,” Crowley said. “You have a better place in mind?”

“No, I, I know it is, I just wasn’t sure you’d want, want me to...”

Crowley just grunted and parked, waving for Aziraphale to precede them inside. Aziraphale moved towards the office for lack of a better place, wringing their hands together as Crowley paced into the room and set the ring down on the desk and pulled off their glasses to pin them with a stare. “So?”

Aziraphale gave them a weak smile and admitted, “I don’t know where to start.”

“How about, how did it end up in the Bentley?” Crowley asked, flinging themself onto the couch.

“Oh, uh, I’m not completely sure but I think it must have fallen out of my pocket?” They tapped at their coat and looked, frowning to find that there was a hole burned through the lining on the right side. “Ah.”

“When?”

Aziraphale poked curiously at the burned spot. “On, on Monday night, thought I suppose it was technically Tuesday morning by then of course. Before… everything.” Aziraphale gave them a faint smile and quickly looked away again. “Things got a little complicated after that and when I couldn’t find it I assumed it had, you know… poof.”

“And why was it in your pocket?” Crowley leaned forward when Aziraphale looked towards them, eyes shimmering with tears. “Angel?”

“Because I didn’t know what else to do with it,” they admitted, taking a step towards Crowley but stopping themself. “It hurt to take off. Didn’t expect that, though I probably should have.”

“You took it off?” Crowley stared, shocked, heart thudding, and stood to close some of the distance between them. “Tell me why, angel,” they whispered, watching the first tear fall.

Aziraphale looked down at the pale spot on their pinky. “Because I thought, I realized the itch wasn’t just happening to me and I thought, maybe… Surely if I broke my vow to heaven then I, I wouldn’t be an angel anymore and what was happening to you, to us, would stop.” Aziraphale looked up when Crowley’s hand reached out and gently covered theirs. “Didn’t actually work of course but I had to try.”

“Aziraphale...” Crowley shook their head, at a loss for words. “You, why would you-”

“I couldn’t let you suffer if there was a chance to fix it. We’d been lucky enough to survive after everything and I wasn’t going to-” Aziraphale looked back down at their hands, clasping Crowley’s tightly. “I couldn’t bear to lose you again. So, I chose. Our side.”

Crowley stared at Aziraphale, feeling humbled. “I didn’t realize. When you said, about hellfire, when my wings… I didn’t realize you really meant it.”

“I didn’t want to upset you. I know how sore of a subject it is for you, and it just never seemed like the right time to bring it up. And it didn’t, hasn’t worked at all as I thought it would,” the reformed angel admitted. “I could tell I wasn’t part of the host anymore, but I never stopped being able to go to holy ground or touch holy water. I have no desire to test if I can go back to heaven but since you’ve been back to hell then it’s probably safe to assume the same goes for me as well.”

“You know, angel...” Crowley was staring at their hands and looked up into Aziraphale’s eyes which were a luminous mix of green and gold in that moment. “I’ve a feeling we can do a lot of things now that we couldn’t. Or, at least not since whatever happened before Eden.”

“Why do you say that?”

Crowley’s lips began to curl into a grin and they backed towards the hallway, pulling Aziraphale with them. “You’ll see. But close your eyes first.” Aziraphale frowned a little but did as told, intrigued. The former demon led them down the hall and positioned them in the doorway to the sun room. “Alright.”

Aziraphale opened their eyes and immediately blinked twice, mouth falling open in shock. The small jungle of plants Crowley had kept there had somehow redoubled and had taken on golden-bronze accents that no natural plant could ever grow. They spun to look at Crowley, who was grinning hugely. “Crowley, what-”

“The holy water did this.”

Aziraphale turned back to the plants and then back to Crowley. “How much holy water did you use?”

Their smile went a little sheepish but they just shrugged the question away. “Enough. It does have its limits. It doesn’t do this to plants I’ve owned for less than a month, and only one growth spurt no matter how much I spritz them again. It does cure spots and wilting,” Crowley said, smirking when Aziraphale smiled. “Which is just how you like it, huh.”

“Perhaps.” Aziraphale stroked a finger over the nearest leaf and asked, “And you really blessed it in my name?”

“I did. When I touched the ‘holy water’ Nanny made, I could feel it, you know, like you do, like I did. And since I’m not a demon anymore I wondered if I could make it again too.” Crowley couldn’t help but smile. “Have to admit, I didn’t quite expect this.”

Aziraphale laughed. “How could you, my dear? These are, these are… oh. Oh.” A sudden memory, an ancient memory, surfaced and Aziraphale sucked in a shuddering breath, clinging to Crowley’s hand when they moved closer in concern. “This is how the Garden looked, was supposed to look. Before they moved it to earth and made it mundane. They stripped the magic away. They took everything away.”

Crowley slipped an arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders when they shuddered and steered the former angel to sit at on the lounge they had conjured almost a week earlier. “Do you remember anything else?”

Aziraphale shook their head and did a little deep breathing. “No, mostly just the plants, and grief.”

“I’m sorry, angel, I didn’t mean-”

Aziraphale waved the words away. “Nonsense, you couldn’t have known it would trigger a memory. And I would rather remember than not.”

“Alright.” Crowley wanted to bring up the books and ask what, if anything, it meant but settled for saying, “So, uh, we should figure out where you want to keep your books.”

“And while we do that, you can tell me about how you set your spell around the shop,” Aziraphale said, glad of the change of topic. “I can’t wait to hear how you did it. Really quite clever, and I never even realized.”

Crowley couldn’t resist their smile and they retreated back to the office, where they both stopped to stare at Aziraphale’s ring gleaming sullenly on the desk. “What should we do with it?”

“I, I don’t actually know. I, er, did you...”

Crowley answered Aziraphale’s unasked question. “I never had one. I don’t recall any of the ones who ended up ‘falling’ having marks.”

“Is there somewhere safe we can keep it?” Aziraphale asked, reluctantly moving closer and picking it up, frowning to see how deteriorated it was. “I might need to make a foray into heaven and leave it there.”

“Well, I’ve got an actual safe,” Crowley said, gesturing to the sketch, pulling it aside and unlocking the safe when Aziraphale nodded. “You can keep it here until you decide.”

Aziraphale’s eyes went wide when they saw the thermos and looked towards where Ligur’s remains had been, then back at Crowley, whose expression had gone stony. “Oh, is, was that what...” The former demon nodded, expecting judgment or at least a disapproving look but Aziraphale just moved closer, put the ring into the safe and murmured, “I’m sorry.”

“Eh, Ligur was a nasty piece of work, much like Hastur. I don’t feel bad about it,” shrugged Crowley, closing the safe, stopping when Aziraphale put their hand on Crowley’s arm.

“No, I mean, I’m sorry I didn’t give you more.” The reformed angel glared at the spot by the door, and when they turned back to Crowley there was a light in their eyes that Crowley hadn’t seen in a very long time. “They were coming to take you away, I assume.”

Crowley nodded. “It, uh, it happened right before you called. But it worked out in the end.”

“It did,” Aziraphale agreed, patting Crowley’s arm and once the sketch was back in place began peppering Crowley with questions about the magic they had used while carefully beginning to unpack their books. Inwardly they tamped down the righteous fury that had ignited at the thought of someone invading the flat with the purpose of harming their best friend. They watched Crowley sidelong as they talked and gestured and in their heart, they admitted, Mine.

Chapter Text

Sunday morning was filled with magic, primarily from Aziraphale who spent most of the night feverishly working on creating the spell components. There was a sense of urgency, to get the spells set as soon as possible, and of guilt, for not taking better care for Crowley’s safety. It wasn’t exactly rational, since an angel putting protections over a demon would have been an even bigger red flag, but Aziraphale had dealt with emotions for long enough to accept that most of the time logic had nothing to do with it. If it did, they wouldn’t-- Aziraphale jerked their thoughts away from that precipice and made themself return to working.

They were still busily scribbling notes and mumbling spells when Crowley emerged from the bedroom and the former demon leaned against the door to watch Aziraphale work.

There clearly was a method to the angel’s madness. Mumbling as they picked up an item, like a piece of the primordial obsidian they’d collected on Friday, the reformed angel would turn it over in their hands and make note of it in the notebook before carefully setting it into a spell diagram to enchant it, sorting it into one of a handful of different piles set apart on the desk when it was done. Considering the size of the piles it was clear Aziraphale had been working since Crowley had gone to sleep the night before.

In a soft tone they knew from experience wouldn’t disturb their angel from their work, Crowley leaned close to their ear and murmured, “Breakfast?”

“Mmm, crepes would be lovely,” Aziraphale answered without even thinking, their thoughts entirely focused on what they were doing. It wasn’t until they heard the front door close with a little more force than necessary that Aziraphale snapped back to reality, and immediately pulled the compass from their pocket, only to jump when Crowley spoke.

“Ready for a break?” The old snake set down the bag of take-out and asked, “What’s wrong?” when Aziraphale bowed their head and let out a slow breath.

“It’s, it’s nothing, just, uh, just...” Aziraphale rubbed at their eyes, running their thumb over the embossed winged serpent of the compass. “Must have been working too long,” they hedged, trying to give Crowley a smile, but it slid away under their concerned expression. “I’m sorry I ignored you earlier, that was terribly rude of me.”

“You were busy,” Crowley corrected. “I don’t expect you to drop everything just ‘cause I show up, angel.” Understanding came when they saw the black compass clasped in Aziraphale’s hand and they gently took it, running their fingers over the raised decoration. “Is this how you found me on my little walkabout?”

“Yes.” Aziraphale stared at the compass in Crowley’s hands and the words spilled out. “I’m sure the bond helped significantly. It should only show me your general direction when you’re not carrying my, uh, the one I traded with you, but somehow I could see you, even after you crossed into hell, even when you were pulled through the rift, which is well beyond the enchantments’ power.” Aziraphale looked up at Crowley, seeing the understanding in their eyes. “I cast the decoy spell through the mirror.”

“And had no idea if it would work,” nodded Crowley, setting the compass back into Aziraphale’s hand and letting their own rest over it. “I promise I’ll tell you if I’m going anywhere even remotely dangerous, okay?”

There was a lump in Aziraphale’s throat and they looked away from Crowley’s eyes, down at their barely touching hands. “Thank you.”

Crowley ran their finger over the winged serpent decoration again. “Proved a little more spot on than coincidence, huh?” they said, smirking a little, getting a small but real smile in response.

“I found them at Boffo’s.”

“Wot, really? That explains it then.” Crowley fetched plates and forks and started dishing up the crepes, watching sidelong as Aziraphale slid the black compass back into the pocket of their waistcoat. “Didn’t mean to worry you. Er, just figured I’d get us something to eat while you were busy, since I’m no help with this stuff,” they said, gesturing at the books and notes and spell diagrams. “Least I can do is get you a snack.”

“That’s not true,” protested Aziraphale, accepting the plate and inhaling deeply of the lovely scent. “You do excellent spellwork-”

“Flattered you think so, but I’ve never had the knack for this. You toss ‘em about as easily as a miracle. It’s wossname, second nature to you. I do okay with off the cuff stuff but I have a hell-o of a time trying to do it a second time.” They watched Aziraphale savor the first bite and admitted, “I had yours with me. Usually do.”

“You, you do?” Aziraphale’s pulse skipped a little when Crowley reached into their jacket, for the small hidden interior pocket over their heart, and revealed the golden-bronze compass.

“Never knew when it could come in handy,” said Crowley, staring down at it, running their right thumb over the embossed gryphon. The tender expression on Aziraphale’s face had Crowley feeling flustered as they returned it to its pocket. “Besides, it belongs to my best friend. Wouldn’t want to misplace it or anything.”

“I, oh, that’s, that’s very sweet of you,” said Aziraphale, beaming at Crowley, who busied themself with eating with their usual quickness. “Young Warlock asked to borrow yours one time near his, hmm, sixth birthday I think? And I thought nothing of it, really, since I’d let him use it as a mundane compass numerous times by then. But it turned out he was trying to impress some older children who ended up taking it from him and they put a nasty scratch on it. I miracled it away of course but I admit I was quite incensed with them. After that I made sure it was secured at all times.”

“I seem to recall him showing me one you’d given him around then,” recalled Crowley.

“Seemed the simplest way to ensure yours stayed safe.” Aziraphale sighed and ate another bite of the crepes. “I wonder how he’s doing.”

Crowley frowned but shrugged. “Better off without us meddling in his life, I bet.”

A hum of agreement. “You suspected all along,” Aziraphale said after another bite.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” the former demon admitted. “But yeah.”

“Uncanny,” Aziraphale recalled, decidedly not recalling the rest of that disastrous conversation. After a few more bites, the former angel mentioned, “We could, er, we could make him forget. Us I mean. Since he’s not actually the anti-christ.”

Crowley considered it but shook their head. “Best not. Fiddling with minds is iffy enough and we’ve got our new Arrangement to think about, the whole ‘no meddling’ thing.” Aziraphale sighed but nodded, enjoying another bite of their crepes and Crowley leaned back against the desk and added, “Maybe they can get him a therapist who’s familiar with the occult.”

Aziraphale gave Crowley a look at the teasing but finished their bite before responding. “As I am no longer an angel--”

“Oh, bullocks,” Crowley scorned. “If those arseholes can call themselves angels then you certainly can.”

Aziraphale smiled but finished another bite before continuing. “Thank you, but as I was saying, I am technically a fallen angel--”

“Nope,” Crowley corrected, smirking when Aziraphale gave them a surprised look. “You fell, but aren’t fallen. You left of your own accord.”

“I, yes, I suppose that’s true. But why does that sound familiar?”

“Agnes again, ‘The angel who Fell, shadowed by the angel who hath Fallen.’”

“Oh, OH!” Aziraphale hastily finished the last of their crepes and lifted the satchel onto the desk while Crowley looked on in bemusement. “That reminded me...” They quickly dug through the papers until they pulled out the scrap of paper that Nanny Ogg had given them on Monday. “Look at this!”

Crowley reluctantly took it and puzzled out the archaic script and cryptic spelling. “The one who Fell must reclaim their legacy, wrested from the false worlde written with a snake’s tongue, or they and the Fallen One will be felled again, and the true worlde whilst follow them into destruction.’ Hmm, don’t like that.” Crowley looked up at Aziraphale, seeing they had caught the reference to them being felled again. “So Agnes Nutter’s sent us another message. Any idea what it even means? ‘False world written with a snake’s tongue?’”

“I haven’t spent any time working on it. It didn’t seem important with everything else that’s been happening,” Aziraphale admitted, accepting the paper back and setting it inside one of their notebooks. They looked at Crowley, who had been smiling before Aziraphale had brought up the prophecy but was now scowling at the notebook, and decided to try to lighten the mood. “I suppose occult might be a suitable term, if we’re going to keep getting warnings from a long dead witch.”

The former demon grinned at the reformed angel’s playfully put-upon tone. “Oh really.”

“On the other hand,” Aziraphale said, pursing their lips in feigned consideration, “you are no longer a demon, especially since you can make and use holy water. So, really, ethereal could apply to both of us-”

“No.” Crowley took Aziraphale’s empty plate and magicked it into the kitchen, wagging their finger at Aziraphale’s smug expression. “Absolutely not. I like occult, and spooky, and eerie, and, and-”

“Uncanny?”

“And uncanny!” Crowley agreed and turned to pace to hide their smile.

“Well... if you insist.” There was a snap and a rustle of cloth.

Crowley did not like the sound of that and whipped around, their jaw falling open in shock. “What the-”

Aziraphale was dressed head to toe in black and indigo instead of their usual cream and sky blue, with silver accents instead of their typical gold. Even their hair had become more silver than gold, and their eyes were dark and brimming with mischief in a way Crowley hadn’t seen in thousands of years. “Uncanny enough for you?” Aziraphale asked, a wicked smile curling their lips. “I knew you’d look good in tartan.”

Crowley looked down at themself and squawked in amused indignation to see their usual clothes bleached to sepia tones, their vest indeed changed to a rusty tartan pattern. “Angel!” Crowley tried to scold but then Aziraphale pulled a pair of Crowley’s sunglasses out of the air and slid them on. “You stop that right this minute!” The final straw was when they tried to slouch in the chair the way Crowley always did and the serpent dissolved into laughter, taking their hand to pull them up. “Please, I’m begging, go back to being ethereal,” Crowley pleaded, wiping at the tears of mirth escaping their eyes. “This is too painful!”

Aziraphale grinned at Crowley’s helpless amusement. “I don’t know… occult might suit me better.” Aziraphale stood and circled the fondly exasperated former demon and laughed when Crowley spluttered and gestured pleadingly towards their altered clothes. “As you wish.” Another snap and they were back in their usual clothes, though Aziraphale was still wearing Crowley’s glasses.

Crowley did a double-take at the phrase as you wish but let out another laugh and rested their hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder. “That was uncanny. Do you have a fever? Can angels get fevers?” They pressed their other wrist to Aziraphale’s forehead, clearly teasing. “You do feel a little warm. You’ve clearly been working yourself too hard.”

“Hmm, perhaps,” Aziraphale agreed, feeling giddy at hearing their best friend laughing so freely after so very long. At seeing them shed actual tears of mirth. “I do believe crepes were exactly what the doctor ordered. Miracle cure, you know,” they said, grinning when Crowley laughed again. “It’s so good to hear your laugh,” Aziraphale blurted. “I, er, that wasn’t too-”

“It was terrible!” Crowley wailed dramatically with a grin, soothing Aziraphale’s fears of having unwittingly crossed a line. “You might’ve discorporated me from sheer embarrassment!”

“I could not have,” Aziraphale scolded with a relieved smile. “That would have required putting you back in that atrocious hairstyle you had during the French Revolution.”

“Oh, oh!” Crowley staggered and clutched at their chest as though wounded. “That’s a low blow, angel. You, you definitely owe me lunch for that one.”

“Yes, that was rather cruel of me, wasn’t it,” Aziraphale agreed as the silly mood shifted into something they didn’t have a name for; unfamiliar but somehow warm and comfortable at the same time. “We haven’t had much chance for laughter, have we?” they asked, pulling off the glasses and holding them up.

Crowley blinked but nodded in answer to Aziraphale’s unspoken offer. “No. Not for a very long time.” The former demon dipped their head to let Aziraphale slip the glasses on, and when their fingers brushed ever so lightly over Crowley’s temples and ears, their face suffused with heat at the contact. “Having to be wary and watchful kinda kills the fun.”

“Yes.” Aziraphale pulled their hands away and tucked them behind their back to keep themself from doing more than they had already done. “But each new day is a great big fish!”

Crowley cracked a grin when Aziraphale frowned. “Wot’s that now?”

“Er, it sounds much better in the original tongue. It means-” Aziraphale was in the middle of explaining when they both felt one of Crowley’s alarms being triggered inside the shop and in an instant they moved towards the door together, in a hurry to discover who or what had set it off.

When they arrived, the door was locked and the lights were off. Aziraphale cautiously opened the door and did a double-take when Crowley stepped in ahead of them, their hands changed into lightning-edged talons. They rested their hand on Crowley’s arm and shook their head, gesturing for them to wait. Aziraphale stepped in beside them and called out, “Hello? Someone here?”

There was a hesitant shuffle and a scruffy looking white teenager peeped out from among the shelves. Aziraphale quickly stepped in front of Crowley with a smile of welcome as the former demon hastily released the magic and shifted their hands back. “Hello again. Erica wasn’t it? Everything alright?” Aziraphale moved deeper into the room but not closer to the girl, flicking on the light on the desk. “We were just going to have some tea and biscuits before I open for the day, if you’d like to join us? You’re more than welcome.”

“I, uh, I’m sorry, I already ate them-” the teenager confessed guiltily, holding out the empty tin.

“Oh, no, those stale old things, I forgot I even had them,” Aziraphale scoffed, reaching behind a shelf and miracling up a much nicer but smaller tin of biscuits and setting them on a table in the middle of the room. “No, here’s a nice fresh tin for us to share.” They noticed the teen darting worried looks at Crowley and offered them a reassuring smile. “This is my dear friend Crowley. They’re a little shy, do forgive them, they don’t mean to be rude,” Aziraphale said in a mock-scolding tone as they looked over at the former demon, who was standing stock still by the door, staring at the teen.

Crowley blinked and raised a hand in greeting, circling around behind Aziraphale and hooking their hand around Aziraphale’s elbow and almost dragging the reformed angel towards the back. “We’ll just go make the tea, eh?”

“Yes, we’ll make some tea, feel free to open the tin!” said Aziraphale brightly, scowling in annoyance at Crowley but biting back their scolding when Crowley paused time. “What’s wrong?”

“That kid’s got a demon’s kiss.” They waved their hand at Aziraphale’s horrified expression. “Not a kiss kiss, just a magical mark to show that they’ve been chosen.”

“Ohh.” Aziraphale wrung their hands with sudden understanding. “Oh no, that’s terrible. Is there anything we can do? Chosen ones are...” Doomed, Aziraphale didn’t say, but their face said it all.

Crowley grimaced in agreement but shrugged. “I don’t know. There wasn’t anything I could’ve done before and now..? She’d have to believe in us for it to work, if it could work, right?”

“Unfortunately, yes, I believe so. Oh dear, that poor child. If, if we, surely there must be some way to prevent..?”

Crowley gave another helpless shrug. “I don’t know. It’s not exactly common, no matter what TV show people might claim. She does get a choice though, so maybe we can influence-” The former demon cringed at the word, thinking immediately of Warlock. “-her choices. Maybe. We’d better ask the witches too.”

“It’s something,” Aziraphale sighed. “We’ll just have to do our best and hope for the best,” they said, giving Crowley a grateful smile. “Thank you for letting me know.”

Crowley waved it away and brought them back with the same gesture, pacing the little back room while Aziraphale busied themself with making the tea. From the main area came the small familiar sound of a biscuit tin being opened and a soft, “Ooh,” from Erica. They shared a smile and Aziraphale led the way back out with a tea tray.

“Here we go,” said Aziraphale, pouring them each a cup, encouraging Erica to doctor hers however she wished. “Didn’t mean to startle you when we arrived, I know Crowley can be more than a little intimidating.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m right proper villain,” grumbled Crowley as they dipped a biscuit into their tea, letting out a tiny disappointed noise when it broke and sank beneath the surface. A smothered giggle escaped Erica and Crowley just sighed resignedly and ate the remainder of the dry biscuit in one bite.

Aziraphale tried to keep a straight face but had to clear their throat before they confided to Erica, “There’s been some unsavory types bothering us of late, so I had to have some security put it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, staring down into her cup, clearly waiting for a scolding or worse.

“Oh, no, dear, you’re fine, no harm done!” Aziraphale soothed, patting the table near her hand but not actually touching her. “It’s my fault for not putting the word out that I had to move things closer to the front of the shop. Maybe you can help me do that?” the former angel asked her hopefully, beaming at Erica when she gave a hesitant smile and a nod. “Oh, I would be ever so grateful. Here now, for your trouble.” They pretended to search their pockets before summoning some money from the till and setting it on the table by Erica’s hand. “I’m so relieved that’s solved!”

Erica quickly scooped up the money and hid it away. “Can I come back later?”

“As often as you like, my dear. Always happy for the company. Mrs. Chan will let you use their washroom if you need it, a little arrangement she and I have.” Aziraphale kept up the friendly chatter, putting the girl at ease as she drank two cups of tea and ate way more biscuits than the tin actually contained.

“Thanks Ms. Fell,” Erica said as she finished her tea, taking the last few biscuits when Aziraphale held the tin out to her. “I’ll tell the others about moving things, okay?”

“Thank you, my dear, I really appreciate it.” They didn’t wilt with a sad sigh until the front door closed behind Erica and the reformed angel rested their face in their hands.

“There’s only so much you can do, angel,” Crowley murmured knowingly, rubbing their hand against Aziraphale’s shoulder briefly. “How long’ve you been a lost and found?”

“Oh, since I opened really,” Aziraphale admitted. “There were a lot more of the poor mites back then of course, and very few of them have any reason to believe… but I did, do what I can. Food, clothes, money if they’ll take it. Never feels like enough.”

“No, never does.” Crowley poured themself and the former angel more tea and sprawled out in their chair with a heavy sigh as they both fell into their thoughts.

“I can’t keep dwelling on that, I need a distraction,” Aziraphale said after a while. “Are you willing to show me more of your spellwork before we visit Eunice this afternoon?”

Crowley was frowning at the dregs and crumbs in the bottom of their cup but quickly magicked them away when Aziraphale spoke. “Eh? Oh, sure. Speaking of, how exactly are we going to sign her up? I don’t want to spend a drunken night in the joke shop. It’d probably be enough to give me nightmares.”

Aziraphale chuckled. “I did discuss that with Nanny while you were talking with Granny. We don’t have to drink again now that the Arrangement has been created, just the newcomers. And she gave us a supply of the little cups!” Aziraphale sprang up and pulled out a repurposed tin clearly decorated by one of Nanny’s brood, with bright shiny (mostly) apples in a rainbow of colors and glittery star and moon stickers. Inside were dozens of the little wooden cups and there was the definite scent of applewood. “Some of her children carved them. Or was it grandchildren? Anyway, she said she’ll send us more if we need them.”

Crowley took one of the tiny cups and smirked a little. “We should probably put her ‘holy water’ in the safe. And did she ever explain what happens when it touches metal?”

“Boom,” said Aziraphale with an expansive hand gesture. “And that’s just her usual scumble. Who knows what this one would do.”

“Here’s hoping we never find out,” said Crowley, dropping the little cup back into the painted tin. “Alright, get your notes and let’s get a wiggle on.”

“Quite right,” Aziraphale agreed with a smile at Crowley’s playful teasing, putting the tin away and leading the way outside, notebook in hand.

They weren’t outside for more than a few minutes before one of Aziraphale’s neighbors just happened to come outside and strike up a brief conversation before making an excuse and hurrying off. Aziraphale tried to shrug it off, but then it happened again, and then a third time and finally the reformed angel retreated back inside with Crowley in tow and locked the door.

“I am dreadfully sorry,” Aziraphale told Crowley, wringing their hands together, unable to read the former demon’s expression as they leaned against one of the pillars. “I’m sure they don’t mean anything by it.” Crowley still didn’t say anything and Aziraphale rushed to fill the silence. “Apparently there are some, um, rumors, uh, about, er, about us. Because of the... disagreement we had.”

“You mean our big messy public fight last Saturday.”

“Er, yes.” Aziraphale rubbed at the where the missing ring used to be and finally tucked their hands behind their back in an effort to keep still. “Up until then I don’t think most of them had even seen you as uh, you. And then, there we were, er, it attracted attention.”

“Sorry ‘bout that.” Crowley pushed away from the pillar when Aziraphale just stared at them. “I can go-”

“No!” Aziraphale cleared their throat and said in a calmer tone. “No, I don’t want you to go.”

“Alright.” Crowley offered their hand, smiling a little when Aziraphale took it. “I was going to say, go back to doing the thing, if it’d make you feel better.”

“Oh. I, uh, no, well, whatever you’d prefer, Crowley, I just, I know you prefer to, you know, slip under the radios-”

“Radar.”

“-radar, right. I don’t want to you to be uncomfortable here.” There was a hint of pleading in their voice that they couldn’t hide as they watched Crowley’s face for any sign of what they were thinking.

Crowley looked up from where Aziraphale’s thumb was stroking little circles over the back of Crowley’s hand, though the former angel seemed unaware of the movement. “Doesn’t bother me. Not much point in hiding now, is there? Everyone knows we’re friends, so why waste energy trying?”

“Well, as long as you’re sure. I, uh, they do mean well, really, just you know how humans are sometimes,” Aziraphale said with a little laugh. “Awfully curious. Like to gossip about the silliest things.”

“Yeah. Nothing like us at all,” said Crowley dryly, smirking when Aziraphale gave them a look. “How ‘bout I do the thing for now, just so we can get things done before nightfall, alright?”

“That might be the only way,” Aziraphale conceded, giving Crowley’s hand a grateful squeeze before releasing them. “Thank you, for understanding.”

“Eh,” said Crowley, following Aziraphale back outside. Without constant interruptions it didn’t take the former demon very long to tell the reformed angel everything they could remember about the enchantment they’d impulsively laid over the building after buying it for them. They lingered on the west side of the building where they had cast the spell all those years ago, trying to dredge up the specifics of that night. “I know I’m forgetting things.”

“Well, I’ll just have to improvise too. It wouldn’t be exact anyway, with me casting it instead of you, and I’ll be laying it before the other spell instead of after, not that that should be too significant as these things go, but, oh bother,” said Aziraphale when the shop phone began ringing and with an apologetic look at Crowley, awe-stepped through the wall into the shop.

Aziraphale was just hanging up as Crowley sauntered inside via the door. “So, you were correct about Miss Tick, she just rang to tell me to bring her books when we go to Granny’s this Wednesday.”

“Ha, Eunice did say they’re a talkative lot. Second only to wizards, apparently.” Crowley leaned on Aziraphale’s desk and murmured, “That was a bit bold of you, angel, ‘stepping like that.”

Aziraphale flushed, making a face when they realized Crowley was teasing. “I knew you were doing the thing so it’s not like anyone could notice. Although, I suppose...”

The former angel’s words trailed off, that familiar far off look in their eye and Crowley waited for them to think through whatever it was that had grabbed their attention. When it progressed to longer than a minute they pulled off their glasses and slouched onto the couch, unsurprised when Aziraphale started mumbling and looking through their desk. They made a few hasty notes, turned to where Crowley had been and blinked, and Crowley smirked fondly when their angel gave them a sheepish look. “What’s up?”

“Oh, ah, I was just thinking about the archangels and I suppose the dukes of hell, and how they keep humans from seeing them doing that sort of thing.”

“Yeah, lucky bastards. Part of the reason I never let on about my little tricks. That’d’ve gone over well.”

“Well that got me thinking, you can do it and you’re neither so… Will you teach me? Can you?”

“I, wot? I… I’m not even sure how I do it, to be honest.”

“Well, boo,” said Aziraphale, giving Crowley a smile to show they weren’t really upset. “It was worth a try. It’s probably part of your, your essential Crowley-ness so, er, did you mean to vanish?” Aziraphale blinked when the couch shifted a little and they had to smile because with a little focus they could dimly sense Crowley sneaking closer through the bond. “I must warn you, I can sense you.”

:The bond’s stronger if we, er, touch, right? So, uh, hold out your hand?:

Aziraphale started to hear Crowley’s voice in their mind but nodded and did as asked. It was a strange moment of deja vu for the former angel to be again holding the hand of someone who wasn’t there. They smiled at where they could sense Crowley standing and asked, :What are we doing?:

Crowley’s hand tightened around Aziraphale’s at hearing their mental voice for the first time since the fall, and it took the former demon a moment to move past the bittersweet memories that it dredged up. :I’m not sure but hold on.: Crowley tried to split their concentration between making themself fully hidden, and on the bond they shared, unconsciously extending their outer aura toward Aziraphale.

Aziraphale felt the brush of Crowley’s outer aura against their senses and squeezed their eyes shut against the unexpected prick of tears, and reciprocated, gasping when the two mingled. It wasn’t nearly as intimate as mingling inner auras, no more or less intimate than lacing their fingers together and holding on, but it was more than they had purposefully shared with anyone in a long time and it left both of them reeling.

Crowley’s concentration faltered and they popped back into sight, breaking both types of contact. They paced away and hastily wiped a wrist over their damp cheeks, afraid to look at Aziraphale. Afraid to see annoyance, or disgust, or worst of all, pity in the former angel’s eyes at their overreaction to such mild, meaningless contact. “Er, sorry, it’s, um, been a while…”

“Yes, a very long time,” Aziraphale agreed hoarsely. “I’d almost forgotten.”

“Not big on close contact, demons.” Crowley risked a look then, relieved to not see any judgment or pity. If anything there was a wistfulness in the former angel’s expression that had the former demon impulsively offering, “If, uh, if it’s okay, we can try again? I think it will help. Can’t hurt, right?”

“Yes. Right.” Aziraphale cleared their throat and took a deep breath to steady themself before extending their hand and outer aura towards the former demon. “It’s as lovely as I remember,” murmured Aziraphale almost too lowly for Crowley to hear when they clasped hands and mingled outer auras again.

The serpent closed their eyes and hastily pulled upon their power again. They started with the easiest ‘making people not look’ thing, which was really a misnomer because it didn’t stop people from looking so much as projecting an image of seeming like something other than what was there, namely a person that didn’t look or sound like Crowley.

And Aziraphale, feeling Crowley do it through the bond and through their mingled outer auras, understood almost immediately and imitated them after a few moments’ contemplation. :It worked!:

:Ha! Let’s try the big one again.:

Once again Crowley vanished from Aziraphale’s sight and most of their other senses. Even with the added benefit of the bond and mingled auras, Aziraphale could not even sense what Crowley had done and the former angel shook their head. :I think that’s beyond me.:

:Doubt it, but let’s try what I was doing outside instead.: Crowley returned to Aziraphale’s senses and showed the former angel how they kept people from recognizing themself as well as Aziraphale and the Bentley, and while Aziraphale could sense some of what they were doing, and even emulate it to a small degree, they couldn’t extend their range beyond themself the way Crowley could.

“Ugh!” said Aziraphale in frustration after many failed attempts to hide Crowley. “I’m clearly missing something.”

“Practice,” Crowley answered, still holding Aziraphale’s hand, doing their best to hide their almost giddy bafflement. The former demon had expected them to withdraw from the contact once they’d understood the process, had waited and waited after each attempt, but the withdrawal never came. “I’ve had a lot more practice, angel. It wasn’t something I figured out overnight.”

“No, I know, and I am very grateful that you were even willing to try to teach me,” said Aziraphale, standing and clasping Crowley’s hand in both of theirs, trying to hide how happy the continued contact was making them. “Thank you for being so unfailingly generous-”

“Whatever,” said Crowley, giving Aziraphale a hug so brief the former angel didn’t have time to react to the embrace before Crowley was walking towards the door to the shop. “That’s given me an appetite, how about you? I could just murder a kebab.”

“That sounds delightful.” Aziraphale did their best to tone down the blissful bounce in their step as they followed Crowley, their outer auras still twined together, the former demon giving no indication that they wished to withdraw from the contact.

“Do you want me to hide us?” Crowley offered, slipping their glasses back on as they stepped out first, doing a quick scan of the area for anyone or thing that seemed out of place.

“No. We don’t have to hide anymore. It’s a rather nice feeling, to have people see you, to be able to tell people who you are,” Aziraphale admitted, giving Crowley a shy smile.

Crowley oh so casually rested their shoulder against Aziraphale’s as they closed and locked the door. “And what’s that?” the serpent asked, still watching the road.

“My best friend in the whole universe,” the reformed angel stated, beaming over their shoulder at the former demon. “My very generous, kind, clever, and extremely wily best friend.”

Crowley laughed, their cheeks going red. “Oh, shut up.”

Chapter Text

They arrived at Boffo’s Novelty and Joke Emporium just minutes before the early closing time. The door chime made a creepy creaking noise instead of the previous flatulent greeting and a different man popped out from somewhere, clearly ready to tell them the shop was closed, but he stopped upon seeing Aziraphale. “Oh, hello Mr. Fell. Mother’s down in the lab waiting for you.”

“Hello Jack. Didn’t expect to see you here.” Aziraphale gestured to Crowley, who was lurking behind the former angel’s left shoulder, smirking and looking around the shop. “This is my friend Crowley.”

Jack nodded back at Crowley and explained, “She had a project she couldn’t leave but that’s finished up now. I’ll just lock things up so as you’re not disturbed. Night.”

“Ah. Good night,” said Aziraphale, leading Crowley through the shop as Jack turned off the window displays then stepped out the front door and locked it behind himself.

“Jack?” Eunice called when they came down the stairs. She popped her head around the corner and gave them both a big grin. “Jack gone then?”

“He just left,” Aziraphale answered. “How are you doing, Eunice? A lot’s happened since my last visit.” They let out a sigh. “You were right about my old tricks not going over well.”

She grinned but patted the dejected former angel on the shoulder. “I did try to warn you. I’m doing pretty good myself, can’t complain. World didn’t end, that was nice,” she said dryly, waving them into the lab and gesturing for them to sit. “How about you?”

“Well, I was heckled off the stage mid-act by a very rude group of children. Oh, and my shop burned down, but then it didn’t,” Aziraphale answered, echoing her dry tone, making her laugh.

“Oh well, that’s all right, then. And you, dear?”

Crowley smirked, inwardly pleased to be included. “Well, I had to watch my best friend get heckled off stage by a mob of kids, that was pretty bad. I tried to warn ‘em, but nooo.”

Eunice chuckled. “Some mistakes just have to be lived to be learned. Pour the tea, Aziraphale, dear? I got us a cake. I thought we’d do this up nice and proper.” She cut the cake while Aziraphale poured out the tea. “I thought we’d enjoy a nice visit first if you don’t mind.”

“How lovely, of course I don’t mind,” said Aziraphale, setting the first cup down in front of Crowley, eyes questioning.

“I don’t mind,” Crowley answered and after just the tiniest hesitation, took off their glasses.

Eunice took the sight of Crowley’s eyes in stride, having of course had plenty of warning, and as the gesture of trust that it was, gave them the first slice of cake and a warm smile. “Great! We haven’t had an afternoon kibitz in ages.”

Aziraphale smiled at both of them. “I have missed them. Though, our purpose is three-fold today. I presume you would be the right person to talk to about arranging for the anti-spying spell to be put over Crowley’s flat and renewed in the same manner as it is over my shop?”

She took a sip of her tea and gave them both a long considering look. “You are correct. I had a feeling it would be needed after Crowley’s impromptu visit the other day, so I’ve already had a bit of a consult with a few of our colleagues,” she said, breaking into a grin. “You know what the spell requires-”

“We’ve already gathered most of it, aside from what is better harvested by Granny or Nanny.” Aziraphale conjured the notebook they’d used to catalog the spell components and set it on the table. “I’ve started preparing everything we gathered, though I’m not done yet. We’re currently storing them at Crowley’s, unless there’s somewhere better..?”

“Nah, that’s fine,” she said, eating her cake and paging through the book, nodding in approval. Her eyebrows winged upward in amazement and she stabbed her finger at one entry in particular. “How did you manage to get that much primordial obsidian?”

Aziraphale sipped their tea and slid a look at Crowley, who grinned. “You know where it comes from?”

“It’s uh, well, I mean I’ve heard theories,” she hedged, looking back and forth between the reformed angel and the former demon and realized she could get actual confirmation of what had previously just been speculation. “Holy water and hellfire?” They both nodded and something in their expressions had her asking, “But wouldn’t combining the two...” She made a vigorous and expansive gesture.

“Indeed,” Aziraphale answered smugly. “Quite an energetic reaction.”

“I take it the others already told you about what happened to us last Sunday?” Crowley asked, giving her a toothy grin when she nodded. “Some old friends decided to have a second go at executing us on Friday. Seems they didn’t know what happens when the two are combined. Ended up blowing themselves to bits.”

“Nothing permanent, that would have taken more than a miracle to pull off,” Aziraphale interjected when Eunice stared at them in amazement. “But if you go to the big preserve to the southwest, oh what is it called, anyway, there’s probably some we missed when we cleaned the area up.”

Eunice immediately went and fetched her smartphone and started tapping away at it. “Can you give me directions?” Crowley pulled their own phone out and Aziraphale finished their slice of cake while the witch and the serpent tried to pinpoint exactly where the confrontation had happened.

When they were satisfied Aziraphale brought up the other reason they wanted to talk with her. “Eunice, have you ever come across someone who’s been, er, ‘chosen’?”

She scowled and nodded, her expression thunderous. “I have, and if I ever get my hands on them’s who did it,” she growled, cutting herself another slice of cake and faltering when understanding penetrated her fury. “Oh, oh no. One of your street kids?” she asked Aziraphale.

The fact that she never once looked at Crowley, clearly never even considered that they would or could have done something that vile, was like a balm over a burn the serpent didn’t even know they had. Crowley told her, “I saw a demon’s kiss on a kid today. It was pretty fresh, probably in the last couple months.”

“She goes by Erica; white, brown eyes, brown hair, underfed,” Aziraphale added. “She’s been showing up in the shop every once in a while for the past few months, but I didn’t know or I would have-”

“You couldn’t know, angel,” Crowley soothed, darting a look at Eunice before putting their hand over Aziraphale’s. “It’s meant to stay hidden from everyone. I, uh, I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to be able to spot them but, eh, since when do I do what I’m supposed to, right?”

Aziraphale gave them a grateful smile and held on to their hand, unconsciously stroking their thumb across Crowley’s knuckles. “That is a slight solace. Is there anything you know of that we can do?” the reformed angel asked Eunice.

“Could you have done anything before?” she asked both of them, mentally filing away the sweet hesitancy of their clasped hands for later.

“As I was, as we were, no. As we are now, we don’t know.” Aziraphale gave a helpless shrug. “I think she would have to believe very strongly in us as, as-”

“Supernatural entities,” supplied Crowley.

“Ha, yes. But I don’t know how we go about convincing her of that without terrifying her or making her think we’re mad as hatters.”

“I don’t rightly know what we can do, if anything, but I’ll talk with the others and see if they know anything. Sometimes, the most you can do is pick up the pieces,” she said gently.

Aziraphale patted Eunice’s hand gratefully. “I know, but I fervently hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“Me too,” murmured Crowley, stiffening when the phone in their pocket buzzed at an incoming text. No one but Aziraphale should have this number.

Aziraphale felt Crowley’s jolt of reaction through the bond and their still mingled outer auras and the former angel was unable to hide their concern when Crowley released their hand to pull out the phone as it buzzed a second time. They and Eunice both watched as Crowley read the two texts. “What is it?”

“It’s, ah, it’s Cerium, one of my old friends,” the former demon answered, shaking their head and reading the texts again. “Actual friend,” they clarified for Eunice, who was looking surprisingly protective. “They want to meet with me.”

“Could it be a trap?” worried Aziraphale.

Crowley smirked and shrugged. “I doubt it, but I suppose anything’s possible. They want to meet today, talk about some information they say they have for me, for us, but uh, it’s probably best if I go alone-”

“No. Absolutely not.”

Crowley rolled their eyes at Aziraphale’s reaction. “Angel, really, it’s not that big of a deal-”

“I can’t lose you,” Aziraphale blurted, embarrassed to have tears welling in their eyes. “I’m sorry-” they said, pushing up from their seat to excuse themself only to have Crowley catch them in a hug. “Sorry-”

“Shh,” Crowley murmured, letting out a heavy breath when Aziraphale relaxed into the hug and hugged them back. “Sorry. I should have explained better. I am 100% sure this is really Cerium. They used some of our coded language that I know you’re oh so fond of,” they teased, relaxing a little when their angel chuckled. “They want to meet not far from here, in a pub. Actually, uh, where you found me. It’s called Biers.”

“I know it,” spoke up Eunice, giving Aziraphale a reassuring smile. “Good people, they won’t let anyone hurt Crowley.” Or they’ll be answering to me, the stony glint in her eyes promised.

“And I was going to have you watch with the compass,” Crowley added, conjuring up a black handkerchief, smiling when Aziraphale chuckled again and flicked it, returning it into their usual tartan. “See, proper magic, why in the world--” Even as they teased they laced their fingers with Aziraphale’s.

“It’s not nearly as much fun,” Aziraphale protested damply, dabbing at their eyes, clinging tightly to Crowley’s hand. “Well, usually. Being heckled by 11 year olds wasn’t particularly enjoyable.” When Crowley pulled their chair closer to Aziraphale’s and sat, the reformed angel sat as well. “I’m sorry, about… I think you were right, about me working myself a little too hard,” they said with an apologetic half smile.

“Maybe,” Crowley hedged. “I won’t go if you still think it’s too dangerous.”

“No. It makes sense for you to go.” Aziraphale took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It helps, that you’re not going very far. Too far for, uh, but with the bond and the compasses you’ll be well within range if something unexpected happens.” They gave Crowley another half smile, this one even more self-deprecating. “Hiding away won’t keep us any safer in the long run.”

“Speaking of… I meant to mention it earlier but, uh, when you found me with the compass? I was hiding, but you found me in spite of it.” Crowley nodded at the surprise on Aziraphale’s face. “And while our bond probably did make a difference, I think it’s your spells that let you see more than you expected.” They leaned closer, eyes locked with Aziraphale’s pale golden ones, and murmured, “I know you’re stronger than they wanted you to realize. I know I’m fine with you watching over me.”

Aziraphale blinked back more tears and caught them in a hug. “Stay safe,” they whispered and before they could overthink it, pressed a kiss to Crowley’s right temple and put a blessing over them. They hastily pulled away and wrung their hands together, watching Crowley through their lashes with more than a little trepidation at how the former demon would react.

Eunice smothered a smile to see Crowley sitting stunned, their hand twitching just a little, as though they wanted to touch the spot Aziraphale had kissed. “They’ll be fine, Aziraphale dear, don’t you worry.”

Crowley eventually cleared their throat and darted a look at Eunice, but she was busying herself with pouring herself more tea, expression bland as milk. “I, uh, yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll, uh, let you know when I get there, alright?”

Aziraphale nodded, pressing their hands to their eyes after Eunice got up to show Crowley out, sighing when they passed beyond the range of their auras and the connection was lost. They gave her a beseeching look when she came back. “I think I have been working myself too hard. Why did I do that? What was I thinking? It’s not like they need a blessing from me!”

“Thinking’s overrated sometimes,” Eunice said with a dismissive wave and let out a chuckle, splitting the last of the cake between their plates and changing the topic before Aziraphale could work themself up overly much. “So what’s this compass they mentioned?”

“Oh, uh.” Aziraphale pulled Crowley’s compass from their waistcoat pocket and momentarily considered activating it but instead offered it to Eunice. “You probably remember it, I spent a lot of time dithering over which ones to buy, though I don’t think I told you why.”

She took the compass. “I do remember but no, I don’t believe you did.” As she recalled Aziraphale had found one for themself in less than fifteen minutes, but the second one they had dithered over choosing, always reluctantly coming back to the black one with the winged serpent. She didn’t contradict Aziraphale however, saying instead, “There was a bronze one, with a phoenix?”

“Gryphon,” Aziraphale corrected absently. “I wanted something to allow Crowley and I to communicate without being spied on. I bespelled them with an enchantment of my own devising, a combination of scrying and location spells with a touch of sympathetic magic and such.” Aziraphale sighed and looked back down at the compass. “This is taking a rather long time-”

“It’s not nearly as close as that,” Eunice soothed, patting Aziraphale’s arm and passing the black compass back. “Eat your cake. So the sympathetic magic was to bind them to yourselves before exchanging them?” she asked as Aziraphale took a bite of cake. “But Crowley said you’ve a bond between you?” she asked lightly, as though the former demon had actually spoken of it to her, instead of her just picking it up in passing. “For a long time,” she guessed. “So why do you need the compasses?”

“We did, a very long time ago. And only recently do we again, but it’s not very strong yet.” Aziraphale looked up from the compass and Eunice rested her hand on their arm at the pain she could see in their eyes. “We forged our bond a great many years ago. And then it was… damaged, although not unspoken, not broken, which is what they expected, what they wanted to happen.”

It was clear enough to Eunice who they were and it wasn’t a great leap of logic to surmise when the damage was done, from everything she’d heard from the other witches. “How terrible.”

“Yes. But we found each other again, and again, and it wasn’t the same, but we made the best of it when we could.” Aziraphale sighed and took another bite of cake. “Do you think I upset them? Putting a blessing over them? It’s really not like they need it-”

“There’s lots of things we don’t need that we still appreciate, still want,” Eunice said mildly. “You clearly care very deeply for each other, nothing wrong with wanting to protect your friend when they’re haring off into the unknown. Seems Crowley is one to go haring off a little too often with too little thought.”

“Yes!” Aziraphale agreed, taking another bite of cake. “You would not believe what they did..!”

Crowley sat in the Bentley for a good five minutes, fingers pressed to their right temple and to the blessing anchored there. It had been a very long time since they’d felt an angelic blessing and this-- wasn’t. It was far stronger than anything they could recall experiencing, wrapped around them like a down comforter, shielding them like scales. It even gave off a faint golden glow when Crowley examined it magically.

“What even are we?” Crowley asked the air, and finally drove off. When they parked a block away from Biers they pulled out Aziraphale’s compass and activated it, smothering a smile when they answered almost instantly. “Hey, I’m about to go inside.”

“Alright. I’ll be watching. Er, about the-”

“Thanks for the blessing, angel, talk to you soon.” Crowley clicked shut the compass and put it back in their pocket, smiling inwardly at the last image of Aziraphale’s worried face blossoming into a smile.

They took a second to settle themself before they got out of the car and sauntered towards the pub, senses on alert. The surrounding area was clear and Crowley hesitated at the door, remembering all too clearly the despair they’d felt the last time they’d been there, a grieving demon hiding in plain sight among the other non-humans who knew better than to pay too much attention.

With a final mental shake, Crowley opened the door and stepped inside, making a beeline for the bar and the barman who was probably a human, known as Igor. He grunted in acknowledgment of Crowley’s presence and finished serving a pair of sharp featured beings who smelled of brine and bitter northern winds before coming to the end of bar. “Didn’t expect you back.”

“Me neither,” Crowley said, letting their gaze wander over the few other patrons seated sparsely at the front tables, pulling out a small roll of bills and tapping it nervously on the ancient wooden bar before setting it near Igor’s large knobby hand. “My tab. Don’t know when I’ll be in next.”

“Appreciate it, but it’s been paid,” Igor said. He smirked at Crowley’s expression and waved to a small collection of charity boxes set up at the end of the bar. “Plenty who could use the help if you’re in a mood, but you’re good. Someone waiting for you in the back, booth 13.”

“Oh, er, sort it as you see fit,” said Crowley, tapping the bar again before giving Igor a wave and making their way towards the booths nestled in the dim back area of the long narrow building. It was dim on purpose of course, you didn’t get a booth in the back to be seen, especially as the booths had enchantments against that sort of thing. Booth 13 was in the darkest corner, but that wasn’t an issue for Crowley, who could just make out a small dark feminine figure sitting stonily with their back to the rest of the bar.

“Cerium. Been an age.” Crowley slid onto the opposite seat and the enchantment shifted, revealing the corporeal seeming Cerium had adopted many millennia earlier; skin so dark they could be carved from onyx, with pale eyes in an otherworldly face that could so easily unsettle humans and celestials alike. Watching Cerium turn archangels into quivering messes had been one of their favorite pastimes in times long past. Crowley couldn’t help but smile. “You’re looking well. Good to see you.”

“Crowley. I am well, thank you. You look...” Crowley waited, used to the elemental’s long thoughtful pauses, not so dissimilar to Aziraphale’s. “Different. But good. How is Aziraphale? We have been very concerned, for you and they.” Crowley knew the ‘we’ Cerium was referring to were the other elementals, who lived as one tight knit community, even across the different kinds. Cerium was one of their chosen leaders.

“Oh, well, Aziraphale’s different but good too,” Crowley answered, pulling out the compass and toying with it. “They’re, uh, they’re listening in, er-”

“An appropriate precaution,” nodded Cerium. “Perhaps they will join us, when next we meet.”

“Oh, er, will we be meeting again? You said it was important we meet, but why?”

Cerium stared unblinking at Crowley for an overly long moment. “You truly do not know?”

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t know. Burned our, er,” Crowley stopped, remembering that Cerium wasn’t great with understanding slang. Unlike Aziraphale, who liked to use it wrongly just to annoy them. “We got in big trouble so haven’t had any, uh, non-hostile contact with either side since then. And I didn’t want to drag you and everyone into trouble too. But, hey, anything you can share would be a big help.”

“Big trouble is quite an understatement,” said Cerium with a faint smile, but there was no humor in their tone. “The Head Librarian made us aware of the orders for your destruction. There is no precedent of destruction for rebellion, the opposite really, and we were unanimous in having our advocates file appeals upon both of your behalves, but they were dismissed by the Councils.” Crowley was shocked to see tears in Cerium’s eyes. “When word reached us we halted all work and withdrew to the elemental planes in protest… and to mourn. The Library has also remained closed since the orders were carried out. We are all on strike in protest of your unlawful and unjust executions.”

“Wait, but-”

“Ah, yes, you would not know that either. Officially, you and Aziraphale are dead, both successfully executed for your many redacted crimes, your names ordered stricken from all official records.”

“I, uh, no, we didn’t know about any of that,” Crowley admitted. “So how did you know we weren’t actually dead?”

“I was there in the stones when you were tried and sentenced. Halcyon was in the rafters as they sentenced Aziraphale. Hex observed both through means they did not try to explain to us.”

Crowley cringed. “Why? Why would you-”

“We could not let your unjust executions go unwitnessed. Though we could not speak to you, nor offer comfort, we hoped you would know you were not without friends… and would be avenged.”

It was Crowley’s turn to stare mutely at Cerium. “We’d have spared you that,” the former demon finally said around the lump in their throat. “That, uh, thanks, thank you. We’re grateful for the gesture.”

Cerium nodded. “And that is how we of neither heaven nor hell were there to witness you moving unscathed through what should have distributed your firmaments beyond recovery.”

“It, er, it was a trick,” Crowley blurted, laughing lowly when Cerium’s eyebrows winged upwards with polite curiosity. “Me and the angel, we switched places, switched bodies. I faced the fire, they had a bath. I, er, I dunno, just seemed important you know the truth.”

Cerium smiled then, with just a hint a mischief in their eye that the former demon liked to think the elemental had learned from them. They’d be flustered to realize that Cerium would agree with their assessment. “Thank you Crowley, I appreciate what a clever trick that was. It changes nothing, of course. Your actions, and theirs, have caused… ripples, that are still moving things in small, and not so small, ways. There is continued uneasiness in the ethereal and abyssal planes that will not be quick to fade.” Cerium leaned forward, that mischievous spark in their eye flaring. “There are fearful whispers, stories that have grown in the tellings… Of the demon who laughed at holy water blessed by an archangel. Of the angel who breathed hellfire in the hallowed halls of heaven. If they could do that, what else might they do?”

Crowley, who had after all been tasked with raising the anti-christ into a charismatic leader, knew propaganda when they heard it. “Oh.” Crowley shook their head, shocked. “Well, if it keeps them out of our hair, I suppose I can’t really complain.” It was my idea after all. Fuck.

Cerium leaned back with a serene smile. “Indeed. We felt it best that you were made aware.”

“Uh, thanks,” Crowley said, rubbing a hand over their face. “Do, er, is there anything else?”

“Yes. Not that this is your concern any longer but Heaven and hell are being… besieged. By Things from the dungeon dimensions.”

“What? Heaven too?”

Cerium nodded. “So far they have only tested the edges, but they grow bolder with each passing week. We warned the Councils that they should not be ignored, as they only grow stronger the longer they continue their incursions unchecked, but we were again dismissed out of hand.”

“Wait, weeks? How long-”

“Since the solstice.”

“They’re not attacking the elemental planes, are they?” Crowley worried. “We can help you if they are.”

Cerium blinked in surprise at the offer. “Thank you for your concern, but no, there has been no sign of rifts or attacks. They, as you know, feed off of magic, of which there is little in the elemental planes.”

“Right, right, which is why the edge of hell was so empty, the Things were treating it like an all you can eat buffet.” Crowley swore under their breath but shrugged. “Well, nothing we can do about that, they’re not going to listen until its too late. Heaven’ll just have to break out the flaming swords and-- what?”

Cerium was shaking their head as they scooted awkwardly out of the booth. “I fear it is time for me to depart. Thank you for meeting with me and listening to what I had to say. I hope we will meet again soon.” Cerium offered their hand to Crowley and leaned close to murmur, “It was not the weapon that was powerful, it was the being who wielded it.” They patted Crowley’s hand and walked silently into the darkness behind the booth and were gone.

Crowley quickly activated the compass, and smirked to see Aziraphale’s thoughtful expression. :Can you hear me?:

“Oh!” Aziraphale gave Eunice a sheepish smile before replying, :Yes, quite clearly. That was... very interesting.:

:That’s putting it mildly. They’ve turned us into, into bogeymen!:

:Good,: said Aziraphale with a self-satisfied smile. :I’d hoped they’d think that way of us. We could use some breathing room of our own.:

:It never works that way,: Crowley complained, looking away from the mirror when Igor appeared out of nowhere with a partially full glass of amber liquid. “Eh?”

“Your visitor ordered it, said you’d need it after they left,” Igor explained before disappearing back into the front of the pub.

“Heh, not wrong,” Crowley grunted and took a sip. :I’ll be back in a bit, okay? Have to make sure Cerium’s clear before I leave so it’s not too obvious why we were here. We can discuss this all later.:

:Alright. Mind how you go.: Aziraphale smirked when Crowley raised the glass to them in a toast and closed the compass, returning it to their pocket with a sigh. “So sorry for the delay.”

“You’re fine, dear,” Eunice said, “Let’s head up so I can open the door when they get back, shall we?”

“May as well.” Aziraphale rode with Eunice in the service elevator, casting a small blessing of safety over the seemingly ancient device as it creaked and groaned its way upward. “You know, the last time we chatted, you told me you were going to begin selling things over the internet. How is that going?”

They passed the time discussing the ups and down of being an online shop and Aziraphale listened attentively, not that the reformed angel would ever try to sell books online, but buying things without ever having to deal with another person had a certain appeal. Of course, that all depended on if their ‘bad luck’ with electronics was really gone.

Crowley didn’t linger in Biers overly long and was soon back at Boffo’s, being let back in by Eunice. She was still telling Aziraphale all about how well their mystical jewelery and accessory business was doing online since they’d added pictures of Eunice in costume to the website. “Of course most of ‘em haven’t a clue about anything, but if they want to buy something ‘magickal’ from a ‘real witch’, who am I to tell ‘em no?”

“Not a fool, clearly,” Aziraphale agreed, giving Crowley a nervous smile as the former angel extended their outer aura in unspoken invitation.

Crowley reciprocated, offering their hand as their auras intertwined. “So, worked alright, yeah?” Crowley asked when Aziraphale accepted.

“Oh yes, everything was quite clear.” They turned to Eunice and gave her a smile. “I think we’ve taken up enough of your time. Where would you like to be, er..?”

“Where’s most comfortable to be utterly pished for the night?”

Eunice cackled and gestured towards the storage area. “I’ve got a nice couch I use when I’ve got a project that needs overnight tending, that’ll do. A nice book and a cuppa and I’ll be good for the night, don’t you worry,” she said, patting Aziraphale on the shoulder when they frowned in concern. “I’ll show you.”

They followed her back through the stock room into a small walled off area that had been set up as a cozy little apartment just big enough for one. She flicked on the already filled kettle and grinning at them. “Alright, lay it on me.”

Crowley grinned as Aziraphale chuckled and summoned up one of the little wooden cups, already filled with a dose of Nanny Ogg’s special scumble. “Joking aside, are you sure, Eunice?”

“Aziraphale, dear, I’ve been believing in you since before I even met you,” she said, grinning when the reformed angel blushed. “I made my choice when I helped cast a curse on a demon’s car and a blessing on an angel’s bookshop. This is just icing on the cake!” She held out her hand and Aziraphale carefully set the cup in it. “Bottom’s up!” She tossed it back and let out a choked cough. “Woo!”

“Now you’ve got to burn the cup,” Crowley reminded her.

“Right.” She found an ashtray and a lighter, face going blank as the flame shot up. When she came back to herself she sat on the couch with a thump, blinking owlishly at them. “Wowee.”

“Are you alright?” Aziraphale asked as they busied themself making the tea Eunice had prepared earlier in the day.

“Ooh, yeah, huh, those compasses we’re spot on weren’t they,” she laughed. “I didn’t believe her about them either! Sorry Agnes!” She cackled and grinned at the two of them when they couldn’t help but laugh.

“She probably knows,” Crowley chuckled. “She apparently knows everything else.”

“Prob’ly,” Eunice agreed, waving for Aziraphale to set the steaming cup on a nearby table. “I’m fine, love, quit fussing.” She waved again and Aziraphale bent down and accepted a hug and kiss on the cheek. “Aww, look at your widdle wingies!”

At Crowley’s quizzical look Aziraphale said, “Oh, right, yes, the protection spell we cast, I tied it all together so that it is also part of the Arrangement.”

“Don’t be a stranger!” She waved at Crowley too, who feigned reluctance but was grinning as she gave them a smacking kiss on their left cheek. “Lock the door on your way out, that’s a dear.”

“Will do. I’ll call and check on you tomorrow,” Aziraphale promised, reluctantly leading Crowley outside and making sure the door was locked. “She’ll be okay.”

“Yeah.” Crowley gave them a look and bumped their shoulder against Aziraphale’s, knowing they were trying to convince themself more than anything, but Crowley took a moment to extend their senses back into the shop. “She’s fine. She’s already on the phone with Nanny Ogg.”

Aziraphale frowned but let out a chuckle when they confirmed Crowley’s statement. “Where to now?” they asked, falling in step with the former demon as they moved towards the Bentley.

“Eh, I’ve had enough of other people for the day. And we need to discuss what Cerium told us.” Crowley said, waiting until Aziraphale was in the car before slipping into their seat. “S’alright if we head h- to the flat?

Home. Aziraphale found as much as they had tried to resist, Crowley’s flat was indeed starting to feel like home. “The flat, yes. I think I’ve had enough of other people too.”

Chapter Text

On the short drive back to the flat, Aziraphale found themself yawning and blinking their eyes in an effort to keep them open. “I’m terribly sorry,” Aziraphale apologized, covering yet another yawn as they followed Crowley into the flat, both of them stepping around Aziraphale’s trap without a second thought. “I don’t know what’s come over me.”

“You worked yourself too hard,” Crowley scolded. “The only remedy for that is rest.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale said around another wide yawn, clearly annoyed. “I never used to get this tired!”

“That’s not true,” Crowley said, wandering into the kitchen and hanging their jacket over a chair. A quick wave of their hand had the dishes cleaned and back in their proper places and they considered the partially full bottle of wine but instead began nervously puttering around the stove. “I can recall a few times you’ve worked yourself to exhaustion--”

“I didn’t need sleep though! A little time in--,” another yawn, “oh. Yes, I suppose that is a significant change.” Aziraphale sighed and sat at the kitchen table, resting their chin on their hands, too tired to wonder what Crowley was doing. “A little time on holy ground usually fixed it. But that’s not an option anymore.”

“I could spritz you like one of the plants,” Crowley offered, chuckling when Aziraphale speared them with a look. “It might work.”

“No. I am not a, a shrubbery.”

“Ni?” A sigh at the blank stare they got response. “Suit yourself.” They set a mug down at Aziraphale’s elbow and slouched into the chair kitty-corner to theirs. “I suggest you drink that and then try to sleep.”

Aziraphale looked down at the mug and did a double-take. “That’s… you made me cocoa?”

“Psh, yeah, ‘snot like it’s hard, see, you definitely need sleep. It’s just instant cocoa, angel, nothing worth crying over! Unless I burned it, did I burn it? I don’t think I burned it-”

“You didn’t burn it,” Aziraphale said tearily, pulling out the handkerchief to dab at their eyes again, taking a sip of the cocoa. “It’s perfect.”

Crowley lurched up from their chair, in desperate need of escape, and gestured towards the bedroom. “You take the bed, alright? Sleeping on a couch isn’t nearly as restful.” Crowley knew they would be spilling their guts and ruining things in seconds if they kept looking into those sad tired beautiful eyes.

“Oh, but-”

“I’m not tired in the least, probably watch some TV, catch up on my shows,” Crowley said, waving over their shoulder and fleeing into the office, courteously withdrawing their aura to allow Aziraphale to sleep undisturbed. “Night, angel.”

“Goodnight, Crowley.” Aziraphale let out a little sigh as the TV clicked on, and finished their cocoa before shuffling into the bedroom. They blinked away more tears to find their nightclothes folded neatly at the end of the bed. Changing into the clothes seemed to take an eternity but finally they clicked off the light and slid between the sheets, sighing blissfully when they discovered the heated blanket was on. A little shifting around found Aziraphale curled on their side, one of Crowley’s pillows hugged to their chest, fast asleep.

It was the wee hours of Monday morning when Aziraphale drifted into wakefulness, feeling better but unsettled, more than a little embarrassed by their emotional outbursts. It seemed foolish to get dressed for the day so early in the morning, so they put on their slippers and pulled the robe around their shoulders before slipping out of the room, listening intently in the dimly lit hallway. There weren’t any sounds aside from what little filtered in from outside, and they went looking for Crowley using the bond to guide them, everything feeling surreal in the dark silence. They hesitated outside the partially closed door to the sun room, but there was only the faintest sound of Crowley’s even breathing and they peeked inside.

Crowley was on the chaise lounge Aziraphale had conjured, seemingly asleep. Aziraphale felt a pang of guilt and began to ease away from the door when Crowley murmured, “Hey, angel.” They sat up and turned towards them as Aziraphale hesitantly pushed open the door. “Feeling better?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s a very comfortable bed.” Aziraphale fussed with the lapels of the robe. “You were right, about me overworking myself. I’m sorry, about, er, all that. And that I displaced you from your own bed. I’m awake now if you need to rest.”

“Nah, nothing to be sorry about.” Crowley shook their head and gestured at the windows. “Been watching a meteor shower.” They watched Aziraphale, hovering by the doorway, clearly torn about what to do and murmured, “Been a while since we last went stargazing, you and I.”

Aziraphale stilled, looking at the strangely dark starry sky over what should have been the well lit London skyline and realized that the windows were looking out over somewhere else. A shooting star streaked across the darkness. “Not since Haley’s comet in...”

“1986 I think. Couldn’t even see it.” Crowley moved over, making room on the lounge in silent invitation. “Real disappointment.”

“We stayed out all night. The morning was rather drizzly as I recall.” Aziraphale padded over and sat down decorously, facing the window.

“Until it miraculously cleared up. Glorious sunrise.” Crowley put their elbow on the arm of the lounge, resting their chin on their fist, watching the windows and the shooting stars. “I appreciated the gesture. Oh that’s a nice one.”

“Well, it seemed a shame to end the outing on a such a dismal note.” Aziraphale gasped at a particularly showy shooting star. “Ooh! So what are we watching? And where?”

“The Perseid Meteor showers,” Crowley answered. “From Granny’s garden.”

“Ah.” Aziraphale dared to look at Crowley, feeling odd and strangely brave in the darkness. “It was very n- lovely, er, today, yesterday. I hope my unfortunate outbursts won’t dissuade you from, from, I mean, if you also, well, I don’t want to presume-”

“I liked it too,” Crowley confessed, still watching the windows but extending their outer aura towards Aziraphale, smiling when the reformed angel quickly reciprocated and their outer auras twined back together. “We didn’t figure out this was even possible until we’d gone back to heaven, remember?”

“We didn’t figure out a great many things until we went back to earth after being sent back to heaven,” Aziraphale agreed. “Certainly safer to keep it all contained when we were upstairs. I’m sure someone would have noticed, and possibly even remembered that we weren’t supposed to work together, let alone be friends.”

“Oh yeah.” They cleared their throat and said, “Speaking of, er, friends… we should talk about the, the stuff with the Cerium and the others.”

Aziraphale nodded at the underlying emotion in the former demon’s voice. “I didn’t expect that sort of response either. I mean, I do consider them friends, but there was the need for distance as well, so my, er, reputation I suppose, didn’t make things harder for them.”

“Yeah. Same. You, eh, heard the bit about being avenged, yeah?”

“I did,” Aziraphale nodded. “I did and it made me wonder, if they might be convinced to join our side.” They gestured at the windows. “They’ve more in common with terrestrial beings than celestial ones.”

“Not much magic, for one. Which is why they’re not being invaded by Things.”

“Unfortunately that means they have less in common with the two of us, being of angel stock.”

“I don’t think that’s actually a thing.” Crowley met Aziraphale’s stare and shrugged. “Celestial doesn’t automatically mean angelic, or demonic, you know that. That’s just what we did for the sides we were on, not what we are. Or we wouldn’t’ve been able to do each other’s assignments.”

Aziraphale nodded slowly. “You’re right. I’m just so used to thinking in black and white, I’ve forgotten that it’s in actuality a spectrum.” Aziraphale looked down at their hands, remembering how even after being discorporated, they had still projected the human seeming that had become so ubiquitous among the hosts. Hadn’t even realized until they’d been yelled at for being discorporated. Aziraphale wondered if most of them even remembered that those forms weren’t their original projections.

They both returned to watching the meteor shower for a while before Crowley asked, “Have you remembered anything more?”

“Some. At the oddest moments sometimes. I saw an article on some scientists making bread from ancient yeast they’d found and when I saw the picture I could just remember it, drinking the local beer and eating bread with honey. I could hear the people around us enjoying a nice afternoon-” Aziraphale broke off, shaking their head. “Mostly little moments, mostly good memories.” Mostly with you.

“I’ve remembered more, too. From, um, from before the Garden.”

Aziraphale turned to them in surprise. “Really?”

Crowley nodded, wondering how much they should say. Wondering how Aziraphale would react to the conclusions they had come to. “Gabriel and that lot, they liked to talk shit behind our backs. One of the names they liked to use was bastard, in the parentage sense, ille-whatsit-”

“Illegitimate?”

“Yeah, like some of us weren’t real angels. Mostly about me and the others who ended up kicked out.” Crowley’s lips twisted in a bitter smirk but they kept their eyes on the windows. “I think we were different somehow. Maybe from different beliefs that got mushed together by humans.”

There was a drawn out silence from Aziraphale, who finally admitted, “Yes. I believe you’re correct.” They cleared their throat and added, “Me too. I think I was an outsider too.”

Crowley felt a surge of relief and turned to rest their back against the arm of the chaise lounge, to better see Aziraphale’s face. “Yeah? When did you sort it out?”

“It wasn’t something I figured out all at once,” the reformed angel hedged, finally looking back at Crowley, relieved to find only curiosity in their expression. “Do you remember the obelisk in the Library?” A nod. “It, er, it told me things. And I found some things on my own. And there was that book.” Aziraphale rubbed their hands nervously over the robe. “I’m sorry I never told you. It seemed safer if you didn’t know. And then it didn’t seem important anymore.”

“Because we were on opposing sides, black and white.” Crowley could read something in Aziraphale’s eyes. “We did know one another, didn’t we. Before.”

Aziraphale turned back to the windows and nodded. “There was a fight, for control of Eden. It seems I helped you evade capture.” Haltingly they explained how they had found the orders for Crowley’s destruction, reprieve and subsequent smiting, and how Crowley’s previous name had been completely erased from heaven’s documentation. The plot they had unknowingly foiled, to destroy Crowley in spite of their reprieve by framing them for the Garden failing.

“You’re leaving things out.” Crowley canted their head when Aziraphale looked away guiltily. “Why did they give me reprieve? Not something they’d do out of the goodness of their heartsss.” Crowley sucked in a breath when understanding hit. “Oh, of course. That’s why they called me a coward. Because I ran and you…” They put their hand on Aziraphale’s shoulder, gently turning them so they were face to face. “You gave yourself up to save me, didn’t you.”

Aziraphale gave them a sad smile. “As far as I could piece together, yes.”

“So they, ha ha, cut me down to size, for whatever I did, from dragon to serpent, and took my memories and most of my powers,” said Crowley thoughtfully, lacing their fingers with Aziraphale’s. “So how’d they punish you? Can’t have been any better.”

Aziraphale nodded. “They took my name, and my powers, and my memories of everything before.”

“Hmm. ...And?”

“And... then they sent me to the Garden with you, to-”Aziraphale closed their eyes against the sting of tears. “To either become your enemy and kill you myself or become your friend again, and watch you die.”

Crowley’s brows arched upward. “Wow, that is nasty, even for them.” When Aziraphale gave them a frown for their blasé response, Crowley shifted closer to remind them, “We’ve outsmarted them at every turn. We’ve found each other every time they’ve tried to keep us apart. That’s what I put my faith into. You and me. Always.”

“Always.” Aziraphale shook their head, and looked away. “I don’t deserve you. Not after everything I’ve done.”

“Oh, I dunno,” said Crowley, brave under cover of darkness, rested their hand on Aziraphale’s hunched shoulder, holding them tightly when they turned and hugged Crowley back. “Couldn’t’ve been easy, putting up with me haring off all the time. Leaving you to face everything alone.” Crowley cleared the lump from their throat and teased, “I’d like to think we’ve earned each other by now.”

Earned each other. I like that,” Aziraphale murmured with a faint smile, resting their forehead on Crowley’s shoulder. “I believe in you too. In us. I’m sorry I ever made you think otherwise.”

“I know. You don’t have to keep apologizing.”

“I do. Maybe one day I won’t.” There was something about being in the darkness, surrounded by the magical plants and the comfort of Crowley’s embrace that made Aziraphale ease away and ask, “Crowley… would you, can I, can we groom each other’s wings?”

Surrounded by lush happy plants that reminded them of the Garden, their outer aura again entwined with Aziraphale’s, Crowley unfurled their wings and dared to whisper, “As you wish.” It wasn’t like their angel could really know the significance of those words. Aziraphale didn’t watch movies or TV; they barely even listened to the radio. The relic of a computer they had was basically an electric abacus and had taken special orders from heaven to be purchased. No, Aziraphale wouldn’t ever know there was anything more to it.

Aziraphale’s heart leapt at those words but they knew the darkness would hide their flustered reaction as they too unfurled their wings. They mentally upbraided themself for reading anything into their best friend’s usage of that phrase, for wanting to read something into it. It was inconceivable that Crowley could recognize it for what it was, after all, they’d said themself that they weren’t one for reading books. And if they did read, it would probably be some ridiculous spy thriller with lots of explosions. No, Crowley didn’t know.

They leaned into one another, tending each other’s feathers, neither one noticing as two shooting stars flared across the sky and converged into a single bright point over the horizon.

Chapter Text

It was 3 AM when Warlock’s alarm began quietly chiming and he woke with a grin on his face. It was finally time to enact the big plan he’d been working on with Oleg and Penny for ages. The first brilliant idea of it had come to him in a dream the night after his dad had told him that Mr. Cortese and Mr. Harrison would be departing for good before his 11th birthday party.

The next night had brought the other kind of dream, the ones he knew could come true if things went right, or wrong. It had shown him that the nasty stinky person asking about voices in his head was trouble and that no matter how he answered it would be very bad for him and his parents and all the other people there. He’d been very glad to wake up back in his bed on Sunday morning as his dream had told him would happen, his parents quietly pretending to not be freaked out by what they remembered happening the day before.

Warlock put the memory out of his head and focused on enacting the first part of the big plan; losing the security detail sitting out in the van in front of Oleg’s parent’s house. Getting away from the goons (a word both Nanny and Mr. Harrison had used to describe the security men,) had always seemed like the hardest step, but Penny had pointed out that when Warlock stayed over at a friend’s house, there were a lot fewer goons. Penny’s house was on the whole other side of the city from where Warlock needed to go, so they had wheedled and whined and finally convinced Oleg’s parents to host a sleepover before school started. They’d tried for a big one, easier to hide Warlock’s absence with more people, but it ended up being just the three of them, so they’d figured out a way to make it work.

Warlock quickly tiptoed over to the room Penny’s was sleeping in and they had to smother their giggles as they quietly switched places and then tried to go back to sleep. They had discovered quite by accident that Penny looked enough like Warlock to fool the goons and now the whole plan hinged on it.

When dawn came, his phone again chiming to wake Warlock, he quickly dressed up in the clothes Penny had left out, which didn’t look much different from his own except with a little more pink, and pulled on the pink sequined cap that said ‘Princess’ and the big sparkly sunglasses Penny had taken to wearing nonstop for the last two weeks. He had to wear his own shoes, but he’d picked out the most boring old pair that he had.

Part two of the plan was building a decoy Penny out of pillows and plugging Penny’s phone attached to a speaker, with a looping playlist of Penny talking on the phone with her big sister Nichole who had just left home to start college. That was Penny’s alibi for not being outside playing with ‘Warlock’ and Oleg.

When that was done they all slipped down to the den, where Warlock and Penny made sure to stay out of sight by hiding inside the pillow fort they’d built the night before. As pre-arranged with Oleg’s parents, they got to eat breakfast inside the pillow fort, where the adults could hear them chattering away, but couldn’t see them.

Oleg’s dad worked from home, so there was no baby-sitter to worry about, and once Oleg’s mom left for work, part three of the big plan went into action. Oleg went to his dad’s office and asked to go play outside, and once permission was given they all bolted for the back yard, where they knew there were no goons and no way for the goons to see what they were doing.

Part four was the easiest yet, because Oleg had unlocked the back gate days earlier and had wedged it shut with a half brick he’d found in the gardening shed. From the gardening shed they also retrieved the secondary disguise kit they’d assembled inside one of Oleg’s very beaten up old backpacks.

Now Warlock was starting to feel nervous, because part five was entirely up to Oleg and Penny. Warlock waited by the back gate as his friends ran around the side of the house and pretended to try to sneak out the gate there, drawing the attention of the goons, who quickly went to intercept ‘Warlock’ and Oleg, who had a loud but brief disagreement before going to sit in the front garden and sulk.

And with all the goons hopefully distracted, Warlock slipped out the back gate and wedged it back shut, and quickly switched the hat and sunglasses for a burgundy hoodie emblazoned with two golden overlapping uppercase U’s on the front left. It had taken trading two of his birthday gift cards with Tiffany’s older sister Rhianna to get it from her, but he’d known the minute he’d seen it that he had to have it.

Warlock pulled on another set of sunglasses, a pair Nanny Ashtoreth had lost in the garden one memorable evening while bickering with Brother Francis over the flock of crows that had decided to play havoc with the garden and Francis’ little friends. Warlock could vividly remember watching from his window, long past his bedtime as Nanny feigned annoyance with Francis but had finally nodded in agreement with his pleas. She’d walked into the middle of the flock and had held out her arms, and like magic all the crows had taken wing, coming to swoop and perch on her until she couldn’t be seen for their glossy black feathers whirling around her like a hurricane, before as one they looped skyward and flew away. Hair in tangles, glasses lost in the storm of feathers, Nanny and Francis had both started laughing at her rumpled appearance before linking arms and retreating into the house. Warlock had found the sunglasses wedged under the hedge a few days later, as well as a big black feather that almost glowed with iridescence, both of which he had quickly stashed away in his cache of important things, along with the compass Brother Francis had given him.

Smiling happily at the memory, hopes high, Warlock swung the backpack over his shoulder and pulled out his phone, following the prompts to the nearest bus stop that would get him to a certain bookshop in Soho.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale and Crowley whiled away the night in quiet togetherness, and eventually the darkness faded into dawn. With the light they returned to mundane matters, heading to the shop with both of them in a thoughtful mood as they considered what they had learned from Cerium the afternoon before. Aziraphale puttered about making tea while Crowley lounged on the couch, twirling their glasses around by one arm.

“Angel?”

“Hmm?” Aziraphale came over with two mugs, handing one to Crowley before taking a seat in their chair. “What’s on your mind?”

“Did you hear what Cerium said at the end?” Crowley took a sip of tea, watching them over the rim of the mug. “About the sword?”

Aziraphale clasped their mug with both hands, staring down into the liquid. “I did. I’ve been thinking about it too. And I suppose it makes sense; a tool’s only as good as the person who uses it.” Aziraphale put on a bright smile and said, “I did know how to use the sword rather well, if I do say so myself. Still do, I think.”

“There’s more to it than that,” Crowley protested, sitting up and resting their elbows against their knees, staring into Aziraphale‘s face, recognizing the nervousness beneath the boast. “I think they meant that what let you beat the Things wasn’t the sword but you yourself.”

Aziraphale shook their head in immediate denial. “I find that very hard to believe. You’ve seen the rank and file upstairs, flaming sword is pretty much standard issue.”

“Didn’t used to be.” Crowley leaned back, nodding slowly. “In fact, before the Garden, I don’t recall ever seeing an angel with a sword. Wings and wheels and eyes and animals heads aplenty, but swords, no. On the whole, rather sparse on swords.”

“I, er, I mean, yes, that… But what does that mean? That the sword-”

“Was yours. Yours yours, from before. Along with the crown and the scales.”

Aziraphale rubbed at the bridge of their nose, momentarily considering turning their cold tea into something with a very different chemical composition before letting out a bewildered sigh. “I’m too sober to this.”

“Alright.” Crowley finished their tea and stood, holding out their hand to their angel, who looked lost and miserable, hunched over their tea as though looking for warmth. “It’s a bit early for that, but the café should be open by now, yeah? You’ll feel better with some breakfast. You’re still not fully recovered from yesterday.”

Aziraphale set down their mug and accepted Crowley’s hand. “I think you might be right.”

Chapter Text

Warlock did his best to look as bored as the other commuters did, but it was so hard with his stomach full of butterflies of worry and hope and excitement. He’d spent hours online, looking through websites, hoping to find even a hint of anyone named Nanny Ashtoreth, Brother Francis, Mr. Harrison or Mr. Cortese. When he’d asked his parents for their full names, they hadn’t been able to find them, in the case of the caretakers, and hadn’t been able to read their handwriting, in the case of the tutors.

He’d been a little more lucky with the address where he used to mail letters to Nanny and Francis. It belonged to an odd little bookshop with zero online presence at all aside from occasional annoyed reviews from customers complaining about iffy service, being cash only, and having extremely odd hours.

But those had been offset by a few glowing reviews that talked mostly about the proprietor, which no one seemed to agree on the name of, or their gender. That had really raised Warlock’s hopes, because for all Warlock had been told to call them mister, Mr. Harrison had almost always used ‘they’ when talking about their colleague, and Mr. Cortese had always done the same.

And Warlock was pretty super sure that Mr. Harrison was also Nanny Ashtoreth. There was a phone number Warlock remembered, belonging to Nanny Ashtoreth, written down at the top of the emergency numbers list left next to every phone and given to every employee. Something had made him memorize it, but Warlock had been too afraid to call it. More so, it felt wrong to call it, because it was for emergencies and while he had missed his friends terribly, it hadn’t been an actual emergency. Beside the number, there hadn’t been anything even hinting about where they might be found, so the address was Warlock’s main hope. Because, in Warlock’s memory, where you found one, you always found the other.

His phone warned him that he had reached his stop and he got off with a few other passengers, following the directions towards the bookshop. The sidewalk felt really crowded and busy and a little bit overwhelming but then the shop was there, in real life when he’d only seen it online before and it took all his willpower to not run across the street and bang on the door. He walked slow, lingering as he looked in the windows and Warlock’s heart dropped to find the lights off and the door locked, but it perked up a little to see the ‘be back soon!’ sign hung in the door’s window.

“Hey.” Warlock jumped, clinging to his phone and stared at the slightly older girl who had popped up out of nowhere. “What’re you doing?”

“I, uh, I’m looking for my friends,” said Warlock, trying to sound older, trying to sound calm, but after everything, he didn’t think he was succeeding very well. “I, um, I think they know someone who works here?”

The girl gave him a disbelieving look, taking in the newish oversized hoodie, the stylishly faded jeans, the old but very expensive sneakers. She also looked at the glow of colors that most people had that she could see if she looked just right. She’d learned not to judge based on the obvious things, because people had to run with what they had and even ‘watching the glow’ as she called it, didn’t tell her everything. But sometimes people did something dumb and ended up in trouble, and this kid very much felt like dumb heading towards trouble. “You shouldn’t be around here alone.”

Her patronizing tone cleared some of Warlock’s trepidation and he threw his shoulders back with bravado, definitely trying to channel some of Mr. Harrison’s confidence. “Like you’re that much older than me,” he scorned. “If I shouldn’t be here, then neither should you.”

She rolled her eyes, clearly unimpressed and looked away, scanning the street to see if some likely parent was looking for their bratty kid. “Yeah,” she finally said, not spotting anyone. “I shouldn’t be here, but I ain’t got anywhere else to go, so, here I am.”

“Oh, er, oh.” Warlock wilted a little, looking away from her challenging stare. “Er, uh, do you, um, know,” he waved at the door. “The owner? A. Z. Fell?”

She shifted warily, looking around again, wondering if this was some kind of elaborate trap. Maybe he wasn’t actually as young as he looked, maybe he was an actor who’d been hired to, there-- she spotted a tall white man in a dark suit watching his phone who turned away when she stared at him a little too long. “Nah, I don’t know nothing,” she said, stepping down off the stoop and hurrying down the sidewalk to the west, away from where she’d seen Ms. Fell and her friend go.

A sudden sense of foreboding had Warlock shivering in his hoodie and bolting after her. “Wait!” he pleaded, running to catch up with her. “Something’s wrong,” he whispered, shoving his phone in his pocket and taking her hand, eyes darting around for a danger he could tell was coming but couldn’t tell from where.

“Yeah, some dumb rando brat won’t leave me alone,” she growled, trying to shake him off as she too looked around, knowing something bad was close by. “Thought you said you were fine out here alone,” she hissed, glaring at him.

“I lied,” he squeaked, jumping closer to her when a large white man in a dark suit suddenly stepped out of an alleyway. “Ah!”

“Fire!” Erica shrieked, and everyone on the block, still jumpy from the fire that somehow did but didn’t happen, tried to zero in on where the scream had come from. “Fire in the alley!” she screamed again, pointing right at the man, who swore and ducked back into the alley as adults began to move in her direction.

Erica and Warlock both began to back away from the alley, but big hands clamped onto their shoulders, stopping their backwards progress, and they both froze in recognition of the voice that spoke over their heads. “From the mouthes of babes. How blessed we are, to be saved from what might have become an unholy fire.”

“Mr. Finks,” whispered Erica, sudden guilt gripping her, for thinking the kid had been trying to trap her when it was really all her own fault.

“You’re in jail,” Warlock quavered, struggling to get out of the elderly man’s surprisingly strong grip.

“You know you shouldn’t tell lies, children. You’ll behave now, won’t you?” They both cringed as his fingers dug into their shoulders painfully. “Come along.” Mr. Finks began slowly walking them away from the milling people, careful to keep calm, keeping to the sidewalks to not draw unwanted attention.

“The Almighty really does work in mysterious ways. How Heaven has smiled on us this day, to lead both of our lost lambs back to us,” he said when the watching man caught up with them. “Mr. Noble will catch up with us when he may.”

“Yes, Mr. Finks,” the goon said, almost walking into a small bald Chinese man who seemed to have popped up out of nowhere. He was sweeping the sidewalk, humming under his breath, seemingly oblivious to the near miss. The goon turned but found the sidewalk constricted on one side by stacked café tables and the other by palettes of boxes waiting to be loaded into the large delivery van that suddenly pulled up, blocking the road. Going back was not an option. “Hey, get out of the way!”

The sweeper turned then and smiled at them, seemingly not noticing the two terrified children in Mr. Finks’ grasp. “Right on time,” he said in Mandarin Chinese. He leaned on his broom in the middle of the clear path and waved a hand at the door, as though inviting them inside and continued in the same language, “Is it not written, I can't be having with that kind of thing? No, we certainly can’t be having with this kind of thing.”

The goon got redder and redder the longer he spoke. “Don’t you spout that gobble at me-”

Mr. Finks cleared his throat and the goon cut off whatever hateful thing he was going to say. “We don’t want any trouble, Mr. Banks.”

“Yes, sir. Pass ahead, sir,” the goon growled, glowering angrily at the still smiling sweeper, who held the goon’s gaze unflinchingly. Finks steered the children around the sweeper but when the goon tried to walk around him, the broom somehow became entangled in the goon’s legs, sending him crashing into Mr. Finks, who crashed into some of the boxes with the sound of shattering glass.

That was all the opportunity Erica needed. Still holding Warlock’s hand she bolted back the way they’d come, sending a prayer to anyone that would listen on behalf of the sweeper and Mr. Chan who were arguing loudly with Mr. Finks and his goon. When they reached the corner, Erica dragged Warlock with her when he tried to stop and look back. “Never look back,” she told him hoarsely when they reached the door to the bookshop. She grabbed the doorknob and said another brief but heartfelt prayer that went something like, “Please, pleasepleaseplease, please!”

The door soundlessly popped open under her hand and she yanked Warlock inside and quickly shut it again, dragging him around to the nearest shadowy corner where they wouldn’t be spotted by someone walking by, which proved to be the space between the beaten up old couch and the old rolltop desk. They cowered together in the dimness, trying to muffle the sound of their breathing, both of them straining to hear anything that might tell them if they were still being pursued.

“We should call the police.” Warlock reached for his phone but she grabbed his hand, gesturing for him to be quiet and shook her head vehemently. “Why not?” he hissed.

“Won’t help,” she hissed back. “He’s friends with the police.”

“Oh.” That explains why he isn’t in jail anymore. Warlock realized, “You know him?”

She stretching her neck a little to peer out the nearest window, but couldn’t really see anything from where they were. Creeping upright to peer out she whispered, “Yeah. He runs a charity. Seemed nice, kinda weird, then he locked me in a room and started praying at me. Big spotlight and drawings on the floor...”

Warlock’s eyes went wide in recognition and he was about to say so but something had him grabbing her hand and pulling her down deeper into the shadows, his finger pressed to his lips. She didn’t fight him, seeing the real fear in his eyes and they both froze, barely daring to breathe. Moments later a shadow loomed in the window she’d been looking out of and they could make out the silhouette of someone putting their hands up to the glass and trying to see inside.

The shadow seemed to loom there for an eternity but eventually it shifted away, though didn’t leave.

“Can we get out?” Warlock asked, feeling like he was going to be sick. Something about the shadowy silhouette seemed vaguely familiar.

Erica shook her head, rubbing at her eyes to keep herself from crying. “They’ll have the door covered. If there’s a back way, I don’t know it.” She looked up at the window, at the not a goon shaped shadow that continued to lurk by the glass, and shivered in fear. “I don’t want Ms. Fell and Crowley to get caught up with them,” she said, tears beginning to leak from her eyes in spite of her efforts.

“Fell and Crowley?” Warlock asked, feeling a sudden surge of hope. It couldn’t be a coincidence, the crows, the black feather… could it?

She nodded, waving for him to remember to keep his voice down. “I think so? Only met... them? Only met Crowley once anyway. Met Ms. Fell a couple of times. One of the other kids showed me this place. Told me there’s food and we can sleep if we need to. That Ms. Fell and Mrs. Chan down the street are okay.”

“Is Crowley always with dark glasses? Is Fell round, always-” Warlock mimed wringing his hands together the way he recalled them doing any time there was a lot on their mind.

She nodded at both descriptions, feeling another surge of guilt at the hope that lit up on the kid’s face, and it made up her mind. “Look, if you find a better hiding place, I can make a run for it, maybe then you-”

“No.” The idea had his stomach clenching and he realized why the silhouette looked familiar. “Never.”

“You’re just a kid-”

You’re just a kid,” Warlock retorted. “If not the police, then who? We need to call someone.”

She glared at him in annoyance and they both flinched as the knob on the door rattled. The shadow lurking by the window slid away and vanished and a little of the fear went with it. “Fine. There’s an alarm, in the back. I set it off by accident, we can try that?” She cringed. “But only they showed up, no police.”

Warlock pulled out his phone, thinking of the memorized number he’d never tried calling but had always believed would work. “You know, if they are my friends, then they can handle these goons like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

“How do you know?” she scoffed, desperately wanting to believe.

“Because they saved me from Mr. Finks before.”

Chapter Text

Crowley was lounging in their chair, waiting for Aziraphale to finish their meal, when one of the alarm spells in the shop was set off at the same time as the phone in their pocket actually rang, making the former demon jump in surprise, which in turn made Aziraphale start too. Crowley hastily pulled the phone out, frowning at the display in complete confusion.

“Who is it?” Aziraphale asked, setting down their fork and dabbing at their lips, frowning when another of the alarms was set off, as well as the third. “Something very weird is going on.”

“Er, yeah... It’s you.” Crowley turned the phone so that Aziraphale could read their name and the shop’s number on the screen. They shared a confounded look before the former demon finally swiped a finger across the glass and held the phone to their ear. “Hello?” The jolt of adrenaline they’d felt seemed ridiculous when all that answered was fast heavy breathing. “Hello? Are you ssserious?” they hissed, turning back to Aziraphale to tell them what they were hearing, but Mrs. Chan was at the former angel’s elbow, whispering urgently.

Crowley heard a sharp intake of breath, and then a scared cracking voice whispered, “Nanny?”

Conversation in the café ceased as in unison Crowley and Aziraphale seemingly levitated from their chairs and dashed through the tables on their way out the door, which was also closed but didn’t stop them. The small rain of exact change that clattered to the table in payment of the bill was not worth commenting on.

“Warlock? Are you hurt?” Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s hand to stop them racing ahead, but found themself instead dragged in their wake.

The sound of that comforting familiar hiss was too much for Warlock and the tears he’d been fighting off and swallowing down couldn’t be resisted any more and Erica took the handset while Warlock tried to smother his sobbing into the cuffs of his hoodie. “Hello? C-crowley?”

“Erica??”

She let out a strangled shriek when the mail slot on the door rattled open again and Mr. Finks began singing softly in a weird language that made her bones feel like they were full of electric bees. Come, she felt her bones hum dimly, walk to the door and open it. Your friend is waiting for you here. And in her head the little whispering voice that had never led her wrong said, Oh, I know how this story goes and I don’t bloody think so! She dropped the handset and grabbed Warlock and dove for cover, pressing her hands over his ears as she began singing a song from a popular kid’s show at the top of her lungs, trying to drown out Mr. Finks’ voice, and Warlock quickly covered her ears and joined in. His friends had told him a lot of very interesting stories that his parents probably would not have approved of.

Aziraphale pulled Crowley into an alleyway. “They’re actually in the shop,” they said, going silent when a handful of American tourists stopped to stare disapprovingly at them. They hurried away when Crowley whipped around and hissed at them. “Mrs. Chan saw everything. Some white men in suits tried to take Warlock and Erica away but Lu-tze interfered and they ran to the shop. Hide us and we’ll ‘step.”

Crowley kept the phone to their ear, listening to what they recognized as siren song coming very wrongly from a human throat, as the kids continued yelling out the nonsensical lyrics to successfully drown, ha ha, out the magic. Lacing their fingers together with Aziraphale’s, Crowley said, “I have a better idea.”

When the disgusted tourists flagged down a police officer and dragged them to the alley, all that was there was a blackened and cracked phone rocking to a standstill on the old pavement. It strangely flaked away to dust when the officer tried to pick it up, resulting in the tourists getting a stern public lecture about wasting police time and resources on foolish pranks.

At the other end of the line, Crowley and Aziraphale manifested with a shower of sparks as the ancient rotary phone disintegrated under the load. Mr. Finks was still trying to lure them out but it was only a matter of time until he tried an offensive spell and Crowley said, “I’ve got thisss.” They stepped closer to the door and cast a ward against siren song, unaware of the auroral corona that had begun to emanate around them as they bounced on the balls of their feet, waiting for whatever Finks would try next.

Behind Crowley, Aziraphale crouched down by the two children, placing themself bodily between the children and the door, giving them the gentlest of smiles as their singing tapered off. “Hello Warlock. Hello Erica. We’re going to help you, you’re going to be okay.” Aziraphale opened their arms in invitation and Warlock flung himself into their embrace and Erica followed, sobbing brokenly against Aziraphale’s shoulder.

“H-he’s going to hurt your friend,” Erica whimpered, cringing when Crowley let out a snarling hiss and began calling on their power when Finks gave up on the siren song and began chanting a ritual spell instead.

Aziraphale felt like snarling themself, recognizing the spell as one of the nastier ‘angelic’ enchantments used to imprison magical beings. “Oh no, dear, Crowley is far far too canny and wily for the likes of him,” Aziraphale soothed.

Behind them Crowley willed a darkly shimmering magical barrier into being in response to Finks’ muttering rising to a crescendo. It was curved, like a parabolic reflector used inside of a telescope, aimed directly back at the open mail slot. “Let’s see how you like it, you bastard.”

Aziraphale put their hands protectively over the kids’ heads to keep them from being blinded by the spell. “Close your eyes now, we’ve got you.”

A net of searing white light exploded through the mail slot, lighting up the whole interior, expanding outward almost in slow motion but Crowley’s reflector caught it and sent it arrowing back through the mail slot at Mr. Finks almost too fast for the eye to follow. “Do unto others, arsehole,” Crowley laughed harshly as the man stumbled away from the door with a scream of pain at the rebounded magic.

A flick of their fingers had the reflector dissipating and about then Crowley noticed the darkly iridescent corona that they were emanating and quickly shook it off, darting a worried look over their shoulder, but the kids were still mostly hidden by the furniture and crying on Aziraphale. They probably hadn’t noticed. If it really mattered at this point. Movement by the door had Crowley sending their senses outward and swearing. “There’s at least three of them, and they’ve got to be starting to attract attention.”

Aziraphale patted the kid’s backs and withdrew from their embraces, pulling a couple of handkerchiefs from their pockets for them to dry their faces with. “You need to hide. We can hide you with magic, or you can hide yourselves.”

“Magic,” they instantly chorused.

“Very well.” Aziraphale quickly cast the camouflage spell over them, smiling when they gasped at seeing each other vanish. “You’ll stay invisible as long as you stay quiet, nothing above a whisper, okay? Some people might come in, but I’ll try to warn you beforehand, alright?”

The children whispered, “Okay,” giggling as they found each other and went to the window to look outside, the only sign of their presence a slight smudging of the dust on the windowsill.

Crowley put themself and Aziraphale outside time. “What’s the plan, angel?”

Aziraphale squared their shoulders. “Clearly the authorities are useless in dealing with these miscreants. I think it’s time we settled this, once and for all, with Mr. Finks and his goons.”

Crowley broke into a full blown grin at the wicked glint in Aziraphale’s golden eyes as they quickly explained their plan. “Always said you were a clever bastard. Of course, you realize…”

“This. Means. War,” Aziraphale finished with a smile. “As you said, we have plenty of tricks up our sleeves. If you’ll see to Finks, I’ll see to the goons. You’re much better at thwarting ritual magic than I. Wily and unpredictable.” Aziraphale’s smile faded and they lifted their hand towards Crowley’s right temple but let it drop. “Is the blessing-”

“Still going strong. You don’t do anything in half-measures, angel.” Crowley reached out and brushed their fingertips over Aziraphale’s left temple, setting a protective blessing of their own. “Owed you one.”

“Th-thank you.” Aziraphale tried to hide their blushing by putting on their little pair of spectacles and straightening their bow-tie, expending a little magic to clean the splotches of (mostly) tears from their shoulders. “I’m ready when you are.”

Crowley restarted time and vanished, getting amazed gasps from the children, and Aziraphale pulled open the door and together they cautiously stepped outside and took in the situation. Mr. Finks was sitting on the sidewalk clutching at his head, the pair of dark-suited goons hovering beside him, clearly unsure what had happened or what to do.

“What on earth is going on out here?” Aziraphale demanded loudly, hands on hips, frowning down at the trio. “You can’t be setting off pyrotechnics willy-nilly like that! You might have set my shop on fire! You’re lucky you didn’t set yourself on fire! Really, everyone thinks they’re a stage magician these days.”

When Mr. Finks waved a hand at the goons, they pulled him up to his feet and then stepped back, keeping a wary eye on their surroundings. They had garnered a few spectators who stood in bunches: two of two and one of three; little islands amid the normal foot traffic, watching warily but clearly unwilling to interfere or call in the authorities. The goons saw the signs as being in their favor. However the signs were not written in a language they were fluent it. Calling the police, and calling for backup, are two very different things.

“Beguiler!” Mr. Finks growled. “Leading the pure of heart into darkness! Release those children!”

“What children?” Aziraphale asked, waving to the open door and the clearly empty shop. “Perhaps you concussed yourself when that firework went off. Ah! You were trying to break in! I assure you, there’s nothing of interest inside for uncivilized brutes and sideshow charlatans.”

“We saw them! The boy and the girl, what have you done with them?”

Aziraphale pressed a hand to their chest and gasped. “Are you accusing me of kidnapping? I can not believe, in this day and age, that someone would try to spread such vile calumny! If you were a younger man, I would call you out for besmirching my honor, sir! If you think I’ve stolen away some children and made them vanish, like a monster from a fairytale, then I demand you call the police right this instant!”

Mr. Finks scowled at Aziraphale, noticing the growing islands of attentiveness amid the flowing streams of people. “You, where’s the other one?” he asked, looking around futilely. “Where’s the other demon?”

“Oh! OH! Do you hear this?!” Aziraphale asked the lookers-on. “First you accuse me of abducting apparently imaginary children, and now you call me and my friend demons?!”

“Watch that one,” Mr. Finks hissed at the goons. “The other demon has them, I know it. I’m going to get Mr. Smith.”

“My friend is not a demon! And has certainly not harmed or stolen any children!” Aziraphale called after Mr. Finks as he stormed off down the street, sensing Crowley trailing behind and quickly moving beyond the range of their auras, breaking contact. “Hello,” Aziraphale said, projecting their voice to get the attention of everyone on the street. “Would anyone be willing to look in my shop for these children that man claims are in there? I just want to prove to everyone that he was very much lying.”

There was a moment of milling around before a few people stepped forward and Aziraphale showed them to the door and waved them inside, pulling out a black handkerchief and dabbing at their eyes as though fighting off tears. “This has me so upset! Why are people like this? Thank you for helping me, I just can’t understand…” The reformed angel left the searchers and turned on the goons. “Is that man your boss? I demand to know who he is. Why has he targeted me and my shop? I don’t even know the man!”

The goons exchanged looks, clearly out of their depth. “We’re not at liberty to discuss that information, si- er, ma’am? Our boss will be arriving shortly, you can take things up with him.”

“Oh, you can be very sure that I will!” Aziraphale paced in front of the shop while they looked, briefly allowing themself to press their fingers to their left temple, examining the powerful blessing Crowley had given them. It was warm as sunlight and solid as plate armor and was stronger than any blessing Aziraphale could recall Crowley ever casting as an angel or demon.

The trio of searchers soon came back out of the shop, shutting the door behind them. “Nobody in there. If there even were any children, they were probably running away from him.”

“You’re probably right,” said Aziraphale, spearing another furious look at the goons.

Around then Crowley sauntered into view as though they didn’t have a care in the world, tossing and catching an empty plastic bottle of what had surely been holy water. “Hey. What’s up?”

Aziraphale frowned when they realized Crowley was limping but Aziraphale didn’t say anything, instead seared the goons with a disdainful sneer. “Here’s my friend now, clearly not demoniacally abducting imaginary children.” Aziraphale turned towards Crowley, fanning themself in the face as though trying not to cry. “These, these brutes threw a lit firework into the shop!”

Crowley was momentarily distracted by the black handkerchief Aziraphale was fluttering about as they burst into loud theatrical sobs but scowled at the goons, patting Aziraphale’s shoulder, scanning the growing crowd and noting the first of the phones being pointed in their direction. “What the hell is wrong with you? A lit firework?! They’ve a condition you know! Dodgy, er, spleen, very dangerous!”

:Dodgy spleen?: Aziraphale choked on a laugh, quickly turning it into another sob and clutching at their chest. “Oh, oh dear!” Aziraphale quavered, biting on their finger under cover of the handkerchief to keep themself from laughing at the expressions on the goons’ faces. “Everything’s going dark...”

:Spleen’s a thing humans have isn’t it? I didn’t want it to be too serious!: Crowley caught the swooning Aziraphale in their arms and posed tragically with Aziraphale cradled in their arms as a dozen more phones popped up and a few of the locals stepped in around the goons before they could try to make a strategic retreat. After a moment Crowley murmured, “Time to wake up angel, before someone calls an ambulance.”

“Oh, oh my,” said Aziraphale, pressing their wrist to their forehead, the black handkerchief still in hand, fluttering it dramatically. “Did I have one of my little spells?”

“Uh-huh,” said Crowley, looking up when a shadow loomed next to them. “Great, another goon. There a factory somewhere where they pop you lot out?”

Indeed, at first he looked much like the other goons, white, dressed in dark glasses and a dark suit, but unlike the others, his suit was tailored to actually fit his muscular frame and he wore a flashy gold watch and a gold pinky ring. “I am Mr. Smith. Are you the proprietor of this bookshop?”

“That would be me,” quavered Aziraphale, blue eyes narrowing as they looked Mr. Smith over. Aziraphale blushed hotly as Crowley tenderly if smirkingly began to set their clothes to rights.

“Mr. Fell, I understand that your, er, wife is upset, but this has all been a simple misunderstanding,” said Mr. Smith with an ingratiating smile of blinding whiteness, pointedly looking at Crowley, who clamped an arm firmly around Aziraphale as a precaution when the ex-angel sucked in a breath and drew themself to their full height and then some. “I’m sure you and I can discuss this like rational adults while Mrs. Fell has a little lie down, hmm?”

I am A. Z. Fell,” said Aziraphale with freezing politeness. “You may address me as Dr. A. Z. Fell.”* The proprietors of the bookshop had earned a bit of a reputation over the centuries, a familial quirk as it were, that had worked itself into the communal psyche of the neighborhood, so that everyone who spent any time there knew instantly when they heard that tone of voice, that some poor deserving soul was about to regret all of their life choices. People still talked about the very public dressing down and subsequent thrashing of Lord Albert Rust in the autumn of 1892 that had sent the young Captain to an early retirement in the countryside.

“Wrong on all counts there. Neither a mister nor a missus,” said Crowley offhandedly, moving so that they were standing behind Aziraphale’s left shoulder. Out of the line of fire. “Not my bookshop.”

It took Smith a moment to recover from his confusion but he eventually shifted his smarmy smile to Aziraphale, who sniffed disdainfully when Smith held out his hand for a handshake. “Dr. A. Z. Fell. Sorry about that. My associate Mr. Finks, er, where is Finks?” Smith asked the goons, who shrugged. “Ahem, Mr. Finks is not a young man any more and I fear he was somewhat confused-”

“Confused,” echoed Aziraphale. “The man shot off a firework into my bookshop. He yelled slanderous things on the street outside of my place of business and ran off when I told him to call the police.” Aziraphale took a deep breath. “That is not confusion, Mr. Smith, that is criminal behavior. And those two men helped him commit these illegal acts in broad daylight. And now you’re here trying to do what exactly?”

The smarmy smile vanished and Mr. Smith stepped into Aziraphale’s space, clearly trying to intimidate with his greater size, usually looming head and shoulders over people. Somehow he loomed even higher over what he had thought was a rather tall woman. “I’m trying to smooth this misunderstanding over, Fell, for the good of the community. My associates and I are part of a charitable organization who feels very strongly about the continued integrity of our great nation.” He looked up, sneering at the sea of mostly not-white faces. “We just want to make sure you’re supporting the right sort of community.”

“You and your little friends aren’t interested in community, Edward,” Aziraphale said, nodding a little when he scowled. “You’re interested power. Oh yes, Edward, I know you and your ilk far too well, whatever it is you call yourselves these days. You are naught but spineless honorless wretches; liars and cheats, bullies and scoundrels, unworthy of the countenance of even the lowliest worm. Say the word and I will gladly set you down in a way you will not soon forget,” Aziraphale said, shoulders thrown back as they huffed for breath, seemingly already overwrought by just talking.

“Are, are you saying you want to fight?” Aziraphale nodded and lifted their chin defiantly when Smith laughed, drawing a murmur from the crowd. “You? Fight me?? Is she for real?” Smith asked, looking over Aziraphale’s shoulder to Crowley, who was standing hipshot, a little smirk curling their lip as they watched things unfold. People were already betting on how quickly it would be over. When Crowley nodded Smith’s lip curled in a sneer. “You aren’t even going to stop her committing suicide like this?”

“Not even the devil himself could stop them,” Crowley said, smiling when Aziraphale frowned at them.

Smith laughed again and shook his head, and began undoing his watch, slipping it into his jacket pocket along with his cuff links and his tie. “You’re both insane.” He pulled off his jacket and passed it to one of the goons, both of whom looked very nervous standing amid the steadily growing crowd. “I knew Finks was mad, but that was a predictable kind of mad. This, this is just a death wish.”

“I assure you that I am in complete possession of my mental faculties,” Aziraphale said, turning away from Smith with another sniff and Crowley stepped in to help them take off their coat, holding it as they took off their glasses and plain cuff links, setting them in the coat pocket. “I have neither desire nor expectation of harm, let alone death at your hands, Edward.” They pulled out the black compass and unhooked the fob from their waistcoat, handing it to Crowley with a hand that trembled. Around them, the betting redoubled. The locals were going to make a lot of money.

“Yeah? And what about your friends here?” Edward glared at the milling crowd as he rolled up his sleeves. He smiled smugly when many of them looked away from his stare. His mistake was assuming their reaction was from fear and not that something much more entertaining was going on behind him; his goons being separated and quietly swallowed up by the crowd before they realized the danger they were in.

“I assure you that they will not touch you, no matter what happens,” Aziraphale stated, also rolling up their sleeves. “We have no reason to want the authorities disrupting our community.” Around them people nodded, and Crowley shrugged. “They won’t need to interfere with what happens between you and I.” Aziraphale pulled out the black handkerchief and carefully folded it into a long strip and held it out to Crowley.

“Really?” Crowley asked with an amused smirk.

“They did wrong you gravely,” Aziraphale answered, only partially joking.

Crowley sighed and rolled their eyes but folded Aziraphale’s coat over their arm and solemnly took the handkerchief in both hands and began tying it around Aziraphale’s right bicep. “Sir A. Z. Fell, Champion of Soho and its environs, I bestow upon you this token as a sign of my favor in your upcoming battle.” The crowd ate this piece of theater up just as Aziraphale expected they would.

“You’re completely insane,” Smith said, breaking into a big grin. “But in the spirit of fairness, I’ll give you a free shot. Probably the only one you’ll get.” He grinned and leaned down, tapping himself on the left cheek. “Right there, buttercup.”

There was a ripple of laughter from the crowd, and there were definitely phones recording the street drama being played out. Most would find the blond and their friend oddly blurry upon review, but the all too brief action would be crystal clear. Mr. Smith was going to be haunted by this day for a very long time.

Aziraphale faced Mr. Smith, setting their feet and putting their fists up in the classic fisticuffs pose. “I feel it only fair to warn you that I am well trained in the pugilistic arts.”*

“It that supposed to worry me?” Smith laughed, and crashed over on his side, the whole crowd oohing. It quickly devolved into laughing and jeering as he tried to get up and fell back to one knee. His jaw felt almost knocked out of place from the force of the blow and he stared at Aziraphale in shock.

“I did warn you,” said Aziraphale lightly, still in the same farcical pose. “And I am terribly out of practice. Probably for the best, I would feel just dreadful if I hurt you too badly.”

“You pulled that punch, angel, don’t try to spare his feelings,” drawled Crowley with a taunting smirk at Smith.

Aziraphale turned away from Smith towards Crowley, throwing their hands up dramatically. “Well, I don’t want to demoralize the poor man! It would be awfully unsporting,” they said as the crowd gasped, leaning out of the way at the last moment to let Smith’s haymaker blow past, turning with surprising speed and prodding Smith with just enough force to overbalance him, making the crowd laugh as he stumbled and fell to one knee. “Although it seems Mr. Smith isn’t interested in behaving honorably. No surprise I suppose.” Aziraphale shook their head as though disappointed and clucked their tongue, falling back into their fisticuffs pose when Smith lurched back up to his feet. “I’m not even a man, Mr. Smith, and I know that’s not how a man should act. It seems your community has failed you greatly.”

There were more oohs and jeering at that taunt and Smith bellowed with rage and charged at Aziraphale only to double over from their jab to his solar plexus, wilting to the pavement as he struggled to suck in a breath. The reformed angel watched impassively as he gasped for air and staggered back to his feet, the smug assurance long gone, the rage slowly turning to fear. “I think we’ve played long enough, Edward. In the spirit of fairness, you gave me one shot, so I will give you one.” They put their arms down and clasped their hands behind their back, sticking out that obvious soft belly, closing their eyes and letting out a slow breath as they grounded themself. “Anywhere you like.”

The bait was too tempting to resist and Smith went for a gut punch, and Smith went white in pain as something audibly crunched and the crowd hissed in an expectant breath. He collapsed to the sidewalk, clasping at his wrist, his mangled hand dangling uselessly. “What- what-”

“Oh dear.” Aziraphale straightened up and frowned, reaching into their waistcoat pocket and pulling out their badly smashed and deteriorated fob watch. “I forgot I had it on me.”

And it was then that the police made themselves known.

Chapter Text

It was amazing, how quickly a large crowd could become no crowd, and the two officers casually strolling into the open space in front of the shop had had the street mostly empty in moments. There were a lot of questions asked and answered, most of them honestly on Aziraphale and Crowley’s part, a few even truthfully. An ambulance was called for Mr. Smith and his two unfortunate employees, who had apparently fainted at some point during the fight, although there weren’t any witnesses who’d seen it happen. There were a lot of witnesses who hadn’t seen a lot of things.

Aziraphale dismissed the idea of pressing assault charges on Mr. Smith, being the one to issue the challenge, but they did want to press charges against the absent Mr. Finks and the two goons, as did Mr. Chan, who had boxes of goods damaged in an unprovoked attack.

Mr. Smith on the other, broken, hand did want to press charges. “You set that up,” he growled at Aziraphale as the emergency response team looked at his swollen hand.

“How could I predict where you would punch me, Edward? As I said, I forgot I had it on me. It was a family heirloom,” Aziraphale said, still in their waistcoat and shirtsleeves, the black handkerchief on arm. They showed the officers the broken fob watch, clearly quite old and quite beyond repair as a few gears escaped the crumpled casing and bounced away. “Oh dear. Quite irreplaceable, one of a kind.”

The police collected up what they could as evidence and it was all rather anti-climactic as Mr. Smith and his goons were driven off to get treatment. Dealing with the authorities had taken four times longer than the entire situation from phone call to end of fight.

Aziraphale and Crowley were finally allowed to retreat to the bookshop, turning away the last few curiosity seekers who had seen the scene, closing and locking the door with a relieved sigh, pulling down the blinds on all the windows before removing the spell from over the children.

“I could really do with some tea,” said Aziraphale, pitting on the kettle and pulling out a deluxe tin of biscuits and setting it on the table between the two children. A quick tug had the black handkerchief untying itself and Aziraphale fastidiously smoothed it out and folded it properly, tucking it away in their trouser pocket before pulling on their favorite cardigan. “So, where is Finks?”

“Taking a temporary nap in an alley. You were right about him being a wizard,” said Crowley, carefully hanging Aziraphale’s coat on the coat-rack and setting themself down onto the couch with a cringe that had Aziraphale at their side before they were even fully seated.

“You should have said something sooner,” Aziraphale scolded, feeling guilty for having had fun playing cat and mouse with Smith while Crowley had been hurt dealing with Finks.

“I’m fine-” Crowley let out a sigh as golden light washed from Aziraphale’s hands, soothing the lingering ache of their mostly healed injuries. “Nasty piece of work, worse than the last time we crossed paths.”

“I told you,” Warlock hissed to Erica, who rolled her eyes at him but was also clearly impressed.

“I think we might need to call Esk, bring in the wizards to deal with him proper,” Crowley finished, unthinkingly pulling off their glasses and rubbing at their eyes. “He was using stolen magic.”

“It’s from the kids.” Erica and Warlock both went wide-eyed when Crowley looked at them but Erica explained, “They go to the charity to get food and stuff. And some of us… he locked me in a room with a big spotlight and there were drawings on the floor and he threw water at me. I pretended I couldn’t walk past the drawings but ran when I could. I tried to warn the others but most of them didn’t believe me.”

“Except the ones who’d seen it too,” guessed Aziraphale, setting down the tea tray and popping open the tin of biscuits. “And some of them just never came back?”

Erica nodded, clutching at her mug, more for the comforting warmth than anything else. “I’m sorry-”

“For what, dear? I’m just glad you were close enough to find shelter here,” said Aziraphale, offering Crowley their mug and frowning when they just waved it away, setting it down on the side table. “Crowley-”

“Just tired, angel. Been a while since I fought a mad wizard.”

“Hmm, the 500’s some time, wasn’t it?” Aziraphale said thoughtfully, offering their hand and their outer aura.

Crowley accepted, giving Aziraphale a knowing look when their energy began to return. “Nah, there was that guy in the 1400s, remember? Turns out he was part of the Witchfinder Army, Shadwell told me about him. One of Adultery Pulsifer’s relatives.”

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me,” said Aziraphale, reluctantly releasing Crowley’s hand and giving them their mug when they sat back up. “Do you want me to call- oh.” Aziraphale sighed at the disintegrated remains of the antique telephone. “Probably for the best, let the fervor die down a little before I replace it.”

“I’ll call her.” Crowley took a sip of tea and frowned at the palm of their other hand, and in a blink a new version of their phone was there. A few taps had the phone dialing and Aziraphale turned back to the children, who had made inroads on the biscuit supply and were pouring themselves second mugs of tea. “Do you have somewhere safe to stay?” Aziraphale asked Erica.

She shrugged, eyes wandering away from Aziraphale’s face, following the strange colorless but distinct tendrils that seemed to stretch between Aziraphale and Crowley, blended in the middle as though they were somehow still holding hands. It wasn’t at all like the colored haze she could see around normal people, it was more like staring at a light too long and having a glowing shadow trailing in her vision that vanished if she tried to look at it directly. After a moment she couldn’t see it at all anymore.

“What are you staring at?” Warlock asked her, squinting at where Erica seemed to be staring, but not seeing anything but Crowley on the couch, talking lowly into their phone.

She blinked and hunched her shoulders when she realized Aziraphale had noticed her looking. “Sorry.”

“You’re fine, dear. It’s a rare talent, to be able to see our auras. That’s probably why Finks targeted you.” Aziraphale tried to remember how to test a child for magic, but it had been so long, the memory wasn’t coming back easily. “Well, perhaps Esk can help. Have another biscuit.”

Warlock slouched down in his chair when Aziraphale turned solemnly in his direction. “I’m in trouble.”

“Indeed, you are, my boy. You were almost kidnapped. If Erica hadn’t been here...”

Warlock didn’t even bother denying it, but he stuck his stubborn little chin into the air. “I came looking for my friends,” he said, almost keeping the quaver out of his voice. “I’m supposed to love my friends, you, Brother Francis said so.”

“Yes, you are supposed to love your friends,” Aziraphale agreed, glancing at Crowley when they stepped up to the table. “But how do you think we felt when we found out you were in danger because of us?”

“You had my number,” Crowley said. “A text-”

“It was for emergencies only,” Warlock protested. “And if I had? Would Mr. Harrison have texted me back or would he have ghosted me? Same way Nanny and Brother Francis answered my letters then faded away?” he said, swallowing down more tears. “I don’t want you to go away anymore.”

Crowley went to one knee next to his chair, eyes unhidden by sunglasses or magic. “Are you sure, Warlock?” They looked over Warlock’s shoulder to meet Erica’s eyes, making it clear that they weren’t just speaking to Warlock. “Because once we really hold on, we’re not ones to let go.”

He didn’t even hesitate, nodding emphatically. “You get lost if you let go,” Warlock whispered, words he remembered from a dream or a memory, he couldn’t be sure. “What should I call you?”

“I’m usually called Crowley, Anthony J. Crowley, but you can call me Nanny if you like, I don’t mind. That’s Aziraphale, but they go by A. Z. Fell to most people. It’s okay if you’d like a hug- ugh, alright, do like to breathe, okay.” Crowley patted Warlock’s back, letting out a heavy sigh, not at all sure how they felt about having Warlock stay in their life. It had seemed so much safer and saner for the boy to be without them.

“So, how upset are your parents going to be?” Aziraphale asked when Warlock was back in his seat, eating another biscuit. He and Erica weren’t getting sick on them only because everyone believed they wouldn’t. They were also far more nutritious than any biscuit had a right to be.

Warlock cringed and shrugged. “Well, I had a plan...” He explained it all to them, finishing with, “No one’s texted me, so no one’s found out yet,” he said, holding up his phone, only to frown as he recalled why they hadn’t used his phone to call Crowley. “I, uh, I don’t have a signal though.”

“Oh, right. I hate it when people chatter away on their phones while they’re browsing.” Aziraphale snapped their fingers, eyebrows arching when Warlock’s phone went mad with notification noises.

He quickly checked the most recent ones, sighing in relief to see it was just Oleg and Penny being mad because Warlock hadn’t responded yet. He quickly texted back, ‘I’m okay, just got coverage again.’ Warlock looked up at them and his smile faded at Aziraphale’s expression. “You’re going to tell Mom.”

“Quite right, young man. You could have gotten lost, or worse, as you are well aware. Your actions have consequences, and this one is that you’re probably going to be grounded until your birthday after next.”

Warlock turned pleading eyes on Crowley, who laughed and ruffled his hair. “Oh, nice try kid, but no, you made this mess, now you have to clean it up, you know that.”

“What happened to crushing my enemies beneath my heels?” he grumbled, sending another text to Oleg and Penny with only the word, ‘trouble’ and an angry frowny face.

Aziraphale sipped their tea and asked gently, “Are we really your enemies, Warlock?”

He let out a long beleaguered sigh as Erica giggled and he slouched down under the table with embarrassment and sulkily answered, “No.” Erica passed him another biscuit out of solidarity.

“Well then.”

Both children froze when someone knocked on the door, only relaxing when Aziraphale got up to check, announcing, “It’s our friend Esk.”

Erica blinked at her very unusual aura, and how similar it was to the sweepers. She offered a wave when Aziraphale introduced her. Another little giggle escaped when Warlock stuck an arm out from under the table to wave when he was introduced. “You’re a… wizard?” Erica hazarded, recalling the discussion earlier.

“I am, in my own way. I’m also a witch. It’s complicated,” said Esk with a friendly smile. “So I’ve brought along the resident wayward wizard wrangler and his assistant, but they tell me they’ve met you under rather different circumstances,” she said with a smirk, gesturing to where the Librarian and Rincewind stood sheepishly on the sidewalk.

“Ah yes,” said Aziraphale with a slight chill in their tone and closed the door with them outside. “Esk, there is another reason we called you. Er, Erica and Warlock were both targeted by Finks, we think to steal their powers. I er, I don’t recall how to test them for magic the, uh, proper way.” There were unfortunately a great many improper ways to discover if someone unknowingly had magic. The Inquisition and the Witchfinder Army had invented a great many of them.

Esk blinked and canted her head, eyes going distant. “Oh, yea, no question, but, oh. Oh,” said Esk, doing her best to keep her thoughts from her expression when she realized who this Erica girl was. She gave Erica a faint smile. “Uh, yeah, you’ve got the good makings of being a witch I think. Actually, so does Warlock, funnily enough. Can’t really be sure until they’re older, of course, but the potential is all there. We can help them with that later, yeah? Don’t want to wait too long...”

“Well that was easy,” said Crowley, slipping their glasses back on. “I’ll show you where Finks is at.” Crowley preceded Esk back out of the bookshop, grinning toothily at the two men. “Hello again.” Rincewind gave a hesitant wave and the Librarian gave them a respectful nod. “I’m doing a thing to keep us hidden, but stay close and keep an eye out, alright?” Crowley said, all of them nodding and falling into step.

“What did you say this man’s name was?” Rincewind asked.

“Finks, don’t know his first name. He looks like he’s in his seventies, maybe eighties, dresses in nice but way outdated suits, talks like fire and brimstone preacher off of TV.”

The Librarian grunted and Rincewind translated. “Sound like Septimus Finks, also known as Sanctimonious Finks, never actually graduated, got swept up in a cult in the 1970s and denounced magic as a tool of the, er, devil.”

Crowley let out a laugh and shook their head. “Wrong on all counts. Here we are, still snoring peacefully. He hit us with three different kinds of magic, one of which was an angelic spell. The spell he probably learned from a book, but the other stuff, no. If we weren’t immune to siren song, or if the kids hadn’t plugged their ears and started singing loud enough to drown him out, things would have gone differently.”

“He stole the magic from a siren? He lives on an island!” The younger wizards exchanged a very worried look and looked to the Librarian, who was the senior wizard in charge of dealing with rogues. He made a very definitive and final gesture and Esk and Rincewind nodded solemnly in agreement.

Crowley had a feeling the bed Finks had made for himself was going to be lined with sand and seaweed, and he’d be laying in it permanently. Whatever vile things the man had been doing, he wouldn’t be doing them ever again.

Crowley gave them cover as the Librarian easily lifted Finks over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and together they walked to where the campus van was parked. With Rincewind’s help the Librarian arranged the unconscious man in the back seat under a blanket as though he were just tired after a long trip.

“We will make sure he harms no one else,” Rincewind translated for the Librarian, who gave Crowley another respectful nod and swung into the van’s front passenger seat. “You, er, are still coming..?”

“We’ll see you on Saturday. We’ll see if Aziraphale can pull themselves away from the book fair long enough to remember what we really came for,” said Crowley with a small fond smile.

“Can we give you a ride, Crowley? Least we can do,” offered Esk, holding open the side door.

“Yeah, sure.” Crowley slipped in next to her. “Any word on what can be done for Erica?”

Esk sighed. “The Librarian is looking into it, but it’s not looking good. If we could discover the name of who marked her, maybe we could do something, but it’s no guarantee.”

“Figures. Well, keep looking, every bit helps.” Crowley slipped out of the van and tapped the side twice, pretending to watch it drive away as they sniffed the air, catching an unfortunately familiar scent. “Hastur.” A quick search proved they’d been and gone, but it made Crowley wary as they crossed the street and silently called, :I’m back.:

Aziraphale answered with a smile, though it slipped when they saw Crowley’s expression as they stepped inside. :What happened?: It was becoming second nature again, to extend a tendril of their outer aura the moment Crowley was within view, and it was a comfort how quickly and easily their friend reciprocated.

:Caught a whiff of Hastur. Probably nothing, but it might not be,: Crowley answered, darting a look at Erica, who was dozing on one end of the couch after the excitement of the morning, Warlock curled up in the other. :We’ll discuss it later. We should get Warlock back before someone notices.:

:We did discuss that. I think it might go over better if we bring him back instead of just ringing the Dowlings.: Aziraphale settled themself into a chair, shaking their head as they watched the sleeping children. :I think you were a little too good at teaching him strategy.: Aziraphale accused with a fond look.

:It was a deuced clever plan,: Crowley said, getting a scolding look and a faint chuckle of agreement. :For the best he isn’t the anti-christ.:

:Quite.:

They let the children rest for a little longer before waking them, escorting them under the cover of Crowley’s powers over to Mrs. Chan’s to use their restroom. Waiting for them at one of the café tables was Lu-tze, his broom resting nearby. He was counting out a large stack of money and gave Aziraphale a grinning nod. “This one might outstrip Lord Rust for popularity,” Lu-tze predicted, speaking English with a local accent. “Of course, with video to immortalize it, it will certainly go farther abroad.”

“It would have been too much effort to block them all,” said Aziraphale. “May I introduce my hereditary enemy and best friend, Anthony J. Crowley?” they said, getting a chuckle from Lu-tze and a smirk from Crowley. “Crowley, this is Lu-tze, also known as the Sweeper.”

Crowley’s eyebrows winged upwards with curiosity. “Nice to meet you. I think I’ve heard about you.”

“I’ve definitely heard of you,” smiled Lu-tze, shifting his eyes to Aziraphale, who pretended to not see. “Very wily-”

Aziraphale loudly cleared their throat as Lu-tze and Crowley both grinned. “I first met Lu-tze a few months after opening the bookshop.”

“Don’t ask, because I won’t tell you,” Lu-tze said with a friendly smile, before Crowley could even begin asking questions. “But I think you owe me for my help today,” he said to Aziraphale.

Aziraphale blinked in surprise but nodded. “Whatever is in my power,” they agreed, sharing a look with Crowley, who nodded. “If you hadn’t stopped them-”

“I think a drink would be appropriate,” Lu-tze said, leaning back in their chair and pulling out a pack of cigarettes. “A little one. In a wooden cup perhaps?” he hinted when they both just stared in surprise.

“But, but why?”

“I’m still just human,” Lu-tze smiled, breathing out a couple of smoke rings. “Time’ll catch up with me long before it catches up with you. I like having a few aces in reserve. Or maybe it’s Queens, in this case.” He grinned at their expressions. “I had a very interesting conversation with Agnes Nutter when she came to London to flog her book. She found me. Fascinating woman. I’ve only got a little spare time for us today, so...”

Aziraphale did the honors and Lu-tze shuddered after drinking it all down, setting it on the sidewalk and using the butt of their cigarette to light the cup on fire. He just grinned at whatever it was he saw in his vision and leaned back in his chair to nap, lacing his hands together over his stomach as he stretched out his legs. “Won’t be seeing you again for a while. Give my regards to Nanny Ogg when you see her though, tell her she got it just right.”

We’ll, er, do that,” said Crowley, and the moment was lost as the children came barreling out of the shop, and they returned to the bookshop to discuss their plans.

“So, who is it you want to take you back?” Aziraphale asked Warlock, who fidgeted nervously as he looked between them, clearly worried about what he was thinking. “We won’t be mad, but we need to decide now so we all know what to tell your parents.”

Warlock looked between then again, and darted a look at Erica, who was on the couch, pretending to not be listening in. “I, er, I want Nanny. But…”

“But... Brother Francis was a little much?” guessed Crowley, arching an eyebrow at Aziraphale when Warlock nodded guiltily.

Aziraphale made a face but chuckled. “He was, wasn’t he? Can’t say I mind not playing with slugs anymore,” they confided to Warlock, who giggled. “I think perhaps Brother Francis can have retired to a cottage by the sea for his health, hmm?”

“And Mr. Harrison is off teaching somewhere exciting, like Indiana,” said Crowley, their voice softening into Nanny’s as they shifted themself into their persona. Their clothes became less form fitting and their hair fell into shoulder length waves that they pulled back from their face and tied into a casual pony tail. Crowley smiled faintly at the amazed expression on Erica’s face. “I’m Ms. Ashtoreth in this form, Warlock’s former nanny. And this is Mr. Cortese, one of Warlock’s tutors.”

“Would you like to come with us?” Aziraphale asked. “Or you can stay here, it is entirely up to you.”

“Come with us!” Warlock said, hopping from his chair to leap onto the couch beside her. “If I’m going to get in trouble anyway, you should get a reward or something for saving me.”

“Oh, I… I’d like to come with you. If that’s okay?” She looked at Aziraphale and Crowley pleadingly, clearly worried. “But, won’t they tell my mom?”

“Does your mom not know you’re not at home?” Warlock asked in shock.

“She, er, no, not usually. We live with my great uncle and she spends all her time taking care of him. I hate it there,” Erica said with a shudder. “It’s okay during school but on holidays I spend most of my time away. I stay with friends or...”

“We’ll sort it out,” said Aziraphale, pushing themself to their feet. “We should be going if we’re going to catch the bus.” Warlock let out a little disappointed sigh that had Crowley chuckling knowingly. Aziraphale gave them both a stern look. “There is no way in, ahem, that it would be safe for you to ride with C- Ms. Ashtoreth driving.”

“You could drive,” Crowley taunted lowly, grinning when Aziraphale rolled their eyes.

“Perish the thought!”

“Suit yourself, angel. Come along, children,” they said, holding out their hands. Warlock took their right hand, so Erica hesitantly took their left. “Would you like to be one of our cousins, or a niece perhaps?” Crowley asked her, doing the thing for all of them as Aziraphale closed up shop.

“You could be her Nanny too,” Warlock suggested. Feeling somewhere between gleeful and euphoric to be walking with his friends again, even knowing he was going to be in big trouble over the big plan, Warlock pulled out his phone, answering Oleg and Penny’s latest text that asked if it had been worth it, replying YES!!! with a lot of OK emojis and thumbs ups and grinning smilies.

Chapter Text

When they reached the bus stop, Erica shifted closer to Mr. Cortese and mumbled, “I, um, can I ask you something?”

He gave her an encouraging smile and nodded. “Of course, Erica. Is something wrong?”

“No...” She darted a look at Ms. Ashtoreth and at the kid, Warlock, what kind of name is that, anyway? relieved to see them not paying any mind to her or Mr. Cortese. “I, er, would it be okay if I said you were part of my family?”

His eyes got soft and he nodded. “I’d be honored to be part of your family, Erica.”

“Maybe my cousin?”

“If you like,” Mr. Cortese beamed, holding out his hand to her. “How delightful.”

Erica took his hand, some of the tension easing out of her shoulders. “What should I call you?”

“Oh, er.” He looked up at Cr- Ms. Ashtoreth, who was smiling just the faintest bit, staring off in the direction the bus was coming from. “Did we ever settle on first names?”

“Didn’t seem much point,” Ms. Ashtoreth admitted. “Yours is easy enough.”

“Oh?”

The quirked lips blossomed into a full smile. “Angel, obviously.”

Mr. Cortese blinked and let out a chuckle. “Oh, yes, I suppose that would do. But what about you?”

“Oh, maybe Nenna, or some version of Nanny. Keep it simple.” She ignored the quirked eyebrow Angel gave her in response to her too-quick-to-be-spontaneous answer and looked at Erica. “What do you think? Which sounds better?”

“I like Nenna,” Erica said, scrunching her nose. “Seems weird to name someone Nanny.”

“Yeah,” Warlock agreed. “But I can still call you Nanny right?”

“Of course, dear,” she said, taking his offered hand as the bus pulled up. “Why don’t you pull up the app and get us started back, hmm?”

Warlock let out a heavy sigh but did as told, taking the window seat and grinning happily when Ms. Ashtoreth sat beside him, Erica and Mr. Cortese sitting in the row behind them. “Will we be able to talk on the phone?” Warlock asked them, barely able to keep in his seat.

Ms. Ashtoreth turned in her seat to look at Mr. Cortese, who gave Warlock a slightly chiding look and reminded him, “That depends entirely on how your parents feel about your little adventure today. But if they give permission, then yes.”

“I won’t be grounded forever,” he said, far too happy to let reality interfere just yet.

“Hopefully,” Erica murmured, laughing when he stuck his tongue out at her.

They spent the first part of the trip talking about nothing much, and Mr. Cortese had an uncomfortable time listening to Warlock complain about the bad stage magician he’d been forced to have at his birthday party. As they drew closer to their destination they talked through what Warlock was going to tell his mom.

As they neared the back gate of Oleg’s house under the cover of Crowley’s powers, Warlock couldn’t ignore the knot of worry in his stomach any longer. “Mom’s going to be really upset, isn’t she?” They all nodded and he slouched down guiltily, remaining silent as he led them down the alley. “I don’t want her to be mad at me,” he said in a small voice when they reached the gate.

Mr. Cortese crouched down so that they were closer to eye to eye. “That is one of the consequences you have to face, Warlock. Sometimes we say and do things that hurt others, and even if we didn’t mean it, it still hurt them. So we have to apologize and we have to work to be better about not hurting them again. It’s not always easy and we all make mistakes, but you have to keep trying. Do you understand?”

Warlock nodded, asking for and getting hugs from Mr. Cortese and Nanny Ashtoreth, and even one from Erica when he asked, before slipping back inside the back yard. He waited for a few minutes before texting Oleg and Penny that he was back so that Penny could go be herself again.

They both came tearing out of the house with happy shouts that quickly cut off when they saw his expression. He gave them a weak wave. “Hi.”

“You weren’t kidding?” asked Oleg worriedly, “About being in trouble?”

Warlock shook his head. “I’m not going to tattle though, I promise. We can say we had a fight-”

“No,” interrupted Penny, real name ‘Penumbra’. “We’re your friends, all for one, one for all, remember?” Oleg nodded hard in agreement.

Warlock gave them a sheepish smile. “Thanks Pen. Thanks Oleg. This is going to be really bad,” he warned. “I won’t be mad if you-” They shook their heads no and he sighed heavily, jumping when his phone rang. “It’s mom!” He hesitantly answered, walking a little bit away from Penny and Oleg. “Mom?”

“Hi honey. How’s your day going?”

“It’s uh, it’s fine...”

“What’s wrong, Warlock? Did you and your friends have a fight?”

“No, Mom, everything’s fine with them. I, uh, I was just going to call you. I... did something and I think you’re going to be really mad at me.”

There was a slow exhalation of breath that Warlock was surprised to realize was relief. “I had a feeling something was off today. Talk to me, Warlock. What happened?”

“Oh, uh...” He gulped and confessed, “I decided to go try to find Nanny Ashtoreth and Brother Francis.”

The others could hear her sigh though the phone. “Are you safe? Where are you? Those useless security-” She broke off whatever else she was about to say. “Do you need me to pick you up? If you’re in danger you should-”

“I’m not in danger. I’m back at Oleg’s house actually. Could, could we talk in person? I’m really sorry.”

“Alright, honey, I’ll be there in a few minutes. Love you.”

“Love you too, Mom.” He disconnected the call and rubbed at his eyes with the sleeve of the hoodie. “I am so dead,” he told Oleg and Penny, who knew they were probably just as dead.

“We better tell Dad your mom is coming.” They all trudged inside as though going to the gallows.

“Let me do the talking, okay?” Warlock murmured, and they nodded in agreement, neither one wanting to be the spokeskid for their little group. “Um, Mr. Alexandr?”

Oleg’s dad turned towards them and stood up worriedly. “Is something wrong?”

“My mom’s coming to pick me up. I, uh, I just need to talk to her but she er, might want to talk to you later,” Warlock hedged. “We just thought you should know she was coming. Not an emergency or anything.”

He eyed Warlock and the other two Musketeers, knowing there was a lot more going on than what Warlock was saying, but trusted Harriet to suss it all out. “All right. I’ll be available when she wants to talk.”

“Thanks, Mr. Alexandr.” They quickly retreated to the pillow fort, sharing worried grimaces at his use of ‘when’. “I’m really sorry,” Warlock told them.

“Ugh, quit,” said Penny, flapping her hands at him as she flopped over. “Tell us what happened!”

“I found them! But, er, almost got kidnapped.” They stared in shock as he told a heavily edited version of meeting Erica and her knowing a safe space to hide, and he skimmed over a lot of details but told them the overall story of what happened after his friends arrived back at the shop. And then had to skim over the first time Mr. Finks had kidnapped him. “So that’s why Mom’s going to be really upset.”

“I didn’t know you’d been kidnapped before!” Penny gasped, half oddly jealous, half horrified. “Wow.”

“We’re soooo dead. We’ll be like fifteen before we’ll see each other again,” said Oleg breathlessly. They all shuddered in horror. “Is your dad going to make you go back to America?”

Warlock felt almost dizzy at the idea, it was so awful. “Oh no.”

They all jumped when the doorbell rang and they stayed where they were as Mr. Alexandr went to open it. There was some muted talking, which was pierced by a muffled swear before Mrs. Dowling came into the room alone while Mr. Alexandr retreated to his office for a fortifying drink before he called his wife and Penny’s parents.

“Warlock?”

Warlock crawled out of the fort, cringing at the expression on his mom’s face. It wasn’t so much anger as worry and disappointment and it made Warlock want to cry, though he rubbed at his eyes to make sure he didn’t. “Hi Mom. I can explain-”

“Hmm. We will discuss this in private,” Harriet said, lips pressed into a thin line. She smiled at the others when they crawled out of the fort. “Hello you two. Say your goodbyes Warlock, and I’ll get your things.”

The trio huddled together forlornly, all on the verge of tears, snuffling and sniffling, all of them pretty sure they’d be twenty before they saw each other again. Harriet reappeared with Warlock’s bag and had a brief chat with Mr. Alexandr before ushering Warlock out of the house to her car.

They were silent as she drove and he fidgeted in his seat, desperate to fill the silence but also not wanting to be the one to break it. He could almost pretend things were okay, that he hadn’t messed things up. They pulled into a parking spot and she got out, opening the door for him and offering her hand when he got out, which he clasped onto tightly as they walked together into the park.

What had been purely entertainment for tiny Warlock had become a haven for Harriet and Warlock, when being surrounded by stony-faced guards became too much. Even in the dead of winter they could come to the park and pretend they were alone. Harriet went to their favorite bench, glad to find it empty, and sat with Warlock tucked under her arm. “Tell me everything.”

Relief and dread flooded through him. “I tried to find Nanny and Brother Francis online. But you didn’t know their names so with no lessons I figured I’d have time to try to find the address we mailed my letters to. I told Oleg and Penny it was just a prank, they didn’t, they shouldn’t get in trouble,” he said, giving her a pleading look. “It was all my idea, they just wanted to help me.”

“Hmm,” she said neutrally. “So you sneaked out of the Alexandr’s house and..?”

“It only took a couple of buses to get there. The shop was closed but there was a sign saying ‘be back soon’ and er, there was a girl there who talked to me and then...” It wasn’t part of the story he’d decided on but Warlock blurted, “She was going to leave but I had a really bad feeling that I shouldn’t let her be alone!”

Harriet closed her eyes, hugging Warlock tightly to her side. “Do you have feelings like that a lot?”

“Er, sometimes? Not as strong as it was today.”

Harriet nodded thoughtfully. “So you followed her?”

“And a bad goon came out of an alleyway but she scared him off by yelling fire but then, er, another one grabbed us and tried to take us away.” Warlock swallowed down the sick feeling that the memory brought back. “But he tripped and we got away and went and hid in the bookshop. And then Mr. Cortese was there, and he punched one of the bad goons in the face and the police came, so I came back.”

Harriet let the silence draw out, and out, and out and Warlock finally said, “Mom?”

“Tell me the rest now?” When he cringed, she looked into his eyes and smiled a little. “I know you too well baby. There’s a whole lot you’re not telling me.”

“I can’t,” he said miserably. “You wouldn’t believe me.”

“I think I might,” she said quietly. “Your father won’t talk about it, but I remember what happened on Saturday.” She hugged him tightly again, the images of that day seared into her brain. And then it had been Sunday morning and it was like it had never happened. “And I think you had a feeling about it too.”

He stared out at the ducks and finally nodded. “I had a dream about it.”

“Did you dream about today?”

“No, not really.” Another big sigh. “You have to promise not to be mad at them.”

“Them who?”

“Mr. Cortese and Nanny.” He turned big pleading eyes up at her. “It was all my fault. If I hadn’t let Mr. Finks catch Nanny at the park-”

A chill swept through Harriet. That had been the plot that the police said never happened. To ambush them in the park- “What do you mean, catch her?”

“Mr. Finks, he told me to bring Nanny to the red bench and that I’d be able to pet the ducks if I did. He said it was a game and I believed him. But when Nanny went all weird, the bad goons took us away and I didn’t get to pet the ducks but there was a big white swan and Brother Francis came and saved us. I always thought it was a nightmare but then Mr. Finks grabbed us today and I could remember him yelling at me and throwing water on me and he slapped me because I couldn’t stop crying for Nanny.” Warlock shivered at the memory, pressing a hand to his cheek.

Harriet held him tightly, her eyes pressed shut as she tried to control her breathing. Part of her wanted to scream, and the rest of her knew that it would only scare Warlock more. She could remember that day almost as clearly as last Saturday; the phone call from the police, hurrying to get home only to find Nanny and Brother Francis blocking the door, spinning some story about how nothing had happened. But things had shifted afterward, now that she thought about it. Nanny and Francis had both started treating the security men with blatant disdain and even suspicion, calling them ‘goons’ and worse before the investigation had revealed that three of them had been part of the conspiracy to abduct Warlock. “They lied to me.”

“They had to Mom! He has magic,” he hissed. “What could you or dad do to stop him? The police didn’t even keep him in jail like Dad said they would. He’s been hurting other kids too, that’s why he was after Erica.”

“Is Erica the girl who you helped?”

“Yeah. She got caught by Finks too, the same way I remember. Maybe they shouldn’t have lied but you wouldn’t have believed them. And I wouldn’t have gotten caught this time if I hadn’t tried to find them. And I wouldn’t have gotten away if Erica hadn’t been there.” He scrubbed at his face and the tears there. “So be mad at me first.”

“Oh, I am, young man, I am quite mad at you.” She leaned away to look him in the face and said gently, “But that won’t fix what made you do this. Why didn’t you tell me? That you were missing them so much?”

“What for? You sent them away,” he said angrily. “And then you sent them away again.”

She sucked in a breath. That hit home. And then understanding hit as well. “Mr. Cortese. He was at the bookshop that Brother Francis left as a forwarding address for you. They’re the same person?”

Warlock nodded sullenly. “Their name is Aziraphale. And Nanny is Mr. Harrison. They’re called Crowley. Don’t send them away again,” he whispered, covering his face when the tears came in earnest. “They’re my friends. They need people to hold on to or they’ll be lost!”

“Honey...”

“Are you going to let Dad send me away to America?”

“No, baby, no, we’re not going to send you away.” She hugged him close and rocked him, trying to wrap her mind around what he was telling her. And around the greater implications of everything that hadn’t been said. “Warlock, did they tell you what to tell me?”

“Well, yeah. They said I had to tell you even though I didn’t want to at all. So I was just going to tell you a little so that you wouldn’t be too mad, but then I told you everything anyway. Why did I do that?”

“It’s a mom superpower,” she teased, smiling faintly when he rolled his eyes. She had so many questions whizzing around in her head, and things she had always secretly believed warring with things she knew couldn’t be true, but the one question she asked was, “Did er, they, really punch someone? Brother Francis?”

Warlock laughed and nodded, his eyes lighting up. “Yeah! This guy called Mr. Smith, he was really mean and he works with Mr. Finks. It was amazing, wait, I bet there’s video...” Warlock pulled out his phone and a quick search had a lot of results.

Harriet watched a few different ones, each from a different angle, and there was one of who could only be Mr. Cortese fainting into the arms of who had to be Mr. Harrison. “It is them.” She swore inwardly, finding a brief article about an incident at a landmark Soho bookstore where the owner of the shop was attacked by members of a so called charity organization that had ties with notorious hate groups…

She turned off the screen of his phone, smirking when he sighed as she slipped it into her pocket. “And now we discuss consequences.”

“Yeah, they said that too.” He gave her a hopeful look. “You could call them and talk?”

“Hmm, no, I need to think about things first. And you, my boy, are very much grounded until further notice. No phone, no TV, no games. And I will be talking to Penny’s and Oleg’s parents about their part in this, though we all know who was the instigator.” When his face fell she cupped his chin. “As for you staying friends with… them, we will see. For now, we are going home to have dinner and then you are going to read to me.”

Warlock groaned, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She didn’t say no. There was always hope if she didn’t say no. And she didn’t mention telling his dad, which was a huge relief too.

Harriet followed through on her threats, tucking him in when he fell asleep after reading only a few lines from his favorite book. From his room she went into her ‘reading room’ she called it, and sat in the big rocker that Thaddeus had bought for her when they’d found out she was pregnant. She rocked and thought, dredging up every odd feeling and off memory and even went and retrieved her old journals, rereading a few of the entries there before finally making up her mind.

She went downstairs and into the kitchen, getting herself a glass of wine. After a few sips she pulled open the junk drawer after a very brief struggle and a curse, dug around, pulling out an old emergency number list from where it was buried near the bottom. She retreated to the semi-privacy of the garden, wine and paper in hand, and froze to see two familiar silhouettes sitting at the table she’d seen them at, in one form or the other, for close to a decade. “You.”

“Hello, Mrs. Dowling,” said Mr. Cortese in the gentlest of tones. “We beg your pardon for intruding-”

She laughed at that, turning away to pace a little and then stalked back towards the table, looking between the oh so familiar faces. Now that she was looking, she could see Brother Francis in Mr. Cortese’s posture, hear him in his, in their voice. And Nanny had recommended Mr. Harris, claimed he was a cousin. “What the hell did you do to my son.”

“We have done nothing to harm Warlock,” said Nanny honestly and mostly truthfully. “I could not harm him even if I wanted to, which I do not. You laid the geas upon me yourself, Mrs. Dowling, the day I met him.”

“How he cried,” said Mr. Cortese, fading into the slightly unfamiliar form of the bookshop owner Aziraphale. “He knew, I think, that we weren’t human.”

Nanny’s shift was far more dramatic, and more frightening, because she, they, pulled off their sunglasses, revealing bright yellow eyes with slit pupils. “We have never been human.”

She stared at them both for a long time. “Why?”

“Because of what brought you all to that odd little spot in the middle east last Saturday,” said Aziraphale.

“Warlock was supposed to usher in the end of the world.”

The edges of her vision started to go gray and her knees began folding but Crowley snapped their fingers and a chair was suddenly under her, catching her. She folded over and took a few deep slow breaths. “Are, are you saying-”

“He was supposed to be the anti-christ.” Crowley looked away from her stare. “But he isn’t and he never was. I was supposed to make him evil.”

She laughed at that, and sat up, rubbing at her face but laughing again. “No, Na, C-crowley, I can’t believe that for a moment. I saw you tend him, I heard you teach him, I heard you scold him for making fun of Br-brother Francis’ teeth...” She looked at Aziraphale. “And I saw you teaching him to make faces behind the security goons backs, and how to spin and spin and spin until he fell down laughing, and dunking biscuits in tea-” She pressed her hands to her face and sucked in a shuddering breath. “What are you?”

“Not your enemies.” Aziraphale looked at Crowley, who was still looking away, stiff and still in their chair. “I don’t know that you want to know more than that. We’d like to be your friends. But we will not stay if you do not wish it. We… we can make Warlock forget us.”

“And you’re just going to go if I tell you to,” she snapped. “Just snap your fingers and poof you’re gone?”

“Yesss,” said Crowley, meeting her eyes. “Just like we did a few weeks ago. He’s yours, as much as one person belongs to another, so we will abide by your word.”

Aziraphale nodded solemnly in agreement to the question in her eyes. “But he has powers and he’ll need guidance, real guiding, not the nonsense we did.”

She nodded but said again, “Tell me what you are.”

Aziraphale looked at Crowley, who shrugged and looked away again, and turned back to Harriet. “I was an angel. I am not an angel anymore.” Another look at Crowley, this one full of emotions that flashed by almost too fast for her to process. “I walked away from heaven because Crowley convinced me that the world and all its creatures great and small deserved better than to be a fodder for the war between heaven and hell.”

She blinked and darted a look at Crowley, who was smirking bitterly, staring off into the encroaching night. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh,” said Crowley. “Like the angel said, it’s a good planet, interesting, didn’t want to see it destroyed. They’ll probably try again at some point, who knows when. Long after you’re dust maybe.” They shifted in their chair, clearly uncomfortable but said, “I was an angel, then a demon. I’m neither now.”

“But...” She stared at them, the angel and… the other one, sitting there side by side as they had done so often in her memory. And she remembered other nights when they hadn’t realized she was there, that she could hear them talking softly, exchanging stories or teasing banter that spoke of long friendship. The fond glances they would steal when the other wasn’t looking-- she had thought them sweet at the time but now saw a much more tragic connotation beneath the surface. But if they’re not … anymore--

And she thought of what her intuition had told her upon meeting them, and then meeting them again. What it was telling her now, and how it had never steered her wrong. “Stay. Please.” She could see the tension leave Aziraphale’s body as they let out a relieved breath; saw the tears in Crowley’s eyes before they hid them behind their sunglasses again. “You’re my friends too.”

Chapter Text

It was well after midnight when they returned to the flat. Crowley let out a wide cracking yawn and stepped around the trap, slipping their jacket off and dropping it on the concrete bench next to the door, dropping their glasses nearby and kicking off their shoes as they shuffled towards the office.

Aziraphale hesitated by the door but finally picked up Crowley’s glasses and jacket, frowning to realize there wasn’t anywhere to hang it. With an anxious look over their shoulder towards the office they miracled up a coat hook on the wall beside the door and hung Crowley’s jacket, tucking the glasses into the front pocket. And after reminding themself that Crowley had invited them, they made another hook and pulled off their own coat and hung it next to Crowley’s before following them into the office.

Crowley was sprawled on the couch, an arm over their eyes. “That’s been a day, hasn’t it.”

Aziraphale let out a snort and went over the to the desk. “More for you than I,” said Aziraphale with a faint smile in their direction. “Will, will you tell me what happened with Finks?”

“Eh, he had a few spells ready,” said Crowley dismissively, watching Aziraphale from under the cover of their arm. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“You are a very capable magic user, I never never doubted that for a moment,” Aziraphale asserted, feeling Crowley’s stare. “But you were hurt.”

Crowley pulled down their arm, and eased upright, still watching Aziraphale as they fussed by the desk. “And you feel guilty.”

“I do. Mr. Smith was, was a game. Haven’t indulged in that sort of thing since-”

“1892?” Crowley said it casually, wondering if their angel would realize Crowley had seen their fight with Lord Rust, had cheered them on as they thrashed the reprobate and sent him running to the countryside to hide for the rest of his days in shame.

Aziraphale turned then, mouth opening in a faint ‘o’ of surprise. At Crowley’s smile they answered, “Oh, I had at least a few more altercations into the early 1900s. But again, it was just a game, doing a few not nice but good deeds, seeing if, if, uh, heaven would notice. I was also doing a bit with the suffragettes so I had a female persona too. I was very good with an umbrella and a hat pin.”

Crowley laughed. “I can just imagine you wielding one like a sword.”

“That would have been a sight.” Aziraphale moved closer to the couch, unwilling to be distracted. “Crowley...”

They let out a sigh. “I forgot he could throw the net again without having to recast it. Your blessing deflected the worst of it. And you healed the last of it earlier.” Crowley pushed up their sleeves, revealing a faint crisscrossing of welts.

“Oh, my dear-” Aziraphale gasped in horror and sat beside them on the couch. “Do they hurt?”

“Nah. All healed up, see?” Crowley offered their right arm, watching as Aziraphale lightly ran their fingertips over the reddened marks, pretending that it wasn’t making them feel ridiculously breathless. “Been a long time since I needed healing,” Crowley admitted, twitching their arm away with a snort. “That tickles.”

Aziraphale’s eyes crinkled but they folded their hands demurely into their lap. “Oh, really.”

Crowley playfully pointed a warning finger at them but said, “Miracling it away didn’t work and I don’t remember any healing spells. You know, wasn’t allowed, but I figure I should relearn some.”

“When you’re rested I’ll teach you a few,” Aziraphale promised. “They’re not as powerful as miracles but miracles don’t work on those who don’t believe.”

“What is it you do?” Crowley asked. “The light?”

“Oh, er, that’s just me. Like you with hiding I suppose. We’ll discuss this when you’re rested.” They patted Crowley’s arm and pushed up from the couch, tugging nervously at their waistcoat, feeling flustered, wishing for things they knew they shouldn’t.

“You’re not tired?” Crowley asked, reluctantly pushing themself up from the couch.

“No, a long day but not nearly as draining for me as it was for you,” Aziraphale said, nodding when Crowley yawned again. “Rest as long as you need to. I don’t need to be at the shop until the afternoon for a delivery. Probably best to delay opening to let things settle down anyway.”

“Alright.” Crowley sighed when Aziraphale withdrew their outer aura. “G’night angel.”

“Good night Crowley.” Aziraphale sat at the desk when the bedroom door closed, and was about to resume working on the spell components when Crowley snatched the notebook from their hand. “What-”

“No,” Crowley said sternly. “You worked yourself to exhaustion on Sunday, let it rest another few days.”

“But-”

“Read something for fun. You can do that, can’t you? Put on some music, make some tea and just, relax, okay?” They snapped the book away, putting their hand over Aziraphale’s when they huffily went to snap it back. “Aziraphale, please, I won’t sleep if you’re going to be working yourself into a state again.”

Aziraphale stared down at Crowley’s hands clasped around theirs, and back up at the exhaustion in Crowley’s face and nodded, closing their eyes and holding on tightly when their best friend enfolded them in a hug. “That’s extortion, you know,” they murmured, smiling faintly when Crowley chuckled.

“I’ve never been above applying leverage when needed.” Crowley withdrew from the embrace with another jaw cracking yawn. “And now I know, neither are you. Now rest, or else I’ll… I’ll call Granny, eh, how you like them apples?”

“I don’t believe that for a minute,” Aziraphale said, following Crowley down the hallway. “What would you even say? Besides she’d probably tie you in knots for waking her.”

Crowley made a face and stopped in the doorway to the bedroom. “Nanny then, give her some juicy gossip to spread to the others.”

“She’s probably already thought up better on her own,” Aziraphale retorted, smiling when Crowley laughed. “Well... I shouldn’t keep you up any longer.”

“Yeah.” Neither of them moved for a moment and then they both reluctantly turned away.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale nervously rubbed their hands together and turned back to Crowley, who paused with the door half closed. “Perhaps, perhaps you’d let me, er... I’d like to, to… Would you, er, grant me the honor of grooming your wings, while you rest?” Aziraphale was offering something rather significant to Crowley while also asking for their trust; offering to watch over Crowley while they were vulnerable, while also actively doing something (tend their wings) to help them recuperate.

When Crowley just stared Aziraphale’s heart dropped and they hastily turned away. “Sorry, I’ll just-”

“Yes.” It wasn’t much above a whisper. Crowley pulled open the door when Aziraphale turned back towards them. “Yeah, I’d like that.” Crowley turned away and waved a hand, switching into their pajamas, almost afraid to look back, half expecting to see Aziraphale had changed their mind.

When they turned around Crowley found Aziraphale had not changed their mind, but they had changed their clothes, into the sleep shirt and robe, and they were twisting their hands together nervously inside the doorway. “Is this okay?”

“Yeah, sure, however you’re most comfortable.” Crowley sprawled on their stomach on the right side of the bed and clicked on the heated blanket, looking away when Aziraphale cautiously climbed onto the left side of the bed. “Warm enough?”

“Oh yes, quite,” said Aziraphale, propping themself up against the wall with a pillow, clearing their throat when the silence dragged on. “Is there something you’d prefer if you, uh, if you’d rather not have me-” Crowley’s wings shimmered into being and they carefully draped their left wing over Aziraphale’s lap. “Ah.”

Crowley snapped off the lights. Again, the safety of the darkness allowed them to say things they usually wouldn’t. “You don’t have to, you know. Tend me.”

“I know.” Aziraphale let out a sigh, letting their fingers sink into the dark silky feathers and admitted, “But I want to. Best friends take care of each other, especially when they’ve been hurt.”

Crowley closed their eyes, thinking about all the times since the fall that they’d done this for one another without actually saying it. Coincidentally crossing paths, finding a safe place to rest by chance, accidentally falling asleep while the other one held vigil. And oh so rarely, owing a debt that could only be repaid by tending the other’s feathers. The hoops they had jumped through to make it all deniable, to make it all easier to pretend like nothing happened the next morning. There was a lot that had never got said, that got left purposefully unsaid. Maybe it was time to change that. “I wanted this too.”

Aziraphale’s hands stilled for a moment among the silvery storm-cloud feathers on the back of Crowley’s wing and in the hush they whispered, “Thank you for telling me.”

A sleepy hum was Crowley’s only reply.

Aziraphale happily stroked their hands through Crowley’s feathers until the tension slowly eased from their friend as they drifted into true sleep. It had been a very long time since Aziraphale had last had an excuse to tend to them while they rested, since Crowley had been tired enough to actually sleep under their care. Aziraphale hoped Crowley’s admission meant they wouldn’t have to make excuses anymore.

Wanting a distraction from their thoughts, Aziraphale shifted into a more comfortable position and summoned up a book to read (and enough light to read it by), relaxing into the familiar old story and the comfort of the contact, Crowley’s wing blanketing them in warmth as they absently soothed their hand over it.

It was close to dawn when Crowley shifted in their sleep and Aziraphale found themself hugged tightly by Crowley’s wing as it tucked in, pulling them closer together. Crowley was pressed to Aziraphale’s side and they had to close their eyes and do some deep breathing to ease the ache over their heart. To stop themself from turning into the embrace and-

“You always remind me of sssunshine.”

Aziraphale’s eyes snapped open and they turned, meeting Crowley’s heavily lidded stare. “Ah,” they said shakily, trying to read Crowley’s expression, but it was oddly blank. “That explains why you’re always dozing off around me. Basking in my presence,” they teased, relieved and disappointed when Crowley closed their eyes again.

“Alwaysss,” Crowley echoed, relaxing again with their wing still tucked close around Aziraphale and it was then the reformed angel realized that they hadn’t really been awake.

Aziraphale rubbed at the sudden sting in their eyes and fled back into the story.

Chapter Text

The sun was well up when Crowley finally started to wake up. Aziraphale had finished one book and was starting on another and was again caught between relief and disappointment when Crowley furled their wings back into the ether. “Good morning.”

Crowley pressed their face into their pillow and grumbled something before shifting enough to look at Aziraphale with one bleary yellow eye. “Ugh.”

“That’s right, you never have been much of a morning person, have you?” asked Aziraphale, setting aside their book and giving Crowley a fond knowing smile. “You missed out on a lovely sunrise.”

“Enough with the perky, angel,” they grumbled and immediately closed their eyes with amused regret, knowing they’d messed up the moment the words slipped out.

“Oh dear,” said Aziraphale, pouring on the jolly, their wicked grin coming through in their voice. “Someone’s woken up on the wrong side of the bed! Rise and shine, Anthony ‘J that’s really just an ampersand’ Crowley! The new day is a great big fish!”

“Bastard,” Cowley growled, laughing as they pressed their face back into the pillow. They extended their outer aura towards Aziraphale and reached out and gently shoved at Aziraphale’s shoulder. “Go ‘way.”

Aziraphale mingled their outer aura with Crowley’s and continued to tease. “And leave my dearest friend to sulk about in bed? Oh no, I couldn’t possibly-” Aziraphale saw the pillow coming of course, and laughed, rolling out of the way and off the bed. “I suppose I could take mercy on you and fix some tea.” A snap of their fingers had Aziraphale dressed, their sleep clothes folded neatly at the foot of the bed. “Alright?”

“Thanks,” Crowley grumbled, watching through slitted eyes as Aziraphale gave them a playful smile and slipped out of the room, quietly shutting the door behind themself. Feeling foolish but unable to resist, Crowley pressed their face into Aziraphale’s pillow and inhaled the scent of spring and sunlight their angel always seemed to radiate, eyes popping open in horror. “Sshit!” It had to be a dream, right? They wouldn’t have really wrapped their wing around Aziraphale and said that thing about sunshine, right?

Crowley bolted from the bed and quickly dressed but stopped themself from following Aziraphale to the kitchen. Asking would just make it awkward, no matter what had really happened. It’s fine, everything’s fine, Crowley repeated like a mantra, avoiding the kitchen to go into the office, snapping on the TV in hopes of a distraction.

Aziraphale puttered about in the kitchen, looking in the cabinets as they waited for the water to boil, curious why Crowley bothered to keep so many things they clearly had no use for or interest in. Who were they trying to impress? Aziraphale then recalled the ‘art’ and blushingly shut the cabinet doors and decided that it had to have been to impress the demons, and focused on making the tea. The kettle had just finished heating up when Crowley called, “Angel?!” and Aziraphale awe-stepped into the office.

“What’s wrong?”

Crowley gave them a wide eyed stare and pointed at the TV, where a grainy video from street surveillance was being described by one of the newscasters. “We can see here the two children being menaced by a man, later identified as Reginald Noble, and then grabbed by another man identified as Septimus Finks who has been the spokesperson of the 14th South Street Charity for the last three years. The video is blocked by this lorry but we see the children somehow escape and do in fact enter the bookshop.”

“Damn.”

“And I thought archangels were bad about spying,” Crowley said.

The video went on to show Mr. Finks kneeling by the door to the shop for an extended time, flanked by the two goons, before the windows suddenly lit up and Mr. Finks was knocked backwards. “The police think Finks fired off some sort of incendiary device in order to scare the children out of the shop, but it apparently backfired. There was some minor damage reported inside the shop, and no sign of the children, who are thought to have escaped into the small access alley in the back. No children matching their descriptions have been reported missing but the police are seeking to identify them.”

One of the other newscasters added. “An anonymous source tells us that this building and the current owner, a Dr. A. Z. Fell, have a mysterious reputation in the neighborhood and that the building is, of course, haunted. Perhaps the children were ghosts?”

There were some weak chuckles and the first newscaster continued the story. “The confrontation between Dr. A. Z. Fell and Mr. Finks was filmed by several bystanders, as was the later altercation with Mr. Smith, all of whom could not be reached for comment. And that probably would have been the end of it except the authorities have released another piece of surveillance that shows a trio of unidentified men approaching the bookshop at around 1 am this morning, clearly intending some sort of mischief.”

They let the video play, showing a grainy image of a trio of goons dressed in dark clothes walking purposefully towards the door to the shop along one sidewalk, and a man stumbling along as though drunk from the other direction. They all reached the door at the same time and the single man waved and started talking as he lurched about, seemingly oblivious of the very obvious danger he was in. One of the men lunged just as the man stumbled up the steps, seemingly discovering by accident a broom that had been left behind one of the pillars and knocking down the lunger with a single seemingly accidental blow. It was barely a minute later when the sweeper was wandering away, using the broom to keep themself upright and the trio were on the ground holding various parts of their body as they rolled around in agony.

“The police would like the public to keep an eye out for these three men, who are likely in need of medical attention after their attempted assault on a broom wielding drunk?” laughed the second newscaster as the fallen men finally got up and limped away.

Crowley flicked to another station, which was showing a recent photo of Mr. Finks posing in front of the ‘charity’ during the opening. The newscaster was saying, “Septimus Finks is wanted for questioning by the authorities and the public is warned to keep their distance. He was last seen yesterday afternoon outside of the A. Z. Fell and Co. bookshop, where the proprietor of the shop, a Dr. A. Z. Fell, confronted him and two other men and later had an altercation with a man known as Edward Smith. Mr. Smith, it has come to light, is thought to be the defacto leader of the 14th South Street Charity, which is currently under investigation-”

Aziraphale and Crowley exchanged another look as Crowley flicked off the television. “Prob’ly best you not go in ‘til later.”

“Yes, I suppose so.” Aziraphale returned to the kitchen as they considered what they’d seen. “I do hope Erica will stay at home today. I have a feeling some of Smith’s associates will be prowling around.”

Crowley followed, offering, “We could try calling her?”

“She doesn’t have a mobile.” Aziraphale wringed their hands. “What should we do?”

“She’s probably seen the news,” said Crowley. “But we can go to the shop if you’re worried. ‘Snot like you’ve got to open up to customers if you don’t want to.”

“True. I know you’re not one for crowds so I’ll leave you to your rest.” Aziraphale smiled faintly when Crowley gave them a look that clearly said otherwise. “Crowley, there’s likely to be a lot of people...”

“Yeah, and?” They stalked out of the kitchen towards the mostly unused front room, startled to find their jacket hung up, Aziraphale’s nestled beside it, but they played it cool, slipping the jacket on and checking the pocket for the compass before pulling down Aziraphale’s and holding it out for them. “I’m not leaving you to deal with that alone, so.”

Aziraphale let Crowley help them into their coat, touching their arm to stop them before they could open the door. “You can leave- fine, hide yourself, if it gets to be too much. I’ll understand completely.”

“Alright.” Crowley slid their hand into Aziraphale’s. “And I’ll hide us both if we need it.”

Aziraphale smiled gratefully and took a small delight in saying, “Thank you.”

They took the bus to the shop to keep the Bentley away from any more possible trouble. When they reached Aziraphale’s neighborhood they both quickly realized that there were pairs of locals casually walking around, clearly keeping an eye out for more troublemakers. With the locals patrolling and without any obvious reporters or police hanging about, Aziraphale decided to risk opening the shop to the public. Crowley took their usual place on the couch and settled in to the shadows, not quite hiding but not exactly making themself known either. It was an acquired skill, lurking, but Crowley had honed it to an art over the millennia.

The shop was quite a bit busier than usual, but most of those stopping in actually bought books and those who knew Aziraphale clearly came to check in and make sure they were okay, and to chat of course. There were some curiosity seekers who poked about a little too pointedly, but when Aziraphale didn’t do anything beside drink tea and chat with customers they quickly grew bored and left.

Mrs. Chan was the first of the neighbors to stop by during a convenient lull, and she came bearing pastries and a startling and unfamiliar whirl of magic around her when she stepped into range. “Hello Aziraphale, dear! Brought your favorites.” Her eyes darted towards Crowley, who canted their head to realize that she had actually noticed them. “Plenty to share with your friend.”

Aziraphale quickly shook off their surprise. “Oh, you didn’t have to,” they said, accepting the box and giving an appreciative sniff after opening it. “But I am delighted that you did.” They sent a wordless inquiry to Crowley, asking without asking if they were interested in being introduced, beaming when Crowley nodded and stood up to pour a cup of tea for Louise. As was only proper, Aziraphale held out the box towards Louise first, who took one of the pastries and accepted the cup of tea from Crowley. “I don’t think you’ve formally met them before, Louise, but this is my best friend Crowley.”

“Hello,” she said, raising the cup in greeting. “I’ve seen you about, haven’t I?”

“Oh, probably,” said Crowley, eating one of the pastries in a few quick bites and flopping back onto the couch. “We’ve been friends for a long time, me and Aziraphale. You own the grocery around the corner, right?”

“I do, with my husband Lee. We’re quite fond of the area and all its quirky inhabitants.” She nodded when she saw understanding on Crowley’s face and turned back to Aziraphale, smiling gently at the slightly confused look they were wearing. “Grandmother always loved telling us stories about you and the bookshop.” She took a bite of her pastry, watching Aziraphale sidelong. “She especially loved reminiscing with Lu-tze about the thrashing you gave Lord Rust.”

Aziraphale blinked a bit as confusion morphed into worry, and darted a look at Crowley, who had gone thoughtfully still. “Oh, you mean my, er, great grand… uncle?”

“Right,” she said blandly, taking a sip of her tea. “Uncanny family resemblance. You’ve really inherited their, hmm, everything, haven’t you? Just like cousin Lu-tze in that sense. Not that he’s really my cousin, but he’s known the family for so long, how can he really be anything else? I’d say the same goes for you, dear.”

Aziraphale set down their teacup with only a little rattle, twisting their fingers together as they tried to figure out what to say. “Er, Mrs. Chan-”

“Aw, don’t go all formal on me now, Aziraphale,” she scolded, holding out her empty cup for a refill, smiling as they absently moved to fulfill their role as host. “You’ve known me since I was a baby. You’ve probably known us all since we were babies.”

“Since the world was a baby,” mumbled Crowley, shrugging when Aziraphale shot them a look. “You said it yourself, didn’t you? We don’t have to hide anymore.” They wiggled their fingers, taking a bite out of the pastry that appeared in their hand. “Thought I noticed some magic going on around here.”

Louise nodded. “My many times over great grandmother was a witch of sorts. She had a series of visions that eventually brought her and her family here, just barely escaping-- well, a lot of things. Those in power are rarely willing to let go of those who they see as useful tools, as I’m sure you both well know.”

“Unfortunately,” agreed Aziraphale lowly, still trying to get their equanimity back. They had thought they’d been keeping their secret very well, and for the most part they had. But witches and even wizards tend to pay a little more attention than the average person. And once word gets around, guided by the ones who know all too well about actual witch hunts, well then, that uncanny freak that might have caused fear becomes our unusual being who’s really just the sweetest and don’t you forget it.

They all went quiet when the door opened, but the curiosity seeker took one look at the three of them and walked right back out. They shared a chuckle and Louise continued her story. “She brought as much as she could with her when they moved here, pieced together what was lost with the others who escaped. And the world’s changed a lot since then, for the better in most ways. Now I teach the little ones the way Grandmother taught me and we continue to adapt to the times.”

“Your ancestor, she, er, didn’t by chance write any of her prophecies down, did she?” asked Aziraphale, making a face at Crowley when they snorted. “Hush you.”

“You can’t just go around asking to rifle through other people’s prophecies the minute you meet them, angel,” Crowley teased, making Louise laugh.

“I’m afraid she did not. But I can show you part of what the vision was.” Her smile went a little sly when Aziraphale nodded, and she pulled out the store’s flier from Aziraphale’s newspaper, pointing to the medallion that had adorned their shop since the earliest days. It was a black and red Chinese dragon on the lower right and a golden-bronze Chinese phoenix on the upper left. When the door opened again she got up and kissed Aziraphale fondly on the cheek. “We’ll talk more when things calm down. Just wanted you to know we’re watching out for you Both of you.”

Aziraphale absently chatted with the customers that had come in while Crowley retreated back into the shadows, both of them throwing the occasional glance at the medallion and at each other but there was never enough of a lull to discuss it, and then there seemed little point.

A little after one they escaped for lunch at the café, relieved to find no one paying them any undue attention as they lingered over their meal. It was close to two when they returned to the shop and dealt with a steady stream of visitors until four, when Rose arrived right on time and Aziraphale had the door already propped open for her.

“Hey Aziraphale,” she said, pulling the box from her van, “only one box for you today.”

“Yes, it’s been a rather slow week. Might I offer you a cup of tea?” Aziraphale offered hopefully.

“I’d love one. Time for my break anyway.”

Rose followed them inside and around the bookcase and since she was hoping they were there, noticed Crowley right away. “Hello, I’m Rose, one of Aziraphale’s little herd,” she said with a laugh, offering Crowley her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Oh, er, Crowley. Likewise.” They leaned back into the couch and asked, “Herd?”

She smiled at Aziraphale, who gave her a fond slightly put upon look and poured her some tea and popped open the tin of biscuits. “Neighborhood kids who used the shop as a safe place. There’s always a herd of them in every neighborhood, thrown together by geography and chance. We were lucky, never had any of the really bad stuff go on around here, but there’s enough little bad stuff in the world that a sanctuary proved useful. Like it did yesterday.”

“Yeah, most people don’t realize Aziraphale’s a bit of a momma bear,” said Crowley, giving Aziraphale a fond smirk when they rolled their eyes. “Great hugs, rip the face off anyone who messes with the kids.”

“It was hardly ‘face-ripping’,” sniffed Aziraphale, taking a sip of their tea, their eyes crinkled with humor as Rose grinned.

“No, this was a bit more cat and mouse,” she said, savoring the biscuit she was eating. “They never taste as good as when I’m in your shop,” she told Aziraphale, smiling when their eyes went soft. “A lot of good memories in here. We were all pretty devastated when it burned down.” She took another sip of her tea, looking between Aziraphale and Crowley when they both went still.

“Well, uh, yes, that would be devastating but since it isn’t actually burned down,” said Aziraphale with a nervous chuckle, “that’s alright then, right?”

“Yeah.” She nodded her head and stared into her tea. “But I saw it. We all saw it. Smoking, burned out husk, the whole street covered in ash and little bits of paper. And no one had seen you come out, no one could find you.” She looked up then, pressing the handkerchief Aziraphale handed her against her eyes. “Some of us were here when you ran into a burning building,” she said lowly to Crowley, who nodded and frowned down into their own cup. “Saw you come back out again, alone.”

Aziraphale gently rested a hand over hers. “I am so sorry, Rose. I thought, I hoped, that with things having been undone, it would be easier to forget-”

“No one’s going to forget,” she said with a laugh. “How can we forget the bookshop burning down and being pretty sure you were dead? But then it didn’t, and you weren’t? I mean, it’s like, easier to pretend it didn’t happen, but forget, no.” She drank more of her tea. “And none of us would have mentioned it but then the Sweeper showed up. He only been seen like three times since the Blitz, but everyone knows about him and everyone knows things are going to get interesting when the Sweeper shows up. And then yesterday happened.”

“Yeah, yesterday was something,” agreed Crowley, smirking when she laughed.

“The herd tries to keep in touch with each other and when Jenny Chan sent out a picture of the the Sweeper talking with her parents, we all came home as fast as we could.” She shrugged. “I don’t think any of us knew what to expect. But I’m really glad I got to be there for your performance,” she teased, mimicking Aziraphale’s dramatic wrist-to-forehead move. “The whole thing was great.”

Aziraphale blushed but gave her a little smile. “It’s not something I indulge in often, but it seemed necessary after everything. But, er, what am I going to say to, oh, oh dear, do all of the kids-”

“It’s alright, the whole herd already knew you were some kind of cryptid.”

“Cryptid?”

“An occult being,” Crowley clarified, grinning at Aziraphale’s annoyed expression.

Rose shrugged and nodded when Aziraphale looked at her for confirmation. “Yeah, pretty much. I mean, maybe not Sweeper levels of cryptid, but up there. Magical at any rate.”

Aziraphale shot Crowley a warning look when they snorted at that but asked, “Does this mean we’ll have to worry about people trying to prove we’re these cryptids?”

She shook her head. “Nah, lots of famous people get called cryptids and immortals as a joke now, or just outright claim it themselves. But, uh, you do know there’s video of everything that happened yesterday, right?” she asked, relieved when they both nodded. “I mean, you’ll probably get a lot of customers for a while and maybe a couple of twits who want to fight you, but you didn’t do anything that screams of being magical. But I’ve got to ask, is the shop haunted? I don’t remember it ever feeling that way?”

“Goodness, no, I couldn’t let some poor spirit remain at unrest here.” Aziraphale nibbled on a biscuit, and shook their head. “Ectoplasm on my books, can you imagine? Perish the thought.”

Crowley laughed at the little glimmer they could see in Aziraphale’s eyes. “Only you’d think to catch a ghost just to give it a good scolding for improper book handling.”

“Well, as long as they’re polite, I imagine even ghosts and ghouls will be safe from me.” Aziraphale’s smile softened a little at the hopeful expression on Rose’s face as she glanced sidelong at Crowley and darted a look back at them. “Hmm. So how’s your mother doing?”

Rose’s face lit up. “She watched everything from her window,” she said. “Your performance had her in tears and she actually called me last night and we had a really nice conversation, so,” she leaned over and gave Aziraphale’s cheek a kiss. “Thank you for working another miracle on my behalf.”

Aziraphale laughed her words away. “It wasn’t me who convinced your mother that she misses you this time, she figured that out all on her own.”

Rose made a not really believing sound and shrugged. “You sent her flowers again.”

“Of course I sent her flowers, she was hit by a car!” Aziraphale glared when Crowley snorted out a laugh. “It’s not funny, she was hurt rather badly.”

“No, no, I wasn’t laughing at that, really angel,” Crowley scolded in annoyance, cheeks going pink when they caught the knowing look Rose was giving them. “I was there when you ordered them, remember?” They smirked at Aziraphale’s sheepish expression and asked Rose, “Did they tell you what the flowers mean?”

Rose looked between them, her smile turning into a grin. “No...”

“What was it? Something along the lines of, ‘Sorry you were hurt, get better soon, quit being a twit, get over it, and remember your daughter’, right?”

“Remember your love for your daughter,” Aziraphale corrected, smiling and shrugging at Rose’s laugh. “Yes, well, I doubt she recognized the message in the flowers. She came to it naturally, as I knew she would.”

Rose reluctantly put down her cup and pushed up from the chair. “I should get back to work. Oh, wait, almost forgot.” She pulled out the work tablet for Aziraphale to sign. “Twice in a row now. Maybe your curse is finally lifted,” she said, darting another meaningful look at Crowley and wagging her eyebrows.

Aziraphale frowned but their eyes crinkled with laughter as they pressed some money into her hand and waved her away. “Good bye Rose, I’ll see you on Saturday.”

“Bye Aziraphale, bye Crowley, see you.”

When the door was closed behind her, Crowley asked, “So did you miracle her mother?”

“No, neither time.” Aziraphale sighed and took another biscuit. “Mrs. Anthony had a fight with Rose when she was caught kissing a girl and Rose ran here and camped out on the couch a for few weeks. Mrs. Anthony found out and came to yell at me, for enabling that sort of behavior and how if Rose didn’t change then she would be dead to the family so on. What I wanted to do was give the woman a good shake but it wouldn’t have helped matters any so instead I had a funeral wreath sent to their apartment along with a rather scathing letter. She was just making them both hurt and I hate when people do that and I probably got a bit carried away but really, abandoning your child because of something so inconsequential!”

“A funeral wreath, really?” Crowley laughed and shook their head. “Obviously it worked.”

“It did. And not long before the hit and run, Rose let slip that she and her partner are both ‘godless heathens’ as they put it which set off another confrontation. I didn’t try to intervene this time because I knew Mrs. Anthony would eventually get over it. Also, I don’t think she ever quite forgave me for the wreath.”

“No, I wonder why, publicly shaming her like that. You must have been mad, if you didn’t,” finger waggle, “her after her accident.”

“Oh, but I did. I kept her from dying,” Aziraphale admitted. “That day I kept you waiting, I was at the hospital with Rose.”

Crowley leaned forward and murmured, “You should’ve told me.”

A sad little shrug. “I know. I just thought you’d think me silly, becoming attached.” Aziraphale sighed when Crowley frowned and changed the subject. “So do we have to worry about this cryptid thing?”

Crowley smirked at Aziraphale’s unsubtle effort to get away from an uncomfortable subject. “Nah. Besides, we are cryptids. Anyone that tries anything with us is going to end up with a nasty surprise.”

The door to the shop opened and they dropped the subject as there was another little rush of activity. Aziraphale had just sent off the latest customer and was sitting back down when an American woman barged into the empty shop and started calling out, “Dr. Fell?!” Aziraphale rolled their eyes, smirking to notice Crowley had vanished in self defense.

“Lucky,” Aziraphale mumbled, rubbing a hand over their face. “Hello Mrs. Grimm, I’m by the desk.”

She came farther into the bookshop, pausing under the skylight to show her lightly tanned skin in the best light and tossed her artfully dyed blond hair over her shoulder. “Oh Dr. Fell, thank goodness you’re unharmed!” She gracefully moved closer, leaning over to reveal a multicolor beaded necklace adorned with a coin-sized golden glass bauble, clearly meant to draw the eye downward, and patted Aziraphale’s arm, brows lifted faintly in concern. “I just saw the news and I could not believe my eyes!”

“Oh? Couldn’t you? I thought you were putting yourself on, what was it, a media cleanse?” said Aziraphale mildly, sighing when Karen sat herself down and helped herself to the last of the tea. It wasn’t that Aziraphale had a problem with Americans, most of whom were lovely people and Aziraphale knew that what constituted good manners were often different in different places and that faux pas should not be held against those who didn’t know better. No, the real problem was Karen and her soul sucking personality.

Karen toyed with the golden bauble, sighing a little when Aziraphale paid little mind to it or the endowments underneath. “Oh, well, when I overheard Pam talking about how you had gotten attacked, I just couldn’t believe it and had to see for myself. And I just had to come over and make sure you were really all right! Really, Dr. Fell, what were you thinking? And after fainting just a little while earlier! You could have done yourself irreparable harm! I have been just an utter wreck.”

Aziraphale pulled out a box of tissues when she started fanning her eyes and knew there would be no getting rid of her until she was ready to go. “I’ll make us some more tea, shall I? Help settle your nerves.”

“Oh, thank you darling, you really are ever so kind,” she gushed, drinking her tea and pulling out a wad of tissues to dab at her eyes. She waited until Aziraphale was in the back to freshen her lipstick, using the cover of the water running to scoot her chair closer to Aziraphale’s desk, craning her neck to try to read the papers that were laying about.

Crowley watched with curious amusement, already knowing exactly what the woman was playing at. The real question was why Aziraphale was willing to put up with her, and how this visit was going to play out.

Aziraphale returned with a fresh pot of tea, pouring more for both of them before returning to their seat. “I’m sorry seeing the recordings upset you Mrs. Grimm-”

“Oh, Dr. Fell, please, how many times must I insist you call me Karen?”

“At least once more, madam, as I am but a vassal of society’s social graces,” said Aziraphale with feigned gallantry. Aziraphale had known the moment they’d met at a charity event that there was no way on the good green earth that they would give her permission to use one of their given names, not even a pseudonym. Something was off about her, but since they couldn’t sense any magic around her they’d just kept shrugging it off and doing their best to avoid spending time alone with her. They fervently hoped someone, anyone, would come into the shop and distract her before she got really settled in.

“You really are the most chivalrous man, Dr. Fell.” She dabbed at her eyes and leaned towards Aziraphale in a conspiratorial manner. “That’s the real reason why I want to talk to you. You’re just too tenderhearted to see it but I’m afraid your kind and generous nature is being taken advantage of.”

Aziraphale frowned, thinking, Yes, madam, it certainly is, but said instead, “I’m not sure I understand, Mrs. Grimm. I had hoped you would want to finish discussing the sale of your husband’s properties? The preservation society is really hoping you will accept their offer.”

Karen frowned in annoyance but shook her head. “No, this is far more important than property, Dr. Fell. It’s…” She looked around and leaned even closer, resting her hand on Aziraphale’s. “It’s about your lady friend.”

Aziraphale blinked down at her well manicured hand and back up into her wide doe-like eyes and understood then that Mrs. Karen Grimm, poor young grieving widow who was ‘far too distraught and confused to deal with everything’ on her own, was trying to lay the groundwork for catching herself a new husband. And she had apparently decided that Crowley was competition. “Friend?”

Crowley bit their lip, almost laughing out loud to see Aziraphale’s expression shift as they realized what the woman was really after. Oh, angel, what have you gotten yourself into?

“The one who’s been slinking about for the past week or so? You were acting quite the gallant towards her in the video,” said Karen, her voice full of chiding concern, as though Aziraphale had let her down in some way. “No, please, Dr. Fell, it’s so painfully obvious what’s really going on, especially to someone on the outside,” said Karen, holding up a hand when Aziraphale tried to protest. “Especially to me,” she said huskily. “I’ve been in your place, Dr. Fell. And anyone with sense can see your heart’s desire, can see how you are just pining, just aching for what has been denied to you for so long. It just breaks my heart, darling, to see you yearning for sweet babies of your very own.”

A wheeze of laughter escaped Crowley before they could stop it and Aziraphale quickly threw a quieting charm over them when Karen turned around to stare at the seemingly vacant couch. “Yearning,” echoed Aziraphale, simply astounded, doing their best to ignore the mirth flooding through the bond. “For babies?”

“What was that noise?” she asked, still staring at the couch.

“Oh, well, buildings this old, quite prone to ghosts,” said Aziraphale distractedly. “Babies?”

“Obviously, why else would you have behaved so ridiculously? Really though, darling, calling the police was the only proper solution. A respected business owner and dignified gentleman such as yourself shouldn’t be scuffling in the street like a common hooligan,” she scolded, tapping their hand with surprising force. “Especially with your fragile health! It just isn’t right.”

Ah, yes, the two most important qualities in a future spouse; great wealth and ill health, thought Aziraphale, wondering if Crowley was going to be the first celestial to discorporate themself from laughing. The reformed angel was desperately trying to think of a way to salvage the situation with Karen and it didn’t help knowing Crowley was howling with amusement. It really didn’t help that Aziraphale wanted to howl along with them at the ridiculousness of it. Babies? Why babies?? “Right, my dodgy spleen. Whatever was I thinking,” Aziraphale said dryly, taking a sip of their tea.

“I know how wonderful it feels to finally be free of someone who only causes you pain. It can make you do the silliest things.” She gestured to Aziraphale’s empty pinky finger when they frowned in confusion. “I overheard Charlie talking about your very public breakup.”

“My, er-” Aziraphale was very glad that they couldn’t see or hear Crowley’s reaction to that.

“I do understand how the freedom can go to a person’s head. Sadly, that’s why Mr. Grimm proposed to me and I only realized it after it was too late. So darling, please, believe me when I tell you it will only cause you heartache, thinking you’ve fallen for someone just because it’s nice to feel needed. In hoping they will one day return your feelings when, at most, all they can really feel towards you is gratitude.” She leaned towards them again, toying with the golden bauble as she rested her hand over Aziraphale’s and asked with that same condescending concern, “Is that really what you want? To end up heartbroken over someone who sees a relationship with you as an obligation? As a debt to be paid?”

Crowley was not at all amused anymore. They’d seen Gaslight, they recognized the nasty undermining tactics the archangels and other abusers like to use. Beneath their glasses, Crowley’s eyes began to glow.

Aziraphale was stunned that they had been so clueless as to how awful the woman really was, and at how painfully close to the heart her words had struck. It took a few tries for them to clear their throat and say, “Mrs. Grimm, you are quite mistaken.”

“Yesss,” hissed Ms. Nenna Ashtoreth in Karen’s ear, smiling nastily as the woman flung herself out of the chair with a startled yelp. “Quite mistaken.”

“Where the hell did you come from?” Karen gasped. She gave the other woman a quick once over and shivered, completely unnerved by her. “I mean, you gave me quite a shock!”

“Did I? How dreadful,” Nenna murmured. “I’m not interrupting anything important, am I?”

“No, no, nothing that can’t wait, my dear. I always have time for you,” said Aziraphale with a relieved smile, standing up and holding out a hand to her. They blushed profusely when she took it and pressed a quick chaste kiss to their cheek in greeting.

“Do introduce me to your guest, angel,” said Nenna, keeping hold of their hand and settling herself quite neatly into Karen’s vacated chair.

“Oh, er, um, Mrs. Grimm, this is my dearest friend, Ms. Ashtoreth. Nenna, this is Mrs. Karen Grimm. I believe I told you about her? Her poor husband passed on just a few months ago.” :And she’s been a thorn in my side ever since.:

“Oh yes, how tragic for you,” Nenna said in the same condescending tone as Karen had been using. “Set adrift in the world without your husband’s guiding hand, and at such a vulnerable age. How lucky that an angel was willing to take pity on you and help you back onto your feet when you weren’t strong enough to stand on your own. Of course, he wouldn’t want you to feel obligated for his kindnesses, not when he acted purely in the spirit of charity.”

“Well, I was taught one should always be charitable to the elderly and widows and other unfortunates,” agreed Aziraphale while Karen spluttered, being very rude by leaving her standing and sitting back down. “Rather old fashioned of me, I suppose,” they said with a chuckle, pouring Nenna a cup of tea. “Biscuit, dear?”

“It’s so rare to find someone who exemplifies that sort of selfless generosity these days,” said Nenna, accepting the tea and taking her time selecting a biscuit. “Which makes it a damned shame, when people try to take advantage of the kindness of others. Wouldn’t you agree, Mrs. Grimm?”

“Yes, yes I would,” Karen said stiffly, looking down her nose at Nenna. “Which is exactly why I came to talk to Dr. Fell today. Some people just look at the world through rose colored glasses, and they need to be protected by those of us who see it like it is.” She gave Aziraphale another doe-eyed look and clutched at the golden bead. “Think about what I said, Dr. Fell and we’ll talk soon.”

“Good day, Mrs. Grimm,” said Aziraphale, letting out a tired sigh of relief when the door closed behind her. “I thought she would never leave.”

“Me neither,” Nenna agreed, glaring at the door and fading back into their usual self as they stopped making an effort. They looked at Aziraphale over the top of their glasses and they sat staring at one another for a long moment as Crowley’s lips began turning up into an unholy grin.

“Babies?!” Aziraphale exclaimed as Crowley broke back into raucous laughter. “Why in the world would she think I-I-I just can’t even fathom where, I mean, babies? Of all the things to come up with-”

“Oh, heaven, angel, if you hadn’t covered for me I would have blown it,” gasped Crowley, making Aziraphale start laughing again. “The look on your face when you realized.”

“How was I supposed to know? It was one thing in the clubs, all those young folks, but she’s a widow! Her husband’s only been dead a few months!”

“Oh, modern times angel, black widows go a hunting before the current one’s even cold,” said Crowley, not quite joking as they glared towards the door again. “Why are you putting up with her?”

“Because she is now the sole owner of a third of the buildings on this block and the local preservation society wants to make sure she doesn’t sell them to some awful gentrifying developer. They’re not in the best condition but they could be preserved and modernized and-” Aziraphale broke off at the fond smirk Crowley was giving them. “But she’s been dithering over selling and I’ve been at my wit’s end. And then the world was going to end and it didn’t matter.”

“Well, you won’t have to deal with her alone anymore,” Crowley said, getting up and returning to their spot on the couch. “But you’d better teach me a healing spell or two, in case I get carried away the next time I see her. Could get you even more business if you like,” Crowley joked.

Aziraphale rolled their eyes. “You wouldn’t dare. But here, let me show you one of the simpler ones while we’ve got a moment...”

They had enough time before the next customer to get through one healing spell, and after that it was somewhat busy. Neither Erica nor any of the other kids made an appearance and by the time night and the clouds rolled in, Aziraphale and Crowley were both more than ready to close the shop. “Well, hopefully now things will go back to normal,” said Aziraphale, locking the door and sitting back in their chair with a relieved sigh. “I would really like a little bit of normal again.”

“That’d be nice,” Crowley agreed. “What’s normal?” They smirked when Aziraphale gave them an annoyed look. “I mean it though, the last decade was pretty, eh, odd. What do you mean by normal?”

“Oh, er.” Aziraphale thought it over as Crowley stalked over to pour them both glasses of wine. When they were seated again Aziraphale answered shyly, “I mean what we’ve been doing. Spending time together. Working towards keeping them at bay.” They swirled the wine in their glass and looked at Crowley through their lashes. “Not hiding that we’re friends.”

Crowley gritted their teeth but the sharp-edged words that had been circling in their head all afternoon slipped out anyway. “Even though we don’t have anything in common?” They instantly regretted it, regretted the smile slipping away from Aziraphale’s face as they returned to staring into their wine.

“You must know I didn’t mean it,” Aziraphale said lowly with a feeling a dread. How they hated confrontations, hated the little voice that said this time it would end for real, and it would all be their own fault.

“Didn’t you? Felt like you meant it.” Why do you do this? Just let it be! Crowley lurched up off of the couch to pace away then back again, pulling off their glasses. “Like when you told me you didn’t know where the anti-christ was. I didn’t sense a lie.”

Aziraphale looked up into Crowley’s eyes and saw that they somehow knew the truth already. It was almost a relief to admit, “Because I can hide my lies. As long as it seems believable.” They took a deep drink, bracing themself for the inevitable withdrawal for yet another betrayal.

“Really.” There was a small sense of relief, to have Aziraphale admit it so readily. They had long suspected that they could somehow keep others from sensing outright lies, because Aziraphale had always been terrible at evasions that they didn’t get a good run-up to. But it had never really occurred to Crowley, until Warlock’s uncanny warning, that Aziraphale might be lying to them. But knowing the truth did nothing to ease Crowley’s annoyance with themself, for having to push and prod instead of letting things be.

“It even works on archangels.” It was a sad attempt at humor, at deflecting, but Aziraphale still wanted to make their friend smile, even if part of them expected fatalistically that it would be the last time.

Crowley let out a bark of laughter. “I wondered about that. There were so many times we almost got caught and you never explained how you smoothed things over.”

Aziraphale took another drink and shrugged. “Not very angelic, is it, being able to hide your lies from other angels. Not something to be proud of.”

“Am I really as gullible as an archangel though?” It was eye-opening and in an odd way reassuring, to think back and see all of Aziraphale’s little tells coming through all the times in retrospect they knew their friend had been lying to their face. “Damn, I am. You’re terrible at lying to me. That’s what I get for forgetting you’re as much of a bastard as I am.”

“Of course I’m not good at it,” said Aziraphale hoarsely. “Good lies require not feeling awful about saying them. In making yourself believe that they’re true enough.” Aziraphale took another drink and summoned the bottle to refill the empty glass. “How, how did you figure it out?”

“Warlock. He went all uncanny the day he found out Nanny and Francis were leaving.” Crowley looked at their friend, their so-much-more-than-a-friend and admitted, “He told me I needed to hold on to you and never let go.” Crowley nodded when Aziraphale looked up in surprise. “And I told him you want me to let go sometimes. And he said, ‘Lies, foolish lies,’ and the words have echoed in my skull every time you’ve been nasty since.” Aziraphale looked away in shame and Crowley said, “I should’ve listened to him at the bandstand.”

“I’m sorry I’m such a fool.” Surely now they would walk away. Now they’d seen the truth and-

“So how do you do it? Can you show me? Be blessed useful if I could learn that. Would’ve made giving reports in hell of a lot less stressful.” Thankfully the sense only worked in close proximity or Crowley would have been caught out a lot sooner. Not that demons would be caught dead checking if another demon was being truthful. Lying was part of the job description after all. So the lesson was to not get caught checking or lying. Some of hell’s perverseness was really a blessing in disguise and Crowley had learned the art of rhetoric and masking their expressions a very long time ago.

Aziraphale blinked and glanced up, some of the tension lessening to see Crowley holding out their hand. Aziraphale took it, pulling on their power so that Crowley would feel it through their still mingled auras and the bond. Thinking of a lie they might believe was easy enough, since they’d believed it the first time. Aziraphale stared down at the floor and murmured, “We don’t have anything in common, though, do we? Modern vs antique, quick wits vs plodding intellect. You’re all fast ideas, fast cars, fast music-”

The underlying meaning was even clearer with physical contact than they could usually sense. Look how different we are, their friend was saying in that bitingly cool and polite tone of voice they could use so devastatingly. Why would we be friends? How could we possibly be friends? My tastes are far more refined and superior to yours. Crowley scowled, because even knowing Aziraphale was lying and doing something with their power to cover it up, the words felt terribly, painfully, honest.

Aziraphale looked back up at Crowley and spoke the rest without hiding the truth. “And I’ve barely moved an inch since you left me behind in Paris. N0, we’re better off apart.”

And like a burning blade across the senses, the real meaning beneath their words and the pain that came with it. Look how dynamic you are and how stagnant I am. Why would you want to be my friend? You deserve so much better. How will I survive when you leave me again? Crowley sucked in a hissing breath at the shock of it.

“I’m sorry.” Aziraphale’s voice quavered and they tried to withdraw their hand but Crowley came with it, going to their knees and enfolding them in a hug and Aziraphale held on tightly. “Unforgivable, I know.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Crowley hissed, still processing what had come through with Aziraphale’s words. The rest of Warlock’s warning echoed in their mind, They lose their way without you. “What do you mean, you haven’t moved an inch?” Crowley pulled away when Aziraphale let out a harsh laugh. “I’m serious.”

“Look at me!” Aziraphale waved a hand, taking in themself and the book shop with one gesture. “Nothing’s changed in 200 years! I tried for a while, but then-” They swallowed their words and closed their eyes, unconsciously pulling out the black handkerchief and twisting it around their fingers.

Crowley sighed, standing up to pace, furious with themself for dredging up things better left alone. “I left you...” The words trailed away at seeing the black cloth twisting in Aziraphale’s hands, at the expression on their friend’s face as they tried to soothe themself with the motion.

“At first I was furious,” Aziraphale said with a bitter smile, eyes still closed. “Leaving me to clean up everything myself with Napoleon.” Aziraphale opened their eyes then and the grief in them had Crowley’s heart breaking. “But then time dragged on, and on, and I couldn’t find you, not by any means.”

“I should’ve tried to get a message to you. Should’ve explained things when I woke up.” Crowley thought to themself, truth deserves truth. “I, er, I didn’t actually think you’d miss me all that much.”

Aziraphale made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “I was far worse a friend than I realized, if you thought I wouldn’t note your absence. You were gone for the better part of a century! I thought you’d-” Aziraphale couldn’t get the words past the lump of emotion in their throat, twisting the cloth so tightly Crowley thought it might tear.

“Been caught?” Crowley guessed, since it was almost what had happened.

“Committed suicide.” Azira closed their eyes to the shock on Crowley’s face. “All those bleak moods you have, how deep your grief has always gone... the fourteenth century,” they said with a half-hearted smile. “And then I get a note asking to meet in the park, like nothing had happened. Like I hadn’t been mourning- I lied a lot that day. Everything about me was a lie, aside from my anger. I don’t even like pears that much.”

“Oh. Yeah. Makes sense you’d be upset about, er, everything.” Crowley rubbed at their eyes. “And then I asked you for holy water. And got hissy when you said no.”

Aziraphale snorted. “I don’t think I’d been that angry at anyone in centuries. Spite was a surprisingly good motivator for a while; I reopened the shop and began frequenting all manner of clubs, earned a PhD, did all sorts of things just to prove I was fine.” They looked down at their hands and gulped to realize they’d pulled out the black handkerchief and quickly stuffed it back into their pocket. “All sorts of stupid foolish things.”

“Like trying to double-crossed nazis?” Crowley asked, pretending they hadn’t noticed Aziraphale’s panic about the black handkerchief. “And then I showed up and vanished again,” they said, skimming over the painful memory of that night, envisioning again the beauteous expression on Aziraphale’s face as they- Not going to to go there. Don’t go there. “Why’d you ever, er, let me back into your life?”

“Because I missed you!” Aziraphale cried. “I’d run out of spite a long time before and all I had left was missing you.” They shook their head and pulled out the tartan handkerchief and wiped at their eyes, also not wanting to think about that night and how they’d almost lost Crowley again because of their foolishness. Afterward they’d done their best to limit their contact to coded messages, and had until well after the war had ended, until... “When I heard you were planning that ridiculous ‘stealing holy water from a church’ caper, I had the most terrible feeling about it. I knew I couldn’t let you risk yourself that way even though I still feared you might want it for, for that. Obviously it was the bond warning me, I just didn’t realize it.”

“Obviously.” Crowley leaned towards them and tried to get the conversation back on topic. “Angel, what did you mean though? You did all that without me-”

“I did it all for you.” Aziraphale covered their face at having said the words aloud.

“Aziraphale...” How was Crowley supposed to respond to that?

“When I thought you gone, I was trying to keep your memory alive. Then it was to prove I hadn’t missed you, that I didn’t need you in my life either.” Aziraphale figured they’d already said too much, why not say more. If all of that hadn’t scared Crowley off for good then this last bit surely would. “When you contacted me about the anti-christ, I told myself I wasn’t going to fall for your tricks again. I wasn’t going to get attached this time. I was the nice one, the loyal one, the angel, and this time I was going to be the one to, to win, whatever that meant.” They gave Crowley a sad self-deprecating smile. “I’m much better at lying to myself than to you.”

“You thought I did it on purpose,” Crowley realized, feeling like the biggest fool for not seeing it sooner. How quick Aziraphale was to jump to the wrong conclusions, to accuse them of actually being as evil as they were just playing at. “That I was trying to hurt you. That I wanted to hurt you. Why?”

“Because, as time went on I couldn’t fathom why else you’d continue to associate with me except to make fun of me or use me. Sometimes I still can’t, because that’s just how Aziraphale the soft weak fool, the laughingstock, the useless earthbound principality is treated by other angels-- of course a fallen angel would do the same or worse, right?” Aziraphale shrugged, twisting the tartan handkerchief between their fingers. “You said yourself numerous times, that you weren’t an angel anymore. Made it clear that you couldn’t be, didn’t want to be, that person anymore. Unforgivable. What’s more unforgivable than betrayal?”

“I didn’t mean to you, I didn’t mean it that way-”

“Didn’t you? It certainly sounded like a warning.” Aziraphale shook their head when Crowley looked away. “But I let you back in each time knowing full well what the price would be. And every time you left I knew it was only ever my own fault, for, for,” loving, “caring about a demon who never claimed to be anything else.” Aziraphale tried to breathe deeply, to ease the painful ache in their chest. “I knew I was being unfair, expecting you to change when I couldn’t, wouldn’t. That it would be better, safer, for both of us if I stopped...”

“I wasn’t your friend because I was an angel,” Crowley said, storming around the room. “I was your friend because of you! I never needed to be on heaven’s side to, to,” love, “care about you. Why would I try to save you if I wasn’t really your friend? Do you really think I would show up inside a blasted church just to, what? Make fun of you?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t expect you to show up at all! It seemed as though you’d only came back the first time to get holy water out of me. And then, to see you inside a church when consecrated ground should have discorporated you? More proof of how little use you had for me! I’m just a s-stupid angel that needed to be saved from themself, again, and then, when I- you left me behind, again, obligation discharged-” Aziraphale could hiss as well as Crowley, with a tongue just as sharp, and those words cut deep.

Crowley got right up in Aziraphale’s face, growling, “You aren’t a bloody obligation, you’re my best friend! And I left to keep you safe-”

“Safe from what? From who? You? You’ve never hurt anything but my feelings.” Aziraphale pressed their fingers to their eyes and admitted, “You’re the only one I’ve ever felt safe with. Even after you were demonized, at least I knew where I stood with you.”

“Yeah, on thin fucking ice, and I didn’t want to drag you under!” When Aziraphale shook their head in denial Crowley touched their hands, urging them to look them in the eye. “Yes. Aziraphale? Look at me? You didn’t wonder why they were wasting time talking instead of just offing you? Offing both of us? Someone told them to drag it out, to see if you’d try to negotiate for your life. The whole thing was a setup. Hell was getting ready for you. Stoking up the boilers for the sulphur bath for the first angel kicked out since the fall.”

Aziraphale stared in shock. “You never said...”

“Would it’ve changed anything? They’d always had it out for you, for us, all they needed was an excuse.” Crowley reached out to wipe away the tear trailing down Aziraphale’s cheek but let their hand drop instead. “If the elementals hadn’t gotten word to me… I couldn’t let it happen. I couldn’t-” They pulled Aziraphale into a hug, shuddering when they held on in return. Only right to tell Aziraphale all of it, had to give them the choice of walking away. “It was all my fault.”

“No, now you’re being ridiculous,” Aziraphale protested, pulling away just enough to see Crowley’s face, stunned to read the truth there. “You really believe that.”

Crowley pulled away and started pacing. “You remember, I told you later than I’d sent a memo that I was ‘helping’ the nazis? I was really playing double agent.”

Aziraphale had to smile at that. “Of course you were. Is that why they recognized you?”

Crowley nodded. “Someone, probably Ligur, got the idea to use the nazis to get to you. Making an angel fall was way better than killing one. They’d have gotten a big promotion if it had worked.”

“They wanted books of prophecy,” Aziraphale protested. “I was the only bookseller who-”

Crowley shook their head. “And how’d they find you? All of London to wreak havoc in and they happen to find the one tiny bookshop that’s run by an angel, that happens to have some books they want? Makes finding a needle in a haystack sound easy.”

“I’ll grant you that it seems unlikely, but it’s still not your fault,” Aziraphale insisted.

“Hell wouldn’t have even remembered you existed if I hadn’t reminded them.” Crowley met their eyes and made themself say the words. “I put you in danger. You nearly fell because of me, because I can never leave well enough alone. So I left and did my best to stay away after that. You were safer-”

“Fuck safer!” Aziraphale stood and pulled them back into another hug, resting their cheek against Crowley’s, whispering, “If you try that ever again, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Crowley closed their eyes against the tears that welled there, at the unspoken plea under the mock-scolding tone; don’t leave me. “You threatened to never speak to me again.”

Aziraphale could hear the pain under the teasing. “I wasn’t lying, I just figured we’d both be too dead to talk, you see.” Crowley couldn’t help but laugh at the truth of that statement, and Aziraphale joined in. “But I knew you’d come up with something, you always do.”

They reluctantly eased apart, both of them wiping at their damp faces. “Didn’t mean to dredge all that up,” Crowley said, inwardly pleased when Aziraphale miracled them another tartan handkerchief, which Crowley used and stuffed into their jacket pocket.

“What brought that on?” Aziraphale asked as they eased themself back down into their chair, watching Crowley pace, their eyes drifting back to where a corner of pale tartan was sticking out from Crowley’s pocket.

“You just kept calling me your best friend-”

“You are my best friend!”

“Yeah, well, it’s been eating at me. Why? Why d'you put up with me?” Crowley shrugged at Aziraphale’s frown, turning away to rub at their eyes. “We don’t have anything much in common.”

“That is patently untrue and I’ll prove it.” Aziraphale moved in front of Crowley and began ticking their points off on their fingers. “Firstly, we have always had very similar moral compasses on what constitutes right from wrong and good from bad, even when we were forced to ignore them. Secondly, we both enjoy and appreciate music, across quite a few similar styles and eras.”

“Besides bebop,” teased Crowley with a small smile. “Obviously.”

Aziraphale’s eyes crinkled. “Obviously. Thirdly, we both enjoy learning new things and teaching when we are given the opportunity. Fourthly, we are both extremely fond of this planet and humans and all the rest of it. Fifthly, we both want to make sure they don’t get to mess things up any more than they already have. Sixthly, no one else gets my sense of humor as well as you do, and frankly they never will. And lastly and most importantly, I genuinely like you as you are, which makes the need for commonality completely irrelevant.” They said the last bit with playfully pompous smugness, making Crowley snort out a laugh.

“Yeah, I like you too, angel.” Crowley stuck their hand in their jacket pocket and said, “I’m pretty impulsive.”

“I’d rarely do anything new if it weren’t for you,” Aziraphale responded. “And I’d like to think you’ve learned a little caution in our time together. A very small amount. Please.”

Crowley grinned at the teasing. “Maybe.” They gestured at the piles of books everywhere. “I don’t read.”

“Well,” said Aziraphale, “nobody’s perfect. I won’t hold it against you.”

Crowley let out another bark of laughter and wandered around before casually mentioning, “So, er, remember when you talked about the others? That’s another difference between us.” At Aziraphale’s confusion Crowley gestured, trying to clarify. “I mean, I know some. Fellow myths and cryptids.”

“Ah.” Aziraphale tugged on their waistcoat. “It’s not that I was opposed to meeting any, just that I haven’t. And, well, upstairs probably would’ve noticed and it’s liable to have ended poorly for all of us.”

“Right, right. Downstairs didn’t really care, probably thought I’d recruit them.” Crowley toyed with one of the books and glanced over their shoulder at Aziraphale. “I could, uh, introduce you to a few, if you like. Met most of ‘em that pub, Biers. Quiet place, historic. I think you’d like it.”

Aziraphale gave them a slow fond smile. “I would like that, very much.”

Chapter Text

Crowley and Aziraphale took their time quietly walking to Biers, with Aziraphale using just a touch of magic to keep the rain off. As they got closer though, Crowley’s steps began to slow and Aziraphale found themself walking alone when Crowley stopped suddenly. “Crowley?”

“Er, I should probably warn you, they’re an odd bunch. I’m not actually sure what most of them are, besides not typical humans.” They stared at Aziraphale with a growing sense of worry. Their sweet innocent face all but screamed ‘fresh meat’. “Don’t stare, let them talk to you first, don’t-”

“Crowley, really, I do know how to be polite,” Aziraphale scolded, tugging on their waistcoat and checking their bow tie. “Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?” It was a goad, but there was a grain a truth beneath it. There were differences between them, perhaps too big-

“Psh,” said Crowley, stepping closer to smooth Aziraphale’s lapels. “I want to keep you safe. That’s all.”

“I’m with my best friend, of course I’m safe.” Aziraphale beamed when Crowley smiled. “I could try going occult again-” They lifted their left hand to snap their fingers and Crowley caught it.

“Oh, hell-o no, no,” Crowley said, breaking into a grin at the glint in their friend’s eye. “You’re fine as you are, angel, they don’t care about that sort of thing. I’ll discorporate if you put me in tartan again, I swear,” Crowley warned, keeping Aziraphale’s hand in theirs and starting them walking again.

“Well, we can’t have that,” murmured Aziraphale, gazing down at their clasped hands, and that little bit of tartan peeking out from Crowley’s jacket pocket, and back at Crowley’s softly smiling profile. “How did you find this place? Has it been around long?”

“Eh, been Biers for a while, was the Enterprise before that, but the type of patrons stay the same. I found it after my, er, nap,” Crowley admitted, stopping at a distance so Aziraphale could take it in. “There. It’s got protections on it and I wanted somewhere...”

“Ah,” said Aziraphale understandingly. They nodded approvingly at the well maintained exterior and at the very faint pinging against their senses that hinted at very powerful protections. “Shall we?” They smiled when Crowley opened the door and waved them inside, eyes going wide when they felt the sweep of power as they stepped over the threshold, staring down at the inlaid stone and looking back up at Crowley, who was unaffected. Aziraphale was about to say something when someone was suddenly at their elbow, looming over them. “Oh, hello?”

“Hello,” said Igor, giving Aziraphale a curious once over and favoring Crowley with an inquisitive arched brow. “Booth or table?”

“Uh, um.” Crowley hoped to hel- hea- somewhere that the heat on their face wasn’t an actual blush and said, “Table. This is Aziraphale. Aziraphale, Igor, part-owner of Biers and the main bartender.”

“How lovely,” said Aziraphale, offering their hand. “Your place has a wonderful atmosphere.”

“Thanks,” said Igor, shaking their hand and waving for them to seat themselves at any of the few remaining unoccupied tables. “Candy’ll take your order.”

Crowley picked a two person table back a ways from the front windows, and sat facing the back so that Aziraphale could watch the front door. “The food’s good, if you’re hungry,” they said, eyes roaming the room behind the cover of their glasses, noticing more than a few people glancing in their direction.

“Ooh,” said Aziraphale, picking up the menu to look it over. They sent an inquiring thought to Crowley, to see if they were interested in talking and Crowley gave a wordless affirmative. :There are very powerful and ancient protections on this place.:

:That why you had a weird look when we came in?: Crowley asked, nodding to the bronzed middle-aged woman who came up to the table. “Hey, Candy.”

“Hello Crowley. Who’s your friend?” she asked with a friendly smile at Aziraphale, tucking one of her black curls back behind her ear. She didn’t wait for an introduction, holding her hand out. “I’m Karamela Sweets, which is why everyone calls me Candy.”

“Karamela, what a lovely name. I’m Aziraphale, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” they said, shaking her hand.

“Thanks. What can I get you two?”

“I’ll have my regular and the special. You ready to order, angel?” Crowley could feel the stares at saying that word and knew they were blushing, but kept their eyes on Aziraphale, who was completely unaware of the entire thing as they smiled and told Candy what they’d like to have.

She was back almost instantly with their drinks and struck up conversation again. “So, Aziraphale, have you known Crowley long?” she asked, clearly knowing she was overstepping slightly and not caring.

“Oh, we’ve been friends forever,” said Aziraphale, sliding a look at Crowley, who smirked. “You?”

“Since I was a baby, which wasn’t nearly that long ago,” she laughed, giving Crowley a long considering look which they pointedly ignored. “I’ll be back when your food’s ready.”

“I’m so glad you brought me here,” said Aziraphale sincerely, taking a sip of their drink. “Very nice.”

Crowley grimaced at that word but nodded. “I like it. One of my favorites.”

“I can see why.” Aziraphale returned to what they had been saying earlier. :The protections, they’re quite old, and quite strong.:

Something came through in their inflection that caught Crowley’s attention. :How old?:

:Few thousand years, I think. Reminds me of that place we found in Rome.: Aziraphale smiled a little at the memory. :Do you remember it?:

:Course,: Crowley said. They had been sent there for their first assignment after the fall and it had gone terribly. And then Aziraphale had appeared. Had let Crowley ‘tempt’ them to a meal and then had found Crowley lodging for the night and then had popped back up in the morning and had insisted on showing them around the city and getting them proper clothing and had let Crowley ‘tempt’ them to another meal. And after a few days of that had very cautiously mentioned knowing of a safe private space for them to stretch their wings. It had been a balm to Crowley’s soul, to ask for the honor in repayment and have Aziraphale’s unhesitant acceptance and trust. :You had to hold my hand to get me inside: Crowley blinked away the memory and looked over their shoulder at the front door. :Are you saying..?:

:Yes, the same protections, against ‘denizens of the underworld and other beings of ill intent’ if I recall the wording correctly. Did you ever have any trouble walking over the threshold?:

Crowley thought back to that day in 1862, remembered securing a new flat and summoning up their possessions from whomever had bought or stolen them from their previous flat during their long absence. They’d been walking around the area, reacquainting themself with it after so long and had spotted what had been called the Enterprise back then, and had felt almost compelled to go in for a fortifying drink before facing Aziraphale. They’d felt the protections but, :Not a blip,: Crowley said. :It just always felt safe. Should’ve realized…: They sighed a little, to think back on that disastrous meeting. At how different everything in that memory was now, knowing what had been going on in Aziraphale’s mind. :I’m the idiot.:

Aziraphale blinked in confusion at the sudden non-sequitur, but Crowley’s expression made it all clear. :No, Crowley, I was in no mood to listen even if you had wanted to explain. And you had just woken up from a sixty plus year nap, and we both know you are not your best when you just wake up.: They smiled when Crowley smirked at that. :We can’t change the past, only learn from it.:

Candy returned with their food and left them to eat in peace. They talked about inconsequential things and Aziraphale was savoring the last few bites of their dessert when silence descended upon the pub and Crowley stiffened in their chair, reaching across the table for Aziraphale’s hand. Aziraphale took it, noticing that the people all around them were frozen in time and turned to look, unsettled to see the tall black-robed figure of Death stalking in from the back of the pub.

It took Death a few strides to realize that someone had actually seen them and they canted their head in surprise and approached their table. “I DIDN’T EXPECT TO SEE YOU TWO HERE.”

“Oh, well, that’s good,” said Crowley, eyes narrowing when Death’s attention shifted to where Aziraphale’s right hand was clasped together with Crowley’s left. “What are you doing here?”

Death looked away from their hands to look between Aziraphale and Crowley. “I’M HERE ON BUSINESS ACTUALLY. HAVE A FEW APPOINTMENTS TO SEE TO.”

Aziraphale worriedly looked around at the motionless people. “Oh, er, inside?”

“OH NO, OUT FRONT. THEY’RE DUE ANY MOMENT NOW, WHICH IS WHY I FROZE TIME, I WAS RUNNING A LITTLE LATE YOU SEE,” Death explained abashedly. A flicker of power and time started up again. Death was in their helmeted biker appearance, somehow completely overlooked by everyone else in the room. They looked at Crowley’s watch again and then out the front window of the pub. “HERE WE GO.”

They both turned to look as a handful of people approached the door in a tight cluster, the first one reaching out for the handle only to crumple against an invisible barrier, the whole formation crashing together and rebounding off of the barrier and one another. The barrier gave off a loud discordant hum at the contact that made everyone’s bones itchy.

“What’s that one mean?” Candy asked Igor, who was scowling towards the front windows and the six people trying to figure out what had just happened.

“I dunno,” he said, pulling a not small club out from under the bar. “Never heard it before.”

“Oh, dear,” said Aziraphale, looking at Crowley who had also recognized the alarm, and then back at Death who was just quietly watching the people outside. “Are, er, do you get called in for discorporations? Or only for true destruction?”

“OH YES, NOT THAT I’VE SEEN MANY DISCORPORATIONS UP UNTIL RECENTLY. NEVER BEEN CALLED TO A DISSOLUTION,” said Death. “EVER.”

They stared in confusion. Aziraphale said, “Oh, but… we saw you? At the park?”

“Supposed to be bad luck, seeing you,” added Crowley. “I mean, if you’re there, then...”

“INDEED.” Death canted their head in acknowledgment of their confounded expressions. “PART OF MY JOB, BEING A THINGY OF ILL OMEN-”

“Portent?” Aziraphale supplied thoughtfully. “Portent of Ill Omen?”

“RIGHT. BUT I WASN’T THERE FOR YOU.”

“So who were you there for?” said Crowley, looking back at Aziraphale, who had that far off look in their eyes and just the slightest beginnings of a smile. “Wait, do you mean you were trying to warn them-”

“I CAN’T HELP IT IF THEY WON’T LISTEN,” Death said, clearly annoyed. “AS THOUGH I’M NOT BUSY ENOUGH WITHOUT WINDING UP IN RANDOM PLACES BEING OMINOUS? THAT’S WHY I WAS LATE TODAY! AND FOR WHAT? TO BE IGNORED AGAIN! USED TO BE THEY PAID ATTENTION. USED TO BE I WAS GIVEN THE RESPECT I DESERVE. BUT NOW, THEY SEEM TO THINK THEY’RE ABOVE THAT SORT OF THING. WELL, THEY’VE GOT ANOTHER THINK COMING.”

Crowley started to grin, suddenly feeling a whole lot better about everything at that moment. “So if you’re not here to be ominous, then it must be the other part of your job?”

“YES. I HAVE A DUTY TO ATTEND TO EVERYONE, AND I HAVE NEVER FORSAKEN IT. PEOPLE ALWAYS EXPECT I ONLY DO THE BIG EVENTS WHERE THERE ARE LOTS OF, ER, WITNESSES. BUT I’M AT THE LITTLE SECRETIVE EVENTS WITH THEIR LITTLE RIPPLING CONSEQUENCES AS WELL. SO YOU CAN IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN I SAW THE MEMO THAT, WELL, CERTAIN SOMEONES, HAD SOMEHOW BEEN DESTROYED IN MY ABSENCE. THEIR NAMES HAVE BEEN STRICKEN FROM OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS OF COURSE, BUT PEOPLE WILL INSIST ON REMEMBERING.”

“Right, right, ‘course,” said Crowley. “So, I take it this is going to be one of the big messy events?”

“OH YES,” said Death in a very satisfied tone of voice. “HERE’S THE REST OF THE GANG NOW. IT’S SO NICE WHEN EVERYONE IS ON TIME.”

Another group was marching towards the pub, only pulling up short because of the other cluster that had formed a huddle right in front of the door. There was an inaudible exchange between the two groups, with the first group sullenly shifting out of the way of the second group, revealing seven people dressed in crisp cream kilted tartan uniforms that had Aziraphale snapping out of their reverie with a jolt of fear. “Ooh-”

Only one of the soldiers approached the door, rapping their knuckles against the invisible barrier there. They stared at the door with a greatly affronted expression as the barrier made a high pitched chiming sound that set everyone’s teeth on edge. The heavenly soldier wasn’t deterred however and took a more forceful approach but was bounced backwards and sent stumbling into their fellows.

“Don’t know that one either,” said Igor before Candy or the other staff could ask. He came around the bar and walked around Death without acknowledging their presence but stopped when Crowley cleared their throat. “Yeah?”

“You don’t want to go out there,” Crowley warned, their eyes flickering towards Death. “Going to get real messy real quick.”

“Yeah? You know something I don’t?”

“Yes,” said Aziraphale lowly, eyes still locked on the seven angels trying to get through the barrier and the six demons taunting and jeering at them. “Chimes mean angels, humming means demons.”

“They’re here for me, for us,” said Crowley, looking towards Aziraphale, who was holding their hand tightly.

“Wait, you were serious, about being a demon?” Igor demanded loudly, hunching his shoulders when everyone turned to stare at his outburst. “Sorry. Sorry. We thought you were, you know, exaggerating. The barrier’s suppose to-”

“Keep out beings with ill intent,” said Aziraphale. “Which it’s doing. Oh, er, what are, oh dear.”

Outside, the leader of demons was beginning to lose their human seeming as they taunted the angels. Soon all the demons were clearly not human anymore, and the angels responded in kind, bodies adorned with golden heavenly marks, each one carrying a sheathed bronze sword at their hip.

“This is going to get ugly,” said one of the patrons. “I’m thinking one of the preps goes first. Anyone want to make a bet?”

Crowley could only shake their head in wonder as people started casually making bets and ordering snacks as two squads of supernatural beings squared up to brawl on the street outside the pub. “I don’t recognize any of them. Not that you would either I suppose, they never were keen on you having friends.”

Aziraphale shook their head and gave Crowley and Igor a worried look. “They shouldn’t be doing this. They shouldn’t be able to do this, to show themselves this way when there are people around.”

“THE LITTLE RIPPLES ARE BECOMING RATHER LARGE TEARS,” Death said, ignoring Igor’s rapid retreat back behind the bar. Death gestured when the angels unsheathed their swords as a unit, the demons calling up random junk or just going fully feral with teeth and talons in response. “CERTAIN PARTIES HAVE DECIDED TO TAKE MATTERS INTO THEIR OWN HANDS... AGAIN. AFTER ALL, ONLY SO MUCH CAN BE SWEPT UNDER THE RUG BEFORE PEOPLE START TRIPPING OVER THE PILE.”

Crowley looked back at Death. “You were around for the first time they tried something like this?”

‘I WAS. AT A SAFE DISTANCE. IT IS GOING TO TAKE URIEL AND IGMUTH A WHILE TO RECOVER, WHICH IS PROBABLY WHY THESE WERE SENT HERE WITHOUT, UH, SUPERVISION.”

“Wait,” Aziraphale said, “why would discorporation need a long recovery?”

“LET’S JUST SAY THAT SOME DISCORPORATIONS ARE FAR MORE THOROUGH THAN OTHERS.”

“Oh,” said Crowley, sharing a look with Aziraphale. “So was this lot even warned what they’d be getting into? I mean, would they make them come?”

“Possibly. It’s not as though it matters to them if people get hurt,” said Aziraphale with a thoughtful frown, “as long as they get their war. That was what they kept saying was the whole point, to finally prove which side is stronger. But it’s not really winning if there’s no one to gloat over afterwards, is it? That’s why the fallen were kicked out and not destroyed.” They glanced at Death and murmured, “If they could be destroyed.”

“IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN A GAME TO THEM. YOUR ONLY MISTAKE WAS IN ASSUMING THEY WOULD PLAY FAIR.” Death nodded when they turned to stare. “I’D SAY YOU’VE LEARNED YOUR LESSON.”

Aziraphale shared a long look with Crowley before looking back out the front window at what was brewing outside. “I wonder why they haven’t they lit the swords?”

“Wot?” Crowley glanced over their shoulder, eyes narrowing to see the angels waving the blades and sharing worried looks with one another. “Ah, like our friend said...”

Aziraphale’s face went somber. “They still have the original sword.”

“But not the original sword-wielder. Not anymore. Maybe that’s why you were made to stay while they did their best to undermine you,” Crowley speculated, nodding at the sense that made even as Aziraphale shook their head in denial. “Yes, why can’t you accept that?”

The whole pub oohed when one of the angels broke rank to lunge at one of the demons, drawing first blood. Unfortunately the move left them unprotected on their flank and another demon slashed out with machete-like talons, drawing another gasp from the watchers when the arm flew off with surprising neatness, both it and the sword flying away. The arm discorporated with a scatter of sparks when it hit the barrier and the sword skittered over the sidewalk and wedged itself beside the windows. Already money was changing hands and more bets were being made and it became difficult to see out the windows for all the people gathered there to watch.

Death walked towards the windows and Aziraphale and Crowley exchanged a look and moved to follow, out of curiosity or a sense of responsibility, neither could truthfully say. The other patrons barely took note, just seemingly drifting out of their way.

The disarmed angel didn’t have time to do more than scream and clutch at the stump before they were grabbed between two demons and hurled towards the window, discorporating in a bright scattering a sparks as all the watchers flinched backwards. “Told you it’d be a preppy bastard,” said the original bettor in triumph.

The angels pulled together in a defensive circle and when one of the demons slashed out with their claws they lost their head, quite literally, and both parts soon disintegrated into a damp smear of ashes. A couple of the demons began to throw things at the angels with little success, until they grabbed one of the other demons and threw them, finally breaking the block. It then turned into a brief bloody free-for-all.

The last one standing was the demon who’d been thrown and had only survived by playing dead, and was very confused when the crowd inside cheered for them. Unfortunately for them, they tryed to pick up one of the fallen swords and ended up discorporating themself in a magnificent blaze of flame.

“Ha, that makes it a draw!” said one of the almost losing bettors, and there were groans all around as people began drifting back to their tables now that the excitement was over.

“AS IT SHOULD BE,” said Death, moving towards the door, and Aziraphale and Crowley found themselves drifting along in Death’s wake.

It was a bloody mess on the very deserted street, and Aziraphale was shocked to see the swords still lying around. “Those shouldn’t still be here. Why aren’t they-- heaven should have called them back-”

“HEAVEN AND HELL HAVE NOT HAD TO DO THEIR OWN DIRTY WORK IN A VERY LONG TIME,” said Death casually, prodding one of the broken bottles the demons had been using and shaking their head when it sizzled against their boot. “NO ONE REMEMBERS HOW. IF THEY EVEN EVER KNEW.”

“I bet they’re going to be learning real quick,” said Crowley with a sly grin at Aziraphale. “I wonder if they’ll follow the manuals. We worked very hard on them. Never did get credit, though, did we?”

“Oh, no, Michael and Dagon got all the commendations,” agreed Aziraphale, cautiously picking up one of the swords and immediately feeling the difference between it and the one they had been given. “It’s so much lighter. Almost too light.” With a glance at the pub, where the people seemed to have returned to their own concerns as though nothing had happened, Aziraphale made a few passes with the sword. They almost called out when Crowley bent to pick one up, but bit their lip, letting out a small sigh of relief when nothing happened.

“Huh, that is light,” said Crowley, turning it over in their hands. “Yours always felt a little off, but this feels...”

“Fake.” Aziraphale summoned up a satchel and together they gathered up six swords, as well as the altered things the demons had been using. The reformed angel turned to Death, who had seen to the last of the residues and remains and asked, “Sorry to bother you with this, but we can’t exactly return these to where they belong. Would you mind terribly?”

“MAY AS WELL. I’LL JUST PUT IT IN AS OVERTIME. I HAVE A FEELING I’M GOING TO BE GETTING A LOT OF OVERTIME.” They accepted the satchel. “SEE YOU SOON.” And with that, vanished.

“Well, I don’t like that at all,” said Crowley, sauntering over to where the last sword was wedged between a decorative urn and the front windows of Biers. “What kind of thing is that to say, ‘See you soon’? No wants to hear that from Death.” Crowley scooped up the sword, looking it over for a moment before realizing Aziraphale was staring at them worriedly. “It’s fine angel-”

“I know. But, er, they didn’t,” Aziraphale said, giving a little wave to the worried spectators inside the pub. “I don’t think they could see us while Death was here.”

Crowley gave Igor and Candy a sheepish shrug and quickly passed the sword to Aziraphale when they joined them by the door. Neither one tried to step inside. “Uh, we can just pay and go-”

“Are you kidding?” said Igor, pointing a thumb over his shoulder to the packed bar. “I should have you come out every Tuesday just to liven things up.”

“He’s joking,” Crowley soothed when they saw Aziraphale’s expression. “Right?”

“Yeah. Best to not discuss this up front.” Igor waved them back inside, giving a warning look to the customers that dared to stare and walked them all the way back to booth 13 before saying anything else. “The whole street is supposed to be neutral ground. Things aren’t nearly as bad as they were in the old days, but some of the old timers don’t always remember that the clan wars are over and that it’s rude to pay for things with leaves and acorns. Everyone on this street has the ward,” a gesture towards the doors’ inlaid thresholds. “I’ll be sure to tell them what the buzz and the chime mean.”

Hum. Chime and hum,” corrected Aziraphale with a shudder. “If you hear a buzz, run. Buzzing is very bad news and they’ll devour the ward and any other magic like a bit of candyfloss.”

Igor looked at Crowley, going somber when they nodded in agreement to Aziraphale’s warning. “Oh. Huh, maybe you can come back another time and tell us more about the ward? Don’t really know much about it but a few old stories that’ve been passed down.”

“We, er, well, it might be best if we didn’t come back at all,” said Aziraphale sadly, resting the sword on the table and sitting down, Crowley sitting down across from them. “They’re not going to give up apparently. And now that you’ve given us shelter, they might try to target you and your establishment. Please, do join us, if you’d like to discuss it.”

Igor let out a gravelly laugh and something flashed in his eyes for a moment before he shrugged the warning away and leaned his hip against the table in a relaxed way that made it clear he could stand there and chat for hours. “Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve tried and they haven’t been rid of us yet.”

Crowley was just watching Igor, unsure what to make of his reaction. Or of the fact that the past few minutes was the most they’d heard the man speak in the close to twenty years since he’d taken over tending the bar for his mother. “We could bless it,” Crowley blurted, looking away as though measuring up the room when Igor turned in surprise.

“Oh yes, that’s a splendid idea,” said Aziraphale. “Oh, but,” Aziraphale surreptitiously pantomimed taking a shot and Crowley grimaced. “It might not work quite as well as we’d like. Requires a lot of belief, that sort of thing. But we are certainly willing to try. Least we can do, really.”

Igor gave both Crowley and Aziraphale long looks. “I am of the Kaimera.”

Aziraphale glanced at Crowley who shrugged, and tried to puzzle out why that name sounded familiar. And why Igor’s tone sounded almost ceremonial in nature. “Thank you for telling us?” Aziraphale responded cautiously, not sure what else to say.

Igor nodded and continued, “It’s sometimes pronounced differently and it’s spelled c-h-i-m-e-r-a.”

“Oh, right,” said Aziraphale. “The mythical beast that was…” They blinked and looked at Crowley, “part lion and part snake or serpent or dragon. And, er, sometimes part goat if I recall?”

Crowley’s eyes went wide. The goat thing; that had been forever ago. There were a great many distant memories of them traveling together in animal form to make sure heaven couldn’t spy on them. Usually with snake Crowley riding on lion Aziraphale’s back. “Hang on a minute, are you saying we started the myth-”

“We’ve a lot of legends, passed down through the ages, of the great guardian spirits who watched over us when the world was new. Mostly they’re remembered and revered for showing us the secret ways and teaching us how to preserve our knowledge.” Igor began to smile as their expressions shifted from confusion to shock. “One taught us to fight for what is right,” he said to Aziraphale, “and one taught us to hide even in plain sight,” he said to Crowley. “I won’t recite the whole poem, it’s too long and most of it doesn’t scan well in English. So yeah, I’m pretty sure belief won’t be a problem.”

“Are you saying that you, that we...” Aziraphale looked at Crowley, who was just as stunned, and down at the ancient bronze sword and back at Igor. “I’m going to presume that you have a seer in your family?”

“Far more than one,” Igor admitted. “When my great, great, great grandmother had the same dream three weeks in a row, showing her a great golden lion and a great dark serpent together in the city of London, the whole family upped and moved. Which was lucky because there was an earthquake not long after the last of them left and the whole area was wiped out. Apparently visions of the guardian spirits have saved the family from a great many disasters over the years.”

Aziraphale was shaking their head in disbelief more than denial. “We’re not those beings anymore, if we ever were,” Aziraphale protested gently.

“And we’re not semi-nomadic goatherds either,” Igor reminded them. “Momma goes to Mass every Sunday like a good Catholic, and then she comes home and lights the candles for the spirits too. She’s keeper of the Books in the family, knows a dozen different dead languages and can mix any drink you can name.” He shrugged. “Times change and people change with them.”

“Why tell us though?” Aziraphale asked. “You had no way of knowing for sure-”

Igor smirked and slid a look at Crowley, who cursed under their breath. “I wasn’t exactly secretive that first time I got drunk,” they admitted, slouching down to rest their face in their hands. “Or any of the times after. I’m guessing that was a bit of a story, some drunk going on about stubborn angels and serpents sleeping in hell and both sides being full of bastards.”

“It’s certainly a favorite,” Igor agreed. “Didn’t occur to us that you would have actually joined up with...”

“More accurate to say we were conscripted,” Aziraphale said, running their fingers over the guard of the sword. “We weren’t given a choice, you see.”

“And now we’ve been discharged.” Crowley laughed. “I wonder if there’s a pension?”

“I’m rather sure that’s forfeit,” Aziraphale said, turning the sword so that handle was facing Crowley and pointing to where the hilt widened out to meet the blade. “Can you take a photograph of this? I think there’s something inscribed there.”

“Oh, er,” Crowley dug into their pocket, pulling out the tartan handkerchief and their phone and quickly stuffing the handkerchief away before busying themself with the phone. “Yeah, there is something there.” They took a few pictures, turned over the sword and took more and zoomed in, puzzling over the words. “But it doesn’t make any sense.”

“May I see?” Aziraphale very carefully took the phone, relieved when it didn’t implode or catch on fire. “How do I- ah, thank you.” They stared at the zoomed in image with a growing sense of unease, asking Igor again for help looking at the previous images, all with the same result. “I can’t read it.”

Crowley sat up in shock. “What?”

“I can’t read it.” Aziraphale cautiously handed them back the phone and picked up the sword, looking closely at the inscription. “I’ve never not been able to read something,” Aziraphale admitted in a small voice.

“Those bastards,” hissed Crowley. “They’re somehow still messing with you.” They looked down at the sword and gestured. “Maybe that’s what her prophecy was about. Your legacy? And, I can read it because of the snake’s tongue thing?”

“I don’t know.” Aziraphale shook their head and set the sword back down on the table with a sigh. “What does it say?”

Crowley zoomed in on the words again, showing them the parts that they could understand. “Uh, well here’s what basically reads as fiery sword? And that’s something about a chain or rope being on or of fire? And I’m pretty sure this word means blood, specifically, the blood of your enemies?”

“Igor?” Igor turned and hurried over to the tall stately woman who had just come in from the back door. Her hair was streaked with silver but she didn’t look particularly old and certainly not frail.

“Momma. I did text you-”

She waved that away. “Psh, two unfamiliar alarms in five minutes and you think I’m not going to come over as fast as possible? Did I raise a fool?”

Igor grinned and put his arm around her shoulders, kissing her cheek. “No, Momma.” He leaned close and whispered something in her ear and they could both see her eyes get wide and dart in their direction as Igor kept whispering, though she didn’t let anything more than that show in her expression. They were there for a while. Aziraphale and Crowley were both standing beside the booth when Igor escorted her over. “Since this is a family endeavor, probably best you talk to the head of the family. Momma, you know Crowley, and this is Aziraphale. I should get back to the bar, let me know if you need anything.”

“Ms. Cimelio,” said Crowley with a slight bow, holding out a hand to offer her a seat.

“Maria, please.” She slid onto the bench facing the front of the bar, folding her hands onto the table as Crowley and Aziraphale sat together on the other side. “So, Igor has told me some of what’s happened but I’d like to hear it direct from the source, if you don’t mind.” She looked down pointedly at the sword.

They exchanged looks and Crowley said, “So, uh, we, er… we aren’t human. I figure you probably knew that about me already?”

“Had an inkling, since you haven’t aged for as long as I’ve known you,” Maria said with a playful smile.

Crowley nodded at that, fidgeting a bit. “Right, right, well, just want to be clear that I never meant any harm to anyone before we get to the rest of it.” The former demon let out a sigh when her eyebrows winged upwards and they said bluntly, “I was a demon, ‘minion of hell’ and all that, for the last couple thousand years.”

She blinked, and blinked again, and turned to Aziraphale, eyebrows raised in inquiry. “Oh, er, angel. Both of us, technically, before the whole, er, thing. But we’re not either anymore. Gone, um, freelance I think was how you put it?” they said to Crowley with a faint smile. “I would also like to assure you that if we’d known they would attempt such foolishness again, we wouldn’t have risked endangering everyone by visiting your lovely establishment.” Aziraphale frowned down at the sword. “This was even worse than the last time. Real angels and demons instead of Legions and Legionnaires. And at least then we were alone.”

“Sounds like being alone would be a lot worse than having witnesses,” Maria said mildly. “You know, it’s funny, how we all believed that you were one of the guardian spirits, but we didn’t believe that you were really a demon, even though we’d all heard you mumbling about it at some point. The mind works in mysterious ways sometimes, don’t it. Igor said you were ‘conscripted’?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” said Crowley, relaxing at her non-reaction. “Igor mentioned the, er, myth..?”

“Chimera,” Aziraphale said, twisting their fingers together. “The lion and the serpent.” She nodded. “Did, um, were they also people?”

“Sometimes,” she answered. “So, if you don’t mind, can we discuss the ancient bronze sword laying in the middle of the table? Because Igor says it belonged to an angel who got their arm cut off by a demon and I must admit I’m quite intrigued.”

“Oh, yes, well, it is an angel’s sword, though I’m not sure which one dropped it in the chaos,” said Aziraphale. “You can touch it if you like, it won’t hurt you except for the usual cutty ways.”

Maria’s face lit up as she cautiously picked it up and she frowned to feel how light it was. “Feels fake,” she said, squinting at the inscription on the hilt and pulling out a pair of glasses. “Igor said there was writing, oh. Oh.” Her eyes went wide and she pulled out her phone and began typing up notes, the two of them completely forgotten for a while.

Crowley grinned at Aziraphale, who smiled sheepishly in recognition of their own focused behavior. “You can read it,” Crowley said when the frenzy of tapping subsided.

“Sorry?” She pulled off her glasses and gave them both a sheepish smile. “Yes, astonishingly. It’s actually a mix of eight different languages, if you can imagine. It’s very weird, because this seems like it should just be a mess, but it is actually surprisingly poetic. I’ve taken some liberties with the translation but I’m basing it off of another multi-language work that I’m very familiar with.”

“The, um, poem, about the spirits?” surmised Aziraphale.

Crowley explained, “Igor recited a couple lines. ‘Do what’s right, hide in plain sight’?”

She nodded and touched each part as she translated. “‘Kept aflame by oath-bound ring, Rise aloft to hew and swing, the Burning Blade for blood sings.’ Although I’m not totally sure about the last word, it can also be wailing, as in crying with grief or weeping, as in dripping; but the word they used for blood, being of your enemies, implies that there isn’t much sad crying going on, though I imagine it might drip with blood after the fact.” She shrugged and shook her head. “And this is an angel’s sword?”

“Yeah, demons just use whatever they’ve got on hand, including their hands,” said Crowley, pointedly staring at Aziraphale. “Now do you believe me? Kept on fire by oath-bound ring?”

Aziraphale touched the empty spot on their pinky and shrugged. “I suppose I have to. A little too obvious to ignore.” They gave a faint pained smile to Maria and explained, “I, uh, had a ring, given to me by,” a quick look upwards, “that I chose to take off about a week ago.”

“It’s been a very exciting couple of weeks for us. Tried to stop Armageddon, cocked it up, royally pissing off both our bosses in the process, tried again but mostly just, er, watched other people stop it really, almost died, then did die, got better, but the bastards keep trying. Honestly, how are we even still going?”

“Sheer force of will most likely,” said Aziraphale, smiling at Maria’s expression. “I wish that was an exaggeration but it is not.”

“We knew about the world almost ending, and we knew something very bad had to have happened, for you to be here drinking like you were,” she said to Crowley, who nodded and looked away, unconsciously slouching closer to Aziraphale. “But why do they want to kill you?”

“Rebelled,” said Crowley. “First time for both of us really.”

“More than that, we completely undermined their authority,” said Aziraphale.

“Two absolute nobodies, trying to derail a Great Plan thousands of years in the making,” smirked Crowley, looking at Aziraphale. “That’s a kick in the teeth, ain’t it?”

“Moreover, if they hadn’t worked so hard to treat us so poorly, I don’t think we’d have ended up where we are.” Aziraphale smiled fondly at Crowley, looking away when they recalled that Maria was there. “Ahem. But what we had been discussing with Igor was puting a blessing over the building. A little added something in case either side tries to try again or decides to retaliate against Igor or your family for offering us shelter.”

“Least we can do after bringing the bastards to your doorstep,” said Crowley apologetically.

“It would be an honor,” smiled Maria. “My momma didn’t raise a fool either; not going to say no to a couple of blessings from any benevolent source.”

“Excellent, we can do it right now,” said Aziraphale, scooting themself out of the booth and tugging on their waistcoat as they looked around. “Hmm, there are a few different options we could do. Might be better if we do different blessing instead of the same, cover more ground that way. What do you think?”

“Oh, er,” Crowley looked at Aziraphale’s proffered hand and then up at their face as they let Aziraphale help them from the booth. “Didn’t really think about it. Sort of expected they’d only want your, er, bit.”

“Well that was silly of you,” said Aziraphale, patting Crowley’s hand before letting go. “We should probably be as close to the center of the building as possible,” they said to Maria, who nodded and led them into the kitchen. Some of the activity had died down, but it was still quite hot from the rush earlier and the steady stream of cooked and plated food would still be going on for a few more hours yet.

“I’d say about here,” she said, gesturing to the main thoroughfare not far from the door out into the front seating area. “Helen, go make sure no one uses the door for a minute, will you?” One of the younger kitchen staff slipped out after giving Crowley and Aziraphale a huge grin. “Don’t mind her, there’s a reason she’s in here and not working the floor. Doesn’t mind her manners as well as she should,” Maria scolded, just loud enough for Helen to hear from the other side of the door and she made a playful face through the window at her grandmother, who made a face right back.

“So, what do you have in mind?” Crowley asked, deciding that any flush on their face was certainly from the heat of the kitchen and not from the heat of people’s stares. Hard to act cool when standing in the middle of busy pub kitchen, clearly getting in the way.

Aziraphale tugged nervously at their waistcoat, doing their best to ignore the watching people and asked. “Do you recall the protections we put up after you were done fomenting?”

Crowley made a face at the recollection and nodded, holding out their hands towards Aziraphale. “I don’t know why I let you convince me to let Owain win. Getting stabbed with a sword hurts you know.”

“Yes, well, I’m sorry that I mistakenly thought he’d do the honorable thing instead of just trying to kill you,” said Aziraphale apologetically as they rested their right hand over Crowley’s left. “It was just a flesh wound though and I did heal you, you will recall. And it’s not as though it took much to convince you, we were both more than ready to quit mucking about in the damp and I couldn’t leave if the Black Knight was still making a nuisance of themself.”

“A nuisance!” Crowley hissed, shifting their right hand to rest over Aziraphale’s left. “D’you know how hard it is to keep bandits in line? Getting them to off the worst of their own was a stroke of genius you know.”

“Yes, I know. You told me about it a dozen times on the way back to London,” said Aziraphale with an exasperated eyeroll. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah.”

Maria and the staff didn’t know what to expect, especially not with the pair of them bickering like an old married couple over things that sounded like something out of a fairy tale. Bandits and Black Knights, sword wounds and magical healing. And then they both started speaking in a language that went beyond hearing, with Aziraphale’s clear ringing voice intertwining with Crowley’s low hissing. They both began to glow, Crowley with a dark auroral corona and Aziraphale with a golden scintillating light, which melded together and with their final unified words, expanded outward with a rush that made the pub go silent.

“That should do nicely,” Aziraphale said to Maria as sound began filtering back in, beaming at Crowley, who shook their head but smiled just a little.

“Yes, I imagine it will.” She led them back to the booth and sat back down when they invited her to. “If you don’t mind my asking, what language was that?”

“Celestial,” said Crowley, again scooting into the booth before Aziraphale.

“Ah.” She nodded her head thoughtfully, as though coming to a decision, and laced her hands together on the table, squaring her shoulders. “Crowley, Aziraphale, I have something I would like to ask of you.”

Aziraphale gave Crowley a quick glance and nodded. “We’d be happy to help to the best of our ability.”

Maria nodded again, some of the tension leaving her shoulders. “As you know, my family has lived in London for a long time now, and in some ways we’re Brits through and through. And in others, we will always be Outsiders. And one of the ways we are others is in regards to magic.”

They shared another look as understanding hit. “The witch vs wizard nonsense,” guessed Crowley, shaking their head when Maria nodded. “We, er, we’re working a few witches around to not being so black and white about it,” they admitted.

“And I believe there are some wizards who are open to broadening their approaches,” Aziraphale said. “And...” A look at Crowley, who nodded. “You and your family could join the arrangement we have with them? It is an arrangement of mutual trust, to keep our old sides from meddling too much and to keep all of us as collectively safe as we possibly can. Part of the arrangement is that we teach them about magic.”

Maria blinked at that. “I will want to meet them before I agree to anything.”

“Of course,” said Crowley. “We’ll be seeing some of the witches tomorrow, and we’ll be seeing the wizards on Thursday. We can eh, invite them to meet here on Sunday? Say one o'clock?”

Aziraphale was nodding. “Some of them will come, I’m sure. Certainly Nanny Ogg-”

“Wait, the Nanny Ogg?” Maria interrupted, with something like hero worship in her eyes.

“I can’t imagine there’s more than one,” said Aziraphale with a chuckle.

“Don’t want to imagine, more like,” Crowley snorted, getting a light elbow to the side. “Well, really, can you imagine two of her? Granny Weatherwax is all that keeps one of her in line.” Maria stiffened at that name. “Ah, see you’ve met her. But she’s Nanny Ogg’s best friend, so.”

“I can’t even imagine,” she said lowly.

“I think it’s the challenge,” said Aziraphale. “As in no one challenges Granny but Nanny and vice versa.”

“I figured Granny, but Nanny?” Maria shook her head in amazement. “She wrote a cookbook you know. And she’s a very well known midwife. And she’s famous for her brewing. At least, in certain circles.”

“Yeah, it’s amazing what she can do with mostly apples,” said Crowley, looking sidelong at Aziraphale.

“Miraculous even,” Aziraphale replied, smiling at Maria’s curious expression. “You’ve seen Crowley drink. What would you say it takes to get them actually drunk?”

Her eyes went wide. “Bottles upon bottles.”

“One drink, from a wooden cup like a large thimble. From dusk until dawn,” Crowley grinned, making a gesture to imply them being flat on their back. “Hell of a hangover, worth it though.”

“You mean her scumble? I’ve only ever heard it talked about,” Maria admitted. “Well, when you see her, please tell her I look forward to meeting her in person.” She got out of the booth and told them, “I’ve taken up enough of your time. No, no, stay as long as you like, I can send Candy back with something-”

“Oh, thank you, Maria, I wouldn’t mind a little something before we go,” said Aziraphale, giving Crowley a hopeful look, smiling when they smirked and shrugged. “I saw the most scrumptious looking dessert when we were in the kitchen, with layers of dough and cream and frosting on top? I believe it was named for the city of Naples?”

“That’s the millefoglie. Two forks?” she asked, giving Crowley just the faintest of smiles when their cheeks pinkened. She had witnessed a lot of mumbled drunken rants over the years after all, and was nothing if not observant. Their hearts weren’t just on their sleeves, they were flashing neon signs, and neither one had the sense to see it yet. There had certainly been a few heartbroken complaints about sharing a plate of sweets with someone who never seemed to recall it was a significant courting gesture at one time.

“Oh yes, you’ll have some, won’t you?” asked Aziraphale, who had certainly never forgotten that is was a courting gesture but was absolutely sure that Crowley had.

“Sure,” Crowley shrugged. “Since you’re offering. Be rude not to.”

“Excellent, two forks please. Thank you, Maria, for being so understanding.”

“Oh, understanding hasn’t hit yet,” she laughed, accepting Aziraphale’s handshake. “In fact, I’m going to have a good long laydown and let all this sort itself out tonight. Maybe understanding will come in the morning, but sometimes acceptance is the best our brains can do.” She patted their hand, and gave a little wave to Crowley and left them alone at the booth.

Crowley waited a beat before resting their left elbow on the table and turning to look at Aziraphale. “Nuisance.”

Aziraphale sighed, a slight smile tugging at their lips. “Yes, nuisance. The bandits were bad enough, stealing livestock, waylaying travelers but you were terrifying, lurking in your dark spooky forest. I will admit that turning the bandits against the worst of their own was extremely clever, but you could have gotten yourself discorporated or worse if they’d decided to turn on you instead.”

“Nah,” said Crowley, breaking into a grin. “After your first visit I told them I had owls and eagles watching them. And every time you’d fly in for a chat, they about shat themselves.”

“Crowley, you didn’t!” Aziraphale let out a put upon sigh that was entirely feigned. “Using me to keep your minions in line. I suppose I should have known better than to have worried. Far too wily.” Aziraphale fussed with the sword and asked, “Should I let you out? If you’d rather sit-”

“Nah,” said Crowley a touch too fast, looking down at their watch but not really seeing it. “Easier to share this way.”

“Oh yes, quite.”

They both smiled at Candy when she dropped off the dessert, as well as a bottle of wine and two glasses. “In celebration of your combined blessings,” Candy said, pouring them each a glass. “Don’t ask for the tab, because you don’t have one. I’ll check on you later.” She gave them a big grin and left.

“Well... cheers. To a very educational evening,” said Aziraphale, lifting their glass towards Crowley.

Crowley laughed and tapped glasses. “And to many more to come.”

Chapter Text

It was late when Igor showed them the back way out of the pub, out a hidden door in the beer-garden through an alley that led out into the next street over. With the sword safely hidden inside an umbrella left long forgotten at the pub, they quietly walked back to the flat, lost in their own thoughts.

They both acted as though it was already an inconsequential habit and not something that felt heart-poundingly intimate as Crowley silently helped Aziraphale from their coat and hung it up and then took off their jacket and hung it up as well, hanging their glasses from the front pocket. “Suppose we should put that somewhere safe,” Crowley said when Aziraphale pulled the sword free and set the umbrella beside the door.

“Will it fit in the safe?” Aziraphale asked, following Crowley into the office.

Crowley shrugged and unlocked it, swinging the door open. “I told you the code, yeah?”

“You did.” Aziraphale lifted the sword but hesitated. “Silly of me, but I’m reluctant to let it go,” they murmured, turning it over in their hands. “They might figure out how to recover it at any moment. And while it’s not mine, this might be as close as I come to holding it again.”

“Do you miss it? Your sword?”

“I don’t, and I do.” Aziraphale gave them a faint smile and set the sword into the safe and turned away, twisting their hands together. “I knew they needed it to survive, so I can’t regret giving it to them. It’s not as though I really had any need for it once the Garden was destroyed. And clearly Heaven had some way of retrieving it and the rest or they couldn’t have been delivered to the harbingers. But now...”

Crowley closed the safe door and reset the lock, looking at Aziraphale over their shoulder. “Now you’re worried we might need it to survive.”

“Yes.” Aziraphale stood by the desk, absently picking up one of the unenchanted pieces of obsidian. “A shame my little ruse with the courier failed.”

“Yeah, I’d wondered about that,” Crowley admitted, flopping onto the couch. “Not exactly subtle.”

“No, I suppose not. I tried to miracle up a replica but couldn’t. I didn’t think to examine it for writing or other marks, I mean, it was mine, I foolishly assumed I knew all there was to know about it.” Aziraphale let out a sigh. “I assumed a lot of things. Ended up wrong about far too many of them.”

“You can’t keep beating yourself up, angel. They’ve been pulling your, our strings for millennia, and y-, we’re not going to be over it any time soon,” Crowley said gently. “We’ve only been free for a week.”

Aziraphale laughed a little at that. “A very busy week, on top of a busy decade.”

“What about the other things?” Crowley asked. “The crown and the scales?”

Aziraphale stared down at the stone in their hands and admitted, “They scare me, more than the sword ever did. Swords are simple usually; they’re for fighting and not much else. But a balance is far from simple and crowns even less so. What were they for? What did they represent? What was being weighed and why? And the crown brings up even more questions. Harder ones.”

“Like, were you one of them or were you their conqueror,” Crowley guessed, nodding when Aziraphale went still. “There is no way I can imagine you attacking anyone unprovoked. And enslaving others, just, no.”

“We don’t know who we were. What we were capable of. What I was capable of. Maybe I deserved-”

“No! That’s what they want you to think,” hissed Crowley. “They’d love for you to think that you deserved to be treated like, like an actual demon, deserved to be,” Crowley waved their hands to encompass everything that had been done to them. “No. If you deserved it then so did I.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Aziraphale protested. “You, you made constellations, and medicines, and-”

“And was a dragon,” Crowley said. “Not particularly friendly, dragons, are they?”

“I, well, no, but protective spirits are always portrayed as strong in some way...” Aziraphale sighed when Crowley arched their eyebrows. “Yes, fine, but you didn’t have a crown.”

“Didn’t I?” Crowley asked lowly, hold up their hands to their head and splaying them out like a pair of horns. “Mine was just harder to remove, not for lack of trying though. And swords,” they changed their hands into the dark lightning-edged talons, flexing them thoughtfully. “They did take those. And scales, well,” they shrugged, letting their hands return to normal.

“But I know you, and I know you didn’t deserve what they did, what they wanted to do,” said Aziraphale quietly. “I don’t have that clarity with myself.”

Crowley rolled off the couch and stalked over to stand in front of Aziraphale. “Well, I know you and I say you didn’t deserve any of it either. So, do you trust me?”

“Yes.” Aziraphale sighed heavily. “Yes, I trust you completely. And I see your point. I just don’t like it, not knowing the truth. You know me,” they said, smiling faintly when Crowley smirked.

“I do,” Crowley agreed. “Always about the knowing with you. S’right in your title, Keeper of Lore and Law.”

Aziraphale blinked, a shiver of recognition going up their spine. “Keeper of what?”

“...Lore and Law.” Crowley’s smile slipped a little. “It’s your wossname, er, sphere? Things you’re called to, things you’re good at? You didn’t know?”

“No,” breathed Aziraphale. “I was told it was Keeper of the Tree of Knowledge and Life, when we were in the Garden. And Keeper of the Archives, when we were sent back. And then keeper of nothing when I was demoted and earthbound.”

Crowley looked down guiltily. “Oh. I, uh, I thought you knew. I’ve always known… but, no, see, they couldn’t actually keep you from it, even if you didn’t know why.” They circled around the desk and gestured to the books and things carefully settled on the shelves they’d created just for them. “I suppose that explains why you hate selling the rare ones so much. Huh, you’d probably love Project Gutenberg now that I think of it.”

“Gutenberg, like the bibles?”

Crowley nodded and waved it away when Aziraphale perked up with interest. “I’ll show you later. My point is that that’s your nature; keeping knowledge and stuff, not some hypothetical conqueror rampaging around smiting people for fun. That’s probably what the crown was really about, being in charge of knowledge is a pretty big job, right? And, well, the sword and scales, that would be the law part, wouldn’t it?”

“I… I suppose they could be.” Aziraphale didn’t let their mind wander to far down that path, looking down at the obsidian again. “That’s too much to think about right now.” Aziraphale let out a heavy sigh and held up the obsidian. “I think we need to get the spell anchors finished and set before we depart tomorrow. They are being far too persistent for my piece of mind and I won’t be able to focus on anything else until it’s done.”

“Yeah, alright. Makes sense,” said Crowley. Not that they’d say anything, but they’d been secretly hoping Aziraphale would offer tend them again. “I, uh, I’ll leave you to it.”

“But... if you’re not too tired, perhaps you’d be willing to help?” Aziraphale asked, giving them a hopeful smile, nervously toying with the piece of obsidian. “Ow.”

Crowley hissed in a breath and bolted over to press their hands over the rather deep cut Aziraphale had gotten when the obsidian slipped, miracling it closed before more than a few drops of blood could escape. “Aziraphale, gah, you know how sharp this stuff is. Am I going to have to get you a ring so you’ve something safe to fidget with?” Aziraphale went still and Crowley forced themself to not react to having said the thought out loud. Why the heaven did you say that, why why why? They’ve barely admitted they’re your friend and you’ve just practically thrown a courting gift at them. It’s only been a week! A bloody week! You don’t offer a courting gift after just a week! They made a show of checking Aziraphale’s hand for any other cuts before daring to look back up.

Oh, the defensive habits of two millennia-- to deny anything that could be misconstrued; to deflect every offhanded overture; to cover up even the tiniest shred of affection; to just outright lie --were like a physical weight on Aziraphale’s chest, stopping their breath for a moment. When Crowley finally looked up, bright yellow eyes meeting Aziraphale’s green, something in Crowley’s expression had Aziraphale whispering the truth. “That would be a very sweet and kind gesture Crowley. I would treasure any gift you wished to give to me.” When Crowley just stared at them, Aziraphale’s heart sank to think that Crowley had just been speaking idly and that they’d, again, made a fool of themself.

Was that, no, that couldn’t be... Could it? No, don’t overthink it! Best friends give gifts and take care of each other, that’s all they mean. Isn’t it? Oh g-, sa-, someone, don’t just stare! Do something, say something, anything! “You, uh, sssure, ‘course, I mean, best friend, want to keep you safe,” said Crowley, relieved when Aziraphale smiled, quickly looking back down at their hands, still clasped together. “But, yeah, no, clearly you can’t be trusted with anything sharp just yet,” they teased, tugging Aziraphale away from the chair and claiming it for themself, grinning when Aziraphale let out an annoyed noise and the tense moment passed. “Obviously you’re not fully recovered, being careless like that.”

“It was an accident,” Aziraphale huffed. The change of topic was a relief, as was the playful tone that invited Aziraphale in on the joke, distracting them from the nasty little voice that whispered, Of course best friends give each other gifts, how silly to assume anything else. Anything more. You want too much. “I assure you-”

“I seem to recall quite a lot of scoldings from you, about how careful one has to be when casting ritual magic,” Crowley said smugly, draping their legs over the arm of the chair and grinning when Aziraphale didn’t have a retort to that. “So tell me what you want me to do. What exactly have you been doing?”

“I’ve been enchanting the spell components and the obsidian, as you well know, since that’s part of the spell you created.” Aziraphale rolled their eyes when Crowley slid off the chair to block them from picking up the obsidian they’d been handling. “Really, Crowley, I recall you having quite a few incidents with cutting yourself when you first made your blade.”

“Exactly, I’ve got six thousand years experience on you,” Crowley said triumphantly, grinning even wider when Aziraphale tried to hide their amusement. “I s’pose I could be convinced to let you help, once you’ve shown me what to do.”

Aziraphale rolled their eyes and gave them a fondly exasperated smile. “Very well. Now pay close attention...”

Crowley made sure they progressed at only slightly faster than a snail’s pace, claiming forgetfulness and ignorance so that Aziraphale had to go over everything twice before they even cast any magic. Mostly it was to ensure their friend couldn’t overwork themself again, but also for the simple pleasure of their company; the knowing smiles and playful sighs and occasional laughter that helped to banish the pall that had come with talk of the relics.

In the back of Crowley’s mind, a treacherously hopeful giddy little voice whispered, That was a yes.

Aziraphale realized quickly enough what Crowley was doing and just rolled their eyes, knowing there would be no hurrying them along. And really, it wasn’t as though Aziraphale wanted to rush, not if they were honest with themself. And honesty had them wishing for things they knew they didn’t deserve.

They finished with the obsidian not long before sunrise and together they went outside, Crowley using their power to hide them from prying eyes as well as insisting on carrying the bag of obsidian for Aziraphale. “So why are you using such big pieces? I just chipped some off of the blade.”

“Your building is significantly bigger than mine, you will notice,” Aziraphale said pertly, pulling out Crowley’s compass and actually using it orient themself, leading them around to the east side of the building. “Chips would not suffice to maintain the spell for any length of time over an area this large.” Aziraphale let out another playful sigh at the smirk Crowley was giving them. “As you clearly very well know!”

“Yeah, I, uh, I’ve had to renew the spells a few times over the years,” Crowley admitted. “You’ve improved the whole thing pretty significantly.”

Aziraphale blushed at the compliment and beamed at them. “Thank you. So, I’ve decided to start here and circle counterclockwise,” they announced, holding out a hand for one of the pieces. “Since the East is a powerful point for me and widdershins is associated with secrets and misdirection.”

“Sure, sure,” nodded Crowley, making a show of very carefully giving Aziraphale a piece of obsidian, grinning at the severe frown they received as Aziraphale tried to keep from laughing.

“This is very serious, Crowley,” Aziraphale scolded, failing to keep the laughter from their voice. “If you can’t assist me with the proper frame of mind then I will have to do it by myself,” they threatened emptily.

“Nope, won’t let you do that,” Crowley said smugly, holding up the bag of enchanted obsidian. “Guess you’ll just have to deal with me as I am.”

“Ridiculous is what you are,” huffed Aziraphale, eyes crinkling with humor. They moved away to miracle the obsidian into the foundation, murmuring the first part of the spell that they’d cobbled together from what Crowley remembered and what they could glean from the spell over the shop. They nodded in satisfaction when it was complete, dusting off their hands and turning back to Crowley, concerned at the somber expression they were wearing. “What’s wrong?”

Crowley cleared their throat and shook their head, hating that their emotions had gotten the better of them again. And now they’d have to tell Aziraphale the truth. “Nothing wrong, just, uh, just… I never thought I’d see you here. Never expected you’d want to be here.”

Aziraphale stepped closer and gently rested their hand on Crowley’s arm. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here before,” they said lowly. “But I’m here now... for as long as you want me to be.”

Forever. Always. Crowley didn’t say the words but nodded and impulsively summoned up one of their own rings as their heart managed to do a somersault in their chest. They’d worn it constantly while it was in style, and they knew it would make Aziraphale smile. At least, that was the hope. “You know, might be best if you’ve a ring now, just in case. Got lots of sharp obsidian to deal with and all that.” They took Aziraphale’s hand and dropped the ring into it. “Should do until we find something better.”

Aziraphale looked down at the ring Crowley had set in the palm of their hand and their heart skipped a beat in recognition as a surprised laugh escaped. “I don’t know, Crowley, are you sure you can trust me with a treasure this rare and precious?”

A smirk and a shrug. “Eh, I mean, after six thousand years of friendship, I think I’m willing to risk it.”

“It’s quite an honor,” said Aziraphale, holding it up to the light. “Haven’t see one of these in ages.”

“Yeah, well, they went out of style pretty fast,” Crowley sniffed. The longer the moment dragged on, the more nervous they became that they’d offended their friend. “Had an image to protect.”

Aziraphale slid the ring onto their pinky, giving Crowley a surprised look when it fit, but Crowley was looking away, hands jammed into their tiny jean pockets, shoulders tightly hunched with tension, confusing Aziraphale. Oh dear, do they think I don’t understand they’re just being sweet and silly? Are they worried that I’m offended? Aziraphale looked back down at the antiqued silver filigree embossed with scales, a polished piece of dark purple glass set among the coils, smiling as it began to shift through a nebula of colors as it warmed against their skin. “I don’t recall what all the colors are supposed to mean. Indigo was contentment, wasn’t it?”

Relief surged through Crowley at hearing the smile in Aziraphale’s voice and they let out a breath they didn’t realize they’d been holding. They turned to look, ignoring the ridiculous joy that welled up at seeing Aziraphale openly wearing something of theirs, fascinated to watch the colors shifting through the spectrum, curious what they would settle on. “Yeah. And yellow was imagination, I remember that.”

That, of course, wasn’t actually how mood rings work, because they don’t really work as anything but a very crude thermometer, but being Crowley’s for so long meant that it did work like that, and would continue to work like that for Aziraphale, because they both believed it would.

“We’ll have to work out what the others mean as we go along,” said Aziraphale, toying with the ring and giving Crowley a very fond and amused smile. “I’m quite honored you’d trust me with your actual authentic vintage mood ring. I imagine they’re quite rare now.”

“Oh yeah, I mean, it’s been what, over forty whole years since they were invented.” Crowley stuck out their elbow in invitation, nodding their head towards the next counterclockwise point for the spell.

Aziraphale nervously looped their arm through Crowley’s, trying to pretend that the ring, Crowley’s ring, didn’t feel a lot more significant than how it was intended. Obviously it’s just a playfully silly gift from a friend. Nothing more. “It’s very pretty. Elegant. I don’t recall them generally being this lovely.” They held out their hand and watched the glass sparkle and the scales gleam in the early morning light. “Where did you find it?”

“Oh, er, I, uh, I made it myself, actually,” Crowley admitted, watching Aziraphale sidelong, smiling a little when Aziraphale gave them a surprised look. “Fit okay?”

“Oh, yes, perfectly.” Aziraphale looked down at the ring, which had settled to a yellow the color of Crowley’s eyes edged with an amber that Aziraphale decided was their anxiety about making sure Crowley was safe. And the very edge was a ring of purple barely discernible beneath the bezel. “I will take very good care of it.”

“I know you will, angel. Just, take better care of yourself too.”

“It was an accident,” Aziraphale huffed, rolling their eyes when Crowley just shrugged. “You’re never going to let this go, are you?”

“Nah, probably not,” Crowley grinned.

It didn’t take long to set the rest of the obsidian spell anchors and Aziraphale had Crowley stand inside the perimeter as they activated the spell, pouring as much power as they could into it. Crowley was glad of their sunglasses against the glare of gathering power and they ‘stepped over to steady Aziraphale when they staggered as the completed spell snapped into place. “Hey, hey, I just told you to take better care of yourself.”

Aziraphale panted a little to catch their breath. “Making sure you’re protected is taking care of myself; it will make me worry less,” they said lightly, patting Crowley’s hand and flashing the mood ring. It had shifted to a satisfied blue that was slowly deepening to a contented indigo, with a swirl of chocolate brown that just had to represent hunger, around the star-shaped blaze of tired gray in the center, and the purple edge that hadn’t shifted at all. “But I imagine some pastries would soothe my nerves even more.”

Crowley laughed. “Yes, I imagine they would.”