It’s Just a J
Aziraphale knew it was a trap almost the moment he accepted the packaged from the smiling middle aged Delivery Man, who gave no indication of recognizing Aziraphale from the tail-end of the Armageddidn’t, when he relieved this particular angel and the demon Crowley of the articles previously belonging to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, now deceased. Or Death.
The man simply handed Aziraphale the package, accepted his signature, and was on his way.
Aziraphale, formerly Principality and Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden, now stood alone Crowley’s flat, holding the unwelcome object at arm’s length. It was a long, thin package, with Crowley’s demonic name, constructed of many twisting curls and with the slight whiff of burning, emblazoned on the wrapping paper.
Crowley was out at the moment, and Aziraphale had stopped by to take advantage of his absence to give the plants some much needed love. The poor dears. Crowley’s relationship to his Garden, or the lack there of, and what it meant exactly, was a subject that Aziraphale had yet to broach with the demon, though he had every intention of doing so sooner than later.
It had been about a month since the Armageddidn’t. As far as Aziraphale was aware, this was the first contact Hell had made with Crowley since that time, and the first parcel that Crowley had received from Downstairs since the Baby in a Basket over eleven years ago.
Tentatively, Aziraphale walked through the foyer, past the statue of Good and Evil Wrestling, which he absolutely did not give a second glance to, twice, then set the package down on Crowley’s desk and settled himself in Crowley’s throne. It was a remarkably well-presented package, considering the state of affairs as Aziraphale had seen them in Hell. It was wrapped in a black satin paper with an alluring sheen. Apart from the place where Crowley’s name had been cut into the packaging with a red glow that was smoking even now, it looked quite official.
The demonic name curled into what vaguely looked like the letter J.
“What does the J stand for?” Aziraphale had once asked, surrounded by Nazis.
“It’s just a J,” Crowley had muttered back. Perhaps. Perhaps not. The name on the package sputtered and a quiet crack sounded as an ember flew from it and skipped harmlessly across the marble tabletop. Aziraphale had never asked again. It didn’t really seem important. He had always vaguely assumed that Crowley somehow botched his Human Name Registration form, and the J stood for something embarrassing. Now when he looked at the red, blistering mark before him though… Aziraphale could not help wondering if it was another link in the invisible chain over which Crowley always labored. Like his garden. Demons weren’t supposed to understand the concept of penance. And yet…
“I won’t be forgiven. Not ever. Unforgivable, that’s what I am.” It had been resentment in Anthony J. Crowley’s voice that day at the bandstand. Resentment… and total acceptance.
Aziraphale tried to shake himself free of the feelings that seeing Crowley’s demonic name washed over him. The low hum of panic it brought with it. He turned his attention to the letter. Because there was a letter. Aziraphale eyed the black envelope, somehow shades blacker than the wrapping. Obsidian black.
It was a trap. He knew it as surely as he knew his own name, angelic and earthly. He would protect Crowley from the trap if he could. And yet, how could he? After all… opening another person’s mail seemed like a real breech of privacy. Aziraphale fussed in Crowley’s throne, pulling on his sleeves. What to do, he thought.
“We’re on our side.”
Crowley’s voice echoed in his head. Aziraphale smiled a little, despite himself.
“Hang it all,” he finally muttered. If this was a trap, if this was more holy water or some other infernal scheme, then better that Aziraphale take it. Better that he take the brunt of it and apologize to Crowley for invading his privacy afterwards. Before he could think better or worse of it, Aziraphale took hold of the envelope and ripped it open. Carefully, he removed the black paper inside. Embossed in gold lettering, he read the words:
A gift to the demon Crowley, to remind him that he always has a home.
Something about the words made the hairs on the back of Aziraphale’s neck stand on end. It wasn’t just the wording, unnerving as that was. No… it was the presentation. So clean while being so rich. So crisp. This wasn’t Hell’s style. It was Crowley’s. They were intentionally playing up to Crowley’s aesthetic. Did they really think that would lull him into a false sense of security? Crowley? The demon who had been circling and watching and keeping an eye out for Aziraphale from the moment of their Arrangement a thousand years ago?
Aziraphale stared at the word Home. Perhaps it might have done.
He tossed the letter aside with careful carelessly. It didn’t matter. Hell may have put on this performance for Crowley, but they had gotten Aziraphale for an audience. And they had misjudged the venue. With the deft hands of a bookseller, Aziraphale tore the wrapping paper along the creases and laid the parcel bare in Crowley’s flat.
A thin black box. Nothing for it, Aziraphale swallowed. He opened it. Aziraphale was almost blinded. Light filled the room. It seemed to devour every dark corner. The Mona Lisa seemed to smile more beautifully at the glow. The stone eagle seemed to flap its wings. After so long staring at the black of the letter and the dark sheens of the wrapping paper, Aziraphale had not been prepared. There, on a black velvet cushion, lay a single white feather.
An angel’s feather.
It warmed Aziraphale from the chill he had not realized had seeped through him. Why had Hell sent Crowley…
His mind raced… Would the warmth that he now felt as an angel actually burn Crowley as a demon? No, that wasn’t it. Crowley had seen Aziraphale’s wings, after all. Many times. And that had done no damage. Aziraphale leaned forward. It was long and beautiful. Yet the aura seeping through it… It belonged to no angel Aziraphale knew. And yet… Curious thing… it felt familiar. More familiar to him than his own self. It called to him. After the terrible sight of Crowley’s demonic name, the letter J that was not just a J… this was like a balm on Aziraphale’s soul.
“Who… are you…” he whispered. He reached out and gently, oh so gently, he touched the little tuft of Heaven here on earth.
Aziraphale’s body exploded in fire and brimstone. His vision went white. The feather… the memories it carried, scored themselves onto him and flooded his senses. Aziraphale screamed.