It was on a gloriously sunny morning that Aziraphale and Crowley climbed into the Bentley, bound for Lower Tadfield.
"Fourteen," Crowley muttered, and Aziraphale reached out to touch his knee.
"How are you holding up?"
"Godparents - it's better than nothing." Aziraphale said nothing, waiting for Crowley to go on, and the demon sighed. "I mean, loads better. Obviously. It's just-"
"I know, dear."
"And the witch will be there." Ah. That was why today was different from Adam's previous two birthdays. Aziraphale had been a fool not to think of it.
Anathema and Newt had wasted very little time, after the world hadn't ended, in settling down together in Jasmine Cottage. They'd even invited Crowley and Aziraphale to their wedding. However, for the last eleven months - since the birth of the Pulsifer twins - Crowley had done whatever he could to avoid going near the place. Today, the family were certain to be at the annual Adam's-birthday-and-apocalypse-anniversary celebration.
"I see. You didn't seem to mind last year, when she was expecting." Anathema had been seven months pregnant, and Crowley had been as civil as ever.
"I never- I never wanted to be pregnant, never would have been. But babies, it's just…"
"Hits a nerve?" Aziraphale ventured, when it became clear that Crowley wasn't going to continue. Crowley nodded miserably and put his foot down to overtake a police car at full throttle. They were not, it seemed, going to be late to the party.
Crowley knew he must be doing a terrible job of hiding his misery. Aziraphale kept watching him with obvious concern, even as the angel flitted around the party making polite conversation. Anathema, a baby in her arms, had taken one look at his aura and given him a wide berth. They all knew what had happened; he had never asked Adam to keep it a secret. The boy himself kept stealing glances in his direction from where he sat, Dog at his feet, among a pile of presents. Anyone, in fact, with any hint of an affinity for the supernatural could see that Crowley was just one big ball of pain and anxiety.
Newton Pulsifer, apart from being very much in love with a witch, had no such affinity.
"Crowley, good to see you. You haven't met Lottie, have you? Anathema has Bobby, over there."
"Lovely," Crowley drawled, and meant it. Despite the horrible, gnawing jealousy in his soul, he was happy for the pair. They seemed to glow with the excitement of new parenthood. "Congratulations to you both."
"Oh, Anathema did all the hard work," Newt assured him, and then he asked a question that brought Aziraphale to a dead halt, halfway across the garden on his way to intervene. "Would you like to hold her?"
Crowley stared at him in disbelief as he held out the baby. How could he be so cavalier about handing his daughter to a demon? Didn't he know what a precious thing he was holding?
"Alright," he said, slowly and clearly, but he made no motion to take her. "Only for a little while, though. You'll take her back?"
"Of course I will. I'm not just going to give my daughter to you and disappear." Crowley flinched, but it seemed Newt hadn't been making a point; he just hadn't made the connection in his head. The important thing, Crowley forced himself to remember, was that Newt had stated his intention to take the baby back; no matter what cruel supernatural machinations might crop up, he wasn't accidentally relinquishing his paternity of the child by handing it to Crowley. Willing his hands not to tremble - he had held infants before, bless it all - he reached out and carefully took little Lottie Pulsifer into his arms.
She was larger and heavier, of course, than Adam had been; she wasn't a newborn, after all. As he carefully settled her in his lap, she looked up at him with huge, dark eyes, a puzzled expression on her little face as she stared at the stranger. She was confused by his lack of eyes, he thought suddenly, and vanished his sunglasses before he could consider that seeing his eyes might frighten her. Sure enough, her eyes went very wide… and then she let out a squeal.
"I'm sorry- here, take her back-" But Newt was cooing at his daughter, apparently unperturbed by the high-pitched noise she'd just emitted.
"Aw, Lottie, are Uncle Crowley's eyes funny?"
Crowley looked down at the child, baffled to see that she was indeed laughing and grabbing at his face.
" Uncle… Crowley?"
Newt went very pale and began stuttering. "Er… that is… if you don't mind? We aren't doing godfathers, and we wouldn't ask anyway because of Adam, but Anathema grew up with loads of aunts she wasn't strictly related to and we thought, er-"
"Uncle Crowley is honoured," he told him, surprised by the amount of emotion welling up inside him, "as long as you don't mind that Uncle Crowley is Auntie Crowley sometimes."
"No. Not at all. Why would we?"
Crowley sat, bouncing Lottie gently on his knee and murmuring nonsense at her, for some ten minutes before Anathema and Aziraphale joined them. Crowley still burned , they must be able to see that, still ached with the knowledge that this happiness could have been - should have been - his, too. Still, Anathema took a seat beside him, and Aziraphale sat on the other side of her to pour blessings over the children. He made no attempt to take Bobby from his mother, though Anathema did offer; instead, the angel just talked to them both. Crowley felt his heart break afresh; Aziraphale was so good, and these children were so blessed, now, that it seemed impossible that they should ever know sorrow. The angel had offered Adam his blessings, once, not long after the apocalypse, but Adam had assured him that he wanted for nothing and, of course, pointed out that they had no idea if angelic blessings would react badly with his demonic heritage.
Suddenly, Crowley was pressing Lottie back into her father's arms; he was here for his son, and he'd barely spoken to him. He strode across the garden to where Adam sat, holding court with the Them. He would wait, and then he would wish him a happy birthday, and when the party was over he would go home and cry until he couldn't any more.
Aziraphale didn't really know what to do with small children. He knew, in a detached sort of way, that even tiny babies liked to be spoken to in warm, cheerful tones, and that it was important not to hold them upside down, and that none of them had ever deserved to be wiped out in a great flood - but that was about the extent of it. He stood in the middle of the garden and stared as Crowley exchanged quick, careful words with Newt before accepting the burden of Lottie in his arms. For a moment, demon and child stared at each other - and then Lottie began to giggle. Crowley made as if to hand her back, of course, but then he was distracted by something Newt said. Aziraphale watched him bouncing the child on his knee and felt awful. For Crowley, of course, and for Adam, who kept stealing glances at the baby on Crowley's lap, his expression as unreadable as ever.
Anathema came to stand beside him, her son in her arms and her eyes fixed on her daughter.
"I'm sorry about Newt. He has a great many qualities, but he's terrible at reading people."
"I don't know," Aziraphale admitted, "I think Crowley's becoming rather fond friends with your Lottie."
"Good. We wanted to ask if you'd like to be honorary uncles."
"Oh, dear girl. Delighted, I'm sure."
"We'd have asked earlier, but we haven't seen you. I guess now I can see why."
Aziraphale focused, shutting his celestial senses down until he saw what the witch saw.
"Oh. Yes." Even from such a limited human perspective, Crowley's aura was spiky and dark with pain.
"He's hurting so badly," Anathema murmured, "but he's so good with her."
They sat nearby, Aziraphale politely refusing to take Bobby; he was almost certain he'd drop him and besides, he didn't know how Crowley would react to seeing a mother hand over her child. Obviously, he'd managed with Newt, but Aziraphale had no desire to test him further. Newt drifted over to talk to them, confident that Crowley could be trusted with his daughter, and Aziraphale got both parents' permission to bless the children. He did, with every blessing he knew, and barely paused in his work when Crowley abruptly handed Lottie back to her father and sloped off without a word.
Aziraphale didn't want to turn and stare; he didn't want to make Crowley uncomfortable. So he focused on reaching out to touch Lottie's nose - she giggled - and was relieved when Anathema used her opposing vantage point to reassure him.
"Adam," she mumbled, almost too softly to be heard, and Aziraphale nodded. Of course Crowley would want to spend some time with the son he'd never had a chance to bounce on his knee.
"He'll be all right," he whispered, hoping it didn't sound too much like a question, and then he fixed his attention firmly on his blessings.