Actions

Work Header

Inverse Omens

Chapter Text

The angel hurried through the garden, carefully pushing aside branches and peering into clearings.

Anyone nearby might have heard the constant muttered, “Damn, damn, damn, damn…”

Finally, he found what he was looking for.

“Er…”

The huge snake was sprawled in a lazy heap in a patch of sunlight near The Tree. It was massive, cream and fawn dappled with gold and black, though its eyes were a pale and astonishingly clear blue. They were also fixed on the angel.

The angel cleared his throat. “Look, I need you to…” He jerked the big stick in his hand in the direction of the Eastern gate.

The blue eyes blinked slowly and the snake’s tongue flicked out.

The angel fidgeted. Did giant demonic snakes even use words? Must do, he reasoned. S’how they talked to other demons. “You know you aren’t meant to be here anyway.”

With clear reluctance and indignation, the snake’s coils unfurled and contracted and all at once, a cream-winged demon was lounging on the ground, giving him a sardonic look. He was plump and pink-cheeked, his hair shockingly white. “Bit late for guard duty now, isn’t it?” he said.

The angel glared at him. “You didn’t really help matters.”

The demon shrugged, smoothing down his tunic. It was ridiculously elegant, the angel noticed enviously. Deep shades of golden brown, embroidery glittering like coiled scales. “You know what it’s like. Boss says jump, you say how high.” He grinned slowly, rolling his shoulders. “I mean, there were guards and everything, weren’t there?”

The angel clenched his hands by his side. “Look,” he said again, trying to keep his tone even. “You’ve made a mess of everything! And if you’re still here when–”

The demon laughed. “I made a mess of everything?” He grinned. “I just told them the fruit looked tasty. I didn’t tell them not to eat it.”

The angel opened and shut his mouth a couple of times. He had wondered about that. Why put the tree in the garden at all? And why specify they couldn’t eat from that one particular tree? Why not put it somewhere far off where it wouldn’t be the easiest thing in the world to get to? And why–

“Why’ve’you got a stick?” the demon inquired.

The angel’s mental meanderings crashed to a halt. “What?”

“The stick.” The demon nodded to the stick in his hand. “Didn’t you have a flaming sword?”

The angel looked down at the stick in his hand. It was almost as long as the sword, but nowhere near as pointy or flamey. “Er…”

The demon sat forward, a wide grin splitting his face. “You lost it?”

“No!” The angel exclaimed hotly. “I didn’t!”

The demon clapped his soft hands together, laughing. “You did!”

“I– it–” The angel wrapped his other hand around the stick. “Um. I gave it away.”

The grin froze on the demon’s face, his brow creasing. “You… what?”

And the angel couldn’t stop himself from babbling. The humans, they’d eaten the stuff they shouldn’t have and well, they couldn’t stay… well, not in the garden, and they were cold and he didn’t know how to knit them anything or weave or anything useful, so he’d done the next best thing and gave them something to keep them warm in the big wide world. I mean, who wouldn’t? Isn’t that what he was meant to do? Look after them? Who would care? No one! Not really! Not at all! So wasn’t it all for the best?

The demon stared at him, round-eyed.

The angel clung onto his stick. “Why are you staring?”

The demon’s lip curled up, but it wasn’t a smirk this time. “Not what I expected, angel,” he said. “D’you have a name?”

The angel did, of course, but that was for the Heavenly hosts, and this was earth. Better to have a more earth-bound name. “Er.”

“Er?” The demon smiled. “Easy to remember that.”

“No! Um!” He cast about frantically and saw one of the birds hopping along the branches of the garden. It was the same colour has his wings. “Crow-ly.” He nodded. “Crowley. Is me.”

The demon rolled to his feet. Somehow, he still managed to move like a snake, even with six extra limbs. He shook out shimmering gold and cream feathers. “Aziraphale,” he said, then looked up, alarm visible in his eyes when there was a crashing sound from the sky.

“What on earth…?” Crowley spun around, staring up through the trees. The sky was turning darker and blacker and he could smell water in the air. “Oh! Oh no!” He ran across the gap between himself in the demon, flinging his wings up over it. “Don’t move!”

The demon’s face was so close to his and he could see the gleaming blue was framed by darker blue like… like…

A crack of white fire tore across the sky.

Like that.

Around them, water started falling from above and the demon flinched closer to him. Crowley closed his wings over them both as the water – rain, his brain informed him. New, very exciting – fell around them.

The demon tilted his head, watching him. “Giving away swords and playing at umbrellas,” he said with a small, crooked smile. “Didn’t see that coming.”

Crowley frowned at him. “What’s an umbrella?”

The demon huddled closer to him under his wing. “Not a sodding clue.”

Chapter Text

The clouds were getting darker by the minute and Crowley couldn’t stop pacing.

Technically, technically, it was right. It was. The orders came from… on high. That meant they had to be right, didn’t it? You couldn’t go around questioning the Great Plan. And God had the authority to make the decisions. That was– it was– surely that meant it was… right? Surely!

But…

He looked across the plain to the giant wooden ship and the procession of pairs of animals.

But…

He knocked his knuckles together, staring worriedly up at it, then turned and paced back and forward a few more times.

People were gathering nearby, a lot of them laughing. Some of them had just come along to see animals they’d never seen before. Noah and his lads had a pretty extensive list, but hadn’t learned about natural selection or inbreeding or anything, which could be a problem, but surely, that had been accounted for as well? Why save them and then give them useless animals that would be too inbred to do anything within a couple of generations?

He spun back again, pushing through the people. He didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to have to watch, but he had orders and you had to obey them, didn’t you? He’d been doing it for so long, biting his lip and not asking all the questions filling up his head and–

A flash of glittering gold in the crowd caught his attention and he frowned, pushing his way towards it.

A very familiar demon was sitting by a firepit, licking grease from his fingers and watching the procession of animals with interest. Feathers blazed around the fire and something was glowing down at the heart of the flame.

“Aziraphale?”

The demon looked up with a grin. “Crowley, isn’t it?” He waved a welcoming hand, beckoning the angel closer, and proffered a dripping drumstick, seared on the flames. “Fancy trying it?”

Crowley stepped back, wrinkling his nose. Human foods had never really appealed to him. “No. Thank you.”

Aziraphale gave a lazy shrug. “Suit yourself.” He tore a hank out of the meat, and grinned. “Never thought I’d get a chance to try phoenix. They’re damned tricky to cook, if you don’t take them apart before they go in the fire.”

Crowley stared at him. “You ate Noah’s phoenix?”

The demon shrugged again. “Didn’t have his name on it.” He waved the dripping bone around. “Is that who’s behind all this, then? Noah?”

“Yes.” Crowley glanced back at the ark. “Look, you really shouldn’t be here.”

The demon chuckled. “Play a new record.” He tossed the bone into the flame where it burst into shimmering sparks. “Said that in the garden too.”

“No!” Crowley hurried over and crouched down beside him. “No, you don’t understand. There– God– it’s all…” He shook his head, words getting all tangled up. How to explain without letting all his doubt and questions come bubbling to the surface! “Big flood coming. Big one. Wipe out humanity kind of thing!”

Aziraphale stared at him. “A flood?” He glanced in the direction of the boat. “Ohhhh.” A dark look crossed his face. “Playing favourite again, are they?”  

“Favourite?” Crowley echoed, confused.

The demon nodded towards the boat. “Picking and choosing who gets to stay and who gets to…” He snorted in disgust, scrambling to his feet with more grace than he had any right to have. “How many?” His voice was sharper than Crowley had ever heard it. “How many get to go in that?”

Crowley fidgeted. “Well, there’s Noah, his sons, their wives and families…”

“Boat that big and maybe a dozen going on it?”

“It’s–” Crowley’s throat felt tight. “It’s the plan.”

“The plan.” The demon didn’t even look at him. “What plan?”

Crowley shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

“So, for some… ineffable reason, a family gets a nice pleasure cruise with their own petting zoo while everyone they ever knew gets left behind to drown?  Lovely.” There was something bleak in the demon’s expression, his pale eyes darkening.

Crowley hesitated, then cautiously touched his elbow. “Are– are you all right?”

Aziraphale rolled his head from side to side, his neck crackling, looking uncannily serpent-like. “Of course.” He flashed a grin that wasn’t very convincing. “Why wouldn’t I be? The more souls damned, the better it looks for my paperwork.”

A peal of thunder shook the earth and Crowley looked up, the first drops of rain pattering on his face. By the time he looked back around, Aziraphale was gone.

Chapter Text

The pain hanging in the air of the place was almost unbearable.

It… couldn’t be right. It couldn’t.

And yet, she was under orders to perform no miracles. It wasn’t allowed. It was all Part of the Plan. Gabriel was very specific about it. She’d asked why and the other angels had looked at her so coldly that she’d recoiled, smiled and clenched her fingers against her hands until her palms bled.

Crowley drew the headscarf closer around her face, covering the loose curls of her hair.

His followers were fewer, scared off by their leader’s fate. Many couldn’t come. The men at least. All of the women were there. It was… easier to be there among them as a woman. No one questioned it. No one gave a second glance. And they all felt exactly the same way she did. Knowing the sharp bitter sting of betrayal and disbelief wasn’t hers alone helped.

She felt the ripple in the air and turned to see a familiar face and pale blue eyes fixed on the bloody man nailed to the cross. He couldn’t be here for any good reason, but it’s a Heaven-sanctioned event. Maybe he’d come to interfere.

Crowley almost cursed, crushing down the small spark of hope that maybe he might do something.

But he didn’t.

He stood and he stared and, concerned and curious, she moved a little closer.

“Don’t even say it,” Aziraphale growled, his teeth sharper than usual.

Crowley flinched. “Say what?”

“That I’m not supposed to be here.” The demon’s robes were more ornate than ever, jewels stitched into the fine fabric now, seed pearls and glittering topaz in scaly, twisting patterns. Nothing like Crowley’s own shawl and gown. Only Aziraphale’s feet were covered in dust, and so were the ends of his clothes. He normally made such an effort to look elegant. “Should’ve known you’d be hanging around to enjoy another of your little good deeds.”

Crowley stared at him, stung. “I don’t get a say in what does and doesn’t happen, Aziraphale.” The demon’s lip curled, but he didn’t look away from the mortal. There was a look in his eyes, something Crowley couldn’t quite grasp. “Did… did you meet him?”

“Yes.” Aziraphale’s expression softened and he laughed, sadly. “Silly little bastard was thin as a rake and he wouldn’t even take food when I offered him a feast. Not even a piece of bread. He–” He sighed. “The holiest ones are always the most stubborn.”

Crowley nodded, moving a little closer to the demon, quietly relieved she wasn’t the only one to think so. “They are,” she agreed quietly.

The demon glanced around, a frown furrowing his brow. “What did he do anyway? Why did they put him up there? He didn’t seem the type to cause any trouble.”

Crowley looked up at the young human. Dark blood was dripping onto the sand below, staining it black. “It’s what he said.”

“Oh?”

She turned back to the demon with a sad smile. “Be kind.”

The understanding, grief and exasperation that flitted across Aziraphale’s face was far too familiar.

“Ah,” he said gloomily. “That would do it.”

Chapter Text

Aziraphale yawned, scratching his fingers through his curls as he strolled down the steps from the palace and towards the nearest inn.

Inspiring lust was all well and good, but at an orgy, it wasn’t as if he was really needed. Still, at least it had a buffet. Why they’d served the seafood on the backs of kneeling slaves, he couldn’t understand. Some of it was best served cold, not at human body temperature.

He felt the eyes on him as soon as he entered and grinned. Mortals were so easy, especially if you flashed your wealth around. He could feel the warm lap of covetousness against his senses, some for his fair skin and hair, some for his glittering necklace and one for…

He glanced around the inn, spotting the human in question and curled his lips back from his teeth. The surge of lust heightened and he prompted it a little higher, dragging his tongue along his upper lip. Well, perhaps, not a total loss of a day after all.

A drink, first, and then maybe the little human might need a little more… indulgence.

He was halfway to the bar when he picked up the prickle of something divine and looked around, puzzled. A skinny figure was stooped over at the far end of the bar, a shabby toga trailing almost to the floor, ragged red hair in wisping curls around its shoulders.

That hair…

He’d’ve known that hair anywhere. Should’ve been longer, long enough to sink fingers into and fist and pull, but now, it was cropped short, as raggedly as the slaves in the marketplace.

“Crowley?”

The angel looked up, bleary-eyed, and Aziraphale stared at him astonishment. The god-damned angel was drunk. He had a clay cup in his hand and he was swaying and he was drunk.

Aziraphale dragged up a stool without conscious thought, sitting down beside the angel. “What the hell’s the matter with you?”

The angel screwed up his face, shaking his head slowly as if it might roll off his shoulders, and reached for a pitcher to refill his cup. “Nothing. S’fine. S’all fine. Why wouldn’t it be?” He gave a short, bitter laugh that sounded like it might turn into tears. “S’always fine, the plan. Always.”

Well. Shit.

Aziraphale caught the barkeep’s attention, calling for something stronger and better than the piss the angel was clearly drinking. “In town on business, then?”

Crowley nodded, his whole body rocking with the movement of his head. “Don’t know what they’re expecting me to do.” He turned wide brown eyes on Aziraphale. “I try so hard, y’know, and they’re… they’re…” He shook his head again.

“Human?” Aziraphale suggested with a crooked smile.

The angel shrugged, glowering into his drink. “Do as you’re told,” he mumbled to himself. “Part of the plan. All part of the plan.” He swung around suddenly, leaning in close to the demon. “Do you know what the plan is? Does anyone? No! S’bloody plan and no one has a blueprint to show me and I don’t and you don’t and it’s… it’s…” He hiccupped, then blinked. “Oh.”

Aziraphale hesitated, then patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. “It’s above our pay grade. Not worth bothering about, eh?”

“Not worth…” The angel stared at him as if he’d grown a second head. “Who says? Come down here, they said. Take care of the humans, they said. Take care, but don’t care. Oh, no. Don’t do that. Stupid, that. Don’t ask. Stop asking. Stupid question. Stupid angel. Stupi–” He smacked Aziraphale on the chest, which had about as much effect as a water balloon on a submarine, then fell sideways into him. “Stupid angel,” he mumbled, muffled in Aziraphale’s chest.

The demon wrapped his hands around the angel’s shoulders, helping to sit up again. “I don’t think you’re stupid,” he said.

“Ha!”

“I don’t.” He met the angel’s eyes with a crooked smile. “A bit soft, perhaps, but you’re an angel. It happens.”

Crowley blinked at him slowly, then narrowed his eyes. “Why’re you being… nice to me?”

Aziraphale snorted. “This isn’t nice,” he retorted. “This is you ruining the mood in this place and me not being able to do my job. If you cheer up, I can get on with my work.”

Brown eyes blinked at him slowly. They had little gold flecks in them, he noticed. Like embers in a banked fire. “You,” the angel said resolutely, wagging a finger at him, “are lying.”

“Yeah,” Aziraphale said, grinning at him. “And? It’s what I do.”

The angel went almost cross-eyed trying to make sense of it. “Oh. Right. Yeah.” He sniffed hard, then rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.

Aziraphale studied him. Crowley looked more down than he had in the handful of years since they’d seen each other. He’d been upset at… that incident in Jerusalem. Probably shook him up a bit. Why wouldn’t it? No one wanted to be on the murder side, did they? Well, apart from some of the more unpleasant demons he knew.

“Tell you what,” he said, “I’m popping down to Petronius’s new tavern.”

The angel squinted at him. “What for?”

He leaned closer, giving the angel a seductive grin. “Care to try some oysters?”

The angel made a face, sticking his tongue out. “I’d rather go to bed,” he declared, making Aziraphale’s brain slam to a halt. He got unsteadily to his feet, swaying so much that Aziraphale had to put out a hand to steady him. Those big ember-filled eyes shone up at him. “You are being nice to me.” He gave him a shy smile. “That’s my job.”

Aziraphale snorted. “Oh, do shut up, angel.” He slid his arm under the angel’s shoulder. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

Aziraphale groaned, cracking an eye open. “What now?”

One of Mordred’s men scurried in from their position outside his tent. “It looks like an emissary from Camelot, my Lord. He’s been wandering around outside the camp for a while now.”

The demon rolled his eyes. Of course. Holier than Thou Camelot wouldn’t like to have people going against their precious rules, would they? Even if those precious rules seemed to be pretty damned flexible for a certain King’s knights.

“Fine,” he grumbled, rolling off the comfortable arrangement of cushions in his tent. It took the snap of his fingers for his armour to manifest over his snug tunic, although it chaffed something awful. He gestured with a hand. “Helmet.”

The young soldier eagerly obeyed. Wasn’t a bad time to be around, all things considered. The humans were rather more accepting of magic, which meant he didn’t have to waste time or energy masking it from them.

He set the helmet on, snapping the visor down. “Righto. Lead on.”

Outside the tent, the world was grey and dreary, reduced down to vague shapes and outlines. The ground underfoot was sopping wet and Aziraphale made a face. As soon as he could find somewhere with a nice fire and a decent cup of mead, he was going to sit there and dry himself out properly and bugger anyone who asked otherwise.

“Hello?” The voice had taken on a hopeful note. Not really surprising. The poor bastard could probably hear him clanking from fifty paces. “Hello! I’m looking for the Black Knight!”

Aziraphale paused where he was. He knew that voice. “Crowley?” He clanked a little further forward until a pale shape slowly emerged from the fog. “Is that you?”

The shape was a knight in very shiny armour with feathery white fluff clinging to the shoulders. The owner flipped up his visor, a smile lighting up his face. “Aziraphale! What are you doing here?”

Aziraphale stared at him then looked down at his black armour. “I’ll give you three guesses.”

Crowley blinked at him. “Oh. OH!” He pointed at the armour, then back at Aziraphale, then back at the armour. “You’re the Black Knight?”

“I know,” Aziraphale said, tilting up his own visor. “So cliché. I tried to tell him the colour hardly matters, but no, no, no. No one tells his young Lordship anything like that.”

“But… but why?” The angel seemed baffled.

“Really?” Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “You come from Camelot, home of all things, good, true and hypocritical, and you wonder why I’m here? You’re doing too much good. My lot can’t have that.”

“Ah.” Crowley winced. “Yes. Well…” He frowned again. “Wait. What do you mean hypocritical?”

Aziraphale waved the thought away. “Nothing. Never mind. It’s typical, though, isn’t it? Both of us in the same damp, miserable little place.”

The angel nodded, glancing around. “Is it always like this?”

“Mostly.” Aziraphale studied him. “And us wasting our time like this as well…”

“We’re not wasting our time!” Crowley said defensively.

“You do a good deed, I do a bad deed? Comes to a grand total of nothing for either side. Basic mathematics, my dear.” Aziraphale adjusted his armour again with a wince. “We’d be better off not bothering at all.”

The angel’s lips moved. He was thinking. He did that a lot, Aziraphale had noticed, as if he was going through a checklist, validating everything that was said to him, verifying it, and then making a choice about an answer.

“We can’t not do our duty,” he finally said, though he sounded a little more thoughtful than he had. A chink in his proverbial armour that Aziraphale was more than willing to pry open.

“Does it matter? Evil and good? Both done or undone, it’s a zero sum result.”

Another pause, while Crowley did his mental calculations. “Wouldn’t they check? Your people? Mine–” There was something in the way his breath hitched that caught the demon’s attention. “I mean, Gabriel. He’s... I think he would check.”

Aziraphale shrugged. “You can still send the paperwork. I’ll tell you what I’m not doing and you do the same for me. We can report on the wiles you thwarted and no one will ever know the difference and we can be home for suppertime.”

The angel stared at him. “But– isn’t that–I shouldn’t–” He backed up a step, shaking his head. “No. No. We can’t.”

“We can, though.”

“No!” The angel retreated another step. “I– look, I didn’t come here to get into semantics.”

Aziraphale took a lazy step towards him. “No. You’re here to thwart me, my dear. I’m simply offering to save you the effort and the soggy underthings. No price. No cost. Only a little more time for you to do good where and when you choose.”

That indecision in those brown eyes was tantalising, then Crowley set his jaw. “No. Thank you.” He bowed, oddly and a bit stiffly. “If you don’t mind…” He turned and clanked back off into the fog.

“The offer still stands!” Aziraphale called after him. “I can wait!”

If the angel said anything in response, he didn’t hear it.

Chapter Text

Crowley couldn’t remember the last time he’d been to the south bank of the city. Generally, if he had to meet up with his… associate, they found some kind of neutral spot in a park. He tried to stay closer to the hub around St. Paul’s as an anchor and a reminder of what he was there to do.

Of course, sometimes an anchor came loose and that was why he was hurrying across the bridge towards the hive of theatres and gaming dens and taverns. His destination was a white-washed round building, a stone’s throw from the river.

To his surprise, he was waved through the doors at once by a bored-looking boy, but as soon as he entered the theatre, he could see why: the place was almost empty, except for a couple of people in the seats and – of course – Aziraphale in all his opulent glory only a few feet from the stage. Honestly, with the amount of gold threading in his clothing and the size of his purse, he was just asking for trouble.

And, again, it was no surprise to see the demon plucking grapes from a cloth in his hand and popping them in his mouth.

Crowley glanced around warily, but as far as he could sense, there was no divine interference, so he hurried closer. “You said we’d blend in with the crowds!” he whispered accusingly, as soon as he reached the demon. “That’s the only reason I agreed to come!”

Aziraphale gave him a sunny smile. “But we couldn’t miss Burbage’s new role.”

Crowley stared at him, then up at the young man on the stage. “That’s it? That’s the reason you got me all the way over here?”

The demon shrugged, holding out his little cloth of grapes to Crowley. “Well, two birds and one stone, wouldn’t you say?”

Crowley tried to glare at him, which only made the demon grin even more, pale eyes dancing. “So what are you up to?” he asked, folding his arms over his chest, feeling woefully underdressed, his doublet and hose plain and serviceable black with white beneath.

The demon gave a snake-like wiggle of satisfaction. “The usual.” He held up his empty hand to stop Crowley from speaking as another man approached. “William, darling, this may be one of your best.”

The human beamed proudly. “I’m glad you think so, Ezra. I only wish more people did.” He glanced back at the stage. “Do you mind being… a little more vocal?”

“You know I always am,” Aziraphale purred and Crowley had to look away, flushing.

“Oh, tush!” Shakespeare snorted, but he sounded pleased. Crowley cautiously looked back at them in time to see the fond smile on the writer’s face. “You know what I mean, you filthy creature. Poor Burbage works best with a responsive audience.”

Aziraphale patted his arm. “Of course, my dear.” His eyes danced. “But you know you need only ask if you require more… vocal stimulation of your own.”

If Crowley was pink, then Shakespeare was shading towards scarlet, his eyes darting between the demon and Crowley. The poor human stammered out a few words of apology to Crowley, then hurried back towards the edge of the auditorium.

“Do you always have to tease them like that?” Crowley muttered, giving him a stern look.

The demon slanted a look at him. “Who said I was just teasing?”

Crowley sputtered, swatting his arm. “Aziraphale!”

Aziraphale laughed. It was a big, warm sound and he nodded towards the stage. “Just a minute. I need to pay attention.”

The young man was performing a soliloquy and despite himself, Crowley listened. Shakespeare did have a way with words, there was no denying it, and while Aziraphale was crying out enthusiastic interjections, he listened to what was being said.

An elbow in the ribs brought him back to reality. “Enjoying it?” Aziraphale inquired, looking pleased.

Crowley nodded, his mouth dry and his eyes surprisingly damp. Something about the speech had struck a chord, though he couldn’t work out why. “It’s no little thing to make my eyes sweat compassion.”

A smaller and somehow more genuine smile slipped across Aziraphale’s face. “I knew you’d like it,” he said, then popped another grape in his mouth. He offered the pouch again, shrugging when Crowley waved it away.

“Why did you want me to come anyway?” Crowley asked. “I mean, apart from…” He motioned to the stage.

“Well, it seems I need to go to Edinburgh next week.” The demon made a face. “Why the clans can’t leave one another’s cattle alone for five minutes, I don’t know, but apparently, one of them needs to be urged to do some rustling.”

Crowley eyed him. “That doesn’t sound too difficult.”

“I know.” Aziraphale gave him a convincingly innocent wide-eyed stared. “Any chance you’re heading north any time soon?”

He tried to look stern, but with the demon batting his eyelashes like a milkmaid, his lips twitching, it was almost impossible. “Actually, yes.” He held up a finger. “For a blessing. That’s all. Nothing else.”

He almost missed the tiny roll of Aziraphale’s eyes. “Oh come on, my dear. What’s the point of both of us trekking all the way up there and all the way back, when you know it would only take the one of us to do the jobs?”

Crowley bit his lip. Not again. Every time, every time, they’d met like this before, he’d told himself it would be the last time. “I told you before that I wouldn’t do it again.”

Aziraphale slid a little closer to him. “And then,” he reminded him, with that warm, winning smile, “you did it anyway. What’s one more time?”

It was the same argument they had every time and he was right. Crowley squeezed his arms, trying to glare at the demon, which only made Aziraphale widen his eyes in wounded innocence.

“Oh, all right, fine,” he snapped, groping in his coin purse. “Toss you for Edinburgh.”

Aziraphale gave him the filthiest of leers. “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Stop that!” Crowley flapped a hand, shooing him back a step. “Not that kind of… tossing. Honestly, you’re terrible.” He tried to glare again, but the demon was giggling, dimples popping in his cheeks, and Crowley couldn’t help the rueful smile that crept onto his lips. “You really are, though. I don’t know why I put up with you.”

Aziraphale flung an arm around his shoulders. “Charm! Wit! A marvellous personality!”

“And an overactive imagination,” Crowley retorted before he could stop himself, then clapped his hand to his mouth.

Angel!” Aziraphale managed to sound both appalled and delighted. “You just insulted me! All by yourself!”

Crowley knocked the demon’s elbow with his. “Oh, shut up.” He fumbled with the coin, tossing it and slapping it down on the back of his hand. “Call?”

“Tails,” the demon said, leaning closer to peer at it. Crowley uncovered the coin and Aziraphale whined. “But I don’t want to go to Edinburgh. It’s so far.”

Crowley patted him consolingly on the shoulder. “Is there anything I can do for you here, while you’re away?”

As if he had been cued, Aziraphale’s latest… friend sighed, “It’d take a miracle to get anyone to come and see Hamlet.”

The demon’s eyes lit up and he looked hopefully at Crowley.

Crowley glanced at the stage and the young man. A line from his speech was ringing in Crowley’s ear: Thus conscience does make cowards of us all. He turned back to Aziraphale and smiled. “Well, obviously, but I meant for your side of things.”

“Oh! Right!” Aziraphale scratched his chin thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t… take care of William for me?” The glint in his eye gave him away. “He needs a very thorough… taking care of.”

“Really, Aziraphale?” Crowley said, giving him a stern look. “Really?”

The demon wrinkled his nose, barely hiding a grin. It was ridiculous how disarming it was. “Worth a try, eh?” He shrugged. “I’m sure you’ll find something. Hang around on this side of the river long enough and something’ll turn up.”

Later, as Crowley walked back across the bridge, he smiled to himself as he turned a young pickpocket’s attentions to the purse of a very elegantly-dressed, wealthy, man-shaped person who had just come out of the Globe theatre and was on his way to dinner. He wondered if Aziraphale would appreciate the joke.

Chapter Text

"You could've let me finish," Aziraphale complained as he was bundled through the gloomy corridors of the prison. "Have you any idea how hard it is to find decent crepes? And they had honey!"

"Shut up, aristo!" One the guards struck him hard across the shoulders with a crop and the demon froze, giving him a long, measured look. The man stared back at him rudely and all it took was a little rooting in his mind...

"Now that was rather silly, wasn't it, Pierre?" He took a step closer to the man. “Madeleine was so proud of you, wasn’t she? What will she think of you now?” He tsked, shaking his head. “Oh, I think we both know why she left, don’t you?”

Pierre looked as if he'd swallowed his tongue, but his compatriot didn't seem to notice.

"Allez," he said, pushing Aziraphale onwards.

There were several cells in the chamber, divided by bars, and Aziraphale was relieved to see third time was indeed the charm. Wide brown eyes stared across at him in dismay as he was bundled into one of the empty cages.

Thankfully, the angel waited until their gaolers stamped out and slammed the door behind them before rushing to the bars. "Aziraphale! You shouldn't be here!"

The demon snorted. "Coming from the angel in a cage, that's rich." He dusted himself down with a flick of his fingers. “What on earth are you doing here, my dear? I doubt there’s much place for miracles in a time like this.”

To his amusement, the angel went as red as his hair. “Er…” He had his hands wrapped around the bars and seemed very, very interested in them. “Well. No. Not officially.”

Aziraphale stared at him. “You came to Paris. In the middle of a bloody revolution. To perform unauthorised miracles.”

“Don’t say it like that!” Crowley said indignantly. “They were just… sort of… redistributed from people who could afford it.”

“I see.” Aziraphale couldn’t help smiling. The damned angel probably didn’t even realise how far he was straying into rogue territory. Heaven always had their favourites and if he was taking the miracles rightfully meant for them…

Thoughts slid into place.

“Ohhh,” he said with a nod. “That’s why you’re still sitting in here, isn’t it? You can’t perform any extra miracles in case they pick up on them?”

“Mm. Gabriel sent me a rude note the other week about getting… carried away.” The angel’s lips thinned to an unhappy line. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about!” he exclaimed. “It’s not as if I’m not doing the miracles. Isn’t that all that matters?”

“You’d think so,” the demon said consolingly, “but then Heaven does spend a lot of time speaking out of its backside, doesn’t it?”

“Aziraphale!” Crowley glared at him. “You can’t say things like that!”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. “Why?”

Crowley gaped at him, opening and shutting his mouth a few times. “Because–” he sputtered. “Because… because you can’t.”

Aziraphale spread his hands, chains jingling, and grinned. “Demon. If I can’t say it, no one can.”

“Oh for Heaven’s sake…” Crowley huffed, then took a quiet breath. “What are you doing here anyway? You can just…” He made a flourish with one hand that made his shackles clatter. “I mean, you don’t need to be here.”

The demon snorted. “Three damned arrests before I manage to find you and you tell me you’d prefer it if I had just left you? I mean, I couldn’t have been more obvious if I tried.” He waved at his clothing, his favourite tan frock-coat with the lovely seed pearl beading. “Mind you, I would have preferred it if they had let me finish my crepes. It’s damned hard to find any at the mo–”

“Wait, wait, wait!” The angel blinked owlishly at him. “You came here to… find me?”

Aziraphale looked at him in fond amusement. “Clearly.”

“I thought– isn’t this– didn’t you do all this?”

“Me?” Aziraphale puffed up in indignation. “The most I did was spread about the ‘let them eat cake’ nonsense. Apparently, my lot think I’ve been quite influential in the whole thing because of it.” He shuddered in distaste. “You know I don’t like such messy business. Never have.”

“Oh.” The angel’s lips twitched into a small smile. “Well. Good.” He was quiet for a moment, then very tentatively asked, “Really? You came to find me?”

It sounded, Aziraphale thought darkly, as if all those who ought to have cared about the angel had been very neglectful of their duties. “Of course, my dear. Who am I going to tempt into dinner if you don’t have a head?”

Crowley ducked his head, looking even more flustered than usual. How absolutely delicious. “Oh. I– you don’t have to.”

Aziraphale snorted, turning over his hands and examining his chains. “Obviously.” A snap of his fingers and they collapsed around his buckled shoes. He stepped out of the tangle. “And,” he said with a smile, “since I know about your delicate sensibilities about accepting demonic miracles…”

He tossed the ring of keys, stolen from dear Pierre’s belt, grinning as the angel caught them.

Crowley hastily stepped back, unlocking his shackles and then the cell door, emerging as Aziraphale strolled out of his own cage. Aziraphale looked him up and down, tutting in concern. The poor fellow looked like he had been through the wringer, his respectable grey frockcoat torn in places and his shirt ripped and stained.

Crowley rubbed gingerly at his wrists. “I–” His brow furrowed. “Hm.”

Aziraphale leaned closer, lifting a hand to gently rub away the furrow between the angel’s brows. “Enough of that, my dear,” he chastised. “Spit it out. You know I won’t make a fuss.”

The angel fidgeted. “I was just wondering if an angel could hypothetically thank a demon for the rescue or if the hypothetical demon would get in trouble. I mean, technically, rescuing an angel wouldn’t look good.”

Aziraphale blinked at him. Honestly, the sweet thing had so much more concern for Aziraphale’s well-being than he really ought to. “Probably best not,” he agreed. “Although I suspect your hypothetical demon would tell you to shut up and stop being so sentimental.”

Crowley’s expression brightened. “That’s what I thought.” He looked at the keys in his hands. “Is there somewhere I can put these?”

Aziraphale groaned. “Don’t tell me you want him to find them?”

The angel gave him a look. “After all I’ve seen here? I was thinking the bottom of the Seine.”

Christ, he could be such a delightfully ruthless little piece of fluff, couldn’t he?

“I know the perfect spot, my dear,” Aziraphale said, “and there’s a lovely little place nearby that does the most divine crepes.”

“Crepes?”

“Mm.” Aziraphale leaned closer to him, widening his eyes and trying for his best cherubic expression. “Go on. Say you will. After all, I did just…” He mouthed the word ‘rescue’. “You.” He gave his lashes a careful bat and made sure to jut his lower lip out just enough.

“Fine!” Crowley kept a straight face for all of three seconds. “Fine. You win. Crepes it is.” He held up a finger. “One thing, though…” He nodded at Aziraphale’s lovely coat. “Are you trying for a fourth arrest?”

Aziraphale groaned. “They may be doing evil, but at least I have some standards,” he grumbled, flicking his hand upwards and replacing his beloved clothing with a shabbier ensemble and jabot and a tricolour sash for good measure. A snap of his fingers mended Crowley’s ripped coat too. After all, he could hardly be seen swanning about in rags, even if half the revolutionaries were. “Satisfied?”

The angel looked down at his coat, fingering the repaired fabric, then smiled at him, ember-eyes bright with happiness. “Perfectly.”

Chapter Text

The ducks were circling when the demon finally arrived.

Crowley had already used up most of his feed, though he always kept a small paper bag for the demon in his pocket. Aziraphale kept forgetting to bring his lately and Crowley didn’t like to remind him, when he seemed to be in a perpetual bad mood. It had been getting worse steadily since the turn of the century, but he had no idea why.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” he said, taking out the bag and offering it to Aziraphale.

The demon took it, glancing around. “You know how it is,” he said a little too quickly. He tossed a handful of seeds at the ducks. “One temptation, then another.”

Crowley shot a sidelong look at him. From the creases down the side of his face, Aziraphale had barely been out of bed for half an hour. The demon certainly enjoy indulging in sleep, even though he didn’t have to. Still, you wouldn’t have guessed it from his clothes, which looked freshly-pressed and he had yet another elegant, ruffled tie.

“Mm,” he said noncommittally.

Another handful of seed hit one of the ducks with enough force to make it quack in alarm and frantically paddle away.

That, Crowley thought worriedly, was even more unusual than the tardiness and the bad moods. Aziraphale hated causing physical harm to anyone. Messy business, as he called it. He preferred to let humans do the actual work.

“Are you all right?” Crowley asked.

Aziraphale nodded, reaching up to push back his cream-and-brown patterned top hat and rub at curls of pale hair that were clinging to his forehead. He looked almost feverish. “Of course, my dear. Of course.” His tongue darted out along his lips, then he hastily added, “I need a favour.”

Crowley’s frown deepened. “We have the arrangement–” he began.

“This is something else,” Aziraphale interrupted shortly. “A precaution, you understand. In case…” His face twisted into some unreadable expression. “Well, in case things don’t go as planned.” He glanced around again, as if afraid he was being followed. “Here.” He offered a folded piece of paper. “Best not said out loud.”

Crowley took the small sheet. Two words were written in Aziraphale’s perfect copperplate hand. Holy water.

The world seemed to narrow down to that piece of paper, everything else quiet and blank around it. Holy water. The one thing that could kill any and every demon on contact. It was a liquid hand grenade in any angel’s arsenal. Just take off the lid and throw and death and carnage ensued.

And Aziraphale wanted it.

Crowley felt sick.

Yes, Aziraphale had been more bad-tempered lately, snappish and guarded and out of sorts, but surely things weren’t bad enough that he wanted to… that he thought he had no choice but…

The paper was shaking in his hand. “No.” He shoved it back at the demon. “Don’t be so… so damned stupid! I’m not giving you that!”

Aziraphale’s face crumpled and for the first time, Crowley realised how upset the demon was. “Why not?”

Why not? Looking that worried and being so out of sorts for months and years on end and he asked why not?

“You know what it’ll do to you!” he said, his voice shaking as much as his hands. “I’m not giving you a suicide pill!”

The demon flinched. “That’s not what I want it for!” I just–” He pressed a plump fist to his mouth, then exhaled. He almost sounded calm when he said, “It’s a precaution.” He held out the piece of paper again. “Nothing more than that.”

A precaution. For if things went wrong. From a demon who would rather avoid any messy business if he could avoid. Apparently by whatever means necessary.

“Don’t,” Crowley said hoarsely. “Please don’t ask me to be a part of it.”

“You are part of it,” the demon retorted. “Like it or not.”

He shook his head, clenching his hands by his sides. “This… it’s too far, Aziraphale. You know how much trouble we could be in if they find out we’ve been… been…” He trailed off, his tongue like a rock.

“Been?” There was a frostiness in the demon’s voice. “Been what precisely?”

Crowley waved helplessly between them.  “This. Whatever… this is.”

“Whatever,” Aziraphale echoed. “Oh. I see.” He smiled, but for once, it didn’t reach his blue eyes, which were cold and hard. “Oh, don’t worry, my dear, you needn’t worry about that. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I choose.”

Crowley reared back, stung. “Of course you can,” he snapped back angrily. “You always have.”

The demon’s eyes flashed, his lips curling back from unnaturally-pointed teeth. “I don’t need you, angel.”

Crowley stared at him. “Fine!” He swung around, storming up the path, fighting every instinct that told him to turn around, go back and apologise. “Fine,” he whispered under his breath and tried to blink the haze from his eyes.

Chapter Text

Distant sirens were wailing as Crowley hurried up the path towards the church. The searchlights were stabbing up at the heavy clouds and he could smell the rain in the air. He hugged the book more tightly to his chest, praying that everything would go to plan.

Why they would choose this place of all places for a meeting point seemed a bit on the nose. He knew who they were. They knew he knew. No one, they had laughed, would look for Nazis in a Church.

Crowley had smiled and laughed with them, but he had been to Germany only a few weeks ago and plenty of Nazis could be found in churches. Many of them liked to use it as an excuse and even though Aziraphale hadn’t asked – hadn’t even spoken to him since that stupid, awful day in St. James’s Park – he put a little temptation as well as a miracle of courage into a few minds to ensure there were a few less Nazis to take Her name in vain.

He paused at the door, taking a deep breath, then stepped into the building.

The place was alight with candles, warm and glowing and welcoming. It should have felt safe and sacred, but the presence of the two men – at the altar, for Heaven’s sake! – made him tighten his hands around the book he was carrying.

“Mr. Crowley.” Glozier said, smiling. “We were beginning to wonder if you would come.”

Crowley forced a smile onto his face and walked briskly down the aisle. “Well, I would hate to disappoint you now,” he said, his cheeks hurting with the effort.

Mr. Harmony rose, a hungry look in his eyes. “You have the book?”

Lord, Crowley wished he’d never agreed to it. He could have found a false copy. He could have lied. He could have done anything but stretch out his hands, holding out the tome to the man. “As requested, the Sefer Raziel HaMalakh.”

Harmony’s eyes gleamed greedily as he snatched the book from Crowley’s hands. He didn’t even flinch, but then, maybe he wasn’t a human who was meant to feel the power bound up in the tome. It was Her will, of course.

Harmony opened the gnarled and ancient covers, leafing through pages that had been copied and recopied more times than Crowley could recall. Behind his glasses, his eyes widened and he looked over at Glozier. “It’s the real thing.”

Glozier moved closer, bending to peer down at the book. “You’re certain?” Harmony muttered something in German, which made his partner grin delightedly. “Marvellous. You have done very well, Mr. Crowley.”

Crowley sighed inwardly when he heard the click of the gun being cocked. Just once, he thought sadly, it would have been nice to be wrong about people. But then, they were Nazis and there wasn’t really much more you could expect from them.

“Don’t,” he said wearily.

“Don’t?” Glozier said, amusement all over his face. “You think this is how it works, Mr. Crowley?”

The angel pinched the bridge of his nose, one hand on his hip. “Rose?”

A second gun cocked, this one behind him.

“Who–?”

Crowley lowered his hand, giving them a tired smile. “Spy, Nazis,” he introduced. “Nazis, spy.” He jerked his thumb towards the back of the church. “Now, if you don’t mind, she’s going to arrest you and I’m going to go and get a drink.”

He turned around to face Captain Montgomery, only to find her gun pointed at him and not at the two men at the altar. She gave him a crooked smile and shrugged, as if she hadn’t played him like a fiddle and walked him right into his own discorporation.

“Oh, for God’s sake!” he exclaimed, spinning around to face them. “She’s with you?”

Well, he thought bitterly as they grinned at him, you wanted to be wrong about someone didn’t you, you idiot.

“And sadly, she will also be killing you.”

“Right.” Crowley looked at the floor, blowing out a sigh. “Right. Of course. Why not? Killed by Nazis in a Church on a Sunday. Perfect. Just fantastic.” He threw his head back and stared up at the ceiling. “Bet you’re having a great laugh up there, aren’t you? Ooooh, he took the book to give to the humans again! Bet he won’t see this coming!” He threw his arms wide. “Come on! Give me a break!” His voice faltered and he dropped his arms. “Please?”

“Prayer won’t help you now, Mr. Crowley,” Glozier said, “but we do appreciate all you have done, so we will make it a quick–”

The door of the church crashing inwards interrupted him, followed by an “Oh, holy fuck! Ow!”

Crowley whipped around, startled. He knew that voice. He would recognise that voice anywhere, and there he was. Aziraphale, bouncing down the aisle like a badly-buoyed balloon, bobbing from toe to toe. “Aziraphale?”

The demon waved vaguely, every step accompanied with a fresh profanity. “Jesus, Mary, Joseph, fucking Nora, bloody buggering bastarding ow!”

God, it was good to see him, but not here. Not in a church. Not when they had guns trained on them and everything had been left so horribly wrong.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

Aziraphale flashed a pained grin at him. “Messing with your business arrangement!” He held up a bundle of books tied together with string. “Let this one go and I’ll give you some tasty prophecies for you to take back to your Fuhrer. Binns, Shipton, Nixon. First editions too.”

Books. Aziraphale’s books. He never let anyone near them. He rarely even let Crowley look at them, unless he wore his white gloves and promised not to break any spines. And after the years they hadn’t spoken to one another, he’d still brought them here to trade for…

Crowley’s legs trembled under him, his hand leaping to his mouth.

“Prophecies?”

The angel was close enough to feel the prickle of covetousness from Harmony, pricking away at the soft warmth that was threatening to smother him.

“Aziraphale, don’t,” he said urgently. “They’re your books. You don’t need to give them away. I’m fine.”

Aziraphale pointedly looked at the guns as he lightly bounced on the spot. “Fine. I see.” He jerked his head towards the door as Harmony snatched the bundle of books from his hand. “Go on. Bugger off. I’ll tidy up here.”

“I won’t!” Crowley shook his head. “Not this time.”

“I think,” Glozier said, his smile audible, “you misunderstand the situation, Mr. Crowley. Whatever your… ebullient friend’s intentions are, we are the ones who hold the guns. We will take your books too, since you have brought them all this way.”

Crowley saw the gleam of hellfire in Aziraphale’s eyes. “Oh no.”

The demon’s smile split his face. “Oh, don’t worry, my dear,” he said, looking beyond Crowley’s shoulder at the two Nazis. “I won’t do anything to them.” He tilted his head, staring at them, unblinking. The way he was moving lightly from foot to foot made him sway like a snake. “I rather think hubris might.”

“Enough,” Glozier said. “We are done wi–”

“Ah,” Aziraphale took slinking steps forward. “Before you get around to it, you should know that in about thirty seconds, a bomb is going to be dropped right on this building. Shoot us, if you like, but you’ll have to be damned quick if you want to get out alive.”

Glozier snorted. “Very amusing, but we know the bombs will fall on the East end tonight.”

Aziraphale flashed a serpentine grin, his fangs lengthening. “Even odds?” he said, then snapped his fingers.

Above them, something was screaming down from above.

Crowley stared at him. “Oh no, no, no, no! Aziraphale! You didn’t!”

Behind him, the Nazis swore, scrambling up and scrabbling for the books.

Aziraphale’s expression softened as he smiled at him. “Only a little one,” he said. “Although we may need a real miracle to get out of this alive, dear boy.”

“A real…” Crowley’s breath hitched and he closed his eyes, calling on every bit of his power as the bomb struck.

Sirens were wailing again, louder and closer. Somewhere nearby, a panicked child was screaming in terror, and as the dust settled, Crowley uncurled his fingers. His palms were sticky where his nails had dug in, but it had been enough and Aziraphale was standing there, face turned up to the moonlight, sighing with relief.

“Oh, that’s much better.”

Crowley shifted from one foot to the other, rubble rippling under his feet. “You didn’t– I–” His throat felt too tight and he wanted to believe it was the dust making his eyes sting. “You’re being kind to me again.”

The demon looked over at him with a small, quiet smile. “Obviously.” He dusted flecks of ash from his sleeves, then looked around forlornly. “I probably shouldn’t have brought the original books, should I?”

Crowly stared at him. “Oh! Oh, wait!” He turned on the spot, searching around in the rubble, scrambling across it gracelessly. “Ah!” He sprang up victorious, a bundle of perfectly-tied books in one hand, his own book in the other, and beamed at the demon. “The least I could do, since you came all this way for me.”

Aziraphale stared at him, looking more dazed than Crowley had ever seen him before.

Crowley hopped back over the rubble and held out the bundle, then looked down at the book in his other arm. Well, of all the people who would appreciate and take care of the book as it deserved, he could think of no one better. “Would you like this one as well?”

“This one?” Aziraphale echoed, looking down.

Crowley held out the other book to him.

The demon’s eyes widened in shock. “That’s…”

Crowley nodded. “I think you’re the best person to look after it.” He held it out. “I can’t say thank you, but…” He shrugged with a tentative smile. “Please?”

A dazzling beautiful smile lit the demon’s face and he nodded, taking both bundle and book with such reverence that Crowley knew at once he had been forgiven for the mess in the park and that he had made the right choice.

“Do…” He hesitated, then adjusted his hat. “I’ve got a car now. Would you like a lift home?”

“My dear,” Aziraphale said, his voice soft and wondering, “I would be delighted.”

Chapter Text

It was, perhaps, foolish to continue with his plan, but Aziraphale knew he had no choice.

Unlike many angels, Hell never forgot a deadline. In fact, they took great pleasure in breathing down your neck to remind you of it. They especially didn’t forget a deadline that would give them chance to – as Beelzebub eloquently declared – put the boot in to their Heavenly counterparts.

The trouble was – and always had been – that Aziraphale didn’t particularly give a damn about Heaven. Or Hell for that matter. They were like two dogs fighting over a bone that held absolutely no interest to anyone who had experienced life beyond “the war”.

And oh, he had experienced it in full and had no intention of seeing it burned down around him all over again. If that meant taking up arms, then so be it.

He settled back in his chair, crossing one leg over the other, and folding his hands over his middle.

“You understand, of course, that this job will require the utmost discretion.” The two rogue humans he had chosen exchanged puzzled glances and he forced himself to keep smiling quietly. “Your silence, my dears. No one can know of this particular… theft.”

“Yeah,” Spike said, nodding. “Shouldn’t be a–”

Like the human, Aziraphale glanced towards the front of the book shop. The door had been securely locked only moments ago, which meant the door should not have swung open. Neither should booted feet have marched in across the polished stone of the floor.

A young man appeared in the doorway. Tall, sharp-eyed, rough about the edges, with enough of a flavour of corruption about him that said he was far from an innocent little passer-by. “Heard you were looking for a lockman,” he said.

Aziraphale unfolded his hands, propping an elbow on the arm of the chair. He ran two fingertips over his lips and chin, keeping his eyes on the intruder. “You are a good deal… younger than Mr. Narker, my dear,” he murmured. “I’m sure I would remember your face, had I seen it before.”

The human’s bluster faltered just enough, which made Aziraphale’s lips twitch. Ahhh. One of those kind of young men. They were always such fun to play with.

“Mr. Narker,” the man said, his whole body suddenly far tenser than it had been, “has passed onto his reward.” He hesitated and Aziraphale could guess why and had to rein in the urge to raise his eyebrows and bat his lashes.

“And you have come to bring me the sad tidings, have you?” He inclined his head. “If that’s all you’re here for, then best be on your way.”

The young man’s eyes rolled back towards the door, as if he had regretted his decision to even broach their company. “I– I took over the business. He and I shared a cell,” he finally said. “He taught me everything he knew.”

And he had already proved that well enough by slipping the demonic lock on the door of the shop.

“Ah.” Aziraphale smiled. “I see. Very well, Mr…?”

“Shadwell,” the man replied. “Lance Corporal Shadwell.”

It took all of Aziraphale’s considerable will not to laugh at the pride in the boy’s face. “Take a seat, Lance Corporal Shadwell.”

The rest of the gathering went as planned, give or take a few tentative interruptions from their newest arrival harping on about witches. A closer glance let Aziraphale see the seed of fanaticism already germinating well. That kind of mind was always rather useful.

Once all instructions were given, he ushered them to the back door of the shop. There was a narrow alley directly behind it, currently occupied by a couple of ladies and their temporary gentlemen, which opened into another series of labyrinthine passages. No one would ever know the little trio of troublemakers had ever come near his shop or near one another for that matter.

Shadwell hesitated after Spike and his lady friend had vanished off into the night. “Mr. Fell. Sir…”

Aziraphale leaned his upper arm against the doorframe, curling his arm up to lazily finger the wood. “You need some additional instructions, do you, Shadwell?” He saw the boy framing his rank on his lips. “Ah, ah, ah, Shadwell. Don’t imagine you can give orders here. Isn’t that what they teach you, my dear?” He swayed closer, smiling. “Respect your commanding officer?”

Shadwell’s throat worked frantically. Oh, what a dilemma to be faced with. Aziraphale could almost feel the poor creature’s little brain overheating as he processed conflicting reactions. “Aye, m’lord. Sir. It is. Respect, sir.”

“Better,” Aziraphale purred. “You were saying?”

Shadwell licked at his lips and Aziraphale couldn’t help himself, very blatantly and deliberately watching them. Shadwell flushed a beautiful shade of crimson.

“I don’t have all night… Lance Corporal.”

Shadwell straightened his back. “Yes, sir! You remember earlier this evening, I asked a rather pointed question about witchcraft?”

Aziraphale arched an eyebrow. “Yes.”

The young man leaned closer, then seemed to think the better of it when he got a deliberate waft of Aziraphale’s cologne. “I’m the member of an anonymous organisation. Vast. A secret army that battles the forces of witchery.”

“And?” Aziraphale prompted, pushing himself off from the door frame, amused when Shadwell took a step back. “Problem, Lance Corporal?”

Shadwell shook his head, stepping forward again. “No, sir! None, sir!” He fumbled with his hands, settling for shoving them into his pockets. “I– it–the Witchfinder Army. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, sir?”

By Satan, it had been a long while since he’d heard of that particular branch of nutcases. “Oh, I see,” he said, nodding slowly. “It all makes sense now, Lance Corporal.” He reached out and tapped his fingers lightly on Shadwell’s sternum, making him sway back instinctively. “You are the perfect soldier for such a… singular organisation.”

The pride that bloomed in the man was almost pitiable. “Thank you, sir!” He even risked leaning a little closer. “And if a gentleman such as yourself ever has need of such an organisation, the Witchfinder Army are here for you.”

Aziraphale patted his chest. “What a generous offer,” he murmured, giving the human his third-best filthy smile. “I may well take you up on it.”

Shadwell’s face flamed crimson again and he hastily stepped back, almost tripping over his own feet before scrambling back to ramrod straightness. “Sir,” he said, then turned and all but fled into the alleyways behind the shop.

Aziraphale gave a small, contented sigh.

Sometimes, one simply had to give into the temptation to play with them.

Once the back of the shop was secured, Aziraphale returned to the front of the shop for a closer look at young Master Shadwell’s work. It had been well done to slip in under his guard, though if he was honest, he seldom paid that much attention to his security.

He paused, his hand on the door handle.

Through the glass of the windows, he could see a familiar car.

The dove-grey Bentley was gleaming, the flashing lights of the bars and strip clubs casting a rainbow of colours over it. And it was not alone. An angel was standing beside the car. No. He was leaning, sitting against the bonnet, his long legs stretching out in front of him, his dark suit making him a silhouette against the night. He was looking over his shoulder, his dark eyes gazing around the glittering street as if he had never seen it before.

But then, he hadn’t, not in all its twilight splendour.

Aziraphale smiled, opening his door at once. “Crowley! My dear boy! You should have knocked!”

Crowley turned, his hair a shaggy mane around his face. “Aziraphale…” He didn’t look happy.

Aziraphale frowned, stepping out onto the street. “Whatever has happened?”

The angel pushed off from the car, straightening up, though the demon noticed that he didn’t step up onto the pavement, the wide flares of his trousers skimming the cobbles an inch away, as if the kerb was a line he feared to cross. But he had a bottle of wine in one hand, which usually boded well for an evening.

“You know I don’t live all that far away,” Crowley said hesitantly. “I’ve heard… things.”

“Things?” Aziraphale prompted, puzzled.

“About a church.” Ah. That explained the stricken look on the angel’s face. That old chestnut. “You can’t rob a church, Aziraphale. It’s too dangerous.”

Aziraphale pursed his lips. “Would you come inside, if we’re going to talk business?”

Crowley glanced up at the shop front. “I probably shouldn’t,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time Aziraphale had asked, nor the first time the angel had refused, but honestly, was the exterior really so bad? All right, yes, perhaps several of the ornamental embellishments were a little on the lewd side, but he always believed in showing everyone precisely who he was, inside and out, and Crowley knew that.

“So why have you come then?” he asked shortly. “To tell me what I ought not to do again? You told me your thoughts clearly enough a century ago, my dear. I don’t need to have you harping on at me.”

Crowley shook his head. He looked pale, almost nervous. “You…” He hesitated, then held out the bottle of wine. “You don’t need to do it. Not now.”

Aziraphale stared at him, then at the bottle. “I don’t understand.”

The angel’s lips trembled. “I didn’t have anything else to put it in,” he admitted. “No cork, though. Don’t want it to pop out and cause an accident. I’ve sealed it with rubber and wax. It won’t leak. It’ll– you’ll be safe.”

“It’s…” Aziraphale’s heart constricted. “Is this what I think it is?”

Crowley nodded, turning the bottle in his hands. “The holiest.”

The world shook under Aziraphale’s feet. “That’s… but you said…”

The angel nodded, giving him a small, heartbreaking smile. “I know. And I still don’t want to do it, but if it’s this or watching you risk your life on a maybe?” He shook his head, his eyes brilliantly bright. “I can’t do that.”

Aziraphale knew words. He knew many of them. Only they seemed to have forsaken him as he reached out and took the bottle from the angel’s shivering hands. “Can… hypothetically, could I thank you?”

Crowley stepped back the moment the bottle was securely in Aziraphale’s grip. “Probably shouldn’t,” he said.

Aziraphale nodded, cradling one hand reverently under the base of the bottle, the other tight around the neck. “Do– do you want to come in?”

Crowley shook his head, rubbing his palms anxiously together. “No. No, thanks.” He looked up and met Aziraphale’s eyes. “Not tonight.” His lips trembled and oh, the dear boy was trying so hard to smile. Lord, he was still so afraid. “Maybe you can pop round to watch telly some time. Or we can go to that restaurant you like. The Ritz, wasn’t it?”

Oh, Satan preserve him.

“You know you’re welcome,” Aziraphale said as gently as he could. “Anytime you want, my door will always be open for you.”

Crowley nodded, then turned and moved back towards his car. Aziraphale watched, knowing there was nothing else he could say, as the angel climbed into the driver’s seat. He half-expected Crowley to drive away without another word, but the angel drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, then reached over and rolled down the window.

Aziraphale stepped down off the pavement, closer to him.

Crowley looked at the bottle, then up at him with a small, oddly-shy smile. “You do owe me a drink.”

Before Aziraphale could speak, the car roared to life and he was left clutching the angel’s gift and unable to hide the wondering smile that spread across his face.

Chapter Text

It was a mild night, dry and clear, but even so, a good denizen of Hell could always find something to complain about.

“Don’t see why we need to wait around for him,” Hastur grumbled. “He knew we would be coming. He should’ve been here.”

Lounging against a gravestone in the shadow of the church, Ligur nodded in agreement. “What’s he been getting up to up here, anyway? We never see him below these days.”

Hastur scowled. “He runs a bookshop.” The last word was said with all the disdain usually applied to an infant school production of Swan Lake, without all the adorable chubby cheeks and tantrums. “And he eats human food. For pleasure!”

Ligur shuddered. “Always enjoyed his food a bit too much, that one.”

A hiss of laughter from above made them both look up in bewildered alarm to find a pair of sleepy blue eyes gazing back down at them, a serpent’s grin on the creature’s face. It coiled down around the tree’s trunk and at last, Aziraphale lazily curled around from behind the tree. He brushed loose leaves from his cream coat and checked himself fastidiously before looking at them. 

“Oh come now,” he said, pouting at them. “I don’t enjoy it too much. I enjoy it exactly the right amount.” He tilted his head from one side to the other, cracking his neck. “So, my dears, what the devil can I do for you?”

Hastur recovered first. It was always a nasty surprise to find the person you were talking about behind their back was in fact listening from above. A bit too much like, Heaven, that. “Hail Satan!” he declared, grateful when Ligur echoed him.

Aziraphale waved a hand. “Mm. That.” He yawned pointedly, his jaw opening unnaturally wide, and Hastur made a face that closely resembled the rear end of a cat.

“Let us,” the demon snapped, “recount the deeds of the day.”

“Mm.” Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Deeds.”

Hastur glared at him and if looks could have killed, Aziraphale certainly would have been more than mildly inconvenienced. “I’ve tempted a Priest,” he said proudly. “As he walked down the street, he saw all the pretty girls in the sun. I put doubt into his mind. He would’ve been a saint. Now, within a decade, we shall have him.”

Ligur chuckled beside him approvingly, but Aziraphale merely smiled and hummed, as if he had heard better. Hastur scowled at him, nudging Ligur.

“I,” Ligur said, glaring at Aziraphale on principle, “have corrupted a politician. Let him think a tiny bribe wouldn’t hurt. Within a year, we shall have him.”

“Lovely,” Aziraphale said and while he was smiling, it also gave the impression of a rather dramatic eyeroll as well. “A politician? A dirty priest? Very original, my dears. Very… exciting new developments.”

Hastur bared maggoty teeth. “And you, Aziraphale. What have you done?”

“Me?” Aziraphale’s teeth showed in something that was certainly not a smile. “Oh, I shut down the London Transport Network. It was rather impressive, actually. I even managed to ground most of the flights at the airport. Who knew that a few phone calls from the pub down the road and some silly accents would alarm the police so much?”

Hastur and Ligur exchanged glances.

“Yeah?” Hastur said. “And?”

“Have you even tried the Underground, my dear?” Aziraphale shuddered dramatically. “Awful, nasty little place, but it’s positively the heart of the city. Take away its heart and all other functions begin to fail.” He chuckled happily to himself. “What a shame that all the other options have ground to a halt as well.”

Hastur was not a demon who appreciated human things. Or humans at all for that matter. The last ‘underground’ vehicle he had encountered featured a small donkey and an equally small child. “So what? What has that done to secure souls for our Master?”

Aziraphale smiled like an angel. “Every commuter and traveller in the city stranded with no other alternatives? Oh, my dears, the chaos will be marvellous! So much anger. They’ll positively bubble over with wrath and envy for those lucky bastards in the taxis.” He gave a happy sigh. “Millions of souls, tarnishing one another a little more. Rather impressive if I do say so myself.”

Ligur snorted. “It’s not exactly… craftsmanship, is it?”

“This, my dears, is what we call quantity over quality. Higher turnover, you see. Downstairs understand modern times require modern methods. Population booms and what have you. No wonder they adore me down there.” He took out his pocket watch and checked it. “So. Why are we here?”

Hastur smiled thinly. “This.”

Ligur picked up a picnic basket that was resting at his feet, holding it out.

It cannot be said that Aziraphale looked scared. He didn’t. But in all his many centuries on earth, he had never looked so apprehensive of a picnic basket before. “No…”

“Yes,” Ligur hissed with satisfaction.

“But surely that’s a long way off?”

“Not anymore,” Hastur sounded as pleased as Ligur. True, it was partly because of the contents of the basket, but there was also something very satisfying about wiping the smugness off the fair-haired demon’s face.

Aziraphale looked between them, then back at the basket. “I’m not sure I’m the best qualified to handle… that.”

“Oh, we’ve heard otherwise,” Ligur murmured, holding out the basket towards him. “You’re the one with the most practise with one of these.” He uncurled his fingers around the handle, holding it out, palm up. “Take it.”

The other demon’s hands hovered indecisively in front of his chest. “Why on earth would they pick me?” he demanded.

“Modern times,” Hastur said, lips twitching, “require modern methods.” He extended a bill of delivery. “Sign.”

Aziraphale hesitated, then slashed the tip of his thumbnail along his fingertip, marking a sigil in a scorching drop of dark blood. It sizzled on the paper, scoring the mark deeper than the page.

He straightened up, glancing warily between them. “What now?”

Ligur pressed the basket into his hand as Hastur smiled and said, “You will receive your instructions.” His eyes glittered. “The moment we’ve been working for all these centuries is at hand!”

“Mm.” Aziraphale said noncommittally, shifting the weight of the basket in his grip.

“Your moment of eternal triumph awaits,” Ligur added.

“I see.”

“And you,” Hastur finished, “will be a tool of that glorious destiny.”

The fair demon looked down at the basket. “I expect so,” he said, then flashed a smile that was all teeth. “Best be off then, my dears. Wouldn’t want to… disappoint anyone.”

“And Aziraphale,” Ligur called after him. “Try not to get peckish on the way.”

Aziraphale shot a thin smile over his shoulder. “Oh don’t worry, my dear,” he called, as he wove between the headstones. “I think the contents of this one might disagree with me if I tried.”

He wound his way back out of the cemetery and into the village, resisting the urge to open up the nearest manhole cover and tip the contents of the basket down it.

Aziraphale was many things, but suicidally foolish was not one of them. The basket had to be delivered or his neck would be on the line. And if he didn’t deliver it, then someone else inevitably would while he paid for his dereliction of duty in the lowest pit.

To anyone who saw him passing, Aziraphale looked like an amiable gentleman of a certain age out for a pleasant evening stroll. However, anyone unfortunate enough to pass by him would have been shocked by the litany of muttered profanities rolling off his tongue in a dozen languages.

“Why me?” he demanded under his breath as he hurried back into the pub. “What the hell have I done?”

“Oh, you know what you’ve done, Aziraphale.” He spun around to see the presenter on Match of the Day smiling down at him from the television above the bar. “The M25. The Underground. Terminal Five at Heathrow. All your little technological innovations to make the world a little worse.”

Ah. He tightened his grip on the basket, wonder how they would react if they knew a certain angel had actually been responsible for those little circles of Hell on earth, two of them completely accidentally.

“Here,” Gary Lineker said, beaming at him, “are your instructions.”

The information sleeted into his brain, making his world spin, and he staggered, leaning heavily against the nearest table.

“You all right, mate?” the occupant inquired, looking up at him.

Aziraphale stared at him then nodded. “Come with me,” he said, snapping his fingers. “We need to go for a little drive.”

The human rose, abandoning his pint, and followed him.

 

____________________________

 

A show was still going on in the hall and Crowley smiled as voices lifted, singing along with the enthusiastic – although not exactly – in-tune guitar. Light was pouring out of the tall windows of the building, illuminating him as he worked his way along the bonnet of the Bentley.

He could’ve done it with a miracle, but sometimes, he enjoyed the physical effort of it all. It wasn’t as if it really needed to be cleaned and polished so often, but he liked it and it wasn’t as if he’d even be able to hear his telly over the sound of music from the main hall.

Not that he minded. That was why he’d converted the building to begin with: the main body of the former church was the local community centre and always packed with people doing some kind of good, while the attached chapter house had his big squashy couch, his wide-screen telly and a good selection of wine stored in the eaves. It was small and snug, but he liked it that way.

He dabbed his cloth into the tin of wax, then set to work on the left side of the bonnet, humming along with the tune from the hall.

A shimmer of light reflected in the windscreen made him whip round, his foot catching on his ankle, and he stumbled back against the edge of the bonnet at the sight of the creature standing an arm’s length away from him, looking like the embodiment of sophistication in perfectly-tailored suit.

“Gabriel!” He tried to gather his scattered wits. “Uh. Hi?”

“Am I interrupting, Raziel?” The Archangel gave him a placid smile, which did nothing to stop Crowley’s heart from racing. How long had it been since he’d heard someone call him by that name? A couple of hundred years, give or take? And Gabriel never really showed up for any good reason, did he? Crowley frantically riffled through his most recent good and bad deeds, wondering if or when he’d slipped up or if–

“–doing to that thing?”

He blinked, tuning back into the archangel’s words. “What?”

Gabriel pointed to the cloth in his hand, then to the car. “What are you doing to that thing?”

Crowley reached back to protectively lay a hand on the Bentley. “I-I’m waxing it. It keeps it looking its best.”

“It’s just a few pieces of metal,” Gabriel said with disdain. “You use… manual labour for such a trivial thing?”

Crowley wanted to argue it was much more than that, but he bit his tongue.

He’d been on the wrong side of the Archangel before – several of them, actually – and he didn’t want to risk it again. They’d never really liked him after the incident with his Book, all those millennia ago. Knowledge, they furiously told him, should not have been given to talking monkeys, especially not monkeys who had been tempted into sin and abandoned God’s grace.

Funny how God seemed to take his side on that occasion and the Book of knowledge mysteriously found its way from the bottom of the sea and back into the hands of those lovely little monkeys, who had gone on to be curious and clever enough to figure out a combustion engine and build a gorgeous thing like a Bentley.

Still, it had been easier to stay on earth after that, instead of dealing with sideways looks and snide comments. Making amends through his labours, they called it. Exile, they called it. Staying out of their way and getting on with his work, he called it.

He did wonder, though, how they’d react if they found out which bookshop currently had the most recent copy of the Book. Snide comments would probably get a bit more pointed and sharp and probably flaming.

“Well…” he managed to say. “S’a car, isn’t it? Humans need them to get about. Helps me blend in a bit.” Which, he had to admit was a spectacular lie. A vintage Bentley drew eyes wherever it went, and he’d be lying even more if he didn’t love to see the looks on peoples’ faces as he sped by.

Gabriel smiled angelically. “At least you won’t need to worry about that much longer.”

Crowley’s stomach dropped like a stone. “I won’t?”

The Archangel leaned closer. “We have reliable information that things are afoot.”

“Yeah?” Crowley’s voice came out as a croak.

Gabriel nodded. “Yes. My informants suggest the demon – Aziraphale? – may be involved.”

Crowley groaned inwardly. If Aziraphale was already back on Heaven’s radar, that wasn’t good.

“You need to keep him under observation,” Gabriel continued, “without, of course, letting him know that’s what you’re doing.”

Crowley forced a strained smile. “That’s what I stayed here since Eden,” he said, wondering when it had become so easy to lie to the denizens of Heaven. Probably, he thought wryly, about the time he had started performing temptations. “To keep an eye on him.”

“Hm.” Gabriel nodded. “It’s a miracle he hasn’t spotted you in all that time.” Crowley’s heart did a flip of panic. Did they know? Had they realised? Was it– Then Gabriel laughed and clapped his hands together. “But miracles are what we do!”

Crowley managed a watery smile. “Mm.”

The Archangel didn’t seem to notice his discomfort. “I’m sure you’ll keep up the good work,” he said approvingly. “You’ve made great strides, given where you started.”

Amazing how a compliment could be delivered like a slap in the face.

Crowley nodded and smiled as if he meant it, only the Bentley holding him steady as Gabriel turned and strode away into the darkness.

As soon as he was out of sight, Crowley sagged back to sit on the bonnet of the car, pressing a trembling hand to the metal. “Oh, Aziraphale,” he breathed. “What the Hell have you done?”

Chapter Text

Aziraphale drummed his fingers on the handle of the picnic basket on the seat beside him as the world whizzed by.

The man from the pub – Tom, keen footballer, married with a bit on the side – was silent with his eyes on the road. It was always a bother to… borrow people like that, especially when he had to concentrate to keep them on track, but Aziraphale had never had the inclination to try driving himself. He had always hated cars. And buses. And trains. And quite frankly, anything that moved at more than a rapid trot.

Still, sometimes needs must.

It had taken an hour so far and they’d just passed through a small village and were on their way to the hospital that was Aziraphale’s designated delivery point.

The basket had wailed briefly, but he ignored it, his mind racing.

They’d always known it was coming. Well, he had at least. He’d been trying to find a way around it for years and now, here he was with the bloody Antichrist in a basket beside him. Of all the people to be given the responsibility for setting it all in motion, he was probably the only demon in Hell who would rather have bitten off his own foot.

God, he thought bitterly, and her ineffable sense of humour at play.

Crowley. He’d need to tell Crowley. There had to be something they could do about it.

The car swung in to a wide courtyard, framed by buildings that looked like old-fashioned cloisters. Tom braked the car and remained seated, motionless.

So, this was it, was it?

Reluctantly, Aziraphale got out of the car, pulling the basket with him. This was the last chance he had to whirl it over his head and lob it into the sky, but that niggling worm of self-preservation really, really wanted to keep on living. At least long enough to try to keep everything from ending.

He gave the basket a last glare, then stalked towards the doors where a stout, dark-haired man was standing. He was an ordinary-looking fellow wearing a pullover and smoking a pipe, not a demon or one of their people that Aziraphale recognised, but then it took all sorts.

“Has it started already?” he demanded as he neared.

The man nodded with a pained smile. “They told me to wait outside.”

Of course. No witnesses.

“Where are we then?” he asked, as he strode by towards the door.

“Room three, doctor!”

The halls were deserted as he strode onwards, until he emerged in a vast lobby with a gargantuan statue of a man wrestling a serpent. He paused, considering it, trying to recall any occasion when he might have posed for something like that, when he heard a squeak of surprise.

“Master Aziraphale!”

He turned to see a nun staring at him, fizzing with delight, a beaming smile on her face.

With considerable effort, he made himself hold out the basket. “You’ll be expecting this, I suppose.”

The nun nodded eagerly, snatching it from his hand. She flipped open one of the lids and despite himself, Aziraphale looked down to see a tiny, utterly normal-looking, very pink, sneezing baby.

“Is it really him?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Mm.”

She laughed in delight. “I’d’ve expected funny eyes or teensy weensy little hoofikins or a widdle tail.”

Aziraphale pinched the bridge of his nose. Satanists were always such a… special group of people. “It’s certainly him.”

The nun positively glowed. “Fancy me holding the antichrist, counting his little toesie-woesies!”

“Oh for Satan’s sake…” Aziraphale groaned under his breath.

“Do you look like your daddy?” The nun continued to coo, rocking the basket gently. “Do you look like your daddy-waddi-kins?”

“Of course he doesn’t,” Aziraphale snapped. “Take him up to room three.”

He turned, striding away, wondering if anyone would suspect him if the whole damn place ended up in flames. After all, the baby had been delivered. Who could fault him if faulty wiring wiped him and all those around him out in a freak tragic fire?

Oh, but they’d know. They’d have eyes on the place. They would check and then…

No. He had to walk away.

He headed for the doors.

Outside, the night was cool and quiet. Pullover man was gone, probably back indoors now that the baby was safely delivered.

Aziraphale shoved his hands in his pockets and breathed out a chilly breath towards the night sky.

All right, then. That was that. The clock was ticking.

First things first, he needed to get back to London and let Crowley know what was happening and then–

He paused, frowning. There was a distinctly vacant space where he’d left his unwitting taxi.

“Oh for Satan’s sake, Tom!” he snarled. Lose concentration for five seconds and what happened? The bloody man had taken it into his head to bugger off home. He stared around at the other cars, but there wasn’t a soul to be seen. All inside, he suspected, watching the birth of the Ambassador’s hellspawn.

It took a flare of a miracle to get him back to the village, which he always hated doing for such short stints. They could be so exhausting sometimes. At least the village had a bus stop there. He’d seen it. And if that failed, there was bound to be someone in the village he could borrow.

The trouble was that it was close to midnight and it was a God-damned village with a single street and sod all else. A makeshift poster had been sellotaped onto the bus stop and he stared at it in dismay: All buses had been cancelled for the day due to network difficulties in London.

“Oh, you silly bastard,” he groaned. He turned on the spot, looking around. No people about either, not even a cat or dog or something.

There was, thankfully, a telephone box and only one number he knew he could call.

He dialled, not even bothering putting any coins in, and waited.

“Hello?” Crowley’s voice was barely audible over the sound of music. “Who’s this?”

“Hello, my dear.”

There was a pause. “Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale glanced along the empty abandoned streets. “I’m in a bit of a pickle.”

“Yeah?” The angel sounded oddly reticent. “What do you need?”

Aziraphale sighed with relief. “Would you be able to give me a lift?”

 

________________________

 

A small flock of ducks had gathered in front of Crowley as he distractedly scattered handful of feed for them. St. James’s Park was as busy as always, but he didn’t need to look when footsteps approached him.

“You’re early, my dear.”

Crowley nodded, flicking another handful of food for the eager ducks. “The taxi found you, then?”

“Clearly,” Aziraphale replied, standing alongside him. “I didn’t realise you were occupied.”

Crowley couldn’t work out why he’d lied. They needed to talk about what was going on, but he– it was all– how was he meant to process what he needed to when Aziraphale would be… well… himself? The demon didn’t make it easy to think vast and terrifying thoughts, especially not about something important.

Crowley had just needed a few extra hours to grasp the magnitude of the thought sitting in his head: Armageddon. Coming soon. Not in centuries, but in little more than a decade.

No, it wasn’t just that. It was Gabriel as well. Gabriel always rattled him. It was daft how much checking in with his home team could knot his insides and make him head for the bottle as well.

So he’d dispatched a taxi to a village in the middle of nowhere to pick the demon up, locked the door of his home and thought about Armageddon until it grew too tempting to run headfirst at a wall. It took about fifteen minutes. With that awesomely horrifying weight in his head, he sank a full bottle of a fruity Merlot before falling asleep on the couch.

“So…” Aziraphale rocked on the balls of his feet. “What are we going to do?”

Crowley’s fingers clenched convulsively. The bag of seed burst, causing a free-for-all at his feet. “Do? What’s there to do? It’s the divine plan!”

“To Hell with that,” Aziraphale snapped.

Crowley looked at him, startled. Aziraphale was many things, but actively rebellious was rarely part of it.

“It was bound to happen eventually,” he said, as much as he hated to admit it. “Heaven will triumph over Hell and everything…” He trailed off at the look of contempt on the demon’s face. “Look, we will win! You know we will!”

“Frankly,” Aziraphale said bluntly, “I don’t give a damn which side wins. It shouldn’t happen.” He leaned oppressively close. “And I know for a fact you don’t want it to happen.”

Crowley looked away from him, flushing. “What I want doesn’t matter,” he mumbled, tangling his fingers so tightly they ached. “It’s divine, so I have to do it. Heaven’s orders and all that.”

“Mm. Yes. Oh, so convincing.” The demon snorted. “What do you think they’re going to do to your precious humans when the war is done? Heaven or Hell? Do you think they’ll just say ‘oh, continue living your busy little lives, don’t mind us’?” He shook his head. “They’re gone. Done.” He waved a hand expansively. “This planet. Every person here. Every duck here will be gone. Obliterated by the Divine Plan.”

Crowley flinched. “I can’t go against Heaven’s will,” he said. “I-I’ve done it before. It doesn’t end well.”

“Oh yes,” Aziraphale said disdainfully. “You got that strongly-worded letter.”

Crowley clenched his hands more tightly. Oh, the demon had no idea. “Why do you care anyway?” he demanded, trying not to let his imagination take him to the places where the Archangels came for him again. They’d wanted him punished then, but Divine Will was Divine Will and you didn’t argue with it. Not when God apparently wanted the monkeys to learn.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Aziraphale demanded. “All my things are here. All the best restaurants. Don’t you remember how vile the food in Heaven was before the first war?”

“Oh, of course,” Crowley snapped. “It’s always selfish with you.”

The demon gave him a blank look. “Obviously.”

Crowley threw up his hands. “I’m not talking about this with you. I can’t.” He turned and hurried away, surprised when Aziraphale trotted along after him.

“I’m not saying we storm the gates of Heaven and Hell or anything,” he said reasonably. “Look, we have eleven years before it happens. That’s plenty of time to do something.”

“No!” Crowley ran up the steps towards Horseguards, screeching to a halt when the demon materialised in front of him. “Aziraphale! Stop it!”

The demon held up his hands, his face creased in worry. “All right, all right.” He gave Crowley a careful smile. “How about I get you a drink at least?” He raised his eyebrows hopefully. “I still owe you one, don’t I?”

Crowley felt like he had been deflated by those words. An echo of another little deed, an act against the will of Heaven, one of his many, many, many little indiscretions. And now a last indulgence before it was all too late. “Yeah,” he murmured, nodding. “You do.”

Aziraphale looked painfully relieved. “Where shall we try? Somewhere nearby? The Ritz, maybe?” He hesitated, then offered, “How about yours?”

Crowley pushed his fingers through his hair. It didn’t feel like a night for getting plastered in front of strangers and there was something nice about seeing Aziraphale making himself at home on the plush couch in his house, the restored ruins of their church visible through the window.

“Mine, I think,” he said. “I’m not in the mood for food.”

Aziraphale’s face broke into a smile. “Oh, lovely! I can order in from that lovely little takeaway. They do those dumplings we like.”

Despite himself, Crowley couldn’t help smiling. “What did I just say?”

Aziraphale rounded his eyes. “You don’t have to eat any.”

Crowley shook his head with a crooked grin. “Of course I don’t,” he said, then nodded towards the road. “Come on. I’ve got the car.”

“Oh.” Aziraphale made a face. “Goodie.”

The angel gave him a look. “You can get the Underground if you want.”

Aziraphale shuddered. “Oh, no! Satan preserve me! But I swear that metal monstrosity of yours doesn’t like me.”

Crowley laughed for the first time since Gabriel had appeared as he headed towards the Bentley. “It’s called carsickness, Aziraphale. Nothing to do with the car. Everything to do with you.”

“Hmph.” The demon grumbled sceptically, trotting after him. “Still think it doesn’t like me.”

“Of course it doesn’t.” He couldn’t resist a playful nudge. “You’re an evil fiend after all.”

“Damn right I am!”

 

______________________________________

 

Just outside a small village in Oxfordshire, a couple called Deirdre and Arthur Young were taking the baby they believed was theirs home from a charming maternity hospital full of very friendly, very chatty nuns.

The baby was not, in fact, theirs.

The Antichrist had been on earth for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, in St. Dunstan’s Hill, an angel and a demon were making a game effort at drinking the contents of the angel’s wine loft.

The room they were in didn’t technically look like house at all. It was too round for one thing, with a high, pointed roof still painted with all kinds of allegorical images. Someone had carefully and deliberately painted a twirly moustache on the gilt-edged Lamb of God in the middle of the ceiling, a good twenty feet above the floor. It also had a monocle and was the jauntiest messianic image in all of London.

A few paintings hung on the walls and a handful of mismatched ornaments cluttered onto the window ledges. Plants guarded the high arches of the windows, beautiful and verdant and glowing with life. They even grew around the refrigerator, which stood near the door and was very definitely not plugged in, but that still managed to keep everything perfectly cold. It was also covered in drawings by small children of a variety of ages, many of them of ‘Mr. Crowley’, held in place by magnets from all kinds of exciting foreign places.

And in the middle of the room, there was a ridiculously oversized couch, the only piece of furniture apart from the coffee table in front of it, which was currently piled with empty boxes from a Chinese restaurant and far too many half-drunk bottles of wine.

“S’not the same thing,” Crowley protested, wagging a finger. He was perched on the arm of the couch, his bare feet on the cushions, and swaying gently back and forth. “S’definitely not.”

Aziraphale made a face at him, from his position, reclined on the couch. His boots were tipped over on the floor, his jacket flung over the edge of the television and his feet – in their diamond-patterned socks – were propped comfortably between Crowley’s. “Is.” He took a swig from a bottle, then added, “You took miracles an’ gave them to someone else. Defying Heaven, that. They told you what to do and you…” He frowned in concentration, searching for the word. “Didn’t!”

“I did!” Crowley insisted. “I did… just in a little bit different way than they asked. S’all doing good for people anyway!”

“Not doing what they told you!” Aziraphale declared triumphantly. “Done it before. Can do it again.”

Crowley waved a hand. “No. No. S’totally different. Wossname… reinterpretatation of the text.”

Aziraphale prodded Crowley’s knee with his toe. “Can reinterpratate Revelations.”

The angel hiccupped, then frowned. “What revelations?”

Aziraphale pushed himself up on his elbows, squinting. “Dint you ever read your book? I mean…” He waved his bottle in the vague direction of the ceiling.

“Nothing ‘bout a revelation in my book,” Crowley said with a sniff.

Aziraphale peered at him, puzzled. “Was. You remember? St. John? Skinny fellow. Looked like he’d been hit in the face with a hedgehog?”

Crowley blinked, his train of thought several carriages short of the platform. “Er…”

“The one who went on about gates and wings and holy sheep and stuff?” Aziraphale added, sitting up. “End of the world stuff?”

“Oh! Right! Yeah! Mushroom guy, right? Smelled like a dead goat?”

“Yes!” Aziraphale beamed at him. “I mean, if we can’t rewrite mushroom guy’s nonsense, we’re pretty rubbish, aren’t we?”

The angel stared at him, then reached down and snatched the half-finished bottle from his hand, taking a hearty mouthful. He sat there, swaying gently, his brow all creased up in thought. “Can’t,” he finally said. “If it’s big divine plan stuff, can’t. Not allowed. They get cross if I do that.”

The demon groaned and threw himself back dramatically, flinging an arm over his eyes. “Satan’s sake, angel!” He was quiet for a moment, then made a thoughtful sound.

“Mm?” Crowley inquired around the bottle of wine.

Aziraphale’s arm slipped away from his eyes and he stared at Crowley. “What if it isn’t the divine plan?”

“Tis, though.” Crowley hiccupped again. “Gabriel came. Told me.” He made a face. “Don’t like him. Head up his bum.”

Aziraphale giggled, but he had a determined look in his eyes as he pushed himself back upright, gripping the back of the couch for leverage. “No, no, no, my dear. Think about it!” He held up his other hand, folding a finger down at a time. “One: S’a baby from Hell, right?” Crowley nodded slowly. “Two: s’a demon whom delivered it.”

“Who,” Crowley corrected.

“Me, you idiot!” Aziraphale said indignantly. “Told you that already!”

“Y’said ‘whom’,” Crowley stuck out his tongue. “You’re not a whom. You’re a who.”

Aziraphale waved his hand dismissively. “Not important.” His brow furrowed. “What was I saying?”

“You. Baby.”

“Oh! Right! Yes!” He nodded enthusiastically. “Me. Baby. Number… er…” He peered at his hand. “Three? Yes, three! Arranged by demons!”

“So?” Crowley peered gloomily into his now-empty bottle. He swung his legs down from the couch and in a tremendous feat of agility, managed to stagger over the 12-inch space between himself and the coffee table to grab another bottle.

“So? It means is not divine plan. S’diabolical is what it is.”

Crowley plopped himself back down on the arm of the couch, eyes wide and wondering. “You think?”

“Stands to reason,” Aziraphale said, leaning off the couch to pick up the last dumpling. “S’a diabolical plan and you know what you do with them.”

“Thwart!” Crowley crowed, toasting with a bottle that was a little fuller than he realised. Wine splattered everywhere. “Bollocks!” He transferred the bottle to his empty hand, shaking the wine off his fingers, then glared at the bottle. “Think I need to be a bit more sober for this.”

“Boring!” Aziraphale groaned, licking his own fingers clean.

“Not boring!” Crowley sat up a little straighter. “Big thoughts need big brain.”

“As if getting sober’ll help you there.”

“Oi!” Crowley gave him a kick on the shin. “You too?”

The demon groaned again, shoving himself up against the cushions. “Oh, all right. If I must.”

There was a peculiar slurping sound like the dregs of a milkshake being sucked through a straw, and the slosh of a dozen empty wine bottles refilling from the bottom up. Both demon and angel winced and Crowley slid down off the arm of the couch, landing by Aziraphale’s feet.

“Do you really think it counts as a demonic plan?” he asked.

“Undoubtably,” Aziraphale nodded. “I mean, it’s all in our hands. Surely that makes it your angelic duty to try and stop it? Thwarting our wiles, as they say?” He gave the angel an encouraging smile. “Heaven couldn’t get annoyed with you for trying to stop us, could they? I mean, it’s literally your job!”

Crowley’s face was a picture of anxious thought, a deep line cutting between his brows. “Hm.”

Aziraphale leaned forward, gently rubbing the worry line away with his thumb. “You’ll hurt yourself if you keep running your poor wits in circles.”

Crowley swatted his hand away with a rueful smile. “You know that’s not how my brain works.” He scratched at his temple. “You said you had a plan?”

Aziraphale’s eyes lit up hopefully. “A tentative one,” he admitted. “You see, I’m to be there to corrupt the child. Lord knows why they think I can do that.”

“Can’t begin to imagine,” Crowley murmured dryly.

Aziraphale narrowed his eyes in mock outrage. “Was that necessary, my dear?”

“Saw an opening,” Crowley said with a twitch of a smile. “Couldn’t help myself.”

Aziraphale’s lips curved in a smug smile. “I do so like it when you’re naughty.”  He waved his hands. “But I’m getting off-course! So yes. I’m to… ingratiate myself to the family and ensure that the boy is… made ready for his role in the future, in all things evil and awful. It would be a shame if someone were to… offer an alternative perspective. Perhaps teach him about virtue and goodness and all that nonsense.”

“But would it work?”

The demon nodded. “He’s human, for now at least. That’s why he needs to be surrounded by the… ah… right influences: to ensure that he’s moulded into the right shape when the time comes.”

“Human…” Crowley echoed thoughtfully. “So if he has good and bad influences, we might get a… zero-sum result?”

“Yes!” Aziraphale clapped his hands delightedly. “Precisely that! Just as we’ve been doing all this time, only with far greater stakes.”

Crowley leaned back against the arm of the chair, tilting his head back to gaze up at the ceiling. “Always did like teaching the humans,” he murmured. “It’s only one of them as well, someone who just needs a little bit of a nudge in the right direction.” He was silent for a few minutes, oblivious to the intensely worried and hopeful look on the demon’s face. When he finally looked back at Aziraphale, Crowley looked much calmer.  “Can’t hurt to try, can it?”

“What’s the worst that can happen?” Aziraphale agreed eagerly. “I mean, we’re both doing our jobs. They can’t really say anything.” He laughed suddenly. “We’ll be Godfathers, of a sort. Taking care of the little mite’s religious upbringing.”

“Godfathers…” Crowley’s face lit in a beatific smile. “Yeah. I like the sound of that.”

“You’re in then?”

Crowley offered his hand and the demon grasped it at once. “I’m in.”

Chapter Text

“You have to meet her,” Harriet said. She was doing that thing her mom did when she wanted to get her own way, smiling through her teeth, and God, he had enough to do without her turning into a bitch like his mother-in-law. “She’s going to be raising our son. You’ve done jackshit else for him. At least you can say you helped pick his Nanny.”

Tad glanced at his secretary, who stared at her diary. “You have five minutes before the call from Berlin, sir.”

“Five minutes.” He got up. “Okay, honey. Where is this Nanny?”

She was sitting in the room that the house-plan called a drawing room. Tad had never figured out why. Maybe that was where the people sat to do their drawings in the old days. It looked kind of like a fancy living room and they’d even kept the old furniture in it because it made a hell of an impression on visitors.

“Introduce us, hon.”

“Tad, this is Miss Ashtoreth.” Harriet said. “Miss Ashtoreth, my husband, Thaddeus.”

The woman rose from the couch, turning to him with a smile.

She looked… like a British nanny was meant to look, kind of. Okay, yeah, he was going off of Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music and his mom’s old favourite movies, but she had the frilly-necked shirt, the suit and a string of pearls around her neck. She wasn’t exactly young, but she didn’t look all that old either, even though she had curly white-blonde hair.

Only her lipstick was shiny and red, her suit so fitted he could see what a… big girl she was, and when he took her hand to shake it, she gave his fingers a slow, firm squeeze. “Mr. Ambassador, I believe,” she said in a voice that should have been illegal anywhere but a specific kind of expensive phone line. “Such a pleasure, I’m sure.”

“Uh. Hi.” He glanced sidelong at Harriet, but she looked like she hadn’t noticed. “A pleasure to meet you too, Miss Ashtoreth. Harriet tells me you’re going to be our son’s Nanny.”

The Nanny smiled, ducking her chin. “Only,” she said, biting her lower lip, “if you’ll have me.”

Tad’s throat went dry. She wasn’t a good-looking woman, but Jesus Christ! Her eyes flicked up and met his and she winked. He couldn’t stop staring at her. No one who looked like a little school teacher was meant to act like that.

“Uh. Sure. Yeah.” Her thumb brushed the back of his palm, reminding him he was still holding her hand. He yanked his fingers free, taking a quick step back. Oh, God, it was probably a bad idea to let her in the house, but if it got Harriet off his back, that had to be a good thing, right? “I’m – uh – I’m sure you’ll fit right in here, hon– uh – ma’am.”

She smiled. “Oh, that’s wonderful, my dear.” She reached out and squeezed his wrist, her little finger stroking intimately along his thumb. “I’m sure we’ll be the very best of friends.”

 

____________________________________

 

 

“God, he is such a bastard sometimes!”

Miss Ashtoreth nodded sympathetically. “Men often are,” she agreed as she poured Harriet a cup of coffee. “Would you like sugar, my dear?”

Harriet nodded gratefully.

Ever since Miss Ashtoreth moved in, she’d made Harriet’s life a hell of a lot easier. Warlock was out from under her feet for the first time in five years and his Nanny acted like it was her job to look after the whole family. She was so nice to all of them, even Tad.

“So,” Miss Ashtoreth said, once she’d put Warlock’s cereal in front of him. He always ate it at the table, without complaining or throwing it on the floor or yelling about his toys, and in Harriet’s eyes that was a god-damned miracle. “What has he been up to now?”

It was probably totally inappropriate, but breakfast with the Nanny was the only time there were Secret Service people – all working for her husband – around. It’s not like she had many friends in the city either and God knew all their phonecalls were recorded.

“I think he’s…” She glanced at Warlock to make sure he wasn’t listening. “He’s acting like there’s someone else.”

“Oh no.” Miss Ashtoreth sounded shocked. “Do you really think so, my dear?”

Did she? She wasn’t sure. Yeah, she’d caught him in the bathroom with his hand down his pants, staring at his phone, but he was a guy and what guy didn’t look at porn? But she’d never see Tad go red in the face about it before.

He’d shut down his phone and shoved it away, which made her more suspicious the longer she thought about it, especially when it was his work-issued phone and not his private one. He wouldn’t have been dumb enough to look at porn on that one, which meant whoever he was seeing was someone he’d met in a professional capacity.

“You should ask him,” Miss Ashtoreth suggested, smiling kindly. “Honesty is always the best policy, dear. You wouldn’t want to let the suspicion fester if there is nothing to worry about.”

“You think so?”

Miss Ashtoreth nodded. “If there’s nothing to worry about, then why get yourself all worked up? Better to be sure.” She took a delicate sip of her tea. She always used a cup and saucer and had her little finger curled up. English ladies were all so refined, Harriet thought enviously. God knew she’d tried, but she always felt like a hick around the woman, no matter how sweet she was. Miss Ashtoreth smiled at her. “Do you think you shall?”

“Shall?”

“Talk to your husband?”

Harriet frowned, turning her cup between her hands. “I don’t know. I don’t want to make a big deal if nothing is going on.”

“I’m sure there’s nothing,” Miss Ashtoreth said soothingly. “After all, he’s a very busy man. When would he have the time?” She laughed. “Oh, imagine if he had to fit that into his diary. Tuesday, two pm: philandering.” She shook her head, laughing again. “What a thought, my dear.”

What a thought…

Harriet tried not to think about it, but it was like an itch she couldn’t stop scratching. She tried to sneak a look at his phone when he was in the bathroom, she asked his assistants about his any openings in his diary, and after waking up for the fourth time to see him sitting in the armchair in their room, grunting and pumping into his hand, his shoulder and head haloed by the light from his cell, she had had enough.

She crept across the room, until she was almost close enough to see. “What the hell’s going on, Tad?” she snapped.

He didn’t stop and that made it worse. “Not now, hon.”

“Now!” She grabbed his shoulder, leaning over to see the screen. She got a glimpse of a pair of huge tits in a tight, wet cream blouse that was open down to the bright-red bra and a tattoo of a snake coiling down, the snake’s head nosing right between them, before he slammed his cell down on the arm of the chair beside him.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” He sat up angrily. “Don’t I get any privacy?”

“Privacy? You’re in our god-damned bedroom! I live here too!” She snatched for his cell. “Who the hell is that?”

“That’s– it– that–” He scrambled up, shoving himself back in his pants. He never stammered like that or got flustered like that over porn. They’d watched enough of the crap together. “That’s not your concern.”

“Not my concern when you’re getting off on some official’s staff?”

“What the hell are you on about?” There was enough of a tell in his voice to know she’d hit the mark. “The staff? Are you serious?”

“Screw you!” she snarled and pointed at the door. “Get the hell out and take your big-titted slut wherever you like. You’re not sleeping with me.”

“Oh, now you have an excuse for being frigid?”

Frigid?”

It got worse from there.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” she said unhappily to Miss Ashtoreth the next morning. “I didn’t want to believe he had some little slut, especially not one with huge tits and a tattoo.”

The Nanny gently patted her hand. “Better you know, my dear,” she consoled her, squeezing her fingers. “You know your own worth, that’s what matters.” She glanced about and leaned closer. “Have you considered a little shopping trip? Retail therapy perhaps?” She smiled encouragingly. “It would take your mind off all this nonsense, wouldn’t it?”

“We have to be pretty strict about our expenses,” Harriet said, shaking her head. Yeah, the salary had been a major drop from her CEO salary, but she’d thought that being an Ambassador’s wife would be worth it. “We’re working on the taxpayer’s dime, after all.”

To her surprise, Miss Ashtoreth tutted. “And so you’ll let everyone else have all the fun, while you’re left with nothing? It’s only a little shopping spree. With all those idiots burning through money on the stock-exchange, why would they mind you buying a nice pair of shoes?” She nodded towards the door. “Go on. Indulge yourself. He certainly seems to be.”

Somehow, Miss Ashtoreth always knew the right things to say to make her feel better.

“Yeah,” she said, then smiled at the thought. God, it had been so long since she’d had some fun in the stores and London had so many. “I think I’ll do that.”

“Good,” Miss Ashtoreth said, smiling like an angel. “That’s lovely.”

 

_________________________________________________

 

Warlock snuck around the back of one of the big bushes, keeping a look out. Nanny was sitting on a folding chair with a book, but she was smiling. They had a bet. Nanny said he couldn’t steal an apple from the apple tree at the end of the garden. He told her he could.

“Very well, my dear,” she had said, stroking his hair. “I’ll wait here and once you’ve stolen it, you can bring it to me and we’ll make it into a pie.”

“A real pie? Just for us?” He liked eating with Nanny. She always found the best food and she never yelled at him when he didn’t like something. She just found something better instead.

She smiled and nodded. “Of course, my dear.”

He peeked out from behind another bush, watching out for his dad’s Secret Service guys. They were big and scary with guns and they didn’t like him walking anywhere without holding Nanny’s hand which was – he giggled – bullshit. He liked that word. He’d heard dad using it and it made mom mad when he used it, but Nanny just laughed and told him he had a good … vo-cab-i-l-ary. She taught him lots of words. His favourite one made mom go and scream at dad.

One time, he got Nanny into trouble when they were having a water fight in the yard, pretending to fight all of the angels of Heaven. Nanny was all wet and had taken her jacket off to chase Warlock, trying to catch him in it. Dad got real mad and came stomping to his window, yelling and using all the words mom didn’t like. Nanny told Warlock to hold her jacket and went to talk to him at the window. Warlock didn’t know what Nanny said, but when she came back, dad was all red-faced and quiet.

“Is dad mad at you?” he asked when she put him to bed that night.

“Oh no, my darling boy,” she told him, smiling. “He only wanted to tell me my blouse was unbuttoned. He was worried I would catch a cold.”

Warlock didn’t think his dad even noticed anything like that. Dad sounded mad, but Nanny stopped him being mad. That was all that mattered. She was real good at it too.

No one ever got mad around Nanny, but now, he was on his own and he had to sneak without anyone catching him.

When he was sure no one could see him, he ran as fast as he could towards the apple tree. It was big and tall and the apples were all red and shiny. There were some on the grass, but the worms would be eating them and worms in pie sounded gross. The tree wasn’t so high and there were branches low enough for him to grab, so he started to climb.

By the time he was high enough to reach the apples, it looked a long way down. He reached out, stretching as far as he could, but he slipped and one of the branches made a snapping noise.

Warlock clung onto the trunk, yelping.

“Warlock!”

“Mr. Francis!” Warlock wailed. “Help! I’m stuck!”

Mr. Francis laughed. “It’s all right,” he said. “Hold on. I’ll come up and get ye.”

Warlock nodded, squeezing his eyes shut. Mr. Francis climbed up behind him and wrapped his arm around Warlock’s middle.

“All right, wee man,” he said in his funny Scottish voice. “Ye can let go now. I have a hold of ye.”

Warlock clung onto his arm all the way down from the tree and as soon as they were on the ground, he spun around and hugged Mr. Francis, burying his face in the gardener’s belly. “S’too high,” he whispered, clinging onto Mr. Francis’s overalls.

“Aye, a wee bit.” Mr. Francis knelt down and wrapped him up in the best hug. Mr. Francis always gave the best hugs and stopped everything being scary. “What were ye doing up there anyway?”

Warlock sniffed hard and leaned back to look at him. His hair was in a ponytail today and his beard looked all fuzzy. He always looked like the school gardener from The Simpsons with a lot more hair. “I wanted to get an apple for Nanny,” he admitted. “She bet I could steal one off the tree.”

“An apple?” Mr. Francis looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Aye, right enough. Nanny likes an apple or two.” He wiped Warlock’s cheeks with his thumbs. “Would ye like me to help?”

“Nanny said I have to steal it,” he protested.

Mr. Francis nodded. “Nanny says a lot of silly things, wee man.” He took Warlock’s hands in his. “Ye can have some apples and I’m sure Nanny’ll be happy enough. Ye don’t need to steal anything. Ye can ask nicely and people can help ye.”

Warlock thought about it and sniffed, then nodded. “Please can you help me, Mr. Francis?”

Mr. Francis gave him a big smile. “Of course I can, wee man.” He got back up and hoisted Warlock up onto his shoulders. “Ye should be able to reach from there.”

Warlock stretched up as high as he could and gave a happy shout when he grabbed one of the apples. “I got one!”

“Do ye want to get some more?”

Warlock bounced excitedly on his shoulders. “Yes!” He paused, then leaned down to look at Mr. Francis. “Please can I have some more, Mr. Francis?”

Mr. Francis laughed. “As many as ye like, wee man.”

Mr. Francis helped him pick enough apples to fill a whole basket. He even gave Warlock some milk and a secret chocolate chip cookie as well and told him the story of how the ladybug got her spots, before he sent Warlock back to Nanny.

“My word!” Nanny said as he dragged the basket back to her. “You’ve been very busy.”

Warlock nodded happily. “I got the best ones for you.”

She leaned down off her seat and picked up the basket. “I see that.” She smiled, big and soft. “I’m very proud of you.”

Warlock wriggled happily. “Can we make pie now?”

Nanny laughed and got to her feet. “And pudding and tart,” she said, taking the basket in one hand and holding out her other hand to him. Warlock took it at once. It was always the best day when Nanny made food.

 

______________________________________

 

 

It was one thing to discomfit humans.

It was a pleasure of entirely another kind to discomfit demons, who thought themselves beyond it.

Aziraphale made her way through the grim and grimy hallways of the third tier of Hell, dressed with the kind of refinement she reserved for gently and constantly grinding against Harriet Dowling’s burgeoning self-doubt. The collar was high, the skirt was modest, the shoes were sensible and she had never looked more out of place in her long life.

Perhaps, the string of pearls with a crucifix was overkill, but she had no patience for their little games and if they wanted to rush her, they could deal with it.

Hastur, of course, was the first one to question it. “What the Heaven are you meant to be?” he spluttered, his eyes running over her from head to toe.

Aziraphale smiled delightfully at him. “Exactly what I’m expected to be, my dear. Why?” She leaned closer. “Soft, religious humans your kink?”

It made him splutter even more, and she turned – fighting down a smirk – as Lord Beelzebub strode into the room.

“Tell us about the boy, Warlock,” they commanded, stopping dead in front of Aziraphale. Of course, Lord Beelzebub wasn’t one to be fazed, but they had known Aziraphale a lot longer and tended to be unsurprised by anything he did, which was always a little disappointing.

“Oh, he’s a remarkable boy, Lord Beelzebub,” Aziraphale said, smiling.

“But is he evil?” Hastur demanded.

“Working his way through breaking all the Commandments as we speak,” Aziraphale replied not without a little pride. Warlock had proved as absorbent as a sponge when it came to learning profanities.

Ligur leered. “Kill anyone yet?”

Of course, that silly wretch would prioritise death and destruction over the true art of corruption.

“Not yet,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “But there’s far more to evil than death, you know. Keeping them alive to torment them is so much more… challenging.”

Ligur snorted disdainfully. “Yeah, but it’s not as much fun.”

Lord Beelzebub stepped closer to Aziraphale, ignoring the other demons. “Have you encountered any problems from the…” Their face twisted in distaste, “Opposition?”

“Lord, no!” Aziraphale beamed. And, for once, it wasn’t entirely a lie. After all, she and Crowley made sure Miss Ashtoreth and Mr. Francis were never seen in the same place at the same time. At least not by anyone who might compromise them. Warlock hardly counted. “I’m not sure any of them even know we’re there.”

 

_____________________________________________________

 

“And if we keep going at this pace,” Crowley said, a painfully broad smile plastered on his face, “we may win him back to our side.”

His voice echoed back around him, the vast cavernous empty halls of Heaven the worst kind of echo chamber. He sounded even weaker than he’d realised. How was he meant to convince the Archangels of anything when he sounded more like a frighten foliot than a former Cherub? It didn’t help when they were all dressed to the nines and he looked like he’d come in from a youth club after an all-nighter.

The crash of Gabriel’s hands as he applauded was like a thunderclap. He was flanked by three other angels: Michael, Uriel and Sandalphon, all of whom were watching Crowley with expressions ranging from polite suspicion to blatant dislike.

“Very commendable, Raziel,” Gabriel said, smiling warmly. “Excellent work.”

Crowley tried to smile in return, but hearing that name again and seeing the disdainful looks on the faces of the other three angels as they unenthusiastically applauded, reminded him how much he really didn’t want to be there. No matter what he did, even if he managed to Redeem the damned Antichrist, it would never be enough to wipe out his so-called great crime.

“Yes,” Michael lowered their hands first, smiling coolly at him. “But Raziel, we will be most understanding when you fail.”

On either side of them, Gabriel and the other angels nodded in agreement.

Of course, Crowley thought unsteadily. Six thousand years and he was never going to be good enough, no matter what he did.

“After all,” Michael continued, still smiling. “Wars are to be won.”

“Not,” Uriel put in, dark eyes narrowed at him, “avoided.”

“I won’t fail,” he said with as much defiance as he could muster. “I’m going to save him.”

Gabriel stepped forward, taking his shoulders. “Raziel, we get it. We know you us to see how hard you’re working on our behalf. It’s… praiseworthy, but ultimately, it’s doomed to failure.” He gave Crowley’s shoulders a painfully tight squeeze. “Still, this will be remembered.”

Remembered. Yes. They were very good at remembering.

They still remembered Raziel after all.

He cleared his throat self-consciously. “I-I do have– can I ask a favour?”

Gabriel raised his eyebrows in surprise, dropping his hands. “Of course,” he said, though it was the ‘of course’ of someone who really didn’t want to be asked anything at all.

“I–” Crowley clenched his hands by his sides. “I’ve been using Crowley as my name on earth. So the humans don’t get suspicious of who I really am. Can– do you mind calling me that instead of Raziel? Just to make things simpler?”

Gabriel laughed out loud. “Why would I do that?” he said, shaking his head. “You are Raziel. Raziel of the Book, no less. Why wouldn’t you want to be called by your name?”

As the other Archangels filed passed him, their expressions saying more than words ever could, he looked down at his feet.

Why indeed?

 

___________________________________________________

 

The bus was almost empty as Aziraphale made her way up the stairs and she spotted Crowley in the empty back row, staring moodily out of the window. His gardener disguise was gone, his face clean-shaven, though his hair was still long enough to be pulled back into a braid.

She swayed her way along the moving upper deck and swung into the seat in front of him, reclining back against the window with a long-suffering sigh.

Crowley flinched in surprise as if he hadn’t even noticed her approach. His tongue darted out to wet his lips and he leaned forward. “He’s too normal,” he confided.

“Which was the end-goal, wasn’t it?” Aziraphale murmured, her eyes half-closed, though she watched him from beneath her lashes. He looked more fraught and distracted than usual and it pained her that she couldn’t reach out and smooth that line between his brows. “A no-score draw, remember?”

Crowley nodded stiffly, staring back out of the window, that worrying line deepening even more.

“Give the thought voice, my dear,” she murmured. “Best not to let it fester.”

He was quiet for a moment, then asked in little more than a whisper, “If– let’s say–” He took a shaking breath. “If it goes wrong and he comes into his full power, what the hell are we meant to do?”

The thought had occurred to Aziraphale more than once, but she tried not to think about it too much for fear it would drown out every other thought in her head. After all, there was ineffability to take into account. “Oh, I’m sure we have nothing to worry about,” she lied.  

From Crowley’s expression, he felt exactly the same way. “Oh well,” he said with a brittle laugh. “Only six years left to go.”

Chapter Text

Time has passed as time is prone to do and a small boy becomes a slightly larger boy.

An angel and a demon – no longer a gardener and a nanny – sat on a bench in Crystal Palace Park, watching the child who was no longer in their care. He was walking with his mother, who was excitedly pointing out the hideous statues of the dinosaurs.

“Do you think we’ve done enough?” Crowley asked.

Aziraphale glanced sidelong at him. The angel looked much tenser than Aziraphale could ever recall him being before, his arms tightly folded over his chest, his dark eyes fixed on the boy. “We’ve done all that we feasibly could do,” he murmured. “We aren’t invincible, my dear.”

Crowley nodded, his lips twisting and Lord, that ominous furrow was back between his eyes. “Right. Yeah. Course.” He took a shivering breath. “All we could.”

Perhaps it was all the years of tending a child who enjoyed hugs and holding hands, but Aziraphale couldn’t help reaching out and giving Crowley’s nearest hand a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “Your mind is running away with you again, isn’t it?”

Brown eyes flicked down to his hand, then back to his face, and Aziraphale immediately lifted his hand away, as if scolded. “A little, yeah,” Crowley admitted, his fingers flexing against his upper arm, his knuckles white as bone. “I just– it has to work. We can’t– it can’t just end like…” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Aziraphale closed his hands one around the other to make sure he didn’t give the poor poppet anything else to worry about. “Whatever happens, we’ll know which way the dice will fall by his birthday.”

The angel’s head whipped around. “We will? Why?”

“Ah.” Aziraphale winced. “I forgot to mention. Memo from… below. They’re sending him a Hellhound.”

Crowley stared at him in horror. “You never said anything about a Hellhound!”

“I only found out a couple of days ago!” Aziraphale protested. “To be quite honest, I had no idea that they even still considered Familiar in fashion these days, but apparently they feel he needs a loyal companion to pad by his side and protect him from all harm.”

The angel looked back down the path. “I mean, I know his mum and dad are a bit useless, but surely they’re going to notice a bloody great big dog showing up? And Warlock doesn’t even like dogs! He hates the things!”

Aziraphale held up both hands in a warding gesture. “I know, dear, I know! You don’t need to shout at me!”

Crowley looked distraught, pressing one of his fists to his mouth. “And they’re going to send it? There’s no way you can stop that?”

“If I could, you know I would.” Aziraphale gazed unhappily down at the boy. “They won’t even notice, you know. Regardless of their behaviour, it’s reality and Warlock can do whatever he pleases with that.” He glanced at the angel. “That’s the key, they said. The naming. He’s meant to name it, which seals his future. But,” he tried to infuse some hope into his voice, “if we’ve done our jobs properly, he’ll send it away unnamed.”

“He’d better,” Crowley said, a muscle in his jaw twitching. “He’s allergic!”

“He is?”

The angel gave him a frosty look. “Who do you think gave him all those antihistamines?”

“Honestly?” Aziraphale admitted, “I thought he was stealing drugs from the staff. It looked good on me so I didn’t ask.”

The angel’s lips thinned in that tight resistance against a smile. “Of course you didn’t.” He exhaled slowly, sinking back on the bench. “So… so, let’s say he does name it? I mean, he’s not going to, but if he does?”

Aziraphale saw no reason to gild the lily. “We’re doomed.”

Crowley gave a tight little laugh. “That simple?”

Aziraphale nodded, gazing at him. “He’ll have all his powers and Armageddon will be days away.”

The angel breathed out a small sound that was almost a profanity. “We can’t just sit here and wait for it to happen, Aziraphale. There has to be some way of stopping it.”

A dreadful thought, one that had stagnated for eleven years, bubbled up in Aziraphale’s mind. It was all the more terrible for those small pink hands that had clasped his and the giggles and the secret troves of sweeties. “Technically, yes.”

The hope that illuminated the angel’s face was like a punch in the gut. “What is it?”

Aziraphale had to look away from him, staring down at his tightly-clasped hands. “If there was no… boy... the process would stop.”

“No boy?” Crowley echoed, his frown audible. “What are you on about? We know there’s a boy.”

“There’s a boy now,” Aziraphale said carefully. “Something could… happen to him.” His hands clenched even tighter, his fingers going white, until he heard the sharp, comprehending breath.

“Don’t you dare say that,” the angel snarled.

Aziraphale forced himself to look at the angel. “It’s the only other option. You asked.”

“You could–” Crowley began, though his face was twisted in distress.

“No.” Aziraphale forced a shaky smile. “I tried, you know. When they gave me it. Him. I was going to get rid of it, of him, but–” He laughed sharply. “I’m something of a coward, you see. I rather liked the idea of staying alive, long enough to find an alternative.” He met the angel’s stricken gaze. “You… as an agent of the divine…”

“No,” Crowley whispered hoarsely. “No! Don’t you dare!”

No small wonder, Aziraphale thought, pained. Crowley loved kids, but especially kids he spent time with. Lord, he loved that cheeky little bastard they had helped to raise. “It would be him,” he pointed out as gently as he could, “or everything. One life for the world.”

Crowley shook his head, his face contorted in pain. “No.” He got up, walking in a tight circle, the furrow carved so deep between his brow that Aziraphale longed to smooth it away. “This Hellhound,” he said suddenly, turning back to Aziraphale. “You said it’ll show up on his birthday?”

Aziraphale nodded. “Wednesday. Around three, they said.”

“At his party,” Crowley murmured. The look on his face could only be described as wild. “Maybe I can stop it? I mean, they’re used to me hanging around in the gardens. Yeah, I quit, technically, but could just pop by to drop off his present, couldn’t I? Hang around? I mean, a tranquiliser gun might work on a Hellhound, yeah?”

“Angel,” Aziraphale said, wincing. “Don’t. You can’t just swan back in. They’ll come down on you like a tonne of security-clearance-shaped bricks.”

“I could go in as the entertainment instead, then.”

The demon’s brain felt like it had run into a brick wall. “I beg your pardon?”

“I still play the guitar,” Crowley said, sitting back down. “I distract Warlock and the kids, you subdue the dog, and we get away scot-free. Your lot will expect you to be there anyway. You just don’t tell them what you were doi–”

“Can we go back to you on the guitar?” Aziraphale interrupted. “I don’t think kumbayah is going to do the job with Warlock and those hellions he calls friends.”

Crowley looked offended. “I can play more than kumbayah.”

“You said that when you tried the virginal in 1672,” Aziraphale said mildly. “Remember who had to keep the King from chopping your head off?”

“It’s not the same,” Crowley said indignantly. “Anyway, it’s not as if we really have any other choice, is it?”

Aziraphale sighed, lifting his eyes skywards. Ineffable bleeding humour again. “If we go,” he warned, “you’re not playing the guitar.”

Crowley’s eyes gleamed mutinously. “Of course not,” he said and for once, Aziraphale wished he couldn’t taste the lie.

Chapter Text

On a scale of eleventh birthday parties, the birthday party of Warlock Dowling was a good one.

If you took a look around, you’d see the carousel and helter skelter outside, and inside the marquee all the worst kinds of food so beloved by children all over the world. The pile of presents could easily have crushed a small child, should a small child decide the parcel from the bottom was much more interesting than the parcel at the top.

It was hardly worth noticing that on a table beside the Everest of Capitalism, there were two smaller parcels that seemed to have been placed there as an afterthought. One had all the thinness and flatness that suggested the contents were either a very squashed guinea pig or a book. The other was a neat, square box wrapped in plain brown paper with a label marked ‘To Warlock from Mr. Francis’. Parcels like that never got much attention until much later, when they became the favourite gifts of all.

The only thing that could have ruined the party was if someone – who thought they were a pretty good musician – decided to perform some optimistically cheerful variations on 90s pop songs on an acoustic guitar. Especially when the birthday boy knew that a real pop star had cancelled at the last minute.

“Do you think he knows how rubbish he is?” One of the small boys spoke up with all the authority of Simon Cowell and twice the charisma.

The singer blinked in surprise, his hands freezing on the guitar. “Um…” He looked around the tent at all the children, his eyes almost hidden under shaggy red hair. “So… how about this one? Here’s Wonderwall.”

“Ugh!” A girl groaned. “He’s the worst!”

The birthday boy glared at her, because yes, the man in his weird floppy hair and stupid suit was rubbish, but it was his party and he was the only one allowed to say that.

“But he is!” The girl made a face back at him. “Hey! Mister! You suck!”

Later, no one could decide who threw the first bowl of trifle, but it hit that small girl squarely on the back of the head, exploding in a cloud of jelly, cream, fruit and custard. Certainly no one gave a black-suited waited with white-blond hair a second look as he slipped out of the marquee as if he’d never been there.

The unfortunate girl shrieked like the world was about to end and Warlock Dowling started to laugh and ran for the table of beautifully-prepared mini-meals. Within seconds, the tent had devolved into anarchy.

Outside of the tent, the musician and the waiter hurried around the back of the house.

“You didn’t need to do that,” Crowley said with gentle reproach. “She was just a child.”

Aziraphale snorted. “She was a brat who had it coming.” He looked at his watch again then scanned around the grounds. “It’s late.”

Crowley opened the car to shove the guitar case into the back seat. “Maybe they only released it at three?” He suggested optimistically, though his shoulders sagged under the demon’s impatient look. “Yeah, I know. Automatic manifestation.”

“I don’t understand,” Aziraphale said, sounded both wounded and offended as he slipped into the passenger seat. “Maybe they didn’t release it after all? Why didn’t they tell me?”

Crowley touched the ignition, the engine purring to life. The radio blared and he nearly jumped out his skin when Nicholas Parsons said, “Hello Aziraphale.”

“Wh–?”

Aziraphale slapped a hand over Crowley’s mouth, muffling him, a panicked look on his face. “Um. Hello? Who’s speaking?”

“Dagon,” Nicholas Parsons said. “Lord of the Files. Master of Torments.”

Over Aziraphale’s hand, Crowley’s eyes widened in dismay as Aziraphale mouthed a very visible profanity. He’d always wondered why Aziraphale tended to avoid modern media devices, limiting himself to a record player instead of bothering with radios and televisions. Now, he could understand why. At least angels only showed up in person and rarely at that.

“Ah! Dagon! Of course!” Aziraphale said brightly. “Ah… yes. What can I do for you?”

“Just checking in on the progress with the Hellhound.” Nicholas Parsons sounded far too gleeful. “Was it as terrible as they all said?”

Aziraphale shot Crowley a frantic look and mouthed another profanity. “So it was sent then?” It was amazing how relaxed he sounded, given the sheer blinding panic on his face.

There was a momentary silence from the radio. “Of course it was,” Nicholas Parsons said. “Why? Is something… wrong?”

“Wrong? No! No, not at all! The grounds are damned big, that’s– oh, I see it now!” Aziraphale’s laugh sounded almost convincing to anyone who hadn’t know him as long as Crowley had. He was as grey as week-old coffee.  “My word, he’s a big fellow, isn’t it? And yes! He’s huge! I didn’t know they came that large!” He reached down and switched the radio off, then dropped his other hand from Crowley’s face. The expression on his face said it all.

Crowley stared out through the windscreen. “No dog,” he murmured.

“No dog,” Aziraphale said, sounding equally shaken.

Crowley looked at him. If the Hellhound had been released and it definitely wasn’t here, that could only mean one thing and all their time and energy had been targeted in the wrong place. “Wrong boy?”

The demon slowly nodded. “Wrong boy.”

 

_________________________________

 

Aziraphale hadn’t said a word the whole way back to Crowley’s place, not even to complain about the car. His hands had been fixed, clenched, over his knees and he had stared at a point somewhere beyond the dashboard.

Crowley had kept one eye on him, worried.

It wasn’t like him to go quiet. Loud, angry, bombastic, yes. Closed down and quiet felt wrong somehow.

He got the demon back through the doors of the chapter house and he seemed to be moving on autopilot until Crowley cracked opened the seal on a bottle of Scotch.

“Days until Armageddon,” the demon said slowly, “and we’ve lost the Antichrist.”

Crowley returned to the couch, where – for once – Aziraphale was sitting upright, both feet on the floor. He held out one of the glasses to the demon, the bottle tucked against his side. He had a feeling they’d be needing it. “This’ll help.”

Aziraphale knocked back the finger of Scotch and held out the glass again. “Not enough.”

The angel folded down to sit beside him, one leg tucked under him, and refilled the demon’s glass.

The contents vanished just as quickly and Aziraphale sagged back against the back of the couch with a shudder. “If I didn’t know better,” he admitted, rolling the glass between his hands, “I’d almost think they were doing this to play silly buggers with me.” He gave Crowley a pained look. “Why me? What the Heaven did I do to get picked for the worst job in history?”

Crowley leaned forward, waiting until the glass stopped moving, to refill it again. “Could be all those memos you kept on sending them. F’you hadn’t gone on about being the cause of the first World War or that time you made the Spanish Inquisition, they’d’ve picked someone else.”

“Excuse me!” Aziraphale exclaimed indignantly. “You can’t blame me for their lax approach to management!”

“Their lax approach to management that you manipulated to your advantage,” Crowley reminded him mildly. “Which means that you’re so good at being bad at your job that they take it all for being good at your job. Which is being bad.”

Aziraphale squinted at him. “I’m either too drunk or not drunk enough, because that made no sense whatsoever.” He drained the glass again and held it out demandingly.

Crowley tilted the bottle and yelped when Aziraphale dropped his glass and whisky spattered on the couch between them. “Azira–”

“Something’s changed.” The demon was staring blindly into the air, his nostrils flaring. His eyes widened and there could be no mistaking the anger and fear that flooded his face. “The hound has found his master.”

Crowley’s stomach twisted. “Are you sure?”

Serpentine blue eyes stared at him. “Do you think I would lie about this, my dear?”

No. Of course he wouldn’t.

“Oh.” Crowley looked down into his glass. It was too wet. Needed to be empty. He drained it, then poured himself another measure and drained that too. “Oh, well…” He gave Aziraphale a bitter smile that felt like was going to slide off his face. “Here’s to the end times.”

Chapter Text

Sunlight was slanting down over the roof of the community centre, illuminating the small garden on the south side.

A dedicated troop of children aged between five and fifteen were meticulously working on the vegetable plot, supervised by a couple of sun-basking adults and a red-haired man in jeans and a t-shirt with a cartoon of a hedgehog on it and the caption “Living on the Hedge”.

The red-haired man was helping one of the small girls, a tiny child with beautifully-braided hair and beads that matched her purple glasses, to move a seedling from pot to bed when a shadow stretched over him and a horribly familiar voice said, “Ahem.”

Crowley’s heart sank and he looked up, the sun blotted out by the ever-elegant figure of Gabriel. He got to his feet and self-consciously wiped down his dirty hands on his already filthy jeans. That was when he noticed the other angel standing behind the Archangel. Sandalphon. One of the angels best known for inflicting God’s wrath.

Oh. Shit.

“Gabriel.” He forced a smile. “What’s up?”

Gabriel’s smile was a little bit too fixed and he was even stiffer than usual. It was the humans, Crowley realised, astonished. He had frozen up because he was surrounded by dozens of small, rudely-staring human children, who didn’t give a damn who he was. One of the skinny little brown-haired boys even dared to approach, holding up a handful of dirt and worms.

Gabriel recoiled a step, lips twisting in distaste. He glared at Crowley as if it was his fault. “Can we talk privately?”

Part of Crowley wanted to say no, to stand there, look the Archangel in the eyes, and watch him squirm. But sometimes, his better nature took charge. “We can go inside,” he said and though he didn’t take his eyes off the other angel, he spoke to the kids, “I need you lot to behave yourselves, all right?”

The chorus of “yes, uncle Tony” would normally have made him feel a thousand times better, but not when he felt like he had a rock in his belly and two formidable Archangels walking oppressively close behind him.

As soon as they were through the door, Crowley shut it behind them, pausing to take a steadying breath and straightening his back before he turned around.

“Humans are so disgusting,” Gabriel said with a shudder. “The sooner they’re out of the way, the better.”

Crowley’s cheeks hurt from the effort of forcing a smile. His hands bunched by his sides. “Mm.”  His eyes flicked to the other angel, who was lurking as ominously present as Gabriel’s shadow.

“Oh!” Gabriel’s usual smile returned. “You remember Sandalphon?”

Oh Lord, Crowley wished he could forget. The curse of an angel, that. Long memories. “Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, trying his best to sound admiring instead of sickened. He’d seen the smouldering ruins and heard the keening howls of grief of those who had known people in the cities. “You… really let them have it there.”

Sandalphon grinned, showing the inhuman flicker of gold across his teeth. He wasn’t one who came to earth often enough to care about social niceties like ‘seeming completely human’.

Crowley looked between them. They looked so out of place here. Even if it was a former church, they looked like they should be down in the Shard or somewhere near Canary Wharf.

Bit bloody ironic that the place the angels didn’t fit in was a former church, with light pouring in through the tall windows on the array of art projects that were going on. The stage was partly set up for rehearsals for the concert on Saturday. The boxes for the food drive stood by one wall. It looked bright and busy and home.

And, he thought guiltily, it looked nothing like Heaven. What did it say about him that his primary place of work and living looked so messy and chaotic and so very human? Was that what they saw in him, when they looked at him now too?

“Why are you here anyway?” he asked, forcing himself to focus on the now. Thinking could come later, when he wasn’t flanked by two angels. “I finished my stint with the Antichrist already.”

Sandalphon sniggered. “Yeah. Job well done, eh, Raziel?”

Crowley’s lips pressed into a thin line. God, they couldn’t let it go, could they? “At least I tried.”

Gabriel held up a hand to silence Sandalphon. “And you did very well,” he said, managing to roll up consolation and patronising in one charming bundle. “That’s why we stopped by: to get an update on his status.”

Crowley’s stomach dropped. “Status?” he echoed. “I mean, you know I left my post? I– it was in my last report. A few days before his birthday?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah.” Gabriel waved his words away. “We know all about that. There’s a lot happening. All good.”

Crowley opened and shut his mouth a couple of times, trying to find a good way to ask how imminent war could, in any way, be considered good. In the end, he resorted to, “All good?”

“Well, all going according to the divine plan,” Gabriel said cheerfully. “The Hellhound has been set loose and now the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are being summoned: Death, Pollution, Famine, War…”

Words from Revelations sprang to mind and Crowley had to force himself not to react. Or, at least react in an appropriate way that didn’t involve screaming. “Um. Yeah. So… who summons them?”

Gabriel shrugged. “Not my department,” he said. “I believe we outsource that sort of thing.”

“About time,” Sandalphon put in. “That’s what I say.”

Of course you bloody do, Crowley thought wearily.

“You can’t,” the angel continued, “have a war without War.”

Crowley turned very slowly to look at the angel.

“Sandalphon, that is very good!” Gabriel exclaimed delightedly and Lord, Crowley wished the ground would just open up and swallow him already. These angels were meant to be the best Heaven could provide and yet. “You can’t have a war without War? I might use that!” Gabriel laughed, then clapped his hands together in front of him. “Anyway, how was the Hellhound?”

“I… ah… didn’t stay to see it,” Crowley lied, fingers digging into his palms.

“Ah, well.” Gabriel spread his hands. “Can’t really blame you there.” He glanced at Sandalphon, then chuckled again as if he’d heard the best joke in the universe. “Can’t have a war without War… clever.”

Sandalphon snickered, as if somehow he had won the stakes in a game Crowley had no idea they were playing.

Gabriel cleared his throat pointedly, looking from Crowley to the door and back.

“Oh! Right!” Crowley pulled the door open. “Yeah. Sorry.” He stepped back to let them pass, his heart still thundering, then closed the door behind them both. And, because God, he needed do something to make himself feel better, he let a temptation slip out.

Shrill shrieks and laughter rang out outside, accompanied by the sound of a fleet of children running for a surprise delivery of sweets. Gabriel yowled like a startled cat a split second before a satisfyingly wet squelch.

Crowley counted to three before opening the door and stepping out, worry all over his face, which meant he didn’t laugh when he saw Sandalphon helping Gabriel up from the ground, his pristine coat no longer so pristine.

“Oh no!” Crowley cried. “I’m sorry. Humans. You know what they’re like.”

Gabriel gave him a tight-lipped smile. “Not for long,” he said, dismissing the dirt with a flick of his hands. He nodded to Sandalphon and they stepped away, vanishing before their feet even left the ground.

Crowley sagged against the door, breathing hard. Right. Okay. He had to focus. Things were going well and according to the plan and that wasn’t good. There had to be something, some way around it, something they’d missed.

“Uncle Tony!”

He straightened up from the door, pressing a smile onto his face. “Coming!” he called. First things first, finish what he needed to. Maybe, he thought, the idea would come to him while he worked. God, he hoped so.

 

__________________________________

 

Aziraphale rubbed his eyes with forefinger and thumb as he waited.

It had not been a good night. He and Crowley had spent much of it trying their best to drown what was left of their consciousness and arguing about what the hell they were meant to do about the apparently impending Armageddon. Doing it while drunk was probably not the best of ideas, although it did lead to some very innovative – albeit ultimately useless – suggestions.

Now, his head was clear, but he was in dire need of his morning coffee fix.

Thankfully, the baristas at his favourite little hole-in-the-wall hipster coffee shop knew him on sight and had started working on his order as soon as he walked in the door without him having to say a word.

He leaned forward on the couch and reached out for the chocolate muffin on the plate in front of him. Usually, pastries were the preferred choice before ten, but if the apocalypse was indeed coming, then why waste a moment?

As always, it was as perfect as he expected, rich and chocolate with tart dark chocolate chips and for a moment, he could just relax and–

“Morning, Aziraphale. Enjoying your snack?”

His mouth still full, Aziraphale raised his eyes to the wide screen TV on the wall that had – up until five seconds ago – been playing a fascinating video about weaving wicker baskets.

“Oh ’ucking ’ell,” he groaned.

On the screen, Hastur was standing at the art table, Ligur at his side. The smaller, darker demon was poking at the art tools and seemed far too excited about the small craft knife he found.

Aziraphale swallowed down his muffin. “Morning, my dears. What can I do for you?”

“It’s about the Antichrist,” Ligur said, turning the knife over in his hand.

“Oh, marvellous boy,” Aziraphale lied, reclining back against the couch as if he couldn’t feel his heart haring against his ribs like a startled rabbit. “Very like his father, you know. Defiant, rebellious, chaos incarnate. Quite an exciting little specimen.”

“Our operatives in the State Department have arranged for the child’s family to be flown to the Middle East,” Hastur said, as if he hadn’t spoken.

“There, he and the Hellhound will be taken to the valley of Megiddo,” Ligur added.

Well, Aziraphale thought bitterly, someone was going to notice part of the equation was missing sooner rather than later. Still, he smiled and gave them as enthusiastic a thumbs-up as he could muster.

Hastur leaned forward, bracing his hands on the workbench. “The four Horsemen will begin their final ride. Armageddon will begin.” He grinned, baring his teeth. “The final combat. It’s what we’ve been working towards since we rebelled.” His black eyes glistened with malice. “We are the Fallen,” he intoned gravely. “Never forget that.”

Aziraphale stared incredulously at him. “Well, it’s hardly the kind of thing one forgets, is it?” he said irritably. A snap of his fingers shut down the television and he returned to picking half-heartedly at his muffin, his appetite gone. “Anyway,” he muttered more for himself than anyone who might be listening. “I didn’t mean to fall. Is it my fault Lucifer had better catering?”

The muffin had been reduced to a forlorn pile of crumbs and chips by the time the waitress brought his coffee over. As soon as she was out of sight, he miracled it into an insulated mug and headed for the door, away from the televisions and radios and other communicable devices.

Easy job, he thought bitterly to himself as he stalked back through the streets of Soho, the crowds parting before him like the Red Sea. Deliver the Antichrist and keep an eye on him. A job even the most imbecilic of demons should have managed. 

His shop provided a blessed respite from the chaos of the city outside.

Aziraphale had spent a great deal of time making the shop into both haven and home. The shelves were tightly-packed with all manner of books, some of very doubtful providence, many of definite dark origins and one or two downright toxic. He was especially proud of his broad and extensive collection of pornography in all its wonderful forms. Some of his etchings were worth a small fortune to a particular niche of collectors.

A rather interesting statue took pride of place on a table in the middle of the floor. One might consider it two angels doing battle, good versus evil, but given the general theme of many of the items in the shop and the fact that both angels appeared to be nude, it suggested wrestling was not quite the activity they were engaged in.  

Not, of course, that many – if any – customers were ever given the opportunity to see any of his collection.

The few people who managed to enter during his rare opening hours found their senses assaulted by alluring scents, graphic carnal imagery, explicit ornaments and the unmistakable sound of several people being enthusiastically inspired by the books somewhere in the shelves. Most of them either fled in shame or retreated, roiling with mortified lust, as soon as the helpful, friendly shopkeeper appeared from the back of the shop, apparently oblivious to the goings-on.

Still, once in a while, a group of excitable people from the Internet would try and visit after hearing about his legendary and obscene collection. They always went away disappointed when they found the shop only seemed to sell childrens’ books.

He shed his overcoat and sank into his large, comfortable armchair, brooding over his coffee.

The Antichrist was abroad somewhere on earth, but finding him would be downright impossible. A creature like that would naturally have the kind of camouflage that would protect him from harm. It would render him all but invisible to anyone who had ill-intentions and he had to admit at this point, finding the child and shoving him down a manhole eleven years late seemed like a bloody good idea.

He had no idea how long he’d been sitting there, though his coffee was lukewarm in the cup, when the telephone rang.

Aziraphale had few visitors. He had fewer phonecalls.

Only one person usually called and, given the circumstances, it only made sense for it to be the angel, which was why he answered it.

Much to his abject astonishment, it was a customer with a genuine inquiry. He was so startled that he forgot to use his usual manners and was actually polite. Well, for a given degree of polite, right up until the… pleasant fellow on the other end of the line decided Aziraphale was lying about the availability of yet another non-existent book of prophecy.

“Ah,” Aziraphale said, slowly smiling. “I’m afraid you’re asking the impossible.”

The man made a very intriguing and obscene suggestion.

“Believe me, darling, if I could do that to myself, I would,” he sighed wistfully. “Alas, I must go without the greatest of pleasures.”

There was a shocked silence, then some more specific insults.

Aziraphale stared at the ceiling, idly waiting, coiling the telephone line around his finger. “Actually,” he said, once the man had vented his spleen about perverts and displayed his full collection of fairly outdated terms. “I think I might have a copy of that book after all, but I don’t sell to bigoted idiots.” He smiled and added as sweetly as he could, “Have a fabulous day.”

The phone had barely touched the cradled when it started jangling again.

Aziraphale barely even needed to lift the receiver to recognise the same voice, swearing and frothing even more than before.

On any other day, the level of wrath and envy might have warmed him, but he had far more significant things to worry about that some little idiot with a temper.

After the fourth hostile snarling call, he snatched up the receiver. “For Satan’s sake, if you call this number again I will reach down the line and rip your tongue out!”

“Oh for Heaven’s sake, Aziraphale!”

The demon blinked stupidly. “Oh. Er. Morning, my dear.”

“Hm.” He could picture the twitch of amusement on the angel’s lips. “Annoying callers again?”

“A customer actually,” Aziraphale said tartly. “Or someone who wanted to be a customer, but he was so very rude.”

“Like calls to like,” Crowley said a bit too quickly and Aziraphale had to stifle a snort of mirth. The angel tried to insist he was all sweetness and light, but the best kind of sweetness came with a little bit of sharpness and when Crowley was in the right mood, he could give lip with the best of them.

“Cheeky,” he warned happily. “So what are you calling for, my dear?”

The angel exhaled sharply. “Look, I know this is a stupid question, but do you think there’s any chance there was more than one baby at the hospital that night?”

Aziraphale stared at his reflection in dismay, remembering a man with a pipe and a pullover who seemed so very out of place. “Oh. Shit.”

Chapter Text

The Bentley slid through the London traffic like a fish in a shoal.

“And then I got the twins mixed up again,” Crowley said with a sheepish chuckle, “which should be impossible, because…” He took a hand from the steering wheel to wave vaguely at himself. “You know. Should be able to tell. But if I can get two humans mixed up, who’s to say that humans wouldn’t make the same mistake? I mean, you hear about it all the time. Swapped at birth and things like that. And babies are kind of interchangeable when they’re tiny.”

“Mm. Quite.”

Crowley shot a look at the demon in his passenger seat. The poor bugger was already green and they weren’t even outside the city limits yet. “There’s a bottle of water in the foot well,” he said, then groped in the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a tin of sweets. “And I remember these helped last time.”

Aziraphale nodded gratefully, taking the tin of boiled sweets. “You think I would get used to it, wouldn’t you? The number of times I’ve been here?” He shot a malevolent look at the dashboard. “I don’t have half as much trouble in any other car.”

Crowley gave him a patient look. “It’s because the suspension is different,” he said. “The car isn’t doing it on purpose.”

“Hm.” Aziraphale sucked gloomily on a sweet. “So we need to go back to the hospital, I assume? Have a dig through the records for any other child born that night?”

Crowley nodded. “It’s the only thing I could think of.”

The demon groped down beneath his seat for the bottle of water. “You might want to put your foot down,” he said as he cracked the seal. “We are on a bit of a tight deadline.”

Crowley shot a scandalised glare at him. “I’m not breaking the speed limit, not in the middle of the city. We’ll be there in plenty of time.”

The demon glowered, sinking lower in the seat. “Sooner we get there, the sooner I can get out of this bastarding car.”

Crowley knew the Bentley could be a little… temperamental at times, but that was what came of having a vintage car. They had… personality, which was one of the things that had drawn him to it in the first place.

Still he couldn’t help wondering if Aziraphale was right about the car doing it all on purpose when the stereo switched itself on and started playing Headlong. Only, it started in the middle of a line:

And there's nothin' you can, nothin' you can
Nothin' you can do about it.

Aziraphale gestured emphatically at the stereo, a look of outrage on his face.

Crowley bit his lip to keep himself from grinning and reached over and switched it off. “Coincidence,” he said.

The demon snorted and glowered out of the window.

Thankfully, by the time they reached the winding Oxfordshire roads, Aziraphale was looking and sounding much better. He even sat up to peer around, searching the surrounding area.

“It’s definitely around here,” he said. “Not too far from the airbase.”

Crowley blinked in surprise and looked at him. “There’s an airbase in Oxford?”

Aziraphale nodded distractedly. “American air force or some such. Somewhere a charming ambassador’s wife could find herself unexpectedly in labour. What a shame their facilities don’t provide natal care, but oh, there’s a convent-turned-maternity hospital nearby. Nice and neat, don’t you think?”

“Mm.” Crowley’s lips twitched. “So well-coordinated.”

“Oh, do shut up,” Aziraphale grumbled.

“Just saying,” Crowley said innocently, “Evil begets evil. Reaping what you sow and all that.”

“Or,” Aziraphale countered with a sniff, “humans are just stupid.”

“Oh yeah.” Crowley nodded, deliberately keeping his eyes and barely suppressed smile facing forward. “Definitely just the humans. Mm-hm. No one else.”

“Ah!” Aziraphale grabbed his wrist and pointed up ahead. “There!” His fingers tightened briefly, his hand warm and surprisingly soft. “And who’s the more foolish, my dear? The fool, or the fool who follows him?”

Crowley grinned. “Well, they were your nuns, weren’t they?”

The demon opened and shut his mouth indignantly, but Crowley could seem the gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. “You really are on a roll today, aren’t you, angel?”

Crowley thought back to Gabriel and his beautiful and mud-spattered coat. “Bit of a morning,” he admitted, taking the demon’s direction.

It took them another fifteen minutes of windy roads and stretches of forest to reach the building that might have looked like a convent once, but now had walls of camouflage netting and barrels stacked in the main courtyard.

“Odd,” Aziraphale voiced his thought for him.

Crowley climbed out of the car. “Are you sure this is–” A pulse like a heartbeat throbbed over him as he set foot on the ground and he swayed, catching his hand on the Bentley’s roof. “Oh…”

“What is it?” Aziraphale was around the car and by his side in a blink. “Are you all right?”

Crowley stared around, unable to keep himself from smiling. “Oh, yeah. This place… someone really loves this place.”

Aziraphale gave the junkyard of the courtyard a doubtful look. “Are you sure?”

“Mm.” Angelic senses were always good when it came to the positive emotions and now, it was washing over him like the tide rolling in. “It’s… weird. Good weird, but…” He shook his head with a laugh. “Okay, okay. Can’t get distracted.”

The demon was clearly keeping a careful eye on him as they entered the grounds. “Are you sure you’re all right, my dear?”

“I’m f–” Getting shot in the chest will distract you and he staggered back with a yelp, clutching both hands to his chest. Bright blue liquid dripped between his fingers and he stared down at it in astonishment. “What the Hell…?”

Aziraphale indignantly smudged a dark smear of red off his cream shirt. “Paint?”

Crowley lowered his hands with a groan. His t-shirt was a mess.

“Hey!” He looked up to see a man in overalls and a helmet rushing towards them. Whoever he was, he didn’t seem happy. “You’ve been hit! You–”

The man was suddenly obscured as Aziraphale stepped between him and Crowley, a low, primal growl ripping through the demon’s chest. Crowley peered over his shoulder in time to see the man go grey and keel over, eyes rolling. No doubt, he had seen something terrifying as well.

“Did you have to?” he said, swatting Aziraphale’s arm.

Aziraphale swung around with a beaming smile. “And let him think he can get away with shooting you, my dear?” He shook his head, tutting. “No, no. That won’t do at all.” He took Crowley by the shoulders, looking him up and down. “Well, that’s quite the mess, isn’t it?”

Crowley rubbed at the paint on his fingers. “Yeah. And it’s one of my favourite t-shirts as well.”

The demon gave him a sunny smile. “I know.” He leaned closer and blew a puff of warm, sulphur-scented air against the paint, which vaporised in a wisp of blue. He drew back, beaming. “There. Much better, isn’t it?”

Crowley fought down a smile. “You soft bugger.”

“Soft?” Aziraphale wrinkled his nose. “I think you mistake vanity for something else. I can hardly be seen wandering about with a paint-spattered hobo.” He spun about on his heel. “Shall we go and find some nuns?”

Crowley hurried after him, glancing around. The place looked like a combat training centre, but judging by the overall-man’s clothing, it was purely recreational. Paint spattered every surface, from a shell of a car to the upturned oil drums.

“I don’t think there are nuns here anymore,” he said when he caught up with the demon inside the halls.

“Certainly looks that way,” Aziraphale agreed, frowning. He opened a door only for another human – armed with yet another paintball gun – to crash straight into him. Crowley winced on his behalf, praying the demon wouldn’t take it personally.

She gave him a worried look. “Are we finished already?”

“Oh,” Aziraphale purred and Crowley turned to him in alarm, recognising that tone. “I think you’re only just getting started.” He snapped both fingers up and it was echoed by the sharper crack of genuine gunfire.

“Aziraphale!” Crowley grabbed his arm. “What the Hell?”

Wide blue eyes looked at him. “My dear?”

Crowley gestured to the window and the sound of battle going on outside. “Don’t you ‘my dear’ me! What did you do?”

The demon shrugged as if he had done nothing more than leave the toilet seat up. “A lesson in the value of mortality?”

Crowley’s mouth dropped open.

“Come along, my dear,” Aziraphale continued, trotting happily off along the hall.

Crowley stared out of the window, then rushed after him. “You can’t just… do that! They think they’re playing a game!”

“Aren’t we all?” The demon swung a door open and peered inside, then turned back around and found himself nose-to-nose with a glaring angel. He blinked a couple of time and Crowley slowly and pointedly crossed his arms over his chest. “Oh come now, my dear…” Crowley added a furrow of his brow and Aziraphale groaned, “Oh, stop being so dramatic! They’re still playing a game! Narrow escapes and lots of noise, but not much else.”

Crowley almost sagged with the relief. “Really?”

“Mm.” The demon’s lips gave an irrepressible twitch. “What’s the fun otherwise?”

The angel laughed. “Damn it, Aziraphale…” He shook his head, grinning. “I forget how nice you can b–”

At once, he was caught by the front of his jacket and yanked off his feet, his face unbearably close to the demon’s. “Oh you think I’m nice do you, my darling?”  Aziraphale’s voice was that wicked purring growl he used at the pinnacle of his temptations and Crowley couldn’t help but staring into those ice-blue eyes. They still had those brilliant flecks he remembered from their first encounter, like sparks of lightning. “I could take you apart if I–”

“Ahem?”

Both of them turned to see a striking black woman in a suit striding towards them.

“Gentlemen, we ask that PDAs are kept to th–” Her eyes widened. “Saints and demons preserve us!”

“You!” Aziraphale’s voice was a rumble.

“M-Master Aziraphale!”

Crowley found himself dangling from Aziraphale’s remaining upraised hand, as the demon snapped his fingers, freezing the woman on the spot. Crowley cleared his throat, then tapped Aziraphale pointedly on the arm.

“Yes, yes, I know,” the demon grumbled, rolling his eyes as he walked towards her. “Talk to them, Aziraphale. They can communicate, Aziraphale. They’re not just puppets to be frozen at will, Aziraphale.”

Crowley waited patiently until the demon looked up at him. “I meant you can put me down, Aziraphale,” he said, lips twitching.

Aziraphale blinked at him, then down at Crowley’s feet which were dangling a foot above the floor. “Oh!” He set the angel down gently. “Sorry, my dear. Got a little carried away.” He fastidiously adjusted Crowley’s jacket and tugged the end of his t-shirt so it was lying more smoothly. “There we go.”

Despite himself, Crowley couldn’t help saying, “Ah. That’s nice.”

Aziraphale made a face at him. “Oh…” He gave the angel a half-hearted push towards the former nun. “Go and make yourself useful, then.”

Crowley smiled as he approached the woman. “Hi. Sorry about all of this.” He studied her. “Daft question, but were you a nun here eleven years ago?”

The woman smiled placidly. “I was.”

Crowley gave Aziraphale an amused look. “Well, you got one thing right.”

“You,” Aziraphale grumbled, “are going the right way for a smacked bum.”

“Promises, promises,” Crowley said, serene smile giving way to a grin when the demon spluttered in shock. “Now, Miss… er… Nun-lady. My friend here gave you a baby. What did you do with it?”

“I swapped it with the son of the American ambassador,” the woman said.

“She bloody didn’t,” Aziraphale muttered.

“He used to be ambassador to Swindon.”

Crowley frowned.

“Swindon?” Aziraphale echoed. “Oh. Oh bugger.”

“Too many pieces in play?” Crowley guessed.

“Mm. There was a man outside when I arrived. I assumed staff. Perhaps not.” Aziraphale leaned in closer to the woman. “What happened to the other baby?”

“Sister Theresa Garrulous took it away.”

“What about the records?” Crowley suggested hopefully. “I mean, you were a hospital. There had to be records.”

“Oh yes,” the woman said in the same placid tone, her expression unchanging. “We were very good at keeping records.”

Were, Crowley noticed with a wince. “Where are they?”

“Destroyed in the fire.”

Aziraphale growled low in his chest, the rumble almost shaking the woman out of her stupor. “Hastur, I’d wager.”

“Sounds like him,” Crowley agreed unhappily. He glanced at Aziraphale. “I don’t think there’s much point us hanging around here, do you?” The demon nodded, turning and prowling back towards the door. Crowley sighed impatiently. “Aziraphale! Didn’t you forget something?”

“You’re the nice one,” Aziraphale called back.

Crowley very nearly swore aloud. He patted the woman on the shoulder. “You’ll wake up refreshed and relaxed, remembering your favourite dreams.” He snapped his fingers, then turned and ran after Aziraphale, who was already heading out of the front doors. He caught up in the grounds, walking between the screaming paintballers and the police attempting to subdue them and wrestle their guns out of their hands. “What now?”

“Buggered if I know,” Aziraphale said, shaking his head.

“But we can find him, can’t we? I mean, he’s bound to start showing signs or something.”

The demon shook his head moodily. “Not to us. He’s… it’s a protective camouflage for his own protection. I doubt any prying occult forces would be able to find him if they put all their attention into it.”

“Occult? Witches and things?”

Aziraphale gave him a long, slow look. “Like us.”

Crowley reared back, offended. “I’m not occult.”

“Wings. Magic. Radiant when powered up. Sounds occult to me.”

“I’m an angel!” he protested indignantly. “I’m ethereal.”

Aziraphale’s sombre expression gave way to a mischievous smile. “Keep telling yourself that, my dear. I’m sure it’s very reassuring.”

 

___________________________________________

 

“Maybe there’s some other way to find him.”

They were heading back in the direction of London, the later afternoon already tinting towards twilight and Aziraphale glanced at the angel. “If you have any suggestions, my dear,” he said, “I’m all ears.”

The angel gave him such a hopeful look that he wished he had some kind of answer. “Don’t your lot have some way of…” He wiggled his fingers. “You know? Keeping tags on yours?”

“Not this time,” Aziraphale admitted gloomily. “He’s not ours. Not in full. Not yet. When he wants to be found, we’ll be able to find him, but not before. I don’t think they put in any fail-safes in case of accidental Antichrist loss.”

Crowley’s face creased in distress. “We have to find him!”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Aziraphale ran a hand over his face. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t just mean war. It would mean the end of everything as they knew it and that… God, he wasn’t even ready to contemplate what that would mean.

“Right…” Crowley nodded. “Right. Sorry. Of course.” He shook his head, rubbing at his forehead. “I– look, I know you’re a demon, but are you sure you can’t feel anything?”

“Anything?” Aziraphale inquired, frowning. The angel waved vaguely towards the woods around them, his eyes all over the place. “Oh, is this the… weird-good thing you were on about earlier?”

“Mm.” Crowley glanced at him. “It’s everywhere. It’s… I can’t put my finger on it. Love, yeah, but something more than that. I’ve never felt anything as intense as this before.” He waved around again. “It’s all over here. I mean all over.”

Aziraphale searched his face. “I can’t feel anything unusual. Nothing more than the usual background noise I get around you.”

Crowley blinked stupidly at him. “You get background noise around me?”

Aziraphale widened his eyes. “Like a choir of angels going ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!’,” he lied cheerfully. He peered out into the darkening road, sniffing curiously. “No. Not a sausage, I’m afraid, eyes, ears or nose.”

“Oh.” Crowley’s frown deepened. “Right.” He took a breath then laughed. “Probably just tired. Been burning the candle at both ends, a bit.”

“And in the middle,” Aziraphale said, grinning and knocking him on the arm.

Crowley shot a half-hearted glare at him. “I’m not that–”

There was a crump of metal against metal and a shriek and something flew over the bonnet of the car. Crowley slammed on the brakes so hard, Aziraphale almost pitched headfirst through the windscreen.

“I hit something!” Crowley yelped, leaning forward over the steering wheel, trying to see.

Aziraphale swung out of the car, peering along the front chassis of the Bentley. There was a deep and impressive dent in the metal. “I don’t think so,” he said, bending to speak to the angel, who was clinging to the steering wheel, a panicked look on his face. “I think something hit you.”

There was a groan from the far side of the car and the angel shot out the driver’s side far faster than he had any right to.

“Angel!” Aziraphale groaned. “Not your fault. Blame the stupid human who ran into you.” He ducked his head back into the car. “And you didn’t help, did you?” He knocked a fist on the dashboard in warning. “You’re meant to keep him safe.” The lights on the dashboard dimmed. “So,” he growled, “am I going to have to fix you or are you going to take care of yourself?”

Outside, there was a defiant creak and pop of metal reverting to its original shape.

Aziraphale smiled in relief. “Good.” He patted the dashboard. “I’ll take care of the breakages and the angel, all right?”

He hurried around to the other side of the car, touching the cracked glass of the front lamp and brushing away the scratches across the bonnet.

Crowley was off the road on the leafy ground, gently helping a young human women back to her feet. A whisper of a miracle reached the demon and he saw the girl’s wrist shift strangely as broken bones healed up.

“Here,” the angel said, his face white as he helped her over to the car. “Take a seat. I’ve got a flask of tea in the boot.” He looked imploringly at Aziraphale who groaned, but picked his way down into the ditch to retrieve the girl’s bike. The front tyre was entirely buckled, but by the time he lifted it up, it was as good as new.

“My dear, I hate to be critical,” he said, as he wheeled it back up to the car, where the girl was sipping tea from a plastic cup. “But don’t you know it’s a criminal offence riding around in the dark without a helmet or a light on your bike.”

“Shush!” Crowley said, plea and mortification all over his face. “Let her be. She had her light on. I wasn’t– we didn’t see each other, that’s all.”

Aziraphale took pity on the angel. God only knew he’d probably spend the next six months beating himself up about it, if they lasted that long. He turned his attention to the girl instead. Twenties. Maybe thirties. Long black hair decorated with bits of the shrubbery she’d landed in. Almost as pale as Crowley himself.

“How’s your head, my dear?” he inquired. “A little tender?”

“It’ll be fine,” she said warily and he almost smiled. Of course. An American. That would explain the utter disregard for property and life of others.

“We’re giving her a lift back to the village,” Crowley said and he knew better than to argue with the resolute look on the angel’s face. If he needed to do a little good to make himself feel better, then so be it. “Can you put the bike on the bike rack?”

Aziraphale frowned in confusion. “What bike–”

Metal squeaked and oh, of course. The Bentley just wanted to embarrass him again. He bared his teeth, half-heartedly hissing at the stupid car as he wheeled the bike to the rack. Goes around hitting humans and then plays the gallant hero, giving her a lift home. Reckless idiot of a machine.

He grumbled profanities as it as he strapped the bike onto the rack, giving the bumper a knock with his foot for good measure. The engine sputtered, spurting a puff of grey exhaust against his cream trousers.

“Oh, you little bastard,” he growled.

He circled back around the car, sliding back into the passenger seat and pointedly ignoring the human who was huddled in the backseat, a basket, her skirts and – inexplicably – a large breadknife taking up all of the room.

“Did you fix it?” Crowley muttered out of the corner of his mouth as they drove on.

“The Bentley?”

“The bike.”

Aziraphale nodded. “Good as new,” he replied, although he neglected to mention that he’d flattened the tyres on principle so she would have to work on them before she could throw herself at any other cars. Also, he’d unhooked the chain. And one of the pedals would need to be tended to with a screwdriver before it could be used.

The angel reached over and squeezed his arm gratefully. “Thank you.”

Aziraphale looked down at Crowley’s hand, then patted it with a smile. “Nonsense, you silly goose. You know you needn’t say that.”

“Still. You didn’t need to.”

“Get me a cake and we’ll call it even, hm?” He jerked his head towards the back of the car. “After we drop her off.”

 

_____________________________________

 

There was a café at the services halfway back to London and to be entirely honest, Crowley needed to have a sit down and a cup of coffee. He would’ve preferred something stronger, but they still had a way to go and he didn’t trust himself – or the demon – to get the rest of the way intact if he was tipsy. His hands were still shaking and he kept on replaying the crunch of the bike hitting the Bentley over and over in his mind.

Aziraphale didn’t question his decision to pull in, or even complain about the quality of the slice of devil’s food cake that Crowley presented him with.

Sometimes, Crowley thought, Aziraphale was nice simply by not being his usual self. He offered quiet and calm and all the things he seemed to intuitively know that Crowley needed, when he needed them the most, and Crowley couldn’t have been more grateful.

“I do wonder,” Aziraphale hummed pensively as he carefully dissected the cake into half a dozen identical pieces, “if we might be able to get another human to find the boy.”

Crowley blinked, stirring himself out of the thoughts of metal and the scream and the flying body. “What?”

“The Antichrist.” The demon nudged the plate towards him, offering a piece of the cake, but he shook his head, his hands wrapped around his coffee cup. “Technically, at the moment, he’s human. Surely another human would be able to find him, if we can’t.”

Crowley frowned. “But didn’t you say something about him having an automatic defence thingie?”

“Only if we use occult forces,” Aziraphale said, sounding far too optimistic after the bloody awful day they’d had. “I mean, yes, technically, they would be working for an occult force, but if they’re not occult themselves, maybe they would be able to get close enough to identify who we’re looking for?”

Crowley lifted a hand to rub at his eyes. “Maybe,” he reluctantly agreed. God, he wanted to be home, and safely curled up with something a hell of a lot stronger than watered-down black coffee. “Might be too strong for that, though. Might be able to make suspicion slide off him like… whatever it is water slides off.”

“Umbrellas?”

Crowley shook his head, then returned his attention to turning his cup between his hands.

“The thing is…” Aziraphale hesitated, then leaned closer conspiratorially. “For quite a while now, I’ve had a team of human operatives.”

That made Crowley blink at him. “You?”

“Don’t sounds so surprised, my dear.” The demon popped another piece of cake in his mouth. “I’ve found plenty of uses for humans in my time.”

Despite himself, one side of Crowley’s mouth twitched. “Yeah. I remember Shakespeare.”

A wistful look crossed the demon’s face. “Such a gift of oratory, that man.”

“Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Aziraphale’s expression brightened. “Well! You must be feeling better. Your sarcasm is turned on again.”

Crowley even managed a rueful laugh. “Maybe,” he agreed, and he did. Not 100 percent, but a little bit. “Look, the human thing… it’s not a bad idea. I’ve got a few people of my own. I could get them to put their feelers out. See if they can dig anything up.”

“Feeler? Digging? Are you sure they’re not some kind of creepy crawly from your garden?” Aziraphale said, making a face and earning a crooked smile. The demon dabbed at his lips with a napkin, then set down his fork. “Do you think our people should work together?”

Crowley’s mind presented him with the thought of Shadwell crossing paths with the employees of a quite literal demon. There would be pins and fire and probably a lot of messy misunderstandings. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” he said, shaking his head. “Mine aren’t really very… sophisticated, politically speaking.”

“Mm.” Aziraphale pushed his plate aside. “No. Mine either. But if we both set out people on it, we can divide and conquer. It gives us double the chances, two teams out looking, doesn’t it? What do you think?”

Crowley nodded, lost in thought. Technically, yes, he could unleash Shadwell, but that was always a bit of a loose cannon. But who else could he really ask? There wasn’t anyone else he could ask to put themselves in harm’s way for a mysterious supernatural force. Shadwell was part of a Witchfinder Army. They’d be fine with any kind of… strange requests. Hell, they’d probably even set out a stakeout in one of those hiding places they used to hunt–

“Ducks!”

Aziraphale blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”

“What water slides off!” It was always such a relief when he remembered something that had slipped his mind. He could see the amused bemusement on the demon’s face. “Sorry. You were saying?”

“Human operatives?” Aziraphale prompted.

“Oh. Yes. Maybe.” He looked down at his coffee that had gone cold, then nodded towards the door. “Shall we?”

The drive back to London was pretty quiet. Crowley had a distinct feeling Aziraphale was trying not to distract him from the road for a change, which said the accident had either shaken him up or he was worried about the impact it had had on Crowley. Either way, the demon was on his best behaviour until they reached Soho and Crowley pulled up outside the bookshop.

“Human operatives?” Aziraphale prompted again. “You call yours, I call mine, and we regroup in the morning?”

“Hm?” Crowley nodded distantly. “Yeah. Sounds good.”

A warm hand squeezed his shoulder. “My dear, are you sure you’re all right?”

Crowley looked at him, one of the only beings who ever bothered to ask that question. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “What do we do if we can’t find him? What happens?”

Aziraphale’s mouth turned in a smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Oh, don’t worry about maybe. We’ll find him and we’ll… deal with him.”

Deal with him.

He nodded, looking out of the windscreen again, hearing the crump of metal and the scream. “Right. Yeah.” He tried to smile, but it felt as convincing as Aziraphale’s looked. “Deal with him.” He rattled his fingers on the edge of the steering wheel. “I’ll be off. Call my people.”

“My dear…” Aziraphale sounded worried and Crowley couldn’t – wouldn’t – look at him, for fear that the concern and empathy from a demon might undo him.

“I’m fine,” he lied. “Go on.”

The demon sighed, but he got out the car. “You know where I’ll be,” he said with such gentleness that Crowley had to clench his teeth to keep his face from betraying him. “I’ll call you in the morning.”

“Yeah.” He nodded tightly. “Good idea. Night.”

Aziraphale sighed and closed the door and Crowley forced his foot down on the accelerator before he could change his mind or look back.

It wasn’t until he was parked up in the shadow of their church that he let himself sag forward against his folded arms on the steering wheel, breathing hard, a profanity sitting heavily on the tip of his tongue. God, he needed a drink and to never have to think of anything ever again.

“Come on,” he whispered to himself. “Come on. Pull yourself together, you idiot.”

Five minutes passed, then another ten, before he managed to sit back up. A few more followed before he unfolded out of the car. He braced his hand on the roof, turning his face up to the star-speckled sky.

“Enjoying the show?” he asked, voice shaking. “Got a good view.”

A gust caught the branches of the trees and a flurry of leaves scattered around him, several sticking to the window of the Bentley. He sighed, picking them off one by one, then frowned, peering in through the glass. There was something on the floor in the back seat.

Crowley pulled the door open, leaning in to pick up the dark rectangle from the mat. It was a book, an old and well-loved one by the look of it. It couldn’t have been one of Aziraphale’s. He’d never be so clumsy with his books, which meant…

“Oh no,” he groaned. The woman. The bike.

He turned the book over, reading the front cover and his heart felt like it stopped. He’d heard about this book. He'd heard Aziraphale grumbling about never being able to find a copy when he had every other book of prophecy on record. It wasn’t meant to exist. It definitely wasn’t meant to be in the back seat of his car.  

The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter Witch.

Chapter Text

To say that Crowley wasn’t a big reader would be an understatement.

In the chapter house that he had made his home, there were only a couple of books and those were religious texts that people always expected to be available in a building that used to be in a church. He never read them unless he had to, not when he already had more than enough knowledge and millennia of memories swirling around in his mind.

Still, he had heard of the Nutter book before. It was the holy grail of prophetic texts, according to Aziraphale, who had coveted it for centuries. It was the only prophetic book in history known to contain entirely accurate prophecies.

He locked his front door behind him and sat down on the couch, staring at it.

If Aziraphale was right, if the prophecies were true, then maybe it would have something useful to tell them about the coming apocalypse. He laid the book in his lap, closed his eyes and opened it at a random page, jabbing a finger against the text.

“Prophecy 629,” he read aloud, “In the ruined church of the angel of the book, when these words are read, then the end times are certies upon us.” Crowley stared at it, then looked out the window to the church that had once been ruined and was now his, his heart thundering against his ribs. He followed the rest of the prophecy with his fingertip. “Mind ye the words of the devil.

Okay.

Right.

So.

Okay.

The book was legit. The book had at least one real prophecy, which meant there could maybe be others and that was good. Maybe it would have a solution. Or maybe it could tell them where the Antichrist was.

Crowley flicked back to the first page of the book and slid off the couch to sit on the floor beside the coffee table. “You ended up with me for a reason,” he murmured, “All the times you could’ve shown up and you show up now…” He reached over for his notepad and pen and, for the first time since Eden, he started to read.

It was slow-going at first, teasing apart meaning from riddles and nonsense, working out what was important and what was irrelevant. Strips of paper poked out from page after page of the book, marking passages for cross-reference. Little by little, it got easier. He spotted the patterns, recognised the framing, the phrasing, the feel of the text.

The words flowed over him, as they had a long, long time ago. His pen scratched, the words, the text, marked down, pieces of knowledge of a greater whole coming together as the word grew lighter and brighter outside of the windows.

Once, twice, he staggered up from the floor, fetched one of the holy books or an atlas, and stumbled back. Town names were scribbled down, scored out, replaced. Pages were ripped from his notepad, spread in a growing constellation of information on the table. His head was throbbing, but he’d gathered information before, far more powerful and overwhelming, so he could do it again. Had to do it again. Had to find any answer there might be.

His head was drooping over the table, his hand aching when his phone buzzed in his pocket and almost scared the living hell out of him.

“Ngh?” he croaked hoarsely.

“Crowley? Are you all right, my dear?”

Crowley stared at his shaking hand, the pen trembling in his bruised fingertips, the book, and at the array of information he had spread around him. He wanted to tell Aziraphale what he was looking at, what he might have found, but – and he couldn’t say why in that moment – he lied, “Just woke up.”

“Oh, good. Any news?”

Crowley rubbed at his eyes. “What?”

“News? From your people? I’m meeting mine later on.”

“Oh.” Oh, damn. “No. Not yet.” He drummed his fingertips anxiously on the edge of the table. He couldn’t lie, not completely, not to the demon, though. “Got some leads to look into.”

“Call anytime,” Aziraphale said and Crowley ached, hearing the warm smile in the demon’s voice.

“Mm.” He terminated the call and dropped the phone on the table, pressing his face into his hands. He shouldn’t have lied, especially not to the only person who was trying to help him, but it was all… a lot. Too much. Needed time. Needed to concentrate. Needed to think.

He looked down at the book, then frowned.

Prophecy 3817. The Number of the Beast is in the Revelayting of Sainte John, call hym in Taddesfield. And ye will know hym by this sign, that when ye do call hym, the Lesser Beaste will walk upon his hind legs like unto a Dancing Bear.

“Call him…” Crowley murmured. “Heed the words of the devil. Call… anytime. Call him in Taddesfield… call? Number is in the Revelating…” He stared at it, remembering a drunken conversation many, many years ago. “Revelations.” He groped through the pile of books for the Bible, flicking through to the book of Revelations, the pages rustling. “The number of the beast… number of a man… six hundred threescore and six…”

It couldn’t be that obvious, could it? All the hours of panic and searching and he’d been handed a book with the bloody phone number of the Antichrist?

He checked the area code for Tadfield – the village where they had dropped the book girl off, which was a coincidence he really didn’t want to think too hard about – and his hands were trembling so much he could barely type in the number.

“Tadfield oh-four-six-triple-six.” A male voice spoke on the other end. “It’s Arthur Young here.”

Crowley almost breathed a sigh of relief, then froze when – in the background of the call – he heard a boy’s voice excitedly call out “Dad, look! I got dog to walk on his hind legs!”

The phone slipped from Crowley’s hand and he sagged back against the couch, staring at the books in front of him.

“Right number,” he breathed.

That was it. The location of the Antichrist. The name of the Antichrist.

He pressed his shaking hands to his mouth. He’d found him. He’d found him and right now, he was the only person in earth, Heaven and Hell who knew exactly where the boy was. That… it had to be an advantage, didn’t it? Surely he could…

Could what? Drive to Tadfield without anyone being any the wiser and… and deal with it?

Oh God.

Deal with it. A tactful way to describe murdering a child. A boy the same age as Warlock. Younger than half the kids who came to work in his garden.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t seen children die before. Of course he had. He had lived too long not to.

He had stood by at the flood and heard their screams and then their silence. He’d picked his way through the rubble of Gomorrah. He stood beneath blooded doorways in Tanis and heard the wails. From the walls of Jericho to the killing fields of Cambodia, in country after country, century after century, millennia after millennia.

He’d obeyed and they had died and he had stood by, silent and watching. But to go, to take up a holy weapon again for the first time since the first war, to kill someone – a human – a child – with his own two hands?

No.

Never.

Aziraphale, then? He was a demon, after all. He wouldn’t object to killing a human.

But then again, he couldn’t, could he? Not that human, not if he wanted to live to see another day. If he openly defied the will of Hell, then they’d come after him, and as frustrating as the demon could be, Crowley couldn’t bear to imagine a world without him, without his laughter and his nonsense and the mischievous gleam in glittering blue eyes.

Crowley rocked back and forth, staring at his notes.

Killing the Antichrist would be good. It would prevent Armageddon. Stop the war. Prevent… all of it from coming to pass. Surely, that had to be the good and right thing to do? Which meant that, of course, Heaven would approve. It would mean winning without the need for battle and that had to be better for everyone.

Maybe if he told them, then they could find someone to do the… dealing with. Sandalphon, maybe. He had no qualms about killing people, even children. He could… do that bit and everything would be fine.

He dropped his head back on the seat of the couch. “What do you want me to do?” he pleaded. “Can’t you tell me? Just for once? How can I help them? How can I save them?” He forced himself up, onto the couch. “Come on! Please! You said you loved them! Why would you let this happen, if you loved them?”

As always, there was only ineffable silence.

Crowley’s shoulders sagged and he bowed over his knees. It looked, he thought miserably, like he had no other choice.

 

__________________________________________

 

Aziraphale was worried.

Not that he showed it, naturally. What would the world be coming to if a demon was anxious? No, he smiled as much as usual as he ordered, then feigned a deep and thorough interest in his newspaper as he waited for his man to make contact.

But it didn’t mean he wasn’t still worrying.

He’d known Crowley enough to recognise certain tones in his voice and the way he froze up and went quiet. Usually, the poor little thing’s mind was working in overdrive, thinking in a dozen directions at once, and quite often none of them good.

He turned a page as a shadow stretched over the table, loitering with a scent of cheap tobacco and poor hygiene. As usual, the man had attempted to douse the scent with an aftershave even cheaper than his tobacco.

“Sergeant Shadwell.” He folded the paper when the waiter approached and raised a brow at the Witchfinder.

Shadwell made a little half-bow, slipping into the opposite seat. “Mr. Fell, sir,” he said respectfully. “You’re looking well.”

“Mm. Healthy diet and exercise,” Aziraphale murmured over the largest, most perfectly fried breakfast a man could ask for.

“And your… er… your father? You look very much like him.”

That, Aziraphale thought with mild amusement, was one of the failings in the poor man’s perception. He was absolutely convinced that the Mr. Fell he met in the bookshop was… for want of a less-offensive term, a confirmed bachelor, and yet given the explanation that he had a son to carry on his business, Shadwell had grasped it and clung onto it with both hands.

“Mm.” Aziraphale added some ketchup to his fried eggs. It was hardly culinary excellence, but sometimes, one simply needed to indulge in hearty, greasy comfort food.

“Um. I’ve prepared the ledger,” Shadwell said, setting a raggedy cashbook on the table. “The men need paying, your honour. It’s hard times for witchfinders in today’s degenerate age…”

Aziraphale waved it away with a sausage and bean-laden fork. “Unnecessary, my dear. The money will be dropped in on Saturday. Two-hundred and fifty pounds, as per the arrangement.”

“Only cash!” Shadwell reared back in his seat when Aziraphale glanced at him. “Don’t take plastic!”

Aziraphale gazed at him, chewing ponderously.

“Um… so… your Lordship… you called…?”

“Mm.” Aziraphale dabbed at his lip with a napkin and set down his fork. “There’s a village called Tadfield in Oxfordshire. I need your best people put on it. They’ll be looking for a particular boy, around eleven years of age and… perhaps… unusual elements about him.”

“He’s a–” Shadwell glanced around, then leaned closer. “Is he a witch?”

Well, Aziraphale though dryly, needs must. “Perhaps, my dear.” He skewered another of the sausages, deliberately nibbling on the end, enough to make the witchfinder lower his eyes and clear his throat. “You’d have to find him first to be sure.”

“Aye,” Shadwell grunted in agreement. “Well… my best operative…”

The sour stench of body odour, cheap aftershave and tobacco was only adding to the worry-wrought nausea and Aziraphale pushed his plate back. “Very good, sergeant,” he said, striding from the café without looking back, and into the marginally fresher air of the city.

 

_______________________________

 

Crowley fidgeted uncomfortably.

For once, he’d dug out his more formal clothing, a black suit he’d bought years ago. The moths had got into the last of his decent shirts, so he’d resorted to a plain grey t-shirt under it and the cleanest of his dozens of pairs of trainers. Best he had to offer and he still felt like a beggar standing by the door of a tube station, waiting for a hint of compassion.

Heaven was as cold and quiet and vast as he remembered and he hastily shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from picking at his nails as he waited.

“So!” Gabriel’s voice boomed through the space around him and he spun around to find the Archangel marching towards him, followed by Michael, Uriel and Sandalphon. “I got your message. You’ve got something big?” Gabriel spread his hands. “Lay it on us?”

It was stupid. No matter how many times he came. No matter how many times he saw them. No matter how much time passed, he still felt the weight of their disapproval and impatience every single time. They didn’t have any right or reason to think less of him now, not after so long, not after the Almighty had given her blessing to–

“What’s happening?” Uriel snapped, shaking him out of his thoughts.

All of them were looking at him and his words felt like they had caught in his throat.

“So. Um. Well…” He tightened his hands into fists and took a steadying breath. “It’s about the Antichrist.”

“Yes?” Uriel raised their eyebrows.

“I-I’ve been– there’s been–” Crowley shifted from foot to foot. “The thing is… I think… the other side might have lost him.” 

The Archangels exchanged looks. “The… other side?” Michael said.

Crowley stared at them in confusion. They’d always been going on about it. Who else could he possibly be talking about? Heaven. Hell. The opposition, the enemies, the adversaries? “You know?” he said, pointing downwards. “Them?”

“Lost him?” Gabriel said, face twisted sceptically. “He’s the son of the US Ambassador. He’s under constant surveillance.”

“The other side,” Michael added dismissively, “are currently transporting him to the Plains of Megiddo. Apparently, that’s the traditional starting point.”

Gabriel nodded. “Middle Eastern unrest and everything else just follows. The four Horsemen ride out. The last great battle between Heaven and Hell.”

Crowley forced himself not to nod along and just go with what they were saying. “Thing is…” He paused, looking down at his feet. His shoes looked grubby against Heaven’s pristine, polished white floors. God, how did he think he could ever come up here and argue his case. He dug his nails into his hands and looked up at them. “Thing is I don’t think he’s the Antichrist. I don’t know if it’s a trick or what, but the… actual Antichrist isn’t… him. He’s… he might be… somewhere else.”

Four pairs of eyes stared at him and God, he wanted to curl in on himself and back out of their presence and flee back to the safe warmth of his home. They didn’t care what he had to say. They didn’t want to know what he had to say. Why, why, why had he come to them when they clearly thought he was as worthless as the scruffy trainers he was wearing?

“Where?” Gabriel demanded, voice clipped and impatient.

Tadfield.

That was all he had to say. All he had to do was give them the answer, but they didn’t believe him now. Why would they believe him if he gave the boy’s name and town? And if he did, how could he be sure they would do… oh. Oh, there was a way he could test the waters, even if it meant a small delay. Surely, that would…

“Um.” He swallowed hard. “Not sure. I-I-I mean I could find out. Probably. Maybe. I’ve got people. You know. Humans. And things.” He managed a brittle smile. “I mean, hypothetically, if I was able to find him…” He trailed off, praying that one of them would offer, one of them would suggest, one of them would do what he knew he couldn’t.

“It wouldn’t change anything, Raziel,” Uriel said dismissively and his heart dropped like a rock.

“There was war in Heaven long before the earth was created,” Gabriel added placidly. “Lucifer and his people were cast out, but nothing was really… settled.”

“I suppose it wasn’t,” he said weakly. God, he shouldn’t have come. He should’ve known. They had tunnel vision about Heaven and Hell. Always had. The earth didn’t even come into it for them, did it? They didn’t even care. “But… there doesn’t have to be another war, does there?”

“As much as we appreciate your hypotheticals, Raziel, I’m afraid we have other things to do,” Gabriel said with a strained smile. “The earth isn’t just going to end itself you know.”

Crowley wanted to speak. He wanted to scream. He wanted to do anything but nod and duck his head away from their judgemental stares, and wait until they all walked away, leaving him alone in the chilly hallways, his nails carving blood into his palms.

He took the staircase back down to the streets, then hurried out and away from the building as fast as he could.

Heaven weren’t going to do anything and he couldn’t let Aziraphale get himself in trouble – which, of course, he would if he knew exactly what was going on – so that only left the human option. He dug out his phone and ducked into a doorway, calling up the number of the one human he knew would be willing to hunt down a supernatural force.

Shadwell’s secretary put him through to the man and Crowley sagged with relief. “Sergeant Shadwell! It’s…” He glanced out into the street, checking for any angelic surveillance. “It’s you-know-who.”

“Who?”

Crowley groaned inwardly. “Me!” he exclaimed, rocking on the balls of his feet. “Your… sponsor. Listen, do you have any men free? I’ve got a mission for them.”

“A mission?” Shadwell sounded bemused. “Like a church with a sing-song?”

“No!” Crowley snapped impatiently. “A job! I need them to get to Tadfield. It’s a town in Oxfordshire and there’s a boy there that we need to get eyes on as soon as possible. I need to know where he is, what he’s doing, the lot.”

Shadwell grunt. “I’ll put a squad of my best men on it.”

Crowley nodded, releasing a shaking breath. “Good, great, perfect.”

“And I’ll be by the kirk next week to pick up your annual dues,” Shadwell said quickly.

“Yeah, yeah, fine.” Crowley groped in his pocket. “But your people to Tadfield first, all right, and keep them there until I call, okay?” He pulled out his notebook. “Right. Have you got a pen?”

“Aye.”

“The boy’s called Adam Young,” Crowley said, darting another wary glance into the street. “And he lives at 4 Hogback Lane. Got it?”

“Absolutely, your honour,” Shadwell confirmed. “Tadfield it is.”

“Great! Thank you!” He shoved the notebook back in his pocket. “Let me know when they’re there, all right?” He ended the call and sagged back against the damp wall of the doorframe. Well, he’d done what he could. He’d tried Heaven and now, all he could do was trust in the humans to help him save them. And if that failed, then…

Then he knew which side of the breach he had to stand on as the world – his world – fell apart.

 

__________________________________

 

The search was not – by any vague estimates of the word – going well.

Aziraphale had scanned through reams of newspapers in case of any… unusual occurrences, but nothing had jumped out. Which was ridiculous, given that the boy had his powers now. There ought to have been something, some hint or a clue of something rotten in the county of Oxfordshire.

He’d even risked venturing onto the… internet in case anything had come up there, but no. The most exciting event was a bake-sale happening in St. Clarence’s parish, which – while tempting – was also not in the least unnatural.

There had been no word from Crowley all day and he had to admit he was beginning to worry. The angel always tied himself in knots about the least little thing and this? Well, this was a substantial little thing to say the least. Crowley had been lying the last time they spoke, he could tell that much, which meant the only way to check on him was to see him.

He dialled the angel’s number, utterly unsurprised when he picked up after a single ring. “Meet me at the third alternate rendezvous.”

“What?” Lord, the poor thing sounded utterly dazed. “Oh. Right. Yeah. Which one is that again?”

“The bandstand, my dear,” Aziraphale said as gently as he could. “Fifteen minutes, all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, fine.”

 Aziraphale frowned at his telephone, then hung up the receiver. It wasn’t like the angel to be so abrupt, but then, these weren’t entirely normal times.

He was at the bandstand less than ten minutes later, pacing in circles as he waited for the angel, and when he saw him, his heart sank. Crowley was wearing one of his black suits, which could only mean he had been called in on Heavenly business, which didn’t bode well.

“Any news?” he asked, as soon as the angel reached him.

“What?” Crowley pushed his fingers through his hair, clearly upset. “What kind of news?”

“About the Antichrist, my dear?” Aziraphale approached him cautiously. Lord, he looked as if he might run at the slightest provocation. “Have you found anything that might let us know where he is?”

The wild, panicked look in the angel’s eyes told him things were worse than he knew. “I– it– I’m–”

“Me either,” Aziraphale assured him, holding up both hands. “Breathe, my dear. You look like you might keel over.”

Crowley backed away a step, hands up defensively, which froze Aziraphale in his tracks. The angel had never, not once in their millennia of friendship, recoiled from him like that. “I’m fine,” the angel lied, the tang of it bitter and sharp. “I am. I’m just–” His lips twitched, but it didn’t make it as far as a smile. “It’s the great plan, isn’t it? We– we’re just part of it.”

Aziraphale’s heart sank. Back, toeing the party line. Whatever the Hell had happened to the angel during the day, it had shaken him up. “They can shove the Great Plan up their collective arses,” he snarled angrily. “Until they choke on it.”

Crowley’s face crumpled in distress. “May you be forgiven.”

Aziraphale stared at him in disbelief. “Oh, we know that won’t happen, my dear,” he said, shaking his head. “Not ever. It’s what I am, remember: an unforgiveable demon.”

“But you–” Crowley’s voice broke. “You were an angel once.”

The implication hung in the air between them, as if he might miraculous turn back into one. Or, Aziraphale realised with horror and dismay, as if he would be on the same side as him when the time came. They wouldn’t be. They could never be. Even if he could, how could he willingly return to the place that had cast him out? How could the angel think he would?

“That was a long time ago, Crowley,” he said, shaking his head. He closed the distance between them, reaching out to steady the angel, but forcing his hands back, down away from him. “We’ll find the boy. My people can do it.”

Crowley’s eyes were too bright. “And then what? We… kill him?”

“Someone can,” Aziraphale replied, trying not to meet his eyes, trying not to let himself become distracted by the pain there. It would only make him too angry. “I mean, not one of us, if we can help it, but if needs must…”

“Needs must…” Crowley reached out, then recoiled, turning away and walking in one of those tight narrow circles he made for himself when he was afraid and thinking too hard. “I– we– there must be some other way.”

“Like what?” Aziraphale demanded, throwing up his hands. “I have no idea what else we can do! I’ve looked! And now, you’re lying to me about something and talking about sides and what the Hell do you expect me to think?”

Crowley spun back to face him. “I want to stop it!”

“I know you do, but I’m telling you I have no idea how!” The demon took breath, pressing his fingertips to his lips and exhaling. “What do you know, angel? I know you’re keeping something from me. You know you can tell me anything. You know that.”

Crowley’s dark eyes darted wildly around, as if he could find the answer, nothing but strangled sounds escaping him.

It was like a blow, the silence.

“Very good,” Aziraphale said as calmly as he could. “This is pointless. I’ll be off.”

He was on the steps when Crowley’s choked voice reached him. “You can’t leave, Aziraphale. There– there’s nowhere to go.”

He paused, hand on the rail of the bandstand, then turned and looked back. Back at the angel who had become the gyroscope about which his world had come to turn. “There’s everywhere to go, my dear,” he said, trying to keep his own voice from faltering. “Even if we lose the earth, we can find somewhere else, somewhere…” He waved skywards, where the stars were only just beginning to appear. “Somewhere together.”

“Together?” Crowley pressed his hands together as if in prayer, knocking his fingers to his forehead. “No, Aziraphale, no…”

“Darling, think how long we’ve been friends,” Aziraphale said softly.

“We– we’re not friends.” Crowley backed away, still not looking to him, the lie sharp in the air. “I’m an angel, you’re a demon. We can’t be friends!”

“Of course we can,” Aziraphale moved towards him, hand outstretched.

“No, no, no…” Crowley shook his head. “Look– look, even if I did know where he is, I couldn’t– wouldn’t – tell you!” He met Aziraphale’s eyes, his expression bleak and his eyes so wet it was astonishing that his face was still dry. “It’s too late now. We’re on opposite sides!”

“Oh, darling,” Aziraphale caught Crowley’s cheek in his hand. “We’re on our side! We always have been.”

Crowley shoved his hand away, backstepping. “There’s no our side!” he exclaimed. “There can’t be! We have to stop this now.”

Aziraphale felt as if he had been doused in holy water, his hand falling down by his side. “Oh. I. I see.” He bowed his head as politely as he could, his whole body twisting in on itself, his hands curling into agonising knots by his side. “If that is what you want. Very well.” He smiled, thin and tight until it made his face ache. “Good day.”

He turned and walked away, his steps leaden, and tried to ignore the catch in the angel’s breath, the short, sharp bitten-off sob.

So, he thought as he walked alone into the twilight, this was what the end of the world felt like.

Chapter Text

It was happening.

It was already happening and Crowley didn’t know what to do.

He’d spent the morning scouring the internet, reading the news, watching all the latest updates as they flooded in. Atlantis was there again, the kraken had risen from the deaths, the rainforests had pushed through half of downtown Rio.

It was happening.

He paced in a tight circle, trying very hard not to look further up the path. Why Gabriel insisted on jogging here, he didn’t know, especially not so close to… to, well, there. The band stand. The place where he couldn’t help feeling he’d made the biggest mistake of his life, which was really saying something given his past experience.

He turned at the pounding of running feet, his heart clenching at the sight of Gabriel. He raised his hand in greeting, but the Archangel didn’t even give him a second look.

“Gabriel!” He ran after him on legs that felt too unsteady to do the job. “Gabriel! It’s me!”

“I know it’s you, Raziel,” Gabriel said coolly, not even breaking pace or anything, the bastard.

“I’ve discovered some prophecies,” Crowley said, trying his best to keep up with him. “Accurate ones.”

Gabriel shrugged. “What’s in human prophecies that matters to us?”

“S’all over the news today!” Crowley exclaimed, jogging a few steps faster to try and match the Archangel’s longer strides. “Everything that’s happening! It’s all about Armageddon and it’s starting today!”

“Exactly. Right on schedule. “The Archangel gave him such an impatient look that Crowley was almost tempted to smack him. “What’s your point?”

Crowley grabbed his sleeve. “Look, please, stop,” he panted. “Just for a minute.”

Gabriel sighed impatiently, but at least he stopped and Crowley staggered to a halt, clutching his chest. “Well?” the Archangel demanded.

Crowley rubbed his chest. “I just–” God, the instinct to not question them, to just go with it was overwhelming, but it was coming and it was real and he had to do something. “Isn’t there something we can do?”

“There is!” Gabriel said, giving him a firm slap on the shoulder. “We can fight! And we can win.”

Crowley stared at him helplessly, remember blood and screams and hellfire and brimstone and the sight of thousands of his brothers Falling. “But there doesn’t have to be a war,” he pleaded. “Not again.”

“Of course there does,” Gabriel said, looking at him as if he was an idiot. “Otherwise, how would we win it?” He took Raziel by the shoulders. “Now, look, wrap up whatever you need to wrap up down here, report back to active service and…” He looked Crowley up and down, disapproval all over his face. “And maybe try to look like a decent angel?”

Crowley found himself nodding out of habit, eyes down.

“Come on.” Gabriel clapped him hard on both arms. “Head up, Raziel! You’re a celestial warrior, aren’tcha?”

Instinct dragged his body to attention, but as soon as Gabriel released him and jogged off, Crowley sagged, wrapping his arms around his middle. “I’m a gardener,” he whispered. He turned to head back towards the Bentley, recoiling when Gabriel materialised right in front of him.

“Almost forgot,” Gabriel said with a quick smile. “According to our records, you borrowed a flaming sword from one of the cherubim of Eden to drive that demon out of the garden. Leliel said they never got it back. Be sure to bring it with you.” He grinned. “You’re going to need it.”

“Er… yeah.” Crowley forced a shaky grin. “Course. Kept it safe. In case, y’know. Humans…”

“Good, good.” Another bruising squeeze to his arms made him wince and the Gabriel vanished.

Crowley pressed his hands together, fighting down the urge to scream at the Heavens. Right. Okay. End of the world on its way and the sides were taking up arms. Arms he didn’t have and didn’t want to bear. He glanced upwards, hands shaking against one another. Maybe his human would get back to him soon, but if they didn’t, there was only one place left to ask.

He dropped his hands to his sides, trying to breathe. Oh, going above Heaven’s commands was a bad idea. You didn’t question anyone in Heaven. You definitely, totally, and seriously didn’t question anyone higher than that. Too many questions meant you doubted and if you doubted you…

You Fell.

 

__________________________________________

 

Aziraphale had returned to his bookshop after his last… meeting with Crowley.

He’d settled into his chair with a large bottle of Scotch and had not moved from it for over twelve hours. He did not intend to move any further at all. If war was coming and there was nothing he could do to stop it, he intended to have no part in it whatsoever.

Of course, that was all well and good to think in principle, but when one hadn’t had a decent dinner and arguments made one hungry, it made it very difficult to stay in one place and wait out the end of the world.

The trouble was that even despite Crowley turning on him and the impending war, he really didn’t want it to end at all. Everything he liked was there. Everything he wanted was there. He had spent a long time cultivating some beautiful collections and now, they were going to destroy it over some war he had never wanted to be part of.

Perhaps it was selfish of him to see it that way, but what could they really expect of him? They had charged him with being too indulgent to be an angel and so, he became a demon. A demon couldn’t be too indulgent. If you told them they were doing something wrong, then they were clearly doing their job right and he thoroughly enjoyed that element of his work.

And if he could prove Crowley wrong, then so be it.

There didn’t need to be sides. There never needed to be sides. Heaven and Hell could take their pettiness and their wars and their binary view of life and shove it up their collective arses for all he cared. He wanted nothing to do with either of them and he was quite sure neither of them would want anything to do with him.

Which, unfortunately, meant he needed to find something useful to do.

He’d scoured every book on his shelves for some hint and clue. Most of the tomes were more about summoning demons, rather than driving out Antichrists. There was only one he hadn’t dared to break open yet. If prayers could burn and holy water could destroy, he could only begin to imagine what the literal word of God could do.

Still, if there was a remote chance of finding an answer or a solution, then… She was the only one likely to have it and if She wasn’t talking, then the book was the next best thing. Her words recorded by an angel and given to mankind, then rewritten over and over by humans.

The Sefer Raziel HaMalakh. The Book of Raziel.

As far as he knew, the angel in question wasn’t in Hell. Not that any of them knew anyway. Everyone was curious about them. Someone plagiarising God’s spoken word to write a manual to help humans return to God’s grace after Eden sounded like they should’ve been cast out. But then it did sound the most idiotically angelic thing an angel could do.

He laid it on his work table and dug out a pair of smoked glasses and leather gloves that he always kept when venturing into the holy books.

“Right, you bastard,” he growled, slipping the glasses on and pulling on the heavy-duty gloves. “If you’ve got anything useful to say to me, now’s the time to say it.”

He flipped open the cover and hissed through his teeth. It was like being sandblasted in the face, searing and scorching with the divine power, but mercifully not to the point of destruction. The words poured over him, words of knowledge and creation and the stars and Jesus Christ, the bugger who gave this book to the humans must have had the proverbial balls of titanium.

There was natural biology, science, theology and… oh, there. Spells. Dozens and dozens of spells to ward of enemies and evil and demons. Binding spells. Dismissing spells. Controlling spells. All things that would probably burn his hands and tongue off if he tried them, but right now, did that really matter?

Dozens of pages, screeds of knowledge, and he only stopped when his eyes were aching too much to stand it anymore. He could barely read the notes he had scribbled down, the items he would need for any charms and spells and defences. He closed up the book, sealing it up and locking it away for good measure, then hurried out into the city.

It was almost a relief to step out of the shop, where the power of the book still throbbed in the air and he turned his face into the cool breeze, sighing with relief.

First things first: supplies.

Thankfully, he didn’t have to go far, the Saturday market open, just off Rupert Street. Stacks of tasty artisanal goodies awaited him, but he forced himself to focus, though the people who bundled up herbs and plants for him stared at him in worried dismay.

“You okay, mate?” A young man asked warily as he handed over a parcel.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Aziraphale asked irritably, snatching his bundle and weaving on between the stalls and stands. He was poking through another stand when the radio playing beside the stallholder crackled.

“What the Heaven is going on, Aziraphale? What have you done?”

Aziraphale swung around to stare at it. “Who’s that?”

“The boy, Warlock!” The voice – a charming lady presenter from the sounds of it – snarled. “We took him to the Fields of Megiddo! The dog is not with him! The child knows nothing of the great war! He is not our Master’s son!”

“Ohhh.” Aziraphale looked down at the bundles in his arms. Too late. Too late by far.

“You’re dead meat, Aziraphale,” the voice growled. “You’re bloody history! You stay where you are! We’re coming to collect you!”

Stay where you are? Not bloody likely.

Aziraphale turned on his heel, striding back through the crowds, heart thundering.

That changed everything. They were coming for him, which meant there was no time to get to the Antichrist and stop him. The only option was to run as far and as fast as possible. Leave the earth behind.

His footsteps faltered and he stopped short.

Leave the earth behind. Leave Crowley behind. Leave him to perish with the rest of them.

Aziraphale broke into a run, only stopping briefly at his shop and trying desperately to call the angel. When there was no reply, he abandoned all thought of calm and ran as fast as he could, crashing through the crowds of the city to flag down the first taxi he could find.

To his relief, when he reached St. Dunstan’s hill, the angel was sitting on the bench in the garden outside the church, looking white as a sheet.

“Crowley!” he called out, as he scrambled out of the cab. “My dear!”

Crowley jumped, scrambling to his feet and backing away, as if expecting to be struck, then stared in incomprehension. “Aziraphale… your face…”

Puzzled, the demon touched his cheek. The skin was flaking, and his fingertips came away damp with blood by his eyes. “Oh.” Well, that certainly explained some of the reactions around the market. “Nothing important.” He hurried towards him, hands raised to show he was unarmed and harmless. “Look, I’m sorry about yesterday. We were both a little worked up, weren’t we? Yes. Yes, I think we were.” He came closer still, gently catching the angel’s arms as if he was a skittish animal that might bolt. “We need to go.”

“What?” Crowley flinched back. “No!”

“Hell has worked out everything,” Aziraphale said impatiently. “About Warlock, the Antichrist, everything! They know it was my fault and they’re coming.” He caught the angel’s hand. “Darling, they’re coming for me and the end is coming, but we can go. Now. There’s a whole universe out there! Dozens of places! Beautiful places!”

“Aziraphale, stop it, please.” The angel looked stricken. “Look, if I can just get in touch with the right people, if I can let them know what’s going on, I can–”

“Can? Can what?” Aziraphale shook his head furiously. “There are no right people, Crowley! Heaven? Hell? No! There’s only God, moving in mysterious ways and She’s not listening to any of us!”

Crowley’s face creased in pain. “I have to try. I’ll– I’ll tell Her what’s happening and She can fix it.”

Aziraphale stared at him in disbelief. “Darling, that won’t happen. That’ll never happen. She doesn’t listen to any of us. She doesn’t care.”

The angel almost looked like he was about to cry. “But I do,” he said so gently as if Aziraphale was the one terrified and falling apart. He reached out and squeezed Aziraphale’s hand and it felt like the whisper of a blessing. “And I forgive you.”

Forgive him? For what? For running? For leaving him behind? For not dragging him kicking and screaming into infinity?

Aziraphale backed away, anger, grief and despair all vying with one another. “I won’t stay,” he said, his voice escaping through ground teeth. “I won’t die for a world, for a God, who doesn’t even give a damn. If you’re stupid enough to think we have any chance to do anything, then on your head be it.”

He tried not to look back as he scrambled back into the cab, but how could he not?

The angel was standing forlornly by the door of his – their – church, eyes wide and dark.

Aziraphale forced himself to turn away. “Back to Soho,” he snapped.

He couldn’t think of stupid, melodramatic angels, not when the legions of Hell would be coming after him. He’d anticipated it for a long time, expected it sooner rather than later. He hurried into his shop, shutting and locking the door, then gathered up his many parcels from the market and went through to the backroom.

Preparations needed to be made.

They were more difficult than he’d anticipated with so many items that could inflict damage on him as well as any unexpected – or entirely expected – guests. By the time he heard the rattling at the door and felt the press of familiar presences against his wards, he had arranged everything to… well, if not save him completely, at least distract them and buy him enough time to make a clean getaway.

Aziraphale settled into his broadest, most comfortable armchair in the one room where the books were safely locked away behind closed doors. He could hear their voices now, and the crackle of glass and he smiled grimly to himself. Hastur and Ligur, as always. So traditional, so predictable.

“We know you’re in there, Aziraphale,” Ligur growled as the door crashed inwards. “We only want to talk.”

Aziraphale held his unnecessary breath, counting slowly down to steady himself, as Ligur pushed through the curtain and into the backroom. “Afternoon, Ligur,” he murmured, then swung up his right hand from beside the chair, leaning forward and holding it out at arm’s length. A gun gleamed in his gloved hand.

“A gun? You really think that’ll work on me?” Ligur sneered striding forward. “You really have been up here too long, haven’t you?”

Aziraphale wrinkled his nose. “Just long enough,” he replied and pulled the trigger of the water pistol, the spray hitting the demon full in the face. Ligur barely had time to scream before the holy water blazed brilliantly, his body giving way to the divinity. It was as impressive as it was horrifying.

Hastur made up for the lack of screaming, dancing frantically on the far side of the doorway. “That’s– that’s holy water! I can’t believe even a demon would–w-w-would! Holy water!” He inched around the simmering mess on the floor. “But he hadn’t done nothing to you!”

“Yet,” Aziraphale countered, heart thundering as he got to his feet. The pistol was empty, but Hastur didn’t know that. He held it out at arm’s length.

“Y-you don’t frighten me.”

Aziraphale smiled tightly, wishing to Heaven it did. “You’ve seen what it can do. Try me.”

The other demon stared wildly at him. “F’you were going to use that, you would’ve done it by now.”

It was true, but he wasn’t about to admit it out loud. “Maybe I just wanted to gloat. After all, you and he spent enough time talking about me.” He circled the room, his eyes flicking back and forth between the floor and the demon’s face as Hastur inched sideways around the room. “Why don’t we have a little chat?”

“Chat? After what you’ve done?”

“After what I’ve done?” Nearly. Nearly… one more step.

Both of them flinched when the telephone rang and Aziraphale’s heart was hammering. No one called him except pests and…

Oh Lord.

“One moment,” he said with a pleasant smile for Hastur, then snatched up the receiver. “Yes?”

“Aziraphale!” Crowley! He sounded shaken and breathless. “I know where the Antichri–”

Shit. Game on again, then.

No time to waste.

“Bad time, darling,” he cut across the angel. “Entertaining.” He slammed the receiver down. “Where were we?”

“You were bluffing,” Hastur growled and snapped his fingers.

Aziraphale winced as the plastic gun exploded into shards in his glove-covered right hand, pieces raining down on the floor. “Well, yes,” he said, spreading his hands. “Only with the gun, though…”

Hastur froze. “What do you mean only–”

Aziraphale smiled like a snake and snapped his left fingers up. The wreath of rosemary suspended from the ceiling snapped free of its bindings, dropping, encircling the demon like a hoop on a bottle at the funfair. “That,” he purred. “Always have a back-up, my dear. It’s only sensible.”

Hastur threw himself forward, rebounding off the invisible barrier. “What?!!? What the Heaven is this?”

“A little trick I learned from Raziel,” Aziraphale said, sweeping his coat up off the back of the chair. “If you don’t mind, I have business to attend to.” He tapped a finger jauntily to his temple. “Enjoy your stay.”

“Don’t you dare leave me here, Aziraphale!” Hastur howled, as Aziraphale ran for the door. “AZIRAPHALE!”

Chapter Text

The drive back from Hyde Park took longer than planned, after a traffic collision and some roadworks forced Crowley into a labyrinth of backstreets towards St. Dunstan’s Hill.

He didn’t really notice, if he was quite honest, lost in worried thought.

The trouble was…

The trouble was he needed to do something and the only thing he could do was go against Heaven’s orders. Directly against them, rather than strategically misinterpreting them for the greater good. He was expected to join them. He was expected to fight. If he did neither of those things, he would be publicly and openly disobeying.

He was an angel. Angels were meant to act for the greater good! They’d been commanded by God in the beginning to love and cherish humanity, but if he obeyed the command to take up arms in the war, wasn’t that going against the order he had been given before he even set foot on the earth? Did one order override another? How could you know which was the one that had to be obeyed and which was the one that should be ignored?

It was an impossible situation. God or Heaven. They were meant to be on the same side, both of them, but now, the orders of the divine felt like they were contradicting the orders of Heaven and he was only an angel. How was he meant to know which was the right choice and which was the wrong one? How did you ask those questions without Falling?

He pulled into the parking space beside his church and folded his arms on the steering wheel, burying his face in them for a moment. Was it so wrong to want to keep on going as he had for centuries? To help humans where he could? To nurture them and watch them grow and change and adapt? Surely that couldn’t be wrong?

It felt, he thought achingly, like a bad time to be sober.

He was halfway out the car when he realised he wasn’t alone in the yard, his heart plummeting like a rock.

Michael, Uriel and Sandalphon prowled towards him, their feet barely making a sound on the gravel.

Crowley backed into the side of the Bentley. “Uh… guys. Hi. Didn’t know you’d be dropping in.”

“We’ve just been learning some rather disturbing things about you,” Michael murmured, dark eyes gleaming. “You’ve been a bit of a… Fallen angel, haven’t you? Consorting with the enemy?”

Crowley reared back away from them. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no… “I– it– n-not consorting…”

Uriel’s lip curled in disdain. “Don’t think your boyfriend is going to get you special treatment in Hell. He’s in trouble too.”

Crowley’s hands scrabbled against the side of the car. Aziraphale. They knew. They knew it all. And Aziraphale was in trouble. Oh God, they were screwed. They were both screwed and there was nothing left they could do.

“Raziel,” Michael said, voice cool and hard. “It’s time to choose sides.”

“But–” The words hitched in his throat and he took a shaky breath, forcing them out. “But do we have to? I mean yeah, technically, two sides is fine. Good and evil and morality and choices and free will and all that stuff, but that… isn’t that for the humans? I mean, isn’t it our job to just keep things going? To give them a way to make the choices?”

Uriel snorted. “You think too much.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but Sandalphon moved like lightning, slamming his fist up under Crowley’s ribs and doubling him over. Uriel caught him by his lapels as he folded and threw him back against the Bentley, their fists grinding against his ribs.

He stared at them, panicked. They’d never– before, he’d– they’d– it wasn’t–

“Don’t! You can’t–” His hands shivered between them. “We– aren’t we the good guys?” Uriel’s lips curled in a smirk of disdain and that, more than anything, reached past the terror and into the outrage. “This isn’t right! I– She needs to know about this!” He tried to push off from the car, but Uriel’s grip was like iron. “She needs to know!”

Uriel raised her eyebrows mockingly. “You really think upstairs will take your call? After all the stunts you’ve pulled? You’re ridiculous.”

They stepped back as a sound of trumpets blared from above and Crowley staggered, catching himself against the car door.

“This is great,” Uriel said, smiling. “It’s starting.”

With a flare of light, they leapt Heavenwards, vanishing, leaving him slumped against the Bentley.

“You…” He was shaking so hard he could barely stand up straight. “You–” A profanity danced on his tongue, but he bit down on it. “Bad angels.”

It took all his effort to stagger over to the bench at the edge of the garden, collapsing there, his legs shaking. Too much. All too much. They knew. They knew about him and Aziraphale. They knew about his doubts. They knew everything and it wasn’t enough to stop them or change their minds and if he didn’t join them, if he didn’t side with them…

And then, of course, then, as if summoned by Crowley’s distress, Aziraphale materialised, bursting out of a cab, eyes red and bloody, face blistered, urging Crowley to run, again, to leave, to flee, to be safe somewhere else that wasn’t here with him. They could both be safe. They could escape. They could live.

Oh it was tempting. Lord, it was tempting, but that was what he did, wasn’t it?

But the earth…

Crowley felt like he was standing on the lip of a precipice with Heaven at his back and a bottomless Fall in front of him, but if he could just… reach out, make the call he had to make, speak to the one person he knew could fix everything…

A leap of faith, praying his wings would still hold him.

He tried to explain, tried to say as much, but Aziraphale – unsurprisingly – didn’t believe a word of it. He hadn’t believed in anything for so long. “Darling, that won’t happen. That’ll never happen. She doesn’t listen to any of us. She doesn’t care.”

And that…

That was the trouble.

Crowley had been sent to earth to care for humanity and he had. And he did. And he couldn’t stop just because he was told to. “But I do.” He could see the panic and distress all over the demon’s face and knew he would leave, had to leave for his own safety, but when he did, he would blame himself for leaving Crowley behind. Crowley reached out and gently squeezed his best – his only – friend’s hand. “And I forgive you.”

The demon recoiled, eyes blazing, bloody tears on his face. “I won’t stay.” His voice was raw and despairing. “I won’t die for a world, for a God, who doesn’t even give a damn. If you’re stupid enough to think we have any chance to do anything, then on your head be it.”

He hurled himself away, but he still looked back as the cab drove off and Crowley swallowed the lump in his throat.

Time to choose sides, he thought, turning and looking back at the Church.

“You’re forcing my hand here,” he shouted to the Heavens. “I wouldn’t do this if you’d just talk to me!”

When no reply came, he took a deep breath to steady himself, then marched into the church hall. The place was chaos, half-finished decorations in place for the concert that night, banners trailing down the walls and props stacked in every nook. He grabbed the broom, sweeping mounds of paper clear from the middle of the floor, then snatched one of the pots of paint and started making marks that he hadn’t needed to use in millennia.

His hands were unsteady, but he knew the words, knew the marks and the terror was giving way to anger. How dare they come to his home and threaten him. How dare they think they had any right to say what he could and couldn’t do. How dare they believe God was so cold and hard and distant as they thought.

He gathered the candles, placing them on the floor, then lit them all at once with a snap of his fingers, then paused, breathing hard. He’d tried pleading. He’d tried asking. He’d tried begging. Now… now, was the time to demand action.

“You listening to me?” He pressed his hands together in front of him. “Don’t pretend like you don’t hear me! I know you do! You going to answer me for once?”

To his shock and relief, the circle blazed with light, a radiant glowing column splashing off the ceiling high above.

“Hello? You there?”

“Speak, Raziel,” a booming voice echoed off the rafters, a shimmering, shapeless face manifesting in the light.

Crowley’s heart thundered. “God? That you?” The face took a more familiar shape and his heart sank. “Oh. It’s you.”

“Yes,” the Metatron replied. “You know to speak to me is to speak to God. I am the voice of the Almighty.”

Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, no. You’re not really. Maybe to the humans, yeah, but come on. This is me.” He looked back up at the Metatron. “I don’t want to be fobbed off with a spokesman. I need to speak to Her.”

“What is said to me is said to the Almighty.”

Yes, he wanted to protest, but that meant nuance, context and even content could be radically reinterpreted. He’d been there, after all. He’d lived through millennia of Chinese whispers as the foundation of faith.

“Well, Raziel?” The Metatron prompted.

“Fine…” Crowley sighed. “Fine.” He held up the Nutter book. “Can you let Her know that I found out who the Antichrist is and where we can find him?”

“Good work,” the Metatron said with a tone that sounded uncomfortably like Gabriel. “Well done.”

“Aren’t you listening?” Crowley threw his arms wide in frustration. “We can stop the war! No bleeding seas! No death! No destruction! Are you telling me that’s not a good thing?”

The Metatron’s brow furrowed, his vast gleaming head shaking slowly as if listening to a demanding child. “The point is not to avoid the war,” he said. “The point is to win it.”

To win it.

Again.

Yet another angel, just like all the rest.

“God…” Crowley groaned, burying his face in his hand. Aziraphale was right. Hell or Heaven, they were both the same. God wasn’t interested in intervening. There were no right people.  “You guys…” Wait… wait, wait, wait. No right people, but maybe enough wrong ones with enough information to do something. He rubbed slowly at his eyes, then forced his head up. “So what’s the plan, then?” He sounded quite calm, all things considered. Definitely not screaming. “How do we start it all?”

The Metatron smiled benevolently. “We thought a multi-nation nuclear exchange would be a nice start.”

Of course. Of course. Use the clever little innovations of the humans to end everything that they had made. Good thing about humans was their bad habit of putting a failsafe in. They just needed to find the big red button to stop everything. “Mm. Good plan. Messy.”

“The battle commences, Raziel,” the Metatron said firmly. “Join us.”

Like Hell, he would. Still, as long as they didn’t realise, not until it was too late.

He forced a smile. “Give us a few minutes. Things to… tidy up down here. You know how it is.”

The Metatron nodded. “We will leave the gateway open for you, then,” he said. “Do not dawdle.”

The looming face above him vanished and the gleaming column of light shrank to a pulsing glow inside the circle painted on the floor. Crowley set the Nutter book down on one of the tables and groped in his pocket for his phone.

Aziraphale’s number was – as always – first on the list and he dialled, pacing up towards the stage at the far end of the church impatiently.

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon…” He heard the click of the phone being picked up on the other end. “Aziraphale! I know where the Antichri–”

“Bad time, darling,” Aziraphale interrupted more rudely than he ever had in the past. “Entertaining.”

The phone cut off and Crowley stared at it. Even when Aziraphale amused himself with humans, there had never been an occasion when he hadn’t dropped them like hot coals for Crowley. He was about to dial again when a clatter made him turn around.

A shabby, whey-faced man was standing in the middle of the hall, face so off-colour it took the angel a moment to recognise him.

Shadwell?” He glanced beyond the man and at the doors he’d forgotten to lock. “What the Hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

“You…” Shadwell snarled. “You conniving tool of the de’il!”

“You what?”

“You! You monster! Luring folk in with your music and your fiendish wiles! Desecrating a house of the Lord!”

Shadwell advanced towards him and Crowley yelped in alarm, darting around the glowing circle on the floor, flinging himself between it and the man, spreading his arms wide. “Look, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick!” he exclaimed. “Seriously! I’m not– well, technically, yeah, I am in league with a demon, but not the devil! Exactly the opposite actually!”

“Oh, I’ll not be fooled again!” Shadwell groped in his pockets. “I’ll exorcise you with bell, book and candle!”

“Right, good luck with that!” Crowley tried to herd the man back, but Shadwell only retreated as far as the nearest table, grabbing a tambourine and the Nutter book, before swinging them in Crowley’s direction. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake!”

“Bell!” Shadwell roar, throwing the tambourine at him.

“Stop!” Crowley yelped, ducking under it and retreating a step. “Oh, you idiot! The circle’s dangerous! You’ll get ripped to pieces if you… Jesus!” He ducked back to avoid the hurled book, the pages whiffling as it flew by his ear. “You bloody maniac!”

The Witchfinder shoved his lighter in Crowley’s face, making him totter back another couple of steps. “Candle!” He howled. “By the powers invested in me as a duly appointed Witchfinder–”

“For God’s sake will you listen! Get away from the circle, you stupid idio–”

Shadwell bared his teeth, batting aside Crowley’s arm. “I charge ye to quit this place and return henceforth to the place from which ye came, and delivery us from evil returning nae more!” He stabbed his finger towards Crowley’s face, making him trip back over his own feet.

Too late, he felt the hum of power and stared down in horror.

“Oh…” He met Shadwell’s eyes with dismay. “Shit.”

Heavenly power shot through his body, surging upwards and the earthly world vanished around him.

Several seconds later, any passerby would have seen a shabby, ashen man staggering out of the open doorway of the old church, cradling his right hand against his chest. They might also have heard the doors creaking in the wind. And if they had paid more than a London’s blink of attention beyond those open doors, they might have noticed the flames before it was too late.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale drummed his fingers impatiently on the back of the driver’s seat.

“Who’re you again?” The human in the seat demanded.

“St. Dunstan’s Hill,” Aziraphale snapped. “Now.”

It was harder and harder to hold the control. No cabs meant he’d had to grab the first car he saw and he was too distracted, too worried to keep the human in check. He dialled and redialled the mobile telephone he’d borrowed off another human, but Crowley wasn’t answering and that never happened, not in all the time since the invention of the telephone. Worse yet, he couldn’t sense where the angel was to get to him and that…

That scared the Hell out of him.

“Yes, but–”

“Oh for Satan’s sake!” He reached into the human’s mind, took control of his body, slamming down a foot on the accelerator. It only worked to ram them into another car in front and he snarled in fury, scrambling out the back of the car.

Of all the damned times for the taxis to be in short supply, it had to be now.

It was a sign of true desperation that he ran down into the Underground, vaulting the barriers and tearing his way down to the platform. Still the phone rang and rang in his hand and around him, people grew more and more agitated, snapping at each other, pushing angrily, turning on one another.

Aziraphale didn’t notice. He didn’t care, wrapping himself against the handrail and staring at the map as station by station they inched closer and closer.

“Where are you, you idiot?” he growled under his breath. “Answer your damned phone.”

Even before he emerged from the station, he could hear the sirens and smell the smoke and for the first time in six millennia, a prayer caught on his tongue as he ran up the escalators, throwing tourists aside in his haste. He saw the smoke and knew at once where it was coming from.

The church was blazing, flames licking up through the roof and bursting through the windows, and Aziraphale pushed his way through the horrified crowds, staring up at it.

It was like Falling all over again, his world dropping away beneath him.

“Crowley…” he breathed. He was moving before the thought even took shape in his mind, leaping the police cordon and running for the doors. Voices cried out in warning and alarm, but he ignored them, a snap of his fingers bursting the doors wide open.

The inside of the church was an inferno and for a split second, he had a blur of double-vision, of Crowley standing there, at the end of the aisle, watching as Aziraphale danced, feet burning, towards him. He’d got there in time before. He’d made it in time and now–

An aching groan from above made him run forward as the ceiling crashed inwards and he dived to avoid the worst of it, rolling across the floor amid ash and ruin. His hand skittered on a smouldering heap and he turned, staring. A book? Crowley rarely read, if ever.

Maybe, then… maybe he hadn’t been here?

But there… inches away from the book, Crowley’s mobile telephone. Aziraphale snatched it up in shaking fingers. Crowley would sooner cut off a leg than leave that behind which meant he had to be here somewhere.

Aziraphale staggered to his feet, holding book and telephone, staring around.

“Crowley!” The smoke burned into his lungs. “Crowley, God damn you!” He pushed deeper, through the smoke and flames, his heart stopping in his chest at the marks etched on the floor. The holy sigils. A powerful prayer circle from the books of Solomon. Burned around the edges. Divine power. Divine retribution. “No… no, no, no, no, no…” 

He fell to his knees, scrabbling at the marks, trying to find a break in them, something to say that it hadn’t been– that it wasn’t–

His fingers seared and he swore, recoiling.

Oh.

“You…” His hands hovered, bleeding, over the circle. “You’re gone. Darling… darling, come back…”

He didn’t hear the scream of burning rafters, barely noticed them until they crashed down around him. He lifted smoke-red eyes to the ceiling to the daylight beyond the flames.

“You bastards,” he growled. “You’ve killed him.” He snatched up Crowley’s cracked telephone and the charcoal brick of his book, stumbling back to his feet. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

There was an entrance to Heaven from earth. He knew where it was. He knew how to get there. He also knew enough back channels and tricks that if he played his cards right, he could napalm the fuck out of it. Maybe it wouldn’t destroy it all, but if it hurt them, oh so much the better. They needed to learn. They needed to know what it was to suffer, the hypocritical murderous bastards.

He stalked out of the blazing church doors, the fire fighters rearing away from him. The crowd parted like the Red sea before him, the wave of malevolence in his wake dragging them back against one another like the sea swallowing the Egyptians. Curses and shouts and blows echoed behind him, wrath spreading out like a plague.

If anyone from Heaven had been paying attention at that point, they would have noticed a spreading pattern of darkness blazing out from a solitary burning church. Cars slammed into one another. Opportunists smashed shop windows, grabbing whatever they wanted. People went at one another’s throats.

And at the head of it, Aziraphale stormed through the city, fury and wrath boiling off him like sulphur.

 

___________________________________

 

No one, of course, noticed.

After all, there was a war to prepare for, and the Quartermaster was signing out uniforms and supplies when there the thunderclap of a returning angel.

He looked around impatiently and halfway up the long hall, spotted the newest arrival. “Oi! You!”

The angel reeled around, clutching his ribs. “Scuse me?” He was a tall, gangly creature with red hair, not one the Quartermaster recognised. His clothing was appalling, a short-sleeved, buttonless white shirt and trousers so tight they might have been painted on. The Quartermaster was almost certain there was a cartoon of a cactus picked out on the shirt as well.

“Better fall in, my lad.”

The angel stared at him. “Er, no. There’s been a bit of a cock-up.” He pointed over to the shimmering globe that gently turned in the middle of the hall. “I’m meant to be down there. I’ve got stuff to do. I shouldn’t be here.”

The Quartermaster looked him up and down. “You’re late enough already.” He held out the bundled uniform. “Your whole platoon is waiting for you.”

“Platoon?” The angel looked down at the uniform in his arms. “No. I– that’s not right.”

The Quartermaster sighed impatiently. “Raziel, aren’t you? Former archangel?”

There was something mutinous in the angel’s expression. “I don’t go by that name anymore.”

“Raziel?” The Quartermaster stared at him. “Ohh. I remember you now. The one with the Book.”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” The angel exclaimed, throwing down the uniform. “Will you all stop going on about the fucking book!” The Quartermaster reared back in shocked indignation at the profanity and heard the susurration of gasps behind him. “Yes! I gave it to the humans! Whoop-de-doo! So what? I was there to help them so I did my job, didn’t I! And I plan to keep on doing it, so stuff your war!”

“But you–”

“But you what?” Raziel bared all his teeth. “Did I Fall? Did you see me Fall? No you didn’t. Because I did my fucking job.” He leaned forward over the desk. “Now are you going to tell me how to get back there or what?”

“G-get back?” The Quartermaster drew himself up in outrage. “You can’t get back! You’re one of us! One of our legion! And you don’t even have your damned body!”

Raziel stared at him in confusion. “What? I don’t?” He held up his hands, then a wide grin lit his face as he saw right through them. “Oh, that makes things easier.”

“Easier?” The Quartermaster was not having a good day.

“Clearly never read my book, did you?” Raziel’s grin bordered in manic. “I know how spirits work and souls and all ties between them and the body.” He turned, sprinting towards the globe.

“Oi!” The Quartermaster hurried after him. “You can’t– what are you going to do? Possess them? Like a damned demon?!?”

Raziel spun around with a wild laugh. “Bingo!” He turned and slapped his hand against the globe and as he vanished into ether, his voice echoed through the halls, “See ya!”

The Quartermaster opened and shut his mouth, gaping at the void when the angel had been. He spun and found every single soldier staring at him – and passed him – at the globe. “What the Hell are you lot looking at?!” he screamed, his voice cracking. “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

 

_____________________________

 

The upper deck of the number 15 bus was deserted.

It hadn’t been when Aziraphale boarded, but within minutes, the passengers had tumbled for the stairs as if the very demons of Hell were on their tail. He ignored them, his hand closed so tight around Crowley’s telephone that the casing and glass were crackling under the pressure.

There were weapons to be gathered, but he lacked the focus to steal a human and the taxis had all been diverted away from the fire, leaving him stuck in traffic on a God damned bus.

Downstairs, a child was screaming. Aziraphale growled, the rumble ripping through the air and the scream trailed into a whimper.

A plan. He needed a plan. He needed to do more than sit and hold onto the burned and broken remnants of Crowley.

He took a slow breath, then forced his fingers to unclench from the telephone, thrusting it into his pocket. The book, still smoking gently, he laid in his lap. Why this book, he wondered. Crowley always seemed so indifferent to them, but this one had been with him when he– as it–

Aziraphale’s fingers convulsively twitched and he made himself open it, half-expecting it to burn as much as the book of Raziel. He blinked, bewildered, at the colourful child’s drawing on what was clearly a 17th century volume and then he saw the title.

“Oh fuck me…”

The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter Witch.

Christ, he should be in his book shop with his gloves and a desk cleared for the purpose, but no, he was on a bus that smelled of weed and piss, cradling the rarest of tomes, the ash from the cover flaking all over his fingers.

And… and there were slips of paper sticking out of it at all angles, new paper, but charred at the edges. Gingerly, he opened the pages around the first one, his heart stuttering at the sight of Crowley’s hand-writing in a language he hadn’t seen since… oh, since well before his Fall. The spidery scratched note mentioned a dog. Another, the four horsemen. Another, a series of scribbled names and places and the world Tadfield circled in red.

“Oh…” he breathed, flicking from page to page, from note to note. “Oh, you bloody brilliant angel…”

He’d done it. He’d found the only true prophecy book in the world – and oh, Aziraphale wanted to give him a good hard shake for keeping that a secret – and he’s worked it all out. He had the name of the boy, for God’s sake! The place! The time! Everything and–

And oh, that was the perfect vengeance.

Go to Tadfield. Kill the boy. Save the world. Fuck Heaven and Hell where it hurt the most.

“Oi!”

He frowned, looking up. The bus was still empty around him and he glanced to the front, his heart stopping in his chest. He squinted, blinking at the front windscreen. There was a figure, distorted, like a mirage on the horizon, but so recognisable and so, so very dear.

“Crowley,” he breathed, hand flying to his mouth. “My dear…”

“Aziraphale!” The angel’s translucent face lit up. “Thank God! Been trying to find you for ages!”

Oh, there was that lovely flutter beneath his ribs. “You– you have?” He snapped the book shut, staggering to his feet and closer to the front of the bus, but Crowley seemed to move further away with every step. “My dear, where are you?”

“Buggered if I know,” Crowley’s eyes were darting everywhere. “Got myself discorporated. Bit of a balls up, all told.”

“Y-yes,” Aziraphale replied, sinking into the nearest seat, his legs too unsteady to hold. Only discorporated. Only that. No divine wrath or vengeance. Oh thank God for that. Or… not – or someone unaffiliated with either side. He tried to find words, but his throat felt as if it had closed up, his eyes burning.

“Look, I was trying to get a message to you,” Crowley said urgently. “I had a book at home–”

“Agnes Nutter!” Aziraphale burst out, holding up the book. “Yes! I was at the church! I found it!”

The smile that crossed Crowley’s face was bright and shy. “You were at the church?”

“Of course, darling! I got your call. I–” He caught himself. “Oh, my dear. I was too late. There was an accident. A fire. The church…”

“A fire?” Crowley’s face fell.

“I’m sorry, my dear, I was too late.” Aziraphale’s throat ached with effort to keep his voice steady. “But– but I have the book!”

“Oh. Yes. Right.” Crowley gave a shaky laugh. “Right. The church – I’ve rebuilt it before. But you–we need to get to Tadfield. I mean – you need to get there. I…” He made an impatient sound. “Have you any idea how bloody difficult it is to find a receptive body?”

An automatic response leapt to Aziraphale’s lips, but he bit down on it. Not the time. Definitely not the time, no matter how easy a target it was. “Can I be of any use?”

“I– can’t be sure. Better not to risk it, not with so much riding on us.”

Aziraphale had to bite his lip to messes to keep from responding to that one. Oh the utterly ridiculous idiot was lining up so many ducks and for the first time in his life, Aziraphale could not allow himself to shoot them. “So Tadfield…” He hesitated. “I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, my dear, but the transport network is a little… fucked today.”

Crowley grimaced. “You and your hobbies.” Aziraphale had the good grace not to deny it. “Well… the Bentley? Is it all right?”

“I don’t see how that helps! I don’t know how to drive!”

The angel flashed a grin. “And you think I do?” He was fading even as Aziraphale watched. “Bring her with you. She’ll get you to me.”

“It hates me!” He called.

Crowley was almost gone from sight, but his words rang back to the demon. “Then she’ll do it for spite.”

Aziraphale laughed hoarsely. Oh, trust the bloody angel to be smart about it. “Very well, my darling,” he breathed. “I’m coming to Tadfield. You’d better be waiting for me when I get there.”

Chapter Text

Travelling in an incorporeal form was Weird with a capital W.

Yeah, technically, Crowley had learned the theory at God’s right hand – or more accurately sitting beside the throne with a notepad – but it was very different in practise, and he found that if he willed himself a little east, he’d catapult himself halfway around the world.

It took a dozen attempts, including stumbling through a very nice lady in India, a Bible-thumping evangelist in America, a very confused koala in a zoo in Melbourne (he wasn’t sure who had been more alarmed by the realisation of where he was: himself or the human who had to deal with a koala saying “Oh bugger!”) and a Peruvian coffee vendor.

At last, he managed to hit what he hoped was London again and opened his eyes to find three people staring at him. A glance took in the room. Chintz and silky drapes and a crystal ball. He lifted his hands, looking at them. Red-nailed fingers, chunky jewellery, definitely female.

“Er. Hi?”

“Ron?” One of the woman asked. “Is that you?”

“No, actually. Not Ron.” Crowley patted his way up his face. Lady, yes. Caked in make-up. Older than the three in front of him.

Who the hell are you?

Crowley blinked sharply. Oh, yes. Demons possessed without regard for their hosts, but that always felt a bit rude, like going into a stranger’s house and rummaging through their knicker drawer after knocking out the owner and locking them in a cupboard. Even ruder because it wasn’t even necessary. Sorry. I’ll explain in a minute.

“Excuse me!” The squat woman snapped. “You said you’d get me my Ron! Can you put me through to him?”

Crowley stared at the woman, her name and history whispering across his mind. Ah. That would explain the pulse of a spirit nearby. “Ah… you’re Brenda.”

“Yes, I’m bleeding Brenda! I’ve been coming here for seven years! You know that!”

Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose. The humans were in the way and he needed to get rid of them.

Better just give her what she wants, dear, his host suggested. Bit of reassurance and comfort to know he’s listening.

Oh, but he was and Crowley could feel the prickle of his energy. “All right, I’ll let her have it.”

Maybe it was a little mean of him, but he was in a hurry and playing nice and sweet and letting the woman drone on and on would have helped no one.  And technically, how was he meant to know that Ron Ormerod’s agitated little spirit would turn out to be such a fire cracker?

He could feel the shock and disapproval of his host and withdrew to let her take charge of harrying her guests out of the – hm – seemed to be a flat. The layout looked very familiar, but he couldn’t put his finger on why.

She returned to the kitchen, putting on the kettle. “Right, my lad,” she said. “Who are you and what the hell’s going on?”

Crowley would have scratched his chin if he had the hands to do it. “So… here’s the thing,” he began.

 

_____________________________________

 

London was a blur and Aziraphale wasn’t enjoying a second of it.

“You don’t have to take the corners so sharply, you bastard!”

The car took a hard left, throwing the demon against the passenger door.

Don’t stop me now, the once-Beethoven CD played, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball.

“Oh I bet you are,” he snarled, clutching at the seat with both hands.

Still, he had to admit Crowley was right about one thing: the damned Bentley was getting him where he needed to do and he didn’t even need to put a hand on the wheel. He’d raced back to the church, ignoring the fighting crowds, the fire engines, the police in riot gear and everything else to reach the Bentley.

“You and me,” he’d told it in a low growl, “we need to have a talk. Crowley’s in trouble and he needs our help. Are you going to play nice? Or are you going to be the useless machine I know you to be?”

The door had swung open so hard it had sent him staggering, which made him grin. Spite, then. He’d considered taking the driver’s seat for the look of the thing, but when he’d tried to open the door again, it locked itself and he was bright enough to take a hint when it was given.

Of course, things could never go smoothly and as soon as they got out of the thoroughfares of London, the traffic had slowed to a standstill.

“What the Heaven…”

…driven by you… the CD skipped.

“Oh, don’t you try and pin this one on me!” Aziraphale scowled. “I stopped playing with the motorways when they took away my tollbooths.” He rolled down the window, leaning out to see if he could see what was causing the hold-up. “Tailbacks as far as the eye can see.”

I want to make my final breakthrough now

“Me too, my dear,” Aziraphale murmured. He considered the road again and the narrow margin of road reserved for breakdowns and stranded people. It was utterly empty. “If I can get us as far as the hard shoulder from here…”

The engine hummed. Is this a kind of magic?

“Only out of absolute necessity.” He laid both hands on the dashboard. “This is going to hurt.”

 

______________________________________

 

Sergeant Shadwell woke up in a soft bed surrounded by fluffy animals and leather whips. No man could be blamed for being a wee bit tired after exorcising their first demon, though he carefully looked him finger over for any signs it might go off again.

It seemed to be disarmed now, so he carefully got up, wincing as his back protested.

He could hear voices from the other room and tottered out into Madame Tracy’s lounge. She was nowhere to be seen, but he could hear her talking to some man. He sounded awfy familiar, almost like the wee happy-clappy bugger from the church. The demon.

“D’you think you’d be able stand having me in you for that long?”

Shadwell’s face flushed and he threw himself around the corner of the room. “Ye’ll be doing no such thing!”

He stopped short, staring.

Madame Tracy looked back at him, eyes round in surprise. “Is everything all right, dear?”

Shadwell scanned the room, squinting at her. “I–I thought–”

“Oh, bugger me!” The voice came from Madame Tracy’s mouth, but it was him, the namby-pamby, happy-clappy from down the road. “Sergeant Shadwell! What the Hell are you doing here?”

Shadwell recoiled in horror. “Demon!”

The demon-in-Madame-Tracy rolled his eyes. “For God’s sake, how many times do I have to tell–”

“I’ll handle this, dear,” Madame Tracy sounded like herself again and smiled at Shadwell. “Don’t worry, love. Mr. Crowley isn’t what you think he is.”

Shadwell pointed his shaking finger at her. “Dinnae fear, Jezebel! I’ll cast that demon from you with a word! I’ll blast him to Kingdom Come!”

Madame Tracy gave him the soft wee smile she gave him when he dropped off his dishes. “That’s the trouble, love,” she said, taking his hand between both of hers. “Kingdom Come. It’s coming. Now, come here…” She pulled him around. “Have a seat and I’ll make us a cup of tea and Mr. Crowley will explain everything.”

 

__________________________________________

 

Thing had gone from very bad, to somehow so much worse.

Aziraphale was aching all over. Transporting himself was uncomfortable at the best of times, but several tonnes of vintage Bentley with all the trimmings had really taken it out of him, and it had all been for nothing.

They’d been careening along the hard shoulder at illegal speeds when red light had bloomed on the horizon and up ahead, a wall of flame had spread in both directions. For once, the Bentley didn’t comment as he fiddled with the radio, searching for some update of what the hell was going on.

It turned out that the M25 was on fire.

Not just a little bit near an accident. Not just a small stretch. Oh, no. The ringroad that wrapped around London in a perfect closed loop had turned into a blazing inferno, and he had a horrible feeling he knew why.

He and Crowley had been drunk some time in the 70s – not an uncommon occurrence – and daring each other to come up with the wildest miracles or temptations they could come up with. Crowley, lying on the couch with his legs dangling over the back, declared he could make the M25 either the best thing since fermentation or the worst thing to crawl out of the pit since time immemorial (“after you, f’course” he’d added with a bleary upside-down grin at Aziraphale).

“Bollocks, he remembered saying. “It’s a bit of road.”

“Yeah,” Crowley had agreed, “but if you make it into an occult symbol, tell them downstairs that it’s some weird summoning thing and make up some rubbish about it being a toilet bowl for festering grumpy travellers, it’d sound good, yeah?” He yawned and waggled a foot at the ceiling. “S’a motorway. People are going to be miserable bastards on it anyway. Might as well get some extra credit for no work, eh?”

Aziraphale had thought about it, they’d drunk some more, then he’d dug through his almanacs when he got home and found the dread sigil Odegra in the language of Ancient Mu, which was close enough to the design for the new motorway. He’d had to use bribery for some of the more technical parts and even traipsed through a couple of fields one night, but downstairs had been suitably impressed with his genius.

Several months later, Crowley had shouted at him about that and then got embarrassed when he realised that it was mostly his fault.

“We really need to stop having ideas when we’re drunk, darling,” Aziraphale murmured, staring out at the blistering wall of flame. The Great Beast was coming. Of course the sigil would activate. He groped down in the foot well for the smoke-stained book of prophecies and lifted it into his lap, flipping it open. “I don’t suppose you have any advice, Agnes…”

A hand slapped down on the open page, filthy and boil-speckled and he stared at it in horror, following up the arm to the face of the demon in the driver’s – in Crowley’s seat.

Hastur smiled unpleasantly at him. He stank of singed rosemary. “Hello, Aziraphale.”

“Hastur…” Aziraphale swallowed around the lump in his throat. “I see you’re out and about again.”

“Shouldn’t have left your shop lying open like that,” the demon said, tutting. “Any little human might worry and come and check on the poor old man on the floor.” His lips drew back from his mossy teeth. “And running away?” He hissed. “No, I don’t think there’s anywhere you can go, do you?”

Aziraphale glanced out the windscreen at the wall of fire up ahead. He reached forward, pressing a hand to the dashboard and heard the CD switch on again. The show must go on.

“You know Hell will not forgive you for this, nor will they forget,” Hastur said with what Aziraphale felt was unnecessary glee.

“Mm. Good point. Well-made.” Aziraphale looked back at him. “Which makes you wonder what I might be willing to do, if I know I’m already fucked.” He grinned at the demon and knocked the dashboard. “Shall we go for a spin?”

Hastur’s face crumpled. “You what?”

A drumbeat was picking up through the speakers, a bass thrumming, and Aziraphale’s grin widened as the car picked up speed.

And we’re rushing headlong, I got a new goal, and we’re rushing headlong, out of control

“Wh-what are you doing?” Hastur looked wildly between him and the rapidly-approaching wall of flames and Aziraphale couldn’t keep himself from laughing. “You’re going to discorporate us both!”

“Oh, this isn’t me, my dear,” he said, stroking a hand along the dashboard. “Say hello to my little friend!”

“You’re mad!” Hastur wailed, flinging up his arms to shield his face as they plunged into the flames.

The demon’s skin started sizzling and Aziraphale had to admit he was starting to feel a bit warm himself, but he knew for a fact the bastard car would get them to Crowley purely out of spite, a fact he believed as much as Crowley believed they would get to him in time.

What neither of them realised was faith could be far more powerful in any direction. Belief had a power all of its own, and the sheer force of the combined belief of an angel and a demon had some very interesting effects on a well-loved vintage Bentley.

“You’re doomed!” Hastur screamed as flames licked out of his skin. “DOOMED!”

“What can I say?” Aziraphale laughed. “I know how to make a dramatic exit!”

The other demon’s screams were swallowed as the flames engulfed him, a lingering “I hate you!” hanging on the air.

Aziraphale grinned, bracing his hands on the dashboard. “Enjoying yourself, you bastard?”

A throbbing bass thrummed over the flames.

And another one down, and another one down, and another one bites the dust. Hey, I’m gonna get you too, another one bites the dust

As they tore through the flames, Aziraphale howled with laughter.

 

________________________________________

 

Crowley was tired.

A human body was a lot more exhausting than he’d anticipated, especially when he’d forced a miracle or two to get them safely out of London. They sailed over the M25 which was, for some bizarre reason, on fire. The more he tried not to think about the cause, the more he had an awful feeling he knew exactly what was behind it.

It didn’t help that Marjorie insisted on being a backseat driver and keeping a running commentary on everything that they were doing, from how wonderful it was to see her old scooter going so fast to how nice Mr. Shadwell’s arms felt around her middle. That, the angel decided, as they finally trundled up to the gates of the airbase, he could have lived without.

I can hear your thoughts too, Mr. Crowley.

Crowley winced. Yes, I know. “Here we are.”

“How are we meant to get in there?” she asked. “The fences are awfully high.”

It was one thing to fly all the way from London. It was another to risk being a UFO over an American Air Base fence, especially with their tendency to be very trigger-happy.

“Dinnae worry,” Shadwell said, though he sounded considerably shakier than he had when they left London. “I have the power of the Almighty on my side.”

“Oh God…” Crowley groaned. “Sergeant, if I – a bonafide angel – can’t do it, I think we can safely say your Witchfinder status carries considerably less weight.” He turned, striding towards the guard post where an over-enthusiastic man was standing. “Hello… army human. We need to get into your base. We have to speak to whoever is in charge.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the soldier said brusquely. “We do not allow unauthorised visits.”

“Unauthor–” Crowley spluttered indignantly. “I’ve come a long way to stop the end of the world and you’re blocking me with formalities?”

“The… end of the world?” The soldier tightened his hands around his gun. “You’re not some of those crazy peace-and-love protesters from the village, are you?”

“Oh for Heav– no! No, I’m not a peace-and-love protester!” Crowley threw up his hands. “I’m here, trying to stop the literal Antichrist from ending the very literal world in an absolutely literal Armageddon situation!”

“He’s telling the truth!” Marjorie piped up.

“Can you not do that for five minutes?” Crowley said, clenching his – her – their hands.

“Sorry, love!”

The man’s face twisted. “Can you both – uh – ma’am, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. This is a restricted…” His words trailed off and he stared passed them, the look of frustration giving way to something more like shock. “Holy…”

Crowley spun around and the very mortal heart in his borrowed chest thundered.

The Bentley!

He swayed on his feet in horror. It was burning, flames streaming from every part of it as it roared towards them. Nothing living could’ve survived that. Yeah, he’d been so sure the Bentley would make it from London, but just because he believed it didn’t mean– oh God. He’d seen the flames as they hurtled over the M25. He should’ve thought, should’ve told Aziraphale not to–

I’m sure he’ll be all right, love.

“No,” he began to say, when the passenger door burst open and a smoking, but oh so familiar figure hurled themselves out, smoke rolling from a suit that must have once been pale but now was so sooty and oily, it was barely even recognisable.

Aziraphale.

Crowley’s breath exploded out of his body in a gasp, his hands leaping to his mouth.

Aziraphale stumbled to his feet, panting. “Good car,” he rasped hoarsely. “Well done, you bastard.” He straightened up, coughing out rings of smoke and gulping in breaths of air, and then his red-rimmed eyes – solid blue now – fixed on Crowley. The smile that lit his face was almost angelic, and he staggered forward. “My dear, oh my dear.”

“Aziraphale…” Crowley felt like a newborn giraffe, tottering on legs that didn’t want to hold him.

The demon laughed, covering the space between them and before Crowley could hold out his hands to warn him or stop him, Aziraphale pulled him into a hug, wrapping him up in smoky arms, his breath a hot gust against Crowley’s ear.

“Oh, my darling,” the demon’s voice trembled and broke. “You’re back.”

Chapter Text

Life had returned to Aziraphale’s world.

After the wild ride in flames, clinging to the seat of the Bentley and roaring obscenities at the bloody stupid vehicle, daring it to fall apart or let him burn and really disappoint Crowley, he had stumbled out to blissfully cool air.

And then he had felt the familiar wonderful pulse of the angel’s presence and through eyes hazed with smoke and dust and heat, he had spotted the shape of him in a human form a dozen paces away.

No reasonable person – no demon especially – could have been expected to keep to himself.

Crowley stiffened in his embrace, startled, then seemed to sag, as a puppet with strings cut and wrapped his arms tightly around the demon, as if he could scarcely believe it as well.

“Found a new body, I see.” Aziraphale managed to say, his voice roughened by a solid hour of shouting at the Bentley. He, of course, wouldn’t have been himself if he didn’t take full opportunity of the angel’s willing proximity and gave said new body a firm squeeze on the backside.

Crowley reared back instantly, and someone else entirely smacked Aziraphale sharply across the face. “Cheeky!”

Aziraphale blinked in astonishment. “I beg your pardon, but who the Hell are you?”

Crowley laughed a little shakily. “Bit of a sublet situation going on for now,” he said through the woman’s mouth. “Aziraphale, Marjorie. Marjorie, Aziraphale.”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows. Of course the bloody angel couldn’t even possess someone properly. He caught the hand that hand slapped him, sweeping it up to his lips and kissed her knuckles gallantly. “Madame.”

“Oh, hello…” Her expression brightened. “He’s been hoping you’d turn up.”

Crowley’s expression twitched on her face. “We’re having a bit of trouble getting in,” he admitted, jerking his head beyond – oh, hello – Sergeant Shadwell towards the bewildered soldier, who was still hopefully pointing his gun at them in turn, as if he expected to use it.

“I don’t know who you people are, but I’m gonna have to ask you to–”

“Oh, he’s a handsome one, isn’t he?” Aziraphale said, grinning as the human backed up with clear no-homo panic written all over his face. It always astonished him how wretchedly puritanical certain types could be. “I could–”

Whatever he could do utterly slipped his mind when someone slapped him hard on the backside.

He turned, wide-eyed, to Crowley, who stared back at him, just as wide-eyed.

“Marjorie!”

Marjorie gave Aziraphale an apologetic grin. “Sorry, dear. That one was me.” She leaned a little closer and added, “But it was his ide–” Her hands clamped over her mouth, Crowley’s blush spreading all over the woman’s face.

“Oh, I like this one!” Aziraphale laughed, delighted.

“Sir! Ma’am!” The soldier wailed, waving his gun between them. “Please!”

“We need to…” Crowley waved urgently towards the gates.

A snap of Aziraphale’s fingers dismissed the contents of the weapon. “Well, shall we–”

Behind the soldier’s the gates, rattled open and the poor boy swung around in time to see a fleet of small, frantically-pedalling children whizzing into the base.

“Hey! You! You kids!” The soldier ran back towards the guard booth.

Crowley stepped closer to Aziraphale’s elbow. “D’you think…?”

Aziraphale nodded, tracking the progress of the children. “One of–”

His words were cut off by an explosion behind them, the blast making Crowley stagger into him. He caught the angel-human’s arm and turned, his stomach twisting as he saw the chassis of the Bentley give way, the flaming ruin of the car collapsing in on itself.

“Oh…” Crowley’s arm trembled under his hand. “Oh, my dear…”

Crowley pulled away, tottering on the kitten heels towards the burning car.

“Is that…” Marjorie started to ask.

“His car,” Aziraphale said, hurrying after her and catching their shoulder. “Crowley, my dear…”

Crowley’s voice broke. “I’d had her from new. Now look…”

“I know, my dear, I know.” Aziraphale squeezed his shoulder. “She did you proud, you know. Stubborn old bitch helped me get away from Hastur. She came here for you. She knew we needed to be here.” He tightened his grip. “She was a damned good car.”

Crowley nodded, reaching up to clasp his hand. “She was.”

Aziraphale nudged him gently. “And still hated me, right to the end. Threatened me several times. Very effectively as well.”

The angel gave a small, damp laugh. “Sounds like her.” He sniffed hard, gathering himself, perhaps spurred on by his temporary sublet. “Right. Yes… yes, we– I need to– the boy. We need to find him.”

Aziraphale glanced back towards the fence and the excitable American who was shouting even more excitedly into a radio. No wonder, if a car had just exploded outside their base and they had been invaded by a force of determined pre-pubescents.

“My dear,” he asked, as they strode back towards Shadwell – who, for some inexplicable reason was waving his forefinger around as if it was some kind of weapon – and the gates, “I don’t mean to sound skeptical, but how… effective are your powers in that body?”

“Good enough,” Crowley said with a hint of a growl in his voice. “I didn’t come back to be useless. I flew us here from London.”

“He is a bit tired, though,” Marjorie put in.

“Would you stop doing that!”

Aziraphale gave them a thoughtful look, then glanced beyond the fence. A jeep packed with armed soldiers was heading rapidly in their direction on the other side of the gates. “Don’t worry, darlings,” he said, stepping ahead of them. “I’ll get us a ride.”

 

__________________________________

 

Adam looked at them.

Not his Them, but the other them. They were meant to be his friends. A voice in his head was shouting that they were meant to be his friends, but all he could see was the shape of them and what they were made of and they were rubbish.

His Them were much better than any stupid old nightmares.

“Your very existence demands the ending of the world.” Death’s voice rang right through his head and down to his bones. “You could finish this for them with one thought. You could make the world anew.”

“There!”

“Aziraphale, slow down!”

“Unlikely, my dear! Easier to squash them in a ca–”

Adam turned and watched with interest as a jeep – which had been going at full speed – braked suddenly, tyres screeching, spinning to a stop. There were three – no, wait – four people in. Three bodies, four people. Weird.

Death took a step forward. “No one will disobey–”

“Damn it, Crowley!” The… oh, yes, a demon jumped out of the car. He looked like he’d been on fire, which made sense if he was a demon.

“You can’t kill him!” The little old lady with an angel on her shoulders ran after him, grabbing his arm.

“Watch me!” The demon looked over at the Them and met Adam’s eyes. He stopped dead, baring his teeth like an angry cat.

“No!” The old lady’s voice mixed with the voice of someone who was and wasn’t there. “Aziraphale, you can’t! Shadwell!”

The other man on the car shuffled forward. He had a big trumpet-thing. “Aye?”

The woman-angel pointed. “That’s him! The curly one! Shoot him, save the world!”

The only human out of them stared at Adam. “But he’s just a wee bairn.”

“For Satan’s sake!” The demon snatched the trumpet thing from the old man, but the old-lady-angel grabbed it. “Angel, let go!”

“You can’t kill him!” The angel protested. “They’ll destroy you if you do!” He wrenched the trumpet-thing out of the demon’s hands. “I should–”

Ah. It was a gun. Right. That made sense. Being shot was probably a bad thing.

“Ignore this nonsense,” Death interrupted again, but Adam was watching the angel and the old lady. They were arguing now and fighting over the gun with the demon. “A word from you and I will end their lives.”

He would as well. Could. Just like that. Adam didn’t know how he knew, and then he did.

“You can’t just kill children!”

The old lady and angel had the gun again. Her eyes were open, but Adam saw the way the angel’s thousands of eyes pressed shut as he aimed the gun. He didn’t want to and the old lady stopped it, pulling the angel’s hands up as he tried to make himself pull the trigger. It went off like a firework.

“I’m sorry!” The old lady sounded like was going to cry. “I couldn’t let you do it.”

The angel sighed. He sounded tired. No wonder, riding around in somebody else. “I know.”

Adam cocked his head. “Scuse me,” he said, giving them a friendly smile. “Why are you two people?”

The woman-angel looked at him in surprise. “Uh… it’s a bit of a long story, but–”

Adam made a face. “It’s not right,” he said. “You should go back to being two people.”

And as soon as he said it, it was real and there they were.

The angel looked different in a human shape, all tall and skinny with red hair and wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a cactus on it.

Angel,” the demon said, the same way Adam’s mum sometimes spoke to his dad. It was soppy and Adam grinned when he reached out, grabbing the angel’s arm, like he couldn’t believe it was really him. The big dark billow of anger in him was gone now. He’d even forgotten about the gun.

Trouble was that while they were distracted, War had moved, swinging her flaming sword. Adam could feel the panic rising in the Them. It made sense. They were scary things made to be scary by humans and the Them were all definitely human.

“The thing is,” he said to his friends, “they’re not actually real. They’re just like nightmares, really.”

“Little boys with your toys…”

“I’m not a boy.” Pepper got all spiky and Adam almost grinned, but War ignored her.

“I am War,” she said. “You were made to serve me. To live in me and die in me.”

Pepper’s spikiness was getting even spikier than usual and that was good. She was angry and that made the scared part smaller. “My mum says war is just masculine imperialism executed on a global stage.”

War laughed, all blood and red and nasty. “A little girl.” Oooh, bad idea, Adam thought. “Run home and play with your dollies, little girl.”

The scared was gone and Pepper was burning as much as the sword. “I do not. endorse. everyday. sexism.” She ran forward as War swung the sword and kicked her hard in the shin. War yelped and dropped the sword and Pepper snatched it, hot and angry and fierce. “We’re Adam’s real friends, not you lot. You’re a joke.”

Wensley and Brian didn’t move, but Adam could feel their pride. That was their Pepper with a real sword, fighting War. Scared was being replaced with proper Themness and that was the best thing in the world, the only thing to go against stupid nightmare monsters.

“Just say what you believe, Pepper,” Adam said, nodding.

Pepper looked at him and she turned and stabbed out with the sword, right into War. “I believe in peace, bitch.”

Maybe they didn’t see what he saw, but Adam saw the power of War pouring into the sword. “Drop it, Pepper!” he shouted. “Quick!”

The metal hit the ground, but Brian was already moving, grabbing it and charging at Pollution and, as if he understood what was going on, he struck them. “I believe in a clean world!”

Pollution dissolved like the bubbling mess they were, leaving nothing behind but the crown and Wensley grabbed the sword, his hands shaking, but even then, Adam didn’t need to tell Dog. It was like they all knew exactly what they were fighting for and Adam grinned as Wensley and Dog took down Famine, the scales smashing to the ground.

“That looks a bit like your old sword,” Adam heard the demon saying.

“Um.” The angel sounded awkward. “Not mine. Borrowed it.”

“You– oh Lord… you are hopeless, my dear.”

The only one left was Death, in his black cloak and hood, all skull-face and staring.

“Death,” Adam said, “This all has to stop now.”

Death inclined his head. “It has stopped, but they will be back. We are never far away. I am creation’s shadow. You cannot destroy me. That would destroy the world. Good day, gentlemen.”

“Cheek!” The old lady said, making Adam snicker, especially Pepper echoed her.

Death spread out the biggest wings Adam had ever seen – except on a jumbo jet, but that didn’t count because they weren’t attached to people – all black and glittering like the nights when there were no clouds and the stars filled up the whole sky, and in a blink, he was gone.

________________________________

 

“Did they–” Crowley reached out blindly to grab at Aziraphale’s arm. “Did they do it? Is it over?” The demon was rigid and tense, which made Crowley glance at him, worried. “Aziraphale?”

Aziraphale looked at him. “What do you think? Heaven. Hell. Do you think they’ll let this go?”

Crowley’s heart sank, remembering the uniform and the soldiers lining up for battle and the words of every angel he had spoken to about stopping the coming Armageddon. “Damn it.” Still, credit had to be given where credit was due and he hurried forward. “Hoi, Antichrist. What was your name again?”

The boy grinned at him. “Adam Young.”

Crowley tried his best to smile. “Good job there, getting your friends together to save the world.”

“Hey!”

He swung around at the angry voice, startled to see a very hostile-looking young woman hurrying towards him, an awkward, bespectacled young man not far behind her. Oh. OH! The woman he had hit with the… oh, oh no. “Oh, shit! Book girl!”

Something whiffled past his head and the woman staggered back with a grunt as a charcoal brick of an old book hit her in the middle. He recognised the cover instantly and whipped around. “Aziraphale! What the hell did you do that for?”

“Fun?” The demon shrugged unrepentantly with that damned cheeky grin that made Crowley’s annoyance dissolve instantly, though the demon frowned suddenly, snatching a fluttering scrap of scorched paper out of the air.

“What’s going on out here?” Book girl demanded hoarsely.

Crowley turned back to her. “Long story.” He felt more than heard Aziraphale slink up behind him. “And–” He shot a warning look over his shoulder at the demon. “This one would talk your ear off, so please don’t ask him.”

She eyed him warily, then glanced at the kids. “Hey Adam. Pepper. You two.”

Oh, that was a perfect coincidence. The owner of the Agnes Nutter book knew the Antichrist.

Adam Young beamed. “Hi Anathema! You just stopped them blowing up the world, didn’t you?”

Oh. Oh. Anathema. Oh, right. All the details in the book and…

Crowley stared at the young man behind her. He knew that uniform. It was a cleaner, neater version of the one on a much older human standing not even ten feet away. Oh! Well. Ah. That… well, that prophecy did mean what it seemed to mean then.

“I guess,” Book-girl said, taking the specky guy’s hand. “My boyfriend here did the tricky bit.”

Well, well, well, Crowley thought, the grin sneaking back onto his face. Free will, still alive and kicking six millennia on.

A flare of lightning from behind him made Crowley whip around, his heart sinking at the sight of not just the Archangel Gabriel standing – grim-faced and glaring – on the charred tarmac, but the ground roiling underfoot as one of the Lords of Hell emerged from below.

“Well, my dear,” Aziraphale murmured, his elbow brushing Crowley’s. “This is a… pleasant surprise, isn’t it?”

Crowley smiled tightly, fingers twitching by his sides. “Mm.”

The demon moved a step ahead, sweeping into an extravagant bow. “Lord Beelzebub,” he said, his voice a little more respectful than he usually managed.

“Aziraphale,” the demon Lord said, baring their teeth. “The traitor.”

Oh Lord, Crowley groaned inwardly. What on earth had Aziraphale done in the ten hours he’d been left unsupervised?

“That’s hardly very nice, my dear,” Aziraphale said with his customary pout.

“Oh, I’m just getting started,” Beelzebub snapped. “Where’zzzzz the boy?”

Aziraphale straightened up, looking towards the Young boy.

“That one,” Gabriel said, smiling that infuriating smile of his, and bending down to talk to the boy. “Adam Young.” Crowley’s palms ached, fingers digging into them. It was so tempting to put himself between the angel and the kid, but something in the kid’s expression, the utter disdain made him think he really didn’t have to. Gabriel, however, clearly didn’t notice. “Young man, Armageddon must… restart right now. Temporary inconvenience cannot get in the way of the greater good.”

“As to what it stands in the way of,” Beelzebub cut over him coldly, “that is yet to be decided, but the battle must be decided now, boy. That is your destiny. It is written. Now start the war.”

Aziraphale made a low, angry sound, but Crowley reached out blindly, touching his arm. Oh, there was something going on behind the Antichrist’s eyes and he knew that look. He’d seen it in the mirror often enough.

“You both want to end the world just to see whose gang is best,” the Antichrist said, as if it was the stupidest thing in the world.

“Obviously,” Gabriel sputtered. Didn’t like kids, did he, Crowley thought, smiling grimly. Didn’t know what to do with them or how to talk to them. Good. “It’s the great plan. It’s the entire reason for the creation of the earth.”

“I’ve got this,” Beelzebub interrupted again and oh, it was worth being here just to see Gabriel twitching in frustration. And oh, even better, like Gabriel, she bent to talk to the boy. Crowley had been around enough kids, big and small, to know that was going the right way to make them do exactly the opposite of what you wanted them to do. “Adam, when this is all over, you’re going to get to rule the world. Don’t you want to rule the world?”

Adam made a face. “It’s hard enough to think of things for Pepper and Wensley and Brian to do all the time so they don’t get bored.” He gave them a little smile. “I’ve got all the world I want.”

“You can’t just refuse to be who you are!” Gabriel exclaimed.

Crowley couldn’t help shooting a glance at Aziraphale, a rush of warmth running through him when he felt the demon’s fingers close around his and squeeze. Wanna bet, he thought.

“Your birth! Your destiny! They’re part of the Great Plan!”

The Great Plan.

Crowley wanted to scream bollocks to the plan. God, he and Aziraphale had taken it apart, shaken it, turned it inside our and upside down and backwards and it was as ineff…

Ohhh.

OH!

“Quick question!” He pulled his hand from Aziraphale’s to stride over to the Antichrist.

“Oh, Lord,” Gabriel groaned. “This is not the time for your questions, Ra–”

“I think it might be.” Crowley snapped, holding up a hand and cutting him off. “Here’s the thing. Great Plan. Or Ineffable Plan. Which one are we doing right now?”

Beelzebub turned on him, eyes blazing. “The Great Plan! It is written there shall be a world and it shall last for six thousand years and end in fire and flame.”

“Well, yeah,” Crowley said, nodding ponderously. “Sounds like the Great Plan, all right. All there in the books and what have you.” He smiled at them. “But just to double-check, is that the Ineffable Plan as well?”

Gabriel’s perfect face twisted up in confusion. “There’s the same thing!”

Crowley’s smile turned into a grin and it only widened as Aziraphale prowled around beside him, murmuring in passing, “They have no idea, do they?” He slanted a look at the demon, jerking his chin.

“He does make a good point,” Aziraphale said, taking up a position on Adam’s other side. “It would be awfully embarrassing for everyone if you thought you knew what the Great Plan said, but were actually going against God’s Ineffable Plan.”

“Everyone knows the Great Plan,” Crowley added cheerfully. “I mean, you said it yourselves. It’s written, isn’t it?”

“Which stands to reason,” Aziraphale took over smoothly, “that it can’t possibly be the Ineffable Plan. I mean, if it was written, then it wouldn’t be… well… Ineffable, would it?”

Crowley had to stifle a laugh at their expressions. Lord, even if the world did end, it would almost be worth it to bask in the blinding confusion on the faces of the Archangel and the Lord of Hell. Crowley gave Adam’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze, keeping his eyes fixed on them.

“But it izzzzz written,” Beelzebub said uncertainly.

“God,” Gabriel said defensively, “does not play games with the universe.”

Crowley wasn’t sure whether he or Aziraphale snorted more loudly.

“So innocent, isn’t he?” Crowley said, glancing over at the demon. “I almost miss those days.”

Gabriel and Beelzebub exchanged wary glances, then sidled away, muttering together. There was a lot of emphatic gesturing, both upwards and downwards, and neither of them looked very happy about the developments.

“Do you think,” Aziraphale murmured, “that their heads might explode?”

Crowley grinned at him, recalling something one of the kids at the community centre had said to him once. “They’ve hurt themselves in their confusion.”

Both Archangel and Lord of Hell looked over as if they had heard him.

“Well,” Gabriel said darkly, “at least we know who’s to blame!”

Crowley’s grin widened and he gave them a cheerful wave.

Gabriel stalked closer and glowered down at the boy between them. “Young man,” he said, “You were put on this earth for one reason and one reason only: to end it. You’re a disobedient little brat and I hope someone tells your father.”

“Oh, they will,” Beelzebub said. “And your father will not be pleased.”

Crowley glanced sidelong at Aziraphale, relieved to see he wasn’t the only one feeling a bit worried.

“But–” he began.

Gabriel held up a finger. “Not a word,” he snapped. “This is the last time we’ll accept your… insubordination, Raziel.”

He and Beelzebub both vanished in a blink and Crowley groaned, dropping his face into his hand.

Two feet to his left, he heard Aziraphale’s strangled voice. “Raziel?!?”

Well, he thought, shit.

 

Chapter Text

“Raziel.”

Crowley winced. “Look, I know I didn’t–”

“You,” Aziraphale jabbed a finger towards him accusingly, “are Raziel?!”

The Antichrist was staring. Everyone was staring and Crowley clenched and unclenched his hands spasmodically. “Aziraphale, we really can’t–”

“RAZIEL!?!”

“Yes, but–”

“But? But?!?!” The demon’s face was flushed with indignation. “How long have we known each other and you never bothered to tell me?”

“’Ziraphale!” Crowley gestured desperately around them. “We– this is– later! We can talk about this later!”

“Fuck!” Aziraphale folded as if he had been punched in the chest, doubling over.

“Aziraphale!”

The demon stared up at him. “What later?” He sounded both devastated and furious. “He knows. He is coming!” He laughed bitterly. “Oh well. Fitting the last thing I ever find out from you is that everything was a lie.”

Crowley flinched as if the demon had hit him. “No. We can’t– this can’t be where it ends!”

“Oh no?” Aziraphale’s laughter was sharp and agonised. “You going to tell Satan that?” he stared around wildly at the humans. “That’s right, kiddies. Satan is coming and we’re all going to Hell in a hatbasket!” He looked back at Crowley, the grief and betrayal in his eyes like a hammer blow. “You bastard.”

Crowley’s world narrowed to Aziraphale’s face, the hurt, the shock, the grief more unbearable than anything else. Oh, he had underestimated him. He had underestimated both of them. “No,” he growled. This world was his. This demon was his. “No, this won’t be how it ends.”

Aziraphale rocked back on his heels, laughing derisively. “So do something! Raziel of the Book! All wise, all knowing. Do something.”

“Never,” Crowley snarled, reaching out into the ancient powers and the magics that he had drawn on in the very foundations of the universe. “Call me that name.”

The demon stared at him and his face crumpled. “Crowley...” He sagged, defeated, and it was more crushing than the dismissal and derision of Heaven for six millennia.

Crowley closed his eyes, reaching as hard as he could with all the strength he had left. Damn you all, he swore in his heart of hearts. Damn you all for doing this to us. Doing this to them. Doing this to him. And you… Morningstar… fuck you.

And he pulled with all he had left.

The rumble of the earth, the thunder in the skies, the crackle and hiss of power fell silent.

A warm soft breeze fluttered against his wings and Crowley staggered, catching a shaking breath as he opened his eyes.

Pale sands unfolded around them.

Them.

He was there. Aziraphale too. Both of them with their wings out, though Aziraphale was looking at him with a wondering, dazed expression. He almost smiled. Didn’t know I could do that, did you?

And… the Antichrist.

Right, right. Okay. A little time. They had a little time and the boy who was the centre of it all.

“Adam, listen,” he said gently, urgently. “Your father is coming to destroy you, probably to destroy all of us.”

“My dad?” The boy half-laughed. “My dad wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

Crowley shook his head. “Not your earthly father,” he said. “Satan. Your father who is no longer in Heaven. He is coming and he is angry.”

Adam looked as lost as Crowley felt. “So what do you want me to do about it? Fight him?”

Crowley hesitated, then shook his head. It would begin the cycle of violence all over again. Fighting Lucifer was what had started everything. “I don’t think fighting him would do any good. We’re gonna have to come up with something else.”

Adam’s fear was tangible. “But I’m just a kid.”

Crowley wished he could give the boy a reassuring hug, but the effort of holding the world around them together, holding everything so still was taking far more out of him than he wanted to admit.

“That’s not a bad thing to be, Adam.” Aziraphale’s voice was like a rush of cool water over hot flames and Crowley looked at him with grateful relief as the demon got back to his feet. Aziraphale was smiling again, that familiar, warm, knowing smile of someone who is well and truly about to fuck someone’s shit up. “You know, I was scared that you would be Hell incarnate. I had hoped we could prevent that.”

“And I used to think I wanted you to be Heaven incarnate,” Crowley admitted with a tentative smile at both demon and Antichrist.

Aziraphale’s eyes gleamed. “You’re Human incarnate and that’s something so much better.” He looked over at Crowley and his smile softened into something almost, possibly, maybe like forgiveness.

It was like a weight across Crowley’s shoulders evaporated.

Right. Think. Think, think, think.

Antichrist. Powers over reality, at least for now. Still powerful, but how…

Oh. How… divine.

“Adam, listen,” he said urgently, moving closer to the boy. “Reality will listen to you right now. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. You can change things.”

“And whatever happens,” Aziraphale stepped alongside the boy, offering the child his hand, “for good or for evil, we’ll be beside you.”

We.

Fuck yes.

He offered Adam his own hand. “I’m going to restart time,” he said, squeezing the boy’s trembling fingers. “You won’t have much time to do whatever it is you’re going to do…” The world shuddered around them and blazing brightness gave way to the thunderous dark of the airfield. “Do it quickly!”

Before them, the earth surged and roiled as Satan broke through the ground. Crowley lunged down, snatching up the old sword, wincing as it flamed to life in his hands. The boy needed back-up and if he had to–

“My dear,” Aziraphale stepped closer to him. “You don’t know what you’re doing with that old thing.” He snatched the sword from Crowley’s hands, taking up a defensive stance. “Let me.”

“Aziraphale…” Crowley’s mouth went dry.

“Oh, do shut up, darling,” Aziraphale purred, despite the way his hands and face were crisping from the holy flame. “Our boy is working.”

Crowley stared out over the airfield as Adam marched determinedly towards the towering figure of Satan.

“You’re not my dad! Dads don’t wait until you’re eleven to say hello and then turn up to tell you off!”

Oh, oh, that was… so simple, so simple and so perfect.

Lucifer, it seemed, didn’t know what to do with it, his roars shaking the earth.

“If I’m in trouble with my dad,” Adam yelled, “then it won’t be you! It’s gonna be the dad who was there! You’re not my dad!”

“What did you say?” Lucifer snarled.

“You can do it!” Crowley shouted, exultant. The boy’s belief and knowledge that he was right was glowing like a flame, brighter and brighter.

“Say it again, Adam!” Aziraphale’s voice rose over the deafening roars of Lucifer’s fury.

“You’re not my dad!” Adam’s self-assurance blazed like a star. Brighter than a star. “You never were!”

And – Crowley laughed in relief and delight – as Adam’s belief made it so.

 

____________________________________

 

 

Children had been dispatched back to their parents. Witches and witchfinders had drifted off in pairs. And so, Aziraphale thought, gazing down at his hands, the world was saved. He curled his fingers, the singed skin cracking, but it would heal.

A bottle nudged against his elbow.

He glanced at it, then at the angel who had just down beside him on the bench.

“Olive branch?” Crowley said quietly.

Aziraphale took it, twisting the cork out with a flicker of a miracle. He took a mouthful – a fine claret – then offered it back to Crowley.

“All over, then,” he murmured.

Crowley nodded. “Seems so.” He drank, then sighed, setting the bottle down on the box between them. They’d gathered up the weapons of the Horsemen, packaged them all up nicely. The angel was quiet for a few minutes, then said, “Y’know I really hate improvising this kind of stuff. It’s bloody exhausting.”

“What? Saving the world?”

“Mm.”

Aziraphale nodded. There were questions that needed to be asked. Satan’s sake, turned out everything he thought he knew about Crowley wasn’t that at all. Well, not everything. Not technically. He knew his favourite wines, the only foods he would willingly eat, how many records he had tucked away in his collection, the gentle sentimentality…

When it came down to it, what didn’t he know? Just his name, really. And maybe how powerful Crowley could be, but then he was one of the angels in the Garden, wasn’t he? Should’ve guessed that much if he’d given it any thought.

“I’ll miss your backside,” he said, purely to break the silence.

Crowley coughed, choking on his mouthful of wine. “You what?”

“Yours. Marjorie’s.” Aziraphale smiled crookedly at him, scorched cheek stretching. “It was quite nice. Firm. Round.”

Crowley stared at him, then dissolved into helpless tired laughter. “Back to your old self, I see.”

“Trying,” Aziraphale admitted, glancing up as a delivery drove by them and parked a little further down the lane. “Ah… looks like we’re about to be relieved of our burden.”

Crowley looked down at the box. “Technically, I should probably get that sword back to Leliel.”

“Leliel?”

“Cherub. On the wall.” Crowley took another swig of the wine. “Pompous arsehole. Told him he should chase the demon out. Told me to do it myself.”

“And you gave his sword away…” Aziraphale shook his head with a chuckle. “You are incorrigible.”

Crowley ducked his head with a smaller smile. “S’how I met you, though.”

“I suppose so.” Aziraphale picked up the box. “Last chance to return it.”

Crowley gave the box a long and thoughtful look, then said with utter resolve, “Stuff them.”

Lord, he was such precious when he was being defiant. No wonder Heaven had always treated him so vilely, if he had been like that since the beginning.

He handed the parcel on to the delivery man, a charming little fellow, and signed the necessary paperwork, watching as he returned to the van.

“I can’t help thinking we ought to have destroyed them all,” he admitted.

“Can’t,” Crowley said, his head rolling back on the back of the bench. “Couldn’t. Symbols, really. You can’t destroy something that is built so much into the heart and soul of humans.”

Aziraphale nodded pensively. He fished into his pocket, withdrawing a small scrap of paper. The Nutter book had all but burned up, which ought to have devastated him, but with everything that had happened, a single book had seemed such a small thing in the great scheme. Still, when he had tossed it to – no, more accurately – at the young witch, this little scrap of nothing had fallen into his hands.

“Wassat?” Crowley asked. The poor boy did sound ineffably exhausted and no small wonder, given all the dashing around he’d been doing all day.

“From Agnes Nutter’s book,” Aziraphale murmured, holding it out to him. “Which – and I am very cross about this – I didn’t know you had.”

Crowley took it from him, tilting it towards the street light. “Choose your faces wisely,” he read aloud, “for soon enough you shall be playing with fire.” He wrinkled his nose. “Yeah. You’re lucky you didn’t get your hands on it. Bloody annoying game of riddles.”

“Where did you get it?”

Crowley laughed tiredly and handed both scrap and bottle back to him. “The woman you threw it at.”

“Book girl,” Aziraphale recalled. “The witch?”

“Mm.” Crowley ran his hand over his face. “God, I’m knackered.” He groaned. “And there’s that gig at the centre tonight.”

The centre.

Oh Lord…

“Crowley… the centre…” Aziraphale reached out and squeezed the angel’s wrist gently. “It burned down. Remember?”

A dozen emotions passed over Crowley’s face. “Oh. Shit. Yes.” He rubbed at his forehead. “Right. Yeah. Of course.” He shook his head. “Forgot.”

It was stupid to offer, when he had always refused before, and Aziraphale had always understood why. But how could he not, when his angel was homeless. “You could always come back to the book shop?” he offered tentatively. “I– you know you’re always welcome.”

Crowley looked at him. “Even– But I–” His voiced hitched unbearably. “Aziraphale, I lied to you. You should hate me.”

Aziraphale’s heart felt like it had been squeezed in a brutal fist. “Oh, darling…” He tried to gather the words, find what he needed to say. “You– it’s a name. You gave me your name. You– I know you. I– you’re welcome. Whatever your name is or was or will be.”

The angel’s eyes grew bright and he looked down, blinking hard. He nodded and sniffed hard. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Aziraphale echoed, scarcely daring to believe it.

Crowley looked at him, bright brown eyes swimming with emotion. “Okay. If you’ll have me.”

Aziraphale’s breath hitched and he slipped his hand down to clasp Crowley’s. “Til the end of the world, darling.”

Crowley gave a wet hiccough of a laugh. “Yeah.”