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The Serpent and the Storm

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Thursday, 21st May 2020

 

It starts around two o’clock, and nothing that happens that afternoon is Crowley’s fault in the slightest. He can say this with absolute certainty because he was in his rooftop garden at the time, head tilted back on the concrete, asleep in his own pool.

It was Israfil’s fault, but that wouldn’t be Crowley’s concern for another five minutes.

Crowley wakes up to footsteps and opens his eyes to find Aziraphale staring down at him. “What are you doing?” Aziraphale asks.

“What’s the point of having my own pool in my own greenhouse if I don’t use it?”

“Er, well, nothing.” Aziraphale is flushing that delightful shade of pink again. “I suppose I expected more clothing to be involved, though Heavens know why I would expect modesty from you at all.”

Crowley snorts and lifts his head, stretching out a mild kink in his neck. “Greece. Rome. Japan. Among others.”

“Those were entirely different cultures, my dear.” Aziraphale lingers near the tangerine tree long enough to pluck one of the ripe tangerines from its branches. It’s technically too soon for a tree of that age to bear fruit, but Crowley cheated and gave everything in the greenhouse a bit of a nudge. “Also, I would not put it past you to have decided to lounge up here in the nude merely because you knew I would blush.”

Crowley grins. “Would I do that?”

Aziraphale lets out the sigh of the long-suffering, but there is bright fondness in his eyes. “Of course, absolutely—good Heavens.” Aziraphale swallows hard when Crowley abruptly stands up, realizes he forgot a towel, and miracles one into his hand from the linens cupboard downstairs.

“You’re right, I would,” Crowley agrees, slinging the towel around his waist. “Now if I could just convince you to use the pool.”

“Yes, but you said there could be no contaminants on the skin, clothing included, or it might damage the plants,” Aziraphale protests. “You also swore to me that you were being honest about that.”

“I was.” Plants are sensitive that way. Sort of like fish, but fish are bastards who like to die just to spite you.

“Yes, that’s…the difficulty, then.” Aziraphale resolutely looks away from Crowley, which is frustrating. “I’m not exactly in the best physical condition.”

“If you really think I give a fuck about whatever physical lack you’re concerned about, you have gone completely bloody daft.”

“No, but it bothers me. A bit,” Aziraphale admits, and then looks angry about it. “I know that it shouldn’t. I am a celestial being, and this is just a corporation, a mere representation of who I am. But—it does. Bother me.”

Crowley shakes his head and steps out of the pool. It’s too shallow to be good for anything more than lounging, but that was the point. Being in this room as a serpent, basking in the sun while dipping his tail into the water, is better than Heaven. “Angel. I just—”

He means to say, I don’t know how to convince you how beautiful you are, but something stops him. He tilts his head, listening, and then dismisses the towel, replacing it a moment later with his clothes. “Bollocks, that’s timing for you. Something’s wrong.”

“What?” Aziraphale asks, following him straight out of the greenhouse. His angel has gotten rather prompt about responding to emergencies, fretting about it along the way instead of dithering first, but the Not-Apocalypse did give them plenty of practice.

“Not sure yet. Israfil is asking us to meet him in his flat.” Crowley reaches out a bit and then reels back. “Oh, that’s not going to be fun.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Israfil will readily admit that it is completely his fault, but he really isn’t that great at letting people die. He was literally made for healing, and it’s not like a switch he can just turn off at will. Zaherael handles the injured and the dying a lot better than Israfil does, but spending over six thousand years as a demon also made his brother…well, cynical.

He’s using the wireless ear-piece Zaherael introduced him to last autumn, paired with his mobile, but he finished his conversation with Ba‘al a few minutes ago. He immediately switched over to music, and the app called Pandora set to random has been, well—no pun intended—a revelation.

He slows his steps when one song begins to play, feeling gooseflesh (odd name, that) break out on his skin. He digs his mobile out of his pocket to check the listed musician, someone named Ruelle. He’s heard other songs by her on occasion, but not this one. This is different from everything else he’s heard since landing on Earth with Zaherael last year.

Music was the only thing he could manipulate in Purgatory in order to nudge Zaherael in the direction he needed to go, so Israfil knows a message when he hears it. This one is a warning.

That’s probably bad.

 

Everywhere I turn

Everything is changing

Secrets start to burn

Pieces rearranging.

 

Everyone I knew

Have turned away their faces

I used to know the truth

But all the lies erased it.

 

This could be the downfall

This could be the end of everything we are

This could be the downfall

It feels like the whole world’s tearing apart

This could be the downfall.

 

Then a woman bumps into him, says, “Oi, excuse you, skinny!” and nearly knocks the mobile from his hand.

“Excuse you, too,” Israfil mutters. He pauses the app so he can freeze the artist and song in place to have another go at later. Then he realizes that he’s being stared at and lifts his head to glance over his shoulder. “What?”

The woman who bumped into him has Earth-traditional ginger hair and wide, shocked blue eyes. Human, maybe forty years old, radiating a sense of impending danger that sets off every mental alert Israfil has for dealing with another’s health.

“It’s—I know you. Don’t I know you?” she asks.

Israfil shoves his mobile back into his pocket. “I’ve never met you before in my life. Believe me, I’d remember. Why?”

“Because—you look like someone I know.” The woman bites her lip and looks distressed. “Don’t I? Yes, yes, I know I do, I did—did—did—did—did—”

Israfil darts over and catches her before she falls straight down on the walkway. “Oh, lovely. Uhm—tell me your name?” he asks as people nearby start to notice and press in around them. Gawkers. They’re worse than the bloody pigeons.

“Oi, mate, she looks like she needs a doctor!” someone suggests.

“I am a heal—a physician!” Israfil snaps back. “A doctor, all right? Back up!”

“You’re a doctor?” She gives him a very intent look that doesn’t disguise a sudden flare of golden light in her eyes. “I knew a doctor once, but not a doctor, I knew a the Doctor—”

“Name, your name, tell me your name,” Israfil insists, pouring a bit of magic into it. He’s never been fond of shouting random names at his patients until he stumbles over the correct one.

“Donna. Donna Temple-Noble—well, no, it’s just Noble again now,” she adds sadly. “I lost him last year, and my mum, and now it’s just me and Granddad again, and it’s not fair, and did you know your name is hidden in the Medusa Cascade?”

“No, my name is definitely not there,” Israfil replies. He’s starting to feel so alarmed that his wings are trying to present. Something is wrong here. Very, very wrong. “I’m Israfil. Nice to meet you—wait, how do you know about the Medusa Cascade? My brother made that, and it’s definitely not listed in any human astronomy books. Not with that name, anyway.”

“Because you’re—him. But you’re not him, you’re not the Doctor, you’re…” That flare of gold comes back into Donna Noble’s eyes, along with a strong rush of power that Israfil can feel beneath his hands.

“That’s…magic. No, biological…energy?” Israfil tries to sort through what he can feel, but it’s an odd mess. Magical biological energy? Whatever it is, it’s not human, it’s powerful, and it’s killing her. Great.

“Well, no, some of it’s going to be artron energy, ambient radiation, comes from the Time Vortex, gets all over your stuff and into your cells even if you’re just there for a quick jaunt, but you can measure it in atto—atto—atto—atto—atto—”

“Oh, fuck,” Israfil hisses under his breath. He spreads some of his influence about, making the surrounding gawker humans forget them both. “Sorry in advance, but I’m kidnapping you now, because I really don’t want you to die.”

“The Doctor doesn’t like to let people die either, it’s a thing, and it was atto-Omegas. That’s how you measure artron energy!” Donna exclaims, and then lets out an unhappy shriek when Israfil lifts her into his arms before he pulls his wings forth from the ether. “Oi, I can walk, spaceman!”

“I’m not a—what is—oh, just shut up for a minute, all right?” Israfil requests. “This might feel a bit weird, by the way.” Then he spreads his wings and pushes upward.

Donna screams in terror as they leave the walkway behind. “You can fly! You can bloody well fly!”

“Lucky you!” Israfil tries to shake the ringing out of his ears from her shouting. “This is what you get for finding me in Knightsbridge instead of bloody Soho!”

“Yeah, lucky, that’s me!” Donna’s death grip around his neck is loosening. “I haven’t been flying in years! Definitely not this way! How are you carrying me? You’re such a skinny twig that a good breeze would knock you over!”

“How did you fly before, what way were you flying, I’m stronger than I look, and the person I’m dating has absolutely zero issues with my body, thank you,” Israfil answers, rolling his eyes. The words are keeping her mind focused, and right now, that feels important.

“I flew in the TARDIS. It’s a spaceship, except actually it’s more like a one-point-in-time to the next-point-in-time ship without any limits on location, and the inside is a pocket dimension. It’s supposed to take eight people to fly it properly, but you can do it with just one if you’re bonkers,” Donna explains cheerfully, and then grimaces. “Oh, my head. My head really, really hurts.”

“Considering how much information you’re trying to spew out at once? I’m not the slightest bit surprised!”

Donna twists her head around. “How is it you have wings? Are you an alien? Oooh, I know of some alien races that have wings! They just didn’t have wings like that! Or look human. More like birds usually. Though there were also the blokes who looked like pugs but had wings, that was weird—”

“I’m not an alien!” Israfil interrupts, completely baffled. “I’m—okay, well, technically, I’m not human, and I’m not from Earth, but—no!”

“Then what are you?” Donna asks, looking politely interested in the answer.

“Uhm. Oh, there is probably a really good word for it, and I just don’t happen to know it. I was technically dead for a while until this past September, which is a long story.” Israfil shifts his wings so that he banks hard, then starts letting them circle back down to the ground. He’s on the wrong side of the bloody street from the building, but close enough. “We’re going to save that long story for when you’re not actively dying, all right?”

“Oh, I’m not dying—ow,” Donna whimpers as they land. “All right, maybe I’m in a spot of trouble.”

“Yes, dying is usually considered to be a problem.” Israfil darts across the street. Now he’s dividing his focus between keeping her brain from destroying itself by brainstorm or aneurism and keeping the locals from noticing that there is an angel making off with a chatterbox. The moment he’s onto the stairs, out of Carol’s sight and past the gallery entrance, he releases some of the ignore me magic and sends a thought straight to Zaherael, instead.

“Lovely place,” Donna comments, glancing around Israfil’s flat. “Your kitchen is entirely blue, by the way.”

“I like blue.” Israfil places Donna on the oversized chair next to the sofa. “You’re bleeding, by the way.” He searches his pockets, comes up scarce, and miracles a handkerchief out of the ether. “Hold this, right at your nose. Not a firm press, it’s not that sort of bleed,” he corrects. She’s starting to feel hot to the touch, a fire beginning to rage under her skin that is very much not a fever.

“No, it’s not.” Donna begins crying. “I wasn’t supposed to remember. I hate that he did that to me, but he was just trying to help.”

“Who?”

“The Doctor!” Donna glares at him while weeping. “Haven’t you paid attention to a thing I’ve said?”

“Mostly I’m just trying to understand you, and also, I’m still very much concerned with that dying bit you’re trying to pull on me.” Israfil looks back at her eyes again. “Gold. Your eyes are glowing with gold energy. What is that?”

“It’s just—just—just—”

“That’s not really helpful. Also, that’s not a good sign.” Israfil shoves his index finger into the middle of her forehead and puts her to sleep before things get any worse. “Oh, bollocks. How the hell am I going to fix this? You’re my first species cock-up, Donna Noble.”

Zaherael enters the flat just moments later, followed by Aziraphale. “What, you’ve started kidnapping people?” Zaherael asks in displeasure.

“Only when they bump into me, accuse me of being someone else, then accuse me of being an alien, and oh, also, try to die on me for reasons I’m really not sure I can figure out.” Israfil picks up her arm, holds her hand, and closes his eyes for a moment. “Where did she get this energy from?”

“Energy?” Zaherael comes closer, sliding off his sunglasses once he realizes that Donna is unconscious. “What sort of energy?”

“Ms. Donna Noble here was sort of out of it, so I’m not certain. She mentioned artron energy, time vortexes, the Medusa Cascade, and a doctor. She is full of some sort of inhuman energy that doesn’t belong, and it’s literally killing her.”

“What? Why? I mean, how did she come to be wandering about with something like that?” Aziraphale asks. “That’s rather an odd thing for a human to just stumble over. Unless—is she Nephilim?”

“No,” Zaherael answers at once. “She’s too short, for one thing, but…no. This feels different.”

“The really odd part is that I’m almost certain she was perfectly fine until she saw my face,” Israfil says. “Oh, this is really not human, whatever it is. She said this doctor fellow made her forget so she would be all right, so…why my face?”

“Maybe you look like him,” Zaherael suggests, picking up Donna’s other hand. He flinches at once. “Alien. Definitely alien.”

Aziraphale makes a frustrated sound. “Seriously, my dear, how many aliens do you know?”

“Probably more than I should, but London seems to attract them,” Zaherael says. “Like the bloody giant roaming pepper pots with lasers that no one else remembers back in autumn 2009. Remember that?”

Aziraphale retrieves Donna’s purse and opens it. “I do hate to pry, but maybe something in here will explain things. Oh, and much like having to experience the year 2008 twice, yes, of course I remember that. I simply try not to think about it. I’d rather keep track of how things are, not how they were.”

“Wait. There was an invasion of giant roaming alien pepper pots, and no one remembers it?” Israfil asks in disbelief.

“Yeah.” Zaherael is acting as if he’s developing a dire headache. “Some wanker decided to reboot Time in this part of the universe in 1996, for…reasons. I don’t know. I didn’t really want to know, had enough problems of my own at the time. It means that Zira and I can remember two different timelines. The one we’re in right now, in which almost no one remembers that aliens have invaded or attacked London a truly ludicrous number of times, and the other one, in which things were…well, aliens were on their way to being a globally recognized reality. Then, reboot, and now we’re back to conspiracy theories and nonsense.”

“Crowley, you look abysmal,” Aziraphale notes in a fretful tone. “What’s wrong?”

“The energy isn’t really the problem, it’s just not helping. It’s her head. There are two distinct minds inside her skull, and they melded when they shouldn’t have. That’s what’s wrong.” Zaherael tilts his head until his neck pops. “Ow. Better. There’s an ethereal hint to the alien energy bit. It’s not anything blatant, it’s just…background noise.”

“Minds are more your specialty than mine,” Israfil says. “I can keep her alive while you fix the consciousness problem.”

“Not actually sure I can fix it.” Zaherael reaches up long enough to pinch the bridge of his nose without releasing Donna’s hand. “This has been settled for a while—oh, hey. Yeah, definitely it was your face that set off the problem. From what I can see in her head, that man really looks like you. Looks like both of us, really. He’s just not ginger.”

Aziraphale smiles. “I don’t think the universe could cope if three of you existed at once.”

“Pfft.” Zaherael makes a disgruntled face. “Oh, that is regret. That is so much regret. He really didn’t want to—this wasn’t supposed to happen to her, except it did, but he hated it.”

“Zaherael.” Israfil reaches out and grips his brother’s wrist. “You’re out of practice. Don’t get lost.”

“I’m not lost. There’s just—there’s so much. Nine hundred years of too much from a more highly evolved brain. No wonder it’s killing her; it doesn’t fit.” Zaherael shakes his head. “Move over. I need both hands, her head, and for you to make sure I don’t fucking well wander off. Oh, and drain off some of that energy, if you can. It wants to build up and do…something, but it’s not helping a bloody thing.”

Zaherael and Israfil change positions so Zaherael can kneel in front of the chair, his hands resting on both sides of Donna’s slack face. Israfil keeps one hand on his brother’s shoulder while trying to draw forth that alien glowing energy with his other. “There’s quite a bit of this,” Israfil mutters. “What should I do with it?”

“Fling it off into the air. Who cares? Shut up, I’m working.”

Aziraphale leans in close to Israfil. “I’ve never seen him do this before,” he murmurs. “I didn’t realize the two of you had…well, specialties.”

“We can both do either,” Israfil replies quietly, trying to shake that clingy golden energy off of his hand. It drifts into the air like a cloud, but it is, at least, slowly dispersing. “But I prefer physical means of healing. He just liked to fuck with people’s heads.”

Aziraphale lets out a faint laugh. “That hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

“I can hear you two idiots just fine,” Zaherael snaps without opening his eyes. “There’s a trick to this.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s this meshing,” Zaherael complains, baring his teeth at whatever he’s prodding at. “I need to remove one entire consciousness, but so much of what this alien bloke knew is wrapped up in who she is now. Trying to take chunks of that out without taking her out is not any fun at all. Bloody wankers from Kasterborous! This is what happens when too many populated systems share the same stupid constellation!”

“That doesn’t sound like your work,” Israfil comments, drawing forth another cloud of the alien energy. Zaherael is right; he can feel the faintest hint of etherealness to it, which is what threw him off when Donna first started to fall apart. There isn’t any sense of direction to it, or even a recognized awareness. It’s just…there. “Did someone give these ‘wankers’ access to our magic?”

“Not that I know of. Wouldn’t be much surprised, though. Sometimes Saraquel gets odd ideas into his head—fuck!” Zaherael keeps his hands in place even as he bends over, his back arching in pain. “I can feel that, I can feel her dying, I can hear that consciousness screaming!”

Aziraphale curses under his breath and then grips Zaherael’s opposite shoulder. “Ms. Noble, you mean?”

“No! No, this is something else, and she’s so very old, but it doesn’t matter, and—oh, oh, I’ve got it!” Zaherael grins. “HAH! Fuck you, you utter bastards!”

Zaherael pulls his hands back, but he’s dragging forth a massive amount of golden energy. The strength Israfil can sense of it is literally staggering. “Can’t get it all, but this will be enough. She’ll live. I wouldn’t want to be the man who did this to her, though, because she is really angry!” He pulls the last of that golden mass free and then tosses it up into the air. “Fuck off!”

Zaherael is still staring up in vicious success at that massive cloud of energy when Donna snaps awake. She sees Zaherael kneeling in front of her and slaps him so hard across the face that Zaherael goes tumbling over backwards. “YOU COMPLETE BASTARD!”

“Uh—okay, that was actually funny, but please don’t do that again,” Israfil says as Zaherael shouts, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR?”

“BECAUSE—” Donna breaks off, stares at Israfil, and then glances down at Zaherael. Israfil’s brother is still on the carpet, clasping his hand to the side of his face. The skin beneath his hand is turning a rather spectacular shade of red. “But…wait. You’re not…you’re not him.”

“NO!” Zaherael pushes himself back upright. “Bollocks, woman, that isn’t how you thank people for saving your arse!” He stretches his jaw and winces. “Did you just loosen my teeth?”

“I’m…” Donna looks back up at Israfil, who raises both eyebrows. Then she glances at Aziraphale, who smiles and waves. “What’s going on here?”

“I’m Israfil, we met in Knightsbridge, and then you promptly started dying on me,” Israfil explains. “My brother just saved your life, as you were being overwhelmed by one consciousness too many. Then you slapped him for it.”

“I’m Aziraphale,” Aziraphale introduces himself. “Would you like tea?”

Donna glances back down at Zaherael, who still looks completely offended. “Uh—yeah. A spot of tea would be…that would be lovely.”

“Excellent!” Aziraphale goes directly to the kitchen, probably to have something to do that isn’t giving in to the urge to ask as many questions as possible.

“I’m…er…I’m sorry,” Donna finally manages, though she still seems incredibly baffled by Zaherael. “It’s just that you look exactly like him.”

Zaherael glares at her and then points at his eyes with two of his fingers. “DO THESE EYES LOOK HUMAN TO YOU?”

Donna peers closer. “No, they really don’t. I really like them, though. I’m just—you even style your bloody hair the same, all right? I opened my eyes, and I can suddenly remember most things, and there he’s sitting and…” She winces. “Sorry about your teeth.”

Zaherael gives her one more glare and then his hand takes on a brief glow. “No harm done,” he says as he fixes the damage. “Mostly. You hit bloody hard, you know that, right?”

Donna beams. “Thanks, sunshine—oh, wait, sorry, I should probably not call you that. I’d get the two of you mixed up again, and it just seems best not to chance that. What’s your name?”

“Crowley,” Zaherael insists, giving Israfil a nudge without looking in his direction. Israfil resists the urge to roll his eyes; he has very much learned his lesson about calling Crowley by the wrong name in front of people who are not Aziraphale or God.

“Crowley. Like that Aleister Crowley fellow?” Donna asks.

“No! For one thing, that dead man’s real name was actually Edward, and for another, my name has been Crowley longer than Christianity has existed, so if anything, he fucking stole it,” Zaherael retorts.

“No, the Gaeils stole it first, dear,” Aziraphale says from the kitchen. “How do you take your tea, Ms. Noble?”

“Oh—Donna’s…Donna’s fine,” she murmurs, her shock beginning to fade into thoughtfulness. Israfil can catch hints of what’s going on in her head from her eyes, and it’s a complicated mess in there. She’s highly intelligent, with parts of someone else’s exceptional level of knowledge filling the cracks. Donna is experienced enough to put things together if she gives herself a moment. “Two sugars and milk, would you please? I don’t think I could handle black tea right now. Might sick it right back up.”

Aziraphale nods. “Already done. Crowley?”

“Put alcohol in mine.” Zaherael thumps back down and spreads out on Israfil’s rug in a sprawl of limbs. “It’s not tea time, it’s alcohol time. I need to be able to forget that screaming. Do you actually like my eyes?”

“Well, yeah. Those aren’t the weirdest eyes I’ve ever seen, skinny,” Donna says. “Really, I could pair them against so many other types of eyes and they’re going to crop up as being normal to me. Now they would be normal, I mean. I…” Donna trails off and bites her lip. “Oh, God, I can remember all of it.”

“Not all of it, or you’d be fucking dead!” Zaherael growls. “Your memories are there, and probably some of his, too, but—no, you know what? What the fuck happened? How did you end up with another alien’s consciousness inside your brain?”

“Biological Time-Lord/Human meta-crisis,” Donna supplies helpfully. “Which is really fun except for that head-exploding and dying part.” She accepts the cup and saucer of tea that Aziraphale brings over. “Thanks. Love the waistcoat,” she adds. “It’s very you.”

Aziraphale practically beams. “I don’t hear that very often. Thank you.”

“Stop encouraging him. It’s the twenty-first century and I’ve barely managed to drag him into the twentieth,” Zaherael mutters from the rug.

“I notice my brother hinted at his age, and you didn’t even blink,” Israfil says as he accepts his own tea. “Oh, you remembered the lemon. Thank you.”

“Of course I did.” Aziraphale looks vaguely insulted that he would forget that sort of detail. “Crowley, you cannot drink tea while lying on the floor.”

“I can if I tell gravity to bugger off.”

“No. Manners,” Aziraphale insists sternly. “Israfil has a guest.”

“Ugh. Just put it on the table, then. I don’t think I can move just yet.” Zaherael sniffs and then stares up at the ceiling. “Biological meta-crisis. I suppose that’s one thing to call ‘Oh fuck, I fucked up.’”

Donna let out a bit of choked-off laughter. “The Doctor likes to be descriptive, but I think that’s pretty accurate, yeah. He didn’t mean to, though. Things just…went wrong. They went so very wrong.” She picks up the bloodstained handkerchief Israfil provided her and dabs at her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be a bother—”

“Please, this isn’t a bother at all. This is intriguing,” Israfil corrects gently. “Much better than what I’d originally planned to do with the rest of my day, which was probably to binge-watch something horrific on the telly just to try and get a grasp on thousands of cultural references that are flying right over my head.”

“Right. Okay.” Donna sips carefully at her tea and then looks surprised to find that it’s already at the perfect temperature to drink. “How did you fix the meta-crisis? If the Doctor couldn’t do it, I don’t know how the pair of you could manage it. It’s supposed to be…well, impossible.”

“We’re healers,” Israfil explains. “The only thing we can’t fix is complete destruction of the soul.”

“Doesn’t mean your meta-crisis problem was easy to fix, though,” Zaherael adds, closing his eyes. “That’s had a long time to settle. When did this happen? Oh, and try to provide a more useful explanation than meta-crisis, all right? Because I don’t actually know what the fuck that means.”

Donna stares at Zaherael for a long moment. “No, you first. Are the pair of you twins?”

“Yes. Identical twins.” Israfil thinks about adding further details and then decides they’re currently irrelevant.

“It’s easier, looking at you, because your hair’s long,” Donna says to Israfil, “not to mention the blue eyes and that beauty mark. But him, when he closes his eyes? Except for the ginger, that is exactly what the Doctor looks like.”

Zaherael shakes his head. “No, he was younger. In both senses of the word.”

Donna doesn’t look impressed. “Look, so you’ve got a few more years on your face, so what? My point is that with the eyes and hair color out of the equation, you’re identical. It’s sort of creepy.”

“He’s the bloke wandering about with our face, and I can assure you, we’ve fucking well had it longer than he has,” Zaherael responds, scowling. “That means he’s creepy and we’re not.”

“Well, he swaps faces every now and then, so…maybe luck of the draw?” Donna suggests, but she doesn’t sound convinced. She starts talking about how she met this Doctor person, which includes something about Huon particles—“Oh, fantastic,” Zaherael grumbles—and an infestation of Racnoss beneath London.

Israfil’s eyes widen. “There was a what?”

Zaherael snorts. “Oh, that would have been fun. They would have eaten the Earth barren if that Doctor of yours hadn’t gotten rid of them.”

“What is a Racnoss?” Aziraphale asks crossly.

“Pre-Time cosmic infestation,” Israfil says. “I had to deal with at least two nests springing up near Aldebaran, and that was such a disaster that I finally told Gabriel to come out and set the bastards on fire before they ate everything I’d just finished putting together.”

“Seriously, who are you people?” Donna finally blurts out in complete exasperation. She points at Israfil. “You said you weren’t an alien, but you both talk like you know things well beyond anything most types on Earth can conceive of.”

“Uh…I still don’t know a good word for it, sorry,” Israfil apologizes.

Aziraphale is making such a face. “I’m really not certain I should even say.”

Zaherael opens his eyes long enough to give them a sardonic look. “Do you know the term Celestial?”

Donna frowns. “No, no, I—wait, yes. Except you’re supposed to be a myth. A really old myth, too. Time-Lords talked about your lot, but in that sense of the ‘We think maybe they existed but don’t bet on it’ fashion.”

“I love it when people tell me I’m not supposed to exist,” Zaherael replies with lazy amusement. “We’re not aliens, Donna Noble. We’re extra-dimensional.”

Donna grasps on at once while Israfil is still trying to parse that from English back into the old Celestial tongues so he can figure out what it means. “You mean you’re from another plane of existence!” she says in excitement. Then she frowns again. “You felt pretty solid to me.”

Zaherael glares at her. “Yes, and my teeth thank you for that. You can be from another plane of existence and be a solid entity in this one, you know. It’s not like it’s difficult!”

“The worst part is the paperwork, really,” Aziraphale adds in blended humor and irritation.

“You even speak like him,” Donna mutters crossly. “All right. Fine. Extra-dimensional physical beings with paperwork involved means bureaucracy, which means there are more of you.”

“You sound like a young woman who is well-acquainted with bureaucracy,” Aziraphale observes in a polite tone.

“Used to be a temp, and I mean I temped in just about every sort of industry and firm imaginable,” Donna says, but she doesn’t seem happy about it.

“And there aren’t more of us about, not here. Not usually,” Zaherael corrects. “I mean, Below tends to have a few idiots wandering about at all times, but not so much for Above.”

Donna gains the expression Israfil has seen on humans whenever the British political system becomes a topic of conversation. “Oh, so there’s enough bureaucracy involved that you’ve got political factions. That must be bloody grand.”

Zaherael sits up when Donna starts speaking about autumn of 2009. “Wait, you remember the fucking roaming pepper pots?”

“Of course I do—wait.” Donna gets a faint look of concentration on her face. “I remember someone claiming…planets in the sky…stolen Earth. Yes, yes, that—”

“That was a very bad day,” Aziraphale murmurs.

“—but then people stopped talking about it. Completely. All of it.” Donna blinks a few times, her tea forgotten. “Something happened, didn’t it? Something happened to make everyone forget.”

“In 1996, someone gave Time such a bloody kick in the pants that the timeline you’re remembering stopped existing,” Zaherael says from the floor. “We can remember it, extra-dimensional and all, but those invasions, all of the weird shit that marked the first decade of the twenty-first century? Gone. It didn’t repeat itself. You remember because you’re a disaster—”

“Oi, you watch it!” Donna snaps in outrage.

“—but otherwise? Aliens are nonsense again. No crashing ships, no terrifying little bastard spinny razor beings killing people—which was an erasure within an erasure, by the way—no moving of the Earth, no pepper pots, no robots…none of it.” Zaherael grabs for the tea that Aziraphale left on a nearby end table. “The terrorist byline at Canary Wharf still happened, so there must have been a strong enough mark in Time to keep it from resetting, but otherwise?” He shrugs. “Gone.”

“Does that mean that everything I did…that it means nothing?” Donna asks, her eyes starting to shine with tears again.

“No!” Zaherael looks annoyed by that. “No, it’s…” He puts the tea down and is blatantly trying not to sulk. “Fuck. I’m not used to thinking of these things this way any longer!”

“Let’s just go with this,” Israfil suggests. “If you hadn’t done whatever it is you’re so concerned about, then it wouldn’t have happened at all, and then that ‘reboot’ my brother is talking about might not have happened, and then everything would be terrible.”

“Everything wouldn’t exist,” Zaherael growls. “It was Armageddon a full decade too early, and what did we get told? Stay out of it. Don’t interfere. Let it fix itself. Fucking wankers.”

“Even if it was rather interesting to suddenly be within a cluster of twenty-seven planets, it wasn’t worth the stress.” Aziraphale plucks at the edge of his coat with nervous fingers. Israfil observes that and decides that stress is probably putting it far too mildly.

“Why—why would that matter?” Donna asks. Israfil’s skin prickles with the awareness that the human woman is very close to reaching her physical limit. There will either be sleep, or sobbing followed by sleep. He is very much hoping for the former. “I mean, you’re from another plane of existence. You could just leave.”

Zaherael’s jaw drops open. “Just—just leave? Woman, we bloody well live here!”

“Quite so, and have done for a very long while.” At least Aziraphale doesn’t sound like he wants to start a pissing contest. “You don’t simply give up on your home because things are a bit…difficult.”

“I fought for this world, and I literally drove through hellfire for it, and I’d do it again,” Zaherael all but snarls. “It’s mine, and I won’t let some bloody rolling pepper pot put it in danger! Not again!”

Donna’s expression melts into warm sadness. “Now you really do sound like him. The Doctor, I mean.”

Zaherael pauses in suspicion. “Is that an insult?”

Donna shakes her head. “No,” she whispers, and then dabs at her eyes again. “Not in the slightest.”

“Oh.” Zaherael, bless him, doesn’t know what to make of that at all. Then he abruptly slumps to the side, catching himself on his elbow. “Oh, bollocks.”

“Yeah, I thought that might happen just based upon how I currently feel.” Israfil steps over his brother and holds out his hand to Donna. “You need to sleep, right now. I have a bed you may borrow, as I will be sleeping on my sofa, and—” He glances down. “And my brother is apparently going to be sleeping right there on the rug, since he just passed out.”

Donna tries to stifle a giggle that still has quite a bit of crying lodged in it. “He even sleeps like the Doctor, sprawled out and dead to the world. When he would sleep, anyway.”

Israfil helps her to stand when Donna is introduced to the realization that she really is quite exhausted. “I’d love to hear more, but healer’s orders: you’re to go to bed, right now.”

“Oh. All right. Do I need to be worried about my virtue or anything?” The question has a smile attached, but there’s a flicker of nervousness in her blue eyes that thankfully have no hint of gold energy lurking in them at all.

“Well, I’m involved with someone already,” Israfil says as he leads her down the hall and into the bedroom. His brother is right; he does have a bit of an obsession with dark blues now, but he restrained himself to keeping the color down on the bed and the carpet. Israfil added the print on the wall from Picasso’s Blue Period just to make Zaherael rant about it. “And my brother is dating Aziraphale out there, or…well. Really, they might as well be married,” he adds. “But I don’t know if that will ever even occur to them. Also, I tend not to date people I resemble.”

Donna gives him a brief glance as she sits down on the bed, almost as if she expects the mattress to bite her. “The hair and the eyes and the pale bit. Yeah, I could…you’re too skinny for me, anyway. You should really eat more.”

“Metabolism,” Israfil counters, because it’s mostly true. “Hmm. You’re not comfortable.” He thinks about it and then snatches a robe out of the ether. He still isn’t very good at pulling modern clothing forth, but in this instance, a robe will fill in for a dressing gown nicely. “Here. That should fit.”

Donna accepts the gifted robe with a curious look on her face. “How are you doing that? Are you opening up a pocket dimension and just grabbing things, or what?”

“You remember how I said I wasn’t up to date on cultural things?” Israfil smiles. “I don’t know what a pocket dimension is. I think. Or if I do, I think of it in a different way than you do. It’s more like I reach somewhere else with an intended outcome in mind, and just sort of…will it into existence.”

“That sounds dead useful,” Donna comments, largely unbothered by his explanation.

“You are a very rare human, Donna Noble.”

Donna smiles a bit. “Yeah. Unique, that’s me.”

Israfil shakes his head and then snaps his fingers. The purse she was carrying appears at her side. “There. That way if you decide we really are kidnapping you, you’ve got your mobile.”

Her smile widens. “That does help. Thank you. I mean…really. Thank you.”

Israfil nods. “It’s what I do. This door locks, by the way. Sleep, I mean it, or you’ll have the headache to end all headaches by morning.”

When he gets back out into the living room—sitting room—whatever the blazes it’s called—Aziraphale has covered Zaherael with a blanket from upstairs. “Oh, he’s fine,” Aziraphale says, and fusses briefly over Zaherael before he simply wills a pillow into place beneath Zaherael’s head. Zaherael’s response is to simply roll over and curl up in a tight ball of blanket with only the ends of his hair showing.

“All right. I’m passing out on my sofa. As in, right now,” Israfil says, and drops down onto the sofa in question. He bought one that is basically a clone of his brother’s sofa, and he doesn’t care, because memory foam is amazing. “Hang about if you’re worried about either of us, or the time-traveling woman in the bedroom. I think there’s still food lurking in the fridge.” Then he closes his eyes and gratefully falls straight past sleep and into dreams.

Zaherael is already there, regarding a cluster of stars with a pensive expression as his wings beat against the darkness. Israfil peers at the distant, familiar nebula. Is that the Medusa Cascade?

Yeah. Zaherael takes Israfil’s hand in a tight grip. I never finished it. I wanted to, but I just…never had the chance.

You could finish it now, Israfil suggests.

Zaherael glances at him, his eyes the same molten gold as their wings had been before they were marked by carbon dust. I don’t remember how.