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War Without War, World Without End

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By the time Adam was in his 30s, his range covered about a quarter of the globe. He was working as a sound technician for the BBC’s Tri-D holostreaming service, a job that sent him all over the country and, not infrequently, outside of it. He spent as much time in Tadfield as he could, but, as he privately told Aziraphale, it was time for him to learn to love the rest of the world. He also got a flat approximately the size of a large packing crate that was ten minutes by tube or bus from Crowley’s, and twelve minutes from Aziraphale’s shop, if he walked fast.

Absorbing Shadwell had been a shock for him. Neither he nor Ms. Tracy had let anyone else know he was so ill. The funeral had been lovely; Adam had mentioned afterwards that his issues with cognitive dissonance paled next to Shadwell’s, and while he had declined to elaborate, Newt had seemed to understand.

Wensleydale and Pepper had dated, broken up, got back together, and were now living together in Oxford. Brian was married to a lovely bloke from Cardiff and had moved to be closer to his husband’s family. The Them still saw each other as a group about once a month or so.

Abuataar and Exinolas followed Adam around like bodyguards, if one’s bodyguards were a short, spiky-haired punk and a tall, slightly gangly man who was constantly mistaken for Ethiopian. Or, alternately, a hedgehog and an African wildcat, as Exinolas had finally managed to teach Abuataar how to take on an animal aspect of his own. As Adam’s flat did not technically allow either subletting or pets, they spent a great deal of time making themselves (and, incidentally, Dog) functionally invisible, and frankly were now better at it than Aziraphale or Crowley ever were.

The bookstore was more or less obsolete, which had not deterred Aziraphale in the slightest. Few new books were coming out in print, on paper, but rare books and first editions were still collectors’ items, and as the elderly were passing their libraries on to their children, the younger generations were often selling them immediately. Aziraphale had completed several collections in the past five years, and his insistence on not having an online presence meant that fewer and fewer people were stepping into the store, but those who did usually had quite a long list of what they were looking for. Aziraphale even deigned to sell a few books to customers he trusted to take care of them correctly.

He was shocked to the bone when Gabriel opened the door. He was even more shocked when he saw Gabriel was waving around a white handkerchief tied to a fountain pen.

“Hey, Aziraphale!” his old boss boomed across the foyer. “Long time no see! How’s business?”

“Oh, same as it ever was,” Aziraphale said cagily. “As I recall, the last time we saw each other, you tried to have me executed.” He was glad to have Crowley’s memories of the event, now; his verbal description had left out a few key details. “I am unclear what possible unfinished business there can be between us now.”

“Well, you know,” Gabriel replied, grinning, “I feel as if that encounter cleared the air between us, you know? You betrayed the Great Plan, we punished you appropriately, turns out the punishment didn’t quite take, no harm, no foul, right?”

A very large snake dropped from the second floor and became Crowley. “The way I heard it,” he said, glaring icicles at Gabriel from behind his glasses, “that encounter cleared the air between you two with a little Hellfire.”

“And it was a very intriguing trick!” Gabriel said, tucking the pen back into his pocket and spreading his hands. “So was yours Downstairs, at least as Michael tells it. We’d love to know how you pulled it off, if you wanted to share.”

“We most certainly do not,” Airaphale said frostily.

The door pushed open again. “Crowley?” called another familiar voice. “I know you’re in here. We need to talk - oh, damnazzion, Gabriel, what are you doing here?”

Gabriel turned halfway around, not taking his attention off of Aziraphale. “Oh, hey, Beelzebub,” he said, sounding only slightly disappointed. “Fancy meeting you here. I’m guessing you’re probably here for the same reason I am.”

“If you mean the crisis regarding the dwindling supply of human soulzz, then yes.” Beelzebub looked more irritated than disappointed. “I had hoped there could be some negozziazzions.”

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow. “We certainly don’t have any souls here,” he started.

“No, we know, we know,” Gabriel interrupted, holding up one hand. “It’s the Failed Antichrist scooping them all up, as far as we can tell, just to mess with us, which is irritating in its own right. I was hoping you could give me some insight into how, and where he’s keeping them.”

“And I wazz wondering why he wazz doing that,” Beelzebub added. “And also, perhaps, why you are still protecting him.”

“We’re protecting him because he’s a nice kid and he asked us for help,” Crowley said, planting his feet firmly. “Better company than his dad, that’s for certain.”

Gabriel’s eyes flicked from Crowley’s left hand to Aziraphale’s. “Ah,” he said, with slightly less heartiness than before. “You, um, you really did that, did you?”

“Did what?” Aziraphale said, eyes glittering with something that might have been mirth.

Beelzebub rolled their eyes. “I assume he meanzz getting married,” they said. “Really, Gabriel, did you come all this way to quizz them about their domestic life?”

“Sandalphon was quite concerned about them consorting with each other,” Gabriel stated. “Couldn’t stop sputtering about it for a month.”

“So wazz Hastur, but he’zz an idiot,” Beelzebub sighed. “Look, you two, we really can’t get back to buzziness azz usual until the boy stops fooling around. Can’t you have a word with him?”

Aziraphale eyed the Prince of Hell like a teacher who is disappointed in a student. “From my perspective, Adam is keeping a great number of souls out of eternal torment,” he said. “Why on Earth would I ask him to stop?”

“Because he’s also keeping souls out of eternal bliss,” Gabriel replied, smiling smugly.

“Same number?” Crowley asked, sliding an arm around Aziraphale’s waist. Aziraphale leaned into him and hummed happily.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t count,” Gabriel replied. A flicker of distaste ran across his features and was immediately suppressed.

“It’s not,” Beelzebub answered for him. “It’s running about three of ourzz to two of yourzz. But that’s just becauzze of the demographics of Europe. He’zz not being selective.” They raised an eyebrow at Crowley. “I’d congratulate you on your successful seduction of an angel, except then you had to go and make it legal.”

“It wasn’t a Christian ceremony, if that helps any,” Aziraphale pointed out, watching Gabriel edge back slightly.

“Witchcraft doezzen’t really fall under either purview,” Beelzebub sighed. “If it had been a proper Satanic ceremony, then maybe.”

Gabriel cleared his throat. “Are we really talking about this?” he asked.

“You brought it up,” Beelzebub reminded him, clearly enjoying the archangel’s discomfort. “How’zz the sex? I assume you’ve at least tried it.”

“Oh, it’s magnificent!” Aziraphale answered, nuzzling Crowley’s neck. “We’re still working through our respective lists of what we’d like to try; six thousand years is a long time to think about that sort of thing. But I can’t imagine living without it, now.” He drew Crowley in for a long, wet, open-mouthed kiss, letting out a heartfelt (but perhaps slightly exaggerated for effect) whimper in the middle.

Crowley flicked his forked tongue across Aziraphale’s lips as they parted. “Yeah, can’t complain, really,” he said, and dropped the hand across Aziraphale’s back a trifle lower.

Beelzebub was staring at them with intense curiosity and a double dash of prurient interest. Gabriel looked like someone who was experiencing nausea for the first time and didn’t quite know where this sensation was leading.

“Nice,” Beelzebub finally said, breaking the awkward silence. “Now, can we talk to the boy? We need to get him to stop.”

“You don’t know where he is, do you?” Crowley asked, grinning. Was that a hint of a flush in the Prince of Hell’s face?

“We know the general area,” Beelzebub answered, “becauzze how could we not, but within that area there izz quite a lot of interference.”

“You’re actually doing - that?” Gabriel said. “The, with the genitals and everything?”

“Lots of it,” Crowley replied, pinching Airaphale’s butt and enjoying the resulting wriggle - and Beelzebub’s tiny echo of it. Yeah, Beezie was definitely getting sympathetic Lust off of the two of them. That was interesting.

“It’s quite good for relieving tension,” Aziraphale said. “Perhaps you should try it sometime, Gabriel. You do seem to be exhibiting signs of stress.”

“What?” Gabriel shouted. “I’m not - no, of course I’m not stressed, I’m an Archangel.”

Beelzebub laughed out loud at that. “Well, I don’t mind saying that being a Prince of Hell can quite strezzful,” they said, looking up at Gabriel with an expression somewhere between a sneer and a leer. Their eyes dropped pointedly to Gabriel’s backside and then rose again.

Gabriel jumped back, eyes wide and wild. “Get back, perverts!” he roared; his wings unfurled, cloud-white, as he surrounded himself with the blazing glow of his holy nimbus. He reached upward and manifested a very no-nonsense sword, just long enough to be impressive and clearly razor sharp.

“Do mind the books,” Aziraphale shouted over the sound of Heavenly trumpets.

“Oh, look at that,” Beelzebub said dryly as a cloud of flies formed around them. “Did we impozze on your holy virtue, Archangel? Stress you out a little more?” They stretched out one hand; a mace, almost a sceptre, appeared in it.

“He said to mind the books,” Crowley warned over the buzzing of a thousand insects.

A shield, gleaming with sunlight, appeared in Gabriel’s other hand. “Cease your sinful nonsense,” he bellowed, “or I will cut you down where you stand.”

“I’d like to zzze you try it,” Beelzebub snarled, brandishing the mace two-handed.

Gabriel leaped forward, slashing across the space where Beelzebub had been standing a second before. Beelzebub dropped from the ceiling, hovering on glistening insects’ wings, and brought the mace down; it clanged off of Gabriel’s shield.

Crowley and Azriaphale turned towards each other, hands clasped.

Jabbing, Gabriel spun on one foot, keeping the shield between him and the Prince of Hell. He jumped as the mace swung at his ankles; a pile of early 20th century novels toppled over behind him. Air whistled past his ear as Beelzebub tried to kick him -

A sphere of silver light and shadows closed around them like a cage, trapping them under the rotunda. “We said, mind the books!” boomed Alpha Rhaphiolepis.

Gabriel and Beelzebub landed on the floor, with Gabriel on the bottom of the heap and Beelzebub on top of his shield. “Oh, shit,” Beelzebub said dully. “I didn’t think that wazz real.”

“Hastur didn’t either,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis recalled, “but then, he’s a moron.”

“He certainly izz.” Beelzebub dropped the mace; it thumped on the carpet and disappeared.

“That’s - not possible,” Gabriel gasped. The sword and shield vanished, dropping Beelzebub onto his chest, sprawled out in a profoundly undignified and slightly suggestive pose. “That - what -”

“It’s just us,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis said, leaning down to give Gabriel a better view of their double halo. “Hello. We’re Alpha Rhaphiolepis. We don’t quite have enough of us to come up with a proper group name yet.”

Gabriel seemed oblivious to the demon straddling him. “You can’t do that,” he said again.

“Well, clearly they did,” Beelzebub sneered. “You’re having trouble with this whole reality-not-meeting-your-personal-expectazzions thing, aren’t you?”

Gabriel lowered his head to the floor with a thud. “It’s not right,” he said weakly.

Beelzebub turned a bright red, and the buzzing of their flies grew so loud they sounded like hornets. “THINGS DON’T HAVE TO BE RIGHT TO FUCKING EXZZIST, YOU IMBECILE!” they screamed, spittle flying in his face. They paused, eyes darting, studying Gabriel’s aura, his wings, his face. “You,” they whispered, as their hands closed on his scarf.

“Please don’t,” Gabriel whimpered. “Don’t say it. For God’s sake, don’t say it out loud.”

“You cut me down,” Beelzebub realized in a rush of breath. “You threw me out of Heaven.”

“Stop,” Gabriel said, and it came out almost as a sob. “We’re not supposed to remember. There’s a reason we’re not supposed to remember.”

“What reazzon?” Beelzebub snarled. Insectoid legs sprang from their hairline, writhing. “Tell me, or I shall rip it from your throat with my teeth!”

“It’s us,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis explained, gesturing at themselves. “When you remember, this becomes possible again.”

Beelzebub’s fists came down on Gabriel’s chest. “This izz all your fault!” they cried. “All of it, all the tortures, all the pain, all the fucking misery of it; you did this to me!”

“Stop,” Gabriel pleaded, “just stop, stop remembering, stop knowing. It can all go back to the way it was if you just stop.”

“No,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis said, mostly in Crowley’s voice, “no, it can’t. Once you know, there’s no going back. Not this, not anything.”

“I hate you!” Beelzebub screamed. “Not like every demon hates every angel, I mean I personally hate you, Gabriel!” Their face sprouted glittering scales of chitin. “Why? What did I do? Why did you do this to me?”

“I don’t know!” Gabriel looked terrified. Tears were leaking from his eyes, pooling in the corners, too scared to go anywhere. “I don’t remember!”

Beelzebub lowered their head until their nose brushed Gabriel’s. “Then how do you know it wazz bad enough for me to dezzerve it?” they buzzed.

“Because I have faith, because -” Gabriel gagged on the words, then opened and closed his mouth, twice, silently. Slowly, he shook his head. “I don’t,” he admitted. “I don’t know.”

“Then why do you want me to suffer for something you don’t know I dezzerve?” Beelzebub whispered?

Gabriel met their gaze. “Right now?” he said. “On this floor, at this moment? I don’t. May God have mercy on my soul, I don’t want you to have to suffer. I have no idea what I do want for you, or from you, but it isn’t that.”

Beelzebub smiled cruelly. “This, maybe?” they murmured as their mouth closed on Gabriel’s.

The sphere of light and shadow dissolved as blessed darkness and cursed light poured from their bodies. The Third of the Made-Whole looked up from a decidedly cramped position on Aziraphale’s rug.

“Well, at least your numbering didn’t change,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis said, offering one hand.

“We’re an idiot,” said the Third, levering themselves off the floor awkwardly.

“Technically, we think you’re two idiots,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis observed. “Maybe three, now. We’ll have to see.”

“This is amazing. Also terrible,” the Third said. “We can’t - they’ll tear us apart, if they know. If they even suspect. And Hastur and Sandalphon will suspect, if they have any reason to.”

“Why would they suspect?” Alpha Rhaphiolepis asked. “One, they’re stupid. Two, it’s not like your components have that much history together.”

“They’re stupid, but they’re suspicious bastards,” the Third said, raising two of their hands to their heads. “It’s just how they are - oh, no. They’re like us, aren’t they?”

“It seems highly likely,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis agreed. “Do you want to choose a name? We’ve discovered that the old ones don’t work.”

“Ba’al Gimel,” they said without hesitation.

“Well, they’re definitely going to figure that one out,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis objected.

Ba’al Gimel nodded. “That’s part of the problem,” they agreed. “But that’s - we knew, we think, deep down, and that’s who we are. Beelzebub dreamed of that name the one time they slept.”

Alpha Rhaphiolepis sighed. “You know it just means ‘Lord Three,’ right?”

“You named yourself after a bush,” Ba’al Gimel retorted.

“Fair point,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis conceded.

Ba’al Gimel blinked, and manifested their sword. It looked exactly like Gabriel’s, only sized up to fit them. “We think we understand what happened, now,” they said, looking at the blade as if it might turn to cut them of its own accord. They blinked it away again. “Why, though?” they whispered. “Why did we do that to ourselves?”

“We were afraid,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis answered. “Beyond that, we’re not sure. Fear was new, then. Maybe that was enough.”

“What a stupid reason,” Ba’al Gimel muttered. Fireflies twinkled around their heads and disappeared again. “How do we go back?”

“You just think of a reason to be two separate people again, and you sort of pull, internally,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis explained.

Ba’al Gimel raised an eyebrow on their frontmost face. “A reason like what, like having sex?” they asked, grinning.

“That can work,” Alpha Rhaphiolepis said, shrugging, “but usually we use music, or sashimi and coffee. Here, we can show you.” They hummed, light and shadow flared, and Aziraphale and Crowley looked up into Ba’al Gimel’s glowing eyes.

Ba’al Gimel frowned, and distant thunder shook the windows. “Why would you do that?” they asked. “You know better than we do that we could utterly destroy one of you before you could flee. Only one of you would escape, if we chose.”

Aziraphale looked sad at that, but it was Crowley who said, “It wasn’t you who tried to kill us; it was your components.”

“You don’t have any particular reason to hurt us,” Aziraphale added.

“And if you did, Adam would have something to say about it once he found out,” Crowley finished.

“It is too bad we won’t get a chance to meet him, them.” Ba’al Gimel covered their eyes with their hands, and Beelzebub and Gabriel stood before them.

“We have to go back,” Beelzebub said, their voice sandpaper-rough. “Heaven and Hell will come looking for us. They might already know something happened - that we disappeared for a moment.”

Gabriel looked more tired than Aziraphale had ever seen him, dark-eyed and stoop-shouldered. “Even if they don’t, they’re going to figure it out,” he groaned. “They’ll smell you on me.”

“Well, then, that we can deal with,” Crowley said. He sauntered over to Gabriel and grabbed his lapels. “Loosen up for a second.” Gabriel attempted to do so while Crowley shook him around a bit.

“Now, backhand me,” Crowley said. “Not too hard, though.”

Gabriel swung his right hand into Crowley’s face, loosely; the impact still snapped his head back.

Aziraphale’s face darkened. “Let me suggest that you not ever do that again,” he seethed.

“Easy, angel, I’m fine,” Crowley assured him. “And now if they smell demon on you, you can tell them I got offended at you waltzing into my angel’s shop and tried to rough you up.”

“That’s - okay, no, that’ll probably be fine,” Gabriel sighed. “The likelihood that anyone up there will genuinely be able to tell your scent from Beelzebub’s is almost nil. Brimstone is brimstone.”

“Can you tell?” Beelzebub asked, and laughed wickedly at Gabriel’s mournful nod.

Aziraphale turned to Beelzebub. “How about you?” he asked. “Do you need -”

“I’ll be okay,” they replied, waving one hand. “Getting in a dust-up with the Archangel Gabriel izzn’t going to hurt my reputazzion, even if it wazzn’t a stunning victory on my part.”

Gabriel turned to all three of them, desperation in his violet eyes. “It’s not safe to remember, up there. I’m going to forget,” he said. “I don’t want to. I desperately want not to, in fact. It’s just - going to happen.” He rubbed his face with his palms, as if he were trying to wake up from a long, strange dream. “I need you to remember for me. If I forget - when I forget - remind me.”

“I will remember for both of us,” Beelzebub said. “On the firmament itself, I swear, I will never forget.”

“Thank you,” Gabriel squeaked. “And - I’m sorry.”

Beelzebub blinked at him. “I accept your apology,” they said; the words tumbled out like bumblebees, heavy and slow but full of purpose. “I hope, someday, to be able to forgive you.”

“You will,” Crowley promised. “It comes easier than you think.”

Gabriel buried his face in his hands. “I don’t deserve it,” he groaned.

“That is why this is about Grace, not Justice,” Aziraphale explained, laying a hand in the center of Gabriel’s back. “Go in peace.”

“May it be so,” Beelzebub said. They pushed the door open, walked onto the busy pavement, and sank into it without a trace.

Gabriel didn’t say anything. He stumbled out the door like a man who had no idea where he was going next, looked up, and disappeared.

Aziraphale and Crowley stared after them, arms around each other’s shoulders. “Do you think,” Aziraphale asked, “that that means Heaven and Hell won’t bother us anymore?”

“Nah, we’re not that lucky,” Crowley said. “It just means we don’t have to worry about them, specifically.”

“Are we going to have to reunite all of Heaven and Hell?” Aziraphale asked. He sounded frightened.

“I’m starting to get the feeling it’s inevitable,” Crowley said, squeezing his angel tighter. He snapped his fingers to re-stack the scattered novels.

“And maybe ineffable,” Aziraphae mused. “I think it’s time for use to close up for the day, and let Adam know there’s another pair of us.” He reached for the sign on the door and flipped it over.