Chapter 1: 1300-1302 CE, Yolŋu Region, Australia to Nanzhou, China
Australia is too nice, and there's no angels there.
Have you ever tried magpie goose? It’s delicious. Or stingray? Lobster has nothing on stingray, it’s delectable. You must be bored with burned venison. Can I tempt you to come try something new?
Crowley quite enjoyed Australia, but he was beginning to think it was time to move on.
It was the creek in front of him, he told himself. It was a murky blue with green and grey mingled in it, and with the sunlight sparkling on it. It was far too reminiscent of shimmery, kind eyes with sunlit pale hair above them, and it wasn’t fair. It was if the landscape itself was out to disturb his peace.
Crowley hated discomfort of any kind, physical or emotional, and for a being who was technically condemned to eternal torture, he was very good at avoiding it.
He leaned down and hissed into the ear of the child who was hanging onto his arm. “Nankiya, look at the fish Gulumbu caught. It’s much bigger than yours. There go the bragging rights for today."
Nankiya’s dark eyes lit up with the first sparks of envy, one of Crowley’s favourite sins, next to Sloth and Vanity. “Hmm."
“You know,” Crowley said, “she’s distracted playing right now. She’d never never notice if you swapped it."
“That would be naughty, Uncle,” Nankiya said sternly.
“Not really,” Crowley said, vaguely. “I mean, she’d still have the same number of fish. And she never cares much for praise. Not like you. It’s wasted on her."
“Hmm,” Nankiya said again. “I’m going to go play with her."
Crowley watched the small, naked figure depart. He would give even odds on Gulumbu’s fish mysteriously changing size in the next hour. He’d planted the seeds of temptation, anyway. Not a big temptation, but he’d take his points where he could.
He weighed up his options. There were a lot of advantages to staying in Australia. The Yolŋu humans were like humans everywhere, fun to party with and swap stories with and interesting to prod towards taboo-breaking and vendettas and chaos and lust. Polygamy, he had always found, was useful, with its chances for jealousy and frustration, and of course any culture that valued harmony and justice was just begging for a demon to come muck about with them.
Crowley found the Yolŋu easier to get along with than monotheistic humans, especially since their belief system easily accommodated a trouble-making snake who could shape-change and do magic. There were a lot of snakes here. Crowley hadn’t been so relaxed about exposing his eyes and turning into a serpent when he wanted since posing as a genius loci in Ancient Rome.
The scenery was as pretty as the first Garden, the animals were far more interesting than some of the ones on the Ark and the kids were cute. Best of all, there wasn’t a lot of smiting going on around here. No Crusades, no Inquisitions, no crumbling walls or pillars of salt or plagues of frogs, no interference from the wrong kinds of angels. The forces of Heaven and Hell, himself aside, seemed content to let people on the side of the planet get on with their lives.
Also, it was hot, and he liked heat. Not the constant dry heat of the deserts, although there was that, too, if he chose to move further down South. Where he had settled for a while had warm dry seasons but, even better, raging thunderstorms and tropical heat and driving rain in the wet season, all reminding him of that first storm in Eden and the instinct that had led him to duck in close to an angel and feel a protective wing sheltering him.
That was the rub. None of the wrong kind of angels here, but none of the right kind, either. Crowley had a horrible, undemonic suspicion he was pining. He seemed incapable of trying any new delicacy—sea cucumber, tamarind, the native Australian honey from the brown non-stinging bees— without imagining Aziraphale trying it, dreaming of the way his cheeks would turn slightly pink and his long golden eyelashes would flutter with the novel pleasure. Crowley was beginning to suspect he had a fetish, which of course was right and proper for a demon and not something to worry about, even if it inconveniently involved the Other Side.
No, it was the pining that had him worried. The last thing he needed was Lord Beelzebub getting wind that he was yearning pathetically after an angel. She’d never stop buzzing about it.
Aziraphale seemed to have set himself up in that damp, rainy hole of an island off the coast of Europe in King Arthur’s days, and to be as determined to dig himself in there as long as he had in Egypt. There was no wine in Australia, except that Crowley magicked up for himself, and no books of any kind. Crowley was becoming dismally aware that no matter how often he sent missives raving about the interesting food and music and art that the angel just had to try, the lack of wine and books was an insuperable barrier to tempting him to visit.
Crowley could do without books or manuscripts any time. He spent enough time satisfying Dagon’s passion for paperwork, which Crowley suspected should be a cardinal sin all on its own, the amount of obscene pleasure his supervisor got from it. Crowley preferred the more intimate touch of oral storytelling—well, Crowley didn’t mind intimate oral touches in general, but that was a different story, which unfortunately had little to do with the angel as yet.
Aziraphale’s feeling about writing, though, was different. Crowley should have seen the madness creeping up on Aziraphale the first time they had seen a human cut into a clay tablet with a stylus and the angel’s eyes had become as round and shining as moons. By the time papyrus became a thing, Aziraphale was lost to all help. Perhaps an angel had to have something a little mad about themselves to stay on earth for millennia. It was a good thing, Crowley thought smugly, as he wrapped his tail around three-year-old Galarrway and tried to beat his record at sliding down a 200-metre waterfall in serpent form without discorporating them both on the rocks at the bottom, that he remained perfectly calm and stable.
What was the point of having an Arrangement if they didn’t cancel each other out? Technically, he supposed, they might already be cancelling each other out, but doing so on opposite sides of the globe seemed a bit abstract. And he was beginning to worry that Aziraphale was forgetting about him already. Some of his responses to his missives had seemed awfully distracted and perfunctory, and talk more about war and theological debates than even Crowley, with his pinpoint dedication, could twist to be code for I miss you, serpent, come and tempt me a bit.
Distant. Aziraphale's missives were kind, and polite, and distant. And not nearly frequent enough. Almost as if he needed to be reminded that there was a handsome and charming demon who deserved lots of attention, thank you very much, and soft looks and double glances and bickering and reluctant admiration and petting in his snake form.
Crowley, back in human-presenting form and engaged in a tickle fight with the kids, was aware that there was the other kind of temptation in Australia. This place was starting to feel like home. Home was dangerous. Home meant attaching to humans, and being sad when they died, and a bit guilty about encouraging them to condemn themselves to eternal damnation. He had learned that lesson back in Sodom. Bloody Sandalphon and his bloody smiting. Home was a trap for demons.
Crowley knew there was a family of Baijini sea nomads smoking sea cucumber just down the coast. It wouldn’t take long to negotiate his way onto their boat and head for Asia. He’d miss the kids, but maybe that was another incentive to go.
Asia was closer to England than Australia was.
I have discovered the most extraordinary drink, and it’s not even alcoholic. The Pu people here cultivate a kind of leaf, they dry and cook it, and they make leaf water with it. It may not sound like much, but it is fragrant and delicious and it has a remarkable effect of relaxing while clearing the head.
The first time I tasted it, it made me think of you, somehow. It was golden and warm and fresh and reviving, like liquid sunshine, and oh bloody heavens I’m not sending this, I sound like a complete wanker.
I’m coming to England. I have a present for you, a drink. Stay right there, I’ll see you soon. You’ll owe me for this.
1) Galarrwuy, Gulumbu and Nanakiya are named after activist and leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu; his sister Gulumbu, the artist and women’s leader; and Indigenous land care and conservation leader Nanakiya Mununggurritj, all from the Gumatj clan of the Yolŋu people.
2) The Baijini people are documented in Djanggawul song-cycles as some of the first contact between Australia and other lands. They are believed to have been Sama-Bajau Sea Nomads, and to have provided a link from the Yolŋu people of Australia to Sulawesi and from there all the way to China, where Australian sea cucumbers were highly valued. And to have brought tamarinds to Australia.
Chapter 2: 1303 CE Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England
Aziraphale has given up mortal indulgences, and Crowley is not best impressed.
Aziraphale dubiously turned the drinking cup in his hand. The golden liquid caught the sunlight as it turned, and the thumbed design pottery was glazed in dull green blue and the combination of angel and cup of tea was so perfect that all of Crowley’s aesthetic senses stood up and applauded.
“It does smell pleasant. Are you quite sure it isn’t intoxicating, dear?"
“I’m sure, but you’ll like it anyway, I promise.” Crowley huddled by the fire. Great, now his back felt like it was burning to a crisp, and his front was still freezing.
“Good. I've given up the demon of drink."
This was such an unexpected statement that Crowley’s mouth opened and closed aimlessly for a few seconds.
Aziraphale pursed his lips a little, as if embarrassed. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by them is not wise."
“Don’t you quote Scripture at me. You love strong drink.” Something like panic was overcoming Crowley. What did he mean by giving up demons? “Loving strong drink is practically your religion—" Aziraphale glared at him, and he said, “Sorry, tactless. But you are a complete gulchcup, and that’s one of the reasons I like to hang around you."
“I don’t think that’s at all fair,” Aziraphale said, flushing. “I may have imbibed a little generously on occasions.” Crowley snorted. “But my corporation is a temple, and it is time I regarded it as such."
Gabriel. It was Gabriel talking. Crowley hadn’t spent much time in the Third Realm before the Fall, but Gabriel had always been a bit of a teacher’s pet, or at least an Almighty’s pet, and it was hard to avoid him altogether. And Crowley knew Gabriel was Aziraphale’s supervisor, poor sweetheart. Gabriel, Crowley decided, had got into his angel’s head, and it wasn’t to be tolerated. He had clearly been away too long.
He assessed Aziraphale again, circling him. The angel was wearing a sand-coloured cote-hardie, girdled around his waist. The lines were complex and draped beautifully, especially the sleeves, and the fabric was soft, but there was almost a complete lack of decoration. It seemed wrong, somehow. Where were the little touches of gold and embroidery that Aziraphale loved so dearly? His only ornamentation was his signet ring. The whole thing was worryingly ascetic.
“I don’t know about a temple, but your body is—" Crowley sought for the appropriate words, and rejected in turn luscious, shapely and glorious as too sentimental and too revealing. He didn’t want an offended angel storming out on him. Not until he’d actually tried the tea. “Perfectly fine as it is."
“All the more reason not to corrupt it with alcohol."
“Well, at least boil the water,” Crowley said helplessly. “Or come with me back to Australia, like I asked. Lovely clean water there. And no alcohol.” He prowled restlessly from side to side.
“We don’t technically have to drink at all."
“Don’t think you’re getting out of trying the tea that way. I brought it all the way from China for you. This stuff is a big secret, you know. No one else in Europe has it. You don’t know what I went through to smuggle it out."
“I hope you didn’t do anything too wicked.” Aziraphale turned the cup in his hands again, inhaling, and Crowley recognised the expression in his eyes and on his soft lips. Longing. Longing for sheer physical pleasure. That was his angel. “It does have the most delicious fragrance."
“Go on, try it,” Crowley encouraged, and Aziraphale lifted the cup to his lips, breathed in the scent deeply and blissfully, and parted his lips, letting some of the liquid between them. His eyelashes fluttered a little, and all the trouble Crowley had been through getting it to him was worth it.
“How do you feel,” Crowley asked hopefully, “about trying smoked sea cucumber?"
Aziraphale ignored him, too rapt with the drink. “Oh, this is very nice, very nice indeed. Thank you, my dear. Like drinking flowers and sunlight. Like manna.” He sipped slowly, savouring it.
“Not at all like manna. I remember that stuff, and you can’t pretend to have liked it any more than I did. Bland, like everything else in heaven. No salt or spice."
“I suppose that’s true,” Aziraphale sighed, and Crowley felt a tiny tingle of victory. “This is quite extraordinary."
“I knew you’d love it,” Crowley exulted. “Look, angel, let’s get you out of all this depressing mud and drizzle and boring food and drink. No wonder you’re moping and giving up alcohol. There’s a huge and fascinating world out there, and so much to explore and enjoy. Let’s go try out the Arrangement in Thailand, it’s lovely and warm there."
Aziraphale frowned. “I couldn’t possibly, dear. The King needs me to find the right terms for this treaty. The war over Gascony has been a senseless waste of lives and resources, and now the war with Wales is over, it’s my duty to resolve this, too."
“So Longshanks can use the lives and resources to make war on Scotland? Or more Crusades? Or choose another group to expel now he’s got rid of the Jews?"
Aziraphale gave him a sharp look over the cup. “Why? What kind of trouble are you planning?"
“Nothing. I just write the memos. You know humans."
Aziraphale hummed unhappily, but didn’t dispute it.
“Look. Australia. You’ll love it. No large scale wars there. You know how much they upset you, angel. Why put yourself in the way of distress?” Crowley circled Aziraphale, letting the cooing, tempting tone enter his voice.
“My duty is here,” Aziraphale said firmly. “Edward has done some terrible things, but he is trying to resurrect the glory days of King Arthur and can you think of anyone else who remembers that? Well, apart from you, dear."
“I do remember them,” Crowley said, thoughtfully. “I suppose I could be of help at Court. An influence. I’ve missed being the Black Knight."
Aziraphale eyed him warily. “I’m not sure that would be a good idea. They’d wonder where you came from."
“I don’t suppose you’d introduce me as your long-lost cousin?"
“Certainly not. If Heaven ever heard of it..."
“I suppose I could be an unknown nobleman from Gascony. I rather fancy myself in the accent."
“Oh, I won’t get in your way. I’ll respect the Arrangement. I’ll just… be around.” He grinned. “Think of me as a non-drinking companion. Now, would you like me to make you some more tea?"
“Oh, yes please,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley let himself smile properly. It was going to be all right.
1) A short update, but I wanted to set the scene for the havoc to follow.
2) I may be a few decades too early with "gulchcup", but seriously, how could I resist?
Chapter 3: December 1311 CE, Dover, England
At this point, Crowley felt he had crept surreptitiously back into England so often that he could do it without engaging his brain. This time, an angel was waiting for him.
Bored in Flanders. Coming home. I still have some tea. If you don’t hurry up, I’ll drink it all.
At this point, Crowley felt he had crept surreptitiously back into England so often that he could do it without engaging his brain. He slid into snake form and up the dark cliff path.
Still, the sight of a knight, balanced precariously on horseback and scanning the undergrowth, gave him pause. The red and white livery declared him a Hospitaller of the Order of St John's, which was probably all right. Searching for exiled Earls wasn’t their usual pay grade. Too busy slaughtering the heathen, healing the ill and doing good. Their swords were still pretty pointy, and Dagon had been quite scathing about carelessness and waste the last time Crowley had to apply for a new corporation.
He slithered onto a tree branch and weighed up whether the knight was more likely to attack a man or serpent. Maybe a woman. She’d probably be safe with a Hospitaller. Probably.
Why was the knight alone at night, anyway, and what was he looking for? Hopefully something, or someone, he shouldn’t. It had been ages since Crowley had been able to report undermining a member of a religious order. A waste of time, really, tempting human by human, when it was easier to disrupt the top of the food chain to cause havoc all the way down. Still, the medium brass seemed to like him showing a bit of personal effort here and there.
If the knight was on the brink of sinning, he might appreciate a little push in the wrong direction. Crowley considered sliding into human form and approaching peacefully.
There was definitely something familiar in the awkward posture on the horse. He sympathised. Horses were awfully hard on the buttocks, and there was a faint luminescence to the figure, softly glowing like mother of pearl in the moonlight.
Crowley dropped from the tree and landed on the knight, winding around his shoulders. “Hullo, Aziraphale."
“Crowley! There you are!” Aziraphale extended an arm and let Crowley slide behind him onto the saddle, changing into human-presenting form on the way. “I’ve been looking for you for hours."
“Well, you found me,” Crowley said, winding his arms around Aziraphale’s shoulders hopefully, ostensibly to keep his balance. “What are you going to do with me?"
“Send you away, with luck. My dear fellow, have you quite lost your mind? What are you doing back in England?"
“You’ve no idea how boring Flanders is,” Crowley pouted. “Unless you’re fascinated by weaving and religious artwork."
“You’ve only been there two months! Crowley, this is ridiculous. You’ve been exiled three times in four years. Can’t you at least stay away until things calm down a bit?"
“No, it’s fine. I worked out what I did wrong this time,” Crowley said confidently. “I can charm the King into sinful extravagance and cause all kinds of resentment without calling his other advisors rude names. I was quite witty, though."
“I don’t think calling someone a black dog is particularly witty when you’re a black snake."
“Well, that’s nasty,” Crowley said, trying to wriggle closer and discovering that chain mail was distinctly uncuddly. He had forgotten that. “I’ve some really pretty red bits, too."
“What about cheating at tournaments?"
“I wasn’t really cheating. I just happened to count my men on the field badly. I’m a snake. Counting doesn’t come naturally to us. Humans have ten fingers, we have one tail."
“Deserting the field of battle to go to a party?"
“I hate killing humans. It’s counterproductive, anyway. If they go to Heaven, I get no end of a ticking off from Beelzebub."
“Seducing the King into sloth, vanity and extravagance?"
“It’s my job."
“Not to mention whatever you did to the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield to make him so angry with you."
Crowley decided it was best to ignore that one, in case he got pushed off the horse. "Where are we going?"
“To hand you to the authorities."
“You wouldn’t do that, angel,” Crowley drawled contentedly. "You got all worried about me and came to make sure I was safe."
Aziraphale hummed in a way that suggested that even if that was true he wasn’t going to say so, and kicked the horse to walk faster. Skitter. Gallop. Whatever it was that horses did.
“So where are we going?"
Aziraphale sighed. “North Yorkshire."
“Oh, that’s a long way,” Crowley said happily. He hated horses, but he usually rode them alone, not with his arms around an angel. "I have a castle there."
“What a coincidence. You also have a child about to be born there,” Aziraphale said sternly. Crowley hissed in puzzlement, and the angel sighed. “Margaret Lady de Clare is pregnant. Please tell me you remember her."
“Meg? Of course I remember her. What kind of terrible father do you think I am, that I wouldn’t remember my kid?"
“Yeah, I suppose, technically, but she’s just a little girl. Nice kid, pretty hair, plays a mean game of chess. I plan to bring her up to be a great seductress and lure souls to Hell by the dozen."
“Well, she seems to be heading that way already. She’s nineteen now, by the way, and I should say about eight months along.” Aziraphale was silent for a while, but Crowley could just feel him biting his lip. “Crowley, as a demon of your word, are you sure you are not the father?"
“Not my child. No Nephelim from this demon. I’m not risking having a giant cannibal baby and Uriel chaining me up under a mountain until the End Times. No, it was a purely political adopt—marriage."
Aziraphale’s shoulders eased a little, and Crowley realised he hadn’t realised they were tense with more than I can’t believe I’m hauling you out of trouble irritation. “I’m glad you haven’t completely lost all common sense. Well, your wife, who is a very charming young lady, is about to have a child, whoever the father is. Things will be much easier for her and the baby if you acknowledge it as yours."
“Congratulations to dear Meg,” Crowley said cheerfully. “She’s grown up so fast. I think I’ll call the baby Kassothga, Snake of the Muddy Island."
“You most will certainly not. After all, it won’t be half-demon, will it?"
“So be a good dear boy, be nice to your wife and the baby, stay home and don’t get into trouble."
Crowley felt his cheeks flame. He shouldn’t like being called good, even in that caressing, pleasing tone. He should hate it. But he hadn’t seen Aziraphale for eight years, eight years of hanging around this blasted cold country hoping to run into him, and finding that whenever he arrived at a place where he’d heard of a scholarly type with sunny hair and a sunny disposition, Aziraphale had just moved on. Almost as if he was avoiding him on purpose.
But Aziraphale, who hadn’t answered any of his increasingly pleading and truculent missives for years, had come to look for him and protect him, and was calling him dear boy. Of course, Aziraphale called people he bumped into by accident dear boys, and probably every sheep or duck he encountered. It just sounded different when he used it for Crowley.
Defensiveness at his own pleasure made his voice sullen. “That’s difficult. I’m not good, I’m not nice, and trouble is my job."
“Up to you, dear,” Aziraphale said coldly. “Just stay away from the King for a while, for goodness—for your own sake." They rode in silence for a while.
“Want to be godfather to the baby? It would be an incredible honour, having a real angel for a godfather. Probably make up for being heir to a demon."
There was another long silence, and then Aziraphale said, a bit dreamily, “Oh, I couldn’t."
“I don’t see why not. I’ll have to be sick the day of the actual christening, altogether too much holy water being splashed around even if my feet could take it. I’m sure little Meg would like to have your comforting presence by her side instead as her bastard Kassothga is welcomed into the Church."
“Crowley, my dear."
“It’s a nice genderless name. Do for a boy or a girl."
“I wasn’t objecting to the name. Although I do."
“Think it over, at least. Stay with us over Christmas. Meg would like the support, and probably the help, I know nothing of childbirth. Angel, it’s been years.” He could hear whininess creep into his voice, and hated himself for it.
“Has it?” Aziraphale said, with a lack of interest that went straight to Crowley’s heart. “Surely we’ve been apart longer than this before."
“Yess.”Crowley caught himself hissing. He felt oddly anxious.“But not since the Arrangement."
“Well, you have to admit, you haven’t been making yourself very attractive company lately."
It was like a shot to the heart. He wished Aziraphale would turn his head. He needed to reassure himself that it was the same gentle Principality, with the same sweet smile, and not some censorious archangel taking his form and preparing to drop a nasty surprise.
“The King thinks I am excellent company,” Crowley said weakly.
“The King is quite besotted with his favourite, yes. And you are ruining his marriage, relationship with the barons, foreign alliances and reputation."
“Aziraphale, it’s nothing personal, it's my job. You know that. I’m a demon. Cause havoc, affect as many souls as possible. Going for the top is the most efficient way. Down Below is happy."
There was a disapproving sniff. “How nice for Hell."
Aziraphale was a soldier of Heaven. Perhaps it was stupid to forget that, just because he also had a lovely smile and tendency to flutter like some tropical butterfly. Crowley had really thought Aziraphale got it, that it wasn’t that demons were all bad or angels were all good, just that they had to take sides, six thousand rounds and then a final tiebreaker. Test the humans, see which way they jumped. Set the rules, and then offer the apple.
Crowley felt even colder. He hated this bloody island, hated the sleet that was blowing around them and the way it seemed to have seeped into Aziraphale’s heart, hated the cold hard chainmail pressing against his chest. He never should have left Australia. He should have made Aziraphale come to northern Australia, where he could wear nothing but an armband around one of those beautiful plump arms and be all warm and soft and sunlit and not like this hard cold ironclad stranger riding in from of him. He should have taken Aziraphale somewhere where he could play with babies and eat lovely food and swim in a tropical ocean, not this existence forsaken place, always at war and plague ridden.
“Do you really care dreadfully much?” Aziraphale said, and Crowley jumped, wondering if Aziraphale had read his mind or his heart. Could Principalities do that? He certainly couldn’t, in the old days.
“Care about what?” he asked, guiltily.
“Care for this human boy,” Aziraphale said softly, his tone much kinder and more wistful.
“King Edward? No. He’s not bad company. He really knows how to put on a masque, that’s for sure, he’s got a hell of a talent for practical jokes and he’s no snob, for royalty. But I don’t hand my little black heart, such as it is, out to humans. Don’t last long enough."
“I don’t know if that makes it better or worse,” Aziraphale said. “That poor boy. I heard he spent his entire wedding feast on your couch, hanging around your neck."
“To be fair, he was marrying a little kid too. Did you want underage conjugal relations at the banquet?”
“I didn’t spend all that time trying to heal relationships with France just for you to encourage the King to snub the French princess. Besides, Isabella is a very sweet child. Loves books."
“I told you, it’s my job. It’s not personal.” They rode on in miserable silence for a while, until a bright thought struck Crowley. “Angel, are you jealous?"
“Don’t be ridiculous."
“Of course, Edward is very good looking. Famously so. And charming."
“I thought you didn’t care for him."
Crowley grinned happily and hugged closer, chainmail be damned. “He’s not as good company as you. At least when you want to be. Have you still given up the demon of drink?"
Aziraphale shifted uneasily. “More or less. It’s difficult, humans expect you to fit in. I try to be restrained in my imbibing."
Crowley grinned wider. He didn’t approve of Aziraphale giving up demons of any kind. “Only we are close to Berfrestone, and two unaccompanied immortal beings really shouldn’t be out at night like this, especially when one of us is an exiled Earl. And it’s sleeting. You hate sleet, angel."
“I always feel like it’s getting in my feathers, even when my wings are away,” Aziraphale admitted plaintively.
“There’s a good inn. Well, an inn, at least. Passably warm rooms. Possibly edible food. And I could tempt you to just a little wine, just enough to warm you. This close to the coast, they probably have decent French wine. We can travel on in the morning. And, if you’re good, I’ll tell you what I did to the Bishop."
He could feel it, the familiar, delicious feel of the angel weakening. “We’ll be discovered."
“Can you do miracles or not, angel? Never mind. I can.” Crowley clicked his fingers and his clothes became less fine and more utilitarian. “Now you."
“Angel, you rescued me. You deserve some reward."
There was a long moment, while Crowley wondered if he had pushed too far and was about to be dumped unceremoniously by the roadside, then Aziraphale sighed. “I suppose you’re right. Travelling in this weather in the dark does us both no good."
“That’s right,” Crowley exalted, feeling all that cold knobbly chain mail melt away and soft linens, with warm heat beneath them, replace them.
Despite the dark and sleet, it felt like his sunshine had been given back.
1) Please, dear readers, remember the importance of multiple copies and/or version control. I wrote this last night in Typora. Came to open it this morning and found I had overwritten the entire thing with notes on the most likely inn they would stop off on. Fortunately, I'd also shared it in Draft, which has cloud storage and version control...
2) Crowley is basically troublemaker supreme Piers Gaveston at this point in the century. Making him Earl of Cornwall at this point, a Knight, and filthy rich.
3) Random location notes: The village they are heading to still exists. I think Berfrestone is the most likely spelling for the village at this point, as that is how it was spelled in the "Domesday Book". Current spelling is Barfestone. Other historical spellings are Barfriston, Barfreston and Barfreystone. Until the Victorian era it was pronounced "Barson", because bloody hell, England.
Chapter 4: December, 1311 CE, Berfrestone, England
Have you heard the one about the angel, the demon and the Bishop?
A few hours later, Aziraphale had apparently forgotten all his new good intentions and was thoroughly sloshed. Crowley, relying on the low light from the fire and candle on the table, had pulled a hood up over his head to hide the tattoo and eyes which might mark him as the hated Favourite, having discarded the circles of tinted glass. That was partly in case anyone remembered the disgraced Earl of Cornwall had light sensitive eyes even in the dark, and partly better to watch the angel gradually mellow and become more of his own self.
Aziraphale was absently devouring surprisingly excellent salted fish pie on a stale bread trencher and—laughing. His teeth flashed white in the candlelight, his faint glow seeming to radiate from his smile as much as from his eyes. It was as if the stiff, sombre Aziraphale of the last decade had melted away under the light and wine.
“Well, I wasn’t to blame about the Bishop of Lichfield, really,” Crowley said. “I mean, he’d just been back from the Papal court after facing charges of witchcraft and Satanism."
“He was cleared of all charges!” Aziraphale protested.
“As if a Pope could recognise a Satanist when he saw one. Anyway, half your Bishops are ours. Or, rather, devil worshippers,” he added, a bit awkwardly. All those ridiculous rituals and orgies were a bit of a sore spot, especially when Aziraphale was in a scathing mood. That was without getting into the infanticide and baby eating, which Crowley quite frankly couldn’t bear to think about, as if any demon could come up with such a grotesque idea. Completely pointless for the Great Cause, sending spotless souls to swell Heaven’s ranks. Even Prince Lucifer tended to be pissed off about that one.
“Anyway,” he said, changing the subject quickly. “I thought it was possible. He had the kind of self-righteous unpleasantness that usually means he is one of Ours. Or a particularly devout one of Yours.” Aziraphale glared reproachfully and a little unsteadily at him. “So I checked in with Dagon. That bloody bastard of a paperwork queen mistook the name and said the Bishop had offered a pact with Satan but no one had the time to turn up and get it signed and sealed yet. You know how lazy our lot can be. They procrastinate until the candidate up and dies of old age."
“I could have told you he was one of Ours,” Aziraphale said reproachfully.
“You weren’t answering my missives,” Crowley said, trying not to let the hurt show. “Anyway, he was a complete pain in the arse as the Royal Treasurer. Edward had all these plans for masques and horses and tourneys and clothes—oh, the clothes, angel—and he wouldn’t loosen the purse strings.
“So I thought I’d help things along. I turned up at his bedchamber with a bottle of wine and my most tight-fitting hose” Crowley rose to his feet for full effect, tossed back his hood and thrust one hip suggestively forward. “You’ve successfully summoned a demon, heart’s gleam. What do you want to do with me?” He seductively batted yellow eyes at Aziraphale, leering.
Aziraphale stared at him a long blank moment, and then tittered. A small titter that spread across his face and chest until he was shaking with laughter, and Crowley collapsed in his chair, laughing too.
“Fortunately he decided it was one of the Prince’s practical jokes, and I was just exiled from Court for a bit rather than being exorcised. Although Dagon probably would have found it a bit of a joke and signed off on a new body pretty quickly."
“Crowley, that was really very foolish of you,” Aziraphale protested. “What if he’d had holy water? He would have destroyed you, my dear."
“In his bedchamber? In case he wanted to do a baptism in the middle of the night? Nah, worth the risk."
“A bit of a joke,” Aziraphale said thoughtfully. “You know, Dagon isn’t really the type to make a clerical error like that, or at least they weren’t in the old days."
It gave Crowley an uncomfortable prickling feeling, as it always did when he was reminded that Aziraphale had been friends with any fellow demons before the Fall. Of course he had. Fully third of Heaven had Fallen by the time of the war, it was impossible that someone as amiable as Aziraphale hadn’t befriended some of them.
It was just that Crowley had become used to thinking of himself as Aziraphale’s personal demon, and he hadn’t been his friend, hadn’t even known of the existence of a Principality with white-gold hair and kindly wrinkles around his eyes down in the Third Sphere. Crowley liked to pretend that this wasn’t a problem, that Aziraphale had come into being in Eden, and he didn’t like being reminded of Aziraphale’s lost friends.
Bloody Dagon. Crowley wouldn’t have let a little thing like Falling keep him out of contact with Aziraphale, if they’d been friends. Bloody—
His brain caught up with him.
“That fucking treacherous fish!"
Aziraphale chuckled again. “They’re a demon, what do you expect?” And that was the old Aziraphale. For all he pretended to be shocked at every machination of Evil, he was still capable of being amused at the antics of demons. Crowley felt a rush of affection so strong that he had to scowl at the barmaid, who shuddered and moved to the opposite end of the room.
"Anyway, being exiled again to Aquitaine just after that was totally not my fault. Your Longshanks just wanted to piss off my Edward."
“He was not my Longshanks.” Aziraphale’s tone was bitter.
“But of a disappointment, eh?” Crowley said, with some sympathy, thinking of the poor lady hostages strung up in cages outside castles for years. King Arthur would never have done anything like that. “Men of God, can’t trust them. Always told you so. The cheerful sinners are much more reliable. You’d like Edward and his friends, if you let yourself. And it sounds like you already like the little Queen. Come to Court when I’m allowed back again. What have you been doing with yourself, anyway?"
Aziraphale hummed unhappily under his breath. The brightness of his glow was dimming, and Crowley felt sinking guilt and disappointment at letting the conversation get darker. Any minute now, Aziraphale was going to remember some ghastly instruction from Gabriel, and this restoration of cozy friendship would be gone for good.
“About the wedding thing,” Crowley said hastily. “I suppose getting in bad with France again after your work on the Gascony treaty went against the spirit of the Arrangement. I didn’t think of it, the King tends to be quite demonstrative when he’s in his cups and hasn’t seen his dear friends for a while. I’ll be more careful next time."
Even in the half-light, Aziraphale’s eyes gleamed like moonlit pools of water. “My dear boy, I for— "
“Don’t you dare,” Crowley snapped. “Do you know how radiant your forgiveness is? Do you want Gabriel and Beelzebub up our arses trying to figure out what’s going on? If Satan finds out I was practically apologising to an angel, I’ll be swimming in ichor for the next century. Look, come up to our room.” He rose to his feet and extended a hand. “It’s taking too much of my powers to stop the humans from overhearing us, and the last thing I want is my lot asking why I’m rooming with an angel. I suspect you feel the same."
There was a long, dangerous moment in which his hand remained ungrasped. Crowley held out the other, pleadingly, feeling a little panicked—not another eight years!--and at last Aziraphale took both his hands in a warm grasp, and rose to his feet.
“Your hands are so cold, poor boy,” the angel said gently, and Crowley tried to pretend his world wasn’t shattering into tiny gleaming pieces.
Heart’s gleam. The endearment he had thrown out so mockingly to the Bishop came back into his mind. Aziraphale really was like a gleam held in his heart, and that light against the blackness hurt like Grace. If he was any kind of demon, he would cast it out, and the pain with it. Instead he tightened his grip on Aziraphale’s plump hands, just for a moment, before releasing them.
“Come on, angel. There will be a fire in the room. We can talk more, and then I could do with a nap. We’ll take a bottle. As for you, I don’t believe for a moment you didn’t bring some reading matter."
Aziraphale bit his lip guiltily, and Crowley smirked. He dared to put an arm over Aziraphale’s shoulder, as if guiding a drunkard, and guided him to the room.
It had two beds, a bit to his disappointment. There had been some shamed, sentimental idea of Aziraphale sitting on the bed next to him reading while he slept. The mattress was stuffed with hair and the skin coverings smelled a bit, but it didn’t take much effort to banish any of God’s more annoying creatures from it before he dropped to lounge on it.
Crowley had always been talented at lounging, and these last years at Court, he had raised it to an art form. Nothing got the King’s attention faster than a really good lounge. He’d been looking forward to showing Aziraphale his new skills. Crowley draped a languid arm over one bent knee, and smiled at the angel.
Aziraphale sat primly on the edge of his bed and showed no sign of being impressed, let alone driven wild with lust, which had been overly optimistic anyway.
Crowley couldn’t help it. The way Aziraphale was sitting, the curves of his beautifully turned ankles were all too evident between his slippers and the hem of his kirtle. Why was that so provocative? Only ten years ago Crowley had lived among people who went as naked as Eden before the Apple, wore nothing but jewellery and a belt himself, and thought nothing of it. He had summoned Aziraphale there, and although of course he had imagined a lovely plump nude form becoming burnished under the sun, somehow it didn’t send the same urgent messages as a pair of legs in wool hose.
“Angel, why didn’t you come to Australia?” he asked suddenly. “I practically begged."
“My services were needed here,” Aziraphale said unhappily. “Gabriel said it was ridiculous, wanting to go somewhere else when there was war and unrest and disease here. I was needed."
Bloody Gabriel. He should have known.
“Besides,” Aziraphale said softly. “There’s something about this island. I felt it as soon as I arrived back in the Roman days. It feels—it feels like home."
Crowley decided then and there that England was his home, too.
1) The Bishop of Conventry and Lichfield was accused of murder, adultery, simony, consulting of divines, sorcery and witchcraft, so don't blame Crowley too much for his assumption. He spent two years in Rome facing the charges, until the current King, Edward Longshanks had him returned to England and tried and cleared there. He never lost the King's support.
Piers Gaveston was actually exiled from Court the first time over quarrels with the Bishop, who was Royal Treasurer, over Prince Edward's extravagance, presumably not for turning up as a seductive summoned demon.
2) This is probably updating less frequently than my usual speed, as it needs more research and fact-checking than usual. Also, I'm doing my Ineffable Husbands bingo fluff story at the same time. That doesn't require quite so much planning and research, so it is quicker to write. Still, I should have an instalment of this every few days.
3) Thank you, as always, for the love and support. You guys mean the world to me.
Chapter 5: 1311 BCE, Kentish Countryside
Demon. Angel. Wings. Bridal carry.
For plot reasons, we're going with book!wings, i.e. there's no visual difference between angel and demon wings. Crowley's are as white as Aziraphale's.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By the time he was sleepy, Crowley was fairly satisfied with the way the evening was going. Aziraphale was flushed with alcohol and beaming like a small sun, and there was the level of fondness Crowley considered himself entitled to returning to his expression. Gabriel hadn’t been mentioned for at least two hours, and neither had restraint, virtue or anything else inconvenient.
Crowley snuggled up on the mattress, considering whether to change form, as it wasn’t particularly comfortable for a human. The optimistic part of his brain that wanted to remain in temptation mode decided a bipedal body would be more alluring than a great big snake.
“Goodnight, my dear,” Aziraphale said peacefully, pulling a gigantic tome out of nowhere. He certainly hadn’t been carrying it.
Crowley carefully failed to pull his skins up over himself, in the hope that Aziraphale would notice and be overcome with the tender urge to come over and cover him up properly. It was a technique that had often served him well with humans. Something about his skinny hips seemed to provoke protectiveness that was readily turned to baser instincts. Perhaps he’d even get his hair caressed out of it.
When enough time had passed, Crowley realised how cold he was, and reluctantly pulled the skins up himself, pretending to do so while turning over in his sleep. He was almost sure he heard Aziraphale chuckle. Heartless bastard of an angel.
He sulked himself off to sleep.
When he woke, he could sense a source of warmth near him, and puzzled it out for a moment. The warmth of a human form, blood and flesh, and with it the indefinable warmth of Aziraphale’s grace, nothing like the cold burning of other angels he had run across in his time on Earth. He cracked his eyes open, carefully.
Aziraphale was sitting on the carpet next to Crowley’s bed instead of on his own mattress, leaning against the bed as he read, head leaning on one arm laid along the mattress. His other hand held the book propped up on his bent knees.
Crowley watched the edges of the angel’s hair lit up by the candlelight. Like a halo, humans might say, but it was nothing like a halo. Nothing blazing about it, nothing to hurt or injure. Just faint silvery golden light.
He rolled gently, muttering as if in his sleep, and hooked a hand over the arm on the bed. The wool of the sleeve was too rough. What was his pleasure-loving Aziraphale doing with such coarse fabric against his delicate skin? It made Crowley ache with a kind of protective anger, although he wasn’t sure who he was angry with. Gabriel, probably. Anger against Gabriel was never wasted. Under the wool, though, was soft yielding flesh and more warmth. Crowley snuggled his face against it, ignoring the unpleasant fabric.
Azirphale exhaled a long slow breath, but made no move to escape his grip. Crowley went contentedly back to sleep.
When he woke again, after dawn, Aziraphale was on his own mattress, and talking cheerfully about breakfast and, unfortunately, horses. Crowley resolved to ignore the ache in his thighs and buttocks. It was worth it, he supposed, to share a horse for a week or so. Actually, it might be for a month or more, considering how slow Aziraphale’s horse was. All the better.
By mid-afternoon, he had changed his mind.
“Annnnnngel, it’s cold."
"Magic up a thicker cloak, then."
“That’s not going to help me when you’re wearing chainmail. It’s like you’re covered yourself in ice. Let’s stop for a drink to warm up.”
“We stopped just an hour ago."
“Well, I’m cold again. And thirsty. Come on, some nice beer. You know it would make you feel better too."
“Crowley, I’m never going to get you to safety if we stop at every village to drink."
“We could fly. We could find a warm tavern, wait until it’s dark, and fly to Scarborough."
Aziraphale tensed, in the way Crowley had learned over centuries of experience meant he was battling with temptation. “I can’t. You have no idea what Gabriel said to me last time about using my celestial powers to avoid minor inconveniences. If he checked up, and found I was flying a demon back to his castle, I’d be in no end of trouble."
“Pretty major inconvenience, if you ask me. Look, I can fly. No one ever checks up on me. Too damned lazy."
“Obviously. So what are you suggesting? Flying home and letting me return to my business?” Crowley tightened his grip around Aziraphale's chest. “No, I suppose not."
“I could carry you."
Aziraphale’s back stiffened. “My dear, you are joking."
“Not at all.” Crowley had offered on impulse without really taking it seriously, but now, feeling the sudden tension in front of him, he was sure he wanted to do it more than anything on Earth. Cradling Aziraphale in his arms as they flew through the night. Aziraphale would blush. He would turn bright red, and his lashes would flutter as he looked every which where except at Crowley’s face, and every now and then he would sneak a look despite himself and Crowley would smirk and Aziraphale would immediately look away again and then glance back and… Right. They were going to fly to his castle in North Yorkshire together if Crowley had to move Heaven, Hell and Earth to do so.
“Come on, angel. You know you hate horse riding almost as much as I do. And Scarborough Castle is so warm, and luxurious, it’s my castle so you know it is, and we’ll hold a feast for you. You can help look after Meg. She must be so scared, expecting a baby and knowing perfectly well her husband can’t be the father. You can bless and soothe her when we arrive so she doesn’t have a nasty shock and give birth to a monster. Do women still do that these days? Seems to be less magic around. Anyway, you need to be there for little Kassothga, your godchild, so he’ll be a cute little human."
“But, my dear fellow, what about the horse? Poor Lightning, I can’t leave him for the wolves and bears or whatever else is lurking around here. Lions, I shouldn’t be surprised."
“He’s called Lightning? Is that meant to be ironic?” Crowley shook his head. “That’s not the point. We’ll leave him for the peasants. Make their day."
“Do you realise what the penalty for horse theft is? I’m not getting anyone hanged."
“I’ll put it in their head to butcher him and hide the evidence. Make their meals for a week, anyway. Horse meat is awfully nutritious. It would be a really generous and virtuous deed. And I’ll buy you a new horse—ten new horses, if you like. You know I have enough money. The King gives me anything I want."
“Huh. Poor pig you ate for breakfast this morning. And the poor fish last night. Is it all right if they don’t have names?"
“I’m not sure you haven’t lost your mind. How do either of us explain this to our sides if we’re noticed?"
“If it’s the humans, it’s easier for you than me. I’ll even wear white robes, although they are really not my style. I’ll look like an angel bearing a pure soul up to heaven. A real blessed miracle. Conversions everywhere."
“And if it’s your side?” There was real fear in Aziraphale’s voice. “Crowley, you know this is foolish. Demons can’t just carry angels around because they’re bored and uncomfortable. What would your Lord say?"
“Abduction,” Crowley said desperately. “I overcame and abducted you—and then you escaped. Commendations for both of us, depending on how we swing it.” There would be starlight above the clouds. Perhaps, although he tried not to talk of his preFall days, painful subject, he could point out some of the prettier stars he had made. Angels liked pretty things. Aziraphale would be impressed.
“Escaped to stay in your castle?"
“Counteracting my infernal influence on what will be a very wealthy and powerful baby. The Second Earl of Cornwall, great-nephew of the King through Meg.” Crowley knew perfectly well his argument had more holes in it than a honeycomb. He also knew Aziraphale was weakening, the worse the sleet got and the more uncomfortable the horse. “Look, just stop at the next tavern and think it over?"
“All right,” said Aziraphale. “We’ll rest, and I’ll think it over. No promises, mind you." Crowley, who had performed millions of temptations in his time on Earth, knew he had won.
He was even surer when the inn they stopped at stank even more than usual of dropped food and rotting rushes and at least three people were staring at him as if trying to figure out who he was and why he was travelling with a Hospitaller. The food was unseasoned, the stale bread trenchers looked like they had mould on them, there was no wine and the beer was thin and sour. Aziraphale’s mobile face reflected every doubt, every despairing thought of enduring this for days yet. Crowley barely had to tempt.
It was only when they were actually swooping through the skies, above the clouds in the pure starlit night, that Crowley realised what a profoundly stupid idea this had been, even for him.
Aziraphale normally weighing as much as a well-nourished human male wasn’t a problem. After all, that was something those of angelic stock had complete control over, and Aziraphale, without outwardly changing his body but having ditched all the armour for lighter robes, currently weighed about as much as a small child. Crowley actually wished he weighed satisfyingly more in his arms—no, no, he didn’t. Things were bad enough as they were.
There were warm arms around his neck and warm thighs draped over his arm and a warm back under his other arm and warm breath on his neck and hair as pale and golden as the starlight tickling his cheek and he was going to discorporate, he really was, and how would he explain that to Dagon? Sorry, Lord, I was carrying an angel and he was just too warm and soft and beautiful to bear?
Crowley held his back stiffly and stared grimly ahead and tried not to look at Aziraphale’s face. He had hours and hours of this to endure, the last thing he could cope with was accidentally catching a glimpse of Aziraphale’s mouth.
“Is everything all right, dear?” Aziraphale asked worriedly. Oh, no, not ‘dear’, not now, not kindly concern, not that sweet brow wrinkling up, why couldn’t Aziraphale choose to be tetchy and crabby now? “Do you want me to lighten up more? Are your wings tiring?"
“Nghyet,” said Crowley, which wasn’t helpful. "I’m fine,” he added in his nastiest tone, because he was afraid that if he said more than two words or let his voice soften it would be followed by hundreds of words, desire and devotion and love and lust all tangled up and tumbling over each other with the weight of hundreds and of years of control behind them, and it was too much, too early, especially after a long separation. He needed Aziraphale far more dependent on him, far more aware of how Crowley was the only one who truly understood him, who would look after him, who would dedicate himself to pleasing him, the only one he truly needed, before he risked all that. He’d waited and worked five and a half thousand years, he could make it through one flight.
Aziraphale hummed unhappily, obviously feeling the snub, and that almost undid Crowley completely. He scowled and flew on, into the night.
1) Thank you to Wikihow for confirming that the bridal carry is, indeed, the best one way carry one's beloved.
Chapter 6: 1311-1312 CE, England
Everything in Crowley's life is going beautifully.
It's almost as if he's not cursed at all.
All around England and Scotland, pious households fasted through Advent, denying themselves in the lead to the anniversary of the birth of Christ. In Scarborough Castle in North Yorkshire, the inhabitants feasted every day in celebration of the upcoming birth of the child of the first Earl of Cornwall and Margaret Lady de Clare, his young and beautiful Countess.
Under the circumstances, it had not been too difficult to convince Aziraphale to stay. Score one for human indulgences. After all, Crowley had reasoned to him, how did going without good wine, peacock and honey actually make anyone more inclined to do good? All it meant was that they were grumpy and inclined to do nasty sinful things to each other. Sweet Meg needed to keep her strength up with good food for the baby, and she didn’t like to feast alone. A hundred little arguments to turn vices into virtues.
Crowley considered it a just reward for his immense self-control in not flying Aziraphale straight up to the bedroom and snogging the breath out of him to see what happened. Instead he dropped him off first, let him prepare Meg for the terrifying news that her husband was returning before she’d managed to discreetly have and adopt out the child but no, he wouldn’t ask what she’d been getting up to in his absence, and “arrived’ under cover of darkness a night later.
Crowley curled up in front of the fireplace in the solar, drowsing, and listening to Aziraphale and Meg talk in whispers over a board game of fox and geese. He was warm, well-fed and happier than he could ever remember being. His angel was close, his presence like a sunbeam. Aziraphale and Meg got along terribly well; unlike her uncle the King, the only one of the late Queen’s children whose education she had not bothered to supervise, Meg was well-read and intellectual. Like her uncle the king, she adored minstrels and masques and the castle was full of music and entertainment and good food, bound to be warming to an angel’s heart. He also suspected Aziraphale enjoyed her flirtiness and mischief more than he would admit. She was a credit to a demonic upbringing.
Crowley congratulated himself on bringing Meg and Aziraphale together. He should have thought of asking Aziraphale to help him bring up his wife before. Probably not great for his plans to make her an evil seductress luring men and women to Hell, but it might have been fun. He should have asked Aziraphale to help him bring up Hugh Mortimer as well, when Longshanks had given him to him. Strangely trusting, these English royals, handing Crowley wealthy children as if they were pets and telling him not to go spending all their money at once. They were obsessed with demons, and then when they actually met one they kept giving him kids.
Of course, Hugh had been nearly grown-up when he was given to Crowley, but he was good company. Crowley thought he should call him out to the castle and be a real household.
A household. A family. This cozy feeling, this feeling of being a family… Surely Aziraphale loved it as much as he did. Crowley closed to eyes to all his own sensible warnings about getting attached and putting down roots, and listened to his clever angel and clever little girl.
Perhaps too clever.
“Sir Ezra, he must know he’s not the father of the baby,” Meg whispered. “I mean, we haven’t… He didn’t… He was in Scotland."
“You didn’t?” Crowley fancied he heard relief. "He’s happy about the child. That’s what matters. He likes children. Did he ever kiss your cheek or hand?”
“Sometimes, when I won a game of chess or at hoops."
“There you are, then."
“But how could he possibly think..."
“He’s very naive, and innocent in the ways of women and men."
Crowley let out a snore, as he swore revenge on the angel for damaging his dashing reputation in the eyes of his wife. The child looked up to him.
“But—Sir Ezra, how could he be? Look at him! Look at what he is wearing! Also, is he ill? Why does he keep falling asleep like that?"
“Oh, he does that when he’s happy,” Aziraphale said comfortably. “It’s rather sweet, isn’t it?” Crowley blushed.
“You’ve been friends a long time, haven’t you?"
“A very, very long time. He is my dearest and most loyal friend. Don’t tell him, though. He is vain and prideful enough as it is.” Crowley’s blush deepened. He was sure Aziraphale must actually think he was sound asleep, to say that so openly.
“You’re not the kind of friend I expected him to have.” She paused. “He’s also very, very good friends with Uncle Edward, isn’t he?"
“So I’ve heard.” The warmth had drained from Aziraphale’s voice, and Crowley searched it for signs of jealousy. Jealousy was good. Jealousy meant he could provoke Aziraphale further, and then reassure him. “He is very much the favourite at Court when he’s actually allowed there, which I admit is not very often these days."
“He is charming and amusing enough. And Uncle Edward is very beautiful and muscular and impressive. So perhaps,” Meg said very quietly, “my husband is better versed in the ways of men and men."
There was a long silence. Crowley would have given a lot to see Aziraphale’s face. “It is better,” the angel said at last, “not to talk in ways that might cause danger to your family. You do not wish to raise too many questions about where your baby came from, after all. Best for both of you to seem as a couple married in every way."
“You're not what I expected a Knights Hospitaller to be, either.” There was a smile in her voice. “To be so kind to a fallen woman like me, you’re much more… indulgent of sin."
“I don’t withhold affection for anyone for falling. Sometimes I myself am not as good at being virtuous as I should be. I enjoy temptations far more than I should.” Crowley couldn’t read Aziraphale’s tone at all. It was still and calm and completely unlike his usual expressive tones. It took all Crowley’s effort to keep feigning sleep.
“Ezra, I’ve heard him call you angel. Do you and he—"
It was too much. Crowley rolled over, spluttered and rubbed his eyes. When they opened, he looked at Aziraphale, noted the pink cheeks and deliberate avoiding of his gaze, and decided he was very happy indeed.
He took the pair of them to the Great Hall and summoned the minstrels. He felt like partying.
After Christmas, the King’s beloved “brother" and niece were summoned to York, where the King vowed to personally protect them and the coming baby against the other nobles.
Crowley embraced Margaret, her dark blue eyes shining with relief and joy, and Aziraphale beamed fondly at them. “I don’t suppose you need me, now."
“Oh, but we do!” protested Meg. “You promised to be godfather."
“You did,” said Crowley. “Grant us another month of two of your company, angel?” He took out one of his hands from Meg’s waist and held it out to Aziraphale, and Meg did the same. “I feel, somehow, Meg and our child will be safer for your presence and blessing."
Aziraphale hesitated, and then came into the embrace. Crowley had never held him like this, not without a actual excuse. He could feel warmth and love surrounding them, and the baby kicking against Meg’s stomach. There had been nothing, ever, in Heaven or Hell like this.
Family, Crowley thought, throwing silent curses at Gabriel, God, Beezlebub and Satan and anyone who would dare come between them. They would be with Edward, too, in a while. Just for a little while. Eventually Meg and Edward would notice he wasn’t ageing, and humans didn’t last long anyway, but let him just have a taste of family with Aziraphale. Let Aziraphale taste it, and realise they were put on this Earth together for a reason.
“Are you disappointed she’s a girl?"
“Not at all.” Crowley smiled at Meg, Edward and Aziraphale equally as he took the child from the wet nurse. The baby was as ugly as a skinned mole, and when he put his finger in her teensy, tiny hand, she clutched tight around it. Her eyes were unfocused and bleary, her skin blotchy, her breath smelling of milk. She was so hideous, and so tiny and fragile. She was almost as beautiful as his angel. Lucky humans. There were no angel babies in Heaven, let alone in Hell. “You did an amazing job, sweet wife."
“Can I see?” asked Queen Isabella, coming closer. “She’s so adorable. I want a baby, too."
“I’ll do what I can,” Edward laughed affectionately at her. “You’ve grown up too.” She smiled at him and put an arm around Meg.
“I wanted to call her Joan, after my mother,” said Meg. "Is there a name you want to give her, too, my husband?"
“Kass--" He caught Azirphale's expression, and decided not to risk it. "Amie, in honour of the dearest and most loving friendship,” he said, his heart aching. Edward ducked his handsome head and blushed, but Crowley sought Aziraphale’s eyes over the King’s head, and what he saw there left him well satisfied.
“I can only stay a few months,” Aziraphale said quietly. “I’m called to Montepulciano soon. Will you be safe here? Sire, I know our friend is still under exile. Even with your favour..."
“He’ll be fine,” Edward said firmly. “I will not allow any harm to come to my beloved, to my sweet niece, or to this precious little girl.” He kissed the baby on Crowley’s lap. “You are going to be a beauty, little princess Joan Amie,” he crooned. “I will give you lands and wealth and all of Europe will fight over your hand."
“I certainly hope not,” said Aziraphale indignantly, and Crowley laughed.
“Stay with us as long as you can,” he said. “And come back as soon as you can. Someone has to look after this child’s moral education, with a family of sinful dissolute such as us.” He smiled at the humans in the room, including the wet nurse, who seemed like a nice lady who should be welcomed to the little family. Lovely, lovely humans. He loved all of them. Isabella looked a little offended at being called sinful until he caught and kissed her hand, but Meg and Edward laughed.
“I wish I could stay.” Aziraphale’s lustrous lips were pursed in concern. “I hate leaving you alone, with so many enemies and a small child.”
“I have hundreds of knights at my command,” pointed out Edward. “What could one more knight do? Now, let’s have celebrations that will go down in history!"
“I’ll be fine,” Crowley promised, his heart melting at Aziraphale’s concern. “I swear it. What could go wrong?"
Crowley stared at the scroll in front of him, picked up the quill, and sighed. The damned thing ran out of ink every line, and it scratched. “One day," he muttered, “there will be pens that can write upside down and underwater."
“I look forward to it,” said Dagon. “Now fill in the bloody form."
Crowley looked at the next entry.
How did you carelessly and incompetently destroy the very valuable body with which you were issued?
I allowed it to be run through twice with a sword and then beheaded.
What I have learned about my own uselessness from this incident?
He sighed and dipped the quill in blood-red ink.
Do not trust in the humans who are supposed to be protecting you and decide to nap for a week.
1) Different sources I found say Piers had two daughters, Joan and Amie, and differ on which was Margaret’s child, or that he only had one, either called Joan or Amie. Either way, Edward greatly honoured the birth of the legitimate child, spending a knight’s entire salary on the party, even though Piers was still supposed to be exiled at the time.
It’s not an uncommon argument that Piers couldn't have fathered Margaret’s baby as he was away at the time, although others argue she would have gone on campaign with him.
2) Aziraphale has been called to Tuscany to help Saint Agnes of Montepulciano, a Dominican prioress who was known for her visions, multiplying loaves to feed people, healing and for restoring peace among the warring families of the Papal state. Sounds like a nice woman, just Aziraphale’s kind of protégée.
3) Edward III was probably conceived while Edward II was celebrating Piers and Margaret’s child’s birth. His male lovers didn’t seem to interfere with what seemed at first to be a happy marriage with Isabella, and she was friendly with Piers. Things only soured much later on.
3) On the first anniversary of Piers' execution/murder, Edward II paid 53 performers to dance naked in his honour. Crowley would have appreciated it.
4) If you’re worried about Meg and Joan Amie, Edward II looked after her. He took her into his household, gave her an enormous income, and… she married his next favourite, Hugh d’Audley. What a woman.
Chapter 7: 1328 CE, Conventry
Crowley has been a long time in Hell. Things have changed in his absence.
Crowley was almost glad that he had missed the last few years in Europe. Heaven had allowed Famine to stalk the land for years, and the stories of starvation, cannibalism and infanticide that Crowley heard in the taverns and fields as he searched for the angel made him shudder. He felt that he had almost been given a reprieve by being left in Hell instead.
He couldn’t understand why Heaven had wanted this; the people had seen too clearly that their desperate prayers reached deaf ears, and Church’s power had waned against the anger and sorrow. Crowley would bet that the angels had been told not to intervene, not even when seed stocks were depleted and there was barely anyone alive and well enough to sew the seed.
He also knew of one angel who would not be able to follow those orders.
Crowley talked to people, and asked about crops that suddenly gave multiple heads of grain or ripened faster, animals that waxed fat on little feed, and followed the miracles.
He gathered news along the way, and the disgust and pain he felt amazed him. Maybe this was the new torment, maybe Hell really had been easier. Maybe the Almighty knew what she was about, and being sent to Earth was not the easier escape he had thought for the last thousands of years. All he knew was that the one safe ground he could think of in this new world was Aziraphale.
He found him at last, resting by a newly planted field, dressed as a monk and drinking some thin beer, surrounded by children and their parents. There was something defeated about the set of his shoulders, a sadness that Crowley hadn’t seen since Sodom. It hurt to see his sunny angel like that. Crowley hesitated, and switched forms before approaching.
When a huge black snake slithered out of the undergrowth and wrapped itself around Aziraphale, farming implements were raised to strike as soon as they could kill the monster without harming him.
“No, no, it’s quite all right,” Aziraphale said, and his voice was both surprised and happy. Surely Crowley didn’t imagine joy and energy flickering back into those tired eyes. “This is an old friend, one I haven’t seen for a long time.” He scratched the massive serpent head that pressed against his, and Crowley flicked a long tongue against his cheek, clinging and kissing in a way he wouldn’t dare in a human resembling form.
“But it’s a snake!” squeaked one child.
“He’s God’s creature all the same, John.” Crowley hissed, and Aziraphale chided him gently. “You know it’s true, Crowley, whether you like it or not.”
“Crawly?” John asked. “It suits him.“ Crowley snake hissed again, but in a more friendly tone, and slid down to curl in a circle on Aziraphale's lap.
The angel stroked him with two fingers, smiling softly. “There. I’ve missed you more than I should admit, my dear. I was afraid you would never return from under the ground.” Crowley could feel the sense of loss fading, replaced with the sunshine of the angel’s presence.
“He’s pretty,” said a little girl. She reached out a tentative hand, and Aziraphale showed her how to use two fingers to pet the snake with a feather-light touch. Crowley flickered his tongue at Aziraphale in feigned annoyance, but allowed the touch.
“Unfortunately he knows just how pretty he is,” Aziraphale said, sighing. Crowley hissed smugly, and the children laughed.
The children's father relaxed. “It’s like he understands what you are saying. Even the beasts of the field love you.” A strange look sparked in Aziraphale’s mobile features, and his lashes fluttered, his cheeks reddening.
“But Brother Ezra,” a child said, her big brown eyes worried, “aren’t snakes evil? Weren’t they cursed to crawl on their bellies and eat dust for causing humanity’s downfall? That’s what the Priest said.“
“Even evil creatures are children of the Almighty and do Her will—don’t you show your fangs at me, dear boy, or I’ll make you get off my lap. It’s all part of the Ineffable Plan. If there are no choices, no temptations, what is the merit in doing good? There always has to be a choice. Light and dark and all the shades in between.” He beckoned to the snake with his arm, and it slid up, wrapping around him as he stood. “Now, I have work to do. Are you coming, Crowley? I could do with some help. Time to call on the Arrangement.”
“I can’t believe you’d ever fall to temptation or do wrong,” the father said, the weary look in his eyes that Crowley recognised. This man had done things he would rather not. Aziraphale looked at him with soft, understanding eyes, and patted his arm.
“Oh, I have my own temptations, never fear. This old serpent here, he keeps me on my toes.” Crowley snuggled against his shoulders and looked as innocent as an unblinking reptile could.
“How can a snake help?” asked John.
“Oh. You’d be surprised what this snake can do, when he wants.”
“I’m not good with plants,” Crowley hissed, as Aziraphale moved back to the field.
“There will be other work to do. My dear, it has been a long time."
“Dagon kept me filling out forms until they were sure I was sorry. Might still be there, but—it seems my replacements kept getting discorporated."
“Really? I have no idea how that happened.” Aziraphale cast seed as he moved, and Crowley could feel the bright sting of the blessings. “Must have accidentally got in the way of someone trying to do his job. Or tried to do things that I could not possibly allow."
“You really are a bastard, angel. Surprised you didn’t finish the job and use holy water. Would have been much faster to run out of volunteers."
“Oh really, Crowley. They may be Fallen, but they are still my siblings. Besides, I didn’t want to give anyone ideas about whether a certain snake could be permanently dispatched."
Crowley shivered, and Aziraphale absentmindedly petted him.
“I heard a rumour,” Crowley said, “that the King was marrying Phillipa of Hainault. I went to York to take a look at the wedding, you know. Imagine my surprise at which King Edward it was,” he said bitterly. "Turns out my King Edward was one of yours, after all. Almost a shame, I think he would be bored in Heaven."
Aziraphale hummed under his breath.
“I’d know if Edward turned up in Hell, you know. I was caught up with paperwork, but… I would have known.” Crowley shuddered, wrapping even closer, thinking of golden, joyful, generous Edward. “He didn’t deserve a death like that, you know. They told me that he was hung above a pit of diseased dogs for weeks, and when that didn’t kill him, they shoved a red hot poker up his anus. Humans. We never do anything like that in Hell. I didn’t mean to cause—I was only trying to stir up trouble. Little Isabella, my sweet little Queen, who would have thought she would turn out to be a worse monster than a demon?"
"My dear, your Edward’s not in Heaven,” Aziraphale said, very quietly.
“I told you, I would know if— oh.” The angel’s radiance was soaking into him.
“This rumour is a dangerous one. It seems he vanished from Berkeley Castle—as did one of his porters. He was seen in Ireland, and in Italy. Embarrassing for the Queen Regent and Mortimer. Much better to declare to Parliament that he died of, er, natural causes."
“Whatever your relationship was or was not, you were fond of him."
“Oh, angel.” He couldn’t thank him. Not for a miracle. He could only ask for more. "Meg?"
“Married again, I’m afraid. Better to keep away in case she recognised you. She has a happy marriage to Hugh de Audley."
“De Audley? Wouldn’t think he was much of a husband, at least for a woman. He was always sniffing around Edward, trying to get his attention— oh. The clever little minx,” Crowley said, admiringly. “Although, if Edward was deposed—"
“They are both safe—thanks almost entirely to Meg, I must say. When Hugh lost favour, he was part of a rebellion. Fortunately, Meg is an extremely clever and persuasive woman. And Edward, it seemed, had fond memories of me, as well as loving Meg."
The most important question of all, the one he had been most frightened to ask. “Joan Amie? Edward would have doted on her, but I couldn’t find any signs of her."
“He did indeed.” Aziraphale hesitated. “But, you see, he arranged a marriage for her, a very advantageous marriage, to be sure, to a nice boy. But you see, I don’t think Joan Amie liked men very much. She confided in her godfather and, well.” Aziraphale stared at the sky. “It seems she died, of some mysterious illness that also struck down a friend of hers from the Abbey. An Italian sickness. She always did like the sun. And besides—the barons were stirring. Being known to hold Edward’s love was not a point in favour of her happy survival any more."
There were no humans looking, and Crowley froze time for just a moment, enough to slip into human form. He landed on the ground still wrapped around Aziraphale, and for one moment, just one, dared press his lips against Aziraphale’s mouth, feeling the soft, yielding lips just for a moment before he drew away.
The angel looked at him with wide, confused eyes, his expression impossibly beautiful that Crowley felt himself ache all over, while his lips burned.
“You saved my family."
“Well, you weren’t there. Someone had to pick up the slack while you were so careless as to be trapped in Hell.” Aziraphale’s voice was annoyed, but those eyes, those pure gentle eyes kept flickering to his Crowley’s face, to his mouth, and then away—and then back, as if he couldn’t help looking.
“You’re my only true family, angel,” Crowley said, hardly believing he dared say it. Then, as time returned, he slid back into snake form and into the grass, and away.
He wouldn’t return, he decided, until he had done so bloody many miracles that the Arrangement was back in his favour. He would shower England with miracles. He’d think up a story for Dagon.
No more humans. He had been right all along, caring about humans was a trap. He had been hoping Edward wasn’t in Hell , and if Beezlebub knew that, he was back in the pit.
Caring about an angel was probably worse. But there had been no resistance to his kiss, even if Aziraphale had taken it as just gratitude, and there had been that expression in his eyes. Aziraphale smote Crowley's replacements, and saved his family, and if that wasn’t a sign of at least some love, well—
Crowley was already damned. And he needed to take some time to properly engrave that kiss on his memory.
1) The Great Famine started with unseasonably wet weather in 1315, causing crops to rot, and it was 1925 before food supplies were properly established again--and even then there was a lot of suffering of the after-effects, for years. In some areas a quarter of the population died of starvation. Stories of murder, cannibalism, the killing of babies too young to work the fields and the self-starvation of older people ran rife.
2) This chapter is heavily indebted to medieval historian Kathryn Warner, author of several books on Edward II, Isabella and Hugh Despenser, and her theories that Edward II may actually have escaped from Berkeley Castle and gone on to live in Italy, even visiting his son again.
3) Joan Gavestone was raised at Amesbury Priory, and granted huge amounts of money and a substantial dowry by Edward II, who was at pains to arrange a wonderful marriage for her. However, she died of an unknown illness at the age of twelve or thirteen in 1325. Oddly, there is no record of her funeral, although Edward II was known for his generosity on matters like that.
4) I couldn’t think of a better proof of love than for Aziraphale to save Crowley’s little family.
5) I am behind on comment responses for several fics, plus comments I have promised to some of you. I love and adore you all and will get to them. But it is 3.20 am and I should be asleep, I just couldn't sleep without fixing the end of the last chapter a bit ;) Tomorrow! Or, rather, today.
Chapter 8: Epilogue: The Black Prince
A short epilogue. Aziraphale has a favour to ask of Crowley.
Title change: the entire century is now the series. I wanted to tie off the story of Edward II here, and I plan two more stories in the sequence—one dealing with the Black Plague, and one picking up with Richard II. The burn is still slow, but they will get there.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Crowley, my dear.”
Longing leapt into Crowley’s throat. That warm voice, so pleased to see him, that indefinable feel of Grace. He forced his shoulders to stay loose, his voice casual, and not leap into his embrace. It had been months since the last time their paths had crossed.
“Hullo, Aziraphale. What have you got there?"
“Come and have a look."
Crowley slouched over, glad to have the excuse to come close. Aziraphale had given up the knight’s armour and the Brother’s garb alike and wore a long white herigaut, the wide draping sleeves in pale velvet falling over his shoulders like white wings. Gold embroidery glimmered at his neck and sleeve, and for a moment all Crowley could think of was the Gate of Eden, the angel whose awkwardness and kindness seemed to glow through the coming storm.
“You look gorgeous,” he said, forgetting to look at what Aziraphale was carrying.
The angel blushed. “Hush. Look."
“You’ve brought me another kid? Aziraphale, I’m not up for getting married to a human again, even one as little as this. If I get married, I’ll need something more permanent.” He sent his best languishing glance.
Aziraphale looked reproachfully at him. Crowley accepted the baby. It looked up at him like a wizened old man, as if it was judging him and finding him utterly lacking, but was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt for a bit. Crowley was enchanted. He hadn’t held a human baby since Joan Amie.
“Queen Isabella is the mother."
Crowley stiffened. “Oh, no. Is this Mortimer’s kid?"
Aziraphale nodded. “Best no one knows."
“Daughter—no, wait, son—of the She-Wolf and the traitor regent.” His arms tightened protectively around the bundle, and he was aware of Aziraphale smiling gently at him, as if he had passed a test. “Oh, poor little bastard. That’s a hard row you’ve chosen for yourself."
“Queen Philippa is also about to give birth, but the child is malformed and will not survive. It’s beyond my help,” Aziraphale said gently. “She and young Edward have been praying for a son."
“Like praying ever does any good.” Crowley felt a little sick. His Edward’s kid. How much had he, Crowley, been responsible for the mess?
Aziraphale frowned a little, but let it pass. “It might, in this case. You would make a fetching midwife."
“Oh. Oh, no. That’s a really messy job. There’s blood and screaming and things."
Aziraphale gave him a pleading look, his eyes wide and blue, going straight to Crowley’s heart. “Edward is prepared to forgive his mother now Mortimer has been executed and can take all the blame, but if she was to have had his child—well, that would be a risk. Isabella could at least see and dote on her child as a grandmother."
“You want me to swap babies.” He pressed his little finger against the baby’s mouth, and it sucked on it.
“It seems a properly demonic thing to do.” Aziraphale came closer, and wrapped an arm around Crowley’s shoulders. It wasn’t fair. How could he be hard hearted with a baby in his arms and Aziraphale hugging him, both of them soft and sweet-smelling and as far from Hell as it was possible to be? “It hasn’t been much fun for the young King. He thinks his father was murdered. His uncle was executed by Mortimer for trying to save his father. And now his baby."
“I liked little Isabella quite a lot, you know. But she tried to have Edward murdered."
“She overthrew him and imprisoned him. The murder was not hers. And if she has been a touch extravagant in her dealings, well, look at the example the responsible adults in her life gave her when she was growing up."
“I never pretended to be a responsible adult,” Crowley protested, and Aziraphale chuckled and kissed him on the cheek, and it was all over, because he was a helpless puddle, and couldn’t concentrate on anything other than how hard it was not to turn his head and capture Aziraphale’s lips with his own.
“You know, my dear, we’ve really messed about with this family’s lives in one way or another. Perhaps it’s time to make amends."
“Demons don’t make amends,” Crowley said, but it was a token protest, and he knew it. Aziraphale wanted this, and was pressed warmly up against him, and this little thing was cute little Isabella’s brat, and the young King was Edward’s son, and… yeah, he would do it. But he might as well pretend to bargain. After all, demonic pacts were his thing.
“You stick to me,” he said. “Stick to the Court. No stupid self-denial, no oh no, I can’t possibly be your friend, you’re a demon. We tutor this kid together. You raise him as virtuously as you like, I make him tough enough to survive. And you drink with me at least once, no, twice a week."
Aziraphale laughed, and it was a sunny, fond laugh that sent fire through Crowley’s cold veins. “I could do that."
Crowley leaned against him, into the warmth. Into his personal Heaven, the one thing demons weren’t supposed to have. “You know, kid, Mama Crowley has some really fantastic black armour put away somewhere. You better grow up fast to fit into it. And who knows, baby swaps might be a useful skill at some point.”
Aziraphale’s arms curved around them both. “I can’t imagine how. But, my dear..."
“What’s wrong, angel?"
“Just rumours in Heaven. Something bad is coming here. Something that means the humans will need me."
“Worse than the Famine?” Crowley asked, disbelieving. “What is She planning?"
“Best not to ask.” Aziraphale’s arms tightened. “But I’m glad you’ll be with me for it."
It was as much or more than Aziraphale had ever said, and Crowley couldn’t restrain himself. “Seal the pact with a kiss?” he whispered, and Aziraphale’s head turned with what had to be gladness, and their lips clung together for just a moment, a moment that Crowley poured thousands of years of unspoken yearning into, and promises for the future, and felt tenderness and, yes, he was sure it was longing in response.
Whatever She has in mind for the humans, Crowley thought treacherously, I have my angel’s heart, I know it, and the future is going to be better than I ever imagined.
1) There were rumours that Isabella was pregnant by her lover and co-regent Hugh Mortimer when Edward III claimed his throne back, but I could find no mention of a baby. It would have been due about the same time as Edward III’s first son was born.
2) While Isabella was technically arrested, she was kept in luxury and as an important part of Court, and said to have doted on her grandchildren.
3) Rumours of Edward II’s survival persisted. A man professing to be Edward II actually came to Edward III at one point, and instead of torturing and executing him, as would be usual with pretenders, the younger Edward entertained him at his expense. I like to think he was happy to see his father alive again.
4) The baby, also called Edward, was a great leader, although with a certain demonic flair. He was known as the Black Prince, possibly because of a very impressive set of black armour.
5) Sorry for the slow updates! I overcommitted a bit, and I’ve been working on *Good Omens* stories that won’t be revealed until their challenges are revealed. Hope they will be worth the wait. I will be back to usual schedule soon—one WIP and a one shot here and there for spice. ;)