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dearly departed

Chapter Text

 

 

“Nah, you’ve got it all wrong,” Crowley was saying to Aziraphale, “it wasn’t really aliens, it was all a metaphor for, er, communism.”

They were on their way back to the bookshop, following an afternoon screening of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, which was one of Crowley’s favorites, due to all the creeping ennui and arguing.

Aziraphale had thought it was rubbish for pretty much the same reasons that Crowley enjoyed it, but he hadn’t minded sitting through it. Not with Crowley’s face was so close to his, lit by the slow-moving colors on the screen, calm and happy, deep in appreciation— that was nearly better than any film, even the fully comprehensible, non-Soviet ones, in Aziraphale’s educated opinion. 

“Crowley, I need to tell you something,” Aziraphale said. He could hardly bear it anymore. There was fondness leaking out of his every pore; he’d explode if he didn’t do something about it. 

“Yeah? That my taste in cinema is unimpeachable, respectable, laudable, even? Cause there’s no need, I already know—” 

“No. Listen!” Aziraphale tried to sound serious without sounding angry, because he wasn’t angry, he just wanted Crowley’s full attention, at this exact moment. 

“‘M listening, angel,” said Crowley, eyebrows drawing together. And then he stepped off the curb, and he was looking back over his shoulder attentively at Aziraphale, who had stopped on the pavement, rather feeling that he should be standing still while delivering his proclamation.

Aziraphale took a breath, opened his mouth, and then Crowley was immediately hit by a car. 

There was a too-late screech of tires, and then a sickening crunch of impact. Crowley went up like a birthday balloon, released from the sticky hand of a curious child who just wants to see what’ll happen.

His limp form seemed to hang in the air for one long moment before landing, with a sickening thump, on the pavement. 

It was not hard to see that he was dead. 

Aziraphale’s first thought was, naturally, Oh dear. There go our dinner reservations. 

This was quickly followed by a wry observation on the irony of Crowley’s corporation meeting its end at the hand (grille?) of a large car going far too fast down a London street.

Lastly came a thought which likely should have been further up the queue: that the process of getting a new body just might, this time around, present some unwelcome difficulties for Crowley. 

Rushing into the road, now relatively distressed, Aziraphale knelt down at Crowley’s side. The hems of his second-best jacket stained with the blood spilling out from the various lacerations on the poor demon’s motionless body, but he paid it no mind. He could hear screams and sobs and shouts from all corners, the honking of horns and the outraged yells as the murderous vehicle accelerated and swerved away from the scene of the crime.

Then he heard someone off to his left crying “Mr. Fell! Mr. Fell, oh no!” and he realized: this was Soho, right in front of his shop. The people around here knew him, and more to the point, they knew him and Crowley, as a single unit. Especially in the days since the averted Armageddon, which had seen them spend more and more time in each others’ company: they were waved at as they walked together, customers would remark upon the absence of Crowley if he was missing from the shop for more than a few days, and the baristas at the cafe across the street would start to prepare both of their regular orders, even if only one of them had walked in.

It followed logically, then, that unless Aziraphale wanted to come off as some kind of emotionless sociopath who was merely flustered and/or inconvenienced at the sudden and gruesome death of his best friend, he’d need to put on a show.

All things told, it was not that hard. As one of the young ladies from the sex shop next door dialed 999, he began to howl, “Oh, the humanity! The cruelty!” and prostrate himself over Crowley’s broken form. 

He’d always considered himself a bit of a performer at heart, after all. He’d been in the chorus for some of Euripides’ early works, and his two-night understudy appearance as Polonius at the Globe had been one of his proudest moments.1

And then there was his rendition of Crowley himself; sure, the costume had done most of the work, as it were, but Aziraphale thought his physical and vocal evocation of the demon’s swagger and style had been laudable.

So it was with great passion that he keened, lamented, and even ululated. He gave some thought to rending his garments, but decided that his jacket had already been through enough (what with all of the bodily fluids) and instead focused on drawing up tears to his eyes. He thought of poor Crowley drowning in piles of paperwork, with his noxious co-workers cruelly pointing and laughing, and that was enough to send him into a relatively genuine mess of sobs.

“Oh, dearest Anthony,” he moaned, for the benefit of the gathering crowd, “speak to me, speak to me…”

He could feel a thrum of grief moving his whole body now, a deep sensation emerging from where his hand was clutching at Crowley’s unmoving chest, it was almost like a vibration of his very skin, was this the kind of immersive physicality that energized the bodies of real actors, up on stage? It was intoxicating, it was magical, it was— no— wait, hold on— it was actually something vibrating beneath his skin, inside the pocket of Crowley’s jacket. 

It was also, he noticed now as he emerged from his theatrical trance, playing a pop song very loudly.2

Aziraphale extricated Crowley’s ringing mobile phone with difficulty, squeamishly working his hands around the sticky patches of blood that dampened the corporation’s torso. 

When it emerged, the caller ID on screen read: HEAD OFFICE. Aziraphale swallowed hard, a flutter of anxiety surging up his throat. 

By now the ambulance had arrived and, in what he took to be a positive review of his performance, Aziraphale was motioned inside by the paramedics. As Crowley’s body was hooked up to all sorts of terrifying-looking medical machines, Aziraphale tapped the phone to pick up the call and raised it nervously to his ear.

“Hello?”

“Aziraphale. It’s me.” 

*** 

With a noise like a wet bubble of snot popping in a giant nose, Crowley was unceremoniously deposited into Hell. 

A decrepit office chair spun creakily under his sudden weight, and his hands shot out instinctively to grab the edge of the desk and steady his motion. He noticed, with panic-heightened perception, a slight gossamer wiggle around the edges of his fingers.

Crowley let out a wordless groan of unhappy epiphany, as he realized exactly where he was, exactly what had happened, and all the implications thereof.

He looked about him, taking in his surroundings. The room was dark and cramped, smelly and humid, and unfortunately just as familiar to him as the street corner he’d just been so rudely discorporated on. 

His cubicle in Hell had been the site of many a demonic triumph over the past six thousand years, as well as many a wasted hour, in the early days, spent unsuccessfully campaigning for a better desk. “I deserve it,” he’d say, “look at my record!” And then Dagon or whoever would nod approvingly and tell him that he was such a good role model for the other demons, so it’d be irresponsible of management, really, to let him lock himself away somewhere separate, don’t you see?

It was that sort of thing, really, that had led to him spending more and more time up on Earth. 

There on the wall was that unfriendly large NO SMOKING sign, next to the sticky, peeling poster that read, helpfully, YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELF TO BLAME. Not true, thought Crowley sourly, it was the blasted car that hit me.

Last time he’d been at this desk was to fill out the debrief paperwork from the Antichrist delivery assignment. It had taken him six full days, not counting the extra day on either end he’d had to spend waiting in various queues. When he’d finally escaped back topside, in desperate need of a shower and a nap and then another shower, Aziraphale had been waiting with a bottle of adventurous Napa Valley cabernet and a sympathetically open, if characteristically judgemental, ear for Crowley’s kvetching.

The sole good thing about being back at his desk had only ever been the promise of getting to leaveNow, unlike then, though, it wouldn’t be as easy as simply heading back up the escalator. 

But this had to be just a temporary inconvenience, it just had to be. He couldn’t let himself think about it as anything other than that, or else he’d go mad.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” Crowley slammed his hands down onto the surface of the desk. Without a body, it wasn’t quite as satisfying a sensation as it should’ve been. “I don’t need this, I really don’t need this , I had dinner plans, for someone’s bloody sake—”

“Oi! Quiet,” said a reedy voice from somewhere close by. The accent was thick and Northern, the register presumably female. “Some of us are trying to work.” 

Crowley pushed back in his chair, as best he could with two of the casters sticking (as a rule, no rolly chair in Hell was fully functional), and peered around the side of his cubicle wall. 

A wide and incurious face met his on the other side. She was a young demon, with pin-straight black hair to her shoulders and mottled patches of shiny, chitinous emerald up her cheeks. Perched on the crown of her head like a hair bow was a large green beetle, and she was wearing something black and elaborately frilly, like the burial gown of a dead Victorian child.

“Who the Heaven are you? What happened to Nestor?” Nestor had been Crowley’s neighbor Downstairs for almost 900 years; a tall and hulking gorilla of a demon with a permanent, phlegmatic cough and an affinity for curses of the epidemiological sort. 

“He got promoted,” said the beetle demon, “due to Ebola. I think he’s up in the third circle now. Got his own office and everything, like.” 

“Good lad,” muttered Crowley. “Always knew he had it in him.” He looked over at the demon’s desk, which was covered in heaps of papers that Crowley recognized with a twinge of sympathetic nausea as Hell Entry Form 84-Q (for souls damned due to sins falling under Category 7DS-3, “lust”). 

“Where were you before, then?”

“Oh, I was stationed in Tokyo. You ever heard of upskirt photos? That was one of mine,” she preened. 

Crowley stuck a tongue out in distaste, which the demon seemed to take as a compliment. 

“I’m just waiting to be issued a new body,” she continued, “as the old one got asphyxiated in a crush at a J-pop concert.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

She shrugged. “Not that bad, all things told. They put me on desk duty, processing the damnation backlog. Been a really interesting year. I’ve learned about so many new fetishes—”

“Hold on— a year?” spluttered Crowley. “Wh— it never took that long before, just a couple of weeks, maybe—”

“Well, Ligur was the head of the Death & Discorporation Committee, remember? With him gone, the queue’s gone down the shitter.”

Crowley resisted the urge to slam his head against the wall of the cubicle, but only barely. Every time, he thought disconsolately. How does it always come back to me every time? 

“What’ve you got to be heading back up there for, anyway?” the demon continued. “Place is rubbish. Way too many humans. Too bright, too cold.”

“What have I got? What have I got? ” Crowley hissed. He could feel the beginnings of a rant bubbling up in his currently nonexistent chest. He hadn’t stopped the Apocalypse with his own two hands3 just to end up back here, where Aziraphale wasn’t, to hear his beloved Earth dissed by some junior clerk who wouldn’t know a good time if it took a creepshot up her big fluffy skirt.

“Hang on,” interrupted the demon before Crowley could explode in outrage, her shiny eyes narrowing in recognition. “You’re not— you’re that Crowley bloke, aren’t you?”

“Depends on who wants to know.” 

“Er, it’s just me,” said the demon, looking around, as if her question might have actually been asked by someone other than herself. “Yasti.” She stuck out a long, curved fingernail at her face; it was the same color as the beetle atop her head.

Crowley allowed himself a small smile. “Yup. I’m Crowley. The one and only.”

“Bugger me,” said Yasti, “I heard all about you. My supervisor was at your trial. The holy water thing, how’d you manage that? Some people were saying it was all a setup, but I—”

He held up a finger, and she fell respectfully silent. 

“If you’ll excuse me, Yasti, I’ve got to make a call,” he said, and then reached for the touch-tone telephone sitting on a corner of his desk. Wincing at the grimy, sticky texture of the keys, he dialed his own mobile number. 

It rang just long enough to make him worry, but finally the call picked up, answering with an unmistakable “Hello?”

“Aziraphale. It’s me,” said Crowley, relief flooding his incorporeal form at the sound of the angel’s voice. “Reporting live from You Know Where.”

“Crowley! Are you alright?” asked Aziraphale.

“Fine, fine. You know how it is. What about you, are you— hold on, is that a siren? Where are you?” 

“In an ambulance, idiot,” said Aziraphale, “with your dead body.” 

“Oh. Right. How’m I looking?”

“Not well at all, dear boy. There’s a great deal of… effluvia.” 

“Mangled, would you say?” pressed Crowley, unable to help himself. 

“Exceedingly so.” It sounded like Aziraphale was about to go into more detail, but then he interrupted himself suddenly with a moan of distress so over-the-top and ridiculous that Crowley had to bite down on his fist to choke a laugh.

“Sorry, sorry,” Aziraphale said, now in a low whisper. “Paramedics all around, I’m trying to keep up appearances. I put on quite a show out there on the pavement. Ruined my coat, weeping over your expired form. Lots of wailing.” 

Crowley grinned. Damn, what he would’ve given to see that. 

“Are they working on me? The paramedics. You can tell them to give it up, if I’m down here it’s a done deal, there’s not much they can do.” 

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” said Aziraphale. “Best to let them have some hope while they still can. It’s really quite inspiring to watch.”

From her chair, Yasti was observing Crowley’s side of the phone call unfold with careful insectile scrutiny.  “Is that the… you know?” she whispered, pointing a finger up to signify Heaven. “The angel?”

Crowley scowled at her. He’d really hoped that word of his affiliation with Aziraphale hadn’t managed to leak out to Hell at large. 

But Eric, the loose-lipped disposable bastard, had probably started blabbing about the trial he’d witnessed Upstairs the second he’d stepped back off the escalator. Demons may be a stupid bunch but generally they could put two and two together; it wouldn’t have taken a genius on Crowley’s level to figure out that there was a personal connection between the demon that couldn’t be killed, and the angel who was similarly immune. It made Crowley itch all over, it did, to think of anyone down here even knowing his angel’s name, let alone associating it in conjunction with his own.

Speaking of Aziraphale and affiliation… 

“Listen, Aziraphale— if they’re about to declare me legally dead, there’s something you should know,” said Crowley, tearing his eyes from Yasti’s hypnotic gaze and staring instead down at his desk calendar. It was still turned to August 1990, and had gone moldy around the edges. 

“Is it about your obituary? Because I’m not writing yours again, not after your unfounded criticism of my last one, it was accurate —”

“No— no. Er. Alright. Last time I updated all my human paperwork, about five years ago, I, ah. I listed you as my next of kin.”

“Oh,” said Aziraphale. “Well, of course. I know how much you have tied up financially. Wouldn’t want some public treasury solicitor getting their hands in any of that, certainly. Did you put me down as your brother? I remember that’s how we did it in Delhi. Ooh, that stampede was brutal.”

“No,” said Crowley, “not that.”

“Your cousin, then? Nephew? Long-lost childhood pen-pal?”

“I. Well. The thing is. You’re actually my husband. Um. Legally speaking.”

There was silence on the end of the line, a loud silence filled with the sounds of beeping life-support machines and the whine of the siren. 

Finally, Aziraphale spoke. “You mean to say— you got us married?

“Just as a precaution, I never really thought I’d end up discorporated again, it’d been ages, you just don’t get stampedes or assassinations like you used to —”

“You got us married, and you didn’t tell me?” Aziraphale’s tone had by now climbed up into a frequency range hitherto unknown to angelkind, squeaking like a rubber duck.

Crowley abandoned all pretense of self-control and began to gently bonk his head against the stained, nubbly cubicle wall, softly enough so that Aziraphale couldn’t hear. Yasti watched him, unblinking, a perverse and knowing smile growing crookedly across her round face. 

In retrospect, he probably should have gone off to find a phone somewhere where there were no dimwitted lust-demons to silently mock his pain.

In retrospect, really, he probably should have not gotten drunk while doing up the will of good old Anthony J. the 3rd and caused a marriage license to miraculously manifest in a filing cabinet at the Westminster Register Office. This whole mess, upon reflection, was probably punishment for that one terrible moment of hubristic joy. 

“I’m sorry,” said Crowley morosely, his eyes closed and his forehead pressed to the wall. “I’m sorry, I should’ve known it would make you uncomfortable, angel. Really, it was just a silly lark, a— a bit of demonic mischief. Stupid mistake, I swear once I get back up there I’ll put it to rights—”

“Crowley, look, I—” Aziraphale interrupted, and then there was a loud BEEP , and his voice cut off as the line went dead. Crowley cursed as an automated message played in his ear: 

“We’re sorry, this line is out of minutes. Please contact your supervisor to purchase more. Or just go fuck yourself.” 

“Out of minutes? What kind of wretched, useless, bloody machine— I was in the middle of something!” he snarled, slamming the receiver back down. He hadn’t even gotten to the really important bit yet, the bit that Aziraphale actually needed to know.

Yasti pursed her lips. “You’re never down here, I wouldn’t expect you to know how things work,” she said officiously. “Nobody actually uses those old phones anymore, they’re just for decoration. I don’t even have one over here. If you want to talk to topside, just use a media kiosk. Can have you coming out of the radio, or the TV, or in a newspaper, whatever you like.” 

Crowley always hated those inconvenient interruptions from Downstairs, breaking into his Netflix marathons and Spotify playlists like they owned the place, but he had to suppose Aziraphale wouldn’t mind.

“That’ll do in a pinch,” Crowley said approvingly, and rose from his seat. “Come on,” he said, motioning to Yasti, “you’re coming with me.” As far as partners in crime went, she was no angel, but if he was going to be faffing about with demonic technology he needed someone who knew what they were doing. This was a rather time-sensitive situation.

“But I’m supposed to be doing paperwork— ”

“Yasti! You’re a demon, aren’t you?” Crowley said authoritatively, looming over her now.

“Well, ah, yes.”

“And demons do what they’re supposed to do , do they?” 

“Um. No? Not— not generally. But, well. I tend to, because my supervisor is a real hard-arse...”

He stared down at her. Yellow slits met onyx orbs. “Your supervisor,” he said, curling the world around his tongue with as much contempt as possible, “probably learned everything they know from me. Understand?”

He could see the gears in her mind turning. No sensible demon would turn down the prospect of cahoots, especially with someone as notorious as Crowley. If she knew what was good for her, she’d start thinking of ways to double-cross him as soon as his back was turned. Finally, she nodded.

“Smart girl. Now, up you get. Time for me to be on TV.”

 

***

 

“Daddy, why didn’t we just shoot him with a gun? That’s how they do it in the movies.” 

“Wouldn’t have worked,” Mr. Kovensky said, as he carefully scraped the dried blood off of the fender of his large black car into a small glass container. “It would’ve sensed the intent. I told you, doing it with the car was the simplest and cleanest way. The element of surprise is everything, with creatures like that. Can’t give them long enough to play their tricks.”

“How long till we can go get him?” Cyn was sitting in the passenger seat, kicking her legs idly out of the open door as she watched her father collect his occult sample. She was twelve years old and had none of the haunted solemnity one type of person might expect of a small girl reared at a funeral home, nor the sprightly, protagonistic spunk another type of person might expect. To her father’s dismay, Cyn had been blessed with a quality her teachers at school had described as being “bang on average.” She was the second-most-normal child in her grade. She had mousy brown hair and mousy brown eyes and regarded her father’s cabalistic hobbies with reflexive skepticism.

Mr. Kovensky checked his watch. “We can go in an hour or so. They’ll have it in the morgue by then, and we’ll just nip in, give our regards to Dr. Besser, and be on our way.” 

He sealed the glass container with a neatly-cut square of rune-inked linen, and then got to work changing out the license plate of the car. 

“And nobody will come looking for him? Family, friends?”

“It’s a demon , Cynthia,” said Mr. Kovensky. “It hasn’t got family, or friends. It’s not really a person, not like you or me.”

Cyn carefully considered telling her father about the blonde man she’d spotted,4 conversing with their quarry, moments before her father single-mindedly plowed the so-called demon down and then sped away.

But that would introduce an element of uncertainty into the proceedings. She couldn’t predict how Mr. Kovensky would react to the news that this demon might actually have a friend. He might very well decide they needed to go find another stupid old book or set up more smelly candles or sing more weird songs, and she’d already had quite enough of all that for a Monday.

So, in the interest of bringing closer the hour when she’d be back in her bedroom above the mortuary, watching today’s new Zoella video, Cyn kept quiet.

 

***

 

“Hello? Crowley? Hello?” Aziraphale hissed desperately into the phone, to no avail. The line was dead.

He tried re-dialing the HEAD OFFICE contact in Crowley’s phone, but as he didn’t know Crowley’s desk extension the call got routed to the central operator. A tired voice answered “Hell Front Desk, what the Hell do you want,” and Aziraphale got so scared he nearly flung the phone down onto the blood-covered floor of the vehicle.

At this point, the ambulance roared up to the hospital, and Aziraphale was hustled urgently inside to a somber waiting room as the paramedics carted Crowley off. 

He felt exposed in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves, having folded his stained jacket away into a spare pocket of non-space, for careful attention when he had a moment later. 

And he was uncomfortable at being separated from Crowley, having to remind himself stridently that that wasn’t Crowley anymore, Crowley was back Downstairs at his desk, where no further harm could befoul him.

Unless, of course, the existential terror instilled in the gen-pop of Hell by Aziraphale during the trial had already dissipated, in which case all bets were off and anything could happen and, and, and—

“This really is quite the pickle, isn’t it?” he sighed to himself.

He considered trying to get through to Crowley again but had a fairly rational fear that the receptionist would be able to tell, just by his voice, that he wasn’t exactly an Authorized Caller. Probably some kind of protocol would be tripped and he’d be putting Crowley in more trouble than he was already in. 

He tapped his fingers impatiently on the arm of the chair. It was your classic waiting room chair, the type which under normal circumstances would be quite uncomfortable, but in the presence of an angel’s weight had grown an extra two inches of cushioning and a soft linen seat cover.

Just typical, really, that Crowley couldn’t have waited to get discorporated until they were inside the bookshop. Aziraphale didn’t quite know how that would’ve worked, considering the automotive aspect of it all, but he did know that if that had been the case, he’d have been able to grab a nice book to tide him over while he waited for Crowley to get back in touch.

But here he was, the bookless wonder. With little else to do, he turned his attention to the waiting room at large. 

There was only one other occupant, a few seats down from him. A middle-aged woman with a deep-creased forehead, sniffling helplessly into a tissue.

Aziraphale got up and sat down again next to the poor woman. 

“There, there,” he said kindly, “it’s alright.”

She looked at him with shining, red-rimmed eyes. “Thank you, but it’s really not,” she said. 

Her name was Jessy, and she told him how her young daughter had suffered a fall during a gymnastics competition; a freak accident that had injured her spine. The girl had been rushed into surgery, but when Jessy had asked if she’d ever walk again, they said it wasn’t likely.

Aziraphale nodded understandingly. “She’ll be just fine,” he told her.

“I wish I could believe you,” she sniffed.

It was just a small nudge, really; the surgeon was competent, but the injury was devastating. Aziraphale simply gave the surgeon’s confidence a little miraculous boost, and that was enough to ensure he was able to reconnect the damaged nerves with unsurpassed ease and success.

“I promise,” he said, laying a gentle hand on Jessy’s shoulder, “she’ll recover. I have a good feeling about it.” 

He sat consoling her for a little while longer, and then her phone rang. “Sorry, it’s my brother— I should give him an update—” she excused herself, and Aziraphale nodded understandingly. 

He picked up a six-week-old issue of Woman’s Weekly from the table, and paged through it reluctantly. He was halfway through an article about Meghan Markle’s skincare routine when the words started wiggling around on the page.

Aziraphale? Aziraphale, are you there? It’s me, sorry about getting cut off back there, I ran out of minutes on my blasted desk phone, but look, I really need you to make sure that—

“Mr. Fell?”

Aziraphale startled at the sound of his name. A doctor had entered the waiting room, looking around, and Aziraphale rose to meet him at the entrance, leaving the magazine behind.

“Mr. Fell, I’m Dr. Michaelson. I’m very sorry, but…” 

He was saying something deeply heartfelt, no doubt, but Aziraphale was suddenly very distracted by the television on the wall behind him. There, in the middle of a program featuring a lot of women in heavy makeup sitting around a big glass table, was Crowley. He’d gotten up onto the table and was waving urgently at Aziraphale. The women didn’t seem to notice.

“...Mr. Fell? I need to make sure you’ve understood me. I know how hard this must be to hear but—”

Aziraphale blinked, shook his head. “Excuse me, I— what was that?”

Dr. Michaelson frowned. “Your husband, Anthony. We did everything we could, but… he didn’t make it. I’m so sorry. Due to the manner of death, the coroner’s called for a post-mortem, so we’re transferring the body to the morgue…”

Aziraphale tried to arrange his features into an appropriate expression of bereavement, but he was finding it quite difficult to mourn Crowley when the very demon himself was hopping up and down on the muted television, windmilling his arms, trying to get Aziraphale’s attention. The closed-captioning on the bottom of the screen was scrolling rapidly, reading: ** DONT LET THEM OPEN ME / UP YOU REMEMBER WHAT / HAPPENED IN PADUA RIGHT / THAT WAS NASTY / THEYD HAVE TO / QUARANTINE THIS PLACE **

Adding a second level of difficulty to the entire endeavor was the wild and sparkling sensation he’d felt run down his whole body when Dr. Michaelson had spoken the phrase Your husband, Anthony. It lingered in his fingertips and fizzed at the nape of his neck and tied his tongue in a knot. Husband. 

But it had just been a joke, right? A stupid mistake. That’s what he’d called it. That’s all it was.

Aziraphale forced his attention back to the doctor long enough to nod his way through the signing of various forms. Once the man had given his final condolences and disappeared back through the door, Aziraphale hurried over to the television and began whispering to it.

“Crowley! What do we do? Because you’re quite right, we do not want a repeat of Padua.”

Some explanation: In 1538, Crowley had been the victim of a business deal gone wrong. They’d slit his throat in the night and sold his body to the university. 

Thus far in Crowley’s modest career of inconvenient discorporation, his body had been buried, burned, drowned, and stoned, but nobody’d made the mistake of trying to cut it open yet. But then good old Andreas Vesalius had to go and attempt a dissection, in front of a full lecture hall. Key word being attempt.

It was messy. There was a lot of black ichor. There was a great deal of noxious dark smoke, billowing over the assembled crowd. Some students heard hissing in their ears; others felt slick shapes slithering over them in the darkness. And an enormous amount of screaming, naturally.

Crowley being otherwise occupied by that point with paperwork, Aziraphale had been forced to act as clean up crew. He had to assume that Crowley would do the same for him, after all,6  and he could certainly justify his extensive miracles in that specific case as falling well within the purview of thwarting demonic activity. 

Crowley’s face filled the screen; his mouth moving silently as the captions unfurled on a delay. ** GET TO THE MORGUE / YOULL HAVE TO STEAL THE BODY **

“You can’t be serious!” Aziraphale hissed. “How would I even do that?” 

** YOU ARE VERY CLEVER YOULL / COME UP WITH SOMETHING ANGEL **  

On screen, Crowley gave him an encouraging thumbs up. 

Aziraphale sighed, straightened his bow-tie, and went off to go kidnap a corpse.

 

***

 

“Got to give you credit,” Yasti said, “the marriage thing is a classic.”

He shot her a frown as he fiddled with the arcane controls of the kiosk, trying to get access to the hospital’s PA system. “Come on, make yourself useful, help me figure this bloody machine out. It’s still— ugh, fuck, it’s stuck to the TV in the waiting room, I think—” 

She let out a shrill, obnoxious laugh. “No, seriously. What a move! Binding an angel to you like that, and he never even knew! Such a power-play, marking your territory— so dominant, ooh!”

“It’s— it’s not like that! It’s not some fucking fetish thing, you disgusting little—”

Yasti leaned over and pressed a button on the kiosk. The switch he’d been tugging at finally moved under his hands, and he swallowed his insult with a gulp. 

“You’re welcome,” she said, smelling of silicone and metal. 

 

***

 

Aziraphale had the kind of face that people just loved to give directions to, so he found his way down to the morgue quite quickly. 

The hospital’s esteemed pathologist was inside, along with his assistant, and Aziraphale made himself inconspicuous against the corridor wall as he sent them both miraculously on a wild goose chase to the far end of the hospital. 

Entering the room, Aziraphale stared unhappily at Crowley’s body, bare and mutilated underneath the white sheet that covered it. 

“Oh, must I?” he sighed to himself.

The tannoy in the corner of the morgue crackled to life. “Yes, angel, you definitely must.” 

Aziraphale let a smile spread freely across his face at the sound of Crowley’s voice. “Very well,” he said, emboldened now, and snapped his fingers. 

Underneath the sheet, Crowley’s uninhabited corporation cleaned itself up. Lacerations and bruises melted away; bones knitted themselves back together. Another snap, and it was clothed in a close approximation of what it had been wearing before Crowley had been so rudely ejected from it. 

Aziraphale lifted the sheet to admire his handiwork. To him, of course, it was simply an inanimate object that happened to bear a strong resemblance to his dearest friend. But if things were arranged properly, a human might very well look at it and see a nominally alive, if rather motionless, middle-aged man. The sunglasses certainly helped. 

“Crowley,” Aziraphale mused aloud, “where might I find a wheelchair?” 

“Now we’re cooking,” answered Crowley. “Is there a cupboard nearby?” 

Working on that tip, Aziraphale retrieved a metal wheelchair from a supply cupboard in the hallway outside the morgue, then set it up next to the table. 

“How the hell are you so heavy?” he grunted, heaving the body down and into the chair. “You’re all skin and bones! You never eat!”

“Full of sin,” crackled Crowley’s voice smugly from the tannoy. 

Aziraphale rolled his eyes. He positioned the body in the most lifelike possible manner, and gave it one last long once over.

“I’m taking care of the CCTV from here, so don’t worry about that,” said Crowley. “Did you do the people from the street?”

“Pardon?” 

“Aziraphale. The people from the street , that saw me get discorporated. They don’t need to go on thinking they saw someone die horribly, when they really didn’t. It’s not… well, er. It’s a waste of trauma, s’what it is.”

“Oh, dear. No, of course, you’re right,” said Aziraphale. “I didn’t even— I was a bit focused on—” 

“Your performance, yeah. I understand. Just, you know. If you could.”

“Very well— okay. None of them will remember it tomorrow.”

“Good. Now get out of there!” 

Gosh, there were so many people in a hospital— doctors and visitors and patients, all bustling around with purpose and intention. Aziraphale’s forehead began to slick with sweat as he navigated his way around the place, transporting the lifeless corporation in the chair ahead of him. A nurse nodded at him and he gave a nervous wave in return; then it was back up in the elevator next to a tired-looking porter, and down another long corridor alongside a pack of chattering medical students.

Finally, he was closing in on the exit, with no one the wiser. Nobody had yet approached him to say, My good sir, it seems readily apparent to me that you are toting a corpse through these hallowed halls, and we must take it upon ourselves to correct this inappropriate situation by any means necessary. 

Then, of course, he heard a voice call out from behind him.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!” 

Aziraphale reluctantly slowed the chair to a stop and turned around. He was already wincing, thinking he was going to have to pull some unfriendly trick in order to get out of the situation. He’d been hoping to avoid that sort of thing at all costs— he was the nice one, after all.

But there, her face glowing with joy, was Jessy from the waiting room. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re still here, I just had to let you know— you were right! I don’t know how, but— they did it! The surgeon told me she’ll be walking again within the year!”

“That’s— that’s wonderful news,” said Aziraphale. He tried to direct all of his nerved away from his face and towards his hands, which were gripping the handles of the chair in white-knuckled tension. “I’m very happy to hear it.”

Jessy unfortunately chose that moment to turn her attention warmly towards the dead body in the chair. “And who might this be?”

“Oh, this is my… husband,” said Aziraphale, his heart pounding. “He’s, ah. He’s a bit indisposed.”

To Aziraphale’s horror, Jessy reached over and patted the corporation on the arm. “You’re a lucky man,” she said to it. 

Oh, quite the opposite, Aziraphale couldn’t help but think grimly. 

 

***

 

Crowley was sitting on the dirty floor, his back leaning up against the kiosk. Aziraphale had managed to heave the body into a black cab, so Crowley was now speaking to him over top of the Ed Sheeran playing from its sound system. They were, naturally, arguing.

“Well, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation if you’d been looking where you were going!

“Oh, this is my fault, is it? I was paying attention to you, you were about to say something! What were you about to say, anyway?”

“…. Let us just say it was the driver’s fault.” 

“Right.” 

Aziraphale’s uncharacteristic willingness to place blame on someone other than Crowley should have tipped Crowley off to the fact that he was currently being steered purposefully away from a certain area of the conversation. But over the phone, some nuances were lost, namely the telltale darting of Aziraphale’s eyes and the nervous fretting of his fingers at his shirtsleeves.

“Out of curiosity,” said Aziraphale’s voice in Crowley’s ear, “were you ever planning on telling me that in the eyes of the law, we’ve been husband and husband for five years?”

“Angel, can we not talk about this right now? You’re kind of in the middle of a sensitive operation there, and I’m not there to help you if you run into any Nazis. We need to focus. ”  

“It’s 2019! There are no more Nazis!”

“Christ, you need to watch the news—”

Yasti leaned down and whispered, “Tell him you want to tie him up and touch his arse!”

Yasti!” Crowley hissed. “Fuck, no! This is not the time!” And you’re way off the mark, he didn’t say. 

She raised an eyebrow at him, and he immediately wondered if he had protested too much.

“Who is that?” said Aziraphale suspiciously. “Is there someone there with you?”

“Nobody. It’s nobody!” Somehow, Crowley was far more embarrassed at the thought of Aziraphale knowing he was willingly associating with another demon than he was at the whole marriage thing.

“Mm. Crowley,” hummed Aziraphale’s voice through the handset.

“Yeah?”

“Does this make me a widower?”

“Shut up.”

“I know I’ve got a black armband around the shop somewhere. Perhaps a veil?” 

“Please, you really—”

“This corporation here wouldn't miss a few locks of hair, would it? I suppose I could have a mourning brooch done up...” 

And look, here was the thing: Crowley was stuck in Hell without a body, and it was probable he’d have to endure unthinkable indignities in the very near future in his quest to regain access to Earth. But right at that moment, he was smiling all the same, because he had an angel’s voice in his ear, being utterly stupid and stupidly charming, and as long as he had that, he could pretend things were going to be alright.

 

***

 

“Where the hell could it have gone!” Mr. Kovensky moaned frantically, sliding open drawer after drawer in the hospital morgue.

“Back to Hell?” suggested Cyn. “That’s where he’s from, right?” She’d taken up a perch on one of the unoccupied autopsy tables and was, once again, kicking her legs back and forth. She wished she had an iPhone. Jenny and Kera from school had iPhones, and they could watch TikTok wherever they wanted. 

“No, love,” said Mr. Kovensky, “it doesn’t work like that, only the demon itself is sent back to hell, not the body, the book said—” 

“Maybe the book got it wrong,” said Cyn. 

Mr. Kovensky ran a hand through his thinning hair, shaking his head in panic. “It can’t have done. There’s— there must be something going on, something else going on…”

Cyn may not have held her father’s pastimes in very high esteem, but she did love him, and she hated to see him so distressed. He had a lot riding on this acquisition, or so he’d told her. She now wondered if that included money. Money that could, perhaps, go towards the purchase of an iPhone or an iPhone-adjacent device. 

With all the infallibility of pre-teen logic, she decided that she’d tell him all about the demon’s friend in the morning. 

 

***

 

“Look, Crowley! You’ve got mail!” Yasti giggled.

“Ah, fuck,” groaned Crowley, taking a good long look at the massive stack of paper that had appeared on his desk sometime during their expedition to the kiosk.

What he really wanted to do was go to bed. Of course, there was no time down in Hell other than “too late,” but at the moment he was still running on GMT like a cartoon coyote treading the thin air five feet out from the cliff edge, and it was past his bedtime.

He didn’t have a bed down here, though, and more importantly, he didn’t have a body. He couldn’t sleep without a body. He couldn’t get drunk, either. Shit. 

He sat down in the half-broken desk chair. It was very uncomfortable, and made him miss his own office throne and Aziraphale’s back room sofa in equal, voluminous measures. 

“Let me help you,” said Yasti. 

“I have been discorporated before, you know,” he shot back, leafing through the mound of mandatory paper. Had Form D-889 always had this many pages? “Believe me, I know what I’m doing.” 

Yasti smiled that awful smile again. Did she have to do that? “Oh, I didn’t mean with the paperwork.”

“Then what—”

 “You didn’t seem to respond well to my suggestion earlier,” she said, digging something thick and puke-green out from the mess of her desk, “but I know there’s something for everyone. Even you. I’m sure I can find it somewhere in here. I’m very good at taking notes, you know.” 

The object was a large notebook. The Book Of Kinks And Fetishes And Sex Stuff By The Demon Yasti was scrawled on the cover in spidery black handwriting.

“Oh, this is hell.”

“Well, yeah,” said Yasti. “That’s where we are. Now, how do you feel about erotic asphyxiation?”

It was going to be a long, long night.

 

 


 

 

 

1 A reviewer in attendance had described it as “A foolish offenfe to the Art of Tragedie,” but Crowley had assured Aziraphale, with great fervor, that the reviewer did not know of what he spoke, and sure enough, Aziraphale never saw the man’s name in print again. [^]

 

2 The song was California Gurls by Katy Perry, but there existed no circumstances, however extenuating, in which Aziraphale would have been able to identify this.[^]

 

3 If pressed, he would stand by this. “I’m the one who stopped time!” he’d be the first to tell you. “It really took it out of me, but if I’d not done it, who knows how it all would’ve ended up!” [^]

 

4 He’d first caught her eye because she recognized him from a very memorable birthday party she’d attended last year. 5 

 

5 Warlock wasn’t her friend, exactly, but exceedingly normal children had to stick together. Or rather, they did stick together, sort of automatically, like dull brown Cheerios floating together in milk due to natural surface tension. [^]

 

6 What happens if you cut an angel’s body open, you might be asking— but trust me. You really, really don’t want to know. [^]

 

 

 

 

***