Chapter 1: Part 1
The first time Aziraphale became acquainted with the little death, a miracle went unnoticed in the balmy London night.
After they took the bus back to Crowley’s gray Mayfair flat, Aziraphale sat in the shadows at the foot of the statue of good and evil. Crowley crept in to check on him. They talked. Aziraphale’s voice broke. Crowley settled beside him and slung his arm over his shoulder. Aziraphale pulled him into a desperate, back-breaking hug - and they held each other for a long time, two warm creatures on a cold, hard floor.
And then, in the sanctuary of the still, silent dark, Aziraphale took a leap of faith, leaned forward, and kissed him.
One kiss became two. Two kisses became three. Three became four. Four became Crowley easing Aziraphale onto his back. Crowley untying Aziraphale’s tie became unbuttoning his shirt. Two undone pairs of trousers became two pairs of kicked-off boots. One thing led to another, and before Aziraphale knew what hit him, he made a noise so rapturous that it echoed off the walls.
Crowley froze. Aziraphale blinked up at him with wide, shocked eyes, like he suddenly understood the mysteries of the universe. Crowley slumped onto Aziraphale’s chest as his forearms gave out, and they curled up around each other as they caught their breath.
And down the street, in its deathbed on the floor of a tailor shop, an old Jack Russell terrier squirmed and came back to life.
The next morning, Aziraphale stood at the bathroom sink and splashed cold water on his face as he examined himself.
He opened his mouth and studied it in the tall, forbidding mirror, and when he found no forked tongue or black teeth, he pulled his eyelids up. No red rings. No yellow irises. No thin, snaky pupils. He finger-combed through his fluffy blond hair and found no dark roots. No blisters on his skin, no scent of coal under his nails - everything clean and soft and flushed and in its proper place.
And then a familiar voice from the doorway made him jump.
“What are you doing?”
Aziraphale whirled around and composed himself. “Nothing.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “I’m not stupid.”
“What were you looking for?”
“I have a very meticulous morning routine.”
“No you don’t.”
“How would you know?”
“Even you’re not weird enough to smell under your nails.”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Aziraphale paused. “Well, no. You of all people would.”
Aziraphale wrung his hands. “I fell.”
A long, uncomfortable silence came over the room.
“At least I should have.” Aziraphale eyed his perfectly normal nail beds one more time. “Bit strange that it hasn’t happened yet.”
Crowley sized him up over his nose. “Are you serious?”
“Of course I am. I consorted with… someone.”
“You. I consorted with you.” Aziraphale looked forlorn. “I don’t think I was supposed to consort like that with anyone. There are rules about that sort of thing.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen them.”
The silence descended again.
“We’re already in such trouble. And I…” Aziraphale trailed off - “I…”
Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose and asked, “You what?”
“Did the same thing you’ve been doing for thousands of years?”
Aziraphale stared at Crowley like he had two heads. “What do you mean?”
“No offense…” Crowley began - “by which I mean, full offense - but that ship sailed out of your sparkling harbor ages ago. I saw you eat that alfredo in Rome in 1924. Never mind Petronius’ oysters.”
Aziraphale cut in. “That was…”
“Alfredo is proof that God loves us and wants us to be well.”
“You’re missing my point.”
“No I’m not. I’m refusing to acknowledge it.”
“Oh, come off it, angel. You’re being ridiculous. They can’t kick people out of Heaven for a night like that. Not anymore.” Crowley leaned his head against the door frame with a careless thunk. “Look at Gabriel. You know he’s done it. Why else would he be so smug?”
Aziraphale grimaced. “Frankly, I’m not sure I want to know.”
“Ah. Yeah. Right.” Crowley nodded and sucked his teeth. “I could see it. Him on his knees, some angel in a white lace basque, high leather boots, riding crop…”
Aziraphale sulked at him. “You’re not helping.”
Crowley snorted. “What? Haven’t you heard that about powerful men?”
“I had, and chose to forget it.” Aziraphale turned back to the mirror. “Anyway, the fact remains that whatever transpired last night, we still had a rather large hand in preventing the end of the world. One way or another, there’s going to be a reckoning.”
Crowley scoffed, “They’re not going to love it down in Hell, either.”
“Yes, but you tempted an angel. They could give you time off for bad behavior.”
“Hell doesn’t give time off.”
“Eternal torment. That’s the point.” Crowley braced his foot on the other side of the door jamb. “Oh, and just for the record, if you’d fallen, you’d know.”
Aziraphale pulled his lip into his mouth. “Would I?”
“Trust me, you would.” Crowley peeled himself off the doorway and stepped inside in earnest. “Now. Who looked after Warlock? Us. Who saved Agnes Nutter’s book? Us. Who found the real Antichrist and stopped Armageddon? Us.”
“Who slacked off on Earth for literally thousands of years while our bosses were none the wiser?”
Aziraphale mumbled, “Us.”
“Exactly.” Crowley poked Aziraphale right in the chest. “So who’s going to get us out of this?”
Aziraphale asked, “Us?”
“Ding-ding-ding!” Crowley tapped his own temple with the same vigor. “Us.”
Crowley clapped Aziraphale’s shoulders. “You get my drift?”
“I don’t know. What do we do now?”
“Wait, I’m not sure either.”
Aziraphale’s eyes roamed everywhere - left, right, the shower, the door - and he set his jaw as the celestial cogs turned in his head. The longer he mulled everything over, the straighter he stood up, until he puffed his chest out and took a deep breath through his nose.
Crowley drew back a little. “I am?”
“Of course you are. If there was ever a time to screw our courage to the sticking place, this is it.” Aziraphale’s voice shook like he still needed to convince himself. “Though I would feel more up to planning if I had a cup of tea.”
Crowley retreated further and let his hands drop. “Uh, right, sure.”
Aziraphale steepled his fingers. “You do have a kettle, don’t you?”
Crowley shooed him out with a thumb over his shoulder. “Go. Put it on.”
As soon as Crowley freshened up and rearranged his hair, he headed to the kitchen with a morning-after spring in his step.
Aziraphale pottered around between the dishwasher and the stove, still in his ticking-stripe boxers and short-sleeved undershirt. He set the kettle on its stand and turned it on to boil, a bright spot in a kitchen that looked like the floor of a slaughterhouse.
“How’s the kettle?”
Aziraphale smiled and said, “Deplorable.”
“To be honest, I haven’t used it in years.”
“I can tell, but it’ll do.” Aziraphale folded his hands and watched the bubbles rise. “I didn’t want to go through your pantry. I’m not sure what you have.”
“Uh, whatever, I guess. I haven’t checked in there in months.”
“No matter. How do you feel about Jasmine Pearl?”
Crowley gave him a limp, noncommittal wave. “Yeah, all right.”
With a snap of his fingers, Aziraphale conjured a tin of tea, and he turned the kettle off when it whistled and puffed steam.
Crowley craned his neck back. “For what?”
“I know it’s not in a demon’s nature to be comforting.”
“What are you talking about? We comfort people all the time. The smut and liquor industries are what make the world go ‘round.”
Aziraphale gave him a disapproving under-the-brow look.
Crowley shrugged it off. “Not used to being thanked for it, though.”
Aziraphale gestured to the tea tin without a word, so Crowley shuffled over to the cabinet and pulled more supplies out.
Aziraphale poured water into each of the black teacups, then stuck in the infusers. “Now, what were you saying about fixing things?”
“I don’t know. I keep thinking about what you showed me at the bus stop.”
“The prophecy, you mean?”
“The ‘choose your faces wisely’ one.”
Aziraphale watched the water steep from clear to golden brown. “There must be something to it.”
“There is. I’m just not sure what.”
Aziraphale took the infusers out, picked up one of the cups, and stirred it counterclockwise three times without mentioning it.
“Everything else Agnes Nutter said turned out to be true. There’s no reason that’d be different.” Crowley slid onto a chrome bar stool. “My best guess is that it means we should swap places for a while. But how are we going to do that? We’d stick out like a sore thumb.”
Aziraphale took the teaspoon out and left it on the countertop. “Hmm. I wonder.”
“Just thinking out loud.” Aziraphale blew on his tea, took a sip, and held it out. “Indulge me.”
Crowley hesitated. “But that’s your cup.”
Aziraphale stared right at him and deepened his voice. “Bottoms up.”
Crowley eyed him with suspicion, but turned the cup around, brought it to his mouth, sniffed it, and took a cautious sip. His stomach lurched as he caught an aftertaste of altar wine. His ears rang. He saw stars. A shiver ran down his back. He grimaced and shuddered from head to toe as he came around, and he clattered the cup on the counter with a shaky hand.
Crowley clenched and unclenched his fists. Aziraphale caught his breath. In perfect unison, they looked down and examined their palms.
“Gracious.” Crowley’s face brightened. “I didn’t expect it to work.”
Aziraphale’s darkened. “You might be the craziest genius I’ve ever known.”
Late that fateful evening, when the Ritz dining room closed, Crowley and Aziraphale struck out into the jewel-blue night.
They took detours past Green Park and the Saudi Embassy, walking side-by-side as the city tucked itself in bed. Cars pulled into parking spaces. Storefronts locked their doors. Yellow windows snuffed out in the flats across the road. Everything settled down to sleep exactly as it should, tranquil and unbothered with what had happened the day before.
They strolled past glowing streetlamps and back into Berkeley Square, and a cool breeze scattered leaves and petals in front of their feet. They gazed at the winking stars, and in one absentminded move, Aziraphale nudged his fingers into the crook of Crowley’s thumb. Crowley hesitated. Aziraphale smiled up at the sky. Crowley turned his face toward the shadows and squeezed Aziraphale’s palm. The two continued down the empty park path hand-in-hand, with the full, white moon and the whole city to themselves.
Eventually, the two found their way back to the bookshop, and Aziraphale slouched against the door as he let them in. Crowley dug a pair of goblets out of the back room. Aziraphale unpacked the last of his Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And there they sat for hours, talking, nursing their nightcap, like six thousand years of friendship had passed in no time at all.
“Well…” Aziraphale yawned and heaved himself to his feet - “I’ve had a thoroughly trying day, and I suspect so have you.”
“You’re telling me.” Crowley eyed his jacket, then the toes of his boots, and wrinkled his nose. “I smell like hand sanitizer.”
“And I smell like soot.” Aziraphale dusted off his cuffs and brushed his shoe on the rug. “What I need is a bath. A long one. If you don’t hear from me soon, don’t ask after me. I’ll come out when I feel like myself again.”
Aziraphale answered, “With my vetiver soap. I think this is the special occasion I’ve been saving it for.”
Aziraphale started up the stairs, but before he could go far, Crowley slipped out of his armchair and sashayed after him.
“Wait a minute.”
Aziraphale stopped on the second step. “What?”
Crowley raised his eyebrow. “You actually have something up there?”
“Of course I do.” Aziraphale frowned at him like he had two heads. “A perfectly functional bed and bathroom, just like everyone else.”
“Huh. Look at that.” Crowley swayed over to the foot of the stairs. “Six thousand years, and there’s still things about you I don’t know.”
Aziraphale scowled. “I’m not an unwashed barbarian.”
“You reali…” Crowley started, but cut himself off. “Never mind.”
Aziraphale took his hands off the rail and folded them. “What?”
“I was going to say, ‘You realize we don’t need it?’ And then I remembered.”
“A good soak in a tub is mankind’s best and truest friend. Cures everything from boredom to a dark night of the soul.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, it is.”
Crowley smirked. “What about demonkind?”
Crowley laughed and leaned toward him. “Come on. I’m just pulling your leg.”
Aziraphale made a face like he’d known all along. “Oh.”
A short, uneasy silence fell, and they avoided each other’s eyes.
Aziraphale broke it. “Anyway…”
Crowley rubbed the back of his neck. “What?”
“Thank you for a lovely evening.”
Crowley brushed it off. “Least I could do.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Aziraphale’s face softened. “I owe you everything now.”
Crowley unfolded his glasses. “Yeah, well, same to you.”
The silence fell again, and Aziraphale swallowed the lump in his throat as Crowley slid his glasses onto his ears and turned his toes.
“Listen, maybe you shouldn’t…” Aziraphale said.
“It’s awfully late.”
“What is it, almost twelve?” Aziraphale asked. “There’ll be drunks on the road.”
Crowley shrugged. “I can handle it.”
“I know, but…”
“It’s not that far.”
Crowley hunched his shoulders. “Wouldn’t want to impose.”
Aziraphale took Crowley’s hand again. “You wouldn’t be.”
Crowley stared down at their fingers, but didn’t pull away.
Aziraphale chuckled. “I’m sorry. I’m being foolish.”
Aziraphale tightened his grip. “I just wish you wouldn’t go.”
Crowley hesitated. “Are you…?”
“Yes, it appears I am.”
“I thought last time…”
Aziraphale’s ears flushed. “All things considered, I’ve changed my mind.”
Crowley slid his foot forward. “In which case, if there’s room for one more…”
Aziraphale took a deep breath as his blush spread to his cheeks.
“I should warn you.” He bit his lip. “I like the water boiling hot.”
Crowley took his glasses off. “Suits me fine.”
“Yes, I suppose it would.”
Crowley inched closer and perched his foot on the lowest stair, and he splayed his hands across Aziraphale’s lapels. Aziraphale tilted Crowley’s chin up with his fingertip, leaned down, tipped his own head, and gave him a cautious kiss. Crowley cupped Aziraphale’s face and sighed through his nose. Aziraphale slung his arms around Crowley’s slender sides. They stepped with their left feet, then their right, and the light in the stairwell shone on Aziraphale’s back and hair as he led Crowley up.
And fifteen minutes later, on a dingy sidewalk mat, a busker opened his violin case and a thousand pounds spilled out.
Three days later, Crowley showed up for lunch in jeans with the hands from The Creation of Adam on the groin.
Aziraphale jostled the table as he scooted back. “Good God.”
Crowley smirked. “What?”
Aziraphale flung his menu down. “I don’t know you.”
“What’s the matter?”
Aziraphale puffed his chest out. “You know good and well what you’ve done.”
“What, these old things?” Crowley glanced at his legs. “Just threw them on.”
Aziraphale deflated, picked his menu up, and opened it, and glowered over the top like a soldier over a parapet.
Crowley stuck his hands in his pockets. “Made you look there first, though.”
Aziraphale huffed and looked away. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake.”
Crowley raised his eyebrows.
Aziraphale lowered the menu and waved him over. “Sit down before you embarrass both of us.”
Crowley sidled up the steps, wound around, and pulled out his chair, and he sank into the cushion with the posture of a rubber hose. Their favorite server waltzed over with her bouffant freshly fluffed, and Aziraphale tried to drape the tablecloth over Crowley’s pants.
“Good day, you two.” The server took her notebook out. “Back for…” she looked down - “oh. There’s a fashion statement.”
Crowley smirked up at her, too. “He doesn’t like them. Change his mind.”
“I’m afraid you two will have to sort that out amongst yourselves.” The server winked at Aziraphale and opened the notebook. “Now. What are we feeling this time?”
“I don’t know. The menu’s changed.” Aziraphale pored over the pages with an appraising frown. “What do you think of the wild mushroom consommé and brioche croûte?”
The server raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “I think they’re divine.”
Aziraphale grinned. “Well, with praise like that, how can I refuse?”
“You know me. I won’t steer you wrong.” The server noted it on the first line, then nodded across the table. “And for you?”
Crowley peered at the menu. “Uh, honey-spiced duck.”
“And for afters?”
Aziraphale chimed in. “Plum and armagnac ice cream.”
“All right, boys.” The server shut her notebook. “I’ll be right back.”
Aziraphale smoothed his coat and unfolded his napkin in his lap, and Crowley fidgeted, rolled his eyes, and begrudgingly did the same. The server poured them champagne and flitted back with their mushroom soup, and soon, she brought their entrées out on gleaming, blue-trimmed plates.
“You know.” Aziraphale broke the silence. “I’ve been thinking…”
Crowley perked up. “What?”
“Speaking of things to sort out amongst ourselves.”
Crowley glowered at him. “I’ve told you, you’re not getting my plants.”
“And I’ve told you that the way you speak to them is execrable.” Aziraphale picked up his knife and cut into his croûte. “No, I…” he hesitated, then trailed off. “I don’t know.”
“Go on. If you don’t say it now, you’ll sulk about it for eighty years.”
“I wonder what we should call this.”
Aziraphale said, “What we’ve been doing.”
“Stopping by on moonlit evenings for a bit of slap and tickle?”
Aziraphale looked crestfallen. “I wish you wouldn’t put it like that.”
“Sorry, angel. That’s what it is. You’ve been ravishing me.”
“Well, uh, technically, it’s you who’s been ravishing me.” Aziraphale wagged his finger at him. “But that’s beside the point.”
Crowley poked his food with his fork and draped his arm over his chair. “Right, so that’s out. But we’re not ‘just friends’ anymore.”
“But we’re not enemies.”
“No, let’s be honest. That died centuries ago.” Crowley sat up straight and started on his duck in earnest. “But then, ‘boyfriends’ - ‘boyfriends’ just seems kind of stupid, doesn’t it?”
Aziraphale sipped his champagne. “It is a bit juvenile at six thousand years old.”
“‘Friends with benefits’ is…”
“You’re being picky.”
Crowley frowned. “‘Having an affair’ sounds like we’re cheating on someone.”
“What’s wrong with ‘lovers?’”
Crowley curled his lip. “Do you really have to ask?”
“I like it.”
Crowley melted into his chair. “Of course you do.”
“It’s timeless.” Aziraphale smiled down at his plate. “Like us.”
Crowley reached for his champagne flute to wash the word down. “Eurgh.”
The hostess led a group of MPs to a table downwind from them, and Aziraphale’s eyes flashed blue as he gave them a venomous look. They shrugged and moved to a table on the other side of the room, and Crowley snorted at them and swallowed his next bite of duck.
“It’s not half bad, though, is it?”
Aziraphale prodded at his crust. “Is what?”
Crowley gestured between them. “I mean, you could see it being, like, a regular thing.”
“Gosh. If you’ll have me.”
“What’d you expec- th- ‘The wait wasn’t worth it? It sucked?’”
“I was afraid my hesitation in the Sixties had put you off.”
“You said I was going too fast. I assumed I’d scared you off.”
“No.” Aziraphale turned up his eyebrows. “The trouble was never with you.”
Crowley speared another slice. “Well then.”
Aziraphale blinked at him. “What?”
Crowley raised his fork to his mouth. “We’d better get a move on.”
One cloudy Soho afternoon, Aziraphale’s gramophone slipped, scratched, tilted its needle, and - like magic - began to play.
In Spain the best upper sets do it
Lithuanians and Letts do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love
Aziraphale and Crowley huddled on the bookshop couch, with the curtains drawn, the closed sign up, and the door blocked with a chair. Their legs bumped as they scooted and squished into the plush cushions, and Aziraphale fought with the knot on Crowley’s gray necktie. Crowley slipped it off his head and tossed it on a shelf. He cast his jacket off with it and popped open his shirt. Aziraphale bubbled up with laughter when Crowley undid his waistcoat, and their foreheads and noses brushed each time they stole another kiss.
One night, they scrambled into the shop as thunder rolled outside, and they smashed their mouths together as rain hammered the windows. They staggered toward the stairs and left a trail from their dripping clothes, and Aziraphale pushed Crowley’s sodden hair out of his face.
On another lurid evening, they came home from dinner, and Crowley swiped his phone aside and shoved Aziraphale onto his desk. Aziraphale gasped and watched the phone clatter on the floor. Crowley prowled over him and trapped him under his weight. A startled, but excited smile lit up Aziraphale’s face, and he bent his knees as Crowley pinned his hands over his head.
After one of their lunches, they strolled down the halls of the Ritz, until they passed an empty cloakroom with the door ajar. Crowley smirked and glanced over his left shoulder, then his right, drifted toward the doorway, and tugged Aziraphale’s lapel.
Aziraphale let out a nervous chuckle. “Crowley, have you lost your mind?”
But Crowley dragged him in and knocked the door shut with his hip.
The next time, they hunkered down in the back room of the bookshop, and they clung to the backs of each other’s shirts as they jostled the shelves. Aziraphale’s hand crept up Crowley’s neck and seized his hair, and he tipped his head, pulled Crowley close, and let it slip.
Aziraphale cradled Crowley’s cheek in the crook of his neck, and he breathed it into Crowley’s ear, oh, God, oh, God, oh, God. Two neighborhoods away, in an old widow’s window box, a new red rosebud popped out every time he called Her name.
On a warm, sunny day as people sauntered through Hyde Park, a hundred swans floated in perfect unison down the lake. The week after, a young man curled up in his dark, dingy flat, and as he watched the lottery, the numbers on his scratchcard changed. A tube kiosk spat out tickets. A girl’s balloons turned into doves. A writer nearly dropped her coffee as the words flew down the screen themselves. And when a mother screamed as her son ran out onto Regent Street, the light turned red and the oncoming bus slowed to a gentle stop.
Crowley threw his blazer over the back of his office chair, his headboard, Aziraphale’s headboard, and Aziraphale’s coat rack. Aziraphale dropped his bow tie on a pile of history books, the finial of his staircase, and beside Crowley’s favorite plant. Aziraphale threw his head back in his bed, on Crowley’s desk, in the back room, the cloakroom, here, there, and everywhere.
One late Saturday morning at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a bride and groom held hands and hurried down the wide front steps. As her veil streamed behind them and their families spilled out, they gaped, looked up, and pointed to the steeple over their heads. The bells clanged out a clear, bright song that filled Trafalgar Square, and Aziraphale sank into his pillow and sighed with breathless bliss.
The Sunday after, Aziraphale tidied up in his bathroom, and he brushed off his coat sleeves as he sauntered down the stairs.
He meandered through the shop’s aisles on light, unbothered feet, and he hummed as he dusted the maze of piles and displays. His Spenser. His Beowulf. His Dickens. His row of Oscar Wildes. His pint-sized P.G. Wodehouses with signatures inside. He stopped to linger on his copy of Paradise Lost for a while, smiling to himself as he stroked up and down the spine.
At half-past three, he yawned and shuffled into the back room, made himself a cup of tea, and turned his computer on. He settled into the low desk chair and read through his accounts, and frowned at the rows of green numbers.
And then his door opened.
Aziraphale listened for Crowley’s voice, and when he didn’t hear it, he stiffened, set his winged mug down, and crept out of the back room. He found a young woman in leggings, a bomber jacket, and Chelsea boots, with a puff of curly hair and a messenger bag on her side.
“Hi.” The woman inched closer. “I wonder if you could help me with something.”
“Maybe.” Aziraphale’s shoulders tightened. “What do you want?”
“I’m not here to buy anything, sorry. I’ve got a book to sell.”
“Then of course.” Aziraphale relaxed. “What can I do for you?”
“I got this secondhand from Blackwell’s a couple weeks ago.” The woman unfastened the latch on her bag and dug through it. “It was for a literature course, and I think it’s a first edition. But I showed it to the library, and they said they didn’t need it.”
Aziraphale paused. “Really?”
“Yeah, they said there are loads of them. They didn’t think it was worth much.”
Aziraphale scoffed. “What a problem to have.”
“Anyway, I looked online, and someone mentioned this place. They said you dealt in old books, so I thought I might bring it here.”
Aziraphale blinked. “I’m on the internet?”
The woman raised her eyebrow. “You’re not?”
Aziraphale chuckled. “Yes, I do match the merchandise a bit.”
“Either way…” the woman pulled the book out - “have a look at this.”
Aziraphale reached for it. “May I?”
“Of course. That’s why I brought it to you.”
Aziraphale took it from her and examined the dust jacket - Steinbeck, East of Eden, with green hills and a great blue sky. He cradled the spine in his palm and opened to the front page, checked the publishing date, and found - sure enough - 1952.
“Interesting.” He peered closer. “I don’t have many Americans. Maybe I should clear out a shelf and start collecting more.”
“It’s really awful, to be honest.” The woman screwed her face up and shrugged. “I just thought I might be able to make some money from it.”
“Oh, dear. Is it?”
The woman nodded. “Yeah, I’m glad to be rid of it.”
“Well, we don’t judge here. I have books that will singe your eyebrows off.” Aziraphale tucked the book under his arm and swept across the floor. “How much did you pay for it?”
“Uh, I think £8.99.”
“I’ll give you eight hundred.”
The woman gaped. “Really?”
“Buy yourself a hot cocoa.” Aziraphale beamed and flicked the end of his nose with his fingertip. “Now, let me get you sorted.”
With that, he turned around, rubbed his palms together, and ventured into the shadowy depths of the shop.
“Wonderful place, Eden,” he muttered. “Perfect weather year-round.”
The woman craned her neck over. “Sorry?”
“Just talking to myself.”
Aziraphale searched on every table and thumbed through shelf after shelf, but no matter where he looked, he saw no trace of the logbook. Not by the Bible bookcase. Not by the astronomy stack. Not by the books on demonology that lurked in a locked hutch. He even knelt down and excavated a dusty wooden chest, but thought better of it and pushed it back where it belonged.
“Ah.” Aziraphale stood up. “Seems I’ve misplaced my logbook. I’ll be right with you.”
The woman fished her phone out of her jacket. “Sure, no rush.”
Aziraphale dusted off his hands and poked into the back room, and there the logbook sat beside his spoon and cooling tea. As he dragged it off of the shelf, the woman checked her phone, and her eyebrows went sky-high when she read through her news feed.
Aziraphale emerged from the back room. “What?”
“Did you hear about this?”
Aziraphale set the logbook down. “Hear about what?”
“There was a hideous car crash on Tottenham Court Road last night.”
“What?!” Aziraphale peeked over her shoulder at the screen. “That’s terrible.”
“Looks like a delivery truck hit another car head-on.” The woman scrolled up to a picture of the burning wreck. “The car flipped and caught fire, but the driver climbed out unharmed.”
“Not even a scratch. They’re saying it’s a miracle.”
Aziraphale’s blood ran cold at her choice of words. “You think so?”
“That’s what the police said. They have no idea how she survived.”
Aziraphale’s stomach tightened. “And what time did this happen last night?”
“I don’t… ah, here.” The woman scrolled back up. “It says about 10 P.M.”
Aziraphale read and reread the paragraph on the phone screen, and his eyes grew wider and wider as it all sank in. He flashed back to where he’d been when the clock struck ten the night before - gasping against the hallway wall with his arms around Crowley’s neck.
“I mean, shame about the car,” the woman said, “but I’d just be glad to be alive.”
“Yes.” Aziraphale looked nauseous. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
That night, when Crowley showed up to take Aziraphale to dinner, Aziraphale snatched him by the shoulders and pulled him inside.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale slammed the door. “I need to talk to you.”
“Crowley, listen,” Aziraphale panted. “Something has gone terribly wrong.”
“Someone stole one of the books.”
Aziraphale shook Crowley’s shoulders. “No.”
“You got something on your coat again.”
Aziraphale dragged him deeper into the shop. “No.”
“You tried to watch porn on the back room computer and got a virus…”
“Wh- no!” Aziraphale grimaced in horror. “Crowley, please. This is serious.”
“Computer viruses are serious.” Crowley slipped his glasses off. “Devilish little buggers. Got one on my desktop. I just threw it out.”
Aziraphale begged him. “Crowley!”
Crowley stopped walking. “Oh. That serious.”
Aziraphale patted down the tousled hair on the side of his head. “You’re going to think I’ve gone mad, but I need you to listen to me.”
“You’ve been mad since I met you. I don’t notice it anymore.”
“I think our…” Aziraphale began, but trailed off.
Crowley furrowed his brow. “What?”
Aziraphale tried again. “I think our…”
Crowley waited for him.
“I think our… congress is causing miracles.”
Aziraphale’s ears burned. “Making love.”
Crowley tilted his head. “Making what?”
“Knowing each other in the Biblical sense.”
Aziraphale scowled. “Coitus.”
“Sorry, my Latin’s not up to snuff…”
Aziraphale turned purple. “Fornicating!”
Crowley cackled. “That’s more like it.”
The smile snapped off Crowley’s face. “Wait, what?”
Aziraphale twisted his pinky ring back and forth. “You heard me.”
Crowley squinted at him. “Which is it? The appetizer, or the main course?”
Aziraphale clutched his coat lapels. “I’m afraid it might be the dessert.”
Crowley’s face went through an entire tragedy in three acts - surprise, realization, then bewildered concern. “Oh.”
“This afternoon, a young woman came into the bookshop. She told me about a car crash on Tottenham Court Road last night.” Aziraphale gestured back and forth as he explained. “By all accounts, the driver should have died, but she survived. And it happened exactly at the time when we were… well… you know.”
Crowley mumbled, “You’ve really got to get over saying it.”
“That’s a very awkward conversation for another time.”
“Look, how do you know you aren’t reading too much into it?” Crowley slid into an armchair with one foot up on the cushion. “You could be - what’s the saying? Thinking giraffes instead of horses?”
Aziraphale cut in again. “Zebras.”
“Right, that’s the one.”
“You know what kind of powers we have. It’s too much of a coincidence.” Aziraphale gulped. “For now, we have no choice but to assume the worst.”
A brief, awkward silence descended over the bookshop, and Crowley leaned back in the chair and propped his chin in his hand.
“That’s not supposed to happen, is it?”
Aziraphale’s shoulders drooped. “I don’t know.”
Crowley let go of his chin. “What, did you step in something on your way out of Hell?”
“There’s no protocol for angels committing pleasures of the flesh.” Aziraphale took the other chair. “I’ve never seen it. I’ve never even heard them discussing it.”
“It’s the world’s oldest hobby. They’ve got to have something on the books.”
“We’re not of the world. That’s the point. It simply isn’t done.” Aziraphale’s fingers fidgeted every which way in his lap. “Either way, you and I have been up to a fair bit of mischief.”
Crowley rolled his head back. “Oh J- ‘mischief.’ It’s like being with a maiden aunt.”
“I have no idea how many miracles I might’ve caused. The imbalance could be massive. Our agreement could be as good as shot.”
Crowley mulled it over for a moment - then two - then three - and then, at last, he nodded and set the corners of his mouth.
Aziraphale held onto his chair’s armrest. “‘Well’ what?”
Crowley sat up straight. “Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do.”
“You’re not worried?”
“You’ve been written up for doing too much good before. Besides, I’ve got to get back to it.” Crowley stood up. “I’ve been slacking off.”
Crowley put his glasses on. “I’ll be back before you can say ‘Ars Goetia.’”
“Where are you going?”
“Where do you think?” Crowley winked. “I’m gonna even things out.”
Aziraphale watched him walk off with a look of confused chagrin.
Crowley swaggered out the door. “No rest for the wicked!”
Crowley skipped down to the corner where he’d parked his car, and the lanterns from the nearby restaurant glowed red on his face. He surveyed the block around him, then dug in his breast pocket, put in a pair of wireless earbuds, and turned on his phone.
“All right, Freddie. You’re on holiday for this one.” Crowley thumbed through his songs. “I’m up to a different kind of mayhem this time.”
Crowley stowed his phone and clapped his hands with a shower of sparks, and he stuck them in his pockets as the bass roared in his ears. He set off down the dark, damp street as the verse began - London calling to the faraway towns - now war is declared - and battle come down.
Crowley cut his way through Soho with long, jaunty steps, by the light of the moon and the neon signs up above.
He strolled past boutiques and bakeries and a used instrument store, through shortcuts and over crosswalks without watching the lights. Two streets over, he passed a flat above a pop-up shop, where two irate voices drifted out of an open window.
“Look, Grace, I’m telling you, I have to do this for me.”
“For you?” A woman hollered. “Since when have you done anything for me?!”
“I worked day and night at that shithole, and you never thanked me.”
“What, and she does?”
“Eight months, George. You lied to my fucking face!”
Crowley slowed to a halt in front of the shuttered shop, and he noticed a green sedan parked between him and the door. He paused. He thought about it. He smiled like a satisfied cat, and with a click of his tongue, all four tires blew out. The car alarm wailed as the man thundered downstairs and outside, and Crowley snorted to himself and continued down the street.
On his next turn, he ran into a large, gentrified pub, where a group of businessmen lounged at a table by the window. They sneered and sipped their whiskey, but with a curl of Crowley’s lip, one waved his hands and hollered as another threw his drink. One punched the man beside him. Another threw his blazer off. They dragged the fight into the road with a chorus of shouts and grunts. A policeman ran to break it up, but slammed into a wall, and an old woman picked up his baton and smashed the pub’s windows.
The further Crowley went, the more hostile the road became, until the drivers swerved and honked and rolled down their windows. The power flickered in the apartment building at the end of the block, and someone threw their window open and flung their computer out. A man leaned in close to a woman and talked a little too loud, until a pack of black dogs chased him into a convenience store. Something crashed behind him as the water in the gutters boiled - a raven squawked, an engine backfired, blood streamed from a mailbox - and Crowley threw his head back and reveled in it all, beaming from ear to ear as the wind ruffled his hair.
A gust stirred the leaves on the ground, and with a white-hot clap, lightning struck the marquee of the theater up ahead. He leaped onto a lamppost and swung around it with his arm outstretched, yelling out in time with the ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh! in the song.
Crowley let go of the lamppost and broke into a run, and a nearby woman screamed as her briefcase burst into flames. Finally, he hung a right and circled back to the bookshop, where he burst through Aziraphale’s door, slammed it, and caught his breath.
Aziraphale stood up from his armchair and paced toward him. “Well?”
“Every one.” Crowley set his earbuds down. “And a few more.”
“A few more?” Aziraphale stammered. “But that’s- I thought the point…”
Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s cheeks and kissed him to shut him up.
Aziraphale tripped on his own toes and dragged Crowley with him, and they wriggled out of their boots as they capsized onto the floor. Aziraphale shoved Crowley’s jacket down to his elbows. Crowley fumbled down Aziraphale’s thigh and raked his pant leg up. He snapped the brown leather sock garter on Aziraphale’s calf, and Aziraphale yelped and clung to the collar of Crowley’s shirt.
Crowley grinned through his teeth and growled, “I hate you, you know that?”
Aziraphale laughed a breathless laugh. “Do you?”
“Pain in my arse for six thousand years.”
“Then I resent every day you’ve desecrated my bookshop.”
“Is that so?”
Aziraphale kissed Crowley’s fingertips. “Every…” kiss - “single…” kiss - “one.”
Aziraphale stared into Crowley’s eyes to dare him to go on, and Crowley dove down and bit right into Aziraphale’s neck. The two of them squirmed and scuffled and pawed their way onto the couch, too busy with their buttons to hear the sirens that blared outside.
On a quiet residential street somewhere in Richmond, a young woman awoke in front of a tidy brown-brick house.
She groaned and rubbed her neck as she peeled herself off the sidewalk, and as she got her bearings, she picked leaves out of her tangled hair. She dusted off her ripped jeans and weatherbeaten green peacoat, and she squinted at the warm gold light in the living room window.
The woman glanced left, then right, and found herself alone on the street. A dog barked in the distance. Dew gathered on the cars nearby. She deliberated for a minute, then crept up the stoop, and she studied the hedge in the planter box before she rang the bell.
A tired middle-aged woman unlocked and opened the door, and when she saw who’d come to call, the color drained from her face. She gaped. She grabbed the coat rack. She nearly crumpled to the floor. As soon as she could collect herself, she bolted down the hall, and yelled something in the kitchen until a man followed her back.
The man buckled at the knees and put his fist to his mouth. “Oh my God.”
“Mum?” The woman gazed at them with a bewildered smile. “Dad?”
The next morning, Aziraphale got dressed with a healthy glow in his cheeks, then headed out of the bookshop and went for a morning walk.
In a small, stylish barbershop on Newburgh Street, he reclined in a red leather chair with a black drape over his front. A tidy old man toweled off his face and lined up his hair, and the radio played in the corner beside the jukebox and magazines.
An absolutely unbelievable story this morning: The parents of the famous missing eighteen-year-old girl Sibyl Haring have reported that she returned to their Richmond home last night.
The barber nudged his straight razor behind Aziraphale’s ear, nicked a patch of hair off, and moved to the other side.
Sibyl, now 28, was rushed to Queen Mary’s Hospital, where she was found to only be suffering from mild vitamin deficiencies. She explained that she had wandered off during a family hike, and had lived on a naturist commune in the intervening years.
The barber spritzed the hair at the top of Aziraphale’s head, combed it forward, and snipped a half-inch off the fluffy back.
The case of Sibyl Haring gripped the nation ten years ago, when she disappeared during a summer camping trip in Cornwall. After months of cooperation between local police and Scotland Yard, they were forced to abandon their search, and the case went cold.
The barber combed the hair forward again and trimmed the front, and the clippings floated like feathers down to the checkerboard floor.
The incident caught fire on social media and in the tabloid press, where speculation about her fate became increasingly far-fetched. Suspicion fell on everything from werewolves to her boyfriend, with whom she had just ended a tumultuous relationship. When asked to comment, Sibyl stated that she “just needed to get away for a while,” and encouraged others to explore the benefits of vegetables and fresh air.
The barber leaned in. “Are you hearing this?”
Aziraphale nodded. “I am.”
“I remember when she first went missing. It’s a miracle.”
Aziraphale passed it off with a small, nervous laugh. “Quite so.”
The barber blended the new haircut in at the sides and crown. “You look cheerful this morning.”
“I am.” Aziraphale gladly changed the subject. “I met an old friend last night.”
“The one with the car?”
“That’s the one.”
The barber reached for his razor. “How long have you known each other now?”
“As long as I can remember.” Aziraphale closed his eyes as the barber cleaned up his neck. “I’m sorry to say, I don’t think he liked that new cologne.”
“He wrinkled his nose at it.”
“That’s good stuff. He can go to Hell.”
Aziraphale tilted his head so the barber could shave his sideburns. “I’m afraid if I told him that, he’d actually do it.”
After his haircut, Aziraphale left the barbershop and followed the smell of butter to the bakery down the block. He waved to the owner as she bagged him up a chocolate croissant, but gave the baby in the nearby high chair a suspicious look. When it kept its food to itself instead of flinging it at his coat, he smiled at it, paid for the croissant, took his bag, and set off.
He took the bus to the National Gallery and slipped into a long, high room, where he ate in front of a painting of Jesus cleansing the Temple. He gazed into its smooth, dark brushstrokes as visitors passed by, and none of them noticed the forbidden breakfast in his lap. When he’d had his fill, he made his way back to his neighborhood - a bus back to a bus stop, a sidewalk to a crosswalk - and while he waited at the corner for the light to turn, the voice of a shabby young street preacher cut through the crowd.
“Fear God, and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come!” The man yelled. “And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters!”
Everyone studiously ignored him.
“And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen!” The man ranted on. “That great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes.
“And the third angel followed him, saying with a loud voice…”
Aziraphale cut in, “Oh, be quiet!”
The man turned red and shut up.
And then, when Aziraphale rounded the corner and reached the bookshop, he found a nearly six-foot-tall woman waiting for him.
Aziraphale gulped, put his feet together, and stood up straight, and he examined her from her white stilettos to her rose gold lipstick. A white mandarin-collar pantsuit. A white coat with huge fur lapels. A white feathered neck wrap that stared at him from a faux-swan head. And neat, straight blonde hair in a halo braid around her scalp, like an Eastern European politician he remembered from years ago.
“Oh.” Aziraphale paused to catch his breath. “Your Ladyship.”
The woman raised her eyebrow and sized him up, too. “Aziraphale.”
“Sabrael. Keeper of Miracles.” The color drained from Aziraphale’s face. “Goodness. How long has it been?”
“Are you going to let me in, or not?”
“Right.” Aziraphale fumbled in his pocket for his key. “Not much for small talk.” He fished it out and stuck it in the lock. “Come in.”
Aziraphale jiggled the key until the handle clicked, pushed the door open, stood aside, and ushered her in. As Sabrael shifted her weight and stepped toward the threshold, her shoe landed in a spot of spilled coffee on the pavement. Without flinching, she popped her leg, and with an effortless blow, the gritty stain whisked off her heel and floated into the air.
Aziraphale flew through the shop with desperate hands and a panicked face, miracling himself a cup of cocoa and straightening the books.
Sabrael’s coat swung from her shoulders as she followed him in - one foot in front of the other, each step the exact same length. She settled on the edge of one of Aziraphale’s armchairs, like the upholstery had needles that would prick her if she relaxed.
“So…” Aziraphale sat across from her with his winged mug - “You look well. Very different from the last time I saw you.”
“That’s because I was wearing panniers and a schooner on my head.”
“Yes, I’m afraid I’ve made some unfortunate fashion choices, too.” Aziraphale let out a small, somewhat conspiratorial laugh. “I do hope this is a social call. Earth is lovely this time of year. I can recommend you a heavenly French restaurant on West Smithfield.”
“Have I ever been the kind of angel who makes social calls?”
“No.” The false cheer wilted off Aziraphale’s face. “You’re not.”
“Good.” Sabrael crossed her ankles. “Now that that’s cleared up, I’m here because we need to discuss your recent miracle record.”
“Your Ladyship, obviously I-I mean no disrespect, but I thought I was a traitor. Disowned. Turned out of the flock.”
Sabrael lowered her eyelids. “Don’t be silly. If you’d fallen, you’d know.”
Aziraphale turned faintly green. “That’s not quite what I said.”
“All right.” Sabrael conjured an enormous white tome with a snap, opened it to a gold bookmark, and read in a clipped, monotone voice. “I have one here on 18 August, the night of Armageddon, in which a Fergus MacGillicuddy’s dog revived at 23:39. The next evening, 19 August, at 23:53, a busker, Alan Taylor, found a thousand pounds in his violin case.”
Aziraphale blew a shaky cloud of steam off his cocoa.
“On Thursday, the 23rd of August, at 16:18, five-year-old Delia Adeyemi’s balloons turned into doves. Then on Wednesday, 29 August, at 22:24, 58-year-old Charles Norton survived a lethal heart attack. On Friday, 31st of August, at 21:08, author Geraldine Williams saw her manuscript writing itself. The next month, Wednesday, 5th September, at 13:32, numerous witnesses observed a formation of swans in Hyde Park.”
Aziraphale’s fingers tightened around the wings of his mug.
“The next day, Thursday, 6th September, at 14:58, roses spontaneously bloomed in Lucille Miniver’s window box. After that, on Wednesday, 12 September at 19:29, Samer Fakhouri won ten thousand pounds from a lottery scratchcard. On Monday, 17 September at 7:18 in the morning, a kiosk at Bethnal Green Station spat out free tickets. The following day, Tuesday, 18 September at 15:12, 4-year-old Lucas Petherbridge was saved from a bus on Regent Street.”
Aziraphale’s chin sank lower and lower, but he kept listening.
“On Saturday 22 September at 11:23, unscheduled bells rang at the wedding of Victoria and Edward Sands. Then… ah. Interesting. Same day at 22:02, DS Jamie Ngo survived a fatal crash on Tottenham Court Road. Finally, last night, 23 September, at 20:28, missing person Sybil Haring reappeared. All times in GMT+1, of course.” Sabrael replaced the bookmark, but kept the book open. “There are a few others scattered through Central London here and there, but these are the miracles that we can definitively trace to you.”
Aziraphale blanched. “Goodness. That many?”
Sabrael glanced up. “You didn’t know?”
Aziraphale took a swill of his cocoa. “Must not have been keeping track.”
The bookshop fell so silent, the footsteps of passersby and a feeble car honk floated in from the street outside.
Sabrael sighed and leaned forward. “Aziraphale, we’ve talked about this.”
Aziraphale held his finger up. “I don’t think you understand.”
“I understand perfectly well. You’ve grown fond of humankind. So fond that you couldn’t help but save it at Heaven’s expense.” Sabrael laid her French-manicured hand across the crease in the book. “But the key to a power like that is the moderation with which you use it. When miracles become capricious, they’re not special anymore.”
Aziraphale fidgeted with his mug, but didn’t respond.
“Anyway, listen. They’re disappointed with your August report, but you still have seven days left in September to turn things around. I don’t turn my records in until the last day of the month, and I think a downward trend would smooth their feathers for a while.”
“I’m not asking you to stop. After all, it is your job. All I suggest is that you show a little…” Sabrael paused - “abstinence.”
“That’s. Uh.” Aziraphale floundered. “Mm. Interesting word choice.”
Sabrael peeked up again. “Is it?”
Sabrael stared straight at him. “Why?”
Aziraphale shook his head. “It’s not important. Funny coincidence.”
“Is it because you’ve been tippling at the demonic well?”
Aziraphale’s mug handle cracked. His stomach hit the floor. He cycled through his defenses - fight, flight, fawn - and landed on ‘freeze.’
“You don’t need to be embarrassed. Other angels have been tempted before.”
“Of course. You’re not the first. I doubt you’ll be the last.” Sabrael pored over the previous page for a minute. “Though I would appreciate it if you’d keep that between us. The non-disclosure agreements for that sort of thing are very strong.”
Aziraphale looked ready to faint. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I don’t know what you see in him, but that’s not what I’m here for.” Sabrael closed her logbook, but kept it in her lap. “Now. Like I said last time, I think the path of least resistance would be to find something to distract you until the month is out. Close the shop. Put your feet up. Revisit some of your books. Take one of your baths. That seems to be suitably wholesome.”
“I’ve already spent a lot of time lately with my feet, er, up.”
“I told you, you can calm down. That’s not what I’m here about.” Sabrael tucked the logbook in the crook of her thin arm. “The good news is, we caught it early. It’s only one bad month. If you follow my advice, head office won’t even raise an eyebrow.”
Aziraphale implored her one more time. “I’m telling you, I’m not…”
“Aziraphale, please.” Sabrael’s nostrils flared. “Don’t lie. It’s not becoming of you.”
Aziraphale twisted his half-empty mug and fixed the crack, and his shoulders slouched as he stopped trying to explain.
“Chin up. Put the miracles on hold. Lay low for a while. Everyone will forget about them.” Sabrael stood up and took a step away. “I’d really rather not take it to litigation this time. You’re a good little soldier. I’d hate to have to slap your wrist again.”
“So this is…” Aziraphale pointed to and fro - “this, but Crowley… Armageddon… not.”
“Angels aren’t perfect, dear.” Sabrael shot him a sultry look. “Just forgiven.”
A couple of hours later, the bell jingled over the door, and Crowley sauntered in with a copy of a tabloid under his arm.
“Morning, angel. Is it still morning?” Crowley checked his watch. “Whatever. I’m out before noon. It counts.” He tipped his nose up and sniffed the air. “You got a haircut, didn’t you? Whole place smells like cologne.”
The door swung shut behind him and muffled the noise from the street.
“God, I love the Daily Standard. Never lets me down. Not two months after Armageddon, and they’re back at it again.” Crowley opened the tabloid and pored over the thin pages. “Listen to this. ‘Russian scientists used alien tech recovered from meteor crash on new ICBM.’” He flipped one page over. “Hey, look. They’ve even got a picture of the alien. Ah, wait, no. That’s that actor. Can never remember his name.”
The whole bookshop stood still. Not even the floorboards creaked.
“Hell’s bells, they’re not kidding. There’s a picture of it right here. Great big phallic nightmare.” Crowley eyed a photo of a Victory Day parade. “Whose idea was it to make weapons look like that, anyway? Was it the… wait a minute… the sword! That was one of yours!”
Aziraphale didn’t answer.
“That’s the trouble with repression. Comes out when you least expect it to…”
Still no response.
Crowley poked his head into the back of the shop. “Angel?”
And there he found Aziraphale sitting at his round table, quietly drinking port out of a small, cut-crystal glass.
Crowley slowed to a halt. “Oh.”
Aziraphale looked caught out.
Crowley frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Everything is…”
“Everything is not tickety-boo.”
“Yes it is.”
“You’re day drinking.”
Aziraphale side-eyed the glass. “Ah. Suppose I am.”
Crowley set the tabloid down. “Well, what… what happened?”
“I’ve just had a visitor.”
“Sabrael.” Aziraphale paused. “The Keeper of Miracles.”
Crowley cocked his head.
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” Aziraphale said. “It seems you were wrong about Heaven and Hell using this as breathing room.”
Crowley squirmed to and fro and propped his elbow on a bookcase, and when it all clicked, he wrinkled his nose and squinted into space.
“Wait a minute. Is that who wrote you up in 1793?”
Crowley gestured up and down. “With the…”
Crowley drew a ring around his scalp. “Hair…”
“That’s the one.”
“Ooh. I remember her.” Crowley winced and let his hand drop. “Like a schoolmistress who’s a bit too fond of the switch.”
“She’s put me on notice for another bout of frivolous miracles. She says if I’m to avoid punishment, I should stop for the rest of the month.”
“How much does she know?”
“She knows about us.”
Crowley lowered his voice. “What about us?”
Aziraphale took another sip. “Let’s not do that dance again.”
“Wait, wait.” Crowley held his palm out in front of himself. “Wait.”
Aziraphale complied, and Crowley paced around the table.
“Let me get this straight. Armageddon…”
“She’s not choosing to pursue it.”
“Doing the horizontal mambo with a demon.” Crowley shrugged. “Enh.”
“But a few stray miracles, and Heaven’s at mission critical.”
Aziraphale chewed his lip and nodded.
“Does that make any sense to you?”
“Well, no, but…” Aziraphale huffed. “Look, will you please sit down? You’re making me nervous.”
Crowley stopped pacing and slid into the other chair. “Fine.”
Aziraphale polished off the last dark red dregs in his glass, and he gave the bottle beside him a guilty sidelong look. Crowley took pity on him and poured him two fingers’ worth, read the label, knocked it back, and took a pull of it himself.
Aziraphale sighed and gazed out the window. “What am I going to do?”
Crowley turned up his eyebrows. “Guess that depends on what they’re gonna do to you.”
“What do you mean?”
Crowley leaned forward. “Say Sabrael actually writes you up. What happens?”
“That’s what bothers me. I don’t know anymore.” Aziraphale ran his thumb back and forth along his glass. “Last time, it was just…”
Crowley finished for him. “A strongly-worded letter. Right.”
“And suspension of my duties for a short period of time.”
“But you’re in a different political position than you were then.”
Crowley grimaced. “Put your finger in a mass extinction event.”
Aziraphale grimaced back. “Precisely.”
“Or survived an execution.”
“If they can’t get you for anything else, they’ll clip your wings for that.”
A long, leaden silence fell over the table, and Aziraphale’s shoulders sank as Crowley helped himself to another swill.
“Well, if there’s any meager consolation in all of this, at least they don’t realize what’s behind it.” Aziraphale studied the facets in his glass. “Sabrael doesn’t know our exploits are causing the miracles. If she knew they were connected, we’d really be in the thick of it.”
“Wait.” Crowley plunked his elbows down on the table. “She doesn’t know? You said she did.”
“I meant that we were consorting. Not about the other bit.”
“You’re sure she has no clue.”
Aziraphale furrowed his brow. “As sure as I can be.”
Crowley’s face lit up like a headlamp. “That changes everything.”
“Don’t you get it? It buys us time to get them off your tail.” Crowley backed up to correct himself. “W- I mean, not ‘tail.’ That’s mine. Hem of your robe, or something.”
Aziraphale hushed. “Do you really think we can?”
“‘Course we can.” Crowley set the half-empty bottle down. “We stopped Armageddon, didn’t we? Everything’s gonna be fine.”
“Yeah.” Crowley nodded a little too hard. “Yeah. It’s all gonna be fine.”
Aziraphale smiled a little too wide. “Perfectly fine.”
Chapter 2: Part 2
One night in 1793, Buckingham Palace’s ballroom sparkled from its gold-trimmed ceiling to its red-carpeted floor.
Members of the House of Lords milled about in their courtly best, with velvet coats and buckled shoes that gleamed in the candlelight. Ladies in satin bows, pearls, and great, billowing skirts stole snacks from silver platters and giggled behind their fans. In the corner, a string quartet in powdered, ponytailed wigs played a Bach partita from their Chippendale chairs.
And across the room, Aziraphale crept up to a tiny, glamorous duchess and a tall, over-starched duke.
“My lady. A vision as always.” Aziraphale kissed the duchess’ hand, then admired her pink dress. “Is that French taffeta? Where did you find it at a time like this?”
The duke smirked. “Mr. Fell, am I going to have to keep you away from my wife?”
“Oh.” Aziraphale let go of her fingers. “Heavens, my good sir. No.”
“Don’t mind him.” The duchess laid a firm hand on her husband’s arm. “My dressmaker had some on hand from before the…”
Aziraphale grimaced. “Unpleasantness. Right.”
“‘Unpleasantness?’ It’s barbaric.” The duke sniffed and thrust out his chin. “A pox on the face of Europe. I hope to God it doesn’t spread.”
“Mm.” Aziraphale raised his crystal glass to his mouth. “Politics at a party. Disastrous for the humors.”
The duchess leaned forward before her husband could keep spouting off. “What brings you here?”
“Right.” Aziraphale perked up. “As a matter of fact, I’m here to see an old enemy of yours. Lord Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex. I need him to change his upcoming vote.”
The duke sipped his port. “Since when have you stuck your fingers into our affairs?”
Aziraphale shrugged. “Just doing a favor for an old friend.”
“You know, you are the most peculiar man I’ve ever met.” The duke studied Aziraphale’s huge cuffs and lace-trimmed sleeves. “Rubbing elbows with lords here and washerwomen there.”
Aziraphale swirled his wine. “I suppose I am ‘made all things.’”
The duchess nudged in again. “I thought you were going to open a bookshop.”
“I am!” Aziraphale glowed. “I’ve been eyeing a place in Soho for years.”
The duke arched his eyebrow. “Do you think that’s quite seemly?”
“What?” Aziraphale asked. “To be a man of property?”
The duke curled his lip. “To be a man of business.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry.” Aziraphale took a generous gulp from his glass and pasted on a smile. “I may never sell a single book.”
When the song ended, Aziraphale escaped through a side door, and he followed the corridors to a long sculpture gallery. His heels clicked on the parquet as he ventured into the hall, and he admired the statues’ white marble faces and clothes. A hound and deer. A cherub. A Greek youth lying on a rock. A fallen angel with bat wings and stricken, downcast eyes. At the end, he came upon a statue of Gabriel, with ancient Roman armor and a cross-tipped standard in his hand.
Aziraphale sank onto the backless couch by the nearest wall, sighed, and basked in the silence of his newfound solitude. But just as he closed his eyes and the tension drained from his toes, he heard a pair of footsteps at the top of the curved stairs.
Aziraphale bolted upright, and as he composed himself, Sabrael floated down with her hand on the golden rail. Her ivory damask court gown brushed against the balustrade, and a white feather and model ship teetered on her mountain of hair.
“Sabrael?” Aziraphale scrambled to his feet. “What are you doing here?”
“Is that any way to greet one of your superiors?”
“My lady. Of course. Forgive me.” Aziraphale cleared his throat, knocked his heels together, and bowed. “Here to see the art?”
Sabrael kept trailing downstairs without a word.
“Remarkable resemblance, isn’t it?” Aziraphale grinned through his teeth and gestured to the Gabriel statue. “Actually a little unnerving.”
Sabrael still didn’t respond.
“Erm, right.” Aziraphale searched for something - anything - else to talk about. “Remind me. Have we met here on Earth before? I don’t think we have.”
“If I may say, you’ve picked quite a frock for the occasion.”
“I like the clothes, yes.”
Aziraphale fluffed his sleeve. “Aren’t they more fun than our robes?”
Sabrael finally reached the bottom. “Have you been keeping track of your miracles?”
Aziraphale let his sleeve drop. “What?”
Sabrael summoned her logbook. “You heard me.”
Aziraphale glanced to and fro and folded his hands. “W-why?”
“Tuesday, 17th September at 12:26, procured a rabbit from the hat of Sir Thaddeus Villiers. 21st September, 10:03, made convict Hiram Waits present stigmata at his hanging, upon which he was spared.” Sabrael read from the logbook as she swished across the floor. “24th September, 17:58, caused Sir Charles Beauclerk to trip before he could propose to Lady Jane de Vere. Sunday, 29th September, 11:33, made the statue of Mary in Temple Church cry tears of wine.”
“1st October, 8:18, gave an orange girl, Fanny Brown, a basket that refills with a loaf of bread every day.” Sabrael came to a halt in front of the statue of Gabriel. “Wednesday the 2nd, 12:21, made Sir Edwin Spinnett step in mud. Friday the 4th, 13:08, brought a dove back to life. Need I go on?”
Aziraphale’s shoulders tightened. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t be coy.”
Aziraphale smiled through his teeth. “No, I really don’t.”
“Do you know how lucky you are to be one of God’s messengers?”
“Hadn’t thought about it. After all, I’ve never been anything else.”
“Personally, I find your post on Earth unenviable, but the fact remains that your miracles are crucial to our cause.” Sabrael explained with patronizing pity in her voice. “We let you use that power on the promise that you’d be careful with it. But now you’ve been imprudent. It’s time for Heaven to step in.”
Aziraphale fidgeted. “Imprudent? I’m doing my job.”
“No.” Sabrael shut the logbook. “You’re abusing the privilege.”
Aziraphale looked aghast.
“I’m sorry it’s come to this.” Sabrael tilted her chin up. “I expected better from you.”
“Wait a minute.” Aziraphale recoiled. “You punish people for that?”
“Article 3179. Frivolous Miracles.”
“That can’t be right.” Aziraphale fiddled with his cuff. “Has there been a change in management?”
Aziraphale furrowed his brow. “It couldn’t be policy. God is mysterious, not unreasonable.”
“I wouldn’t presume to know what God is.”
“Well, I presume to know that I’ve been working miracles like that for thousands of years.” Aziraphale peeked over his shoulder, then frowned at Sabrael again. “Waits was innocent. That orange girl was starving.”
“What bearing do they have on the Radcliffe vote?”
“W…” Aziraphale stammered - “nothing. But it was the right thing to do.”
“Listen, I don’t make these decisions.” Sabrael tightened her grip on her logbook. “I just observe and record.”
“Then who does?”
Aziraphale started toward his statue. “All right. I’ll go up and ask him why myself.”
Sabrael blocked his way with her panniers. “You’ll do nothing of the sort.”
“I can’t change my ways if I don’t understand what I’ve done.”
“The point is not to understand. The point is to obey.”
“That doesn’t make sense.” Aziraphale bumped her skirt against the statue base. “We wouldn’t have a rule without a logical explanation for it.”
Sabrael smoothed her underskirt. “I don’t like this any more than you…”
Aziraphale took a firm step back. “Then tell me why it was wrong!”
Sabrael opened her mouth to answer, but nothing came out.
Aziraphale’s whole face went slack. “You don’t know either, do you?”
Sabrael froze as solid as the stone Gabriel behind her back. Aziraphale shrank. The sudden silence threatened to suffocate them both.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.” Sabrael hushed. “Just this once.”
Aziraphale breathed, “What?”
“Neither of us will speak of it again.” Sabrael pushed one of her pearl bracelets up her wrist. “You’ll receive a letter from Gabriel with your probationary terms.”
“Don’t ask any more questions if you know what’s good for you.” Sabrael waved her logbook into thin air and turned to leave. “If you want my advice, finish your business with Radcliffe, then go. Leave London. Find something distracting until your time is up.”
Sabrael walked back the way she came and climbed the stairs, and when she whisked up to Heaven, a gust blew the candles out. Aziraphale stood in the dark with Gabriel’s statue looming over him.
“Well.” He made a huffy face and straightened his coat. “Maybe I will.”
Back in the present, Crowley hunkered down on his office floor in a pile of books that rivaled the stacks in Aziraphale’s shop.
He thumbed through chapter after chapter of The Nineteen Enochian Keys. Then Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Then the Codex coemeterium. The Emerald Tablet, The Book of Thoth, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, and The Master and Margarita, which he snorted at, but put down. He even dug out a vintage pulp called Kiss of the Succubus, but once he’d flipped from cover to cover, he sighed and tossed it aside.
“Fine.” Crowley reached into the pile with both arms and pulled out a massive leather-bound tome. “We’ll do this the old-fashioned way.”
Crowley hoisted himself to his feet, bent down, picked the book up, staggered over to his desk, and set it on top with a thud. He opened the black cover and moved the red satin bookmark, licked his fingertip, and leafed from one page to the next. Illuminated letters. Impenetrable Latin text. Invocations in languages that had died centuries ago. Eventually, he came to a demonic compendium, with thick black headers and sigils on each opposing page.
“Amdusias…” Crowley muttered - “no. Agares? Valefar? No.” He kept turning past woodcuts of beasts with bat wings, hooves, and crowns. “Sixty legions of demons… three heads… riding a crocodile… good grief, we got up to some crazy things back in the day.”
In the room outside the office, one of his plants shook in response.
“Imagine if you showed up now on a horse with dragon legs. The tabloids, oh, it’d be miserable.” Crowley moved to the next section. “Berith is a wanker. Gremory’s no good anymore. Vassago?” He paused to read, then turned forward. “He wouldn’t be any help.”
And then, when Crowley passed a woodcut of a leopard’s face, he stopped, turned back two pages, and pored over what he found.
Sitri, alias Bitru, is a great prince, Crowley read, appeering with the face of a leopard, and having wings as a griffen: when she taketh humane shape, she is verie beautiful, she inflameth a man with a womans love, and also stirreth up women to love men.
Crowley frowned and kept reading.
Being commanded she willinglie deteineth secrets of women, laughing at them and mocking them, to make them luxuriouslie naked.
“Ha!” Crowley leaned over the book as his face lit up with glee. “Of course! Sitri, you lovely old girl, you’ll know exactly what to do.” He planted his forearms on either side and rubbed his palms. “That thing you did with the French perfumer was incredible. If anybody can set me up with some sex magic, it’s you.”
Crowley stared at the sigil until he had it in his head, checked it one more time to make sure, and ducked through the doorway. He stood amid the plants with his feet shoulder-width apart, wrung his fingers out, and tapped his toes a couple of times.
“Right.” Crowley rolled his elbows and neck until they cracked. “When miracles come from another quarter, you’ve got to give it back to them.”
Crowley bared his teeth, clapped his hands, took a deep breath through his nose, and spoke backwards and forwards in a tongue older than tongues themselves. His eyes rolled back in his head as an arcane wind whipped his hair, the lights in the flat flickered, his body shuddered…
And nothing changed.
Crowley raised his eyebrow. “Come on…”
Seconds passed, and the room stayed the same.
Crowley raised the other to match. “Any day now…”
But no glowing circle appeared.
Crowley grumbled, “Not the chalk. Don’t make me get the bloody chalk. What is this, 1300?”
None of his plants answered him.
“Next it’ll be, ‘Oh, we don’t want to do it while the sun’s still out,’ or without a hundred hooded cultists chanting all around.” Crowley stalked into his office and dug through his desk drawer. “Or, ‘We only take virgin blood on Tuesdays during a rainstorm,’ or not while Bake Off: Masterclass is on, or…” he lost his words altogether - “mneh.”
The plants watched him from the green room, their leaves still with curiosity.
“I should’ve known. I should’ve known!” Crowley finally found the chalk, pulled it out, shoved the drawer shut, and sashayed back into the hall. “Took me six thousand years to get into his drawers to begin with, and now that he’s been got, they’re gonna make me work for it.”
The plants shrank a little.
“Why does he get to be the one with lust powers, anyway?” Crowley sank to his knees. “Doesn’t even appreciate them.”
Crowley laid the book beside him on the floor and turned the page, screwed his face up, and studied Sitri’s sigil one more time. He peered at it for a moment - two - and with another rub of his hands, he perched on the balls of his feet, reached over, and began to draw. A band of two thin circles. A third, smaller one inside. The letters S, I, T, R, and I inside the outer ring. Three crosses with a long U connecting the first and third, with a straight line in the middle like a thoroughfare.
“I tell you, on the off chance that I actually pull this off, I’m going to be a menace. Absolutely insatiable.” Crowley added a small circle at each end of the line. “If that angel thinks I had a healthy appetite before, he’s got another thing coming. I’m going to make it rain fireballs.”
Crowley added a few more finishing touches to the sigil, climbed up, admired it for a second, and moved onto the next step. He dragged the mirror in from his office and set it in the corner. He fumbled through his pantry and procured a pack of red candles. He set five of them at pentacle points around the circle, and with a snap, they all lit up with an eerie purple flame. And finally - after a pause, stroke of his chin, and another snap - an offering of a switchblade comb appeared on top of the sigil.
“Lord Satan, if you are, in fact, still down there somewhere, grant me the power to conceive in my mind a spirit under your command.” Crowley closed his eyes and chanted in an irritated voice. “I entreat thee to inspire Prince Sitri to manifest before me, so I may accomplish my ends. This I not-so-humbly ask in your name.”
Again, nothing happened.
“In nomine Draco, quo veniat satanas Lucifer…?”
Crowley cringed and coughed the word up like a cat with a hairball. “Please?”
The plants rustled in terror as a gust ripped through the hall, snuffed the candles out, and rattled the blinds on the window. The floor shook. The sockets hummed. The lights fizzled and went dark. The statue of wrestling good and evil rumbled on its stand. The wind died down - the lights came back on - and when Crowley opened his eyes, he found the flat still empty and the switchblade comb still in place.
Crowley knelt down and rapped his knuckles on the floor. “Hello?”
“Is anyone home down there?”
“Oh.” Crowley scooted back and slumped against the wall. “That’s not good.”
On a damp, busy corner all the way out in Crouch End, Aziraphale ventured into an adult novelty shop.
He crept through the maze of DVDs and technicolor bras, taking step by timid step across the purple rug. A clerk with a pink bob swayed to a song on her earbuds - a song at a different tempo than the muffled one on the PA.
It’s getting late - to give you up
I took a sip - from my devil’s cup
S-low-ly - it’s taking over me
Aziraphale peered at a massager on a display stand, pressed the round test button, reeled back, and switched it off. As he inspected the racy costumes from a safe distance, he heard a chipper voice that he - once in a blue moon - used himself.
“Hi! Welcome in.”
Aziraphale poked his head up like a rabbit. “Yes?”
“What can I…?” The clerk interrupted herself and took her earbuds out. “Wow.”
“I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but that outfit is really nice.” The clerk craned her neck forward and admired Aziraphale’s waistcoat. “Is that a pocket watch? Does it work?”
“Has since 1859.”
“No way. Are you, like, into steampunk?”
Aziraphale blinked. “I don’t think so.”
“Right. I just figured…”
“Um…” Aziraphale cut through the small talk - “is this where I could buy…?”
The clerk eyed the shelves. “Yeah, you’ve come to the right place.”
“Good.” Aziraphale tapped his fingertips. “I asked a friend where I should go. I think it took me several tries to get my point across.”
“Oh, yeah? Who?”
Aziraphale waved it off. “I don’t think you’d know her. Lives in a flat around the corner. Wears a lot of wigs.”
The clerk raised her eyebrows. “Madame Tracy?”
Aziraphale did, too. “Yes, that’s her name.”
“Oh my God, I love Madame Tracy. She’s hilarious.”
Aziraphale gulped. “Do you?”
“Yeah, she comes in here all the time.” The clerk set her earbuds down as her whole face lit up. “How do you know her?”
“We… traveled together for a while.”
“Wow. You two must be old friends, then.” The clerk pushed her earbuds aside. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her in a while. Is everything all right?”
Aziraphale shrugged. “Just taking a break.”
The clerk stepped back. “Anyway, sorry. Don’t mean to waste your time.”
“Actually, if you’re not busy, I wonder if I could have your help.”
“Sure. What do you need?”
Aziraphale set the corners of his mouth. “I’m looking for something.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t really know.”
“What’s going on, then?”
“I’d like something for a friend of mine.”
The clerk nodded across the counter. “We’ve got gift cards right there.”
“You see, I…” Aziraphale took a short breath - “well, he’s not a friend. He’s my lover. And I have a dilemma on my hands.”
Aziraphale glanced at the corsets. “I was hoping you’d have something here that would be… a nice experience for him. But not for me.”
“You could use almost all the stuff in here on one person.”
“Yes, but it’s very important that I don’t enjoy myself.”
A conspiratorial smirk spread across the clerk’s face. “Oh.”
“Am I getting warmer?”
“Trust me, I know what you mean.” The clerk gestured to a doorway on the far end of the shop. “You see that room in the back?”
Aziraphale peeked over his shoulder. “I do.”
“Have a look in there. I think you might find what you want.” The clerk looked him over with equal parts amusement and disbelief. “Most of it is pretty expensive, but it’ll do the job. If you can’t find something in your size, come back here and we’ll talk.”
Aziraphale hesitated. “Size?”
“Yeah, I know a place on Bateman Street. They can get you custom-fitted.”
Aziraphale turned white. “Goodness. I’ll be right back.”
The clerk put her earbuds in as Aziraphale crept to the doorway, and when he lifted the black curtain and tiptoed in, he gasped. A round room lay before him with a chandelier, red quilted walls, and racks of hellish contraptions straight out of an auto-da-fé. Masks. Straitjackets. Bits and bridles. Policemen’s billy clubs. A leather-padded seat that looked like a gymnastics bench. Harnesses for body parts he couldn’t even identify, spiked pinwheels, and steel chastity belts with locks up to the waist.
Aziraphale gaped at the X-shaped frame beside the mirror. “Dear God.”
The clerk hummed to herself as she scrolled through the store’s spreadsheets.
Aziraphale breathed, “I haven’t seen one of these since 1485.”
The clerk opened a binder, still oblivious to him.
Aziraphale shrank away from the curiosities in horror, and retreated step after step until he pushed through the curtain. He barreled through the aisles of plastic heels and breast cake molds, his eyes as wide as saucers as he straightened his lapels.
The clerk tugged her earbuds out again and called after him. “Sir?”
Aziraphale blurted out, “I’m sorry, ma’am, you must have me all wrong!”
Aziraphale made a beeline for the door. “You’ve been very kind. I just think this was a mistake.”
“Look.” The clerk leaned forward. “I’m not trying to be untoward - but you really don’t have to be embarrassed about being here.”
Aziraphale slowed to a halt. “Don’t I?”
“No!” The clerk propped her chin on her hand. “Everyone does it.”
“Well…” Aziraphale squirmed - “I’m an… initiate.”
“I didn’t have my first time ‘til I was almost 28.”
Aziraphale blushed. “That’s sweet, but I’m a fair bit older than that.”
“Tell you what.” The clerk played with her dangly purple plastic earring. “Do you like books?”
Aziraphale sighed with relief. “Yes, I do.”
“Go over to the bookshelf and see if something jumps out at you. You can read it with your gentleman friend.”
Aziraphale’s shoulders relaxed. “That sounds nice.”
Aziraphale made his way to the bookshelf with his cheeks on fire, and he sorted through the meager stock of nonfiction and paperbacks. Secrets of the Root Chakra. I Was a Lady Prison Guard. Ravished By My Duke. The Billionaire’s Playmate. His Wild Highland Charms. Finally, he dug out a book the size of a drink coaster, with a faux leather cover - The Portable Rumi: Life, Sensuality, and Love.
Aziraphale brought it to the counter. “Thank you for being so patient.”
“Ooh, nice. Classy choice.” The clerk scanned the code on the back. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“Not at all. You’ve been quite a dear.”
The clerk watched Aziraphale count his cash out. “Do you want a bag?”
“All things considered, I think not.”
“Right.” The clerk handed him the book and his receipt. “You have a nice day.”
Aziraphale gave her a small, shy smile. “I will.”
Aziraphale stepped out onto the gray, bustling street, and he slipped the book into the inside pocket of his coat. Once the pedestrians had passed, he stopped and turned around, and he took one last appraising look at the costumes in the window. He put his hand to his mouth and blew a kiss up to the sign, and its one burned-out letter sputtered and glowed as bright as the rest.
A few placid evenings later, Crowley and Aziraphale set off for dinner as the sky darkened over their heads.
Commuters huddled at bus stops and clambered into cars, and drivers beeped and nudged each other out of the crowded lanes. Crowley prattled on and peered into the shop windows, but Aziraphale shuffled beside him without saying a word.
“Listen.” Crowley eyed the black suit in the front of a tailor shop. “You know what I’ve been wondering?”
“What?” Aziraphale stared off into space. “How an omnipotent God can let there be cruelty in the world? How wine spoils? Whether ducks have ears?”
“Wait, no! I looked that up!” Crowley flailed his hands in front of Aziraphale’s face. “Turns out they do. They’ve got little holes on the sides of their heads.”
Aziraphale nodded. “Ah.”
“Their feathers grow over them. That’s why we can’t see ‘em. They hear with frequencies around their skulls, or something. I forget.”
“Well.” Aziraphale gave him a halfhearted smile. “That’s a very old mystery put to bed.”
When they passed a pet shop, the python in the reptile display perked up as the bars of its cage mysteriously bent. It slithered through the hole and wound its way down the plastic shelf, and a shopper inside screamed as it scooted out the door.
“Anyway, mysteries. Right. That’s what I was going to tell you.” Crowley sidestepped the snake so it could slide into a storm drain. “You know the miracle thing?”
Aziraphale’s arms went limp behind his back. “How could I forget?”
“It’s a conversation-starter.”
“Yes, I understood.”
“We still have no idea where it’s coming from, do we?”
Aziraphale’s shoulders slumped. “I’m no closer to an answer than you.”
“What gets me is that you’re even able to perform holy work with something that, as far as you know, you’re not supposed to do.” Crowley admired a pair of Chelsea boots in the shop on the corner. “If one of my lot had a pocket rocket of miracles up their sleeve, everyone would be like, ‘All right. Lust demon. Nothing to see here.’”
Aziraphale frowned. “‘Pocket rocket?’”
“Er, never mind. Tell you later.”
“Angels are creatures of love.”
Crowley squirmed. “Don’t be ridiculous. ‘S too easy.”
“So much of an angel’s power is contingent on belief. It’s strange to think we could perform something we’re not even aware of. Maybe the rush of…” Aziraphale cut himself off - “oh, never mind. It’s no use. We’re trying to apply logic to something…”
“Ineffable. I know.”
When they reached the corner, they stopped near a no-parking sign, and they let a black taxi pass before they crossed the street.
“Nyergh.” Crowley curled his lip. “That’s a can of worms, isn’t it?”
“What if all angels can do it, and they haven’t figured it out?”
Crowley’s eyebrows jumped. “Maybe Heaven doesn’t want them to know. They could be hiding it.”
“I don’t think conspiracy theories are going to help, either.”
“Chemtrails are a conspiracy theory. This is a problem to solve…”
Before Crowley could finish, thunder rumbled from above.
They scrambled down the sidewalk as rain spattered their cheeks and hair, and a sea of dark umbrellas puffed around them as they went. They dashed under a restaurant awning just as the storm picked up, and they slid onto a bench and took a moment to catch their breath.
Crowley examined a piece of wet newspaper on his boot. “Bollocks.”
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to miracle it away yourself this time.”
Crowley finger-snapped it off. “Was this in the forecast?”
“I’m not sure…”
“I don’t know.” Aziraphale dabbed at his face. “I’d miss it if I had to leave.”
Crowley furrowed his brow at Aziraphale’s dispirited voice, turned toward him, and laid his arm on the back of the bench.
“What have you done with the angel who owns the bookshop?”
“What’s wrong? Don’t say ‘nothing.’ You’ve been gloomy ever since I picked you up.”
Aziraphale bowed his head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just spit it out.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I suppose I do have a confession to make.”
Crowley blinked behind his glasses and waited for him.
“The other day, I went to a… a shop of ill repute. The one near Madame Tracy’s flat.” Aziraphale laced and unlaced his fingers in his lap. “I wanted to find a way for us to keep going as we are, but without the bit of trouble that’s been causing miracles.”
Crowley’s glasses slid down his nose. “You went to a hanky-spanky store?”
“Yes, I did.”
Crowley nudged his glasses back up. “Bloody Hell.”
“I thought they might have some knowledge or contraption that would help, but, as you can imagine, I was greatly out of my depth.” Aziraphale continued in a strained, clinical voice. “Anyway, long story short, I humiliated myself, and the woman behind the counter was too gracious to say as much.”
Crowley kept gawking in silence.
“I wasn’t going to tell you.” Aziraphale averted his eyes and twisted a button on his cuff. “I wasn’t going to tell you about Sabrael, either. But you always have had a way of coaxing things out of me.”
“I…” Aziraphale stammered - “I don’t know. Must not have wanted you to worry. It seemed important at the time.”
“Right, well, what happened?”
“She sensed I was embarrassed and pointed me to their book rack, and so I…” he dug in his coat and fished the book out - “got you this.”
Crowley took the book from him and propped his ankle on his knee, opened the tiny cover, and thumbed through the thin pages.
“I assumed now that we’ve done away with being on opposite sides, a small gift wouldn’t be out of the question.” Aziraphale gulped. “It may not be holy water, but I hope it’s the thought that counts. Besides, they’re just poems. They’ll only keep you for a minute.”
Crowley flipped one more page over and read aloud. “‘In loneliness…?’”
Aziraphale finished for him. “‘For in loneliness, no one owns you but me.’”
“I…” Crowley tripped over his words and grimaced. “I…”
“Come on.” Crowley recoiled. “What am I supposed to say to that?”
“What do you want to?”
“That’s- I mean- I…” Crowley fumbled with the book, then held it over his heart as his ears turned cherry-red. “Why are you so nice?” He kicked his feet. “I mean, don’t tell me. I know why.”
“I haven’t been, though. Not lately.” Aziraphale tucked his chin. “I’ve been keeping things from you.”
“We’ve always had things we don’t talk about. That’s what people do.”
“That doesn’t bother you?”
“Of course not.” Crowley pulled his jacket flap aside. “Besides, I… may or may not have tried to summon a prince of Hell to give me the same power so we’d cancel each other out.”
Aziraphale’s eyes widened. “You what?!”
“Yeah, Sitri. Old friend of mine.”
“I don’t believe it,” Aziraphale marveled. “Did it work?”
“No. The line was tied up.” Crowley shrugged, shook his head, and nestled the book in his breast pocket. “The point is that I tried, though. I thought, you know, agreement and everything. We could keep going one-for-one and they’d leave you alone again.”
“Oh, God.” Aziraphale clapped his hand to his chest and smiled with relief. “What a pair of fools we are.”
“Look, this whole thing with Sabrael has got us both turned inside out. What you need is a break.” Crowley pointed to him. “And what I need is a drive.”
Aziraphale’s smile melted off. “You wouldn’t do that to me.”
Crowley pulled a parrot umbrella out of thin air. “I am.”
The Bentley’s engine roared as it raced down the motorway, past weather-worn blue road signs and endless thickets of trees.
Crowley veered around delivery trucks and dingy minivans, and sparks showered from the undercarriage as the tires squealed. Aziraphale clutched the seat and plastered himself to the backrest, and he anchored his feet on the floor to keep from lurching to and fro.
“Where are we going?”
Crowley checked the speedometer. “You’ll find out when we get there.”
“You’re not going to give in, are you?”
“Then will you at least slow down?”
“When have I ever gotten you hurt in this thing?”
Aziraphale cried, “You caught it on fire!”
“Doesn’t answer my question.”
“And I walked away from it, didn’t I?” Crowley stretched across the seat and rolled Aziraphale’s window down. “Right. Indulge me.”
Aziraphale recoiled. “What are you doing?”
“Stick your head out.”
Aziraphale balked. “Not on my immortal life.”
Crowley rolled his down, too. “Go on!”
“You’re going to get me discorporated again!”
“Trust me, I’ve done it!”
“While you were…?!” Aziraphale gaped. “Oh, God.”
“You’re telling me you went to all that trouble saving the world just so you could keep going between the bookshop and the Ritz?” Crowley took one hand off the wheel and gestured at the windshield. “It’s all out there! All the kingdoms. They’re still waiting for you. You just have to be bold enough to get out and see them.”
Aziraphale’s eyes tinged with doubt.
Crowley gave him a sidelong smile. “Life is for living, angel.”
So Aziraphale screwed up his courage and shoved himself out.
Aziraphale squinted and shrank as the wind battered his face, but when the car picked up speed, his frightened grimace became a grin. His lapels snapped back and forth and his bow tie whipped against his shirt, and he tipped his head back and let out a wild, unfettered laugh.
Crowley yelled, “See what I mean?!”
“I do!” Aziraphale called back. “It’s like flying!”
“No.” Crowley smirked and took the wheel in both hands. “It’s not.”
Crowley floored the gas pedal and swerved off the main road, and they hurtled down a hedge-lined path that led them to the coast. Crowley slammed on the brakes when they reached a vast green field, where grass and patches of bindweed flowers stretched out to a rocky cliff.
Aziraphale hesitated, crept out of the car, and peered around. “Why are we stopping?”
Crowley slid out, too, and shut his door. “You’ll see.”
Crowley joined Aziraphale on the other side of the car, set his jaw, and squinted at where the ocean met the sky. He took two steps, and with the third, he broke into a run, dragging Aziraphale down the dirt and toward the edge of the cliff.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale looked at him, then the horizon, then him again. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“You can’t be serious.”
“As the grave.”
Aziraphale huffed and tried to keep up. “You’re out of your mind!”
“Keep going. Just let it happen!”
Aziraphale bellowed, “Just let what?!”
When they reached the precipice, Crowley hurled himself off, and Aziraphale gasped as Crowley yanked him over, too. Crowley let go of Aziraphale’s hand as they sped toward the rocks, and in a gust of feathers, their wings burst forth from their backs. They soared back up and sailed along the craggy gray coastline - over sand, over driftwood, over outcroppings and moss - over a lonely cottage with a skiff moored at a dock, and over the inky waves that brushed against the smooth, dark shore.
“See?” Crowley left a flock of seagulls behind in the fog. “There’s nothing like it!”
Aziraphale gazed into the headwind with glee. “You’re right. There’s not!”
The breeze ripped through their fingers as the salt air stung their skin, and they let the current carry them wherever it wanted to go. Soon, it guided them inland and back over the empty field, where their wings dove downward and skimmed along the tops of the weeds.
Crowley skidded and tumbled and landed downwind from his car. Aziraphale’s wings cushioned him as he dropped onto his back. They settled in a feathery heap beside each other on the ground, blanketed in the deep blue twilight and the long, soft grass.
Aziraphale’s arms fell across his middle. “I feel like a schoolboy.”
“That’s just ‘cause you never get out and do anything fun.”
“I think we’ve had quite enough fun to last the next few hundred years.”
Crowley snickered. “What are you talking about? I’m making up for lost time.”
“I meant preventing Armageddon.”
“I know perfectly well what you meant. I just…” Crowley cut himself off and reached for Aziraphale’s wing - “oop.”
“You’ve got a loose feather. Stay still.” Crowley groped along the rows and pushed a few feathers aside, and with a good, firm nudge, it slid back into place. “There you go.”
Aziraphale turned pink. “Thank you.”
“That’s what you look like, you know.”
Aziraphale rolled onto his side. “Look like?”
“In my head, I mean.” Crowley rolled over to face him and tucked his forearm under his ear. “That’s how I remember you. Standing on the ledge of the Eastern Gate, feathers all aflutter, worried about doing the wrong thing.”
“I’ve done a lot of wrong things since then.”
“Not this one, I hope.”
“Oh, my dear.” Aziraphale stroked Crowley’s cheek. “Of course not.”
Aziraphale scooted forward and nestled himself against Crowley’s chest, and Crowley took the hint and pulled him into a firm hug. They lingered for a moment, then two, content in each other’s arms - and then, Aziraphale chuckled all the way up from his gut.
Crowley glanced down at him. “What?”
“It’s funny, that’s all.”
“For a creature of darkness, the world is just a little brighter with you in it.”
Aziraphale brushed a stray lock of hair off Crowley’s face, but as Crowley leaned in closer, thunder clapped over their heads. The clouds roiled as the first small, cold droplets splashed on their wings, and Crowley scrambled to his feet and held his hand out.
Aziraphale heaved himself off his feathers and took Crowley’s hand, and their wings dissolved into dust as they raced toward the car. They climbed into the back just as the rain spotted Aziraphale’s coat, fumbled, heaved the door shut, and wrestled into the roomy seat.
The storm soaked the empty field and dripped off the wheel wells, clattered on the roof, and slid in sheets down the windows. They watched the deluge come down from their warm, safe hiding spot, with their legs entwined and Aziraphale’s hands on Crowley’s chest.
And then, to the tune of the raindrops on the tail lights, they turned their heads, blinked at each other, and took a shallow breath.
Crowley slipped his glasses off and tossed them into the front seat. Aziraphale tipped his chin and brushed Crowley’s cheek with his nose. Crowley pecked Aziraphale’s temple, then underneath his ear. Aziraphale’s eyelashes fluttered as he bit his lip. The leather creaked beneath them as Aziraphale shifted his weight, rolled Crowley onto his back, and propped himself up on his elbows.
Crowley’s eyes flitted to and fro as he took in his position. “What…?”
“Shh.” Aziraphale gave him a puckish smile. “Let good triumph this time.”
Aziraphale pushed Crowley’s tie aside without untying it, ran his palm down Crowley’s stomach, and unbuckled his snake belt. Crowley sighed and pushed Aziraphale’s coat off of his shoulders, and he eased his feet out of his boots and let them hit the floor.
Back in stormy Central London at Number 10 Downing Street, an aide in a tidy black suit shut the office down for the night.
She walked through room after room of wooden panels and ivory drapes, checking the chairs and screens and turning off the accent lamps. She pushed a rolling chair in and straightened a stapler on a desk. She poked her head in a meeting room and found no one inside. She flipped one last switch in a corridor with a coat rack, took her umbrella and slicker, and gently shut the door.
And with a papery whisper that no one in the building heard, a pearl envelope floated into the Prime Minister’s inbox.
The next morning, when all of England turned on their phones and TVs, they gasped, yelled, clapped their foreheads, and dropped their toothbrushes in the sink.
Well, after years of petitions, infighting, and chaos, it is really, finally over. The Remains have it. The Prime Minister has called for a cease of all further Brexit negotiations, ending the nail-biting conflict that began two years ago.
On a crowded shopping street, a pair of au pairs with strollers stared at the TVs in the window of an electronics shop. A university lecture stopped dead as the students pored over their laptop screens, and the professor caved and checked the news on his tablet, too.
The decision comes after a mysterious anonymous note was delivered to the Prime Minister’s personal inbox last night. So far, there has been no official statement on what it says, but sources within Downing Street report a mood of shock and bewilderment. Its contents seem to have particularly shaken the Prime Minister, who aides say has experienced an epiphany of almost religious scale.
In Hyde Park, visitors set their guidebooks, cameras, boat oars, and life jackets down to scroll through their social media feeds. Two joggers crashed into each other by the memorial fountain, their eyes too lost in news videos to watch the road ahead.
As of this Friday, the Department for Exiting the European Union will disband, and the UK will remain a member for the foreseeable future. As for the proposed referendum on Scottish independence, the jury is still out, and the head of the SNP was unavailable for comment.
As the joggers picked themselves up, Aziraphale came down the winding path, and he stopped at the edge of the lake to scatter green peas for the ducks. He reached into his pocket for more, but when he peered past the dock, he saw an enormous, pearl-white swan glaring straight at him.
Aziraphale swallowed the lump in his throat. “Oh, dear.”
And sure enough, he heard an unearthly wind and a swish of feathers behind his back.
Sabrael’s white coat fluttered as she advanced on him. “Aziraphale.”
“I can explain…”
Sabrael’s light blue eyes glowed a shade too bright. “Aziraphale!”
Aziraphale bumped his back into the fence. “Yes, that is my name.”
Sabrael loomed over him. “I’m disappointed in you.”
Aziraphale looked sheepish. “They had gotten themselves into an awful mess.”
“Yes, and they were supposed to get themselves out of it, too!”
“You know, I’m sorry, but as far as miracle work goes, I hardly think subverting a political crisis counts as ‘frivolous.’” Aziraphale peeled himself off the fence and stood up straight. “That was the sort of thing you sent me here to do in the first place.”
“We put you on Earth to guard Eden.”
“And fight the forces of darkness! That’s right.” Aziraphale mustered enough courage to scowl at her. “The other side will be worse than ever now that Armageddon is off. You’re going to need angels like me to put in double time.”
“If Armageddon had gone as planned, neither of us would be here.” Sabrael paused for effect. “Would we?”
Aziraphale clenched his teeth. “But it didn’t, did it?”
The two exchanged venomous looks and waited for each other to flinch - and finally, Sabrael blinked and paced away from him.
“Listen. I don’t have time to argue hypotheticals with you. You’re in deep trouble.”
“For the pettiest thing an angel can do!” Aziraphale flung his arm out at the swan basking in the lake. “For Heaven’s sake, you’re scolding me for being too good at my job. If there’s a reason behind any of this, I fail to see it.”
Sabrael crossed her arms. “I told you in 1793…”
Aziraphale set his mouth. “You told me we’d never speak of that again.”
“Why do you always need answers?”
“Why don’t you?”
“Fine.” Sabrael stepped close enough to hide her face from the sidewalk. “I’ll give you one.”
Aziraphale tilted his ear toward her.
“I’m only going to tell you this once. There was not a consensus on the Great Plan.”
Aziraphale craned his neck back. “Good L- oh.”
“I knew there were archangels who questioned the coming of the End Times. Whether it was still necessary. Whether our methods were too extreme.” Sabrael spoke in a clipped, unusually-nervous voice. “They remembered that the Great Flood didn’t eradicate evil. They worried Armageddon wouldn’t, either. But they knew not to say anything.”
“Thankfully, it takes something more egregious to fall these days. The managerial situation is… let’s just say it’s delicate.” Sabrael glanced to and fro like she expected someone to ambush them. “A fallen archangel would become a hideously powerful demon, and there are precious few angels qualified enough to take their place.”
“That’s forbidden knowledge.”
“Yes. It is.” Sabrael pressed her coat lapel down and peeked over her shoulder. “You’ve already broken rank. I know you can handle it.”
“The point is, Heaven has gone into ideological lockdown. Everyone is under scrutiny.”
Aziraphale murmured, “Even you.”
“If I’m seen to be too indulgent of the one who started it all, I’ll be deemed a subversive element. It’ll fall on my head, too.”
“Well, I’m only half to blame…”
“I’ve told you things that endanger us both. I need you to uphold your end of the bargain and behave.”
Aziraphale screwed up his face. “No.”
Sabrael frowned at him in shock.
“No, I-I, this…” Aziraphale stammered - “this is absurd.”
Sabrael stayed silent like she - almost - wanted to hear him.
“I can’t sit by and compromise my sacred mission on Earth because there’s doubt in Heaven.” Aziraphale clenched his fists at his sides. “Someone needs to remember what our original purpose was. To make the world better, not turn ourselves inside out.”
“Yes, yes, I know! We’ve already had a civil war.” Aziraphale stiffened his lower lip. “And look what came of it.”
Sabrael didn’t answer.
“I am what I am, and what I am is an agent for good. And if you feel you need to punish me for that, then so be it.”
The swan in the lake shivered, and Sabrael’s face tinged with something almost like fear before her chill returned.
“All right.” She inched away from him. “But don’t say you weren’t warned.”
Aziraphale furrowed his brow and stepped after her. “About what?”
“Keep performing your miracles.” Sabrael retreated down the path. “But I can’t protect you from what Gabriel wants to do to you.”
“Wait.” Aziraphale kept following her. “Gabriel? What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry.” Sabrael whirled around. “I’ve been here too long.”
Sabrael disappeared in a pop of blinding yellow light, and another jogger ran by without so much as a blink. The swan ruffled its feathers, snapped at a duck, and flew away, and Aziraphale gazed into the water as his stomach sank with dread.
That same morning, Crowley danced back and forth through his green room in his jeans and shirtsleeves with his spray bottle in hand.
He misted the leaves of the tall, waxy plant by the window, then gave an extra shot to the one beside it for good measure. A song blared from the living room on his speakerless stereo, and Crowley swayed along in time and lip-synced to the lyrics.
Put your dirty angel fa-ace
Between my legs and knicker la-a-ace
Crowley stuck his own face in the plant in the corner, found no spots, and raised his eyebrows at a job well done. His hair flapped as he bobbed his head to each hit of the chorus - twist it rou-ou-ou-ou-ound, again and again.
But as he sprayed the next two and sang out loud to his favorite line - I want to run away with you - the phone in his office rang.
Crowley lowered the spray bottle, tipped his chin back, and groaned, and he turned the stereo off with a limp-wristed snap. He trudged into his office and waited for it to go to the ansafone, and after his usual message, he heard a nasal young man’s voice.
“Hello. This message is for Mr. Anthony J. Crowley…”
Crowley reached over and picked up the receiver. “What?”
“Hello, Mr. Crowley. As a constituent of Lower Tadfield, do you feel your property rights are…”
Crowley cut him off. “What is this?”
“How the Hell did you get this number?”
The man stammered, “Uh… I… I’m sorry, sir. We’ll be sure to remove you from our listing at once.”
Crowley hung up without so much as saying goodbye, and he grumbled something incomprehensible even to him. He took a step toward the doorway…
And then something hit him.
“Wait a minute,” he mumbled, and set the bottle on the desk.
Crowley rushed to his pantry and emerged with an old phone book, lay across the desktop, and skipped to the very back. He found a set of numbers scribbled on the blank last page, and below them, Sitri: Extension 57835.
Crowley lifted the receiver and held it to his ear again, and he punched the impossibly-long string into the keypad. 8-9-7-9-3-2-3-8-4-6. 2-6-4-3-3-8-3-2-7-9. He paused - checked the book - and input 5-0-2-8-8-4-1-9-7-1 - and finished with Sitri’s extension, 5-7-8-3-5.
Crowley waited. And waited. And drummed his fingers on the desk. The receiver fuzzed and crackled, and finally, a voice came through. He stared through the gaps in the window blinds with wide, haunted eyes, and his hand went slack around the receiver as his blood ran cold.
We’re sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service. We’re sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service. We’re sorry, the number you have reached is no longer in service. We’re sorry, the number…
Crowley slammed the phone down with a hard plastic click.
“You mean all this was your doing?” Crowley asked Aziraphale, as the two strolled through Berkeley Square with ice cream that afternoon.
“Sabrael seems to think so.”
“Wow.” Crowley licked at the edge of his chocolate ice cream cone. “I know the guy who wrote the referendum. He’s gonna be furious.”
Aziraphale opened his carton of vanilla. “One of yours, I presume?”
“Of course. Just wanted to see what would happen. Like mixing ammonia and bleach.”
Eventually, they found their way to their usual bench, empty - as always - like the city had saved it for them.
“Listen, I was going to ask you.”
Aziraphale sat down. “All right.”
“Have you thought about what you’re gonna do now that the world is saved and all?”
“Why? Have you?”
“Not really.” Crowley sank onto the bench. “Just wondered where you’d be kicking around for the next century or so.”
“I’ve grown so fond of that little shop, I’d hate to leave it behind. Especially now that it has the advantage of not being burned down.” Aziraphale poked at his ice cream and cracked the white chocolate top with his spoon. “I saw this morning that one of my Bibles has Genesis 4 and 8 reversed. At first I was worried, but I think it might make it even more valuable.”
“Why do you care?” Crowley asked. “It’s not like you’ll ever sell it to anyone.”
“Yes, but I’m happy, and that’s the only thing that counts.” Aziraphale put on a snotty face, then went back to normal. “I presume you’ll be staying in Mayfair?”
“Yeah. It’s not much, but it’s home.” Crowley shrugged. “Roomy. Nice light for the plants. Walking distance from you.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you wanted to keep seeing me.”
“Well, I know you’re not the type to be up for it over the phone.”
“Goodness.” Aziraphale fished out a raspberry with a cheeky smile. “A.Z. Fell and his gentleman caller. What will the neighbors think?”
“The neighbors have been seeing the Bentley out front for ninety years.”
“Yes, but you weren’t calling.”
Crowley cringed. “Is this one of your innuendos again?”
“Crowley, if you had any appreciation for language at all, you’d know that sometimes there’s merit to a bit of verbal sleight-of-hand.” Aziraphale stirred the chocolate pieces into the ice cream. “It’s like striptease. It’s the implication behind the peeled glove. If you laid it all out at once, there’d be nothing tantalizing left.”
Crowley scowled at him. “God, it’s disturbing when you know about things like that.”
“I lived here in the Sixties. I was virginal, not blind.”
“Observing the indecent indulgences of the world below? Sounds like someone’s been a bad angel.” Crowley bit right into his ice cream. “If we weren’t in public, I’d spank you.”
Crowley took another, more sullen bite.
Aziraphale murmured, “If we weren’t in public, I’d turn you over my knee for that.”
And then, as Aziraphale dug another raspberry out, he spied a too-bright flash of white on the nearby sidewalk.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale lowered his spoon. “Don’t react.”
Crowley tucked his chin and raised his eyebrow. “Why not?”
“We’re being watched.”
Crowley’s eyes darted behind his glasses. “Are you serious? By who?”
Aziraphale answered in a deep, staccato voice. “Who do you think?”
Across the iron railing on the other side of the park, three angels stood at random intervals in the passing crowd. They stuck out like toy soldiers in a sea of suits and backpacks, gleaming in their white helmets, jodhpurs, gaiters, and boots.
“Yeah, all right, that’s… funny,” Crowley said. “Why would they do that?”
“I don’t know.” Aziraphale got up. “But I’m not going to find out.”
Aziraphale signaled for Crowley to follow him off the bench, and they wandered out of the park at a slow, deliberate pace. They polished off their ice cream as they reached the street corner, and Aziraphale checked on the angels as he threw his carton out. Sure enough, the three of them had moved further down the sidewalk - keeping a careful distance, but advancing nonetheless.
“They still on us?” Crowley muttered.
Aziraphale muttered back, “Yes. Keep going.”
With that, the streetlight changed, and the two sauntered across the street.
At the end of the next block, they nudged their way into a crowd, and Aziraphale pulled a newspaper from the nearby box. He leafed through a few of the pages and unfolded it in front of his face, but Crowley swiped it away, folded it back, and set it down.
Aziraphale looked appalled. “What are you doing?”
“You’re gonna give yourself away.”
“I’m trying to blend in.”
Crowley walked off. “Nobody reads those anymore!”
Aziraphale jogged like a frantic pigeon and caught up to him, and Crowley hung a sudden right and led him past Grosvenor Square. He steered Aziraphale forward with a hand on his lower back, through throngs of harried pedestrians on block after busy block. They passed restaurants - a cathedral - but no matter where they went, the angels trailed after them with odd, robotic steps.
Crowley curled his lip. “They’re not short on persistence, are they?”
Aziraphale tugged at his collar. “We’ll have to think of something else.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, think. You’re the clever one here.”
Aziraphale hesitated, then took Crowley’s hand. “This way!”
And with that, they forded across the roaring traffic on Oxford Street, hurried down to Selfridge’s, and slipped through the revolving doors.
The two cut a winding path through the bright, sterile white halls, past racks of sunglasses, hats, makeup, and designer bags. They swerved around a pillar and skirted around a cocktail bar, where a tall, criss-crossing escalator waited for them. Crowley leaped on and pulled Aziraphale with him by his sleeve, and they climbed it step-by-step and bumped the other shoppers aside.
A salesman held up a bottle. “Aftershave sample for you, sirs?”
“No thanks,” Crowley called back, and herded Aziraphale along.
As the angels caught the escalator and took the slow ride to the top, Crowley hooked Aziraphale’s hand and dragged him into menswear. Their shoes squeaked on the chevron floor as they swept through racks of shirts, and their reflections scampered after them on the mirror-paneled wall. And just as the angels’ eyes emerged at the top of the incline, Crowley yanked Aziraphale into a fitting room and shut the door.
“Any other ideas?”
Aziraphale glanced at the pile of spare hangers. “One.”
“Can’t they sense our energy, or something?”
“Well, it’s worth a try.”
Crowley snapped himself into a too-tight black leather blazer, no shirt, a smear of eyeliner, and a jangle of jewelry and belts. Aziraphale whisked himself into a gray three-button suit, a thin bow tie, and a head of mid-century combed-over brown hair. They squirmed in their new sleeves and wiggled their feet in their new shoes, and they leaned over and peeked at themselves in the full-length mirror.
“Ooh.” Crowley winced at Aziraphale’s hair. “That’s not a good look on you.”
Aziraphale patted his scalp. “What’s wrong with it?”
“I’d never get used to it.”
Aziraphale huffed and waved his blonde hair and frock coat back. “Oh, fine.”
Crowley miracled himself back to normal, too. “Let’s just go!”
They snuck out of the dressing room and hot-footed it through the aisles, down the same escalator, and out through the side door. Crowley swung Aziraphale left and under the awning of a restaurant, but the angels still pursued them with their white-gloved fists at their sides.
“This is ridiculous,” Crowley spat. “How have we not lost them by now?”
Aziraphale dabbed his forehead with the back of his hand. “It’s their job!”
Crowley snarled and stormed down the rest of the narrow side street, and Aziraphale broke into a panicked trot to keep up with him. Finally, the angels converged and pointed to and fro, and with one more turn, they slipped out of Crowley and Aziraphale’s line of sight.
“All right,” Crowley hissed, “we’ve lost them. Hide!”
Aziraphale cried, “In what?!”
Crowley went right. Aziraphale went left. They crashed into each other headfirst. Aziraphale spotted a flash of red nearby and seized his chance. He opened the windowed door of the telephone box on the corner, manhandled Crowley in, ducked in himself, and slammed it shut.
The muffled stream of cars and buses rumbled by outside, and Crowley and Aziraphale squeezed into the narrow space. They scooted their heels out of the way of each other’s toes, and Crowley’s stomach pressed into the buttons on Aziraphale’s waistcoat.
Aziraphale asked, “Crowley?”
“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable…” Aziraphale sniffed Crowley’s lapel - “but is that a new cologne?”
“What? No. It’s Fahrenheit.”
“Been wearing it since ‘89.”
“Really? I’m not picking up that horrible petrol top note.”
Crowley flattened himself against the wall. “Look, is this really the time?”
And just then, the angels reappeared and marched onto their street.
Crowley jostled the phone cord. “Will you…?”
“They’re right on our tails.”
Aziraphale blocked the door. “If you stay still, they won’t notice we’re here.”
Crowley pushed forward. “Let me past…!”
But before Crowley could squeeze out, Aziraphale grabbed his cheeks and swept him into a kiss.
Crowley’s eyes flew open as his glasses slid down his nose, and Aziraphale tipped their faces to hide them as best he could. He waited as crowds and cyclists and a double-decker bus went by, and as if by magic, the angels ignored the box and split up. Aziraphale peered out the window - and when they’d disappeared, he let go, wiggled his shoulders, and let out a satisfied sigh.
Crowley glowered at him. “What was that for?”
“They were going to see us. I had to think fast.”
“And that’s what you thought of?”
Aziraphale looked innocent. “Being of love. Couldn’t help myself.”
“Right.” Crowley burst out of the box. “I’ve had enough of this. Where’s the nearest tube station?”
“We’ve got to get out of here.” Crowley made a break for the corner. “Come on!”
Aziraphale clambered out after him, and the two of them raced off as fast as their legs could carry them.
When they reached the tall, sharp canopy at the front of the station, they scurried down the stairs and onto the crowded platform.
“Argh.” Crowley checked the clock. “We must’ve come in just as the last one left.”
“Can you summon the next one?”
“Are you serious? It’d point to us like a neon sign.”
Just as they found a safe spot in the sea of shoulders and heads, the angels strode in lockstep down the stairs on the other side. Their unblinking, ice-blue eyes searched to their left, then to their right, and Crowley stuck his head down and pushed Aziraphale in front of him.
“Don’t look back. This way. Quickly.”
Aziraphale blanched, but played along, and Crowley led him toward the corner and through a maintenance door. They stepped into a small, dim room with racks of tools and high-vis vests, and they skirted around the rubber boots, buckets, and mops on the floor.
Aziraphale inched by a coiled hose. “We’re not supposed to be here!”
Crowley opened the door across the room. “Neither are they, and they don’t care.”
They crept through a narrow passage with a flickering cage light, and they emerged in the vast, round abyss of the empty train tunnel. They scooted along the edge of the tracks with their backs against the walls, and their footsteps echoed around them and made the hair on their necks stand up.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale gulped. “I have a bad feeling about this place.”
“It’s fine. I’ve done this before.”
“No, a bad feeling. It feels like we’re closer to Hell.”
“We are. We’re underground.”
Crowley waved him on. “Look, just keep moving.”
But when something rumbled in the distance, their stomachs lurched.
Aziraphale’s eyes flew open. “Oh, God.”
Crowley flung his arm over Aziraphale’s chest. “Don’t move!”
Crowley pinned Aziraphale to the wall. “Just stay back!”
They flattened themselves against the bricks, squinted, and held their breath, and the train ripped down the rails with a deafening, screeching roar. They grimaced and clenched their teeth as the force whipped their hair and lapels - and then it vanished down the tunnel as quickly as it had come.
Crowley peeked at Aziraphale. “You all right?”
“I will be.”
Crowley gave his shoulder a quick pat. “Good. Let’s go this way.”
They shook themselves off and continued on at a faster clip, and when they came to a fork, they ventured on down the same path. They skirted around fuseboxes, service ladders, and fallen tiles, and every now and then, the tracks groaned and sent chills up their spines.
And then, when they came to the end of a row of clinking pipes, they heard three voices echoing through an opening in the wall.
“Is he down here?”
Another answered, “I think so, but I’ve lost track of him.”
“What if they took the train?” The third asked. “They could be anywhere by now.”
Crowley peeked around the corner and Aziraphale followed suit, and they saw the angels standing in an alcove with a hatch.
“Figure it out,” the leader snapped. “We can’t come back with nothing to report. We just need to see him perform a miracle. Then we can go back up.”
Aziraphale shot Crowley a look that said, are they serious?!
Crowley shrugged and gave him one back that said, looks like they are.
The angels knocked their ankles together and disappeared in a puff of light. Crowley nodded to Aziraphale. Aziraphale nodded back. They tiptoed past the doorway and crossed the next fork in the path - and soon, they spied the angels again in a maintenance corridor.
“This is ridiculous,” one protested, and folded his arms over his chest. “Why are we going after him? He hasn’t done anything that bad.”
The other turned around and murmured to him, “I’m not sure we should…”
“We’ve never had to do this for a miracle citation before.”
Crowley slunk forward and took cover behind the nearest wall, and Aziraphale joined him, bending over so they could both see.
The other angel gestured to the tunnel. “He’s the one who stopped Armageddon.”
“I know. I still think it’s too much.”
The leader cut in. “It’s not our place to question it.”
The first one unfolded his arms and planted his hands on his hips. “Well, why isn’t it?”
Aziraphale froze, and Crowley mouthed, oh no.
“Do you ever think about what the final battle would actually have been like? Do you reckon he may have saved us?” The first angel lowered his voice. “I’ve never fought a demon. I’m not even sure I know how. I mean, us rushing in on them? There’s no way we all would’ve survived.”
The others fidgeted. “Look…”
“Y- me- all three of us probably would’ve gone extinct. We’d’ve been cannon fodder!”
Crowley dug his nails into Aziraphale’s arm and whispered, “Don’t.”
“‘Not our place to question it.’” The angel snarled and huffed. “As soon as we get out of here, I’m…”
But then he trailed off.
Aziraphale’s jaw dropped. The color drained from Crowley’s face. The angel wriggled his fingers, cleared his throat, and groped up his chest. The other two shifted with discomfort as he wheezed - and glanced at his palms - and his eyes darted back and forth as he loosened his collar.
“What’s going on?”
The floor of the tunnel shook. Dust scattered from the ceiling.
Crowley leaned over Aziraphale’s shoulder and breathed, “No, no. No. No.”
And then, with a thunderous force that hit the tunnel like a bomb, the angel slammed on the ground as his wings unfurled from his back.
The angel writhed on his side and let out a blood-curdling scream, and the others scrambled toward the walls with their hands over their mouths. His wings burst into flames. His feathers shriveled and turned black. The tunnel filled with the smell of brimstone, ash, and burning hair. Threads of smoke seeped from him as his skin seared under his clothes, and the more he flailed for the others, the more they backed away.
“Help!” He clawed at the pavement. “Help!”
The ground cracked and cleaved apart, and it glowed molten-hot as it dragged him in and swallowed him up.
Aziraphale clung to the wall, too terrified to move. Crowley averted his head and let out a mournful sigh. The concrete muffled the angel’s voice as it congealed over his hand, and left nothing but a spattered, pitch-black scorch mark in his place.
The second angel stammered as his knees gave out. “I… I…”
The leader held onto his helmet. “Abort mission. We have to get out of here!”
The two of them beamed upward in a white-hot flash of light, and another train rushed by and fluttered the back of Aziraphale’s coat. Aziraphale shuffled down the tracks and gazed at the empty spot, his mouth still slack with horror and his cheeks as white as chalk.
Crowley trudged behind him, stuck his hands in his pockets, bowed his head, and broke the stony silence with a dispassionate voice.
“You’ve never actually… seen it, have you?”
Aziraphale didn’t respond.
“Of course not. Why would you? They hadn’t even made you yet.”
Aziraphale’s chest heaved as he took shaky, shallow breaths.
“Like I said.” Crowley sank onto the nearby ledge. “You’d know.”
Aziraphale turned over his shoulder and looked Crowley up and down, from the toes of his snakeskin boots to the top of his auburn hair. His lip and eyebrows shook as his hands hung limply at his sides, and his eyes welled up with grief as he finally understood.
In a small, dank cafe somewhere near the closest platform, Crowley and Aziraphale huddled on each side of a red leather booth.
Across the room, two truck drivers dug into their sausage and potatoes, and an old man leafed through a newspaper and cut his pie with his fork. The waitress brought out a plain white cup of chamomile tea, but Aziraphale hesitated and gave it a queasy look.
Crowley nodded at it. “Angel…”
Aziraphale didn’t say anything.
“Go on.” Crowley pushed the teacup toward him. “It’ll help.”
Aziraphale picked it up and took a small, skeptical sip.
“Now.” Crowley frowned. “Talk.”
Aziraphale breathed in through his nose. “I’m fine.”
“No you’re not.”
“Yes I am.”
“It’s written all over your face.”
Aziraphale put it back on the saucer. “Why are they doing this?”
Crowley’s frown deepened. “Doing what?”
“This.” Aziraphale stuck his spoon into the cup. “Being cited for frivolous miracles used to be a swat on the nose. A month or two of inconvenience. A few ruined weekend plans.” He stirred around and around without paying attention to it. “It was my own poor judgment to go to Paris in 1793. If I’d stayed home, I would’ve passed probation without incident.”
“I still think they’re trying to nail you for the treason thing.”
“That doesn’t explain how Sabrael’s been behaving about it.” Aziraphale turned the cup handle so it lined up with the edge of the table. “I told you she doesn’t care about our intimate liaisons. She even brushed off Armageddon like it was spilled milk. I don’t understand.”
“I’m used to Heaven being a stickler for the rules,” Crowley said, “but I’ve gotta admit, they’ve really outdone themselves this time.”
“The trials made sense. We’d laid waste to a six-thousand-year plan. We knew there would be retribution. They just didn’t know we’d survive.”
“And after all that, they’re gonna get you on a technicality.”
“Not with a bang, but a whimper.” Aziraphale clattered the spoon down. “An angel fell because of me. How am I going to live with that?”
“He’ll be all right,” Crowley muttered. “Hell’ll take care of him. I doubt they’ve had any new recruits from upstairs for a while.”
“They’ll probably squeeze him for whatever info about Heaven he’s got, then give him a proper welcoming party. Might even make him a prince.”
Aziraphale held his forehead. “Please, can we not talk about this?”
“Sorry.” Crowley sniffed. “Had six thousand years to get used to it.”
Aziraphale took another shaky sip.
Crowley mouthed to himself, “‘Intimate liaisons…’”
Aziraphale murmured back, “This is really not the time.”
Crowley rubbed under his glasses as Aziraphale gulped his tea, and the steam licked Aziraphale’s face before he set it down again.
“Sabrael is a watcher. She doesn’t do the reprimanding herself. Well, not officially. She’s not shy about when you’ve disappointed her.” Aziraphale’s hands finally steadied on the tabletop. “When she sees an offending case, she sends it on to Gabriel, and he ministers from there. You know I won’t be able to reason with him.”
“Yeah, about her, actually.” Crowley leaned forward on his elbows. “Is it me, or does she seem a little…”
“Obsessed with you?”
Aziraphale turned up his eyebrows. “It’s her job to keep the miracle-makers in line.”
Crowley scowled out the window. “Figured you’d say something like that.”
“How do I negotiate with an archangel? What do I tell her?”
“Well, not the truth.”
“God, no. That would be foolish even for me.” Aziraphale clinked the teacup as he started stirring again. “It’s bad enough that they think I caused those miracles on purpose. If they know I can’t control my powers, there’s no telling what they’ll do.”
“Hey.” Crowley reached across the table and clapped Aziraphale’s cheek twice. “Who always gets through these things?”
Aziraphale answered in a small, unconvinced voice. “Us.”
“We’ll think of something.” Crowley let his hand drop. “Got no idea what, but if there’s anyone who knows how to fail upward with panache, it’s us.”
The door jingled as three construction workers came into the cafe, fanned themselves with their collars, and slumped into the nearest booth. The spoon bumped Aziraphale’s forehead as he downed more of his tea, and Crowley rolled the end of his tie between his finger and thumb.
“What would Agnes Nutter do?”
“The only thing she could, I suppose. Chin up. Soldier on.” Aziraphale rested his head against the booth. “I am a soldier, after all. I know I look soft now, but when I had that flaming sword, I knew how to use it.”
“Who said you were soft?”
Aziraphale grumbled, “Gabriel. Who else?”
“If I ever see him again, I’m going to punch him in the face.”
Aziraphale sighed and looked down. “I’d really rather you didn’t.”
“Ah, come on. Don’t tell me you haven’t at least thought about it.”
“It doesn’t matter. The last thing we need is another war on our hands…”
Before Aziraphale could finish, the old cathode-ray TV mounted in the corner of the cafe caught their ears. The prim evening news anchor interrupted her routine broadcast, listened on an earpiece, and swiveled back to the camera.
I - um - she began - I’ve just received a bulletin from our source on the ground outside the Palace of Westminster. The Metropolitan Police are reporting that there has been an attempt on the life of Ukrainian Ambassador Lyudmila Sirko.
The old man put down his newspaper and the construction workers glanced up, and the waitress set a saucer down as her jaw hit the floor.
The police reported that Sirko left the palace at 6:05 P.M., at which time a single shot was fired from a building across the street. The shot missed, and thanks to… uh… to action from her security team, Sirko and other bystanders were able to avoid injury. Co… um… coincidentally, a separate police squad had been dispatched to the building to investigate signs of a break-in. They heard the shot and were able to quickly apprehend the shooter, and though they have not released further details, they confirm they are in custody.
Crowley froze. Aziraphale dropped his spoon on the table.
Ambassador Sirko had been at the palace for a meeting between the Prime Minister and Russian and Ukrainian officials. The attack will no doubt cast suspicion on an already-tense diplomatic event, but for now, we should be grateful for her miraculous escape.
“That’s…” Crowley flattened himself against the back of the seat - “that’s, uh - yeah. All right. That’s strange. Is that strange to you?”
Aziraphale’s eyes widened. “Surely it must be a coincidence.”
Crowley set his teeth and shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
Aziraphale went pale. “Dear God.”
“There’s no way that was you.”
Crowley squinted behind his glasses. “Something is afoot.”
Chapter 3: Part 3
That night, Aziraphale retired to the second floor of the bookshop, where he curled up in an armchair with a blanket over his lap.
Crowley creaked down the staircase and headed for the door, but stopped just as he turned the heavy winged key in the lock. He checked over his shoulder and found Aziraphale asleep, with a book against his stomach and his arms draped around himself.
Crowley reached for the doorknob, then thought twice, pulled his hand back, and hunted up and down the room for something to write on. He grabbed a library notecard and Aziraphale’s ivory fountain pen, scrawled I’ll be back on one side, perched it on a table, and left.
He stole around to the side of the shop and almost climbed into his car, but left it on the corner and walked down to a bus instead. He rode it out to Whitechapel and stepped off at a deserted stop, and prowled through alleys and shortcuts until he came to a dimly-lit street. Soon, he saw a boarded-up nightclub with an awning that read The Baudelaire Lounge, edged around to a service door, jiggled it open, and crept through.
Inside, he wrestled with the scissor gate of a service elevator, pressed a button, and tapped his foot as it ferried him down. With a grinding noise, it dropped him in a long, empty hallway, where a reinforced metal door waited for him at the end. He sidled up to it, inspected it, and banged on it three times, and a pair of hinges creaked as a slot opened on the side.
“What’s the password?” A voice growled.
Crowley tipped his head toward the slot. “‘Ereshkigal.’”
The door groaned and heaved out like the hatch of a vault.
Crowley pulled his collar up and slunk down a flight of stairs, and he ventured into another world with every step he took. A nightclub lay before him that looked like an old factory floor, with red stage lights on trusses and a caged-in second-floor catwalk. Demons talked and drank at black granite tables and in dark leather booths. Others puffed on hookahs filled with bubbling black tar. A song boomed from the loudspeakers that Crowley felt more than he heard, with a tuneless chant that echoed off the yawning concrete walls.
It’s just a temporary slide back into the abyss
I should have seen it coming from miles away
Crowley cut a winding path across the endless room, past a bar with a marble counter and hissing iron pipes. He spied Dagon’s entourage by a tank with three-eyed sharks, and he bowed his head and pushed his glasses as far up as he could. He slithered through the crowd one bump and elbow at a time - a sea of horns, hooves, leather, black nails, and sharpened fangs - until he hooked a left into a narrow corridor, where he ducked through a plastic strip curtain stained with dark ichor.
On the other side, Crowley found an alcove with an old payphone, with grimy, worn-down buttons, a frayed cord, and a tattered book. A hellish courier sat beside it on a rickety barstool, blowing clouds of purple smoke from a thin black cigarette.
“Master Crowley?” The courier shrank back. “What the Hell do you want?”
“I need to make a call.”
The courier frowned. “To where?”
“All the way down.”
The courier stubbed his cigarette out in the snake-shaped ashtray. “Why?”
“I need to get through to Sitri.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to hear from you.”
“Yeah, listen, I’m sure they’ll make you guard dog of the month, but this is important. Very important.” Crowley set his teeth. “So either let me at that phone, or…”
“You’re not even supposed to be here!”
And then a Cockney woman’s voice cut in. “What’s all this, then?”
A busty, black-haired demon emerged from behind the curtain, and Crowley recognized her as soon as she leaned on the door jamb. Her calf-length crops. Her penny loafers. The beauty mark by her lip. Her leopard-print smoking jacket with black pockets and lapels. She tilted her chin over her high black collar and cravat, and the eerie, harsh light glinted on her hornlike victory rolls.
“Well, well.” She eyed Crowley’s snake belt. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
Crowley sighed with relief. “Sitri! I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Yeah, I… I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”
A shadow passed over Sitri’s face. “You’d better come this way.”
Sitri led Crowley down another harrowing set of stairs, where a pair of huge, identical demons guarded a private room.
The reddish-purple light glowed off their black suits and shaved heads, and their sigil tattoos shifted and crawled across their necks and hands. They stiffened and cracked their knuckles when they saw Crowley come down the hall, but Sitri raised her palm to them.
“It’s fine. He’s with me.”
The guards grunted and stayed still as Sitri ushered Crowley in, and she slid onto the leather cushion of a round black couch.
Crowley frowned at the doorway. “What’s with the twitchy security?”
“I’ve got time.”
“I don’t. Why were you trying to get through to me?”
“Actually, while I remember - have you seen someone come from upstairs? New guy?”
“No. I haven’t.” Sitri laid her forearm on the mirrored table. “Now what?”
Crowley sat down across from her. “This stays between us.”
Crowley eyed the black quartz Lilith statue beside them. “I need your help.”
Sitri’s nostrils flared. “What’ve I said about the H-word?”
Crowley tried again. “Fine. I need a favor.”
“So.” Crowley propped his elbows on the table and crossed his legs. “I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. I’ve got bad news about the Armageddon thing.”
Sitri scowled. “This had better be worth my while.”
“It is.” Crowley hushed. “I think the other side’s already back on their feet.”
“That’s ridiculous. There’s no way they could recover from your cock-up that fast.”
Crowley sneered back. “In all fairness, it wasn’t just my cock-up.”
“How do you even know?”
“I can sense it.”
Sitri sat up straighter. “Sense what?”
Crowley nodded up to the ceiling. “It’s the miracles.”
Sitri furrowed her eyebrows, but waited for him to go on.
“Ever since Armageddon, someone - I don’t know who - has been kicking it into overdrive with working miracles.” Crowley leaned into the bright light from the lamp over their heads. “Someone local. Here in London. It’s all over the place. Can’t leave my flat without feeling it. It’s making my skin crawl.”
“Why don’t you ask your pal Aziraphale?”
“I did. It’s not him.”
“You believe him?”
“He’s an angel. He can’t lie.” Crowley lied without skipping a beat. “My guess is the other side wants us to think they’re backing off. And then, when we’ve got our guard down, they’re going to do something big. They’ve already bagged the Prime Minister.”
Sitri cut in. “Get to the point.”
“I can fight it.” Crowley steepled his fingers. “But I need some… special skills.”
Sitri tilted her head. “‘Skills?’”
“Look at it this way. I could’ve gone to Seir or Stolas, but I came to you.”
“You don’t like Stolas.”
Crowley waved it off. “Nobody likes Stolas. He’s a prick.”
“We’re all pricks down here.”
“Yeah, but you’re the only prick that I trust.” Crowley jabbed his fingertip on the tabletop. “I mean, I trust you as far as I can throw you, but it’s a start.”
Sitri planted her chin on her knuckles. “What exactly are we talking here?”
“I need to do some evil deeds in a more… physical sense.”
Sitri’s all-black eyes widened as she blinked in disbelief.
Crowley furtively brushed his shoulder. “If you get my drift.”
Sitri kept gawking.
“Sign a release form. Do a couple of rituals. Easy, right?” Crowley brightened. “We can do it before I leave.”
“Are you planning to sleep your way through London?”
“I’m not ruling it out. ‘When the going gets tough.’”
“That’s not how you work. What’s the matter with you?”
“Whatever you want, I’m good for it. A few souls. Pots of Brylcreem…”
Crowley fell silent.
“You’re selling it too hard.”
“You’ve still got the gift of gab, I’ll give you that.” Sitri let go of her chin. “But you can’t play me.”
“That’s what I came all the way down here to ask you for.”
“I believe that.” Sitri folded her arms. “But that’s not what’s really wrong.”
Crowley peeked at the bouncers outside the door one more time, and when they didn’t react, he scooted even closer to her.
“You know how many different ways I tried to get in touch with you?”
Sitri glanced at the bouncers, too, but didn’t respond.
“I tried summoning. Calling. I even drew a chalk circle. I nearly got out a bloody Ouija board.” Crowley counted his fingers and clenched his teeth. “Nothing. The line was disconnected. The ritual didn’t go through. What in Satan’s name is going on down here?”
For the first time, Sitri looked almost sorry. “They didn’t tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“Hell’s blacklisted you.”
“‘Relieved of your duties until further notice.’” Sitri recited it in a mirthless voice. “That’s what the memo said.”
Crowley sank into the couch.
Sitri scratched under her cravat. “You’re not supposed to visit us. We’re not supposed to talk to you.”
“Wh… I…” Crowley stammered - “nobody gets kicked out of Hell. That’s our thing. We take the people who’ve been kicked out of everywhere else. We’re like St. Trinian’s for angels.”
“You’re not kicked out. You’re still a demon.”
“Well, what good is that?!”
“Don’t yell at me. I didn’t sign off on it.” Sitri’s tone sharpened again as she clapped her hand to her knee. “They didn’t know what else to do. Normally, they’d just…”
Crowley mumbled, “Put me in holy water and get it over with.”
Sitri shrank against the cushions and chewed the inside of her mouth.
“I can’t believe it.” Crowley stared into space. “I did it again.”
The longer the silence hung between them, the heavier it became.
“Look, it may not be permanent. Hell’s pretty upside-down right now. We never even got the hound back.” Sitri tucked a hair behind her ear. “I’ll talk to the Dark Council. Put in a good word for you. See if I can get ‘em to back off of… whatever it is they’re doing.”
“Don’t let them give you a hard time ‘cause you let me in.” Crowley rubbed under his glasses. “Just say I didn’t know.”
Sitri shrugged. “I don’t get it. You said you wanted Hell to leave you alone.”
“Not like that.” Crowley slowly shook his head. “Not like this.”
A handful of noisy, drunken demons passed through the hall, and the distant, headache-inducing bass throbbed through the floor. After an endless minute, Crowley pulled back from the table, and he heaved himself to his feet and shuffled toward the doorway.
“Crowley.” Sitri stood up, too. “Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
Crowley didn’t look back. “We passed that six thousand years ago.”
Sometime in the wasteland between three and four in the morning, Crowley staggered back to the bookshop and let himself in.
He flung the door open too wide and stumbled over the threshold, and he held onto the wall to steady himself as he slammed it shut. He dragged his toes on the floor as he lurched into the maze of books, and when he creaked a floorboard, Aziraphale burst out of the back room.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale ran up to him. “Crowley, you’re all right!”
Aziraphale clapped his hands to Crowley’s cheeks. “You smell like smoke.”
Aziraphale sniffed and furrowed his brow. “And scotch. You’re drunk.”
“Yeah, about that. Do you have any of that port left?”
“No.” Aziraphale put his foot down with one razor-sharp word. “Where have you been?”
“Demon business. Don’t worry about it.”
“I was worried. I searched the whole street for you. I nearly walked to your flat.” Aziraphale studied Crowley’s face and stroked along his jaw. “I thought…”
Crowley squirmed. “I left a note. Didn’t want to wake you up…”
“Yes, but then I saw the car, and I-I didn’t know.” Aziraphale reached down and patted between Crowley’s shoulder blades. “I thought maybe you’d been kidnapped, or after what happened today…”
“I think I’d’ve preferred that to what I’ve just been through.”
Aziraphale paused. “What?”
“Look, I’m in no fit state to talk about it right now.”
“Then come. Sober up.” Aziraphale shepherded him toward the armchairs. “I’ll get you a blanket. Make you a cup of cocoa.”
“I’m serious,” Crowley growled. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Whatever it is, you’re not going to feel better until it’s out.”
Crowley tucked his chin. “I won’t feel better no matter what I do.”
“Then at least let me console you.” Aziraphale caressed the hair at the back of Crowley’s head. “At least let me feel as though I tried.”
Crowley smudged his lenses as he pawed his sunglasses off, and he fumbled with the temple bars until they folded up.
“I went to the Baudelaire.”
Aziraphale cringed. “Oh, God. That den of iniquity?”
“My calls weren’t going through. I had to know what was going on.”
“You mean you kept trying?”
“Of course I did.” Crowley stuffed his glasses in his breast pocket. “I had to get Sitri’s powers. How else was I going to save you?”
“What happened? Couldn’t you find her?”
Crowley let go of his jacket. “That’s the trouble. I did.”
“Then for Heaven’s sake, what’s the matter?”
Crowley slurred, “Hell’s blacklisted me.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth in vain as he searched for words, until he finally dredged up a small, dejected “Oh.”
Crowley shrugged all the way up to his ears. “I’ve been sacked.”
“I’m so sorry,” Aziraphale offered, for lack of anything else to say.
“Can you believe it?” Crowley paced around the rug. “Hell actually kicked me out. Just like that. Bye.” He swiped at the air. “In the lift. Don’t even get your stuff.” His unsteady feet veered out of his circle and toward the stairs. “We’re not even gonna tell you! We’ll just let you figure it out. That you’re such a failure at everything that you’re persona non grata in Hell.”
Crowley sniffed. “At least if they want to kill you, they think you’re a threat. Now I’m a… a…”
Aziraphale studied his shoes, but didn’t say anything.
“It figures!” Crowley waved his arm again as his eyes welled up. “I couldn’t hack it in Heaven. I should’ve known I’d fuck this one up, too.”
Aziraphale muttered, “You’re right. I don’t think we should discuss this while you’re drunk.”
“No!” Crowley snarled. “You’re the one who wanted to do this now.”
Aziraphale stayed very still to avoid provoking him.
“I’ve spent thousands of years wishing they would leave me alone, and now that they’ve actually done it…”
Aziraphale chimed in. “It hurts.”
Crowley blinked numbly at him.
Aziraphale folded his hands. “Doesn’t it?”
“To have thrown everything over, even if you know you were right.”
Crowley squinted at him.
Aziraphale lowered his voice. “The thought of losing the thing you could always trust yourself to be.”
“No.” Crowley grimaced. “It’s not even remotely the same. I know what you’re playing at, and I… don’t even go there.”
“Oh, but I think it is. I think it always has been.” Aziraphale stiffened his shoulders. “You just don’t want to hear it.”
“Look, I may hate the brass, but it’s the only thing I’m good at, all right? I’m lazy. I like tempting. I drive fast. I drink too much.” Crowley sank onto the second stair and stretched out his legs. “I was meant for it. I fit in down there with shitty people. You’ve always been too good for Heaven. They have never deserved you.”
“Is that really what you think of yourself?”
“It’s not what I think. It’s what I am!”
Aziraphale set his jaw. “At some point, it’s an excuse.”
Crowley just stared at him, too pickled with drink to understand.
“I know you to be kind, and loyal, and protective of the powerless, and a generous soul, and the only true friend I’ve ever had.” Aziraphale’s face cracked as he sat beside Crowley on the stairs. “Do you know how isolated I was down on the Eastern Gate? When you came, I thought, ‘My God. Someone to keep me company.’”
Crowley shrank away from him instead of answering.
“There’s no such thing as ‘too good for…’ well, maybe there is, but that’s not the point.” Aziraphale touched Crowley’s wrist. “I’m far from perfect. Heaven has just lost its way.”
Crowley roared, “How can you still be like this?!”
Aziraphale flinched and shut up.
“They’ve shown you who they are. How can you still stick up for them?”
Aziraphale chewed his mouth and took a deep, restraining breath.
“‘Heaven won’t have blood on its hands’ - they’ve had blood on their hands from the start! These people drowned children.” Crowley sprang up off the stairs. “After all your making excuses, they’re still going to tan your hide for something as little and stupid as too many miracles.”
Aziraphale stood up, too. “That’s not…”
“How many times are you going to take this from them before you finally have the self-respect to say enough’s enough?”
Aziraphale closed his eyes for a second and swallowed the lump in his throat.
Crowley clenched his fists. “I thought after Armageddon, you’d finally come ‘round.”
Crowley spat, “Six thousand years, and still no bloody spine.”
Aziraphale inched closer to him. “Don’t.”
Crowley scowled at him. “Don’t?”
“You heard me.” Aziraphale cradled the back of Crowley’s neck. “I know what this is.”
“No you don’t.”
Aziraphale steadied himself. “You want to make me angry at you because you need to hurt yourself.”
Crowley jerked away. “Don’t patronize me!”
Aziraphale kept his voice soft. “You’re dashing yourself on the rocks. And I’m not going to help you.”
Crowley slouched like a beaten dog, and he looked at Aziraphale with something between disgust and pitiful, helpless rage. He deliberated for a minute - and then, without a word, he turned on his heel and stalked toward the entryway.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale pleaded.
“I’ll come back. I always do.” Crowley undid the latch on the door. “Just need some time to think.”
Aziraphale stood in stricken silence at the foot of the stairs, and he watched Crowley shamble out the door and let it swing shut. Crowley dragged himself out to the cold, dingy sidewalk, slumped down on the curb, and buried his face in his lap.
On the second floor of the bookshop, Aziraphale’s bedroom glowed by the light of the lonely hurricane lamp on the nightstand.
It flickered on the stacks of books and scrolls that lined the walls and the hoard of antiques around him. A gilded clock. A Persian rug. A Victorian wardrobe and dressing table. A Fabergé egg. A box of frankincense and a filigree brass burner. It gleamed on the jacquard curtains that framed a wide, half-moon window, with leaded panes that looked out on the rooftops and the starless sky.
Aziraphale lay in the middle of the huge brass bed, dressed down to his undershirt and an ivory pajama top. He curled up in the white flannel sheets and cream tartan duvet, and watched the night pass as he withdrew into the depths of his mind.
The night of Armageddon, Crowley let Aziraphale into his flat, and he switched a few lights on and dropped his sunglasses on his desk.
When he came back out, he found Aziraphale on the floor, stationed quietly at the foot of the statue of good and evil. The feeble can light from down the hall lit up the back of his head, but the rest of him sat in darkness, studying his folded hands.
Crowley inched closer. “What are you doing down there?”
“There was nowhere else to sit.”
“There’s the living room. My office chair.”
“I didn’t want to impose.”
Crowley frowned at his logic, but didn’t question him.
“Do you ever talk to the Almighty, Crowley?”
“No.” Crowley wrinkled his nose. “Well… sometimes.”
“She doesn’t answer, does She?”
“I never have anything nice to say.”
Aziraphale bent one knee up to his chest. “What does it give you?”
“I don’t know. Someone to yell at.”
“Someone beside you when you’re afraid.”
“It’s over, though,” Crowley mumbled. “Things are going to be all right.”
“No.” Aziraphale’s one word hung in the air like lead. “They’re not.”
Crowley shrank and turned around without answering him - but before he could leave, he heard Aziraphale again.
“Was it really so much to expect them to be good?”
Crowley stopped mid-step and turned back again. “To what?”
“I mean, angels. To be the thing we always claim we are.” Aziraphale explained in a calm, but disheartened voice. “How can humankind face anything if they don’t have ideals? A real, tangible force to look up to?” He laced his fingers his lap. “Something bigger and more comforting for them to believe in than the cycle of violence they keep putting themselves through.”
Crowley fidgeted with his tie, but let Aziraphale talk.
“You’ve seen everything I have. The indifference. The greed. The suffering. The slaughter.” Aziraphale’s expression aged more and more as he spoke. “I just want people to feel like someone cares for them.”
“But they don’t, though.”
“I do.” Aziraphale turned up his eyebrows. “I love that people looked up at the stars and gave them names. I love that they sing and write books and hold each other when they cry.” His voice faltered, but he pushed through it and continued on. “I love all the beguiling things humans have come up with. And the ones meant to protect them were going to throw it all away.”
Crowley just stood in the hallway, utterly lost for words.
Aziraphale stared into the shadows. “I hope they never find out.”
Crowley swallowed the lump in his throat as Aziraphale chewed his lip, and the emptiness that filled the room became unbearable. Crowley took a step closer to Aziraphale’s spot on the floor - then a second - then a third - and sat down at his side.
“Well…” he shrugged - “it sounds to me like you proved your own point.”
Crowley draped his arm over Aziraphale’s shoulder. “They’ve still got you.”
With that, Aziraphale made a quiet hitching noise, nestled into Crowley’s chest, and squeezed him with all his strength.
Crowley closed his arms around him and deepened their embrace, and Aziraphale eased his cheek out of the crook of Crowley’s neck. His hair caught the light again, and he gazed up at Crowley’s face with the kind of reverent eyes he used to save for Heaven itself.
“Oh, Crowley.” Aziraphale ran his fingertips up Crowley’s back and stroked the red of his collar. “You always have been such a kind and faithful friend.”
The two lingered in silence with their foreheads a hairsbreadth apart, and with a spark of courage, Aziraphale tilted his head. He leaned closer - then hesitated - and leaned closer again - and his eyelids fluttered shut as he gave Crowley a kiss.
Aziraphale clung to it for a moment - then two - and then drew back, and six thousand years of hesitance began to slip away. Crowley leaned forward and kissed Aziraphale again. Aziraphale cradled Crowley’s cheek and caressed it with his thumb. Two kisses became a third. A third became a more desperate fourth. They pressed their brows together and took short, shuddering breaths. Aziraphale clutched Crowley’s shoulders, and with slow, careful grace, Crowley swayed Aziraphale down and splayed him across the floor.
Aziraphale whispered to him, “My dear, are you really sure?”
“Shh.” Crowley pecked down his throat. “There’s no one here. Just us.”
Crowley laid his thin forearm beside Aziraphale’s head. Aziraphale ran the backs of his knuckles down Crowley’s side. Crowley loosened the knot in Aziraphale’s bow tie, then gingerly undid the buttons on his waistcoat and shirt. They closed their eyes, shifted their weight, sighed, and entwined their legs, like the statue of good and evil that watched over them in the dark.
Back in the present, Aziraphale rolled over in bed, and he pulled his knees up and burrowed deeper into the sheets. He dragged the second pillow over and turned it short-side-up, squeezed it to himself, and tucked the end under his chin.
When a chilly, feather-gray dawn crept over the rooftops, Crowley stepped out of his flat and left his car behind.
He walked for block after block out of Mayfair and due east, until the lanes grew narrow and the chimneys puffed white clouds. He passed iron stairs. Tall black lampposts. Soot-stained brick workshops. Tower blocks that loomed in the distance like concrete sentinels. Soon, he smelled fish and oil and heard the telltale clangs of the docks, and he turned his lapels up, stuck his hands in his pockets, and ventured on.
On a corner, an old busker improvised on his trumpet, and the minor strain followed Crowley as he meandered down an empty street. He paced by a black cat and kicked a rock down the cobblestones, and he gazed at the stained windows and remembered what had come before. Clotheslines. Cars with tall, thin grills. Children in newsboy caps. Midwives on their bicycles with flapping crimson cloaks. The theater where he and Aziraphale had seen Ben-Hur, its ticket office shuttered and a heavy chain across the door. He ignored the fog of his breath and the haze that curled around his feet, lost in an elegy for a city that would never return.
Eventually, Crowley found his way back to the main thoroughfare, and he spotted the red-white-and-blue sign of a tube station. He sauntered down the wide, dark stairs and past the ticket kiosks, and found a few morning stragglers spread out on the platform. A couple leaning on each other’s shoulders. A businessman in a rumpled suit. A man who yawned and slouched and clung to his portfolio bag. A train blew by without stopping and ruffled their hair and coats, and the screeching rails echoed down the tunnel as it sped away.
As Crowley drifted to and fro under the long, sterile lights, he saw a well-dressed fifty-something man reading on a bench. He mulled it over for a moment, then ducked under the alcove, and settled on the far left like he always did with Aziraphale. A minute passed - then two - and he itched with curiosity, so he peeked at the man’s book. Crossroads: Judaism and Christianity in Ancient Rome.
Another train roared into the station and slowed to a stop, and when the doors puffed open, a few tired youths shuffled out. The man read on in silence and scratched his tidy, graying beard - and finally, Crowley threw caution to the wind and spoke up.
“Is that any good?”
The man lowered the book and glanced aside at him. “What?”
“That book you’re reading.”
“I don’t know. I’m not too far in it yet.” The man shrugged as he skimmed through the synopsis on the back cover. “A colleague of mine recommended it. I’m doing a lecture series next term on the relationship between politics and monotheism.”
Crowley cocked his head like a dog.
“Ah.” The man clapped his hand to his chest. “I’m a professor. Oxford. Abrahamic Religions.”
Crowley raised his eyebrow. “That so?”
The man stuck his thumb in the book. “Quite right. I just sent off my next publication on the Septuagint.”
Crowley hesitated as a third train rushed by, and he sized the man up from his brown brogues to his gray wool coat.
“Actually…” Crowley crossed his arms - “I’ve been looking for someone like you.”
“Someone who’s not so hard up about the whole ‘asking questions’ thing.”
“Well, it is literally my job. Can I help you with anything?”
“Maybe.” Crowley stretched his legs out in front of himself. “How much do you know about angels?”
“In the theological sense?”
“Well, I’ve only read the Book of Enoch once, but…”
“That’s good enough.” Crowley gestured vaguely at the other side of the bench. “I mean, in theory, like…”
“Of course.” The man reached across himself, undid the latch on his briefcase, and pulled out a bookmark. “Though some schools of thought do say they take physical forms on Earth. That someone wise beyond their years may be a vessel for one.”
“I know a guy like that.” Crowley studied the toes of his boots. “Sweet as all get out, but a righteous pain in the arse sometimes.”
The man bit back a chuckle. “Sounds like what my husband says about me.”
“He can never get the last word with me. Makes him just furious.” The man beamed like the sun as he gazed off and reminisced. “Anyway, go on.”
“How much free will do angels have?”
“What do you mean?”
“How much could they do their own thing before they… you know… fell?”
“Are we talking about Christian angels?”
“Er, not specifically.”
“It’s a subject where being specific counts.” The man took his thumb out of the book. “A priest, imam, and rabbi would tell you very different things.”
“Just take a stab at it.”
The man replaced his thumb with the bookmark. “All right.”
“Say an angel went out on a limb and did something human. Like, not a bad thing, per se, but it isn’t in the angel playbook.” Crowley talked with his hands as he poked and prodded at his point. “Or maybe it’s kind of indulgent, but it’s not that big a deal. Not compared to all the murdering and tempting going on. So, really, you’d think, who cares? And…” he interrupted himself - “am I making any sense? I feel like I’m not.”
“No, I understand you completely.” The man frowned and shook his head. “You want to know if angelic morals are negotiable or absolute.”
“I guess so.” Crowley planted his arms over his chest again. “How far they could get from Heaven without losing their wings.”
“The angels who rebel have always fallen, as far as I know. The ones who keep their halos are fully in accordance with God. I’ve never read anything to indicate whether that’s a choice, or whether it simply never occurs to them to question things.”
“I mean, they still want to be out there doing the greater good and stuff. It’s just that they don’t always want to toe the party line.”
“Ah, that’s a flammable rhetorical apple to throw out. ‘The greater good.’” The man set his book beside him on the bench. “The question of good versus order has bedeviled people as long as time. No pun intended.”
Crowley snorted. “No, that wasn’t half bad.”
“My point stands, though,” the man said. “Millions have fought and died for it.”
Crowley’s shoulders slumped as he answered in a flat voice. “Yeah, I know.”
“I’d be surprised if even the angels themselves could agree.” The man stopped to correct himself. “Hypothetically, I mean.”
Crowley mulled it over and rolled his tongue around in his cheek.
“What about after Revelation?”
“Gosh. That’s an excellent question.” The man straightened his back, clearly taken off guard. “Would the legions of Heaven and Hell continue as they were? Or would there be restructuring once Jerusalem had reformed?”
“So…” Crowley paused - “things could be different.”
“They could be anything. We have no real frame of reference for a post-Armageddon world.” The man gave Crowley a disapproving sidelong look. “Well, no frame of reference with any ancient, scholarly weight.”
“Right,” Crowley muttered to himself. “‘Cause it was all supposed to end.”
Crowley pushed his glasses further up his nose. “Nothing.”
And with that, a fourth train rolled up to the platform.
“Listen, uh… thanks.” Crowley sat up and retracted his legs. “I should probably let you go. Don’t want you to miss your train.”
The man looked sheepish. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ve been much help.”
“No, it’s all right.” Crowley stood up. “You gave me what I was looking for.”
The couple broke away from each other and the businessman gathered himself, and the artist clutched his portfolio case as they all climbed on. Crowley dusted his jacket off and started to walk away - and then he stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned on his heel.
The man perked up. “What?”
“You kind of remind me of him. That guy, I mean.”
“The pain in the arse?”
“You don’t look like him, but the spirit’s there.”
“Well, I’ll take that as a compliment.” The man opened his book again. “You have a good day.”
“Yeah.” Crowley almost smiled. “Yeah, you know what? You, too.”
At eleven that same morning, Aziraphale sat up in bed, feeling every day and week of six thousand years old.
He sighed, rubbed his bleary eyes, and heaved his feet down to the floor, and he stared blankly out the window as he dressed himself. He undid his pajamas. He tugged on his garters, socks, and undershirt. He dragged his trousers up and buttoned his shirt with lazy hands. He knotted his tartan bow tie without looking in the mirror, and he groaned as he sat on the mattress and bent over to tie his boots.
When he’d finished, he fixed his hair with a winged ivory comb, and he trudged downstairs and into the quiet, darkened shop. Crowley’s note still sat on the table by the door - a quiet, uncomfortable reminder of the night before.
Aziraphale shuffled into the back room and retrieved his wing-handled mug, and with a limp brush of his finger, it filled with hot cocoa. He set it down on his desk and returned to his copy of Paradise Lost, and opened it to find a sheaf of yellowed paper in the front.
Heard you collected these. Don’t ask what I did to get it. C
Below the words sat a small, childish drawing of a snake.
Aziraphale smiled, turned up his eyebrows, and brought his hand to his mouth, and he let out a soft, pained laugh at its angry eyebrows and forked tongue. He put the book down, closed it, and gave the cover an affectionate pat…
But when he pulled his hand away, something rustled behind his back.
Aziraphale froze. Then hesitated. Then peeked over his shoulder. The Latin manuscript on the table across from him had fallen open. He paced over and inspected it, but as soon as he eased it shut, a Bible on the shelf by the window opened itself.
Aziraphale strode across the room and shut that one, too, and gave it a frown that said don’t do that.
But the first one fell open again.
Aziraphale frowned deeper and clamped his hands down on the stack, so the encyclopedia beside it creaked open instead. Then St. Augustine’s Confessions opened. Then Pamela. Then The Picture of Dorian Gray. Then the copy of Agnes Nutter’s prophecies by the cocoa on his desk. A force blew under the door and fanned their pages back and forth, like vellum and parchment feathers dancing on an enchanted wind.
Aziraphale gasped as the breeze stirred up his hair and trouser hems, and his eyes darted from pile to pile as he turned to and fro. It spread through the dictionaries. The novels. The musical playbills. Aziraphale stopped trying to close them, backed away, and stared in awe. Before he knew it, the flapping pages filled the entire shop - by the armchairs, the coat rack, the staircase, the gramophone - and even up to the second floor, where everything not crammed on a shelf swished and spat out bookmarks, checks, receipts, and envelopes.
And then, as Aziraphale retreated across the area rug, a scrap of paper shot out of his giant Summa Theologica.
Aziraphale shielded his face, then clapped it in his hands, and the books stopped fluttering as their covers drifted shut. He leered at them and hunched his shoulders - and when they all stayed put, he unfolded the paper and held it toward the faint light from the window.
3-9 Old Burlington Street, it read, in a tidy, feminine cursive. 0100 hours.
In the middle of the night, Aziraphale put on his coat, locked the door of the bookshop, and set off down the dark sidewalk.
He took long, determined strides and stuck his hands in his coat like Crowley would, and he avoided eye contact with the drunks he passed on the street. When he reached the address - an office building with a high, curved facade - he tapped his feet by the planter boxes, unsure where to wait.
But soon, the feathery hair on the back of his neck pricked up, and he sensed an ethereal itch from the parking structure next door.
Aziraphale slipped through the entrance and skirted around the barrier arm, and he ventured down the winding slopes until he reached the lowest level. The deeper he went, the louder the echoes of his footsteps became, and his heart beat so fast, he could hear blood throb in his ears.
“Hello?” Aziraphale called out.
No one answered him.
Aziraphale puffed his chest out and curled his fists. “Hello?”
A second pair of footsteps clacked somewhere, then faded away, and the wok-wok of a car lock blared off the concrete walls. Aziraphale took slow, careful breaths to keep himself calm - in through the nose, then out through the mouth - as his eyes searched back and forth.
On a nervous impulse, he checked his pocket watch. 12:59…
And just as the minute hand moved, the elevator dinged.
Sabrael hurried through the doors as they slid open. “Thank God.”
Aziraphale snapped the watch shut and let it drop. “I knew it.”
“I was afraid I hadn’t gotten through.”
“You made it through loud and clear.”
“Were you followed?”
Aziraphale curled his lip. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“I can explain…”
Aziraphale backed away from her. “I’ve heard quite enough.”
“For what? For you to call Sandalphon to strike me down?”
Aziraphale stomped to a halt. “Don’t lie. It’s not becoming of you.”
Sabrael closed her eyes as the sting of her own words sank in.
“What was his name?” Aziraphale simmered down. “Did he even have one?”
“Manakel. He was a repeat offender. There was nothing I could do.”
“There was nothing you wanted to do.”
“Aziraphale, please.” Sabrael kneaded fistfuls of the fur on her coat. “I didn’t even know they’d been sent here until he’d been cast out.”
Aziraphale sneered. “You seem to know a great deal about what’s going on until it’s convenient not to.”
“What do you think I’m playing at?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”
“I did! I told you at the park!”
Sabrael blurted out, “It’s Gabriel!”
“Because he’s afraid of you.”
Aziraphale went white as a sheet and stared at her in shock.
“The spies? The citation? This is all him.” Sabrael swallowed the lump in her throat. “I can explain, but you need to let me. I haven’t got much time.”
Aziraphale craned his neck back and breathed, “Afraid of me? Why?”
“None of our kind have ever survived touching hellfire before. You sent Gabriel reeling. He… he doesn’t know what you are.”
Aziraphale sized himself up. “I’m the same that I’ve always been.”
“That’s what has him so paranoid.” Sabrael crept closer to him. “What happened at your trial gave him a crisis of faith. He’s worried you may be more important to the Ineffable Plan than him.”
Aziraphale squinted. “That’s ridiculous. He’s the Left Hand of God.”
“It doesn’t matter. The seed is planted. All it can do is grow.” Sabrael let go of her coat and turned up her eyebrows. “You and I both know that nothing is more dangerous than doubt.”
Aziraphale’s expression sobered. “Yes, I certainly do.”
“He’s spent the past two months combing through every rule we have. The scrolls. The canons. Anything he can use to subjugate you.” Sabrael clutched her wrist as the dim light flickered on her face. “He needs a way to humiliate you. He needs you back in line. That way, he can restore the hierarchy to what it was before.”
Aziraphale hushed. “Like a citation for frivolous miracles.”
“Exactly,” Sabrael answered. “He’s using me to get to you.”
Aziraphale let it all sink in.
“That’s why I wanted you to stop. The more miracles you perform, the more you give him to work with.”
Aziraphale furrowed his brow and folded his hands in front of himself - and in the lingering silence, something occurred to him.
“You disagreed. Didn’t you?”
Sabrael hesitated. “With what?”
“You were one of the archangels who questioned the Great Plan.”
Sabrael faltered. “I…”
“Gabriel knew. Didn’t he?” Aziraphale laced his fingers. “And he leveraged it against you.”
“No one’s ever going to win the battle between good and evil. You can’t have one without the other. That’s what they don’t understand.” Sabrael’s chin sank further and further into her neck wrap. “Earth didn’t ask to be caught between us. We can’t even keep them from killing themselves.”
Aziraphale softened. “It’s an easy place to fall in love with, isn’t it?”
Sabrael gave him a guilty look, but didn’t answer him.
“Listen. You don’t need to follow Gabriel’s command. You and I, we can put a stop to this.” This time, Aziraphale paced toward her. “If you questioned the Great Plan, then you know you have a mind of your own. I couldn’t reach the Almighty, but I may still be able to get through to you.”
“Didn’t you learn anything from Armageddon?”
“More than you’ll ever know.”
“What choice do I have?”
“The choice to do good! To do what you were created for.”
Sabrael stayed silent.
“Think about it. A step away from Heaven and toward the eyes of God.”
Sabrael shrank away from him and averted her head.
Aziraphale snarled and muttered under his breath, “Come on.”
“It’s like I said. I can warn you. But I can’t do any more.”
“That’s not true.”
“I’m the Guardian of the First Heaven. The Keeper of Miracles. I’m held to a standard of duty that you wouldn’t understand.”
Aziraphale set his teeth. “I know perfectly well what Heaven asks of us. The point is not to guide or comfort or protect. The point is to win.”
“For God’s sake, you’re an archangel!” Aziraphale cried.
Aziraphale lowered his voice again. “If not you, who else?”
“If I help you, I’ll endanger everything Heaven has worked for.”
“And if you keep choosing doctrine, we’ll be no better than Hell.”
Sabrael’s eyes widened.
“You want to know what I learned from Armageddon? There. I said it.” Aziraphale gulped. “You may call it blasphemy, but you know I’m right.”
“I’ve been watching and recording for six thousand years. If I stop living by those rules, I won’t know what I am.”
“You’re a force,” Aziraphale implored her. “A force for love and light. Just like the rest of us. Even Gabriel. If it’s still in him somewhere.”
“Then I suppose I’m a coward.”
“You’re going behind Gabriel’s back.” Aziraphale looked her over. “You’re many things, but a coward isn’t one of them.”
Sabrael gazed into the depths of Aziraphale’s blue eyes, and her face fell from fear to concern to tired, bewildered grief. She pulled the front flaps of her coat around herself like a cloak, and the shadows slid over her hair and collar as she turned away.
“I…” Sabrael stepped toward the elevator - “I have to go.”
Aziraphale called after her. “At least promise me you’ll try.”
Sabrael glanced over her shoulder. “Maybe Gabriel’s right.”
Sabrael bit her lip. “There really are no other angels like you.”
As soon as the city yawned and came to life the next morning, Aziraphale hopped on a bus to Mayfair and bolted to Crowley’s flat.
He whisked through the dim gray halls and climbed the stairs two at a time, and when he made it to the top, he stopped to catch his breath. He braced himself with his hand on the cold concrete corner, and as soon as he got his bearings, he scampered up to Crowley’s door.
But just as he pushed the button on Crowley’s snake doorbell, the Bentley screeched down Aziraphale’s street and parked by the curb.
Crowley bounded up to the bookshop and tugged the handle hard, and when he found it locked, he gave it another, firmer shake. He jiggled it over and over, but when it still didn’t budge, he bent down, opened the mail slot, and peeked through.
“Hey!” Crowley shouted into the dark shop. “Let me in!”
And over in Mayfair, Aziraphale tapped his foot on the floor.
“Crowley?” Aziraphale pushed the button a second time. “I have something to tell you!”
The bell rang, but the door stayed shut.
“Crowley, do let me in. This is terribly important…”
Meanwhile, in Soho, Crowley banged on the bookshop door.
“Angel?” He cupped his hands to his mouth. “I know you’re in there!”
No one answered.
“Ah, come on,” Crowley growled, and stepped away from the shop. “Are you in the bath again?!”
A passing businessman gave him an offended look.
Crowley sneered back. “What? You don’t bathe?”
The man stalked off without a word.
Aziraphale planted his hands on his hips. “Crowley, I insist!”
No one answered there, either.
Aziraphale raised his voice. “Surely you’re done sulking by now!”
“Whatever I said, I’m sorry!” Crowley bellowed up to the windows.
“I forgive you!” Aziraphale yelled at the doorbell. “You were very drunk!”
With a sigh, Aziraphale backed away and ran downstairs, and he passed Crowley’s elderly neighbor sweeping in front of her door. At the same time, Crowley darted around to the side of the shop, and found the chef from the restaurant unloading a produce truck.
“Ma’am!” Aziraphale called out. “I’m sorry to bother you. Have you seen the man who lives above you?”
The woman cocked her head. “The, uh…”
Aziraphale waved every which way. “Red hair? A bit taller than me? Dark glasses?”
The woman glanced down the hall. “He left about ten minutes ago.”
“Oi! Sir!” Crowley approached the chef. “Have you seen the guy who owns the bookshop?”
Crowley gestured up and down. “Blond. A bit shorter than me. Funny clothes.”
“No…” The chef set his crate of cabbage down. “Wait. I think he just stepped out.”
The chef pointed toward Mayfair. “That way.”
“Argh…” Crowley dashed off. “Thanks!”
Aziraphale raced through the streets. “I hope he hasn’t left by now…”
Crowley skidded to a halt. “Wait. If I stay here, he’ll come back.”
Aziraphale squeezed through a crowd. “Pardon me, coming through…”
Crowley tapped his foot and checked his watch. “What’s he doing over there?”
And then, just as he turned, Aziraphale rushed across the street, and they bashed into each other’s chests and kicked each other’s toes.
Aziraphale gasped. “Crowley!”
Crowley reeled back. “Angel!”
“Where have you been? I went to your flat. You weren’t there.”
“I was here looking for you.”
Crowley stepped toward the door. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
Aziraphale’s eyes widened. “Well, I have something to tell you!”
“Look, just open the door…”
Aziraphale fumbled with his key. “All right, all right!”
When he finally unlocked it, the two stumbled inside.
Crowley slammed the door. “I’ve got it.”
“A way to fix all this.”
“Wait. I think you should hear…”
“I went to a tube station, and I…”
“I met Sabrael.”
“This professor, he told me…”
“She said it’s all Gabriel’s fault…”
“The spies, the…”
“Rules, I mean…”
Crowley threw his hands up. “Right, you first.”
“I met Sabrael in a multi-storey car park last night. She told me Gabriel is the mastermind behind all this.”
“He’s trying to get me in trouble because he’s afraid of me.”
Crowley bared his teeth. “That slick bastard. I knew it.”
“He’s the one who sent the spies to follow us the other day. He’s the one who ordered Sabrael to investigate my miracles.” Aziraphale explained and explained without stopping for breath. “He blackmailed her into it, but she’s really on our side!” He wrung his hands. “Or, she might be. We couldn’t resolve it before she left.”
“Archangels blackmailing each other?” Crowley gaped at him. “With what?”
“She questioned the Great Plan!”
“We weren’t the only ones!”
Crowley screwed his whole face up. “What the Hell is going on up there?”
“Apparently a lot!” Aziraphale patted down his rumpled waistcoat lapels. “Sabrael said that since the trial, Gabriel’s been scared of me. He’s trying to… I don’t know, contain me, and he thinks this is how.”
“Well, he’s wasting his time.”
“I know that, but…”
“He’s got bigger things to worry about.”
Aziraphale smoothed his coat lapels down next. “What do you mean?”
“I met a theology professor down in a tube station. Long story. Tell you later.” Crowley talked a mile a minute, too. “Point is, I asked him about angels and Armageddon and free will, and he said there’s no rulebook for what happens after the end of the world.”
Aziraphale let go of his sleeve. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“They can’t write you up!” Crowley flung his arms out. “There’s no rules to break.”
Aziraphale frowned. “You do realize the world didn’t actually end.”
“You’re right!” Crowley shrugged. “Adam reset it. We’re even more off-script.”
Aziraphale twisted his ring. “You don’t think Gabriel would concede to that.”
Crowley shrugged. “At least it gives you a corner to argue from.”
“There’s no way I could win an argument with Gabriel headon!”
All of a sudden, Crowley stood still, and his jaw went slack.
Crowley stared off into space. “I’m an idiot.”
Aziraphale furrowed his brow again. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“No, I mean, it just hit me.” Crowley seized Aziraphale’s upper arms. “We don’t need to fight it. We just need to get rid of the evidence.”
“I can’t un-work miracles!”
Crowley grinned. “You don’t have to.”
“You don’t…” Aziraphale’s face went slack with horror - “oh, dear God.”
“Sabrael records them, right? What does she keep them in?”
“Big fans of paperwork, Heaven. She has to write them down somewhere.”
“It’s a giant logbook…” Aziraphale interrupted himself. “You can’t go through with this!”
“You’re kidding.” Crowley’s grin widened. “It’s almost too easy.”
“You’re not seriously going to burn me out of Sabrael’s record.”
“I’m one of the oldest demons still kicking. If I can’t, no one can.” Crowley rubbed his fingertips together like pieces of flint. “Now. You said Sabrael met you in a multi-storey car park?”
Aziraphale stammered, “The-the one on Old Burlington Street.”
“Great. Wonderful. That’s close.” Crowley strode across the shop. “Also means she’s not afraid to pop down to Earth for a while.”
Aziraphale followed him. “How does any of this solve the problem in the long run?”
“You got a better idea?”
“Then stop complaining and help.” Crowley snatched an old book of London street maps off a shelf. “Walk me through it.”
“Uh…” Aziraphale gathered his thoughts - “I went down to the lowest level, and she came out of the lift.”
Crowley set the book on the table. “Wait. The lift?”
“She didn’t beam down?”
Crowley raised his eyebrows. “That means she was on Earth before she met with you.”
“Do you think so?”
“I’d bet my flat that she had other business down here.” Crowley opened the front cover. “And I’d bet the Bentley that it was somewhere nearby.”
Aziraphale joined Crowley on the far side of the table, and he watched Crowley whisk through the pages until he found the right one.
“Old Burlington Street. That’s in Mayfair.” Crowley tapped the map. “We’re here. I’m guessing she came from somewhere around…” he drew a circle around the parking structure - “there.”
“What are you playing at?”
“You can sense other angels, can’t you?”
“Then that’s it!” Crowley slapped the map with the back of his hand. “You keep your ear to the ground. We wait until she reappears. We go. Find the logbook. Steal it. I scratch you out. We’re done.”
Aziraphale blanched. “I’m afraid we won’t be able to wait for very long.”
Aziraphale gulped. “She files her reports on the last day of the month.”
Crowley went pale, too. “Ah, Hell. It isn’t.”
Aziraphale nodded. “It is.”
Crowley glanced left - glanced right - and bolted away from the table.
Crowley tripped over the rug and threw open the door. “Get in the car!”
Aziraphale scurried after him. “Wait for me!”
When Crowley turned on the ignition, Aziraphale held on tight, and the Bentley sped off in a cloud of gravel and exhaust.
All around them, pedestrians packed into buses and crosswalks, and the restaurants and curio shops of Aziraphale’s neighborhood flew by. Aziraphale rolled his window down and poked his head over the sill, but he reeled back in when a taxi nearly clipped his nose.
Aziraphale grabbed Crowley’s shoulder. “I can’t focus when you’re going this fast!”
“Just look for the smell of love, or kittens, or something like that!”
Aziraphale gawked at him. “Wait a minute. Is that what I smell like?!”
“What? No!” Crowley recoiled. “I… I’ll tell you later!”
After two more harrowing turns, they made it to Oxford Street, where a honking, stalling traffic jam stretched as far as they could see. Crowley merged in and revved his engine to rile the drivers up, but they crawled forward so slowly, the speedometer dropped like a stone.
Crowley gripped the wheel so hard, his knuckles turned white. “Argh…”
“I’m sorry, I can’t…”
Crowley opened his window. “It’s Sunday! Where are they all going?”
Aziraphale side-eyed him and grimaced. “What are you doing?”
“Desperate times, desperate measures!” Crowley yelled, and wriggled his shoulders out.
Crowley pounded his fist on the hood twice, then slid back in, and a wailing siren appeared on the middle of the roof. A vintage white paint job and red cross splashed across the sides, and the cars around them panicked and scooted out of the way.
Aziraphale balked. “Did you just…?!”
“You’ve gotta think outside the box.”
“There could be people in real trouble!”
Crowley floored the gas pedal. “Yeah, like you!”
They ploughed through the main artery and down a maze of thin side streets, and everywhere they turned, cars squealed toward the side of the road. When they whisked by a newspaper box, its pages fluttered out. When they screeched by a traffic cone, it tipped onto its side. Onlookers and bicyclists gasped and leaped out of their way, and they squeezed between two buses by a fraction of an inch.
“Wait!” Aziraphale pointed right. “I’m getting something over there.”
“Is it her?”
“I don’t know. It feels sacred!”
“Right. Up that street there.”
Crowley spun the wheel.
Aziraphale cried, “No, wait! Left! False alarm!”
Crowley steered into the oncoming lane. “Come on, angel, I’m sweating bullets here!”
Aziraphale flattened himself in his seat. “You’re on the wrong side of the road!”
“So what? Americans do it!”
Aziraphale hissed, “God give me strength…”
Aziraphale screwed his eyes shut as Crowley made a hairpin turn, and they jostled over the divider and nearly side-swiped a streetlight. When they circled back to Brook Street and wove into the proper lane, Aziraphale saw a flash in the distance, and something fluttered in his chest.
“I think we’re getting warmer!”
“You’d better be sure this time!”
“I am!” Aziraphale exclaimed. “At least I hope. Keep going straight.”
Crowley glared at the road ahead.
Aziraphale nodded. “Keep going…”
But another siren crept up on them at the next cross street.
A gray checkered police car darted around an island of bike racks. Aziraphale tensed his shoulders. Crowley swore under his breath. They veered off in the wrong direction around Hanover Square, down an alley, past a pub, and back the way they came.
Aziraphale kneaded his coat. “What are you doing? We’re almost there!”
Crowley shoved his glasses up his nose. “I’ve got to lose him first!”
Aziraphale glanced back. “He’s gaining on us!”
Crowley reached for the gear stick, and as he shifted, he murmured, “Put this in your pipe and smoke it.”
The engine creaked under the hood and the tailpipe clanked in the back, and the Bentley blasted forward with a burst of nitrous oxide. The police car slammed on the brakes, spun out, and rolled onto the curb, and Crowley let out a maniacal laugh and coasted back to Regent Street.
“Here!” Aziraphale gestured to the right again. “It’s coming from this block!”
Crowley edged around one more corner and lurched into a parking space.
Aziraphale stumbled out of the car as soon as he got his bearings, and he raced up to the lavish glass facade in front of them. He tried to push the doors in first, then tried pulling instead, and Crowley snapped the Bentley back to its old, shiny black self.
“Sorry.” Crowley patted the roof. “Won’t do that to you again.”
Aziraphale finally got the door open. “What are you waiting for?!”
Crowley followed him into a lobby with a black-and-white marble floor, and the noise from the street faded away as the doors swung shut. A pianist played in the corner as a wealthy couple milled about, and gilded moulding and crystal chandeliers gleamed above their heads.
“Sir!” Aziraphale ran up to a clerk in a cutaway coat. “I need you to help me find someone. I’m afraid it’s extremely urgent.”
The clerk turned around. “Indeed, sir?”
“Have you seen a woman come in here? Tall? Blonde?” Aziraphale patted down his lapels. “White overcoat? Sab…”
The clerk asked, “Lady Sabrina Fell?”
Crowley caught up to them. “Right, that one.”
“Is Her Ladyship expecting you?”
Aziraphale hesitated. “I…”
Crowley’s eyes flashed red behind his glasses. “Yeah, she is.”
“She went to the penthouse floor. Number 4. Lift on the left.”
Crowley started toward the elevator. “Thanks. You’re a real pal.”
“Wait.” Aziraphale stood rooted to the spot. “‘Fell?!’”
Crowley doubled back.
Aziraphale fumed. “That was my idea!”
Crowley tugged his sleeve. “Come on, let’s go!”
The two sprang out of the elevator when it reached the penthouse floor, and Crowley shot the door lock with a finger gun and a pop of sparks.
They stepped into a sprawling, antiseptic living room, with a massive TV mounted over a marble fireplace. Aziraphale eased the door shut as Crowley slunk deeper inside, and the news droned on as they tiptoed through and took everything in. A white couch. A white marble floor. A plush white area rug. A gold-and-glass coffee table with a selenite chunk on top. They caught a whiff of clean linen and rubbing alcohol, and light streamed through the floaty white drapes on the window wall.
Well, good news for the gardens, not so much for your weekend plans: We’re looking at more rain in the next few days, the weather forecast said. We’re seeing a cell come in over Hatfield to the northwest, and we expect that to hit Central London late Saturday evening.
Crowley nodded to Aziraphale. Aziraphale nodded to him. Crowley slithered across the floor with his finger to his mouth. Aziraphale scooted behind him into the high, ultramodern hall - and they heard a noise so unmistakable, it made their stomachs drop.
Aziraphale went pallid. Crowley’s glasses inched down his nose. A woman’s indiscreet moan came from behind a tall, white door. The further they crept toward the end, the louder it became, and the mattress creaked as a man let out a deep, satisfied sigh.
Crowley sliced his fingers under his chin and mouthed, let’s not.
Aziraphale seized the knob with a defiant, tight-lipped glare.
Crowley mouthed, come on…
But before he could say anything else, Aziraphale wrenched the door open and burst into the room.
Sabrael shrieked. Crowley jumped. Aziraphale flattened against the wall. Sabrael fell off the bed and landed on the far side with a thud. Gabriel snatched the white silk sheet, threw it over his lap, and scrambled up against the headboard like a startled cat.
Crowley looked at Gabriel. Gabriel looked at Aziraphale. Aziraphale looked at Sabrael. Sabrael looked ready to die. Crowley looked at the wine bottle and glass on a silver tray, half-full with a smear of rose gold lipstick on the rim. Everyone looked everywhere without saying a word, and with every passing second, the air grew more and more tense.
And then, Crowley stooped over, planted his hands on his thighs, and shattered the silence with a loud, chest-racking laugh.
“Oh my God!”
Gabriel nudged the sheet further over, just to make sure.
“Oh my God. This is rich!” Crowley dabbed his eyes as his shoulders heaved. “All those centuries of chastity and virgins and all that, and all the while you’ve been knocking boots with Sabrael!”
No one moved.
Crowley wheezed, reached over to the tray, and picked up the wine bottle. “I need some of this.”
Aziraphale peeled himself off the wall as he took in the scene, and thousands of years of righteous fury hardened into his face. Behind him, Crowley snorted into the bottle and took a swig, but he glowered at them with all the rolling thunder of Heaven scorned.
“Could you, uh…” Gabriel cleared his throat - “give us a minute?”
Aziraphale stood very still. “I most certainly will not.”
Sabrael peeked over the mattress like a periscope, fumbled for her white lace lingerie, and dragged it off the bed.
“‘Sully the temple of your celestial body with gross matter.’” Aziraphale set the corners of his mouth. “Was that how you put it?”
Crowley gawked at Gabriel’s chest. “Are those fingernail marks?”
“You.” Gabriel wagged his finger. “Out.”
“Are you kidding? I have to see this in real time.”
“For six thousand years, I set my wishes aside for our code. I tried to be humble. To have decorum.” Aziraphale took one step toward the bed. “We had rules!”
Gabriel barked, “Rules?!”
No one else dared to answer him.
Gabriel squinted in disbelief. “Those aren’t for me. Those are for you!”
Aziraphale breathed, “Despicable.”
An eerie pall came over the room.
Aziraphale shook his head. “Absolutely despicable.”
Crowley set the bottle down and hung on Aziraphale’s every word.
“You sneer at humans and treat them like pawns in your great war when you are every bit as capricious as any one of them.” Aziraphale paced forward and tamped down the nerves in his voice. “You’re a standard to be followed. A teacher. A steward of the law. And you punish with your right hand while you partake with your left.”
Gabriel began, “I…”
“Is this the guardian of mankind? Their moral paragon?”
Aziraphale’s lip shook. “They deserve better!”
Crowley picked his jaw up off the floor.
“If I were half as foolish as I am furious,” Aziraphale spat, “I’d throw down the gauntlet and wrestle you myself!”
Sabrael cut in. “Will you please calm down? I’m sure we can clear this up…”
“I am calm!” Aziraphale nearly vibrated out of his coat. “Besides, you’re one to talk. You would’ve thrown me to the wolves if it meant they wouldn’t notice the other marks on your record.”
Sabrael shrank back. “What?”
“You were using mine to cover yours!”
Aziraphale pointed a damning finger out the doorway.
As everyone listened, Crowley tucked his hand behind his back, and he made a come-hither gesture to nudge the TV volume up.
Well, I think going into the Europa League final, you really have to look at how many setbacks Arsenal has had… g… good… oh, good Lord. We apologize for the interruption, but we have just received an urgent breaking bulletin.
The hair on everyone’s necks pricked up.
Five minutes ago, an operator at Tadfield Air Base picked up an anomalous signal on its early warning system. The signal was determined to be, uh, three incoming RS-25 Kopeyshchik Russian ICBMs. The officer on duty thought the data did not line up with predictions for a genuine strike, and issued an order not to counterattack. Sure enough, no missiles have been detected on the base’s land radar, and, uh - uh - t-the entire thing appears to have been a false alarm. The Prime Minister is on the phone with the President of Russia right now, and we will - uh - we will keep you updated as this story unfolds.
“Well, well.” Crowley sidled over to the dresser, leaned back on his elbows, and licked his top teeth. “Look who just stopped a war.”
Gabriel stammered. “I… that’s…”
Sabrael did, too. “I don’t…”
Crowley smirked. “Your lot cast miracles every time you get one off.”
Gabriel and Sabrael blanched.
Crowley did jazz hands. “Surpriii-eee-se.”
“Wait a minute, how do you…?” Gabriel glanced between Crowley and Aziraphale. “Mother of God.”
“I don’t believe it.” Sabrael adjusted her bra strap. “The outliers in Central London. How did I not notice the times?”
“Did you know they were sleeping together?” Gabriel asked her. “Am I the last one to find out?”
Crowley crossed his ankles. “The real question is, who’s the lucky winner this time?”
Sabrael got to her feet and backed away from the bed. “Gabriel?”
Gabriel kept fumbling for words. “Wh- I- no. That’s ridiculous.”
Sabrael put her fists on her hips. “Well, it wasn’t me, was it?!”
Gabriel reclined and scoffed. “How am I supposed to know?”
Crowley gaped. Aziraphale’s eyebrows nearly floated off his head. Sabrael’s arms went slack as the blood rose in her cheeks. She marched over to the dresser and grabbed her half-full wine glass, threw it in Gabriel’s face, and stormed out of the room.
“Really?” Gabriel called after her. “I just spent Earth money on these sheets.”
Sabrael yelled, “Miracle it away!”
“I’d still know it was there!”
Sabrael’s heavy, angry footsteps echoed down the hall, and Gabriel dabbed the wine off his forehead instead of pursuing her. Crowley and Aziraphale shared an awkward sidelong look, and Sabrael smashed something in the living room and slammed the door.
Gabriel pointed at Aziraphale. “Not a word to head office. Understand?”
Aziraphale stood up to his full height. “Then not a word about me.”
“I’m serious. If this makes it upstairs, I’ll cast you out myself.”
Aziraphale tipped his chin up. “And if you talk, I’ll do the same to you.”
“Fancy that.” Aziraphale enunciated as clearly as he could. “It seems we find ourselves in an Argentinian standoff.”
Gabriel’s shoulders stiffened as his eyes started out of his head, and an anxious, one-note laugh escaped through his clenched teeth.
“You’re a principality.” He gave Aziraphale a rictus grin. “You can’t do that.”
“Do you feel lucky?”
Gabriel didn’t answer.
“Well?” Aziraphale asked. “Do you, punk?”
At lunchtime, the clouds parted, and Crowley and Aziraphale made their way down to the French restaurant on West Smithfield.
“And you had no idea?”
Aziraphale approached the door. “Of course not.”
“I was joking about the white lace basque. I didn’t think I’d be right.” Crowley read the daily specials posted in the window. “Wouldn’t even put his drawers on.”
“I read something on that years ago. Some kind of business tactic. It takes the other side off guard.”
“What’s really sick is I might know what Sabrael sees in him.”
“You’ve got eyes. I’ve got eyes.”
“So does he. Very purple ones.”
“But look what comes with ‘em.”
“I’ve taken him for many things, but he’s the last one I expected to be a hypocrite.” Aziraphale went for the handle before Crowley could beat him to it. “I’d been fretting over you since 1941. Meanwhile, they’d been gadding about for Heaven knows how long.”
“Heaven must not have a clue. How else could they get away with it?”
“Unless there’s…” Crowley cut himself off. “Wait, 1941?”
“What about it?”
“That was when you…?”
“Well, it’s when I knew.”
“Are you serious?”
Aziraphale blushed. “I’m afraid so.”
“It was awfully gallant of you to save my books.”
“And kill some Nazis.”
“And that.” Aziraphale opened the door. “Three villains struck down for Heaven and three fresh souls for Hell. You’re devilishly clever when you have a mind to be.”
“Wow.” Crowley strutted forward as Aziraphale ushered him in. “If I’d known it was such a turn-on, I’d’ve killed you a few more.”
“I meant it was…” Aziraphale followed him - “oh, dear.”
Aziraphale stopped in his tracks. “It seems we have guests for lunch.”
Three archangels waited for them at their usual table, posed like silent sentinels with their hands folded on the tablecloth. Sabrael sat on the left with her coat pulled up to her neck. Gabriel sat on the right with his back ramrod-straight. And between them sat a woman in a dove gray cape blazer, with a sphinxlike face and a braided Nefertiti crown of hair.
Aziraphale slowed to a stop in front of the two empty chairs. “Raziel?”
Crowley peeked over his glasses. “Keeper of Secrets? Is that you?”
“Aziraphale.” Raziel answered in a placid voice that seemed to echo off itself. “You look bright-eyed and bushy-winged.”
Aziraphale crept closer. “The hiding of Avalon - that was nearly…”
“A thousand years ago.” Raziel sized him up. “It seems your time on Earth has treated you well.”
Aziraphale peeked down at himself. “Has it?”
“Yes.” Raziel smoothed out her sleeves, then steepled her long fingers. “In fact, that’s what we’re here to discuss.”
Crowley jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “Right. I’ll wait outside…”
“No.” Raziel waved and slid the other chair out. “I insist.”
Gabriel squinted at her. “You’re kidding. Right?”
Raziel studied Crowley’s glasses. “He’ll make the conversation more interesting.”
Crowley took a hesitant seat, and when Aziraphale did, too, a server in a prim black tie and matching waistcoat swooped in on them.
“Good day.” The server bowed and straightened the towel on his arm. “May I interest any of you in our selection of wines?”
Sabrael started, “We, uh…”
Gabriel added, “We’re not…”
Aziraphale interrupted them. “Of course. That sounds divine.”
“So for white, we have a Camin Larredya and La Part Davan, Château Montfin, Vaillons, Les Chasseignes, Château d'Epiré, and Claude Riffault. Our reds are Philippe Colin, Domaine des Schistes, Château du Cèdre, Domaine De Monteillet, Château Tour des Termes, Cru Bourgeois, and Les Chênes.” The server rattled off the long French names with practiced ease. “Those are by the glass, but if you’d like a half bottle instead, I’d be happy to give you a list of what we have in the cellar as well.”
Aziraphale mulled it over. “What year is the Château du Cèdre?”
“2014. It’s a Malbec. Dense, but fresh. Pairs well with the foie gras.”
Sabrael set the corners of her mouth and waited for him to finish. Raziel glazed over. Gabriel pasted on a grin.
“Hmm. I know it’s a bit early, but I’ve had an awfully long day.” Aziraphale sweetened his voice. “What do you have in the way of tea?”
“Ah. Well, I’d have to check, but I believe off the top of my head that we have Jasmine Pearl, Russian Caravan, and Ratnapura Ceylon.”
The archangels asked each other silent questions with their eyes, like what is he doing? and how long is this going to take?
“Jasmine Pearl would be lovely.” Aziraphale gestured past his plate. “May we have a pot for the table? I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”
Aziraphale looked the archangels directly in the eye and beamed like a cherub as he laid his napkin in his lap. Crowley added it all up, clamped his mouth, and bit back a laugh, and the sound of a jingling bell came from inside Sabrael’s coat.
Raziel asked, “What’s that?”
Sabrael pulled out a liquidy, ethereal phone. “Forgive me.”
Gabriel frowned. “Who’s it from?”
Gabriel screwed up his face again. “Her? Why?”
Crowley tilted his head.
Sabrael put the phone back. “Don’t know. I’ll read it later.”
“So,” Raziel began…
But before she could say anything else, the server returned with a white china teapot and set of cups.
“Wonderful.” Aziraphale lifted the lid and savored the smell, then clinked it back in place. “Crowley, would you care to be mother, or should I?”
Crowley muttered, “Yeah, I don’t think - people don’t say that anymore.”
“It’s all right. I’m sure our venerable guests won’t know the difference.”
Raziel watched them chatter with polite bewilderment, but Gabriel clenched his jaw and chewed the inside of his cheek.
Sabrael took a deep breath. “Aziraphale, I insist.”
“You’re right.” Aziraphale poured his tea. “I am, as they say, all ears.”
“This morning, I was made aware of… how shall we say… an interesting story behind a recent spate of miracles.” Raziel explained as Aziraphale set the teapot down. “Given the high profile of the events and angels involved, I believe it would serve all of us to reach some kind of truce.”
Aziraphale added a dash of cream. “Oh, I’m not sure about that.”
“It’s very noble, but I don’t see it going off.”
Raziel leaned back. “And why is that?”
Aziraphale spooned a lump of sugar out. “You’d have to take that up with the one who wanted to execute me.”
“Don’t worry. He’s not in charge this time.” Raziel spread her palms. “Gabriel is Heaven’s hammer. I’m the olive branch.”
“Only good for pounding things?” Crowley gibed. “No, wait. You couldn’t even do that.”
Gabriel glowered at him. “You’re on thin fucking ice.”
“So. In light of all that, I’ve drawn up a contract to make the decision a matter of celestial record.” Raziel swiped in front of herself, and a pearly parchment sheet with silver ink appeared in the middle of the table. “I’ll guide you through it, and we’ll all sign it when we’ve come to terms.”
Crowley peered closer.
Aziraphale breathed, “A non-disclosure agreement.”
“The details of all miracles performed by the undersigned between 20 August 2018 and today will be hereafter classified. They will be censored accordingly in Sabrael’s logbook, visible only to me and the participants in the events.”
Crowley draped his arm over his chair. “Can’t you just take ‘em out?”
“I’m afraid not. What’s written is written. It will simply not be discussed.” Raziel dragged her finger down to the next section. “With Gabriel’s approval, I’ve included a clause that will redact the details of Aziraphale’s trial from our legal accounts.”
“Wait, wait. This is bollocks.” Crowley plunked his elbows on the table. “This is- he-he shouldn’t even be in trouble in the first place. Armageddon came and went. You don’t have those rules anymore.”
“Well, for that to be true, the world would’ve had to actually end.” Gabriel simpered at him. “And then you wouldn’t be here.”
Aziraphale muttered, “I told you…”
Crowley crossed his arms. “Was worth a shot.”
“After careful reflection, Michael has suggested I add a clause of non-intervention in Aziraphale’s earthly affairs.” Raziel nudged the parchment toward Aziraphale’s side of the table. “If you agree, Heaven will leave you to the fruits of your immortal life, provided you continue living as you always have.”
Crowley hunched forward. “This is too good. What’s the catch?”
Raziel turned up her eyebrows. “He’d be relieved from his post.”
“You mean…” Aziraphale paused - “you’d never cast me out?”
“Yes. But you’d no longer be the Angel of the Eastern Gate.”
Gabriel balked. “You’re turning him loose? Do you know what he’s capable of?”
“Sometimes maintaining order means a little controlled chaos.”
“Think about it.” Raziel conjured a gold-tipped white quill by Aziraphale’s teacup. “It may be what you’ve wanted all along.”
Aziraphale pored over every glistening silver word. Sabrael held her breath. Gabriel eyed him like a hawk. Crowley slowly shook his head and mouthed no, don’t do it - and just as Aziraphale touched the quill, Sabrael spoke up.
Raziel drew back a little, but didn’t protest.
Sabrael splayed her fingers across the parchment. “This is wrong.”
The air around the table grew so tense, it nearly sparked.
“Aziraphale has served us on Earth for over six thousand years. He’s stayed longer and done more work than anyone else we’ve sent.” Sabrael blurted everything out before she could lose her nerve. “We may not understand him or his methods most of the time, but he’s one of our most loyal soldiers. He deserves better than this.”
No one moved.
Sabrael swallowed the lump in her throat. “He has rights.”
“He committed treason,” Gabriel spat. “He gave those rights up.”
“Don’t mind him.” Raziel scooted around and faced Sabrael instead, as unruffled as ever. “I’d like to see where you’re taking this.”
“I demand his miracles from Armageddon until now be purged instead of redacted from the celestial logbook. I also want Gabriel’s authority over his case revoked, and his future miracles placed under my jurisdiction alone.” Sabrael slid the contract toward Raziel’s seat. “I’m not signing it until you add those and take out the non-intervention clause. He’s earned an apology, but for now, this is the best I can do.”
Both Crowley and Aziraphale blinked at her in awe.
“We’re at the dawn of a new age. How we treat our angels now will set a precedent in Heaven for centuries to come.” The longer Sabrael talked, the stronger her conviction became. “We’re so worried about order, we’ve forgotten what it means to be just. If we’re going to be the good side, we should start acting like it.”
Gabriel sniped back, “We’re the good side because we get results.”
“The Flood was a one-off.”
“Then what was the Great Plan?”
“It should’ve worked.”
“But it didn’t.”
“I’m not letting a rogue agent run around on Earth. He’s dangerous!”
Sabrael hardened. “He’s only dangerous until we forgive him.”
A shadow of vulnerability passed over Aziraphale’s face, and he stared at her in stricken silence as it all sank in.
“Wow.” Crowley flattened himself against the back of his chair. “When they kick at your front door, how you gonna go?”
Sabrael frowned. “I beg your pardon?”
Gabriel sneered at him. “What?”
Crowley deflated like a balloon. “I am wasted on you people.”
“You know what?” Gabriel recoiled and threw his hands up. “No. I’m… this is… he’s… this is ridiculous. I’m not going to war over two months of miracles, and I’m not arguing rules with a demon.”
Crowley made a face that said, Hell with you, too.
“Put whatever you want on that paper. I’m appealing it all the way up.”
Aziraphale swelled with newfound pride. “Then I hope She takes your call.”
Raziel whisked her hand across the top of the contract, and with a scatter of stardust, the letters rearranged themselves. Aziraphale picked up the quill and lowered it to the page - but before he could make a mark, he pulled back one more time.
“You know…” Aziraphale tickled his cheek with the feathery end - “I’ve just had the most interesting thought.”
Gabriel, Raziel, and Sabrael exchanged another uneasy look.
“What is that old chestnut about ‘the problem of evil?’ How an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and… what was the third one?” Aziraphale ran the quill between his finger and thumb. “Oh. Right. Omniscient. How an all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful God could allow evil to exist.”
“So all this due diligence is really a formality, isn’t it?” Aziraphale batted his eyelashes. “After all… She already knows.”
Gabriel turned ashen and smiled another pained, toothy smile.
“In fact, considering that She hasn’t reached down to smite us yet…” Aziraphale paused for effect - “I can’t help but wonder if it was part of the plan all along.”
The archangels’ chairs creaked beneath them, but none of them said a word.
“Food for thought.” Aziraphale signed the parchment with a cheeky grin, set the quill down, and sipped his tea. “You really should try this. It’s quite good.”
“Why did you do it?” Crowley wondered to Aziraphale out loud, as they meandered through the gardens outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“I’d be a fool not to. Sabrael left me holding all the cards. My life. My job. Miracles I doubt I’ll ever be punished for.” Aziraphale admired the long row of bushes next to him. “Besides, if you and I really are on our own side now, an archangel like her could make a powerful ally.”
“‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Sounds like something I’d do.”
“You are a keen diplomat, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.”
“What about the other thing?”
“Telling them God already knew.”
“Ah.” Aziraphale let out a sheepish laugh. “Don’t know what came over me.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were fomenting discord.”
“Discord? No. Discussion? Well. I wouldn’t stand in their way.” Aziraphale brushed his palm along the neatly-trimmed tops. “That’s the really valuable thing that I’ve learned from all this.”
“That Heaven’s overseers are not nearly the hive mind I thought they were.” Aziraphale kept dragging his fingertips through the leaves. “In fact, it seems the office intrigues can be quite intense.”
“You should see Hell’s.”
Aziraphale glowered at him. “I’ve seen quite enough.”
Aziraphale swished his hand back and forth like he had in Hell’s bathtub, and a trail of white lilacs bloomed on every bush he touched. They basked in the smell of the flowers and the blue-and-gold sunset - and then, out of nowhere, Crowley threw his head back in disgust.
“Augh! I just realized.”
Aziraphale pulled his hand away. “What?”
“Gabriel. When I saw him again, I forgot to punch him in the face.”
“I think Sabrael’s wine was a more grievous insult, considering.”
“Oh, it was classic. He’ll be stewing for centuries over that one.” Crowley grinned with vicious glee. “Still. It’s the principle of the thing. I tell you what, though, I would’ve paid money to see you wrestle him.”
When they rounded the corner and set foot on the Millennium Bridge, they spied Sabrael standing alone at the edge of the walkway. She stared out at the river with her hands folded and her head high, a still, solitary figure amid the bustling crowd.
Aziraphale pointed the toe of his shoe toward her. “Do you mind?”
Crowley nodded. “Go on. I’ll wait for you.”
“I’ll only be a minute.”
Aziraphale ventured out onto the expanse of the bridge, weaving around the throngs of curious tourists taking pictures. He joined her beside one of the crests of its vaulting steel frame, and Sabrael took the plunge and spoke first without looking his way.
“You must be ashamed of me.”
“Hardly.” Aziraphale furrowed his brow. “Gabriel, yes. You - I think there’s more to you than that.”
“You were right.”
“Everything. Especially what I put you through. I’m sorry.”
Aziraphale shrugged it off. “I forgive you.”
“It’s going to be strange to go upstairs and work with him again. It always is.”
Aziraphale quirked his eyebrow. “You mean you two have… met before?”
“The first time was a moonlit night in 1929. He and I were in Egypt securing the Ark of the Covenant.” Sabrael told him the story in a wistful voice. “I wished he could be all the things I knew he was capable of. I can’t go back until he learns to apologize. I owe myself that much.”
“For my part, I think you have a great deal of power over him.”
“You know he doesn’t hold the moral high ground. Do with that what you will.”
Sabrael drew back. “Aziraphale. That’s devious.”
Aziraphale wiggled his shoulders. “Blame the demonic influence.”
“Well…” Sabrael petted her swan collar - “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope we don’t see each other for many years to come.”
“So do I. After all, you’ll have a lot of work to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’d make a good reformer if you felt inclined to it.”
“You made a small step today. Who knows what tomorrow may bring.”
“Do you know what I’d be up against?”
Aziraphale looked serene. “Fortune favors the bold.”
A calm, peaceable silence hung between them for a minute, as life passed by and the hems of their coats ruffled in the breeze. Aziraphale stuck his hands in his lapels and began to leave, but he only took two steps before Sabrael called after him.
Aziraphale glanced over his shoulder. “What?”
“What is it?”
Aziraphale turned all the way around. “What is what?”
Aziraphale’s ears and cheeks flushed. “Oh, I couldn’t explain all that. We’d be here until tomorrow…”
“Try.” Sabrael hugged her arms under her coat. “What’s worth risking everything?”
Aziraphale paused to find the words, and as he mulled it over, his eyes softened. “He understands.”
Sabrael bowed her head. “Hrm.”
“Why? Wasn’t it that for you?”
Aziraphale blinked. “Then what?”
“He was handsome, and I looked up to him, and I… I don’t know.”
“You were lonely.”
Sabrael stiffened. “Don’t be absurd. You know we’re not made for that.”
“Even heavenly bodies need the warmth of the stars at night.”
The crowds moved on behind them and the river churned below, and the longer Sabrael lingered, the more forlorn her face became. Her heels clicked as she paced toward the other end of the bridge, and then she stopped again and tucked a hair behind her ear.
“You know…” her lapels fluttered as she pulled them up to her neck - “If it means anything, I think you may be the best of us.”
Aziraphale frowned. “How?”
“You’re what an angel is supposed to be.” Sabrael gazed at the clouds. “Not whatever it is that we’ve become.”
“Heaven is what it always has been. It’s you who’s different now.”
“Maybe so.” Sabrael almost smiled. “Be well, principality.”
Aziraphale smiled back. “Be well, my friend.”
Sabrael turned away from the cathedral and strode through the crowd, her head high and the bridge trusses like wings behind her back. Her coat sleeves flapped around her, and in a gust of feathers and light, she closed her eyes and faded up into the evening sky.
Aziraphale breathed in a lungful of the cool, sharp air, and he adjusted his bow tie and headed back across the bridge. Crowley heaved himself off a concrete block and stood up straight, and the two set off together as the nearby streetlamps lit up.
“How was she?”
“Guilty. Lovelorn.” Aziraphale clasped his hands behind his back. “She reminds me a little of myself once upon a time.”
“Oh, come on.” Crowley balked at him. “Your taste is not nearly that bad.”
“No, though I suspect we share a weakness for a good jawline.”
“Huh.” Crowley puffed up. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. It suits you well. And I trust I’ll never see that beard from 1601 again.”
“What? It was the fashion then.”
“And I like you however you are. But I’m still allowed to have a soft spot for you with short hair.” Aziraphale offered Crowley the crook of his elbow. “Now. What do you say to dinner?”
“You know, I feel like something quick.” Crowley took his arm. “How ‘bout Nando’s?”
Aziraphale sulked. “Fine.”
“You’re an absolute legend.”
That night, as a blanket of stars draped over the bookshop, Crowley and Aziraphale reclined in Aziraphale’s bed.
Frankincense smoldered in the burner and wafted through the air, and candles flickered around them and threw long shadows on the walls. A polished silver serving tray sat between their pillows, piled to the brim with apple slices, berries, and fat red grapes. They talked and chuckled and passed a bottle of wine back and forth, naked under the duvet that had - somehow - turned red.
Crowley rolled onto his stomach. “Funny the two of us should end up here.”
“Naked with an apple.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale snorted. “Now that you mention it.”
“Way I see it, humans have pretty much always been the same. They want good food. They want good wine.”
Aziraphale sipped from the bottle. “And someone to share it with.”
“D’you think they ever… held hands? Talked about the things they liked?”
“They did.” Aziraphale put the bottle down. “It was really rather sweet. One night I saw them stargazing under the fig tree by my gate. He laid his head on her shoulder and asked what they should call the moon.”
“You remember that?”
“I do. They were very fond of your handiwork. I wasn’t there long before they left, but I’ve always kept that with me.”
Crowley fished out a ripe raspberry. “That’s not what I meant.”
Aziraphale watched him. “No? Then what did you?”
“I don’t know.” Crowley paused for a gulp of wine and moved the bottle to the tray. “I guess it’s funny to think that the history of the world came down to a couple of kids in love.”
“If Hell knew how soft you were, they’d never let you live it down.”
Crowley made a noncommittal noise.
Aziraphale’s face fell. “I’m sorry. Of course.”
“Eh. Don’t worry about it. They haven’t seen the last of me. It’s my job to be annoying. That’s what they forget.” Crowley chewed and swallowed the raspberry before he went on. “That and tempting you into bed with giant plates of fruit.”
Aziraphale took an apple slice. “Is that what all this was about?”
“What, did you think I undressed you out of the goodness of my heart? Come on.” Crowley frowned at him with utter disbelief. “You know me.”
Aziraphale pouted. “You wouldn’t.”
“I might’ve done.”
“You old serpent.”
“You’re the old pigeon who fell for it.”
Aziraphale scowled back.
Crowley settled into the mattress. “You know, what if all this was a con?”
Aziraphale asked, “What?”
“A grift. Six thousand years of pulling the wool over your eyes.” Crowley passed Aziraphale another shiny apple slice. “The longest temptation ever attempted.”
“I think you’re better than that.”
“But what if?” Crowley plundered a grape from the bunch, then went on. “I mean, I am a demon. Frogs and snails and hellhound tails.”
“Then I would have been thoroughly tempted, and your side would have won.”
“Hrm. Wow.” Crowley furrowed his brow. “That’d be quite the tarnish on your halo.”
“It’s so scratched already.”
Crowley shrugged. “Nothing you couldn’t rub out.”
Aziraphale plucked off a grape and held it to his open mouth, then stopped and glowered across the bed at him. “You did that on purpose.”
Crowley helped himself to a piece of apple. “You know, I hate to say it, but…”
“What about him?”
Crowley looked pained. “You are kind of a hypocrite, too.”
“I’m a dreadful one.”
“I thought that when you were giving him a pasting earlier. But it was such a rollicking speech, I didn’t have the heart to cut you off.”
Aziraphale gave him a guilty glance. “I remembered that about halfway in. But I’d started it. I was committed.”
“Psh, yeah. You had to see it through.”
“In my defense, I’m not the commander of all the heavenly host.”
“No, you’re not.” Crowley lay down at Aziraphale’s side. “You’re not anything. Well, not anything you wouldn’t want to be. After six thousand years, I’ve finally got you to myself.”
Aziraphale turned up his eyebrows. “Has it really been that long?”
“Yeah.” Crowley tucked his chin and averted his eyes. “It has.”
Aziraphale clasped his chest and took a shallow breath. “Good Lord.”
“You said you gave that sword away, and I knew you were different.”
Crowley curled around him. “What?”
“Was there really never anyone else?”
Crowley mumbled, “Kind of didn’t seem worth it if it wasn’t you.”
Aziraphale glowed. “Oh, Crowley.”
“I know. It’s pathetic.”
“No, it’s not.” Aziraphale pulled Crowley into his arms. “If I’d only known.”
“It’s all right. You would’ve taken a while to come ‘round anyway.” Crowley squished his cheek against Aziraphale’s shoulder. “I’ve got you now, and that’s what counts.”
“We could’ve waltzed at the Savoy. I’ve wasted so much time.”
“I don’t waltz.”
“You would with me.”
“I’d let you step on my toes.”
Aziraphale brushed a lock of Crowley’s hair behind his ear, and Crowley burrowed into the crook of Aziraphale’s neck.
“Let’s not leave. Let’s just stay here in bed for a hundred years.”
Aziraphale made room for him. “We’d have to eat and keep house sometime.”
“No we don’t. We can just miracle everything.” Crowley swiped at the window. “When we see a flying car, we’ll know it’s time to come back out.”
“I’m afraid if they haven’t invented one by now, they never will.”
“Ah, you’re right. Who cares? I’d still drive the Bentley anyway.” Crowley hoisted himself back up and propped his head in his hand. “You do realize, though…”
Aziraphale gazed up at him. “What?”
“Now that all this is sorted, you’re going to see a lot more of me.”
“Oh, yes.” Crowley ran his tongue along his teeth. “Darkening your door with all kinds of hellish influence.”
“I would.” Crowley flashed his trademark smirk. “In fact, if you’re not careful, you may never get rid of me.”
“An eternity? With you?” Aziraphale sighed and clicked his tongue. “How am I ever going to manage?”
“Something tells me you will.”
Crowley leaned down, cupped Aziraphale’s cheek, and kissed him on the mouth, and when Aziraphale had taken the bait, Crowley pinched his sides. Aziraphale yelped, kicked his legs, and tried to shove Crowley off. Crowley cackled and pinned Aziraphale’s shoulders to the pillows. They squirmed. They bumped their foreheads. They tousled each other’s hair. Grapes and berries spilled off the platter and tumbled to the floor. And so good and evil wrestled with laughter in their eyes, like the whole, curious world belonged only to them.
Twenty-seven minutes later, in the perfect September chill, a young couple strolled hand-in-hand along the bank of the Thames.
They murmured to each other and swung their joined arms back and forth, and they admired the lights of a tour boat as it drifted by. When the woman shivered, the man draped his arm over her shoulder - and then, all of a sudden, he stopped and took a steadying breath.
The woman stopped walking, too, and turned around. “What’s up?”
“I’ve…” the man patted his sport coat - “I’ve got something for you.”
The woman listened with a sweet, ignorant look on her face.
“I’d been meaning to do this all throughout dinner tonight, and I kept losing my nerve. If I don’t now, I never will.” The man squeezed both of her hands and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I feel bad for not having a big, fancy speech done up, but I think after three years, you either know or you don’t.”
The woman kept staring.
“Eve Elizabeth Harper…” the man gazed into her eyes and dropped to one knee - “will you make me the luckiest man alive?”
The man dug in his breast pocket and produced a black velvet box, and when he held it out and opened it, the woman went pale with shock. On a cream tartan cushion sat a shining platinum ring, with a ludicrous princess-cut diamond the size of a grape.
The woman gasped. “Oh my God!”
The man hesitated. “What?”
The woman choked, “Is that real?!”
The man peeked in the box. “Yeah? Why?”
“Look at it!”
The man’s eyes widened. “Looked smaller in the store…”
“Where did you find it?!”
The man gave her a nonplussed smile. “Anything… for you?”
The woman’s eyes welled up. “You’re the best fiancé a girl could have.”
The man came to his senses. “That’s a yes, then?”
“What do you think? Now put it on!”
The man slid the ring onto her finger with a shaky hand, and he stood up, seized her in his arms, and swept her into a kiss. As they pulled back, a round of fireworks burst over Big Ben and bathed the starlit streets in heavenly gold, blue, and white.
The woman gaped at them. “Adam, you didn’t.”
The man stammered, “I… uh…?”
The woman grabbed his cheeks, popped her leg, and kissed him again.
The man looked like Cupid himself had clobbered him in the head, but he submitted to her with a look that said, oh, what the Hell? The woman finally broke away and dragged him by his wrist, and their laughter echoed behind them as they ran down the sidewalk.
But when they climbed into their small blue car and drove away, a brisk, unsettling wind blew down the empty road.
It shuddered through the tidy flowerboxes in the windows, and a storm drain gurgled as steam rose from its murky depths. An antique lamppost flickered and let out an electrical hum, and a hanging wooden pub sign creaked as it swung back and forth. A pile of leaves scattered to the end of the sidewalk, where a crow sat on the gnarled bough of an old walnut tree.
And then - as if by magic - a powerline swayed in the breeze, sparked, and tangled in the branches, and the crow squawked and dropped dead.