Nanael is a Principality. They stand on the front line of the last choir of angels, just before the lower archangels and well behind the Powers.
They know they’re nothing special. The rank is there, but without a station it doesn’t mean anything. One’s strength is determined by how well one does their job, more or less, and Principalities are just as limited as the lesser guardian angels are; restrained in their duties by how quickly their charges die, how regularly their nations rise and fall.
Aziraphale, on the other hand, is someone you hear stories about.
The angel of Eden who followed the fall of mankind, who wandered out past the gate and assumed a mortal form and spent six thousand years alongside God’s only imperfect creations.
Demoted, were the first uncertain whispers. Punished. One must learn from him, one must be better than that wayward Principality. When he finally returns to Heaven, you’ll see. He will have burned low from this failure. He’ll have to labor for eons to build himself back up.
Only Aziraphale never did return.
Six thousand years, the stories go, and by the time Nanael hears them they take on the tone of a fairy tale.
Six thousand years, Nanael’s brothers and sisters whisper to one another, awed and frightened. How many years do humans live? Do nations stand? How many years has any other guardian done what he has done? Not six thousand.
The Principality who averted the Apocalypse, who raised his sword to the Lightbringer, who opposed the Archangels, who stepped into hellfire and didn’t burn.
Nanael was unprepared for meeting him— for finding him in a soft body with time-worn clothes and messy curls, smiling with Love and with love at a demon, of all things, standing against a fellow angel as though he would fight all the forces of Heaven combined to keep his Fallen One safe.
They made a poor first impression, and they cringe to remember it, but it was an important lesson for them to learn:
Nanael and Aziraphale are of the same stock, but only in as much as a brook and a river are both flowing water.
“Watch it, feathers,” Crowley murmurs, drawing Nanael back by the hood of their sweater. “Might get singed if you stand that close.”
Nanael goes agreeably, circling behind the demon to stand next to Warlock at the front counter instead.
“This is awesome,” the changeling whispers.
“That’s a good word for it,” Nanael replies, thinking along the lines of Old Testament fury.
The demon that came along to cause trouble is— cowering doesn’t seem like a fair way to describe what he’s doing, because he’s being very brave about it, but Nanael isn’t inclined to be fair.
Not because of his being a hereditary enemy or some rot like that. But because he showed up on Duke Hastur’s orders, with a circlet still clutched in hand that would have tightened around Crowley’s head until it killed him. Hell, it seems, is getting creative.
The wards on the shop made the demon visible before he could get close enough to deliver it. He was visible the moment he walked in, whether he realized it or not.
Aziraphale seems to still be deciding what to do with him. The cold light in his eyes is unforgiving; it reminds Nanael of home.
“Angel, if you make a mess, you’ll always know it was there,” Crowley says, unbothered by the prickly heat his Principality is putting off like humidity before a big storm. “Just send him on his way, would you?”
The demon sneers. The effect is ruined by the nervous dart of his eyes back to Aziraphale, rather like the way a rabbit might watch an owl.
“It’s not over, Crawly,” he says. “Not even close. You may think you’ve won, but everything ends. This world will end. And when it does, you’ll be back in Hell where you belong, and none of your little angels will be there to save you.”
Warlock is bristling, eyes near glowing with anger. Nanael puts a hand on his arm that they hope is comforting, because it’s meant to be restraining more than anything else.
“Not bad,” Crowley assures the demon. “Decent level of ominous, that. Keep up the good work and you’ll see a promotion in no time.”
With a rapid brightening, the demon forgets the tense plateau long enough to ask eagerly, “You think so? Only I’ve been stuck in limbo so bloody long, I’ve never even seen past the first level.”
Nanael forgets, sometimes, that while Heaven has stories about the angel of Eden, Hell probably has stories about the serpent, too. For all that he was sent here to discorporate him, the demon is looking at Crowley with some sort of twisted admiration.
“Are you quite finished, my dear?” Aziraphale asks of Crowley tersely. He doesn’t wait for an answer, snapping his fingers and banishing the unwelcome demon to some far-flung corner of the universe, probably. “The nerve of him.”
Crowley calls, “Safe to come out now,” and Aziraphale seems to remember Nanael and Warlock with a start. He glances back at the two of them with a level of self-consciousness that Nanael thinks is unwarranted.
It goes away when Crowley touches him, though, a cool hand on Aziraphale’s arm that slides down to his hand, fingers weaving easily together like God designed them for no other purpose.
Nanael remembers a time when they wondered how an angel and a demon could ever be together in any sense of the word. Now, with their head full of music and poetry, of films and romantic fiction, they wonder how on earth Aziraphale and Crowley ever managed to be apart.
“They’ll have to do better than that,” Crowley says. It sounds like pride, and it makes Aziraphale smile almost despite himself. It makes Aziraphale lean in to kiss him, like an act of gravity.
They are very gentle with each other. Despite everything else that they are— the very different places they come from— they touch each other with the kindness that comes so naturally to humans. A learned letting down of one’s guard, of letting oneself be known.
Togetherness, the kindness implies. Likeness. We’re here, existing alongside each other. Not quite the same, but not so different, really. Reach out to me. We’re here together, you and I.
Nanael has learned a lot from them, but nothing so important as this kindness.
“I don’t think he was the one I met before,” they offer after a moment. “That demon. The corporation was different.”
Aziraphale promptly looks troubled by this, and Nanael almost regrets mentioning it. Except maybe it’s important, especially if multiple agents of Hell are going to keep showing up to cause trouble.
“Could just be the same creep in a different body,” Crowley points out. He seems pointedly unruffled, as though one of them needs to remain calm for their collective benefit.
“Do you always get different bodies when you come back?” Warlock asks, unbothered by anything that doesn’t bother Crowley.
Crowley scratches his cheek, just under the snake sigil. “I mean, usually, I guess. I always put in for the same one, though.”
“Likewise,” Aziraphale says, slightly distracted. “One gets used to one’s face after a few thousand years.”
Like his clothes, Nanael thinks fondly, Aziraphale’s form is well-worn and well-loved.
It’s a far cry from the crisp, bright uniform cut they’re used to. Even Nanael is not quite the angel they came here as; they have a favorite sweater, one that used to be vibrant orange and has dulled a bit over the last ten years of near constant use, and their dark hair has begun to grow out recently, long enough now that it needs tucked behind their ear.
Daniel was scandalized the last time she came to visit. She asked them if this was some sort of peevish rebellion, a faux-Fall. But it doesn’t feel like that, not really. It feels like— letting go of a breath they’ve been holding for so long they don’t remember why they were holding it in the first place. It feels like being allowed to breathe.
“And—“ Crowley starts, then looks like he regrets it. “Well. Wanted to make sure I was recognizable.”
Aziraphale looks delighted by him. “Oh, sweetheart.”
“Shut up, angel, I swear to someone, this is why I wasn’t going to bloody say it— “
Warlock is laughing and Nanael is trying not to, and Aziraphale is smiling with such warmth that Nanael is beginning to understand how he was able to defy Heaven, why he was willing to risk so much. Nanael is beginning to understand what was at stake.
“I’d have recognized you,” Aziraphale says. He seems to have forgotten his worries for the moment, and for all his annoyed bluster, maybe that was partly Crowley’s plan. “No matter what you look like, or what you call yourself. I’d know you anywhere.”
Whether by chance or design— and Nanael is so hoping it’s the former, as the latter is too worrisome a concept to sit well in their stomach— they are alone again in the shop the next time an unfortunately-familiar demon comes calling.
“Hoo-ee,” she says with a toothy grin, knocking on the doorframe to announce herself even after the bell above the door has done that job. Maybe she just likes making noise. “How are sales, little angel? Booming?”
“Heavens, no,” Nanael says, affronted. They clutch the collection of short stories they’re reading to their chest protectively. “Could you imagine what Aziraphale would say if he found out I’d sold a book?”
The demon pauses mid-step. She doesn’t seem to know what to make of Nanael for a moment, and then visibly circumvents her confusion.
“Alright then. Bold business choice.” Her fingers tap the surface of a shelf that hasn’t moved since the early eighteen hundreds. “But if his shop’s been open this long, maybe he knows something I don’t.”
Nanael watches her from behind the counter as she picks her way through the shop.
“You don’t know him,” they say after a moment. “Either of them. You just let me think that you do.”
She flashes another grin, this one much nastier than the first. “Demon,” she says, as if just that says all she needs to.
“I won’t let you hurt them,” Nanael feels it fair to point out. They can feel some ancient sleeping thing inside them stirring at the very thought. Their hands tighten around the book they’re holding and they set it down, to avoid the horror of a cracked spine. “If that’s what you’ve come here to do, you ought to reconsider.”
They could best this demon in a fair fight, Nanael thinks, studying them. And if it was an unfair fight, which they are almost certain it would be, then they’ve had ten years of friendship with Warlock by now, and if that isn’t preparation enough for a dishonorable brawl then nothing would be.
The demon laughs shortly. “You don’t waste any time, I’ll give you that. Believe it or not, I’m not here to start a ruckus.”
Nanael doesn’t believe it. “Just last winter, a demon showed up on Duke Hastur’s orders to kill Crowley. And now here you are again. Checking their progress?”
“Bless me,” she says, the way some humans say “bugger me” when they’ve received unpleasant news. “No, alright? I had nothing to do with it. I told Dagon to leave him to me.”
She visibly backtracks— and physically takes a step back, too— at whatever Nanael’s expression looks like just then.
“I mean I wanted them to leave him alone. I’m certainly not going to do anything to him, and if I’m the only one on the case, he’s golden.”
Nanael can feel their decorative heart racing— not with fear, or excitement, but with the knowledge that something is going to happen. They’re standing behind the counter now, book forgotten, staring at the demon the way they stare at their jigsaw puzzles, trying to make uncertain edges meet.
“You said Crowley was cursed,” they say, still wounded by the memory all these years later. “You thought it was funny.”
She throws up her hands. “Just my luck, that the serpent has an entourage of pet angels. How does he attract your lot, anyway? Holy bird feed?”
Nanael can hear the roar of the Bentley outside. Their family, coming home.
Nanael lifts their hand, and their scepter manifests for the first time in several hundred years. It parts itself from the ether to meet their palm, the grip of it certain and familiar and warm to the touch. They remember, only vaguely, when they last held this weapon and safe-guarded a city, hundreds of human lives kept under their faithful watch. This is not the same— it’s only a dusty little bookshop in Soho, it’s only three people— but it feels every bit as important.
“Go away,” Nanael says.
By the time the door opens again moments later, the demon is gone and Nanael’s hands are empty and the wards have been reset with a thought. Aziraphale primly flips the Open sign to Closed, even though it’s still early yet, and Crowley is unloading bags of take-away food on the nearest table, and Warlock is running a practiced path through the front of the shop to where Nanael is standing behind the counter.
“That movie was wicked,” Warlock says, shining with enthusiasm. “I know you said you wanted to stay in and read or whatever, but next time just smuggle the book into the cinema, okay, you really missed out!”
“Oi, hellion, leave them alone,” Crowley calls over. He takes something wrapped in green ribbon out of one of the reusable supermarket bags, a familiar pastry box with a familiar cake inside. “You know how angels are with their books. Cinema’s overpriced garbage, anyway, some of my best work.”
Warlock rolls his eyes. Aziraphale touches his hair fondly as he goes past, and then touches Nanael’s shoulder in much the same way.
“Thank you for looking after the shop while we were gone, my dear,” he says to Nanael. “It’s such a relief to know you’re here.”
Nanael takes them all in, their noise and their bickering and their aggrieved affection for one another, the mismatched chairs dragged over to a table by the wide window where passersby sometimes get to take pictures of a sunning shop snake, the seat left open for Nanael in front of their favorite tea and their favorite croissant sandwich and their favorite Battenberg cake.
Nanael is nothing special. They know that. But with what little they have— with what little they are— they’ll protect this goodness they’ve managed to find.
Daniel is sitting on the far side of the table, poking at a half-melted milkshake with an inscrutable expression on her face. She never seems to know what to make of Nanael these days.
“You’re trying to…”
“Undo the curse,” Nanael says, hardly looking up from the book they’ve smuggled out of the shop. It’s so old that they worry what might happen if a human were to get their hands on it, which is how they justified the theft to their guilty Aziraphale-shaped conscience. It’s taking them a conscious, extended miracle to keep from doing the brittle pages any harm. “The first one.”
“The first one,” she parrots blankly.
Nanael pauses. “Not that Crowley has been cursed multiple times. Um, that I know of. I just meant the first curse in general. Warlock and I have been calling it the Chapter One Curse. The book had barely even started at that point, and already— “
“Nanael,” their sister says. “You cannot undo God’s decisions.”
They should have known she’d be no help. They go back to flipping pages somewhat petulantly, strengthening their miracle so the fragile book survives a less mindful handling.
“Nanael,” Daniel says, something dangerous creeping into her tone.
“It’s not wrong,” Nanael says, finally lifting their head. “It doesn’t feel wrong. It’s just— helping. I think God must have forgotten She put that curse on him, because he certainly doesn’t deserve it.”
Daniel stands up, so sharply her chair screeches across the linoleum. A few humans glance over from where their own conversations were interrupted, and a distant part of Nanael feels a bit embarrassed for causing a scene in their favorite chippy.
“You’ve spent too much time down here. You need to come home.”
“I won’t,” Nanael says frankly.
She moves around to them, kneels by their chair and takes their hands. “You’re too opinionated. You’ve been thinking too much without anyone to guide you. You’re asking too many questions. You’ll Fall.”
“I won’t,” Nanael says again, squeezing her hands, moved by her sincere, if misguided, fear for them. “I don’t doubt Her, Danny, I promise I don’t. You were there when the holy water didn’t kill Crowley. You’ve seen that he’s different. I don’t think She meant this for him. Or if She did, then maybe She meant for someone to fix it. Maybe She meant for me to be here all along.”
The thought fills them with warmth. It gives Daniel something to think about, too.
“Heaven will be lesser without you, emmer,” she says after what feels like a long time. “Please be careful. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Even if I were to Fall, you’d know where to find me,” Nanael tells her, smiling. “We could still get chips and milkshakes whenever you’d like.”
It coaxes a smile out of her, too. She rises enough to kiss them on the forehead, a blessing slipping over them like cool water, and lets it stand as a goodbye.
Hardly ten seconds later, someone throws their full weight into her vacated chair with a theatrical groan.
“Christ, I thought she’d never leave.”
Nanael is hardly surprised by now to find themself looking across the table at their unfortunate demon acquaintance. She wiggles her fingers at them in greeting.
“You couldn’t think running me off once would be enough to keep me gone, eh?”
“One could hope,” Nanael says grimly. They close their book and miracle it back to its shelf at the shop, and then starts gently bending the minds of the humans in the room around them, urging them to remember important business or forgotten appointments elsewhere. Even the line cook and the cashier step into the back of the restaurant for a well-deserved break.
If there’s trouble to be had, Nanael doesn’t want anyone else involved.
The demon looks mildly impressed by the empty dining room. She stretches a bit in her chair, easing off the tight grip on her mortal form just enough that her horns poke through the ether. It looks like someone kicking off their shoes after a long day.
It doesn’t look like someone about to start a fight.
“I have something for you.” She reaches into her jacket. “A peace offering, if you will. Or— an apology.”
That last word seems to leave a bitter taste in her mouth, but she doesn’t take it back. She slides a parcel across the table, something wrapped in worn but serviceable leather, and Nanael… well. They’ve developed a bit of a weakness when it comes to gifts. They don’t hesitate long enough to constitute any good sense before reaching out eagerly to unwrap it.
A book falls into their hands. The thick, velvety cover is empty of any author or title, and the pages are likewise blank. As Nanael thumbs through it, faint words dart across the empty spaces like a school of minnows, following the path of their eyes.
“I stole it,” the demon says plainly. “Don’t ask me who from. He’ll probably never notice it missing, but if he does, you won’t want to be involved.”
A forbidden book. Nanael clutches it a little tighter. There are always very useful things to learn in books you’re forbidden to read.
“The way I see it, God didn’t curse the serpent, She changed him. You won’t find a cure for something like that. Maybe, though, you can find a counter.”
Nanael’s mind is racing. “Curse him again?”
“With something good.” The demon scratches the side of her nose. “Never heard of any curse like that, but you look a bookish type. Maybe you’ll figure it out. And maybe I’ll pop in every now and again, to see how you’re getting on.”
It’s more of a plan than Nanael had five minutes ago, and after a decade of careful thought. They look at the demon gratefully. “Thank you.”
She relaxes a bit, with the gift having gone over well. “Funny old world it is nowadays, with angels saying thank you to demons.”
“Don’t be tiresome,” Nanael says, exhausted with that party line. “What do you get out of this, anyway? Why are you so interested in Crowley?”
“Not telling,” the demon says cheerfully, and snags what’s left of Daniel’s milkshake. She takes a noisy slurp through the straw, probably just to be irritating, and adds, “Good luck with your curse. I‘ll be seeing you, Principality.”
“Nanael,” they correct peevishly, before she can get more than two steps away.
“Gremory,” the demon replies, shooting them a smile that’s all teeth. “I look forward to doing business with you.”
Well, Nanael thinks once they’re alone again and the chippy is filling up around them with bemused customers, at least that’s something of an arrangement.