Aziraphale stared into the glass of cheap wine, watching the dregs float about and fall back to the bottom. Unfortunately for him, all the wine in the whole establishment probably wouldn’t have gotten him as drunk as he needed to be. He’d lost track of how many glasses he’d had tonight, and he still couldn’t forget the image looming in his head: a young boy shaking from fever, his nightgown plastered to every concavity of his malnourished body.
I shall happily enjoy whatever fate my loving God has prepared for me, he had said, smiling, as ‘Doctor Fell’ had left for the night.
Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut, and downed the rest of his glass.
Damn the Great Plan. Damn it all to Hell, he most certainly did not think, because it would have been beyond the pale for an angel to think such thoughts. But he came close enough to frighten himself.
The sound of the door behind him mercifully interrupted his thoughts.
“Well, fancy meeting you here.”
He couldn’t help the way his heart leapt at Crowley’s voice, the way his soul wanted to throw itself at Crowley like the last life raft in a storm.
Crowley slid by his shoulder and came to rest on the stool next to him, occupying it in a way that could have only loosely been called ‘sitting’, and seemed only dubiously physically possible in the long skirts she was wearing. But it was Crowley, so of course she made it look effortless. She grinned at Aziraphale over her dark glasses.
Aziraphale felt like half the weight of the day had been taken off his shoulders.
“Drinks for me and my friend!” Crowley shouted to the man behind the bar. She picked up Aziraphale’s glass to sniff it. “And see if you don’t have anything better than this swill.”
She turned to Aziraphale, leaning against the counter and slightly into his space. “What brings you all the way out here? Don’t remember you being a big fan of the German countryside.”
“I’m on assignment,” Aziraphale said with forced calmness. “I’m to inspire a young woman to a life of devotion.”
“That so?” Crowley asked, all relaxed ease. “Sounds easy enough, I’m sure you’ve got enough goodness in you to let some spill over to a mortal or two, make them feel all blessed for a century.” His tone was teasing, and fond. Aziraphale was cracked in two.
He crumpled over the counter like he’d been punched in the stomach. He wanted to bury everything about this assignment so deep that Crowley would never know about it. But he couldn’t quite hold it in, either. How naive he’d been to think he’d pulled it together when Crowley had walked in the door. He was just as much of a mess for Crowley to pick through as ever.
“It’s not quite … it’s not quite that,” he said. The words came out painfully. “Her brother is suffering from consumption, and his devout endurance of his suffering and death is going to inspire her to join a convent. I’m to … I’m to see that he doesn’t receive care.”
Crowley went silent beside him. Aziraphale didn’t have to look at her face to know what she was thinking (couldn’t have if he wanted to, really). She was sympathetic to him for having received such monstrous orders, and disgusted with him for seeing them through.
“Well,” she said, finally. “I think it may be time to retire for the night, don’t you?”
The pub was the first floor of the inn where Aziraphale— and, it seemed, Crowley as well— was staying. She motioned for Aziraphale to follow her into her room, and Aziraphale didn’t argue. The room was simple and small, being as they were out in the country. The bed that Aziraphale sat down on was hard and cold and numb.
Crowley sat down beside him, and Aziraphale didn’t dare look over to read her expression. That she was continuing to stay by Aziraphale’s side was a comfort, even if that comfort somehow only made him all the more vulnerable.
“Please understand,” he said, and he was biting back tears, damned emotions flooding to the surface all at once. “I can’t … I can’t disobey, or I would, you know that.” But it didn’t ease his guilt, nor the sensation of Crowley’s yellow eyes piercing through him, hidden though they were behind her glasses.
“Angel,” Crowley whispered. She rested her hand lightly on his back, and Aziraphale came further undone. He choked off a sob and turned toward Crowley just as she moved to wrap her arms around him. His head dropped onto her shoulder. At last, the tears fell.
“He’s only nine,” he said against the linen of her dress, “and it’s taking so long … he won’t eat, can’t sleep because of the pain, barely breathes except to cough up more blood … but he’s still alive and dying, and he still smiles through it … he prays, my loving God, so wonderful, so merciful, how I long for my eternal rest with You, thank You for this pain that will lead me to Your side.”
Crowley’s arms tightened around him. He could practically hear her blasphemous thoughts, but he was grateful for the sureness of being held.
There was a slight shock of heat at his shoulder where Crowley’s hand rested. Aziraphale didn’t move, even as Crowley drew her hand across her chest and the heat followed. He should be afraid, he knew. A demon was drawing Hellish power across his chest, stinging him even through his clothes. But the fear he should have had was absent, and if he was honest, he wasn’t really trying to summon it.
Crowley’s hands moved slowly across his body, coaxing the flickers of power into a lattice that bound his arms to him. When she was satisfied with those bindings, she laid him back on the bed to continue her work down his legs and around his feet. Bright ropes immobilized him from shoulders to ankles, and yet he remained strangely empty of fear. It wasn’t a proper demon, after all. It was Crowley. She would take care of him.
Crowley finished her work, and came back to the head of the bed to sit by Aziraphale. “You’ve been bested by a demon, I’m afraid,” she whispered. “It’s not your fault— the Serpent of Eden is a terribly wily adversary, isn’t she? The bindings will lose their power in a few days, but by then it will be too late. The boy will live, and the girl will remain with her family for a while yet. Who’s to say what she’ll do after that? Unpredictable, these humans are.”
Aziraphale rolled toward Crowley, turning onto his side. Just slightly, he let his body curl around hers, and pressed his face into her skirts. “Ah. Yes. Seems you’ve bested me, then.” He didn’t dare say thank you for something like this, or, God forbid, acknowledge it as an act of Love. The way his breathing slowly returned to normal would have to carry all the weight of his gratitude.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some thwarting to do,” Crowley said, standing, a quick miracle drying her clothes. “You might try sleeping a bit— I hear it can help with the hangover.”
Aziraphale wanted to respond, but the only things that came to mind were beyond the pale for an angel to say to a demon.
“Right. See you later, then,” Crowley said, and left.
December 13, 1847
Initial plan to inspire Maria through Gottlieb’s death was foiled by demonic intervention. However, I have outwitted the enemy in the end: I shall use Maria’s gratitude at the miraculous healing of her brother to inspire her toward holiness. No other news to report.
Ever your obedient servant,