"Are you sure you want to do this? They were sort of scary."
"Not very scary, actually." Wensleydale pushed his glasses up his nose again. "Really if you look at it they didn't actually do that much at all."
"Yes, all right, not very scary, but still. Are we sure we want to do this?"
"Oh, fine." Pepper couldn't stand it anymore and she grabbed the phone out of Brian's hand. "I'll do it. What's the number?"
"Just dial," Adam said, weakly but confident. "It'll be the right number."
"I don't think it works that way," Wensleydale said, but Pepper was already punching buttons.
"Hello, I'm looking for Mr--" she pulled the phone away from her mouth, looking at Adam.
"Aziraphale," he whispered.
"--Mr Azirfleel? No," she said, glaring at Adam. "No, that doesn't sound right, does it? But I'm looking for the angel who helped stop things at the end of the world.... What do you mean who's asking? I'm asking. Adam's feeling strange, he said, and he told me to call you, and this is me calling you.... Yes Adam Young, how many Adams were there at the end of the world? ...I don't know what strange feels like. And he would have called you himself but his voice has gone but he's hoping you would come, you and the other one."
"Are they coming?" Brian stage-whispered. Pepper rolled her eyes at him.
"It's not a prank call and telling someone to set down the phone and walk away is just SO condescendiAAAAAA!" Pepper cut off in a shriek as two full-grown adults poured out of the phone in her hand.
The lanky one caught the phone midair before it could hit the ground, twirled it around in his black-manicured fingers. “Careful!” He handed it to her.
“How did you do that?” Wensleydale asked, curious but not concerned. Pepper could have hit him. It was easy not to be startled when it wasn’t you holding the phone people magically appeared out of.
“Demon,” the lanky one said, waggling his fingers in the air. He pointed at the other one, plump in a cream suit. “Angel.”
“You should really warn me next time, dear,” the angel said mildly. “Good evening, my dear girl. I fear we lacked proper introduction when we first met. I am Aziraphale--” he pronounced it carefully, watching her-- “and the incredibly rude gentleman there is my husband Crowley. He legitimately is a demon, but right now he’s being a prat.” He turned to Adam. “We came as soon as we could. What seems to be the issue?”
“Don’t feel right,” Adam rasped, cuddled up on the couch under a blanket. “Lost my voice. Got everyone here first, though. Didn’t... it felt like I shouldn’t be alone.”
“Well, then, you probably shouldn’t.” Aziraphale stepped closer to Adam and reached out, then stopped. “Do you mind if I touch you?”
“Nah,” Adam whispered, and had a hand pressed to his forehead.
“Hmm, yes. Quite warm.” The angel closed his eyes, making a small humming noise with his hand still on Adam’s forehead.
“What’s he doing?” Brian asked in what he obviously thought was a whisper.
“Looking to see what’s wrong.” Crowley’s voice was right behind them.
Pepper and Brian both jumped. Adam, who could see it all, grinned wanly. Wensleydale, who could also see, rolled his eyes.
“I’m not playing your power games,” Pepper hissed at the demon.
“You sure? Games are the most fun.”
“Just… can you help Adam or not?”
“I’m… hmm,” Aziraphale said, opening his eyes. “I’m not quite sure.... Dearest?”
“Take a look, would you?”
“Yeh, alright.” The demon slouched past them, a black line all angles and corners. “Same thing, kid. Okay if I touch you?”
Adam nodded again, and got another hand on his forehead.
“Breathe, kid.” And he kind of unfocused a bit, making that same kind of humming sound. Pepper couldn’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses, but she’d bet they were closed like the angel’s had been.
“The rest of you, do tell me what it looked like to you when Adam started feeling poorly,” Aziraphale said.
“His parents are out of town,” Wensleydale said.
Brian swatted at him. “Hush, you don’t just tell people when your parents are out of town!”
“They came out of the telephone actually, and if they are an angel and a demon they probably know there aren’t any adults in the house,” Wensleydale pointed out reasonably. “And we only came over to play some video games and keep him company and yes, his parents said we could while they were gone as long as we didn’t get into trouble. He could have stayed at my house but my sister is allergic to Dog and Dog won’t stay home alone.”
“And anyway we were playing and he was winning because he always wins and then he… stopped winning,” Brian said. “He kind of... toppled backwards onto the floor and then we got him to the couch and he told us to call you.”
“Not that we saw,” Pepper said.
“And, ah... where is Dog now?”
Adam lifted one corner of the blanket he was under to show Dog curled up by him, trembling in his small-dog way.
“One more question, I think,” Aziraphale said, looking pointedly at Crowley. “How old are you all, now?”
“Thirteen,” Pepper said. “Well I am, and Brian. Wensleydale isn’t for a couple months, and Adam not til tomorrow.”
“...Tomorrow,” the angel said. “Ah.”
“What does that mean?” Wensleydale tilted his head curiously.
“I’m not quite sure. Crowley?”
“Little busy here, angel.”
“Remember how we were planning our anniversary dinner when the children called?”
“Yeah, I--Oh!” Crowley stepped back from Adam. “How old are you now, kid?”
“Thirteen,” Adam said, scratchily. “Tomorrow.”
“Why is that important?”
The angel huffed. “Well, as you get older and turn into adults, your bodies start to change--”
“Oh my god I am not getting The Talk from an actual angel dressed like a white dude!” Pepper interrupted, amid a chorus of groans from Brian and Wensleydale.
“What about from me?” came an unmistakably feminine voice behind them, and they all whirled.
Crowley sat on the couch now by Adam’s feet, though they hadn’t seen him--Them? Her? --move. Now presenting female, longish hair pulled into ringlets, black suit discarded in favor of a soft-looking dark red dress and sensible pumps.
Brian was the first to manage to close his mouth and rally. “P… Pronouns?” he managed.
“Oh, any old thing will do,” the demon said. “Just call me Crowley. But if it’s easier, she/her is fine when I’m wearing this.” She smiled, full of teeth. “Aziraphale loves it when I switch things up, don’t you, angel?”
“This is hardly the place for that discussion, love,” the angel said fondly.
“How did you do that?” Pepper demanded.
“Demon,” Crowley said again. “And gender is mostly made-up human bullshit that doesn’t apply to us, so it’s really quite easy.”
“Could you tell my teacher that?” she said, at the same time as Brian said, “You need to tell my parents that.”
“I can tell anyone you like, but they’ll only hear what they want to hear. Grown-ups are very good at that. You lot, though, are young enough to still be a little bit malleable, and to see things as they are.” She crossed her legs and sighed. “Now, about that talk…”
“This is mortifying.”
“I’m interested,” Wensleydale piped up, and when everyone glared at him he went on, “we know about puberty and puberty doesn’t make you faint or feverish, you know. So we should let them tell us what they were going to tell us.”
“Well, your bodies will be changing--” the angel started again.
“--But what he’s going to take forever to get to, is that you are all right on the edge of one of the ancient stages of adulthood,” Crowley cut in. "Eleven is one. But it's not the only one."
"Many cultures," Aziraphale added, "have considered 13 to be a very important milestone. It's still the age at which Jewish boys will have their Bar Mitzvah, but there are so many others--"
"Which we won't be going into right now, right, angel?" Crowley said. She uncrossed her legs and recrossed them the opposite direction, smoothing out her skirt.
"Erm. Yes, quite." The angel looked a little chagrined. "We might have expected this, really. But once you made it past eleven, reality shifted. We thought it taken care of."
"However, since we're here... well, seems like there might be side effects coming at other important markers of adulthood. Somewhere, forces are trying to push you into the destiny you denied."
"But what do I do?" Adam rasped.
"Hold on to yourself," the angel said. "Think about the things that make you most you, and keep them close. I don't believe it will be as dramatic-- as far as I know neither Heaven nor Hell were expecting this either-- but just in case, it's probably a good idea to plan for this possibility in future, for other significant ages."
"So this is going to happen again?" It was Wensleydale this time, piping up to ask the question all of them were thinking.
"I cannot predict, dear boy; in the absence of Heavenly foreknowledge I can only extrapolate. And as I am no longer on speaking terms with Heaven, and none of my works of prophecy reached this far....” He shrugged, a genteel little half-hitch. “Who can say? But I should think it likely. Did anything happen last year?"
Pepper couldn’t keep from reacting, and Crowley fixed her with a stare. "You, girl. What happened last year?"
"He had a summer cold," Pepper said faintly. "His parents made him stay in, and we didn't get to have the party until the week after."
"Some cultures looked to twelve," Aziraphale said.
"Not as many, though," Crowley countered.
Brian had been watching. "But what do we do?" he said, echoing Adam from earlier.
"Hold tight to what you can, to who you are." Aziraphale spoke gently. "Adam? What makes you feel the most you? The most grounded, the most human?"
Adam looked around the room. “Them,” he said. “They keep me me. They kept me me b--” he broke off, swallowed. “Before. And Dog.”
Dog whined in his fort of shifting blankets.
“And you felt like they should be here, so you called them,” the angel said. “Normally I would be wary of telling you to trust your instincts, under the, er, peculiar circumstances of your birth, but I believe this was a good one.”
“You, children,” Crowley said from her seat.
“I’m not a child anymore!” Pepper said.
“You, teenagers,” she corrected without missing a beat. “You can make a difference, here. Is Adam your friend?”
Pepper looked at Brian and Wensleydale, who looked back at her and each other. “Always,” Brian said, and Pepper and Wensleydale echoed it.
“What are you willing to do for him?”
“Anything,” said Brian.
“Well, nearly anything,” said Wensleydale.
“And you?” Crowley looked at Pepper.
“Anything that doesn’t conflict with my morals or sense of justice for the world,” Pepper said finally.
“I don’t think this will.” Aziraphale smiled at them, and Pepper felt annoyingly warm and cared for. “Be here, for Adam. For birthdays, especially. This may not be the last time that he is pulled toward… something he doesn’t want to be.”
“Probably won’t be. Other milestones might be stronger--might hit one at twenty-one, probably a big one at 16 and 18. Childhood lasts longer than it used to.” Crowley grinned at them again, almost kindly. “You can make a tradition of it.”
“Like, hey, it’s Adam’s birthday, we need to stick to him like glue?” Brian nudged Pepper. “That’s gonna make your mum so happy. ‘Oh, nothing, I just need to go stay with boys for the day!’”
Pepper gave him a good-natured shove. “This year, though. For tonight and tomorrow--Slumber Party?”
Brian grinned. “Slumber party!”
“I don’t know that my parents will agree to that, though,” Wensleydale offered. “Not if Adam’s mum and dad aren’t home.”
“What if we’re at my house?” Pepper grinned. “My mum could watch us all in case any of your parents were upset, and I’d have my own room there. And she won’t want Adam to be home alone if he has a cold.”
Wensleydale peered at her through his glasses. “You think your mum would do that?”
“She told me I could bring boys home if I wanted--”
“Or girls, yes, Brian, thank you. I think she’ll go for it. And Dog can come because I don’t have a sister who’s allergic to anything,” she added with a pointed glare.
“My sister’s allergies are not my fault!”
“How does that sound to you, angel?” Crowley’s voice overrode the oncoming verbal scuffle.
“I think it sounds like an admirable plan,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley turned to the boy beside him on the couch. “Adam? How does that feel?”
Adam hesitated, considering. “It feels... right,” he said finally. “Feels wrong not to have them here.”
“Hold on to that, dear boy. You’re likely fighting things you don’t even recognize, but you wouldn’t want the world to be destroyed now, after all that, would you?”
Adam grinned. “Nah,” he said, shaking his curly head. “Just have to talk Pepper’s mum into it.”
“Let me do that,” Pepper groaned, pulling out her phone again. She talked to her mother briefly, giving the basic run-down of Adam not feeling well and the rest of the Them wanting to celebrate his birthday anyway, while Adam and the angel and the demon spoke quietly off to the side and Brian and Wensleydale got into a bit of a shoving-match.
With the plan planned, they quickly got Adam packed up and made sure they had some food to bring along for Dog before hitting the next snag.
“Actually, Adam, are you okay to walk to Pepper’s house?”
“We could build a stretcher and carry him!”
“He’s going to be quite heavy, though.”
Pepper cut through the bickering with “My mum is driving over--she says he shouldn’t be walking all the way if he’s not feeling well.”
Aziraphale smiled at her again, then ruined it by saying, “Your mother sounds like a wise woman.”
“I am not going to tell her you said that.”
“I’m…” Wensleydale turned toward Aziraphale and Crowley, who was still settled by Adam. “I’m not sure I want to explain you two at all, actually.”
“Hmm, yes. Probably for the best. We can stay nearby tonight if you’d like, but if you call we can be here directly.” Aziraphale pulled out some cards and handed one to each of them. “Should you need us…”
Crowley just waved and grinned. “Same.”
Brian peered at the cream-colored card, then looked up at the demon, who was now somehow back to presenting as the lanky aging rockstar he’d looked when they poured out of the phone. “What--?” He shook himself. “What about you?”
“My number is in your phones.”
“It is not or Adam wouldn’t have had me oh my god it is!” Pepper finished scrolling. “How did you do that?”
“Demon,” he said again.
“Adam,” Aziraphale said, turning to the boy. “Do you need us to stay close by?”
Adam grinned, petting Dog, who was looking significantly more relaxed. “I think I’m okay, if they’re here.”
“You’ll call if you need us, though? Any of you?”
They chorused agreement. Dog even chimed in with a bark.
“Excellent. Then I shall ask if one of you fine children would be so kind as to dial Crowley’s number? The home one, rather. I believe we had plans for this evening.”
“If it’s an emergency, use the mobile,” Crowley added, while Brian dialed his phone. There was a click as it connected, then the Them were alone in Adam’s living room.
“That was weird, right?” Brian said, staring at the phone in his hand that had just swallowed up two grown men. Or man-shaped people.
“Yeah,” Adam said, but he was smiling. “That was weird.”
“My mum will be here any minute. Get your shoes, Adam.”