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Like the Smoke of a Kiln

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1The two angels arrived in Sodom in the evening, as Lot was sitting in the gate.

"Ah, hello," Aziraphale began, but Lot was already face down on the ground at his feet, mumbling something.

"Sorry," Crowley said, "I didn't catch that."

Lot raised his head. His beard was dusty. "I said, please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house to spend the night, and bathe your feet; then you may be on your way early."

"We haven't got any servants," Aziraphale said, looking around.

"He means him," Crowley said.

"Oh, I see. A figure of speech! Anyway, thanks very much, but it seems perfectly pleasant here," Aziraphale said, looking around. It was a breezy evening, not too hot, and cypress trees sheltered the benches. A fountain played nearby. "We'll just stay in the square—"

"No!" Lot cried, struggling to his feet. "No, no, my lords, that would be a bad idea, a very bad idea, if you take my meaning." He made several urgent gestures with his hands and tilted his head meaningfully to one side.

Crowley and Aziraphale looked at each other, bemused.

"Come to my house," Lot continued, stepping between them and taking each of them by the arm. "We'll have a feast, with wine and lamb. There's plenty of room to stay. Hot water for bathing."

"That does sound nice," Aziraphale said. He had a weakness for baths.

"You had me at 'feast,'" Crowley said. "Lead the way."

*

Somewhat later, Crowley and Aziraphale sat on top of a hill, looking down into a cauldron of fire.

Finally, Crowley said, "I think that went rather well."

Aziraphale was silent.

"We saved three people. Probably more in that little town down there. Had a decent lamb supper too."

Aziraphale glared at him and then went back to contemplating the sea of bubbling rock and molten sand that had, until very recently, been four cities.

Even through the cloud of thick black smoke, the light was ferocious. Crowley snapped his fingers and a pair of sunglasses appeared on his face.

"What on Earth are those?" Aziraphale asked, startled.

"Do you like them? They'll be all the rage in a few thousand years."

"Crowley—"

"I know, I know, don't distort the timeline." He sighed. The sunglasses vanished. "Chin up, all right? We did the Lord's work today."

Aziraphale lapsed back into silence.

The sun set, and, later, rose again; it did that another few times for good measure. Much of the Jordan River had evaporated in the conflagration. Now it collected around the particles of soot and began to rain down on them. Crowley mantled his wings over his head, grumbling.

Aziraphale didn't bother; he rested his chin on his hands and let the rain soak into his fine linen robe, splotching it with grey. "I wish we could have saved them all," he said.

"They deserved to die!" Crowley said. "You saw the mob outside Lot's house. They broke every law and custom of hospitality. We saved the only ones worth saving."

"Oh?" Aziraphale waved toward a small cave a little ways down the hillside.

Crowley peered into the darkness. He saw Lot, and two of his daughters. And they were—

"Oh," said Crowley. He hesitated. "Well, look, Sarah is Abraham's half-sister—"

"I do not want to hear this," Aziraphale said. He placed his hands over his ears.

"Hear what?" asked the Lord, sitting down next to Crowley. He was in His preferred human form, young and strong, with oiled hair and perfect posture. His white robe was immaculate. The sooty raindrops all happened to be where He wasn't.

"Oh, nothing, Lord," Aziraphale said, hastily putting his hands in his lap.

"Nothing at all," Crowley said.

"Good, good, that's all good, then." The Lord beamed at the flames and smoke, and rubbed His hands together. "I think that went rather well!"

"As You say, Lord," Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale stared down into the valley, and said nothing.