Chapter 1: PROLOGUE, PRESENT DAY - AFTER ARMAGEDDON
It was a Tuesday when the book found its way to Aziraphale’s bookshop, delivered by the International Express. A sharp rap on the door let Aziraphale know someone was outside.
“Delivery for you, Sir!” the Delivery Man chimed when Aziraphale opened the door. “You’ll have to sign for it!” He offered a pen to the angel.
Aziraphale took the pen and signed for the package, which was a small, brown parcel, held under the Delivery Man’s arm. After inscribing his name, the Delivery Man handed him the book, and turned to leave.
“Goodnight, Sir!” and then he was gone.
Aziraphale stared at the package - it felt like a book, but he hadn’t ordered any books recently. He was still getting over the recent addition of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies to his collection; even though all of her prophecies had passed, he still enjoyed reading through it with a nice mug of cocoa. Maybe Crowley had ordered him a book as a surprise? No, Crowley would never do something like that; not because he wouldn’t get a gift for the angel, but because he wanted nothing to do with books.
Shrugging, Aziraphale unwrapped the parcel, snapping the wrapping paper out of existence.
The book in his hand was untitled, but there was a handwritten note inside the cover, which read:
This book relates events of your creation to events happening now; it is intended for your eyes only. If you have any questions, please, hesitate before asking and instead think over your questions carefully.
P.S. If you still cannot determine the answers to your questions even after personal reflection, contact Crowley.
Aziraphale nearly dropped the book. He certainly dropped the letter, which promptly burst into flames. “What…?” he whispered aloud. This had to be a joke. Crowley’s name was written on the damned letter, for Heaven’s sake.
He rushed to the phone and called the demon, who picked up on the second ring. “Hello, angel” he drawled in his typical Crowley fashion.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale tried to keep himself from shouting, but failed miserably. “Do you know about this?”
“About what, angel?” Crowley said, unperturbed.
“This book ,” Aziraphale hissed into the phone.
The line went silent on the other end. “Crowley?” Aziraphale asked after a few moments.
“I’ll be there in 10,” Crowley responded.
The shop was closed up when Crowley arrived, but he barged in anyway. Aziraphale was sitting in his favorite chair, book in one hand and mug of cocoa in the other. He looked up when Crowley came in.
“Did you do this?” he asked, getting right to the point, holding the unremarkable book out to Crowley.
The demon took the book gingerly, and leafed through a few pages. “I didn’t think She’d actually do it,” he murmured to himself.
Aziraphale was stunned. “This is… this is actually from… Her? God? ” Suddenly, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies was no longer his most valuable book.
The angel searched his friend’s face for any sign of a joke, anything at all to indicate that this was a prank he was pulling on the angel. Crowley looked entirely angelic, though slightly apologetic.
Aziraphale sunk even further into his chair, and took a long drink of his cocoa (which he had fortified with a chocolate liquor). Crowley dropped into his chair next to the angel, began to reach out a hand to provide comfort, then thought better of it.
“Have you opened it?” Crowley eventually asked. Aziraphale shook his head. “Don’t you think you should?” Crowley asked again. Aziraphale shook his head for a second time. “Fine,” Crowley snatched the book from the angel. “I’ll read it for you!” He’d suspected the angel would be too floored to handle reading a book about himself, and so he’d spent the last few weeks practicing reading aloud.
Aziraphale made a strangled noise. “No, Crowley, what if I don’t want to know?”
This gave Crowley pause. “You don’t want to know?” He’d figured that this would entice the angel - besides food, a book was the best gift to get his friend, and he couldn’t very well explain everything he needed to explain through a croissant .
Aziraphale shook his head for a third time. “I mean, what if it changes things?” His voice was barely over a whisper, as he looked at the demon, straining.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley said softly, finally putting his hand on the angel’s, ignoring the pleasurable shock it sent up his hand. “Books always change things. Besides, aren’t you just a little curious as to why you got a book from God?” Crowley figured a mix of rational logic and a bit of tempting would be enough to get Aziraphale to read the book.
The angel thought about it for a second, decided not to ask the thousands of questions that were running through his head, and gave in to Crowley. “Fine,” he said. “Read it to me.” He did not, however, remove his hand from the demon’s.
Crowley nodded. He flipped open the book to the title page, which read “Aziraphale, Principality of Heaven: a Recounting of His Existence. By: The Almighty.” Crowley read this aloud, and Aziraphale groaned. Based on this, Crowley skipped over the dedication page, which read “For Crowley and Aziraphale - you are truly ineffable.” Instead, he moved to the first page, cleared his throat, and began to read Aziraphale’s story to Aziraphale.
The first thing Aziraphale ever heard was a kind voice saying “The Kiss of Life has been given - Welcome to Heaven, Aziraphale.” He, at this point, had no concept of who he was, where he was, or what an “Aziraphale” was.
Cracking an eye, Aziraphale laid eyes on… well, he didn’t know what it was yet, but it did take his breath away. “Yes, hello?” he replied nervously. An ungainly start, to be sure.
The being in front of him was not what most people would call “comforting to look at”. Four wings stretched out from its center, where four faces of four different animals sprouted from one neck. Aziraphale blinked once in surprise, and by the time he had refocused, the being had shifted into a more palatable vision. Now in front of him was a two-winged, one headed creature with bright red hair and a very balanced face. The being turned up their mouth at him, in a gesture which made Aziraphale didn’t know the name for, but feel warm inside.
“I am the Archangel Raphael,” the being continued. “You, Aziraphale, are Heaven’s newest angel.” The being - other angel, Aziraphale supposed - said this statement so warmly, so matter-of-factly that Aziraphale knew immediately being an angel was a good thing to be. He felt the corners of his own mouth turning up, offering his first smile to Raphael.
“And I am the Archangel Gabriel,” another voice spoke, coming into Aziraphale’s line of sight. This Archangel looked just as majestic as Raphael, but decidedly less happy about it. “Ah, yes, welcome to Heaven, so glad you’re here, and all that. Now, we’ve got a lot of other angels to get through today, so here’s your stuff,” a bundle of white cloth was shoved unceremoniously into Aziraphale’s arms, “and here’s your ‘To Do’ checklist.” Gabriel handed Aziraphale a scroll. He started to unroll it, but Gabriel stopped him with a “don’t do that here! Go find a different part of Heaven, jeez!” and pushed him towards the door.
Thus began Aziraphale’s existence; not with a bang, but with a checklist.
Angels are not great improvisers, leaving that task mostly up to God and all of Her ineffability, but they do enjoy thinking they can improvise. The checklist had long ago been decided to be the best method of making sure each angel learned the things they needed to learn, without making it seem too much like orders. Still, a majority of angels followed the checklist straight down, from top to bottom, regardless of the fact that it was wildly inefficient. Notable exceptions to this were Helel, Raphael, and now, it would appear, Aziraphael.
Contrary to popular belief, Heaven is a well-lit hallway with twelve doors; this wasn’t the original layout of Heaven, but God found that a singular hallway kept the angels from getting anxious. It is unclear if the hallway is well-lit or if the hallway is light, but the distinction is relatively unimportant. The doors leading off the hallway contained the following rooms:
- The Armory
- The Aviary
- The Chapel
- The Choir Room
- The Gardens
- The Kitchen
- The Lake
- The Library
- The Observatory
- The Sacristy, which was the room Aziraphale had just come out of
- The Sanctum
After shrugging on the white bundle of cloth in what he hoped was the right order, Aziraphale looked over the checklist; the room called “The Kitchen” caught his eye. He walked through the doorway and out into Heaven, pausing for a moment to look at the map on the wall. He then went to the left.
Raphael and Gabriel watched him go, but only Gabriel panicked when Aziraphale turned left out the door; the Armory was to the right. Gabriel stuck his head out of the Sacristy door to verify. “Raphael, he’s not going towards the Armory, He’s -” Gabriel watched Aziraphale open the Kitchen door, and popped back inside the Sacristy. “He’s went to the Kitchen , Raphael, he’s messed the whole thing up.” Gabriel worried.
Raphael smiled to himself. This one’s different , he thought. “He’ll be alright, Gabriel,” Raphael reassured the anxious Archangel. “On to the next angel?” Best to let things play out as they would, and keep Gabriel from making yet another angel uninteresting.
Gabriel didn’t look assured, but he said “Yes, alright,” instead of rushing after Aziraphale to tell him off.
As Aziraphale wandered through Heaven, he took in the sights and sounds of creation. Other angels milled about the hallway, and Aziraphale smiled at each angel he passed, offering a friendly “Hello!”. No one smiled back at him. Most angels found his smile too forward - not at all like Raphael had been. And so, Aziraphale learned the terrible feeling of disappointment.
He made his way to the Kitchen and knocked on the door. “Hello,” he ventured cautiously, “I’m Aziraphale. New angel.”
“Come in!” a voice called.
Creation is mostly empty space, expanding outward from the starting point of God; much like a new house, Creation wants to be comfortably and tastefully filled with stuff . Unlike a house, however, Creation is not linearly connected. Each doorway in Heaven is a portal to a different temporal space, some closer to the epicenter of God and some further away. The further away a room was from the epicenter, the larger the room became, allowing for spaces such as the Aviary and Armory to exist. The Kitchen was the second space God filled when creating Heaven, making it small and compact, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in love. When Aziraphale swung the door open, he immediately felt like he was in the right place. He walked into the room, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of this holy place.
The angel in charge of the kitchen, Haniel, dusted off his hands and looked at Aziraphale as he approached. “I’m Haniel,” he said. “You have your checklist?” Aziraphale dutifully handed over his sheet.
Haniel looked over the empty list with confusion. Could this be a joke? No, jokes hadn’t been invented yet. “This isn’t done?” he asked bluntly.
Aziraphale felt a pang of anxiety. “Oh… am I not supposed to be here?” He hadn’t thought there was an order to the checklist, but Haniel’s reaction was making him second guess.
“You haven’t checked off the previous items.”
“Well,” Aziraphale looked back at the scroll, “they’re not numbered are they?” Aside from this exchange, Aziraphale was enjoying being in the kitchen far more than he had enjoyed any other parts of Heaven so far. It was a little less bright in here - the counters and cabinets were an off-white instead of gleaming bright white, which Aziraphale felt was much easier on the eyes.
Haniel had no response to that. He was unused to having no response, and so opened his mouth to provide one, assuming that the words would be there by the time his mouth was open. After a few moments of waiting, he cleared his throat and chose a new path. “Alright, come see the Kitchen… what did you say your name was?”
“Oh, Aziraphale,” Aziraphale said.
“Yes, alright, come along Aziraphale.”
This was Aziraphale’s introduction to his second favorite thing - food. While food in Heaven is not known for, well, anything other than being unleavened bread, Aziraphale was delighted by it. The process of kneading the bread and putting it into the oven to cook made him smile again, and he soaked up every bit of Haniel’s words. Much to Haniel’s chagrin, Azirphale began to ask questions; his questions wouldn’t have been so irritating if they weren’t all answered by the same thing: “That’s how it’s always been done, since the beginning of Creation.”
Finally, after the 25th question from the newest angel, Haniel turned to face Aziraphale. “Why do you care ?” The answer Aziraphale could not give, because he had no knowledge of it, was that he had been built that way.
Instead, he shrugged. “It’s interesting,” he explained lamely.
“It’s not; it’s just bread.”
Aziraphale had no response to that.
Haniel shooed him out of the kitchen with the stalest piece of bread he could find. Bread didn’t necessarily go stale in Heaven, but one could tell the difference between the oldest and newest pieces of manna. It was still technically following the rules, but not a gesture one would expect from an angel; therefore, there was no rule written saying he couldn’t give Aziraphale the oldest piece of bread. After Aziraphale was gone, Haniel looked upwards to God.
“God, in all Your ineffable wisdom, please don’t assign him to the Kitchen,” he prayed. Unfortunately for Haniel, prayers cannot divert the ineffable.
1 Coming into being was really a difficult thing - you didn’t get all of the information you needed up front; it came in more a gradual trickle, until your brain was full with all the things you would need. In this case, the word Aziraphale was looking for was “smiled”.[return to text]
2 The slang term “Jeez” originated in America in the 1970’s as a way of referring to Jesus without being blasphemous. As America had a long time yet to exist, Gabriel’s “jeez” here refers to the titular character of the yet-to-be-announced Project J, which had caused quite a stir around the Heaven watercooler. [return to text]
3 Improvisation was later given to humanity, as God had had enough of Heaven’s chorus nights - Her favorite style of music was jazz. [return to text]
4 Only 11 of these doors were on the checklist, Janitorial being a place that was reserved for emergencies rather than sightseeing. [return to text]
5 It comes as no surprise that angels would find themselves most comfortable in Europe one it was created; more specifically, Germany. Angels felt most uncomfortable in the Southern states of America. [return to text]
6 The question being “Why don’t you change the flavors up a bit?” [return to text]
Aziraphale slowly made his way through the checklist, stopping at the rooms as he came to them instead of in order. This way, he visited the Library, Lake, and Choir Rooms, before turning around and following the rooms down the other side of the hallway. He even stopped at Janitorial, interrupting a tense card game between two other angels, who did not smile at him when he awkwardly apologized and backed out of the room. He skipped over the Sanctum the first time he’d come to it, as it was occupied by a different angel.
His experience in the Armory had firmly cemented it as a place he’d never go back to visit if he could help it. After getting through the requisite checklist conversation, the Archangel Michael had put him through quite the ringer of tests. Aziraphale, who had just recently mastered walking and hadn’t quite worked up the courage to fly, had been tossed a sword and asked to spar with other angels. It hadn’t gone well. Though they’d healed him up before he left, Aziraphale could still feel the places on his body he’d been hit. “You’re soft ,” Michael had told him, with a strong air of disapproval. “You have a lot of work to do to be an angel in God’s Army.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want to be in the Army,” Aziraphale had responded. He did not ask “What are we even fighting against?”, even though he desperately wanted to.
Michael had scoffed at that. “Every angel wants to be in God’s Army - you don’t have a choice.” This opened up a pit in the bottom of Aziraphale’s stomach. He’d nodded, then made an excuse to leave the Armory as quickly as possible.
Eventually, Aziraphale made it back to the Sanctum. A footnote on his checklist told him that this was the home of the Metatron, voice of God. Because of this footnote, most angels assumed that the Sanctum was where God resided; in actuality, God was everywhere, and it was merely Metatron that lived in the Sanctum. As the oldest of the angels, and the voice of God Herself, he generally wasn’t questioned.
Aziraphale walked to the door of the Sanctum and knocked gently. “Hello?” he called.
“COME IN, CASSIEL,” a voice boomed. Aziraphale looked behind him and to both sides, saw no one else, and then went in anyway.
Metatron was terrifying - a pillar of fire with a booming voice, intended to literally put the fear of God into angels when they arrived in the Sanctum. Instead of achieving the intended effect with Aziraphale, he felt hungry again and wanted to go back to the Kitchen.
“WE ARE METATRON,” the voice said. "THE VOICE OF GOD. AND YOU ARE CASSIEL, THE NEWEST ANGEL."
"Ah," Aziraphale said, putting up a finger, "it's Aziraphale, actually."
Aziraphale cleared his throat. "My name is Aziraphale; apparently not the newest angel anymore."
"WHY WERE YOU NOT HERE BEFORE?" Metatron asked. Things like this didn't happen in Heaven; this wasn't the plan.
"Well, someone else was here the first time I tried. And besides, the checklist isn’t numbered," Aziraphale explained yet again. "Seems to me if everyone's going to make a fuss about it, the list should be numbered," he added, trying to be helpful.
Metatron had no response to Aziraphale's point. Thankfully, a knock came at the door before either one of the celestial beings had to continue the conversation.
If fire could glower, it would have done so at Aziraphale. "YES, COME IN CASSIEL, NEWEST ANGEL OF HEAVEN."
"No, sorry Metatron, just me." The Archangel Raphael entered the Sanctum, hands out in apology. Aziraphale smiled at him and he mercifully smiled back.
"WHAT," Metatron said, testily, "IS THE POINT OF TELLING ME THE ORDER OF ANGELS IF IT'S NOT GOING TO BE CORRECT?"
"To be sure you're paying attention," Raphael answered. "Aziraphale," the Archangel said as he turned to the angel, "would you come with me?"
The angel nodded, glad to have an excuse to both leave the Sanctum and to be near Raphael again. They made their way to the door before -
"RAPHAEL," Metatron called.
"You go on; I'll be right behind you," Raphael assured, pushing Aziraphale out the door and closing it. "What is it, Metatron?"
"THERE'S SOMETHING VERY DIFFERENT ABOUT THAT ANGEL; I DON'T LIKE IT. ARE YOU SURE YOU BUILT HIM RIGHT?"
Raphael bristled. "I built him precisely to God's specifications," he said. "To question me is to question Her."
"BUT I AM THE VOICE OF GOD," said Metatron.
"Ah, but you're not the builder of God." Raphael sighed. "It'll be fine - I'll look after him. Aziraphale won't bother you again."
For the moment, this promise satisfied Metatron, and so he said "FINE - SEND IN CASSIEL WHEN YOU LEAVE."
"God's glory be with you," Raphael said as he left. This was the standard goodbye in Heaven, though this instance left Metatron feeling confused; for you see, the Archangel had just invented sarcasm.
Aziraphale was standing outside in the hallway with another angel - the truly most recent angel - Cassiel. Raphael had built that one as well, but it’d been a much more standard build; Raphael hadn’t given the angel a second thought. Raphael caught only the end of their conversation.
“- and so I said “yes, but it’s not numbered , you see! So how was I to know?” Aziraphale seemed very proud of himself. Cassiel looked unsure.
“You can do that?” she asked, as though the idea had never occurred to her. It hadn’t. It’s not her fault though; she hadn’t had time to have many ideas at all yet.
“There’s nothing stopping you!”
Cassiel looked down at the list in her hand, identical to the one Aziraphale held, except the checkmarks on hers were in an orderly line, all crossed off up to “The Sanctum”. “Well, I’ve already seen everything,” she began, “but I’m not too interested in meeting Metatron.” She looked at her list, and then smiled at Aziraphale. “I think I’m going to go back to the Aviary - I did like flying!” She made a move away from the Sanctum door. “God’s glory be with you, Aziraphale!”
Before she could make it too far, Metatron’s voice boomed from behind them - Raphael had left the door open. “CASSIEL, COME IN,” he commanded.
Once again unsure, Cassiel looked back at the Sanctum, between Aziraphale and Raphael, then scrunched her nose. “Actually, I think I’d better…” she trailed off.
“I think it’s best,” Raphael agreed. He took Aziraphale by the shoulders and moved him out of the way. The newest angel dutifully went inside the Sanctum, closing the door behind her. They could hear Metatron’s voice booming from inside, giving Cassiel the full speech Aziraphale was supposed to hear.
“I don’t think the Metatron liked me very much,” Aziraphale said to Raphael as they moved away from the Sanctum door.
“They don’t like many people - they’re very particular.”
“They seemed to like you,” Aziraphale pressed.
“The Metatron respects me; there’s a difference,” Raphael replied.
“Oh,” Aziraphale said.
“Have you been to the Gardens yet?” Raphael asked, changing the subject. “They’re my favorite place in Heaven.”
Aziraphale double checked his checklist. “I have not! Though I do suppose I should have gone there before ,” he added, perhaps a bit bitterly.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Raphael said, waving a hand. “As long as you see all of Heaven, eventually.” He winked at Aziraphale. Aziraphale felt his stomach turn pleasantly, and smiled unexpectedly. “I didn’t go to the doors in order,” Raphael was saying. “And look at me now - an Archangel!” Aziraphale felt incredibly comfortable around Raphael, like he had in the kitchen; like he was supposed to be there.
As they walked to the Gardens, Aziraphale relayed his experiences of Heaven, focusing (unsurprisingly) mostly on the Kitchen. Raphael had never heard any angel have this many opinions, let alone directly after their creation. But something about the way in which he shared, unabashedly, with Raphael made the Archangel feel like they had known one another for a very long time.
“And so, I told Michael, ‘what if I don’t want to be in God’s Army?’, and then he gave a very snippy reply, and I got out of there as soon as I could,” Aziraphale concluded.
“You told Michael that?” Raphael asked, quietly, almost reverentially. His tone made Aziraphale question for the first time if that had been the right thing to do.
“I… well, yes, I suppose I did,” he admitted to the Archangel. “Perhaps not in so many words, but… no, yes, I told him almost exactly that.”
Raphael stared at him a moment before letting out a bark of laughter. Other angels around them turned to stare, but Raphael only had eyes for Aziraphale. He clapped a hand on the younger angel’s shoulder. “You are amazing ,” he praised. Aziraphale felt his stomach twist again, though again, not unpleasantly. “That’s amazing! You know, you should really meet one of my other friends, Helel. I think you two would get along - actually, she’s probably in the Gardens now!”
The two angels came to a stop in front of a door, identical to all others, except for the name plate, which read THE GARDENS. “Here we are!” Raphael said, excitedly, and threw open the door.
Eden is lauded by humanity to have been the greatest garden ever conceived. What they don’t know, and will never have the pleasure of experiencing, is the garden that Eden was based off of, which resided in the room Aziraphale now found himself entering. Verdant leaves growing from thick vines created a tunnel approximately 10 meters long, ending in a bright white light. As Aziraphale walked through the tunnel, delicate purple flowers sprouted around his feet. He picked one and looked at it in amazement. “What is this?” he asked Raphael.
“I call it a ‘horned violet’. Do you like it?”
“It’s stunning,” Aziraphale said, turning the flower over in his hands. He was too busy marveling at the flower to see that Raphael was marveling him.
“They were difficult to get right, really,” Raphael said, clearing his throat. “You see these color striations here? I didn’t do that, they just happened, but it did inspire the name! I - actually, all of my mistakes are in a bin somewhere…”
Raphael ushered Aziraphale into the Garden proper, where a few other angels milled about, tending to the plants and fauna, and Aziraphale felt his mouth drop open. Massive trees stretched up into the sky, populated with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, which would lower into an angel’s hand if they asked the tree kindly enough. Animals coexisted with the angels, dashing about the Garden without a care. A gentle breeze swept through the Garden, blowing the through the grass and tousling Raphael’s hair. Aziraphale saw this, shivered slightly, and smiled; he was awestruck.
“Hello there, Helel!” Raphael called. “How are you, old friend?” He waved to another Archangel, sitting beneath a pine tree, eating a piece of fruit. Helel looked over and waved back, motioning for them to come closer.
“Raphael!” he shouted. “Look what I’ve made!” She held out the fruit to Raphael once they were close enough. “I call it an apple .” Helel looked immeasurably pleased with herself.
Raphael took a bite, chewed thoughtfully, and nodded. “This is good, Helel, well done! Aziraphale, would you like to try?”
“Oh!” Aziraphale said. “Of course!”. He took the apple and bit into it, teeth sinking easily through the skin. The taste of the apple was overall pleasant, with a good balance of tartness and sweetness. It was unlike anything Aziraphale had ever tasted, and he was lost in thought for a bit as to whether or not he could incorporate this flavor into the manna - he’d bring it up to Haniel the next time he was in the Kitchen.
Helel looked at him expectantly. “Well?” she eventually had to ask.
“Oh,” Aziraphale said again. “Yes, that is quite good!”
“You see, I’ve done it again!” Helel threw up his hands, congratulating herself.
“But if I may -”
Both Archangels turned to look at Aziraphale. Helel looked less pleased than Raphael did, who encouraged Aziraphale to continue. “Go on, what is it?”
“I, well… I didn’t particularly care for how easy it was to bite into. I think it would be a lot more enjoyable if you had to work for it a little.”
Helel’s brow furrowed as she took in the feedback. She nodded once, twice, and then snapped her fingers. The apple in Aziraphale’s hands grew a little firmer. “Try it now,” Helel said.
Aziraphale’s second bite was much better than the first, as were Raphael’s and Helel’s.
“Good work, Aziraphale,” Helel complimented. “I’ll make that change across the board.”
Just then, the angel Sandalphon materialized in front of Aziraphael. “Your posting, Aziraphale,” he said brusquely, as he handed Aziraphale a new scroll.
“Oh, but I haven’t -” Aziraphale began, but Sandalphon was gone. “- even made it to all of the doors yet,” he finished, worry knitting his brow.
“I told you it didn’t matter,” Raphael said, leaning lightly into his shoulder. “Where’d they put you?”
Aziraphale unrolled the scroll and then jumped for joy. His wings caught an updraft in the Garden, sending him a few more feet up into the air than he initially intended. By the time he made it to the ground again, he was shaky both from the unexpected flying lesson and the news.
“The Kitchen!” he finally responded. “Oh, goodness, I’m in the Kitchen! I’ll be able to make some real changes - no more tasteless manna, I can promise you that! Oh!” He was so excited, he began to walk back towards the door to Heaven. He made it halfway across the Garden before he remembered Raphael. “Raphael!” he called to his friend, “Come see me in the Kitchen later! I’ll show you around my favorite place!” And with that, Aziraphale was gone.
Helel blew out a breath and looked at Raphael. “I can see why you like that one, Raph,” she said.
“I like him no more than I do any other angel,” Raphael responded, suddenly very interested in the bark on the tree behind Helel. “He just seems like more fun, than, you know, your standard angel.”
“Oh,” Helel said knowingly, “ he’s the one?” When Helel wasn’t in the Gardens, she could be found at God’s side, and as a result, had a better understanding of what was happening in Heaven than most. While the angel had never been explicitly named in the plans, Helel knew that there was a new type of angel being tested.
“Well,” Helel elbowed Raphael lightly, pulling him out of his reverie. “You certainly have a type,” she joked
“Do I?” Raphael asked, looking away from the door out to Heaven and back to his friend.
“You go for the rebellious ones,” she said with a wink. “Which, speaking of, I have some things I wanted to talk to you about.”
1 Technically true. Angels don’t have free will, but Aziraphale’s life was planned to be a bit different than your standard angel’s. [return to text]
2 If he'd been human, he would have been annoyed, but as it was, annoyance didn't exist yet. All Aziraphale could be was helpful. [return to text]
3 Raphael was wrong, of course - Aziraphale would bother Metatron twice more; once in the near future, and once again at the end of the world. But those events were a ways off. [return to text]
4 The Garden was unfortunately lost to Heaven during the Fall; Hell tried to take it with them, but lost it in the transition downwards. The Garden ended up somewhere in the vicinity of Louisiana, where it was eventually turned into a Walmart parking lot. God was so distraught that She had the Garden memorialized in a Counting Crows song. [return to text]
5 These would go on to become Pansies; the bin was left in Janitorial and therefore, not lost when the Garden was [return to text]
6 In her defense, she had been working very hard at getting the correct combination of flavors, which was much more difficult when one had to invent those flavors in the first place. [return to text]
7 Helel is the only angel in recorded history to use nicknames. [return to text]
Chapter 4: A TIME OUT - PRESENT DAY, LONDON, AZIRAPHALE’S BOOKSHOP
It's a short one, to tide you over
Thanks so much for all of the messages and kudos, team! I'm really glad y'all like this as much as I do :) Hoping to have another full chapter up by tomorrow evening; Thursday at the latest!
“You were quite the flirt even in Heaven there, eh, Aziraphale?” Crowley smirked.
The angel had spent the better part of the last chapter hidden behind a pillow. He put the pillow down, making every effort not to make eye contact with Crowley, and went towards the kitchen. At least he now had a reason for why he liked the kitchen so much - it had been his initial posting in Heaven.
“Why don’t I remember that?” he muttered to himself, starting another cup of cocoa.
“Probably because this is all from before the Fall,” Crowley said from the doorway, startling Aziraphale. He did not add that he remembered all of this perfectly - his side, at least. It was enjoyable for him to hear Aziraphale’s side, after all this time.
“My dear,” he said, putting a hand over his heart, “I didn’t realize you’d come in. Would you like some cocoa?”
Crowley shook his head, instead picking up the chocolate liquor bottle and drinking a good amount. “Ooh, that’s sweet,” he said. He then proceeded to fill up nearly half of Aziraphale’s mug with it, assuming the angel would stop him at some point. Aziraphale was too lost in thought. After the mug began to overflow with chocolate liquor, Crowley miracled a majority of it back into the bottle, leaving a measly single shot at the bottom.
Aziraphale poured his new batch of cocoa into the mug, and took a sip. “Ahh,” he said. “Thank you for the addition, my dear.”
“Did you hear me, angel?” Crowley asked. “I said, I think-”
Aziraphale waved his hand, cutting Crowley off. “No, no spoilers, dear. I want to listen to the whole thing and make up my own mind.” He shooed the demon back to the sitting room, following behind with brow furrowed.
They took their respective seats and Crowley picked up the book once more, opening to Chapter Three.
Chapter 5: CHAPTER THREE - A STEP OUT OF LINE
As a heads up: this gets a little angsty, and the next few chapters might be as well. Enjoy! <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale took to working in the Kitchen like a fish would eventually take to water. He had a knack for knowing exactly how much manna to make, how warm to make the ovens, and exactly when they should be starting a new batch. As a result, angels were more and more inclined to come to the Kitchen for Aziraphale’s cooking - in fact, the Kitchen had never been so popular. All of these things ingratiated him to Haniel, who was less than pleased when he got word that Aziraphale would be starting in the Kitchen post-haste, only to turn around and have an out-of-breath Aziraphale scare him out of his wits.
There were two things however, that Haniel did not appreciate. The first was that the Archangel Raphael began to spend more time in the Kitchen. He seemed to be there anytime Aziraphale was trying a new recipe, happy to be the first one to taste test. Aziraphale seemed to have no issue with Raphael’s presence; in fact, the angel seemed to have more jump in his step when Raphael was present, and settle down when the Archangel was gone. Haniel attributed this to nerves.
The second thing Haniel did not appreciate was that Aziraphale kept changing the manna recipe. As a standard, it had always been an equal part holy water to flour, and then a quick run through the oven to set the whole thing. Standard manna from Heaven was doughy, very white, and sat in your stomach like lead. Aziraphale, however, was adding ingredients like eggs and milk - it felt like Aziraphale was telling God “Thanks, but I think I’ve got this,” and it made Haniel very uncomfortable.
“It makes me very uncomfortable,” Haniel explained to Gabriel one day, during a sparring session. “I don’t think he should be able to change the recipes up like that.” He lunged forward with his sword, catching Gabriel off guard, and tagged the Archangel in the side with the sword. They both relaxed.
“Have to you talked to the Metatron?” Gabriel asked, slightly out of breath.
Haniel shook his head. “No, no, I don’t want to complain. Besides, other angels seem to like the new recipes. The Kitchen has never been so popular,” he said, furrowing his brow a bit.
“Who likes his cooking?” Gabriel asked. The only time Gabriel had ever spent in the Kitchen was during his checklist run; he’d never returned.
“Well, Raphael, for one.”
Gabriel made a noise that could have been construed as disgust. “They spend so much time together, don’t they?”
“Raphael and Aziraphale!”
“I mean, we spend time together,” Haniel reasoned. Gossip was outside of his scope of abilities, but it was well within Gabriel’s.
“Yes, but we’re both Archangels . They spend an awful lot of time together for an angel and Archangel.”
Haniel considered this. “I suppose that’s true. But we can’t do anything about it - they can spend time together if they like.”
Gabriel wasn’t listening. He was concocting a plan. Turning back to Haniel, he asked: “Have you seen Azazel lately?”
All angels are made with a purpose - usually, to fulfill one specific role. The Metatron, for example, was made to be the voice of God. Helel was made to start a revolution in Heaven. Gabriel was made to be aggravating, but in the most law-abiding way possible.
Aziraphale, on the other hand, was made for many things. Running was not one of them. He was a little stockier than most of his counterparts and had shorter legs, and therefore had to work harder to run just as fast as anyone else. Like Gabriel avoided the Kitchens, Aziraphale did his best to avoid running.
Raphael was built for running, with long legs and a lithe body, and he also liked the activity quite a bit. Despite Aziraphale’s dislike of the sport, he would always go running with the Archangel, and the Archangel with him. Aziraphale was beginning to suspect that they might be friends.
It was during a run around the Lake when Aziraphale came up to Raphael, who was jogging in place as to not lose his momentum, and wheezed “I don’t think I like running.”
Raphael smiled and clapped him on the back. “We can be done for today, angel,” he said. The Archangel sat gracefully down onto the sand and Aziraphale flumped down beside him.
“Hungry?” Raphael pulled a piece of manna out of his pocket, split it in half, and offered half to Aziraphale. The angel took it without thinking and bit down - oh, it was the cucumber one. Not his best, but Raphael didn’t seem to mind. Aziraphale’s stomach flipped a bit, curbing his appetite.
The two celestial beings sat at the edge of the Lake, chatting idly about the latest choir practice, simply enjoying one another’s company. They had indeed been spending more and more time together. Aziraphale knew Raphael was much more important than him in the grand scheme of things, but he enjoyed every moment he was able to spend with the Archangel.
Strictly speaking, Raphael was beautiful - so were the rest of the angels in Heaven - but there was something about Raphael in particular that Aziraphale enjoyed looking at. He couldn’t put his finger on it exactly; it wasn’t the way the light hit the Archangel’s face, or his golden God-touched eyes, or the way he could command a room. The angel loved watching Raphael’s hands dance while he talked, mimicking the way he conducted the choirs. Occasionally, if he was getting too worked up about a topic, Raphael would end up with hair in his mouth, to which he’d snap his fingers, willing his hair into a braid. All the while, he’d continue talking, never breaking eye contact. None of these things on their own were particularly captivating; it was the sum of their parts that Aziraphale enjoyed.
“I wish I could split the Virtues up,” Raphael was saying, “half of them are sopranos and the other half are bases, but no , they have to stick together because otherwise, they wouldn’t be THE Virtues.” He absentmindedly drew his finger through the sand, smiling at Aziraphale. “I guess I’ll just have to make a few more angels to balance the choir out.”
Just then, Helel popped in on them. “Thought you might be here,” she said to Raphael.
“Has the Metatron called?” Raphael asked.
Helel nodded at Raphael. “I’m just going to borrow him for a bit,” she winked at Aziraphale, who suddenly couldn’t meet her gaze.
Raphael stood and dusted himself off before turning back to Aziraphale. “If you have time, come find me later - I have a new animal to show you!” His smile warmed
“Before we go - Zira!” She smiled at the angel, still sitting on the beach. “I’m having a salon after this meeting - you’re invited, of course, but would you bring some of your newest batch of bread?” Helel’s salons always went a bit over his head - always yelling about “ineffable plan” this and “great plan” that - but he did enjoy the chance to sit and listen.
“Oh, will do!” Aziraphale smiled, then they were gone.
Aziraphale smiled and laid back in the sand, putting an arm over his eyes. It always took him a few moments to readjust after Raphael left. Archangels gave off a lot of light simply by nature of their existence, but Aziraphale could swear that his world got a little less colorful whenever Raphael left him. “What are you doing, Aziraphale?” he asked.
“You know, a lot of angels are asking that,” a voice said.
Aziraphale shot up from the ground, coming face to face with Azazel. One of his least favorite angels.
Azazel didn’t ruffle feathers because he was a bad angel, he was just a bit of a lazy angel. He preferred to do as little as possible, choosing to only act if it benefit him, which usually involved bribing him an extra piece or two of manna. He was a longtime friend of Helel’s, meaning he had no reason to work hard; Aziraphale tolerated him because he was a friend of a friend of Raphael’s, but that didn’t mean Aziraphale had to like him.
“Azazel, you startled me!” Azazel gave him a smile like that had been his intention. “What do you need?”
Azazel shrugged. “You seemed lonely, now that your Archangel has gone.” His tone made Aziraphale uncomfortable. Azazel reached down, picked up a rock, and tossed it into the Lake. He looked over and eyed the food in Aziraphale’s hands. “Oooh, I loved that cucumber one,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
Aziraphale handed the bread over, then crossed his arms. “He’s not my anything, Azazel,” Aziraphale said.
Azazel took a bite of the bread. “You sure?” he said, mouth half full.
“I -” Aziraphale began, but had no way to finish that statement. All of the time they’d been spending together flashed through his mind, but angels could only belong to God - that was how they were built. Aziraphale’s silence seemed to be enough confirmation for Azazel.
“What do you think he sees in you, anyway?” the angel continued, digging for even larger rocks to lob into the water. “Because from what I can see, you don’t have much in common.”
“I don’t -”
“Seems to me - and I’m saying this as a friend, Aziraphale - that Raphael would rather be with an angel that was good at any of the things he was - making things, fighting things; I mean, he’s an Archangel !” Azazel looked Aziraphale up and down. “What are you? An angel?” He laughed. “I mean, you can’t even spar properly.” Azazel seemed to think this was very funny.
Aziraphale’s stomach was twisting in a very uncomfortable fashion. He felt like he was going to throw up the food he had eaten and/or disappear into the Lake. These were all things he had worried about when Raphael wasn’t around, and if other angels were seeing the same things…? “Oh,” Aziraphale breathed out.
“Seems to me,” Azazel began, once more with bread in his mouth, “you should really try to be better at some of the things Raphael’s good at - then maybe you’ll have a chance at keeping him around. If that’s what you want, of course.”
Aziraphale had gone numb. That was exactly what he wanted - to keep Raphael around - but he didn’t want to change himself. He thought the Archangel liked him the way he was; Raphael always seemed excited to listen to Aziraphale or spend time with him. But... did he do the same for Raphael? A flash of cold went through his body, and he shivered. “I’d… I think I’d better be off. I need to...” He gestured vaguely towards the door. “God’s glory be with you, Azazel,” the angel said, turned on his heel, and headed back to the door to Heaven.
As soon as Aziraphale was gone, Gabriel popped into existence. “How’d it go?” he asked Azazel.
“I told him all the stuff you told me to, like we practiced, but it seemed like it made him sad. Are you sure that was the right thing to do?”
Angels are regarded as the ultimate good in the universe, but seeing as only a few of them were given the ability to make decisions, they are woefully easy to manipulate. Azazel had been told by Gabriel, his superior officer, that he should approach Aziraphale and ask him a few specific questions. Namely:
- Why are you and Raphael spending so much time together?
- What do you think Raphael sees in you?
- Why don’t you fight well?
In return, Gabriel had promised Azazel to permanently double the amount of manna he received. Azazel hadn’t even thought about it before saying yes. But now he was realizing that perhaps, Gabriel had had ulterior motives.
“Are you questioning me, Azazel?” Gabriel asked. “You know, I haven’t actually submitted the paperwork to give you double manna yet.”
Azazel’s brow furrowed and he shook his head. “No, of course not. Sorry, Gabriel.”
Gabriel nodded. They both stood there for a moment, staring at each other. Finally, Gabriel spoke. “Well? Leave!” He made a shooing motion with his hands.
“Oh, right, sorry,” Azazel said, and left the presence of Gabriel.
“That should do it,” Gabriel said, looking out over the Lake. “We’ll have everything back to normal in no time.”
1 He was correct, of course, just about a different set of nerves.[return to text]
2 Before Aziraphale, no one had realized these things were edible. [return to text]
3 Anyone who has worked in business or been to a bank will instantly recognize the mold Gabriel was built from.[return to text]
4 Biblical scholars have debated whether or not angels can have friendships - the act of becoming friends with someone implies a certain amount of love given to that person, and it is widely believed that the only person angels can love is God. For the record, they were. [return to text]
5 Every time Helel saw Aziraphale, she switched up the nickname. She said that “none of them felt right” for him, but promised she’d keep trying. [return to text]
6 Perhaps this sounds like a compliment to Aziraphale’s cooking, but Azazel was the only angel who would have taken the same deal long before Aziraphale was created. [return to text]
7 The accepted hierarchy, from bottom to top, of Heaven goes: angel, archangel, Principality, Power, Virtue, Dominion, Throne, Archangel (later renamed to Cherubim), and then Seraphim. Archangels were the most angelic anyone could tolerate, as the constant droning of prayers from the Seraphims gave most angels a headache. [return to text]
8 He absolutely did. [return to text]
Chapter 6: CHAPTER FOUR - HELEL’S SALON
Hi guys! Sorry for the inconsistent posting schedule (work likes to get in the way of me doing things I enjoy). For your patience, I present you TWO chapters! Enjoy!
A HUGE thank you saygeronimo for beta-ing these chapters, you're amazing and ilu. And thank you to everyone who's read, left kudos, and written me notes - I'm so happy y'all enjoy this as much as I do, and thanks for coming back for more :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale didn’t feel well, but he’d made a promise to Helel that he intended to keep. The angel, confused from his first interaction with conflict, gathered up his freshest batch of manna to bring to the salon - he’d flavored it with bark from a tree in the Gardens, offsetting the spice with a little sweetness. He knew it would make him late, but perhaps, on this occasion, it was better for him to show up late than to show up empty handed. And so, late he was.
The gathering was in full swing by the time he arrived, sitting around Helel’s favorite tree in the Garden. She sat at her usual spot - on a root, elevating herself a little bit off the ground so all of the angels present could see her - answering a question. Aziraphale noted that there were a few more angels in attendance than last time, but Raphael didn’t appear to be there yet.
“It’s not that God is trying to cause any harm,” Helel was saying. “She has a hard time thinking about things on our level. Imagine if you were to try and orchestrate the sorting of an infinite number of playing cards. At some point, the individual playing cards would stop being important to you; all you’d want was to be done sorting the cards. Does that make sense?”
Most of the group of angels nodded in agreement. “Good! Now on to -” Helel looked around and caught sight of Aziraphale, standing at the edge of the crowd.
“Oh, food’s here!” she called, gesturing towards Aziraphale. “Let’s take a break!”
The basket was taken from Aziraphale and the manna was distributed, leaving the angel both alone and bread-less; Helel sauntered over to his side, fixing the first issue.
“Thanks for this,” she said, holding up a piece of manna. “It’s delightful - what do you call it?”
“Oh, well, it was made with bark from the cinnamon tree -”
“ Bark ?” Helel asked.
“Yes, but it’s quite nice, as long as you don’t breathe it in.” Aziraphale had coughed up a storm in the Kitchen while making the first batch.
“Fascinating; you seem to have a knack for this sort of thing,” she said while studying him. Aziraphale didn’t know what to make of the combination of her look and her statement, but gave her a small smile in return.
“Is Raphael here?” he asked, changing the subject.
She waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, no; the Metatron wanted to talk to him.”
“I’m not sure - something about his angelic duties, I think. I wouldn’t worry about it, though, Az.” She clapped a hand on his shoulder. “You want to come sit?”
Aziraphale frowned, but he nodded and followed Helel to the gathering. She took her seat back on the root and surveyed the crowd. “Alright, after that lovely break - thank you, Zir - let’s get back to it. Where were we? Oh, right! How to differentiate between happiness and virtue.”
This was usually the point at which Aziraphale checked out of the conversation. He wished Raphael were there, if only so that he could stop wondering where the Archangel was.
A phrase drifted by Aziraphale that brought him back to the conversation at hand.
“- but how can you really tell if your actions are good actions?” Helel asked. She paused, allowing the audience a moment to try and figure out the answer before jumping into her prepared one. “I mean, by definition, we’re all angels, so we’re all good enough . God says that all of Her creations have infinite capacity for goodness, so as long as you’re contributing to Heaven and you strive to be the best angel you can be, you’re doing well.”
Aziraphale realized that he had his hands clasped in front of him, and was rubbing a spot raw on his left hand with his right. Helel’s phrasing bounced around his mind, colliding with Azazel’s words from earlier. What did that mean to be the best angel you could be?
By sheer coincidence, Azazel was also lost in thought in the crowd. There was a gnawing feeling in his stomach that had yet to be settled by bread; simply put, he felt bad . Coming here was supposed to help him justify his actions from earlier, but now Helel’s words made him feel even worse about his actions. Looking out over the crowd, he caught Aziraphale’s eye for a moment, and felt an apology brewing in his brain.
A Heavenly horn sounded, interrupting Helel and indicating a shift change. The noise startled both Azazel and Aziraphale out of their respective reveries, and Helel clapped her hands. “Well, looks like we’re done for now. Feel free to bring questions my way, otherwise, I’ll see you at the next one!” Angels began to disperse, either snapping out of existence or walking out the door.
Azazel sheepishly walked over to Aziraphale and coughed. Aziraphale looked up, hopeful for a moment, and then his mouth hardened into a line.
“Yes, Azazel?” The words came out cold.
“Uh,” Azazel said, pausing for a moment. He had been intending to apologize, but upon being confronted by Aziraphale, lost his nerve. “Good manna,” he finished lamely. Aziraphale nodded in agreement, but said nothing more. Eventually, Azazel left, and Aziraphale was alone again.
Aziraphale sat in the Garden for a while, absentmindedly picking at the grass, mind swirling. He had until the next horn sounded to return to the Kitchen and nowhere else to go.
His thoughts went round and round: Was he a good angel? He certainly didn’t like a lot of the same things most angels did, but he was virtuous and kind. He provided for Heaven - plenty of angels enjoyed his cooking - but those same angels found him to be a lackluster foot soldier in the army of God, which was really the whole point of being an angel, wasn’t it? To serve God? And, while he got along with the other angels well enough, he certainly preferred some angelic companions to others, enough to apparently be noticeable. But Raphael… they were acquaintances at the very least, and those were perfectly acceptable in the eyes of Heaven. The Archangel was just helping him out.
A new worry entered Aziraphale’s mind: Raphael hadn’t shown up to the salon. Sure, Helel had said that the Archangel was talking to the Metatron, but Raphael always came to these; had something changed? Aziraphale’s mouth and stomach twisted at the same time. He hadn’t gotten into trouble, had he?
The angel was distracted by a tap on his left shoulder. He turned quickly, hoping to see his friend, but instead saw no one. A snicker came from his right. “Gotcha!” Helel said, not altogether unkindly.
“Oh, hi.” Aziraphale tried to sound less disappointed than he felt.
“You okay, Phale? Oh, no, that’s the worst one.”
“I -” Aziraphale didn’t know exactly how to respond. Physically, of course he was alright. “I was just hoping to see Raphael.”
She sat back on her haunches and smiled at him. “You like spending time with him, don’t you?” Her tone suggested that she already knew what his answer was going to be.
He looked at her and nodded.
“I figured; I hardly see him anymore, and when I do, he always has something to say about you.”
Aziraphale perked up a bit. “He does?” Helel nodded at him, and Aziraphale couldn’t stop a smile from breaking out across his face. “Oh!”
She watched him for a few moments and found, to her surprise, that she couldn’t muster the same feeling. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she finally said.
“Is… is that a bad thing?”
“I don’t know,” Helel said honestly. “It just is.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, picking at the grass again. “Helel… can I ask you a question?”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
“I - am I a good angel?” He was worried Helel would laugh at him, but instead, she took a long, hard look at him.
“You’re not a bad angel, Zi,” she finally said. “But I wouldn’t call you Archangel material.” Aziraphale deflated a bit, but Helel put a finger up. “At least, not yet. I mean, you haven’t had as long as the rest of the Archangels to work out how to be an angel - it makes sense that you wouldn’t have it all figured out. That takes time.” She sat down in the grass next to him, crossing her legs. “I certainly didn’t have it all figured out in the beginning,” she said, trailing off towards the end of her sentence, losing herself in a memory.
“God… She doesn’t make us perfectly,” she continued, speaking almost too quietly for Aziraphale to hear. “I don’t know why, but I figure it’s one of two things. Either She wants us to learn how to better ourselves, or maybe She… can’t.” Aziraphale gasped - blasphemy .
“What I do know,” Helel said, “is that if you wanted to be a better angel, you’d to have to work for it.” She flipped over and stared at Aziraphale. “And you’d have to work hard. I mean, really, truly hard. But you could do it. If you put even half of the effort you do into baking, you could make it work. For the both of you.”
Aziraphale blushed. “I don’t even know how to be a good angel, though.”
“Well, I don’t think there’s a playbook, but there are a few things I’ve figured out.” She held up five fingers, and listed off the following rules:
- Love God and serve Her at all times
- Give 110% at all times
- Show up on time to all assigned shifts, and don’t leave early (but if you’re going to be late, find someone to cover for you)
- Train as hard as you work
- Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong
“You’re lucky though,” she grinned after finishing the list. "Since you’ve got to give things up to follow these.” Aziraphale looked at her confused. “There's nothing Heaven likes more than a good sacrifice,” she explained. “Giving up the things you care about will earn you some big points with the higher ups.”
Aziraphale thought about it. Helel’s words didn’t make him feel 100% better, but he certainly didn’t feel worse - it at least gave him a list of things to strive towards. When the next celestial horn blew, he got up, thanked Helel, who had moved a while ago to tend to the Garden, and headed to the Kitchen to think some more.
As if it was scripted, Raphael appeared in the Garden as soon as Aziraphale left. "Hi Helel, have you seen Aziraphale?"
She didn’t look away from the tree she was pruning. "You missed my salon," she said.
Raphael sighed. "What was the topic today?"
"How to be a good angel."
He laughed a small laugh, and said: "I mean, we're all good; we're angels."
Helel looked away from her tree and saw Raphael glancing about the Garden, clearly not paying attention to the conversation - there was a time they would have discussed the Goodness question for hours, but now, he had other things he wanted to talk about. With other angels. "Oh, my Heaven, he's in the Kitchen, Raphael. Just go."
And the Archangel was gone.
"God's glory be with you too!" she called after him. Helel pinched the bridge of her nose. "God,” she prayed under her breath, “I swear to You - I know he's important, but I'm having a hard time finding the patience to -" She was having a hard time with many things, but at the moment, she was having a hard time wording the rest of her prayer. “I just need help to see the next part of your Ineffable Plan; I just need it to feel less personal.”
Helel waited for God to fill her with Her presence, but the warm feeling didn’t come. Instead, Helel was left alone in the Garden, staring at the dark, empty sky. The first flicker of envy lit in her heart. She let it burn for only a second before snuffing it out, shaking her head, and returning to her trees.
1 These salons had slowly progressed to much more difficult topics, moving from easy concepts of “what are we” and “why are we here” to moral relativism. Perhaps, if Aziraphale had been present for the earlier salons, he would have been able to follow the present ones with ease, but as it was, he allowed himself to drift. [return to text]
2 Cold for an angel, which is like a light breeze on a warm day. [return to text]
3 Aziraphale was unclear on who or what the army of God was planning on fighting, but he knew it was very important, and felt at this point, it was too late for him to ask. [return to text]
4 “Getting into trouble” in Heaven at this point meant doing your least favorite task. For Aziraphale, this would mean an extra shift practicing fighting stances. For Raphael, it involved dusting the Library shelves. [return to text]
5 While some readers may be concerned that this is subterfuge, the concept hadn’t been invented yet. [return to text]
6 He felt approximately 35.6% better. [return to text]
Raphael found Aziraphale in the Kitchen, working silently alongside Haniel. “Aziraphale!” he called out, announcing his presence in the Kitchen.
The angel looked up from the dough on the counter top. The sight of the Archangel made him both relieved and nervous, but as Raphael took his usual spot in the Kitchen, the balance of emotions began to tip more towards nervous.
“I had a fantastic meeting with the Metatron,” Raphael began. “I’ve been given a new assignment, to create something no angel has ever laid eyes on.” The Archangel was vibrating with excitement.“And actually, if you have time now, I could use your help - Haniel, do you mind if I borrow Aziraphale for a bit?”
Haniel waved a hand. “Doesn’t matter to me,” he said.
“Perfect, let’s go, Aziraphale! I think you’re going to love this.” Raphael extended a hand to the angel.
Aziraphale hesitated a moment. He was still trying to process the information from earlier, but had at the very least determined that a good angel should work through the entirety of their shift. Sure, he had taken breaks before to spend time with Raphael, but if he was going to start being a better angel, that needed to stop. The hesitation came in how to tell that to his friend.
In the end, Aziraphale dusted the flour off his hands and walked around the counter to Raphael, ignoring the outstretched hand. Instead, Aziraphale walked Raphael a few steps away from the cooking space to have a more private conversation.
“I… I can’t,” Aziraphale said, looking at his hands.
“Sure you can!” Raphael said. “Haniel said it was fine!”
“No, I -” Aziraphale rubbed at the raw spot on his left hand. “I need to stay. I need to work .” So I can be better , he thought. For you.
“Aziraphale, no one really needs to work in Heaven; it’s just something to pass the time.”
Aziraphale looked up at Raphael. “Maybe for you!” he shocked himself by saying sternly. “You’re an Archangel, Raphael, you’re already the best of the best. But the rest of us need to prove we’re good.”
Raphael’s brow knitted, and he stepped closer to Aziraphale. “Is this about Helel’s salon earlier?” he asked in a low voice, so Haniel couldn’t hear. “I swear, she’s getting into more and more dangerous topics.”
“I - well, yes, partly,” Aziraphale stuttered. “But I just - I have a lot of bread to make, Raphael. Angels are counting on me. And I can’t do that if… if I’m off with you..”
Concern was radiating off of Raphael. He looked down at the nervous angel in front of him and lightly placed a hand on his shoulder. For a split second, Raphael had the urge to put his other hand under Aziraphale’s chin and lift his head, but he resisted. “Aziraphale,” he said gently. “Are you alright?”
Aziraphale let out a breath. He wanted to explain everything to Raphael, to get his opinion, but it would take so much time, and he suddenly felt like he needed to meter his time. “I’m fine, I just need to get back to work. I need you to leave me alone.” The words hurt him to say, and it looked like they hurt Raphael to hear. “For now,” Aziraphale added quickly. If he could just work hard enough now, then they could spend all the time in the world together later.
Raphael took a step back and nodded. “Ah, sure. No problem. I’ll… I’ll see you later, Aziraphale.” And then he was gone.
Aziraphale returned to his counter top. He was positive he’d done the right thing - good angels were hard workers - but then why did he feel so terrible ? Why did it hurt so much to tell Raphael to go away?
“Oh, you stayed?” Haniel noticed, turning around. “I thought I was going to get a few minutes of peace.” Aziraphale didn’t respond. Haniel shrugged and turned back to his own bench. “What are you going to be making today, Aziraphale?”
The angel sighed. “Just regular manna, I think.”
Surprised, Haniel turned back to look at Aziraphale, who was working the dough with much more ferocity than usual. Haniel wanted to ask if Aziraphale’s mood had something to do with Raphael, but ultimately stared at the angel’s back for a few moments, shrugged to himself, and returned to his own work. Best not to get involved , Haniel thought to himself.
As unenjoyable as it was, Aziraphale cranked out standard manna. He made stack after stack, working his fingers raw. They itched to add extra ingredients, but each time an idea surfaced in his mind, he squashed it down. Instead of creating, he passed his shift in the Kitchen by singing hymns.
It was the worst shift he’d ever worked.
When the Heavenly horn blew, he was boxed in by stacks of bread, each one towering over his head, and still had a batch of manna in the oven. He had no idea how he’d made that much bread; it seemed as though for ever stack he’d put into the oven, two had come out.
Haniel was halfway out the door before he realized Aziraphale was still working.
“Aren’t you leaving, Aziraphale?” he asked, leaning around one of the towers of manna stacked on the counter top.
The angel gestured towards the oven. “When this is done.” A good angel gives 110% , he thought to himself miserably.
Haniel nodded, thought about offering to stay behind, and then thought better of it. He didn’t want to stay any longer than he had to.
“Alright,” he said, “God’s glory be with you.”
“You too,” Aziraphale responded, eyes glazed.
Haniel opened the door to Heaven and walked out, very confused about the Aziraphale he’d left in the Kitchen. He was immediately almost bowled over by Raphael.
“Oh, sorry Haniel,” the Archangel said, dusting Haniel off.
“Aziraphale’s not done yet; he’s got one batch in the oven still. Then he’ll be out.” Haniel was nothing if not direct.
“Great,” Raphael said. He leaned against the wall next to the Kitchen door. “I’ll just wait here then.”
“Mmm, alright.” A part of Haniel wanted to add that he was worried about Aziraphale’s sudden change of character, but an even larger part of him didn’t want to get involved with whatever was happening. “God’s glory be with you, Raphael.”
“You too, Haniel.”
Raphael didn’t have long to wait; a defeated Aziraphale left the Kitchen minutes later, flour in his hair and a few pieces of dough stuck to his fingers.He ran a hand through his hair to push it back, blowing out a breath as he walked out the door to Heaven.
Aziraphale yelped in surprise when Raphael tapped him on the shoulder. “Oh!” Turning, he saw the Archangel leaning against the wall, smiling at him. “Oh, Raphael! I didn’t think you’d…” Aziraphale trailed off; he was slightly surprised Raphael had come back to see him so soon, but pleased to see him. Then, he felt slightly guilty about being pleased to see him.
“Are you free now?” Raphael asked, extending a hand to Aziraphale once more.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to say no, but realized halfway through that it would be a lie. He was absolutely free now, but felt like he should go find more work to do. “I - I guess I am free,” he said.
“Great! I think I have something that’ll cheer you up.” He took Aziraphale’s hand and snapped them both into the Observatory.
Aziraphale had only been to the Observatory during his orientation, but there hadn’t been much to look at - just a small office with two desks and a window opposite the entrance, which looked out into the dark expanse of the universe. He’d assumed that this office was the extent of the Observatory, nodded politely at the room, and checked it off his list, never expecting to return.
Like most factories, the management office is typically the least exciting room in the building. This was true of the Observatory. All of creation existed outside of the small office Aziraphale had stepped into, and Raphael had transported them from outside of the Kitchen into the middle of the universe.
Aziraphale felt his stomach drop for a moment as he was taken aback by the sudden expanse around him, and snapped open his wings to catch himself. He also clutched onto Raphael’s hand.
Raphael looked at Aziraphale as he regained his bearings, pulling him up to the same height. “You alright?”
“I thought you had a new animal to show me,” Aziraphale gasped. “In the Garden.” He had not been expecting to be surrounded by the blackness and cold of the empty universe.
“Oh!” Raphael exclaimed. “I do! But this is much more impressive, I promise.” He gestured out into the blackness, which, now that Aziraphale looked again, appeared a little less dark. Pinpricks of light now twinkled in the distance.
“What are they?” Aziraphale asked.
“My newest project, straight from the Metatron. They’re called stars.”
“Stars… what a lovely word.”
“If you think this is lovely, you should see one up close.”
“Up close?” Aziraphale asked. He had understandably assumed that the stars were as they appeared to him: small, twinkling lights.
Raphael snapped his fingers, moving the universe around them. Aziraphale was awestruck as a small pinprick became a swirling ball of gas and heat as it approached them, dwarfing the two angels, and filling his vision. They were bathed in its light, which Aziraphale thought felt similar to the light of Heaven. This star burned a bright, brilliant red, occasionally tossing out a tendril of heat to the universe.
Aziraphale’s mouth fell open as he comprehended the size of not only the star in front of him, but how large the rest of the universe would be. Things were certainly expanding.
A red tendril leapt out of the star and passed through the angels; it felt like the blast of heat one felt when opening an oven door, and Aziraphale suddenly realized what his bread went through in the cooking process. This star was beautiful, yes, but also incredibly powerful. Perfectly fine to admire from afar, but you couldn’t get close to one unless you were fully prepared to handle the heat. He loved it.
“They’re a bit unwieldy to deal with like this though,” Raphael said, distracting Aziraphale. The Archangel moved his hands and changed the scale of the universe around them, shrinking the star until it fit in his hand, roughly the size of a grapefruit. “This is much easier.” Raphael offered the star to Aziraphale, who took it gingerly and marveled at the ball of light. Heat was still pouring off of it, but Raphael was right: it felt more manageable like this.
“That one’s a basic kind of star, but I’ve started to make different kinds as well.” Raphael took the red star from Aziraphale and placed it back into the inky expanse. He then moved the universe around them again, pulling more stars by for Aziraphale to see. “There are red ones, blue ones, white ones, even ones that eat other stars,” he narrated, swiping through the sky. “I made them in every color you could imagine.”
Aziraphale didn’t know how Raphael had managed to make all this in one shift; while Aziraphale had made a few thousand loaves of unflavored bread, Raphael had put light into the universe. Unexpectedly, his heart swelled with pride over the Archangel’s creation.
“But here’s my favorite one,” he smiled at Aziraphale, pulling the universe to a stop in front of a small, yellow star. “ This one happened by accident.” As they drew nearer, the single star resolved into two stars, one slightly larger than the other, which were orbiting one another.
“I tried to separate them - but watch,” Raphael explained, pushing the smaller of the two out of orbit. Aziraphale watched as the small one skidded across the sky to a halt, and wobbled on its own for a bit, attempting an orbit around its missing partner. After a few moments, the two stars began to move in a larger orbit, slowly at first, but moving closer and closer with each rotation. When their natural orbit resumed, Aziraphale let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.
“I can’t explain it, but they seem happiest this way,” Raphael finished, looking at Aziraphale.
Aziraphale couldn’t look away from the dancing stars. They were lovely to watch, more impressive together than apart, in perfect balance. Emotions he had no words to convey welled in the angel.
Following a whim, he reached out, took Raphael's hand, and gave it a light squeeze. Raphael looked down for a moment at their hands, and then broke into a smile that could have been mistaken for a star. He squeezed Aziraphale's hand in return.
“Would you like to know why these two are my favorite?” he asked Aziraphale.
Raphael began to explain, but was interrupted by a Heavenly horn. “Ah, that’ll be a choir practice I need to get to,” he said instead. “Come with me?”
Without hesitation, Aziraphale nodded again, and they took off across the universe. Eventually, they found the main room of the Observatory, which was the room Aziraphale had seen before, only now, it was a flurry of activity. The walls and floor of the office were covered with blueprints, overlapping one another, all depicting Heaven’s newest project, in much less brilliance than the final product. They entered the office through what used to be the wall opposite the door, which had been blown out for easy access to the cosmos, and touched down. Aziraphale made an immediate move toward the door, but Raphael pulled him back.
“I hope this cheered you up, at least a little bit." He smiled at Aziraphale. He always smiled at Aziraphale, he realized; something about the angel made him want to smile.
In all honesty, Aziraphale felt much better - better than he had in a while. A part of him was conflicted, wondering in a small voice why watching the stars with Raphael was more fulfilling to him than doing his Heavenly duties, but he was finding it difficult in the moment to be truly concerned. "I… it did," he said truthfully. He looked at their still clasped hands and smiled. "I feel good."
Raphael beamed at him. "I'm glad to hear it."
Raphael then startled the angel by reaching his free hand out towards Aziraphale’s face; Aziraphale froze, unsure of what Raphael was doing. The hand brushed by Aziraphale’s cheek, and pulled something out of his hair - a piece of white, uncooked dough. Aziraphale went scarlet.
“Saving this for later?” Raphael teased.
Aziraphale ran a hand through his hair, performing a small miracle to remove the errant pieces of dough that had been there since he’d left the Kitchen earlier. “Oh,” he fussed, hoping that a moment of broken eye contact would allow his cheeks to return to a normal color.
Raphael smiled kindly at him once he’d stopped preening. “You look wonderful,” he said, and the color returned to the angel’s cheeks. “Come on, we don’t want to be too late,” Raphael said, pulling Aziraphale along.
1 There is a distinct lack of intermolecular forces in Heaven, requiring angels to put forth a constant force of will to remain corporeal. Too much excitement can literally shake an angel apart. [return to text]
2 He’d been so excited to leave that he hadn’t cleaned up properly. [return to text]
3 By this point, Aziraphale had the knowledge of the universe at his fingertips. Heaped on top of his angelic intellect, he had spent quite a while in Heaven’s Library, reading and re-reading stories, affording him a large vocabulary; larger than most angels. Unfortunately for Aziraphale, he was also easily flustered. His ability to recall any of his large vocabulary was directly proportional to how flustering a situation was. [return to text]
Chapter 8: A TIME OUT - PRESENT DAY, LONDON, AZIRAPHALE’S BOOKSHOP
I'm hard at work on the next few chapters, and the next one should be posted by this weekend, but here's a quick snap back to the present day.
Thank you all for the fantastic comments and kudos - I'm eternally grateful for all of the support and encouragement :D <3
“Well, I suppose I did get to see Alpha Centauri,” Aziraphale said after a very long pause.
Crowley was completely discombobulated. He felt like he’d been discorporated and re-corporated four times, each time a little bit worse than the last. It’d been over 6000 years since he’d thought about these events, but reading them out loud to the angel, he was transported back to Heaven. He could remember the way Heaven smelled, the power of creation, the sheer, unadulterated love he’d felt.
“Do -” Crowley choked on his words - his mouth was so dry. Aziraphale passed the mug of hot chocolate over to him, and Crowley drank the rest. The alcohol hit him in the back of the throat, and he coughed.
“Oh, my dear, let me get you some water.” Aziraphale stood and walked to the kitchen, out of sight.
Crowley stared at the book, still open on his lap. The title of the sixth chapter taunted him: TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. If… well, Raphael had already started to create the stars, then it wasn’t too much longer until everything was going to hit the fan.
The demon felt like he wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Sure, he’d asked for this, prayed to God for it, assuming this would be the easiest way to tell Aziraphale everything, but… well, he never thought he’d learn things in return. Perhaps, Crowley thought bitterly, Aziraphale had felt something for him then, but a canyon stretched between Then and Now, brimming with his own mistakes. And the Fall. And the Antichrist.
He miracled himself a bottle of wine from Aziraphale’s secret stash and had the cork out by the time the angel returned with a glass of water.
“Well,” Aziraphale admonished, sitting down. “I’ll drink this then.”
Crowley waved a hand and exchanged Aziraphale’s water for wine. “Trust me, angel,” he said. “You’re going to need it.”
Aziraphale took a sip and made a face. “Oh, Crowley, I was saving this for -”
“A special occasion?” Crowley gestured at the book. “A book from the Almighty isn’t a special occasion, angel?”
Aziraphale huffed. “Fine,” he said, taking another sip. His face relaxed a bit. “It is quite good.” The angel craned his neck to look at the book. “How many more chapters do we have?”
Crowley flipped through it, noting they had a ways to go - perhaps seven or eight more chapters, but with such a quick glance, it was possible his estimation was off. “A few more. I suggest you get comfy.”
“I like Raphael,” Aziraphale said, absentmindedly running a finger around the rim of his glass. “It’s a pity I can’t remember him.”
Crowley felt his ears burn at the tips. “Do you remember any of this at all?” he asked, cringing at the hopefulness he heard in his voice.
“Mmm,” Azirpahale hummed, thinking. “I’m remembering bits and pieces; it feels like a dream I’ve forgotten. The harder I think about it, the more difficult it becomes to remember. But,” he added. “I do remember the heat of the stars and…” He placed a hand on his cheek thoughtfully. “I remember holding his hand.”
Crowley dipped his head and looked back at the book, praying the flush hadn’t spread to his cheeks as well. “Let’s get on with it, angel.”
Chapter 9: CHAPTER SIX - TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS EVERY DAY
Thank you all for the lovely comments and kudos - I really do appreciate every single one of you!
I hope you enjoy this next chapter of the story, and once again, thanks to saygeronimo for beta-ing this chapter (ilu bae).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There are many universal truths in the world, some large and some small. For example, a large and widely recognized universal truth is that you cannot please everyone, no matter how hard you try. Gabriel and Michael were employing a smaller, less obvious universal truth; that, if you don’t want someone to overhear your conversation, run faster than them.
“Michael, you don’t understand,” Gabriel said as they ran around the track. “It’s not normal.”
Michael huffed, nodded to a pair of angels running in the opposite direction, and then continued the conversation. “Gabriel, love is perfectly normal. Heaven runs on love. We love God, and God loves us.”
“I know what love feels like, Michael, I wasn’t made yesterday, jeez.” Gabriel turned around and began to run backwards - a strategy he often used when running with angels slower than he was. “I’m trying to tell you that this wasn’t love that I felt.”
“What did it feel like?”
Love in Heaven, the Love which Gabriel was accustomed to feeling, felt like a warm ball centered in the area where a heart would be. Heat radiated out from that point, wrapping each angel in a gentle, soft hug - light enough to go unnoticed a majority of the time, but always letting them know they were always safe, protected, and always close to God.
That was not the feeling Gabriel was now trying to describe. “It felt… well, you know when you get stabbed during a fencing practice?”
Michael stared blankly at him. She hadn’t been stabbed much, being a very good fencer herself.
Gabriel continued. “You know how the blade goes in to your side, and it doesn’t hurt at first, because you don’t realize you’ve been stabbed? There’s a moment between when you realize you’ve been stabbed and when the blade pulls away where you can’t tell you’re in pain yet, but there’s a warm feeling that builds in that spot. You know the pain is going to come, but it hasn’t come yet, so you can’t brace yourself for how much it’s going to hurt.”
Michael was now contemplating the idea of testing out how being stabbed felt, to see if it was anything close to what Gabriel was describing.
“It felt like that, except all over my body.” Gabriel sucked in a breath. “It was awful , Michael. And they both just smiled through it, like they couldn’t feel anything.” He blew out his breath in a huff. “That can’t be good for Heaven.”
While the way in which Gabriel described the feeling does sound terrible, in actuality, the feeling itself is rather pleasant. Two things were hindering the Archangel’s ability to understand the true meaning of what he’d experienced: 1) that he had never and would never be in love himself, and 2) the intensity of the feelings shared between Aziraphale and Raphael scared him, and people (or angels) do terrible things when they’re afraid.
“You felt like you were being stabbed? From just their interaction?” Gabriel wasn’t known to exaggerate, but this seemed preposterous to Michael.
“You don’t believe me?”
Michael came to a stop. “I don’t know, Gabriel. It seems preposterous.”
Gabriel stopped with her, but continued jogging in place. “Then go see for yourself!” he shouted, catching the attention of passing angels. They looked perplexed, but he waved them away, and then took a step closer to Michael. “Look, Michael, don’t go repeating this but… I don’t think Aziraphale belongs in Heaven,” he whispered to Michael.
She took a step back. “Gabriel, you can’t be serious - that’s blasphemy.”
He made a face at her. “Jeez, Michael, you don’t think I know that?” He sighed. “Look, maybe he does belong here, or maybe he doesn’t - I don’t know. It’s not like I have access to the Angel Reports.” He snapped his fingers. “But you do!”
The Archangel Michael was in charge of many things in Heaven, but her chief duty was being in charge of the military forces. Since every angel in Heaven was in God’s Army, Michael was tasked with conducting a review of each angel’s abilities, in order to place them best in the field. She did indeed have access to the Angel Reports, as she signed each one of them.
“Gabriel, I can’t just give them out to anyone.”
“I’m not asking you to give them to me; jeez, Michael. I’m just asking you to pull one out to review, and then I’ll accidentally see it over your shoulder.” He clapped his hands together. “It’s brilliant!”
“Fine,” Michael snipped. She looked around and then produced a scroll. “I am looking at an Angel Report!” she announced, opening the scroll. “As these are incredibly secretive, no one better be looking over my shoulder!”
“Oh, of course not, Archangel Michael,” Gabriel said at the same volume, making a show of covering his eyes. “That would be very wrong!” He then snuck a glance at the report.
The scroll was laid out very simply - Aziraphale’s name was at the top, and then a table of angelic traits that he was being scored on, each trait ranked on a scale of 1-5 wings. Aziraphale was being ranked specifically on the following:
Aziraphale's highest score was a resounding 3.5 wings in determination. He earned his lowest score, 0.25 wings, in both ferocity and righteousness, bringing his overall score to 67%.
If Heavenly evaluations were meant to show off the best qualities of an angel and to celebrate their strongest individual traits, Aziraphale’s evaluation sheet would have looked more like the following:
On that rubric, he would have scored 100%.
Gabriel gasped, dropping the ruse entirely. “He’s barely passing,” he whispered.
“I -” Michael stuttered. “I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was this bad.” She looked distraught - none of the angels under her command had ever scored so low. “What do we do, Gabriel?”
Gabriel thought for a moment, before coming up with an idea that would become the bane of office workers everywhere. “I think we need to come up with a way for him to improve. A checklist of sorts. A… a plan to develop his performance, for him to follow.”
Michael nodded. “What about Raphael?”
“I think he’ll shape up and fly right if we can get Aziraphale on track.”
Michael nodded again.
Interestingly enough, had they opened Raphael’s Angel Report, they would have found that while he’d been doing well in a majority of categories, a brief note had been added to the end, which read: given Will; still possible to save .
Raphael’s hands were tangled in Aziraphale’s hair. He pulled slightly, separating the strands of his curly blonde hair into three distinct parts. With deft fingers, Raphael pulled Aziraphale’s hair into a braid.
They were sitting in the Garden yet again, under a willow tree, enjoying the scant amount of privacy its draping branches afforded them. Aziraphale was absentmindedly humming choral music from the practice they’d just finished up.
“There,” Raphael said, smiling at his handiwork. “That should keep it out of your eyes while you bake.” He picked a flower from the ground next to them and wove it into the leather piece at the end. “Lovely.” He smiled at Aziraphale, who had to suddenly concentrate even harder on keeping his being together.
“Oh!” Raphael said suddenly, startling the angel. “I almost forgot!” He produced a small black twig from his pocket, and showed it off to Aziraphale.
Aziraphale stared at the stick. “What’s this?”
“The new animal you’ve been asking about - watch this!”
Raphael brought the stick up to his lips, giving it the Kiss of Life. Aziraphale watched as the previously black line began to wiggle back and forth, catching the light and showing off its iridescence. “Oh!” he smiled as Raphael passed the wriggling creature to him. “What is it?” Aziraphale asked in amazement.
“I call it,” he paused to drum up tension. “A snake.”
The newly christened snake coiled around one of Aziraphale’s fingers, then his wrist, and began to move up his forearm, stopping when it reached the crook of his arm. It moved so gracefully and smoothly; Aziraphale had never seen anything like it. It was beautiful.
“Raphael, you’ve outdone yourself,” Aziraphale praised. He extended a finger to the snake, which flicked its forked tongue out to smell him. “Oh!” he exclaimed again. “That’s new! Where’d that come from?”
Raphael opened his mouth to explain that he’d been actually been inspired by the cooking utensils in the Kitchen; all that time he’d spent watching Aziraphale cook had afforded him the chance to see new tools, and he wanted thank him for teaching an old angel a few new tricks.
Unfortunately, before he got the opportunity to explain, the Archangel Michael appeared in front of them. “Aziraphale,” she said, startling them both. “I’ve been looking for you.”
Aziraphale closed his hand around the snake, shielding it from Michael’s view. She shivered as she experienced the feeling Gabriel had described; it was quite an odd sensation. Were she experiencing it without any previous knowledge, she would have merely been curious, but she’d unfortunately already been conditioned to believe it was bad.
“Oh, and Raphael,” she added. “Gabriel is looking for you.”
Raphael made a noise of displeasure. “I’ll see you in a bit, Aziraphale. God’s glory, Michael.” Then he was gone.
The feeling of bliss left with Raphael. “What… what do you need me for?” Aziraphale asked, no longer calm and collected.
Michael pulled a scroll out of the air. “Aziraphale, we’ve been looking at your performance recently, and found that you’re not doing very well. As an angel,” she clarified, unnecessarily.
Aziraphale’s stomach dropped. “Oh.”
She passed the scroll to Aziraphale, who scanned it quickly, face dropping more with each row.
“Look, now this isn’t a death sentence,” Michael explained to the horrified angel. “Think of it more as a… a plan to develop your performance,” she said, borrowing Gabriel’s phrasing. “You know the things you need to work on - you have a list, and you can check the items off when you're done with them!” She clapped her hands. “We’ve also decided that you could use a partner.”
For one maddening moment, Aziraphale felt hopeful, against his will. The word partner made him feel… well, things.
Michael snapped her fingers. An angel walked out from behind the tree; she looked vaguely familiar to Aziraphale. “Cassiel?” he asked.
“Hi Aziraphale,” she said. “I volunteered to help you out. I’ll warn you - I’m not great at this stuff, but I’m learning!” She smiled at him, seemed to remember something, and dropped the smile almost immediately. “We’ll be better angels at the end,” she said in a much more solemn voice. "For the good of Heaven."
“I think it’s a great match,” Michael said. “You two should head off to the Armory - both of your swordsmanship scores are abysmal .” Cassiel moved away obediently, but Aziraphale dawdled a moment.
Michael came over to him. “Aziraphale,” she said in a quiet, but not unkind voice. “If you don’t shape up… well, there are rumors of a new punishment they’re cooking up Upstairs. I don’t know what it is, but from the sounds of it, you wouldn’t just be dusting bookshelves - in fact, you wouldn’t be here at all.” Aziraphale went cold and she continued. “So I suggest you really try your best; I’ve excused you from all of your shifts in the Kitchen moving forward so you can focus. And,” she reached up and pulled the flower out of Aziraphale’s braid. “I would suggest spending less time with the Archangel. He has better things to be doing than braiding your hair.”
Cassiel popped her head back through the willow boughs. “You coming, Aziraphale?”
He swallowed and nodded, breaking eye contact with Michael. “Of - of course, Cassiel. Just a moment!”
Michael smiled. “God’s glory be with you, Aziraphale.”
“You too,” he choked. Then Michael was gone.
Aziraphale realized he was still holding the snake Raphael had given him. “Oh, oh no!” he fussed as he opened his hand. The snake wiggled around his palm, happy to have more room. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized to the creature. He briefly considered putting it down, but decided against it, putting into his pocket instead. “I’ll get you back to Raphael,” he promised.
Cassiel had witnessed most of the exchange between Aziraphale and the small black shape in his hand, but, being perhaps a better foot-soldier than Aziraphale, she decided it was none of her business and asked no questions. Instead, she simply smiled at him. “Shall we?”
Aziraphale nodded glumly, and they left together.
1 Given that there were no “days” at this point, this was actually a hard point to argue. [return to text]
2 A collection of what would be referred to as “Performance Reviews” on Earth. [return to text]
3 Or a 66.62%, without rounding. [return to text]
4 The note was scrawled in a hand that was clearly not used to writing, and signed with letters that were impossible to read, let alone pronounce. [return to text]
Chapter 10: CHAPTER SEVEN - TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS EVERY WAY
Hi all!! Sorry for the delay - this chapter took a while to get *right*, but I'm pleased with the way it ultimately turned out and I hope y'all like it!
Once again, thank you all for your comments and kudos (they keep me going in the dead of night), and to my lovely beta readers, saygeronimo and co <3
I'm also trying out a new footnote system - let me know if you prefer this one; if so, I'll go back and update it all to be the same :)
The characterization for Gabriel in this chapter was insipred by a post from shego1142 on tumblr
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Yet another small universal truth, presented as a corollary to the previously stated one, is this: if you are saying something that don’t want to have overheard, then there is someone, somewhere who desperately wants to overhear you.
Helel was not far behind Gabriel and Michael as they ran around the track. She hadn’t necessarily planned on this, but she wasn’t the type to let an opportunity to pass her by.
She did pass the Archangels by when they stopped to talk, slowing her pace around the track to keep a better eye on them. Helel had always been quite observant, allowing her to usually be the first one in any situation to truly understand what was happening.
The first thing she understood about this situation was that Michael and Gabriel were terrible actors.
By the time she came back around to the pair, they both looked distraught. “Gabe! Mike!” she said as she slowed down to a walk. “How are you?” She gave them a moment to turn distraught faces to her before saying, “is everything alright?”
They looked at one another. “I, well -” Michael stuttered.
“Helel, so glad you’re here,” Gabriel jumped in. “You know the angel Aziraphale, don’t you?”
There were several routes Helel could go with this question. The most angelic one would have been to say something along the lines of: “Oh, of course! He’s spent copious amounts of time with Raphael, who I am very close with, to the point where I am beginning to feel threatened by his presence in my Garden. Would either of you be interested in providing assistance on that matter?” for it described the whole truth of what she was feeling.
The next few options involved a bit of lying, something most angels had not figured out how to do; Helel had only recently figured it out herself. God hadn’t answered any of her prayers lately, or even invited her round for a chat, but the Right Hand of God couldn’t just go around asking other angels if they’d heard anything from God recently. So she’d stretched the truth about her meetings with God (specifically, that she’d been having them), and that made its way into lying about other things. Truth be told, lying almost felt more natural to her than anything else, a fact that should concern anyone reading this.
Helel slipped into a slightly concerned smile. “I’ve heard of him before - why do you ask? Did he do something wrong?”
Gabriel gave a small snort. “More like, did he do anything right, jeez.” He then shook his head, and regained his business-like composure. “Aziraphale’s… well, he’s not what you’d call a good angel. I’d call him maybe… nice, at best?” Michael gave him a hard stare, to which Gabriel sighed. “But, he is one of our angels, and we need to help him get better.” Gabriel added with a sneer. “Michael was very kind to remind me how this might reflect on us. Do you have any advice, Helel?”
It should be noted that Gabriel trusted Helel far more than any of the other Archangels, the exception perhaps being Raphael. Gabriel had been the third Archangel created, behind Helel and Raphael, back when God was still doing all of the angel-making Herself. He had a certain reverence for the two oldest Archangels, akin to how a younger brother feels about his older siblings. While Helel had always been aloof, her advice had never failed Gabriel.
“What’s your plan so far?” Helel asked, hoping she sounded merely curious.
“Well,” Gabriel leaned in closer to Helel. “Aziraphale has a terrible Angel Report - worst I’ve ever seen. Michael, show her.”
Michael reluctantly pulled out a secondary scroll and handed it to Helel, as ordered. “We’re going to offer him a plan to help him get better,” she explained.
Helel unrolled the scroll. At the top, in large letters, it read PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN - AZIRAPHALE. Below that was the same list of rules for being a good angel that she’d given Aziraphale once upon a time. And below that was a checklist, listing the angelic traits he was deficient in. Finally, at the very bottom, was a list of suggestions as to how Aziraphale could fix his deficient traits. Helel noted with passing interest the angel’s worst trait wasn’t obedience.
“Oh, lovely!” Helel said, looking it over. He’ll hate this. “This is perfect!” She waved her hand over the scroll, adding numbers beside each of the boxes. Now he’ll hate it even more.
“One quick question though, and I hate to ask it,” Helel said, lying through her teeth. “What happens if he fails?”
This clearly had not occurred to either Michael or Gabriel, as they both looked at her confused. “Fails?” Michael asked. “You think he’s not going to follow orders?”
“Has he so far?” The silence that met the question was an answer enough. “I think,” Helel continued, “if you really want it to stick this time, you’ll have to do something more drastic. Perhaps a light threat?”
Michael’s confusion turned into horror. “I won’t threaten him,” she said, aghast.
“Threaten, assist, whatever you want to call it - the point is,” she pointed at Gabriel.
“You need to make it real to Aziraphale that, if he doesn’t do well this time around, he’s in for more than just a couple of extra shifts in the Library.” She stepped closer to the other two Archangels. “And I’ve heard that God’s thinking up a new kind of punishment.”
“Oh?” Gabriel leaned in.
The lies came so easily to Helel at this point that the words were out of her mouth before she’d realized what’d she’d done. God had not , in fact, been thinking up a new punishment, but she had. The last time she’d talked to God, she’d offered up the idea she was about to tell Gabriel and Michael about, and God had dismissed it out of hand, telling her it was unacceptable and too far. God hadn’t talked to her since.
“Much worse than dusting.” Helel raised her eyebrows; the pain of loss burned in Helel’s chest spurred her on. “Banishment,” she whispered.
“Banishment?” Gabriel repeated. While he knew from the look on Michael’s face it was completely deplorable, he was finding it hard to be totally against the idea.
Helel nodded. Perhaps if she could win over other Archangels to the idea, she would win back God’s attention.
“We can’t banish Aziraphale!” Michael said, more horrified than before. “We’re just trying to make him into a good angel!”
“If he’s not going to follow the rules, at some point, isn’t it better for everyone to get rid of him?” Helel asked, crossing her arms. It’d be better for me, at least.
Gabriel and Michael thought about this. “Fine,” Michael said eventually. “I will mention it as a… possibility when I deliver the scroll, but I will make it clear that he can absolutely improve - we’re not trying to ruin his existence, Helel, we’re just trying to help him.” She looked between Gabriel and Helel, said “God’s glory be with you both,” then she was gone.
Gabriel took a deep breath after Michael left, and looked at Helel. He allowed the hard, Archangel exterior to slide off of him, appearing for all the world to become a bit softer as he did so. “Thanks, Helel,” he said sincerely, sounding like a far younger angel than he had a moment ago. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to convince Michael on my own.” He smiled at her.
“Gabe,” Helel said, falling back into their old relationship with ease. “There is one other thing you could try.” She looked at him pointedly. “Have you tried talking Raph out of -”
“Jeez , Helel, no,” he interrupted. “I… I couldn’t.”
While Helel’s advice had always helped Gabriel out of difficult situations, Raphael had shown Gabriel the ropes (not that there was much happening in the Very Beginning). They’d spent most of their young, angelic life with one another, playing pranks on the other angels that existed. Their favorite, much to the chagrin of every other being in existence, was to change faces and pretend to be one another, inevitably dissolving into laughter about something, and giving the game away. This was considered cute when there were a few angels in Heaven, but eventually there were too many angels to keep track of, and they’d needed to grow up.
Raphael became busy with his work as the Archangel of Healing, and Gabriel eventually came into his own as the Archangel of Messengers; they fell apart, in the natural way that siblings do. A small part of Gabriel still cared about Raphael - looked up to him even - but he’d hidden that part of himself under layers and layers of rhetoric.
“I don’t think he’d listen to me anyway,” he finished, looking away.
“Gabe,” she said, putting a calculated hand on his shoulder. “He still cares about you.”
“Does he? It seems like all he cares about anymore is that angel. When was the last time you saw him, on his own?” Helel couldn’t answer that question; it had been a while.
Gabriel took a deep breath. “I’m worried about him, Helel,” he said quietly.
She sighed. “I am too; that’s why I think it’s important that you talk to him.”
“Why does it have to be me?” He looked at her, fear apparent on his face. “You’re more senior than I am; I think he’d listen to you more - why don’t you do it?”
“He hasn’t talked to me in… in a very long time,” Helel said truthfully. Her first truth of the conversation. “You at least work with him.”
“But he’s my superior,” Gabriel threw back. “I can’t give him orders.”
“Look, Gabe, you don’t have to give him orders.” She was taking pains to sound soft and open, but could hear the annoyance creeping into her voice. “But if you won’t talk to him about this because - what, you’re afraid? - then I think we should prepare ourselves for the worst.”
Gabriel’s attention snapped back to Helel. “The worst?”
“He clearly won’t leave the angel alone, and if Aziraphale is really as bad as you say he is, then that could start to rub off on Raph.” Gabriel wasn’t following. “Oh, my Heaven, Gabe - we could lose him too.”
This floored Gabriel. “Lose…?” Raphael had been in Heaven for all of Gabriel’s existence; he couldn’t be banished. “No,” he said, more forcefully than he felt. “No, I won’t let that happen.” His hard exterior shell was raising again; the thought of not being able to save Raphael was too much for him to process.
Suddenly, the Archangel Gabriel stood in front of Helel again, offering her a small, polite smile. “I’ll talk to him, Helel - thank you for your advice. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
Helel nodded. Her work here was done. “I’m glad we’re we’re agreed on this,” she said to him. “It’s good to be on the same side.” She held out a hand for Gabriel to shake.
He took it, brow knitted in confusion. “We’re angels, Helel; of course we’re on the same side.”
“Oh, of course.” Then she was gone.
Raphael appeared next to Gabriel in the Observatory office, catching the other Archangel off guard. “Jeez, you startled me, Raphael!” He’d been mentally wringing his hands for the last few minutes, a part of him hoping that Raphael wouldn’t show up.
“I heard you needed to talk to me?”
Gabriel regained his business-like composure. “Yes, Raphael, I was out in the cosmos earlier, taking care of the stars, and I came across this one that you made.” He snapped his fingers, pulling them out of the office and out amongst the stars, stopping them at Raphael’s binary star system.
Raphael smiled at the star, giving the pair a spin. “What about it?”
Gabriel laid out the plan for the star in question, showing it to Raphael. “Well, it’s wrong.” The plan clearly outlined a single star in this section of the universe.
Raphael sighed. “I tried a thousand times to make this one according to the plan, Gabriel. Every time, it turned out like this. Can you just let it be?”
“No, we can not just let it be!” Gabriel blustered. “You didn’t even try to fix it!” The fear bubbling in Gabriel’s stomach was slowly chipping away at his carefully crafted exterior, threatening to send the whole Archangel crumbling to the ground.
Raphael could feel himself getting annoyed, and took a deep breath. “Gabriel,” he said patiently. “I have tried. What - do you want to watch me try again?”
“Fine,” Raphael spat. He brought the two stars into his hands, one in each fist, and then crushed them between his fingers, snuffing out their light; the now-dispersed energy trickled through his fingers like water, and he let it all go. He then brought his hands back together, prayer-like, and blew gently into the space between his palms. Light began to shine through his fingers, growing stronger and stronger as he continued the breath. Finally, he ran out of breath and pulled away, allowing the star to grow on its own. With flourish, he lifted one of his hands off of the other, presenting the brand new star to Gabriel.
As Gabriel watched, the star began to wobble in Raphael’s hand; it was unable to establish a single center of gravity. Instead, the ball of gas began to cluster around two distinct points, pulling itself apart, turning into a carbon copy of the binary star system Raphael had just scattered to the winds. Once the separation was complete, the stars began to lazily orbit one another, finally stable. Content. “See?” Raphael said, smiling gently at his creation. “This is how they’re happiest; leave them alone.”
Gabriel had almost reached a calm state, but Raphael’s last statement set him on edge one more. “But it’s not normal!” he shouted, frustrated by Raphael’s blatant disregard for the rules. “It’s not good for Heaven!”
Raphael turned to Gabriel, inspecting him. Gabriel felt like he was as easy to read as the star plan in front of them. “We’re not here to talk about these stars, are we, Gabriel?” Raphael asked in a low voice. “No. So, say what you came here to say.”
Gabriel swallowed hard and realized he was woefully underprepared for this conversation. “Raphael,” he said as authoritatively as he could muster. “You can’t continue doing this.”
“I can make the stars if I want to Gabriel, the Metatron -”
“No. I meant... with the angel.”
Raphael’s eyes closed and he nodded. “Ah.”
Gabriel took a breath and jumped straight into the deep end of his point. “Raphael, I think there’s something wrong with Aziraphale. And I think, with all the time you spend together, that it’s affecting you; your judgement, your behavior - you seem different.” The way in which he said different made it sound like a synonym for bad.
Raphael’s mouth was wide open, annoyance slowly turning to anger. He set his mouth into a hard line. “What, exactly , seems different?” he asked, adding a full stop after every word.
“Well,” Gabriel began. He had a list in his head, but all of his points were vying to be said first. “You only spend time with the angel - I mean, unless you’re working, but you’ve stopped spending time with anyone else if you don’t have to.” This landed hard on Raphael’s ears; it was an extremely true statement, and the one thing he felt bad about. “And, and, you’re more defensive than you used to be. And then there’s the feeling of you two being together,”
“Well, I feel like… like I’m drowning every time you two are together. The overwhelming wave of emotions that come from both of you? It’s… well, overwhelming ,” he finished lamely. Gabriel may have been the Archangel of Messengers, but improvising messages was not his strong suit.
Raphael seemed to deflate slightly. “I didn’t realize other angels could feel that,” he said quietly.
“What is it? It seems awful.”
“I’m not entirely sure,” Raphael said, perhaps a bit sadly. “It is overwhelming, but not in a bad way. It… it’s like the way God feels about us, or the way we feel about Her, but more intense. Brighter? I’m not - drowning is a good way to put it.”
“But that seems awful,” Gabriel repeated, attempting to drive the point home to Raphael. “Why do you want that?”
Raphael’s smile became a little less sad. “Because when I’m with him, it doesn’t feel unmanageable. It feels safe. Comfortable. The feeling is overwhelming - I feel like I’m going to burst sometimes - but I want to be overwhelmed by it.” He looked at Gabriel. “Does that make sense?”
“No!” Gabriel was aghast. “It feels wrong!”
“It’s not, Gabriel.”
Raphael’s consistent inability to understand had finally chipped away at Gabriel’s exterior, and he snapped. “I DON’T WANT ANYTHING TO HAPPEN TO YOU!” he shouted.
Gabriel’s outburst stunned both Archangels. Raphael reached across the divide between them and put a hand on Gabriel’s shaking one. “What - what do you think is going to happen to me, Gabriel?” he asked, concern evident in his voice.
“God’s planning something, Raphael, something bad.”
“I haven’t heard anything like that.”
Gabriel scoffed lightly. “You’d know if you actually talked to anyone other than Aziraphale.” He shook his head. “I - She’s planning on thinning the ranks.” Raphael looked confused. “Banishment,” he clarified, propagating the lie. “And Aziraphale is… well, frankly, he’s the worst angel I’ve ever seen.”
Raphael sucked in a breath, feeling like he had been punched. “What?”
“Empirically, I mean.” Gabriel looked apologetic. “His Angel Report is abysmal. You spending time with him could… it could cause you to get...”
“Ah,” Raphael said again. “You’re worried he’ll cause me to be banished as well.”
Gabriel nodded, looking for all the world like a child.
Raphael unexpectedly pulled Gabriel into a hug. “Gabriel,” he said. “I appreciate the concern. I know it took a lot for you to come talk to me.” They broke apart and Raphael smiled. “But I promise that, whatever this feeling is, it’s not bad. Something that feels this good couldn't be bad. I think... I think it’s more like a gift from God.” He nudged Gabriel playfully. “Maybe you’ll get it one day too.”
The younger Archangel did not look reassured, nor pleased at the jibe. “But Aziraphale -”
“I’ll leave him be for now,” Raphael said, becoming serious once more. “I… I don’t want anything to happen to him. But Gabriel,” he looked at the stars in front of them, still spinning. “I need you to help him be better. I can’t… this wouldn’t be Heaven for me anymore if he wasn’t here.” He stopped the dancing stars. “I’ll go tell him.”
It was Gabriel’s turn to stop Raphael. “No, you shouldn’t. Or, I’d advise against it.”
Hurt skipped across Raphael’s face. “I can’t... tell him?”
“I just meant that you don’t have to worry about that - Michael’s telling him.”
All of Raphael’s frustration over the situation condensed in one moment, and anger flared in his eyes. “Michael knows about this? You... discussed...?” He turned on Gabriel. “How long have you all been talking about this?” he asked quietly, threat clear in his voice.
For the first time, Gabriel wished desperately he could lie; to say anything to retain Raphael’s good will. He paused for a beat too long, and allowed Raphael to figure it out.
“Ah.” Raphael clenched his fists so hard he shook. “I see.” He closed his eyes. “I need you to leave, Gabriel.”
Raphael did not repeat himself; he simply waved his hand. Gabriel was immediately transported, against his will, to the Observatory office. He picked himself up and dusted himself off just in time to see a bright explosion in the distance.
Instead of bottling his rage, Raphael had chosen to let it all out at once; the sheer influx of energy had created the first supernova - white hot and brilliant, all consuming and vengeful. Then, as it lacked a stabilizing core, it collapsed in on itself, and created the first black hole.
“Jeez,” Gabriel said.
Raphael then appeared in the Observatory office next to Gabriel. His red hair was scorched at the ends and he was shaking slightly from the exertion.
“Raphael?” Gabriel asked.
Raphael didn’t look at him. “I… I will leave him alone,” he repeated in a much harder tone. “But you’re going to make sure he passes; understand?”
Gabriel nodded. “Of - of course. God’s glory be with you, Raphael,” he said.
Raphael looked at him, caught somewhere between anger and betrayal. “Sure.” Then he was gone.
1 They had just finished the discussion about Aziraphale, detailed in the previous chapter. [return to text]
2 Michael trusted Helel about as far as she could throw her. Which was pretty far, given how angels have no real corporeal mass, but for this exercise, we’ll assume normal human masses, and say Michael would be able to throw her approximately 3 feet. [return to text]
3 Most angels hated dusting the Library books; it aggravated their allergies. [return to text]
4 She would, but not in the way she was ultimately hoping for. [return to text]
5 God once found them trying to set Helel’s robes alight. Unfortunately for them, everything in Heaven is fireproof. [return to text]
6 Each star was identified by a tracking number, written out in celestial script; interestingly enough, the tracking number translates into “The Pointers” in the English alphabet. [return to text]
7 A terrible pitfall of first and new loves. [return to text]
8 Any psychological professional would have been very proud of the amount of work Raphael managed to do in such a short time. [return to text]
Chapter 11: CHAPTER EIGHT - TAKE ME TO CHURCH
And we're back! Thank you all for your patience - I had some personal stuff happen and it took a little longer to finish this chapter up. I hope y'all enjoy!!
As always, thank you for your comments and kudos! I appreciate each and every one of you, more than I could ever say <3
Shout out to my beta readers (saygeronimo and co), because I couldn't have made this chapter without you guys :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Chapel was packed to the point that it would have been a fire hazard. The Seraphs droned from the choir loft, filling the room with harmonized prayer. The remainder of the room was filled with angels of all types, arranged in descending order of importance. The angels sat at the back, piled on top of one another to squeeze into the four pews they had been afforded. The Principalities, seeing as there were only three of them, had agreed to stand and make room for any angel that needed a seat.
Seven chairs were arranged in a half-moon at the front of the room, for the seven Archangels, but every chair was empty. Five of the seven Archangels were busy arguing amongst themselves directly outside the Chapel door, impeding the flow of angels into the room. They took no notice, engrossed in their conversation.
“It must be the announcement of Eden,” Uriel was saying.
“No, no - Eden’s not even for angels; why would God want to tell the rest of Heaven about it?” Sandalphon asked. “It’s just a garden.”
“I’m sure She has a good reason, whatever it is,” Michael reasoned. “We can’t always know the next step of the Ineffable Plan; that’s why it’s ineffable.” Despite her words, she continued to crack her knuckles nervously.
“We won’t know until we get in there,” Haniel whispered, gesturing towards the door. Angels had gathered around the door, but were held captive by the plug of Archangels; everyone was too polite to say anything.
Gabriel, who had only been listening to half of the conversation, looked around over the group, down the hallway. “You go ahead - I’ll wait for the rest.”
“You know, if they’re going to be late…” Sandalphon grumbled, walking through the Chapel door. The remainder of the group filed in behind him, allowing the flow of angels through the doorway to resume. Gabriel stepped out of the current, standing next to the door, and began to examine his fingernails.
Aziraphale had also not arrived to the Chapel; luckily for him, Gabriel hadn’t yet noticed his absence. Cassiel, on the other hand, stood near the doorway out to Heaven, wringing her hands while Aziraphale pulled a sheet of manna out of the oven.
Cassiel looked down the hallway and saw that the group of Archangels standing had dispersed from the Chapel doorway - if they wanted to slip in unnoticed, this was their chance. “Aziraphale,” she whisper-shouted across the room for the third time. “We have to go!”
“Almost… there!” The angel wrapped a few of the fresh slices of manna in napkins, and brought them to Cassiel. He held one out to the other angel, who had crossed her arms impatiently. “I made a snack!”
“I thought you were just here to look - if I’d known you were going to be wasting our time cooking, I wouldn’t have agreed to come!”
“I - it’s toasted! Here, just try a bite.” He emphatically waved the bread at Cassiel, who rubbed the bridge of her nose in response. “I made it for you!”
“Aziraphale, you made us late for what is quite possibly the most important announcement ever made, for twice-cooked bread?”
Much to his growing embarrassment, that is exactly what Aziraphale had done. He’d been spending so much time in the Armory, practicing his sword fighting, lifting heavy things, or running that he’d been unable to find the time to visit the Kitchen. Michael had made it very clear that he could face serious consequences for returning to his old stomping grounds and she had been watching him like a hawk to ensure he refrained from doing exactly what he was currently doing. But, well, Aziraphale missed the Kitchen with such a fervor that, when this opportunity had fallen in his lap, he took it with gusto, all consequences forgotten.
Cassiel had followed him, having orders to keep an eye on him. As she was far more obedient than Aziraphale, it didn’t cross her mind (at first) to disobey those orders; now, a small part of her wished she had - at least they’d have better seats. Or seats at all.
She wasn’t usually this short with anyone, let alone with Aziraphale, but their intense training schedule had been weighing just as much on her as it had on Aziraphale. While she hadn’t been threatened with banishment for failing to become better, she did have a laundry list of things she needed to work on; if Aziraphale was banished, she could be next.
Cassiel sighed again, realizing she had been a bit too harsh. “I - I’m sorry, Aziraphale. Can I try it?”
Brow furrowed, Aziraphale handed the toast over to Cassiel and she took a small bite of the edge. Her eyes widened. “Oh!” A smile crossed her face and she softened. “Oh, thank you, Aziraphale.” She bit off another piece. “It really is quite good - I like the crunch.”
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said quietly.
“It would be even better if you maybe... added a little sweetness?” she ventured. Constructive criticism always seemed to perk Aziraphale up, as it gave him a concrete goal for next time.
Aziraphale’s shoulders straightened a bit, and he took a bite of the toast. “Hmm," he considered. "I think you’re right - I’ll keep that in mind.” He smiled at Cassiel. “Shall we?” They left the Kitchen and started their journey down the hallway towards the Chapel.
If God’s favorite genre of movie was romantic comedy, it is safe to assume that many things about the world would be different. For instance, if Her favorite genre was indeed ‘romcom’, then, as Aziraphale traveled down the hallway towards the Chapel, he would have bumped into Raphael, perhaps sending him crashing to the ground. As Raphael offered him a helping hand, they would have locked eyes with one another; a song would have begun to play in the background, audible to only the audience, indicating their affection for one another. This would mark the turning point in the movie, in which both angels would throw caution to the wind, vowing to never again be parted. In that universe, where God loves romcoms, they would eventually ride off into the sunset together, after escaping many more hijinks of course, to live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, God’s favorite genre is not romantic comedy.
As Aziraphale and Cassiel traveled down the hallway towards the Chapel, the Garden door swung open unexpectedly and clipped Aziraphale’s shoulder, knocking him off balance, sending him crashing to the ground.
Aziraphale yelped in pain, both from the shock of hitting the ground and losing his snack. A hand was immediately extended to him from the offending party, offering him help up. He took it and looked up, fully prepared to tell some angel off for not watching where they were going.
“I’m so sorry - I didn’t see you!” The voice was an immediate salve on Aziraphale’s skinned knees; Raphael had hit him with the door, and now held one his hands.
They locked eyes; both of them had been doing well at avoiding the other, and as a result, hadn’t seen each other for at least a month. Raphael’s grip tightened on Aziraphale’s hand, and a smile began to bloom on his face.
“Aziraphale,” Raphael breathed. “Hi.”
Movement to the left of Raphael’s shoulder caught Aziraphale’s attention, and he broke eye contact to look over. He locked eyes with Helel instead, whose lip was curling in distaste. She shook her head imperceptibly. With a jerk of her head, she shocked their interlocked hands, causing them to break apart.
Aziraphale took a step back, not away from Raphael, but away from Helel, who was still glaring at him like a beast balked of its prey. He looked back to Raphael, who appeared not to notice anything amiss.
“Archangel Raphael! We’ll get out of your way.” Cassiel grabbed Aziraphale’s hand and gave it a tug; this, naturally, was not missed by Raphael.
Aziraphale allowed himself be moved down the hallway, but he couldn’t look away from Raphael. The Archangel followed him a few paces, stepping out into the hallway, watching the angels move towards the Chapel door.
Helel stepped out from the doorway to watch Aziraphale be dragged away, and she noticed Gabriel at the other end of the hallway.
Gabriel had watched the entire scene unfold. He made eye contact with Helel long enough to mouth “get him out of here!” while pointing to Raphael. Helel rolled her eyes, put a hand on Raphael’s shoulder and miracled them both out of the hallway, into the Chapel to their seats.
“A little late, aren’t we angels?” Gabriel called to the pair, wrenching Aziraphale’s attention away from the now-empty spot in the hallway. “That’s not going to look very good for your performance review.” Gabriel stepped in front of the door, hindering their passage into the Chapel. He reached down and took the manna from Aziraphale’s hand. “No snacks allowed, I’m afraid.” He pointed to a sign next to the door, which indeed read “NO FOOD”.
Aziraphale gaped, but Cassiel to dragged him inside before he could protest.
After battling their way to seats, Cassiel tapped Aziraphale on the shoulder. “Here, you can have half of mine,” she said, tearing her bread in half. “I didn’t think that Archangel Gabriel needed to know I had one too.” She winked at him. Aziraphale’s heart swelled. He took the offering with a small nod and smile of his own.
Gabriel appeared at the front of the room, taking his seat. The Seraph’s song finished, and the echoes reverberated through the room. There was a palpable nervous energy. Aziraphale focused on his manna, willing himself not to look at the front of the room; he didn’t want to find himself disappointed if Raphael wasn’t also searching for him.
Without warning, the Metatron appeared at the front of the room, between the pews and Archangels. Their column of fire stretched to the ceiling, instantly commanding the attention of the congregation.
“WELCOME,” they said, after allowing all conversations to cease. “THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING. GOD WOULD FIRST LIKE FOR ME TO EXPRESS HER DEEPEST REGRETS, AS SHE WON’T BE JOINING US.”
A wave of confusion ran through the room - what kind of announcement was important enough to bring Heaven to a grinding halt, but not important enough for God to attend?
Helel gripped the armrests of her seat, digging her fingers into the underside of the wood. If anything at startled her at this point, she would have ripped the arms of her chair clean off.
The Metatron waved a firey hand, bringing up a projection in front of the congregation . A blue and green sphere floated in the air, looking like a large, brightly colored marble.
They cleared their throat. “THE ANNOUNCEMENT IS THUS: IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE INEFFABLE PLAN, GOD IS BEGINNING CREATION ON A NEW REALM OF THE UNIVERSE. THIS REALM WILL BE KNOWN AS: EARTH.” Words appeared over the blue and green sphere, denoting it as “Earth”.
“THIS REALM, OR ‘WORLD’ AS IT WILL HEREBY BE REFERRED TO, WILL HOST HEAVEN’S CREATIONS.THEY WILL BE GIVEN THE GARDEN OF EDEN TO MAKE THEIR HOME.” The picture zoomed in on a specific location on Earth, showing a small oasis in the middle of a desert. Walls stretched up to the sky to protect the flora and fauna inside the garden. It was beautiful.
“EDEN WILL BE POPULATED WITH ALL OF THE ANIMALS, PLANTS, ETC. CREATED BY THE ANGELS - SOME OF WHOM ARE IN ATTENDANCE - BUT IT WILL ALSO HOST GOD’S MOST IMPRESSIVE CREATIONS.” Out of the underbrush, two angel-shaped figures appeared. This sent a shockwave of whispers around the room; were some of them going to leave Heaven?
The angel-shaped figures moved across the screen to one another, then to a large, fruit-bearing tree in the center of the garden. “THESE CREATIONS WILL HAVE TO PROVE THEMSELVES. EDEN WILL PROVIDE THE GREATEST TEST GOD HAS EVER DEVISED - A TREE BURDENED WITH ALL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORLD. IF ANYONE SHOULD EAT FROM THE TREE, THEY WILL BE CAST OUT OF EDEN.”
A small cough came from behind the Metatron. They swiveled to look at the source of the noise - Gabriel.
“That’s an odd test, isn’t it?” He looked at the Metatron confused. “I mean, no angel needs to eat the fruit from that tree - we already know everything that tree could teach us.”
The sound of papers rustling filled the room. “AH,” the Metatron stalled for time as they flipped through their notes. “YES, I MISSED A BIT - EDEN IS NOT FOR ANGELIC BEINGS. EDEN IS FOR HUMAN BEINGS. HUMANS.”
The whispers that had begun with the announcement of Earth were abruptly cut off and the stunned silence returned. Helel’s grip on her armrests loosened a fraction as she processed what the Metatron had said.
Then Helel shot up from her chair. “God’s making more creatures like us?” Fury rose up Helel’s throat, and she clenched her fists. “Why?”
“YES; THERE WERE GIFTS GOD WANTED TO BESTOW ON HER CREATIONS WHICH SHE FELT UNABLE TO GIVE TO THE ANGELS. THESE GIFTS WILL INSTEAD BE GIVEN TO THE HUMANS.”
The whispers started again, louder this time.
Helel swallowed and asked, through gritted teeth, the question being whispered throughout the Chapel. “What gifts?”
As far as answers go, to most angels in attendance, the Metatron’s statement provided no more information than they had previously. Helel, however, was not most angels. Her jaw fell open, shock catching her off guard. God had only alluded to the concept of free will in their last conversation- Helel had no idea She had actually perfected it, or at least gotten it close enough to use. Has it been that long…?
Gabriel coughed again, looking sheepish. “Now, I know we all know what that means, but for some of the newer angels - could you explain what that is? The free will?”
“IT MEANS THEY WILL BE ABLE TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN PATHS IN LIFE.”
“Life?” Gabriel asked.
“YES. THEY WILL BE MORTAL.”
“THEY WILL, AT A CERTAIN POINT, CEASE TO EXIST.”
This turned up the whispers to a full boil. Things didn’t stop existing - everything was recoverable. At least, until now.
Helel had been pacing across the half-moon of chairs, like a caged animal. “Let me get this straight,” she said, drawing the Metatron’s attention once more. “God’s going to give them free will - the chance, the ability to do ANYTHING they want to do, but they’re going to be able to die?”
A wave of jealousy threatened to send Helel crashing to the ground; she chose to sit back in her chair, clawing at the underside of the armrests once more. “Sure, okay - any other gifts these humans are going to be given?”
More rustling paper, then “YES; THEY WILL ALSO BE GIVEN THE ABILITY TO CREATE MORE HUMANS.”
In Heaven, the ability to create was limited to the most powerful angels; you couldn’t just give that power out to willy-nilly. And yet, that was exactly what God had done for humanity.
“They’ll be able to create?” Raphael asked, sitting up. A small spark of hope lit in his chest - creation was one of his favorite tasks, and now, it seemed as though there was going to be a whole species of creators.
“YES.” The presentation shifted to show the woman’s stomach growing, and then a third, smaller human, swaddled tightly in a cloth blanket. Then, the child grew before the congregation’s eyes, through toddler to child, to teenager, then to a third adult. “THE HUMANS WILL COME TOGETHER TO MAKE MORE HUMANS.”
Raphael’s eyes were fixed on the screen. “How?”
“IT WILL REQUIRE TWO OF THEM - A MAN AND A WOMAN - AND THE WOMAN WILL GROW THE NEW HUMAN INSIDE OF HER.” The Metatron rewound the animation to show the woman’s extended belly.
“So the woman will be given the power to create,” Michael clarified.
“SHE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CREATE WITHOUT THE MAN. THEY WILL BE PARTNERS.”
“Jeez - why would they want to create more humans?” Gabriel asked. Seeing as creating took a lot of energy, it was one of his least favorite tasks.
“NOT ALL OF THEM WILL. SOME WILL NOT WANT TO CREATE; THEY WILL WILL FIND THEMSELVES CALLED TO OTHER TASKS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES, TO ASSIST HUMANITY IN A DIFFERENT WAY.
“SOME WILL PREFER A PARTNER OF A DIFFERENT GENDER, SOME OF THEIR OWN GENDER, AND SOME WILL PREFER NO PARTNER AT ALL. ALL OF THESE HUMANS WILL BE EQUAL IN THE EYES OF GOD.
“HOWEVER, MOST WILL DERIVE PLEASURE FROM THE ACT OF CREATING, SINCE THE ACT IS DESIGNED TO BRING THEM CLOSER TOGETHER, EVEN IF THE PURPOSE OF THE ACT IS NOT TO CREATE A NEW HUMAN.
“THE HUMANS WILL CREATE AN EMOTIONAL BOND WITH THE PARTNER OF THEIR CHOOSING; THIS BOND WILL KEEP THEM TOGETHER, AS THEY WILL FIND MORE PEACE, FULFILLMENT, AND HAPPINESS WHEN THEY ARE TOGETHER THAN WHEN THEY ARE APART.”
The Metatron thought for a moment before adding. “IT WILL BE LIKE WHAT WE FEEL FOR GOD, BUT STRONGER.” They flipped through their notes a final time before announcing. “AND IT WILL BE KNOWN AS: LOVE. THIS IS GOD’S FINAL GIFT TO HUMANITY.” They continued explaining exactly how both humans would choose a partner, and how they would go about procreating, but for the purposes of this story, we will cut away.
It is a very odd sensation having your feelings accidentally expressed through a third party. There is an intimate sense of understanding, usually followed immediately by a horrified realization that someone also (whether it was on purpose or by accident) understands what you’re feeling; there is sometimes a third, sinking feeling, as you realize you have been terribly transparent this whole time.
Aziraphale immediately looked towards Raphael upon hearing the Metatron’s explanation, and found himself both pleased and scared that Raphael was already looking at him. A thousand words seemed to be said in their stare; upon locking eyes, it became clear that they both wished for the ground to fall out from under them. Or, at the very least, to find a place together where they could eventually laugh about this utterly ridiculous situation. At least they would be together.
Helel and Gabriel were staring at one another, exchanging wordless glances of their own. There it was; the piece of understanding they had been missing.
Love? Gabriel mouthed. Helel shook her head vehemently, her lip curling once more.
Cassiel tapped on Aziraphale’s shoulder for the second time, breaking the spell and their eye contact. “You alright, Aziraphale?”
He took a deep breath. On the surface, Aziraphale looked pale and sickly; internally, he had at least six emotions vying for his attention . Unable to make a decision about which one was the most important, Aziraphale decided to feel nothing. “Fine,” he said in a shaky voice, indicating that, while he might have wanted to feel that way, he most certainly did not. Raphael’s stare left him wanting, like a light rain upon a man dying of thirst.
A cacophony of voices had risen up around them, starting after the Metatron finished his explanation of human creation; only now did Aziraphale allow the sea of voices to carry him away. If Cassiel didn’t notice anything, he reasoned, then no one did. It’s fine. We’re - I’m fine. Aziraphale picked apart the bread in his hands, hunger chased off by the anxiety-induced seasickness he was experiencing.
Much to the dismay of everyone involved, both Helel and Gabriel had noticed, and they were very much planning on intervening.
The Metatron had finished explaining the concept of human mortality and the idea of “sustainable ecosystems”, and realized they had come to the end of their prepared script. Instead of sticking around to answer questions, they said “GOD’S GLORY BE WITH YOU ALL,” and left.
The congregation was left to their own devices: some took this to indicate the matter was settled, and they began to file out, returning to their duties. More remained clustered in groups, discussing what in Heaven’s name human-kind meant for angel-kind.
Helel huffed and stood. “Angels!” she cried, catching the attention of those still present. “For those of you who still have questions, I will be holding a meeting in the Gardens after this; I will answer as many questions as I can. All are welcome! God’s glory be with you all!” She smiled and allowed the room to return to its clustered groups, then she turned to Raphael. “You’ll be there, right, Raph?”
Raphael also looked pale, but a small smile had taken up root on his features. “I believe so, yes. I have a small errand to attend to first.” He stood from his chair, and made a move out of the semi-circle, walking down to the pews.
Aziraphale looked up and noticed Raphael moving towards him. For a moment, he completely forgot all of the reasons they couldn’t spend time together, and his heart sped up. An errant thought reminded him that the snake, given to him a lifetime ago, was still in his pocket waiting to be returned . They smiled at one another, revelling in unabashed eye contact.
Gabriel intercepted Raphael when he was four pews away from Aziraphale, placing a hand on Raphael’s shoulder.
“Raphael, jeez, take it easy. You don’t look so good.” Gabriel tried to guide him back to the chairs in the front of the room, but Raphael pushed against Gabriel’s hand.
“Please don’t stop me, Gabriel,” he said in a soft voice, looking into the younger Archangel’s eyes. “You heard the Metatron - that feeling has a name.” Hope danced in Raphael’s eyes, and he looked towards Aziraphale again.
“You can’t,” Gabriel responded emphatically; he took no pleasure in crushing Raphael’s hopes, but someone had to do it. “Your feeling may not be a fluke, but Aziraphale was late today - that looks bad. He’ll need to work for a while to make up for that.” All of the love in the world wouldn’t stop Aziraphale from being banished if he couldn’t manage to follow the rules.
“I’ll take him,” Helel swept in. “You can come with me and just sit in the Garden, how about that?” She offered him a hand to take.
He nodded dumbly and took Helel’s hand. Part of him understood why things had to be this way - why he had to sacrifice so much - but despite everything Gabriel had said, Raphael made a promise in that moment to talk to Aziraphale again, if it was the last thing he ever did.
1 The Ineffable Plan, at this point, required the Archangels to be in the dark. [return to text]
2 Gabriel only did this when he was feeling something close to nervousness, though he’d never admit to being nervous about anything. [return to text]
3 Her favorite genre would be more closely described as satire, which explains a good deal about the universe we do live in. She’s also partial to musicals. [return to text]
4 Even in Heaven, a visual presentation is still the best way to get information across. Sandalphon was very proud of his work helping to create PowerPoint, though many have argued this should have been the work of a demon. [return to text]
5 Angels do not live, so much as exist. With the exception of one angel, but he would not experience life for quite a ways. [return to text]
6 There were many concerned questions raised by the angels in attendance. [return to text]
7 They were, in no particular order: confusion, elation, terror, excitement, anger, and hunger. [return to text]
8 Angels have no need for sleep, and therefore, no bedrooms. The best place to keep something important to them was in a pocket or pocket dimension, if they were powerful enough. [return to text]
Chapter 12: A TIME OUT - PRESENT DAY, LONDON, AZIRAPHALE’S BOOKSHOP
Another snap back to present day to tide y'all over until the next full chapter!
Thanks for all the kudos and comments - I love you all <3
Crowley had been pacing across the bookshop for the last two chapters straight, reading aloud as he walked. Aziraphale had been unable to make him to stop pacing, but the demon finally surfaced at the end of Chapter Eight.
“Aziraphale,” he said, attempting to sound unaffected, but failing miserably. “I don’t - I’m not sure I can -” he fumbled.
Aziraphale stood up out of his chair and crossed to Crowley. “My dear,” he murmured, placing a hand on the demon’s shoulder.
“I don’t think…” he trailed off again. Crowley looked at the book, then Aziraphale, both times helpless. He lacked the words to properly convey everything he was feeling.
They had started this journey together, and Aziraphale wanted to finish it together; the book had been a gift from Crowley, after all; the demon must have known what they were getting into. Aziraphale himself was having a hard time remembering any of the events in their entirety, but there were flickers here and there of recognition. Unfortunately, he was unable to determine if he actually remembered or if he simply wanted to remember. At any rate, he understood the feelings of the Aziraphale in the book with an uncomfortable clarity.
Crowley shook his head, perhaps a bit sadly. “No, angel; I got us into this, I should finish it.” He sniffed and squared his shoulders, but Aziraphale surprised him by pulling him into a hug, holding the demon tight.
Not that they hadn’t hugged in the past, but this was a surprising amount of contact to be initiated by the angel. Typically, Crowley initiated their hugs (or any physical contact, truth be told), and Aziraphale would typically reciprocate. But Aziraphale hugging him…? The timing and intensity of the angel’s hug knocked Crowley off his axis; he felt tears well in his eyes and waved a hand, miracling them away.
When the angel pulled back from their hug, he looked Crowley square in the face. “Crowley,” he said kindly, placing a gentle but unsure hand on the demon’s cheek. “You’ve been strong enough; you don’t have to pretend on my account.”
“Angel,” Crowley coughed, shrugging away from the contact. “I’ll be fine.” The hug had steeled him a bit, but his cheek burned where Aziraphale had touched him. It felt so tender, so personal - 6000 years on Earth may have prepared him for the worst situation possible, but it certainly hadn’t prepared him for a gentle gesture from the angel of his affection. He coughed again, harder this time, hoping that would be a plausible explanation for the new batch of tears in his eyes.
He sniffed again and gave Aziraphale the wiliest smile he could manage. “You want to make any bets as to who’s who?”
Aziraphale’s brow furrowed. “Oh no, my dear. I couldn’t.”
“Come on, angel. You’re so clever - you must have some guesses.”
The angel’s furrowed brow became a full-blown frown. “Perhaps I do,” he snipped back. “However, I don’t want to make any assumptions before the end of the story.” The angel read most stories this way, choosing to be swept up by the narrative instead of making assumptions. Murder mysteries kept him wildly entertained.
“I still like Raphael,” Aziraphale said as he began to move away, back to his seat. “Actually, the further we get into this book, the more he reminds me of you, Crowley; isn’t that odd?”
Crowley gaped at the angel’s turned back - how could someone so clever be so blind? He barely managed to a grip on his facial expression before Aziraphale faced him again.
“Would you like anything before I sit back down?” Aziraphale asked, choosing at the last moment to sit on the couch instead of returning to the armchair.
“Wine, but,” Crowley snapped his fingers, “I can get that myself.” His glass refilled. “Don’t worry yourself, angel.”
Aziraphale nodded and began to make himself comfortable in his seat. Then he frowned slightly. “Actually, Crowley, could you do something for me?”
Crowley nodded. “Yes?”
Aziraphale patted the cushion next to him. “Will you sit next to me for the next chapter?” He offered Crowley a small smile.
The demon’s heart leapt into his throat. Not trusting himself to speak, he nodded again and padded across the bookshop to the angel on the couch. Tentatively, as if worried about startling him, Crowley sat next to Aziraphale - close, but, of course, not too close. He didn’t want to be accused of going too fast again. Aziraphale’s small smile became a serene smile; he sighed contentedly, then reached over and placed a light hand on Crowley’s leg.
Crowley’s head whipped around to Aziraphale, who was still smiling serenely, now at him, in a manner that suggested this action was both entirely intentional and entirely innocent. Crowley felt his stomach flip over.
“Feel free to continue whenever you’re ready, my dear.”
The demon took a moment, cleared his throat and his mind, then delved into Chapter Nine.
Chapter 13: CHAPTER NINE - LET'S GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
Okay, I know I fell off the face of the earth for a while, but I'm back!! (The stuff that caused the last few chapters to be late blew up and got me good.) I'm very excited about these next few chapters (which are all written!), and I hope y'all enjoy them as well!
A huge thanks to my betas, who encouraged me to keep going, and to all of you for your kudos and comments <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Helel was scared. Not in the traditional stage fright sense (though she did sometimes have problems with that); no, for the first time, she was afraid of the future. Things had already been changing, but she could feel a far more significant change lurking around the corner, like a jewel thief waiting for the chance to complete their largest heist yet. Helel’s fingers itched for her sword.
Raphael could feel the change coming as well, but he had, in a sense, propped the door open for the thief, planning on collecting the insurance money after the heist was complete.
These opposing forces sat next to one another in the Garden, not quite understanding they were diametrically opposed; for the moment, they were still friends.
“I just don’t understand,” Helel repeated for the fourth time. “What is it that makes humanity so special to Her?” Her fingers had found a small branch in the grass and had wrapped their way around it, satisfying her need for a sword-like object.
Raphael sighed, swallowing his response. Saying “What makes any of us special?” would be poking the bear. He shrugged and instead said: “I suppose it’s all a part of -”
Helel cut him off with a long groan. “I really hope that sentence doesn’t end with The Ineffable Plan, Raph.” He gave her a small smile in response, resulting in a thwack of Helel’s stick.
A group of angels was beginning to form around the pair of Archangels, composed of mostly the regulars, but a few new faces stuck out from the crowd. Unlike previous meetings, there was a strange, uncomfortable energy swirling about, causing angels to eye one another suspiciously. Helel got up and began to pace; her twig switched through the air like a baton as she walked, absentmindedly directing the crowd. When the flow of angels seemed to come to a stop, Helel clapped her hands to signal the beginning of the salon.
“Welcome!” She held her hands out to the crowd, beaming at them. “I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the new faces, and the standard welcome to everyone else. I’m so glad you all could make it today!” A smattering of claps met her words, so she pressed on. This was the largest group she'd ever stood in front of.
“For those of you who haven’t been here before, all questions are fair game. I’m here to begin the discussion, but I want this to be about your concerns.” Helel had repeated these words so many times, they came out without her thinking about them, but this time, the words fell flat. She wanted to voice her concerns, to scream and rant and cry about the Ineffable Plan, and for someone to listen.
“Any of you have a burning question?” The group was quiet; most of the angels in attendance avoided making eye contact. “No?” More silence. “Alright, then I’ll start - let’s talk about humanity.”
Raphael felt his focus slipping out of his grasp, barreling towards more interesting topics of thought. He’d known for a while that he felt something for Aziraphale, but hadn’t had the words to express that feeling; there was the standard feeling of protectiveness and pride that followed every angel he helped create, but his chest had expanded with joy when Aziraphale smiled at him just after coming to life. That smile had stayed with Raphael, in a way no other smile had, until he found a way to see the brand new angel again (which admittedly, hadn’t taken very long). He’d thought that the feeling would go away after talking with Aziraphale again, but to his surprise, the feeling only grew - an ache in his chest that was only soothed by Aziraphale’s presence.
Raphael had been afraid to say anything to his friends, though his actions apparently said enough, but he’d tried to talk to God. She had been infuriatingly silent on matters of his heart, leading him to do the only thing he could think of to make himself feel better - seek out Aziraphale. But now, now he had a name for the ache he’d been feeling - love. He silently rolled the word around on his tongue; it felt right. Not only that, but he had proof it was a feeling ordained from God Herself; therefore, it could only be right. And yet…
Helel and Gabriel were still trying to convince him otherwise. They poked and prodded and kept him away from Aziraphale at all costs. Gabriel may have had his reasons, but there was no reason for Helel to want to keep them apart that he could fathom. Something had changed about her; she had always been his biggest supporter, but now she felt… cold, distant, angry. It was not a set of emotions Raphael had much experience with, and he felt a bit out of his depth.
God, he began, I know I keep asking, and I know you have a lot to think about especially with Humankind, but... I know this is all according to Your Ineffable Plan, I’m just feeling lost. I need just a little help putting it all together. He paused for a moment, giving Her time to respond.
He continued his prayer. God? Still nothing. He sighed internally. I just… I suppose I could use some sort of sign that everything is -
His prayer was cut short by the door to the Garden creaking open. Raphael opened his eyes and was met with the vision of the one angel he wanted to see the most: Aziraphale. A smile rose unbidden to his face and he felt himself straighten up. Although his stomach had started doing flips at the sight of the angel, he felt calmer than he had a moment before. Thank you, he finished his prayer.
Aziraphale looked flustered and uncertain and perhaps a bit out of breath. He had needed to first distract and then outrun Cassiel to make his way here; the bread in his basket wasn’t even warm, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. Aziraphale’s eye skittered across the crowd, hoping to find the reason why he’d tried so hard to ditch Cassiel.
The Salon had come to a screeching halt when he entered, which only served to fluster Aziraphale more. He cleared his throat and held up the basket in his arms. “I brought snacks?” Then Aziraphale’s eyes found Raphael’s; they locked gazes for the briefest of moments before Aziraphale broke away, the blush rising in his cheeks and a small smile on his face. A keen observer would have also noticed a faint pink hue now present on Raphael’s cheeks.
A sharp snap resounded across the Garden. Fifty pairs of eyes moved from Aziraphale to Helel, who looked as though she’d caught the jewel thief in the act. “You,” she hissed, dropping the two halves of her stick onto the ground along with her friendly pretenses.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to respond with the words “yes, well, I’m usually late, aren’t I?”, but they died on his tongue. Helel was shaking with misdirected rage.
“How dare you interrupt!” she howled. “You weren’t even invited!”
Aziraphale’s eyes shot back to Raphael, clearly frightened of Helel. Raphael shook off enough of his stupor to realize someone needed to intervene. “Helel,” he said as he stood, pulling the attention of all fifty-two pairs of eyes. “You invited every angel at the announcement, including Aziraphale.”
The look on Helel’s face resembled the look one might have if they’d accidentally swallowed a pipe bomb, which had detonated in their stomach, and were trying to keep the smoke from leaking out of their mouth. She took inhaled a sharp breath, then smiled at Raphael with only her mouth. “Well. I suppose you are correct, Raphael.” His full name felt bulky leaving her mouth, but his shocked look was worth it.
Helel turned to face Aziraphale once again and gestured at him. “Since you’re here, Aziraphale, why don’t you share with us your opinion on Free Will?”
Aziraphale’s mouth opened and closed once more; he felt the weight of everyone’s gaze on him and wished the ground would swallow him. “I, oh! Well, you see -” he fumbled.
In all honesty, Aziraphale had been given no time to ponder the question, and now found himself needing to think quite quickly on his feet. “I think that it’s quite a good thing,” he finally managed to blurt out. Regret, which had been circling for quite some time, finally parked itself in the middle of his face, spreading out to take up as many of his features as possible.
Helel leaned forward. “Oh, you do, do you?”
“I… yes, actually,” the angel continued, unsure where his mouth would take him next. “I suppose it will be a… a nice change of pace, if you will.” He laughed nervously. “God won’t know what’s coming next!” He glanced at Raphael again, an uncomfortable smile still plastered on his face. Raphael met his gaze with what could only be described as a loving smile and held it for a moment longer than necessary, easing Aziraphale’s smile into more comfortable territory. Something in the back of Aziraphale’s mind was far too pleased to see Raphael had enjoyed his terrible joke.
Helel snorted, giving Aziraphale a split-second of hope that his joke had landed. “God always knows what’s coming next; nothing happens in the universe without Her say. It wouldn’t be the Ineffable Plan otherwise.”
“Maybe up until now,” Aziraphale agreed, looking to Raphael again. The Archangel nodded, urging him on. “But these humans are going to be something completely new; who’s to say that She’ll have the same plan for them?” The longer he talked, the more confident Aziraphale became in his opinion. “The Metatron did say there was going to be a test, so maybe they’ll have to choose between a right and wrong choice?”
A few of the angels in the crowd began to nod their heads, spurring Aziraphale even further. He was beginning to feel comfortable in front of the group; the prolonged eye contact with Raphael was going to his head, causing his mind to drift from the topic at hand. Thoughts of sitting under the willow tree with the Archangel surfaced in Aziraphale’s mind, causing him to blush again. Unconsciously, he reached for his braid - it was decidedly less neat than when Raphael had done it, but it had become Aziraphale’s new favorite way to get his hair out of the way.
“But,” Helel interjected, “if God puts both choices there already knowing which one they’ll choose, then their choice isn’t their choice. It couldn’t be right or wrong - it’s just the only move.”
“You’re still assuming God has a plan,” Raphael interjected, looking away from Aziraphale to Helel.
Helel whipped around. “Of course She has a plan, Raphael. She always has a plan.” Helel had been holding fast to this belief; if she lost that, then there was no reason God had stopped communicating with her. Other than a dislike of her… no, no; it had to be predetermined. “And if there’s a plan, then how can they really choose anything? God’s just… putting the blame on them for events which were always going to happen.”
“What if,” Raphael began to think out loud. “What if the big things are always going to happen, like you said? But they’re more like, like…” The metaphor eluded him.
“A waterfall in a river?” Aziraphale offered.
Raphael beamed at the angel, causing him to blush again. “Yes! And the humans can make their choices, like the flow of water in the river, but the big drops will always be there, unavoidable regardless of what they’ve done before. They can make choices, but there will always be tests set out for them.”
To her credit, Helel took a moment to think about this - it was a fair point. “So if the small choices don’t matter,” she finally said, “then what choices would?”
“Well,” Aziraphale cut in, “there’s that new emotion the Metatron mentioned - love?” Aziraphale tried to sound cavalier when he said love, but his slight hesitation before getting the word out spoke volumes. “I’d imagine the… well, the human’s choice about who to love would be a pretty big decision.” He couldn’t look at Raphael anymore; his chest felt like it might explode if he looked up and saw Raphael smiling at him again.
Helel looked confused. “If that’s a big choice, then would God choose their partners for them?”
“I - oh. No,” Aziraphale faltered. “I don’t think -”
“Love seems like it’s tied to Free Will,” Raphael cut in. “So I would guess that they would have to make the choice for it to be trulylove.” The ache was back in Raphael’s chest, urging him to catch Aziraphale’s gaze again by any means necessary. He sent one more prayer out to God.
Aziraphale looked back up, staring straight at Raphael. “Like a fork in the river,” he said. “But all rivers lead to the ocean.”
“You’d still go over waterfalls -”
“Just not the same ones.”
The angels stared at one another, lost in the same thought.
Helel had always been described as keen; she had been making notes of the red cheeks and longing stares flying across the Garden for the better part of the conversation, and she was sick of it.
Much like the ache of longing in Raphael’s chest when he went without Aziraphale’s company, Helel was experiencing an ache of loss all her own. Watching Aziraphale and Raphael finish each other’s sentences reminded her of how close she usedto be with the Almighty, and it was all too much for her.
“You thinklove will be enough to prove Free Will is a good idea?” Helel scoffed, breaking the silence. “You’re even dumber than I thought, Aziraphale.”
The words came out angrier than she’d intended, but she couldn’t back down now. She didn’t recognize the angel she’d become, the words coming out of her mouth, but she couldn’t see any other way around it: everyone else was getting what shouldhave been given to her. Love, affection, Free Will - and NONE of them deserved it. If she, the oldest and most loyal Archangel, wasn’t good enough to warrant any of these gifts from God, then there was no way anyone else was.
“Helel,” Raphael started in a threatening tone, causing Helel to bristle.
She looked initially at Raphael, but watched his eyes flick to Aziraphale for a moment. Anger flared in her stomach, and she shifted her gaze to Aziraphale. Suddenly, she longed to bring the angel down a few pegs; what had begun as a small spark of jealousy in her stomach had matured into full-blown loathing, and had climbed its way up from her stomach to perch in her brain. With a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, she looked back at Raphael. “I think you’re right, Raph - he might not be able to keep up with you,” she said offhandedly.
Helel’s words found their mark with a small gasp. Aziraphale had spent the last few weeks learning to deflect physical blows; emotionally speaking, he was still soft. But she had Raphael’s full attention, even though she could also hear the cracks propagating in their friendship.
The smile, now cold, reached her eyes. Helel spun back to Aziraphale, comfortable now that she had full control of the situation.
“Let me ask you a question, Aziraphale: what would you do if you had Free Will?”
The angel stuttered again, uncomfortable and unable to answer the question. The seed of doubt Helel had planted once again had shattered Aziraphale’s confidence. The weight of the eyes on him felt too heavy and he crumpled.
“I’ll tell you what I’d do,” Helel, said, ignoring the internal conflict she’d created. “I’d choose to make things better - no more questions unanswered, no ignoring prayers. And none of this ‘Ineffable Plan’ anymore; I’d tell everyone what we’re doing because you ALL deserve to KNOW!” Her breath was coming faster now, the whirlwind of emotions inside of her pushing the words out. “And none of this Humanity First stuff - WE were here first, so WE should get Free Will!” Helel huffed with the effort of coherently relaying her ideas to the crowd - she had been feeling these things for a while, but had never voiced any of these thoughts aloud. She’d always had a good reason to stay silent in the past, but now that God had cut her off completely…? Maybe it was time for a bit of a disruption in leadership.
The salon was uncomfortably quiet, unsure as to how to react to Helel’s anger. A cough came from the back of the group. Raphael stood to dismiss the Salon, removing the attention from Helel. It wasn’t until the Salon had begun to break into smaller groups that Raphael turned his full attention back to Helel “Helel,” he asked, coldness in his voice. “You’re not saying what I think you’re saying?”
As the Archangels stared at each other, Helel felt her anger leave her. “I… I’m…”
He leaned in to Helel’s ear. “Because that would be insubordination.”
At that moment, the door to the Garden burst open to reveal Cassiel, looking pained. She briefly apologized for the interruption, before her eyes fell on Aziraphale.
She half-ran over to Aziraphale’s side. “There you are! I’ve been looking - no, actually, we don’t have time. We have to get back to the Armory before -”
Aziraphale took a half second he didn’t have to look back at Raphael, who was busy with Helel and her potential mutiny. He turned back to Cassiel, he was unpleasantly surprised to find the Archangel Michael was now standing next to them.
“This is not where you’re supposed to be, Aziraphale,” Michael said plainly. “You’re supposed to be at the Armory.”
“I, well, you see,” Aziraphale blustered, finally gesturing at the basket in his hands. “I made snacks.”
Michael looked offended at the idea of snacks and snapped Aziraphale’s performance review into existence. “Aziraphale, you were doing so well before this,” she tisked. “I’m afraid this is Strike 1.” A large “X” appeared on the paper before it snapped out of existence again. “I expect to see you in the Armory post-haste, Aziraphale. God’s glory be with you all.” And she was gone.
The crowd of angels, which had begun to stand before Michael’s appearance, now began to disperse, though somewhat reluctantly. Cassiel ran into the Garden, grabbed Aziraphale’s hand, and whisked him away before he could make eye contact with Raphael again.
After some time, once Aziraphale and Raphael and many other angels had left the Garden, a timid angel by the name of Gadreel approached Helel.
“Excuse me, Archangel Helel?” she asked.
Helel looked up at her. “What?” she asked back, bluntly.
“I… well, a few of us really enjoyed your talk today and we were hoping to ask you a few more questions about the bit at the end.”
“The humans loving each other?”
“N-no,” Gadreel moved closer. “The bit about angels having Free Will,” she whispered. “Your plan…?”
Helel sat up straight. She didn’t know that would strike a chord with other angels. “Why?”
A small grimace passed over Gadreel’s otherwise pleasant features. “Not all of us feel like… God’s attention is well spread out amongst Heaven.” She looked at Helel hopefully. “But until today, I never thought an Archangel would feel the same way.”
Helel smiled at him, feeling the spark of kinship light in her chest for the first time in a long time. “I would…” she paused, mulling over her words carefully. “I would love to talk to you,” she settled on. “Shall we?”
1 Metaphorically, of course. [return to text]
2 That someone, of course, being God. [return to text]
3 Not necessarily a fault of Raphael’s; anger was a relatively new emotion, introduced during this phase of the Ineffable Plan. [return to text]
4 When the fear and worry stopped coursing through his veins, Aziraphale would be quite pleased that he was able to outrun Cassiel. [return to text]
5 Though, if he were to be a bit hyperbolic about it, anything less than a millenia would have felt too short to Raphael. [return to text]
6 When he could find a moment alone, he’d braid a flower into the end of his braid. [return to text]
7 The worst offence in Heaven, punishable by three eternities of dusting in the Library. [return to text]
Chapter 14: CHAPTER TEN- LET'S GET READY TO RUMBLE
Hey team, we're back! I am so sorry for the delay (which I know I keep saying, but it's still true), but this chapter is real long to make up for it. I hope you all enjoy, and thanks for sticking with it <3 :) Thank you for all your comments and kudos - I love each and every one of you :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As far as places to hold a quiet conversation go, the middle of a battlefield isn’t ideal. It is, however, a wonderful place to hold a private conversation, much like a raucous party is the most intimate of venues.
Aziraphale was not holding a private conversation; to the contrary, he was busy holding his own against Cassiel, and he’d been nearly losing for almost five minutes now - a new record for him.
Raphael stood unnoticed by Aziraphale in the wings of the fighting arena, pretending to listen to a conversation between Gabriel and Sandalphon. There was an uncomfortable ache in his chest that pulsed every time Aziraphale swung his sword.
“- but what exactly qualifies a star to have a habitable planet?” Sandalphon asked. He also didn’t particularly care about the conversation at hand, but, much like the modern-day businessman, he was willing to have conversations that bored him to tears if a promotion was on the line.
“Jeez, Sandalphon, asking the hard questions,” Gabriel ribbed, giving him a punch on the arm that was intended to look playful. “I haven’t heard if She wants to populate any of the ones that do meet the criteria. I mean, come on - humanity is enough of a logistical nightmare; you really want more planets to worry about?” Not only would that mean overtime for Gabriel in the Sacristy, but it would undoubtedly double (if not triple) his paperwork load. His head hurt just thinking about it.
“Oh, so there aregoing more sentient species eventually?” Sandalphon asked, rubbing his arm. Truth be told, he quite enjoyed paperwork.
“I don’t know,” Gabriel snapped, playful demeanor gone. “I told you - I haven’t heard anything definitive from Above.”
Gabriel’s outburst effectively ended the conversation, which allowed Raphael to focus his full attention on Aziraphale’s match. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: with a wild swing, Aziraphale caught Cassiel off guard, knocking her off kilter. Seeing his opening, Aziraphale lunged forward and tagged her in the side with the flat side of his sword. The match was won!
For a moment, Cassiel considered breaking out into a gleeful smile. She was growing fonder of Aziraphale the longer they were paired together, and enjoyed seeing him improve the longer they were paired together. Unfortunately, her smile was squashed by an untold amount of training; instead, she nodded tersely, acknowledging Aziraphale’s win, and then both angels reset to begin Match Two.
Raphael could see the tension in Aziraphale’s shoulders, dimly noticing his shoulders appeared more sculpted. In fact, Raphael realized, Aziraphale seemed altogether less soft; the ache in Raphael’s chest burned hotter.
Aziraphale’s tension stemmed from his now almost constant anxiety about how well he was performing at any given moment. With one accidental exception, he’d been receiving only negative reinforcement from the upper echelon of Heaven; as a result, he was positive any one of his mistakes would be his last in Heaven.
It certainly had been a while since they’d seen one another. Upon arriving at the Armory after the last Salon, Aziraphale had received a secondary scolding, harsher than the first, during which he’d been assigned 1000 laps around the track and 200 shifts of cleaning the Aviary. In a move that surprised no one, he’d finished the cleaning first. The Aviary had never been so clean.
Cassiel won Match Two, which only served to worry Aziraphale all the more.
The one piece of positive feedback Aziraphale had received had been overheard as he’d been chugging through his 546th lap around the track. He’d been alone when he began his run, so was taken by surprise when Michael’s voice floated across the track and into his ears. He had just enough time to hide behind a tree before Michael and Gabriel rounded the corner. As luck would have it, they paused to take a break nearby to Aziraphale’s hiding spot.
“I hear Aziraphale is doing well,” Gabriel huffed, stretching down to his toes.
“He is” Michael agreed, beginning a stretch of her own. Aziraphale’s heart jumped tiredly, too exhausted to give anything more than a small wahoo.
Michael straightened back up, brow furrowed. “No recent escape attempts?”
“Jeez, Michael!” Gabriel laughed nervously. “We’re not holding him prisoner! He has been a surprisinglygood angel, all on his own.”
Michael looked around, then moved closer to Gabriel. Aziraphale wanted to peek out from his hiding spot to hear more, but knew the Archangels would see him if he moved. All he caught of Michael’s question was a name: Raphael. His heart leapt involuntarily, putting a little more effort into it this time, jumping a little bit higher. His anxiety was half a lap behind him and unable to chastise him properly.
Gabriel shrugged his shoulders and responded at full volume. “I haven’t heard him talk about Aziraphale at all; I think he’s decided it was all too much trouble.”
Gabriel’s words had the unintended effect of spurring on Aziraphale’s anxiety, which rounded the last corner of the track and crashed into the angel at full speed. His knees gave out, sending him sliding down the tree and onto the ground.
He lay there, allowed his anxiety gave him a proper talking-to, and remained there for a long while. After a time, the Celestial Horn sounded and Cassiel appeared in front of him to inform him they needed to be in the Armory. He followed her, assuming the pain in his chest would go away eventually.
It was close, but Aziraphale won Match Three, throwing Cassiel to the ground with a well-timed shoulder check. She jumped up from the dirt and pulled Aziraphale into a hug.
“You did it!” she shouted, shaking him by the shoulders. “Oh, Aziraphale!”
Aziraphale gave her a wide smile. Maybe he was improving!
“I think that’s twenty fights you’ve won, Aziraphale!” Cassiel shook him again. “You can move up the Bracket!”
His smile slid off of his face and into the dirt. He looked across the field to the Bracket, and numbly watched his name move from the top of the bottom-most tier to the bottom of the second-lowest tier, and immediately realized two things: 1) he was getting better, moving away from the possibility that he’d be thrown out of Heaven, and 2) he was now going to thrown around a lot more. He’d just gotten used to winning fights; he wasn’t particularly thrilled to start losing them again.
While Aziraphale grappled with these thoughts, a singular, absurd thought spawned in Raphael’s brain.
“God’s glory, Gabriel, Sandalphon,” Raphael abruptly left the other two Archangels, who had been discussing the benefits of people on multiple planets, and made his way to the Bracket. While he stared at Aziraphale’s name moving up to the next tier, the crazy idea in his head began to take on a tangible shape.
Raphael had moved across the field so quietly that his presence startled the angel who was updating the Bracket. “Oh, Archangel Raphael!” he squeaked.
Raphael smiled distractedly in the angel’s general direction, still lost in thought. “Didn’t mean to startle you; just wanted to get a closer look at the Bracket.” Aziraphale was up against an angel named Ramuel, so by Raphael’s calculations, even assuming Aziraphale lost every one of his next matches, he’d only need to throw… six fights.
“Excuse me, Archangel Raphael?” the angel updating the board interrupted his train of thought, “May I ask you a question?”
Raphael looked at the angel, finally recognizing him - Ariel. “I apologize, Ariel; how may I help you?”
“I - you’re friends with Archangel Helel, right?”
Whatever question he was expecting, it certainly wasn’t this one. “Yes, why do you ask?” I believe we’re friends still, at any rate.
A serene smile broke out on Ariel’s face. “Oh, well I - I haven’t met her yet, but I’m really excited to go to her next Salon - she has such a… a way of speaking the truth.”
Alarm bells began to ring quietly in Raphael’s head as Ariel had started speaking, but Raphael was unable to figure out why. He’d heard all of this praise about Helel’s Salons before, but this sounded… reverent? Angels should only sound that reverent about God. And he was completely unaware that the next Salon had been planned.
“Right, the next Salon,” he agreed, feeling the need to tread carefully.
Ariel took a step closer to Raphael and whispered his next sentence almost conspiratorially. “Will you let her know that more of us believe her than she knows?” The reverence in Ariel’s voice only increased as he spoke, and the cacophony of alarms in Raphael’s head rose to meet it. “And tell her that we’re all ready to stand behind her, when the time comes.”
The last of Raphael’s caution dissipated, replaced by full-blown alarm. “I - what?”
Ariel’s eyes narrowed for a moment before he smiled again. “Oh, of course. I understand,” he nodded. “Just let her know!” He began to move past the Archangel to leave. As he did so, Raphael swore he heard “May her glory be with you,” but there was an extra syllable after “her”.
A shiver ran down his spine.
The horn for the next battle sounded, and Raphael shook his head. He could figure it out later when he had time. First, to bring himself down a few pegs.
Aziraphale had been half correct: he won his first two battles in the newer bracket. The first had been called in his favor when his opponent didn’t show up, and the second had been against Azazel, who had refused point blank to make eye contact with Aziraphale. The battle had been called a draw, which Azazel had immediately given to Aziraphale.
Unfortunately, Aziraphale lost the next fight, going up against an angel who seemed to enjoy fighting much more than Aziraphale ever would. The next three fights were the same; by the end of his sixth fight, he had bruises rising on each major limb, a welt on his head, and a few smarting fingers. He put his head in his hands, praying for some end to the losing streak.
“Well, well, well - look who I’m up against,” a familiar voice called.
Aziraphale’s head snapped up along with his heart. Standing in front of him, plain as day, was Raphael.
“W-what?” Aziraphale managed. His heart was beating too fast and he didn’t know where to look. He fought to keep a smile from raising the corners of his lips, but his losing streak continued.
“We’re up against one another,” Raphael smiled broadly at Aziraphale. The Archangel’s heart was also hammering, beating out a samba in his chest.
Fear reached up in Aziraphale, grabbed a hold of his joy, and began to strangle it with Gabriel’s words. “N-no, there must be a mistake,” he fussed. He looked over to the Bracket and saw his name next to the Archangel’s in the second-lowest tier.
“No mistake - this was carefully chosen.”
Aziraphale’s breath caught in his chest; not in a comfortable, pleasantly surprised way, but in a shocked and worried way. He wanted to ask, to clarify what Raphael meant, but the second battle horn sounded, signalling the start of Match One.
They circled one another, unsure who would make the first move. For a moment, the battles around them did their job, allowing them to go unnoticed and speak freely. Aziraphale felt words bubble in his throat that had both no right and every right to be said.
“Your footwork’s improved,” Raphael commented offhandedly; his smile was beginning to irritate Aziraphale. “Harder to knock you off balance.”
“What are you doing?” Aziraphale hissed, looking over the Archangel’s shoulder. Blessedly, MIchael was busy talking with Uriel. “You shouldn’t be here,” he snapped. With me.
“I told you, Azirpahale,” Raphael said, savoring each syllable of the angel’s name. “This was carefully chosen.”
Shock and surprise played out across Aziraphale’s face as he put the pieces together.
"You threw your fights?”
Raphael raised his eyebrows, acknowledging the question, before lunging forward. The speed of Raphael’s attacks would have taken even the most seasoned fighter by surprise; on top of that, Aziraphale was distracted by the entire pretense of their fight. Yet, miraculously, and with an impressive speed of his own, Aziraphale stepped out of Raphael’s way without thinking, turning to face him with sword at the ready.
When the angels made eye contact again, Raphael had a cheeky grin on his face. It made Aziraphale’s heart beat uncomfortably, but not altogether unwelcomely, in his chest.
“I never said that,” Raphael joked, lunging forward again. He pulled his sword to the left at the last minute, missing Aziraphale by an inch.
Aziraphale took a step back, disengaging from combat. “I-I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. Fear had definitively won out over the joy he’d felt previously at the sight of Raphael, and was now taking a victory lap around his facial features.
“Aziraphale,” Raphael stepped closer to him, far closer than he needed to, closing the gap between them and re-engaging Aziraphale in the fight. “You could never hurt me.”
The words, though spoken softly, rang through Aziraphale’s body louder than any of the shield-beating or battle cries around them. As he stared into Raphael’s golden eyes, his desires clashed abruptly with his fear - for a moment, he was unsure which one would win.
Out of the corner of his eye, Aziraphale saw Michael was no longer distracted and was instead paying close attention to the two of them. Fear surged forward, taking control of Aziraphale and drowning Aziraphale’s desires in a shallow puddle of concern.
“You don’t know that,” Aziraphale said quietly, eyes still locked on Michael.
The whoosh of Raphael’s sword swinging at him brought Aziraphale back to the fight. He managed to raise his shield in time to deflect the blow, pushing back against the incoming blow. This took Raphael off guard, and the Archangel staggered back a step or two.
Aziraphale lunged forward, and, to the shock of everyone including Aziraphale, the sword made contact with Raphael’s side.
Raphael looked down to his side, surprised. “Well!” He looked back up at Aziraphale, smile unwavering. “Well done, Aziraphale! I suppose I underestimated you,” he stepped back into firmer footing, holding his sword out to Aziraphale. “But the next point won’t be so easy, angel.”
The first point hadn’t exactly been easy ! Aziraphale thought. He swallowed hard, then brought his sword up to match Raphael’s. Raphael rocked forward a bit, sliding his blade down to the hilt of Aziraphale’s sword before returning to center; they had a moment to lock eyes before Raphael took the first swing.
It was clear Raphael was the superior fighter; if one were to unfavorably describe the battle, it was like watching a cat playing with a mouse, batting it back and forth, sure of the eventual outcome. He dueled like he did almost anything else - effortlessly and with an air of confidence that would have made him insufferable if he weren’t incredibly likable.
Parrying his blows made Aziraphale’s arms feel like jelly.
But he didsuccessfully parry every attack.
Unnoticed by both celestial beings, the fights around them began to die off. For the angels interested in fighting, it wasn’t every day you got to see an Archangel fight; the rest of the onlookers stayed to watch because nearly every angel knew who these two were by this point .
Raphael wasn’t drawing the fight out to be cruel - he hadn’t counted on Aziraphale scoring the first point . Fighting Aziraphale made it clear that he had improved, and was more than capable of holding his own now. Raphael felt a swell of pride every time the angel successfully dodged or parried one of his attacks.
Out of the corner of his eye, Raphael noticed Gabriel watching with disapproving grimace and that Sandalphon had vanished. As long as the fight continued, he realized, they were safe.
After one particularly vicious strike from Raphael, which Aziraphale had only managed to dodge by rolling to the side, a realization occurred to the Archangel.
“Aziraphale,” he said, giving the angel enough time to get back on his feet. “You need to fight back!”
Aziraphale huffed as he returned to his initial defensive stance, sword out and at the ready. “No,” he said defiantly. He may have felt like a battle was being waged inside of him, but he could at least stop himself from making Raphael a casualty of his conflicted feelings.
“You have to!” Raphael lunged out again, this time telegraphing his attack for Aziraphale, who was able to catch his sword and throw him back.
“Or what?!” Aziraphale asked, suddenly angry. During his internal struggle, his fear had clear-cut a path to his control center, which now was wide open for anger to take control.
“Aziraphale, you know the rules!”
There were, of course, rules to all of the fights in Heaven . All angels learned the 10 rules during their first lesson of Fight School. This came right before learning how to hold a sword, but after introductions. The specific rule Raphael was referencing stated: If thine enemy doth not strike out at thee, thy sword must be stayed. If Aziraphale refused to fight, not only would the fight be over, but the game would be over as well, automatically scored as a draw. The Archangel’s plan would be ruined.
Aziraphale clenched and unclenched his free hand trying to alleviate some of his excess frustration, trying to process it before he did something rash.
A second, perhaps crazier idea occurred to Raphael.
“Fine!” he spat. Moving at full speed, Raphael ducked around Aziraphale’s block and slashed his side with the sword, winning the second round and tying their scores.
A cheer went up from the crowd gathered around Raphael and Aziraphale, who suddenly realized they’d become a spectacle. Aziraphale felt numb shock radiate out from where he’d been slashed by the sword, and felt his anger start to abate.
The Archangel stepped back to Aziraphale, once again too close, and grabbed him by the wrist. The grip was strong, holding the angel in place for a moment.
“Aziraphale,” he said harshly. “If you want to throw away the only chance you have to see me, fine.” They looked into one another’s eyes for a moment; Aziraphale prayed his heartbeat wasn’t as loud as it seemed in his ears.
“But if you throw this chance away,” Raphael continued, “I’ll know you don’t care.”
Aziraphale sucked in a breath. “... What?!” Anger that had started to recede suddenly surged inside Aziraphale again.
“You heard me.” He pushed Aziraphale away. If he’d kept the angel close for another moment, the apology tumbling around his mouth would have found its way out, and the game would have been up.
The gears in Aziraphale’s brain were turning at high speed, but no answers were found. Sadness flashed through him, causing his knees to tremble, threatening to send him to the ground. Looking up, he saw the crowd of angels staring back at him - Michael, Gabriel, and now Raphael, all looking like strangers through the tears welling in his eyes.
At once, all of Aziraphale’s emotions metastasized into a blinding rage. “How. Dare.You?” The words came out quiet, but furious. Aziraphale tightened his grip on his sword, and prepared himself.
Raphael looked up, joy splashing across his face for the briefest of moments. It had worked! “How dare I what?” Raphael asked, feigning innocence.
Aziraphale felt his stomach wrench. Fury and anguish whispered a dizzying harmony in his ear: He’s mocking you - see his smile? He doesn’t care about you anymore.
With a cry, Aziraphale leapt forward and swung at Raphael, starting their third and final match.
The angel was right and properly angry, a true sight to behold. His eyes and halo glowed with rage. His swings were wild and erratic; several swings came closer to clocking Raphael in the head than he would ever admit.
Aziraphale gritted his teeth and barreled forward, shoulder checking Rapahel, who turned the push into a roll away from the fight. By the time he was back on his feet, Aziraphale was there, bearing down on him again, eyes watery.
Raphael felt a pang of something he couldn’t identify - it was uncomfortable and made him want to give up the game entirely. Flashes of a thought sprinted through Raphael’s mind; he needed to end the fight - this was all wrong.
On the next wild swing from Aziraphale, Raphael tangled his sword with Aziraphale’s and ripped the sword from the angel’s hand.
Time seemed to slow as the sword fell; Raphael had enough time to register that a tear had broken free of one of Aziraphale’s eyes. As soon as the sword touched the dirt, the Third Match was over. Raphael had won.
Aziraphale failed to see it that way.
Raphael to offered his hand to the angel, still unsure as to whether he was about to congratulate Aziraphale or apologize to him. Aziraphale considered both of these options, threw them out the window, and chose a third option: he lunged forward and tackled Raphael to the ground. The Archangel barely had a moment to say “Wha-?” before the air was knocked out of him. The fight was, apparently, not concluded.
While Aziraphale had surprise on his side, Raphael was still the better fighter. They tussled in the dirt, exchanging who was on top, until Raphael managed to pin Aziraphale to the ground.
“Aziraphale, stop!” Raphael hissed, locking one of Aziraphale’s arms behind his back. The crowd had edged closer to them, converging on the angels; they had become the definition of a spectacle.
Aziraphale kicked ineffectively, now desperate for Raphael to get off of him. He could feel the heat and weight of Raphael’s body; in another place, at a different time, he would have welcomed the sensation. At this particular time and place, all he could think was not here.
“Get OFF!” Aziraphale shouted.
Raphael stepped off of him and offered his hand once more. Aziraphale ignored it and pushed himself up unassisted.
“I’m fine,” he said quietly.
They stared at one another for a moment - a painful, long moment in which Raphael realized he had made a massive mistake. The awful pang came back, stronger than ever, threatening him with tears and bringing a sincere apology to his lips. Once again, he swallowed his feelings; this was not the place for sincerity or weakness. He’d already played a majority of his hand in fighting Aziraphale, and clearlythat had gone according to plan.
An awful thought suddenly occurred to Aziraphale. “No,” he whispered to himself, breaking away from Raphael. “No, no, please no.” He stuck his hand into the pocket of his uniform, where his thought was confirmed.
Gingerly and ever so gently, he pulled his hand out of his pocket. He opened his hand to reveal the snake Raphael had gifted him a lifetime ago, crushed during their impromptu wrestling match. He wiggled his hand slightly; the snake didn’t move.
“Oh,” was all Aziraphale said. His sadness came back, crashing into him with unexpected force and washing the anger away. He felt hollow. His ears rang.
Raphael made a move towards him, hand still outstretched. “Aziraphale, let me -.”
“NO.” Aziraphale took a step away from the Archangel, clutching the snake to his chest. He shook his head; tears were falling freely, visible to Raphael and the rest of the tightly-packed crowd around them. “You-you’ve done enough.” He sniffled and took another step away, looking for a way out.
Raphael tried once last time, stepping closer to the angel. He wanted to say that he could fix this with a snap of his fingers. Well, he could fix the snake with a snap of his fingers; he wasn’t entirely sure he could fix the other issue so easily.
Before he could close the distance, Gabriel appeared between them.
“Raphael, what are you playing at?” Gabriel hissed through a plastered smile, placing a hand on Raphael’s shoulder. His eyes darted behind Raphael, surveying the crowd.
“Fighting the angel I was assigned to fight.” His eyes darted to Aziraphale, who was trying to decide if it would be less embarrassing to remain where he was, with countless eyes on him, or to run.
The angel looked up for a moment, mouth open as if to say something; when his eyes met Raphael’s again, he appeared to reconsider, and made his choice. Keeping his head down and snake close to his chest, Aziraphale pushed through the crowd. It didn’t part as readily as he would have liked, but he lost himself in the throng soon enough.
“Oh, jeez,” Gabriel said, following Raphael’s gaze, smile faltering. His grip tightened on Raphael’s shoulder. “You and I both know -”
“What” Raphael was getting antsy; he watched Aziraphale slip away into the crowd. His stomach hurt. “ What do we bothknow, Gabriel?”
Gabriel pulled him in closer. “You planned this. You’d never be paired up to fight Aziraphale.” His hand squeezed Raphael’s shoulder to the point of pain. “Leave. Him. Alone. Do you not care about -”
“Banishment?” Raphael cut him off, shaking his head. “That’s fine by me,” Raphael responded faster than he intended.
Gabriel’s mouth dropped open; his hand loosened its grip on Raphael’s shoulder. “W-what?” he stammered.
“I wouldn’t want to stay here without him,” Raphael interrupted again. “It wouldn’t… it wouldn’t be Heaven anymore.”
“You can’t -”
“I do.” Taking a deep breath, Raphael fully extended his wings, knocking intruding angels out of the way. With a defiant swoop, he lifted himself into the air by a few feet, but was stopped short by a hand grabbing the edge of his uniform.
He looked down to see Gabriel, gripping onto him for dear life. “Raphael, don’t,” he pleaded. There was a strange mixture of fury and sadness on his face.
The pang in his stomach came back, tinged with sadness. “Gabriel,” he said, reaching down for her hand, “You should know better than anyone - there is nothing you can do or say that will stop me.” His words had the desired effect, allowing him to pry the hand off of his hem. Then he was gone.
1 His previous best was a solid 3 minutes and 25 seconds. [return to text]
2 Aziraphale had this effect on most beings, angelic, demonic, or otherwise. [return to text]
3 Michael saw this as a good thing.[return to text]
4 Angels have no bodily functions, but they do drop quite a few feathers. [return to text]
5 While Gabriel had been correct that Raphael hadn’t talked about Aziraphale in weeks, he had been incorrect about the Archangel’s reasoning: Raphael was simply biding his time.[return to text]
6 Raphael would never forget one of his own creations. [return to text]
7 The physical injuries were healed between each round, but the feeling of receiving the injury is half of the pain. [return to text]
8 If Aziraphale felt the same way about fighting as he did about cooking, he would be the best fighter Heaven had ever seen. [return to text]
9 All of them. [return to text]
10 Raphael was feeling guilt; interestingly enough, this was not the first instance of that feeling in Heaven. [return to text]
Chapter 15: CHAPTER ELEVEN - THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS
Ohhhh, I hope y'all enjoy this chapter - it's my favorite so far and I tried so hard to make it as soft as possible :D <3
Like always, thank you so much to saygeronimo for being my lovely beta, and I love all of your for reading/commenting/leaving kudos.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It took Raphael nearly an hour to find Aziraphale. It was as though Heaven itself was conspiring against him to make the angel harder to find; looking on the bright side, Raphael now had plenty of time to contemplate what he would say to Aziraphale once he was found. Infinite permutations of I’m sorry floated through the Archangel’s head as he searched, but none of them felt like the right combination of words. Not that it would matter if he couldn’t find Aziraphale, though. One crisis at a time.
After his third visit to the Kitchen, much to the annoyance of Haniel, Raphael sat down in the hallway of Heaven, leaning back against the wall. Fine, he thought miserably, if Aziraphale doesn’t want to be found, I’ll stop looking for him. He gave up.
Just as he did so, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something move - the door to Janitorial had opened a few inches, seemingly of its own accord.
Raphael scrambled over to the door on his hands and knees. Looking through the crack, he recognized Aziraphale and let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding: there he was. He had the door handle in his grasp, prepared to throw the door open in elation, but something stopped him. Aziraphale was hunched over, curled up, hugging himself. He’d made himself so small.
Raphael’s stomach sank. You did this, he admonished sternly. Look at what you’ve done to him.
The Archangel’s joy went out of him at once. No, this is all wrong, he thought to himself. He let go of the door handle, figuring Aziraphale would find him when, or if, he was ready to talk. Raphael turned to leave.
Unbeknownst to Raphael, Aziraphale had set a large broom against the door while he had been clearing out a space to sit in the closet. Though the angel had not heard Raphael at the door, the movement of the door handle had been enough to disturb the broom’s precarious stasis against the door.
The broom slid down the door, scraping wood against wood as it fell, and landed on the floor with a resounding BOOM.
Aziraphale’s head whipped up to see Raphael grimacing at the broom’s betrayal. “Oh,” was all he said.
Raphael looked up from the traitorous cleaning appliance and met Aziraphale’s gaze. “Hi.”
They stood there for an uncomfortable amount of time. Neither one of them was sure where to look, so they settled for looking at the broom.
“Didn’t realize it was there,” Raphael eventually mumbled. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s no trouble,” Aziraphale said automatically. “I - well - actually - it’s -”
“Can I come in?” Raphael cut him off. When Aziraphale didn’t respond immediately, Raphael crouched to pick up the broom on the floor. “To put this away,” he clarified. “You should always clean up the messes you make.” He snuck a glance at Aziraphale; the angel’s eyes were clouded and unsure. Raphael couldn’t read him at all.
Aziraphale sniffed once, then gave a sideways nod, as if to say well, go on then .
Raphael gave him a small smile and stepped into the Janitorial closet. The door snapped shut behind him, the door closer performing its job for the first time in five minutes.
They were alone.
The Janitorial closet was, by far, the smallest room in Heaven, seeing as most messes could be cleaned with a snap of an angel’s fingers. There had never been a Janitor in Heaven, as far as most angels were aware, so Janitorial’s main function was as a storage place for items no one knew what to do with, but didn’t want to get in trouble for throwing away. It fit one angel comfortably; two was pushing it, and three would have been far too many.
Perhaps, previously, this would have been a welcome respite for both Raphael and Aziraphale, affording them a quiet place to themselves that no one would ever think to look in. Now, however, it made both of them incredibly uncomfortable.
Raphael held the broom in both hands, looking everywhere except at the angel in front of him.
They both began to speak at the same time.
“I think -” Aziraphale said.
“I wanted to -” Raphael said.
They both stopped, looking at one another for another uncomfortable moment. Aziraphale sniffed again.
“You first,” Raphael said, vaguely gesturing towards Aziraphale with the stick end of the broom.
Aziraphale shook his head. “No, you go ahead.”
“Angel, really,” Raphael smiled softly. “What were you going to say?” He felt his lengthy apology clawing its way up his throat and wanted to give Aziraphale the chance to speak before it took over the conversation.
“No, no, I insist,” Aziraphale responded, with a small smile of his own.
“Aziraphale!” Raphael snapped, tired of the effort it was taking to keep his apology at bay. The smile dropped off of Aziraphale’s face as quickly as it had bloomed. He averted his gaze.
The Archangel sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Aziraphale,” he tried again, softer this time. “I want to hear what you have to say.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale sniffed again. “Erm, I was going to say,” he gestured to an open space on a rack next to him, populated with other brooms, “that I think the broom goes over here.”
“Oh.” Raphael had forgotten about the broom. “Right.” He moved across the small space in a step and a half, turning to face the rack at the last moment, moving as quickly as possible; he hoped the angel wouldn’t notice his shaking hands. Raphael was acutely aware of his body in proximity to Aziraphale’s; something inside him longed to reach across the small gap between them and take Aziraphale’s hand. It was almost uncomfortable to be this close to the angel, not because he didn’t want to be this close, but because he felt unable to get any closer.
There was certainly room for Aziraphale to shrink back against the wall of the closet. He could have moved to make it easier for Raphael to put the broom away, but he didn’t. Inches of air separated them as Raphael set the broom down in its proper place. Aziraphale inhaled sharply, breathing Raphael in; for a moment, his mind flashed back to when he’d been pinned to the ground. He hadn’t had time to think about it in the moment, but that was the closest they’d ever been; now that they’d crossed that line - now that he knew how warm, how soft, the angel felt, his body yearned to be as close to Raphael as it could manage.
Raphael looked back at Aziraphale when the broom was placed, locking eyes once more.
His apology clawed up his throat, desperate to be said, but Raphael swallowed it again. This didn’t feel like the right time.
Aziraphale’s knees threatened to give out from the excitement.
They gazed at one another. The words they left unsaid could have filled a book.
Raphael moved first, nodding and stepping back. “Well, I,” he stumbled. “I’ll - well, I’ll leave you be.” He turned away, knowing that this was perhaps the largest mistake he’d ever made, but he continued to make it. Why was he walking away?
He made it all the way to the door, handle turned, but unable to open the door, before his internal debate became too loud to ignore. He paused for a moment. Apologize! he screamed at himself. That’s what you came here to do: say sorry. His stomach turned as he thought about breaking the silence.
“Raphael,” Aziraphale blessedly beat him to the punch. “Wait.”
The Archangel turned back to Aziraphale, letting the door handle go. The door remained closed.
“I - I’m -” Aziraphale’s nerve wavered as he stared into Raphael’s eyes. “What were you going to say?”
“Earlier, when I interrupted you. What were you going to say?”
“Oh,” Raphael smiled softly. “I was going to – I didn’t mean to –” The words that had been so ready to jump out of his mouth a second ago had suddenly retreated into the depths of his brain. “I’m…” He sighed and ran a hand over his face. Why is this so hard? Just say it.
“Do you still have the snake?” he asked, entirely avoiding the sentence.
Aziraphale sniffed a few times in quick succession and gave a small nod. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the lifeless creature, cupping it gently in both hands.
Raphael crossed the room once more, meeting Aziraphale in the middle. “May I -?” He held his hands just under Aziraphale’s, still not touching, but close enough.
Aziraphale looked at him hard for a second. Then he nodded again.
Raphael placed one of his hands on the underside of Aziraphale’s cupped hands and covered the snake with his other, desperately trying to ignore the jolt that ran from his hand to his stomach when he touched Aziraphale. He bowed his head, repeating the life-giving prayer under his breath. When the prayer was completed, he inverted their hands so the lifeless snake fell into his palm. Removing his hand from the bottom of the stack, Raphael brought the snake up to his mouth. He touched his lips to the snake, administering the Kiss of Life, willing it back into existence.
He then pulled his lips away and held his hands out in supplication to Aziraphale.
For a moment, nothing happened. Raphael gave it a small nudge with a finger. Come on, he begged the snake.
Then, slowly but surely, the snake began to move again until it was wriggling freely, as though nothing had ever happened.
A genuine smile broke out across Aziraphale’s face and he looked at the snake in wonder. “Oh! Oh - thank you!” He brought his hands down to Raphael’s allowing the snake to slither its way onto Aziraphale’s palms. It wrapped itself around one of the angel’s fingers and stuck its tongue out at Raphael.
“Of course, Aziraphale. It was my fault in the first place.”
Aziraphale looked up at the Archangel, surprised. “I was the one that tackled you,” he smiled sheepishly.
“You took me by surprise, too.” Raphael’s smile grew to match Aziraphale’s; he allowed himself to revel in the first thing he’d done right all day.
Aziraphale’s smile had started a fire in his stomach, and Raphael felt the apology from earlier bubbling back up, fleeing from the hot emotion that had taken root in his stomach. He sighed and let the apology come out. “Aziraphale, I’m sorry. The things I said earlier - I was just trying to get you to fight me. T-the longer we fought, the longer you could stay with me and I just…” He trailed off, unsure as to whether he was ready to say the next bit of the sentence.
On a whim, driven partially by the newly reborn snake and partially by the strange, aching need to be closer, Aziraphale reached across and grabbed Raphael’s hand, giving it a light squeeze of encouragement. “Just what?” Aziraphale prompted.
Raphael looked down at his hand in surprise. “I -” He looked up, met the angel’s encouraging gaze, then immediately looked away. “I just wanted you to stay with me,” he smiled at their clasped hands. “But I did it all wrong. I - I just wanted to be close to you.” He squeezed Aziraphale’s hand in return. “That’s all I want,” he continued, finally feeling brave enough to look up at Aziraphale. The words were out there; what could a glance hurt? “To be close to you.” There was more he wanted to say, but he had said enough to quell the fire inside of him for a moment.
The seconds seemed to stretch out in the time between Raphael’s sentence ending and Aziraphale’s reaction; the angel had gone back to being unreadable.
In truth, Aziraphale wanted to say something, to tell Raphael how he felt, and that their feelings were uncannily similar. Aziraphale wanted to tell him that the only time he stopped worrying so much was when the Archangel was present. Unfortunately, he found himself unable to talk at all.
Instead, he found an alternative. He moved his hand inside of Raphael’s grasp slowly, lacing his fingers in between Raphael’s. The touch felt both foreign and comfortable, intimate and perhaps daring. Aziraphale couldn’t believe they’d never done this before. He ran his thumb gently over the back of Raphael’s hand. That’ll have to do.
Raphael looked back down at their hands, now intertwined, with wonder; he marveled at how warm the angel’s hand was. “Oh, Aziraphale,” he breathed like a prayer in a silent church. Without analyzing his movements or considering as to how Aziraphale might react, he lifted their clasped hands and pressed his lips lightly to the back of Aziraphale’s hand.
Aziraphale felt a jolt of electricity run through him, starting from Raphael’s lips on the back of his hand, setting every neuron in his body on fire. His mind was, perhaps for the first time, completely blank, save for a singular thought that he could not fully understand: that’s not where kisses go . Aziraphale realized that although this was far closer to Raphael than he’d ever been before, it still didn’t feel close enough. A small amount of anxiety wormed its way into his mind to chastise him for wanting more than he could have. Why isn’t this enough?
When Raphael looked up at the angel, he smiled serenely.
“Raphael, I’m - I’m sorry,” Aziraphale spluttered unexpectedly. He wasn’t sure what, precisely, he was apologizing for, but he was sure there were plenty of things to choose from.
The Archangel’s laugh was genuine, short, and perhaps a bit incredulous. “You’re sorry?” He tugged lightly on Aziraphale’s hand, pulling the angel closer to him. Their chests were nearly touching and Aziraphale was positive that if they both took a deep breath at the same time, that gap would be closed. The thought simultaneously thrilled and terrified him.
“Oh, Aziraphale,” Raphael smiled as he brushed a strand of hair out of Aziraphale’s eyes. “You have nothing to apologize for!”
“No, but I do! If-If, earlier, or ever really - if I had been braver, or-or not as soft , we - well, you wouldn’t have to - I mean, Gabriel said -”
Raphael had intended to say something along the lines of “Oh Aziraphale, I like how soft you are,” but when Gabriel’s name passed through Aziraphale’s lips, he stiffened. His smile flickered. “What did Gabriel say?” The words came out harsher than he’d intended.
Aziraphale was struck by the terrible thought that he’d ruined the moment. “He said that you, well, y-you thought I was too much trouble.” Their hands were still entwined and Aziraphale felt the urge to grab Raphael’s other hand. To get closer and to never let him go. “Because,” he clarified, trying to push the distracting thought from his head, “well, because you hadn’t mentioned me at all and he thought -”
"Aziraphale,” Raphael interrupted, shoulders relaxing and smile returning to his face, “why would I mention you to him anymore? He’s been trying to keep us apart.” As if reading Aziraphale’s mind, Raphael reached out and took the angel’s other hand. “It doesn’t mean I ever stopped thinking about you.”
“I - what?” Aziraphale cognitive skills were heavily impaired by the new source of physical contact between them. “No, but I thought it was my fault you couldn’t be around me! They said that I’m not a… not a good enough angel.”
“Just because you don’t meet their definition of ‘good’ angel doesn’t mean that you’re not good, Aziraphale.”
The small ball of frustration Aziraphale constantly held with him uncoiled itself unexpectedly and struck. “Then whose definition am I supposed to meet?” He didn’t know how to make Raphael - good, pure, perfect Archangel Raphael - understand. “Because if I don’t meet Heaven’s standard, then what am I? Because I can’t be an angel then! They’ll -” he swallowed hard before continuing in a whisper. “- banish me from Heaven. And if you’re with me, you could be banished too.” His heart hurt.
Raphael sighed and squeezed both of his hands. He was quiet for a long moment, which felt like an eternity to Aziraphale; the angel was now worried that he hadn’t just ruined the moment, he’d crushed it into oblivion. He’d pointed out his flaws to the one angel who hadn’t seen them before. What if that was all it would take for Raphael to turn away and leave him?
The Archangel leaned down and rested his forehead against Aziraphale’s, softly, gently, and Aziraphale’s thoughts stopped.
“At least we’d be together,” Raphael said slowly. He’d thought these thoughts many times - every time they’d been separated - but saying this to Aziraphale was more difficult than he anticipated.
Aziraphale’s, initially all-consumed by the sensation of their foreheads touching and the ache in his chest that still wanted more, finally finished processing Raphael’s statement, causing him to pull away in surprise. “What?” he breathed.
“Aziraphale, now that I know you, and now that I know the way you make me feel is a possibility, I can’t go back to a life without you. And if Heaven’s going to try to keep us apart, then I don’t think any of this,” Raphael let go of one of Aziraphale’s hands and gestured around the small closet, “is my Heaven anymore.” He brought his free hand to the side of Aziraphale’s face. “This is.”
The angel’s mouth dropped open as he realized Raphael meant him. Oh, he thought, oh, my. He leaned his face into the hand cupping his cheek; Raphael’s hand was warm and soft and, oh, the way Raphael’s thumb brushed along his cheek felt so careful, so reverent, so loving. Aziraphale shuddered at the word; whether it was from pleasure or fear, he couldn’t be sure.
“If you or I are banished from Heaven,” Raphael continued even softer, “then so be it. The Universe is getting bigger and bigger every day; there are plenty of places for us to go.”
“J-just you and me?” Aziraphale asked.
Raphael smiled, brushing his thumb against Aziraphale’s cheek again. “I’d go anywhere, as long as you were with me.”
Aziraphale had quite an expansive imagination, but even he was unable to think of a life outside of Heaven. Perhaps it was due to the fact that currently, there was no life outside of Heaven. Or perhaps, and this was far more likely, it was due to the fact that he had never in his wildest dreams imagined that Raphael, the Archangel Raphael, would follow him if he was banished.
A wave of anxiety began to build inside Aziraphale. “I-I couldn’t ask you to do that,” he stuttered. Raphael opened his mouth to protest, but Aziraphale carried on. “I know I didn’t ask you to do that, but - oh, Raphael, are you sure?” Once again, Raphael tried to butt in, to offer a resounding Yes, but Aziraphale was lost to the wave, building higher and higher. “Because you couldn’t really know - I mean, what if you get sick of me?
“Or, or what if they come looking for us?” It was as though Aziraphale’s mouth no longer belonged to him; words sprung from his lips without making the requisite pass through his brain for editing. “What if we can’t survive outside of Heaven? Earth wasn’t built for the angels, so who’s to say the rest of the Universe is built for us?” He wanted to wring his hands, but Raphael held fast to the one he held. Instead, Aziraphale squeezed Raphael’s hands. Raphael squeezed back.
“What if we run out of things to talk about? Eternity is a long time, and there are only so many topics in the Universe to discuss.” He gasped. “What if we disagree? What if we have an argument so large that you leave? What if one of us dies?”
“Aziraphale,” Raphael said soothingly, finally finding purchase in the conversation. “First of all, I don’t think angels can die, so we’re safe there.” He moved his hand to the back of Aziraphale’s neck and pulled his head in, resting their foreheads together again. “As for the rest of your worries, we can handle them when, or rather if they ever come up.” He opened his mouth to say more, to say “I’d only leave you if I was forced to,” but Aziraphale beat him to the punch.
“Not that I necessarily think any of those things would necessarily happen,” Aziraphale said, pulling back and shaking his head. “But we’re not even really discussing the point.”
“Oh, we’re not?”
Aziraphale felt as though he might fly apart into a billion pieces. He looked up into Raphael’s eyes; kind, golden eyes that conveyed both patience and a small amount of mirth at Aziraphale’s worried rambling.
“I - I don’t know if I can leave,” he whispered. “I’m... I’m not brave, like you.” He tried to laugh, but it sounded more like air escaping from a punctured pool float. “I must have I missed the day when you were handing out servings of bravery; I should have been first in line.”
A thought occurred to Raphael, perhaps the strangest of the afternoon, and he moved his hand to cup Aziraphale’s jaw bone. “Then let me give you some.”
He leaned in to Aziraphale, pressing his lips to Aziraphale’s lips. The angel went stiff for a moment, unsure what they were doing and how to react.
It should be noted: up until this point, kisses had one purpose in Heaven - they were given as Kisses of Life, animating both creatures and angels alike. All angels started out as notes on a scroll; this scroll would be passed along to the Giver of Life, who would study the scroll and commit the defining traits of the angel in question to memory. When the angel’s form was complete, the Giver of Life would administer the Kiss of Life, while focusing on the angel’s most prevalent traits, allowing them to fill in the rest. The process was nearly foolproof and Raphael was very good at his job. However, he had never tried to administer the Kiss of Life to a being that was already alive, and therefore, was unsure as to whether or not this process would actually work. But something inside of him desperately wanted to try.
Raphael tried to keep his thoughts focused, like he had with the snake and so many times before. He tried to focus on making Aziraphale braver, but his mind kept wandering, giving into his other senses. The moment their lips touched, his heart leapt into action, thumping against his chest as though it wanted to break free. He was dimly aware that his hand had moved from Aziraphale’s neck into his hair, tangling himself in the angel’s curly hair. A thought floated up: I’ll have to rebraid that , and he smiled against Aziraphale’s lips.
After the initial shock passed and Aziraphale realized this was where kisses go, he leaned into the kiss. He gently placed a hand on Raphael’s chest, feeling the Archangel’s heart beating rapidly, pace matching his own. Raphael placed his other hand lightly on Aziraphale’s waist and pulled the angel closer, their hips touched, and Aziraphale felt himself let go of all of his worries.
It was Heaven.
Too soon, they broke apart, ending the kiss but not the embrace. Raphael rested his forehead on Aziraphale’s once more; he felt both too warm and too cold at the same time, and he let out a small chuckle. Neither one could stop smiling.
“Oh,” Aziraphale breathed. When he got his wits about him again, he put together a follow-up question. “Raphael?”
“I,” Aziraphale faltered for only a moment, looking up at the Archangel. “I don’t know if I feel any braver.” Between the smile and blush in Aziraphale’s cheeks, Raphael thought he looked positively angelic.
“No.” The blush in Aziraphale’s cheeks deepened as he continued. “Will -” His smile became coy. “- will you try again? Just to be sure?”
Raphael grinned. “It would be my pleasure.” He leaned down to kiss Aziraphale again. He would not have been able to say whether he did this out of entirely selfish motivations or only partially selfish motivations, but he did it regardless.
Before Raphael could make contact with Aziraphale’s lips, however, the Janitorial door flung open, momentarily blinding both celestial beings.
“I’ll get it!” The intruding angel made it two steps into the closet and bumped into the pair of angels.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “Wha -?
It was Ariel.
“Angel Ariel, good to see you again,” Raphael answered quickly. He turned to face the angel, but did not let go of Aziraphale’s hand.
Ariel’s eyes narrowed. “What are you doing in here?” He looked to Aziraphale, who had gone very white and was shaking again. “And what is he doing here?” The way Ariel referred to Aziraphale made him feel very small.
“We were spending time together,” Raphael explained plainly.
Ariel’s eyes shot back to Raphael. “Why?”
“Because we’re -” Raphael faltered for the word. He did not know what word to ascribe to their relationship, since “partners” referred to strictly working relationships and saying “in love” felt far too quick. So instead, he said “- friends.”
The temperature in the closet dropped.
Ariel shook his head. “I have to tell Helel about this. This is…” he took a step out towards the door, still shaking his head. “She needs to know.”
“Ariel -” Raphael tried, but the angel was gone, leaving the door open as he ran down the hallway. Raphael snapped his fingers to close the door.
If someone had asked Aziraphale whether or not he wanted to remain in Heaven at this very moment, his answer would have been a resounding “NO ”. He would have perhaps added a few swears as well, if they had been available to him.
Aziraphale looked at the Archangel, more terrified than he’d ever been. “Raphael, who was that?” He certainly did not feel any braver; if anything, he felt as though he was standing at the edge of a precipice. “Why is he going to tell Helel?”
“I - that was Ariel.” Raphael turned away from Aziraphale, running a hand through his hair. “He’s an angel I made. He’s been going to Helel’s salons and…”
Suddenly, several puzzle pieces slotted into place in Raphael’s brain. He heard snippets of conversations replay in his head: Helel telling him he clearly preferred rebellious angels, the other Archangels plotting to keep them apart, Ariel’s surreptitious comments at the fighting ring, and he knew. Something was about to happen, something big.
“Helel’s planning something,” he said under his breath.
Raphael ran his hand down his face, surprised he hadn’t seen it before - he had been rather distracted of late. He turned towards the door, still distracted. “I need to talk to her - I think there’s still time.”
“I’m…” Raphael wished he had a better answer for the frightened angel, but he didn’t. “I’m not entirely sure, but I think - no, I know Helel’s planning something. Something big. There are angels - like Ariel - that believe more in her than in God. You heard her at the last Salon: she believes we’re more important than Humanity is. And, if I’m correct, she’s been planning it for a while, but I was distracted with all of this,” he gestured between the two of them, “which is exactly what she wanted. She kept us apart, through Gabriel and all the other angels.”
“How is that possible?” Aziraphale asked, aghast. “Why would she want that?”
Raphael moved his hands to grasp Aziraphale’s and grasped them very hard. “I need you to promise me something, Aziraphale.” Aziraphale nodded. “Please don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you.” The angel nodded again.
A wistful smile spread across Raphael’s face. “Helel was always the special one - she was the first angel created by God Herself. She’s is God’s right-hand angel. Or, she was.
“The last time she and I spoke about it, Helel said that not only was she no longer hearing God’s voice, but God wasn’t even answering her prayers. It was as though God no longer cared to listen to her. As though God no longer loved her.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to say “God loves every angel!” but stopped himself short. How would he feel if Raphael never spoke to him again? All at once, he understood.
“God used to confide in Helel, told her everything, including most of the Ineffable Plan. No other angel has access to that information - not even me. Then, one day, without warning, She cut Helel off and never spoke to her again.
“On top of that,” Raphael continued, pulling a face, “I stopped spending time with her so that I could spend time with you. I - I think she feels alone. Abandoned.”
He turned back to Aziraphale and put a hand on top of the angel’s. “I think if I apologize for not spending enough time with her, and then everything will be fine.” He lifted Aziraphale’s hand and gave it another kiss. “I can fix this,” he promised with more confidence than he felt. “Trust me.”
Aziraphale, who felt very much more unsure about his place in the universe than he had ten minutes ago, nodded. Was this bravery? Doing something even though you didn’t want to? “I-I trust you.” There was more he wanted to say; he longed to replace trust with a different word, but the sentence was already out and gone before he realized what that word was.
Raphael put a hand on Aziraphale’s cheek. “Aziraphale, I -” There were words he wanted to say, three very specific words in a very specific order, unknowingly mirroring the sentence Aziraphale wanted to say. But the sentence was shiny and new, having never been said before; as a result, the sentence was shy. Ah, Raphael reasoned, he knows. Instead, he asked: “Where’d the snake go?”
Aziraphale, who was not expecting that question, let alone a question at all, took a second to remember where he’d put the small creature. At some point, it had ended up back in his pocket. He reached in and handed the snake to Raphael.
“I’ll go put him back in the Gardens, and then I’ll meet you in the Observatory. We can pick out a place to go, just the two of us.” He stroked the angel’s cheek one more time.
And then he was gone, taking Aziraphale’s heart with him.
Helel found herself in a place she didn’t expect - the Observatory. She hadn’t been here since Heaven had first been constructed. She hadn’t necessarily intended to come here, but instead had willed her way to Gabriel, who was hunched over his desk and hadn’t noticed her sudden appearance.
“I love what you’ve done with the place,” she drawled, walking over to Raphael’s desk.
“Jeez!” Gabriel jumped and turned around. “Helel?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”
Helel traced her finger down a stack of papers on Raphael’s desk. “Do you remember that conversation we had a while back, Gabe?” she asked, looking over to Gabriel.
“Which - was it about Raphael?” he guessed; that was the only reason he and Helel talked to one another anymore.
She nodded, moving onto a second stack of papers. It was clear she was looking for something, but hadn’t found it yet. “Do you remember what I said about keeping him away from the angel?”
His nose crinkled in disgust. “That if we didn’t, Raphael could be banished from Heaven?”
“Exactly.” She tugged on a piece of paper, pulling it from the stack, sending the rest of the papers flooding over the desk and onto the floor; she held up the paper for Gabriel to see.
It was the plans for Alpha Centauri.
“You,” Helel began to speak, “ haven’t been doing your job, Gabriel .” As she spoke, her voice began to harmonize with itself, until it felt like the entire room was speaking to Gabriel. The edges of the plan began to smoke.
“What are you talking about?” Gabriel asked innocently, knowing full well that she was correct.
Helel shook the plan at him in response, and he cringed.
Gabriel swallowed hard. “I’ve tried,” he insisted. “But every time we do something, they just find their way back together! It feels like… I don’t know, like God wants them together?”
Gabriel’s desk exploded.
“DON’T PRETEND TO KNOW THE INEFFABLE PLAN, ARCHANGEL GABRIEL,” Helel screamed, all six wings snapping open, eyes appearing along her arms and face. She was glowing white-hot with anger, becoming increasingly more difficult to look at. Papers fell off of the walls and a window exploded as their surroundings tried to keep up with the intensity of the Archangel’s voice. “YOU KNOW NOTHING OF GOD’S PLAN! ”
Gabriel threw up his hands, protecting his head. He waited for a moment to see if Helel wanted a response from him. Maybe, he hoped, this will all blow over.
Helel sighed, reigning in her anger. “Fortunately for you,” she continued in her regular voice. “I have a plan that will put an end to this once and for all.” Gabriel removed his arms from his face to see Helel looking perfectly normal; the only evidence of her loss of control existed in the scorch mark on the floor and the papers on the floor.
She ripped the plan for Alpha Centauri in half, taking care to tear the scroll directly in half, and handed half to Gabriel. Writing appeared all over the page, detailing Helel’s final plan.
Gabriel’s face went white as he read. “This is extreme,” he finally said in a low voice.
“They’ve crossed a line, so the punishment needs to fit the crime,”
“Jeez, the fight?” Gabriel asked. They’d made a spectacle of themselves, but Gabriel didn’t think it was that different than usual.
“No,” Helel shook her head. “I have it on good authority that they locked themselves in the Janitorial closet together. Who knows what they were doing! But when my source walked in on them, they attacked the poor, defenseless angel.”
Gabriel’s eyebrows crinkled; that didn’t sound like either one of the angels; in truth, the story sounded more like something Helel would do. He had enough sense not to say this aloud. “But even if what they did was wrong, this is…” he searched for the word. “Bad.”
Helel tutted softly. “You’re thinking about it all wrong, Gabe - think about it like this instead: you’re doing something that could be considered to be bad for the greater good.”
Gabriel considered this for a half a second before finding another point to take issue with. “You’re asking me to lie. Angels can’t lie.”
Helel scoffed. “I’m asking you to keep Aziraphale busy while I have a discussion with Raphael.” She squeezed Gabriel’s shoulder hard, digging her fingernails into the space between his collarbone and shoulder, causing him to fall onto his knees in pain. “I need that angel to keep his nose out of business that doesn’t concern him.
Gabriel took stock of precisely where he was and how little he could do to change his situation; he was unaccustomed to having no power in a conversation. He looked up at Helel, though she hardly resembled the angel he used to know. She looked crazed and wild - not like an Archangel at all. And the things he’d been hearing through Heaven’s newly discovered grapevine about her and her Salons? No, he was not in a very powerful position at all, and he realized he wouldn’t make it out of whatever was about to happen unscathed; that fate had been sealed the very first time he had agreed to keep Raphael and Aziraphale apart.
Gabriel looked back down at the scroll in his hand, then back up to Helel. “I - I’m not even sure I can do this anymore. N-not the plan!” he immediately clarified, “I just - I haven’t done this in so long, that I -” He tried to get up, but Helel held him in place.
“That’s not my problem; you'll do what you’re told. And if you fail again,” she squeezed harder, causing Gabriel to gasp in pain. “I can promise you that banishment will look like a walk in the park compared to what I’ll do to you. Understood?”
Gabriel nodded immediately.
“Good!” Helel pulled Gabriel up by the scruff of his neck.
“I’m so glad we could come to an understanding Gabe,” she said jovially, clapping a hand on his shoulder. The friendly gesture emphasized the grip she’d had on him a moment ago. “I like being on the same side. You’re such a good friend.”
Then she was gone, leaving Gabriel to think about just how much his job meant to him.
1 In fairness, he had been concerned the first time Raphael had barged in, but had become increasingly more annoyed as the Archangel continued to interrupt. [return to text]
2 Sometimes, in the grand scope of things, it’s better for things to perform their job badly. [return to text]
3 By this point, “Janitorial” had become synonymous with “Storage”. [return to text]
4 He smelled like a cool breeze on a summer day, the first taste of dessert, the first breath of home after being away. [return to text]
5 And they have. [return to text]
6 While the prayer did not need to be said aloud, verbalized prayers are generally stronger, and Raphael wanted to make sure the prayer worked. [return to text]
7 As evidenced by both his cooking skills and ability to think of the worst case scenarios for all manner of situations. [return to text]
8 What Aziraphale failed to understand, and would not understand until much, much later is that bravery requires a certain amount of terror to be considered bravery. If he were not afraid, it would not be a brave act to do the terrifying thing anyway. [return to text]
9 It should also be noted: this is the first recorded instance of a romantic kiss between two beings, even if they themselves did not realize it at the time. [return to text]
10 He trusted Raphael; it was the rest of Heaven he trusted about as far as he could throw them. [return to text]
Chapter 16: CHAPTER TWELVE - SALON THE FINAL
Hey team! We're almost to the Big Happening, and this chapter is the most lead-up-y I've done yet - I hope y'all enjoy this chapter!
A huge thanks to everyone who's read, commented, and left kudos - I love and appreciate each one of you :) And thanks (again) to my lovely beta, saygeronimo :) <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale had every intention to go to the Observatory - that’s where he had been told to go, so, that was where he should go. However, he reasoned as he left the confines of the Janitorial closet, he had no idea how long Raphael would be. If he went straight to the Observatory and Raphael wasn’t there, there was a very good chance Gabriel would come sauntering into a room that, admittedly, he had more right to be in than Aziraphale did, and he would catch the angel loitering. Aziraphale knew he would more than likely fold at Gabriel’s first question, so he decided to take the scenic route.
He hadn’t been into the Kitchens in a very long time, and was surprised to find the room completely empty when he walked in. “Haniel?” he called hopefully. There was no response.
There was a small lump covered by a towel sitting on the counter top. Aziraphale lifted the towel and realized it was a small ball of dough, forgotten when the shift changed, no doubt. The angel smiled warmly at the bread, remembering fondly when his days had been centered around this simple thing - kneading and baking and creating. This final thought turned his nostalgia a bit sour, and his smile faltered.
“Well,” Aziraphale said to no one in particular, shaking off the thoughts. “It’s the least I could do, I suppose.” He rolled up his sleeves, sprinkled some flour on the counter top, and got to work.
On the whole, Aziraphale realized, the Kitchen seemed far more organized than it had been while he had worked there. Haniel had reorganized, but he was still able to find a few of his favorite add-in. Though, considering what he’d been able to find - cinnamon sticks, an apple, and garlic - he was stumped at first as to what he should make.
In the end, he decided to split the ball of dough half: the cinnamon and pieces of the apple were folded into the first, and crushed garlic was folded into the second.
After the manna was in the oven, Aziraphale began to clean the Kitchen, returning it to the state he’d found it in, quietly humming to himself. Aziraphale did not sing often - he sang when it was required of him to do so, but it was not something he typically did of his own volition. Joy, though, has a way of expressing itself, and so, without realizing it, Aziraphale sang.
He also took a moment to think. A small part of him was excited to see Haniel again; they hadn’t spoken since he’d been reassigned, which felt like a lifetime ago. Haniel had begrudgingly accepted the angel’s presence in the Kitchen, which had initially put Aziraphale off, but since being forced to interact with several other less-friendly groups in Heaven, Aziraphale had come to understand that that begrudging acceptance was rare for him to find. With a start, Aziraphale realized Haniel was probably one of his closest friends.
Another, less comfortable realization followed hot on the first one’s heels: Raphael had called him a friend. Just a friend. Which placed him on the same level as Helel. That felt wrong to him somehow. Aziraphale felt far closer to Raphael than to any other being, perhaps only second to God Herself, and Aziraphale would never call God his friend. No, he was sure that friend was the wrong work; he simply didn’t know what the right word was.
The timer for the oven went off and Aziraphale shook his head. “I’ll talk to Raphael when I see him later,” Aziraphale said, bending down to take the tray out of the oven.
“Talk to him about what?” a voice responded.
Aziraphale jumped, but by some miracle, he managed to keep a hold of the tray. No, he prayed, looking up over the counter top. His prayer went unanswered.
“Helel!” he exclaimed, unceremoniously dropping the tray onto the counter. “What are you doing here?”
The Archangel stood a comfortable distance away from Aziraphale, smiling at him. Her smile did nothing to put Aziraphale at ease; on the contrary, it seemed as though its sole purpose was to make him uneasy. It succeeded. Aziraphale’s eyes flicked between Helel and the door, and he realized with a shiver that she was positioned directly in the center of his escape route.
“I was looking for you, Az,” she said. Her voice sounded friendly, jovial even, which felt uncomfortably out of sync with her frozen smile. Aziraphale shivered again.
Internally, Aziraphale cursed himself. >Heshouldn’t be here, and she knew he shouldn’t be here. Yet, here he was. He had been caught. Helel was likely here, standing in his way, to keep him here while the other Archangels finished up his Banishment paperwork. “W-why?” he asked.
Helel took a step forward, her movements vaguely reminiscent of a tiger, closing in on the angel. Aziraphale had never before been struck with the desire to run anywhere, but he now found himself wishing for the chance to, to put as much distance between himself and Helel as possible.
He shook his head to clear it of the anxiety-driven thought, but it stayed annoyingly stuck at the forefront of his mind.
“What are you doing?” she asked, holding her unnerving smile.
Waiting for banishment, I suppose. “I - I’m making manna.”
She tilted her head, face morphing into a mask of confusion. “Why?” The angle of her head was slightly too severe. His desire to run came back stronger.
“I -” he began, but Helel cut him off by taking another step forward, causing Aziraphale to flinch away involuntarily. Something about the whole situation was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
“Oh, Zira, are you alright?” She certainly looked concerned, and she sounded concerned as well, but her head hadn’t returned to its upright position.
She could tell her plan was working.
“What’s wrong?” she asked innocently.
Aziraphale was unable to find his voice. Helel stepped closer; now the counter top was the only thing between them. The voice in the back of Aziraphale’s mind - the one that had first asked politely, then yelled at him to run - took a moment to remind him that the knives were now closer to Helel than they were to him. Then, the voice resumed its suggestion of running as far away as he could manage to. The only thing keeping him rooted to the spot was the fear that he’d evade Helel and make it out of the Kitchen, only to run directly into Gabriel standing outside. This whole thing felt like a setup, intended to banish him quietly and without alerting the rest of Heaven. And yet...
The Archangel picked up one of the pieces of manna on the counter top. Aziraphale knew from experience that the bread was far too hot to touch, but if Helel felt any pain, she gave no indication. “It has been solong since we’ve gotten any of your manna, Zir; the stuff Haniel makes is so… lackluster.” She examined the disk in her hand critically and asked, “What’s in this one?”
“Apple and cinnamon,” Aziraphale croaked.
Helel bit into it. “Could be crisper,” she spat through a mouth full of manna.
Aziraphale heard the contempt in her voice and he could see it seeping through the cracks in her smile; it had been festering for a while. The point, the one he’d been missing, suddenly became crystal clear to him; when it did, the force of the realization made his knees buckle. This isn’t about banishment.
At this point, he honestly would have taken Gabriel a thousand times over the Archangel slowly backing him into a corner.
Helel swallowed then resumed her unnerving smile. “Where do you come up with these ideas, Zir?”
Aziraphale wished he had a sword in his hand. He certainly wasn’t proficient enough to beat Helel, but perhaps the noise would alert a passerby outside. He swallowed uncomfortably. “Wh-why are you here?” he asked, hoping the question might catch her enough off her guard that she’d answer him.
Helel sighed and allowed the smile to drop off her face. She’d expected this; she’d planned for it.
She pulled out a chair at the counter and sat down, hands clasped in front of her. She then tried her best to appear concerned. “I’ve come to warn you, Az.”
“W-warn me?” he stuttered. “Warn me about what?”
She sighed again, this time achieving a concerned look. “I know you think I don’t care for you, Zira, but that’s not the case,” Helel said. “I’ve been trying to keep you and Raph apart because… well, because I’ve seen him do this,” she gestured to all of Aziraphale, “in the past, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Helel had been preparing this line of attack for some time now. She knew how anxious of an angel Aziraphale was, and knew that Aziraphale worried about his relationship with Raphael more than any other angel in Heaven, including her. And, since none of the other methods they’d used had worked, Helel figured it was well past the time to fight dirty.
Whatever Aziraphale had been expecting Helel to say, it wasn’t that. “What?” Aziraphale’s heart kicked into overdrive. No, he thought, He wouldn't.
“Raphael is fickle,” Helel continued, speaking just loud enough for Aziraphale to hear over the sudden ringing in his ears. “He might thinkhe cares for you, but I’ve seen this all before.”
Aziraphale’s mind went into a tailspin, falling down, away from the thoughts of banishment. His earlier worry of just a friend? came back with renewed vigor. “No. Y-you’re wrong,” he said in a small voice, hoping that saying it aloud would help him feel better.
It did not.
“When Gabriel was created, Raphael wouldn’t leave him alone,” Helel said, examining her fingernails; weaving lies felt so natural to her now, she was almost surprised at herself. “They were inseparable, just like you and him. Moreso, even.” Raphael and Gabriel certainly had been inseparable at the beginning, but there had only been three of them at the time, and they had paired up to resist Helel’s teasing.
She left these details out.
“Then more angels were made, and Raphael started to spend less and less time with Gabriel - he was boringcompared to the new angels. The new angels were shiny and fun and they looked up to him since he was an Archangel.” This statement was a lie for an entirely different reason than the first part of her story: Raphael, of course, had done nothing of the sort, but Helel could not say the same about herself. And it is always easier to tell a convincing lie if it is rooted in the truth.
“You’re just the latest in a long line of angels that Raphael’s taken an interest in.” Helel placed her hands on the counter top and leaned closer to Aziraphale. He didn’t flinch away from her this time - instead, his gaze was glassy and unfocused, and tears trembled at the precipice of his eyes.
Helel was positive she had him right where she wanted him, and so she went in for the kill.
“What happens when you’reno longer exciting?” she whispered. “It may not be today, but eventually, he’ll tire of you. Then, you’ll be alone.”
Aziraphale blinked, letting a tear fall; his brows were knitted together. “I -” he tried. His voice was soft. He took a shuddering breath.
Then the angel did something unexpected. He looked up and met Helel’s stare. “I don’t believe you.” His voice was still small and unsure, but his shoulders had squared themselves against her.
If Aziraphale had said that same thing to himself once, he’d said it a thousand times. He’d even said the same to Raphael, in the form of a question, and hadn’t believed the answer he’d received. But, for some reason, hearing Helel say one of his greatest fears aloud made him realize how absurd of a worry it was. I’m not particularly exciting now, Aziraphale realized, and Raphael still enjoys being my friend. The last word - friend - buckled under the weight of Aziraphale’s feelings for Raphael, so he revised the sentence. He still enjoys being with me. That felt sturdier.
Helel felt her anger rise in an instant, but pushed it down as best she could. She pulled her unnerving smile on once again. “Aziraphale, I can’t lie,” she lied through her teeth.
Aziraphale’s face was white, and he was shaking, but regardless of his terror, he opened his mouth to contradict her. “No,” he said. “No, I’ve heard things. An-and I don’t believe you.” His voice was still soft, but there was a new intensity behind his words that surprised Helel.
The smile on Helel’s face faltered for a moment, and she shook her head slightly. “Oh?” She leaned across the counter top towards Aziraphale, smiling even wider than before. “What have you heard?”
He stared at her. She terrified him, yes, and he certainly would prefer to run screaming from the room than say what he was about to say, but she had blocked him in. Aziraphale may not have had his sword, but he refused to give her the satisfaction of going down without a fight.
“You’re a bad angel,” he said. This was a terrible accusation to make, and Aziraphale braced himself for the worst she could throw at him - a fist, for example.
Instead, Helel laughed; it was a short laugh that was more of a warning bark than it was an exclamation of joy. “Oh,” she said plainly. “Well, if that’s all.” Suddenly, she took another bite of the manna; it was a vicious bite, and she chewed with her mouth open.
“I’ve heard things too, you know,” Helel said as she chewed. “For example: I’m not sure poor Ariel will ever fully recover.”
Aziraphale’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Wha-?”
Helel cut his question off, throwing her manna onto the counter top. She leaned in closer to Aziraphale, practically laying down on the counter. “I knew you were a bad angel,” she smiled at him. “But I never thought you would attack another angel. Especially one who was completely defenseless!” She pointed an accusatory finger at him. “The healers may not be able to reverse everything you did to poor Ariel.”
“I… I didn’t even touch him!” he yelled. “That’s… you’re… that’s not true!” The angel kicked himself mentally for not expecting her to lie once again, but this level of deception was beyond anything he could have ever predicted.
“It’s not?” Helel looked at him innocently. “That’s a pity. It’s what I’ve been telling the other angels. And youknow I don’t lie.” She smiled once again, smile stretching from ear to ear.
The chant of BANISHMENT, BANISHMENT, BANISHMENT grew overwhelmingly loud in his ears, drowning out all other thoughts. He may have been able to tell when Helel was lying, but he knew the other Archangels were not nearly as perceptive.
Suddenly, and to both celestial beings surprise, anger cut through Aziraphale’s fear like a hot knife through butter. For a blessed moment, fear did not control his tongue.
“Why!?” he cried, pounding a fist on the counter top. “What did I do to you?”
Helel pushed herself up off the counter and swung her legs around to sit, facing Aziraphale. Something about him had changed - she couldn’t be sure exactly what it was, but her well-devised plans were having little to no effect on the angel.
Finally, with a shrug, she took the easiest route and said, “I just don’t like you, Az.”
Aziraphale blanched, his anger receding as quickly as it had come on. Of course he knew a number of angels in Heaven, most of them Archangels, didn’t care for him, but Helel was different. He could feel the cold waves of distain rolling off her, crashing into him with a force he had never experienced before. This kind of hatred, he knew with some amount of certainty, didn’t happen all at once. She hadn’t liked him for a while; perhaps she never had.
I shouldn’t have come here, he thought to himself, I should have followed Raphael’s instructions. Can’t be brave if you’re dead.
“But it’s more than that,” Helel continued nonchalantly, examining her fingernails. “There are plenty of angels I don’t care for, but you,” she said, tone growing more pointed. “You don’t listen. You think you know better than everyone else, but you don’t. Personally, I think Heaven would be better off without you.” She did not add that she did not know if banishment was possible - only God knew the answer to that - but the rumor mill had made it real enough to threaten Aziraphale with, and threaten she did.
“Unfortunately,” she continued, sneering at him. “Raphael thinks otherwise, and he’s fought me every step of the way.” She sighed, hopping off the counter top onto the floor. Aziraphale had backed up into the corner, but they were less than a foot apart now. “I only wanted one thing - for youto stay away from Raphael.” She was trying very hard to appear casual, but the anger radiated off of her like a heater in the dead of winter.
“Because you don’t deserve him - you’re a sorry excuse for an angel!” She wanted to hurt Aziraphale, wanted him to hurt the way she hurt. It wasn't fair that he got everything while she got nothing.
Her words hit their mark and Aziraphale was hurt by them. She could see it on his face. He crumpled in on himself like she expected him to.
But only for a moment.
Then, after taking a long, deep breath, he looked up again and met Helel’s stare. “I didn’t take him from you,” he said in a steadier voice than either one of them expected. “And I didn’t take God from you either.”
Helel’s mouth dropped open to a perfect “O” and her eyebrows shot up into the sky; it would have been comical if Aziraphale weren’t so scared. Out of all of the angels in Heaven, this one - the worst of them all - had seen her for what she was.
This made Helel absolutely furious.
“What?” she asked in a low, guttural voice.
“I-I know God hasn’t been talking to you and,” he took another deep breath. “You feel like She’s abandoned you.” Then, less sure of himself, he added, “I know how you feel.” He did know, at least to an extent, how she felt, but he was worried that by saying this, she would do something unexpected. How bad could it be? he thought as the statement left his lips.
Helel whipped her hand out and grabbed Aziraphale by the throat. With a single flap of her wings, she lifted them both off the ground, scraping Aziraphale’s head against the ceiling. Breathing was suddenly very difficult for him. He grabbed at Helel’s hand, trying to find purchase, to pry her fingers from his neck, but she was far stronger than him. The room began to swim.
“You know nothing, Aziraphale.” She squeezed harder on Aziraphale’s throat. “You are nothing.” He could no longer breathe at all. She grinned at him; through Aziraphale’s dimming vision, he was struck with the odd thought there were more teeth in her mouth than there ought to be.
She brought Aziraphale closer, dragging his feet across the counter top, to whisper in his ear. “I could kill you right now. Oh yes,” her grin grew wider, taking up the lower half of her face. “Angels canbe killed, and I know how to do it. There’s no one else here, especially not Raphael. It would be so easy.” She tightened her hand to emphasize her last word.
The edges of Aziraphale’s vision were gone - Helel’s face was all he could see. It would be the last thing he ever saw, he realized, and then noted that he was having a hard time caring. Everything felt cold.
“And when you’re gone, he won’t even remember your name.”
A cough came from behind them.
Helel immediately dropped Aziraphale and spun around. Aziraphale crashed onto the counter top, sending his carefully crafted manna, pots, and pans crashing onto the ground. He coughed and then sucked in a breath. The room stopped spinning and his vision returned.
“The Kitchen isn’t open,” said a hard voice. Aziraphale looked up to see who it was.
“Haniel,” Helel said, returning to the ground. Her smile had changed back into a normal-sized smile. “Lovely to see you.”
Haniel’s mouth was drawn in a straight line. “I said, the Kitchen isn’t open, Archangel Helel. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Oh, are you?”
“I am. But, if you’d like to intimidate me as well,” he said, withdrawing the sword at his hip halfway from its sheath. “Consider this an open invitation.” The barest hint of a smile tugged at the corner of Haniel’s mouth. “It has been a while since we dueled, Archangel Helel. I do hope you’ve improved; otherwise, this won’t be worth the effort.”
The smile dropped from Helel’s face. Then she was gone.
Aziraphale picked himself up off the counter top and slid down onto the floor. His knees were shaking, along with the rest of him, but he was alive. He took several deep breaths to celebrate this fact.
Haniel made no move to help him, instead sliding his sword back into place. With a sigh, he began to pick up some of the pans Aziraphale had overturned in his fall. He was muttering to himself under his breath.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said when he could manage words.
The Archangel nodded and miracled a glass of water into his hand. “Drink,” he said. Aziraphale did what he was told. The water helped, soothing some of the irritation in his throat.
When the Kitchen was straightened up, Haniel sat down at one of the tables across from Aziraphale. A small smile stretched across his face. “It’s good to see you,” he said warmly.
“I’m sorry I -” Aziraphale wanted to apologize for inconveniencing him, but Haniel cut him off with a shake of his head.
“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier.”
Aziraphale ran his finger around the outside of his glass and shrugged. “I said something I shouldn’t have.”
“Aziraphale,” Haniel began sternly. “Helel is not to be trifled with.”
“I know, I -”
“But,” Haniel interrupted. “You shouldn’t let her push you around.”
This floored Aziraphale for a moment and he gaped at Haniel. “What?”
Haniel sighed. “I’ve watched them push you around since your very first day in Heaven. Gabriel, Michael, Helel, Raphael,” he said, preemptively putting a hand up to stem Aziraphale’s stream of contradictions. “Yes, even him, to an extent. They’ve all told you what to do, and you’ve blindly followed their commands.”
“I had to!” Aziraphale bristled. “If I didn’t listen to them, they would have thrown me out of Heaven!”
“They were looking for an excuse, and that was what they found,” Haniel said plainly, as though he was speaking to a child.
The angel groaned and put his head in his hands. “I just wanted to be a good angel,” he said eventually.
“Aziraphale,” Haniel said, reaching across the table and putting a hand on his shoulder. “You are good. All angels are essentially good.”
“Helel’s not,” Aziraphale shot back quickly, rubbing his neck.
“I,” Haniel began very quietly, speaking to the pot in his hand instead of Aziraphale. “I’m not sure Helel’s an angel anymore.” He refused to elaborate any further on this, instead switching topics before Aziraphale could fully process what he’d said.
“You’re changing things, Aziraphale. There’s something different about you, and that scares them.” He sighed again; his eyes were looking in Aziraphale’s general direction, but they were unfocused and glassy. “Heaven is changing. It was always going to change - I don’t know the Ineffable Plan, but don’t imagine She intended Heaven to stay stagnant - and now that Humanity is coming, we’ll have competition for God’s love. They were bound to change Heaven to some degree, I just wonder if God planned for all of this.”
Haniel’s eyes darkened for a moment, and he patted the sword at his hip. “I always wondered who we were training to fight.” His eyes shifted back into focus and he looked up at Aziraphale. “We allneed to be brave, Aziraphale. This isn’t the time to have in-fighting in our ranks - that’s why you shouldn’t let her push you around.”
Aziraphale nodded dumbly, lost in thoughts of his own. A slow, sickening thought had been building in his head as Haniel talked, finishing itself as Haniel told him to be brave. There was something he could do, and it would either be very stupid or very brave, but he could tell someone what was happening. Someone who was in a far better position than him to take action.
“Haniel, I think…” Aziraphale stopped and shook his head, starting over. “I have to go. There’s something I have to go do.” He paused for a moment before saying, “Thank you for being a good friend.”
The Archangel smiled up at him - it was a true smile, marred by an eternity of weariness. “You’re always welcome here,” he said as Aziraphale made his way to the door.
Helel appeared in the Garden to find that Raphael was already there. While she wanted to talk to him, the conversation with Aziraphale had unsettled her more than she was willing to admit; how DARE he pretend to know her? They were nothing alike. No, he had to have gotten his information from some other angel, and to that end, there was only one other angel who fit the bill.
That angel was sprawled casually in the center of a small circle of angels - her angels - talking with them.
She took a deep breath to settle herself as well as she could, then she walked over to the group.
“Helel!” Raphael called in a sing-song voice, smiling as she approached. “There you are! I was looking for you.” He seemed cavalier, jovial even. Like nothing was wrong.
Oh, how she hated him in that moment.
She gave him a tight-lipped smile; it was all she could manage while holding back the flood of her true feelings. “I was looking for you as well. Though,” she extended a hand to him. “I was hoping we could speak somewhere privately?”
“Of course,” he said, not moving. “Before you showed up, we were discussing today’s Salon topic; I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you.” His warm facade slipped for a moment, golden eyes growing cold.
Helel’s smile froze on her face. They’d chosen a topic for the day? Without her? The wave of frustration and anger grew larger inside of her, and the dam began to crack.
Typically, she facilitated all Salon conversation. Typically, she was in the Garden long before the Salon began.
Typically, she wasn’t busy trying to kill another angel.
“Oh?” she asked, trying and failing to keep the anger out of her voice. She stared at the angels in the group, most of whom shrunk away from her gaze. “What have you all decided?”
Raphael was the only one to meet her incredulous stare, and he met it with an unwavering smile. “I believe we’ve decided on the topic of love.” He looked around at the group. “Right?”
A few heads nodded in agreement, though a strange sense of unease had fallen over the group. With Helel present, the loyalty of the group was split.
Raphael could sense he was losing the group’s favor, having pushed his luck as far as he could.
“Oh! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts, Raph,” Helel said coldly. She emphasized her outstretched hand. “Shall we?”
This time, he moved, pushing himself up off of the grass. He did not take her hand.
They made their way, side by side but not together, to a clearing a little ways off from the Salon where there were plenty of trees to keep out unwanted spectators. This suited them both just fine.
Raphael glanced at Helel out of the corner of his eye. At one point, he had understood her. They were, at one point, on the same side working towards the same goal. He didn’t know when that had changed, when sides had been chosen, but she no longer seemed like the angel he’d known once upon a time. That point had come and gone. And now? Now something about her scared him.
Once they were alone, she turned on him. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“What am I doing?! What are you doing?”
Helel laughed incredulously. “You think you can walk in here and talk to my angels?”
“Helel,” he said slowly. “They’re not your angels; they’re angels of Heaven. They belong to God.”
She scoffed at him. “Oh, no, you’re right. They belong to God. You and I belong to God. We all just belong to God. She can do whatever She wants with us and discard us
“Helel -” Raphael started softly, but she put up her hands.
“Those angels out there?” she spat, pointing a tense finger in the direction of the Salon. “They’ve all been ignored by God. But me? I don’t ignore ANY of them! I can give them guidance. I give them hope!” She ground her teeth in a futile attempt to keep her voice from rising.
Now it was Raphael’s turn to scoff. “They didn’t choose you - you’re usingthem!”
Helel crossed her arms. “Am I now? How so?”
“They believe more in you than they believe in God.”
Raphael felt like they were playing the same game with two entirely different rulebooks. “And that’s wrong!” he blustered. “You don’t really care about any of them - their attention is filling the void She left.”
Helel’s face turned red as Raphael’s comment struck her. “You don’t know anything,” she said quietly, looking away.
“Helel, I >know you,” Raphael took a step towards her, hoping his plan was working. “As much as you’ve…” he searched for the right word, “changed, you’re still the same angel.”
Her head snapped up in an instant, fury in her eyes. “So you’re saying I was always deserving of being abandoned?”
“What? No!” As Raphael said this, however, a small part of him thought back to the Helel he had known in the Beginning. She had been good and righteous then, to be sure, but… there had been something offabout her. She had always enjoyed pointing out other angel’s flaws, first targeting Raphael, then moving onto Gabriel when he was created. At the time, Raphael had simply refused to join her, instead choosing to shelter Gabriel from her jabs.
When it became clear the two of them would continue to oppose her, she had complained to God, saying that they were excluding her. Raphael had never known what God had really said in response, because She had already disappeared from the everyday life in Heaven; only Helel (and eventually, the Metatron) spoke directly to God.
Looking back, perhaps the rift had begun earlier than Raphael had realized; the sides were almost predetermined.
He shook his head. “No,” he said again, but this time it was half-hearted.
Tears sprang to Helel’s eyes and she blinked them away as fast as she could manage. She knew how to deal with anger, but sadness? That was more amorphous, harder to grasp; it made her weak and vulnerable. She willed it to turn into anger.
“Why is it so wrong that they’ve chosen me? Maybe if more angels choose me than Her, then She’s not fit to run Heaven,” she said quietly.
“Helel, that’s…” Raphael didn’t know what her statement qualified as - they’d left blasphemy long ago. What she was talking about was a coup.
“They shouldn’t choose you!” Raphael finally said, exasperated.
“No? Well, you’ve chosen, so why can’t they?”
This statement threw him - he still firmly believed in God. “What? I haven’t chosen anything,” but as he said this, he knew it was only a half truth. He had made a choice, it just didn’t relate to God.
He’d chosen Aziraphale.
Several things suddenly became clear to Raphael, the hidden picture stepping out from the details, becoming alarmingly visible.
“I have,” he said under his breath.
Helel’s victory screech died on her lips when she saw the expression on Raphael’s face.
“We’ve all chosen,” he continued. “How have we been able to choose if…?” He trailed off, but the question finished itself.
Helel scoffed; the noise was loud and unsteady, as though she were rejecting the idea solely because she wanted it to be improbable.
She stuttered through several ideas at once. “That’s ridiculous - you’re talking about - no, we don’t get that,” she finally said, as eloquently as she could.
His voice was barely louder than a whisper. “What if we did?”
“No!” she said, crossing her arms and shoving the idea away. “No, I would have… She would have -”
“Told you? When was the last time God told you - or any of us,” he quickly backtracked, not looking to get stuck in the same conversation loop. “What She was really planning? We talk about the Ineffable Plan, but who really knows it except Her?”
“I did…” Helel looked wistful for a moment before she shook her head. “I was asking these same questions before She stopped -” she cut herself off abruptly; the thought was too painful to finish saying aloud. “This is what I’ve been saying to my angels: maybe - maybe, for the sake of argument - She did give us Free Will, on purpose or on accident.” Her anger was building again, bringing Helel back to a more comfortable place. “But if you ask Her questions? Or offer suggestions?” She snapped her fingers. “You’re cut off. How is that fair? How does that make for a good leader?”
This question sunk into Raphael’s brain and lodged itself there. “I… I don’t know,” he responded uncomfortably. “I don’t know if they’re related, but… that would mean She’s…” he didn’t finish his sentence, but he could feel something inside him shift.
If Free Will is so great - if it lets you choose who you want to be with - why does it hurt so much? he asked himself. If She really cared about you, why would She put you through so much pain? The shifting feeling happened again, and Raphael thought for a moment he was going to be sick.
“This is besides the point, though,” Helel sighed angrily, pulling Raphael back from his internal conflict. “So you think we have Free Will because now we can choose who to believe in?”
He shook his head, the sick feeling dissipating. “I think it’s more than that - you heard the Metatron before,” he began cautiously. “The Humans will be able to love, and they’ll be able to love because they have Free Will. Therefore, you can’t have love without Free Will. Because you have to be able to choose.”
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“And if we have Free Will, then that means that angels can love one another -”
“But there are no angels that love one another,” Helel interrupted quickly; she said it more as a threat than a statement.
Raphael continued speaking over her. “- and I love Aziraphale, so there must be Free Will in Heaven.”
Their sentences finished at the same time, and they were left silently staring at one another. Raphael smiled despite himself and the situation. He’d said it aloud, and it felt like a weight was lifted off of his shoulders.
Helel’s mouth fell open as she processed what Raphael had said. “What?”
His smile grew a little bit wider. “I love Aziraphale.” He said it quietly but confidently.
You don’t love him,” Helel lied. She knew it was true; everything had been building to this. “You don’t even know what that means.”
“I do. I know that I love him, because I chooseto love him. You were right - I chose my side a long time ago, it was just never about God. I chose him.”
1 This was an entirely accurate observation; Haniel now had plenty of time to keep things tidy without the angel underfoot. [return to text]
2 Well, as innocently as she could manage. [return to text]
3 And several burns. [return to text]
4 She’d gone searching for and had found the scroll with his defining traits. [return to text]
5 Not a metaphor. [return to text]
6 This was the first true thing she had said during their entire conversation. [return to text]
7 Nine times out of ten, this statement is a bad idea to make, and nine times out of ten, God will throw the worst possible outcome at the speaker to prove Her point. [return to text]
8Gabriel had been correct when he’d said they were nearly impossible to keep apart. [return to text]
Chapter 17: CHAPTER THIRTEEN - THE FALL
Well. Here we are, the scene everyone's been waiting for (including me - I've been excited to share this scene since I started writing this fic) :D I hope y'all enjoy it (in all its angst), and thank you to everyone who's read/left kudos/left comments - I love each and every one of you :) <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The angel half walked, half ran to his destination. He weaved his way around the other angels in the hallway, pausing only for a moment when he passed the Observatory door. Was Raphael there already? Perhaps he should check, Aziraphale thought. His hand reached out for the door, but he stopped himself short; if he went in there and Raphael was there, Aziraphale knew he’d lose his resolve. No, he needed to take care of this first. Then he could worry about what he’d done.
Azirpahale came to a resolute stop in front of a room he had not been in since his first day in Heaven: the Sanctum. He took a deep breath to steel himself for whatever was about to happen and pushed open the door.
The door squeaked as the hinges rotated, alerting the Metatron to his presence. “YES?” the Metatron boomed.
“Yes, hello,” Aziraphale said, and then immediately chastised himself for sounding so timid. “Hi,” he tried again, this time louder and a bit more confident.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT, AZIRAPHALE?” The Metatron did not have a face, per se, but Aziraphale knew instinctively that they were not looking at him. Their voice sounded indescribably bored, as though they had been simply bored before Aziraphale had arrived, and now, his presence only brought with it a new level of boredom.
Aziraphale tried not to be intimidated by this.
He failed. “I, well, I thought I should tell you - and, well, everyone really -” he stuttered. He could feel the Metatron losing interest with every word that tumbled haphazardly out of his mouth.
“SPIT IT OUT, AZIRAPHALE; I DON’T HAVE AN ETERNITY TO LISTEN TO YOU BABBLE ON.”
The Metatron could, in fact, spend an eternity listening to Aziraphale babble on, but they were waiting on a Very Important Message from God. As these things go, the time spent waiting for a Very Important Message from anyone, especially the Almighty, generally draws itself out to feel twice as long as it actually is, and, as previously described, becomes indescribably boring.
If the Metatron had known a fraction more about the Ineffable Plan, they would have known that the angel Aziraphale was, in fact, the messenger of said Very Important Message.
“I’m here to tell you something important!”
The Metatron’s ears perked up. “IMPORTANT?”
Aziraphale now got the sense that the Metatron was looking directly at him, though nothing about their outward appearance had changed. “Yes, I…” he faltered, words tamped down by the pressure of the stare.
He rubbed his neck; it still throbbed from where Helel had lifted him up from the Kitchen floor - or, more accurately, tried to kill him. He had expected her to threaten him with banishment once more, but he had not expected her to try and kill him. That’s why he was here. This needed to be said.
“I think…” Another deep breath. He could feel the Metatron’s attention waning once more. “I think I would feel more comfortable speaking to God, actually. Directly,” he added as an afterthought.
The Metatron was quiet for a moment. Then it let out a loud booming noise. Aziraphale would realize much, much later this noise was a laugh.
“GOD DOES NOT SPEAK TO ANGELS,” the Metatron said. If they had a mouth, it would have been curled derisively at the corners. “ANGELS SPEAK TO ME AND I SPEAK TO GOD. THEN I TELL YOU WHAT SHE SAID; THIS IS HOW IT HAS ALWAYS WORKED AND THIS IS THE WAY IT WILL -”
“But it’s important!”
“YOU MENTIONED THAT, YES.”
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he acquiesced. “I - I think Helel is planning something terrible,” he said, letting the words tumble out of his mouth quickly and all at once.
“Archangel Helel? She’s -”
“I AM AWARE OF WHO SHE IS, AZIRAPHALE,” the Metatron sighed. “WHAT IS SHE PLANNING?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” Aziraphale said. Another sigh from the Metatron did not go unnoticed. “But! I know she’s been gathering groups of angels in the Garden.”
“THE SALONS; WE ARE AWARE OF THEM.”
“God knows??” Aziraphale cried, taken aback.
“That Helel is planning a rebellion against God!”
These words left Aziraphale’s mouth and seemed to move across the room as slowly as a knife cuts through cold butter. When the sentence reached the Metatron’s ears, it went over about as effectively as trying to spread said butter on toast.
The Metatron seemed to grow larger until they loomed over Aziraphale.
“What?” they asked in a quiet voice. Aziraphale had never heard the Metatron speak in anything less than a booming shout, and was momentarily astonished that they could speak quietly. He reeled from the notion that they chose to yell all the time.
Then he got around to the far more pressing concern of why they had spoken quietly: they sounded scared.
“How do you know this?” they asked.
“I, well, Raphael really figured out most of it, but,” he showed off the rapidly forming bruises on his neck. “She tried to kill me. And she’s been telling angels that she’s a better leader than God is, andshe’s been keeping Raphael and I apart.”
Far more than the necessary explanation was coming out of Aziraphale’s mouth, but once he had begun, it was too hard to stop. “And she thinks that love is bad, but that’s because she doesn’t know what it is! And she hasn’t spoken to God in a very long time, so -”
The Metatron cut him off again to ask, “SHE HASN’T SPOKEN TO GOD?” This was at full volume, but they were still leaning over the poor angel, who was blown back by the force of their voice.
Once he picked himself up off the floor, Aziraphale shook his head. “No, at least, as far as Raphael was aware.” He knew he shouldn’t be divulging this information - he’d made a promise to Raphael - but that was before Helel had tried to kill him. Raphael would understand, wouldn’t he?
“AZIRAPHALE,” the Metatron began, speaking slowly and clearly. “IF WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS TRUE, THEN HELEL HAS BEEN LYING TO THE ANGELS THAT BELIEVE IN HER AND TO THE REST OF HEAVEN. THIS IS THE GREATEST THREAT THAT HEAVEN HAS EVER KNOWN,” the Metatron said gravely. “I WILL GO AT ONCE AND SPEAK TO GOD. STAY HERE.”
“Right,” Aziraphale said, a little unsure of where the Metatron was going to go.
Suddenly, they were gone. The Sanctuary was empty with the exception of the angel, affording him a rare moment to be alone.
Something new burned inside of him, he realized, flaring up each time he thought of Raphael. Every time he’d said the Archangel’s name while speaking to the Metatron, this feeling had leapt up inside of him. It wasn’t the familiar pang of worry; it felt more like a giddiness, rooted in happiness, not anxiety. Now that he was alone, he allowed a smile creep onto his face.
Practice it, he thought. If he could practice the sentence he’d wanted to say before, in Janitorial, then maybe he’d one day be able to say it. His lips moved soundlessly, repeating the syllables over and over. The first and last words were easy - “I” and “you” - he said them all the time. The middle word was a bit stickier, but he was able to say it over and over until it no longer seemed intimidating.
Putting it all together was still frightening; the intention behind it even more so, but he was determined. The next time he saw Raphael, he’d tell him.
The Metatron reappeared as suddenly as they had gone, jolting Aziraphale out of his practice. “AZIRAPHALE,” they said, sounding nervous, which brought back the familiar sensation of worry to Aziraphale’s stomach.
“GOD WOULD LIKE ME TO THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HER WITH THIS INFORMATION. I WILL NOW GO ACT UPON IT SWIFTLY.”
A pit opened in Aziraphale’s stomach. “What? What does that mean?”
The Metatron, a swirling column of fire, stopped completely. They appeared to hang, frozen in the air. “HELEL, AND ALL THOSE ASSOCIATED WITH HER, WILL RECEIVE THE CORRECT PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR GREAT BETRAYAL OF HEAVEN.”
Aziraphale suddenly felt cold. He opened his mouth to ask the question at the front of his mind. He was apt to assume the worst, and he hoped that was the case here. “What are you going to do?” he asked, praying he did not already know the answer.
“THEY WILL BE REMOVED FROM HEAVEN.” The Metatron did not move; they seemed reluctant to act upon this order from God.
The ringing noise returned to Aziraphale’s ears. “N-no, you can’t,” he said quietly. His mind could not fathom the number of angels that would be with Helel at the moment; she was having a Salon and Salons were only held in the Garden, which was where -
“WE HAVE TO,” the Metatron said. “GOD BE WITH YOU, AZIRAPHALE.” And then they disappeared, leaving the Sanctum empty once again.
Aziraphale jumped up and down, unable to decide where to go. Raphael would be in one of two places - the Garden or the Observatory. The latter was closer, and so, he decided. If Raphael was not there, he reasoned, he would continue on to the Garden.
It wouldn’t take that much time.
He had time.
“Why him? You could have chosen any angel!” Helel yelled. “Why him?”
Raphael did not answer immediately, which only served to infuriate Helel. He could take the time to explain each individual thing about Aziraphale he loved - how kind and thoughtful the angel was, how his hands twisted together when he got too anxious, how incredibly brave he could be when someone else was in trouble, along with many more things that he could barely articulate to himself, let alone to someone else - but he knew that Helel didn’t care. “I can’t explain it,” he said eventually, smiling serenely at her.
Helel did not like this answer, and exploded. “Then how do you know?” she cried.
“It-it’s a feeling in the core of who I am. Like a flood of excitement and comfort, overwhelming the senses. Gabriel said other angels could feel it.”
Helel nodded, scowling.
She stared at him for a moment before saying, “You talk about how I’m using the angels, how I’m taking them from God, but you’re doing the exact same thing with Aziraphale,” she said, spitting the angel’s name at Raphael. “You love someone other than God, and you're willing to do anything for them.”
“But you’re lying to them!” Raphael protested.
“And you’ve never lied to Aziraphale?!”
“No!” Raphael said, emphatically, knowing the statement itself was only half the truth. He’d never lied directly to the angel, but he’d certainly lied by omission. He’d kept things from Aziraphale, only told him what he needed to know, but it was only ever to protect him! Surely that kind of lie wasn’t as bad as Helel’s.
The other Archangel could see the uncertainty on his face. “We’re not that different. This is why Gabriel and I -” Helel closed her mouth, damming the remaining half of the sentence with her lips, but it was too late.
At the beginning of this conversation, their relationship had been lost in the woods during a drought season, moving through the dry leaves of their shared memories carefully, looking for a way out of the dangerous forest. Helel’s slip of the tongue provided a second, quicker route out of the forest - she set it ablaze.
Raphael clenched his hands, unable to hold himself back. “You were working together?” he asked, voice low and threatening.
“What you’re doing is wrong!” Helel cried. “You’re the only one who can’t see it!”
“We are supposed to love everything - why is having love for him any worse than having love for God?” Raphael’s voice rose in intensity and volume as he spoke. “How is it different? Why is it wrong?”
Helel did not have a good answer to this question, but she had an answer, which she gave instead. “Because it IS! There are things that are GOOD and there are things that are BAD; your love doesn’t fall in the good category, so it has to be bad!
“We were only trying to save you! Of all the angels you picked to fawn over, you picked the worst of the lot! He’s going to get you banished from Heaven!”
Raphael bristled at this, and plowed forward with his argument. “If I were human, I could love! I could love anyone I wanted to! So why am I not allowed to love Aziraphale?”
“WE’RE not humans - WE’RE angels!” Helel yelled at him. The angels outside of the clearing could hear what they were saying now, but neither Archangel cared.
“But you say that we’re better than humans, so why would we not get the best feeling of all?” Raphael pressed again.
“BECAUSE IF I CAN’T BE LOVED, NEITHER CAN ANYONE ELSE!” she screamed, voice and heart breaking.
There it was. Out in the open.
Raphael squared his shoulders and his jaw. “I see.” After a long pause, he shook his head and said, “I don’t care. I don’t care what you or Gabriel or even God thinks.” He felt the odd shifting again, but chose to ignore it. “I love Aziraphale and there is nothing in this Universe that can keep us apart.”
A boom echoed through the Garden, causing the group of angels to jump. It was the door to the Gardens slamming open.
“I HAVE BEEN SENT ON BEHALF OF GOD,” the Metatron boomed.
They looked at each other again, this time, with a mix of fear and confusion in their eyes.
“YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED BY GOD - COME FORTH TO RECEIVE YOUR PUNISHMENT.”
The color drained from Helel’s face. “No,” she whispered. Then she took off, darting through the treeline, Raphael following closely on her heels.
By the time they made it out of the cluster of trees, panic had set in at the Salon. Angels scrambled, jostled, trampled one another underfoot; most pushed towards the Metatron, but some remained rooted to the spot. Helel kicked up off the ground and flew over the group of panicked angels. With a cry, she led the charge towards the Metatron and the door to Heaven.
Raphael saw an angel fall against the tide of the group, and rushed to help them, pulling them up off the ground. As soon as the angel recognized him, they pushed out of his grasp and moved towards the door. Realizing there was nothing more he could do, he let the group go.
When they were sufficiently far enough away, he thought of Aziraphale and teleported himself to the Observatory.
“Raphael!” Aziraphale called out, throwing the Observatory door open and skidding inside. “Oh, please, Raphael, please be here.”
The Observatory was in a state of disarray, but Raphael sat behind his desk, diligently filling out paperwork. He did not look happy to be doing said paperwork, but to Aziraphale, he looked perfect.
“Raphael, oh, you’re here!” He closed the distance between them and threw himself at the Archangel, wrapping him up in a hug.
Raphael froze for a moment. “Well, hi Aziraphale,” he greeted the angel. His stance softened slightly and he returned the hug, patting the angel twice on the back. “Someone’s a little excited.”
“I thought you’d be - well, nevermind, you’re here and it’s fine,” Aziraphale sped through his sentence. He pulled back from the hug to look into Raphael’s eyes. Then he swallowed, pushing down any fear or worry he’d had and opened his mouth to say, “I love you, Raphael.”
The Archangel went completely still, staring at Aziraphale as though he’d grown a second head. “Yes, well,” Raphael said, glossing over Aziraphale’s declaration, but looking more uncomfortable than he had a moment before. “What brings you here?”
Several things seemed off to Aziraphale in that moment, but he ignored his concerns in favor of more pressing matters. They could talk about it after everything was figured out. “Raphael, I think… I think I did something terrible.”
“What did you do?”
“You told me not to tell anyone about the things you told me about Helel, and I didn’t!” Aziraphale nervously twiddled his thumbs. “But then Helel, well she - I got mad at her, because she was mad at me, and she said that I wasn’t a good angel and that I’d never be good enough, and I’d especially never be good enough for you, even though she told me - and she tried to kill me!” He showed Raphael the quickly healing bruises on his neck. “But Haniel stopped her and then… I went to the Metatron and told them everything.”
Raphael’s eyebrows had slowly raised over the course of Aziraphale’s ramblings, reaching their zenith with the angel’s final word. “Everything?”
Aziraphale swallowed and nodded. “I think… I thought she was going to be assigned a millennia of work shifts, but I think…” He couldn’t bring himself to say it. “Something even worse is about to happen.” The angel swallowed again, this time to push back tears. “And I think it’s my fault.”
Raphael didn’t move. He stared at the angel, who had been uncomfortable to begin with, but now was feeling like he was trapped under a microscope. “Well, jeez, Aziraphale,” Raphael sighed, pinching his nose in annoyance. “You ruin even the most well-laid plans, you know that?”
At least, Raphael tried to teleport.
The familiar feeling of teleporting enveloped him - he no longer existed for a moment, and then he did - but when he opened his eyes once more, he found himself in the same place: he was still in the Gardens.
No, he thought, stomach dropping. No, I would know if Aziraphale was here.
He tried again.
On the third time of reappearing in the Garden, his stomach sank lower than ever before. He could hear the Metatron speaking and angels crying, but the ringing in his ears was too loud to make out what anyone was saying. Oh, he thought numbly, beginning to understand what the shifting feeling might have meant. God? he prayed.
There was no answer. No feeling of warmth. Just a growing, shifting, uncomfortable feeling in his stomach.
Aziraphale felt like he’d been suckerpunched in the gut. “... What?” he asked, suddenly more terrified than he had ever been.
“You could never just follow orders, could you?” Raphael inspected his fingernails. “And now, who knows what’s going to happen?” Raphael looked up, and Aziraphale realized that his eyes weren’t golden anymore - they were purple.
The illusion was sliding off.
Aziraphale watched, horrified, as Raphael slowly became the Archangel Gabriel in front of his eyes.
When the illusion had slid completely off of him, Gabriel rolled his neck and stretched out his wings. “I haven’t done that in such a long time.”
“WHY?” Aziraphale cried, finding his voice again. “WHY would you do this?!”
The managerial veneer Gabriel wore cracked for a moment, and in that moment, Gabriel looked guilty. “I-I needed to keep you busy while Helel put her plan in action.” When Aziraphale made another protesting noise, Gabriel put up a hand, pulling the crack closed. “Look, I don’t expect an angel like you to understand; the Ineffable Plan is beyond your tiny mind,” he sneered at the angel.
The thought that first should have occurred to Aziraphale finally crashed into his brain like a truck, and his breath caught in his throat. If this wasn’t Raphael, then where - ?
“No,” Aziraphale breathed, realizing his final, and possibly gravest mistake. He looked around, panicked, and then made for the door.
Gabriel caught him by the arm, spinning the angel away from the exit. Then, the Archangel stood in the doorway, barring Aziraphale from leaving. “Helel will kill me if I let you leave.”
The angel looked up at Gabriel, incredulous, tears in his eyes. “Get. Out. Of my way. Gabriel,” he spat through clenched teeth.
The corners of Gabriel’s mouth turned up in a bemused smile. “What are you going to do to me?”
Though Gabriel had been tasked, or rather, had taken it upon himself to keep track of Aziraphale’s progress, he had failed to keep a close eye on it. Therefore, he was taken completely off guard when Aziraphale attacked him.
The angel moved away from the door, feigning surrender, creating space between himself and Gabriel. Then, when the appropriate distance away, he turned on his heel and began to run at the Archangel. For the last few steps, he unfurled his wings, lifting himself off the ground, hurtling himself towards Gabriel at a speed which could not be stopped.
The two celestial beings tumbled out into the hallway, limbs and wings akimbo. Gabriel only began to process what had happened after Aziraphale was disentangled and was half-flying, half-running down the hallway.
“Where are you going?” he shouted after Aziraphale.
The angel didn’t answer. It wasn’t important.
Aziraphale had never run so hard in his life. The door to the Gardens was at the end of the hallway, but Heaven had never felt so large. There was a small crowd gathered a respectful distance from the Gardens, wanting to see what was happening, but not wanting to get caught up in the fray.
“MOVE!” he shouted with much more authority than he felt. The crowd parted, allowing Aziraphale to skip through and to the doorway.
An angel Aziraphale didn’t recognize stood just inside the door, barring anyone from entering the Garden. They were shouting over a chorus of protests.
“- YOU HAVE BROKEN THE COVENANT WITH GOD, LED BY YOUR WICKED LEADER, HELEL -” It was the Metatron, in physical form.
“Where’s God?!” Helel screamed over the din. She was about ten feet away, glowing white and floating off the ground. “She can’t be bothered to do this herself?”
Aziraphale tried to press past the Metatron, but couldn’t make them budge. Instead, he ducked and dodged around the Metatron’s arms looking for any sign of Raphael.
He saw nothing.
“I AM THE VOICE OF GOD; I SPEAK FOR HER, AND SHE HAS VESTED ME WITH THE POWER TO -”
She turned back to the crowd of angels standing behind her. “You see? God doesn’t care about you or me! She doesn’t care about ANYof us!”
“What about a trial?” someone from the group called.
“A TRIAL WAS HELD AND YOU WERE FOUND GUILTY OF CONSPIRACY AGAINST GOD AND HEAVEN ITSELF. NOW IF YOU’LL STOP INTERRUPTING ME -”
Helel turned back around to face the Metatron. “What’s the punishment then? A thousand years spent in the Library?” Aziraphale thought he could see fear in her eyes, but her voice was sarcastic and biting.
The Metatron sighed. “GOD HAS ASKED ME TO ACT ON HER BEHALF AND SHE HAS DETERMINED THAT THE PUNISHMENT IS TO FIT THE CRIME. I SENTENCE YOU TO A PUNISHMENT OF YOUR LEADER’S CREATION: YOU ALL ARE HEREBY BANISHED FROM HEAVEN.”
The grin slid off of Helel’s face as though she had forgotten how to smile; true, primal fear took its place. Her mouth dropped open and she shook her head once.
“GOD’S GLORY BE WITH YOU ALL.”
For a moment, one terrifying moment, everything went quiet; the Metatron’s head was bowed in prayer, muttering words no one could hear.
Aziraphale frantically scanned the crowd one last time, certain that if he hadn’t seen any flashes of red hair, that meant that Raphael was safe somewhere - anywhere - else. He had just about finished looking when a head popped up.
“RAPHAEL!” he screamed.
Raphael’s head swiveled towards the voice.
The Metatron’s hands clapped together and their head snapped up. The prayer was complete.
At first, nothing seemed to have changed. Aziraphale pushed against the Metatron, trying to enter the Garden, but the Metatron held him back. “NO, AZIRAPHALE.”
“Please,” he whispered.
A small crack, like a twig being stepped on, echoed through the Garden. Then another, and another, gaining volume and ferocity. Another. Then another.
A tree at the edge of the Garden disappeared. Then another. Then another. Aziraphale realized they weren’t disappearing.
They were falling.
As he realized this, the ground fell out from underneath a cluster of angels. They didn’t have time to scream before they were gone.
Raphael’s eyes met his. They were full of confusion, frustration, and a thousand other things they had never gotten the chance to say.
The ground fell from underneath another group of angels, leaving only their cries behind.
Aziraphale couldn’t look away. He couldn’t move. He couldn't do anything.
There was nothing he could do.
He had done too much.
Raphael said Aziraphale's name, knowing it would never reach his angel's ears - the noise was deafening. He just wanted to taste it one last time.
Another piece of ground fell away. Aziraphale felt his tears go with it, sliding off his cheeks, lost to the abyss.
Raphael smiled sadly at Aziraphale. He said something.
Aziraphale tried to understand his lips. He couldn’t.
The Gardens Fell.
1 Aziraphale was correct, but only on one account. Something very bad was indeed about to happen. [return to text]
2 If Aziraphale slept, this would be his worst nightmare. [return to text]
3 The mandated 1000 laps came in handy. [return to text]
4 If he had had the time, he would have been quite pleased that most of the angels did move out of his way, but there were far more pressing issues. [return to text]
Chapter 18: A TIME OUT - PRESENT DAY, LONDON, AZIRAPHALE’S BOOKSHOP
We're taking a breather, team - a quick jump back to the present to check in with Aziraphale and Crowley and see how they're doing :)
Thank you to everyone who's read and continues to read - I love each and every one of you, and all of your comments/kudos make my day. Thank you times infinity <3
We're in the home stretch!!
If ever there was a time to test Aziraphale’s ability to handle a crisis, it was this moment.
Tears had been silently falling down Crowley’s face for the majority of Chapter 13. He choked out “Quiet fell,” before hucking the book across the bookshop and curling up on the couch, away from Aziraphale. As an afterthought, he shoved his head firmly under a pillow, which did very little to muffle the sob that came out of him.
Not to say it had been a walk in the park for Aziraphale; quite the opposite, in fact. The angel found himself crying as the realization of what he’d done sunk in. There weren’t many beings who could say they had helped avert the Apocalypse, but no other angel could claim they'd caused the Fall.
He tried to chuckle, but it sounded odd; more akin to a strangled chicken than a laugh. “I do believe I really was the worst angel.”
Crowley didn’t laugh. He made no noise at all, but the pillow shook in response.
Aziraphale sighed and put a gentle, comforting hand on the demon’s thigh. At his touch, Crowley flinched involuntarily, breath catching harshly in his throat.
Kneeling in front of the couch, Aziraphale gingerly lifted the pillow off of Crowley, revealing a blotchy, red, tear-stained face, mussed hair, and skewed glasses. Aziraphale reached for the only thing he could right in this moment and was unsurprised when Crowley’s hand caught his wrist.
“Angel,” Crowley said hoarsely. “I -” His hand tightened, both voice and grip pleading with him. “Tell me you know. Tell me you understand.”
Aziraphale did not respond; instead, he reached out again, this time with both hands, and placed them gently on the sides of Crowley’s glasses. “May I?” he asked softly.
Crowley nodded and allowed the angel to remove his last defense. He squinted as the dark screen was removed, eyes adjusting to the brightness of the room. Then, Aziraphale surprised him by placing his forehead gently against Crowley’s.
He could not help but gasp; the sudden proximity to the angel was almost too much.
“Oh, my dear,” Aziraphale whispered. Crowley shivered as the words washed over him. “I think, on some level, I’ve always known.” Aziraphale wanted to say it aloud - to say not his first name, but his First name - but Crowley seemed so fragile at the moment; Aziraphale was worried that he would shatter upon hearing the name.
“You remember?” Crowley asked, barely loud enough for Aziraphale to hear even at this distance.
The angel wanted to say yes, and even more, he wanted to mean it, but instead, the truth came out. It always did in the end.
He broke eye contact with Crowley before he admitted, “I - no, I don’t.”
Crowley sniffled, suddenly angry. “Pointless!” He muttered, trying to turn away from the angel, tears threatening to fall once more. Aziraphale stayed him with a cool hand on his cheek.
“No, no, my dear, this wasn’t pointless,” Aziraphale said, rubbing his thumb across Crowley’s cheek. “Quite the opposite - this is the best gift anyone’s ever gotten me.”
Crowley’s anger abated as quickly as it had come. He gazed into Aziraphale’s eyes - the eyes of the angel that he’d been in love with for at least 6000 years; the angel who had, at one point, been in love with him too. But he’d forgotten it all.
He reached out for Aziraphale, pulling the angel into an awkward hug. Aziraphale obliged, leaning over the couch, initially vowing to stay there as long as Crowley needed him to. After about thirty seconds, however, his knees began to protest.
“My dear, I have a better idea,” Aziraphale said, extracting himself from the demon’s grasp. He snapped his fingers and the couch doubled in width; suddenly there was room for two people on the couch, but only if they were to lay side by side.
Aziraphale climbed onto the couch, putting one arm under Crowley’s neck, and wrapping the other one around his slim waist. Crowley hooked one leg over the top of Aziraphale’s, weaving himself into Aziraphale, before settling into the crook of Aziraphale’s arm as though they’d done this a thousand times before. He let out a sigh and closed his eyes.
They were quiet for a long time; so long that Aziraphale was positive Crowley had fallen asleep. “There was more to the chapter,” the demon mumbled, catching Aziraphale off guard.
Crowley cracked one eye, looking at Aziraphale guiltily. “There was more to Chapter 13.”
“Oh!” Aziraphale attempted to sit up, but the two were locked together, and he ended up falling down on top of Crowley.
They stared at one another for a moment, speaking volumes.
“We should finish the book,” Aziraphale eventually said, breaking the charged silence between them.
“Yeah," Crowley reluctantly agreed. "Yeah, go on then.” He disengaged his leg from Aziraphale’s, allowing the angel enough room to sit up, regretting the choice immediately. Without Aziraphale holding him, the couch was far too cold.
Aziraphale stood and crossed to the book, which had landed perfectly on a table. As he picked it up, he shot a glance towards Heaven. “Your book flies remarkably well,” he muttered.
He looked back across the room to Crowley and noticed the scowl etched into his face. Crowley loved to scowl, but the only time he scowled this severely was when he was too cold. And perhaps a bit peckish.
Without speaking, Aziraphale snapped his fingers once more, returning the couch to its initial width.
“Wha-?” Crowley said as one of his legs fell off the now-smaller couch. He looked up at Aziraphale. “I was comfortable, angel.”
“I have a better idea, my dear,” Aziraphale smiled as he offered his hand to Crowley. “A far warmer idea.”
This caught Crowley’s attention. He took the angel’s hand and went to stand up, surprising them both by going weak at the knees. The pair toppled back onto the couch; this elicited the first laugh from Crowley Aziraphale had heard since they’d started reading the book. A smile rose to the angel’s face as he picked himself back up.
“Hmm,” Aziraphale hummed, thinking quickly. Then, with a swift scoop, Aziraphale lifted Crowley from the couch and began to carry him across the shop.
“Angel, you don’t need to -” Crowley fussed in his arms, squirming about.
“My darling,” Aziraphale said firmly, coming to a stop. “Trust me.”
They gazed at one another for a while before Crowley relented and made himself comfortable in Aziraphale’s arms.
Aziraphale walked to the back of the shop and entered a room Crowley had never seen before - the angel’s bedroom. The sight of Aziraphale’s bed, its white comforter thrown across the bed haphazardly and books strewn across every flat surface, made Crowley realize what the angel was about to do a moment before he did it.
Aziraphale snapped his fingers, making a Crowley-sized hole in the books on the bed and set the demon down in the spot made for him. “There,” he said, pulling the covers over Crowley and lightly tucking him in. He put the book down on the nightstand. “You stay there - I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
Crowley was left on his own in Aziraphale’s bed, held by the blanket, surrounded by the smell of his angel. “Jiffy?” he scoffed in an attempt to cover up his desire to melt into the bed, which was, Crowley noted curiously, far more comfortable than his bed. Aziraphale didn’t sleep - what would he need such a mattress for? A splotch of color rose in Crowley’s cheeks as he speculated and wondered.
The angel was back almost as soon as he had left, a pot of tea in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, pausing for a moment at the threshold of the room to enjoy the sight of Crowley in the bed. He hoped the mattress was firm enough for the demon; when he’d stayed at Crowley’s the night after the Apocalypse, his bed had struck him as rather hard and unforgiving. The next morning, Aziraphale had bought himself a far superior bed - one that didn’t feel like it was punishing its occupant. As a result, it had become the angel’s favorite place to read. If he’d known what today was going to bring him, he would have tidied up beforehand.
“Scootch over, dear,” he said brightly. Crowley obliged, making room for Aziraphale in the bed.
When they were situated - Crowley tucked in properly with the wine and the tea was fully steeped - Aziraphale opened the book again.
“Angel,” Crowley croaked. “I can’t -”
“That’s alright, my love,” Aziraphale said, moving through the last word like he’d said it for the last 6000 years, “You’ve done enough of the heavy lifting. It’s my turn.” He took a sip of his tea, wiggling a fraction of an inch at the taste of well-brewed tea.
When Crowley’s brain had returned from the roller coaster of emotions Aziraphale’s new pet name had set him on, he chugged half the bottle of wine, then nodded. “Do your worst, angel,” he conceded.
“I believe I already have,” Aziraphale joked; it fell flat. Aziraphale reached out and grasped Crowley’s hand, giving it a comforting squeeze, before returning to the book in his lap. “Now, where were we? Ah, yes.”
The first noise heard after the Fall was the sob of a heartbroken angel.
He wanted to beat his fists on the door, the door to the Garden, but there was no door. It had been lost. No, not lost.
It had Fallen.
Instead, there was a blank wall. Masking the hurt, painting over it with a broad brush. Nothing.
Aziraphale hurt in ways he could not describe.
Raphael hurt in ways he could not describe.
All he knew was pain.
All he knew was pain.
He screamed, until his voice was as broken as he felt.
He screamed, until his voice was as broken as he felt.
Hands wrapped around his shoulders, pulling him away from the wall. From Raphael.
He Fell, plummeting away from Heaven. From Aziraphale.
His chest burned, grief and guilt intermingling.
His wings burned, feathers and sinew scorched by the friction of the Fall.
He was thrown into a room, hitting the ground hard, cracking his head on the floor.
He was thrown onto the earth, hitting the ground hard, cracking his halo.
He cried, scared and alone.
He cried, scared and alone.
Grief enveloped him, filling his heart, mind, body, rubbing salt in the wounds of his choices. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. Like he’d never breathe again.
Molten sulfur enveloped him, filling his mouth, nose, eyes, lungs, burning away what was left. He sunk down, down, down, until there was no air to breathe.
Aziraphale closed his eyes, and for the first time, slept.
Raphael closed his eyes for the final time and welcomed death.
Aziraphale closed the book. “Goodness,” he said, shooting another, far harsher glance towards Heaven.
“Bi’ o’ a downer,” Crowley tipsily mumbled against Aziraphale’s shoulder. He’d wriggled his way under Aziraphale’s arm as the angel had read the last bit of Chapter 13, and now was keeping his eyes firmly shut.
“I suppose, yes,” Aziraphale agreed.
Crowley yawned. “Iss late, angel,” he said, hissing as he did when he was overtired. “Sssleep?”
Aziraphale patted Crowley gently on the arm, leaving his hand in place. “You sleep, my dear. I’ll be here.”
Crowley made a noise of disapproval but was too tired to do much else - it had been a taxing day. Within a few moments, he was snoring lightly, hissing every time he exhaled.
The angel smiled at his sleeping companion. Regardless of all the terrible things they’d learned – well, Crowley knew this story already, so it was more everything he’d learned – he found that he was grateful. Grateful for the book, grateful for Crowley, and grateful for the comfortable bed.
Aziraphale was about to put the book down, intent on wrapping his other arm around Crowley, when he saw the title of the next chapter: Chapter 14 – What if God was One of Us?
“Oh,” he whispered, bringing the book back up to his eyes; after a few sentences, he realized the chapter was all about him. Enticed by this, he continued to read, losing himself in the story while Crowley slept next to him.
Chapter 19: CHAPTER FOURTEEN - WHAT IF GOD WAS ONE OF US?
Only a little later than I intended this to be, but here we go! I hope y'all enjoy, and as always, I love and appreciate every one of your comments/kudos :) <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale was woken by a soft hand shaking him awake. For a blessed moment, he remembered nothing except something of Raphael. Blinking awake, the angel smiled.
“Was I asleep?” he asked, reaching for the hand.
Haniel’s voice broke through Aziraphale’s half-lucid state. “Aziraphale, you need to get up.”
His eyes shot open, and all the memories of the day before came flooding back, the something becoming tangible and painful and oh -
He sucked in a breath and realized it hurt to breathe.
His name burned Aziraphale’s mind to think, wrapped in a cocoon of the angel’s mistakes.
The pain was indescribable.
Haniel shook him again, this time less gently. “You’ve been here for two shifts. The Metatron asked me to come get you.”
Aziraphale recoiled at the thought of the Metatron. “I don’t want to,” he said in a quiet voice.
“You have to; they asked for you specifically.” Haniel’s words may have been brusque, but his voice was soft. He had watched the angel toss and turn on the hard floor of the Kitchen, crying out for a comfort that was no longer available to him. He squeezed Aziraphale’s hand as if to say, If there was a way to make it better, I would.
Tears were falling from Aziraphale’s eyes, dropping to the floor in a futile attempt to burrow their way out of Heaven. He didn’t realize.
Haniel offered him a napkin and a piece of manna; the first, to dry his face, and the second for comfort.
Aziraphale took the napkin but hesitated at the second offering. “Apple and cinnamon… I made that before -” The rest of his sentence was cut off by a sob.
Without hesitation, Haniel flung the bread to the opposite side of the Kitchen. “Come on, Aziraphale,” he said, offering his now empty hand to the angel.
The angel made a noise that bore only a passing resemblance to a laugh; it was too harsh and humorless. “Careful; too much time with me and you’ll be banished too,” he mumbled miserably.
Begrudgingly, he allowed Haniel to help him up, and leaned heavily on him as they walked out of the Kitchen.
It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.
There was no one in the hallway as they walked; a minor miracle as far as Aziraphale was concerned. Haniel stopped just short of the Chapel door and turned to face the angel.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in there,” he said. “But I’ll be next to you the whole time.”
Aziraphale looked at his previous mentor miserably; he wanted to ask why Haniel was willing to help - why anyone would be willing to help him after what he did - but the question answered itself without ever leaving Aziraphale’s mouth.
They were friends.
The angel’s knees buckled at the thought and Haniel caught him as he faltered.
“Thank you,” Aziraphale said after he rediscovered control of his kneecaps.
Haniel gave the angel’s shoulder a brief squeeze, then he opened the Chapel door.
Of all the things Aziraphale expected to hear when the door to the Chapel opened, uproarious applause was not one of them. He froze, positive this was some kind of trick.
Haniel’s grip on his shoulder became firmer as he took control of the situation, gently guiding Aziraphale up the aisle.
As they approached the Metatron and the remaining Archangels at the front of the Chapel, the clapping began to die down, stopping almost completely as Aziraphale stepped into the center of the half circle.
“WELCOME, AZIRAPHALE,” the Metatron greeted him warmly.
Aziraphale sniffled in response, and Haniel offered him the napkin again.
His eyes scanned the Archangels in front of him, stopping on Helel’s empty spot; a small pang of guilt resonated through him at the sight. He tore his gaze away from empty space, landing on Gabriel, meeting the Archangel’s red-eyed, steely gaze directly.
Gabriel’s cheek was bruised, no doubt from their scuffle; Aziraphale had thought he’d felt his elbow collide with something hard, but he hadn’t been able to worry about the pain at the time. He could not, however, account for Gabriel’s red eyes – had it been any other angel, Aziraphale would have sworn he’d been crying.
When it became apparent Aziraphale was not going to say anything, the Metatron made the executive decision to press on, saying, “WE HAVE GATHERED TODAY TO COMMEND YOU!”
The applause started again, initiated by Michael.
Gabriel clapped once half-heartedly, steely gaze never faltering.
Then, almost without meaning to, Aziraphale flicked his gaze away from Gabriel, to the last thing he wanted to see: the second empty space in the circle. The place where -
He’d been able to think the Archangel’s name before, having snuck up on it after a nap, but now it was ready for him. The name burned in his mind, caustic and screaming hot.
He should be here. It’s my fault he’s not.
Aziraphale’s voice came back then, words clambering out of his mouth all at once, fleeing the black hole of grief that had started to grow in his stomach.
“Commend me?” he asked, furious. “Commend me for what?” The angel’s typically pale complexion had been overrun by his fury, giving way to red, blotchy cheeks and bright red ears.
“FOR YOUR EXCELLENT SERVICE TO HEAVEN, AZIRAPHALE. YOU ALERTED US TO THE GREATEST THREAT HEAVEN HAS EVER KNOWN.”
Words pushed against the inside of Aziraphale’s lips.
He took a deep breath.
It didn’t help.
Finding no resistance, the words broke free.
“No,” he spat, more forcefully than he anticipated. The clapping, which has begun at some point, Aziraphale realized, came to a stuttering halt.
“WHAT?” the Metatron said.
“What I did was not commendable. It was terrible.” I’m terrible.
“WHAT HELEL WANTED TO DO WAS TERRIBLE. YOU STOPPED HER! AND FOR THAT, YOU ARE TO BE PROMOTED!”
Aziraphale’s mouth fell open. “No,” he repeated, utterly aghast. “No, I don’t want to be promoted.” I don’t want anything to DO with you.
“AND THAT’S WHY YOU’RE BEING PROMOTED!”
Helel’s voice bubbled to the surface of Aziraphale’s memory, words from a lifetime ago that were now horrifically relevant: Heaven loves a good sacrifice.
He put his head in his hands.
This was all wrong.
“To what level?” Haniel asked, putting his hand on Aziraphale’s back, asking the question Aziraphale didn’t want to know the answer to.
When Aziraphale had entered, the mood had been one of forced celebration, but upon this announcement, the mood in the Chapel changed rapidly, sending waves of confusion and whispers rippling through the rows of attendees.
This announcement had also clearly been kept from the Archangels. Gabriel turned his cold stare from Aziraphale to the Metatron; his anger, thinly veiled before, was now all the Archangel had.
“He’s going to be what now?” Gabriel asked with all the tact of a coiled rattlesnake.
“A PRINCIPALITY!” the Metatron repeated.
“But then he’ll be…” Uriel began.
“Powerful,” Michael said, staring at Aziraphale.
Gabriel looked as though he wanted to put his hand through something. Like a wall. Or, perhaps, if given the chance, Aziraphale’s face.
Every emotion Aziraphale had felt both heightened and muted: he was terrified, amused, and indescribably angry. His brain cycled through reactions to this news and landed on laughter.
“This is - I mean, I can’t - I was - I was the worst angel in Heaven!”
“YOU SAVED US,” the Metatron responded. “THANKS TO YOU, HEAVEN IS SAFE AND WHOLE”
Aziraphale bit the inside of his cheek to stave off the animalistic noise he felt building in his throat. I’m not whole, he thought. This isn’t my Heaven anymore.
He looked around at the faces still in Heaven; there were some angels he knew by sight and fewer angels he by name. As for angels he liked? That put him down to Haniel, Cassiel, and… no, just those two. Those were the angels left after what he’d done.
It was preposterous. It was heartbreaking.
It wasn’t fair.
I shouldn’t have said anything; I should have let this Fall.
“I don’t want to be a Principality,” he said in a small voice, anger fled. “I don’t…” he trailed off. I don’t want to be here.
“GOD WANTED YOU TO BE A PRINCIPALITY.”
She also took away my lo – The remainder of his thought was obscured by the noise of his shattering heart. He was unsure how many times more it could break and still be able to break again. There had to be a limit. There had to be an end to this pain. My best friend, he finished the thought.
Talking felt pointless; no one was listening to him. There was no one left that cared to.
Grief swallowed him then – his anger had been enough to keep him on the event horizon, but now that it was gone, he had nothing to keep him from falling in.
Greedily, it swallowed him whole.
“THREE CHEERS FOR THE NEWEST PRINCIPALITY, AZIRAPHALE!”
Aziraphale let the cheers wash over him.
After a hellish “Congratulations” line, the
angel Principality found a place to hide where the remaining denizens of Heaven wouldn’t bother him. And, to their credit, no one did, despite the noises coming from behind the closed door.
A while later, when the noise had died down to the point where one would need to put their ear up to the door to hear anything, something interesting happened. And, like most interesting things that happen, this one occurred when almost no one was paying attention.
A cart labeled “Janitorial” exited the Sanctum, pushed by Someone in a grey robe and a hat, who did their best to appear unimportant. She made Her way across the hallway of Heaven, stopping only for a moment to place Her hand on the empty wall where the Gardens door had once been. She sighed wistfully, then pressed on towards Her target.
She knocked on the door to the Janitorial closet, knowing the target of Her search was sitting just inside. She knew he would be hunched over a table, tears dried only for the moment.
“What?” Aziraphale said harshly, sitting up from his hunched position.
“May I come in?” this Someone asked.
Aziraphale didn’t recognize the voice, which was enough to give him pause; the voice was also friendly and warm, only raising his suspicions all the more. “I… who is it?”
“God,” God answered.
Aziraphale laughed, now entirely positive this was another trick. “Yeah, sure. Come on in, God.”
God opened the door and stepped inside the Janitorial closet, removing Her hat. As She entered, the room warmed a bit, and Aziraphale became aware his favorite scents were now dancing through the air - grass, flowers, and -
She sat down across from him. “Hello Aziraphale. I’ve waited a long time to meet you.”
It should be obvious that not many beings warrant a visit from God Herself; even when Aziraphale asked, pleaded to speak with Her, he’d been denied. But now? Now, here She was, sitting across the table from him, within arm’s reach, both literally and figuratively.
A younger Aziraphale would have immediately fallen prostrate on the ground, disregarding the fact there wasn’t enough room with the two of them now in the closet together. Now, however, Aziraphale remained frozen in place, staring at Her.
He wanted to say many things to Her; he had so many questions.
She smiled warmly at him because She knew. That was why She was here.
His first question pushed its way through his lips. “How dare You?” Aziraphale spat, taking himself by surprise.
“Yes, Aziraphale?” God asked, patiently.
“You took everything from me!” he shouted, unable to hold himself back. “I tried to do the right thing - the good thing! - and You… You PUNISHED me!” He stood from the table, tears falling freely. “It’s not fair!” He towered over Her, so incredibly angry. He wanted to do something to Her, something to make Her understand. Maybe then he could Fall too. He could be with -
“I did,” God agreed. “And it is not.”
angel Principality had expected God to deny any involvement with what he was feeling – he’d been prepared for Her to rebuff him, and he was used to being snubbed – but for God to agree with him? This knocked the wind out of Aziraphale. He fell back into the chair, mouth agape.
God reached out and put a hand on his arm. “I am sorry, Aziraphale,” She said.
After a long moment, Aziraphale closed his mouth. Then, after a second, longer moment, he asked, “Why are you here?”
“I thought you deserved an explanation.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth once more, but found he had nothing to say in response.
In the silence, God produced a deck of cards from thin air and began to shuffle the deck of cards on the table.
“This story is, at its core, a story about love.”
Aziraphale’s breath hitched in his throat. Love?
“I will start at the beginning,” God said, smiling at him.
“When Everything began, there was only Me. I have existed for a very long time; compared to the time I have existed for, I only very recently learned to create.”
“I did – anyone can as long as they seek out the knowledge.” At this, God made the deck of cards disappear from one hand and reappear in Her other hand.
A fraction of a smile danced across Aziraphale’s lips.
“I realized, as I began to create, I was lonely,” God admitted. “My creations could worship Me, but they were incapable of providing Me with the thing I truly wanted – the thing all beings want – love.”
Aziraphale’s heart skipped uncomfortably at this declaration.
“The more creations I made, the more I began to realize: by hard-wiring their love for me, the only love I could receive would be a mere facsimile the love I have for Myself. And no one likes a narcissist,” God joked, winking at Aziraphale.
“Love - true love - should be given freely without a second thought.” The cards flipped and twisted through her hands. “But to give something, one has to make the choice to give.”
A sprig of understanding grew in Aziraphale’s mind. “The choice…?”
“Free will,” God confirmed. “The idea initially scared me - yes, I am afraid of things,” She smiled, cutting off Aziraphale once again. “I had never created anything that wasn’t hard-wired to love Me from its first breath. I was concerned their rejection would be more than I could handle. For that reason, I kept Free Will from them for longer than I care to admit.”
“But You’re giving that to the humans,” Aziraphale interjected. “You haven’t given it yet -”
“You are correct – I am,” God agreed, interrupting Aziraphale once again with a smile. “But I only chose to bestow Free Will upon Humanity after it had proven itself.”
Aziraphale stared blankly at Her for a moment before the realization hit him like a truck full of spiders.
She means Heaven.
“Oh, my God,” he mouthed, horrified. If Free Will had existed in Heaven this whole time, then Helel had nothing to be angry about - there was no reason the Fall had to happen.
“The first two angels I created had Free Will, and I gave them both Free Will in its entirety,” God continued, seemingly unaware of Aziraphale’s revelation. “I was afraid, yes, but I reassured myself that if the experiment went too far off track, it would be easier to restart a universe of two angels than two thousand.” God flipped two cards out onto the table – two face cards. Specifically, the faces of the now-fallen Archangels.
Or at least, the top figure was; the bottom figures twisted depictions of the Archangels - their halos were gone, their white robes were replaced with dark black, and their eyes were wrong.
“Oh,” he said, barely louder than a whisper.
“Helel was the first, and she was a challenge beyond my wildest imagination.”
Aziraphale picked up Helel’s card, running over the Archangel’s face with his thumb. The paint smeared, revealing the same creature above as below. “You didn’t know?” he asked, in disbelief.
God chuckled; there was a sadness in it Aziraphale could not identify. “The Ineffable Plan,” She said, “is not, as many angels believe, a meticulously devised plan; it would be better described as an outline.”
Helel’s card fluttered to the table as the
angel’s Principality’s mouth dropped open.
“I knew that an angel would one day defy me and Fall,” God continued, picking the fallen card up. “I did not know which angel in the beginning, but these things have a way of revealing themselves.” She rubbed the remainder of the paint from the card, setting the card back onto the table with an air of regret. “I made her too much like Me – an almost perfect copy. She spoke the same way I did, acted the same way I did, and thought the same way I did.
“We fought constantly. She would see the flaws in My plans and point them out, but she did not yet possess the experience to know things would work out in the end.
“When I made Raphael, I changed my approach,” God said, pushing his card closer to Aziraphale. “He was made with only the best qualities of Myself.”
Aziraphale stared at the painting of the Archangel’s face. Every feature cut a new wound in his heart. He could not bring himself to pick up the card for fear of damaging the last true depiction of him; this was how Aziraphale wanted to remember Him. As an Archangel.
A small sob escaped his lips. He clenched his fists to distract himself from the queue of sobs lined up in his mouth.
God placed a gentle, warm hand on one of Aziraphale’s clenched hands. “He was kind and loving from the beginning, even in the face of Helel. I had hoped he would help her see reason - to help her be kinder and gentler. Unfortunately, if anything, his presence in Heaven forced her further into her beliefs. Helel was unhappy that I had ‘improved’ the angel model based on my experiences with her, and made her displeasure with Me known.
“I realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak. When it came time to create the third angel – Gabriel – I scaled the experiment back. Gabriel was given a small amount of Free Will - he would be able to make small decisions, but he would have no choice other than to follow orders given from those above him.”
God sighed. “This seemed to work for a while - Raphael took Gabriel under his wing and taught him to be kind. Based on that, I created the rest of the Archangels as I had Gabriel. Unfortunately, Helel – being every bit as clever and creative as I am - learned to manipulate this structure. I eventually had to create angels who ranked above her in order to mitigate her power. Once again, she vehemently disagreed with this decision, and, once again, made her displeasure with Me known.
“I created other angels, low-ranking angels, to fill out the rest of Heaven. These angels also had aspects of Free Will - some more than others.”
Got had returned to shuffling the deck of cards in her hands, which had somehow grown in size – it now seemed to have at least 3-4 decks worth of cards in one.
“Helel began to bring these angels together by way of her Salons. Initially, they were helpful - the debates encouraged critical thinking, which was captivating to watch. The better my creations could reason, the better equipped they were to understand the ultimate purpose of this great experiment.
“However,” God said, tone becoming wistful. “As you know, the Salons did not remain a beacon of reason. Helel began to twist their purpose, slowly pushing out angels who did not agree with her and shifting the opinions of the ones who remained. She ultimately came to Me with the idea of banishing angels from Heaven if, or when, they were no longer useful. It was at this point I was certain she would be the one who would lead the Rebellion. I cut myself off from her and allow things to play out as they would.”
“You didn’t have to do that, though!” Aziraphale blurted out, unable to hold his tongue any longer. “You could have - !” He was uncertain as to how to finish the sentence; surely there was something She could have done. She could have told Helel about Free Will. Or, She could have stopped him.
As if reading his mind, God set the cards down and reached across the table for Aziraphale’s hand. “Aziraphale,” She said, squeezing his hand. “I know you think you caused this, but you did not. This was always going to happen; you simply sped up the timeline. And, if it is any consolation, this was one of the least likely scenarios.”
It was no consolation; if anything, Aziraphale found Her words served to hurt him all the more.
“While the Ineffable Plan may be an outline, there are certain events which will always occur – think of them as bullet points on the outline of the universe. They remain constant while other, less significant events ebb and flow around them. The Rebellion and the Fall were both bullet points. Regardless of what I did to avoid these types of events, they find a way to occur.” She said with an air of finality that send a shiver down Aziraphale’s spine.
“It always coalesced to this.
“But why did they Fall?” Aziraphale blurted out once more, realizing as he said it that it was the wrong question. He tried again. “Why did R-” The name clung to the inside of his throat, burning and scarring every spot it touched.
“Why did he Fall?” Aziraphale finally choked out. “If he had all the best aspects of You, then…?” The
angel’s Principality’s question trailed off.
At this question, God looked at him sadly; regretfully. “While the Fall was predetermined, who would Fall was not.” She picked up the deck of cards and began to deal it into two separate decks, stopping only when a card flipped out of her grasp and onto the floor. “They say I am ineffable,” She said, bringing the card back to the tabletop. “But the best I can do is correct my mistakes.”
“Mistakes?” Aziraphale’s voice was barely louder than a whisper. “His Fall was a mistake?!”
God shook Her head noncommittally. “Yes. And no. Raphael was fundamentally kind; he always chose kindness above all other options. It is an admirable trait.
“However, it was not his only trait, as I am sure you were aware.”
Aziraphale nodded, feeling the barbed wire constrict in his throat.
“He was also incredibly clever and, perhaps - if I am to be uncharitable - a bit stubborn.” God’s eyes gleamed with something akin to pride. “His choice to talk Helel out of her Rebellion was his downfall.
“During their conversation, Helel asked him a question, which, when he faced it head-on, he could not see another explanation than hers. It caused him to lose his faith in Me at the worst possible moment, and, given where he was when it happened, there was nothing I could do.”
Her statement hung in the air while Aziraphale debated if he wanted to hear the rest of Her story.
“What was the question?” he eventually asked in a terrified whisper.
God met Aziraphale’s worried gaze. “If I am a kind and benevolent God, why do I allow for my creations to suffer?”
This question floored Aziraphale. He had never thought of it - never come close to asking the question on his own - but now that She had said it aloud, Aziraphale found himself unable to think of anything else. He had suffered so much, and it wasn’t fair.
He did not expect Her to answer, but a part of him hoped, if She did, it would be a good answer.
Although, a different, angrier, more cynical part of him reasoned, if it was not, then maybe he could lose his faith too. Then he could Fall. He could be with -
“I have tried,” God said, interrupting Aziraphale’s train of thought. “To create universes where there is no suffering, and it is possible.
“However, those universes tend towards destruction. The hubris of their inhabitants goes unchecked, and ultimately, the universe ends with greater suffering than would have befallen any of the inhabitants otherwise.
“In all my experiments, I have discovered that, for a universe to be stable, there must always be a balance: there can be a perfect place - a Heaven - but there but be a counterpart; else, Heaven will tear itself apart. The good cannot exist without the bad to provide a balance. Without suffering, there cannot be growth.”
“What?!” Aziraphale asked incredulously. “No!”
“No!” he repeated emphatically.
“You did not grow until you experienced suffering, dear Principality.”
“Don’t call me that,” Aziraphale snapped, caution thrown to the wind.
For a moment, God appeared taken aback by his reaction. Then she smiled apologetically. “My apologies, Aziraphale.”
They remained silent for a while, staring at one another. The only noise came from the shuffling of cards.
Finally, Aziraphale broke the silence. “There has to be another way,” he said. “There has to be a limit. I never asked for this,” he pleaded, pointing at his chest. His broken heart had taken a backseat while God had explained Her plan, but it had returned to the forefront of his mind, refusing to be ignored any longer. “No one deserves this.”
“I understand,” She said simply.
Aziraphale slammed his fist on the table, causing the neatly sorted cards to slide out of their respective piles. “You DON’T!” Tears began to impede his vision once again. “You CAN’T!” He did not have the words to explain how he felt to God. Some part of him ached to hurt Her; to make Her hurt in the same way She’d hurt him.
He went to stand, but his body felt too heavy. Instead, Aziraphale slumped forward, catching his head in his hands at the last moment.
Arms wrapped around Aziraphale’s shoulders, holding him tightly. He realized the Almighty was hugging him, comforting him. Despite his anger, he turned into her and allowed himself to be held. Despite everything, the embrace soothed him for a moment.
“Aziraphale,” She said softly. “I feel every bit of suffering each one of my creations endures. I do understand, and I am sorry - I would not be here if I were not regretful.” She pulled back from the hug and put her hands on Aziraphale’s hot face. “But, and please understand when I say this that I do not mean it callously - not all mistakes are bad.”
“When I spoke of mistakes before, I meant this. This was not intended to happen.”
Aziraphale sniffed. “What do you mean?” he asked warily.
She sighed. “Giving angels aspects of Free Will brought new emotions into Heaven - friendship and charity, but also greed and envy, along with others. The negative emotions overwhelmed the positive ones, almost tenfold, and I was prepared to end this experiment and try again – the suffering was almost too much for Me to bear. But then it appeared - love. Real, true love. Love not directed at me, but instead, fostered between two of my creations. Regardless of the suffering inflicted upon them by the other inhabitants of Heaven, they continued to choose one another over and over again. It gave Me proof,” She finished proudly.
Aziraphale gave a hollow laugh. “Proof of what?”
God smiled at him. “Proof that, despite everything that has happened and everything that will happen, giving my creations Free Will was the right choice. It is worth it, because the love I saw bloom between the angels was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen - far more beautiful than any love that had been given to Me. You loved and were loved not despite your flaws, but because of them.”
The angel’s breath caught in his throat. “I -” He couldn’t finish his sentence, so he tried again. “He…?”
“Oh yes,” God smiled.
Aziraphale felt like his heart was being ripped from his body all over again. He hadn’t told him; there hadn’t been time. Aziraphale’s body begged to run, to move away from this conversation, to find him. He felt like he would run to the ends of the universe if it meant he could see him again.
“But he’s gone!” Aziraphale said, pulling away from God’s grasp. “It doesn’t matter, because I’m here in Heaven with all this… this love and no one to give it to, and he’s - GONE and YOU - ! You stand there and tell me this is all worth it?! For WHAT?!” Aziraphale sucked in a breath, but it didn’t feel like he could breathe. “I can’t, I can’t DO this – I’ve lost EVERYTHING!”
Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t entirely true – he still had Haniel and Cassiel – but it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t quell the pain in his chest.
He wished Helel had killed him when she’d had the chance.
The angel sunk to the ground and wrapped his arms around his knees.
God crouched down and placed a gentle but firm hand on his arm. “You can, Aziraphale. This is the worst pain you’ll ever live through, but I promise you - you will live through it. You’ll even love again.”
He looked up at Her, horrified. “No. No I can’t. Not if it feels like this. I won’t. Y-you can’t make me.” Aziraphale hid his face once more as the tears began to flow. “I don’t want to.” His cries became harder until he was sobbing. “I can’t,” he kept repeating.
God sighed. She could feel Aziraphale’s suffering as if it were her own, but seeing it play out in front of Her was harder than She’d expected. She hadn’t been lying when She’d said the best She could do was correct her mistakes, and this was certainly one of the large ones She’d made.
An idea occurred to Her.
“Aziraphale,” She said, squeezing his arm lightly. “I have a proposal for you.”
Aziraphale looked up, eyes red.
“I could reset Heaven, as I have many times before. I could erase any memory of the Fallen angels before they were Fallen - from all minds. Heaven - and you - could start over.”
Aziraphale sniffed, drying his tears as well as he could before asking, “But what about - ?” The question stopped itself short as his voice gave out halfway through.
“They will stay where they are, but you will remember them as always having Fallen. They will be known as the mortal enemies of Heaven.” She frowned apologetically. “I cannot do anything about your suffering - it is not a wound of your body or mind, but a wound in your soul. The only balm I can offer is to spread the pain out across your existence; you will feel less of it now, but it will take far longer to heal.”
“I’ll take it,” Aziraphale said immediately.
God raised her eyebrows, but said nothing.
“I feel like I’m drowning but I can’t die,” he explained, tears once again in his eyes. “I can’t go on like this.”
She sighed one more and nodded. “Very well,” She said, offering him Her hand. He took it, allowing God to pull him to his feet.
“Are you ready?” She asked, grasping his hand tightly.
She leaned over, kissed Aziraphale’s forehead, and whispered “You’ll find him again,” into his ear while slipping something into his pocket.
Before Aziraphale could fully process what She’d said or what She’d given to him, he ceased to exist.
1 It wasn't even in the top 100. [return to text]
2 If looks could make an angel Fall, both Gabriel and Aziraphale’s most immediate problem would have been solved then and there. [return to text]
3 Becoming a Principality did, in fact, give Aziraphale an incredible amount of power. He was by no means as powerful as the Archangels, but he was now imbued with much more power than the average angel. [return to text]
4 It is a very good place to start. [return to text]
5 Difficult to conceptualize, hairy, and an absolute nightmare to handle all at once. [return to text]
Chapter 20: CHAPTER FIFTEEN - AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT (PART I)
Hey team! I'm posting the next two chapters (Ch. 15 & Ch 16) at the same time, since they're basically two sides of the same story AND I had enough time on vacation to edit them both :D
I hope everybody had/is having a lovely holiday season, and I hope y'all enjoy!
Thank you for all of your comments/kudos (though I haven't gotten the chance to read any of them yet, it's on my to do list!) - I love and appreciate every single one <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first thing Aziraphale ever heard was a voice saying “The Kiss of Life has been given - Welcome to Heaven, Aziraphale.” He, at this point, had no concept of who he was, where he was, or what an “Aziraphale” was.
Cracking an eye, Aziraphale laid eyes on… well, he didn’t know what it was yet, but it did take his breath away. “Yes, hello?” he replied nervously. An ungainly start, to be sure.
The being in front of him was not what most people would call “comforting to look at”. Four wings stretched out from its center, where four faces of four different animals sprouted from one neck. Aziraphale blinked once in surprise, and by the time he had refocused, the being had shifted into a more palatable vision. Now in front of him was a two-winged, one headed creature with shiny black hair and a very balanced face.
“I am the Archangel Gabriel,” the being continued. “You, Aziraphale, are Heaven’s newest Principality.” The being - other angel, Aziraphale supposed - said this statement so matter-of-factly that Aziraphale wasn’t sure if being a Principality was a good thing to be. He furrowed his brow a bit.
“Welcome to Heaven, so glad you’re here, and all that. Now, we’ve got a lot of other angels to get through today, so here’s your stuff,” Gabriel said, unceremoniously shoving a bundle of white cloth into Aziraphale’s arms. “And here’s your ‘To Do’ checklist,” he finished, handing Aziraphale a scroll. The principality began to unroll the scroll, but Gabriel stopped him, yelling, “Don’t do that here! Go find a different part of Heaven, jeez!” and then pushed him towards the door.
Thus began Aziraphale’s existence; not with a bang, but with a checklist.
After Aziraphale had gotten his clothing situated, he reached into the right pocket of his robe and found something oddly square shaped. Pulling it out, he discovered that was a playing card. He turned it over in his hand, revealing it to be face card. But it was unlike any face card he’d ever seen.
The top figure on the card was an angel with bright red hair. The bottom figure, however, depicted a creature with a broken halo, jet-black wings, and a wicked smile.
A demon, his brain told him.
Aziraphale shuddered. Demons were not to be trifled with. He knew instinctively that demons were bad - you didn’t Fall for nothing. Even so, he brought the card closer to inspect it more carefully.
The angelic side of the card looked familiar, the face tickling something in the back of Aziraphale’s mind, and he stared closer, running his thumb over the picture. As he did so, the paint peeled away, revealing the same demonic face as below. A strange hollowness grew in the Principality’s chest as the angelic face dissolved under his fingers. He had no words to describe the feeling; he knew only that it hurt.
He shook his head and put the card back in his pocket. This would not do for his first day in Heaven. Not for a Principality of God! Instead, he looked at the checklist, noticed that the list was numbered, and resigned himself to start at the first place on the list: the Armory.
How, exactly, Aziraphale was made the Guard of the Eastern Gate of Eden was anyone’s guess. None of the other angels in Heaven particularly liked him - he was slow, a terrible fighter, and spent more time in the Library than with other angels. Sure, he turned up at choir practice on time, and he was always chipper, but he was also very alone. The only angel who seemed to show him anything that could be described as kind was the Archangel in charge of the Principalities, Haniel; but as far as Archangels went, he was rather dour, preferring to quietly observe Aziraphale’s mistakes than loudly point them out.
If he was to be honest, Aziraphale wasn’t sure how he’d managed to get a ticket to Earth either, but he accepted when it was offered. Heaven, which was supposed to be the holiest of holy places, made him sad, and it stuck with him regardless of what he was doing. In certain places, such as when he was in the Kitchen or by the Lake, the pain decreased to a dull ache. Other times, particularly when he walked by the Observatory or the odd blank space between the Aviary and the Choir Room, he would feel the overwhelming need to collapse.
Thankfully, he could teleport between spaces in Heaven.
As part of his assignment on Earth, Aziraphale was given a corporeal body.
“Be careful with that!” Jophiel chastised as Aziraphale stepped into the new form, immediately stumbling under the weight of his new body. “That body’s not yours forever; Heaven expects it back when you return.”
The Principality knew what the Archangel was referring to, but the fleshy bits of his corporeal brain were proving more cumbersome than helpful; he needed a few minutes to figure out how to figure things out. “When I return?” Aziraphale asked unconfidently.
Jophiel scoffed at him. “For the battle between Heaven and Hell?”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, brain beginning to catch up.
“It’s going to take place on Earth, and,” Jophiel said, leaning in, “from what I hear, it’ll take the Humans out of the game entirely. So don’t get too attached.”
Aziraphale intended to nod, but he put too much force behind the gesture and ended up swinging his head around wildly, colliding his head with Jophiel’s.
Or he would have, if they had both been made of the same matter. Since Jophiel was non-corporeal, Aziraphale’s head passed straight through his.
This fact did not stop the Archangel from making a disapproving noise, muttering something which sounded suspiciously like, “Can’t believe you’re going to Earth.”
Jophiel then handed Aziraphale his flaming sword, couped with a second, far more severe warning: “If you sustain enough damage on Earth, you’ll be discorporated, and you’ll end up back here. We won’t be able to send you back until the failure analysis of your discorporation is complete, so do try not to get yourself killed. Nod - carefully - if you understand.”
Aziraphale nodded, this time keeping control of his head.
“Right,” Jophiel said, checking off something on his clipboard. “Step over here and I’ll send you to Earth.” He pointed toward a circle on the ground, and Aziraphale followed orders.
Jophiel snapped his fingers, and Aziraphale was gone before he fully processed what was happening. “Good luck,” Jophiel said to the empty room.
Chapter 21: CHAPTER SIXTEEN - AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT (PART II)
As a content warning, the F-word is dropped once in this chapter about 11 paragraphs in.
And here's the second chapter! I hope y'all enjoy, and thank you so so so much for reading.
[Edit 1/4/2020: I realized I spelled Crawly's name wrong (Crawley), so I've gone back and fixed it :) ]
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The first thing Crawly ever heard was a long, bone-chilling cry. He cracked open his eyes, and was worried for a second that he’d gone blind. It was so dark.
“No, no, no, no!” he heard someone shouting. The voice sounded familiar to him.
Wincing, he pushed himself up off the ground - when did he get on the ground? - and moved very shakily towards the voice.
“Hello?” he called out. “Who’s there?”
A strangled cry came in response.
“I’m coming!” he yelled, willing himself to move faster. He wobbled unsteadily on his feet. Something felt wrong.
Without thinking, Crawly stretched his wings, intending to fly to his destination. As he did so, he realized three things very quickly. Firstly, his wings now had weight, and they were heavy. Secondly, they burned and ached. Thirdly, he was missing feathers all over the place, scorched away from the heat of something he couldn’t quite remember.
He put his wings away, resolving to deal with them later. Then, Crawly rounded a corner and found the source of the shouting.
A being, a creature stood under a spotlight of bright white light, holding up an angry fist. She looked broken, clearly doing her best to stand tall despite the pain written across her face, most of which was covered in scabs. Crawly’s eyes were drawn to the wings that extended from the creature’s back - much like the rest of her, they were bloodstained and burnt, but in between the trauma, white feathers shone through.
Something niggled at the back of Crawly’s mind: he knew this creature. But, more important than his vague recognition, Crawly felt frightened beyond words.
“FUCK YOU!” she screamed into the light. In response, the light abruptly shut off, leaving them both in darkness once more. Howling, she slammed her fist into the wall, then sunk to the floor.
Crawly took a step forward; he just wanted to help.
The creature looked up at him and froze for a second. Then, she caught him by surprise by screaming, “YOU!”
“Me?” Crawly jumped. “You!”
She looked confused, then angry about being confused. The creature howled again, a low sad noise that resonated in Crawly’s chest, sparking a thought. This was a… a...
A demon, his brain told him.
And so was he.
The floodgate broke then, and all of his memories crashed into the beach of his mind. The Gardens, the fight, and, oh, the Fall. He remembered the pain - God, the pain - and...
He staggered backwards. “Aziraphale,” he choked.
The angel’s name felt like a hot poker on his tongue; Heaven, just thinking the name gave him a headache. There was a new part of him that was disgusted by how good the angel was; he didn’t like that.
The demon on the floor moved with frightening speed and pinned Crawly to the wall. “What did you say?” she snarled at him.
“Nothing!” Crawly said, putting his hands up.
“That was an angel’s name - your angel,” the creature said. With more opportunities to look at the being in front of him, her name was swirling in his head.
“MY angel? Oh, no, no, absolutely not,” Crawly said. Not anymore, he thought, heart breaking again.
The creature’s eyes narrowed, and her name was suddenly on his tongue.
“Hel - ah!” Crawly started to say, but her name burned his mouth even worse than the angel’s had, setting fire to his tongue.
The demon roared and turned away from Crawly, dropping him to the floor. “NO,” she yelled. “THAT WAS HER NAME FOR ME - I WILL NOT TAKE IT.”
“Can’t say it anyway,” he griped, touching the burns on his tongue gingerly. “What should I call you?”
“I… I DON’T KNOW.”
“Right, well, you work on that. I’m going to look around.”
The remaining demons Crawly came across all reacted to his presence in much the same way: he was rebuked, cursed at, and beat upon for offering help. And yet, he continued. There was a part of him, untouched by the Fall, that ached to help the demons,
After some time and much screaming, the demons organized themselves enough to congregate in the largest room they could find.
Unlike the salons in Heaven, this was an awful cacophony of screaming. Every demon was hurt in some fashion - fractured halos, scorched wings, broken bones. No one had a name; they had all been burned away during the Fall. Their golden marks were burned away, replaced with horrific scars and scabs. And it was so, so cold.
It was a nightmare.
It was Hell.
Crawly lasted all of a minute in that room, steeping in the anger and hate of the demons around him, with nothing to temper the new, strong emotions. He made a lame, flimsy excuse which the demons around him didn’t listen to, and backed out of the crowd. When no one was looking, he ducked around a corner and out of sight.
As he walked, Crawly became aware of something bouncing against his right leg with every other step; it wasn’t heavy enough to throw off his gait, but it was large enough to be annoying. Still, he walked until the voices of the demons could no longer be heard. Once he was certain he was alone, only then did he stop, slumping up against the wall.
He pulled the thing out of his pocket, realizing with horror the only thing it could be.
“Oh,” he said, running a finger over the unmoving animal. On instinct, he kissed the snake, hoping, praying it would come back to life.
It did not.
“No,” he pleaded, looking upwards. “No, please.”
There was no response to his begging, from Heaven or the snake.
Crawly slid down the wall, coming to a stop on the floor next to a puddle. “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” he said to no one in particular. He looked up, back towards Heaven. “I’m so sorry, Azir-”, stopping short when the angel’s name burned his mouth again.
“I’m sorry, angel.” The nickname still hurt, but less.
It would have to be enough.
If you were to ever ask Crowley what happened in that hallway after he found the snake, he would proudly tell you that he figured out his whole escape plan that first night. He would, under no circumstances, tell you he curled up with the snake held closely and carefully to his chest, shielding them both with his broken wings. If you were to be very stupid and ask if he cried then, allowing his voice to join the scared, tired, angry chorus that rang from Hell that night, you would find yourself in for a lifetime of bad luck, starting with a swift removal of your presence from his.
Spirits in Hell were low, and they remained low; some would argue that they dropped even lower. After the initial shock, most of the demons took to their new freedom like they’d been born to cause mayhem. Hell became a nasty, dirty, terrible place to be, which made Crawly’s skin crawl. Through trial and error, he learned how to hide his concern - his desire to fix things - finding that if he played off most of his concern as sarcasm, he was considered passingly evil. That being said, he didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the demons - understandably so; he’d been more an unfortunate casualty than a leader of the cause.
The only peace Crawly could find was in the snake. While he’d been unable to bring the animal back to life, he had discovered a new power: angels were not allowed to possess other beings, but now that he was no longer an angel, Crawly found the possession rule did not apply to him. And so, he possessed the snake’s body, which, with its limited brain, freed him from most of his worries and desires. In fact, Crawly preferred the snake brain so much that he was, from that point on, rarely ever seen in his demonic form.
During the first night after the Fall, a new problem was discovered: all of the demon’s former names had been burned away during the Fall - literally - and any repetition of said name would result in a severely burned tongue.
A Renaming Ceremony was eventually held, during which Helel, or rather, Lucifer gave each of the demons a new name. When Crawly, in snake form, slithered up to Lucifer’s foot, he was met with a large glob of spit.
“You thought you were better than us, Archangel, but look at you - crawling in the dirt just like the rest of us! That’s what you’ll spend the rest of your existence doing: crawling.”
And so, he was Crawly.
The call from Heaven came an eternity later. The Archangel Michael appeared in the center of Hell, next to Lucifer’s throne.
“Heaven needs a demon to go to Earth,” she said, turning up her nose at the gathering before her - they smelled rank. “Humanity must be tempted,” Michael continued nasally, doing her best not to breathe in. “Make a choice. You have 12 hours.” And then she was gone.
A fight broke out instantly. Demons scuffled, biting, scratching, kicking, and stomping on one another. The distinct CRACK of a bone could be heard every few seconds. Lucifer watched and waited.
Crawly slithered through the fight unimpeded up to the foot of Lucifer’s throne.
“Lucssssssifer,” he said, “Lookssssss like I made it up here firssssst.”
Lucifer looked down at him and sneered. “I’d never send you to Earth in a million years.” Then, she stomped on him to prove a point, squishing the snake beneath her foot.
A few minutes later, after coming back into being, Crawly sat at the edge of the arena, watching the remainder of the scuffle. Unsurprisingly, the fight had been whittled down to two of Lucifer’s favorites: Beezlebub and Hastur. They were not playing fair. Eventually, Hastur got Beezlebub in a headlock and snapped her neck, ending the fight. A cheer went up from half the room. The other half began to protest their loss, a few side scuffles breaking out over debts owed.
“It is decided!” Lucifer shouted over the din. “Hastur’s going to Earth.”
The portal of light opened once more, and Michael returned. “Who?” she asked, strategically limiting her words.
Lucifer stepped aside to present Hastur, who looked uncharacteristically happy.
It was at this moment that Crawly saw his chance.
He took off, slithering between feet, praying that Hastur would be just self-centered enough for his plan to work.
“I’d say that I’ll think about you when I’m up there, but I won’t!” Hastur shouted to the crowd, who had stopped fighting amongst themselves and had turned their frustration on Hastur.
Crawly was halfway up the steps.
“So long, suckers!” Hastur cried, waving his hands and turning towards the portal.
He was only steps away from it, and Crawly had at least six feet to go - he wasn't going to make it.
Crawly shifted back into his demonic form, growing larger as he slid across the ground to the beam of light. His face scraped along the rough rock of the pulpit, but - YES! - his hand entered the light a fraction of a second before Hastur’s did.
“What?” said Michael.
“What?” said Hastur.
“WHAT?” said Lucifer.
“YESSSSSSS!” shouted Crawly. He could feel himself getting lighter, lifting off the ground, flying once more. One foot became two feet, which became ten feet. He’d done it - he was leaving Hell.
“So long, suckers!” he repeated, reveling not in their shocked faces, but in his only victory since waking up in Hell.
And then he popped out of existence in Hell and into existence on Earth.
1 He didn’t know he was Crawly, of course; that name would come later. Though, as you are no doubt aware, he wouldn’t keep that name for very long. [return to text]
2 Again, the name would come later. [return to text]
3 Some of them were. [return to text]
4 All with the exception of Azazel. For whatever reason, his name wasn’t marked out on the Heavenly name list. After a time, everyone simply forgot he’d never been renamed, and he never spoke up. [return to text]
5 Formerly known as Ariel, who was previously met. [return to text]
6 Formerly known as Mikael, who was an angel in the Virtues. [return to text]
Chapter 22: CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH
Hey team, welcome to the penultimate chapter (though it's the last chapter of the book inside the story, so I guess y'all have reached one of two ends)! Thank you to everyone who's made it this far - your comments, messages, and kudos have kept me going and encouraged me to the end, so thank you to everyone :)
I hope you enjoy this chapter, and I hope you enjoy the next one too, cuz I'm putting them both out today!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ethereal discorporation is not a comfortable process, and while most celestial beings have gotten the hang of it by now, the first time is always rough.
Take, for example, Aziraphale: after arriving in the Garden of Eden, the first thing he did was become violently ill.
Once he had everything out of his system, the Principality could then take in the sights around him. And, oh, what sights there were! Trees stretched up towards Heaven, their leaves a vibrant, new-growth green, and their branches laden with every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable. The ground was soft and pliable, but didn’t stick to his bare feet. It was a pleasant summer day.
Emotions battled inside of Aziraphale as he gawked at the Garden. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen, and yet… a strange sense of familiarity coursed through him. He couldn’t explain how, but he knew this place.
Distracted by the sights around him, Aziraphale ran into the humans wandering the Garden together, just as awe-struck as he was.
After he regained control of his heartbeat, Aziraphale offered the humans his most winning smile in an attempt to put them at ease.
“Hello and welcome to Eden! I am the Principality Aziraphale of the Eastern Gate, and I’m so pleased to finally meet you both!” he finished breathlessly. He had tried his best to make the introduction succinct, but his excitement had gotten the better of him.
Aziraphale scanned the two humans in front of him, waiting for their reaction, hoping he hadn’t already lost their attention, and then his eyes fell on the pair’s clasped hands. His smile faltered for only a moment as a wave of nostalgia, tinged with sadness, crashed into him; it was undoubtedly the same feeling he’d felt upon arriving in Eden, but it was stronger. More pointed.
The Principality flexed his hand nervously.
Blessedly, the humans smiled at him then – kind and open smiles – and they got on with properly introducing themselves. After introductions had been completed, Aziraphale offered to show the humans around Eden, and was surprised when they accepted his offer.
The humans continued to surprise Aziraphale as they walked, asking him questions about the plants and animals they passed; even more surprising, they listened.
Eve plucked another flower, a stunning purple flower, from the ground and held it up to Aziraphale, just under his nose. “What’s this one called?” she asked sweetly, smiling at him.
Aziraphale looked at the flower for only a moment, taking in its color and fragrance all at once. “That’s a horned violet,” he replied instantly, doing his best to ignore the complicated feelings mixing in his stomach at the sight of the innocuous plant. Nostalgia reared its head once more, but Aziraphale pushed it down, moving on to the next question as quickly as he could.
Their journey concluded at the base of the The Tree of Knowledge, which Aziraphale made a very large point of pointing out, along with the large sign on it which read: “DON’T TOUCH”.
“Hey, Aziraphale!” a voice called down from above them, “get back to your post!”
It was Daniel, the Guard of the Western Wall.
“Ah,” said Aziraphale. He turned back to the humans and said, as cheerfully as he could, “I’m afraid I have to leave you now. But good luck! I’ll keep an eye out for you!”
He stretched his wings and lifted off; by the time he reached the top of the Eastern Wall, it was clear he’d left his good mood on the ground. This is… decidedly less interesting, he thought sourly.
Kicking a few errant rocks off the top of the wall, Aziraphale resigned himself to a rather boring existence on Earth.
Upon Crawly’s arrival in Eden, he felt the same urge to be sick, and instead, turned himself back into a snake; a smaller creature with a smaller stomach handled the transition between planes better.
Then the demon looked up and felt his stomach turn for an entirely different reason: a profound sense of loss coursed through him. Eden looked like the Heavenly Gardens - his Gardens, where he used to sit and relax - God, he hadn’t relaxed in so long! He used to sit and listen to - well, Lucifer, now, or Az -
Crawly shook his head, hissing at himself angrily, “Get a grip, you are a demon.” He’d been sent up here to cause trouble. Well, he hadn’t exactly been sent, but now that he was here, he needed to follow orders; otherwise, he assumed, Hell would call him back, which wouldn’t do at all. Therefore, he needed to follow the plan; to do that, first, he was going to need to get over himself.
Flicking his tongue out, he caught the scent of the humans - they were close to him and, more importantly, they were alone. The snake began to wind his way through the underbrush towards them, thinking up new and interesting ways to cause trouble to distract himself from the waves of nostalgia flooding through him.
As Crawly neared the humans, the flicked his tongue out once more and caught the scent of something different - the scent of purity and celestial harmonies and –
He stopped dead in his tracks, coiling up on himself in a defensive position. There was an angel in front of him.
Crawly hadn’t interacted with an angel since the Fall (other than Michael), but he had a feeling if he walked up to the agent of God and asked how the weather was, he’d end up back in Hell faster than he could say “Hi”.
And yet... there was something more in the angel’s scent, something familiar that Crawly couldn’t quite place; something that made him want to stay nearby.
So, he watched from afar as the angel met the humans. Crawly had missed the angel’s name during their introductions, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that this angel was familiar to him. Uncomfortably familiar. He listened to the angel talk, but Crawly’s snake ears couldn’t pick up enough detail in the voice to figure out who he was.
When the trio moved, the snake followed them, winding his way through the long grass just out of sight, watching them explore Eden together. The angel surprised Crawly with his knowledge of the animals and plants, naming off his horned violet like it was nothing. When the angel wasn’t looking, Eve wove the horned violet into Adam’s hair, and Crawly had to turn away; his heart felt like it was going to burst. Get. It. Together.
It wasn’t until the angel was reprimanded back to his posting that Crawly heard the angel’s name.
“Hey Aziraphale, get back to your post!”
Crawly nearly discorporated himself. He hadn’t heard that name – he hadn’t thought that name – in ages. There was no way in Hell, Heaven, or Earth that he, Crawly, could be lucky enough such that Aziraphale was also here.
His mouth opened and closed a few times as his mind turned. I have to talk to him, Crawly thought, heart pounding. Aziraphale.
The rest of this story plays out the way you expect – Crawly, as a snake, eventually tempted Eve to eat an apple from the Tree of Knowledge (“Mmm, crisp!” she remarked on first bite), she offered it to Adam, and humanity was forever doomed to a life outside of Eden, where they knew pain and suffering and death.
As he helped them escape from the walled garden, Aziraphale offered his flaming sword to the humans, to protect themselves – these corporeal bodies were so squishy, and humans couldn’t be re-corporated if they died.
When all was said and done, Aziraphale stood on the Eastern wall, watching Adam and Eve leave the garden, hand in hand, wondering why there was a strange ache in his chest at the sight. He attributed it to the fear he’d done something incredibly, unforgivably wrong.
Crawly snaked his way up to stand next to the right of the angel, and morphed back into his human-based form. Here goes nothing.
The angel caught him halfway through the transformation, and looked away politely. The feeling of worry in his stomach turned into the feeling of dread. First, he’d let the humans succumb to temptation, now a demon? He braced himself for an attack.
“Well, that went down like a lead balloon,” the demon said.
Aziraphale’s head snapped over to his unwelcome companion cringing at the occult being’s smile. Then he realized he had no idea what the demon could possibly mean.
“Sorry, what was that?” he asked.
Crawly realized two things very quickly:
- Vernacular in Hell had already diverged from Heaven’s, so of course Aziraphale wouldn’t know what he was talking about and,
- (And this was really the worst) Aziraphale had no idea who he was. There was no spark of recognition when their eyes met, no gasp of realization from the angel.
Crawly’s spirits, previously held aloft by the presence of his angel, went down like a lead balloon inside of him. It was quickly replaced with another balloon, held aloft by anger. They must have done something to you - what did they do - I’ll kill Heaven - I bet it was Gabriel.
It was at this point that Crawly realized his angel - no, just an angel that looked hauntingly similar to his angel - was staring at staring at him.
He cleared his throat and said, “I said, that went down like a lead balloon.”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, very nervous to be talking to this demon. “Yes it did rather.”
He looked away, back to the humans trekking out across the desert, praying the lack of eye contact would signal the end of their conversation. What would it look like to Heaven if he, Guardian of the Eastern Wall, not only had, well, let’s say misplaced his flaming sword, but then had a nice chat with a demon from Hell? Not good.
Crawly realized that, Aziraphale, being an angel, was trying to politely end their conversation. And so he, being a demon, pressed forward.
“Bit of an overreaction, if you ask me,” he drawled again, catching the angel’s eye. “First offence and everything.”
He took a breath to steady himself - these words were hitting a little too close to home for his liking.
“I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil anyway.”
These words set Aziraphale on edge, a voice from a half-remembered nightmare.
“Well,” he reasoned through the anxiety. “It must be bad…” The angel paused. He felt like the demon’s name was on the tip of his tongue, eroded by time and impossible to decipher.
Crawly jumped in. “Crawly,” he offered, cringing imperceptibly. He loathed his new name, but it would have to do in place of his original one; it still burned his tongue to say aloud, and the blisters weren’t worth it.
Crawly would have to do.
“Crawly,” Aziraphale repeated, allowing the feeling of wrongness to subside. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have tempted them into it.”
“Oh,” the demon said blithely, appearing for all the world cool and suave. “They just said ‘Get up there and make some trouble.’”
“Well, obviously,” Aziraphale continued, drilling down on his point. “You’re a demon. It’s what you do.”
Crawly swallowed once, rather uncomfortably, and changed the subject.
“Not very subtle of the Almighty, though; fruit tree in the middle of a garden with a ‘Don’t Touch’ sign? I mean, why not put it on the top of a high mountain? Or on the moon?” He looked back at Aziraphale, who – yes! – he seemed to be pondering the question.
“Makes you wonder what God’s really planning,” Crawly finished with a smile.
The angel opened his mouth to respond, then thought better of it.
“Best not to speculate,” he said eventually, defeatedly; this was a line of questioning he’d been reprimanded for in the past.
“It’s all part of the Great Plan. It’s not for us to understand. It’s ineffable.”
Vernacular certainly has changed. The Ineffable Plan had been all the rage in Heaven before he’d left, and now it was the Great Plan? Something niggled at the back of his brain, but he didn’t have enough information to put it together.
“The Great Plan’s ineffable?” he asked incredulously.
“Exactly,” Aziraphale explained, explaining exactly nothing. “It is beyond understanding and incapable of being put into words.”
Crawly’s spirits had only dropped further throughout their conversation; he had hoped their conversation would spark something in the angel - bring back the Aziraphale he had known - but it hadn’t worked.
Crawly's gaze dropped. Then, he noticed something.
“Didn’t you have a flaming sword?” the demon asked
Aziraphale’s haughtiness slid off his face and onto the ground, replaced by a strong sense of guilt. He looked away, fiddling with his hands uncomfortably. “Erm...”
“You did! It was flaming like anything! What happened to it?”
“Erm…” Aziraphale repeated. He’d already lied to God about it, and it was eating him up inside. This demon was more persistent that She’d been, and it was causing the truth to claw its way up his throat.
“Lost it already, have you?” Crawly jibed playfully. If he couldn’t get the truth, then he could at least make Aziraphale smile.
The truth forced its way out of the angel’s mouth. “... Gave it away,” Aziraphale murmured, looking pointedly at the humans.
“You WHAT?” Crawly asked, positive he'd heard correctly, but unwilling to believe his ears.
Aziraphale turned to the demon. “I gave it away!” he repeated at full volume.
Crawly’s face lit up. Aziraphale continued to talk, but the demon wasn’t listening. His heart, very corporeal and very strong, was beating loudly, almost deafeningly, in his ears. His knees felt as though they’d been replaced with ice, ice which was now rapidly melting.You’re still in there.
Aziraphale turned away once more, wringing his hands more vigorously than before. “I do hope I didn’t do the wrong thing,” he worried aloud.
Crawly felt the love he’d pushed down, hidden to protect it from Hell, well up inside of him; for everything that had changed about Aziraphale, he was still so concerned about being good. “Oh,” he breathed. “You’re an angel.” My angel. “I don’t think you can do the wrong thing.”
Aziraphale’s face lit up as he turned back to the demon; this type of praise was hard to come by in Heaven for him.
“Oh, oh, thank -” He swallowed then, remembering himself and who he was talking to. Michael would have chastised him, telling him to contain his excitement. And yet, there was something about this demon, something so familiar, something that told him his over-excitement would be welcome.
“Oh, thank you! It’s been bothering me,” he finished, breathless.
Crawly had, of course, hoped Eden would be better than Hell, but this was all so much better than he’d dared to hope it would be. I’ll make him remember, he vowed in that moment. My angel’s still in there somewhere.
“I’ve been worrying, too,” Crawly heard himself say, smile still on his face. “What if I did the right thing with the whole ‘eat the apple’ business?” Aziraphale didn’t take the bait, instead staring off into the distance where Adam was busy fighting a lion.
Crawly continued. “A demon can get into a lot of trouble for doing the right thing.”
Adam killed the lion.
“Funny if we both got it wrong, eh?”
Aziraphale turned to look at him quizzically, not understanding.
“If I did the good thing and you did the bad one,” Crawly finished. This very one-sided conversation was so close to conversations they’d had in Heaven. And now, here they were again, in a very different place, having a very familiar conversation.
He couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Aziraphale laughed with Crawly for a moment, looking from the dead lion to the toothy grin of the demon next to him, before the demon’s words sunk in. You’re on thin ice already, Aziraphale, a voice that sounded uncomfortably like Gabriel’s whispered in his ear. This is NOT what you should be discussing, and certainly NOT with a demon!
The angel’s laugh died in his throat. “No! It wouldn’t be funny at all!”
“Well,” Crawly began to say. Before he could continue, to jibe Aziraphale back into a philosophical discussion, the rain came.
Despite his internal monologue, Aziraphale instinctually lifted his wing over the demon to shield him. It’s just water, his brain chastised him, but he raised a wing nonetheless. There was something about this demon - something familiar and welcoming, which went against everything Aziraphale knew about demons.
Crawly took a step closer to him, bringing himself out of the rain and under the angel’s wing.
Together they stood, in a strangely comfortable silence, and watched the rain fall.
1 Face first. [return to text]
2 Eve and Adam, of course. [return to text]
3 If he’d had knees at this point, he would have fallen to them. [return to text]
4 He could have, of course, turned back into his human-esque form, but that would have given his position away. [return to text]
5 Ironically creating the Eastern Gate. [return to text]
Chapter 23: EPILOGUE, PRESENT DAY - AFTER ARMAGEDDON
And now, the end.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“ - and watched the rain fall,” Aziraphale finished. He’d recalled everything that happened since Chapter 15, as those chapters covered the beginning of his life. Or what he considered to be the beginning of his life, at any rate.
Next to him, Crowley sighed contentedly. He was tucked under the covers and against Aziraphale, pretending to be asleep. He’d woken up somewhere around the middle of Chapter 15, completely missing Aziraphale’s conversation with God; when he awoke, he’d made Aziraphale start Chapter 15 over.
His eyes were only half open as he mumbled, “You read good, angel.”
“Thank you, my dear,” Aziraphale smiled at him. Early morning light streamed in through the window, gently warming the exposed side of Crowley’s face, caressing it. Aziraphale thought about doing the same, but hesitated, unsure as to how the demon would receive the gesture. It had been a trying day for the both of them; Aziraphale didn’t want to become another source of stress.
Instead, the angel flipped the last page of the book over, examining the paper for any extras; a small part of him hoped that God Herself had signed the book somewhere.
His searching paid off, as he discovered the book’s final secret. A glyph was inscribed on the inside of the back cover, and Aziraphale recognized it immediately - written in angelic script, the back cover said: “Remember.” It glowed slightly as Aziraphale read the word, understood the word, and realized what it could possibly mean.
Three things happened very quickly.
Thing the First: the soft glow of the glyph flashed impossibly white, momentarily blinding both the angel and demon.
“Fuck!” Crowley swore, covering his eyes. If he’d had his glasses, the light wouldn’t have been nearly as bad, but as it was, he now couldn’t see a thing.
Thing the Second: the book grew so hot in Aziraphale’s hands that he dropped it onto the duvet, where it started to smolder, setting a small fire in Aziraphale’s lap.
Thing the Third (and perhaps the most important): the angel’s eyes rolled back in his head as he began to remember.
There is a very large difference between being told of an event and recalling your own memories, and Aziraphale had quite a lot to remember at once. It came back to him in stages - the expansiveness of the Kitchen, Cassiel, Helel, all of the angels who were now demons, what he’d done to Heaven, meeting God? - and, oh -
“Raphael,” the name slipped from his lips as he fell backwards onto the stack of pillows. He could recall it all: the Archangel Raphael in all his Godly glory, hand in hand, being shown the stars, fighting one another, the heartache of being kept apart, and love! He’d been in love! He felt the old, familiar feeling spread from his stomach to his fingertips and take root in his bones. Aziraphale, young and timid, had been in love with not just an angel, but an Archangel who loved him in return, and, oh wasn’t that strange? The feeling was familiar; it didn’t feel very different - but, then again, why would it? It was the same, the very same love, and the very same being.
Aziraphale slowly became aware of someone shaking his shoulders. He blinked a few times, trying to separate memories from current events.
“Aziraphale!” Crowley yelled, voice strangled and cracking. “Oh, angel, please!”
Aziraphale also became aware of a faint scent of burning. He shook his head and, attempting to bring his eyes into focus, but finding it more difficult than it should have been.
Crowley was on his lap, shaking his shoulders. The book was gone, but a scattering of ash across the duvet and floor led to Aziraphale to conclude it had burned itself up. For your eyes only, indeed, he thought peevishly.
“Crowley,” he said, softly, looking back at his worried companion. “It’s alright.”
The demon sagged and buried his head in Aziraphale’s neck. Aziraphale thought he heard a sob, but said nothing. Instead, he brought his arms up and held Crowley there; not too tight, not too loose, just enough to say I’m here and I’m never going anywhere.
After some time, Crowley unburied himself and looked at the angel. His eyes were red, but he didn’t care anymore. “I-I thought I was going to lose you again,” he whispered. He didn’t enjoy thinking about the last time there had been a fire in Aziraphale’s bookshop.
Aziraphale took a second to answer. In his mind’s eye, he saw two figures in front of him: one was Crowley. The same face he had seen with increasing frequency for the last 6000 years; his loyal companion and, dare he say it - friend. He knew every ridge and wrinkle of Crowley’s face and loved him, he loved him, with a love that Aziraphale reserved for old books and crepes.
The second figure took Aziraphale’s breath away. He looked much the same, but every freckle glowed golden with God’s light. His eyes were, not yellow, but golden and brilliant and kind. He was kindness incarnate, brilliant red hair braided down his back. His wings were glorious, stretched out to either side, more fantastic than any Archangel’s wings he’d ever seen before. It was still Crowley, but not Crowley - it was Crowley Before.
It was Raphael.
You will love again, God’s words rang in his ears.
Now it was Aziraphale’s turn to cry. His breath, which had hitched in his throat at the sight of Crowley’s face, let itself go, bringing tears with it. He cried for everything he’d done. He cried for all the people he’d hurt. He cried for all the years they’d lost, but he also cried for the newfound memories and the knowledge they brought. He cried for what lay ahead of them, now that they had a future, and he cried for everything they’d been given.
And Crowley held him.
When the tears were dried, Aziraphale looked back up at Crowley, red eyes matching the demon’s. “I -” he choked. “I remember.”
Crowley’s face lit up. “You do?”
Aziraphale could do no more than nod. There was nothing more to say; all the words had been said.
There was only one thing left he needed to do.
Moving slowly, gently, carefully, Aziraphale reached up and placed a hand on Crowley’s face. Then he brought the demon’s face down, meeting him halfway, and they kissed.
It was like each one of them remembered, and it was completely new. There was no pretense, no pretending, just a private display of love and affection between two beings who had waited far too long.
They had found their Heaven at last.
For those who were paying attention at that particular moment on this particular day swore that, against everything known by science or discussed in philosophy, the world got a little brighter. The sun shone harder, the leaves were crisper underfoot, food tasted better, and even the dreary places seemed a little more beautiful. Several scientific breakthroughs all occurred simultaneously, and no less than four stars went supernova.
It was as if, for some reason, the entire universe had something to rejoice about.
And rejoice it did.
I didn't want to clutter up the top with a bunch of words, but:
Thank you to every single person who read this story - my posting schedule was erratic at best, and so I really appreciate everyone who came back when I had a few 6 week breaks in the middle there. All of y'alls comments and kudos and messages have been lovely, and made this writing process so much better than it would have been otherwise :) A hundred million thanks to the people who beta'd this story, even when their own lives were hectic and crazy.
And... yeah. Thanks team :)