Chapter 1: Prolouge
—Prologue: London, 1981—
Crowley didn’t have time for this, and he scrunched his face up when the buzzer rang the first time, and sighed in a put-upon way when it continued to ring a second time. Well, he amended to himself, technically I have Time because, obviously, immortal Being, whatever. I don’t particularly have the Inclination. Oh, well.
But, there was a strange, certainly demonic presence making a good deal of noise at the door buzzer, and so he paused his record, put down the cigarette he had been rolling, smoothed his hair, and slithered off the couch.
“Hello, yes, demon Crowley I presume? We haven’t met. Fastitocalon, infernal bureaucracy.” A decidedly average, slump shouldered, grey-suited man with yellow eyes and a pallor to his skin blinked up at him, offering his hand to shake, which Crowley declined. Infernal bureaucracy? Wasn’t that redundant?
“Um, yeah. Hi…” He stood in the doorway, not exactly inviting the other demon in, but not being entirely rude either—perhaps he was a wicked being, but he had Manners, dammit.
“Right then, won’t be keeping you long,” Fastitocalon paused to cough a rattling, bronchial cough, which was odd—most Beings chose to simply Intervene when earthly ailments got to them. “Just have a bit of human business that needs, er, an eye kept on it, discretely. Not that I haven’t got it under control, mind you, but you know how They are, and I’ve heard rumors you’re rather inclined towards humans yourself.”
“Come in, if you want. No need to talk about human matters on the stoop. Wouldn’t want the neighbors to think I was in the business of doing Favors for just any old demon, you know.”
“Right, right.” Fastitocalon scuttled in after him, and Crowley couldn’t help but wonder how they had never crossed paths before. The other demon’s energy was old, ancient even, and lacked the Slippery quality that those who had recently been Below always seemed to shimmer with—he’d been around almost as long as Crowley himself, and Up Top for just about the same.
They sat, facing each other, and Crowley went back to rolling his tobacco and herbs—something sweet and floral. An uncomfortable moment passed.
“Out with it, what do you want me to do?”
“So, yes, this human—a girl, a human girl, she’s about seven now, the daughter of a dear friend of mine. And really, it would be an immense favor, I would entirely owe you one, as they say…She’s very important to me, and her father has just died. It is imperative, absolutely imperative that she is kept safe. You know how uncertain these things are. Maybe They won’t need an Accounting demon up here forever… it would mean ever so much to me to know that someone else had their eyes on young Greta.”
Now, this is interesting. He’s…like me? Crowley tried hard to look nonplussed. It was rare, extremely rare for demons to form attachments in the way that he had. Though, perhaps, Fastitocalon’s attachment was quite a bit more paternal than his own feelings for Someone.
“Why?” He flicked one of his fingertips into flame, took a long drag on his cigarette, and winced apologetically when Fastitocalon began to cough again.
“Well, she’s a Helsing. You’re aware of what they do for the monster community, aren’t you?”
“Vaguely… Oh, so, like that Helsing? Did they drop the “Van” then?”
“Oh yes, perhaps a century ago. I know the Lord will be ever so grateful as well, if I can say that you’re in, so to speak…” Seeing Crowley’s quirked eyebrow, Fastitocalon quickly corrected himself: “Not, That Lord, of course, I meant Lord Ruthven—you have heard of Ruthven, haven’t you?”
“Ruthven? Of course.” Crowley took another purposefully nonchalant drag. It does sound familiar…Will have to look him up…What the hell, this could be interesting. And, besides, if I don’t stick to the bargain, well, I’m a demon! It should be expected of me. “Alright then. I’ll lurk around, keep eyes on things. Only if you get recalled, of course.”
“Of course. Should that happen, Lord Ruthven will contact you, and will discuss details of the arrangement. I do appreciate this, Crowley. I am afraid I don’t much seek out the company of other demons, but if you should ever like to speak to me I suppose I could leave my card…” He stood, wrung his hands once, looking pleased with himself.
“That’s alright, I don’t seek our kind out either. Do my own thing.” Crowley made no move to get up, kicking his slipper-clad feet onto the coffee table, instantly regretting that it didn’t look quite as badass as he had thought it would in his red suede Minnetonka’s. So much for keeping up my dark and stormy reputation.
“Well, then. Good bye.” And with that Fastitocalon just…disappeared, leaving the faint smell of charred ozone and nothing else.
“Show-off.” Crowley muttered, shaking his head and stubbing the end of the cigarette into the ashtray. Stunts like that used a lot of demonic energy and were rarely worth it, still, it did look good. He wasn’t sure quite what to think, or entirely what he had gotten himself into. The chances he gets recalled are…slim. Very slim. In the meantime, I’ll just stay aware…Put some feelers out. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, thinking, and then, with a sigh, reached for the phone, and dialed up the only number he had memorized.
“Angel. Could I…tempt you…to some sushi?” On the other end of the line, Aziraphale sighed longsufferingly.
And so, they went to one of the angel’s favorite restaurants, and Crowley told him all about his strange visitor that afternoon, and Aziraphale, who is quite a bit better at keeping track of names and faces in the London social scene, reminded him that they do know Lord Ruthven, the vampire who hosted all the best parties in town and was an unofficial leader of the monster community. In fact, the more he thought it about it, Aziraphale remembered that the late Dr. Helsing had even visited A.Z. Fell & Co’s bookshop, looking for Egyptian medical texts on one occasion, and on another just to chat. Aziraphale was glad that Crowley had been recruited to keep track of that family, as he quite liked them, and thought they were doing a good thing for the greater London area; he would never tell Crowley, of course, but as far as he was concerned it was now just as much his job to look out for young Greta as it was Crowley’s.
Across the ocean, another seven-year-old girl was grieving the loss of a parent—her mother. But, the demon and his angel, and most other people in the world were unaware of this, and would remain unaware for quite some time.
—London: Several Months After the Armageddon That Wasn’t—
Cohabitation was going… as well as could be expected. They had picked out a new flat together. Big windows, decently large rooms that were small enough to be practical but big enough to entertain in—should they want to, and luxurious drapes. The entire affair was…cozy. That was the word. Certain things were difficult of course—the cooking. The cooking was hard; Crowley firmly believed that to cook one must have all of the ingredients one could possibly ever need, along with all requisite utensils, spread across every available surface in the kitchen. This was very difficult for Aziraphale, who liked to individually prepare each ingredient, sort them into animal-shaped prep dishes (the measuring cups shaped like hedgehogs were his favorite), and line them up along the counter one by one like little soldiers. So, they took turns. And, the sleeping. It wasn’t hard, because when is sleeping with the love of your eternal life ever truly hard? But, there had been certain unexpected logistical concerns: Aziraphale ran warm, and preferred to sleep splayed on his back, with arms and legs rather akimbo; Crowley was a burrower, curling in on himself and cocooning in as many blankets as Aziraphale would allow in the bed. Most nights there were terse negotiations over which pillows belonged where, the merits of a top sheet (Aziraphale for, Crowley against), and whose turn it was to have the pins and needle arm if they were attempting to sleep spoon-style. But, each morning they woke up comfortably tangled and figured that was alright.
The new flat was much closer to A.Z. Fell & Co.’s bookshop, which they had both been spending a lot of time in recently. Aziraphale loved seeing Crowley sprawled lazily across the cozy armchairs, playing on his phone or working on some sort of craft project. So far, he had most enjoyed hand quilting, and did not have the patience for crochet. Aziraphale had his own work to do, keeping the stacks organized, researching rare editions and tracking their provenance records to ensure everything was quite in order. He did worry about Crowley though, with as enjoyable as hand quilting was, it still didn’t quite make up for having a Purpose. It was something they both struggled with—now that they weren’t being observed, weren’t being given orders, they were…free. But not having ever expected to be, they both sort of lacked the imagination to truly find a new way to Be, and so they settled easily and peacefully into puttering domestic bliss. Old worries subsided, old habits were replaced with newer ones, and old promises slipped gently to the backs of their minds.
Chapter 2: Strange and Unusual
– London, A Considerable Time After the Armageddon That Wasn’t—
It was midmorning, and the summer sun drifted lazily through the windows at the front of the bookshop—dappling everything in a soft, warm light, seeping through cracks and spreading like a liquid. Aziraphale busied himself around the shop, taking advantage of his favorite time of day, when the whole world seemed a little more magical. He had recently become interested in herbal smudging and the merits of essential oils, and so was experimenting with which scents best fit the shop’s attitude. He was desperately trying to decide between a blend of tangerine, ylang ylang, and patchouli versus chamomile, lavender, and lemon—really, both were excellent—when a woman stepped into the shop. Aziraphale loved having customers; each time someone came in to look at his books, to ask him about his books, he swelled with joy and his natural inclination to be helpful went into overdrive.
“Hello! Oh, do let me know if you would like help looking for anything! I’ve got a bit of it all, you know…” He rocked back and forth on his heels, just anticipating all the possible wonders someone might stumble across in his shop, and how delightful that would be for them. Then, he actually took a moment to look at the woman. She was pinch faced and dark haired, with wide eyes, wearing a wide brimmed, black hat with a veil in the back, which Aziraphale naturally admired, but even he recognized as being quite out of place in this day and age.
“Oh, hey there. Um, I’m just sort of browsing. Something pulled me in here…” She looked at Aziraphale closely, cocking her head to one side. She was American, by her accent, and something about her made him feel…uneasy wasn’t the right word, he could sense that she had pure intentions, but Seen. Noticed, when human eyes usually slid over and around him in a comfortable way. He shivered, involuntarily.
“Ah, yes, I know that feeling! The magic of books! So enticing.” He chuckled, and the woman drifted to a shelf, running her hands along the spines, quiet for a few moments. Aziraphale went back to agonizing over his essential oils, forgetting she was in the store until she spoke again.
“No…I don’t think it was the books. I think…are you a ghost? You don’t Feel like a ghost, but...” She didn’t seem accusatory, just genuinely curious—but still, he was quite taken aback.
“I’m sorry? What am I?”
“Well, you’re not human…are you?” She looked at him again, an eyebrow quirked, as though she already knew his answer. “I’m Dr. Lydia Deetz—I’m a professor on the history of the Occult, back in the states. I’m in London with a research grant…Your store Spoke to me. I thought maybe there was an esoteric text here, but now I think it was you.” She smiled softly, and turned back to the shelf she had been perusing. “But if you say no ghost, I’ll believe you. You are rather too corporeal. I’m sorry I asked right off the bat—American rudeness I suppose.” And Aziraphale did sense then a true flash of apologetic feeling. He wondered if she was sending it to him on purpose, because clearly she did know Something about how Beings worked, and she had picked him out so easily, which no human had ever truly done, and he was utterly fascinated.
“Well, that’s alright. I’m no ghost…I’m a bookshop keeper. That’s all. Do enjoy looking around. I have some mystical texts, if you are interested in those… They’ll be in the back corner over there, around the column.”
“Oh, exciting. Thanks.” She didn’t seem offended at all that he hadn’t exactly been forthcoming, but there was something different in the energy he felt now…Oh, I need Crowley. He’s so much better at sensing the human feelings. Their subtleties. The better to manipulate with, I suppose…He should have been back by now! He only stepped out for coffees… At that moment, in fact, Crowley was sauntering with purpose back to A.Z. Fell & Co. He had been delayed at the corner coffee shop, as the proprietor had just stocked several new pastries, and he had simply not been able to decide which one his angel would prefer, so naturally, he had to get one of each, in addition to the traditional ones. Which then led to negotiations of how he would transport them all. Now, he was the proud owner of an iced caramel macchiato, thirteen pastries in five different little bags placed inside a cardboard box, and a hot cup of early grey. It was quite the balancing act.
“Oh, angel! Darling dear! I come bearing many pastries!” Crowley burst through the door of the bookshop, not really expecting there to be any customers.
“Crowley! Darling! I was just thinking about you. Um, let’s put those in the back room, why don’t we? And, thank you, of course.” Aziraphale tried to cut his eyes in a subtle way between Crowley and Dr. Lydia Deetz, but was afraid the message wasn’t entirely clear. So, with much flapping of his arms he ushered Crowley into the shop’s private room. “I have to tell you! Did—did you notice that woman? She Knows I’m not human? Oh, what do we do? She’s…an occultist. She has this Energy; I swear she was sending me feelings from across the room! She sent me apology feelings!!” He looked up at his demon with large, frightened eyes. This was deeply unprecedented, and he did not trust it at all.
“Well… that’s something, innit? What do we...do?”
“I haven’t the foggiest.”
“I guess we could…talk to her?”
“Do you think so?”
“If it goes poorly, we can just Intervene, can’t we?”
“Oh, dear.” Aziraphale wrung his hands, worried but ultimately accepting that Crowley probably knew best, at least at the moment. He reserved the right to change his mind if it should all go horribly wrong. Crowley slid past him back into the shop, gently squeezing the angel’s shoulder as he did, sending warm tingles and a sense that Everything Would Work Out up and down Aziraphale’s spine.
Dr. Deetz was basically where they had left her, now sitting legs crossed on the floor, pouring over the darker bookshelves.
“Oi. Doctor.” She looked up at Crowley then, and he noticed what Aziraphale had tried to describe. Beings like the angel and demon could sense all sorts of preternatural phenomenon: auras, ley lines, qi energy, doors to other universes and dimensions (though they rarely opened them, as it was quite a hassle), and some Beings who honed their skills even could see a read out of a human’s natal chart and unbalanced chakras if they squint their eyes just right. Right now, Crowley saw that she was making a distinct effort to make her energy, her Intentions, easy to read. It was polite, really—and not very typical at all, for your average human. He decided it was a good sign. “I’m Crowley, Az’s husband. He’s feeling a bit shy so you’ll have to settle for me. Care to talk about spooks?”
And so that was how they had ended up sitting in the back room, the doctor eating a few of the pastries that had been meant for Aziraphale as the angel himself flitted nervously back and forth from the shop proper and poking his head in the doorway to make sure everything was going well. Their conversation had begun broadly: first, the research grant she was trying to secure, which had brought her to London in the first place, then what she had done so far on her visit (not much, it turned out she had only just landed the previous morning), and so on.
Eventually, Crowley leaned forward, shifted his sunglasses slightly down the bridge of his nose so that just the smallest glint of his yellow, serpentine eyes shone over the rims, steepled his fingers. “So, demons. Thoughts?” Watching her aura closely, he could sense a subtle wave of change roll over her… as though her ears pricked up, a layer of seriousness.
“Fascinated. Utterly. Though, I met and vanquished my first when I was 14…Has been a bit downhill from there really.” She shrugged.
“Sorry…Vanquished?? You vanquished a demon when you were 14?” He tried not to laugh, but it was a little hard. He didn’t Doubt her, exactly, she certainly seemed the type capable of vanquishing—and really, the occult powers of a gothy 14-year-old weren’t something to be scoffed at, he should know, having invented the whole gothy teen shtick, anyway.
“Well, yes. Based on my more recent work, I believe he was a lesser demon. Called himself a bio-exorcist. I summoned him, because I wanted to scare my father and step-mother, ended up getting a bit more than I bargained for, he wanted to marry me, yada-yada, typical man. So we had a Saturn sandworm eat him up.”
“A…bio-exorcist? Never heard of that. You sure he’s a demon? Did you get his name in all that? Bully for you, by the way. Sandworms are amazing creatures.”
“Well, that bit was all Barbara.” She looked around briefly, grabbed a scrap of paper, and scribbled something on it, then passed it to Crowley. Betelgeuse.
“Oh, that was you? You discorporated that fuckwad when you were fourteen? There was a huge hullabaloo over that.”
“You know him? Did he haunt you too?”
“Not…not quite the same way he haunted you, maybe.” Crowley was stymied. Do I tell her?
Chapter 3: Of Course I Can See You
Oh, what the Hell . She seems trustworthy enough . Crowley took a deep breath, slurped his iced coffee, and began to tell Dr. Deetz what he knew.
“Betel was a lesser demon, you’re right. I know him because I...am also a demon. Quite a bit of a better demon than him, if I do say so myself. He was real tacky-like, made the rest of us look bad.” He read her aura again, noticing that she was not particularly surprised, but very, very interested.
“This is fascinating...I mean, I knew you guys were...out there, Existing somehow...I’ve Felt so many Presences, but I didn’t think there could really be that many…Well, how many of you are there? Are you just running around all over the place?”
“Well, yes and no...There are quite a lot, but not all of us come Up Top. It’s a fluctuating number really, and I haven’t been keeping track in… a long time. I’m a bit of a free agent now.”
“So it’s a centralized power structure? Is it democratic? Oh, Betel did not seem like the type to have done well with that.”
“Caught on to that, did you? He had a huge problem with the Lords of Hell, they’re sort of the governing body, high council if you will. It’s not exactly democratic, but I’d say it’s a better system than the alternative. Anyway, they didn’t re-assign him, didn’t even re-corporate him, after the sandworm incident.”
“Re-corporate...what does that mean? I’ve never come across it.”
“Well, I’m afraid quite a bit of what you lot write about the celestial and the infernal isn’t quite right. When Beings are Up Top, on your Earth, we have to have a body. We can look however we want, basically. Even though we’re immortal, certain things can hurt our Earth suits badly, sending our essences back down to wherever-- de-corporation. If we got sent back in a new body, re-corporation. But it almost never happens, too much paperwork. So, you see, Betel losing the body that had been issued to him-- after already being a bit of a bad actor and fighting with his higher ups, he didn’t get a new form.”
“So he’s just, floating around? Can he still be, you know, summoned?”
“Another bit your lot got wrong. Summoning doesn’t quite work like that. Sure, you can have portals and you can have communication gates and such, if you’re powerful enough and lucky enough and you get the chemistry right. But a demon that’s Below isn’t going to be brought Up Top just by saying the magic words. When he haunted you, so to speak, he was already Up Top. If he appeared and disappeared, well, that’s because our size and shape are just options.”
“So he could have just been hiding. The name thing was a clever trick, then.”
“Oh he didn’t tell you?”
“No..? Is that why you wrote it down?”
“Yeah. I get squicky. If you speak it three times, unbroken, he manifests. Or, I guess, gets big enough to see him.”
“Now that is bad-ass. Maybe I should take back saying he was a sub-par demon. That’s genius.” He laughed, bemused.
“You’re a demon but you don’t... Do demon things? You seem very...normal, no rotting skin or oozing bits?”
“No, no oozing bits. I can be a snake, if I want. But I like humanity, I like mundane things. I have...an arrangement with the Lords of Hell. I don’t bother them, and they don’t bother me. But that’s another story.”
“Are you very, very old, then? Betel had stories from the fourteenth century.”
“He would. Awful time, the fourteenth century. Deep personal vendetta against it. So, yes-- I am very old. I have seen a lot, done a lot. But it feels removed. Things have been...different the last few years.” I feel free now, I can be happy. I have Az, really have him. We spend everyday together. I never thought that I would get to be here. Crowley could tell that the doctor was thinking, hard; he could practically see the mental gears turning in her head. It felt good to talk to someone, someone who wanted to learn, about everything he knew. He slurped his coffee again, letting her think.
“Well, so, what about the rest of it then? Werewolves and vampires? I know there’s the colony in Dallas, and some of them are coming out now, but...what are your thoughts?”
“I don’t know many. They’re neither infernal nor celestial, they keep to themselves. Our rules don’t apply to them and they aren’t interested in ours.” Vaguely, in the back of his mind, something he couldn’t quite place his finger on nibbled at him. “Isn’t that part of your research? The creepy crawlies?”
“Well, how people think about them, yes, what their community is like, how things have changed. I want to do interviews, like this sort of, actually. I want to...record their experiences, their oral histories, their practices...There must be so much knowledge there. It’s an ethnography, of sorts.” He felt a twinge of worry seep into her aura, a fear that if she didn’t do this work, maybe no one else would, maybe the knowledge would be lost. He recognized that impulse, because his angel so often felt that way. Speaking of...has he been hiding in the front of the shop this whole time? Poor, shy baby. I love him.
“I admire that.” And, he meant it. “You know, I should check on my hubby. But, do you have lunch plans? I’m sure he’d like to talk to you as well, and he’s a bit smarter than me when it comes to scholarly work. We could close shop for an hour or two.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to disturb your business, any more than I already have…”
“It’s no trouble.”
“Good then, I’m meeting one of my colleagues, and I think you’ll absolutely love her.”
Crowley stood, stretching a little. Dr. Deetz blinked up at him-- she had the strange quality of looking much younger and much older than she really was, at the same time.
“Is she a spook hunter too?” Oversharing with one human was all well and good, but two was maybe more than he had been prepared for.
“I don’t think she hunts monsters, but she works with, and for, them. She’s going to be my field guide while I’m here, interpreter, of sorts-- informant, as Boas would say.” She chuckled here, making some sort of academically-inclined joke that Crowley didn’t quite connect the reference on. “We’ve been emailing back and forth for ages.”
“You trust her?”
“Oh, absolutely. And, it’s not like you have to talk about...yourself, you know. Being a bookshop keeper is plenty interesting.”
“I also quilt.” Crowley looked dour, not exactly offended that she had assumed he had a hand in the management of the shop, but a little resentful that she was not attributing the place’s cozy wonderfulness to his husband’s genius alone.
“See? That’s lovely.” Dr. Deetz stood now too, brushing a few pastry crumbs off her black skirt. “Shall we go tell Mr….I never caught his name!”
“Aziraphale.” Crowley supplied, softly.
“Yeah, I’m a lucky guy.” He laughed, leading the way back into shop proper, where the angel was sitting at his desk. “How’re the essential oils, darling?”
“You’ll be so proud of me! I decided on the chamomile and lemon.” Aziraphale beamed up at him, gesturing vaguely towards the oil diffuser, which did smell rather good
“A wonderful choice. Dr. Deetz has invited us to lunch, by the way. She’s very nice and interesting and well-intentioned and not scary. What do you say?” The demon and the American professor both looked at Aziraphale with big, hopeful eyes, and he couldn’t really well say no, now could he? And besides, if Crowley said she was good, then she had to be good.
“Oh, alright. Let me just lock up, then.” His heart fluttered when Crowley squeezed his hand in thanks, even after all these years.
Chapter 4: Not Utterly Alone
The angel, the demon, and the occultist carefully extricated themselves from Crowley’s Bentley after he screeched it to a halt outside a modestly art-deco building. Crowley could tell his angel was excited at the prospect of a decadent lunch date, and that Dr. Deetz was nervous. She clicked her phone on, off, on, off, checking the time.
“She should be here… She said she would be. I hope I recognize her. God, that would be embarrassing if I didn’t…” Dr. Deetz trailed off, as Crowley stopped suddenly in the doorway of the restaurant.
“Um. Do you think it is likely that your colleague also brought a friend? Or two, maybe?” He looked worriedly at Aziraphale, who also seemed to sense Something. Two Somethings.
“Well, yes. Dr. Helsing said that she had contacts she wanted to introduce me to, to help me settle into my stay. It’s why I thought it would be alright to bring you two along.”
“Doctor…. Doctor Helsing?” Aziraphale looked between the occultist and his demon with suddenly clasped hands and wide eyes, heart sinking with the realization that there had been an obligation he was nearly thirty years late on.
“Oh, fuck.” Crowley looked just as embarrassed. “Well, I guess she’s fine. Didn’t need us after all!”
“I do think that’s Ruthven... That Energy…” Aziraphale wrung his hands a second time. I haven't seen him since...Hm. The 20s?
“Let’s get on with it, then.” Crowley shrugged in his easy way and finally opened the door for a rather confused looking Dr. Deetz. The angel and demon followed, rather kicking themselves for having let their own lives get in the way of a promise, but then again they had been told that someone else would get in touch with them first, and anyway, it seemed like everything was fine.
The restaurant hostess led their party to a back corner booth. As they neared closer, Crowley confirmed that it was Fastitocalon, recognizing what was essentially the same suit, and the same bronchial cough. Across from him was a petite woman with sharp eyes and dark blonde hair that had been cut very sensibly; beside the woman was a suave looking older gentleman, who Crowley vaguely recognized. Lord Ruthven , Crowley thought, as he felt the vampire’s eyes slide over him, cat-like. He tried very hard not to shiver. I am a Demon! I am way scarier AND much cooler than any old bitey-bitey.
“Hi, um, Greta? Lydia, nice to meet you.” She smiled brightly, reaching her hand out to shake; Greta stood to accept it, and when she stood, so did both gentlemen at the table.
“Hello, it’s lovely to meet you! I feel like I know you already from all our emails. Your flight was good, then? Oh, this is Ruthven, and that’s Fass.” She tilted her head, left, then right, to indicate each. “This is Dr. Deetz, who I’ve been telling you about.”
They continued to exchange pleasantries in a way that was not too overly polite, eventually wearing themselves out with the standing, and so they sat. At this juncture, Aziraphale and Crowley, who had been trying very hard not to stare at their shoes too awkwardly, decided it would be alright to interrupt, and that they would rather like to sit down, too.
“Hello, Lord Ruthven, I’m not sure you’d remember me, but we met some time ago…” Surprising Crowley, Aziraphale addressed himself to the vampire first.
“I remember you, Ezra. Pleasure, as usual.” He swirled his wine and blinked up at the angel slowly. Aziraphale tried not to blush. “You must be Anthony, then? I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“All good things, I hope. Nice to finally meet you.” Crowley felt his skin crawl gently with a feeling he wasn’t entirely used to; he supposed it was jealousy. Slinking into one of the open chairs, he turned to his fellow demon. “Fastitocalon, you’re looking well. It’s been a while, eh?”
I suppose I shouldn’t be asking him that. Suppose I shouldn’t even be seen by him, not out with Az. But it would be good to get some of the old gossip...It’s been so long. Before Fass could make more of an answer than politely nodding, Lydia seemed to remember her manners all at once.
“Oh, oh right! This is Mr. Crowley and Mr. Fell, but I guess you already know each other, in a way? Small world! They’re interested in my research as well.” She beamed, clearly proud of herself for assembling such a nice team.
Dr. Helsing looked at the new-comers appraisingly, Aziraphale took the liberty of ordering a bottle of wine for the table, and everyone else seemed to send a brief moment wondering just how they had gotten there. Crowley felt an overwhelming urge to break the not-quite-familiar-enough-to-be-companionable silence, but Greta spoke first.
“I’m surprised I haven’t met you before.”
“Well, London is a big city.” Aziraphale was more defensive than he needed to be, feeling embarrassed and rather confused. First, being reminded that he could be a tad forgetful never felt very good, especially when the person he had completely forgotten seemed to be so worth knowing, and then seeing Ruthven again was...a lot to process.
“I suppose it is. You know Fass, though.”
“I do, yes.” Crowley answered this time, thinking carefully about how to phrase his explanation. “Same line of work, different departments. We met once...when was that? The 1980s?”
“Yes, I believe so.”
“Ah, that explains it.” Greta was interrupted by the arrival of the wine.
“To new friends!” Lydia raised her glass, enthusiastically, and Crowley and Fass shared an uncertain smile, lifting their glasses.
“New friends.” The table echoed.
Several more toasts later, Aziraphale was explaining recent goings-on in the world of rare book collecting, holding forth in an easy way, telling stories that were far more dramatic and riveting than one might have originally expected. Crowley allowed himself to relax slightly and Just Be In the Moment, which he had been working on lately. Though, he still wasn’t sure he entirely liked the way Ruthven joked with his angel, and it irked him that the vampire knew much more about the nineteenth century, having not slept through it entirely. Greta chimed in with questions and clever jokes, and Lydia passed occasional commentary, but mostly listened happily. Well, never a dull moment. Though I do suppose we're on too big a scale to Intervene now if something goes sideways. At first, Crowley thought the idea would scare him, but instead he felt a small welling of excitement. It felt rather nice to be a part of something that was shaping up to be bigger than himself.
Chapter 5: Invisible
(this one ran away from me a bit sorry yall)
It was funny how time moved, when one was an immortal creature. Ruthven let Greta and Fass walk ahead of him as they were leaving lunch, which had been all around fine, if a little strange, but then almost anything with Greta had the potential to turn out rather strange. She drew oddities to her. Ruthven smiled, to think of that image: like a human magnet. Collecting all the strangeness in the world, turning it over, sorting it into its proper place, and moving on to the next bit. He was part of her strangeness, he figured. And now, it seemed, she had found a kindred spirit in Dr. Deetz, who, for better or worse, had brought London’s own angel and demon into his life again, properly. He really allowed his mind to wander now, thinking all the way back to the first time he had heard of them, the rumors, and then meeting Ezra-- though it seemed he had changed names again-- Not something I could do, that. Coming up with a new name every other century? The effort of it all. But, he supposed, angels have rather a lot more energy to expend than he liked to think he did.
He’d met the angel, quite by accident, at an anatomical demonstration in Leiden, sometime during what people now called The Enlightenment. He hadn’t thought it was so enlightened at the time; still didn’t, if he was being honest. It all blended together. He had been a young sanguinivore then, who had only just figured out how to do most of what vampires did, and hadn’t even thought to wonder what other stories might be true. He had known little enough to be surprised when the angel entered the dissecting theater, had been unsure of what to do with himself except to be utterly fascinated by this Being who seemed so human, but was somehow also More, so much more. They had spoken, briefly. The angel had looked at him with inquisitive, kind eyes. Ruthven remembered his eyes for a long time.
It was many, many years before their paths crossed again, in London. Ruthven had grown tired of the continent, and all of his relations and anyone who may have ever remembered him from Before had died, so it was time to go home. Being enterprising and wealthy and naturally charming, he had established something of a reputation among those who mattered in the cities that mattered on the mainland, and so he made his return to the Isles with his pick of clubs, box seats, and dinner invitations. Things had changed. Buildings were taller, the city sprawled larger, toll roads existed where they hadn’t before, more people than he thought possible thronged to the city on market days, and Seven Dials was dirtier than ever. . He hadn’t predicted how it would Feel to be where he thought of as home, but not recognize it. Some of it he didn’t mind; the gin palaces were nice, the laudanum was, too; bigger crowds meant a larger feeding pool. Depressed, he floated from party to party, club to club, trying hard not to be rude to those who had invited him, but beginning to realize the true terror of eternity, and the protection from it that solitude could bring. And that was how, one evening, when the weather was terrible, as it had been every day that summer due to some sort of atmospheric anomaly, he came to be sitting listlessly, alone, vaguely angry at the world and drinking wine about it, when out of the corner of his eye, he recognized Someone Familiar. Except that it couldn’t be-- could it? Suddenly quite interested, and with nothing better to do, he abandoned his chair, but kept his wine bottle close to his chest, and began to slink across the room to where the fair-haired man was standing, speaking excitedly to another man wbo Ruthven vaguely recognized as being a popular poet. He watched them from a distance, suddenly embarrassed, until, sensing his gaze, the angel had looked up at him, and smiled, a smile of recognition, and waved him over.
Ruthven shook his head, noticed just how much farther ahead Greta and Fass were. Oh, well. They can let themselves into the flat.
Against his will, his mind drifted to another time he had met the angel. Charing Cross Station had just been built-- which he laughed about, now, how terrifying the trains had seemed. He had been entertaining some newly made friends, the beginning of his slow curation of a network of monstrous beings throughout the greater London area, and they had been quite interrupted.
“Lord Ruthven, sir, there’s a man ‘ere for you.” Ruthven had recently given up his complete solitude, deigning to hire a bare household staff, who were fairly on the young side of the profession, intending to let them go on to other work every few years, writing them decent references when they left, and thus avoiding the suspicion of never being seen to age through a regular rotation.
“Well, I am indisposed.”
“Sir, he seems quite distressed. Begging your pardon, sir, I think you’d better have a look.”
Ruthven sighed deeply, waved his hand in what was both thanks and a dismissal, made excuses to his guests, and slunk down the townhouse stairs. He’d been surprised to find Ezra in his foyer, looking distraught and pacing. He didn’t even know that the angel knew his address-- they’d never made house calls before, always meeting out and very occasionally hiring discrete rooms, as any respectable gentlemen would.
“Ruthven? I’m sorry. I… I have had a rather rough go of it, today, I’m afraid. I didn’t… I didn’t want to just go home, by myself.” Ezra’s eyes were huge, and as Ruthven moved closer, suddenly worried, he could see his hands tremble. He wasn’t sure, entirely, what to do.
“Are you...alright?” Ruthven reached out a steadying hand, pulling the angel to him. Ezra nodded into his shoulder, trying very hard not to shiver at the vampire’s touch.
“I’m just… silly, I think.” The angel sniffed, once; Ruthven stroked his hair tenderly.
“No, stop that. You’re quite smart. Shh.” Pulling back, he looked into the angel’s face searchingly, a thumb brushing his cheek. “You’ll be alright. Let me call for some tea? We could...I don’t know. Sit in the withdrawing room. I could play the piano.”
“Thank you, Ruthven. I’d like that.”
And so he had sent his other visitors away and tried to raise the angel’s spirits. Over the next several decades, Ezra would knock on his door, unannounced and melancholy, again and again, until one day, he stopped. It wasn’t that the vampire begrudged his happiness, that wasn’t quite right. It just had not quite occurred to him that he would not be included in it.
That’s not fair , Ruthven thought to himself. You could have searched him out. You could have tried harder. He sighed again, thinking of the demon Crowley, now that he had finally met him: quite a bit different than I expected, to be honest , and allowed himself to wallow in his feelings for one more minute before putting the matter out of his mind.
Meanwhile, Aziraphale was uncharacteristically quiet as he and Crowley drove Dr. Deetz back to her rented flat. His demon noticed, of course, and took the angel’s hand with a questioning look. Aziraphale shook his head slightly, and Crowley, understanding, did not pry.
Lydia thanked them for the ride, for going to lunch with her, for everything, and promised to be in touch. Crowley waited until she was all the way into her flat before starting up the Bentley’s engine again. He looked at his angel again, worried.
“Bit of a weird day, wasn’t it, darling?”
“Yes. Oh, Crowley, I just feel so bad. I’m afraid I was...rather hurtful, in the past, without intending to be.”
“Of course you didn’t intend to be. You’re the kindest person I know. The kindest, biggest hearted, best person in all the world.”
“Thank you.” Aziraphale couldn’t help but smile as he pressed a kiss to the back of his hand. “I love you, darling. You know I do.”
“I know, baby. I love you, too.” Crowley tried not to worry too much, humming along quietly to Beethoven with vocals by Freddie Mercury.