Chapter 1: Prologue: Transaction Complete
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Aziraphale sat by the fire, swaddled in his most comfortable clothes, with an antique recipe book open in his lap. As he leafed through the pages, he sipped chamomile from fine china. It was brewed to perfection. He had spent many a night on Earth this way. It was a grand way to live, but what made it truly perfect was being able to glance to his side and see his husband sprawled across his recliner, snoring gently. He allowed himself a joyful smile. It had been a couple of years, but the excitement of being able to call Crowley his husband had not yet worn off. Just as he returned his gaze to the book, there was a knock at the door. He frowned. Who would be calling at this hour?
"Hm... Wazzat, angel?" Crowley mumbled, cracking open one eye.
"Someone at the door," he replied pensively. He set down his cup, and the book. "I'll just be a moment, dear."
The demon gave a bleary hum of acknowledgement. Aziraphale made for the door, reminding himself to buy one of those stickers to discourage door-to-door salemen. Not that they ought to be calling so late! It was pitch black outside, and as cold as the twinkling pavement frost would suggest. He unlocked the door, and opened it a crack, peeking out. A sliver of streetlamp light fell over his bright blue eye; a tall silhouette immediately blocked it. The angel's eyes widened.
"Hello again, Aziraphale."
"Sherlock, my dear boy," he replied warmly, with a hint of sobriety. He looked rough; bearded, bruised, and battered. Blood was crushed over his eye. Sympathy rippled through his whole being.
After a long pause, Sherlock stared imploringly into Aziraphale's eyes. "Is Crowley in?" He asked. He sounded pained, and desperately exhausted. He had just arrived back in England, two years older and two years wiser, but it wasn’t time to go home yet. He had to clear his debts first.
"Of course. Do come in, child," Aziraphale said softly, stepping aside to let him into the hallway. "We've been expecting you for some time."
Sherlock hadn't seen either of them since his death. Crowley had vanished after their handshake, and Aziraphale had never shown his face at all. The next he knew, he was awake, gasping as his spine arched away from the mortuary slab. It had given Molly quite the fright. He has immediately sensed the need for secrecy. Who knew how many of Moriarty’s men still watched the hospital? He spun a yarn about having survived the fall, very little of which made sense, but it gave him the wiggle room he needed to escape London. For nearly a week, only Molly knew he was alive. When he contacted Mycroft from abroad, he heard his elder brother cry for the first time in his memory. He had not dared to call John. Whatever he had to do, it could go wrong. If he failed to hold up his end of the deal, he'd be gone again. He had seen what his death had done to John once. He couldn't force him through that again, if he failed. He had to wait.
Sherlock froze in the doorway. Crowley stretched out on a red velvet armchair, with his glasses nowhere in sight. They had last seen each other beneath St Bart's, on a plane somewhere between life and death. It didn't feel right, seeing him in person again. Crowley had become like a phantom in Sherlock's mind, the shadow upon every surface, the footsteps around every corner. He lived in constant fear that the demon would return for him. He swallowed the lump in his throat as a pair of yellow eyes flicked lazily over him. Doubt invaded Sherlock's mind. Had he failed, returned too early? Had he missed something? He nervously awaited judgement.
"Well," Crowley drawled, pushing himself up to sit straighter as he processed the unexpected visitor. "You look like shit."
Sherlock blinked in surprise. He heard a sigh as Aziraphale brushed past him, pouring an extra tea into a cup that hadn't been there before. "Was that really necessary, dear?"
The demon rolled his eyes. He snapped his fingers, making Sherlock jump, and disorientating him as an additional armchair materialised beside the other two. It was an exact replica of his seat from 221B, from the loose stitching on the left arm, to the faded upholstery, all the way down to the scuffed feet. Crowley gestured to it.
"Make yourself comfortable," he said. "You look like you could use a break."
Tentatively, Sherlock sat in the chair. His body immediately relaxed into the familiarity of the chair. It was perfect. Even the scent of his old flat clung to it: tobacco, dust and paper. He had no idea how much he'd missed it until he was sat in it again. He was snapped back to reality as a cup of tea was placed gently in his hands.
"Just right for drinking," said Aziraphale, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he recalled saying the same thing to John once in a church in Melbourne.
Sherlock could hardly shift his eyes away. Thousands of questions ricocheted around his head, and he was afraid to have the answers to most of them. Making a deal with a demon was one thing; having a crime-solving rivalry with an angel was quite another. Then there was the classic queries, about God, about heaven, about the Bible... Aziraphale finally spotted the stare that he was getting.
"Something the matter, dear boy?" He asked innocently.
"You're an angel."
"Well... Crowley did say that you figured that out, after your - ah - your little tumble," he said nervously, fiddling with his hands. Sherlock didn't seem to hear him.
"And you're shagging a demon," He said. Crowley choked on his tea, breaking into a coughing fit as a light blush peppered his cheeks. There was a short pause.
"Yes. No one's ever put it quite that bluntly before, but yes," the angel replied, an amused smile twitching onto his face. The detective hummed, frowning as he wondered what he ought to do with that information. He decided to throw it into his Mind Palace's new basement, where he threw anything that concerned the existence of the supernatural.
"And is that... allowed?" He asked uncertainty, looking up at him from beneath his furrowed brow.
"Oh, no, certainly not," he replied airily, but from the way he rocked back and forth nonchalantly on his feet, he didn't seem to mind. He then leaned forward, frowning at the scuffs and cuts that peppered his face. "Now, the matter of who I'm shagging aside, Sherlock... Would you mind, terribly, if I...?"
He reached out, hesitating halfway as he trailed off. Sherlock stared blankly at his outstretched fingers. He nodded numbly, not quite sure what was happening. To his surprise, Aziraphale's hand cupped his face, in a gesture that reminded him of rainy days spent inside with his mother, whenever he had a fever as a child. He shivered. He hadn't experienced any such tenderness in his rough years abroad, and he drank in the sensation like a dying man by a desert oasis. It was so comforting that he hardly noticed his aches and pains fade immediately, and every wound on his skin close up.
"There," Aziraphale said, clasping his hands together as he returned to his chair. He politely glossed over Sherlock's reaction.
He shook himself, feeling suddenly embarrassed at his response to such a simple gesture. "Thank you," he said, clearing his throat. He felt much more at ease, now he was free of pain. "Have you... Have you heard anything from John?"
The two husbands shared a glance. Aprehension, worry and a silent debate passed between them. "No," Crowley said finally. "We tried to get in touch. He wouldn't take our calls. Mrs Hudson reckons he hasn't even shown his face on Baker Street for almost as long as you've been gone."
Sherlock went very quiet. "Oh."
"Grief is like love. It does strange things to people," the demon said, by way of consolation. It didn't do much. In the face of an awkward silence, he looked to Aziraphale. The angel gestured silently for him to try again. "Look, Sherlock, we've been around for close to seven thousand years. We've seen a lot of humanity. There's hardly been a problem between two people, in all that time, that couldn't be fixed somehow."
"Well said, Crowley," Aziraphale said, giving him a bright, approving smile. It was a very specific kind of approving smile. The demon pumped his fist internally; he'd have company in bed tonight.
"Yes. It's possible... I think," Sherlock said. The two supernatural entities abruptly remembered that they weren't alone in the room. The detective stared past the angel to look at Crowley, his intent gaze posing a silent question.
The demon waved his hand vaguely, readjusting his position in his recliner. "Oh, right. You can relax. You fulfilled the contract," he said, running his hands through his hair. "Good job, you're free. Life's your oyster. Enjoy it."
Sherlock gave a sigh, and years worth of tension slipped away as easily as shrugging off a coat. Released from his contract, he could do as he liked once more. He could live. He may have risen from the dead in London, but it was in a cottage in the South Downs when he really started to breathe again.
Update schedule this time around will be a tad slower, maybe one chapter every 2-3 days depending on what else I’m doing. That said, thanks to all you cool folks who’ve come back for round 2!
Chapter 2: New Life In 221B
There has been a time jump between the prologue and this chapter. This fic is set post-Sherlock canon (i.e. after season 4) because I don’t like rewriting episode plots and stuff. Feels too much like regurgitating old stories. So, no more big time skips from here on out, let the story commence!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It had been a long time. A lot had happened, too much to say; John had been married, swiftly widowed, and now had a daughter. Sherlock had found the sister he had never known about, and Redbeard had finally fought his way to the surface of his memory. That hadn't even been all of what had befell them since the fall. All they knew was that they were together again, home, with their darling little girl... and that John had stopped dating. He said it was because he didn't think it would be fair to Rosie; Sherlock hoped that there might have been another reason, but nothing ever came of it. He didn't want to push it. Life was good as it was. Change wasn't necessary. He kept telling himself that, every time he couldn't tear his eyes away from his dearest companion.
Rosie had just started to walk. Sherlock often liked to watch her toddle around the floor, which he always triple checked was child-safe nowadays, just to see where she'd go. It was fascinating to map the routes she chose around the flat, and the factors affecting it. He'd started a chart. When John had first seen it on the fridge, he'd been exasperated, but decided it was better than having human eyes in the microwave.
One day, Rosie strayed into a little-visited corner of the flat. Sherlock watched the anomaly intently. Her tiny, pudgy hands grasped at the lowest shelf, tugging something. He immediately got to his feet, scooping her into his arms.
"Rosie, darling, that corner isn't risk-assessed," he said quickly, in his sweetest baby voice. John scoffed from the kitchen.
"You don't have to do a risk assessment on every nook and cranny, Sherlock! Nothing's going to jump out and eat her," he called.
He ignored him. "Book!" Rosie cried, reaching for the ground. He tilted his head, holding her in one arm as he leaned down to pick up what she had found.
His eyebrows raised. "John," he called, turning around. "Come here."
He walked into the living room, looking vaguely concerned that he was about to be proven wrong about Sherlock's protectiveness. "What?"
A thick, heavy book was placed in his hands. He stared at it blankly for a moment. With a small glance at his flatmate, he flicked it open, and a note fluttered out. He scooped it from the floor, and gave a light gasp. Memories came rushing back. He stared at the photo album in his hands, his eyes running over the familiar faces dotting the pages.
"Crowley and Aziraphale's photo album," he realised. "We never gave it back, after - "
"After we accused Crowley of murder, yes," Sherlock finished, swapping Rosie over to his other side as she tried to tug his hair.
They stood in silence for a moment. In the midst of the pain, heartbreak and terror of the last few years, they had all but forgotten about their old occult (or ethereal, as the case may be) friends. John had never mentioned their true natures to Sherlock, for fear he'd ridicule him. Sherlock had never told John about the infernal contract he'd made, to escape his death. Partially because he was ashamed, and it was easier to pretend that he had never really died. Partially because he was terrified that John might think something in his head had finally given way, plunging him into madness. Neither one knew that the other was aware of angels and demons. John ran his fingers along the edges of the photographs, looking especially at Aziraphale. He still found him beautiful. He was more prepared to admit that to himself now; it was easier, now his silly crush on the angel had long since disappeared.
He hesitated for a moment, then said: "Should we return it?"
"Well... I think so. Isn't that what people do?" Sherlock replied uncertainly. He didn't want to appear overly reluctant. He honestly did like those two, but he wasn't sure if he was ready to learn much more about the supernatural. A large part of him would rather pretend not to know.
"Do you remember their numbers?" John asked, closing the photo album. He felt like the pictures were staring at him, somehow.
Sherlock quickly deleted two phone numbers from his memory. "No."
John cocked a brow. "Really? You don't remember at all?"
"That's what I said," he replied evasively, beginning to wander to the sofa to put Rosie down. She was getting restless.
"Well, their postcode is in the address book. Maybe we ought to pay them a visit instead," John suggested. He didn't just feel bad for losing touch with Aziraphale; he knew Sherlock was being difficult. Nothing made him more stubborn than when Sherlock decided to be difficult.
"What?" He said sharply, glancing back over his shoulder.
"You heard," he said, crossing his arms. "I've never been to the South Downs. I hear it's beautiful. It'll do us all good, a little family outing."
Sherlock blinked. A long silence followed, similar to when he was asked to be John's best man. "Family?"
John paused, tilting his head slightly. "Yeah, family. Me, you and Rosie," he reiterated, as if it were obvious, in a tone that dared him to object. He knew he wouldn't.
Slowly, the sociopath-who-had-a-heart nodded. "The South Downs... The air is cleaner down there," he murmured, looking at Rosie. She beamed up at him, with a kind of innocent fascination that came only to children.
"Exactly," John said triumphantly. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he noticed that what had once been a flicker of warmth in his chest was now a roaring hearth. Sherlock had completed him. For the first time in years, his life had become utterly, unequivocally happy.
Almost a week after this conversation in 221B, an angel and a demon crawled out of bed for a mid-morning brunch. Today, it was waffles and summer fruits. Crowley, who was now in the habit of eating more often (i.e. once or twice a month), put salt, pepper and chilli flakes on his. Aziraphale was revolted.
"Dear, if you keep doing that, I'm afraid I shall have to divorce you," he said lightly, shaking his head and eying the poor waffle. Crowley had discovered that taste in food ranged from extremely high-quality meals to the most bastardised combinations of flavours he could dream up. The latter, he indulged mostly just to watch Aziraphale cringe.
"No you won't," the demon replied smugly. He shovelled in a large mouthful of heavily seasoned food. "Wh'af the plam f'today?"
"Don't talk with your mouth full, darling, it's unbecoming," he said primly.
He swallowed. "You didn't say that last night."
"Crowley!" He cried, scandalised. The demon tittered, and continued to munch on his breakfast. Shaking off the comment, with only a very small smile, Aziraphale got back on topic. "As for our 'plam'... I thought we might visit the park, or perhaps that little cafe that just opened. What do you think?"
"Hm... Park first," he said, wiping away the sugar and pepper clinging to the edges of his mouth. "It's due to rain at noon. It'd be a shame to miss the best of the sunshine."
"Agreed. Shall we be off soon?"
"I think so. Let me grab my glasses," he said, hopping to his feet and heading into the bedroom.
Their room was sleek and modern, more after Crowley's tastes, seeing as he made the most use of it. That didn't change the fact that Aziraphale insisted on having at least one bookshelf in every room. On the simple, minimalist shelves in the corner, there was a large gap on the top shelf, where there ought to have been a photo album. Aziraphale had lost it in the move, he wasn't sure where. The loss of their photographs had upset them both, but they each reasoned that they could just take more. Crowley made sure to leave a space for it, just in case it turned up sometime in the next century or two. You never know; some things have a way of always coming back to you.
John and Sherlock dropped off their things at the bed-and-breakfast first. Rosie had been enthralled with the town from the moment they arrived; she strained in her car seat, looking at the quaint cobbled roads, antique shopfronts and hanging-baskets overflowing with blossoms, all overlooked by a clock tower in the town square. In truth, the town of Old Duckshead had not been nearly as nice a few years ago, but having an angel and his spouse move in tended to do wonders for local propsperity. It was now the most idyllic village in Sussex.
The two men decided that they had been cooped up long enough in the car. They had spotted a nice little park on the way in, and Rosie was always happy to totter around with her newly discovered knack for walking. They hadn't bothered with a pram. Sherlock was always soft on her, and liked to carry her when she got tired.
The park was deceivingly large. The sunlight dappled across the paths, and tall shrubs laden with flowers lined the spaces in-between. "St James' Park doesn't have a patch on this, does it?" John said in awe, looking around.
"Hm. Matter of opinion," Sherlock replied stubbornly. He liked London. He didn't want John getting any ideas about a country retirement, or he'd end up turning into his mother. As an afterthought, he added: "And besides, there's no ducks. Why call a town Old Duckshead when there are no ducks?"
As if to prove him wrong, a loud quack made him look down. The bushes rustled. A mother duck pushed out from the undergrowth, ruffling her feathers, and her chicks waddled across their path after her in a neat line. John smirked at him. Rosie giggled, clapping in delight as the ducklings hurried along.
"You were saying?" John said with a smug look. Huffing, Sherlock kept walking, deciding he'd better keep his mouth shut.
They saw the mother duck again a minute later, when they found the pond. It was in a sheltered, secluded corner of the park, and fenced in so that nothing bigger than a duck could wiggle through the gaps. Satisfied that Rosie was safe to explore the path encircling the water, they settled on the nearby bench.
"We should find Crowley and Aziraphale's house soon. I don't want to carry this thing around with me all afternoon," John said, tapping on the photo album sat on his knee.
"Soon," he replied vaguely, his eyes following Rosie as she wobbled around the opposite edge of the pond. She wasn't tall enough to jump the fence, thankfully.
"Are you all right?" He said, frowning. Sherlock turned, suddenly focused.
"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?"
"You seem... I don't know. Distracted," he said.
"Aren't I always?" He said evasively. If he was telling the truth, he'd might have said: 'Actually, John, given that we're about to bring our young daughter into the household of two ancient, morally grey celestial beings, I have a lot of complicated emotions about this trip'.
"Sometimes," John said. He glanced back toward the ducks. He tensed up, his spine straightening. "Sherlock."
"What?" He asked, looking down intently at his hands, steepled together between his knees.
I'm teasing, I know. They'll meet up again in the next chapter :)
Rosie liked butterflies. The park was fluttering with them, from the lowest-hanging hydrangea to the highest apple blossom. Her attention had drifted from the pond to the nearby flowers. A butterfly, its white wings standing out from the wine-coloured roses, took off. Her bright eyes followed it. It began to glide away, toward the heady pollen scents further down the path. Without a thought, she chased after it gleefully, out of sight from the pond.
She chased it all the way to the open grass. As she emerged from the cover of the trees, she suddenly realised that she had gone where her daddies weren't. She looked to her left. There was a cat stalking across the lawn, in search of a suitable spot for sunbathing. She looked to her right. The path curled away behind a clutch of silver birches. No one was here.
She sniffled. At her back, the tunnel of trees now looked dark and threatening, like a witch's castle from her storybooks. Frozen between exploring further and running back, she did what any child her age would do. She began to cry.
It wasn't long before the long shadow of a stranger fell across her, startling her into silence.
Sherlock leapt to his feet. "ROSIE!" He shouted. Panic infected him immediately. He span around on the spot, eyes searching for any trace of her. Four paths peeled off from the pond.
"ROSIE!" John cried, joining in with his hoarse cries. There was no response. He turned to Sherlock, taking his arm in a painful vice grip. "Dammit, Sherlock, find her. You're the detective. You bloody find our girl, or I'll never speak to you again."
He blanched. There was a lot to unpack there, and not much time. He nodded dumbly, turning to face the clearing. His mind raced through deductions. She was unlikely to have passed them by without them noticing, so the north path was out. The east path was shaded, dark, full of dark waxy leaves and no colour, unappealing to child. It was out. To the south, there was a path of sunshine, and a bandstand in the distance. The west path was laden with bright pink flowers.
"You take the south," he said, pointing directly ahead. "I'll look west. Meet here in ten minutes."
They rushed off down their respective paths. As a team, they could do most anything. They had solved countless crimes, found many a missing person, saved lives well into the hundreds... Unfortunately, they couldn't win probability games every time. Rosie had taken the eastern path. With every step, they took themselves further away from her.
Rosie squinted up at the silhouette. Her eyes stung from crying. For an exciting moment, she thought Sherlock had found her. Then, she remembered that Sherlock always wore a big coat, and he had curly, fluffy hair. He was always surrounded by a royal blue haze, which no one ever seemed to notice. No one ever talked about the colours that stuck to people, like their own localised fog. The man stood over her was very different, indeed. He crouched down to her level, until he was no longer an indistinct dark shape. The colours surrounding him were muted yellows and oranges, like sunset straining through a clouded horizon. She flinched, sniffling again.
"Hello," he said, smiling kindly. He didn't look very friendly other than that; he was pointy in the face, and wore big dark glasses that reflected her own puffy face back at her. A black snake tattoo coiled beside his ear.
Her voice caught in her throat. She hugged her knees, staring at the floor. She didn't want him. She wished he'd just go away. She wanted her daddies to find her, so she could go back to London and watch old cartoons with some hot chocolate. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his brow crease for a moment. A flash of panic gripped her. Was he angry?
"My name's Crowley. What's yours?" He tried again. He spoke softly, and didn't sound even the slightest bit annoyed. She glanced at him, but quickly looked away again. Maybe if she ignored him, he'd go away.
He sighed. He glanced over his shoulder, at another man who was making his way over. The newcomer was dressed mostly in whites and browns, and looked far more trustworthy than the first. He had a pale, baby blue halo around his whole form; it reminded her of her favourite pastel crayon. He stopped beside them, his face knitted with concern.
"Crowley, dear, who's this?" He said, in the voice adults use when they speak to each other in front of a child. It felt almost like a stage production.
"I don't know, I just heard her crying."
"So that's why you went running off," he said, and leaned down to smile at Rosie. "Hello there, darling. Are you lost?"
She hesitated for a moment, then nodded slowly. The man in white pouted with sympathy.
"Oh dear," he said. He held out his hand to her. "Why don't you come with us? We can all go to the police station and you'll be back at home, lickety split."
She giggled. This man used such funny words. Crowley huffed jealously, standing up as Rosie took Aziraphale's hand. "S'not fair," he complained half-heartedly as the three of them began to stroll toward the park exit. "I'm nice, too."
"Oh?" Aziraphale said smugly, giving him a triumphant sideways glance. Crowley flushed red as he realised what he'd said.
John returned to the pond. He was breathless, his lungs burning from running and shouting for his daughter. Sherlock stood by the bench. They met eyes across the water, equally as hopeful and desperately expectant. Rosie was nowhere to be seen.
"Nothing?" Sherlock guessed, hoping he was wrong, as John jogged over.
"No. God, Sherlock, where could she be?" He panted. He'd kept a lid on his tears thus far. He couldn't afford to break down until she was back in his arms.
"The others paths, we didn't check them," he said, already backing up, poised to run. "Ready?"
"Back here in ten," he replied, aflame with determination. Riled up with nerves, they charged off again to search the paths they had neglected.
Crowley held open the door of the police station. Aziraphale and the nameless little girl stepped inside, going up to the desk. The woman on the front desk had dark bags under eyes, severely overworked, but forced a helpful smile nonetheless.
"Mr Fell," she said, sitting up straight. She recognised him from various local events; he and his husband, odd as they were, had become pillars of the community since they moved in. Her eyes flicked down to the child in surprise. "Oh! Who's this? Have you adopted?"
Crowley gave a slight smile, coming to stand by Aziraphale's shoulder. He opened his mouth to correct her, only for her to ramble on excitedly.
"It's about time, really. I've always thought that you two would make such great fathers," she said. Her sleep deprivation had eroded her verbal filter slightly. "There's a betting pool in the parish about when you two were gonna have a baby of your own. I thought you'd have left it until Christmas, but looks like Mrs Brinkley was right."
Aziraphale opened and closed his mouth in surprise. His wide blue eyes reflected his puzzlement. Words eluded him. With a snicker, shaking his head, Crowley said "Miriam, we appreciate the concern, but she's not ours," he said. She deflated slightly, in both disappointment and embarrassment. "We found her in the park. She was lost."
"Oh," she said, a light blush on her cheeks. "Sorry. Shall I, um... check the system?"
"I think that would be best," Aziraphale said quietly, finally finding his voice. The idea of Mrs Brinkley placing bets on his private life had put his hackles up slightly; she had been his sworn enemy ever since she slated his magic show at the last village fête.
They all glossed over the awkward exchange. Rosie could sense that something had changed, and tightened her grip on Aziraphale's hand. He felt safe, somehow. She just knew. Children were often more attuned to the presence of angelic grace, although very few of them realised it. Demons also found it hard to hide from children, hence why she found it so hard to trust Crowley. Her childish mind worked over the problem. She liked Mr Aziraphale. Mr Aziraphale liked Crowley. So... Crowley must be all right, really. He couldn't possibly be dangerous.
Miriam cleared her throat, looking up from the monitor. "There's been no reports of missing children matching her description in the area," she said. She looked at the clock. "It's getting on a bit... I close the station at five."
"Are you the only one here?" Crowley said in disbelief, looking around the cramped, quiet space.
"Old Duckshead isn't exactly the crime capital of the universe, Mr Fell," she said. Crowley had taken Aziraphale's false surname after getting married. "I'm the only full-time officer around these days. Look, just... Leave the kid with me, okay? I'll look after her at home if no one comes looking, and we can start trying to figure things out in the morning."
Aziraphale took one look at her sunken eyes, the tremor in her hands, and her well-meaning smile, and firmly decided that wasn't good enough. "My dear Miriam," he exclaimed. "I cannot allow you to take on any more work for yourself. Frankly, you ought to be in bed, catching up on your sleep."
She laughed. "Oh, Mr Fell, you're an old softie, you know that?" she said. "This town isn't going to take care of itself."
"Yes it will," he retorted determinedly. Crowley stared at him inquiringly. "Go home, dear girl. Sleep. Make yourself a healthy meal, and we shall see you tomorrow morning at a reasonable hour to find this child's family."
It took a moment for the hypnosis to take hold. Aziraphale had been using it more and more since breaking away from Heaven, despite having scolded Crowley for using it in the past. Miriam nodded blankly, getting the keys from under the desk and beginning the process of locking up. With a satisfied nod, Aziraphale picked Rosie up and made for the door. The little girl waved at Miriam over his shoulder. Even hypnotised, she returned the cute gesture, and got on with her task.
"What the bloody heaven was that?" Crowley exclaimed as they got out onto the street.
"Language, Crowley," he said chastisingly, opening the back door of the Bentley. There was a child's car seat in the back that hadn't been there before. "Miriam works tremendously hard for this town. She deserves a decent rest, and lord knows she would never have taken the initiative herself."
"But it's nearly two hours until she was supposed to finish. There's a missing child here, angel," he protested, drawing close to him to hiss in his ear. "This is kidnapping, Aziraphale."
"Don't be ridiculous. We'll give her back," he said, shutting the car door.
Crowley stuttered and stumbled over his words, mouth agape as he watched his husband get into the passenger seat. "B - B - uh - wh - ?" He mumbled, before giving in and sitting in the driver's seat. He didn't set off right away. "What if the parents come looking and find the police station closed?"
"They'll call 999, or come back in the morning," he replied, folding his hands in his lap and looking in the rear view mirror fondly, seeing Rosie's inquisitive expression as she stared around the antique leather interior.
Crowley narrowed his eyes at him. "You want to keep her, don't you?"
He gasped. "Crowley! How dare you even suggest - !"
"Oh, come off it, angel. I know you too well," he interrupted, shaking his head and starting the engine.
Aziraphale sighed, dropping the pretence of being offended. "Oh, all right. I have missed having a baby human around, now Warlock and Adam are growing up..." he admitted. Crowley gave him a knowing look, and pulled out into the road. "I wasn't going to keep her forever!"
"What - just until her eleventh birthday or something?" He scoffed.
"No!" He said, then went quiet. "I'd at least make sure she was old enough to take care of herself..."
"Angel - "
"I'm not being serious, dear," he cut him off. Had Crowley not protested, however, he might have been. "We shall give her back when we find her rightful caretakers. I promise."
"Good," he replied with a nod, then glanced into the rear view mirror with a soft half-smile. "She is kinda cute, though."
John pounded on the door of the police station. It was dark inside, and definitely locked. Cupping his hand against the glass, he stared inside, his eyes straining to pierce the thick blackness inside.
"They can't have gone home. It's daylight, for god's sake!" He yelled, bashing on the door again.
"We're wasting time, John," Sherlock insisted, pacing back and forth on the pavement with his hands in his pockets. Passers-by gave him a wide berth. "Since when have the police ever known what they're doing, anyway?"
"Shut up, Sherlock," he snapped, stomping down to stand beside him. Fear was making him irritable. "If you're so on top of things, why don't you do something useful?"
He mulled it over for a moment. He drew a blank. "Um..." he said, woefully unsure. He cringed as he met his flatmate's eyes, as if he expected a punch.
John let out a frustrated cry, throwing his hands up in the air. He moved restlessly back and forth, Sherlock's reddened eyes tracking him as he went. They were both frightened. They needed their girl back, needed to work together. They had done it hundreds of times before. Why now, right when it mattered, did it all start breaking down?
"Brilliant! Fantastic!" John exclaimed sarcastically toward the sky. He may know that God was real but, if she took his daughter from him, it wouldn't stop him from cursing her name. "We haven't got a bloody clue, Sherlock. We don't even know the town."
There it was: the spark. Sherlock suddenly straightened up, grabbing John's attention immediately. "John," he said, a rising tide of hope in his voice. "I have an idea."
Crowley had christened their new charge Junior. It was short for Crowley Junior. She sat at their kitchen table, eying a plateful of food doubtfully. It was a soft-boiled egg, buttery toast and roasted tomatoes. Aziraphale had strayed deeper into the cottage, on the off chance he might have a children's book lying around somewhere. She hadn't yet settled into the new environment, despite all its warm, inviting colours and plush seats.
"Not hungry, Junior?" Crowley asked, his head resting against his palm. She shook her head, and pushed her plate away. He nudged it back. "Try to eat something. For me."
She stared at him for a long moment. He didn't seem so scary anymore, now she'd gotten used to him. He still wouldn't take off his sunglasses, though. Relenting, she picked up her cutlery and started to eat. Crowley began to chatter idly as she munched her way through the meal.
"Eggs always remind me of, um... What's it called? The Hobbit," he said. "Have you read it? ...Probably not, what am I saying? You probably can't read. Anyway, there's a riddle in it, a - uh, I think it was a door, without hinges, key or... or something. Corners, probably. The answer's an egg. I thought it was quite clever."
She listened to him rambling. It reminded her of Sherlock, always talking about murder. She often wondered what that word meant.
Crowley smirked to himself, as if he'd just heard a funny joke. "You're very short. Maybe you're a hobbit," he said, poking her playfully on the shoulder.
She giggled, batting his hand away. At that moment, Aziraphale returned with a copy of The Gruffalo. "I do hope you've been keeping my husband out of trouble, Junior," he said warmly, ruffling her hair. "He can be awfully troublesome, can't he?"
"Says you," the demon muttered, sipping from his coffee mug and staring innocently at the far wall. Aziraphale fixed him with a stare that was only half reproachful.
When she had finished eating, she was scooped up and taken into the living room. Though she was worried about where her daddies might be, she felt safer by the moment with these two new men. Sherlock had always tried to instil the fear of strangers into her, but she had trusted these two, and they were taking good care of her. It didn't make sense. Now, she wondered why she ever felt afraid. She curled up into a ball in Crowley's lap as he settled in his recliner. She sucked her thumb and leant against his chest. It didn't rise and fall like John's did. When she laid her head down, she couldn't hear the rhythmic beating of a heart. That was strange.
Aziraphale, in the other armchair, began to read the storybook. Rosie listened intently. He didn't do voices like Sherlock did, but his posh accent made everything funny anyway. He spoke a bit like Uncle Mycroft, and she had been rigorously trained to laugh at most things that Uncle Mycroft said and did.
Eventually, the book was finished. "Angel," Crowley said softly, looking down at the child slumped in his arms. "She's asleep."
Aziraphale looked up, and beamed at the two of them, tilting his head fondly. "I haven't seen a sight like this since Warlock was a boy," he said. The demon smiled, gently stroking Rosie's hair as she snored quietly.
"It is a bit of a shame that we have to give her back," he admitted, almost under his breath. Melancholy settled in his chest, disrupting his peaceful mood. "I do like having a little one around..."
Aziraphale mulled over that for a moment. "Miriam did mention that people have been expecting us to adopt," he said, his pale eyes searching his husband's face. "We could, you know."
"We couldn't, angel," he said. His voice was thick with the kind of pain that only love could generate. "We'd raise them, feed them, teach them everything we know, and then what? Watch them grow old and die? It would kill me, Aziraphale."
He sighed, dropping his gaze to the floor. "I suppose you're right," he said mournfully. He ran his fingers over the stitching of his armrest. A lump formed in his throat, and his eyes dampened. His voice wavered with tearful vulnerability. "It's not fair, is it?"
"No," the demon agreed bitterly. "It isn't."
There was silence for a moment. Aziraphale sighed, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief, and lit the fire with a flick of his wrist. The crackling helped to ease the tension, but they both knew that the problem wasn't going away. Despite their new freedom, there were still some things they simply could not have. A family was one of them. Eventually, Crowley broke the silence.
"Her parents must be worried sick," he said quietly, stroking Rosie's hair.
"Maybe they ought not to have let her wander off alone in the park," Aziraphale said haughtily, turning his nose up. "Anyone could have found her. Thieves, scoundrels - "
"Demons?" Crowley interrupted meaningfully. He fell silent. "When it comes to things-you-could-meet-in-a-dark-alley, my kind is just about the worst-case scenario."
"Oh, I don't know about that," he said, as the glass by his elbow miraculously filled itself with wine. "You could meet a human instead."
He couldn't suppress a snort of laugher. Luckily, Rosie didn't stir. "All right, all right, no more," he chuckled, shaking his head. He hushed him melodramatically, holding a finger to his lips. "You'll wake the baby."
Aziraphale smiled, for a split second allowing himself to enjoy the fiction that she was theirs. He quickly pushed the thought out of his head, before it could hurt him any more. He settling back into his armchair. Connoisseur of literature that he was, he decided to re-read The Gruffalo, his keen mind dissecting the themes, art and storytelling in ways that The Gruffalo was not strictly intended to be dissected. This didn't deter him. He concluded, after an hour, that it was a cautionary tale on hubris, and the subjectivity of morality. He lifted his head to share his findings with Crowley, only to have his heart melt at the sight before him.
The demon had fallen asleep, both arms wrapped protectively around Crowley Junior. The angel could have sat and watched them peacefully for hours, but a pounding at the door jolted him. He glared in its direction, hurrying over to the noise before it had a chance to wake his small temporary family.
"What!" He snapped, scowling as he wrenched the door open. It wasn't a question so much as a politely worded Fuck Off.
"Aziraphale," Sherlock said. His eyes were bloodshot from tears, and if one looked closely, you could see his whole body trembling with anxiety. The angel dropped his irritation immediately, taken aback.
"Good lord, I haven't seen you in years. And John, too!" He exclaimed, noticing the man behind him. He looked between them; they looked more desperately worried than when Sherlock had returned to be released from his contract. "Whatever is the matter? You look like death."
"We need your help," John said, pushing up to stand beside his friend. He spoke with unfamiliar intensity.
Aziraphale sensed the need for urgency. "Come in," he said, stepping aside. Thoughtlessly, he directed them away from the living room door, toward the kitchen. "This way. Crowley's resting."
Some of the tension eased from Sherlock's body. He liked Crowley, even respected him, and the demon had done nothing but good by him... but that didn't stop Sherlock being slightly afraid of him. No matter how much he'd wanted to fix it, he had been responsible for Moriarty. What other blood could be on his hands? At least Aziraphale seemed less dangerous (the accuracy of that assumption is another matter entirely).
John, however, was saved by his single-minded purpose. Whatever he felt about his inhuman friends, his daughter was his first priority. He'd march into Hell and come back wearing the crown if it would put her back in his arms.
Neither sat down in the kitchen. "My daughter is missing," John said, clenching and unclenching his fists. His hands were steady, but restless.
"Oh, that's terrible," Aziraphale said, with genuine sympathy. He was dazzlingly intelligent sometimes, but equally... he could be dreadfully obtuse.
"We need you to help us," John said, stepping further forward. The angel leaned back slightly to maintain a personal bubble. "You know the town. The bloody police station was closed when we went to check, and we've been wasting time looking for her all afternoon."
Cogs began to turn in Aziraphale's head, very slowly...
"We first lost sight of her in the park," Sherlock chipped in, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He felt stagnant. He ought to be out there, running through the streets, working his mind to its limits to find Rosie.
The angel opened his mouth to say something, but faltered. Could it be a coincidence?
"She was wearing a stripey jumper, and wellies, and she's got blonde hair. She's only a toddler, she can only just walk," John added desperately.
"I do believe I can be of assistance, yes," he said carefully, smoothing out his lapels and beckoning them to follow him.
Sherlock and John shared a glance. Unbeknownst to one another, they were both thinking the same thing: some sort of angelic tracking spell, maybe. John wondered if Aziraphale would use that hypnosis thing again, to get rid of Sherlock for a while. Sherlock was already formulating ways to get rid of John himself, so the spell could be done in peace. They followed the angel closely. His manicured hands softly turned the doorknob, pushing open the door.
There was a sharp intake of breath from both of them. John collapsed in relief against the doorframe, while Sherlock stood rigid and frozen. He couldn't blink. He couldn't move his eyes. His Rosie was right there, within touching distance, encircled by the arms of a demon.
As if sensing the intrusion, Crowley's yellow eyes flickered open. He squinted blearily through his sunglasses at the two men in the doorway. He made the connection far quicker than Aziraphale had.
"Oh. She's theirs?" He guessed, pointing at the sleeping child on his chest. Aziraphale nodded, clasping his hands at his belly.
When the demon stirred Rosie from her sleep, Sherlock could finally breathe. She was alive. She was okay. She had been found; not stolen. There had been a split second when his imagination had run away with him, thinking that some hidden clause in his contract had come back to bite him, and had cost him his baby. Within moments, she had caught sight of her daddies, and was squealing and tottering over into their arms. They both wept in relief, collapsing to their knees to shower her with affection and apologies.
Aziraphale perched on the arm of Crowley's recliner, entinwing their hands together and watching the family reunion. It lasted for around fifteen minutes. When John was eventually able to stand again, he sniffled and said: "Oh. Nearly forgot," he said, grabbing a hefty book off the floor where he had dropped it a moment ago.
The angel stared at it curiously as it was placed in his hands. He flicked it open. "Oh!" He cried in delight. "Our photo album!"
"What?" Crowley said, lurching up to see for himself. He cracked a broad grin at John. "Not a bad trade, Watson. Consider us even."
John took it as a joke, but the comment made Sherlock uneasy. "That was the whole reason we came all the way out here, to give that back," he said, rubbing the last remnants of tears from his eyes.
"Well, I do hope you'll keep better track of your daughter in future, my dear boy," Aziraphale said sternly, looking at him hard over his spectacles. John was abruptly reminded of his boyhood schoolmaster, and the memory alone made him tense up sheepishly. "You're tremendously lucky that it was only Crowley who found her. There are far nastier demons on earth than him, you know."
The doctor was taken aback. He gave a nervous sideways glance at Sherlock. Had Aziraphale forgotten that he didn't know? Sherlock was thinking a similar thing. Coughing awkwardly, the detective stood up, with Rosie in his arms.
"Criminals are merely human, Aziraphale. Demons have nothing to do with it," he said stridently, hoping to gloss over it. Rosie resumed her usual habit of tugging on his dark curls. This time, he allowed it.
John sighed in relief. Good, he thought, he's explained it away. The secret's safe. Crowley and Aziraphale shared a baffled glance.
"He meant it literally, dipshi - uh... " Crowley began, cutting himself off as he remembered there was a child in the room. "I mean.... idiot," he finished lamely.
Sherlock stared. "Oh yes, you are rather religious, aren't you?" He continued, stubbornly trying to cover up the truth. It was almost like they didn't want to keep it a secret. "Lestrade told me you were cultists once. Not my cup of tea, but heigh ho."
"We are not cultists, Sherlock!" Aziraphale said haughtily, crossing his arms. "You know precisely what we are. You can't have forgotten, surely, not after all we've done for you!"
"After all I've done," Crowley corrected.
"Wait, does... does he know?" John cut in, pointing uncertainly at Sherlock. His eyes were fixed on Aziraphale, as if he were convinced he'd be wrong.
"Of course. Haven't you spoken to one another? Communicated at all?" the angel said in disbelief. The two men stared at him blankly. He threw his arms up in exasperation. "Honestly! Young couples these days..."
John spluttered, and Sherlock jolted suddenly from his stupor. "We're not - "
"It's not like that, we - "
"We aren't a couple," John said finally, the final coherent phrase in the jumble of words.
Crowley cocked an eyebrow at them, looking from Rosie, to the two of them, then back again. "Right. You're just raising a child together, you know... platonically. As friends," he said incredulously.
"Yes," Sherlock said stiffly. The doctor beside him said nothing, choosing to fix his gaze on Rosie's face, which was sliding closer to sleep again on Sherlock's shoulder.
"Sure," the demon said, unconvinced. Aziraphale rolled his eyes and clucked his tongue.
"Now that's out of the way, we ought to explain a few things, so we're all up to speed," Aziraphale said, putting aside his exasperation with the two of them for a moment. "Sherlock, John learned of our true natures during our last case together. It was entirely accidental, and he was sworn to secrecy. John... your friend here found out about us after he jumped off that building."
The doctor blinked. Even a simple mention of the Fall sent cold chills through his veins. "You helped him fake his death?" he said. Shock, and a hint of anger, lingered in his tone.
The angel's jaw went slightly slack. Somewhere along his train of thought, he'd forgotten that John had been given an entirely different narrative of events. His eyes darted to Sherlock, who looked away. He had hoped the truth might never come to light. It seemed too terrible to say. Crowley tightened his grip on Aziraphale's hand, an anchoring presence. The principality had always held a special place in John's heart; he had to be the one to tell him, if Sherlock wouldn't. He took a steadying breath.
"John, my dear..." he said, so softly it was almost inaudible. He levelled a calm, crystal blue gaze at him. "Sherlock did not survive that fall."
His jaw clenched. There was a ripple along his throat as he swallowed hard. "What... what are you saying?" he whispered, eyes wide. He aggressively turned on Sherlock. "What is he saying?"
Sherlock cradled Rosie closer. She had fallen asleep again. "I meant it, John," he replied quietly, not meeting his gaze. "There were no tricks. I jumped."
He looked over at him. A sheen of tears covered his eyes. That sentence held an unspoken addition: I did it for you.
"But... but you're here," John insisted, aggression rising up from suppressed grief and a confusion of old anxieties. "You didn't die. You're here."
Crowley cleared his throat. All eyes flicked to him. "Uh, about that," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "When it comes to death, uh... there are plenty of ways to cheat."
"What?" John said impatiently.
"I... I happened to be nearby, when it happened," he said carefully. He scanned Watson's face cautiously. "I made him an offer. I brought him back, and in return, he erased Moriarty's legacy. Simple."
Watson blinked. "Why?"
The demon pulled a few faces, as if to make light of what he was about to say. "Oh, you know... just... reasons," he said vaguely. He sighed, seeing his dissatisfied expression. Hanging his head, he admitted: "Fine. Moriarty and I had a deal. In exchange for his soul, he got to be the greatest criminal mastermind of all time. In my defence, I hadn't expected him to go as far as he did."
Sherlock eyed John out of the corner of his eye. His shoulders at locked up. Deep, steady breaths drew in and out of his nose, and his hands flexed by his sides. He was wrestling with his temper. John smiled an angry, furious, murderous smile. He lunged forward, pulling back to throw a punch at Crowley's face. The demon flinched back, shielding his head, but no blows fell. He tentatively peeked out from between his fingers.
Aziraphale had a fistful of John's shirt, stopping him in his tracks. The angel's knuckles pressed hard into his chest, and his shirt collar was straining, threads snapping under the tremendous force. Their noses were almost touching. John was motionless, a rabbit in the headlights of a bullet train. He had never seen Aziraphale's face so blank, so emotionless, and yet so alight with rage. He had not been the Guardian of Eden for nothing.
"I would strongly advise against that course of action, Doctor Watson," he said quietly. "That is my husband."
John nodded silently. Adrenaline had torn his heart to shreds. When Aziraphale released him, his knees very nearly gave out. Sherlock was there to steady him; he had backed away slightly, wanting to keep Rosie a safe distance away in case a scuffle broke out. The angel settled back down beside his demon, running his fingers possessively through his red hair. Crowley clearly did not know what to do with himself. His cheeks now had a rose tint, and he looked almost as shellshocked as John did.
"Well..." he said eventually, breaking the awkward silence. "It's always nice to catch up with old friends."
It was quite funny watching everyone trying to figure out which terrible villain had kidnapped Rosie at the end of the last chapter when the answer was, in fact, our favourite ineffable idiots
Chapter 4: Miracles Versus Magic
The overt tension had dissipated after around a day. Despite the relative calm that had settled between them, Crowley wasn't blind to the dirty looks he got from John, or the way Sherlock stared at him. Aziraphale was stridently ignoring them. The angel was surprisingly adept at glossing over the whole thing, getting everyone talking, distracting them. Over the next day or two, they began to relax, sweeping their differences under the rug... for now.
Sherlock and John began to enjoy their little South Downs holiday. Aziraphale showed them the best spots for lunch, and Crowley's highly manicured garden was the perfect playground for Rosie. Sherlock had been fretting over the pond in the corner, since there was no fence, but he was quickly overruled.
"For as long as I am in this garden, Sherlock, no harm shall come to her," Aziraphale had told him firmly, posture-perfect in his outdoor wicker chair. He looked over at the far side of the lawn, where Crowley was sternly demanding that the apple tree start flowering, then and there, since Rosie wanted him to braid some blossoms into her hair.
Sherlock settled into a garden chair, beside John. He didn't relax. His eyes followed the demon obsessively, and the way Rosie followed him around like a lost puppy. They were touring the garden, gathering flowers from his meticulously kept plants. She had taken a shine to him, and vice versa, apparently. It unsettled Sherlock; he couldn't be a good influence, surely.
Around ten minutes passed. An anguinshed cry drew everyone's attention.
"Teddy!" Rosie said, reaching after her favourite toy. It wasn't so much a 'teddy' as a flimsy rag she'd drawn a face onto. It was light enough to have been picked up on a sudden gust of wind, and blown into the pond. John went to stand, worried she'd chase after it (he needn't have worried; Crowley already had it covered, preventing her from running off).
"Stay where you are, John, I'll fetch it," Aziraphale said, getting up himself.
He ambled across the lawn. The sunshine glared off his white clothes, giving him a glowing appearance. He walked straight past Crowley and Rosie, heading for the pond. Without breaking stride, he walked straight off the dry land and onto the water. The surface rippled, but supported his weight as easily as the garden path. John gaped. Sherlock leaned forward in fascination; he'd never seen Aziraphale perform a miracle before.
The angel leaned down, plucking the rag from the pond's surface. He miracled it dry. Returning to land, he handed it back to the amazed Rosie. She beamed. "Ankoo!" she said, cuddling the 'teddy'.
"You're welcome, dear," he replied warmly, touching Crowley's shoulder gently as he passed. "Lovely job with the braids, darling. I love the apple blossoms."
The demon puffed out his chest proudly, smiling. Sherlock eyed Aziraphale with interest as he returned to the chair. "Tell me: is it surface-tension manipulation, or do you alter the density of your own body?"
"Hm?" the angel said, a tad off-guard with his teacup already half-raised to his mouth.
"You walked on water. I want to know how it was done," he said, leaning forward in his chair. "The water didn't freeze, nor did it solidify. There were ripples. Either you altered the surface, or yourself. Which?"
He chuckled, sharing an exasperated glance with John. "Sherlock, dear boy, it was neither. A miracle is a miracle," he replied, daintily sipping his tea. "My faith in the Almighty keeps me from being submerged."
He blinked. "No."
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow at the audacity. "No?"
"If that were true, any clergyman could do it," he insisted.
"No, no, of course not. Humans can't perform miracles," he replied, shaking his head. He tutted, like a teacher lamenting his most hopeless student. "Your species are capable of lower magics only, but even then, you must be born with the gift."
A breeze blew across the garden as they processed his words, ruffling the flower-laden shrubs and combing through the reeds by the pond. Sherlock huffed, taking out his phone and beginning to look over case notes instead. Every now and then, he glanced up to check on Rosie and Crowley. She had put on his sunglasses, and found the whole situation hysterically funny. John continued his chat with Aziraphale.
"Can you tell?" He asked, sipping from the same teacup he'd been nursing for two hours. It never emptied, and it never went cold. He had decided not to ask why. "If someone's magic, I mean."
"Do you know any, uh... magicians?" he said, unable to really find the right words.
"They're called witches, dear Watson," he said, looking with a mixture of amusement and patience at the doctor. "Or occultists, depending on their preference. I do know a few, and indeed there have been many across the centuries. You know some, too."
"I do?" he said in surprise. Sherlock's head snapped up, suddenly interested.
"Oh, yes," he said, eyes twinkling knowingly. "None of them know of their gifts, of course. Most witches are never aware of their potential. It manifests only in the odd bout of luck or intuition, that's all."
Sherlock pocketed his phone, almost toppling out of his chair as he leaned forward to listen. "Well?" he prompted impatiently. "Who?"
"Oh, let me think," he said idly, tapping on his lips thoughtfully as his eyes tilted skywards. "Our friend Inspector Lestrade has a distinct spark of magic about him. Mrs Hudson certainly has the aura for it, and it seems she even dabbled a tad in her youth. Séances and such, you know."
"Mrs Hudson?" John laughed in nervous disbelief. "That's - "
"Oh, and Rosie, of course," Aziraphale suddenly added, smiling benevolently at his husband, who was now playing peekaboo with the child in question.
Sherlock choked on his coffee. John went sheet white. "What?"
Aziraphale's peaceful expression fell slightly. "Oh, it's nothing to worry about," he said, in what he hoped was a reassuring voice. "Probably. I mean, the likelihood of her being capable of magic without training is very low. That and, of course, demonic possession is largely unheard of nowadays, so - "
"Demonic what now?" John interrupted, his posture open but his fists clenched. He was fighting panic. It was a strange sensation, on such a pleasant day with sunshine smiling on the country garden.
Aziraphale stared dead ahead, wide-eyed, his teacup frozen in both hands beneath his nose. "Oh dear," he said quietly, realising he'd just put his foot in it. "I perhaps shouldn't have mentioned that."
"No, you've said it now, you've got to - " John began agitatedly, pointing a finger at the angel.
"Oh my! Is that the time?" Aziraphale cried, springing to his feet. The tea set vanished from the table, including the coffee cup that Sherlock had been just about to take a steadying sip of. "Crowley! Our guests will be leaving now!"
The demon looked up from their game of rock, paper scissors with a frown. "They will?"
"Yes!" he retorted firmly.
With a snap of his fingers, the world tilted. A sickening sensation gripped John, like his stomach had been turned inside out. His eyes watered profusely. Suddenly, solid ground slammed into the soles of his shoes, like he'd landed on his feet after a long fall. His vision came into focus again. He found himself in the street, outside their hotel on the other side of town, with Rosie by his side. She seemed fairly unaffected, if slightly baffled. A quick glance at Sherlock told him that he felt just as nauseous as he did.
They met eyes. "He's hiding something," Sherlock surmised, leaning heavily on the wall.
John nodded, trying to even out his breathing. He felt a powerful urge to swear, cut down only by the small hand in his. "No sugar-honey-ice-tea, Sherlock," he said with a hard glance.
Sherlock couldn't sleep that night. He had to keep checking on Rosie. He regularly checked her temperature, pulse and readjusted the blankets every time. John forced him to leave her be, lest he wake her up. Sherlock simply waited until he fell asleep, and stubbornly kept going. Luckily, Rosie was a heavy sleeper, and hardly stirred.
The mention of demonic possession had set him on edge. The online sources he found were unhelpful. They talked about climbing walls, flickering lights, heads turning 180 degrees... He wasn't sure if that was a Hollywood dramatisation, or if it was true. He doubted Aziraphale would tell him. Crowley would probably follow his husband's lead (if there's one thing Sherlock had deduced correctly right from the get-go, it was that Crowley always did whatever his angel so desired of him). Besides, the demon was really the problem. Could he... possess Rosie somehow? What about humans that weren't magic? What does possession even do to a person?
John prodded him awake the next morning. He had passed out on the floor at the foot of Rosie's bed which was, by all accounts, somewhat incriminating, considering that he'd promised he'd go to bed last night. He cringed under his flatmate's hard stare.
"Been busy?" John asked curtly. "I told you to let her sleep."
"She did. I needed data, John," he said, hauling himself to his feet. Rosie was brushing her teeth in the ensuite.
"Signs of - of - " he stuttered, feeling ridiculous about what he was about to say " - demonic possession."
He sighed heavily. "Look, Sherlock, you're worried. I am, too," he said, rubbing his eyes as if there was a headache building behind them. "But... Aziraphale says it's unheard of - "
"Largely unheard of," he corrected sharply.
"Fine, largely unheard of," John said, glaring. "But he's an angel. He'd know. Wouldn't he have told us, if something like that would hurt Rosie? He seems to really like her."
Sherlock crossed his arms. "He might withhold it, considering that his husband is a demon," he pointed out.
"Crowley likes Rosie, too. He's not going to hurt her," he said, as if trying to convince himself of that fact. His distaste for Crowley's past was evident, but it was difficult to just ignore the fact that he had saved Sherlock when no one else could. He pushed back these conflicted emotions, dragging out their shared suitcase from the wardrobe. "Besides, I've been thinking... maybe it's not such a bad thing."
"What?" Sherlock said, his face creased with the kind of befuddlement that only comes when John says something especially odd.
"You know, having an angel and a demon around," he said thoughtfully, still mulling it over himself as he packed up his clothes. "Looking after things."
"Looking aft - things?" he stuttered, nervous energy and mounting confusion making him pace between the beds. "What things? We don't have any things."
"Rosie, Sherlock, I'm talking about Rosie," he said, in his explaining-obvious-things-to-Sherlock-voice. He still looked blank, but he'd stopped pacing. He continued his explanation with irate sarcasm. "Look, I'm not saying we'll give them joint custody on weekends. I'm just saying you couldn't ask for much better babysitters than two immortals, could you?"
Oh, how wrong he was. John would certainly have changed his mind if he'd seen how royally messed up Warlock's childhood had been, but he needn't ever find out about all that. Nor did he need to know about the baby-swap ordeal, nor the many mishaps with the Them after the non-pocalypse, nor the incident when Crowley had covered for a friend in a PTA meeting, nor... well, you get the picture.
They decided to call at the cottage before they left town. John was nothing if not a polite man, and he'd hate to feel like he was leaving things on a sour note. Even if Aziraphale wasn't being totally honest with them...
He knocked on the door. It took a moment before anyone answered. "Oh," Aziraphale said cautiously when he finally did. "John, Sherlock... Rosie, darling... How are you all?"
"Good, thanks," John said with a strained smile. He could feel Sherlock glaring over his shoulder. "Look, I didn't... I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye. Uh - we, I mean. We didn't want to."
The angel smiled lightly. "How kind of you," he said. "I do hope you can forgive me for my poor manners yesterday. I'm afraid I rather forgot myself."
"Water under the bridge," John said, waving a hand. There was a sound like shuffling feet, and Crowley's sleep-blurred face appeared over Aziraphale's shoulder.
"Mornin'," he mumbled, resting his chin on his husband.
"Our friends here are just about to start going home," Aziraphale explained. He looked up at them. "Would you like a cup of something hot, for the road? Tea, perhaps?"
Sherlock's phone beeped. He took it out, just as John accepted the invitation and went to go inside. "John," he said sharply, grabbing his arm. "We need to go."
"What? Why?" he said irritably. He was halfway through handing Rosie over to Aziraphale, and even the angel looked slightly irked to have had his moment interrupted. Crowley ignored them, taking advantage of the distraction to make her laugh by pulling silly faces over Aziraphale's shoulder.
"We made a mistake," Sherlock said, fixing him with an intense stare as he turned the phone to face him. "There's been another fire."
"What?" he said, eyes wide. He blanched, snatching the phone and reading furiously.
"What's happened?" Crowley asked, lifting his gaze from Rosie's cute face.
"Our last case," Sherlock explained tensely. The wind picked up, toying with the ends of his coat dramatically. "There was a series of orphanage fires in London."
"Heavens!" Aziraphale cried, hands flying to cover his mouth. "Was anyone hurt?"
"Fourteen children died, a further sixteen wounded," he said.
"Oh, the poor dears," he said morosely, leaning closer to Crowley for comfort. The demon held Rosie in one arm, and his angel in the other.
"We caught him, though," John insisted angrily, thrusting the phone back into Sherlock's hands. "He was arrested. It was over, Sherlock, you were certain!"
The detective looked sheepish, and no doubt just as annoyed internally. "I thought we had. Everything pointed to him," he said. "But another orphanage in London is burning, and it looks like arson."
"Tell me everything," Aziraphale demanded. All eyes turned to him. He huffed. "Well? Lives are at stake! Hurry up."
"Right," Sherlock said. He'd almost forgotten that the angel was now the world's only retired consulting detective. "There were two fires. The first was done with gasoline through the letter flap, and the second was lit by pouring gasoline through an open window. I trailed a few traces of evidence to a known arsonist who lived in the vicinity of both attacks."
"Motive?" he pressed.
Sherlock hesitated. He mumbled something under his breath, avoiding his sharp blue gaze. Crowley's flowerbeds suddenly became very interesting to him. Who knew tulips were so fascinating?
John rolled his eyes. "The arsonist said he'd been visited by an angel, who told him to do it," he said. At the time, he'd wondered if it could be true. He dismissed the thought, of course, and not just because he hadn't thought Sherlock would believe him. If other angels were anything like Aziraphale, it was impossible.
"What?" he cried, bright blue eyes stretched wide. Rosie jumped at the sudden noise. Even Crowley suddenly straightened up in surprise, dispelling his fatigue.
"There's an angel running around telling people to burn down orphanages and you didn't think to mention it to us?" the demon exclaimed, scowling furiously.
John stuttered, a breathy chuckle slipping past his lips out of pure nerves. "But - but it won't really be angel, will it?" he said. The husbands did not look impressed. "You can't be serious."
"Oh, we are," the Principality said dryly. A somber expression overtook him, and he angled his eyes down to where the sunlight shod the grass in gold. "I am not like others of my kind, I'm afraid."
Crowley scoffed. "That's a good thing, angel, trust me."
He smiled weakly. "I suppose it is, rather," he said. He fiddled with his bow tie, wearing a pensive frown. "It may not be an angel, but we cannot take that risk."
"You mean...?" Crowley said, eyebrows creeping further up his forehead.
"Yes. London is calling us back, my dear," he said. He levelled his gaze at Sherlock. "It seems we shall be working together again, Mr Holmes."
"It seems so, Mr Fell," he replied, unable to suppress a flicker of excitement.
Chapter 5: A Familiar Old Bentley
"Of course, of bloody course," Lestrade muttered. He ran his hands through his hair, staring with mounting horror and stress at the smouldering husk of a building. It just had to happen when Sherlock was out of town, didn't it?
"When's freak due to get here?" Donovan asked.
"Any time now," he said irately, checking his watch. The firefighters had done a stellar job, and the paramedics were working on saving the children who had been harmed in the blaze; it was all eyes on the investigative teams now. He sent a quick text to Sherlock, hoping Donovan wouldn't see: WHERE ARE YOU??
"Whatever happened to the other one - Mr Fell?" she asked. She looked at the ruined orphanage with more detachment than Lestrade was capable of.
"He got married, remember?" he said, pocketing his phone. "They're retired now, the two of them. They've got a cottage in some little award-winning postcard village in the South Downs. I mean, you can hardly blame them, can you?"
He gestured to the wreck in front of them to labour his point, silhouetted against a bleak London sky. She shrugged. "Still, I miss him," she said. "He was easier to work with."
He was about to agree, when his phone buzzed. He took it out, and frowned at the message.
Nearly there. I'm bringing reinforcements - SH
"Reinforcements?" he muttered under his breath, puzzled. The sergeant gave him an odd look.
The loud, guttural roar of an engine drew their attention. Everyone at the crime scene turned their heads. Jaws dropped. An unmistakably familiar classic Bentley prowled down the road, rolling to a halt by the curb. Lestrade gaped, unable to believe his own eyes. If he couldn't believe them, perhaps he'd believe his ears as the engine choked and growled like a chained beast. If he couldn't believe his ears, he could believe his nose as the acrid, strangely sulphurous, exhaust fumes overpowered London's typical smog. If nothing else, he had to accept it when Crowley's head poked over the roof of the car, accompanied by a cheery wave.
Lestrade reached the car, stepping under the police tape just as Aziraphale emerged. "Fell!" he cried, shaking his hand and yanking him into a hug.
"Greg, yes, hello," he replied, chuckling awkwardly as he recovered from the unexpected greeting. Sherlock and John crawled out of the back seat. "It is good to see you again."
"These are your reinforcements, are they?" Lestrade said to Sherlock, pointing at them. He was smiling more than he had in months.
"Yes," he replied smugly. Crowley made his way around the bonnet, taking his rightful place at his husband's shoulder. Rosie had been dropped off at 221B, where she and Mrs Hudson were no doubt baking cookies by now.
"It's a one-off," the demon said. With a sly glance at Sherlock, he added "We figured that since Sherlock couldn't handle it, it was time for the grown-ups to step in."
Lestrade laughed. Sherlock scowled. "God, I've missed you two," the DI said, shaking his head. He looked them both up and down, with a long whistle. "Retirement must be agreeing with you. You haven't aged a day, either of you."
"Oh, you're too kind," Aziraphale said, reaching up to touch his hair. "But I'm afraid my hair went white so long ago, you wouldn't be able to tell if I had."
Sherlock wondered if his hair had once been a different colour, thousands of years ago. Even if it hadn't, the angel was clearly adept at brushing off comments about his age. He cleared his throat, interrupting their small talk. "We do have a crime to solve, you know."
Lestrade snapped back to reality, clearing his throat. "Right," he said, and gestured for them to follow. "This way, I'll show you what we've got."
A safe path had been marked through the building with yellow tags. Each blackened floorboard moaned underfoot, and they could hardly move more than a metre before someone's foot caught on a piece of charred debris. Aziraphale was a beacon of white amongst the soot-stained plaster and caved-in ceilings, where memories had been made, treasured, and burnt all in the same breath. Crowley almost blended in. He couldn't help it; you could always count on a demon to look at-home in decrepit places. Lestrade paused, pointing into another room.
"The fire started in there," he said. It was a kitchen space - or rather, it had been a kitchen space. The tiles were still damp with water damage, and ash dominated every surface. An dry, kernel smell clung to the air.
"Gasoline again?" John guessed, grimacing.
"No," Crowley said. All eyes turned on him, baffled by his certainty. He was mildly surprised at the attention. "What? Can't you tell the difference?"
"Our best men don't know what happened here yet," Lestrade said, crossing his arms. "How come you know?"
He snorted, rolling his eyes. "It's the smell. It's not gasoline," he said, as if it were obvious. He had been walking behind them all the way in, his serpentine tongue flickering out periodically to taste the air. It was laden with sour scents, fear and damp and fire, but not gasoline. "It's flour."
"Of course!" Aziraphale and Sherlock cried in eerie unison.
Lestrade looked at John for an explanation. The doctor gave a long-suffering sigh, a shrug, and suddenly wished he had a hip flask to take a swig out of. "What?" the DI said impatiently.
"Flour is highly explosive as a dust suspension in the air," Sherlock explained rapidly, pushing through into the ruined kitchen, closely followed by Aziraphale.
"All it takes is a little spark," the angel said, picking up the explanation where the other left off. He leant down beside Sherlock, inspecting the stovetop burners. He tapped his fingers against the deformed rings of the hob. "A gas fire, for instance..."
"And the whole kitchen goes up in flames," Sherlock finished, straightening up.
"Quite right," he said, with an approving nod. "But of course, if this is the third orphanage fire, it couldn't have been an accident. Therefore..."
"This one was an inside job," he said, steepling his hands under his nose and staring blankly at the floor. "Fascinating."
"Oh bugger," Crowley muttered, just barely reminding himself not to lean against the crumbling doorframe. "Now they're finishing each other's sentences."
"Talk about the mutual admiration society..." John grumbled in agreement.
"Can I retire again already?" Crowley said snidely, crossing his arms and joining John in shared disgust-slash-fondness for the pair of detectives.
Aziraphale tutted, stood shoulder to shoulder with Sherlock in the blackened kitchen. "Look at those two, chattering like a pair of old dears," he said, folding his hands behind his back. "Anyone would think we'd spoiled their tea."
Sherlock gave a snort of laughter, brushing past the bloggers and back into the hallway. "What are you on about? John is an old dear," he said. Aziraphale followed along, humming to show he was listening. "Did I ever tell you about that awful moustache he had?"
"Why, no! Did it not age him?"
"Everyone said so," he replied, and their two voices began to fade as they tracked a new chain of reasoning through the house.
Lestrade squinted at the two of them as they vanished amongst the remains of the charred house. He glanced back at the demon and the doctor, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the other two. "Are they... are they gossiping?" he said uncertainly.
"Yep," Crowley sighed, popping the P. His shoulders bore the slump of a defeated man. "Aziraphale's become a terrible gossip ever since he started going to parish council meetings. I'm warning both of you, right now, do not ask him about the village fête. If I have to hear one more story about Mr Tompson rigging the tombola, I'm going to jump into the canal..."
Lestrade had to go settle something on the phone shortly afterwards, leaving Crowley and John with a warning that the upper floors had been deemed unsafe. The latter nodded and took that on board. The former took it as a challenge.
They found Aziraphale watching Sherlock trying to find something in the office that wasn't burnt to a crisp. He turned as he heard their footsteps. "Ah! Just the men," he said, smiling. "We were thinking that we may find more clues upstairs."
"We can't," John said, tucking his hands under his arms. The polluted air in here was starting to get to him. "It's unstable. This whole place'll be condemned soon, mark my words."
He waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, that's no matter," he said, looking at his husband. "Crowley, I believe this is your forte, isn't it? You did an excellent job of keeping your Bentley up and running, despite it being rather on fire, did you not?"
He puffed out his chest proudly. "I did," he said. Sherlock and John stared quizzically at them both. "I'll get right on it. Anything in particular I'm looking for?"
"We need to know which room is above the kitchen," Sherlock said. "Sweep the whole upper floor, too. Gather as much data as you can."
"Data. Right. I can do that," he said vaguely, sticking his hands in his pockets and sauntering over to the staircase.
He appraised the steps. The wood had all but turned to charcoal, which would surely crumble underfoot. Some had caved in completely. He thought about what they might have looked like, before; smooth oak steps, worn away steadily by many feet over the decades. He could feel John's curious stare around the door on his back. Slowly, he raised his foot, and lay one snakeskin boot on what he imagined was a very solid step. It held firm. He took the next step equally as cautiously. Once he was sure that the staircase itself also believed it hadn't recently been on fire, he hopped up to the next floor at a careless half-jog. More than once, his foot landed on a blank space where only thin air could support his weight, which it did without complaint. It even creaked like a wooden step, just for extra believability.
John blinked in surprise as the thin figure vanished onto the next floor. He shook his head, withdrawing back into the office. Some things, he thought to himself, I'll never get used to...
Crowley glanced around. Underfoot, the floor had sagged and cracked, threatening to give way at the merest disturbance. The demon didn't answer to threats. As he walked across what-was-once-the-floor, if you looked closely, you would see a buffer zone of nothingness between where the floorboards had slumped to, and where they had once been, upon which his foot now rested. He strode across to the first door he laid eyes on, pushing it open.
Single bedroom, for an adult. Probably for the caregiver on-duty that night. Nothing much was left; the bedframe had been wooden, and lost in the blaze. His eyes scanned the walls. It was an undisturbed canvas of ash, all the way around.
He turned, investigating the others. There was a main bathroom, shared, where someone had been when the fire started. He could tell. In the scorched basin in the corner, there was the melted remains of a child's toothbrush, which had begun to drip away into the drain. The tube of toothpaste lay alongside it, equally as ruined by the heat. Whoever had been here, they'd dropped their brush and ran. He touched the edges of the sink gently.
"Hope you got out okay, mate," he mumbled under his breath, as if they might be able to hear him.
He left the bathroom, and paused. He visualised the floor plan downstairs, which was slightly tricky, considering he also had to continue to imagine that he was standing on a perfectly solid un-burnt surface. He managed it all right, though. His eyes landed on the final door, which must lead to the room above the kitchen. With a heavy sense of dread settling in the pit of his stomach, he approached the door.
Or rather, doorframe. The door itself had been kicked in. The doorframe had splintered, and the door itself hung askew on its hinges. He drew level with the threshold, and felt his heart drop to the floor.
"No..." he couldn't help but whisper.
Ten small metal bed frames lined the room. Across the plaster, there were tiny handprints in the soot, as if their desperate cries had been written on the walls. Crowley took a tentative step inside. Here and there, there were paler spots among the ash. Their bodies had lain there, the debris settling on their clothes... A wave of outrage convulsed through him as he realised that the smallest of them would have succumbed to the smoke first. He took a step forward, over one of these cleaner spots. Stepping on one would feel like walking over a grave.
There was a squeak. He jumped, lifting his foot sharply and ready to stamp on whatever it was. He sagged slightly as he realised what he had stepped on. He leaned down, picking up the tattered teddy bear. He dusted off the debris. He couldn't sense love like Aziraphale, but he could see it. The grey-stained fabric had been stitched and patched extensively, and one paw was slightly squished, as if it had spent many years being held by its hand. Its button eyes had melted, and the smokey smell may never come out, but it had survived the fire. It had survived, and its child may not have. He resisted the urge to scream. Without another thought, he tucked the bear into the interior pocket of his blazer. It didn't deserve to stay here.
Slowly, the demon turned to the doorframe again. His fingertips brushed against one particular spot at hip-height, where the wood had been ripped away more then the rest. It had been broken open, probably when the firefighters found the room. He wondered if they had heard the screaming, or if it was already too late.
He glanced over his shoulder, back at the tragedy that was told by the heavy sense of absence in the room. "Who locked you in here?" he asked them softly, with a dark and venemous undertone. It was the kind of voice that vowed revenge.
Chapter 6: Rose Tinted Spectacles
Rosie sometimes wondered why no one talked about the colours. Everyone had them, after all, just like everyone had clothes, and she knew better than anyone how much people seemed to love talking about those. Mrs Hudson was always watching TV shows about clothes.
Auras were far more interesting, though she didn’t have the language to describe them. Sometimes, she felt that she could look at them for hours. People were often unnerved when she stared at them like that. They usually put it down to Sherlock's influence, so she got away with it. By far the most fascinating auras, however, were Crowley and Aziraphale's.
She hadn't noticed it at first. She began to, when the four men came back to 221B and began chattering and arguing about things she didn't understand very well. She was used to that.
"I don't care about the law, dammit, Sherlock," Crowley snarled, jabbing his finger across the table. "If there's some bloke out there burning children to death, I'll rip his spine out through his throat, you just watch me!"
Aziraphale laid a gentle hand on his arm. "Not in front of Rosie, dear," he said sternly. Crowley glanced at her wide, innocent gaze and mumbled some apologies. The demon had left the orphanage in a steaming rage, and he could hardly be blamed. The principality also felt the beginning of his holy wrath stirring beneath the facade that his material body provided. Until they had a target for their combined fury, however, they had to keep a level head. Investigations were best done when calm.
While they were distracted, Rosie looked between the two men. Crowley's burnt orange aura, spun through with threads of gold, was mesmerising. She looked closer, and realised those weren't threads of gold, at all. They were snakes. Their glowing yellow forms coiled and danced within the autumnal colours, giving life and vibrancy to a man who dressed entirely in black. Aziraphale's baby blue aura also held an interesting secret. Every now and then, a spot within it would flicker strangely, and she came to realise that the whole blue haze surrounding him was speckled with eyes. They were a similar hue to the aura, almost invisible as a result, but hard to ignore once you noticed them.
Eventually, Aziraphale caught her staring. "Is something the matter, dear?" he asked kindly, turning away from the heated argument developing between Crowley and Sherlock.
She blinked. He was a strange man, and he gave the impression that he was very different to anyone else she had met. Maybe he would understand.
"Blue," she said, gesturing vaguely at the space surrounding him.
The angel looked over his shoulder, trying to figure out what she was trying to say. "What is, dear?"
"You," she giggled, tottering over to climb into his lap.
"I am?" he said, tilting his head and frowning. She sat on his knee and nodded happily.
Crowley finally took notice, seeing as he needed an excuse to fob Sherlock off. "What's she saying, angel?"
"She says that I'm blue," he explained, trying to puzzle out what she meant. He looked down at himself. "You don't think I still have some paint on my coat, do you?"
He huffed, rolling his eyes. "That was years ago, angel. It's not that," he said.
John rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Don't worry about her, Aziraphale. She says things like that sometimes," he said. "She's just got an active imagination."
Aziraphale looked back at Rosie. She was straining out of his arms, reaching up towards one of the eyes suspended in his aura. He gently caught her wrist, bringing her hand back down by her side. "Don't touch that," he said in a mildly stern voice, with a disbelieving frown.
"Don't touch what?" Sherlock said irritably, tossing aside a file of information from Scotland Yard. "There's nothing there."
"Yes there is," he said, fixing the little girl with a surprised stare. "Rosie, dear... Could you tell me what colour Crowley is?"
She turned her head dutifully, as if she hadn't already been staring at the two of them for half an hour. "Or - ornge - " she said, struggling to wrap her mouth around the word. She shook her head, correcting herself. "Orange."
"Lellow," she replied, and didn't correct herself this time. "Wif snakes."
Crowley sucked in a sharp breath. "Ah," he said. He looked across at the confused humans. "She can see our auras."
"Your what," Sherlock said flatly. It wasn't framed as a question, unless that question happened to be 'what the fuck'.
"Everyone has an aura, even humans," Aziraphale explained, having to prevent Rosie from poking him in the metaphysical eye again. "They're projections of the soul - or, in our case, of our true forms. It seems Rosie's magical gift is more active than I thought..."
"Oh god... Is that bad?" John said, his head in his hands.
"Depends how she's shaped," Crowley said, tapping on the table rhythmically with his pointed fingernails. "If she's evil, it's bad. If she's good, it's fine. Better yet, if she's just normal, it won't matter at all."
"But you said - demonic possession - " John stuttered, then cut himself off abruptly. He shot a fearful glance at Aziraphale, concerned that he might suddenly vanish on them again.
He just sighed. "Yes, I know, and I should never have mentioned it," he said apologetically. "You see, when someone has magic, they are... um... Oh, I don't know. Help me, Crowley."
The demon sputtered, unprepared. "Er - uh - well - um - " he said, cringing under Sherlock's intense stare. "Witches are... easier for us to... um... take control of. Bodily. Er - I don't - yeah, that sounds even worse, doesn't it?"
"Quite," the angel sighed, shaking his head. He could sense John's rising panic. "Please don't be alarmed, John. Possession these days is very rare, and there is really no need anyway. Heaven and Hell issue custom-made bodies, like these we're wearing now."
The doctor looked them both up and down. He had spoken of their bodies like some sort of bespoke suit... "You're sure she's not in danger?"
"Not from us, certainly," he said. "I would encourage you to seek advice from a practising witch or occultist as she grows older. Her gifts will become more powerful as she develops."
"We can put you in touch with someone," Crowley chipped in. "An American lady, living in Tadfield. She's smart, no-nonsense. You'd like her, John."
Sherlock pulled a sour face, noticed only by the demon. He quickly looked at the floor.
"Her husband is nice, too," Crowley added on meaningfully. The detective lifted his gaze cautiously, but thankfully, back to the demon. "Anathema and Newton Pulsifer. I'll give you their number before we leave."
It ought to have been a private conversation - but when was it ever, in 221B? Just over Crowley's shoulder, nestled strategically beneath the bookshelf, a lens gleamed. Curious eyes watched the flat from afar, somewhere deep in the heart of a drab London office. They had orders to report anything strange or out-of-character; this seemed to qualify. Opening a fresh email, they typed out a message.
The recipient? A woman we know only as 'Anthea'.
Aziraphale and Sherlock excused themselves from the flat, needing to check in with Scotland Yard, leaving Crowley and John to look after Rosie. Sherlock would usually have texted, but Aziraphale insisted that would be rude. Listening to the two of them bickering over the importance of politesse would have given anyone a headache, and John breathed a sigh of relief as the front door swung shut behind them. He leaned back in his chair.
"So," he said tersely. Crowley gave him a sideways glance. "Moriarty."
He huffed. "Still sore about that, are you?"
"Yes, actually, I am," he said sharply. He leant forward on his knees. "As long as you're here, working with us, spending time with my daughter, you're asking me to trust you. Why should I?"
Crowley didn't move for a moment. Much like a serpent, he had an uncanny ability to remain stone-still for as long as he liked. Eventually, he laid down his pen, giving up on trying to doodle Aziraphale on a napkin. He had been trying to soothe his temper since he left the orphanage. He span around to face John properly.
"When I made that deal, I wasn't free to do as I pleased," he said, his knuckles white around the armrests of his chair. "I was expected to do evil. It was my job."
John smiled sourly. "Yeah, you're not exactly helping your case here."
"You think I enjoyed it?" he hissed, lurching forward slightly in anger. He saw Rosie flinch out of the corner of his eye, and forced himself to relax back into the chair. "I hated doing it. I was bluffing half the time, taking credit for human evils in my reports to head office... I set Moriarty up, hoping he'd do my job for me."
"Well, he certainly did that," John huffed, crossing his arms.
"How was I supposed to know what he'd do?" he said desperately, gesturing wildly. "I'm not human, John, I don't understand you lot. I can't think like you. I couldn't even conceive of half the things Moriarty did, let alone plan for them."
John was taken aback. He blinked in surprise, staring at the desperation on Crowley's face, that dire need to be forgiven... Despite his brain's innate mistrust, his heart cried out in sympathy. He knew the feeling. Coming back from Afghanistan with blood on his hands, the weight of violence on his back, and the hollow sense that he had done it all in vain... it was a similar experience. He squeezed his eyes shut as muzzle flashes flickered in his head, sending him back to a wasteland halfway across the world... John looked at Crowley, and found himself staring at his reflection in those yellow eyes. He was haunted, just like him. John had found his Hell in the throes of war; Crowley's had been far more literal. Both of them, he knew, only wanted to move on.
He pursed his lips, looking at his daughter to steady himself. Her eyes were wide and worried; she was very perceptive, always knowing when something was wrong. She saw the dark spots swimming across their auras, dulling the bright colours like ash. He smiled tiredly at her.
"I believe you," he said finally, looking back at Crowley. He seemed to slump slightly in relief. "I doubt Aziraphale would have ever fallen for you if you were lying."
The demon smiled. "S'pose not, but you never know," he said, running a hand through his hair. "He always said there was a spark of good in me."
He raised an eyebrow. "And what did you say to that?"
"Nothing I can repeat in front of Rosie," he said, gesturing lazily over to child, who gave a little wave. She was shamelessly eavesdropping, despite not understanding all of what was being said.
John hummed, resting his head on his fist. Crowley tilted his head. "You look tired," he said. "If you want a nap, you know, I wouldn't blame you. I'll watch Rosie."
He hesitated for a moment. "You're sure?"
"Sure. She looks about as sleepy as you," he said. As if to prove his point, she gave a wide yawn at that moment.
"Nuh - uh!" she protested, rubbing her eyes.
"Yuh - uh," Crowley replied mockingly, rolling his eyes. He looked at John. "Kids, huh?"
He cracked a smile. This was bizarre. "She's easier than Sherlock," he said, standing up and heading for his bedroom. He ruffled her hair as he went by. "I'll just lay down for an hour or so, okay?"
Aziraphale waited patiently as Lestrade shuffled papers around. "I had it here somewhere, I know I did," he muttered, staring like a madman at his cluttered desk.
"Anytime this year, Guy," Sherlock said.
"Greg!" Lestrade snapped, opening another drawer.
"How is it that you can remember Aziraphale, but not Greg?" the angel asked, quirking a brow at him in a way that said he already knew the answer.
"Your name is more memorable," he said stubbornly, keeping his eyes dead ahead. "At least you've only got one. How many does your husband have, again?"
"Just the one these days," he replied conversationally. Greg banged his head on the underside of the desk, knocking over a coffee cup by mistake. Espresso spilt over important-looking files while he stooped under his desk. Aziraphale flicked his wrist, and the takeaway cup and its contents rushed back into position as if he had turned back time, leaving the papers pristinely white. Lestrade only barely missed the miracle, poking his head back over the desk just as the liquid was settling.
Sherlock gave him a sideways glance. Now it was Aziraphale's turn to stare dead ahead. "Just Anthony Crowley nowadays, then, is it?" he said, continuing to talk as if nothing had transpired.
He shook his head. "No, it's Crowley J Fell now," he said. He gave a proud smile. "He took my surname."
"Which isn't your real surname."
"Says the man who goes exclusively by his middle name," he retorted knowingly.
Sherlock spluttered. "How did you know that?"
The angel opened his mouth to give a prim, condescending-yet-friendly response, when Lestrade cleared his throat. "Ladies, please," he said dryly. He had finally found the file. "Can you two finish this another time?"
"Of course," Aziraphale said sweetly, while Sherlock maintained his sour-faced mask.
Lestrade rolled his eyes at both of them. He flicked open the file. "Right... Says here, the staff member on duty the night of the fire was... " he said expectantly, eyes scanning down the page. "It doesn't say."
Aziraphale frowned. Sherlock jumped in: "Give it here," he said, snatching the file. He didn't trust the DI's skills of observation. He blocked out his indignant cries, and looked for himself. He huffed, throwing it back to the desk. "It doesn't say."
"Whoever could have guessed?" Aziraphale said reproachfully, shooting Lestrade an apologetic glance. He was used to doing this sort of thing when Crowley rubbed someone up the wrong way (usually some poor soul from the neighbourhood watch). "Was the caretaker not there when the firefighters arrived?"
He shook his head. "No sign of any adults," he said. "We thought we might find a corpse in the orphanage, still, but we haven't turned anything up yet. If you're right, and it was them that started the fire, they might have bolted."
"There must be a list of staff," Sherlock insisted, knocking restlessly on the desk. "Someone ought to know."
"We've tried that. Everyone seems to think someone else was on duty that night, but no one knows who," he said sharply. He took a swig of his coffee, and was pleasantly surprised to find it was still at perfect drinking temperature. He stared into it curiously. It had been sat on his desk for at least seven hours...
"Could we ask one of the children, perhaps?" Aziraphale suggested, half because it was a good idea, and half because he realised that (as per usual) he'd gotten a little carried away with his miracles again.
Lestrade suddenly looked exhausted. "About that... most of the kids are in intensive care," he said. "There's only three left alive. There were ten in the room."
The angel's heart cracked in two so profoundly that, with the right stethoscope, one might have been able to hear it. "Oh good lord," he half-whispered, raising his eyes to the ceiling with one hand splayed out across his chest. He hoped She had them.
Sherlock was uncharacteristically respectful of the gesture. That is to say, he ignored it.
"You said most," he said to Lestrade, as detached as ever on the surface. Beneath that, he was desperately suppressing the mental image of Rosie in a hospital bed. "That implies only two of them are in intensive care."
"Oh, yeah," he said, rubbing one hand over his face. "One of them was in the bathroom when it started. She called 999 from the phone box outside, but the fire had already taken most of the building. She’d been trying to save the others... The hospital still has her, but she hasn't spoken a word since that night."
"This poor girl, does she have a name?" Aziraphale asked, stepping forward slightly.
"Tulip," Lestrade replied. "Tulip Smith."
Mycroft did not usually have to take the time to check things personally. For his brother, he made an exception. Anthea passed along the news of suspicious activity in 221B with the easy disinterest of a woman here for the money, and nothing else. He waited until she was gone, before he dared open the security feed.
First, he rewatched the segment of footage cited in the email. It was odd. Sherlock's bizarre friends were back, talking about auras; even more odd, Sherlock seemed to believe them. He sneered internally. Family life must finally be getting to him. He made a mental note to remind Sherlock of the perfect, immutable face of logic at some point in the near future. He looked at the man in black. He was facing away from the camera, but Mycroft knew him regardless. He had met Mr Crowley, under a different name, almost fifteen years ago now. They had struck a deal.
Luckily for him, it had not been a deal of the demonic kind. Crowley had merely agreed to pass messages between Mycroft's man in London, and a double agent in - well, actually, you don't need to know where. Point is, all Mycroft had to do in exchange was ensure that there was a total CCTV blindspot on a very specific street in Soho. He had never understood why. He'd not done it without doing some poking around, but he only found a grimy DVD store, some flats, and an antique bookshop with erratic opening hours. The latter had intruiged him the most. He'd sent men to scope the place out, suspecting it might be a front, only to have them come back dazed and empty-handed. Mr Crowley often vanished into that blindspot. Clearly, for some reason, he was trying to hide that he ever went there at all. When Mycroft found out years later that he had married the bookshop owner, he assumed it was merely an embarrassing affair that grew into something more. Sentiment had a funny way of creeping up on people, after all.
When the bookkeeper and his younger brother left the flat, Mycroft switched to the live feed. John was no longer anywhere to be seen in the flat, and he had missed whatever had passed between the two men. His brow furrowed. Had the doctor left Rosie alone with Crowley? It seemed so.
"Feeling sleepy, junior?" Crowley cooed, sitting cross-legged beside the sofa. She shook her head, yawning. Since he was alone in his office, Mycroft allowed himself an affectionate smile. He did like Rosie. If anyone ever found out, he'd have them killed.
"No," she said stubbornly.
"Lies," he replied, smiling as she hid her face in a pillow . "Little people like you need to take naps. Don't you want a nap?"
"No," she repeated, peeking out from behind the cushion.
"I think you do."
"Noooooo!" she said, collapsing back against the sofa melodramatically. If Mycroft ever managed to get the stick removed from his arse, he might one day be able to let himself laugh at her antics. As it happened, he just gave a thin smile.
Crowley sighed, shaking his head. He leaned down, talking in a stage whisper. "I tell you what," he said. The camera audio still picked up his words, thankfully, though it was soft and crackly. "If I do a magic trick for you, will you take a nap then?"
She sat up curiously. Subconsciously, Mycroft mirrored her. Crowley grinned, knowing he had her full attention. Rosie nodded, hugging the cushion to her chest.
"All right," the demon said, cracking his knuckles. "Watch this."
He didn't move for a moment. Mycroft narrowed his eyes, wondering if he'd missed the point, or if Crowley was about to pull a coin out of thin air (i.e. his pocket). The form of the thin man, folded up on the hardwood floor, began to grow dark. His skin seemed to crust over all of a sudden. Mycroft startled slightly. He tapped the edge of his monitor, wondering if it had malfunctioned. But no... the transformation continued. Crowley's body seemed to compress slightly, melting into one solid lump before splitting along horizontal lines. Finally, a pair of bright yellow eyes emerged over the pile of serpentine coils. A tongue flickered out. Mycroft had forgotten to breathe.
He had just watched a man transform into a snake.
Lestrade called ahead to the hospital, letting them know they'd have some visitors for Tulip. He let Aziraphale carry the civilian credentials for the two of them; he did not trust Sherlock with them. At least with good old Mr Fell around again, they'd have a responsible human being on the team again. Or rather, a responsible being. Or... actually, maybe just a being.
Sherlock had seen the interior of many hospitals. In his worst and darkest days, addled by drugs, he spent almost as much time on a gurney as he did in the gutter. He had made a private promise to himself, that he would never allow Rosie to follow that path, and nor would he ever turn back to it. The scent of disinfectant could have sent him back to painful memories. Instead, it reminded him of the kind nurses and doctors with endless patience (not unlike a certain friend of his). They had been good to him. He hadn't returned the favour, at least not back then.
He and Aziraphale trailed Lestrade through the halls. The angel blended in among the whites and soft neutral colours, almost as much as Crowley had in the burnt-out wreck of the orphanage. They paused in front of Tulip's room.
"We don't want to overwhelm her, so go easy on the questions," Lestrade said, his hand resting on the doorknob. "Remember, she's been through a lot. She needs some kind faces, and gentle words, so just - "
"Don't be me?" Sherlock guessed dryly. Lestrade nodded. With a sigh, Sherlock folded his coat collar down.
"What about me?" Aziraphale fretted, fixing his wide blue stare on the DI. He looked him up and down: a comical bow tie, a round and friendly face, a warm voice...
"Don't change a thing," Lestrade replied, giving him a light pat on the shoulder.
There was only one bed in the room. On that bed, there was a young girl; not as young as Rosie, but she couldn't be more than eight or ten years old, if that. She looked slightly underweight, her brown skin pulled tight over her bone structure. It gave her a hollow, perpetually frightened look. Her black hair, clearly once lush and full of volume, had gone dry and brittle with stress. It was a sad sight. Lestrade came in first, giving her a sympathetic smile. Then, Sherlock entered. He mimicked the gesture. Her attentive, mistrustful brown eyes stuck to him for a moment before passing over him. Then, Aziraphale stepped into the room.
She immediately shrieked, pushing herself back against the headboard until the metal dug into her spine and bruised her skin. Her heart rate monitor blared. Lestrade jumped, immediately glaring at Sherlock, shoving him toward the door.
"Out!" he barked, shoving him back into the hall. He turned back, seeing Tulip's stricken face. She quaked, breathing heavily, and alarms began to sound on the machines beside her. He could already hear the sound of nurses rushing toward the room. Her panic had not subsided.
Almost in disbelief, he followed her gaze to Aziraphale. He had frozen near the foot of the bed, as if arrested by the girl's petrified stare. "Please..." she whispered, her face crumpling as she cowered against the headboard. "Don't hurt me."
"Whyever would I - " Aziraphale began, only to find himself being grabbed by the shoulder and forcibly dragged from the room.
John sat up, rubbing his eyes. He switched off the alarm on his phone. Crowley was right; a lie down had done him good. He felt groggy, but better. Having a child around took its toll on your sleep schedule, no matter how old, it seemed. He changed into a less creased shirt, refreshed his deodorant, and headed downstairs.
He glanced around the living room. At first glance, it looked empty. His heart lurched immediately. Where was Crowley? Had he taken Rosie somewhere? Surely not. He hurried further into the room, checking the kitchen. Not there either... He turned back around, planning to shout for Mrs Hudson, when the cry died in his throat. He had spotted Rosie.
She was asleep on the sofa. John would have been tempted to say she looked angelic, but he'd stopped using such comparisons since he'd found out about Aziraphale. Alongside her, the enormous black-and-red python from AZ Fell's dominated the sofa. It encircled her in loose coils, and her head rested on one of them cosily like a scaled pillow. John couldn't move for a moment.
Where the hell had it even come from? He'd all but forgotten about the snake. Some part of him had assumed it had died in the years since he'd seen it last. Aziraphale couldn't have snuck it in without anyone noticing, could he? Unless the serpent really belonged to Crowley. But if it did, why would the demon leave a venemous snake in charge of a young child? The damn thing was big enough to swallow her whole, several times over! Did he not understand human fragility?
He began to creep forward nervously. He'd never liked snakes. As an afterthought, he snatched a poker from the fireplace, holding it out in front of him like a weapon. The snake's head was tucked inbetween the armrest and one of its coils. Was it asleep? It was hard to tell. Snakes didn't have eyelids. John couldn't help but let his attention linger on the wide, impassive yellow eyes. They looked familiar, somehow...
One section of the snake's body was lying across Rosie, like a reptilian facsimile of a blanket. Tentatively, John slid the poker underneath it, reluctant to touch the shiny black scales, and began to lift. It was too heavy to lift with one hand, and even with both, his muscles quaked from the effort. The snake's body was thicker than his head in some sections. He paused for a moment, struggling to keep his fear of snakes at bay and the animal itself away from his daughter. He hissed Rosie's name, hoping to wake her up. He couldn't lift her out like he'd planned, not with both hands on the poker. He grumbled, looking around the flat desperately for a Plan B. What if he shouted to Mrs Hudson? Would it wake the serpent? Do snakes have ears? Must do, it's how they hear other snakes...
"What are you doing, John?"
He let out a shout, jumping back on reflex. The snake dropped back down, surprisingly lightly, without the poker. Rosie snored on, undisturbed. He span around, retreating to the other side of the flat, looking for the source of Crowley's voice. He'd heard him. Where was he?
"Crowley!" he cried, poking his head into the kitchen to look for him.
"Over here, John."
His voice was coming from elsewhere, near the door. Eyeing the snake suspiciously, he leaned into the hall, looking up and down. "This isn't funny, Crowley," he snapped impatiently, stood on the threshold of his flat. "What the hell were you thinking, leaving Rosie with a giant bloody snake? Come out and take care of this thing, will you?"
"Hmph. Rude," he huffed. John still couldn't tell where he was.
"Rude!" he echoed angrily, coming back into the apartment. He was sure he'd heard his voice in here this time... "I'll show you rude. Is this some sort of demon trick? Are you invisible?"
"No, but that would be very cool," he replied airily. His apparent lack of concern was starting to irk him now. "Turn around, John."
The doctor spun, until he was looking at the snake again. It had lifted its head up, poised to watch him pace back and forth across the living room. It held him in an innocent, curious gaze. John glared at it.
"What are you looking at?" he muttered bitterly under his breath.
It tilted its head slightly. "You," Crowley said, and his thin mouth seemed to twist into a small smirk.
John gaped, struggling to close his mouth again. He was floored. "Oh," he said weakly.
The hospital canteen was quiet. Visiting hours had passed, and the lunch rush now only existed in the last of the dishes drip-drying in the kitchen. Aziraphale stared at his cup of water. He could work wonders with just that cupful, if he wanted; he could turn it into wine, or blood, or even enough bread and fish to feed 5,000 people. Despite all this, he still could not fathom what he had done wrong. He was terribly worried about it.
"Did I make a sudden movement, perhaps?" he said forlornly.
Lestrade gave him a pitying glance. "Don't take it too hard, Fell," he said, patting him awkwardly on the shoulder. "I don't know why she was so afraid, either. I don't suppose you have any ideas, Sherlock?"
The detective shifted his gaze between the two other men. "Perhaps," he said cautiously. He looked meaningfully at Aziraphale. "This has happened to me before. I looked similar to a child's kidnapper, and they mistook me for him."
Aziraphale looked puzzled. "I was under the impression that not many men look much like me."
Internally, Sherlock groaned. "Are you certain?" he pressed, loathe to be so heavy-handed with his implications in front of Lestrade. The DI fixed Sherlock with a confused look.
"Yes, I should think so."
"What if he was..." he pressed, fishing for the right word, "... one of you?"
The angel frowned harder for a moment, before something suddenly clicked into place. "Oh! You mean, could he be a - " he began, cutting himself off with a sidelong glance at Lestrade. He coughed awkwardly, sipping his water. "Um. I suppose it's possible, but I don't know how she would know that."
"Are either of you drama queens going to explain what the hell is going on here, or...?" Lestrade cut in irritably. He received two blank stares in response. He huffed, shaking his head. "Fine. I see how it is. You can't keep me out of the loop forever, you know."
Feeling rather bad, Aziraphale turned his gaze away. He sipped from his cup. He was feeling seriously tempted by that wine miracle just about now... An odd smell made his nose twitch. He frowned, glancing around. What on earth was it? The humans didn't seem to pick up on it. He was vaguely aware of Lestrade, asking him if he was okay. He murmured a vague reply, his eyes fixed on the canteen door, and the flicker of movement through the glass. He stood up, heading for exit with an absent-minded excuse about the lavatory (which he walked right past on his way out).
The scent hit him anew as he stepped into the corridor. It made his angelic essence recoil and convulse instinctively. His eyes caught a flash of a grimy trenchcoat turning the corner to his left, and had his suspicions confirmed. He set off at a brisk pace, following the scent of evil through the hospital.
He tracked it through two waiting rooms. He kept a safe distance between him and his quarry; he daren't try to cause a scene, at least not here. Every now and then, he'd nearly catch him. He'd see the flash of a heel vanishing around a corner, or a filthy handprint upon a doorframe. The demon was not very clever. It made three circuits around the dermatology ward, apparently lost, before finding its way out again. At times, Aziraphale felt himself getting so bored that he was almost inclined to jog up behind it and offer to give some directions. During the demon's fourth lap of radiology (lost again), he checked his watch. He'd been at this for the better part of thirty minutes. If nothing came of this soon, he'd have to assume that the demon had been here since the hospital was built, merely unable to find its way out.
That is, until he bumped right into him.
"STOP FOLLOWING ME!" Duke Hastur screeched, looking very harassed.
Aziraphale gave a start, putting some distance between them again. He wished he had a peg for his nose, and thanked his lucky stars that Crowley’s evil smell was more like a pleasant musk than putrid ditchwater. "Dear me!" he cried, fanning the air.
"Oh! Oh! Smell bad, do I?" Hastur crowed childishly.
"Good. It's working," he said triumphantly, and didn't explain exactly what 'it' was. "Now bugger off."
"I shan't," the angel said, looking down his nose at the demon. He looked taken aback.
"Why not?" he whined. "You're the ones that told us all to leave you alone, you and that murderous traitor!"
"Yes, well, now you're interfering again," he said, glowering at him in what he hoped was a very intimidating manner. The duke took a cautious step backwards. He'd heard stories about this angel, sure enough: The One Who Survived The Hellfire. It is worth noting that the legions of Hell aren't terribly creative with nicknames.
"No m'not,” he said in short, clipped words, putting on a brave face which quivered with cowardice.
"Yes, I rather think you are," he countered.
"Oh, hush!" he finally snapped, squaring his shoulders, and the duke of Hell took another step backward. "I shall have to ask you to vacate this planet immediately, or there shall be some very - ah - really very nasty consequences. Just you wait, dear chap."
Hastur sneered. "I'm not afraid of you."
Aziraphale lurched forward, fist raised. Hastur leapt at least three feet in the air with a raspy, girlish scream of terror. Upon landing, he cowered, shielding his face with his hands. When he realised that he had not, in fact, been reduced to a puddle of boiling goo (or touched at all), he peeked out from between his greasy fingers at the smug principality. He hurried to straighten himself out and recover his dignity.
"What courage," Aziraphale commented. His eyes twinkled with mirth.
"Shut up. You surprised me," he said defensively, tensing up, about to bolt. "Just you wait, Aziree-fall. By the next cosmic eclipse, you won't be laughing anymore!"
With that, he turned and sprinted down the hallway. Aziraphale considered chasing him, but the duke had vanished into the floor before he'd had the chance to finish that thought.
John gulped. "Crowley, is that... is that you?"
"Yes, John, it's me," the snake replied. There was a note of amusement in his voice.
"You're a snake?"
"Oh yeah. I'm The SSSSSnake, if you want to put it that way," he said, his serpentine head bobbing up and down slightly in the absence of many facial expressions. "Garden of Eden. Remember the ssstory?"
"That was you?" he said, frowning at him, and finally daring to come a little closer again. Rosie stirred slightly, but didn't wake.
"Well, there's not many other sssserpents like me knocking around, issss there?" he said. "Azsssiraphale and I met in the garden. Very romantic, if I do sssay so mysssself."
"Right, well, that's very good..." he said, unnerved. "Can you change back? I feel like I'm losing my mind."
Crowley rolled his eyes, if such a thing was possible for a snake. He slithered to the floor, gently removing his coils from where Rosie had begun to hug them. His joints cracked and muscles crawled as his long body thickened out again, regaining its usual colours. Within a few seconds, Crowley was back to his usual self, giving a luxurious stretch.
"I needed that," he said, dropping his arms back down by his sides. He and John settled into the armchairs on the other side of the room. The poor doctor looked like he needed a sit down and a strong cuppa, after all. For the remainder of the afternoon, Crowley promised himself he'd do his best to be as normal and human-like as possible, as a favour to his friend.
Mycroft had not moved in over an hour. He had watched helplessly as the man-who-had-turned-into-a-snake settled down on the sofa with Rosie, falling asleep around her. It seemed like a protective gesture. Regardless, he hadn't believed the screen. His first instinct was to check to see if the footage was being tampered with. When it was evident that no, it was not, he turned instead to the possibility that his own senses were failing him. He had then begun to ransack his version of a Mind Palace, trying to find the fault in his grey matter.
This explanation also failed him. When John returned to the living room, he had refocused on the screen. He hoped that the doctor would, for once, prove him wrong. If he was right about being wrong, then John would not even see the snake. Only... he did. He did see it, and then the bloody thing started talking, and - and - shapeshifted back, and John saw the whole thing. Mycroft's brain was grinding to a halt.
John and the shapeshifting man (?) were now sat down, having a chat like nothing had happened. They were talking about the weather, and classic cars, and reminiscing on old cases together. With a shaking hand, Mycroft picked up the phone, and cancelled all his appointments.
He closed the footage. He'd had quite enough evidence to go on, now. He leaned back into his office chair, with an empty, shellshocked look taking hold in his eyes. He briefly considered checking himself into a psych ward. Deciding he couldn't quite submit to that indignity, he instead returned to his computer. He may be the British Government, but even then, sometimes the best places to find information were always the same.
He opened Google, and typed in: AZ Fell & Cro, blog.
Aziraphale kept quiet about his encounter until he and Sherlock returned to 221B. He allowed Sherlock and Lestrade to talk through how Tulip had reacted to him. When the DI left, none the wiser, the real work began.
"So," Sherlock said, turning to Aziraphale. "Did she know you're an angel?"
He mulled it over. "I don't see how she could."
"Some humans can tell, if they're born with the intuition," Crowley said, pacing back and forth across the rug. "It makes sense. If she saw an angel on the night of the fire, she might think you came to finish the job."
He sighed, fiddling with his bowtie restlessly. "Oh, I suppose," he said, pursing his lips. "That wasn't all that happened. I... I saw Hastur, lurking around in the hospital."
Crowley froze. Slowly, his head turned to stare in abject disbelief at his husband. A sense of dread, stagnant and thick, hung in the air. Sherlock and John shared a glance. "Hastur?" John said tentatively, on the edge of his seat. "Who - who's that?"
"My old boss," Crowley said sourly, finally resuming his pacing. "He's a duke of Hell. If he's on earth, there's trouble afoot. Did he say anything, Aziraphale?"
"He seemed rather frightened of me," he said, with a smile tugging at the edge of his mouth.
Crowley smirked. "That's my angel."
Aziraphale's cheeks were dusted a light rose colour. "Yes, well," he said, trying to keep a firm grip on his dignity in spite of the dumb smile on his face. "He said that by the next cosmic eclipse, he'd have the last laugh, or words to that effect."
Sherlock's brow furrowed. "Cosmic eclipse?" he said, looking helplessly at John. "Uh - primary school stuff again, is it?"
"Uh, no, I don't think so. Not this time," he replied, glancing at the angel in hopes of getting an answer.
"The cosmic eclipse is a rare astrological event. When the nine planets of the solar system align - and yes, I do mean nine - all magic in the universe is at its strongest," he explained. "It occurs every 1,500 years or so. The next one is happening this year. It’s next month, if memory serves."
"It doesn't mean anything, though," Crowley scoffed. "Everything gets boosted by the same amount on the eclipse day, so it makes no difference."
"Ah, but latent witches can sometimes come into their power at such a time," Aziraphale countered. "Humans feel the change far more keenly than we do."
"So?" he said, throwing his arms up. "What's Hastur going to do with a bunch of stick-flailing humans?"
"It may not be about what he will do. Earth has always been the battlefield of Heaven and Hell," he said, standing up to come closer to him. John and Sherlock quietly watched the argument unfold, like a pair of children watching their parents bicker. "In the absence of a direct war, they fight by proxy within humanity."
"So... they could be hoping to use the cosmic eclipse to rally witches to their side," Crowley said, completing the thought with mounting horror. "But they can't. The effects are sporadic, they're weak, it's - "
"Hush, dear," he interrupted, taking his hand. "We mustn't speculate yet. There is something greater at play here, and there's no species in the universe better to figure it out than humans."
Crowley frowned, shooting half a glance at Sherlock, wondering if he'd missed something. "I don't follow."
He sighed, shaking his head good-naturedly at his husband. "I believe that there are some rather gossipy former satanic nuns with ritual expertise that you may be able to call upon, yes?" he said sweetly, batting his eyelashes. John frowned, his head snapping up at the word 'satanic'. "You'd do that, wouldn't you? For me?"
Crowley scoffed, pulling his hand out of Aziraphale's grip. "All right, all right, I'm doing it, just... " he huffed, taking out his phone. "Stop doing that thing."
"What thing?" he asked innocently.
"The puppydog eyes," he said, glaring glarefully at him as he began to scroll through his phone. Sherlock rolled his eyes at them. "You know exactly what I mean."
Aziraphale shrugged, wondering over to the mantelpiece to appraise the skull at the far end. "I'm afraid I'm not sure what you're referring to, darling."
He smirked, giving him a sly side-glance. "Perhaps."
Cosmic eclipses don’t exist, before anyone quotes me on that. I’m using pseudo-astronomy for plot reasons :)
Chapter 8: Scattergun
John nervously watched as Crowley stalked back and forth around the kitchen. Every now and then, he snarled at his phone, cursed, and tried a different number. Apparently, satanic nuns were harder to get hold of than you'd think. Aziraphale sat serenely with Rosie, reading her a storybook. Sherlock was the only one doing anything of use to the orphanage fires. The angel happily would have helped, but the boisterous child had insisted that he read for her. John guessed it was because Aziraphale was new, and she didn't see many new people hanging around the flat (except clients, of course). Still, he couldn't help a flicker of jealousy. She had insisted that she only wanted Aziraphale to read with her.
He turned back to Sherlock, asking in a low voice: "Got anything yet?"
He hummed, his intense gaze locked unblinkingly on the laptop. "No."
"Right," he said, falling back into his chair. He tapped restless on the tabletop. "Should we call Lestrade?"
"Why would we do that?"
"He might, I don't know... have some new evidence," he said with a huff. There was a long pause, and he tried to soothe the burning sensation in his gut that was telling him he ought to be of more use. He scowled at the dust-ridden carpet. "Need to get the hoover around in here."
"We don't have a hoover anymore, remember?" Sherlock said, typing something out. A flicker of frustration passed his face.
"Yeah, because somebody - " John said pointedly, glaring at Sherlock " - thought it would be a good idea use the 'blow' function to repaint the walls."
"It was efficient, John. If you had only let me perfect the design - "
"So what, you could get even more paint on the ceiling?" he scoffed, glancing up at the patch of burgundy paint above the fireplace. "The point is to hit what you're supposed to hit, Sherlock. DIY isn't supposed to have collateral damage!"
"COLLATERAL!" Sherlock suddenly shouted, slamming his hand onto the desk. Every jumped.
"My dear boy, what on earth has gotten into you?" Aziraphale said disapprovingly. He had nearly finished the picture book with Rosie, and the outburst had interrupted a real high-point in the story.
He paid no mind. He was throwing papers around like a madman, half on the chair and half off, looking for the final link in his chain of logic. "Look!" he cried, slamming several pages down under John's nose. Aziraphale came over to look, leaving Rosie with the book, closely followed by Crowley.
"What are you lot jabbering about?" the demon said irritably.
"The first orphanage fire looked like a lone event. Nothing unusual there, besides the arson," Sherlock said, indicating to the first list of names. "The survivors were split into smaller groups, and placed in other orphanages around London. There was another fire in one of them."
"We know all this," Crowley said, crossing his arms tighter.
"The second fire saw the groups split up again. No two of the survivors of the original arson attack ended up in the same home the third time," he said, sliding across a third list of names. "There have been three fires, across two perpetrators, all in different buildings at different times, using different methods. There is only one common link between all three attacks."
Aziraphale's eyes widened as he saw it. "Little Tulip Smith," he said. He levelled an inquisitive glance at Sherlock. "Are you suggesting that all these attacks are really directed at her?"
"It's the only explanation of all the facts," he said, leaning up to cross his arms. "The question is, why would an angel want her dead?"
"Depends on the angel," Crowley observed dryly. It was hard to gauge his expression with his glasses obscuring his eyes. "Someone like Sandalphon might just be bored. If it's Michael, or Uriel, it's an order from on high."
"You think God would want to kill a child?" John said, eyes widening in disbelief. He gripped the edge of the table hard.
"Oh, dear me, no," Aziraphale scoffed, turning his nose up at the idea immediately. Crowley fake-coughed, spluttering out what sounded like the word 'flood' around his fist.
The angel glared at him, crossing his arms tightly. "I think," he said, turning back to John, "that this will be the work of the heavenly host, independent of the Almighty. She gives very little direct guidance on policy these days - or at least, when I was still... welcome, I suppose."
Crowley gave his arm a comforting squeeze. "It's their loss, angel," he murmured. "They didn't deserve you."
"Thank you, dear," he replied, giving him a light peck on the cheek and shaking off his melancholy quickly. His home was in the South Downs now; he didn’t need heaven. "Now, I should think that this all would become clearer if we could find out which angel ordered the attacks. You did say you captured the first arsonist, did you not?"
"We did," John said, sharing an awkward glance with Sherlock. He coughed. "He, um... He killed himself after the arrest, with a full confession in the suicide note. He didn't mention the angel's name."
Crowley groaned, his head dropping down to rest on his husband's shoulder. "Never easy, is it?" he huffed. "Great. Now we've got to catch another criminal before we get anywhere."
"I'll call Lestrade, tell him to put Tulip in protective custody," Sherlock said, taking out his phone.
Lestrade was having a bad day. Not only had Tulip screamed her head off at the mere sight of Mr Fell, but now Sherlock and Co seemed to be intent on keeping secrets. He ran his hands restlessly through his hair. He stared at case files. He had a meeting in half an hour, to bring the team up to speed. What could he tell them?
All he knew was that the orphanage fire was started by igniting a cloud of flour. Forensics had confirmed Crowley's suspicion. He had no idea who was on-duty that night to have carried out the attack, or why they would have done it. Sherlock had told him that Tulip was the real target. Knowing better than to risk ignoring him, Lestrade had issued the order for a 24/7 guard to be put on duty outside her hospital room. It was a hunch, perhaps, but it was the best he had. Besides, he wasn't about to put a young girl's life at risk for the sake of cutting down on the overtime bill.
There was a tap at the door. "Have you seen Phil anywhere, sir?" Donovan asked, leaning in the doorframe.
"What, Anderson?" he replied, frowning. "I didn't see him this morning. I thought he was late."
She bit her lip. "Uh... I don't think he came in, then," she said. Her brow creased with concern. She levelled a worried gaze at him. "You don't think this is about them two coming back, is it? Crowley and Fell?"
"Why would it be?" he said, massaging his temples. He'd successfully gone without a cigarette for more than a month now. It'd be a shame to fall down now.
"He started acting weird about them, just before they left last time," she said, stepping fully into the office and shutting the door softly behind her. "He said they were vampires. I thought he'd gone insane."
"Yeah, I remember. You weren't the only one," he said, rolling his eyes at the memory. Anderson had left all those worries behind him after they'd retired, and got back on with his job again. Lestrade thought that had been the end of it.
"He didn't see them at the arson site, thank god," Donovan continued, glancing around the office to ground herself in the familiar environment. "Maybe I shouldn't have told him they were back. I haven't heard from him since."
"Not a peep," she replied, staring imploringly at him. He knew what she was asking. She wanted him to go and find him, get him to snap out of it. If there's one reason why Lestrade was a DI, and a bloody good one too, it was that his team looked up to him. If Greg Lestrade wasn't talking sense, no one was.
He sighed, feeling a few more of his hairs turn white. "All right. I'll stop by his flat on my way home," he said, then pointed a finger at her. "I'm still docking his pay for not showing up today, though."
"Understood. Thank you, sir," she said, a smile returning to her face.
He kept his word. After a long and stressful day, Lestrade packed up his stuff and hailed a cab. Anderson didn't live anywhere near Lestrade's place. He'd have an eye-watering fare to pay by the end of the evening, but it was better than another night spent worrying about his coworkers. He was a softie at heart, after all. He cared for people. It was what he did best.
He knocked on the door of flat 216. There was no response. Checking his watch and frowning, he knocked again. It was only half seven. He couldn't be asleep yet, surely...
"Anderson!" he called, his hands fidgeting nervously. He bashed on the door with a balled up fist. "Anderson, it's Greg."
There was a rustle from inside. He stopped talking, straining his ears to listen to the footsteps cautiously apparoching from the other side. Slowly, the door opened a crack, one dark eye peering out. It was wide and wild, slightly bloodshot. It darted back and forth up the hallway.
"Are you alone?" Anderson breathed.
"Yeah, course I'm alone," he said, looking over his shoulder as if expecting to see someone there.
"Why are you here?"
"I'm your boss, Anderson, and you didn't show up for work today," he said sternly, planting his hands on his hips. He felt more like a disappointed mother than a DI. "Donovan's worried about you, you know. We all are."
The door slammed shut in his face. He blinked in surprise. He opened his mouth to demand he be let in, when the rattling of the chain cut him off. Suddenly, he was being beckoned into the flat through the barely-open door. With a sigh, and a longing look at the exit, he stepped inside.
His nose wrinkled. The place smelt of dust, paper, burnt garlic and far, far too much coffee. He immediately reached up to cover his nose, gagging on the smell. "Jesus, Anderson, what...?" he cried, but trailed off.
He stared at the scene. The walls were papered with photocopies of old newspapers, printouts of blog entries, official records, birth certificates, death certificates, maps and historical documents. They were linked by a cobweb of red twine. All around the flat, there were crucifixes, garlands of garlic, and a vast collection of tarnished silver jewellery from London's many antique shops. Immediately, Lestrade did not have high hopes for this evening.
With a sigh, he turned to Anderson. "What is all this?" he asked, gesturing broadly.
The forensics expert had three crucifixes and a rosary around his neck, and a bulge in his breast pocket which looked suspiciously like a clove of garlic. "Protection," he declared. His nasal voice was hoarse and buzzing with nervous energy. His clothes were askew, and his hair stuck up at odd angles. He was beginning to develop stubble, giving Lestrade flashbacks to his Empty Hearse days.
"Vampires," he said, pushing past him to gesture broadly at the paper clinging to the walls by a mixture of drawing pins, tape and pure insanity. "I told you. I told you all!"
Behind him, Lestrade covered his eyes with one hand. "Right," he said, collapsing onto the cleanest spot on the sofa. He crossed his arms, knowing already how this would play out. "Off you go, then."
Anderson turned to him, his bushy eyebrows drawn tightly together. "What?"
"Off you go. Explain your theories," he said with resignation, waving his hand. "You're going to tell me whether I like it or not, so just get on with it so I can talk some sense into you afterwards."
Anderson's mouth twitched into a smile, half from disbelief, and half from remembering old times. "Right," he said, a new rush of energy flooding his system. It was probably the energy drink kicking in. He turned to the wall, and began to jabber. "Crowley and Fell are vampires. I know they are. I've seen their fangs with my own eyes. It was just a case of proving it..."
He snatched a thick sheaf of papers from the desk, throwing them at Lestrade. He just barely managed to catch them before they gave him a black eye.
"I reverse searched everything about them. They have no birth records, no paper trail at all..."
"I know. I tried to find it when we thought Fell was dead, remember?" He said, flicking open the file.
"Precisely!" he cried, jabbing a finger at him. "So, instead, I searched for the shop - his old bookshop, AZ Fell & Co! It opened over two hundred years ago, and look!"
A photo got tossed into his lap. It was black-and-white, grainy, but clearly the old bookshop. He squinted at it. Stood proudly by the door, there was a man dressed all in white, beaming with a hauntingly familiar smile and a ruffled shirt collar. Something about his stance, the way he’d tucked his hands behind his back and puffed out his chest like a proud mother hen, was unavoidably Aziraphale. Lestrade felt a chill break out on his skin.
"It's him!" Anderson said. "Mr Fell, he's right there in the photograph. When they went missing, I was convinced that Crowley had kidnapped him to bite him - but no! They've always been the same thing."
Lestrade shook himself out of his stupor. "It was a family business, Anderson," he said, handing back the photo. "Fell just looks like one of his ancestors. Anyway, the picture isn't exactly good quality, is it?"
Anderson huffed, and turned back to his board of paranoia. "I can do better than that," he said determinedly.
The next two and a half hours were spent having paper after paper, picture after picture, thrust into his hands. At first, Lestrade had explanations. The famous 1940s London gangster simply shared the name Anthony J Crowley, by coincidence. The fact that his enemies at the time had speculated that he had a hideout in a Soho bookshop run by a Mr Fell, well... that could be a coincidence, too. Crowley and Aziraphale's families may well have been friends for generations. But... didn't they say they were orphans? Raised by cults? He began to get confused. He was doubly perturbed when he was handed various certificates of birth and death, some clearly forged, in names he recognised. Sergio O'Eden, Anthony Sinner, Judas Gardener... All Crowley's aliases. Some were dated as old as the 1600s. A few might, possibly, by some stretch of the imagination, have belonged to Aziraphale: Azira Fell, Az Ira Fell, or on one memorable occasion, Az Iraf Elle. Then, there were the pictures.
The black-and-white photo was not the only picture of Aziraphale. He had been caught on film in and around his shop at least once every ten years, from early 1812 all the way to the present day. There was never any sign of ageing, or children who looked like him... Anderson had even managed to locate a few antique diary entries which mentioned the bizarre Mr Fell (such entries were largely just speculations on why a man his age was still a bachelor, only to invariably come to the conclusion that he must be having an illicit and/or scandalous homosexual affair with the 'tall, dark bespectacled gentlemen of a sour disposition, who frequents the bookseller’s establishment with expensive foreign delicacies and wines of good vintage'). Further back, things began to turn from photo ink to oil paint. There was a painted street scene from 1700s revolutionary France, with two figures sharing crêpes outside a cafe. They looked eerily like Crowley and Aziraphale, right down to the dumb lovestruck expressions on their faces. It didn't stop there. A sketch entitled 'Mister Shakefpeare, And Two Men Who Art Allegedlee Not Friends' depicted three men stood in a crowd of playgoers. The one on the right looked strikingly like Aziraphale. On the left, beside Shakespeare, there was a long-haired man with a beard, but whose facial features could not be mistaken for anyone but Crowley. Further back, in the 13th and 14th centuries, there was a collection of oil paintings which each looked worryingly accurate to the two men Lestrade thought of as his friends. The only difference was that Crowley looked rather glum in his 14th century portraits.
Lestrade's eyes stung. He raised his head, his jaw slightly slack as he stared at Anderson. The forensics man tucked his hands under his arms, shifting expectantly from foot to foot. "Well?" he said. "Compelling, isn't it?"
It was. Lestrade couldn't deny that. Either there were two very long lines of men in the same two families who looked frighteningly alike - and who all seemed to be friends with one another - or they truly were Crowley and Aziraphale, through the ages. It was impossible. And yet... the evidence sat right under his nose. Slowly, he set aside the wad of paper, and stood up.
"Anderson..." he said tiredly, suppressing his rising panic. "Get some sleep. I'll give you tomorrow off, but I need you back in by Friday."
"But - but - what about the evidence? Crowley and Fell?" he cried, spinning on the spot, grabbing more files, brandishing them at him. "I have more! They've been everywhere: imperial Rome, Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, medieval England - "
"Anderson!" Lestrade barked, silencing him. "I've seen it. I know. A lot of men across time look alike, it's a coincidence."
"It's not - "
"They aren't vampires, Anderson," he insisted, shaking his head and making for the door. Now he wasn't looking at the pictures, he began to convince himself that his imagination had simply got carried away. The photos didn't look all that similar to Aziraphale, really, and why would his ancestors have kept their children in the shop during the day, anyway? As for Crowley, well... he had so many names and ever-changing style choices, it wouldn't be a stretch to pull any old man off the street and accuse him of being AJ Crowley.
"I'll prove it!" Anderson yelled, even as Lestrade shut the door behind him. "I'll find someone who knows the truth when they see it - and then we'll see who's the crazy one!"
Here's the funny thing about being Greg Lestrade. He was a good man, and he didn't take bribes. He was too honest to ever make a spy. When he'd first met Sherlock, he'd had the customary run-in with the elder Holmes, and responded to his proposition with his middle finger and an abrupt exit. It had earned him Mycroft's respect. It had also earned him the honour of being bugged. The device in his phone recorded everything in the immediate vicinity, feeding it back to the British Government himself... and Mycroft had always considered himself a man who would know the truth when he saw it.
Chapter 9: Master Crowley
Mary Hodges, formerly known as Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order of St Beryl, was a businesswoman. She ran a corporate management training centre. She was fiercely intelligent, independent and very much a self-made woman. She had doubts, of course she did, and her hopes for the afterlife certainly weren't high... But she was satisfied with what she had. She did not want to jeopardise that.
This is why she was worried. Her old mother superior had died some months ago and the next-of-kin had just contacted her, telling her they'd had an odd phone call asking after the convent. She asked if the caller had left their name, with a pen poised over her weekly planner. The name came through the receiver like a sting to her cheek. She abruptly dropped the pen.
"Are... are you certain that's what he said?" she breathed. Outside, the sound of paintball fights droned on. For her, the whole world had stopped. She listened to Mother Superior's son. She nodded slowly to herself, drawing deep and steady breaths. "I see. Yes, yes, I'm fine. Not to worry. Thank you for your call."
She put the phone down. For a quarter of an hour, she could not move. Her eyes were trained on her office door. At any moment, she thought, a demon will storm through it to finish what he started. When she had seen him in the training centre years ago, she thought she'd been done for. She always knew she'd been lucky to survive the convent fire in the first place. She sighed. She looked around her desk, wondering if she ought to try and tidy things up, or leave a note. She expected she'd be dead soon, and... that's what people did, wasn't it? Leave a note?
She jumped as her phone rang. It wasn't her business number. Frowning, she picked her mobile out of her pocket. It was a withheld number. Her thumb hovered over the DECLINE button. It could be a telemarketer. It probably was, but... what if it wasn't? She supposed it wouldn't make much difference either way.
She answered the call. "Hello?"
"Finally," a familiar voice drawled. It was a voice that had long hidden in the dark warren of her memory, almost (but never quite) lost, as if it still echoed down the halls of the manor.
She tossed it onto the desk as if it had burned her. She heard Master Crowley's voice, still talking even as it clattered down. "Er - 'Ello?" he said. "Can you hear me? Are you still there?"
Out of panic, she hung up. Miles away, somewhere in London, a demon was scowling at his phone, slightly offended. Sister Loquacious - for that identity had now been dragged kicking and screaming back from the dead - gripped the arms of her chair until her knuckles turned white. The phone rang again. It was the same number. She let it ring, scared to get up, as if he would leap from the phone at any moment (which, to be fair to her, was not impossible). Three more calls were ignored. The fourth time, when Sister Loquacious had almost worked up the nerve to turn her phone off, he left a message.
"RIGHT!" he shouted, sounding decidedly more pissed off than he had before. She jumped. It suddenly occurred to her that she had probably made things worse for herself. "I've had enough of this. Listen to me, whoever you are. I know you were one of St Beryl's nuns. You're going to do one of three things: Option one, you're going to pick up this bloody phone and speak to me like a grown-up. Option two, you're gonna book it down to London and meet me in St James' Park at noon. Or option three, and this one's my favourite... You do nothing, and I come after you in person. The choice is yours."
The line went dead. For a moment, her ears rang, disturbed by the thick quilt of silence which had fallen. Sister Mary considered her options. She was certainly a grown-up, but answering the phone seemed dangerous considering that Master Crowley was definitely not very happy with her. Option three was bone-chillingly out of the question. Option two, however... a face-to-face meeting? She mulled it over. She checked her watch, deciding she could be in London by noon if she broke a few speed limits. There was potential. He had effectively forewarned her she was being hunted, which didn't seem like something you might do if you were out to kill someone. If he didn't want her dead, he must want something from her. If he did, then she had a bargaining chip and, satanic nun or not... she was still a businesswoman.
Mycroft hated legwork. Thing is, what could he tell Anthea? Go talk to the crazy man who stinks of garlic - oh and by the way, ask him about the vampires? No. Even he knew enough about people to know that wouldn't look good.
That's how he ended up in a foul-smelling apartment, looking at a foul-smelling man, with a face like he was sucking on a lemon. "Mister Anderson, I presume?" he drawled, trying his best to smile.
"Yes," he replied, gripping a heavy crucifix behind his back. He thought Mycroft was unaware of it. He was wrong.
"I was surprised you allowed me inside," he said, tilting his head. He'd heard that making small talk helped to endear you to people. He'd been trying it out.
"I'm protected," he replied tautly. He thought of the flask of holy water underneath the sofa cushions. It was the one thing that might have actually protected him from Crowley... if that's what it had been. He'd got it from a street preacher (who had shortly afterwards been arrested for disrupting the peace and public drunkenness) who had gotten half the words of the blessing totally wrong. It wasn't holy water so much as it was Radnor spring water, priced £20 per bottle and arbitrarily labelled 'extra strength'.
"Very good," Mycroft said, taking the ambiguous warning under consideration. He folded his hands over the handle of his umbrella. There was a gun in there if he needed it. "You must know that I have many connections, and very deep pockets... and I hear that you have valuable information."
"What kind?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. He readjusted his sweaty grip on the crucifix.
Mycroft cast an eye over said information, which was plastered all over the walls, carpeting the floor, and coating the kitchen counters. "On Mr and Mr Fell, as they now call themselves," he said dryly.
"Who told you that?"
"Your walls, for a start," he said, gesturing broadly around the flat. Anderson's eyes flickered around, looking slightly defeated.
"What's it to you?"
Mycroft pursed his lips. This man had been a thorn in his brother's side for years. He loathed to stoop to his level, but... he was too grounded in logic, as he knew it, to ever consider the things that Anderson did. It was indisputable that Mr Crowley Fell was something inhuman. His mind simply would not allow him to speculate on what that might mean; it was too fantastical, too impossible. He needed another perspective. He needed an assistant. For lack of a better term... he needed a Watson.
"I do believe I may be in need of some guidance," he admitted strainedly.
"What's in it for me?" Anderson asked, recalling his comment about deep pockets. You didn't need to be a Holmes to see the greed in his eyes.
With a sigh, Mycroft plucked his wallet from his jacket. "Let's begin with a handsome downpayment, yes?"
Crowley leaned over the railings, watching the ducks bob along on the surface of the water. He was being economic with his bread; he had been here since 11:50 and the nun, if she was coming, was late already. He was tempted to give in. He'd threatened to hunt her down himself, but he didn't have the time. The cosmic eclipse was getting closer by the second, and he couldn't afford to run around fulfilling all his empty threats.
"Crowley?" A voice called. The demon turned, frowning.
"Oh, Greg," he said, vaguely surprised to have been brought out of his brooding by a familiar face. "What are you doing here?"
"It's a nice place for a lunch break, don't you think?" He said, joining him beside the water. There was a pause. "It's odd seeing you without Fell. What brings you out here?"
"Meeting an old friend," he said cryptically, tossing a piece of bread at a white duck by the banks.
Lestrade nodded vaguely, staring out across the park, deep in thought. "Can I ask you a question?"
"You just did."
He scowled. "All right, smart arse," he said. "Can I or not?"
Crowley grinned, chuckling. "Go on then."
"How old are you?" he asked.
Crowley's smile slipped. He turned his head sharply, brow creased. "Why?" he said, a defensive note in his voice.
Lestrade straightened up slightly, taken aback. "Just curious," he said.
"Yeah, well. It's rude," he snapped, tearing another lump off his bread and throwing it into the pond, slightly harder than necessary. Ducks scattered, feathers ruffled.
"Sorry," he replied, drawing back slightly from the anger radiating off the man. He began to wonder if he had done the right thing, convincing himself that Anderson was crazy. He quickly squashed the thought. "I didn't realise you were so bothered about it."
"If you wanted politeness, you should've asked my husband," he said. He released a long breath through his nose, straightening up. He was about to continue, maybe even apologise, when he saw someone approaching from the corner of his eye.
It was a woman, dressed in sober black-and-white business attire. Her face was set into a determined mask, thinly veiling her obvious apprehension. Her eyes were fixed on him. He set his jaw. He felt Lestrade lift his head behind him, also noticing the woman.
She stopped in front of them, her posture impeccable. "Gentlemen," she said, acknowledging them both.
"I know you. You're the one who hung around in the manor, aren't you?" Crowley said, holding out his hand for her to shake.
She took it politely. "Indeed I am, Master Crowley," she said, inclining her head respectfully. "Sister Mary Loquacious, at your service, sir."
Lestrade squinted at her. "Master Crowley?" he echoed, baffled. He looked at the demon, hoping for a rational answer.
Sister Mary's eyes widened, her shoulders locking up. "You brought an outsider?" she said thoughtlessly, looking at him with a hint of betrayal.
"Outsider?" Lestrade said in alarm, goosebumps breaking out along his arms despite the warmth of the day.
"Hey, shut it - and watch the attitude," Crowley snapped, grabbing hold of her arm tightly. He turned to the DI, giving his best innocent smile. "Don't mind us, Greg. Enjoy your lunch."
Lestrade gaped as they brushed past him. Crowley loosened his grip on her arm slightly, but he clearly didn't want her straying far from him. He couldn't take his eyes off their retreating backs. What had he just witnessed? Was he having an affair? Was she the 'old friend'? No, it couldn't be, he hardly seemed to know her... but then, why meet her? He had already firmly decided that Anderson, one way or another, simply couldn't be correct. But that didn't mean Mr & Mr Fell were both squeaky clean... He recalled his conversation with them years ago, in the interrogation room. They had explained their upbringings, in a rough sense. It raised an unsettling question in his mind: is it possible that Crowley had fallen back in with his old cult?
Rosie tugged on Aziraphale's sleeve. The angel looked over at her, smiling. "Yes, dear?"
"Look!" She said, proudly holding out a sheet of paper. He took it, perching his reading glasses on the end of his nose. He didn't need them, but it made him look very interested (which of course, he was).
John paused, looking over Aziraphale's shoulder at the drawing. His eyebrows shot up. "Er... What's that, sweetheart?" he asked Rosie, a note of uncertainty in his voice.
"Blue!" she said, beaming. He looked back at the drawing. It certainly was; she had scribbled a large portion of the page pale blue, with dark ovals dotted around within it. In the centre, she had left an odd, lumpy section of white, and put a smiley face in it.
Aziraphale glanced up at John. "I believe this is a drawing of me," he explained with a patient smile. He handed the drawing back to Rosie. "It's a wonderful piece of art, darling, very well done. Why don't you draw one of Crowley, too?"
She nodded, grinning, and hurried back to her crayons. John eyed Aziraphale oddly. "Is that what you really look like?"
He chuckled. "Oh, heavens, no," he said, shaking his head. He tucked his reading glasses back into his breast pocket. "I'm afraid I'm really quite monstrous, in my true form. I would describe it to you, but I think it would rather taint your perception of me."
"I'm sure it wouldn't," he said, sitting opposite him at the table. He was curious, he couldn't deny.
"Then we shall agree to disagree," he said, leafing through the case files on the table. John deflated slightly, and the angel cocked an eyebrow. "You seem awfully lethargic, John. Is something the matter?"
He glanced over at Sherlock in the kitchen, who was trying to sterilise a pair of bloody salad tongues in a Bunsen burner flame, and then to Rosie, who had spilled her pack of 200 crayons across most of the floor. "Family life must be getting to me, I suppose," he muttered, dragging a hand across his face.
Aziraphale’s face morphed into a scowl. John dropped his hand back onto the table, slightly surprised by such a blatantly disapproving stare. "My dear boy," the angel said sternly. "Have you any idea how fortunate you are?"
He slumped back against his chair, feeling it creak against his spine. "Yeah, I do, I just - "
"You clearly do not," he interrupted. "Do you know how desperately Crowley and I want what you have?"
John's jaw worked up and down, words abandoning him. He glanced around the flat, taking in the paint-stained ceiling, the dust, the mess and the steadily strengthening pungent smell of burning blood. "What?" he said, dumbstruck. "But - you've got that nice cottage, and you have each other."
"Yes, and we love one another more than words could express," he said impatiently, his crystal-blue eyes boring into John's soul. "But we cannot have a family, not like you have.”
He blinked. "Why not?"
This was possibly the first time that Aziraphale glared at John; really, honestly, glared at him. The look made him feel cold to the bone. "No parents should have to bury their children," the angel said softly.
John felt a lump in his throat. "God, I - I'm so sorry," he breathed, unable to keep eye contact. He understood. "You're immortal. I forgot. I'm sorry."
"That's quite all right," he said, but it wasn't. He looked down at Rosie, and smiled despite himself. "Perhaps I shouldn't tell you this, but... Crowley and I were tempted to keep Rosie for ourselves, you know, before we knew she was yours."
His heart jolted. "You were?"
"Oh, yes. We took a real shine to her," he said. "We never would, of course. She's mortal. It would break our hearts, eventually."
John desperately wanted to know if that was the only reason. He daren't ask. It felt disrespectful. But... if they hadn't cared about that, would they have just kidnapped his daughter to raise as their own*? Whatever the case, the conversation had certainly given him a perspective check.
He cleared his throat. "Well, if it makes you feel any better, you two have a few things I'd like to have, too," he said, crossing his arms and leaning on the table.
Aziraphale turned to him. "Oh?"
"Big house, for a start," he said. He gestured around the flat. "It's not exactly the Ritz around here."
The angel chuckled, appreciating the attempts to lighten the mood. "No, quite."
"A car like the Bentley wouldn't go amiss," he continued.
"Somebody to love, as well," he said, the words slipping out before he'd really thought them through. He felt the desperate urge to backpedal as soon as he caught Aziraphale's teasing gaze.
"I'm sure Sherlock could sort you out with that," he said knowingly, folding his hands in his lap.
"Sort John out with what?" Sherlock said, wandering into the living room with a pair of charred and smoking salad tongues, and a soot smear down one cheek. "I heard my name."
Aziraphale shot John a mischievous wink. He blushed furiously, ducking his head, and shooing his flatmate back into the kitchen, away from the interfering angel.
Sister Mary refused to get in the Bentley. She was as polite as she could be, considering she didn't trust him at all. With a frustrated grumble, Crowley led her into a quiet cafe, with a large glass window. He knew she wouldn't relax until they were in an open, public space where he wouldn't be able to hurt her. There, he slumped back in his seat and sent a quick text under the table. They weren't far from Baker Street.
"Good of you to come on such short notice," he said conversationally. He placed an order for two black coffees as the waitress ambled over.
"It seemed urgent," she said, once the waitress was out of earshot again. She kept a stiff posture in her chair, on guard. "Official business, is it?"
"After a fashion," he said, smiling at the waitress as she poured their coffee and left. He blew on it, taking a tentative sip. Sister Mary's eyes never left him. "I imagine you aren't on good terms with Hell anymore."
She spluttered, then composed herself. "My views are neutral."
"Hey, no judgement here. I'm not exactly employee of the month, either," he said with a shrug. "Preventing the apocalypse didn't go over well for me. Marrying an angel, well... That was just a bonus."
Her brow furrowed. She considered that for a moment, running her fingertips over the rim of her mug. "I had no idea," she said, looking at him with something like respect. "Would that be the gentleman I saw you with, back at the manor, against the wall...?"
He smirked. "Yeah, that's the one," he said, then tilted his head as movement caught his eye. "Speak of the devil."
Aziraphale hurried across the road, very nearly getting hit by a cab in the process. John and Sherlock trailed behind. The doctor apologised profusely to the driver as the other two marched ahead, apparently oblivious, into the cafe. The bell chimed, and chair legs scraped against the tile as the three newcomers joined them at the table.
"You three, this is Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order of St Beryl," he said, gesturing between the two groups. They each took turns shaking hands. "Sister, this is Sherlock, John, and my husband Aziraphale."
"Pleasure to meet you, gentlemen," she said, smiling politely.
"Chattering Order?" Sherlock asked, tilting his head and squinting at her. She dressed modestly, uniformly in black-and-white, very reflective of her past as a nun. She was a businesswoman, corporate... "I haven't heard of you before."
She shot Crowley a questioning glance, not wanting to repeat the episode from the park.
He waved a hand dismissively. "They're pretty clued in, don't worry," he said. He took another drink of his coffee. "No more outsiders."
She nodded, apparently satisfied. "Good," she said, settling back into a more relaxed posture. "We were an order of satanic nuns, if you must know, for the purpose of delivering the antichrist into the world."
John gawked. Sherlock went slightly green. "I see," he said, keeping steely composure.
"You don't, really," she said dismissively, turning to the demon. "What is it you brought me here for?"
Aziraphale took the initiative now. He shuffled forward in his seat, leaning on the table to give her his kindest, warmest smile. "Hello there," he said, having flashbacks to Tadfield Manor all of a sudden. "Well, you see, we were rather hoping you might help us get to the bottom of a little problem we've been having regarding the cosmic eclipse. Our friends here weren't, but you are familiar, I assume?"
"Of course," she said proudly, raising her chin. She shot a sidelong glance at the two humans, feeling very clever. Sherlock glared, intensifying his deductions.
"We have reason to believe," Aziraphale said, leaning closer to her and dropping his voice into a conspiratorial whisper, "that the forces of Hell are working to harness its power somehow. We need you to find out how."
She pursed her lips. "Do you?"
"You have contacts, surely," John interjected. All eyes were suddenly set in him, and in all honesty, he had even surprised himself by cutting in. "What? Am I wrong?"
"No," Mary said, folding her hands in her lap. "But I won't do something for nothing."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "What's gotten into satanic nuns these days?" he said sarcastically. He jumped as Crowley kicked his shin under the table.
"Name your price, Loquacious," the demon said, leaning forward on the table.
She straightened up. "I lost faith in Hell, when Duke Hastur burned our convent," she said boldly. When he showed no signs of disapproval, she continued even more stridently. "Eternal damnation sounds much less appealing than I'd once thought... I don't expect I'll have much chance at salvation, either."
Aziraphale gave a soft gasp, pressing his hand over his heart. "You poor thing..."
"I want you to change my fate," she said, with sudden ferocity. She mustered as much fire as she could, staring down those dark, impassive lenses, behind which a pair of serpentine eyes watched. "Protect me from Hell, when I die."
He didn't move for a long moment. John looked at the two of them curiously. From the soft, pitying expression on Aziraphale's face, it already seemed like Sister Mary's request was a lost cause. His skin prickled. Sitting around a table, discussing the fate of a soul... It was surreal. Sherlock, however, watched the exchange with rapt interest, like a fascinating court case. Finally, Crowley sighed, shaking his head slowly.
"I can't stop you going to Hell. I can't get you into Heaven, either. I'm sorry," he said. She looked crestfallen.
John felt a wave of sympathy. He couldn't imagine what that must feel like... Aziraphale had reassured him once that he would probably make it into Heaven, and that knowledge had kept him afloat amidst the ocean of insanity that he'd since found himself in. He wondered if he should reach out to comfort her, or if that would be insulting.
"But... It's all about forgiveness, isn't it?" he tried, looking to Aziraphale hopefully. "She could still save herself, couldn't she?"
The angel sighed, giving him a tired smile. "It is possible, certainly, but very challenging for a woman in her position," he said. "Good works and repentance may still save you, Sister Mary, but you will have a long road ahead... and I cannot guarantee that the Lord's grace will be with you."
Her face tightened into a sour expression. "Then there really is no hope for me," she said bitterly, going to stand.
Crowley held up a hand, stilling her, and reconsidered for a moment. Something had just occurred to him. "Unless..."
"I could... take your soul, if you like," he said, sitting up. He eyed her carefully, gauging her reaction through his dark lenses. "You wouldn't be going up or down, then."
Aziraphale gasped. "Crowley! You can't!"
"Let her speak, angel," he said, squeezing his arm. John looked between them all in disbelief, his heart dropping into his stomach. Sherlock had gone awfully still beside him. He quickly realised why; remembering St Bart's, the fall, his contract... John impulsively took his hand. It was larger than his, warm and trembling ever so slightly. He expected him to pull away. Far from it; Sherlock gripped his hand as if were the only thing to stop him from falling all over again.
"What would you do with it?" Mary asked tentatively. "My soul."
Crowley shrugged, throwing up his hands. "Uh, I don't know. Put it in a jar?" he said, not quite sure himself. “I’m trying to do you a favour here.”
"What kind of jar?" she said.
"Um, I can make it a nice jar. Coloured glass, posh wax seal," he said, spreading his palms in a half-shrug. "The whole shebang. It'll be the nicest jar you could ask for."
She brightened at that. "Well, that's all right then," she said. Sherlock couldn't quite process her reaction; he hadn't even given up his soul, but he had still hesitated to make a deal with Crowley. But her... "I'd like a red one, please."
"I can just about manage that," the demon said, smiling brightly and conjuring a contract from thin air with a flick of his wrist. He flattened it out, and slid it across the table. Aziraphale pouted, crossing his arms and looking at the far wall. Sister Mary looked over the terms. They were clear, and reasonable, and read as follows:
Contract 003: DEBTOR: HODGES, Mary CREDITOR: FELL, Crowley J
This contract holds that the debtor shall lend their services to the creditor, up until the moment of their inevitable death. The debtor is not permitted to enter into further contacts with other infernal or ethereal creditors unless prior permission is obtained. The debtor is hereby bound for all eternity*, and in signing this document recognises their full understanding and agreement with the terms. The debtor also recognises that upon signing the contract, their soul is no longer their property under cosmic law** and that they act only as steward*** for the aforementioned soul on the creditor's behalf. The debtor may be expected to provide advanced payment****.
The creditor is hereby obligated to exercise proper maintenance with regards to the payment of one (1) soul, specifications including: glass housing unit (red), wax sealant. The creditor is not permitted to remove the debtor's soul from the earthly plane***** at any time during their ownership. Ownership of the debtor's soul is subject to change at the creditor's discretion. Failure to fulfill contractual obligations by either party may result in the agreement becoming void, forfeit of payment, and/or obliteration of the debtor's essence******.
DEBTOR'S SIGNATURE HERE:
CREDITOR'S SIGNATURE HERE:
*Terms & Conditions Apply
**Chapter 4, Section 13, Subsection 666, Article 7, ninth line from the bottom, sixteenth from the top, third from the left, upside-down, in Hebrew, backwards
*** Full details of stewardship duties to be specified by the creditor in a verbal agreement (non-negotiable)
****Up to, but not less than, inclusive of, and not limited to, one half of the debtor's soul
***** Note that the creditor is not accountable for accidental loss, vandalism, theft, hit & run, etc. of the debtor's soul, nor are they obligated to embark upon any rescue attempts or cosmic legal action should such damages occur
******Obliteration to be carried out at the creditor's discretion and individual expense; reimbursements are not available in the absence of Celestial Business Insurance for creditors acting independently of the Office Of Soul Acquisitions (Hell)
She hummed and rubbed her chin and pretended to think about it. Aziraphale fidgeted uncomfortably beside his husband. "Just so you know," the angel said testily, "I don't approve of this at all. Not one bit."
Crowley scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Since when have I ever been cruel with my deals?" he said. "Right, Sherlock?"
The detective flinched slightly. "You did... grant me another chance, yes," he said tightly. He swallowed hard. Beneath the table, his fingers were still entwined tightly with John's. "It still took two years to get it, though."
John shook his head, trying to cheer him up. "Quietest two years of my life," he said. It made Sherlock smile, if only a little.
Mary cleared her throat, grabbing their attention back. "I believe I'm ready to sign," she said, without so much as a tremble in her voice.
"Of course," Crowley said, handing her a gorgeous ebony fountain pen with a flourish.
The lid popped free. She hesitated for just a moment, the golden nib hovering over the line. Aziraphale looked away with a wince. Sherlock angled his eyes at the table. With a final push of determination, she signed her name on the line. She returned the contract to Crowley, thinking it was over. He took the pen, signing the page with a complex, wiggly sigil; his true name, if anyone asked, not that they ever did. It was tattooed on his face, too, but everyone assumed it was just a snake. As Sister Mary watched the sigil glow and burn upon the contract, even as he folded it up and put it away, she felt a cold weight in her stomach. She took a deep breath, and banished the sensation. She was a businesswoman, after all. Contracts were part of what she did.
Chapter 10: Concentrate, Aziraphale!
Sorry, I’m a bit late with this one I think. I couldn’t believe how many typos I found in this chapter... I think I got them all, though :)
Lestrade took Crowley's advice on board: If you wanted politeness, you should ask his husband. So, he'd called Aziraphale the next morning, inviting him to lunch. He didn't know a whole lot about him when it came to his background, but if there was one thing he never refused, it was an invitation to eat. The world could be ending, and you would still find Mr Fell keeping his luncheon arrangements.
So, here he was, taking an extra-long lunch hour just for the sake of getting to the bottom of things. They met in Tilly's Cafe, a small establishment on a sunny corner of a street, mercifully free from the shadows of the taller buildings around it. Hanging baskets outside overflowed with hardy flowering plants, and the interior was full of varnished wooden furniture, accented with flourishes of ditsy patterned cloth.
"Oh, this is a darling little place!" Aziraphale said, beaming as soon as they approached the counter. "Look at those doilies, really quite lovely, and the coffee smells absolutely tip-top."
Lestrade had to smile. He was such an unabashedly happy man, it was difficult not to. "God, I wish I saw the world through your eyes sometimes," he said, shaking his head. "Must be like Heaven."
Aziraphale's smile faltered, and Lestrade could have sworn he saw him give a full-body shudder. "Somewhat," he replied, plastering his smile haphazardly back onto his face. He quickly distracted himself by greeting the cashier, leaving Lestrade to wonder what all that was about.
They were seated in a booth in the corner, and made idle conversation while they waited for their food. Lestrade asked how he and Sherlock were getting along with the case; he claimed they knew as much as he did. He asked how retirement was. He may have regretted that slightly, as the next twenty minutes was spent listening to a painstakingly detailed list of all Aziraphale's grievances against the parish council (especially Mrs Brinkley).
"And you will never guess what that dastardly old hag said next!" he said, midway through a dramatic retelling of the last meeting.
"What?" Lestrade said, leaning on one hand, somewhere between amused and baffled. He'd never heard sweet old Mr Fell speak so animatedly, or so spitefully, before now. He clearly had a vendetta.
"That love between two men was ungodly, well! Of course, I had to intervene," he said, making grandiose hand gestures as he continued. "Such a preposterous notion simply couldn't be allowed, not in the twenty-first century."
"What did you do?" he asked, smiling as the waitress laid their food on the table. She glanced between them, her eyes twinkling amusedly, sensing that he had been caught in an inescapable story.
"I told Crowley," he said simply, wafting his hand over his plate of pasta, breathing in the scents and sighing contentedly.
Lestrade frowned. "What, that's all?"
He cocked an eyebrow at him, fixing him with a knowing look and a wry half-smile. "Why, yes. My dear husband is devious enough for the two of us. I'm the nice one, you see," he said, gathering up some pasta on his fork. He began to chuckle quietly, as if he had remembered a funny joke. "Suffice to say, Mrs Brinkley quickly found herself in a very sticky situation with the tax man after that."
"What?" the DI said, his spoonful of soup halting halfway to his mouth.
"Falsifying one's tax returns is a very serious crime, Detectice Inspector, I'm sure you appreciate," he said innocently, blowing on his food. "My husband and I were merely doing our civic duty."
"But how did you find out that she was...?" he said, trailing off and making a vague gesture to indicate the general idea of 'a tax-dodging liar'.
"As I said," he told him, still smirking, "Crowley is a rather cunning chap, all told. It didn't take him long to dig something up.”
Lestrade sensed his window of opportunity. "Has a lot of connections, does he?"
He hummed noncommittally around a mouthful of food. "I suppose," he said after swallowing. He noticed that Lestrade wasn't touching his soup. "Do tuck in, Gregory. I'd hate to think you were working on an empty stomach."
Lestrade blinked and began to eat, half out of surprise. No one had called him Gregory since his grandma had passed away when he was a young man. Eventually, his mind circled back around to the reason he'd invited Fell to lunch in the first place. Did he know about Crowley's clandestine meeting the other day? How old were they, really? Who were they? Why the secrecy? And no, he told himself firmly, the answer isn't just 'vampires'. Once he thought he had eaten enough to satisfy Aziraphale's concern (which vividly reminded him of his mother, reminding him to eat all his greens), he attempted conversation again.
"How did you meet Crowley?" he ventured, and was greeted by the most radiant, beaming smile he'd seen all week.
"Oh, I'm so glad you asked. It was beautiful," he said, almost melting in his chair as the memory played out vividly behind his eyes. "He approached me whilst I was on guard duty, if you can believe such things of me, and just struck up a conversation. I was in such a tizzy that day, and he soothed all my worries as if he'd known me all my life. I should have known then, I suppose, that I'd fall in love with him one day."
"Is something the matter, inspector?"
"I thought you said you were raised together," he said idly, sipping another spoonful of broth. Aziraphale's dreamy, wistful expression abruptly fell.
"Oh - well, yes, I - " he said, rushing to patch the holes in his story. His eyes darted all over the cafe, as if the answers might be hidden in some sort of code in the crochet wall hangings. "Only for a few years. We met again in the garden, after he - erm, left us."
"Garden?" he said, raising an eyebrow, feeling like he was finally getting somewhere.
"That's what I was guarding," he clarified, shovelling another forkful of pasta into his mouth, as if to stop himself digging deeper into this metaphorical hole.
"What was so important about it?" he asked, sipping on his coffee. It was as good as it smelled.
Aziraphale froze, his cheeks stuffed with food and his brain now making a strange grinding noise. He hummed awkwardly, swallowing the mouthful with an uncharacteristic lack of relish. "Religious significance, one might say," he said, desperately trying to claw back some composure. Stress began to make his face flush pink. "I realise you mean well, Gregory, but I must insist you stop this interrogating. My past is not a topic I like to discuss."
Lestrade held up his hands in surrender. "All right, I'm sorry. I'll stop," he said, feeling a twinge of guilt. Aziraphale was well-meaning, and certainly didn't deserve to be grilled this hard when he'd done nothing wrong. Ever. In his life*.
"Thank you," he said, with a deep sigh of relief. He returned to his pasta, hoping it would calm his nerves, assuage his worries and satisfy his cravings. He did realise that this was a lot to ask from his pasta, though.
Lestrade had one more burning question, however. He mulled it over for a moment. Would it be too cheeky to ask, given how demanding he'd already been? Probably. Ah, what the hell? May as well. He'd just have to pay for lunch, by way of an apology.
"How old is Crowley?" he asked, out of the blue.
Aziraphale looked up, somewhat startled. "Seven - " he began, then stopped. He couldn't say 7,000, but it was too late to backpedal now. He swallowed hard. "... ty."
Lestrade's spoon slipped out of his hand, clattering on the bowl as soup splashed over onto the table cloth. "Seventy?" he exclaimed, gawking across the table. "He's seventy years old?"
The angel ducked his head, his mind buzzing as he berated himself. "Oh, dear," he murmured under his breath, staring at his pasta. His apetite was waning, and he was not looking forward to having to explain to Crowley why Lestrade now thought he was a pensioner. "I really should not have said that."
"But - how old are you, then?" he said. "No offence, but I always thought you were the older one."
"Must be the hair," he said, trying to laugh, though it sounded forced (it was). "I'm a smidge younger, around a year or so."
Lestrade slumped back in his seat, eyes wide and reevaluating what he knew about the couple. No wonder Crowley had never seemed to have a job in all the time they'd known him - he'd been retired this whole time! It also explained the 1920s car, probably inherited from his father, and the excess of cash he seemed to carry around... He was an archetypal rich old man, who would have guessed?
He finally looked back at Aziraphale, who had turned a bit green. "You two look incredible for your age," he said, in awe.
Granted, thought Aziraphale; most 6,669-and-a-half-year-olds looked more like mummified bog corpses by now, so that was true enough. It was a miracle (literally) that he had kept enough of his skin, hair, musclular structure and internal organs to keep walking around for this long, let alone snag a husband like Crowley. From that perspective, he had to admit, he had been taking his eternal youthfulness (or rather, his eternal middle-agedness) for granted. As these thoughts crossed his mind, he was able to generate enough thankfulness to summon up a sincere smile.
"Thank you, Gregory."
*Apart from lie to God, sin, give humanity a flaming sword, sin, shag a demon, attempt to kill his eleven year old godson, sin some more... et cetera.
Progress was slow in 221B. With Aziraphale out for lunch, John occupied with taking Rosie out to the park, and Sister Mary having departed to begin her research, only Sherlock and Crowley remained. Sherlock was hunched over his notes, and had not moved since five o'clock this morning. He had come down so early, expecting to be alone, only to find Aziraphale awake. He and Crowley had been staying at the flat while things progressed, and had insisted that just the sofa was fine. That made a lot more sense when he saw that only Crowley slept. After a quiet chat, Sherlock found himself quite jealous of their lack of need for sleep.
"Sherlock," Crowley called across the room, from where he had draped himself over an armchair.
"Have you eaten?" he asked suspiciously. The thought had just occurred to him, while he was idly wondering if Aziraphale was having a nice time.
Crowley swung himself into an upright position. "You need to."
"Why?" he said stubbornly, mumbling around his hands, which were steepled over his lips. He had not looked up from his case notes yet.
"Wha - ? What kind of a question is that?" he exclaimed, walking over to smack him on the back of the head.
"Ow!" he cried, rubbing his head and finally turning to look at him. "What was that for?"
"For being an idiot," he reported, wagging a finger at him. He grasped him by the shirt collar, forcing him to his feet. "Your stupid, fragile human body needs food and a break, so come on. We're going out."
"But the case - " he protested, staring back at his notes as he was dragged toward the door.
"It'll be there when we get back," he said, and snapped his fingers. The door slammed shut and locked itself, blocking Sherlock's view (and escape route) back into the flat.
Crowley bounced down the stairs, toward the front door. Sherlock followed sullenly, glad it was fine out, since he hadn't even had time to grab his coat. He felt slightly naked without it. Behind him, a door creaked open, making him pause.
"Going out, boys?" Mrs Hudson called down the stairs, a phone pressed to her chest.
"Sherlie needs a meal, so yeah," Crowley said, sneering at him while he leaned against the wall.
"I'm not hungry," he retorted petulantly, lingering halfway down the staircase.
"Oh - well, it's just..." she said, then dropped her voice to a whisper and gestured at the phone. "It's for you, Sherlock."
"Who is it?" he asked, moving toward her, curious to take the call.
"Your brother," she said, holding it out.
Sherlock recoiled from the phone as if she had tried to hand him a spitting cobra. He turned tail and thundered down the stairs toward Crowley. "Sorry, Mrs Hudson, tell him I'm going out for lunch," he said loudly, opening the door. "I'm starving!"
Sherlock practically ran down the pavement, past the Bentley, while Crowley jogged up to him. He waited until they were a safe distance away before slowing down again. "What was all that?" Crowley asked, who had not yet made the connection that the Mycroft Holmes he had struck a deal with years before came from the same family tree as the Sherlock Holmes he'd struck another deal with three and a half years ago.
"My brother's an overbearing autocrat," he huffed, crossing the road.
"Thought the Brits did away with those centuries ago," he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"History books often lie. You should know. He's so high up in the government that he could ask the prime minister to jump, and she'd ask how high," he said dryly. He nodded at the security cameras dotted along the walls above their heads. "He'll be watching us now."
Crowley quirked a brow, weighing them up. "Will he, now?" he said. He pulled his sunglasses down, peering over them to glare fiercely at the CCTV in the street. BREAK, he thought viciously, his yellow stare sweeping back and forth across them. CRACK. GLITCH. DIE.
There was a ping as the security camera above them suddenly lost its grip on the wall. The camera, and its casing, dropped onto the pavement at Sherlock's feet. He let out a shout of surprise, grabbing hold of Crowley's arm as he jumped back. The demon snickered. Scowling, he let go, until more noises caught his attention.
All along the street, CCTV cameras were malfunctioning. Some slumped down against the wall as their support systems failed. In some, lenses cracked. One caught fire. Another three burst, showering sparks onto the path below, though miraculously no one was harmed. People cried out in surprise, scattering away from the failing electronics which they hadn't even noticed until now. It was chaos. Sherlock turned, jaw slack, to look at Crowley. The demon rocked back and forth on his heels, whistling a tune and idly examining his nails.
"That was..." he said, dazed, trailing off.
Crowley sighed. "Cruel? Unnecessary? Disrespectful?"
Sherlock's mouth twitched into a half-smile. "Neat."
Crowley's sunglasses slipped down his nose, and for a moment, he was too surprised to correct them. He cleared his throat and straightened up. "Ahem. Yeah, right. I mean, of course," he said, lifting his chin in a failed attempt to play it cool. "Lunch, then?"
Mycroft scowled at his monitor. He hadn't wanted to let his little brother out of his sight, not while he was alone with that monster-man. He had seen Crowley's eyes, yellow and reptilian, before his cameras all began to fail in succession... He set his jaw. How could he have done it? Did he have a saboteur, hiding amongst Mycroft's staff? Maybe it was some sort of signal scrambler.
"Magic," announced a nasal voice from behind him.
Mycroft swivelled around in his chair, turning to face Anderson. He'd almost forgotten he was there at all but, given the lingering garlic smell, it was hard to. "Pardon?" he asked condescendingly.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" he said, gesturing at the screen. He approached the desk, causing the elder Holmes to lean away in disgust and minimise his breathing. "One look at the cameras, and whoosh! They're gone."
Mycroft opened his mouth to tell him he was an idiot, but stopped himself. He thought back to the transformation he'd witnessed, before. He'd heard talk of auras. John had since said, out loud, that Mr Fell was immortal. He had seen Anderson's evidence. The impossible was leaking into his reality. However improbable... it could be the truth. He felt sick.
"Quite," he said stiffly. He closed the feed from the broken cameras, going back to the file with the 221B surveillance footage. "There is a subject upon which I would - urgh. I would... value your opinion."
The words tasted sour on his tongue. Ignoring the smug look on Anderson's face, he opened the file. It was the video of Crowley, shapeshifting into a snake. Anderson watched it in awe. He snatched the mouse, replaying the clip of the transformation over and over again. His mouth hung open shamelessly.
"Good god!" he cried, standing up with both hands gripping his skull. "I've never read anything like this... Vampires turning into snakes? I thought they were supposed to be bats..."
"Perhaps he isn't limited," Mycroft suggested dryly, unable to give much more than a curt few words as his whole worldview was gutted over and over again. "You are certain he is a vampire?"
"Of course I'm certain," he said haughtily. "He admitted it himself, when I first had my suspicions. He used to tease me. He knew I knew."
"Did he know that you knew he knew you knew?"
"Yes, I know it," he said firmly. He resolved not to say the word 'knew' again for at least ten minutes. "But why is he back?"
Mycroft hummed, turning back to the screen. The frozen image of a monstrous, primordial serpent stared back at him. "Finally, an intelligent question..."
The hospital was quiet, usually. Visiting hours came and went. Tulip spent them alone, running her fingers over her bandages. Memories of the fire flashed through her mind, and guilt still sat heavy in her chest. She had been burned each time. First, on her legs. Then, along her neck, leaving conspicuous scars up her throat and curling up onto her cheek. This time, it had been her hands. She had tried to save her friends; she'd seen their care worker lock the door. The hot metal doorknob had burnt her hands as the fire spread, though no matter how hard she had struggled to open the door, the lock held firm. She had been lucky to get out alive. Again.
There was a policeman outside her door now. That was good. She liked the police; they'd been good to her, giving her shock blankets, comforting words, and genuine sympathy. DI Lestrade was nice. He visited when he could, often bringing her a cup of water or fresh juice, and talking to her even though she never spoke back. She didn't want to talk anymore. She still berated herself for begging for her life, back when that man-shaped thing in the bow tie had got in. She knew he wasn't human. There was a sense of brightness around him, of watchfulness, of the tremendous potential for destruction that everyone else seemed blind to. She had seen his kind before, lingering in the street, always before a fire. She called them omens... bad omens.
Night fell. Tulip's doctor checked in on her before bed. She nodded and shook her head where necessary, and eventually, she was left alone. The clock ticked. Cars rushed by outside, the sound of tyres against tarmac like the endless rush of rain. Watery light filtered into her room from the streetlamps. She tossed and turned, finding it nearly impossible to sleep while her burns still stung. Eventually, at close to one o'clock in the morning, she sat up and rubbed her eyes. Hugging her knees to her chest, she looked out the window into the corridor.
Shadows swam in the hall. There was a vague shape by the door, which she knew was just the guard. There was a pocket torch in their hand, angled at the book in their lap. She smiled. At least someone was enjoying themselves... She rested her head on her knees, and her eyelids began to droop.
A voice shook her awake. She lazily raised her eyes toward the door. The guard had stood up, pointing their little torch down the hallway. Someone was coming.
"Hey, who's there?" said the police officer. There was a snap. Tulip flinched, squeezing her eyes shut. Nothing happened, no one spoke. It was like the guard had simply... vanished.
Tentatively, she opened her eyes again. They took a moment to adjust to the dark. For a moment, she wondered if she had imagined the whole thing... before she registered the shape stood in the doorway. Her breath snagged.
"Are you the child?" it asked calmly. It wasn't human. It was one of them; a bad omen.
She couldn't speak. The figure began to approach, the weak light twinkling off the gold freckles on their cheek, and shining on their pale clothes. Tulip cowered, tremors shaking her. They were blocking the exit; she was boxed in, cornered, like a deer in the crosshairs of a rifle.
The figure suddenly choked, yanked backward across the room. The scent of rancid meat and stagnant pond water washed over her, making her gag and cover her nose. Another figure, reeking and snarling, had attacked from behind. The two figures shouted, flashes of light making her blind. Glass shattered. There was a screech of pain, the flash of a blade, as Uriel swung their weapon. Hastur screeched profanities, spitting back with breath made of sparks and sulphurous smoke. Tulip whimpered.
"SHE'S OURS, BIRD BREATH!" The Duke crowed, trying to dig his grimy nails into the angel's eyes. Uriel didn't deign to reply, wrestling admirably against him.
Tulip spied her chance. Her heart hammered and jumped, threatening to break through her chest as she slipped out of the bed. The two monsters were distracted, clawing at one another near the window, spilling a mixture of infernal and ethereal blood over the tiles. Blades clashed. Spells flew. Ducking low, Tulip scurried out of the door, risking one last glance over her shoulder at the light show spilling out of her hospital room. Stifling tears, she sprinted away as hard as her legs would take her. She wouldn't be caught out again. Not again...
Aziraphale was awake. Like usual, he had recapped the case notes before nightfall, and had a brief talk with Sister Loquacious over the phone about her progress. The nun had been neck-deep in occult tomes since she made her deal, in search of rituals or lore relating to the cosmic eclipse. Her contacts had been providing her with more and more material every day, and she sounded in good spirits. She'd have answers soon, she thought. He had worried that she would begin to regret the deal. Not so; a coworker of hers said it was the happiest she had ever seen her. Begrudgingly, he had to admit that Crowley had probably made the right call.
It was almost two o'clock in the morning when the landline rang. He looked up with a frown. He had been resting his eyes in the darkened room, his hands tangled in Crowley's hair as the demon slept soundly in his lap. It was a bizarre time to call...
He eased himself out from underneath his husband, and picked up the phone. "Hello?" he said, wondering if was rude to answer a phone that wasn't his.
"Fell? Is that you?" Lestrade said. His voice croaked, having just been dragged out of bed himself.
"Yes," he said. "Is something the matter, dear?"
The DI let out a pained noise. "Yeah. Look, sorry to wake you up, I know you must be tired..."
Aziraphale sighed impatiently, planting a hand on his hips. "I may be old, Gregory, but I'm not feeble just yet," he said snippily. "Besides that, I was awake anyway. Now what on earth has gotten into you, calling at this hour?"
"There was an attack at the hospital. Tulip Smith is missing," he said. Aziraphale's heart skipped a beat.
"Good lord," he said, his mind suddenly awash with images of Hastur's leering face, and a legion of bloodthirsty angels.
"There was blood in her room, broken glass, no sign of the officer on duty," he continued, his nerves already shot. "Wake Sherlock. We need all hands on deck, we have to find her."
"Leave it with me, inspector," he said, picking up a cushion and flinging it at across the room at Crowley, who startled awake with a shout. Lestrade hung up, rushing off to strike up an even larger search party.
"What the heaven, angel?" Crowley complained, rubbing his eyes.
"Up," he said, pulling him to his feet. He made for the stairs, going to wake John and Sherlock. "Duty calls, darling."
Tulip ran. It was dark outside, and cold, with a grey fog skulking along the ground. The concrete began to sting her feet as she sprinted down the road, obscured from the hazy headlights of cars as they barged through the mist. She didn't know where she was going. Her thin hospital clothes did nothing to shield her from the wind. Terror kept her warm.
Ahead, a shadowy figure began to emerge. With a shriek, she skidded to a halt, the gravel stripping away her skin. She turned and fled down an alley. Behind her, gold upon dark skin glinted in the murk.
"Sherlock, John, I’d advise you go with Crowley," Aziraphale ordered, the most energetic of them all as they stepped into the darkened street. "He can drop each of you off around the city. We shan't cover enough ground as a group."
"What about you?" Sherlock asked, who was the second-most alert.
"I'll take to the skies," he said, looking around hoping to see a fire escape nearby. He'd need a rooftop to take off from. "If I see anything, you’ll hear from me."
"But - won't you be seen?" John asked, as Crowley (the least awake, not yet capable of intelligent speech) clambered into the Bentley.
"Not if I don't want to be," he said, a spark of amusement in his eye, which quickly vanished as he crossed the road. He mounted a metal staircase, leading up to the topmost floor of a nearby apartment block.
John stared after him, shivering in the night. In a daze, he got into the back seat alongside Sherlock. Strangely, it had not occurred to either of them to take the vacant front seat; Crowley would deny having anything to do with it. The Bentley had decided long ago that the front passenger seat was not the front passenger seat; it was Aziraphale's seat. He'd just let it happen. Sherlock peered over his shoulder, through the back window. Curiously enough, Aziraphale was right. He was one of the most observant men in the world, but even he didn't quite manage to notice the man who jumped off a nearby rooftop, only for a pair of luminous wings to unfold behind him, carrying him up into the pitch-dark sky.
London jolted into life, as if a defibrillator had been pressed against her chest. Red-and-blue police sirens set the roads alight, as if she had fire in her veins. She was a busy city, and had never once slept, but tonight was new even for her. Following the police cars like a shadow, a classic Bentley dove into the fray. Angels and demons scanned the streets, like cats pacing outside a mouse hole. Up above, away from the noise and confusion, a principality soared.
The cold, thin air ruffled his feathers. It wasn't just his eyes that searched the streets below. He allowed his sixth sense to unravel itself... and his seventh, and eighth, and ninth... He didn't often do this. It made him feel less human, disconnected from the material world; it reminded him that he was angel. He breathed in new sensations, the like of which a human could not comprehend fully. He could taste the light, smell the cacophony of emotions rolling out of the city in waves, and to his ears, the delicate sound of life itself reverberated through his material form. As he scanned, his true nature began to shine through. His eyes became like electric blue searchlights, and a ring of spinning metal flickered in and out of the material plane above his head as he flew. Then, he saw it.
He spread his wings, the drag of the air slowing him down. The powerful appendages continued to flap, keeping him suspended in the sky. He could feel her nearby. Somewhere beneath him, in a network of alleys and by-roads, he recognised the cries of Tulip's soul. He had seen it only briefly, but an angel never forgets a soul.
"Crowley," he said, in a calm and measured voice that split and duplicated itself a thousand times. The air around him crackled with angelic grace. "Follow my voice. She's close by..."
Crowley heard. The Bentley veered suddenly to the left, tyres screeching as he made for the source of the angelic voice. Sherlock cursed, and John gripped the seats with a strangled cry.
"Bloody hell, Crowley!" he shouted.
"Quit whining. You want to save this girl or not?" he said, putting his foot down. The car roared, hitting 130 miles per hour. The two humans were pressed back firmly in their seats. "There will be angels out tonight. Demons, too," he said grimly. He glanced over his shoulder at them both, letting out a snort of laughter at their sheet-white faces. "Don't look so scared. You have a gun, don't you John?"
"What good will that do?" he cried, his hand landing on where he had it, tucked into a jacket pocket.
"Shoot 'em and find out," he replied, refocusing on the road just in time to swerve around a night bus. "I'd aim for the head if I were you. Don't hesitate, don't warn them. The element of surprise is key, do you understand?"
John swallowed hard, and nodded. He and Sherlock shared a glance, thinking of the human agents used to commit the arsons. "What if they're human?"
"Your call," he replied, wrestling with the steering wheel as he skidded sideways around a roundabout, making everyone involved slightly ill. "Not personally up for casual murder myself, but I don't judge. Much. Okay, I do, but don't let me stop you, eh?"
"How can we tell what they are?" Sherlock asked, grunting as he was thrown against the door. John fell on top of him in an embarrassing pile of limbs, his hands landing in various unfortunate places by mistake.
"Demons stink. Angels are sociopaths," he surmised quickly, feeling a spark of divine grace, knowing he was close to Aziraphale. He began to look up, searching for him amongst the stars and cloud-choked night. "Real ones, that is, not Sherlock-sociopaths."
Sherlock scowled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means get out the car, we're here," he said, slamming the breaks on. Sherlock almost knocked himself out on the back of Crowley's seat, and John probably had whiplash. "You two stay together. Keep your guard up. No more second chances this time, all right?"
Sherlock panted heavily, leaning up to regain his bearings. He looked up, meeting an intense yellow gaze in the rear view mirror. It wasn't malicious. It was a firm reminder, from a man who was ultimately a friend, despite the species gap. He gave him a small nod. The demon broke the stare, satisfied with that response, but hating that he needed it. He didn't want his friends running around getting themselves killed, thinking he'd come save them afterwards. It didn't work like that. Luck had saved Sherlock once; she was a fickle bitch, and probably wouldn't do it again. When the two humans climbed out onto the pavement, the Bentley snarled, leaping down the road again. Up ahead, the clouds parted for a moment, revealing the blinding light of a watchful principality. It was obscured again as quickly as it came, like a sly wink from God herself.
Tulip was being chased. She had fled into a rabbit warren of streets, each one narrow and overlooked by blind expanses of brick walls. Smog lingered here, too. She heard shouting. She turned a corner, several times finding a bad omen lurking ahead. It never pursued. Like an overconfident hunter, it let her run. It wasn't the only thing down here with her. The other thing, whatever it was, was always preceded by the same sickening scent that she recognised from the hospital. They had followed her. Whatever they were, they had both pursued her...
She was lost. The realisation tore at her fragile heart. If she couldn't find her way out soon, she'd be cornered. For a moment, she felt a flicker of hope, catching sight of the main road between the towering buildings. She made to run, but stopped. Her lungs seared. Two men advanced down the alley, into the fray. One was tall, framed by a flapping great coat, and the other held a distinct shape that she knew from action movies: a gun. She gasped, whimpering, and fled. They hadn't seen her. Thank god, they hadn't seen her...
Sherlock and John just missed her, not even seeing her heel vanish around the corner to their left. They turned right, guided by gut instinct alone. Their feet pounded against the hard ground, propelling them forward with explosive energy. Sherlock was faster. He always had been, but this time, he ought to have pulled back. John had the gun, after all.
The stench was the first warning sign. It was rot, and damp, and mould and disease. Though it overpowered the smell of the split bin bags and open dumpsters, the humans wrote it off in their subconscious as nothing.
The next warning was the furious keening noises. Hastur had always been a vocal demon.
The final warning came when the Duke of Hell came careening around the corner, crashing into the wall as his momentum got the better of him. It had been a while since he used a material body. Sherlock stopped, John smacking into his back. They stumbled forward, but didn't fall. Hastur paused. He took in the sight before him, somewhere between irritated and perversely amused.
"Humans!" he crowed, prowling closer to them. A nasty smile spread over his pockmarked face. His black eyes fixed themselves on Sherlock. "Where is the girl?"
He was paralysed. This was a demon, he knew it. His very soul shrank away from it, screaming, recoiling in horror. Perhaps that was why he didn't see John, stepping out from behind him, levelling the gun between the demon's eyes. The gunshot rippled through the alley.
Silence. For a moment, the whole world had been stunned into quietness. Then, Hastur began to laugh. "Oh, how precious!" he shrieked in delight, plucking the bullet from out of the air. He tossed it above his head, his frog's tongue lashing out to snatch it before it fell. He turned his eyes back on them, his mouth stretching far too wide, into a grin with rotted, deformed teeth.
John blanched. Sherlock stumbled back, gripping his arm, desperate to shield him. Running was a death sentence. Turning your back on a duke of hell was idiocy; they had lost their advantage the moment Hastur had laid eyes on them. Crowley had been right; no second chances this time.
Tulip screamed, stumbling as the gunshot rang out. Her knees were split open by the gravel as she dropped, shielding her head. There she crouched, shivering. She waited for the searing pain of a bullet to rip through her... it never came. After a few seconds of her heart pounding against her eardrums, and the adrenaline making nausea rise up from deep in her gut, she dared to lift her head.
It was there. Standing impassively just ahead, there was the omen. She saw it clearly now. It was androgynous, and its gorgeous chestnut skin would not have been unlike Tulip's own if not for the dappling of gold across it. She leant forward heavily on her hands, letting out an abrasive cry with every painful breath. Her burns stung. Her muscles had emptied themselves of resolve. For anyone else, it might have been over... but not her. Not Tulip.
With her legs threatening to give out, she forced herself up. Fatigue had doubled the weight of her limbs, but the will to survive dragged her kicking and screaming to her feet. She had survived three fires, and the deaths of her friends, all at the hands of these creatures. If they wanted her too, they'd have to pry her still-fighting soul right from her chest with their bare hands, like a real monster. She was a survivor. She wouldn’t go down easily.
Her head spinning, her balance poor, she turned and lurched in the opposite direction. She only took three steps before crashing into something - or rather, someone.
She yelped, stumbling backward. Long fingers, tipped with sharp black nails, clamped around her forearms. She struggled, hissing, spitting, lurching forward in a vain attempt to bite him. He didn't flinch.
"Hey!" he snarled. Finally, she looked up. He was lean, wiry, and completely unlike the other creatures that had been chasing her. He had an angular, intimidating face, framed by deep red hair and set with two reptilian eyes that sparkled like amber in firelight. She didn't move. Whatever he was, she didn't seem to be his first concern.
Without releasing her, he raised his gaze to the omen she had been fleeing from. "Sup," he said casually, jerking his head in greeting. "Uriel, right?"
The thing - Uriel - flexed its hands. They looked nervous. "You're the abomination," they said, and dared not move. "The demon that Hell spat back out."
"My reputation precedes me," he sneered, and Tulip found herself jolted to the side, this time locked in place against him by one arm. She trembled in fear. Even without struggling, she could feel the terrible strength in his grip.
Uriel raised their chin, puffing out their chest and putting on a brave front. "I do not fear you," they said, despite the fact that lying was a sin.
Crowley put on his most sadistic smile. He raised his free hand, curling his fingers threateningly as his nails grew out, quickly becoming five curled black talons, gleaming under the flickering lamplight. Tulip felt her airway tighten, and a heat began to gather around her eyes. Those claws were very close to her throat. It would take just one quick motion, and she could be bleeding out on the concrete. Oblivious to her train of thought, Crowley continued to sneer.
"You should," he said, in a voice that held a distinct serpent's hiss. He tilted his head slowly, baring his fangs and spitting venom for good measure. Tulip jumped, and even Uriel lurched backwards as the venom sprayed toward them.
"You want the girl?" Crowley drawled, gesturing at Tulip with an open palm and gripping her even tighter against him. She did her best not to squirm. "Come get her."
Uriel paused. Their eyes flickered between the wild-eyed demon and the petrified girl in his clutches. Their orders had been simple: Kill Tulip Smith. Pondering how bad the repercussions of failure could possibly be, they began to back up, reluctant to take their eyes away. The demon didn't blink. His glare was relentless, and to Uriel, it seemed to confirm their assumption (or perhaps, their hope): Crowley would probably kill the child anyway, just for fun. He was a demon, after all. Perhaps he'd eat her. A child couldn't be that difficult for a serpent like him to swallow whole, could it? He'd unknowingly do Heaven's work, and Uriel didn't have to find out what he was really capable of. Good. That was that, then.
They vanished, leaving Crowley alone in the alley, with Tulip still quivering in terror. Little did she know, there were few places on earth where she would be safer than she was now, held in the protective grip of the kindest demon of them all.
Sherlock and John were not so lucky. Hastur was advancing on them, his hungry eyes boring into them. He was playing with them; it would have been easy to kill them outright, but that was no fun. Luckily for the humans, the duke was not very creatively minded, and couldn't come up with anything better than taunting.
"Hoping you'd discorporate me, eh?" he sneered, lurching forward, making them jump backwards. "Thought you'd got me? With a little musket-ball?"
A tiny part of Sherlock's mind, which was still in a calm oasis of total denial, wondered why he had said musket-ball. It had been a bullet. In actual fact, the last time Hastur had been shot at, it had indeed been musket fire, and (embarrassingly) it had worked. Crowley, of course, loyal servant of Hell that he had been, had nothing at all to do with it. Honest.
Hastur raised his arm, about to bring it down like an executioner's axe. A halo of light, soft yet distinct, began to form behind his head. John's brow furrowed. That didn't seem right... It grew brighter, brighter and brighter, until they could no longer bear to look. With a grunt of confusion, Hastur dropped his arm, turning around.
John shielded his eyes in the crook of his arm. The ground quaked, and a wave of heat and searing light washed through the alley, as if a comet had ploughed right into the earth beside them. Panting hard, his heart thundering, he dared to lower his arm.
He squinted, his eyes barely able to adjust. The vague silhouette of Hastur blotted his vision. Beyond that, there was a figure, the source of the light. They had crouched to absorb the impact of their landing, in the centre of a small crater of upturned tarmac. Slowly, the figure rose. A pair of enormous white wings half-folded themselves at his back, framing his heavenly being, which glowed fiercely even now. The air shimmered around his form, singing with celestial harmonies that the earth had not heard for eons. Sherlock was the first to recognise him.
"Aziraphale..?" he breathed.
The Principality raised his gaze to them with a knowing smile. His eyes burned with divine energy, ice blue and electrifying. Over his head, a wheel of flaming metal span in place, throwing ferocious heat and light out in every direction. "Duke Hastur," he said calmly, with a voice that struck them in the chest and wracked them to their souls. "I have warned you once already about petty interferences..."
Hastur hadn't moved. He opened his mouth, a choked sound escaping. He thought about biting back with a clever retort (by his standards), or standing his ground... before he abruptly turned, barged past John and Sherlock, and ran screaming down the alley.
Aziraphale watched him go, a half-smile on his face. "Hm," he said in a satisfied voice, which still made the two humans quake right to their cores. "It isn't usually that easy."
John swallowed hard, and worked up the nerve to talk. "Is - is this your true form?" He gestured vaguely at him, at the glowing and the wings and the halo...
"This?" said the angel, looking down at himself. He chuckled. Sherlock gripped his head, the Principality's invasive voice beginning to give his sensitive mind a serious headache. "Oh, heavens, no. This is just... overspill."
Beneath the constant drone in the air from the angelic magic, footsteps were approaching. Aziraphale looked up first, followed by the others. There were two figures, the taller one shielding his eyes as they approached.
"Thought I heard you lot down here," Crowley said, his hand still firmly clamped around Tulip's arm. "I've got the kid. Loving the heavenly light show, angel, but could you tone it down a bit?"
"Ah yes, of course," he said, his eyelids flickering shut. In seconds, the wings vanished, and his body's fearsome glow faded away like the last embers of a dying fire. He opened his eyes again, which now looked positively dull compared to moments before. "Better?"
"Better," he said. Tulip suddenly yanked her arm, trying to bolt down the alley. He looked down, just about managing to keep hold of her despite his surprise. "Oi! Where d'you think you're going?"
"It's him! He's one of them!" she cried, desperately trying to pry his fingers off her arm.
"What? How do you know they're the same?" he said, squinting, nonplussed by her attempts.
"I just do!" she insisted. She thrashed, panicking, and lurched forward to sink her teeth into his hand.
"OW!" he yelled, keeping his grip while he pushed her back by her forehead, keeping her out of jaw's range. "No biting! What are you, an animal?"
"Worse. She's a child," John said dryly, leaning against the wall and taking deep breaths. After nearly getting slaughtered by a demon, then saved by an angel, he was getting rather worn out. The full events of the night hadn't yet hit Sherlock full force. He'd probably need a shock blanket later.
"If I may interject," Aziraphale said, politely clearing his throat. Tulip jumped back away from him, trying to hide behind Crowley. The demon huffed and rolled his eyes.
"Oh, sure, now we're friends," he muttered bitterly. Everyone ignored him.
"I do understand that you're scared, dear girl, but please... I'm not going to hurt you. None of us are," Aziraphale said kindly. Tulip eyed him suspiciously. "We want to protect you. We are nothing like the others of our kind, I assure you."
Tentatively, she edged out from behind Crowley. She narrowed her eyes. "Really?"
"It's a promise," the angel said benevolently. He leaned down to her level, and she had to admit that up close, he was nothing like the others she'd seen. "Do you understand what we are?"
She looked between them all. She nodded at John and Sherlock. "They're human," she said guardedly. Her eyes fixed back onto Aziraphale. "You aren't."
"Very good, that's right," he said. She blinked, vaguely surprised at the praise. "I am an angel. The lovely gentleman holding your arm is a demon."
"Like... like from the bible?" She said incredulously.
"Yup," Crowley said. He tilted his head, looking down at her. "If I let you go, can I trust you not to run away?"
She rolled her eyes. "Yes," she said testily, tugging her arm from his grip. He let her go, but raised a brow.
"Watch the attitude, missy," he warned her.
"Who made you my dad?" she retorted, crossing her arms. Behind her, Sherlock and John looked at one another, vaguely amused, but with an underlying concern that they'd be dealing with the same from Rosie in a few years.
"Now now," Aziraphale said chastisingly, shepherding her toward the main road. "We've all had a long night, and there's no need to get irritable now, is there?"
"She started it," Crowley muttered, trailing after him with his hands stuffed in his pockets.
You have no idea how much self control it took not to name this chapter “Worse Omens”
PS If anyone wants a peek into my writing process for this one, listen to Was Ich Liebe by Rammstein. The chorus especially, which inspired the kind of energy Aziraphale embodies in this chapter. I don’t speak German so I don’t know the lyrics but the sound is what inspired me.
Chapter 12: Waking The Monster
Anderson had scrambled to join the manhunt. After his return to work, he'd been forced to brush up, take a shower, and make up for his lost hours. He wouldn't get paid for the night's work, but that was fine. Mycroft had paid him enough to cover the arrears on his rent, and get him through the next month. He just needed to make sure he didn't lose his job in the meantime.
Lestrade was keeping a close eye on him, when he could. He'd taken Anderson with him in his squad car, lights flashing, as they combed the streets. Anderson stuck his head out the window, straining against the seatbelt and squinting into passing alleyways where red-and-blue light flickered for mere moments before laying forgotten in the rear view mirror. The rush of the wind blocked out sound from within the car. A hand grasped the back of his shirt, pulling back in.
"She's been found," Lestrade said, turning on his sirens and doing a U-turn in the empty street. The radio hung off the receiver. Anderson guessed a call had just come through.
They arrived alongside an ambulance and another police car. They got out, their eyes straining in the dark which was repeatedly cut through with neon emergency lights. Anderson spotted Sherlock, who had his arm wrapped surreptitiously around John, some distance away from the commotion. The doctor looked exhausted. He had dark circles under his eyes and, although he was fighting it, his head was starting to drop down onto his flat mate's shoulder. Lestrade went over to join them, and John straightened up, but made no effort to move out of Sherlock's grip.
Anderson rolled his eyes at them. He didn't know what they were still mucking around at. They ought to just get a hotel room and a bottle of wine and sort it out once and for all, if you asked him. Luckily, he was smart enough not to risk a broken nose by saying this out loud in front of either of them.
He pushed on between the vehicles, trying to find someone to get some answers. Working on crime scenes, you got very good at finding loose ends to tie up if you ever found you had idle hands. As his old instincts kicked in, his eyes scanned the scene, searching for something useful to do. His eyes landed on the open doors of the ambulance, where a small figure crouched in a shock blanket. That must be Tulip. Was she alone? That didn't seem right.
He wandered over to the vehicle. She tensed up as he approached, drawing the blanket tighter around her shoulders. She braced herself against the floor, preparing to launch herself out into the street and start running again.
"Hi there," he said, smiling and holding out his hand to shake. He'd had to interview children before; unfortunately, crimes didn't care who their audience was.
"Who are you?" she asked aggressively. She ignored the gesture.
He blinked, slightly taken aback. He withdrew his hand slightly, tucking it back into his pocket. "My name's Phillip," he said. He tried not to be annoyed. She was just scared, is all. "You must be Tulip."
She hummed noncommittally, resting her head on her knees and glaring at the floor. Behind her, there was a rustle of movement. Anderson abruptly realised that she had not been alone; right in the corner of the ambulance, tucked just out of sight behind the lip of the doorframe, Crowley was lounging. He had a coin in his hand, flipping it back and forth idly across his fingers. He turned his head to stare lazily out the corner of his eye at the disturbance.
"Anderson," he said, his voice thick with tiredness, though it came across as a nonchalant drawl. "Been a while. How's the conspiracy theory life? Treating you well?"
Anderson spluttered, tensing up. Tulip noticed immediately, raising her head curiously. It was the most interest she'd shown in him so far. Crowley swung himself around until he was sitting beside her, his lanky, folded-over frame dwarfing her by comparison.
"You haven't answered me, Phil," the demon said.
He twitched. "I'm well," he said, standing his ground better than Uriel had. "What are you doing here?"
"Search party, same as you," he said, rubbing his temples. Anderson eyed the curved talons on his fingertips... He was sure those were new.
"He found me," Tulip piped up.
Anderson hummed, feeling his hands begin to go numb from the cold. He shivered. "Right... sniffed you out, did he?" he said pointedly. Crowley didn't rise to it. He vaguely recalled his little vampire prank, but he was too tired for this shit.
He grunted. "Listen, if you've got nothing better to do than stand there spouting nonsense, go home," he snapped irritably. Tulip smirked, but hid it in the blanket.
Anderson didn't get a chance to respond. A hand appeared on his shoulder, making him jump, as Lestrade returned. Sherlock and John had come back, too. Anderson suddenly found himself looking around wildly, his eyes scanning for a familiar white coat and bow tie. Where was he lurking? His skin prickled, nervous he was being watched.
"Hey there, Tulip," Lestrade said, smiling tiredly.
His eyebrows shot up. "You're talking again?" he said. She nodded, and he looked inquisitively at Crowley, wondering how he'd brought her out of her shell.
He shrugged. "Don't look at me. It's her choice."
Tulip nodded firmly in agreement. Lestrade crouched down to her level, speaking softly. "Tulip, can you tell me why you ran from the hospital?"
She bit her lip, shuffling uncertainly. "Um... There were some people there," she said. She glanced at Crowley, wondering how much she ought to reveal.
"Go on, scamp, just tell him what happened," he said, patting her lightly on the back.
"Two," she said, looking back to Lestrade. "They were fighting. I think they wanted to hurt me, or - or I'm not sure. I didn't get a good look at them."
She had got a look, of course. Their faces, their scents, their voices; they would never leave her. But these were angels and demons, so what was Scotland Yard going to do? The way she saw things, she'd be safest if she stuck close to Crowley or Aziraphale. They seemed harmless for now. She reasoned with herself that she could stay with them, unless she began to suspect that they were out to get her too. It was a matter of survival. In the meantime, the less Scotland Yard knew, the better; she was worried for DI Lestrade. He'd been kind to her, and she'd never forgive herself if he got himself killed chasing after celestial monsters.
"And the night of the fire..." the DI continued. "Who was your care worker that night?"
She winced, shaking her head and looking away. "Dunno," she mumbled. It was another lie.
She felt Crowley's eyes on her, reading her like an open book. He knew she was lying. Maybe the DI did, too, but he couldn't say it. With a sigh, he got to his feet, a chill breeze making his coat flap around his legs. "Right," he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose and trying to gather his thoughts.
Sherlock cleared his throat, drawing attention. "What now?" he said. "She wasn't safe at the hospital."
Lestrade opened his mouth to speak, but Tulip cut him off. "I want to stay with him!" she cried, suddenly clutching Crowley's jacket. The demon jumped, taken aback.
"Er - look, kid - " he said, trying to gently pry her fingers off his clothes. He looked desperately at Lestrade, begging silently for help. "You can't just stay with - with whoever."
"Why not?" Tulip and Sherlock said, in petulant unison. They looked at one another, vaguely surprised.
At this moment, Aziraphale reappeared, weaving through the cars back to his husband's side. His pale clothes reflected back the eclectic colours of the night, painting him like a surrealist piece of art. "Did I hear a commotion over here?" he asked sweetly, giving Anderson a little wave (which was not returned).
"Tulip wants to stay with us, and we're just trying to explain why she can't," John said with a huff. He was always good at translating madness to those who had just arrived.
The angel looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well, why can't she?" he said, looking expectantly at Lestrade. He gaped for a moment, scraping together a coherent argument.
"Er - look, I think you're very trustworthy, Fell, but I can't just go giving vulnerable children to random, unguarded households," he said. Anderson nodded, crossing his arms and ignoring the intense glare he and his boss were getting from Tulip.
"We're not a random household!" he said, affronted, his mouth in a defined O shape. "Sherlock has a decorated career in criminal investigation, John and I are both rigorously combat-trained, and need I remind you, Crowley was a full-time professional nanny for several years!"
The demon ducked his head, scratching the back of his neck. Aziraphale's outburst had attracted attention from paramedics and police officers, and the whole 'professional nanny' thing really didn't gel with his aesthetic. He could already hear people snickering. Out of the two of them, you'd expect the combat versus childcare training to be the other way around. Tulip gave him a sidelong glance that was almost like a teasing sneer.
"I'm glad you find this funny," he muttered, giving her a light shove. She laughed quietly.
"My point is," Aziraphale continued, squaring up to Lestrade, who was looking increasingly more distressed see the docile old man so irate, "Between the four of us, we are more than capable of protecting and caring for this girl, at least until it is safe enough for her to return to her normal life."
Anderson shook his head to himself, smirking. There was no way Lestrade would agree to this. Scotland Yard 1; Vampires nil.
The DI sighed, staring up at the sky. God looked back, though he didn't know it, giving him a careless shrug. Finally, he looked back at the angel. "There'll be paperwork."
Aziraphale puffed out his chest slightly, a victorious smile forming. "Oh, I'm familiar, don't you worry," he said. He was very pleased with himself. Anderson gaped at them, heart sinking. That poor child... Did she have any idea what she was getting herself in for?
As they moved off, Crowley grabbed his elbow, making him freeze up. "Don't make this difficult for us, Anderson," he growled in his ear. His claws poked holes in his coat, drawing speckles of blood from the skin underneath. "No games this time."
He released Anderson, and prowled away to join the others. The human was shaking, from cold, fear and anger. Now, Crowley did say no more games, but say that we were playing a game, and say that we were keeping score... We might say Vampires 1; Scotland Yard nil.
Just beyond the island of red-and-blue lights, dark eyes drank in the scene. Rats hid beneath the dumpsters, scurrying away as the scent of rancid sewage washed over them. Hastur crouched low in the alley, peering around the corner. He saw the girl: Chew-lip, he thought her name was. He'd heard it. He liked that name. He stared at her, his dark eyes absorbing the light like black holes. He saw the traitors, and the way they guarded the child. He found Crowley hateful, but he had to admit, he was smart to have given himself over to the angel. He was very well-shielded. Hastur watched with interest as they gathered around Chew-lip, listening to the grey-haired human giving out the orders. How could two immortal beings allow themselves to be bossed around by those glorified apes? They were such funny, clumsy things, humans... They became so vulnerable, once you shook them up a bit.
There were not enough beds in 221B. Luckily, after some fussing and fretting from Aziraphale, Mrs Hudson offered to let them set up a camp bed in 221C.
"It's a basement room, I'm afraid, so there's a bit of damp," she said apologetically, bustling down to the door with a key. "I do have some pillows and blankets, if you'll be needing them..."
Aziraphale gave her a glowing smile. "I'm sure we'll manage, thank you, Martha," he said. He touched her shoulder gently as he stepped into the flat, quietly healing her arthritis and snuffing out the stomach upset brewing in her gut. She headed back upstairs with a noticeable extra spring in her step, which surprised her as much as it would Sherlock the next morning.
The angel glanced around the empty flat. There was damp and mould clustered around on the wallpaper, with scuffed floorboards and a flaking ceiling. He pouted. He looked over his shoulder, and eased the door closed. Turning back, he cracked his knuckles, gazing around thoughtfully at the apartment.
"This won't do," he said snobbishly, and got to work.
Upstairs, Tulip curled up in an armchair with an untouched mug of tea by her elbow. Crowley prowled back and forth in front of the windows, keeping watch of the street below. No movement flickered beneath the lamps. Only a light fog crawled sluggishly across the road as Autumn washed over London, sweeping away the last hints of summer. For now, they were safe.
"It was Mr Drew," Tulip eventually piped up. John lifted his head from his arm, his bloodshot eyes squinting slightly.
"Huh?" he said, exhaustion eroding his vocabulary.
"Mr Drew was the one in charge when the fire happened," she said. Across the room, she saw a malicious glint in Crowley's eyes.
"He locked the door, didn't he? Locked the kids in with the fire?" he guessed, suddenly halting. The claws on his hand were gone but, by the way he flexed his fingers, she could tell that he was itching to have them back.
She nodded slowly. "I think so," she looked at the carpet. "I tried to help them..."
"It wasn't your fault," Sherlock said. She jumped at the sound of his deep voice, not realising he had been stood behind her. He looked at John. "We should tell Lestrade about him in the morning."
"No," Crowley interrupted sharply. Tulip had been about to protest, too, but he beat her to it. He said his next words without thinking about it, demonic fury writhing in his gut like a pit of snakes. "Not a word to the police. He's mine."
Sherlock felt goosebumps break out on his skin. John tensed up, not daring to look behind him, where the demon loomed. "Yours?" Sherlock echoed.
Crowley curled his lip nastily, and turned away. He didn't deign to reply. The window framed his rigid silhouette in red light as dawn clawed its way over the horizon, setting London ablaze with fiery colours. Tulip curled tighter around herself. He might not want to hurt her, but there was no denying that he was dangerous. She'd seen too much for a young mind, and she knew what murder looked like. She could see it in his eyes, in his threatening stance, in the way he stood perfectly still while rage seethed across his skin, written like calligraphy on his body. Sherlock saw it, too. He backed up, heart clenched, retreating into the kitchen. His mind drifted back to his time abroad, dismantling Moriarty's web. He had thought that his mental image of Crowley had been dramatised, just an overplayed paranoia of not doing enough to save himself... Now, it seemed as if the very monster he'd always feared was stood in the living room, coiled to strike.
Half an hour passed. Crowley eventually moved from the window, settling on a chair and waiting. He began messing around on his phone to pass the time, and crush the restless anger still crying out for revenge within him. He opened his favourite app, which was a candy crush bootleg. The only downside was that, in his distracted state of mind, he kept mistakenly tapping on the adverts. He cursed himself for inventing ad revenue.
By the time Aziraphale poked his head in, chipper as ever, the atmosphere was slightly easier. John and Tulip had fallen asleep on the armchairs, and Sherlock was upstairs, checking on Rosie. It was still early morning.
"The flat's ready, dear," he said quietly.
"Took you long enough," he said, putting his phone away.
Aziraphale crept over to Tulip, ever-so-carefully lifting her into his arms. She began to stir, her eyelids flickering. "Hush, dear," the angel said, in a voice as soft as a harp-string. "Have peaceful dreams."
Tulip may have been a fighter, but her subconscious mind was not. She quickly fell back asleep, her head falling to rest against Aziraphale's chest. Crowley led the way down into 221C, holding doors open for them as he went. The demon blinked in surprise. The basement flat did not look quite the same as he remembered.
The mould had been the first thing to go; one small miracle would be enough to keep the damp out, even hundreds of years after the building crumbled down on top of it. He didn't want Tulip getting sick. The cracks in the ceiling plaster had healed over, gleaming as if freshly painted. The rooms were now fully furnished: plush upholstered chairs were stationed around a varnished oak table, laden bookshelves, lush potted plants, luxurious beds in the adjoining bedrooms, and a Persian rug, all finished off with a few pieces of tasteful art dotted around. He had left the scratches on the floor. They added character.
Crowley turned to him, raising an eyebrow. "Really?"
"What?" Aziraphale said defensively, walking past him toward the single bedroom. "I have standards."
The demon huffed. "You missed something," he said, and snapped his fingers. A wifi router appeared in the corner.
Aziraphale set Tulip down gently on the bed. The mattress dipped only slightly beneath her weight. The angel scowled; she didn't eat enough. Once she woke up, she'd have the best breakfast of her life, he promised himself that much. She deserved to be spoilt, after all she'd been through, and the principlality was an expert in the finer things in life.
He arranged the blankets over her, and snapped his fingers to remove the pieces of gravel and dirt that clung to her skin here and there. He hesitated for a moment before he left. Her hair had turned so dry and brittle from stress, and no doubt she hadn't had the time or energy to look after herself properly. As an afterthought, he touched the edge of her hairline gently, restoring her afro to a well-kept, healthy state. He stared forlornly at the savage burns curling over her jawline, and the bandages on her arms. He healed the raw wounds beneath them, but he could not fix the scars.
"Done, angel?" Crowley asked quietly, leaning against the doorframe.
"Just about," he said, joining him in the hall. He looked at the poor girl, sleeping soundly in a bed more comfortable than she had ever seen before, though he wasn't to know that. "What an awful lot she's drawn in life..."
"All in the ineffable plan," the demon said, surly and embittered. For once, Aziraphale didn't argue.
Sherlock came down into the living room of 221B. Tulip was gone, probably in the basement flat, and John sat alone in the armchair. The detective lingered at the foot of the stairwell, hardly awake and weakened with stress. Their run-in with Hastur had given him a reality check. He'd been reluctant to leave Rosie's side, having felt so comforted by the sight of her sleeping peacefully. She sometimes told him about her dreams. With hindsight, he wondered if her more abstract dreams - the ones about a scream with no source, and a pitch black hole in the sky - were anything to do with her magical gift. As a parent, he felt totally out of his depth.
He took a blanket off the sofa, going over to John. He draped it over him, checking him over for any scratches or scrapes on his face. Careful not to wake him, he began to gently stroke his hair, hoping that he was having restful dreams. John stirred. He panicked for a moment. John leaned toward him, resting his head against Sherlock's chest as it rose and fell in a steady rhythm.
"You should be in bed," John mumbled half-heartedly, his medical degree coming back to him.
"Hypocrite," he relied dryly, continuing to stroke his hair. Moments like this came naturally to them, when they were alone. While it was just the two of them, things were uncomplicated and - dare he say it - domestic.
"Rosie...?" he said.
"She's fine," he said. There was a long pause.
"You're still thinking about Crowley, aren't you?" John guessed, putting his hand on Sherlock's other arm. He nodded, with an affirmative hum. "Bring it up to Aziraphale, next time you see him. He's got Crowley wrapped around his little finger, he'll not do anything if Aziraphale tells him not to."
"Bit of a dirty trick, making his husband start cracking the whip," he said, with a hint of amusement to take the edge off his nerves.
"Since when have you ever cared about playing fair?" he scoffed. He pushed himself back, out of Sherlock's grip to look at him properly. His eyes held sympathy, respect and all the hallmarks of a finely aged love. "We will get through this, Sherlock. We always do, together."
He managed to summon up a smile from beneath a thick layer of fatigue. "Together," he said, wishing he had the courage to reach for his hand.
Aziraphale headed upstairs to 221B as soon as he sensed someone awake. It was Sherlock. The detective was pouring out a coffee, rubbing his eyes. Judging by the pinkish marks on his forehead, he had fallen asleep on the table. He was adept at working while sleep-deprived, however, and he was coping just fine. Ish.
"Good morning, Sherlock," the angel said.
"Morning," he replied, voice gravelly. His intelligent gaze flicked up and down Aziraphale: perfect posture, slightly tense, hands behind his back, fidgeting slightly... "You want to tell me something."
He pouted a little. "I do wish you wouldn't deduce everything all the time, dear," he said. Sherlock shrugged, nonplussed. He'd heard that before, in many less polite ways. "But you are correct. I've been doing some thinking."
"Is it about Crowley?" he said quickly. He anchored himself by leaning back against the kitchen counter.
He frowned. "No. Ought to I have done?"
"He... Last night, Tulip gave us the name of the caregiver who started the last fire," he said, staring into his mug. The warmth in his hands provided a small comfort. "He was furious."
"Ah. Yes, he can be somewhat frightening if he's a bit miffed," he said airily. Sherlock looked up in surprise at his blasé tone. "It's nothing to worry about. Extreme violence really isn't his thing."
"But he's a - a - ," he said, but couldn't quite force the words out. It still, even now, felt too ridiculous to say out loud.
"Yes," Aziraphale said patiently, understanding his meaning. "But he's not a very good one. You would need to push Crowley completely over the edge before he'd be prepared to seriously hurt anyone, especially a human. He's all bark and no bite, so to speak."
He let out a breathy laugh. "I don't think he'd appreciate you telling me that."
"Perhaps not, but what's he going to do about it?" he said, rolling his eyes fondly. "Now, I did have something I needed to discuss..."
"Go on, I'm listening," he said, refilling his mug with more coffee. Under his sleeve, his arm was plastered with nicotine patches, though he had well and truly given up on smoking ever since Rosie first came home.
"Crowley and I have been talking, and we've decided that we ought to arm ourselves," he said. That caught his attention immediately. "Our old head offices are supremely powerful. If we must face them again, we need to be able to protect ourselves."
"Did you have something in mind?" he said, curious about where this was going. Granted, this whole conversation was likely to end up in his Mind Palace's spooky basement, but it was fascinating nonetheless.
"Yes, but I shall need you to come with me while I fetch it," he said. "Crowley is tough, but John is the soldier. I'd like to leave him here to keep guard while I'm gone."
Sherlock nodded, slurping his drink. "Hm, that's fair," he said. His mind flashed back to Hastur advancing on them in that alley, to his rotting stink, to those awful black eyes that were so unlike the warm, friendly yellow of Crowley's. He mentally dropped his whole weight on top of the hatch of his mind basement, forcing it closed. He added a sturdy padlock, just to be sure. He didn't want anything getting out of there...
Sherlock went with Aziraphale, leaving a note on the table for John. They took a cab, and miraculously failed to encounter any traffic all the way through London. He wondered what on earth Aziraphale might be going to get; something that could kill an angel, or demon. It must be powerful. Perhaps it would be some sort of magic bullet, or even something after the fashion of an explosive.
The international express headquarters was a dingy, badly kept corner building, with a faded sign and graffiti over the glass window. It was designed to be unappealing. Heaven had been worried that its outsourced work would be lost among human parcels, so they had effectively tanked the whole company just to be safe. It was overkill, but it was also not Aziraphale's department, and therefore not his problem. There was a delivery man stood behind the desk, flicking through a clipboard, a phone held to his ear.
"Yes. Yes, Maude, I - oh, I have to go," he said, catching sight of the two men who had just come in. ""Yep. Yeah, love you too. See you at home. Bye. Bye, bye, bye..."
Aziraphale smiled, laying his hands on the desk, and immediately removing them again when he discovered that it was sticky. He did his best not to pull a face. "Hello there," he said. "I'm here to make a withdrawal. I believe you have something of mine, in storage."
The delivery man tapped his chin thoughtfully. There were only 3 items in storage. "Hm..." he said, looking at the ancient 90s computer monitor on the desk. He tapped a few keys. The computer made a noise that built in volume, like a rocket ship about to take off through the roof. "Name, sir?"
"Aziraphale," he said. He pulled a thoughtful face. "Or perhaps it's under AZ Fell. I'm not certain."
He hummed some more. He tapped some keys. Sherlock had strayed to the edge of the room, looking at the faded sepia newspaper clipping on the walls. They were very odd. Reports of wars breaking out all the way back in the early 18th century, famines in third world countries, massacres in the east, and outbreaks of disease across Europe. They all stopped abruptly a few years ago, and every article after that was centred around hot summers, conspiracy theories and Top 10 Playground Games For Kids. He turned sharply at the chime of a computer error noise.
"Sorry, gov. I haven't got anything under that name," the man said. He gave a shining customer service smile.
Aziraphale's face fell. "What? That can't be right," he said. "The weapon, it was the weapon, not the crown or scales. Are you sure you have it right?"
He looked back at the screen. "I'm looking at it right here, sir," he said. "You're not on my list. The only people authorised to take out that item are War, God, Death, and something called a... Principality, brackets: eastern gate."
Sherlock gaped at the back of Aziraphale's head. What the hell kind of weapon was he trying to get his hands on, that three eldritch primordial forces were also entitled to have? He was no expert, but it was starting to sound like the equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
"Ah, yes, that's me! Aziraphale, Principality of the Eastern Gate of the Garden of Eden," he said, his shoulders sagging down in relief.
"Eastern Gate of what now?" Sherlock exclaimed, eyes nearly bugging out of his head.
Aziraphale gave him an apologetic smile over his shoulder. "Did I never mention?" he said innocently, with hint of snideness. "I was rather important, in my day."
Sherlock looked him up and down, at the soft and plump body he inhabited, and the unassuming clothes that didn't scream 'warrior' any more than Crowley's screamed 'nanny'. The delivery man disappeared into the back, returning with a long box, wrapped in brown paper.
"Kept nice and safe for you, sir," he said, handing it over. "It's been missing you, I think."
Aziraphale ran his hand lovingly over the cardboard. "Yes, I expect it has," he murmured. He shook himself, giving the man a smile and a polite thank-you, leaving the shop with the package tucked under his arm.
Tulip picked at breakfast, eating only because Crowley insisted. She asked where Aziraphale had gone.
"Out," he replied cryptically.
She insisted that they go upstairs after that. She wanted to move around, stretch her legs... and have a decent view of the street. She wanted to be ready to bolt, in case anything came for her. Crowley saw the way she glanced back and forth, jumping at every creaking floorboard. He knew the feeling. She was hunted, and she knew it. He hoped that when Aziraphale returned, she'd feel safer.
John was trying to convince Rosie that food was better if you ate it, rather than threw it on the floor. He gave Crowley a tired wave, and said good morning to Tulip. Rosie ducked under his arm, nimbly avoiding his attempts to catch her, and ran up to Tulip. The older girl jumped, tensing up and grabbing Crowley's sleeve.
"Hi!" Rosie cried, beaming at her.
"Hi," Tulip said, reminded of some of the younger girls back at the orphanage. She let go of Crowley, relaxing after the slight shock.
"Rosie, sweetie, leave her alone," John said, trying to pull his daughter back. "It's early, she might not want to talk yet."
"Shiny!" Rosie protested, struggling against her father as he picked her up. She pointed a finger at Tulip. "Like Blue!"
Crowley's brow furrowed. "Wait," he interrupted, though John was trying to calm her down. Blue was Rosie's nickname for Aziraphale. He stepped forward. "Rosie, what do you mean?"
She gazed at him with wide eyes. She wasn't sure how to express it. When she looked at this new girl, she saw a shimmering gold aura that rippled and glowed, just like Aziraphale's blue one did. Crowley, growing impatient, grabbed a sheet of paper and some crayons from the floor, slamming them down on the table.
"Draw what you see, Rosie," he said, pointing to the drawing of his and Aziraphale's auras that were pinned to the wall. "Just like that."
Tulip looked between them all, palms clammy as she tried to keep up with what was happening. John tentatively let his daughter down, and they all gathered around as she scribbled out the shapes and colours she saw. She used a metallic gold crayon, and added in all the silver feathers that swirled around in Tulip's aura, too. When she was done, she handed it proudly up to Crowley. He took it, staring hard at the crude image. He hummed, twitched, and left the room without a word.
Tulip's eyes followed him. The door slammed shut behind him. "What was that?" she asked, turning desperately to John. "What's going on?"
He sighed heavily. "You know as much as I do," he said, signing and massaging his temples. "How about we watch some telly and forget about it for a bit?"
Downstairs, Crowley paced furiously back and forth across the living room of 221C. His phone rang, and he silently begged Sherlock to pick up. Aziraphale never carried a mobile phone, despite Crowley's cajoling, because he 'didn't trust them'. In reality, he suspected it was because Aziraphale knew full well he'd hardly leave the house again if he got access to a takeaway app and Amazon books.
"Hello?" Sherlock said.
"Hand the phone to Aziraphale," he demanded.
"Sherlock, you don't hand the phone over, I swear I'll reach through this phone line and poke you in the eye," he threatened. There was a brief silence.
"... I'm curious if you can actually do that."
In the back of a black cab halfway into central London, Sherlock smirked to himself. Crowley was all bluster, like Aziraphale had reassured him this morning. He was bluffing. He glanced at Aziraphale, who stared longingly at the quiet bakeries that rushed by on the other side of the glass. Something poked Sherlock's cheek. He jumped, pulling his phone away from his ear.
"Argh!" he shrieked, throwing the phone into the footwell instinctively.
The sound of Crowley's faint raucous laughter drifted up from the floor. Half a hand was poking out of the receiver, moving around like a cartoonish depiction of a worm poking out of an apple. Aziraphale finally looked over. "Ah," he said, shaking his head with a smile. "Caught you out with that old trick, did he?"
Sherlock stared between the angel and the demon's hand, breathing ragged. "I hate you two," he muttered under his breath, his nails digging into the upholstery.
Crowley's hand flipped him off from the footwell. Aziraphale rolled his eyes, picking up the phone and flicking the hand. "Away with you, fiend," he said. The fingers withdrew back into the phone, and Aziraphale held it to his ear. "Were you calling for a reason, dear, or just to frighten poor Sherlock?"
"Yeah, there was a reason," he said, growing slightly more somber again. "Rosie just got a look at Tulip's aura."
"Looks like we've got a nephilim on our hands, angel," he said.
He paled. "Bugger."
Mycroft kept a hawk-like watch on 221B. Irritatingly, he had nothing in 221C, which seemed to be where Crowley had vanished to. John was trying to keep a smile on his face, and the girls happy. Rosie seemed in good spirits, but Tulip seemed troubled. She kept looking from the window, to the door, and back again.
Anderson had told him about the manhunt, and that the child had been taken back to the flat. He was calling it the 'vampire's nest', or the 'lair', but Mycroft drew the line there. He was starting to grow accustomed to these things, and these people he couldn't explain, but he wasn't completely mad just yet.
"You know what I think?" Anderson said, shrugging off his coat and hanging it by the door of his office. He had just got in.
Mycroft let out a long, pained sigh, rubbing his temples. "What?"
"They're building a coven," he said, wagging his finger knowingly as he approached the desk. "Think about it. John, Sherlock, Rosie, and now Tulip... They're bringing more and more into the fold every day."
He fixed him with a hard, incredulous stare. "They entered a pre-existing household, then added one additional member," he pointed out dryly, folding his hands over his knee with a sour smile. "It's hardly a new member every day, is it?"
Anderson scowled, pacing back and forth, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Then... if it isn't a coven...?" he said. He snapped his fingers, having a lightbulb moment. "It's a food store!"
Mycroft was very, very close to calling security on him. Instead, he leaned across to the intercom. "Send some paracetamol up, Anthea," he said, feeling a headache beginning to develop. Slowly, he turned back to his irritating assistant. "Explain."
"They're gathering together a live food store, like cattle," he said, gesticulating wildly as a manic smile spread over his face.
"Aside from the fact that we have not once seen them feed," he said, gesturing to his monitor. "Nor are there any wounds where one might expect."
"The throat's not the only place it could be," he muttered under his breath. Mycroft winced at the implication. "What do you suggest we do, then? What's your bright idea?"
"Direct action, Phillip," he said, standing up to straighten out his jacket as Anthea eased open the door with a tray in hand. "Direct action."
Everyone was called down into 221C for a team meeting, upon Aziraphale's insistence. Now there was a space whose interior design suited him, he preferred to do all his thinking down here. It reminded him of home, in the South Downs. The thought sent a pang through him. He felt terribly homesick; he missed his books, and his bed, and even his petty squabbles with the parish council. It was much simpler down there.
He cleared his throat, looking around at the assembled faces. Crowley was in the hall, trying to get hold of Sister Loquacious. The cosmic eclipse was drawing close, and she needed all the help she could get. If there was a nephilim in the picture, it could change everything.
"Now, er, thanks to Rosie's abilities," he said, gesturing to the little girl, who beamed and waved at the sound of her name, "I believe we might finally have some answers."
"About me?" Tulip said quietly. She subconsciously leaned closer to Sherlock, who fixed her with a mildly surprised glance out the corner of his eye.
"Yes," he said. He took a deep breath. "We believe that you are a nephilim."
Blank faces stared back. His eyes darted between them, looking for any sign of comprehension. John glanced at the other two, then at the angel. "And that means... what, exactly?"
"A nephilim is - ah, well, it is... erm..." he said, a flustered blush creeping onto his cheeks. He stared at the ceiling, wringing his hands together as he tried to overcome his embarrassment. He wished Crowley were here instead. "The product of - of a union, one might say, between a human and an angel."
"She's half-angel?" Sherlock surmised. Tulip's jaw went slack.
He nodded uncomfortably. "You'll have to forgive my discomfort," he said, shooting her a nervous, apologetic smile. "Where I’m from, this is very taboo."
"What do you mean?" John asked, frowning. He'd never known Aziraphale to be especially prudish, at least not any more than normal. Frankly, he could be quite vulgar, especially while drunk (and definitely if Crowley was around).
"Angels... reproducing," he said with a wince. "Especially with humans."
"You married a demon, though," Tulip said sharply, crossing her arms. "Isn't that worse?"
He thought about it for a moment. "I wouldn't say so. We are least originally from the same species," he said defensively. "When it comes to nephilims, well... Heaven usually exterminates them in infancy."
Tulip shuddered, and Sherlock hesitantly patted her in the back. "Why not this time?" John asked quietly, as if he was hoping the question might go unnoticed.
"Well, the world was scheduled to end around five years ago. I suppose they thought it wouldn't matter if things got a bit lax," he said with a shrug.
John stared. Sherlock looked up sharply. There rhythmic ticking of a grandfather clock kept time like a metronome, punctuating the tense silence. Aziraphale tilted his head slightly, as if confused by their reactions. Then, he realised what he'd said.
"The world... was supposed to end?" Sherlock said slowly. He was seriously considering putting an extension on his mind palace basement.
"We stopped it. Crowley and I," he said, moving nervously around the room. He put on his best smile, though it quickly fell as he saw their stricken faces. "It's rather why I was locked out of head office. Likewise for him, I'm afraid."
John hugged Rosie close to him, cradling her gently. If the world had ended, she would never have existed. Sherlock would never have died. He'd never have met Mary. He himself would be gone, lost to an unknown afterlife as heaven and hell emptied their armies onto the earth. He felt a surge of gratefulness in his chest, and he stared up at the angel with a new kind of admiration.
"Um... Thanks," he said dumbly. He made a mental note to say the same to Crowley.
"My pleasure," he said, smiling in relief. He was half-expecting another mental breakdown (which Sherlock was on the verge of, but not quite there yet), and was glad to have avoided it.
Tulip stared at the floor for a moment. She took a deep breath, then looked back up at him with a slight squint. "Does that mean we're the same, sort of?" she said.
He tilted his head. "The same?"
"You're an angel," she said. She glanced down at her hands, suddenly going quiet, wondering if he was going to laugh at her for this. "I'm half-angel."
He simply hummed, clasping his hands under his chest. "Well... in that sense, yes, we are very similar," he said. There was a spark of surprise in her eye, and a hint of relief that he hadn't jeered at her.
Sherlock cleared his throat, drawing some attention. "I can't be the only one wondering," he said, shooting a sidelong glance at John, "Who her parents are?"
"Good question," Aziraphale said. Without warning, he leaned forward, brushing his fingertips over Tulip's temples. There was a spark, and he drew back looking vaguely surprised. "Well, that is a turn up for the books."
"What?" Tulip said, clutching the side of her head. It stung slightly, but it was quickly fading.
"You are Uriel's child," he said. He missed the look of shock and abject horror on her face, and continued rambling absent-mindedly. "I would never have guessed. They always seemed very right and proper. Then again, they always were a little too curious about human women for my liking. I do hope they were at least gentle..."
"Uriel tried to kill me," she whispered hoarsely. Aziraphale choked on his next words, and there was a sharp intake of breath from John.
"Oh... you poor child," Aziraphale cooed, his fingers pressed delicately over his mouth in shock.
Tulip hardly had time to register what was happening before she was wrapped in his arms, being settled into an armchair. Perched in his lap, she shivered, unfamiliar with the affection. It took only a moment before she was overwhelmed with emotion, and pressed herself into his chest with tears streaming down her face. Aziraphale held her close, sharing a forlorn glance with John and Sherlock. Quietly, John stood up, taking Rosie back upstairs to give them some peace. Sherlock followed. He heard them outside the door, briefly explaining everything to Crowley. He sighed, stroking Tulip's hair. There was a rustling noise, and his wings unfurled, encasing her in a warm cocoon of heavenly love. Tulip sniffled, lifting her head, feeling the change in the air.
She gaped at the wings arching over her, folding themselves neatly across the armchair. With a small, uncertain glance at Aziraphale, who merely smiled benevolently, she reached out to lay her hand on the white feathers. They were soft against her hand, radiating an energy which felt almost familiar. She had always felt a little different; sensing things the other children didn't, knowing when a toy was especially loved, seeing whether a grown-up was safe and good, or dangerous. Here, with another ethereal being just like her, she finally felt like she wasn’t alone.
"I'm sorry I screamed at you," she murmured weakly, curling up into a foetal position. "In the hospital."
He hummed, almost amused. "Not to worry, dear," he said. "I forgive you."
Crowley listened to the sound of rustling pages as Sister Loquacious searched through her papers. He could hear the murmur of Aziraphale's voice through the door of 221C, giving comforting words to the traumatised nephilim. In the basement corridor, everything seemed muted and grey. The wallpaper was faded, peeling, and the musty smell coming up from the floorboards tickled his nose. It vaguely reminded him of Hell, only here he was allowed to lick the walls. He didn't, but he could.
"Cosmic eclipse, Grimoire of Astronomy, item three..." the nun mumbled, flicking through some parchment on the other end of the line. Crowley huffed, checking his watch.
"Hurry it up, sister," he said.
"Yessir," she said, and the sound of shuffling paper sped up. Crowley cringed, almost feeling as if he should apologise as he recalled that technically, she had no choice but to obey him now. "Aha! Here... Yes, there are some mentions of nephilims on this page."
"And? What does it say?" he pressed, taking care not give a direct order again. He wasn't one for abusing power, unless you counted the way he treated his houseplants.
"Sorry, Master Crowley, I don't speak very much Latin," she said apologetically. "I can drop it off today, sir, if you'd like. I can be in London within three hours."
He listened to the rasp in her voice, the way it wavered, and frowned. "How much sleep have you had this week, sister?"
"Erm..." she said. "Enough?"
He sighed. "Tell me the truth," he ordered.
"No more than three hours a night," she admitted. "I've been doing my best to fulfill our contract, and do what you tell me to do."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay, new plan. You catch up on your sleep for today, and drop off the book tonight. That's an order," he said. "You're no good to me if you're dead."
"But then you'll get my soul," she said, slightly baffled.
"Shut up and get some sleep," he snapped, and she hastily did as she was told.
In a house, nestled amongst a warren of alleys and apartment blocks, Albert Drew peered out through his curtains. He was Al, or Albie, to his friends. He didn't have many of those anymore. He'd been down on his luck for months, with only his faith to keep him company. Financial troubles had made him short-tempered, estranged his girlfriend, and make him unpleasant at work.
The kids weren't as annoying as he made out, though. He did feel a little bad about locking that door, knowing he was about to go down and light up the kitchen in streamers. The angel had promised he wouldn't be hurt by the blaze, and that no one would ever know it was him, provided he kept his head down. He'd been told it was Heaven's work. He had a hard time believing it, having worked with some of the little ones for most of their lives. They were good kids. They could be a little rough around the edges perhaps, but with some decent futures ahead of them. One of the girls said she wanted to be a doctor; the ones at the hospital hadn't been able to save her, though. They hadn't really deserved it, he knew that... But who was he to argue with the archangel Gabriel?
He'd been having nightmares about those purple eyes. They were cold, dark, and untouched by the bright corporate smile plastered over his face. He'd was afraid he'd been tricked... But no one came for him. The police didn't even contact him. It was like they had simply forgotten all about him. He paced around his dim flat. Some of his bulbs had blown out, and he didn't have the cash to replace them. The carpet scratched against his bare feet. He'd asked the angel some questions before he accepted his mission. He'd rolled his eyes, and checked his watch as if he had somewhere to be, before allowing him to ask three, but no more.
First, he'd asked if he would go to Heaven. Gabriel had blown out a long breath, shrugged and said "Sure, if you're virtuous, kind, and follow the will of the Almighty."
He guessed that was the best answer he was going to get. Next, he tried a different approach. He had his next two questions laid out in his head already. "Why do the children have to die?" he'd asked.
He'd given a greasy smile. "One of them is an abomination," he had said, prowling slowly around the edges of the room, running a finger through the dust and eyeing it with obvious disdain. "The child will be used by the forces of Hell for a dark ritual, which must be stopped."
"Hell?" he had cried, tripping over his own feet as he stumbled backwards into his kitchen worktop. "Do you mean - demons? Are demons real?"
He gave a wry smile, one hand in his pocket as he appraised him. "Yes, demons are real," he said. "They are foul, twisted creatures, cursed with beastial features and an insatiable lust for evil. They walk among you, and you might never know they're there."
Al looked at the floor, wide-eyed. He lifted his head back with some difficulty, remembering that he still had one last question to ask. "Which child is it?" he asked, wondering if he might be able to save the others.
"Oh, no, you've used your three questions," Gabriel said smugly. "No more."
It took him a moment to process his words. Once he did, he blanched. Shit. He'd not even thought twice when he asked about demons, and the archangel seemed impatient already. In the end, he really had no choice but to give in. He burned the orphanage. There were next to no survivors, and Gabriel never returned, so he guessed he must have done it right... He was wrong, of course. Tulip was currently swaddled in angel wings, while a demon gnashed his teeth for revenge.
Gabriel is finally on the scene. Things are picking up...
Lestrade stopped by Baker Street to check in on Tulip. All the paperwork was in order, but he ought to keep on top of things. Sherlock had a habit of over-complicating things, and Aziraphale could be very stuck in his own head sometimes. John was often busy with Rosie so, oddly, Lestrade found that most of his faith lay with Crowley. He had been a nanny, after all.
He was also the oldest of them all. Seventy was a grand old age. That meant he'd have been born in the 1950s, or even the late forties. He snickered to himself as he knocked on the door, imagining an old-fashioned Mary Poppins type figure (and he wasn't completely wrong). It still baffled his brain, thinking of the suave, modern Mr Crowley as an old man.
Aziraphale let him in. "Ah, Detective Inspector," he said, stepping aside. "What a lovely surprise. Do come in."
He thanked him, trailing him down toward the basement in surprise. He glanced at the stairs as they passed them by. "Isn't Tulip upstairs?"
"Mrs Hudson was kind enough to let us lodge in the spare flat," he said, easing open the door and dropping his voice low. "Though do be quiet, Tulip's had an early night. The stress is catching up to her now."
He nodded in understanding. His eyebrows shot up when he saw the decor in the basement flat. Last time he'd been here, it had been for the serial suicide bombing case, and it had been a damp, unloved, decrepit cluster of rooms with poor lighting and a mouldy smell. Mrs Hudson must have really turned it around because now, frankly, it looked more inviting than 221B. He tried to focus on business, but he quickly found himself sat down in a plush armchair with a warm drink in his hands, and his feet up on a red leather footstool. He felt himself relaxing. He'd clocked out for the day already, after all, so why not? It had been his choice to check on Tulip, and she was already tucked in bed.
He chatted quietly with Aziraphale, then noticed a long box on the table beside the angel's chair. "What's that?" he asked, gesturing while he sipped from his teacup. The package was wrapped in brown paper, stamped a few times with various important-looking stamps, the largest of which said RESTRICTED ACCESS in thick black letters.
"It's - it's nothing," he said, flashing a smile and hastily throwing a doily over the top of the box. "An heirloom of sorts."
"It's big," he commented, internally groaning as he knew he'd stumbled across another one of those strange questions that Aziraphale was never going give him a straight answer for.
"That's just the wrapping," he said, and quickly looked around the room for a change of topic. Lestrade was becoming quite familiar with his evasive expressions. Just at that moment, Crowley came in, tucking his phone into his pocket.
"Hey, angel," he said, and nodded at the DI. "Greg."
"Hi," he said. The demon leaned on the back of Aziraphale's chair, resting his hip. Lestrade remembered Crowley's age, and thought of the odd way he walked. Was it arthritis, maybe? Joint pain? He hesitated for a moment before asking: "Uh... do you need to sit down? I can move."
Crowley quirked a brow. "I'm all right, thanks," he said, with a quizzical tilt of his head.
Lestrade nodded, settling back into his chair. Aziraphale avoided eye contact with anyone, focusing very intently on his tea. He had a horrible feeling that Crowley would eventually notice how Greg was treating him, and possibly even put two and two together... which would land the blame squarely on the angel's shoulders. Lestrade finally worked up the nerve to break the silence, restarting the idle small talk.
All the while, he couldn't help but let his eyes linger on Crowley, scanning him for any sign of wrinkled skin, grey hairs poking through the red, or any of the other frailties that came with age. He didn't look a day over fifty. Even his turn of phrase was modern, with a drawl and lax nature to it that spoke of an easy confidence in his own skin. At least with Aziraphale, he acted his age. His white hair aged him, certainly; what's more, his clothes and his way of speaking were as antiquated as each other. If he'd been pressed, at face value, he'd have called Crowley a sort of mature toy boy for his older husband.
Crowley's attention had begun to drift. His keen hearing tuned in to the next room, where he ought to have heard the even, steady breathing of a sleeping child. Instead, he heard sharp breaths and muffled sobs. His brow furrowed. He discreetly scratched his nose, covering up the way his serpentine tongue flickered out to taste the air. He tasted salt. Tulip was definitely crying. He reached down, idly touching his husband's shoulder and muttering something about checking on the little one.
He eased Tulip's bedroom door open, watching the sliver of golden light cut through the shadows. The sound abruptly stopped. She fell still, but not with sleep; she had tensed up, desperately pretending to be asleep. He sighed, easing into the room. His yellow eyes were not tricked by the dark, giving off a faint luminescence as he made his way toward her bed. As he sat, his weight dipped the mattress, but she didn't move. He pulled the quilt down from around her face, seeing the dampness of her cheeks despite the pervasive darkness.
"I know you're awake, kid," he said quietly.
She tentatively cracked open her eyes. They were reddened, and her pupils blown wide in the pitch blackness. She could see only a vague silhouette of the demon on the end of her bed. To any other child, that sentence would have been a nightmare come true. To her, it was a strange relief.
"What's wrong?" he asked quietly. His night vision painted the scene in vivid clarity, all the way down to the painful-looking burns crawling up the side of Tulip's face. She was so small, so delicate... so frighteningly mortal, in his eyes.
She fiddled with the edge of her quilt. "Nothing."
"Funnily enough, I don't believe you," he said, leaning back to rest on his palms. "I can get Aziraphale, if you want to talk angel to angel. I know you prefer him."
"No, I... It's not that," she said, sitting up slightly. "You're all right, too."
"Charming," he said, but there was a smile in his voice. "You're not bad either, considering you bit me when we first met."
"I screamed at Aziraphale, too," she said, and they shared a quiet chuckle.
"Well, he is terrifying. Only a dangerous psychopath would wear that much tartan," he joked. She smiled, resting against the headboard, but he could tell that something was still bothering her. "So come on, you can tell me. What's up?"
"It's stupid," she said, rubbing her arm and looking away.
"I've done some pretty stupid things over the centuries, trust me. I'm seven thousand years old," he said, jabbing a thumb at his chest, though the gesture was slightly lost in the dark. "You think you can out-stupid me?"
His challenge made a smile creep onto her face, the kind you couldn't really suppress. "Depends what you've done," she said stubbornly, crossing her arms.
"All right..." he said thoughtfully, stroking his chin for a moment. "I once crawled up a seven thousand foot stone wall, with no limbs, just to flirt with an angel immediately after ruining paradise."
She rolled her eyes, unable to help herself. "Was that Aziraphale?"
"Yeah," he said, grinning.
"That's not stupid, that's just soppy," she said, her eyes twinkling with mischief. He gasped, pretending to be offended, while secretly pleased that she had a smile back on her face. "Try again."
"Fine... Well, I spent over two hundred years making life in London unbearably difficult. There were constant traffic jams on the M25, coins glued to the pavements, phone lines collapsing, constant rainy days," he said proudly, watching her mounting confusion. He smirked. "What I forgot about, in my enthusiasm... is that I also lived in London."
She let out an ugly snort of laughter, descending into a fit of giggles. "Okay, that's stupid," she admitted finally. She shook her head, her happy expression slipping slightly. "Guess it's my turn..."
"You don't have to - "
"I lost my teddy bear," she said, almost silently. He blinked in surprise. "I known I'm too old for it, but - but it was the only thing my mother ever left me. It was with me in the box I was delivered in."
He hummed pensively. In his jacket's interior pocket, there was a weight that had grown so familiar he'd almost forgotten about it. Now he remembered, a vaguely smokey smell hit his nose. Slowly, he reached inside his jacket, taking out the teddy bear he'd picked from the floor of the orphanage. Its fur was stiff with age and wear, and the fire had done damage. Despite it all, the bear was still holding together. It stood strong. It was very much like Tulip herself, in that way.
"It wasn't this one, was it?" he asked tentatively, holding out the bear.
Tulip snatched it from his hand, a taking a sharp breath. Her eyes widened, straining against the dark to see her beloved toy. "It is!" she cried, clutching it close to her heart. Her relief was almost palpable.
He smiled softly, preparing to stand. "Good. Now get some sleep, Tu - ngk!"
Tulip had thrown herself across the bed, clinging to Crowley's chest in one of the tightest hugs he'd ever received. It was lucky he didn't need to breathe, or her death grip might have winded him. He gave a nervous laugh, gently returning the hug. He tilted his head, bringing his ear closer so he could hear whatever she was mumbling into his shirt.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you so much," she said, repeating the words breathlessly over and over again as if she couldn't stop.
He stroked her hair comfortingly, waiting for her to calm down. Warlock used to do this now and then, after a particularly nasty nightmare. By the time her rambling had subsided, which did not take as long as it seemed to, she had grown tired again. The tumultuous emotions of the last few days had drained her entirely. She peeled herself off the demon, rubbing her eyes and apologising.
"It's fine, kid," he said, pulling the sheets back over her as she settled back down. She cradled the bear close to her chest like a lifeline.
Completely without thinking, he leaned down and pressed a light kiss to the top of her head. He only really realised what he'd done by the time he turned around to leave, and by that point it was too late. He just kept walking, kicking himself. He'd gone soft in his retirement. Aziraphale had better not find out, or he'd never hear the end of it...
"Night, Tulip," he said, opening the bedroom door with a glance over his shoulder. She was already half-asleep, her mind sliding away from the conscious world as easily as water off a duck's back. She gave an indistinct noise, her mind muddled with fatigue.
"Night, dad," she murmured hazily.
He froze. He swallowed thickly, his yellow eyes stretched wide while his hand lingered on the doorknob. Dad. She'd called him dad... Deep in his chest, hidden in a cavity where a father's love ought to have been, something cracked in two. It might have been his heart. He clenched his jaw tightly, and stepped out into the hallway, closing the door softly behind him. He rested his forehead against it, a tremor running down into his hands. He scrunched his face up, forcing down the urge to sob. Tulip hadn't meant it... but she had reminded him of the one thing he couldn't have, the one thing he wanted so desperately, the only thing he and Aziraphale could not give one another.
After a few seconds, he took a deep breath through his nose. He straightened his spine, slid his sunglasses back onto his bloodshot eyes, and began to stroll his way back toward the living room. He firmly told himself that nothing had happened. Nothing that mattered...
After Crowley left, Aziraphale and Lestrade continued their calming small talk. Both of them had their fair share of madness to deal with, and they each secretly relished the chance to be a pair of boring old men for a few minutes. They talked about the good old days before the internet and digital filing systems until there was a knock at the apartment door. Mrs Hudson poked her head inside with a polite wave and broad smile.
"Sorry to disturb you boys, but," she said, pointing back over her shoulder and dropping her voice to low whisper. "There's a girl here asking to see Mr Crowley. I tried to tell her it's very late in the day to be calling, especially on a married man, but she says it's very important."
Aziraphale smiled patiently at Mrs Hudson's concern. "I'm not overly concerned. Young women are really not Crowley's type, Martha," he said with a note of amusement, gesturing to himself.
She chuckled sheepishly. "Oh, silly me, I know," she said, waving a hand. "Just old-fashioned of me, I suppose. Shall I let her in?"
"If you would," he said sweetly.
Lestrade opened his mouth, about to offer to get out of his hair, but the words quickly rolled back down his throat. As Mrs Hudson bustled away, a young-ish woman stepped inside. She was the same oak-skinned lady that Crowley had met in the park, only this time she had a huge leather-bound (real human leather, in fact) tome under her arm. He gaped. He looked between Aziraphale and the woman, sitting straighter in alarm as he waited for him to react.
"Sister Mary, what a pleasure," Aziraphale said with his customary warmth. He got to his feet, shaking her hand. "How has life been treating you, hm? Well, I hope?"
She nodded, and Lestrade noticed the sharp glance he got out of the corner of her eye. She'd recognised him. "Yes, Mr Aziraphale, sir," she said, bowing her head slightly.
"Just Aziraphale will suffice, my dear," he said. He turned to Lestrade. "Forgive my rudeness, Inspector. This is Sister Mary, an old... business associate."
He nodded, clearing his throat slightly. "Yeah. We've met, briefly," he said, standing to shake her hand as well. She took it, a defensive glint in her eye.
"You have?" he said, eyebrows twitching up in surprise.
"Yes, when Mr Crowley first called me to London," said Loquacious, chin held high. "He was in St James' park."
Footsteps coming down the corridor announced his arrival. Speak of the devil, and doth appear. Crowley rounded the corner into the living room with a stiffness in his shoulders, and his hands wedged firmly in his pockets. He paused as he saw the nun. Lestrade noticed the way she tensed up, steeling her expression like she was looking down the barrel of a gun. The demon was not in a fantastically patient frame of mind, and it was obvious in the way his brow twitched to see so many people in his temporary home. He was a snake at heart, and snakes never liked intruders in their den.
"Sir," she said, bowing her head again, though this time it was a more pronounced gesture. She didn't wait for a response, holding out the book under her arm like an offering. "I've brought what you asked for."
Lestrade had time to get an eyeful of the cover of the book as Crowley stalked across the room toward it. The brownish leather was scored deeply, the lines forming complex sigils that looked somewhere between a wheel of the zodiac and a sigil of Baphomet. The spine was set with tarnished gold coins, stamped with satanic crosses. As Crowley took it from her hands, Lestrade felt a shiver run down his spine. The magic in his blood, unbeknownst to him, boiled and crackled with the proximity of such a book. Whatever this was, it had to be cult-related. He knew that with every fibre of his being. Judging by the joyful grin on Aziraphale's face when his husband handed him the book, it looked like he was in on it, too.
"And did you get enough sleep?" Crowley asked, crossing his arms and staring the nun down like a stern parent. He must just be in that sort of mindset tonight.
"Yes, sir, I did everything you asked," she replied quickly, folding her hands in front of her.
He gave one short nod. "Right. Good job, sister, you've done well," he said. He winced internally; even he knew that sounded clunky, and probably suspicious while Lestrade was around, but half his mind was still curled up sobbing by Tulip's door, so he let himself off. "Keep taking care of yourself. You're dismissed."
She bowed her head again, thanking him, doing the same to Aziraphale, and only shooting a silent glance toward Lestrade. She turned to leave, and the DI slowly turned to stare at the two men. "Should I even bother asking?" he huffed, crossing his arms and finally allowing his exasperation to shine through.
"Nope," Crowley replied shortly.
Aziraphale had turned his back to them both, the large book open in his arms. He was leafing through it, muttering to himself in a language Lestrade didn't know. It sounded like Latin. He glanced from the angel's back to the package he'd noticed on the table earlier, suddenly wondering if that was some sort of ritual item, too. Dread washed over him like a bucket of ice water. His mind began to run away with him. Crowley and Aziraphale mysteriously return to London for a seemingly normal case; they start getting secretive, then they get custody of a child... Suddenly, they start to accumulate strange objects. Satanic ritual books (not strictly true; the book was strictly theory-only) and 'restricted access' parcels which could very easily be long daggers (which was close to the truth)... He wanted to trust them, he did... but how long could he justify giving them the benefit of the doubt? Could he leave Tulip with them for much longer in good conscience, seeing what he’d seen? Did he even have enough evidence to take her away? He began to formulate his excuses to leave, feeling all at once very unwelcome in this flat. He had to wonder: once a cultist, always a cultist?
Crowley slept deeply that night. He dreamt of the South Downs, of a quiet life and the pitter-patter of small feet through his house... He awoke with an empty feeling, and no one in the bed beside him. He reached across, running his hands over the sheets where Aziraphale might have laid. He'd probably stayed up all night with that book. He sighed. He hadn't told him what Tulip had said - by mistake, he was sure - the night before. It was too much. Aziraphale didn't need that kind of guilt. With great effort, he dragged himself out of bed, getting dressed and checking the time. It was mid morning.
He was surprised to walk into the kitchen and find Tulip hunched over the Grimorie of Astronomy alongside his husband. They were talking animatedly while Aziraphale gestured to things on the page, making notes as he went. Crowley cleared his throat.
"Oh, good morning, dear," he said, finally looking up. "Sleep well?"
"It was all right," he said with a shrug. He noticed the plates piled in the sink, and the lingering smell of bacon, egg, cheese and toast. It looks like they'd had breakfast together already; Crowley hardly ever ate after eight am, or before seven pm. "You two look busy."
"Aziraphale's teaching me Latin," Tulip said with a sunny expression.
"She's a natural," the angel said proudly. Crowley smiled a soft, pained smile. "This is a very difficult text, too. You are a remarkably intelligent young lady, Tulip."
She laughed lightly. "You've told me already, Aziraphale," she said. She patted his arm condescendingly, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "Three times."
He scoffed, rolling his eyes. "Well, I never," he tutted with amusement. He caught Crowley's wrist as he went by, whispering into his ear in a suddenly grave tone. "Sherlock needs to speak with you, about Mr Drew."
He swallowed hard, and nodded. Catching his terse, closed-off expression, Aziraphale fixed him with a steady look. "We are both angry, my dear," he said quietly, with a side-glance at Tulip, who was looking at the Latin text scrawled across the open pages. "But please... don't do anything you'll regret."
"I won't, angel," he replied, pressing a soft kiss to his lips.
Crowley let himself into 221B. Rosie rushed up to greet him, and he immediately scooped her up into his arms and started fussing over her like she was the most important thing in the world. It was nice. He needed a little simplicity, something to ground himself before he went off the deep end of demonic rage. He had known what Aziraphale meant. If he outright murdered a human with his own two hands, revenge or not, he'd never be able to let go of it. It didn't matter if they deserved it, or if he wouldn’t regret it; he'd have proven that he was capable of it, and that was frightening to him. It made him no better than Hastur. It was a slippery slope from there, leading nowhere good. Crowley was, quite literally, many things: a demon, a serpent, possibly even a human in some sense of the word... but he was not a psychopath.
Sherlock decanted the last of his coffee into a travel mug, his scarf already slung over the back of his neck. "Crowley, good, you're up," he said. He seemed nervous. "I have Drew's address. John didn't think you'd be very pleased if I went without you."
That seemed to suggest there had been a plan to leave him behind. It also suggested there had been a conversation about it, possibly even an argument, and they had probably called upon Aziraphale to settle the debate. It wouldn’t surprise him. He knew he’d frightened Sherlock the other night, and he wasn’t especially proud of it. Ignoring all that, he nodded.
"Ready when you are," he said, setting Rosie down on the sofa with a light smile, ruffling her hair as he turned back toward the door. He saw the way Sherlock hesitated before he reached for his coat.
"Sherlock," he said, attracting his sharp blue eyes. "There'll be no blood. I'll promise you that."
He nodded slowly. "Thanks," he said, his throat dry, as he led the way down the stairs.
In the Bentley, there was a stilted silence. Crowley fidgeted in the driver's seat. It was getting uncomfortable, and he decided that their conversation ought to turn to lighter topics. It had been all doom and gloom and impending disaster for days... It reminded him of the would-be End Times, and he didn’t much like it. It was time for some fun. He waited until Sherlock was taking a long sip from his travel mug, sensing an opportunity to cause mischief. He cleared his throat.
"So..." he said, drawing out the sound and tapping on the steering wheel. "You and John fucked yet?"
Sherlock choked on his coffee. "Jes - fu - wh - no!" he spluttered, a rose blush gathering on his high cheekbones. Crowley smirked.
"What, not even once?" he said goadingly. "Just for fun?"
Sherlock glared out the window, coughing, and refused to look him in the eye. He crossed his arms tightly. "No," he said.
"Ah. You've got no moves, is that it?" he said, and the whole car jolted as he swerved to avoid a cyclist. Sherlock’s forehead banged sharply against the window with the motion, making him grunt and rub the sore spot. A few car horns blared at them in passing. "Or are you just too shy?"
Sherlock refused to answer. No one else dared tease him so openly about his 'crush', though he loathed that word, on John, and there wasn't a lot he could do to argue. There was a long pause. He could feel the demon's smile, building up to another teasing jab.
"Need a wingman?"
"I bloody don’t!" he exclaimed, finally looking over in indignation. Seeing Crowley's stupid, victorious grin, he huffed and sank back in his seat. "I am perfectly capable of managing my love life on my own."
"Clearly not," he retorted. He slammed on the brakes, screeching to a halt in front of a zebra crossing, just short of some very frightened pedestrians. He turned his body toward Sherlock, leaning across the gearstick to talk more conspiratorially to him. "Come on, you can tell me. What's holding you back? Rosie? Another man? Another woman?"
He shuffled comfortably in his chair, leaning back away from the demon. "That's none of your business."
He hummed, unstatisfied, but returned to the driver's seat to floor it over the now-clear crossing. "I reckon it's just you," he muttered, lip curled distastefully.
Sherlock looked at him sharply. "What?"
The engine snarled, and sulphurous exhaust fumes blew in through the open window. Crowley shrugged. "I've been where you are, mate. You forget, me and Aziraphale spent millennia doing this dance," he said knowingly. "Do we - don't we, he loves me - he loves me not... It's stupid. I wouldn't bother. If I could go back, I'd have pinned him down on the walls of Eden and seduced him right then and there."
He snorted, rolling his eyes. "I think he might have suspected you for ulterior motives back then," he pointed out.
"Fair point," he said, taking a corner with screeching tyres and no regard for indicators. "What I'm saying is, don't waste your time. You aren't like us... you don’t have eternity to play these games.”
Mrs Hudson: *gasp* a young lady is calling on Mr Crowley at an indecent hour! Oh Mr Fell, aren’t you worried?
Aziraphale: nah he’s old and gay idgaf
Chapter 15: Direct Action
Apologies this one is slightly late, but it's a smidge longer than a usual chapter (by around 2000 words) so hopefully that makes up for it :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Drew refused to open the curtains in his flat. Whenever he saw that light filtering through from the outside world, he felt exposed. Anything could be staring in from across the street, and he might never even notice. He lived in muted, murky artificial light. He had a few lightbulbs left that worked, old filament types that buzzed and threatened to fizzle out every few hours. It was enough.
Right now, he was making a coffee. He was down to his last few grains. It would be watery and bitter, since he'd run out of sugar days ago, but it might keep him awake. Sleep was evasive these days. Perhaps that's why he had grown paranoid - or was he? The sudden bellowing of an engine outside made him jump, sloshing his drink over his sleeve. As he dried off his hand, he noticed that the engine hadn't simply passed by on the road. It was lingering. The growl and choke of the unknown car filled the car park just beyond his walls, then sputtered and died out. There were two distinct pops as its passengers stepped outside.
He took a swig of his coffee to soothe his nerves. It did no such thing. They were probably just here to visit a neighbour, he thought, since he didn't recognise the engine noise. It sounded old, whatever it was. He lived on the ground floor, so whoever they were, he'd hear them passing by soon. Tentatively, he crept toward his door, pressing his ear against it. He held his breath. The door suddenly jumped against his ear, and he fell back. He stared, wide eyed.
Someone was knocking on his door.
"Hey, anyone in?" a voice called. It was male, and unfamiliar. It wasn't Gabriel. Drew panted, trying to stay silent as he sprawled back on the floor. There was a long pause. "Mr Drew?"
He let out a squeak, and quickly clapped both hands over his mouth to muffle it. On the other side of the door, there was a long, drawn-out hissing noise, as if an enormous cobra was coiled in wait. "I know you're in there, Drew," a different man picked up, his voice lower and more menacing. There was another noise: rasping, dragging sounds as long claws were drawn with intentional slowness down the outside of the door, carving out ribbons of wood. "I can ssssmell you..."
A lump appeared in Drew's throat. Gabriel had told him about things like these... One word burned in his mind: DEMON.
He scrambled to his feet, desperately suppressing cries of fear. Something slammed into the door. He tripped, falling in shock. The door shuddered beneath the blows, but held. He heard a raised voice behind the door, barking orders. He didn't hear what he said. He ran. His whole body shook, and a sliver of light caught his eye. He let out a laugh of disbelief, and ran toward the window. If he could get out, he could get to an open public place, or the police, and he'd be okay, he'd be -
A shadow appeared behind the thin curtain, looming outside. He froze. If he didn't move... maybe he wouldn't be noticed. Slowly, the silhouette stooped down, and Drew's knees almost gave out as he saw the tiny gap between the drapes. A bright reptilian eye stared hungrily through the parted curtains. For a moment, they stared at one another, the reality of the situation settling quickly.
"Found you," the demon's voice rumbled through the window.
The window imploded inwards, spraying glass over the carpet with frightening force. Drew shrieked. On the other side of the apartment, he heard his door splinter as it was finally kicked in. Footsteps approached from behind. Ahead of him, a lanky, darkly-dressed figure climbed through the window, towering over him with static, yet restless anger. He desperately pushed himself back, dashing back down the hall, turning only to see Sherlock Holmes covering his escape route.
"What the fuck - ?" Drew rasped, recognising his face from the news.
He veered away, deeper into the flat. His heart hammered. There was a snarl behind him, and a cacophony of shattering porcelain as the demon hurled a lamp at him. It narrowly missed, smashing against the door as Drew forced it shut. He bolted it, breathing heavily. A great weight slammed into the other side, hissing furiously, snarling something to Sherlock about breaking it in. Drew backed away. He glanced at the window, which looked out onto a fenced-in alley. He'd never be able to escape that way. But if made it look like he did...
He opened the window, leaving it in position. He jumped, suppressing a cry as the door began to splinter. He rushed to the freestanding wardrobe, closing himself in amongst the moth eaten clothes just as the thin apartment door gave in.
Crowley was first in. Sherlock followed, eyes immediately landing on the open window. "He got out," he said immediately, poking his head out into the alley. "We may still catch him, if we don't waste time."
"Got it," the demon replied, nodding curtly. Through the door, Drew listened. There was a grunt as he hauled himself through the window. For a moment, he dared not move. There was at least a minute of silence.
Slowly, he eased the door open. He let it go, his whole body tense as a bowstring as he waited for a response. Nothing. He let out a sigh of relief, slumping back against the coats. He'd escaped. He stepped out into the room, still cautiously glancing around for any sign of the demon lying in wait. He even checked behind the wardrobe door, and out in the alley. His pursuers were nowhere to be seen. He swallowed with a dry throat, and waited for the adrenaline to subside as he slumped against the wall.
Crowley watched him, his hands tucked casually behind his head. He hadn't been fooled by Drew's trick; the smell of fear was too strong for him to have left. Still, where's the fun in a game of cat and mouse without a good hiding spot? That was the thing about humans; they never bothered to check the obvious places.
Slowly, Crowley took out a shard he'd 'borrowed' from the door. He held it out between his thumb and forefinger, and waiting for the perfect moment. Then, he let it drop. It bounced off the top of Drew's head, making him jump. He reached up in confusion. Finally, he tilted his head up to the ceiling, and blanched.
"Hi," drawled Crowley, stretched out nonchalantly above him.
Drew shrieked, turning to flee. A heavy weight dropped onto the floor behind him. He wretched as a hand grasped the back of his shirt collar from behind, snapping threads as he was forcibly dragged back. His cries brought Sherlock running back into the room from his hiding spot; Crowley had silently sent him to stand guard the other broken window, in case Drew made another break for it.
"All right, playtime's over," Crowley snarled, turning the human around to look him in the face. Yellow had completely overtaken his eyes, and scales had begun to spread down his forehead and across his sharp cheekbones as he intentionally loosened his grip on his humanity. "Do you know what I am?"
He let out a half-sob, clinging to his wrists. "A d - demon."
Crowley bared his teeth in satisfaction; they were long, needlepoint fangs, dripping with dark red venom that gave the illusion of blood. "Correct," he said, his forked tongue flickering out to taste the adrenaline in the air. He noticed that it was coming off Sherlock as well as Drew; he'd apologise later. "I hear you've been running nassssty little errands for the angelssss... Am I right, or am I right?"
He shook his head desperately, trying to twist out of his grip. It wasn't working. "No - no, I don't know what you're on about," he said, fighting to pull backward. If his shirt tore, he might be able to run.
Sherlock flinched as Crowley's hand clamped around Drew's throat. His talons pressed against his skin, scratching, but not drawing blood. He had promised he wouldn't. Swallowing hard, Sherlock tensed up, ready to block the exit if Drew struggled free. Privately, he wondered how he'd got here. He felt more like a criminal than a detective right now.
"Don't lie to me," Crowley snarled, getting close to Drew's face as he gagged. He wasn't being choked; just reminded that, if Crowley decided, he would be. "I know what you did already. Killing all those children... Hope you're happy. You've bought yourself a one-way ticket down, my friend. I'd say 'ssssee you in Hell', but, well... I don't hang around down there anymore."
Drew felt a tear roll down his cheek. "You're wrong," he whispered. It couldn't be true. It had been an angel who had given him the job. He had to be wrong, he had to be...
For the first time, he saw a flicker of softness in those yellow eyes. It vanished as quickly as it came. "I don't know what they told you," he said quietly, "but only the Lord can judge. The angelssss can guarantee you nothing."
He thought back to what Gabriel had said. The archangel hadn't actually offered him anything in return for his crimes, he'd just... expected it. He'd been a fool. God forgive him, he'd been a fool.
"But... Gabriel, he - " Drew began, his throat tight and hard to speak with, especially while being half-strangled by a demon. He cut himself off as he saw the cords in Crowley's face suddenly tighten, his temples bulging.
"Did you just ssssay... Gabriel?" he hissed. Tentatively, Drew nodded. Terror had won out over any loyalty he felt toward the angel. He just wanted to survive this encounter. The demon let out a low, frustrated noise from the back of his throat, an evil scent of musk and rotten fruit rolling off his breath. It was a fermented smell, like sickeningly potent alcohol. He dropped him to the floor.
"So he's behind thissss," he said under his breath, stepping on Drew's chest as he made his way toward the front door. The human wheezed, and could have sworn Crowley intentionally dug his heel into his ribs as he went. Something might have cracked. "Let's move, Sherlock. Azsssiraphale needs to hear this."
The detective nodded, looking rather pale. He glanced down at Drew's shivering, sweating body on the floor. On his way out, Crowley snapped his fingers carelessly over his shoulder. Drew vanished.
Sherlock lurched backward in shock. "Where is he?" he called, staring at Crowley's retreating back.
"Out of sight, out of mind," he replied cryptically*. "He won't be bothering anyone again."
The demon was looking more and more human again with every step. His glistening scales retreated back under his skin, and he'd replaced his sunglasses back onto his face. His teeth shortened and blunted themselves within his mouth. He swiped his tongue around his mouth, clearing his breath of the smell of rotten apples. He passed by the ruined door without so much as a glance. Sherlock dared linger for only a moment more before following on, the image of Crowley's demonic countenance burnt into his mind's eye.
Crowley muttered under his breath as he stalked toward the Bentley. The archangel fucking Gabriel, of course it was. What other angel would order Uriel to murder their own daughter? What other angel would make humans do this much dirty work? What other angel would order the slaughter of droves of children, just for the so-called great good? He probably thought himself quite clever, at least where Uriel was concerned. No doubt he'd framed it as a chance at redemption. Kill the nephilim you created, and you will be forgiven... All wrapped up with a neat little bow and forgotten about, swept under the rug before anyone could find out about the archangel's petty dalliances with the mortal world. It was sick.
"Crowley, look out!" Sherlock shouted from behind him. He looked up, spotting the detective by the apartment building. He frowned, slow to understand.
There was a sharp blow to the back of his head, knocking him to the floor. He grunted, trying to push himself up. He felt someone grab his wrists, and handcuffs clasped into place. Through bleary eyes, he saw Sherlock running toward him, while figures in dark suits moved to block his path.
"It's not a problem, it's... S'tickety boo," he wheezed, laughing at his own joke before passing out against the concrete.
*Drew vanished from London, reappearing thousands of miles away in the heart of an Australian bushfire. Crowley hadn't thought too hard about where to drop him. He only wanted some delicious irony, and he didn't much care if it happened to scorch the flesh from Drew's bones at the same time. That was just a coincidence. There was nothing stopping him from surviving. If he escaped the wildfire, he escaped. If he didn't, well... neither had the children he locked in that room. It's like the old saying: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Heaven had not been idle. Already, surveillance images were being passed through the appropriate bureaucratic channels, stamped and sealed and filed several times before they landed in Gabriel's hands. He flicked through the files at his bright white desk, and had not been entirely surprised. The nephilim had survived, and it was in the hands of the traitors. He scowled.
Uriel's celestial wages were cut by half, and they were suspended from active duty. They had failed to resolve their... mistake. Gabriel did not call it a sin. That's what it was, but if word got out that an archangel was even capable of sin, the lower ranks would be getting all sorts of ideas. It simply couldn't be allowed. The more quietly and cleanly this whole issue could be resolved, the better.
"If you want a job doing right," he murmured, his cold lilac eyes scanning the photographs of Tulip's young, scarred face. "You just have to do it yourself."
John startled as Sherlock burst through the door, his lip split and his breathing laboured. He stumbled inside, grabbing onto John's shoulder with a grip like iron. "Sherlock!" he cried, immediately moving to take his weight. He didn't look hurt, just exhausted. "What happened? Where's Crowley?"
"They... they took him," he gasped, his throat dry.
"Who?" John said. Aziraphale came out from the kitchen, having heard the commotion alongside his husband's name.
"Yes, who?" the angel agreed impatiently, with Tulip watching the exchange from his side. Her face was creased with worry, and her hands tightened around her teddy bear.
"My... Mycroft's men," he panted.
"Who is that?" Aziraphale said, straightening himself out and flexing his fingers, already imagining the weight of a sword in his hands. He hadn't taken it out of the box yet, and by God, he wanted to.
"His brother," John said, helping Sherlock over to the sofa. He was very glad that Rosie was with Mrs Hudson for the day, or she would have been very distressed.
"That doesn't explain where Crowley went," Tulip piped up indignantly.
Aziraphale laid a hand on her shoulder. "Quite," he said with a curt nod. "What right does your brother have, to kidnap my husband?"
"He's a despot. And an idiot," Sherlock said sourly, ruffling his hair and regaining his breath. He looked up at the angel, holding his nerve against the steel that lay beneath his irate expression. "I don't know what he wants with Crowley. He usually gets in touch with people who know me, but he doesn't usually stoop to knocking them out and dragging them into a blacked-out van."
John grunted. "Yeah, I think I would have remembered that..."
"Well, you ought to take me to him," Aziraphale said sternly, raising his chin. "I shall be having words with your brother. If he has done anything to harm my husband, I swear, I shall turn absolutely monstrous."
John took one look at the fire in his eyes, and instantly believed him. Strangely, Sherlock snorted, a smile tugging at his lips. "I think you'll scare him more than you think," he said, with a hint of satisfaction. Aziraphale's anger faltered for a moment in his confusion.
"You're a bit like our mother," Sherlock clarified. He added in a mocking voice: "Old Mikey's terrified of our mummy."
The angel's face darkened again. "I assure you, Sherlock, he will be more than terrified by the time I'm through," he said. He tacked on thoughtfully at the end: "Unless, of course, Crowley is unharmed."
He took the Grimoire of Astronomy from the side table, marking his page and tucking it under his arm. He also took the box containing his flaming sword, deciding that he shouldn't leave such a weapon unguarded with humans around. He'd let it get into mortal hands once before, and he wasn't keen to have that happen again. Sherlock downed a few glasses of water in the kitchen, a multitude of thoughts running through his head. He tried to keep them going. If he slowed down, his mind would drift back to Crowley's advice in the car: don't waste your time . Both the angel and the demon wanted him to admit his feelings for his friend, as they kept saying. He wondered at what point his cases had stopped being a distraction from boredom, and started being a distraction from his pining.
He splashed water in his face. He berated himself harshly, cursing his fickle heart, as John patted him on the shoulder. They shared a few short words about the demon, and what had happened in the flat. It helped Sherlock keep his searing emotions at bay, even as he longed to run his hands through that soft blond hair, and press a comforting kiss against his temples. Love had become a constant presence in his mind, carving out its meandering path like an underground stream cutting through stone, gradually widening and deepening with the gentle erosion of domestic life as the days passed by.
He was grateful when Aziraphale said it was time to go. "Come along, Sherlock," he said. He paused, turning to Tulip, who wrung her hands together in the centre of the room. He lay a hand on her shoulder, leaning down to speak with her softly. "My dear, will you be okay for an hour or two? I won't be gone long."
She nodded, but didn't seem certain. She nodded toward John. "He's a soldier too, isn't he?" she said, and the angel nodded. "I'll be okay, then. You'll... you'll be safe, won't you?"
Aziraphale smiled kindly. "As safe as I can be, dear child. I'll be back in a jiffy," he said, running his thumb gently over her cheek. Tulip huffed, rolling her eyes at him and wrapping her arms around his middle for a tight hug.
"This is how you say goodbye properly, Aziraphale," she said in a matter-of-fact voice.
He chuckled softly, returning the hug. "Of course. How silly of me," he said.
Crowley came to in a dark room. It reminded him of his old flat: grey walls, featureless table, rigid chair. With hindsight, he wondered why he'd bothered trying to do his own interior design. It was stylish, sure, but Aziraphale should always be trusted more when it came to matters of comfort. He looked back and forth. His hands were tied behind his back, locked in place with handcuffs. They cut into his wrists, digging in where his bones stuck out under his near-translucent skin. He could try and pass off his pale complexion as a demonic quirk, but in reality he was just ginger.
There was a click behind him. He immediately straightened up as someone entered the room, straining to see behind him. It didn't work. He hissed, flickering his tongue out to taste the air. There was certainly enough of a greasy, unwashed tinge to the air for it to be another demon. "Who's there?" he said, baring his teeth. "I'll have your head on a pike for this. Let me go! Do you have any idea who I am?"
They walked slowly into his field of vision. His eyes widened behind his glasses, jaw dropping open. "No," he said in disbelief, wrinkling his nose. "You have got to be shitting me."
Anderson crossed his arms smugly. "Not so tough now, are we?" he said. He tilted his head. "So, you're some sort of big-shot vampire, are you?"
"What?" Crowley said flatly, staring him down.
"Tell me who you work for," Anderson said, lunging forward into the table in a move that was supposed to make Crowley flinch. The demon just stared.
"No one. Unless Aziraphale counts..." he said, angling his eyes toward the ceiling thoughtfully.
"Ah - ha!" he said, jabbing a finger at Crowley's nose. He almost went cross-eyed looking at it before shaking his head, blinking. "So, Fell is the alpha vampire, is he?"
"Wha -? No, I'm just whipped as fuck, mate," he said in exasperation, tugging at his chains. His hands were twisted awkwardly, making it hard to snap his fingers. "Since when did you become bootleg Van Helsing, anyway? Last I checked, you didn't have a kidnapping squad."
Another person stepped into the room behind him. "That would be mine," drawled a snobbish, distasteful voice.
Crowley groaned, throwing his head back against the chair. "Could you drama queens stop making mysterious entrances where I can't see you?" he said.
Mycroft joined Anderson on the other side of the table. He'd grown accustomed to his odour, much to his chagrin, and found that he didn't mind having him around so much anymore. It was like having a goldfish bowl on his desk... one that spouted nonsense most of the time, granted, but the point stands.
"I believe we've met before, Mr Fell," Mycroft said.
Crowley squinted at him. "Er... 1941, was it?" he guessed. He shook his head, clucking his tongue. "No, that can't be right, I killed him. Uh, remind me. How do we know each other?"
There was a long pause as the Holmes tried to avoid processing that information. "Mycroft Holmes, British intelligence," he said, inclining his head politely. "I granted you a surveillance blindspot in Soho."
"Oh, that guy," he said, seeming to remember. He nodded toward Anderson. "How'd you fall in with garlic breath over here? Desperate for staff, or was it just some horribly misjudged one-night stand?"
Mycroft wrinkled his nose, while Anderson bristled. "Now listen here - " he began, jabbing his finger, but Mycroft silenced him with a wave of his hand.
"I have access to CCTV footage of 221B, Baker Street," he explained steadily, at his own pace. Crowley's face twitched.
"What, are you about to blackmail me with something? Cause I'm fairly sure me and Aziraphale never did anything too explicit in that flat, so I can't imagine it's that bad," he said nonchalantly, slumping back in his seat like he owned the place. It had a hard look to pull off in handcuffs, but he was managing it fairly admirably.
"Nothing so vulgar," he replied dryly, laying several images down on the table. Crowley cast an eye over them, and his at-ease mask slipped slightly.
"Ah," he said, running his forked tongue nervously over his teeth. "Yeah, that is a problem."
Over six printed images, his transformation from man into snake was clearly documented. He glanced up at them questioningly. "Don't suppose I could convince you it's just a party trick...?" he said, scrunching up his nose.
Both men crossed their arms with uncanny synchronisation. "You have a lot of questions to answer, Crowley," Anderson said.
He glanced between the two of them. "Would you look at that, like two peas in a pod," he muttered to himself. He hung his head, and sighed. "All right, you got me. It's a trick. I'm not a vampire."
There was a beat of silence. "You're not?" Anderson cried, dropping his arms by his side. Mycroft's face became slightly disconcerted.
Crowley half-raised his eyes back up, raising a brow tentatively. "You mean... you hadn't figured that out...?" he said slowly. They shook their heads, somewhere between embarrassed and fearful. He huffed.
"What about Aziraphale, though?" Anderson piped up, suddenly filled with manic energy again. He was desperate to cling to his vampire theory. "He must be - "
"Nope. Sorry, mate," he cut him off with a sour smile. "Different again, I'm afraid. We aren't the same species... but we also definitely aren't vampires."
Mycroft took a deep breath. He had just barely settled into the notion that another humanoid species existed besides his own, and that had now been overturned. Not only was there one more undefined species, there were two. He made a mental note to scrap his plans to found MI7: Vampire Division, and to purchase some stronger whisky.
"Then what are you?" he asked, with as much serenity as he could muster.
"Hesitant to say," Crowley said, pursing his lips as his eyes traced the hard lines of the featureless walls. "I'm not sure myself, these days. I tell you what, though, Aziraphale's got a pretty good idea of what I am."
"He does, does he?" Anderson said unpleasantly, his nasal voice brimming with impatience. Crowley could be as bad as Sherlock, rambling on and on just to make everyone else feel stupid...
The demon grinned. "I'm his husband," he said smugly. "And let me tell you, creatures like him, they don't like to share."
"Empty threats do not frighten me," Mycroft said firmly, tightening his grip over the handle of his umbrella. He raised his chin defiantly.
Crowley was unabashed. "You know, they say I'm meant to be the nasty one, but... well, you've heard the saying. Devils run when a good man goes to war," he said. He grinned viciously at the two men. "Aziraphale's coming for me, and you don't want to be in his way when he gets here."
In the small hours of the morning, long before Crowley had even thought about rolling out of bed to go after Drew, Lestrade had been awake. His overactive mind kept him up. He wasn't quite as intelligent as Sherlock, but he could sympathise sometimes. He couldn't turn his brain off any better than he could. He turned to caffeine, and thanked God that he'd given up smoking. If he hadn't, not doubt his lungs would be choked with tar as the stress forced him to pick up more and more cigarettes. He shook his head, rubbing his eyes. The harsh artificial light in the kitchen glared off the tiles, like a searchlight fixed on the impassive face of a fugitive.
The heat through his mug of tea burnt his hands, searing his throat. It was good. It focused his mind, wrangling his occult intuition into some semblance of order. If he could just figure out what was going on...
Crowley and Aziraphale could be dangerous. He found it hard to believe they would want to hurt Tulip, but if their beliefs dictated that they had to perform some sort of ritual involving her, it could turn everything on its head. He'd seen even the most reasonable, upstanding people be totally transformed by a strong enough conviction. Sister Mary's words played on his mind. Master Crowley, and Mister-Aziraphale-Sir... she clearly respected them, maybe even feared them. Perhaps the two men had begun to set up a cult of their own, independent of their old masters. He ran a hand over his face, his eyes strained and out-of-focus in the shadowy kitchen. Cars whispered by outside his window, their tyres hardly making a sound against the rain-slick concrete. A chill breeze disturbed his curtains.
A low, gurgling sound made him jump. He cursed, spilling his tea over his hand, and hissing as the hot liquid burnt his hand. He slammed the mug down irritably, turning to investigate the noise. It was coming from the sink. He frowned at it, squinting in the dim light at the nondescript fluid bubbling out from the edges of the plug. He reached for it, but hesitated. Something inside him, something that knew instinctively when to turn tail and flee, made him stop. He shook it off. It wasn't the first time he'd ignored it, after all...
He pulled the plug loose from the sink, immediately retching as the stench hit him. He covered his nose, and stared in horror. A stringy, fleshy growth clung to the end of the plug, its roots trying desperately to cling to the pipes as it bled into the basin. He shouted, dropping the plug. The thing fell, limp and pulsating, into the sink. He fell back against the table, clinging to it with shaking hands.
"What the fuck," he gasped, breathing heavily. A disorientating moment passed. Then, he got up, edging closer to peer back into the sink...
It was gone. The growth had vanished, along with any trace it had been there at all. The stinking blood no longer dripped from the walls of the basin, and the plug lay innocently on its side. It was a piece of round black plastic, and nothing more. He let out a long breath, but not of relief. He gripped his hair with both hands, groaning.
"Too much coffee. I'm losing my mind," he muttered, grabbing his cup of tea and dumping its contents into the sink. He thought about returning to his bed upstairs, curling up in the sheets and trying to get some sleep. He must be in bad shape, if he was starting to hallucinate.
As he rinsed out his mug, he happened to glance up. He didn't see it at first. His eyes traced the curve of the chrome tap, down to where his own distorted reflection stood. Just over his shoulder...
"Shit!" he yelled, dropping the mug. He whirled around, barely noticing it shatter in the basin. He scanned back and forth across the kitchen.
In the reflection, he had seen a face leaning over his shoulder. It had crooked teeth, leering, so close that he ought to have felt its breath against his ear. His breathing laboured. He'd seen it, he had. It had been so real. His heart hammered in his chest, and every shadow became a lurking intruder. Could someone have sneaked past him? In his current state, maybe. He snatched a kitchen knife from the drawer, clutching it until his knuckles turned white around the plastic handle. He'd seen an ugly side to London. Home intrusions were common, and he had enemies. He was determined that whatever was happening, Sherlock wouldn't have to stand over his body by the end of it. He wouldn't become another case.
The kitchen was empty. He'd opened every cupboard, leapt at every shadow flickering in the corner of his eye... No one was here. On the worktop, his phone buzzed; a withheld number, probably trying to sell something. He ignored it. Tentatively, he crept toward his living room.
He flicked on the light. The room woke up, revealing the leather sofas and magnolia carpet. He glanced back and forth, his eyes landing on the shadow by the window. He stared, breathing shallow and fast. A human silhouette lingered on the other side of the blinds. Though no eyes peered into the room, he felt watched. He edged toward the window, holding the knife at hip height, and reached for the drawstring.
The blinds snapped up, revealing the empty street. He let out a long breath. The road was cast in lamplight and rain, each element of the scene painted in a classic London grey. The night sky hung like a blank tapestry over the street. He glanced up and down, making sure that no strangers lurked by the roadside, or in the shadows of hedges. There was no one.
He stepped back from the window, dropping the blinds back down again. He massaged his temples, trying to relax. Was he hallucinating, or paranoid, or was he being fooled? His mind drifted back to the case on the moor, with the HOUND chemical warfare experiment, though there was no sign of any fog in his house. He didn't get a chance to delve deeper into these thoughts. The landline began to ring. He clenched his teeth, managing to suppress a noise of shock. He took a few deep breaths. It was late, he was tired, and he needed to get a grip. He slammed the knife down on a table, and went to look at who was ringing.
It was a withheld number. For some reason, that unsettled him. He stared at the digital display, listening to the chime of the phone, which had already gone on for far longer than it ever had before. He reached for it, but stopped. It felt like reaching for the plug in the sink all over again, as if a sinuous growth may be lurking beneath the base of the phone. Again, he chased the thoughts away. That hadn't really happened. He'd hallucinated. Finally, he snatched the phone up from its dock, and held it to his ear.
"Greg Lestrade speaking, who is this?" he said, glancing around the room. The hallway was still steeped in darkness, stretching out of sight in both directions. There was only heavy breathing on the other end of the line. "Excuse me, who is this?"
The breathing continued. There was a strange, wet noise, like someone licking their lips. He cringed, and went to put the phone down. Must be a prank caller, or a creep.
"Do you want to know the truth?" a voice asked. Lestrade froze. Faltering, he held the phone back up to his ear.
"Who is this?" he asked again, tension gathering again in his shoulders.
A raspy, harsh laugh came through the receiver. "Think of me as a friend," it said greasily, with a hunger in its voice that warned against doing exactly that. "I won't ask again. Do you want to know the truth?"
"About what?" he said agitatedly, walking back into the kitchen, checking the hallway, and peeking back through the blinds. He felt like he wasn't alone. He felt certain, with every fibre of his being, that there was an intruder in his house.
"The one called Crowley... and his precious little husband," the voice said, sour distaste permeating every word. "You don't trust them, do you?"
"You don't know that," he said. He stopped by the sink, staring back into the basin. The shards of his mug still littered the space, and the plug had not moved. "I don't even know who you are, or how you got this number. Why should I believe anything you say?"
The line crackled. "I'm the only one who will tell you anything," the voice said. It was gruff, and slimy. "But if you'd prefer... I could show you."
Lestrade's stomach flipped. He straightened up, his mind racing through everything that had happened that night. "What do you mean?"
"What I said."
He swallowed hard, his throat tight and dry. "When?" he rasped.
He could practically hear the rotten-toothed smile through the phone. "Now," it said gleefully.
High-pitched whining, like some sort of interference, bled through into his ear. Lestrade frowned, taking the phone away from his face. He shouted, dropping it, as maggots crawled out from the receiver. He stumbled back, tripping over his own feet onto the floor. More insects swarmed from the phone, racing toward him in a wave of rippling, undulating bodies of shiny black and brown with the odd flash of poisonous red and snapping pincers. He was swarmed, each creature undeterred by his mad thrashing as they made for his eyes, nose, mouth and ears. He tried to scream. The noise was muffled by the crawling, multitudinous creatures forcing their way down his throat, ignorant to his pain - or worse, revelling in it. Minutes passed and, eventually, Lestrade stopped fighting.
One lone cockroach was left on the tiles, directionless without the rest of the swarm. Behind it, a great lumbering figure dragged itself to its feet, unsteady and grunting with every breath. A hand clasped around the roach, bringing it up to the body's mouth and popping it inside with the same relish that Aziraphale might eat a bonbon. The Lestrade-shaped demon hummed. The breath spilling over his lips was no longer rancid, and the scent of stagnant disease-infested water no longer trailed him like a cloak. His eyes were bright and pale, unrecognisable from his usual endless black. He looked down at the body, poking and prodding at the new form.
"Cramped. Underfed, fatigued..." mumbled Hastur-as-Lestrade. A crooked grin, all wrong on the DI's face, stretched his mouth. "I like it."
... what? You didn’t think *Rosie* was going to be the one to get possessed, did you?
Chapter 16: Beasts Of Eden
Apologies for the late update again, it’s been a busy and very emotional week. I can’t guarantee that my updates will be regular from now on, because my life is going in a lot of directions at once right now, but I’ll do my best for all of you. We’re near the end now, after all!
Crowley manoeuvred himself so he could rest his feet on the table. Dumb and Dumber had been interrogating him for almost an hour, to no avail. They slapped yet another historical photo in front of him, demanding answers.
"You do realise I'm going to say exactly the same thing I've been saying since I woke up, right?" he said irritably, glaring at them both. He nodded at the photo of him and Aziraphale on the table; it looked like sometime in the 1950s, with the both of them attending the opening of a new restaurant. "We're immortals. End of."
"Yes, but what are you?" Anderson insisted, damn near foaming at the mouth. "What species? Skinwalker? Ghoul? Were-snake?"
Crowley's eyebrows shot up. "Were-snake? Is that a new one?" he said in mock surprise, having already listened to Anderson listing more mythical creatures than he cared to count.
Finally, Mycroft cut in. "Enough jabbering," he snapped. He turned a hard gaze on Crowley. "I do not care what you are, Mr Fell, let me make that perfectly clear. What I do care about are your intentions toward my brother."
He quirked a brow. "My intentions? You make it sound like I'm trying to hook up with him - which isn't happening, obviously," he scoffed. "Unless you're somehow Aziraphale's brother, in which case you've left it a bit late. That ship sailed a long time ago.”
He gritted his teeth. "I am Sherlock Holmes' brother," he said, clearly and slowly.
"Oh! You're the despotic older brother he told me about," he said, realisation suddenly dawning. His eyes flickered over him in a new light, with a judgemental frown on his face. "Yeah, I see what he means..."
"I suggest you answer my question, Mr Fell," he said. He entwined his fingers tightly over his umbrella's curved handle, not allowing himself to tighten his grip. That would be tantamount to emotion, for which he maintained a careful distaste.
"Right. My intentions? Er...to help, I s'pose," he said with a shrug. The handcuffs didn't allow for much mobility, still bending his arms awkwardly around the back of the chair. "He's got a case going, that's fun. Rosie's very sweet, too. I'll be honest with you, Microsoft or whatever your name is, I'm just on holiday. Bit of a shit one, mind, what with all the kidnapping and dead kids."
Anderson snorted, tugging haughtily at his ugly cable knit jumper. "So you actually care about the human victims, do you?" he said, looking him up and down.
"Oh, hallelujah! The boy has at least one active brain cell. Someone give him a sticker," Crowley sneered in return. Bloody racist, he thought to himself.
Mycroft let out a long sigh, his head in his hands. "Can you be any more annoying?" he muttered sarcastically. He wasn't sure if he was speaking to Anderson or Crowley.
"Yes!" Crowley cried triumphantly. "I am THE most irritating, foul, nasty, sharp-tongued beastie to ever crawl out of the sulphurous pits of Hell, you stuck-up Queen Mother wannabe, you utter c - "
"Hell?" Anderson squeaked. The profanity died in Crowley's throat, and the sneer slid off his face.
"Er... Did I say Hell?" he said, wrinkling up his nose. He shook his head, looking anywhere but at their faces. "Nah. Not what I meant. I meant - uh - the sulphurous pits of - erm - mmmmm... Manchester."
"I heard it," Mycroft said sharply, his eyes taking on a whole new hollowness, unlike their usual cold detachment. "You said Hell. No stutter, no hesitation..."
The demon shook his head insistently. "Figure of speech. Didn't mean it."
"You intonation did not imply hyperbole," Mycroft said, leaning forward. His voice took on an agitated note, right at the edge of an obvious leap of logic leading straight into a pit of despair. Vampires, he could handle. Religious concepts? No. No, no, no, never, absolutely not. Impossible, with a capital I.
... Wasn't it?
Sherlock didn't bother with the front desk at Mycroft's office building. The secretary there was not even allowed to know the location of his brother's office, and no doubt was entirely clueless about the cells beneath the basement. He dodged the security guards. Privately, he wondered if Aziraphale was doing anything to divert their attention, since it was hard for him to be stealthy when his arms were laden with a parcel and large book. It was pretty likely. After all, Mycroft had probably instructed the security guards to act immediately if they ever saw his face (he was right; "The Deerstalker Protocol" had been designed specifically with the younger Holmes in mind).
He walked with surprising ease toward the lift. It took them down toward the basement without complaint. Sherlock glanced at Aziraphale out the corner of his eye. Elevator music played in the background, generating the kind of stilted, awkward atmosphere that would estrange even the closest of friends. He coughed awkwardly.
"Um... he means well," he said. The angel's bright eyes turned toward him. "Mycroft, I mean."
"Yes, well," he said tartly. The elevator doors dinged open. "You know what they say about the road to Hell, dear boy."
The basement began to take on grey colours, dim and warm from the pipes veining the walls. No office space was housed down here. It had a deep loneliness to it, shrouded in secrecy and a distinct repulsive energy, almost befitting a location whose road was paved with the best of intentions. He looked around, frowning at Sherlock.
"Is this right?" he asked.
"The very fact that you asked says that yes, it is," he said, striding past him with his coat flapping at his ankles. Leading the way, cracking smart comments as he went... he felt like himself again. This is what he lived for. If only John were here, it would be perfect.
Rolling his eyes, Aziraphale followed. He felt oddly exposed down here. He could feel dark, twinkling eyes locked onto him from the shadows, and he wasn't totally wrong. CCTV cameras dotted the edges of the ceiling, concealed by the half-light. Luckily for them, break-ins were so astronomically rare that the guard watching the security feed was taking a nap, giving them cover for now.
A blinking light came into view ahead. The angel huffed as he saw what it was. "We need identification, do we?" he said, a sadistic glint flashing in his eyes as he reached for the long parcel under his arm. "We'll see about that..."
"Wait! Wait, I have ID," Sherlock said quickly, his eyes widened as he brandished a card in his face. "I stole it months ago, just in case. I always try to keep one around."
To his relief, he took his hand away from the parcel. "Oh. All right, then," he said, gesturing to the door with a friendly smile. "After you."
Sherlock let out a surreptitious sigh of relief as he swiped the ID. He had no idea what that weapon that was, but it seemed like overkill just to get through a door. It buzzed them through, and he shut the door softly at their backs.
Hastur lurked in Lestrade's office. He was good at lurking; hardly anyone spared a glance for him. Most of his colleagues assumed that his unusually surly expression was down to a late night and work stress. It was partially true. Beelzebub would have him destroyed if he failed to perform the cosmic eclipse ritual; such a rare opportunity couldn't be squandered, especially in light of the failed Apocalypse. He was also struggling to find what he needed in the disorganised office.
Donovan poked her head around the door. She could hear him rifling through the drawers in his desk, making strange frustrated noises and stringing together foul curse words. It was very unlike him.
"Um... sir?" she called tentatively.
His head popped up over the desk. "Eh... yes?" he said gruffly, sounding unsure of himself. If she hadn't known any better, she'd have said that he didn't even seem tor recognise her.
"Are you all right?" she said, gripping a ring binder to her chest. She swallowed her nerves. Something didn't seem right.
"Yes," he said, a broad smile stretching over his face. It didn't reach his eyes.
She nodded slowly. "Okay..." she said, with an unsettled frown.
Hastur wondered if he was being overenthusiastic. Toning down the smile, he got to his feet. "So..." he said carefully, trying to emulate casual human behaviour. His points of reference were mainly clips of old action films, and the demon Crowley, who he assumed had gone native. "Ssssup?"
"Not... much?" she said, beginning to back toward the door. "Sir, are you drunk?"
"No," he said, his friendly mask slipping. He was growing frustrated. Why was this so difficult? "I... had a rough night."
"Right," she said, but didn't drop her guard. "Have you given any more thought to the orphanage arson cases?"
He smirked. Perfect. "Yes," he said, throwing himself down into he swivel chair like he'd seen Crowley do on chairs before now. He gave a cry of alarm as the whole thing tilted, threatening to throw him out, and slid halfway across the room. He gripped the desk, bringing himself to a sharp halt... but not before knocking over a plant in the corner, spilling soil onto his rug. He cleared his throat, scooting back toward the desk. Donovan watched him, baffled.
"I think we should take back the girl," he said, planning his hands on the desk to imitate authority.
Surprisingly, Donovan lit up. "I agree completely, sir," she said, with a pleased nod. "I don't understand why you ever trusted those freaks with a child anyway. So, what's the plan for her? Social services?"
"Errr," he said, eyes darting back and forth across the room. "Yes."
"I'll get onto her social worker. They'll probably be able to pick her up this afternoon," she said, reaching into her pocket for her phone.
"No!" he cried, leaping to his feet. She jumped, her eyes boring into him. "I'll get her myself."
"You're sure?" she said, cocking a brow.
"Yes. It can't wait," he insisted, pushing past her to get out the door. "I'll... see you later?"
"All right. I still have to file the reports from last week," she said, and he nodded vaguely as he wandered off. He'd been searching the office for a piece of important-looking paper that he could use to dupe the human into handing over the nephilim, but now he didn't have to. He could just throw around some of the new jargon he'd learned, and that would be that. Simple. Now all that was left was to figure out how to drive. Crowley managed it, after all, so how hard could it be?
John relished the chance to be at home on his own. Rosie merrily trotted up and down the stairs, pretending to be a brave mountaineer - though she couldn't pronounce the word - while Tulip watched. Tulip seemed to like her.
"Tutu!" Rosie cried from the top of the steps. Tulip looked up with a small smile. "I did it!"
She smirked, and cupped her hand around her mouth as if she was shouting over a great distance. "Cool. Look out for the yeti up there," she said teasingly.
"The wha?" the other girl said, scratching her head. Tulip laughed softly, shaking her head.
John smiled along, listening to their antics. He was washing the dishes, and doing his best to rescue the salad tongues which Sherlock had recently ruined in the name of science. He could be a pain, but he wouldn't do without him. He idly wondered how he had ever lived before the consulting detective life; before Sherlock, before Mary, before Rosie... before he'd ever really loved. Just as he placed the last dish on the draining rack, there was a banging at the door below. Tulip took a sharp breath, her head snapping up.
"It's all right, Tulip," he said reassuringly, drying off his hands. "Criminals don't usually knock."
She nodded uneasily, trying to refocus her attention on the book on her lap. John suppressed a sigh, wishing he could make her feel safer. He headed downstairs, where the door still juddered as the person in the street pounded on it. He frowned.
“All right, all right!” he called in exasperation, opening the door. “No need to - Greg?”
"Jawn,” Hastur replied, imitating the way that the floppy-haired human seemed to say the name.
"Having a day off, are we?" he said with a nervous smile. He saw the tension in Lestrade’s body, the obvious unrest and blatant unfriendliness.
"Don't be ridiculous," he said sharply. John blinked, his expression curdling. "I'm here to take back the girl."
"Who, Tulip?" he said, subconsciously pulling the door slightly further closed. He could only imagine what Aziraphale might say if he let her go and, for all he’d gotten over his feelings for the angel, the thought of disappointing him still made his heart drop.
"Obviously," he snapped. He barged through John without warning, mounting the stairs.
"Hey!" the soldier barked, chasing him all the way into the flat. "Look, Greg, slow down."
Tulip tensed up, her eyes flicking between the two men. She and Hastur met eyes. For a long moment, though it spanned only a second, the Duke wondered if she could see through his human disguise. The human body encasing him should be enough to hide his true nature from her keen senses, the soul within masking his demonic miasma. She didn't react. In fact, she gave a small wave.
"Hi," she said, her mouth twitching into a small smile before looking to John. "What's happening?"
"I'm taking you to your social worker," Hastur announced confidently, planting his hands on his hips. He recalled this grey-haired human doing that when he spied on him giving orders, the first night that Chew-lip had escaped his grasp.
"What? Why?" she cried, eyes widening. She leapt to her feet, the book sliding off her lap and bouncing onto the floor.
"Social services. Reports to file," he said bluntly, reaching forward to take her arm. She slapped his hand away, jumping to her feet.
"No! I'm not going!" she shouted, fists clenched. Drawn by the noise, Rosie peeked around the bottom of the stairs. Her eyes immediately fell upon the dark, slimy aura clinging to Lestrade's body, shining greasily like a puddle of oil. Ugly, pockmarked frogs crawled up the aura in a swarm. She hated it. She took a sharp breath, turning tail and fleeing back up the stairs in fright.
John looked between them, also oblivious to his daughter's momentary appearance. "Look, Tulip..." he said slowly. "I don't think you should go either, but if social services are getting involved..."
"You can't let him take me," she said, drawing herself away from them, backing herself into a corner. She looked for a quick exit. Where would she go, though? She was more vulnerable alone than she was anywhere else. "Crowley and Aziraphale will be so mad - !"
"Let me call them," John said, holding up his hands. He looked to 'Greg' for permission, but he was already placing the call before the demon could respond. Sherlock didn’t pick up. Nor did Crowley... his heart beat faster. His face twitched as he glanced at Greg, torn between the inherent trust he felt toward the DI, and his urge to defy this strange intrusion.
Hastur growled. “No time for this,” he said, not wanting to risk having another run-in with Aziraphale. Only two things could expel him from this body: a Vatican exorcist, or an angel, and he’d avoid both like holy water. He turned to Tulip. "You're coming with me," he said firmly, grabbing her by the arm successfully this time.
"This is stupid. You're stupid," she hissed, trying to tug her arm free to no avail.
John trailed Hastur as he led Tulip out of the flat and down the stairs. He was irate, and confused. "Greg, look, just wait. Stay here until I can get through to Aziraphale, all right? He'll be able to smooth this over."
Hastur felt a chill run down his spine at the angel's name. "No he won't," he grumbled in a low voice, pulling open the front door.
"You have to at least make sure she's - !" he called after him, cut off as the door slammed shut in his face. "... guarded," he finished lamely. Shaking himself, he wrenched the door open and jumped down onto the street.
He just caught sight of Lestrade slamming the car door shut. He shouted, jogging a few paces toward the car, going to make his case again. He couldn’t take this lying down. He had to at least find out where he was taking her. Before he could get within six feet, the car lurched into motion. He jumped back with a shout of surprise as the wing mirror clipped his arm as the car swerved into the road, taking the corner off Baker Street with reckless abandon. He glared. He began to look up and down for a cab, wanting to give chase, when he abruptly remembered Rosie. Mrs Hudson had gone to visit her friends out of town, and no one else was at home to look after his daughter...
He dejectedly went back to the front door, staring down the street in the direction the car had vanished. He set his jaw. She’s still safe, he told himself, though something in that reassurance rang hollow to his mind. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why. It’s only Greg, after all...
Mycroft had fetched a Bible. He had a few down here in the holding cells. They were surprisingly effective tools of manipulation; sometimes for threats, sometimes to swear upon, and sometimes it was merely enough to leave someone alone in a room with one for a few days. He had never expected to have a use for the content himself. He leafed through it. His eyes scanned each page with ruthless efficiency, checking each and every one for anything that would match a description of the thing sat in front of him. Even if it did, it meant nothing. It was a historical document, and it was entirely possible that it contained only partial truths.
Foolishly, he began at the end. "Revelation?" Crowley said, reading the book upside down. He wrinkled his nose. "Don't like that one."
Mycroft shared a glance with Anderson. "Try the gospels," he suggested. Crowley rolled his eyes.
"You're not proving anything, you two," he insisted, attempting an unconcerned, blasé tone. He watched nervously from the corner of his eye as they flipped through the thin pages. With every page they turned, they got closer to his starring role: The Original Tempter, the Serpent of Eden.
"He sounds nervous, keep going," Anderson urged, leaning close to stare over Mycroft's shoulder. He was uncharacteristically indifferent to the proximity, which was tantamount to reciprocation for a Holmes.
He abruptly stopped, his finger pressed hard against one particular line. "Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this you have done?" he read aloud, noting the way Crowley's body language stilled completely. "The woman said, The Serpent deceived me, and I ate."
There was a long silence. They stared at him, the pieces falling into place. "You're the snake from Genesis," Anderson said, his mouth suddenly dry as he took in the face of this primordial creature anew.
Crowley sighed deeply. "Been a while since I've heard the tale," he said quietly, in an almost defeated tone. The ghost of a smile passed over his mouth. "Good times."
Mycroft straightened his posture. He raised his chin, tightened his grip on the reigns of his logic, and forcibly prevented his body from going into shock. He did not do things like that. He was sovereign over himself, utterly in control, never wavering. He had been knocked back by recent events, but not without any hope of a resolution. There was a reasonable explanation, in a manner of speaking. The Genesis story quickly moved from a myth to a warped historical event in his mind, merely the interactions of an ancient creature (or his ancestors) with early mankind. It was not proof of God.
"And you claim to be the devil, is that it?" he guessed snootily.
"Nah, not me," he said with a shrug. "I'm just a lackey. Or ex-lackey, anyway."
The demon suddenly sat bolt upright. His handcuffs clinked. The motion made Anderson jump, gripping the table. "What?"
"I hear him," he whispered absent-mindedly, a dumb grin stretching over his face. His keen hearing picked up a set of familiar footfalls out in the complex beyond the door, and the warm tones of his husband's voice. "He's here."
"Who?" Anderson demanded, getting to his feet, but Mycroft already knew the answer. They had been warned once already, when he had first awoken, of the jealous monster which Crowley had married.
"Check verse 24," Crowley said with a nasty grin. Before anyone could stop him, he sucked in a deep breath, and began to scream at the top of his lungs: "AZIRAPHALE! AZIRAPHALE, HELP ME, I'M IN H - "
Mycroft jammed his umbrella lengthways into his mouth, gagging him. Crowley gave a strangled cry, trying to pull back, only to find it pushed harder into his teeth. With a snarl, he bit down. He wouldn't be able to bite through it, but he could make sure Mycroft would get rained on next time he had to use it. It did shut him up, but too late.
"Crowley?" Aziraphale's voice called, echoing across concrete and metal in the underground cells. He called again, his footsteps louder now in the tense silence. Another set of footfalls joined him. "Crowley?"
When he was just passing by the door behind him, Crowley began to scream as best he could around the umbrella in his mouth. He thrashed wildly, trying to jostle it loose. Mycroft tried desperately to shut him up.
"Sherlock! He's in here!" Aziraphale cried, banging on the thick steel door. "You there! Whatever it is you're doing to him, I order you to stop it immediately!"
Mycroft looked at Crowley's smug expression. He whipped around, hissing to Anderson "What is verse 24?"
He jumped, looking down at the Bible. "Er - erm - which one is the verse number?"
The demon laughed around the umbrella. Mycroft gave a start as something collided hard with the door, making it shudder under the pressure. His heart pounded. His hand shook, and he felt his body beginning to betray him. "The small ones!" he snapped at Anderson.
"Mycroft, open the door!" Sherlock called through. Something slammed into the steel a second time. "I can hear your voice, I know you're in there."
"As do I!" Aziraphale added on savagely. The door shuddered again under his assaults.
Anderson finally located the right passage, violent tremors running through him. "R - Right, here, I have it," he said triumphantly. His eyes flickered across the page. He read aloud over the banging from out in the hallway, growing more frustrated and angry with each blow: "After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden a cherubim and a flaming sword, flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life."
Everything fell silent. For a tiny moment, the humans allowed themselves to believe that maybe - just maybe - that by simply reading aloud from the Bible, that they had driven away whatever horror lay behind the metal. But then... why would Crowley have given them the verse? Tentatively, Anderson got to his feet, sharing a nervous glance with Mycroft. He crept nearer the door. He strained his hearing, searching for any sign of life out in the hall, any sign that it hadn't all been a bizarre dream or demonic trick.
A flaming blade burst through the steel, scattering a plume of sparks across the room. Anderson shrieked. He froze up as the tip of the sword halted a mere inch from his chest, with the flames lapping toward his shirt hungrily. There was a moment of quiet. Slowly, almost painfully, the blade dragged itself down the door, bubbling molten steel dripping from the cut. It withdrew sharply. Anderson screamed again as it stabbed back into the metal with another shower of sparks, a few feet to the side.
Mycroft wrenched his umbrella free of Crowley's mouth, drawing out his own blade from the handle. Anderson jumped, immediately running to cower behind Mycroft. He gripped his free arm in terror, hardly daring to peek around his shoulder.
"Hate to be that guy," the demon drawled, happy to have the use of his tongue back. "But I think Aziraphale's is bigger."
With that, a huge slab of steel toppled out from the door, the edges molten and glowing orange. The clang reverberated through the assembled humans. Aziraphale stepped primly through the breach, sword in hand, his expression perfectly impassive, and relentlessly calculating. With a slightly different necktie, one might have even mistaken him for a Holmes. Well, maybe not. The Holmes brothers tended not to wield miraculous medieval weapons, or radiate heavenly wrath. His hard eyes passed over the two men. Sherlock stepped through into the room from behind, giving his brother an obnoxious smile and a cheery wave. He’d been delighted by the sword, almost childlike in his glee now that he knew it wasn’t some sort of deadly nuclear-equivalent weapon.
"Hate to say I told you so, brother mine," he said, tucking his hands into his pockets with immense satisfaction.
Mycroft set his jaw. "Explain this, Sherlock," he demanded tightly. He adjusted his grip on his umbrella-sword. Genesis 3:24 repeated itself like a stuck record in his head.
Aziraphale ignored them, releasing Crowley from his chains with a snap of his fingers. The demon jumped to his feet, rubbing his wrists and pressing a grateful kiss to his cheek. "Thanks, angel," he said, his eyes raking up and down him with unmistakable lust. "You look good when you're angry."
"Then I daresay you will find me extremely attractive if these two," he said slowly, gesturing to Mycroft and Anderson with the sword, "fail to explain what on earth they think they're playing at."
Chapter 17: The Sin Of Hope
Please check the end of the chapter for an update about my upload schedule
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Mycroft took that as a threat. He lunged forward, aiming for a clean strike before Aziraphale could react. His umbrella blade whistled cleanly through the air. With a whoosh and a roar of holy fire, the principality raised his sword, slicing Mycroft's weapon in half with little more than a casual roll of his shoulder. Half the blade clattered to the ground, and the unearthly wave of heat that followed flooded Mycroft's senses, shocking him into dropping the umbrella handle. It vanished before it hit the floor.
"I suggest you sit down," Aziraphale said. The fire wreathing around his blade whispered to him in a language that he didn't understand with his human ears, but that resonated deeper, sending vibrations to the coiled entity of cacophonous heat and light hidden within.
Slowly, with the piercing eyes of an angel trained on them, Anderson and Mycroft edged toward the chairs. A few extras had just appeared. The elder Holmes was wrestling to keep his dignity, refusing to show outright fear. Anderson was still clinging to his elbow, half-stooped behind him as if to hide his presence. Sherlock sat across the table, clearly relishing the chance to have one up on his elder brother. Crowley stood by his left shoulder, and Aziraphale by his right.
"I imagine you've already pieced together most of the story," Sherlock said, folding his hands together on the table. He gestured to the bible, still open to Genesis. "I gather they both appear in this bit."
"The serpent," Aziraphale said, nodding toward his husband.
"And the angel," he finished, returning the gesture with a wink. "In dubiously holy matrimony."
Aziraphale rolled his eyes with a light huff, but he was at least smiling. Sherlock looked between his brother and his most petty nemesis, one eyebrow raised. "Found yourself a friend, Mikey?" he teased.
"Nothing so sentimental," he replied coolly. Anderson rolled his eyes. There was no true bitterness behind it; it was the kind of eye-roll that said yeah right, you ridiculous drama queen more than it said ouch. "Phillip here was merely in possession of some relevant data."
"You can just say that you needed help, you know. It's much easier," he said smugly.
"It's really not," he shot back.
Anderson cleared his throat. "If we could get back to the more interesting matter at hand," he said, as nasal and arrogant as ever. He looked to Aziraphale. "You're in the Bible. Does that make it all true?"
"Mostly," the angel replied. His sword was sheathed, but he kept his hand resting lightly on the hilt. The Grimoire of Astronomy was tucked under his other arm. The combination built a more accurate picture of him than most any human had held before; the fearsome scholar, the educated warrior.
"I highly doubt that," Mycroft said sourly, shooting the three of them a condescending smile. "Don't be sucked in by them, Philip. They've done nothing but lie so far. I see no reason to believe them now."
"I resent that," Aziraphale said sharply. He turned to Sherlock. "We ought to wrap this up soon, dear boy. Tulip is waiting at home. She was terribly worried about Crowley."
For some reason, this made Crowley twitch. He turned away, a dark look passing over his face, muddled with pain and longing. Mycroft picked up on it immediately. He tilted his head slightly, but let it lie. There was obviously more going on here, beyond anything that they had speculated so far.
"John's with her. He's good at keeping people calm," Sherlock said fondly, before hurriedly added on: "He's a doctor, after all."
"I should like some reassurances before I allow you to leave," Mycroft interjected, automatically settling into his old role as the high authority. Fake it till you make it, wasn't that the saying? Unfortunately for him, most of the people in that room had a history of flouting Higher Authorities in one form or another.
Crowley snorted, crossing his arms. "Sorry mate, you don't have any more bargaining chips," he said. "Unless you've got an ace up your sleeve, you can't make us do anything."
"We've been able to come to an agreement before, Mr Fell, I'm sure you recall," he replied carefully, referring to the CCTV blindspot he'd implemented years ago. Sherlock was suddenly struck with a needle of worry for his brother, before he reminded himself that Crowley was not the type to go around plucking souls at random. "There needn't be any blackmail."
"A favour for a favour?" Aziraphale guessed, suddenly interested.
"A service for a service, yes," he replied, smiling thinly. Sherlock's face had turned sour, sensing the balance of power in the room shifting again, readjusting to put him back near the bottom. "Explain to me why you've come to London and, if I find it agreeable... I may be able to lend a hand."
Crowley narrowed his eyes. "And if it's not agreeable?"
"Then you needn't worry," he said dryly. "I have no more aces, as you so eloquently pointed out."
Tulip crossed her arms tightly, glaring out the car window. Lestrade swerved around, stalling the car several times before he managed to get moving. It made her stomach churn, and she wondered if he was drunk or high on something. Not that she could tell; she refused to even look at him. Why would he have done this? He knew Crowley and Aziraphale, so he knew she was safe. Adults could be shortsighted sometimes, and downright stupid at others, but no one had ever acted to erratically out of character like this before. Well, apart from when Mr Drew tried to kill her, but she didn't count that. He'd been under the influence of a supernatural creature, so -
That could be it. Perhaps they had go to him, maybe Lestrade was being controlled... She watched the buildings race by. The expensive residential flats began to fall away, replaced with grimy shopfronts and old flats before finally giving way to the least habitable areas. Patches of scrubland broke up the houses. Wire fences, fringed with barbed wire, marked the boundaries between the road and the compounds they enclosed. Tulip drew her arms close to herself. Her anger collapsed under the weight of fear.
"Where are we going?" she asked, glancing toward the DI, anxiety building as the certainty that she was in danger took hold. He didn't respond. "Inspector Lestrade?"
"Shut up," he snapped. The car drifted across the centre of the road, with no regard for anyone or anything. A cat in the road had a lucky escape.
"No," she said, her hand moving slowly toward the clasp of the seatbelt. "You're taking me somewhere and I want to know where."
"Don't you ever stop talking?" he said, veering off in an attempt to run over a stray dog on the path. He missed, managing to dash off his wing mirror against a wall in the process. Tulip unclipped her seatbelt slowly as the metal crunched, masking the sound of the click.
She kept her hand over the clasp, hiding it. Lestrade wasn't paying her any attention. "You were pleased when I started talking again," she said, narrowing her eyes to gauge his reaction. She had to play dumb for now. "After the fires..."
"I was pretending," he said. She watched his face carefully, scrutinising his twisted and hateful expression. Her brow furrowed. There was something beneath the surface, something masked beneath his familiar appearance. Her angelic intuition couldn't place it, but her human instinct could. It was an intrinsically earthly trait, to realise when you're backed into a corner by something far larger, far more predatory... Slowly, she reached toward the door handle.
"Hey... I've got a tip for you," she said carefully. He grunted, disinterested. "Child lock."
"What's - ?" he began, only to cut himself off with a strangled scream.
Tulip wrenched the door open, throwing herself out into the road. The tarmac knocked the air from her body, shredding her delicate skin as the leftover momentum tossed her like a rag doll against the concrete. Tyres screeched. Tulip cried out, tears stinging her eyes. Her legs trembled under her weight as she dragged herself up, cradling her bloodied arms close to her body. The road curled away before her. It was deserted on both sides, with no onlookers. With a glance over her shoulder at the car, she began to sprint. Harsh, abrasive cries followed her as the demon gave chase. She could hear him gaining on her. This wasn't like that night in the alley, where corners and overhangs tricked the eyes, covered over with a lace of fog and cut with shadows. This was one straight line, and she had nowhere to hide.
Broad hands grasped her from behind, digging into her like steel claws. She screamed, thrashing madly. She spat, kicked, swore, shrieked and twisted in his grip, only succeeding in sending shooting pains across her broken skin. This time, she didn't get the luxury of a car seat. Hastur threw her into the boot, slamming down the lid to leave her in the dark, where he couldn't hear her jabbering.
"Bloody nephilims..." Tulip heard him mutter through the metal. She breathed heavily, whimpering, in the cramped space. It was pitch black. She wasn't sure if her eyes would adjust, or if she wanted them to. Warmth spread over her arms as her grazes bled, and down her cheeks as she began to weep in despair.
"Aziraphale... Crowley..." she whispered, a sob painfully wracking her. The sound of their names meant something to her, in a way that nothing ever had before. It was a mournful noise, veined with loss... but it was also a promise. It was a reassurance, and a battle cry. She knew they'd come for her. Taking a deep breath, she wiped the dampness from her cheeks, and clenched her fists tightly. They needed her to be strong. They needed her to be a survivor. They needed her to hang in there, just a little longer...
Aziraphale opened the book on the table, running his fingers across the parchment. "This volume contains a guide to the stars, and how they affect the earth," he explained, Anderson and Mycroft paying rapt attention. "We returned because we suspected Heaven to be behind the arsons that Sherlock and John were investigating."
"We were right," Crowley chipped in.
"Our thinking led us here, to this ritual taking place during a rare astrological event occurring in..." Aziraphale paused, checking his watch. "Approximately two days. Heaven was burning orphanages in an attempt to kill the half-angel, half-human child inside, whose living flesh is a key ingredient in the ritual."
"Half-angel?" Anderson said, eyeing Aziraphale in surprise. "You've had children with a human?"
The angel gasped, affronted. "I most certainly have not!" he snapped, while Crowley snickered behind his hand. "Other angels have visited earth besides myself, and I am not one to go around fornicating as I please, thank you very much!"
"To be fair, angel, it's not like you haven't done your fair share of sin besides that," Crowley pointed out.
"Still your tongue, serpent," he said, giving him a light slap on the arm.
Sherlock leaned heavily on his fist, looking intensely bored. "When you two have finished flirting, we have a conversation to finish," he said dryly. He wondered if this is what it felt like to be Lestrade, always the third wheel to his and John's subtext-heavy double act.
"Says you," the demon snorted, reinforcing his thoughts, while Aziraphale blushed lightly.
"Yes, of course," Aziraphale said, clearly his throat primly. "As I said, the ritual will take advantage of the nephilim's connection to both earth and Heaven, causing a rift to open that will block the path for souls and cause irreparable damage to heaven. The result will be catastrophic."
Sherlock paled, mentally reaching for the hatch on the mind palace basement. Mycroft rolled his eyes, tutting. "I thought we had established that your unusual species have no bearing on the existence, or lack thereof, of an afterlife," he said sourly.
Crowley narrowed his eyes, slamming a hand down on the table and grabbing the elder Holmes by the collar. "Listen here, human," he snarled, baring his fangs for effect. Mycroft refused to flinch. "I don't give a shit what you believe, but until the window of opportunity has passed, a child's life is at risk. Whatever you think, if there's a way you can help us, you will do it. Capiche?"
Mycroft's haughty expression twitched. He nodded tightly, smoothing out his shirt once he had been released. "I can assign extra guards to the flat, if you must have them," he said, hooking his umbrella over his arm (it would only occur to him later that it ought to have been in pieces on the floor) and standing up. "Come along, Phillip. I believe we're finished here."
Anderson went to stand, but hesitated. He glanced at the angel. "Does that book have a lot of information about different species? Ones that look human, I mean," he said curiously, ignoring Mycroft's melodramatic scoff behind him.
"Only the nephilim. The half-angels, that is," he said, flicking back through a chunk of the pages to show him. "I haven't read it much, given that it's largely irrelevant, but - Oooooh!"
Sherlock grimaced at the sound. "What the bloody hell was that noise?" he said, stumped even despite his sharp mind. Crowley sauntered over, looking idly over his husband's shoulder although he didn't read Latin. Even Mycroft was beginning to look intruiged.
"Medius angeli, immortales et decorum sint," Aziraphale breathed, running his fingers over the line of text in sheer awe. "Crowley, my darling, if - if we dare to believe this is true..."
"What? Spit it out, angel," he urged, sharing an exasperated glance with Sherlock.
"This passage, it - it explains that once they reach full maturity... nephilims become immortal," he said in a stunned undertone.
At that moment, Crowley's brain stopped responding. His jaw fell slack, and his throat tightened. Inside his mind, his thoughts oscillated wildly between TV static, an outpouring of gratitude to God or Satan or someone, dead silence, and the Windows error noise. Sherlock, watching his internal breakdown, could definitely relate. He'd felt similar when John asked him to be his best man. Eventually, Aziraphale stood up, snapping his fingers in front of his face.
"Crowley! Wake up!" he said, flicking him on the forehead.
He jolted, his eyes refocusing. "She's... she's like us," he croaked, his voice raw, as if with centuries of disuse. "She..."
Aziraphale cupped his cheek, a sheen of tears overtaking his eyes. "She could be ours," he whispered, rubbing his thumb over his cheekbone.
For that instant, nothing else was real. Crowley was in free fall, clinging to his angel as they plunged together into an ocean of possibilities, of a whole new life to lead. If Tulip would live forever, she could be their daughter forever. He pictured her in the Bentley's back seat, on their way back to Old Duckshead while Queen played victoriously in the background. He imagined buying her a cool little leather jacket, and teaching her how to scare the plants. Aziraphale envisioned how the spare bedroom of their house would look, once she had moved in. He wondered if she would like a bedspread with their family tartan on it, like his bow tie, and firmly decided that she'd be getting one regardless. They each fell into a flurry of daydreams about family dinners, dad jokes, movie nights and school runs. Beyond that, her future, her first job, first love, and first glimpse into a future where she was safe, adored and sheltered. Crowley didn't notice he was crying until the tear dropped from his jaw.
"We have to tell her," he said suddenly, gripping Aziraphale's forearms with urgency. "She has to choose us, angel. We can't force it."
He sniffled, wiping his own eyes. "Yes, yes, I agree," he said, turning back toward the humans. Each of them were avoiding eye contact, clearly feeling as if they were encroaching upon a private moment, though Mycroft was more embarrassed by such a public display of sentiment than anything.
"I shall arrange for your transport," Mycroft said. He was eager to have the over-emotional entities out of his hair so he could start to process, rationalise and compartmentalise so that, hopefully, he'd be able to sleep again soon.
John suppressed the urge to swear as the phone went to voicemail again. He'd been trying to get through to Crowley or Sherlock for ages, to no avail. In his agitation, he hadn't noticed that Rosie was still cowering at the top of the stairs beneath a blanket. Lestrade had been so strangely short-tempered, he wondered if something had gone wrong. He would have mentioned it though, wouldn't he? The DI hardly ever kept secrets from them, even when he was supposed to. He almost sighed in relief when the front door slammed open downstairs, and a familiar voice cried out up the stairs.
"TULIP! We're back!" Crowley yelled, his footfalls heavy as he sprinted up the stairs. "Tulip? Where are you, flower?"
John felt the sudden urge to hide. The girl had now been pet-named, and that meant the demon had officially become attached. He had only ever bestowed the honour of a pet name on Aziraphale before that day, and such a thing was a marker of Crowley's love, more so than any grand proclamation or heroic gesture. John did not want to have to break the news. His heart lurched as Crowley burst into the room, a stupid half-smile clinging to his face, closely followed by a breathless Aziraphale.
"John! Where's Tulip?" he panted.
"Er - she's - " he began, eyes flicking around the room anywhere but toward them. He mumbled the next part. "Not here."
Their faces dropped. "Pardon?" Aziraphale said, now slightly on-edge. Sherlock finally appeared in the room, too, having heard John's words. He stepped carefully around the two of them, like creeping through a minefield.
"I've been trying to call you. Lestrade showed up about an hour ago and took her," he said, exasperated yet cautious. Something had changed, something big; it hung in the atmosphere around them as their ferocious hope began to bleed through from their auras into the material realm.
"Why would he do that?" Sherlock said, narrowing his eyes. He dared not turn around and look directly at the husbands, for fear of being blinded by their combined rage. He could feel it rising like a hot breath on his back.
"I don't know. He said something about social services, and then he left," he said helplessly. "I couldn't exactly stop him. Keeping her here without Greg's support is against the law, it's kidnapping."
"And you just... gave in," Crowley seethed, motionless and tense. What struck John more than the demon's rage, however, was the quietly disappointed look on Aziraphale's face. It cut his argument from under him, forcing his eyes away in shame.
"We need her back, John," he said, tremulously calm, laying a placating hand on Crowley's arm. "The cosmic eclipse is days away, and we must watch over her until it has passed."
"Right. I'll call the Yard," he said, quickly picking the phone back up. This was his mistake, the least he could do was sort it out. He thanked God it would at least be a simple fix, since Greg couldn't stay agitated forever. He'd come around. If he didn't, Crowley or Aziraphale would make him.
He retreated into the kitchen, vaguely hearing Aziraphale murmuring soft comforts to his husband. Crowley was telling himself similar things, fighting his worries at every turn, cursing his overactive imagination. Sherlock trailed John out of the living room, catching his elbow just before he hit enter on the Yard's number.
"John," he murmured in his ear with a familiar, anchoring proximity. "They just discovered that nephilim are immortal, too."
He sucked in a sharp breath as everything immediately fell into place. "They want to keep her," he realised aloud. He recalled the wounded look on Aziraphale's face when he had first explained their dilemma on parenthood; John could only imagine his pain at that moment. He shuddered at the thought of Rosie being torn away from him so suddenly. Her disappearance in Old Duckshead had been bad enough, and he could only hope that Tulip would be back in their arms as fast.
"Oh, and my brother and Anderson were working together," Sherlock added with his customary bluntness. He had a smile in his voice, hoping to keep John from falling into a spiral of over-sympathetic pity. He didn't withdraw from his personal space.
John's face twitched into a half-smile. "You're joking."
"Nope. I know I told him to find himself a goldfish, but I didn't mean it literally," he snickered. "They know about angels and demons now, too."
"How did that go down?" he asked, tilting his head up to meet his eyes, taking solace in the levity behind that lopsided smile.
"Like a lead balloon," he replied, a soft chuckle reverberating through his chest. "Mycroft is in denial."
"No surprises there," he said dryly, rolling his eyes. He hit enter on the phone, holding it up to his ear. Completely subconsciously, he began to lean back against Sherlock's chest. It felt too easy, too natural... He came to his senses when he felt him tense up under his touch, and abruptly took a few paces over to the other side of the kitchen.
Intimacy was fine, but Sherlock was Sherlock. John could never commit to more than a few brushes of the shoulder, or anchoring hugs during times of hardship... if his friend even understood what those meant, at least to John. He didn't doubt Sherlock's friendship, his devotion or his love - how could he, after all they'd been through? - but he could always doubt himself. He knew beauty when he saw it, in both men and women, as well as the lust that came with it. But... what if it was no more than that?
What if he finally reached out to Sherlock, only to lose interest once they'd dispelled the tension? He'd hate himself. It would desperately unfair, especially to a man who had made such a tumultuous effort to give over his cold, frosted heart to him so entirely. Perhaps it was crueler to keep him waiting for the rejection... John wasn't sure. He didn't want to turn him away. He didn't want to let him down either; he could hardly face thinking about it all in so many words. They needled at him, mocking, sneering, reminding him of how badly wrong it had all gone last time he'd given into temptation... when he'd kissed Aziraphale. Shame spread, hot and restless, over the back of his neck at the memory. He blinked it all back, forcing it away. He didn't have a basement in his mind to throw it all into, but his subconscious would have to do. He'd kept it all repressed for this long, after all... what was the rest of his life in comparison?
John and Sherlock met eyes across the kitchen island, wordlessly posing a thousand questions. Maybe they ought to have spoken, but Scotland Yard had just taken John's call. They broke their stare. Their stagnant relationship wasn't the priority right now; they weren't the only couple in that flat who were missing half of themselves.
Much as I hate to do this, I'm going to have to TEMPORARILY put this story on hold, for roughly 2 weeks (3 at absolute maximum). I will update if I possibly can in that time, but I can't make promises at this stage.
I have a little more on my plate than usual at the moment. I'm in the middle of university applications, and I've just been invited for interviews and admissions exams at my top choice. It's a very demanding process and I have only two weeks to prepare, so unfortunately I do need to prioritise.
Apologies for the delay at this late stage, but I will be coming back to finish the story as soon as I can! I'll keep writing in my downtime so I should have *at least* one chapter to put out by the time I've completed the admissions process.