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Beginning of Eternity

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The prisoner was dragged before the council in chains. The angel didn’t fight. His wide-eyed fear was too disabling for that. A yank of chains sent the prisoner stumbling off-balance as he was forced to a halt before the avenging row of Archangels.

As he looked at the prisoner, he could feel the sheer rightness of what they were doing. Traitors had to be punished. Any who spoke against the plan. As it had been in the time of the Fall. They’d known the will of their Creator then. They would know that certainty again.

The death of the traitor was the first step toward redemption.

For all of them.

He glanced at his siblings, feeling the unity of the moment. Amenadiel standing like a solid rock, his arms folded and his expression impassive. Uriel edging as close to Amenadiel as he could, glancing with open admiration at his big brother. Barachiel toying eagerly with her blade. Raphael, eyes dancing with light and her expression relaxed. Michael, leaning over to whisper something to Samael which made them both laugh.

He turned to the figure who stood alone, the chains gone. The principality’s wings were flattened against his back, his body hunched as he shrunk in on himself. Clearly, the prisoner knew his sins.

He took a step closer, pronouncing judgment in a loud voice. Yes, this had to be correct. This had to be the way forward. What else could the Almighty want but the guilty punished to the fullest extent?

Death.

There was no other possible sentence.

Not for standing against Heaven.

Who would ever think otherwise?

The flames were in his hands. He raised them toward the condemned. He felt no joy for the action, just the supreme peace of following the narrow path.

“I don’t mean to be a bother,” the prisoner said politely, eyes still trained on the ground. “I just wanted to be sure this was the Ineffable Plan, not just the Great Plan?”

“It’s the same thing!” He roared, silencing any doubts in his soul with bellowed certainty.

“It’s just… You wouldn’t want to go against the Ineffable Plan, would you? And how would you ever know if you were?”

“Shut up!” He screamed. “And die already!”

Flames. Refining, perfect flames. To cleanse Heaven of the unworthy.

As it had been in the age of the Fall.

As the flames climbed higher to consume the traitor, he looked back at his siblings. He needed their looks of confirmation. The certainty they all knew this to be the only choice.

A single tear splattered at his feet. He jerked his head to follow the golden blur of Raphael’s wings until she was nothing but a speck of stardust. His eyes dropped to the others.

Uriel lay collapsed, the Sword of Eden buried to the hilt in his breast. Amenadiel had turned away, holding a baby over his head and laughing with an innocent joy unheard in this place in so long. Barachiel’s blade lay shattered, no angel in sight. Michael looked around wildly, his hands saturated in blood. And Samael… was no more.

He whirled back to the column of flames and the prisoner within, but it was amber, slitted eyes which glared back at him. The serpent slithered from the ring, hellfire radiating from its back. It lifted its head and opened its mouth wide.

He flung up his arms in desperate shield at the spray of flames…

~

“Sir? Are you there?”

Gabriel jerked awake with a gasp. He clawed at his desk, desperately trying to look busy before the voice calling to him came within sight. Would they see he’d been sleeping? Would they see him trying to banish the lingering dream-scent of hellfire?

A guard appeared, hovering nervously in the doorway.

“What?” Gabriel demanded.

“We have a situation, Sir,” the angel said, their eyes wide and worried. “And you’re the only…” They trailed off helplessly.

The lack of Archangels in Heaven was a fact not mentioned by unspoken mandate.

Gabriel rose quickly. “What’s wrong?”

The angel backed quickly from his path, hurrying for the nearest opening. “Some of the guards, Sir. They found… You won’t believe it.”

Gabriel followed, pushing aside the pounding in his soul.

The hellfire scent hadn’t gone away.

Chapter Text

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA - SATURDAY MORNING

Chloe Decker, homicide detective of the Los Angeles Police Department, mother of one, divorced once, briefly a child actor, and currently destined for Hell, awoke warm and comfortable beside the Prince of Darkness. She turned her head, studying the face of the man-shaped being she’d come to love with a smile on her lips and a flutter in her soul. He was beautiful, yes. But that was hardly what made her heart dance at the sight of him. The devil could wear whatever shape he chose, after all. She’d seen his other face. And she loved him still.

Because beneath the beautiful face, beneath the horrifying face, was the person she loved. Maybe it had taken longer than it ought for her to admit it. Maybe it had taken doubts and soul-searching, and countless dangers, and a painful year apart. Maybe now their time together was brief and snatched in desperate hour. But it was what they had. And she treasured every moment together.

She slipped out of bed, carefully sliding from Lucifer’s arms without awakening him. The impulse to given him a kiss on the forehead as if he’d been Trixie was strong. But she didn’t want to wake him.

The exhaustion of running Hell weighed heavily on him. She often saw the weariness in his eyes, the worn and tense note in his voice. He hid it of course. He made light of what he endured. But she knew the troubles were worse than he described.

She wished he’d tell her the entire truth, though she knew why he didn’t. This thing between them – this promise, this future – it was still fragile and new. She’d run from him once. He still looked at her with the fear she’d do it again.

He’d let her go if she stepped back. She knew that with absolute certainty. The future he offered her was grim. Neither were entirely certain how it would work. What resistance they’d endure. He’d offered her a future at his side, but he’d offered it to her with the reality of what that meant as clearly laid out as he could. Eyes wide open.

And if she had doubts, if she realized this was more than she could endure, he was prepared to let her go.

Even if they both knew it would break his heart.

She went to the window and looked out at the forest beyond the cabin, barely visible in the grey pre-dawn light. Lucifer had flown them here the night before – literally. On wings which had glowed in the darkness. He’d had a candlelit dinner waiting for them. They’d laughed and talked long into the evening, retreating at last in the bedroom for wine-flavored kisses and a dance so very tender and intimate.

It hadn’t even felt like their first time. They’d been together so long in some capacity or other. It felt as if they’d been intimate forever. That this was the first time he’d held her clasped to him and cried her name with such fervor and love seemed impossible. She’d dreamed it so many times it hadn’t felt like a first – just a return to exactly what she always needed.

It was Saturday morning. They had all day and another night here – their first weekend alone. The longest vacation either had managed from work in the three months since he’d finally found his way back to Los Angeles.

She spared a brief moment of worry for the work she’d left undone. For what trouble her daughter might be getting up to. Dan might be a capable father, and as good an ex-husband as Chloe could hope for, but Chloe was never sure he was quite prepared to cope unattended with Trixie’s skill for negotiating and finding loopholes. Too much demonic influence in that child’s life, Chloe had to admit. Although… she really couldn’t fault the demons and devil who’d help encourage her daughter in confidence and strength. Chloe smiled. Trixie’s teen years were going to be an interesting time considering the overprotective nature of her occult extended family.

The mountain cabin was well-stocked and easily navigated. Chloe walked softly to the kitchen and explored the cabinets and refrigerator.

The bacon was sizzling nicely and the pancakes were turning golden-brown when Lucifer emerged. “Detective…” His face fell at the sight of her actions. “I had hoped to show off my culinary skills for you.”

Chloe flashed him a smile. “You did just fine last night with that meal you had waiting for us. Now it’s my turn.”

He looked further distressed. “I had very little to do with that, actually.”

“How did you pull off a romantic candlelit dinner in the middle of nowhere?” Chloe asked as she flipped a pancake onto a plate.

“Friends with wings and incurably romantic sides,” he replied. He grimaced. “Friends who are currently making short work of my wine cellar as payment for spending the weekend in Los Angeles.”

Chloe grinned, a look which faded with a soft flicker of worry. “There’s no chance something awful will happen while we’re up here, is there?”

“Don’t fret, Darling. All of Hell has been warned on pains of dismemberment and torture to leave me in peace. And Heaven is currently keeping their distance from the new Guardian of Earth. So long as he’s in Los Angeles, Heaven is staying far away.”

Chloe set a plate down in front of him. She’s drawn a happy face on the pancake with fruit and whipped cream. On impulse she’d sliced a strawberry into devil horns.

“Very funny, Detective.” He looked wistfully toward the oven. “I meant for you to awaken to a proper French breakfast. Not for you to labor in the kitchen as if this wasn’t your first vacation in months.”

“Too bad.” Chloe kissed him as she sat down with her own plate. Abruptly she shivered and started to get up. “It’s colder up here than I’m used to.”

“Allow me.” Lucifer gallantly pulled his suit jacket off the chair where he’d hung it the night before and draped it around her like a cape.

Chloe stuck her arms into the sleeves, enjoying the scent of familiar aftershave clinging to the collar. “I don’t want to get whipped cream on it.”

“Don’t fret.” He smiled at her affectionately. “You’re worth the dry-cleaning bill.”

They were barely halfway through breakfast when they heard the first roll of thunder outside.

“Rain?!” Lucifer cried with far too much distress. “No-no-no!” He rushed to the window.

Chloe followed at a more relaxed pace. “Look at those clouds. That’s going to be quite the storm.”

As she reached him, Lucifer thrust a hand into the jacket pocket, emerging with his phone. “Reception up here is rubbish,” he groaned. “How long is this supposed to last?”

“Lucifer, it’s fine. A little rain won’t ruin anything.”

The jacket Chloe wore felt abruptly unbalanced. Without the counter-weight of the phone, she was more aware of something bumping against her leg in the opposite pocket. She slid her hand into the pocket, blinking as her fingers encountered a velvet-covered box.

Lucifer still fretted over the phone. “I should have checked, of course. But storms come through this part of the country so rarely. I never thought…” He trailed off as he looked up to see Chloe holding the little jewelry box.

Chloe lifted her eyes with a look of confusion and wonder.

The devil snatched the box from her with a moan. “This isn’t right at all! I wanted to go up to the ridge. The starlight is perfect there. Stars – it’s in my name, you understand. I thought it would be apropos. The perfect setting to…”

“But… you already gave me a ring.”

“For Hell, yes! But not for here and now.” He paced a restless circle. “If you change your mind about eternity, I thought we could have here at least. And you could have the proper wedding. With the bridesmaids and cake and Dan looking jealous. We could have something now. Here.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “This isn’t going right at all.”

She looked at him, a smile tugging at her face. He hadn’t shaved away the morning stubble or combed his hair. He was lacking his familiar polish of meticulous grooming. There were crumbs on his shirt and a smear of syrup on his cheek.

She took the box from him and dropped it on the windowsill. She took both his hands and looked up at him. “It’s perfect,” she said softly. “It’s absolutely the right time.”

He stilled looked doubtfully toward the window.

She caged his face in her hands. “Ask me right now.”

“You haven’t even seen the diamond I picked out,” he protested.

“I don’t care. I don’t care about any of that. Or whatever over-the-top romantic gesture you had planned. Ask me right now.”

He covered her hands with his. “Detective… Chloe… Will you marry me?”

She answered with a kiss.

Chapter Text

LOS ANGELES – SUNDAY MORNING

Crowley, fallen angel of Hell, messenger for the devil, and current resident of the planet Earth awoke at the blare of an organ. “Bloody…?!” He gasped, sitting straight up and slamming his head on the very low roof above him.

He ducked with a moan and reached a hand toward his head… only to find he didn’t have hands. Grumbling, he put his tail over his muzzle and tried to work out where he was.

What had happened the night before…? They’d been staying in LA… Yes… Aziraphale had been lost in a book. Crowley had been teasing him… And then there’d been a knock on the door.

Right. Maze. She’d been at the precinct where she’d overheard an officer telling a young woman that her assault accusations were a ‘he-said, she-said’ situation, and if something had really happened, she wouldn’t have waited a week to come in, and was that how she always dressed? And after Dan had peeled her off the officer, Maze had stalked out with murder in mind.

Changing perception and culture took time, patience, and discourse. Demons, particularly the fast-living sort like Mazikeen, lived in the moment. And at the moment a certain professor needed a lesson in not taking advantage of his students. So, she’d convinced the woman to give her a name, and then she’d gone to Crowley.

Sometimes demons had to be demons.

Maybe it wouldn’t lead to a great cultural shift away from objectifying women, but the man who’d awoken with a large viper wrapped around his neck and a knife-wielding woman with a half-rotted face grinning down at him would think twice about his actions if he didn’t want to be visited by another dream like that… which he couldn’t quite convince himself had been a dream.

After they’d finished fighting injustice, Maze had demanded celebratory drinks. Crowley had been willing, aware Aziraphale would barely notice his absence with Lucifer’s library at his disposal. In hindsight, trying to match her drink-for-drink had been a mistake. And he was pretty sure they’d gotten in a fight with a gaggle of Hell’s Angels somewhere in there…

…How he’d spent the night in a church in serpent form was beyond him.

He could hear the service beginning and muttered to himself as he crawled further under the organ in search of somewhere which wouldn’t rattle his skull so badly. He needed better concentration to miracle himself sober.

He heard the pastor begin the call and response. With a sigh, he coiled up to nap. He’d have to wait until the service was over to sneak out. This was Los Angeles. People might be tolerant of a demon, but they’d have feelings about a sizable snake.

“Open your Bibles to today’s reading…” the pastor declared.

Crowley tried not to grumble. Contrary to tales of demonic weaknesses, listening to the scripture wouldn’t make his ears bleed. But he’d lived the entire Bible and heard it recited too often to feel anything but irritation whenever situation required him to listen to another redundant passage.

…And the Lord planted a garden eastward in Eden. There he put the man whom he had formed…

“Seriously?!” Crowley moaned.

…Now the serpent was subtler than any beast of the field which the Lord had made…

Crowley clutched his tail tighter over his skull. There was nothing ego-stoking about this story. He might like religious paintings of Eden, but he hated the story. The details were outrageously off (he blamed Adam), and he didn’t like being reminded of what had happened after. Crawl on your belly… Hah. What Lucifer had done to him was far worse than any cute curse like that.

He apologized, Crowley reminded himself. He promised…

He liked Lucifer now. He’d been willing to fight Hell to defend him. It wasn’t like it had been back after the Garden.

Still… he didn’t like being reminded of this story.

…And the Lord said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us - knowing good and evil. What if he put forth his hand, and takes also of the Tree of Life, and eats, and lives forever?

Wait, what?

Crowley raised his head, abruptly alert.

...So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden cherubim and a flaming sword…

Crowley huffed his annoyance. Get back to that tree business.

What was that about? There’d only been the one forbidden tree. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Lousy name. Slightly more concise in Enochian, but still a lousy name. He’d never gone near it, despite every painting showing him (or Lucifer) crawling around the branches. Trouble-maker he might have been, but he’d never have taunted a cherub like that. They were far too enthusiastic on the smiting.

Except…

An image swam into his mind of the forbidden tree standing by itself in its little clearing. But the clearing had been more oval shaped. Come to think of it… hadn’t there been another tree…? Not right in the center, but…?

He didn’t hear the sermon. He barely noticed anything until the organ blared out the exit music.

As the organist stood and collected their sheet music, Crowley saw his chance. He ducked out from beneath the organ and behind the altar. A quick glance at the crowd told him what was appropriate Sunday garb in LA. He transformed and altered his clothes accordingly.

He winked at the organist as he stood up, not that it mattered with his glasses in place. This was definitely not the sort of place he wanted his eyes to attract notice. Living through the age of witch burnings once was plenty, thank you.

The pastor stood at the door, shaking hands with the congregation as they filed out. Crowley joined the end of the line.

The pastor smiled brightly at him. “It’s so nice to see the younger generation in attendance, especially for our early morning service.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Crowley mumbled. “You don’t see many of my sort walking into a church… Hey, about that passage you read…”

“Yes! The story of the fall. How it all began.”

Crowley winced. “Fall. Right… Was that a special Bible or something?”

“A special Bible? I’m not sure I understand.”

“…Like… Extra details or something? I never… that bit about the other tree…”

“Other tree?” The pastor frowned.

“Um… Got a Bible?”

The pastor was happy to open her Bible to the passage of the day.

“Where’s the bit about the trees?” Crowley asked, staring at the tiny type a little helplessly. He’d always had Aziraphale to point out whatever misprint had excited the angel in his newest Bible.

The pastor skimmed to the beginning of the chapter. “And out of the ground the Lord made grow every tree that is good for food. In the middle of the garden was The Tree of Life and also the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

“Right. That. Does it say anything more? About the trees?”

“Well, I’m sure you know the woman ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and gave the fruit to the man.”

Crowley looked sourly at the pastor. “None of that subtle blaming of Eve, okay? Adam knew what he was getting into and was onboard with their snacking.”

The pastor grinned. “Oh, I like you, young man.” She scanned through the text. “Those are the only verses which mention the tree specifically. Was there something in particular you wanted to know?”

“No… I’ve just never heard of a Tree of Life.”

“It isn’t brought up often, is it?” The pastor smiled at him. “Do you have other questions?”

“Not today, no… thanks for… that.”

The pastor showed him to the door. “Come back and see us. We’re always here for searchers.”

Crowley thrust his hands into his pocket and stalked along the street. Searcher? Yes… In search of where he was. Grumbling, he stole a car and found his way to the interstate. From there he navigated with better clarity toward LUX.

A second forbidden tree… Why hadn’t this come up before? Why couldn’t he remember?

Aziraphale would know.

Aziraphale knew these things.

Chapter Text

SOHO – SUNDAY

Adam Young, the prince-of-this-world, the great-beast-who-is-called-the-dragon, former antichrist and current science teacher, awoke to the sound of a crying baby.

He opened his eyes and looked down at the baby no longer asleep on his chest. “Seems to me, this is the wrong time to have noisy feelings,” he said wearily. “Seems to me you should just settle down and go back to sleep.”

The baby glared at him in an unimpressed manner and screamed louder.

Finding his persuasive powers were lost on an infant with a soiled diaper, Adam arose from the sofa and went hunting for the diaper bag.

“Is she alright?” Warlock asked from where he and Dog were stretched asleep on the floor.

“Fine. She just needs changing,” Adam called back. He headed for a door and hoped there was a bathroom behind it. Sometimes the bookshop forgot human necessities unless reminded. Fortunately, the room was there and the diaper bag with it. He handed the baby a ring toy, which did more to sooth her vocalizations than any of his persuasive words.

Behind him, he could hear Dog claiming the couch now that Adam had vacated it and Warlock shuffling in his sleeping bag.

Adam had properly met his ‘brother’ at the university which both had attended. He’d known about the boy who could have been Adam Young (or more likely Matthew if the nuns hadn’t gotten involved) since Armageddon, of course. He’d nudged Warlock and his family toward America immediately following, thinking it would be kinder for the not-antichrist to carve his own life without celestial or occult eyes locked on him.

He hadn’t given Warlock another thought until he’d accidentally discovered Warlock was still in communication with his former caregivers. At the time he’d been angry. What protection he'd extended to Aziraphale and Crowley to keep Heaven and Hell from bothering them he felt came at a price of not interfering strenuously with humanity. And that certainly included not giving life advice to a former pawn of whatever game the universe played around them.

But then he’d read one of Warlock’s emails, and found it to be the meandering miseries of a troubled sixteen-year-old who felt increasingly isolated from his parents. Warlock missed England as the one place he’d felt secure and the time in his life in which he’d known who he was. Adam made sure there’d be a place open at the university if Warlock wanted it.

He arranged to meet Warlock once in person. He’d been surprised they’d become friends. Warlock initially seemed to be everything Adam disliked – all American boasting, certain his father could get him out of any scrape, and callus of others’ feelings. Adam would have avoided him, but Warlock sought him out and behaved as if they were already friends. Which they were, in a way. Hadn’t they once shared a delivery room? Weren’t they sort of brothers?

It didn’t take long to see past Warlock’s façade and find someone hurting underneath. Over the course of their first year of schooling, Adam kept their friendship at a wary arm’s length and watched as Warlock descended into self-destructive behavior.

It took him time to bring himself to ask why. But he felt he had to. So he got to know Warlock enough to try and understand. And eventually he learned the confusing spiral of the boy’s life.

Warlock’s life had been forever altered by his eleventh birthday. Not by a discovery he was expected to be something he wasn’t or anything of that nature. No, his eleventh birthday had been the day he’d pointed a Magnum .32 at a ten-year-old girl and pulled the trigger.

At the time, he’d had a vague enough grasp on the concept of mortality to not realize the implications of his actions. But two weeks later, a panicked reaction of one of his security detail resulted in him viewing first-hand what the gun was capable of.

The two incidents, combined with the strange trip to Megiddo where weird-looking people had asked him all sorts of bewildering questions and demanded things of him which didn’t understand; and the abrupt move from England to America, had turned Warlock’s memories into a whirl which left him convinced he’d murdered someone at his eleventh birthday party and been rushed out of the country as part of a cover-up.

He’d entered school in America in a state of reservation and fear. He’d been targeted for bullying immediately. With his not-quite-American accent, his tendency to say things like ‘biscuit’ instead of ‘cookie’ and fondness for Vegemite, he was marked as weird. Combined with a sudden terror of firearms and fear of loud crowds, he proved an easy target for bullies who were masterful at seeking out any opportunity Warlock’s security guards were looking the other way.

He’d turned to religion, spiraling down a path of penance and self-hatred which led to drugs. His parents quietly hushed up his problem behavior and Warlock grew further distant from them.

Around age sixteen he’d finally written back to the nanny and gardener who’d never failed to send him a birthday card. They’d responded promptly, and Warlock had clung to the frail hope that someone out there cared about him. But he’d never revealed his real problems, warily keeping his letters as upbeat as possible for fear showing off his broken side would drive his only friendly connection away.

He graduated and entered the university more on his father’s money than any show of decent grades. He’d returned to England with hopes of returning to a life in which he'd felt comfortable, but there was no returning to the security of childhood. His first year of university descended into a haze of drugs and alcohol which terminated abruptly with his parents cutting off his pocket money and dumping him into a rehab program.

The world was filled with good and bad rehab programs. When Adam snuck in, he found this to be the latter. It was a place growing rich on wealthy patients and offering no service to the young people locked inside save to keep them confined and in the hospital’s care so their parents would continue to pay.

Adam considered the situation and did what he should have done far sooner. He went to Warlock’s godparents.

He received a first-hand look at the combined fury of Heaven and Hell that day.

Warlock spent the rest of the semester sleeping on the sofa in the backroom of a bookshop and being chauffeured to and from classes each day in an antique car. The angel and demon might not have been professionals in childcare or counseling, but after 6,000 years, they’d seen some hurting people and believed there was no shame in therapy. A combination of talking about problems, a proper support network, and some anti-depressants got Warlock back in a better mental headspace.

What interested Adam about Warlock was how blandly he accepted the impossible. Warlock never seemed puzzled why his former nanny no longer wore a brassiere and sometimes took naps in a terrarium. He was unbothered by the glowing, red eyes Adam’s dog sometimes displayed, and saw nothing strange in his family’s former gardener losing an argument with a houseplant.

By his second year at the university, he was living with a few carefully vetted roommates closer to campus and passing more classes than he failed.

To everyone’s surprise, he transferred to a small school in the states after that. Despite taking some extra time to graduate, he finished with a double-major in theology and business. From there he went on to graduate school. Since then he’d rambled through internships, volunteer work, and the occasional job. His parents showed little concern what he did so long as he stayed out of the news.

Adam had kept up with him, first out of a sense of guilt for the part his existence had caused in upsetting Warlock’s life, and later because he considered him a friend.

Eventually, Adam confessed to the hospital mix-up. Warlock was no more surprised about this than anything else. The way his parents slept around, he’d always been sure his father wasn’t his father, and had had suspicions of the same for his mother. Though curious to meet his birth parents and sister, Warlock didn’t want to change things. He was comfortable in his life, as was Adam. Neither felt inclined to upset their family dynamics.

Warlock did want to meet his parents’ birth son.

Adam had kept in touch with Greasy Johnson, their childhood rivalry a thing of the past. Greasy’s parents had never told him he was adopted. Now a pro-footballer in America (the American football, not real football), he was perfectly content with his life. Warlock and Adam decided against enlightening him, but perhaps there was something to be said for bonds forged in the infancy of their first moments of life since Greasy and Warlock became fast friends almost from the start. Greasy’s parents, who’d moved to America, practically adopted him into their family.

Adam considered himself very lucky to have two nice brothers, and several sets of concerned parents (more than he probably wanted in that regard).

It was holiday for Adam, and he hadn’t had plans when Warlock had abruptly called him with news. A London-based cousin of his was doing a stent of their own in rehab, leaving their daughter without a care-giver. Warlock had impulsively volunteered himself as the closest (in terms of distance) relative. The enormity of the situation had rapidly set in, and he’d called Adam in hopes he knew something about child-care.

With no better plan, they’d headed for a certain bookshop in Soho. The store was empty, but the doors had unlocked for Adam, and it had only taken a few minutes to talk the houseplants down from attack formation. They settled into the backroom for the weekend, finding quite an assortment of books on parenting to peruse while considering the future.

The baby changed, Adam held her up and suggested she return to sleep. The baby made noises back at him, which he was pretty sure translated to, ‘Not a chance’. He smiled wearily and returned to his companions.

Warlock already had a bottle ready for her. They sat on the floor against the sofa. Dog leaned his head over the side to sniff the baby and wag his tail.

“I’ve got my own place in Cardiff now,” Adam said abruptly. “If you’re tired of hotel rooms, you could stay with me for a while.”

Warlock glanced over at him. “Are you sure? I don’t think she’s going to let me get a decent night sleep ever.”

“All the more reason for there to be two of us.” Adam leaned back his head with a yawn. “It’s what family does, yeah? Look out for each other.”

“The right kind of family,” Warlock said a little darkly.

They were silent for several minutes.

“I was having this weird dream,” Warlock said abruptly, awakening Adam back to the present. “I was walking this path through a forest, right? Overgrown forest - like no one had taken care of it in forever... I mean, I know forests just do their own thing, but I knew this one had had someone looking after it before. Anyway, there were these signs telling me how many minutes until I got where I was supposed to go. But then these people... or creatures... inflatable-looking things. Like lawn decorations? They grabbed me and were trying to stop me from going anywhere. And the signs with the times kept going up - like I was never going to escape. So, I threw the inflatable things against some thorns and they popped. And then there was a door to where I was supposed to go next. I was just opening it... and the baby woke me up."

He was quiet for a minute as he finished feeding the baby. “I keep wondering what was behind the door. And where I was supposed to go.”

Adam looked away. He didn’t say he’d been having the same dream. He didn’t say he’d seen what came next.

And he certainly didn't say he felt the dream hadn't belonged to either of them.

Chapter Text

LOS ANGELES – SUNDAY EVENING

Lucifer rode the elevator to his penthouse, barely keeping from singing. What a wonderful, WONDERFUL weekend he’d just had. The detective had been… perfect. Any time with her was perfect. And they’d begun their plans!

He hadn’t thought past giving her the ring and suggesting she set a date. He’d given no thought to venue, guest list, catering… any of the logistics. Chloe’s mind had gone there immediately, and his assurance of, ‘whatever you want,’ had not been what she wanted to hear.

Mostly her mind strayed to guests.

“I haven’t even told my mother we’re dating,” she groaned.

“Does she have to come to the wedding?”

“I can’t get married without inviting her. And I do have an extended family.” She looked uncertainly at him. “What about your family?”

That question was still teasing at his happiness as he stepped into the penthouse.

He’d expected to find it trashed. When he’d called Crowley and asked him to convince Aziraphale to spend the weekend in LA, the demon had had only one condition – they got the penthouse.

“I thought you had an apartment,” Lucifer had replied.

“It’s occupied,” the demon had said flatly in a way which didn’t indicate desire to continue the discussion.

It was none of his business, of course. Lucifer hadn’t asked. Instead he’d gone to the apartment himself and hadn’t been entirely surprised to find two families of Honduran refugees living there. That was also none of his business. He wasn’t in the habit of giving charity. There was nothing charitable about throwing a little work the way of his favorite ID forger. And LUX needed some new dishwashers and laundry personnel. (Unlike every other club in the city, LUX actually paid its employees a living wage and gave health insurance.)

He’d given Crowley the code for the lift and eagerly told him which closet held his favorite toys… just in case they were curious.

Between that and the fully stocked bar, he expected they’d had a lovely weekend.

What he did not expect, (but really should have) was the angel sitting in a corner bent over the oldest-looking books from his library and the demon asleep on the sofa.

Lucifer shook his head disparagingly. Of all the pleasures Earth had to offer, these two seemed impossibly boring.

Crowley awoke at the sound of the elevator. “Hi, Boss,” he yawned groggily. “How’d it go?”

Better than your weekend, clearly, Lucifer started to say. But his face broke into an absolutely foolish grin which ruined any scornful declarations.

The demon grinned back and slid off the couch. “That look calls for champagne.”

Lucifer found himself seated at the bar and holding a bubbling glass in short order. “Doesn’t the angel get any?” He asked when he noticed Crowley had only poured two glasses.

“The angel hasn’t moved in two days,” Crowley replied with an affectionate look at the very absorbed principality. “I knew he’d love your library.”

“Is that why you wanted to stay here?”

“That, and I’ve seen your bottle collection.” Crowley waved a hand at the bar behind him.

Lucifer reflected the demon might have used the penthouse exactly appropriately.

“So, when’s the big day?” Crowley asked.

The devil sighed. “Apparently, that isn’t just a matter of naming a date. She wants to know when relatives are available. And venues. And when she’ll have time off from the precinct.”

Crowley shook his head. “Remember when human weddings were just two people saying, ‘hey, we’re married’? And divorce was, ‘hey, we’re not married anymore’?”

“Yes… only the ridiculously wealthy and important had any sort of formal wedding. Unfortunately…” Lucifer slumped. “…I do happen to be important.”

“Right. This’ll be the biggest thing the realms have seen since…” Crowley considered. “…Probably that funeral a decade back.” He frowned. “Forget her relatives. Think who you’re gonna have to invite.”

“I know.” Lucifer massaged his temples. “The council and the kings of the regions should be in attendance. Really… all the elite of Hell. But the wedding is happening here. At least that limits those guests.”

“And the other realms?”

Lucifer groaned. “That will be necessary, won’t it?”

Crowley shrugged, then winced. “I’m back to delivering a load of mail, aren’t I?”

Lucifer snorted. “I’ll just say I’m sorry in advance.”

The demon sighed. “I did agree to it.” He studied his glass. “What about your siblings?”

“Besides Amenadiel, who would come?”

“Depends how much trouble they want to cause. Michael does love a party.”

Lucifer downed the entire glass and held it out for a refill. “Right. I think I’ll stay drunk until it’s over.”

“Chloe might decide otherwise.” Crowley refilled both glasses.

“When she meets my family, she might join me.”

“Well… so far only a few of your siblings have tried to kill her. So, think about all the ones who haven’t!”

“Yet.” Lucifer polished off the glass and refilled it again.

They drank in silence.

“Do you remember much about Eden?” Crowley asked abruptly.

“What of it?”

“The tree – the one the humans weren’t supposed to touch – Did you ever take a look at it?”

“Briefly. Why?”

“Was there another tree… near it maybe?”

Lucifer rolled his eyes. “I was there for sex. You were the one messing about with the greenery.” He pushed himself upright. “I should get back to Hell. Thank you for keeping an eye on the city.”

“No problem.” Crowley eyed Aziraphale, who was starting to look dusty. “I’m not sure we’re leaving anytime soon.” He straightened. “Say… could I take a look in your library? Your other library, I mean?”

Lucifer’s eyebrows rose. “Whatever for?”

“Just… trying to find something. And Aziraphale’s not much help at the moment.”

The devil shrugged. “If you’d like.” He paused at the closet door. “Shouldn’t you tell your husband you’re going to Hell?”

Crowley leaned on the doorjamb. “Hey, Angel? Adam decided to restart Armageddon, so we’re off to rally Hell’s army.”

“That’s nice, Dear,” the angel murmured absently.

“And Gabriel wants your last century of reports rewritten.”

“Mmm.”

The demon spoke softer. “You’re about to drip cocoa on your book.”

“What?!” The angel startled and looked around. “Oh, hello Lucifer.” He blinked owlishly. “I thought you were leaving for the weekend.”

Crowley smirked. “I’m off to Hell with the boss. Are you okay here?”

Aziraphale still looked vacant. “Of course, Dear. Have fun.” His eyes drifted back to the page and remained fixed there.

Lucifer shook his head as he took a grip on Crowley’s arm. “How do you put up with him?”

“Love,” the demon said simply. He transformed and pulled Lucifer out of the world.

The backdoor into Hell had widened since its relocation. Lucifer could come and go on his own, brutally uncomfortable as it was. The passage was still easier with Crowley’s assistance. The demon seemed to know exactly how to slide between worlds without the horrific squeezing and general resistance Lucifer endured. And now that the passage was better established, the serpent didn’t arrive utterly exhausted.

The fissure in Hell was now under constant watch. The guards snapped to attention as the only two beings authorized to use the passage slid out of it.

They parted ways at an intersection. Lucifer glanced back at the serpent with a flicker of puzzlement. He shrugged and laid it aside. Crowley suddenly becoming research-minded was his own business. Lucifer had more important things to consider.

Like Chloe…

The idiotic grin returned to his face.

He strode in the council room, unsurprised to find a few gathered there. “Everyone!” He called. “Congratulate me!”

~

Crowley browsed the library shelves with a rising sense of discouragement. He wasn’t the least bit sure what he was looking for. How did anyone find anything without a Google search bar?

Why was this nagging him? Just something foolish he’d heard in a church. The humans’ holy books were full of mistakes as far as he was concerned – especially the history section. And the humans spent far too much time arguing whether or not they still needed to follow laws which were thousands of years old.

He wasn’t even positive how this library was organized or what section he needed. Or if a devil’s library would contain anything regarding Heavenly objects.

He opened a scroll at random and found himself eying the script for Prometheus Pyrphoros. Oh, Aziraphale would love it here. Would Lucifer mind if he borrowed a couple things…?

“Hello, Cra… Crowley,” buzzed a voice behind him.

Crowley whirled and flattened himself against the shelf with a whine of fear. “Uh… hi… p-princes.”

Beelzebub and Mammon loomed over him. Both grinned in a way which said they were enjoying his rush of terror.

Crowley flitted through his options. They had him very boxed in but maybe if he dashed between them? Mammon wasn’t exactly fast… Wait, they weren’t supposed to hurt him! He’d been pardoned! But if anyone had found a way around that restriction, it would probably be Beelzebub.

“H-how’s… counseling going?” Crowley asked weakly.

The princes took a step closer. “Actually,” Beelzebub droned. “That’s why we came looking for you.”

Chapter Text

1916 – WYCH CROSS, ENGLAND

Crowley pushed a little harder on the accelerator and encouraged a few more increments of speed out of the automobile. He grinned. He could get used to these new combustible engines.

The car was the future, or so the man he’d gotten the car from had told him. The man gushed about design improvements and how much more horse power the newer models were to have.

Crowley hadn’t felt bad stealing it. He had miles to put behind him.

At the moment he was running. Not from Hell. Just humanity.

Disgusting, clever, horrifying humanity.

He’d been on the continent the past few years. He’d watched tensions rise, then erupt. He’d seen the start of the trench warfare. The machine guns. The tanks. The airplanes. The barbed wire. The gases.

Humanity. Give them any new idea and they’d figure out how to use it to kill each other.

He hadn’t taken credit for starting the war, although he was certain some demon or other had. He’d spotted a couple others amidst the armies. There'd been a disgusted-looking field agent in France who'd told Crowley they’d asked to be reassigned back to Hell. It was quieter there. And another agent in Hungary looking as if they were having the time of their life.

Crowley should have been on the front line still, but he’d had enough. He’d returned to England with plans to keep going. Maybe to America. He’d heard they were doing interesting things with motion pictures. Maybe he should look into that.

He’d fake his reports until this was over. No one would know the difference.

He pushed the accelerator flat against the floor and asked the car for all it had.

~

The engine made a curious pinging noise as it cooled. Crowley leaned against the door, watching the steam rise off the hood. If he understood more about the engine, he thought he could have kept this from happening. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he cooled the whole thing very suddenly now.

It was just past sunset. He watched the stars come out beyond the village buildings.

A girl came around a corner. Her eyes lit on him with an eager gleam as she pulled a white feather from her apron pocket.

Crowley rolled his eyes. White feathers. The sign of cowardice.

It had become the rage for women to give white feathers to any male not in uniform. A way of shaming them into joining the army. Crowley had only been back two days and he’d collected eighteen. Saying that he’d just come from the front made no difference. ‘You shouldn’t have left while they’re still fighting,’ was the retort he’d received.

The girl tripped up to him. “Here’s a present to adorn your cowardly buttonhole,” she cried, probably words she’d heard from an older sibling.

Crowley didn’t uncross his arms. “Why is my buttonhole a coward?”

The girl faltered. “…I mean YOU’RE a coward!”

Although that was true, Crowley didn’t move. “How can you tell?”

“You’re not in uniform.”

“I might have taken it off.”

The girl blinked unsteadily. “You’re not supposed to!” She decided at last. “If you don’t want to be a coward, you have to wear it all the time.”

“Oh. And where’s your uniform?”

She took a step back. “My…?”

“If you’re not in uniform, you must be a coward too.”

“I’m a girl!” She snapped. “I’m not supposed to fight.”

“Tell that to the women defending their farms while armies destroy them from both sides.” Crowley stayed stone-faced. “Or the ones in nurse’s uniforms fighting to keep soldiers from dying. Or the ones chopping off their hair and soldiering right alongside the boys.”

“They don’t!”

“They do.” Crowley felt a flicker of pity at her stricken face. “I’ll take your feather,” he said. “But the next time some poor blighter comes through here, you ask yourself if you’re not just a little cowardly hiding behind social stigmas before shaming him.”

He reached for the feather. At the first brush of the barbs against his skin he yelped and yanked his hand away.

The girl startled, then shrieked as Crowley grabbed her wrist and wrenched the feather from her.

“Where did you get thisss?!” He hissed.

“Let me go!”

“Tell me where you got it!”

The girl waved her free hand toward the edge of the town. “Near the manor.”

“WHERE?!”

She gave him better directions in a sob.

Crowley sprang into the car. “You’re cooled down,” he snarled at it. “You’re ready to drive, and you’re going to move now!”

The engine roared to life, and the demon sped from the town.

He drove one handed, the other hand crushing the feather in a death grip.

He saw a single feather drifting along the roadway. He slowed long enough to scent the odor of celestial blood. His lips curled back, his face elongating to provide ample room for his fangs.

It wasn’t far. He could hear the ritual and smell the blood as soon as he escaped the village proper. He burst through the forest onto a manor estate. He saw the fire-lit figures in their bloodied robes.

They must have heard the car. They must have ignored it as none of their concern.

Crowley took in the sight of hooded robes, candles, chalk lines, and a basin of what was undoubtedly blood. He slammed the accelerator to the floor and barreled the car through the center of it all.

The spell lines would have kept a demon out. The summoners hadn’t planned for a 1915 Stellite.

The car burst into flames, which helped scattered the humans. Crowley launched himself clear of the burning wreck, spreading his wings as he did. One wing took out the basin of blood. He wrenched up pieces of the flaming car and threw them with ferocious accuracy, setting robes ablaze and sending men fleeing. Instinct screamed for him to pursue. But he had other concerns.

Carrying a flaming length of metal, he sprang across the broken circle and wrapped an arm around the bound and bleeding figure within the confining ring.

The angel was half delirious with pain and terror. Still, he clung to the demon with a relieved sob.

Crowley severed the bonds with liberal use of jagged metal. It burned with hellfire now, feeding off his fury. The angel shrank from the flames, but he held himself as still as possible.

From the corner of his eye, Crowley saw a few braver humans creeping their way toward the circle. With the angel in his arms, Crowley advanced on them. He’d lost his glasses, and there was no mistaking the fury in his eyes as he snarled a wide-mouthed threat. The humans lost their nerve and bolted.

Crowley stayed only long enough to direct the blazing hellfire into a proper inferno. Within minutes every trace of the ritual was gone – reduced to ash and melted silver.

Crowley didn’t stay to see. He flapped his wings and fled.

~

It was afternoon before the figure on the bed regained consciousness.

“Steady, Angel,” the demon murmured as his friend began to thrash. “You’re safe.”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale whimpered, infusing the name with so much relief and emotion that the demon nearly recoiled.

Crowley rubbed the back of the angel’s neck. “I go off to war and this is the mess you get yourself into?”

“I…” Aziraphale struggled for a moment, then dissolved into sobs. “They called me!” He cried helplessly. “They knew my name! They used it!”

“I know.” Crowley crushed him in a hug. “I know how it feels.”

He’d been summoned a few times, mostly by incompetent humans who hadn’t known how to properly bind and subdue him. If Crowley excelled at one thing, it was finding loopholes to escape any bindings or contracts. It helped he’d managed to keep his name relatively obscured.

Angels didn’t usually endure the wear-and-tear humans seemed eager to inflict on demons. Usually the humans asked them nicely or just wanted them around for protection. Not for… In his mind he again saw Aziraphale’s flayed skin, his siphoned blood, his… The demon shuddered.

“It’s all over, Angel,” he soothed. “You’re going to be fine.”

The weeping gradually stopped and Aziraphale lay silent. “Crowley?” He asked weakly. “My wings?”

The demon flinched. He’d healed the surface, but feathers – both angel and demon – could only grow on their own.

“They took my feathers!” Aziraphale panted. “They ripped them out! They stole them! They-”

Crowley soothed him softly. “You’re going to be alright, Angel. They’ll grow back.”

“Grow back?!” Aziraphale bolted upright. Despite Crowley reaching to restrain him, he grabbed a wing and pulled it forward. At the sight of the blood-stained feathers – the ones which hadn’t been ripped out - the angel collapsed sobbing.

“Angel!” Crowley clutched him close, wrapping his wings around both of them. “It’s going to be fine. We’ll get them cleaned up, okay? They didn’t break the bones. They didn’t do any permanent damage. You’ll heal.”

“I can’t fly,” Aziraphale whimpered into the demon’s shoulder.

“And that’ll be great, right? You get to sit back and read for a few years. A nice, long, relaxing break.”

Crowley talked inanely, trying to put what spin he could on the tragedy.

“You have to stop them,” Aziraphale mumbled abruptly.

“Stop who?”

“The humans.” The angel lifted his head. “I heard them talking. They were… They were getting ingredients for a spell. To summon… To bind Death.”

Crowley went cold. He blessed a few horrified snarls.

Aziraphale clutched his arm. “You can’t let them. They took my… It’ll be because of me if it works! You have to stop them!”

“Alright.” Crowley pushed the angel back down. “I’ll take care of it.”

“But don’t kill them!” Aziraphale clutched at him once more. “Promise you won’t kill them.”

They both knew Crowley could get around the ban on killing humans if he tried. He’d enacted retribution on more than a few humans through a series of coincidences and accidents.

“Alright! Nobody dies. I’ll just make sure they won’t summon Death.”

~

The curator of the royal museum trembled in the back of the car as he rode the long road toward the manor. In his bag lay the Magdalene Grimoire. Inside was the incantation – the last thing the order required for the binding of Death.

The curator thought of many things. How wrong his actions were. How vulnerable he was making himself. Mostly, he thought of his son, dead across the channel in a war about nothing.

This would end that. No more Death. No more suffering.

His head began to nod. He leaned back, the road passing by without his awareness.

He didn’t see the serpent crawl into his bag, coil around the book, and nose through the pages. He didn’t hear the whispering in the demonic tongue to reshaped the words. He didn’t see the ink curl and change on the page, the incantation subtly drawn away from its intended goal.

~

“It’s done,” Crowley said as he returned to the apartment where he’d left the angel recuperating two days before while he reconnaissanced and acted. “They won’t summon Death with that ritual.”

“What will they summon?” Aziraphale asked. He lay curled in a ball on the bed. He lifted his arm in plaintive invitation for the demon to join him.

Crowley slid easily into his embrace. “I have no idea. Something closely related to Death and probably plenty pissed off.” He tilted his head meditatively. “I hope they get Abaddon.”

Aziraphale shuddered and huddled close against the demon.

“Anyway, it’s not our concern,” Crowley said carelessly. “We’ll get you back to your bookshop tomorrow.”

“You shouldn’t stay. What if you’re caught?”

“I’ll say I’m the one who tore out your feathers. We’ll be fine.” Crowley wrapped a wing around the angel and prepared for a long vigil. “Get some rest.”

Enveloped in dark feathers, Aziraphale slept.

~

In his dream, Aziraphale walked through a library containing every book ever written, and every book never written. He took one from the shelf and settled down with a sigh of satisfaction.

He didn’t know how very many decades would pass before he’d have that dream again.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - LOS ANGELES

Linda Martin showed her patient to the door and locked it behind them. Another business exec considering cheating with his secretary. It was nice this one still had conscience enough to consider making it work with his wife, but by now Linda was convinced everyone in LA had a romance on the side. It felt too normal to be worth talking about secretly. Especially since the wife was also a patient. And was cheating on her husband without the least flicker of guilt.

I need more interesting clients, Linda thought.

Granted, she barely needed to take clients to pay her bills anymore. Her one very complicated client paid extremely well. Even if he did have to cancel many of their sessions.

She’d been glad to have Lucifer back again, both as a friend and someone who clearly still needed help. If Hell had done anything over the course of the year he’d spent there, it had made him much more aware of how far he still had to go in his journey of self-improvement.

Still… very weird their first session had been him recounting the events leading up to A REBELLION IN HELL. Linda wasn’t sure her mind would ever be ready for this.

Working around his schedule was complicated, but they tried to make it work with the illogical time difference and his uncertain free hours. He’d canceled twice. Once with no warning. The second time a very disgruntled demon had shown up in her office with a letter.

“I thought we were done with this,” Linda had said.

“So did I,” Crowley had grumbled, and sat in a sullen heap on her couch the whole time she’d typed a response. He’d livened up by the time she was done, and there was still time left in the session, so she’d asked if there was anything he needed to talk about.

He was amazingly well-adjusted considering the chaos around him, she’d thought after.

The therapist took out her lunch and settled back for an hour of peace. Amenadiel had Charlie today. Maze sometimes appeared uninvited during her lunch breaks, but she’d been sleeping off her latest bounty hunt, so Linda thought she’d get an uninterrupted meal.

Be careful what you wish for, she thought as her phone vibrated.

“Hi, Crowley,” she said as she brought it to her ear.

There was a long pause before the demon answered. “…Hi… uh…” There was a sound of a scuffle in the background. “…Are you free for dinner tonight?

“Sure. Did you and Aziraphale have somewhere in mind?”

Not Aziraphale…” More scuffling and what sounded like whispers. “…But there’s a sushi place that’s good. I’ll text you the address. 6:30 okay?

“That’s fine…” Linda pressed the phone closer to her ear and strained to pick up the background noise. “Is everything alright?”

Fine!” The demon spoke much too quickly. “But, you know… if you want to bring your roommate…” More whispering and what sounded like a rapid argument in Lilim. “…You definitely should.

“Okay…” Linda stifled down her pounding heart. “I’ll bring her.” She hesitated. “Should I bring anyone else?”

You definitely should not.” Crowley sounded slightly panicked. “I’ll see you then. The two of you. Okay? Bye!

The phone went silent.

Linda uneasily texted Maze.

~

“Relax, Linda,” Maze purred as they approached a rather small, and not exactly clean-looking, restaurant. “Crowley’s always one step away from a panic attack.”

“It just seemed like something was wrong,” Linda protested. “He’s not usually vague.”

Maze shrugged. “If he steps out of line, I’ll skewer him, and you and I can get a burger somewhere.”

“I like sushi,” Linda protested. “And I thought you were friends.”

“We are. But I’d still skewer him.”

The waiter escorted them into a backroom with a table set for seven.

Maze eyed the place settings. “Two of us… the two of them… Did he say who else was coming?’

They heard the bell on the restaurant door jingle, followed by a shuffling of multiple sets of feet.

Crowley appeared in the doorway, looking pale and unhappy. He slunk out of the way as six more figures filed into the room.

In the lead was a short woman with stringy, black hair and a cloud of flies dancing around her. Next came a tall and broad man wearing so many gold chains, rings and watches that Linda wondered if he had trouble moving. Following them was an elderly woman who, despite a stooped and aged appearance, had an impressive set of muscles. Beside her walked a German Shepherd. In the rear was a man with unnaturally pale eyes, and an immaculately dressed man in a suit who gave off the impression of being white-male-privilege embodied.

Mazikeen surged forward, drawing her blades as she planted herself between Linda and the strangers. Her face shifted to its demonic form as she snarled a threat in Lilim.

The group halted.

The stringy-haired woman glared at Crowley. “What’s she doing here?”

“She’s Linda’s bodyguard,” Crowley replied levelly.

The woman hissed angrily. “I told you this was a non-violent meeting!”

“Yeah… I didn’t completely believe you.”

“Does Lucifer know you’re here?!” Maze demanded.

The woman grimaced. “He does not.” She raised her hands to display no weapons. “We’re here with good intentions. We merely wish to talk.”

Linda edged around beside Maze, her eyes trailing over the six strangers. “Who are you?” She asked at last.

Crowley sighed and gestured down the row. “The princes of Hell. This is Beelzebub, Mammon, Decabra, Marchosias, Kokbiel and… Shawn.”

“Shawn?” Linda repeated, staring at the demon in the suit.

He straightened his tie and stared back at her with cold eyes. “Your defective human senses are unable to register my proper name, so for your limited abilities, I’ve chosen the name… Shawn.” He spoke rapidly in a flat monotone. “It is properly pronounced…” He emitted a series of squeaks and growls that left Linda’s ears ringing.

“We all just call him Shawn,” Decabra said with a roll of her eyes.

“Our mother was getting really ridiculous with the names by the time she got to him,” Maze added. She’d relaxed her stance, though her blades were still out.

“If we’re through the needless display of force, I would like to proceed with the meeting and not stay on this humiliating planet longer than necessary,” Shawn said. “Also, I was told this place had tempura.”

“Please tell me we’re eating something besides fish,” the dog grumbled.

“We’re getting dessert, right?” Kokbiel asked hopefully. “I like matcha ice cream. Hell doesn’t have ice cream.”

“We should be able to write this off as a business expense,” Decabra said.

“I’ll take care of ordering.” Crowley edged out the door. He caught Maze’s eye and nodded his head in a ‘come hither’ gesture. He glanced to Linda. “We’re right outside if you need us.”

Maze glared around the assembly. “If she’s so much as scratched, I’ll be playing with all of you until the next apocalypse.” She stalked out of the room.

Shawn gestured at the table. He took a seat at the head and sat stiffly with his hand folded neatly in front of him. Beelzebub sat on his left with Mammon and Marchosias beside her.

Linda found herself at his right, with Decabra beside her and Kokbiel at the end. She tried not to let any panic show, or stare at the dog sitting in a chair.

Shawn nodded curtly at her. “Obviously we are aware of who you are and your position. In light of recent events, we felt it was best to meet as a full council and properly discuss the issue at hand without the limitation and delay of letters.”

“Full council,” Linda repeated uncertainly.

“Correct. As you are undoubtedly aware, since we have now reached a full quorum of seven, we have endeavored to follow Lucifer’s guidelines for restructuring Hell and included better balancing our power and positions within the council. With that in mind, I have been elected to chair all meetings, unless you would like to file any objections based on your standing.”

“Standing…” Linda realized she was blankly repeating his words as she stared around the table and saw six other perfectly serious faces looking back at her. There were six of them… and they had called this a meeting of seven… which meant…

“CROWLEY!” The therapist yowled as the pieces clicked into place.

“I only deliver the mail!” The demon shouted back. “Take the contents up with Lucifer!”

“We thought he’d tell you sooner!” Maze called.

“You knew?!”

Maze appeared in the doorway. “It was kind of obvious, wasn’t it?”

Shawn surveyed her, his face almost registering uncertainty. “Were you not aware of your standing as a prince of Hell?”

“No I was not aware of my standing as a… how does that even work?!”

“You’ve been advising him for years, Linda,” Maze said. “I think he was hoping you’d be interested in the job… long-term.”

“Am I damned to Hell?!” Linda’s heart was beating a very fascinating rhythm.

“Don’t think of it as damned so much as… a career opportunity in a rough neighborhood,” Crowley offered as he came to the door. “And the boss can offer a really nice benefits package… Like no chance of Hell-loops.”

“And your own legion,” Maze added.

Linda buried her head in her hands. “My baby’s an angel,” she protested.

“We don’t consider fornicating with the opposing side to be a demerit,” Shawn said.

“As of recently,” Beelzebub grumbled with a glance down the table at Kokbiel, who was blissfully building a tower out of edamame beans.

“I always claimed I was trying to corrupt one to Hell,” Crowley murmured. Louder he said; “Nobody wants Charlie on the throne now that they’ve got Lucifer back. He was never the best choice, just a very stupid demon’s bad idea.”

Everyone nodded at this.

“And it’s not like anyone’s suggesting you move into your mansion tomorrow,” Crowley continued. “Just forty or fifty years from now.”

“I get a mansion?” Linda stared blankly at him.

“We’re cleaning out Belial’s and having it prepared for your eventual arrival,” Beelzebub said stiffly.

“I picked out the paint color,” Maze offered.

“And I suggested they get rid of all the torture devices,” Crowley muttered.

Maze gave him a scornful look. “She might enjoy those.”

“Okay, stop!” Linda flattened her hands on the table. “We can discuss my future later. What I want to know is why you’re all here. What’s so urgent for you to sneak out of Hell?”

“We didn’t sneak out!” Beelzebub fumed.

“They did,” Crowley stage-whispered to Linda.

Beelzebub glared at him. “You’re not as untouchable as you think, Worm.”

“Right… I’ll see how that sushi boat is coming.” Crowley fled.

Maze snickered as she trailed him out.

Shawn shuffled some documents which had materialized beneath his hands. “Perhaps it’s best we start at the beginning…”

Chapter Text

TWO DAYS PRIOR - HELL

Beelzebub, lord of the flies, prince of Hell, and acting regent, was walking across the courtyard with Marchosias and Kokbiel when a body fell out of the sky.

This was the first time Lucifer had left Hell for any extended length since his multi-year absence. The councilors desperately wanted everything to run smoothly while he was away. They wanted no reason for him to view them with distrust and contempt. And no reason for him to feel motivated to leave them once more.

Beelzebub and Mammon had had more than one conversation agreeing they never wanted to go through that again. Guarding the throne against all usurpers had been a full-time job toward the end while they watched Hell descend into Belial’s gleefully orchestrated madness. They’d do whatever it took to keep their King happy if it meant he wouldn’t abandon them. Even go along with his continued push for changes in Hell.

Hell continued to change, but at a slower pace. After the madness Belial had caused, the King had talked long and carefully with his council, clearly expressing his goals and visions. The new guard was eager to force transition without waiting for anyone to adjust, but prudence had better governed them since the rebellion. They’d learned too late how Belial had played them against one another, garbling words and rumors until they’d believed the worst of each other. Discourse was key, or so the seventh council member had written many times.

It had taken her a while to get used to the idea, but Beelzebub had come around to the restructuring of Hell. Amazing how much more breathing room it gave the council. And as for the new members…

She still didn’t think the Lilim belonged on the council. At least, that’s what she nodded along with when certain nobility grumbled to her about lesser demons prancing about as if they belonged. Best, she thought, for them to view her as the voice of the old ways on the council. Then they’d come to her with all their complaints.

Privately, she was starting to see the value in Lucifer’s choices to lead. The new councilors were certainly capable. And they didn’t have that… glazed way about them. Too many of the Fallen seemed one fight away from snapping completely. Many had. Beelzebub had quietly executed a few so they’d have the dignity of being remembered for their service to Hell, not the deranged gibbering messes they’d become.

Although she no longer sat at head in the council meetings, Beelzebub had been restored to the king’s good graces, and governed now in his name during his absence. She’d been twice disgraced – first with the apocalypse debacle and second with her failure to maintain order in Hell while he’d been away. But her sins were forgiven and she was determined he’d never have reason to doubt her loyalty or competence again.

Her mind was absorbed in such thought, barely registering her surroundings, until a shout of warning brought her to a swift halt.

The body of a demon plummeted out of the sky and slammed into a decorative table containing a twisted bouquet of human souls at terminal velocity. The human souls broke free and scattered across Hell in shrieking confusion. Beelzebub didn’t spare them a thought. It was the body she stepped toward with an alarmed buzz.

“No! Don’t touch it!” Marchosias surged forward, spitting out a stream of flames to warn the advancing guards away. On stiff legs, the wolf-demon circled the battered form, his hackles bristling and a snarl on his muzzle. He glanced back at the councilors. “Come look at this. Be careful.”

The lord of the flies fanned out in multiple directions at once. Tens of thousands of eyes were hers at a thought. She could see and calculate from every angle at once. Many a demon over the years had asked how she processed so much at one time. She could barely understand the question. To her, seeing from so many directions was as natural as breathing was to a human. Granted, she’d never understood their fondness for that activity. How did they eat?

She swirled at every angle, judging with sight as much, if not more, than Marchosias had with his nose.

It was a lesser demon – mostly skeleton by composition, down to the skinless frame of bat wings. Bones and body were all marked in… “Celestial burnzzz,” she buzzed with rising fury as the flies coalesced enough for her to form a mouth. “Fresh.”

“Still broiling,” Marchosias agreed. “Dangerous like that.” He whirled on the nearest guards. “Clear this area! Seal it off. We’ll need a guard around… Are they alive?”

“Yes,” Beelzebub confirmed. She could certainly feel the pulse of life. “Not for long if those burns aren’t treated.”

Marchosias turned to Kokbiel, who’d hung back uneasily while the others examined the body. “See if you can heal them. Or at least pull the divine energy out.”

Kokbiel shrank back. “It’ll hurt,” he whined.

“You’re an angel now,” Beelzebub replied, a fact Kokbiel needed reminding of on a regular basis.

The angel shuffled reluctantly forward and laid his hands on the wounded demon. Gradually, the angelic instinct to sooth pain took over, and his hands crept across the bubbling pools of celestial agony. The bubbling stopped, the wounds clearing of energy.

The wounds remained raw and horrifying.

The demon awoke with an agonized shriek. They fought blindly, registering the sight of Kokbiel enough to slash at him and recoil with wails of alarm.

Guards piled on the demon, pinning them to the ground.

“They tried to hit me,” Kokbiel said slowly. His expression turned gradually from incredulity to anger. “They wanted to hit me…”

Beelzebub hastily assured him that the demon had only been frightened, soothing the angel down from any desire to smite.

Marchosias, meanwhile, arranged for the guards to cart the demon away to the dungeon – the safest place for recuperating and monitoring.

“Celestial burns… In Hell,” He summed up in a murmur to the princes once they were alone. His ears flattened with a look of worry. “We need to find out what happened. Before rumors spread.”

“Can you track the scent?” Beelzebub asked the wolf.

He sniffed the wind, his ears splaying to uncertain angles. “I can try.”

“See what you can find out. Kokbiel, go with him in case you find more celestial energy.”

The fallen angel and the not-quite fallen angel spread their wings and took off.

Beelzebub collected herself into a single form and called out to the guards. First things first. Keep the story contained. No wisdom in starting a panic. Then, inform the rest of the council. Discuss the situation and possible solutions. Decide on a plan of action.

Maybe they could figure this out without Lucifer declaring them once more incompetent.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - LOS ANGELES

“…We’ve found four wounded demons,” Marchosias said as he licked udon noodles off his plate. “All scattered across Hell.”

“There’s no connection between them?” Linda asked.

“Not that we’ve found so far.” The dog’s ears flattened unhappily. “We’ve only identified two. Keeping this quiet while trying to learn more hasn’t been easy.”

“We’re keeping them stored in the dungeon,” Beelzebub droned. “It’s the safest place to keep them out of sight. And no one notices the screams. They’re not healing properly and their minds are utterly warped. We can’t get a coherent word out of them.” Her eyes narrowed. “We’ve tried all the usual methods.”

Linda winced. That didn’t sound like the subtle approach. “Does it have to be angels?” She asked. “Is there anything else that could cause the burns?”

“There aren’t any other options,” Marchosias replied. “Demons couldn’t touch whatever this was. Humans might be able to, but they can’t get into Hell alive.”

“Dead humans?”

The dog shook his head. “Souls are easy to track. We’d have found trails if there were humans out of their loops.”

“The injuries were all brimming with divinity.” Decabra shuddered. “There aren’t a lot of things that cause those type of injuries. None of the normal weapons look like that.”

“Normal weapons?”

“Divinely blessed weapons. Or celestial metals. They leave cuts or lashes or bruises – same as a human weapon.” The demon clenched her hand around a chopstick so hard it snapped. “These wounds weren’t made with a weapon – not one known to us.”

“Which logically leaves holy water,” Marchosias supplied. “But… holy water doesn’t respond like that.”

“What do you mean?”

The dog glanced at Kokbiel, who was occupied trying to spear sashimi and oblivious to the conversation. The dog dropped his voice. “Holy water eats right through you. It doesn’t take much. If you can hit a vital spot, you can destroy the whole demon. These burns ate down into the demons’ essences, but it didn’t destroy them.”

“They wanted them alive,” Beelzebub hissed furiously. “They were tortured.”

“They?”

“Whoever invaded and abducted them!”

“Okay.” Linda drew a shaky breath. “But you’ve had angels in Hell recently. Could they have done something? Accidentally?”

“We checked their route,” Beelzebub replied. “The two demons we’ve identified weren’t anywhere near their flight path. Whatever Heaven’s sent against us didn’t come through the main gates.” She frowned at Marchosias. “How is Lucifer getting out without using the gates?”

“Crowley set up a backdoor for him.”

“I don’t suppose the serpent…”

Her query was drowned out by a low snarl from the dog.

Linda hid a smile. “Are there other backdoors?”

“Possibly.” Beelzebub and Mammon exchanged an uneasy look before the lord of the flies spoke up. “We weren’t aware any existed until recently. We can search for more.”

“If that’s how they intend to attack us,” the gold-coated demon rumbled. “We’ll find them and stop them.”

“This seems pretty serious,” Linda said cautiously. “Why the secrecy?”

“There hadn’t been an angelic attack in well over 2,000 years,” Beelzebub droned, the flies around her head buzzing with increased agitation. “Rumors alone could spur some of the Fallen into preemptive attacks, and cause panic and riots among the younger demons. If this can be handled quietly, it’s better for Hell.”

“And what does Lucifer think about this?” Linda asked.

There was silence, then Beelzebub spoke awkwardly. “We haven’t related any of this to him.”

“What? Why not?”

They looked uncertainly at one another. Beelzebub reluctantly replied at last. “We’ve known our Lord for eons… since before there was time.” She exchanged a look with Mammon. “We were with him in the battle with Heaven, and in the Fall, and after… When he claimed the throne of Hell… When he established his supremacy and raised us with him. We’ve seen him triumphant, enraged, just, cruel… everything in between. But now…” She looked slightly helpless. “With this… human of his… he’s…”

“He’s happy,” Linda finished as the demon trailed off. “He’s happy. He’s focused on the wedding and his future with Chloe, and you don’t want to ruin that for him.”

The demon prince nodded at last. “Yezzz,” she buzzed, her eyes focusing downward with a look of shame.

Linda took a breath. “So, it seems like what needs to happen is to find out the identity of the four demons and see if anyone connected with them can give any clues about what they might have in common. Also, we should contact Heaven and see if they have any rogue angels you need to worry about.”

Five demons and an angel stared back at her.

“You’re in agreement?” Mammon asked.

Linda nodded. “Telling Lucifer is probably something you should consider. But we could gather all the facts and formulate a plan first. Let’s see what we can find out.”

“And if that fails…” Beelzebub’s eyes turned into several thousand gleaming orbs. “We rid ourselves of the scourge of Heaven once and for all.”

The discussion of action plans lasted through dessert, tea, and a massive amount of sake.

“We can’t engage in another meeting of this nature without attracting notice,” Shawn said as they finished. “We also have Hell to run and can’t expend too many resources in this direction. Obviously the human isn’t doing anything important, so she can be involved from here. Marchosias can keep her informed, being Hell’s… what did you call yourself?”

“Marchosias Wolf, Private Eye,” the German Shepherd replied. He wagged his tail. “Always happy to come back to Earth. This’ll be fun.” He raised his voice. “Crowley! I’m bunking with you sometimes while we investigate!”

“Shed on the books and Aziraphale will have you neutered!” The demon shouted back.

“We’ll also need someone with more knowledge and authority in Hell… Beelzebub. You'll work with them.”

Beelzebub glared at Shawn. “I am the ranking member of this council…”

“Which is why you should head the co-committee,” Shawn replied steadily. “You can speak and act with the authority of the throne. It’ll speed this along. Is everyone agreed? Good,” he said without waiting for any answers. “Let’s get off this polluted rock and back to Hell. It’s cleaner.”

Linda followed seven demons and an angel to a deserted street.

Marchosias sniffed the air. “Coast is clear.”

Crowley snapped his fingers. “No cameras watching.”

Four sets of wings materialized.

Linda took a step back, blinking hard. She was never going to get used to this, was she?

Mammon picked up Shawn. Decabra climbed onto Marchosias’ back.

Beelzebub glowered at Linda. “Human, we’ll be in contact… Nice to meet you.” She said the words with open discomfort.

The demons and the angel took off and vanished from reality.

When they were gone, Maze smacked Crowley upside the head. “Why did you bring them here?!” She demanded furiously.

“They cornered me!” He protested pathetically. “And I didn’t think they’d hurt Linda. Plus, you could kill all of them if it came down to it.”

“True…” Maze agreed.

“Maze, it’s fine,” Linda said, resisting the urge to pull them apart as if they were children. “They weren’t bad. And it’s nice they’re trying to solve problems without expecting Lucifer to do it, or micromanage. It shows improvement.” Her face switched to a glare. “What I want to know is how long you two have been sitting on the news that I’m a freaking prince of Hell?!

The demons hunkered down with ashamed expressions. Linda felt a stab of amusement. Maybe she could get used to this role.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“YOU’RE GETTING MARRIED?!” Ella squealed and hugged Chloe tight enough to make her bones squeak. “Oh my God! This is so amazing! Wait… this isn’t like some sort of corpse bride thing, is it? You’re not going to drink poison and leave us, are you?”

“Ella, no!” Chloe extracted herself from the scientist’s grip. “We’re just having a perfectly normal… ish… wedding. And eventually I’ll go to Hell… That sounds worse out loud than it does in my head.”

“Chloe! This is so great! I can’t wait! When’s the date? What’s your color pallet? Have you thought about caterers? What’s your song going to be?”

Chloe felt a wave of too much commitment washing over her. “This only happened on Saturday,” she protested. “We haven’t talked about the details… And Lucifer probably won’t remember to think about any of them.”

“Yeah, but the dude’s crazy rich, right? You can get married anywhere!” Ella followed Chloe from the lab. “Paris! You could get married in Paris. Or, the Greek Isles… Or the moon! Could you get married on the moon?”

“We’re doing this in LA,” Chloe said firmly as she headed for her desk. “Nothing too fancy… I hope. Lucifer will probably want to make a big deal of it.”

“Yeah… but it’s your wedding. You can go bride-zilla on him and do whatever you want.”

“I don’t have time to plan anything too elaborate.”

“Right… And insanely elaborate isn’t your thing. But something suuuper tasteful? But, like, really fun?” Ella perched on the edge of her desk as Chloe took her seat. “I’m thinking… outdoor wedding. Like a botanical garden. Oh! I know one that does weddings!”

Chloe smiled. “Maybe you should be in charge.”

Ella squealed. “Oh my god! Can I be your maid of honor? I mean, if you have an academy roommate or a cousin or something that you were going to ask, that’s cool. But I’ve always wanted to plan a wedding! And THIS wedding! Nobody else would ever get to plan a wedding for the devil!”

Chloe gave her a look of surprise. She’d only felt the flood of too much uncertainty when it had occurred to her that marrying the devil would mean more than a justice-of-the-peace and an exchange of vows. Here was someone who looked like they wanted that kind of challenge. “Ella… this probably isn’t going to be easy. I don’t know if Lucifer’s family is coming, but…”

“That’s what makes it so awesome! Imagine planning a party for angels and demons! Oooh! This might be the first time some of them try human food! Or dance! Do angels dance? Please, can I help you plan the wedding?”

“Yes, alright!” Chloe found herself smiling. She glanced at her phone as it began to buzz.

Ella did the same.

Chloe rose. “Looks like we have a murder. Look, Ella, if you’re serious, yes, absolutely. You’d be great at putting together a wedding. Let’s talk later, okay? I don’t want anything insane, and Lucifer might have some feelings, too.”

“Totally.” Ella bounced along beside her. “This is YOUR day. It’ll be your kind of wedding. Yours more than Lucifer’s. His would have everyone naked and include strip-dancers.” Her eyes took on a faraway look. “That would be an awesome wedding!”

“Did I hear you say wedding?” Dan joined them as they halted at the elevator.

Ella turned beaming to him. “I’m planning Chloe and Lucifer’s wedding!”

Dan’s face registered shock and disappointment. “Oh… that’s happening…”

“He’s not a bad guy, Dan,” Chloe insisted.

Dan looked away. “He’s not good enough for you,” he said at last.

And you were? Chloe managed to keep from speaking.

Dan glanced her way, the thought obviously occurring to him. “He’s not even around anymore. What’s this big job he’s off on? He just shows up after a year and says he’s been busy ‘ruling Hell’?” Dan scoffed. “He won’t even tell the truth about who he is or what he does.”

“Dan… He’s told me the truth. I know what he’s been doing. He stayed in contact all year.” They entered the elevator.

“But do you really know what goes on when you’re not around? He gets up to all kinds of orgies and drug use when he’s here. What does he do when he’s away?”

“Busting demon heads and taking names!” Ella declared gleefully.

Dan stared at her. “Is he in the mafia? That might explain all the Heaven/Hell code words.”

Ella looked irritated. “It’s not…”

“…Anything he likes to talk about,” Chloe finished with a glare at the forensic scientist. “Dan… He’s got a weird family. And he moved back home to deal with part of the family business.”

“So are you going to get involved with this family madness?”

Chloe was suddenly very busy checking her gun belt. “Eventually… We’ve already agreed I’m staying here for now. At least until Trixie’s in college.”

“And then what?” Dan frowned at her. “Are you going to go away and leave your whole life? What if he wants you to give up being a cop? Your career is so important to you!”

“So is he!”

In her heart, Chloe felt a stir of doubt. Not for right now. She could be a cop until she retired if she wanted. She could have the job she loved, be with her daughter, surf, visit her mother, go drinking with her friends... everything she did now. And one day that would be over.

What then?

“I just think any guy who wants you to leave your life behind isn’t worth being with.”

The elevator opened and Dan pushed out. He strode ahead, leaving Ella looking worriedly at the downcast detective.

“Chloe…” Ella said.

Chloe shook her head. “It’s fine. I need to think. But right now we have a murder to investigate, okay? Let’s just think about that.”

Chapter Text

2,800 BC – HEAVEN

Aziraphale’s wings strained against the darkness of the between place as he beat them as fast as they would go.

His heart pounded a single word. Home. Home. Home.

He was finally going Home.

They’d cast him out of the Garden after he’d lost the sword. They hadn’t worded it that way, of course. But, the implication…

“Earth is no place for paradise,” Uriel had told him the day the Archangel and the cherubim had taken Eden away. “It is to be guarded until the humans prove worthy of it.” The note of disgust in his voice had implied the impossibility of that ever happening.

Aziraphale had spoken in humanity’s defense. Surely they were remorseful by now. But cold looks had silenced him. That was when they’d told him his position was being given to another. A cherub. The captain had said it in such a way as to imply it had been a mistake to ever allow a principality in any position of responsibility.

Aziraphale couldn’t say the reprimand wasn’t fair. He’d lost his sword. He deserved their reproach. It was his purpose to accept and obey. Never to question.

He’d watched them take the Garden away while he’d stood alone in the sand, hopelessly aware his new post on Earth denied him paradise… and Heaven.

The sword now flamed warm and comfortable against his back, secure between his wings once more. The missing piece of him. The broken bit he’d hungered for every second since the Garden. His again.

And with the sword back, he’d be forgiven.

He’d been careful. The good angel. He hadn’t tried human food – not since that one time. No profaning his body. No deviating from his intended path. He’d spread blessings and aided the Creator’s favored children. When Heaven had given him tasks, he’d completed them to his utmost skill.

He was worthy of Heaven once more. They had to see that. He’d regained the sword. He’d been faithful. No blemish on his record.

…Except the demon.

But that wouldn’t count against him, would it? Showing compassion and not smiting his enemy? Perhaps he could say he was showing righteousness to one of the Fallen so they might return to Heaven.

Probably best he just didn’t mention it.

He saw the gates of the Silver City loom before him. He back-winged and landed just outside their pearly sheen. He lifted his head to look at the angels on the watchtower. Soon he’d be one of them again. “The principality Aziraphale,” he called. “Requests entrance.”

There was a long pause. Too long. His heart began to hammer a new tempo. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Then the gates opened enough for him to step inside.

The first thing which reached him was the smell. Strange. He hadn’t remembered the city having a scent before. It smelled like freshly crushed papyrus stalks - the first step in making paper. And a wafting of grilled meat with spices. And an underlying, but not unpleasant, reptilian odor.

He smiled at the guards and drew his sword. “I have returned after a long and successful journey! I’ve reclaimed the lost Sword of Eden!” He grinned his triumph and expected their congratulations.

That the guards all drew back with a grave silence was probably a bad sign.

~

They put him in a small room and told him to wait.

Aziraphale was a guard. That had been his primary purpose since his creation. He’d been very good at standing in one place for extensive stretches when he took his turn upon the watchtowers of Heaven.

A few centuries of meandering the Earth might have ruined that skill.

He wondered how long they intended to keep him waiting.

He tried not to fidget.

This was entirely improper of him, he scolded himself. They’d told him to remain in this place, he would remain in this place. He was happy to remain in this place. Doing the will of his superiors. It was practically the same as doing the will of his Creator. He was happy to serve.

Happy to wipe his record clean and prove himself worthy of Heaven.

He was fairly certain it was a couple years of Earth time before he was summoned.

“Principality Aziraphale,” Gabriel said stiffly as Aziraphale was brought before the Archangel and a surprising number of armed guards. “Welcome. I understand you’ve recovered a missing weapon of Heaven.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale started to draw his blade, then paused as he noticed every guard had reached for their weapons. He dropped his hand, unease filling him. “It’s my sword, you see. The one I… misplaced. But I have it back now.” He straightened his shoulders. “I can return to my…”

“Well done,” Gabriel interrupted and held out his hands. “Let me see it.”

Aziraphale tensed. Weapons were made for and from a particular angel. One didn’t simply hand off one’s armaments to any random angel. Or any angel for that matter. It simply wasn’t done.

But this was an Archangel asking. Of course it was alright.

Slowly, Aziraphale unsheathed the sword. He balanced it across his palms and held it out to Gabriel. He tried not to notice the guards around him had half-drawn their swords at his action.

Gabriel’s hand closed tightly around the blade.

Aziraphale felt a wave of wrongness wash through him. The part of him connected to the sword felt its unwillingness to be in the Archangel’s hand. He resisted the urge to snatch it back. This would just be for a moment, he told himself. Gabriel was just checking it for… Actually, Aziraphale couldn’t think what Gabriel would need to examine regarding the blade.

Gabriel held the sword up to eye-level, studying the blade seriously. Without a word, he handed the sword off to the cherub captain beside him.

Aziraphale barely restrained himself from springing forward to reclaim the blade. For an angel to hold his sword without permission…?! This wasn’t done. It wasn’t right at all.

He became uncomfortably aware of two guards standing very close to him.

“It really is the Sword of Eden,” the captain murmured.

“Yes, of course. It’s my sword after all,” Aziraphale said anxiously. They wouldn’t possibly have thought he’d lie, would they? “I went through a great deal to regain it. If you don’t mind…”

“Thank you for your service, Aziraphale,” Gabriel said sharply. “All of Heaven rejoices to have this weapon safely back in its keeping.”

“Yes… Well… It’s a rather good sword. I’m sure…” Aziraphale trailed off. He wasn’t sure about anything now.

“We appreciate your attachment to your duty. We hope your faithful service continues.”

“Yes… Yes, of course.” Aziraphale stretched out his hand. “Now that I’m armed again, I’m sure I’m capable of returning to…”

“We are pleased with your service at your current post,” Gabriel said smoothly as a guard blocked Aziraphale’s forward movement and the captain walked away with the sword in hand. “I’m sure you’re anxious to return to your duty. We won’t keep you any longer. You may go.”

“Thank you.” Aziraphale stumbled back as the guards edged him toward the door. “Yes, of course I’ll go. If you’ll just let me have my sword, I’ll…”

Gabriel had already turned away. “You must understand the Sword of Eden is too powerful to leave on Earth ever again. It will be properly taken care of. Thank you for returning it where it belongs.”

The Archangel vanished through a door and Aziraphale was pushed out another.

He didn’t resist as he was escorted to the gates and out of Heaven. In a daze, he spread his wings and flew Earthward.

He was halfway there when the first wave of pain hit him. He doubled over, his wings contracting as a wail of agony escaped his mouth. He remembered too late where he was and tried to extend his wings. Gravity and pain combined to immobilize his muscles.

Aziraphale fell.

He hit the sand at a speed which would have meant instant death to a human. For an angel, it hurt worse than anything he’d ever felt. He knew the instant he tried to move that one of his wings was broken. He barely had time to register that before waves of pain blazed through him. He collapsed, writhing in the sand.

It went on for what seemed like hours. This terrible ripping and unmaking. The piece of him which had been within the sword shattered and broken upon a celestial anvil. He felt every beat of the hammer, every strike which tore the sword apart. He screamed until blackness took him and he lay immobile and helpless as the pounding went on, on, on.

When he returned to himself, he felt the brokenness within. A piece of his soul, his essence, shattered for all time. Worse than losing the sword. Worse than the betrayal of having it taken. It was… no more.

He sat with his head on his knees, his tears drenching the ground.

“I don’t understand,” he sobbed when he found words. “I was good. Why...? Why would you…?”

It has to be right, he told himself. It has to be fair.

They were right, of course. The sword didn’t belong on Earth.

And he’d been assigned to Earth.

Maybe it was a kindness? He wouldn’t wonder about the sword now. He wouldn’t wish for it.

Or maybe this was penance for his pride. For his triumph at reclaiming it. Or punishment for losing it. Or for consorting with a demon.

He had so many flaws. If Heaven wanted to punish him, of course it was their right.

Kinder, of course, to send him to Earth where he could earn his forgiveness. Kinder than condemning him to Hell.

He’d prove himself to them. He’d be the best possible angel.

No more wondering about the taste of human food. No more listening to their music. No more…

…No more worrying about a demon.

No more of that. He’d be the light of Heaven in a corrupt world. He’d serve as long and as loyally as they wanted.

And in the end… surely they’d let him come Home.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – SOHO

“Who’s the little darling?” Aziraphale cooed, holding the baby aloft. “Who’s the prettiest little darling in the whole of London?”

The baby opened her mouth and yowled.

“You’re squeezing her,” Crowley chided and adjusted the angel’s grip. “Honestly. 6,000 years and you still can’t hold a baby?”

“I’m just out of practice!” Aziraphale protested. “It’s been…” He looked at Warlock with a frown. “How old are you, young man?”

“Thirty-two.”

“What? No! It can’t possibly have been…” The angel did some frantic mental math in his head. “Goodness me. How time does fly.”

Adam slouched against the wall, grinning as he watched the angel coo over the baby, and the demon pretend to not coo over the baby. Warlock sat on the couch, looking sleep-deprived and amused.

Aziraphale hadn’t blinked to find his bookshop had been invaded while they were away. Crowley had only wanted to know if they’d watered the plants, then stalked off to deal with his garden. He’d returned, muttering about needing to teach the begonia a lesson.

Aziraphale passed the baby off to Crowley, who held her with much more ease than the angel. Freed of the burden, Aziraphale turned to Adam and Warlock with a severe look. “I’m delighted you two feel inclined toward helping this sweet little one, but are you prepared for this responsibility? Raising children is no easy task. Are you both prepared for what it means?”

Adam shrugged. Warlock reminded the angel this was probably only a temporary situation.

“None of that, young man,” Aziraphale scolded. “If you look after her, you’re sure to become attached and bond with this young lady. Whether it’s temporary or not, this is a connection which will follow the rest of your life. Are you prepared for that?”

Warlock mumbled something which might have been assurances. Aziraphale beamed and dragged him off to look for child-rearing books among the shelves. Adam heard his cry of surprise to find that section had tripled in size while he was away.

Adam didn’t hide his sly smile. Truthfully, he didn’t intentionally do anything to the bookshop – it was just one of those things which happened when he was around. The bookshop seemed very inclined to provide whatever Adam might be interested in reading about. Maybe it was its way of thanking him for restoring it after it had been burned to charred pages.

Crowley disappeared with the baby. Dog followed suspiciously. Adam didn’t call him back. Dog hadn’t bitten Crowley in years, although that recent trip to Hell seemed to have reminded Dog regarding what he had once been. His eyes glowed more often and he occasionally breathed a little tuft of flame. Adam didn’t worry about it.

By the time Aziraphale was done loading Warlock with books, Crowley had returned with lunch and a much more stylishly dressed baby. Aziraphale took a long look at her, pursed his lips, and stalked out the door. The others ate without waiting for him.

They were just finishing when Aziraphale arrived, laden down with shopping bags containing diapers, formula, teethers, clothes, blankets, and a stuffed unicorn.

“This is just the basics,” the angel gushed. “But it’ll get you boys started.” He beamed at them and the baby Warlock was holding. “Look at you boys. So grown up and mature. Oh! It’s beautiful.”

Crowley rolled his eyes. He pushed on his sunglasses and rose. “Come on. I’ll give you a lift.”

Aziraphale fussed at Crowley the whole time he loaded the bags into the Bentley. “Drive slowly, Crowley. Slowly means ‘below the speed limit’, not below 100. And take the curves carefully. We wouldn’t want anything to harm this little angel, now would we?” He babbled at the baby as he strapped her into the car seat (tartan patterned, of course).

Crowley snorted. “Babies are more demon than angel, you know that. The ones that don’t make it here get an education in badness Down Below.”

“Crowley! You know all infants go to Heaven. They’re innocents.”

“Agree to disagree.” Crowley tipped his glasses far enough down his nose to wink at the angel.

“Oh, you.” Aziraphale hugged him, then bustled busily at making sure everyone was buckled in properly and had snacks for the trip.

They heard Aziraphale shouting furiously as Crowley peeled away from the curb at break-neck speed without checking oncoming traffic.

In the passenger seat, Adam leaned back with a smile. He had every reason to believe they’d survive the trip to Cardiff. He expected the universe would have warned him if this was the day of his demise, and he knew the demon was much more careful with his passengers than his driving might indicate. Besides, gaps in traffic simply seemed to appear at the sight of the Bentley.

The baby fell asleep immediately and Warlock wasn’t far behind. Dog curled in the backseat with them, soon snoring quietly.

Adam peacefully watched the countryside flow past in a motion blur.

“Your father’s getting married,” Crowley said suddenly.

Adam didn’t look away from the window. He wasn't surprised. “When?”

“I don’t know. A few months from now, probably.” Crowley glanced his way. “He’d probably like it if you came.”

“Is that a direct message?”

“No.” Crowley edged the Bentley through a very surprised gaggle of bikers. “They haven’t started on invitations yet.”

Adam continued to watch out the window. “It’ll be good for him, I think,” he said at last. “With her. She’s… changed him.”

“Maybe just given him a reason to change.” Crowley exchanged rude gestures with the driver of a smaller, sporty car which had made the mistake of trying to race the Bentley. “We’ll see what happens.”

“What happens when I die?” Adam asked abruptly.

The demon glanced at him. “What?”

“Heaven or Hell. Which do I get?”

Crowley’s grip tightened on the wheel. “I don’t think anyone can know that.”

“Seems to me some people would have some feelings if I showed up in either place.”

“Your dad’s not going to let you get stuck in a loop.”

“But what if I did?”

“Then you’re smart enough to waltz out of it.” The demon grimaced. “Heaven and Hell aren’t the only options, you know.”

“Aren’t they?”

“Not for the ones like you.”

“What do you mean like me?”

“The ones too knowing for their own good.”

Adam grinned.

“Reality likes you.” Crowley gave him a steady glance. “If you have some thoughts about your future, it’ll probably give you what you want.” He turned the wheel sharply to get around a slow-moving truck. “Live forever if you want.”

“No…” Adam said slowly. “I think that would be hard. Seeing everyone else age and go away.”

“It is,” the demon said softly, his voice full of old pains and bitterness. “Why is this on your mind?” He asked after a moment.

Adam slouched a little lower in his seat. “Christ was thirty-three.”

Crowley glanced his way. “You’re not him.”

“I mean… I’m kind of the opposite, aren’t I?”

“No,” Crowley said flatly. “That was a different game entirely. One I still don’t understand. But it was different odds with you. A different purpose. And with him? There were prophecies beginning to end. I knew what would happen to him as soon as he set out saying what he was saying. I warned him.”

“You warned him?”

Crowley focused grimly on the road. “We spent an interesting month in the desert together.”

Adam blinked and tried to remember the stories from his family’s infrequent church trips. “The temptation in the desert?” He asked.

“Idiot goes out there to pray for forty days and wouldn’t even let me go grab some groceries for him. The town wasn’t even that far off. Holy men.” He scoffed. “Anyway, I told him how it would turn out if he kept on like he was, and he just smiled and said that’s what he had to do. Next time I saw him, the people he’d suggested be kinder to each other were hanging him out for the buzzards.”

Adam studied the demon’s tense expression. “You liked him.”

Crowley’s expression grew tighter. “I like all the ones I tempt. You have to get to know them to do it properly. And they never send you to do one-on-one with the ones who are already bastards. They send you to the nice ones. The likable ones.” He gritted his teeth, his fangs momentarily exposed. “I stopped doing one-on-one after him as much as I could.”

Adam studied the landscape. “I’ve been having funny dreams lately,” he remarked by way of a change of topic. “And Warlock’s had at least one of the same ones.”

Crowley flinched. “Be careful.”

“Why?”

“Dreams aren’t always safe.”

“They’re just dreams.”

“Are they?” Crowley looked at him, and Adam saw his eyes glow fierce and serious behind his glasses.

The demon’s gaze returned to the road. “Don’t go too deep into the Dreaming. Either of you.” He glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Especially not Warlock.”

“Why not him?”

Crowley’s expression became grim. “He saw something he shouldn’t have. Years ago.”

“Seems like nothing bothers him,” Adam reasoned.

“That doesn’t mean others like being seen by him.”

Adam frowned, but Crowley had a set look about him that said he’d had enough of the topic. “Do you dream?” He asked instead.

“As little as I can,” the demon said flatly.

Sirens sounded behind them.

“Do you want to get that or should I?” Crowley asked.

Adam looked over his shoulder, mumbling to the police that they should really check their radio as there had surely been a more interesting crime which required their attention. A second later, the car switched directions and hastened off, the Bentley forgotten.

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” Adam settled back and closed his eyes.

He was careful not to dream.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – HELL

Beelzebub had been an ophanim before the Fall – one of the many-eyed, wheel-shaped, flaming angels of the first sphere. They’d been created to serve the cherubim in times of war, guard the celestial spheres, and carry messages among the ranks. They sang glories to the Creator and to the higher angels.

It had been a dark moment for Beelzebub when she realized she’d been formed to serve without any option besides doing what she was told.

She still remembered how it had been. Asking her fellows why they did as they did. Why they accepted this subservient role to the cherubim. Why they allowed themselves to be used as literal moving blocks. There was more than this. They could be more.

Some had listened to her, but the rest had turned against them. There had been discord within their ranks long before the war properly began. With some refusing to work, those who still tried to fulfill their purpose were unable to function as a unit. And when they’d failed at their assigned tasks, the cherubim had descended upon them with demands for explanation.

Some of the cherubim had been sympathetic. They argued there was something unfair about the treatment of the ophanim. But others had argued louder that all had been created with purpose and they should accept their purpose with joy, even if that purpose was to shift the thrones of the princes of Heaven whenever the seraphim wanted a new view.

The rank completely fell apart after that.

And then the war had come.

Beelzebub remembered every second of that long and terrible Fall. The erasing of what she had been. The remaking. She welcomed it. Destroy me, she’d screamed silently to her Creator. You made me to be beneath my betters. So be it! Cast me out! I’ll crawl my way up and become something great! Unmake me! Or else I’ll make you regret it.

She’d expected to die. And tumbling enchained into the burning lake had certainly felt like one step from death. But she’d broken her bonds. She’d gained the shore. She’d seen what she was now.

The flies hadn’t taken nearly as long to get used to as she expected. Seeing with ten thousand eyes at the same time wasn’t far from what she’d been before. And once she found she could form herself into any shape she chose, she’d welcomed the new body. She felt even stronger than before.

Getting used to not being beneath someone… That had taken longer.

She’d fixed her fate to Lucifer’s immediately. She thought she needed someone to tell her what to do. She’d be his enforcer – his cherub in the new hierarchy of Hell he was creating.

Lucifer wasn’t a kind King – certainly not in those dark, early days in which they lived one step away from mutiny and in constant fear that the forces of Heaven would sweep down and annihilate the battered remains of his army. He’d depended upon his lieutenants to hold order by force. To obey his laws without questions and ensure the rest would follow. Beelzebub had found it easy to fall back into the subservient role – the one she’d tried so hard to break from.

What had stopped her from falling permanently into the role she’d fought to escape? Lucifer, oddly enough. And Earth eventually.

Lucifer had placed others beneath her. He gave her tasks to oversee. He placed trust in her to enact his will.

And she’d excelled! She’d led – always in his name, but she’d done her work without supervision or micromanaging. She’d learned how to lead others – mostly through fear and intimidation initially. But she did have a skill at finding talent. She knew what it had been like to be overlooked, so she watched her underlings for signs of skill and uniqueness. She raised many to positions of authority, and they were indebted to her for it.

And then the Creator’s great work was completed. The Earth stood real and unspoiled. Humanity walked their sheltered prison until Lucifer set them free into the world. Free to grow and learn. And free to be corrupted.

And the devil opened the gates of Hell and let the demons loose into the world.

That was when Beelzebub truly came into her own. Humans – pathetic, ignorant, fragile. Easily conquered. Easily manipulated. She built up her followers and reveled in their worship. I am a servant no more, she thought. I am a god!

If she did her work in Lucifer’s name, if she knelt still before his throne, it was by choice. She’d learned respect for her King as he shifted out of his initial brutality into someone worthy of respect. She earned her place in the court and worked to defend it. She didn’t want the throne. She wanted to stand with Lucifer in his glory.

But she would not lose herself in the process. She would not be a slave again. She’d fight for her identity, standing up to the devil himself for her rights, and the rights of those she’d raised to positions of power.

The trouble, she thought now as she followed Marchosias through the lower regions of Hell, was that she’d grown too complacent and satisfied with her position. She’d become much like the cherubim had been – ruthlessly enforcing order as the way things had always been and not accepting the rights of others to rise. She was paying for that folly now.

Marchosias had stopped and was staring at her.

“What did you say?” Beelzebub asked, forcing herself back to the moment.

“I said, we’re here.”

Beelzebub looked with distaste at the decrepit tavern in front of them.

Taverns had sprung up all over Hell after demons had seen them within human Hell-Loops and decided to emulate the idea. Their understanding of the concept was less about a place to get food and drink, and more a place to go for entertainment and a bar fight. And copious amounts of sex. The taverns did serve food and drink, but it tasted like nothing appetizing and few ever touched it. You were just supposed to have a drink in front of you if you were in such a place. The glasses could be used as projectiles when fighting started. That was probably why the glasses were all made of titanium.

A hush fell over the room as Marchosias and Beelzebub entered. Marchosias’ gait turned into an absolute swagger as he made his way to the bar. “I’ll have what they’re having,” he drawled with a nod to the demon seated closest to him at the bar. “And a round for everyone!”

A cheer rang through the room and normal fighting resumed. No one really understood what the phrase meant, but there was a correct code of conduct in the bar and Marchosias was following it to the letter.

The bar-demon (who neither owned or actually worked in the tavern – any demon who wanted could jump the counter and play at being the bar-demon for a while) put two glasses of something which looked and smelled like hell-hound piss in front of them. The princes ignored it, as was generally expected.

“What happens now?” Beelzebub asked, surveying the room.

The wolf-demon shrugged. “In the movies, someone comes up to the bar and whispers something incriminating about now, and then we have a lead to follow.”

“And if that doesn’t happen?”

“We could ask around about if anyone knows our first victim.”

“And why do you think anyone would?”

Marchosias nodded his head to a corner of the room where a swamp had begun to grow, fed by countless spilled drinks and generally moist conditions. The odor coming off it smelled remarkably like what was in their glasses. Slick mud and slime covered a good portion of the room.

“She smelled like that,” Marchosias said. “And she had fresh muck on her bones. She was here shortly before she was injured.”

Beelzebub eyed the wolf with a flicker of grudging respect. Marchosias was unbearably weird with all his fanciful talk of ‘television’ and ‘justice’, and tendency to lapse into Russian when he wasn’t thinking, but there was a competent mind beneath the fur.

She watched him circulate the room, asking about the skeletal Lilim with a casual air. Temptation demons could have sniffed out his motives a realm away, but these were largely working-class lesser demons who’d spent their entire lives in Hell fighting straightforward enemies. They didn’t have as much experience with a smooth-talking Fallen who’d survived 3,000 years on Earth with his wits and gilded tongue.

“Her name’s Temeer,” Marchosias said as they walked away from the bar. “She’s young. She’s in one of Vepar’s legions.”

“Good,” Beelzebub droned eagerly. “Let’s go talk to the fish.”

Vepar was a half-fish demon who controlled a good portion of the Styx. Despite rank, he was not known for competency. His sanity levels had fallen somewhere in the ‘so-so’ region a few centuries before, and he’d been slipping slowly since then. Beelzebub was aware several of his underlings took care of most of his work.

They found the duke engaged in replacing his teeth with those of a shark. Beelzebub supposed the process was voluntary, although the duke was strapped down as several demons yanked his teeth out by the roots and planted the new teeth into the bleeding holes. Still, the duke was grinning between screams and complained when the princes demanded he take a break so they could ask him questions.

“Temeer?” The duke repeated when they’d given him the name of the injured demon for the second time. “Yes… she’s around here somewhere…”

“She isn’t. We’re holding her,” Marchosias repeated, his hackles rising with growing irritation. “We want to know what she was doing on the castle grounds.”

“And who she is,” Beelzebub added. “Work. Allies, Enemies. Resting place.”

Vepar blinked fishy eyes at them. He made a loud gargling voice, which served to summon his steward. A demon with the appearance of a blowfish with eight legs trundled up. They held a rapidly conversation in garbled Lilim. Vepar turned to the princes at last. “Young. Works in the pipes. Supervisor is Glub. You’d have to ask them for the rest.”

He turned away, falling into unhelpful babbling.

The steward hastily provided them with directions and showed them the door.

Marchosias looked back as the keep door slammed behind them. “He’s not right.”

“No,” Beelzebub agreed. She formed a pair of wings and took flight.

Marchosias kept pace with her. “He was hiding something.”

The Lord of the Flies nodded. “I noticed. The steward knew as well. Probably the servants too.”

The wolf’s ears flattened. “This isn’t another Belial situation, is it?”

Beelzebub shook her head grimly. “Belial’s madness always tasted of deceit and malice. Vepar was afraid. They all were. Something’s shaken him.”

Marchosias looked back once more. They passed a long span of Hellscape before he spoke again. “How long have they been like this? The Fallen?”

Beelzebub looked curiously at him.

“I knew not everyone was quite… Asmodeus certainly wasn’t all there when we took down Solomon. But… things changed while I was away, didn’t they?”

Beelzebub was silent for a time. “It started sooner than you think,” she said quietly. “The Fall and the burning lake drove some mad right at the start. But… Lucifer didn’t want to cause a panic, so we took care of them quietly.”

Marchosias nodded with an unsurprised look.

“Some were crazy, but still functioning crazy. Lucifer said to watch them but leave them alone.”

Beelzebub closed a few thousand eyes in her mournful reflection. “I think it hovered below the surface for a lot of us. Eventually, I started seeing more and more Fallen getting closer to the edge. And going over.” She studied the distance. “I dealt with as many as I could quietly. Let them keep a little dignity of what we’d once been.”

“How many of us are left?” Marchosias asked.

“Maybe half. If that. And over half of those aren’t quite right.”

Marchosias winced. “It’ll be all lesser demons down here one day,” he murmured. “The nobility had better get used to them in charge.”

Beelzebub grimaced, but didn’t answer. She’d had similar thoughts when the two Lilim joined the council.

They alighted at the edge of the pipe-works.

At the sight of them, the workers threw down their tools and fled in every direction.

Marchosias pounced on the nearest demon. “We’re looking for Glub.”

The demon shrieked like a pig and thrashed.

Beelzebub saw the wolf’s eyes begin to glow hungrily. She flicked out a fly and stung him between the eyes. The wolf yelped and jumped back.

“Where’s Glub?” Beelzebub demanded of the frightened demon.

The demon groveled before her. “P-p-prince,” it stammered. “W-w-weclome.”

“Glub,” Beelzebub snapped. “Now.”

“Y-y-you d-d-don’t u-u-understand…” The demon fled at a frantic crab walk. “…You d-d-don’t know what’s…” It rightened itself and bolted into the pipes.

Marchosias gave chase despite Beelzebub’s shouts that this could be a trap.

Beelzebub divided herself into three swarms – one remaining in place, one rising overhead, and one racing down the tunnels.

“You idiot!” The swarm in the pipes droned when she reached the galloping wolf. “They might-”

She broke off as Marchosias leaped back with a yowl of pain and surprise.

Ahead of them, the demon they’d chased lay twitching, blood pooling across the ground. The tunnel floor, walls and ceiling were inlaid with masses of broken metal shards.

Marchosias hopped about on three legs, his wounded paw held high.

“You are the most pathetic…” Beelzebub started to say.

“Use your nose!” The wolf growled. “Or whatever you have.”

The swarm rose a little deeper into the tunnel. Abruptly, every fly cried out in surprise.

Every shard of metal radiated celestial might.

“It’s divinely blessed,” Marchosias hissed.

Beelzebub rose as high as she dared. “The whole tunnel’s full of it,” she whispered.

The princes exchanged lost looks. How could Hell become a dumping ground for celestial waste without anyone noticing?

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – SOHO

“There,” Aziraphale hummed as he finished a last adjustment to the window display. He smiled at the cactus which was strategically covering a good portion of the display’s merchandise. “I think that looks properly unappealing, don’t you?”

The cactus quivered its needles as if to say it didn’t understand this store at all.

Aziraphale stood up and surveyed his bookshop with pride. Three months, but his home, shop, and life finally seemed to be back to normal.

Crowley and Aziraphale had returned from their year-long foray into Hell and America tired, satisfied, and more than a little dazed over what they’d been through. That night as Aziraphale had sat in bed reading, he’d looked at the sleeping demon at his side and swore he’d never take another second of their time for granted. He’d known what they had was precious. But he hadn’t felt the magnitude of that until it had been taken away.

Despite his resolution to spend every possible moment with his love, he found the universe had other ideas. Or rather, he and Crowley frequently had contrary ideas of how time would be spent. The first month had been stressful for Aziraphale. He'd struggled not to panic every time he couldn’t locate Crowley, or when the demon was absent longer than he said he’d be. The angel tried not to cling.

It took surprisingly little time for their lives to return to normal. Century-old habits reared their heads. Aziraphale's worries were stilled with consistency. Angel and demon resumed to their usual activities.

Making themselves comfortable in the shop and flat again took longer. Crowley spent several months on the plants dealing with those in need of larger pots, pruning, rotation, treatment, and removal. It never ceased to amaze Aziraphale how much physical labor the demon would put into his plants while being insufferably lazy about everything else.

The shop was a mess of cobwebs and dust. Aziraphale scoured it with soap, water, and miracles until the store absolutely gleamed. It belatedly occurred to him how tragically inviting he’d made the place, and he set about restoring the right amount of dust and grime to make customers feel uncomfortable.

He didn’t notice until too late that Crowley had taken advantage of his distraction to do some remodeling in the shop. The last remnants of the old gas lighting system vanished, replaced with pleasant LEDs. The cash register turned into something modern and attached to a computer which Aziraphale couldn’t for the life of him figure out how to operate (he considered that a blessing). The heating and cooling system received a major upgrade, even if they both promptly forgot to turn it on.

The sofa in the backroom, which had been held together by divine willpower for decades, had given up the ghost while they were away. Aziraphale meant to restore it, but he arrived home one day to find the couch replaced with something brand new, which meshed better than he expected with the rest of the room. He missed the tartan print of the old sofa, but since Crowley slept on it more than Aziraphale ever used it, he supposed it was best to let the serpent have his way.

New occupations took longer to figure out. Crowley had it easier. As he was no longer expected to cause human miseries, he lapsed comfortably into a quiet life. Once in a while he’d get a call and fly off to Hell or Los Angeles, but he was never gone long. Aziraphale tried not to fear for him each time he left.

As for himself, Aziraphale didn’t have the foggiest idea what ‘Guardian of Earth’ meant. He wished there was someone he might have talked to, but he was loath to fly up to Heaven and ask advice. He’d asked Amenadiel, but the Archangel’s advice had been the same as Crowley’s – keep doing what he was doing.

For a while, Aziraphale made himself very busy. He spent a large portion of his day wandering London until he felt himself so very overwhelmed by everything wrong with the world that he was unable to function.

“If I spent every day doing miracle after miracle, I still couldn’t fix everything,” he moaned to Crowley.

“You’re not supposed to,” Crowley replied. “Like Adam said, you have to teach people why killing whales is bad, not just make more to replace the ones they hurt.”

“I can’t make a whale.”

“It’s an analogy.” Crowley wiped the angel's tears away. “What’s the gospel say… ‘Light into the world?’”

Unto the world,” Aziraphale corrected sharply. “It’s an interesting metaphor since what it’s referring to is…”

He’d rambled for quite a while before he noticed Crowley smirking at him.

After that, Aziraphale spent part of each day walking and finding small ways to help people. He volunteered, supported local charities, asked polite questions of protestors, picked up trash, and generally just tried to set a good example. It was amazing how much good just an encouraging smile and a kind word could do.

Even more amazing when a demon quietly began joining him.

“I’m bored,” Crowley grumbled the first time he joined Aziraphale for a clean-up event along a roadway. “It’s either this or sit around the shop by myself.”

But he came along often enough for Aziraphale to wonder if the demon was enjoying himself. Then again, Crowley did seem to find ways to make humans who threw trash in areas they’d just cleaned, or insulted those in line at a food bank regret their actions. Aziraphale just smiled quietly and pretended not to notice.

Finished with the window display, Aziraphale turned to begin burying the counter in enough merchandise as to make it impossible to reach the register. He’d just begun when his phone rang.

“Hello, Miss Lopez!” He cried happily. “How is the fine world of deceased human remains?”

He tucked the phone beneath his chin and listened as Ella began a cheerful and rapid explanation of how she’d been named maid-of-honor for the wedding and what that meant.

…So I need to know if there are any ceremonies or traditions for angel or demon or whatever that I need to know about.

“My dear, a wedding of this nature is entirely unprecedented. The devil has never wed before. There are no traditions to draw upon.” Aziraphale eyed the religious section of the bookshop. “I don’t know of any church dogma which would be at all appropriate… although the high order of Satanic nuns does have a ceremony of giving themselves over as the metaphorical brides of Satan… but I don’t believe Miss Decker would like the wording. It’s… ah… a rather archaic view of the woman’s role in a relationship.” Aziraphale frowned thoughtfully. “Rather odd come to think of it from a doctrine which preaches free will… But the history of subjugating and controlling women has had an unfortunate tendency to seep into the best-intentioned cultures.”

So… I have to make everything up?” Ella sounded alarmed.

“Not necessarily. I could bring you some books of marriage ceremonies historically and globally. I don’t think you need to consider anything TOO traditional. Animal sacrifices have gone entirely out of style.”

That would be great. I don’t know how much time Lucifer or Chloe have for any of this stuff. They’re both busy with their jobs, and now Chloe’s helping with Trixie’s school play...

“Don’t you have a career as well?”

Sure… But this is too much fun! I get to try all the cake places and catering companies and check out decorations. I LOVE decorating!

“Indeed. There was a lovely bakery I found in Los Angeles. Perhaps I could show it to you?”

I'd love that… You’d be perfect for picking out food, wouldn’t you? And drinks. I don’t know wine, and there’s got to be wine, right? Would you want to plan this with me?

“My dear, I’d be delighted to be a maid of honor!”

Crowley walked in at that moment and raised his eyebrows. He flopped into a reading chair and listened unabashedly.

Aziraphale spent several minutes making plans before hanging up with a cheerful blessing.

“What was that about?” The demon asked.

“Miss Lopez asked me to help plan the wedding!”

Crowley’s eyebrows rose higher. “An angel will be planning the devil’s wedding.”

Aziraphale covered his mouth. “Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Do you suppose my superiors will object?”

“They can’t, Angel.” Crowley slouched further down in the chair. “You don’t have superiors anymore.”

Aziraphale stood still a moment and let that sink in. He felt a sudden weight lift from his chest. A rush of liberty he hadn’t felt before. “You’re right. Gabriel can say what he wants, but if they’re getting married on Earth, that makes it my decision. And I’m going to help my friends have a happy wedding!”

“That’s the spirit.” Crowley yawned and sunk nearly horizontal. “Just don’t expect me to try on wedding dresses for you.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“I make you vulnerable.”

Lucifer looked up from adding names to the guest list to study the woman staring at the room’s opposite wall with sudden fixation. “Yes, Detective,” he said slowly. “That is an established fact.”

“Will I still make you vulnerable after I’m dead?” She turned wide and worried eyes on him.

Lucifer sat up, his hand contracting around hers. “That doesn’t matter.”

“But it does! Your job’s dangerous. How many rebellions have you had?”

The devil winced. “Very few serious ones, Darling.”

“But they could be. What if I put you in danger? What if you get hurt because of me?”

Lucifer tried to smile. “There are plenty of objects in Hell which can harm me exactly as I am now.”

Chloe was beginning to tremble. “But I could make it worse. If you… If something happened to you because of me…”

Lucifer brought her hand to his lips. “That is a risk I am absolutely willing to take.”

Chloe started to pull away. “You shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t have to be in more danger because of me.”

Lucifer gripped her tighter, then reluctantly allowed her to slip from his grasp as she rose to her feet. “If you’re having second thoughts…”

Chloe paced the room. “No… Yes! I mean, I want to be with you. I want…” She halted, closing her eyes. “I want you to be safe.”

He rose, not certain if he should approach her when she stood on the edge. “Detective, if my safety was a concern, I would have fled from you the moment I first took a bullet. And that was by your hand, if you’ll recall.”

He moved tentatively closer, stretching out a hand toward her but resisting the urge to drag her tight against him and never let go. “I have willingly and repeatedly faced danger at your side. If I was frightened of a little pain… Well, I’d hardly be fit to rule Hell any longer, would I?”

She didn’t move.

He rested his hand on her shoulder. “I’m not weakened because of you. I feel more. Both physically and…” He slid his arm around to cover her heart. “…Here. And if feeling this means a little more…” He nipped her neck. “…Fragility, I’ll take the trade.”

She remained rigid, not turning around or leaning into him. “What will I be when I’m there?”

Mine, his mind screamed, much as he knew that was the wrong answer. In a realm where everything down to the very rocks bent at his command, this was one being he never wanted to see lowered beneath him. “What you make yourself to be.”

She snorted softly. “I’m not sure that self-actualization thing works for non-angelic beings.”

“If anyone has the strength to become something new, it’s you, Darling.”

She leaned back against him at last. “When did you get so smart?”

“A year apart taught me a great deal about… what I truly…” He gently turned her chin to look her in the eyes. “…Desire.”

With a weak laugh, she pulled away from him and returned to the table. “Don’t give me that look or we’re never going to finish the guest list.”

He rocked unhappily on his heels. “Are you sure we don’t have time for…”

“Lucifer.”

He sighed a long-suffering note and reluctantly dropped into the chair beside her. His fingers played wistfully across her hip until she pushed him firmly away. Sighing, he flattened his palms on the tabletop and bowed his head in feigned concentration.

“That’s all my relatives,” Chloe murmured after a moment of writing. “At least half of them won’t be coming anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Are you sure you want to invite the entire precinct?”

“At least everyone we work in close contact with. And that lovely lady in evidence lockup who is so nice about letting me examine the cocaine intakes.”

Chloe stiffened. “Ignoring that… Who did you write down…? I thought you had more siblings than just Amenadiel.”

“Certainly. But we’re not on speaking terms.”

She glanced up at him. “Wouldn’t this be a good time to make amends?”

“Detective, you don’t want Michael at a party.” He tilted his head, reflecting on bygone eras. “He and I used to have such wild times…” He shook his head. “That’s the past now. They hate me. They’re hardly coming to my nuptials. Except perhaps to tell me why my actions are wrong.”

“Do they really still hate you? After all this time?”

Lucifer toyed with a pen. “Their actions haven’t suggested otherwise… I suppose Rae-Rae and I did did reconcile.” He added her name to the list. “I fear she’ll be too busy to attend, but she’ll appreciate the effort. She did come to Hell for me.”

Chloe squeezed his hand, prompting him to look into her earnest eyes. “Please invite them.”

“Whatever for?”

“Because I hate seeing you alone. And because I don’t think they hate you.” Her eyes dropped to the table. “And because I’d like to meet a few of your relatives who don’t try to kill me.”

Lucifer winced. “I suppose there would be value in showing off that I’m serious about this, and that they’d better respect you or answer to me.” He jotted down three more names.

“That’s it? Aren’t there millions of angels?”

“I’m not close with the extended family,” he said flatly. He glared at the three names. “Believe me, this will be plenty.”

“Okay… Who else do you have…?” She studied his writing for a moment, then scowled. “Lucifer, be serious about this.”

“I am being serious.”

“‘The representatives of Order and Chaos’?”

“If you invite one, you have to invite the other. They balance one another out.”

“'Auberon and Titania'?”

“I believe they’re still ruling Faerie. They still send Hell tributes every seven years, so they ought to be invited.”

Chloe stared at him. “You’re completely serious.”

“Of course.” He tapped the list. “I do have to include the necessary invitations to the other realms. It’s a regretful part of being king.”

“Okay… so what’s with Destiny, Death, Dream…?”

“The Endless.” Lucifer grimaced. “If we’re lucky, none of them will show up. But inviting the seven is absolutely necessary.”

“The Endless?”

“The first creations.”

“I thought that was Amenadiel.”

“No, Darling. He’s the oldest of the angels. There are beings far, far older than any of us.” His expression turned further introspective. “Perhaps even older than our Creator. The beginning isn’t clear to anyone. Certainly not to youthful beings like myself.”

“Youthful?”

He kissed her temple. “The beginning of all took place far, far beyond anything anyone can imagine. And they…” He tapped the paper. “…Began with the beginning.”

“Are they literally…?”

“The personification of their names, yes.” He tried to look reassuring. “They came before creation and from creation. They guide the actions of all living things, and are guided by all things. They are within and separate from all that exists.”

“How poetic,” Chloe grumbled. She shuddered. “How can we even have these… beings?... at a wedding. Here. On Earth.”

“That part is rather simple, actually. They’re part of this place and generally walk about unnoticed. In their purest forms, more or less, they have their own realms. They have shapes. They have beings they’ve created or collected to dwell with them. They know how to interact with humanity. You’ve probably met Desire partying in LUX a few times. I get along rather well with them. We’ve engaged on a few projects together. Oh, that reminds me.” He added War, Famine, and Pollution to the list.

Chloe stared. “No…” She rubbed her eyes. “This is officially beyond weird.”

Lucifer grimaced. “I’m sorry. We don’t have to…”

“No, no. Let’s make it as strange as possible. Why not? My mother’s coming after all.” She flinched. “Oh my god. Can humans even be in the same room with… all this?”

“Certainly… We’ll just have to arrange things so no mortal minds are damaged.” He frowned. “Adam may be able to assist with that. How do you feel about my son, and also his mother, attending?”

“Lucifer… those are the least strange names on your list. Also, I’m inviting Dan. So, yes. Bring on the ex-lovers.”

“I can drag Cain out of his Hell-Loop if you’d like.”

She made a face at him which ended with a kiss. “Let’s limit the exes as much as possible. Otherwise you’d invite half of Los Angeles.”

“Detective, lovers are hardly the same as life partners.”

She raised her eyebrows and gave him a suggestive smile. “Can they be both?”

The list was forgotten as he carried her to the bedroom.

Chapter Text

The first dream came some months after the apocalypse failed to materialize.

Before then, he’d been too busy for anything.

The weeks following the utter lack of the world-ending had been arduous. The clamor from the Heavenly hosts for explanation of what had happened – or hadn’t happened – was deafening. Some wanted to storm the planet with or without permission. Most just wanted clarity of the Almighty’s will.

Eventually, the Archangels assured everyone that this had been a test – proof they could be ready and on edge for the end-of-days when it came. To questions of ‘hadn’t that been the prophesied end of days?’, they mysteriously assured everyone that there were deeper plans in the works. All would be revealed at the right time.

Behind closed doors, Gabriel tried not to have a nervous breakdown.

He wasn’t getting any support. Raphael took off as soon as it was clear the world wasn’t ending – not that she’d been much help to begin with. Michael abruptly declared maybe this hadn’t been such a bad thing. Earth was far to much fun by his estimate to torch. Even if he still loudly complained about not getting a rematch with Lucifer.

“Luci said it wouldn’t work,” Amenadiel remarked at one meeting, eliciting surprised exclamations from the others.

“He didn’t want it,” the first-born elaborated. “He said it was a bad idea.”

“Of course he did,” Gabriel huffed. “He’d have lost.”

Amenadiel frowned. “It wasn’t just losing… He didn’t want to go through with it at all.”

“The army of demons would imply otherwise.”

“I think that was all Beelzebub.”

“Then perhaps you should have a talk with him and make sure his motivation is in the right place the next time around. And raise a less rebellious son.”

A smile ghosted across Amenadiel’s face. “What other kind of son would you expect him to have?”

Gabriel had dealt with the leaders of every sphere at every rank, commending them on a job well done, whether he believed his hollow words or not. He met once with a representative from Hell – a wide-eyed, nervous demon who frantically assured him that Hell wouldn’t double-cross this sudden cease-fire anytime soon. Lucifer was in a terrible mood and NOBODY was suggesting end-of-days prophecies to him.

In his spare time, he searched every prophecy he could get his hands on, desperately trying to answer the same pounding question.

How could they have been so wrong?

It was months before he could do what he really wanted and go to Earth to scream threats at the one he considered to blame for everything going wrong.

He slammed open the bookshop door, casting around furiously for the principality so he could give him a piece of his mind and demand the confession of his sins.

Silence met his shouts. Silence accented by no aura of an angelic presence.

“He’s not here.”

Gabriel whirled at the quiet and muffled voice. His eyes at last fell upon a terrarium where a dark-color snake basked beneath a sunlamp.

The serpent lifted his head and surveyed him with cold, amber eyes.

Gabriel’s lips curled back in a sneer. “What are you doing here?”

“Living,” replied the serpent steadily. “And getting rid of unwanted vermin.”

Gabriel took a step closer. “It’s because of you he’s condemned. You ruined him. Brought him down. Are you happy now?”

“If it keeps the world spinning, sure.” The serpent moved slowly, raising his head higher. “But I didn’t do anything to him. All I did was ask questions.” He tilted his head. “The same thing he did.”

“He wouldn’t have such questions if you hadn’t put them in his head!”

“I think he would. Same as you. He just says them now.”

Gabriel stepped closer, his hands contracting into fists. “I ought to wring your neck and flay you into oblivion.”

“But you won’t.” The serpent watched him with steady, unblinking eyes. “Because you’re like me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

The serpent lifted his head over the edge the terrarium. “I’m a coward.”

It took a second for the insult to register. “Why you-” He lunged closer.

The serpent hissed, showing off his long and venomous fangs.

Gabriel fell back.

“That’s what I thought.” The serpent edged his coils up the glass walls until he balanced on the rim of the terrarium. “You and I both know you’re not going to hurt Aziraphale. You’re just going to do what you’ve been doing all these thousands of years and do your utmost to make him feel worthless and wrong.”

“He is wrong!”

“Heard that from the Almighty’s lips, did you?” The demon sneered. “Did the Mettatron finally bring down words from On High to make everything clear?”

Gabriel didn’t answer.

“You won’t hurt Aziraphale,” the serpent went on steadily. “Because you don’t know if you should. And you won’t act until you’re sure. Until then, you’re just here to make him miserable like you always do.” He dropped to the ground, transforming to stand solidly before the Archangel. “But that’s not happening anymore.”

“Why not?” Gabriel’s lips curled back. “Are you going to stop me?”

“Oh, no." The demon's eyes widened with a look of innocence. "I’m a coward. That means I’ll crack under pressure. And if Heaven ever comes looking for Aziraphale, they’ll find me here too. Who knows what I’ll say to save my own skin? Who knows what secrets I’ll reveal?”

Gabriel’s fists clenched tighter. “You wouldn’t.”

“I’m a demon.” The Fallen Angel stepped closer, hellfire glittering in his eyes. “Try me.”

Gabriel retreated back to Heaven where he demanded to see all of Aziraphale’s reports.

He burned the lot of them.

In the endless span of time since his creation, Gabriel had never once slept. It wasn’t a necessity and he wasn’t the sort to indulge. Not in such a trivial, weak, human activity.

He collapsed at his desk shortly after burning the documents.

He had his first dream then.

Perhaps inspired by his actions in waking, his dream self eagerly torched the traitor of Armageddon.

But it was the demon who slithered out of the fire and came at him with flames and threats.

He awoke in panic and confusion, not having had experience enough to even know what a dream was or that what he’d seen wasn’t real. He pushed down such thoughts of vengeance and bent his mind to work.

The dream came again the next time he’d worked himself to exhaustion.

And again.

And again.

It terrified him how many ways his subconscious could come up with to murder an angel.

Some ways were as logical as a celestial blade through the heart. Some were confusing and warped with hell-forged obsidian and wicked flames. And then there were the ways which shouldn’t have worked, but his dream self gamely attempted electrocution, drowning, and dismembering the traitor’s soul and placing each molecule on a different flaming sun.

He never succeeded. Always the serpent was between him and his target. Rarely trying to do him actual harm – just warning him away.

In waking he didn’t want to kill anyone. At least, he thought he didn’t. Definitely not strike the blow himself. Give the orders – for the goodness of Heaven, obviously - that would be acceptable. But outright killing?

Each day which progressed left the apocalypse a little further behind. The lie that it had all been a planned test took deeper root. The window to do anything about Aziraphale rapidly shut and locked itself.

Gabriel closed his mind to thoughts of vengeance. He wasn’t like that. He couldn’t be like that. He couldn’t want to do the deed himself. Giving the orders in the name of the Almighty was one thing. That was good and righteous, and Aziraphale needed to suffer for his sins.

So why did his dreams always make it so personal?

And why… why with all the praying he did, why with all his focus on his job… why wouldn’t they go away?

What had he done to deserve this torment?

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“Beatrice! How lovely to see you!”

Chloe’s mother stooped to embrace the girl who charged up to her.

“Grandma! Guess what?” Trixie rapidly pushed out of the hug to deliver her news. “We’re putting on a play at school! And I get to paint the scenery!”

Penelope Decker smiled tolerantly. “That’s lovely. But wouldn’t you rather be in it?”

“I am! I’m playing a rat.”

“A rat?”

“It’s the Pied Piper of Hamelin,” Chloe explained as she joined them at the door. She gave her mother a kiss on the cheek.

“It’s a musical,” Trixie said, as if that explained everything. “And Whiskers gets to be in it, too. I’m going to chase her across the stage. Because there’s this line that says there are so many rats that they ‘scare the dogs and chase the cats!’”

Penelope came into the apartment, wiping her feet with care. “That’s lovely. Maybe this will inspire the acting bug in you.”

Trixie wrinkled her nose. “I’d rather paint. It takes place on a street, so I’ve been practicing perspective drawing.”

“Why don’t you get your pictures to show Grandma?” Chloe suggested.

Trixie ran for her room.

“A rat?” Penelope frowned. “That sounds like a chorus part. You should tell the school Trixie’s capable of more than that.”

“Mom, she wanted a small part so she has more time for painting.”

Penelope snorted. “She has such a lovely voice. I really think you should have gotten her doing some commercials when she was young.”

Chloe grimaced. “We talked about this. I don’t want her being an actor.”

“Why not? It was your dream at one point.”

“No… It was yours. If Trixie wants to be an actor someday, fine. But right now she has other dreams she wants to follow.”

“Like what?”

Trixie returned and Chloe turned to her for an answer. “Trixie. Grandma’s wondering what you’re thinking about being when you grow up.”

“A cartoonist,” the girl said confidently. “Or president. Or a detective.” She spread her drawings across the kitchen table. “Or Whiskers and I are gonna ride a motorcycle around the country and help people.”

Not for the first time, Chloe thought the demonic influences in her daughter’s life were going to lead her down some very strange paths.

Trixie talked about her drawings and Penelope made civil answers until the girl went off to watch TV and left the adults to discuss adult things.

“Why is there a ‘for rent’ sign in your window?” Penelope asked as soon as Trixie was occupied.

“Because I need to move somewhere cheaper,” Chloe replied. “I haven’t had a roommate since Maze moved out, and Trixie’s school expenses are going up.”

Penelope frowned. “I thought Lucifer was rich.”

Chloe stifled down a glare. “I’m not asking him for money.”

“If you’re engaged, he ought to be happy to help. Besides, won’t you be moving into his penthouse soon?”

Chloe did glare at that. “I don’t want Trixie living above a nightclub.”

“Why not? It’ll be an excellent place for her to pick up a rich husband.”

“Mom!”

Penelope looked mildly at her. “It’s never too early to start making plans. You don’t want her falling in love with someone blue collar do you?”

“You did!”

“And I loved John very much. But I did hope you’d do better.” She smiled. “And you have!”

Chloe resisted the urge to scream some things she’d regret. “I’m getting married because I fell in love. Not because he’s…”

Penelope waved her daughter’s protests away. “Yes, yes, I know he has a delightful personality. And I’m sure the sex is amazing.”

“I’m just saying, if you have the resources available, you should take advantage of them. Which brings me to the wedding. What have you decided so far?”

“We picked a date.”

“And…?”

Chloe tried not to roll her eyes. “And that’s it. I haven’t given it much thought.”

Penelope glowered at her. “But what about everything else? Planning a wedding is huge!”

“I know. A couple of our friends offered to do the whole thing.”

“What?!”

“They want to do it. And I don’t. Problem solved.”

“What if they pick out a color scheme you don’t like? Or the venue’s all wrong?”

Chloe rubbed her eyes. “They’re running the big decisions past me. And, I’ve already done the wedding thing once. I don’t need anything over-the-top.” She shrugged. “And them taking care of it means Lucifer won’t go over the top.”

Penelope looked scandalized. “Don’t you want to be involved? Don’t you care about getting married?”

“Of course I do. The married part. But I trust my friends. And I have other things I’d rather worry about.”

“Like what?”

“Trixie’s school play. I’m going to help build the sets.”

Penelope made a face. “Since when do you do carpentry?”

“Dad taught me. I still remember the basics. And I want to support her interests.” She tensed for a moment. “I’m also studying for the sergeant’s exam.”

Her mother contemplated that. “Well… You’d make more money. And it gets you closer to a captaincy.”

“That’s not why I’m doing it,” Chloe sighed. “Look, I’ve been thinking about things. And I’m not sure I want to be a captain anymore. What I was thinking was once I’m out of the field, I’d like to teach at the academy.”

Penelope looked horrified. “Why?”

“Mom…” Chloe drummed her fingers on the table as she struggled to explain. “I know you think getting medals and accommodations is important. And I do like being recognized for a job well done. But I’ve done that. I’ve put some big-name murderers behind bars. I’ve taken down corrupt cops. And I don’t need to try and become a commissioner or anything.”

“You’d be good at it,” Penelope protested.

“…I think you’re right. But…” But I’m going to be co-ruling Hell, so I don’t need a big title on Earth, Chloe thought. Out loud she said; “…I see a lot of kids fresh out of the academy who have so many ideas of what police work is going to be like, and they don’t have a clue how things really work. And, when I was there, most of my instructors were old, white men with very old ideas about how police work should be. One of my teachers practically told us what drugs a suspect might be carrying based on their race. We can do better with what we’re teaching the recruits. I want to help make a difference.”

“You could do that as a captain.”

“I know. But that’s not the route I want to go. I want to show kids right from the start how things can be different. I want to encourage them the way I was, and make the changes I think need to be made.”

“Well…” Penelope gave her a tentative smile. “I know you won’t be afraid to tell everyone in charge how things ought to be done. You’ve always been sure of yourself.”

“Not always,” Chloe admitted. “But, I’ve had some good people to help me along.”

Her mother’s smile faded to sadness.

Chloe looked away. They both knew Penelope had never been one of those people. But, Chloe hoped quietly, maybe she’d be better as a grandmother.

“You should give Trixie some acting tips to be the best rat she can be,” Chloe said quickly. “She does have to sing. Maybe you could give her some vocal pointers.”

Penelope’s smile returned. “That’s a lovely idea! And I did date a set-dresser back before your father. Well, we didn’t so much date as…”

“I get it, Mom.”

“I’m sure I remember something about scenic painting.” She rose and headed for the TV. “Sweetie? Why don’t you tell me about what you’re planning for your sets?”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – SOHO

“That’s the shape I want,” Crowley growled as he finished trimming the juniper. “That’s the shape you grow in. And if you try and shade out the marigolds again, I’m trimming you down to a bonsai. Got it?”

The juniper quivered and shrank a little lower in its pot.

“Good. And as for you…” Crowley whirled on the marigolds.

The flowers stood as tall as they could and spread out their vibrant blossoms.

The demon studied the planter from every angle. “Acceptable,” he decided at last. “But just because you’re getting more light now doesn’t mean you can lilt to the side. Grow straight!”

The marigolds bobbed their heads and stood even straighter.

Satisfied, the demon continued through the garden.

He was still getting the plants back into shape after his year away. Newt had done an admirable job, even following Crowley’s directions for winterizing as best he could. Despite his best efforts, he wasn’t well-versed in gardening. He didn’t know which plants needed to be rotated or repotted or have their seedlings trimmed off before they sprouted. He didn’t know how to spot the start of diseases or root-rot before it became serious. Crowley had returned to find his plants mostly still alive, but many of them were in immediate need of aid.

He’d lost a few despite his best efforts. He’d slipped them away quietly without any parading before the other plants. Only an English Ivy had been loudly executed for the unforgivable sin of leaving marks on Aziraphale’s books. The rest had mostly kept to his rules and done their best to grow without his guidance. He’d expressed his approval as he returned the garden to its normal state of health and devotion.

Years before, when Crowley had moved into the flat, there had been the uncertainty of what space would belong jointly to the angel and demon and what was the exclusive domain of one or the other. The shop was Aziraphale’s, of course. Crowley might tease him to dust it, or occasionally try to update the heating system, but the shop was the angel’s, and Crowley never tried to take over his sanctuary.

Crowley claimed the rooftop. The angel didn’t mind at all since books couldn’t be stored outdoors. Crowley built up his outdoor garden with a varied collection. For the rest of the space, he selectively set out basking stones for nice days when he wanted to enjoy the sun. He positioned garden stone animals around the garden in spots where cherubim had once frequently rooted around a different Garden. On the Eastern wall was a weather vane. Aziraphale sometimes complained it was broken. He hadn’t noticed it always pointed to himself – the being Crowley considered his true north.

The second floor up from the bookshop had turned into additional bookshelves and storage. That was mostly all Aziraphale since Crowley had never been much of a hoarder.

The third floor flat was theirs, and they’d done their best to make it a unified collection. Maybe the bedroom furniture was more Crowley’s ultra-modern standards, and maybe the living room was closer to Aziraphale’s antique tastes, but they’d found ways to meet in the middle. Once Crowley had started choosing things he liked rather than things he thought the human he pretended to be should have, and once Aziraphale went to enough furniture stores to advance his taste a few decades, they’d found things they could both live with. Crowley got the modernized kitchen (with china dishes which had been new when Aziraphale bought them centuries before). Aziraphale got the clawed-foot bathtub (with a brand new shower head with eighteen different water pressure options). Crowley chose the bed. Aziraphale picked the lamps.

In the end, it felt like them.

Both had tried to make the other feel welcome in their exclusive spaces. Aziraphale set up the snake terrarium in the bookshop, not the flat. Crowley chose deck furniture perfect for lounging with a book – he even picked a tartan print.

Maybe they’d managed to make the whole building jointly theirs, in their own way.

Muttering a last threat in the direction of the herb garden, Crowley headed downstairs.

The kitchen table was a mess of invitations. Aziraphale was humming to himself as he dipped a calligraphy pen into an ink well and wrote in flowing script, the likes of which had not been taught in Earth schools in centuries.

“Are you hand-writing every invitation?” Crowley asked as he washed the dirt off his hands.

“Of course. It’s more personal that way.”

“Most people go to an office store.”

“And miss the pleasure of writing?” The angel looked scandalized.

Crowley shrugged and filled the plant mister. “Whatever makes you happy.” He plucked a cactus off the table where it was being buried in letters. A quick spray and wipe rid it of ink stains before he found a spot for it on top of a bookshelf. “How many do I have to deliver?”

“A dozen or so… I think. Really, it would be nice to deliver them all by hand. I’m sure Miss Decker can give her coworkers theirs herself. And I suppose her relatives will expect theirs in the mail.” He paused and studied the guest list with care. “Crowley… Your name isn’t on here.”

“I’m not invited.”

“What?!”

“It’s a politics thing.” Crowley moved across the room to the cluster of plants by a windowsill. “If I'm invited, every demon who outranks me would have to be invited… which is everyone.”

Aziraphale crossed his arms and scowled. “If you’re not invited, I’m certainly not going.”

“If you don’t go, I can’t go.”

Aziraphale blinked. “What?”

“I’m your plus one.”

That took a minute. Aziraphale smiled tentatively. “So, you’re invited?”

“No. You’re invited. And I’m going with you.” Crowley grinned back at him. “Loophole.”

Aziraphale shook his head, still smiling. “The way Hell operates…”

“…Is hardly different from Heaven.” Crowley rotated a few pots to better catch the sun. He picked up a pothos and carried it to the kitchen.

Aziraphale resumed studying the guest list. “I don’t like the idea of you flying to these places alone,” he grumbled. “Maybe I should go with you.”

Crowley didn’t answer. It wouldn’t take Aziraphale long to work out that an un-fallen angel couldn’t deliver mail for the devil. He fetched a new pot and began transferring the pothos into the larger planter.

Aziraphale slumped mournfully. “The Endless,” he murmured, and nothing more needed to be said.

The list was disturbing to say the least. Crowley wasn’t too worried about chasing down Famine or several retired human deities, but multiple names made him shiver – particularly the Endless.

Though Heaven and Hell might claim Earth, in truth both sides were invaders striving to hold the world as their own. The Endless, existing within all things and thriving within all creation, belonged on Earth as surely as they belonged anywhere else.

They weren’t hard to find. Crowley and Aziraphale had run into them multiple times on Earth, and both had largely kept their distance. Crowley had once witnessed Aziraphale valiantly blocking Despair from entering a refugee camp. (The demon had used the distraction as a good time to motivate the inmates of the camp to consider looting as a proper use of their time.) On another occasion, Crowley had been sent to tempt a soul, only to spot Delirium playing hop-scotch just outside the city walls. He’d watched from the hills as the city population spiraled into madness and jotted it down as a win in his reports.

Those were the more peaceable encounters. They’d both witnessed humans driven to horrific extremes by the power of Dream and Desire. They’d seen Destruction’s might and Death’s indifferent touch. And often they’d seen Destiny’s long shadow before history made a sudden bewildering lurch.

These were powers far beyond those of a simple angel or demon. They knew to speak politely and get out of the way when these forces acted on the world. And that was within the mortal realm. In their own realms… That was courting danger on a dangerous level.

Crowley wrapped his arms around Aziraphale’s shoulders and leaned their heads together. “Relax, Angel. No one wants to start a war with Hell. They’re not going to antagonize Lucifer by roughing me up.” I hope, he mentally added. He couldn’t deny a part of him was screaming in terror about this new assignment.

“About that…” Aziraphale’s expression took on a new level of worry. “Those attacks in Hell you told me about… Are you sure a wedding is a good idea right now?”

“Hell’s never quiet. There’s never going to be a perfect time.”

“But shouldn’t Lucifer know…?”

Crowley rose and returned to his plants. “That’s not my decision. The council’s decided this is how they want to do things, so I get to keep Linda in the loop. Which reminds me.” He looked back at the angel. “Are you going to get those invitations done before our flight?”

“I thought I’d finish on the plane.” Aziraphale grimaced. “I do hate airplanes.”

Crowley shrugged. He agreed, although causing suffering in airports was so easy he could never resist making it worse. But humanity didn’t make flying under their own power entirely secure, and they reserved it for emergencies (Or when they just needed to stretch their wings). And he wasn’t fond of flying over oceans. It reminded him of the flood, and he was still disturbed by that memory.

So much suffering just because of a few…

The demon shook himself and put on a wicked grin. “We can take the shortcut through Hell if you’d prefer.”

Aziraphale shuddered. “The airplane will be fine, my dear.” He rose, staring at the ink staining his hands until it retreated back to the bottle. “I’ll just get changed and pack these up.” He patted a begonia petal in passing as he walked into the bedroom.

He didn’t see the begonia bristle and hiss at him.

Crowley hid a smirk and glared at the flower until it flattened itself submissively. The flowering plants weren’t fond of Aziraphale who was forever picking their blossoms before he went out for fine-dining nights. The rest of the plants held suspicions of the angel who’d either over-water or under-water them when Crowley was away, and then try to fix his mistakes with hasty miracles which resounded in contrary manners with the demonic verve flowing in their chlorophyll. Crowley often found them growing in disjointed shapes when Aziraphale tried to ‘help’. Still, the plants understood their deity valued the angel, little as they understood why. And threatening anything valued by their demon overlord was forbidden.

Crowley hovered over the begonia a moment longer, then relented and stepped away. He’d gotten soft, he thought with amusement. Not long ago a misstep like that would have resulted in him shredding the plant before the trembling gaze of the others. These days, he was much more inclined toward giving his plants a second chance. Or third or fourth. At least the plants seemed to be surviving respectfully despite his occasional burst of gentleness.

He glanced toward the bedroom with a stirring of worry. What if the injured in Hell was the start of a war with Heaven? He’d put himself on Lucifer’s side, but the King’s wishes might not make a difference if Heaven invaded. And then… what would become of Aziraphale? Hell might be willing to grant asylum, but Heaven wouldn’t want the Guardian of Earth siding with the enemy. Not with the sword he carried.

And Aziraphale’s loyalties were still very much with his Creator. Maybe that wasn’t exactly the same as loyalty to Heaven, but it was closer than Hell. No, Aziraphale wouldn’t turn, not truly.

The demon put on a false smile as the angel emerged. He fell to insulting Aziraphale’s fashion choices, and drove deliberately recklessly to put Aziraphale in a mood. The bickering soothed him away from thoughts of the future.

I have you now, he thought as he listened to Aziraphale complain about the lack of leg room and the size of overhead compartments on the airplane. For here and now. That’s all that matters.

The future would have to take care of itself.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“I love it!” Ella crowed, spinning around to admire the thick rows of greenery and flowers clustered around the low outdoor stage. “I’d get married here! Wouldn’t you?”

“It would be nicer than where I did get married,” Aziraphale replied, lightly touching a blossom at the edge of the clearing. As happy as he’d been to get married, if he’d actually been allowed to plan, the throne room of Hell would have been his absolute last choice.

Ella practically skipped around the clearing to the amusement of the event planner who’d brought them to the wedding portion of the botanical garden. “This is the best one we’ve seen so far.” She paused with an uneasy look. "What if it rains?"

"We have an indoor venue," the event planner said. "But I'm afraid it's already booked for the date you mentioned"

Aziraphale waved away Ella's concerns. “Don’t fret, my dear. I think we can insure that won’t happen.”

The event planner chuckled. “Are you planning to do some voodoo of some kind?”

“Nothing of the sort,” Aziraphale replied. “I’ll just speak to the groom’s son and I’m sure he’ll be willing to arrange clear skies.”

The event planner looked blank.

“You said this could seat two hundred?” Ella asked quickly.

“Yes, that’s right.”

Ella frowned at Aziraphale. “I don’t know if that’s enough. Not with everyone they’ve invited…”

Aziraphale turned to the planner. “The space looks larger than that. What’s the issue with more?”

“We only have two hundred chairs.”

“Ah.” Aziraphale turned to Ella with a smile. “That’s not a problem, then. I think this will be ideal.”

It took a little haggling, and a generous down payment, but the space was soon theirs.

“One thing down on the list!” Ella laughed as they walked back to her car. “What do we do if more than two hundred come?”

“Very simple. We’ll rent more chairs and I'll make them look the same as the ones at the garden.”

Ella stared out the window for a second, then turned the ignition. “Planning weddings with an angel is the best!”

Aziraphale smiled. “You’re quite ideal for this as well. Perhaps we should go into business.”

“Celestial Planners!” Ella said with a grin. “Weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs.” She glanced at her phone. “It’s still early. Should we try out that bakery you were talking about?”

“I am always in the mood for a bakery.”

Ella navigated her way through Los Angeles traffic, helped along by the occasional small miracle to get them through the worst snarls.

The bakery was a narrow building of peeling paint and unwashed windows in a rundown part of town. Aziraphale gleefully assured her the pastries were delicious, even as Ella muttered over the rat-sized hole in a wall. Still, she agreeably helped pick out a dozen cupcakes at Aziraphale’s prompting.

“Shouldn’t we set up a wedding sampler meeting or something?” She asked as they walked back to the car.

“This is much more enjoyable a method,” Aziraphale insisted. “And perhaps your coworkers would enjoy assisting in picking their favorite flavor.”

~

“…A double wedding with conjoined twins?” Ella marveled as they walked out the elevator and into the precinct.

“Some people were calling it a sin, so I went to bless the union,” Aziraphale replied. “I’m sorry to say it wasn’t the happiest union. The women, you see. They weren’t keen on having to share space and time with their husbands.” He frowned. “The couples were quite prolific, though. I might have gotten the blessing wrong, come to think of it.”

Ella shook her head. “So that’s the weirdest wedding you can think of?”

“One of many I could list. There was one involving a horse and… Oh, hello Miss Espinoza.”

The angel and the scientist came to a halt as they reached Ella’s lab only to find an eleven-year-old and a hellcat waiting for them. Trixie leaned back against the counter, her arms folded and a glare on her face. Whiskers sat at her feet, casting an identically scornful glare at the pair.

“Hey Trixie,” Ella said with a grin. “Do you want a cupcake?”

“Mom said you guys are planning her wedding,” the girl said in a cold tone.

“That’s right, kid.”

The glare deepened. “I’ve known Mom way longer than you. And I’m a designer now. If anyone should be planning her wedding, it should be ME.”

Aziraphale and Ella gave each other a bemused glance, then looked back at the girl. Aziraphale spoke cautiously “Of course your mother would like you involved. I assumed you’d be the flower girl.”

Trixie’s glare turned absolutely murderous. “That’s sexist!” She declared. “Or Age-ist. Or something. I’m going to be TWELVE by the time they get married. I’m not going to be a flower girl.” She gave a decisive nod. “That’ll be Charlie.”

Ella and Aziraphale exchanged another set of looks. “She has a point,” Ella admitted. “So… who would you pick as the ring bearer?”

“Whiskers,” the girl replied confidently.

“I could get behind that,” the scientist agreed slowly.

“And I know Mom and Lucifer way better than you. I know what songs he likes to sing to her and her favorite dessert and everything!”

“That does seem to be information we need,” Aziraphale said with an amused smile in Ella’s direction. “Will Miss Decker object to a third maid of honor?”

Ella tilted her head meditatively. “I don’t know, kid. Are you really up for this responsibility? We’re going to have to try on dresses, and eat cake, and put together table decorations. Are you up for it?”

Trixie stood straighter. “Of course I am! I have lots of idea. And…” She reached into her back pocket. “I have Lucifer’s credit card!”

Aziraphale blinked. “Dare I ask how you procured that?”

“He gave it to me when he and Mom were off getting engaged. He said me ‘n Maze should go have fun with it. And we did. And he forgot to take it back.” She grinned sweetly. “My school play is going to have the best props and set decorations ever.”

Ella opened the bakery box and drew a stool away from the counter with her foot. “Pull up a chair, kid. What’s your favorite flavor?”

“Triple chocolate!” Trixie scrambled onto the stool and leaned hungrily over the box.

Ella handed out cupcakes to each of them and held hers aloft. “To the planners for the best wedding ever on Earth, Heaven, Hell, and anywhere else!”

The trio ‘clinked’ cupcakes in a squishy toast.

“If Chloe’s going to have three maids of honor, we really need to ask Lucifer who his groomsmen will be,” Ella mused.

“Maze,” Trixie replied. "And Linda."

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

They're not the same as LA. The beaches, I mean.

Maze leaned on the kitchen counter, trying to keep her grin to a minimum as she watched Eve’s cheery face on the computer screen. After a two-month absence, it was so very nice to hear her voice again.

The one we go to most of the time – when we’re not working – is pebbles instead of sand. It’s small so there aren’t many tourists. It’s nice once you get out a little ways. But we’ve been to, like, twenty beaches so I get them all mixed up.

“Have you seen any baby sea turtles yet?”

Not yet. It's still just the nesting stage. We’re trying to get the beaches cleaned up as fast as we can so the moms have lots of places to lay their eggs.

“And what’s the new guy like?” Maze stilled down the pain in her stomach. Eve knew how Maze felt. That Eve wasn’t interested still hurt. But Maze would rather accept Eve’s friendship than lose her. And friendship did feel nice… even if it came with a sting of pain whenever Eve entered another temporary relationship.

Brian? He’s kind of a slob. I don’t think it’s a long-term thing. And that’s fine. You know me. I just like a good time. And I’m getting way better at, you know, being in a relationship without becoming the relationship. So… that’s progress. Anyway, he wants me to go back to England with him to help with some lobbying project once we’re done here. It might be fun… but I’d need a passport.

The front door opened.

“Anyone here?” Called a voice from the door.

Maze turned her head and raised her voice. “In here, Crowley!”

She listened to the sounds of the demon being assaulted by Charlie and waylaid to admire the toddler’s favorite stuffed dinosaur.

Crowley appeared a moment later, Charlie wrapped around his leg. “Hi, Eve. Where are you now?”

Crowley!” The mother of humanity’s grin widened at the sight of him. “Perfect! Can you make me a passport? … Florida,” she added in afterthought in answer to his question.

“Yeah, if someone can show me an American one. When do you need it?”

Not for a while. I’ll be here for a few months.

“Sure… Just remind me what birth year I put on your driver’s license.”

They caught up for a moment before Crowley’s expression turned serious. “Do you still remember much from Eden?”

I couldn't forget my first home! Why?

“About the tree… the forbidden one… was there another one?”

Two forbidden trees?

“Right.”

Eve frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe...” She shrugged. “We mostly kept out of that area. Too many cherubim hanging around. And they had no sense of humor.

“Very true,” Crowley muttered, rubbing his shoulder with a wince of old memories.

Adam might have spent more time there before I was around, but I only visited the area that one time. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, does it? The Garden’s long gone.

Anything else Crowley might have asked was terminated by Charlie attempting to shove a triceratops in his mouth. The demon was caught unaware and his jaw unhinged reflexively, giving Charlie ample room to cram the stuffed toy.

Maze finished up her conversation and said goodbye to Eve while Crowley miracled the shredded dinosaur back to health after untangling it from his fangs.

“Where’s Linda?” Crowley asked hoarsely.

“She had to work late. She said she’d meet us at the restaurant. Where are the princes?”

“Had trouble getting out of Hell. Meeting us at the restaurant. I guess it’s just you and me?” He looked down at the toddler. “What about him?”

“The babysitter should be here any minute.”

Crowley’s eyebrows rose in silent inquiry.

Maze gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I make sure they know exactly how special he is to me.”

Ten minutes later, the teenager from down the street had been giving explicit instructions for looking after the baby, and an explicit demonstration in how fast Maze could dismember and hide a roasted chicken. Once Maze was satisfied the teen knew they were expected to defend Charlie with their life, the demons left the house.

Maze’s motorcycle stood at the curb. Crowley gave the bike an affectionate pat as he climbed on behind Maze.

“Put your arms around me and squeeze,” she said with a wicked grin over her shoulder.

“Does this mean you won’t stab me?” He asked.

“No promises.” Maze wheeled the bike into the road and took off like a bat out of Hell.

She heard Crowley’s appreciative hiss in her ear.

“This making you hot?” She teased.

“Only for a deserted stretch of road where you can really make this beauty fly,” he called back.

“Does your husband know you have a new love?”

“It’s my car I haven’t told.”

Maze laughed and leaned over the handlebars as she asked the bike for more horsepower and it responded with a roar.

She liked spending time with Crowley. They made no particular sense as friends. If they’d met in Hell, she would have held him in utter contempt for his absolute lack of fighting skills and aversion to pain, torture, and all the things which made life in Hell worthwhile.

But this was Earth, and he was a lot of fun for Earthly things. He’d go clubbing with her and back her in a bar fight (by which she meant he’d shout encouragements and make sure no one called the police). He’d come with her on bounty hunts where he was a great help at sniffing out hidden humans and displayed no inclination to show off or get in her way. She’d met human men who purred over how much they admired her skills or looks, and then tried to prove their superiority in other ways. Crowley did none of that. He didn’t cower as a proper demon should, but neither did he try to show off.

And he didn’t see a softer side as at all weak. That she loved Charlie and Trixie was a fact Maze viewed with a touch of embarrassment. It wasn’t proper for demons to become close to any humans, especially the small and helpless kind. But Crowley didn’t act as if there was anything wrong with one of her closest friends being an eleven-year-old. And he was weirdly competent with babies – and not in a ‘how best to sacrifice them’ kind of way.

Frankly, it was nice to have a friend without sex or rank getting in the way. In Hell she had to be constantly on guard for backstabbing, even from those she considered allies. On Earth, her relationships with Amenadiel, Linda, Eve… and the bulk of the humans who’d ever worked at LUX were tangled with emotions, intercourse, and awkward desires.

She felt no sexual desire for Crowley. Oh, she wouldn’t have minded playing with him if he ever showed interest. But he was so ridiculously happy with Aziraphale that she felt no inclination to get in the way. So… she had a friend. Without sex being part of the equation.

It was a new experience.

They pulled up to a Russian restaurant.

Linda was waiting nervously outside. “Oh, thank god.” She gushed at the sight of them. “I thought I’d get abducted if I stood out here much longer. This place looks like a mafia front.”

“It is,” Mazikeen replied.

“Makes it a great covert meeting place,” Crowley said. “The security’s amazing.”

Linda shuddered. “And why did they want to meet here?”

“Because I haven’t had borscht recently,” said a voice behind them.

The group turned as a woman and a dog approached.

Maze put a hand on her closest knife. She wasn’t at all thrilled with this situation. Yes, Beelzebub was loyal to Lucifer. Yes, Crowley vouched for Marchosias. Yes, Linda needed to learn to interact with the princes. But… Maze ground her teeth… Demons should not be allowed this close to Linda! Especially ranking demons. They had resources! They were sneaking out of Hell without Lucifer noticing. If the princes turned on Linda or Hell, it might be too late before Lucifer could do anything about it.

“Let’s get this over with,” Beelzebub grumbled.

The three princes were soon seated at a round table with Maze and Crowley keeping watch from across the room.

Maze waved off the offered drinks menu.

Crowley looked concerned. “You’re worried,” he murmured.

Maze cast a glare at the princes. “This is a bad idea,” she hissed. “We should just tell Lucifer and be done with this.”

Crowley leaned closer. “You know how Beelzebub solves problems, right? Sort of the human equivalent of ‘kill them all, let God sort it out’, except there’s nothing left for sorting.”

“You think she wants to storm Heaven?”

“She’s indicated as much.” Crowley wound a napkin into knots. “Look at it this way – the King suddenly starts talking about peace with Heaven and Earth. The guardians of Earth agree with him. Some Archangels are agreeing… and, suddenly, this happens?”

Maze flinched. “You think someone’s trying to start a war.”

“It wouldn’t take much. There’s a lot of hatred on both sides.” He glanced across the room and back at her. “Maybe some counseling for the councilors will help.”

It wasn’t hard to overhear everything being said, even with Crowley arranging things so no human ears would pick up the conversation. Maze listened as Beelzebub and Marchosias described what they’d found in the pipes.

“… It was a demonic death trap down there,” Marchosias said, his hackles rising. “We couldn’t get past it to see what was behind all the scrap metal.”

“And the workers scattered before we could talk to any of them. We tried going back twice, but the pipes were deserted both times,” Beelzebub grumbled.

“The scents were fresh. They’d seen us coming and bolted.” Marchosias sighed. “Our faces are too well known. They’re on the lookout for us.”

Linda rubbed her eyes. “This is all so… weird. There’s no way I could see this for myself, is there?”

“Not alive,” Beelzebub droned with a touch of malice in her voice which made Mazikeen tense. “Humans can’t enter Hell without being dead.”

“But there are stories,” Linda protested. “You know… Orpheus and Dante and those?”

“Orpheus wasn’t all human,” Beelzebub replied. “The rest are mostly just stories. Except Dante. But he wasn’t there… physically.”

“What do you mean?”

“He dreamed his way into Hell. And the rest of where he went.” The wolf-demon twitched his ears thoughtfully. “I don’t know how he did it. Stayed asleep that long and remembered so much. Humans aren’t known for lucid dreaming of that magnitude. Granted, what he described was pretty messed up. Human minds aren’t equipped to handle Hell. But… he did leave sane. He must have had some kind of protection.”

Crowley jumped as if he’d been shocked, knocking a glass of water to the floor.

The sound attracted the attention of human and demons alike.

“Something you’d like to share, serpent?” Beelzebub growled.

“There…” Crowley’s tongue flicked nervously. “There might be a way for Linda to visit Hell.”

Chapter Text

1998 – WYCH CROSS, ENGLAND

The American ambassador always traveled with an entourage. On this venture came his wife, son, security guards, his personal secretary (ie. mistress), his wife’s personal secretary (ie. friend-with-benefits), several aids (good for one night stands), one intern (same), one dietary consultant (same), and their son’s two tutors (the only members of the party neither husband nor wife had tried to sleep with).

(The fact that Warlock grew to look less like his father every day had not raised a single eyebrow in the Dowling household.)

They were touring in the southern part of the country. For the father, this meant listening to community leaders talk about the great historical significance of graveyards, former battlefields, houses, and churches. For the wife this meant a lot of making polite small talk and posing for photos.

For Warlock it meant boredom.

His tutors did try to engage him in the historical significance of the place. Mr. Cortese talked in animated languages about monasteries providing for the poor, land preservation, and A. A. Milne.

Mr. Harrison talked a lot about William the Conqueror, Romans, and Vikings.

As usual, they argued with each other on finer points of history, and Warlock ignored both of them.

He was generally more interested in handheld games and robot toys.

Today, however, he’d actually showed a spark of interest for the complex they visited.

“Do they really summon demons?” He demanded of his tutors.

“Oh dear, I hope not,” said Mr. Cortese.

“Not in a long time,” said Mr. Harrison, although he seemed troubled.

Both of them seemed uneasy, actually. Not that Warlock particularly cared. His goal for the day was to elude both of them and go properly exploring. Old houses were sure to have secret passages and suits of armor. Possibly magic wardrobes. And this one taught classes on the occult!

He’d been very disappointed to find the classes most consisted of yoga, crystal healing, and quite a lot of just talking about supernatural feelings rather than doing anything. He’d been hoping for a séance – like in those movies Nanny Ashtoreth had let him watch when his parents were away. Or communicating with animals the way Brother Francis had said some saints could. Or at least some decent magic tricks.

What he did find, after leaving his tutors and his security detail behind was a concealed staircase leading down. And the best stuff in stories was always in basements.

He tip-toed down the stairs, feeling very proud of himself as he hid in an alcove and several guards passed him by. They weren’t very good guards, and he’d been eluding highly trained security guards since he was old enough to toddle away from Nanny’s protective gaze. Guards meant he must be onto something good! He crept onward.

“…if I’d known it was this estate, I would have insisted we stay behind,” he heard Mr. Cortese saying from the top of the stairs.

Warlock mentally said some words Brother Francis would have scolded him for using.

“Settle down. We’ll get Warlock, and we’ll get out of here,” said Mr. Harrison. “He came this way.”

Warlock sighed. Mr. Harrison was as good at tracking him down when he ran off as Nanny Ashtoreth had been. Not to mention he looked very similar to her and sometimes answered to ‘Nanny’. It just wasn’t fair! He’d finally gotten old enough to not need a nanny, and he’d acquired someone almost as frustrating. Well, the solution was the same as it had always been – run and hope he had fun before he was caught.

He ran down the rest of the stairs, leaping gleefully into the room at the bottom.

Two guards sprang up with a shout at the sight of him. “It’s a kid!” One cried stupidly.

“What do we…?” The other started to say.

They were cut off by the arrival of two not-quite breathless figures.

“Oh, deary me, we’re terribly sorry,” Mr. Cortese gushed. “We got separated from the tour. Warlock, dear, we really must get you back to your…”

He trailed off as his eyes locked on what Mr. Harrison and Warlock were already staring at in a horrified freeze.

“You need to get him out of here!” The guard snapped.

“Right.” Mr. Harrison was first to respond. He seized Warlock and practically dragged him up the stairs.

“No!” The boy whined. “I wanna see!”

Behind he could hear Mr. Cortese blustering some sort of apology.

“Did you see it?” Warlock demanded as the tutors pulled him into an empty room. “It was a man! A naked man in a glass cage.”

Mr. Cortese pushed the door closed behind him. “Now, Warlock,” he said, crouching down to look the boy in the eyes. “I’m sure you didn’t see anything like that.”

“I did! You saw it too! You’re a liar if you say you didn’t!”

“Warlock.” Mr. Cortese spoke firmly, but with a very soothing edge. “I think it would be best if you went to sleep now.”

~

“I didn’t think that would work,” Aziraphale said as he straightened up and studied Warlock who lay collapsed and asleep on the floor. “Being the antichrist and all.”

Crowley picked up the boy and moved him to a couch. “He’s not in his power yet,” he said, but there was uncertainty in his voice. He was also shaking.

Aziraphale spoke after a long moment. “You saw it… Was that-”

“Don’t you dare say his name!” Crowley whirled, Mr. Harrison’s benign features melting into something which looked much more like a very alarmed demon. “It doesn’t matter anyway,” he growled and turned back to Warlock. “It’s not what we’re here for. We need to get Warlock out of this place and back to the hotel now.”

Aziraphale was silent most of the drive. It was only once they’d made excuses about Warlock being under the weather to the rest of the party, put him to bed, and concealed themselves in a separate room that he spoke. “We caused this.”

Crowley glared silently at him. It was a look which said he considered none of this to be their fault. That Aziraphale’s stolen feathers and him messing around with a spell book didn’t mean they were to blame for whatever travesty was happening in the mansion basement. That’s what his eyes said. But he looked away and bowed his head, and Aziraphale saw quite a lot of silent doubt weighing on him.

~

Alex Burgess leaned forward in his wheelchair to scream threats at the entity which had been held captive in the mansion basement for the past eighty-two years. His father had grown old and died demanding the entity give his family power. Alex feared he would soon suffer the same fate.

He collapsed with his head in his hands, breathing hoarsely and trying to hold back the tears. The fear of death weighed heavier on him every year. Once his father had tried to cage Death so they’d never endure such terrors again. Alex had been a child then, not really understanding his father’s obsession. Now he was old, and the possibility of immortality lay so close he sometimes thought the knowledge would destroy him.

It was possible it already had.

For years the strange being had sat silent and unmoving, bound by rings of spells and a cage made of glass. He'd never so much as blinked as two generations of Burgesses had demanded he give them power, wealth, longevity... or at least not destroy them if he was freed. No threats had moved him, no desperate pleading. Sometimes Alex wondered if he was really alive.

“Take me back upstairs,” he ordered the man pushing his wheelchair. “I’m tired.”

The assistant nodded and wheeled him away.

Alex didn’t notice he’d been pushed much closer to the cage and the captive within than he normally was. He didn’t notice how the wheel swept neatly through the painted lines, severing the ring of spells holding the captive's powers caged. He didn’t see one of the guards reposition himself to mask the smear. He didn’t see the captive straighten almost imperceptively.

Soon Alex was asleep. Too deep asleep to hear his assistant urgently called to return to the basement.

~

“Need a pill?” One guard asked the other as he held out the bottle of caffeine tablets.

The other took one and downed it. “Are those different?”

“New brand,” the guard grunted and returned to his novel. Soon he began to talk in a slow and meandering narrative.

His companion began to stifle yawns. He leaned back against the wall, his head dipping toward his chest…

The guard wrenched himself forcibly awake, glancing toward the captive. He lunged groggily to his feet with a shout of surprise.

Inside the circle, the captive lay collapsed on his side, outwardly dead to the world.

Minutes later, a half dozen curious men clustered around the glass globe and the downed figure. The aid had returned, the key to the cage in hand. “We’ll just have a little looksee,” he hummed.

“Is that a good idea?” Someone asked.

“I’m sure it’s perfectly…”

No one else said another word as the captive rose and blew a wash of sand over their eyes.

~

“Angel?” Crowley asked as he scrambled off the floor, making it as far as his hands and knees. His guard disguise was gone and the room was empty beside the demon and the downed angel.

Dimly, Crowley noticed his wings were out, but that didn’t seem nearly as important as Aziraphale.

The angel mumbled something incoherent. He sat against the wall, his head in his hands and his wings hanging limp. “My goodness. That felt most distressing.”

“What happened?” Crowley demanded, looking toward the empty cage. “He’s gone… So did we…? Where are the other guards?” Something clicked in his mind. “We’re asleep, aren’t we?”

‘YOU ARE.’

They both jumped and whirled.

The former captive stood at the basement door. He was gaunt and pale. He rested half against the wall, unable to completely conceal his weakness. Despite that, his eyes glowed with power well beyond their own.

The angel and demon bunched together, both wide-eyed and frightened enough to wrench them from any normal dream. But this was no normal dream. And they weren’t in control.

‘THANK YOU,’ the entity said.

“Don’t mention it,” Crowley muttered.

‘I HAVE BEEN HELD CAPTIVE HERE A LONG TIME. I RESPECT THE FORCES OF HEAVEN AND HELL UNITING TO…’

“Really!” Crowley yelped. “Don’t mention it!”

“We… ah…” Aziraphale rubbed his hands together. “You see, our offices may not have had… anything to do with this. And…” He gripped Crowley’s hand. “We’d appreciate if it stayed that way.”

The entity looked between them. ‘I SEE.’ He straightened. ‘I AM STILL GRATEFUL. IF I MAY BE OF SERVICE TO YOU ONE DAY, CALL ON ME.’

“T-thanks,” the demon stammered.

The figure turned to go.

Aziraphale straightened. “Wait! You wouldn’t know anything about averting Armageddon, would you?”

‘DESTRUCTION IS NOT WITHIN MY SPHERE,’ the entity said apologetically. He paused after a moment’s thought. ‘BUT THERE ARE MANY WHO DREAM OF A TIME BEYOND THIS AGE. AND SOME OF THOSE ARE TRUE DREAMINGS.’

~

They awoke sprawled on the floor, their disguises still intact and an assortment of humans awakening around them. Crowley’s instinct to flee any possible trouble motivated him upright. He dragged Aziraphale from the room, leaving behind the groggy humans, most of whom were fighting the effects of the sleeping tablets Crowley had generously distributed around the mansion.

“That was the Dream King,” Aziraphale hissed as they flew, for once ignoring any worry of who might be watching in favor of fleeing as fast as possible. “And he offered us a favor.”

“And let’s never collect it,” Crowley growled. “We’re going to be in enough trouble if the apocalypse blows up on us. Let’s not get involved in more madness.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – THE DREAMING

The sable-winged demon flew through the gates of horn and ivory, moving fast and keeping to a steady course as he flew through the realm of dream. Don’t deviate, he’d been warned. This was a deadly land. Dangerous in a way Hell was not.

He alighted at the doors of the castle under the watchful eye of the guardian beasts.

“Demon,” rumbled the griffin as he drew close. “What business brings you here?”

Crowley raised his palms in a non-threatening gesture. “My King, Lucifer Morningstar of Hell, sends me with a message for the Dream-Lord. May I enter?”

The wyvern snapped its jaws menacingly. “I will speak with my lord.” It became still. After a moment, it shifted again. “My lord bids you enter.” The castle doors opened. “Keep to the path. None are responsible should you stray.”

“Thank you,” Crowley said. He felt the creatures’ hot and threatening breath on the back of his neck until the door swung shut.

The hall he walked down was long and filled with mist. Lights appeared, beckoning him in tantalizing direction. Other lights danced bewildering patterns that battered at his mind.

Crowley closed his eyes against the confusion, then opened them again. It wouldn’t do to get lost by blundering the wrong way by accident. He walked onward with what confidence he could muster.

The hall began to twist in random directions. Voices called out from the fog. He thought he heard Aziraphale crying for him. He trembled and closed his ears to the sound.

“Are you lost?” A voice asked just behind him.

Crowley jumped and willed himself not to turn around. He kept walking.

“You go the wrong way,” the voice prodded. “Follow me. I’ll lead you through the dreamstuff.”

The demon quickened his pace.

Shadows of massive serpents, roaring demons, and armored angels hedged him on every side. Even ahead offered no clear path.

Crowley flattened his wings tight against his back. “Mamma…” he began to sing to drown out the voices. “Just killed a man… Put a gun against his head… Pulled my trigger now he’s dead…

Somewhere around, ‘Thunderbolts and lightning’, other voices began to join in.

Galileo,” echoed from a dozen different directions and a dozen different cadences.

Crowley sang gamely along. If the voices wanted to do karaoke with him, that minimized their distraction. “…Has the devil put aside for me… for me…for me!

The voices took on a more malicious note. Crowley tried not to break into a panicked run. Steady, he coached himself. Don’t run. Don’t show terror.

…Just gotta get out,” he sang loudly to drown out his fear. “Just gotta get right out of…

He stumbled out of the mist and into a grand hall where several dozen figures stared openly at him.

The Lord of Dreams sat upon his throne, a raven perched on his shoulder.

“Here,” finished the raven.

Crowley went very red.

~

'SO, LORD MORNINGSTAR WOULD WED A HUMAN?' The pale figure on the throne mused as he read the invitation in his hand.

“Yes, lord,” Crowley mumbled, his eyes on the ground. Why hadn’t anyone talked him through proper etiquette? He couldn’t figure out Hell, let alone the rest of the realms. Was he supposed to bow? Be defiant? Were there social faux pas which would land him in some kind of dream-jail?

'LOVE IS A BEAUTIFUL THING,' the Dream-Lord mused. “AND ALSO EXCEEDINGLY DANGEROUS.'

“He knows the risks,” Crowley ventured. “But this is real and mutual.”

'HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A DEVOTEE OF MY SIBLING, DESIRE. THEY ARE NOT ALWAYS KNOWN FOR LASTING INFATUATIONS.'

“Yeah, well, after thousands of years of tasting desire, I think he knows the real thing when it smacks him in the chest. Literally. She shot him.”

Several courtiers tutted disapprovingly, but the king chuckled. 'TELL YOUR MASTER I WILL GLADLY ATTEND. THANK YOU FOR BRINGING ME THIS NEWS. IF THAT IS ALL…'

“Actually.” Crowley raised his eyes and tried to keep his nervously flicking tongue under control. “There’s… ssssomething else. I need to call in a favor…”

~

“I don’t trust him,” Cain said flatly, staring at the door through which the demon had been escorted to wait while his request was deliberated.

This was not Cain, last known on Earth as Marcus Pierce, whom Lucifer had killed two years before. This was the story of the first murderer embodied and given a humanoid form. One hand rested on the head of a gargoyle, and the gargoyle was far more real than the man-shaped being. The gargoyle had once flown with a different Cain thousands of years before. Now he resided in the dreaming with this echo of the man he’d once known.

“He has good music taste,” remarked the scratchy-voiced raven seated on the throne’s back. He squawked out a few bars of Bohemian Rhapsody until the Dream-Lord laid a hand on his back.

'PEACE, MATTHEW,' Dream-of-the-Endless said softly.

“Lord,” Cain pressed. “Lucifer is dangerous. And demons can’t be trusted.”

“That might be their supposed nature,” Lucian, the librarian, said quietly, adjusting his wire glasses. “But that isn't necessarily true. And natures can change.”

“That one’s a tempter,” Cain scowled. “What's his real motive? Even Lucifer knows better than to trust his minions. We've seen what they can do given half the chance.”

The Dream-Lord smiled mysteriously. 'I BELIEVE LUCIFER PLACES MORE TRUST IN HIS CHOICE OF MESSENGERS THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.'

“The last demons who came here made a big mess,” the raven grumbled. “And they threatened to eat the last dream-lord.”

The king's smile grew more amused. 'ONE CANNOT JUDGE ALL OF A SPECIES FROM ONE ENCOUNTER.' His smile faded. 'I EXPECT LUCIFER WILL WANT AZAZEL BACK.'

“He attempted murder and a coup,” Lucien protested. “Surely that gives you the right to hold him imprisoned as long as you wish.”

'BE THAT AS IT MAY, IT WOULD BE A SIGN OF GOOD FAITH TO RETURN OUR LONG-HELD CAPTIVE. PERHAPS AS A WEDDING GIFT.' The Dream-Lord made a small gesture of dismissal. 'THANK YOU FOR YOU COUNSEL. I WILL CONSIDER THE APPROPRIATE ACTIONS. PLEASE TREAT OUR GUEST WITH COURTESY SHOULD YOU ENCOUNTER HIM. MATTHEW…” He held up a hand and the raven alighted on his wrist. 'GO TO EVE AND TELL HER THE SERPENT IS HERE. I WISH HER OPINION OF OUR GUEST.'

The raven clapped his beak. “Okay, Boss. Uh… do you maybe want to tell her more than that?”

'NO. SHE'LL KNOW WHAT IT MEANS.'

“Right.” The raven leaped from his perch and flew out a window.

Daniel, youngest of the Endless, and also third-born of the seven siblings, stared into the ever-changing mist of the Dreaming and contemplated past and future, and the great, writhing uncertainty between.

~

“We have every book ever written, and every book never written,” Lucien, the castle librarian, explained as he escorted the demon in a tour of the library. “Personally, I find most writers leave their best works unfinished in their dreams”

“Aziraphale would love this place,” Crowley murmured, his eyes huge as he stared up at the massive collection.

“Aziraphale? The principality of England?” Lucien asked.

Crowley jumped. “Yeah. How do you know?”

“He comes here often. In fact… I thought I saw him… Ah! Hello, Aziraphale.”

Crowley gave a cry of surprise and hurried toward a familiar figure pouring over a book. “Angel! What are you doing here?”

Aziraphale pushed him roughly away. “Not now, Darling. I never get very far.”

Crowley jumped back with a wounded look. “Angel?”

“He’s dreaming,” Lucien explained. “He thinks you’re part of the dream.”

“Angel,” Crowley whined. “It’s really me. I’m in the Dreaming.”

Aziraphale looked up, a frown crossing his features. “Crowley? You’re not just a dream figment?”

“No! I’m really here. Apparently in your dream.”

The angel smiled vacantly. “Then, it’s lovely to see you. But I really must read as much as I can before something wakes me up.”

The demon blinked. “When I tell you to put the book away and come to bed, do you come here and keep reading?”

“Sometimes.”

“You’re such a nerd.” Crowley burrowed affectionately into the armchair with him. “Read to me?” He begged.

Aziraphale sighed a long-suffering sound. “Very well. But you’ll have to listen along for where I am. I am not starting over.”

“Fine.” Crowley nuzzled himself comfortably beneath Aziraphale’s chin. “Just tell me the title.”

Paradise Found, by Milton. And I’ve been trying to finish it for centuries.”

Crowley grinned and settled into the peace of the angel’s steady voice.

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said much too soon. “I think my phone is ringing.”

“Sleep through it.”

“I’m sorry, my dear. You know I’m no good at that. Do mark my place!”

And the angel was gone.

~

Crowley followed the raven back through the castle toward the throne room. His heart hammered a frantic cadence. If the dream king couldn’t or wouldn’t honor his request, he wasn’t sure what else to try.

“Crawly?”

The demon whirled, blinking out his uncertainty at the sight of an elderly woman hobbling toward him. “Um… Yes? Except it’s Crowley… Have we met?”

“Once. At the beginning of things,” the woman said, becoming much younger as the demon stared.

“…Eve?” He gasped at last.

She smiled, the look of blithe happiness he recalled from the Garden. “Hello, Serpent. It’s been a long time.”

Crowley stared. “… We talked a few days ago… But… that wasn’t you, was it?”

“It’s one of me,” Eve had grown to middle age, her arm around a swollen, pregnant belly. “I am her and everywoman.”

“Yeah… I don’t think women are as into that maiden-matron-crone shtick as they used to be.”

The woman smiled, her appearance shifting to something a little younger and with a hint of transitioning about her. “I change with the times. Three-in-one suited the imagination once. Now…” She became an older figure in pantsuit and hijab, “…I continue to be a reflection of changing times.”

“Okay, then.” Crowley swallowed. “This place keeps getting weirder.” He squinted. “So… did I tempt you in the Garden or not?”

“You tempted Eve. And I’m the result of that story.”

The demon nodded vaguely.

“Eve?” The raven circled back and landed briefly on the woman’s shoulder. “The boss wants to talk to him now.”

Eve scratched the raven’s head. “Yes, he isn’t fond of being kept waiting. It was good seeing you again, Crowley.” She walked away.

Crowley glanced at the raven. “This place is complete madness, isn’t it?”

“Try living here,” the raven grumbled.

The demon spread his wings and followed his guide on swift flight through the castle.

He could only hope the Dream-Lord would give him what he needed.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – HELL

“Does it seem familiar?”

Hastur watched Kokbiel’s face hopefully as the angel stared out at the expansive swamp. Bubbles popped, releasing foul odors into the air. Souls gasped as the thick muck slowly, slowly, slowly dragged them to its heart. Dragonflies – some on fire, some covered in spikes, and some made of dripping goo – buzzed across the surface. They stung and bit anything within reach. An eerie, blue light shone from a clear patch of water where skeletal hands clawed at the surface as if was restraining glass. Then they were dragged down again.

It had always been one of their favorite places to relax after a mission on Earth.

Kokbiel gazed innocently at the sight. “It’s pretty,” he said. “Can we get closer?”

Hastur tried not to feel discouraged. “Yeah… ‘course. Wanna transform first so you dun’t muck up yer wings?”

The angel was a chameleon in an instant. The vague grin didn’t leave his face, even in reptilian form.

Hastur transformed as well and flowed along behind the chameleon.

Hastur was trying out female at the moment. She’d done a lot of trying out and changing over the past three months. Showing off any form she’d ever worn in Hell or Earth. Anything to cause a spark of recognition to flare in Kokbiel’s eyes.

It came so rarely. Sometimes weeks would pass before the angel identified something with any look of clarity. Hastur struggled against the constant weight of discouragement.

She hadn’t known Kokbiel in Heaven. She'd never asked Ligur about his former identity. It wasn’t something the Fallen ever talked about, even if they remembered anything about Heaven.

Hastur had been an ophanim back then. She’d listened to the arguments of the angel who would become Beelzebub and rebelled against her caste. She’d fought, and fought eagerly, never once feeling the slightest desire to return to what she’d been.

Perhaps the strange appearance of the ophanim had translated well into swarms of creatures in the Fall. Hastur had become a teeming mass of maggots. Blind, adrift, weak, she’d been one of the first to learn to coalesce her body into a new shape – a powerful one.

Ophanim had been created to be loyal, and Hastur had never deviated from that trait. She’d sworn her allegiance to Lucifer as her King and Beelzebub as her prince from the start. She’d been impeccably devoted ever since.

Every angel – Fallen and not – had their specialty. Hastur’s was lurking. She could stay perfectly still, half concealed in darkness so long that her presence became part of the scenery. She’d been Beelzebub’s spy in Hell, and shifted easily to the same role on Earth.

Earth… Always a delightful place for a snack. And a temptation. Hastur had seen the world in a narrow and immediate view. Easy to relate to what was directly in front of her. Harder to see the broader picture.

Tempting one soul at a time was her specialty. She’d pick one human and pour all she had into the delicate work of corruption until that soul was safely trapped in its loop for eternity. Then she’d choose another and begin again.

One or two humans a century was pretty good as far as she was concerned. Not many other demons could point at so many souls and say, ‘That one was my work.’

She’d also specialized in killing angels. Creeping up on them unaware and putting a hell-blade between their wings. She kept a few feathers from every kill in her trophy room.

Or she had until a month before when Kokbiel had picked up a display of feathers with a happy cry. “These are Gallarel’s!” He’d said. “We were friends before. I wonder what happened to them…”

Hastur sank the entire room into a mudslide the next time Kokbiel was away.

Kokbiel… Ligur. The name didn’t matter. Whatever he wanted to be called. However he wanted to look. Just so long as he looked at Hastur and knew her.

They hadn’t known one another in Heaven – the ophanim weren’t exactly encouraged to socialize outside their sphere. They’d known of each other after the Fall, of course. But Ligur had been part of Azazel’s clique, so they hadn’t socialized.

Not until after the Flood.

“Do you remember the first time we came here?” Hastur asked, flowing her maggot body along beside the chameleon.

“Can you remind me?” The chameleon asked hopefully.

Sometimes that worked. Sometimes halfway through, Kokbiel would take over, the memory coming to clarity.

“Well, I dun’t know if it was your first time. It wasn’t mine. But I liked coming here ta sit and think. And I saw you here.”

“Where?”

“Umm….” The maggots reared up into a periscope. “There! That bit right there.”

The chameleon bounded across the slick surface of mud with significantly more speed than the Earth variation could manage. “Here? This pile of… mmm… what was this?”

“Some kind ‘a sea monster, I guess. Like the leviathan or one of them.”

Kokbiel clambered to the top of the skull. “You can see a fire burst from here, can’t you?”

“Yes!” Hastur flowed up to join him with a gleeful burble. “Dun’t happen as much as it used ta. But if we wait, it’ll spout.”

“Let’s stay here until it does.”

I’ll stay wherever you want forever, Hastur thought, her soul overflowing with need. She forced it down and spoke quickly. “This is where I saw you the first time. You were sittin’ all sad-like right here.”

The chameleon became an angel once more. “I… I think I remember… Someone… Someone was gone, weren’t they?”

Hastur’s soul twisted with a stab of jealously. “Some friends of yours got punished by Heaven. Your group was muckin’ about with humans too much for their taste.”

Kokbiel shook his head in the mystified way which meant none of this was coming clear.

Hastur tried not to be happy about that. “You were lonely then, so you ‘n me started muckin’ about together.”

A very simplified version of events.

Hastur had found Ligur hopeless and weeping upon the skull. She’d climbed up there with malicious intent. A demon alone and in a vulnerable state? Who wouldn’t take the chance at clawing them into submission? She could get a new lackey out of this, or a new kill to her reputation.

But then Ligur had looked at her. Actually looked at her, not at all surprised or bothered to find someone creeping up at his back when every instinct in Hell should have been screaming to attack. “It’s not fair,” he’d cried, as if Hastur was someone he could confide in immediately. “Why’d they get punished and not me?”

Hastur had recoiled, struck immobile with confusion. She’d finished climbing up the skull and sat beside him, listening as he poured out the whole business of the watchers and the Flood. Of Azazel and Semjaza and the children. And the Archangels.

He was especially upset about the Archangels.

“We were just having a bit of fun,” he moaned. “They didn’t have to be so mean about it. And… And saying I could leave. That I wasn’t important. That I didn’t know anything. I do know things! I do!”

The implication that he’d been a naïve moron who’d gotten accidentally mixed up with his betters struck him hardest.

Hastur wasn’t the brightest demon, but in the hours it took Ligur to pour out the story, Hastur figured out Ligur wasn’t stupid. Not exactly.

Ligur’s specialty was information gathering. As an angel he’d been able to recite the name of every star ever birthed, along with its creation date, probable death date, type, strength, and personality. Although that knowledge was a blank in his demonic mind, the ability to gather and recite massive quantities of information remained. He didn’t understand, but he absorbed. He could parrot back conversation after conversation.

Occasionally, he even knew what he was talking about.

And with his leader currently confined in the bottomless pit, Ligur was a free agent.

Hastur brought him to Beelzebub immediately. They’d been coworkers ever since.

Until Armageddon.

Hastur had never given a thought to what Ligur was to her until the moment he was gone. That pure, horrible sensation of loss. That empty Ligur-shaped hole which opened in the world was the most horrible thing Hastur could imagine.

Followed up by several hours stuck in an ansaphone.

She’d needed to eat her feelings after that.

Sure, killing humans was outlawed. But it was Armageddon. The whole planet was about to be torched. No one would care if Hastur personally dropped a few bodies.

But when Armageddon failed to materialize, it turned out the higher ups were very concerned with any laws which had been broken.

Hastur got off lightly, all things considered. Ten bodies. Ten years in a hell-loop. Plus another eight for failing her assignment, returning to Hell late, and losing her partner. That was centuries shorter a sentence than it should have been.

They put the loop on auto to relive her worst memory.

For eighteen years she watched Ligur melt in a cascade of holy water again, and again, and again.

Beelzebub liberated her the very day the sentence was over. But it hadn’t been a reward for thousands of years of loyalty. It was because the King was gone and Beelzebub was up to her wings in chaos. She needed all the loyal soldiers she could find.

It was weeks before Hastur could ask how Ligur’s murderer had been punished.

The news that the serpent was still slithering about free and unharmed was worse than every second in the Hell-loop.

Hastur resolved to rectify the situation the second the King was back on his throne and the frantic work was stilled.

It hadn’t worked out that way.

That Ligur was alive again didn’t alleviate Hastur’s feelings. The serpent might be officially pardoned, but if she could ever catch him alone…

“There’s the fire!” Kokbiel cried, standing tall on the skull and pulling Hastur upright with him. “Oh, it’s beautiful!”

Yes, Hastur agreed, looking at their intertwined hands. Yes.

The walk home was long, but neither were bothered. Kokbiel sang the music of the spheres, attracting a curious crowd of demons who followed at a distance. Kokbiel’s angelic nature attracted and repelled demons simultaneously. The denizens of Hell were fascinated by him, even as their claws instinctively came out at the sight. They’d been puzzled, but not entirely hostile, to an angel in their midst. Perhaps because Kokbiel could fight, and Hell valued a show of strength. His mannerisms were more demon than angel, minus the way he smiled and warbled about how ‘beautiful’ everything was. He wasn’t exactly making friends, but no one had screamed at him to get out of Hell either.

“Maybe the other angels will get along with everyone too once they stop hurting demons,” Kokbiel remarked when Hastur mentioned the not-entirely-hostile crowd behind them.

“Other angels?”

“Well… Maybe other angels.” Kokbiel looked worried until they were safely inside. “It’s a council secret. But Marchosias found demons with angelic burns. He says…” The angel rattled off quite a lot of what Marchosias and the others had said at the last council meeting.

Hastur listened wild-eyed. She couldn’t think of what to say, nodding mutely without really hearing when Kokbiel told her it was a secret.

Inwardly, her mind was a torrent. Angels attacking Hell? They all could be in danger! Especially Kokbiel. He was so naïve now. What if he got in the way and one side or the other mistook him for an enemy? What if he blundered into a dark recess of Hell where danger lurked and never saw it coming?

…What if Heaven declared war and took Kokbiel away?

Hastur dealt with her fears and frustrations the way she always did – by hurting any underling who got in her way.

“That’s less than them angels will give you if they catch you!” She snarled as she brought a cat-o-nine down on a screaming lackey.

Several watching (and cowering) demons begged to know what she was talking about.

Hastur looked around furtively and dropped her voice to a whisper. “You can’t spread this around. And you didn’t hear it from me. But I heard…”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

Linda waited patiently, allowing Dan time to wrestle with himself. Being a therapist sometimes meant waiting for the patient to answer unspoken questions in their own time.

She and Dan had talked about quite a lot over the past year. His divorce. His addiction to work. His dip into corruption. Those had been the easy topics.

She’d known there was more beneath the surface.

Mostly because Maze had told her there was more.

“You’re seeing Dan?” Maze had asked when Linda happened to mention her client. “Did he tell you about the time we threw a guy to the Russian mafia after his murder charges didn't stick?”

She’d proceeded to tell a story of absolutely illegal actions which were fully justified in the demon’s mind, and would have ruined Dan’s life if it came to light.

Linda knew she should probably recommend Dan to someone else. This had to be a massive conflict of interest, especially when he opened up enough to vent his frustrations about Lucifer. Yet, she reasoned, she was the only doctor unlikely to have him committed if he started ranting about angels and demons. Clearly, he thought the strangeness of Lucifer and his family was some form of mass delusion, but if it ever came out that Dan had dated a goddess, Linda wanted to be on hand to assure him he wasn’t crazy.

Gradually the depths of his self-loathing came out. How he blamed himself for his failed marriage. For Charlotte’s death. For the destruction of his career. How his self-loathing had turned into fixed hatred of Lucifer.

Today, he struggled on the brink, clearly wanting to confess, and reluctant to do so.

Linda waited, offering him the gentlest expression she could.

“Trixie nearly got killed because of me,” he exploded at last. “And Eve. All because I… I…” And he broke down completely.

It took the rest of the hour for him to stammer out what he’d done. How broken he’d been after Charlotte’s death. How certain he’d been everything would be better if Lucifer was just… gone. How he’d given Lucifer’s name and address to a known murderer. How hired gunmen had gone to the penthouse with intent of killing everyone there. How Trixie would have been an innocent victim if Lucifer hadn’t protected her. How Ella had hidden Dan’s crimes and offered him the second chance he didn’t deserve.

How badly he wanted to be punished.

In her mind, Linda envisioned rows upon rows of Hell-loops. She could see the despair and shame weighing the man down. This is how souls sink, she thought. Because they can’t believe in forgiveness.

“Do you want to be forgiven?” She asked.

Dan stiffened. “I’m not going to confess to a priest or anything like that.”

“I was thinking the opposite, actually.”

Dan moaned and buried his face in his hands. “I can’t tell… if Chloe ever found out. She’d never let me near Trixie again.”

“You’re not the only one who’s made terrible choices. I mean, you weren’t wrong. Lucifer did break that man’s back. Although thinking he deserves to be murdered…” Not that it would have stuck, Linda thought.

“The worst part?” Dan looked helpless. “I’m not sure he was wrong. What that man did… I’d have wanted to hurt him too. I understand. Because I did the same thing.” He hunched lower into the couch. “More than once.”

“Do you know what you need to do?” Linda asked gently.

“…Apologize,” Dan admitted after a long minute. “At least it’s not like he can turn me in.” He shuddered. “God, he’s going to kill me.”

“He might surprise you.” Linda glanced at her watch. “I’m sorry. We’re overtime and I do have another client waiting.”

“Right.” Dan rose. “…Thank you. For listening.”

It wasn’t proper, but Linda hugged him. “You’re worth being forgiven,” she murmured.

He jumped, then fled, rubbing his face as he went.

Linda sat down with a sigh. This was the trouble of knowing too much. The urge to save a soul was almost overwhelming. She glanced at her appointment book. ‘Fear of airplanes’, read her notes for the next patient.

Good. Something simple. She took a breath and prepared to welcome them in.

~

Lucifer was just pouring a drink when he heard the whumph of someone landing poorly on the penthouse balcony. He snorted and turned slowly. “A little dramatic, aren’t we?”

Crowley sprawled face-down on the ground, his arms and wings splayed spread-eagle. He gave Lucifer a weak ‘thumbs-up’ signal without lifting his head. “Nailed the landing,” he mumbled groggily.

Lucifer smirked. He caught the demon by the back of his jacket and hefted him onto the sofa. “Enjoy your flight?” He asked as he poured a second drink. He brought the bottle along as he returned to the sofa.

“I HATE the Dreaming,” Crowley groaned. “It’s like… Escher-meets-Dali-meets-Pollock in the mind of a two-year-old.”

Lucifer held out the glass.

Crowley reached past it and seized the bottle. He lifted his head long enough to tip back a quarter of its contents, then collapsed again. “And the creepy… creepy residents,” he grumbled.

“Oh. You met Cain and Abel.”

“What is with that?!” Crowley demanded. “And Eve?! How – Why… My brain is dead.”

“Morpheus once explained that they were reflections of stories. The things humans retell. The patterns they repeat.”

“Great. They repeatedly broke my mind.”

Lucifer sat on the edge of the sofa, feeling a stirring of sympathy for the exhausted demon. Crowley’s wings looked an absolute mess. Lucifer unconsciously reached out to tease a lump of something from between the feathers.

Crowley didn’t seem to notice. He shifted so he could drink without lifting his head. His eyes opened only long enough to ascertain the location of the bottle, then sank closed again. “The dream lord’s in… I don’t know if he’s bringing a date… Probably the bird. I think it goes everywhere with him.” He took a long drink.

Lucifer noticed the bottle was fuller than when Crowley had started drinking. He rolled his eyes but kept quiet, little as he liked trivial miracles. He continued to smooth the demon’s feathers back into alignment and card out the bits of ethereal substance clinging to them.

A part of him thought he should stop or at least ask permission. Preening had been an intimate act back in Heaven. Lucifer hadn’t touched anyone’s wings since then – in a nonviolent way, at least. He found himself longing for those peaceful times and couldn’t bring himself to release the gleaming, black feathers. Crowley didn’t seem to mind what he was doing. If anything, the demon was sinking deeper into the cushions.

“…Did the Dreaming. And Desire. They’re in. Despair wouldn’t let me into her realm. So… maybe a no?” He took another drink. “Destiny went on for about an hour about how he’s present in all places at all times… So, I guess he’s coming. Um… Azrael said yes, and that she’d talk to Death.” His face contorted in a frown. “I thought they were the same.”

“It’s complicated,” Lucifer replied as he unwound a thread of raw dreamstuff from Crowley’s secondaries. “One entity. Multiple aspects. Some more distantly removed from each other than others.”

“If you say so,” Crowley grumbled. It took another minute and several more gulps from the never-ending bottle before he resumed speaking. “Dream said he’d invite Delirium… 'Cause visiting there could be mentally fatal if she’s in a mood. And their other brother’s still MIA. So… Three Endless. Maybe five. And a bird.”

“Thank you for putting in the effort.” Lucifer dug his fingers deeper into the feathers.

Crowley grunted a satisfied sound. “M’pleasure,” he mumbled. He took a long drink, then let his hand sink to the floor, the bottle dangling loosely from his fingertips.

Lucifer shifted to bury both hands into the thick cascade of plumage. He’d missed this. He hadn’t realized how much. How much he needed this kind of peace and trust.

Most of the time he didn’t miss Heaven. Not his distant Creator. Not the endless striving. Not the holier-than-thou voices of his fellows. But he missed the beginning. The safety. The happiness.

His family.

Crowley shifted beneath him to take another drink.

Lucifer studied the demon’s face. He really was pretty. And possessing good qualities besides a handsome face. It was a shame they hadn’t become better acquainted under alternative circumstances long ago. Things might have turned out differently. Or at least Lucifer might have gotten an occasional bedmate in Hell.

He toyed with the idea that he could still have that. But Aziraphale didn’t strike him as the sharing type. Still, the angel could probably forgive a little wing-grooming. Angels were supposed to be forgiving after all. Although, in Lucifer’s experience, they were rubbish at it.

He leaned a little lower, breathing in the down-scent of the feathers, which mixed with the not-unpleasant odor of snakeskin.

Crowley lifted his head to take another long drink.

As the demon set down the bottle, Lucifer gave in to impulsive craving. He caught Crowley by the head and brought their mouths together.

Crowley let out a surprised gurgle. He propped himself up on one arm, shifting to face Lucifer, his mouth remaining locked with the devil’s.

This isn’t right, Lucifer thought distantly. Then his thoughts gave way to the very interesting exploration of a forked tongue over the roof of his mouth. He groaned, one hand raking hungrily at the demon’s wing.

Crowley didn’t stop him, although he didn’t return the frantic contact. His hand rested carelessly above Lucifer’s knee. The small point of contact sent an electric thrill straight to the devil’s brain.

Lucifer pulled away for a moment of panting, licking his lips at the heavy taste of alcohol and demonic verve.

Crowley’s eyes were sunk to slits. He swayed a little in place. His hair was disheveled and falling over his face.

Lucifer pushed the hair away. The demon leaned closer, and Lucifer found their lips once more together.

Something was nagging at his mind. Something which wouldn’t quite let him surrender to the moment.

“You… said…” He managed. “You… visited… Desire?”

“Mmmhmm,” Crowley mumbled, his head lolling like a puppet with cut strings as Lucifer pulled his mouth away.

Desire… Desire and their little jokes. What was that thing he’d pulled out of the demon’s wing? What had he touched? Was it… No, it couldn’t possibly affect him… could it?

He tried to rise, to extract himself from the situation. But whatever his brain distantly thought was right, his body felt otherwise. Even as he stood, he hooked his hands into the demon’s jacket, pulling him along.

It’s fine, his libido tried to assure his brain. He’s not resisting. He must want it.

But as they kissed again, Lucifer’s eyes roved past the demon and fell on the still-full bottle. He looked back at Crowley’s swimming eyes and unsteady stance, and realized a second truth.

Whether Crowley had miracled recklessly by accident in his exhausted state, or whether he’d done it intentionally to shut off his tired mind, the result was Crowley had gotten himself absolutely wasted in barely a ten-minute span.

We can’t do this, Lucifer thought, even as he dragged the demon tight against his chest, his hands clawing hungrily at clothes, feathers, and skin. We’re not in our right minds. He may not even know who I am. He’ll start calling out his angel’s name if we go any further. I have to…

His wings flared out of their own accord, reaching to brush primaries with the demon.

Crowley’s fingers sank into the feathers closest to Lucifer’s ribs.

Lucifer’s brain short-circuited in the worst way.

What the Hell? He thought. I can just apologize later.

But an alarm in his rapidly deteriorating rational thought was insisting, no, there was nothing okay about this, and he needed to…

The elevator dinged.

“Lucifer?” Dan’s voice called. “Do you have a min…”

Lucifer jumped, releasing Crowley who dropped like a stone. “Detective…” The devil panted, too surprised to think of an insult or witty line. “…This isn’t what it looks like.”

Dan just stared at the wings.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“I like this place best for flowers." Ella leaned on the lab counter as she pushed her tablet closer to Aziraphale so he could study the floral examples on the website. "Now we just have to choose what we want."

"In ancient Greece, the bride carried wheat to symbolize fertility," Aziraphale suggested helpfully. "And I recall garlic becoming popular around the sixth century."

Ella gave him one of those looks Aziraphale couldn't quite understand. "How about roses?"

“Ella!” A disheveled detective burst into the lab. “Have you seen Chloe?”

“I think she’s meeting with the captain, Dan,” Ella replied with a frown. “Is something wrong?”

“I…” The detective gripped his forehead. “I went by Lucifer’s penthouse to…” His gaze flicked to Aziraphale and back to Ella. “…Talk with him. And, he was up there with some guy. Making out with him. And…” His eyes went wild. “The guy had wings. Not like costume wings or some freaky-sex-thing. Actual, humongous wings. And so did Lucifer!”

Ella’s hand went to her mouth. She turned to Aziraphale. “Oh, my god. I’m so sorry.”

Aziraphale smiled and patted her other hand. “Clearly, Lucifer has excellent taste.”

“You’re not freaked out?”

“There is an enormous difference between love and lust,” Aziraphale replied, still smiling. “I’m certainly not going to stop Crowley if he’s acting willingly. We have all the time in the world together.”

Dan slammed his fists on the counter. “What are you talking about?! Did you miss the part where he had wings?!”

Aziraphale frowned. “It’s not uncommon. All the Fallen maintained their wings. It’s rather hurtful that artists insist on drawing them wingless, or with that batty nonsense. Not expecting a demon to have wings is just… insulting.”

Dan stared wordlessly at him.

“Yes, being engaged means we’re exclusive!” Chloe shouted into her phone as she stalked into the room. “I didn’t think we needed to agree to that… No, it’s not okay… Especially not with your ‘employees’. Would he even say ‘no’?... No, I didn’t mean to imply… Don’t turn this around on me! You’re the one…” She trailed off, rubbing her forehead. “Fine... Seven o’clock… What?... Yes, we’re talking about this some more… Because I’m mad at you… Bye.”

She dropped the phone onto the table and put her hands to her eyes. “That man…” She muttered. She looked up at last. “Hi, Dan. You were looking for me?”

Dan stared at her, his eyes bugging out still further. “Lucifer told you?!”

“That you walked in on him and Crowley? Of course. He was worried about you.”

“About me?! After he was…”

Chloe rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t think he was doing anything wrong. Except the non-consensual part.” She looked apologetically at Aziraphale. “If it helps, he says there was alcohol involved. And…” She frowned. “‘Raw desire’. Whatever that means.”

“I believe it means neither of them were entirely in control of their actions,” the angel said, feeling a rush of worry. “Are they alright?”

“Yes, and Lucifer insists nothing happened. He says Crowley's sleeping off whatever they got into.”

“Oh, dear.” Aziraphale shook his head. “He’ll have such a headache.”

“Lucifer’s going to have a headache too when I’m done with him,” Chloe grumbled.

“Do go easy on him, please,” the angel said gently. “He’s still learning how real relationships work.”

“He’s about to learn another aspect of them,” the detective muttered. She visibly pushed aside her annoyance and turned to Dan. “Thanks for trying to let me know. I’m sorry I had my phone off.”

Dan stuttered wordlessly for a second. “Wings,” he spat out at last.

Chloe flinched. “Oh… You saw those.”

“Apparently they were both…” Aziraphale coughed discreetly. “…Unfurled.” He frowned. If the devil wanted to kiss the demon, that was one thing. But wings? Those were so… personal. Maybe he did need to have a talk with Crowley. Just so they were in agreement regarding what shouldn't be shared...

“Look, Dan.” Chloe tried to take his arm. “I know it’s weird. It’s hard to explain. Maybe you should sit down. We can…”

Dan backed to the door, his eyes roving from one face to another. “What’s going on?! I’m saying Lucifer has actual wings, and you act like…” He lurched. His mouth worked over the name ‘Lucifer Morningstar’ very slowly. With a feral sort of cry, he fled the room.

“Dan!” Chloe ran after him. “Dan, wait!”

Ella looked after them, then dialed her phone. “Hey, Maze? Dan finally figured out about Lucifer. Can you track him down and knock some sense into him?”

~

“This feels like a murder scene,” Dan grumbled as he shuffled through the abandoned warehouse.

“I’m not going to kill you,” Mazikeen assured him, bumping him along from behind.

“Then why am I handcuffed?”

“Because you keep trying to run.”

“Are you going to hurt me because of what I saw?” Dan asked hollowly.

“Of course not,” Mazikeen snapped. “If Lucifer didn’t want people to know, he wouldn’t go around telling everyone.” She tugged Dan to a halt and turned him around to face her.

“What are you going to do to me?” His bravado was gone. Naked panic clouded eyes.

Make blew out an angry hiss. “Nothing. Except make you listen without running headlong into traffic. You scared Chloe, and you were going to get yourself killed. So, I get to calm you down.”

Dan eyed her. “The lady with more knives than a steakhouse?”

Maze grinned toothily. “That’s right. But you already know that about me. No need to be afraid of that.”

“So, what? You’re going to tell me you’re some kind of demon?”

“Yes, but we’re going to start with someone a little easier to cope with than me.”

“Is that my cue?” Came a voice followed by an unsteady crunch of feet through the debris. “Am I supposed to make a dramatic entrance?”

Dan wrenched his head around. “You!”

“Yeah, me.” Crowley picked his way closer, one hand massaging his temples. “Maze, you dragged me out of a nap for this? Getting away from the boss profusely apologizing for... whatever happened... was great, but this place is disgusting. When was the last time someone died here?”

“A few months ago,” Maze said sweetly.

Human and demon stared at her.

“Ask a stupid question…” Crowley muttered. He turned to the human. “Dan, right? We’ve met a few times. Here.” He held out a paper bag. “Maze said to bring yogurt.”

Dan eyed the bag skeptically. “Is that my last meal? Are you going to spoon-feed me?”

Maze hissed with more irritation. “We’re not going to kill you.” She dragged him over to a chair. “Sit down. I’ll take the handcuffs off.”

Dan rubbed his wrists, looking suspiciously over his shoulder at her all. “Are you sure…”

Crowley pushed the bag at him. “Don’t make her mad, or she might change her mind.”

“I’m trying to calm him down!” Maze snarled.

“And losing your temper is such a great start.”

“If you both would stop saying idiotic things...”

“And I’m not even trying yet.”

Maze inhaled to start properly shouting, then realized Crowley was looking smug, and Dan was eating the yogurt with the air of a spectator at a tennis match. She took a breath, then turned to Dan. “Can we talk now without you running for the door?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”

“Free will, Maze,” Crowley muttered.

“Oh, shut up.” She glared at Dan. “So, you found out Lucifer’s been telling the truth.”

“I don’t know...”

“You don’t know?”

“Look.” Dan gestured with a spoon. “Maybe it was just a costume thing. Maybe they were mechanical. Maybe I got hysterical for nothing. Maybe…” He trailed off, his eyes going wide and the spoon dropping from his grip.

Maze whirled around to find Crowley wearing an innocent expression, his wings unfurled. “Crowley!”

“This is why you asked me to come, isn’t it?” He flapped the wings, ruffling Dan’s clothes. “Do they look real to you?”

Dan made a glubbing noise.

Crowley drew one wing forward. “You can touch. Just don’t get yogurt on them.”

The man touched the leading primary, drawing back quickly. He looked hesitantly at the demon, then ran a finger slowly along the feather.

“You have wings,” he said at last in a dazed voice.

“I’m a snake too,” Crowley offered unhelpfully.

Dan looked up at Maze. “Do you have wings?”

“She has knives,” Crowley said before Maze could answer. “She doesn’t need more than that.”

Maze’s annoyance evaporated. “Not all of us fly.”

“All of you…” Dan’s tone was weak. “Demons.” He didn’t say the word as if he really understood what it meant.

“If it helps, we’re the only two on Earth,” Crowley offered. “Lucifer doesn’t like us wandering unattended.”

“And… He really is the devil…” Dan’s expression turned absolute terror. “I’ve been fighting with… Oh, God, I’m going to Hell.”

Maze studied Dan for a minute, then slapped him across the face. “Stop that!”

The detective jumped and stared wide-eyed at her.

“Lucifer doesn’t damn anyone to Hell. People do that themselves.”

He looked even worse. “I am going to Hell then.”

“Most people do,” Crowley said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t leave.”

Dan eyed him with a hungry desperation. “What?”

“All about choices,” the Fallen purred. “You’ve still got them after you die. Mostly means you have to own up to how you lived your life and decide to move on from the things dragging you down.”

“I can’t even do that here,” Dan confessed miserably.

“Then don’t die anytime soon.”

“Crowley,” Maze hissed. “I didn’t ask you to come for theological discussions.”

“It got him to stop his panic spiral, didn’t it?”

“Not really,” the human admitted weakly.

Maze crouched down. “What would help?”

“Just… Tell me this doesn’t get worse.”

“What?”

“I mean… Everyone around me isn’t a demon or a werewolf or something?”

“No… Not everyone.”

“And no werewolves.”

“Like Crowley said, we’re the only demons around.”

Dan looked somewhere between accepting everything and a complete mental collapse. “…Why?”

“Why what?” Maze asked.

“Why is the devil living in Los Angeles?”

“Because Hell is awful,” Crowley said flatly. “I moved to London as soon as I could.” He sighed. “But now that the boss is back to ruling, and I keep getting called back to work.”

“Is… that where Lucifer’s been the past year? Hell?”

“Right. He couldn’t stretch out his vacation any longer.”

Dan went through another spasm of panic. “Chloe! Is she-?! Is he… Oh, God. What’s he going to do to her?”

“Marry her,” Maze said promptly. “And he thinks they’ll live forever in perpetual bliss.”

“Poor, lovesick idiot.” Crowley shook his head.

“But he’s… he’s not going to… hurt her?”

“She knew what he was when he asked her.” Crowley glared at the floor until a space became clean. He sat down. “And he spelled it out. What ruling in Hell would mean.”

“Ruling in Hell,” Dan echoed weakly.

“And she said yes because she believes in him,” Maze said earnestly. “That he’s not evil incarnate. And he loves her like you wouldn’t believe.”

“He’s not good enough for her,” Dan grumbled.

“I think he’d be the first to tell you that.”

There was silence, then Dan spoke in a small voice. “What are you really like?”

The head torturer of Hell felt her stomach clench. “What?”

“You… you said he’d be easier to cope with.” His eyes flickered to Crowley, then back to her. “What do you look like?”

Maze turned away, her arms clutched across her torso. “Nothing so pretty.”

“…Can I see?”

“You really don’t want to.” Maze shook. She hated that look of blind terror when human saw her true face.

“I do.” Dan’s expression was earnest and a little desperate. “Please?”

Maze took several breaths. “Crowley can get you home afterwards.” Because you’ll never come near me again, she added in her mind.

She let her human guise drop and turned back to him, braced to see the horror when he saw the half-decayed wreck which was her face.

Dan’s mouth remained closed. His eyes couldn’t bug out much more, though they certainly tried. At long last he met her eyes. “You’re still you,” he said slowly. “L-looking out for my daughter... Helping me... Moaning over Eve. You're still you.” He swallowed hard, his voice getting a little firmer. “And Lucifer’s still a worthless bastard no matter what.”

Crowley laughed. “I see why you like this one, Maze.”

Maze turned away. She didn’t want either of them to see the tears in her eyes.

Chapter Text

2,400 BC – HEAVEN

“So,” Gabriel began with a severe look across the desk at Aziraphale. “About the unicorn…”

Aziraphale bowed his head. He’d really hoped this review wouldn’t go like the last one.

He’d been so careful. The faithful servant as much as he could possibly be. He’d gone where he was sent, done what he was told, asked no questions.

Not even when he’d been told to explain to a human living in the desert how to build a boat.

The whole business had been very hush-hush and need-to-know. Aziraphale had first only known about the boat, then to help fetch the animals. They’d only told him about the coming rain at the very last minute.

He hoped it wasn’t because they thought he’d give the secret away.

He’d never been terribly good with animals, but he’d tried his best to keep them relaxed, quiet, and not eating each other.

The boat had been mostly livestock. That helped. The humans were farmers and knew how to keep livestock penned up and calm during windstorms. But they’d been trapped in tight quarters for forty days. And there had been the wild animals. And that had led to problems.

He hadn’t worried too much when one of the unicorns had bolted before they even launched. The flood was supposed to be localized. Surely, there were more unicorns beyond the immediate vicinity of the region?

Apparently not.

He’d held on to the same hope when the elephant trampled one of the manticores.

And when the leopard climbed into the aviary.

Six species had lost all breeding members before the rain had finally ceased and the animals had bolted from their confines.

“We expected some losses,” the Archangel rumbled. “But these numbers are well above our predictions.”

Aziraphale squirmed. He was feeling terrible about the whole thing. Not about the unicorn - he’d never gotten along with them. One had tried to sword-fight with him back in the Garden and been badly burned before he’d figured out how to get his sword to stop flaming. The loss which really made him sad was an adorable little rodent. So delightfully fluffy, and the most expressive eyes. They’d been quite tame, romping around marketplaces with such confidence that Azirphale had seen humans smile and look the other way while they stole food. Several persistent cats had been their undoing. Earth would never see those friendly creatures again. Aziraphale felt he was the only one mourning their loss.

“I did make sure everyone escaped back to the wild safely,” he ventured. “There were no accidents… afterwards.”

“Except that raven.”

Aziraphale squirmed again. He didn’t think it was right to say it had been Noah’s bright idea to boot the raven out the window long before the rain was over in search of nonexistent land. Of course the poor bird had drowned. The humans claimed it had been unfaithful, while cooing over the dove, who'd really done nothing except retreat back to relative safety until there was land to be found.

Gabriel launched into a lengthy condemnation of the principality's failings. Aziraphale sank low and miserably in his seat.

“We’ve wiped out the taint of evil this time,” Gabriel said heavily at last. “We may not be so lucky again.”

“Evil, Sir?” Aziraphale asked meekly.

“The Fallen. They’re dealt with. For now.”

“Do you mean… Were the rumors true? About the children?”

“Enough.” Gabriel looked sharply at him. “Such things are never to be mentioned again.”

“Y-yes, Sir.” Aziraphale looked away and pretended his memories weren’t true. That he hadn’t witnessed Raphael and Amenadiel engaging in heated argument just before the flooding began. That Amenadiel hadn’t grabbed his arm as he was entering the ark and hissed; “If there are extra animals aboard, fine. But if you find any humans, get them out!”

Maybe it was easier to deny those memories. Then he wouldn’t have to think about the golden tears which had dropped from Raphael’s eyes as she streaked toward the stars. Or that look on Amenadiel’s face which had been more alarm than intensity.

Gabriel rose and crossed the room. He stood over Aziraphale, a heavy hand on his shoulder. “The war isn’t over,” he said wearily.

“No?”

“They’re still out there. Still plotting.” His hand contracted into a fist. “The Fall wasn’t enough to teach them the error of their ways. They still stand against us. Against their Creator. It’s up to us to see they never have the chance to corrupt Heaven again.”

Aziraphale looked up hesitantly. “Don’t you mean Earth?”

“That’s our battleground. That’s where we wage the war. So they never have the opportunity soil Heaven.”

A few more reminders to be faithful and vigilant, and Aziraphale was dismissed.

“We’ll conduct your reviews on Earth from now on,” Gabriel added as Aziraphale was nearly out the door. “No need to trouble yourself with such a long flight here.”

“T-that’s alright,” Aziraphale stammered. “I thought… maybe before I go back… I’d visit the gardens. Or listen to the choir…” He trailed off at the cold look the Archangel focused on him.

“You have your post. I suggest you return to it promptly.”

Trying not to feel as if he was being cast out of Heaven – again – Aziraphale slunk toward the gates.

His thoughts drifted, rather unwillingly, toward the Rebellion.

He couldn’t remember his creation. He couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t certain of his actions. He felt as if he’d always existed. Always been himself. Always a guard. He wondered if others felt the same sense of 'always', but he'd never asked. He hadn't felt it was right to ask questions back then.

Sometimes he wondered if he and the sword had come into existence at the same instant. As if he hadn’t been real and whole until the sword, still blazing with the heat of the forging, was placed into his hand.

He hadn’t thought of it as a weapon. Hadn’t thought about its purpose. He’d just felt the joy, the unity of it being a part of him.

And yet… the sword had been the instant the unity stopped.

It had been when the whispers began.

Angels asked why he’d been given such a powerful weapon. None of the other principalities had anything which came close. When he sparred, even the cherubim gave ground as he fought – danced – with the swiftness and strength of the fire.

He’d never felt pride. He’d never felt singled out for something greater.

He’d mostly felt shy and uncomfortable about the whole thing. As if maybe he didn’t deserve the sword. Shouldn’t be as good with it as he was.

The discomfort did not lead to Falling. In truth, he practically missed that the Rebellion was growing until it exploded into all-out war.

He’d always kept to himself. Instead of that making him an easy target for the discontent to sway, he was overlooked. When he was engaged in conversation, he generally missed their hints of discontent.

In those days, he was at peace, too certain of the plan, too ready to follow no matter the price. Rebellion wasn’t in him.

Not until the moment of the Fall.

He remembered every second of it. From the call-to-arms to its sickening end. He’d killed for the first time. He remembered the bewildered and scared faces of the angels who faced him in combat and fell with his sword thrust through their bodies. He remembered every single one of them.

In the final seconds of the war, he’d been trading blows with a russet-winged angel. They were fighting competently against him - holding their own for the moment.

And then, the presence of the Almighty descended over the battlefield.

Aziraphale had collapsed to his knees, his opponent with him. He’d seen their face. The sheer terror. They’d dropped their sword, clinging madly to the ground. He’d reached out, gripping their hand in terrified solidarity.

What are we fighting for? How did it get this far? No one wanted this to happen. He’d felt the words bubble up within him. Sometimes he wondered which of them thought that. In that instant, the fear had been so raw and pronounced he’d thought he’d shared a mind with the doomed angel.

Their eyes had locked, mutual desperation shared across the divide. Aziraphale longed to say a word of reassurance, but there was none to whisper.

The presence of the Creator had grown so great that he could see and feel nothing but the all-consuming might.

When it passed, he held his hand extended to empty space.

He grew even more solitary after the war.

The Rebellion troubled him. He knew it shouldn’t. Already the Archangels were assuring everyone this was part of the ineffable plan. This was justice and righteousness. The wheat had been separated from the chaff, and they had been proven worthy.

Beware least doubt prove them unworthy.

Heaven was not a place of questions after that.

Maybe that was why Aziraphale was so eager to leave.

Because after the fact, after the Rebellion, now he had questions.

He wondered often about his opponent. Had they survived the Fall? Were they happy as they were now? He looked for them anytime he fought against a demon. It was the memory their face – that look of unbridled terror – which stayed his hand from fatal blows. He never wanted to kill again unless there was no other choice.

He looked back at the gates of Heaven one last time. It didn’t feel like home anymore. The prospect of not going back anytime soon no longer stung – it was just a dull and sad weight of something lost long ago.

The Fallen had been their family once. Were they really irredeemable? They must be. If that’s what Heaven said. It had to be true.

Aziraphale thought about falling raining, and the screams of the people outside the ark, and the terrified face of a doomed angel… and tried hard to remember that this was all part of the plan.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – HELL

Three princes walked through the streets of Pandæmonium. Demons got out of their way without a second glance. Mostly their eyes only made it as far as the cloud of flies, and they’d scurry out of sight. None of them had looked long enough to register that one of the figures was human.

Linda walked in a dream. That’s what it felt like, and that’s what it was. A realm away, her body lay on a couch in Lucifer’s penthouse, guarded by Maze and Charlie. Around her neck was a gemstone the size of her fist. A dreamstone containing the power to allow lucid and targeted dreaming.

In a pill-induced sleep, Linda had stepped from her body, put her arms around the serpent demon, and been carried away to Hell.

I’ll have to bring you the first time,” Crowley had explained. “After this, you’ll know the way and can dream yourself there.

On Earth, her dream-self had been a ghost, unseen by the demon who’d had to guess she was prepared to leave and had flown to Hell on faith that the stone worked.

Now in Hell, her body felt far more substantial.

Be careful,” Crowley warned. “A piece of your soul is in Hell for as long as you sleep. If you die here, your body will die too. But there are way less things that can hurt you like this. And you’ll be with the princes the whole time.

Linda didn’t like that he’d sounded like he was trying to convince himself of her safety.

He’d smuggled her out of the palace to a rendezvous with the princes. With a hiss of, “Good luck,” the serpent had slipped away.

Now they walked as Linda tried to get a handle on the weirdness of Hell.

Her dream mind was accepting everything around her as perfectly normal, even as her subconscious warred between certainty this was all a hallucination, raw panic, and absolute fascination. She still wasn’t sure why she’d agreed to this, except that the council seemed one more wounded demon away from declaring war on Heaven. And that was something Linda thought it in her best interest to help prevent.

“Have you made any progress since our last meeting?” She asked the princes.

“Keep your voice down, human!” Beelzebub snapped at her.

Linda's expression tightened. “I spent quite a long time in medical school so that people would call me Dr. Linda Martin.”

“That doesn’t mean anything here.”

“No. Here apparently I’m a prince.”

Marchosias snickered, earning him a glare from Beelzebub. “She does have a point,” he said.

The demon buzzed in annoyance. “We still can’t speak of such things until we’re out of the city.”

“It should be safe to fly from here,” the wolf said, coming to a halt. He turned to Linda. “If you’ll climb on my back, Prince Human.”

“Thank you… Detective Wolf.”

Beelzebub muttered to herself as the two demons spread their wings and left the city behind.

Linda closed her eyes after a while and concentrated simply on holding on and not losing her sanity. Between several things trying to kill them, multiple spurts of fire, and the landscape completely changing directions on them while they flew a straight line, she decided Hell was more than even her dream-self could handle. She was just grateful the screams and smells seemed relatively dulled.

“This isn’t going to drive me insane when I wake up, is it?” She asked.

“I have no idea,” Marchosias replied cheerfully. “If it does, Lucifer will make a rug out of me, a belt out of Crowley, and lock Beelzebub in a dark room with nothing but a porch light for the next thousand years. So, let’s hope you’re fine.”

“You have a very macabre sense of humor.”

“It’s a necessary survival trait.”

“Of Hell?”

“Politics in general.”

“If you two are through, we have far more important matters at hand,” Beelzebub snapped. “We’re here.”

The demons landed before a massive series of drain pipes leading into the ground.

Linda eyed them uneasily. “What are these for?”

“Trying to get the rivers back where we want them whenever they decide they don’t want to flow in their channels,” Marchosias said, striding toward an entrance as he spoke. “If we’re lucky, they won’t decide to flow the wrong way while we’re down here.”

“Um…” Linda recalled the uncomfortable night she’d spent reading websites which had far too gleefully described various supposed locations in Hell. “Aren’t some of your rivers made of blood? And fire?”

“And the tears of the damned.” The wolf wagged his serpentine tail as he vanished into the tunnel.

“Not having second thoughts, are you, human?” Beelzebub sneered.

“No… just fearing for my life and sanity,” Linda grumbled. She followed the demons into the darkness. “I don’t suppose anyone thought to bring a flashlight?”

Marchosias arched his head and spat out a burst of flames, briefly illuminating the tunnel.

“Yep… Of course the wolf breaths fire,” Linda muttered. “I’m going to need therapy after this.”

She distracted herself by mentally listing all the therapists she knew and trying to decide which one would listen to this kind of delusional rambling without immediately prescribing anti-psychotics.

“You wanted to know about our progress,” Beelzebub said suddenly in a tense voice. “We’ve found three more demons. Two injured. One dead.”

“Anything in common?”

“All lesser demons. Menials by the looks of them. The ones we’ve found identities for are of no importance.” The demon’s appearance wavered as thousands of flies buzzed furiously in what was barely a humanoid shape any longer. “If Heaven izzz zzeeking informazzion, they’re torturing the wrong demonzzz.”

“Information?”

“They muzzzt want zzomething. But why harm the ignorant? Unlezzz they’re practizzzing their technique. Or trying to undermine uzzz zzzomehow.”

“Here.” Marchosias called.

The demons halted at an intersection. The wolf pranced in place nervously and Beelzebub’s swarm hovered higher off the ground.

“Right up ahead is the dump site,” Marchosias said. He shot a burst of flames at a layer of mold growing on the ceiling. The molds squealed as the fire shot down their lengths and continued around the corner.

Linda edged around the corner, lifting a hand to her eyes as she peered into the tunnel. The broken bits of waste and weapons, which clearly made the demons edgy, looked like nothing special to her. “Will those weapons hurt me if I touch them?”

“They’re sharp,” the wolf replied sensibly. “And you’re all soul right now. Those wounds will cut deep. But you can touch them if you’re careful. They won’t burn a human.”

Linda cautiously touched a broken piece. It felt no different than anything else she’d handled in this half-dream state. “Where does the tunnel lead?”

“We don’t know.”

“Are there maps? Blueprints?”

“Where the tunnel is supposed to lead and where it actually leads are wildly different things,” Beelzebub snapped.

“Welcome to Hell,” Marchosias added.

“Right.” Linda took a breath. “Is there something I can use as a torch?”

“Why, human?”

“So I can see what’s down there. If you two can’t, it has to be me.”

Marchosias tore a strip of mold from the wall and set it ablaze. He shoved it onto the end of a broken pipe. “Good luck.”

Linda picked up the torch, steeled her nerves, and stepped into the tunnel.

The going was treacherous. Linda wished she’d thought to wear hiking boots… then noticed that was exactly what she was wearing. “Dream logic… okay,” she muttered. “Can I imagine myself at the end of the tunnel? Also maybe a shot of tequila?”

Neither of those things came to pass.

With a sigh, Linda trudged onward.

The scattered waste pieces only increased in quantity as she walked. Quantities of twisted metal, puddles of very clear-looking water, soggy bits of a bread-like substance. Mostly rocks – but jagged rocks, some of which glowed with pale flames or rocked when her torchlight hit them.

The tunnel wandered in twists and turns that made no sense. She climbed up and down – sometimes finding places which did both at the same time. The tunnel explored the options of being a corkscrew, a slide, and a funnel at random, rarely giving Linda warning what she’d encounter when she looked around the next corner.

Another sharp turn and the world dropped out beneath her. Linda seized a handhold in the wall, pulling herself back from a sudden plunge into darkness. She raised to torch cautiously.

Ahead was emptiness. A massive, massive hole led straight down into the rocks. The torchlight offered no clarity was lay in the darkness.

Linda kicked a rock off the edge. She waited.

She very much hoped she’d just missed the sound of it striking something.

Taking a firmer grip on the wall, she leaned forward as far as she could.

What she saw…

~

“NO! NO-NO-NO!”

Linda wrenched awake at the sound of her son screaming. Half delirious with clinging dreams and sedatives, she lunged from the couch. Clinging to furniture to keep from toppling, she staggered toward the sound of cries.

Maze was pinning Charlie to the ground with one hand, grimly ignoring the bare legs pummeling at her face and chest. In her other hand she held a diaper.

“Maze?” Linda rasped. “What’s…” She leaned hard into the wall. “What’s wro…?”

Maze scowled down at the toddler. “He just noticed we didn’t bring Blooky the triceratops.” She gave Charlie a fierce look. “Concern for a comrade is great, but you still need a fresh diaper before we can mount a rescue mission!”

Linda smiled weakly and sank to the floor. She pulled off the dreamstone as she did.

Maybe just five more minutes…

~

“It’s the bottomless pit,” Beelzebub said as Linda described what she’d found.

It was two days later and the demon princes had finally been able to sneak out of Hell to rendezvous with Linda. Linda had tactfully not asked how long they’d waited in the tunnels when she didn’t return. She suspected they’d lost interest in her fate rather quickly.

“What’s the bottomless pit?” She now asked.

The Lord of the Flies scowled at her. “The name says it all, human.”

“Bottomless Pit. Abyss. The Nothing. It has a few names,” Marchosias added.

They were in Linda’s office. She was behind her desk. Marchosias had taken over the entire couch. Beelzebub sat stiffly in a chair, glaring in disgust at the human objects on the desk and walls.

“We don’t actually know if it’s bottomless,” the dog mused. “No one really wants to go down there and check.”

“What’s it for? I mean… do you use it for anything?”

Beelzebub buzzed moodily. “The Archangels threw some of the Fallen into it thousands of years ago. And the judges of the damned have condemned some of the human souls to its depths.”

“So… you just throw stuff in it without knowing anything about it?” Linda blinked. “This is how we destroyed the oceans on Earth.”

“If it doesn’t like what we throw in, it could always toss it back up again,” Beelzebub grumbled sourly. “It’s Hell. The land lets us know when it doesn’t approve of our action.

“So… there’s a hole in Hell. You don’t know where it goes or why it’s there. It’s sort of alive. And the tunnel leading to it is full of stuff from Heaven.” Linda looked hard at the princes. “Is there a chance it leads to Heaven?”

“Of course not!” Beelzebub fumed. “Hell is entirely separated from Heaven. We cut our ties when we rebelled. The land wasn’t a part of that.”

“Then… where did Hell come from?”

“It…” Beelzebub floundered. “It was already there!”

“Why?”

“Why…?” The prince looked lost, then furious. “That’s not important!” She lunged to her feet. “This isn’t time to discuss history! Heaven is probing our defenses. We need to find out how they’re attacking and destroy them! We don’t have time for nonsense.” She stormed from the room.

Linda turned to Marchosias with a mystified expression.

The dog looked after Beelzebub, then back to Linda. “She’s not wrong,” he said quietly. “We’re having trouble keeping a lid on this. We need some action before demons start panicking. You really don’t want panicked riots in Hell.”

“I understand. But what if this is happening by accident? How much do you really know about what things are like now in Heaven?”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – HEAVEN

The angels on the walls of Heaven opened the gate for the raven-winged figure who flew confidently toward them. It wasn’t until he alighted that they noticed he was decidedly not an angel.

“Hi there,” Crowley said, eying the pointy end of the celestial spears hastily leveled at his chest. “I’m here with messages for the Archangels… Lucifer sent me.”

The guard continued to glare at him. “Do you have proof of that?”

Crowley resisted rolling his eyes. “Do you think I’d be idiotic enough to come otherwise? How about, you take me to your leaders, I hand off the mail, and we can go back to pretending the other doesn’t exist, okay?”

~

“This went about as well as I expected,” Crowley grumbled as he sat on the bench in the ‘not-jail’. The angels were very specific that it was not a prison… they just didn’t want him to leave the room, and they’d left armed guards.

Crowley eyed the two guards. They’d been whispering and sneaking glances at him since arriving. “If you have questions, you can just ask me,” he called. “It’s not like we have anything better to do.”

The angels leaped guiltily. They murmured together, then one spoke awkwardly. “Um… are you really a demon?”

Crowley’s eyebrows went up. “Haven’t you seen a demon before?”

They shook their heads bashfully.

He spread his arms. “Enjoy the sight.”

One of them giggled. “What’s Hell like?”

Crowley grinned. “It’s a lot like Heaven. Only the lighting’s dimmer, it doesn’t smell so great, and flying can get you attacked by a harpy.”

“How’s that anything like Heaven?”

“You can’t get a decent drink either place.”

“A drink of what?”

Crowley eyed them. “Haven’t you two ever been to Earth?”

They shook their heads. “We’ve never been out of Heaven,” said one.

“We were supposed to,” said the other. “For Armageddon. The humans talk about how much they miss Earth, so we thought maybe it was nice.”

“Even if our superiors say it’s full of corruption and sin.”

“But then Armageddon got delayed,” the angel sighed. “I wish they’d tell us when.”

Crowley studied them thoughtfully. They looked… young. They had a wide-eyed air about them he’d not seen in angels on Earth. He wondered abruptly what time had done to the angels left behind after the Fall. “You lot weren’t around for the first war, were you?”

Their eyes grew huge. “You were?” One said with a note of awe.

He twitched his wings. “Only those of us who were created up here have the feathery kind.”

“You were an…” The guard trailed off, looking scandalized to even suggest.

Crowley felt an uncomfortable twinge in his soul. “Yeah,” he said with more pain in his voice than he wanted to convey. “I was.”

“And you… Fell?”

Crowley clenched his fist around the ring on his finger. Aziraphale loved him for who and what he was now. That was what mattered. “That’s how it works, kids. If you’re not a fan of living here, you head Below.”

The angels were wide-eyed now. “What’s it like?”

The demon grimaced, showing more fang than he intended. “Not something we talk about, kids.”

They jumped guiltily and took a step back. “Sorry, Sir,” one mumbled.

Crowley smiled at the honorary. “No problem. How about you tell me about the Silver City? It looked like it’s changed since my time.”

They launched agreeably into answering his questions and gradually drifted closer.

Crowley proved himself a good listener and very nonthreatening. Still got it, he thought smugly. Maybe he wasn’t in the temptation business anymore, but he still knew how.

“No, the old tower’s gone,” one replied as Crowley mentioned a golden spire he’d been rather fond of perching at the pinnacle of once upon a time. “It’s pearl now. It’s like a whole, pale rainbow reaching right up to the higher spheres.”

“I wish I could see it,” Crowley admitted wistfully.

“You should!” The other glanced at their companion. “It would be alright, wouldn’t it? If we’re with him?”

The other wavered. “We’re supposed to stay here.”

Crowley chewed his lip. He was bored. He didn’t want to be stuck in Heaven longer than he had to be. He certainly didn’t want to be trapped in this room until someone remembered to tell the Archangels.

But leaving would get these nice kids in trouble, and he tried not to make trouble for innocents. Still… it would be nice to see the sights. “Look, I’m unarmed and way out-numbered. And I really did come on Lucifer’s orders, so I have to behave or answer to him. So, could we look around a little? I promise I’ll stay right with you.”

The angels turned around with an attempt at subtle conference. “I don’t know,” one murmured to the other. “We can’t trust demons, right?”

“But he used to be an angel. So… that makes it okay?” The other countered.

Crowley resisted rolling his eyes. These kids were adorably ignorant. He opened his mouth to cancel the whole idea, when they came to the opposite resolution.

“We’ll just go as far as the spire!” One declared. “It’ll be fine!”

The Silver City had been built with wings in mind. Most of the buildings were honeycombs of openings to the outside. Many held no connecting hallways inside the buildings, each room only accessible by flights. Stairs were unknown in the older portions of the city.

Crowley had sometimes thought the problem angels had with understanding humanity was that angels thought vertically, and humans thought horizontally. Angels saw the world in three dimensions at all times, always aware of above and below. Humans moved bound by gravity, looking outward and downward. Only in the last century had they begun to be aware of things in a constant up and down.

Demons saw the world in erratic circles and spirals which were likely to change at any second, although still mostly in horizontal manners. And they avoided flying for safety's sake.

Humans hadn’t arrived in Heaven until long after Crowley had been evicted. He was curious how the city had changed with their increasing numbers.

At a glance, it hadn’t. The buildings were still honeycombs lacking in stairs.

“How do the humans get around?” He asked.

“They mostly stay in their section.” The angel pointed in one direction where the city seemed to sprawl endlessly with a vastness of cities, forests, mists, and countryside.

They alighted on a rooftop (all roofs being designed for landing). “We fly that way sometimes. But we’re supposed to leave them alone.”

“Why?”

“Because…” They looked at each other.

“Humanity could be a corrupting influence,” one said at last.

Crowley frowned. “If they made it into Heaven, doesn’t that mean they were free of corruption?”

“But they do things like eat and sleep!” The angel exclaimed. “They fell into sins like sloth and gluttony. They’re only here by our Creator’s mercy, not because of purity. If we let them, they might contaminate the hosts of Heaven.”

Crowley tried to make sense of that logic.

“Some of the older angels go there,” the other ventured. “But we’re not supposed to until we’re old enough to be incorruptible.”

“How old is that?”

The angel frowned uncertainly. “I’m sure they’ll tell us…”

Crowley didn’t think he’d ever pity an angel besides Aziraphale. He remembered how Aziraphale had been in those early centuries on Earth. So uptight and desperate to be perfect. It had been quite a while before he’d learned to have fun. Crowley wanted to smuggle the kids out of Heaven and take them… anywhere. Just feeding them a hotdog would probably break their minds.

“So, where’s the tower?” He asked before he could suggest something terrible.

They flew onward. Crowley had to admit the spire was beautiful. Saying so prompted them to suggest other things he ought to see. The tour continued.

Angels barely noticed him. Crowley had to conclude the angels simply couldn’t imagine a demon in Heaven, so they failed to notice what he was.

He watched the other angels as they flew, and his companions as well. Things began to nag at him.

There was the way they flew. They didn’t fly directly from place to place. They flew in short bursts from surface to surface. And that seemed the common way of getting around.

These weren’t warrior angels with their hunting bird wings, or long-distance fliers with long and narrow tern wings. These angels largely had songbird wings – meant mainly for short flights from perch to perch, not height or frequent distance.

Heaven-bound, Crowley thought. They’d said they’d never been out of Heaven. And they hadn’t been created with wings for easily leaving Heaven. This was where they’d been born, this was where they’d stay.

He felt a surge of anger at their mutual Creator, then an uneasy flicker and he thought of the Lilim, completely unable to leave Hell without the assistance or by possession.

Heaven and Hell really weren’t that far different, were they?

Their next stop took them to the edge of the city and into rugged parklands. Crowley spoke his approval for the gleaming mountains, pristine waterfalls, and endless acres of flowering hillsides. “Now that’s what I miss.”

“Really?” They looked curiously at him.

Crowley sniffed toward the flowers. “I’ve always had a thing for gardens.”

“Oh! We should show you the city’s…”

“What are you doing here?”

The angels and demon looked up as three armed angels dropped into their midst.

These were warriors as well, but of tougher stuff than the kids. Still young, but they carried better weapons. The ringleader of the group wore a celestial blade. None of them had songbird wings.

“We were just…” One of Crowley’s companions began weakly.

“Passing time until the Archangels were ready to speak to me,” Crowley said smoothly. “I talked them into letting me out of the cell.”

“It wasn’t a cell!” The party leader snapped.

“Could have fooled me,” Crowley muttered.

The leader turned on Crowley's guards. “You can’t let a demon wander around Heaven.”

“He used to be an angel,” one said in a small voice.

“So you thought that made it okay?!”

“Hey, don’t blame the kids.” Crowley pushed himself back into the spotlight. “I’m the tempter, right? And they stayed right with me. I haven’t had a chance to flutter anywhere I shouldn’t.”

The leader sniffed disdainfully. “Anyone can out-fly those two.” They stepped closer. “I hear all the demon's wings burned when they Fell. Is that true?”

Crowley fluffed out his wings. “No, actually.”

The new angels drew back a step, staring wide-eyed at him.

“Those are pretty,” one made the mistake of saying.

The leader cast a furious glare at them.

“The trick is regular preening,” Crowley said with a wink. “Vanity’s something I enjoy indulging.”

The leader sniffed scornfully. “So you have wings, demon. But how fast are you?”

“The name’s Crowley,” Crowley replied evenly. “And I’ve won my share of races.” Against Aziraphale, he mentally added. That wasn’t exactly a challenge. It had been a very long time since he’d flow against anyone else. Probably two thousand years. Although, he'd won those flights. Nothing like an angry angel on the heels to provide a motivating burst of speed.

The leader’s eyes gleamed. “How about a race then? Think you can keep up with us?”

Crowley eyed the new trio, particularly the leader of the group. That one had already spread a pair of falcon wings. Fast and maneuverable. Plus, they knew the territory.

Crowley was guaranteed to lose.

But, that might not be a bad thing. Losing gracefully might offer him more esteem in their eyes than an unexpected victory.

He smiled. “I’m game.” He looked at his companions. “We’re all in, right?” He had the feeling he’d been saddled with the ‘out’ crowd angels. It seemed only fair to give them opportunity to play with the ‘cool’ kids.

The eager looks on their faces told him he was right.

He turned back to the trio. “Where do we start? And end? And the points in between?” He laughed in a self-effacing manner at his ignorance.

He earned a smile from one, but the leader only gave him a contemptuous look. “We’ll show you.” They leaped from the ledge and flew along the mountain, alighting on a ledge overlooking a canyon into which a dozen waterfalls poured from the cliffs.

“We race inside the canyon,” they declared. “No flying above the cliff until the end.”

One of the angel mumbled nervously and was hastily silenced.

This was no novice course. Crowley studied the way the canyon turned sharply without giving away what lay beyond. He could see several dangerously narrow spots. He’d have to be careful not to scrape his wings.

He stepped to the edge of the cliff. “What’s the starting signal…”

Before he could finish speaking, the leader let out a sharp whistle, and the angels dove into the canyon.

Crowley leaped a moment later. It took only seconds for him to see he’d better settle into last place and focus on surviving.

The canyon was even more terrifying from the inside. It wasn’t just narrow – it was deliberately and deceptively narrow. This wasn’t natural. Someone had created this precisely to test fliers. Crowley dimly remembered the warrior angels speaking of such things long ago. But he hadn’t been warrior class by any description. This was nothing anyone had ever suggested he try.

He also hadn’t had any experience with constant flight in a very long time. He’d done more flying in the past year and a half than in the past century, but flying between realms was very different than this.

He threaded his way through the canyon, his heart in his throat as he dashed around blind corners with no idea what obstacle he’d find on the other side.

Occasionally, he caught glimpses of the angels – mostly the two kids, who were obviously having trouble. One of them was first to extend their wings and fly straight up, escaping the canyon madness in what must have been a sign of forfeit. They flew overhead, keeping pace with the racers. Crowley glanced occasionally at them, finding them a useful guide for which way the course would turn next.

Another angel rose from the canyon, this one clutching a wounded shoulder.

Crowley grimaced. That would be him any second if he wasn’t careful. And he didn’t want to know what angelic grace from any source besides Aziraphale would feel like if someone tried to heal his wounds. He remembered how much that had burned back before he’d been properly attuned to his angel.

He slammed to a halt, catching himself just in time with hands and feet on a jagged cliff face before pushing off and flying onward. Keep your mind in the game, he scolded himself. Another part of him had other questions – like how had he gotten into this mess?

The canyon widened, a deep and clear lake forming below. Crowley breathed a second’s relief. He felt a flicker of surprise as he saw the other three angels were only just passing through this wide area. Was he really not that far behind?

He chased after them as they entered into the narrow labyrinth. The path divided into three, then three again. He kept his eyes focused on the heels of the angel ahead of him, rising as they did up the mountainside.

Another sharp corner, and he was confronted with a wall of pounding water.

Crowley blessed furiously as he flattened his wings against his sides. There wasn’t time to pull up or go around. He plunged straight into the cascade.

He came out the other side, flaring out his wings and shaking his head against the relentless pounding. He’d lost a terrifying amount of altitude, but he caught himself and pumped furiously to regain control of his flight before he crashed into the rocks below.

He hovered in the air, glancing around in search of the angels. His back smarted from where the water had hit him. With a sigh, he spread his wings and headed aloft. He’d really wanted to at least finish.

He hadn’t quite cleared the canyon, when he saw all five angels standing together on an outcropping. That must have been the end. He strained his tired wings and rose to join them.

Nearing, he caught the end of an argument.

“…dirty trick to pull on anyone.”

“We’ll be thanked for it. No one wants a…” The voices broke off as Crowley arrived.

The demon landed with an undignified thump on his hands and feet. “I’m out of shape,” he panted. He rolled his shoulders to dislodge the remaining water. “That was a bit uncomfortable there at the end. I don’t think I’d want to try that again.” He grinned. “Good race, anyway. Not that I put in much of a showing. Still, fun… uh… right?” He trailed off as he realized the angels were staring at him, absolutely slack-jawed.

“Well, anyway.” Crowley rubbed the back of his neck. “Listen, playtime’s been fun. But, I really do have mail to deliver. So… I should probably find the council.”

The angels didn’t stop staring.

“Okay, then.” Crowley wearily spread his wings. “So… I’m just gonna get some directions. And maybe frozen yogurt.” He leaped into the air, expecting someone to stop him, or at least insist on accompanying him. When they said nothing, he shrugged and flew back toward the city.

Angels. The more he met, the weirder they got.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“Guys?” Chloe called as she stepped out of the elevator and into the penthouse. “I think Trixie left her sketch… Oh, Lucifer! You’re here?”

The devil looked up from his seat at the bar where he sat brooding over a drink. “Hello, Detective.”

“Shouldn’t you be in Hell?” Chloe asked as she approached him and slid her arm around his waist.

“Beelzebub assures me everything is under control, and I should concentrate on my coming nuptials."

“You don’t sound like you believe her.”

“I don’t.” Lucifer took a meditative sip. “But she doesn’t appear to be in an outright panic yet, so I’m letting her pretend.”

Chloe glanced across the room. “Are your houseguests around?”

“They went back to London for the time being.” Lucifer grimaced. “Things were a bit awkward… afterwards.” His grip on the glass tightened.

Chloe leaned against him, noticing Lucifer hadn’t reacted to her contact at all. “Nothing happened,” she reminded him gently.

A tremor ran through the devil. “I don’t like being manipulated,” he rumbled. “Not by my Parent. Not by anyone.” His eyes took on a reddish glow. “No matter what people say about me, I’m not… I’d never…” The glass shattered beneath his grip. Lucifer stared blankly at the blood welling up amidst the shards.

Chloe fetched a dishtowel. “You’re not evil,” she insisted as she pulled the glass from the wounds. “You’re not a rapist. You wouldn’t ever do that.”

Lucifer’s other hand clutched at his face. “I knew what was happening. I could feel it. And I didn’t fight it.” He took a painful breath. “Crowley was too far gone to even know what was happening. I should have stopped it.” He gestured at the couch. “He came here. He was exhausted, and he came here. Do you understand what kind of trust that takes? Demons hide when they’re vulnerable. That’s the first instinct they learn in Hell. This isn’t like last year when he didn’t have a choice. He could have gone anywhere. He chose to come here. And that was how I repaid him.”

He broke down, shaking uncontrollably.

Chloe balled the towel around his hand, then wrapped her arms around him. “You did stop,” she pointed out gently. “Dan left, and you didn’t start up again. You must have still been fighting whatever was influencing you, but your response was to make sure both of them were okay.”

“I should have been stronger,” Lucifer murmured into her shoulder.

Chloe rested her head against his. “Next time… How about you call me? I can talk you through why making out with a married demon is a bad idea.”

The devil laughed weakly. “And you claim to make me vulnerable.” He sat up, gazing at her with affection. “You know you’re also what makes me strong.”

Chloe blinked back a welling of tears. “Hey… Since you’re in town… We should work on our gift registry. Something completely mundane to get your mind off… 'raw desire' and 'ruling Hell'.”

“Detective, that is my mundane.”

~

“No, Maze. We don’t need a machete!”

Lucifer wasn’t sure how picking out wedding presents had become a group affair, but he found he didn’t mind being sandwiched onto the couch with Chloe, Maze, and Trixie. They passed their phones amongst each other while browsing through sites advertising kitchen aids, feathered bedspreads, HD televisions, and vacation packages.

They’d ordered pizza and made hot cocoa (Lucifer blamed the angel to find such a thing behind his bar at all). They’d surrendered control of the sound system to Trixie after Lucifer tried and failed to educate her in classic rock. He’d rolled his eyes at her music selection, but he found himself warming to Taylor Swift, if only for the way Trixie’s eyes brightened as she bounced and sang along.

“You should get an Xbox!” Trixie insisted from where she sprawled on the floor beside Whiskers. She broke an Oreo in half and shared it with the hellcat.

“I already have one,” Lucifer replied.

“Get another. And then give it to me.”

“Trixie,” Chloe sighed. “This isn’t so people can buy you presents.”

“Why not? I’m getting married too, kind of, right?” Trixie looked up with a touch of anxiety in her voice. “You’ll both be my parents now?”

“Of course, Urchin,” Lucifer purred. “And I’ll buy you as many Xboxes as you want.”

“Lucifer!” Chloe scowled at him, which somehow turn into a kiss.

“Ooh, look at this knife set.” Maze leaned across Lucifer to show her phone to Chloe. “Perfect for concealed carry.”

Somehow Maze had ended up mostly sitting on top of Lucifer. He didn’t mind the warm press of his former lover in the least. Despite her talk about engagement equaling monogamy, Chloe only looked with unconcerned amusement as Maze wrapped her arm around Lucifer. Maybe she trusted them. Maybe she knew Lucifer needed the contact of someone who would absolutely tell him, ‘no’. Whatever the reason, sitting between the two of them, with Trixie draped over his feet, Lucifer felt very warm in his soul.

Also physically warm. He pushed aside the cocoa and wondered if he could pour something on-the-rocks without disturbing the moment. But that would require moving, and this was too cozy to interrupt.

“Maybe we should just tell everyone to donate to a charity,” Chloe mused. “We don’t really need bedspreads and wrench sets.”

“Pliers are better for pulling out teeth anyway,” Maze remarked.

“Maze!”

The demon looked innocent. “On things you find dead, of course. That’s how we made that coyote-tooth necklace. Right, twerp?”

“We’re going to make a matching collar for Whiskers next!” Trixie confirmed. “Just as soon as we find a mountain lion.”

“Detective, you can’t take away my pleasure of watching our friends realize they’ve all bought us the same toaster,” Lucifer protested as he added another eight toasters to the wedding registry. Was opening the gifts in front of the guests part of the wedding tradition? He hoped so. He’d have to add some sex toys as soon as Chloe left. “Can I add estate auction items to this list? I’ve found some lovely wines.”

Chloe glanced at his phone. “Those cost thousands of dollars!”

“We’ll just have to invite some wealthy friends of mine.”

“Please tell me these wealthy friends aren’t with the mafia.”

“Not all of them.”

The evening wound down with Chloe regretfully rising to saying she had work and Trixie had school in the morning. With a kiss from one and a sticky hug from the other, they departed.

Maze nibbled Lucifer’s ear once they were alone. “We could have some fun for old time’s sake,” she purred.

Lucifer gave her a sad smile. “Regretfully, I’ve been informed that engagement means I’m limited to one person for the time being.”

Maze looked scandalized. “Forever?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The detective hasn’t informed me how all the rules work yet.” Lucifer leaned his head against hers. “I think you and I have found ourselves as far better friends than lovers anyway.”

“There isn’t so much of you bossing me around the way we are now,” Maze agreed.

“Will you ever return to Hell?” The devil asked after a moment.

Maze was silent for a time. “I thought maybe once Linda’s gone,” she said slowly. “But then there’s Trixie… And she might have kids someday. And Charlie...” A tremor ran through the demon and she sat up, her expression suddenly filled with anxiety. “What if… what if he someday starts hating me?”

Lucifer frowned. “How could he?”

“What if they,” Maze jerked her head meaningfully Upward, “Teach him to hate me?”

“Mazikeen…” Lucifer gripped her hands. “He couldn’t. Not knowing who you are.”

“But if he ever saw Hell… Saw the way I can be.” The pain in her voice grew. “I can’t go where he can go. I can’t ever see Heaven. I can’t ever be good enough…”

Lucifer pulled her into a tight embrace. “It’s not about being good enough, you know that. It’s not about you. It’s them and their narrow-minded ignorance. If those feathered-brained morons don’t think you’re worth walking their gilded streets, they’re the idiots. It’s their loss.” He leaned back and brushed her hair from her face. “Charlie will never be like that.”

“They don’t even see the Lilim as real,” Maze protested. “We’re a thing that shouldn’t exist. They’d slaughter us all if they could.”

“The Fallen said the same thing about the Lilim once. And you proved them wrong. Do you remember the first time I saw you? That fiery little demonling taking on a Fallen six times her size?”

“I lost,” Maze muttered balefully.

“And then you went back for more. Again, and again, and again. Until you won. Until you climbed your way to the top. Until everyone saw you the way I saw you. Worthy of respect. Valued. Real.”

She looked at him, a glitter of accusation in her eyes.

Lucifer sighed and pulled away. “I admit, I’ve not always behaved as I should to you. I’ve had to work through my own… prejudices.” He grimaced. “Things are different in Hell now, Maze. They’re becoming different. For everyone. And we’ll find a way to handle Heaven without another war. I won’t see my kingdom destroyed by their damned prophecies.”

“Your kingdom?” Maze looked skeptically at him.

“If I’m taking responsibility for it, that makes it mine, doesn’t it? I won’t turn my back again.”

Maze studied him very seriously, then snuggled down, her head resting on his shoulder. “You’ve changed.”

“For the better, I hope. We both have.”

“Is this what Earth does to us?”

“Maybe it's the humans more than the planet.”

They were silent for a time. “I showed Dan my face,” Maze said at last.

“And?”

“He didn’t run away… Well, he did put in for some personal days at work and left to spend some time in a friend’s cabin, but I think that’s your fault.”

Lucifer snorted. “Perhaps I should talk to him.”

“Better not. I think he’s going to hate you for a while.”

“So long as he stays away from priests.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – HEAVEN

“What flavor is that?”

Crowley spooned another bite of frozen yogurt into his mouth. He’d already resolved to spend much more time in the human section of Heaven if he ever came back here. The sights in the old city were interesting, but what the humans had done had character. He’d only been down one street, and he’d seen at least forty represented cultures - all mixed in something inexplicably harmonious.

Sadly, once he’d gotten directions, he’d had to go looking for the council. So far he and Michael were the only ones present. Fine with him.

Michael was weird. Sly, manipulating, and an all-around bastard were generally descriptive words too. But Michael lived by his own code of conduct which made sense to no one else. He killed demons in droves – lesser demons at least. The Fallen he’d beat senseless, but he left them alive. And he didn’t fight non-combatants. Ever.

Crowley didn’t get it. He just knew he was safe around the Archangel right up until Armageddon. That was when Michael eagerly intended to bustle the entirety of the Fallen into the burning lake and chain them there for eternity.

Not a pleasant future. And why Crowley preferred to focus on the present.

“This is cinnamon and 'the-feeling-of-a-heartwarming-movie-where-the-dog-doesn’t-die-in-the-end’,” he said with a glance at his cone.

“Good combo,” the warrior agreed. “I like ghost pepper flavor. Also, 'the-feeling-in-the-air-just-before-a-battle'.”

Crowley nodded. “Had any chances to visit Earth lately?”

“No.” Michael glared at the ground until the floor cracked. “It's not fair. Amenadiel can just decide to move there, and the rest of us are stuck here.”

“He did give up most of his power in return,” Crowley hazarded.

Michael scoffed. “I could still beat Luci with just my bare hands. Maybe with a big stick… or a shot gun…”

Crowley winced and hoped everyone else would show up quickly. "Hey," he said to change the subject. "Did you ever spend much time in Eden?"

Michael frowned, taking a moment to return from thoughts of murder. "The big garden? No. Nothing interesting there. Uriel took care of that. I was busy hunting demons. No offense."

Crowley shrugged. "It's a common pastime in Hell, too."

Michael perked up. "Maybe I should visit Luci more often."

“What is that doing here?!” Demanded a new voice.

Crowley didn’t turn around. “Hey, Gabriel. How’re those end-times prophecies treating you?”

Michael snickered.

“Who let a demon in?” The Archangel fumed. “And why that one?!”

Crowley rose and turned to face him. “I’m Hell’s messenger now.” He tilted his head to the side. “Say… aren’t you a messenger too? Means we’re the same!”

Gabriel sputtered and fumed.

Michael didn’t hide his laughter.

“I’m glad we’re all in a good mood for once,” Raphael sighed, coming through another doorway with Amenadiel. “Did we have a meeting scheduled that I forgot about? Or is this another emergency?” She sounded bored with the prospect of either.

“Luci called the meeting,” Michael said cheerfully.

“Yeah…” Crowley eyed the group, wishing they’d all stand closer together so he didn’t have to keep turning his head. Gabriel appeared to be standing deliberately in his periphery. “The boss sent me up with a message for the whole…” He looked around. “Shouldn’t there be more of you now?”

“We only called the whole council when it’s something important,” Gabriel growled.

Crowley rolled his eyes. “Right then. Anyway…” He tugged the letters out of his jacket, relieved to see they’d survived the impromptu trip through the waterfall. He sorted them briefly, extending the first one to Michael. “The King of Hell is getting married.” He crossed to Raphael and offered her an invitation. “And he’d like his siblings to be there.” He glanced up at Amenadiel. “I don’t have one for you.”

“Luci already talked to me,” the firstborn replied.

“Right.” Crowley headed for Gabriel. “Anyway, it’s a few months out, so you don’t have to decide right away, but they would like a headcount as soon as possible.”

He held out the invitation to Gabriel. The Archangel extended his hand, then pulled away at the last moment, letting the invitation flutter to the ground.

Crowley shrugged and turned away. Gabriel could fetch it himself if he wanted it.

“What demon is he marrying?” Raphael asked, still sounding bored.

“She’s not a demon,” Amenadiel replied. “She’s a lovely human by the name of Chloe Decker.”

“A human?” Gabriel hissed. “That was outlawed millennia ago!”

“It was never a law,” Amenadiel countered. “It was just a generally agreed upon policy.”

Raphael crossed her arms tightly across her chest and looked away.

“It’s a depravity. Consorting with humans is only done by the lowest…” Gabriel trailed off as Amenadiel turned burning eyes on him.

“I have a girlfriend!” Michael announced proudly. He frowned. “She might be dead now. How long do humans live? Anyway, I have a boyfriend too. Except he said he was… ‘seeing someone else’? Does that mean something important?”

“It means you don’t have a boyfriend anymore,” Crowley supplied.

“Oh.” Michael slumped. He straightened. “I’ll get another one!”

“It’s still shameful,” Gabriel grumbled. “The last time…”

“Was an entirely different situation,” Amenadiel finished sharply. He took a step forward, planting himself closer to Gabriel and leaving the silent Raphael behind. “This is consensual, and signs indicate our Creator blessed this union from its conception.”

“It doesn’t matter. Lucifer shouldn’t be consorting with mortals. Let alone going against the laws and marrying one.”

“Yeah, well, he already Fell.” Crowley crossed his arms and gave Gabriel a smug look. “Means he doesn’t really have to care about Heaven’s opinions. But, he would like his siblings there if they’re willing to play nice. See, he wants to be friendly and move past bad history. It’s a tough concept, I know. But if you start now, maybe in another 6,000 years, you’ll have learned to smile.”

“Shut up, demon.”

“Crowley. It’s Crowley. Seven letters, two syllables. Say it with me. Crooo-leeey.”

The Archangel looked close to committing murder.

Crowley was trying to put on a brave face. Lucifer had assured him shooting the messenger wasn’t done anymore, but Crowley was still feeling a trickle of utter panic to be alone in a room with four princes of Heaven. If they decided to smite, there wouldn’t be enough left of him for Aziraphale to mourn. Unfortunately, his panic seemed to be escaping in the form of running his mouth.

Gabriel glared at him. “None of us would stoop to attending such a display of sinful…”

“I’m going,” Michael announced. “I love a party. And if the wedding doesn’t work out, Luci and I can fight.”

Gabriel stared aghast at him. He turned to Amenadiel with a silent question in his eyes.

The firstborn shrugged. “Luci already asked me to be his best man.”

“Raphael?” Gabriel sounded almost begging. “Don’t tell me you’d…?”

Raphael had been staring hard at the ground while the others argued. When she spoke, her tone was more feigned boredom than before. “It’s good of Luci to want to make amends. Maybe we should have reached out a long time ago. Maybe things wouldn’t have escalated the way they did.”

“He left us!” Gabriel practically screamed at her. “He was the one who caused the chaos! The war! The deaths! The corruption of creation!”

“That one was me, actually,” Crowley muttered.

“Everything that happened was because of him! If he hadn’t… If…” He swiped a vicious hand across his eyes. His hands balled into fists. “Maybe you’re willing to forget it happened, but you’re deluding yourselves. We’ll never know peace until the war’s over. Properly over! The way it was written to end!” He stormed from the room, wings of iridescent royal blue flaring out behind him.

There was a long silence in his wake.

“Right.” Crowley coughed. “So, I’ll put down three yes and one no?”

Chapter Text

2054 BC, CANAAN - 1907 AD, ENGLAND

Being declared God’s messenger had seemed the perfect title at the start. Gabriel had felt himself puffed up with so much pride to represent Heaven across the growing expanse of realms. Such a pleasure in standing before the rulers in their own sphere and still feeling secure in the might behind him. He spoke the words which came down from the lips of his Maker. He was the voice of the Almighty to so many. He was…

…Worthy.

And he’d needed that feeling. That certainty.

Because… why hadn’t he Fallen?

No. No he couldn’t wonder about that. Couldn’t doubt. Couldn’t…

“What the Hell was that?!”

He’d been watching the father and son trudge down the hillside, the father with his arm protectively clasped around the shivering child. He’d been feeling the satisfaction of a job well done, but an irate hiss wrenched him from the moment of joy. He whirled.

A dark-colored serpent stood nearly vertical on a rock, quivering with absolute fury. “Did you just bait that man into attempted murder?!” He demanded.

Gabriel knew he should immediately smite. That was standard when confronted with the Fallen. Instead, he glared back. “It was a test of faith!”

“What kind of sadist tells a man to slit his son’s throat as a sign of devotion?!” The demon snarled.

“To prove he would give up what’s most dear to him. His only son, a sacrifice unto the Lord.”

“He has two, you idiot. And he’s a nice kid. He gave me a mouse one time.”

Gabriel crossed his arms contemptuously. “Hardly nice to show kindness to a demon.”

The serpent arched an eye ridge. “Right. And that’s grounds for getting dismembered on a lonely altar.”

“He’s still alive. Abraham did the right thing and was rewarded.”

“And if he hadn’t? Were you going to help him explain matters to his wife? The kid’s mother? The one who might have been a little upset her husband killed their son?!

Gabriel was starting to shake.

He wasn’t enjoying the Earth at all. He’d largely stayed away from the Almighty’s prized creation, finding reason aplenty to occupy himself in Heaven. Despite the rebellion being over, there were still dissidents to deal with. Doubt had to be crushed. All had seen the hand of the Almighty on the battlefield. Any who forgot that might, who expressed sympathy for the Fallen, who questioned the will of their Maker had to be made to see the light. He took upon himself the task of ferreting out any who expressed such sentiments and exposing their flaws to all of Heaven. He’d be the most righteous angel possible…

…And give none opportunity to look at his own heart.

Including himself.

But as the Almighty’s messenger, he’d eventually had to descend to the planet. He, Amenadiel, and Sandalphon were sent to scope out some city called Sodom and the surrounding countryside to see how the humans were behaving.

They’d stopped off on the way to tell an elderly couple that they would soon be expecting their first child. Gabriel had delivered the news proudly, certain of their joy and delight.

The woman had laughed in his face, called him an idiotic male, and explained menopause in such graphic details that Gabriel resolved to have a discussion with the human design team to ask why they’d made the Almighty’s favored creation so disgusting.

Amenadiel had flown off to marshal the troops for the anticipated rain of fire while Gabriel and Sandalphon had headed into Sodom to meet with Lot, a man they’d been assured was righteous.

Lot had welcomed them into his home. Everything had seemed fine until a dozen very rude men had arrived at the door, demanding the strangers spend time with them. Gabriel hadn’t entirely understood what they wanted until Lot explained in enough details for Gabriel to mentally put that talk with the design team at absolute top priority.

Lot had been resolute about protecting his guests at all costs. Any cost.

Gabriel understood the region had strict laws for the treatment of guests, but he couldn’t help think a father’s protection of his children ought to be important too. That the only supposedly righteous man in the city would offer up his daughters for the entertainment of the crowd didn’t sit well with him.

That was when he lost his temper.

He didn’t really feel bad about the people he’d blinded. He’d also been fully onboard with the rain of fire which took out quite a number of cities before they were done.

He did think Sandalphon went too far with that pillar of salt business.

He didn’t say that, especially when Aziraphale raised his own doubts.

It was the first time Aziraphale wrote a formal protest regarding angelic conduct on Earth.

It was far from the last.

Gabriel insulted him for daring to doubt the Almighty’s plans, which served to still the uncertainty in his own soul. He’d just hoped he could stay away from Earth for a while.

Except he’d had to tempt Abraham.

“I hear he’s the Creator’s current chosen human,” the demon went on. “Lucky for him, huh? Maybe I should tell him what happened to Job.”

“He was also rewarded for his faith,” Gabriel protested hotly.

“Which was great for him, but all his kids got slaughtered before that mess was over. What happened there? Was he not willing to kill them himself?”

“Don’t you dare question the will of the Almighty!” Gabriel roared with smiting fury. He lunged at the serpent.

Fangs sank into his hand. Before he could rain down divine wrath, the demon fled.

It was weeks before the venom wore off enough for him to fly back to Heaven. He masked his weakness as best he could and swore vengeance on the serpent.

Thus began the most embarrassing three years of his life.

Fortunately, no one found out about it.

Including the one he was trying to kill.

Earth hadn’t seemed that big when it was being created. How hard could finding one demon be?

Incredibly hard, as it turned out. Who knew the planet had so many land masses? And every one of them had snakes.

Eight times he thought he’d found the trail, only to stumble upon a confused Earth snake.

Twice he did spot the demon. Both times the serpent vanished before he got close. He was left hunting blindly while the demon may have been long gone, or meters away.

He finally felt he’d gotten it right. A serpent trail which reeked of demonic essence. He sprang in ambush upon his quarry.

The scent belonged to the demon prince Asmodeous.

The fight did not go well.

Gabriel spent several months huddled up in a cave, licking his wounds and cursing the planet. He was done with his fool’s quest. He slunk back to Heaven and resolved not to leave until Armageddon.

Too soon, he was sent to Egypt.

He was fine with the plagues. Humanity could rot for all he cared.

It was the forty years of escorting a slow-moving column of people through the wilderness that got to him.

Pillar of smoke by day, pillar of fire by night. Daily bread and quail deliveries.

Monotony to no end.

And he had to deal with Aziraphale’s relentless questions.

Always so polite, but he had quite a lot of questions about why they were stopping to slaughter so very many towns who had apparently committed no crimes except living between point A and point B.

“These are the chosen people,” Gabriel had tried to explain. “They are becoming mighty off the wealth and resources of the people they defeat.”

“I’d understand if they needed the resources,” Aziraphale said. “But since we’re providing their meals, they don’t actually require any resources. And they’ve been specifically told not to over-gather the manna. Isn’t gathering resources from the cities the same as doubting the daily provision of bread?”

Gabriel told him to shut up.

He had the same response every time Aziraphale asked about the many, many punishments inflicted on the people. From that business with the golden calf, to their leader’s sister, there always seemed to be something which required divine punishment.

“They’re homeless. They’re not sure they’ll ever find a rest,” Aziraphale protested. “They’re scared. People do things when they’re scared. Can’t we reassure them? Instead of punishing them?”

Gabriel kept his own doubts suppressed. He had to. Had to remain certain. No questioning. No wavering. What was happening was absolute and just.

It was the snakes that finally broke him.

He couldn’t say why that one, as opposed to all the others, finally put him over the edge.

Maybe because the people had just been grumbling, not really doing anything wrong.

Maybe because this felt like one time too many.

Maybe because he knew how much a snakebite hurt.

Except these bites didn’t leave the humans dizzy and bitter.

They left them dead.

The worst part, he thought, as the days progressed in which venomous snakes invaded the camp and killed indiscriminately, was which pockets of the population took the brunt of the attacks.

The children who strayed in search of bird eggs and fruit. The women who’d retreated to the edge of camp to endure their monthly cycle. The diseased who were forced to follow at a distance for fear they'd infect everyone else.

They were the first to go.

Not the loud and healthy men who’d started the complaining.

It was the will of the Almighty, he reminded himself in an almost constant mental whisper. He couldn’t dare think anything else.

Because if this was what the Creator did to their favored humans…

…What would happen if they saw the doubt in the soul of an angel?

But the day he stumbled away from camp in need of peace, and instead found three children pinned against a wall of brambles with snakes slithering closer, he felt doubt closing in. Because the children had a protector that day. A dark-colored serpent coiled between them and the vipers, hissing warning threats should they dare inch closer.

Gabriel smote a snake that day. It just wasn’t the one he’d intended to kill.

He prayed his Creator would forgive him.

Or, ideally, never find out.

And then Moses forged the bronze snake and fixed it on a pole over the camp, ordering all afflicted to gaze upon it and be healed.

“Wasn’t there something about no graven images and no other gods?” Aziraphale asked.

“Oh, shut up,” Gabriel snapped.

He fled the human-guarding duty the second the people set foot in their promised land. Never mind Jericho was standing in their way. He told Aziraphale to deal with it.

And after Aziraphale stalled for six days of having the people walk in circles around the walls as if that would possibly do anything, Gabriel managed to talk Michael into smashing the walls so he didn’t have to go back.

He pushed as many of his Earth assignments as he could off on Aziraphale. The angel was stationed there already. Why make the extra trip when it was easier to just send him the instructions? It kept Gabriel in Heaven, and kept Aziraphale OUT of Heaven. No one wanted that weird angel around. Especially not with all his questions.

He managed successfully right upon until he was tasked with a birth announcement which he simply couldn’t get out of.

So he hunted up a man called Zacharias and informed him that his newly conceived son was going to be a prophet.

He claimed afterwards that the man being struck mute was completely intentional.

“For doubting,” he muttered to anyone who would listen.

He had less excuse six months later while trying frantically to revive the teenage virgin who hadn’t reacted well to being told she was pregnant.

“Did you appear in ALL your glory?” Aziraphale demanded while trying to bring her back around.

There hadn’t been any help for it but to call in the only angel with recent human experience.

“It was supposed to be showy!” Gabriel protested hotly. “She was supposed to be happy.”

“It’s a rather complicated situation, don’t you see? She’s already engaged.”

Aziraphale persuaded Gabriel to leave while he gently told the girl the news once more.

“What about her fiancé?” He asked Gabriel afterwards. “Should we tell him too?”

“Why? He’ll figure it out.” Gabriel beat a quick retreat back to Heaven.

Apparently the business wasn’t over when a reprimand with Aziraphale’s name on it landed on his desk.

“Unauthorized use of dreams?” He snarled at the twitching field agent.

“Well, I had to tell the fiancé somehow!” Aziraphale protested. “The penalty for pregnancy out of wedlock is stoning! If the baby’s important, she needs to stay alive.”

Why was humanity so complicated? Gabriel counted the days until Armageddon when he’d never have to go near the planet again.

Except there were still two thousand years to go.

He was relieved when policy changes demanded less obvious divine presences. Listening to Michael complain was worth it if it meant he wasn’t expected to go down nearly as often. And most of his assignments were easily dumped on Aziraphale.

Convenient having a disgraced angel reporting directly to him. He made sure Aziraphale’s name was never on the recall lists when field agents were pulled.

He did have to check on him once in a while.

That’s how he found out that demon was still around.

He’d been fully in favor of Aziraphale stationing himself in the bookshop. It meant he didn’t have to waste time hunting for him. Just pop in, talk, threaten, or whatever, then get off the miserable planet.

Today was a reprimand.

“A dog?! This whole madness is over a dog?!”

“Well, it started with the dog. But it’s all tied up with animal cruelty, women’s voting rights, unions, factory conditions…” Aziraphale ticked off points on his fingers as he went.

The year was 1907, and Gabriel was starting to wonder if this planet could possibly turn into more of a mess. The city smelled disgusting. The humans were loud and angry. He could practically feel the misery rolling through the streets.

“Both sides have points. Science is progressing at such an amazing rate. But, of course, enthusiasm can lead to a compromising of morals. Plus, there is such inequality in the city. And when one feels one cause is important, it’s easy to join with other like-minded individuals even if their cause is different…”

“You didn’t have any instructions to get mixed up in this,” Gabriel grumbled.

“Oh, I understand. I just wanted everyone to stay safe. And I hoped I could encourage them to talk reasonably… But then the police tried to scatter the crowd… And I thought no one would notice a few small miracles…”

“Miracles are a last resort or when authorized, not for your own impulsive decisions.”

Aziraphale hung his head and mumbled his contrition until Gabriel was satisfied and stalked out.

Outside, his attention was caught by the glaring amber eyes of a figure leaning again a building across the street.

The demon hissed once at Gabriel. Then he was gone into the crowd.

Gabriel shuddered all the way back to Heaven. Why was a demon lurking so near the bookshop?

Logically, keeping an eye on the enemy. Except… why dare do so in such a public manner? Unless he didn’t care if Aziraphale saw. Unless he knew there’d be no retaliation from that front.

Gabriel began to suspect, but that was as far as it went. He had no evidence to accuse, nor did he want to. If Aziraphale’s record was examined, the quantity of Gabriel’s assignments he’d completed were sure to be noticed. So long as he didn’t appear compromised or turned, it was in Gabriel’s best interest if he was left alone.

But that was the end of Gabriel trusting him.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - SOHO

“This ‘World Wide Web’ creation is truly incredible!” Aziraphale gushed into the phone as he sat in the bookshop, Crowley's laptop positioned in front of him. “Do you know I’ve been able to book a string quartet for the wedding ceremony all the way from Soho? I did it all with ‘electronic mail’! It’s terribly convenient. Have you ever heard of ‘PayPal’?”

Yeah, it’s something,” Ella’s voice was laughing and happy on the other end of the call. “I’ll tell you all about BitCoin sometime.” Her tone sobered slightly. “I wanted to let you know I’ve got a DJ for the reception. I met him down at the community center. He goes by DJ Puf ‘N Stuf. He could really use some legal, paying gigs, and he has great style.

“How delightful! I look forward to meeting Mr. Stuf when we next return.”

When are you guys coming back to LA?

“I need to discuss that with Crowley. He’s been out delivering invitations for days now.” The angel frowned. “I do hope he returns soon. The plants are starting to…”

He was interrupted by a dramatic ‘whumph’ from upstairs. He smiled and barely resisted hanging up on Ella. “I’m sorry, but I do believe he just arrived.”

Cool. I gotta get back to a homicide. This guy was a cyclist and somebody beat him to death with the seat from his own bike. Crazy, right?

To Aziraphale’s ears, Ella sounded far too thrilled at human suffering. “Indeed,” he said tactfully.

Anyway. Have nice sex!” Ella hung up.

Aziraphale stared at the phone feeling mildly affronted. As if he and Crowley got up to anything which could be defined by such base, human terms. What they did was far more beautiful and transcended… and Crowley had a bad habit of falling asleep midway through when they tried it the human way.

“Are you home, my dear?” Aziraphale called as he mounted the stairs.

The only answer was an exhausted and wordless groan.

Aziraphale smiled affectionately and entered the bedroom.

Crowley was collapsed face-first on the bed. He didn’t move as Aziraphale sat down.

“Really, Crowley,” the angel teased. “Was it that terrible a flight? Did you have to visit the Dreaming again?” He slid one of Crowley’s wings into his lap and began carding his fingers through the feathers.

“Worse,” the demon moaned into the mattress. “Heaven.”

Aziraphale’s fingers contracted into a fist, heedless of the quills wrapped among them.

Crowley yelped in pain.

“Sorry, my dear, sorry,” Aziraphale panted, smoothing out the aggrieved place. “I was just surprised. Here.” He shifted to sit properly on the bed, his legs extended and the wing draped over his lap. He resumed preening, being careful not to let his emotions travel into his hands.

Crowley rested his head on Aziraphale’s ankle and purred softly. “Met the Archangels,” he muttered. “They’re as pretentious as I remember.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Aziraphale admitted. “I haven’t seen Raphael since before the Flood. I hear she keeps to herself these days. Amenadiel has seemed nice since I’ve gotten to know him.”

“Michael’s not terrible,” Crowley admitted. “Gabriel…” His purr turned into a low growl.

“Crowley. Please tell me you didn’t bite him.”

“The thought crossed my mind.” The demon sighed. “Apparently, messengers don’t fight.”

“And I’m quite grateful for that.” Aziraphale worked his way up the wing slowly. “This will be easier if you take your shirt off.”

Crowley rose as far as a crouch and wriggled his shirt over his wings, then over his head.

Aziraphale had never been sure how he managed that. Sometimes Crowley seemed more serpent than his body implied.

The demon flopped back onto his front.

Aziraphale reached for his wings and cried out in horror. “Crowley! You’re covered in burns!”

“I am?” The demon twisted his neck to study his back. “That’s strange.”

“Are there more?”

“I don’t know.”

Seconds later, Crowley was undressed, and the angel was tutting worriedly over him.

“It’s just your back. And the back of your legs.”

Crowley yelped again as Aziraphale prodded his skull.

“And your head too.” The angel crooned his distress. “Do they hurt?”

“When you poke them, they do,” Crowley grumbled.

“I’m sorry. Lie down. I’ll heal them.”

The demon obediently stretched across the bed once more. Aziraphale hovered over him and applied a slow trickle of healing grace.

“This almost looks like holy water,” he said at last. “What did you get into?”

“Nothing. Just regular water. I’d have noticed if it was holy water.”

“Regular water?”

“Yeah… So… I did something stupid.”

“Crowley…”

“Look, the Archangels were stalling, so I took a little tour of Heaven with these baby angels. And some hotheads wanted to race, and I thought, ‘why not’?”

Aziraphale moaned. “Darling, you rarely fly.”

“I know! I knew I’d lose. But, I thought they might be impressed I put in the effort. Anyway, the course was this canyon. Terrible place for anyone to fly. And the last turn went straight through a waterfall.”

Aziraphale cried out. “You flew through it?!”

“Well… yeah. I didn’t have time to avoid it.” Crowley shrugged. “But what’s it matter? It couldn’t have been holy water.”

“My dear, there isn’t any other kind of water in Heaven.”

There was a long silence.

“Shit,” Crowley said flatly. He sat up, rubbing his eyes.

Aziraphale stared at him. “How are you still alive?”

Crowley gave him a lop-sided grin, though it didn’t match the panic in his eyes. “Disappointed, Angel? Were you looking forward to weeping on my grave?”

Aziraphale tried to glare, and ended up hugging him tightly. He held his emotions in check for a span of seconds, then broke into uncontrollable sobs.

It was Crowley who had to hold and comfort him, leaving Aziraphale feeling entirely guilty. He needed to pull himself together, he scolded himself. He needed to finish healing Crowley. And hold him. And tell him he was alright. And how awful it would have been if… Aziraphale dissolved into fresh weeping.

Eventually they sat in the kitchen, sipping hot cocoa in silence.

“We should test this,” Crowley said abruptly as he rose from the table.

“Test?” Aziraphale asked dully.

Moments later Crowley set a water-filled mixing bowl in front of him. “See if it’s true.”

Aziraphale looked down at the water, then up at him. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispered.

“Only way to be sure,” the demon insisted. He nudged the bowl. “Come on, Angel. You can fix me up afterwards.”

Aziraphale stifled down his terror and protests. He put his hands over the bowl, whispering the necessary blessings. The water shimmered a brief sheen of blue-white, then it returned to the clear and unassuming appearance of a perfectly normal bowl of water.

“I’ll get an eyedropper,” Aziraphale volunteered. “We don’t need much to test.”

Crowley looked him full in the face and plunged his entire hand into the bowl.

Aziraphale shrieked and grabbed his wrist. Crowley didn’t fight as the angel forced his hand from the water.

The demon’s hand had turned a raw, red hue. But his flesh was still intact. Nor did it appear to be eating into his essence.

“Does it hurt?” Aziraphale demanded as he closed his hands around the burn.

“Little bit.” Crowley stared down at their joined hands. “Not like the last time.”

“Last time? When was that?”

“Thirteenth century, maybe? Some priest tried to exorcise me. I got sprinkled with a bit before I could bolt.” He shuddered at the memory. “It took years for the burns to heal.”

Aziraphale scooped up the mixing bowl and hurried away with it. “I’ll dispose of this properly before…” He shuddered.

“Don’t get it near the plants!” Crowley called after him.

Aziraphale returned to the kitchen minutes later and took his seat. He sipped his cocoa and tried to still the shaking in his hands.

Crowley was occupied staring absently into space. “So somewhere in the last eight hundred years…” He mused.

“I think it may have been more recent events than that.” Aziraphale twisted the ring on his finger.

Crowley watched his actions with a frown. “You think so?”

“Maybe. I can’t think what else would have…”

“Does it go both ways?”

“What?

Crowley rose and rummaged through the cabinets. He returned with a candle and a matchbook. “You trust me, Angel?”

“Of course, my dear.”

“Good.” Crowley lit the candle, then passed his hand over the flame. The fire sprang higher, gleaming with the deadly glint of hellfire. The demon lifted his eyes to Aziraphale. “Your turn.”

“My? Oh.” Aziraphale swallowed hard. He took a quick breath, stood shakily, then thrust his palm into the candle flame and held it there.

The fire licked around his hand, not particularly pleasant considering his corporation could be burned. But he only felt it on the surface. Absent was the licking of flames straight down to his soul. This wasn’t cutting into him with any bite, though he could feel the hellfire nipping at his essence.

Crowley caught his wrist and pulled him away. “That’s enough. You’ve proved the point.”

Aziraphale noticed distantly that the demon sounded downright scared. Mostly he was staring with a little fascination at the burns on his skin. Bodies really were fascinating things. How did humans manage to keep theirs together so long?

Crowley’s hands enveloped his, closing off the sight of the burns. It took a long moment, longer than it ought to have for so minor of burns.

Aziraphale only noticed as Crowley pulled away that the demon was trembling. “Are you feeling alright?”

“You could have killed yourself,” the demon murmured weakly.

“It was just a little fire.”

“If it had caught your sleeve, it would have been a lot more than a little fire. Hellfire grows, Angel. You’ve seen it.”

Aziraphale held up his ring which still danced with its conjoined light of celestial blaze and hellfire. “I see it every day, Darling. And it’s never harmed me for an instant.”

Crowley looked down at his matching ring. “I guess that should have been our first clue, shouldn’t it? Months of wearing these things and we never… never wondered why they weren’t hurting us. Or your sword.” He stiffened, then moaned and dropped his head to the tabletop.

“Crowley?” Aziraphale clutched his arm. “Are you alright?”

“Your sword,” the demon repeated.

“What about it?” Aziraphale reached automatically between his shoulder blades. The sword remained in the ether with his wings, but he could feel its answering hum from across the divide. He’d felt it safely with him every second since he’d regained…

‘You’re my hope. You overcame a divide. And look what you’ve found together,’ whispered a voice in his memories.

“Oh,” Aziraphale said faintly. “Oh.” He sat down hard, despite not being anywhere near a chair.

Crowley was on the ground with him in an instant, his arms clutched around him, demanding to know if he was alright and did he need anything.

Aziraphale patted him weakly, unable to find the words.

Somehow they retreated to the bed. It seemed safer to be lying down in case of more revelations.

And both really needed the snuggling.

“I thought…” Aziraphale began. “I know I was changed after that. But you didn’t seem any different. Did you feel anything?”

“Terrified out of my mind? Completely confused?” Crowley burrowed close against him. “No… not really anything… fundamental.”

They were silent for several minutes.

“Have you,” Aziraphale began hesitantly. “Seen your name since then? Your real name?”

Crowley tensed. “No. I don’t… ever use the real one.”

“Do you mind if I write it?” Aziraphale knew how Crowley felt about his name. Well, he knew Crowley didn’t like it. Didn’t like it to the point that he shuddered to hear it and ardently avoided even having to write it. Aziraphale had never asked why Crowley loathed it as he did, although he suspected it had to do with the Fall.

Crowley was silent for a minute. “Go ahead,” he muttered at last. He hugged himself closer to the angel’s chest as if bracing for pain.

Aziraphale wrote the elaborate squiggle in the air. Celestial blaze followed his motion, bringing the demon’s name to burning life.

He studied it for a moment before he realized Crowley still had his head buried in Aziraphale’s shoulder. “My dear,” he said softly. “You really should look.”

“Don’t wanna,” the demon muttered.

Aziraphale’s heart clenched. Yes, there was much more to this name business than just a simple dislike of the pronunciation. “I know. He stroked the demon’s head. “But it’s not what you think.”

A shudder passed through the demon. Reluctantly, he shifted and looked up at the glowing sign.

Aziraphale’s heart beat hopefully. Surely this would make Crowley happy. Surely this erased some of the pain of his identity.

“Bastard,” Crowley spat. He buried his face back into Aziraphale’s shoulder.

“Who? Our Maker?” Aziraphale stammered.

“Keeps twisting me around without asking,” the demon hissed furiously.

Aziraphale could hear his nails clawing into the bedsheets.

“Never asks permission. Just does stuff to me like I’m some bloody puppet for them to manipulate.”

“They didn’t ask me either,” Aziraphale protested.

“You didn’t Fall,” Crowley snarled. “You agreed to it. I try to make my own way, and I still get bent into whatever shape they want.”

Aziraphale studied the blazing name for another moment, then banished the flames with a wave of his hand. He held Crowley closer.

The demon lay tense against him, and the tension only increased with every passing second. Abruptly, Crowley pushed himself from the bed. He fled the room without a backwards glance. Aziraphale heard him clambering up the stairs to the garden.

Alone, the angel sat up. His hands lay limp in his hand as he bowed his head.

“Thy will be done,” he whispered in the manner of the human supplicants. “But, really. Hasn’t he been through enough?”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – SOHO

Aziraphale mounted the stairs to the rooftop and tried not to feel like he was invading. It wasn’t right to press, but he needed to know if there was something he could do.

He found him in the branches of the lemon tree in the center of the garden. The serpent’s eyes were open, not that that meant he was awake. Snakes didn’t have eyelids, although Crowley usually remembered to manifest them in his human form. Habit often carried them over to his serpent body.

Today it seemed the demon was feeling particularly snake-y.

Aziraphale seated himself beneath the tree. “I don’t want to bother you if you need to be alone,” he said. “I know you don’t want to talk about what happened back then. I just want you to know, whatever you need, I’m here. Even if it’s being alone.”

He sighed and studied the clouds. He’d give Crowley a minute in case he was awake, then leave him in peace.

He felt the scales across the back of his neck and didn’t move as the serpent settled over his shoulders. “I do want to tell you,” Crowley said quietly. “I’ve wanted to for a while.”

“You did?” Aziraphale rubbed the serpent between the eyes. “You didn’t when I asked before.”

“That was 4,000 years ago. I thought you were parroting everything I said back to Heaven.”

Aziraphale had to admit he had a point. “You don’t have to if it hurts.”

“It’ll hurt,” the demon agreed. “But…” He curled up in Aziraphale’s lap. “I don’t want secrets from you. If you’re up for it. It’s… not good.”

The angel formed his arms into a protective nest between the serpent and the world. “Whatever you went through, I’m here for you now. You’re not alone anymore.”

The serpent laid his head on Aziraphale’s stomach. There was little expression to the reptile face, but Aziraphale was used to reading the small movements and twitches. He could see Crowley’s struggle just to begin.

When Crowley at last spoke, his voice was slow and distant, sometimes thick with holding back old pains, sometimes choked with still-raw bitterness.

He didn’t talk about Heaven or the rebellion. Just the Fall. Of the separation of all he’d known. Of the unmaking, the twisting of his name and being into something new. The burning lake. The chains. The pain. The other demons – huge, horrifying and strange. The sickening moment of finding he’d lost his shape – the loss of wings. The brutality of those early times. Swearing to serve the King who would rapidly prove a tyrant. And… and the terrible moment he first spoke his name aloud. First realized all he’d lost. All he’d been warped into becoming.

Aziraphale was silent through it all. He stroked the coils when the demon needed encouragement and held him closer when Crowley’s voice broke with pain. Even after Crowley lapsed silent, Aziraphale continued to hold him without saying anything. There wasn’t any sympathy he could offer. No murmur of understanding.

He couldn’t even say what Crowley had suffered was wrong. There had been a rebellion, and this had been the consequence. He didn’t know what part his demon had played in it. It didn’t matter to him. Even if the fallen angel had committed crimes against Heaven, that was between him and his Creator. Aziraphale had no right to judge. He could only assess Crowley by what he’d seen over 6,000 years, and he knew the demon had ample goodness within. And recent events indicated Crowley was fully pardoned from anything which might have once occurred.

But it left him at a loss of what to say.

Eventually, he descended to the apartment with the serpent in his arms. He made up some cocoa, pouring Crowley’s into a saucer and settling the serpent on the table. Even then, he kept one hand resting on the serpent’s coils.

“Crowley,” he asked softly at last. “What was Hell like?”

“You’ve seen it.”

“I mean back then. I mean…” Aziraphale felt a little helpless. “We know where the Earth came from. The universe. Everything created. All of that. And Heaven… I suppose it was created too? Before you and I came along. I remember… I remember it growing. New parts coming together. Finding places I knew hadn’t been there before. Do you remember that?”

The serpent looked away with evident discomfort.

Aziraphale supposed Crowley’s willingness to talk about his exit from Heaven hadn’t completely opened him to sharing everything. If he even still remembered.

The angel hurried on. “Of course I was a soldier, so maybe I wasn’t aware – but I don’t remember anything about Hell being created. But it had to have come from somewhere.”

Crowley raised his head, suddenly more intrigued.

Aziraphale rambled on as thoughts came to him. “No one ever talks about that, do they? Not the human theologians. And they’ve asked thousands of questions. Everyone seems to accept Hell was always there alongside Heaven. So was it empty until the rebellion? Was it part of the plan? Or an idea which didn’t work… but then, wouldn’t it have been destroyed?”

He looked anxiously at the serpent. “Was it like Heaven at first? Still growing? Or more like Earth once it was unveiled fully finished?”

The serpent buried his head under his coils. After a moment, he spoke. “Hell is… alive. On Earth, you see a mountain, yeah? And then you go off for a century. And when you come back, the mountain’s still there. Maybe it’s a little shorter. Or it’s got a town on it. If it’s changed, you can see how and why it changed. Natural logic, right? In Hell… the mountain goes away and you can’t find any sign there ever was a mountain, and other demons deny your memory of a mountain until you think you’re crazy. And someone else insists there used to be a lake in the same spot.”

“Was it like that from the start?”

“I guess… It was hard to tell with the landscape trying to kill us.”

“What?”

The serpent shrugged. “Hell didn’t seem too happy to have us there. You’d curl up on a nice rock, and suddenly the rock would burst into flames. Or you’d be slithering along and a pit would open. And then the monsters started showing up.”

“Monsters?”

“Harpies. Wyverns. Hell-hounds. Furies. Loads of snakes. Big ones. That like to eat smaller snakes.” Crowley shuddered. “Creepy things in the water I never got a good look at. Oh, and the rivers! Lethe would erase your memories. And you wouldn’t be anywhere near it, but it would suddenly decide to start flowing your way.”

“Poor Darling. How did you survive?”

“Not being an angel anymore helped,” the demon admitted sourly. “If I’d had to worry about my wings… I spent most of my time hiding under rocks to get away from… everything. Until Lucifer finally wrestled the realm under control, nothing was safe. No laws. No logic. We were all just fighting to stay alive. Fighting the land. The monsters. Each other. Bad times.”

“Was it the same for the others?”

“What do you mean?”

“Those who survived. Did they endure because they weren’t angels anymore?”

“I suppose,” Crowley admitted reluctantly. “We hadn’t learned to change yet. Or regain our wings. Or build new bodies. Most of us were animal-shaped then. And that…” He frowned and tilted his head thoughtfully. “That did help. We couldn’t play by angel rules. If we’d tried to treat it like Heaven… it wouldn’t have worked. Not looking the way we did before… not even being who we were before… Maybe it was easier to learn everything from scratch.”

“So you’re saying,” Aziraphale said slowly, trying not to let any triumph trickle into his voice. “You were given the tools you needed to help you in a new life.”

Crowley glared at him. “Don’t make it sound like our Creator did any favors. We got kicked out of Heaven.”

“Darling,” Aziraphale said softly. “You wanted to leave.”

The serpent mumbled bitterly.

“And there wasn’t an Earth yet. There wasn’t a second Heaven. But, for some reason, there was a Hell. And you needed to be different if you were to live there.”

“If our Creator had that planned for our new home from the start,” the serpent snapped. “They could have made it a little nicer.”

“Hmm…” Aziraphale didn’t want to pretend he had all the answers, but ideas were flowing into him. More inspiration than he usually had, actually.

“We wouldn’t have believed it if it had been nice,” Crowley begrudgingly admitted. “We were expecting punishment.”

“And you’re stronger for making your own way.”

“Oh, don’t give me that struggling builds character line!”

“It is true, my dear. We certainly become different from the things we overcome. The questions we ask.”

“So Hell was just one big test to make us think about how naughty we’d been?” Sarcasm dripped from the serpent’s tongue.

“No, Darling. I wonder if it wasn’t a chance to see what you could build on your own.” Aziraphale rambled on. “Really, it was amazing if you think about it. Lucifer built the first stable government without our Maker’s influence… Tragically, he went with a tyranny, but it functioned! And the court created laws, traditions, infrastructure. The first cities. A military. Construction crews. Land maintenance. And there must have been some form of pest control since everyone didn’t get eaten by monsters. Or killed by angels. I remember when those rogue squadrons used to go down there and harass the demons. Official policy was to look away. But I remember how quickly those groups were effectively repelled. Think how fast the guard towers went up! And all this before the humans came. Before the lesser demons started being formed.” The angel panted, his eyes shining. “I never thought how incredible it was.”

“It wasn’t while it was going on,” Crowley grumbled. “And I hid through most of it.”

“And you learned from that. Would you have been so good a field agent if you hadn’t had so much practice scouting for danger and finding escape routes?” He stroked the wedge-shaped head. “You were always many steps ahead of me, my wily serpent.”

Abruptly, there was a human-shaped demon on the kitchen table, his arms snaking up to cage Aziraphale’s head. He pulled the angel down for a long kiss.

Aziraphale resisted complaining about the teacup which had just hit the floor. His fingers tangled in Crowley’s shirt and pulled him close.

Crowley broke the contact reluctantly. “So this comes back to me being twisted up all over again.”

“I wonder if it isn’t the next step.”

“Next step?” Crowley sat on the edge of the table, his long legs hooked around Aziraphale’s hips.

Aziraphale didn’t let go of his shirt, even as he switched to straightening the rumpled material. “For all of us. Angels and Fallen. They – our Creator… Do you remember what they said?”

“Barely,” the demon admitted ruefully. He rubbed his eyes. “There was something I was supposed to do, wasn’t there? I couldn’t remember afterwards.”

“Messages,” Aziraphale prompted unsteadily. “They gave you messages.”

“Did They?” Crowley grimaced. “I should have written them down… I did talk to Amenadiel. I remembered that one. Were there more?” He shook his head. “It all went out of my mind as soon as we left the beach. If it hadn’t been for your sword, I would have thought we imagined the whole thing.”

“I felt the same.” Aziraphale closed his eyes and rested his head on Crowley’s chest. “I remember the feeling of being there. But not… not what we talked about. Except that I had a different purpose. Sometimes I remember every second of it and everything’s alright. Then it goes away. But… but what I think I remember…” He looked up at the demon. “…Is that – you and I – we’re supposed to be as we are. It’s alright. Being together. And… And not being the same. It didn’t feel like I was supposed to Fall, or you were supposed to… un-Fall.”

Crowley snorted.

“We overcame the divide. That’s what they said. And… I think we were just the first. Look at Hastur and Kokbiel.”

“Kokbiel’s not exactly an angel.”

“No… But maybe that’s the start of something too. We’ve been separated a long time – your side and mine. We thought it was forever. But maybe…” He began to trace runes in the air. “…Maybe this is the start of something new.”

He wrote both their names and the sheer power of their identities hung in the air between them. Aziraphale’s said so much about him – who he was and what he was. His purpose. The strength of ‘self’ radiated from the rune.

Crowley’s… Was it fair to call it a work in progress? Demon and serpent and indomitable spirit rolled up in a single word. But there was an option for more. A shifting of… of what precisely ‘demon’ meant. As if he wasn’t how he had defined himself since the Fall.

“Self-actualization,” Crowley said abruptly. “What Amenadiel talks about. We are the way we believe we deserve to be.”

“Amenadiel believed he deserved punishment, and his wings fell out,” Aziraphale murmured with a nod. “And they only came back when he felt worthy again.”

“And Lucifer got better. When he thought he was worthy of getting better.” Crowley’s eyes were riveted on the name. “No more devil face once he didn’t want to be the tyrant of Hell.”

“And you’re not Crawly anymore,” Aziraphale said quietly. “You’re you.”

“We just have to figure out who that is.”

Aziraphale stood up and kissed the demon again. “Darling,” he said gently. “I already know.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – HELL

Three princes picked their way through the twisted and desolate landscape of Hell.

Marchosias was slightly in the lead and walking carefully. He ground to an abrupt halt. “This is as close as we can get without running into trouble.”

Linda looked ahead. Somewhere beyond the warped rock formations – all of which pointed inward – she could feel a place where the ground dropped away into nothingness. “What… what am I feeling?”

“The pit,” the wolf responded, sounding tense. “It draws everything toward it. If we stay too long, you’ll want to climb into it. Eventually, you’ll have to climb into it.”

“We don’t go closer than this… or even this near if we can help it,” Beelzebub added. “Even the souls condemned to its depths. We leave them at the edge and force them to stay within its range of influence. Eventually they cast themselves over the side.”

Linda shuddered. “It didn’t feel as bad when I was in the pipes.”

“No… but the feeling may have forced you to wake up. Your mind trying to protect itself.”

Linda took a breath. “Okay… so what do you know about it?”

Marchosias’ serpentine tail flicked restlessly. “Not much, really. It’s a giant hole in Hell. It was here when we got here as far as we know.”

“Abaddon claimed the area around it,” Beelzebub added. “But he was insane from the Fall and only got worse. No answers from him. If he’s even still alive.” She took a step backwards, her face contorted with an unhappy expression. Clearly the locale was beginning to bother her. “The Archangels threw some demons down it… around 3,500 years ago. No one’s willingly approached the pit since then. That I know of.”

“Is it possible these injured demons are… trying to get in it?”

Marchosias shuddered. “I don’t know why they would. This place reeks of danger. It’s more likely the pit moved on them without warning and swallowed them.”

“It does that?”

“It’s Hell. Everything moves.”

“It’s better now that Lucifer is on the throne again,” Beelzebub said quickly. “The land is quieter with him present.”

“But these attacks didn’t start until after he returned. Have you ever had anything like this happen before?”

“Not recently.”

“Recently?”

Beelzebub looked into the distance, her expression pained. “Just after the Fall, they’d come for us.”

“They?”

“The host,” Marchosias supplied grimly. “The angels.”

Beelzebub shuddered. “We were broken then. Some of them… sought to eliminate what remained of us. They’d seek out and slaughter the weakest of the Fallen. Sometimes we’d find the remains of their attacks. The injured and dying trying to crawl back and warn the rest of us.” Claws formed on her hands – long and lethal talons. “We united and showed them we were no longer weak. We built the walls. We formed an army. We slaughtered any who came to harm us.”

“It was a long time ago,” Marchosias mumbled quickly, trying to force an indifferent doggy grin onto his muzzle.

Linda found herself wondering what thousands of years of untreated PTSD did to an entire population. “Okay… I think we should talk to the victims.”

“Why, human?” Beelzebub growled. “We’ve already tried to force them to talk. Their minds are too warped to be of any use.”

“When you say forced…” Linda dismissed that question abruptly. “How about just giving me a chance? I haven’t seen them yet.”

“Couldn’t hurt,” Marchosias said reasonably. “You two do that. I’ll sniff around the edge and see if I come up with anything.”

Beelzebub laid a hand on the wolf’s shoulder briefly. “Step lightly.”

The wolf grinned, showing off ample fangs. “Fly true.”

The lord-of-the-flies grudgingly held out an arm to Linda. “Come, human. I will bring you to the castle.”

Linda attempted small talk as they flew, if only to distract herself from the fields of torment stretching out below her. Beelzebub gave her only monotone buzzes and little encouraging answers.

The prince swiftly navigated the halls to the dungeon.

“So… this is the safest place you could think of for mentally fragile demons?” Linda asked, sticking close to the prince as they walked past screaming and bound figures in various stages of misery.

“They’re isolated from the other inmates,” Beelzebub grumbled.

“And… who, exactly are the demons locked up down here?”

“Those requiring reprimand or awaiting trial.” Beelzebub scornfully shoved a prisoner out of her way. “Lucifer hasn’t dealt with the backlog from his absence yet.”

Linda wondered how she could bring that up at their next session. Although… she should probably learn some details before she made judgments.

Beelzebub grabbed a guard and forced them to unlock a cell.

Inside a small and dark room a half-healed demon cowered in a sad bundle on the floor.

Linda approached cautiously, trying to get around in front of the demon so they could see her approach. “Hi,” she said quietly. “How are you feeling?”

“They’re deranged, human,” Beelzebub scoffed. “We tried to make them talk. None of them would.”

Linda crouched down her eyes warily watching the demon. “By ‘make’… you mean torture?”

“How else would you prove their mouths still function? None of them begged in any coherent way.”

Linda closed her eyes and counted to ten. She rose and turned her severe glare on the demon-prince. “Has it occurred to you they’ve already been tortured and traumatized and maybe INCREASING their torture and trauma is the opposite way to get them to talk?”

The demon glared back. “And what would you do, human? Sit them in a circle and talk about their feelings?”

Linda didn’t back down, though her expression became more thoughtful. “That’s not a bad idea, actually.”

~

Beelzebub waited until the guards had left before she whirled on Linda with a growl. “This is a ridiculous idea.”

“What’s your better one?” Linda replied staunchly back.

At her insistence, the injured demons had been relocated to a large and clean room which Beelzebub said was a private meeting room. The shag carpet and brutally loud wallpaper was giving Linda a headache and flashbacks to her childhood, but it was an improvement over the dark and cold cells.

“We should be hunting for the intruding angels and preparing our army for Heaven’s attacks!” Beelzebub fumed.

“Great. Just let Lucifer know you want to start another war.” Linda smiled sweetly. “How’s he doing getting over that last one?”

Beelzebub gave her a glare which faded to a slightly impressed expression. “You’re not a fool,” she conceded at last.

“Thanks. Now… Will you let me try and get some information out of them? My way?”

The lord-of-the-flies huffily threw herself into a chair in the corner of the room.

Linda took a deep breath and surveyed the demons lying in a circle on the carpet. “Okay… Hello, everyone. My name’s Linda. We’re here because something happened to all of you. Something very traumatic and painful. I’m sure you’re feeling alone and scared right now, but this is a safe place.”

Beelzebub scoffed.

Linda ignored her. “Everyone here has gone through the same kind of pain. No one here wants to hurt you in any way. You’re safe. Safe if you want to lie there and think about what happened. Safe if you want to cry. Safe if you want to talk about it.”

She went on in a slow and clear voice, reiterating the security of the room and how these demons shared similar traumas again and again. Nothing significant happened.

It’s only the first session, she thought. I can’t expect immediate breakthroughs… But I’m not going to get another chance if I can’t prove this works.

“So… Let’s try an exercise,” she announced, doing her best to ignore Beelzebub’s contemptuous look. “I’m going to say a word. If it means anything to you, feel free to speak up. You can share anything here. Ready?” She filtered through the usual choices for word-association games and tried to pick a few innocuous ones for Hell. And based off what little she knew about the demons. “River… Pipes… Tavern… Pit.” No response.

How much time did she have? She couldn’t stay asleep forever. And Beelzebub was sure to drag these demons back to torture if she didn’t provide something.

“Sky… Castle… Fire... Angel.”

She paused the longest after that one. No one moved.

Beelzebub spoke suddenly a word Linda couldn’t understand.

Two demons began to shriek and writhe.

“Interesting…” The lord-of-the-flies hummed. “You may be on to something, human.”

“What did you do?” Linda demanded.

The prince smiled toothily. “These are lesser demons. Most of them don’t know English.” She spoke several more words in the same slow, measured cadence Linda had used.

One of the demons began to babble frantically.

“The darkness…” Beelzebub translated. “The light through the darkness… Drowning… Drowning light in the darkness… Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, don’t…. He’s just going on that way now.”

“Can you tell them they’re safe? That they can stay in this place and nothing bad will happen to them again?”

“…I just wanted… I want… What’s it like?” One of the demons whimpered clearly, its eyes focusing on Linda. “Just to know…” It broke down sobbing.

Linda put out a hand to comfort. “It’s alri-”

Beelzebub yanked Linda away as the demon lashed barbed tentacles at her.

“Your words may be effective,” the prince conceded. “But touch will always be a threat.”

“Can they stay here?” Linda asked. “Maybe you could try talking to them some more? Without the torture? And talking to each other might help. They might say something useful.”

Beelzebub nodded reluctantly. “I’ll plant a few of my legion in the room. Some whose discretion I can count on.”

“I’m probably going to wake up soon,” Linda warned.

“Stay in your world for now. I’ll come to you if they speak anything of value.”

“And I’ll do some trauma research. See what else we can try.”

The prince turned to look at the demons. “I suppose we could…”

~

Linda awoke with a groan.

“Are you okay?” Maze asked, uncoiling from a chair in the corner of Linda’s bedroom.

“Just woke up at a good part.” Linda sat up, her hand balanced on the wall. She took off the dreamstone. “Why are dreams always like that?”

“Did you learn anything?”

“I’m not sure… But I’m not sure Beelzebub hates me anymore.”

Maze looked impressed. “It usually takes a serious knife fight to win any respect out of her.” She cocked her head reflectively. “She’s afraid of me. That’s good enough for me.”

“I’d like a good working relationship with her.” Linda put on her glasses and tried to stand with Maze assisting. “I just… need to understand her. There’s something about humans she really doesn’t like.”

Maze shrugged and helped Linda out of the room. “All I know is where she doesn’t like to be stabbed. Good luck with the rest of it.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - CARDIFF

Adam walked through a woods made of leafless trees. The ground was sand beneath him – as if all vegetation had been washed away. Occasionally his foot kicked a broken branch or a pebble worn smooth by relentless water.

He felt the water coming without seeing it. The clouds hung heavy overhead, filled with enough rain to drown the world. The land grew dark, but there was light enough yet to continue on. It was just becoming harder to find the path.

Two birds alighted on a tree ahead of him – a dove and a raven. They rustled their wings and made small noises to attract his attention. They sprang from the branch at the same time, flying in opposite directions.

Adam thrust his hands into his pockets and refused to move. “It doesn’t make sense, you know,” he announced to the woods around him, or to the birds, or to the universe in general. “Following one or the other. Neither have much to do with water. And even if they have a safe place to wait out the storm, there’s no reason to think I’ll be able to fit.”

The birds circled back and landed on the branch once more. Their appearance shifted, and an identical pair of ducks stared down at him.

“I suppose that’s better,” Adam murmured. “But I’m still not chasing anything through the woods unless I know where I’m going.”

One duck cooed uncertainly.

The other spoke in a scratchy, cawing voice. “Who would you believe?”

Adam tilted his head meditatively. “This is a dream, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” the duck-which-was-clearly-a-raven cawed.

“So… Who’s in control right now?”

“What do you mean?” Asked the raven, giving up all pretense of being a duck.

“Dreams are just your subconscious processing sounds and memories while you sleep… that’s what an academic would say.” Adam reached out and touched the nearest tree, prodding it to test its solidity. “So if that’s true, everything around here is just me. I can do what I want. If I want this tree to be… chocolate ice cream… it would be. If I want to know how to get out of the woods, I’d just leave the woods.”

He returned his hand to his pocket. “The thing is… for me, that’s how the world works when I’m awake. If I wanted a tree to be ice cream, I could do that. And I know that feeling buzzing in my head of the world being malleable around me. I know how it feels to be in control.”

He turned a slow circle and studied the woods. “The thing is… I don’t feel that here. This isn’t me. I didn’t make this. I’m not in control.” He took a step closer to the raven. “So, who is?”

The raven shifted nervously. “You could just follow me and get answers that way?” He spoke with more of a hopeful lilt than as if he actually thought Adam would agree.

Adam gave him the severe look which always made his students squirm.

The raven fluffed up with a glare of annoyance. “Hey, I’m just trying to do my job here! And be glad it’s me! The boss could have sent way worse guides.” He shuddered. “If you see a guy who won’t take off his sunglasses, run like Hell.”

Adam turned to Warlock who, in the logic of dreams, was standing beside him. He knew Warlock had been there the whole time, in the way knowledge came while dreaming. He also knew Warlock had been elsewhere and only just arrived. “What do you think?” He asked.

“I think,” Warlock said slowly while studying the raven. “I think if we’re both asleep, no one’s watching the baby.”

Adam nodded. “We should take care of her.”

“Wait! No!” The raven cawed frantically...

~

Adam awoke to his alarm going off, even though the clock said five and the alarm was set for seven. But, it couldn’t be helped. Adam had decided he was awakening, and the universe had responded accordingly. Dreams might have been outside his power, but the world was not.

In the other bedroom, he could hear Warlock on the phone with his mother. “…No, it’s morning here… It’s okay, I wanted to wake up. Is something wrong? …You can tell me… What did he do this time?”

Adam sighed and went to check on the baby.

She was awake, but still dazed enough not to have found reason to cry. She made a happy gurgle at the sight of him. Adam picked her up, told her what a fine baby she was, and carried her to the bathroom.

The baby was rolling on a playmat on the kitchen floor, and Adam was heating the milk, before Warlock appeared.

“Is your family okay?” Adam asked.

“Just Dad being Dad,” Warlock said with a weary and dismissive air. He sat down beside the baby. “He’s announcing his run for senator of California soon. He hired some PR person to check for skeletons. So, Mom thought she should tell me about the affairs. In case it comes out in the news.”

“Didn’t you already know?”

Warlock rolled his eyes. “They always thought they were being so clever and hiding it. Everyone knew.” A sad smile rose on his face. “You know the first time I found out? I was probably four. I was playing in the garden, and I found my dad up against the wall of the garden shed with his secretary. You know what I said?” His smile gained a little more mirth. “I said, ‘Dad, you squished Sister Spider!’.” His expression turned a little smug, and a lot sad. “The secretary started screaming that she had spiders in her hair. Dad was trying to say they were lost… or he was helping her put on an earring… Something like that. Brother Francis showed up and tried to rush me off. Dad started yelling that he was fired for not watching me better.”

“He fired him?”

“Dad fired him a lot. Brother Francis just never left.” Warlock took the bottle Adam handed him and settled the baby on his lap.

Adam concentrated on fixing breakfast. “What were you dreaming about?” He asked.

“Before I saw you?” Warlock asked, not sounding at all surprised they’d shared a dream. “I was at the ark. From the Bible?” He read Adam’s uncertain expression and prompted gently. “Noah? He built a boat and saved his family and a bunch of animals from a flood? Everyone else drowned.”

“Oh.” Adam turned back to making breakfast. “Nice bedtime story.”

Warlock went on blithely. “It hadn’t started raining yet. These people were trying to herd all the animals onboard. Brother Francis was there. He was saying… ‘…Maybe we still have time to find another unicorn’.”

“A unicorn?”

“Maybe it was a metaphor. Anyway, he saw me and said, ‘Warlock, be a dear and tell Adam to go with the guide’. And I said I he should tell you himself. And he said you weren’t easily led. Then I found you.”

“What do you suppose that was about?”

Warlock shrugged. “Dreams. They’re always weird.”

“Do you think it was real?”

“The dream?” Warlock considered. “It wasn’t really Brother Francis, even if it did sound like him. And I expect he might have been at the ark. He talked like he’d been there when he first told me the story.”

Adam poured two cups of tea and plated a minimalist breakfast. Among the many skills of the antichrist, cooking was not one of them. “Tell me about it?” He asked as he crossed his legs and sat on the floor with Warlock.

“The ark? So... there are some different versions of the story.” Warlock, a student of theology both by degree and by teenage obsession, launched easily into the subject. “It’s in the Bible and Torah, and in the Gilgamesh Epic, and some other books.”

He moved the baby to his shoulder. “The story goes – the Bible version – that the world was so wicked that God decided to drown everyone and start over. But this one righteous man – Noah – he was warned ahead of time so he built a huge boat, stocked it with all the animals in the world and his family, and then they just waited out the flood inside the ark.”

Adam’s frown deepened, not enjoying this type of story at all. He avoided apocalyptic-type stories as a general rule. It gave him uncomfortable flashbacks and made the occasional whispers in his mind flare up with reminders that he COULD do something like that if he really wanted.

“There’s another version in the Book of Enoch,” Warlock added as he set the baby on the ground and moved on to eating breakfast. “That one has a bunch of angels and demons in it.”

“Anyone we know?”

Warlock considered, then shook his head. “I don’t think Nanny would have gone for making babies with humans.”

“Making babies?”

“Yeah… The story goes these fallen angels got friendly with some humans and they had kids together.”

Adam’s stomach churned.

“And the kids were really messed up – super tall and they ate people. So, the flood was to drown them.”

“Seems to me there’s a better way to deal with some cannibals than flooding the whole world,” Adam grumbled with a scathing look Upward.

(He thought he heard an amused chuckle in answer.)

Warlock shrugged. “Anyway, supposedly it worked. And the fallen angels were thrown into some pit for eternity… And God promised not to flood the Earth again.”

They ate in silence, both lost in thought.

“Do you want to go with me to my dad’s wedding?” Adam asked abruptly. “My birth dad. The invitation said I could bring someone.”

“Is it happening in Hell?” Warlock asked cautiously.

“Los Angeles.”

Warlock perked up. “My parents have a house there. We can stay with them.” He faltered. “What about the baby? Does she need a passport?”

“I dunno. We’ll just take her along and not worry about it.”

Warlock grinned. “Traveling with you makes things easy.” He brightened. “And no security detail.”

“We’ll have Dog. That’s all the security we’ll need.”

Adam cleaned the breakfast dishes, got ready for the day, and set out for his school. He walked, choosing to take the long and meandering route. Dog bounded back and forth along the road, sniffing interesting scents and yapping threats at neighboring dogs and cats.

Adam’s thoughts strayed to dreams. Not about that dream in particular, just his dreams lately. That wasn’t the first of that nature. Others had been filled with the need to go somewhere and speak to someone. This had been the first where the dream specters had become rather persistent about it.

Should he follow them? Caution said no. He wasn’t in control in dreams. That was a strange feeling. He’d felt aware and certain of the world since the day he was born. His eleventh birthday had briefly enhanced his awareness to its full capacity. It had slackened off since then – diminishing down to the way it had been before that weird and troubling set of days which had nearly seen the world destroyed. But in dreams… he supposed he felt the way normal people did all the time.

It didn’t fill him with any confidence to follow the dream specters. But… they weren’t going away. And they were dragging Warlock into it. Maybe because he was a part of something? Maybe just as someone conveniently close to Adam?

Either way, it seemed it was time to start looking for answers.

Chapter Text

1517 - WITTENBERG, GERMANY

It took about three hundred years of the Arrangement before Crowley started noticing there was something seriously odd about Aziraphale’s assignments.

Up until then he’d had a vague idea of what Aziraphale did in his official capacity. If Aziraphale seemed to be busier than Crowley, Crowley just assumed it was because Heaven was more aware of Earth than Hell, and better able to actually send their agent to useful locations.

The Hell field office mostly just wanted Crowley to send regular reports so they knew he was working. They left most of the actual ideas and enacting up to him. He got assignments once a decade or so, and he did them because it kept his superiors off his back. The rest of the time he alternated between actually causing misery, and sending reports which claimed he was causing misery while he watched humanity prove more creative than Hell could possibly be.

The first four thousand years had been one thing. There had been far more angels and demons on Earth back then. Crowley had gotten dragged into some prince or other’s grand plan to corrupt humanity more often than he liked. But once policy changes had sent the bulk of the demons back to Hell, Crowley had been left far more to his own initiative, and Hell’s capacity to understand improving human technology had likewise dwindled, leaving Crowley able to talk rings around his superiors regarding whatever humanity was up to at any given moment.

It was a thousand years after the policy change that Crowley and Aziraphale came to their Arrangement. That was about the time they realized they’d been largely cut off from their offices for long enough to find they had more in common with each other than their superiors. They’d been drinking buddies for centuries – ever since Aziraphale had finally stopped being a prude and started enjoying human culture. They’d already had an arrangement going informally for years – generally keeping out of one another’s way or looking the other way when one of them REALLY needed THIS assignment to go well because the bosses were demanding productivity.

In 1020, they made their arrangement into the official Arrangement.

Noninterference was the main point. Easy enough.

But then they started trading favors.

And that was when Crowley’s paranoid brain began to fire.

He probably would have caught on sooner, but they still didn’t see that much of each other. It was a big planet, after all. And while Aziraphale somehow ended up largely stationed in Europe (once there was a Europe), Crowley rambled. He liked traveling. Plus, his superiors seemed to have only a vague idea of the size of the planet, so it was not uncommon for him to receive a flurry of assignments asking him to visit India, then Japan… and could he pop over to Australia while he was in the neighborhood? (Crowley had been very surprised to learn about the existence of Australia. How had he missed that one in the blueprints? He had so many questions!)

When he didn’t have assignments on his plate, and didn’t feel like traveling, he’d drift back toward wherever he’d last found Aziraphale. Best to keep an eye on the enemy, he’d tell himself on days when he wasn’t being honest. I miss him, I need him, I want to wear him like a blanket, he’d think on the days when he was.

And since he was mostly in Europe, his superiors mostly sent him assignments which kept him there.

Aziraphale tried to be cagey about what assignments Heaven sent him, but he was never good at secrets. Far worse than Crowley who already had a few doozies he intended to keep all the way to burning lake. The more time they spent together, the more likely it was for Aziraphale to simply relate his assignments – sometimes without alcohol even being involved. Crowley returned the favor of revealing his work just often enough to keep Aziraphale talking.

Sometimes their assignments overlapped – one would receive ‘cause this’ and the other would receive ‘thwart that’ and they’d do neither and call it a win.

Sometimes, the times which really scared Crowley, they’d receive the exact same assignment to cause the exact same action. He never once admitted to Aziraphale when that happened. He’d just generously let Aziraphale handle that one, then get out of the way of the inevitable fireworks.

But gradually he realized Aziraphale was getting two kinds of assignments.

Most of them were the same as his in nature – low level pressure to gain a response which might turn into nothing, or might turn huge. Obviously both Heaven and Hell were gambling on a snowball effect.

But sometimes…

Aziraphale would wearily say he needed to appear in full glory and condemn or bless a collective of people. Or perform some miracle which sounded exhausting to Crowley’s estimate. Several times he found the angel pouring over obscure books, explaining he needed to visit a dream on some prophet or visionary and didn’t quite understand the symbolism.

Aziraphale always buckled down and did these rougher assignments. He never suggested offing any of them off on Crowley, although the demon sometimes handled smaller assignments for Aziraphale afterwards until the weary principality seemed to be functioning again.

Crowley was confused and worried. After thousands of years together, he had a pretty good idea of Aziraphale’s skill set, and some of these went in very different directions. Too much power for one principality to be exerting. Too specialized of tasks for someone whose specialty was decidedly not in dream manipulation and prophecies.

So… who were these assignments really for?

The tip-off, oddly enough, came from Beelzebub in their one and only face-to-face. Beelzebub had inherited control of the field office following Prince Asmodeus’ death, but since she’d also ascended to Lucifer’s left hand at the same time, she was swamped, and it was five hundred years before Crowley got a sit-down his new boss.

The meeting was very brief. Mostly a ‘keep up the adequate work’, ‘good job with the Spanish Inquisition’, and ‘keep your expenses down or you’ll have Hell to pay’. Nothing Crowley hadn’t gotten from his other superiors when they'd remembered to check up on him.

“You’ll continue reporting to Dagon,” she concluded as the interview wound down. “Oh, I’ve promoted a few dukes to supervisory roles in the office. You may receive assignments from them.”

“Is that in their skill set?” Crowley asked heedlessly. He had some suspicions who she was talking about, and they weren’t the brightest candles in Heaven’s chandelier.

Beelzebub gave him a ferocious look. “If I say they’re to do something, they’ll figure out how. Whether it’s above their ability or not. If they fail,” she shrugged. “They answer first to me. I’ll see they know better than to fail again.” She leaned forward, her face dissolving into flies everywhere except the mouth, which turned even toothier. “If you failzzz, you’ll know my dizzzpleazzzure too. Underzzzztood?”

Crowley bowed his head and babbled his loyalty and compliance until she departed back to Hell.

Alone, he found himself a tavern and got properly, brooding drunk.

He’d gotten the underlying message of the conversation. The prince was overworked. So, she was delegating tasks she probably shouldn’t onto subordinates. But there was little risk to herself if there was failure since she’d be the first to know.

Simple and effective.

He reviewed the assignments he knew of Aziraphale’s after that. Most of them were close enough to Crowley’s that they must have been meant for Aziraphale, or some other available field agent. But the others… those were meant for someone higher on the food chain than the principality.

“Who oversees the third sphere now?” He asked Aziraphale as they sat outside a German church in early 1517. Inside a priest was preaching against the practice of indulgences. Aziraphale was there to stir hearts and minds to new ideas. Crowley was there for the opposite reason. (The irony that Crowley’s side was backing religious order, and Aziraphale was protecting the rebel, was not lost to the demon… which was part of why he was more interested in dinner after their work was done than actually stirring up whispers of heresy… It didn’t sound like the humans needed much help from him anyway.)

“…Michael, I think,” Aziraphale said after a moment’s consideration. “It was Barachiel. I don’t know if they ever made an official transition.”

“But you report to Gabriel, don’t you? He’s the only one you ever mention.”

Aziraphale’s brow furrowed. “I used to hear from some of the others… but nothing recently.” He considered for a moment. “Do you know, it has probably been two thousand years… Except for that business with Armageddon back at the beginning of the millennia.” He laughed to himself. “Maybe they’ve forgotten I’m a principality.”

Crowley watched him with a frown. “I thought Gabriel was a messenger. Why's he been bossing you around all these years?”

“Oh, it’s so rare to get any messages requiring his personal touch,” Aziraphale said quickly. “And he’s so efficient. I think his role in running Heaven expanded after the…” He looked apologetically at the demon.

“Rebellion,” Crowley finished sourly. “It’s not a bad word, Aziraphale.”

“I just don’t want to offend, my dear,” the angel soothed. “What I mean is – and forgive me for saying so – but there were quite a lot of empty positions in Heaven after that. I imagine quite a lot of work fell to the Archangels until they could get things properly organized again. And Gabriel really was very good afterwards. So determined to get everything… settled.”

Crowley wondered what word Aziraphale had meant to say but didn’t press. “So you report directly to an Archangel,” he mused. “Not to the leader of the principalities.”

“I suppose I do.” Aziraphale rose with a little laugh. “I hope they don’t think I require extra checking up on.” He hurried to join a group of humans who’d just exited the church.

Crowley watched him go, then sauntered toward a grumbling cluster to encourage them to stay feeling outraged and morally justified. It was barely work.

When he had a few days to think it over, he came to some very interesting conclusions.

Hell was no longer keeping track of him in any strenuous fashion. His superiors were overworked and busy with internal matters. They just wanted his reports and weren’t going to look too carefully at what else he was doing.

Heaven was equally reticent about keeping track of their field agents. Apparently, only one angel was keeping track of Aziraphale’s activities.

An angel who’d been offing assignments onto a subordinate for centuries.

Heaven would not be happy to learn the biggest announcements and prophecies in human history were being delivered by a disgraced principality instead of the Almighty’s personal messenger.

Crowley grinned toothily. Wasn’t that an interesting development?

The next time he found Aziraphale, the angel was seated in a library, bent over several aged books. Crowley crept up behind him and slipped his arms around his waist. “Missed you, Angel,” he purred.

Aziraphale startled and whirled, one hand spread protectively over the books. “Crowley!” He hissed in alarm, his eyes furtively searching the nearly empty room. “What are you doing?!”

Crowley hooked a chair with his foot and sat beside him, much closer than he’d ever dared in public before. “Can’t I be happy to see an old friend?”

Aziraphale looked suspiciously at him. “You’re not here to thwart me, are you?”

“Nope. Not a thought in my head for thwarting. Demon’s honor.” Crowley grinned sweetly at him.

Aziraphale studied him for a long and serious moment, then made a gesture of acquiescence and returned to his book.

Crowley waited a moment then leaned forward to examine the text. He deliberately let his shoulder brush the angel’s and remain resting there. “What are you doing?”

Aziraphale glanced toward their connected shoulders with a confused frown, then back to the book. “I have a dream to deliver. I’m working out the imagery.”

Crowley’s grin broadened. “What sort of dream?”

“I’m not sure I should tell you…” Aziraphale murmured in a distracted voice. After a moment, he spoke slowly. “Knocking the crown completely off the pope would be going too far, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess so,” Crowley agreed without knowing what he was agreeing to. He leaned a little more weight against the principality.

“Here it is!” Aziraphale seized the demon’s hand in his excitement. “A lion is just the thing! Like in Peter’s letter. And the pen will awaken the lion! The message will be unmistakable!”

Crowley looked down at their conjoined hands, his heart doing small flips at the warm sensation. Yes… this was unmistakable.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES/HELL

“You’re here! Welcome back!”

Crowley stepped neatly aside as Ella tackle-hugged Aziraphale as the angel and demon emerged from the airport.

“Really, my dear.” Aziraphale embraced her with a smile. “We’ve spoken nearly every day. And it’s only been a month.”

“Yeah, but I’ve had to try caterers BY MYSELF! I tried bringing Trixie, but she keeps asking why we can’t just order pizza.”

Aziraphale winced. “Delivery? From one of those…” He shuddered. “…Chain restaurants? I’ll help you select something better than that!”

“I knew you’d say that.” Ella flung open her car door. “If you’re not tired we can try a place on the way back to the city.”

“Absolutely! The airplane food was an utter travesty. Crowley!” He glanced back at the demon. “You can type in the car.”

Crowley looked up from his phone, which had been going off continuously for the past ten minutes. “Sorry, Angel. I’m heading a different direction.”

“What?”

A convertible shoved through a break in traffic and sprawled itself across the ‘no unloading’ zone. The dark-haired man behind the wheel slammed the horn unnecessarily.

“There’s my ride,” Crowley announced. He vaulted over the side of the car, landing in the passenger seat. He waved at Aziraphale. “I'll find you later!”

Aziraphale gave Lucifer a disapproving look as the convertible raced away.

“...I take it he’s still angry?” Lucifer asked with a glance in the rear-view mirror.

Crowley shrugged. “He hasn’t forgiven you for kidnapping me last year yet. This is just something new to be annoyed about.”

Lucifer looked sideways at the demon. “Are we okay?”

Crowley put on a lop-sided grin. “I told you it was fine, didn’t I?”

Lucifer still watched him. “Would you tell me if it wasn’t?”

Crowley sighed and slouched further down in the seat. “Look. I don’t distrust you or anything, but stay out of my wings from now on, okay?”

“Agreed. Again, I’m sorry.” The devil was silent for a moment. “I’ve never kissed a snake before,” he mused

“I’m double jointed in some very interesting places.” Crowley grinned, feeling the mood lighten. “So… why did you need me?”

“I have a very serious choice to make, and I want the opinion of someone who speaks human.”

~

“I knew you were rich, but…” The serpent’s eyes were wide as saucers as devil and demon picked their way through one of the many treasure vaults of Hell.

“Wealth sinks souls. And it all ends up here.” Lucifer kicked aside a gilded crown indifferently. “Here we are.” He picked up the serpent and set him on a table filled with display upon display of rings.

Crowley rubbed his tail across his eyes, squinted against the glare of gold. “So, you can rule out all the cursed ones…”

“Easier said than done,” Lucifer replied with a sigh. “Some of them have quite useful powers.” He picked up one set with a six pointed star.

Crowley blanched. “Is that Solomon’s ring?”

“Correct.”

“It binds demons!”

“I thought that might make it helpful if Chloe needed protection. It also allows the wearer to understand animals.”

“So Whiskers can complain nonstop to her?”

Lucifer sighed. “There is that. I have several which grant invisibility. That could be useful.”

“Wouldn’t that mean she’d have to keep it off most of the time?”

Lucifer grimaced, then brightened and tugged another from a display. “This one can never come off. She’d never lose it.”

“What if she needed to go undercover?”

The devil’s face fell. “Maybe I should consider non-magical ones.”

Crowley squinted at an inscription. “…Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg… Yeah, good call.” He looked up at the devil. “You wanted this to be a human wedding, right? Go with a human ring.”

Lucifer scanned along the display. “I took this one off Emperor Caligula. Or, this is one of the Borgia rings – the poison goes in the lion’s mouth and can be injected with a handshake. This one’s part of the crown jewels of England.” He chuckled. “And everyone thought King John lost those in a bog. One of the best deals I ever made. He got what he wanted – he left a mark on history.” His face turned anxious. “Maybe something older? Would she like the Ring of Cheops? I could get it for her!”

“Boss, you’re overthinking this.” Crowley nudged a ruby ring onto his head where it balanced like a very small crown. “Chloe doesn’t strike me as the type to need a piece of history. Just history between the two of you.”

Lucifer stroked a massive diamond. “She doesn’t want wealth either. She wanted to return her engagement ring for something smaller.” He looked genuinely pained. “I can give her more wealth than she can dream of, and she doesn’t want it.”

“So… what does that say about what wedding ring she’d like?”

~

Leaving Lucifer bullying a demon jeweler, Crowley wound his way toward the library. He might as well do a little research before Lucifer wanted to return to Earth.

Questions still nagged at him – questions which had been dismissed by everyone else. Even Aziraphale didn’t remember a second tree. And if he didn’t…

“Zzzerpent!” A hand composed of a half-solid swarm of flies slammed him into the wall. “You don’t belong in thizzz area!”

Crowley tried not to thrash in Beelzebub’s grasp. “The boss said it was okay!” He panted, glancing uneasily at the crowd of demons inching forward to watch the show.

“Juzzt becauzze you have hizz favor now…” Beelzebub leaned close, her face properly forming. She whispered into his ear hole. “Tell Linda we’ve found two more bodies. I’ll come to her tomorrow.”

“You know, my title is messenger to the devil, not the council,” Crowley grumbled.

Beelzebub gave him a warning squeeze.

“Alright! Alright!” Crowley yelped, forgetting to whisper. “No need to bruise the scales! The wait-list for corporations is long enough without adding me to it.”

Beelzebub released him. “See that you don’t forget your place, serpent.” She stalked away, herding the demons looking bent on bloodshed ahead of her.

“I respond just fine to positive reinforcement!” Crowley called. “Princes…” He muttered.

“You’re lucky she didn’t take your head off just to make a point,” a voice remarked.

Crowley turned quickly, finding an emaciated Lilim watching him. “One of these days I’ll run out of luck. Till then, I keep on slithering.”

The Lilim studied him. “You’re… Crowley aren’t you?”

The serpent grimaced. “That's me. The traitor of Armageddon. Feel free to spit in my face. I’m used to it.”

“You’re the one who brought the angels.”

Crowley bunched into a knot. “…I did, yes.” That was a new one.

The Lilim studied him, their head tilted meditatively. “They helped our king… Why?”

“Why?” Crowley’s tongue flicked uncertainly. “Well… they’re family.”

“But… they hate us.”

“Not all of them.”

The demon frowned. “That’s what we’re told.”

“Yeah, well..." Crowley snorted. "The Fallen also told your lot they were naturally inferior. So who are you gonna believe?”

The Lilim looked around furtively and edged closer to him. “You don’t talk like the other Fallen.”

“Earth corrupted me.”

“Have you really been there… since the beginning?”

“Sure. Took the first job I could find that got me out of here, and I never looked back.”

The demon’s eyes grew wistful. “What’s it like?”

Crowley felt an odd sense of déjà vu. “Sort of like here. But with better food, electricity, and way more imagination.”

The demon studied him earnestly. “Have you ever been to… Lima?”

Crowley frowned. “That’s in Peru, right?”

“What’s Peru?”

“Never mind. Yeah… I’ve been to that area once or twice. Long time ago. The conquistadors were Mammon’s thing and I tried not to be involved. Why?”

The demon leaned conspiratorially closer. “I have a friend in the torture department. We sneak into Hell-loops when we can. My favorite is a woman murdering her boyfriend’s lover in the city street. We like to explore the city while the loop runs.” Their eyes took on a faraway look. “If you go to the edge of the cliff, you can see water that just goes on and on. And no sea monsters or fire jets or tortured screaming.”

“It’s called the ocean.”

“Ocean,” the demon murmured, a hungry look in their eye.

“Try swimming in it next time,” Crowley suggested.

The demon blanched. “It won’t burn me?”

“Not Earth water. You’d have to go to Heaven for that.”

The demon looked further intrigued. “You’ve seen that too? What’s Heaven like?”

Crowley cocked his head. “What? No Hell-loops set there?”

“I’ve seen one,” the demon said eagerly. “With a priest who thinks he’s in Heaven. Then realizes he isn’t. But it’s just how he imagines Heaven. I don’t know if that’s really what it’s like. My friends and I argue about it a lot.”

Crowley studied her in bafflement. The Lilim spent their time wondering what Heaven was like? “You haven’t found any loops set in the Garden of Eden, have you?”

“The where?”

“Never mind. Look, Earth’s definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.”

“I wish they’d let us go,” the demon’s voice dripped with longing. “None of the Lilim get out of Hell anymore.”

There was a sound of footsteps in the corridor. The Lilim hastily returned to scrubbing the molding. Crowley vanished into a crack in the wall.

He glanced back with a stab of sympathy. Were Heaven and Hell both filled with trapped and reluctant denizens? No wonder both sides had wanted the war – it was their only way out.

~

“The boss sent me with this.” Crowley set a cloth bag on Chloe’s desk. “He said he had work and couldn’t come back for a while. I think he just didn’t want to be here if you hate them.”

“I think I upset him about the engagement ring,” Chloe confessed. “But that diamond was big enough to signal an airplane.”

“Maybe he wanted to spot you while flying.”

Chloe turned the bag over and shook out a pair of rings. She frowned. “These are… awfully plain for Lucifer.”

Crowley attempted an innocent grin. “Try it on.”

With a puzzled glance, Chloe slid on the ring. “It fits.” She held it up, her frown deepening. “Is there a catch? It just looks like a gold band. Which is fine,” she added hastily. “But with Lucifer…”

“May I?” Crowley reached for her hand.

Chloe allowed him to press the ring tighter against her finger.

“Now, take it off.” Crowley tried not to let his anticipatory grin show.

Chloe obliged. She blinked and brought her hand closer to her face, tugging the skin of her finger taut to look with better clarity. “What is this?”

The ring had left an indentation into her skin. A faint appearance of letters.

"It’s Enochian,” Crowley said, grabbing a pen and post-it note. He wrote quickly two interlocking symbols and slid it across the desk. “This one’s his name,” he touched one symbol. “This one’s yours.” He leaned back in the chair. “And now they’re joined as one.”

Chloe studied the drawing, then looked slowly at her hand where the marks were already fading. Tears misted in her eyes. “It’s perfect.”

Crowley grinned. “I thought so too. And he said he was all out of bullets to make into jewelry.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“That takes us to… fifty-eight,” Linda murmured as she typed at her laptop.

Beelzebub and Linda bent over the computer screen in Linda’s office. Over the past month, Linda had compiled detailed records on the growing collection of injured demons.

Despite reoccurring patterns, the answers to their questions remained unknown.

The injured were all younger demons. No Fallen had yet to be attacked. Beelzebub said that was the one reason she was still holding order. She wasn’t sure how the whispers had gotten out, but rumors were flying which ranged from marauding bands of angels disguised as demons to Belial’s followers had allied themselves with Heaven to unseat the King of Hell. The council was relying heavily on the Fallen elite to do what they did best – dismiss the deaths of the younger demons as trivial and insist nothing was wrong.

Meanwhile, they sought desperately for answers.

Hell seemed against them finding anything. They’d been unable to locate the tunnel of celestial waste the second time they’d journeyed down the pipes. They’d followed rumors from the mines of a similar sighting, but they’d found nothing.

Nor had they made much progress scouting the pit. Marchosias had surveyed the area twice, finding nothing which scent of Heaven. Then he’d lost the pit entirely. When he’d tried an aerial search, he’d been assaulted by a swarm of shadow-birthed creatures which had left him grounded and licking his wounds for days.

Therapy sessions with the injured had yielded uncertain results. Of the fifty-eight found, six had either been found dead or died of their injuries. Fourteen had proved virtually catatonic.

Of those who’d become alert enough to speak, few had said anything terribly coherent. None had developed past mumbled strings of confusion.

They’d slowly identified all the demons, but that hadn’t helped. Few were more than loosely connected to one another. Getting information from their overlords was proving impossible. Most of the rulers of Hell knew little about their underlings save that they existed. None had been capable of informing the princes of what the injured demons did in their off hours, who their friends might be, or (in the extreme cases of disinterest) what jobs they held. Nor did any friends or coworkers come forward with information about the injured.

“Your organization is well done,” Beelzebub remarked. “Efficiency will serve you well in Hell.”

Linda noted that was the first time Beelzebub had spoken as if she thought Linda would be keeping her job long-term. “I wish it was helping.” She shook her head as she brought up a document containing transcripts of the garbled speech they’d gleaned from the injured. “We’re not getting anywhere.”

Beelzebub’s head sank wearily. “It is time I tell my Lord I’ve failed. I’ll summon the generals and make ready for war.” She started for the door.

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” Linda yelped, leaping to her feet. “That’s a little extreme, isn’t it?”

“What other choice is there?” The lord-of-the-flies snarled. “Heaven is mocking us. If this is a message, we’ve not found it. I’ve tolerated your human ways long enough. It is time I faced what I know to be true. Heaven needs to be shown we are strong and will not tolerate these cruelties any longer. It is time we prepared for war.”

Linda dashed ahead and got between her and the door. “Bad idea. Definitely the wrong conclusion!”

“It is the only way to prove our might! We must act before Heaven destroys us!”

“But you don’t know if it’s all of Heaven,” Linda countered. “Or that it’s Heaven at all. Maybe their Archangels don’t know about this. Shouldn’t we ask first?”

“Ask?! And give away the element of surprise?!”

“I’m pretty sure they’re going to notice a big army of demons massing. How would this work? Marching on Heaven? Wouldn’t being there be… fatal to some of you?”

“Of course we wouldn’t march on Heaven,” Beelzebub scoffed. “Earth is the designated field for conflict.”

“Okay, now this just became a REALLY terrible idea. You are not destroying Earth because you think Heaven MIGHT have attacked you!”

The demon sneered. “Who will stop me? You? Why bother? Your future is already assured.”

“Great, but I do have friends. Relatives. Patients. Coffee baristas. There are nice people here who don’t deserve to die!”

Beelzebub turned away, her expression scornful. “Don’t try to advocate for humanity with me. I’ve seen thousands of years of your history. I’ve met more of your filth than you’ll ever know. Humanity is petty, callus, wasteful, and cruel well beyond the imagination of the Fallen. We’ve learned our methods from your minds. They claim we taught them sin but it’s untrue. They learned on their own. We merely encouraged our Maker’s prized creation to prove itself as worthless and flawed as we knew it could be.”

Linda stared at her. “Okay… So, that’s an interesting breakthrough.” She straightened her glasses. “How about we sit down and talk about why you hate humanity so much?”

The demon glared at her.

“It’s not like you really want to rush back to Hell and talk to Lucifer.” Linda looked at her phone. “I’ve got an hour before Dan’s appointment… You should probably be gone before then. But, can we please talk about this? At least calm down before you storm back to Hell?”

The demon reluctantly seated herself on the couch. “What do you wish to know, human?”

Linda took her usual seat and put on her therapist face. “Let’s start with… when did you last visit Earth?”

“That would be at the appointed time of Armageddon. When my King’s son refused to begin the final battle.” A swarm of flies buzzed venomously around her head.

“Great! That’s something to think about before you rush off, right? Adam doesn’t want the Earth used as a battlefield. You don’t want to upset him, do you?”

Beelzebub was silent for a moment. “I suppose Lucifer has indicated Earth is to be left alone,” she said reluctantly. “Perhaps we can engage in combat in a remote location. Or the moon.” She grimaced. “Even that’s been tainted with humanity’s touch.”

“Let’s talk about that. When was your last negative encounter with a human? One that was still alive?”

The demon hissed angrily. “I was summoned by some fool mortal half a century ago. I’d had nothing to do with your world in centuries until he dragged me here.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“He ranted at me. About the corruption and base nature of youths. About how much he hated his students.”

“What did you do?”

“I conjured a vat of pig’s blood, dumped it on him, and returned to Hell.”

Linda stared for several seconds. “I think he wrote a book about you,” she mumbled.

“I was active of Earth long ago,” Beelzebub remarked. “I had thousands of mortals who worshiped me as a god. And all of them were as uninspiring as the last.”

“Then why stay on Earth?”

“To gain souls and bring power to my King’s name.” Beelzebub’s head came up proudly.

Linda let her boast of her long-ago corruption of Earth. She tried to point out that Beelzebub’s interaction with humanity had been limited to people who wanted something out of her. That she hadn’t simply experienced humanity as good or ill.

There was a knock on the office door.

“Hi, Linda!” Ella stuck her head inside. She flinched. “Oh sorry. I didn’t know you had a patient.”

Beelzebub hissed, a cloud of flies forming above her. “I am no patient, foolish human!”

Ella beamed. “Awesome! More demons! I’m Ella!” She spread her arms in offer of a hug.

Beelzebub recoiled across the room. “What is wrong with you?”

“She’s a friend of Lucifer’s.” Linda thought that explained it all. “What’s going on, Ella?”

“Oh, right! I need your measurements for your dress. We’re going to pick them out this weekend. And I drove Dan here. He…” She dropped her voice. “Look, he’s finally back at work, but I don’t think he’s right yet. I was afraid he’d drive into a building.” Her face broke into a cheerful smile. “So, I said I needed to talk to you too. He’s waiting in the lobby.”

“I can see him now.” Linda turned to Beelzebub. “Can we please talk later? Before you go back to Hell?”

The demon scowled. “And what am I supposed to do in the interim?”

“You can come with me!” Ella grinned. “I’m off for the rest of the day. Have you ever seen LA? We can hit up a club or a stage show or something.”

“Yes!” Linda practically surged from her chair. “Exactly what you need. You want to know why humanity shouldn’t be slaughtered in a celestial war? Ella can show you more of humanity than you’ve seen before. Humans who aren’t trying to get something from you. Maybe you could get to know at least a few before they’re dead?”

The lord-of-the-flies looked between then with a murderous expression. She sighed and turned to Ella. “Very well, human. You have one night to convince me your species isn’t trash.”

~

“They don’t make enough coffee in the world,” Linda grumbled, fumbling with the lid of her thermos the next morning. She blinked blearily, then snatched up Charlie before he could stick a knife through the rug. “MAZE!” She shouted. “Stop leaving weapons around!”

There was no answer.

Linda sighed and looked down at Charlie. “Did Auntie Maze stay out bounty-hunting all night and forget to tell us again?”

The toddler gurgled against her neck.

“Right. Let’s get you off to daycare before…”

The doorbell rang.

“…Something else puts me further behind.”

Linda opened the door to the sight of a weary Ella and subdued-looked Beelzebub.

“Hi, Linda,” Ella said with a yawn. “Sorry. We were out late so we crashed at my place. Well, I crashed. Beelzie was on the internet all night.”

“That’s… alright.” Linda looked cautiously between the pair. “Did you have a good time?”

The lord-of-the-flies drew herself up stiffly. “Human… Prince Linda… I apologize for my previous comments. There are aspects to humanity I was unaware of. I must return to my duties, but let us meet shortly to discuss solutions to our difficulties which will not lead to immediate war.” She bowed, then vanished in a whirl of iridescent wings.

Linda stared after her, then turned to Ella. “What did you do?” She pulled Ella into the house, her morning exhaustion forgotten. “Did you get her completely drunk? Set her up with a one-night stand? Was there karaoke involved?”

“I wish,” the forensic scientist laughed. “I thought about all that. And then I thought… Hell’s full of vice, right? Beelz probably knows a ton about overindulging stuff. So I thought, what would convince her that humanity’s about more than that?”

“And your answer?”

“I took her to an entomology lecture at the university. There’s a professor who just came back from the rainforest. She’d discovered, like, ten new insect species. She talked about how much we have to discover and how fascinating bugs were. And then we took her out for dinner, and Beelz just listened to her for hours. I guess she’d never met humans who wanted to protect and learn about the planet.”

Ella yawned. “And then the professor dragged us off back to her lab and they talked bugs for, like, four more hours. And then we went back to my place and I showed Beelz how to use the internet. She at least thinks some things about humanity are cool now.”

Linda stared. “How did you know what she needed?”

Ella laughed. “I just notice when Maze talks about what makes people important, she talks about individuals she’s learned to care about. Pretty much the same for Lucifer and Rae-Rae. And Aziraphale talks about knowledge and how much more we’ve discovered than any angels or demons he knows about. Also unique food. So I thought… maybe give Beelz a reason to see humans as unique and creative?”

Linda gave her a one-armed hug, which was ruined by Charlie locking his fist in Ella’s hair. “You’re incredible.”

“Yeah, maybe I can make a full-time gig of showing Earth off to angels and demons.”

“If we can get through the current mess, we might need that.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - HEAVEN

“The 500-year inventory is complete at last,” Gabriel began as the council meeting moved on to its next topic.

Amenadiel tried not to yawn. The longer he spent on Earth, the more tedious the business of managing Heaven became. Granted, he’d always found it tedious, but he’d put in an effort back when Heaven had seemed more important. He wouldn’t have minded walking away from it all, but he had responsibilities yet. And if Lucifer could step up and take responsibility for Hell, Amenadiel wasn’t going to be shown up by his fallen brother.

Six of seven chairs were filled around the table. These days the council consisted of the four remaining Archangels, and a dominium and a principality who’d been promoted to the council to represent the lower spheres. The two angels hadn’t been part of the council long and were still in the quiet, wide-eyed, ‘we’re-just-happy-to-be-here’ phase. (Gabriel called it ‘intern-phase’.)

Raphael and Michael rounded out the council, and neither paid much attention to the day-to-day trivialities of Heaven. They oversaw the second and third spheres respectively, but their interest didn’t extend much beyond that. Raphael’s interest was much more for the cosmos. She’d been a healer once, but when Lucifer had left the stars behind, she’d slipped into the vacant position and never really returned. Michael had never been much for details, generally finding that to be someone else’s job. He’d been far more active in celestial matters back when there had been a larger angelic and demonic presence on Earth, but once policy change had reduced that on both sides, Michael had lost interest in most everything bureaucratic.

Amenadiel had always been more focused on the defenses of Heaven, keeping watch on Hell, and generally not worrying about much beyond that. Running Heaven had been overwhelmingly left to Gabriel and Uriel… and Amenadiel did find himself feeling a little guilty about how no one had stepped up to assist after Uriel’s death. In Amenadiel’s defense, he’d been trapped on Earth at the time… but the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind…

Gabriel passed copies of the report around, then glanced at his notes. “We need to consider locking the supply rooms.”

“We’ve always worked on the honor system,” Amenadiel protested.

“That only works if everyone fills out the requisition forms,” Gabriel snapped.

Michael snorted. “What’s a few missing pens and celestial scrolls matter?”

“It’s more concerning when we start coming up short on swords, Janets, and prophetic signs!”

Michael shrugged. “Fair enough.” He turned his bored expression on Amenadiel. “Defense is all you, Brother. Enjoy.”

Amenadiel gritted his teeth. Arranging protective sigils for every supply room in Heaven, not to mention a guard rotation was going to be a tedious and lengthy project. But Michael was correct. This probably was his department. He tried to catch Gabriel’s eye to plaintively suggest this get assigned to someone else, but Gabriel stared pointedly at his notes and hurried on to the next topic.

Some eighty points of interest later, the meeting broke up.

“About the defenses on the supply rooms…” Amenadiel began as he approached Gabriel.

The Archangel lifted his eyebrows. “I assume you want me to assign someone else to the task?”

“If it’s no trouble.” Amenadiel felt an uncomfortable lurch in his soul. He hadn’t exactly been useful for anything Heaven-related for years. He had to confess, if only to himself, that he’d been far too eager to volunteer to monitor the gates of Hell nine years before when Lucifer had first vacated the throne. Sure, he’d claimed he wanted Lucifer back at the job so he could return to Heaven, and he’d insisted he was only hanging around Earth so much to keep an eye on Lucifer, but he hadn’t exactly looked for excuses to go back to Heaven for visits. And being ‘grounded’ to Earth had been a little too appealing an excuse to leave all his responsibilities behind. Love of Earth hadn’t been the only reason he’d only lasted a few months in Heaven after his wings had returned. In his soul, he had to confess he’d been as willing to shirk responsibility as Lucifer.

Gabriel gave him a long and cold look, then nodded curtly and made a note on his clipboard. “I already had someone in mind.”

“Thank you, Brother,” Amenadiel said with feeling, although his mind flickered with guilt. Had he been pushing off his responsibilities long enough that it was just assumed he always would?

“While I’m here, I’ll do an assessment of the main defenses and check over the guards,” he said quickly, more to allay his guilt than any real need.

“That’s already been taken care of,” Gabriel replied in a flat voice.

Amenadiel jumped. “You arranged a check?”

“I did.”

“That’s not your responsibility.”

Gabriel’s eyebrows rose further. “Isn’t it?”

Amenadiel looked away. How could only two words feel so scathing? “I am still an active member of this council,” he objected, but the words sounded more defensive than accusatory.

“Oh, I’m aware,” Gabriel purred. “But I wouldn’t dream of forcing you to take too much time away from your… family.”

Amenadiel resisted shouting… or punching. “I’ll handle the supply areas,” he muttered.

“Oh, no-no-no, Brother. I wouldn’t want you to waste too much energy away from Earth. I hear parenting is rigorous. Really, shouldn’t you be hurrying back? You can’t leave your offspring too long, can you? Human lives are so brief. I’m sure you’re anxious to return.”

“It’s my responsibility…” Amenadiel protested.

Gabriel’s smile was understanding. “Of course. But it’s a tedious project. Not fit for an Archangel. How about I get someone started and you can check their work once they have a plan of action? I assure you, I have someone entirely competent in mind.”

Amenadiel gritted his teeth. Why did this feel so much like temptation? “I don’t want to cause you extra work.”

Gabriel started to say something, bit it back, and responded in a quieter tone. “You’re very kind, but really, I’m quite accustom to the work. This is nothing strenuous. Don’t worry on my account.”

Amenadiel felt uncertain and defeated as he turned away. “If you’re sure…”

“Of course. Don’t give it another thought.”

Amenadiel spread his wings and prepared to vacate the room.

“I’m sure you’re swamped with wedding plans anyway.”

Amenadiel whirled to retort, but Gabriel had vanished out a different window.

Fuming, the first-born of Heaven winged along a stretch of Heaven’s ramparts. Guards waved to him from the watchtowers. He nodded back and didn’t stop.

Everything seemed fine at a glance. And if he stopped, Gabriel might take it as a challenge to his managing. Amenadiel didn’t want to resume that discussion.

Nothing changed in Heaven. No invaders. No new ideas. No imagination. Heaven was perfect… Right up until it was compared to the variety of striving of Earth. Life had a bite to it there. Earth was imperfect, but there was such beauty in the imperfections. Or maybe the imperfections were what made pieces of it perfect.

Amenadiel turned his flight and didn’t look back. Heaven didn’t need him. He’d been wrong to think Gabriel was overworked. Clearly he was perfectly happy as a one-angel show. Amenadiel didn’t need to feel guilty as he winged away.

He didn’t need to… That’s what he repeatedly told the weight of guilt in his soul.

But it wouldn’t go away.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – THE DREAMING/LOS ANGELES/HELL

“Again?” Adam asked the raven.

The landscape this time bore a striking resemblance to Lower Tadfield, but Adam didn’t let nostalgia detract him from frustration.

The bird fluffed his feathers. “It’s my job, okay? Do you want the whole dream or should we just get to the part where you tell me no, and I have to tell the boss I screwed up AGAIN?”

Adam thrust his hands into his pockets. “Will you leave Warlock alone if I go with you?”

“Too late.”

Adam glanced back to find Warlock coming up beside him. “What do you think?”

“I think I’m tired of being lost in the woods.” Warlock glanced around, then looked at Adam with a question in his eyes.

Adam sighed. He turned to the raven. “Fine. Where do you want us to go?”

The raven blinked and studied them with one eye, then the other. “Really?”

Adam shrugged. “Only way to get answers.”

“It’s just a dream anyway,” Warlock reasoned.

“You’d think so,” the raven muttered. He dropped off the branch. “This way.”

Although the bird flew and the humans walked, he stayed only a few paces ahead of them.

At the point at which the woods should have ended at the edge of the town, they found themselves climbing the stairs to a castle.

“I’ve been here before,” Warlock said abruptly.

Adam frowned. “When?”

“When I was a kid.” Warlock halted and looked up at the castle. “It wasn’t like this. It was… ruined.”

“IT TOOK MANY TIMES TO RESTORE IT TO THIS GLORY.”

Adam and Warlock whirled, both stepping back at the sight of the being standing beside them. The man-shaped entity was rake-thin with hair pale as the absence of color and eyes as dark as the inclusion of all color.

He studied the castle with a silent expression, then turned to them with the ghost of a smile. “CHILDREN OF THE GARDEN, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE. PLEASE, THERE IS MUCH TO SPEAK OF AND LITTLE TIME.”

Adam and Warlock exchanged uneasy looks. “Who are you?” Adam asked at the same time Warlock blurted out; “You’re the man in the cage!”

The entity’s smile reached his eyes. “I WAS AND WAS NOT. THIS WAY.” He entered the castle.

“When did you dream this?” Adam asked as they fell into step behind the pale stranger.

“Um… Not long after we moved to America. But it wasn’t him. Or… he looked different. More like the man in the cage.”

“What man?”

Warlock related his childhood adventure in briefest words. He cocked his head thoughtfully. “You know, Nanny used to tell me to dream about conquering the world. But after that, Mr. Harrison – that’s what Nanny called herself after Mum fired Nanny – Mr. Harrison said I should concentrate on what happened when I was awake and try not to dream.”

“So what happened when you did dream this?”

“Well… I was walking up the castle stairs. But the castle was in ruins. And the man-in-the-cage was standing at the door. And he asked me if I was the one who stopped the world from ending. And I said no. And he looked at me for a really long time. Then he said…” Warlock frowned. “He said I was in Destiny’s shadow, but I wasn’t the center of it. Then he said I should come back when I knew how to find the way.” Warlock looked around at the halls. “I still don’t know how to do that.”

They stepped through a door and into a massive library. Both halted, craning their necks to survey the seemingly limitless collection.

“Brother Francis would love it here,” Warlock murmured.

The entity turned to them. “PRINCE OF EARTH.” He gestured deeper into the stacks. “FIND WHAT YOU NEED.”

Adam studied him for a long and suspicious moment, then shoved his hands into his pocket and started walking.

Behind, he heard the entity speaking to Warlock. “YOUR GUARDIANS CANNOT BE FAULTED FOR FEARING FOR YOUR SAFETY AND TRYING TO CONCEAL YOU FROM THIS PLACE. BUT THERE ARE THINGS YOU MUST KNOW…”

Adam found himself completely lost among the shelves. A distant part of his mind worried for Warlock, but he was swept up in the dream and caught by the feeling of knowing there was something he needed to find.

He rambled, growing increasingly lost. He wished for Warlock. Or Dog.

Maybe dream logic would lead him to what he needed? He deliberately turned his head the opposite direction and strode forward until bumping into a shelf.

The lettering above the shelf listed it as part of the religion wing. He frowned. This was really more Warlock’s department.

He groaned when he began to recognize author names like Nostradamus and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Doomsday prophecies. Wasn’t he through with those?

He scanned down the titles with a scowl, then his heart gave a sudden lurch as his eyes fell upon a scrawled title.

‘Further Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter’.

Adam cautiously drew the hand-written manuscript from the shelf. There was another? He’d known about the first one from his godparents. Aziraphale kept the book in a place of honor in the shop – even if it was nearly torched beyond repair. He’d never mentioned another book of prophecy.

Adam opened the cover.

‘Scholar of Wales,’ the hand-written message on the opening page read. ‘The legacie of my descendants is not for yee. But their fate dependes on your wordes. The message yee seke is on page 33.’

Adam bowed his head with a frustrated moan. Wasn’t saving the world enough for one lifetime? Wasn’t he busy enough with his students and the baby? Did the universe insist he get involved in this again?

But… he liked the universe. And Agnes had talked sense as best a crazy witch could. He ought to see what she had to say.

The first line that met his eyes made his blood run cold.

~

Aziraphale sat peacefully in bed, writing out the finishing touches on the wine list. “I’ve outdone myself, if I do say so myself,” he beamed, proudly considering both his selection, and his excellent penmanship. Who needed one of those fancy computers? Calligraphy would never go out of style!

Beside him, Crowley slept on his face in his usual unmoving state. Snakes didn’t twitch much as a rule. It made Crowley an excellent bedmate. And he was unbothered by Aziraphale using him as a table.

A phone began to ring from somewhere around Crowley’s midsection.

The demon moaned and flailed. Despite Aziraphale’s frantic attempts to corral his countless lists, half of them ended up on the floor before Crowley answered his phone.

“…Adam?” Crowley croaked. “…The baby okay?”

Aziraphale watched anxiously as he tried to sort his papers back into their proper order.

Crowley’s eyes flew open. In a sudden flurry, he snatched the pen and wine list from Aziraphale’s hand. “Say that again!” He demanded.

“Crowley! I have other paper!” Aziraphale protested, only to have the demon slap a hand across his mouth to silence further outbursts.

Crowley wrote rapidly in his large and looping scrawl. He stared at what he’d written, then scrambled from the bed. “I’ll tell them… Is Warlock okay?” He froze, the color draining from his face. “But he’s alright?... Yes… We’ll talk later… Yes, go on.” He hung up and grabbed his jacket off the floor.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale demanded. “Are the boys safe? What about the baby?”

“They’re fine,” Crowley panted as he folded the scrawled message into a pocket. “I have to go.”

“Where?”

“Hell!” Crowley called as he sprinted from the room.

~

“We can try talking with the wounded, but this one looked really far gone. Unless Kokbiel’s found another way to heal their minds?” Linda glanced at Beelzebub as they walked along the river bank where the latest victim had been found.

Guards were holding off a crowd of panicked demons who were loudly demanding answers. Even the guards were looking at the princes as if they’d like to make some demands.

Linda couldn’t really blame them. The fear of attack was obviously strong, and the rising herd desire to panic and punch something was flowing through the horde. Beelzebub had managed to shout them all into some state of anxious waiting while the princes investigated with little success.

Marchosias tracked back and forth with his nose pressed firmly to the ground. He sighed, emitting a frustrated tuft of flames. “We’re out of leads here. This one isn’t any different than the others. No sign of how they reach this point. No scents to follow.”

“Did this one drop from the sky too?” Linda asked.

“It didn’t have wings. I don’t know how they’d just show up this way unless…”

A demon crashed to the ground at Marchosias’ paws.

“Nailed the landing!” The raven-winged demon moaned, then curled in a protective ball as four guards pounced on him.

“No!” Marchosias and Beelzebub cried in the same breath.

“Go back to the crowd,” Beelzebub ordered, her flies fanning out to force the guards away from the downed demon.

“Crowley!” Linda gripped his shoulder. “It’s alright! They’re gone.”

The messenger uncoiled warily. “Never tried flying over Hell before,” he coughed.

It took only a glance to see his back was utterly flayed with talon marks. Feathers were missing. A bruise was forming across his face. He coughed again. “Not as bad as I expected.”

Linda raised her eyebrows.

The demon shrugged. “I’m still alive.”

“What are you doing here?” Beelzebub demanded.

“Got a second-hand message from a 300-year-old witch,” Crowley panted. He sat up and pawed through his jacket. Shaking free a piece of paper, he handed it to Beelzebub. “Figured you’d need it ASAP.”

The lord-of-the-flies read it… read it again… then dissolved into a wild and whirling swarm.

Linda picked up the paper and held it low enough for Marchosias to read.

‘You seke what is not theyr, fly-formed demon and wyne-eyed angel! You seke in the wrong place. Your children coom to no harm by attak. They go where ye cannot find and harm themselfs.’

Chapter Text

940 BC - JERUSALEM

Aziraphale clutched his wing, trying to keep the wound closed as he stumbled through the palace garden. If he could reach the temple maybe he could find help there. But the temple reeked of demons. And no matter what the human king claimed, the angel couldn’t believe the demons were truly contained. He’d seen the glitter of hatred in their eyes as they watched the wisest of kings deliberately turn his back on them.

Once upon a time, there had been angels who declared themselves free of Heaven and Fallen to prove their point.

If they’d been willing to burn to defy their Maker, how much more would they risk to escape one mortal man?

Aziraphale had tried to do right, tried to guide the faithful. But the sheer oppressive force of darkness was growing. He’d seen Destiny’s shadow stretched across the city. Something would happen. Soon.

If he could just get to the temple…

He heard voices up ahead and froze, then surged forward with a whimper of relief as he recognized the Enochian cadence. Angels! He’d be alright. They’d help him make everything right.

“…Once the cornerstone is out, the rest will follow.”

“I’ll let them know what to do. Just get the ring to…”

Aziraphale froze as the two animal-shaped beings broke off and whirled to stare at him.

They weren’t angels. Or at least they hadn’t been angel in a very long time.

The wolf didn’t hesitate. In one bound, he’d cleared the distance between them and Aziraphale.

“Wait!” the serpent cried, surging after him.

Aziraphale flung up his uninjured wing in useless shield against the demon.

The wolf checked his lunge and halted. He eyed Aziraphale with a searching and calculated look.

“We can’t spill angel blood here!” the serpent hissed. “Not this close to the temple. It could bring the Host down.”

The wolf snarled and circled Aziraphale, who turned with him. “We can’t let it go.”

A sudden weight slammed into the back of Aziraphale’s head. He pitched forward, landing on his hands and knees. Arms wrapped around his throat, holding him in place.

“Go!” He heard the voice of his attacker insist. “I’ll deal with him. Run!”

The wolf hesitated, then dashed into the undergrowth.

The arms retreated immediately.

Aziraphale reluctantly took the hand the demon offered to help him to his feet.

“What are you doing here?” Crowley demanded in a hiss.

“My job!” Aziraphale snapped back. “But you shouldn’t be here. Don’t you know the king enslaves demons?”

“Yes, Angel.” Crowley rolled his eyes. “How do you think I got stuck here?”

Concern immediately washed through Aziraphale. “Oh, no! Are you alright?”

“Fine. They’ve yet to come up with a binding I can’t wriggle out of.”

“Then what are you still doing here?”

“Because there are four hundred angry demons trapped here. Including two princes.”

“You can’t free them!”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing. Well, Marchosias and Asmodeus are handling things. But I’m helping.”

“You can’t! All those demons loose in the world. Think of the chaos and evil they’ll cause!”

Crowley raised his eyebrows. “You do remember which side I’m on, don’t you?”

“But you’re not like…” Aziraphale trailed off as Crowley glowered at him.

“Don’t you dare,” the demon hissed.

“I didn’t mean… Crowley, please. Don’t do this.”

“Sorry, Angel. You need to get out of here.”

“I can’t.” Aziraphale squared himself, wishing very badly he had a weapon. “I have to stop you.” He raised his wings in a threat display, wincing as the wound on his wing stretched taut.

“You’re hurt,” the demon observed. “What happened?”

Aziraphale gritted his teeth. “The palace guards are rather… tense right now.”

“A human did that?” Crowley looked alarmed.

“I think… the king might be passing demonic weapons around.” Aziraphale tried to give him a meaningful glare to imply he really shouldn’t be causing more demonic chaos.

Crowley ignored the look, his eyes fastened on Aziraphale’s wing. “You’re not going to let me heal it, are you?”

“Absolutely not.”

The demon sighed. “Fine. Come on.” He started walking.

“I’m not going anywhere with you!”

Crowley blew out an angry breath. “What is with you?! It’s been three thousand years. Sometimes you trust me, sometimes you don’t. If you haven’t made up your mind by now, what’s the point?”

“You’re a demon!”

“And why should that make a difference. We’re the same!”

“We’re nothing alike.” Aziraphale huffily turned his back. “I’ll find my own way to the temple and stop this madness, thank you!”

He did not at all like the feeling of déjà vu as he was struck from behind once again.

“You’re kind of dumb, you know that?” the demon grumbled.

Aziraphale lunged at him, but something pulled him up short. He glanced down, finding a shackle running from his ankle to a tree trunk. “What is this?!” he demanded, trying and failing to miracle the anklet away.

“I told you I was bound,” replied the demon, standing a safe distance from Aziraphale’s thrashing arms. “I thought it might come in handy, so I kept it.”

Aziraphale stared at the metal, only now reading the glowing runes. “This is a demon trap?! Then why is it working on me?”

Crowley scowled. “If you haven’t figured that one out yet, you never will.” He turned away. “It took me three hours to get out. Good luck!” He vanished in the direction of the palace.

~

Aziraphale felt very ashamed when, after a very long day of trying to remove the anklet, he realized it was much simpler to unfasten the chain from the tree. At least the binding hadn’t kept him from concealing his wings, he thought as he trudged from the garden.

He didn’t go near the temple. It had only been a few hours into his captivity before the sky had erupted with swarming demons, and he’d heard the triumphant cries of even more echoing from the direction of the temple. Certain the city was being ravaged, he limped toward it.

To his surprise, not only was the city still standing, it appeared absolutely fine.

He walked the streets in a daze, flinching at the sound of demonic celebration sometimes shrieking overhead, but seeing absolutely no sign of malevolent forces at work among the people.

Just their own, of course. He was drawn out of his own plight at the sight of a merchant being harassed by two rough men.

“Unhand him, you ruffians!” Aziraphale demanded, attempting to summon a blast of wind to knock the offenders to the ground. Instead all he managed was some rather sad hand-waving.

While the ne’re-do-wells were staring and laughing at him, the merchant delivered enough blows to make them retreat.

Aziraphale helped the merchant put his stall back together and was swiftly invited to share the evening meal with the family.

He’d tried hard not to eat – he’d been told it was a corruption of the temple of his body. Admittedly he’d snacked some throughout the years. There were just so many interesting things! Still, he’d always tried to purify himself afterwards.

He’d never sat down with a human family to ingest a meal.

How curious to find that the meal was secondary to the entire ritual of consuming as a unit. From words spoken over the food to the way it was distributed.

And all the flavors!

Just like humans to take a necessity and turn it into something greater.

He’d distantly known, of course. He’d observed.

There was something so very different about being part of it.

The merchant offered him work when he said he was adrift in the city. He readily accepted the hospitality and labor. At least until he could be rid of the anklet. This would be a good time to observe humans on their level.

And it would be a good place to observe and counter the destruction of the unleashed demons.

~

Strange how quickly the years passed away. Aziraphale was sometimes puzzled to realize how long he’d lived this curious life. Working by day. Dining with the family. Pretending to sleep on his mat at night or slipping off into the quiet parts of the city to wait until morning.

He’d left the merchant when he’d found a position with a scroll-maker. What fascinating work – this preserving of the written word. He learned the art start to finish. From the curing of leather and papyrus into writing surfaces, through the attaching to the scroll rails. He learned to make ink too. He wasn’t taught writing, but he learned it by observing.

He told himself he was merely biding his time until he could remove the anklet, but he mostly forgot it was there. He’d pried off the chain and wound the band in leather to make it less obvious. Beyond that, he’d made very little effort to free himself.

He kept an eye on the court and king, expecting disaster to strike at any moment. His restrained powers didn’t stop him from seeing that the king who sat on the throne was Asmodeus, not Solomon. He waited for misery and darkness to take the city.

It did not. The common people had little interest in kings. What happened within the castle walls seemed to have little bearing on their daily lives. The people who had once demanded a king now seemed little concerned with whether or not a true king held the throne.

In the city, Aziraphale worked and watched. He felt peace for the first time in a very long time. His shame of living in the human way faded into a feeling of normalcy.

Some days he hoped it would go on this way forever.

~

The angel sat on the hillside overlooking the temple. Below echoed the sounds of weeping and wailing.

The king was dead.

He heard footsteps and glanced behind him, reacting with little more than a slight tensing as the wolf approached and sat beside him.

“Is it Solomon or Asmodeus?” Aziraphale asked at last.

“Does it matter?” countered the wolf.

Aziraphale didn’t answer right away. “I thought a demon on the throne would turn the city to decay. But… whoever it was in the end… they weren’t any better or worse than any other kings.”

“Funny how that worked out.”

He glanced sideways at the demon. “You stood in his court all these years. I saw you there.”

The wolf shrugged. “I enjoyed the spectacle of it all.”

“And now?”

The demon considered. “My prince is discorporated back to Hell. If I was a faithful subject, I would join him there.”

“But…?”

The wolf looked toward the horizon. “But this world interests me. The people lead such brief lives of toil and weariness, yet many search for more than what lies in front of their nose. I’d like to see more of them.”

“I should stop you,” Aziraphale warned.

“You can’t as you are now. And I don’t think you would even if you could.”

“And why not?”

“You saw me in the court, and I saw you in the city. I saw how you wiled away these long years. Would your superiors like to know how you’ve been spending your time? Eating and drinking among the humans as if you were one of them?”

Aziraphale watched the world thoughtfully for several minutes. “I don’t believe I have sinned,” he said at last. “I was charged to watch and nurture them. Learning how they really are – not just observing – I think it will help me in my appointed task.” He sighed. “But, I don’t believe my superiors would see it that way.”

The wolf made a sudden lunge and caught him by the ankle. Aziraphale gave a cry of surprise as the demon shattered the anklet and returned to sitting calmly as if he’d never moved.

The angel picked up the broken bond and looked curiously at him. “Why did you do that?”

“A calculated risk,” the wolf replied. “I wish to stay. I wish you to neglect to mention me to anyone.”

Aziraphale considered him carefully. “And you don’t intend to cause harm?”

“Not enough to be noticeable in the cesspool of sin the humans create on their own.”

Another minute of silence passed. “You freed the demons in the temple so they wouldn’t break free on their own,” Aziraphale said slowly, giving voice to what he’d pieced together over the years. “You had Crowley steal Solomon’s ring and you gave it to Asmodeus. The demon horde was under control the entire time.”

“They’d have destroyed the temple if they’d escaped,” the wolf agreed. “And then how would my prince have ruled?”

“You saved the city,” Aziraphale concluded.

The wolf didn’t answer.

“If you cause trouble, I will have to fight you,” the angel warned at last.

The wolf grinned as he rose to his feet. “I’d expect nothing less.” He unfurled russet-hued wings and leaped lightly into the sky.

Aziraphale watched until he’d vanished into the north.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES/PURGATORY

“Should you be taking these pills so close together?” Maze asked, rolling the bottle of sleeping tablets between her hands as she watched Linda pace around the kitchen.

“Drastic measures,” Linda said firmly. “I don’t want to wake up in the middle of arguing with Heaven.” She pulled a rapidly reheated meal out of the microwave and dropped it on the table. “Is there anything I should know about Purgatory?”

Maze shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never been there. I hear it’s really boring. Why are they meeting there?”

“Beelzebub says it’s neutral territory, and it would be safer for my mind than the other options.” Linda shoveled several bites into her mouth. She grimaced. “You’re probably right about the pills. I have no idea what time it is anymore and I’m hungry constantly.”

“When this is over, I’ll watch Charlie more often so you can kick-box again.”

“Or you could teach me.”

“You couldn’t keep up with my exercise routine.”

“You have an exercise routine?”

“Linda!” The front door slammed and Amenadiel hurried into the kitchen with Charlie riding on his shoulders. “I just got called for an emergency meeting.”

“Oh? You’re going to that too?”

“Too? No, Linda, it’s a Heaven-thing.” Amenadiel swung Charlie to the ground. The boy promptly demanded Maze pick him up, which she did.

“Right.” Linda swallowed another mouthful. “You’re meeting with the princes of Hell.”

Amenadiel stared. “How…?”

Linda pulled the pill bottle to her side of the table before Charlie could grab it. “You can watch Charlie, right?” She asked Maze.

The demon looked down at the boy. “Can you sit still during Trixie’s play?”

“PWAY!” The boy shrieked and began to squirm.

“Maybe I can dress you as a rat and turn you loose in the aisle.”

They heard the front door open, and Crowley entered the kitchen. “Ready to go?” He asked wearily.

“What happened to you?” Amenadiel demanded, staring at the bruises on the demon’s face.

“Hell.” Crowley readjusted his glasses. “Heaven had some words for me too.” He tilted his head meditatively. “It’s just possible Gabriel doesn’t like me. Also…” He held up a poorly bandaged hand. “Lucifer apparently puts some nasty wards on his safe.”

“Why were you breaking into Lucifer’s safe?” Amenadiel asked.

“Cocaine,” Crowley said, as if that was obvious. He sighed and turned to Linda. “Anyway… Are you ready?”

“If you’re tired, Amenadiel can give me a ride,” the therapist suggested. “He’s going to the same meeting.”

“Fine with me.” The demon slid into a chair and dropped his head to the table.

“Ride?” Amenadiel looked lost. “Linda, you’d have to be dead to reach Purgatory.”

“No, I don’t. I’ve been visiting Hell for months.”

“What?! How…. Why?”

Linda finished eating and put her dishes into the sink. “For work. I’m getting some experience now to decide if I want the job long-term.”

“What job?!”

“Lucifer asked me… Didn’t ask me, actually… we need to cover that in therapy one of these weeks… Anyway, he named me a prince of Hell.”

Amenadiel stared at her utterly aghast.

Linda went on calmly. “So, I need a ride to Purgatory. Can you help me out?”

~

“We need to talk about this,” Amenadiel insisted as they alighted in the grey, ‘in-between’ realm.

Linda slid off his back, checked over the clothes she’d dreamed up for the meeting, and strode toward the dim outline of a house. “I don’t see why. My career choice is my own business.”

The Archangel trailed after her. “But I always assumed you’d want to come to Heaven… with me.”

Linda stopped and turned to him. She tried to keep her expression gentle. “Amenadiel. We’re not married. We’re not dating. We’re friends… who had a baby together. I get to decide my future.” She resumed walking. “Plus, Eve said Heaven’s really boring.”

“It’s paradise!” Amenadiel sounded defensive, and somewhat doubtful.

“But do people do much there? I don’t want to party for eternity. I want a purpose. This… this would give me some meaning.”

“But…” Amenadiel trailed off as he jogged along beside her with the air of a sad puppy. “I’d miss you.”

“We’ll still see each other. You and Charlie can visit Hell. But Heaven’s not open to Maze and Lucifer. I don’t want to lose half my friends.” Linda walked faster. “This isn’t important right now. Let’s just focus on the meeting.” She halted on the porch and rang the doorbell.

A woman in 1980’s-style clothes opened the door. “Who are you and what do you want?” She demanded with a scowl.

“Hi… I’m supposed to ask to borrow your living room and give you this.” Linda held out a sandwich bag stuffed with cocaine.

The woman snatched it from her and vanished into the house. “The living room’s through there!” She called. “I’ll be upstairs… Ignore any wind chime noises.”

~

Three Archangels and three princes of Hell eyed one another from opposite sides of the living room. No one seemed eager to speak first.

"Let’s talk about your siblings,” Linda had once suggested during therapy shortly after Lucifer’s return from Hell.

“Must we?” Lucifer grumbled.

“We’ve dealt with your parental issues quite a lot,” Linda went on steadily. “But you left behind a large family. How do you feel about them?”

Lucifer leaned back against the couch with a sigh. “Oh, Amenadiel’s alright, I suppose. The rest have made it abundantly clear I’m unwelcome anywhere in existence.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“Of course. Amenadiel and Michael are the only ones who visited Hell, and Michael’s a boasting, egocentric, wanker so his visits were never the highlight of my century.” His scowl deepened. “It’s always all about him. Completely self-absorbed. Utterly insufferable. Can you imagine?”

“No… No, I can’t.” Linda waited a beat, but Lucifer, as usual, recognized no irony. “And none of your other siblings ever visited?”

“No. They seem quite content to pretend I don’t exist. I haven’t seen Raphael since the Rebellion. I’ve run into the others a time or two on Earth, but they generally avoid me.” He sighed, a look of sadness coming to him. “That’s how it goes, isn’t it? Sides are chosen in family fights, and no one wants to upset the parents by siding against them. I suppose they fear they’d be next.”

Now Linda looked across the room at the three Archangels eying the demons suspiciously. She wondered what they would say if she got them talking about the Rebellion.

She rose slowly. “Maybe we should explain why we called…”

“Who are you?!” Gabriel interrupted.

Beelzebub was on her feet and positively bristling at his tone. “She is Human Doctor Linda Martin!” she buzzed. “She is a prince of Hell, and you will treat her with the respect she deserves or answer to me!”

Linda heard Marchosias snicker.

The Archangel’s eyes dilated to a vibrant reddish-purple. “We were not informed the seventh throne had been filled,” he protested.

“It’s a probationary position,” Linda said carefully. “I’m deciding if I want it as a long-term career.”

Gabriel turned uncertainly to the other Archangels. “We can’t recognize a human on a throne of Hell, can we?”

Raphael shrugged and looked elsewhere.

Amenadiel looked uncomfortable. “It’s… less of a strange choice than Kokbiel if you think about it… But we don’t have to debate it now. That can’t be why you called a meeting.”

“No,” Beelzebub said with a staccato buzz. “We have a question for you.” She sat back down, waiting until Linda had done the same. When both were settled, she turned to the Archangels. “Have you been having issues with injured angels?”

Gabriel lunged to his feet, crossing halfway across the room in a bound with a glare of divine fury. “So, you admit it?!”

“Admit what?” Raphael asked blankly.

Amenadiel looked equally mystified. “Gabriel?”

Beelzebub’s expression grew smug. “Keeping secrets from your own kind, Gabe?” She hummed. “Naughty angel.”

“Secrets? Brother, what’s going on?” Amenadiel demanded.

Gabriel crossed his arms and drew his wings protectively around himself.

“What’s happening,” Marchosias said. “We think is the same thing happening in Hell.”

Gabriel looked suspiciously at him. “What do you mean?”

“For months, we’ve been finding wounded demons scattered all over Hell. Celestially-wounded demons.”

“If you’re implying…”

“Sir down and listen,” Beelzebub snapped.

The Archangel blinked at her for a moment, then slowly retreated to the sofa.

“Sure, our first assumption was a sneak-attack by Heaven,” the wolf-demon continued with a smirk. His smile faded. “But eventually we found some pretty strong clues that the injured were doing it to themselves.”

“What?! How?”

“We’re not sure. So, what we want to know is… are you having the same problem?”

Five sets of eyes focused on Gabriel.

“Brother?” Amenadiel asked after a long silence.

“This is a trick,” Gabriel muttered, hunching his shoulders.

“Brother!” The first-born trembled with rising rage. “Why wouldn’t you tell us about something like that?!”

When would I?!” Gabriel snapped.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Amenadiel…” Linda said gently. “You hardly ever visit Heaven.”

Amenadiel flashed her a frustrated look.

“She’s right,” Raphael said flatly. She looked placidly at Gabriel. “Why don’t you explain now?”

“In front of them?” Gabriel hissed with a scathing look at the princes.

“Yes,” Raphael replied.

The messenger of Heaven took a long breath. “It started some months ago… Angels found scored with occult weaponry – injuries which reeked of hellfire and shadows.”

Amenadiel rumbled. Raphael gasped. Marchosias nodded sagely.

“I’ve had Heaven searched. We’ve checked all our defenses. We’ve found no sign of entry.” His scowl deepened. “Except Kokbiel, but I’ve had him watched. He rarely comes, and he never strays far off his usual path.”

“The injured just appear?” Marchosias prompted. “No trail of where they came from? And their minds are too damaged to tell you anything?”

“Tell? They’re in too much pain to say anything!”

“Why wouldn’t you have told us?!” Amenadiel demanded.

“Why would I have thought you’d care if you knew?” Gabriel snapped back. He turned on the demons with a glare. “Explain. What have you done?”

Marchosias met his eyes calmly. “We’ve done nothing. Except investigate our own mystery. Until a witch suggested the problem is happening here as well.”

“Wait.” Amenadiel held up his hands. He started to speak to Gabriel, then glanced apologetically at the princes. “Can you give us a minute?”

Beelzebub nodded curtly. The trio stepped into the kitchen.

“Do they believe us?” Linda asked.

“They might believe you.” Marchosias stood on his hind legs to nose through an assortment of warm beer on the counter. “We’re generally just lucky when they agree to be in the same room as us.”

“Gabriel isn’t all bad,” Beelzebub protested. “He’s been civil enough when I’ve had to meet with him in the past.” Her expression darkened. “Amenadiel can burn in the lake for all eternity. After I’ve scoured off every centimeter of his skin.”

Linda raised an eyebrow. “You know he’s the father of my son, right?”

“I try not to hold that failing against you.”

Marchosias bit the top off a bottle and tipped it back. He drained it in several long gulps and spat a small tuft of flame. “Cheap brand,” he grumbled. Louder, he said, “They hate us, and they’ve never been shy about saying so. And we return the sentiment as often as we can.”

“How long has it been like that?” Linda asked.

“Since the Fall,” the wolf grunted.

“Even before then,” Beelzebub countered. “The moment some of us started thinking for ourselves, all that talk of unity and love was gone as fast as our Creator’s voice.”

“Wait… Your Creator’s voice?” Linda frowned.

Beelzebub looked pained and silent.

Marchosias studied the floor. “Heaven… changed. Even before we got kicked out.”

Linda marched back to the living room.

The Archangels broke off a heated whispered discussion at the sight of her.

“Linda,” Amenadiel began. “We’re in a family discussion…”

“Yep. We’re getting the whole family involved.” She pointed authoritatively at the sofa.

With a bewildered look, the demons returned to their seats.

“Human, this isn’t…” Gabriel began.

“Shut up,” Linda said crisply. She glared between the two sides, mildly pleased to see she had their rapt and puzzled attention. “Okay…” She took a breath. “Here’s what I’ve got…”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - PURGATORY

“I’ve been listening to Lucifer talk about family history for years,” Linda began with a tug at her glasses. “And Amenadiel. And, recently, them.” She waved a hand at the demons. “And this is what I understand.”

She halted at a distance from which she could watch all five of them. “There was a family, right? It had a lot of kids. And extended relatives all living together. Not everybody got along, but they were young and they figured their parents had their best interest at heart, so they made it work.” Her eyes swept the room with a glare. “Am I right so far?”

Both sides muttered and looked away.

Raphael leaned forward, showing the first spark of interest. “Go on.”

“So, at some point, their parents got busy with other projects. And the kids were left to play by themselves more often. Some of them tried to fill in and look after the younger ones. And some of the younger siblings weren’t so thrilled with getting bossed around.”

“Some of us were created after the Creator had already distanced themself,” Beelzebub muttered.

“We’re not related to them,” Gabriel grumbled with a sharp look across the room.

“I think she’s got it down perfectly.” Marchosias twitched his tail.

“Thank you.” Linda pushed her glasses further up her nose. “So, the kids started arguing more often. Some of them wanted to go off and live their own lives. Some of them wanted to stay put and hope their parent would start paying attention to them again. And the arguing got worse until all the questions, and issues, and grudges erupted into all-out fighting.”

“Lucifer talks too much,” Gabriel muttered.

“Shut up. Therapy’s a good thing,” Beelzebub snapped at the same moment Amenadiel growled at his brother. The demon and the Archangel gave each other surprised glances to find themselves a united front. They looked away quickly.

Linda plunged on. “And once the fighting got bad enough, suddenly the absentee parent shows up, splits up the kids, and sends everyone to their rooms for a time-out until they can calm down and think rationally.”

“Linda,” Amenadiel said cautiously. “What’s your point?”

“My point is you’ve been fighting about the same nonsense for thousands of years! Do you even remember why you hate each other?!”

“They’re evil,” Gabriel protested weakly in a voice which said he didn’t believe it.

“Oh… are they?” Linda stalked closer. “Because Heaven’s been perfectly well-behaved this entire time? You keep carpet-bombing humanity with floods and volcanoes and firestorms and say it’s to wipe out evil and it doesn’t matter if some nice people get hurt along the way!” She stood over him. “Does humanity even matter to you?!”

“Not really,” Raphael admitted flatly. “They’re just how we keep score.”

“Well, we’re tired of being your pawns. Adam told you so twenty years ago. If you need there to be two sides to make yourselves feel justified, argue it out yourselves. Don’t get my kind involved!

“And looks what’s happening now. Hell’s full of lesser demons getting hurt – demons who never had a choice which side they took in the war.” She turned to Gabriel. “What about your injured? Are they… do angels have kids?”

Angry rumbles and offended looks from all three Archangels met her query.

“She doesn’t know,” Marchosias snapped. He turned to Linda. “It’s not possible for us. Not the way your kind procreates.”

“But the lesser demons…?”

“Lilith started as human. And she may have used us as… essence donors, but she literally carved a lot of her offspring out of the firmaments of Hell. And those demons can breed. Sometimes even with us.” Marchosias shrugged. “Don’t ask us why. But we’re strictly the product of our Maker. We can’t continue on with one another.”

“Heaven does have more angels than it used it,” Beelzebub said. “We took a third of the host, but they’ve regained their numbers.”

“New angels are formed occasionally,” Amenadiel admitted. “Not like it was before the Fall. But they do come into existence when we’ve had losses.” He hesitated, glancing at the other Archangels. “They’re not like… like those of us from before the Fall.”

“What do you mean?” Linda asked.

“They’re… all third sphere. Angels – as in the class. Low-powered. Most of them never leave Heaven.”

“You shouldn’t be telling them this,” Gabriel grumbled.

Beelzebub snorted. “We already knew.”

Linda looked further intrigued as she turned to the violet-eye Archangel. “The injured – are they all… younger angels?”

The messenger squirmed, glancing at his siblings, who only looked equally curious. “As a matter of fact… yes.”

“So, what you’re saying is,” Linda said slowly. “Heaven and Hell both have a population of beings who never had a choice. Who were taught to hate by the older generation. Who’ve never seen anything but the realm where they were born. Who don’t know anything about life before the war?”

Both groups nodded reluctantly.

“Then… if Agnes is right, they’re hurting themselves. Deliberately. Maybe looking for ways out of Heaven and Hell?”

“Impossible!” Gabriel snapped.

“There’s no door between the two,” Beelzebub insisted.

“Who’d want to leave Heaven?” Amenadiel asked.

“You,” Raphael replied.

The room dropped into silence.

“So, you’re saying we need to seal off whatever connection there is between Heaven and Hell,” Amenadiel said slowly. “And then the injuries will stop?”

“That may not fix this.”

“Why not?”

“Because if your kids want to try something different, they’re sure to find a way.”

“Can you please not call them our children?” Gabriel grumbled. “The act of procreation is…” He glanced uneasily between Amenadiel and Raphael and sank a little lower.

“It’s time for the fighting to stop,” Linda insisted. “Before another generation gets hurt. Do you want this war to go on forever?”

“It was supposed to end twenty years ago,” Gabriel snapped. “Of course they messed that up.”

“Us?” Beelzebub bristled. “It was your agent babbling about the difference between the Great Plan and Ineffable Plan.”

Gabriel shuddered.

“Personally, I’m thrilled it failed,” Marchosias said. “I like Earth. And I wasn’t looking forward to eternity in the burning lake. If the Ineffable Plan has a way around that, I’m in.”

“Repent your sins and return to Heaven, then,” Gabriel scowled.

I did.” The wolf leaped to the ground, hellfire dripping from his jaws. “I tried to do right. I tried to say I was sorry and wrong. I tried to go home. Your lot wouldn’t let me.” His hackles rose. “I tried to earn my way back. I tried to find forgiveness. And when I found out this was me forever…” His serpent tail lashed the floor with a sound like a cracking whip, “…I accepted what Heaven claimed I was – a corrupted mistake. A failure.”

He snapped his jaws shut, the flames vanishing. “And then I met some people much smarter than me who’d already figured out that just because we’d been separated didn’t mean we couldn’t make our own way, Our own sides.”

“You’re a prince of Hell now,” Amenadiel pointed out.

“And do you want to know why?” The wolf stopped in front of him. “Because my King is clear-sighted enough to realize this war isn’t helping anybody. That we can’t keep living like we’re failures. It’s been destroying us for centuries. Both sides. We have to step up and find who we are now. And embrace that. Not just keep living like we didn’t live up to our Creator’s expectations.”

“Because we might be exactly what our Creator expected,” Amenadiel said slowly. “They told me They don’t play favorites. They never did.”

Raphael frowned. “When did you hear from Them?”

“Last year. Second-hand.” Amenadiel studied his hands. “From a demon.”

Gabriel scoffed. “They wouldn’t speak to demons.”

“But They did.” Amenadiel looked up, his eyes troubled and serious. “And that should have been the first clue we’re not on the right path. We don’t know the plan. We haven’t for twenty years. And we were just guessing before that. Maybe it’s time we started listening.”

“Amenadiel,” Linda said quietly. “I don’t want Charlie dragged into a war. I want him to be able to choose his life. And live it. And embrace all sides of his family. Do you really want this to keep going?”

The first-born’s expression was pained. “This is all I know.” He looked at the others – both angels and demons. “All any of us know anymore. To course-correct now… How do we know it’s the right choice?”

“We don’t,” Gabriel replied. “We could be headed toward a Fall ourselves with this kind of talk.” He stood quickly and paced away from the group. “It isn’t right. The idea of humans, demons, and angels attempting peace. We already know how it ends.”

Raphael drew her wings and arms around herself.

“There doesn’t have to be another war…” Linda began.

“He’s not talking about the war.” Amenadiel’s face shifted to a mask of pain.

Gabriel looked back at him. “You haven’t told her?”

“Told me what?”

The first-born rose and crossed the room. He rested his head against the wall.

“Amenadiel?” Linda took a step toward him, then halted. “What haven’t you told me?”

“What happened the last time our kind became too fond of Earth.” Gabriel’s hands balled into fists. There was a sob in his voice. “Why did you do it?” He demanded, his eyes locked on Amenadiel’s back. “Knowing the risk. Knowing…” His voice broke. “I don’t want to do that again. None of us do.”

“I couldn’t just… take him from his mother,”

“Charlie? Is this about Charlie?” Linda stepped back. She was surprised to feel a hand slip into hers and give it a supportive squeeze. She glanced at Beelzebub, then to her son’s father. “Amenadiel… what’s this about?”

Amenadiel didn’t move.

Gabriel stared at the floor.

“It’s about me,” Raphael said abruptly, closing further in on herself. “And Azazel.”

Beelzebub sucked in a breath.

“Who?” Linda asked.

“The last demon to get too close to humanity.”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY – LOS ANGELES

“Hold still... Just one more second…” Chloe drew a last whisker on Trixie’s face. “And... you’re all done!”

“Me next!” Demanded another child in a rat costume, pushing their way up to Chloe.

Chloe had set up a table in the hall behind the school stage for hasty make-up distribution. Parents and students jostled her as they rushed back and forth, seeking out costume pieces and props. A teacher was trying to shoo overly worried parents out of the backstage area, particularly two who’d suddenly decided a set piece needed to be repainted.

Whiskers sat under Chloe’s table, watching the world with the expression of a queen in full control of her domain. Most people didn’t notice. A few adults commented upon how well-behaved the cat was. Several kids wanted to know why their pets weren’t invited to the show.

Down the hall, Lucifer had found a guitar and was coaching the ‘Pied Piper’ through playing the show’s signature melody on, “an instrument more likely to impress the ladies, or whatever you prefer”.

Of course he plays the guitar, Chloe thought. She reminded herself to ask about his banjo-playing skills some time

“Do any other rats need noses and whiskers?” Chloe called. Her voice was drowned out as a cluster of townspeople rushed toward the backstage, singing the opening chorus in high and nervous voices.

Abruptly, the teacher acting as the long-suffering director of the musical emerged to frantically herd children where they belonged and chase superfluous parents out.

Chloe forced Trixie to endure a hug. “Break a leg, Monkey.”

“Mom! You’re bending my ears,” the ‘rat’ complained as she wriggled and looked embarrassed. Still, she grinned as she pulled away, high-fived Lucifer, and hurried to join the rest of the class.

“We’d better find our seats,” Chloe said.

Lucifer didn’t quite keep the disparity from his voice. “Indeed. We wouldn’t want to miss a minute of this masterpiece.”

Chloe gripped his arm harder than necessary as they walked toward the auditorium. “You are going to watch the show,” she growled. “You will not play with your phone, you will not shout insults at the children, and you will definitely not fall asleep.”

“Of course I won’t fall asleep, Detective,” Lucifer replied in a wounded tone. “These chairs look far too uncomfortable for napping.” He looked down at her hand. “Darling. You’re getting make-up on my sleeve.”

Dan, Maze, and Penelope Decker were holding a row for them. Dan backed to the end furthest from Lucifer as they arrived and sat down.

“Is anyone else coming?” Chloe whispered.

“Linda and Amenadiel have work things going on,” Maze replied, tearing herself away from an animated conversation with Penelope about latex. “Crowley’s watching Charlie.”

“Oh! Babysitting was an option?” Lucifer looked intrigued. “Really, I’d be delighted to watch Amenadiel’s spawn so someone else can have the pleasure of…”

“Sit down and like it,” Chloe snapped.

The devil’s eyebrows rose. “How forceful. If Maze will watch Trixie, you could order me around later tonight as well.”

As the theatre lights dimmed, Ella and Aziraphale slid into place.

“Sorry,” Ella hissed with a brief glare at Aziraphale. “He had way more feelings about place cards than I expected.”

“Paper quality is important,” the angel replied primly. He folded his hands and turned to the stage with rapt attention.

The musical was about as quality a production as a play written for and performed by ten-to-twelve-year-olds could be. The songs were often illegible, and the mayor forgot a section of her speech, which left out enough key plot points to make Aziraphale whisper to Chloe for clarification. But the audience was enthusiastic and cheered loudly for every solo. The Pied Piper had absorbed a surprising amount of his impromptu guitar lessons to the point that his guardian in the front row shouted, “I’ll pay for lessons, David!” as he struck a rock-star power-pose, upsetting whatever planned choreography the number had had.

Forty-five minutes later, the students bowed to thunderous applause. The teacher held the audience captive long enough to thank everyone who’d helped with the production, especially the generous and anonymous monetary backing. Chloe glanced suspiciously at Lucifer, but he only shrugged in response.

That’s not a no, she thought with mixed feelings. She’d have to make sure he wouldn’t continuously gild Trixie’s way through life with easy money.

Although, as Trixie threw herself into Chloe’s arms, Chloe couldn’t exactly fault the result.

Dan and Chloe gathered backstage with the other parents to shower their offspring with flowers and praise. Trixie dragged them onstage to show Dan which parts of the set she’d painted.

Penelope declared a post-show meal essential. Trixie demanded In-N-Out Burgers. Soon eight individuals and a cat crowded around a picnic table, jostling one another companionably for their share of burgers and fries.

“I can’t believe you’re eating this,” Ella remarked to Aziraphale.

The angel had somehow produced knife, fork, and linen napkin. He cut his burger into polite slivers and popped one into his mouth. “I enjoy sampling local institutions.” He chewed doubtfully. “What is this flavor?”

“Thousand Island Dressing,” Lucifer replied, taking a large bite of his.

Aziraphale looked a little green.

Trixie was the center of the conversation. She basked in the praise for her sets and described the antics of rehearsals and tech-week in detail.

Gradually the group thinned as Ella and Maze decided to find somewhere with alcohol. Penelope eagerly took the invitation to join them. Aziraphale departed, claiming he wanted to check on Crowley, although Chloe thought she heard him ask the Lyft driver to take him somewhere with ‘real food’.

Trixie slurped her milkshake while the adults watched the world in silence.

“When you marry Mom, will I be a princess?” Trixie asked Lucifer abruptly.

Dan choked on a fry.

Lucifer blinked. “Well… no. Titles in Hell aren’t hereditary, so there’s no equivalent.”

“If she’s going to be queen, I want to be a princess.” Trixie put on her stubborn face.

“She won’t actually be queen, in the human sense.” Lucifer looked to Chloe uncertainly. “We’re… still trying to understand how this will work. But it’s decades away. We have time to decide.”

“You can’t possibly want our daughter to go to Hell,” Dan protested.

“Why not? Maze lives there,” Trixie replied with wide eyes.

“Honey…” Dan looked speechless and horrified.

“You have a long life ahead of you, urchin,” Lucifer soothed. “It’s hardly time to make plans for your retirement home.” He smiled. “But you’re welcome in my home if you choose.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Dan growled. “Collecting souls? That’s what you do, isn’t it?”

Lucifer’s eyebrows rose. “Hardly. There’s little point in trying to collect souls. They just show up on their own. I thought Maze explained all this.”

“I still don’t trust you,” Dan said flatly. “And you don’t deserve Chloe.”

“Dan!” Chloe snapped. “I’m not a prize.”

“I know…” Dan stammered. “I just…”

“…Thought you still had some say in how I live my life?!”

Dan recoiled.

Trixie stared. “Mommy?”

Lucifer looked amused.

Chloe rose to her feet, standing over her ex. “What you think of Lucifer doesn’t matter. I love him, and I’ve hoped you can be happy for me.”

Dan shrank lower. “I do want you happy,” he mumbled. “But him?!”

Lucifer learned forward. “What makes me so questionable a choice? I can certainly provide for the detective and her offspring.”

“You’re the devil!”

“He’s a nice devil,” Trixie insisted. “He helps you and Mommy solve crimes, and makes bad people go away. And he gave me a magic cat.”

Dan stared at his daughter, then back to Lucifer. “Are you corrupting them? Is this some sort of a… a prophecy thing?”

“A prophecy thing?”

Dan looked further helpless. “I don’t know! I’ve been trying to read a lot since – since finding out. And… and there’s all these stories about the devil, and prophecies about the end of days.”

“That was twenty years ago, Daniel,” Lucifer purred. “And I’m pleased to say my son dealt with it beautifully.”

“You have a son?”

“His name’s Adam,” Trixie contributed. “He has a dog. He’s a teacher.”

“He lives in Cardiff,” Lucifer supplied. “Trying very hard to live a normal life. Last I heard he was raising an infant girl.”

“You’re a grandfather?” Chloe asked.

“No, Darling. He and his brother – not mine – are raising a child in need.” He looked hard at Dan. “They try to bring some good into this world. Adam feels this planet is worth preserving and encourages others to feel the same. I share his sentiment.”

Dan eyed him critically. “You’re not here to unleash evil or something?”

“Daniel,” Lucifer sounded slightly condescending. “The only demons on the planet are ones I trust to leave humanity largely in peace. And I do keep an eye on any of my own who wander into this plane of existence. Believe me, I have far more pressing issues than causing the downfall of humanity. I rather think you can manage that without my assistance.”

“Dan,” Chloe said gently. “Lucifer’s not evil. Neither is Maze. Maybe it seems impossible…”

“If you’re not evil, why spend all your spare time torturing me?” Dan demanded.

Lucifer smiled toothily. “Everyone needs a hobby.”

Dan rose with a scowl. “Stand up.”

“Whatever for?”

“Stand up!”

With a mystified glance at Chloe, Lucifer rose to his feet. “Yes?”

Dan stared at him for a second. His hand contracted into a fist, and he swung fast and efficiently at Lucifer’s mouth.

The devil recoiled, bringing up his hand to cover his bleeding mouth.

Dan stepped back, shaking his stinging hand and glaring defiantly at Lucifer.

“What was that for?” Lucifer demanded.

Dan drew closer. “For every time you belittled me, insulted me, and… stole my yogurt!”

Lucifer drew his palm away from his mouth, staring blankly at the blood. “Yes, well. Linda clearly still has some work to do with you.” He wiped his hand on a handkerchief, then extended it to Dan. “Very well, Daniel. I apologize for my treatment of you.”

Dan reluctantly took the offered hand.

Lucifer pulled him in close, his eyes glittering with hellfire. “Don’t do that again.”

Dan swallowed hard, then glared ferociously back. “Don’t hurt Chloe.”

The hellfire gleam left the devil’s eyes. He released Dan with a chuckle and slapped him on the back. “Excellent, Daniel. You’re becoming a fine man.”

Chloe glared between them. “If you’re through with that display of male prowess, Trixie and I would like to go home.”

“I wanna watch more fighting!” Trixie insisted.

“I believe there’s another Weaponizer sequel in theatres,” Lucifer suggested.

“I hear the original actor came out of retirement for a cameo,” Dan added.

Chloe rolled her eyes as the two men in her life hurried toward the car, discussing martial arts films as if nothing had happened.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - PURGATORY

“By too close,” Linda said slowly. “You mean…?”

“Procreation,” Gabriel rumbled. “Half-human monstrosities.”

Linda stared helplessly at Amenadiel. “But… Lucifer said Charlie was the first.”

“Technically… he is.” Amenadiel turned around at last. “The others were all…” He glanced apologetically at Beelzebub. “The Fallen’s offspring.”

“As if that makes a difference,” the lord-of-the-flies grumbled.

“We don’t know!” Amenadiel insisted desperately. “He… he might not be like them.”

“Like who?” Linda demanded. She wished she could wake up immediately. Hold her baby close. Make sure everything was fine.

“The Nephilim,” Gabriel said, his violet eyes focused on the ground. “That’s what we called them… right before we drowned the lot of them.”

“You…?”

“We had our orders,” The messenger looked utterly agonized. “‘Destroy the children of watchers.’ So…”

“The watchers?” Linda repeated faintly.

“Azazel,” Beelzebub supplied. “And Semjaza and their friends.” She glared furiously at Gabriel. “Two hundred Fallen all killed or driven mad. Ligur survived the best of the lot, and now look at him.”

“We had to!” Gabriel protested. “What else could we have done?”

“Stop!” Linda held up her hands. “Start at the beginning.” Her gaze swept the group. “Someone.”

Marchosias was the only one to meet her eyes. He shrugged unknowingly.

“This isn’t what’s important right now, is it…?” Amenadiel asked a little desperately.

“It is,” Linda snapped. “I want to know. Everything. Sit down and someone start talking.”

Archangels and demons complied.

Silence reigned until Beelzebub spoke slowly, her voice rather distant and with the cadence of a storyteller. “After the Garden, after humanity began to spread, Lucifer opened the gates of Hell and sent us into the world. ‘Corrupt the plans of our Maker,’ he said. ‘Make the world ours.’” She glanced apologetically at Linda. “He was different back then.”

Linda nodded, folding her arms and leaning against the wall as she listened.

“The first soul to descend to Hell was Abel,” the lord-of-the-flies went on. “So, we knew it was possible for humanity to be sentenced, just as we had been. We just weren’t sure how.

“And it seemed like they didn’t need our help,” she grumbled. “They came through the gates without much influence from us. But there were others we tried to corrupt who ascended to Heaven. We spent a long time just trying to understand what constituted a ‘sin’.

“And then Azazel had an idea.”

“Who’s Azazel?” Linda asked.

“One of the high-ranking Fallen. They weren’t a prince – we’d filled all the seats before they drew notice. That gave them more freedom to spend extended stretches on Earth. Azazel observed humanity for a long time. They reasoned that if the flaw which had gotten humanity exiled from the Garden was the seeking of knowledge, then the way to bring them down was to further their knowledge.

“So, Azazel and their friend Semjaza, and some two hundred of their companions came to the Earth and lived among humanity.” Beelzebub’s eyes unfocused as if looking into the past. “They ate humanity’s food and spoke their tongue. They celebrated when the humans knew joy and mourned when they died. They taught them astrology and charms. Secrets we’d gleaned from the depths of Hell and mysteries we’d carried away from Heaven.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Linda ventured.

“It must have been,” Amenadiel said in a voice which carried a lot of doubt.

“And if that part wasn’t,” Gabriel mumbled. “What they did next was.”

“Which was?”

“They loved,” Raphael said quietly. “They drew close to humanity. Closer than they expected to.” She closed her arms around herself. “And they weren’t the only ones.”

“You don’t have to…” Gabriel protested.

“No. She should know the whole story.” Raphael took a breath. “Back during the Rebellion… I didn’t… I wasn’t really involved. I’m a healer. Or I was. And that means… feeling pain. Knowing when someone’s in need.” She trembled. “The war was more than I could endure. And after…” She glanced at the demons, then back to the floor. “I could feel everything they were going through. Distant but… more than I could handle. So, I went to the stars. I stayed away a long time. But then… I heard about the group on Earth. And, I came closer. I watched. And… I recognized Azazel.”

“Recognized?”

“From before.”

“I thought…?” Linda glanced at the demons.

“Our forms and names were stripped in the Fall,” Marchosias said, his ears flat and drooping. “We didn’t remember everything from before… and they couldn’t remember all that much about us. But…” He glanced over his shoulder, reshuffling his wings. “…Some of what we were remained. And some memories of our former connections. Enough to… recognize each other… a little.” He laid his head between his paws. “Keep us from doing things which would have been mistakes,” he muttered.

Raphael nodded. “I don’t exactly know who Azazel was before…. but I felt they were… important. To me. And… Earth seemed so… free. So, we… started renewing our connection.

“It was good for a while.” Her eyes practically glowed. “I could fulfill my function. On Earth. With people who… who accepted us for what we are. As much as they could understand us, anyway. We lived for generations among them. Azazel and the others helped create some of those generations. We thought of all of them as our children – human and Nephilim alike. We watched them grow and discover. It was… beautiful for a time.” A golden tear trickled down her cheek.

“What changed?” Linda asked gently.

“The children… some of them favored one parent or the other. And that worked out. The human ones could blend in with that population. The demon ones – they could be taken to Hell. Lesser demons. But the ones who blended between… that was the problem.

“Some of them were enormous. Or they had powers. Or… extra features.”

Linda thought of a house covered in bubble wrap and cast a suspicious look at Amenadiel. He sank lower with an ashamed expression.

“They had human capacity for imagination. For want and desire. And demonic strength to do something about it. They stole. They murdered to get what they wanted.”

Her expression turned haggard. “There was a drought. No food. The children were hungry. They stripped the land bare of resources – nothing ever grew again the places they destroyed. But they couldn’t be sated. And when they ran out of plants… and animals…”

“They ate people?!”

Raphael nodded miserably. “Azazel… said it was the same as eating animals. That the children were strong. Why shouldn’t they take? It didn’t matter that they left desolation in their wake. That was the prerogative of the strong.

“We argued. I thought it was our duty to teach them better. Azazel said they had free will – just like any other humans. We shouldn’t stop them from exercising it. We… couldn’t reach an agreement.”

She turned her head toward the other Archangels, her tone agonized. “So… I went to my siblings for help.”

Amenadiel bowed his head, low and miserable. “We thought there was only one solution.”

“Killing them?” Linda looked horrified.

“They didn’t belong,” Gabriel insisted, his voice ragged. “They were never supposed to exist.”

“But they did! Wasn’t that evidence…?”

“We had our orders!” Gabriel snapped in a tone edged in pain. “We were told to get rid of them. And… and everything they’d… tainted.”

“Tainted?’

“The people living among them,” Beelzebub hissed. “Humans who might or might not have been affected by the Nephilim. They drowned the lot of them.” She glared at the Archangels. “And you call us evil.”

“They forced our hand!” Gabriel protested. “They never should have been there. What else were we supposed to do?”

“Your book has that bit about separating the wheat and chaff,” Beelzebub grumbled.

“And that happened.” Gabriel tried to look righteous. “The innocent went to Heaven.”

“‘Let God sort it out,’ huh?” Linda muttered. “Absolves you of any crime. How nice.”

Amenadiel flinched. He spoke after a long moment of silence. “Raphael argued that way.”

“And Azazel and the others fought for their children,” Beelzebub added.

Amenadiel studied the ground. “The fight didn’t take long. We brought heavy reinforcements and attacks by surprise. Before they could call their legions. And…” He trailed off, not quite looking at Raphael.

“And I betrayed Azazel,” she whispered. "I told my siblings the weaknesses of them and their followers."

“You followed the true path,” Gabriel said loftily.

“Is it true to betray love?!” She snarled. “To see a whole population destroyed?”

“It’s what’s expected of us!”

She glared at him. “We can’t all be as sure of ourselves as you.”

Gabriel practically cringed beneath her gaze.

“What happened when the fight was over?” Linda asked softly.

“Raphael, Michael and I rounded up the surviving demons and dumped them into Hell,” Amenadiel said. “There’s a big pit there. We chained up Azazel and dropped them in along with some of the others.”

Linda looked quickly at Beelzebub, who nodded. “Some escaped the Archangels and hid elsewhere in Hell. But we lost a multitude that day.” Her eyes darkened. “And only Azazel ever returned from the pit.”

Raphael’s head shot up. “They’re still alive?”

“Technically,” Beelzebub said reluctantly. “Their mind is… scattered. Although… they’ve been known to engage for long stretches.”

“You’re saying there’s a demon who knows about the pit?!” Linda demanded.

Marchosias sat upright. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“Because it doesn’t do us any good,” Beelzebub replied.

“What’s this about the pit?” Amenadiel asked.

“We think… It’s just a theory, really,” Marchosias began. “But we’ve found celestial weapons – broken remains near the pit. We’ve wondered if there was some connection between it and our wounded. Maybe… maybe a way into Heaven?”

“From Hell?!” Gabriel sounded utterly disgusted.

“It’s not impossible,” Amenadiel said slowly, earning him shocked looks from his siblings. He spread his hands. “We don’t know everything about Heaven. And do any of us know anything about Hell?”

“So, if there’s a connection point, it could be the pit,” Linda said quickly. She pushed aside fresh terrors about her son and the future. Later, she told herself. Talk to Amenadiel. And Raphael. One mystery at a time. “And the one who might know for sure is this Azazel.” She turned expectantly to Beelzebub. “We need to talk to them. Even if they’re not all there, maybe we can trigger something.”

The lord-of-the-flies shook her head. “It’s no good. Azazel’s gone. I’m not even positive they’re still alive.”

“What? Why wouldn’t you know?”

Beelzebub ran agitated fingers through her hair, which immediately sent up a buzzing swarm. “I said Azazel was… off. Right after the apocalypse, Lucifer wasn’t really… attentive to Hell. Azazel declared themselves a co-ruler and began behaving accordingly.”

“Luci must have loved that,” Amenadiel murmured.

“He found it amusing, actually. He let them strut around and act in charge.” Beelzebub shrugged. “He could have crushed them whenever he pleased, so he saw no harm in letting them pretend.”

Her expression grew pained. “When our King declared his intent to leave Hell, he gave away the key to the gates…”

Amenadiel groaned.

“Azazel decided they might truly be King if they could secure the key.” Beelzebub shook her head scornfully. “The key means little. It’s the throne that’s important, but they’d convinced themselves otherwise. So… they made a play for the key. They took two Lilim and a hostage and journeyed from Hell. The Lilim returned to say Azazel had lost a gamble for power and was imprisoned.”

“What happened to the key?” Marchosias asked curiously.

“I took it back,” Amenadiel said. “It was never Luci’s to give away. I returned it when he finally reclaimed the throne.”

“And where’s Azazel?” Raphael demanded in a barely constrained voice. “Who has them?”

~

“Crowley? How are you feeling?”

The demon roused himself reluctantly from sleep and blinked blearily up at Linda’s swimming face.

The therapist leaned over the sofa on which Crowley had been napping since Maze's return to the house. She held Charlie clutched to her chest as if she never intended to let him go.

“Hey.” Crowley rubbed his eyes and spoke in an exhausted slur. “Meeting over?”

“I’ve been back for a couple hours,” Linda replied. She smiled tentatively. “Is my couch comfortable?”

Crowley shrugged. “I’m not picky.” His eyes sank closed.

“…Are you feeling rested from your last flight?”

The demon moaned. “That’s the sound of someone who wants something from me.” He rolled onto his face. “What do you want?” He mumbled into a cushion.

“Do you think you could manage another flight to... the Dreaming?”

Chapter Text

BEFORE THE FALL - HEAVEN

“…But why guards? Why walls? Why watchtowers?” The angel with the glowing wings asked as the two princes stood beneath the gleaming gates, gazing up at the drill going on above their heads.

“it’s part of the plan, Brother,” Gabriel responded with a dismissal and conviction he didn’t feel. “We’ll know when we’re supposed to know.”

“Has it occurred to you how much we don’t know?” Samael tore his eyes from the flashing dance of swords and wings whirling above them. “It didn’t used to be this way.”

Gabriel forced himself to concentrate on the drills. “Our Maker always had plans we weren’t privy to.”

“But we weren’t surrounded by walls then! There weren’t closed doors and need-to-know plans and whispers of creations we never see.” Samael stepped closer. “You’ve wondered about the same things I have,” he pressed. “I know you’ve looked into the Beyond too.”

“You know nothing of the sort!” Gabriel snapped, but he couldn’t deny it. He started walking quickly, wishing the drills above the city weren’t keeping them grounded. He could have out-flown Samael in the air. Out-flown his whispers.

Out-flown his own doubts.

Samael pursued. “You’ve heard the voices, same as I have. There’s more out there than our Creator tells us.”

“If They’re keeping secrets, it’s for our own good.”

Samael caught his arm. “Do you believe that? Really?” He put a hand over Gabriel’s soul.

“Yes,” the messenger forced himself to say.

The suspicion in his brother’s eyes told him the lie hadn’t worked.

Gabriel glanced elsewhere and began walking again as quickly as he could. “It doesn’t matter. We were created to serve the Plan. That’s all that matters.”

“They called us Their children before,” Samael said, longing in his voice. “Now… Have They spoken to you recently?”

Gabriel bristled. “I am Their messenger!”

“That isn’t what I asked.”

Gabriel’s head bowed low, pain welling in his soul as his steps faltered to a halt. “No,” he whispered out his agony. “Not… not in a long time.”

Samael’s arms were around him. Their souls beat a brotherly unity, emotions flowing together in offered comfort and an outpouring of confusion and hurt.

Gabriel choked back the agony in his soul and pulled away. “It doesn’t matter,” he said once again. “This is… This is what’s expected of us. We have to… to be proper examples. To guide the others.”

“And if they’re being led astray?”

Gabriel whirled, his eyes wide with horror. “Don’t say things like that!” He hissed. “We follow the Plan!”

Samael didn’t back from his point. “What if the Plan is wrong?”

“It isn’t! It can’t be!” Gabriel waved a hand toward the soldiers in the air and the distant walls rising around the Silver City. “This IS for a reason. We’ll know when we need to know. We just have to have…” He struggled. “…Faith.”

Samael didn’t reply.

They walked in silence toward the central tower. Angels of the lower spheres stepped respectfully out of the way of the two Archangels.

The deference made Gabriel feel a little better. He carried his head higher and fluffed out his wings.

Samael spoke courteously to a few angels.

“How do you know them?” Gabriel asked after the third time Samael paused.

“I fly through the city regularly.”

“You’re supposed to be making stars, not fraternizing.”

“I can multitask. It’s interesting to hear what everyone has to say.”

“And spread more of your whispers?”

Samael snorted. “They hardly need me for that.” He nodded toward a gaggle ahead of them.

“…won’t let anyone see the new work. Says we’re not…” The speaker broke off at the sight of the Archangels.

Samael smiled in a friendly way. “How are you today?”

Mumbles of positive feelings, which didn’t match the sullen expressions, met the query.

“What are you doing out here?” Gabriel rumbled.

“Just taking a break,” one grumbled with a defiant look in their eye. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“No… So long as the Great Work continues.”

“What’s so great about it?” Someone murmured from the center of the group.

Gabriel’s head came up. “What was that?”

The cluster fell back in unsteady mumbling.

Samael’s smile was all affability. “We’re all friends here,” he assured them gently. “If you feel something is wrong, surely you feel safe bringing it up.”

There was silence, then a sable-winged angel piped up. “We just want to know what’s going on! The leaders never tell us anything but our own projects!”

“It will all be revealed in time,” Gabriel replied sharply.

“But why? It’s not like we can ruin it by knowing. If this Plan is so Great and Inevitable, what would letting us in on it do? Maybe we could help better if we knew the end game.” The angel looked hopeful. “You know the big picture, right? Couldn’t you explain it to us?”

Another spoke up. “Yes! And about the walls. What’s out there?”

“And what’s this new creation we hear rumors about?”

“And what are the guards preparing for?”

“And when will our Creator speak to us again?”

Gabriel’s snarls for silence were lost in the cacophony.

Samael held up a hand, the gesture attracting every eye and stilling every tongue.

The gleaming-winged angel’s smile had turned absolutely dazzling. “Your concerns are valid, friends,” he purred. “I think we all wish for more knowledge than we’re given.”

“Even you?”

“Even me.” Samael stepped closer and opened his massive wings.

The group bunched together, encircled in the gleaming embrace.

Samael let his primaries brush and caress the angels on the edge of the cluster. “I know you have questions. I know the waiting is hard. Return to your tasks for now. I promise I’ll come again and speak with you. Perhaps we can find answers to your questions together.”

The dissatisfied dispersed reluctantly with many backwards glances.

Gabriel noticed the skies were clear at last. He took wing.

He’d hoped to outdistance Samael, but for once the light-bringer put in the effort and kept pace with him.

“It won’t go away, Brother,” Samael murmured as they landed.

“It certainly won’t with you encouraging them!”

“Why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to wonder about the same things which plague me?”

“Will you really talk to them again?”

“Of course. I keep my word.” Samael caught Gabriel by the arm and leaned their heads close together. “Fly with me,” he whispered.

“Where?”

“You know where.”

Gabriel shivered. “No… No, we’re not to go Beyond.”

Samael sighed. “There used to be so few rules. Why do you suppose there are so many now?”

“Perhaps because you won’t stop testing the boundaries!”

Samael merely smiled. “I am as I was created. I won’t deny my curiosity.”

“We were created to serve.” Gabriel pulled away from him. “Not to question. Not to doubt.”

“Who said anything about doubting?”

Gabriel hugged his arms around himself.

Samael’s arms slid around his middle and held him.

Gabriel tried not to react to the offer of comfort for his pain. He tried… but he couldn’t seem to pull away. “It’s for a reason,” he insisted, but his voice came out as a whimper. “It’ll all make sense eventually. It… It has to.”

“Or… we can go look for answers.”

Gabriel forced himself to feel resolve as he yanked away. “No! No, everything you’re saying is wrong!” He whirled and faced Samael, shaking with churning anxieties. “You can’t keep going beyond the walls. You can’t ask these questions. You have to obey. We all do.”

Samael raised his eyebrows. “If I don’t?”

“I’ll… I’ll tell Amenadiel.”

Samael snorted. “You’d tattle? To our bullheaded eldest?”

“Yes!” The threat felt so very hollow. “If you won’t listen to me, you’ll listen to him. To all of them. I’ll tell all our siblings. They’ll make you see reason.”

Samael studied him for a long moment. “Very well,” he said crisply. He turned away. “You won’t hear anymore questions from me. You’ll have to wonder on your own.” He left the room. He didn’t look back.

Gabriel sank to the floor, his arms clutched around his soul. No… No, he couldn’t listen. He couldn’t wonder. He had to trust. Had to have faith. Had to deny that voice asking…

When he finally rose, he was as determined as he could make himself. He’d obey his Creator. No matter if they never spoke to him again. He’d follow the Plan. Even if he didn’t know or understand it. He’d lead with confidence he didn’t feel. He would not question. Would not doubt.

…Would ignore the feeling in his soul of something fundamental denied.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - THE DREAMING, PURGATORY, LOS ANGELES

“YOU REQUEST THE RETURN OF AZAZEL?” The Lord of Dreams asked, his fingers steepled against his chin.

“That’s the message, lord,” Crowley mumbled, his head ducked low.

The throne room was far emptier this time. The dream-lord sat upon his throne with the raven perched on the back. A white-haired man in dark glasses stood like a bodyguard at the foot of the dais. Crowley would have complimented the man on his taste in shades, but the man had smiled at him in a way Crowley had seen on the faces of demons who’d tried to eat him. He’d avoided looking at the man since then.

“IS LUCIFER AWARE OF WHAT ANNOYANCE THE DEMON CAUSED HERE? THEY ATTEMPTED TO TAKE THE LIFE OF THE DREAM-KING AND STAGED A COUP.”

“…Maybe it could be an early wedding present?” Crowley suggested with a helpless smile.

Dream leaned closer. “DO YOU ASK FOR YOUR MASTER OR FOR SOMEONE ELSE?”

Crowley grimaced. “It’s the council who wants them back,” he admitted. “Honestly? I’m not sure Lucifer’s noticed they’re missing.” He offered another innocent grin. “Might be good for relations if you gave them back without waiting for my King to take a census.”

Dream contemplated for some minutes. “AS IT IS NOT THE LORD OF HELL REQUESTING THE RETURN OF HIS OWN, I WILL NOT RETURN AZAZEL FREE OF CHARGE. THERE IS A PRICE.”

Crowley’s stomach sank. “What do you want?”

An amused smile flickered across the king’s face. “SOMETHING ONLY YOU CAN PROVIDE…”

~

Purgatory seemed greyer the second time, Linda thought as the group stood in the house’s front yard. Maybe it was because of the mood.

Amenadiel hadn’t returned home with her. He’d said wanted to see the wounded angels. Linda had suspected then that he was avoiding her. The way he wouldn’t meet her eyes now indicated she was right.

The other angels looked little better. Raphael sat alone, her body stooped and her wings wrapped tight against her sides. Gabriel looked equally miserable, and the glances he cast in Amenadiel’s direction implied recent quarrels.

The demons were in far more cheerful straights. Linda could hear them taking whispered bets about which Archangel would crack first.

With a sigh for immortal beings who couldn’t cope with feelings, Linda took a seat beside Raphael

“How do you feel about seeing Azazel again?” she asked.

The Archangel glanced quizzically at her, then elsewhere without answering.

“If it makes you uncomfortable,” Linda continued, “I’m sure everyone would understand if…”

“No,” Raphael said quickly. “I need…” She winced and broke off. “I’m staying,” she finished, fighting down whatever else she’d intended.

Linda would have tried again, but several raised voices caught her attention. She looked up as a dark shape plunged down from the sky.

Crowley landed on his hands and knees, breathing hard. “Brought you a genie,” he said carelessly as he rose to his feet and drew a bottle from his jacket.

Beelzebub took it from him and held it above her head. The interior of the bottle was dark, but the demon prince nodded with certainty. “It’s Azazel.”

“He’s been locked in there for a decade,” Crowley said cautiously. “The Dreaming’s enough to drive anyone insane in the short term.”

“And Azazel didn’t have far to go,” Beelzebub agreed. “We should proceed with caution.” Her eyes met Linda’s. “Keep well back. This could go ill for you.”

Linda started to protest, but Crowley caught her arm and tugged her well away from the ring. His glasses had slipped, and she read the disquiet in his expression.

“Are you alright?” she asked as she allowed him to pull her along.

Crowley shook his head without elaborating.

Beelzebub set the bottle on the ground. The Archangels and Marchosias formed a ring around it and spread their wings, primaries brushing. The lord-of-the-flies nodded once to the others. She ripped the cork from the bottle, then dissolved into flies, sealing off the top of the ring.

Darkness poured from the bottle.

Linda waited for it to coalesce into a shape, but it never did.

The darkness was a jagged hole in existence, punctuated by open and silent mouths of white fangs.

A hundred eyes opened abruptly – eyes of every hue and type.

The darkness began to laugh with a hundred different voices at once.

“Azazel!” Beelzebub called, forming a mouth above the darkness. “Greetingzz and welcome back.”

“Gree.” “Gree.” “Gree.” The mouths echoed the sound, then returned to laughter.

“We have liberated you from the Dream-Realm. Soon you may return to Hell. But first, we wish to know-”

Beelzebub broke off with a drone of alarm as the darkness shattered and the fragments of the demon sprayed in every direction.

Linda saw Amenadiel drawing his sword. Marchosias leaping to snap at something which blundered within his reach. Gabriel shielding himself and Raphael from the sudden assault.

Then Linda felt the frantic coils of a serpent wrap around her and she was dragged from the world.

~

“We caught them,” Marchosias said wearily.

The wolf-demon was collapsed on Linda’s sofa, too exhausted to even shift to his German Shepard guise. Several thousand flies buzzing weakly on the sofa’s back and arm rests.

Linda sat across the room with Maze. Crowley, still a serpent, was on the floor, playing with Charlie. Linda thought their antics looked rather painful, but she assumed Crowley would scream if it became too much for him, and she left them alone.

“Where are they now?” she asked the demons.

“Hell. In a zzzealed room.” Beelzebub barely managed to convince enough flies to unite long enough to speak.

“What happens now?”

“The Archangelzz want to talk to them. Raphael at leazzt. Maybe zzhe can heal them.”

“It won’t work,” Crowley said, his voice bouncing as Charlie dragged him about upside down. “Demon and angel healings don’t mix well.”

“Haven’t you and Aziraphale healed each other?” Linda asked.

“I healed Amenadiel with Lucifer’s feathers,” Maze protested.

“That’s my point, actually. It takes trust. A connection. Aziraphale and I scalded each other when we tried for thousands of years until we’d learned trust. The boss and Amenadiel have that fraternal thing going on. Raphael and Azazel… that’s a lot of bad history. She could hurt them worse than they are already.”

There was silence in the room for several minutes minus Charlie’s happy noises and Crowley’s occasional whimper.

“If they’re contained, could I try talking to them?” Linda asked.

“That could be dangerous,” Maze objected.

“Everything we do could be dangerous.” Linda rose and paced. “But we need to find out what’s happening. Stop the injuries on both sides. And the only one who might know what’s happening is Azazel! We have to talk to them!”

“There may not be enough of a mind for communication,” Beelzebub hummed. “But there is wizzzdom in trying.”

Linda breathed out. “Then, we should contact the Archangels. Agree to let them come to Hell.”

Marchosias rumbled.

“Not all of them,” Linda amended. “Raphael, definitely. It’s possible she can get through to Azazel. And tell them they can send one other with her. For backup.”

Marchosias nodded after a moment and Beelzebub buzzed an affirmative.

“We’ll need to keep Lucifer out of Hell,” Beezlebub declared. “He’ll notice angels flying through the gates.”

“I’m sure there’s some last-minute wedding preparations which require his attention,” Linda said.

Crowley snorted. “Have you met my angel?”

Linda blinked. “There’s nothing?”

“Not unless his tux gets destroyed or something.”

Linda picked up her phone. “I’ll get Trixie and her cat right on that.”

“If you’re going near Azazel, I’m going with you,” Maze declared. “You need someone who can actually fight.” She gave the demon princes a scornful glare.

“Who’s watching Charlie? I don’t think Amenadiel’s coming back from Heaven anytime soon.”

“I’ll stay with him,” Crowley offered, then gave a cry of pain as Charlie tried to tie him around the sofa leg.

Linda hurried to his rescue.

Maze scoffed. “You’re no fighter. He needs protection.”

Crowley slithered to Linda’s shoulder and hissed at the demon.

Maze rolled her eyes. “You’d be more impressive if you hadn’t just lost to a two-year-old.”

“I would feel better if he was with someone who could protect him from Heaven,” Linda admitted apologetically.

The serpent sagged. “Fine. I’ll take him to someone who can keep Heaven and Hell at bay.”

Linda and Maze exchanged looks, then reluctantly nodded.

“Then I guess…” Linda looked apologetically down at the serpent. “…We just need to tell Heaven our plans.”

Crowley moaned.

~

“Going to Hell is a terrible idea!” Gabriel fumed as the four Archangels sat in their meeting room discussing the recently-arrived missive.

“Why not?” Michael asked. “I go all the time. I’ll go.”

“You leave a body count,” Amenadiel protested.

Michael spread his hands innocently. “Gotta keep the Lilim from revolting, don’t I? Thinning the herd and all that.”

“They’re not animals,” Amenadiel rumbled.

“You thought the same until you started banging one.”

Amenadiel grimaced. “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll go.”

“No, you won’t,” Gabriel snapped. “You’re too friendly with Lucifer to be objective.”

“You don’t think I’d have Heaven’s best interest in mind?”

“You haven’t in years. Why start now?”

“So, you want to go, Gabe?” Michael asked.

“Certainly not. I wouldn’t set foot in that wasteland. None of us should. Heaven is where our interests should be focused…”

Michael and Amenadiel’s groans drowned out whatever else he said.

Gabriel glared at them. “Complain all you’d like, but our responsibility is here.”

“Yes, but apparently there is invading here,” Michael reasoned. “I want to know why. I’m going.”

“No, you’re not,” Amenadiel snapped.

“Well, you certainly can’t. You can’t even stop time anymore.”

“I’m still capable of-”

“ENOUGH!”

The trio glanced up and cowered as Raphael lunged to her feet, slamming both fists onto the table as she glared at them, her wings flared and bristling.

“Why are we fighting?!” she demanded. “It’s all we do! It’s all we’ve done since the Fall.” She waved a hand vague toward Heaven. “We’re supposed to lead! We’re supposed to be examples. We’re supposed to take care of this place and each other. And none of us do that. Except him,” she admitted with a nod at Gabriel.

The messenger looked smug. “Thank you.”

“And you’re a prick about it,” Raphael finished. “We’re all great at acting like we know what we’re doing. And like we’re better than everyone else. And we excel at all staying in our little bubbles and ignoring each other.” She gestured wildly. “And look what we end up with! Angels are being hurt and most of us had no idea. We can’t even communicate when something vital is going on!”

She whirled away from the table. “I’m going to Hell. I’m finding out what’s happening. And I’m going to apologize to the rest of our family who we’ve been ignoring since the Rebellion!” She stormed from the room.

There was a long moment of silence.

“So…” Michael said hesitantly, “…are we drawing straws for who’s going with her…?”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - LOS ANGELES

Adam studied the guest room in the Dowling home and once more counted himself as lucky. The room so painfully lacked personality. Actually, its personality was a blatant, ‘Look how much more money we have than you!’ Somehow it managed to be tasteful and empty at once.

Not for the first time, Adam felt a pang of guilt that his existence had stolen Warlock from a very different life. Although he knew Warlock enjoyed the wealth and ease his life afforded, he suspected Warlock would have been just as happy with old milk crates and Tadfield wood.

His mind drifted to a past in which the Youngs had brought both babies home from the hospital and Adam had grown up with a twin brother.

He yanked himself out of those musings before the supposings could become reality.

“I don’t think she likes any of my old toys,” Warlock announced as he entered the room with the baby on his hip and a basket of mis-matched Transformers in the other.

“We can just get some wooden spoons and things from the kitchen,” Adam suggested.

Warlock brightened. “Mum will be horrified.”

They were heading down the stairs when they heard the doorbell chime an octave of Mozart’s ‘Requiem’.

“I’ll get it,” they heard Harriet Dowling call. “I’m right here.”

There was the sound of the door, then Harriet’s uncertain voice. “Hello… Have we met?”

“Nanny Ashteroth,” said a voice which sounded much more a baritone than it usually did. “How are you, dearie? And where is my little ducky?”

Warlock grinned and hurried down the stairs. “Nanny!” He threw an arm around the demon, still holding the baby balanced on his hip.

Crowley grinned affectionately at him, then deftly plucked the baby from his hands and held her aloft. “And, hello, little Pip. Did you enjoy your first flight?” He glanced at the ground. “Speaking of which, here’s Charlie.”

The two-year-old clung to Crowley’s leg, surveying the strange house without an ounce of fear. His eyes fell on Dog and he hastened forward with a squeal.

Harriet had been staring at the demon, her expression painfully blank. She blinked herself back into the present. “Oh,” she said faintly. “Nanny Ashteroth. I had no idea you were in America.” She looked the demon up and down with open confusion.

Crowley only grinned slyly. “I go where the work takes me. And when my boys call, I simply must check up on them.”

“Oh,” Harriet blinked. “Do you know Adam as well?”

“Why, yes.” Crowley’s grin widened. “We go way back.”

Adam rolled his eyes. He squatted down and held out a hand to Charlie. “Hi, cousin. Do you remember me?”

Charlie grinned and grabbed a fistful of Adam’s shirt.

“I brought his favorite toys,” Crowley said, tapping the strap of the bag thrown over his shoulder. “And some of his baby toys.” His voice turned higher pitched as he spoke to the baby in his arms. “You need some new toys too, don’t you? Have to encourage envy and greed when you’re nice and young, don’t we?”

Adam picked up Charlie. “Let’s get him settled upstairs.”

“Warlock,” Harriet sounded puzzled. “Did you forget to tell me your nanny was staying with us?”

“No, Mum. Adam and I are watching Charlie.”

Adam started for the stairs. Crowley fell into step beside him.

Behind, they could hear Harriet speaking with an attempt at a hush. “I hope your friend likes the guest room. You know, it’s fine if you two stay in there together.”

“Mum!” Warlock sounded exasperated. “We’re not a couple!”

Soon the little group stood in Warlock’s bedroom, watching the two children explore the floor and each other while Dog paced about, stiff-legged and protective.

“Sounds like your mum’s trying to be progressive again,” Crowley remarked. “What about your father?”

Warlock blew out an exasperated sigh. “Dad’s running for senate. He wants to be seen as liberal and inclusive. He’d love to use us as set pieces. Telling him Adam’s my brother isn’t getting through.”

“Nothing like personal gain to make someone rethink world-views,” Crowley muttered with disgust.

Adam spoke quickly. “We don’t have big plans until the wedding. We wanted to do some traveling, but it’ll be alright to bring Charlie along, won’t it?”

“Sure.” Crowley nodded. “His mum’s not worried about Earth dangers. She just doesn’t want Archangels drowning him. I’ll come get him if his mums or dad finish what they’re up to before the wedding. Otherwise, enjoy time with your cousin.”

“So…” Warlock squatted down and offered Charlie and action figure. “He’s really a Nephil?”

Crowley whistled. “Well done on the singular tense. Have you been reading Aziraphale’s books?”

“I did major in theology,” Warlock reminded him.

“Yeah? Every heard of the Tree of Life?”

Warlock looked up. “You mean the other forbidden tree in Eden?”

The demon startled. “How do you…?”

“It’s in the holy books.”

“I’ve been asking everyone!” Crowley exploded. “Eve. Lucifer. Aziraphale. Nobody remembers the damned thing. What do you know?”

“I’m sure I have some books…” Warlock rose and headed for the bookshelf, the demon crowding behind.

Adam grinned. “I’ll get a bottle for the baby,” he called as he left the room, confident Dog could watch the children, even if Warlock and Crowley became distracted.

Harriet met him in the kitchen as he was putting a saucer on the stove. “We do have a cook. I’m sure she’d be happy to help,” she offered.

Adam flashed her one of his disarming smiles which always took care of arguments. “I don’t mind doing it. And it gives Warlock some private time with C… Nanny.”

Harriet’s face turned despondent. “Yes… Nanny.”

Adam offered her a look of concern. “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, yes. Of course.” Harriet’s rather forced grin returned.

Adam tilted his head. People usually opened up to him if he wanted them to. Normally he tried not to pry, but he could feel Harriet’s frustrations riding just beneath the surface. It was nearly effortless to tease at them. “Thank you for letting us stay with you while we’re in Los Angeles.”

“Of course! No trouble at all. We’re so happy to have Warlock here. With his partner.”

“I’m not gay,” Adam said gently, wondering if she’d actually hear it coming from him.

Despite quite a lot of experimenting in college, Adam had eventually concluded he liked girls exclusively. And despite plenty of questions from his friends and coworkers when Warlock had moved in, Adam very much thought of him as a brother. He didn’t mind one way or the other, but he knew the parental nagging was getting to Warlock. Especially since it seemed to come more from a place of trying to put Warlock in a box than actual acceptance.

Harriet’s expression faltered. “Yes. I… I know. I just mean…” Her voice dropped. “Is Warlock?”

Adam shrugged. “I think he’s still trying to figure himself out.”

Harriet’s mouth twisted in a look of almost disappointment.

“Finding life’s paths takes time,” Adam said carefully. “I’m a teacher. I see lots of searching kids.”

“Do you…” A look of pain came to her face. “…Will Warlock ever find his?”

Adam didn’t answer.

Harriet plunged on heedlessly. “I just want him to be happy, of course. And he’s had such a troubled time! I don’t know what we…” She faltered.

…Did wrong, Adam finished in his mind. He didn’t speak. How could he say that leaving their son to be raised by the help and shunted off the boarding schools as soon as he was old enough probably hadn’t helped Warlock’s insecurities? And although he’d yet to have to pleasure of meeting Mr. Dowling, Aziraphale’s discomfort and Crowley’s silent fury whenever the name was mentioned spoke volumes.

“He’s figuring out his own way,” Adam said carefully. “I don’t think you need to be afraid for him. Just… accepting of whatever that path might be.”

Harriet studied the ground for a long time. She roused herself as Adam took the bottle out of the bubbling saucepan. “Listen to me, babbling about nonsense,” she laughed carelessly.

Adam looked firmly into her eyes. “It isn’t nonsense to care about your son.”

Harriet didn’t look away. She couldn’t. “I wasn’t there for him,” she whispered rapidly. “I was so jealous of the way he’d cling to the nanny whenever something bad happened. But I was never available when he needed me. And now he still goes to her when he needs help.”

“Maybe you could tell him that?” Adam suggested, breaking eye-contact before he inadvertently forced her to reveal too much. “He’s still here. You still have time to talk to him.” He gave her a smile. “Try it.” He headed upstairs.

~

“…Lots of cultures have a Tree of Life of some kind.” Warlock tapped a finger on a drawing of the Norse World Tree. “Or trees with fruits that provide some form of immortality.”

“So… what does the one in the Garden do?” Crowley asked.

Warlock cocked his head. “The story says the people were banished from the Garden so they wouldn’t eat it. So they wouldn’t become like God.”

“Like make them into little deities?”

“…No.” Warlock leaned back, crossing his arms and staring into the distance. “Do you know what I think?” His voice was distant. “I think the people weren’t ready for whatever it was. They’d only just learned about good and evil. They weren’t ready for whatever was in the other tree.” He looked up at Crowley. “Seems like a put-up job, doesn’t it? Putting the trees right there and then saying ‘don’t touch’?”

“That’s what I said!” the serpent of Eden insisted with a wild gesture of his hands.

“So… maybe people were always supposed to eat from both trees eventually. When they were ready.”

“Can’t very well be ready if they can’t get to the Garden anymore,” Crowley grumbled.

“No,” Warlock agreed. “And I’m not sure we have the knowledge we need yet.”

Crowley looked curiously at him. “What do you mean?”

“We know good and evil, right? Except… we seem to forget both of those a lot. Maybe… maybe we need a reminder.”

Crowley’s frown deepened. “You’ll start taking away free will if you talk that way”

“That’s not what I mean, Nanny. I mean… what if there was a way for people to think more about their actions? To feel like they have more of a choice? Not just reacting to the world? Like… really thinking deep down inside of them?”

Crowley slipped off his glasses and crouched down, studying Warlock’s face with serious concern. “Warlock? What did the dream king say to you?”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - HELL

“They look in better shape than the angels,” Raphael observed as she stood against the wall just inside the room in which the wounded demons resided.

Conditions had improved for the injured thanks to Linda’s prompting and a visit Beelzebub took with her to Charlie’s daycare. The demons had been moved into a comfortably large room, the walls and floor padded just in case they became violent.

Linda had been surprised to find nearly any object imaginable was available in Hell. The demons just needed pictures of what she wanted, and they could usually salvage it from a Hell-loop or make it from the endless supply of raw materials Hell had on hand.

Thus, the wounded now had mattresses and beanbag chairs for resting, and an ample supply of toys meant for children ages three and below.

The demons weren’t much better mentally, and many still displayed unhealed wounds. But they engaged with the world and, somewhat, with each other. At least, although they’d occasionally slashed at a guard, they’d never once harmed another inmate. Their fellow injured were largely ignored, though some occasionally rested back-to-back or poked the same object as another inmate without quarreling.

“Kokbiel was able to heal some of their wounds,” Beelzebub explained. “And Linda has made progress with their minds.”

“Not a lot,” Linda admitted. “None of them can tell us what happened.”

“Maybe I could try healing them?” Raphael suggested.

“It’s better if you don’t get too close,” Marchosias warned. “They panicked once their injuries were healed enough for them to get a look at Kokbiel. And when one of them panics, they all do.”

“Could we take one to a different room?”

It wasn’t a bad idea. The princes and the Archangels filed into an adjacent room while the guards corralled one of the wounded.

Linda studied the two Archangels as they waited. Neither of them looked at ease in Hell, and Hell wasn’t at ease to have them present. There’d been shouts of panic when they’d flown through the gates. The other princes of Hell had whispered that the rumors of celestial invasion had already begun to turn to riots, and the appearance of actual angels, was not conducive to keeping order. Beelzebub had sent out forces and criers to try and soothe the crowds, or at least drive them away. Mostly she had promised the rest of the council that she’d get the Archangels out of Hell as soon as possible.

The angels were openly unsettled by the realm around them. Raphael kept one hand pressed to her temples, whispering, ‘too much’ as she walked. Gabriel minced in a way which said he didn’t want to touch anything and jumped at the slightest sound. He muttered none-to-quietly about how little he wanted to be there, and how Michael and Amenadiel would ‘pay for this.’

The demons looked equally uneasy about the presence of the angels. Beelzebub was taking them in stride. Marchosias was trying to act nonchalant, with little success. Maze prowled silently on Linda’s heels, both hands resting on her daggers. She’d said little since returning to Hell and seemed abruptly shy of Linda. Maybe it was her unconcealed demonic face.

Two guards arrived, dragging a weakly struggling demon between them. They pinned the demon to the floor.

Raphael started toward it with her hand outstretched.

“Be careful,” Gabriel grunted.

Raphael glanced back with a look of scorn. “It’s a lesser demon. What can it do?”

Gabriel rubbed his hand compulsively. “Bite,” he muttered.

Raphael laid her hands on the injured entity. The remaining wounds pulsed with celestial grace.

The demon began to scream – terrified and agonized cries.

From the other room, the other demons took up the wail.

Raphael stumbled back. “I’m sorry,” she gasped.

“Contrary natures,” Marchosias observed. “Crowley said it would happen.”

“Then why could Kokbiel heal them?” Linda asked.

“He’s not quite an angel. He still gives off enough of a demon vibe to be attuned to them.” Marchosias sniffed the air in Raphael’s direction. “The healer’s about as pure as you can get.”

Raphael retreated across the room, clutching her hands to her chest. “I didn’t mean to hurt it,” she whispered.

“It’s just a demon,” Gabriel muttered.

Guards and princes growled at him.

The Archangel hunched in on himself with a look of unease.

“You said the injured angels look in worse shape?” Linda asked quickly.

“Yes… Their wounds are all still open,” Raphael murmured, her eyes still fixed on the demon. “I tried to heal them, but the wounds won’t close.”

“You’d need a demon to pull the energy out first,” Marchosias assessed. “Then maybe the healing could occur.”

Linda frowned. “Would it hurt the angel the same way Raphael just did?”

The wolf shrugged. “Probably. But we don’t have a halfway fallen angel to compliment Kokbiel, and I don’t think Kokbiel would have the same effect on an angel.”

The guards had released the lesser demon. They’d fled to a corner where they now huddled, keening weakly.

“Take it back to the others,” Beelzebub said.

“Won’t they hurt it?” Raphael asked.

The lord-of-the-flies shook her head. “None of them harm the others.”

“I wonder if they’d behave the same with the angels,” Raphael mused. Louder she said, “Can we see Azazel now?”

The group made their way through winding corridors until they reached an imposing door set with multiple locks. Beelzebub snarled something in Lilim and the locks popped open.

Inside the room, behind a wall of glass, pulsed Azazel’s jagged form.

Raphael rested her hand against the glass, a look of longing and pain rising to her face. “Have they said anything?” she asked.

“Plenty,” Beelzebub grumbled. “None of it makes any sense.”

“Azazel?” Raphael asked tentatively. She switched languages, speaking softly in Enochian.

The demon behind the glass began to laugh. And laugh. The glass vibrated.

Maze stepped between Linda and the partition, knives drawn. “Stop!” she snarled.

Most of the mouths ignored her and continued their laughter. But several more began to speak.

“Have you seen what’s seen beyond dreams?” one of the mouths mused.

Another began to chant, “There’s a hole in the world and the world came from the hole and the hole came from the world and the world is the hole and the hole is the world…”

“Dark is my insides and dark is my mind.”

“What’s inside your mind, your mind, your mind, yourmindyourmindyourmind…”

Raphael turned away, burying her face in her hands.

“Does any of it make sense?” Linda asked Beelzebub.

The prince shook her head. “It’s all been around the same themes.”

Gabriel put a consoling arm around Raphael. He watched her with a lost and anxious expression. “At least you don’t have to worry about apologizing,” he ventured awkwardly at last.

Raphael shoved him away and stalked into a corner.

Marchosias looked up at Linda. “Any therapy magic you can work would be great,” he murmured. “We’re back to square one if we can’t get anything out of Azazel.”

Linda grimaced. She watched Azazel snap their teeth and babble. This looked like the definition of a lost cause.

Her eyes strayed around the room, resting at last on Raphael.

There was a cause which didn’t seem quite so lost.

She crept closer and leaned against the wall beside the Archangel. “You know I’ve met some unusual couples, but you two must have been one-of-a-kind,” she began. “Did you ever get a turn to speak?”

Raphael’s head came up with an indignant look. “Of course I did!”

Linda slid a little closer. “What was it like? Meeting them on Earth after the Fall?”

It took a little prompting, but the memories were raw and on the surface of the Archangel’s mind. She began to talk, tentatively telling stories about the happier times, with Linda encouraging her along.

Long minutes passed before either were aware of the silence in the room.

The others were listening with varying looks of compassion. On the other side of the glass, Azazel had fallen silent, dozens of eyes fixed on Raphael.

The Archangel became conscious of the stares and broke off.

Linda nudged her. “There’s something you came here to say, isn’t there? Now might be a good time.”

Hesitantly, Raphael approached the many-eyed demon. She looked back at them, then lowered her own gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

The demon was silent and still.

Raphael wiped her eyes. “I don’t know which of us was right or wrong about the children. But what I did – betraying you, hurting you and the others – that was wrong.” She put her hand to the glass. “I loved you so much. I was so… hurt… angry… confused. I betrayed what we were trying to build. And proof that… that maybe we weren’t so different. Maybe there was a way to find our way… together.” She leaned her forehead into the glass, her eyes closed, golden tears trickling down her cheeks.

On the other side of the divide, the demon pushed closer, silent and watchful.

“I hurt you,” Raphael went on, lifting her head and gazing back into a set of eyes. “And I hurt myself in the process.” Tears choked her voice. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed what… what I thought we had. I know it could never be like that again…”

Her knees gave out. She slid to the ground.

Azazel moved with her, the darkness now spread across the floor in a cavernous gap of emptiness, punctuated by unblinking eyes.

“I just want you to be alright… Even if you can never forgive me. Even if… even if you never want to see me again. I just wanted to tell you… all of this.” She rubbed her eyes. “And now there are more children hurt – angels and demons this time. It… it feels like the past is repeating itself. I don’t want more injured. More things I can’t fix. More reasons for hopelessness.” She bowed her head. “I can’t make it right.”

“No,” whispered a dozen mouths in ragged chorus.

Raphael’s head jerked up, fresh pain coming to her face.

Azazel hummed to themselves for a minute, seeming unaware of anything. “Dreams,” they hummed at last. “I’ve seen a thousand dreams not my own. Dreams of past and future. Waking and sleeping. Longing… longing… longing…”

Beelzebub sighed and started to speak.

Linda grabbed her arm and put a finger to her lips.

“The damned dream of Heaven,” the demon went on. “The saved dream of Hell. Those between send prayers Above and Below. Where is the road… road… where… Follow the darkness. Reach… reach… reach.”

The demon rose up, every eye open and blazing. “There is no divide in dreams!”

With that, the demon collapsed in on themself, a writhing whirl of darkness from which no colors or words emanated.

Silently, the group filed from the room.

“Well,” Gabriel muttered, “that was unproductive.”

Beelzebub hit him.

“What did they mean?” Linda asked. “No divide in dreams?”

“Nonsense, probably,” Beelzebub said.

“I don’t know,” Marchosias said thoughtfully. “Haven’t you ever had a dream where you could go anywhere and do anything?”

“I’ve never dreamed,” the lord-of-the-flies replied.

“What? Never?” Marchosias looked startled. He turned to the Archangels with a question in his eyes.

Raphael shook her head.

Gabriel looked elsewhere.

“You’ve dreamed?” Linda asked the wolf-demon.

“Of course. I had some very boring decades on Earth. Nothing like settling down for a few-year nap once in a while. I saw some curious dreams now and again.”

“Dreams are a place… right?” Linda said slowly. She went on at Marchosias’ nod. “So… if you were in Hell… you could go to the Dreaming from here. And if you were in Heaven… you could do the same. Could these angels and demons have… met each other there?”

Skeptical silence followed her query.

“That leaves a lot of unanswered questions,” Marchosias said at last.

“But it might give us the next thing to try. What if we put them together?”

“You are not bringing a wounded angel to Hell!” Gabriel snapped.

“Then we bring a demon to you,” Maze replied with a cold smile. “Do you like that idea any better?”

The Archangel glowered at her.

“I’m willing to try it,” Beelzebub said to the surprise of everyone. She shrugged. “We’re running out of options and time. There will be riots in Hell if this goes unchecked much longer. And that will lead to attacks on Heaven. If you’d like to prevent a war, I suggest you accept Linda’s plan.”

The Archangels looked at each other.

“We’d have to get the others to agree,” Raphael said reluctantly.

“And I need to wake up soon,” Linda added. “Can we plan this for tomorrow?”

Gabriel sighed. “I’ll inform Michael and Amenadiel of our intentions.”

“I’d like to see the pit,” Raphael said tentatively. “I mean… I didn’t really look at it… before. If you really think it’s connected with the injuries…”

“I’ll show you,” Marchosias said with a wag of his tail. He turned to Linda. “We’ll meet you there tomorrow.”

Linda nodded. She turned to Maze. “You’ll be alright?”

The torturer shrugged. “I can find plenty of ways to keep busy. Just don’t throw out my knives or something.”

Linda laughed and pulled herself back to waking.

Chapter Text

HEAVEN - PRESENT DAY

Heaven.

It made Linda nervous in a way Hell had not.

Perhaps because as impossible and alarming as Hell had been, there had always been the confidence of the demons beside her. They knew the rules of the place and were invested in her protection.

There was no such confidence from them now.

Maze walked with her hand gripped in Linda’s, her other hand on a knife. Her eyes were wide and staring, tense for every movement around them. She hadn’t hidden her demonic guise. Linda wasn’t sure if it was impossible here, or if she wore it as an act of defiance.

“What do you think?” Linda whispered, giving Maze’s hand a small squeeze.

“Multiple entry and exit points,” the Lilim muttered, her eyes sweeping the hallway’s scenery. “Multiple ambush locations. Outnumbered by…”

Linda squeezed her hand again. “We’re going to be fine.” She said it half to assure herself.

“I never thought I’d be here,” Maze murmured, a note of longing creeping into her voice. “I didn’t think I could come here and live.”

Linda glanced back at the other demons, seeing they fared little better. Well, two out of three. Crowley was sound asleep draped over Marchosias’ back. He hadn’t been happy when Linda nudged him awake (he’d been asleep on her couch again) and asked for a ride. He’d done it, but that he’d passed out after only tossing a few insults at Gabriel indicated the frequent trips were taking a toll.

At least he seemed unconcerned with the surroundings. Unlike Marchosias and Beelzebub. Granted, Beelzebub’s uncomfortable look might have come from being kicked and bitten repeatedly by the wounded lesser demon she was carrying with her. But Linda could see the two fallen angels studying Heaven with a mixture of longing, worry, and anger.

She dropped back, tugging Maze with her. “It’s probably changed here since you last saw the place, right?”

“Some things don’t,” Beelzebub murmured, looking out a window toward a distant rise of buildings.

“I wasn’t in the city much,” Marchosias murmured dismissively.

Beelzebub looked at him with curiosity. “What were you before?” she asked.

Linda heard Maze suck in a breath and tense.

The therapist’s mind rushed back to the year before. The way Crowley had tensed with open discomfort whenever she’d asked about the pre-Fall days until Maze had told her to stop. The Fallen didn’t speak of these things.

Yet, Marchosias answered easily. “Dominion.” He saw Linda’s puzzled look and clarified. “We guided the stars.” His expression turned wistful and unfocused.

“Like Lucifer?” Linda asked.

“He formed a lot of them.” The wolf-demon huffed a soft laugh. “He worked closely with our sphere. A lot of us followed him away from the stars.” There was sorrow and a touch of bitterness in his voice.

“We’re here,” Gabriel called from ahead, looking back at the knot of demons with displeasure. He’d welcomed them formally, albeit with little joy. Still, he and Raphael had agreed to bring them to the wounded angels.

They’d been led through this… hospital? Linda hadn’t seen anything resembling medical equipment, but the building did have that hushed quality of a hospital ward.

Gabriel opened a door and they filed inside.

The room they entered was long and bright. Clean to the point of sterility. Bed stood at perfectly aligned intervals against both walls, not one of them occupied.

The wounded angels lay in ones and two on the floor or sprawled against the walls. None moved when the party entered. Most didn’t look capable of it. Even Linda’s dream-self could smell the acrid scent of burns.

Marchosias sniffed intently, moving closer to the nearest knot of wounded angels. “You really couldn’t get the energy out,” he observed with sorrow in his voice.

The wounded angels shivered and drew tighter into bunches.

“Can you do something about it?” Raphael asked.

“Probably not without hurting them,” the wolf-demon replied. He nudged the serpent, but Crowley only hissed sleepily and buried his head in Marchosias’ fur.

“We’ll have to wait on him,” the wolf-demon grumbled. “And I think he’s only good for healing the one angel, not all of your sort.”

The demon in Beelzebub’s arms began to fight in earnest. It sank its teeth into the prince’s corporation. The flies droned and dissolved around the attack. The lesser demon used the weakened grip to pull free. Dropping to the ground, it scuttled on hands and knees toward the nearest angel.

Gabriel lunged to stop it, but Marchosias stepped into his path. “Wait!”

The demon barreled headlong into the prone angel and grabbed it by the head. It shoved their foreheads together.

Energy – celestial and demonic – rose in twisting mass around the pair.

The angel responded, clutching the demon tight to its body. Tears poured from its eyes – perhaps of pain as its wounds turned raw and open.
Raw and free of demonic energy.

“Hurry!” Marchosias yelped, surging forward with a glance to Raphael.

The healer flung herself onto the angel, pouring grace into them in a cascade of celestial might as Marchosias dragged the demon free of what might have been fatal to the other party.

When Raphael backed away, shaking from the rush, the angel looked around with clear and pain-free eyes.

Beneath Marchosias, the demon squirmed. “Get off me you filthy… Oh! P-p-prince Marchosias. Uh…”

The wolf back away, staring with shock at the demon.

The demon in turn looked around with growing bewilderment. “Where… are…” Its eyes fell on the angels and it shrank in on itself.

Linda hurried toward it. “It’s alright. You’re safe. Yes, this is Heaven. But nobody here wants to harm you. Right?” She glared meaningfully at the Archangels.

Raphael attempted a smile. Gabriel stared, stunned and blank.

The demon put out its claws. “Get away from – eek!”

Maze had grabbed it by the throat and shoved it into a wall. “No one hurts Linda,” she hissed.

The demon nodded frantically.

“Maze!” Linda fumed.

Nearby, the newly restored angel looked around with equal bewilderment. “This isn’t my department,” it mumbled.

“Do you remember anything?” Raphael asked.

“Just… dreams,” the angel said vaguely.

Gabriel’s head snapped around.

“Yeah,” the demon echoed, looking around with more interest. “It’s not like I dreamed it would be.”

“You dreamed about Heaven?” Linda prompted.

“Why?” Marchosias asked.

“How?” Beelzebub asked at the same moment.

The demon’s eyes flitted from Maze to the princes to the Archangels with open fear.

“Is there somewhere quieter we could go with them?” Linda suggested.

“What about the others?” Raphael asked, her eyes turning to the other inert and injured angels.

“You’ll need more demons,” Maze said sensibly.

“You’re not bringing two dozen demons to Heaven!” Gabriel snapped.

“Then you’d have to bring the angels to Hell,” Maze replied, standing tall and glaring at the Archangel. “And they may not survive the trip. So, your call.” She smiled a toothy grin.

“We can only really carry one at a time,” Beelzebub said. “The three of us…” She broke off with an assessing glance at the unconscious serpent. “…The two of us can go back. We’ll get a few more of the Fallen to help.”

“This is a terrible idea,” Gabriel muttered.

“Do you have a better one?” Raphael demanded.

The messenger’s mouth shut in a tense line. “I want guards here,” he said sharply. “Just in case.”

“Can I go home now?” the restored demon asked weakly.

~

Few answers could be gotten from the dazed angel. Not in the time it took Beelzebub and Marchosias to leave with the demon, and return accompanied by Mammon, Kokbiel, and Hastur, each carrying an injured demon.

Linda had spent the time trying to calm down the high-strung guards, and then explaining matters to Michael and Amenadiel when they finally wandered in to see what was happening. Adding nine more demons and a sort-of angel to the mix didn’t help the tension in the room. Especially not for the patients, if the increasingly distressed keening from the injured was any indication.

With Maze’s help, Linda bullied most of the crowd into the hall until only she, Maze, Raphael, and the injured remained.

Maze wore Crowley slung around her neck. Marchosias had passed him off before leaving for Hell, and the serpent hadn’t stirred at the transfer. Maze hissed at any who came too close with her ferociously protective instinct for any she’d classified as friends.

Once closer to alone, the wounded demons needed no prompting to approach the angels. And though the angels had whined and recoiled from the healthy demons, they didn’t react when the wounded approached.

As swift as Raphael could heal them, ten more restored angels and demons stood bewildered in the room.

It was easier to calm them down with less of a crowd. The angels clustered around Raphael with wide-eyed confusion. The demons warily surrounded Maze, certainly more at ease with a Lilim than they’d been with the Fallen (Crowley didn’t count), but still edgy to be near Hell’s greatest torturer.

Linda eventually drew the attention of both groups, explaining how they’d been found and how much time had passed. Although they were healed now, she said, there were others still at risk. Did they remember what had happened to them? Was there anything they could share?

There was silence and uncertain looks from both groups.

“Just… dreams,” an angel ventured at last.

“Yes,” a demon agreed from across the room, looking immediately alarmed to agree with an angel. But glances among their kindred revealed several tentative nods.

“What kind of dreams?” Linda asked.

“It started at the apocalypse,” an angel began. “The one that didn’t happen.”

Another angel nodded. “There was all this talk about Earth. What it was like. And then… we didn’t get to go.”

“We couldn’t stop talking about it,” a demon burst out. “And about Heaven.” They glanced nervously around, as if scoping for condemning superiors.

On the angels’ side, several were inching away from Raphael with sudden recollection of there being an Archangel in their midst.

“You can say whatever you’d like here,” Linda said hurriedly. “No one’s in any trouble.” She looked to Maze and Raphael for confirmation.

The Archangel nodded. “I used to wonder about the Earth too. I wanted to see it for myself. Long ago.”

“I never wondered,” Maze mumbled. She lifted her head. “But then I saw it anyway. And I never want to leave.”

The demons looked to her with far more interest and curiosity.

“Did you really bang an angel?” one asked bluntly.

Maze grinned toothily. “Yep.” She poked the snake snoring around her neck. “And so did he.”

“And they didn’t smite you?” a demon demanded.

“And you didn’t corrupt the angels?” an angel asked with blushing interest.

Maze scoffed. “You don’t Fall for love.”

“Nobody’s Fallen at all,” Linda said slowly. “Not since the Rebellion.” She turned to the angels with a frown. “That’s right, isn’t it? But you’re still afraid.”

They looked at each other. “They… our superiors,” one began, “…always say we could Fall if we… allow ourselves to stray.”

“But it’s never happened,” Linda pressed. “In all these thousands of years, there must have been plenty of angels with doubts. Amenadiel has enough to fill a country. And he’s fine… sort of.”

“But it could happen!” The angel insisted. “That’s why we can’t allow our minds to stray…” They gasped and put their hands over their mouth. “Is that what happened to us?” they whispered to their nearest companion. “Is that why we got hurt?”

“We certainly didn’t Fall,” a demon snorted.

“But you were dreaming about things you thought were wrong,” Linda observed.

The demon hunched, mumbling doubtfully.

“Peru,” mumbled a sleepy voice. Crowley lifted his head. “I talked with a kid in Hell. She said she snuck into Hell-Loops to see what Earth was like.” He looked toward the young demons. “Anyone else doing the same?”

There was uneasy silence. One finally raised their head defiantly. “There’s no rule against it.”

The serpent grinned. “My kind of kids.”

“Is that how it started?” Linda asked. “Imagining Earth?”

“And Heaven,” a demon ventured.

“I… wondered about Hell, too,” an angel confessed.

“Why?” Maze asked with a frown.

“Because they were told we were enemies,” Crowley observed. “But they’d never even seen a demon. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Hell’s supposed to be the worst place ever,” an angel said with a nod. “But… what does that mean?”

“So you imagined,” Linda said slowly. “And you dreamed.”

“They’re not supposed to dream,” Raphael protested. “We’re not made to need sleep. It shouldn’t be possible.”

“It’s possible,” Crowley grumbled. “I may avoid dreams, but they do pull you in.” His eyes unfocused. “That would be the one realm anyone could get to from anywhere – Heaven or Hell. And they’d see things beyond their imaginations.”

“We saw Earth!” a demon said eagerly. “Or… at least somewhere like Earth.”

“And… them,” an angel added, looking across the room at the demons with sudden longing.

“You met in dreams,” Linda mused. “Both sides. On neutral ground.”

“We just… reached out…” an angel said hesitantly.

“But it didn’t hurt!” another insisted. “They didn’t hurt us.”

Both sides shook their heads emphatically.

“So what happened?”

Uncertain silence filled the room.

“No one remembers?” Linda asked.

More silence and several shameful headshakes.

Raphael cleared her throat. “I don’t suppose the name Azazel means anything to you?”

Blank stares met her query.

~

“We’re back where we started,” Beelzebub huffed as the princes gathered together.

“At least we know how to prevent the injuries now,” Gabriel said. “We’ll just forbid dreaming.”

Amenadiel scoffed. “How would you enforce that?”

“Warn everyone of the dangers,” Gabriel said promptly. “Tortured with hellfire is certainly an incentive to avoid sleeping.”

“Sleep is a thing that just happens,” Linda protested. “You can’t just forbid it.”

Gabriel gave her a patronizing look. “Our bodies hardly hold the physical limitations of a mortal frame.”

“Yours has even more room for ego,” Michael muttered.

“The dreams aren’t the problem,” Marchosias said sharply before an argument could break out. “It’s whatever both sides got into AFTER they dreamed. Whatever it is that they can’t remember.”

“Could the dream king help?” Raphael asked.

“Could? Possibly. Will? Unlikely,” Beelzebub grumbled.

“He did give you Azazel back,” Linda ventured.

“Asking the Endless for multiple favors is unwise,” the lord-of-the-flies said grimly. Her gaze unfocused. “I didn’t ask Crowley what Azazel’s costing us…”

“At least we have a solution to the injuries,” Raphael said in a forcefully upbeat voice.

Beelzebub nodded reluctantly. “We can bring up the rest of the demons.” She looked at her fellow council members, then turned a sharp glare on the Archangels. “But there’s a price.”

Amenadiel glowered. “You’d bargain with the lives of your own people?”

Beelzebub rose to her feet. “I’ll bargain for the survival of my people,” she said fiercely. “Our King doesn’t want another war. And I agree.”

“You just don’t want to lose,” Michael grumbled.

“I don’t want Earth razed,” the prince of Hell replied. “I don’t want the Lilim slaughtered. I don’t want the Fallen to burn for something which happened thousands of years ago.”

“You shouldn’t have Rebelled,” Gabriel snapped.

“Our crimes weren’t against you,” Beelzebub snarled. “And why should we continue to suffer ceaselessly for the same sins?”

“And why bring your children into it?” Linda said slowly.

All eyes turned to her.

“That’s what’s happening,” she continued. “Don’t you get it? This generation never got to choose. They’ve been trapped living the choices you made. Drawn into your war. Casualties because of something which happened so long before they were born that they don’t even know what the other side looks like. They wanted the war just to experience something different. That’s a terrible reason to go to war.” She looked around the table. “And do any of you have a better one?”

Silence.

“I don’t want to see my planet destroyed because you need a playing field. I don’t want to see my son recruited as a pawn.” She rose to her feet. “If I’m going to be part of this, I’m advocating for peace.”

“You have no idea of the complexities of the situation,” Gabriel protested.

“And yet, somehow she’s got it all figured out,” Amenadiel rumbled. “I agree with Linda. We’ve been separated long enough. It’s time to try something else.”

Raphael rose to her feet. The look of detached boredom was gone. She turned to Gabriel. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

The messenger blinked at her.

“I ignored Heaven,” the healer went on. “I ignored everything happening here.” She looked to the other Archangels. “We all did.” She turned back to Gabriel. “We left you to keep Heaven running alone. This place has meant more to you than any of us.” She dipped her head. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. After the Rebellion when you were piecing everything back together. After the flood. The policy changes. Uriel.” Her face contracted with grief.

She took his hands. “I want to be there for you from now on. And for our home.” Her expression turned plaintive. “Do you think you can look to a new kind of future?”

Gabriel stared up at her for a moment. Then his gaze swept the table, seeking answers from the others.

“We have a quorum here,” Marchosias observed, glancing to the other four princes. “And we’re in agreement. It’s time to try for peace. For all our sakes.”

Mammon and Kokbiel nodded their affirmation.

“I don’t want my son to live in danger,” Amenadiel said. “Maybe if we’d… if we’d discussed this all those years ago, maybe Azazel’s children wouldn’t have gone the way they did. We can do better.” He bowed his head. “Raphael’s right. I’ve ignored my responsibilities. And not just when I moved to Earth. Even before then.” His chin came up. “I’ll help. Whatever it takes to change things.”

The Archangels looked to Michael.

“Do I still get to fight Luci?” the warrior asked plaintively.

“You could ask,” Amenadiel said. “He’ll probably say no.”

“And I don’t get to kill Lilim anymore?”

“No,” Linda said firmly.

Michael slumped. “Peace sucks.” He let out a long sigh. “Fine. I won’t kill demons anymore.”

All eyes turned to Gabriel.

The messenger’s face was contorted with pain. He rose, shuddering unsteadily. “It isn’t possible,” he whispered. “We… we can’t… We’re not supposed to…” His eyes snapped back into focus. “No! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be! Not after everything!” He fled the room.

There was silence around the table.

“The votes are against him,” Michael said reasonably.

“But Heaven will follow him,” Amenadiel replied. “We don’t exactly have the right to command here. Not after walking away.”

“So we need him,” Raphael concluded. She looked at the demons. “Are any of you any good at convincing impossible minds?”

There was a moment of silence as everyone looked at Beelzebub.

The lord-of-the-flies sighed. “Someone go wake up the tempter.”

Chapter Text

4004BC - EDEN

Crawly stuck his head out of the narrow crevice. His tongue flicked a dozen cautious times before he crawled from the slit and into the Garden.

Concealed among the foliage, he worked his way slowly and warily through the underbrush.

Lucifer was off doing king-stuff. Crawly had come to Eden of his own volition. Despite this game growing increasingly dangerous, he couldn’t stay away.

When Lucifer was with him, Crawly found it safer to skirt around the edge of the Garden. The cherubim were looking for intruders inside the Garden. They were less interested in what was going on around the edges. But without Lucifer attracting notice, Crawly thought it was safe to play around the interior.

He liked the Garden. He liked the damp soil and smell of growing things. He liked the broad leaves and the sound of the wind through the branches. He liked the bird calls and the snuffling of the animals.

He liked the nights when the stars swathed the sky. He liked the daytime when the sunlight filtered in speckled patterns through the trees.

His one sorrow was dawn and dusk. The rising and setting of the sun couldn’t be seen past the walls.

To live in security, certain sacrifices had to be made.

He wondered if it was worth it.

Where he lived, they’d chosen to walk their own paths away from their Creator’s law.

They couldn’t see the sun at all.

He wondered if it was worth it.

There was a sound of footsteps and Crawly drew back by instinct. Nothing that walked in the Garden could harm him, (the cherubim generally flew) but an eternity in Hell had taught him to fear everything unknown. Security came with identifying an object. And possible escape routes.

The woman who halted before she could step on him had no such instincts. Her smile was bright and happy at the sight of him. “Oh, hello! Have we met?”

“No.” The serpent rose up as high as he could as the woman squatted down, though the action barely brought him level with her knee. “I don’t come to this part of the Garden very much.”

“You should!” She beamed at him and held out her hand with utter confidence. “We don’t have too many friends who can talk our way.”

Crawly blinked at her. The trust in her gesture was almost painful to behold. It was like being back in Heaven. Before the whispering and doubts had begun. Back when he knew absolute safety. He crawled onto her arm.

“My name’s Eve,” she said, sitting down and snuggling him in her arms. “Has Adam named you yet?”

“My name’s Crawly,” he replied. “But I don’t really like it.”

Eve sighed. “Yes… that does seem to be a problem, doesn’t it?” She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. “He’s not very good at names, actually.”

Crawly didn’t mention Adam hadn’t had anything to do with his unfortunate moniker. “I heard him naming the tawny-colored one ‘fluffy head’.”

“Yes… One of the cherubim suggested ‘lion’ instead.” Eve sighed. “I think we should ask the fluffy head what he’d like to be called.”

They gossiped for a while. The longer they spoke, the longer Crawly studied her, and the more bothered he became.

It was her eyes.

At first he told himself he was simply confused because they weren’t angel eyes. No starlight or hellfire reflected in them. No gold or ultra-violet. But there was something… missing.

Yes, that was the problem. There was a blank about her. Something absent from her eyes which should have been there. A soul? An identity? Or…

Crawly slid out of her lap and faced her. “Stand up,” he said. “Turn around three times, clap your hands, and sit back down.”

Eve did exactly as he said. She looked curiously at him when she’d finished. “What does that do?”

Proves you’ll do anything you’re told, Crawly thought. Out loud he said, “Just seemed like something to do.” He spun himself in a circle, then plopped back in her lap.

Eve laughed. “You’re funny! The cherubim aren’t. Adam isn’t really, but he tries. Lucifer’s funny. Do you know him?”

“We’ve met,” Crawly tried to keep any bitterness out of his voice.

His mind was whirling. That was what was missing in her eyes. Clarity. Autonomy. Self-awareness. She was whatever anyone wanted her to be.

No, he thought as they talked further, that wasn’t quite true. Eve had a personality. She had opinions. But she was happy to accept anyone else’s opinions as her own if pressured. There wasn’t strength in her. Nothing to temper her beliefs against. The world was simple and pure. There was no depth to her.

And no ability for there to be depth.

Why, Crawly wondered with a sickening lurch, had the Creator made their greatest creation into empty dolls?

Was this their way of preventing another rebellion? Certainly, this human couldn’t rebel. There was no capability in her to rebel. The other was likely the same.

Which meant… what was the point of being alive without awareness?

“I should go,” Eve said abruptly. “I was picking fruit for our meal. Do you want to come?”

Crawly agreeably climbed to her shoulders.

She wandered through the Garden, ambling from one grove to another as she collected ripe and perfect fruits. She cut up a peach and fed him a few bites.

It was his first taste of Earth food.

“Have you tried all the fruits in the Garden?” He asked.

“Yes… except the trees in the center of the Garden.”

He knew what she was talking about. The clearing and the fragrant tree standing by itself. There were always a few cherubim in the branches. The tree radiated divine power. He’d kept well away from it. There were some things even a fallen angel knew not to approach. But… hadn’t the Creator given this whole Garden to the humans? “Why not that one?”

“It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” she replied. “If we eat it, we’ll die.”

She said the words as if she was reciting them, not as if she knew what they meant.

“You won’t die,” Crawly said flatly. Of that he was immediately certain. The Creator wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble with these new creations just to have them die at the first taste of fruit.

Speaking of… He nudged Eve’s hand until she popped a berry in his mouth. His eyes rolled appreciatively at the taste and scent of something besides sulfur. Did the principality know how good this Earth food was? He’d have to ask the next time he was in that part of the Garden.

“I won’t?” She asked.

It took him a second to get his mind back on track. “Nothing in this Garden would kill you at one taste,” he hissed.

“That’s what we were told.”

“Are you sure?”

Eve thought about it. “We were definitely told to leave the tree alone.” She sounded uncertain. She shook her head. “Anyway, that’s what we were told, so that’s what we do.”

Conflict solved, Crawly thought. How easy.

In his mind he was watching Lucifer leading one or the other human off to a private bower away from watching angel eyes. The humans certainly enjoyed their time with him…

…But did they know what they were doing? If they didn’t have the ability to think through their actions…

Eve was chattering about her favorite gathering spots, oblivious to the serpent’s internal conflict.

“Listen,” he said abruptly. “About the tree – the one with the fruit you’re not supposed to eat. It’s not like you think.”

“What do you mean?”

What do I mean? Crawly wondered. What was he doing? Lucifer had told him to make trouble. But this… Well, if the Creator said No, it would be contrary to divine rules to get the human to say Yes. Wouldn’t it?

But interfering with Lucifer’s games…

This was going to be a hard one to spin.

But those bright and blank eyes were looking so earnestly at him.

All he could think was how much brighter they’d be if she was real.

“The knowledge of good and evil – that’s what it is, right? That’s not wrong. That’s important for… living. For seeing the world as it really is.”

“But I do see it.”

“But don’t you ever… wonder how the trees grow? Or what’s outside the Garden? Or wonder if you’re happier when you’re with one person instead of another?”

She blinked at him. “No… I suppose I could wonder about those things. Should I wonder about those things?”

She gave him an earnest and anxious look of someone waiting to be told what to do.

If I say eat the fruit, she will, Crawly thought. But then… that would be completely contrary to the point.

“If you want to wonder about those things, you should. And if you don’t, you shouldn’t. Do you understand?”

No… she clearly didn’t.

Crawly looked around a little desperately. He’d probably stayed here too long as it was. He needed to get out before the angels caught wind of him. And go Down before Lucifer started wondering where he was. He was tempting far too much danger just talking to the human.

“Look.” He snapped his attention quickly back to her. “If you eat the fruit, you’ll see the world differently. But you have to choose that. Because it’s… it’s important if you do or don’t. You were told one thing. So… you either have to choose to keep doing that, or choose to do something else and see what happens. And it doesn’t have to be right now. You could wait… a hundred years. Or tomorrow. Or never. It’s your choice.”

“But what happens if I do eat it?” Eve asked.

“I don’t know,” Crawly said honestly. “But you won’t die from it. I’m sure of that. And I know you won’t be the same if you do. But… you have to figure it out yourself. You have to decide if that’s something you want.”

He wriggled to the ground. “I have to go. It was nice meeting you.”

Even waved uncertainly after him. Mostly she was staring hard at the fruit in her hand.

~

“Where have you been?!” Lucifer demanded as several none-too-gentle demons shoved Crawly into the presence of the King.

The serpent flattened himself against the ground. “Sorry, Lord,” he mumbled.

Lucifer dismissed his lackeys with a gesture. “I wish to visit the Garden,” he announced when they were alone.

“Is that really such a good idea?” Crawly asked. Lucifer had nearly been caught the last time.

“Did I ask for your opinion?” the devil snarled.

Crawly flattened himself further. I liked him better when he was just giving speeches about free will, he thought bitterly. “No, Lord.”

“Then you will take me where I want to go and keep your opinions to yourself.”

~

“Here again?” the principality asked as Crawly climbed up the wall and joined him on the rampart. “What is that?” he added, his eyes fixing on the object in the serpent’s mouth.

Crawly dropped it on the ground. “Have you tried the Earth food in there?”

“I’m an angel. I don’t pollute the temple of my essence with Earthly things.”

“Why not?”

The principality shifted uneasily. “I rather think I’m not supposed to.”

The serpent coiled around the apple. “Did anyone say not to?”

“Well…” The angel looked uncomfortable. “…No.”

“You should! I’ve been snacking all day. You wouldn’t believe all the different tastes. Much better than brimstone.”

“I’ve never eaten brimstone.”

“I meant the smell.” Crawly glared sourly at him. “Just sniff this.”

The angel reluctantly picked up the apple and brought it to his nose. “It’s nice,” he admitted. “Sometimes when the wind blows from the Garden, I catch the most delightful odors… But that’s not important.” He set the apple down in a hurry. “I’m not supposed to be thinking about such things.”

“Right… What else do you have to think about?” Crawly nudged the apple a little closer. “Come on. The humans eat them all the time. Chop it up with that big poker of yours and we’ll both eat it. I’ll even eat first so you know there’s nothing wrong with it.”

The principality turned away. “You’re not going to tempt me.”

Crawly sighed. “Fine. But can you cut it up anyway?”

“Why?”

“So I can eat it! It’s too big for me to swallow.”

The angel obligingly quartered the apple. Juice squirted across his hand and he put his finger in his mouth. His expression changed. “Oh… Oh, that is good.”

“See?” Crawly picked up a piece and swallowed it down. “Try it!”

It took another minute of wavering, but in the end the angel crunched into the fruit. “It’s… how can I even describe it?”

“There are words for tastes of things,” Crawly said. “I can’t remember them. I expect the humans will come up with their own.”

“I look forward to finding out the words for this,” the angel murmured. He ate another piece in small and serious bites. “The outside is different than the inside. And the seeds… I’m not sure those taste good. But overall…”

Crawly was just beginning to describe the other things he’d eaten when they heard the sound of raised and angered voices from the Garden.

“Goodness,” the angel murmured, his attention shifting at once to the Garden. “Whatever is going on?”

Crawly hunched down. He could hear Lucifer’s voice rising in fury. “I think I may have done something bad…”

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - HEAVEN

The ocean stretched clear and endless before the angel who sat on the shore. The water was still as glass, barely a ripple disturbing the shore.

“Unchanging,” said a sibilant voice. “Just how you like it.”

Gabriel scowled without turning to look at the speaker. “What are you doing here?”

“I got drafted to talk sense into you.” The serpent flopped down beside him. “Believe me, it wasn’t my idea.”

“Then go away.”

“Can’t,” Crowley said. “You’re standing between me, my husband, and our happily-ever-after. So, cut it out.”

Gabriel pointedly ignored him.

“Why’s it so hard for you to imagine things being different than they are now?” Crowley asked after a length of silence.

“I can imagine. I can imagine your kind gone and peace finally reigning.”

“You don’t mean peace.”

Gabriel turned with a scowl. “What do I mean?”

“Ignorance.” Crowley looked up at him with certainty.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Did you ever go to the Garden?”

“Before you ruined it?”

The serpent was utterly unconcerned with the accusation. “Yes.”

Gabriel nodded warily. “Once.”

“Did you see the look in the human’s eyes? Or the lack of a look?”

“You mean happiness?”

“Bliss isn’t the same as happiness. They didn’t know things. They were happy, but it wasn’t real. You can’t be really happy until you know how to be unhappy.”

Gabriel’s eyes returned to the ocean.

“That’s what you want, isn’t it? To go back to how we were before? Before we learned how to ask questions?”

Gabriel still didn’t answer.

Crowley settled his head across his coils. “You know, last year, I ended up spending a lot of time with the boss. He was having a rough time. Needed someone to cheer him up. So I told stories. He liked it when I bad-mouthed his siblings. And I have plenty of dirt on you.”

“If you’re trying to convince me to join your side, you’re taking a very round-about approach.”

“He’s angriest at you.”

Gabriel winced.

“I couldn’t figure out why.” Crowley studied the water. “I thought it would be Michael. They were so close once. Now Michael just spouts threats and kills Lilim. But then I really thought back.”

The serpent traced his tail in the sand. “I don’t remember a whole lot from before. Everyone’s memories got kind of messed up in the Fall. And it’s easier to just pretend this life never happened. But I do remember you.

“And what I remember is you were like Lucifer. Like me. You had questions. You just didn’t ask them.”

“We weren’t supposed to,” Gabriel rumbled.

“That doesn’t make them go away.”

Gabriel tried to ignore the unblinking eyes watching him.

“The other Archangels – they were never going to Fall. They were too sure. But you… you could have gone with us. If you’d wanted to.”

“I didn’t,” Gabriel snarled. “I would never…”

“You could have,” Crowley repeated with certainty. “Something held you back. And it wasn’t conviction. It was fear.” He rose up, amber eyes staring firmly into the angel’s. “You were too scared to ask questions, even if you thought them. But not Falling didn’t make them go away. I saw your face all those times on Earth. You still didn’t know why things were happening. You still have questions. And you’re still scared someone will realize that about you.”

Gabriel raised his fist. His eyes glowed an irate purple. “You think you can come here and insult me?! Isn’t tormenting my dreams enough for you?!”

He saw he’d said too much as confusion washed across the serpent’s face.

“You dream about me?” the demon asked.

Gabriel hunched in on himself with a mutter.

“I mean… I’m flattered. I’m also in a very committed relationship.”

Gabriel glanced warily at him. “You didn’t know?”

Crowley waggled his head a negative. “I try to stay out of dreams. My own and everyone else’s. Too dangerous.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Crowley waited a beat. “What are these dreams about?”

Gabriel closed his eyes with a shudder. “Myself… doing something I know is right. And you preventing me.”

“Huh… sounds like something I’d do.” Crowley was meditatively silent. “Do you really believe what you’re doing is right?”

“It has to be,” Gabriel whispered. “Or else…” He trailed off.

“Or else you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t?”

Gabriel looked quickly at him.

“I think Linda would call it ‘being human’. She encourages it for her celestial patients.” Crowley’s voice dropped to a bitter octave. “I had to sit through way too many of Lucifer’s sessions last year.” His voice rose. “But what I got out of it was, not knowing is okay. Which, I knew already. It took me a few thousand years to convince Aziraphale of it. Eve took about ten minutes. Humans always had the jump on us.”

He studied Gabriel critically. “And it seems like your subconscious knows it too. If it’s conjuring up a helpful avatar to prevent you from doing something you’d regret.” He waited a beat. “So… if you were to dream about this, would your subconscious think maybe admitting what you always thought was true maybe isn’t? Maybe it’s time to give peace a shot? You know, just to mix up the next few thousand years?”

Gabriel bowed his head. “I can’t… I can’t stray.”

Crowley sighed. “Okay, if logic doesn’t work, how about this. I’m not getting much out of our little blackmail agreement anymore since everybody knows about Aziraphale and me. So, how about you agree to peace, or I tell everyone who’s been doing your real job for the past few thousand years?”

“That’s your brilliant backup plan?”

“No. My backup plan is to tell you I heard from our Creator and I think They’re into the peace idea.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did.”

Gabriel eyed him. “Prove it.”

Crowley sighed dramatically. “See, this is why I didn’t want to go with the backup plan.”

“Because you can’t?”

“Because it still hurts! How about you just agree to the blackmail idea?”

Gabriel crossed his arms with a stubborn glare.

The serpent grumbled and slithered up a rock jutting into the glass-still sea. “Can we agree if I prove I’ve had contact with our Creator, you’ll go back to the table and talk nice with the princes?”

“No tricks?” Gabriel asked suspiciously.

“Please. I’m a demon of honor. I don’t lie when it’s important. I save lying for things like, ‘No Aziraphale, I have no idea where your recording of Ave Maria played on bagpipes went’.”

The Archangel snorted. “Very well. Prove your point.”

Crowley looked sour. He paused for a moment to gather his coils, then launched himself off the rock and into the ocean.

Gabriel lunged to his feet with a cry of alarm.

A wedge-shaped head broke from the water after a second. “Owe-owe-owe!” Crowley gasped, scrambling frantically back to the shore. He shook the water from his scales, revealing a corporation laced in surface burns but still very much intact.

Gabriel reached out automatically to heal.

Crowley froze under his hand, not so much as twitching until Gabriel drew back, the work completed. The serpent looked himself over. “Thanks,” he said, then grinned a little wickedly. “So you’re not a complete bastard.”

“You could have just dunked your tail in,” Gabriel panted shakily.

“I’ve a flair for the dramatic.” Crowley slithered up the Archangel’s crouched form and gained a perch on his shoulders. “So. We’re discussing peace now?”

Gabriel shook his head slowly, gradually processing what he’d just seen. “You just survived holy water.”

“Yes.”

“You’re not supposed to be able to do that.”

“Funny what happens after you’ve had a chat with the Creator.”

“You’re telling the truth.”

“I’m always telling the truth. People just don’t believe me.”

“You do have a reputation.” In something of a daze, Gabriel rose to his feet and walked unsteadily along the shore.

“About that,” the serpent said slowly. “As a personal favor… since we’re best friends now…”

“We’re not.”

“Keep telling yourself that, Gabe. Or if you’re not into favors, I can go back to the blackmail plan.”

Gabriel grimaced. “What do you want?”

“I’m just wondering if you know where Eden is now.”

Chapter Text

MONDAY: FIVE DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING
Aziraphale hummed to himself as he stepped into the botanical garden office. Everything was going quite well. Just a few more days and all their planning would come to fruition.

“Excuse me?” He stopped a worker with his friendliest smile. “I just need to confirm my reservation for the wedding venue and go over a few alterations with the event planner.”

The human cocked their thumb toward an office. “If you want to talk to the planner, you’ll have to get in line.”

The angel abruptly became aware of shouting.

“You said you had room for us! We need that space!”

“I’m sorry. We’re booked solid for the next three months.”

“You made us drive all the way here from Pasadena to tell us you can’t help us?!”

“There was a miscommunication. If you want to set a later date…”

“No! It has to be this weekend. We already planned everything!”

Aziraphale pretended not to listen in. He took a book out of his bag and everything. Never mind he shamefully realized it was a thesaurus. He tried to become very absorbed in alternative word choices for ‘fragile’, ‘frame’, and ‘fraudulent’ but it was no good. He simply must help those in distress! Or at least learn some nice gossip.

“Pardon me, my dear,” he began as two women in fashion choices Aziraphale classified as ‘bebop’ stumbled out of the office. “Is there some trouble? You sounded most distressed.”

The women drew back with suspicious looks.

Aziraphale hastily shoved the thesaurus into his bag. How embarrassing! “Perhaps I could be of some assistance?”

“Perhaps you could mind your own business,” one snapped.

The other hushed her companion and tried to smile at the angel. “Sorry… We’re just… having a very bad day.”

“Oh! Well, I’ve always found the best solution to that is a cup of tea and a lovely chat about your difficulties. And the garden just so happens to have a lovely restaurant. Why don’t I buy you both a nice cup and you can tell me all about it…”

~

“No more trips to the afterlife for me for a while,” Linda mumbled groggily as she emerged from her bedroom after more than half a day of actual, dreamless sleep. She yawned. “At least no more sleeping pills.”

Her weary eyes focused on Maze who was sharpening her knives. “Going somewhere?”

“I got a tip on one of my bounty’s. It should be a fast trip.” Maze stashed the knife in her boot. “If you’re not wandering in your sleep anymore…” She looked cautiously at Linda as if asking permission.

Linda yawned. “I’m staying here. Beelzebub says she can handle drafting the peace agreements. I should get back to my real job. After a couple days of trying to remember what a circadian rhythm feels like.” She headed for the kitchen. “Go earn a living. I’ll be fine.”

“And it’s not like I’m leaving you alone,” Maze observed with a glance at the couch where a serpent lay prone and unconscious.

“Is he living here now?” Linda asked.

“Seems like it.” Maze said with an unconcerned shrug. She rose with a stretch and picked up her gear bag. “Enjoy your day.”

Linda poured herself a cup of coffee and sauntered back to the living room. “No impending doom… no work… no child… no housemates…” She blinked. “What do people do without the crushing weight of responsibility?”

She picked up the remote and dropped onto the couch beside the serpent. “I hope you like daytime television.”

~

“What do you think, Detective?” Lucifer spun in place before Chloe’s desk, showing off a fresh tuxedo.

“Morningstar. Lucifer, Morningstar,” Chloe replied with a grin.

Lucifer straightened his collar. “Please, Detective. My look is my own, not a certain international spy’s.” He leaned seductively over the desk. “Unless you’d like to search me for concealed weapons.”

“I’ve got a murder,” Chloe replied. “Do you want to come along?”

“Delightful! One last murder before we’re husband and wife.” He offered her his arm.

“I don’t know if we’ll get it solved by Saturday.”

“Please, Detective. We’re efficient enough to solve a crime in forty-five minutes or less.”

~

Ella paced around her lab, wringing her hands with growing anxiety. “Okay, Ella,” she breathed. “It’s not that bad. Just tell Aziraphale and we’ll get this all figured out. Right? Yeah… Okay. It’s fine. It’s all fine.”

“Miss Lopez!” The angel appeared in the door with a broad smile on his face.

Ella jumped. “Aziraphale! Hi!” Nerves set her to babbling. “Oh, hey, so I had a wild murder the other day. This guy, right? He had all his fingers cut off! Can you believe it? And they were all stuffed inside his mouth!”

“I’m sure it’s a fascinating story.” Aziraphale waved his hand dismissively as if he hadn’t heard a word of it. “I just had tea with two charming young ladies.”

“Oh… okay?”

“They are raising money for hurricane relief funds. Isn’t that marvelous? They’d arranged a gala event for this weekend. But, such a tragedy, their venue proved unusable. And they thought they had an alternative location at the botanical garden’s indoor facility, but due to a terrible miscommunication, that proved untrue. Fortunately, I happened to be there, so I arranged for them to use the outdoor area instead.” Aziraphale grinned proudly at his accomplishment.

Ella stared at him. “Did you…” she barely whispered, “give away our wedding venue?”

The angel’s face changed from shock to alarm. “Oh, deary me,” he murmured, his hand rising to cover his mouth. “I’m afraid that might be exactly what I’ve done. I was just so excited to help those ambitious youngsters out of their difficulty.” His expression turned imploring. “Can you ever forgive me?”

Ella swallowed. “If you can forgive me.”

“Forgive you? Whatever do you mean?”

Ella tried to hold herself together, then exploded. “So, you know the community center where I volunteer? The soup kitchen used to get donations from this one grocery store. But they just got bought out by some chain that’s made them stop. So, they’re running out of food! And this Saturday’s usually a huge turnout. So, I thought, we had everything paid for with the caterers, right? And We can get other food, you know? So, I told the caterers to deliver everything there…”

Aziraphale’s hands dropped to hang limply at his sides. “I fear our charitable natures may have put us in a difficult position.”


TUESDAY: FOUR DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING
“Compromise means we both get something!” Beelzebub snarled across the table at Gabriel.

The Archangel crossed his arms huffily. “Eliminating all demonic presence on Earth seems reasonable to me.”

“That amounts to two demons and Lucifer!” Beelzebub fumed. “And he’s not leaving! Also… I want to visit more often.”

“And corrupt humanity.”

“Only in telling them to stop burning the rainforest. Which may involve eating a few CEOs.”

“I thought we agreed to leave humanity to their own devices,” Raphael grumbled.

“But we’re supposed to guide them,” Gabriel protested.

“How’s that worked out so far for you?” Marchosias asked.

“It would go better without you influencing them for evil.”

The wolf rolled his eyes. “Again. There are exactly two demons and a devil on the planet. Two years ago, there were twelve. Versus seven billion humans. I’m pretty sure humanity’s managing corruption on its own.”

“So we should be allowed to double our enforcement of good.”

“Because that always worked out so well,” Marchosias muttered.

“If you want us off Earth, you’d need to do the same,” Beelzebub rumbled. “Or at least we get to keep an equal number of angels and demons in play.”

“Which means we get to add more to the board,” Marchosias observed.

“That’s not an option!”

The angels and demons glared across the table in tense silence.

Raphael spoke at last. “We shouldn’t have tried to do this without Linda.”

~

“I think I’ve run out of places to call,” Aziraphale looked helplessly at the computer screen and its list of Los Angeles venues. If nothing else, he thought, this exploration into wedding planning had greatly improved his technological skills. “Everything seems to be booked… or require membership into some fraternal order… I did find one place which could offer us a basement if we made a generous donation to the Church of Scientology.” He wrinkled his nose. “I suppose if that’s really our last resort…”

Ella slammed down her phone. “Nobody caters at this short of notice. I’ve called everywhere I can think of.”

“Maybe we could find a large restaurant and… Hello, Miss Espinoza. Is something the matter?”

Trixie dashed into the lab and threw herself onto a stool. Her face was red and tears stood out in her eyes. “I’m sorry!” she wailed. “I don’t know what happened!”

“What’s the matter kid?”

“All the decorations! They were in the back of the theatre, and I went to check on them this morning, and they were gone!”

The angel and the scientist both jumped with increasing looks of alarm. “Gone?” Ella asked.

“They cleaned out the theatre this weekend!” Trixie wailed. “Someone thought they were junk and threw them all away!” She buried her face in her arms.

“Don’t fret, child.” Aziraphale patted her shoulder. “If it helps, we don’t have tables to put the decorations on at the moment.”

The girl raised her head with a suspicious look. “What did you do?”

~

“…If we work really fast, we should be able to make them all again,” Trixie said bravely as she buckled herself into the backseat of Ella’s car.

Aziraphale turned around and smiled at her. “That’s the spirit. We’ll start with arranging the decorations, then Ella and I can continue searching for a new venue and meal. I’m sure everything will be fine.”

“I’d better call the bakery and make sure our order is okay,” Ella grumbled. “What was the number…?” She typed rapidly into her phone.

“Why don’t you and I make a list of everything you need?” Aziraphale suggested to Trixie, producing parchment and a fountain pen from his bag. “Let’s start with glass vases…”

They were three items along when Ella began swearing frantically.

“Not in front of the child, please!” Aziraphale protested.

Ella shoved her phone at him.

Aziraphale read the headline twice. ‘Local Bakery Shut Down for Repeated Health Code Violations.’

Ella hit her head on the steering wheel. “I knew those were rat holes!”

~

The craft store was forgotten as they trooped back into the station.

“Okay, let’s look on the bright side,” Ella said bravely. “We still have a preacher…”

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to tell you about that,” Aziraphale began nervously.

“What?!”

“That is… I still haven’t found an officiator. The satanic order refused when they learned the bride wasn’t… one of them. And it seems the catholic church won’t have anything to do with Miss Decker or Lucifer. Something about a Father Kinley? I didn’t get the details. And I didn’t think anyone not religiously connected would have the authority… so I’ve been trying to find a solution, but…”

“Okay.” Ella took a deep breath. “We still have DJ Puff n’ Stuff.”

“Are you looking for the DJ?” a police officer asked, overhearing the name as they passed. “He’s still in booking.”

“He’s what?!” Ella, Trixie and Aziraphale managed to shout in perfect chorus.

“Yeah… Did you hear the size of the meth operation they found in his garage? He’s going away for a long time.”

~

“…so the victim was a fertility clinic doctor,” Chloe said as she studied the report an officer had just handed to her.

“Oh! Perhaps they performed an insemination on an unwilling woman.” Lucifer’s eyes began to spark. “Or perhaps they were involved in illegal experimentation. Do you recall the film where the male scientist became pregnant? We should check their home for hidden laboratories!”

“Lucifer,” Chloe muttered as she typed into her computer. “I’ll have the secretary find us a list of their current patients. We can start interviews from there.”

“Detective, if the murderer is pregnant, is the fetus charged as an accomplice?”

~

“We have nothing!” Ella wailed helplessly as they sat in Lucifer’s penthouse. They’d retreated there on the grounds that it was empty, and no one was likely to hear them screaming. “The wedding’s four days away and we have NOTHING!”

“We haven’t lost everything,” Aziraphale protested. “We still have the dresses, the photographer, the fl-”

“Don’t you dare jinx them!” Ella shrieked. She collapsed onto the bar. “We are the worst maids of honor ever.”

“Cheer up, my dear.” Aziraphale hunted under the bar. “Ah! Here we are.” He set a bakery box on the counter. “Some food will help everything look brighter.”

Ella eyed the box suspiciously. “Is that from the place that just got shut down because of hantavirus?”

“I assure you, the food is perfectly safe.” Aziraphale waved his hand over the pastries and murmured a blessing. “NOW it’s perfectly safe.”

Trixie reached into the box and snagged an eclair. “These are good. When did you get them?”

“Oh… a few weeks ago, I suppose. I’ve been too distracted to eat them.”

Ella blinked. “Those have been sitting under Lucifer’s bar for weeks?” She glanced at Trixie. “How stale is it?”

The girl shrugged. “It tastes fine.”

Ella cautiously extracted a brownie and took a small bite. Her face changed. “This is still fresh.”

Aziraphale huffed indignantly. “Of course it is. I wouldn’t serve my friends stale food.”

“How did you keep it fresh?”

The angel gave his hand a dismissive wave. “No trouble. I simply told it to stay fresh.”

“You can do that?”

“Clearly.”

A probing gleam came to Ella’s eyes. “Could you tell food to stay fresh and hot, or cold, or whatever? For days?”

“Yes, of course. It’s quite a simple trick. Why? What are you thinking?”

Ella threw her arms around him in a massive hug which left Aziraphale sprinkled in crumbs. “You’re perfect! Yes! We can take care of food ourselves!” She spun around the living room, laughing gleefully.

Aziraphale watched her with a mystified expression. “Miss Lopez? Is everything alright?”

“No! Everything’s all wrong!” The scientist laughed. “But we’re going to make it right! We have four days to throw together the biggest wedding in the afterlife and we’re going to do it!”

Her wild flight around the room ended at the computer printer. She yanked a dozen pages from the tray and dashed back to the bar. “Give me a pen!” She demanded. As soon as Aziraphale obliged, she began writing large headers for the pages. “Okay. We need: Venue. Tables. Chairs. Decorations…”

Chapter Text

WEDNESDAY: THREE DAYS UNTIL THE WEDDING
“This is where humans hold meetings of dire importance?” Gabriel asked doubtfully.

“No,” the therapist replied, holding open the door for the angels and demons. “This is a coffee shop. It’s where humans go to type screenplays and fuel caffeine addictions. And this one has a private room.”

She spoke across the counter to the manager. Soon the little party was crammed into a small room, the four beings dubiously eying the scones and drinks Linda had purchased for them.

Linda took a seat at the head of the table. “Alright. For purposes of this meeting, I’ll be acting as a third party, not as a prince of Hell. Agreed?”

There were nods from both sides of the table.

The therapist opened her notebook. “So, what seems to be the trouble…?”

~

“The school owns it,” Trixie said as she pushed aside the branches of a tree. “I guess it’s an old parking lot? But they haven’t used it in forever.”

Ella, Aziraphale, Trixie, and Whiskers stepped through the brief stretch scrubby forest and onto an equally unkempt stretch of asphalt.

Clearly, there had been no attempt at maintenance. The surface was cracked in a dozen places and sprouted everywhere with weeds. Trash lay in piles at the edge of the expanse. Former landscaping had run wild, combining with wild plants in a sea of tangles and broken limbs.

Trixie hugged her arms around her chest. “I know… it’s bad,” she whimpered. “But the school felt really bad about the decorations. So, they said we could use this.” She sighed. “I asked about the theatre, but they have rules about that.”

“It was brave of you to ask,” Ella said kindly. She surveyed the space. “I don’t think…”

“It’s beautiful.”

The scientist looked curiously at the angel. “It is?”

He waved a hand at the encroaching forest. “Isn’t it incredible? Humans abandoned this and nature finds a way to thrive. Certainly, it could use some love and care. But look at how the trees interlock!” He pulled her to the edge of the blacktop. “See? They make up a canopy already! We can wind them with gauze and make a gorgeous backdrop. And… look at those flowers.” His eyes shone as he brought the humans across the clearing. “If we just trim back some of the undergrowth, we’ll find a perfect wild garden under here.” He seized both of Ella’s hands. “We can make this beautiful!”

“Okay… but… how long will it take? And chairs? Tables? …A path to the parking lot that isn’t full of scorpions?”

“One thing at a time. Just as you said.” Aziraphale dialed his phone. “Crowley, dear? I need your assistance a Trixie’s school right away.”

Angel… I’m trying to sleep. Do you know how many between-realm flights I’ve been doing?! Do you know how many close calls I’ve-

“I need you to yell at some plants.”

…Give me twenty minutes.

~

“Hello beauties,” the demon purred as he stalked into the clearing with an air of menace which made every plant within a quarter mile tremble. “You look like you need a little pruning.”

Aziraphale deliberately turned his back on the sound of shaking plants and shrieking weeds. “I can smooth out the pavement as soon as he’s done. I’m sure we can make a nice path to the car park.”

Ella got off the phone. “I’ve been calling furniture rental places. I don’t think I can find enough tables and chairs.”

“If you need furniture,” Crowley called, tearing his eyes briefly from a staring contest with a bush. “Ask Maze.”

~

Oh, sure. There’s tons of stuff in the warehouses,” Maze confirmed in an easy purr when Aziraphale called. “Some furniture. But mostly packing crates and pallets. You could make a couple thousand chairs out of the junk.

“We need finished furniture,” Aziraphale protested. “Ideally matching. I don’t suppose you know someone who can build several hundred tables in three days?”

For the king of Hell? You really just have to know who to ask.

~

“You summoned us for furniture?!” Beelzebub spat as she and Mammon stepped out of the summoning circle. “I only just got back to Hell and you dragged me back to Earth?!”

Aziraphale had to admit the deserted stretch of pavement had its uses. Setting fire to old fast food cups wasn’t exactly the same as candles, but it had worked for a fast and messy summoning.

“And decorations!” Trixie grinned hopefully at Mammon. “Maze said you have lots of gold and jewels.”

The golden prince crossed his arms protectively over his necklaces.

“We’re in a time crunch,” Ella said briskly, ignoring the fact that two demons had literally just appeared out of thin air. “The wedding’s in three days and we lost everything! Maze said you could loan us some carpenters?”

“A trash clean-up crew would be great too,” Crowley called.

Beelzebub shot a glare at him, then returned her focus to Ella. “I could summon a legion to do the work easily, but my Lord has forbidden the lesser demons from walking the Earth.”

Trixie stepped up to her confidently. “It’s okay. I’ll tell Lucifer we asked you, and he’ll say it’s okay.”

The lord-of-the-flies eyed her suspiciously. “And who are you who believes she wields such power?”

“That’s Chloe’s daughter,” Crowley called. “You know, the boss’ future step-kid.”

Beelzebub bowed low to the twelve-year-old. “I will call my legion at once.”

Trixie nodded imperiously. “Thank you very much.” She turned on Mammon. “About decorations…”

~

“We know your boss was inseminating women who weren’t official patients,” Chloe said to the medical assistant sweating nervously on the other side of the interrogation room table. “Perhaps you’d like to explain why.”

The assistant trembled. “It… it would violate doctor/patient confidentiality.”

“But these weren’t patients. They weren’t registered. What was the doctor doing?”

“And more importantly,” Lucifer leaned across the table, speaking in a soft and leading tone. “What were you doing? There’s quite a lot of money in your bank account. Taking bribes, perhaps? Or skimming from the books? Tell me… what do you truly desire?”

The assistant struggled helplessly against the compulsion, stuttering for a moment before bursting out, “I... I want to be on The Great British Bake-Off!”

~

“Should we ask where Mazikeen procured a semi-truck and trailer?” Aziraphale asked as they watched fifty demons pile into the truck Maze had driven up to the summoning circle.

“No, Angel, you shouldn’t.” Crowley sat back on his heels, one hand on a tree which had been a sapling a few hours before and was now inching its way nicely toward the sky.

Aziraphale studied the clearing. Beelzebub and Hastur were eliminating trash at a rapid rate. Crowley’s ministration to the plants was already making the snarl look appealing. Aziraphale’s own generous use of miracle had cleared up the cracks in the pavement which now shimmered an unblemished and smooth black. Practically obsidian, he thought with a flicker of pride.

Beelzebub finished her circuit of the clearing and approached them. “My people will have your furniture completed within a day. This does not appear to be space enough for what you requested.”

“Miss Espinosa is arranging more space as we speak,” Aziraphale replied, glancing at the edge of the clearing where Trixie was speaking with authority into her phone while Ella stood by looking as proud as a mother hen.

The girl came over shortly, triumph written on her face. “They said we can use the rec field too! It’s right through there.” She pointed toward a thin place in the trees. “And there’s a building with bathrooms and a storage room where Mom can change. We just need a path.”

“Hastur,” Beelzebub called. “Go with the child and eliminate the vegetation where she tells you to.”

The lord-of-the-flies returned her attention to Aziraphale. “What else is required?”

“Well… we lost everything when we lost the venue. Silverware, tablecloths... More than I can miracle successfully. I don’t suppose your demons can weave?”

“They can spin souls into tortured tapestries… But they may not have the skill to weave threads without winding in curses.”

“I know how!” Called a hopeful voice. Kokbiel came toward them with an eager expression. He’d followed Hastur to the Earth, but had been standing by looking adrift ever since. “I can weave starlight. And clouds. I think I’ve woven clouds. I think I think I remember weaving clouds.”

Beelzebub looked skeptical. “Your skills may be thousands of years repressed. And the material needed…”

Aziraphale swallowed hard. “Crowley? Do you think you can manage a flight to Heaven?”

~

“Think of it as a wedding present,” Crowley suggested with a quirked smile. “I know you never picked anything off the registry.”

“I’m giving my time to attend. Why should I give anything more?” Gabriel answered huffily. “Don’t humans make things like this? Can’t you… procure… material items from them?”

“Yes… but we’re in a time crunch, and it’s hard to find enough matching material, and we thought Lucifer’s family might want to play nice.”

“I told everyone Heaven has lots of materials!” Kokbiel piped up with a proud grin from where he stood beside Crowley. “And lots of angels who can help. Right?”

Gabriel’s face wavered toward something which looked like pity.

“I know some of the kids are dying to get out of here for a bit,” Crowley wheedled. “Kokbiel can keep an eye on them. Send some guards if you don’t trust your fellow angel.”

Gabriel’s scowl returned. He started to speak, then closed his mouth.

Crowley pressed on. “I could have gone to Amenadiel and had a dozen angels down there straight off. But it’ll look better coming from you. Proof everyone’s serious about the peace talks. Heaven’ll respect your opinion and blessing.”

Gabriel’s eyebrows quirked. “Haven’t you done enough tempting?”

Crowley shrugged. “Is it working?”


THURSDAY: TWO DAYS BEFORE THE WEDDING
“We can build a damask canopy there,” declared an angel as the little gaggle of Heavenly representatives surveyed the space. “And lay a lace trail for the aisle. Will there be a stage?”

“Working on it,” Beelzebub grunted. Several demons were heaping rocks and sand into a flat shape which they were fusing into a raised platform with hellfire.

The angels kept well back, chattering amongst each other as Trixie showed them her scenic design proposals.

Ella pulled Aziraphale aside. “I’ve rented some big tents for the reception area. They’ll be dropped off tomorrow morning.” She glanced at the angels and back again. “They say they can get it all setup, lit and decorated by then. Trixie’s talked Mammon into silverware and table decorations. If everything’s good here, you and I need to round up the food.”

“Of course. What’s your plan?”

~

“You know how you keep saying LA has tons of variety and tons of restaurants and how half the guests will never have eaten half of it?” Ella said in a rush as she navigated her way into traffic.

Aziraphale blinked and tried to process all that. “How much coffee have you had this morning?”

“Not enough! And we’re stopping at the first Starbucks we see. But here’s what I’m thinking. We can’t get a catering place to bring enough food in time. But we can go to, like, twenty different restaurants, get loads of to-go orders, and make up a spread ourselves? Right? That works right?”

“Please breathe, Miss Lopez. And drink some water.”

Aziraphale clutched the handle on the car door and wondered if he could miracle caffeine out of a human’s bloodstream.

“Can’t! We’re gonna get some serving trays and fill ‘em up! And you’re going to keep everything fresh and warm until Saturday!”

~

Hi, Nanny!

“Warlock, how are you?” Crowley spoke groggily from his prone position on Linda’s sofa. He’d found it prudent to return here for uninterrupted napping while avoiding Aziraphale’s pre-wedding madness. “How did the kids do in San Francisco?”

Alright. Traveling with two babies is harder than we thought. Neither of them listen when Adam tells them to stop crying. But we’re making it work. Dog really liked the Redwoods. We’re on our way south now. We might stop at Disneyland tomorrow. Did you know Adam’s never been to theme park?

“I don’t think thrill rides do much for him,” Crowley said with a yawn.

There was a pause, then Warlock spoke mournfully. “My cousin’s out of rehab. She’s flying in to get the baby this weekend.

Crowley closed his eyes. “She’ll always be part of you, you know. Even if it’s a while before you see her again.”

I just don’t want her to get hurt.

“I know, Kid.” Crowley rubbed a hand across his face. “Listen… do a better job than I did, okay? Check in with her once in a while. Make sure she’s alright.”

You know I will.

“Yeah… You’re a smart one.”

There was another pause. “Have you gone yet?

Crowley winced. “I’ve been trying to sleep off the last run of madness…”

Nanny, are you stalling?

“Of course I am.” Crowley sat up and pushed on his glasses. “I’ve gotten most of the information I need. Except one thing…” He looked distantly toward the window. “And I don’t really want to ask him.”

Crowley?” Adam’s voice came over the phone, presumably having decided it was now on speaker. “I think it has to be before the wedding.

Crowley frowned. “Why?”

Something in the prophecies. I couldn’t remember much, and they didn’t make sense. But I think you have to do it soon.

“Did it say if I’ll survive?”

C’mon, Nanny. You did it before.

“Circumstances were a little different then.”

It has to be you,” Adam insisted. “You know it.

Crowley shook his head slowly. “If I’m end up cursed again, I’m going to have words with you.”

You weren’t cursed,” Warlock insisted. “You just got what you needed to go back to the beginning.

Crowley stiffened. Back to the beginning… That wasn’t the first time he’d been told that.

“You kids be careful,” he said at last.

You too.

~

“Tacos, sushi, Polynesian, Moroccan, Chinese… more Chinese, Italian… pizza… Stop that!” Ella slapped Aziraphale’s hand as he reached for a pot sticker.

Aziraphale pulled back with a wounded look. “I’m merely testing the quality.”

“Unless we’re doing a second buying trip tomorrow, don’t touch.”

“There are a few more places we could stop…”

“Are we really not getting a cake?” Trixie asked as she looked over the massive spread, currently stacked in a storage room of LUX.

“We cleaned six bakeries out of cupcakes and other stuff,” Ella replied. “We have enough desserts to keep even Aziraphale happy.”

“Miss Lopez…” the angel protested.

“Believe me. We have plenty of dessert options.” Ella surveyed a list on her phone. “Food, venue, furniture, decorations… we still need a DJ.”

“I have some records I could play,” Aziraphale offered.

Ella ignored him. “I guess we could go down to the clubs and see if anybody who doesn’t suck is free on Saturday.”

Trixie stood up a little straighter. “I know who we could ask.”

~

“You want me to DJ my ex-wife’s wedding reception? For a man I hate?” Dan stared at the trio facing him.

“Please, Daddy,” Trixie wheedled.

“Dude, you’ve been doing the improv thing for years, right?” Ella offered with a grin. “Improv that you like Lucifer!”

Dan looked unimpressed.

“You’d be really good at it,” Trixie insisted. “And we already rented all the sound equipment. You just need to announce the dances and stuff.”

A slightly malicious gleam came to Dan’s eyes. “Do I get to pick the songs?”

“Sure,” Ella said. “Just keep in mind a lot of the party guests are coming from Lucifer’s neck of the woods.”

Dan paled. “There are demons coming to the wedding?”

“And angels. And… other stuff.”

“Is Chloe in danger?” he demanded.

“Of course not.” Aziraphale looked affronted. “No one would assault the Lord of Hell’s wife during the wedding. And I understand the peace talks with Heaven are going very well.”

“I’ll do it,” Dan said reluctantly. “To be there in case Chloe needs backup.”

Aziraphale smiled. “Excellent. That puts you and the devil on the same side.”

Dan was left looking stricken.

Chapter Text

FRIDAY – ONE DAY BEFORE THE WEDDING
“Okay… despite delays to throw together a wedding, I think we’re on track.” Linda surveyed the group seated around the table, almost more excited that all four of them were actually drinking the coffee today than that days of arguing and compromise had finally hammered out a tentative contract.

“Are we all at least marginally happy with the results?” she asked, picking up the outline for the contract of peace.

Was she really holding it - a dazed part of her mind whispered – the first step toward peace for Heaven and Hell? And she’d helped draft it in the study room of a coffee shop?

There was mumbling around the table – a few more arguments and debates from both sides, but the stirrings dwindled surprisingly rapidly.

“We’ll need to bring this to the rest of the council,” Gabriel said. “They’ll want to have their say.” He studied the document critically, then conceded in a quiet voice. “I don’t believe they’ll have any objections.”

Linda nodded and turned to Beelzebub. “And what about Lucifer?”

The lord-of-the-flies slumped. “It is time I tell him of our actions.” She shuddered.

“You don’t think he’ll be happy?”

“With a peace according? Yes, that may please him. But my actions…” Beelzebub lifted her head. “It was my choice not to involve him. I’ll make sure he knows where the blame lies if he is displeased.”

Linda squeezed her hand. “We all agreed. It was all of us.”

“Have there been any more injuries?” Raphael asked.

“None so far,” Beelzebub replied, “but Hell is in an uproar. Rumors abound and many fear angelic attack.” She sighed. “Our King will have to return soon. And he will not be pleased.”

~

“You want me to officiate?” Amenadiel looked utterly speechless.

“I’ve considered all options, and you strike me as the best candidate,” Aziraphale replied.

Around them, angels and demons were at work decorating the venue in the just-arrived flowers under Ella and Trixie’s fierce supervision. Both sides were responding with uneasy obedience to the imperious twelve-year-old with the hell-cat pacing at her side. The presence of several Archangels, demon princes, and a pridefully beaming Mazikeen probably didn’t hurt, but Lucifer’s future step-daughter looked strangely in her element bossing around beings far older and far removed from herself.

“But I’m the best man,” Amenadiel protested.

“You’ll have to find someone else to fill in that role.” Aziraphale said firmly. He’d thought this through, concluded there was no one else, and he wouldn’t back down. “Your brother needs you for this role.”

“Well… I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

“I can help you with the speech. I’ve witnessed many weddings.”

Amenadiel looked mournful. “But who gets to be the best man?”

“Yes… We will need someone…” Aziraphale rubbed his chin. “Unfortunately, Dan has already been assigned a role. Who else would be close enough to Lucifer to stand at the altar with him?”

Amenadiel closed his eyes. “I’ll talk to my brothers,” he said wearily.

“Please tell Michael to leave his sword behind.”

~

“What a case!” Chloe panted as she dropped to her desk.

“Indeed, Detective,” Lucifer agreed. “Imagine a man dressing as a pregnant woman to murder the doctor he blamed for his wife’s death in premature childbirth. He must have had a terrible time aiming the gun around that silicon belly-suit.”

“You were amazing,” Chloe laughed. “Tackling the guy like that to keep him from blowing up the entire clinic.”

“Always at your service,” the devil purred. He leaned over to nibble her neck. “I don’t suppose you could save the paperwork for Monday?”

“You mean while we’re on our honeymoon?”

“Detective,” Lucifer whined. “Can’t someone else do it?”

“I can’t ask anyone to…”

“Sure you can!”

Chloe whirled around as the bulk of the precinct descended upon her with a cake and presents, shouting ‘Surprise!’ as detective and devil were drawn away to a wedding shower.

~

Aziraphale looked over his list with a harried flurry clouding his mind. Had they covered everything? Venue, place settings, decorations, seating charts… where was the seating chart? Oh, dear-dear-dear! How could he have lost that madness!

He dug frantically through his numerous notebooks growing increasingly stressed with every passing moment. It had to be here.

“Hey, Angel,” he heard Crowley call as he came into the penthouse guest room. “Can I borrow your sword?”

Aziraphale materialized the weapon with barely a thought and pushed it into the demon’s hands. Had it fallen under the bed? He went to his knees and searched frantically into the shadows.

He felt a hand pawing at his back at let out a frustrated sigh. “Crowley…”

“I need the belt too,” the demon protested.

Aziraphale unbuckled the scabbard and passed it to him as he pushed his head further under the bed. “I need to find the seating chart,” he insisted. “I can’t imagine where…”

“Isn’t it tacked on the wall by the bar?”

The angel rushed from the room. Yes! There it was. Right where they’d left it. He tore it from the wall and hugged it to his chest. That could be checked off the list. Next was…

Aziraphale’s mind clicked into the present. “Crowley? Why do you need my sword?”

He found the demon on the balcony, struggling to secure the sword harness between his wings. Aziraphale immediately stepped in to help, even as his panic mounted. “What are you doing?”

“Just taking a little flight,” Crowley said evasively.

“With a sword?”

“Never know when I might want to eat a really tough steak.”

“You never want a tough steak,” Aziraphale protested. “You swallow too many things whole.”

Crowley wriggled, trying to settle the large blade. “How do I draw it without slicing my wing off?”

“You don’t. You just need it and it’ll be in your hand.” Aziraphale couldn’t NOT answer, much as he wanted answers to his own questions. And for Crowley to take off the sword and sit down.

It wasn’t that he minded Crowley with the blade. It didn’t feel wrong in the demon’s grip. Frankly, the sword seemed equally as secure with Crowley as it did with Aziraphale, even if the demon didn’t look like he enjoyed touching it. But Crowley was no fighter and there was absolutely no reason he could possibly have to want the sword unless he was planning to do something absolutely idiotic.

“Darling,” Aziraphale said carefully, taking Crowley by the shoulders so he wouldn’t slither off. “Where are you going?”

The demon wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Just… following up on something I heard a while ago.”

It stung, of course. Secrets always did. Crowley running from him always did. But one didn’t learn to trust without learning when one simply had to trust.

Aziraphale reluctantly stepped back. “…Can I help?”

Crowley flashed him a careless grin which died too quickly for Aziraphale’s taste. “You’re up to your wingtips in wedding prep. I’ll just get out of your hair while you finish up."

“You’ll be back in time for the wedding?”

The demon’s certainty faded. “…Probably.” He straightened. “Definitely before you need the sword again. Don’t worry. I won’t lose it or feed it to a gargoyle. No need to worry about… about it.”

Aziraphale embraced him tightly. “Be safe, Darling,” he whispered. “Take care of each other.”

He felt Crowley tremble in his arms, even as the demon spoke with forced levity. “You worry too much, Angel. You know I always come back just fine.”

Aziraphale didn’t let go – mostly because Crowley was squeezing him as tightly as a serpent in human shape could.

They parted at last. Crowley flexed his wings a few times as he turned his eyes Upward.

“Darling,” Aziraphale said tentatively. “If you go to Heaven armed…”

“Not going to Heaven,” the demon replied.

That was a relief at least. “Then… where…?”

Crowley hesitated. He climbed onto the balcony railing. “The beginning,” he said softly.

Without another glance, he dove from the world.

Aziraphale watched the spot where he’d vanished for a long time afterwards.

~

“Do you know,” Lucifer said as he and Chloe sat on the penthouse sofa, sorting through the gifts their coworkers had given them. “I believe our friends forgot about throwing us bachelor parties.”

Chloe paused in the act of pairing gifts with cards. “I think you’re right. I can’t really fault Ella. She did plan our entire wedding.”

“And my best man probably isn’t aware of the concept.”

“I told Maze I didn’t want her planning another bachelorette party,” Chloe admitted.

The devil set aside his drink and gave her his full attention. “Well, Detective. It seems we’re spending our last night single together.” He looked at his phone. “If I drive, we could make it to Vegas with time to spare.”

“Or,” Chloe’s eyebrows rose suggestively, “we could just stay here.” She giggled as he pushed her down and wrapped himself around her.

The elevator dinged and opened.

“My Lord?”

Lucifer huffed an annoyed sound and sat up. “Beelzebub. Fleeing Hell, I see.”

The lord-of-the-flies shuffled forward, her eyes flitting nervously around the room. “Never, my Lord. I… bring news.”

Lucifer leaned back and crossed one leg casually over the other. He tucked Chloe comfortably against his side. “Do tell.”

The demon prince wet her lips. “Heaven is… offering peace.”

“Are they?”

Beelzebub nodded quickly. “Yes, Lord. We’ve… we’ve been discussing terms. We believe we’ve found common ground. We’d like to explore the possibility of a future… closer united.”

“Interesting.” A knowing smile played on the devil’s lips. “Does this mean an end to the celestially wounded demons?”

Beelzebub gave a yelp of surprise, her body swirling into an agitated swarm. The flies bunched back together, and the prince went to her knees, bowing her head low. “H-how long have you known, m-my Lord?”

“Since about five minutes after you cornered Crowley in the library,” Lucifer said carelessly. “Did you really think he’d help you get close to Linda without my consent?”

The nervous hum of Beelzebub’s flies turned into an angrier drone.

“Before you skin the serpent,” Lucifer went on, “I was also informed of your doings by Mazikeen, Hastur, Vepar, two captains, several dungeon guards and eleven of my spies.” He smiled a self-satisfied look down on her. “I keep aware of my realm, Beelzebub. You ought to know that. I don’t wish to make the same mistake ever again.”

The prince bowed her head to the floor. “F-forgive me, Lord,” she panted.

A moment of silence. Then, Lucifer laughed. “Oh, get up. There’s nothing to forgive.”

“My Lord?” Beelzebub looked up, her mouth hanging open.

The devil waved her to the sofa. “Have a seat. Really, there’s no need to cower. Not if you’re really brokered peace with Heaven.”

Chloe gave Beelzebub a warm smile. “We haven’t really been introduced, have we? Lucifer’s told me you run Hell for him when he’s away. You’ve given us so much time together.” She laced her fingers with Lucifer’s. “We both appreciate it.” She nudged him. “Don’t we, Lucifer?”

“Of course, Darling,” he mumbled. He focused on Beelzebub, his expression turning more severe. “Your handling of the situation has been admirable. I expect the full story as soon as I’m back on my throne.”

“Y-yes, Lord. Thank you.” Beelzebub shuddered and ducked her head as if she had no idea what to do with praise.

Lucifer rose, and crossed the room. He seated himself beside the prince. His voice was low and gentle when he spoke. “You’ve been at my side a long time. And I’ve treated you poorly.”

“N-no, Lord.”

“It’s true. You had just as much a hand in raising Hell out of chaos as I did. But I’ve received the glory while you do the work.” He took her hand. “I’ve never told you how much I’ve appreciated and valued your loyalty and skill. Thank you.”

The demon’s face was hot and downcast. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Lucifer waited a moment. “What would you like to be in the future? What is your wish? Your… desire?” He put no power behind the word, though the implication hung there.

Beelzebub stayed still for a time. Slowly, she raised her head to meet his eyes. “I’ve never wanted your throne,” she said. “I never needed the praise. The… headache of it.”

Lucifer chuckled.

“I would be happy to remain at your left hand,” she said, then looked across the room at Chloe. “Although, that position seems to be newly taken.”

“Chloe and I will share the throne evenly,” Lucifer declared. “And your place remains unchanged beside the throne.”

Beelzebub nodded, then looked up with more boldness. “I wish to see Earth again. I wish to understand why this place attracts you. Why it changes angels and demons as it does. And I wish to see Heaven. And…” Her expression turned fierce. “…I would be seen by them. Make them recognize and acknowledge me.” Her eyes focused on him once more. “And those who report to me – who deserve better than they receive – I would wish for more potential for them. Opportunities to be more than they are. For all of Hell.”

The devil’s smile was full of approval. “You have more wisdom than I’ve given you credit. I promise to not take advantage of you any longer and listen to your council.” He rose, pulling her up with him. “We’ll discuss the terms with Heaven after I return from my honeymoon. I expect the full story then.”

“Of course.” A gleam came to Beelzebub’s eyes. “We have a new future ahead of us, my Lord.”

She turned to study Chloe with a flicker of puzzlement. “I didn’t understand,” she admitted. “When Lucifer first spoke of marrying a human.” She drifted closer. “I don’t know you yet. I don’t know what you’ll bring to Hell.” She halted in front of Chloe. “But, I am beginning to learn that there is more to humanity than I believed.” She held out her hand. “I am at your service, my Lord.”

Chloe ignored the hand and boldly hugged her. “Thank you for taking care of him,” she said. “We both know he needs all the help he can get.”

The demon buzzed with surprise. “He… does require… effort,” she admitted cautiously.

“Detective,” Lucifer scowled. “You can’t teach my underlings to speak ill of me.”

Chloe stepped back, grinning boldly. “It’ll be good to have your ego taken down a few notches.” She looked at Beelzebub, inviting her to share the joke. “He needs someone to tell him when he’s wrong.”

Beelzebub flinched and ducked her head. After a moment, she spoke cautiously. “Have you ever heard the song about the devil losing a fiddle contest?”

“Is it true?” Chloe asked eagerly.

Lucifer hissed. “Beelzebub! I forbid you from telling her that story!”

“And as your equal partner on the throne, I negate that order,” Chloe shot back.

The devil’s face broke into a smile. He pulled Chloe back to his side. “At least save learning about my flaws until after the wedding?” he begged.

“Deal.” She kissed him.

The lord-of-the-flies stepped away. “I should return to my duties.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow!”

Another minute and they were alone.

Lucifer slid his hands over Chloe’s hips. “Where were we…?”

The elevator dinged.

“Lucifer!” called a shrill voice. “Mommy!”

Lucifer sighed. “Urchin. I thought you were with your father.”

“I was.” Trixie marched up to them and tipped her backpack onto the coffee table. “But then I remembered we never planned a party for you!” Packages of cookies, cans of soda, and DVDs of wedding comedies spilled across the table.

“Monkey, you planned our whole wedding,” Chloe protested. “We don’t need…” She trailed off as she realized Lucifer had already torn into the cookies.

“I brought games too,” Trixie insisted, tugging open another zipper on her bag.

Lucifer sorted through the movies. “Excellent choices… I don’t suppose you remembered High School Hot Tub?”

“Lucifer!”


SATURDAY MORNING
“You know,” Chloe heard a silky voice whisper in her ear just as she began to awaken. “I always assumed I’d begin my wedding day in bed with multiple ladies. This isn’t quite what I imagined.”

Chloe turned her head to kiss her fiancé, his arms wrapped around her waist and his nose burrowed against her neck. Beside her was Trixie, deep asleep with chocolate still smeared across her face. Whiskers lay across the pillows, one paw draped over Lucifer’s head.

Chloe leaned back against Lucifer. “Are you ready for this?”

“With you? I don’t have the slightest doubts.”

Chapter Text

1988 – 2008 – ENGLAND
They flipped for the nanny position. Obviously, the nanny would have better opportunity to influence the child than the gardener. Logically, they both wanted it.

Crowley always did the flipping when they divided assignments. And the coin always came out the way he wanted. It was one of those things Aziraphale pretended not to notice since Crowley always made it up to him if he arranged for Aziraphale to take the worse assignment.

The coin came out in Aziraphale’s favor. He resisted hugging Crowley for giving the child such an obvious push toward goodness.

He was feeling less thrilled by the next evening.

“They didn’t hire me!” he wailed into the phone.

What? Why not?” Crowley demanded.

“They don’t want a man! Apparently, it’s not proper for men to be nannies in America.”

So shimmy into a dress and get back there.

Aziraphale clutched a hand over his stomach. “I’m not sure I can be a lady.”

He swore he could hear Crowley rolling his eyes. “You’re a bloody angel. You can be whatever you want.

“I know… but I’ve never…”

Never what?

“Tried changing.”

There was a pause, then the demon exploded. “Do you mean to say you’ve been a man for 6,000 years?!

“Longer, actually…”

You never experiment?

“Well… no.”

Crowley sounded utterly shocked. “I tried eighteen different sexes the first day. And that was still back in Heaven. You really never played with form?

Aziraphale sat down, feeling thoroughly embarrassed. “I thought it was just a fad in Heaven when everyone was trying it out,” he explained miserably. “But they said I needed to pick one when they assigned me to Eden. And there were only the two human options in the Garden, and Lilith was not a nice person, so I just copied what Adam had.”

He heard Crowley making a noise which sounded suspiciously like suppressed laughter. “You’ve been behind on the times since your creation. Can’t you just dress up? They’re not going to check what’s under your skirt.

Aziraphale hugged himself a little tighter. It had been such a long and terrible day. He just wanted cocoa and a few hours with the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Not to think about how he might have just ruined the salvation of Earth on his own awkwardness. “They… that man. The ambassador… He called me a rather nasty word. You know… the one that used to be for firewood.”

Another pause. “So you want me to be the nanny.

“If… if it’s not too much trouble.”

Another minute and Aziraphale was alone with his lonely thoughts.

He knew he was an outlier among angels. He’d never really fit in with his peers. Always behind in the times. Always out of step. Always easily blamed when things went wrong.

And among humans. He knew the humans who seemed drawn to him weren’t considered societally normal. He liked them – the ones with their fondness for poetry and theatre and their close relationships with each other. They’d helped him through those lonely decades when Crowley had passed out and declined to wake up for years. He’d always known they wanted something out of him that he didn’t quite understand and wasn’t quite prepared to give.

Everyone seemed to expect something of him. He just never knew how to deliver.

It led to him sitting alone beneath an ottoman in the backroom of a Soho bookshop.

He heard the shop door open abruptly and frowned. He knew he’d locked it. Which meant…

Crowley stalked into the room with a television under his arm and a bakery box balanced on his other hand. He shoved a clear space onto a table and forced a video into a slot on the television which probably hadn’t been meant for that purpose until Crowley decided it was.

The demon pushed his way onto the couch, forcing Aziraphale to make room for him until he was comfortably sprawled and Aziraphale found himself holding the box.

“What is this?” Aziraphale asked cautiously.

“Research.” Crowley replied, pushing open the box and pulling out a cream horn. He gestured with it toward the television, powdered sugar flying with the motion. “If I’m going to be the nanny, you’re going to help me figure out the part.”

Aziraphale produced a handkerchief and tried to corral Crowley’s crumbs. Somehow he found himself peacefully eating a cannoli as Dick Van Dyke crooned about a ‘Jolly ‘oliday with Maaaary’ in an atrocious cockney accent.

“Maybe you have some ideas for my gardener persona?” He asked cautiously.

“Well, I brought Little Shop of Horrors too.”


Nanny Ashtoreth and Warlock found Brother Francis red-eyed and tear-stained behind the garden shed.

Warlock immediately wrapped him in a sticky-fingered hug. “What’s wrong Brother Francis?” he asked anxiously, tears springing to his eyes in sympathy. “Did you fall down? Are you hurt?”

“I think someone hurt Brother Francis’ feelings,” Nanny said.

“They shouldn’t do that!” the six-year-old wailed indignantly.

“That’s right,” Nanny agreed. “And when you’re a little older you can crush all the mean people under your heel and make them behave through force and will.”

“Please… Not right now…” Brother Francis mumbled.

Nanny’s expression softened. “Warlock? Do you know what would make Brother Francis feel better?”

“Transformers?”

“Tea. A nice cup of tea. Why don’t you run to the cook and ask them for one? Yes, all by yourself. That’s a good boy.”

As soon as they were alone, Crowley slid to the ground beside him. “I can curse him with boils or something if you’d like.”

Aziraphale blew his nose. “'Turn the other cheek',” he quoted.

“You and I both know that was meant far differently than the humans think.”

“This time, it’s probably the right thing to do.”

“You’ve been putting up with Dowling's insults for seven years. Why do you keep going back for more?”

“I thought we – I – should influence the parents toward goodness too. So they’d be a positive force in the child’s life.” Aziraphale wrapped his arms around himself. “I shouldn’t be so sensitive,” he mumbled. “I’ve seen what humans do to each other. I’ve heard all their insults. Some of them have been thrown at me, certainly…”

“Just not every time you try to talk nice to him.”

Aziraphale hunched tighter into a bundle. “I wasn’t trying to flirt with him. I don’t even know how.”

“Don’t I know it.” Crowley glared toward the house. “Even if you were, he ought to take it as a compliment. He loves it when he thinks women are flirting with him.” The demon hissed. “They never are. He’s even made a few passes at me.”

“What do you do?”

“Set Rover on him. Why else do you think I have a dog?”

Aziraphale wondered, not for the first time, where Crowley had acquired said dog. As usual, he pushed the musing aside for another day. “I just don’t understand how a grown human can say such hateful things,” he whispered. “As if… as if the people he’s talking about aren’t even real people.”

Crowley was silent for a moment. Then, “Do you want to get out of here?”

“What?”

“Leave. Send Brother Francis off to retire in the countryside. Or he can run off with Nanny. Harriot’s been trying to fire me since the first week. She’d be happy if she finally succeeded. And you wouldn’t have to take being treated like this anymore.”

“Leave Warlock?” Aziraphale gasped. He hastily corrected himself. “Leave our assignment? Abandon the fate of the world to… to random chance? To those parents?” He grabbed Crowley’s hand. “My dear, we can’t leave.”

Crowley’s forked tongue flicked thoughtfully. “Or… just Nanny and Brother Francis could leave. It’s about time for Warlock to graduate to having some… some teachers!” The demon’s expression turned resolute. “Put in your notice. I’ll get Harriot to fire me. Right after I give her the idea to hire a couple private tutors for Warlock.”

“So… we’d be… educators?” Aziraphale asked slowly, warming hesitantly to the idea. “I could improve his reading skills. You’ve made such a mess of it. And history! I do love history.” He shrank back. “But what about…”

Nanny Ashtoreth rose to her feet, her smile absolutely feral. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of that.”

~

“Mr. Harrison,” said the man in the dark glasses as he showed Harriot Dowling his credentials. “This is my associate, Mr. Cortese. The agency sent us. We understand you have a bright young man in need of educating.”

Mr. Cortese twisted his hands nervously and tried not to look around for Mr. Dowling.

“Well… you’re certainly qualified,” Harriot agreed after looking over their credentials. “I notice some of your subjects overlap. Is that going to be a problem?”

“Not at all.” Mr. Harrison took Mr. Cortese’s hand and interlaced their fingers. He drew the conjoined hands to rest against his hip. “We’re very used to ‘overlapping’.” He stared hard at Harriot. “Is that going to be a problem?”

Mrs. Dowling blanched, then forced herself to recover. “Not at all. We’re… we’re Americans – obviously. We’re very progressive over there.” She nodded brightly. “Why back in my younger days, I was quite active in the marches…” Her smile faded. “But maybe you should just be… discreet. My husband’s position. You understand.”

Mr. Harrison smiled a smile that showed quite a lot of teeth. “Never fear. Our concern is purely for our work. You'll find the two of us will stay utterly focused and well out of the way. Your husband won’t ever have reason to take a second look at us.”


“There you are, my dear.” Aziraphale finished fluffing up the pillows and straightening the blankets. “You’ll be nice and cozy here. And tomorrow we’ll go by the university and fetch your things and make this a lovely little home for you.”

He turned to smile at the young man standing with his back against a bookshelf. Warlock was looking paler and thinner than when he’d last seen him, an appearance not improved by the hospital gown he was still wearing.

He was clutching Dog tightly to his chest. The hellhound occasionally lifted his head to lick Warlock’s chin, tolerating the young man squeezing him with amazing resolve.

“Now then,” Aziraphale bustled around the bookshop backroom. “I’ll just make sure the loo has what you need. Why don’t you get cleaned up and I’ll find your something more comfortable to sleep in?” He started for the door.

“Brother Francis?”

Aziraphale turned back at the cracked and hesitant voice, the first thing Warlock had said since his dazed confirmation at the hospital that, yes, he wanted to leave. He’d been silent on the drive back to Soho, leaning against Adam in something of a stupor.

Aziraphale smiled. “Yes, my dear?”

“It’s… it’s alright for me to stay here?” Warlock’s voice quivered, his body tensing as if he expected to be thrown onto the street at any moment.

Aziraphale took him by the shoulders and guided him to sit on the couch. “Of course, my dear boy. You have a home with us anytime you need it.”

Warlock’s whole body slumped. Dog leaped to the ground as Warlock collapsed into Aziraphale’s arms, tears of exhaustion and pain beginning to flow.

Aziraphale rubbed his back. “Poor boy,” he murmured softly. “You’re alright now. You’re safe. We’re so happy to have you with us.”

“Even though… I’m such a mess?” Warlock whimpered.

“You’re no mess. Well, perhaps the hair.” Aziraphale patted the look of permanent bed-head.

Warlock gave a weak gasping laugh through his sobs.

“You’re just twisted a little topsy-turvy right now. We’ll help you find up and down again.”

“But what if… what if there’s something wrong with me?”

“Like what, dear boy?”

Warlock was silent for a long time. “I let everybody down,” he mumbled into Aziraphale’s shoulders. “Everybody’s expecting me to be something big and important… and I’m nobody.”

Aziraphale wrapped his arms tighter around the battered young man. “You’re not nobody. No one is nobody. You’re exactly who you’re supposed to be. Maybe right now… maybe a lot of people have gotten you confused about who that is… and I’m so sorry for the part I’ve played in that… But you’re going to find your own path. You’re going to find your own person. And maybe that’s not who your parents expect. Or your teachers. Or anyone around you. But…” He cupped a hand around Warlocks cheek and shifted to look him in the eyes. “…I am so proud of that person. Even if you spend your whole life searching. That’s just fine. Even if who you are changes a hundred times. That’s fine too. None of us are created knowing who we’re supposed to be. Even if we think we’re sure, there are always going to be so many things to discover.”

“It’s really hard,” Warlock whispered.

Aziraphale nodded. “Can I tell you a secret?” He took Warlock’s hands in his. “There was a very long time that I didn’t like myself very much. I thought I was supposed to be a certain way. I tried so hard to be what others expected me to be. And every time they told me I wasn’t good enough… it broke little bits of me. Even… even when I thought I’d accepted me, I’d still hear things and feel all broken again. It still happens sometimes.”

Warlock gazed at him with huge and wondering eyes.

“But what helped, was finding things I was good at – sometimes not even things I thought I was supposed to be good at. And finding things that made me happy – even silly things. And finding people who liked me for me – who, even if they thought I was odd, still accepted me for who I was at that moment. And the more things I found that made me happy, the happier I was with myself. And the less those hurtful words mattered. And now, even when I’m hurt, I don’t lose me anymore. And I’m learning how to find my own way without thinking I have to be what someone else expects me to be all the time.”

They heard the shop door open and slam shut.

Aziraphale smiled and leaned closer to whisper. “It also helped to find someone who’d threaten to eat, curse, or make disappear any people who hurt my feelings.”

Crowley sauntered into the room. “Adam’s back at uni.” He looked down at Dog, who growled up at him. “He’ll be by in the morning to fetch you.”

He dropped several paper bags smelling of grease and lemon onto the table. “Fish and chips,” he explained as he made a space for himself on the sofa. “I expect that’s the closest we have to all that American fried and chain nonsense you’ve grown accustom to. Eat up and we’ll get you some better cuisine tomorrow.”

Aziraphale smiled affectionately at the demon, even as he sniffed in vocal disapproval at the battered travesty Crowley pressed into his hands.

As Dog stood on his hind legs and demanded his share, and Crowley cheerfully insulted the fry chef without a thread of malice, and Warlock began to tentatively smile, Aziraphale made a mental picture of the moment.

There would be times he knew he’d still feel adrift and alone, but he’d hold on to this moment, and thousands of others like it.

These were the signposts to guide his way.

Chapter Text

“Okay… you have your flowers. And those are for the bride’s people… Where are the ones for the guys…? There!”

“Ella, breathe!” Chloe watched the scientist tear around the equipment room which was doubling as a women’s changing area. “It’s my wedding. I’m supposed to be the one stressing out.”

“No chance! You outsourced planning the wedding on me, so I get the outsourced panic too!” Ella replied in an over-caffeinated rush. “You just concentrate on walking in those heels!” She dashed out the room.

Chloe looked down at her shoes. “I probably should have picked different footwear when we decided on an outdoor wedding.”

“You’ll be fine,” Linda said as she zipped up Chloe’s dress. “And getting your heel stuck is the least alarming thing which could happen at this wedding.”

Chloe turned to look at her. “You’re amazingly calm for someone who’s been brokering peace between Heaven and Hell.”

“I’m still so sleep-addled that my brain is convinced everything is normal,” the therapist replied cheerfully. “One of these mornings I’m going to wake up in a complete panic when I realize what I’ve been doing for the past few months. Until then, I’m just not thinking about the future. You know, in case Lucifer ever gets around to asking me to be a prince of Hell.”

Chloe turned and took Linda by the hands. “If he won’t, I will. I’m going to need some friends for whatever chaos I’m walking into. And Lucifer needs you. Someone needs to help me talk sense into him. So, how about it, Linda? Will you be a councilor of Hell?”

Linda’s face quirked into an amused grin. “I do,” she said.

“I didn’t know Lucifer was going for polygamy,” a voice remarked from the doorway.

The women whirled around.

“Amenadiel!” Chloe gasped, covering her dress self-consciously. “You’re not supposed to be in here before the wedding.”

“I had to give you your wedding present,” the first born replied.

“Shouldn’t Lucifer be here for this?”

“This is just for you.”

The angel drew back and a grey-haired man in dress police blues stepped into the doorway.

Chloe blinked, her mind whirling. “Dad?”

A smile broke across the man’s face. “Hello, Monkey.”

“Dad!” Chloe forgot any concern for her dress as she found herself crushed in her father’s arms.

Dimly she heard the door close as Amenadiel and Linda slipped out.

“How?” she gasped, pulling away from the man long enough to stare at him.

John Decker’s eyes were full of tears. “I nagged Amenadiel into it,” he admitted. “I said I missed my baby’s first marriage, I sure as Hell wasn’t missing her second. Especially considering who she’s marrying.”

“He’s a good man, Dad,” Chloe insisted. “I know how it sounds, but I love him. I’m not afraid for what that means.”

“He’d better be,” John said fiercely. His face softened. “I think I can trust your instincts.”

“I’ve missed you,” Chloe whispered.

“Me too, Baby. I’ve tried to keep tabs on what you’re doing. I’ve met some people who speak very well of you. Charlotte and some others. They say you’ve become an amazing detective.”

“Acting wasn’t for me,” Chloe admitted. “No matter what Mom hoped.”

“Making detective. Protecting people. Raising a daughter.” John’s voice was thick. “I wish I’d been there to see it.”

He pulled back momentarily, wiping away the tears. “I don’t have long. Amenadiel wouldn’t give me much time for fear every parent in Heaven would be lining up to see their children’s birthdays, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. I’ll probably have to leave as soon as the ceremony’s over.”

“You should give me away!”

“Monkey, you don’t need anyone giving you away. And, I’d like to sit with your mother. But… I wondered if we could have our dance now?”

“Of course!” Chloe scooped up her phone. Music soon wafted through the room as John put his arms around her.

Chloe rested her head on his shoulder. “Thank you for being here,” she whispered.

His reply was a painful gasp.

Chloe blinked hard, trying to stave off the flood of tears. “Did you hear I solved your murder?”

John laughed weakly.

The door opened.

Both turned quickly to behold a wide-eyed and slightly suspicious twelve-year-old.

“Trixie!” Chloe cried, rushing forward. “There’s someone I want you to meet!”

~

“So far so good,” Ella murmured to Aziraphale as they stood at the far end of the blacktop, surveying the seated guests. “Any fights yet?”

“Surprisingly, everyone is being well-behaved,” Aziraphale whispered back. He stood on his toes, trying to keep an eye on everyone at once.

The guests were largely human, a factor which was helping to reduce the chances of quarreling. They sat intermingled with visitors from other realms, oblivious to who and what occupied the adjacent seats.

The Archangels and demon princes held the front rows on opposite sides of the aisle. Though they glanced across at one another with wary looks, the opposing sides were being largely careful to maintain their new and fragile truce.

Adam stood at the head of the aisle, nodding to every guest who came in and carefully meeting the eyes of each and every foreign ambassador. The look said plainly that this world was his, thank you very much. Their influence would not be appreciated.

“How are you doing?” Aziraphale asked, edging closer to the young man.

Adam flashed him a careless smile. “No one will notice anything odd, if that’s what you mean.” His expression turned thoughtful. “It’s better if the people don’t… forget exactly… but just have a hard time remembering.” He nodded confidently.

“Just don’t include Lucifer’s closest friend in that.”

Adam gave him an amused look of someone perfectly confident the universe would work out their way, which it generally did. His grin faded as three figures walked into the clearing. “I thought I got rid of them,” he murmured, his eyes locked on War, Famine, and Pollution.

“THEY EXIST IN THE MINDS OF HUMANITY,” said Death’s voice from behind Aziraphale and Adam. “YOU REMOVED THEIR MORTAL VESSELS FOR A TIME, BUT THEY WILL ALWAYS RETURN.”

“And if I get rid of them again?” Adam asked without turning around to look at the speaker.

“THEY WILL BE WEAKENED IN INFLUENCE UNTIL THEY FORM NEW SHAPES.”

“Right.” Adam nodded to himself with the air of someone mentally working on a future itinerary.

A disheveled girl with tropical fish floating in a swirl around her head trotted past accompanied by a dog. She was followed by a lanky man in wire-rimmed glasses who murmured to Adam that he was representing the Dreaming as his king had other business to attend.

“Is that everyone?” Ella asked, bustling up to Adam and Aziraphale.

“Where’s Warlock?” Aziraphale asked.

“Had something else to do,” Adam mumbled, his gaze still focused on the three riders.

“Where’s Crowley?” Ella asked abruptly.

Aziraphale winced. “He said he’d be here in time… but I suppose we can’t wait for him.”

Ella shook her head. “It’s time to start.” She squeezed his arm and hurried off to whisper to a string quartet which had been playing softly as the guests arrived. Brief conference done, she shot up the aisle, catching Aziraphale by the wrist as she rushed past him. “Show time!” she whispered, her face a tense grin. “Let’s see if we pulled this off!”

~

If Lucifer had been a liar, he would have said he was not nervous, not scared something would prevent the wedding, and, in fact, had never been afraid in his life.

Not for the first time, he was glad he’d formed the sort of aura of confidence around himself which encouraged his friends and minions not to ask those sorts of questions.

He’d rarely felt such anticipatory dread. Except in matters pertaining to Chloe. Why did she bring out such need and uncertainty in him? Any other human he could have met at the altar with his patented smile and not a single butterfly in his stomach.

Any other human wasn’t Chloe.

He was acutely aware of how vulnerable he was as he took his place on the stage. Not the physical fragility Chloe brought out of him. Even the presence of so very many beings who probably wouldn’t have minded taken advantage of his weakened state didn’t bring that fear to the forefront of his mind.

No, the vulnerability was of the certainty that there would be little left of him if something went wrong. If Chloe changed her mind. If his siblings or the archdemons announced they’d found reason they couldn’t be joined. If his absentee parent suddenly appeared in divine lightning and proved this whole love had been a cruel joke to further prove how little they thought of their once beloved son.

It probably showed on his face. He could feel his wings trembling within the ether.

He felt a hand slide into his and squeeze. He glanced gratefully at Linda, standing beside him in one of the grooms-being roles.

“This isn’t important in the long-run,” she whispered to him. “You two have all of eternity to be together. Don’t worry about one little ceremony.”

“Speaking of eternity, Doctor,” he murmured. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

Linda rolled her eyes. “And you picked now? We’ll talk afterwards.” She leaned closer. “The answer’s, ‘yes’,”

Lucifer felt a rush of relief quell some of his panic.

“Don’t worry,” Maze purred as she took her place beside Linda as another grooms-being “If anyone says, ‘I object’, I’ll stab them, we’ll decorate the aisle with their corpse, and move on.” She considered for a moment. “Unless it’s Dan. I’ll kiss him. He’ll probably pass out long enough to finish the ceremony.”

“I don’t believe anyone would dare make an enemy of Hell by interrupting his nuptials. Ill-conceived as they are,” a voice Lucifer hadn’t heard in thousands of years grumbled.

Lucifer blinked, staring stupidly as Gabriel took his place at the head of the grooms-being row. “Did you slaughter Amenadiel?” he asked.

“Change of roles.” Gabriel muttered, nodding to center stage, where Amenadiel had just appeared holding cue-cards and looking as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing.

Lucifer’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t speak to me since our little family tiff and you think you get to be my best man?”

The messenger tensed his shoulders as if he intended to start shouting. Then he sagged and stared at the ground. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.

“What was that, Brother?”

“I’m sorry,” Gabriel snarled through gritted teeth.

“Whatever for?” Lucifer knew it came out as condescending, but he was genuinely curious.

Gabriel looked elsewhere. “For being so sure you were in the wrong that I was unwilling to look at how things have change.” He glared at his brother. “Are you happy now?”

Lucifer studied him. “If you mean at this moment, this is the happiest day of my life. Because of Chloe, mind you. Not because you’ve deigned to speak to me after thousands of years of the cold shoulder.”

Gabriel snorted. “I’ve been busy.”

“So I hear. So many missives to Earth. Dreams. Signs. Visions. You’ve been quite busy.” Lucifer’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Gabriel closed his eyes. “I’m going to skin that snake.”

“I’d rather you didn’t. He has his uses.”

“Like forcing you to see the truth about yourself whether you want to admit it or not,” Gabriel grumbled to himself.

Lucifer’s eyebrows rose. “Brother, I think you and I should have a proper conversation once this is over. Perhaps,” he sighed, “perhaps we both have apologies to make.”

Gabriel nodded. He leaned closer and murmured just for Lucifer’s hearing. “I am glad you found someone who makes you happy. I know… I know what it’s like to feel cut off from family.” He straightened his stance and looked forward as the string quartet began to play the wedding march. “I’m glad you found a new family.”

Lucifer might have come up with a sarcastic answer, but his mind was suddenly swept away with a surge of anxiety as the maids of honor processed down the aisle.

Chloe had declined bridesmaids, saying three maids of honor was plenty. Lucifer had pointed out Aziraphale could probably be politely downgraded to usher if she had someone she knew better that she wanted to ask.

He’d been surprised to learn Chloe had gotten to know Aziraphale quite well. Apparently in the year of his absence they’d bonded over the shared sorrow of losing a loved-one to Hell. Aziraphale had also contributed quite a lot of knowledge to Chloe’s understanding of Heaven and Hell. She might not consider him her closest friend, but she thought he’d be excellent moral support for the biggest day of her life (and afterlife).

The maids of honor took their positions just as Charlie, clinging to Whisker’s tail and with Dog nudging him along, toddled down the aisle, eating as many flower petals as he dropped. Dog occasionally reached into the basket and tossed out a mouthful of petals, which Aziraphale subtly made quadruple in number so that the ground was decently covered when the music increased in volume and Chloe Decker stepped forward.

Lucifer forgot everything else. Her eyes locked on his and he felt his heart surge.

He forgot where he was. Forgot protocol. He stepped from the little stage and stepped toward her.

They met midway down the aisle and halted as he put his arms around her.

“Are you ready?” Chloe whispered.

“Since the moment I met you,” he whispered back.

Arm-in-arm, the devil and the detective stepped forward to be joined as one.

Chapter Text

PRESENT DAY - EDEN

Eden hadn’t changed, Crowley thought with some satisfaction. 6,000 years and they still hadn’t figured out how he’d gotten in.

The serpent wove his way through the undergrowth, murmuring assurances to the plants that he wasn’t there to do them any harm. The plants were different – the million-times removed descendants of the plants he’d known before. Thousands of them were long extinct on Earth, or had never existed there. Crowley resisted the urge to fill his pockets with seeds. He’d come here for one specific act of thievery. He couldn’t dare alert the guards too soon with frivolous taking.

A part of him worried that the trees were long dead. If all the other plants had changed, wouldn’t the forbidden trees have cycled as well? Maybe they’d dropped their fruits and created a whole grove of forbidden trees.

If they had, how would he be able to tell the forbidden from the benign?

It was dark in the garden. Neither stars nor moon shone overhead. The animals were asleep, although Crowley didn’t think there were many. Not like there had once been.

Likely just pollinators to keep the plants thriving. And grazers to keep the plants from swarming the walls.

He wondered what kept the grazing population in check in walled world with no predators.

He decided not to wonder too deeply about the mechanics of paradise.

It was slightly invigorating to think he might be the fiercest predator in this world. Then a cherub flew silently overhead, and Crowley remembered he was VERY LOW on the celestial food chain.

Maybe, he wondered as he studied the four-headed angel, maybe they were the reason the prey species kept a low number.

He crawled inch by inch through the Garden, making certain of his concealment before he moved. He couldn’t get this wrong. And the guardians here were literally eagle-eyed… not to mention lion-toothed.

The rivers hadn’t changed course or dug deeper channels. He swam across the first, then let the current carry him for a while in the second. Best way to make progress and minimize chances of being seen.

Leaving the river, he crawled his way through the forest, trying desperately not to become distracted by tantalizing scents which awoke old, old, old memories.

This was the first Garden he’d loved. A part of his heart was still here.

The forest gave way as it had 6,000 years before. There was the clearing. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There were the cherubim roosting in its branches.

They didn’t mess around, he thought. He counted seven of them and at least four drawn celestial swords.

Did they know he was coming? Or did they sit in a ready pose for centuries at a time just in case?

Either way was terrifying.

But it wasn’t this tree that he wanted.

He slipped along the edge of the clearing, doing his best to keep to the shadows. He didn’t dare look again at the tree. If he couldn’t see the cherubim, it was less likely they could see him.

He heard a beating of wings and crushed himself flat against the soil.

A changing of guards. Several angels reached the tree and alighted. Several more took off and flew away.

What did cherubim do when they weren’t guarding? Maybe nothing. Maybe they were always on guard...

...Maybe Crowley should have paid more attention back in Heaven. He’d have known these things if he’d asked.

He made hasty progress while the angels were settling themselves. It seemed the best time to get further around the clearing. If only he knew where he was going.

There had to be another tree. Too much evidence pointed to its existence. But just knowing it existed didn’t give him a clear idea where to find it. ‘Somewhere around here’ had seemed easy in his head. But there was a very real chance of being slaughtered by a heavenly warrior before he ever located ‘somewhere’.

He crawled his way up a tree and tasted the air. Most of the fruit scents were identifiable from Earth. There had to be one which only existed…

…There!

The scent washed over him like a breath of spring in the winter chill. Not just a flavor he couldn’t identify – one that hummed of life and power.

Back on the ground, he slithered onward.

There! An aged an unassuming tree. Its branches hung heavy with fruit. The tree looked impossibly old, weighted down with years of branches and centuries of fruit which had grown, but never fallen, never been picked, never spoiled.

Waiting.

It wasn’t far from the edge of the clearing, but the ground was dangerously bare.

Crowley studied the bare ground with a sinking soul. Plan A had been very simple, and he’d known it probably wouldn’t be that easy.

Plan B was incredibly stupid.

He just had to hope the sword would sell the part.

And that cherubim were as impulsive as he remembered.

Ducking deep into the concealing undergrowth, he shifted to his demonic form. Closing his eyes, he transformed once more, building a corporation more of figment and idea than reality. If anyone touched his animal heads, they would all be proved fake in second.

“We both want to get back to Aziraphale safely, right?” he whispered to the sword. “Help me out and I promise I’ll never use you a lighter again, or make you perform another C-section, okay? Now… can you please lose the hellfire?”

The sword sparked at him.

“Hope that’s a yes… Okay.” He took a breath, bunched his muscles, and leaped.

The cherubim in the tree let out cries of surprise as a cherub, its sword flaming with vibrant celestial blaze rocketed out of the trees with a shout. “Intruder!” the cherub cried. “An intruder in the Garden! This way! Hurry!”

Just as rapidly as it had appeared, it vanished into the forest.

Crowley shed the celestial guise in favor of his smaller demonic self, flying a weaving course through the trees back toward the clearing. As he heard the swish of bodies diving through the canopy, he turned back into a serpent and dropped to the ground.

It wasn’t a dignified landing, but he rolled to avoid injury and ducked beneath a wide-leafed plant.

The plant began to quiver in an attempt to alert the cherubim.

“Did you know the humans named you a hosta?” Crowley hastily whispered to it. “And your relatives are hugely popular in the gardening community.”

The plant paused and listened.

“And they’ve bred so many variations, you can have a whole garden full of hostas, and the plants will be hugely different from one another,” Crowley went on, watching warily from beneath the leaf. “Some humans eat them, but mostly they grow them because they find them so very beautiful.”

The plant preened and looked as smug as a plant could.

“Nice to meet you,” the demon whispered as he ducked out of concealment. “Tell your friends I’m full of interesting plant facts. But I can’t tell them if I’m dead!”

Cherubim charged through the forest, searching furiously for whatever had caused the commotion. Crowley fled in the opposite direction, returning as fast as he could to the clearing.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil still had three cherubim in the branches, but they were all looking eagerly toward one edge of the forest in hopes of sighting some form of action. The other tree appeared deserted.

Crowley shot across the span of barren ground and wound his way up the trunk.

“Hi there,” he breathed. “You’ve had a rough time, haven’t you? Nobody really notices you, do they? Nobody admires your fruit. It looks awfully heavy. All these years and nobody’s come by to tend you, have they? Not noticing how well you’ve been doing. Centuries upon centuries of creating the finest fruit. Waiting for the appointed time. You’re incredible, you know. As faithful to your duty as the cherubim.”

The tree shifted. It was listening to him.

“It’s not easy to see in this form, but can you feel this?” Crowley brushed his back against a tree branch.

From the ethereal, the sword helpfully blazed with celestial warmth.

“That’s the Sword of Eden. It guarded this place once. It held the door so your fruit wouldn’t be taken until the time was right.”

He wrapped twice around a branch and whispered to the tree’s heart. “That time’s now, friend. Time to give away one of your fruits. Time to let your seeds enter another world. Time to help humanity take their next step. It’ll be all because of you. You just have to let go of one fruit.”

The tree trembled.

“I know. Letting go is difficult. So much easier to just keep what you know. And even harder to let your offspring take a step you can’t. But, you know what? This place is just the beginning. Eternity’s out there. You may never get to see it, but will you let one of your children go where you can’t? Can you do that?”

There was a long pause, then a single fruit fell to the ground.

There was, all through Eden, a sound like chime being struck.

The cherubim roosting on the other tree rose in the air, keening madly.

Swift as he could, Crowley shot down the tree, grabbed the fruit, and dashed back up it. Concealed in the thick canopy, he transformed and stashed the fruit inside his jacket.

He could hear the cherubim shrieking together, trying frantically to make sense of what had just happened. Repeatedly, they dove toward the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and checked over its branches. Then they arose, scanning the clearing and jabbering helplessly to each other.

Did they not know about the second tree? It was possible. The sort of double-blind to make the tree protected by anonymity and association.

A cherub appeared over the forest. “Demon scent!” it cried. “We’ve found a trail! Hurry! This way!”

The entire swarm raced in answer.

Crowley put on his cherub guise once again and shot across the clearing to the other tree.

“Hi there,” he panted. “I’m going to need one of those. It’s not for me. It’s for a friend.” He grabbed a fruit.

The tree practically glared at him and refused to release the fruit.

“Hey, don’t be like that. Look, you gave humans the knowledge of good and evil, right? And I appreciate it. It’s made my job way easier. But, it’s been pretty lonely for you, right? The fun humans all left. Nobody in paradise but stuck-up angels. But… humanity’s learning to be better. Maybe they’ll be worthy of this place one day. Wouldn’t you like to see them again?” He gave the fruit a small tug. “Maybe you’re stuck here, but these seeds might have a chance to see how humanity is doing now. Wouldn’t you like that? Wouldn’t you like another chance to help humanity grow?”

Reluctantly, and with a little more persuasion, the fruit broke from the branch and into his hand.

“Thank you.” Crowley turned around…

…and found himself face to face with a cherub.

The demon tried not to give in to panic at the sight of the best-formed warrior of Heaven. “Ah…” he stammered. “…Just m-making sure there’s no demon in the tree?”