In the beginning, everyone knew everything. Not in the sense of omniscience, of course. Rather, everyone knew everything because the world was still young. Forgetting hadn’t been invented yet. Therefore, when an angel and a demon stood on the wall of Eden, watching the first foray of humanity into the new world, and made the first small talk of history:
“Well that went down like a lead balloon.”
“Sorry what was that?”
The words tended to stick. Time was still counted in weeks instead of millennia. Six thousand years later, an ethereal and an occult made those words stick a little harder.
When Adam put the world back to rights, plus or minus a number of inconsequential things, it occurred to him that the world would be a good bit better if people just knew who was right for them and who wasn’t. In the movies his parents would watch, it always seemed so complicated with all these people not knowing which person was right for them and which was wrong. So when Adam put the world to rights and solved the apocalypse and thwarted Satan himself, he went one step above and figured he’d sort all that ‘being together’ nonsense out as well.
The Sunday after the apocalypse, the whole world woke up to find every person had been secretly tattooed overnight. People getting their morning coffee said ‘excuse me’ to the gentlemen behind them and suddenly felt the words inked on their body heat up, like a warm hand on a cold day. Best friends who had never met found the first words of a very long Internet chatlog appearing wrapped around wrists, spiral up ankles. One particular woman was shocked to find the opening monologue of Romeo and Juliet covering the entirety of her left palm.
And in a particularly modern apartment in London, Aziraphale woke up in Crowley’s body and, as it was a body he had yet to truly acquaint himself with, when he felt the flash of something skitter across the tips of his toes, he assumed it was some sort of holdover from being a wily serpent and left it there. When Crowley woke up above the bookshop and felt something twinge in the crease of his right elbow, he left well enough alone because Aziraphale wore so many layers it would be the work of the whole afternoon to shuck them off and he had other priorities.
Afterwards—after the afternoon of hellfire and the holy water and the general kerfuffle they kicked up with the respective orders of Heaven and Hell—Crowley was glad to be home. He was glad there was still a home to be home in, frankly. He was also experiencing some variety of unnamed but alarmingly positive emotion regarding the face that Aziraphale had come home with him, even after the Ritz. Aziraphale shot him a slightly hesitant smile before walking through to the kitchen and instantly starting about setting up a good cream tea. Aziraphale get nervous about the new, Crowley knew this about him, and this world where he could have Aziraphale in his apartment without either side raining down—or up—judgement and death was a whole new world between the two of them.
Crowley flopped across his throne—which he quickly persuaded to become something equally regal but more couch-like, that it may be properly flopped onto—and started flipping channels. Channel-flipping, that was definitely one of his. Best way to have no idea what’s actually on because everything’s showing commercials at the same time and everyone ends up watching some show they hate but it’s the only thing that was actually properly on and no one is willing to chance another foray through the hundreds of options.
Crowley settled on the evening news, one of the tens of news channels that was more talking heads than anything else. He leaned back and began to let his eyes glaze over, only to snap back when he actually caught the topic of the segment. The title crawled across the bottom of the screen: ‘Billions Discover Soul Marks Overnight’.
Crowley stared at the television for a moment before shouting through the flat, “Oi, angel!”
Aziraphale appeared a moment later, tray with tea, scones, and various scone spreads in hand. “You don’t need to shout, Crowley.”
“Yeah I do. Look at this,” he said, gesturing at the television. Aziraphale frowned, taking in the words of the broadcast and reading the script at the bottom. Aziraphale crinkled his nose,
“Soul marks? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Dunno,” Crowley said, “but it appears to be something the Antichrist’s come up with.”
“Oh dear. That could mean any number of things,” Aziraphale said fretfully.
“We could always call the bugger and ask.” Crowley pulled out his mobile, flipping through contacts before pulling up the one title ‘Adam’. He’d been looking under A for ‘Antichrist’, but ‘Adam’ sounded vaguely familiar. He dialed the contact.
Aziraphale pulled a disapproving face, “He must already be in bed; Mr. Young seemed the sort to enforce a bedtime. We’ll call him tomorrow.”
“Meaning that him taking this call would be against the rules? That I’d be tempting him to stay up too late?” Crowley said with a grin as the phone rang again.
Adam picked up the phone. “Hello?” He sounded quite awake indeed and Crowley grinned.
“Right, yeah. Listen, Adam, question for you. This soul marks business all over the news, what’s that about?”
Adam sounded confused. “It’s a soul mark.”
“And what’s that for?”
“It’s for people so they know who they’re supposed to be with. Looking around, all these people seem so confused about who they’re supposed to be with, who’s right for them and all that. And I figured, wouldn’t it be brilliant if people just knew, right away, if they were right for each other? So now people know.”
Crowley had a very bad feeling about this, though he couldn’t quite put his finger on why. And much to his frustration, Aziraphale had the sort of look on his face most people reserved for particularly precious ducklings. Crowley elected to ignore that.
“So how do they work, these soul marks?” he asked.
“It’s easy. It’s the first words the person you’re supposed to be with says to you. Like, the first thing Mum said to Dad was to ask if he’d reach down the biscuits from the high shelf. And the first thing Dad said to Mum was he apologized for dropping them on her foot. Things like that.”
“So your mum and dad, do they have these now?”
“Yeah! Mum has hers around her finger and Dad’s is just where his glasses hit his cheeks in really small print.”
Crowley opened his mouth to ask another question but Aziraphale cut him off. “That’s very kind of you, Adam. I’m sure they’re very appreciative. Now get some sleep before it gets too late.” Aziraphale was still smiling with a warmth that made Crowley feel gooey and sentimental just by association.
“Nah, Dog and I are going to stay up. Mum and Dad are watching one of the good shows, with lots of arguing and explosions. Night!”
“Right, thanks.” Crowley hung up without another word. Aziraphale looked at him and Crowley felt the full weight of that expression in ways—stupidly emotional ways that he very much preferred not to acknowledge. Then Aziraphale looked away and whatever had been constricting his chest released.
“You know,” Aziraphale said, “it’s a very good thing you and I aren’t the least bit competent.”
“He’s not that good,” Crowley muttered as he started flipping channels again. Every other news station was running the same story about this ‘soul mark’ business and eventually Crowley settled it on one of the channels that played nothing but the same six action movies every day, interspersed with various erectile dysfunction and deodorant commercials.
After a few explosions and a few poorly shoe-horned in romantic sentiments, Crowley furrowed his brow and wondered aloud,
“D’you think we have soul marks now?”
Aziraphale, sitting beside him, looked up from his second scone, discomfited by the idea. “I mean, we can’t. We aren’t humans.”
“But we’re on the human’s side in things. And Adam’s the one who created the things; who’s to say we don’t now?”
“We don’t exactly have souls, either.”
Crowley smirked and looked over at Aziraphale, “Are you calling me soulless, angel?”
“I don’t have a soul any more than you do.”
Crowley turned more fully from the television to look across the couch at Aziraphale, his smirk unfurling into a grin full of temptation. “Yeah, but now you’re wondering. Have you checked?”
Aziraphale paused before answering, “No.”
“Neither have I. It’d be a pity to not check, wouldn’t it? It’s not the sort of thing you want to find out too late.”
“I’d prefer not to find out at all.” Aziraphale granted reluctantly. In truth, he knew that even on the slim chance Adam had given them soul marks, it wouldn’t be the same as the ones the humans had. If he had one, it would be different.
“What, you’re going to go your whole life never seeing yourself in less than four layers of clothing, neck to ankle? Look, I’ll go first, and then we’ll check you,” Crowley said, standing up and shrugging out of his jacket in one fluid movement. He had his scarf off and the shirt half-way following that before Aziraphale found wherever his tongue has scampered off to and managed to form a decent response.
“I’m not sure this is nece—”
“You were literally in my body, Aziraphale. Nothing you haven’t seen before.” Crowley finished pulling his shirt over his head and…well that is an awful lot of torso just suddenly on display. Crowley threw the shirt into his abandoned corner of the couch and turned his arms back and forth, checking for any telling text. He turned to Aziraphale, looking over his shoulder, “Are they on my back?”
“No, nothing there,” Aziraphale said. It was a very lovely back though, little freckles dotting the whole thing though Aziraphale couldn’t imagine how it had ever seen enough sunlight to freckle at all.
Crowley stood up and started pulling off his socks, examining the arch of each foot before he stood up and brought his hands to the button of his jeans.
“You might just not have them,” Aziraphale squeaked.
“’Course I’ve got them,” Crowley said, waving away any protestations.
“Crowley…” Aziraphale trailed off and something somber in his tone made Crowley look up. Aziraphale continued carefully, “I mean, wouldn’t it be worse? If you had them?”
Crowley froze, carefully scrubbing his voice of any inflection before he spoke. “Maybe. Depends on what they said.” Crowley very carefully didn’t make eye contact as he said that and Aziraphale knew, he knew what Crowley was looking for—whose words he was looking for— and it made him ache for the demon all the more.
“I just mean, whoever you have, they’ll be human. And humans…” They weren’t particularly long-lived, not by angelic or demonic standards.
“’Course, yeah.” Crowley shrugged, almost to himself. Aziraphale suddenly realized that he was in fact talking to Crowley, the angel who had Fallen for asking questions. Of course, he’d never leave something like this unanswered. Of course he’d need to know. Crowley, unaware of Aziraphale’s thoughts, frowned at the angel, “And what are you talking about, who I have? If I’ve got words, you’ve got them too.”
“Oh I’m sure if you have them I have them too,” Aziraphale said, trying very hard not to look bothered by the idea. “And I’m sure I know what they say.”
Crowley froze at that. “Yeah? What do they say?”
“’You are Aziraphale, Principality and Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden. Go forward in bravery and follow the Ineffable Plan.’” Aziraphale said it with the echo of authority he remembered, the first words he’d heard in all of creation.
Crowley, for his part, raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Who said that? Because if you say Gabriel—”
“God.” The word dropped like a period in the middle of a sentence. “God said that. First and last thing She ever said to me.” Crowley went quiet in a way Aziraphale wasn’t used to and he took a little breath, then explained: “As an angel, I am commanded to love God above all others. So if these soul mark are about who you love the most—and that does seem to be the general gist of the things—any other words would be blasphemy.” He turned to Crowley, hoping the demon couldn’t see the whirlwind of emotion he was caught up in. “If I have words and I have any other words, that means…” It meant something too big for him to think, implied that he was destined from creation to love someone else before the Almighty. Which as a concept teetered right on the edge of a Fall. The thought felt heavy and made Aziraphale, for a moment, angry. He hated that the words of the Almighty would make him feel such dread because he was a bad angel. He was a bad angel because he hoped, in the deep down little place that laughed at Crowley’s bad jokes and approved of some of the demon’s lesser shenanigans and was in general just enough of a bastard, he hoped that the words would not be the words of God.
Crowley was quiet a moment longer before saying gently, “Adam didn’t say it was about who you love. He said it’s who you’re supposed to be with.”
“And I’m supposed to be with Her. I’m supposed to be Hers to command.”
Crowley took a deep breath, held it, and let it out as he said, “I suppose that’s true.” He sat on the floor in front of Aziraphale and kicked his legs out in front of him. Crowley stared down at his feet, then frowned before leaning forward further than any sort of human spine should have allowed.
He read the words imprinted on the literal tips of his toes: “’You are Raphael, healer and teacher of legions. Go forth and bring knowledge.’”
God’s words, the first of Her words to Crowley.
Crowley said nothing as he slowly shifted his feet beneath him, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Aziraphale was struck by how small he looked, how child-like the position. Crowley’s golden eyes were shuttered, whatever feelings a mark like that evoked carefully hid away as he said tonelessly, “Who I’m supposed to be with, I suppose.” Crowley didn’t even have the flair to snap his fingers, he just miracled all of his clothes back on, still sitting on the floor. Aziraphale stood up, yanked Crowley up from the floor and pulled the demon into a hug with no preamble. Crowley did not fight him.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to apologize, then stopped. What was there he could apologize for? There were no words big enough to cover what Crowley needed to hear, no way to soften the blow that he’d been destined to Fall, damned by his very purpose. So he just squeezed Crowley tighter, until Crowley had to extricate his arms to avoid getting hit with his own elbows, at which point they had nowhere to go but around Aziraphale himself.
“’M fine, angel. Don’t know what this hugging is about.” The words came out croaky.
Aziraphale didn’t know how to explain the hug was just because he could, because there was no longer a reason not to. “It’s a human thing, my dear boy. We’re human enough for marks, we’re human enough for this.”
“Makes it easier for someone to put a knife in your back, can’t see their hands.”
“Humans today also trust each other not to do that.”
“Fools,” Crowley said, and if his voice cracked with the weight of a great many feelings being battened down somewhere, Aziraphale was kind enough not to mention it.
For the next three months, everything went on the same way it had before. Aziraphale kept doing miracles, though now it was more to the miracles he wanted to perform and not the roster of recipients Heaven had sent him during his tenure in their employ. Crowley kept tempting and wiling his way through London. Aziraphale had never exactly made an effort to change clothes, but now he refused to see himself in anything less than fully clothed in at least three layers. He knew that there were words waiting for him somewhere and as long as he never looked at them, then maybe they wouldn’t be there.
Aziraphale was in his bookshop, sitting behind the counter and studying a particularly fine illustrated manuscript he had procured from a lovely fellow on the eBay, when the bookshop door flew open. The bell over the door jingled so hard it fell down and Aziraphale looked up in shock. In the doorway stood Crowley, though not for very long as he walked directly into the shop, pulled Aziraphale forward by his bowtie, and smashed his lips against him. It wasn’t artful or seductive, and that more than anything is how Aziraphale knew it was honest.
As quickly as he’d come in, Crowley pulled back from the kiss and practically snarled, “I say great fucking bollocks to the Plan or the soul marks and whatever other rule the universe puts together next. I’ve been with you for six thousand years and I don’t give a shit if I’m supposed to be with anyone else.”
“The God’s honest truth and if She’s got a problem with it, she can come down here and tell me Herself.”
There was a tense moment where they both waited to see if She’d make an appearance. But the moment passed and Aziraphale bit his lip, looking at Crowley.
“Crowley, I…” He waited for the right words to pop up, but his grasp of language seemed to have gone on holiday.
All the bluster went out of Crowley and his hands dropped from where they had been tightly clenched on Aziraphale’s shoulders. “I know, I know. I move too fast for you.”
“It…it scares me, Crowley.” Crowley winced and looked away. Aziraphale stepped around the counter and shot out a hand, taking Crowley’s in his own. “Not you, dear. You don’t scare me. But this, this…us, that scares me.” Aziraphale’s voice was hushed, like a believer in confession. Crowley had turned around but Aziraphale couldn’t meet his eyes. “It scares me because what if one day we have to…to explain? To Her? What if I have to tell Her she…” Aziraphale didn’t know what words came next. Explain that She wasn’t enough? That as much as he belonged to Her, he belonged to Crowley more? And that as much as she had rejected Crowley and damned to Fall from the start, Crowley still belonged to Aziraphale? And perhaps least explainable of all—in fact, one might have called it ineffable—was the fact that Aziraphale was in love. He loved Crowley, with a depth and fierceness that Aziraphale himself had barely begun to fathom.
Whatever words he couldn’t say and whatever things he was afraid to need to explain, Crowley seemed to hear them because he pulled Aziraphale into a hug that plainly said whatever depth and ferocity Aziraphale felt Crowley, Crowley felt it for him as well.
“She gave humans free will and sent you to spend time among them. And She kicked me out to live with them as well so at this point, I don’t know what else She could have expected.”
Aziraphale couldn’t disagree with that sentiment. Apparently, their previous superiors were right. They’d simply ‘gone native’. Crowley continued speculatively, “You know, being as the Ineffable Plan is ineffable and unknowable and all that, we can’t know—”
“It still scares me,” Aziraphale said, cutting off whatever blustering Crowley had been about to say. “But I…you…”
Words and feelings were never meant to coexist, because as soon as Aziraphale started to feel what he needed to say, all the words dried up and moved out to make room for all the feelings in his head that had snaked up from whatever dwelt in his chest cavity these days.
Crowley grinned and it was the same thing Aziraphale had been seeing for thousands of years, the same grin he’d first seen standing on the wall of Eden, but somehow it also felt gloriously different. “For this…?”
“For you. For this.” Aziraphale said.
Crowley squeezed his hand and said in a quiet, sincere sort of way, “Brave little angel.”
It still scared him and felt a bit like flying directly against Her word. It still wasn’t something he could brush away as nothing, but whatever he felt for Crowley, whatever the feeling was that was too big and too much for words, for that he was willing to tell the words printed somewhere on his body to kindly fuck off.
Years later, years and years later, when soul marks were old news and the world had by and large moved on from the mess of the almost-Apocalypse, Crowley and Aziraphale got tattoos in matching gold ink, each in the other’s handwriting:
“Well that went down like a lead balloon.”
“Sorry what was that?”