For the Sake of Symmetry
Crowley, my dear, I think I may have been just a touch hasty with my response earlier...
Crowley, this situation is a veritable cornucopia of demonic opportunity and I must insist that you stay under my close observation.
Crowley, we are going to take it from the top and this time you will say your lines properly, yes?
Crowley, I really don’t like to use this kind of language, but…but… great mangled pustulent bollocks to blasted COVID-19!
Aziraphale gazed morosely at his telephone and wiped gingersnap crumbs from his chin. This was all right, really. He had reading to do. He had a mildewed Mary Wollstonecraft to salvage. He hadn’t yet gotten the hang of stroopwafel (having run out of caramel on his first attempt, due to an overabundance of taste-testing during construction). There was plenty to fill the time.
It was just that…never, in recent memory, had Crowley given in so quickly. This was what they did, after all – Crowley suggested, Aziraphale refused, Crowley made a counter-offer, Aziraphale allowed himself to be persuaded, and before too long expensive scotch would be enjoyed by all. That had been the routine for thousands of years. Aziraphale liked that routine.
And goodness, one didn’t have to look far to see the loopholes in the objections he’d thrown up. They were occult– ethereal– well, supernatural beings. Neither one of them was going to get sick or pass the virus onto some poor human. There wasn’t a traffic cop in London who could catch Crowley in his Bentley, and Aziraphale had it on only slightly dubious authority (Crowley’s, four daiquiris deep) that demons could travel through phone lines (although when he’d asked Crowley back in the 90s why he didn’t avail himself of this option more often, Crowley had gone pink and mumbled about something called dial-up and incoming calls and “never again”). There were endless ways Crowley could come to see him without technically breaking the lockdown rules.
And what sort of demon dutifully followed a quarantine order? What sort of demon stayed home with his houseplants because he hadn’t the heart to kick humanity when they were already down?
Well. His sort of demon.
Probably best not to think too much about that.
The point was – the point was (here Aziraphale took an aggressive bite of a macaroon) that Crowley couldn’t just go about deviating from their routine with no warning. Aziraphale was part of this Arrangement too, after all. He really ought to be consulted before anything was allowed to change.
Crowley was always changing though. His hair, his clothes, his projects. Just as hard to pin down as his serpentine nature might suggest, throwing himself headlong into the latest that the world had to offer, as fast as humanity could invent something new and sometimes faster, always transforming, always moving.
A tiny sneaking voice from the back of Aziraphale’s mind whispered, too slow.
No. No. Not this time. Not with the world at such a crossroads – again – not when he couldn’t look out a window without feeling the eerie stillness of an empty Soho street, not when the fragility of what they had saved was so devastatingly clear.
He snatched up the phone, inadvertently dislodging a blueberry scone from the top of a stack beside the receiver and causing a minor avalanche of baked goods, and dialed the only number he knew.
“…what now?” Crowley’s voice was low and a bit muffled.
“Ah, hello. It’s me again. I do hope I didn’t wake you?”
“Nah, ss’fine.” Crowley said. Oh, he had certainly been sleeping. Aziraphale wrung his hands and tried to keep his voice light.
“I just, um, wanted to check in again in case you needed anything. Before your nap.”
“Nope.” Crowley over-annunciated the “p”.
“Ah. Well, good. That’s good. Glad you’re all set.”
“That’s me, all set.”
“All, er, tucked in?”
“Was there anything else you wanted?” Crowley sounded waspish now. Aziraphale blinked, curling the telephone cord around his finger and staring at a profiterole without really seeing it. This wasn’t at all how it was supposed to go. Crowley was supposed to invite himself over again, insinuate himself into Aziraphale’s life as easily as if he had always been meant to be there, with a bottle of expensive wine in his hand and a flippant remark ready on his lips.
“You, ah, you’re sure you want to sleep until July? I’m sure the humans will sort this out in no time, they’re frightfully clever. I wouldn’t want to you to miss anything when it all starts up again.” Aziraphale paused hopefully. Crowley did hate missing things.
“Might make it longer, actually. Heard there might be a second wave in the fall. Might just write off 2020 altogether and give it another go after the new year.”
“Oh, but– but you--” The new year. Impossible. After all they’d– just when Aziraphale was feeling ready to— no, no this could not be. “But there’s a devil’s food cake too!”
“There’s a devil’s food cake, you know! It’s meant to be delicious! And chocolate! And…” Aziraphale flailed, “And moist!”
“You know the word moist is one of mine, angel.”
“Ah, right, yes, I’d forgotten.” Aziraphale shredded a croissant mindlessly, leaving flakes all down his waistcoat.
There was a silence. Aziraphale could hear rustling, and without warning his imagination presented him very rapidly with an image of Crowley curled up in bed like a snake. Or perhaps spread out, taking up as much space as he could, as he always seemed to do on the bookshop couch. Or perhaps…
“You have to watch me eat it!” Aziraphale blurted.
A longer silence now.
“Watch you…eat it.”
“The devil’s food cake. I’ve made the angel’s food cake, you see – delicious, so fluffy, like a cloud! – and it just wouldn’t do to have one without the other! For the sake of symmetry, of course.” Aziraphale was definitely babbling now. He stuffed a hazelnut truffle into his mouth to get himself under control.
“Right.” Crowley said, finally. “Symmetry.”
“And you did – you did offer.” Aziraphale said, his voice smaller now.
“I did.” Crowley agreed. “And you said it was against the rules.”
“As it happens… well, I took some time to think and I…you see there’s the cornucopia and…oh, oh bollocks.”
“Aziraphale!” Crowley did not sound at all sleepy now. Aziraphale swallowed. So it was a different routine now. A different dance. He had once learned the gavotte, with its high kicks and sashays. What was one step forward? One step, and six thousand years, and the world.
“My dear fellow,” Aziraphale said. “You once told me that it would be easier if we both stayed home.”
“I did…” Crowley said cautiously.
“This is a very appropriate time for that, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
“Yes…” Still careful.
Aziraphale took a breath.
“Well, then. Please. Come home.”
End note: Devil’s food cake is deeply rich and layered with chocolate ganache that can stick quite easily to angelic fingers. Fortunately, it can be just as easily removed with a serpentine tongue. This was only the first of the discoveries made that night in a Soho bookshop.