Near Satan's throne, in solitude recluse,
With keenest anguish tortured and with grief,
Sat Abbadona. Anon he took a retrospective view
Of time elapsed when, innocent, he was
Th’ exalted Seraph Abdiel's cordial friend.
He remembers still the morn,
When he, with blissful innocence and pure,
From his divine Creator's hands came forth.
Unto he and Abdiel God existence gave
In one auspicious moment. And when both
Beheld each other, they with innate joy
Commun'd thus: O Beloved, what are we?
And whence did we derive our being? Oh,
Do we indeed exist? Sawest thou me first?
Remembrest thou aught? Come, Celestial Friend,
Embrace me, and impart to me thy thoughts!
The sad remembrance tortured Abbadona,
And from his swimming eyes the tears gushed forth.
- Der Messias, translation by G. H. C. Egestorff
In the Beginning, there was God, and She was vast and She was perfect, but She was alone. The concept of not being alone hadn't been invented yet, and of course there was only Her to invent things.
When She did invent not being alone, She thought it was brilliant. She made angels— hundreds, thousands, millions of them.
Form wasn't a thing yet, only spirit, but there were so many different kinds of spirits to create. Creative ones, curious ones, kind ones, devoted ones, thoughtful ones, diligent ones.
It was fantastic. She got such a kick out of this whole "not being alone" thing, in fact, that She decided to make some of them in pairs. She created all of them out of Herself, of course, but sometimes She made two angels out of a particular blob of spirit instead of one. She left them to their own devices to find each other. It was more fun that way.
One such pair found each other quickly. Their names were Abdiel and Abbadona. Not being alone was working out great for them. Among the many things not yet invented yet were shame and fear of intimacy. Abdiel and Abbadona spent long days (well, not days, obviously, you understand) dancing in the heavens and discovering what it felt like to go back to being one blob of spirit for a little while. Down the line, being in love would come to be considered a very human thing, but Abdiel and Abbadona were perhaps the first to experience being in love. And everyone knew it. There was very little privacy, or need for it, back in the old days.
And, of course, like anyone else, they were excited to explore God's new plans for what She called Creation. She had considered the creation of angels to be a resounding success, and She was ready to try something new and even more ambitious. There were going to be stars and planets, mountains and oceans, trees and birds and butterflies. It was going to be amazing. And most importantly, there were going to be these things called humans, who were going to have a thing called free will. It was all very well and good to have companions who were incapable of disobeying Her will, but it was also a bit boring. The splitting angels in half thing, for example, wasn't quite as exciting as it could be. The ones She'd meant to find each other so far had found each other, and the ones She was keeping for later hadn't. But this free will thing was going to let the humans go totally off-script. It was going to be great fun.
As it turned out, She had yet to weave the first thread of starstuff when something happened which— for the first time in the history of anything at all existing— surprised Her.
You see, disobeying Her had been invented now, even if it wasn't actually supposed to come into existence for a while. And some angels had questions. Things like "Why did You create some angels to be together and then keep them apart?" and "Why are You going to punish the humans for disobeying You when that's the whole reason You're creating them?"
Some other angels, really running with this whole free will thing, found it was possible to inflict unhappiness on other angels. Plans that an angel had worked hard on could be destroyed, or an angel could drone on— deliberately!— and keep their companion from more pleasant company.
As you can imagine, it was all very stressful for a being who had never been disobeyed before. So one day, She sent for every angel who had ever been irritating (a new sensation that She was not finding to be to Her liking) and had them stand before Her. All told, it was about a third of the population of Heaven.
Oᴜᴛ, She said, selecting Her most magnificent and deific tone.
But they couldn't, said one angel, the one called Lucifer. There isn't anywhere else to be.
And God begrudgingly saw that he was correct.
So She created Somewhere Else, and made the remaining angels send the fallen ones there. And in doing so, She invented separation.
The Angels Abbadona with tardy pace approach'd,
Who guard th’ infernal gates. How didst thou feel,
O Abbadona, when thou Abdiel saw'st,
Thy former friend, invincible on the day
Of the revolt, now stationed at the gates
Of the abyss, the powers of perdition
And darkness to restrain?
Abbadona sigh’d and turned away,
Would now turn back, then would advance, anon
Would flee into th’ immeasurable void;
Yet trembling he remained, disconsolate,
As though by grief transfix’d, immovable.
At last the resolution to advance
He formed. With perturbation powerful,
With palpitating heart, he slowly approach'd.
Tears, such as Angels weep, fell from his eyes,
Deep sighs burst from his breast, and agonies
Which none of mortals e'en in death can feel,
Seized Abbadona as he still advanc'd.
But Abdiel's him soon recognizing eye
Still the creation fair of God beheld,
Whom evermore with fialty he serv’d;
Nor heeded Abbadona.
O my Brother Abdiel, hast then thou
Forsaken me for ever? Wilt thou e'er
Disown me, and repel me thus, to roam
In this drear solitude for evermore?
Children of light, compassionate my distress!
O weep for me! My brother Abdiel spurns me!
Now, this separation thing was more popular with some than others. The angel called Abbadona was among those to be cast out, while his beloved Abdiel remained in Heaven. Faced with this new peril, he begged Abdiel to come with him instead. And, as Abdiel would later relate to a new friend of his— this one called Aziraphale— he strongly considered it.
Aziraphale nodded in sympathy and poured Abdiel a second cup of wine. Abdiel regarded it with only slightly less suspicion than the first, but he did drink.
"And now I just have this emptiness to carry forever, I guess," Abdiel continued. His voice remained even, with only the gentlest note of bitterness creeping into his tone. "I can't help but feel like this wasn't how She meant it to be. We're angels! We're supposed to exist in the eternal ecstasy of glorifying Her and Her creations, aren't we? Misery isn't our nature."
Aziraphale nodded and tipped back his own goblet. It was all well and good to say angels weren't supposed to be miserable, but that didn't help very much when they were. And Aziraphale was feeling somewhat miserable at the moment. It was coming up on a decade since he'd been here last, with the demon Crawly. The demon had been pushing him to explain how Heaven was justifying the slaughter of all the Egyptian firstborn, and it had fomented a host of anxieties inside Aziraphale that he was resolutely refusing to examine too closely. Unwilling to argue that even the youngest suckling infants had somehow deserved divine retribution, he'd mumbled something about it being Azrael's assignment and not his, and then had snapped at Crawly when he continued to ask questions.
That had been a decade ago, and he hadn't seen Crawly since, even though he knew Crawly was also in Luxor. Aziraphale knew he shouldn't be feeling this miserable over a demon's absence, but maybe Abdiel, of all people, would understand.
"Do you ever see him?" Aziraphale ventured cautiously.
Abdiel stiffened. "Of course not, he's a demon now. I can't just ..." He waved his hand ambiguously. "I'm sure he's totally different now," he said, and glanced away from Aziraphale's eyes. "I miss the way we used to be, nothing more."
A weighty silence hung in the room, over the spread of figs artfully laid out on the table.
"I saw him the other day," said Abdiel. "He was crying, and he told me he missed me more than he missed Her. So, of course, I told him that was blasphemous."
Aziraphale shifted in his seat. "Ah," he said. "So it is."
Abdiel looked unconvinced— though not unconvinced of what he'd just said, exactly. It was more of a general sense of unconviction. He seemed to take up less of the couch than he had a minute ago.
"This is probably a silly question," began Aziraphale, by which he meant that it was a question that meant a great deal to him, "but does it seem quite right to you to say that demons are no longer capable of well-intended deeds?"
"Must be so," mumbled Abdiel into his drink. "Why else would they be irredeemable? Humans do all sorts of awful things and God's still hatching this whole plan to redeem them, all because even the most wretched of the lot are supposedly still capable of good." He poured himself another cup of wine, ignoring the half a dja of liquid that sloshed over the side. "Nothing like that's ever been planned for demons," he finished, sounding miserable.
"Ah, yes, that, er— that rather does make sense, doesn't it?" said Aziraphale. He frowned. "So it would stand to reason, you would say, that a demon who time after time does things that seem good must necessarily have an ulterior motive."
"Of course," said Abdiel, sounding strangled. "Ulterior motives left and right."
"Right, of course."
"Like seducing angels to their side, probably," said Abdiel.
They dropped the conversation, and got much, much drunker.
"An then he—" Abdiel broke off with a choked sound, and waved his cup of wine around in an ineffective attempt to finish the sentence. "H'said. He said he doesn't love me any less than the day we thought up anenanies together. A-amenomies. Anemones, Aziraphale. Even though I don't ... even though I always turn him away."
Aziraphale made a commiserative sound.
"An now," Abdiel persisted. "God's gonna kill 'er son. Not— not personally, you know, but— she's arranging it all ... it's inevitable ... ineffable ... and s'gonna redeem all the humans. But not the demons! Not even—" and here his voice took on a somewhat more sober clarity— "not even the poor godforsaken soul who's done nothing but weep and repent every godforsaken day since the Fall. Nothin for him!" He slammed his cup on the table, and followed a moment afterwards, his arms wrapped around his head.
"I'm sure ... I'm sure it's all part of the plan," Aziraphale said, reaching out a cautious hand to his shoulder to soothe him. "If She means for him to be in Hell, that must be the best place for him to be, right? Surely something even more terrible would undoubtedly happen if things were different."
"It doesn't ..." Abdiel mumbled into his arm. "Doesn't make it any easier."
Alas, thou savest mortal man alone!
Me thou dost not redeem! Thou dost not hear
The bitter moans of sorrow and remorse,
Which I for ever vent and still in vain
Oh, thou dost save the sons of Adam only!
Degenerate man's Messiah thou becam'st,
But, Oh, not the Messiah of lost Angels!
Yea, I will tear from th’ iron bonds of hell,
And will with thundering voice exclaim:
I am immortal like the human soul!
Ah, why was grace not proffered unto me?
What is this new,
This strange emotion kindled in my breast?
Is it the torpor of despondency,
Or can it be a glimmering beam of hope? —
Most cheering solace, hope to be destroy'd,
Annihilated! O deceive me not,
Sole consolation in my hapless state,
Prospect of being utterly destroy'd,
Deceive me not! Vindictive Judge, select me,
Of abject sinners the most guilty far;
Me, Abbadona, to be sacrifis'd,
A victim at the grave of the divine Messiah!
Ah, then I shall be no more!
Shall feel no more the torture of nocturnal
Redemption, yes! God had been looking forward to this. Punishing the humans for disobedience was not going as well as planned, but there's nothing that can't be fixed when you're an omniscient, omnipotent eternal being. She would have a son (a human son, it was going to be a fascinating process, She'd already started composing Her missive to the lucky human woman), and She had this whole extended process of atonement planned out, and then— this was the best part. She'd separated off a section of Heaven (some angels had grumbled, but She supposed that was the price to pay for giving them their own autonomy) to designate specifically for humans who pleased Her with their time on Earth. That "original sin" stuff had sounded like a suitably imposing and terrible consequence when the first two had eaten the apple, but four millennia later, it no longer felt especially meaningful. From now on, all humans would start off with a blank slate, so any of them would have a chance of getting brought to Heaven after death.
Oh! It wouldn't be just the humans, technically. Two of her soulmate pairs had been split up in the Fall, including one who had already found each other. It was kind of a shame, really, and the demon of that pair had been begging to come back to Heaven practically since the very beginning. She’d said She wouldn’t make exceptions like that, but the Fall was proving to be such an obstacle to these two pairs. She almost regretted it. On the other hand, Lucifer really had been very annoying.
Anyway, it was Her universe and She made the rules, so She decided that all the humans, and one demon, would be able to be pardoned this time. He could reunite with his soulmate, and everything would once again be going according to plan. Er, according to Plan. The other pair still didn’t seem to realize they were soulmates, but that was alright. It allowed for a bit of suspense. Each time they ran into each other, there was a chance they’d realize. She hoped they were having as delightful a time with it as She was.
Oh, She did hope they'd all like the Resurrection when She revealed it. There was only one way to find out.
So saying, he sunk down before the Judge,
Fell prostrate on his face, and awaited death.
The Father of the human race here paus'd.
The Saints looked on him, as though now among them
A second time he from the grave arose,
When be resumed: At last, e'en as the voice
Paternal to the Son, as the redounding sound
Of rising joy, this voice flowed from the Throne:
Come, Abbadona, come to thy Redeemer.
Abbadona soared, and hastened to the Throne.
When he advanced through heaven, in his eye
Adoring, that beheld the Deity,
The beauty of his sacred youth reviv'd;
And the Immortal's high tranquillity
Was o'er the Seraph's countenance diffuz'd.
Of us none, on the resurrection-day,
So beauteous stood above the silent dust,
As Abbadona now through heaven advanc'd.
Abdiel not longer could restrain his feelings,
When he th' approach of Abbadona saw,
Pressed forward from among the righteous host,
And with extended arms rejoiced aloud through heav'n.
His cheek was glowing, and his golden crown
Resounded on his head; with tremour he
Descended swift, and in his open arms
Clasp'd Abbadona. From the close embrace
The loving Seraph quickly extricates
And prostrates on his face before the Throne.
"I wasn't actually at the Resurrection," Aziraphale said, only slightly embarrassed. He tried to put a little more oomph in the beating of his wings to keep pace with Abdiel who, to be fair, didn't seem to be trying to leave Aziraphale behind out of any kind of malice. He was just eager to get to the remote corner of Heaven that was their destination, and seemed barely able to contain his energy.
"Why not? Everyone was there, I can't think of another angel who I noticed not being there."
"Well that's just it, you see, everyone seemed to want the attention of the man of the hour, so I thought I'd leave you all to it and catch up with the Savior at a more reasonable time. Seemed the sensible thing to do."
"But you missed it, Aziraphale," Abdiel said, turning back to look at him with shining eyes. "You, of all people!"
"Well, it's all the same in the end, isn't it— you're about to tell me this big news that I missed." It came out slightly more annoyed than Aziraphale meant it, largely due to the way he was trying to hide how out of breath he was.2
"Seven years after the fact!" said Abdiel, still looking about to burst out of his skin. "I wanted to tell you straight away, but I didn't know where you were, and I always get so lost trying to tell the difference between places on Earth. Oh, Aziraphale, you'll be so happy, just wait and see."
They came around the edge of the next cloud, and Aziraphale immediately understood Abdiel's jubilation. Here, in Heaven, was the demon Abbadona, sitting on a cloud at first, but the instant he saw them he shot through the air, straight for Abdiel. They spun in each other's arms, and kissed, and Aziraphale would have worried they'd forgotten he was there if not for his suspicion that they'd already be melding together if he wasn't. Abbadona looked different, certainly, than the few times he'd seen him before now. He looked ... angelic.
"I was on Earth for four hours, you clingy thing," Abdiel whispered to his lover, affectionate and nearly conspiratorial. He turned back to Aziraphale, gleeful. "How does it feel to be in the presence of the only Risen angel ever?"
"Risen ...?" Aziraphale said clumsily, his brain still catching up to what his eyes were seeing. "That's possible?" He hastily re-sorted his dumbfounded expression into a cheerful one. He was happy for Abdiel, truly. And Abbadona, though he didn't know him well— it was difficult to look into those gentle, joyful eyes for too long without feeling some pangs of empathetic happiness.
He shouldn't think of Crowley.
"It's possible," Abdiel said more quietly, having finally peeled himself away from his beloved demon. (Or, angel, now, Aziraphale supposed.) "A demon can become an angel after all."
"I see," said Aziraphale automatically.
"If you could convince your Crawly to repent—"
"It's Crowley, now," Aziraphale said, quickly deflecting from whatever Abdiel had meant by your Crawly.
"If you can convince Crowley to repent, then perhaps ..." and he gestured rather unambiguously to himself and Abbadona.
"I never met a Crawly in Hell, or I would help," added Abbadona. "Abdiel has told me all about your situation."
Aziraphale resented the implication that he had a situation, but he said, "It's been lovely to meet you properly, Abbadona. I ought to return to my duties on Earth, but I wish you every happiness."
As he left, he struggled to imagine how Crowley would look without yellow eyes.
Aziraphale tried to look away from Crowley in his roguish revolutionary attire— once, twice, and then finally succeeded on the third try. His heart was doing an excessive amount of fluttering for the situation. Crowley had come for him, no matter what transparent nonsense they might exchange about “just being in the area”, and at the moment it was easy to think of him as Crowley— not a demon, just Crowley. Aziraphale took him for lunch lest their afternoon together end, and caught up over crepes with his oldest friend, his dearest friend, his most wonderful friend.
Lunch turned slowly into dinner, as their lunches together were wont to do, and it was near sundown by the time they left the restaurant. Aziraphale insisted on walking Crowley back to his place of lodging.
“Well, that was lovely. I do hope it's sooner, the next time we see each other.” A bit of a wishful thought, Aziraphale knew. They saw each other nearly every month nowadays, which was certainly much too much for either of their safety's sake. But the more they met, the more taken Aziraphale became with him. It was almost as if there was a comfort in being with Crowley that he didn't experience anywhere else— but that was impossible, of course, there was nothing he needed that Heaven could not provide.
“Likewise,” Crowley said with a small, neutral smile. “See you soon, angel.”
But Crowley didn't really make a move to head inside— not until Aziraphale was finished saying goodbye, he guessed. They were close, they'd been walking side by side on the road and they still stood nearly shoulder to shoulder. Aziraphale experienced a strong and sudden urge— he wanted to kiss him. Give him a kiss goodnight, or better yet, step forward and follow him into the place where he was staying. Which was a bit ridiculous, of course, and yet— Aziraphale wasn't even sure it would be unwelcome.
Crowley still had made no move to leave. They stared at each other silently.
What if he did? Would it really be that disastrous?
Crowley cleared his throat. “Well, goodnight.” He took Aziraphale’s hand, brought it to his lips, and kissed Aziraphale’s knuckles before turning towards the door.
… It would, wouldn't it? It was truly out of the question. Aziraphale mumbled some perfunctory goodnight before pulling his eyes away from Crowley and setting off to his own lodgings.
The sensation of Crowley’s lips on his hand lingered for a long time.
The sixth millennium of the universe— the second since the invention of Redemption— was rapidly drawing to a close. Oh, how time could fly by, in such a fascinating universe! God was drawing up big plans to mark the anniversary. The angels of Heaven and the demons of Hell were terribly excited at the idea of going to war again, and God thought She might give them the Earth to set the stage. Nearly all Her intended pairs had found each other, anyway, so it was high time for some destruction and renewal to liven things up again.
One pair was still lagging, it was true— the other angel/demon pair. But what was She to do, let them keep lagging for six thousand more years? No, She ought to do something to shake things up.
So— an apocalypse! Many of the humans had really latched on to some early-fifth-millennium prophecies, which seemed like they might make a fun blueprint for destroying the Earth. Gargantuans rising from the deep, seas boiling— Hell, maybe She’d even throw in some aliens. The humans were going to be amazed!
Crowley tossed her hat and sunglasses onto the coffee table, and sprawled out on Aziraphale's couch.
"Going well, eh?" she said to the back of Aziraphale's head, as he ducked into the next room to fetch them some wine. "The Dowlings certainly don't seem to have noticed two meddling supernatural entities in their midst."
Aziraphale hummed in agreement as he poured them each a glass. "We probably shouldn't be taking leave at the same time, though. Surely that's a bit suspicious."
"Enh." Crowley took the proffered wineglass, and slouched back against the couch. "S'not like we have to come all the way back to the bookshop whenever we want to meet."
Aziraphale had the suspicion that Crowley meant, "We don't need to go out to lunch, drink until dinner, and proceed to stumble back to the bookshop to get even drunker, every time we want to meet." He was hardly going to complain, though. This was becoming a pleasant pattern to engage in every so often. They'd empty a few bottles, the evening would wear on toward night, and their nominal topic of discussion would slowly slide into idle chatter and reminiscence.
By the time the clock chimed twice, Aziraphale was finding the world pleasantly soft at the edges, and thinking about how two in the morning with Crowley was perhaps an especially lovely hour. Nothing was quite as solid as in the daylight. The space between them was delicate, surreal, and it let Aziraphale slip into that comfortable gap between what he let himself think about and what he really wanted. He was quite drunk, by this point, and far more loose-lipped than he ought to have been.
Crowley responded with a lazy, wordless sound.
"I had a thought. For if— for if it all goes pear-shaped, you know."
Crowley didn't say anything beyond a rough, noncommittal noise, which was bad, because it left the space in the conversation open for Aziraphale to fill with things he really oughtn't say.
"I just thought, perhaps ... it really is more difficult than it needs to be, attempting this very vital collaboration while being on opposite sides, as we are."
"S'what we call understatement," Crowley agreed.
"And I just thought— I know you won't like that I'm saying this, but you're hardly a being of evil, I'm sure Heaven—"
He stopped short seeing the look on Crowley's face. Anger, or frustration, would have been kinder. Instead Crowley was looking at him with sadness, and sympathy. "You know as well as I do that Heaven's not going to help us on this one," she said softly. "For all intents and purposes, we're on our own side."
Aziraphale worried his lower lip. Something made a painful twist inside him.
"It's not impossible for a demon to be granted redemption, you know," he eventually said, in a measured tone. "I thought— I thought it might be easier if you could go back."
"Yeah, angel. It would be."
"Then come back!" Aziraphale cried. "Ask the angels. Ask God. Tell them you didn't mean to Fall, that you want to be an angel again."
Once again Crowley's face twisted into a look of pain. "Look, Aziraphale. Don't tell me you don't notice how they treat humanity, how they treat demons, how they treat you. I can't tell God I want to be an angel again. Because I don't."
Aziraphale shrank into his chair a bit more. He'd known that, to be entirely truthful, but it was still a shock to hear the words from Crowley's mouth. The late hour and the wine blunted the twisting thing inside him with a wrapping of gauze, but he still felt it.
From somewhere far away, Crowley cleared her throat. "Of course, that's not meant as any criticism of your ..." She waved her hand vaguely towards Aziraphale. She was looking away, as if she expected to be chastised. Ah.
"I suppose we'll just carry on in this way, then?" Aziraphale asked. His voice was tinged with the tone he used to soothe humans. It wouldn't work on Crowley the same way, but he thought it ought to sufficiently convey his intent.
Crowley held out her wine glass for more, and Aziraphale poured. Words weren't necessary for them both to take comfort in the exchange.
It was still several minutes before Aziraphale felt bold enough to speak again. "I only asked because I worry about your safety," he said quietly.
"I'm looking after my safety. That's why we're doing this whole song and dance. For my safety. And your safety, and the humans' safety. Big fan of safety, I am."
A tense sigh rattled its way past Aziraphale's lips. "If we fail, there'll be a war ..."
"We won't," said Crowley. "Just— just drink up."
He'd never told Aziraphale, but Crowley had been near enough to see it. By a tomb in a garden, in a realm invisible to the mortal eye, were gathered thousands of angels, and, for some reason, one poor sod of a demon, kneeling like he was offering himself up to die.
He heard it— he heard Her— for the first time since before the world began. Cᴏᴍᴇ, Aʙʙᴀᴅᴏɴᴀ, ᴄᴏᴍᴇ ᴛᴏ ᴛʜʏ Rᴇᴅᴇᴇᴍᴇʀ.
There was a flash of light, and Crowley watched as the demon— the angel— was unraveled, remade, and put back together in an instant. The new angel flew, still crying, to one of the angels who had watched and waited. They crashed together, spinning through the sky, shamelessly letting their essences fray at the edges. As distant as he was, Crowley could hear the echoes of their laughter.
No one saw Crowley as he left.
Aziraphale tried very hard to avoid other angels' eyes and suppress his grimace as he made his way through the halls of Heaven, back toward the gate to Earth. As always, Gabriel and the others hadn't understood what he was trying to say. Of course the Almighty wouldn't really intend to destroy the Creation she had built and nurtured for so long, when it really came to it. His work at the Dowlings' was no irrelevant footnote to the Ineffable Plan— it was surely an essential part of it. And yet he'd exited the meeting feeling like he was the fool who didn't comprehend what was going on. It was the way meetings with his angelic superiors usually made him feel, actually.
It was nearly literally that he bumped into Abbadona, who was gliding at a superhuman speed a few inches above the tile floor.
One would never know by looking at him that he'd once been cast out of Heaven. His grey wings glowed in the soft light of his halo, and strands of angelic gold wound around his hands like filigree. Naturally, his lover was only a few steps behind, traveling at a slightly more dignified pace.
Abbadona broke out into a broad smile, looking genuinely delighted to see Aziraphale, which was flattering, as they hadn't seen each other in nearly four centuries. "It's been so long. Have you been away from Heaven?"
Aziraphale cleared his throat. "I, ah, I've been very busy with my duties on Earth."
"Right, there are so many humans nowadays, aren't there? Last time I visited, they said there were more than half a billion of them. It's impressive, how you still manage to influence them to the light."
"Are you looking forward to the war?" Abdiel chimed in. There was more warmth in that short sentence than any of Aziraphale's superiors had shown him in the last six thousand years. "I've heard you're quite the captain. It will be an honor to fight by your side."
It was still disheartening, of course. "Yes, well, perhaps things needn't even come to that. We'll just have to wait and see!" He forced a laugh into his voice.
"Are you not looking forward to making the opposition pay?" Abdiel asked in surprise. There was an edge there, too— the echo of a wound. "After everything those foul creatures have done?"
"I ... well, certainly, it will be nice to put all this behind us ..." Aziraphale said with a smile that failed to reach his eyes.
There was a moment in which recognition alighted in their faces at the same time. Then Abbadona said softly, "Your demon." He shared a look with Abdiel, who blushed with admonition.
"Oh no ..." began Abbadona, his face falling. His wings curled forward as if to shelter Aziraphale.
"He's not my demon ..."
"I'm sorry. I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Abdiel said.
Aziraphale saw Abbadona's fingertips brush against Abdiel's skirt, though neither took their eyes off Aziraphale. "He didn't hurt me, you know," said Abbadona softly. "We met on the battlefield, in the first war, and we couldn't bring ourselves to fight each other, so we didn't."
In a voice like lead, Abdiel said, "I don't think this will be like the first war." Aziraphale saw his fingers close around Abbadona's.
"Well, as I said, we can hope that the Antichrist child will take the influence of Heaven to heart, and there need not be a war at all."
"For your sake, I hope you're right."
After they'd said their goodbyes, when Aziraphale had nearly reached the gate to Earth, he was surprised by Abbadona running to catch up with him again.
It was Abbadona again, alone this time. He opened his mouth as if to say something, and then closed it again.
"I thought I could maybe walk with you to the gate," he finally said.
Aziraphale gestured his assent.
Abbadona plodded beside him, fidgeting with a stray thread on his jacket. At last he voiced what was on his mind. "Aziraphale ... I wanted to say, I think it's my fault he was so eager to go to war, so I'm sorry."
Aziraphale forced himself to say, "Of course, it's not strange for you to be happy enough in your newfound angelhood that you're eager to finish off the fallen."
"It's not that, I swear!" Abbadona protested. "He's just angry at the rest of them for ... for everything."
"For making you Fall?"
Abbadona shook his head. "I alone take responsibility for that decision. They didn't like that I regretted it. I found myself very alone."
Aziraphale's chest squeezed slightly. "Did you and Abdiel not have any opportunity to talk at all, while you were, er, separated?"
The look on Abbadona's face made Aziraphale immediately regret the question. "He, ah, he chose not to."
I always turn him away. Aziraphale gave what he hoped was a comforting nod. "I hope you two have managed to heal those difficulties."
Abbadona was still chewing his lip. "... I don't know, we never talk about it."
Aziraphale had certainly had conversations he'd managed better than this, to say the least. He took a metaphorical step back. "Well, do you feel at peace with it, yourself?"
Abbadona gave a dismal shrug. "Do you not think it was what I deserved?"
Aziraphale blinked. "Deserved?"
"For my state of disgrace. It's not as if I deserved the attentions of an angel."
"And how was your loneliness supposed to make things any better? Was that what returned you to Heaven?" Aziraphale felt himself growing defensive, for reasons he refused to examine.
Abbadona said nothing.
After a few minutes of festering silence, he stepped forward and hugged Aziraphale. "It was good to see you, my friend. Please come and visit more often."
For a second Aziraphale froze from the shock of being hugged by another angel. But then again, Abbadona had been like this as long as Aziraphale had known him. It strained the mind to think of how he had coped in Hell for all those years.
"Be well, my friend."
Aziraphale departed through the gate to Earth.
For a moment, the hosts of Heaven were poised to fight, to breach the realm of Earth and begin the war to end Everything. And then that instant crumbled without fruition— the moment passed. And two angels, out of the ranks of thousands, shared a secret elation and wonder.
"Aziraphale did it."
"And his demon ..."
The bus ride back to London was quiet. The last thing Aziraphale had said to Crowley was, "I don't think my side would like that." But here he was, en route to Crowley's flat all the same, his fingers entwined with Crowley's. His side would be positively furious— disgusted, even. He supposed he wasn't much of an angel, holding hands with a demon like this. (More than holding hands, commented a whisper inside him.) Had he ever really been much of an angel to begin with?
Crowley gave his hand a slight squeeze.
Did it even really matter?
The silence held as they ascended towards Crowley's flat. Crowley opened the door for him with a wordless "after you" gesture.
Aziraphale froze. Congealed on the ground was a blackened and stinking puddle. He miracled the corpse away nearly on instinct. "Holy water. They'll come for you with holy water."
"As likely as not," agreed Crowley, somehow not panicking at this.
"You mustn't let them get to you," continued Aziraphale, the words rushing out of him a few steps ahead of his brain. "You can't, they'll— they'll destroy you."
"That is the bloody problem, isn't it?" said Crowley, finally snapping into exasperation.
"I'll take your place."
"Listen, she said— Agnes said to choose our faces wisely, I have to take your face, somehow, I don't—"
Crowley stopped Aziraphale's anxious pacing with a hand on his shoulder. "Wait. Yes, but how the Heaven—"
They realized it at nearly the same moment. A moment of silence hung in the room before either of them were willing to say anything.
"Perhaps I was premature, earlier, when I said it would be foolish for me to enter your corporation."
Crowley appeared to be thinking a thousand things and saying none of them.
"Would that be alright?" Aziraphale asked softly. He wasn't insensible to the weight of the action. "I know you and I have a long and complex history together." He would understand if Crowley was feeling less than trustful of him, after all the events of the day especially.
One of Crowley's eyebrows went up. "You're the one asking me that? You're the one who didn't want to enter a demonic corporation earlier, bit of a change of heart, no?"
Aziraphale worried the hem of his waistcoat. "I suppose it is," he said quietly. "It's been the sort of day for changes of heart, don't you think?"
Crowley stared at him. He'd taken his glasses off at some point, and his eyes were all gold and black. Aziraphale stared back. Crowley's eyes were perhaps the most singularly demonic thing about him. Tempter of humanity, cursed to be a serpent forever. Aziraphale had often thought he should be more offput by them than he was.
Aziraphale said in a whisper, "I think that, perhaps, there might not be as much of a difference between an angelic and a demonic corporation as I thought."
"You do realize what we'll be doing?"
Aziraphale nodded. "You in me, and me in you." He gave a slight smile. "Don't think I don't understand everything that's gone between us for centuries."
"But you want— but you're alright with ..."
"For a very long time," Aziraphale whispered.
He clasped Crowley's hand in his, and they began.
It was like nothing Aziraphale had ever experienced. Two celestial natures— ah, one celestial and one infernal nature, rather— could commingle and merge in a way quite beyond human capability. He flowed through Crowley, and Crowley flowed through him, easier than air with air, until at last they came back to their surroundings, seeing through different eyes than they'd started with.
Crowley, now occupying Aziraphale's body, put his hands on Aziraphale's (er, Crowley's?) shoulders. "It worked, those bastards won't know what hit them!" His grin looked strange on Aziraphale's face. It more nearly resembled genuine elation than any expression Aziraphale had ever seen him make.
Aziraphale loved him. He loved him, and he took him into a kiss that seemed the most natural thing in the world— certainly no more intimate than what they'd just done.
"I love you," Aziraphale said.
"Love you," Crowley choked out. It was unclear whether it was a reciprocal response or an astonished repetition.
"It has been growing for so long, that I no longer remember what it was like not to love you."
Crowley kissed him, and Aziraphale wondered how he’d ever lived without this. He pulled Crowley against him in a fervent attempt to share his revelation of vitality. He was unmade and remade. He was newly whole. They both were.
Crowley shivered, and Aziraphale sighed, and neither of them slept that night.
Aziraphale descended into Hell. He occupied fully the body of his beloved, beheld the faces of his fellow demons with serpent's eyes. And he held to the matter of Crowley's being so tightly that none of them could ever hurt Crowley again.
In some distant corner of Heaven, voices could be heard, if there were anyone but the two of them around to overhear.
I wish you hadn't. It hurt.
I— but you understand— but I couldn't—
I understand, but—
But I never should have left you alone like that.
And in a realm even further beyond than that, the Creator of All Things Visible and Invisible smiled in satisfaction.
All part of the Ineffable Plan.
1Actually, an omniscient being has nearly unlimited ways of finding out, but only one way is any fun.[return to text]
2He didn't strictly need to breathe, of course, especially not here in Heaven, but he'd been on the Earth for thousands of years now, and was having trouble resisting the habit.[return to text]