Fandom(s): Good Omens
Characters: Aziraphale, Crowley
Word Count: 6477
Summary: Armageddon has been averted and Adam has sent the Adversary back to Hell. All that's left for Aziraphale and Crowley is to figure out Agnes' last prophecy.
One of the benefits of being a bibliophile and a voracious reader of all subjects is that for any thing you could name, you will have encountered ten, perhaps fifty, or even a hundred, interpretations which have sprung from the fertile, and often disturbed, imaginations of writers. It is also one of the great drawbacks. Aziraphale, who, to his mind, had always striven to be an exemplary angel, had never visited Hell, or even wandered past its gates, but he’d read hundreds of versions of it over the years. Possibly even thousands, if you counted personal Hells, which he knew demons delighted in building to accommodate the wishes of guilt-ridden souls who demanded top-quality torture. Many Hells involved eternal punishment in a land of fire and brimstone, but there were just as many Hells that were icy cold, or dark and isolated, or crowded and filled with the screams of the damned. No one seemed to agree on what the realm that the demons called home was really like, other than it was not pleasant.
With all of these inventions whirling through his mind, he had no idea what to expect of the home of the demon sitting next to him. Though he’d never really thought about it, he’d just assumed that Crowley had a home like himself: somewhere to repair to after a day’s work, perhaps with a nice comfy armchair for reading and relaxing in front of a fireplace and a kettle for a quick cup of tea, or something similar at least. Crowley wasn’t one for reading, he knew, but there had to be something he did with his time. Perhaps knitting wasn’t likely, either. As the Oxford bus drove deeper into London with its two passengers, he became more and more aware how very likely it was that his assumptions about his friend were completely mistaken and that he wasn’t sure he wanted to learn more about his demonic nature, including how he lived. Crowley had grown silent whilst the bottle in his hand had grown empty, and Aziraphale sat stiffly next to him, trying not to betray his growing concern.
The bus let them off in front of a tall, modern building, the glass front door of which opened as they approached and slid shut after they passed. As they walked down a spartan hallway, Crowley stopped at a bank of tiny locked cubbies just before the lift and, opening one, pulled out a small stack of cards and envelopes, which burst into flames in his hand. He looked up into the angel’s surprised face. “What?”
“You didn’t even look at them.”
“It’s all trash. Junk mail.” Crowley sneered at the ashes wafting to the ground. He’d once mentioned to a young, enterprising ad man the efficacy of using cheap bulk postal rates to annoy large swathes of people at a fraction of the cost and effort. It had been one of his more successful plots, spreading a miasma of daily irritation to every country with an efficient postal system, but he hadn’t anticipated falling victim to it himself.
“There could have been something important.” Aziraphale watched each mote of carbon as it fell, as if he could glean from them the words they’d carried a moment ago.
“I assure you, there wasn’t.”
“You can’t be sure there wasn’t a letter there.”
“I don’t get letters. The only people who’d send me a message prefer to co-opt perfectly good radio programmes to do it.”
“You’d get letters if you wrote some.”
Crowley wondered if this body that the Antichrist had created for Aziraphale had come with a pre-addled brain. “Why would I do that?”
“Because it’s fun,” Aziraphale replied with a bright, pleasant grin. “And receiving them is even more so. You should try it.”
Crowley slammed the cubby door shut. “Absolutely not. I have enough problems getting people to leave me alone. I don’t need to encourage them, especially through the post. I only bother with this because the landlord got snippy. Said my mail had piled up in the room back there. Months’ worth.”
“Landlord?” repeated Aziraphale. “Oh. I thought this was your building.”
“Why would I have a building?”
“I have a building.” Aziraphale faltered at the incorrect tense. “Had a building, I suppose.”
Crowley glanced away in quite undemonic sympathy, searching in vain for some way to ameliorate the angel’s grief over the bookshop. He’d only truly learnt the meaning of loss earlier in the day, first at Aziraphale’s bookshop and then outside the airbase gates, and knew how it pierced even his hardened heart. “You had a lot of books,” he murmured. “You had to put them somewhere.”
“Yes. I suppose I did.” Aziraphale straightened, putting on as brave a face as he could. “So you actually pay rent to this landlord fellow?”
“He thinks I do.”
“Oh. Well, that’s all right, then.”
They rode the lift in silence up to the sixth floor and exited onto a dark bare corridor dotted with numbered doors with frosted glass windows. Aziraphale hadn’t had many opportunities to visit blocks of flats and thought the gloomy atmosphere fitting for people forced to live in stacked boxes in the middle of the city. Crowley paused at a door, snapped his fingers, and proceeded through as it swung open. Aziraphale glanced at the number.
“Oh, really,” the angel groaned as he followed him in. “Isn’t that a tad cliché, even for you?”
“I didn’t choose it. It came with the flat.” Crowley snapped again and the door slammed behind his guest. Without another word, he sauntered down the hallway and disappeared through another frosted glass door at the end.
Aziraphale looked around for a moment, for that was all the time that was necessary to view everything. The entrance hallway was much like the outside corridor, cold grey granite walls bare of decoration, though a lone pedestal near the far door displayed a golden figurine. He peered into the rooms to the left and right as he headed to join his friend and found them to be just as cramped and empty.
The room at the end of the hall held more life, but only just. Crowley sprawled on a golden throne behind a carved desk, swigging more wine from the erstwhile empty bottle. He’d thrown his sunglasses off and stared blankly at his ansaphone with yellow eyes. A sketch of La Gioconda, a widescreen television, and a hallway leading off in another direction, lay beyond him, while off to the angel’s left, a high doorway led to a chamber of glorious houseplants, luxuriant and verdant, their leaves just brushing the vaulted ceiling.
Aziraphale waited for a moment for an invitation to enter and sit down, though he didn’t know where he might actually do so, as the room had no other furniture, then took a tentative step in. His shoe squelched. “What the -?” he grunted as he bent low to see what he’d stepped in. If he wasn’t wholly mistaken, it looked like the remnants of clothing in a puddle of water.
Crowley didn’t look. “Oh, don’t mind that. It’s just a friend.”
“Mm.” Aziraphale scraped his shoe on the hard floor, then stepped over the puddle. “Well. This is your flat then.”
“It’s quite spacious.”
“Where, um, where should I sit?”
“Anywhere you like.”
Aziraphale looked around. “On the floor?”
That finally roused Crowley. He pointed first at Aziraphale then around the room. “Miracle up whatever you like.”
“I can’t do that,” the angel protested. “This is your home. I’m not going to just change things willy-nilly.”
“It’s your home, too, angel,” stated the demon. At Aziraphale’s frown of disbelief, he added, “It is now.”
“It is not,” he insisted. “This is just temporary, until I can get back on my feet again.”
Crowley seemed about to say something, then thought better of it. “Fine.” He snapped, then waved his hand above his head, vaguely pointing down the hallway beyond the television. “There’s a room for you now. All the things you like. Fireplace. Armchair. Kettle for tea. Books. Probably not good ones, though.”
“Thank you.” Aziraphale’s smile turned to a frown of concentration. He stared down the hallway, then up at the ceiling, a good five metres above his head.
“What now?” groaned the demon.
“This place,” Aziraphale began, wagging a finger of sudden revelation, “this place is bigger than the flat itself, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is. Why would I pay more imaginary rent than I need to?”
“And you just make more when you need the space. Ingenious!” Aziraphale exclaimed, clapping his hands together. “I’ve been trying to solve my storage problem for decades now. Why did I never think of this?”
“Don’t know,” replied Crowley with a shrug, and turned back to staring at the ansaphone. “Seemed natural to me.”
“I shall have to keep this in mind, when I, er...” Aziraphale’s optimistic smile faded. “The next time.” He gazed at Crowley expectantly for a few beats, then sighed. “Well. I believe I shall… Yes.”
He was halfway down the hall toward his new room when Crowley called, “All right. Fine. Come back.” He emerged from the hallway, his eyes bright and his smile wide, to find the room a bit larger than he’d left it, a gilt settee with red velvet cushions and a black iron and glass coffee table laden with bottles and glasses occupying the newly-formed space. The demon walked over and poured himself a single-malt scotch before collapsing on one end of the sofa.
Aziraphale settled himself on the other end and prepared himself a cognac before speaking. “All right. Out with it. What’s wrong?”
Crowley downed the rest of his drink in one gulp, then made a show of pouring the next one. “They’re going to come after us, you know,” he finally growled.
“Our sides. Our former sides.” He gestured as he spoke but avoided Aziraphale’s gaze. “It’s our fault, or, they think it’s our fault, and they’re not going to let it stand. One day, boom, they’re going to grab us and drag us down.”
Aziraphale tried to find a way to put a positive spin on the situation. “Maybe not. After all, the world survived. Everything’s going along swimmingly again. Your side have people to tempt, and my side have souls to save. They’ve got better things to do than come after us.”
“Oh, no,” sneered Crowley. “They were promised a war - or at least they thought they were. Six thousand years now, they’ve been planning this, a war for all the marbles, and we took it away from them.” He downed his second drink, then slammed the glass down. “And you know what the worst thing is? We made them look bad. We humiliated them in front of the big bosses.” He shook his head with a weak, defeated smile
Aziraphale couldn’t argue. They had.
Crowley groaned, suddenly exhausted like a demon, or angel, never is. “There’s nothing we can do about it. I’ve been trying to think of a way. We can’t fight them. Begging for mercy might work for you -”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Aziraphale mused. “I’ve learnt a number of things over the past day or so, and one of them is that mercy is not in their nature.”
Crowley eyed his friend with a concerned frown, wondering what exactly happened that elicited such an opinion from the faithful angel. He doubted Aziraphale would ever tell him. “Well, it won’t work for me. Snowball’s chance and all that.” He shrugged. “We could run, but they’d catch us eventually.”
“Yes. They would.” Aziraphale shivered as he began to fully recognise their desperate circumstances. The spacious flat suddenly felt like a trap, a stone box shrinking down, binding them, the hosts of Heaven and Hell arrayed just beyond, waiting to grind it under their heel.
Crowley must have sensed his panic, for he shook his head and waved his scotch glass at him. “We’re good for the night, at the very least. This is my demesne, so your side can’t get in, not without breaking all the rules, and I expect it’ll take Hastur a few acts of wanton cruelty to get his courage up to come back here again, so we’re safe from them for a bit. All bets are off when we leave, though.”
“Right.” Aziraphale doubted in this case that either side would hesitate to break the laws of dominion if it suited them, but he was glad to take comfort where he could. “I wonder what they’re going to do to us,” he murmured.
Crowley snorted a mirthless laugh. “Holy water for me, I’m sure. Hastur’d probably insist on it. I can just hear the cocky bastard now.” He jumped up and proclaimed with mocking pomposity, “‘Let the punishment fit the crime.’”
“They’re already taking the sword out of my celestial wages,” Aziraphale mumbled into his snifter. “Now they’ll probably dock the whole six thousand years.”
“It’s not just your wages at stake here, angel,” Crowley growled. “Whatever they’re going to do, it’s going to be painful and it’s going to be permanent.”
Aziraphale tried to cling to the last shred of faith in his fellow angels that remained in his heart, but he still felt Sandalphon’s fist in his gut. Faith, he realised, is earned, not gifted, and the person that deserved his was seated on the other end of the couch. He resolved to stop hoping for leniency. “You’re right, of course. Painful and permanent. What was it that Agnes said? ‘Playing with fyre’? Could be, at that. Do you think Gabriel might get some hellfire from, you know, your side?”
Crowley shook his head. “Gabriel? Nah. He’s got an image to maintain. But I wouldn’t put it past Michael.”
“Or Sandalphon.” That one enjoys his work too much, he thought. “I’ve seen hellfire before, once. Nasty stuff. Burns like, well, Hell. Couldn’t get within ten feet of it.”
“Holy water’s like fire, too, on a demon. Ligur, he burned, boiled - phssssht! - and steamed away.” Crowley flopped back on the couch, guffawing at the memory of the demon’s destruction. “And Hastur screamed like a little girl. Swear I saw pigtails. Frilly skirt.”
Aziraphale gazed past Crowley at the puddle near the door, then shrugged and smiled at his friend. “Holy water’s quite nice, if it’s heated a bit. Makes a nice warm bath, really. Now, fire - fire’s chaotic and destructive.”
“Fire’s brilliant,” retorted Crowley. “I like fire. Never understood what your side had against it.”
“I just said. It’s destructive and dange-”
Crowley’s snake eyes widened and he slapped his thigh. “Wait, that’s it.”
Aziraphale smiled pleasantly. “I knew you’d agree, finally, if I just -”
“Not that!” Crowley spat with an irritable wave. “That’s the answer. That’s what Agnes meant.”
Aziraphale was lost. It was a common sensation for him when Crowley went off on one of his wild tangents. “That fire’s destructive? We already knew that.”
“No! That we’d be playing with fire.” He leant forward and hissed, “Playing with it. Hellfire wouldn’t hurt if I were playing with it, now would it? And holy water, well, it’s nothing to you.”
“Well, yes, but that’s not how it’s going to be,” Aziraphale replied, a touch like he was reminding a child that summer holiday had been cancelled. “It’ll be me in the fire and you in the water, and quite frankly, neither of us is going to like it much.”
“Unless I choose to wear your face and you choose to wear mine.”
Aziraphale frowned. “What?”
Crowley shook his head. “Hold a tick.” Sitting up, he put a finger to his temple and concentrated. A few seconds later, he nodded, his yellow eyes popping open. “No one’s watching. They can’t really see in, not here, but I had to make sure. Now listen.”
Aziraphale sat very straight and very still. “I’m listening.”
“All right.” Crowley spoke slowly and carefully, not at all like Aziraphale had ever known him to do. “We’re both certain what’s going to happen to us, right? That our sides are going to destroy us, and the best way to ensure that is to use the other side’s weapons.”
“They’d have to deal with the other side to get them,” Aziraphale pointed out, “which would be a first -”
“But I expect both sides want a crack at each of us,” Crowley rebutted.
“I was going to say that,” the angel sulked. “But yes. I do believe each side would be willing to trade, if only for the satisfaction of being part of the other side’s retribution.”
“Exactly.” Crowley rapped the table hard for emphasis. “So they’re going to throw me in holy water or something like that, and they’re going to burn you in hellfire.”
Aziraphale cringed. “You don’t need to keep repeating that. It’s discouraging enough as it is.”
Crowley ignored him and pressed his point. “So, what if you take my face and I take yours?” Aziraphale blinked, thinking hard on his suggestion. With a sly smile, the demon helped him along. “That way, when they come, they grab the wrong one and take you to Hell and me to Heaven. Holy water won’t hurt you, and hellfire? I love a good pyre. How do you think they’d react to a demon who swims in holy water and an angel who finds hellfire pleasantly toasty?”
“Second thoughts. As in, ‘What the Hell or Heaven is this?’ second thoughts.” A sparkle of understanding glimmered in the angel’s eye, then winked out. “But we can’t do that. I can’t make myself look like you. That’s been true since the Beginning. Divine ipseity is inviolable and that includes the appearances we choose for ourselves. Even Gabriel couldn’t miracle that up.”
Crowley hissed through clenched teeth, “Yes, yes, you can’t take my face and I can’t take yours, but what if we agree to trade?”
“Trade.” A slow smile befitting the most devious demon spread across the angel’s face. “Yes. That would work.” But it didn’t last. The grin slunk away, chased off by the far more comfortable apprehensive frown. “Oh! But they would know right off that you’re not me. Gabriel’s very observant, you know.”
Disgusted, Crowley leapt up and paced across the wide, sterile room. "Six thousand years, Aziraphale! You’ve been down here for six thousand years and he never even had a clue you’d been talking to me. Civilization rose and tried its damnedest to fall in that time. How is that observant?”
“Well, if it’s not Gabriel, it’ll be one of the others -”
“Who hadn’t noticed a thing either!” He whirled back and, leaning close, shook a finger in Aziraphale’s face. “You know it’ll work, and even if it doesn’t, what have you got to lose?”
“Nothing," the angel moaned, completely defeated. "We’re dead either way.”
“Exactly.” Stepping back, Crowley straightened and offered his hand. “Shall we?”
Aziraphale stared at his hand like it was a snake rearing to bite, which, he supposed, was an apt simile. With a determined nod, he rose to his feet, tugged down the hem of his waistcoat, then extended his hand. “Yes. Let us trade our faces,” he agreed as he slipped his fingers into Crowley’s grasp.
Though it didn’t truly matter what form an angel took, Aziraphale never enjoyed becoming something else. He rather liked the form he’d chosen, forced by necessity six thousand years earlier so that the humans, newly created and unused to seeing, well, anything, wouldn’t be frightened by a celestial visage. Eschewing a commanding, dominant countenance like Gabriel’s, or the otherworldly affectations that many of the other angels had added to their human-like appearances, he’d selected a look that he’d hoped projected an aura of knowledge and friendliness, like a guide at children’s museum, though at the time, museums hadn’t even been imagined yet. Nor children.
He hadn’t changed much since that time and had grown quite comfortable in that well-set body and, in the last two centuries, a jacket and waistcoat. Now he stood across from it, settling into his first fully different form since he’d been provisioned a body, and now, in comparison, he felt decidedly skinny. He stared down at his hands, at the end of limbs too long and sinuous, and flexed fingers that could fish olives out of any jar. Though he’d always known it, it took wearing Crowley’s body to make him truly realise the demon was first and foremost a serpent.
“That’s not going to work, angel,” hissed Crowley with a knowledgeable and friendly scowl. Unlike Aziraphale, he enjoyed changing shapes now and again - though the one he usually wore was his favourite - and had no trouble assuming that of the angel. He stood with one fist perched on a cocked hip, his cream jacket swept back to expose the worn hems of his waistcoat, as he surveyed his form on the angel’s body.
“Give me some time, will you?” the angel demanded. “I can’t be expected to be you right off, now can I?”
“I’m talking about the clothes!”
Aziraphale looked down at himself, still wearing his own clothes. It all draped loosely on Crowley’s frame, lending even more to Aziraphale’s conviction that the man was just too thin. “Well, yes. I figured I could sort through your closet to find something appropriate.”
“I don’t have a closet,” Crowley sneered. He grabbed a handful of cloth at his thigh and tugged at it. “I make what I need.”
Crowley twirled in place and swaggered off a few paces. “You’ll just have to miracle them for a bit. Go on.”
With a sigh, Aziraphale waved a hand down his form and his clothes transformed into an exact duplicate of Crowley’s most recent favoured apparel, a black jacket over a black shirt and waistcoat, black denim jeans, black boots, and of course, shades with black lenses. So much black, he mused, except for this scarf… thing. He checked over the fit, tapped the snakeskin boots on the shining floor, then fastened the top buttons of the shirt.
Turning back, Crowley scanned the angel’s work and rolled his eyes. He flicked a finger in the angel’s direction and the neckline fell open again. “Perfect.”
“If you must.” Aziraphale tugged at the lapels of the jacket. It all really did fit the demon rather nicely. “I do adore this coat, though. I don’t know what I’ll do if something happens to it.”
“The worst that could happen is that it gets soaked.”
“Even that could damage it. It’s over a hundred years old, you know.”
“Well, you’ll just have to figure out a way to keep it out of the holy water, then.” Tired of the angel’s sartorial concerns, Crowley dropped down on the couch and propped his feet on the coffee table.
“Yes,” agreed Aziraphale with a determined nod, “I shall.” He folded his hands over his belly then, finding that he didn’t have much of a belly to fold them on, steepled his fingers in front of himself. “Now what do we do?”
“You stop acting like you, for starters,” groaned Crowley. “I don’t stand like a… like a… like that,” and he pointed at Aziraphale’s hands, “like a choirboy, like a church anything! Anybody could tell something’s up right off.”
“Well, I don’t sprawl all over the furniture like that!" Aziraphale marched over and shoved Crowley's feet off the table. "So you've a lot to learn yourself." He then stared down at his black-denim-clad legs. “How do you walk at all in these? How do you even get into them?”
Crowley shrugged. “I don’t get into them. They go onto me.”
Aziraphale started stretching, trying to loosen the trousers a bit. “Well, I see why you do that hip thing now.”
The demon frowned. “What hip thing?”
“That hip thing, when you walk. Like this.” With his hands held stiffly up by his shoulders, Aziraphale swaggered across the room, twisting his hips with each awkward step. “You can’t really bend in these, can you? So you twist. Sashay all over the place.”
“I do no such thing!” Crowley spat with a scowl. He looked away, suddenly interested in how the armchair clashed with the rest of the non-existent decor and not at all trying to avoid the humiliating spectacle the angel was perpetrating with his body.
“Yes, you do!” Aziraphale insisted, taking a few more strides. “Just like this!”
Crowley couldn’t keep from glancing back and regretted it immediately. “I look nothing like that! Stop it! Stop doing that!” He jumped up from the couch and, striding over to Aziraphale, grabbed him by the shoulders to keep him still.
“See!” exclaimed the angel, pointing at Crowley’s hips. “You’re still doing it. In my body, too. Oh, this isn’t going to work, is it? They’ll be able to tell right off.”
“It’ll work,” stated Crowley with more conviction than he felt. It might not work, but they had to try something. He wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Well, maybe not a fight. He’d never been good at fighting, which was a secondary reason why he’d wanted to avoid this whole Armageddon thing. He did, however, excel at subterfuge. “We just need a bit of practice being each other. You know, how we move, what we say.”
“Right,” agreed Aziraphale. “You have to learn to stand like a choir boy, and I have to learn how to sashay.”
Crowley gulped, swallowing down his distaste. This was going to be more difficult than he’d anticipated. “Right. I’ll… I’ll go first.” He looked down at himself and pulled each limb in one by one, standing with his heels together and his toes out in a perfect V. He tugged first at the hem of his waistcoat then at the lapels of the coat, then clasped his hands low in front of him. “Like this, then?”
Aziraphale pulled his shades off - how the demon could see anything through them was beyond him - and stowed them in his breast pocket as he looked Crowley up and down. It all seemed rather off: instead of a celestial angel, or even the old-fashioned proprietor of a vintage bookshop, he looked like a Catholic schoolboy in detention. “I can’t say, really. I suppose I really don’t know how I appear to other people.” He circled around the demon in angel’s clothing. “Could you straighten up a bit? Shoulders back and all that? Ah, yes, that’s better.” With his centre of gravity shifted back and his demeanour a bit more proud, Crowley better resembled how Aziraphale pictured himself.
“I have to hold myself like this?” Crowley whinged as he tugged at his collar, snug around his throat.
“Yes. And don’t go unbuttoning that,” Aziraphale warned. He fingered the scarf around his neck. ”If I have to leave this open, you have to leave that closed. Now try to walk.”
Crowley tried his best to curb his loose style, concentrating on keeping his feet from crossing in front of each other, and succeeded in a stiff approximation of a normal walk. “Not bad,” the angel remarked, “but don’t hold your hands up like that.”
Crowley glowered at the angel as he realised he’d held his hands up in the poncy manner Aziraphale had when imitating himself minutes earlier. Letting them drop naturally, he took a few steps and noticed that with them swinging free, he tended to fall right back into his normal stride. “This is futile!” he exclaimed, throwing his offending hands up in defeat.
“No, no, you’re doing fine!” Aziraphale stepped in front of him and demonstrated. “Just fold your hands like this, or this. Or you can just hold them up in front of you. And relax. You have to display grace, in more than one sense of the word.”
With the angel’s encouragement, the demon practised the walk until he at least lost the unnatural rigidity. “You think this will pass?” he asked as he walked across the room, trying his hardest not to ponce.
Aziraphale had learnt over the centuries to quell his misgivings about telling little white lies, at least since he and Crowley had agreed to the Arrangement, if not since he started omitting his encounters with the demon in his reports to Head Office, which, he tried not to admit to himself, started in the Garden. Compared to all of that, this one was easy. “Possibly.”
With a sly smile on his angelic face, Crowley settled back into his usual casual stance, then corrected himself with a shake and stood straight. “Your turn now. But not like you did before,” he hastened to add. “Whatever that was, that wasn’t it.”
“My turn,” Aziraphale repeated, staring down at the entirely alien body below him and wondering how to make it move like he pictured it should. He took a tentative step forward and stopped. “No, no, let me try it again.”
After a couple more poor attempts, Crowley scrubbed a hand down over his jaw to stifle a frustrated groan. “Wait, wait, angel. Back up a bit.”
The angel took three steps back and looked at Crowley expectantly.
Crowley rolled his entirely non-snakelike eyes. “I meant, don’t try to move yet. First things first. Just, just… just stand like me.”
Frowning, Aziraphale looked down at himself, then shrugged.
“You’re still standing like you.” To his credit, Crowley was still posing like Aziraphale as well as he could. He pointed at himself as he shifted into his normal stance. “See? Loose, relaxed.”
Aziraphale tried to copy Crowley. He settled his weight off-centre and cocked his shoulders slightly, looking decidedly like a wooden chair with a centimetre chopped off one leg. “There. I’m relaxed,” he stated in a strained voice.
“That’s not relaxed. That’s constipated.” the demon spat. “Like you said before, you want grace, but better. You want cool.” He twirled on the spot. “See?”
“No,” the angel retorted, dropping the pretense of being Crowley. “I do not ‘see’. I do not know what this ‘cool’ thing is. This is entirely a waste of time.”
Crowley sighed. “Bebop, angel. You want bebop.”
“Oh! Why didn’t you say so?” To be honest, Crowley had no idea what Aziraphale’s concept of “bebop” was, but whatever it was, it did the trick. The angel was clearly parodying whatever image of the concept he had in mind, but he swaggered across the room and spun to face his friend with a proud grin. He didn’t manage to move much like Crowley, but he did it with far more grace that previously and certainly did not move at all like himself.
“Brilliant! We can check that off the list,” Crowley proclaimed before Aziraphale could possibly protest and insist on subjecting him to further humiliating displays. “Now we practise talking.”
“I was afraid of that.” Aziraphale shook his head. “I can’t speak like you, Crowley. I can’t.”
“Ahh, it’s easy,” soothed Crowley, waving away the angel’s concern. “I’ve got a big mouth. That’s what got me in trouble in the first place. Just say all those things that you think but keep inside because angels shouldn’t say them.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Because I don’t think any of those things.”
“Then you’ll have to make some up. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” The angel wasn’t convinced, so Crowley changed his tactic. “Give it a try, why don’t you? Now, you’ll probably be tied up, or at least restrained, and you’ll probably be brought before Beelzebub. Ze’ll probably say something like -” Crowley leant into Aziraphale with a toothy sneer and hissed with black malice, “Crowley the traitor. What have you got to say for yourself, before we condemn you to extinction.“ A susurrus of trembling foliage drifted in from the next room. “And you’ll say...?”
“Oh! Um, I’ll say…. well, er…” He perked up. “I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, Lord Beelzebub. Nothing at all. I’m as innocent as a lamb.” He grinned, proud of his choice of words and delivery.
Crowley blinked. He couldn’t think of any response to that.
Aziraphale frowned. “What? What was wrong with that?”
Crowley stared at him.
“That’s what you’d do,” he asserted. “You’d claim innocence and try to talk your way out of it.”
Crowley continued to glower.
“‘Innocent as a lamb?’” snarled Crowley.
“That’s what you’d say.”
Crowley sputtered indignantly. “I… I would never say, ‘Innocent as a lamb’.”
“Yes, you would! You talk about animals all the time.”
“I do not talk about animals.”
“You do. Ducks and things. All the time.”
“I do not talk about ducks!” Crowley insisted.
“You do! Just yesterday, in fact, you were saying -”
“Shut it!” Crowley snapped, throwing his hands up in frustration. “We do not have the time to discuss this. You’ve got to get this right or we’re both dead.” He looked up to see Aziraphale fuming at his opinion of his honest attempt and tried to backpedal. “It was a fine first attempt, all right? It’s just not what I would say. Let’s try again, and this time, just, just… just don’t claim innocence. We defied our bosses to their faces. Won’t work to say it never happened.”
“Then what do I say?”
Crowley didn’t have an answer. He preferred thinking on his feet rather than planning and rehearsing, which, he had to admit, was probably what got him in trouble most of the time. “Whatever comes to mind. Except that.”
“Oh, that’s helpful.” Aziraphale whirled and strode off, collapsing on the couch inasmuch as perching ramrod-straight on the edge of the seat could be considered collapsing. “This is going nowhere. And as far as I’m concerned, we’re going about this all wrong.”
“Oh?” The sardonic vowel dripped from Crowley’s lips and collected in a greasy puddle at his feet. “You have a better suggestion for avoiding utter destruction then?”
“Not that. This.” He pointed back and forth between them to indicate the face-swap. “We’re doing this acting-like-each-other thing wrong.”
“I couldn’t tell.”
Aziraphale smirked at the sarcastic comment, then took a deep breath to calm himself. Crowley needed to understand and yelling at him wouldn’t help that at all. “Listen to me. We’re trying to act the way we think the other thinks they act like. That is never going to work.”
Crowley frowned, the confusion in his eyes far from angelic, or demonic for that matter. “Sorry?”
“Think about it,” Aziraphale urged. “What did we do just now? I responded to your Beelzebub as I thought you would, and you told me no, you’d never say that and you wanted me to say what you would. It doesn’t work like that. You might think you appear a certain way, but what’s more important is how other people perceive you. If I don’t behave the way that Beelzebub and Hastur and the others expect you to behave, they’ll see right through me.”
Considering his words carefully, Crowley strolled over and settled next to him on the sofa. “Behave,” he finally pronounced. “That’s the word, isn’t it? It’s not how we look or move, or the words we say. It’s the whole package, seen from the outside, not from within.”
“How I behave, from your point of view. How you behave, from my point of view.” Crowley twiddled his fingers, talking more to himself than to Aziraphale.
“Right. If you can imitate who you believe me to be, they won’t even see the little inconsistencies.”
“Who I believe you to be.” Crowley stared at the man next to him, who wore his black-clad and ginger-haired form, and saw the cherub-faced angel he’d known for six thousand years. Aziraphale had always been a bit tentative and unsure of his decisions, and he definitely lived in the nineteenth century - better than the fourteenth for sure, but still. However, more than any other angel Crowley had ever known since the beginning of time, Aziraphale was devoted to the cause of good and stood firm when he knew he was right. In his mind’s eye, he saw Adam protecting his pregnant Eve from a lion with a sword given to him by the only being willing to defy the divine order to turn mankind out of the Garden without mercy. He saw Aziraphale standing in the busy street outside his bookshop, rejecting the opportunity to save himself and determined to seek audience with the Almighty to get help in averting the Apocalypse. He saw the despondent angel calmly and with a touch of subtle snark tell the two greatest powers in Heaven and Hell, after God and Satan, that they were wrong. And he saw Aziraphale, in spite of his feelings on the matter, hand him, Crowley, a sealed thermos bottle filled with his destruction, because he cared.
“I can do that,” Crowley breathed. He straightened, lifting his chin with a proud and stoic air, and clasped his hands over his belly. “I can be who I believe you to be.”
For his part, Aziraphale could only see the gangly demon painfully dancing down the aisle of a great church, entirely confident he could keep himself and his friend safe whilst manipulating the trio of Nazi spies to underestimate him and remain there long enough to get sent to their reward. When the bomb landed, he’d maintained his mask of disinterest as he saved the books of prophecy from the blast, books that were precious only to Aziraphale and no one else. That blend of arrogance, courage, and compassion, tempered by a good dash of cheek; that is what Aziraphale saw, and he could play that.
“I can do that as well,” Aziraphale promised as he sprawled across the settee. He appeared relaxed, almost apathetic, but the determined gleam in his serpent’s eyes would send the bravest angel or the fiercest demon fleeing.
“Then it is settled.” Crowley straightened his jacket and waistcoat then prepared a glass of deep red wine before continuing. “Tomorrow, I shall return to the bookshop to assess the damages and get my business affairs in order.”
Aziraphale selected a bottle of Irish whisky and poured himself a generous glass. Settling back again, he propped a boot on the edge of the coffee table. “I’ll be stopping by Westminster. After what happened today, there’ll be some in Parliament and 10 Downing Street that’ll be looking for some demonic guidance.”
Crowley nodded. “And if nothing happens before that, we’ll meet at St. James’s Park at half of two.” He lit up with eager anticipation. “We could have ice cream.”
“That’s what they’ll expect, so that’s what’s going to happen.” Aziraphale raised his glass.
Crowley raised his as well. “To choosing our faces wisely.”
“To playing with fyre.”
The same devious smile graced both their faces as they tapped their glasses and intoned together, “To Agnes.”