Written for the Good Omens Lyric Wheel.
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* * *
It started after the non-Apocalypse.
He and Crowley had gone their separate ways, gone back to going about their lives in the usual way. Except that things had been . . . different. Flat. Going about his life in the usual way just didn't hold the same joy it used to.
He supposed it was only to be expected. Armageddon was supposed to be It, the end of all things and so much more. But it hadn't been It. It had been a minor bump on the road of his life, and then everything was the same as it had always been. Life went on, with things happening one after the other as they usually did. As fervently as Aziraphale had dreaded the Apocalypse, the lack of any change was something of an anti-climax.
And still Aziraphale felt like he was waiting for something. He didn't know what for, but if the end of the world hadn't been It, then there must be something else he had to wait for. He supposed it was the way the whole pathetic affair had ended; there had been no closure. That was the problem, Aziraphale told himself. He tried to remind himself that he'd been frantic for there not to be closure when it was actually happening, and that he would not have enjoyed the particular kind of closure the Apocalypse entailed, but to no avail. The restlessness continued.
He couldn't seem to settle down to anything. He had little heart for any activity, except drowning his sorrows in cocoa and a book. He even sold a few books; it was too much of a bother to dissuade the buyers. He felt like he was suspended in Limbo, although of course the real Limbo itself was a far more unpleasant place, a shame about all those unchristened children, really . . . .
He didn't even know what he was waiting for.
And that was another part of his problem. What was there to wait for? Judgement Day? Aziraphale didn't believe in judgement. Not anymore. He hadn't for a long time, if he was honest with himself.
He'd never really thought about his job and his place in the world. He'd never needed to. He was an angel. Everything he did was right, because, well, he was on the right side, wasn't he? And when things didn't look right, when they looked positively wrong, in fact, he just went on with his job and avoided thinking about it. Because you couldn't second-guess ineffability. Because it wasn't worth the bother. Because who knew what could happen, once you started thinking?
He'd never asked Crowley how he'd fallen. It didn't seem a good subject to broach. He never called him "demon," either, even though Crowley seemed to find a perverse satisfaction in calling him "angel." Aziraphale always had the impression that Crowley liked rubbing it in; it probably amused him, how very far Aziraphale was from the ideal angel. Aziraphale didn't mind. Let the old boy have his fun, and, well, he couldn't say it wasn't true, to some extent. To be absolutely honest -- something Aziraphale avoided as much as possible -- he didn't really want to be an ideal angel. They tended to be such pompous asses.
But he carefully avoided mentioning the fact that Crowley was a demon. He didn't find it amusing, and as much as Crowley enjoyed being a demon, Aziraphale suspected he wouldn't be too amused if Aziraphale constantly reminded him of it.
No fear of that. Aziraphale really didn't want to think more about the Fall than absolutely necessary.
And since it was rarely absolutely necessary to think about the Fall, he'd successfully avoided the thought of it these past six millennia, letting the debris of daily life pile on top of it until it was buried and nearly forgotten. And then, of course, this Apocalypse business had to come up and dislodge the flotsam that had accumulated all these years, forcing Aziraphale to face it, finally: the ancient battle, his ancient doubt.
There's Right, and there's Wrong.
Was there? Was there really? God knew there was nothing right about an Armageddon between two sides that were, when you came right down to it, basically similar except for a few differences of ideology and hue. Except maybe God didn't know, and that was what tortured Aziraphale.
He was angry. He was really, really angry, and he finally knew what 'doubt' meant, and he didn't know what was right or wrong anymore. His dissatisfaction wouldn't be cured by a gin-and-tonic, or forty. It wouldn't be cured by anything less than a full explanation, starting from Ineffability, right down to "what, when you get right down to it, is the point of all those wings?"
He wasn't going to get that. He'd had vague thoughts of defecting, of rebelling, of charging the gates of Heaven and demanding an answer, but he was pretty sure this course would only end in death by reckless stupidity. No.
It took him some time to realise he was falling apart.
He couldn't go on this way. Yesterday he'd almost filed an encyclopaedia in the fiction section. He felt like a modern bomb, one of those in the pictures that kept ticking inexplicably without cease, never exploding. He tried to forget the whole mess of doubt and suspicion and anger, tried to put it aside, but it was too much bigger than him.
When he finally thought he would explode, he went to Crowley. Crowley, who had been an angel once; who was the only being on Earth who could possibly get close to understanding; who, at worst, had lots and lots of alcohol.
* * *
Crowley told himself he wasn't maudlin or mad. It was only natural for him to desire company after very nearly bringing about the end of the world. He might be a demon, but that didn't mean he didn't have emotional needs. He needed . . . affirmation, or something. Something to reassure himself that all was right with the world, in spite of everything that had happened -- yes, that was a perfectly valid explanation for his agreeing to meet Aziraphale. There was probably even a scientific term for his condition.
Yes, Crowley thought an hour later. It was "unforgivable stupidity."
"He's supposed to be good," Aziraphale was saying, in drunken misery. "He's supposed to be perfect."
"Nobody's perfect," Crowley said lamely.
"But he is! He has to be!" said Aziraphale. "That's the point! What's the point of anything if God doesn't know what he's doing?"
"Does there have to be a point?" Crowley said weakly. He didn't think anything he said would help. Aziraphale had been like this the minute he showed up. Even drinking so much he now practically exuded claret through his pores didn't seem to help.
"I could blame Sodom and Gomorrah on the others," Aziraphale barged on in a low, hopeless monotone, "some of those dominions, give them a lightning bolt and they simply can't control themselves. But this. Really ending it all. Crowley, how could He?"
He seemed to expect an answer. Crowley said,
"I've been thinking," said Aziraphale, after the realisation that Crowley had nothing to say finally seemed to pierce his fog of misery. "I suppose I always pushed it to the back of my mind before, but it -- it's really not like it's supposed to be. Well, I suppose it never was, but I didn't think it was so far -- I can't -- I don't know if this is what I want to do anymore. I mean, you have to admit, I -- we -- it's never about helping people. It never was, even in the beginning. It's always about the glory of God, but it's not like he hasn't got enough glory already. I mean, what difference does it make what we do? Does any of it make a difference?"
"Aziraphale," Crowley said again, helplessly. He wanted to say, "Look, I don't know. I can't help you with this. I can't wrap everything senseless and horrible up in a nice neat package and tell you it's all God's will so it'll be all right in the end. I know it's not going to be all right in the end, and personally, I wouldn't be surprised if God Himself didn't know what He was doing, the mad bugger. That's why I'm not an angel."
He'd even settle for saying, "Shut up," but he couldn't say that. That was the problem. He couldn't say anything, not when Aziraphale was looking at him with those eyes. The drinking and the rambling was all a way of distracting himself from some wild inner pain, even if he didn't know it himself.
Crowley knew. He was an expert at recognising pain. It was his job.
It was also his job to increase pain, if possible, but he wasn't going to do that. If he'd learnt anything from the recent debacle, it was that doing his job wasn't always the ideal thing to do under the circumstances.
So he didn't say anything overwhelmingly blunt or impatient, as much as duty and natural inclination prompted him to. What he did say was,
"Look, do you really have to do this now?"
Unfortunately, it seemed to have precisely the effect Crowley had been hoping for. Aziraphale deflated like a punctured balloon. The half-wild anguish left his eyes, but the weary hopelessness that replaced it was almost worse.
"I'm sorry," he said. He raised a hand, seemed to forget what he'd done it for, and dropped it.
"I feel like everything's burning down to ashes," he said, not looking at Crowley. "Down to the ground."
He looked so lost.
Crowley got to his feet, knocking over his chair. Aziraphale stared at him owlishly.
"I'm not your therapist," Crowley hissed. "Do I look like a ministering angel to you?"
Aziraphale blinked, taken aback. Sheer annoyed spite uncoiled in Crowley. He made a sound like an angry kettle.
"Why are you doing this? What have I got to do with your -- mid-life crises? Why don't you just" -- Crowley gestured wildly -- "go to a fucking psychiatrist or something?"
Realisation dawned. Hurt showed stark on Aziraphale's face; then he sat up and drew back, sobriety settling over him like a mantle.
"I'm sorry," he said stiffly, "I didn't think--"
"No, you don't," said Crowley. "Why do you make me do this?" And he pulled Aziraphale out of his chair, dragging him close until they were almost nose-to-nose. A startled breath gusted over Crowley's face, but he was too furious to notice. He snarled,
"You saved me, all right?"
Aziraphale closed his mouth. He opened it again, but he made no sound. He looked like a stunned fish. Crowley noticed the nervous flutter of his eyelashes, then wished he hadn't.
"Crowley," said Aziraphale, after a long silence. "You're a demon."
"Well, you can't really be saved, can you, if you're a demon? Besides, I thought you liked being, um. Evil."
"Yes! And that's not going to change any time soon! But if it makes you feel better, you've made a difference!"
Aziraphale paused, trying to work this out.
"If I really have to spell it out for you, I'm going to kill you."
Aziraphale just looked at him. Crowley flung up his hands.
"You've been saving me in installments, all right?"
"I'm getting . . . less evil. Incrementally." Crowley knew he sounded as if each word was being dragged out of him with a hook. It felt like it. He was dragging his reputation as a demon through the mud, and Aziraphale just stood there looking like he'd probably be less bemused if Crowley had put on a pink tutu and danced Swan Lake on the table.
It obviously wasn't enough.
"All right. Fine." Crowley glowered off into the distance for some time, then surrendered to the inevitable. "I don't push old women into traffic anymore."
Aziraphale looked at him doubtfully.
"All right, all right. Only robust old women."
This time Crowley thought he could almost hear the silverfish tunnelling through the pages of Aziraphale's books.
"It's a change!" he said.
"Crowley," Aziraphale said wearily, "it's very kind of you to try, but this isn't going to--"
Crowley kissed him.
"God doesn't matter," Crowley said. "It makes a difference. You made a difference. All right?"
Aziraphale touched the side of Crowley's face gently. Crowley stood very still and tried not to tremble.
"All right," said Aziraphale softly. He smiled.
They were quiet for a while.
"If you ever mention this again, I'll claw your brains out through your nose," Crowley said hoarsely.
"Yes," said Aziraphale.
They didn't talk much after that.
* * *
Later Aziraphale was stricken with embarrassment at the whole absurd affair, but he comforted himself with the fact that he had only needed a little reminding, after all. Even if it had been Crowley who'd done the reminding. Aziraphale had already known the point of it all, even if he'd forgotten it for a while.
It was his job, after all.
* * *
She's Saving Me
we were sitting round a dying fire
She's Saving Me
we were sitting round a dying fire