Aziraphale held the droning receiver to his chest like a protective talisman; his gut twisted into a knot as a thousand thoughts careened through his mind, and in that moment, he forced himself to mask his cacophonous worries with a smile as he turned around to face his… guest.
"Ah, Gabriel," he said, praying it was enough to fool the arch angel, "it has been a while, hasn't it?"
Imposing as he was impassive, Gabriel stared down at him. If he had noticed Aziraphale's discomfort, he didn't give himself away, "yes, the last time I saw you you'd ruined the Ineffable Plan, and then somehow survived an execution by Hellfire." Unfazed in the slightest by the severity of what he'd just said, Gabriel began perusing the shelves, "We all decided that the less we had to do with you the better it would be. For all of us. You understand, of course."
Aziraphale honestly didn't know if what was best for him had been taken into consideration for a single moment, but somehow, he wasn't surprised. His prayers had gone unanswered for so long, and now he knew why.
But, at least it seemed to now be at an end.
"Of course." Aziraphale said curtly, wanting nothing more than to talk about precisely anything else, "Well, I can only assume that you've come to talk about what's going on with the humans? Such a terrible thing, but I've had a few ideas I think you'll all really—"
"What?" Gabriel's lip pulled up in distaste, though this was quickly masked with neutrality, "no, we're taking a back seat on them for a little while, considering the fact they weren't even supposed to be here anymore."
He shot a sly look at the fat angel, as though to say because of you, and then picked up a brand new-looking old book and began listlessly turning pages, "I wanted to see how you were doing, though."
That was a surprise, and after shaking off the discomfort at his colleague showing such open disdain for one of Her creations, Aziraphale felt a glimmer of hope bloom in his chest, "oh?" he said, "does Heaven have work for me, then? I'd be more than happy to help out in any—"
"No." There was little room left for further discussion with such an abrupt interruption, and Gabriel finally looked up from the book he was barely paying any mind to, "I came here, of my own volition. I wanted to speak with you, informally."
Intrigued, but cautious, Aziraphale leant against the armrest of the chair behind him, "about what?"
Gabriel seemed to be sizing him up, like a python considering a rather large meal, "are you still consorting with that demon?"
As though Anthony J Crowley hadn't been instrumental in preventing Armageddon itself, saving every precious life on Earth, and standing up to not only all the forces of Heaven, but also his own kind and the bloody Devil himself! As though that somehow didn't make his name worthy of being remembered and inscribed in the very stars themselves to tell his tale to the rest of humanity, for the rest of time!
As though his very name was somehow a dirty word that shouldn't be spoken.
Bristling defensively, Aziraphale gripping the phone receiver a little tighter; he tried to pretend as though he wasn't swallowing down a tempestuous verbal tongue-lashing on behalf of his oldest and most dearest friend, and smiled thinly. There was no use lying, knowing Gabriel, he had probably eavesdropped on their conversation only moments before.
All the arch angels seemed to suffer with the awfully nasty habit of being precisely where they weren't wanted, just in the nick of time to listen in on any private matters that might be going on.
"I wouldn't call it consorting," Aziraphale said, not liking the negative implications of the word, but also not wanting to prolong the conversation any more than necessary to argue a point that would only fall on deaf ears, "but yes, Crowley and I are friends."
Gabriel looked as though he'd suddenly caught a whiff of a particularly bad smell, "friends. I can't even imagine how She must feel about your treachery."
A frosted dagger of reality pierced him, and chilled him to his core.
Every time Aziraphale thought on the many millennia of Her divine punishments, his blood would run cold as terror gripped him for the work both he and Crowley had done to foil the Ineffable Plan. Her Ineffable Plan.
She had reigned righteous retribution down on so many for so much less. Pillars of salt, floods, plagues, the killing of firstborns.
His expression must have given away his trepidations, because Gabriel shrugged with a smile, "Oh, I'm sure it won't be too bad." His words were sickly saccharine, "She's always teaching the importance of forgiveness, after all."
Aziraphale nodded curtly, "forgiveness is important." He reminded himself as he tried not to glare at the smug bastard.
Still smiling in a way that betrayed thoughts of cruel inside-jokes, Gabriel slid the book he'd been holding back onto the shelf, "well I certainly think so," he turned, wearing a smile that didn't seem cruel for once, "maybe there's something I can do to remind the others of that."
"Really?" Hope and unease bubbled inside of Aziraphale in equal measure; he'd been feeling a certain kind of homesick deep in his bones since being ignored by Heaven, but Aziraphale would be lying if he said he trusted Gabriel, even if he was offering a chance at salvation.
"Really." Gabriel watched him, wearing a thoughtful expression, "I'll do my best."
"Why?" The question had left Aziraphale's lips before he'd even realised he'd asked it, and he wished that he could have miracle'd the word back into his mouth.
The arch angel stared at him with amethyst eyes, as though trying to unwind him like a ball of string. After a moment, he said, "the forces of Hell are going to be consolidating their numbers, just because the Ineffable Plan is done with, doesn't mean those slimy little wretches are done scheming, and I, for one, would prefer it if we were one angel richer when that time comes."
Aziraphale made a start to object, he didn't want any part of either side of whatever fight might come, but Gabriel was gone in a blinding flash of light that left squiggles on Aziraphale's retinas.
It was only after he had begun to blindly walk away that Aziraphale realised that he was still holding the receiver; he had barely touched the phone base with it when it began ringing shrilly beneath his fingers.
"Fucking Hell." Crowley's voice spat, "No, I mean it, fuck them all, don't they realise that I've already made it very clear that I want no part in whatever they've got to offer? We made our own side, and they think that I'll fall back into place just because they've snapped their fingers?"
"Bit of a palaver, then?" Aziraphale offered, a smile creeping onto his face as he imagined his devilish friend pacing moodily.
"Angel, you explain to me how the fuck this is anything like a meringue." Not waiting for an answer, Crowley became persistent, "I'm telling you, we should pack up, go anywhere, just the two of us, and make some time for…"
The words faltered, Crowley wore so much of himself on his sleeve, and it so often crept past his lips without filter; with a sigh, and after a subtle throat-clearing, he added, "for us. I mean, we've got what, six thousand years to catch up on? Six thousand years we could have been together, properly, not just stealing moments together when coincidence would drop us into each other's lives."
Aziraphale sat down on the arm of his chair, and smoothed the wrinkles out of his waistcoat purely out of habit, "that sounds like a dream, my dear, but I think that it would probably be best if we waited, just until after all of this is over," he sighed, "I fear that even your delightful company wouldn't be enough to keep me from worrying about people. I'd hate to waste your time."
Crowley scoffed, "bloody angels, always worrying about Her creations. I shouldn't really be surprised," his words were not unkind, and he sounded as though he was smiling again, "well, if I can't sweep you off your feet for an extended trip travelling the entirety of this heavily populated rock, then perhaps I can tempt you into a few drinks in the chair of your choice?"
Aziraphale beamed, he really had missed his friend, "I would like that."
"Tonight then, Angel," Crowley's drawl was tinged with a hopeful insistence, "I'll bring the red."
"Thank you, Crowley, I am so looking forward to it." The phoneline stayed alive in a comfortable quiet for a moment, before dying once more, and Aziraphale finally returned the receiver to the phone's base, and made his way back to the kitchen with a dance in his step.
There was so much to do before the night's arrival.