There was no denying that the planned Apocalypse had been a bit of a disaster in all the wrong ways. Rivers of blood had failed to flow, the earth had not been split asunder, and while the four horseback riders had turned up as agreed, they'd been told to go away again thank-you-very-much we've got it under control.
In fact, there had been a distinct lack of Armageddon in any one of the spots up for the title much to everyone's annoyance. It was all a bit of a disappointment really, and now it was over both Heaven and Hell were making angry noises at each other about whose fault it was but no-one really seemed at all sure as to what should happen next.
It was the time a smart anthropomorphic entity took a break, got away from it all, took some time to get back to her roots and relax. And War knew the perfect place to go for that.
Of course he was there. Sooner or later, he was everywhere. It was what Death was good at.
"Oh, you know," War shrugged a little and smiled to herself as she strolled along the sea-front, licking at her ice-cream with a delicate red tongue. "It's a bit of a home from home here really. They've always viewed civil war as more of a hobby than anything."
Death looked about. On the beach, fishermen were hauling in the day's catch, shouting to each other as the fish spilled onto the sands. At the edge of the water, in defiance of the usual English summer-time weather, two small children were valiantly paddling. Even from a distance they seemed to be turning blue which was either from the cold or from a chemical spill, but as long as nothing was actively falling off, the fun continued. No-one took much notice of the tall black-robed skeleton walking along the sea-front, but then that was also the usual state of affairs.
IT SEEMS PEACEFUL ENOUGH, he offered pensively.
War smiled brightly. She looked at the children in the water, at the grey Northern clouds with their constant threat of rain, at the fishermen hard at work. "It does rather, doesn't it?" she agreed cheerfully.
Things when she arrived at a place usually did after all.
It started with a magic ring, lost millennia ago, dropped into the ocean and left to drift gently to the bottom.
In fact, this is a more common occurrence than you might think. It is the way of magic rings to grant wishes that are not entirely as people expected, and it is the way of those people when exasperated to throw the ring away as far as possible, wanting it out of their sight. The ocean is rather frequently involved.
In most cases such rings are eventually eaten by catfish - for some reason they appear to have a taste for such things. Such catfish then inevitably become magical themselves, and begin granting wishes. Indeed, there is such a long tradition of this that young catfish are now frequently taught that when they have eaten something shiny they should go seek out particularly stupid looking humans.
This particular ring however was due for a different fate. This particular ring got eaten by a dogfish.
The dogfish in question had seen the glint of metal, almost buried by seaweed by this point, and decided that it clearly must be a hiding fish of some type. (Dogfish are not particularly noted for their brightness but are noted for a rather compulsive need to bite anything that they come across.). A mouthful of metal and weed, a gulp, and only a faint metallic taste was left to show that the ring had ever existed at all.
"Now you've done it," a nearby catfish observed glumly.
"What?" The dogfish's gaze as he looked at the other fish was a discomforting one, a look that said he was full just now, but he might well have room for catfish dessert any moment now. He swallowed again reflexively, conscious of an odd taste left over in his mouth. "Odd-tasting fish, that."
"It wasn't a fish, you idiot." It wasn't easy for a fish to scowl, but the catfish looked distinctly annoyed with it's whiskers twitching through the water. "It was a ring. Fish don't shine like that."
"Thought it was a goldfish." The dogfish burped gently and looked around for the next thing to bite. The Catfish was starting to look like a better and better option. "Oh well, gone now I guess."
"It's not as simple as that." The catfish swam in agitated circles around him. "It was a wishing ring, and I was meant to eat it, not you. You've not got a wishproof stomach – you've never even been trained!"
"Wishing ring?" Slightly disbelieving, and suspecting that the catfish was merely resenting the loss of its own shiny dinner, the dogfish glanced around. "You mean like if I wished we were somewhere else?"
Reality flickered. The world stopped then started again differently. The two fish looked around at the cold grey waters of the North Sea.
The catfish groaned, a quiet sound of utter disgust. "Amateurs!"
The dogfish was shivering, not at all sure it liked the change from its usual tropical waters. "You know, it's bloody cold," he complained. "I wish it would warm up a bit."
As the sea seethed and bubbled in its hurry to react, War watched from the shore, her smile widening.
She turned to Death, her eyes bright. "You'd better go get ready, old friend," she murmured. "You're going to be busy very soon."
"I still don't understand why we had to come."
"I told you. After the Apocalypse, we needed a holiday," Aziraphale said patiently. "Besides, there's nothing to stop us doing the tempting and saving here as much as anywhere else."
"You only got as far as mentioning the holiday. You never mentioned where to," Crowley complained. "I thought maybe Barbados or something – people practically falling out of trees begging to be tempted there. And you could save as many people as you wanted, and there'd be actual sunshine. Instead, what do I get? Redcar of all places. Come to the North-East and admire our many chemical and nuclear factories. Not exactly what most people would describe as a centre of tourism, is it?"
"It's cultural," Aziraphale said firmly. "A historic education. The smugglers of Saltburn! The Hartlepool Quay!"
"The Middlesbrough vandals," Crowley said glumly. "If they even think of touching my car they'll be in for a nasty shock." He turned to look at Aziraphale, peering at the angel suspiciously. "This hasn't got anything to do with that little bookshop I saw a few streets away from our bed-and-breakfast, is it?"
Aziraphale blushed. "Well, I thought maybe we could pop in to take a look, just as we're here," he admitted. "They are rumoured to have certain rather fascinating books in their early editions."
"I knew it," Crowley muttered sourly. "Halfway across the country to look at a bloody bookshop. One day, angel, I really need to educate you in the ways on eBay and Amazon, and life will be so much easier…"
"You shouldn't order books across the internet," Aziraphale said primly. "It's too easy. It soils them. Anything worth having is worth working for."
Crowley gave him a disbelieving look. "So if I told you of a place where you could get a first edition of Alice in Wonderland just like that…"
"I would say no," Aziraphale said firmly, and hesitated as Crowley continued to stare at him. Angelic truthfulness won out after only a few moments. He squirmed. "Besides, I ordered one book from there and it really stunk of cigarette smoke…"
Crowley laughed, satisfied. "Aha, now we get to the truth of the matter."
"And I checked, and it wasn't as though they didn't have a high feedback rating..." Aziraphale went on fretfully.
Crowley nodded cheerfully. He'd always considered the feedback system to be one of his better pieces of work. Bearing false witness, wrath, there was potential for all sorts of sin all wrapped up neatly in one little computer system. And that wasn't even going into all the coveting and envy of other people's winning bids that went on. If he could work some adult pay per view in there somewhere he'd have most of the deadly sins wrapped up in a neat self perpetuating system.
"I complained, and the seller said I hadn't read the description properly!" Aziraphale was still complaining. "He said he'd never said it was a smoke-free home and-" he broke off abruptly, glancing at the sea. "I say, what's that?"
Crowley followed his gaze, peering over the top of his sun glasses to look at the water. It did indeed seem to be bubbling rather ominously. "Perhaps it's natural for the North," he suggested doubtfully. "I tell you, with all the nuclear factories around here, the whole area's probably radioactive. We'll be lucky if we don't come out with three heads."
"I don't think we can be affected by radiation," Aziraphale objected, but he said it absent-mindedly, attention on the dead fish that were already beginning to gather on the surface of the water. "I'm sure it wasn't doing that five minutes ago."
"Chemical leak then. There'll be fish with two heads crawling out of there next," Crowley predicted, before his gaze fell on two figures standing together at the edge of the beach. "Oh." His voice went flat suddenly, the mischief dying from his tone as he nudged Aziraphale to look.
Aziraphale looked where he was told, features quickly settling into a frown. "Oh," he echoed. "Your people, maybe?"
Crowley shook his head. "Our lot are still arguing over the fallout from the last one. Yours?"
"Still bickering over whose fault it was," Aziraphale agreed. "But if those two are together…"
"Maybe we should check out what's going on…" Crowley finished glumly. He sighed, already beginning the trudge down onto the sand. "Next year, Aziraphale, I'm picking where we go on holiday."
"That's better." The dogfish relaxed as the waters heated to lukewarm. "Much more homely."
"Homely?" Fish voices weren't made in a way that allowed them to shriek, but the catfish's tone suggested that if he could have, he would have. He swam in angry circles, whiskers trembling with outrage. "If you'd wanted homely you should have stayed at home rather than wishing us here in the first place! I prefer freshwater, but you don't see my species whining about it and changing the entire ocean to suit us. No, we cope!"
"Or...you could just stay in freshwater pools," the dogfish suggested mildly. "Might be easier in the long run."
"And then how would we prevent idiots like you from eating magic rings and bending the world to your whims?" the catfish demanded. "You'll turn the entire world into ocean next!"
The dogfish seemed to seriously consider the idea for a moment. "I can't see much use in that idea," he decided. "It's not as though I could swim that far."
"Well, that's one relief," the catfish said acidly. "Now, what you have to do is wish..."
"Wish what I really want to come true," the dogfish interrupted. "Yes, I think I've got the hang of it now. I'm not stupid, you know." He looked around at the North Sea, most of the native sealife still rushing about in shock at the changing of their water temperature. "I think what I wish most is for some of these folk to just go away." he decided. "I can't be having with all this lot competing for my food. I wish there were a few less of them."
"No!" The catfish actually swam right at him, desperate to stop that wish being spoken, but too late, far too late. The fish around them vanished, leaving a vast expanse of only empty water and weed.
The dogfish swam out of his way with one deft flick of his tail, and turned to look at him, mildly bemused. "It's okay, I haven't wished you away," he reassured, unsure quite what had upset his companion.
The catfish stared at him, aghast. "What difference does that make, you idiot? You're a carnivore that just wished away all other fish. What were you planning to eat?"
"Oh, well." Clearly the dogfish hadn't considered that until now. He thought for a moment. "I suppose, when I get hungry I'll just have to wish some of them back," he decided. "Nice tender little ones, not those big ones who fight back all the time."
"There won't be any more wishes!" Furious and frustrated, the catfish turned and thumped his head against a large rock, as though trying to relieve some of his anger. "That was the third wish - the fixer wish! If you've mucked things up you're meant to either wish everything back the way it was, or if you're feeling too smart for your own good, you wish for three more wishes. No-one ever uses it to just wish for a normal wish!"
"I only get three? You never told me I only get three!" the dogfish protested. "That's totally unfair. You can't just go not telling me and expect me to know!"
"I'm very sorry for not managing to fit months of dedicated training into ten minutes in which you mostly ignored me," the catfish retorted crisply. "Three wishes, okay? Everyone knows you get three wishes. Wish one is meant to be the one you use to be allowed to speak human, wish two is your safety wish in case the human you pick is particularly stupid and decides they prefer a fish dinner to having three wishes and wish three is your reward wish for participating in the whole affair. You're not meant to just go around using them all on changing the world. We leave that sort of stupidity to the humans!"
"Well, it's hardly my fault if I didn't know," the dogfish complained again. "What do we do now then?"
"Who knows?" the catfish said gloomily. "You didn't even wish yourself able to speak human, so we can't even try asking them to wish things back. We could try waiting until a bigger fish eats you and hope they have more sense - oops, no, we can't, you wished all the other fish away."
"Well, we can't use that plan then." the dogfish said, rather relieved by that. "Any other ideas?"
The catfish considered it. "Yes," he said after a long moment. "Three in fact."
"Oh, good." The dogfish relaxed a little. "Out with it then. What are they?"
"You could commit suicide and I could pick the ring out of what was left of your body."
The dogfish stared at him for a moment. "Yes," he said slowly. "Well, that wasn't entirely what I had in mind. What were your other ideas?"
"I could wait until you inevitably starved to death having wished all other fish away, and then pick the ring out of what was left of your body." the catfish said brightly. He smiled at the dogfish, a rather sharp, unpleasant smile. "Some of us can get by just fine on waterweed."
"I'm seeing a theme here," the dogfish noted. "And it might help your planning if I told you I had no objection at all to eating catfish if the necessity arises." He returned the catfish's smile, showing sharp, white teeth for a moment. Dogfish, after all, belonged to the shark family, and sharks are good at smiling. "What was idea three please, and I hope it's a little less... fatal than the other two."
The catfish sighed. "We wait until someone else finds a ring and wishes things back to normal." he said. "Or we try to find another ourselves."
"Well, that sounds a little more hopeful," the dogfish agreed. "Turn up often, these rings, do they?"
"About once every hundred years or so, and almost never in the North Sea." the catfish replied. "You'll notice the scarcity of catfish in these parts - even before you did your wishing thing."
It took a moment for the dogfish to consider the implications of this, and to force a smile which by now seemed slightly strained. "Yes well," he said heavily. "I suppose we had better start looking then."
Even as Aziraphale and Crowley hurried towards them, the figures of Famine and Pollution appeared on the beach, walking briskly towards their old companions.
Both of them seemed somewhat surprised to be there.
"You know, I could swear I hadn't been concentrating on global warming recently," Pollution commented. "At least, not to this extent. The Apocalypse took up too much of my time for that." He stopped to stare at the sea in a puzzled way , a small puddle of oil growing around his feet as he did so.
Such was the state of Redcar beach that this made very little noticeable difference.
"I have to admit, I haven't been focusing on fish lately," Famine agreed. "Drought, yes, crop failure, yes but fish?" He frowned a little, and then focused on the half-eaten ice-cream still in War's hand. "Oh, is there an ice-cream van around here? I'm hungry."
"Are we going for another go at the Apocalypse?" Pollution demanded. "Because if so, my parcel hasn't arrived. That's the Postal Service for you, I suppose. Nothing gets where it's supposed to be nowadays."
Death shrugged, a graceful movement under the black robe. ASK HER, he suggested, indicating War.
She turned to face them, her smile radiant. "Hello boys," she greeted them in her automatically provocative voice. "I thought you might appreciate a holiday after all of that unpleasantness."
The three others looked at each other - or at least, Pollution and Famine did. It could sometimes be hard to tell whether Death was looking at you or not - a side-effect of the empty eye-sockets. "What did you have in mind?" Famine asked cautiously.
"Oh, you know, we could make it just like old times again. Don't you remember what they used to say - if you want a good civil war, come to the North of England?" War asked, her eyes shining as she looked out to sea. "Don't you remember the Harrying of the North - well, you don't obviously, Pollution, it's before your time - but you other two? The piles of burning cattle, the people starving in the streets, all of us working together just how it should be? It's too long since we've worked as a team like that."
Famine stared at her for a moment. "You mean, like a... team-building exercise?" he asked eventually. "Like humans have to build morale?"
War smiled at him. "Just exactly like that," she agreed. "Don't you think we need it after that last affair?"
Pollution had been quiet for a long time, seeming to be trying to think something through. "But..." he said eventually. "Dead fish, global warming - those are our jobs. And Death... well, he can find a place almost anywhere. I don't understand, where's your place in all this?"
"Oh, dear," War's tone was almost a purr, just ever-so-slightly patronising as she looked at Famine - an old hand having to explain things to the newest team member. "Don't you worry about that. I make my own place. That's what I'm good at."
"War takes care of herself." Famine was quick to back that up before his younger colleague could question it any further. "Best that we just get on with our own jobs, and let her get on with hers. The way humans are, it's not often she needs much a case of light blue touchpaper and stand well back"
"Especially not here," War agreed, looking up at the fourth, currently silent member of their party. "What about you? Will you stay around for the fun?"
Again, the black robe rose and fell as the tall skeleton gave an expressive shrug. I WILL BE HERE, he agreed without sign or either approval or disapproval. I AM ALWAYS HERE.
"Well." Angel and demon had halted in their approach as two became four. Wanting to help with the Apocalypse take two was all well and good, but even Aziraphale had had to admit that when so outnumbered the best way to deal with things might not be head on.
Besides, Crowley wasn't all that sure he did actually want to help.
"Well," he said again, as the four anthromorphic personifications wandered away from them down the beach, a trail of oil droplets following in Pollution's wake. "You know," he added hopefully. "If we set off driving now, I could have us halfway back before we hit rush-hour."
Aziraphale fixed him with a hard stare, "Crowley..." he began, warningly.
"What?" the demon protested. "I'm just saying, we don't need to get involved in this. I especially don't need to get involved in this. Agent of Hell, remember? I'm meant to be all in favour of wars and suchlike on principle."
"We didn't save the world just so they can destroy it!" Aziraphale protested.
Crowley scowled. "Shut up, will you? You're going to ruin my reputation if you start saying things like that in public. And they're not going to destroy the world. Northern England, much as it might like to believe otherwise, is not "the world". The parts of the world that have even noticed it probably wish they hadn't."
"But once they start here, it'll spread. Don't you remember what people here are like? Once they get annoyed they invade the rest of the country to make sure no-one feels like they're missing anything. Remember the War of the Roses? And that mess with Guy Fawkes - he was born not so far from here, don't forget."
Crowley pondered for a minute. "You know, I think I got an award for that one," he commented, remembering. Hell approved of any event which stirred people up enough to keep them celebrating it for centuries, a faint patina of sin brushing over each soul every time it allowed itself to indulge in righteous satisfaction at the treatment of the traitors and for the prices regularly charged for fireworks.
"So did I," Aziraphale admitted reluctantly. Heaven just tended to approve of religious war on principle, without bothering to ask too many questions about who got to have their genitalia burned in front of them and for what reasons. Usually by that point the reasons were just excuses anyway. "But it wasn't very nice, was it?"
"I'm a demon, Aziraphale. We don't do nice." Crowley reminded him. "We're generally in favour of war, torture, murder and at the risk of sounding like a Sky news reporter, atrocities against humanity. The more they get on with it without my help the more days I get to lie in bed and do nothing. Or lie in bed and do something. Both are good. Occasionally very good."
Aziraphale gave him a look reminiscent of a kicked puppy, and he sighed a little. That was the problem with Aziraphale, he believed everyone was a good person deep down. Even those who were demons.
"You can't expect me to go around encouraging people to be good," he protested miserably. "That's hardly my job."
Aziraphale seemed to think about it, trying to gather his arguments. "Look, just think about the consequences of it. If a war starts in England, do you really expect him to stay out of it, if it spreads? And we've just finished dealing with that."
"He promised he wouldn't interfere!"
"He's a child," Aziraphale said flatly. "And he may have promised, but if it gets nasty, can you see him not wanting to interfere one way or another? He's been brought up human, and humans can be tempted to do things they never intended to. You of all people should know that. They do say that the way to Hell is paved with good intentions."
It was a good point, and Crowley hesitated as he was sidelined by a memory of ice skating over frozen insurance salemen on the road to hell. As a proverb the reality lacked a certain something.. "Maybe it won't end in war," he said without much conviction. "Didn't you give me that big talk about free choice before? The place might have mellowed a bit over the years. Just because she's here, they don't have to start a war. They have a choice. What was the last really big fuss these northerners got involved in, after all?"
"Being forced to weigh out food in metric measurements rather than imperial," Aziraphale could answer that without hesitation. "People were very upset apparently, and prepared to start full-scale protests against Europe for it."
Crowley shifted uncomfortably, vaguely remembering a few comments made to greengrocers here and there which might, in a certain light, have been a tad inflammatory. "Well, maybe they felt very strongly about it."
"Yes. They feel strongly about a lot of things apparently. The Worst Town In Britain contests nearly bring the regions to rioting in the streets every year. I've been here a couple of times to calm things down." Aziraphale looked at him sternly. "This is not a region where it would be hard to start a civil war, Crowley. They look on civil rebellion as something interesting to do on evenings and weekends. The only thing that has stopped this place from declaring nuclear war or something on the rest of the world is that it's too poor to afford the weapons."
"Yes, yes, I remember how it used to be. Get bored on Friday, rebel against the South on Saturday, get oppressed on Sunday in time to start work again on Monday," Crowley admitted. "I just... what do you expect me to do about it? It's not like they've done anything yet, except warm the sea up a bit. That might even be an improvement. Attract some tourism or something with exotic sealife."
"It'll kill things. Fish. They'll die out."
"So?" Crowley shrugged. "Things have been dying out for centuries and we've never bothered about it before. Never went out to try and save that awful looking fish with the legs, did we?"
"Just... just let's stick around for a few days," Aziraphale insisted desperately. "Something's going to happen. I've got a feeling."
"You want to haunt that bookshop more like, and see if any more first editions magically appear from the backroom," Crowley accused. "Fine, we'll stay. But only for the weekend. I hate the North, and it's not as if it's even got any decent winebars where you can drown out the fact that you're here."
"I thought you'd like it here," Aziraphale commented, a little surprised. "There's certainly enough corruption and sin available for you."
"Yeah, well, that's why isn't it? I set the whole thing going, generating sin all on its own so I never have to come back." Crowley shuddered, glancing around at the now empty beach. "Frankly I prefer to home-work where certain locations are involved."
It was a depressing a thought, a little piece of self-generating Hell, eking out misery year after year without any demons even required to keep the whole process going. Still, Aziraphale managed to summon a smile up from somewhere. "I'm afraid I shall have to see what I can do to thwart that, my dear," he warned.
"You would," Crowley said, but without real heat. It wasn't as though any blessings given to this place would stick for more than five minutes. "Come on. If we're going to stay here for the weekend we'd better find a hotel or something."
In the end, they found a bed and breakfast. The owner, a lady who identified herself as one Daphne Turner, opened her mouth to tell them that there were no rooms left for the night when she looked down again and discovered that she had. It was very odd, for she was sure the bed and breakfast only had four bedrooms, and they seemed to have had had quite an influx of visitors today, but there was in the fifth room noted in her book, and there was the key. Very strange.
It could almost be described as miraculous in fact.
The dark-haired man leaned on her counter and smirked at her. "Room for two, please. Name of Crowley."
He had sunglasses on, Daphne realised when she finally stopped staring at her screen. She glanced at the window to check the weather, and felt vaguely reassured to see that it was drizzling rain. At least some things in the world were still normal then.
"Room for two," Crowley repeated, more impatiently this time.
"Right, right, sorry." Daphne did her best to revive her flagging customer service skills, pasting on her usual fake smile. "We do have just room left as a matter of fact, but I'm uh... not sure..." she glanced from one man to another, blushing a little, "...uh, I'm not sure if it's double or twin."
"Twin," the blonde man said hastily, blushing an even deeper red than she was. "It will be twin. And we'll take it, thank you."
Crowley turned to look at him, smirk quickly turning into a half-laugh. "Are you sure, angel?" he drawled, and Daphne looked hastily back at her computer, because the look he was giving the blonde man was... well, it wasn't something that someone else should be watching really.
Besides, what did she care if they wanted to get a twin room and push the beds together if it made them feel happier about things? It was hardly the first couple she'd had who'd wanted to do things that way.
"Will you be wanting breakfast?" she enquired, keeping her eyes firmly on the screen now. "Only I'm afraid it might be a little limited. The supermarket won't be getting its delivery until Monday, and we seem to be out of eggs. And bacon. And cereal. And... well, quite a lot of things in fact."
She still wasn't quite sure exactly how that had happened, either. They usually kept more than enough in, especially for the off-season, yet when she'd gone to the kitchen to check after the last set of guests had arrived, the cupboards had been almost bare with nothing in the fridge except one sad lump of mouldy cheese that was developing an impressive civilization of fungus. She'd called the supermarket to see if she could arrange a delivery, but apparently they had nothing in either. The man on the phone had sounded a bit hysterical about it.
And then when she'd gone to check the guests and make sure they had found their rooms all right, there had been the most awful smell coming from one of the rooms. It had to be a blocked drain or something. She had apologised of course, and promised to call the emergency plumber out at once, but the man had smiled quite happily and said that it was fine as it was. As though he prefered it that way.
It really had been a very odd day.
"Without breakfast will be fine," the blonde man said calmly.
"Would you know where the closest wine-bar is?" the other one asked hopefully, and Daphne had to think for a moment.
"Wine... well, we don't really do wine-bars," she admitted with a little laugh. "But there's a Working Man's Club around the corner."
"Working Man's Club. Right." He looked unaccountably depressed by this news.
"Would you like me to show you to your room now?" Daphne asked brightly. "It's just up the stairs. At least, I think it is." She was not altogether sure how she knew that, but the knowledge seemed to have arrived in her brain.
They followed her, the blonde man looking quite cheerful about it, the dark one looking strangely glum and mumbling something about turning Newcastle Brown Ale into wine. Daphne glanced at the room for just long enough to ascertain it did indeed have two beds - both neatly made up with green tartan quilts and pillowcases - before they squeezed past her inside.
Looking at them she realised for the first time that neither of them carried any luggage, and wondered how they were intending to go a whole weekend without a change of clothes. Some of these Southern types could be so strange at times.
"There's an Asda down the road, if you want anything," she volunteered. "Shirts, or trousers, or... uh. They have a pharmacy too."
The blonde man glanced at her, looking a little blank. "That's good to know," he said politely. "Although I don't think either of will be getting ill. But thank you."
It drew another smirk out of the darker man. "I think she meant for things other than medicine, Aziraphale," he said, and Daphne found herself blushing again at his expression. "We'll go for a walk later, and I'll educate you, shall I? You'll be very impressed. Some of these things even come in flavours."
"Flavours?" The blonde man, Daphne decided, had to be a little new to all this. He looked confused still, not quite understanding. "I don't see..."
"She means for safety, Aziraphale," the other said, patiently.
Even then it took another moment before the man's face flooded with brilliant colour. "Oh, I don't think - I mean - we're not..."
The dark-haired man smiled wickedly, and leaned forward to take the door-handle, shutting it firmly in Daphne's face.
That was on Friday.
By Saturday morning, the news crews had arrived.
"This is Nina Nannar reporting live from the small town of Redcar where a strange phenomenon is occurring. Not only are the seas here heating up, but the fish actually appear to have disappeared from the North Sea. With me I have local fisherman, Alfred Barker. Mr Barker, you say you've worked here all your life?"
Her interview victim, a large white-haired man, glowered suspiciously into the camera. "Aye."
"And can you tell our viewers, have you ever seen anything like this before?"
Again he glanced at the camera warily, then down at his feet, camera-shy. "No."
"You've never seen fish disappear like this?" the reporter pressed.
"Or the water warm up like this? Why, it's practically luke-warm in there, isn't it?"
It was. On the shore, children were racing around happily, experiencing for the first time what it was like to paddle without the worry of hypothermia.
"Aye," the fisherman agreed.
The reporter was clearly struggling now, desperate to pull answers from her reluctant subject. "And do you have any idea what might be the cause of this, Mr Barker?"
She brightened. "You do?"
"It's the bloody government, isn't it?" For the first time, the man seemed to forget his nervousness of the camera. "They go around agreeing with Europe what we're allowed to fish, but no one's stopping the damn foreigners from coming over in their ships and taking all the fish." He glowered at the reporter, and spat onto the sand. "Bloody foreigners," he repeated.
"I see." Nina Nannar jerked her head slightly at the cameraman, gesturing for him to zoom in. "And you think this is to blame for the global warming too?"
"What, overfishing?" The man stared at her for a minute. "Of course I don't. Just because I'm Northern doesn't mean I'm stupid, you know."
"Oh," Nina tried not to look disappointed. An interview with a crazy person usually did a great deal for the ratings. "I do apologise."
"Of course the sea's warm. What the hell do people expect if they dump the entire country's chemical and nuclear factories up here? They've buggered it all up, haven't they? It's not surprising."
"The government. Bloody Southerners who wouldn't dream of dumping this stuff in their back yard, but hey, let the North have it. They're desperate for jobs. They won't complain about it." He scowled at her, seeming to lump her in with the 'bloody Southerners' who were responsible for it all.
"But I thought the North did need the jobs?" This conversation was not running the way she had expected, but Nina allowed it to continue anyway. If nothing else it should bring up some interesting questions next Prime Minister's Questiontime.
"Of course we do. Got nothing else, have we? Especially now the bastards have taken our damn fish." He glanced angrily over to the sea. "It's not like we're not capable of more. We have intelligent kids too! We have innovation! We invented the friction match!"
There was a pause before Nina said quite carefully, "Some people might consider that to have been rather a long time ago."
"Damn right it was." The old fisherman glared at her. "And do you see those poncey bastards in London using anything better, even today? Do they have some fancy match that makes coffee when you strike it or something? No, they don't. Because when the North invents something, it stays invented."
"I'll be sure that gets noted..."
"Of course, it's not like the North ever saw any profits from the thing," Mr Barker by now was on a roll, fifty years of hereditary resentment suddenly finding a voice, and not about to be diverted by something so small as a journalist with other questions to ask. "London had to go and steal that too, didn't they?" He spat again, angrily. "The North does things, the South takes the credit for'em. Bastards."
Nina hesitated, aware that the conversation was by now not just off-track but running without lines completely. She had only been allocated a ten minute interview slot, and perhaps it was better to wrap it up now. Heaven only knew what the man would drag up next. "Thank you, Mr Barker, and I'm sure our viewers will be very interested in all you've had to say today. This is Nina Nannar..."
"You tell 'em we know who's responsible for it all," the man interrupted again. "You tell'em that. Not that it'll do any bloody good - they never did anything about it before - but at least they ought to know!"
"I'm sure they do now, Mr Barker," Nina reassured. Feeling her practiced smile starting to slip, she looked into the camera and spoke quickly, before he could interrupt again. "This is Nina Nannar, ITN News. Good night."
And it was done.
No-one noticed, or thought much of, the beautiful red-haired woman who was helping out the camera-men, making sure they got all the best shots. Miss Crimson was so skilful with the equipment - surely she had to work for them, one way or another.
"Storm in a tea-cup," Crowley insisted later, watching the news. "So people are a bit pissed off. They'll get over it sooner or later. It's not as though they're actually going to do anything."
"I'm not so sure," Aziraphale sat on the bed, munching thoughtfully on a cream-cake. Redcar at least didn't seem to be short of bakers, and it did help him think. "This is a grudge they've held for centuries. If they get worked up too much..."
"They'll do what? Blockade the teabag factories so a nationwide emergency tea shortage is called? Elect another monkey into government, just to make a point? Not like anyone noticed the last time they tried that," Crowley said with a snort. "This is the twenty first century, Aziraphale, and it's England. People don't just buckle their swords on and leap onto horses to go off and fight any more. They're civilized. They're proud of being civilized. The worst they do is make rude remarks about each other - and they've done that already."
Aziraphale shook his head, looking doubtful. "Not if she's involved. I think we should stay a few more days, just to be safe."
Crowley shuddered. "A few more days here? It almost reminds me of a visit home," he complained. "And there's nothing to do."
Aziraphale smiled sweetly, a look of blissful contentment at having set the world to rights - or at least parts of it. "On the contrary, dear. I've been finding plenty to do."
As the local news turned to a story about a charity for disabled children which had suddenly found itself inundated with gifts of toys, the smile turned into a beam, and he cheerfully ignored Crowley's sulky expression. In a region like the North, there was simply so much work that could be done, with just little tweaks here and there to encourage people.
As it turned out, Crowley was wrong. There was more the North could do - quietly, politely, and in a civilised fashion.
On Monday, every factory in the region announced a strike. The unions said that any work which could cause so much damage that the sea turned warm had to be doing even more damage to the people who had to work there. Overnight, work ground to halt in everything from packing crisps into packets to the rather more dangerous and mysterious work of ICI. Until the owners could guarantee safe working conditions, they said, no-one was coming back to work.
On Tuesday, the MP for Redcar spoke to the BBC, outright accusing the French of sneaking into British waters and stealing their fish. Clearly, she insisted, this was yet another case of Europe forcing laws on Britain while not ensuring that such agreements were also kept to elsewhere.
Newspapers seized on the idea gleefully. The Daily Mail was delighted to be able to announce its views on "fish-stealing frogs". The Express lamented the way that no one listened to the Empire anymore, and demanded to know why the Prime Minister wasn't putting forth Britain's interests more forcefully.
Despite indignant protests from France, no-one really doubted that the accusations were true. After all, someone had to be taking more than was allowed in their quota. Otherwise, where were the fish?
Wednesday was the day of Prime Minister's Questiontime, the traditional weekly occasion in Britain when Members of the Opposition were actually given permission to call the Prime Minister names. After a week like the last, they were practically salivating with anticipation.
It started with the fish.
"Would the Prime Minister be able to tell the House whether he knows how much exactly it costs today to buy a traditionally British portion fish and chips?" the Tory leader demanded.
The Prime Minister dithered, looking at his Cabinet in the hope of aid. It was not forthcoming. "While I do understand the cost of fish is currently rising, unfortunately it is the natural results of cod shortages." he said uncomfortably. "Obviously, it makes no one very happy, however there are substitutes available from fish farms..."
A question unanswered was always a sign of blood in the water (metaphorically speaking). The Tory leader pressed on. "So, you don't know?" he asked, glancing around the House of Commons, and raising his arms slightly as though to demonstrate the uselessness of this reply. "The Prime Minister of Britain cannot even give an estimate as to the price of a meal highly prized in British culture? I must ask the House, is this the same man who presses so hard for school lessons that emphasise "Britishness". Perhaps the Prime Minister should be taking some himself, for he is clearly out of touch with the lifeblood of this proud nation. We must ask ourselves, when exactly he is planning to stop messing about and actually defend this Britishness he speaks so highly of, and demand that the French stop taking our fish!"
Always quick to react to react to any sign of weakness, the opposition benches went wild. The Speaker frowned at the boos and hisses and asked twice for order before things could continue.
The next few questions were harmless sorts, asked by the more minor members of both parties. Relatively non-controversial questions about apprenticeships and whether a hospital was to be kept open, neither drew much of a response from the listening MPs. The Prime Minister almost allowed himself to relax a little. Almost.
"Mr Speaker, would the Prime Minister like to tell this House when he plans on telling the North of this country to stop complaining, and get back to work?" Back to the Tory leader, and he was confident of himself now. He stood casually, leaning on his podium, mouth so close to his microphone that it almost looked as though he was about to lick it. "The House would like to know whether the Prime Minister intends the policy of this country to be that we ignore a problem until it goes away, or whether he actually ever intends getting up, and actually doing something about it."
It would have been better if the Prime Minister had been able to prevent himself getting defensive, but he could already picture tomorrow's headlines, could see how the papers would treat a leader who couldn't name the exact price of fish. Flushing, he began to bluster a little. "Well, obviously, while we recognise the workers right to strike, I would urge them to try to come with a compromise with their employer as soon as is possible."
Most of the Labour MPs cheered - more out of a desperate attempt to build their leader's morale than anything. Those whose constituencies were in the more Northern areas looked at each other a little anxiously. Such comments might endear Labour to the Southern side of the country, but it did nothing to help them.
Indeed, the very next question the leader of the Lib Dems stood up, ready for battle. "Is the Prime Minister seriously suggesting," he began, "...that workers in this country be encouraged to go back to a work in jobs which they seriously believe are killing them?"
"There has been absolutely no link shown between the jobs in question, and shorter life expectancy." The reply was a sharp one. "Such suggestions are merely fear-mongering by the media, and not based in fact."
But his Lib Dem opponent was ready for that. "Only a few months ago, this House was hearing that it was indeed proven that people in the North East did indeed have the lowest life expectancy in the country. Is the Prime Minister seriously suggesting that these figures have nothing to do with their primary means of employment?" he demanded. "Also," he added, before giving any chance to reply, "there is the small matter of the sea heating by several degrees."
"I have a committee currently dedicated to researching the cause of that event, but I am assured that as yet there is no sign that the heating is either anything to do with the factories, or anything harmful to humans..." the Prime Minister began, and was quickly drowned out by jeering. He waited until the Speaker had called for order once more before continuing. "I would urge those who are trying to claim a connection to think hard about what results their false claims might have before going any further."
It was an answer which seemed to please nobody, and he winced seeing the grimaces on the faces of his own cabinet members. A Labour MP's name was called out, and he breathed out in mild relief. At least the next question should be an easy one.
It seemed that even that belief was too optimistic. The member for Stockton North stood up, glancing anxiously towards the party Whips. "Ah, I have received enquiries from my constituents concerning the friction match," he began. "Specifically, as they invented it, they want to know if they could perhaps see a small percentage of the profit from each box sold. Please."
As the Opposition benches dissolved into laughter, the Prime Minister tried to look stoic, and wondered just how long it was before he could manage to retire without losing too much face.