Aziraphale listlessly tossed bread fragments to the ducks, the cold gray clouds accurately reflecting his mood, his mortal shell whining for food when he didn't feel like having any.
He knew very few people would be in the park this morning. Those not sleeping away the dismal weather would be in church. Aziraphale didn't go to church, really. As far as he knew few of his colleagues did. People had too much trouble noticing actual divine presences there and it became depressing. Besides, you do not need faith when you have knowledge.
Suddenly an ugly upswelling of emotion choked him and he buried his face in his hands. Discorporation, whether at mortal or infernal hands, was not nearly as painful as the Doubt which assailed him. He was not distressed about possible punishment for this unprecedented act. He did not shy from the Presence because he thought himself evil. But if he had caused sorrow to Someone watching…
"Mind if I sit here?" asked a pleasant male voice. Aziraphale squeaked with surprise. He looked up at soft brown eyes, a short-trimmed beard, and shoulder-length, somewhat scraggly brown hair. The man looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties with a somewhat Middle Eastern complexion. His jeans were torn and faded, his red and white flannel shirt worn, the undershirt stained with mud.
"Oh, um, I suppose not," Aziraphale mumbled, ashamed to be caught at a vulnerable moment. If the man knew he was an angel!
The man put his canvas pack on the ground and pulled a wooden object and a whittling knife from it. "It's nice to do something with your hands while you think, isn't it? I imagine that's why you're feeding the ducks." He appeared to be making a small, intricately carved box.
"I like to feed these ducks. A…a…a…friend of mine plays pranks on them -" Aziraphale put his hand over his mouth and felt tears sting the corners of his eyes.
"Your distress was obvious miles away." Before he could formulate a response, Aziraphale saw at the other person's feet, clad in sturdy walking sandals. And with one round scar each.
"Er, um, ah…"
The man sighed and rolled up his sleeves slightly. His wrists had holes in them. "I'm not sure which member of the Other Side instilled the notion that a nail through your palm is a practical way to be suspended, when even the Shroud of Turin shows wrist stigmata. Helps me be more subtle, at least."
Aziraphale fell to his knees and twisted around so he was eye-to-eye with holy shins, clad in denim though they were. When he tried to say one of the many, many names he could have used, he started sobbing instead.
Jesus sighed. "You're worse than Peter. Get up, little half-brother."
"I cannot meet your gaze, Only Begotten. Please let me remain."
"You met my gaze just fine a moment ago. For my sake, Aziraphale, pull yourself together." He put his knife and box on the grass, then grabbed the angel's tweed collar and unceremoniously yanked him back to his seat.
"But you know - you know what I have done," Aziraphale cried, facing away in an undignified huddle.
"Do not reject my embrace. It is freely offered."
"I'll…I'll get mucus on your shirt."
He laughed without cruelty, an honest, loving laugh. "I spent thirty-three years bound to human form. Do you really think such a thing would bother me? I ate and bled and sneezed, sweated and defecated, angel."
Feeling dreadfully improper but also relieved, Aziraphale let him wrap his arms around him and buried his face in slightly sweaty warmth. "What…what were you…doing…on Earth?"
"You like it here, and you are fully Heaven's. Half my heritage is the dust, the clay. Are you then surprised that I would return to see my mother's people, incognito?"
"Lord…" He wondered if he would ever stop weeping.
"Ssh, dear one. It's all right."
"But how can this not be a mortal -"
Aziraphale felt calloused, battered, yet tender hands rubbing his back and tousling his hair. "Did I command humans to love during my mortal span?"
"Call me Brother, if you must use an honorific. Now, did I forbid them from loving anyone?"
"Is there any more important reason for my very existence than redemption?"
Aziraphale almost didn't like the way this conversation was going. Some part of him wanted to feel guilty. Some part of him wanted to deny happiness. "No, Brother."
"And are angels held to a higher standard of loving deeply and unconditionally than humans are?"
"Of course, Lo - Brother."
"But I actually -"
"You Made the Effort. I know. You think I never felt like that? I did what I needed to do, what was my objective. That did not mean I never wished that I…that I could have loved someone like that…been a simple carpenter with a little family…being the world to someone instead of being someone to the world…why, Ma -"
He took a deep breath instead of finishing the word; let go of Aziraphale but took his hand. "Your true worry is that you may have to destroy him on the Last Day."
Aziraphale dropped his sky-blue eyes, undimmed even when bloodshot, to the ground. "Yes. From the beginning we were enemies. We were matched against one another."
"Let me tell you something you are not permitted to repeat."
"Er…if you wish it."
"You know I spent time in Hell while I was dead. I speak very little of it. Father, of course, knows all, but it is not something we discuss."
"It must have been very painful." The Host were in awe of Christ even more than the actual Presence. The Presence they had always known and been in touch with. When an aspect of Him became…flesh…and then truly died rather than simply discorporate…their awe was genuine and gingerly, like patriotic humans were with wounded war heroes.
"I helped who I could. The damned knew who I was. The Fallen did not. None of the Fallen knew. They thought me another lost soul…but one, one of the Fallen, he seemed perturbed by my presence. He kept looking at me like one sleepwalking. And when none other saw him, he brought me a drink of water.
"'You look like you died thirsty,' he muttered, nervous.
"I thanked him and asked if that was how he usually treated the damned. 'I mostly work on getting people here…but you don't seem to belong. This is a very strange question, but is it possible there was a mistake?'"
Aziraphale reminded himself to close his mouth. "Was that…"
"Yes. Crowley. I could smell the slight, slightest hint of goodness on him. It took me close to a thousand years to realize that it was your touch, your influence, that let him see me for what I was at all."
Then he whispered in Aziraphale's ear, "If you vouch for him at Judgment, so will I."
Now his tears were ones of joy and surprise. "How can I thank you?"
"Continue to love. Do not let him know what he did that day. The more he does good without expecting to be rewarded, the more virtue will creep upon him unawares, so that one day the traitor will be the prodigal son. And let the love you have blossom and spread for all persons, creatures, things, places, even stories and dreams."
A thought struck him. "Oh happy, er, RE-birthday, Brother,"
Jesus smiled and put the box in Aziraphale's hand, taking the knife and twirling it with his fingers. "You too, great heart." He pulled his pack back on, kissed the Angel's forehead like a father would have done to a young child, and disappeared.