A/N: Unfortunately, the site refuses to take my fancy footnote html coding. Enjoy anyway. Originally written for the Good Omens 09 exchange.
It wasn't that they had an agreed time to meet at the pond. Neither of them had ever sat down, looked through diaries, examined appointment times and said "oh, hey, Tuesday at three is a good time to feed the ducks for me". There was nothing formal, no obligation or arrangement with or without a capital A. No reason for Crowley to feel bad if he didn't go -- even if he hadn't been a demon, and thus meant to annoy people with such things as Not Turning Up For Appointments On Time And Keeping People Waiting.
It was just that if he didn't go, he knew there would be a concerned message left on his answering-machine, despite Aziraphale's hatred of the things, asking if everything was quite all right, dear, and he hoped nothing had happened.
It wouldn't just be one answering machine either. It would be the land-line, the mobile phone, the pager -- Crowley hadn't quite convinced himself to get rid of that relic of the 90s, and Aziraphale never had realised you didn't just ring the number like a normal phone. And it would be insistent, a building pile of increasingly desperate messages, as Aziraphale created ever more elaborate scenarios of what could have gone wrong. Last time he'd even called the hospital, even though he was aware that wasn't even a remote possibility.
And the saddest thing, Crowley knew, the saddest thing was that in a world where most humans could find a number with a couple of button-presses -- well, or a lot of button-presses combined with a good deal of swearing -- Aziraphale would find each number by frantically fumbling through a little address-book full of them. He'd seen the address-book. It had kittens on the front.
Altogether, it was just easier to go feed the ducks. Just to show that the angel couldn't take for granted that he would though, Crowley was late. By almost eight minutes. It was practically a demonic duty.
It was probably Aziraphale's angelic duty to annoy him by never mentioning it. The angel was already there, of course, sat comfortably on a park bench as ducks crowded around him, fighting over the remains of what might once have been creamcakes.
Crowley slouched down next to him, wishing he didn't feel quite so on show. If he'd been someone else, he might have tried to hide his identity. That didn't quite work so well, however, when you were already known for wearing dark glasses. The world watched. He could feel it.
"We've pissed them all off, you know," he commented, not bothering to start the conversation with 'hello'. Such little ceremonies vanished after a thousand years or so of knowing someone along with the concept of personal space or property.
"Language, dear," Aziraphale rebuked, looking up from the ducks. "And I know."
He looked tired, and Crowley wondered vaguely how that worked. They weren't human, and neither of them required sleep to survive. This bone-dead exhaustion which came from carrying stress clutched close to your chest as though it were a precious gift simply shouldn't exist. Knowing this, though, did not appear to make it go away.
"Heaven, Hell.." he continued, as though the angel hadn't spoken. "Even the Horsemen are annoyed that they didn't get to play their starring role."
"I know, Crowley," Aziraphale said again, "but there's nothing that can be done about it. At least the humans would be happy, if they knew."
Crowley laughed bitterly, scoring a direct hit on a nearby mallard. It looked crossly at him, but ate the bread anyway. "Do you think? How many would be complaining that the Apocalypse never came, and they were all ready for the rapture?"
"There was never going to be a rapture," Aziraphale said quietly.
"I know that. They don't though." Crowley aimed a crust somewhat viciously, then turned to look at the angel. "How do you cope?"
Aziraphale blinked at him, lost for a moment. "Cope with what?"
"With this angelic stuff," Crowley demanded, and for a moment his expression was more lost than it had ever been. "How do you cope with.. with giving everything for a race that's so blessed ungrateful that it would never say thank you even if it knew -- which it can't, ever. How can you just keep doing it?"
"Crowley.." And he knew that tone, it was the gentle voice Aziraphale used when he thought that somebody was getting overwrought and needed to be soothed. He didn't want to be soothed, not today. He'd had a week of being alternately terrified by his own people, and frustrated by humans who remained blitheringly oblivious to how close they'd come. That kind of thing tended to weigh heavy on a demon, especially as they weren't particularly used to feeling that people should be grateful to them.
"I'm just saying, it has to be the most useless job in the world," he said, scowling so hard that several ducks decided that maybe waterweed was a preferable diet after all. "Why not save the blessings for someone who would at least appreciate it?"
St James's Park was busy that day, and neither angel nor demon noticed the small oil-slick forming some distance away where two me- personages stood looking at the pond. Thet might have noticed that the ducks seemed suddenly hungrier, but then that was ducks for you.
"I thought that was really going to be it this time," Famine said unhappily. He hadn't brought bread. He didn't feel it should be expected of him. In fact, he had brought with him the absence of bread, which was more intense than merely bringing nothing.1 "The packages were delivered and.. okay, maybe it was going to be a slightly more technical Apocalypse than we originally thought, but it was still an apocalypse. Now there's just.. anti-climax. Lots and lots of anti-climax."
"Don't look at me," Pollution shrugged. "I was all ready to play my part. Can hardly blame us if certain other people clearly hadn't read the script."
He, on the other hand, had brought bread, and happily let the wind take the plastic wrapper now, blowing it into a hedge where some innocent small animal could try to eat it. He rather liked ducks. The sheer smelly, messy amount just one duck could produce in faeces was amazing.
"I mean 'no Apocalypse today, please return to your normal duties'? What kind of order is that to give anyone?" Famine demanded. "And the whole point of the normal duties was that they were meant to eventually build up into something. Do they just expect us continue forever? Do we look like...administrators?2"
"Maybe they thought our day to day duties were enough?" Pollution suggested placidly. "Or maybe they thought we needed longer to show what we could really do?" He threw a crust at a nearby duck, and smiled as it waddled past, pausing only to poop on his shoe. Later, a vet would dissect its body to discover horrible tumours, probably caused by some kind of intense radiation. The shoe also never recovered.
"You do maybe," Famine said bitterly. Everyone knew that Pollution was a rising star still, reaching new heights daily through interesting and destructive new chemicals and processes. "But what about me? Am I meant to just sit here and wait while the humans fight over how to get two grains of corn to grow where only one did before? Sooner or later they'll work out a way. I'm not waiting to go the same way as Pestilence!"
The memory of that would have been enough to wake Famine shivering in the night, had he ever slept. It had been such a gentle easing away of power, a little more every year, until Pestilence was nothing more than a faded shadow of his former self. Humans seemed so weak and helpless singularly, and yet together they could creep up on you, defeating those who should last forever, sheep trampling the wolves to death.
"And when they do, they'll still throw one and a half of those two away," Pollution reasoned, "and forget about the landfill. It's not lack of food that lets you win. You know that."
"Some day they'll work it out," Famine's voice was sour. "Humans learn. It might take them forever to do so, but if you give them forever then they might just have a chance."
On the other side of the pond, another two figures stood, these two with the careful distance between them which spoke of quarrels which, should they grow too close, could too easily be resumed. No human could see or hear them, and this was just as well. It tended to interrupt conversation if you had to deal with passers-by exploding from your sheer beauty every other minute.
Of course, it is said that God is everywhere, and this is true. God was everywhere. He was also, at that moment in time, standing by the pond in St James's Park and feeding the ducks with a certain fallen angel. If this makes your head hurt, just wait until you get to quantum.
Oddly enough, the ducks had no problem seeing either God, Lucifer or, most importantly, the bread. There was noticeable a lack of exploding which is is because ducks only exist partly in this dimension, and thus are better equipped for such things3.
"Your boy's doing well," God said awkwardly, after a few minutes of silent throwing of manna. Even immortal omnipotent beings are not spared the awkwardness of 'catching up' with those you no longer get on with, and yet feel you ought to be polite to despite past history. 4 "Adam. Getting quite big now."
"All grown up, and old enough to do precisely what I don't want him to," Lucifer's voice was acid.
God darted a sideways look at him5. "Of course. I wouldn't know how that feels."
If there was irony in his tone, Lucifer didn't catch it. He scowled, beautiful face puckering for a moment. "Yes, well. I was hoping you might be able to explain what the plan is, now the original one has been thrown out the window."
"On the contrary," God began, and the fallen angel held up a hand.
"Yes, I realise that this is all in order according to your original unknowable plan, which you have chosen not to reveal to anybody until the time is right. But, if you'll pardon me saying so, that doesn't actually help the rest of us. Unless you provide some kind of actual explanation it simply looks, to use crude human terminology, as though the ineffable plan has effed up."
There was a pause for a moment. God threw the ducks some.. well, it might broadly have been described as bread. Any one of the world's gourmets would happily have died to have tasted even the merest crumb of it. The ducks appeared to quite enjoy it.
"You used to speak to me differently," He said quietly.
"I used to love you," Lucifer returned sharply. "Now I just have to work with you."
God didn't look at the fallen angel. Technically, due to His all-seeing nature at least a part of him was watching Lucifer, but it wasn't a part He was attending to at that point. "I could remind you that you were the one that left me," He said mildly.
"I didn't enjoy being replaced." Lucifer didn't shout -- what need was there to raise your voice to a being capable of hearing the fall of the smallest sparrow? There was a dangerous quality to his voice though, at an argument rehashed a thousand times or more.
"Do we need to talk about the infinite nature of Love again, Lucifer?" God replied, and the surface of the water rippled, bobbing the ducks up and down. "It's really the whole point of everything. "
"It is very easy," Lucifer spoke carefully now, every word distinct, "to say that something is the whole point of everything when You are the one who created everything." Above them, the sky had grown suddenly dark, a cloud drifting over the sun. "I cannot argue, I suppose. If You were to say that ducks were the whole point of everything, it would still be so."
"In a certain way they are," God replied, turning his attention to the ducks who were bouncing up and down on the surface of the pond. "There have always been ducks or the essence of a duck. The spirit that moved on the face of the waters6. But, again, you are missing the point, Lucifer, just as you have always done. You were the first. You were the one that worked it out on your own and for that.... well..." He spread his hands. "You can be never replaced. You have your own space in my heart. Everyone and everything does. "
"Don't you dare." The words were a hiss, and the eyes Lucifer turned on Him were angry slits. "Don't you dare start that again, not here, not now. I turned away from you. I did not ask you to keep loving me."
"No. But what I do is not your choice," God answered. "Just as what you do is not mine." He met his gaze levelly. "One day you will understand."
"No," Lucifer said with finality, and the rain began to fall; huge, heavy drops which stung when they struck skin. "You may have control of Heaven, Earth and all else in Your creation, but that much you cannot control. I will never understand."
"The irony is that you are the closest of all to that understanding," God said. There was a rumble of thunder overhead although His voice was calm. "It would be so easy, Lucifer, so easy to just....make you love me back. To make them all that way, to fill the universe with my Love and saturate the continuum with all that I am. I have created a temptation for Myself. So perhaps it is true that suffering finds its source in Me, because in planting the seed of your own will, your own thoughts, I submit to a separation of Myself."
"Do it then." There was a challenge in Lucifer's voice, and he turned to face God, his eyes burning. "Make me love You. Make them love You because they never will now unless you do. You know that, don't you? You gave me up, I who loved You, for them, and they will leave You for... no reason at all."
"Yes." God closed His eyes a moment, and the ducks, with an uncanny instinct, all found a mysterious reason to dive under water7 just as the lightning arced down. "Even I hope, Lucifer."
"They are leaving You." Lucifer was raising his voice now, not just because of anger, but because of the wind. It whipped around them, howling its displeasure to the world. "A few thousand years ago You had Job who, yes, I admit, might have loved You, but now who do You have?" The words were directed to hurt, sharp as knives. "They love You for convenience, or for the sake of appearing righteous, and then leave You when it does not suit. Do You think they would love You through plagues now? Through the loss of all they hold dear? Shall we bet again and see?"
"We did this once before," God said. "Enough, Lucifer. This world came to the brink of Apocalypse and yet it was worth it because there were those who found their way."
The quacking of the ducks was starting to sound a bit worried.
Lucifer laughed scornfully. "Found their way? A handful of eleven year olds and a straggling of humans act to ensure their own survival, and this you view as hope. What of the rest? What of those who heard of the world ending, and cheered at the thought? Where are they accounted for in your plan?" He stepped closer, and the thunder roared and crashed again. "Why don't we give them want they want?"
As the wind rose and the rain began to fall the side of the pond had emptied itself of humans, most of them seeming to decide that their nice warm offices were better than taking the full lunch hour when it came right down to it. Only Crowley and Aziraphale remained, the angel and demon remaining stubbornly on their bench as the rain pelted down.
"You see?" Crowley waved a hand as another couple hurried past, trying vainly to hide under umbrellas. "When the going gets tough, the humans... sod off."
"That's a little generalised my dear," Aziraphale said. "They do not have our advantages. If it rains they get wet."
"And, of course, they will drown?" Crowley suggested. "Seriously though, when they get discomforted by a little water it doesn't exactly make them hard to tempt. Right now, I reckon, an umbrella would do it."
Aziraphale looked at him. "I'm not sure that there is a procedure for thwarting a temptation with an umbrella,8" he said with a faint smile. "Humans are strange in many ways."
For some reason it was the smile that prickled at Crowley. It felt teasing, felt as though he were being humoured, and he bristled. He was on his feet before he knew it, turning to look after the drenched pair.
"The one on the left is going back to her office now," he said, staring after them. "Her manager will spend the afternoon staring at her breasts through her wet blouse. Afterwards he'll ask her for a drink and she -- yes, she'll know she shouldn't go, he has a reputation, she gets giddy on alcohol, she's married -- will agree. They will sleep together. Repeatedly. Her husband will guess, know, think he knows, who cares? There's a pretty girl in his office too and he can justify it as a revenge fuck. The girl.. well, no-one will even think of her name afterwards in the wreckage of the marriage, but she'll go on deciding that if men are going to use her she can use them right back. There'll be marriages gone, kids who don't know their fathers but it will never be her fault." He drew a quick breath. "The one on the right.."
"The one on the right is in love and thinking of nothing else aside from seeing her again," Aziraphale said softly. "And knowing that her friends will be shocked, because she's never said anything before, but she's in love, and that is the important thing."
The angel looked at him a little sadly. "They both have their choices don't they?"
Crowley twisted back to look at him. "Why do you always say that as though it's a good thing?"
"Because it is," Aziraphale said. "Really, Crowley, I thought you would be happy. The Apocalypse never started, our plan, such as it was, worked. Adam made the right choices rather than the ones that people tried to dictate to him. Nothing bad can come of that."
He should be happy, Crowley knew, but there was a restlessness in him, an awkward tension burning under the skin, a feeling as though he needed to strike out and hit the closest thing.
Perhaps it came from doing something good.
"Are they happy?" he demanded. "The humans?"
"Undoubtedly some of them are," the angel answered. "But if you are talking about gratitude, you are right, we are unlikely to get that. From anyone. But I don't think we did it for the gratitude, did we, my dear?"
That provoked a glare. "I did it for the decent wine and the sake of not sending an eternity cooped back up in hell. Please don't ascribe some noble motive to me without asking."
"My mistake, of course," Aziraphale said giving him a fond look which clearly said that he was humouring the demon in his apparent self delusion.
It only annoyed Crowley more. "You see that look, there? That is the problem!" he snapped, and startled slightly as lightening streaked past them, striking the pond.
"Oh dear..." Aziraphale said. "Is that us? We really shouldn't argue. It's not good for the ducks."
"Sod the ducks!" Crowley wasn't sure when he had started shouting, but his fists were clenched now, his body tensed with an anger which seemed to have come from nowhere at all. "I don't care about the ducks, so stop.. stop trying to make me care! Stop trying to turn me into you!"
The rain hissed as it hit the ground around Famine and Pollution, burrowing tiny holes into stone and wood. Pollution's presence tended to make the effect of acid rain somewhat more instantaneous than might otherwise be expected.
"You're just showing off now," Famine accused sourly, as a nearby statue rapidly acquired a layer of tarnish.
"Well, excuse me for existing," Pollution retorted. "I'm sure I didn't mean to take advantage of a situation by doing my job."
The problem was that was all he was doing. Just.. doing his job, in his usual effective manner, and what was Famine doing? Just standing there, feeling inadequate because there was no food here to take away. Irritated, he sank the bread which still remained floating on the surface of the pond.
It made him feel no better, even when the ducks looked at him reproachfully.
"You're not replacing me," he said suddenly, fiercely. "I won't let you."
Pollution just looked at him as though he were crazed. "Because I need to replace you? I already have my place here."
That hadn't been what Famine meant though, and he suddenly had a terrifyingly clear picture of how it would be. A new horseman -- Recession,9 perhaps, or something else created by humans' endless inspiration for things that could do them ever more harm -- young, and powerful and successful. It would stand with the others, and Famine would be left behind, spoken of only in stories of how-things-used-to-be.
And what would the others care, if he was? What would Pollution care? What use did the young have for the old and worn out?
"You're not replacing me," he said again, eyes glinting angrily in his sunken face. "Age comes with experience, not weakness. I'll show you." He raised his hand to add to the rainclouds, to call them to weep onto fields where crops would sink and rot, away from hotter dryer countries where the land would turn to infertile dust. "You think you know how to take advantage of a storm? Let me show you how it's done."
Pollution eyed him warily for a moment. "I didn't realise we were in competition here," he muttered in a low voice but raised his own hands in response. If they were to be in competition, it would not be one he would allow himself to lose easily.
On a bridge spanning the width of the Lake, two figures stood unseen. One seemed impervious to the rain, the other held a red umbrella which somehow avoided either being blown inside out by the wind or struck by lightening. She was smiling.
"You knew this would happen," she accused the other, darker figure. "Apocalypse cancelled? No, just postponed for a short period. You knew how it would end."
Death shrugged. I KNOW HOW ALL THINGS END, he said, as though that were confirmation.
"The child chooses peace, and it seems as though everything is off. But the child's power is as nothing compared to the power of the father." She looked again at the two by the lake, so consumed in their argument as to forget the outside world. "Both the fathers."
Death said nothing. War didn't mind. She had become accustomed to him as a silent partner, working with her whether he chose to comment or no.
"Nuclear reactors, human toys -- it was all just playing," she said. "Of course, they didn't need human help for this. That's like believing they needed to ask permission." Her smile widened, perfect red lipstick unharmed by rain and wind. "They don't react to humans beginning hostilities. They begin hosilities and everyone around them reacts to that. As above, so below. This war is going to make all previous wars look like.. like ants' battling."10
By the lake, God raised a hand as though to push Lucifer away. Crowley swore at Aziraphale, loud and long, and turned as though to storm away. Above the sound of the storm, Famine screamed at Pollution, something furious and incoherent. The earth rumbled underfoot. The ducks dived for the reeds.
On the bridge, War laughed and laughed and laughed.
"Do it." How had it come to this? Lucifer had come up, intending to truce with God, and ended up back at this -- snarling in His face, too uncaring of the rain lashing them both to bother shielding it away. It was always thus. "Force me to love You or make war with me, because I swear you won't leave this place without choosing one or the other."
"No." The anger of that word rippled out, stilled the raindrops as they fell. "No. There is always another way. I will not force you, I will not go to war and crack open a world to feed your pride. How dare you dictate My choices? How dare you say that these are the only choices that exist, when I have given you everything, including all possible choices." 11
"Everything you gave me you took away!" Lucifer's beautiful face was twisted. Here was fury, here was pain, too much for any being, fallen angel or otherwise, to hold inside. "And then you dare to stand and say you still love me, even now, after that."
"I do," God answered, and looked upwards, as if searching for answers in His own creation. "I took nothing away. I am infinite. I am what I am, what I feel can have no ending. Perhaps it will make you happy to understand that is what you have done to Me. Every hurt you cause me will never fade. Time is one of My greatest gifts to you all."
"What I have done to you?" Lucider's laugh was cracked and painful. "A gift that allows me to feel every second of my banishment stretch to an eternity. How uniquely whimsical of you."
"It means things can change," God replied. "It means.. hope. "
"I never asked for change! Never wanted it -- I was happy with the way things were," Lucifer retorted. "But You brought it, because things were never good enough as they were." He stepped closer again, needing a reaction, demanding one. "Fight me."
"Why? What would that prove?" He said. "Except that I would win."
"So sure of Yourself? Do all of Your angels stand behind You still now the humans turn away?" Lucifer mocked Him. "Fight me!" The words were barked, and the earth shifted below their feet with the strength of the demand.
There was a moment where God turned and there was a stillness that was more dangerous than anything that came before. There was flash of universe fire in His eyes...
For them, the world froze, the wind stilling, the raindrops halting in their path to the ground. The earth held its breath, waiting in horrified anticipation for fury more powerful than a nuclear reactor, more destructive than any bomb.
"Quack!" The whole of the earth and everything in it other than the ducks, it seemed. The small voice came from somewhere near their feet.
It was followed up by a series of small peeping noises. A clutch of small fuzzy ducklings were taking refuge from the conditions around them by sitting on their feet while their mother bustled up and down with worried quacks.
It was suddenly more difficult to maintain deitic wrath when a duckling was trying to take a nap out of the storm on your feet.
Lucifer looked down at them, and then back up at God, clearly deciding that hopping around trying to shake ducklings off his feet was below his dignity.
"This is Your doing," he accused in a low hiss.
The rain began to fall again, more slowly now, as though the sky itself were weeping for them.
"All things choose, all things strive," God said, scooping the ducklings up and smiling at them. "All things hope. I still love you. One day, perhaps, things will change."
"Never," Lucifer said, but the energy had gone out of his anger. He sagged as though suddenly released from some great hidden tension.
A yellow and brown duckling peeped at him and shook itself, pecking enthusiastically at the fallen angel's shoelace, mistaking it for weed.
The surface of the water settled. The ducks got back in the water and looked up hopefully, waiting for more bread.
"Maybe," said God.
Lucifer straightened his shirt carefully. It was something that he could have as easily accomplished by blinking but it gained him a moment before he looked up, meeting the other being's eyes.
He breathed out slowly, a long pained breath, before he could seem to find his voice.
And in the sky a rainbow appeared.
Perhaps he was getting old, after all, because Famine found himself stopping, stumbling suddenly in the middle of his speech. Pollution was staring at him, seemingly bemused.
"I mean to say, I--" He tried to continue but the words were gone. When had the storm stopped? The last few raindrops were falling, sending gentle ripples across the pond's surface, but the rage and fury of the thunder had faded away. "I was saying--"
"You were saying that you were irreplaceable," Pollution supplied helpfully. The younger personification looked a little amused and a lot bewildered, and no wonder, thought Famine. Probably he was wondering whether after the first millenia he would start losing his mind like this too.
"Yes, well.." he started again, and was cut off when Pollution stepped closer, pressing a kiss to his lips without warning, leaving him with a mouth that tasted faintly of petrol and ozone.
Petrol tasted good.
"And if you'd given me chance at all in the last ten minutes, I would have told you that I quite agree." The murmur in his ear came as soft as oil seeping from a tanker, as seductive as the promise that global warming was a lie. "All humans hunger, all humans thirst not just for food and drink, but for everything. They crave which is hunger seasoned by yearning. As long as humans exist, you cannot be replaced." Lips brushed his neck, leaving a faintly sticky residue behind. "Will not be replaced."
Stunned, Famine could only nod.
Pollution released him and stepped back. "Well then. I've an oil-spill to be getting on with." He smiled enticingly. "Unless you'd like to join me? It could cause real damage to the fishing industry."
Famine nodded dumbly. How was it that, until now, he had not noticed the way the emerging sunlight refracted from Pollution, leaving him gleaming and iridescent?
Pollution was beautiful.
"How many fish?" he managed weakly, and Pollution beamed as though he had just heard that the North Pole had become one giant swimming pool.
"How many would you like to kill?"
As the rain slowed, and the atmosphere lost the heavy feeling of tension, Crowley stopped in his tracks, about to march away from Aziraphale and suddenly at a loss as to why.
There had been anger, there had been fury, and now it was lifted, like a weight taken from his back. He glanced back at the angel, uncertain, a little dazed.
Aziraphale was looking a little pale but resolute as he looked at him. "Are you quite all right, Crowley?" he asked.
He opened his mouth to say yes, and then found he wasn't sure if he was or not. The argument was still there, hanging in the air, and yet somehow Crowley had only the memory of anger, the words without the emotion.
"The rain's stopping," he said instead, stupidly, somehow amazed by that.
"Rain does do that," the angel commented. "Even in England. I'm not sure about Wales though12."
Crowley nodded, and lifted a hand to his sunglasses. There was a headache looming at the back of his skull, and the vague unsettling feeling that he might have said something really stupid.
"What I said before--" he started.
"At which point?" Aziraphale asked. "The point where I was an idiot or all humans are too stupid to live?"
"Right, uh--" It wasn't that he wasn't quite capable of saying or thinking those things of his own accord, just that right now... right now he wasn't sure where the words had come from. "All of that."
"You didn't mean it. I know," Aziraphale said. "At least, not more than a little." He did sound a little sad though as he looked across the pond.
Demons didn't feel guilt, and they certainly shouldn't apologise, so the feeling in Crowley's stomach had to be something else. Perhaps he was getting ill. It would certainly explain the last half-hour.13
"It's hard," he said instead, quietly. "But I don't know what -- I didn't--"
"You don't know why you were angry?" Aziraphale said. "Perhaps because there is some truth to what you said. But we're all idiots unless we bother to learn, and we can't do that if we are dead. Humans may be.... less intelligent than us now but they learn so fast, Crowley. It's part of ineffability. You start lower and have more opportunities for grace."
He looked away a moment. "We're not them. Any of them. And I thought the only one who really would understand was you."
That stung, and Crowley flinched. "I can't love them as you do," he said in a low voice. "Understanding doesn't give -- it can't--" He broke off, and shook his head, aware suddenly that he was perilously close to saying something most undemonic. "Listen, never mind. I need to go home, sleep off this headache, maybe have a drink." Or two, or three.
"So do I," Aziraphale said. "Don't...go, Crowley. " There was a pause as he threw the last of his bread to the ducks and turned. "Please."
Crowley hesitated. The awkward feeling hovered still in the air between them. Any other time he would have made his excuses, slipped away. A decade or so, and any argument between them would normally be forgotten.
But today did not feel normal.
Instead of sighing and looking away, Aziraphale looked towards him. Instead of the constant reminder that he was of Heaven, and Crowley of Hell, he shed that aura and stood there as just.. Aziraphale. And just as the sun broke through and cast a rainbow over the park, he very carefully reached out and took Crowley's hand.
And if his fingers were trembling a little, it wasn't noticable for long.
Crowley could have pulled away, could have retreated.. and didn't. Fingers wrapped around fingers, hesitating, uncertain, but there. Not a meeting of Heaven and Hell, not a truce, just two beings, for a moment, together.
Sometimes, in a world where all things could strive, all things could have hope, perhaps it could be that simple. Sometimes you could choose.. this. 14
"No, no, no!" As the mood changed, War had become steadily more frustrated, pacing up and down the bridge. "How stupid can you get anyway? They didn't need to hide from the rain! They're ducks! Nice weather for ducks? That means rain! Think!"
Death watched her silently until she turned on him, made more furious by his passivity.
"How can you not be angry? This was the big job, and they've taken it from us. Again."
Death shrugged, his robe somehow dry even after the storm. TO ME, ALL JOBS ARE BIG, he said calmly.
Infuriated, War turned away and hurled a piece of bread at a passing duck, catching it directly on the back of the head.
It did not help her temper when, after a dazed 'quack' or two, the bird quite happily ate it.
"What use are they anyway, ducks?" she mumbled, discontent. "It's not as though they do anything."
And on a mountain at the other end of the universe a spaceship arrived, and a small bird got out. It may have interested Aziraphale to know that it was not the bird that had got into the spaceship at the start of the journey -- that this was a bird which had had its purpose passed down from a multitude of grandparents, parents and uncles. 15
It stood for a moment, as though overwhelmed by the sheer scale of its mission, and then.. It did not sharpen its beak because ducks seldom do and a sharp beak would interfere with dabbling in the water. Instead, it opened its mouth and tilted its head back.
For a moment, the echo bounced around the mountain and echoed through the dimensions, measuring eternity and providing hope.
Then the duck got back into its spaceship, and went home.
1 The absence of bread is a surpisingly powerful force in human relationships. There are few emotions that can match the intensity of discovering the nice soft piece of fresh bread you were planning to smother with butter has inexplicably vanished. The unusual peak of restaurant related injuries is nothing to do with the kitchens, but more to do with finding 'some bastard has just nicked my hot fresh roll, and it had those posh seeds on it too!'
2 Sisyphus would have sat and laughed at the daily existance of the average administrator. At least his rock didn't get bigger.
3 When ducks quack, you will never hear the echo. This is because the echo sounds, at that moment, in a dimension belonging only to them. It contains a lot more bread.
4 Technically God was catching up with a part of Himself which is not as paradoxical as it might seem. Often people are surprised or made uncomfortable by parts of their body
5 It's all very well being all-seeing, but sometimes you just can't get the angle.
6 It would upset a lot of people to know that the spirit of God took the shape of duck to stir the depths of chaos into order. It has occured to a few people, but they like crispy duck too much to say anything.
7 It was very much the duck equivalent of 'Hey wow, I dropped my contact lense, quick everyone, help me look RIGHT NOW!'
8 Actually there is. It's called the Mary Poppins Protocol.
9 The Fifth Horseman is Financial Devastation and rides forth on the wings of the global economic storm. She is already here.
10 That is to say, vicious and horrifying with massive amounts of slaughter and children taken to be raised as slaves and brainwashed. Ants have no concept of the Geneva Convention.
11 We're back to quantum again. Don't make me spell Continumuuum, it won't end well.
12 No. It doesn't.
13 There is a universal default to "That dodgy prawn I had yesterday - I knew they didn't taste right."
This occurs even if prawns had not been eaten or do not actually exist in the multiverse.
14 For the sake of closure, people might be interested to know that the woman with the wet blouse was mysteriously crapped on by a duck before she made it back to the office. This meant that she had to borrow a dry shirt from a friend, and there was no temptation, no adultery and no unhappily ever after. This, in case you were wondering, is why people say you are lucky if a bird craps on you.
15 Obviously, it was the sort of spaceship which could be operated without the need for opposable thumbs, or indeed hands. Some might say, in fact, that it was a metaphor.
They would be wrong.