And it starts with a sunny day and children playing, the kind of day that brings lovers out from beneath the blanket-cocoons of hotels and houses and overpriced apartments in the cities; there are daffodils and roses and and petunias and flowers that shouldn't bloom at this time of year at all, but are inexplicably there as well (it's probably the demon's fault) and lots of different sounds and smells and colours; it's a classical landscape painting revived and given life I breathe into thee and give it life.
There are three angels seated on a bench. Nobody can see them, because they will it too; questions will be asked if humans glimpse three men in long white robes carrying weaponry. The Renaissance Faire isn't for a couple of weeks, and there are few available anime conventions to hide in should they get caught short thus, they are not there, but they are, in a bubble of obscurity that the common mind glances off of.
Psychic people could probably alert themselves to their presence. They're known as the little shiver down the back of the neck.
"Aziraphale has done well in getting Hell's agent to trust him," says an angel. He looks like a dog breeder, like a lumberjack with a shortage of clothing like that one episode of Cheers where Norm dressed up as a Roman centurion in a toga; in short, he looks nothing like an angel, but every bit the accountant taking fancy dress to a disturbing new level. "We attack tonight. The War to End Wars must be begun by one small action, and soon. The Plan depends upon it."
"Like humans do," says the angel to his left if the first angel is Norm, then he is another actor from a small obscure series that nobody has ever heard of. His face is familiar, even when it's not; small and square-jawed, the smile upsetting the delicate balance between a large nose and a corpulent lower lip, and a cropped mass of dark blond (1) hair is as though someone began shading in a hairstyle faintly reminiscent of a reggae artist and got tired midway through.
If there is one thing both sides have learned it's that humans know how to start wars. It's ending them that is the problem.
Angels have no such problems.
The angel on his right says nothing, but looks in the distance, eyes far away and dreaming of winning.
Day blends easily into night artistry at its finest is watching the sky change colour, from pale blue to lilac, and watching the fainter threads of gold and orange weave in between clouds and empty space; the molecules of the air grow cold and heavy and the wind whispers soft through the grass, snake-like, with a slither just a little bit less slimy than an actual snake. It sounds like laughter from Bedlam. Oh, it's been so long, oh it's been so long, oh, oh, oh, they've been waiting for this final battle.
The three angels sit on the bench, like stone gargoyles. The third angel has stopped dreaming. His eyes are brown, like coffee that's been left out overnight, and they're looking at the distant wall on the other side of the park. A car hums sound into the wind. Wings twitch like antennae, halos tilted down; their eyes are hungry, they've ceased to be three angels, but have become one.
The angel and his demon adversary are walking.
Their hands are joined, fingers like corset strings; clean nails, manicures, all the vestiges of the wealthy and the materialistic and the immoral. The one body splits up, becomes three again. Tonight, the first victim will be claimed.
This is the way the world ends.
It's not as if Crowley doesn't sense them, feel them. Angels leave an imprint of themselves wherever they are, a foul tinge of goodness and hope and purity that takes more than a few dogging sessions and some drug deals to scrub out of the earth. It's far more apt to say that he thinks these three beneath him, that their watchful eyes are only as important as what they're viewing. Holding Aziraphale's hand is merely doing justice to old Shadwell's thoughts about pansies (2). It wasn't anything wrong.
Now if he were to take up his mind on the idea of laying Aziraphale against a tree (3), he would've found some other place somewhere a little bit seedy and cheap, where angels fear to tread.
There was a flurry of movement, and Aziraphale's hand fell away from him. A pair of arms, meaty, like slabs of entire raw meet had been injected into the veins via carefully-designed genetic breeding serums, wrapped around his waist. A second angel was standing by his angel, a third behind him.
"Good job, Aziraphale," said the angel behind him, "you've done well getting him to trust you."
Aziraphale's eyes shift a few degrees up, and then fall on his again. Crowley tilts his head forward, and there's just a little bit of a smile curled at his lips, like the last burst of smoke from the red-hot tip of a cigarette. Crowley's clothes rustle, and the very darkness seems to shift, to breathe, to live. In a moment, the world has narrowed down to a few square feet, and his senses are more preoccupied now than they have been for half a century; he can all but taste the hatred in the air, the religious zeal of goodness, and he can feel the scrape of rough silk, unwoven, against the back of his leather jacket it makes a sound like gum stuck to denim.
More importantly, he can feel power and purpose and cruelty flowing through him, and they are forgotten words and forgotten feelings, but they fall so easily over him that it's like they've never left.
The one thing the angel behind him hasn't considered is the forces of wings when they push out of skin, forming out of spare bits of bone stretching and breaking with dry pops and little hissing sounds of skin breaking. Blood flowers on the back of his shirt, and his wings ash grey, as though smoggy, like the snow overnight on a New York sidewalk slam out of his clothes and against the angel's back, and it propels him into the tree behind him. If he'd been human, his head would've cracked like an egg at the contact of bark to skull, and his spine should've, if he'd been human, come off in separate little vertebrae. As it is, it's only a momentary windedness, but that's all Crowley needs.
There's an angel that sees something in his eyes when he looks at Aziraphale, and he's got his hand in his angel's hair and he's holding his angel the way that only Crowley should hold him by the hair, by the arm.
Crowley takes a step forward, and another, and another. His bloodied wings spread loose, the pain in his back dulled to a mere vibration. The angel stands his ground; he can give him credit for standing his ground, but that's only going to result in a Bad Situation.
"Let go," Crowley requests it. Demons can be polite too. "I'll come peacefully. I promisssse."
Angels are always far too easy to believe things when they are promised; the tension of Aziraphale's neck relaxes, the taut line of it loosening, softening. He sees Aziraphale turned his head one way, then another, testing movement, sees the look in his eyes 'don't do it', 'run', 'go, I'll distract them'. Aziraphale is an angel first and foremost, and he's forgotten one thing, one very vital thing: they are a fucking team, and he's not about to leave him behind to the questions of heaven's version of the Three Stooges.
When Aziraphale takes a small step away, Crowley leaps at the other angel and knocks him down. He grins down at the face beneath his, showing off very sharp white teeth. His glasses disappear, his fist bunches. The angel's lips part, and 'Our Father' is a bloodied mass of words spoken around broken teeth, and Crowley doesn't stop at one, but two, three.
Aziraphale's hand on his shoulder stops the onslaught. He lets the angel drag him up and away, over grass that hisses like a snake and through a night dark and plain after the show of twilight.
"Bloody cheeky, attacking you. Bastard deserved it," Crowley grumbled as he stopped to realign his jacket. "Drat. He's gotten his blood on my jacket."
"Will it away," Aziraphale suggested, but his attention was occupied by the furore in the park. He can see glimmers of white through the trees, like fallen stars caught among the branches, and his hand upon Crowley's arm turns insistent, tugging him. "My dear boy, we have to hurry. I hardly think that they will take kindly to you more the second time they meet you."
"I dunno... My second impression's the best. You didn't like the snake, but you loved my human form," Crowley fiddled with the keys to his Bentley. It was a ploy to waste time, and they both knew it a Bentley couldn't outrace three angels bent on revenge.
"You shouldn't have hit him," Aziraphale sighs. "Really, Crowley."
Crowley shrugged, and took his hand. It seemed as though they were walking home tonight if they'd even get home.
Very few people know that angels and demons are rife through the night. The sound of beating wings can easily be turned into mundane things such as rustling bin bags, next door's cat, an unusually large bird of prey context was quite easy to create and mold and shape into being without visual aids. Very few people also knew that the cackles of demons out on a drinking party sounded like car alarms (4).
Aziraphale and Crowley didn't make any of these noises. There was impossible silence around them, nothing but the rending of clothing as Aziraphale's own wings slid out of his clothing through fabric (that poor tartan shirt never stood a change) and the clenched-in sound of pain he made, soothed away by Crowley's equally quiet caress. But behind them, bin bags and car alarms were going off.
Crowley grabbed Aziraphale's hand, gave him a wink.
They shot up and into the sky, cleaving through clouds.
This is the way the world ends.
Demons are terribly persistent. It isn't enough to catch the feel of an angel, but to hunt it, chase it, kill it, end it. Above, below, in the sea, on the ground, in the forest it didn't matter where the angel was, eventually it would be found and devoured and broken.
Pick a place, pick a location. For this angel, it was the next town over; settling promptly down in the centre of the red zone. A woman in a glorified belt flashed her legs, and most of her cleavage, at him, and dirty old cars mingled with rich new cars, and it was the only other place you could see a poor man walking with a rich man and not arguing. Prostitutes by the dozen, and perverts twice that; was he really surprised that Crowley had picked a place like this for them to hide in?
Aziraphale held tight to the man's arm. Crowley fit in, certainly; men in leather jackets, albeit a bloodstained leather jacket, generally tended to fit into red zones like this. He, however, looked like the kind of professor to be found lecturing at Oxford and there weren't many about (5). Half-heartedly, Aziraphale changed his trousers from corduroy to denim, and unbuttoned the first two buttons on his shirt.
"You look like a lumberjack," Crowley's opinion stated. Aziraphale decided to wilfully ignore it, and resorted to scanning the sky above him, searching for evidence of marauding angels, though it was a bit difficult to concentrate. There was an air of sin about this place, a 'forgotten by God' tint to the charcoal-black walls and the crumbling housing and all the lost eyes of the woman that strolled past him smelling like the perfume counter at a pharmacy.
There was a car alarm ringing somewhere.
The demon seemed to fall entirely out of the sky. Irony was not a concept very well known to them, although they had all but invented the phrase 'that's not ironic' to be used whenever another person made the foolish, war-starting error of saying the word 'irony' in a conversation. It was not something Crowley had taken part in. Small language-based niggles were not his area of expertise.
Aziraphale lifted a brow.
"Oh, dear. Crowley."
Crowley wasn't listening. The angels were back, too; he felt them in the back of his mind. Aziraphale sighed, letting go of his lover's hand and shifting just enough to block Crowley from the demon's view, which was rather foolish, as he was clearly looking at him if it was a he. This was one of those young demons, in a hood that covered the face with some esoteric splatter of colours supposed to be a statement on the current state of world tensions. And jeans, and shoes with one pink lace and one yellow lace (6).
And he had friends, which loitered behind him, like a pack of pigeons with an ear for heavy metal as played by tiny Japanese people in lots of non-environmentally-friendly makeup.
It would have been a ridiculous thing for humans to witness a man in tartan and a man in a leather jacket, back to back. One of them was facing a group of angels, recognizable due to the standard wings and halo combo, and the other was facing a group of what appeared to be teenagers with some forked tails attached to the behinds of their jeans (7). The entire situation would've been so ridiculous, in fact, that humans did not see a thing, not even the two men with their backs to one another; they walked on past, oblivious to the battle about to break out.
Aziraphale considered diplomacy.
The demon in mismatch clothing took a step forward.
It could've been that he'd stepped on some mine, some impossibly difficult to see switch that made flames spurt out of the ground like the least practical population-control mechanism ever. It could have been the slight way Aziraphale's brows dipped down, the resigned shrug to his shoulders that, if it could've been captioned in a picture, would've had words such as 'You Asked For It' underneath it. Fleeting moments like that are impossibly to figure out the source of.
But, given that the flames that spurted out of the ground were distinctly white-blue and gave off a heat that Crowley felt scald the back of his jacket, it was probably the second option.
The demon let off a shriek, bat-like, and leapt at him, still enflamed, bits of him crumbling, turning ashy and black and dusty. Soot fell over Aziraphale's face as he absorbed the blow, shuddering as those claws shot past his ear, just a hair's breadth away from taking off an ear.
Then, he rammed his fist into the demon's abdomen and knocked it down, carefully scrutinizing. The kindest way was to crush the head the poor thing was still aflame, writhing in obvious agony. You know, it didn't quite suit Aziraphale's nature to pity another demon, so he let that go, and merely brought his shoe down quickly on the demon's head.
It died. Momentarily.
What really happened was the essence of the demon (8) swam all the way back down to Hell, still smarting, still injured, still burning, to explain why a single angel had been so quick to take him out. Age did not factor into things when one was a celestial; punishments were severe and often resulted in Severe Cases of Death for a Few Years. They lost more new demons to their own side than was economically viable (9).
All hell broke loose. One-sidedly.
The demons lunged. The angels dive-bombed.
And the last thing Aziraphale heard as a conscious sound was Crowley's laughter, soft and low and sometimes far too bright for the mornings, before instinct took over. There was a hard, silver blade in his hand, though it was not a sword and nowhere near to being a sword, unless one was very drunk and squinted a lot, and then there was blood and a hole that smoked in the chest of the demon opposite him.
Feathers swirled around him, with the unpleasant sound of a wing torn completely out of its joint. Aziraphale ignored that, and the echo of something shrieking behind him, and drove the knife through the shoulder of the nearest demon. Impossibly pointed teeth were close to his face; the demon's jaw was wide enough to swallow his entire face. Could've used a breath-mint, as well.
Hurried prayers tumbled from his lips, blasphemously quick, coloured with urgency and conviction. The demon writhed against the wall, bled more, smoked more, and crumbled.
Crowley was swearing in the background. Despite the situation, Aziraphale couldn't help but hide a chuckle prayers made him prone to violence and cranky. The angels fool enough to pick on him could not have picked a worse situation.
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Hours later, when humans would walk across the formerly bloodied and sooty ground, they would get the sensation of being at the root of a small battle. Demons and angels wouldn't come to mind, however American civil war soldiers, any battle out of the eighteenth century, any revolutionary rebellion that had happened within a hundred yards of this place, was blamed. Some people claimed to have seen the battle re-fought on Tuesday nights when the moon was thirty degrees closer to the right than on Monday, and when Uranus was aligned with Mars and Venus. The last idea that would occur to them would be 'a group of angels and a group of demons got into a bit of a punch up last night'.
Well, that wasn't strictly true, was it? 'An angel got into a punch up with a group of demons, and a demon got into a punch up with a group of angels' was more accurate. 'Neither one helped their side' was more worth noticing. Loyalties ran deep Above and Below, but not deep enough.
It was six in the morning. By all accounts, nobody should be conscious that this hour, unless one was a vampire and just going to be bed, but they were. The red zone was a distant speck in the gray mass of cities behind them, and in front of them, fields and grass and flowers that were meant to be there dewed silently.
"Could've bloody held off on the prayers," Crowley complained. He was sprawled out decadently on Aziraphale's lap, half naked. The angel's hand was scratching trails down Crowley's spine, leaving lines against his skin his back was the most interesting to him. There were traces of scales in it, evidence of what he was. Underneath his palm, it was deceptively smooth and hard, like a diamond.
Sensitive, too. The nails were making Crowley's eyes grow heavy and warm, like a sunrise.
"Sorry, love," Aziraphale smiled, lowering his lips to his head, and then, somehow, his lips got rerouted to Crowley's mouth, and the position got switched around; and he was rolling to pin Crowley beneath him, on a rooftop liberally wet with dew, and there wasn't a stitch of clothing on him, or on his demon, as a friendly breeze informed him. And it was fine. They'd survived one challenge, they could survive another.
With a scandalously wet sound, Aziraphale pulled his head back and smiled down at him.
Crowley's grin matched.
It was never quick in the mornings; never quick when he was atop Crowley. He liked to take his time on his body. He liked to touch and feel and stroke and kiss, to re-map Crowley's body with his tongue and his teeth, his lips, his hands, his fingertips liked to explore all the places that made Crowley groan or sigh or arch his back in a formation far too perfect for it to have ever been real, and not merely a creation of his lust-addled brain. Aziraphale enjoyed tasting his skin on his lips, the different textures.
He enjoyed wrapping his lips around the head of Crowley's throbbing length and sucking, and watching his eyes go hazy. The thud of his head against the rooftop floor was a wonderful compliment.
And he liked to prepare him, slowly, carefully, gently brushing against that one spot inside Crowley that made words cease to be words, but return to how it had been Before, when there had been no language just sounds, guttural animal sounds.
And, oh, Aziraphale loved that whine of his, drawn-out between teeth, unabashed, wanting, needy.
Slipping in him was familiar and time-tested; he knew Crowley's body now, he knew exactly how this dance would play out, he knew because so many years had been spent trying new positions and new ideas, and it always came back to this Crowley naked and panting beneath him, Crowley's wrists in his hands, then his fingers twined around his, and making love to him slowly. Memories blurred through his mind, through Crowley's eyes Italy, France, Scotland, Wales, England.
Aziraphale dipped his head, found Crowley's mouth in his. His thumb caressed Crowley's wrist, the pulse that hammered there hard enough to bruise his fingers.
The sun rose sleepily, and bled gold over them both.
Slower, he moved with him, felt Crowley's hips lock around him, his heels bruising his back, fed himself on Crowley's words, all of them, even the curses (10). Together. Italy, France. Scotland. Wales. England.
Dawn broke quietly, with Crowley's cry of completion, winged and sharp, taking to the air like a bird. Against his body, Crowley's own jolted up, and his face was in his throat and suddenly, suddenly, his head was spinning and his pulse was hopping and everything was gloriously gold, and he came quietly, without a sound, and sank down on top of him.
Panting against his throat, Aziraphale nuzzled into the side of his neck, closing his eyes against the intrusive sun. Crowley's arms locked tight around him, a wheezed-out laugh close to his ear. "S'ridiculous, y'know. Making love on a rooftop. Open defiance, that."
Aziraphale pinched his side. For a moment, he would like not to think.
But nothing happened.
The world did not end, neither with a bang nor with a whimper.
(1) Heaven has very few shades in terms of hair-colour, and they're often on the lines of blond or brown. Hell has one demon with bright blue hair, and they automatically win by default.
(2) What flowers had ever done to Shadwell to be compared to a mildly obsessive-compulsive angel with a habit for driving him absolutely mental was not privy to Crowley, but he didn't think he wanted to know, really. It wasn't as though he had a very good relationship with flowers in general.
(3) Or, better yet, getting Aziraphale to rest him against the tree.
(4) Ergo, it wasn't always faulty wiring that made the car alarm go off for no good reason. Sometimes, it wasn't even the car alarm that sounded, which is why one should always go outside to check the car alarm with a cross, half a pint of holy water and, preferably, a small pocket Bible.
(5) Not tonight, anyway. It was a school night.
(6) There was, indeed, a demon in charge of irritating teenage fashions. This was not him, he just happened to think it would help him blend in a little more, which was not the Stupidest Idea In Existence. That would have been tabs on microwave food that broke if one merely glanced at it with the vague idea of opening it some time during the reign of the current monarch.
(7) Old people could clearly make them out to be demons. It is one of their little-known powers.
(8) If someone could come up with a term less romantic than essence that simply means 'not-soul', we would appreciate it.
(9) It was the fault of those bloody reports. They showed things in a bad light. Arguably, there was no light in hell that was actually good; but that was beside the point. So beside the point, it was probably in another country.
(10) He pinched him for them, but nothing more. They did sort of go with the moment.