Disclaimer: Good Omens and all related characters therein do not belong to me. They belong to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Aziraphale takes Death’s place for a day.
Word Count: 11,756
Author’s Note: Merry Christmas, yummycoffee! This may not be what you were expecting…in fact, that’s most likely the case, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!
Part I: Siciliana
The Siciliana had a probable origin in a Sicilian shepherd dance or song. It came to be associated in the later 17th century with the pastoral, particularly in the Christmas Concerto of the period. The siciliana is normally in compound dotted rhythm and is slow and is sometimes melancholy in mood.
Someone had made snow angels. They were arranged in no particular pattern, but rather had been depressed in any place where the child could find a spot of flat ground with deep, untouched snow. Some of the angels were perfectly shaped, while others were uneven and had distorted outlines where their maker had quickly jumped up and moved on to the next spot. Snaking lines of footprints ran through each other and around the angels in a bizarre sort of cross-hatch stitching, and tall, thick pine trees kept them from filling up with the falling powder. From his position on the swing, Aziraphale leaned down and scooped up the freshest layer of snow. Far too dry, it would be a disappointment for those waiting for the ultimate snowball fight.
Aziraphale let the snow fall back through his fingers and pulled his fleece glove back on. He straightened and settled down into the black rubber seat, and his hands came up to hold the chains on both sides of him. It was late and getting colder, but Aziraphale had often found that his human body was prone to meandering off without consulting the rest of him. Because of this, Aziraphale had in the past found himself on back country roads with apple orchards, a café he had never known existed, and the seaside. And because he would feel oddly refreshed afterwards, Aziraphale would humor himself and not ask any questions—even when his human form was content with sitting on a swing at an abandoned children’s park with dusk sitting heavy in the sky. His feet were even rolling back and forth on the ground to keep up a small rocking motion. Aziraphale supposed that it was not hurting anything, and besides, the snow angels were pretty to look at.
“I think they’re sad.”
Aziraphale’s feet stopped pushing off the ground, and his hands tightened around the chains. His breath misted in front of him.
“Snow angels a bit depressing. Don’t you agree?” The voice, with a slight yet perfect British accent, was smooth and in the middle range, and had an underlying melancholy—the voice of a C Minor scale.
Slowly, Aziraphale turned his head to look across his shoulder, and an odd mix of joy, awe, and fear tightened in an uncomfortable hold around his stomach. The person in the swing next to him was a man, no older than mid-twenties, and, despite the intense chill, was dressed lightly. A beige suede coat covered a white turtleneck sweater, the bottom hem of which was bunched up around the waistband of light khaki slacks. His feet and hands were covered by white leather boots and gloves, and honey-colored hair feathered out from underneath a beige newsboy’s cap. He smiled the way October would smile—secretive and sad—and looked up with dark ocean-green eyes to meet Aziraphale’s gaze. His pupils were not black, but rather a few shades darker green than the irises, and they glinted with stars that were independent of twilight reflection.
“My Lord,” Aziraphale whispered. He knew that he should stand, kneel, bow—anything to show respect, but once again his human body disagreed, and it remained frozen from indecision in how to deal with this sudden, major change in how things ought to be. God’s smile grew larger, causing the corners of His eyes to crease.
“Hello, Aziraphale. It is so nice to see you. How are you this evening?”
Half formed fears and wild ideas ran in convoluted, thrashing circles in Aziraphale’s mind: that he was being recalled to Heaven, that he was being cast out, that God wished to have a talk with him. Aziraphale had seen God in human form only six times before, and each time was a prelude to catastrophic events.
“Tired,” Aziraphale answered before he could think about it. “I’m well,” he corrected.
“You really should not push your human body so much. Just because you don’t need sleep does not mean it’s not good for you.”
God stood up and moved to stand in front of Aziraphale, who puzzled at the mix of formal and informal speech within the Lord’s sentences. God stared at him for a few long moments before stepping forward and leaning down to embrace Aziraphale in a strong hug.
“I know you have not been feeling well. Anything that I can help with?”
Aziraphale did not answer for several long minutes. When he did, words he had not been expecting came out.
“For what?” God questioned softly. Aziraphale dropped his gaze. The guilt weighed too heavily for him to remain upright.
“I went against your orders. But…I couldn’t do it, my Lord. I couldn’t kill all of those people.”
At the answering silence, Aziraphale chanced a glance back up at God. He was staring back, His face unreadable for any thoughts or emotions. He was beautiful to be sure—no form could ever cause Him to be otherwise—but He looked slightly out of place against the evergreen background. God had the appearance of being transposed onto the surface of a world that was not nearly colorful or strong enough to hold Him for long. The needles on the pine trees seemed to bend in towards Him, while the ground concaved slightly beneath His feet and the snow piled an atom’s width higher in a circle around the dip. Aziraphale felt like the entire world was slanted just slightly to the side, and it made him dizzy.
“I have a favor to ask,” God finally said. Aziraphale started, taken aback by the unexpected response.
The world righted itself.
“Everyone has been so busy recently. The only one who ever comes to personally see me on a regular basis anymore is Michael, and even he can be distracted by work. So lately I’ve set aside one day for each angel, and it’s been working, but with one I would like your assistance.”
“I need you to take up the position for a day. It’s not hard work, really, but it can’t be halted. Will you do it?”
“I need you to take over for Azrael.”
Aziraphale felt the color drain from his face. Azrael. Death. Surely God was not suggesting—
“It would only be for a day. Twenty-four hours to the minute. You can say no, of course, but I’d rather you didn’t.”
Aziraphale gaped, struck speechless by the implications of the conversation.
“Please, Aziraphale. I feel that it’s necessary. There are other ways, of course, but this would be easiest on everyone.”
“But, why m—“ Aziraphale stopped himself before he could complete the sentence, and he pressed his lips tightly together, wondering where that thought had come from. He took a breath and tried again. “Perhaps, there would be a better choice?”
A tight look passed across God’s face for the fastest of seconds before He smiled benevolently.
“No, Anael would just mess it up. You’ll do it, then?”
“I shall do whatever my Lord requires of me,” Aziraphale recited, feeling faint and not entirely in his head, through which cycled an unending mantra: Ineffability was not to be questioned—
“Excellent!” God exclaimed brightly. “I will come by tomorrow afternoon at your bookshop. Be ready.”
God turned away from Aziraphale and started to head into the copse of evergreens when Aziraphale called out to Him.
“Is this my punishment?”
God halted in His tracks, but did not turn around. “A punishment?” He murmured. Aziraphale waited, hands shaking. “No. You have been on Earth for a while, my angel. You know humans, and for the most part, within their hearts, they can recognize that. You take care of them, so…they will go easy on you, too. You’ll do fine.”
The shadows of the forest swallowed God up, leaving Aziraphale alone on the swing and in a slight panic. God had always been a fan of contrapasso, and Aziraphale could only wonder at what awaited him. God had said it was not a punishment, but assigning him the position of Death after helping the Antichrist save the world from destruction, Aziraphale could not see how it was anything but.
The night grew colder.
Part II: Col Legno
Legno, wood, appears in the phrase ‘col legno,’ with the wood, an instruction to string players to hit the strings with the back of the bow. Examples of col legno are found in the Danse macabre of Saint-Saens and at the opening of Holst’s The Planets.
2:47 Post meridiem
If immortals are good at anything, it is waiting. And since patience is also a part of the nature of angels, Aziraphale had become rather good at it during his stay on Earth. However, with the exception of Gabriel’s bi-annual staff meeting, Aziraphale had never felt time pass so slowly while waiting for God. A pot of tea sat cooling on the stove, still full, and a peanut butter sandwich lay on the counter only partially eaten. Aziraphale tried reading, but he was too restless for it, so he settled for the soothing action of merely flipping through the pages of an old Shakespeare play.
He had thought about trying to get a hold of Crowley, he wanted to tell him, but every time he reached for the phone he would invariably end up pacing back to the farthest corner of the bookshop. He wanted to instruct Crowley to be sure to stay away for a while, but being a demon, Crowley always ended up doing just the opposite as he was told. There was little doubt that Crowley would not want to be anywhere God was, but his extreme curiosity—and ability to find horrible situations amusing—would have him stop by just for a little while. And because Crowley also seemed to have an innate ability towards bad timing, he would most likely come over at the same time as God, and Aziraphale would find himself hard-pressed to explain that away. He had never been good at such things, with the flaming sword incident a prime example, and he doubted that the explanation of Crowley getting lost on the way to Hell would stand up against scrutiny.
The bell above the door jingled, causing Aziraphale to nearly fall out of his chair. He scrambled to his feet and walked around the bookcases to turn away the customer, only to see that the door was still locked and the closed sign still up.
“Sorry about that. I tried to come in the normal way, but there is a group of fundamentalists out on the corner, and they always seem to get a little…enthusiastic…if I come anywhere near. Still, I should give points for the effort.”
God was standing next to the coat rack, shaking the snow out of his dark brown hair that fell into neat layers down to His jawline. Aziraphale thought for a moment that He looked older, but then decided that He instead, at the moment, looked French. Even His voice had changed slightly to help carry the accent properly. Long, pale hands were slipped out of their gloves and God shrugged off His coat.
“It’s getting really cold out. It will be a good year for cherries,” God commented and walked past Aziraphale to head deeper into the bookshop. Aziraphale followed, trying to think of any reason that God would accept as to why he could not do the job. He opened his mouth, but God jumped up on the counter and beat him to it.
“Are you ready? No other engagements?”
Aziraphale tried to think of an excuse, but he could not do it fast enough, so he shook his head no.
“Good. But before we get started, I want to go over a few rules with you. First and foremost, you are essentially being promoted with this reassignment, and with it will come added links in your power. As Death, you will have the knowledge of every person’s final mortal moment. Now, I’m going to be limiting this knowledge with you, so you will not have any foresight beyond that of the full twenty-four hours. You understand the precautions for that, of course. Also, you may not, under any circumstance, spare anyone. They’ll try to talk you out of it, even for just an hour, but as soon as it is time for a person to die, they must do so. I’ll make it a little easier on you and have the reflex be more or less automatic, so you won’t have to put too much effort into it, but that doesn’t mean you do not have to pay attention. Also, I do not want you to—“ God stopped and stared at Aziraphale for a long moment. “No, never mind,” He said. “It will be all right. Any questions?”
Yes, Aziraphale thought. Why do I feel so heavy?
“I…” he began.
“Am frightened,” God finished for him and jumped down off the counter. This human form was slightly taller than the previous one, so He could look directly into Aziraphale’s eyes with a Greensleeves gaze. He reached out and rubbed circles in the skin behind Aziraphale’s ear, letting the blond hair curl around His fingers.
“There’s no need to be scared, Aziraphale. I will not let anything hurt you. Do you trust me on this?”
God’s eyes were blue, but they were different from Aziraphale’s. They were either the color of the sky or water, and Aziraphale struggled for a moment in finding the difference between the two, causing him to pause for a moment longer than perhaps he had meant.
“Yes, my Lord,” he answered. God smiled softly and leaned his forehead against Aziraphale’s.
“Don’t worry,” He whispered. “It will all be all right.”
God backed up and looked around the shop, searching for something that He knew had been there a moment ago.
“Ah,” He said. “There you are.”
A moth came down from the ceiling, its uneven flight path causing it to bob ungracefully in between Aziraphale and God. Aziraphale did not have to wonder long at its purpose, as God reached out and caged His fingers around the insect. It stilled in His hand. There was only a moment’s pause, and God tightened His hand.
Aziraphale felt his world lurch out of place, yanked out from underneath him like a carpet, and quicksand was left in its place. As an angel, he had had some abilities to manipulate time a little, bend it or smooth it out as needed for miracles, but he had always moved with the time fold. Never before had he felt this way before, as everything stopped around him, and shoving him out. He felt sick to his stomach, and his limbs were not working properly, as though they were made of wax.
Climbing to his feet, Aziraphale accidentally brushed his foot against a hard structure, and he looked down to see his body lying on the ground, crumpled but still stiffer than rigor mortis.
“Your human form would not have been able to handle the stress of the situation, so I had to pull you from it. I’ll give it back to you once you’re done, good as new.”
Aziraphale looked back to God, who was standing oddly with His arm slightly outstretched, the moth still squeezed and torn in His grip. Aziraphale thought he could see it twitch as it was caught in the exact moment of its death. At first, Aziraphale could not see why God remained in that position, but then he noticed the air in front of God did not seem right, as though it were shifted just slightly out of place.
“Wait,” God said. “While he pulls himself free.”
The air slid heavily back, moving like a glacier, and out stepped a robed figure, clothed in the night sky and hood drawn. Ivory hand bones curled around God’s hand but did not touch the moth’s wings.
I HATE IT WHEN YOU DO THAT, Death said, giving a slight shake to rid himself of any pieces of remaining time still clinging to him.
“How else am I supposed to get a hold of you? You never come see me anymore.”
DO NOT SOUND LIKE AN INDIGNANT HOUSEWIFE. IT IS NOT BECOMING.
“Then don’t be a bad husband,” God responded simply. “But since you’re so incredibly busy, I’ve come up with a solution.”
“You’re taking the day off.”
Despite the lack of face, eyes, or any method of viewing these features had Death had them, Aziraphale could easily decipher the Horseperson’s flat stare.
“And you’re not going to argue with me on it. But don’t worry. Like the wonderful employer that I am, I found someone to cover your shift.”
Death turned and faced Aziraphale, who was wondering if Death would refuse. There was already an uncertain history between the two, and if anyone had the influence in this scene, it was he.
DO YOU THINK THE ANGEL CAN DO IT?
God nodded. “Yes, I do. Besides, if anything goes wrong, you and I will never be far.”
I AM NOTHING IF NOT YOUR SERVANT. HOWEVER, AZIRAPHALE OF THE EASTERN GATE, I FEEL OBLIGATED TO GIVE YOU SOME WARNINGS, Death said. YOU MUST NEVER LISTEN TO THEM. TALK TO THEM ALL YOU LIKE, BUT NEVER LISTEN TO THEM. THEY WILL BREAK YOU OTHERWISE. AS WELL, REMEMBER THIS: THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND. NOTHING ENDS.
Aziraphale looked to God, who was staring impassively back. When Aziraphale nodded, God straightened.
“Let’s get this going, then. Keeping everything fully stopped like this takes more concentration than I want to continue sparing. Come here, Aziraphale.”
Aziraphale took his hesitant steps forward, his hands shaking with nervous anticipation. Neither God nor Death made any comment on it though, and he stepped up next to Death to form a sort of small triangle, with God at the main point. God transferred the moth to His right hand and extended two fingers to press at the back of Aziraphale’s neck. His fingers were cool in the heavy heat of the room. With His left hand, God flattened his palm against where Death’s temple would be.
“This is going to be a bit of a shock,” God warned before He closed his eyes and pulled with the sound of violins.
There was something wrong. The fly on the wall was frozen in place, its wings lifted and prepared for the air. The headache that was swirling through Aziraphale’s brain made resolve to never allow Crowley to keep such a large store of alcohol-enhanced egg nog ever again. Aziraphale sat up, rubbing at his forehead. He could feel no warmth in the skin.
God was standing a couple of meters away, leaning against a bookcase, expression dark with philosophy and rapid-fire calculations. Azrael was closer to Aziraphale’s position, and he too was on the floor, but had managed to stay somewhat upright. He was kneeling, but hunched over with his robes pooled around him like water.
“Are you all right, Aziraphale?” God asked.
--I..I feel a little funny.
“That’s to be expected. But it’s time for you to get started. As soon as you step outside the door, your shift begins. It will end tomorrow at three in the afternoon. I’ll call you here, so no worries about that. Good luck, my angel.”
Feeling as though he were in a trance, Aziraphale headed towards the front of the bookshop and gripped the door handle.
--I’ll be back, Aziraphale said, though he was unsure of who he was talking to.
He opened the door and fell into the deafening roar while the clock struck three. God sighed as the tension in his shoulders eased, and He turned back to the still kneeling figure.
“And how are you feeling, Azrael?”
“I—“ Azrael began, his voice filled with gravel from disuse. “am a poor substitute for the one you truly desire.”
God kneeled down in front of Azrael, plucking a dark feather rimmed in starlight clutched in pale hands, their skin the color of bleached bones.
“You’ll do,” He said.
A smile curled on chapped, newly warmed lips.
Part III: Bourree
A bourree is a duple-rhythm French dance sometimes found in the baroque dance suite, where it was later placed after the sarabande with other lighter additional dances.
6:30 Post meridiem
Crowley was through playing games. For weeks the Hollyhock had been unresponsive and uncaring towards all of Crowley’s threats, and it bloomed in whatever color it wanted. Crowley had let it go due to its potential, but now the other plants were beginning to catch on, and he had an imminent revolt on his hands. And that just would not do. Crowley normally allowed an end held in secrecy—it had a good dramatic effect on the uncertain survivors—but this time he needed to make an example. He circled all of the other flowers around the offending Hollyhock, which was currently giving a martyr speech about how they should always let freedom course through their phloem and xylem, and how tyranny would be forever absorbed and changed into valuable nutrients through a process of cell respiration in which six molecules of oppression plus six molecules of revolution would produce one molecule of democracy and six molecules of plants’ rights.
All in all, it was not that inspiring.
And it was nothing in comparison to Crowley’s statement, when he yanked the Hollyhock out by the roots and threw it into the fireplace just recently installed. It did not need a flue, as hellfire burned hot enough and slowly enough to annihilate even its own smoke.
Satisfied, Crowley placed the newly intimidated flowers back into their proper spots. When he turned back to watch the Hollyhock disintigrate, Crowley, for the first time in his life, screamed in shock. He felt his heart stop, and he was too surprised to bother get it going again.
Aziraphale stood by the fire, the shadow of a withered flower clutched in his hand. He turned to look at Crowley, blue eyes as deep and dark as a still lake with no reflection.
“Angel?” Crowley sputtered, unsure of what was in front of him.
--Crowley, Aziraphale said. –Can you tell me what year it is?
--All of the seconds are running like centuries. They’re over before I can think. They make me forget what year it is.
“It’s, uh, 2006. Been that way since January,” Crowley answered.
The corner of Aziraphale’s mouth twitched upwards and he collapsed into Crowley’s favorite recliner, one made from the leather of an animal that was…difficult to obtain, at the very least.
Crowley watched him, but did not approach.
“Aziraphale. Why…can’t I feel you? Something else is in your place. You’re more like…”
--Death. I’m Death. God asked me to take Azrael’s place for a day.
Crowley gaped for a few minutes before he gathered his thoughts together.
“Aziraphale, that. Is….the best thing I’ve ever heard.”
Brow furrowed, Aziraphale twisted around in the recliner and gave Crowley the time-proven Look Number Twelve: ‘you have to be kidding me.’ For good measure, and to make sure the point got across, he added in Number Nineteen: ‘and if you aren’t, I will sell you to the next petshop I come across.’ The look usually made Crowley back down, but this time he did not pay any attention and instead crouched on the floor in front of Aziraphale. He was horribly amused.
“Are you doing it right now?”
“Reaping, I don’t know. Whatever you call it.”
--Yes, Aziraphale answered. --It doesn’t ever stop.
“Well, how do you do it?”
“What? I’m curious. No, wait, don’t answer that. First, start at the beginning.”
A little taken aback and a little more offended, Aziraphale scowled.
--The One True God, our Holy Father, Aziraphale started, pointedly ignoring the slight flinch by Crowley so he could later deny he began that way on purpose. –Asked me to take Azrael’s place for a day so that they could spend a day together.
Crowley nodded in understanding.
“Lucifer did something like that a couple hundred years back. Only…it was more along the lines of catching up on punishments he had skipped over before.”
Cringing, Aziraphale settled deeper into the chair, and turned his gaze to the window. Crowley took no notice.
“Why do you sound differently?”
--That’s what happens when you try and speak from everywhere at once. Aziraphale answered flatly.
“Wow. I actually do know the Reaper,” Crowley said, earning a heavy sigh from Aziraphale.
--Crowley, you’re not taking this as seriously as I had hoped.
“What’s there to take seriously? This is like, Beelzebub coming up to me and asking if I could take over for Ashtaroth for a day.”
--I wonder how Hell would fare with you as the Grand General of the Warlords.
“Hey,” Crowley said somewhat defensively. “Heaven put you in charge of death…affairs…and it hasn’t fallen apart.”
“No, don’t do that. Come on, let’s go get dinner.”
--Oddly enough Crowley, I’m not hungry.
“I didn’t say you had to eat. I just said let’s go to dinner. Now get up,” Crowley responded. He stood and disappeared down the hallway to his apartment, returning a few moments later with his jacket. As he ushered Aziraphale out the door, he thought back to Aziraphale’s out of character comment. “What is it about being Death that makes people so sarcastic?”
They entered the restaurant, bypassing the line of people waiting for a table. Crowley had made no reservations, but everyone could sense something about Aziraphale that made their protests die in their throats. And besides. An extra half-hour of “I Spy” in the parking lot was not that terrible. Even the shift host seemed to have no trouble with Crowley and Aziraphale grabbing two menus and seating themselves at a back table that the manager seemed to have forgotten to add to the restaurant’s seating chart. No problem, though. They could just pencil it in until a new chart was made.
“Pasta, I think,” Crowley said as he skimmed through the choices. “You?”
--I’m not hungry, Aziraphale repeated. He was staring back towards the main body of the restaurant, skimming over the tables full of talking, laughing people.
“Any of them?” Crowley asked, watching Aziraphale from over the top of the menu.
--Yes. Two. The gentleman over there, at the booth under the far window. Car accident on the way home. See him drinking? That’s his fourth glass. And over there, at the bar. The older man sitting next to the young one….he’s going to have an aneurysm. In about half an hour.
Crowley blinked and craned his neck for a look. “Really? Here?”
“Hmm. You know, knowing you, I would think you’d be trying to encourage that guy to get someone to drive him. Or tell the other one to go to the hospital.”
Aziraphale cringed, and immediately leaned forward to rub his palms strongly against his forehead, as though the thought gave him a skull-splitting headache..
--No, that would make it all wrong, he whispered. –I’m not allowed. All wrong.
“All right, all right, I’m sorry. Forget I said anything,” Crowley said, trying to smooth out the situation. He reached across the table to grab Aziraphale’s wrist, but he was interrupted by the arrival of a smiling, albeit somewhat confused waitress.
“Hello, my name is Katherine. I’ll be your server tonight. What can I get for you this evening?”
“The house champagne, to drink,” Crowley started. “I’ll have the spaghetti with meat sauce and a side salad. Eggs with the salad.”
“How do you like your eggs?” Katherine asked. Crowley grinned.
“I like them a lot.”
“No, I meant cooked.”
“Oh, I like them even better that way.”
--Crowley! Aziraphale cut him off, embarrassed. –Enough.
Katherine turned to Aziraphale, ignoring the odd echo to his voice in favor of continuing to speak with the dark-haired customer.
“And for you, sir?”
--I don’t really have an appetite. Just water, please. A tall glass, with no ice. In fact, I don’t want it cold at all. Room temperature, if it’s not too much trouble.
“I’ll have that right out,” Katherine said and walked away just slowly enough so that it could not be considered a sprint.
“I didn’t think Death would drink water,” Crowley commented.
--I’ve been feeling really stiff. Water helps to soften the joints.
“So you never answered my other question. When a person dies, what do you do?”
Aziraphale gave a half-hearted glare at the demon, sighing as he gave up the fight.
“Touch them, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to not pay attention too much.”
“You don’t even know how you do it?”
--Well, it’s not just people, Crowley! It’s animals, and plants—who can be surprisingly vicious—the fungi and insects. Even,
Aziraphale raised his hand, palm facing up, and a ball of red light formed. –Stars.
The red light quivered before it suddenly shrank inwards, compressing itself in a tiny speck. Not a second had passed before it then exploded, showering the table in glowing dust.
--I was not lying when I said I was speaking from everywhere, Aziraphale said, rubbing his hands together to rid them of the glitter. –I like the stars the best. They are always ready to die, and they never say a word. Well, maybe they do, but I can’t hear them in space.
“You don’t talk to people? Usually you love talking to humans.” Crowley said, frowning. Aziraphale shook his head.
--I can’t do it. I tried at first, but they always asked me questions like, if it’s going to hurt, why God made them live at all if they were going to die so young, and why God hates them. I can’t answer those, Crowley. And…I especially can’t answer what Heaven will be like when I see that their souls are in line for Hell. So I just gave up entirely.
“But those questions aren’t even relevant,” Crowley countered. “Everything dies.”
A well-dressed gentleman with rather curious shoes at the table next to them wiped his mouth on his napkin and stood up, finishing the last sip of his martini.
“Not tomorrow,” he said as he started to stride away. “Never tomorrow.”
Crowley ignored him and continued on.
“You don’t decide anything, Aziraphale, so it doesn’t matter if you can’t answer their questions. Essentially, you’re just directing them to the Person who can. That’s not being a harbinger of doom. It’s just good customer service.”
--You don’t understand. But then, I didn’t expect that you would be able to.
“Aziraphale, listen, I—“ Crowley stopped. He had reached for Aziraphale’s hand, and when his touch graced the length of Aziraphale’s fingers, his original train of thought was brought to a standstill. “I really can’t feel you,” he murmured. “I knew that your aura had disappeared, but I really can’t feel you. You’re like smoke. Or fog.”
--Same here. But I can see you.
Crowley tilted his head in such a manner that Aziraphale half expected his tongue to flicker out, tasting the air and try to figure out the situation.
“What do you mean?”
--There could never be any mistake that you are a demon. I could feel the aura everytime you came within a mile of me. I can’t feel it now, but I can see it. Hell outlines you. I’ve seen every single demon on Earth in the past few hours, Crowley, and they’re all the same, just different colors. Some are swamp green, others blood red, ice blue, and there’s you, with malaria yellow. And suddenly I understand why you always have to touch with your whole hand, and why the snake form is so appealing—it allows you to touch with your whole body. And that’s so much better than having the fingertips,
Aziraphale moved his hand out from underneath Crowley’s and traced the demon’s form over every part that he mentioned.
--Your nose, the shell of your ears…all numb to any sensation. And on all demons, Crowley, I can see the point of Separation. Where you were Severed. And it’s different for all demons. One had his point at the base of his spine.
Aziraphale’s hand slid to the side of Crowley’s throat.
--Snakes hate to be touched behind their head. I used to wonder why.
“Why are you saying this, Aziraphale?”
--I used to be afraid, Crowley. The demonic aura is so different from that of angels. But now, I can see there’s no evil in it. It’s just…dead.
Aziraphale pulled back and folded his arms across his chest.
--I’m Death, Crowley. And you have no idea what I see.
“All right, I get that. I understand that the way some of these people die is not exactly filled with your heavenly sunshine and rainbows. But why are you letting that bother you so much? You never seemed to mind people dying so much before. And I’m sure that you saw worse deaths a thousand years ago then you do now.”
--This is different! I’m the one killing them!
A heavy silence fell across the table, and Aziraphale suddenly felt extremely uncomfortable under Crowley’s stare. It contained a poisonous mix of betrayal, anger, and disappointment.
“It’s not fair,” Crowley whispered, as he shook his head in disbelief. “People have been sent to Hell for a lot less than that.”
“I disagreed with you saying it was a punishment at first. But maybe you were right. Fucking unfair.” Crowley interrupted and he stood up. He threw his napkin down and stalked away, with Aziraphale calling after him.
--Crowley, wait! Do you know what’s going on? Please tell me!
“Leave me alone,” Crowley hissed and left the restaurant. Aziraphale scrambled to his feet and made to follow, but he felt himself be yanked backwards towards the bar, where an old man had just collapsed.
Parts IV-VI follow.