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New CoT 'Verse Fic: Until Death (Aziraphale/Crowley, R) [Sep. 9th, 2012|01:47 am]
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Title: Until Death
Pairing/Characters: Aziraphale/Crowley, Ensemble Cast
Rating: R
Word Count: 8,000
Notes: This full-length story is #17 in the Crown of Thorns 'Verse sequence; it follows the most recent long piece, Modest, Yet Refined (more recent small additions to the series include Outtake #2 and Outtake #3, with Outtake #1 having been an inset ficlet for The Walls, the Wainscot, and the Mouse). If you've managed to follow me this far, then you'll know that domesticity doesn't necessarily guarantee an easy ride. This story will mark the first time (unless you count certain events in What to Do When the Clock Just Stops and Some Assembly Required as having been the first and second instances) that strain above and beyond the ordinary will throw a significant warp into the life they've woven. I beg your trust.
Summary: Autumn has arrived, and with it, a sea-change come too soon.


"Let me get this straight," said Crowley, opening the container in which his latest culinary experiment had, hopefully, not gone awry. "You chucked the dissertation at your department secretary around four, and here you are? You're knackered, surely. It's de rigueur on the MA course to pull an all-nighter leading up to hand-in, isn't it?"

"Not if you're me," Sophia said, leaning on the work-top. She peered under the lid along with Crowley, wrinkling her nose at the sharp-sweet tang of fermentation. "Besides, you promised we'd celebrate. I borrowed Adam's car. What is that?"

"Date-palm paste," Crowley said. "Waste not, want not. If it's cocktails you're after, there's no time like the present. This stuff smells ready to me. Can you get those tumblers down from the cupboard? Thanks. Also the tin of coconut milk if you find it; that'll probably make for an excellent base, although I can't be sure what else that barkeep used to throw in. Besides nutmeg and crushed lemongrass, I mean."

While Crowley poked the vile-looking stuff with a fork, Sophia paused with the glasses and the tin cradled in one arm. "Lemongrass," she said. "Is it a Thai specialty?"

"Mmm, no," Crowley said, licking a bit of date-palm paste off the fork. "Say, that's pretty close to what I remember. I wish I'd paid more attention at the time."

"Fine, then," Sophia said, depositing her burden on the work-top. "Indian? African?"

"Try ancient Near East," Crowley said, reaching for the tin-opener. "Jordanian, maybe, going by today's borders? I promise you it's nothing but sand out there now."

Sophia was strangely quiet as she watched him work; he tried to pay it no mind. She fetched everything else he asked for: fresh lemongrass from the refrigerator, ground nutmeg from the spice-rack, and vodka from the liquor cabinet. It would hide beneath the rest of the flavors easily enough; if the date-palm hadn't fermented properly, he wanted to make damned sure the alcohol content was to their liking.

"Are you having one of these, angel?" Crowley called into the living room.

"One of what?" Aziraphale asked thirty seconds later, absorbed in his reading.

"One of these cocktails you never had the good sense to try."

"Whatever you wish, my dear."

Crowley made a face at Sophia's amused shrug.

"I guess that means three," he said, and Sophia fetched another tumbler from the cupboard. Mixing by hand proved difficult, as the paste was thicker than it should have been, and the coconut milk wasn't a very efficient solvent. In the end, they threw it all in the food processor with honey, vodka, and crushed ice for good measure.

"This is not, strictly speaking, authentic," Crowley said, somewhat dissatisfied as he poured an even amount of the contents into all three tumblers. "I've done the best I can from memory, and it's not as if anybody wrote this down." He handed a glass to Sophia and picked up the other two, which were already slick with condensation. "Let's go in and keep him company. We'll make him celebrate with us, if you like."

"Oh?" Sophia asked, trailing after Crowley into the living room. "You had me thinking you'd pulled this from one of Aziraphale's rare books," she said, nodding to the angel where he sat in his tartan armchair. "Did that barkeep teach you how to make it?"

"The barkeep never offered me anything except every tenth drink free," Crowley said, gesturing for her to take a seat on the sofa. "Therefore, this is entirely experimental." He stepped in front of the armchair, waving one of the cocktails directly beneath Aziraphale's nose. "Sophia's handed in her dissertation," he said, passing the tumbler off to Aziraphale. "Many happy returns, and, of course, to an eventual PhD."

"Hell no," Sophia said, leaning to clink her tumbler against Aziraphale's, and then against Crowley's as he took a seat beside her. "Mum expects it, of course, but that's because she earned hers at scarcely twenty," she added. "What a freak."

"Have you tasted this?" Aziraphale asked both of them, with mild trepidation.

"Nope," Crowley said, bringing the tumbler to his lips. "Bottoms up!"

Sophia and Aziraphale both choked, but Crowley did his best to remain composed.

"Okay, that's gross," Sophia said. "No offense, but the vodka is overkill."

"I fear the young lady's assessment is correct," Aziraphale sighed.

Crowley snapped his fingers in irritation, taking another sip of his own. There.

"It's better now," he said. "Takes a minute to...you know, settle."

Sophia grimaced and swilled her cocktail. "Are you serious?"

"Actually, yes," said Aziraphale, blinking on his second sip. "Surprising."

Crowley drank some more of the miraculously corrected concoction and watched as Sophia peered into her tumbler, swilled its contents again, and then frowned. She sniffed the cocktail suspiciously, and then held it up to the light in wonder.

"It smells different now," she said. "It even looks different."

Aziraphale set his paperback aside and gave Crowley a warning glance.

The ingredients were all wrong, Crowley protested. I had to fix them.

Serves you right, thinking you could replicate it, Aziraphale replied.

Just then, Crowley realized that Sophia had bravely emptied a third of her glass and was staring at both of them with the glassy expression of someone who'd not only just tried the most fantastic drink in Creation, but who'd also heard both of their thoughts as clearly as she'd heard Crowley's the day they'd gone to lunch in Cambridge.

"Oh God," she said, taking another gulp. "Why does it always happen when I drink?"

"Because you have a talent for it," Aziraphale told her. "Just like your mother."

"Lowers your inhibitions," Crowley said. "Makes the whole process a bit easier."

She squinted at him, then at Aziraphale, and downed the remainder of her glass. For several seconds, Crowley thought she might be sick, but she closed her eyes tightly and held out a hand. "I'm fine," she whispered, lifting her head. "I'm..."

Crowley, what did you put in this? asked Aziraphale, somewhat desperately.

What do you think? Crowley shot back. Whatever originally went in it!

"Which you don't," said Sophia, eyes opening, "kno—oh holy fuck. You have wings."

Crowley felt a thrill of terror; it had been ages since he'd known a human who could catch the impression of them even when not fully manifested, much less pitch from mundane to switched-on so quickly. In fact, only her husband as an eleven year-old boy had earned that distinction (but, of course, Adam had been sober at the time).

The wine in Cambridge simply hadn't been strong enough to tip her.

"Which of us, dear girl? You've drunk that rather fast, and the angle of the light—"

"Both," she said, just barely managing to slam her glass on the coffee table as her hand sagged toward the floor. "Oh God," she repeated, covering her mouth with her other hand, which was shaking. "Maybe I'm having an allergic reaction. But what...?"

"Calm down," said Crowley, taking her wrist. "You were nearly there anyway."

"Yes, but you didn't have to force it!" hissed Aziraphale.

"I didn't force anything! All I did was adjust the recipe!"

"Then there must be something in it modern humans aren't used to!"

"Shut it!" Sophia shouted.

They both looked at her, chagrined and instantly contrite.

"It's just...wow, my head hurts," she said, and dazedly reached out to touch Crowley's face. "Your eyes," she said, tracing the plane of his cheekbone up to his temple. "Not human. I always knew." Her eyes flicked over to Aziraphale, quietly afraid. "Nobody can read that many dead languages. Not even Mum. Where'd you first have that cocktail, then? Ur? Babylon? No, wait. Maybe you'll tell me it was Atlantis."

"Actually, it was Gomorrah," said Crowley, pensively staring into his tumbler.

Sophia groaned. "Oh, of all the tired paradigms—"

"If it's any consolation," said Aziraphale, "we got tired of it, too."

"Explain?" she asked, allowing Crowley to remove her hand from his cheek.

"With regard to what we did all those years ago, the thing your mum and Adam both remember in spite of certain Powers' best efforts to the contrary," he said, "you might say we helped your lot stage a rebellion of sorts. And together, fortunately, we won."

"Suddenly," said Sophia, "those note-cards in Mum's files make sense." She folded her hands in her lap and stared at them, as if piecing things together the way Aziraphale must have when he'd got his hands on the Book. "Powers," she echoed. "I always did wonder about the Two Powers nonsense. Agnes had an odd sense of humor, and Mum had always tried to explain it away as a cautionary tale or a metaphor. Imagine."

"You don't know the half of it," Aziraphale muttered.

"I do," she said. "You're angels, and not in the fluffy sense people like to imagine."

Crowley opened his mouth, shut it again, and then sighed.

"Fluff never had anything to do with it, believe me. If you'd met the others—"

"No kidding. Those two at the wedding? Mum was afraid of them, but I felt safe."

"As safe as you feel with your husband, no doubt," said Aziraphale, carefully.

Sophia gave him a wry smile as knowing, innocent, and old as Earth itself.

"He's got a lot of explaining to do. Don't worry; I've got his car."

"Which you won't be driving back," said Crowley. "Not in this state."

"I'm not drunk, thanks very much," said Sophia, over-enunciating.

"No, but you're under the influence of a mild narcotic," replied Aziraphale. "Or an opiate, or heaven knows what. Dreadful stuff, of course. They didn't regulate what was put in drinks back then, and I'm afraid Crowley's reproduced this to a fault."

"Not with the blender," Sophia insisted. "I saw everything go in."

"Not with the blender," agreed Crowley, wearily, taking a sip. "When I fixed it."

Sophia blinked at him in stupid fascination and mimed snapping her fingers.

"Just like that? You transformed it without even knowing what went in?"

"He transforms inferior wine all the bloody time," Crowley said.

"Why shouldn't I?" asked Aziraphale, defensively. "No harm, no foul. Er."

Sophia was studying them both with the same intent consideration that Adam could summon even in a casual glance. Crowley wondered what the label pasted to the back of his skull said when she looked at it; was it slightly blurry, he wondered, like the distant letters on the wall that young Robert's optician would make him try to read?

"But you're so human," she whispered. "You fell in love."

Before either one of them could respond, Crowley's mobile, which was on the coffee table, rang. Aziraphale picked it up before Crowley could even react, apologizing as he answered it. Pippa, from the sound of things, judging by that greeting—

Aziraphale's expression withered, unlike anything Crowley had ever seen.

"Oh," murmured Sophia, in prescient warning. "Oh no."

"We'll be there straightaway," said Aziraphale, and hung up.

Crowley tugged Sophia to her feet, nudging her urgently toward the door.

"The Bentley," he said, reaching to catch Aziraphale's hand. "Now. I'll drive."




* * *




Even at Crowley's habitual breakneck speed, they didn't beat the ambulance.

Pippa hovered on the porch as medics passed her with the stretcher, oddly stoic.

It wasn't till she saw the Bentley roar into park along the road that her expression began to crumble, till she saw Crowley racing across the lawn ahead of Aziraphale, who had the unenviable task of keeping Sophia on her feet. The girl stumbled as they walked arm-in-arm, almost dragging them both down in the muddy grass.

"Sorry," she murmured, pulling free of Aziraphale's grasp. "God, what was in..."

Aziraphale left her swaying with one hand on the bird-bath and continued to the porch, where Crowley already had Pippa folded so tightly in his arms that Aziraphale wondered if either of them could breathe. He touched Crowley's shoulder.

"What happened?" he asked. Bewildered panic hovered beneath his sense of calm.

Crowley tucked Pippa's head under his chin, gathered her shaking form even closer.

"Heart attack," he said, eyes fixed unblinking on the front door. "Stroke. Hard to say."

Aziraphale stroked Pippa's hair; her sobs were muffled in Crowley's jacket.

"Go get her," Crowley snapped, his eyes darting to Sophia. "What's wrong with you?"

"I'm okay," said Sophia, hovering nearby, unsteady in her muddy shoes. "I'm here."

"Up you get," Aziraphale helping her step onto the porch. She didn't let go of him this time, her eyes wavering between Crowley's pale, pinched features and the medic emerging to hold the door open for his colleagues as they bore Harold outside.

"Who're you?" asked the medic, closing the door. "We can't take you all."

"The neighbors," said Crowley, indicating Aziraphale with a nod. "Next cottage up."

"You too?" the medic asked Sophia. "Daughter? Granddaughter?"

"Friend of the family," said Sophia, helplessly. "I'm just visiting—"

"There's no time for that," said the medic, taking Pippa's shoulder. "Come along."

Pippa disentangled herself from Crowley, dabbing her eyes on her sleeve.

"I'll ride with these gentlemen here, if it's all the same to you. Get a move on!"

"Yes, ma'am," said the medic, and dashed hurriedly away.

Twenty-five minutes later, once Harold had been stabilized and the team on-site had found all of the initial paperwork miraculously completed, a young Indian woman in a lavender lab-coat met the four of them in a secluded waiting-room at Saint Richard's Hospital. Aziraphale, Crowley, and Sophia hadn't been told to leave, as no one since the young medic had attempted to cross Pippa. Nobody had dared to try.

"Mrs. Morrison," said the woman, gently, extending a hand to Pippa. "My name is Doctor Rathod, but you can call me Aishwarya—actually, just Asha if that's easier."

Pippa blew her nose on Aziraphale's handkerchief and let go of Crowley's hand, to which she'd been clinging on the arm-rest of her chair ever since they'd been shown into the waiting room. Sophia, much improved, had run to the vending machine and got them all tea. She sat across the aisle from the rest of them, nursing her cup.

"Philippa," she said, shaking Asha's hand. "But you can call me Pippa."

"I'll be taking care of Harold," Asha said. "This is not an easy thing to tell you, but your husband has suffered a major stroke. He is unconscious and in critical condition, but stable for now. We are doing everything we can to make him comfortable, Pippa, and we are considering the possibility of surgery to alleviate the pressure caused by hemorrhage in his brain. Do you understand, or would you like me to clarify further?"

Aziraphale stared at his hands, not quite able to meet Crowley's gaze across the space between them, which was occupied by Pippa. It was a terrible prognosis: coma on the heels of a stroke. Asha had essentially asked Pippa if she understood that her husband was dying and that there was very little they would be able to do to save him.

"No, that won't be necessary," said Pippa. "I understand. It's how my mother passed."

Asha crouched in front of Pippa and took hold of her free hand.

"I can't imagine how difficult it must be for you to hear this again. I meant every word about the surgery; we will leave no option unconsidered. If surgery is possible and he survives, he may never speak again. There will be significant paralysis. If we can't perform surgery, he may last forty-eight hours, or he could last a week."

Pippa nodded, closing her eyes. "Three days we waited on Mum," she said.

"You can stay if you like," said Asha, "but I strongly suggest that you return home and get some rest. We'll call you when we have further answers, and I'm so, so sorry."

"Goodness, it's not your fault," Pippa said, welling up as she patted Asha's hand.

"If you'd like to stay, my dear, I'll stay with you," said Aziraphale. "Crowley's got to get poor Sophia back to Cambridge; Adam will be wondering where she's got off to."

"I went to Cambridge," said Asha, turning to Sophia. "Give it my best."

"She's a bright girl," said Pippa. "A good girl, and a very great friend."

Crowley rose, releasing Pippa's hand. "You've got my number. If you need anything, call. I'll have the phone on—angel, don't worry, Sophia can answer if I'm driving."

Aziraphale stood and grasped Crowley's lapel, kissing him on the cheek in spite of Asha's vaguely surprised expression and Sophia's failed attempt to look away.

"Be careful," he said. "Mind the speed limits."

"I'm always careful with her," Crowley said, offering Sophia his arm. "Let's go."

And then Aziraphale and Pippa were alone, each staring into a cup of lukewarm tea.

"This isn't how I imagined it would be," Pippa said. "Sit back down, love."

"I should think not," sighed Aziraphale, and sat. "Things rarely turn out as we expect."

Pippa nodded. "You'd know that better than most, I don't doubt."

"How do you suppose?" Aziraphale asked, surreptitiously heating both cups of tea.

"You found love later on in life, so you never know how much time you've got. It's all well and good you've exchanged rings, but it's times like this that I'd fear for you."

If only you knew how little you need worry, thought Aziraphale. "Why?"

"If you end up in hospital," said Pippa, pressing the handkerchief to her lips, "they could bar him from seeing you. Not as likely these days, but if the paperwork's not all signed and sealed, they could. Do you mean to tell me you've never had a scare?"

"There was once," Aziraphale told her, before he quite realized what he was saying. "We went to Tokyo eleven years ago. This was before—well, not long before we became—before we moved out here," he continued, mindful of Crowley's preference for privacy even in his absence. "There was a very famous sushi restaurant with an even more famous chef. Foolishly, I decided to try fugu—pufferfish, that is."

"The one that's poisonous if they don't do it right," said Pippa, darkly.

"Yes, the one that's poisonous if they don't do it right," Aziraphale sighed.

"Close call? I mean, the chef had to've done it right. You wouldn't be here otherwise."

"I choked on it," he continued. "Crowley caught on to what was happening—" miracled the poison from my bloodstream, he thought, just before it could shut down anything important "—and, well, thank goodness for the Heimlich maneuver, I always say."

"I suppose you must worry about him, too," Pippa said, "what with the way he drives."

It was the tone of her voice, perhaps, the fragile emptiness that only genuine loss could impart to a statement that, for Aziraphale, would otherwise have gone in one ear and out the other, if not for the memory of a certain windswept morning several months before, by sword and scythe and arrow-point, how close they'd really come—

I'd have been discorporated if Crowley hadn't been faster than the poison. If he's ever in a collision and I'm not there to stop it, too far gone to repair the damage himself...

Aziraphale had never had a particularly difficult time obtaining a new body. These days, he didn't doubt Gabriel would require a significant amount of bullying if it came to it, but having two out of four Archangels on one's side did rather bode well—

But Crowley, set adrift by his former employer, no longer had any such recourse.

If he were to be discorporated—if, heaven forbid—

"Fuck," Aziraphale whispered, every other thought pushed from his mind.

"I'm sorry," said Pippa, in tears again. "I didn't mean..."

She'd burrowed against Aziraphale's shoulder, sobbing, before Aziraphale could collect himself. "My dear, I need your mobile," he said shakily. "We ought to call Nicola."




* * *




Crowley was sitting at Anathema's dining-room table, drinking some tea that was much better than what he'd got at the hospital. Sophia had instructed him to drive her to her parents' house instead of to the flat in Cambridge, as she suspected she'd find Adam there anyway. Newt had invited him to informally crash-test some software.

"How'd it drive?" asked Adam, joining Crowley and Sophia at the table.

"It makes less noise than I'm used to," Crowley admitted, studying his mug.

"It's not half bad," Adam said. "Want me to drive you home? Rough day, sounds like."

"Yes," Crowley agreed. "And that's not necessary. I can just as easily fly."

Adam gave him a curious look, and then turned to Sophia.

"Yep," she said, blowing on her tea. "Shit just got real."

"I guess that means you've got a lot of questions," said Adam, pensively.

"Yeah, but they can wait till later," she replied. "I'll steal the note-cards."

"Borrow them, you mean," said Anathema, wandering in from the kitchen with a bowl of kettle corn. She set it down in the middle of the table and sat down beside Crowley, leaning over to look at him more closely. "You're not really ready for this, are you?"

Crowley shook his head. "That's not the problem. Not by far."

"Aziraphale's not ready, then. He knows intellectually, I'm sure, that we're all going to die on you. He hasn't let it sink in, though. Not the way you have. Is that right?"

"And then some," said Crowley. He looked at Adam, but the young man's face was impassive, as difficult to read as Aziraphale at his most closed-off. Will you die on us, I wonder? I still don't know just how much you've kept and just how much you've sworn off. You've let half of Heaven's SWAT team get cosy with humans. What next?

I'll figure that out when the time comes, Adam sent back tetchily.

I beg your pardon, Crowley replied. What?

Sophia was trying hard to pretend she hadn't heard, but she looked frightened.

Anathema set her chin in her palm. "Crowley, what can I do?"

"Stand by," he said, rising, loath to leave his tea unfinished.

You didn't think I knew enough to decide all the rules for myself in a neat little row, did you, which ones I'd hang onto and which ones I wouldn't? Adam asked. I was eleven. I knew I could do anything I wanted, but in the broadest sense possible. I knew that no more messing about sounded like a great idea, and I knew enough to put things back the way they were, with interest. Should I have left off the interest? Should I have forbidden collateral, the good and the bad? What do you think?

Crowley blinked at him. So you don't know if you're going to die?

Not exactly, Adam said. It's just that I haven't decided.

We're not finished here, Crowley thought, buttoning his jacket. "Anathema, Sophia, thanks ever so much. As always, it's been a pleasure. You," he said, pointing at Adam, "keep your nose clean, and don't break anything your father-in-law can't fix."

He disappeared before any of them could respond; the last thing he saw was Sophia's wide eyes, her lips parted in eloquent dismay. He hated this part. Reassembly still gave him the creeps no matter how many times he'd done it or would yet do.

Aziraphale was sitting at the kitchen table with his crossword and a cappuccino. He looked up, and Crowley had never seen such unabashed relief in...well, ever, and he'd seen more humans with cause to wear that expression than he'd have cared to recall.

"I was wondering when you'd return," said the angel, standing in such a rush that he spilled half the cappuccino across his copy of The Telegraph. He vanished the spill with an irritated huff, reflexively reaching for Crowley. "I couldn't help—"

"Pippa," Crowley said, holding him at arms' length. "Why aren't you with her?"

"Nicola and Trevor came as soon as they could," Aziraphale said. "I rang them."

"What about Rob?" asked Crowley. Did the boy know his grandfather was dying?

"He's with Trevor's parents," Aziraphale reassured him. "Crowley, you look..."

"Awful, yeah," Crowley said, sagging into Aziraphale's embrace. "We've got to talk."

Aziraphale stiffened against him, but relaxed again just as quickly.

"It can wait, my dear, surely," he said. "You're wrecked."

Crowley turned his head, perfectly willing to lose himself in Aziraphale's kiss. Besides, he hadn't quite found a way of framing the information he'd got his hands on: Oh, yeah, by the way, the former Antichrist hasn't quite thought things out as clearly as we would have liked. D'you suppose this will pose a problem? It wouldn't do to spring that on Aziraphale, not after the shock of what had happened earlier that evening.

Bed seemed as logical a place to take this as any. It very rarely hurt, at least.

"Slow down," Crowley muttered several minutes later, halfway out of his clothes and already pinned to the mattress. Letting Aziraphale have his way usually wasn't anything to complain about; as Crowley understood this in human terms, the angel was what most of them would call thorough to a fault. He nuzzled and then bit Aziraphale's lower lip, working both hands down the back of Aziraphale's trousers.

"Terribly sorry," Aziraphale sighed, his breath hitching as Crowley's fingertips skated down the backs of his thighs. When their trousers and underthings vanished, all pairs present, it wasn't really worth asking who'd done it. "It's just that I've missed..."

"I was gone for all of three hours," Crowley said, distracted by the fact that Aziraphale had got at his hips and his lower back and was slowly, teasingly kneading his way down to Crowley's arse. "This isn't going to work, angel. You've got my arms trapped."

"Then lie back," Aziraphale murmured, running one knuckle deftly down the cleft, "and leave me to it." Crowley shivered at the sudden slickness. One finger, two...

Aziraphale left it at that, knew exactly where to press. He worked a thigh in between Crowley's as they twisted and gasped, never wavering, his pacing clever and careful. Crowley came first, clenching with it: pleasure like a knife slipped in where you'd least expect. He flipped Aziraphale over, finished him off with fervent mouth and hands.

Afterward, Aziraphale arranged them front to front and drowsily draped one leg over Crowley's hip. He traced the length of Crowley's spine and asked what was the matter.

"Nothing," lied Crowley, snuggling closer with a yawn. "Pippa and all. 'M tired."

"Yes," sighed Aziraphale, sounding genuinely exhausted. "Yes, quite."

Whatever the matters were, they'd both do well to sleep on them.




* * *




Aziraphale woke up at eight-thirty in the morning to the sound of Crowley's mobile vibrating its way off the bedside table. He caught it just in time, fumbling the ancient flip-phone open. He'd have a word or two with Crowley about an upgrade.

"Mmm, yes? Hallo?"

"I didn't mean to wake you," said Pippa, her words slow, tone hollow.

"Don't even think it," Aziraphale said, sitting straight up in bed. Crowley had rolled away from him sometime in the night to curl toward the door, one hand fisted fretfully in his pillowcase. "How are you holding up? Has there been any news?"

"They can't operate," she said. "Trevor's father's bringing Rob this afternoon."

"Oh, my dear," said Aziraphale, his throat constricting. "Is there anything I can do?"

Crowley took hold of Aziraphale's upper arm, startling him.

"I'll go over," he said, rolling out of bed. "Ask her if they need food."

Aziraphale felt a wash of relief. "Would you like breakfast? Is it the three of you?"

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble," said Pippa, her voice so taut it hurt to listen.

"Are you at the house, or have you gone back to the hospital?"

"On our way back there now," she said. "Trevor's driving."

"Three, got it," Crowley said, fully dressed, holding out his hand. "I'll need that."

Aziraphale sighed. "I'm sending Crowley," he said. "I'll follow soon."

Pippa hung up with a whispered thank you, saving him the trouble.

Crowley snapped the phone shut and stuck it in his back pocket, leaning to kiss Aziraphale on the mouth. "You got the worst of it yesterday," he explained hastily, donning his sunglasses. "The least I can do is give you a breather."

"I have some things to do online," Aziraphale said. "I won't be long. A few hours."

"Funny, that's exactly what I owe you," said Crowley, kissed him again, and left.

If Aziraphale had learned anything from Crowley's weekly Skype sessions with Uriel, it was the sheer, brilliant utility of a web-camera over more traditional means of conference-call. It certainly beat getting a crick in one's neck and eye fatigue from staring so long into glowing, nebulous blue. Aziraphale turned on the computer, went to make tea and toast, and returned with his hands full. He fired off a brief e-mail, mindful not to get crumbs or marmelade down the keyboard, and booted up Skype.

Twelve minutes later, Uriel's number rang through. He answered it.

"You're lucky I've got a BlackBerry," Raphael said, yawning. In the grainy camera feed, his hair was a wild, mussed halo glinting fiery by desk-lamp light, much longer than it had been at the wedding. "And that I had the sound turned on. What's up?"

"Is Uriel there?" Aziraphale peered at the edges of the feed. "I need to be certain—"

"If she's the one you wanted to talk to, darling, you should've asked. She's out."

"Good," said Aziraphale. "I'd rather she didn't hear what I'm about to ask."

Raphael tapped his nose and winked. "I see. We don't want demon-dear to know."

Aziraphale took a sip of his tea before continuing, and the Archangel made a face.

"You always did have a flair for the dramatic," he said. "Or was that dithering?"

"What do you know about Gabriel's current stance on discorporation?"

"Tricky," Raphael said, scratching his temple. "It hasn't been an issue in the last few thousand years, so I haven't made any up-to-date inquiries. Which goes against procedure every which way, I know, so please don't point that out."

"Wasn't about to," Aziraphale admitted. "My situation's been similar. Neither have I."

"Before you go asking if Uriel knows anything, she's never needed a replacement."

"Fortunate," said Aziraphale, "but unhelpful. Theoretically, what would you guess?"

"My feeling," Raphael confided, "is that Gabriel's been so tight since Himself stopped handing down orders that any one of us would be lucky as to get so much as a toenail out of him. What would be the use in a replacement body if he feels we are, essentially, currently useless? Discorporation? Bam, instant recall. Either that or being doomed to hopping from channel to channel, host to host. Neither one is a thought I relish, as you can imagine, so I keep clear of bullets and reckless drivers."

"Those are easy enough to deflect if one is vigilant," said Aziraphale, uncomfortably.

"Yes, but I have the feeling your theoretical denotes a circumstance in which one has not been. You tend not to worry about yourself overmuch, do you? Perhaps you ought to, given that little incident twenty-odd years ago. Would the boy be as quick to help, I wonder, now he's settled down with a pretty, charming, thoroughly mortal wife?"

"It's Crowley," said Aziraphale. "If anything were to happen when I'm not to hand..."

"Perhaps that woman would help you out again," Raphael said. "Shadwell's tart."

"Would you please just be serious, even for a moment?"

Raphael rubbed his eyes. "Az, I'm always serious. I don't like the thought one bit."

"Then, short of sharing him with some recalcitrant human—which, by the way, was not at all pleasant, I can assure you, having once been stuck in that particular bind—what would you suggest in such a circumstance, however improbable?"

"How can you be sure Hell wouldn't pull him straight down? Do they attach some kind of reel-back mechanism? Not keen on releasing souls once they've got them, you know, not either side. There's the real value of a human body. Autonomy."

Aziraphale's mind spun. On top of it all, Harold would surely pass before night fell.

"Listen," Raphael continued. "If you're that concerned, go to the boy. Raise the issue."

"Lose him," said Aziraphale, disbelieving. "To think that I even could..."

"Hey, there you are," said a familiar voice offscreen. "Waited up for me, huh?"

Raphael fixed Aziraphale with a determined look, reaching to switch off his web-cam.

"I've got to go, darling," he said. "Do what I say for once, would you? Good luck."




* * *




Somber breakfast in the waiting-room had given way to a brief visit to Harold's bedside, from which Crowley had tactfully hung back, lingering in the doorway. There had been tubes and monitors everywhere, and if not for the name on the clipboard at the foot of the bed, Crowley would scarcely have recognized the man had he not been party to the proceedings from ground zero. Harold's skin had taken on a waxy, unnatural cast. His dry, motionless lips were cracked, looked almost purple.

The worst part of it by far was Pippa, who clung silently to her husband's stiff hand while Nicola bent over her father's pillow and stroked his sparse hair, her constant, frantically murmured words an ineffectual litany against hopelessness.

Crowley had turned away and gone back to sit down with Trevor, whose dark eyes and even darker skin, when coupled with his somber, melancholy air, had given him the impression of a living shadow. He'd offered Crowley a cigarette, which Crowley had accepted with murmured thanks and put in his pocket for later. He'd need it.

The four of them had gone to lunch in the hospital cafeteria, during which time Crowley had endured a number of fascinated questions from Nicola with regard to Aziraphale's erstwhile bookshop and how they were finding life in Sussex.

Robert's paternal grandfather, a stern, wise-looking seventy year-old islander—from Haiti, Crowley thought, or perhaps Jamaica—had brought the boy up to the waiting-room shortly after they'd returned from lunch. He'd chattered happily to Crowley about the fact he hadn't needed glasses after all, but that it didn't mean he couldn't have contacts someday. Trevor's father had joined his son, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law at Harold's bedside. They'd taken Rob in shortly after, but he hadn't stayed for very long. He'd run back to Crowley with a tear-streaked face.

"Pap won't come back once the doctors take him away," the boy had sobbed.

Crowley had scooped Rob up and rocked him, at a loss for words.

"Sometimes people don't when they're old or sick," he'd said. "That's the way of it."

"Will Gran go away?" Rob had hiccuped against Crowley's shoulder.

"One day," Crowley had said, cursing Above, Below, and Everything. "But not soon."

"Will you go away?" the boy had asked.

"No," Crowley had said, and hated himself for it.

Now, outside and alone, he'd never needed the blessed cigarette more. He'd only managed to smoke around a third of it when his mobile rang; he fumbled it out of his pocket and almost dropped the cigarette in the process of flipping it open.

"Bloody thing. Angel, I swear I'll get one of those smart-phones soon, just you wait—"

"Crowley?" Uriel asked uncertainly. "What's going on?"

"Oh, what's not," Crowley moaned, taking a deep drag on what was left of his hard-earned prize. "Harold's dying. D'you remember Pippa's husband? Maybe you don't. Anyway, he suffered a major stroke last night, and we were first on the scene. Sophia was there. It's kind of a disaster; she knows...Uriel, she knows."

"All in one day," she said. "Gosh. That's a lot. Are you okay?"

"I'm at the hospital," Crowley replied. "Outside it, rather. Just having a smoke."

"I would ask you why Aziraphale's not there, but I already know he's not."

Crowley took a final puff and pinched the stub out between thumb and forefinger.

"Why do you say that?" he asked, ignoring an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"I came home to Raphael wrapping up a little Skype session with him."

"Is that unusual? Aziraphale's pretty tech-savvy, don't let him fool you."

"It's unusual when Raphael won't tell me shit about the conversation."

"He's not taking it very well," Crowley told her. "That could be the reason."

"What, Raphael's not? Don't make me laugh. He didn't even talk to Harold."

"No, I meant Aziraphale. There's that whole emotional intelligence issue, and..."

"And it's something more serious than that. Before I got to the back room, I caught a few choice words like Gabriel and autonomy and do what I say for once, would you?"

"Damn it," Crowley hissed. "Why!"

"I don't know," said Uriel, helplessly. "That's why I called you. I wanted to know if Aziraphale's been acting strangely, but I guess the answer there is, yeah, sure, he's only losing his mind over the notion that all of his human friends are going to die."

"We're not particularly close to Harold," Crowley admitted.

"It's Pippa," Uriel said. "And it hits close to home."

"And it's the rest of them," Crowley said. "Anathema. Newt. Shadwell and Tracy."

"Mandy and Sophia," said Uriel, not missing a beat. "But what about Adam?"

"That," Crowley said, "is an interesting question, and I'd like to hear your thoughts."

He described the unspoken exchange he'd had with Adam the evening before, as well as the conversation he'd had with the boy some two and a half years ago in a Cambridge Caffè Nero. Which had also been the first time he'd met Sophia.

"I really hate to say this," said Uriel, at length, "but that is ineffability for you."

"I hate you," Crowley said. "Not in general terms, of course, and no offense meant, but in this one painfully specific instance? Without hesitation or reservations, I do."

"None taken," Uriel sighed. "If it's that big a problem, do what you did last time."

Crowley dropped the cigarette stub and stamped on it. "Which is?"

"Go to the boy. You just told me you told him that the conversation wasn't over."

"Yeah, and I also very likely got myself on his black-list by mouthing off."

"That's your real weak spot, sweetie," said Uriel, almost sadly.

"What? Are you serious? What is?"

"Getting in the last fucking word."

Crowley opened his mouth, shut it again, and hung up.

As per usual, she was right, and he was done playing silly buggers.

And, judging by who was headed across the parking lot towards him at that very minute, he wouldn't have to go far in order to set the proverbial ball rolling, either.



* * *




Aziraphale stuck his hands in his coat pockets, glancing sidelong at Adam. Crowley met them halfway, having pushed off the brick wall and broken into a hurried walk the moment he spotted them. He smelled like smoke and someone else's tears.

"Moral support, is it?" Crowley asked, looking Adam up and down.

"Aziraphale came to find me," Adam clarified, "but we needed to come here."

"Harold won't last much longer," said Aziraphale. "And there's something—"

"You bet there's something," said Crowley, pointing a finger at Adam. "If our favorite godchild doesn't make a few important decisions, who knows what trouble we'll be in."

Adam pursed his lips, and Aziraphale blinked at him in undisguised horror.

"Do you mean you've...realized, I mean...has it crossed your mind, too?"

It was Crowley's turn to blink at Aziraphale.

"I have no idea what you're talking about, unless we're talking about the same thing."

Adam held out a hand to silence them, chopping the air curtly.

"One at a time," he said, and extended his open palm to Aziraphale.

"I'm talking about you," said Aziraphale, miserably. "Have you given any thought to what might happen if you were to get discorporated at this point in time, as unlikely as that may sound? Please don't look at me like that, my dear. Think about it," he said desperately. "Insofar as we know, you've been cut off. No more...no more bloody-minded stationery department, wasn't that how you once put it?"

"Oh," Crowley said, "my God."

Aziraphale reached for him as he staggered forward, caught him just in time.

"Was that what you meant? And do you have any idea? I spoke with Raphael, but—"

"Neither did Uriel, to be fair," said Crowley, leaning hard into Aziraphale. "Nobody knows anything. It doesn't matter what I was talking about, because it's really all the same thing. Our humans are going to die, and you're going to have to accept that, but what about him? If he eventually chooses to go, what about the rest of us?"

They both turned their heads to stare at Adam, still clinging to one another.

Adam breathed in through his nostrils and stepped back from them, shifting his stance. He held his hand out in front of him as he'd done once before, and Aziraphale swore he could hear the same low, faint, ominous hum that had surrounded them twenty-three years ago to the day. Death on the anniversary of rebirth.

"I reckon you've got a choice to make, too," said Adam. "Just like I have."

"Terms," Crowley said, steadying himself, but he didn't let go. "Yours first."

"I'll go," he said. "I'll go when she goes, if she goes first, or not very long after. I'm not really interested in hanging about if she's not here to share it with. Is that fair?"

"Abundantly," said Crowley, indicating that Adam should continue. "And?"

"And everything I've said will hold," said Adam, gravely. "No more messing about."

"You were curiously unspecific about that at the time," Crowley continued, and it was all Aziraphale could do to hold his breath. "Since then, a couple of pretty fascinating things have happened, both of which we could've done without. Well, wait, no—one of them's pretty all right, but it's got worrying ramifications, and as for the other—"

"What happened?" asked Adam, his brow furrowing. "Aside from you getting fired?"

"Laid off," Crowley corrected him. "The other thing happened the morning after your wedding. Michael turned up on the beach with an eye to...hmmm, what's the expression they're so fond of in gangster films? Sending me to sleep with the fishes."

"Uriel and Raphael took care of it," said Adam. "We agreed that's what they were for."

"For safeguarding the humans, yes," interjected Aziraphale, "but—"

"I wasn't talking about humans when I said security detail. I was talking about you."

"Raphael doesn't put much stock in Gabriel's ability as an organizer, and neither do I."

"Organizer?" echoed Crowley. "Is that what they're calling it these days?"

"You may have a point," said Adam, turning his hand a fraction. "As above, so below. Two up there and two down here, that's fair. No moving back and forth, and no swaps, either. That way they can get on with their job and not worry so much."

"Which ones?" asked Crowley, stupefied.

"The ones upstairs, doing what they do, and the ones down here, doing what they do."

"Gabriel and Michael mostly run things with iron, er, fists," Aziraphale muttered.

"Right, so they can go on doing that, but only up there," said Adam, reasonably.

"And the other two?" asked Crowley. "What is their job, exactly?"

"Looking after you two, of course," said Adam, turning his hand another fraction. "Somebody's got to do it if I'm not always going to be here to be doing it, which actually brings me to my next question. How long do you want to stay?"

"I beg your pardon?" asked Aziraphale. "Is this some kind of joke?"

"I don't think so," Crowley said. "When have you ever known him to joke?"

"Hell's out of your hair," Adam told Crowley. "They really are. Can't be bothered."

"None of them?" said Crowley. "Are you sure? Not even—"

"Not even those two," Adam said. "They got awfully interested in each other."

"If you mean more than before, you can stop right there," said Crowley, shuddering.

"As I was saying," Adam repeated, "you've got a choice, and we haven't got all day. Your friend is dying, and his wife needs you there. D'you see? All's fair in love and war, or at least everything will be as soon as you give me an answer."

Aziraphale and Crowley looked at each other for one long, considering moment.

They'll all die, Crowley repeated. Can you bear it?

I know they will, my dear, Aziraphale answered. Can you?

I can bear anything as long as you're beside me, angel. Hadn't you guessed?

Aziraphale felt an endless weight lift, and Crowley was smiling—really smiling.

"We'll stay," he said. "Someone's got to look out for them, the ones we love—"

"—and the ones we will love," Crowley cut in. "Rob's not bad. There's hope for him."

And Sophia's son, Aziraphale reminded him. Someday.

"Right," said Adam, turning his hand in a tight circle.

Not to erase this time, Aziraphale realized, but to seal. Something shook the ground just beneath them; Crowley stumbled, and they clung together for dear life. It didn't last more than a few seconds. Everything settled again, much the same as before.

"Now, what did that do, exactly?" Crowley asked.

"Your favorite," said Adam, grinning from ear to ear. "Miraculous escapes for everybody, and I do mean everybody. You know, should you ever need 'em."

"Yes, oh," said Aziraphale, holding Crowley close. "Yes, I do know."

"Perfect," Adam said, dusting his hands off. "At least till next time. I've got to get out of here; Soph's sick as a dog. We went out with some of her friends last night, even after I told her that wasn't the best idea after what she had at your place."

"What, are you nuts?" Crowley asked. "She's just handed in. Celebration's in order."

"Don't I know it," said Adam, strolling away. "I've made up my mind. Feels great!"

"I should hope," said Aziraphale, glancing upward. "Which window? We'd better go."

"You do realize he looks awful," Crowley said, "and that Pippa's even worse?"

"As you said," Aziraphale replied, "there's nothing for it, but as long as I'm here...?"

"As long as we're here," Crowley corrected him. "Don't forget it."

"Perhaps we'd better take the stairs," said Aziraphale, opening the door. "After you."

Eyes set resolutely forward, Crowley reached back and took his hand.


—Extra: Penance
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: mazaher
2012-09-09 07:51 am (UTC)

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What did I say about me trusting you? I was right! =)
This is the most serious stuff, and therefore the only way to deal with it is looking at reality straight in the face with a smile.
I love the grace and good sense (which is not at all "common") with which Adam shoulders the heaviest burden. He seems never to have reached the stage when people begin to consider themselves belonging to the guild of the "adults", i.e. "people who have nothing left to learn".
At this point, Crowley may consider trying himself what passes for the oldest written recipe in history, jotted in cuneiform by Nabucodonosor's head cook: equal measures of melted butter, flour, honey and chopped dates + crushed almonds + raisins + pine nuts, baked at low temperature until golden-brown and toothpick-dry. Goes well with passito, or whatever they called it then. I'm sure he remembers the offers and libations on top of Etemenanki, when the sweets and goblets were passed around.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:10 am (UTC)

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And to Ninkasi, goddess of alcohol! I've half a mind to try that recipe myself, even though most of my attempts at cooking are appalling no matter how hard I try (the only things I can do competently are pasta sauces from scratch, as well as pasta itself).

I'm glad your trust in me wasn't misplaced, then *hugs* Thank you, Silvia.
[User Picture]From: titc
2012-09-09 08:39 am (UTC)

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♥ so, so much!
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:07 am (UTC)

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And thank you so much for reading! *hugs*
[User Picture]From: enchantersnight
2012-09-09 10:16 am (UTC)

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So glad hubby has gone shopping and is not here to see me crying my eyes out and giggling at the same time.

Love Crowley and the alcohol recipe, poor Sophia (and poor Adam!)
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:08 am (UTC)

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...that's rather an astonishing mental image, actually. I hope you're all right! *hugs*

As ever, thank you so much.
[User Picture]From: peach_megumi
2012-09-09 12:54 pm (UTC)

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Oh my. This was so stunningly painful. Reading most of it sat like a tense knot in my chest. Poor Pippa, and poor Aziraphale and Crowley, and poor Sophia and Adam... All of the tension and worry and despair in this story were so poignant, but parts of it are so very sweet as well. I ending made me smile in a strange way (and the beginning was absolutely adorable - once again, I adore Sophia and the way she and Crowley interact). Sophia, Adam and Anathema are likely in for some very interesting conversations in the near future. And Pippa is going to need such support.

It all just strikes so very true, and is so very wonderful.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:13 am (UTC)

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I'm not looking forward to handling Pippa's grief, but that's the cost of this story (amongst other things). And, yes, the Device-Pulsifer household is going to have a number of days of upheaval, and I do wonder how much the twins will manage to worm their way into the conversations, or if it'll be kept from them. More to figure out before I proceed, as always!

Thank you very much *hugs*
[User Picture]From: threequarters
2012-09-09 01:04 pm (UTC)

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Okay, I need to read this at least 3 or 4 more times before I have something insightful and coherent to say about it (instead of just flailing about going "YES! THIS! EXACTLY!"). But I did want to say that this covered everything I've been kicking about in my head the last few days. Not only the the thoughts about Aziraphale's emotional intelligence, but also the discorporation issue (being buried in What to Do When the Clock Just Stops had me really thinking about the ramifications of Crowley's change in employment status).

I was reading through your tumblr the other day and read through the whole bit about angst and happiness. I think this 'verse rings so true because it's such a perfect blend of both. Obviously in life and relationships there's no such thing as Happily Ever After. There's going to be good and bad and it's all about how you cope, how you approach and deal with situations. So even if, as is the case here, we have an author who we trust to ultimately keep things on the happy side, to ring true there's got to be some bad with the good. You handle it so masterfully that it doesn't ring as sad or tragic, but bittersweet and real.

And once again here you have Crowley being the one to emphatically take the side of humans. He knows how much heartbreak is in store, but he never hesitates when he's given the choice about being there for it (which is never more artfully phrased than what Aziraphale says in Beach Botanist's Survival Guide about him willing to endure the heartbreak for one moment of beauty).

I also really dug the development of Aziraphale here. While recording What to Do When the Clock Just Stops, I've really been thinking heavily on him (truth be told, it's always been the most difficult in the series for me to read. It holds some seemingly innocuous but rather painful parallels to my life and I've spent much of the last several years in a very similar place to Aziraphale in that story). He has a tendency to spend so much time worrying about Crowley that sometimes emotions blindside him (oooh, I know this feeling all to well). Last night when I was recording I came across the scene in the kitchen with them and Anathema. When she's upset that they've left London and he thinks that line "does the who really matter?" I wanted to grab and shake him. But he's getting there. And because of it the dynamic between him and Crowley is settling down and balancing out.

Also - I just really love Crowley's interactions with Sophia. And I've really been craving to see more Raphael and Uriel post confrontation on the beach. Because you know there was fallout in their lives based on the decisions they made. It was good to catch a glimpse of it since Uriel's and Crowley's interactions in Modest, Yet Refined are pretty close to the surface. Plus out of the four of them I think Raphael and Aziraphale are the ones with the most realistic view of the cosmic consequences of their actions (I think Uriel and Crowley tend to be more emotional and less practical (I think part of them clings desperately, no matter how impractical they logically know it to be, to the idealistic belief that everything will work out in the end), whereas Raphael and Aziraphale are a little shrewder and more practical).

And my parentheses have gotten away from me again so it's best to stop. Jeez, and to think I thought this was going to be insufficient, three line feedback...
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:20 am (UTC)

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This is part of why people who crave stories that hit you with a gratuitous angst sledgehammer puzzle me: the angst in stories that hits me hardest is the angst that's so realistic it's palpable, so that's what I try for (i.e. a balance, just like you get in real life, or as close to it as I can manage given that this is effectively an urban fantasy/speculative-tinged universe, as is the source material). I'm very pleased that this piece helped to resolve some questions for you; to be dead honest, the risk-of-Crowley-or-either-one-of-them-really-getting-discorporated issue didn't land on me until the day I made that oh shit what the fuck I've got to deal with this post I made on Tumblr (the one that made you call me a shameless tease, which...yes, I admit it must've had that effect even though it was me writing out a fit of emotion that I had trouble keeping a lid on). I tried to get this story written as quickly as I could; making myself wait to process and sort the issue would've been just as bad as making everyone else wait.

Fallout for Uriel and Raphael is certainly something I'll be dealing with in upcoming installments, as well as Pippa's grief and Sophia's new scope of knowledge. As for your parentheses running away with you, oh, I hope they never stop! Your feedback is a rare and wonderful thing; comments that read more like mini-analysis are how I gauge if things are working. I'm a literary critic myself, but it can be tricky to turn that critical eye on one's own work. As long as I've got a few eyes like yours, I feel like I've got a safety net of here's what works; here's what doesn't in place, because you guys can look at the prose with a set of eyes unclouded by the construction process.

Thank you so very much *hugs*
[User Picture]From: hekateras
2012-09-09 01:17 pm (UTC)

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I was wondering when they'd get to the 'what happens if we die now that we're not on good terms with our superiors?' bit, but it makes sense that it took them so long, since it's just one of those constants they've been taking for granted for six thousand years. Having Adam take care of it in advance by providing 'miraculous escapes' is at once a neat solution to it that falls within the realms of what seems to be within supernatural ability in the book, and doesn't seem cheap despite it similarity to how the book's conflict was already resolved. Kudos.

Oh, and I loved the whole mood of the fic and all the little details and touches and Crowley fixing a drink...

You know, I get the strangest sense that Pippa, when it's time for *her* to go (and boy, won't THAT be just a fun chapter....), will probably find out what Crowley and Aziraphale really are, and, more importantly, won't be that surprised about it. There was that line a few stories back about how she had trouble telling how old they really were, or how they'd come to fall so magically in love... I think she probably knows, on some level, that they're at least figuratively guardian angels of a sort, and it won't surprise her that much to see it taken to a more literal level.

Speaking of angels, Sophia... Yeah. That was a really nice bit. I still look forward to how she'll react when she does find out Crowley isn't, or wasn't, strictly speaking, one of the guys from Upstairs.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:26 am (UTC)

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but it makes sense that it took them so long, since it's just one of those constants they've been taking for granted for six thousand years

I've been feeling for at least the past few longer stories in this 'verse that someone's death was hovering just around the corner, and that it was going to result in facing up to some unpleasant truths for all parties involved. I could think of nothing more terrifying for either of them than the realization that discorporation, which had previously been only an annoyance, had become the gravest danger imaginable. And I knew the realization would hit Aziraphale first, because Crowley would occupy himself with being a pillar for the humans' sake, bless him.

You know, I get the strangest sense that Pippa, when it's time for *her* to go (and boy, won't THAT be just a fun chapter....), will probably find out what Crowley and Aziraphale really are, and, more importantly, won't be that surprised about it.

This has been my intent for a very long time; I'm hoping she'll live a good while yet, though, as I'm really not ready to let go of her (and I don't think she's ready to let go of life, never mind that she's in her early seventies and showing some frailty). She's got Aziraphale and Crowley and Nicola and Rob and...well, loads of people to hold on for, I think, so that will help. As for Sophia, she and Crowley are going to have some amazing conversations in future installments, and those will be my very great pleasure to write!

Thank you very much, as always <3
[User Picture]From: katarzi
2012-09-09 02:32 pm (UTC)

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ugh LJ ate my first comment, but I am bawling into my tea because of this. You get the urgent panicked atmosphere that happens when loved ones are in hospital down so well, and that sort of atmosphere just pervades the entire piece, which is probably why I'm crying. I love it anyway.
[User Picture]From: katarzi
2012-09-09 03:25 pm (UTC)

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okay wtf LJ, you just ate my comment AGAIN. Gah.

Anyway: I wonder if Sophia and Crowley share enough facial structure that people get that vague idea that they're siblings or cousins or something? They share a hair colour and intense eyes and probably act familiar enough, and people are a bit dim sometimes and think any two people interacting with a physical resemblance must be related (everyone assumes my sister and her friends are related, but this probably has to do with the rarity of natural blondes in Toronto...). It'd probably blind-side them enough if it were ever pointed out, though, and that amuses me lol.

Also - I am a bit excited for if/when Sophia ever learns that Crowley is not, technically speaking, an angel (even if he is on the side of them; sorry, I love that line from The Reichenbach Fall too much). It would seem awful hard to believe, given who he is and what the figure of the Serpent of Eden has become in literature. Certainly "I've met the Serpent, and he likes gardening and cooking and loves his husband very much" is a bit incongruous ;) if wonderful!
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:43 am (UTC)

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I wonder if Sophia and Crowley share enough facial structure that people get that vague idea that they're siblings or cousins or something? They share a hair colour and intense eyes and probably act familiar enough

My dear, you got it absolutely right! They've both got dark hair and striking high cheekbones, and, yes, the intense eyes do help! Most people seem to think that Crowley is either Sophia's older brother or her uncle. I haven't had the chance to write a ficlet where this happens, but now you've made me realize that doing it wouldn't just be me humoring myself re: being amused by this point. Somebody else spotted something I've pictured, so that tends to validate and make it fair game ;)
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:28 am (UTC)

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*hugs, tissues, and more tea*

Bittersweetness is what I'll always go in for (rather than gratuitous, pointless angst), because, well, that's life, isn't it? I'd been feeling a death on the horizon here for quite some time; to realize it was Harold's rather than Pippa's was both a great relief and a daunting challenge. Pippa will be fragile for a while, but she'll have excellent support. Thank goodness for that.

And thank you for reading.
[User Picture]From: ida_pea
2012-09-09 09:54 pm (UTC)

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Oh man. I am curious about what prompted you to write this now. It's not at all what I was expecting and I guess I was unprepared for how intense it was. (I guess that's not saying much, and clearly as the writer it must have affected you profoundly, given that stunning poem that came out of it.)

This is such a pivotal story--and it absolutely needed to be written and figured out, but as cool as Adam is he does scare me! I didn't know which way he was going to go, or what sort of conditions he was going to set for Crowley and Aziraphale.

My heart still breaks for the two of them, even though they've been watching humans dying all the time they've been on earth. But-they've got each other.

Thanks for writing this. You continually craft an incredible universe, with so much to love. <3
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:31 am (UTC)

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This is going to sound odd, but I'd been feeling a human death on the horizon here since at least working on The Beach Botanist's Survival Guide. The tone of this universe got a real shot of sobriety back in June; maybe it was my mental state (you saw me then; I'd say I'm a bit better now), or maybe it was my subconscious being far more on top of the fact that, yes, I had left something undealt-with where Aziraphale and Crowley and the rules of their existence were concerned. I wasn't going to be able to sleep till I wrote my way through it, so...that's why now. From the minute I realized what the problem was last week, there was no getting myself to focus on anything else. I hope I haven't shocked you too badly *hugs*

Adam is terrifying, and Sophia is welcome to him. Yikes.

Thank you, too. And I love and miss you very much *hugs*
[User Picture]From: ciaranbochna
2012-09-09 10:55 pm (UTC)

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I had wondered if Crowley's recipie was Nabatean, but Gommorah makes far more sense;)

I don't...the past couple of years have been something best not thought of for most people I know(regarding grief), so I will just give you a quote,(but of course I adored every moment of this, regardless of difficulty).

"It is spread out before us, and lingers behind. Each new sorrow pulls in pieces of the old. We bend closer to earth, as our air is stolen."

*Hugs back*





Edited at 2012-09-09 10:55 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:32 am (UTC)

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I took the date-palm-cocktails-in-Gomorrah thing right out of the novel: do you remember that moment where Aziraphale asks Crowley if he's ever been there, and he starts going on about the cantina with the fantastic date-palm cocktails with nutmeg and lemongrass, and then Aziraphale goes, No, I mean after. It's such a sobering little exchange. I thought that the cocktail served an excellent dual purpose: one, Sophia turns up with a reason to celebrate, but two, if you remember the circumstances under which Crowley last thought of those cocktails, it was...ominous. I needed a sense of something not quite right.

Thank you very much, my dear *hugs*
[User Picture]From: sejitsu
2012-09-10 12:43 am (UTC)

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I definitely started reading this pensively, given the title; I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle it after how today and yesterday went for me, but I wasn't patient enough to save it for later, either.

That said, I needn't have worried, although it was suspenseful in the most heart-clenchingly addictive way. It also answers a bunch of questions I'd been holding off on asking-- the story behind The Fugu Fish Incident for one thing, and what would happen to Crowley in case of discorporation, for another... As well as what further roles Michael and Gabriel might play.

The little details like Crowley still using a flip-phone and Sophia noticing their wings and Crowley trying to recreate an ancient cocktail were all lovely; I definitely snorted at the Hastur/Ligur bit because I can just picture Crowley's face, and it's brilliant.

You know how much I love your writing and portrayal of Aziraphale and Crowley; I love it-- and them-- so, so, so much. But I really have to give you kudos for such a fantastically canon-like portrayal of Adam, as well. This whole story was brilliant and lovely, and I have to go re-read it now that I'm not at the edge of my seat with apprehension. <33
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:35 am (UTC)

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I've wanted to flesh out the fugu incident for so long, and realizing that it connected up with the discorporation issue was...wow, I hadn't had a connect-the-dots/inspiration moment like that in quite some time, but it was intensely scary, too, to think that somebody in their immediate circle dying is what it'd take to make them start thinking in that direction. I'm just glad it wasn't Pippa herself; I'm not ready to lose her yet, and, fortunately, she's got a number of reasons to go on living for the moment. As for Adam in this piece, he got to be fantastically scary and fantastically cool at the same time, and that's the best way to have him, in my opinion <3

Thank you so much!
[User Picture]From: wolf_were
2012-09-10 11:51 pm (UTC)

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Strangely enough, I'd been wondering about this exact thing (whether or not either of them would get a new corporation if necessary) just a few days prior to you posting. I was thinking it might even be harder for Aziraphale than merely having to "bully Gabriel" since you made it seem like Michael thinks that it's a shock Aziraphale hasn't already Fallen. I didn't take Adam and his clever-niceness into consideration. (And poor, poor Pippa! >sniff<)

But a question completely unrelated to this particular fic: what do you picture Raphael looking like? Only after rereading Crown of Horns, I started seeing him as a redheaded Boy George. How completely off the mark am I?

Another awesome fic for this series.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:41 am (UTC)

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...the number of readers now saying that they were worrying about the exact same thing I started worrying about last week is downright eerie, but it shows me that the time really was ripe for it, so I'm relieved that the placement of this piece was just so *whew* I never pull out the big guns (emotionally speaking) without feeling a touch of guilt, because my biggest fear is falling into the trap of something gratuitous or unwarranted. There had been a lot of tension build-up since The Beach Botanist's Survival Guide and Some Assembly Required, though.

Your mental image of Raphael is pretty on-spec, actually; I imagine him as being somewhere between a taller, slimmer version of someone almost resembling Eddie Izzard and...well, there's one illustration in CoS-Verse where Linn actually did a good job suggesting his appearance, even if it's only in profile (and that's Uriel in the doorway, although her features are somewhat shadowed/blurred, only a suggestion). If I had to point to an actor who I think could do him justice physically, it's probably someone like Paul Bettany (although who knows how he'd wear the auburn hair). In any case, yes, genderbending/androgynous individuals are an excellent template for both of the earthbound Archangels :)

Thank you very much!

[User Picture]From: bkwyrm
2012-09-11 01:38 am (UTC)

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*sniffle*
I really needed this today. I didn't KNOW I needed it, but after I read it, I realized that it was what I'd been looking for to make today better.
So thank you for that.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 12:41 am (UTC)

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*hugs you*

You're very welcome, and thank you for reading. I needed to get it out, so it looks like it was useful for both of us. There's no tragedy in that!
[User Picture]From: mauvais_pli
2012-09-12 11:06 am (UTC)

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I feel an apology is in order: between your kind endorsement in the comments to your latest poem and the sheer impact of this story, I completely chocked. So sorry about that! And now I clumsily lost the almost-finished comment I've typed, so assume this was at least half again longer and more verbose (on the other hand, perhaps this is better, heh).

Not having immediately connected the punchline in your poem to the subject matter of this story, I got slightly worried over the potetial troubles of the, er, romantic kind over the opening paragraphs. I'm almost embarassed to say this, but Crowley and Sophia have such chemistry. In different circumstances, Crowley, I think, is definitely the type to fall for a human, and Sophia is a human being of such surpassing loveliness and charisma. Prone to identifying myself ocassionally, and perhaps wishfully, with Aziraphale as I am, it was enough to think it once for anxiety to kick in.

Now, this blasphemous train of thought aside, I love the air of foreboding that this story is soaked in, the feeling of How Have I Not Known This Before. Judging by your comments here and elsewhere, I suppose it is a direct consequence of the thought arriving at your mental doorstep unnannounced, inspiring this sense of supressed, self-conscious, even, urgency that infuses the text. The sense of keeping the dangerous thing in the peripheral vision, which of course the focus on the human death contributes to. I think you conveyed the universality of the problem beautifully, the way death touches every one, in a nudge-you-gotta-adjust sort of way, and yet I find that A & C do stand apart, half-suspended, half-aground as they are, and the off-focus tension between them regarding the eventuality of discorporation is the starkest, leaving aside the obvious differences in the perception of human mortality.

Now, on to minor character goodnes: I thoroughly enjoyed the moment between Aziraphale and Raphael - that particular dynamic gets almost obliterated when the four of them are together. The understanding, just short of brotherhood, that unassumingly creeps between them, despite differences, is really something.

Adam's reluctant revelation and what it says about the man that bears that child inside himself, as well as his subsequent businesslike demeanour are quietly breathtaking, in a hard, shining sort of way.

Adam and Anathema's deadpan, casual yet satisfied, reception of the news that Sophia's finally in the loop - another little drop in the big, amazing cauldron of that household that I love getting details about.

Phew, I feel my grammar's slipping out of my hands and I can't for the life of me remember the brilliantly worded phrases I lost, anyway, so, posting.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-12 02:33 pm (UTC)

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I'm almost embarassed to say this, but Crowley and Sophia have such chemistry. In different circumstances, Crowley, I think, is definitely the type to fall for a human, and Sophia is a human being of such surpassing loveliness and charisma. Prone to identifying myself ocassionally, and perhaps wishfully, with Aziraphale as I am, it was enough to think it once for anxiety to kick in.

So, you've caught onto the intentional irony/hilarity of the entire situation with regard to a lot of the young women Crowley seems to have acquired as friends: Aziraphale bristled at Mandy's attentions to him for the longest time, and Crowley clearly wasn't interested in her, but the one young woman with whom Crowley clearly does have some kind of chemistry (although neither he nor Sophia is interested in the other physically or romantically, adding a layer of irony, as you point out), Aziraphale loves her to death. Just another one of those demonstrations of the angel's overall emotional obtuseness, I think: the dead obvious threat, he'll hone in on, but anything more subtle and he just seems to completely overlook it. I would agree with you on the chemistry between Crowley and Sophia wholeheartedly; it was in Modest, Yet Refined, that scene by the river behind King's, that I thought, wow, Mandy would have killed for a moment like that, she would have tried something (well, maybe a few stories back in the chronology she would have, but maybe not now)! If Aziraphale were not in the picture, given time and enough clue-by-fours over the head, I agree with you that Crowley could fall for Sophia.

Now, this blasphemous train of thought aside, I love the air of foreboding that this story is soaked in, the feeling of How Have I Not Known This Before. Judging by your comments here and elsewhere, I suppose it is a direct consequence of the thought arriving at your mental doorstep unnannounced, inspiring this sense of supressed, self-conscious, even, urgency that infuses the text.

Yes, it did rather fall on my head out of nowhere. My subconscious (which is much better at tracking details and keeping them in neat rows than my conscious mind is) must have had a read on it, though, because I'd felt a growing unease ever since The Beach Botanist's Survival Guide...someone's death, a major revelation, consequences therefrom. This turned out to be it. Growing up, me and my maternal grandmother were the ones who'd scare the family half to death with nameless premonitions, and it happens to me with regard to my fiction, too. I'll know something is coming, but my brain will rarely have the good grace to clue me in until it hits critical mass and needs immediate attention. I wasn't going to get any other work done till I'd sorted this.

Now, on to minor character goodness: I thoroughly enjoyed the moment between Aziraphale and Raphael - that particular dynamic gets almost obliterated when the four of them are together. The understanding, just short of brotherhood, that unassumingly creeps between them, despite differences, is really something.

The only other time we've seen that between them was that conversation on the beach-blanket in BBSG when Crowley and Uriel are still fussing about down by the water, and, yes, it hammers home that these two have history with each other from before, that sense of Angelic Responsibility with huge capital letters. Uriel's responsibility to earthbound human souls (ghosts, if you like; the ones with unfinished business who can't depart just yet) has rubbed off on her in a huge way; she's emotional and more painfully human in the same way Crowley has proved to be. Not so with their partners: there's a cold, scary dimension to Aziraphale and Raphael that anybody with half an ounce of sense would steer clear of.

As ever, my dear, you do not disappoint <3 Thank you. And your music's waiting for me...
[User Picture]From: mizstorge
2012-09-17 12:33 am (UTC)

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. "Say, that's pretty close to what I remember. I wish I'd paid more attention at the time."
I knew what he was making! I have an interest in ancient alcoholic beverages, from the cocktails mentioned in the Iliad to Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer, an attempt at recreating a 2,700 year old brew from residue discovered in an Anatolian tomb. Wish this recipe had worked out better without – ahem – divine intervention.

"I was gone for all of three hours," Crowley said
Aziraphale certainly has taken to sex as his preferred method of emoting.

Raphael tapped his nose and winked. "I see. We don't want demon-dear to know."
You've mentioned the similarities Raphael shares with Aziraphale but I take it that at least part of Raphael’s problem with Crowley is they have so much in common? There but for the grace of God-?

"No," Crowley had said, and hated himself for it.
This is so concise and yet speaks volumes.

"That's your real weak spot, sweetie," said Uriel, almost sadly.
Uriel is such an interesting character; her closest relationships seem fraught with contradictions.

"Right," said Adam, turning his hand in a tight circle. Not to erase this time, Aziraphale realized, but to seal.
Which brings up eschatology.

After reading Good Omens, I wondered if Adam had arranged things so people would start living longer, the better to realize the consequences of their decisions.

I also wondered whether Aziraphale and Crowley were carrying a burden of guilt for the collective afterlife of humanity. In Paradise Lost, God did not blame the angels for the Fall of Adam and Eve, saying it couldn’t have been prevented (of course, next thing he did was to blame Lucifer, but that’s Milton for ya). On the other hand,Crowley and Aziraphale must have a pretty good idea what the afterlife holds in store for the humans with whom they’ve associated and they certainly know how awful both places can be.

The Bible speaks of a new heaven along with a new earth. Is Adam going to preside over a place where the souls of people like Madame Tracy and Anathema and Agnes Nutter will be rewarded for helping to keep the balance?

Eyes set resolutely forward, Crowley reached back and took his hand.
Beautifully worded final sentence: bravely taking the best of the past and lovingly drawing it into the new future.





Edited at 2012-09-17 12:36 am (UTC)
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-17 01:28 am (UTC)

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I have an interest in ancient alcoholic beverages, from the cocktails mentioned in the Iliad to Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer [...]

Dogfish Head is one of my absolute favorite breweries, and their Midas Touch is probably one of their finest efforts! My favorite from them is the Sah'tea, though; Ta Henket was a disappointment, and I had so wanted to like that one, too...

Aziraphale certainly has taken to sex as his preferred method of emoting.

Yes, and I have to wonder if Crowley finds it more endearing than exasperating, or the other way around ;) Well, he doesn't really often protest, so it's wiles all around and not so much thwarting from anybody.

You've mentioned the similarities Raphael shares with Aziraphale but I take it that at least part of Raphael’s problem with Crowley is they have so much in common? There but for the grace of God-?

Yep, that's certainly part of it. Raphael can't stand to be upstaged.

On the other hand, Crowley and Aziraphale must have a pretty good idea what the afterlife holds in store for the humans with whom they’ve associated and they certainly know how awful both places can be.

Yes, that's very true, which adds to the burden of knowing all of these people will eventually die. Uriel's in an interesting spot, though, because her area, as it were, is dealing with human souls that are stuck on earth for one reason or another and can't move on just yet (this aspect of my interpretation of her, I draw from Uriel-lore that states one of this particular Archangel's duties is Dominion Over the Souls of Men - within this universe, Death seems to whisk most souls off straightaway, so I interpreted her role as being for those who have unfinished business or are troubled or...you name it). I wonder if she's run into any that just refuse to move on, the ones who like it too much to leave. And I wonder if any of these humans will prove to be in that number.

Thank you very much
[User Picture]From: pionie
2012-09-25 08:24 pm (UTC)

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I've just read all the stories in this 'verse over the last couple of days and now I'm dazed but happy. I haven't read such fleshed out versions of A & C - not only that, but they keep evolving and still remain themselves. Wonderful.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-09-25 08:56 pm (UTC)

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Goodness! That was a lot of reading to do over two days, so I applaud your determination. Thank you very much; I'm glad you're enjoying the series. I anticipate that I'll continue to add to it, and given I've added more to it this year than I've added in a while, I have the feeling that trend will continue once I've finished doing a bunch of archiving around here (just finished cataloguing all of the GO fic I've ever written, and I should get a similar post together for my Sherlock stuff as well, as there's also a lot of it).

Thanks again for reading, and I hope to hear from you again <3
From: (Anonymous)
2012-10-08 08:58 pm (UTC)

[Rec'd as email; pinning here for archival purposes as before, keeping reviewer anon.]

(Link)

I wonder sometimes if you have any idea of the utter beauty of the things you've created, and I suspect (hope) that at least on some level you do, and I'm glad for it, and think it no sin. I wonder the same things of Gaiman and Pratchett to be honest (I'm not sure whose mind Crowley is more a product of; he reads slightly more like a Gaiman-creature, but I also completely and honestly believe large parts of him came from that space that neither author remembers going to, those passages that neither can remember writing), of whether they really have any idea of the transcendence of what they wrote. It's this feeling, tense and on-edge, breathing shaky and shallow, that your work holds. It rings with truth, and it is no casual thing when I say that I consider it part of my Canon for them, and not just in the silly usual sense of "headcanon."

I understand now what you were alluding to when you mentioned on Tumblr that this was dealing with an issue or issues absurdly obvious but no less (maybe more) startling for all that, when you realized it/them. And it could be any of the things dealt with, really, because they're all heavy things: the question of what-if-Crowley-gets-discorporated (dealt with more and less tritely in other fics before, yes, but not [that I recall] ever in the context of a larger continuum like this), the first loss of a human attachment, Sophia seeing them for what they are, Adam making up his mind. It really does seem a case of "it never rains but it pours," but doesn't feel contrived at all. More like inevitable.

One thing that keeps coming back to my mind is other feedback-leavers commenting to the effect of "I wonder what will happen when Sophia realizes Crowley isn't/wasn't actually an angel": a scenario where she prods one or the other of them for a bit of history and finds out about Crowley's former affiliation might be fascinating for various reasons, but the thing is, her name means "wisdom," and she sees truth, so it's all moot. What he is hasn't changed at all; he's merely lost an employer he never fit well with in the first place. I've long thought that it's of no small significance that Crowley is listed in the dramatis personae as an angel, and yes, the other demons are listed not as demons but as fallen angels, but I think my point still stands. I also don't think it over-romanticizes or cheapens anything about either his or Aziraphale's characterizations. Rather the opposite.

This whole piece has that suspended feeling one gets in times like the ones portrayed: grief that simultaneously hovers at the edges and doesn't quite touch, and at the same time is all-consuming, a lens that colors everything, so that you can't remember what anything felt like before. Aziraphale's belated realization of danger is absolutely chilling, because it was belated the same way for me: the discorporation thing being dealt with enough times in this fandom that it's become rote if not a bit of a joke, that we forget the terror of it. The parallelism of his fuck with the one in the book, even down to the two lines both having to do with discorporation, is gorgeous, and where in the book it's hilarious, here it makes my blood run a little cold.

A few people have amusedly noticed Crowley's flip-phone, but I wonder how many have gotten that it's about attachment? In the book, his flat is barely lived-in, and full of painfully up-to-date gadgets, none used and all for show. His phone here, like the Bentley, is a thing he uses and has become attached to, and thus doesn't want to change.

The way they hold each other repeatedly in this is beautiful. They've come so very far together, and are making a commitment to go infinitely further still. It's also a beautiful parallel to the scene with the tyre iron near the end of the book. I love that you do things like this. The very phrase "dear life" is notable too, I think, because it's one of the things that sets them apart: how very dear they both hold life—dear enough to let it go and not keep it past what's Right (Harold, and eventually Pippa, and ultimately others), despite the implication Adam makes here that they can save lives if they need to; and dear enough to never, ever let it go, when it comes to each other.
[User Picture]From: irisbleufic
2012-10-10 11:35 pm (UTC)

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[So long as you keep this up, you-whose-words-mean-so-very-much, you are my conscience and my fail-safe in this and in all things pertaining to them. If I ever betray your trust or your judgment, then it'll be a crime beyond forgiving (for, above all, it'd be a betrayal of the characters). Also, your speaking to other issues being discussed in the threads above was just too fascinating and insightful to bury under a pile of other banal correspondence...]