Summary: The End comes round once again; naturally, this is not accepted gracefully. A little comedy, a little angst, set in heaven, hell, and all points between.
Words: Er. About 14,000.
Disclaimer: I only borrowed these characters. I was going to give them back... eventually.
Notes: For bookshop, because I am no good with deadlines. Not only did I completely flake out on a challenge promised as her birthday fic in the aftermath of the terrible events of 11/2, but I have written her replacement in a completely different fandom. I am indeed crap.
Thanks to NJ, brilliant beta as ever. Many apologies to my soon-to-be brother-in-law, Gabriel, whose namesake I have seriously abused. Quotes and other petty thefts noted beneath copious footnotes.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n. –Paradise Lost
Here comes the fire
Our funeral pyre, baby
It’s all over
We’re all gonna DIE” -The Divine Comedy 
In the end, the Ineffable annihilated the heavens and the earth.
Of course, it was bound to happen sooner or later, and a certain pair of representatives from either side of the celestial aisle had worked hard for centuries to make sure it was much, much later. Unfortunately, even after joining forces and narrowly averting the closest call since the first Fall, early in the 21st century the other shoe finally dropped. The War happened, though Aziraphale and Crowley missed most of it due to an extended, drunken ‘Goodbye, World’ party which lasted most of the last two or three years of creation. But they did wonder, eventually, who would win. And with that concern came the more important question of what exactly would happen when whoever won did whatever they did to the other side, because regardless of the outcome, the retribution was certain to be swift, complete, and terribly, terribly final.
Being well-practiced in the fine art of denial, the two of them tried to ignore this uncomfortable subject as completely as possible. They spent more and more time together in the darkening weeks before the end, talking about everything from the greatest fashion disasters of the eighteenth century to the moral uncertainties of crossing a deserted street against the traffic light. It didn’t seem to matter what they talked about as long as they didn’t stop. Every so often, the weight of the whole thing would press down on them, and Crowley would drag Aziraphale out to two or three of the most extravagant and drug-riddled end-of-the-world bashes thrown by those few In The Know. Aziraphale would tolerate this for a while for Crowley’s sake, trying to engage stoned members of the Foredoomed Sect of the Terminus Generation  in conversation, but turnabout is fair (if not precisely angelic) play, and he would eventually drag Crowley out to some deserted pond at sunset to observe the quiet splendor of Creation. It turned out that Crowley wasn’t really the quiet splendor type, and they would end up getting drunk again and watching the sun come up, which was often splendid but rarely quiet when Crowley was available for critical commentary.
The pond was far less entertaining without the ducks, but like all sensible creatures at that hour, the birds were tucked away, sound asleep and keeping warm with their heads under their wings. Aziraphale had long envied the ducks this maneuver, which he considered to be the waterfowl equivalent of the fetal position. And although on occasions he had privately tried, he had never quite managed to tuck his head under his own wing. Crowley woke up unexpectedly one night after dozing off in a haze of tequila by the pond and found Aziraphale grunting with effort, both arms wrenched behind his head, trying to pull one battered wing over his shoulder. The demon laughed until he couldn’t see Aziraphale’s bright pink face any longer.
“Don’t worry, angel,” he chortled, snaking an arm behind Aziraphale and patting him on the shoulder. “I’ll be happy to oblige you any time you want feathers pulled down over your eyes.” This sent him into another snickering fit, so that he very nearly missed the contemplative smile that emerged through the deepening blush of Aziraphale’s skin. The angel spared a glance for Crowley’s hand, still resting an inch from his neck, felt the warm weight of the arm around his back.
“Would you really?” he said, in a completely transparent attempt at nonchalance. Crowley sobered suddenly as his eyebrows nearly met his hairline. They really were quite drunk.
Things got a bit odd after that. In the morning, the fine art of denial was aggressively invoked.
Eventually, the sun went down on the very last evening of the world, and the rising moon found them together once again. They were sitting in a restaurant, trying to keep their spirits up without the senses-dulling effects of alcohol and failing miserably. Each assumed that he would be notified as to the final outcome of the War, but as neither had yet heard anything beyond ‘It’s over,’ they were lying low and trying to stay under the radar for as long as possible. Aziraphale tried valiantly to keep the conversation light, but it was proving difficult when they invariably wound up right back on the same cheerless topic. It seemed there was nothing else to talk about.
“I can’t see Hell letting anybody on your side live,” Crowley remarked over their rather unimpressive sushi dinner. He seemed intent on impaling all the limp pieces of ginger onto a chopstick by application of brute force.
“Well, we can’t die, so...” Aziraphale countered, delicately lifting an eyebrow.
Crowley gestured vaguely with his gingered spear. “Continue to exist, then. You get so caught up in semantics, angel.”
Aziraphale nodded gloomily. “I suppose that might happen if our side won, as well. Though they’d probably think it more fitting if they just flushed everyone they didn’t like down into Hell and closed off the entrance, since it’s supposed to be so, er, hellish. Poetic justice is very big with them at the moment.”
Crowley snorted. “Poetic justice! As if they know anything about that at all. We got all the good poets and they know it. Bitterness does not suit well the image of the heavenly host – you should tell them to do something about that, clean house a bit. When– you know. If your side won.” He set to work dragging the ginger through Aziraphale’s remaining wasabi, making a colorful orange- and green-caked shish kabob.
“I don’t see what’s so poetic about being frozen in ice or chewed up or burnt, really,” Aziraphale argued. “They got enough of the physical pain on Earth, wouldn’t you say? It just isn’t very original, if you ask me; people can come up with much more efficient ways to hurt themselves.”
Crowley stared at him. “Are you making suggestions for the improvement of tortures in Hell, angel? Because they could use some creative thinking down there.” He grinned in that way that Aziraphale always found disturbing on a level he didn’t quite dare to explore.
“No!” he sputtered, “of course not, I wouldn’t dream of doing anything of the—“ He trailed off, seeing that Crowley was waving his hand and chuckling wearily.
“I was joking, you idiot. And Dante got it all wrong, anyway; they aren’t really circles, you know. Or even levels, exactly, it’s all personalized, that’s the latest thing right now. You hate broccoli, you eat broccoli. You fear clowns, you get chased by clowns. Your lot should look into it. Might spare you a few millennia of The Sound of Music, at least.”
“Heaven has personal touches,” Aziraphale said loyally, signaling the waiter somewhat desperately for more hot tea. “All right, the activities are a bit cookie-cutter, but people can do what they like, however odd that might be. There’s one young man who likes nothing better than tearing around the grassy areas shaped like a dog.” He shook his head. “I mean, what kind of paradise is that?”
Crowley sighed and leaned back into his chair with a frustrated thump. “What kind of paradise is any of it, angel? Really, has anyone actually won this war? They’re going to destroy everything that’s worth anything in all of existence, and no one even knows why. I don’t see what’s so offensive about Earth. This place can be both hell and paradise enough for you, me, and every mortal being lucky enough to be born onto its filthy surface.”
Aziraphale thought hard about arguing for the sake of his allegiances, but concluded he’d better say it now or hold his peace forever. And ever and ever. He leaned forward confidentially. “I know,” he said in a near-whisper. “I know it’s a terrible thing to question the ineffable plan, but it would be such a perfect place to spend eternity.” He examined his own clean plate and wished briefly there was something left to stab.
“We could split it up,” Crowley suggested. “Part of the planet would be heavenly and part would be hellish. The only drawback for you is that Hell would get all the good sushi places because that dolt Michael has a weak stomach. Or he did when I left, anyway.”
“He still does.” Aziraphale nodded. “He tried Mexican after the Aztecs left, and they still talk about the fuss he made. I don’t think he dabbles in food anymore.”
“Anyway, that’s it,” Crowley said. “They’d never go for it. No more Earth, no more sushi dinners, no more driving the Bentley, no more creative gardening.
“No more having tea in the back of the bookshop,” Aziraphale added despondently.
“No more feeding those blasted ducks.”
“No more trying new restaurants.”
“No more waking up naked in the middle of nowhere with a bitch of a hangover and your feathers getting stuck in my mouth.”
They were both silent following this pronouncement, in the way that silence can be like a small explosion.
“That was only the one time,” Aziraphale said finally, in a voice that was meek even for him.
“Yes. And that, angel,” Crowley replied, leaning forward again, “is exactly the problem.”
Aziraphale couldn’t meet his eyes, though that may have had something to do with the sunglasses.
“I—uh. Yes, though I’m not quite sure precisely what—er,” said Aziraphale. He seemed shaken, even frightened, as though whatever had happened had left him unable to use some of his limbs. Crowley said nothing, apparently enjoying the angel’s awkward discomfort. “I will... miss you, Crowley. Rather a lot,” Aziraphale finally managed, and groped for the freshly filled teapot.
“No, you won’t,” Crowley said. “If my side won, you’ll be mercifully obliterated and I will be stuck in Hell for eternity. If your lot managed to win, though I really can’t see how, then you’ll be drinking ambrosia and playing with dogs, and I will be stuck in Hell for eternity. You may be noticing a pattern here.”
“Well, what can I do about it?” the angel asked miserably. “The rules have been set since the beginning of creation: once fallen, no angel can return to the heavenly realms.”
“You could always Fall,” Crowley suggested, toying with his remaining chopstick.
Aziraphale choked on his tea. “So we can both be stuck in Hell for eternity?” he gasped. “You’re mad!”
“It’s better than being alone all that time,” Crowley muttered. The bill arrived as Aziraphale silently contemplated the many levels of demonic insanity, and Crowley pulled out a sleek, eel-skin wallet. He threw approximately twelve thousand pounds onto the table in front of the astonished waiter, hissed “Keep the change,” through a grin showing all of his sharpest teeth, and stood up. Aziraphale remained where he was for a moment longer while the waiter scurried off.
“Crowley, I would make a terrible demon,” he said, looking up pleadingly.
“I know,” Crowley sighed. “It was just an idea.” Aziraphale looked even more miserable as he got to his feet, started to speak, then just stood there looking constipated.
Crowley reached for his loaded chopstick, stuffed the mass of ginger and wasabi into his mouth and chewed appreciatively for a moment before making a terrible face. He ignored Aziraphale frantically flapping a napkin at him and spat the whole mess out onto his empty plate.
“Crowley, that’s disgusting!” hissed the angel in a loud whisper. Crowley just scowled.
“I don’t even have a taste for fiery food anymore! How am I supposed to eat brimstone for the rest of eternity?” He stomped out of the restaurant in a furious temper, leaving Aziraphale running to catch up.
As in any cosmic battle worth recounting, the good guys won.
The last dawn came, as dawn quickly does when you want the night to go on forever more than anything else in the world. There was a huge, noisy mess involved with the final arrangements; all the healthy and wounded angels were required to report in at specific times to be counted or put into triage, and of course everyone wanted to be treated last, which caused an almighty clusterfuck for a good hour and a half. The demons were shuffled off to a holding area for consignment to Hell. Most appeared to be looking forward to a nice rest rather than being particularly burdened by defeat, though there were the odd bitter losers here and there who had to be dealt with, and flashes of smiting were apparent. There was so much to do – the bookshop, the Bentley, the packing of the moon and dismantling of the sun – and so many frantic beings involved that there was not really time for a proper farewell between friends. So in the end, there were no tears or clinging good-byes, just a long glimpse of Crowley standing very still in the center of a huge and rapidly shrinking maelstrom of pulsing hellfire, the shrieking souls of the damned, and a few extremely ugly imps resembling garden gnomes. He’d removed the ubiquitous sunglasses to reveal yellow eyes with sparks of flame at the center, burning with the same unholy light as the closing vortex. They found Aziraphale staring back until the portal had vanished.
When the last plume of black smoke had dissipated, and the multitudes of the heavenly host had cheered and sung and gone off to have a genteel cup of ambrosia, Aziraphale remained at the site, sitting quietly on the ground and staring into the distance for a very long time. He kept his wings hidden. He was uncomfortable with the feel and sight of his own feathers, and besides, they would only remind him unpleasantly of happier, more complicated times.
The angel quickly discovered that even after pulling himself together and turning up to watch the rest of the celebration, his portion of endless bliss was coupled with a strange hollowness. He imagined that this must be how those mortal drug addicts had felt when they took a lethal overdose, poor creatures. Oh, certainly, it felt great, best thing in the world really, couldn’t ask for a single addition to this astounding rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” except maybe for a pair of earplugs and a sharp stabbing knife. But there was a further wrongness underneath it. Paradise was everything he’d been promised and more, there could be no complaints there. As expected, it was wonderful, and as expected, it was dazzling. It was beautiful and joyous and full of pleasant company, and also as expected, it was horribly, infinitely lonely.
Crowley was not faring much better in the deep, black pits of Hell, but at least he had known going in that constant misery was a large part of the deal. And while Aziraphale wandered aimlessly as he looked for a way to distract himself from Heaven’s in-flight movie, Crowley had plenty of work to do. ‘Work’ meaning endless torture duty on a slow rotation from one tacky nightmare to the next. Despite his assurances to Aziraphale that the whole fiery blackness thing was merely cosmetic, there were a few stubborn souls who just wouldn’t believe it was Hell without a few scorch marks up-close and personal, and so Crowley was currently hunched by a pool of fire he was supposed to be maintaining, prodding at the escaping flames with a stick. A passing red demon with sharp-looking horns saw him flicking lava against the walls and stomped over.
“Crawly. What in heaven do you think you’re doing?” the demon demanded.
“I’m maintaining the lava. What does it look like I’m doing?” Crowley replied sullenly.
“It looks like you just got out of that flash black car you used to bang around in and are looking to spend a lazy day on Earth shirking your duties, is what it looks like.”
“You remember my car? Why, Hastur. I didn’t know you cared,” Crowley said with a smile.
“Stop that! That is exactly what I mean. You need to be taking a form that is befitting the name of demon. Put on a few flames. Have some respect for yourself, for cryin’ out loud. Satan knows, nobody else does.”
“And exactly what form would that be? Extreme sunburn with sharpened head-boils? Or is that privilege reserved for the Dukes?”
“You want to watch what you say to me, Crawly,” Hastur growled. “I en’t forgotten about Ligur, and neither have my superiors. You’re supposed to be on probation. Why they’re giving you special treatment is beyond—“
“Special treatment?” Crowley broke in with a bitter laugh. “Special treatment involves suddenly shunting me over to a deserted, stinking pit of lava for half an age? I suppose the stick is the really special part, is it?”
“No, the special treatment is your next assignment, you old belly-crawler, so shut up and pay attention,” Hastur said. “We took in a very particular new resident recently, says on the roster he’s to be specially harmed, and Down Below thought you might know what buttons to push.”
“And how on earth would I know something like that?” Crowley asked, utterly confused.
“Because you knew him, back when you was prancing around with the mortals. He used to work for – you know – the Other Side, an’ that.”
“A priest?” Crowley asked. He hadn’t really made a point of hanging around the clergy.
“No,” said Hastur. “A, uh....” He looked around, apparently worried he might be punished for speaking such a word right in the heart of the Pit. “Angel,” he confided. “The one what was formerly stationed topside.”
Crowley stared. “Aziraphale? Down here? On the torture roster?”
“That’s the one,” Hastur said with a nasty grin. “And the best part is, he don’t even—“
But Crowley was no longer exactly present to hear what Aziraphale didn’t even. An erupting plume of fire had risen up from the lava pit to engulf him, accompanied by a rock-shaking rumble. Sparks exploded into the air, sizzling and bouncing off the walls like expensive fireworks. There was a loud bang as displaced air rushed to occupy the space where Crowley had been standing, and then Hastur was left alone in the cavern, looking at a flaming trail of light that would do the Millenium Falcon proud. A bubble of lava burped its way to the surface with a sputter.
“Flash bastard,” muttered Hastur.
Go to Part 2
 The band. Not the book. Although Dante’s book was, of course, saying basically the same thing. Back
 When they weren’t getting stoned – okay, in addition to getting stoned, the sect’s activities included chanting, fundraising, and coming up with variations on the theme “THE END IS NEAR” for their hand-painted signs. (Also available on t-shirts, posters, and coffee mugs in the gift shop.) Back
 Obviously, the wallet’s size was deceptive. This was by no means all the cash the demon was carrying at the time, but a few thousand were reserved for a particularly rare vintage of wine which he intended to smuggle into Hell to tempt the alcoholics. At least, that was his story if anyone asked. Back