Aid to Raphael
Aziraphale stumbled. He blinked. He gasped. His vision, white hot from pain, did not so much clear as it… reformed. White walls. White marble floors. White clouds… Heaven. I'm in Heaven.
The realization hit him with it a wave of panic. How could he be here? What had that feather been? A transport? Had Heaven intended to lure Crowley here and do away with him as they had been unable to do away with Aziraphale? The angel spun around, aether wafting around his feet.
No. Something was different. Where…. Where was the stainless steel, the glass, the tops of humanity's greatest buildings scraping the lowermost clouds? This Heaven… it was all clouds and… Aziraphale looked up at the dark and churning expanse above. Not black. But filled with so many colors beyond comprehension. Colors that Humanity would never see. That would die out and mature over the millennia, long before the first telescope.
Aziraphale felt tears welling at the corners of his eyes and spilling down his cheeks. What had come over him? He inhaled deeply. The air smelled like the head of a newborn baby. It brushed his cheeks like the first wisps of its hair. This was the Universe new. He could almost feel its flickering heartbeat, strong and vibrant and just born.
Stars. Aziraphale was witnessing the birth of stars. This was the past. The Heaven of the Beginning. He watched in awe and wonder as constellations blinked into shape, as nebulas churned, as the milky way pooled across the expanse as though it was mother's milk seeping through so much life, feeding the galaxies. It was all so beautiful. The stars had already been made when Aziraphale was born. He was a Principality, old as the beginning of the Earth. Not as old as the beginning of the Heavens.
As Aziraphale gazed, a single star detached from the sky. He watched as it crescented across the sky, almost sauntering vaguely downward. He smiled. The first falling star…
It wasn't a star.
At the last moment the angel descending from the stratosphere spread his wings, caught himself on an updraft of that baby's breath of Life, and with infinite grace sunk down to one kneel on the cloud before him. Aziraphale opened his mouth to call out. Where are we? Who are you? What is happening?
"There you are!"
The voice cut through the stillness like an unwelcome guest at the moment the child has just been lulled to sleep. A river of ice felt as though it slipped through the back of Aziraphale's shirt at that all too familiar voice behind him. He spun around.
There stood Gabriel. His eyes were not yet violet, but he was just as broad shouldered. Just as imposing. Perhaps… a little newer. Angels could not age. But there was a relaxed nature to Gabriel's stance that would ossify in the centuries to come. And he was staring directly at Aziraphale.
What could he say? Gabriel was walking toward him. And he was… smiling? Before Aziraphale could think of a single word, Gabriel walked right through him. Aziraphale gasped, his very being shifting at the impact, then reforming. Had he discorporate again? But that wouldn't keep Gabriel from seeing him. It was as if Aziraphale wasn't here at all. He turned to follow the direction in which Gabriel was walking.
Just in time to see the angel he was speaking to raise his head.
No sound came from Aziraphale. Not a breath. It was the absence of breath that filled him. He knew this angel.
His hair was long and cascaded in waves down his shoulders. It was not the bright and glaring red that Aziraphale was so accustomed to. No. It was strawberry red. The color of maids in Scottish ballads. Or heated gold. The red of the gentlest sunset. Perhaps that was where the sunset got its color, Aziraphale now realized.
And from head to toe the angel was dusted in starlight.
"Gabriel," the angel said, brushing back his hair and scattering shards of light all around them. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Ah!" Gabriel raised his hands, "Careful with that! You're going to drop a new dwarf star right on top of us if you're not careful!"
The angel laughed, that same warm laugh that Aziraphale knew so well. How could he have changed so much and not at all?
"I'm serious," Gabriel chided as they began to walk in stride, together. The sight was uncanny to Aziraphale. "After all the organization and planning that I've put into the designs, the last thing we need is–"
"Spontaneity?" The angel smirked that old familiar smirk. Though Aziraphale supposed that, at this point, it was still new. A freshly minted smirk. Hesitantly, realizing now that he was in no danger of being sighted, Aziraphale fell into step beside Gabriel and the other angel.
"Lighten up," the angel clapped Gabriel on the back with such familiarity it made Aziraphale gasp. Not in 6,000 years had he ever dared address Gabriel, or any Archangel, with such informality. Well, except for Michael in concern of the rubber duck, but he had been in disguise then and…
Gabriel muttered angrily, brushing down his sleeves and now himself scattering stardust everywhere. The other angel laughed again and smiled past Gabriel, directly at Aziraphale.
No… not at Aziraphale. At the celestial spheres beyond him. But Aziraphale could be forgiven for the mistake. The look of adoration on the angel's face was one that, in later years, would be reserved just for the Principality of the Eastern Gate.
"You go too fast for me," Aziraphale had once said. And now it almost seemed justified… How could he not have been overwhelmed when faced with the full adoration once lavished on the stars themselves?
The angel's eyes.
Aziraphale was riveted. They were… they were exquisite. The emerald green of a garden.
"You've heard," Gabriel said with a huff, "that each of the four Archangels is to receive a Principality as his aid and companion."
"Yes," the angel responded, stretching out his arms. Oh, how Aziraphale knew that stance. Feigned disinterest, while coiled and listening for every word. Even then… he had been coiled… "I hear you're getting some stooge named Sandalphon. Ha! Have fun with that!"
Gabriel straightened out. "The Almighty has informed me that Sandalphon will be a tireless worker and unwavering in his loyalty to me and to the Law of Heaven."
"Sounds like a real life of the party," the angel mused, flicking celestial specks from under his nails. Aziraphale wondered… what would that same angel pay to be hold just one of those star flecks between his fingers now…
"Uriel and Michael are still waiting on their righthand men."
"Hah! Now that's a start in life… You open your eyes and boom, there's Michael's pinched face. That'll be a lark to see. And Uriel." As the angel pushed back another stray lock of hair, Aziraphale could see silver flecks across his temples, like those that Uriel wore in gold. But not like Uriel's at all. These were the silver of stars. Of scales. "Well, the poor little dear of a Principality won't know what–"
Aziraphale froze. He had been spotted. Gabriel turned curtly and Aziraphale braced himself for the denouncement. But no… Gabriel was looking only to his companion. There wasn't defeat in his face. Almost indulgence. As of a big brother. Aziraphale looked between the two of them. No… It wasn't possible.
The angle with constellations in his hair swallowed. "Aziraphale…" he tested the name out on his lips for the first time in all of existence and Aziraphale shivered. There was starlight clinging to those lips. "But that's…"
"He shall be the Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden."
The angel's entire body seemed to glow, to shine out, and a smile that was brighter than all the Heavens shone from his face. "Eden? The Garden? But that means… the Almighty….?"
"Yes," Gabriel said with a nod. He then squared his shoulders, as was his custom when about to make an official decree: "You will have Her permission to tend the Garden yourself. Once you have finished crafting the fruits of the skies, you make take to the fruits of the Earth. It is a great honor, and will be your greatest duty – Raphael, one of we four Archangels."
Aziraphale stood thunderstruck as Raphael punched his fist into the sky with a wahoo! His own shock mixed and mingled with the incandescent joy of this… no, not angel, Archangel. Raphael. One of the original four. After the fallen Satan, the greatest of the angels.
You… Aziraphale stared at him. Why did you never tell… I suppose I never asked… But you… And I… I was meant to be… Your companion? It was too much. It was all too too much. As Eve was made companion to Adam…
"And Aziraphale…" his own name from Raphael's lips brought him out of his stupor. But Raphael was rushing on, "I'll finally have someone with whom I can share it all!" He smiled and it was as though the stardust had now broken upon his incandescent green eyes. "Aziraphale," he said again, like the first prayer of the universe. "Azi Raphale… Aid of Raphael…"
On Raphael's face was reflected all the wonder that Aziraphale felt as, across time and space, the origin of his name was revelation to them both.
"Come on then," Gabriel laughed a little too hard, clearly uncomfortable with the waves of emotion pulsating off Raphael. "It'll still be a little while before you meet him. The Almighty is a little tied up at the moment. What have you and Satan been up to that created such a fuss?"
Raphael laughed and launched into a long and very funny story, with no end of hilarity. Something ridiculous, inconvenient and harmless. Something that the demon Aziraphale knew all too well would have come up with. Aziraphale wanted to listen. He wanted to listen because it sounded like just the sort of thing he would be interested in, and he wanted to listen because it would keep his mind from wandering to the way that Raphael's star-sparkled lips formed his name for the firs time. "Aziraphale."
But he was unable to listen. Because suddenly Raphael's voice was all around him. No… not Raphael's… Crowley's. Aziraphale could not be certain how he knew the difference, but he did. He did. Perhaps… perhaps it was the rasp… the embers in his throat that never fully died, but had not yet been kindled in Raphael. But it was beautiful all the same. Aziraphale had always thought so.
I didn't know… I didn't know that, by the time I met him… My Principality… I would no longer be Raphael. Aziraphale stopped, the emotion of the voice washing over him. So different from the joy now exuding from Raphael. How was he hearing this? It's only through this Principality that my own divine name will ever live on… the name She gave me. Only through him.
This was wrong. Aziraphale shouldn't have been hearing this. If this was just a past event, then it should be perfectly preserved. It should not have… these waves of feeling, of remorse, of bitterness, of love…
Aziraphale realized with a pang of dread that he was not in a perfectly preserved event from long ago. No. These were Crowley's memories. Not Raphael's. Crowley's. Crowley had always said that Hell had a way of leaking into the mind to decree him orders whenever it wished. He had always said how he hated the invasion of his person. Well, it now appeared that it was a two-way link. Hell had not invaded his mind; it had plundered it. And now Hell had all these memories… all this pain… and had waited until the perfect moment to inflict it all over again on Crowley's consciousness. Dredge up everything he had laid to rest.
Again, Aziraphale remembered the gold embossed note with a sickening lurch.
A gift to the demon Crowley, to remind him that he always has a home.
A home in Hell, and only in Hell. Not on Earth. Not with Aziraphale. A reminder of where he belonged, and where he did not. Aziraphale closed his eyes and tried to block out Crowley's voice. Never mind opening his partner's mail. This was an intrusion beyond intrusions. But the voice persisted.
Long after Raphael was charred and blistered ash, cast of out Heaven, Aziraphale would honor the name as I, Crowley, knew I never could.
Aziraphale wanted to cry out. To scream it wasn't true. That he had seen Raphael, had seen Crawly, had seen Crowley, and they were all the same angel. As kind and as good, as impossible to deal with and as exquisite as he had ever been. Aziraphale wanted to scream all of this, but at the mention of the words charred and blistering ash, his mouth filled with soot and his vision, instead of going white, went black. He tried to reach out an arm, but it grasped at nothing. Just at Time, long since passed. The final thing he saw was Gabriel, his arm around Raphael's narrow shoulders in a comradely gesture that, with a twitch, could become a vice grip.
I wanted this story to feed into the adoration that Crowley feels towards Aziraphale across the length and breadth of their friendship on Earth. Crowley did fall in love with Aziraphale on the walls of Eden, but that fall was all the more agonizing, knowing that they had once been made for one another.
But not anymore.