Of Friends and Places Left Behind
Disclaimer 1: This is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic results if they really want to.

Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.

Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here. Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.

Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.

Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these things.

Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.

For GOE 2009. Introdcing my own version of Gabriel and his best friend.

Gift for: Mi-Chan
Rating: G
A/N: Unfortunately I don’t know any Hebrew so the names of Aziraphale’s friends are just random picks.

Crowley wasn’t in the best of moods when he got home that day. He’d taken half an hour longer for the trip than he’d expected, though to be honest, it was entirely his own fault. He should have known better than to take the Bentley when he was about to turn off the electricity for most of London. Of course there’d be traffic jams and accidents blocking most of the route back, what with all the traffic lights going out at rush hour. That had been part of the desired effect after all.

Like all demons Crowley hated becoming the victim of his own joke.

All he wanted to do when he finally arrived at his flat was to crawl into his nice, luxurious bed and sleep. A couple of hours, or maybe days, of sloth were exactly what he needed right now.

Instead, the moment he opened the door he was beset by an overly energetic angel.

“Crowley! Crowley!” Aziraphale called excitedly grabbing his arm and pulling him inside with a totally uncharacteristic twirl.

“What the bloody He … Hea … Manchester are you doing here?” What if he got a message from Hell? What if, for once, it came by messenger instead of through the TV or radio?

“I’ve been recalled!” the angel shouted excitedly. “I’m going back to Heaven!”

Crowley stared at him.

“They’ve forgiven me. I didn’t think they ever would, and then the whole debacle with Adam happened and … I can hardly believe they’re letting me go home!”

“You … you’re leaving,” Crowley finally realised.

“Oh, oh yes, and I’m late already,” the angel confirmed. “So sorry to rush off like this. I wish we could have said goodbye properly, had a last dinner together or something, but you know the way it is. They wanted me to come right away and I couldn’t well tell them that I needed to arrange a dinner with a demon first.”

“Er … What did you tell them?” Crowley asked, still trying to sort out his thoughts. Aziraphale had been down here since the beginning just like he had. He’d never expected either of them to have to leave, much less to be happy about it.

“That there were some things I needed to take care of,” Aziraphale answered. “But I believe they probably thought I meant the bookshop. Anyway, I have to go. You’ll take care of it won’t you?”

“O ... of course …” This was all going much too fast.

“That’s a dear. Goodbye, Crowley. Maybe I’ll get a chance to visit, if I’m ever on Earth again.”

And with a last unexpected hug and a flurry of wings, the only other being on Earth that had been there since the beginning of time was gone, leaving behind one very confused and exhausted demon.

Aziraphale felt a touch of guilt at leaving Crowley so suddenly, but the demon couldn’t well come to Heaven with him and Earth was a lot more pleasant than Hell. He knew Crowley had always liked it there. And yet …

“He’s not going to miss me,” the angel told himself sternly. “He’s a demon. They aren’t capable of caring for anyone other than themselves. He can’t feel real friendship.”

An angel, however, needed friendship and after 6000 years Aziraphale was about to see his friends again. Surely Chariel, Kyriel and Chaverel had missed him more than Crowley ever could.

Aziraphale stopped in surprise when the arch appeared where the simple door to Heaven used to be. It appeared to be made of ivory, laid in with mother of pearl and where that apparently hadn’t been glittery enough there were decorations of pure silver. At least, he thought, there wasn’t any gold.

That, he discovered when he landed under the arch, had been reserved for the gate itself. This huge, richly decorated thing could no longer be referred to as a simple door.

“What’s with the arch and everything?” he asked as he stepped up to the booth next to the closed gate that had once been a simple door always open in welcome.

“Why, this is the gate to Heaven.” It wasn’t the friendly angel that Aziraphale had expected to be guarding the gate as he always had. The usual gatekeeper had been replaced by a grumpy human soul.

Of course humans expected the entrance to Heaven to be guarded by St. Peter these days. They also expected it to be beautiful, but in Aziraphale’s opinion this was overkill and just a touch too … boastful for Heaven.

“Wouldn’t the gate alone have sufficed, though?” he asked. “The gate and the arch. It seems a bit much.”

“And just who do you think you are to criticise Heaven?” St. Peter snapped.

Obviously it would have been wiser to keep his thoughts to himself. St. Peter demanded and triple checked his identification and sent messenger doves first to Michael, then to the Metatron and finally to Jesus before he accepted that Aziraphale really had clearance to enter Heaven.

Aziraphale meanwhile sat on a cloud under the overloaded arch, kicking his heels against the downy soft material that reminded him so much of the home that was just one ugly, closed, monstrously huge gate away. He tried hard to remain patient. After all, as soon as the formalities were over, the gate would open and he’d be home.

And finally it did, but when Aziraphale walked through, he didn’t find the soft cloudscape he remembered. Instead he found streets paved with hard, glittering-cold silver and angular houses decorated in gold.

Of course the human souls were used to living in buildings and walking on clear-cut roads. Aziraphale supposed it made it easier for them to find their way in this new environment. However, it made him feel completely lost. As he walked down the street looking for a familiar landmark or face, he remembered the feeling of soft warm clouds that gave way under his feet and sprang back behind him.

He didn’t find either. There seemed to be only a few beings about and they were all human souls. Maybe this part of the city belonged to them and the angels lived elsewhere on their little clouds as they always had?

The humans looked at him strangely when he asked them for directions, but pointed him towards the center of Heaven anyway. The palace, they called it. Aziraphale had the sinking feeling that he wouldn’t like what he found there either.

Then again, Chariel, Kyriel and Chaverel would be waiting for him there. Or somewhere. Surely he’d find them eventually.

The houses grew bigger and even more palatial the closer he got to the palace, and there were fewer and fewer human souls outside. Then, quite suddenly, there were angels flying about and no more humans at all. Instead of the simple white gowns that Aziraphale remembered they wore elaborately folded tunics that were decorated as richly as the houses. The combined effect of all that glitter made Aziraphale a little dizzy and he decided to stay on the ground and walk.

The angels looked at him strangely as he made his way to the palace and up the marble staircase on foot, dressed in his simple old robe.

Crowley didn’t fully realise that Aziraphale was gone until he woke up well rested the next morning. Earth felt strangely empty and boring.

He took a walk to St. James Park in memory of the many times he’d met the angel there, draining the batteries of the mobile phones of passers-by as he went. More boringness.

Even the ducks seemed less lively than usual. Unable to think of anything else to do Crowley materialised some bread and threw it to them. They gave him some questioning looks. After all, it was usually the other one that fed them.

Crowley half-heartedly sank a few, but remembered Aziraphale disapproved of that, so he let them pop back up to the surface before they were even fully submerged. That wasn’t any fun either. He needed something to do.

So he settled on a bench, watched the ducks and kept draining mobile phone batteries and occasionally other batteries, too, to make it a little less boring.

At sunset he materialised some more bread for the ducks, then wandered home in the dark. By then he felt as empty as the dark Earth. He probably needed some more sleep.

Finding his friends again after reporting in at the palace turned out not to be hard at all. All angels, he was told, had to attend dinner in the great hall of the palace every day, and after that the grand ball. A ball with absolutely no dancing.

At first Aziraphale considered teaching his fellow angels the gavotte, but well, the atmosphere at the ball just wasn’t right for such frivolities. It was a very serious, formal affair where deserving human souls were honoured with an invitation and the chance to actually mingle with the angels. The human guests changed every day, but the angels were always the same.

It was crowded, but the limited amount of room meant it was easier to find people there than by searching the city.

Aziraphale found Chariel and Kyriel surprisingly quickly despite their over-decorated robes and their wings being powdered with gold-dust. They were delighted to see him, and as they excitedly told him about events he’d missed in Heaven and politely inquired about his time on Earth, Aziraphale completely forgot about the discomfortingly large and empty house he’d been assigned, that was so much more Crowley’s style than his and the strangeness of this new and changed Heaven.

For a while at least. Once the first excitement about his return was over, his old friends remembered their surroundings, took a critical look at Aziraphale’s attire and shook their heads.

“You really can’t go around looking like this,” Kyriel advised him. “Especially not at the balls. They’re highly representative functions. Plain robes like this have been out for centuries.”

“They were impressive enough for the Stone Age hunters and gatherers, but these newer Knights and Ladies simply expect something more from His servants,” Chariel elaborated. “They have very refined tastes.”

And Crowley always said Aziraphale was behind the times!

“So Heaven is adapting to the Middle Ages’ concepts of the world?” he asked his friends.

Unfortunately, the sarcasm was completely lost on them. Kyriel went off on a diatribe about what was fashionable to wear for choir practise and which hymns were all the rage at the moment, while the more practically inclined Chariel gave Aziraphale advice on how to powder his wings.

“You’ll probably look better with silver dust than gold,” he explained. “It will go better with the shade of your hair.”

Aziraphale wanted neither silver nor gold dust on his modest white feathers, nor did gold brocade or gauze sound like an appealing thing to wear.

“While that’s surely all very good advice,” he said, trying hard to be polite. “I really can’t rush off to buy fashion accessories in the middle of this ball and, well, my most immediate concern is to catch up with all my old friends, say hello and … well, what I actually mean is do you know where I can find Chaverel?”

“Chaverel?” Chariel asked with a rather unangelic sneer. “Oh, forget about him. Ever since they made him Gabriel’s assistant he’s been much too high and mighty to bother with common angels like us. But there are other angels you really should greet, ones that will be important for your future.”

Unfortunately it turned out that, while they were of course all very nice and angelic, none of those people were old friends, or at all interested in a plainly dressed Principality freshly returned from Earth. Maybe Aziraphale really needed an over-decorated robe and silver-dusted wings to fit in. Perhaps he’d even get used to it in time. Of course he would.

Surely he couldn’t keep feeling like a stranger in Heaven forever.

Crowley had half intended to sleep away another century, but after a little over a week he woke up feeling like he had forgotten something important. At first he tried to ignore it and go back to sleep, but the feeling kept nagging at him persistently.

He started thinking about what he might have forgotten. He didn’t have an urgent mission from Hell, nor any time sensitive plan in motion. The last big thing he’d done was the blackout and that was complete. There weren’t any good ideas for the next plan at the moment. He’d come up with something eventually, no need to get up before he did.

There weren’t any plans to meet Aziraphale either … and never would be again. The angel was gone.

Oh, but he’d promised to take care of the disposal of Aziraphale’s earthly possessions! That was what he’d forgotten.

Crowley shot out of bed, miracled on a black suit and rushed to the Bentley.

It wouldn’t be a difficult task, the demon decided as he speeded towards Soho sabotaging engines and tyres of parked cars he passed whenever he remembered to. In his long existence he’d disbanded enough old identities and homes. He’d have to take stock of everything in the shop, sell what could be sold, throw away the rest and then sell the shop itself and it’d be done, gone as if it’d never existed.

The bell rang as it had a million times before when Crowley had entered the bookshop, but this time no angel called out from the back room. The demon took a deep, unnecessary breath and coughed. It was even dustier than usual in here.

Well, no angel to stop him from miracling it all away. With one thought the bookshop became cleaner than it had been in centuries. Crowley nodded to himself with satisfaction.

This room was mostly books and shelves, pretty simple. Sell the books first, on e-bay or Amazon should be easiest, then the furniture.

The back room contained more books and a wealth of memories. On the table, where they’d spent so many nights drinking, stood Aziraphale’s favourite cup still half full of cold tea with some dust and a dead fly swimming in it.

Crowley took it into the kitchen and washed it out. Maybe he’d keep this as a memento. It didn’t seem right to sell something that was so very … Aziraphale.

The angel’s smell still clung to his clothes and at a closer look most of the books, especially those in the back room were bibles or other religious texts – none of them satanic.

Crowley stared at them, dangling Aziraphale’s cup from one hand and holding a single tartan stocking in the other. What was he supposed to do with these? He was a demon for Go.. Sa… Somebody’s sake! He couldn’t sell bibles.

Nor could he just burn or wish away Aziraphale’s prized possessions. He’d have to think of some other solution.

Crowley put the stocking and cup on the table and went to get the last of the angel’s wine. He knew exactly what he could do to dispose of that.

For a while Aziraphale tried to blend in with the other angels and be accepted. It didn’t work, though. It was a pretence, a lie, and angels could sense lies, he supposed, so they kept their distance.

While Chariel and Kyriel had been delighted to have him back at first, he soon realised that they had grown so close over the millennia, that they didn’t really have room for anyone else in their friendship. Perhaps that was the real reason Chaverel had turned to Gabriel for companionship instead. Unfortunately Aziraphale didn’t have that option.

Instead he left the inner districts of the city and wandered the human sections for a while. He found several old friends there and it was good to talk with them again, though a bit difficult to explain all the changes in the world after their deaths. Human souls from different time periods didn’t tend to spend much time together for just that reason, but once Aziraphale brought them together many of his friends did get along very well.

He could have happily gone on this way, but one day Michael cited him into his office and very sternly informed him that it was unseemly for an angel to hang out with human souls that hadn’t been honoured with an invitation to the ball, rebellious even, undermining discipline and seeding dissent. Apparently Heaven’s security depended on everybody, including the human souls, remaining in the district they’d been assigned to.

Aziraphale sighed and nodded and promised not to visit his friends anymore.

It didn’t change the fact that he felt uncomfortable and left out among his fellow angels, though. The balls remained the only times he went out to meet them, and even then he mingled as little as possible. Oddly, he felt less alone when he wasn’t among angels.

During one such ball he discovered a side door leading onto a seemingly forgotten balcony from which one had an excellent view over the city. It still looked over-decorated, but there was a certain beauty to it. Aziraphale leaned against the railing and sighed. Beautiful but empty, not at all like home.

“Nobody should be lonely in Heaven,” a soft voice said behind him.

Aziraphale started at the realisation that he was no longer alone outside and turned his head to look at the speaker.

“Chaverel! I thought … They told me you’re always busy with Gabriel these days …” Oh dear, now he’d probably insulted him.

But Chaverel only smiled and copied Aziraphale’s position leaning against the railing beside him and looking out over the city. “Nobody should be lonely in Heaven,” he repeated as if it explained everything.

“I didn’t come out here to escape loneliness,” Aziraphale insisted. “Why would I, with so many angels inside? No, I guess I was feeling crowded.”

Chaverel remained silent for a while.

“I can sense it, you know,” he said at length, and when Aziraphale looked nonplussed he added: “Loneliness, I mean. Nobody should be lonely in Heaven and yet I can sense it everywhere. And so I seek out the lonely ones and become their friend. But what they need most from their friend is time. There are too many lonely souls in Heaven.”

“I was never lonely on Earth,” Aziraphale explained. “Despite it changing so fast and the humans being so short lived. I always found new friends. I should be able to find them here as well, but the angels are so changed from how I remember them, so different from the way I think, it feels so wrong to me. Perhaps I need time to adapt to this new way of thinking.”

“Or perhaps you are right,” Chaverel said even more softly. “We have turned Heaven and ourselves into what humans expected to see, saying that those are outside changes, superficial and unimportant, they won’t change us inside, but by giving such attention to superficial things, maybe we are becoming superficial ourselves.”

Aziraphale laughed and for the first time in a long time felt a little lighter, almost happy. “Not you,” he said. “Not if you think thoughts like these.”

“Maybe not, but nobody should be lonely in Heaven and we’ve let loneliness creep everywhere. But you said you weren’t lonely on Earth and there is a lot of work still to be done there. I can sense a lot of loneliness even at this distance.”

“I …” Aziraphale started, but Chaverel stood up straight and lifted a hand to forestall him.

“I will talk with Gabriel,” he said. “He can pull a lot of strings.” And as quickly and quietly as he had come he slipped back inside.

Aziraphale hurried after him, but he’d already disappeared into the crowd of glittering, decorated angels. Chaverel wore just enough silver and gold that he didn’t stick out among their over-decorated brothers, he realised. Perhaps he, too, could find that balance.

It had taken surprisingly long to work out, but Crowley finally realised what he should have done with Aziraphale’s shop all along. That he could have been offered such an excellent opportunity and not have realised it until now!

He’d have to redecorate a bit, of course, but it could be kept to a bare minimum, if he went about it cleverly enough. Some cleaning and repainting, a little bit of moving furniture around and he’d have to move Aziraphale’s most prized books out of the way, of course. The bibles could stay in the back room and he’d make room for the other too sanctimonious texts in the attic. Add a computer and some nice pot-plants that he could bring over from his flat and the shop would look modern and attractive in no time.

Soho would make an excellent centre of operations. He should have moved closer to the sinners a long time ago, and once he made the place his own and lived in it for a while it would stop reminding him of the angel all the time.

With a smile and unusual eagerness, Crowley got to work.

“Good luck then,” Gabriel said, fluffing his black and white wings once again in an attempt to shake off the remaining gold dust he’d worn at the ball. “And this time, don’t forget to write every once in a while.”

Aziraphale nodded. “I don’t know how I can ever thank you enough …”

“No need,” Gabriel assured him. “All I did was inform Michael of your willingness to take the assignment. You really are the best angel for the job. The other candidates didn’t have nearly as much knowledge of Earth or humans.”

“Well, who could?” Chaverel asked lightly. He seemed much happier today, almost playful. Aziraphale hadn’t known that Gabriel tolerated such a relaxed attitude from his staff. “Go on home, Aziraphale. And keep an eye on the lonely ones for me.”

“If you’re ever down there …” Aziraphale offered.

“I’ll remember to say hello. Or maybe, if I’m ever not quite so busy up here I’ll drop by just to visit. We won’t forget you, I promise, but there’s somebody waiting for you down there. Someone who needs you more than we do.”

“But nobody could possibly know I’m coming back,” Aziraphale exclaimed.

“Yes, but he’s waiting for you anyway,” Chaverel insisted.

For most of the way back to Earth Aziraphale wondered about this mystery person, but the closer he got to the planet itself the more the question was pushed aside by the pure joy of returning. Gabriel was right: This was where he belonged, this was his home. How could he ever have been happy to leave?

But then being recalled to Heaven had meant being forgiven for his old mistake. It did make a difference whether one was fulfilling a task set as punishment or doing it by choice.

The lights of London that night were a much more beautiful sight to him than the gates of Heaven had been.

Out of habit he landed right outside a little bookshop in Soho. It was still a bookshop, he noticed, though it was now sparkling clean and the new neon sign above the entrance nearly blinded him with its light. He turned his face away quickly and his eyes fell on the window display. The Kamasutra opened to a particularly vivid illustration and next to it …

“They turned it into an erotic-book shop!” Aziraphale gasped.

Well in this neighbourhood, what had he expected?

He brushed his hand across the door one last time and it opened to his touch as if recognising and welcoming its old owner. Aziraphale smiled and slipped inside.

At a closer look it wasn’t all erotica. On the inside familiar shelves, newly repaired and dust-free, were filled with all kinds of occult and downright Satanic books. The Necronomicon was stacked right next to the flashy new register, but there were also romances and mysteries and all manner of shiny new releases, even some children’s books that definitely didn’t look like they’d been supplied by Adam.

It seemed to be a flourishing business, but it hurt to know that all this had replaced his beloved treasures, the bibles and first editions he’d collected over so many centuries.

He wondered what had happened to the back room and went to check.

To his surprise it was almost completely unchanged. A bit neater than he remembered last seeing it and some books had been added to the pile, but none appeared to be missing. Could it be? Had the new proprietor not found customers interested in any of them?

The kitchen was mostly unchanged as well. Drawn by irresistible curiosity, Aziraphale went upstairs. His study had been converted into a bedroom, dominated by a large, luxurious black bed. It might have looked a little forbidding, if it hadn’t been for the old tartan jumper lying on the pillow.

One of Aziraphale’s own tartan jumpers!

He went to pick it up, but froze mid-movement when he noticed the green, scaly tail peeking out. Well, that explained a lot.

Aziraphale gently pulled away the right sleeve of the jumper to reveal the serpent that was fast asleep with his body curled around the left sleeve and his nose buried as deeply in the fabric as he could.

“Oh Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered. “You sentimental fool!”

It would take a while to adapt to the changes in his bookshop, but at least Aziraphale knew that he’d never be lonely here.

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