Written for emjay as part of the Good Omens Exchange 2006.

Note: One of the things emjay mentioned wanting to see in her request was "...a fic where any cliche of the author's choice is subverted....." Well, according to Josephine Darcy's "Things You Learn From Slash", Cliche #101 tells us that "All law enforcement partners will eventually have to pretend to be lovers." I mean...one could think of Crowley and Aziraphale as helping to enforce God's law, right? Sort of? A little?

Many thanks to Chazpure, Daegaer, and Nny for beta'ing this story

An Excellent Long-Term solution
by Beth H.
(c) December 2006

***

In the end, the real trouble didn't come from Crowley's people.

While both sides had taken a 'wait and see' attitude in the early days following the near-Apocalypse, Hell had bounced back from the crisis much faster than Heaven had, which was all a little confusing when you first sat down and thought about it.

After all, it was Hell that had set the whole game in motion, which meant that Hell was ultimately responsible for everything going completely pear shaped. Satan himself couldn't have argued [1] against the fact that the cornerstone of The Great Plan had been to Send Unto the Earth the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness in order that Great Chaos should Spread throughout the Earth and Bring On the End of Days ...and that absolutely nothing about the plan except the actual sending of the child had worked out the way he'd been told it would when the idea was first pitched at one of Hell's weekly strategy sessions.

Now, ordinarily, this would have been a Very Bad Thing, for even the smallest cock-up made by demonkind was generally dealt with by the Princes of Hell decreeing that 'heads would roll' (something meant rather more literally Down Below than Up Here, of course), and this cock-up had been the opposite of small. One might even call it Apocalyptic if one didn't mind extremely weak puns. However, it happened that Duke Hastur (who'd been nominally responsible for the plan in the first place and therefore stood to lose the most) had said glumly that "things being completely buggered-up was pretty much what Hell was all about." Instead of incurring Satan's wrath, Hastur's all-too-true whinging actually made Satan laugh, after which he slapped Hastur on the shoulder and reminded the assembled demons that his office was always open if anybody had any suggestions for the next attempt to destroy God's creation.

Hastur was so relieved that he'd somehow escaped punishment (aside from one extremely painful shoulder) that he forgot entirely that he'd been planning on pinning the blame for everything that had gone wrong for the past six-thousand years on Crowley.

And as for Crowley, once he realised that he wasn't in any trouble (or at least not in any more trouble than a demon usually finds himself in), he quietly slipped out Hell's backdoor and returned to his life on Earth.

***

Heaven, by all accounts, wasn't quite so compassionate and forgiving.

Aziraphale's first clue that something wasn't quite right, he told Crowley late one afternoon, was the arrival in the post of three envelopes containing backdated bills from Thames Water, Southern Electric, and British Gas in the amounts of 4860, 6000, and 5400 respectively. When all the usual methods (starting with willing the bills out of existence) failed to work, Aziraphale had rung the customer service numbers of each of the utilities in turn, but for some unfathomable reason, not one of the representatives to whom he spoke was prepared to accept Aziraphale's word that his bookstore hadn't actually made use of their services in past years.

Crowley, typically, hadn't exhibited a shred of sympathy. He supposed Aziraphale hadn't really expected him to - sympathy being in rather short supply amongst the denizens of Hell, even those of the expatriate variety - but he could tell Aziraphale thought it would have been nice if Crowley had said something other than "I don't suppose you have any more of that clotted cream we had for tea last week."

"Is that it then?" Aziraphale asked testily.

"What more do you want me to say?" said Crowley. "As long as you can still conjure money out of thin air, I don't know what the prob...."

"Angels are not conjurors."

Crowley peered over the top of his sunglasses at Aziraphale and shook his head. "Fine," he said. "Feel free to think of it as performing miracles, if you like. The point is that it's not as if you're going to miss the money."

"The point," said Aziraphale waving his arms dramatically, " - beyond the fact that there's a principle at stake here, which I should have known you wouldn't recognize - is that the public utility companies shouldn't have been aware that my shop isn't making use of their services in the first place."

To Aziraphale's obvious dismay, Crowley simply shrugged. "I say it's just a one off event, and you shouldn't worry about it unless something like this happens again. Which it won't."

***

Crowley was right; it didn't happen again.

What happened instead was something that Crowley knew to be far worse (at least from Aziraphale's perspective), when by half ten the following morning, the bookstore was completely full of customers, and they were all buying books.

Crowley, having nothing in particular to do, spent the day in the bookstore. He watched, bemused, as Aziraphale did everything in his power to dissuade the customers from making purchases, even going so far as to attempt to send the shop to Mozambique, just for a moment (Aziraphale said later he was almost entirely certain that this would have presented no danger to any of the customers), but nothing he did had any affect. The shop stayed right where it was, and the books kept disappearing, carried off in the grubby hands of strangers.

When closing time finally arrived, Aziraphale shooed the last customer out the door, then sat down behind his desk.

"Something is definitely wrong," Aziraphale said. "I'm being punished."

"You're delusional," Crowley said, shaking his head. "It's just a coincidence that all those people happened to be shopping for books at the same time and that you couldn't persuade them to leave. Do you have a corkscrew?"

Aziraphale frowned, as if he'd never heard a non sequitur in his life. "Pardon?"

"A corkscrew. A glass or two of that Brunello di Montalcino you've been keeping on hand is definitely called for."

"Then I suppose you're going to have to go out and buy some, aren't you?" Aziraphale snapped.

"What do you mean?" Crowley asked, frowning.

"I mean it's gone."

"The Brunello?"

"All of it," Aziraphale said morosely. "All the wine."

"Don't be ridiculous. All you have to do is..."

"I can't," said Aziraphale. "I can't do...anything. Don't you understand? My side...well, they're a bit rigid about things like interfering in God's ineffable plan sometimes. Not like your lot, who I'm sure thought it was all a great laugh."

"Wait...they got rid of your wine?"

"Yes."

"All right, you need to start taking this seriously, angel," said Crowley, thinking this might be the appropriate time to take up pacing. "You're definitely in some kind of trouble with your people."

"Exactly, my dear," said Aziraphale, and if a slight hint of eye-rolling accompanied his response, Crowley chose to ignore it on the basis that the angel was clearly suffering enough already from the loss of his wine cellar. "That's precisely what I've been trying to tell you! What am I going to do?"

"Don't you mean 'what are we going to do?"

***

Later that evening, what Aziraphale and Crowley had succeeded in doing was covering both sides of a pad of A4 paper with possibilities, but the angel and the demon seemed no closer to finding a workable solution than they had been three hours earlier.

"Nothing's good enough for your lot!" Crowley said, throwing up his hands in frustration.

"Now you know that's not quite fair, my dear," Aziraphale answered. "Although to be honest, I can only think of one thing they'd...no, it's absurd really."

"What? Do you have an idea?" asked Crowley.

"No, of course not. But...no, never mind."

"Come on, angel," Crowley said. "What were you about to say?"

Aziraphale sighed. "I just wondered whether my people might think my actions were a little more understandable if you and I were...involved."

"You mean like...business partners?" Crowley asked with a frown. "I thought we'd decided to keep the Arrangement private."

"No, not like business partners," Aziraphale said slowly and clearly, as if speaking to a particularly dim child. "Involved. On a more...personal level."

For a moment, Crowley said nothing. A personal involvement. With Aziraphale.

"You know," he said slowly. "That's not a bad idea."

"Oh, I'm sure not." Aziraphale flushing slightly.

"What if it were...Love?" Crowley said, rolling the taste of the word around in his mouth for a moment or two. "I think this might just be the answer. It could work."

"Oh no, it's too silly really," said Aziraphale, turning the most charming shade of pink [2].

Crowley took off his sunglasses and looked closely at the angel. Could something as ridiculous as blushing seem charming simply because the idea of 'involvement' had been introduced into the conversation? It would seem so, but...

"Let's forget all about it,' said Aziraphale. "I'm sure we'll be able to come up with another solution in time."

"No, wait," Crowley said, laying his hand on Aziraphale's arm, and whether it was to reassure the angel or to keep him from moving away, he had no idea. "My people would see through this ploy in an instant. If there's one thing that Hell teaches you, it's suspicion. Heaven though...I mean, I'm sorry Aziraphale, but your lot are taken in by everybody. They want to see the best in everyone, don't they? And they're swept away by this Love business all the time."

"Do you really think it might work?" Aziraphale asked a little breathlessly [3], as he placed his own hand on top of Crowley's.

"I do," Crowley said, turning toward the angel...and how was it that Crowley had never noticed before how warm Aziraphale's skin was? He placed his free hand against the angel's cheek. "We'd have to...well, you know. Just for the sake of appearances, of course."

"Of course," said Aziraphale, leaning in and kissing Crowley for the first time. "Just for the sake of appearances.

"Mmm." The angel's mouth tasted like peppermint and chocolate and honey. "To get them to believe we're in Love."

Aziraphale nodded. "You know, it might take an awfully, awfully long time to convince my people that we're in Love," he murmured into the curve just above Crowley's collarbone. "They're a rather suspicious lot, all things considered."

"Doesn't matter if it takes an eternity," Crowley said, without taking his lips away from Aziraphale's mouth. "Now we've got all the time in the world."

***

Epilogue (rather freely adapted from Job, 1: 6-8)

Now there were days when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Adversary also came among them.

The LORD (or more accurately, the Metatron, but let's just say it's the LORD) said to the Adversary, "From where have you come?" and the Adversary answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."

And the LORD said to the Adversary, "Have you considered my servant Aziraphale, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright angel, who fears Me and...oh my! Whatever is that angel doing?"

And the Adversary (who at the moment looked quite a lot like the kind of eleven year old boy one might find in Lower Tadfield) answered the LORD and said, "It looks as if he's trying to re-unite Heaven and Hell. I thought that's what you lot went in for, Love and all that."

And the LORD looked some more (in an altogether non-voyeuristic fashion) and said to the Adversary, "That demon certainly is gullible, isn't he? Fancy him believing that we'd have anything to do with sending customers to a bookstore or taking anybody's wine away. Are you quite sure Aziraphale isn't really one of yours?"

To which the Adversary replied. "Don't ask me. I'm not the one who's supposed to be omniscient," which made the LORD chuckle. "Mind you," the Adversary continued, "they do seem to be in Love."

Love.

And the LORD saw that it was good.


[1] Satan jolly well could have argued against this or against anything else, for that matter. There was very little that Satan couldn't do, when it came to arguing.

[2] If Crowley had stopped to think for a moment, he might possibly have remembered that while blushing is an autonomic response in human beings, angels (even ones in a human body) have to will themselves to blush.

[3] Not that Aziraphale needed to breathe in the first place.

********

Comments, critiques, chit chat: beth-h (at) mrks (dot) org

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