“You reported it,” said Crowley, his voice like the hiss of hot iron dipped into water. “You. Reported. It.”
He was clinging to Aziraphale’s doorframe as if it were his only friend in a cruel world, in a way which would have made Aziraphale unaccountably envious of woodwork at any other time, but which now only made Aziraphale long for a wet cloth with which to wipe off the bloody fingerprints. They were going to drip, he just knew it. When he wanted to, Crowley had quite a talent for the kind of liquid splatter that gave an accusing drip at just those unevenly spaced intervals that would prevent ever acclimating to the sound.
“I’m sorry?” Aziraphale said.
“They gave me a bloody commendation,” said Crowley. He was swaying. “They don’t- they wouldn’t- unless-“
“I know,” said Aziraphale, and didn’t wince when he realized what he had said.
Crowley stared at him. Over the poisonous yellow of his eyes, there was a glaze of clear liquid, and in it, trapped days or months out of their proper time, moved reflections of dying women. If he tried Aziraphale rather thought he could have read the lies on their lips, the perfect fictions of desperation. He wondered what it was Crowley thought he was holding onto: the faces, or the falsehoods?
“This isn’t like you,” he remarked.
“This is…” Crowley muttered, and, “fuck.”
Aziraphale reached out to take his arm.
“Come in,” he said. Crowley didn’t resist.
“But why,” he was saying, soft and sibilant, the same words he had said to Eve, once; all simple incomprehension, as powerful in its own way as any persuasive argument for the pleasures of sin.
“My dear,” Aziraphale said, gently, “we have an arrangement,” and he drew Crowley inside, and he shut the door.
Charles met a fairly grisly end in a fighter plane near the end of 1941, and didn’t finish the paperwork requisite for a new body until 1948. It took him a further three months of pointedly aimless wandering of the Earth to locate Erik.
Erik, when he found him, was sitting in an Argentinian bar, his eyes fixed thoughtfully on the photograph hung in place of pride on the wall. Behind him, three men were in the throes of uncontrollable remorse. That, thought Charles, would explain why he’d thought he’d gotten a whiff of urine, three miles off.
“Erik,” he said, quietly.
“Charles,” said Erik, the slope of his shoulders still and lovely under his shirt. “Did you give Gabriel my regards?”
“No,” said Charles. He stepped over to the first man, knelt, and flipped him onto his back, gingerly.
It only took one look to tell him everything.
“He’s never going to sin again,” he said, unable to keep the astonishment out of his tone. “Erik, what…?”
“I know he’s not,” said Erik, and like that, the man died. A bubble of blood formed at the corner of his mouth, bright and transparent as Erik’s tone.
“What the hell are you playing at, my friend?” said Charles, standing. His knees, still new by rights, ached as if he had been resting his weight on them for hours, not minutes.
“Perhaps,” said Erik, “just this once, I am choosing to ignore the existence of a game.”
Charles was silent.
“He would never have sinned again,” he said, at last. “He would have known real grace.”
Erik shrugged. “Real grace. Granted him by a demon?” he said.
“You and I both know-“
“Yes,” said Erik, and turned on his stool. His legs moved first; the rest of him followed in one long, elegant twist. In the low light of late afternoon his eyes showed blue as Heaven’s bathroom tile. “It was more than he deserved.”
“This isn’t like you,” said Charles. It wasn’t what he’d meant to say. He had no idea what he’d meant to say.
“What isn’t?” said Erik, enunciating. He had rolled up his sleeves. His wrists were very bare. When Charles looked too hard at the clean brown skin of his left forearm he felt a headache coming on, pulsing hot in his temple.
“Taking it personally,” he said. “We’re meant to be above this sort of thing, you know.”
“Below,” corrected Erik.
“Whatever,” Charles snapped, too worried to argue. “They’re humans, Erik, for goodness’ sake.”
Erik looked at him.
“Tell you what,” he said, rising off the stool. “You can have the other two. To make up for what you missed. Never let it be said,” he said, “that I don’t keep my end of our bargain.”
Charles stared back.
“That one,” Erik pointed to one prone form, “is a pig farmer. The other is a tailor. With their souls all fresh and shrived in your hands I’m sure you can spread enough virtue to level any imbalances in the scales of war.”
“Famine,” said Charles, his mouth suddenly dry. “Famine’s scales.”
Erik stopped. For a moment, Charles could hear electrons shivering in the air. He watched as Erik placed one hand over his stomach, expression open. Thoughtful.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s right, isn’t it.”
He walked out with measured paces, and left the door swinging, in his wake.
Charles breathed in, deeply. Smelled the metallic stink of the new corpse, and all the good clean odors of this Earth.