Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 2603
Warnings, kinks and contents: Ineffable Husbands, Friendship, Love, Kindness, OFC, character death (not major character), It’s sad but hopefully beautiful too
Summary: Can flights of angels sing you to your sleep? Can angels sing at all? When the life of an elderly human friend of our ineffable husbands is near its end, can Aziraphale remember his heritage and help ease her last moments?
Note: Partially inspired by Michael Sheen’s heart-wrenching reply to a Tweet in the middle of June 2019.
Do note the tags. There is a minor character death in this story, but it isn’t a traumatic one.
[Just for clarification and in case the terminology is different outside Britain, ‘sheltered accommodation’ is where some elderly or infirm people live. Each resident usually has their own self-contained flat or small cottage and the estate is overseen by an on-site warden or nursing staff who can be summoned in an emergency by pulling one of the cords which hang in each room and reach from the ceiling to the floor.]
It wasn’t in Aziraphale’s nature to be actively friendly to humans, especially those who wandered into his shop and distracted him from his reading, but it was in his nature to be kind to anyone in distress. Audrey was one of the few people who he not only tolerated but actively encouraged to sit in his shop. She was 86 years old – she told him one day – and had been homeless for some years, unable to afford a place of her own and therefore having to sleep in shop doorways or under a bridge on the occasions she couldn’t get a room in a hostel. On the coldest or wettest days she would sometimes come into the book shop and pretend to be looking around while she warmed up. It didn’t take long for Aziraphale to realise what she was doing, and after that he would always sit her down on a comfortable chair and bring her a cup of tea, a plate of biscuits or sandwiches and an interesting book to read. If she sat there all day he pretended not to notice.
One day, after hearing that there was going to be a vicious cold snap for the next few weeks, Aziraphale couldn’t bear it any longer and explained Audrey’s situation to his best friend over lunch, asking if he thought there was anything they could do. Crowley protested that it was nothing to do with him, but after Aziraphale turned his biggest puppy dog eyes on him, the demon grumpily stomped round to the council offices that afternoon and had a quiet word in the ear of an official whom he’d successfully tempted several years previously. Audrey was moved into a small flat in sheltered accommodation within four days. Nobody ever asked who was paying her rent, nor who provided all the furniture and utensils that she needed. Crowley didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty that the council official had to work overtime practically every day for a year to afford his extra expenditure.
Audrey still came to the book shop occasionally and would enthuse about her new home, and one day she invited Aziraphale over for afternoon tea.
“It would be lovely to have visitors for once,” she told him, then looked across to where Crowley was lounging at an impossible angle on a nearby armchair. “You can bring your friend, too, if you like.”
“I am not going for tea with a human!” Crowley protested after she had left with Aziraphale’s promise to go round the next day.
“Oh, do come!” Aziraphale begged. “She’s lonely, and she’d love to have some company.”
Crowley glowered at him. “Are you asking me to be nice?” he growled.
“Well, you don’t have to be nice,” Aziraphale said. “I’ll do the niceness and you can sit in the corner and sulk if you prefer.” He threw his friend a pleading look. “You don’t have to make conversation. She just wants people around for her a change.”
A very sullen demon accompanied Aziraphale to Audrey’s flat the next afternoon. She seemed to be delighted to see them and ushered them into her sitting room.
“Let me just go and make us a cup of tea,” she said.
“Oh, let me do that for you!” Aziraphale said.
She held up a hand. “Mr Fell, it’s been a very long time since I was able to make tea for anyone,” she told him. “You sit there and let me be a proper hostess for once.”
“Very well,” Aziraphale smiled and sat down on one of the dining table chairs. She turned and directed a stern look at Crowley, who looked startled but meekly plonked down onto the other chair. Nodding approvingly, she went into the kitchen and a few minutes later she shuffled back into the room carrying a tray of tea things and a plate of biscuits. Aziraphale hurried over and relieved her of the tray, putting it down onto the dining table. He started to fuss over the teapot but she gently slapped his hand away. He took the hint and sat down again while she finished pouring three cups of tea and handed them out, then sat down in her armchair with a weary sigh. She took a sip of her tea.
“So, tell me, gentlemen,” she said, looking over the top of her cup at them. “Why is there an angel and a demon in my sitting room?”
Aziraphale nearly dropped his cup and saucer. Crowley leaned forward, his gaze intense.
“What are you talking about?” he demanded.
“An angel and a demon,” she said. “In my sitting room.”
“We’re not ... those things,” Aziraphale said weakly. “Why would you think we are?”
She smiled. “The wings rather give it away.”
“Oh, dear lady,” Aziraphale said with a nervous laugh. “We don’t have wings!”
“You might want to tell your shoulders that,” she said with a twinkle.
Crowley glowered at her. “You can’t see wings,” he told her sternly.
“I assure you that I can,” she said. She looked at him thoughtfully. “And you don’t need to wear those silly dark glasses if you don’t want to. I’m guessing that your eyes are different to human eyes, and I’d quite like to see them.”
As if to call her bluff, Crowley raised his hand to his face. Aziraphale whimpered but Audrey made a soothing sound, holding Crowley’s gaze. After a moment he took off his sunglasses and turned his face to look directly into her eyes. She looked back with no fear.
“They are beautiful,” she told him softly.
“I don’t understand how this is possible,” Aziraphale flustered. “How can you possibly know who we are?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I didn’t always know, not when I first met you. Then ...” she frowned as she thought back, “... I was trying to sleep in the doorway of the baker’s one night. I’d been having pains in my chest all day. I saw you two walk past on the other side of the road, and I saw your wings for the first time. I just knew what you were, but I wasn’t afraid.” She smiled. “I thought it was rather nice to know that there really are angels on Earth.” She turned to Crowley. “I’m counting you as an angel too, Mr Crowley.”
“You’re one of the few who does,” Crowley said darkly.
“Have-have you told anyone about us?” Aziraphale asked.
She smiled again. “Who’d believe me? It’s obvious that nobody else can see who you are. I don’t know why I’m special – and I do consider myself special, and very lucky – but no, I’m never going to tell anyone else. Your secret is perfectly safe with me.”
By mutual unspoken agreement, they didn’t mention the issue further and Audrey and Aziraphale made polite conversation for the next hour while Crowley glowered in the corner. The best friends discussed it in detail once they got back to the shop but Aziraphale was confident that Audrey was no danger to them, and Crowley reluctantly conceded that, short of trying to wipe her mind – which he wasn’t sure he could even do without causing lasting damage – there wasn’t much else he could do. Aziraphale firmly forbade him from even thinking about making the attempt.
Some months later, just as Aziraphale was lifting his head and frowning as he began to sense something amiss, Crowley burst through the door of the shop with more than his usual energy.
“Angel, you need to come,” he said urgently. “There’s something wrong with Audrey.”
He held the door wide open and Aziraphale hurried out into the street without pausing to chase the customers out of the shop. Audrey’s flat wasn’t far enough away to risk a noisy translocation which might draw the attention of their former colleagues, but as they hurried along the road people cleared out of the way whether they wanted to or not.
They ran into the estate, Crowley clicking open gates and doors with precise timing that didn’t slow their progress even momentarily. They burst into Audrey’s sitting room and Aziraphale gasped when he saw her lying on the floor.
“Audrey!” he said with concern, sinking to his knees to her left. Crowley knelt down at her other side. She opened her eyes and looked up at them tiredly.
“Oh, dear lady,” Aziraphale said worriedly. “What happened? Did you fall over?”
“Well, of course she fell over,” Crowley snapped.
Aziraphale threw him a stern glance. “Why did you just leave her here?” he demanded.
“I wasn’t here,” Crowley protested. “I wasn’t anywhere near here. I just ... I dunno, I just knew.”
“I wished you were here,” Audrey said weakly.
Crowley and Aziraphale exchanged a puzzled glance. She gasped and grimaced.
“It’s my chest,” she said. “I think I’ve had a heart attack. A big one.” She whimpered. “Oh, it hurts.”
Aziraphale slowly waved his hand above her chest, and her eyes widened a little.
“There’s no more pain,” she said in amazement.
“It’s the best I can do,” Aziraphale told her, his eyes anguished. “I’m sorry, but I can’t heal you. I simply don’t have the ability.” He glanced up to include Crowley. “Neither of us does.”
“You need doctors, nurses, medicine, I don’t know what,” Crowley told her, looking round and seeing the red emergency cord dangling from the ceiling at the side of the room. “I’ll pull the alarm.”
“No!” Audrey gasped.
Crowley, already halfway to his feet, paused and looked at her.
“Don’t call them,” she pleaded. “I don’t want them to save me. If they get here in time and take me to hospital, I’ll have nothing but pain and discomfort for months and months, and my health will never be good again.” She turned her eyes to Aziraphale. “Let me go. I’m not afraid. It’s my time, and I’m ready. What better way to go than in my own home with no pain and my sweet angels keeping me company?”
“Oh, my dear, are you sure?” Aziraphale asked while Crowley sank back down onto his knees.
“I’m ready,” she said softly. “Just stay with me, please.”
“Of course we will,” Aziraphale told her, squeezing her hand softly. She reached out her right hand to Crowley. He hesitated for a moment and then took it, using his other hand to remove his sunglasses.
She smiled and then closed her eyes, breathing quietly, and they knelt beside her and watched over her for several minutes. It wasn’t clear whether she was sleeping or unconscious, but it didn’t matter either way. Both of them could sense her life force fading. Then, as her breathing began to slow, Crowley suddenly looked across to Aziraphale.
“Sing,” he told him.
Aziraphale stared at him wide-eyed. “I can’t!” he said.
“Sing,” Crowley insisted.
“It’s been so long,” Aziraphale said nervously. “I’m not sure I can even remember the chords.”
“It doesn’t have to be a song you remember,” Crowley told him. “Make it up as you go along.”
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale fretted, but under Crowley’s encouraging gaze he opened his mouth and began to sing. His voice was quiet and uncertain at first but then settled and become firmer. He was beginning to feel a little more confident when he made the mistake of looking down at Audrey.
The emotions were too much to bear; he simply couldn’t do it. He stared at Crowley pleadingly, and instantly his friend held out his free hand to him. Aziraphale took it, and it felt as if Crowley was pouring demonic energy into him to give him strength. Aziraphale lifted his head and his voice became stronger. As his confidence grew his voice soared and broke into harmonies all on its own, as all angels’ voices can.
As his song continued he looked across to Crowley and nodded encouragingly. Crowley shook his head but Aziraphale held his gaze. Tremulously at first, Crowley began to join in. It took time but eventually he gained confidence and as his own voice becomes stronger and began to break into harmonies of its own, he threw all his energy into it and felt the joy of singing for the first time in centuries. As exultation engulfed his body his wings spread wide and began to shimmer, and over the course of the next few chords, the black gradually faded from his feathers and they became pure white for the first time in far too many years.
The harmonies increased and became more complex. Aziraphale and Crowley gazed at each other, unable to comprehend what was happening at first, but then they realised the truth and both lifted their eyes skywards as they continued the song.
In Heaven, many of the throng of angels which had gathered to listen to the sound coming from Earth had been unable to help themselves and were now joining in. It had been so long since they had had a chance to sing like this, and they joyfully added to the powerful music coming from below.
Some of the angels were more reluctant once they realised exactly who they were harmonising with. Gabriel in particular looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp as he mumbled along. His close associates, anxious to continue ingratiating themselves to him, also made minimal effort even though in truth they wanted to join in with the singing.
In front of the throng, a pair of hands took a firm grasp on the sword which used to belong to Aziraphale and ignited it, holding it threateningly towards the less enthusiastic angels. All of them immediately made more effort. The song soared even more gloriously.
In the flat on Earth, Audrey’s eyes opened one more time and she looked upwards blissfully, then turned her gaze to the two white-winged beings kneeling either side of her and smiled. “My beautiful angels,” she whispered, then her eyes closed and her breathing slowed and then ceased.
The song faded, and Aziraphale let out a faint cry of grief and slumped forward, bracing himself on one hand and weeping exhaustedly. Crowley, equally weary, reached over and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “You did good, angel,” he told him tiredly. “We both did good.” He groaned quietly. “You’re corrupting me, you monster.”
Aziraphale lifted his tear-stained face. Painfully he realised that Crowley’s wings were black again. Following his gaze, Crowley shrugged in resignation.
“It was never going to last,” he said. He looked down at Audrey, who still had a faint smile on her face. He sighed. “There’s nothing more we can do here,” he told his friend. “Come on – we’ll pull the emergency cord and leave, and her carers can do what’s needed for her.”
Aziraphale smiled at him tearfully. “Thank you,” he said simply. Crowley nodded in acknowledgement and they prepared to get up and leave the flat.
Before they could muster the strength to stand, the room filled with a Presence, and each of them felt the gentle invisible touch of a hand on their head.
“Crowley, Aziraphale,” a Voice said tenderly. “She is safely home with us. I am proud of both of you.”
“Thank you, Lord,” Aziraphale said tiredly, and then the Presence withdrew.
“Well ...” Crowley said, wide-eyed and a little startled. “That happened.”
He stumbled to his feet and hauled Aziraphale up. “I dunno about you, angel,” he said, “but I’ve got a very sore throat and need several large drinks to soothe it.”
“We’ll raise a glass to Audrey,” Aziraphale said quietly.
Crowley met his eyes. “We’ll raise many glasses to Audrey,” he told him.