Aziraphael has been busy.
Quite enormously so, in fact.
His Italian is getting so he almost doesn't sound like a foreigner, which is mildly unnerving - every now and again he made sure to make a deliberate mistake to remind them (himself?) that he really didn't belong there. That he wouldn't be staying there any longer than he had to, thank you very much.
(His Kinyarwanda, on the other hand, is genuinely quite dreadful. It'd be a marvel if his letter was delivered, quite frankly - the man had seemed to think that Aziraphael was attempting to buy his goat.)
He finally caught on, though, that there was work and there was work, and all work that had to be done had been settled to satisfaction, and if he gave them the chance they'd keep him another week at least.
And he had far more important things to be doing.
So he'd left, and he'd made his way back, and he'd not even stopped at the shop. He's almost outside the unobtrusive little door in the unobtrusive black wall when he suddenly pales, fingers clumsily undoing coat buttons and fumbling inside to brush against a long black feather that's pinned to the lining.
oh, he thinks.
A moment later and the street is deserted again, brick dust still gently drifting down from where a handle had slammed into the wall hard enough to leave a scar.
Nymphadora refuses to panic.
Bar said Bernard went to look for Crowley, that he said to tell his wife that everything is fine. They should still be around somewhere behind one of the innumerable doors in the residential hallways. At first she suspected that they were having a kind of a man-to-demon chat about some problem or other. Maybe the Christmas card. Maybe Iraq. Maybe Crowley's continued skittishness with the angel. Maybe--
Shut it, Nymphadora, she tells herself firmly, as she buttons Anthony into his pajamas. From down the hall she can hear Aziraphael reading Sunny a story in her bedroom. He can't quite keep all the worry out of his tone, but 'Dora hopes Sunny won't notice.
He'd stormed in, feather in hand, pale as salt, just as she was beginning to pace. Said the feather'd been cut off. A quick trip out to Bar had confirmed what Nymphadora already knew, deep inside.
The Binding was cut off, too.
There are a thousand explanations, a thousand things they could be doing, none of which have anything to do with danger. Who's to say where Crowley and Bernard ended up? Maybe they... went to Tortall with Alanna. What happens to the feather-connection when Crowley goes to another universe, after all? It's not like he's jaunting off to the Disc every other day.
She refuses to worry.
Because there is nothing to worry about.
Anthony goes to sleep easily, but Sunny asks more than once where Bernard is, and it's past her bedtime by the time she finally drops off. When Nymphadora quietly pulls her bedroom door shut, she steels herself and walks into the kitchen to join the angel.
He's making tea, unsurprisingly; having cleverly discovered her secret stash of the best blends, he is brewing a pot of ginger green. Neither of them speaks until they're settled at the dining room table, steaming mugs before them.
"They're fine," Nymphadora blurts abruptly. "Bernard left a message with Bar, he had time to do that much, so it's nothing to worry about. Nothing at all."
Aziraphael lets out a slow breath and avoids her gaze. "Of course, my dear. They'll undoubtedly be back before too long. Some very manly ritual involving alcohol and-- and back-slapping, I'm sure." He pauses, studying his tea, and then goes on. "I'm sorry. I. I can't be entirely optimistic. The feather. And you say Bernard's Binding is broken." He looks around, somehow both urgent and impotent. "I can't quite believe that there's nothing to do but wait."
At that, 'Dora's carefully-crafted front falters. "I know. But I don't know what else to do."
But the pot of tea empties, and the night grows chilly, and still they sit at the table, waiting.
Finally 'Dora stands, her sore joints protesting. "I'll get you a blanket and pillow," she says quietly.
As she stands in front of the open linen closet, the witch hears the first knock.
He spills tea over himself, when he hears the first knock. And he's mechanically mopping himself with a tea towel -
(His only handkerchief today is tucked neatly in the inside pocket of his jacket, just above where a feather is pinned. It's going to stay there.)
- when it registers.
Three quick knocks.
Three with pauses.
Three quick knocks.
(Where there is life, there is hope - Cervantes.)
(Hope and fear are inseparable. - La Rochefoucauld.)
It's possible he's never felt quite so helpless, so personally responsible for being unable to assist. For what more direct appeal to an angel than this?
Save Our Souls.
There's a pattern to it, Aziraphael said. Nymphadora shivers, as she stares at the darkened ceiling of her bedroom. Three short knocks, three long, and three more short. Her chest hitches, and the covers twist in her hands. S.O.S. Save Our Souls.
Beside her Anthony stirs fretfully, brow wrinkled in sleep, one tiny hand fisted in his mother's shirt. She'd given up trying to get him back in his cot an hour ago; the knocking made him jumpy and weepy, so Nymphadora brought him to bed with her.
She'd be lying to herself if she said it wasn't for her own sake, too.
Morse code, the angel said, his voice breaking. Distress, someone's in trouble, someone trapped in the walls? They can't tell. 'Dora wants to shout, to bang back, but there are the children to keep calm, and there's herself to keep calm, too.
They went out to the main bar and put a sign up.
If anyone has any information pertaining to the recent disappearance of bar patrons, as well as any odd knocking coming from the walls, please come forward as soon as possible. We are in the flat at the end of the hall, and are guaranteed to be awake. Thank you. --N. Tonks & Aziraphael
They looked, then, for any odd doors. Nothing. Bar was confused, more than anything else. She insisted that there were doors here and there, that weren't there before, and which had disappeared now.
It's been a long time since Nymphadora felt so helpless.
She stares up at the ceiling and worries her lip, as two fat tears trickle into the hair at her temples.
From the living room she can hear the soft chink of a mug on the coffee table.
She isn't the only one having a sleepless night.