A:

Found something of yours. Will be by to drop it off.

-R


That's all there is, though Aziraphael reads the text wave over several times.

There's no postscript; there's no attachment. He reads it forwards; he reads it backwards; he applies every one of the considerable number of ciphers he can think of, including seven that civilians are quite probably not supposed to know, and three that haven't been used since invisible ink fell out of fashion. He looks and looks for hidden messages that fail to appear - that in fact seem bound and determined not to exist at all, despite his diligence in seeking them.

The problem, of course, is that it's Raguel. With Raguel, Aziraphael has learned, nothing is ever that simple - except when it is.

And so he frets, although he tries not to. The surface message of the wave is itself worrying enough; it might be the next day that Raguel decides to come by, or it might be next year. Of course, the knowledge that it could be any time doesn't stop Aziraphael from scanning the skies nearly all the time, in between trying his luck with Raguel's useless link. It gives him the same message over and over: UNABLE TO CONNECT - INTERFERENCE.

This does nothing for his nerves.

As it happens, however, it's only about two weeks later that a bustling novice, far too officious for his tender years, brings him word of an incoming craft. Or rather, an incoming craft that doesn't then appear in reassuring black and white when Aziraphael listens to the sudden certainty in his gut and goes to check the planner. And as he expected, nobody is expected.

And so it's midafternoon of a lovely Persephone day - beaming and blue-skied and with just the right amount of breeze to provide relief from the sun - that finds Prior Fell making his way up towards the landing dais a short distance from the main buildings at Southdown Abbey.

His pace is just a little too brisk to be called a stroll.
It's just past the still-dark phase of the morning when Aziraphael disentangles himself from Crowley for long enough to slip out of the bed and into his fuzzy slippers and a worn bathrobe. Downstairs, he putters around aimlessly for a minute before changing the opening time on the sign to 1pm. He goes to the kitchen and, humming tunelessly, fills the kettle and takes a pair of mugs from the draining board. He's poured the hot water and is pulling a plastic honey bear from the cupboard when it occurs to him that tea might not be quite the thing if he's going back to bed.


Well, waste not. He takes both the mugs as he creaks up the stairs and carefully opens the bedroom door with one shoulder. It's fortunate - or something like that - that it didn't close all the way when he left.

Consciousness descends on him by inches, and with the growing light that has been edging onto his pillow comes the growing awareness that the other side of the bed is empty.

There's a terrible crick in his neck, as well; he remembers waking with a start after drifting off over his book last night, Crowley still snoring blithely on beside him, and crawling under the covers rather than waiting any longer for the demon to wake. He's slept the night through, and while he can see that it's still early morning outside, daylight has fully broken across the water.

He sits up carefully, rubbing at his neck as the crick fades. The suitcase abandoned last night is nowhere to be seen, but Crowley's watch is on top of the dresser, and a few of his own handkerchiefs are folded in a neat pile nearby. Someone's unpacked, then. He looks again at the sky out the window, frowning; it can't be more than nine yet.

He stands carefully, considers making the bed, and just as quickly discards the idea. He'll do it when he's getting dressed, perhaps.

He wanders into the kitchen with a vague idea of making some tea, discovers a bowl of apples on the counter, and glances out the window for the culprit. There on the veranda, hair lifting gently in the breeze, is Crowley.

Persephone

Dec. 14th, 2008 01:31 pm
The seasons are mild on Persephone, and at Southdown Abbey the late summer is just ripening into autumn when Serenity touches down. There’s only one figure waiting to greet the ship this time, and if one were to look closely, one would see the tired wrinkles that have taken up residence around his eyes, the mild red chafing on hands that have spent a little too long digging through the dirt of various garden patches. It’s likely to be a cold winter.

He’s smiling, though, when the cargo hold’s door opens.
a_fell: (worried)
I.

They arrive in Iceland in near-darkness concealing a dense, freezing fog that gives way to low clouds once outside of Reykjavik. It's a long drive to the tiny village of Laugarvatn, 70 miles in the blackness, and when they finally reach the place they're spending the night (to call it a hotel would imply there are more than six rooms), they're too tired to do more than kick their shoes off before falling into bed.

The next morning isn't much of a morning; it's lightening by the time Crowley is conscious enough to get out of bed with some prompting from the angel, fully daylight after he gets through the shower, and it doesn't take much longer than that to get the lay of the land. The town has 300 people, a post office, grocery store, restaurant, and not much tourism in the winter. It's hard to stay under the radar in such a place, so the few hours of daylight are spent asking quietly for the best sites to see the aurora and watching the cloudy skies, tense and dark. The sun, never far above the horizon, sinks slowly into a hesitant twilight. And then it's time to go.

The jeep-shaped vehicle they borrow from the nice gentleman at the (surprisingly open) tourist office bumps along over patches of rock and ice and who knows what else; Aziraphael is less than comfortable with what they might be rolling over with 'adventure' style suspension and no visible road. The headlamps illuminate a small patch of sameness directly in front, and the rest of the world around them is an unknowable black. All the ground that he can see is a grayish white dotted with darker patches of jutting rock. The heat blasting in the vehicle is just short of oppressive, but Crowley's face behind the wheel is grim and uncomfortable. Aziraphael tries moving one hand to the edge of Crowley's seat so that the side of his finger brushes the material of the demon's trousers, but he can't tell whether Crowley actually notices.

"I think the clouds might be lightening up," he says encouragingly. "I'm almost certain I saw a star or two over there."
It's late when he arrives upstairs, so his knock is quiet and hesitant. When there's no answer, he opens the door (it might have been locked, but that is easily circumvented) to find Crowley sound asleep on top of the bedclothes.

He's quiet crossing over to the bed, and his movements are every bit as hesitant as his knock had been. He looks her over from head to toe; she seems to be breathing normally, hissing very slightly, and she's obviously in one piece aside from the empty - and half-empty - Atlantean bottles in the vicinity of the room's two armchairs.

Aziraphael lets out a small sigh - somewhere between relief and despair - and cups his hands over Crowley's head. He can't clear the Atlantean out, but at least he can ease the hangover that's sure to come.

A few minutes later, after an intense internal debate, he settles in one of the armchairs. At first, he turns to a discarded paperback for distraction; it's sufficiently terrible that, two chapters in, it finds itself suddenly replaced by a volume of poetry from Aziraphael's back room. But not even Neruda can hold the angel's attention for long, not when every few lines, his gaze flicks anxiously to Crowley's face instead. Eventually, resignedly, he sets the book down again, and whiles away the time until she wakes picking at his new manicure and trying not to stare.
 
Aziraphael is at a wedding ceremony when he feels it. The shepherd conducting the service is an old friend, but in the angel's opinion he tends to drone, so what should be a joyous occasion of union becomes an interminable exercise in staying awake. A sudden uneasiness makes Aziraphael sit up and look around at his fellow guests still fighting the urge to sleep. As unobtrusively as possible, he stands, edges out of the rickety pew.

He doesn't make it far before the feeling begins to intensify, rapid and choking. The connection between himself and Crowley through the feather that each carries is vague, inchoate, but shock and panic are surprisingly powerful.

He stumbles to the door with vague ideas of waving someone – the Bentley people will know who's closest – and he doesn't give a damn if whoever answers doesn't know him, doesn't know how he knows, they'll find someone who can take care of it and they'll send someone and it will be all--

There is no warning. The injury is sharp and immediate (a gunshot, he can almost hear it), and at the threshold of the building one hand goes to his chest to clutch at the feather beneath his coat. He looks like a man having a heart attack.
(O lost)
He makes it outside, spurred now by a clawing need to escape, to see a fresh blue sky rather than walls, well-loved but now closing around him, stifling his breath. There's a harsh breeze blowing, and then he blinks and there isn't.
(and by the wind--)
There is. There isn't.
(he doesn't know which way is up, which way is down, which way is safe, which way is home)
There's a sound, distant yet frighteningly close, over the noise of rushing air: clanging and stomping and mad and hungry. It's a sound he recognizes; there's nothing else it could be, though Aziraphael tries to deny it, shaking his head nonsensically at the parched earth. Closing his eyes, he tries not to feel blood trickling up (down) into his hair, or see it pooling slowly on the deckplates in the corner of his vision.
(his feet hit the floor, and his legs nearly buckle under him, but he reaches out for - )
Blood, and - and a hand, outstretched. Aziraphael recognizes the watch.

(So far, so far away, too far from his (Crowley's) haze-clouded eyes and there are teeth--)

( - because please, please, he is lost, and the Beam is going, and he does not want to be alone)

He doesn't wave away the novices that run after him. He doesn't see them. He doesn't see the sky, either, or the grass they've so carefully tended or the open plain stretching to a Persephone horizon; he sees only metal and blood and raw, mad faces and blinking lights, feels only a sick terror and a sensation of falling, churning up from a memory that isn't even his own. And, when he can register pain, in some half-imagined amalgam, he crumples to the dusty ground and cries out: a long, nonsensical crescendo of horror.



(O lost)



The novices and shepherds think he's having some sort of visitation (so near and yet far from the truth than Crowley would laugh if he--). They gather around, crossing themselves in something that's part religious devotion, and part fearful, superstitious self-preservation. He doesn't carry on for long, but goes so suddenly still and silent that - a nervous ripple - they nudge one of their own forward to check that he's still alive, that the Prior hasn't died, kneeling there in the dust in front of the Southdown chapel.


O lost, and by the wind grieved. It runs over and over through his mind.


He doesn't respond for some minutes, and the novices are close to panic by the time he rises and, without a sound, returns to his quarters. Conferring quietly, they station someone at the door. For a few hours, there's only silence. Then, noises; the waiting shepherd knocks quietly, and opens the door. Prior Fell looks up, smiles absently, mechanically, and goes back to the business of watering his few flowers, and making tea. He doesn't speak much. His words are kind, as ever, but empty in some fundamental way.

Numb.

(O lost)
The conversation with Kaylee has left him feeling drained, on edge, and even the though the screen remains black, though the wave goes unanswered for minutes stretching into long, long minutes, it isn't quite enough for him to regain his former composure.
Aziraphael makes sure that he is at least marginally collected before he waves Serenity; physically collected, anyhow. Anyone looking closely enough for long enough would undoubtedly see the cracks in his mask.

He'll just have to hope the lighting isn't very good. For once, he's glad when the ancient screen turns greenish.
The hotel room doesn't exactly have a bearskin rug, but it does feature a fireplace; wood-burning and crackling merrily away when they come in. Since none of the other rooms feature fireplaces, the concierge was no doubt surprised when Aziraphael thought to ask that an extra bundle of wood be sent up just after they arrived. They hadn't actually needed it yet, but Aziraphael does like to poke the fire and go about the business of being helpful. They have, after all, come here on his suggestion; the fact that it is rarely dark (or cold, in the angel's opinion) enough for the fire to be truly appropriate is not so important. And the curtains are very heavy, which makes for a convincing artificial night.

It's daylight outside now, though that doesn't mean much in mid-August. Aziraphael has found a tourism book in English (no doubt sent by the helpful concierge along with the bundle of wood), and is marking pages with scraps torn from his airline ticket holder. Waste not, want not.
The gatekeeper's lodge has been there as long as the rest of Southdown Abbey, nestled against the walls in the stretch before, beneath an ivy blanket, they fade into hedges and trees and ditches, the more gently-defined limits of the abbey grounds. It's perfectly easy to wander in and out now; but only Aziraphael knows that the gates have never needed keeping.

With four rooms and a sharply peaked roof, it's more of a cottage than anything else, built from the same stone as the rest of the abbey - cool in summer but unforgiving in winter. It wouldn't really fit with the aesthetic of the place to have central heating, after all.

So it's probably a good thing that someone has slipped down earlier and set a fire going in the grate.
From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: Regrets
Priority: Low

My dear,

I'm afraid I'll be unable to join you this weekend. A sort of emergency has cropped up here on Persephone, involving a local farmhand, a llama, and several sheep. I'm so sorry. Please make my sincere apologies to the senator, and enjoy yourself.

--A

*


From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: I AM COMING
Priority: HIGH

I wasn't going to write because I wanted it to be a surprise, but I am on my way, and have been for several days. I look to arrive at Londinium on Thursday. I could not mistake your distress, and I'll be sending you a cleaning bill. You know how difficult it is to get molded protein out of wool-silk blend, and the captain really did not appreciate my asking for a second helping after I splattered my first all over the table, the floor, and my lap.

Please tell me you're all right. The news waves have been strange, and chaotic, and the footage they've shown looks--

Please write at your earliest convenience.

--A

*


From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: CHECK YOUR TERMINAL
Priority: EXTREMELY HIGH

Obviously you're busy and i understand that, but honestly would it kill you to sit at your terminal for five seconds and write me?

*


From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: I didn't mean to shout.
Priority: Slightly less high, but threatening to erupt into dire at any moment

What's happened? Is River injured as well? I'm going to start waving the hospitals once we are within range, so I know whereto find you.

*


From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: Hello?
Priority: Quite low, apparently

Hello?

*


From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: oh, gosh
Priority: almost nonexistent

you're in a coma or something aren't you? you're stuck in a coma in some hospital and you've been horribly disfigured so no one recognizes you and your i.d. has beeneaten by wild dogs or nick rosse's secretary and i'm stuck on some stupid ship typing with two fingers and my hands are cramped and this fellow tobias with whom i have been sharing a bunk, breathing space, and the philosophy of modern animal husbandry keeps looking over my shoulder because he's in some sort of dire need to look up something to do with hedgehogs and i don't want to know do i? please don't be disfigured beyond recognition and in a coma. i know it's beena while, but i can't do that again.

*


From: Prior Ezra Fell - [encrypted]
To: Andronicus Ji Crowley - [encrypted]
Subject: IGNORE THAT LAST
Priority: Medium

WE ARE ARRIVING IN THREE HOURS. I EXPECT AN EXPLANATION.

And tea, love, I'm so very tired. I detest travel.

You had better be well. All of you.

--A
It's almost funny. No matter what he does, no matter how often he scrubs and sweeps and runs the old rolling dustcatcher over the carpets, there is always dust in the air of Aziraphael's little bookshop in Soho. On grey, rainy days, he hardly notices at all, but today, with the sun streaming into the back room in great bars of near-solid light, it's painfully apparent how very filthy the place is. In point of fact, today's efforts towards cleaning seem only to have made things worse, stirring up the tiny motes to cloud the air, to dance back and forth and glow gently in the light, accreting around the angel's head in a soft, musty halo.

It's late afternoon by the time Aziraphael graduates to the shop proper and the somewhat neglected shelves therein. The sound of quiet creakings from above (and, shortly, the staircase) brings a smile to his face; he looks up from freeing the dark, hidden backs of wall-hitting shelves from dust and through the open door to the back just in time to see Crowley sneeze violently into the sleeve of an ugly blue jumper emblazoned with a lumpy yellow 'A'. "Hello, my dear. Have a good nap?"

"There's something to be said for early morning exercise," the demon concedes, dropping onto the sofa and wrinkling his nose in an effort not to sneeze again as the act raises another cloud of dust. "You've been cleaning."

"Yes," Aziraphael replies, brandishing a filthy rag which was once a foppish waistcoat... in 1803. "One does need to do so, on occasion, with books lying about."

"Hn," replies Crowley, which may be a dismissive noise, or may just be another averted sneeze. Leaning back to peer out into the shop again, he asks, "Going to be much longer? Really not in the mood for an evacuation."

"...Is that slang for something distasteful, my dear?" The angel eyes the rag with some interest. "You know I really don't feel all that connected with today's youth culture."

"No. It's slang for having to pack up and leave because of lethal amounts of dust in the air."

"Ah." Amazingly, the rag is gone! "I can continue on Monday, I suppose."

"Glad to hear it," Crowley says, over the gentle squeaking of the couch cushions as he slithers back down out of sight. Except - after a moment, yellow eyes peek back into view, glancing up and down at Aziraphael's flushed, rumpled appearance. The corner of a grin appears over the top of the sofa. "There's iced tea in the fridge," he adds.

"There is?" Aziraphael asks, bewildered, stumbling into the back room and combing through dusty blond hair. "Have we got lemon as well?"

"Some lemons in with the fruit, I think. No idea where the juicer is, though. Do you even have one?"

Halfway through ridding himself of his unseasonable jumper, Aziraphael pauses, chewing his lip. "I never wished so hard for a fundamentalist in all my life."

"Ha ha," comes the flat rejoinder from the back room. There's a moment of silence, accompanied by the gentle prickle of power in the air, and then Crowley says, "Now, we have lemon. See how much easier things are when we do them my way?"

Aziraphael pitches his jumper at Crowley on the way to the kitchen, one hand slipping up to rub at the back of his neck. "Not necessarily." he opens the cupboard, selects a tall glass, and pours himself some tea. "I seem to recall doing things your way that one time Persia, my dear."

"Yes, but it was hardly my fault the bloody satrap was sitting right there, was it? Anyway, come here."

"Yes, yes, all right." The angel makes his way back into the main room, a slice of lemon floating... floatily in his glass. He sits on the couch beside Crowley, his cheeks still pink from exertion. "By all rights, I ought to have the store open. Saturday afternoon is usually rather busy."

"All the more reason for you to keep it closed," Crowley points out in reply. As if to prevent Aziraphael from changing his mind, though, Crowley is busily balling up the angel's discarded jumper, finally placing it in Aziraphael's lap, swinging his legs up onto the couch, and pillowing his head, quite comfortably, on the angel's thighs. Aziraphael's free hand drifts along the tips of Crowley's sleep-messy hair, barely there, and he looks down at Crowley with a small, inscrutable smile upon his face.

"I don't suppose you have any vacation time saved up."

"That depends," Crowley says, brushing his knuckles against Aziraphael's knee. "If you're going to try and persuade me to go to, I don't know, Cornwall, the answer is no."

"Who says we have to go anywhere at all?"

Crowley's eyes flick up to meet Aziraphael's, with the sort of unguarded openness that comes only to the very-recently awake. "I wasn't."

Aziraphael's fingers slide deeper into Crowley's hair, and his smile widens. "Well, then. Keep it in mind."

"Yeah," the demon replies, turning to rest his forehead against Aziraphael's stomach. "Okay."

Taking a long breath, Aziraphael scoots down on the couch just a bit, pulling Crowley closer still; on anyone else it might be considered slouching. "It's nearly tea-time. Would you like to venture out into the sunshine, or stay hunkered down like shut-ins?"

"Choices," Crowley sighs. "I'm very comfortable. But on the other hand: sunshine. I don't know - any preference?" A cheeky grin. "Are you very comfortable?"

"I," the angel intones solemnly, "am quite astonishingly comfortable." He wiggles underneath Crowley, searching for an even better position. "I would just as soon stay home. But I thought I would offer."

"Then we stay." Crowley yawns and stretches with a smug, quiet grunt, managing to avoid upsetting Aziraphael's glass even with his eyes closed. "All this sssneezing wears a body out."

A snort, and Aziraphael sips his tea, then sets it upon the coffee table. Both hands free, he tangles his fingers with Crowley's. "I could open a window. Air the dust out. As good as it is to see you resting peacefully, I should very much prefer if you were awake a while longer yet."

"Might not be a bad idea," Crowley agrees, propping himself - if reluctantly - up on his elbows, in order to allow Aziraphael to worm out from under him.

Aziraphael does so, his back cracking once, twice, as he stretches on his walk to the windows in the kitchen; the shop being bounded on both sides by other shops, natural light and fresh air are only very craftily come by in the main rooms. He manages to crack one window open; the grand sort of ripping the windows open, oh springtime! gesture he had in mind is cut short by the fact that this window always sticks. "Blast."

"Blast?" echoes the enquiry from the couch (the tone not so much impatient as nevertheless suggesting that it might be nice if Aziraphael were back soon).

"Sticky frame, nothing to be concerned about," He rattles the window a bit, then strains against it futilely. "Perhaps I ought to take some time to strip the paint off these and start over. Summer seems like the right time for that sort of project, yes?" he pants. Not that he's ever done anything like that before. But it ought to be perfectly easy. Like deacidifying a book.

"Sure," Crowley replies airily, supremely unaware of the intricacies of home improvement as concerns anything more complex than aligning hammer and nail and hitting one with the other. "Knock yourself out. Is there enough air to get rid of some of the dust, at least?"

"Not--yet--just a--" Wham, the window slams open with a distressed cracking sound. "Yes. But I fear I'll have to do more than re-paint, now. Oh, dear," the angel sighs, walking back to join Crowley on the couch. Once settled, he smiles. "Your hair is sticking up in the most interesting pattern."

"Well maybe if some people didn't think it made such a good handhold - "

Two spots of pink surface on Aziraphael's cheeks. "I needed the leverage."

"Yes," Crowley says happily. "Not complaining. But if you're not keen on looking at it afterwards, is all I'm saying. Made bed, lie in it, et cetera."

Aziraphael's hands bury themselves once again in Crowley's spiky hair where it rests against his thigh, his thumbs stroking up behind delicate-seeming ears, then down the back of the demon's neck. "I wasn't complaining either. I merely observed that it's interesting, after all. Of interest."

"Carry on, then," Crowley sighs - almost purrs - eyes slitting nearly closed. His fingers slide up again, insinuating themselves between the cushions and Aziraphael's thigh, curling there against the cloth of the angel's trousers.

The afternoon light pours in from the kitchen, accompanied by a wispy breath of fresh air that curls around Aziraphael's socked ankles and agitates the dust hanging in the air. His fingers walk up Crowley's scalp to his temple and then slide down his jawline. "What would you like for tea?" he asks, his voice low.

"Don't mind," the demon murmurs. "Could order out, to save on, you know. Moving."

Aziraphael's blunt index finger traces Crowley's abrupt hairline. "Asian? I know you've had quite enough Middle Eastern."

"Sssushi," Crowley concurs, longingly. It's accepted, amongst anyone who knows anything about sushi, that it should never be eaten anything but fresh. But then, amongst anyone who knows anything about sushi, there aren't that many that can ensure their sushi is fresh no matter what. Delivery is less of a sin than it might otherwise be. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

"Hm," agrees the angel. "Would you like to me more specific, or shall I choose?"

Last time he was let to choose, he got sea urchin.

"Tuna. Tuna or conger. Or salmon. Temaki - no, makizushi. Um."

A sigh. "I'll just order half the menu, then, and give the leftovers to the ladies next door?"

"You think, between the two of us, there'll be any leftovers?"

"...Maybe," the angel prevaricates, his fingers twisting Crowley's hair into little spikes all over his head. It suits him. "If only Hastur and Ligur could see you now, my dear."

Crowley pinches the underside of Aziraphael's knee. "You'll only bloody summon them or something. Besides. Maybe I'm wiling."

"Ouch." Aziraphael shifts, jostling Crowley intentionally. "Yes, clearly. Wiling. And I am thwarting evil deeds as we speak."

"Stop that. You're keeping me off the streets," Crowley allows, then, "but you're indulging in sloth to do it."

Wide blue eyes startle, snagged by smug demonic gold. "I most certainly am not. I'm..." He trails off, lost in thought. "I'm making a sacrifice for the common good." A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth.

"My sympathies," Crowley retorts with a snigger. He tugs distractedly on his earlobe, wondering how Aziraphael might be persuaded to continue playing with his hair.

"Right." Aziraphael's fingers tiptoe across Crowley's collarbone and back in a different route. "I'll ring for the sushi if you give me your credit card, my dear. I've got out of the habit of carrying cash since we had our tabs perpetually covered at the bar."

"Right," Crowley echoes. "My wallet is... wherever my jacket is." He lifts his head, craning his neck to cast a glance around the back room. "And my jacket is wherever you tidied it away to this morning."

The wandering hand leaves Crowley entirely to scratch the angel's blond head. "That-- That is an issue."

"See what happens when you clean?" Crowley sighs - and then, with a complicated ripple of his fingers, he closes his fist, opens it again, and hands Aziraphael his wallet.

Aziraphael takes it, clearing his throat pointedly, and gently ejects Crowley from his lap to search out the telephone. He opens the nearest cupboard. "...Oh. That's where my copy of A Wrinkle in Time went. Did you know Madeleine L'Engle was somewhat of a theologian?"

Crowley's foot appears, as the demon idly slings up one calf to rest along the top of the couch. "Angel. Would I have any conceivable reason to?"

"Well. I mean." He flips through the pages with some longing; it has been a long time. "You never look up the opposition? Besides me, that is."

"In children's literature? Not since they started sanitizing the fairy tales and nursery rhymes."

Aziraphael sighs and pitches the book at him. "She was adept at hiding Christian messages in her books. And, considering Many Waters, not always hiding per se." He moves into the shop, rummaging. "Where did I put it? I remember not wanting to get dust on it..."

"You better mean the phone," Crowley calls after him, "and not more Diet Christianity."

"Oh, do be still for a moment," Aziraphael replies, standing stock still in the middle of his shop, looking at nothing. "I'm thinking." Obediently, Crowley shuts up - but then, just to be annoying, riffles loudly through the pages of the book in his hand, sparing them only a cursory glance.

Aziraphael is a puttery sort of person in general. It's not that he hasn't got the capacity for stillness; it's more that he hasn't got the disposition for it. He fiddles and shuffles and crosswords his way through life because that's what he feels like doing, mostly. But he does have the capacity for stillness. For a very long set of moments, he is as still as one of the human statues one sees loitering motionless at Covent Garden.

He's always wanted to ask them what they're accomplishing, doing that.

Then, suddenly, he starts and snaps his fingers. "Of course!" Striding through the back room and into the kitchen, he makes a few clattering sounds, then emerges with telephone in hand. "I put it in the oven!"

Of course.

There's silence from the vicinity of the couch - a silence so pointed and, well, silent, that it is, in fact, a Silence. Finally:

"What."

"Erm." The angel blushes bright red. "It was a good place to put it, I thought. At the time." He swallows, shuffles his feet. "I'll just."

Crowley's hand appears at one end of the couch, beckoning.

Aziraphael rolls his eyes, more at himself than at Crowley, and walks over, telephone clutched to his chest like a clunky plastic teddy bear. "Yes?"

Reaching up, the demon's hand fists itself in Aziraphael's ragged button-down, tugging him down so Crowley can say to the angel's upside-down face, "You prat," and stretch up to kiss him.

Mouth curving in a smile that to Crowley must feel like a frown, Aziraphael hitches a laugh and kisses Crowley again, a firm press of almost-closed lips on lips, before moving to sit on the arm of the couch. "I am not a prat."

What there is available of Aziraphael's backside, Crowley swats, then dropping his hands back down to his stomach. "Suppose it could have been worse. Could have been in the toilet or something. Order the food, idiot."

Aziraphael sighs, rolling his eyes, and sets the telephone on his knee. He does not dial, and there is no cord; as soon as he lifts the receiver to his ear, it begins to ring. "...Hello? Yes, delivery, please." His free hand drifts down to tangle in Crowley's hair again as the order goes on and on. "...Yes, I quite like the rainbow roll, please do...Two carafes of warm sake, please... Yes, two...No, no udon, but could we please have a side of vegetable tempura? I've been craving the squashy ones..."
a_fell: (Crowley-happy)
Crowley,

Don't be irritated with me. But, whatever can it mean?

Yours,
A


*Inside the letter is a pink candy heart emblazoned with the perplexing phrase, Be Nine.*
a_fell: (Home)
It isn't quite cold when he arrives in London. Not quite. But compared to the balmy, sticky sort of Mediterranean weather he'd been enduring over the past few months, it seems uncomfortable, despite the wooly sweater he'd given himself once he reached the Alps. By Paris, his wool coat grew a thick, furry lining, and he was quite all right for the rest of the journey home.

But it's chilly, in London. It isn't even raining. He often thinks of London in its iconic form, when he is gone during the week, a sort of miserable, grey mish-mash of people set against a miserable, grey landscape. Indoors, there is lots of tea.

Of course, London on this chilly February evening is nothing like that. He isn't sure why he expected it to be, except that if the city never changes, then he's never really gone, is he?

The key sticks in the lock, and he's got to fiddle with it before the door opens. The shop is... well, to be honest, it's not quite as he left it, but that's to be expected. He's come to expect other things, too, like the clean mug and spoon in the kitchen drainer, the shifting pile of books to be repaired, the waiting stack in the press. All things to do which he does take care of nearly every Friday evening.

But not this evening.

This evening, he shuffles in and takes his suitcase upstairs first thing. It's a large suitcase, and it takes some time to unpack.

To settle in.

Wrapped in a tartan robe and mismatching house slippers, he putters downstairs and brews some very fine gunpowder tea which he purchased from a short, oddly-dressed chap in a scruffy sort of tea shop near the coliseum. The leather couch is as comfortable as it always was, and he's pleased to see that Adam hasn't moved the book of poetry he left open on the side table last weekend.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.


He smiles, and turns the page.

It's good to be home.
a_fell: (happy)
The curtains in the bedroom are thick enough that he winces when he opens the door into the rest of the suite, slipping out quickly and shutting it silently behind himself. Without the gentle glow of the lamplight, by natural light pouring in through enormous windows, he'd half expected the room to be revealed as something slightly lesser. Expected wallpaper to be peeling in corners that'd been shadowed, perhaps, or peeling gilt around smeared mirrors. But things this morning are just about as perfect as they'd been last night and he can't help but smile at that.

It seems somehow fitting.

Rubbing his eyes, Aziraphael wanders over to the window, noting with no real surprise (but a good deal of pleasure) that fluffy snowflakes are drifting gently down from a low grey sky; he'd make a mental note to drag Crowley out in it later, were it not for the fact that there are already plans for the day.

(Another smile, at that, and a touch of pink to his cheeks. He ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck as he walks over to the table.)

There's coffee and tea on the table, and - he laughs, softly - freshly ironed newspapers; he tucks these last under his arm as he pours out drinks for himself and Crowley.

(He must have left the bedroom door a little way open, since it moves obligingly out of his way without any need for juggling.)

Crowley's coffee he leaves on the bedside table, depositing his tea and newspaper at his own side of the bed before climbing back under the covers, tucking his feet under Crowley's leg - it wasn't cold outside, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn't up to the standards of warmth he's starting to find he'd much prefer.
Aziraphael had asked, somewhat plaintively, whether they had anything built to a normal scale in Vienna when he saw the hotel Crowley had booked them into - tall and imposing yet somehow graceful, effortlessly combining function and form in a way that he rather wished modern architects would take note of. The Imperial had originally been a palace and housed a Prince, of course, before it had been turned into a hotel, and he certainly had no trouble believing it; the interior was even more sumptuous than the Opera House had been.

He had felt altogether overwhelmed, when they'd arrived, and had tugged uncomfortably at his collar, attempting to straighten his tie until he'd caught Crowley's amused glance out of the corner of his eye. Any other time he'd have returned it with an embarrassed glare, quite possibly, but he'd found himself quite involuntarily with a rather ridiculous smile and had been forced to look away. So effectively did he distract himself in fact - as Crowley murmured to the receptionist in far more fluent German than Aziraphael had had at his disposal in a very long time - that he almost jumped out of his skin when a hand lightly grasped his elbow and steered him towards the lift.



Suites at the Imperial, apparently, come not only with 24 hour room service but with a butler, and the fact that Crowley's not even hiding how amused he is doesn't do a blind thing to dampen Aziraphael's enthusiasm. He asks for a paper or two to be brought in the morning, simply to see if they'll be ironed, and after their (impossibly good) late dinner is cleared away and they have settled on the settee with a bottle of (horribly expensive) wine, he reflects that there's really not a thing he can think of that could possibly have made the day more perfect.

It's not actually possible to tell whether he's realised that he said this out loud.
Crowley -

good work was done, I feel, which of course means that the post-achievement glow must be entirely destroyed by meetings and plottings and suchlike and so forth. I'm really quite dreadfully sorry. I would be home with you like a shot if I could but of course the choice isn't mine to make. Pass on my apologies to all and sundry, would you?

Wish I were there.

- A



[The postcard shows the Hagia Sophia, but appears to have been posted in Italy.]
Aziraphael tries not to get angry. He gets... annoyed. Peeved, perhaps. Certainly he gets miffed with something or other almost every day, but angry? No. Anger leads to - anger leads to bad things; whatever that phrase is from that film Nymphadora enjoys so much. So it's annoyance, obviously, that has him shifting his weight restlessly outside Crowley's door. It's annoyance at the arrogance of those in power, at the decisions made and the secrets kept and the things they think they can keep from him, for Heaven's...

Annoyance. Nothing more.

(And still he'd held the door open for the idiot who'd barged past the lady who'd let him in, still he'd carefully picked up her spilt shopping and helped her up the stairs with it because some things there's no changing.)

Crowley's too still when he answers the door. Pale and too still, swamped in a thick jumper with his feet bare and his hair still damp from the shower and Aziraphael'd read the news, eventually, that's why he's here, and it's all he can do not to touch and bustle and take charge.

He's learned, over time, that that's not what Crowley needs.

So he sits on Crowley's sofa, forces his foot to stop tapping, folds his hands together in his lap to keep them still. Watches Crowley move carefully, stiffly, no more than is needed as he fetches them tea and sits on the sofa a little too far away to casually touch.

("I was just going to - going to leave for the bar. In a bit."

"Oh? It's the second place I would have tried. We could still - "

"You didn't go home first?"

"I didn't go to the shop, no.

We could - we could stay here, though. If you like. Saves going out in the cold."

"I suppose. If you want."
)

Crowley picks up the remote from the coffee table, turns on the TV and hands it over, tucking his feet up on the sofa and leaning against him when he settles himself again, spare motion, too still. Aziraphael tries to shift only the barest amount, turning a little into Crowley so he can be leant on more comfortably, then he carefully breathes and carefully stops moving. Only turns his head, once, to press a quick kiss to dark hair, the line of Crowley's -

(defenses)

- sunglasses cold against his skin. Only the flicker of light from the television gives the impression of anything other than stillness.

Until Crowley turns his hand over, twines his fingers with Aziraphael's.

Not much movement. Perhaps just enough.
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