[personal profile] a_fell
For a long moment, Aziraphael stares at the closed door, too shocked even to blink. When it eventually becomes clear to him that it isn't going to open again, he turns around and begins to make his slow way down the stairs. It's surprisingly difficult to avoid thinking about how very happy he'd been on the way up, buoyed by Christmas cheer and a relaxed sort of contentment that had grown almost unfamiliar. The shock of cold air as he nears the door slows his heavy steps and he comes to a halt just before he reaches the tiny patch of cold winter sunlight puddling on the floor. He's still wearing only his dressing gown, and he looks down at the clothes in his arms as though seeing them for the first time. His grip on the bundle shifts carefully as he backs away from the light and makes a curt, one-handed gesture. The results aren't quite perfect - Aziraphael's concentration is a little... frayed, for that - but when reality has finished coughing discreetly into its hand, the angel's dressing gown is folded in his hands, and everything else seems to be more or less in its proper place. And if his shirt is untucked, or he needs to bend down to tie his shoes properly, well. Forgivable, perhaps.

The frigid air outside doesn't do much to clear his head; it's only long habit that turns his feet toward Soho, his breath misting faintly as he walks. He's not taken more than a few steps, however, when he nearly trips over something brown and slightly scratchy lying crumpled in the snow.




Oh.

It's his coat.




Despite himself, despite everything, his gaze whips up to the window above - but there's no one there. Only the blank, anonymous panes of Crowley's double glazing, winking down at him in the pale sunlight.

Numbly, he sets his bundle down in order to pick up the coat and slowly brush the snow off of it. It isn't precisely necessary - the snow isn't deep and the ice keeps it from sticking overmuch - but he brushes anyhow, quick and methodical, until his coat is neat enough to cover himself and - and his haphazard clothes.

It really is a dreadful winter.

He nearly slips on the ice as he's turning back onto his own street, and worse, he nearly throws a wing out to steady himself, but catches himself on the ample chest of a holiday-themed mannequin in front of a shop. Her, for lack of a better word, attire is more than a little unsuited to the cold, but though he pauses to straighten the, er... bow he's knocked askew, he doesn't have to suppress his usual urge to add a nice tartan overcoat.

The personable young man who seems to have taken up residence on his street corner on weekends, handing out pamphlets for one thing or another, waves from a gaily decorated window as he passes; he doesn't notice that, either.

Everything seems - odd, somehow; ever so slightly alien. And when he arrives back at the shop, he can't quite shake the feeling that here, too, everything is just a half-degree out of place. Things just aren't right, from the dusty shelves to the ancient register to the nest of tinsel and hopelessly tangled strands of lights he'd left in a box on the shop counter. He'd meant to finish putting them up before the weekend, but somehow, he hadn't quite managed to find the time. He spares the box a bleary glance as he leaves his bundle next to it, but then turns his back and continues steadily toward the kitchen.

Bit late for it now, really.

Through some small mercy there's tea left in his cupboards, though he hadn't thought to stock up until tomorrow, on his way back from Mayfair. There's a Sainsbury's along the way, and after all, if people have their reasons for working through the weekend, this weekend, Aziraphael certainly shan't pass judgment. He makes a cup with shaking hands, doing his best to avoid glancing at the black mug still standing upside-down on the draining board.

There isn't much milk in the refrigerator.

He slops a little on the counter-top, pouring it into his tea, and has to put the whole proceedings on pause while he unearths a dishtowel to mop it up. For all that Crowley pokes fun at him, the demon is just as fussy as Aziraphael, after his fashion; the angel's gotten used to him simply making these little messes Go Away, with a quirk of his eyebrow or an idle flick of his fingers. That isn't, now that Aziraphael thinks about it, much in the way of an excuse.

The distraction is short-lived, however, and as he stirs his tea, each slow roundel of his teaspoon swirls up another wisp of misery, wafting up from the hot brew for Aziraphael to breathe in and swallow down: the things he said, the things Crowley had said, the awful things Crowley must believe, the fact that Crowley can even imagine that beneath every kind word --

No. Not quite. Aziraphael sets down the spoon and consciously rearranges the thought, fighting all the while to keep his hands steady.

The fact that Aziraphael could have caused him to imagine these things. Try as he might, he can't shut his eyes against the images: Crowley unbuttoning his shirt collar to reveal a strip of caramel-coloured leather underneath becomes Crowley laughing by a quiet fountain in Rome, wings out and one black feather in Aziraphael's hand; becomes Crowley looking at him over Door's shoulder, daring Aziraphael to be like him (not like him); becomes Crowley concertinaed uncomfortably on Aziraphael's old sofa and snoring fit to wake the dead; becomes Crowley, female and newly returned, perched atop Aziraphael's lap on the new one and explaining why him first; becomes Crowley, female, hungover and still dressed and so painfully wary on a rumpled bed in Milliways; becomes Crowley making promises against the skin of his neck about the Staatsoper as enemy hexes scream overhead; becomes Crowley in the sunlight, undressed and undone against the sheets by the simple touch of Aziraphael's hands in his wings; becomes Crowley's hand   stilling in the small of Aziraphael's back; becomes Crowley's hands dusted with dirt, repotting the first of his plants over Aziraphael's sink just after he'd moved in; becomes the flashes of betrayal in Crowley's expression that, this morning, he finally wasn't quick enough to hide; becomes Crowley rigid and furious in the back room on New Year's Day; becomes Crowley rigid and furious in his flat on Christmas, telling him to go, telling him --

A good book. That's what he needs. Isn't that always what he's always turned to, when distress weighs heavily on his mind? And prayer, of course, he adds conscientiously, thoughts toeing the line with impressive habit. Of course, prayer. That is perhaps what he should turn to, under these circumstances, it's only that there are times when he simply - well. The books are always there to keep him from examining that too closely. And despite everything, despite the hoards of books that surround him here and despite the cold nausea in the pit of his stomach when he thinks about this morning, there is one in particular that interests him. It still sits atop the dressing gown he'd exchanged for the sorry pile of clothes that Crowley had pushed into his hands.

The table in the room that passes for an office is littered with brushes and glue and scissors and oil, bits and pieces of book covers and all the loving detritus of committed, professional bibliophilia. He pushes most of it unceremoniously out of the way to make room, but takes a moment to trace his fingers over the auction-house logo imprinted on the box. Swann Galleries, if he's not mistaken. New York. A puzzled furrow creases his forehead, deepening a little when he lifts the lid and pulls out the small card on top. It's blank, save for an odd, imperfect black circle, the line of it running thick to thin as though the tip of the pen had broken when first set to paper, leaking blotchy ink onto the card.

The back of the card is blank, but as he frowns at it, a glance at the book underneath is enough to make the angel stop where he is, put the card carefully down, and pull on his cotton gloves before lifting it out.

It's a Bible. That much ought be clear to anyone, from the small cross embossed upon the leather, and if it were any other Bible he might almost choke on the bitter irony of it. But Aziraphael is Aziraphael, and he doesn't need the accompanying slip to identify this one. Sinking into his chair, the angel stares at the tiny volume. This is an Aitken Bible.

Delicately, with the infinite care of one well used to handling ancient history, he turns to the first page for confirmation, and then the last. And then, still half unbelieving, he pages through the text itself, stopping here and there, almost hoping to find a blemish, a defect, some sign of forgery or ill-use. But of course, there are none.

Flawless, he thinks. It's flawless. Perfect.

This time, when he leafs gently back to the front, he takes a deep breath (though why, he couldn't say), and turns over to the next page.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...

The Bible of the Revolution, they call it. The contradiction pleases him, drawing out a faint, amused smile whenever he encounters a familiar passage made newly pertinent. It's that, perhaps, which makes this particular book priceless, worth far more than the no doubt exorbitant sum Crowley has paid for it: the way Aziraphael can see through it - all the sediment of retranslation and misinterpretation and all-too-human error - and find what it was that men, in one time and in one place, took away from it. The truth particular to them.

It's the sort of irony, he thinks (as his gloved fingers skim lightly over the tiny print, pocket-sized), that only humans could possibly come up with. It's not hard to see why Crowley chose it.

Genesis turns into Exodus, Exodus to Leviticus, Leviticus to Numbers - and in and around and behind the errors, so much of his history - of their history, as it's shared more often than not, is contained in this book. People they'd known, places they'd lived and left and watched slide into ruin or become something other than they were. It's easier than he would have thought to lose himself in it.

Samuel leads to Kings, Kings to Chronicles, and so the day slips mercifully by, the winter light slowly changing and the shadows lengthening. Aziraphael's single concession, when it's almost to dim to see, is to light the little lamp on the worktable against the gathering dark. For a long time, there is no sound - only the rustle of turning pages and the occasional sip from his cup.


Dawn has begun to slowly light the world again by the time he leans back for so much as a stretch, and he's blinking at the intrusion of daylight when his eyes land on the forgotten card, that cryptic circle. Only it's not a circle, he realises suddenly, in the new, greyish light of morning. It's not a circle at all. It's abstract, but suddenly unmistakable, and he can't think how he didn't recognise it before - what he'd taken for a blob of ink is the head, and where it curves around to thinness again is the tail. It's a snake. It's an ouroboros.

Slowly, he reaches out, slides the card to the edge of the desk so that his gloved fingers can pick it up without creasing it.

It's almost too easy to picture Crowley's smirk as he bends over the card sketching it out, two quick, careless strokes of his pen, grinning to himself and no doubt thinking himself entirely too clever for his own good. 'The Bible of the Revolution', indeed. Aziraphael can't help but smile in turn, thumb gently tracing the loop: the serpent eating its tail; history repeating itself. That's what it means. Now and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

Not a signature, but a dedication.

His breath catches.

He puts the book gently down, removes a glove to pick up his still-warm teacup and sits back so that his shaking hands don't slosh liquid onto the pages. He is a professional, after all. Long minutes pass before he feels safe in leaning forward again. Long enough, perhaps.

He doesn't fool himself that Crowley is sleeping in, or even sleeping at all, but it doesn't matter. Aziraphael will wait. He'll wait until the sun is fully risen, and the faint scent of frying bacon from the deli across the way has begun to fade, and then at a decent, civilised hour, he'll go back. There's no talking to the demon before at least ten; never has been. And it's particularly important if Crowley is as tired as he looked. He needs Crowley to be able to listen.

He has a few confessions to make.



When he arrives, he knocks tentatively, but for the sake of decorum more than anything else. He's perfectly aware - has been since he started climbing the familiar stairs - that there's no one behind the door. He wrings his hands then, turning on his heels in the corridor a few times, swayed by indecision. But then - no. There's been enough of that, and there's no reason to dither here in the hallway, being perfectly ridiculous. He squares his shoulders, pauses inexplicably to straighten his jumper, and ducks inside to wait.

The place looks much the same as it had yesterday, down to the blankets piled haphazardly on the couch, but Crowley's flat without Crowley in it is an imposing place: white, sterile and cold. He does his best not to look around too much, and perches alone on the couch (near the edge, this time), trying not to think of the things they'd said there, the things they'd said over it --

It isn't long before the silence begins to grate. There's the muffled sound of holiday traffic outside, but hardly much of it, all told, and now that he's back he finds he has Crowley's off-key aria from yesterday morning repeating itself in his head, the empty spaces therein picked up and filled in by the swell of an orchestra and a warm baritone from another time and another place. The warm glow of stage lights flicker in the corners of his mind, glinting off of gold leaf and thick velvet. He'd really rather not think too much about either memory, all things considered - and before he's quite aware of having decided to move, he finds himself in front of Crowley's CD cabinet. Some music, perhaps, might help pass the time.

The way Crowley organises his music has always been - well, disorganised; rather more intuitive than logical, or at least, no sort of logic that most other people could follow. But then, so has Aziraphael's method of arranging his books (that is, excepting when Crowley alphabetises them just to aggravate him). He's always said that if people have to really look for what they want, odds are they might find what they need, instead.

He picks a shelf at random, and trails his fingers along a row of plasticky spines, no more than three or four, and then - stops, choking back a laugh.

Of course. Well, it would be, wouldn't it?

He manages to get the case open on the third try, and the tray on Crowley's bewildering contraption to open on the second. As the player accepts the disc with a complicated whirring sound, there's a flash of bright colour in the corner of Aziraphael's eye - something bright, a scrap of paper, fluttering out onto the floor. He picks it up to tuck it back into the case and stops dead, case dangling numbly from his fingers, as the first strains of The Barber of Seville wash over him.

It's a ticket stub.

Aziraphael doesn't notice the couch behind him until he sits down, hard, as though his knees had given out.








(Blast it all but I've missed you so dreadfully, Crowley.)








After a few moments, the vivid red and gold of the ticket begin to blur together in front of him. He wonders how often Crowley has listened to this recording, brushed thin fingers over this memory, kept safe and forever in a tiny plastic case.

Blinking rapidly, he gently tucks the ticket back into its keeping-place. Turning the case over slowly in his hands, a small gesture lowers the volume of the music a little. It wouldn't do to disturb Crowley's neighbours again, after all.

(He can't - he can't quite bring himself to turn it off.)




When the recording finally comes to an end, the disc stops spinning, but he doesn't move to take it out. After a little while, the greenish display on the front of the stereo blinks once, twice, and then settles into darkness. Aziraphael sits on the couch, CD case cradled in his lap.




Crowley isn't coming home.

It isn't pleasant being here - even less so than he'd thought, in fact. Knowing Crowley as he does - as he likes to think he does, as he hopes desperately he still does - it's no great leap to imagine it's the same for him. And given the little he can feel from the feather, Crowley doesn't want to be found.

So.

Not London, then.

Sighing, Aziraphael pulls himself up off the couch and makes his way to Crowley's office, where the empty chair still sits at an awkward angle to the desk. With a quiet click, he picks up the telephone receiver.

Somewhere across an ocean, it's already ringing.
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a_fell

April 2010

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