Crowley,

I am doing my very best to see that I return to see you at some point this weekend, but my efforts aren't meeting with much in the way of charitable feeling. I really am terribly sorry if I don't make it home.

I realise it's unlikely you'll feel the urge, but if you should visit the shop, please don't be alarmed should you find anyone wandering about - the girls next door are in possession of the keys, currently. There's a chap coming in on Monday to see about replacing the boiler; even if I manage to visit I shall be back here by then, so I thought it best to have some sort of responsible adult about.

You have been looking after yourself this week? I've been fretting dreadfully whenever I've had a spare moment (and most of the moments that weren't). I insist you pop in to see 'Dora and Bernard, if at all possible, so I can pump them for details on your apparent health next time I see them. Do remember to wrap up warm (not that I have the slightest suspicion that you'll forget), and drink some ginger tea, or some such thing.

Take care.

Aziraphael
Aziraphael knows what he's doing, and what he's doing is panicking - quietly, certainly, but panicking nonetheless. His mind has never felt so disorganised; snippets of information, articles he's read, piles upon piles of dusty books because he collects knowledge like others collect butterflies but it's no longer pinned neatly in place and he knows what he ought to be doing but he's not sure where to start because louder than everything keeps repeating -

(His skin is cold.

Possibly that's the hardest. To live through.

His skin shouldn't be cold.)


- not this. Not again.



He flails out a hand and catches hold of someone.

"You have to help me." And his voice is entirely steady and far more commanding than anyone who knows him could have believed possible. There's no refusing it.

And then he looks up. A faintly hysterical laugh catches in his throat and nearly chokes him.



This is what you might call dramatic irony.
Saturday's weather is forecast to be 'sunny', the radio assures him, but he'd almost rather have the threat of rain tomorrow for the sake of the insulation of clouds tonight. The clear sky with its glittering stars - still occasionally lit by the bright flare of fireworks - was beautiful enough, certainly, but he'd had his chin tucked deeply into the collar of his coat on the way home and hadn't dared raise it for more than a second or two.

Friday's newspapers are still neatly piled on the kitchen table and he tucks them under his arm without getting too close a look at the headlines ( - of bodies found - he catches, from the corner of his eye, and winces just a little). He debates for a moment fetching himself a cup of tea, but the heating's been off all evening and he's taken his shoes off - the tiled floor proves a convincing argument against it. Instead he crosses the back room, switching lights off and heating on as he passes on his way to the stairs.

(For a moment, he'll admit, he'd thought rather longingly of Crowley's flat - when he'd seen the frozen drip on the outside of the Sainsburys plant mister he'd left on the kitchen window sill - but there's warmth and then there's sauna, and he knows where he stands as to preference, thank you.)

It's even colder, upstairs, and he changes quickly into pyjama trousers and huddles under the covers, staring balefully at the ceiling for more than an hour.

But it's a weekend, and already it doesn't feel quite right to be tucked up in bed on his own. He can't quite drop off no matter how hard he tries.

At least the heating has clanked and protested effectively enough that his room's well on its way to habitable again, the air a little cool on his skin as he finally sits up in bed, resigned to reading the papers, but getting steadily warmer and not nearly cool enough to make him think longingly of flannel pyjamas.

Well.

No more than usual.
Aziraphael had changed his mind, halfway to the door, and diverted to the Bar.

"A room key if you'd be so good, dear," he murmurs, stroking the surface gently, and one obligingly pops into existence almost directly under his hand - something of his impatience might just have transmitted itself to Bar.

Crowley, though... Crowley looks inscrutable for a moment, his gaze moving quickly between Aziraphael and the door and back, one eyebrow lifting slightly.

Aziraphael leans in, heart in his throat, and explains how much closer this is. He's near enough to Crowley that no one else can hear the tone of voice he uses or see his tongue slide out for an instant, fleetingly trace the shell of his ear.




Aziraphael's used to the transition being easier, smoothed out by kisses and touches and gentle teasing. Now there's only the seemingly endless damned stairs beneath his feet, and his unsteady breathing, and Crowley's hand tight around his wrist. It takes too long and they're there too soon, both at once, and he's fumbling the key into the door with hands that are suddenly unsteady.
Aziraphael has a headache.

It's - well it's too difficult to narrow down to one cause, frankly. It's too long without sleep and the lack of decent tea, it's turning things over repeatedly and uselessly in his mind, it's the quiet voice in the back of his head that's been urging him to just go home almost since he left...

It's flashings and bleepings and the clatter of coins, loud voices at the bar and at the tables, the almost grotesque expressions of pleasure and loss. It's the way everything about this place tastes just a little bit oily. It's not - the place itself isn't evil, nothing nearly so dramatic as that, it's just not somewhere that he could ever be comfortable.

Which is why it's so clearly a place he should be.

He doesn't fool himself that he's making a difference to the place, of course, but he likes to think he's made a difference to a few of the people, perhaps. Enough of a difference that he needn't go back just yet. He's not doing his best work today, though; he has a headache.




It's entirely possible he's overthinking it. It's entirely possible he's just unused to the general aural landscape that comprises one of the larger casinos. He rubs the bridge of his nose with a frown and decides to head elsewhere, somewhere with few enough people that perhaps he can persuade himself that he's actually accomplished something. So large a crowd is just discouraging, really, so he ducks his head and starts to wind his way towards the door.
Crowley --

Qui tacet, consentire videtur.

I
cannot, this time.

The stakes have been steadily increasing until our little Arrangement has become a joke and I fear what you would ask of me I would be willing to do for you.

What you



And I cannot, even by inference, allow – I cannot continue to withhold my disapprobation of your actions through relying on a self-nominated No Man's Land and the blinkers I have chosen to wear. I can't
forgive without –

I can't
trust

I ask that you give me time. Leave me be, for now.

Silence gives consent, and I cannot. But I have no idea what words are needed.

-- Aziraphael.
Aziraphael's been gone for a while, now, and he's very nearly accustomed himself to the ridiculous light that seems to outline the buildings against the sky and makes everything look two-dimensional, unreal, as though it's been thrown up just a moment or two before his arrival and the busy noise of hammers will begin again just a fraction of a second after he's left.

It suits his mood, really.

There's always something to be working on, besides. Something and anything to distract him from the slight dislocation, from a thousand and one things he'd rather not think about, just now. And 'always' means - musicals have always been lies forgiven because they rhyme so nicely, and New York manages moments and corners where it could almost seem the rest of the world was sleeping, but it's not so in Las Vegas. 'Tired', he's trying to convince himself, was only ever a habit he got into.

But every now and then he needs a moment. Like a proper meal after a month of candy floss and toffee apples.

He eases the door open, letting it fall shut behind him and taking a deep breath; like everything else, it feels as though it's waiting for some elaborate production, like there ought to be dance steps and sparkling costumes vaulting over the new pine pews or someone crashing through the bright stained glass at any moment. For now, though, there's a fragile peace; for that he'll tolerate the lack of sanctity and dust.

He's been gone for a while, now, and of course he's not been here all the time - he's not entirely sure he could have borne it. He's been here and there, almost everywhere, and it's possible more could be told by the places he avoided than those he's worked.



London was left almost directly, of course, although - well, he did pop back, once.

"For Heaven's sake, Crowley, haven't you any respect for books?"

Nostalgia, perhaps.

He was in Paris for a while. He'd picked up one or two postcards but hadn't quite got around to sending them; he knew there was a letter he really ought to send first, and he wasn't quite - he had time.
Aziraphael spent most of his stay there resisting the urge to visit the Pére Lachaise Cemetery, eventually moving on to Italy rather than give in.

"Do you think wishes depend on location? I'm not sure a pound in Rome will make for the most effective wish fulfillment, my dear."

Not Rome, though.

None of it had helped. None of it was quite far enough, and the urge to go back, to check on his family and see if - see what progress had been made, was almost irresistable.

So - Las Vegas.

He's come to terms with the fact, by now, that he's running away.



The door opening breaks the silence and he lifts his head, seeing the couple supporting each other up the aisle, giggling faintly, watches the offical, quite ridiculously attired, chasing after them and he almost looks for cine cameras. They hault uncertainly as they spot him and then the groom steps forward, red-faced and English and much the worse for wear.

"Alright, mate? You want to be a witness?"

And he shakes his head and turns to pick up his jacket, fingers brushing against the long dark feather that's lain quiet for so long that he almost jumps out of his skin at the faintest sting of awareness that makes his stomach twist with the need to -



He shakes his head again, tightly.

"No, thank you. I'd really rather not."
It's so very close to methodical that it would be hard to tell the difference; it's not so much pre-planned, though, as it is a series of activities that will put off any sort of thinking until he's well away from here. The sofa that Crowley helped him buy won't exactly be the most helpful of settings, he thinks. Or would. If he were.

Instead he unplugs any electrical appliances, switches off the boiler, gets a spare key cut so the nice young lady next door can water the plants. She's thinking of taking a course at a local college in ancient history - it's always been something of an interest of hers - and he insists that she borrow any books that might be of use. (He doesn't copy her a key to the cabinets in the back room though, of course. 'Love thy neighbour' only carries one so far.) For one reason or another their conversations had never really got around to Suetonius, Tacitus, that sort of thing; you learn something new every day.

He packs a few essentials - tea, Oscar, a notepad and pen - and deliberately doesn't think of the black feather pinned to the inside of his jacket because thinking about it would lead to his unpinning it and he's really not sure whether that's - he doesn't think about it. Not yet.

He's know Crowley over six thousand years, now. Had an informal sort of agreement for going on nine hundred, and it was more than three hundred years ago that he gave in and admitted a feeling that had been waiting in the wings for far longer. Ethereals, having all that time to play with, aren't exactly the quickest on the uptake.

It's funny, though. All that time, and he never would have - clearly hadn't even the faintest idea that...

You learn something new every day.



'Dora,

Take very good care of you and yours, won't you? The danger is past, for the moment, and you've things to celebrate and a family to look after so I shall potter off with as little fuss as possible. I have - there are a lot of things I believe I need to think about, and I can't - Crowley needs Milliways far more than I. I'm sure I shall be back before you know it, but in the meantime do be careful and be happy, dearest.

All my love,

Aziraphael.

PS please tell Crowley... please tell Crowley I'll be back.
Heaven never did have Below's sense of subtlety. No tweaking of technology, twisting of the familiar until it's a threat; Above more favours the direct and the involuntary, what felt, at the time, like a fish hook tugging insistently at the back of his mind.

He'd cast a quick frantic glance around - Bernard still painfully pale, eyes still closed, but none of the desperation of before; 'Dora had had eyes for nobody else, and Crowley... Crowley was staring intently at the floor, had been for some time.

(All shall be well, and all shall be well)

He squeezed the demon's elbow gently, and leant across to catch 'Dora's eye.

(And all manner of things shall be well.)

"I shall be back directly, my dear."

'Dora nodded tightly, and Aziraphael rose from his seat to slip out through the door to Bernard's room, looking both ways quickly before heading off to his right.





It's less busy, in this part of the hospital. It's late enough to be early, for one thing, but there are also fewer patients, what staff there are gliding sedately along in their bright green robes. There's none of the aftermath of the battle here - some of the rooms are even empty, dark and deserted and the door of this one has barely closed behind him before a shaft of pale blue light shoots down from the ceiling, surrounding him.

"Ah," says a well-educated voice. "Aziraphael."

"Yes?" He remembers to hiss it almost beneath his breath but there's really no concealing the testiness.

"You have done well," the voice pronounces. There's really no other way to refer to its tone of voice; somehow it's clear there's been practice.



"...I'm sorry, I've done what?"

"You - " and it's still a proclamation, certainly, but rather a snippier one - "have done well."

"Oh." Aziraphael allows the barest pause, adequate time (he feels) to digest the news. "I have?"

"The Dementors," the voice reminds him.

"Oh." Aziraphael blinks, before deciding to simply nod and smile, to try and puzzle this out some other time. "Yes. Well. That's very nice. And now I really must be - "

"The contract is broken," the voice continues impressively; it has a script and it's not afraid to use it, "demonic wiles have been successfully thwarted, and that nasty little upstart Crawly has been shown who's boss. We are pleased with you, Aziraphael."






"...What?"
The ship's far more cramped and far dingier and far less homey than Serenity, but what's the point in comparisons when it would never have measured up? It's not nearly worth what he paid for it, either, but at least it's headed in the right direction. After so long away it's almost as though he can feel it.

And there are certain small luxuries, at least. Like the screen flickering in the corner, quiet and tinny but magnified by the silence that surrounds it.

"Election results for Osiris are in, and the hotly contested Parliament seat now belongs to Gabriel Tam, with no question of a recount..."

It's suddenly impossible to hear any more. There's no question about who's favoured on this ship, not in the least - Aziraphael's been with them a while, now, as they ferried into cities and towns and waystations those that couldn't have made it to vote on their own. Cheers and excited political commentary in a number of different languages, satisfied nods and arms raised in victory and slung across shoulders and someone opens a bottle that passes from hand to hand -

(try again, someone warbles, alone and off key, but no one who sings this song is ever alone for long, try again you politicians)

- and Aziraphael, winding through the crowd until he's closer to the screen. It's impossible to hear any more but the angel watches silently mouthing faces; Carson's smile stretched thin, Gabriel's jubilant grin and for an instant (and a wave of homesickness almost too strong to take) the satisfied look on Andronicus Crowley's face. The satisfied look that brings home to him that they have - that they have actually done it.

He whirls around with a wide grin and snatches up one of the passengers, dancing them in something very like a gavotte around a pile of packing crates. And it's not so impressive as it'd have been with Kaylee or River - Mr Okada isn't nearly so sprightly as he was forty years ago - and the effect is ruined, rather, when they trip over a duffle bag and land with a clatter... but it's not as though anyone can hear them, over the singing.
a_fell: (worried)
Judging by the news you'll have your hands full, Crowley, so it's entirely possible you won't be finding time to find this note; if you should, though, please accept my most heartfelt apologies for my absence. There are things which Must Be Done, and direct orders are so very much harder to overlook than gentle proddings in one direction or another.

Do please take care of yourself.

- Aziraphael

PS I worry that you'll only have coffee, and I suspect your nerves are quite stretched enough as it is. Make sure you get some rest.



[Enclosed is a small box of chamomile tea]
Aziraphael had convinced himself it was ridiculous superstition, and nothing more. Aziraphael had convinced himself that if anything were likely to -

- they would have told him, obviously. The last time aside, the defiance and the Last Stand and the ineffable arguments aside they would have told him. Of course. And he had the carpet rolled back for no other reason than that he was cleaning, and he was cleaning for any other reason, any at all, than the quiet coil of unease that seemed to slowly tighten in his stomach until he was about ready to go mad with it, until he was shelving Chaucer next to De Sade and seeing nothing the least bit wrong.



It should have eased. As the day went by and the light started to fade, as nothing out of the ordinary deigned to happen, he should have relaxed. Only something was itching at the back of his neck, pricking at thumbs and fingers and hands and -

- and where, he'd thought, casting about uneasily and hunching his shoulders, where did I leave a window open?



And then there was stillness. A breathless moment.

"Oh," Aziraphael had said. "Fuck."






He'd landed in the circle, sprawled and dusty and dazed. He'd landed in the circle, wings bent uncomfortably beneath him and breath knocked out of him. He'd landed in the circle and before he could ask anyone, the world, what in Heaven's name was happening, a beam of blue light shot down from the ceiling of the shop. It was brighter than a spotlight, brighter than the sun or moon or stars, bright enough so it wouldn't be possible to tell if there was an angel in the circle or if there was no one there.

No one at all.




*




Nothing moves when the phone rings. There's no reaction to the impatient scratching of owls at the windows, to a disgruntled customer battering loudly on the door. There's no movement - even the dust lying still - until blue light disappears with a pleasant sort of noise and an angel staggers uncertainly to his feet.



Even before he's thought about a receiver of any kind, even before he's fully upright, somewhere near Crowley a telephone is ringing.
Aziraphael's sitting in his bookshop.

It's nothing so very surprising.

The only thing that might, perhaps, strike the casual observer as a little odd is the fact that there are customers browsing and he still appears to be smiling.

Perhaps it's just that sort of day. Perhaps it's the fact that beams of sunlight are managing to wend their way past the higgledy-piggledy books stacked in the window, gilding the dust motes that dance in the air at every movement. Or it could be the book he's paging through; Peter Pan and Wendy, 1931 with illustrations by Gwynedd Hudson - he's always rather preferred it to the Mabel Lucie Attwell version. Those fairies always looked entirely too nice for the story. He's been looking for a copy of this book for some time - newfangled inventions like the internet have made his hobby far harder.

In theory, he's supposed to be cataloguing the damage but there's really not all that much to see, it must be said, and there are inescapable distractions. The ache in his lower back, for instance, which is only exacerbated by the high stool and is inexplicably widening his smile every time he shifts position. He's quite lost in reverie when the young woman approaches the counter and her quiet greeting makes him jump half out of his skin, flushing a brilliant red.

He's far politer to her than he'd usually be, enough to quite unsettle her, it'd appear, and his mind really isn't on the task at hand. Which might explain why he's left staring, bemused, at the space where Peter Pan had been. And the pound coin in his other hand.

Aziraphael pinches the bridge of his nose and shakes his head, laughing. It's enough to thoroughly disturb the remaining customers who make their excuses and leave in short order, far more at home with cantankerous glowering and quite unwilling to trust his apparent good nature.

It's probably for the best; it means no one's about to see the tomato-red blush, the ridiculous smile prompted by the post he receives.



He sends a carbon copy of a receipt, in reply. And neatly written on the back:

Believe me, Crowley, I know what you mean.
There's a stack of books on the floor by the sofa, piled unevenly and teetering. Aziraphael's tried Wilde, Dampier, Woolf, Rilke and Whitman, none of which have quite managed to distract him from the fact that the sun is starting to slant through the glass that fronts the shop, a rectangle of warm light creeping slowly across the floor of the back room towards the sofa. He drops the Rossetti he's been staring fruitlessly at for the past hour and a half next to the pile on the floor and runs a hand through his hair.

Judging by the state of it, he's been doing that rather a lot, tonight.

After making Crowley coffee last night, after helping him up the stairs and tucking him into bed (he made sure to put a large glass of water on the bedside table; Atlantean hangovers can be quite fierce), Aziraphael had settled himself onto the sofa and proceeded to emphatically Not Think about what a foolish idea this most probably had been. He's been Not Thinking about it all night.

And now it's morning.

The angel sighs, rolls to his feet and stretches, shuffling to the kitchen to put the coffee on and make himself a cup of tea; Crowley will most likely be emerging soon, and he rather thinks he's going to need it.
a_fell: (nitrous oxide)
The theatre's just a minute's walk from St James' Park, so it makes sense for the two of them to meet there without having to make it about any issues other than convenience. It's been raining a little throughout the afternoon; just enough to freshen the air and discourage most casual walkers. The late afternoon sun is warm now, though, slanting through the trees and coruscating off raindrops caught on leaves and black iron railings.

Strangely, the bench Aziraphael's chosen seems to be the only one in the park that's entirely dry.
Crowley,

I shall see you tomorrow morning, no question about it; unfortunately my whereabouts tonight will be rather less comfortable and rather more distant from the bar than I'd like. Drink an Atlantean in my honour, and I shall look forward to seeing you.

- Aziraphael
Crowley -

advance warning in case things do go so badly as they might. It's been something of a busy day, and it's really not looking as though I'll be able to drag myself away as soon as I would. But I forbear; I shall be certain of spending time with you tomorrow with nary an interruption, if I see this little matter through to the finish.

I do look forward to seeing you, my dear.

- Aziraphael
Contained in the package:

Some Irish coffee chocolates from Thorntons, a small babygro entirely covered in ducks, and a king duck - he couldn't for the life of him manage to find a queen, more's the pity.

And, of course, a little something for Bernard.
It's the sort of weather which reminds him why he lives where he does. Cool grey streets that end in squares of sunshine, tiny parks of vibrant green and even the market stalls selling bootlegged goods are gilded. He tips a non-existent hat to the scantily-clad woman leaning in a doorway, skirts a couple of gentlemen squaring up to each other on cracked concrete with a smile; as he continues on his way it sounds rather as though they've resolved their difficulties. It's entirely too nice a day for disagreements.

He's whistling as he walks, something he heard on the radio before he left. Not his usual sort of thing at all, really, but perhaps there's merit to this be-bop thing, on occasion. He's made a mental note to ask Crowley if he knows anything about this 'Buddy Holly' fellow, and the fact that they're on good enough terms that he can is perhaps contributing to the spring in his step.

The walk to the British Museum doesn't take nearly long enough, in his opinion - the sunshine has got people smiling, even in London, and that always rather warms the cockles of his heart - but it's quite made up for by the magnificent ceiling. There's a Michaelangelo exhibition on, and he decides to gently prod Crowley in this direction, if they're lost for something to do at the weekend. There's something so very delightful about his work on musculature, even if it's rarely historically accurate.

This is the point where Aziraphael almost trips over a small child that is running, shrieking, away from her harried looking parents. The gesture he makes is very nearly unnoticeable; when she's caught a moment or two later she's speaking in a whisper and inordinately fascinated, all of a sudden, with the reading room.

The angel, on the other hand, heads through Egypt and Ancient Rome, directing his steps towards an unnoticeable door tucked away in a corner between fragmented friezes. There are books aplenty in the reading room, of course, and it's quite extraordinarily beautiful... but it's barely a fraction of what there is. Some of the books they have stored it wouldn't do at all to make available to the public.



It's a good hour or two before he emerges. He's obtained a battered leather satchel from somewhere, and it contains a book or two that shouldn't be missed. His step is noticeably quicker, now - they're not the sort of books that ought to be kept cooped up together for two long, not if the carrier wishes their general vicinity to remain the same shape and dimensions as it began - but there's time enough to make a couple of quick stops on his way home.

Pick up a couple of gifts.

And if he emerges from his bookshop again later, and goes to the rather more neon and exotic shop next door for a cup of tea and a natter, well that's probably entirely unrelated.
a_fell: (happy)
To the tune of that major general song. Obviously.


You are the very model of a demon irredeemable,
I'm rather worried that my conscience simply won't be cleanable,
And 'though I know this sort of thing is very far from plannable
I'm hoping that ignoring things is not a sin that's damnable;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters theological,
I overlook how hugely tempting it may be to sod it all,
So long as I'm not watching I can fool myself it's mindable,
And occupy myself with crosswords and my books rebindable.

I'm very good at prophecies and tax returns and Britishness;
And though I will admit prolonged Miss Schaeffer ends in skittishness:
My mortal act could use some work, some polish, but it's cleanable,
While you pretend that you are still a demon irredeemable.

While I admit co-habitation skills are quite debatable
Your thoughts would be more use my dear were they communicatable,
And while these things, with work I mean, are certainly correctable
Continued lack of contact makes it hard to be respectable
I try to occupy my thoughts with hymns and prayers and higher things,
When all that I can think about is fingertips applied to wings
In short, you're being rather detrimental to my mental state
Perhaps reuse of manacles would prompt you to cooperate.

I never manage more than half an hour acting heavenly
The mental images alone will surely be the death of me
And where once I was innocent my thoughts are now not cleanable:
You are the very model of a demon irredeemable.

I know you've taken part in acts that are quite unforgiveable;
I may forgive you for the time that one was made reliveable,
The acts that you've inspired in me might not be so excusable,
I dread the time Himself might find my penances refusable.
And this is where I falter for we're coming to the crux of it
(Oh how I'd rather stop this song and go to feed the ducks a bit
But rhythm, metre, scansion, verse, not one of them deniable
I fear I must continue, end; my usual role – reliable).

For every step I'm taking gets me closer to a precipice,
And though I would deny it verse demands that I confess to this:
Though God forbid I ever should, and though I do not mean to Fall,
It only ever could be for a demon irredeemable.
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