Summary: Progress has many meanings. Aziraphale struggles with this over time, and with the personification of it in another. A sort-of companion to Those Other Things (part of a trilogy in time, perhaps).
Categories: Slash Fanfic Characters: Aziraphale
Warnings: Slash (mild)
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes
Word count: 6824 Read: 290
Published: 10 Jun 2007 Updated: 10 Jun 2007
1 by UseTheForceEm
A/N: : I?ve had this on the computer for a while and can finally post it now that life has settled a little. So a while back I did a story called Those Other Things, which had lyrics from a song by Rufus Wainwright. After getting to know said artist a little better I realized something amusing - this man writes songs about Crowley and Aziraphale. Okay no, not actually, but there is more than one song that works far too well for them. (I personally think that he?s friends with Crowley and they probably go out to eat once and a while). So I?ll be doing a small series of sorts with his songs. Probably only one more after this one, which will make it a trilogy. They can be taken together (once all three are done, mind you) or separately from each other, it?s up to the reader. This one has lyrics of the song Evil Angel. Title taken from the lyrics. Also credit to William Blake?s poem Jerusalem (the hymn, not the big behemoth), which makes a brief appearance.
For to see my depth of sorrow
You are not allowed to follow me
Unto this town square
And then run away
The smoke curled high, and Aziraphale thought that perhaps there was something wrong in that, the taint of black smog on such a beautiful sun-pampered sky. He couldn?t very well condemn it, however, as he himself had ordered pottery from the owner of the kiln doing the damage. He was a good craftsman, one of the best potters in town, and Aziraphale knew that a good wine jug would come in handy, as well as a strong jar for olive oil. And he so adored the artwork painted on them, watching as their depictions grew more advanced, more adventurous. From rosettes to animals to mythological battles, anything the imagination sought was rendered and shared. He had told the man to surprise him, paint anything his heart desired. Greek inspiration still ran rampant, true enough, but these people were changing, pressing onward without fear and making themselves distinct.
Aziraphale was rather enjoying the amazing things they were doing with terracotta these days.
He made his way toward the center of town, keeping careful eye on a boy taking an ox to market. Sick family, no doubt. Sent him to get what he could to keep them afloat. The stuff fables were made of, if only the youth could find a witch or goddess to give him something magical in exchange.
But the angel was no enchantress and so he settled for nudging the boy in the direction of an old woman who was searching to replenish her livestock. She would give him a fair price.
He didn?t feel better for doing it. Something was nagging.
Something to do with the smoke on the horizon, picturing it there for a far different reason.
He knew better than to trust that time would keep this place, these people, safe and it pained him to think of how much longer they could possibly have.
Aziraphale needed to speak to a scribe, but first he stopped to talk with a local farmer. The man?s produce seemed less vibrant than usual, and he could see that times were hard. And while the angel wasn?t perfect with Etruscan, he knew Greek well enough and it seemed to serve well as the pronunciations were only slightly changed. He blessed the farmer?s crops silently and continued on his way after buying a pomegranate.
He still felt awkward.
It was all cosmically beautiful, but not humanly beautiful. Aziraphale could feel a burning at the edges of the day, like someone had taken a match to parchment and it was blackening at the corners. Today he was feeling the ruptures of Time, feeling it slip slowly down his throat like wine turned to vinegar. None of this would last, and in the end he would relocate, start over, and pretend that it didn?t hurt every time.
This time coming he would settle somewhere with a bit more longevity; at least that was what he hoped for.
There it was again. That feeling.
Accompanied by another. A presence.
Aziraphale had ignored the footsteps behind him, even when they changed pace to match his own, but now the angel looked over his shoulder.
He was dressed in Phoenician purple.
?Just come in from a trading voyage? You must have done well.?
?Didn?t expect to find you still in Arretium.? He spoke softly and continued to walk behind the angel as though he were passing insider information and didn?t want to be seen with the other. Spy games. Aziraphale allowed it, though he very much wanted to look Crowley in the eye. Something to do with the absence of honest fire, he supposed.
?I will stay as long as the land will have me.?
?Won?t be for much longer.?
That he had managed to hit on exactly what had been bothering Aziraphale was troublesome, gouged the wound open to the air, making it harder to cradle. His temper flared protectively. ?I?m realizing that. What brings you back, then? Did you get tired of the lofty Mediterranean, all of those people desperate to give you goods and art and lapis lazuli to win favor with this king and that court??
?I have pottery to pick up.?
It was almost laughable, as coincidences went. Aziraphale didn?t even bother to ask who his craftsman was. ?And then??
There was no answer.
Aziraphale turned around to find no one behind him.
It was rude of him to leave like that, but Aziraphale knew that wasn?t why he was upset. He even went back to the potter?s to see if the demon was there. And at the end of the day he fell empty as one of those pithos lined up on the sides of the road, fresh from a plundering of Crete.
The Phoenician sailors had brought them in.
Evil angel with your cleft tongue
When you kiss me on this town square
All the lights came on at sunset
Thought you?d stay
?You know what they call this place, don?t you??
The demon shrugged and continued stirring his coffee. The liquid was clouded, the color of caramel from all the milk and sugar added, and Aziraphale knew that part of the reason he had fixed it that way was to put him at ease. Aziraphale didn?t trust coffee, thought it was addictive and vile. That Crowley had neglected to point out that tea could really be viewed in the same manner was a mark of his decision to not argue during this visit. He claimed that he needed the coffee for the caffeine. Aziraphale knew he drank it to seem the same as the businessmen he met with day after day.
?They call it Cottonopolis,? the angel said, and his nose crinkled as though the word tasted worse than the coffee Crowley was drinking. ?Because of all the textile factories here.?
?I am aware,? the demon drawled uninterestedly, staring out the window of his current flat. The place was white and sterile, like most of the places Crowley had occupied recently. Like he was trying to prove something in staying untouched by the filth and refuse outside. Aziraphale thought it a tad compulsive, and worried at the sturdy, uncomfortable furniture. Decidedly different from previous centuries.
?You know, when I gave you free-reign over this place, I didn?t know you were planning anything like?? He motioned helplessly toward the window. Outside the stacks produced smoke in billowing, violent waves, covering the sky in a thick, sickly coat of paint.
Crowley laughed dryly. ?Well, ?plan? wouldn?t exactly be the word. I nudged it off in this direction from time to time, but they were well on their way. Been seeing a lot of that new Horseman as a result.?
?Pollution?? Aziraphale clarified. He shivered. He made no pretense that the replacement unnerved him far more than his predecessor, and Crowley knew that. ?This is, what, his third? Fourth century in action??
?There abouts,? the demon agreed. ?Hasn?t really gotten much work in until now, though. Things are going his way finally. He was here having coffee last week. Wanted to talk to me about what direction I thought things were going in.? He looked up at Aziraphale and offered a sardonic smile. ?I felt ill after he left. Glad to be rid of him.?
?I should say,? the angel muttered. He sipped his tea thoughtfully, watched as the sun tried to break through the black canopy. It failed miserably, leaving the people in half-light, dead light. ?I?m surprised to find you up,? he said in an attempt to change the subject. ?You?ve been asleep most of the century, so far.?
Crowley nodded and sprawled a little in his chair, one foot stretching out and ending up right against the instep of Aziraphale?s left foot. Whether the demon noticed this or not he wasn?t sure, but he moved his foot away in any case. ?I had my reasons to get up,? Crowley told him. ?One pressing matter in particular that could not wait. But after this year is out I expect to be sleeping for at least another sixty.?
Aziraphale tsked into the creamer as he poured more into his cup.
?What? We?re in a time of great progress. I?d rather wake up in a while and see what they?ve done than wait for it. Sixty years should be just right.?
?Don?t you feel even slightly guilty about all this?? the angel blurted out, setting his teacup back down two seconds after picking it up. ?This will all get worse and worse because of what?s happening here. It will spread, you know it will.?
?And thousands of people are employed for it,? Crowley pointed out dully. He had undoubtedly seen this coming since the angel had turned up at his door and invited himself in, shivering from the cold and something else. ?It?s not all bad, you know, you can?t label it that way just because you don?t like your sky clouded.?
?And how much do these thousands make, I wonder? Enough to support their families? Enough to put their children in school, should they wish it??
?Oh, even you?re not that na?ve,? Crowley sighed. He sat up, looking tired until he caught the angel?s eyes. His smile was small, tip-tilted, and hid like prey. The demon stood, went to the door and came back, handed the angel his coat and shrugged into his own. ?Come with me.?
Aziraphale followed Crowley out onto the streets of Manchester, heard the crunching of gears and grating of wheels, the heavy footsteps of people living the lives of peasants. Children tried to run, having no trees to climb or sky to give them a way out. Their world was encased in coal-colored smoke.
They walked until Crowley paused in the street. People rushed past, didn?t notice. ?Now look at the sky.?
Aziraphale did. The sun was dipping down below the horizon and the sky was changing. No longer a field of grey and black, like the aftermath of a battle, the sky was splashed with intrusively vibrant shades of violet, rose, olive, indigo ?
Like an oil spill.
?Wouldn?t get that across a normal skyline,? Crowley said softly. There was a note of terror in his voice that equaled the roiling in Aziraphale?s stomach. The angel nodded mutely.
The world went a fraction darker, then burst forth with light.
The lights of every factory window seemed to go on at the same time, the boys on the street lighting the lamps as fast as their tattered feet could carry them. And so Man didn?t need to rely on the light given to him by God. They had their own source now. They could work through the night, rest naught for hunger or touch.
And just as Aziraphale felt certain that he might hit Crowley for taking part in all of it, the demon grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and kissed him on the corner of his mouth, lingering there longer than was friendly by any means. ?I have to go,? he whispered into the angel?s ear. Aziraphale shut his eyes briefly against that voice sliding up his senses, and when he opened them?
Crowley was gone.
Aziraphale thought briefly of going back to Crowley?s flat to wait for him, but as he passed the train station on his way, he realized that the demon wouldn?t be coming back.
It seemed he couldn?t sleep well with all that beauty hanging over his head either.
Evil angel bearing apples
When you kissed me on this drawbridge
As the boats do
How was I to know you?d flee
?They just opened it a few months back. Edward did the honors with his wife.?
?No, some bloke?s uncle carrying a wrench. Yes, Prince Edward.?
?The view is quite lovely.?
?That?s what they say. But it looks like the upper levels are already attracting unsavory sorts. They?ll probably close it before long.?
?Always imagining the best, aren?t we?? Aziraphale looped his scarf once more about his neck and rubbed his gloved hands together. The cold snap was doing nothing to improve his outlook on the day, although the note he had received earlier in the demon?s familiar pointed hand had lifted his spirits and thrown his morning into a tumbling chaos. He had been hoping to find that scrawl scratched out on paper and slipped under his shop door for three years now. Like waiting for some fairy tale princess to wake. He chuckled to himself at the image.
And now they stood, side by side, staring at the fogged water from the majestic structure of the Tower Bridge.
Crowley shuffled his feet sluggishly, tried not to slouch against the railing. Aziraphale was still trying to get used to the look of him with facial hair. Not that it was surprising, as it was rather expected of well-to-do young men, but the moustache and short pointed beard seemed too much, too fast to the angel. He watched as Crowley removed his right hand glove aimlessly. ?I thought you?d be glad for it closing. After all, the whole place is run on that steam engine that you loath so.?
?I don?t loathe steam engines,? Aziraphale protested, looking beyond the end of the bridge at the building that housed the thing, frowning. ?I?ve acclimated along with the rest of the world. In fact, I quite enjoy trains. And this? this is quite the accomplishment, as I understand it.?
Crowley nodded. ?Giant leap in the transportation department. I?m just waiting for them to build something that goes from England to France without use of a ship.?
?Oh, you just wait. It?ll happen sooner than you think. Probably in the next hundred years.?
Aziraphale sighed in concession, noting then with some amusement that Crowley was dressed rather appropriately for the times, despite having been out of society for so long. ?It?s been strange not having you about,? the angel said suddenly, startling himself with how unexpectedly the words came forth. ?I don?t have anyone to explain to me how things work, or tell me which plays are worth seeing. And I kept expecting you to turn up in places. Like when war broke out in America.?
?Ah, you were over there for that??
?For a time. I think it?s dastardly watching how the weaponry gets more and more advanced, and the wounds get more and more impossible to treat. I performed a good deal more miracles than I probably had any right to while I was there.?
Crowley laughed, gripping the railing tighter and leaning back in a bizarre kind of bow to the falling snow. ?And if you don?t have the right, I wonder who does??
They were silent a moment until Aziraphale said, ?You missed a lot here too.?
?Yes. Like that Darwin fellow ? ?
?Oh, I?m sure you had a great guffaw at his expense.?
Aziraphale smiled. ?To be sure. Oh, and the first World?s Fair.?
?Not really sorry I missed that.?
?I couldn?t blame you there. I thought the whole thing was trumped up for nothing, myself. But the idea was nice, in its way.?
Crowley had his back against the railing now, ignoring the water in favor of his company and fiddling with the empty fingers of his right hand glove. ?And England now has control of Egypt, I understand. Odd but logical, I suppose. One empire after another.?
Their breath fogged between them clouding his ability to read Crowley as well as he might have liked, and the fact that the demon had tugged down his trilby to obscure his eyes didn?t help the matter. But he couldn?t bring himself to suggest that they go indoors. The bridge held sway, its presence a reminder of the time past, time that he could not afford to forget at the moment. Everything changes.
?Oh, I?ve been meaning to ask you, I mean I know that you weren?t awake at the time, but ? ?
Aziraphale bit his lip, stole himself, and asked the question. ?Do you know who Jack the Ripper was??
Crowley?s answering smile should have prompted some Heavenly Wrath on Aziraphale?s part, but he was too hypnotized at the prospect of a response to the question that had haunted him for years now. ?Oh, I couldn?t tell you that?? the demon said, his voice secretively low and scandalized. ?Wouldn?t be right of me to give away all of Hell?s secrets for the sake of your curiosity, now would it??
?That?s not fair!?
?It?s perfectly fair,? Crowley insisted, folding his arm across his chest and crossing his ankles. ?It?s more than fair in regards to the Arrangement.?
Aziraphale leaned back against the railing, joining Crowley even though the metal chilled him through his coat. ?You know, I?ve lost sleep over this. They?ve said everyone from the queen?s physician to some random painter who?s work is of absolutely no consequence?. And I should be able to tell! It was most troublesome that I couldn?t help when it was happening, but he masked his presence like a true magician. Really, if you don?t tell me, I won?t be able to forgive you.?
Crowley stared straight ahead, off the other side of the bridge and into darkness, looking every bit his part. ?Yes, you will.?
?No, I won?t. And besides, isn?t this your area of expertise to begin with? The giving of knowledge??
The demon?s jaw tightened perceptibly. ?No, it?s not. And you know better than to say so.?
But Aziraphale was feeling rudely vindictive and he wasn?t about to let it go. ?Really? That?s not your job, that?s not what you do every time you hand them the means for their next great horror of technology? Every time you help them learn other ways to torment themselves and each other through the turning of wheels and the taming of beasts and the creation of scandals? Who makes the rules, Crowley? Where do they get it from??
The demon turned then, jamming the angel up against the railing hard, and Aziraphale had a flash of wings slicing together furiously under a bright, undraped sun back during a time when it was easy to find a clear patch of sky to have a row under. Time had changed them too.
?They get it from themselves!? Crowley snapped, and now the angel could see his eyes and they weren?t angry like he?d expected. ?You want to know the truth, then??
?I don?t know who it was,? the demon hissed softly. ?I didn?t want to know, and whoever it was, Downstairs has made no move to announce him and take credit. I don?t think they knew what to do with him, what he?d done. You?ve seen pictures of the bodies, the victims, it?s punishment used in the lowest circles, like something from Down There escaped, and managed to??
Crowley cut himself off and looked away, took his hat off and gripped the brim like a lifeline. He still had the angel pinned to the side of the bridge.
Aziraphale?s eyes fell. ?Crowley, I didn?t ? ?
?And I?m not here to bestow knowledge. They figure things out just fine for themselves after all this time. You know that perfectly well, so don?t start accusing me because it makes you feel better when you can?t come up with the right answers all the time. I?m not here to be your scapegoat.?
Aziraphale was about to protest that in some ways that wasn?t precisely true, when the demon leaned in and kissed him. And this time it wasn?t on the corner of his mouth, this time it was full on and coaxing and pressure, and Aziraphale didn?t even think before parting his lips because it was clearly the kind of kiss that demanded it. And in the instant that burning tongue slipped into his mouth, he knew exactly what Crowley was saying:
This is what I?m here for. This is my job.
I?ll do mine. You do yours.
But Aziraphale couldn?t, not for the life of?
Crowley withdrew, coughed uncomfortably after a moment. He straightened the angel?s scarf politely as though it were his only reason for being so close, placed his hat on his head and headed off down the bridge, toward that blasted steam engine housed on the bank and half of a city on the other side of it. Aziraphale thought he should follow, but he was panting and shaken and altogether not in a state to be chasing after someone, especially when he heard a voice on the other side of him call, ?Sir? Everythin? all righ? here??
It was a constable. Aziraphale worried frantically over how much the man might have seen, and for the first time found himself Thankful for thick London fog. He imagined Crowley had found himself thankful for it on many more occasions and thought at least there was that. ?Yes, everything?s quite fine, thank you.?
?Didn? mean ta disturb, sir. Just I gotta be careful around ?ere at night. Never know who?s showing up to do what, you take my meanin?.? The man held up a lantern to reveal himself as a portly fellow who looked to be in his late thirties. Kind face.
?I understand completely, my good man,? Aziraphale assured him. ?Just meeting with an old friend to catch up, myself. He had to run, I?m afraid.?
The man nodded patiently, appeased. ?I say get out ?ere while you can an? enjoy the view. Doesn? look too good for the Bridge at the moment. Too many spendin? their time out ?ere who shouldn?t. Mark my words, sir, it?ll be closed in a few years.?
Aziraphale compulsively glanced back in the other direction, but no one was returning. He was alone, even with that lawful lantern swinging close by, and the Tower Bridge was his only witness to?
?Yes. I imagine you?re right.?
Tear down these monuments
Bury the coat of arms
And build for me a factory
Aziraphale was reading poetry in the morning when things had gone blessedly quiet.
It was an anthology meant to inspire patriotism, something that the angel knew the country couldn?t lack more at the moment. Not that nationalism hadn?t done its damage enough, the way things had escalated so quickly.
He had debated leaving. There were still a few neutral places left on the planet. Norway? Mexico? Greenland?
But no. He couldn?t leave England now. It would be ungrateful for all he had been allowed there, for how the country had seemed to take care of him all this time.
?And was Jerusalem builded here/Among those dark Satanic Mills?? he murmured aloud, trying to figure out the purpose. Aziraphale seldom read poetry without a purpose, but he couldn?t seem to find it now. Whether the Mills could be counted as Satanic really wasn?t important when they had morphed now from factories into dreadnoughts, and a whole generation of young men were missing.
?I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England?s green and pleasant Land.?
Aziraphale sighed and shut the book heavily. At times like this he really thought that William Blake should have done them all a favor and stuck to painting. Let the lamb and tyger decide what they wanted to be for a change.
The whole anthology was condescending, it trivialized the truth of it. If he had to see one more young man with scarred lungs, facial burns, blindness?
Now when he saw the grim overhang of ever-present smog clouding the sunrise, he thought of gas.
Had Aziraphale wanted to ask what Crowley knew about all of it, he wouldn?t be able to. The demon seemed to have disappeared of late.
He was certain he didn?t want to know why.
The angel had looked for him in the hospitals. He kept expecting him to turn up among the charred faces of youth, faces of former strength and polluted ideals. Serpentine eyes did not show, not among these men. Someday they might, and Aziraphale wonders if he'll have to close them, if he will be expected to release the demon from his current form should he turn up without limbs, without sight, without memory. He wonders if he could do it.
In the back of his mind he also wonders if Armageddon is far off. This can?t have been part of the Plan.
The years have never been this long. Not ever.
And of course, Crowley could be in some grand office, sipping coffee, watching the photographers send back pictures of slipperier, darker trenches, and raising one elegant eyebrow at headlines about sunken passenger liners.
Aziraphale didn?t really believe that. Or he didn?t want to, anyway.
Something?s about to happen, the demon had said. You should leave. I can?t, but you should.
It was selfishness on Crowley?s part, that much the angel knew: he wanted backup, didn?t matter where it came from. Someone to call in case of an emergency (but what kind?). Aziraphale hadn?t left in any case; if the poetry wasn?t going to give hope, he at least might have a chance in giving it. Someone had to.
Aziraphale set the book down on the table to his right and picked up his teacup. It was chipped, always had been, though he wasn?t sure how. It didn?t usually bother him, but today it did. He stood with the cup in his hand, went to the window. The clouds looked dirty and tired and?
And one of them seemed to twist among the others, thin and coiling like a ?
The teacup hit the floor with a muted smash.
Aziraphale was out the door, headed in the direction of the hospital before he had time to flood his mind with images of the fallen. Heavenly or Earthly didn?t matter, they all felt the same crushing pain, just in different places.
He wasn?t actually sure whose head he would be mending this time, only that it couldn?t wait.
Evil angel when you're faced with hatred's
Daggers in my honor
You're no match no scratching hearts that no longer bleed
?This sort of thing happens to you far too often. You suppose it?s your charming personality??
His humor seemed lost in the situation, and Crowley did little more then grimace at him.
?Will you at least let me help??
The demon shook his head, turned to look out the window.
Aziraphale cringed to see that side of his face. He couldn?t wear his sunglasses, they hurt too much it seemed. The bruise was livid, smoky and peculiarly shaped to anyone who didn?t know who they were talking to. ?So you weren?t expecting anything??
A clenched jaw and a snort. ?I was blindsided.?
?How could you have not seen it coming?? the angel let slip before he could stop himself. It wasn?t like his associate to let anything get the drop on him, not like this. ?You said yourself that she was an evangelical sort, raving lunatic type.?
?I?ve stood in rooms full of evangelicals, and no one has ever known the difference,? Crowley said bitterly, and his voice was too threatened, too submissive. ?No priest ever rounded the pulpit and boxed my ears with a metal crucifix, believe it or not. Not once.?
?Did she say? why??
The rain from outside hit the road, brought up an acrid smell that made Aziraphale feel ill. He slumped into his chair. ?What??
The tension dropped on them there, hit a nerve that was too woven around here and now. Both had made a point not to discuss what was going on these days, they had no words for it. It seemed to work better that way while the world went mad on its own. They were silent for a long while before the demon cleared his throat and tried for it again.
?That?s what she was screaming about the whole time. Said the A-bomb was the work of The Boss, so I had something to do with it?.?
The angel hated himself for what he was about to ask, the words already thick as blood in his throat. ?Did you???
Crowley shot him a piercing glare. His eyes flashed the color of fire in an explosion.
?No, of course not,? Aziraphale amended quickly. ?Forgive me. I didn?t mean to ? ?
?I know you didn?t,? the demon said quietly, though it didn?t sound like he knew at all. He laughed, darkly in tune with the downpour on the other side of the window. ?Lucky the crucifix hadn?t been blessed by a priest before she came at me with it, or I doubt we?d be having this conversation. Ended by a matronly old bint with a red handbag and a voice shriller than an air raid siren.?
At the description, Aziraphale?s jaw fell. ??Mrs. Stollery??
Crowley tilted his head toward the angel with sidelong squint, a move that brought back memories of a gate and a first rain, one that didn?t pick up the smell of chemicals and trash off the sidewalks. ?Friend of yourssss??
Aziraphale shifted awkwardly. ?She comes to me for advice on occasion. She seems to know what I am, not that she?s ever asked for confirmation. I was always surprised that she continued speaking with me, despite passing years. She seems to feel that I count as a private confessor??
He received a supremely malignant glare to contend with.
Aziraphale coughed and continued. It wasn?t as though the topic was comfortable for him, and he didn?t think the stare was necessary. ?I don?t know whether she?s touched or just happens to guess right, but she said to me the other day that I had a demon following me. And I just laughed it off as another one of her odd fancies because she?s always saying things like that.? He passed a hand over his eyes, waved one hand in the air frantically as though it would help him to explain. ?She?s probably seen you stop by the shop to tell me you?re leaving when you get assignments, she followed you when all of this happened, I can?t believe this?.?
Crowley, for his part, didn?t seem appropriately shocked. ?They do it all themselves,? the demon murmured.
And now we?re to be the ones who receive the brunt of it, no matter the catalyst? the angel wondered as he watched his counterpart watching for non-existent cars.
The world had been so quiet lately. That was why he was seeing Crowley today; he hadn?t known about the incident until he arrived. People wouldn?t go outside their homes, wouldn?t spend time on the streets. He missed the sound of automobiles constantly driving past, new models and new fuels and newer reasons to travel further, travel away from the clutter they had created. It didn?t matter what he thought of it, of all the so-called evolution.
He missed it. Missed how crowded it all was before?.
And time had changed the rules again.
Oh evil angel, tear down the monuments
Evil angel, bury the coat of arms
And rebuild for me these memories
?What is progress, then??
?I haven?t the faintest.?
An ornate silver lighter fabricated flame under a brandy snifter. The spiced smell filled the room. ?Oh yes, you do. You?ve been trying to yell at me all evening about it, so why don?t you just get it out in the open. Then we can be uncomfortable, and avoid speech for the rest of the evening as we slowly get more and more inebriated, until we finally break down under all of our incoherent thoughts.?
The angel had too much on his mind to respond to the comment properly. He?d been perturbed all day, and going out hadn?t helped the way it should have. He couldn?t remember what he needed. All he knew was that walking through the British Museum today had been a bad idea.
?What did it smell like??
Dark eyebrows knitted together above dark frames. ?Come again??
?Rome. What did it smell like to walk the streets? I?ve forgotten.?
Crowley looked suitably contemplative and mystified at the question. He inhaled a moment later like he was trying to call the scent back through willpower across centuries. ?Like clay and earth. Like olives. Like stone and people.?
?Not until later.?
?Why do I only remember the later??
The demon?s warm fingers fixed around his own, drawing the glass away. ?I think you?ve already had enough. Brandy?s stronger than you thought.?
Aziraphale shook his head. ?It?s not.? But he let Crowley take the glass anyway.
?Come on now, what?re you really on about?? the demon asked. If the angel were to call that tone ?concerned? he?d get thrown out, but that?s exactly what it is.
And if he wasn?t going to lie about Crowley?s emotional state, he wouldn?t lie about his own. He was ?depressed?. And that wasn?t right, at least he doesn?t think so. ?Are we allowed to have good days and bad days??
?Of course. Just the same as anyone else. That?s what we?re here for, isn?t it, instead of being Up There and Down There? Experience it their way.?
It?s an interesting theory, even though Aziraphale doesn?t believe it. He wonders if his associate understands the true depth of what he's just said. ?Why do I have such trouble remembering??
?Foggy day?? The demon finishes that lyric on a hum, the first line of an old standard that not many remember. A foggy day in London town?
?Polluted day. All of them are. I should be used to it by now.? He doesn?t mean the air. The skyline is the least of his worries.
And in the midst of it all Crowley finds a laugh, probably an effort to distract. ?Do you remember the day that you tried to disguise yourself and slip into a Hun encampment to find out about the construction of their longbow for the Romans, and they captured you and spent a drunken evening fighting over whether you were Frankish or Gaulish??
The angel smiled a little. ?Yes, it was rather amusing talking them in circles. They never did figure it out.?
?No, you were far too sharp for them.?
?I wouldn?t have made it without your help, though.?
Crowley shook his head too swiftly, a small mark of the alcohol. ?No, just gave you reminders about little things any time I was close enough to pass by. Had to be very discreet to make sure they didn?t notice.?
Aziraphale knows that there must be something wrong. Far too many memories of ?good days? involve a demon.
Perhaps it had nothing to do with the clarity of the air, the toxins inhaled, the dirt shuffled through daily that clung to the bottoms of one?s feet. Nothing to do with the advances of Man. Perhaps it didn?t mean a thing next to the pollution of the senses, the spirit. Perhaps progress had nothing to do with mechanics of metal, but mechanics of a different sort.
?We?ve seen the deaths of so many cultures and civilizations, watched the ones who ruled the world fall to waste??
Crowley pinched the edge of the table he was standing by. ?You shouldn?t get attached the way you do. Creature of habit, you. It does you no good, and I?m sure even Up There would tell you that.?
The angel pressed his lips together, bit back any number of retorts that would have been more hurtful than he wanted. ?I can?t help that. I?m structured that way. To be moved by pain and feel compassion ? ?
?Well, I wouldn?t know about that, would I?? the demon snapped, his lenses fixed to the ebony tabletop, black reflecting on black.
Oh, but you do. You feel it right now.
Smoke couldn?t change your structure, but it could change your sky. Aziraphale inhaled toxins that could do more than kill. His air clouded with a scent that couldn?t be traced back to any mill or truck. He had something clinging to his feet that would drag him in the oddest direction - back here, every time.
And he was going to regret what he was about to do.
Stepping forward, placing one hand surely on a black-suited arm, he kissed Crowley brashly on the mouth. Threw himself into it because he had no means to hide; he?d given up the right to be indifferent to progress a long time ago.
With the demon?s tongue at the mercy of his own he forgot to worry about change for one blessedly desperate moment.
And then he stepped back, listened to the sound of Crowley?s rushed breathing as he stared at his own hopelessly scuffed brown shoes. ?I?m going home now,? he said.
With his downcast eyes, he just barely registered the demon?s nod of acknowledgement.
Aziraphale hastened to the door, put on his coat without fuss, grabbed his hat and opened the door. As long as he could leave quickly, everything would be ?
A cleared throat caught his attention.
He turned around to find Crowley behind him, close enough for him to see just how slightly the demon?s lips were parted. Crowley looked down, and Aziraphale followed his eyes to find his umbrella in the demon?s hand.
?Didn?t want you to forget it. I never have one around?. I really don?t know why you keep it with you all the time, like you need it.? The breath still came a fraction too quick.
Aziraphale?s gaze shifted up. ?I know you don?t,? he said softly. Taking the umbrella from Crowley, he placed his hat on his head and ducked out the door. No one would say anything else today, he wouldn?t allow it. The air was too treacherous to be trusted. He took the stairs instead of the elevator to hear the sound of his footsteps echo off the close walls.
When he stepped out onto the sidewalk he stared at the sky. It was every color of the rainbow this evening.
He was certain it would rain on his way home.
For to see my depth of sorrow
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