Have you ever tried magpie goose? It’s delicious. Or stingray? Lobster has nothing on stingray, it’s delectable. You must be bored with burned venison. Can I tempt you to come try something new?
Crowley quite enjoyed Australia, but he was beginning to think it was time to move on.
It was the creek in front of him, he told himself. It was a murky blue with green and grey mingled in it, and with the sunlight sparkling on it. It was far too reminiscent of shimmery, kind eyes with sunlit pale hair above them, and it wasn’t fair. It was if the landscape itself was out to disturb his peace.
Crowley hated discomfort of any kind, physical or emotional, and for a being who was technically condemned to eternal torture, he was very good at avoiding it.
He leaned down and hissed into the ear of the child who was hanging onto his arm. “Nankiya, look at the fish Gulumbu caught. It’s much bigger than yours. There go the bragging rights for today."
Nankiya’s dark eyes lit up with the first sparks of envy, one of Crowley’s favourite sins, next to Sloth and Vanity. “Hmm."
“You know,” Crowley said, “she’s distracted playing right now. She’d never never notice if you swapped it."
“That would be naughty, Uncle,” Nankiya said sternly.
“Not really,” Crowley said, vaguely. “I mean, she’d still have the same number of fish. And she never cares much for praise. Not like you. It’s wasted on her."
“Hmm,” Nankiya said again. “I’m going to go play with her."
Crowley watched the small, naked figure depart. He would give even odds on Gulumbu’s fish mysteriously changing size in the next hour. He’d planted the seeds of temptation, anyway. Not a big temptation, but he’d take his points where he could.
He weighed up his options. There were a lot of advantages to staying in Australia. The Yolŋu humans were like humans everywhere, fun to party with and swap stories with and interesting to prod towards taboo-breaking and vendettas and chaos and lust. Polygamy, he had always found, was useful, with its chances for jealousy and frustration, and of course any culture that valued harmony and justice was just begging for a demon to come muck about with them.
Crowley found the Yolŋu easier to get along with than monotheistic humans, especially since their belief system easily accommodated a trouble-making snake who could shape-change and do magic. There were a lot of snakes here. Crowley hadn’t been so relaxed about exposing his eyes and turning into a serpent when he wanted since posing as a genius loci in Ancient Rome.
The scenery was as pretty as the first Garden, the animals were far more interesting than some of the ones on the Ark and the kids were cute. Best of all, there wasn’t a lot of smiting going on around here. No Crusades, no Inquisitions, no crumbling walls or pillars of salt or plagues of frogs, no interference from the wrong kinds of angels. The forces of Heaven and Hell, himself aside, seemed content to let people on the side of the planet get on with their lives.
Also, it was hot, and he liked heat. Not the constant dry heat of the deserts, although there was that, too, if he chose to move further down South. Where he had settled for a while had warm dry seasons but, even better, raging thunderstorms and tropical heat and driving rain in the wet season, all reminding him of that first storm in Eden and the instinct that had led him to duck in close to an angel and feel a protective wing sheltering him.
That was the rub. None of the wrong kind of angels here, but none of the right kind, either. Crowley had a horrible, undemonic suspicion he was pining. He seemed incapable of trying any new delicacy—sea cucumber, tamarind, the native Australian honey from the brown non-stinging bees— without imagining Aziraphale trying it, dreaming of the way his cheeks would turn slightly pink and his long golden eyelashes would flutter with the novel pleasure. Crowley was beginning to suspect he had a fetish, which of course was right and proper for a demon and not something to worry about, even if it inconveniently involved the Other Side.
No, it was the pining that had him worried. The last thing he needed was Lord Beelzebub getting wind that he was yearning pathetically after an angel. She’d never stop buzzing about it.
Aziraphale seemed to have set himself up in that damp, rainy hole of an island off the coast of Europe in King Arthur’s days, and to be as determined to dig himself in there as long as he had in Egypt. There was no wine in Australia, except that Crowley magicked up for himself, and no books of any kind. Crowley was becoming dismally aware that no matter how often he sent missives raving about the interesting food and music and art that the angel just had to try, the lack of wine and books was an insuperable barrier to tempting him to visit.
Crowley could do without books or manuscripts any time. He spent enough time satisfying Dagon’s passion for paperwork, which Crowley suspected should be a cardinal sin all on its own, the amount of obscene pleasure his supervisor got from it. Crowley preferred the more intimate touch of oral storytelling—well, Crowley didn’t mind intimate oral touches in general, but that was a different story, which unfortunately had little to do with the angel as yet.
Aziraphale’s feeling about writing, though, was different. Crowley should have seen the madness creeping up on Aziraphale the first time they had seen a human cut into a clay tablet with a stylus and the angel’s eyes had become as round and shining as moons. By the time papyrus became a thing, Aziraphale was lost to all help. Perhaps an angel had to have something a little mad about themselves to stay on earth for millennia. It was a good thing, Crowley thought smugly, as he wrapped his tail around three-year-old Galarrway and tried to beat his record at sliding down a 200-metre waterfall in serpent form without discorporating them both on the rocks at the bottom, that he remained perfectly calm and stable.
What was the point of having an Arrangement if they didn’t cancel each other out? Technically, he supposed, they might already be cancelling each other out, but doing so on opposite sides of the globe seemed a bit abstract. And he was beginning to worry that Aziraphale was forgetting about him already. Some of his responses to his missives had seemed awfully distracted and perfunctory, and talk more about war and theological debates than even Crowley, with his pinpoint dedication, could twist to be code for I miss you, serpent, come and tempt me a bit.
Distant. Aziraphale's missives were kind, and polite, and distant. And not nearly frequent enough. Almost as if he needed to be reminded that there was a handsome and charming demon who deserved lots of attention, thank you very much, and soft looks and double glances and bickering and reluctant admiration and petting in his snake form.
Crowley, back in human-presenting form and engaged in a tickle fight with the kids, was aware that there was the other kind of temptation in Australia. This place was starting to feel like home. Home was dangerous. Home meant attaching to humans, and being sad when they died, and a bit guilty about encouraging them to condemn themselves to eternal damnation. He had learned that lesson back in Sodom. Bloody Sandalphon and his bloody smiting. Home was a trap for demons.
Crowley knew there was a family of Baijini sea nomads smoking sea cucumber just down the coast. It wouldn’t take long to negotiate his way onto their boat and head for Asia. He’d miss the kids, but maybe that was another incentive to go.
Asia was closer to England than Australia was.
I have discovered the most extraordinary drink, and it’s not even alcoholic. The Pu people here cultivate a kind of leaf, they dry and cook it, and they make leaf water with it. It may not sound like much, but it is fragrant and delicious and it has a remarkable effect of relaxing while clearing the head.
The first time I tasted it, it made me think of you, somehow. It was golden and warm and fresh and reviving, like liquid sunshine, and oh bloody heavens I’m not sending this, I sound like a complete wanker.
I’m coming to England. I have a present for you, a drink. Stay right there, I’ll see you soon. You’ll owe me for this.
1) Galarrwuy, Gulumbu and Nanakiya are named after activist and leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu; his sister Gulumbu, the artist and women’s leader; and Indigenous land care and conservation leader Nanakiya Mununggurritj, all from the Gumatj clan of the Yolŋu people.
2) The Baijini people are documented in Djanggawul song-cycles as some of the first contact between Australia and other lands. They are believed to have been Sama-Bajau Sea Nomads, and to have provided a link from the Yolŋu people of Australia to Sulawesi and from there all the way to China, where Australian sea cucumbers were highly valued. And to have brought tamarinds to Australia.