Crowley's eyes were red.
No, not like that. Crowley’s eyes were, in that sense, the canary-bright and arsenical yellow they most frequently were: that fourteenth-century painters used to smooth out their palettes of otherwise azurite, vermillion, and gypsum. The Germans called it Königsgelb, and although Aziraphale added, on reflex, a disapproving “And they would” when he recalled it, he found the French jaune royal and the Italian orpimento equally unsuitable. Orpimento, after all, only sounded like a drunk person saying the English “orpiment”, which was per se hideous, sounding like antiseptic for the mosquito bites which Aziraphale (divinely-protected, but topping up with a G&T) so congratulated himself on avoiding.
No, in their essentials, Crowley’s eyes were the same colour – zar, the Persian for gold – that they had most often been, in all the years (millennia) that Aziraphale had chronicled their changing hue. But the rims were red.
Crowley didn’t cry, of course. He hadn’t been crying. Aziraphale wasn’t even sure he could cry (but then again, technically neither could Aziraphale and the phenomenon had been known, as had hiccups, breathing, and an involuntary chest-thump in emotional extremis). But this was the second of November, of course, on a sweeping Italian hillside where church bells were as common as olive trees, and like all demons who venture up to the surface, Crowley experienced religious holidays via something approaching mild flu.
It was a freakishly clement November, less extra-late October than outrageously persistent August: this was less human skulduggery than because Aziraphale was next heading north to Venice, and wanted to postpone the first bout of acqua alta until he’d had a good look round St Mark’s Square. But despite the late sun (the kind of sky Canaletto might even have sought to tone down), Crowley was shivering. Aziraphale, passing him a rather surprised macchiato for warmth, could only suppose what they’re watching will make it worse.
Red lights were pinpricking the fronts of graves, and moving passages of torchbearing humans were threading their way down village streets into the cemeteries and basilicas and churches. Even the whitewashed so-called “English” church, a squarish chapel between a Pensione and a libreria (where in 1928 Aziraphale and Crowley had had rather a nasty argument over the soul of Compton Mackenzie) now had its garnish of candles and its waft and rustle of floral sprays.
Crowley huddled into the bench and sneezed.
“Chrysanthemums,” he said, resentful, and Aziraphale sighed.
“I don’t know why you always watch this. It’s not your job, and you’ll need a doctor’s visit at this rate, and you do remember how upset you made that GP.”
“He shouldn’t have been listening to Elgar.”
A local man passed, and wished a good evening to Gilda’s nice English tenant and his rude boyfriend – putting on sunglasses in November! As if anyone really thought him a celebrity. And he’d caused such trouble in the village.
Aziraphale returned the greeting with an apologetic half-glance at Crowley (so pointedly not included). If Crowley minded, he didn't show it: indeed, at the sight of the man’s wreath and candles (albeit unlit), he'd started shivering and had no patience for anything else.
“You need to go inside,” Aziraphale clucked. “Remember how poorly you were that year in Manila?”
“No. I like this.”
“I’d gathered,” the angel sighed, winging a quick blessing of steadier steps to a grandmother approaching the town square: Signora Esposito seemed in danger of joining her late-lamented husband if she obstinately went on refusing the walking stick her doctor advised. “But I was never sure why.” It hadn’t only been Manila. Crowley in Vienna; Crowley in Sucre; Crowley nearly (but for obvious reasons not) coughing up a lung one disastrous November in Rome. Even for two unusually allied occult entities, they’d spent a disproportionate number of November the seconds side by side, Aziraphale eating soul cakes and Crowley nursing a cold.
“Well,” Crowley said, long and drawn-out, and became even more long and drawn-out himself as he shifted and shrugged and generally evaded sentences in uninformative, fidgety lieu of an answer.
Aziraphale waited. He was, after all, a being of love.
“It’s the remembering,” Crowley said at last. He coughed. “Wish they could do it without all your lot getting in on the…”
“It’s a religious festival.”
“Nothing in the Bible – “ Aziraphale passed him a handkerchief and a lemon-flavoured cough drop, which Crowley accepted with alacrity, “ – about a moment of this. But it’s the remembering. People they loved died, gone,, and once a year everyone remembers. Or tries to.”
“Honouring the fallen,” Aziraphale quipped, because he was, after all, an acid-tongued bitch.
Crowley lifted his sunglasses and gave him a look that the angel felt he rather deserved. Aziraphale still had the grace (and the anatomical impossibility) of blushing, and he showed it. “Sorry, my dear.”
Crowley settled back, as much as his now-aching, jostling bones would allow. “And,” he continued, slightly as if he was drunk, but obviously in an effort to forget he’d been so rudely interrupted, “It shows a healthy distrust of what your lot have laid on in the afterlife. Thinking the f – the dead might like to pop back for the day. Food on the table. Candles. Even processions on the streets. Some of them go altogether, let the spirits roam around the house as much as they like. I call that considerate.”
Aziraphale’s heart waxed sore. Crowley’s sunglasses were now firmly lowered, but there was a terrible pathos in the line of his neck and shoulders that wasn’t entirely attributable to ecclesiastically-induced pseudo-rheumatic joint pain. He could scarcely imagine a wingèd Crowley flitting solitarily around a temporarily-deserted Heaven, opening and shutting cupboard doors like a hungry teenager, or loping unobserved through a Christ-washed excursion to the Elysian Fields.
Not that Aziraphale had seen any of that in years, of course. Some days he wasn’t sure he remembered Heaven (in toto) any more clearly than Crowley did.
…some days, in fact, he was certain Crowley remembered it better. It was a painful thought.
The sun was setting, now: appropriately enough, the sky was Naples yellow, fading into a dusky darkness that sets off light tints and dark-blue bruises in the sea. The candles they could glimpse across the bay were glowing, almost twinkling crimson, and there was soft music in the air. Such ghosts as there are, in whatever phenomenal or philosophical taxonomy, must surely soon be abroad.
“It’ll get cold soon,” the angel reminded his companion, nudging his linen-clad knee against the skinny black jeans that made Crowley look like even more like like a redheaded spider. The heeled boots had, Aziraphale knew, been giving him hell on the cobbled streets.
Nobody was passing their bench now; all the hillside residents had collected in the village below, and Crowley risked removing his sunglasses again, to watch the boats become silhouettes in the harbour, and finally the land becoming indistinguishable from the sea. Apart from those lights.
“Probably,” he conceded, and unwound himself from the bench with an effort, knees and wrists cracking. It’d been a long time since his “body” was created, and Aziraphale too was conscious of deep fatigue, even without the additions of shivering psychomatic flu. Crowley seemed to poised to return to God-knows-where, whichever diabolical stop-off had been his before he’d turned up (uninvited) on Aziraphale’s favourite, fascinating little osteria on the sweetly sun-strewn piazza like a great long menace. Oh, he’d settled right in, hadn’t he, drinking his espresso al banco and encouraging Signor Benedetto’s daughter to leave her husband for the local mayor, while simultaneously encouraging Signor Benedetto’s (blameless! Hard-working!) son-in-law to forget his wife in favour of the local priest. Aziraphale had evinced much irritation at this matrimonial disarray (some of it hypocritical given just what he thought of said priest’s cheekbones) at a time when he’d been emanating harmony and mainlining biscotti, but now it suddenly occurred to him that he didn’t know when he’d see Crowley again. The wind consequentially seemed bitter chill, global warming and planned Venetian weekend notwithstanding.
“It is nice,” the angel hazarded, chucking the inadequate gambit into the breeze. Crowley raised his eyebrows above the frames of his glasses.
“The remembering. The way they remember the – lost.”
“Oh.” This seemed to stump Crowley for a moment, and Aziraphale’s heart went on twinging, its own foolish little torchsong burning out in the dusk. “Yeah.”
Crowley cast a last long look down at the bay, where even now Signor Benedetto himself was being tempted to stray by the comely Signora Biscia, recently arrived from Cocullo, and vaunting devotion to the memory of three late husbands in low-cut black. Her hair was the colour of gold, and Signor Benedetto wouldn’t know what hit him (neither had her husbands). Crowley shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone wants to be remembered.”
“When shall I see you?” He’d never asked such an obvious question, and the angel was aware with irritation that he was pleading.
But Crowley didn’t seem to think it strange. “When I’ve shaken off this cold,” he replied, voice now thick with the phlegm of passive sanctity.
“That’ll go as soon as you’re somewhere – secular.”
“Hope so. But you’ve got Venice.”
“Oh, Venice.” Aziraphale waved the place away at once, attempting to sound as if the iridescent lagoon, the coalescence of the Roman and the Byzantine in one hundred small islands of peerless Renaissance art and four hundred pastry shops were all of small moment next to spending time beside Crowley.
He managed it rather terribly well.
The demon didn’t speak. There was thus a silence. Luckily, it was now too dark for either to see the colour that the other's face had gone.
“Bonfire Night?” Crowley suggested, and something relieved and not-at-all relieved spooled and unspooled itself around the bottom of Aziraphale’s spine. It sounded as if Crowley was smiling. “Terrorism, pyromania, state-sanctioned explosives and really tacky candy floss?”
Aziraphale smiled, and Crowley could hear it. “Certainly sounds more your sort of thing.” It was a brave effort to pretend Crowley’s company would not also make it Aziraphale's thing, too. “Where shall we…?”
“Oh, home. I’ll pick you up. Six-thirty, November the fifth?”
“I’ll remember.” Home.
“As you should.” The demon’s voice was rose-red in the dark. “Happy All – “ he started. And then he sneezed, explosively, three times. Aziraphale always had a handkerchief spare.
“Happy All Souls, Crowley.”