Chapter 1: Reckoning
Crowley asks a question that Aziraphale had hoped to avoid for the foreseeable future.
It just came out one day in conversation.
“By the way, how did you figure out who Adam was, and where he lived?” Crowley said one day as they were lolling on a bench in St. James’ Park. Crowley had his head leaned back so the weak winter sun was shining on his face, and his eyes were closed. Aziraphale was enjoying just watching him bask on this rare, relatively mild January morning. “I never asked. Pretty clever, that.”
Aziraphale blinked, surprised by the question. “Well, that takes me back – but I suppose it was the book,” he said. “I believe I stayed up most of that night after we came back from Tadfield, reading and cross-referencing various things in the book of Revelations, and I ended up with the idea that maybe I was working with a phone number. I called it as early as I dared the next morning, and one of Agnes’ predictions played out right in front of me. It was really most interesting – “
“Wait,” Crowley said, sounding confused. “That can’t be right -- you’re mixing up your days; I called you the next day and you hadn’t sorted it out yet.”
Aziraphale sucked in a breath. Oh goodness. “Ah, well,” he said lightly, “ancient history, I suppose. I can’t be expected to remember the exact timeline of everything we’ve done.”
Crowley craned his neck back up and looked closely at Aziraphale over the top edge of his glasses. “It was only two years ago, angel. And I know you have near-perfect recall.”
Aziraphale fidgeted uneasily and examined the duck pond, which was inconveniently free of duck-shaped distractions, with it being winter and all. He dug his hands further into his pockets and tried to conjure some warmth. “So do you, my dear,” he said mildly. “You hardly need me to tell you these things.”
Aziraphale believed strongly in the angelic virtues of obedience, reverence, and intelligence. Nowhere, however, did the almighty or any of the written words of God indicate that angels were necessarily truthful. Over the years, beginning with that first heart-stopping lie in Eden, when he looked god directly in her face and lied about the sword, Aziraphale had had many instances in which he found himself bending the truth, using subterfuge, and outright lying.
He used to feel guilty about it, but honestly, it had become increasingly essential over the centuries to his continued survival on earth, particularly after he met and paired up with Crowley in the early arrangement. He had no choice but to lie, then, to hide from both Heaven and Hell that they were friends, partners. He had to lie to people around him on occasion if they noticed something they shouldn’t have. He had to lie to Crowley for many years, to protect him, to stop him from doing foolish things, and to conceal and hide the depth of feeling that could have signaled the demon’s destruction.
Lying was apparently something angels were good at, Aziraphale had finally decided, and no point in agonizing over each and every occurrence. But there were lies that didn’t matter all that much, and there were lies that did. And with the way Crowley was looking at him, he realized with a sinking feeling that there was no question about where this one fell.
“You’re evading the question,” Crowley said sharply. “Whatever you did, spit it out. I can tell you’re keeping something from me.”
Aziraphale sighed. “I was hoping this wouldn’t come up, to be honest.” He broke off suddenly, looking a little nervous. “Keep in mind, this was some time ago and things were much less clear cut than they are now, and my behavior then shouldn’t be taken as any indication of my behavior now.”
Crowley frowned at him. “Not making this easier, angel.”
“I figured it out the night after we got back from Tadfield,” Aziraphale said, all in a rush. “I made contact with them the following morning after reading for most of the night. I didn’t tell you right away.”
The silence as he kept his eyes trained firmly on his knees was, in a word, deafening. He could feel Crowley’s eyes on him, and it burned. When he finally worked up the courage to look, the look on Crowley’s face sent a tendril of fear into his stomach that he hadn’t felt in ages. Crowley looked like he was somewhere between fury and outright wrath.
“I called you. Asked if you knew anything.” Crowley’s words were clipped. “You lied.”
“I did, I’m so sorry, my dear I was just –”
“And then at the bandstand. You said of course you’d tell me if you knew anything. You lied.”
“I – I did, yes.” Aziraphale swallowed. “I’m not proud of it.”
“Too busy breaking up with me to give me the truth, eh?” Crowley gritted out. “Why tell the demon anything? It’s just the end of the bloody world!”
“Well now, I did tell you, eventually.”
“After you’d discorporated!” Crowley shouted.
Aziraphale found he had nothing to say to that. He watched Crowley helplessly, looking for any signs of reprieve. This was surely ripping the scabs off a lot of old wounds.
“Not until after you ran off to tell Heaven, I assume?” Crowley spit out, voice bitter. “Just one more case where you chose them over me, isn’t it angel?” His voice was picking up speed. “How could you decide to keep that from me when we were days from the end of the entire world? I know you’ve played fast and loose with truth over the years, but I never thought you’d – I mean, in those circumstances -- how could you betray me like that?”
Aziraphale paled. “I didn’t – I needed – I – “ He tried to bring some order to his thoughts. “I just needed time to think before I did anything with the information.” He leaned forward and held out a mittened hand beseechingly to the demon, who shrank back from him most alarmingly.
“Don’t touch me,” Crowley snapped. “I’m a demon. Clearly I can’t be trusted.”
“I’m so sorry, my dear. I should have confessed to this ages ago, and I’m sorry it’s coming up now,” the angel said, starting to feel the beginning of tears and fighting them back. “There just wasn’t time to come clean with you as it was happening because I was discorporated shortly after, and then we were on the run for the final showdown, and… and afterwards, I felt terribly bad about it, but we’d won and it was over and I suppose I just let it fall by the wayside.”
Crowley was no longer looking at him. He looked sick, Aziraphale thought, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him so angry.
“Please tell me how I can fix this,” Aziraphale said. “I would do anything to make this right.”
Crowley sat completely still for a moment, as if pondering something, then stood up decisively. “You can’t, at least not right now. I’m going to need some time with this one.”
Aziraphale stood, feeling shaky all over. “Of course,” he said quietly. “Whatever you need.”
“I’m going back to Mayfair for a few days,” Crowley said gruffly. “Give me some space.”
“Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered, his throat refusing to cooperate. “It was two years ago! Must we do this? Please just stay.”
Crowley gave him a long and unreadable look, then stalked off towards home. Aziraphale followed a few steps behind, and stood by mutely, twisting his ring and absolutely aching as Crowley grabbed a bag and packed a few random things, then swung out of the shop without another look at him.
I do apologize - this first chapter is entirely angst and there is not a snake (or a snek) in sight. I promise it will get better later, and that you will probably even laugh once or twice before we get to the end. That said, I've been pondering for a while when and how Aziraphale will be brought accountable with his love over his tendency, even in later days, to gloss over the truth a bit more than is absolutely necessary. And there are some wrongs from Armageddon't that were never addressed. And so this story is born.
And, as an apology for the angst, the *entire* thing is already written, so I will edit and post the remaining two chapters very very soon.
Chapter 2: Repercussions (or, There's a Flower For Everything)
In which Crowley stays away, Aziraphale tries to give him space, and the angel resorts to using the language of flowers to communicate.
It had, Aziraphale realized, been ages since he’d had the shop to himself for more than a few hours. After Crowley left, he stood and stared out the front window for a very long time, watching passerbys bundling up in the dropping temperature, and, eventually, observing as a light, January snow started to fall. It wasn’t the big, romantic snowfall that covered everything and made everyone feel happy – this was thin, whippy snow, tiny flakes born on sharp winds that crammed into the corners of things and tore through scarves. Aziraphale shivered and pulled the cardigan he was wearing a little more closely around him. He hoped Crowley was warm, he thought sadly. The demon didn’t like the snow, or the winter, and now he wasn’t even able to help keep him toasty.
It had all gone so terribly wrong in a very short time, Aziraphale thought.
Would Crowley be back? Could they patch this up? He wondered. All he could truly do, at this point, was wait, and try to make amends when given the opportunity. He needed to give some thought to this particular incident and think about what his motivations were and what he could have done differently. And, perhaps, torture himself a little by taking a very close look at his behavior over the past six thousand years.
Yes, he thought grimly, that was entirely what was called for. If he were going to make this up to Crowley, he needed to begin by taking a thorough accounting of the lies he’d told and why he’d told them. See if he could figure out why he did this, why he didn’t seem to be able to stop, and come up with some kind of plan for how to avoid it in the future.
The angel despondently made himself a cup of tea and sat down at the small table in the back room with a neatly lined legal pad and his fountain pen and began making a series of lists.
Crowley was angry enough that he didn’t notice, at first, the state of the Mayfair flat. He hadn’t been there in close to six months, and there were cobwebs and dust on every available surface. He snapped viciously and the muck disappeared, and he sank down into his old white leather couch with a thump and set his mind to a long and focused sulk.
He didn’t notice when it started to snow, but he did feel the chill, and he quickly set the furnace to the approaching-roasting temperature he preferred when alone. Aziraphale couldn’t tolerate it quite this hot with all of his various and fussy layers. With a wave of his hand, he pushed it a few degrees hotter. After all, he thought with fierce satisfaction, Aziraphale wasn’t here.
He hadn’t decided yet if he was going to magic himself up any more furniture. He didn’t know how long he’d be staying or how permanent this was. All he knew was that it stung, so deeply, what the angel had told him. Yes, it was in the past, but he couldn’t just let it go as if it hadn’t happened. He had already come to terms with how many times the angel turned him away during what they thought were the last few days of the world, with the heart crushing split at the bandstand, and the angel’s refusal to go to the stars with him. But for some reason, finding out that the angel had kept such intensely critical information to himself at such a desperate time, information they’d been seeking for eleven years, felt worse.
It shouldn’t matter, but it did. Of course it did. Crowley didn’t trust easily to begin with, but he’d always trusted his angel. Now? He wasn’t sure.
He held off on making himself an actual bed, and instead materialized some thick blankets and a pillow on the couch, where he ended up curling up for a nap that was filled with unpleasant dreams about the events of Armageddon.
Four days went by with no contact at all. Aziraphale spent most of it either sitting miserably at his desk thinking and writing as much as he could stand to, or performing the same sorting and tidying tasks over and over. He washed and swept and alphabetized shelves until he had worked himself into nearly a fugue state, mainly to stop himself from reaching for the phone fifteen times a day. He knew Crowley, and knew he wouldn’t appreciate him indulging his need for contact right now. The demon had asked for space, and he had to try to give it to him.
Aziraphale was thankful, at least, that the argument had occurred outside of the shop, sparing Frederick from observing the scene and worrying about it. The angel had explained to Frederick that Crowley was going to be away “on business” for a few weeks, and just hoped that within that time frame things might blow over enough for Crowley to come home. The snake seemed to accept this, but also seemed a little bored and sad about having no one he could talk directly with. Aziraphale tried to give him some extra attention and to hide his own distress as much as he could.
On the fifth day, though, Aziraphale decided to check in. What if Crowley was waiting for him to make the first move? What if he was making it worse by doing nothing? He decided to risk a short text message.
Hello, my dear, he wrote. I’m sorry to bother you. Just wanted to check in to make sure you were all right. Please do let me know. If you want to talk, I am here.
He hovered with his finger over the send button for quite some time, then finally blew out his breath and pressed it down decisively.
He stared at the phone for the next three hours before he realized nothing was going to be coming back immediately. He put it down on the desk and tried to find some reading to do, then thought better of that and slid it into his waistcoat pocket where he would feel it buzz if any messages arrived.
What could he do? Aziraphale thought. He wanted to tell Crowley how sorry he was, but Crowley already knew that. He wanted to let him know how terribly he missed him, but he was sure the demon was feeling the same anguish at their separation. He was desperate to tell him how much he’d been thinking and what he’d learned, but he didn’t feel he had the right to rush his love to speak with him before he was ready.
Because he didn’t know what else to do, Aziraphale decided to use flowers to express some of his thoughts. Modern humans wouldn’t understand the messages, but he and Crowley had both lived through a time in which every nosegay was carefully interpreted for meaning, and he was fairly certain Crowley would be able to ‘read’ them, so to speak.
And so, every other day for the next week and a half, the angel put together a large bouquet with the blossoms chosen carefully for meaning and walked over and left it outside the door of the Mayfair flat. First was a large arrangement featuring mostly purple hyacinth. (Please forgive me. I am sorry.) He was nervous as he left it, wondering if it would be discovered and, even if it were, if Crowley would take it in or leave it in the hallway to rot. He thought about knocking but decided best not. He’d promised the demon time, after all.
Two days later, he was pleased to see that the original vase had disappeared, whether into the apartment or into the rubbish chute he couldn’t say. But at least he knew it had been found. He stopped for a moment to try to sense Crowley in the apartment but found that he couldn’t tell one way or the other if he was there, as if the demon were warding against him. Fair enough, he thought resignedly. He knelt down and left his precious cargo in the same spot as the previous one had occupied. This time, he left a combination of broom and pink camellias. (Humility. Longing for you.)
The next time, he left geraniums, several dozen of them, their crisp sweet scent brightening the hallway, colored red and pink. (I was so, so stupid. Forgive my folly.)
Two days after, the choice was a smaller collection of primroses with a few azalea blossoms tucked in. (I can’t live without you. Take care of yourself for me.)
On the next visit, Aziraphale was on his knees outside of Crowley’s door fluffing up a lovely crystal vase of blue hydrangeas (I did not think of your feelings) when the door opened beside him. He was so startled that he just looked up, blinking, mouth hanging open in surprise.
“Stop it with the flower languages,” Crowley said wryly, “before I beat you over the head with a stem of each of them.”
Aziraphale tried to process that and came up with nothing.
Crowley waited as the angel got to his feet, and then stood back and made a choppy gesture at the door.
Still with me? Stay tuned! Even Crowley can't stay mad at his angel forever.
Wrote this flowers-as-apology scene several weeks ago and hadn't figured out how to use it yet, since it would take a pretty severe fight for them to be separated enough for this to be something Aziraphale might resort to. Finally occurred to me yesterday that my interest in exploring Aziraphale's relationship with the truth might work nicely as a framework for that.
Lovely when things tie together like that. :)
Chapter 3: Reparations
A long needed discussion, a surprising list, and a poorly-conceived vow.
“Stop it with the flower languages,” Crowley said, “before I beat you over the head with a stem of each of them.”
Aziraphale tried to process that and came up with nothing.
Crowley waited as the angel got to his feet, and then stood back and made a choppy gesture at the door.
Why yes, of course he was. He followed Crowley into the apartment and immediately noted with a burst of hope that each of his vases were lined up on the kitchen island, each flower looking well cared for. None of them appeared to have been fed to the garbage disposal for mulch.
“Did you know that white carnations are said to repel snakes?” Crowley asked. “Thanksss for not including those in one of these little telegrams.”
“You’re welcome?” Aziraphale said, feeling unsure of what to say or do.
They stared at each other awkwardly for a few moments, until Crowley motioned Aziraphale to have a seat at one of the stools at the kitchen counter. When Aziraphale sat, he moved to the other side of the open counter and leaned against it, facing the angel, arms loosely crossed. His body language, Aziraphale noted, was guarded and his face was unreadable. He wished, achingly, that he could reach over and pull the demon’s glasses off, but he knew better than to try.
“You wanted to talk to me?” Crowley said coolly.
Right then, Aziraphale breathed. Get on with the pleading.
“I did, my dear. There are so many things I want to tell you. But first and foremost, I want you to know that you’re right, of course. My not telling you when I found Adam was a profound betrayal, and not confessing to it sooner was foolish and self-serving. I should have told you then what I’d done.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I suppose,” the angel said, “that I wasn’t sure you’d forgive me.”
The demon made a neutral noise and Aziraphale felt his stomach clench.
“If it matters, though,” he added carefully, “I didn’t. Run off to heaven with the information, I mean. Share it with them instead of you.”
Crowley raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“No. I lied to them too,” Aziraphale said, and immediately flushed. “Not that that puts me in any better light, but still. I told them I had no idea where the boy was. And then I came home and spoke to the Metatron, hoping he would take on the work of killing the boy instead of us – which of course went over like, what was it? A lead balloon. And immediately after that didn’t work I called you. To tell you. You remember, I called when Hastur and Ligur were with you. Told you I had found him, but you cut me off.”
Crowley thought this over for a moment, and found a dim memory of hearing the words through the phone line before he stopped the angel mid-sentence. His attention, he had to admit, had been elsewhere at the time.
“You didn’t want to kill him,” he said slowly.
“I didn’t want either of us to kill him!” Aziraphale protested. “It would have been disastrous, even if it worked. Imagine the retribution if it had been you who did it!”
Crowley stared at him, one eyebrow raised.
Aziraphale laid his hands flat on the counter in front of him, beseechingly. “Crowley,” he said, voice nearly broken. “In the end, you were the only one I told. You were the only being in the universe I chose to trust with the information. You must know that.”
Crowley swallowed hard and appeared to consider this. “Still took you a long way round to actually do so.”
“It did. I’m so sorry. I failed you in so many ways back then,” Aziraphale said quietly. “I’m still failing you now. I want to be better for you.”
“Angel…” Crowley groaned, his voice more gentle.
They sat quietly for a few minutes before something occurred to Aziraphale.
“Oh!” the angel said, snapping and making a large notepad appear in front of him. “This is for you.”
Crowley unbent himself from his current position and walked around to sit on the stool next to Aziraphale, who found himself almost knocked over with a rush of longing at the demon’s proximity. Crowley’s face was still guarded when he looked up, but he let his glasses slip down a little so the angel could see his eyes for the first time. They looked red and tired, and there were dark circles beneath them. It made his chest ache to see them.
Crowley gave the notepad a cursory examination. It was crammed full of tiny writing, elaborate and neat, and appeared to be a numbered list that went on for an unfathomable number of pages.
“What is this?” he asked, not yet prepared to dive in and read it.
“It’s a list,” Aziraphale said. He cleared his throat. “Of everything I can ever remember lying to you about.”
Crowley blinked at him. “Excuse me?”
Aziraphale blushed a little. “Starts at the very beginning, right after the garden,” he said. “I’ve believe most everything is accounted for.”
“Why would you think I would want this?” Crowley growled.
“Because!” Aziraphale cried. “Because I have spent too much time bending the truth! It’s become a terrible and shameful habit. I spent days making this list, Crowley, looking back over each and every interaction I can remember between us. I’m sorry there are so many! I don’t know how to help with that, but I thought perhaps the act of admitting to all of them might, I don’t know, have meaning. Show remorse. Help, somehow.”
Crowley blinked a few more times at him and then trailed a finger down the page to a random entry. “Item 3: Mesopotamia – told Crowley I liked the date wine he brought me. I did not care for it.”
Aziraphale nodded. “It was wretched,” he said quietly.
Crowley snorted and flipped a couple pages.
“Item 31: Jerusalem - Pretended I had not noticed that Crowley was present at the wedding when I ran into him;” Crowley read aloud. “Actually noticed him immediately.”
Crowley looked up. “This is hardly earth-shattering stuff, angel.”
Aziraphale shrugged. “I wanted to be thorough.”
Crowley grimaced and continued to read at random.
Item 40: Wessex: Told Crowley I had not missed him since I last saw him. Actually missed him terribly.
Item 51: Dublin: Told Crowley I did not know where the last of the ale had gone. Drank it while he was out and hid the flagon.
Item 78:Dublin: Told Crowley I didn’t undo his temptation with the clan chief. Very much did. He seemed to know it anyway. But still.
Item 87: London: acted like I walked in front of the carriage on purpose to thwart an evil plan. Actually just distracted by hand pie. Nearly died if not for Crowley’s intervention. Denied it vociferously.
Item 123: Moscow: Denied my feelings.
Item 175: Berlin: Denied my feelings.
Item 223: London: Denied my feelings.
Item 256: London: Denied my feelings.
Item 289: London: Denied my feelings.
Crowley put the pages down and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Aziraphale, heart wide open and aching, simply watched him.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley said, bemused. “This has to be the most humiliating list of misdeeds anyone has ever put together in the history of the world. Why would you do this to yourself, expose six thousand years of embarrassing moments and mistakes?”
“Because I love you,” Aziraphale said. “And if I can’t mortify myself to you, then who? Besides, I don’t mind humbling myself for you. Not if there’s any chance that doing so might make you understand that I love you so desperately, and that I will do anything for you. Including change.”
Crowley huffed out a whoof of air and wordlessly pulled Aziraphale off his stool towards where the demon was seated, until the angel was standing between his legs. He wrapped his arms around him so tightly that the angel could barely breathe. Not that he needed to. Aziraphale, stunned, simply allowed it for a moment, before bending his head forward to rest his forehead against Crowley’s.
“My love,” he whispered.
“Yeah, I know,” Crowley mumbled back. “Love you too. Still mad at you, but I love you.”
They clung to each other, unmoving, for quite some time, and when Crowley finally pulled back to look Aziraphale in the face, both their eyes and cheeks were wet.
“Forgive me, love,” Aziraphale said, reaching up to gently brush a piece of hair back out of Crowley’s forehead. Crowley leaned into the touch a little, and Aziraphale felt glad he could still offer comfort to the demon. “Eventually, I mean. I know it might take some time.”
“You have to be honest with me,” Crowley said gruffly. “From here on out, I mean.”
“I plan to be,” Aziraphale said. “I will. I do.”
Aziraphale kissed him gently and then drew back and carefully pulled Crowley’s hands off his shoulders so the demon was no longer touching him. Crowley watched in confusion as the angel concentrated for a moment and began to emit a diffuse, golden glow. His brow furrowed as he tried to understand what he was seeing. He didn’t realize until the angel began to speak; his voice was richer and with layers of echoes and it took the demon a moment to realize that the bloody idiot was speaking Enochian. The language of angels. Of making and unmaking, creation and destruction. Of oaths, serious oaths with life and death consequences.
“By the word of the ancient and the timeless, I bind myself to –”
Crowley grabbed Aziraphale by the shoulders and shook him, hard, then snatched his hands back as the golden light stung him. “What are you doing, you absolute fool?” he snarled, shaking out his fingertips. “Stop that right now! Have you lost your mind?”
Aziraphale blinked but did let the last of the light go for the moment. “I was going to make a vow to you that I wouldn’t lie again.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “Aziraphale you were making a holy, binding oath.”
“Yes, that’s the general idea,” Aziraphale said, slowly, as if speaking to a child.
“An oath that would destroy you if you broke it.”
“Well, technically, yes,” Aziraphale said. “But I just won’t break it. Not ever.”
Crowley shook him again, just for good measure, and then gripped him tightly by the shoulders. “You can’t PROMISE to never lie to me again EVER in your life with a binding oath that will reduce you to CINDERS, you bleeding idiot. Do you think I want to watch you burn to ashes some morning simply because you politely tell me that the brand of tea I picked up at the market is just fine when actually you hate it and you’re too sleepy to realize the consequences?”
“Or, alternatively, do you think I actually want to hear the truth from you every single time you actually don’t like one of my shirts, or have you tell me exactly what’s got you in a snit every single time you’re in a bad mood when maybe you’d rather just tell me it’s nothing? IS THAT WORTH DYING OVER?”
Aziraphale blinked again, and then visibly crumbled. “Oh my dear,” he sniffled. “I’m… I was just… I would do, for you. If it helped.”
Crowley scowled at him a moment longer, then gave up and kissed him hard, full on the mouth, one hand coiling around to grab him by the hair and pull. Aziraphale melted into the kiss, tasting salt and whiskey and smoke.
“Just do better,” Crowley said, when they finally broke apart. “No one tells the truth all the time. But if we’re going to be married, I need to know that you won’t hide the big things from me. We’re in this together.”
“Together,” Aziraphale repeats. “Until the very end. I promise.”
“Let’s go home, angel,” Crowley said, and Aziraphale beamed at him with a watery smile so bright it was almost painful.
“Please,” Aziraphale said. “Gather your things and let’s go.”
Crowley pulled random clothing into a bag, snapped his fingers to send most of the flowers directly to the shop, and laced his hand together with Aziraphale’s as they head towards the door.
“Oh, hang on,” he said at the door. “Forgot something.” He turned back to the kitchen and Aziraphale watched as he picked up the notepad and tucked it into the top of his bag.
“Forgot my reading material,” he said with a wry grin. “You didn’t think I was going to leave that behind, did you?”
Aziraphale sighed. “Oh, no, I was pretty sure you wouldn’t.”
“Oh yes, I’m going to pore over this one,” Crowley said, teasingly. “Might even memorize some sections of it. Arrange a dramatic recitation or an interpretative dance.” He bumped a hip lightly against Aziraphale, who blushed even further than he already had. “Might even put my favorite ones on a tee shirt.”
“Yes, yes,” Aziraphale said, blithely. “I’m sure I deserve that. Go ahead, my dear.”
Crowley pulled the door closed behind him with a definitive click as they headed out into the snow.
I can't seem to make myself spool this out over a few days, even though I know it will get more hits that way, because I'm too excited to have the whole thing essentially written at once -- so I'm just going to complete the whole thing today. Plus I hate waiting days and days when I'm reading an angsty story and I just want to know that it all works out. Happy Wednesday!
PS: for early readers, I went back and edited the list numbers a bit after posting this to make the grand totals lower. Even aziraphale doesn’t lie THAT much. Sorry for continuity issues!
Chapter 4: Retribution
At breakfast, Aziraphale discovers that Crowley has a new morning routine.
Aziraphale woke up the next morning to find the bed empty beside him and had a quick moment of panic before realizing he could hear Crowley, banging around in the kitchen. He stretched, shut his eyes and whispered a fervent prayer of thanks to Her, and headed out to see what was happening.
He found Crowley and Frederick, happily curled up together, making and drinking tea from a cup and a platter respectively, and poring through more of Aziraphale’s list. Aziraphale noted, briefly, that the snake looked delighted to have his favorite friend back. He took a moment to smile at that.
“You hated my zoot suit?” Crowley said indignantly.
“Oh, good lord,” Aziraphale said. “Yes, I didn’t think the cut suited you at all. But you said you didn’t want to know my opinions on all of your fashion choices.”
“Then don’t write them down, angel.”
Aziraphale sighed and got himself a cup of coffee. He had a feeling this was going to become a popular morning routine, a little good-natured ribbing and gentle mortification as payback for his crimes. He supposed he could support the idea.
Crowley flipped a few more pages in, and made a tsk, tsk noise with his tongue at what he found. “You lied about having a diary for your appointments!! I knew you were just flipping through a book that day on the phone!”
Aziraphale gave him a brief, long-suffering smile and sat down across the table. “Yes, it’s true, I did. I apologize.”
Crowley made a gesture that was a vague mockery of a priest’s gesture of absolution and continued to flip randomly. This was much too much fun to give up just yet. He read a few, turned the page, and then blinked and turned back again to the one he had just skimmed over.
“What does this mean?” he asked, puzzled. “It says, ‘Did not tell Crowley the truth about Frederick’s middle name.’”
Aziraphale stood up abruptly, brushed his hands off on his pants, and quickly carried his coffee out into the shop. “Well it’s time for me to start my day! Must go! Business to run!”
“Angel!” Crowley called after him. “I’m not going to drop this, angel! Come back here!”
Aziraphale unlocked the front door and did his best to create a bustle of energy and business to drown out Crowley’s enquiries. He smiled to himself as he did so, happy to have the manic chaos that was Crowley back in the shop, where he belonged.
It was the second first day of the rest of their lives, and he intended to make the most of it.
If you can't recall what this is referring to about Frederick's middle name, I can't blame you -- that was like 50 thousand words ago! :) Anyways, when Frederick first arrived, Aziraphale named him Frederick Crawly, and then never, ever revealed that fact. :)
Also the bit about lying about having a diary is also from the very first story, chapter four I believe, when Crowley calls to invite Aziraphale to lunch and the angel pretends to consult his diary before turning him down. I always loved the image of Aziraphale showily making page flipping noises using some big old bible or nineteenth century novel.
Hope you enjoyed the ride on this one! I hope to do something less heart wrenching and more snake focused next - and get back to wedding planning!
Chapter 5: Reunited
A look at how Aziraphale and Crowley make their way back to a new normal.
I realize this is a little late in the game, but this story never really felt finished to me -- I wanted to know how Aziraphale would respond once they were back together to what he had brought about between them, and whether and how he would be neurotic about his new desire to tell the truth at all times, and how this would affect the dynamic between them. And I recently found about 75% of this story sketched out in one of my outtakes files I'd never done anything with, and decided I wanted to add on.
So - if anyone is still interested in this story, here's the official ending. :) I hope you enjoy!
They spent their first few days after Crowley returned settling back into a routine, and of course, making up for lost time with some extra long morning lie-ins and a round of meals at their favorite neighborhood places. Aziraphale’s feelings swung back and forth between elation that they were back together and concern that he would do something to cause them further difficulties. He watched Crowley closely to see if the demon was having any difficulties readjusting, or if he still seemed upset at all, but he mostly seemed affectionate, mildly grumpy, and kind – in other words, his usual self. And in between the usual teasing and joking around, he watched himself, very carefully.
By the third day, Aziraphale felt like perhaps a follow up conversation was needed. He waited for a good, quiet moment, turned the shop sign to closed, and gestured the demon over to the couch for a pot of tea.
“We should talk a little,” Aziraphale said, “about how this works from here on out.”
Crowley looked up, equal parts interested and wary. “How what works?”
“The honesty thing. You know it’s my highest priority to break this habit, with you.” Aziraphale said, and then stopped for a moment to examine himself. This was true. Good. “But I have centuries of practice in easily dissembling. I want to know – what do you want me to do if I slip up?”
“Well don’t, for starters?”
“I hope I don’t, I assure you.” Aziraphale said. “But if I find I’ve said something untrue, do you want me to – oh, I don’t know, tell you right away? Flagellate myself in private? Find a confessor?”
Crowley tried to resist a leer and couldn’t. “A few of those options sound fun.”
Aziraphale laughed in spite of himself. “Really, dear,” he said primly.
“Look,” said Crowley, dragging a hand through his hair. The topic was still a little tender for him. “Just do the best you can. I understand the amount of double-think you’ve had to live with just to survive for the last six millennia. It’d get to feel more natural to lie sometimes than not to. But that’s a survival mechanism for when you’re – for when we’re – in danger. Which you’re not, with me, not ever. So, we’ll just start trying to fight the habit where we see it.”
Aziraphale swallowed, feeling humbled by the demon’s capacity for understanding him so well.
“So, tell you?”
“Yes, I suppose -- I can help, that way.”
It sounded like a plan.
The first time it came up, they were careening wildly through northern London at nearly 90 mph with Crowley looking utterly relaxed and Aziraphale holding desperately to the door handle.
“Can you please slow down?” Aziraphale shouted over the radio.
“It’s fine, angel!” Crowley shouted back. “We are safe as houses.”
Aziraphale tried to calm himself and took some deep breaths, eventually relaxed his grip a little and sat back to fix his gaze determinedly on the book in his lap rather than their surroundings.
“Lovely drive, my dear,” he said faintly when they arrived at their destination. He pulled the handle and all but lurched out of the car. “Nice work.”
Crowley grinned at him.
“Oh, good heavens,” Aziraphale said, stopping dead in the middle of the pavement “that was a lie. I’m so sorry, my dear. I hated every second of it. It was terrifying.”
The demon blinked. “Feel better?” he asked dryly.
“I suppose?” Aziraphale said faintly. He wasn’t quite sure why Crowley seemed so out of sorts for the next half hour. This truth telling at all costs was certainly confusing.
They were having dinner at the Ritz and Crowley could tell that Aziraphale was off of his game. He wasn’t interested in the appetizers, he picked at his entrée, and although he did take a lively interest in the wine, he didn’t seem especially absorbed in either of their desserts. Instead he looked fidgety and distressed.
“What’s wrong, angel?” Crowley asked, leaning forward and placing a hand on his arm.
“You’re a million miles away.”
“Oh, my dear, I just – the silliest thing happened, and I just – I dropped your toothbrush and pretended I hadn’t.”
“What?” Crowley blinked. “When?”
“Six months ago.”
“Six months ago.”
“Dropped it where?” Crowley asked.
“Just on the floor. I picked it up and washed it off and put it back but still. I didn’t tell you about it. Lying by omission is still lying.”
“Was this on your list, angel?”
“No, I just remembered it this morning,” Aziraphale admitted.
“So, you’re upset because half a year ago you dropped my toothbrush – not even into the toilet or anything – onto the clean bathroom floor, then you washed it off and returned it to me?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley rolled his eyes so hard that they almost came out of his head. “Angel,” he said, patently slow. “It’s fine. It’s not a crisis. Please calm down and eat some of your tiramisu.”
Aziraphale took a breath for the first time in at least ten minutes, then dug into dessert with more enthusiasm.
Crowley had never minded that Aziraphale tended to be a little cagey about some of his activities. He didn’t always like to share the details of his book acquisitions, nor the details of ways in which he cut corners on angelic business. He was measured in his response to questions, deciding what and how he wanted to answer.
He was, though, occasionally consumed with curiosity about exactly what the angel was up to with his sources. There were few things as attractive, in his mind, as his angel stepping just slightly outside the bounds of conventional morality. It gave him a little rush just to think about it.
The angel came home one Sunday looking rather pleased with himself and with a small stack of books tied up in brown paper under his arm.
“Successful negotiations, angel?” Crowley said from his spot on the couch where he was reading a celebrity gossip rag.
Aziraphale smiled. “Oh yes! Let me show you what I got!” He sat down in the armchair and unwrapped the package to reveal three old, battered, leather-bound books.
Crowley looked them over, not really knowing what he was seeing. Two were obscure religious tracts and one was a first edition of poetry by someone he wasn’t familiar with. He could tell by the way the angel’s hand and gaze lingered near it that it was important.
“This one looks important,” he said, grinning. “Valuable?”
“Very!” Aziraphale breathed.
“Nice work! How’d you get him to part with it?”
Aziraphale froze for a long moment and seemed to be debating something. “Well, uh, you see, uh –”
Crowley raised an eyebrow.
The angel turned bright red and took a deep breath, then spoke all in a rush. “I might have led him to believe it was much less valuable than it truly was. Strictly for business, you see. It’s the done thing.”
And with that he walked over to his desk, sat down, and tried to look busy.
Crowley narrowed his eyes and stared after him, lost in thought. He wished, for not the first time, that Aziraphale had come with a handy manual. He was certainly complex enough to need one. “Angel,” he said, “you didn’t want to tell me that, did you?”
Aziraphale continued to occupy himself making notes in a ledger on his desk. “Not especially, dearest,” he said. “But it’s the truth, so there you are. And after all, it’s not like I stole it.”
Crowley couldn’t help himself. “Wait. Have you stolen books before?”
Aziraphale gave him a look of such mute despair that he held up his hands in retreat.
“Forget it! Forget I asked, angel,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Crowley, I –”
Crowley pulled over the armchair until he was close to Aziraphale’s desk, and then he looked at him. “I want to teach you an important phrase, angel.”
Aziraphale looked mystified. “All right, but I hardly see the –”
“Hush,” Crowley said. “Now repeat after me. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’”
“But – “
“Say it, please.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Aziraphale repeated, frustrated. “Crowley what is this about?”
“You felt like you had to answer my questions just now when you didn’t want to, because of our agreement that you wouldn’t lie to me anymore, right?”
Aziraphale nodded, a small flush breaking out on his cheeks. It was somewhat sweet, Crowley thought, that the angel was still so mortified about the fight that had led to their separation. No one had ever tried so hard to be better for him in his life. No one before Aziraphale had ever tried at all, come to think of it. But he needed the angel to lose some of this guilt, before it led to problems.
“Well that’s great, thank you for not lying, Aziraphale,” Crowley said, and the angel relaxed his shoulders a little bit. “But you also don’t have to answer every question put to you. It’s not a lie to tell me you’d rather not talk about something, or you’re not ready to share something yet, or that I should mind my own bloody business.”
Aziraphale smiled a little. “I’d never say it like that, not to you.”
“Point is,” Crowley said, “that you’re not under the effects of some kind of truth serum, here. I don’t expect to have free access to each and every one of your thoughts, just for the asking. Free will and all, you know?”
“I never really thought about it like that,” Aziraphale said, and he looked somewhat relieved at the concept. “I suppose you’re right.”
“Let’s practice,” Crowley said, unable to resist making a game of it. “Let’s see, what’s a question I know you wouldn’t want to answer?”
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“What exactly did you think of my skinny turquoise tie the other night at dinner? I saw you eyeing it.”
Aziraphale huffed but smiled at him. “I believe I’d rather not say, my dear.”
“Good!” Crowley said. “How much did you like the buckwheat crepes I tried to make last month?”
In spite of himself, the angel made a face. “I would prefer not to answer that at this time.”
“Excellent,” Crowley said. Now to pull out the big guns. “How many times exactly did you kiss Oscar Wilde?”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale gasped. “That’s absolutely none of your business!”
“Congratulations, angel,” Crowley said, wryly, “you’ve mastered it.”
“You,” Aziraphale said, “are a very strange creature. Now if you’ll stop with the interrogation, I’m off to make tea.”
Crowley noticed after a while that Aziraphale seemed to be sitting down each Sunday evening with a notebook and writing for a while. It wasn’t his usual ancient, dusty ledgers in which he kept accounts, but rather a small, neat, new-looking leather journal. He would pull it out and sit at the desk quietly for ten or twenty minutes, often mostly thinking, but would inevitably pick up his fountain pen and make a few notes.
“What’re you up to with that little book?” Crowley said one evening after observing this for multiple weekends in a row.
Aziraphale looked up, startled, and closes the cover rather suddenly. “Oh! Oh, my dear, I didn’t realize you were there.” The angel blushed a little. “It’s – well, it’s a little bit private.”
Crowley smiled and frowned at the same time, but agreeably let it go. “Okay, that’s fine,” he said. “You can have your secrets.”
Aziraphale watched as the demon sat down on the couch and poured himself a glass of wine, before sighing and coming over to join him. “It’s not a secret, it’s just embarrassing,” he said, leaning close to Crowley. “I’m just checking in on myself, keeping the list, still.”
Crowley looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“The list,” Aziraphale said. “You know. The one I made of all the lies I’d told.”
“You’re still doing that?”
“Well, it seemed like a good discipline to get into,” the angel explained. “Breaking old habits, you know. At the end of every week, I sit down and think over all of our interactions and try to determine if I’ve been dishonest with you anywhere I shouldn’t have been.”
“And if there is?” Crowley said, softly.
“If there is, and I haven’t already told you about it, I tell you.”
Crowley took a swallow of his wine. “That sounds like a lot of work, angel.”
“No, really it isn’t,” Aziraphale said. “Most of the time there’s nothing, these days. And what little there is falls in some of the categories you’ve told me you don’t want to hear about. Not liking something you wore or telling you I was fine when I was cranky or something.”
Crowley fixed him with a mocking stern look. “So, you’re basically writing down all of my fashion mistakes in that little book.”
“What? No!” Aziraphale looked affronted. “I’m just trying to keep myself on the straight and narrow, so to speak. For you.”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley said slowly, “while I appreciate the effort, you don’t have to do all this,” he said. “I believe you won’t lie to me about anything important again. You know I’ve forgiven you.”
Aziraphale still couldn’t quite believe it, although he knew intellectually it was true. “I almost lost you over this,” he whispered. “I can’t not –”
Crowley let out a sigh and pulled Aziraphale into his shoulder for a cuddle. “You didn’t. I left for a couple weeks. Always knew I’d be back.”
The angel nuzzled quietly. “You see, though, I didn’t.”
Crowley thought about that, really thought about it for the first time -- what that must have felt like for Aziraphale to feel like he’d lost him, his fiancé, through his own error. How the angel had managed to not break down Crowley’s door in an attempt to win him back, he couldn’t understand. He wasn’t sure he could do the same if he truly thought Aziraphale was considering leaving him, no matter how much he wanted space.
Crowley tipped the angel’s head up so he had to look him in the eye. “I want you to burn this stupid book,” he said. “Stop this. It won’t lead to anything good, trust me.”
“I – I’m not allowed anything flammable, my dear,” Aziraphale said reluctantly, “so that will be hard to do.”
The demon grinned. “May I, then?”
Aziraphale thought for a moment and then handed Crowley the book. Crowley concentrated and suddenly his index finger was alight with the same blaze that the angel had seen him use to produce his sigil and, on occasion, light a cigar or two. He touched it to the book, and it caught fire quickly. Being quite impervious to this type of fire, Crowley simply held it as it burned to ash in his hands.
“There,” he said, snapping away the mess. “It’s gone. Now please, can that be the end of this? I don’t want to be ‘back together’ anymore. I just want to be together.”
“What a lovely thing to say.” Aziraphale smiled at him. “All right, love. It’s done.”
Crowley did believe him, but he also knew his angel and his capacity for self-recrimination, which is why he made a mental note to check in the next Sunday and make sure he hadn’t just started a new list somewhere else. Then he put that thought out of his mind and pulled the angel in for a long and lazy kiss.
Back to togetherness. They definitely had some important togetherness business to attend to, post haste.