Written for sexybee as part of the "while we tell of yuletide treasures" obscure fandoms secret santa project.|
Many thanks to Louise Lux for beta'ing this story
by Beth H.
(c) December 2003
Crowley sometimes wondered whether his inability to lie altogether convincingly was merely a minor character flaw or whether it was, instead, a sublime example of irony. All things considered, he much preferred the second explanation, despite the rather heavenly connotations of the word 'sublime.' Character flaws were so . . . pedestrian, something shared by humans and demons alike. To be a living exemplum of irony, though . . . well, that was more impressive somehow.
It wasn't that Crowley had any particular difficulty in lying to humans - or even to most demons and angels, for that matter. However, over the past few centuries, he'd come to realize he was abysmally inadequate when it came to lying to Aziraphale - and even worse when it came to lying to himself. It was the latter failing that was currently occupying a small but important section of his consciousness.
When he'd set out this morning, he told himself he had no particular goal in mind beyond "going to and fro in the earth, and [...] walking up and down in it."
He suspected he might be lying to himself before he'd even adjusted his sunglasses and stepped out the door.
He knew he'd been lying to himself when he found himself standing in front of Aziraphale's bookshop.
Crowley glanced at the sign on the door listing the hours of business. The shop was open. He might as well stop in for a moment, if only to see what his counterpart was getting up to. It wasn't as if he had any more pressing engagements, after all.
And all right - maybe he missed Aziraphale's company, just a bit. He missed talking to him, at any rate, particularly about . . . certain recent events. There wasn't anyone else he could talk to about that, at least not anyone who actually appeared to remember what had happened. You'd think somebody would retain some memory of how close they'd all come to Armageddon.
Of course, if he was perfectly honest with himself - unlikely though that was - Crowley had to admit that even he had been a little hazy about some of the specifics for a while there, but the longer he stayed out of London, the more he remembered.
He walked inside the bookshop, wing muscles twitching a bit in a Pavlovian response to the sound of the tinkling bell above the door. Apparently it was possible to see It's a Wonderful Life one too many times.
There were no customers inside, although there was nothing unusual about that. For years, it seemed the shop had been taking on some of the rather less-than-welcoming characteristics of its owner, at least where the purchasing of books was concerned. Safe haven from inclement weather was another matter entirely. Unless Aziraphale had changed completely, passers-by would always find an open door and a strong cup of tea should they need to find shelter from an unexpected rainstorm. However, if an actual paying customer had appeared at the door at the same time he had, Crowley knew the sign on the door would have read "Closed for the Day. Will Return Tomorrow." Not that Crowley would have let a mere sign keep him from entering, of course.
A cardboard box with no return address label sat open on the counter top, with a dozen or so books stacked beside it. Crowley went over to the counter, and after browsing through the daily post (one handwritten envelope in a sea of bills and solicitations), he pulled out the books that were still left in the box.
Aziraphale had mentioned once that ever since the almost-Apocalypse, deliveries of rare books appeared at the shop on a regular basis - all of them appearing to reflect Adam Young's changing interests. A first edition of Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler; a biography of James Watt, "ex libris" Watt himself; a copy of . . . ah, no . . . . an illustrated copy of The Kama Sutra. Crowley chuckled as he leafed through the pages, examining the pictures with interest. The kid was definitely growing up.
"Are you enjoying yourself?"
Crowley started. How was the angel able to walk into a room so silently? It wasn't as if he was even particularly graceful. For an angel, at any rate.
He fixed a grin on his face, then looked up. "Just improving my mind. Expanding my horizons. Take a look," he said, indicating the open book. "Here's a perfect illustration of the kind of thing I'm talking about. Up until this moment, I never knew humans were quite that limber."
Aziraphale gave him a baleful glance, then walked over to the counter and took the book out of his hand, a bit more forcefully than the task required.
"I don't recall asking you to poke about in my business. Would you mind stepping out from behind the counter?"
Crowley raised his eyebrows, but did as he was asked. "That time of the millennium, angel?"
Aziraphale looked down and started to sort out the post. "I haven't the slightest notion what you're talking about. Some of us have work to do even if others are able to disappear for years on end."
For the briefest of moments, Crowley fought the urge to explain his long absence by citing a flare-up of political tensions in the Middle East and economic crises in three separate South American countries as evidence that he, too, had been engaged in the work for which he'd been sent to Earth. However, he knew the angel wouldn't exactly be impressed by such reports - still clinging, as he did, to blessed oldfashioned notions of what constituted acceptable behaviour.
In any case, even if he had been inclined to share news of what he'd been up to for the past few years, he suspected that Aziraphale wouldn't have been much disposed to listening, not if his increasingly annoying refusal to put down the one personal correspondence in the post and meet his gaze was any indication. How was it possible that anyone could spend that long reading the contents of a single greeting card?
His fingers twitched with the desire to simply grab the card out of Aziraphale's hand and force him to speak, if only to tell him what was so damned interesting about it, but instead, he waited. What was it 'they' said? 'Patience is a virtue.' Yes, that was it, and despite what the angel might have believed, even a demon could be patient. He would dazzle Aziraphale with his patience.
Although . . . since when had he aspired to be thought of as virtuous?
"Ah, I see you've got some new lamp shades, then!"
Aziraphale's head snapped up, and he looked automatically toward the ceiling.
"New? No, they're still . . . ."
He really was deliciously trusting at times. A pity that trust couldn't be appropriately rewarded, thought Crowley as he took advantage of Aziraphale's momentary lapse and snatched the card from his grasp.
"You really have to start making more of an effort," Crowley said, holding the card just out of the angel's reach. "At times you're simply no challenge at all."
"Come, Crowley. Don't you have any respect for other people's private correspondence?"
"You must be joking." He glanced down at the signature on the card, then removed his sunglasses and stared at Aziraphale, "Keeping in touch with the boy, eh? That's . . . unexpected. Let's see what he has to say."
Aziraphale leaned over the counter and reached out for the card. "Really, my dear."
"He thanks you for the subscription to National Geographic." He sighed and shook his head. "For pity's sake, angel . . . National Geographic? Could you be any more boring? And . . . oh, what's this? He hopes the Bentley is still running okay. Now why in the world would he be asking about my car?"
Aziraphale looked back down at the counter and muttered something unintelligible.
"Pardon? I didn't quite catch that," Crowley said, narrowing his eyes. "Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this card is addressed to you . . . and to 'Uncle Tony.'"
The last time he'd seen the angel turn so violent a shade of red was millennia ago in the Garden. He'd been dozing contentedly, wrapped around one of the boughs of a particularly comfortable willow tree, when he heard the unmistakably stentorian voice of Michael chastising Aziraphale for the part he'd played in the Fall. Exactly what mechanism it was that had allowed Aziraphale to blush before he was in possession of a human body equipped with a circulatory system was a conundrum that puzzled Crowley to the present day.
Strictly speaking, Aziraphale hadn't been responsible for the Fall of Man, of course - although it had to be admitted, he hadn't done terribly much to keep it from happening - yet for some reason he had readily assumed the lion's share of the responsibility for Adam and Eve's disobedience . . . and quite a bit of the resulting shame (a feeling which would have more properly belonged to Crowley had the demon been the type of being who believed in taking responsibility for such things).
Judging by the blush on his fair skin, one might reasonably assume the angel was currently ashamed about something having to do with the boy's note. However this certainly didn't mean that Aziraphale had any real reason to feel guilty.
Or, of course, it could mean precisely that.
"I don't suppose you'd care to shed some light on why you and the boy are writing to each other or why he's referring to me as 'Uncle Tony' or - most importantly - why he's apparently operating under the mistaken idea that we share the same address."
Aziraphale swallowed hard, then met his gaze with an expression on his face so indescribably pure and innocent that it could only belong to one of the heavenly host - or to an exceptionally gifted liar.
"Oh . . . I'm sure I mentioned . . . simple explanation, really." The angel brushed a piece of nonexistent lint off the lapel of his jacket. "Er."
No, Aziraphale was clearly still an exceptionally bad liar. It was strangely reassuring to Crowley to be reminded that he wasn't the only one with that particular failing.
"I'm sure I don't know why you're making such a great fuss about this, Crowley. It seemed likely that young Adam would need a bit of . . . celestial guidance, from time to time, so I . . . ."
"And 'Uncle Tony?' Did it also seem likely that the boy would need an uncle at some point?"
Aziraphale frowned. "Actually, I believe Adam started referring to you as 'Uncle' without any prompting from me. As for the . . . misunderstanding about the address, well . . . ."
"Right. Well, perhaps not so much a misunderstanding as a . . . ."
Crowley looked on, arms crossed, as Aziraphale tried over and over again to complete his thought. It was really quite fascinating to watch the angel opening and then closing his mouth, flapping his hands about as if he were searching for a means of flying without benefit of wings, and generally looking more flustered with each attempt.
"Er . . . would you care for some tea?" Aziraphale asked, with more than a hint of desperation.
"Angel, where did the boy get the idea that we shared the same address?"
"I told him." he said finally, a little defensively. "Or, at least . . . I must have done, mustn't I? I'm afraid I don't recall exactly when I told him, but. . . it's not the sort of thing that . . . oh dear."
Try as he might, Crowley couldn't remember a time when the angel had looked quite so dejected as he did at present. Once upon a time, this might have been cause for celebration, but now it was just disturbing to see Aziraphale looking like that.
"Why did you say it?"
"I'm really not certain," he said, wringing his hands slightly. "Perhaps . . . I just . . . I suppose I must have thought it would be . . . nice if we . . . ."
"If we lived together?" Crowley wanted to laugh out loud at the very idea, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to do so.
"To be with someone who understands. You can't imagine how it's been these past few years, waiting and waiting to be summoned to give an account of my actions. But no one's said a word. It's almost as if . . . you know, after it was all over, I thought my people were waiting to see what would happen next, but now I don't think that's what's going on."
"You do remember! I thought for sure you would. My lot haven't said anything, either. Not even Hastur, and of all of them, I felt sure he'd want to question me about the part I played. He likes interrogations. A lot." Crowley shivered, then leaned on the counter. "No one's ever hinted that anything out of the ordinary took place. I was starting to think I was the only one who still remembered."
Aziraphale shook his head "You're not the only one."
"You remember." Crowley looked down at the card he was still holding in his hand. "And . . . the boy does too, doesn't he?"
"Yes, Adam remembers. I suppose, in the end, that's the main reason I've kept in touch with him. The three of us . . . I think we're the only ones who know what happened."
Crowley nodded, then looked at Aziraphale as if he were seeing him for the first time. This wasn't just someone who happened to be in the same line of work. Was there any being who knew him better than the angel did? Was there anyone with whom he shared more memories? More history?
It was almost as if they were . . . family.
"Exactly!" Aziraphale said happily, in response to the words Crowley hadn't known he was saying aloud.
Aziraphale smiled, and . . . Crowley smiled back.
Not his trademark smirk, but a real smile. Probably his first real smile in, well, certainly in a very long time.
"Is there any reason you need to keep the shop open this afternoon?"
The angel chuckled. "None whatsoever, of course. Why do you ask?"
"How would you like to pay a visit to Lower Tadfield and see how the boy . . . how Adam's getting along?"
Aziraphale's expression turned serious all at once. "A . . . family reunion?"
"Something like that."
"I'd like that very much," he said softly.
Aziraphale shut off the lights, then put up a sign reading "Closed for the Day. Will Return Tomorrow." in the front window.
"Can I drive the Bentley?"
For a moment there was nothing but silence, then Crowley laughed out loud.
"Why the hell not?"
Author's note: the quote in the third paragraph comes from "The Book of Job." The words belong to
'the Adversary' (usually translated as Satan), but I didn't think he'd mind if Crowley borrowed them
just this once.