Written for prestissima as part of the 2008 Good Omens Fic/Art Exchange on LiveJournal.

Occasions of Sin
by Beth H.
(c) December 2008


In the Villa Medici at Careggi, late in the 15th Century

The room just past the library was small, little more than an ante-chamber, but beautifully appointed with intricately carved wooden cabinets, a walnut desk upon which sat a fine Tuscan cassetta, and a richly decorated bench placed between the two narrow windows that looked out onto the walled garden below. In one corner of the room was a lion-footed chest, gilded at the edges and painted with an image of two trees, their boughs heavily laden with fruit.

In the other corner was a chair, and in that chair sat a fair-haired, pale-eyed man.[1] The black wool tunic he wore over his white linen shirt was plain and unadorned by any ornamentation. Around the fingers of his left hand was wrapped a string of amber rosary beads, while in his right, he held a wine goblet. Despite the pale-eyed man's rather mournful expression, he would, if asked, have said his goblet was half-full.

His dark haired, sharp-featured visitor - who looked at his own goblet through the tinted lenses of a pair of rivet spectacles and saw it as half empty - was similarly attired in black and white, but somehow on him, even Dominican monk's robes looked fashionable.

"French, Aziraphale?" the black-caped man said, pouring the last of the wine from the green ceramic jug into his goblet. "I thought that was considered a sin amongst Florentines."

"Have you come here simply to gloat, Crowley? Because if you have . . . . "

"Nothing could be further from my mind, Angel. Between you and me, if I'm truthful [2], I have to admit I had nothing whatsoever to do with recent events, although I'm sure you'll understand if I paint a rather different picture when I send the next report to my people. No, Father Savonarola needed no persuasion from me to carry out the Bonfire of the Vanities [3], although it's true that I've enjoyed watching the holy father misdirect his energies in so spectacular a manner."

"I'm pleased you're finding this all so entertaining," snapped Aziraphale, scowling at his counterpart. "I, however, am less than amused by the thought of all that's been lost this week."

Crowley raised one eyebrow. "Silk gowns and ivory hand mirrors? I wouldn't have thought your lot would mind the eradication of 'occasions of sin.'" [4]

"It was not just clothing and mirrors and cosmetics and other such fripperies that were lost," Aziraphale said angrily, "and you know this better than most. How, in the name of Heaven, you've been allowed to pretend to be a monk of all things is beyond me. Books, Crowley. Books and paintings and sketches and none of them can be replaced."

"What did you lose, Angel?"

Aziraphale shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "I don't know what you mean."

"All liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."


"Revelation 21:8," Crowley said, reaching into the bowl on Aziraphale's desk for a chestnut. "Or hadn't you heard the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose?"[5]

"That play hasn't even been written yet," Aziraphale muttered sullenly.

"What did you lose in the bonfire?"

"If you must know . . . ."

"I must."

"Last week, a messenger arrived here at the villa from Piero Medici with a letter addressed to Marsilio Ficino. However, Ficino has been unwell recently, and so of course I offered to carry on with the cataloguing in his place."

"Because of your selfless regard for Ficino's welfare, no doubt, and not because you'd been secretly longing for a private assignation with Lorenzo's books."

"In any case," said Aziraphale, refusing to dignify Crowley's words with a reply, "Piero's message ordered that a rather large number of items from his late father's personal collection be delivered to the new library at the Basilica of San Lorenzo."


"And on the way to the Basilica, there was . . . an incident."

The ability of the angel to meander on his journeys to the bloody point was unrivaled in Heaven, Hell, or anywhere in between. This most definitely called for another drink. Crowley gave his empty goblet a stern look, and in an instant it was filled to the brim with Bordeaux.

"In other words, the goods were confiscated - - "

"The people of Florence have become a mob, Crowley!"

"- - and then they were thrown on the fire to be destroyed with the silk gowns and ivory hand mirrors."


"So, to sum up," Crowley said, taking a handful of chestnuts from the bowl. "You made a not-entirely-altruistic [6] decison to step in for your friend while he was indisposed for a day or two. Then, receiving a note from Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici - whom, I might remind you, is currently in exile, and therefore has no particular authority at the moment - you packed up a trunk full of irreplaceable items, despite the fact that forgetting to include one or two, just for a time, wouldn't have made a bit of difference . . . "

"There was an itemized list, Crowley!"

". . . and having included every book and painting and sketch on the 'itemized list,' you sent them straight into the heart of a mob instead of simply waiting until Ficino's recovery."

"What a comforting presence you are," muttered Aziraphale.

"It's all part of my job description," Crowley said. "So I ask again, what did you lose in the bonfire?"

"Why do you think I personally lost anything?"

"I thought we'd already established the 'not-entirely-altruistic' bit."

"It was nothing really," Aziraphale began, but Crowley looked at him with much the same look he'd given his empty goblet, and the angel sighed. "Do you remember when Lorenzo was still among the living, with what regularity we were both invited to dine at the Palazzo or to spend the evening discussing philosophy with the finest minds in Florence?" [7]

"Yes, yes, of course I do," Crowley said impatiently. "Get on with it."

"And do you also remember how often you or I - or both of us together - seemed to be the subjects of quick sketches by some of Lorenzo's favorite artists: Verrocchio, da Vinci, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo? "

"Of course."

"Would it surprise you to learn that even though Lorenzo never offered to show us the finished products, he kept all those original sketches of us? That he had them bound and he catalogued them using some mysterious system of his own devising, and then, apparently . . . according to Ficino, you understand . . . he . . . ." Aziraphale's voice trailed off, but he waved his fingers in a vague sort of way as if hoping the movement would somehow assist him in finding an appropriate turn of phrase.

"He . . . ." Crowley said encouragingly.

"He used the sketches of us whenever he . . . ." Once more the angel fell silent.

"Come now, how bad could it be?"

Aziraphale took a long swallow of wine. "The sketches were employed as visual aids. For such times as . . . when, perhaps his wife was . . . indisposed. Or on other occasions, some men enjoying - or so I've been given to understand, that is - a bit of . . . ."

Crowley burst out laughing. "Are you trying to say that Lorenzo de' Medici - il Magnifico, himself - was using naughty sketches of us, drawn by the greatest artists of the age, as a visual aid for self-pleasuring?"

"It's not funny, Crowley! Anybody could have seen those drawings!"

"I hardly think that's likely," he said, still chuckling. "Even you didn't, and in any case, now they're gone, aren't they? Burnt to ash, so I expect. Or . . . is that actually what you're so distraught about? It is, isn't it! You wanted to see them for yourself."

"Don't be absurd." Aziraphale protested indignantly, but unconvincingly

"You did! And did you also want to use the sketches to . . . ."

"Crowley! That's enough!"

"For now, angel," said Crowley, a smile still on his lips. "For now."


In a London bookstore, early in the 21st Century

Another year was almost at an end, and, once again, there had been no apocalypse. [8]

Of course this gift to the universe pleased Aziraphale. However, having lived so long amongst humans (or at least, in their general vicinity) and having acquired some of their attitudes, he couldn't help but feel that "Not Having An Apocalypse" wasn't a very personal gift.

That couldn't be said for the gaudily-wrapped, sure to be quite personal, package sitting beside the cash register. The present looked innocent enough, but considering the demonic source . . . well, it was unlikely to contain a pair of wool socks or a new tea cosy.

11:58 p.m.

Aziraphale sighed. He really should open his gift while it was still Christmas Day, in keeping with the spirit of the season.

He untied the red bow, unwrapped the paper, and took the lid off the gift box within, only to find . . . a book. A quite old one, bound in red leather with a very familiar coat of arms on the cover.

Sticking out from between the pages of the book was a note.


Rare, second-hand books being amongst your chief earthly delights, I thought you might appreciate having this volume of 15th century Italian art to add to your collection. I apologize for not presenting this book to you when it first came into my possession half a millennium ago, but as I'm certain you'll understand as you begin to peruse its pages, it's a rather difficult item to give up.

Here's hoping you put it to as much good use as I have over the years.

Happy Christmas,


P.S., I think you'll agree that the sketch on page 14 is particularly inspirational. Michelangelo always did have a talent for . . . anatomical studies.


[1] Well, not precisely a man, per se, except inasmuch as he had also been created in the image of the Lord, possessed a full complement of human physical attributes, and appeared, at the moment, to have neither wings, nor a canonically-dubious halo. (back)
[2] For some values of "truthful," which in Crowley's case were generally prefaced with the word "not." (back)
[3] In other words, il falò delle vanità, and nothing whatsoever to do with the 1990 film of the same name. (back)
[4] Occasions of sin (here): "Things or persons [...] which incite or entice one to sin" (back)
[5] "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." is taken from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (Act 1, scene iii). Shakespeare was born in 1564. Neither he, nor King James I of England (who was born in 1566 and who commissioned the translation of the Bible from which the quote from the Book of Revelation was taken) were alive when this story takes place. How do Aziraphale and Crowley know what's going to happen in the future? It's ineffable! (back)
[6] The word "altruistic" (and all its variants) wasn't coined until the middle of the 19th century. However, as Crowley is meant to be speaking in Italian, I can't see that it much matters. Also, see note 5 about ineffability! (back)
[7] Please note that in almost every instance, the most likely response to the rather clumsy narrative technique of having Character A say "Do you remember when..." to Character B would be Character B saying impatiently: "Yes, yes, of course I do. Get on with it." (back)
[8] Or if there had been an apocalypse, thought Aziraphale, it must have been a very tiny one since neither he nor Crowley remembered it. (back)

Email: bethbethbeth @ gmail.com

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