@ 2004-01-07 16:21:00
Happy Birthday, kabukivice!
Crowley was feeling hot and tired, but was still in a good enough humour to whistle a cheery tune as he strolled down the steep mountain path. The heat was nice after too many years spent in cooler curry-less climes, and even the feeling of tiredness was pleasant enough, seeing as he’d done a dishonest day’s work. If there was one thing he liked about his job it was getting other people to do it for him. He hadn’t been in this part of the world for a very long time and had finally got around to checking up on it only after having a very long, very comfortable nap. He hadn’t been all that surprised to discover that some remarkably dim demons had started causing minor havoc without any official say-so. He grinned toothily seeing again their panicked, deeply stupid faces as they bought his line about demarcation, quotas and how terribly personally disappointed he was with them. They’d probably turn in a good century’s worth of work in his name before any of them worked out he wasn’t bothering to check.
He slithered down out of the forest into a clearing on a more level part of the path and sauntered invisibly past a young man who was engaged in staring glumly at the ground and listlessly tossing pebbles into a heap. A couple of steps down the path Crowley paused, savouring the good old fashioned scent of human despair. It wouldn’t hurt to do a little personal work while he was in the area, he supposed. He spun around and went back to look at his victim. A perfectly ordinary looking fellow if they’d been in Europe, but not exactly a local of these parts, he thought. He seemed to remember the local demons whining on and on about foreigners who didn’t believe in them. As if that mattered. Amazing how ingenious humans were, he thought. You went to sleep on an out-of-the-way rainy little island and you woke up in a massive, world-spanning empire. He examined the young man for a moment longer, noting that he seemed to have been crying recently and that his neat uniform was getting very mucky from the dust. Crowley changed his clothes to a similar outfit, stepped back a few paces and became visible.
‘Hullo there,’ he said, sincere and friendly.
‘Hullo,’ the young man said, wiping at his eyes quickly, and looking round. ‘Who’re you?’
‘I just arrived, you don’t know me,’ Crowley said firmly, watching the confusion fade into acceptance. ‘Why are you out here all by yourself?’
‘Jest wanted a bit of peace,’ the young man — the very young man, Crowley saw - said. His tone seemed to say he hadn’t found any. Crowley put on his most convincing sympathetic expression as the fellow sighed heavily.
‘I’m Anthony Crowley,’ Crowley said, holding out a hand and shifting his accent a bit downmarket. ‘What’s yer name?’
‘Bill. Bill Gedge,’ the young man said, shaking his hand. ’Yer jest arrived? Been in India long?’
‘Not that long. You?’
‘A year,’ Gedge said. ‘Bit over a year now, I s’pose.’
‘And you don’t like it?’ Crowley said leadingly. ’You wish you could be home by tomorrow?’
‘No. I jest wish —,’ Gedge’s voice trailed off, and Crowley concentrated. Loneliness. Abandonment. Feeling like the world was ending due to the overwhelming perfection of his misery. Ah, Crowley thought. It must be love.
‘Wot is it?’ he asked, his voice full of concern as if he were the poor idiot’s oldest friend. ‘You c’n tell me.’
‘S’nothin’. I should be satisfied with my stripes,’ Gedge muttered.
Crowley looked at the very new sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve. ’But they’re not enough?’ he hazarded, ‘a sergeant’s pay isn’t enough to get married on?’
Gedge blinked at him in confusion. ‘I don’t want ter get married,’ he said finally.
‘Ohhh,’ Crowley said, ‘got yerself mixed up with a local girl, then?’
‘No! I ain’t got myself mixed up with any girl,’ Gedge said, then clamped his mouth shut and looked away. Crowley gave him an encouraging smile, the one that got people telling him their most awful and banal desires. ’He said he wouldn’t send me away. I s’pose he didn’t, he was the one ter go,’ Gedge said finally.
‘Sorry?’ Crowley said.
’My orficer. He went back ter England, it’s been months. I don’t think he’s comin’ back. What if he’s gone and resigned his commission and I don’t see him no more?’
‘Ah,’ Crowley said, the rupee dropping, ‘it’s your officer you like.’
‘Oh yes,’ Gedge said, ’you’d like him too — he’s a fine orficer, looks after the men proper, doesn’t punish anyone less’n they deserve it, very fair minded that way, and brave too, and —’
‘I mean, you love him,’ Crowley interrupted. He didn’t want to spend the whole day hearing about this fellow.
‘Anyone’d love him,’ Gedge said stoutly. ’I don’t want ter stay in the army if he ain’t comin’ back. D’yer think I’d be fit for drivin’ a gentleman’s carriage?’ He looked glum once more. ‘I’d be happy jest blackin’ his boots.’
‘How devotedly menial,’ Crowley said, dropping the accent. ’Don’t be childish, you want him to be your — friend, don’t you?’
‘Oh no,’ Gedge said, shocked, ‘I know my place, I hope.’
‘You want him to feel the same way you do,’ Crowley said more patiently than he felt, ‘you want him to like you, am I right?’ There was no response, which was always a good answer. ‘Right,’ he said, rubbing his hands together. ’I can sort this out. You agree to my terms and I can have you sleeping by his side soon enough.’
Gedge frowned in bewilderment. ‘Why’d we do that? It ain’t cold down here.’
‘For goodness sake!’ Crowley blessed, ’you’re young, you’re in what passes for good health, you’re in love, what’s wrong with you?’
‘I’m in love?’ Gedge said in a squeak.
‘Didn’t you know?’ Crowley said. He began to snigger. ‘You didn’t know.’
‘I’m in love,’ Gedge said in a soft, wondering voice.
Crowley felt the air of despair lessen and frowned. ’You’re in love with a man,’ he said brusquely, ‘your superior officer. No one’s going to approve.’
A look of deep worry came into Gedge’s face and Crowley gave him a cheerful smile. That was more like it. Humans were so sweet when they started worrying about their silly little taboos and put obstacles in the way of happiness. It made his job so much easier.
‘You don’t think it’s respectful?’ Gedge asked.
Crowley blinked. Not quite what he’d been expecting. He recovered quickly. ’He’s an officer and you’re not. He’s a gentleman and you’re not. He’s been to college, I’d imagine and you — well don’t take this the wrong way, but can you even read or write?’
‘Yes!’ Gedge said, colouring.
‘What could he possibly see in you?’ Crowley said, ignoring him. ’What chance do you have? What would you give to have him feel even a little bit the way you do?’
‘Anything,’ Gedge whispered in a desperate tone.
‘Oh, good,’ Crowley said, flicking a parchment contract out of the firmament. ‘Prove you can write. Sign or make your mark, it’s all one to me.’
Gedge dazedly took the pen he was offered. ‘What’s this for?’ he asked.
‘A lifetime of his love and regard,’ Crowley said, and Gedge almost snatched the contract from him. Crowley turned his head, hearing someone coming up the path. Time to wrap this up. ‘Don’t read it,’ he said in annoyance, ’just sign down at the bottom.’
‘Why’s it got all this stuff about souls?’ Gedge said. Crowley snarled and folded it over so only the dotted line was visible.
‘Gedge!’ came a cry from further down the path.
Crowley turned to see a uniformed figure waving cheerfully.
‘Sir!’ Gedge whooped, dropping the pen and contract together in the dust. He jumped up and practically bounced down the path.
‘Wonderful timing,’ Crowley said, glaring Upwards. ‘Véry funny.’
He made the contract vanish and strolled down, shaking his head over the awkward reunion. The newcomer had an unpleasantly wholesome glow, as if he’d been — Crowley leaned in and sniffed — yes, talking to angels. Really. Aziraphale was getting better if he could be a spoilsport at a distance of thousands of miles. Crowley debated how he could mess up the angel’s little plan, whatever it was. He thought for a moment and smiled. Whatever Aziraphale had planned for this fellow could be circumvented with a little distraction, and his almost customer had given him the perfect distraction to suggest. He leaned close to Gedge’s ear and whispered, ’You’re in love. Don’t forget that. Tell him.’ Then he laid a chummy hand on the tall officer’s shoulder and murmured, ‘He’s awfully fond of you. Be kind.’
Crowley stepped back and watched a soppy puppyish expression come into both their faces, and then they both looked shy and swallowed hard as if they were getting their courage up. Crowley snorted with dry amusement and sauntered on his way down the path. That’d teach the angel to do something without telling him. He felt very pleased with himself, and started whistling again.
He really had to remember to tease the angel about this.