Daegaer wrote,
2003-03-28

What Crowley did in his Sumer holidays, as Toscas_Kiss once said to me: 

Even in Laughter

He’d decided on a new strategy, and it was going to work.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  He and his opponent were fairly evenly matched, and neither of them was going to win a full on battle.  Not that it didn’t hold a certain appeal, especially as it almost always ended up influencing the locals’ religions, much to the angel’s irritation.  But it wasn’t really worth the effort.  All they’d both get would be a bruised ego, and if they were unlucky, a talking to by their respective superiors about how material bodies weren’t cheap and what had they done with the last one anyway?  He had no desire to go through that again anytime soon.  Not to mention that getting discorporated hurt like a bastard.  He’d give the new plan a go.  It wasn’t flashy and it would work, he could feel it.  After all, subtlety was his middle name.  Stuck here on this maddening, wonderful world, far removed from his demonic compatriots, it had occurred to Crowley that Aziraphale wouldn’t have seen the Celestial Choirs in just as long.  The angel was a soft-hearted fellow, cooing over puppies and skinned knees and tiny little flowers.  Crowley knew, just knew, that the bastard was lonely.  The plan, like all great plans, was simple and involved letting the other guy do most of the work.  He’d contact Aziraphale, even let himself get beaten up if necessary and let the angel’s sense of fair play guilt him into listening to what poor, sad Crowley had to say.  That would be his downfall.  No one resisted when Crowley got persuasive.  He constantly amazed himself with the nonsense he could get people to believe or agree to, all by saying those three little words at the right time. (1)

He had his speech ready, had been practising for months.  It was good, starting out with a resigned acknowledgement that I know I’m a demon and you’re an angel, but we managed to be civil to each other in the Garden.  You said it yourself, it’s my nature, I can’t help it . . . and went from there into a section about how Aziraphale was the only other person who knew what it was like to be around all this time.  He’d play that by ear, maybe talk more about the beauties of nature or the funny things humans got up to, it would depend on how things were going.  Might even have that bit first.  Soon enough the angel would begin to talk to him, and he’d lead the conversation round to an awkward pause – and here was the bit he was proud of – he was going to run away so that Aziraphale wouldn’t see him cry.  He’d got that down pat in front of a mirror.  A natural looking blink – that had taken ages to perfect.  A quickly hidden puzzled expression.  Another blink.  Éyes widen oh-so-slightly in dawning horror and shame.  Tears just on the brink of welling up, and he was out the door before he could laugh.  Then he’d play the waiting game, and he was very good at lying in wait.  He’d force Aziraphale to be the one to bring it up, make the angel come looking for him.  And the next time would be easier, and so would the time after that.  It would seem so easy, so natural.  He’d lead the angel along a broad, flower-strewn path, expressing gratitude for company all the way, till they got to the point where a little push would send him falling.  Crowley planned on laughing at him all the way down, and idly wondered if he’d get a commendation, and what Aziraphale’s replacement would be like.

********

He found Aziraphale in Ur, sitting in a pleasant room with good natural light.  The angel was sitting cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by blocks of clay that seemed to be covered in scratchings made by a crazed chicken.

“Hello,” Crowley said from the doorway, making Aziraphale jump in surprise and nearly drop the block he was examining.  He felt nervous.  He hadn’t seen the angel in a long time, and it was strange to see someone even the littlest bit like himself after so many years.

“Oh, it’s you.  What do you want?”  Aziraphale said, carefully putting the block down and standing up.

Crowley peered at it.  It almost looked like –

“Hey, did they start writing properly?  It doesn’t seem long since they were drawing those little stick pictures, does it?  What are you reading?  You look like you’re moonlighting as a recording angel!  And, you know, it’s not that I want to make a personal comment or anything, but what have you been eating?”

He stopped, uncomfortably aware that he was babbling and unlikely to achieve much by being rude.  Aziraphale was looking at him in a rather odd way.

“Are you quite all right?  Have you – er — taken something?”

Crowley forced himself to relax, slouching against the doorpost in his best oh, don’t mind me; I’m harmless way.  He wanted Aziraphale sitting down and calm, not standing there looking like he’d suddenly worked out the insult.  He casually looked at one of the blocks.

“Lady of all divine power, resplendent light.  Véry poetic.  So, how have you been keeping?”  Crowley asked, putting on the most sincere of his fake smiles.  Or maybe the fakest of his sincere smiles, it was hard to tell the difference any more.  “I haven’t seen you since – when was it?”

“The time the exorcist cast you out of your own body?”  Aziraphale suggested.

Crowley gave a little laugh.

“Yeah.  That was embarrassing.”

He took a nice deep breath and began the run up to the speech proper.

“I was up-river in Babylon last month, then dropped over to Kish.  The place is bigger than ever.  I hardly knew it.  I thought I’d drop in on a few people I know, couldn’t find any of them.  After I looked round I found a total of one grandchild.  I didn’t think I’d left it that long, I know I didn’t mean to leave it that long . . .,” he trailed off.

“They don’t last long, do they?”  Aziraphale said distantly, eyes not focused on anyone actually present in the room.

“No,” Crowley sighed, feeling victory within his grasp.

Silence.  A little more silence.  Come on, Aziraphale.

“You know, Azi-,”

“I suppose I should -,”

“Oh, sorry, you were saying?”

“Oh no, go ahead, please.”

Polite bastard.  Stupid polite bastard.  Here we go.

“Things seem to go by so quickly here, don’t they?  You think you’ve got all the time in the world and then you turn around and everyone you know is dead.  I mean, I know we’ve had our differences, the bosses egging us on:  ‘Go make some trouble’, ‘Go kick that demon out of town,’ but when you really think about it, what do they know?  We’re the only two up – er, down – here, and I’ve been thinking -,”

Aziraphale’s eyebrows just couldn’t get any higher, he thought.  That line about the dead friends in Babylon and Kish had suckered him in.  Pity it’s true, a treacherous part of his mind murmured.

“What I’m trying to say is,” he paused, seeing again the unfamiliar young face, telling him that granddad had died ten years ago.  He pushed it down and spoke fast.

“What I’m trying to say is, IknowI’manangelandyou’reademonbut-,”

“Pardon me?”

“Heh.  Ah.  I suppose the old tongue of angels doesn’t come quite so naturally any more.  Erm, well, although we’re on opposing sides, I was thinking . . .  I was wondering . . .”

He could feel his thoughts drying up under the impatient gaze on Aziraphale’s face.  He’d forgotten what it was like, talking to someone who wasn’t actually human, and who could probably give a rather long answer to the ‘what’s the harm’ question.  One involving flaming swords and the Heavenly hosts and all that.  Even if it was only Aziraphale who was a bit of a butterfingers when it came to angelic weaponry.

“Yes?”

Fuck Babylon, fuck Kish, and fuck Akkad, Aššur and Uruk too.  Who needed human friends?  He had a job to do.

“I was thinking -,” we’re the only two who know what it’s like to deal with these people, who know what it’s like to see them die old at 35.  Don’t you ever feel sad, Aziraphale?  No, not ‘sad,’ a better word . . .

" – Would you like to have a drink, maybe, sometime, if you’re not too busy, that is?”  He was babbling again.

“A drink?”

He’d been wrong.  Aziraphale’s eyebrows could go higher.

“Uh-huh.  With me.  No one else would understand my Lasceaux jokes.”  Where was this coming from? he wondered.  Aziraphale was beginning to look decidedly freaked out.

“Look, that’s very, er, kind of you – if you’ll pardon me saying so, but I don’t really think we have anything to say to each other, do you?”

Crowley gave a careful, blank smile.  He’d travelled down the whole length of the Land of the Two Rivers, getting the same answers all the way.  My grandmother?  Dead for 20 years.  No, sorry, there’s no one here with that name.  Granddad’s been dead about 10 years.  Oh, I’m sorry, she died just last week.  She was very old, you know.  He really did want a drink.  With someone who’d still be alive by the second round.  He opened his mouth to get really persuasive, and stood silent as he suddenly blinked.  Without meaning to.  It was the one thing he’d been pushing out of his mind.  He was the subtle type; he got people to fool themselves.  He lied by telling the truth.  The look of dawning horror on his face felt all too real as his eyes filled up and the angel went all blurry.  He had to get through this, use this, it would be so convincing . . .

“I – I. Aziraphale -,” he said.  Don’t you pity these poor people?  Don’t you wish there were something we could do? his clever, subtle mind supplied.

“I’m lonely, Aziraphale,” he heard himself say, and turned and fled, not staying to see his enemy’s face, hoping and dreading that he might be followed.

Miles away he stopped.

No one had followed him.

He was alone.

******************

(1) “What’s the harm?”

******************

Even in laughter the heart is sad,
and the end of joy is grief. (Proverbs 14:13)