@ 2004-01-13 09:25:00
Happy Birthday, yonmei!
‘A gentleman is here to see you, Mr Fell,’ the nice new waiter murmured quietly as he brought a fresh glass of whisky to Aziraphale in the club’s sitting room. ‘A Mr Crowley.’
‘Oh dear,’ Aziraphale muttered, and then smiled cheerfully at the man. ’Do have him shown in as my guest, would you? I’m sure he’ll dine with me.’
‘Of course, Mr Fell,’ the waiter said and went off, leaving Aziraphale fretting.
It wasn’t fair. He’d got used to having things his own way for simply ages. First Crowley had just vanished, reappearing only several decades later with some silly story about how he’d had a little lie down. And then he’d checked his diary, made some vague noises about seeing what had been happening and had gone off again. England had been a wonderfully peaceful place for most of the 19th century and Aziraphale thought he’d been doing some good work — there’d been some setbacks of course, but on the whole he was quite pleased. And the literature. More and more people were writing and publishing, and even quite ordinary people were becoming literate and buying books. Aziraphale firmly believed that any society that made books cheaply available couldn’t be all bad.
He sipped his whisky and peered morosely at the returning waiter, who was being shadowed by something tall, dark and evil.
‘Hello, Crowley,’ Aziraphale said.
‘Hi,’ Crowley said and dropped into an armchair opposite. It hadn’t really been close enough to drop into, but things tended to be where Crowley expected. ‘I’ll have a whisky,’ he said casually.
‘Véry good, sir,’ the waiter said, and went off to get it.
‘So,’ Crowley grinned, looking around the room. ’This is all very muted and respectable and boring. You must feel right at home.’
‘Hmmm,’ Aziraphale said non-committally, giving thanks that it was mid-week and some of the more flamboyant members hadn’t shown up. ’Where have you been?’
‘Here and there,’ Crowley said, ‘you know how it is, no rest for the wicked.’
‘Oh, well don’t let me detain you,’ Aziraphale said quickly, ’I wouldn’t want you to get behind schedule just to pay me a little visit.’
‘That’s all right,’ Crowley said, ‘I can take a break.’ He drank his whisky and nodded appreciatively. ‘Nice.’
‘Will you be going on your travels again soon?’ Aziraphale asked hopefully.
Crowley favoured him with a sarcastic smirk. ’No, I shouldn’t think so. You know I was in India, right?’
‘Yes,’ Aziraphale said. ‘At least, that’s where you told me you were going.’
’That’s right, I told you. And that’s where I was. See how easy it is to be a straightforward, honest sort of person?’
‘Quite,’ Aziraphale said, ’I expect you’ll get the hang of it after a few more thousand years.’
’The point, Aziraphale, is that I told you where I was going and what I would be doing. You haven’t forgotten our little Arrangement, have you?’
‘No,’ Aziraphale said in bewilderment. ’I did appreciate you telling me your plans, Crowley.’
‘But,’ Crowley went on, holding one finger up like a rather miffed teacher, ’you thought you could swing things to your own advantage, didn’t you? You thought “Gosh, poor old Crowley’s out of the way, time to get up to all sorts of secret doings”, didn’t you?’
‘Huh?’ Aziraphale said, casting his mind over the last few months. He’d spent most of them reading and eating, but he didn’t suppose that Crowley really wanted book recommendations.
’Have you been up to things with the army in general, or was it just something small scale?’ Crowley said. ’Some horrible new humanitarian impulse we’ll see reported in the papers, hmm?’
‘What are you talking about, dear boy?’ Aziraphale asked.
’Don’t pretend to be innocent, you’re an angel. What little human messes have you been sticking your fingers in, eh?’ Crowley grinned and signalled the waiter to come over. ‘Another whisky,’ he said, ’and be honest with me, is it worth staying for dinner in this place?’
‘Yes, sir,’ the waiter said, giving Crowley one of his sweetest smiles and letting his fingers brush against Crowley’s as he took the empty glass. ’I’m sure you’ll enjoy your meal very much. Discerning gentlemen say we’re one of the finer establishments. Can I get you another drink, Mr Fell?’
‘Please,’ Aziraphale said gratefully.
‘Was he flirting with me?’ Crowley asked suspiciously, watching the waiter as he made his graceful way across the room.
‘Don’t be so silly,’ Aziraphale said anxiously. ’Your problem is you have no sense that other people can resist you. Tell me about India.’
‘Hmm? Oh, yes,’ Crowley said, finally shifting his gaze away from the waiter. ‘You’ve been interfering with upright young army officers, haven’t you?’
‘What?’ Aziraphale yelped, ’I have not. Really, Crowley, I don’t know where you get these sort of ideas. I’m a perfectly respectable angel and this is a perfectly respectable establishment.’ With an internal wince he edited the memories of anyone within earshot.
‘Pardon?’ Crowley said in confusion.
‘Never mind,’ Aziraphale muttered, wishing he wasn’t blushing quite so furiously, ‘do go on.’
’Well, I know you’re up to something, because I came across someone you’d been talking to. And don’t deny it, he may as well have been wearing a placard. I suppose you have some plan of making the army in northern India a touchy-feely let’s-embrace-our-fellow-man sort of organisation? Well, don’t worry, I decided to give you a helping hand, although your friend has probably been fairly distracted from whatever it was you wanted him to do,’ Crowley smirked.
‘What are you talking about?’ Aziraphale said. ’I have no idea what you think I’ve done behind your back, dear boy.’
’You sent an officer back to his regiment after doing something, and you didn’t tell me,’ Crowley said. ’So naturally I had to go back to the old procedure: see an angelic wile, thwart. I didn’t hurt him, mind.’
‘What did you do?’ Aziraphale said, racking his brains for some clue as to what was going on.
‘Made him a touchy-feely, let’s-embrace-our-fellow-man sort of person,’ Crowley sniggered. ‘I’m sure his little Nco was very appreciative.’
A vague thought bubbled up to the surface of Aziraphale’s mind. ’Ernest! Um, I mean Edmund, Edmund Bracy,’ he said. ’Tall, blond and suffering nobly under the weight of responsibility?’
‘That’s the fellow,’ Crowley said. ’So. What were you up to, messing round with him?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ Aziraphale said. ’Mainly he wanted permission to admit he was in love. They can be so silly about these things, can’t they?’
‘Huh?’ Crowley asked perceptively.
Aziraphale winked. ’No girls involved in the case, dear boy. What on earth did you do to the poor chap?’
He was surprised to see Crowley sit back with a sulky expression and bury his nose in his glass.
‘Nothing. He’s fine.’
‘No, you did something, you were going to tell me.’
Crowley gave him an annoyed look and drained his glass. ’What does a fellow have to do to get a little service around here? Oi! Waiter!’
Aziraphale reviewed their conversation and began to smile, then smirk, although he managed not to actually giggle until Crowley had his whisky again. ’You made him a “touchy-feely, let’s-embrace-our-fellow-man” person, you say? How lovely of you to back me up, Crowley. I think I must be having some sort of positive effect on you.’
‘Shut up,’ Crowley muttered.
‘I’m so pleased to see you spreading love and happiness,’ Aziraphale continued mercilessly.
‘And working for free!’
‘Why don’t we go and have dinner,’ Aziraphale grinned. ’I’m sure I might forget about this after a nice meal.’
‘It’d better be good,’ Crowley said, still sulky, and levered himself out of the chair.
‘It’s very good,’ Aziraphale said, and took his elbow. ’You don’t mind me being touchy-feely, do you?’
‘Shut it,’ Crowley said, a very slight smile on his lips.
Aziraphale laughed, and steered him toward the dining room.
* * *
Gedge looked up at the snow-capped mountains. They were not white in the light of the evening sun but were gold, deep gold as if they had been subject to a jeweller’s fancy. Even though he had often thought over the previous months that he would not mind if he never saw a mountain again he was greatly moved by the still beauty of the scene. The sky was deepening in colour also, from the palest blue of its daytime appearance to the plum and gold of the sunset. The lower slopes were turning dark and mysterious, their trees shading from green toward black. As he watched, birds flew homewards to their nests and on the hill opposite he could see a local youth driving his flocks down to their night time shelter.
‘A lovely sight,’ said Bracy quietly.
‘Yes,’ said Gedge, turning his head. Bracy was not looking at the scenery but at him. Colouring a little, Gedge shyly dropped his gaze from the young officer’s face and looked instead at their clasped hands resting upon Bracy’s knee, their fingers intertwined. Covering their joined hands softly with his other hand, Bracy smiled joyfully at him and Gedge felt that he had never before been so happy. After some moments his hand was freed, and Bracy put an arm about him to pull him back to rest in a warm embrace.
He watched the sun set fully, comfortable and secure in Bracy’s arms. He was still unsure how all of this had come to pass, but he was so very glad that it had.
* * * * *