ladymouse2 (ladymouse2) wrote,


[Good Omens fiction with Aziraphale and Crowley.]

~ Good Omens ~
What's Blue and Gray All Over?

Anyone who remembers Crowley claiming to have slept through the nineteenth century, remember this too: he's a demon, demons lie. They also drop everything when an unusually large pilated woodpecker lands on the sill of their bedroom window, drums like the very Devil, cocks an eye, opens its heavy bill and speaks like the Devil as well...[1]

July 1863

Of three mismatched figures sharing a frozen moment on the floor of the modest old kitchen, only one was what she seemed. Amid the welter of scuffed flour, an overturned wood trencher, a pillow of half kneaded dough and the blue fragments of a shattered transferware bowl, the girl, barely a woman, lay unequivocally and most emphatically-even sincerely-dead. Shot clean through the heart by a random mini-ball from a musket, she lay cradled on the lap of a Union Army doctor.

At least he looked the part in his rumpled white linen coat, round wire-framed glasses and straw hat, but he was no more what he seemed than the Confederate lieutenant crouched over them. Byronically handsome, dashingly wounded with a red slash of his own at burst shoulder seam and half his gilt buttons gone, he made the whole tableau appear to be a scene from a melodrama. The pair were opposites in more than contrasting appearance, and adversaries in a more fundamental sense than the color of their uniforms, for the seeming doctor was an angel named Aziraphale and the officer was a demon named Crowley. Over the previous six thousand years they'd gradually become friendly adversaries as they went about the Earth on their assignments.

The instant the girl's faint rattle ceased, a tall column of darkness materialized beside their little unintentional Pieta. The Confederate slammed his fist suddenly on the floorboards narrowly missing tarsal and metatarsal bones rather startlingly encased in sandals. The skeletal feet did not so much as shuffle under the demon's temper. DEATH stood equitably patient between them, a preternaturally tall human-shaped skeleton wrapped in wings that seemed made not of feathers but the vacuum of unimaginable space.

"Bles-Da-SOMETHING it!" The demon dragged off his billed cap in a gesture of explosive frustration that dislodged a kind of gutta percha
[2] shade placed as if to screen weak eyes. The stark yellow glare revealed was neither weak nor human and would have scorched the Horse Person to a crisp if HE'd been vulnerable. "Are you TRYING to sabotage me? Since when are you working for HIS side?"

DEATH shrugged. "You know I only collect them, Crowley. I don't do the choosing."

"How very convenient, that you 'collected' her best friend earlier this morning-the whole reason I was dispatched to make sure she learned the sad news about her sweetheart. And now you collect HER before I could tell her he wasn't coming home."

The angel dropped his jaw and plain goggled.

Though he could never conceal his serpent's eyes, Crowley had long since managed to give them human mobility, having tired very early of having to turn his fixed gaze with his whole head. The seething glance he flashed sideways at the angel plainly showed his disbelief in Aziraphale's apparent surprise.

"John Wesley Culp, childhood friend of both Jennie and Jack. He'd have been the Best Man at their wedding when the war was over. He went to the music conservatory in Virginia. Signed up with the Confederacy when the war broke out. Jack Skelly was mustered into the Union forces. I don't know how he and Jack came to meet as Jack was dying but he promised to bring Jennie the news. He died right in the early hours of this battle on his own farm-"

DEATH interrupted in echoing tones, which were really all he could manage with no lips and an empty ribcage. "THE SORT OF IRONIC COINCIDENCE HUMANS SEEM TO FIND BELIEVABLE ONLY IN THEIR FICTION."

DEATH managed a shrug, gathered his insubstantial, metaphysical robes about him as if in preparation for departing and remarked over a bony shoulder, "OH, THEY'VE BOTH ALREADY BEEN RECEIVED TO HEAVEN BY THE WAY."

Just as suddenly as it had arrived, the heaviness of eternity vanished, leaving only the random birdsong from the nearby woods.

Crowley couldn't quell the flash of resentment at the sight of Aziraphale's tight, pale face clearing and opening-and being a demon he didn't try.

"Just dandy for your side, Angel. I was sent to tell her the bad news and you were sent to prevent it, so this worked out fine..." his voice trailed off as a shocked surmise started to form but Aziraphale, hugged the dead girl a bit more protectively to him and challenged before the demon could follow his thought.

"Oh? And what were you doing, Crowley? You did get here before I did, you had plenty of time to state your news...but you didn't."

He smiled what was almost a smirk if he weren't an angel. "Anthony J. Crowley actually caring about a human life? Umm?"

"No, " The demon snapped quickly.
[4] "Certainly not because she gave me the heel of her last loaf of bread anyway."

Crowley had received human kindness before and was inured to it after so many centuries. The gestures no longer pained him in the region where his non-existent heart would have been.

But he'd been so tired and the tempting had been going rather less well than he'd expected and hoped. After his machinations to get Union General Mead named commander he thought he could retire to the pleasures of New Orleans for the duration, but no, Beelzebub himself had ordered Crowley to this particular battle. Granted Crowley didn't need to eat and wasn't especially required to accept the mud, blood, blisters and lice, but he was, for all his studied insouciance, an artist. Some sacrifices were necessary for the perfecting of the role. But even for the demon the sheer horror of this field made him feel he was back in Hell. Humans were always able to outdo both the Host and the Hordes of Satan in what they did-and without the aid of either celestial or infernal powers! Sometimes he could only stand back in wonder.

In the gray hours before dawn, the soft singing had seemed at first to blend with the random warbling of wakeful birds. He'd virtually crawled toward its source on hands and knees, pausing below the wooden kitchen stoop like some shy beast drawn against its nature from the forest.

When he asked her why she'd give food to a Confederate, she had just laughed and said 'gray bellies' got just as empty as blue ones.
[5] That it was no matter, she'd already gotten up early to make another batch since there'd be so many hungry men before the day was half gone.

She'd gone back to her low singing as she scattered a fistful of flour on her board. He'd known her then, the turn of her neat dark head in its two smooth plaits gathered to her neck in a sedate bun was the very miniature he'd seen in the blue uniform pocket of the dying youth in the Winchester military hospital. He'd been wearing blue himself on that occasion
Crowley had inhaled the yeasty warmth of baking bread, coffee in the grinder, felt the sweet trills she threw into the lilting words for nothing more than the pleasure of the notes and something had seemed to cup the empty spot in him that, since their Arrangement, only Aziraphale had ever touched. For an instant he was almost the victim of that danger to the consummate actor of so living his role that he felt the wistful tug of a cozy home that had never existed.

In a minute, he'd tell her. In a minute he'd see that pretty face crumple in grief. After all if he was going to catch her in her moment of bitterness and denial, he had to have his wiles all lined up and honed...

But the minute didn't come. Instead a nearly spent bullet had drilled through two solid oak doors to kill her in her ignorant bliss.

"I didn't have time before she was killed, and then you arrived," Crowley finished, hoping there was no defensiveness in his voice. He hardened it into a snarl as his eternal bafflement rose. "She didn't have to die, Angel. You arrived to thwart me. There was no earthly REASON for that young girl to die!"

Aziraphale wasn't looking at him, he was gently transferring the body to the floor and bending to smooth the loosened hair from the wide brow. "It's ineffable, my dear."

For once the angel's tone wasn't quite as certain as usual when he stated this trump argument.

Uncomfortable with warring emotions he didn't normally entertain, Crowley pounced impatiently, lifted one shoulder, winced and thought better of shrugging. "Oh, NOT that old chestnut, Aziraphale! You mean to tell me you've never just plain yelled, 'WHY?'"

"No, Crowley, I have not, " Aziraphale said and pressed his lips into a firm line. "I always know there IS a reason even if I myself don't know the why..."

He paused to place the lightest of kisses on the cold cheek and mutter softly, with an extraordinary mixture of regret and gratitude, "Be happy in your reunions, my child".

Nonplussed Crowley opened his mouth to wade into what was clearly beyond his depth when footsteps approached in the hall and a woman's voice called the dead girl's name.

Angel and demon withdrew through one of the bullet-gashed doors as neither quite felt up to witnessing the panic and horror that was coming.

Hands clasped casually behind his back, Aziraphale, with his dingy, wrinkled white coat over his Union blue, blended almost as well with the pall of smoke and dust as Crowley in his Confederate gray as they walked away side by side on the dirt track between outbuildings. Their voices drifted back on the torpid air as the first morning sunlight began to make bright dapple patterns through the orchard leaves.

"So that's why you were here, you old serpent!"

The demon's sour tones rose, "Seems that's why a LOT of us were here, Angel. Why do I feel like I've been thwarted before I even got to wile?"

[1] Actually neither the drumming nor the capitalized words did the job on this particular occasion. The possessed bird had to hop through the open window, land on the slumbering demon's obligingly presented posterior and apply the aforementioned bill.

[2] An early effort at refining rubber, used for dolls, and Crowley's eyeshade. Why do you think Crowley pushed the invention of plastics? When light, designer shades were finally available he would have wept for joy, if demons ever wept... or felt joy.

[3] Apart from the official cosmic policy on coincidence, all of this is not only quite true but fairly well-known as a particularly tragic example of the dangers of indulging in civil wars.

[4] Crowley wasn't feeling the least bit defensive and was merely-in the interests of the Arrangement-taking great pains to clarify for the angel that of course he'd not so gone native as to be swayed in any manner by human behavior one way or another. Nope. Not one bit.

[5] She was making a pun on Southern sympathizers referring to Union troops as "blue bellies". By this point Southern uniforms were made of a nasty yellow-gray-terra cotta kind of dirt colored fabric called "butternut", that's when they could manage anything close to a matched uniform. Crowley, as both an officer and a demon conscientiously applying the Deadly Sin of Vanity, managed a nice Gone-with-the-Wind gray wool uniform with all the requisite brass buttons, gold braid. He'd had a nifty maroon sash but had lost it in the skirmishing the day before when he'd got the bayonet thrust through the top of his shoulder. The mortal Union private had not been seen since nor had Crowley's sash.

[6] Crowley should have remembered there was no such thing as coincidence and he had not asked what the angel was doing at Gettysburg that morning. Though in fairness, it should be pointed out the angel had not been told the reasons behind HIS assignment either.

* * *

November 1863

Two human-shaped figures sat quite unnoticed atop the roof of the band stand having their own discussion of the brief words just given in one of history's shortest speeches.

The reactions of the human audience had been polite rather than enthusiastic
[1] and more than a little bemused since they'd been expecting something a good deal more pompous and portentous and certainly long-winded enough for all of them to work up a thirst proper enough to justify the repairs to the punch bowls (and after hours entertainments over a stone jug of good hard cider) of the town during the wining and dining and lionizing portion of the festivities-once all the solemn stuff about dedicating cemeteries was comfortably over with. Their disappointment was later matched by their several generations of descendents who would have preferred the address to be even shorter in consideration that they had to memorize it entirely when they went to school.

"I just said I don't know why he couldn't say eighty-seven years and be done with it. All this 'scoring' and arithmetic seems pretentious and not a little obfuscating. Somewhat suspicious, not to mention lacking that famous "common touch" that got him elected."

"It's beautiful! It rolls out as sonorously as a hymn; it gives such weight and meaning to those dates! Crowley, your last stab at inspiring real literature was the Nun's Priest's Tale in Chaucer!"

"Hardly true, I recall even you enjoyed Boccaccio's Decameron"

"Certainly nothing approaching even the modern era."

"What about Das Capital!"

"I said, 'literature', Crowley. You have neither discretion nor discrimination."

"Not true! I never claimed Mine Kampf."

*HEAVY SIGH* "But you DID claim all four of Updike's Rabbit series and they were mine."

*SULKY TONE* "Well, neither of us claimed Myra Breckenridge; surely that counts for something."

Aziraphale abruptly changed the subject as he pensively watched the President and his entourage leaving. "Never mind, I need to get on back to Washington before President Lincoln does."

The demon leaned on one elbow as he gave the angel a lazy glance that hid little of his speculation. "Oh? Something I need to know about, the terms of our arrangement?"
Aziraphale sniffed, "Hardly, I'm still trying to thwart your little games with Secretary Stanton!"

[1] Stretching a point a little in that Edward Everett, the featured speaker for the day, orated for about 2 hours and considered rather the norm. Lincoln was received with cheers enough, but before television, with plenty of news anchors and pundits to tell us what the speech was REALLY about for another five hours after any given one, the speakers themselves had to spin out the time. No one minded; there was rarely anything else going on that exciting unless it was the cockfight behind the livery stable.

[2] Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, always a popular choice among conspiracy theorists as being the brains behind Lincoln's assassination, usually given more credence than the Papal Plot, the International Cartel of Powerful European Bankers, and the Freemasons.

* * *

April 1, 1865

"Is this our bosses' idea of an April Fool joke?"

Crowley gestured so expansively that Aziraphale had to miracle the waiter passing with a tray of hot entrees a foot away from their table to avoid a spill. He knew Crowley would find the mess delightful and probably arrange to have the waiter fired. George O'Toole, burdened with a limp that kept him from the draft as well as making his job exhausting and shortening his harried life, father of five with another bun in his wife's oven, could ill afford that, having finally found an employer who would "hire Irish".

In mid-tirade, the demon gave him a sharp glance through small smoked spectacles that revealed his little adjustment hadn't gone unnoticed. Since Crowley hadn't intentionally endangered the man's employment, that counted as a pre-emptive thwart. Aziraphale shrugged and gave a tiny apologetic grin. Crowley settled his cravat, gathered his composure and swept his glance insolently at the half dozen restaurant patrons around their table. People studiously went back to their dinners. The marble-pillared, chandeliered, thick-carpeted ambience of the Willard seemed to all but impose decorum.

"Er, I doubt it. I don't know about your lot but the Metatron has never been known for his sense of humor."

Abruptly, Crowley's explosive rant collapsed like a sagging balloon. He let his wild elbows drop to the table and reached for his glass. He stared gloomily into the depths of his mint julep
[2] for a moment. "You're right, " he agreed morosely. "Beliel's idea of hilarity is to punch a soul's head with his favorite mace so hard it pops out the other end. In fact he's used it far too often at every office Christmas party for the last thousand years. Everyone can quote the punch line about making both ends meet before he even starts the windup."

Aziraphale covered his wince by signaling for another flip
[3] as Crowley went on. " It's just that our assignments seem to have been switched. If I didn't know better, I'd think you had a hand in it!"

Aziraphale was quick to retort, " Frankly, it has more of YOUR style, my dear."

Crowley bridled, "Keep that up, Angel and I really will begin to think you are trying to call in that reciprocation from last May!"

Aziraphale put down his flip after relishing the first sip. He sliced into his boiled fowl stuffed with oysters in white sauce
[4] a little more cautiously. He'd approached the cooking of the colonies as if he were dicing grenados[5] so each new dish was an experiment. To his surprise the small pullet was tender and rich. "No, no, I'm saving that for when I really need the return favor. You do admit the role reversal seems more in your line though, dear boy."

Crowley merely frowned as he attacked his pork cutlets. "It just seems a very sloppy waste of each of our skills. "I could have had a field day with crafting a truly horrible dream of impending death just the thing for a tired, used up-"

"-decent, harrowed president," Aziraphale firmly interrupted, and chewed his bite with some unnecessary force. He wasn't so pleased by such a cruel-seeming assignment himself.

Crowley drew scenarios in air with his loaded fork, fondly describing, "It would be downright operatic! I can see him walking through the empty rooms of the White House, hearing sobs, LOTS of hushed sobbing but he can't see the mourners. Finally he approaches the East Room."

Warming to his invention, the demon laid down his fork without tasting and used both hands to emphasize a dramatic and fearful pause. "There in the very center of the room is a catafalque with a draped body upon it, lying in state. Around it are stationed soldier guards. The light streaming is pale and bluish. Shadowy people are gathered in throngs, all crying." A sly glance of his yellow eyes behind their smoked lenses verified Aziraphale's food stopped halfway to his mouth as the angel was caught up in the unfolding scene. The demon leaned across the table, and concluded with penetrating hisses, "The dreamer inquires of a guard only to be told the dead man is ...the President! Killed by an asssasssssin!"
[6] He sat back in triumph and took a sip of his mint julep, basking in the angel's astonished admiration.

Aziraphale clasped his manicured hands together. "Crowley! That's-that's utterly horrifying! Just the right touch of the surreal, the pale, streaming light, a continuous subdued chorus of weeping-- nothing like making a man look at his own dead body."

He paused suddenly his bright blue eyes in a suspicious squint. "But how did you know it was supposed to be a warning of assassination?"

Crowley laughed easily and returned to his cutlery. "As if he's not been a well-known target for an assassin the whole war and even before he was ever inaugurated the first time! Come on, angel, you don't need supernatural powers to think of THAT one! A human could invent this."

"Still, it seems very cruel coming just now after Lee's surrender, the war winding down. The poor man will have such a hard job ahead mending and healing this bitter breach. He favors a moderate reconciliation, you know. He needs his sleep!"

Crowley snorted in some disgust. "Ha! Don't worry, he'll have all sorts of rest and recreation. Courtesy of ME. I'm surprised Beliel didn't order me to tuck him in. There's little enough scope for someone of my talents."

Before the angel could ask his meaning, the demon slugged back another swallow of his julep and demanded suddenly to know when Aziraphale's assignment was to occur.

"Now, my dear, I don't think that falls under-"

Crowley waved a half apology. Their waiter took it as a signal and approached full of suggestions for dessert. After Crowley had asked for a delicately flaky orange pudding, he smirked when Aziraphale ordered the Shoo-Fly pie. Given the choice, the sweet-addicted angel most often did.

"Don't get all protocol on me, Angel. I just wanted to know because I have to wait near a fortnight for my own assignment."

"Oh. Well... tonight, actually." The waiter set the pastries in front of them and withdrew again. Each picked up their forks and gave the first bite the attention it deserved.

Crowley savored his own dessert but had to grin at the beatific expression that fleeted across the round, friendly countenance in front of him. Aziraphale WAS an odd choice for an even odder celestial visitation. Zirah poked at the rich crust with his fork, for all the world as if slightly embarrassed.

"Well, what, Angel? Spit it out. You can't be embarrassed by combining lust and gluttony in one go-I've already seen that expression since Sumer."

It was rewarding to know even now he could still raise a blush in the blond face. "With something so unpleasant after such a fine meal, I-I-Do you mind if I appropriate some of that imagery you sketched for my work?" His request emerged in a rush.

It was Crowley's turn to drop his jaw; he quickly realigned the hinge into something more appropriate to human and less serpentine. "You want MY input? On a celestial assignment? Not just a favor?"

Aziraphale almost resumed his blush but ended up looking momentarily wretched. "Oh, Crowley! I hardly know where to begin. Heaven certainly must have a good reason for sending such a thing now, even though it's all almost over. It's ineffable after all, but the poor man! He's been looking so haggard these last weeks, Crowley."

"I know. If his eyes could sink any deeper, they'd fall out the back of his skull."

"And then there's his favorite son dying, the terrible melancholies YOU'VE been sending him since he was a boy-"

"Hold on there, Angel. It's not as if I had to send much. He lost his mother and his sister when he was a nipper and I certainly wasn't responsible for Willie. Any sane human would be drowning in despair. But he keeps being funny and folksy and getting back up again."
There was an unmistakable hint of admiration in the demon's voice. In spite of his pose, Crowley appreciated indomitable humor. That's what got him through his own fortunately infrequent returns to the Pit.

"Yes, I know. I'm sorry, Crowley. It just seems such--an 'un-Heavenly' thing to do to a good man trying to keep a great country together."

Crowley grimaced and tucked in another fork full of pudding. "At least with all the séances they've conducted with every medium in America trying to contact 'dear Willie' he'll certainly be susceptible to anything Heaven wants to get out of this nightmare. Yeah sure." He waved dismissively. "The dream's all yours. It's as close as I'm going to get this round to anything really creative."

"Oh? I forgot to ask, what is it YOU have to do in a couple of weeks?"

Crowley lowered his coffee cup with a sour twist to his lips. "Well, you can stop worrying about him since he's going to get a night off. Would you believe Hell wants me to put the bee in his wife's ear she wants to see a play? For your peace of mind, at least it's a comedy!"

[1] This is somewhat misleading since it was at the Willard, where people with special interests would so often buttonhole Washington politicians at their residence when they couldn't otherwise be reached, the term "lobbyist" was first coined.

[2] Although Washington's first mint julep was mixed by no less than Henry Clay at the hotel's famous Round Robin Bar, the drink identified with the South was not a popular choice at the time, but Crowley had acquired a taste for them when he was wiling his way through the Deep South in the previous two decades so whatever was poured into his glass, it was a mint julep he drank from it, by Go-Sa-SOMEBODY!

[3] The angel, in keeping with his being as usual hopelessly outdated, preferred the classic colonial drink. The fact it contained molasses, heaps of sugar and either small sections of pumpkin or apple in addition to beer and rum as well as being served foaming after a hot poker was plunged into the mix, only appealed to his sweet tooth more. Both angel and demon discovered their only salvation from America's lack of decent wine were the delicious mixed beverages based on various distilled spirits with enough potency to not only get them quite satisfactorily drunk out of their minds but appeared in such a parade of invention there was always a new one to try.

[4] Yes, this is a real Civil War era recipe if you're brave enough: Boiled Fowl with Oysters.

[5] Yep, these have been around since the Spanish Main, too.

[6] This too is real. Lincoln related this dream to friends in his Cabinet three days before his assassination on April 14, 1865. He stated he'd had the dream about ten days before which would place it as around the night of April 1. Here's the link to one account of it.

[7] For Crowley's dessert go to: For Aziraphale's, there are many recipes for Shoo Fly Pie, here's a typical one. Between the molasses, brown sugar and nutmeg, it's of a tooth-rotting sweetness guaranteed to allow you to pick up the Alpha Centauri Evening News on your fillings.

[8] For the record, it WAS a comedy, Our American Cousin. It's a pity the president never got to hear all of the reported best line that brought down the house: "You sock-doliging old mantrap!"
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded