Title: Great Are The Myths
Summary: It's Thursday. Aziraphale makes a decision. Crowley reluctantly acquiesces. There is a field trip and an unfortunate logistical error, because you know how it is with pocket universes.
Rating: PG-13 for language and mild violence.
Disclaimer: Crowley, Aziraphale, and most other characters belong to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett; God and Lucifer belong to themselves, presumably. All poetry quoted is from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and the title is also taken from Walt Whitman, who, I am convinced, created a time machine and travelled to the 90s just to read Good Omens. Oh, and as a note of interest, I did not know about Freddie Mercury and his daffodils when I wrote this, but I must admit the parallel is rather eerie.
Author's Note: Written for dragonofirony's goexchange prompt, "The author's choice of max rating; Crowley/Aziraphale one, the other, or both... also like the 4 horsepersons; would like more of a slash of Crowley and Aziraphale... the "good" and "evil"'s reaction to them, too". Posted at goexchange 2006. Many thanks to Twitch, my beta, who I cannot praise enough, as she is obviously some kind of superhuman, considering the fact that she never took an axe to my neck as the pages rolled in, and in, and in. Don't talk to me about ellipses. (Hey, look, I actually pulled it off!)
---Great Are The Myths
". . . it was like passing through the gates of Hell and into Paradise, I do believe the two are located closer together than most people think."
Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
This is the mind of an angel:
Arched and archless.
From a two-dimensional perspective, it's all curves, all perfect arcs, up and down and across and through, never a straight line, never an angle. How circular reasoning, philosophy, and benevolent bemusement would look smashed together and put through a blender, then tinged blue and green and grey and inked with lines of infinite thinness and impossible colour. But add dimensions like Depth, and Time—and what is an angel if not Depth and Time?—come around to the side, and it's vertical lines, keen edges, shining in a deceptively velvety way. No touching, or you'll get hurt. Go around the other side and it's the same, up and down, like an egg slicer, silver and bright. But go around the back, and everything's reversed, a mirror image.
In the back of an angel's mind, everything is different.
There is also, at the same time, a certainty on which one could crack nuts—rocks, even. This is Right, and this is Wrong, d'you see? And it is Right to do Right, right, and Wrong to do Wrong. End of story, punctuation optional but no question marks and none of those finger quotes, thank you so very much.
This is in the front of the mind, where conscious thoughts make their happy homes. But in the back, there is fertile soil for Doubt, with a capital D.
An angel's mind is an immovable place to stand. Except when it's not.
Aziraphale sighed. There was no help for it. He would have to manifest some brownies.
No. A pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Ice cream, not frozen yoghurt. And a spoon. Or possibly a ladle.
He indulged himself too much, of course. He'd been worried about this for the first millennia or so on Earth, but no one had seemed to care, and so eventually he'd stopped thinking about it that much. Besides, this was ice cream. Allowances had to be made for ice cream.
He manifested a pint and an enormous spoon, and dug in with relish. It was cold, and melted pleasantly.
This is the mind of a demon:
Sharp sharp sharp, do not touch because your finger will be severed and lying forlornly on the floor before you're even aware you've reached out. Edges and angles, mostly acute, all sharper than any non-metaphorical thing could be. No curves, gentleness, brightness, or glittery bits. Well, in truth there are glittery bits. They just don't glitter in very nice ways. Not nice at all. In fact, they glisten, especially in the minds of particularly maggoty demons, and even the word 'glisten' does not properly convey the oily, greasy, knife-grin quality inherent in the edges and points and spikes and spines of a demonic mind. Stabs in the back and paranoia are our speciality, get 'em while they're hot, which is pretty much permanently.
Colour consists chiefly of black and red. This can represent a number of things, depending on the mood and temperament of a given demon, as well as on the time period. During the Plague, Rotting Stomach and Festering Innards were very popular, while immediately after Hiroshima, Scorched Feet and That Fiery Light Behind The Eyeballs Right Before You're Vaporized was in vogue. Then there are the ever-fashionable Eternal Darkness Of The Damned and Blood Blood Blood, which go with anything(1).
There is a lot of grey as well. Theoretically this is the Shadow of Doubt, the Corner in which Temptations Lurk, and so forth. Really, though, no demon is entirely sure what it is, because no demon truly feels comfortable venturing into the grey area. Besides, blood's more interesting.
And so the question remains: What does the Shadow Know?
A demon's mind is a lever of infinite length. It moves things about that aren't movable. Examples come to mind. But it itself is movable, especially when put in the middle of things.
Crowley was incredibly pissed, or quite inebriated, or totally sloshed, or just really drunk.
Aziraphale had been, too, the first few days. After Saturday, they had agreed in a slightly eerie nonverbal way to sink into a drunken stupor until things started to make sense again or, failing that, until they forgot which way was up. This they did. But after the third day of prolonged drunkenness, Aziraphale sobered up and Crowley didn't, and Aziraphale went back to the bookshop and left Crowley on the floor of his stark white flat, nursing a bottle of tequila.
That had been two days ago. Now it was Thursday, and Crowley was having difficulty manifesting anything other than Miller Lite, which was unspeakably depressing, not to mention pathetic. The Someone-awful hangover was creeping up on him now too, green and spiny and festering. He'd never drunk this much in one sitting before.
Anthony Crowley stood up, tottered out onto the balcony, and vomited spectacularly over the rail.
Of course, demons believe in Right being Right and Wrong being Wrong, just as angels do. However, in the opinion of your basic demon, doing Right is for pansies. Or possibly even daffodils.
Sometimes, when one spends too much time with humans, doing Right just sort of happens. It's probably reflexive; the subconscious mind(2) might say, "Well, shit, that's inefficient", or "why should I do that?" and just tweak the universe a little bit(3), and even a tiny change might unaccountably turn out to be not entirely Wrong. The really unfair bit is that it's not even noticeable, because Right and Wrong tend to be a matter of opinion, and humans and human-shaped beings are phenomenally skilful at deceiving themselves. Besides, if you think doing Wrong is Wrong, but that you personally should be Wrong, than in a way it's Right for you, so doing Wrong is Right, and since doing Right is Right, perhaps it's not such a stretch to say that doing Right is Wrong, that is, Right for you as well, so perhaps Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong and it's all all right regardless, right? That's right.
It's the same for angels, only backwards and with more complicated words.
In sum, ethereal minds are a lot like Jell-O: mutable, oddly coloured, and with little floating fruit pieces inside.
All right, perhaps the metaphor could use some work.
Aziraphale sat down with the spoon in his mouth. Balancing the ice cream carton on his knee, he dug out another spoonful, letting the ice cream melt in his mouth before chewing on the bits of brownie in a contemplative manner. Just last week, he hadn't known whether he would ever taste chocolate again(4), so he planned to enjoy it to the fullest now.
In his opinion, you could take manna and stuff it.
A piece of brownie got stuck between his molars. He sighed happily. "Dental floss!" he exclaimed aloud. "Who came up with dental floss? Good job, that man. Nothing like humanity."
And there wasn't. Chimpanzees, while intelligent in their own sort of way, weren't part of the same spectrum. Even angels and demons couldn't be compared to humans. Free will again, or else the ability to choose between free will and just doing what the bloke with the machete said. And creative? Dental floss! Would the Metatron have thought of dental floss? Would any angel? No, because it wasn't Good; and no demon would have, because it wasn't Evil. Humans thought of it, because it was Useful and prevented tooth rot, gum rot, and bad smells. Ethereal beings don't give a damn about bad smells. Ethereal beings can tune bad smells out. Humans can't, so they cope with them. And so dental floss came about.
What about music? Not just the music humans made, but the music in humans, the ever-changing trills of the voice, the art of movement, and laughter—the most astonishing music of all. Had it always been that way, even in the Garden? Aziraphale couldn't remember. What he knew was that no one appreciated it properly—humans didn't because it was simply part of them, and angels didn't because they didn't understand it and so, in some contradictory way, it wasn't really real.
There were things on Earth that provoked in him joy far greater than any celestial triumph ever could. The angel closed his eyes and listened to the heavy rain on the roof. Things that went together (rain, couch, ice cream; sun, picnic, park; wine, Ritz, Crowley—laughter—thought) soothed his soul to such an extent that, had he possessed the proper vocal equipment, he would have purred. In Heaven, he had been constantly serene and calm, so he hadn't realized how wonderful it felt to be relieved of stress and worry and to sink into the cushions or the grass with a good book and some chocolate.
A good book and . . . well, he had the chocolate. Aziraphale carefully dug out another spoonful of ice cream, putting it in his mouth upside down with the ice cream directly on his tongue, so his taste buds wouldn't go numb from the cold metal. As it melted, he shivered a bit; his hands, still clutching the carton, were getting cold. He could have manifested a blanket, but he decided to appreciate the cold first. Heaven is always pleasantly warm, and in his true form he was unaffected by temperature in any case.
He was, he knew, unnecessarily indulging in sensory experiences. He could always just shut them off. Any time he wanted to, poof, he'd be as imperturbable as a statue, never cold, never hot, unseeing, unfeeling, untasting—
Bloody boring. He laughed. It was, too. He didn't make any changes, and left his hands on the ice cream carton. He felt wanton, in a silly little way; it was rather nice.
He stood up suddenly and walked over to a bookshelf with the quietly satisfied air of someone who wants something specific and knows exactly where it is. Flicking his eyes from spine to spine, he smiled as his gaze rested on an elderly book (although, to be honest, it was not nearly as venerable as some of its fellows on the shelf). It was a first edition; most of Aziraphale's books were. It was also in pristine condition, which all of his books were.
He reached in and carefully extracted it, giving the cover a cursory and unnecessary glance—he knew it was the right book—and walked back over to the couch. Now he did manifest a blanket. While cold had its good points, warm in the sense of cosy was not to be sneezed at.
When he was in a contemplative mood, Aziraphale often got this book out. He liked to think that reading this type of poetry allowed his mind to wander freely and come to some type of conclusion eventually, however vague said conclusion might be. Of course, he was deluding himself. He read this book when he was worried about Things and Upstairs and Down There, and where he stood, and whether he was enjoying things too much, and the reason he read this book in particular was because it led him to conclusions that were not only comforting, but inscrutably sensible.
He turned to the first page, inhaling the scent of ink and old paper, and began to read.
I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of summer
grass . . .
Aziraphale paused. Grass and ants. Sandwiches. Ducks. Who had given him this book? He hadn't been in the Colonies—the States, that is—during that time. Had Crowley? He couldn't recall; but who else would have given him anything? He had gone over briefly for the War Between the States, of course, but that was a few years later still. No . . . Aziraphale had wanted to visit St. James's after Nash's remodelling, but things had come up, and he hadn't gotten 'round to it until the eighteen-seventies. Crowley had invited himself along, and, yes, given him this, in an offhanded way, making it seem as if it didn't really matter much, it was just a gift he'd been given that he didn't particularly want. It wasn't until later, when he'd had the chance to read through it (not stopping until he was done, as was his tendency), that Aziraphale had realized how much of himself was in the book, the simple first edition.
The smoke of my own breath . . .
My respiration and inspiration . . . . the beating of my heart . . . .
the passing of blood and air through my lungs . . .
Aziraphale had been discorporated many times, of course, by Crowley before the Arrangement and by various other means, including runaway carts, an unexpected cliff, a heart attack (only once, and Crowley had never let him forget it), and gunshot wounds. It was unpleasant, to say the least. Air stopped, blood stopped, all the subtle little movements of muscles and tendons stopped in a frighteningly final way, and each time, just before he found himself in the Waiting Room and had to steel himself to explain what in the name of Heaven it had been this time, Aziraphale had experienced a very mortal terror. He probably should have gotten used to it after a while, but he never did. When his body stopped working, it was a very definitive (if somewhat inaccurate) statement of the End of him, which angelic minds are not constructed to deal with. When he got a new body, he always had to restrain himself from running out into the street and screaming at the top of his lungs (this qualified as undignified behaviour in his mind) with sheer joy at being able to feel again. And humans didn't notice! They had no idea how lucky they were! But he did.
I have heard what the talkers were talking . . . . the talk of the
beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Now. If there was one thing he had learned from Adam and the entire . . . Event, it was to appreciate the now. And he did, he truly did, and probably far more than he should have. He remembered the Beginning, of course, and he knew there would be an End eventually, but why shouldn't he enjoy humanity in the meantime?
It wasn't his job.
All right, what was his job, then?
I believe in you my soul . . . . the other I am must not abase itself
And you must not be abased to the other. . . .
I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer
You settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over
And parted the shirt from—
Aziraphale skipped forward.
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands. . . .
I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped. . . .
He skipped forward a few pages more, until he reached the following line, which he had underlined gently and carefully with a pencil years ago:
The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall. . . .(5)
He stood up. Enough was enough. He was going to have to find Crowley.
It would be a whole lot easier, Crowley reflected, if he could just find someone to blame.
He was not a happy demon at the moment. He was angry like he'd never been before, and he was nervous, but most of all he felt limp and drained. Had he expended all of his energy on Saturday? Would he just wilt away now?
He rolled his eyes. Oh, for . . . badness's sake, he'd produce a lace hankie any moment now. Obviously he wouldn't. Obviously he'd just keep going in the way he always had. Obviously.
Except . . . what was it the boy had said? "No more messin' about." No tugging people in different directions and confusing them, because life was, after all, confusing enough. Well, that was fine to say, but what did it actually mean? Did traffic jams count as "messin' about"? Did physical injury? How about excruciating embarrassment, or tied-up phone lines? He needed specifics.
Or perhaps what Adam had meant was . . . no. He couldn't expect . . .
Well, it didn't matter. He didn't have to do what the boy said. He could just keep going as he had before (although Aziraphale would object, of course, thrice-blessed angel), or worse even (because Aziraphale wouldn't balance him if he kept on as he had, and it would be worse for everyone than it had been before the Arrangement). He could tempt up and down Britain and into Europe and the colonies. The boy could just stick that in his pipe and smoke it! Or his father's pipe, perhaps. What could Adam do to him, really?
Rip his soul to bits, perhaps? And it wouldn't be the conventional ways involving physical pain. Adam would Know him like he had on Saturday, only a thousand, a million times more. This was not a pleasant thought. There were bits of Crowley that Crowley did not particularly want to see, scuttled in a corner and hidden away in the shadows of his mind, and Adam could easily bring them out, dust them off, and present them to him solemnly for inspection. If it was possible for a demon to go mad, he certainly would.
At that point, Adam would have practically infinite options to choose from. Would the boy erase him? Would he move him like a chess piece, to a different body or a different mind or—he shuddered—the Other Side? Could Adam go back and keep him from Falling? He didn't particularly want to know. That would be weird. Plus he wouldn't be able to hiss anymore, and he'd gotten rather attached to that particular speech defect.
He could do it first. He could go out in a blaze of glory, tempting all the livelong day for a few weeks until Adam caught up with him, and then, just before whatever was going to happen to him happened to him, he could discorporate himself and then destroy his ethereal body.
And . . . then what, exactly? What happened to demons when they died? Besides, he was rather squeamish around blood, particularly his own. Oh—and the angel (how did he always manage to get into Crowley's business?) would stop him before he did anything that tremendously stupid.
Crowley scowled, massaging his forehead. Free will, in his opinion, was not all it was cracked up to be.
He was wearing the same black suit that he'd been wearing on Saturday, much the worse for wear now. His mouth tasted like something elderly had crawled into it, defecated, and then died. This would not do.
He snapped his fingers in a listless fashion, and the suit changed instantly into a fresh one. It was—Crowley couldn't help grinning—a light charcoal grey. Yes, all right, but he didn't have to shove it down his own throat, did he? He was just enough of a decent ma—pers—entity, Aziraphale had said, with that spark-of-goodness talk he tended to spout when he was about to confront the Adversary(6). And the worst part was, the angel was right. Where did he get off, being right like that?
Crowley wished he knew why he had a spark of goodness, because he certainly hadn't put it there. It really would be helpful if he had someone to blame for that. It hadn't been the angel, Crowley knew that much; he knew Aziraphale well enough to be able to spot if he was trying some salvation, and the angel was as naturally full of guile as the average rock. Besides, if the angel really had been trying to save Crowley's soul, the result would probably be significantly more extreme than just a "spark of goodness"—whatever else one could say about Aziraphale, he was very good at his job.
No, it was the humans, wasn't it? He snorted. He'd always wanted to find what made them tick. Even back when he was Crawly, in the Garden, he'd been intrigued. What a stupid shape for an animal! It was so damn vulnerable: no claws to speak of, pathetic teeth, squishy skin, and buttocks, which he still hadn't figured out the purpose of. What had the Old Man been thinking?
Hah, well, it was all Ineffable, so he'd never really know. Nevertheless, he was curious. That's why he'd gone with the Apple instead of, oh, setting fire to the Garden, for example, or visiting Adam the First in the form of an incubus, which would certainly have caused a few problems. He'd wanted to know what would have happened if he'd let Eve in on some of the not-so-secret secrets. He had sort of hoped she'd explode(7).
The result had been far better, though—and worse, yes, worse too. He could write a book. Three books, even. Because once they'd left the Garden, it'd been a whole new world, one that was very, very easy to get caught up in.
Crowley sighed, made a face, and stood up, stretching. He miracled away the empty bottles, jars, cans, tins, and assorted other vessels and strode into the bathroom, which he never used, to get his mouthwash, which he loved. It was like setting his mouth on fire, only in a good way.
Swish, spit. Swish, swish, spit. And ta-da! The taste of week-old rodent corpse is no longer in your mouth! What will they think of next?
Crowley stiffened. There was a shadow on the wall in front of him. It was not a nice shape. He hadn't heard . . .
He scrabbled frantically in the cabinet without turning around, searching for anything even remotely holy. Nope, nothing. Damn!
Armed with celestial mouthwash, Crowley turned around and scowled in a somewhat ferocious fashion at—
—the ficus plant. Which was in front of the window outside of the bathroom.
Disgustedly, Crowley tossed the mouthwash in the direction of the bathtub and stalked out onto the balcony. "Shit," he muttered, to the world in general. "Now what?"
A shadow passed over his head, and without meaning to he crouched down into a defensive position, ready to take flight and piss off if possible. Then he noticed that it was a pigeon. He swore creatively and in a number of archaic languages.
Television, perhaps. That was usually sufficient to distract him from anything less than a bomb going off outside his window. He went back inside (locking the balcony door) and switched on something banal and requiring zero concentration or less. Slouching on the couch, he regarded the screen blearily. People with romantic names were involved in complicated plots. He was pretty sure that this particular piece of crap was not his fault.
He leaned back against the cushions and let the distressed voices onscreen wash over him. People, he thought vaguely. Weird. He was weird, but . . . people beat all. . . .
Crowley woke up with a start and an undignified yelp when a voice started shouting at him from the television.
"PREVIOUSLY ON ASININE PEOPLE DOING ASININE THINGS: JANINE WAS DISQUALIFIED FOR SWITCHING CHALK WITH ITCHING POWDER BEFORE THE CLIMB! HORACE VOMITED HIS SLUGS AND HAD TO EAT ANOTHER BUCKET! ALBERT WAS FOUND IN A COMPROMISING POSITION WITH OUR MASCOT! AND THE SHATTERED REMAINS OF LINDA, LOUISE, AND JAMES WERE FOUND AFTER THE CLIMBING TACKLE BROKE! THIS IS: ASININE PEOPLE DOING ASININE THINGS!"
It was definitely not a voice of eldritch command.
"That is it!" Crowley shrieked. He waved his arms for a moment at the sheer cruelty of the universe, then came to a decision and stood up to leave the flat. As he put his hand on the doorknob, there came a tentative knocking from the other side of the door. He raised an eyebrow and opened the door to see Aziraphale, looking decidedly twitchy and fiddling with, ye gods, was that a bowler hat?
"Er, hallo, Crowley," the angel said. "I wanted to talk to you about something, if you have a moment."
Crowley gave a toothy grin. "Funny, I was just going to come over." He linked elbows with Aziraphale and began marching him down the stairs. "Let's go, then."
1. Rather like denim and reportedly pink, although tests on the latter have not been at all conclusive and are suspect in the minds of many fashion-conscious scientists.
2. Everyone has these, even ethereal beings, leading one to wonder what exactly Freud was tripping on, and how he managed to cross the line from hallucination to such dangerous accuracy.
3. To, for example, make all four wheels on a shopping cart face the same direction at any given point in time.
4. That's right: there is no Ben & Jerry's in Heaven. And they call it Paradise.
5. All lines quoted above are from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, first edition, 1955; the poem is 'Song of Myself'.
6. Admittedly Aziraphale had only done this once, but Crowley felt it was the sort of thing he would always say in that situation.
7. Entertainment in the Garden was about equivalent to entertainment in Heaven. The only additions were the daily march of the unicorns and the frequent—extremely frequent—sexual escapades of the First Couple. This just did not do anything for Crowley.