I Walk Among the Shadows

Sometimes Aziraphale wishes their Arrangement covered more.

He knows, whenever he finds himself thinking such things, that he should be grateful -- if not loudly so -- that the Arrangement exists. His life on Earth is easier, far better, and more...well, something he knows English doesn't contain words for. It suits him, and he believes it suits Crowley, and that's close enough. But there are times, like now, when he sits in the back room of his bookshop and wishes very quietly that it covered more.

There are books scattered across the table and shelves, some lying open as though invisible readers were filling the room, reading infinitely slowly. It makes him feel as though he is in a room full of friends, when in fact it has been forever -- several centuries -- since his head has been filled with the songs of angels.

If he closes his eyes and sits very still, he can hear it, albeit dimly, as though through a closed window, or muffled through the tenement wall. But he's thinking of things he dare not let anyone overhear, so he does nothing that resembles listening, for if he hears he might also be heard.

There's a difference between thinking and praying, which is simple to navigate when one is in Heaven. Simple, though the difference barely exists. On Earth the difference is grand, like shouting across a river and talking to oneself in a quiet room. But here on Earth he's never been quite sure when his thoughts might slip from one to the other, if the rules for humanity still quite apply to an angel in human form. He's learnt to be careful, and he's learnt to think about things like his Arrangement, and Crowley, and other related things as though there were nothing at all to overhear.

It would be easier if he could just meet Crowley for lunch some time, and talk. Tell him what he wants, what he desperately wishes he could say. But if Crowley laughs -- or even if he didn't -- he would know, and would spend eternity knowing, and who knew when or how he would decide to use that information?

Crowley was a demon -- a decent enough fellow, and as fond of being on Earth as Aziraphale. Trustworthy, in fact, as long as everything remained safely within the bonds of the Arrangement. Tripping those bonds was too risky, what with everything there was to lose.

Sometimes Aziraphale thought about buying one of those blank journals and just writing everything down. He'd gone so far as to look some over, considering the leather-bound books of high-quality paper, versus the cheap, plentiful notebooks which would be easily overlooked should anyone stray into...well, wherever he'd keep it. But he'd never bought one. Putting it into words was like asking for what he wanted to say.

He could barely admit he wanted it. How could he ask?

For now, he confined his wishes to this back room. Alone with his books, with the morning sun just beginning to rise above the horizon no one in this part of the city could see. It was the best time for quiet thought, the safest time -- for never, in all the time he'd known Crowley, had the demon ever called on him at dawn.

They might still be up at dawn, but nothing ever *began* then if Crowley could help it.

Aziraphale placed his hands on the table, fingers outspread across the polished wood. There could be a book there, or even a computer or tape recorder. He could say what he wanted, and leave it up to chance.

He didn't believe in chance, was the problem. If he said it at all, Crowley would find out *someday*, and there it would be. Said. Between them.

He dropped his head. It should be so easy a thing to do. To tell him, ask him -- the one creature in all of God's creation that he trusted. Not that he was stupid -- he knew what sorts of thing Crowley did, what his priorities were. But knowing that was what enabled Aziraphale to trust him. He should take advantage of that, and just tell him. God knew he'd had plenty of opportunity to do so, already.

Well, hopefully God *didn't* really know. Except God knew everything so either he didn't care, or was busy with other things, or was trying to very gently to bang Aziraphale's head against the Crowley-shaped wall until he got the courage to speak up.

So yes, God probably knew he'd had plenty of opportunities. Millions of lunches, social drinks, walks in parks or fields or burning buildings when they'd chatted about this, that, and the other. Quiet, scary moments when one of them risked saying a thing they'd never said before. Hard, frantic, passionate moments when they forgot about the world and Arrangements and everything else, and their bodies got so close that saying anything -- and saying nothing -- seemed absurd.

He closed his eyes. Found himself tracing a word on the tabletop with one finger, and thought -- he would have to say it someday. The words wouldn't go away for wishing, and it was not a thing that could ever be unmade. Lost, overcome, repented. But never undone.

Aziraphale picked up the phone and dialed a number. He waited, knowing fear like he'd felt few times before -- and then usually associated with worlds ending or facing one's Creator for the first time.

He heard the phone ring, then a second later Crowley's voice came onto the line, half-awake and pissed off. "Bugger off!"

He swallowed, and said, "Crowley, it's me."

There was a pause, then Crowley growled, "What do you want? D'you know what time it is?"

Aziraphale hung his head, nodding. But it was done, and all that was left were the words, and somehow he knew -- he *knew*, and it was suddenly all right -- that Crowley would understand.

"What *is* it," Crowley demanded.

The words stuck anyway, and he spoke them in a whisper. "Crowley...forgive me, Crowley. For I have sinned."