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Black Sepia - chapter 9 by bladespark

Black Sepia - chapter 9

Aziraphale stared at the stack of paperwork in front of him. He was perched on the edge of his couch, with the papers set on an end table he’d pulled around. This was because Crowley was curled around him like a backrest, and he hadn’t wanted to move to his desk and leave that wonderful contact. Crowley’s eyes were closed, and his breathing even, so he might be asleep, too, and disturbing him would be a shame. But the paperwork did need doing.

The very first space on the very first page read “Name, Demonic”. The line after that, and the whole rest of the page, was slanted, as if it had been photocopied with the original askew. Though how it had all managed to be askew from the first few words he had no idea.

He pondered that space for a while. Putting “Aziraphale” in there seemed a bit wrong. The “ale” bit was a slight linguistic meander from the original “ael” which meant “God.” Could a demon have “God” in their name? He was Fallen now, surely that was wrong. Although he hadn’t given up on God, exactly. He frowned. He could just go by Azira, perhaps. Or…

Aziraphale laughed suddenly. He was probably already okay on the “God” front, since he had “ale” rather than “ael”, but just one more little change, just as inaudible when said out loud, was completely irresistible now that he’d thought of it.

He always had liked wordplay.[7] And it would make Crowley groan, no doubt, which was worth it all by itself. Not to mention the way it felt like thumbing his nose at Heaven, and at all his own fears, to embrace the thing that had so long terrified him by putting it into his very name.

7. He liked wordplay. This did not mean he was any good at wordplay.

So with a wicked grin, he took his expensive new pen and wrote, “Azirafell” on the first line.

Half an hour later his grin had vanished entirely, replaced by a frustrated scowl. Unable to hold back, he finally nudged Crowley with his elbow. “Crowley? Crowley! Why does this form want my social security number? I’m not an American, I’m a bloody ang—demon, I don’t have a social security number. None of the Fallen could possibly have a social security number. This is pointless.”

“Hell’s the point,” mumbled Crowley, adding a huge yawn after, followed by a stretch. Then he re-curled himself around Azirafell’s back and hips. “It’s meant to be irritating and irrational. Just fill in any old thing on the ones like that, I don’t think anybody actually reads ‘em anyway. It’s not like you’re applying to be a demon. They can’t reject you back up to Heaven, it doesn’t work that way.”

Azirafell scowled at the page. This one wasn’t crooked, but all the text was blurry and slightly purple, as if it had been copied via carbon-copy paper. “What happens if I don’t fill it out at all, then?”

Crowley gave a shrug that Azriafell felt rather than saw. “Dunno. Beez gets pissed at you?”

“I am rather certain that Beelzebub is already pissed at me. They certainly seemed cross enough with you when I was down there for your trial. It’s rather likely they’re cross with me as well, all things considered.”

“You can try not filling it out, I s’pose,” said Crowley drowsily. “I never did, but only ‘cause they didn’t have the forms back when. Forms took a bit for Hell to figure out, humans got there ahead of us.”

“Humans invented writing in order to fill out forms, I am fairly certain,” said Azirafell with a chuckle. “I remember thinking that cuneiform had a lot of potential, and it was a shame it was mostly tallies of grain taxes and all that. Though I suppose they did get around to writing down other things fairly quickly. But in any case, this form is driving me to distraction. I’ll finish it later.” He knew, even as he said it, that he probably wouldn’t. Not unless Lucifer turned up asking after it, or something of the sort. He’d never liked Heavenly paperwork either, and that was merely boring, not deliberately antagonistic.

Azirafell tucked the paperwork back into its envelope and leaned back against Crowley with a sigh. “I suppose, if I’m not filling out forms, I should open the bookshop. It’s been closed more often than open of late.”

“You should just turn it into a library. You hardly ever sell a thing.”

“I do so,” said Azirafell, putting on a mock-offended expression. “I sell books to humans who truly appreciate them. And I sell some of the less pristine editions, and second printings and so on.”

“Just not your precious first editions, hmm?”

“Precisely. In any case, being a library would be worse, I’d have to let people take the books home and ruin them, and then take them back after that shameful treatment. When I do let a book go, I’d rather not have my worst suspicions about its treatment confirmed.”

“Hah! Make it a museum, then? You have a few pieces that belong in one.”

“Somehow I doubt that a museum of books where you weren’t allowed to read them would be of much interest. People mostly don’t merely want to stare at a book’s cover. It’s not as though I’ve got the Book of Kells here, you know.”

“You’ve got a few of those old illuminations, I’ve seen them.”

“Just ones I did myself back in my own scriptorium days, they’re nothing special.” Azirafell gave Crowley a fond pat. “But I might as well go open up for today, at least.”

He didn’t tidy the shop, as such. The dust and clutter were not only part of his natural habitat, they were also a way to gently discourage customers who didn’t really mean it. He was not averse to selling a book to somebody who deserved to own it, but casual browsers were not welcome, and his arcane organizational system meant it took effort to find anything, especially as Azirafell himself didn’t exactly engage in anything that could be called “customer service”. Asking where to find something specific would get a vague hand wave in response. Discussing the content of something specific, now, might sometimes yield the actual shelf it was located on. But you had to love it in order for the angel—former angel, he reminded himself—to give you even a chance of leaving the shop with it.

He unlocked the door and settled himself behind the register with a book of his own. A faint snore told him that Crowley had decided to stay on the back room couch and nap. That was a shame, he quite liked when the demon was about his shop. The hellish aura provided an extra layer of customer deterrent, further thinning out the ones who didn’t deserve a rare book. But Crowley himself rather deserved his sleep.

Azirafell’s wandering mind suddenly came to a halt, and a slow smile spread across his face just as the door jingled and a customer stepped in.

“Hello?” The young man peered around the shop.

“Welcome,” said Azirafell, smiling brightly, broadly, and with just a touch of fangs showing.

The young man’s eyes went wide, and he muttered, “Uh, wrong shop,” and was out the door so fast he nearly tripped over the steps outside.

“How delightful,” murmured Azirafell.

He let Crowley nap all day long, and he didn’t sell a single book. [8]

8. Aziraphale’s Yelp reviews had always been atrocious, but after his Fall there was a sharp uptick in reviews using words like “creepy”, “uncanny” and “terrifying” in regards to the proprietor and the mood of the shop in general.

Black Sepia - chapter 9


23 June 2020 at 18:52:29 MDT

One more bit of silliness. The final chapter will be up tomorrow!

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Literary / Story