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Lost in Translation

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Tower of babel painting with overlay of fic title and author name
They haven't seen each other since that terrible flood when Aziraphale spots Crawly in the confused crowd. He hasn’t changed a bit, bright serpentine eyes sharp and clever as the confusion swells around him. Aziraphale wonders why he was sent here- his briefing had been exceptionally unclear- but if the demon is here then Something must be Going On.

It takes him a while to make his way through the crowd, who seem intent on keeping Crawly surrounded. The din around him would be unintelligible if not for his ethereal understanding of Language. When he finally reaches Crawly he finds the demon speaking... some kind language he definitely hasn't heard before.

Not that Aziraphale doesn’t understand Crawly, mind you. It’s perfectly clear what he’s saying, even when the demon switches between at least three languages in a single conversation.

Crawly appears to be… translating? Translating sounds like a logical name for what he’s doing, even if it has never been needed before. Because every human spoke the same language. Except now they don’t.

It takes most of the day for the humans to leave Crawly alone, as he does his best to explain the inexplicable. No, they cannot talk to their friends, their neighbours, their whatever-elses anymore. No, Crawly doesn’t know how it happened (Aziraphale senses this is a lie, and resolves to ask him later). No, Crawly cannot stay to translate for longer, he is travelling (needed elsewhere you see, no really, he cannot stay, but thank you for the offer of hospitality).

And most importantly: no, this does not make them any different from the neighbours, friends and whatever-elses they used to be. No, speaking a different language has not changed who they are. It only makes it more difficult to communicate, is what Aziraphale hears Crawly say over and over, it’s not impossible; languages can be learned, is not Crawly a perfect example of that? 

This too is a lie, but Aziraphale would never refute it where these poor, desperate humans can hear him. Language can be learned, he’s sure. Humans are an inventive lot, and the fact that Crawly and Aziraphale do not speak a language but a Language- being all languages- need not stop those brilliant humans from learning. (As long as you do not tell a human they cannot do something they will find a way. And sometimes they find a way exactly because they’ve been told they cannot. This stubborn strength is one of the things Aziraphale admires the most about humans.)


Later, when the crowd has dispersed, Aziraphale offers Crawly a drink, in return for an explanation.

They settle on one of the low walls of the construction site that will now never be finished, as Aziraphale produces a flask of wine. It takes several cups before Crawly feels up to explaining.

“Just trying to build a silly tower, ‘s what they were doing, angel- can you tell me how that’s supposed to be blasphemy? ‘Cause I don’t see it,” Crawly is saying.

Aziraphale purses his lips in agreement, but has to disagree out loud, just for appearance’s sake: “It’s not the tower, I’m sure, my dear. It’s the… the idea behind it. They were- I think Upstairs thought they were getting ideas above their station, as it were.”

“Above their station??” Crawly explodes, jumping from his perch on the wall, which topples over behind him.”Look at this place! They were building a giant tower out of mudbrick! And even if they had ideas beyond ”their sstation”,” contempt twists his voice into a hiss; “then Sshe knows their tower would fall sure as this wall we’re ssitting on now!”

Crawly kicks at one of the fallen bricks and plops down on the ground instead. “There’ss gravity to consider, not to mention the weight of their bloody muddy bricks, and their idea of a giant tower probably means it has, what? Thirty floorss? And even if- a BIG if, angel, I’m sure you’ll agree- even IF they somehow managed to build a ginormous tower, that doesn’t collapse under it’s own weight or through faulty sstructure, what would they find up there? We both know there’s nothing but clouds up there for miles.”

Crawly drains his cup, refills it and drains that one too. Aziraphale doesn’t know what to say. He wants to agree, more than anything he wants to say Crawly is right. But he cannot- he might be Heard. So he says nothing.

“Wouldn’t it prove that God is- I don’t know, unreachable or something? Wouldn’t their arrogance be proven wrong just by letting them try, and fail ?” Crawly heaves a sigh as heavy as the brick walls of the unfinished tower he faces. “Wouldn’t it have been better to let them find out on their own, instead of punishing them for trying, angel?”

Crawly looks at him, eyes pleading, and Aziraphale cannot help but think that he is not the person Crawly is really asking these questions. He hopes That Other Person is listening. With his eyes he tries to tell Crawly that he understands, and even agrees, that he hates this as much as Crawly does, but Aziraphale thinks he probably only looks sad.

“It’s best not to speculate, my friend,” is all he says out loud.

That night, they drink perhaps more than they should, and stay up very, very late, looking at the sky and the half-built tower silhouetted against the stars.