Once Unleashed
Disclaimer 1: This is fanfic. That means I do not own any of it. I just borrow it to play with for a little while and let people see the pathetic results if they really want to.

Disclaimer 2: I'm not making any money from it. It's just for fun.

Disclaimer 3: What isn't borrowed is all made up. None of this is real or most likely at all realistic. Please don't trust any of the information in here. Most likely you know more about whatever I'm writing about than I do.

Disclaimer 4: Attitudes, views and opinions expressed by the characters or in the story are not necessarily those of the author. Even when writing Science Fiction or Fantasy I do not tend to attempt to create perfect/better worlds in which everybody gets a happy end ... or whatever is best for them. Please accept that some characters will have a bad ending or be unhappy.

Disclaimer 5: I intend no insult to anyone. If I offend anyone I'm very sorry. Please understand that it was an accident as I tend to be very clumsy in these things.

Disclaimer 6: If my characters' conversations seem odd or they appear to be talking past each other the latter might occasionally be intentional, but most likely it is an accident and I'm not aware that they are. It's just my bad communication skills.

For GOE 2011. I have no excuse. I saw the prompt and had to have it. ... Come let me show you how it came to ... the battle of Waterloo.

“And so we finally have peace in Europe again after all this time,” Aziraphale reported happily. “Even France is finally quiet. The war in America can’t last much longer and unless Below interferes with the congress in Vienna, which I have good cause to expect they won’t, it should be a lasting peace as well.”

“That seems a little overly optimistic,” Gabriel pointed out.

“The humans have suffered too much from all those recent wars. As long as they aren’t pushed they’ll try to avoid another.”

“You are very sure that they won’t be pushed,” Gabriel prompted. “What of Hell’s agent? Have you discorporated him?”

“Oh no, he ...” It would be difficult to explain how he knew that his demonic counterpart had embarked on an extended indulgence in sloth which, from prior experience, Aziraphale expected to last at least a decade. “He has been very active for a long period of time now.”

Not nearly as active as Above and Below believed. Aziraphale himself had had more to do with starting the French Revolution than Crowley, but there was no need for Gabriel to know that his efforts on behalf of the poor had gotten out of control. And Napoleon really had been Crowley’s creature ... when he hadn’t been acting entirely of his own accord, at least.

“That has tired him,” he continued instead. “I expect to hear little of him until he is thoroughly rested. He is a slothful being.”

Gabriel considered that, then shook his head. “Hell can’t overlook that sudden a change in the balance of good and evil. They will send someone else if their current agent fails them.”

“They don’t have anyone else with his experience,” Aziraphale brushed the argument off. He didn’t want to think about it. “More tea?”

“I have to get going," Gabriel decided much to Aziraphale's relief after finishing another cup. "Do keep a sharp eye out for Hellish activities, though, even if you don’t expect it. Remember that evil never sleeps.”

Aziraphale promised and then accompanied Gabriel to the door of the lovely little London bookshop that he’d meant to make his home at least until Crowley’s return. He, too, had wanted to take it easy for a while after all the horrors of war, the bloody battlefields, the plundering, the rapes, the horror of the field hospitals, the starving peasants who’d lost their homes and livelihoods to the ravages of war... It had been more than even Crowley could handle. Surely after all that Aziraphale deserved a break at least as much as the demon did. He wanted to just relax, spend his time encouraging charity, strengthening faith and catching up on the newer works of literature. This Byron fellow seemed very promising ...

But he had promised. He had to at least make a token effort. So he cast one last look around, locked up the shop and waved down a hackney carriage to take him to the post station. A trip to Vienna to make sure Hell wasn’t sabotaging the congress should fulfil his promise, he decided. Surely a lot of new books had been written in Austria since his last visit, too.

Crowley would have enjoyed the congress, Aziraphale thought, casting another long-suffering look across the ballroom. There was a lot of dancing, drinking and whoring going on as well as some petty little intrigues between various diplomats. It seemed like they’d never agree on the new borders of Europe. Nor did any of them honestly want to start a war over them.

For Aziraphale’s own taste it was all much too noisy and ostentatious. Oh, how he wished to just return to London and his bookshop! Surely he’d fulfilled his promise to Gabriel already, but the more he thought about the inspec... nice little chat over tea, the more worried he grew.

Gabriel did have a point. Hell couldn’t possibly miss a sudden tilt of the balance between good and evil and when they did, what would they do but blame their agent? What if they sent someone up to check on Crowley and discovered that he was asleep on the job?

Crowley was Aziraphale’s friend and definitely better than any stranger Hell might send up here to counter Aziraphale. He just had to do what he could to maintain the balance and keep Crowley out of Hell’s bad books as long as he could. It couldn’t be too hard. He’d executed temptations for Crowley often enough that he no longer needed detailed instructions to get the job right. The only thing he had never done before was choose his own opportunity for tempting, but opportunities were easy to find. They appeared to be everywhere once you looked for them.

That was why Aziraphale was still here, doing what he could to encourage the little sins of the diplomats as well as their charitable ambitions.

In the long run that wasn’t enough, though. He needed something more, something big that would balance the sudden outbreak of international peace and cooperation, would even end it unless Aziraphale just barely averted it. Which he planned to do. Surely Hell couldn’t blame Crowley if he suffered a defeat now and then and the balance did slide just a little towards the side of good.

For a while he’d thought that he’d found what he needed in the plans of the Russians and Prussians. He’d spent two very unpleasant weeks talking Talleyrand into forming an alliance with Austria and Britain against Russia and Prussia, but the Russians gave in too easily and it was too obvious that none of the allies, not even Talleyrand himself, had actually meant to go to war. The effort was much too feeble to look convincing.

There was probably a lot more potential for evil in further association with Talleyrand, but Aziraphale couldn’t bring himself to bear it. Even in the earliest period of their acquaintance, Crowley’s company had never made the angel as uncomfortable as that of this man.

And so the powers continued to squabble while Aziraphale watched and occasionally thwarted his own petty little wiles. It was so hopelessly boring. If only someone would give them a push to actually get something done! The diplomats were all too patient. Napoleon would never have put up with this. War-mongering monster that he’d been, he’d always gotten things done. Aziraphale wondered how he was coping with the enforced inactivity of his exile. It was hard to say. He had never met the man in person, but Crowley had liked him.

That might have been due to all the commendations the demon had received for Napoleon’s deeds, though. ... Commendations for Napoleons deeds! That was it. If Napoleon made an attempt to leave Elba, it would stir up the congress and it would certainly be a wile worthy of Crowley.

“The emperor has been more formal since the start of the congress,” Commissioner Campbell told Aziraphale who’d come to him dressed as a young British navy officer and been welcomed without a hint of suspicion. “It worries him that they’re talking about removing him to St. Helena, but we get along very well. When we first came here we used to meet every day, go riding or share a meal ...”

“So you don’t think there is cause to worry?” the angel asked, wondering where he could start if Napoleon was happy on Elba and not even contemplating an escape attempt.

“Excuse me, what was that?” Campbell asked with an unexpected frown at Aziraphale. “I beg your pardon, but my old injury seems to be affecting my hearing. It just keeps getting worse and worse. If it continues like this, I fear I might lose my hearing entirely.”

“Oh,” said Aziraphale honestly concerned. “How terrible! But isn’t it treatable?”

Campbell sighed deeply. “I do not know,” he explained. “Our army surgeons know little about hearing problems. Their expertise is mostly in extracting musket balls and amputation.”

“So why don’t you consult a hearing specialist?” Aziraphale urged. “They might know some treatment that could restore your hearing, or at least save what is left of it.” He almost miracle-healed the man right there and then, but these things always drew unwelcome attention when there was no doctor or medicine to attribute them to and he wanted to get his visit to Napoleon to remain as unnoticed as possible.

“I would,” Campbell agreed. “But there isn’t one on the island. I’d have to go to Italy and I dare not leave my post for too long.”

Of course, Campbell would be in a lot of trouble if Napoleon escaped while he was not here, Aziraphale realised, but Campbell’s absence might be exactly what he needed to tempt Napoleon into trying just that.

“You shouldn’t wait too long,” Aziraphale coaxed. “And didn’t you say yourself that Napoleon hasn’t given you any trouble at all? If he is content here, why should he attempt to flee?”

“But he is troubled by this talk about St. Helena. I think it would be better to wait until that passes.”

“The way the congress is dragging on that might take a long time,” Aziraphale pointed out. “And all that while your hearing is deteriorating. What if it isn’t reversible, but can be stopped? What use are you to your country if you go completely deaf?”

Campbell squirmed uncomfortably at that thought. “But what use am I to my country if Napoleon escapes and I am not here?”

“Surely somebody else can watch him for a short time,” Aziraphale suggested. “In fact,” he added remembering his role as a navy officer. “You could ask the admiral to have a ship patrol the sea between this island and the mainland. Napoleon doesn’t have a chance to get past a proper British warship.”

This suggestion seemed to do the trick. Campbell looked thoughtful and promised to think about it. Aziraphale felt pleased with himself. He’d tempted the man into neglecting his duty while still doing a good deed by convincing him to do something for his health. Now all he had to do was wile Napoleon into attempting an escape for Crowley’s sake. When it was inevitably thwarted, nobody would be the worse for wear.

Aziraphale did not see what Crowley had seen in Napoleon. All he found was a self-centred, fat little man whining about the injustice of a fate that many poor people would have envied him.

“They turned on me,” he complained to the angel, who’d come to him in the guise of a young French soldier discontent with the political situation in his home country. “After all I did for them even my own Marshals fell into my back! If they had stood by me, had only tried harder, we could still have turned it around. They let me down, let France down ...”

“I’m sure they regret it now,” Aziraphale assured him. “The army is miserable without you and the people are disenchanted with the king. I am sure that is why they mean to send you to St. Helena. They are afraid that the people of France will bring you back if they can reach you.”

“Are they?” Napoleon asked eagerly. “Of course they are. I knew they would be. Ah, my poor France, left in the hands of such a man.”

“The people were tired of the war and frightened by the defeats when luck turned against you,” Aziraphale continued. “And many had seen their loved ones killed or crippled in battle. They thought, if only there were peace, happiness and prosperity would return. They didn’t realise that the king would be weak and the aristocracy exploit and mistreat them.”

“Ah, too much time has gone by since the revolution. But of course they see now. My poor France! If only I could be there to save her! To make her strong again. If only I had my army behind me again, none would be able to stand against me. We would sweep them all before us in glorious battles! There is no general in the world that could equal me.”

“But what is keeping you here?” Aziraphale asked trying hard to feign admiration. “Surely with your genius you could outwit your keepers. I heard in town that that British Commissioner is planning to go on a holiday to Italy soon. All you need to do is slip past the patrol ships then and return to France where the people will welcome you with open arms. The army is already yours. All you need to do is come and command us.”

Napoleon ate it all up. It was almost too easy.

Aziraphale left Elba feeling confident that Napoleon would make his escape as soon as Campbell had left for Italy. The congress would finally be frightened into action by his return, but the French population’s longing for peace would thwart all Napoleon’s plans forcing him to return to his exile permanently defeated. Crowley might not get a commendation for so fruitless a wile, but surely Below would register it as a good effort on his part.

It came as a shock to Aziraphale when the first reports of Napoleon’s triumphant return reached Vienna. It certainly had the desired effect on the diplomats, but he’d been so sure that he’d greatly exaggerated the soldiers’ readiness to defect, that it was only due to Napoleon’s own delusions of his greatness that he’d believed him at all. How had it actually come true?

The angel rushed off to France to thwart his wile as fast as his wings could carry him.

Aziraphale had come to Lons le Saulnier to meet a red-head, and he did meet one only minutes after he arrived, but it wasn’t the one he’d been expecting.

War smiled lazily at him from her seat on a barrel of gunpowder where she’d been watching a minor fist fight between a few guards.

“It’s all useless, you know,” she informed the angel. “No matter who he decides to be loyal to, he’ll lose. There’s no real work for either of us, yet.”

“Lose?” Aziraphale asked. “But the king ... He has command of the army.”

War laughed. “Nominally, purely nominally. Napoleon has the hearts of the soldiers and no matter how well Ney fights, how long do you think he can stand against an army without soldiers to command? He may be stubborn, but he isn’t stupid.”

The next morning Marshal Ney handed over command of his troops to Napoleon and the next thing Aziraphale heard was that the king had fled Paris. France was once again Napoleon’s.

And Aziraphale soon learned, much to his chagrin, that while little was easier than talking Napoleon into going to war, it was impossible to persuade him not to. When the emperor started his march against the Netherlands he had to accept that there was no chance left to prevent war, the best hope for peace was a quick victory of the allies. Aziraphale hated battlefields.

The battlefield of Waterloo turned out to be worse than any other the angel had seen so far. There were horribly mangled bodies of soldiers, French, Dutch, British, Prussian and Belgian, some even still alive and unattended to on the morning after the battle. Most of these were French, the victors having given priority to their own wounded when they’d realised they couldn’t collect them all. Aziraphale had so wanted to save them, to miracle escapes for everybody, but at that scale it was beyond his powers, and how could either side win a battle if their weapons didn’t hurt anybody?

So he’d limited himself to the most important people on the allies’ side. His protection of Wellington had been a complete success, though he’d only managed to redirect one projectile at the very last moment and it had struck poor Lord Uxbridge instead. Uxbridge would live, though, and there was no telling what might have happened to the entire army if Wellington or even just Copenhagen had been killed. The Field Marshal couldn’t well gallop all over the battlefield to direct his troops if he had no horse.

Aziraphale quickly turned his eyes away from a group of less fortunate horses that had somehow limped together, their wish for company stronger than the pain in their permanently crippled legs. Wherever he looked, though there were more hurt and dead horses. They’d been brought into this war by the humans, had had no choice over their fates or understanding of events.

There was no time to think of horses now, the angel reminded himself. Over there lay a young French recruit who’d been ridden over in a cavalry charge. He was in a lot of pain, but could still be saved. By a small miracle Aziraphale guided the steps of one of the many British officers searching the battlefield for wounded and killed friends in that direction. He was a kind-hearted fellow and would arrange for someone to carry the boy to the nearest field hospital.

Poor boy. Prince Blücher had been ridden over as well at Ligny when Aziraphale’s concentration had faltered for a moment, but he’d managed to collect himself quickly enough to assure that the poor old man only suffered some painful bruises and was well enough to get back into the saddle for Waterloo.

The plunderers were more difficult than those searching for missing friends. Aziraphale stopped to give the conscience of a greedy camp follower a sharp tug to prevent her from leaving the wounded man she’d just robbed behind. She’d taken his wedding ring and money. The least she could do in return was to point him out to the group of soldiers digging a mass grave nearby.

Another miracle healed the worst wound of an unconscious man a few metres away and gave him enough strength to wake up and groan. That should suffice to draw the attention of the men who came to collect the robbed soldier to him.

He’d had no way to save everybody, Aziraphale reminded himself, and he was doing all he could to help as many wounded as possible now, but he couldn’t always drown out the little voice inside his head that told him that none of it would have happened, if it hadn’t been for his wile.

“It was for Crowley’s sake,” he told the little voice. “I had to do it for Crowley.”

There was something small and white on the ground nearby. Aziraphale stepped over the legs of another dead horse to get a better look and found the torn up body of a calico kitten that must have somehow, for no other reason than bad luck, wandered into the artillery barrage.

A sob escaped him. Horses, people, kittens! Could Crowley, who’d gone to sleep to escape the memories of too many wars and battlefields ever have wanted such carnage? His friend might be a demon, but Aziraphale still knew that he cared about people and house plants and so many little things. No, Crowley would not have wanted this. Even if Aziraphale had done it for him, the mistake was still all his own.

Only two days after Napoleon’s surrender, Aziraphale arrived back in London. He went straight to his bookshop but couldn’t settle down to read. It was too empty and silent and the screams of the wounded were still echoing in his ears. For an hour or two he tried in vain to lose himself in a book, then he gave up, stuffed as many books as would fit into the largest bag he had and went over to Mayfair where Crowley had a large, elegantly furnished flat.

He had to miracle the door into opening, which he normally wouldn’t have done, but right now he needed to see Crowley more than he needed to be polite and the miracle itself was small enough that it wasn’t likely to draw attention.

The flat was silent except for a soft regular hissing that emanated from the bedroom. Obviously Crowley was still asleep.

“Crowley, dear?” Aziraphale asked gently when he entered the room.

Crowley lay on the bed, looking perfectly relaxed and peaceful, and didn’t stir.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale called slightly more urgently and shook his shoulder a little.

There still wasn’t any reaction and the angel didn’t have the heart to do more. He hadn’t really expected the demon to wake up anyway. For a moment he just stood there, looking at the peaceful face and wondered whether he, too, could sleep off all the horrors of his waking life if he tried. The bed was certainly big enough for two and it looked so soft and comfortable.

But no, he’d never slept before and he wasn’t going to start now. Angels didn’t need sleep. That was why he’d brought his books. He set his bag down beside the bed and pulled out the first book that fell into his hand. Very carefully so he wouldn’t disturb the demon, he lay down beside his friend and began to read.

Let the world take care of itself for a while. If there wasn’t an angel out there doing good any more than a demon doing bad, then surely good and evil would be as balanced as they ever were.

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