It was a very, very bad habit. A dangerous habit even. But Crowley had taken to driving past the bookshop every now and then. He always had a good excuse, there was always something to do on the Home Front, as the propaganda said. Recently, he’d suggested that all signs be removed from train stations so German paratroopers wouldn’t be able to identify where they landed. The chaos that was causing had been rather entertaining thus far.
But there was a line he wasn’t going to cross, not again. No more wars. Not after last time. Even if his memos said otherwise. Apparently, the other side were taking credit for this one. Yeah, right. But this was only what Crowley had heard, he hadn’t spoken to Aziraphale to confirm it, or to talk about anything else, for nearly 80 years (not that he was counting). But driving past the shop was fine, it was a free street after all, people drove down it all the time. And if Crowley happened to need to stop out the front for a moment then he simply had to, and if he happened to stop at just the place where he could see inside and watch Aziraphale read then that was nothing more than a charming coincidence.
It was what got him through the worst days. This war had brought about a breed of human so disgusting, even Hell had been a little surprised. On one hand, it was a free Legion of the Damned, but it hadn’t been that easy to get hateful human souls since before Upstairs had changed the game with Oily Josh. These humans, of course, were Nazis.
Nazis had a specific feel to them, like their souls were already slipping down to Hell while they were still alive. He’d have liked to ask Aziraphale if he could feel it too, but, obviously, the chance had eluded him.
It was one such night where Crowley had managed to wander aimlessly through London only to end up at Aziraphale’s doorstep, but this time his angel wasn’t there. The lights were off, no smell of cocoa wafting through the doorway. Crowley didn’t worry until he saw Aziraphale’s desk.
Aziraphale’s love of books of prophecy had always made Crowley laugh, after all, they influenced so much of the future, what need was there to know it when you could control it? But Aziraphale had always said they were worth keeping. Crowley had been forced to read letter after letter of Aziraphale complaining that he’d been elsewhere in England in 1655, all over some supposedly true prophecy book. He wondered if Aziraphale had ever tracked it down. Crowley tried to deny the sensation of his heart sinking when he saw that Aziraphale’s books of prophecy had been removed from pride of place over the desk.
He was not, he told himself, going to check on Aziraphale. He had better things to do than stretch his unholy essence all over London just because Aziraphale had decided he fancied some late-night snack and decided to take his blessed books with him. But he didn’t move.
Unbidden, his senses picked up something, the smell of hatred and sulphur that marked Nazis. What were Nazis doing in Aziraphale’s bookshop? That made absolutely no sense. He was unable to deny his fear anymore, he pushed his senses out in a rush, like a dam breaking. He could feel Aziraphale, the smell of brioche wafting some way away. He put his car into gear and raced across London.
Of fucking course it had to be a church. Hell forbid Aziraphale conduct his business in a bar or something. Still, Aziraphale seemed comfortable enough. Until the woman showed up. She might have been speaking with an English accent, but Crowley knew a Nazi when he saw one. He was going to have to think of something. Fast.
Crowley waited by the doorway, knowing full well he was about to walk across consecrated ground for that idiot. He tried to steel his nerves in preparation. But at the point of betrayal Aziraphale made such an adorable face that Crowley took a step toward the church unwittingly. And then the bastards had the nerve to call Aziraphale gullible! They were right, but only Crowley was allowed to say such things.
“You can’t kill me!” Crowley heard Aziraphale say, “There’ll be paperwork!”
He had to do it. His stupid, pathetic, feelings for Aziraphale had been a part of him almost as long as time had existed, and if they told him to jump, he said, how high?
“Ow!” he said. The floor burned. He hoped he was going to be able to heal it. Probably not, holy injuries were often immune to demonic healing. He tried not to gasp and failed catastrophically.
“Sorry,” he said, wishing his voice sounded more normal, “consecrated ground. Oh!” He’d kept one foot on the ground for too long. “It’s like being at the beach in bare feet.” If the beach had an oddly specific vendetta against him.
“What are you doing here?” Aziraphale demanded.
“Stopping you from getting into trouble,” Crowley said.
“I should have known.” Aziraphale made the face that always meant he was about to make a very wrong assumption. “Of course. These people are working for you.”
Crowley might possibly have been offended at that, if one was labouring under the delusion that he had feelings. It showed in his voice. “No, they’re a bunch of half-witted Nazi spies running around London, blackmailing and murdering people.” Crowley said, surely Aziraphale knew he had more finesse than that? “I just didn’t want to see you embarrassed.” Not moving while trying to make a point was proving to be very difficult.
“Mr Anthony J Crowley, your fame proceeds you,” said one of the Nazis.
“Anthony?” Aziraphale said, which in Crowley’s opinion was far more important than whatever the Nazi was saying.
“You don’t like it?” Crowley asked, his mind reeling from this being their first conversation in decades. They slipped back into old patterns so easily.
“No-no, I didn’t say that. I’ll get used to it.”
Crowley had to focus on the pain in his feet for a second to avoid allowing the face-splitting smile that was threatening appear on his face.
“The famous Mr Crowley. That’s such a pity you must both die,” said traitor-Nazi.
“What does the J stand for?” Aziraphale asked.
Crowley forgot how to use words for a moment before replying, “S’just a J really.” Of course, one could infer, just based on this situation that the J stood for ‘acts of service’, a love language (a concept that would be introduced in 1992). But that would only be speculation, of course*.
“Look at that!” Crowley said, looking over to the side, “A whole fontful of Holy water. It doesn’t even have guards.”
“Enough babbling, kill them both,” said one of the Nazis, bringing Crowley back to Earth. He did not want to spark off another 80 years without Aziraphale, whether it be due to a fight or because Aziraphale was stuck in Heaven filling out form after form after form.
“In about a minute,” Crowley said, slipping into false confidence with ease, “a German bomber will release a bomb that will land here.” He gestured to the ground. “If you all run away very, very fast, you might not die. You won’t enjoy dying, definitely won’t enjoy what comes after.” Crowley made a mental note to check on their souls next time he was in Hell to make sure of that.
“You expect us to believe that? The bombs tonight will fall on the East End” said one of the Nazis, to which the true answer was no, Crowley really hoped they didn’t believe him, even if it did mean he’d have to try and explain what was happening to Aziraphale.
“Yes. Crowley agreed, watching Aziraphale very closely before remembering that he was wearing sunglasses and would have to turn his entire face to make sure Aziraphale knew he was speaking to him. “It would take a last-minute demonic intervention to throw them off course, yes.” Crowley turned back to the Nazis, baiting them, “You’re all wasting your valuable running away time.” He turned back to Aziraphale, “And if, er, in 30 seconds a bomb does land here, it would take a real miracle for my friend and I to survive it.”
“A. A real miracle,” Aziraphale repeated back, oh thank Satan. Crowley really didn’t fancy explaining how he’d managed to get discorporated in a church to Beelzebub.
“Kill them,” said the other Nazi, “they are very irritating.” Crowley grinned, he was just getting started.
Crowley pointed his fingers at the sky, certain that even humans would be able to hear the bomb falling now. He could feel Aziraphale pulling the power needed to protect them both when he realised something. Aziraphale didn’t have his books. Aziraphale loved his books. Crowley hoped it wasn’t too late and shot a burst of his own power at the briefcase on the table, being the only carrying implement in the church that wasn’t a holster. The books were easy enough to locate.
Crowley kept his eyes open as the bomb hit, too much of the smell of rubble and he’d think he’d accidentally transported himself to Hell.
“That was very kind of you,” Aziraphale said.
“Sshut up!” Crowley said, not hiding his smile entirely.
“Well,” Aziraphale said, “it was. No paperwork for a start.” His expression suddenly changed, “Oh, the books! Oh, I forgot all the books! Oh they’ll all be blown to-“
Deciding he had let his angel suffer enough, Crowley grabbed the satchel from the dead Nazi’s hand with a grunt. “Little demonic miracle of my own,” he said. “Lift home?”
* * *
Oh no. Aziraphale stood stunned while Crowley walked away, indicating for him to follow. He shouldn’t follow, even if he was grateful that he hadn’t just been discorporated, even if he did feel like he might have discorporated then. Crowley shouldn’t have been able to turn 79 solid years of denying their friendship into this. But he had.
Oh no. He should go. He should definitely go. Far away from here. He should race back to Heaven as quickly as he could and refuse to return to Earth for anything short of the Apocalypse. But he didn’t.
He didn’t have too far to go to catch up to Crowley. He stood beside a black car that was almost invisible in the dark. It was sleek, angular, and utterly Crowley. Crowley opened the passenger door for him as if it were to most natural thing in the world. As if they weren’t enemies, held in opposition to each other by the hands of fate for all eternity. Aziraphale clutched the bag close to his chest as if it might spare him from the feeling of hopelessness that was bouncing around his mind, knocking all other thoughts out of frame.
Whatever he might want. Whatever he might feel. He couldn’t have it. He’d built these walls around himself for a reason.
But Aziraphale had never been one to deny himself life’s pleasures (a fact that every restaurant still open in London could attest to), so even knowing what a terrible idea it was, he sank into the leather upholstery of Crowley’s motorcar and let himself be driven home to the bookshop.
For the entire drive, Aziraphale could feel Crowley trying to think of something to say to fill the silence between them. Aziraphale almost hoped he wouldn’t say anything, because then he’d have to find some way to reply, some justification for the last 79 years.
Crowley did start to say something, though it was really just sounds that weren’t words in any language.
“My dear,” Aziraphale said, “I-“
“You don’t have to apologise, angel,” Crowley said, accurately predicting what Aziraphale was going to say.
“Well I am. Apologising, I mean,” Aziraphale said. He could say more - he shouldn’t – but he could. “Come by the shop tomorrow? I have a bottle of Château Lafite-Rothschild, and I do owe you.”
Aziraphale tried not to smile too broadly at the shocked smile that was slowly spreading over Crowley’s face in between splutters. It was one of Aziraphale’s favourite expressions.
“Er, y-yeah, of course,” Crowley said.
* I translated the phrase ‘acts of service’ into every single language on google translate, and not a single one of them started with a J, but I decided to ignore that because I liked the concept so much. Never let facts get in the way of a good story, kids.
Chapter 2: 1945
Wow I just realised how short this chapter is. I promise the rest of them are longer
8th of May 1945
The streets of London filled with crowds and cheers. Even complete strangers were welcomed like family members from the sheer joy of it all. The war was over. Well, mostly. But no one could begrudge these people their celebrations, they had had precious few reasons to do so in the last six years.
This was not a time for people to be indoors, they ought to be out in the streets, celebrating with their neighbours. And for most people, that was what they were doing. But one small bookshop in Soho contained two beings who were celebrating in their own way.
They were on their fifth bottle of Pommery d’Apanage, a fine champagne.
“Did you hear, some Australian fellow has found a way to turn mould into a cure for diseases?” Aziraphale said.
“Mould?” Crowley said.
“Yes, apparently it can stop bacteria in its tracks.”
“Which one’s bacteria again?”
“One of them, I’m sure.” Aziraphale knew he could find out, there were almost certainly several books on the subject in that very room, but that would involve moving from his very comfortable chair and interrupting a very agreeable conversation.
The bookshop had not changed much since that fateful night in 1941, at least, not physically. The real difference was in the small details, ones so small they almost weren’t worth noticing: The shop seemed to collect books more frequently, often brought in by Crowley after Aziraphale had just mentioned that he was looking for them; the opening hours became slightly more predictable (if there was a black Bentley parked outside, it was closed); and a door in the back, which had originally lead to small wine storage cupboard, was now the entrance to a full blown cellar.
More significant than the changes to the bookshop were the changes to Aziraphale. Aziraphale had always been a bit on the mercurial side, driving himself between distress and delightful distraction, but lately this had gone to extremes, he would find himself happy and enjoying conversation, much as he was at that moment, and then immediately consumed with panic at the thought of what might happen if either of them were caught. It could never be spoken, but that fear, and the source of that fear, were ever-present in Aziraphale’s mind, refusing to be buried.
But he couldn’t deny the thrill he felt every time Crowley was the reason the bell over the door rang. Every gift, every action wriggled its way into Aziraphale’s heart, and as much as he tried to tell himself it was wrong, that an angel could never love a demon, that it could well be the end of both of them, there they stayed.
Crowley had draped himself over the chair opposite him in what could only be describe as a vague approximation of sitting and was saying something about how humans and mould and how clever it all was, but Aziraphale was distracted by everything else about him. The way he seemed to hang precariously off the chair while also somehow clinging to it. The way his hair seemed to defy the laws of physics by staying in place no matter how much he moved his head. And then there were his eyes, his sunglasses had come off somewhere around bottle number four and Aziraphale couldn’t look at them for too long because he was sure he’d never be able to look away if he did.
“Yes, my dear?” Aziraphale hoped Crowley hadn’t noticed too much.
“I said,” Crowley repeated, “d’you reckon that mould thing –“
“Yeah, that. Would work with cheese?”
“S’all mould isn’t it?”
“I think it has to be a specif- pacifi- the right type of mould.”
“Whatever,” Crowley waved a boneless hand, “d’you reckon this is the beginning of it all being over?”
“I certainly hope so. But it won’t be quick. Too many atrocities have happened too quickly, people will need time to catch up.”
Crowley looked off to the side. Wishing he didn’t know about the scientists in Tennessee working on what they called “The Manhattan Project”.
Chapter 3: 1955
It was a lot, he knew, to walk into your best (and only) friend’s shop to announce you were planning to buy place not even an entire mile away. He had excuses, of course: It just happened to pop up on the market, all the better to thwart you with, central location, oh Aziraphale I totally forgot you live here even though I’m here every day I can possibly justify.
He’d gotten rid of the house in Charring Cross as soon as he’d woken up in 1901, fully prepared never to set foot in London again. But he and Aziraphale were friends again. True, they never spoke of their fight, which had Crowley worried that one day he would bring it up and Aziraphale would kick him to the kerb.
There was just one tiny problem. Buying a house required a lot more paperwork now than it had last time he’d done it. Despite many elements of bureaucracy being demonic in origin (just ask Dagon), it was a fundamentally angelic invention. Heaven seemed to revolve around it, from what Crowley had gathered from Aziraphale even the records had records and the sheer volume of paperwork that was waiting for Aziraphale there was a large part of why he spent as much time as possible on Earth.
But whether he enjoyed it or not, Aziraphale was quite a bit better at paperwork than Crowley was. Even things like his tax forms, which Crowley had invented and therefore ought to be at least decent at, couldn’t hold a candle to Aziraphale’s meticulous forms (which he somehow always managed to hand in on time).
So armed with his arsenal of excuses and a lot of paperwork, Crowley drove to the bookshop, only 15 miles over the speed limit because of his trepidation.
“Crowley? I wasn’t expecting you until seven, is everything alright?”
“Er, yeah, I just was wondering if you,” how in the name of all that was Unholy was he supposed to ask this, last time he’d asked Aziraphale for a favour hadn’t gone particularly well, and although his was much less to ask, it still felt like too much too soon, “could help me with some of this,” he held up the stack of forms.
“Oh Goodness, what are you trying to do? Start an airline?” Aziraphale joked.
Crowley allowed the joke a huff of approval, “Nah,” he said, deliberately keeping his voice casual, as if he couldn’t care any less, “m’just buying a flat.”
Aziraphale blinked at him, “A flat?”
“Er, yeah,” he willed Aziraphale to say something more to no success, “just figured it was time, haven’t had a place for nearly 50 years an’ it’s better to have somewhere to put stuff.” Better than having to keep everything in the trunk of the Bentley anyway, some of his possessions were never going to see Hell if there was anything he could do about it.
Aziraphale took the paperwork and dipped his head over it like it was one of his manuscripts that needed a desperate clean and repair and not a pile of paperwork that had managed to annoy Crowley so much that it was quaking slightly in fear.
One would think that, to an immortal being, ten minutes would be nothing, but Crowley truly felt that the ten minutes Aziraphale spent looking over everything felt longer than several years. His anxiety grew with each passing second and he found himself absentmindedly straightening some of the doilies Aziraphale had placed on his table.
“Mayfair?” Aziraphale said, making Crowley sit up so quickly that several doilies were flown off the table like frisbees.
“Er,” Crowley said eloquently.
“It’ll be one of those new concrete monstrosities then?” Aziraphale said, not looking up from the paper.
“Yeah,” Crowley said, “huge concrete thing, s’got an elevator and everything.”
Aziraphale hummed and went back to the paperwork. Crowley bit back a sigh of relief. It looked like Aziraphale wasn’t going to comment on his choice of location.
* * *
A few months later
It had all started because of that dratted tartan skirt. Aziraphale had seen it in the window of one of the boutiques that had popped up as prêt-a-porter had replaced bespoke fashion in London. The skirt was unlike many of the garments he saw in Soho, the centre of beatnik culture with their jeans and stripy shirts, and it had simply looked so nice. He’d bought it, making some excuse or another to the shop keeper and taking it back to the bookshop where he could examine it further.
He did have to make a few changes before the skirt miraculously fit him and was in his tartan rather than Clan Buchanan. And then it sat in the back of his closet, taunting him. Yes, he knew that gender, sex, and gender presentation were not only utterly unrelated but also only a matter of preference for angels, but he had always just sort of stuck with being male-presenting (whatever that meant). It was certainly easier to do whatever he wanted if people thought he was a man, but he didn’t feel a particular attachment to the idea. This was the exact sort of thing he wanted to ask Crowley about – he’d only been making a mental note to do so for millennia – but he had absolutely no idea how to go about it.
He considered just trying and hoping for the best, but he had borne witness to a great many fashion disasters over the years and had no desire to add himself to that list. So he decided to wait until the opportunity presented itself, as if he hadn’t watched plenty of them pass him by in the past.
If the angels had some kind of celestial Olympics, and if, in that celestial Olympics, there was an event for lying to oneself, Aziraphale would have taken gold so many times in a row he’d have to add a new wall to the shop just to display his medals and trophies.
Fortunately, there were no celestial Olympics and therefore Aziraphale was not forced to come to terms with the fact that he kept so much of himself wrapped up in a locked box somewhere in the depths of his mind.
It did take a month and several bottles of Château Margaux before he said anything to Crowley though. Although, considering what other things he could have allowed himself to accidentally say to Crowley, this really was the best he could have hoped for.
“I was wondering if I might ask you something?”
Crowley swallowed and sat up slightly, straightening his sunglasses as he did so, “Er, sure, angel, anything.”
“Well, I was wondering if you might have any advice regarding changing one’s gender presentation.” Aziraphale looked rather pointedly at his fingernails as if that would somehow make this conversation easier.
“Oh, er, whaddya want to know?”
“Just one moment,” Aziraphale said, sobering up and going to his desk in search of pen and paper.
“No,” Crowley shook his head as he came back, “no no no. This isn’t something you can take notes on, there isn’t gonna be a test.”
“I like taking notes,” Aziraphale said, sitting down with his notebook and pen. Crowley rolled his eyes and sobered up with a shudder.
“Right. So.” Crowley stood up and began to pace, “I mean, you have a look you’re going for, right?”
“Yes, I bought a skirt. It’s tartan.” Aziraphale felt rather pleased with himself.
Crowley sighed, “’Course it is. So think about how you would want to look while you wear it. You don’t have to change much; short hair is popular these days. You did fine in Rome, what’re you so worried about?”
“Well I didn’t really have time to think in Rome, you were rushing me, so I just sort of copied you.” Aziraphale looked at his page as he spoke. He looked up to see Crowley run a hand through his hair.
“If you want, I could do it too. Forget it. Stupid idea, really.”
“No, that would be lovely,” Aziraphale said before Crowley could talk himself completely out of it.
“Right.” Crowley paused. “Tomorrow then?”
“Tomorrow?” So soon?
“Gives you less time to freak out.”
“I suppose you have a point.”
Despite not knowing a lot about presenting femininely personally, Aziraphale did know quite a bit about fashion. After all, he personally blamed Beau Brummel for ruining men’s fashion in the Regency Era. Three-piece suits were perfectly fine, but making them the only formalwear available to men was really too far. And Aziraphale believed that it was truly tragic that humanity still hadn’t gotten over plain suits.
He put the tartan skirt on with a button-down shirt that had the sense to change it’s collar to a pater-pan style to better match the ensemble. In the mirror, something still didn’t look quite right, so Aziraphale changed the shape of her vessel until it looked more correct. But still not quite finished. She miracled herself a petticoat to hold the skirt up and added some pockets to it for good measure.
The new look, as this silhouette was called, had been introduced by Christian Dior in 1948 as a sort of celebration that the war was over, and clothing could go back to being pretty again. It had taken off like the V-2 rockets the USA and USSR were so obsessed with. Despite, or perhaps because of, Coco Chanel expressing her dislike of them, after all, if it pissed of a Nazi sympathiser, it must have been good.
When Crowley arrived, Aziraphale was surprised to see her in a similar style. She had always assumed that when Crowley took on a feminine look, she would end up copying the beatniks dark and slender style, in fact Aziraphale had seen her do as much on a few occasions. But instead she was dressed in the more mainstream style, with a black sweater and dark red poodle skirt, which Aziraphale noted, had a snake appliquéd onto it where there was usually a poodle. Her hair was tied up in a black scarf and she had swapped her aviator sunglasses out for a cat-eye style. Black driving gloves completed the look.
Neither of them spoke as they took in the other. After all, no matter how many times they had seen one another, they both had the capacity to surprise.
It was Crowley who recovered her voice first. “You, er, look good. What were you so worried about?”
“Oh. Thank you.” Aziraphale tried not to smile too broadly, that simply wouldn’t do.
“So, shall we?” Crowley held the door open and gestured to the outside. Aziraphale swallowed the last of her butterflies, she was fine, if anybody tried to show her any less respect than she normally received then she could ensure that they had a particularly awful day. After all, she was an angel first and anything else second. Gender lived somewhere towards the bottom of that list.
“Where are we going?” Aziraphale asked, walking out the door, determined not to look back.
“Don’t you trust me?” Crowley said, slightly mockingly.
“You are a demon,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“You wound me,” Crowley said dryly, opening the passenger door for her, “I think I know you well enough to pick a place for lunch.” There was no arguing with that.
Crowley did, in fact, know exactly where to take Aziraphale. They pulled up outside Rules, one of the older places in London that served high tea. Aziraphale couldn’t hide her smile. She did love a good scone.
* * *
It was probably too soon to see Aziraphale again after lunch yesterday. But Crowley couldn’t help it. Yesterday had been perfectly normal by their standards, the only exception being the way they had looked, but spending time with Aziraphale was always addictive for Crowley.
Crowley had fallen asleep still in his heels and petticoat which had definitely been a mistake. Waking up that morning, he’d changed back into “male” clothes and was careful to arrive during shop hours so he could scare away any unhelpful customers.
The store was mostly empty when he arrived, save for two men standing over Aziraphale’s desk, matching grimaces on their identical faces. Oh shit.
You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of the Kray twins. They were the exact sort of people who could be easily found down a dark alleyway that screamed ‘stay away’ to any sensible person. They made all of their legitimate money as the owners of nightclubs, but most of their income came from other methods.
They must have taken one look at the sweet little bookshop and its kindly owner and decided it was as good as theirs.
“Be a real shame, wouldnnit? If something were to happen to your lovely shop?” Said one of them, that Crowley suspected was Reginald Kray because he didn’t have the scar over his eye.
“Ya never know now, do ya?” Said the one that must have been Ronald Kray.
“I can assure you,” Aziraphale said coolly, “that I rather do know.”
Ronald brandished a cigarette lighter at Aziraphale, “Accidents happen.”
Crowley sucked in a breath.
Aziraphale just looked at the cigarette lighter, unimpressed. Ronald tried to flick a flame into being, but it wouldn’t spark. Crowley smirked, clever angel.
Reginald wondered over to a shelf and deliberately knocked a few books off it. Now he’d done it. Crowley could taste Aziraphale’s anger in the air, like a thunderstorm approaching.
The walls of reality that held Aziraphale within his corporation bent and warped. He fixed the Kray twins with a glare that promised every bit of righteous fury they had ever heard of in Sunday school.
“You.” Aziraphale’s tone was sharp, “Are going to leave my shop right now and pray that I leave it all there. But I can assure you that my mercy is finite and if I hear so much of a whisper of either of you anywhere near here again . . . Well, I’m not convinced London would be particularly sad to see you go.” Aziraphale smiled.
Something about the way electricity crackled in the air as he spoke, or the way his words seemed to touch their hearts with genuine fear, made the Kray twins run all the way back to the East end as though they were being chased the whole way. They had finally learned the most important lesson a bookshop can teach: not to judge a book by it’s cover.
Crowley bit back a groan from his hiding place. It was hard enough being in love with Aziraphale, but when he did things like that. Crowley tried to banish the thoughts from his mind, but they pushed back harder than he ever could. He is an angel, he told himself sharply, enacting righteous fury, no part of that should be sexy. But it was, it really, really was.
“Oh, hello Crowley,” Aziraphale said, spotting him, “everything alright?”
Crowley forgot how to speak English, or any language for that matter, so the noise he made was really just the sound of various consonants running a race over his tongue.
“Tea?” Aziraphale offered. Crowley just nodded. He was going to need something a lot stronger than tea to deal with this.
Chapter 4: 1956
Aziraphale continues to say gay rights
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“How was America?” Aziraphale asked as the bell above the door rang. It was approaching three in the morning, and such an aptly named ‘unholy’ hour only one creature would enter Aziraphale’s shop.
“Well enough. Pissed of an entire board of television censors.” Crowley entered the bookshop with a great deal more confidence than any demon should feel upon entering an angel’s home.
“Oh? Do tell.” Aziraphale stood up from his desk, leaving behind his well-worn copy of The Importance of Being Ernest and collecting a bottle of Les Bressandes and some glasses which he set before Crowley, taking a seat opposite him.
“Wasn’t that difficult. They just all decided that Elvis’ dancing was too sexy for television. Wasn’t even really why they wanted me there. Just thought it’d be fun.” Crowley took a drink from his glass, not giving the wine the attention it deserved.
The faithful bookshop seemed to close around them. Cocooning them in a nest of dusty books and décor that had gone out of style some 100 years ago. A monument to time and humanity that only ever grew, refusing to leave what used to be behind. It’s most recent addition, a Bakelite rotary telephone, sat quite comfortable on the desk, coated in a healthy layer of dust that helped it blend into his surroundings.
Aziraphale loved his bookshop with relish. And that love showed in every corner, every crevice, and every shelf.
“Do I want to know why you were there?”
Aziraphale remained silent, Crowley would tell him soon enough.
“Aziraphale. It’s bad. Really bad.”
Aziraphale continued to silently stare at him expectantly.
“Ugh! You are such a nosebleed!*” Crowley groaned, downing yet another glass of wine. “Whaddya know about Project E?”
“It’s some kind of military project between the UK and US, isn’t it?” Aziraphale said, not really seeing what had Crowley so worked up.
“Yeah.” Crowley looked around, “Well, my lot have gotten involved and it looks like they’re going to be bringing nuclear weapons here,” he said quickly.
“Here?!” Aziraphale looked horrified.
“I tried to get them to back off, told them London’s my area and I don’t want to be dealing with their messes.” Crowley said, waving his arms around in a gesture that said, ‘what was I supposed to do?’
Aziraphale hummed sympathetically and topped up both their glasses.
“I don’t know what anybody is supposed to be doing,” Aziraphale sighed, “this ‘Cold War’, as they’re calling it has everybody breathing down my back, I can tell you.”
“Me too,” Crowley rolled his eyes, “and of course, the head of the project is my boss so if I say anything, I’m fucked.”
“I’m familiar with the feeling.” Aziraphale sighed again, “I asked Gabriel if anything could be done about Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act.”
“Never ask,” Crowley said, knowingly, “that’s how they get you.”
“I’m an angel, Crowley! I can’t just go around doing things without checking. What if I did something that accidentally went against the Divine Plan?”
“Then you tell them I did it, I take the credit, and everything goes on like normal.” That was how it tended to happen. Crowley looked at the expression on Aziraphale’s face. “That was the law that, er . . .”
“Yes, quite.” Aziraphale said. He’d had a great many dear friends over the years who were practitioners of ‘the love that dare not speak it’s name’ and every time someone tried to outlaw love, he could feel his blood boil. The politicians who had voted in favour of that Act (most of them) had had rather terrible luck recently, one of them falling in every puddle he walked past, and in London puddles were particularly numerous.
After all, She was love. She could never disapprove of it. At least, Aziraphale certainly hoped so, for his own sake.
*yes this is real 50s slang
Chapter 5: 1962
Y'know what, have 2 chapters today, I'm feeling nice. I say, as I post the chapter about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
To say that Crowley and Aziraphale were managing to move past their argument from 100 years ago would really have been giving them both much more credit than either of them deserved. True, they were able to speak to one another, and spend far more time around each other than they really ought to, but it was simply a topic they never breached. Crowley was far too happy to have Aziraphale back to risk mentioning it to him, even though he knew that his time could well be running out.
In fact, he’d have felt a lot safer if he’d had Holy water when the message from Hastur came over his wireless in May.
“Crowley.” Hastur somehow managed to leer over the radio.
“Yeah?” Crowley kept his tone bored.
“Furcas has requested your assistance in the USSR. They seem to think you’ll be able to help set off another world war.” Shit.
“Oh, er, yeah. No, of course.” Crowley wracked his brains for some way out, he didn’t find a door, but there was a conveniently placed second story window for him to jump out of. “Tell them I’ll be in America, working the other angle. I mean, I’m sure Furcas has the USSR under control, but you do need an opposing side to start a war, don’t you?”
“Would it not be best to meet with Furcas first? They say you haven’t seen each other since the Tower of Babel.”
“That’s what they think,” Crowley said, as smugly as he possibly could.
“If you’re certain you know what you’re doing . . .” Hastur said threateningly.
“Hastur, don’t be such a square.”
“If anything goes awry, you’ll be the first on our watchlist.” Hastur said.
“And if it all goes well, Furcas will get all the credit, yeah, yeah, I know the drill.”
And with that, the radio had returned to the tones of Adam Faith.
Why oh why do voices say to me
Sit and cry, that this was meant to be
Loves unkind and loves untrue
Oh why did love pick out you
For me, for me
Wa ha poor me
“Me too,” Crowley had said, shaking his head at the radio, “me too.”
In the six months that had past, Crowley had vacated his flat and stayed at the Hazlitt Hotel. Sure, he could have stayed at the Ritz or the Savoy, but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Yep, that was his excuse. It had nothing to do with the fact that Hazlitt’s was in Soho. Nothing at all.
He’d already been caught once; Beelzebub had called when they hadn’t found him in the US.
“Oh, that’s bad luck! I was just there! Yeah, no, I only popped back for a day to sort out something I had going before I left. Such a shame.” That had been far too close.
He paced around his hotel suite, feeling antsy. He needed to move, to do something. Ordinarily, in this mood, he’d clean his apartment and make businesspeople trip on the kerb outside. He picked up the phone on the table and dialled the number for Aziraphale’s shop.
“Good afternoon, A. Z. Fell and Co, purveyors of books?”
“It’s me. Wanna do dinner?” Crowley hadn’t realised it was already the afternoon.
“No, I’m afraid we don’t have that book,” Aziraphale replied in a tone that screamed forced calm.
“What do you mean book? It’s me -Oh. Someone’s there with you,” realisation dawned on Crowley.
“Quite right. Do feel free to pop by the shop some other time to see if there is anything else we may have to suit your needs.”
“So that’s a yes to dinner?” Crowley slowly deciphered the code.
“Indeed. Have a lovely day.” Aziraphale hung up the phone. Gabriel was still watching him expectantly.
“So sorry about that. Where were we again?” Aziraphale offered Gabriel a smile that was pointedly ignored.
“I was just here to let you know that we have decided not to send you to the Blockade in Cuba.” Gabriel was clearly trying to make an expression but spending so little time around humans meant that he really had no idea how to. Aziraphale could not discern what the expression was supposed to be.
“Oh?” He said, that seemed like a good, neutral response.
“It’s simply too important.” Well, that was rather rude, “The world can’t end yet, it goes against the Almighty’s plan. So it has been decided that I will go.” Gabriel shrugged, but the gesture was too brittle. Still, Aziraphale wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Of course, I wish you the best of luck.”
“Why would I need luck?” Gabriel asked, “I’m an angel.”
“It’s a human saying,” Aziraphale explained quickly.
“Right. I see.” Gabriel left. He wouldn’t be missed. Aziraphale was sure that Gabriel did mean well, he just tended to get lost along the way. He had been on Earth long enough to learn that this was rather how bosses tended to be.
But regardless of how that meeting had left a bad taste in Aziraphale’s mouth, he had dinner to look forward to. True, it was dinner with the enemy, the very charming, utterly lovely enemy.
He tried to switch tracks in his mind. Gabriel going to the US blockade around Cuba would certainly be interesting. Crowley had reported to Hell that the blockade had been his idea, he hoped Hell didn’t notice the sudden appearance of an angel on it. No! He was supposed to be trying not to think about Crowley.
In everything he’d read on the topic, every essay, every scrap of literature, no one had warned him of the way his feelings would seep into every part of his life. It seemed that everything had the innate ability to remind him of Crowley, he’d even caught himself thinking back to the Hanging Gardens as he’d walked past a florist that morning, picturing how much Crowley had enjoyed that project of his. He wasn’t even sure how long he’d been doing it, his mind seemed to link everything to Crowley before he’d even had one conscious thought. Trying to push them down was like trying to sink one of those newfangled beach balls, they simply popped right back up.
He was still rather wrapped up in these thoughts when Crowley himself walked into the room.
“Kettner’s?” Crowley asked, “I thought you might want to stay local tonight.”
“That would be lovely, my dear,” Aziraphale willed his corporation’s treacherous heart to quiet down.
They decided to walk, even Crowley, who would happily drive less than one mile, had to admit that by the time they’d walked to the concierge of his hotel and picked it up, they would have been able to have walked to the restaurant and sat down to order.
Dinner was perfect. It always was. The perfect table, miraculously free, where they could play at being human. It was what Aziraphale imagined dreams were like. It would certainly explain why people were so reluctant to be woken up.
The alarm clock this time was not a bell ringing or the sun streaming in through a window, but a terrified kitchen hand with a wireless.
“Khrushchev’s calling a strike!”
And with that, chaos ensued. People screamed at their tables, several tried to run out without paying the bill. Aziraphale could see Crowley’s eyes darting around behind his sunglasses, trying to make sense of everything.
“I think, perhaps, we ought to return to the shop,” he said, with forced calm. He was a being of love, a part of the peace that settled on the hearts of humanity, he could get them through this, or at least back to the shop where he could have a panic in his own home.
Crowley followed mutely. The streets outside were filled with people doing all sorts of things in their fear: Several couples played ‘back-seat bingo’ in cars parked on the street, other people were racing around, ignoring any semblance of road rules and propriety. If the world was ending, decorum would always be the first thing to go.
The inside of the bookshop was contrastingly still. Messy, yes, but everything was in the exact place it had been several hours earlier, when it hadn’t looked like humanity was about to throw itself into Nuclear Winter.
“We should have more to drink,” Crowley said, “life as we know it ending and all that.”
“I think perhaps you’re right.” Aziraphale meant to go to his cellar, but his body seemed to take longer to respond. Like it didn’t want to move away from Crowley. He pulled himself together and found an agreeable bottle of Glenlivet 18 which he poured for them both.
The bottle did not last long. Nor did the several that followed it. Aziraphale had always tried very hard not to think too much about nuclear weapons, but it was hard to think of anything else. He was relieved that he didn’t have a wireless or television feeding his thoughts with promises of a strike in the next 24 hours.
They heard from the people on the streets that one of the submarines in the blockade had send out depth charges that the USSR was taking as hostile. Gabriel. The next time Aziraphale saw him he was going to . . . well, he’d definitely do something. Maybe. Probably not, though.
Somewhere around bottle number four they had decided to hole up underneath Aziraphale’s table. They’d seen enough of the posters advising that people hide under tables when the bombs went off, and it was rather comfortable. Aziraphale had fought back a pang of guilt as he’d agreed, knowing that he was only doing it to be closer to Crowley. They sat, cross-legged, under opposite ends of the table, only an inch or so of space between their knees, but didn’t dare touch. Crowley’s glasses slid off his nose and Aziraphale couldn’t help but stare.
Aziraphale wanted, more than anything, to close the gap between them, to kiss Crowley within an inch of their metaphysical lives. But he couldn’t. If this was the end of humanity, then the next time they saw each other, they’d be on opposite sides of a war that would put all before it to shame. If they ever gave him another flaming sword, he’d have to kill Crowley with it. Best not to cross lines that were there for a reason.
They woke from a drunken stupor when the sun rose over their faces. They were still under the table. Deciding that neither of them really fancied dealing with a hangover, they forced the alcohol from their systems. Outside, the Bentley was parked by the entrance to the shop. Crowley had been expecting it, and so it had appeared. It had just begun to learn how to do that.
Crowley, his sunglasses re-applied, sauntered over to the car and flicked his key in the ignition.
“Angel!” He called, gesturing for Aziraphale to join him, “Listen to this.”
Aziraphale took his place in the passenger seat and listened to the radio.
“And just to re-state our top story, the USA and USSR have made a treaty for the nuclear disarmament of Cuba and North Italy.” The radio said, more clearly than AM radio ought to have been able to.
“My dear, that’s wonderful!” Aziraphale could feel himself beaming.
“Thought you’d think so,” Crowley grinned back, “Humanity did it again.”
“They did indeed.” Aziraphale couldn’t stop smiling.
They said their goodbyes and Crowley shifted the car into gear, turning the radio back on as he did so.
Wise men say,
Only fools rush in
But I can’t help
Falling in love with you
“Sshut up!” Crowley ordered the Bentley, which had the sense to tune to a different radio station.
Chapter 6: 1963
Idlewild Airport, New York City
Airports are perhaps the most liminal spaces on Earth. They exist as a resting place between countries, between time zones, and between languages. Only in an airport, will you find someone drinking at 9am in their pyjamas sitting beside a person eating breakfast in a three-piece suit.
Thus far, neither Heaven nor Hell had laid much claim to airports, though that was changing at that very moment, as the demon Crowley, began making notes on how best to make airports the most irritating places on Earth.
He walked through the airport as part on an entourage. They made for a striking team, all dressed in black. The shortest of them all seemed to be leading them, their shorter legs moving quickly to remain at the front of the group. They spoke to Crowley in a tone of reluctant respect.
“Getting it televizzed wazz . . . zzmart.” Beelzebub did not look back at their entourage as they spoke, the team were supposed to just know who was being spoken to. Hastur, Ligur, and Furcas glared at Crowley, who ignored them. If he accepted the compliment, they’d start digging into him, and if he pretended to be modest, they’d take credit for his idea. There was no winning. Furcas, especially, seemed rather bitter. They were determined to start another war, but had no idea how to go about it. And they’d hated Crowley from his first interjection on their presentation in Hell.
“Assassinating a political figure to spark a war, Furcas, wherever did you get that idea?” He’d said sarcastically.
“Fuck off,” Furcas had replied, because they couldn’t think of a better response.
That interaction had set the tone for all of Crowley and Furcas’ interactions thus far. Crowley had very little patience for the other demons’ lack of imagination, and Furcas, who was compensating by stealing Crowley’s old ideas, was getting on his last blessed nerve.
“Well, well,” Hastur leered.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Ligur finished. He’d always rather liked that saying, it reminded him if cats playing with mice that were holding onto life just enough to watch themselves suffer.
Crowley tried to duck behind Hastur and Ligur, but he was the tallest in the group by too much to effectively hide behind anything. It looked like the demons weren’t the only ones who had decided to see themselves to the airport.
“Huh, and here I was thinking someone had set a dumpster fire in the airport.” Gabriel’s voice rang clearly across the airport.
Crowley spotted Aziraphale trying to hide behind his boss, he was doing a better job than Crowley was.
The two angels and five demons faced off against each other. Crowley knew that the delegation from Hell was only there to send him back to London and Furcas back to the USSR (good riddance). He guessed Gabriel was doing the same thing. Gabriel was probably doing it under the guise of politeness instead of directly saying that he didn’t trust them to get home themselves, like Beelzebub had.
Crowley was pretty sure Hastur and Ligur were just going to board a random flight and ruin things their way.
“Have fun cleaning up our mezz?” Beelzebub smirked at Gabriel.
Crowley tried not to look at Aziraphale. He failed in less than a second, grateful for his glasses. Aziraphale, who didn’t have an easy way to cover his gaze, gave the entire group a cursory glance, lingering on Crowley for barely a moment longer than the others. He glanced up at the flight board and flicked his gaze back to Crowley. Crowley checked the flight board and nodded once, almost imperceptibly.
Right. They were going to have to give their bosses the slip. Well there was a very easy way to do that.
“Love to stay and chat but, well, found some trouble to cause,” Crowley whispered to Hastur.
He looked around for some people to annoy and found it in a businessman who was pushing people out of the way, in a rush for his gate. One demonic miracle later, the zipper on the man’s suitcase split, his clothing and paperwork spilled all over the terminal.
“Fuck!” The man exclaimed before snapping his fingers at an air hostess. “Pick this up.” He ordered.
The hostess was torn, Crowley influenced her, just a bit, to keep walking. This man’s bullshit wasn’t her problem. He did the same to the next few people the man tried to order around. The man decided to start screaming at people all the way across the terminal rather than pick up his own things.
“Here, let me.” Aziraphale leant over to pick up the man’s belongings, somehow fitting everything back into a bag in one gesture. He patted the man on the back and said something that made the man hang his head, ashamed of his outburst.
“What kept you?” Crowley asked Aziraphale as they hopped on the plane to London. Oh will you look at that, their first-class seats were right next to each other.
“I had to make sure Gabriel heard the kerfuffle you caused,” Aziraphale said.
“I said –“
“No I heard you, it was the kerfuffle that got me,” Crowley said.
“I have to say, I’m relieved to be going home. This has been a rather exhausting endeavour.”
“Yeah. Not talking was probably a good idea. Not worth the risk,” Crowley was, of course, only saying this because it was over. When Aziraphale had suggested that they not speak to each other for the entirety of their mission, he’d been miserable.
Aziraphale hummed in agreement. “Do you think we missed anything important in London?”
“Only a few episodes of my favourite television programme. I’m sure there’ll be a re-run once I get around to it.”
“What show is that?” Aziraphale asked, trying to keep the conversation in that comfortable, polite zone where he didn’t have to acknowledge that he was currently on an aeroplane with Crowley, his enemy, his very attractive enemy.
“You wouldn’t like it. It’s science fiction.”
“I might, I enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land. But I don’t have a television.”
“Well, if you really want to, the show’s called Doctor Who, and you could always see it on mine,” Crowley offered slowly.
“I think maybe, that’s not the best idea,” Aziraphale said regretfully.
Chapter 7: 1967
Short chapter because you already know what happened in 1967.
“I’ll give you a lift. Anywhere you want to go.”
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
Aziraphale had said it. The unsayable. They weren’t supposed to acknowledge it. It wasn’t supposed to be there. And he was gone, leaving Crowley alone in the Bentley, his words still echoing around the space.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
This wasn’t how that was supposed to happen. If they ever spoke of it at all, it was supposed to be good. They were supposed to find a way that they could . . . that it could . . .
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
It had been nearly 6000 years; he wasn’t sure he could go any slower.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
He had to be the most pathetic creature in existence. Always chasing after Aziraphale, stealing every moment with him that he could. In love no matter how many times he was pushed away. Hadn’t Aziraphale been the one to influence politicians that very year to legalise certain forbidden relationships? Aziraphale was always on the side of love. Except this time.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
He was in an out of control trolley, with no breaks (He had met Phillipa Foot and her colleagues, the philosophers who had introduced the trolley problem, earlier that year). It was too late to stop. Nearly 6000 years too late.
“You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
He’d take what he could get. Even if it meant having to shove all his feelings in a lead box and dropping them to the bottom of the ocean. He’d take anything if it meant getting to have even a tiny sprinkle of Aziraphale in his life. And he could do it now, he could be the one who broke what Hell gave him, he had insurance, after all.
Chapter 8: 1975
“What’s a computer?” Crowley wasn’t going to dignify that with a response. It wasn’t his fault that Hell wouldn’t know modernity if it kicked them in the bollocks. He just left. Presentations in Hell were always awful, once you got used to the projector failing and the ceiling leaking on your hear, you still had to deal with the lifeless bullshit Hell considered an excuse for an audience. Crowley wasn’t still bitter that none of them had given him a ‘Wahoo’. Not at all.
Reaching the top of the escalator, he caught a glimpse of a beige coat leaving the building. Aziraphale! Now, the most sensible course of action would have been not to react, to hop in the Bentley and drive like he was heading to the bookshop, and maybe pick Aziraphale up along the way. That was not what Crowley did.
Crowley sauntered with purpose, looking like the over-enthusiastic extra in a bad disco music video. Because, of course, he couldn’t run, but he also had to catch up to Aziraphale.
“Angel!” He said, definitely not slightly out of breath from walk-running like an idiot.
“Crowley!” Crowley caught the corners of Aziraphale’s mouth moving back to a more neutral position from higher up his face. His dimples were still visible for half a second. Not that Crowley was noticing that sort of thing. And he wasn’t. He was talking to Aziraphale in a completely friendly-enemy sort of way. No subtext whatsoever.
“Wanna lift home?” He offered, in what he probably thought was a very smooth manner.
“Crowley, we are right outside,” Aziraphale whispered.
Crowley wracked his brain, finally putting his imagination to use. He reached out with his being for the Bentley, it was so much a part of him that it wasn’t difficult. He grinned and spoke very loudly.
“My what an excellent opportunity for doing evil!” he said, throwing in a cackle for good measure. “Just around this corner, in this secluded alley that isn’t visible from there.” He was laying it on a bit thick, but nothing like giving a presentation to remind him that Hell needed things to be laid on a bit thick for them. “Ha! I have you in my nefariousss clutchesss!”
“Were the theatrics really necessary?” Aziraphale sighed.
“You tell me.”
Aziraphale hummed as if to say, ‘you have a point but I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of admitting it.’ Or at least, that was how Crowley chose to interpret it.
“So,” Crowley said, opening the passenger door of the Bentley, “how was work? Been busy lately?”
Aziraphale seemed to have been thrown for a second by the normalcy of the question, but he answered quickly enough.
“Oh yes, I’ve been flat out for the last little while, I’m afraid.” He did a happy little wiggle as he added the modern slang into his conversation. Crowley’s heart did not lurch at that. Not at all.
“So I’ve seen, Sex Discrimination Act, Equal Pay Act, it’s been a busy year,” Crowley might possible have been keeping tabs.
“Oh yes, I have to say, presenting as a woman can be rather awful sometimes, and trying to fix it means I have to do it even more,” Aziraphale sighed again.
Crowley had a very vivid memory of being catcalled while walking back to the bookshop with Aziraphale on their way back from lunch in 1968. Aziraphale had gotten rather upset, probably because he could feel the absence of any kindness or love in the man’s words. He had, however, looked ravishing in the miniskirt, if he did say so himself.
“And, of course, I met the loveliest people in San Francisco in six years ago, we’re still in touch. Well, the one’s that the police didn’t get.” Aziraphale winced, making the same exact expression he made when he thought of Oscar Wilde.
“Yes, that movement is gathering quite a bit of steam,” Crowley agreed. Deliberately not thinking about the fact that Aziraphale was fighting for the freedom of love against an oppressive system. He didn’t need to get his hopes up only for them to be crushed. His hopes, however, didn’t get the memo and proceeded to pole vault over the walls he constructed around them.
In the silence that spread between them, Freddie Mercuries voice came over the radio: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy . . . “
“How about you? Spreading much foment?” Aziraphale pursed his lips, but there was a hint of a smile in his voice. The bastard.
“Oh yeah, made the M25 into an evil sigil and everything.” Crowley went on to explain his meeting and it’s distinct lack of a ‘Wahoo’.
“Sounds like my presentation as well. Gabriel doesn’t seem to care how well I do . . .” he trailed off and got distracted, “I say, this song goes on for a bit, doesn’t it?”
“Longest song every broadcast on radio,” Crowley said. Ligur might have been the demon that started influencing the music industry, but Crowley was the one that understood it.
“Well thank you for the lift, dear boy. Worst of luck on your endeavours,” he added with a mischievous gleam in his eye.
“Yeah,” Crowley huffed a laugh. “You too.”
“Oh! I almost forgot! Wait right there.” Aziraphale ran into his shop and came out with an article from some kind of journal.
“What’s this?” Crowley asked as Aziraphale placed the paper on his lap.
“Some clever humans have apparently found out that talking to plants helps them grow!” Aziraphale beamed, slightly breathless, “Apparently they’ve suspected it since the 1840s, it’s all in there. I came across it and thought of your work. In Babylon, I mean.” Aziraphale looked away. “Mind how you go,” he said, closing the car door and returning to his shop.
Crowley took several minutes before speeding off again. His heart was racing, just because Aziraphale had seen something and thought of him.
“Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters to me . . .”
Nothing was supposed matter to him. That was the whole point of being a demon, nothing was supposed to matter except chaos and evil. But maybe, a hopeful voice whispered in his mind, it was OK that this did.
“Any way the wind blows”
Chapter 9: 1986
The 80s were a sad time, I will be mentioning Chernobyl, AIDS and Mad Cow Disease, please take care and remember that Aziraphale loves and supports the Queer Community
“Fucking Furcas!” Crowley groaned, taking comfort in the fact that Furcas had managed to discorporate himself in the messiest way possible. Nuclear meltdown was neither a pleasant way to die nor an original way to cause chaos. In fact, it was really stupid, because killing a whole lot of people did exactly nothing to secure souls for Hell. A genuine fucking accident is, in no way, an inherently evil act, and the only people. What made this all worse was that intention was what decided where people’s souls went when they died, which meant Furcas hadn’t done this for work, he’d done it for fun. Yeah, Crowley was going to enjoy making sure his paperwork ended up damp and illegible by the time he went to hand it in.
A large part of why Crowley was so annoyed was because until news of the Chernobyl disaster had reached him, he’d been having a rather lovely night. He’d convinced Aziraphale to take a break with tickets to a new musical, Les Misérables, and dinner afterwards, of course.
Aziraphale had been very hard to get a hold of recently. Pestilence was demanding one last hurrah before they retired for their protégée, Pollution to take over. And they had not been fucking around. HIV, which became AIDS as the illness progressed, attacked the specific groups of people that the governments of the world were the least inclined to help. It was painful, to watch humans who were clever enough to help each other decide not to. Crowley had reported it to Hell as a great many souls secured for them. Aziraphale, along with his activist friends in San Francisco and London, had been doing what he could to help. But of course, England had decided that Mad Cow Disease was a more pressing issue. It wasn’t. It just happened to effect “more acceptable” people.
Not that Crowley could judge, he kept being called over to Los Angeles (an ironic enough name) by Ligur, who was influencing the music industry.
Crowley drove over to the bookshop to find Aziraphale packing.
“Heading over to San Francisco?” Crowley asked as if he couldn’t care less.
“Yes, the lovely ladies at STAR, are going to petition the CDC and WHO to increase research funding. I promised to bring food. They can’t save the world on an empty stomach, after all.” Aziraphale sounded tired. Really tired.
Crowley wanted to beg Aziraphale to stay, to selfishly insist that he wouldn’t make a difference. But he knew it would, even if it was just the comfort Aziraphale could bring his friends, the ones that were left, anyway.
“I’ll give you a lift to the airport,” Crowley said, wishing he could bring back the previous night, rather than being forced to live his own personal version of ‘On My Own’.
Crowley lifted Aziraphale’s bag into the boot of the Bentley and turned the key in the ignition. The cassette in the player began to move. Crowley could not remember ever having bought the cassette in the player, it had just sort of appeared one day.
“Ooh you make me live, Whatever this world can give to me . . .”
“Sshut up!” Crowley ordered, and the Bentley, having a sensible amount of self-preservation instincts, changed the track.
“This thing, called love, I just . . .”
Crowley turned the cassette player off and gave the Bentley a glare that would have had his plants shaking in their pots. The Bentley, had it been capable of glaring back, would have done so, it was not as easily cowed as a pot plant.
“So,” Crowley began, carefully, “any progress so far?”
“Not yet,” Aziraphale sighed, “Should you see Pestilence, -“
“I know, I know, punch them for you.”
“I was going to suggest throwing them into a volcano, but I suppose a punch would do,” Aziraphale replied primly.
Crowley exhaled loudly, laughing outright wasn’t right in such a serious conversation.
“What’d you think of the show?” Crowley changed tracks.
“Oh, it was quite good, wasn’t it?” Aziraphale seemed to accept the change on topic, launching into a monologue about what he’d thought of each of the characters and how it had differentiated from the book (which Crowley had no intention of ever reading).
“And I did appreciate that they didn’t spend quite so much time discussing the sewerage systems of Paris, that took up an awful lot of the book,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley braved a glance at Aziraphale, knowing his eyes were hidden behind his glasses. Aziraphale was running himself ragged trying to help people, and as far as Heaven were concerned, he was just going around doing a few blessings, spreading peace and love and whatnot. He really hoped Heaven weren’t noticing what was really happening. About as much as he hoped Hell didn’t know about the way his heart lurched when he thought about how much work Aziraphale was doing to make sure humans were never forbidden to love each other.
Crowley didn’t like the way London felt when Aziraphale was gone, it was like those overly fancy clocks that didn’t have the numbers written on them. Sure, you could still tell the time, but it took you a minute to remember where everything was supposed to be. He knew he’d be stopping by the bookshop while Aziraphale was away, the door never seemed to be locked to him. But he’d need a project to keep himself from going completely insane. Weren’t they trying to build a tunnel under the Channel? That could be fun to mess with.
Chapter 10: 1996
Why 1996? Because I was born in 1996 and therefore it was an important year.
“The cause of the Eurostar breakdowns remains a mystery, with a spokesperson saying they are working quickly to remedy the problem. More to follow as events unfold. Up next, Princess Diana’s divorce proceedings . . .”
Crowley turned the television off and went to berate his plants. They’d been doing rather well, not a spot on them despite the early Spring rain that had filled all of London with a cold dampness that was eerily reminiscent of Hell. No, his plants didn’t dare flounder, even under these less-than-optimal conditions.
Crowley rather liked his flat, it was a place where he could keep all of the things he’d be given from humans. He was not going to make the mistake he’d made with Ingrid’s glasses again. Most of it was art, presents from Leonardo and the odd souvenir. There was one statue he really shouldn’t have kept, not if Aziraphale was every going to see it (though he hadn’t been to the flat thus far and the statue was the reason Crowley was keeping it that way). It was modelled after Wrestlers by Florence Uffizi, but with the addition of angel wings. He really ought to have hit Salaì when he’d given it to him, the little shit. But he hadn’t. Instead it stayed on display for reasons even he couldn’t quite come to terms with.
He was beginning to wonder if this would be a good time to take a nap when his phone rang.
“Hi, this is Anthony Crowley, you know what to do. Do it with style.” It was weird hearing his own voice on the ansaphone, still, better than picking up and having no idea who was on the other line.
“Erm, hello. Fancy a spot of lunch?” Aziraphale. Aziraphale was so seldom the one to invite him out. Crowley picked up the phone.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll be right over,” he said.
“Excellent, I’ll see you soon then.” Crowley hang up the phone and hopped in the Bentley. Was it strictly necessary? No, but he made it to the bookshop in less than a minute.
“That was quick,” Aziraphale said as the bell over the shop door rang.
Crowley made a few noises that can only be described as ‘syllable soup’ before remembering how words worked. “Y-yeah, well, s’not that far really, is it?”
“I suppose not. There’s a new Italian place down the road I’ve been meaning to try. Shall we?” Aziraphale led the way out the door. He seemed distracted, even more so as he sat down at the table, it took him several moments to even open the menu.
“You alright?” Crowley asked.
“Oh yes, positively tip-top,” Aziraphale said. Crowley mouthed the words ‘tip-top’ and shook his head. There was no understanding Aziraphale sometimes.
Crowley knew that when Aziraphale wanted an answer out of him, then he’d simply wait in silence and Crowley would cave. He had hoped that knowing Aziraphale was doing it would mean he’d be able to prevent the caving part, but it didn’t work that way. Still, it never hurt to try and turn the tables.
“If you must know,” Aziraphale said, flustered (it had worked!), “there was a terrible school shooting in Scotland earlier today. There’s supposed to be a news broadcast about it tomorrow. I had to go there to bless the memories of the departed souls.”
“So, not exactly a pleasant day at work, then?”
“You could say that, yes.”
Well that settled it, Crowley was going to make sure Aziraphale had a nice lunch even if it meant he would have to fork out for the bill. He was very careful about these things, always making sure he left Aziraphale with it enough times that he still owed him one, and he was beginning to run dangerously low on meals owed to Aziraphale, still, just this once couldn’t hurt. He always had 1793 to fall back on if he had to, but he’d prefer to only use that one in emergencies.
Chapter 11: 2012
About a week after Crowley had delivered the antichrist and he and Aziraphale had made their new arrangement, all the signals at Heathrow airport had failed. Aziraphale knew exactly who was responsible for that, after all, he was sitting opposite him, but had decided it was a fair response to the end of the world. Four years on, and they were approaching the time their plan would have to begin properly, as opposed to checking on the Dowling residence every now and then, so they were both trying rather hard to fit a few last schemes in to ensure that Heaven and Hell didn’t accuse them of getting slack just because the world was ending. No days off, not even Armageddon, that was just how it worked.
Of course the world would have to end just as humans were really getting into the swing of things. True, the 21st century hadn’t started fantastically what with the whole flying planes into buildings thing, but the technology. Mobile phones that could actually fit in a pocket, which then became smart phones, which looked like they were becoming too big to fit in pockets again. Computers that looked like giant teeth, and then went flat and were made of plasma at one point? That was where it was at.
Crowley was really enjoying the 21st century, and not only because it meant they were over six hundred years from the end of the 14th century. In order to turn people to evil, you didn’t have to spend hours tempting them, you just had to annoy them until they got mad enough to do something evil. And with communication faster than ever before, it was so easy to send little ripples of evil out into the world. Crowley’s newest thing, was sharing a video called ‘Kony 2012’, which was about terrible things happening in Uganda, so if people didn’t say anything about it they were labelled as ignorant or cruel, but it also came up so often that no one had anything left to say on the matter, and they just got mad about it. There was nowhere to hide, everyone was doing news stories about it, or mentioning it at work, or writing about it.
He hadn’t even bothered giving Hell a presentation on it, he’d just sent them a memo with the amount of evil and rage he was spreading throughout the world. They wouldn’t have gotten it anyway. Hastur still didn’t know what a computer was. It had taken him several minutes to realise that the small TV Crowley held in his hand was also a telephone. Blessed idiot. How he managed to become Crowley’s boss was a bloody mystery.
He drove over to the bookshop. Crowley and Aziraphale had started meeting every Sunday (the day had been Aziraphale’s idea) to discuss their plans for raising the antichrist, which they would start doing the following year, once Warlock was really old enough to be moulded into something. Sunday had suddenly become Crowley’s favourite day of the week, and the relief of not having to come up with excuses to see Aziraphale felt like a weight of his shoulders, like one of those university students with a bag full of $300 textbooks finally dumping their bag on the ground at the end of the day.
Aziraphale must have been watching the door because he greeted Crowley before the bell had begun to ring.
“Good afternoon Crowley, make yourself comfortable, I just have to finish a spot of paperwork.”
The spot of paperwork was actually more like three columns of paperwork piled so high on Aziraphale’s desk that Crowley couldn’t see the base of his nose.
“For Hell’s sake, Aziraphale, what did you do?” Crowley could feel the Holy energy coming from the paperwork, so he didn’t try to pick it up and read it. Instead he stood next to Aziraphale and moved craned his neck to read the pages that had been filled out.
“Gabriel decided that I wasn’t busy enough, so he asked me to check these reports. They’re mostly his. I think,” Aziraphale paused, he was always rather reluctant to badmouth his boss, Crowley leaned in closer to Aziraphale, certain that whatever Aziraphale said next would be good and he didn’t want to miss a moment, “he’s trying to distract me, hoping I’ll give up on trying to influence the antichrist towards good if I’m too busy.”
“Ugh,” Crowley knew that feeling, he’d been given plenty of projects that he was certain was just Hastur trying to get him out of his hair, well, wig. “Fuck that, hand me a pen.” Crowley sat down and got to work. He knew Aziraphale would heal his hands after, but he still miracled some gloves to try and protect himself from the worst of it.
Several hours and an awful lot of paperwork later, it was too late for them to go to dinner. Crowley managed to order take away just before Aziraphale’s favourite Indian restaurant closed (they were about to, but they miraculously found that they had everything they needed for the order so it could be the last one for the day).
“ . . . and since they all think the world’s going to end this year, or they’ve at least heard of the idea, it’s been easier than ever to get them to do stupid things,” Crowley said.
“That might have something to do with that saying you invented, the ‘carpe diem’ one,” Aziraphale replied.
“Oh, YOLO? I’d forgotten about that one. Yeah, that probably helps.” Crowley took a sip of the Anjou rosé Aziraphale had procured for them.
“They were rather close, weren’t they?” Aziraphale said.
“The Mayans. They were only about seven years off the world ending. Six and a half really, when you consider that it’ll happen in Summer,” Aziraphale said.
“Yeah, they didn’t do too badly. They were pretty good at maths, weren’t they? The Mayans,” Crowley said.
“I believe they were. And at making chocolate. Wait no, that was the Aztecs.” Aziraphale helped himself to more naan.
“Well chocolate as we know it now was some Belgian woman, wasn’t it?” Crowley shrugged he was really just talking for the sake of talking to Aziraphale. After all, he wasn’t sure how many of these conversations he could have left. Or worse, he knew exactly how many were remaining.