Children tended to quite like Aziraphale. None of them could ever really put their finger on why – he wasn’t particularly cool, or interesting, or funny. But despite all of that – and their own better judgement – children still flocked to him. They weren’t to know, of course, that it was the deep sense of safety he naturally radiated1. Safety was one of those things that all children desperately need, often without realising – like vegetables, and bedtimes.
So it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to Crowley when he’d answered the shop phone with a drawled A Z Fell and co, and if it’s books you’re after try somewhere else, and Adam replied with a bright,
“Oh! You’re the demon, aren’t you!”
“Ack,” said Crowley. He was quite impressed with himself. His brain had come to such an abrupt halt that he shouldn’t have been capable of making any noise at all. There was a pause as he rebooted, and then he very slowly and very cautiously leaned away from the receiver to call to the back room.
“Angel,” he said, a thin note of panic trembling in his voice. He waited a couple of seconds and tried again, more forcefully.
Aziraphale popped his head far enough around the door to frown at him.
“I heard you the first time dear, there’s really no need for such a racket,” he said disapprovingly.
“The antichrist is on the phone,” Crowley said all in a rush, waving the handset he still hadn’t put down. There was a bang as the light above them exploded with Aziraphale’s shock. Crowley fixed it with an absent gesture.
“What?” Aziraphale spluttered. He sagged against the door for a moment like it was the only thing still holding him upright, before staggering to Crowley’s side on legs that looked a little too wobbly for comfort. “Whatever for?”
“I don’t know! I didn’t ask!” Crowley hissed, and before Aziraphale had time to berate him for his manners2, he lifted the phone back to his ear. It sounded like Adam was stifling a laugh.
It was a perfectly normal-sounding laugh. Very human, very childlike, and only a little bit malicious in much the same way most pre-pubescent laughter is a little bit malicious. Shivers still raced down Crowley’s spine.
“Um. What, er. To what do we owe the, hm, pleasure?” Crowley asked stiffly. Adam managed to get his giggles under control.
“Jus’ wanted to check in, really,” he said. Aziraphale, by now, had pressed himself against Crowley’s side; nominally so that he could listen to both sides of the conversation, but also because Crowley looked worryingly close to fainting. There was a reason that humans had popularised the saying ‘knock me down with a feather’, and that reason was the two of them.
“Check in?” Aziraphale asked cautiously. He somehow managed to give the air of using quotation marks while still sounding remarkably serious, and without moving his hands.
“Mr. Angel! Hi!”
“Hello dear boy,” Aziraphale replied, quite on autopilot. Crowley shot him a look that was no doubt wide-eyed behind his glasses.
“Check in?” Crowley repeated faintly.
“Well I just wanted to make sure everything was OK with you,” Adam said. “You know, that no-one had come after you two, and your shop’s alright, and the car.”
“Yes, it’s all fine here.” Aziraphale exchanged a panicked glance with Crowley, who shrugged expressively. He was quite good at getting meaning across with expressive gestures. “And yourself? I trust there are no lingering, er, issues, as it were?”
“Oh no, no issues,” Adam said cheerfully. “I’m still grounded for being at the airbase, but Mum said I can go to Anathema’s house tomorrow for tea and to drop off her magazines. And I used the time to start writing my new book! It’s sort of an autobiography, and sort of a graphic novel, and Pepper says I should make it a satirical comment on modern morality, but I don’t think I know how to do that. Anathema said she wants to read it first when I’m done, but you can have it second if you want?”
Aziraphale opened and closed his mouth uselessly a couple of times. Adam waited patiently on the other end of the line.
“I’m sure that’ll be wonderful,” he croaked.
“Great!” Adam didn’t seem to have noticed the tone. “I have to go now, Dad says I have to do all the dishes as well as being stuck inside, and he’ll get mad if I leave them much longer. I’ll phone sometime next week? I’m going to need your help with some of the early stuff for the book. Buh-bye Mr. Angel! Mr. Demon!”
He hung up. Crowley stared at the receiver in his hand, and slowly replaced it on its cradle.
There was a lengthy pause.
There have been innumerable lengthy pauses throughout history. There were even several lengthy pauses before history, though it becomes somewhat difficult to determine the length of a pause when sound has yet to be invented and most communication is in the form of benevolent angelic intent. Since the beginning of time and space, however, lengthy pauses have been known to vary wildly in cause, purpose, participation, and – of course – length.
This was not the lengthiest by a long shot3.
It was, perhaps, the most charged. The most anti-climactic. The most communicative.
Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Who’s to say?
Eventually, Aziraphale made his unsteady way to the back room. Crowley stood up to follow, and had to take a moment as his heart kick-started again. He hadn’t even realised he’d stopped it at the first word out of Adam’s mouth. Once all of his blood was circulating as it should, he slunk after Aziraphale into the room that currently resembled a serviceable kitchenette.
“I’m putting the kettle on, dear,” Aziraphale announced, his voice far steadier than his hands.
“Make mine Irish,” Crowley said automatically. Aziraphale nodded, already distractedly rooting around in cupboards that spent half of their existence on another plane of reality entirely. They’d gotten used to it by now, and these days barely even squeaked their hinges in disapproval.
There was a somewhat less lengthy pause.
So that. Happened,” Crowley said finally, mug of coffee in one hand, his head in the other.
“Quite,” Aziraphale agreed, sitting heavily at the table. Crowley joined him, dragging a chair around to his side and making sure the legs screeched unpleasantly across the tiles the whole way. Old habits, and all that.
Just outside the range of human perception, a large, glossy wing spread wide – a very tempting offer, and one that Aziraphale gladly succumbed to. He tucked himself close against Crowley’s side, rubbing his palms anxiously together. Neither of them acknowledged this.
“One thing I don’t get,” Crowley said, taking a burning swig of his drink – it was both far too hot and exceedingly alcoholic, which was just how Crowley liked it. Aziraphale had progressed from rubbing his hands to curling them around his mug, and was instead tapping his heels.
“What’s that?” He asked.
“How did the boy even get the shop’s number? I know it isn’t on the internet anywhere, I made sure of it.”
Beside him, Aziraphale was silent. The tapping increased until his legs were almost vibrating. A tell-tale red flush had started to creep its way up his neck until he appeared to realise what was happening, and it sheepishly crept back down. Crowley, who was staring contemplatively into his mug, didn’t notice.
“It’s not even in the phone book, I remember you took care of that.”
“Yes, well, I suppose it’s possible that-”
“I mean, I suppose he knew enough to restore it in the first place – maybe he changed the number? No, no I’ve phoned you since then, it was definitely the same number.”
“Oh, no, surely he wouldn’t do something like-”
“Maybe that witch had it somewhere in her prophecy book? ‘And to contacte the Prinfipalitee, thou muft diale’, or something.”
“I gave him my card!” Aziraphale blurted. He hung his head wretchedly when Crowley turned incredulous eyes on him. His next words were mumbled to the table.
“I just wanted to make sure he had a way of contacting us in case everything went terribly wrong again! So while you were talking to dear Anathema and her young man, I gave him one of the shop’s cards and said ‘here you go, this is for emergencies only, but it’d probably be a good idea for you to have a way to get in touch in case Heaven and Hell decide they want to try anything.’ I never thought he’d actually use it!”
He eyed Crowley worriedly.
“You don’t think it was too terrible a mistake, do you?”
Crowley sighed, and though he would deny it on pain of discorporation, curled his wing a little tighter around Aziraphale’s metaphysical frame. Hundreds of eyes shut all at once, and then blinked open blearily.
“You’re an angel,” he said finally. Lightly. “I’m not sure it’s actually possible for you to do the wrong thing.”
Aziraphale offered him a hesitant, but nonetheless beatific, smile.
“Oh, thank you my dear,” he said. Crowley muttered something that might have been you’re welcome, and might have been drink your tea. Demons are, after all, terribly good at muttering.
1 – And even if they had known, they would have denied it. Most children liked to think of themselves as thrill-seekers
2 – Shockingly bad for a human, appallingly good for a demon
3 – Though that honour still went to Aziraphale and Crowley, not that either of them realised such. They didn’t like to think about that time overmuch