The habits of 6,000 years are not broken in a day. Even very big changes often express themselves incrementally. You might call it a “slow burn” effect.
Aziraphale returned to his bookshop at last on Sunday evening, pleasantly full of champagne and buoyed by victory, albeit a victory he couldn’t quite comprehend yet. He had been eager to see the dear place again, and inspect the Richmal Cromptons Crowley mentioned. There were also a full back-issue collection of New Aquarian magazines, and a glass dish of sherbet lemons on the counter beside the till. It was a nice touch.
He had switched on the lamp above his desk, set the needle onto a recording disk of Schubert's Symphony No. 9, and begun to read, starting with “William Goes to the Pictures”.
By the time he finished “William the Lawless”, the sun was peeking through the windows and it was time to open the shop. Aziraphale drew the blinds and flipped the sign to open. It was a beautiful day outside, the sort of particularly golden late August morning that seemed all the brighter for its promise that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness was on its way, but not yet here. Inside the shop remained dim, a few dust motes dancing in the rare shaft of sunlight that managed to squeeze its way in through the books. It was the way Aziraphale had always liked the place, an antidote to Heaven’s blinding radiance.
A customer wandered in, and then another. The sound of them shuffling quietly amongst the shelves was the usual background noise of Aziraphale’s days, and ought to have been comforting. It was not.
Aziraphale had seen Hell for the first time. He looked anew at the familiar dusty, dingy walls and piles of clutter in his bookshop, the silent shambling customers, and some part of him shuddered faintly in recognition. For a wild moment, he thought of setting it all on fire again himself, and this time watching it burn. Perhaps it was demonic influence. Perhaps it was something left over from wearing Crowley’s skin. Perhaps he only needed a few days to calm himself, to recover.
That would be it, he told himself. Thanks to Adam, everything was back to normal. And that was all Aziraphale wanted, wasn’t it?
So he got on with it. He tidied books, rearranged shelves and swept floors. He found a nice spot to display the Richmal Cromptons.
And on the seventh day, he shut the shop, locked it, and went to see Crowley.
The raw concrete corridor to Crowley’s flat was empty, and dark, and Aziraphale pressed the snake-shaped buzzer again. A shadowy figure could just be made out standing beyond the frosted glass door to Crowley's flat. Aziraphale waved at it.
"Aziraphale?” It sounded like Crowley.
"Yes! I was in the area, I thought I’d drop in. Er."
There was a pause. “Definitely you?”
“Of course it’s me. Why wouldn’t it be me?”
The door opened just a crack, and Aziraphale could hear sniffing. A moment later it swung open, and there stood Crowley, in black shorts and a t-shirt, his hair sleep-rumpled, his sunglasses absent. It was a charming spectacle, in its way, even though he looked far from pleased.
“Oh, you were sleeping!” exclaimed Aziraphale, contrite.
“Awake now, aren’t I,” scoffed Crowley, and turned on his heel, stalking loose-limbed back into the flat. He left the door open in silent invitation, and Aziraphale followed as the demon disappeared into its mysterious depths. Aziraphale waited awkwardly in the first room, unsure exactly how welcome he was. Through the wide picture window, London glowed in the early morning light.
“Your plants look well,” he called.
“They’d better,” muttered Crowley, reappearing an instant later, now fully dressed with his sunglasses in place. There was an extremely small cup of coffee in his hand, and a mug of what looked like cocoa which he held out wordlessly.
Aziraphale took it gratefully. “How kind, thank you.”
The night of the Ineffable Incident, as Aziraphale now referred to it in his mind, he had visited Crowley’s home for the first time. They had sat around the frankly ridiculous marble desk, with Crowley in the gilded chair that looked like a throne, and Aziraphale perched on the smaller one dragged from the side of the room where it now stood against the wall again. This time he dared to sit in the larger chair, in hopes it would be more comfortable. It wasn’t.
Crowley simply stood, holding his coffee, and regarded him with confusion.
“Seems like just the other day we were here working out how to wear each other’s faces,” said Aziraphale. He sipped his cocoa.
“It was,” said Crowley, impatiently. “Angel, is something wrong? Only you’ve literally never dropped in on me in the entire 6,000 years I’ve known you.”
“That can’t be right,” protested Aziraphale, and thought about it. “Even if it is, there’s nothing wrong. We’re friends, aren’t we? You said we were best friends. And I...”
Crowley peered over the sunglasses at him, his eyebrows a question.
“I wondered. Since we find ourselves rather at a loose end.” Aziraphale fiddled with his mug, running a fingertip around the rim. It was time to be brave. “I thought you and I deserved a holiday.”
One peculiarity of Crowley’s corporeal body, even in human form, was how rarely he blinked. He did not blink now, and he was very still. “When a man is tired of London,” he drawled, and left the quote hanging.
“He is tired of life, oh yes, Dr. Johnson! Crowley, my dear, I had no idea you were familiar with his work.”
Crowley shook his head. “Dunno who that is. Saw it on the cover of Time Out last month. Angel, are you serious? A holiday? For… us?”
“Well, why not? It was just a sort of, a sort of whim, I suppose, to go somewhere quieter for a while. A bit of fresh air. Not too far from young Adam, I should like to be able to keep an eye on him. I fancied the South Downs, actually. There must be some village with a decent Bistro or two.” The more he spoke the idea aloud, the better it appealed to him.
Crowley put down his untouched coffee and reached into the back pocket of his trousers, although how it was possible to keep anything in so constrained a space was a mystery to Aziraphale. He took out a slim wireless telephone, nodding vigorously and tapping at it. “Yep, yep, South Downs, don’t see why not. How does one of these grab you?”
He passed the black slab across and showed Aziraphale how to “scroll”, and before his eyes appeared the details of a half dozen cottages in various quaintly-named villages.
“Ohh,” said Aziraphale in astonished delight. He stabbed a finger at the picture at the bottom of the screen, a higgledy-piggledy ramshackle brick building that seemed to have been constructed across at least 3 centuries. “How about that one?”