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Ineffable Tales

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London, 1941

"They're...they're just destroying London," said Aziraphale. "I know I'm supposed to love the whole world, and I do. But I love this city just a little bit more. And they're destroying it."

"Uh-huh," said Crowley. He agreed wholeheartedly, but he was a bit distracted just then. He stood next to Aziraphale at the bar and studied the crowd in front of him.

"Gabriel insists we can't intervene in situations like this," said Aziraphale. He had his elbows on the bar -- a sure sign that he was on his way to sloshed. "It's like...it's like the Plague all over again."

Crowley felt a twinge of pain at the memory. He'd found the angel in France, exhausted and trying to tend to as many families as he could manage. But everyone had been so dreadfully, irrevocably ill, and Aziraphale was on the verge of discorporating himself as he tried to help them all. Crowley wouldn't be surprised if he was staying up nights to direct bombs away from orphanages or something equally futile.

"Well," said Crowley, attention still divided. "My lot are pleased as punch. They don't even know I've been napping. They think I was lying low and working from the inside over in Germany."

"And you let them believe that."

"Yeah, ‘course. Can't let on that I've been hibernating and shirking my duties."

“But you were,” said Aziraphale. “Shirking your duties, I mean. Do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to maintain my position here? I spent most of my time searching for something, anything to thwart in your absence.”

“But not all your time, clearly.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for example,” said Crowley, turning to him. “How did you come to find that the basement bar at the Ritz is a homosexual enclave?”

Aziraphale blushed a deep red and sat up straight. “My dear, I assure you I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Crowley stared at him over the dark lenses of his glasses. Aziraphale had told some whoppers in his time, but this one took the cake. The angel could also be quite oblivious, but he must have noticed that every person in the bar was as flaming as his erstwhile sword.

“Come on, angel,” said Crowley. “You filled me in on the Royal Albert Hall, the First World War, and scores of books I’m never going to read. But what were you actually up to all that time?”

Aziraphale took a sip of his wine and fiddled with the stem of the glass for a moment. “I learned the gavotte.”

Crowley leaned in and turned his right ear toward Aziraphale. “I’m sorry? Is that code for something?”

Aziraphale sighed and turned to him. “It was a dance, a marvelous dance. Quite by chance, I stumbled upon this gentleman’s club, and they were all learning the gavotte. Well, I needed something to do, what with you playing Sleeping Beauty, so I joined in. They were lovely fellows, every one of them.”

“Gentleman’s club, eh?” said Crowley. “Now that has to be code for something.”

“A bit, yes. Very discreet,” said Aziraphale. “They needed a place to, well, to let loose and be themselves. Everyone needs that. Anyway, I kept in touch with several of the members over the years, and then...other people began finding me.”

“Finding you?”

“Yes, all of a sudden I noticed couples enjoying...discreet moments of their own in the back shelves of the bookshop,” Aziraphale explained. “They weren’t causing any harm, so I just let them be. Ever since then, people just seem to find me.”

Crowley was grinning now, unable to stop himself. “Uh-huh. And how does that lead us to this fabulous establishment?”

“Oh, right,” said Aziraphale. “For whatever reason, they seem to think I’m like them. So a kind young man invited me here. That was last year, sometime in the spring. I had to let him down gently, of course, but I saw no reason to stop coming here. It’s a jolly atmosphere, don’t you think?”

“Very jolly, indeed,” said Crowley, adopting Aziraphale’s posh affect. He watched the angel drink his wine and felt overcome by fondness for him. Perhaps it was the eighty-year hiatus from Aziraphale's ridiculousness he'd recently experienced.

"Say, why did you have to let this young man down gently?"

"Well, it's only right," said Aziraphale, taken aback. "I didn't want to lead the fellow on."

"No, I mean, why did you have to let him down at all?"

"Crowley, really." The angel finished his wine and gestured for another. "Your lot might delight in taking human lovers, but we don't go in for that sort of thing"

"No, right, of course not," said Crowley. "Not since the nephilim, at least."

Aziraphale gave him a withering look. "Yes, well. Anyway, they have such short lives."

"Oh, I know." Crowley took a sip of his whiskey. "At least you had your gentleman's club."

Aziraphale sighed and propped his face against the heel of his hand, elbows back on the bar. "For a short while, at least."

"No one else?" Crowley asked. He had no idea what he was fishing for, but he just kept casting his line.

"There was Oscar," said Aziraphale, smiling and nodding to the handsome bartender who presented his third glass of wine. The bartender smiled back, an incandescent spread of teeth that was clearly seeking something beyond a tip.

Crowley set his glass down. "Oscar? Oscar who?"

"Oscar Wilde, of course."

"What, the…? The author? What are you on about?"

"I can lend you some of his books," said Aziraphale. "Naturally I have several signed first editions in my possession."

"Naturally," said Crowley. "Quite chummy with 'ol Oscar, were you?"

Aziraphale nearly choked on his sip of wine, cheeks going all red again. "Oh, my dear, no. Nothing like that. You know, humans."

"Yes. Humans."

"Listen, why are we still discussing the past?" said Aziraphale. "Now you know everything that happened while you were asleep, there's nothing more to wonder about. Shall we discuss the present day? Now that you're here, I'm wondering how you might feel about helping me with the air raids…"

As Crowley had suspected, Aziraphale was intimately involved with the defense of London. He served as one of several air raid wardens in Soho, and he passed out tea and biscuits when people took shelter in the underground. He nattered on for quite some time about how they could always use more hands, and how Crowley had always been rather good with children (an accusation that Crowley vehemently denied), until finally he agreed to help out.

"Never should have woken up at all," said Crowley, dragging a hand down his face. "Should have slept right through this mess."

"Yes, well. I'm rather glad you didn't."

Aziraphale rested his hand atop Crowley's, and Crowley didn't move away. And suddenly they were just another pair in the basement bar, taking refuge in a place where they could be themselves.