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.