“I mean, did you know I had foreign operatives monitoring my hotel room? I actually had a bomb go off less than five metres away from me. Thanks to a little demonic intervention, I managed to get away unscathed.” Crowley shakes his head. “Unbelievable what these humans can think of.”
Aziraphale is torn between demanding he put both his hands on the wheel and simply nodding in agreement. He opts for the latter. He’s much too distracted by how perfect Crowley looks, all sharp lines and smooth voice and long, elegant limbs. What a picture he makes sitting in the driver’s seat against all this fine leather upholstery.
“Aziraphale, are you even listening to me?”
He blinks, flustered. “Oh. Oh, yes. Of course. Do go on. It’s all very fascinating.”
Crowley flicks a glance at him, amusement hovering around the corner of his mouth. For some reason, he’s tapping his knee absently in the way that he does whenever he’s nervous. “Don’t tell me you’re just being polite—”
“Not at all,” Aziraphale says, very much in earnest, and very much in… in love, of all things, oh, goodness. How did it take him so long to realise it? How many centuries has he been looking at Crowley, and not ever seeing him? Aziraphale can barely tear his eyes away from him for a single moment. “I—I would love to hear about what happened. It must have been quite an exciting time.”
His fingers tighten around the handle of the carpetbag he’s clutching on his lap. He can still feel the brush of Crowley’s hand, the heat of his skin lingering on Aziraphale’s fingers. He can hardly believe he’s sitting here only an arm’s length from Crowley, as though their argument all those years ago never happened.
He knows exactly how long it’s been, of course. Seventy-nine years of a nearly unendurable silence, so absolute that the very absence of Crowley was a presence all its own. But sitting in the confines of this elegant motorcar, the iron grip squeezing Aziraphale’s chest for the past eight decades loosens. At long last, he can finally draw breath. His lungs fill with the rich scent of leather underlined by smoke and musk; his heart pounding out the syllables of Crowley’s name with every beat.
Meanwhile, the unsuspecting object of Aziraphale’s affections seems content to ramble on about how he found Aziraphale at the church, how he’d unravelled the devious plan that would have ended in certain discorporation—a simply exhilarating tale of firearms, flashy cars, and envelopes stuffed with unimaginable amounts of money.
Aziraphale can only gaze at Crowley, drinking his fill, barely contributing to the conversation beyond the occasional murmured, “Oh, dear, how thrilling that all sounds,” or some variation thereof, interjected at what he hopes are relatively appropriate intervals. He can’t help it—he’s too absorbed by Crowley, who looks every bit the elegant, dashing spy of Aziraphale’s dreams.
“And so that… That’s what happened,” Crowley says blearily, his cheek on the cold surface of the bar. If he were less drunk, he’d probably be more disgusted by how sticky it is. “Dropped ‘im off at home, I did.”
“And then? What next?” The human’s eyes are wide and hazy with alcohol. Who is he, anyway? Crowley can’t even remember. He’d just happened to be the only person sitting at the bar when Crowley got there and is thus now the most fortunate recipient of Crowley’s whiskey-sodden ranting. To his credit, the man seems genuinely invested in the cock-and-bull story Crowley’s been nattering on about for the past two hours, even granting the way he’s been embellishing it with ridiculous detail.
Crowley peels himself off the bar and contemplates the dregs of whiskey in his glass before knocking it back in one swallow. “That’s it,” he says, unable to keep the disappointment from leaking out. The thought alone of anyone finding out what really happened makes his skin crawl with embarrassment. Secretly getting classified information from a network of gossiping old ladies isn’t exactly the most glamorous way to have gone about saving the angel he’s been pining over for the last six thousand-odd years. “Went and got myself a little, er, souvenir,” he says morosely before hurriedly adding, “then I went back to my flat.”
The human gapes at him with disbelief, before he reaches over to help himself to a cigarette from Crowley’s case on the table. Crowley thinks about objecting, but slides his lighter across the bar instead. “I was expecting something a little more dramatic, ” the man says, taking a long drag.
“How would you have had it go?” Crowley pours himself another generous serving of whiskey before he holds the bottle up to the light, squinting. This second one is nearly empty already. It’s not often he can find humans who match his pace. He narrows his eyes through his sunglasses at his drinking companion, grudgingly impressed.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the man says, words slurring together. “You said you’d been hurt, hadn’t you? Maybe he should have insisted on inviting you in! Tenderly cared for your injuries!” He waves the cigarette about, leaving a trail of smoke and scattered ashes in its wake. “Kept a vigil by your bedside and sponged the dirt and blood from your face delicately as you slept!”
Heat floods Crowley’s face as a torrent of unintelligible syllables pours from his lips. He sits up ramrod straight. “No, no, s’not—you’ve got the wrong idea—”
“Not at all,” he says expansively, plumes of smoke billowing as he speaks. “You see, that’s how it should have gone. And that is where the story should have ended.” He pauses, thinking hard through the blur of alcohol, his eyes slightly crossed. “Personally, I’d write in a casino for that extra touch of glamour. A scene where you’re spectacularly humiliated. Perhaps at the baccarat table, just before you sweep a massive win right into your pocket! What a story that would make,” he says, brightening. Crowley deflates, annoyed that he didn’t think of those details himself, and files them away for future reference.
The man studies him for a moment. “What was… What was your name again?”
Crowley decides he may as well go the whole way with his pantomime. He looks around carefully and lowers his voice, grasping at the first name that comes to mind. “James will do,” he says. “Don’t go around telling anyone about this, mind.”
“I won’t,” the man says, a bit too enthusiastically. “But tell me whose side you’re on. I must know.”
(“Pick a side,” Beelzebub had said carelessly to Crowley when he’d been given this London assignment. “It doesn’t matter which one, as long as you deliver the same results you always do.”
“Why, that’s high praise, Lord Beelzebub,” Crowley had said, eyebrows raising. “I take it you find my work satisfactory?”
Beelzebub had scowled. “We do not praise, Crowley. We expect.”)
“Can’t tell you that, mate,” Crowley says. “There’s a reason I’m so good at my job.” He pulls out a wad of notes from his wallet and throws them on the table before getting to his feet. “Right, then. I’ve got places to go, people to see, and all that.” He lifts a hand in a lazy farewell, swaying slightly on his feet as he walks out of the bar and climbs into the Bentley. For a moment, he glances at the empty passenger seat, the embarrassment lingering, and wonders if perhaps he should have just told the angel the truth after all.
A soft, warm rain taps lightly on the windows, and Crowley is sprawled on the bookshop sofa, so deep in his cups that he’s nearly nodding off.
“My dear," Aziraphale says softly, "thank you for coming over.”
Crowley turns his head and flashes his signature wicked grin at Aziraphale. “Anytime. 'Sides, wouldn’t be a celebration without a proper drink, eh? Not every day a war comes to an end.”
“Shall we listen to the broadcast, then?”
“Why not?” Crowley pushes himself up into something resembling an upright position before getting to his feet and sauntering over to Aziraphale, collapsing on the rug at his feet in a tangle of limbs. “Get on with it, angel.”
Aziraphale switches on his radio (which Crowley has called “old-fashioned,” derogatory) and turns the dial slowly, tuning in to the frequency until the broadcast comes through loud and clear, if a bit tinny.
“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing ,” a man’s voice crackles over the speakers, but Aziraphale is thoroughly distracted by the way Crowley sits bolt upright, pulling his glasses off his face.
“Angel,” he says, his voice so unexpectedly full of despair that it wrings Aziraphale’s heart, “there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Why, what is it? What’s the matter?” Aziraphale says, alarmed by the shift in Crowley’s demeanour.
“Remember that time in the church?”
“Oh, goodness,” Aziraphale breathes. “As if I could ever forget.”
A light flush stains Crowley’s cheeks. “D’you remember what I told you then? When we were on our way back to the bookshop?”
“Yes, of course I remember.” In reality, Aziraphale can only recall, try as he might, bits and bobs about secret agents and what had sounded like a great deal of dashing about and running away from explosions. In his defense, he had been terribly distracted at the time. “It was all very, er… very thrilling, I’m sure. And I am so grateful you did it.”
“Long live the cause of freedom!” says the voice on the radio, accompanied by raucous applause.
“Yes, yes.” Crowley waves his hand impatiently. “See, that’s what I’m trying to say. All that stuff I said, well… That wasn’t really how it went.”
“I don’t think I understand what you mean.”
“Er, look, it wasn’t all that exciting.” Crowley hangs his head, and his voice drops to a low mutter—Aziraphale has to turn down the volume on the radio to hear him. “…Didn’t really do any of those things—except for the bit with the agents following me around, that was true, but s’not like it takes much effort to be rid of them, and… Well, what I’m trying to say is that I heard it through the grapevine.” Aziraphale raises an eyebrow at this hitherto unknown fact, though Crowley doesn’t see it. “Lots of gossipy old ladies, y’know. Helped smuggle someone’s grandson out of London and suddenly I was their best friend. Told me everything that was going on. That’s how I heard about you and the books…” Crowley trails off for a moment, lost in thought. “War would’ve probably ended five years earlier if they’d been in charge,” he concludes, tilting his head thoughtfully before he catches himself and clears his throat, his face redder than his hair. “Anyway, I thought you should know. “Don’t want you to go around thinking…”
Somewhere in the middle of this tirade, Aziraphale’s mouth had dropped open in surprise. By the end of it, he’s struggling to hold in his mirth. Instead, he gets down on his knees on the rug next to Crowley, who’s looking at him with those sad golden eyes of his.
“… I wish to give my hearty thanks for the way in which we have been able to persevere, and we could have persevered much longer if need had been,” the broadcast continues in the silence, “ till all the objectives which we set before us had been achieved—”
“You were still very much the hero that day, dearest.” Aziraphale lifts his hands and cups Crowley’s face in a moment of unexpected courage. His beloved demon.
“Oh,” Crowley says, his eyes round. “ Oh. ”
“Quite right,” Aziraphale says, still trying not to laugh, and leans forward to kiss the look of shock from Crowley’s face.