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On Espionage and Prophecy (or How to Accidentally, but Wholly, Fall in Love With a Soho Bookseller)

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(Posted with permission from saunteringadversaries on tumblr)

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A bell jingled merrily against the gloomy backdrop of early-morning London after a night of heavy bombing, it’s joyful sound cutting through the grey smoke and fluttering ash as a man stepped out into the street and locked the double wooden doors behind him, shutting out the sound.

The sign above the door read ‘A.Z. Fell & Co. Antiquarian and Unusual Books’ in faded gold across weathered burgundy; nothing special or indeed interesting compared to Soho’s other bright and fascinating storefronts. In fact, one could say it looked a little out of place and even out of time – very much like the man who picked his way across the cobbled street, avoiding debris and litter that had appeared overnight.

He could have been anywhere in age between thirty-five and fifty, depending on the light and the time of day, of the expression on his face, or his mood. His hair was white-blonde like that of an elderly gentleman but his pale eyes were young and full of intelligence and inquisitiveness; there were frown lines deeply etched into his forehead, yet his smile (when one was graced with it) was full of joy and the innocence of youth. Nobody could really be sure of his age because nobody had ever bothered to ask.

His light clothing in the pale grey morning proved he was no great follower of fashion, and yet he was immaculately and appropriately attired from his fawn fedora that matched his overcoat in both colour and texture, to his tartan bowtie and down to his very sensible tan Oxfords.

Mr A.Z. Fell walked swiftly down Lexington Road, a brown paper bag holding the remnants of the week’s stale bread clutched in his hands as he walked the sixteen-minute route to St James’ Park, passing through the early morning foot-and-vehicular traffic of Piccadilly; along Waterloo Place  and narrowly avoiding being hit by a double deck red bus across Pall Mall. Finally he reached the metropolitan oasis that was St James’ Park and he had to marvel, as he did every morning after a night of heavy bombing, of the resilience of the British people; how the Germans bombed homes and shops and monuments night after night and how Londoners emerged from the air raid shelters each morning, rolled up their sleeves, and went about their days as normal.

Well, somewhat normal.

The ducks were happy to see him as he approached the pond and sat on the end of a solitary park bench; all swimming with relish as the paper bag rustled in his hands and he brought out his crust, tearing it into pieces and throwing it into the water to a symphony of elated quacking. It was a blessing that this beautiful space of greenery remained intact considering what the rest of London looked like these days. Whole neighbourhoods had been obliterated by German shells but here, the ducks remained blissfully oblivious to the destruction of the city.

A light cough behind his left shoulder made him start and he turned in surprise to find a small, golden-haired woman in a navy suit and a bottle green feathered hat standing behind him.

“Mr Fell?” she inquired.

His eyebrows shot up. He wasn’t entirely unused to being approached by strangers, but that was a product of the time they lived in these days and the fact that he was terribly good at acquiring the unusual and hard-to-find. However, these sort of people were usually male, intimidating, and often brandishing weapons. They were definitely never so pretty.

He made a noise of affirmation and the woman smiled.

“My name is Captain Rose Montgomery of British Military Intelligence,” she said, a hand dipping into her purse and pulling out a folded identification paper which she handed to him for inspection.

It seemed legitimate.

“British Military Intelligence,” he repeated breathlessly as he scanned the paper.

Captain Montgomery’s name was there, right next her photograph and official-looking stamp. It was the first time he’d ever been approached by the Intelligence Services and he swallowed the wave of panic that began to rise in his throat. Some of his activities regarding the acquisition, buying, and selling of oddities had not exactly been one hundred percent legal over the last few years. He decided to play it calm.

“How could I possibly be of assistance, Captain?”

The young woman’s pillarbox-red lips spread into a warm smile as she slid onto the bench next to him and lowered her voice, conspiratorially.

“MI5 have been tipped off about a pair of German agents in London,” she told him. “Nasty pair, hell bent on acquiring certain items for Hitler.”

“Is that so?” he replied, keeping his voice low.

“Books,” Montgomery said. “Specifically, books of Prophecy. “Given your profession and your…exceptional abilities…we have reason to believe they will try to contact you, Mr Fell.”

The revelation surprised him greatly, more so that the Intelligence Services were keeping tabs on him and his activities both above and below board, rather than the thought of Nazis seeking him out and hiring his service.

He looked away from Captain Montgomery and stared very hard at the ducks.

“I don’t know what you think you know about me,” he replied, icily, “but I would never betray my country! I’m a patriot!”

“I know that, Mr Fell,” Montgomery intoned, soothingly; a comforting hand lightly brushing his arm. “We’re not implying that you’d do anything to aid the enemy or betray Britain. You’re a good man, Mr Fell, which is why I’m asking for your help.”

If he had been a better study of human character, he’d have had the sense to hear alarm bells.

He had always been the solitary sort, belittled by his siblings and ostracised for his odd ways throughout childhood and into adulthood, and had found it better for everyone if he kept to himself as much as possible. People never bothered him unless it was to pay him to find a rare book or such like, and he’d convinced himself that he was happy that way. But when war had broken out, he’d found himself desperate to contribute in some way. He’d flirted for one brief moment with joining up, but he knew he wasn’t in the slightest suitable soldier material – too strange, too soft…too bookish. He would never have survived basic training never mind a day in active service, and he was too fond of food and comfort and the secure warmth of his cluttered, overstuffed bookstore.

He’d resigned himself to being on the sidelines; of being a useless bystander whilst those braver than him did all the fighting but now here he was, on a park bench with a bonafide secret agent, offering him a chance to make a difference.

If he’d been less lonely, less good-hearted, and less patriotic he would have at least taken the time to consider the situation, to realise that any spy worth their salt would have looked into him and his family and his history, and known how to use it to their advantage. He might have figured out he was being manipulated.

Instead, his heart began to float and hope soared high as he realised he could finally be of some use to his country. It was all he’d ever really wanted to do since Chamberlain had declared war in 1939.

“Tell me how I can serve the King, Captain Montgomery,” he said, pale eyes alight with excitement.

 

Several paces away, there was a faint, barely-audible click of a camera disguised as a silver cigarette case as a man in a flat cap and tweed jacket made a show of struggling to open it for the benefit of the general public. The couple on the park bench didn’t notice a thing as the man clicked the catch on the case a few more times and then opened it, revealing a handful of real cigarettes. He casually selected one and slipped the sliver case back inside his jacket pocket. He walked past them, lighting up without giving them a second glance as he made his way back out of the park and up the mall towards head office.

Mr Crowley was going to be very interested with this development.

 

______

 

Anthony J Crowley had never really been successful in anything much before the war except causing trouble. He’d always broken too many rules, asked too many questions, and hung around the wrong sort of people – he’d accidentally fallen in with a gang in his late teens and although was never a truly active member, he’d learned some useful life skills such as how to fire a pistol, pick a lock, dig up information on people for blackmailing purposes, and of course, how to manipulate people into doing what you wanted.

When the war broke out, Crowley found himself in a spot of bother with His Majesty’s Government and had been offered the choice of going to prison or putting his skills to good use for the British Security Service. Crowley had chosen the latter and very quickly had proven to be a very capable spy.

The British Intelligence Services were working on something new these days – finding German agents active on British soil and eliminating the threat. The objective was to turn as many agents as possible into doubles, working for the British whilst also working for the Nazis; passing along false information the British Government fed them and obtaining real information from the other side. It was a tricky venture, but Crowley excelled at it.

At this particular moment, he was gathering information of a cell of German agents operating in West London – a nasty threesome who had been intimidating, blackmailing, and murdering local bookshop owners in their pursuit of acquiring Books of Prophecy for Hitler. It was bloody ridiculous, Crowley thought - murdering perfectly decent Londoners for a load of prophetic tripe. Hitler really was cracked in the head, getting people to pull crap like this.

Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and sighed heavily, closing the paper file he’d been studying. He must have been in the office for most of the night, ignoring air raid sirens and the screaming of shells being dropped from overhead bombers and the distant explosions. It wasn’t as though he could have taken his work with him into a shelter anyway, so he’d blocked out the noise and cracked on with his research. Crowley had no idea what time it was as he pushed himself back from the desk and crossed to the window, roughly shoving aside the blackout curtain and cracking the window open.

The acrid smell of burning wood and explosive powder assaulted his nose, which immediately scrunched up defensively. The scent was all too familiar these days, always hanging about in the air with a habit of settling into one’s clothing if they were outside for too long. Honey-coloured eyes surveyed the street above from the basement-level window, taking in the people bustling about on the pavement in the grey morning light. Crowley surmised it was still early.

He turned sharply as the door opened and another agent entered, still dressed for the outdoors in tweed jacket and flat cap, and holding another paper folder.

“What have you got?” he asked, motioning towards the file.

The agent crossed the tiny basement office in three strides and handed Crowley the file containing six perfectly in-focus photographs.

“This morning’s reconnaissance on Nightingale, sir,” was the response as Crowley opened the file and held the first photograph up to the light.

‘Nightingale’ was the code name for the particular operation he was working on – the Nazi spy ring of two men and one woman. She was in the photographs – a small dark-haired and well dressed woman who lured in poor unwitting sods by claiming to be working for a government agency before handing them over to her confederates to intimidate. In the photograph she was sitting next to a man Crowley surmised was her next mark.

The next photograph showed the man’s face, round and innocent, fluffy white hair neatly tucked under his hat and neat as a new pin. Crowley’s eyes soaked in every detail he could see.

“Do we know who this is?” he asked.

The agent shook his head.

“She started following him from Lexington Street. She followed him…I followed her.”

Crowley nodded and turned back to the file, scanning through the other photos that showed the progression of their conversation; the bag of bread in the man’s hand that he was feeding to the ducks. Crowley felt a pang of pity for the poor bugger. He looked far too nice to get mixed up in all of this.

“Good work,” he said aloud, sliding the photographs into the inside breast pocket of his jacket before pulling it off the coat stand and shrugging it on. “I’ll look into this one myself. I could do with a bit of a walk. Lexington you said?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“I’ll back track from there and see what I can find.”

Fastening his jacket buttons with one hand, he smoothly knocked his fedora onto his head and tipped it at a fashionably jaunty angle before ushering the agent out of his office and locking the door behind him. The harsh morning light and acrid smoke stung his eyes as he walked up the basement steps and onto the street. Reaching into his pocket again, Crowley took out a pair of dark glasses and slipped them on with practiced ease before stepping into the flow of traffic and disappearing into the commuting crowds.

 

------

 

Mr A. Z. Fell, Purveyor of Antiquarian and Unusual Books glanced out of his shop window again and frowned. He’d seen him again, he was sure of it – a shady character in black with dark glasses he was convinced was following him, but every time he glanced back for a second look the man vanished like smoke in the wind. It had been going on for a couple of days now and it was very unsettling.

In truth he’d been on edge since meeting Captain Rose Montgomery the other day, the British Intelligence Officer who had approached him and asked for his help in catching a couple of Nazi spies. It was all terribly exciting and he’d been very willing to assist, but now paranoia was starting to seep in around the edges with the appearance of this mysterious gentleman. Perhaps it was a member of one of London’s various gangs trying to intimidate him – it had happened before, several times in fact. Ruffians, the lot of them.

With a sigh, he turned from the window just as the shop bell gave a joyful little ring to signal the arrival of a customer and his stomach plummeted as the man in black stepped through his door.

“Who are you?” he demanded, hating the evident tremor and the higher pitch in his voice as he spoke. “What do you want?”

He felt himself backing away, further into his shop and into the comforting labyrinth of bookcases. He could hide if he needed; lose this ruffian who was advancing on his with snakelike grace and run to safety somehow.

The man in black stopped and pulled his dark glasses down to the end of his nose. He’d half expected them to be yellow with black slits and it was an almost pleasant surprise to see they were actually the colour of warm honey. The black-clad man raised a dark eyebrow.

There was nothing around that could be used as a weapon to defend himself; no fire poker or heavy silver candlestick; only books and he wasn’t about to throw one of those. He’d die first.

“Anthony J Crowley,” the man in black drawled in an obviously London accent. “Mr Fell, I presume?”

Crowley looked at him over the rim of his dark glasses, studying him curiously.

“You presume correctly,” he replied, stiffly; beginning to feel a little silly for backing up against a bookcase. “What do you want, Mr Crowley?”

Crowley smirked and pushed his dark glasses back up his nose before casually leaning against the nearest bookcase in an easy movement, an elbow propped against the old worn leather of a most rare and precious bible.

“Is there a first name to go with that?”

There was a heartbeat’s silence.

“Aziraphale,” he answered, quietly with all the dignity he could muster in the moment.

Crowley looked at him over the rim of his glasses again.

“Aziraphale…Fell? Oh, that’s unfortunate,” he murmured. “Very biblical – I can see why you never ever use it…”

Aziraphale cleared his throat, testily.

“I asked what you want, Mr Crowley,” he repeated, a little more steadily.

“Oh, just a bit of a chat really,” Crowley replied, lightly. “Run into any Nazis, recently?”

Aziraphale’s heart stopped for precisely one second, frozen in horrified shock before slamming hard back into action, knocking the breath out of him.

“I…I beg your pardon…?”

“No?” Crowley continued, not missing a beat. “What about pretty young women, claiming to work for the British Intelligence Services?”

Aziraphale stilled, trying to get his breathing under control as his stomach threatened to evacuate his breakfast.

“Who are you, sir?” he demanded testily.

Mr Crowley looked like he was thoroughly enjoying Aziraphale’s discomfort, his smirk widening.

“I told you. Anthony J Crowley – British Security Service.”

Aziraphale stared at him in complete disbelief. Anthony J Crowley looked more like a gangster than an Intelligence Officer, with that fedora tilted at a rather rakish angle over dark auburn hair, and those dark glasses that looked ridiculous on a dreary grey day like this, and snakeskin shoes. It was impossible.

“I demand to see your identification papers,” Aziraphale said, straightening his cream waistcoat.

Crowley moved with confident grace, reaching into his pocket and extracting an identification card between his forefinger and thumb, waving it gently at Aziraphale.

This also looked very legitimate – Anthony J Crowley’s name next to his photograph, minus the hat and dark glasses, and an official government stamp.

He practically threw it back into Crowley’s hands, his mind now a swirling pool of confusion and doubt.

“What in God’s name is going on?” Aziraphale whispered.

Crowley grinned at him as he slipped his identification back into his pocket and pushed himself up from the bookcase.

“Come on,” he replied gently. “I’ll treat you to lunch and tell you exactly how you can keep yourself from going to jail for treason.”

Chapter Text

Rationing was definitely the worst thing about the war for Aziraphale. He could put up with the air raids, the bombings, the smoke and the cold nights huddled in tube stations with hundreds of men, women, and children, but he absolutely could not abide the country’s crimes against food.

He sat on an old wooden chair in Arthur’s café just off Broadwick Street with a plate of fish and chips, which used to be a pauper’s meal before the war and now was incredibly popular due to the fact that fish was one of the only things not rationed. Of course, it all depended on how many fishermen were brave enough to venture out into the U-Boat minefield of the Atlantic to catch anything that determined it's availability and price.

The meat in his pie was SPAM – an awful import from the United States that replaced all decent meats in pies and hence, was also not rationed; and there was coffee in the large pot. Coffee, unlike tea, was also not rationed because it was a vile and bitter drink that never really caught on with the general populace.

Aziraphale missed pre-war meals; before he was only allowed one egg and three rashers of bacon for the whole week, and two ounces of tea had to last for seven days. He missed ordering a second dessert, and having both meat and fish in a single sitting. Most of all, he believed he missed the cheese course most, as the Ministry of Food had banned all cheese with the exception of National Cheddar…which was also rationed at two ounces per person, per week.

It was an entirely miserable affair, especially for a man who loved food more than almost anything else in the world and had a tendency to eat when upset. Aziraphale was incredibly upset at this particular moment, sitting opposite Agent Anthony J Crowley of the British Security Service (Military Intelligence Branch Five) and miserably surveying a small bundle of photographs between bites.

Crowley was lounging back in his own chair, dark glasses folded and lying neatly on the table and a single cup of steaming coffee in front of him. Anthony J Crowley didn’t look like a person who enjoyed eating – not by the look of his sharp cheekbones and angular features. Aziraphale offered him a chip.

“I’m good,” Crowley said, waving away the suggestion with a dismissive hand.

Sighing, Aziraphale turned back to his lunch and the photographs. There was six that featured him talking to the woman who’d called herself Captain Montgomery, all in various stages of conversation and Aziraphale had to wonder at how he’d never noticed somebody taking them. The other photographs were grizzlier, and if he hadn’t been feeling so dejected, they might have put him off his lunch. Three photographs were of dead men – one with a bullet hole in his skull, another with a ligature around his neck and his eyes bulging and tongue popping out….

Aziraphale shuddered and turned that particular one over. The third man had apparently been drowned but blessedly, you couldn’t tell from the picture.

“They’re all victims of the same Nazi spy ring that are targeting you,” Crowley said in a low voice, still lounging in his chair. “We suspect the woman reels them in – tries to recruit them in some way and when they refuse or fail, they’re murdered. These two owned rare book shops in Oxford and Manchester,” he indicated the first two photographs, “and he was an antiques dealer from Kensington. I don’t want the same thing happening to you Mr Fell, so I suggest you tell me exactly what this Rose Montgomery woman said to you.”

Carefully, Aziraphale set down his knife and fork as he slowly chewed his mouthful and considered everything.

He’d only ever wanted to help, to be of some kind of use to the war effort and his elation at being approached by Captain Montgomery had overridden all of his usual common sense. He couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid, so naive as to believe her without checking his sources first. Well, Aziraphale thought, he wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.

Aziraphale swallowed and folded his hands neatly in front of him as he looked up from his plate and into Mr Crowley’s inquisitive honey eyes.

“Please do not take this as an insult, Mr Crowley,” he began, softly, “but after today, I don’t know who I can trust…and this includes you. I want to take a small amount of time to…consider my options before I make any major decisions about the information I divulge.”

He pulled his shoulders back and fixed his facial features into an expression with the most gravitas he could muster, hoping to give the impression that he was tougher than he was. Aziraphale had considered a few reactions to his bold statement, but what happened next genuinely surprised him.

A slow grin spread across Crowley’s face, eyes crinkling at the corners and lighting up with an expression of what Aziraphale could only describe as delight.

“That is both the stupidest and smartest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Crowley said, shaking his head as his shoulders began to shake in mirth.

Aziraphale frowned.

“Well…I’m not sure I can take that as a complement.”

“You should,” replied Crowley, his voice warm.

Aziraphale felt his face heat and his chest tightened ever so slightly as Crowley’s gaze softened, because Crowley was now looking at him in a way that nobody had looked at him in a very long time – like Aziraphale was somebody interesting. Somebody worth knowing.

“Alright,” Crowley said, finally sitting up straight. “I can give you until tomorrow morning to think about it, but then you have to make a decision otherwise I’ll be forced to arrest and detain you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government. For your own protection, you understand.”

Aziraphale looked at his plate.

“Assist you or go to jail?” he murmured. “Not really much of a choice, is it?”

“Not so much,” Crowley replied softly, “but it is your choice to make.”

 

___

 

Crowley couldn’t shake the feeling that he knew Aziraphale Fell from somewhere, or that he’d seen or met him before today. He couldn’t place it. Maybe they’d sat next to each other on the bus before, or passed each other on the street. Aziraphale didn’t exactly blend into a crowd with his white-blonde hair and light-coloured clothing that was too neat and clean for West London during the Blitz. He stood out.

After lunch, he’d escorted the bookseller back to his shop and left the number of his office for Aziraphale to call should he reach a decision before lunchtime the next day. Crowley had then left him nervously wringing his hands and pacing the floor as he made his way back to Whitehall.

Crowley felt a little guilty. He’d gone for the shock tactic – showing Aziraphale the photographs of the Nazi spy ring’s victims, spinning a tale of blackmail and murder to get him to cooperate. The poor bookseller had been visibly nauseated by at all and Crowley felt bad for laying it on so thick. He maybe should have gone for a softer manipulation like that Rose Montgomery did. He honestly hadn’t meant to scare him…much.

Sighing, he buzzed the door of his dingy Whitehall basement office and pushed it open when he heard the click of the lock. He liked Mr A.Z. Fell or, possibly more accurate, respected him for pushing back. Crowley had expected the quiet, nervous bookseller to just roll over and do whatever he asked, but he’d been pleasantly surprised to encounter polite resistance. Maybe not the smartest idea when one finds out there’s a Nazi spy ring out to recruit you, but Crowley liked that Aziraphale had a backbone.

He just really hoped the bookseller would come around. He could be a great asset and Crowley would have absolutely hated to put him in jail.

Several pairs of eyes turned to him as he walked through the door – the agents of Division H waiting for him expectantly.

“Well?” asked Beezle impatiently, jumping to her feet as Crowley removed his hat and slipped it onto the coat stand by the door.

“It was an interesting lunch,” Crowley replied, lightly.

Hastur, who had been lurking by the window, rolled his eyes.

“What did you find out, Crowley?” pressed Beezle.

Crowley took his time taking off his jacket and slipping his dark glasses into the top pocket, taking a kind of malicious delight in keeping his colleagues hanging. It wasn’t as though he didn’t like them, it’s just that they all took everything so damned seriously and it made them fun to mess with. He looked from Beezle with her short dark hair and smart slacks, to Dagon with three pencils stuffed in the back of her chignon, to the two partners in crime Hastur and Ligur who worked best as a tag team.

He pulled his chair back slowly, delighting in the growing frustration and impatience as he sat down and peered into the empty coffee cup on his desk.

“Well, he’s not a Nazi,” Crowley said eventually.

He could almost feel their collective disappointment.

“So, what is he then?” asked Ligur. “Their next mark?”

“Looks like it,” Crowley confirmed. “Rare book seller with a shop in Soho.”

Hastur grunted an affirmation as Dagon opened the file she had on her lap and rummaged through the papers inside.

“A.Z. Fell,” she announced, pulling the paper out with a triumphant wave. “One of the people I narrowed down as a list of likely targets. He’s the only one in Soho.”

Crowley blinked in surprise.

“You mean to tell me Miss Dagon, that I went all the way down to Soho and you already had that in your little file?” he responded, playfully. “I could have saved myself a trip.”

Beezle huffed as she gave the leg of Crowley’s wooden chair a harsh kick.

“Would you just bloody tell us what you found out?”

The truth of it was, Crowley hadn’t found out a God damned thing. He’d shown Aziraphale horrible photographs and threatened him with arrest for treason which was enough for most mild-mannered people Crowley had met to start singing like a canary. This guy had beaten Crowley at his own game which both impressed and unsettled him.

“Nothing much,” he said, dismissively. “The woman known as Montgomery told him she was British Military Intelligence and he believed her. So far that’s it – he’d not been contacted by anyone else; nobody’s talked to him, approached him, or watched him as far as I can tell.”

“Well, that’s disappointing,” muttered Hastur from the window.

“So, he’s going to work for us,” Beezle pressed again, her dark eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Right, Crowley?”

Crowley began to pay an extraordinary amount of attention to his empty coffee mug as everyone looked at him again.

“We-ell…not exactly.”

“What do you mean ‘not exactly’?”

“Is there any fresh coffee?” Crowley deflected. “I could really use a cup right now…”

“CROWLEY!!!!”

“ALL RIGHT!” Crowley responded, throwing his hands up defensively as Beezle menaced towards him. She was small, but she was one of the best brawlers Crowley had ever seen and he wasn’t prepared to get on the wrong side of her fists. “He said he wanted to consider his options. I gave him until tomorrow to mull it over.”

Mull it over?

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” muttered Dagon as she rolled her eyes.

Crowley warily eyed a seething Beezle.

“He’s not going to run off!” he promised. “I stake my whole career on him coming around.”

“Good,” replied Ligur, “Because if he doesn’t come around, you’ll be spending the rest of the war locked up in the Tower of London.”

Crowley folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair, bottom lip in a petulant pout as he snatched up the dossier that Dagon had compiled on the Soho bookseller. He should have arrested Aziraphale Fell on the spot, he knew that. At the very least he should have put a tail on him but…there was nothing untrustworthy about the man in the slightest. Crowley had heard it Aziraphale’s voice when he spoke and in his eyes when he’d listened to Crowley talk – he was a nice, kind man who just wanted to help.

It couldn’t be easy for a man like Aziraphale. ‘Queer as a nine bob note’ was the term Crowley heard used most often when people talked about them – the chaps who were so obviously…well…homosexual. One look at Aziraphale and it was as clear as Big Ben’s chime what he was; there was no hiding it, and no escaping the stigma that went with it. There was nothing explicitly illegal about being queer; it was just illegal to act on it.

Crowley had managed to avoid all the stares and whispers for one very good reason: he was exceptional at hiding his own peculiarities behind a veil of charm and snark and sarcasm; always guarded, always careful not to let anything slip. He almost envied Aziraphale for being so comfortable in his skin; with the ability to show his true self to the world and hold his head up high. Obviously, he could stand up for himself.

He could only just imagine the amount of times Aziraphale must have washed off the slurs painted across the walls and windows of his shop; the hushed whispers as he passed in the street, possibly stones thrown by kids. People could be damn cruel to anyone that was different.

No, Crowley was comfortable with being the way he was – hiding in plain sight with the occasional back alley dalliance when an itch needed to be scratched. It was better like this.

The shrill ring of the telephone cut through his thoughts and he almost dropped the papers in his hand as he jumped. Dagon picked up the receiver and put on her breathy, seductive receptionist voice that almost made Crowley laugh since ‘seductive’ was that absolute last word he’d use to describe her.

“H.E. Ells Investigations – how may I help you?” Crowley watched Dagon as she turned and looked directly at him. Her eyebrows shot up as she listened to the voice on the other end, and then she held it out to him. “It’s for you.”

Crowley’s heart pounded in his chest, but he kept his cool exterior as he stood up and leaned over to take the phone; swallowing hard in anticipation.

“Crowley.”

“Mr Crowley!” replied a soft, almost breathless voice that made Crowley’s stomach flutter. “Its…its me…Aziraphale….Aziraphale Fell…”

“Mr Fell,” he responded, returning Dagon’s raised eyebrow gesture with raised brows of his own. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes,” breathed Aziraphale. “Just to let you know…I’ve been contacted. I’m in.”

Crowley’s heart started thumping hard for a completely different reason now as he tried to sound nonchalant.

“Really? That’s great news, Mr Fell. We’ll make our way over shortl…”

“I have one condition,” Aziraphale interrupted him. He sounded nervous and jittery, poor man. Crowley sympathised. “I’ll only deal with you,” Aziraphale continued. “Nobody else.”

Crowley looked around at his team, all watching him expectantly. Beezle would probably be pissed off but she’d just have to deal with it. They all would.

“Alright,” Crowley replied, soothingly.  “Just me. I’ll be with you within the hour.”

Setting the receiver back in the cradle, Crowley let out a long sigh and turned back to his colleagues with a wide, cocky grin.

“And you all doubted me,” he said, smugly. “Oh, ye of little faith.”

 

___

 

Several hours had passed since Crowley had left him and Aziraphale had been pacing the floor for all of them. His nerves were completely shot, hands shaking as he walked the floor with images of dead men burning behind his retinas. It was a perfectly wretched situation he’d found himself in – unwittingly dragged into a game of spies that he didn’t understand, but couldn’t back out of. He was trapped and he didn’t know which side was the real one.

On the one hand, there was the woman who’d called herself Captain Rose Montgomery – a pretty, charming young woman who’d been flattering and genteel and sweet. On the other hand, there was the dastardly-looking Mister Crowley of no military rank, who had threatened him with prison and showed him photographs of murder victims. Aziraphale knew which one he preferred to believe…but deep down he was sure he’d be wrong if he did.

He hadn’t been expecting the telephone to ring and almost jumped straight out of skin when it did; loud in the closeness of his overcrowded bookstore. He’d picked it up with trembling fingers.

“Hello?”

“Mr Fell?” inquired a voice with a slight accent.

Aziraphale’s heart began to race, pumping blood so fast and so loudly around his body that he could barely hear for the pounding in his ears.

“Y-yes?” he said shakily.

“My name is…Mr Harmony,” the voice said. “I am very interested in hiring your services of acquisition, Mr Fell. I require several rare books – first editions.”

This was it, Aziraphale thought; the Nazi spies were contacting him. This was all real.

“First editions, you say?” he replied, swallowing his fear and forcing his voice to sound cheerful and interested. “That…can be tricky. And…costly. The amount of leg work it takes to track down first editions…”

“Money is no object,” Harmony cut him off. “We are prepared to pay you whatever you want.”

Aziraphale looked out of his window at the street outside. Soho carried on as normal, unaware of the timid bookseller carrying on a conversation with a Nazi via telephone. He took a deep breath.

“Of course, Mr Harmony! It would give me great pleasure to be of assistance. Might I suggest a meeting, so we can further discuss the transaction…in person?”

He had no idea if he was doing the right thing or making the biggest mistake of his life, but there was nobody he could ask for help, nobody who could coach him through this moment or take over from him. He was on his own.

Mr Harmony took the bait.

“Friday morning,” he replied. “St James’s Park at ten o’clock.”

Aziraphale had written down the details, hung up the phone, and promptly vomited into his wastepaper basket. It took him a solid five minutes and a good measure of Scotch to recover enough to make a phone call. He took the small black business card he’d been given out of his waistcoat pocket and dialled the extension.

That had been fifty-five minutes ago and Aziraphale was beside himself waiting for Mr Crowley to turn up. He had said ‘within the hour’ and the hour was almost up. He was beginning to wonder if he’d misplaced his trust after all.

“What happened?”

The voice behind him made Aziraphale shout in terror and he grabbed the Tiffany table lap as he spun around, for use as a weapon. Anthony J Crowley’s dark auburn eyebrows shout up.

“Sorry. Did I scare you?”

“Scare me?” Aziraphale repeated in a hoarse whisper, his heart threatening to escape out of his mouth. “You bloody terrified me, you devil! Where the hell did you slither from, anyway? I do have a front door!”

Crowley tipped his hat in apology.

“Can’t use the front door,” he replied quietly, honey-coloured eyes taking in the bottle of Scotch and the glass on Aziraphale’s desk and the wastebin that was now giving off a distinct odour of bleach. “You could be being watched now – can’t risk it.”

“Oh,” said Aziraphale, testily. “I see. So I have to put up with you breaking into my home now?”

“Hopefully not for long,” murmured Crowley.

He took his hat off and placed it on a stack of books to his right, smoothing his hair down with the palm of his free hand. Aziraphale watched him carefully and wrung his hands tightly together in a vain attempt to stop their violent shaking. Between Nazis stalking him and British agents breaking into his business, Aziraphale didn’t know if he’d ever manage to get to sleep again.

“I’m glad you decided to trust me.”

Aziraphale looked at his rug and the track marks he’d walked into it over the course of the afternoon. He couldn’t explain why he’d come to the decision to call Crowley; to trust him over Montgomery but it had felt right. He looked back up to find Crowley studying him intently, and he took a deep breath to steady himself.

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale responded softly. “Call it a leap of faith.” He reflexively tugged down his waistcoat and reached for the notepad he’d written on. “I was contacted…by a Mister Harmony. He had a slight accent and didn’t say much besides wanting to acquire first editions of some books, and that he’d pay me a lot of money.”

Crowley reached for the paper and looked at Aziraphale’s neat script.

“You set up a meeting? On your own?”

Aziraphale straightened, defensively.

“I took the initiative.”

“No, that’s good,” replied Crowley, sounding impressed. “Taking the initiative is…it’s smart. That’s good work. It’s what I would have told you to do.”

And there it was again – that tightness in Aziraphale’s chest and that small spark that ignited inside of him at the tone of Crowley’s voice. People overlooked him; saw through him; ignored him. This was the first time in years that Aziraphale felt…appreciated. He quickly looked at his sensible tan Oxfords as Crowley smiled.

“Come on,” he murmured. “It’s time to tell me everything.”

Chapter Text

The morning dawned pale; watery sunlight filtering through the tiny moth-holes in the blackout curtains. Aziraphale sighed heavily as he threw back his layers of blankets and eiderdown, shivering as the cold hit his skin. He’d barely slept a wink and this time it had nothing to do with the bombing of the East End.

He dressed quickly and splashed cold water onto his face from the bathroom tap, sighing at his dishevelled reflection in the small mirror. He had dark circles under his eyes that gave him a haggard appearance and his hair was sticking up at all angles, curls flattened and frizzed.

Aziraphale had tossed and turned all night, haunted by worry and punctuated with the nightmare of being gunned down by Nazis. The only thing that gave him any comfort at all was the fact that Mr Crowley was on his side. Aziraphale was starting to think he’d judged the man too harshly on first appearances, seeing the dark clothing and snakeskin shoes and immediately taking him for a wicked character. In actual fact, Crowley was nothing quite as dastardly as he looked.

He sighed heavily as he pottered down the stairs from his flat to his bookshop and into the tiny back room that housed a stove and a kettle. It was warmer in here than any other part of the building, free from drafts and small enough for the little wood-burning stove to heat up in no time. Aziraphale filled his kettle and set alight to the kindling he’d laid the night before and carefully positioned the kettle atop of the stove before moving through to open the curtains in the bookshop.

He startled loudly at the shadowy figure he found sitting in the chair by the window.

“Jesus Christ in Heaven!” Aziraphale cursed, clutching his chest in a vain attempt to prevent his heart from bursting right out of it in shock.

“Sorry,” droned Crowley. “I didn’t mean to scare you…again.”

The secret agent didn’t look sorry in the slightest. In fact he almost looked pleased.

“You do this on purpose,” hissed Aziraphale; balling his shaking hands into fists and storming across the room to knock Crowley’s feet off the edge of his desk. “As if my nerves aren’t shot already.”

He pointedly ignored Crowley as he set about opening the blinds and letting the frosty morning sunshine into the room. It did little to warm the place up.

“As if I would,” Crowley replied, lightly. “I just needed to slip in here early enough so I wasn’t seen.”

Like a snake, thought Aziraphale. A sneaky, slithering snake.

Ten minutes later, Aziraphale sat in his back room with a plate of buttered bread with marmalade and an enormous pot of tea. He’d used almost an entire week’s worth of his tea ration on this single pot and the swirling brew in his delicate china cup was almost black. The biggest blessing was that Crowley had declined Aziraphale’s offer of both bread and tea – which meant more for him – and  was lounging in Aziraphale’s spare chair, cradling a cup of bitter black coffee that Aziraphale had found in a battered tin at the back of his pantry. God only knew how long it had been there.

“Interesting place you’ve got here, Mr Fell,” said Crowley. “Is owning a bookshop during a long spell of enemy bombing raids not a bit of an insurance hazard? There must be a small fortune in here.”

Not so small, thought Aziraphale. He’d had his books valued in 1939 along with his place of business and had been unsurprised to find the value in the hundreds of thousands. Besides the books he sold for profit, Azirapahale also had his own personal collection of rare books; most he had acquired himself through years of searching and lots of money, but there were a fair few he’d taken with him from his family’s estate when he’d absconded with his inheritance at the age of twenty-two to open a bookshop instead of going to Sandhurst like his brother. If Aziraphale decided one day to sell everything, he’d probably have enough to buy his own estate.

Instead of responding to Crowley’s question however, Aziraphale asked one of his own.

“What is it you wanted, Mr Crowley? As much fun as breaking into my home must be for you, I rather hope there’s a purpose behind it.”

Crowley grinned at him, honey eyes crinkling at the corners with amusement.

“There is a purpose,” he replied. “I need to talk to you about your meeting on Friday.”

Aziraphale frowned, his bread and marmalade halting halfway on it’s journey to his mouth.

“Why? We talked about it yesterday?”

He’d been terribly shaken after his phone call with the mysterious Mr Harmony the day before but Crowley had been very patient with him. He’d sat Aziraphale down with a large measure of Scotch and coaxed his story from him with a soft voice and gentle encouragement, with injections of reassurance.

Crowley had convinced him to call Rose Montgomery and inform her that a meeting had been scheduled. She would already know this, Crowley had told him – but she couldn’t know that he knew. Aziraphale would have to pretend that he knew nothing about the double cross and to act as though he was fully convinced Rose Montgomery was the real secret service agent.

By the end of the night, Aziraphale had begun to think that Crowley was actually rather a nice person with a kind and gentle nature hidden behind a tough front. In the cold light of day, his opinion was quickly changing back.

“We need a plan,” Crowley responded seriously. “An actual plan of action – what to say, how to act, where to stand…”

“Where I stand is important?” Aziraphale said, doubtfully.

“Of course it is! We’re got to be able to see you clearly, to know if you’re alright, to see any signs or signals you may send us if things are going a bit pear shaped. And we need to see them.”

Aziraphale looked pensively at his breakfast. Everything sounded so much more complicated than he’d first thought it would be. This was nothing like the detective stories he’d read growing up, and he was certainly no Sherlock Holmes.

“It’s going to be alright, you know,” Crowley continued, his voice turning soft and reassuring again, like it had been the previous night. "I’ll have a whole team there – you won’t see them but they’ll see you and they’ll have your back. All you need to do it keep cool, play along, and we’ll do everything else.”

Aziraphale let out a breath he didn’t even know he’d been holding and gave Crowley a tight smile.

“I’m sure you’re quite right,” he said, more brightly than he felt.

He took a bite of his bread, noticing with disappointment how much the thin spread of rationed butter and preserve did nothing at all for the taste and texture of the National Loaf, and trying to avoid looking at Crowley who was studying him with unblinking honey eyes.

It would all be over soon, he thought. Crowley had promised him that much – after the Nazis had been apprehended, Aziraphale could go back to living his comfortable and completely unremarkable life. This would all just be a little adventure he could forget all about.

 

___

 

Friday morning dawned with miserable weather; the bleak March drizzle mixing with the swirling smoke of fires still burning from the night’s bombing raids and turning the air into a choking grey mist.

Crowley watched Aziraphale by the lake, throwing tiny chunks of bread crust to the ducks with a small smile playing about his lips, like he was here solely for the enjoyment of feeding ducks and not to meet Nazi spies.

Beside Crowley, Beezle sighed and lowered her binoculars, roughly shoving them on top of the dashboard of Crowley’s vintage Bentley.

“He’s been there for ten bloody minutes,” she said impatiently. “What’s taking these sodding Nazis so long?”

“Will you stop whinging?” hissed Crowley, not taking his eyes off Aziraphale.

Beezle folded her arms across her chest and huffed.

So far, the morning had gone fine – Dagon had trailed Aziraphale from his bookstore and seen him make contact with Rose Montgomery. Ligur and Hastur had taken over from Dagon and followed them to St James’ Park where they had split. Montgomery was now sitting some distance from Aziraphale’s position, drinking tea at the small lakeside café and Aziraphale was amusing himself with the ducks.

The other two Nazis, wherever they were, were obviously biding their time and making sure that they weren’t being watched or followed. Of course they were – that’s what spies did. Its what Crowley would do, and anything remotely suspicious or out of the ordinary would have him running very fast in the opposite direction. He’d been very careful and very explicit in his instructions that everyone remain unseen.

“Ey-up,” Beezle said suddenly, sitting up in the passenger seat.

Crowley followed her gaze as a man approached Aziraphale from the right – tall, thin, and bespectacled; completely unremarkable in every way. He looked just like another suited man talking a walk in the park on his break time from a boring desk job in Westminster or Bond Street.

Beezle grabbed her binoculars again as Crowley scoured the surrounding foliage for a second man.

Nothing.

Frowning, Crowley leaned forward in the driver’s seat of the Bentley and squinted.

“Can you tell what he’s saying?” he asked Beezle.

“No,” she droned, unhelpfully.

Crowley rolled his eyes and went back to his observations. From the car, parked just on the curb outside of the gate, Crowley could see Aziraphale talking to the man he presumed was Mr Harmony. Montgomery was still sitting drinking tea. The third member of the spy ring was still nowhere to be seen.

Panic started to grip him – how could they have not foreseen this? They had all assumed the spy ring would be together; that, even if only one approached the other would be close by. They had been wrong.

“Something’s not right,” he muttered to Beezle. “Where’s the third one?”

He watched as Harmony handed a slip of paper to Aziraphale. The bookseller read it and said something that Crowley couldn’t make out. There was still no sign of the second man.

“Stay here,” Crowley said suddenly, ignoring Beezle’s protests about following protocol as he got out of the car and started heading into the park.

Crowley tipped his hat further down to obscure more of his face as he walked fast, circling the lake and keeping one eye on Aziraphale. The third member of the ring had to be here somewhere. Crowley knew he was tall, balding, but thin unlike the one Aziraphale was talking to. There was nobody in the vicinity who remotely matched that description and Crowley cursed under his breath.

Every hope they had rested on all three of them being in the same place at the same time. They couldn’t arrest just two members because then the other would go to ground and you wouldn’t see them for dust. Months of hard work, wasted.

Crowley slowed his pace as he watched Harmony begin to walk away. He didn’t know where Hastur and Ligur were lurking but he knew they’d be watching and Crowley made a discreet signal for them to follow the target. They couldn’t arrest anyone today, but they could at least see where he was heading. As Harmony disappeared from the park, Montgomery finished her tea and picked her way across the path to Aziraphale. He was close enough to hear snatches of the conversation as he passed behind them.

“I rather expected two men to show up,” Aziraphale was saying in a light tone. “You told me there were two of them.”

Montgomery tossed a soft roll of curls over her shoulder as she smiled at him indulgently. Crowley wanted to push her into the duck pond.

“It’s such a public place,” she responded. “I suppose they decided it was too dangerous for them both to venture out. It’s only an initial meeting anyway – we’ll get them both together once you’ve gathered everything on the list.”

Aziraphale looked at his shoes with a distinctly unhappy expression and Crowley felt a pang of guilt. He’d told Aziraphale it would all be over today, and his oversight had just made sure the poor man wasn’t getting out of this any time soon.

Crowley passed out of earshot and hurried back to the car. Beezle was furious.

“What in the name of Satan Himself was that all about?” she hissed at him.

“Have you seen Ligur and Hastur?” Crowley said, ignoring her question.

“Yes,” Beezle replied. “They followed the Nazi out of the park just a couple of minutes ago.”

“Good,” he murmured. “Find Dagon, and you two tail Montgomery – see if she heads to the same place Harmony is going.”

“Have we dropped the ball on this one, Crowley?”

A frown was etched onto Beezle’s forehead, pulling her eyebrows close together in concern.

“I’m afraid we might have,” he confessed.

Tossing Beezle the keys to the Bentley, Crowley closed the door again and headed back to the park to watch Aziraphale. He couldn’t risk approaching him in the open like this, so he continued to watch from the shade of a large poplar as Aziraphale dejectedly threw the rest of his bread crust to the ducks and began to walk away.

Crowley followed him at a distance back to Soho, still hoping the third Nazi would make an appearance, but he was nowhere. The plan had failed.

____

 

Aziraphale was despondent.

He’d done everything he’d been asked to do – he’d followed Crowley’s plan to the letter and met Mr Harmony as arranged, but it had all gone horribly wrong. The whole plan had been hinged on the assumption that he’d be meeting both Nazis at St James’ Park, along with Captain Rose Montgomery – the third in the enemy spy ring – but that hadn’t happened.

As exciting as his little dabble into the spy game had been, Aziraphale had rather hoped he’d be out of it by now. He’d never had the stomach for this kind of thing, not like his siblings who all had military backgrounds. Aziraphale had just…never been brave enough, or strong enough; never been good at confrontation. It was why he’d escaped from that life trajectory a long time ago and gone into the rare book business and he felt so ridiculous his brief, shining moment of wanting to make a difference in this war.

“Look…” said Crowley haltingly, rubbing the back of his neck as he leaned against the door frame, “I know this isn’t…well…it isn’t what we had planned, but…”

Aziraphale scoffed and lifted his head out of his hands to fix the intelligence agent with a steely look.

“Anthony, please,” he replied. “Don’t belittle me – we both know this is bad.”

Crowley flinched.

“Using my Sunday name now? I must be in trouble.”

The worst thing was, Aziraphale couldn’t even find it in him to be angry or even upset with Crowley. It wasn’t Crowley’s fault, and he knew that. Aziraphale let out a sigh and pushed a hand through his hair absently.

“Alright,” continued Crowley. “So we fucked up. I fucked up. I should have anticipated something like this, but we just have to rethink our strategy and come up with a differe-“

“We?” Aziraphale interrupted. “Oh no, there is no ‘we’. I can’t do this.”

His hands were trembling at the mere thought of carrying on with Operation Nightingale – all it would take would be for him to let one thing slip to Montgomery and that would be it; his life over. He couldn’t do it anymore.

“Yes you can.”

Aziraphale sharply looked up at the softness in Crowley’s voice, his gaze meeting sincere honey-coloured eyes. Crowley sounded so sure; so confident in Aziraphale that for a second he forgot his fear.

“No!” he insisted as it all came flooding back in an instant, gripping his heart once more. “I cannot! I’m not that kind of person, Crowley! I’m not like you - this doesn’t come easy; the sneaking and double crossing...”

“Oh, thanks,” Crowley interjected, crossing his arms over his chest.

Aziraphale immediately felt a pang of guilt.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he murmured.  He was aware of how it must have sounded – that he was reducing Crowley’s career to lying and cheating, and completely disregarding the courage it took to actually be a spy. “I just mean...there are some people who were born to make a difference in this world, and some who are meant to keep their heads down,” he explained. “I’m one of the latter.”

He heard Crowley move; pushing himself up from the door frame, long limbs shifting gracefully as he crossed the room and slid into the chair opposite Aziraphale, who jumped slightly when Crowley’s finger grazed inside of his wrist, just by the cuff of his jacket. His touch was cool against Aziraphale’s fevered skin.

“You’re braver than you give yourself credit for,” Crowley replied, searching for Aziraphale’s eyes. “You’ve come this far on your own intuition and with very little help. I’ve got a whole division that has your back, and thanks to you we’ve got a Nazi spy ring on the hook. We just have to reel them in.”

Aziraphale let out a long shuddering breath, feeling his racing heart begin to slow under Crowley’s almost hypnotic gaze.

“And how are we to do that?”

“The list Harmony gave you,” replied Crowley. “How likely is it you can find what they’re looking for?

Aziraphale had almost forgotten about the list in his jacket pocket. Reluctant to lose the feel of Crowley’s cool skin against his own, Aziraphale sighed and forced himself to move his arm in order to dig the folded paper out.

He’d honestly not given the list a thought since receiving it, and he really didn’t know why. Perhaps he’d been too preoccupied with worry, but now he smoothed out the creases in the paper and scanned the top title.

“Hmmm…Nostradamus,” he mused. “That one is easy - I sold a first edition last year to a peculiar Scotsman in Finchley. Odd man - claimed to be a Sergeant in the Witchfinder Army of all things, but I have a series of handwritten diaries of a Witchfinder Major Pulsifer in 1656 I’m sure I can trade for it.”

Crowley gave him an encouraging smile.

“Brilliant! What’s the next one?”

Aziraphale took a deep breath, feeling calmer with each passing moment.

“Robert Nixon,” he said. “Lots of first editions floating about; I’m sure I can hold of one quickly enough. Then...Ignatius Sybilla...might take a bit of negotiation and back-channelling but again, I can probably get hold of a first edition.”

He looked up to find Crowley grinning at him.

“See? We’ve got a plan coming together already!”

A small laugh escaped Aziraphale’s lips. This was what he did – he was good at finding rare and antique books and he had plenty of contacts. Maybe, with Crowley’s assistance, he could do this after all.

“Mother Shipton,” he continued reading the list. “I’m sure there’s a copy that belongs to an occultist in Holborn. I’m not sure about Otwell Binns...”

“What about this last one?” Crowley asked, pointing to the last title on the page. “Agnes Nutter?”

Aziraphale’s blood went cold once more as he read it.

“Agnes...? Oh no...”

“Oh no?” repeated Crowley. “Why ‘oh no’? What’s wrong with Agnes Nutter?”

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Agnes Nutter, thought Aziraphale as he swallowed hard. Nothing at all, except…

“The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter,” Aziraphale began to explain in a trembling voice, “are rumoured to be the only prophetic writings that are completely true. Everything she ever wrote was accurate, even if they weren’t linear or indeed, easy to decipher.”

Crowley blinked.

“And? I still don’t understand what’s so wrong.”

Aziraphale felt like the was on the verge of a nervous breakdown all over again. If this was the last book on the list then he was completely and utterly fucked.

“It doesn’t exist,” Aziraphale blurted out, burying his head in his hands again. “There was only ever one print of her book and all the copies were destroyed when not a single one sold! The only rumoured surviving copy was given to a family member three hundred and fifty years ago, and nobody had heard about it since!”

Panic had fully set in again, roiling about in his stomach so that Aziraphale felt like he was about to throw up. He was hot and cold all at the same time because this book was going to be the death of him. He was going to get shot by Nazis for his inability to procure an impossible book.

Cool hands were on his wrists once again as Crowley gently lowered Aziraphale’s arms. Those honey eyes fixed on his once more; mesmerising and grounding; like Aziraphale had been spiralling and then was stopped in his tracks.

“Forget Agnes,” Crowley said; his voice as soft as a summer breeze. “We don’t need her. Concentrate on finding the other books – the ones we can get hold of – and the Nazis will trust you. If it comes down to it, we’ll just pretend we have Agnes Nutter to get them all together. It doesn’t really matter if we have it or not.”

Aziraphale blinked at him; the trembling in his limbs beginning to still as Crowley’s thumbs stroked calming circles on the back of his wrists.

“I won’t let them hurt you, Aziraphale,” murmured Crowley. “I promise I won’t let them hurt you.”

It was like breaking a spell. With a gasp, Aziraphale withdrew his hands sharply from Crowley’s grasp and dropped them heavily in his lap. He shook his head as the last drops of panic left him, replaced thoroughly by exhaustion.

“I could use a drink,” he said weakly, avoiding Crowley’s gaze again.

The chair scraped softly against the floor as Crowley pushed back his chair and stood up.

“Do you want me to make you some tea?” he asked.

“There is no tea – I drank it all,” replied Aziraphale, sadly. “But…I have several bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the pantry. If you might bring me one, my dear…”

Crowley’s auburn eyebrows shot up.

“Only of you let me help you drink it,” Crowley said. “It’s bad form to drink alone.”

Another small laugh escaped Aziraphale’s lips and he found himself nodding in agreement.

“In that case Mr Crowley, I would be very glad of your company.”

 

____

 

They had been drinking since midday and were three bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape down by mid afternoon. Crowley was comfortable on the bookshop’s small two-seat settee, a belly full of excellent wine warming him from the inside out as he watched Aziraphale sway gently to the music playing from the old gramophone in the corner.

The bookseller’s tartan bow tie was undone and draped around his neck, the first few buttons on his pale blue shirt unfastened and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Crowley tried very hard not to notice the pale fuzz on Aziraphale’s bare forearms and the small patch of hair just visible at his open collar; and he desperately tried hard not to pay attention to the way Aziraphale sipped his wine from the glass that he kept resting just below his lips, one hand cradling his elbow across his stomach as he swayed in front of his bookcase.

A Foggy Day in London Town was on its fourth play of the last ten minutes, with Aziraphale humming along as Anne Lenner sang and Carroll Gibbons played piano at the head of the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. It wasn’t really Crowley’s favourite music – too sedate, too slow – but he was thoroughly transfixed with Aziraphale’s enjoyment of it.

“Aziraphale...” Crowley said suddenly, trying the name out on his tongue mixed with the heaviness of wine. “S’n’angel, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t make a habit of reading bibles, but from what I remember...”

Aziraphale’s blue-grey eyes tore away from the bookshelf he’d been perusing and he blinked at the mention of his name.

“Oh,” he murmured. “Yes. Yes it is.”

It could have been the wine going to his head, but Crowley could have sworn Aziraphale’s eyes were bluer than they had been a few hours ago; no longer grey like a cloudy sky, but bright and sparkling.

“Religious family?” Crowley continued, speaking into his wine glass as he raised it to his lips again.

Aziraphale smiled at him. Crowley’s stomach turned to butterflies.

“Slightly.”

“Tons of siblings?”

“Enough,” replied Aziraphale. “All named after angels...and not a single one deserving of their names.”

Aziraphale’s mouth twisted as he meandered over to where Crowley was sitting and settled down into the small space left. He was warm, his thigh and shoulder pressing against Crowley; his heat seeping through the cotton of Crowley’s shirt.

“S’nice...”

Aziraphale quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Hmm?”

“Your name” Crowley said, quickly. “It’s nice. ‘Aziraphale’...”

He loved the way it sounded; loved the way it felt to say it aloud. Crowley thought to himself for a second, watching Aziraphale take another sip of wine and following the bob of his throat as he swallowed.

“But…angel? What does the ‘Z’ stand for?”

Aziraphale turned his head sharply to look at him.

“Sorry?”

“Your bookshop,” clarified Crowley. “Mr A.Z. Fell - what’s the ‘Z’?”

“Oh that?” murmured Aziraphale, relaxing into the settee as he leaned back into the plush red velveteen. “Nothing at all. ‘A fell’ my dear, is a piece of moorland or hill range. I am not ‘a fell’, hence the extra initial.”

Somehow it made sense to Crowley’s wine-soaked brain.

“Ah...”

“What does yours stand for?”

Crowley turned his head to the side and frowned.

“My ‘Z’?”

“No!” Aziraphale replied, swatting Crowley playfully on the arm. “The ‘J’!”

Crowley looked at Aziraphale for a long moment; at the flush in his fair cheeks and the brightness of his eyes; his lips tinted rose by the deep wine. For a second, he forgot what they had been talking about.

“............Janthony,” he said eventually.

Azirapahle’s blue eyes widened and Crowley could literally see him processing this information before bursting into a fit of laughter.

Oh, but Aziraphale was beautiful when he laughed. Crowley couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dimples that appeared in Aziraphale’s cheeks or the crinkles by his eyes; and there was absolutely no quelling the desire to lean over and capture those giggles with his lips.

Over the last few hours, Anthony J Crowley had felt his interest in the Soho bookseller snowball into a fully developed crush. Crowley never did this – he never opened up to people; never sat and talked; always keeping himself guarded and distant. He’d never felt this immediately comfortable in somebody’s presence as he did with Aziraphale; never felt quite at ease. Aziraphale was pure and kind and easy to talk to, especially once the wine started taking effect and he worried less.

“You know, bibles are actually very interesting!” Aziraphale said brightly, interrupting Crowley’s musings about kissing him right there on the bookshop settee.

Crowley gave him a lopsided grin.

“Yeah...nah, I don’t believe that.”

“It’s quite true, I assure you.”

“How? How is that possibly true?”

“I’ve collected a number of misprints over the years and they are rather hilarious,” insisted Aziraphale.

“Like what?” Crowley inquired.

Aziraphale shifted on the settee, twisting so that he could set his elbow on the back and rest his head against the back of his hand, his index finger twisting at an errant white-blond curl.

“Well...there’s one from 1795 that has a misprint in the Gospel of Mark that says ‘first, let the children be killed’ instead of ‘filled’! That’s known as the ‘Murderer’s Bible’. ‘The Wicked Bible’ has the misprint ‘thou SHALT commit adultery’ and then later on: ‘and ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory and his great-asse’”

Crowley almost spat wine across the bookshop’s expensive rug.

“The Lord hath a great asse!” he cackled as Aziraphale beamed at him.

“There’s a 1682 printing that alters a passage from Deuteronomy 24:3, which is reads: ‘If the latter husband ate her.’ That’s the Cannibal’s Bible.”

Crowley laughed even harder.

“And there’s the ‘Buggere Alle This’ Bible...”

“The WHAT?”

“‘Buggere Alle This’ - In 1651, a typesetter replaced Ezekiel 48:5 with a rant complaining about his job: ‘Buggere alle this for a larke, I amme sick to my Hart of typefetinge. Master Biltonn if no Gentleman, and Master Scaggs now more that a tighte fisted Southwarke Knobbefticke...’”

Crowley could barely breathe for laughing, his wine sloshing over the side of his glass and soaking into the black wool of his slacks.

“IT DOES NOT!”

“IT ABSOLUTELY DOES! Here, I’ll show you...”

Aziraphale slid from the settee and crossed quickly to a shelf close by, leaving Crowley to mourn the loss of his warmth. He selected a large black leather-bound tome and opened it at a bookmarked page; passing it to Crowley with a joyful smile.

 “Here!” he said, flopping gracefully back down next to Crowley and resuming his previous position; fingers messing up his curls. “And it also has a whole extra verse slotted into Genesis:3 - ‘And the Lord spake unto the Angel that guarded the eastern gate saying, “Where is the flayming sword that was given unto thee?” and the angel said “I had it here only a moment ago, I must have put it down somewhere, forgete mine own head next!” And the Lord did not aske him again’.”

Crowley’s sides ached from laughing so much and his stomach fluttered madly from the butterflies caused by Aziraphale enjoying himself immensely.

“You…are so interesting, angel,” he said a few moments later after he’d gained control of himself again.”

Aziraphale looked at him, his smile softening.

“Do you think so? Nobody really finds me interesting these days,” he mused. “Mostly people just call me boring.”

“You’re anything but boring,” Crowley replied, a little too quickly.

Aziraphale let out a small huff of laughter and glanced away. Crowley swallowed and stared into his almost-empty wine glass, willing himself to shut up. The last thing he needed was to give himself away – Aziraphale was an asset to the British Security Service under Crowley’s protection and it did not do well to fall head over heels for your asset and jeopardise the entire mission. Beezle would kill him if she knew. No, he had to keep this one locked down. Perhaps more wine would help.

“Another bottle?” he asked, changing the subject.

Aziraphale gave him a hazy smile that made it very difficult for Crowley to keep his crush under wraps.

“That would be lovely, my dear.”

 

____

 

It was another three hours before Aziraphale finally passed out on the settee with his head resting on Crowley’s shoulder. Crowley knew he should move; should get out of the bookshop and get back to HQ where Beezle and Dagon would be waiting to tell him about what happened with Montgomery.

But it was warm and he was comfortable, and Aziraphale’s head felt heavy and good, soft curls brushing against his chin. Surely, it wouldn’t hurt him to just close his eyes for ten minutes.

Only ten minutes.

Chapter Text

Crowley awoke to a pounding head and a cold nose; the light from the single Tiffany lamp giving off a dingy glow in the dark room. He groaned softly as he prised his eyes open slowly and blinked, trying to get his bearings. He was still in Aziraphale’s bookshop and it was fully dark. Crowley groaned softly, suddenly aware that he’d not, in fact, only closed his eyes for ten minutes.

His watch told him it was close to midnight – he’d been at Aziraphale’s for just under twelve hours and his team were going to be furious with him. Slowly, Crowley shifted; his head screaming in protest. Aziraphale was still asleep with his head on Crowley’s shoulder and it pained Crowley to shift him, but he managed to ease himself up and lower Aziraphale’s head onto the space he’d vacated on the settee. The room was chilly, and Aziraphale was only in his shirtsleeves, so Crowley dragged an Afghan from a chair in the corner and draped it over Aziraphale’s sleeping form.

Aziraphale looked positively angelic in his sleep – long lashes brushing high cheekbones and flushed cheeks from the alcohol; soft white-blond curls fluffed up against the faded red velveteen of the settee. Even with a horrible hangover developing, Crowley’s heart fluttered in his chest.

Careful, he told himself as he fished his dark glasses from his pocket with a sigh. The worst thing he could possibly do right now was get attached. This was not a thing Crowley did – at least not since he learned better – and yet he felt so drawn to Aziraphale, like a magnet drawn to a pole. He couldn’t help himself.

There was a lack of outside noise, he noticed as he moved the blackout curtain and peered cautiously through the window. There was no orange glow of distant flames, no clanging bells of fire trucks or wail of raid sirens so he knew that the weather must be pretty bad outside. Heavy cloud cover and rain always prevented German bombers from flying over London - the only blessing of terrible weather.

It was raining rather heavily as he stepped out of the door and into the alley behind the bookshop. Crowley wasn’t in any condition to drive but he would have risked it if he’d not left his Bentley in Beezle’s custody. He was soaked before he even made it to Shaftesbury Avenue; the rain penetrating the thin wool of his suit and it wasn’t the first time Crowley had wished he’d invested in a raincoat. It wasn’t a particularly long walk to Whitehall, but it felt like hours with a stonking hangover developing, edging his way along the pitch dark streets. The bombs may not have fallen tonight but it was still blackout conditions.

“Where the fuck have you been?”

“Nice to see you too Beezle,” Crowley grumbled as he walked through the door of Division H’s office to find Beezle glowering at him with her hands balled into fists at her sides.

He had learned long ago not to incur Eleanor Beezle’s wrath, but every so often he did something stupid and brought it down on himself. He always regretted it.

“We’ve been here for eight bloody hours waiting for you!”

“Sorry,” muttered Crowley as a puddle slowly began to form at his feet. “I got a bit side-tracked”

“At the pub by the looks of things,” piped up Dagon from her desk.

Sullenly, Crowley hung up his hat and began to peel off his sodden jacket only to find it had soaked through to his shirt underneath. Beezle rolled her eyes.

“Oh for God’s sake, sit down. I’ll get you some coffee.”

“Thanks,” Crowley sniffed.

“Don’t you dare thank me,” Beezle growled, dangerously. “We’ve got some important information to tell you, so I want your full attention.”

Frowning, Crowley took off his dark glasses and squinted in the low light of the office, noticing for the first time that Hastur and Ligur were absent. It was midnight, he thought – Beezle and Dagon had probably stayed to let the other two get some sleep – and Crowley had really not meant to pass out on Aziraphale’s settee for six hours.

“Did you follow Montgomery?”

“Oh, we followed her,” replied Dagon, pushing back from her desk and crossing the floor to him, slapping a file down on his desk, “right to the bloody door of SIS headquarters!”

Crowley’s eyebrows shot up.

“Secret Intelligence Service?” he repeated. “So she is a spy?”

He sat down heavily, willing away the throbbing in his temples and the nausea in his stomach as he opened his file and gratefully accepted the cup of thick, black coffee Beezle all but threw into his hands.

“We’ve been on the phone all afternoon,” said Dagon, smugly. “Captain Rose Montgomery is definitely SIS, but she’s office staff. We can’t find anything that says she on an active investigation right now – at least not through my available channels – which means she’s either stepping into our territory without permission, or she’s rogue.”

Crowley sifted through the papers Dagon had given him and marvelled at his colleague’s brilliance at gathering so much information in such a short space of time.

“They don’t call you Lord of the Files for nothing, Dagon,” he replied, managing a small grin until it hurt too much and he had to stop.

Dagon beamed back at him and Beezle huffed behind her.

“We traced her to a division within SIS ran by somebody named ‘Archangel’.”

Crowley grimaced.

“Sounds like a twat,” he murmured.

“I won’t disagree,” replied Beezle, “but the problem is, we can’t find out anything else – we can’t figure out if she’s working on her own or if she’s under orders from this ‘Archangel’. Nobody in our division has the security clearance.”

“So we go up the line,” said Crowley, bringing his coffee cup to his lips and blowing gently on the hot brew. “We take the information we gathered and get it directly in the hands of ‘Morningstar’ – the head of the Security Service will be able to contact the head of the SIS and find out if this ‘Archangel’ is involved in any way. At the least he’ll be informed that one of his agents is rogue.”

Beezle scowled at him.

“I don’t like it. Giving this information to anyone outside of this division could ruin everything we’ve worked so hard for.”

“Have you got a better idea?” asked Crowley.

He looked at Beezle over the rim of his mug. Crowley had the exact same reservations, but there was really no other way for them to find out if SIS were working the same case, or if this was a British agent going rogue. Taking it up the chain was the only way for them to find out.

“No,” she grumbled eventually. “Dagon – run the file over now. The sooner it gets to ‘Morningstar’ the better.

“Right.”

Dagon stood up and swiftly retrieved her coat, hat, and umbrella; scooping up the file from Crowley’s desk as she breezed out of the office without a backwards glance. Crowley was left with Beezle, and he sipped his coffee to avoid talking to her.

His wet shirt was sticking to his skin and he could feel the cold seeping into his bones despite the hot coffee in his belly.

“What did Hastur and Ligur find?”

Beezle’s eyes narrowed for a second, and then she sat heavily down in Dagon’s vacated chair.

“They tracked Harmony to a rented property in Whitechapel,” she replied. “The landlord checks out as legitimate, so it’s not a safe house. The other Nazi is nowhere.”

“Shit.”

Crowley had really hoped that the Terrible Twosome would find the third Nazi by tracking Harmony, but they’d been out of luck there too. It looked like Aziraphale really was their only hope to get all those bastards together.

“So,” said Beezle, cutting into Crowley’s thoughts, “Where the Hell have you been for the past twelve hours?”

Crowley grimaced. He was hoping she wouldn’t ask.

“With our asset,” he responded. “Poor man’s nerves are shot – he spent a good hour in a panic, absolutely positive that he was going to end up dead before this operation was done. I talked him around.”

“With alcohol.”

“Whatever works, Beez,” he murmured before draining the last of his coffee. It hadn’t done much for his impending hangover and he was still freezing and wet.

“So did they give him a list of books to find?” she pressed.

“Yeah – most of them he says aren’t a problem. One is a bit tricky…and the last one doesn’t exist.”

Beezle frowned.

“How do they expect him to get a book that doesn’t exist?”

“I dunno,” Crowley shrugged. “Maybe it’s a test? Maybe they don’t know there are no surviving copies of the book. Either way, I told him as long we get the rest of the books we can just lie about the last one to get them all together in the same place.”

He didn’t tell Beezle about the six whole hours he spent in Aziraphale’s bookshop, perusing the amazing collection of first edition books or about the butterflies he’d felt when Aziraphale loosened his clothing and relaxed around him. He didn’t mention how beautiful he was when he smiled or how his eyes became bluer and brighter when he was happy. Crowley especially failed to mention how drawn he was to Aziraphale’s intellect and wit, and the burning desire to spend so much more time with the bookseller than could be deemed proper.

No, Beezle would probably have knocked him out if she knew any of that, so Crowley kept it to himself.

Beezle peered at him closely, studying him like she was trying to figure something out. Crowley averted his eyes and stared directly into his coffee cup until Beezle eventually sighed.

“You should go home,” she said. “You look like shit, and I’d bet ten bob your hangover is only just kicking in and it’s going to be a bastard.”

Crowley gave her a lopsided grin.

“You’re right,” he replied, pushing himself up from his desk and grabbing the keys to his Bentley that Beezle had kindly left.

He didn’t bother putting his wet jacket back on, or his hat; instead deciding to just bundle them into the passenger seat of his car until he got home. Even in the middle of the night, with no street lamps, headlights, and being stopped by police as he crossed the river where he had to show his secret service identification papers to avoid being arrested for breaking curfew, Crowley made it to his home in Camberwell without his head exploding.

Climbing the stairs to his flat almost killed him and he definitely felt like he was going to throw up by the time he reached the door.  He knew he should climb into bed and sleep it off, and he’d stripped off his wet things and was turning back his bedcovers when he stopped, straightened, and went to his wardrobe to pick out clean, dry clothes instead.

Crowley was thinking about Aziraphale’s bookshop – the warmth of the crowded rooms and the plush settee and chairs and the wood burning stove in the back room. It radiated comfort so much more than Crowley’s own sparsely furnished flat that housed no more than the basics and a few plants that made the most of the south-facing windows. He already missed the feel of Aziraphale’s heat through his shirt, saturating through to his skin as they sat side-by side.

Fully dressed once more, Crowley filled a chipped pitcher with water and proceeded to pour it over the small selection of hardy house plants he’d been keeping since before the war started. Nobody sold house plants anymore as every available bit of land went to farming, including peoples’ back gardens and even people in flats were encouraged to grow vegetables or fruits that could supplement their diet instead of on useless plants. Crowley liked his plants. They required very little attention or intervention by him, and were always thriving no matter how long it took him to get home to water them. It was nice to just have something to come home to.

Depositing the empty pitcher in the sink, he picked up and pocketed the small two ounce tea ration packet that had been sitting on the small kitchen table for most of the week with his other rations. He was barely ever home to use them, and he knew of a certain Soho bookseller that would appreciate the tea packet so much more than he would.

 

____

 

Aziraphale stirred with a soft groan, his head a cloud of wine-induced hangover and his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth. The last thing he remembered he was sitting on the settee, warm and comfortably drunk with Carroll Gibbons playing quietly in the background, and now he was waking up face down on the soft velveteen with his feet on the ground and an ache in his back from being twisted; covered by an Afghan.

Crowley, he thought.

Crowley had been sitting beside him and it must have been Crowley who’d covered him with the blanket. Aziraphale dragged himself upright and gathered the Afghan around his shoulders to ward off the chill in the room as he blinked and tried to remember what he’d done the previous night. There were precious old bibles littering the floor and he recalled with horror that he’d shown almost each and every one of them to the intelligence agent like a proud father showing off photographs of his children. Worse still, Aziraphale believed he’d actually flirted.

He had. He had flirted with Anthony J Crowley; had sat, turned into him on that very settee and smiled and giggled and twirled his hair around his fingers like a coquettish schoolgirl. How shameful, Aziraphale scolded himself. He was a grown man who should know better than to flirt with somebody who was so obviously heterosexual and utterly unobtainable.

What’s more, he was actively flirting with a man who had a snake tattoo on the side of his face for heaven’s sake. Aziraphale thought he had more class than this; even if the man did have the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen, this developing crush was just because Crowley was the first person in years to show him the smallest amount of common decency…

No good could ever come of it, Aziraphale was sure; no matter how good he felt in Crowley’s company or how grounding his touch was or how completely safe Crowley made him feel. It was ridiculous to even entertain the notion.

Sighing heavily, Aziraphale dragged himself up from the settee and made his way through the bookshop, his blanket trailing behind him as he walked towards his back room. The warmth of the small wood-burning stove hit him before he even got to the door and he peered around the doorframe to find Crowley sitting there, dark glasses covering his eyes and reading a first edition of Dorian Grey. Aziraphale was both unsurprised at his presence and deeply pleased by the choice of literature.

At the sound of his footsteps, Crowley looked up from his page and gave Aziraphale a lopsided grin that made the bookseller’s heart flutter.

“Morning,” Crowley greeting him in a cheerful but quiet voice. “Hope you don’t mind, but I was getting quite bored waiting for you to wake up, so I helped myself to a book and some coffee.”

Aziraphale noticed the cup by Crowley’s elbow and was suddenly overcome by the deep need for a good cup of tea. This was immediately followed by a feeling of deeper sorrow as he remembered he’d drank it all a few days prior.

“That’s quite alright, my dear,” he responded, his voice raspy because of his dry throat. “I might have to bite the bullet and have some coffee myself, seeing as I have no tea left and I’m quite parched…”

“Oh,” said Crowley, placing Wilde on the table gently before digging into the pocket of his jacket and taking out a small brown packet. “Here you go.”

Aziraphale loosened his grip on the Afghan to accept the packet, his eyes going wide as he read the black print.

“Where did you get this?” he breathed, turning the tea ration over gently between his fingers.

“It’s mine,” Crowley replied, studying his fingernails. “I don’t really drink it and…well…if I’m honest it really just sits around my flat until a neighbour knocks and asks if I have any spare, so you might as well have it.”

He spoke fast, almost nervously and Aziraphale’s heart almost melted as he stared at Crowley. There was officially no getting away from this one – Aziraphale was going to have to live with this silly little crush for the rest of his life.

“Thank you,” murmured Aziraphale.

Crowley made a point not to look at him.

“S’alright,” he said.

Hiding a smile as Crowley picked up the book again, Aziraphale set to making himself a good pot of tea. His hangover suddenly didn’t feel quite as bad as he picked open the tea ration and dumped a good spoonful into the delicate china teapot before moving the kettle back onto the stove to boil.

Aziraphale vaguely recalled Crowley eyeing up his collection of first edition Oscar Wilde books the night before, somewhere around the second bottle of wine. Not that Wilde was a peculiar choice for anybody to read – the man had been a literary genius after all – but he was popular in certain circles more than others. Not that it proved anything at all, but Aziraphale’s interest in Crowley’s literary choices was definitely piqued.

“You said you knew somebody in Finchley, yes?” Crowley asked suddenly.

Aziraphale blinked at him, halting in the process of pouring boiling water into the pot.

“Pardon?”

“Nostradamus,” clarified Crowley. “You said you knew a fellow who had one.”

“Ah!” Aziraphale exclaimed quietly as it clicked. “Yes – a Mr Shadwell. Well…’Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell’ he calls himself. Peculiar chap with a rather unhealthy obsession with seventeenth century witch trials…”

“If you write down some details about him,” Crowley interrupted, “I’ll get my team to check him out before we visit.”

Aziraphale frowned as he sat down heavily at the table and poured himself a good strong cup of Crowley’s tea.

“Check him out?”

Crowley looked up from his book and peered at Aziraphale over the top of his dark glasses, the flash of honey eyes making Aziraphale feel slightly weak at the knees.

“We need to vet every person you contact with regard to these books,” he explained, gently. “It’s just to make sure that none of them have any links to enemy agents, or have any reason to betray or harm you.”

Aziraphale thought back to the previous day – the two of them sitting at the table with Crowley rubbing soothing circles on the backs of Aziraphale’s wrists and promising he’d never let anyone hurt him. It looked as though Crowley had meant every word.

“That’s fair,” Aziraphale murmured with a small smile.

He turned back to his tea, removing the strainer and raising the small china cup to his lips just as somebody began to hammer loudly on the door. Crowley’s chair hit the floor with a crash as he stood, long limbs uncoiling like a spring. Aziraphale had never seen somebody move as fast in his life.

“I’m not answering that at this time of day,” he reassured Crowley over the gold rim of his cup. It was barely dawn and the ‘closed’ sign was most definitely in place in the window.

The banging continued and Crowley frowned.

“What if it’s Harmony?” he said. “Or Montgomery?”

Aziraphale slowly lowered his cup, heart beating a little faster in mild panic.

“Oh…oh God,” he stammered, looking wildly about himself. “What am I going to do? What will they do if they find you here?”

Somehow it had completely failed to register that he was actually a double agent, and, because of this, he’d have to deal with both Crowley and Montgomery as well as the two Nazis on a regular basis. He’d barely known Crowley a week, but Aziraphale trusted him and was more than comfortable with Crowley being in his home and accompanying him in his search for the books of prophecy; but he didn’t trust Montgomery or her Nazi compatriots and just the thought of more contact with any of them filled him with ice cold dread.

“Go look,” Crowley said in that soft, encouraging voice; looking at Aziraphale over the top of his dark glasses. God help him, but Aziraphale felt those honey-coloured eyes could compel him to do almost anything at all.

Slowly, he pushed back his chair and the banging on the door intensified, moving to peek around the doorframe. Seeing the face through the door’s glass windowpanes made Aziraphale’s heart drop to his stomach and his face turn white. He flattened his back to the wall and looked helplessly at Crowley.

“Nazis?”

“No,” Aziraphale whispered hoarsely. “Much worse than that. It’s my brother.”

“AZIRAPHALE!”

The male voice bellowed through the letterbox and Aziraphale’s eyes squeezed shut at the sound of his name. Out of all the people in the world, why in Heaven’s name was his brother showing up at his door now.

“AZIRAPHALE!” he bellowed again. “I know you’re in there, Azira-fail! You never leave this blasted hovel, so I know you’re in there and you can hear me! Open the door, Azira-fail!”

God, but he hated the way his siblings pronounced his name. It had been the same through his whole life – the stress on the last part of his name that was his siblings’ constant reminder to him that he was a failure to his family. That he wasn’t like them.

“He sounds like a twat,” Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale gave a tight huff of laughter and tightened his grip nervously on the Afghan.

“He is,” he replied. “I…I’ll get rid of him.”

With a deep breath, Aziraphale unwound the blanket from his shoulders and draped it over the back of his chair before tugging his waistcoat down and walking from the room.

It seemed to take Aziraphale forever to cross the floor of his bookshop; each step heavier than the last and the ache in his head from his hangover getting stronger again. Gabriel was watching his every movement through the glass windowpane, and umbrella protecting him from the torrential rain outside. Aziraphale wanted nothing more than to turn around and go back into the cosy back room and resume his breakfast in Crowley’s company, but he knew his brother would just break in the door if he didn’t open it.

“There you are!” Gabriel said in a condescendingly cheerful manner as he barged inside the moment Aziraphale had the door unlocked. “It’s about time – it’s absolutely pissing down out there!”

“Gabriel,” said Aziraphale, warily. “To what do I owe this unexpected visit?”

“Do I need a reason to visit my little brother?” Gabriel responded in the same cheerful manner that made Aziraphale want to punch him in the teeth.

“Well obviously,” Aziraphale muttered darkly, “Otherwise it wouldn’t have been two years since I’ve seen you.”

The last time he’d seen his brother, they hadn’t parted on the best terms. Aziraphale never parted on the best terms with any of his siblings. They were all militaristic and cold, and they all greatly disapproved of everything Aziraphale was and everything he’d done with his life since he’d turned twenty-two and got the Hell away from them all.

Gabriel laughed, loud and booming; circling Aziraphale like a vulture around a dying animal.

“Oh, you never change, Aziraphale,” chuckled Gabriel. “You’re still wearing that awful old waistcoat, I see. When did you buy that thing? Nineteen twenty-five?”

He laughed as Aziraphale self-consciously tugged down his waistcoat. It was his favourite and Gabriel was right – he’d had it for years but it fit him like a glove and the velvet was soft and comforting. Aziraphale knew he’d worn the velvet away around the buttons from daily wear and the hem was a sorry state from how much he tugged at it, mostly when he was anxious or nervous…like now.

“I…I…er…”

“We need to get you some new clothes, old chap,” continued Gabriel; either oblivious to his brother’s discomfort, or simply not caring. “You look like a beggar in those rags and it’s not like clothing is rationed the way food is! We both know you can afford a new suit with that inheritance you stole. I know a wonderful Saville Row tailor who does wonders with cashmere and he can quite easily accommodate your…uhm…shape…”

Aziraphale opened his mouth to tell Gabriel that he was perfectly happy with his clothes when his brother rounded on him and gave Aziraphale’s stomach a gentle but sharp punch.

“Look at this gut!” Gabriel laughed as Aziraphale backed away from him. “God, I didn’t think it was possible for anybody to gain weight on rations, but you just proved me wrong…”

He trailed off as something caught his attention and Aziraphale turned to follow his gaze. Crowley was standing by the doorway of the back room, dark glasses hiding his eyes and arms folded over his chest. He looked menacing.

Aziraphale watched Gabriel straighten and pull himself to his full height, shoulders squared as he frowned at Crowley from across the room. Gabriel may have been in his late forties, but he was a Naval Commander and Aziraphale had no doubt his brother could flatten Crowley in an instant. He glanced between them, nervously.

“Who are you?”Gabriel asked Crowley. “You’re not from his club, are you?”

Crowley raised an auburn eyebrow quizzically.

“Club?”

Aziraphale was instantly in a panic. While he was in fact a member of a discreet Gentlemen’s Club off Portland Place, this information was that which he preferred kept quiet. He’d never mentioned it to anyone before for fear of judgement – the only reason Gabriel knew was because he’d found a payment receipt several years ago and had berated Aziraphale until he confessed. Gabriel judged him considerably.

“NO!” Aziraphale practically shouted as he stepped between the two, his poor hungover brain trying to work double time to find an excuse for entertaining a guest at this time in the morning. “No, he’s not. This is Mr Crowley – he’s…he’s…”

Gabriel stilled; his expression growing dark.

“Crowley?” he repeated. “Anthony J Crowley?”

Both Crowley and Aziraphale looked surprised.

“Do I know you?” Crowley inquired; his voice light.

“No,” replied Gabriel, almost innocently, “but I know all about you.”

Chapter Text

Gabriel Fell looked nothing like his brother. Where Aziraphale was all angelic white curls and round softness, Gabriel’s hair was dark and cut in a military style; his jaw was square and his shoulders broad. The only thing that gave away that they could possibly be related was their eyes – the same blue-grey like a stormy sea. He looked to be in his early to mid forties and honestly, looked like he could and had killed at least one man.

He wouldn’t have been the only person in the room to have done so.

Crowley leaned casually against the wall, studying Gabriel through the dark lenses of his glasses. Unlike Aziraphale who’d instantly had an air of the familiar about him, Gabriel didn’t look familiar in the slightest and Crowley hated being on the back foot.

“Anthony J Crowley. British Security Services, if I’m not greatly mistaken,” continued Gabriel Fell, looking Crowley over from his auburn hair and dark glasses to his snakeskin shoes with an air of superiority like Crowley was just something underfoot to be squashed. “A sneaky spy. Yes....you look the type - I don’t know how someone like you...with your background...slithered your way into His Majesty’s Intelligence Services but here you are. In my brother’s bookshop. Their standards must have gone straight to Hell...”

Crowley stiffened but maintained his casual lounging position against the wall. How in Heaven did Aziraphale’s brother know that Crowley was Security Service? Being a spy wasn’t like being a copper – you didn’t wear a uniform or a badge – the whole point was to be inconspicuous; to not look like a spy. There was nothing visual at all that would give him away.

Behind his brother Aziraphale frowned in confusion, his fingers nervously rubbing at the worn velveteen at the hem of his waistcoat, like the action soothed him somehow.

“Gabriel? I don’t...how do you...?”

Crowley didn’t say a word and Gabriel ignored Aziraphale completely, carrying on like he hadn’t spoken at all.

“The snake tattoo gives a lot away - Whitechapel Serpents, isn’t it? Minor gang that went down a few years back. Quite a miracle for you to have escaped incarceration with the rest of them, but then again with a rap sheet like yours I’m guessing you double crossed your way right out of it...”

Crowley was very glad his eyes were hidden behind dark lenses so Gabriel Fell couldn’t see him glance at Aziraphale. This was...really not good. His misspent youth was being aired by a perfect stranger to the man whose trust he desperately needed and his stomach felt like he’d swallowed a cannonball even as he tried to maintain his cool exterior. Who exactly was this man and how did he know so much about Crowley?

“Now....look...” Aziraphale tried again, blue-grey eyes wide and looking from Crowley to Gabriel but Gabriel’s attention was very singularly focussed on the tall, wiry man leaning against the wall.

Gabriel was advancing; edging forward with every word, closer to Crowley.

“I really hoped it wasn’t true,” he continued, “but then I saw you standing there and ...just how did you get my gullible little brother to get involved in this? Threats? Coercion? Blackmail?”

Crowley chanced another look at Aziraphale and watched the bookseller’s face change from confused and concerned, to absolutely livid as Gabriel called him gullible. Aziraphale’s fair skin turned pink; his hands falling away from his waistcoat and balling into fists at his sides. Crowley knew Aziraphale wasn’t gullible – he was open and trusting and those were honourable, good qualities…not weaknesses. No, it was plain for Crowley to see that Gabriel Fell was digging himself into a hole regarding his brother and he was more than happy to hand him the shovel.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” Crowley said, innocently.

The change in Gabriel’s face and tone was instant. He’d been so condescending; so superior with a smug, smarmy grin on his square face this whole time and now he was rattled. Excellent, though Crowley. Gabriel was angry and talkative – perhaps Crowley could get him to slip up and tell him something useful; something that could tell him why the rich, military-orientated brother of a Soho bookseller knew so much information about him that he had no business knowing.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Gabriel growled.

“Not a clue,” replied Crowley, lightly. “I’ve never got Aziraphale into any trouble whatsoever, right angel?”

The look on Gabriel’s face was priceless. Crowley wished he could have a framed photograph of that moment – the very second he called Aziraphale ‘angel’ – because Gabriel Fell was furious. It took no time at all for Gabriel to clear the remaining space between them and grab Crowley firmly by the lapels of his jacket, lifting him cleanly a good foot from the ground and slamming Crowley’s back against the wall. Behind him, Aziraphale let out a small cry of anguish, but Crowley had to hide a grin.

“I’m talking about the Nazis you snake!” Gabriel hissed, his face mere millimetres from Crowley’s.

And there it was. The smile Crowley had been trying to conceal finally materialised, because Gabriel Fell had just given him the puzzle piece he’d needed. Now Crowley knew who the man was.

Azirphale was on his brother in an instant, pulling hard at Gabriel’s wrists in anger.

“You…you let him go!” Aziraphale cried. “Right now!”

Slowly, Gabriel’s vice-like grip on Crowley loosened and he felt himself be lowered back to the ground before Gabriel finally let him go. Calmly, Crowley brushed the creases from his jacket and carefully slipped his dark glasses from his face, folding the delicate arms in and putting them into his top pocket before looking up again.

Crowley was still reeling from having his dirty laundry aired and he was trying not to worry about what Aziraphale was thinking of him at this moment. For the time being, Aziraphale seemed to be fighting in Crowley’s corner, so he remained hopeful. Right now however, he had larger concerns to deal with.

“Well,” he murmured to Gabriel, “you’re an absolutely terrible spy aren’t you. I hope to God the Gestapo don’t get hold of you because you’ll just let everything slip!”

Confusion quickly replaced Aziraphale’s anger once again as he looked between Crowley and his brother.

“Spy?” he echoed. “What are you talking about? My brother is a Commander in the Royal Navy, aren’t you, Gabriel?”

Gabriel Fell looked hunted. It was wonderful to see the condescension wiped clear from his face, replaced by the look of somebody who knew they’d fucked right up. That’s what happened when you couldn’t shut your stupid mouth, thought Crowley.

“No,” he answered aloud to Aziraphale. “He’s not – or at least, he’s not anymore. See, there’s only a handful of people who about Nightingale, angel - there’s you, me, my team; there’s the head of Security Services and the head of SIS; and then there’s the person the head of SIS told about the rogue agent in his division.” Crowley looked back to Gabriel and blinked innocently. “Archangel - my God, that’s pretentious! Did you come up with that or did someone else? Please say it was somebody else because otherwise I might throw up with how self-important you are...”

“You shut your mouth, you little…” began Gabriel before Aziraphale cut him off, rounding on his brother with a face like thunder.

“Secret Intelligence Service? A rogue agent? Gabriel, is this true? I think I deserve an explanation here!”

Shining blue eyes, ruddy cheeked and body drawn to full height - Aziraphale looked like he was about to turn full Old Testament and it was honestly the best hangover cure Crowley had ever had. Gabriel hadn’t expected his turn of events. He was caught off guard and Aziraphale was furious.

“Yes,” Gabriel admitted, his hands raised in a placating gesture, “I’m SIS, but secret is the whole point of the agency Aziraphale - you never knew because I couldn’t tell you! Besides, I’m here now, trying to save you from this manipulative, slithering...”

“If you call him a snake ONE MORE TIME GABRIEL I SWEAR...!”

Oh, but this was beautiful and Crowley was thoroughly enjoying himself. The Secret Intelligence Service was largely made up of Old Boys – what they referred to mostly as ‘gentlemen’, or more accurately, men with money who went to the right schools and the right universities and the right social clubs and knew the right people. Very rarely did any of them have any talent for the game and they always thought themselves superior to their sister agency.

Unfortunately for Gabriel, Anthony J Crowley lived for stirring up trouble and by now he was an expert at it.

“Ask him about his rogue agent, angel!” he piped up, innocently.

He hadn’t thought it was possible for Aziraphale’s face to get any redder, but he was wrong. His cheeks were flushed with rage; his blue-grey eyes, shining and stormy as he squared up to his brother, suddenly looking a lot less soft and a great deal more beautiful as Gabriel visibly cowed.

“CAPTAIN ROSE MONTGOMERY IS YOUR AGENT? SHE'S THE ONE THAT DRAGGED ME INTO THIS! SHE’S WORKING WITH NAZIS AND WOULD HAVE LEFT ME DEAD IN A DITCH ONCE I’D FULFILLED MY PURPOSE IF CROWLEY HADN'T COME ALONG TO ASSIST ME! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW YOUR OWN AGENT IS A NAZI?”

Watching the whole exchange, Crowley realised that he never wanted to be on the receiving end of Aziraphale’s anger. The man had a set of lungs and the range of vocabulary privy to owning a bookshop; his insults Shakespearean in breadth as he continued to yell at his brother for a good few minutes.

An errant white curl fell across Aziraphale’s forehead as he ranted about his brother’s irresponsibility but Crowley found himself no longer listening to the exchange. If he thought Aziraphale Fell made his heart melt when he was happy, seeing him mad made Crowley feel incredibly hot under the collar. Damn him to Hell, but the more layers he found to this beautiful man, the harder it was not to fall head over heels for him. His brother was taller, broader, harder…and yet he visibly shrank under Aziraphale’s wrath. It was beautiful.

Crowley came back to his senses when he realised the room had fallen silent; Gabriel staring hard at the Persian rug underfoot as Aziraphale glared and tried to slow his breathing. Crowley cleared his throat and straightened his jacket again.

“So,” he said cheerfully, “I suppose now we have addressed the elephant in the room, we should probably discuss what we’re doing with this situation.”

Gabriel Fell looked sharply back up at him, his expression quickly shifting back to anger as he focussed on Crowley’s face.

“The situation?” he repeated.

“That’s right,” Crowley replied, leaning his shoulder against the wall again and he folded his arms casually across his chest. “You see, you have an agent that’s part of a Nazi ring who have been blackmailing and murdering people, and now they’re trying to use your brother. Luckily for him, my division are working with him to capture the lot of them. Now…you pose a bit of an issue here, Archangel because you have two conflicts of interest…”

Gabriel visibly bristled at Crowley’s use of his moniker, which Crowley of course gleefully noticed.

“…and can therefore be a danger to your brother and to the Security Service’s operation.”

A muscle twitched in Gabriel’s jaw but Crowley could see resignation in his eyes. They might not have liked each other very much but Crowley knew that families like the Fells would do anything to protect their reputation. Gabriel was a terrible spy, but he believed in honour.

“Fine,” he growled eventually. “There’ll be no official SIS involvement in your operation, but I want to be kept informed. If I’m meant to act like I know nothing and keep Montgomery believing everything is fine…”

“We’ll keep you updated,” replied Crowley. “Miss Dagon will send communication…”

“No,” Gabriel growled. “Anything can be written down can be intercepted.”

Crowley hated to admit he had a point. It wouldn’t do to have Montgomery intercept any communication they sent.

“Lunch,” Aziraphale piped up suddenly, he cheeks now only just tinted with residual rage. “You’re my brother – it wouldn’t be at all unusual for siblings to have lunch together. I’ll arrange something when we have anything to tell you.”

The suggestion seemed to satisfy Gabriel and he nodded.

“I swear to God if anything happens to my brother…” he said, fixing the collar of his coat.

“It won’t,” Crowley murmured, stealing a glance at Aziraphale behind the safety of dark glasses. “Not on my watch.”

He saw Aziraphale’s face soften, a small smile raising his lips and Crowley’s stomach turned to butterflies again. Whatever Gabriel had said about him, Crowley hadn’t lost Aziraphale yet.

Gabriel straightened his overcoat and tie, looking between his brother and Crowley before moving towards the door.

“I’m going to hold you to that, Crawly,” he muttered as he retrieved his umbrella, slid open the bolt, and stepped out into the rain with the little bell tinkling merrily behind him.

Crowley waited until Gabriel had cleared the doorstep before bursting into laughter, bounding away from the wall as Aziraphale turned to him with wide-eyed surprise.

“Oh…my…God,” Crowley breathed as he circled Aziraphale happily. “That was incredible! You were incredible! I swear, never in my life have I seen an SIS agent look so bloody scared – it was beautiful!”

Aziraphale didn’t know if he should smile or not.

“I…I probably shouldn’t have shouted at him…”

“Oh, no – you definitely should have,” replied Crowley, grinning. “It was fantastic.”

Aziraphale did smile then, and they stood beaming at each other like idiots for at least half a minute before Crowley forced himself back to earth.

He’d just met Archangel – he knew the identity of Montgomery’s Division Chief and there were so many connotations to it. It was so much closer to home than any of them had realised. He needed to tell H Division…and Morningstar.

“Listen,” he said, tearing his eyes away from Aziraphale’s angelic smile, “I have to leave for a little while…just a few hours to update my division on all of this.”

Aziraphale’s face fell for a second, but he recovered fast.

“I understand,” he murmured, tugging on the hem of his waistcoat as he looked at the floor.

Crowley rubbed the back of his neck. He hated having to go, especially when there was so much to explain. He had to set the record straight about what Gabriel had said about him, but it would have to wait. Sighing, he turned and retrieved his hat from the table in the back room, tipping it down at a slight angle over his left eyebrow.

“I’ll be back,” he promised.

He was two steps away from the door when Aziraphale called out to him.

“Crowley, wait!”

He turned.

“Yeah?”

Aziraphale looked lost for a second, but then he picked up the book Crowley had been reading and held it out to him.

“You forgot your book.”

Crowley glanced at the first edition Wilde in Aziraphale’s soft, well-manicured hand and swallowed.

“Angel,” he replied softly, “that’s your book.”

“Well…yes,” Aziraphale murmured, “but you’ve started reading it and it’s a crime to start a book and not finish it. So…you must take it and return it when it’s completed. I insist.”

Aziraphale’s face flushed prettily as he stepped forward and pressed the book firmly into Crowley’s hand and it took all the self control Crowley possessed not to kiss him right there on the spot as the bookseller’s warm, soft fingers brushed against his.

“Thank you,” he managed as Aziraphale nodded and turned away, leaving Crowley free to make his exit before he did something stupid.

God damn him, but Crowley had it bad.

 

____

 

Aziraphale had finished a whole pot of too-cool tea plus four slices of bread with a thin layer of butter and preserve, chewing slowly and precisely as he stared at the empty chair the he’d found Crowley lounging in earlier that morning. The food did little to ease the ache in his stomach from the hangover he was still nursing and his head hurt from the thoughts swimming through it.

Gabriel, his eldest brother, was Secret Intelligence Service and more than that, he was directly in charge of the woman who had tried recruiting Aziraphale to work for Nazis. He didn’t know how this could happen. His brother had always been very astute when it came to observing those around him…although now that Aziraphale thought about it, perhaps Gabriel had only been observant when it came to Aziraphale and his personal life.

It wasn’t fair. Aziraphale couldn’t even have his own adventure without Gabriel showing up and ruining things. He’d been perfectly beastly to Crowley, who had managed to figure out Gabriel’s connection to the whole plot in the blink of an eye. Between the two of them it was clear to see who the superior spy was, but Gabriel had made such terrible accusations against Crowley and his past. Aziraphale didn’t know what to think.

He wasn’t even sure if he cared.

Sighing heavily, he polished off his final mouthful of bread and pushed himself up from the table. He’d slept in his clothes and he desperately needed a bath and to change; to wash himself clean of a night’s accumulated sweat and the smell of alcohol that seemed to seep from his pores. Aziraphale left his breakfast dishes until later and climbed the stairs to run a bath, thankful that he lived in a more affluent area of London that allowed him to have a bath plumbed into the hot water supply so he didn’t have to mess around boiling kettles to fill a tin.

Aziraphale added a few drops of lavender oil to the hot running water and began to strip, laying his waistcoat and trousers over a chair, but tossing his shirt, underwear, and socks into a laundry hamper in the corner of the room as the bath filled. Gabriel had ridiculed his waistcoat too. Aziraphale knew it was old and worn, but it fit him like a glove and it was familiar and comfortable and well-made.

Clothing wasn’t quite as well made these days, especially now there was a war on and there were rumours the government would start rationing fabric soon. People would need coupons to buy clothes as well as food and all non-essentials would be done away with. He’d seen the beginning of it already with new suits he’d seen on the street – no turn-ups on cuffs, no double-breasted jackets, and no waistcoats.

Crowley didn’t wear a waistcoat, he mused. Aziraphale had noticed he wore the new style suits, cut slightly broader at the shoulder and narrower at the waist than usual. He would look good in a waistcoat, Aziraphale thought – with good tailoring it would really accentuate his small waistline…

Aziraphale sighed again as he turned off the hot water taps. It didn’t do him any good to think like this and he’d already scolded himself once already that morning about it. The water was almost hot enough to boil a lobster and he winced and hissed as he dipped his toes in; inching into the bath slowly to get used to the scorching temperature.

Anthony Crowley was honestly one of the most fascinating creatures Aziraphale had ever encountered. It was strange to think that just over a week ago, he’d believed the man to be nothing short of a scoundrel but now…now Aziraphale knew better.

He’d never felt quite this way before about anybody. Crowley was playful and mischievous but he had a genuine sweetness to him and a grounding quality that intoxicated Aziraphale completely. He knew he needed to stop being ridiculous and give up on this crush that had snuck up on him out of nowhere…but would it really be so bad to give in just this once?

Besides, he reasoned, maybe all he needed was to let off a little steam. He’d been incredibly stressed of late with all this Nazi business and then his brother turning up out of nowhere; all these secrets being revealed and his own loneliness creeping up on him. It couldn’t hurt to have a bit of release.

Leaning his head back to rest against the cool rim of the bath, Aziraphale closed his eyes and sank into the scorching water, feeling its velvet softness enclose his body in a lavender-scented cocoon. It had been such a long time since he’d done this, he wasn’t even sure he remembered what to do. Somehow it felt a little silly to be forty years old and planning a sexual fantasy in his morning bath.

Knowing he had to start somewhere, Aziraphale took a deep breath and placed a hand flat on his stomach, fingers splayed on his skin. Slowly, he moved his fingertips back and forth, trailing gently through the line of white-blonde hair that ran down the middle of his stomach. Despite the heat of the water, he felt the hairs on his arms raise with goosebumps.

He sighed gently and he changed from fingertips to fingernails, feeling the gentle stroke turn into the deliciously sharp scratch across his skin. Oh God, but he liked that – the bite and the different kind of heat. Aziraphale squirmed in the water as a sharp sensation ran through his body, as though somebody had dug a hook behind his belly button and tugged, sending waves through his stomach and groin and thighs. Aziraphale groaned quietly to himself as he pushed a wet hand through his hair slid his other hand down across his hip and over his thigh.

How long had it been since he’d felt like this; since he’d felt that ache in his loins at the barest touch? He’d felt the start of that heat the night before – that ache and longing through the haze of alcohol as Crowley had sat so close, those beautiful eyes studying him. Had they watched Aziraphale’s lips move as he talked? He wanted to think so – he wanted to think that Anthony Crowley had been just as transfixed with him as he was with Crowley; that he’d spent all night wondering what it would be like if he’d just leaned in a couple of inches and pressed his lips against Aziraphale’s.

He ran his fingernails across the inside of his thigh slowly, feeling the light scratch. It wasn’t nearly enough and he dug his nails in harder, the sound of his moan echoing off his bathroom walls.

He imagined those fingernails weren’t his, but Crowley’s; imagined that it was Crowley’s hand that was caressing his thigh and scratching his skin, trailing lightly up over his hip and across his soft, round stomach and back down again. Aziraphale imagined he was staring deep into those honey eyes as Crowley kissed him slowly, his fingers pushing through Aziraphale’s hair and pulling him close.

In his mind, Aziraphale was no longer alone in his bath. He could feel the weight of a long, lithe body pressing down into his, a slim leg easily sliding into place between his thighs. Aziraphale’s fingers no longer caressed his own body but dug hard enough to leave bruises on the pale skin of Crowley’s narrow hips. He could feel soft lips against his skin, pressing kisses against his jaw and trailing down his throat, across his neck and onto his collarbone. It was a blissful fantasy with Crowley’s hands taking the place of his own; Crowley’s teeth biting and sucking Aziraphale’s lower lip; Crowley eliciting that wanton moan from Aziraphale’s throat. He was hard and aching, the dull throb building in his thighs and stomach as his nails scratched over his skin.

Aziraphale cried aloud to the empty bathroom as fingers trailed up the hard, aching shaft of his cock and gently teased the head with soft tugs and long pulls. He thought of sweet, fresh perspiration beaded at a hairline, turning auburn hair darker; the saturated strands twisting deliciously in Aziraphale’s fingers. Slick skin moved smoothly against his under lavender-scented water and he lost himself in it, no longer knowing where he ended and the Crowley of his imagination began.

He started to gasp as the heat pooled in the pit of his stomach and his hand moved faster, chasing the pleasure of the fantasy and the impending orgasm. It didn’t take him much longer to get there, picturing Crowley’s eyes flutter closed and a sharp gasp spilling from his mouth as Aziraphale thrust his hands into that auburn hair and tugged hard. The sound he imagined was beautiful and desperate, and enough to tip Aziraphale over the edge into a wave of white heat with Crowley’s name on his lips as he came.

It left him panting and dizzy, his skin flushed and the evidence of his fantasy disappearing into the cooling bathwater.

Well - thought Aziraphale as he opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling – that didn’t go quite the way he’d wanted. Yes, he’d experienced a rather spectacular orgasm but the object of the exercise had been to get inappropriate thoughts of Crowley out of his head, not further into it. Aziraphale had to accept his growing feelings for the Intelligence Agent were going nowhere. He’d just have to keep them to his bathtimes.

Aziraphale washed quickly and climbed out of the bath, wrapping a towel around his waist as he padded back towards his bedroom. He dressed quickly, briefly considering a different waistcoat but then deciding Gabriel could go fuck himself and pulled on his favourite, delighting at the worn velveteen under his fingers.

His hangover was better but he didn’t feel at all like opening the shop today. Aziraphale often kept erratic opening hours so he doubted anyone in Soho would be at all surprised if he just sat in the back room and read all afternoon.

He used the same tea leaves from that morning in order to make Crowley’s tea ration go that little bit further, and fed more wood into his little stove. He pulled his gramophone closer to the table and put on one of his favourite Al Bowlly records. Comfortable and warm, Aziraphale pulled the Afghan back around his shoulders and selected a book from his private collection, settling into his favourite chair to await Crowley’s return.

 

____

 

Reporting back to HQ had taken hours and in the back of Crowley’s mind, all he’d been able to think about was Aziraphale. He’d told the rest of H Division about Gabriel Fell, about everything he’d said, his threats; and then he’d had to tell it all over again to Morningstar. There had been paperwork to file and documents to sign, and endless questions from Beezle when all he wanted to do was run back to the bookshop and explain himself.

Damn Archangel to Hell, he thought. Bringing up Crowley’s past like that - how had he even found that out in such a short space of time anyway? Did SIS have their own Dagon? Crowley had never seen anyone dig up dirt as fact as that woman could.

He finally got to escape several hours later, driving back to Soho with Aziraphale’s book weighing heavily in his inside pocket. He wondered if Aziraphale had noticed the significance of his literary choice – admittedly, Crowley had partly chosen Wilde because he liked the story of Dorian Grey, and partly to drop a huge hint to the bookseller. Was that why he’d let Crowley keep it?

His stomach was in knots as he parked the Bentley a couple of streets away and walked the rest of the distance, glad the heavy rain of that morning had slowed to a fine drizzle. Despite the gift of the book, Crowley was worried Aziraphale’s opinion of him had changed in the hours he’d been away. When Gabriel had brought up Crowley’s past, Aziraphale hadn’t seemed shocked or surprised, horrified or disgusted or even pitying. In fact, he’d looked at Crowley on the exact same way he had before any of it was mentioned, and it had given him hope.

But Aziraphale had been alone for a few hours now, and he’d time to think about it. Crowley didn’t know what he’d do if Aziraphale had changed his mind about trusting him now he was in possession of information that made Crowley look bad. He wished he’d stayed and explained it first; set the record straight before leaving for HQ.

Crowley located the back door of the bookshop and took out his lockpick, inserting it into the lock and wiggling it around a bit. To his surprise, the lock clicked almost immediately and the handle turned from the inside; door opening to reveal Aziraphale standing wrapped up in his Afghan, surveying Crowley with keen eyes. He didn’t look angry in the slightest.

“You know, it’s often polite to knock if you want somebody to let you in,” Aziraphale said gently.

Crowley’s face swiftly began to colour as he spotted the key in Aziraphale’s hand, and he hurriedly stuffed the lockpick back in his pocket. It had become second nature to let himself into places and he’d not really thought anything of it until now – how bad it was to break into the house of a person whose trust he badly needed. He wasn’t sure yet how much damage Gabriel Fell had done and he could have kicked himself for not using the front door instead.

“Yeah…” he muttered. “Sorry – I didn’t…think…”

Aziraphale regarded him for a moment before standing to the side.

“Well, you’d better come inside,” murmured Aziraphale, his expression unreadable.

Crowley could hear the sound of Al Bowlly’s ‘The Very Thought of You’ playing as he stepped inside. He didn’t know what to do with himself; didn’t know if he was as welcome in Aziraphale’s home as he had been earlier that day. He stood awkwardly by the table as Aziraphale closed the door and placed the key on the table as he walked past Crowley on his way back to his chair.

Tea was still steaming in his cup, and the book Aziraphale had been reading lay next to it. Crowley slid his glasses from his face, the movement not half as smooth as it usually was and he fumbled with the legs as he folded them to stash them in his jacket pocket.

“Crowley,” Aziraphale began, breaking the silence and fiddling with the lowest button on his waistcoat, “I just…I want to apologise for my brother’s behaviour today…”

“Oh…angel, no…”

“Yes,” insisted Aziraphale. “He was perfectly beastly and he treated you appallingly. The things he said about you…”

It would have been so easy at that point to lie; to agree with Aziraphale that Gabriel had been in the wrong or that he had lied to try and turn Aziraphale against him. But Aziraphale deserved better than that, and Crowley didn’t ever want to give him a reason not to trust him. He needed to come clean; needed to explain…

“They’re true,” Crowley blurted. Aziraphale stopped short and Crowley cursed himself. “What I mean is…there’s truth to what he said about me, but it’s not what you think.”

Aziraphale’s grey-blue eyes blinked twice.

“Explain,” he said softly.

Crowley took a deep breath and removed his hat, running a hand over his hair as he set it down on the table next to Aziraphale’s abandoned book. He’d never willingly told anybody his personal history – even his colleagues only knew the most relevant parts of it and they all had similar, shady history they wanted to keep close to their chests.

Aziraphale slid back into his chair, looking at him expectantly with his hands folded neatly in front of him. Crowley knew he had to tell the truth, but he also had to be careful of how he told it. Aziraphale’s trust in him hung on a knife edge.

“I…I got into the gang life when I was very young,” Crowley began. “I was a kid – we were poor and they seemed to be able to get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. It was the most glamorous life to a destitute kid. As far as gangs go, my first wasn’t even a bad one – mostly just kids like me trying to make a living pickpocketing. It dissolved mostly…everyone joined bigger gangs, moved onto move violent stuff.”

Aziraphale’s face remained expressionless and the knot of anxiety in Crowley’s stomach grew tighter.

“I never went in for the whole gang rivalry thing,” he continued, “I always found it…sickening; never really enjoyed the violent part of the life – I was just in it for the money. Well, the big thing was gambling in those days and everyone seemed to have a finger in the Racecourse pie. I mostly tagged along to see what I could get, but…I found I was best at causing trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?” Aziraphale asked quietly.

Crowley sighed, slowly sinking into the empty chair next to him. He wished Aziraphale’s face would give away something.

“I caused trouble for the rival gangs,” he explained. “It was stupid and it was dangerous, but…I’d target the dumbest, or the weakest, or the most insignificant gang members and I’d feed them false information or lift money from their pockets; leave notes behind implicating others in wrongdoings. Nothing ever stuck to me – I wasn’t ever really a part of it; just somebody on the sidelines who knew the game and how to play it.”

“What did you do with the money?” asked Aziraphale, his voice still soft and calm.

Crowley felt sick but he took another deep breath.

“Depends,” he admitted. “Some of it I kept; some of it I gave to the families of bookies that had been terrorized or murdered for a cut of the winnings.”

He ran a hand over his hair again and leaned forward towards Aziraphale.

“I never stole a single thing from anyone who didn’t deserve it, angel. I swear on my life.”

Aziraphale sat straight-backed in his chair, thumbs drumming lightly on the table as he processed the information Crowley had told him. It seemed like an age before he spoke again.

“How did you end up being recruited for the Security Service?” Aziraphale asked.

Crowley gave him a lopsided grin.

“In a manner not that dissimilar from you,” he replied. “What I did got a lot of people arrested and imprisoned for a long time. I was approached by a very good spy who’d figured it all out and he told me I could either use my skills to aid in an upcoming war, or I could go to jail with all the gang members I was responsible for getting locked up.”

“Hmmm,” mused Aziraphale.

Crowley watched as Aziraphale looked at his hands, studying his well-manicured fingernails. Crowley’s leg bounced nervously, foot drumming against the floor as he anxiously waited for Aziraphale’s verdict. He was honestly surprised to find it mattered such a great deal to him to be in Aziraphale’s favour.

“I…need to tell you something too,” Aziraphale said eventually.

Crowley blinked.

“What’s that?”

Slowly, nervously, Aziraphale raised his head and looked at Crowley again, apprehensively.

“Gabriel said something about me too that was true in a manner of speaking…”

Crowley frowned, confused.

“Angel, I…”

“No, please,” Aziraphale interjected. “You were truthful with me, so I must be the same.”

Crowley’s frown deepened. He’d just confessed to a life of crime, being an accessory to murder, and coercion – whatever Aziraphale wanted to tell him, it couldn’t possibly be worse than that. Crowley couldn’t even think what Gabriel might have said that had Aziraphale so agitated.

“He…he said that I stole my inheritance,” said Aziraphale, hesitantly. “That’s not true. When I turned twenty-two, that inheritance was legal mine. I was always the odd one – never sporty, never military-minded – just bookish and soft. I was never going to be a Sandhurst graduate like Gabriel and when I turned twenty-two, I knew that I was better off on my own and as far away from my family as possible. So I left with my money and some books, and I bought this place. I never stole anything, I promise you.”

Crowley couldn’t believe what he was hearing. For hours, all he’d been thinking was how Aziraphale might see him now, what he might think of Crowley after hearing the truth about his past and here, Aziraphale had been worried about what Crowley might think of him for walking away from his horrible family.

“You did what was right by you,” he replied, softly. “You can’t get fairer than that.”

Aziraphale seemed to brighten immediately, relief flooding his features as he began to smile.

“Thank you,” he said, gratefully. “And…you did the best you could in your situation too.”

Crowley felt the knot in his stomach loosen slightly.

“So…you’re not going to hold my shady past against me?”

Azirapahle looked almost scandalised.

“Of course not!” he exclaimed. “We’ve all done things that are…not strictly legal…or even good, in some cases…but the truth remains that, without you, I’d be in a completely terrible situation – hoodwinked into helping Nazis and probably ending up dead at some point. I owe you…so much, Crowley…”

Aziraphale trailed off and Crowley’s heart melted again as the knot in his stomach disappeared.

“You still trust me, after all this?” Crowley asked.

Aziraphale looked at him, seriously.

“With my life,” he murmured.

Crowley let out a short, breathless laugh, relief flooding through his veins and making him giddy. Nothing had changed. All of that and nothing had changed, at least not for the worse. He still had Aziraphale’s good favour and his trust, and his heart was happy.

“You know my dear,” Aziraphale said softly, “I was thinking - if you insist on letting yourself into my home, I’d much rather you used a key.”

A slow smile spread across Crowley’s face as Aziraphale picked the key up from the table and slid it across to him. It was the best gift Aziraphale could have given him.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale frowned at the obnoxiously loud blare of a car horn outside of his shop and he separated the blinds with his fingers to peer through at the beautiful 1933 Derby Bentley parked on the curb. The occupant waved to him and Aziraphale was greatly surprised to recognise the dark glasses, angular features, and auburn hair.

Releasing the blinds, he quickly shrugged on his coat and grabbed his hat from the coat stand by the door, only just remembering to pick up the stack of old leather bound diaries tied neatly with a pale blue tartan ribbon before he dashed out of the door.

“Come on, angel,” Crowley called out of the open window. “Get in!”

Aziraphale nodded as he fumbled with the key, his fingers not working half as fast as they wanted to. Crowley pressed the car horn again and Aziraphale jumped, casting a warning glare over his shoulder as people on the street turned to stare.

“What in the bloody Hell do you think you’re playing at?” he hissed as he finally climbed into the car and slammed the door behind him. “This isn’t exactly inconspicuous! I thought we had to keep a low profile?”

Crowley turned and grinned at him.

“No, I said I  had to keep a low profile. You on the other hand have to go about things as normal. Are you really trying to tell me that this is the first time some obnoxious twit has picked you up in a flash car?”

Aziraphale pursed his lips as he balanced the stack of diaries on his knee.

“Point taken,” he replied.

Crowley chuckled and pressed his foot on the accelerator, causing the car to lurch forward with a screech of tires as it took off down the street. Aziraphale clutched at the leather seat and braced himself against the dash.

It had taken several days for him to set up the meeting with Mr Shadwell, the Scottish gentleman in Finchley who had Aziraphale’s Nostradamus. Well, ‘gentleman’ wasn’t exactly the right term for him – Mr Shadwell was brash and uncouth, and definitely had nothing at all gentlemanly about him. Aziraphale had really been put out over giving him the Nostradamus in the first place, but the man had offered an original London charter roll pertaining to markets and fairs in 1432 in trade, and Aziraphale had been unable to refuse it. He only hoped he’d be able to tempt Shadwell into another trade with the handwritten diaries of Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer.

The Bentley screeched around the corner onto Lexington Street, narrowly avoiding a pair of elderly women outside the greengrocer, and Aziraphale let out a startled squeak as he was thrown into the door and the diaries slid off his lap.

“Good Lord!” he exclaimed. “Where did you learn to drive – the Seventh Circle of Hell?”

Crowley flashed him a toothy smile.

“You don’t like my driving, angel?”

“No, I do not!” Aziraphale confirmed. “For God’s sake, slow down!”

He couldn’t see Crowley roll his eyes from behind the dark lenses of his glasses, but Aziraphale would have bet his tea ration that he did just that as his foot eased off the accelerator, dutifully.

“You’re no fun,” Crowley muttered, and turned up the volume on the wireless instead.

Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief and picked the diaries back up from the floor. He was starting to understand that this was just the way Crowley was – playfully chaotic with a delight in winding people up. Mostly Aziraphale found he liked it, even if he really shouldn’t. He liked that Crowley referred to him as ‘angel’ too – a nickname that should have been patronising if it had come from anybody else but Crowley. From him it sounded…right. Besides, it’s use had made Gabriel so angry that Aziraphale had wanted to laugh, and that was reason enough to like it.

He felt that he and Crowley better understood each other since Gabriel’s visit. Aziraphale’s brother  had raised pointed questions that Aziraphale had wanted to know the answers to, but had been too polite to ask. It had forced things into the open and Aziraphale had found that he was neither shocked nor horrified to learn about Crowley’s past prior to his recruitment to the Security Service. He believed Crowley to be a mostly good person, and if he was honest, Aziraphale was more willing to trust him than Gabriel.

“Is the car a perk of the job?” Aziraphale asked, lightly.

Crowley glanced at him as he turned left onto Brewer Street.

“No,” he replied. “The car is mine – had it from new.”

Aziraphale was no great lover of automobiles, but his family was moneyed and he’d seen his fair share of them over the years. He knew exactly how much this car cost directly from the production line – his family owned one.

“Oh?” Aziraphale murmured. “Dare I ask how you managed to afford a brand new 1933 Derby Bentley, Anthony?”

Crowley grinned at him again, mischievously.

“It might be best if I don’t tell you that, angel.”

Aziraphale made a noise of acknowledgement in the back of his throat and turned to look out of the window to hide his smile.

A slow song began to play on the wireless; jazz trumpets blaring out to a piano background. Aziraphale didn’t enjoy jazz very much – the melodies tended to be erratic and unstructured, and Aziraphale preferred order to his music – but this was pleasant. Beside him, Crowley hummed along with the tune.

“Who is this?” asked Aziraphale, gesturing to the car’s wireless.

“Duke Ellington,” Crowley replied. “Pure genius.”

“Hmmm…”

Aziraphale watched Crowley’s slim fingers tap out the rhythm on the steering wheel and felt heat start to rise in his face. The past few days had been busy and he’d spent little time around Crowley since…well…since he’d pleasured himself to a very vivid fantasy of Anthony J Crowley naked and writhing against him during his morning bath. Aziraphale had imagined those slender hands all over his body and he blushed at the memory. It hadn’t been his intention to think of Crowley – the man had simply just…turned up in Aziraphale’s fantasy and since then, he’d been trying very hard not to think about it.

He don’t love me like I love him

Nobody could

I got it bad and that aint good…

Now folks with good intentions

Tell me to save my tears

I’m glad I’m mad about him

I can’t live without him

Lord above me

Make him love me

The way he should…”

 

Oh for Heaven’s sake, thought Aziraphale. Even the music was torturing him now. He did in fact have it bad, and Lord knows it wasn’t at all good.

He noticed that Crowley had stopped humming along; his knuckles white as he gripped the steering wheel tightly and a muscle in his jaw twitched once. Aziraphale wondered if he’d given himself away and he quickly turned his face back to the window, a hand flying to feel the heat in his cheeks and willing himself to cool down before Crowley said anything. He was really going to have to keep a better check on himself around Crowley in future.

“So,” he said, breaking the somewhat awkward silence with a deceptively cheerful tone, “I do hope Mr Shadwell will accept my offer to trade for the Nostradamus.”

Crowley inhaled deeply and his grip on the wheel loosened.

“Well, if he doesn’t I can always just threaten to kill him…”

Shocked, Aziraphale looked at him sharply only to realise Crowley’s wicked smirk.

“You’re joking,” Aziraphale said, half questioning it.

Crowley only continued to grin and wiggled his eyebrows in response.

It took about thirty minutes in the late afternoon traffic to get from Soho to Finchley, although Crowley argued it would have taken far less time if Aziraphale had allowed him to drive at what he insisted was a more reasonable speed, and been permitted to overtake the steady stream of packed red buses. They finally pulled up in front of a rather unassuming Victorian terrace facing a row of shops, and Crowley raised his eyebrows.

“You sure this is the right address?” he inquired.

“Of course I’m sure,” Aziraphale replied. “I had to take the train to get here last time but I distinctly remember that butcher’s shop with the dead pig hanging in the window.”

“I really hope it’s not the same dead pig…” muttered Crowley.

“Quite,” agreed Aziraphale. “Alright, I shouldn’t long…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Crowley exclaimed, reaching across the small space to grasp hold of Aziraphale’s overcoat as he made to get out of the car. Aziraphale could feel his skin react to Crowley’s touch even under several layers of clothing, and he glanced up to find honey eyes looking at him over dark glasses. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Aziraphale swallowed.

“I’m going to trade him for the Nostradamus…”

“Not without me you’re not,” Crowley said, seriously. “I can’t let you go into any of these deals alone, angel. You’re too important – if anything happens to you, this is over.”

Aziraphale blinked at him. His heart wanted to think Crowley’s words were more personal than they were, but he knew the Intelligence agent meant that his cooperation was important to the operation and that the Nazis would be gone like smoke in the wind, free to terrorise another rare book seller and Crowley’s division would have to start their investigation all over again.

“I…he…he’s only expecting me,” he stammered.

Crowley released Aziraphale’s overcoat and immediately Aziraphale lamented the loss of contact.

“We’ll make something up,” Crowley responded, “Tell him I’m the muscle.”

His mouth quirked up in a half-smile and Aziraphale couldn’t help but mirror it. Despite Crowley’s slim, wiry frame he did look intimidating and dangerous in his black suit, dark glasses and the small snake tattooed just in front of his ear. Aziraphale had certainly found him terrifying on first acquaintance – that was until he got to know him, of course.

“That could work,” he murmured.

Holding the diaries protectively to his chest, Aziraphale got out of the car and walked up to the front door with chipped and flaking bottle-green paint, and smartly rapped the tarnished brass knocker. It took a moment to hear curses and heavy footsteps from within; a symphony of bolts and latches sliding loose, and then the door opened a crack.

Mr Shadwell, or Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell as he preferred to be called, was a scruffy man with grey hair in great need of a trim, and matching three-day growth on his face. His clothes were stained and holey, and a strong scent of mothballs emanated from the flat. Shadwell blinked suspiciously at him, and then glanced at Crowley standing behind him.

“Oh aye?” Shadwell said, giving them the once over whilst using the door as a barrier between them.

Aziraphale put on his most charming smile.

“Sergeant Shadwell,” he greeted the man, indulgently, “how delightful to see you again.”

Shadwell sniffed, eyeing up the books in Aziraphale’s arms.

“Aye…” Shadwell said, neither in agreement or disagreement. “Well, I suppose ye better come in, Yer ‘Onour.”

He turned and began walking back into the dark, narrow hallway. Aziraphale cast a glance over his shoulder at Crowley, but his expression was unreadable.

The smell of mothballs mingled with a cloying, sweet smell that Aziraphale couldn’t place and he wrinkled his nose as he followed Shadwell up the stairs, glad that Crowley had insisted he not go alone. Somehow, the flat seemed so much worse that Aziraphale remembered it.

“NEWT!” Shadwell yelled as he reached the top step and pushed open the door to his residence.

It was the most eclectic home Aziraphale had seen in his life – between battered and faded couches and a scratched coffee table with a chunk taken out of the leg, there were several glass cabinets and cases filled with an assortment of oddities, like a tiny independent museum. On the wall, there was mounted the most bizarre gun, something part blunderbuss, part tuba with a small combustion engine attached to the bottom; maps of various parts of the country were pinned to the walls, joined with lines of red string.

Aziraphale stole another glance at Crowley, who looked at him over the top of his dark glasses with confusion and mouthed ‘what the fu…?

“Sit down,” Shadwell said as he squeezed in between the coffee table and a glass cabinet. “NEWT! Where is that blasted boy? NEEEEEWWWWT!”

As Aziraphale perched carefully on the edge of a sofa, a lanky bespectacled boy appeared in the kitchen doorway. He couldn’t have been any more than seventeen, his glasses taking up most of his freckled, pale face and his brown hair hanging in his eyes. His fingers were black with newspaper print and he had clippings stuck to the hem of his jumper.

“Yes, Sergeant Shadwell?” the boy inquired meekly.

“Put the kettle on, laddie!” Shadwell exclaimed. “Quick now, and don’t forget the condensed milk!”

Aziraphale felt a pang of sympathy for young Newt as the boy hurried back into the kitchen and busied himself with filling the kettle. He noticed that Crowley remained standing, reclining against the wall by the the door as Shadwell sat down heavily in an olive-green chair that looked as if the stuffing had come out years ago.

“Aye,” muttered Shadwell, punching his cushion a couple of times before turning his eyes back onto Aziraphale. “So…your note said ye had something to trade – something I might find very interesting?”

No small talk there, thought Aziraphale. Shadwell was straight to the point but Aziraphale couldn’t say he was disappointed. The faster they got out of there the better.

“Yes,” Aziraphale replied, patting the stack of leather-bound diaries resting on his knee. “Something I believe may be very relevant to your interests - a collection of handwritten diaries by Witchfinder Major Pulsifer from 1656.”

“Pulsifer, ye say?” Shadwell’s eyes shifted in the direction of the kitchen for a second. “And what do ye want for them? Ye mentioned a trade?”

“Last year you offered me an original charter scroll for a first edition Nostradamus,” Aziraphale said. “I’d like to offer you these original, handwritten diaries bound in fine leather in return for the same Nostradamus.”

Shadwell’s eyes narrowed.

“Why?”

Aziraphale blinked in surprise.

“I…I beg your pardon?”

A clatter from the kitchen suddenly drew everybody’s attention and Shadwell scowled.

“What ye doing in there, laddie?”

“Sorry, Sergeant Shadwell,” answered young Newt; his gangly frame reappearing in the kitchen doorway. “I was looking for more sugar, you see. Erm…your ration ran out days ago and there’s no more of the…uhm…emergency supply, so…”

“Then use your ration, laddie! Nine sugars, lots of condensed milk! Now!”

Aziraphale glanced at Crowley again. He watched as young Newt jumped almost clean out of his skin and scurried back into the kitchen like a scolded dog, and Crowley did not look at all amused. Neither was Aziraphale. The thought of nine sugars and condensed milk in one single cup of tea sickened him almost as much as poor Newt’s treatment. The boy must have been a new addition to Shadwell’s ‘army’, as Aziraphale didn’t remember him being there last time.

“So,” continued Shadwell, as though he’d not just shouted at a child, “What do you want the Nostradamus for?”

“That’s absolutely none of your concern,” Crowley piped up from the corner of the room. It was the first time he’d said a single word since they’d got out of the car.

Shadwell looked at him in surprise.

“Who…who are you?” he stuttered.

“Oh,” Aziraphale interjected. “This is Mr Crowley, my…associate.”

Shadwell’s eyes narrowed as he looked Crowley over, taking in the black suit, dark glasses, and snake tattoo along with Crowley’s overall intimidating manner. Nobody in their right mind would take Crowley for a bookseller.

“How many nipples does he have?”

“Ten,” Crowley drawled before Aziraphale could voice a protest to the personal question. “Now are you going to trade the book for the diaries or not?”

Shadwell’s mouth flapped open and closed as his brain attempted to process Crowley’s reply and formulate a response. Thankfully he was saved by Newt reappearing with a tray bearing a large fat teapot and several mismatched cups along with a plate of biscuits.

“Tea, gentlemen?” he asked politely.

Aziraphale gave him a warm smile and an encouraging nod, whilst Crowley declined altogether, his gaze still fixed and steely on Shadwell. The air was heavy with silence as Newt poured two cups of tea, dumped nine teaspoons of sugar and a large dash of condensed milk in one and handed it to Shadwell before passing Aziraphale a cup of black tea sans milk or sugar.

“Away with ye! Back to your research!” growled Shadwell as Newt scarpered fast.

“New recruit?” asked Aziraphale, conversationally.

He wanted to speak up, to chastise Shadwell about his manner towards the poor boy but…he didn’t know if it was really his place.

“Aye,” Shadwell groused. “Witchfinder Private – still wet behind the ears, still needs to earn his stripes…”

Crowley scoffed gently and Shadwell scowled.

“I don’t care much for your associate, Mr Fell,” he muttered.

“The feeling is entirely mutual,” Crowley quipped back.

“Crowley, please!” Aziraphale said desperately.

Crowley wasn’t even trying to hide his distaste for Shadwell, and Aziraphale was starting to feel panicked. What if Shadwell refused to trade? What if he threw them out of his flat without giving them the Nostradamus? How would Aziraphale even go about tracking down another – it could take weeks, or months and he didn’t want to be in service to Nazis for any longer than necessary. Thankfully, Crowley fell quiet and sank back against the wall and Aziraphale turned his attention back to Shadwell.

“These are very rare diaries, Mr Shadwell – one of a kind, written in Pulsifer’s own hand. You’ll never find anything like this again. A once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Shadwell eyed the ribbon-bound books greedily, like they were a prime cut of beef on a platter and Aziraphale’s panic began to dissipate.

“Why do you want the Nostradamus back?” he asked again, licking dry lips as his beady eyes shifted from the diaries to Aziraphale.

“It’s…well…I can’t…”

It was a matter of national security, Aziraphale wanted to say. He wanted to tell Shadwell that he needed it to help the Security Service bring down a Nazi spy ring, but even if Aziraphale wasn’t bound by the Official Secrets Act, he wasn’t sure Shadwell was a person who would do something for morality’s sake.

“He’s wasting our time, Aziraphale,” Crowley drawled, pushing himself up from the wall and crossing over to him. “If he wanted these diaries, he’d have snatched them up immediately. We can get the book somewhere else.”

“What?” said Shadwell in panic.

“What?” echoed Aziraphale in surprise as Crowley scooped the stack of diaries up and headed for the door.

“You can’t just do that!”

“Watch me,” Crowley called over his shoulder.

Shadwell scrambled up from his chair and barrelled after Crowley with Aziraphale hot on his heels, having shoved his tea cup onto the coffee table hastily. What was Crowley thinking? They needed Shadwell, they needed to be sweet to him and coax him into a deal. This had absolutely not been part of the plan.

“CROWLEY!”

Three steps out of the door, Crowley stopped and turned. Azirphale almost ran into Shadwell as he pulled up short.

“You either want these diaries, Mr Shadwell,” Crowley said calmly, “or you don’t. If you don’t then I’m going to walk out of here right now and you’ll never have the opportunity to get your grubby little hands on them again; but if you want them then you’d better go and get that book because I’m not going to wait.”

Shadwell looked wildly between Crowley and Aziraphale, his mouth hanging open.

“Five…” Crowley began to count. “Four…three…”

“ALRIGHT!” yelled Shadwell. “Alright, I’ll fetch the book, just…don’t leave with those diaries!”

A wicked grin spread across Crowley’s face as Shadwell pushed past Aziraphale and went back into the room, tossing things about in his search. Aziraphale stared at Crowley, gobsmacked.

What in God’s name…?” he hissed, taking the bundle of diaries back.

“Relax, angel,” murmured Crowley. “He was desperate to get these things - he just wanted to get information out of you first.”

“It wasn’t the plan!”

Aziraphale scowled at him, annoyed that Crowley had taken the deal clean out of his hands. Crowley scowled back.

Your plan wasn’t working!” he hissed back. “Sometimes you have to learn to be flexible – to shift and change to meet whatever the situation throws at you.”

The sound of Shadwell cursing and banging about and swearing at his poor Witchfinder Private drifted from the room, and Aziraphale pursed his lips.

“Well,” he whispered as he tugged his waistcoat down, “next time you want to change things, give me some sort of signal first – so I know what you’re trying to do.”

“Fine,” Crowley groused. “I’ll let you know the next time I use my initiative.”

That stung Aziraphale a little and he looked away as Crowley sighed beside him. Shadwell was still berating his young Private in the next room and Aziraphale’s heart went out to the poor boy.

“…young upstart, GET OUT OF MY WAY! No more use to me than a chocolate fireguard…”

Aziraphale glanced at Crowley again and saw the muscle in his jaw twitch like it had in the car earlier; Crowley still avoiding his gaze. Sighing Aziraphale left him in the hallway and ventured back inside the room where poor Newt was running around trying to pick up the chaos Shadwell was leaving in his wake.

“Any luck?” asked Aziraphale, feigning cheer.

Shadwell glared at him over the top of a cabinet.

“Maybe if this damn boy gets out of my way!” grumbled Shadwell. “And a curse on that devil ye brought with ye!”

“Yes, well…” Aziraphale fumbled with the bottom button of his waistcoat and watched the gangly youth dutifully dive into a stack of yellowing newspapers. “The boy is doing his best…”

“Found it!” Newt announced, bringing up a large, heavy leather-bound book.

“Good,” Shadwell growled. “Now, hand over those diaries Fell, and begone with ye!”

Aziraphale held out the beribboned stack and Shadwell snatched it greedily out of his hands. Footsteps behind him announced Crowley’s reappearance and Shadwell shrank back slightly before giving Newt a curt nod. Aziraphale gave the boy a sympathetic smile as he accepted the book and gave it a quick once-over.

Nostradamus was dusty and the spine was dry and a little cracked – not the condition that Aziraphale had sold it in, that’s for sure. Shadwell either didn’t know how to take care of old books or he didn’t care, and it made Aziraphale very reluctant to let go of the Pulsifer diaries. Oh well, King and country demanded it of him and so he had to accept the inevitable. The good news was that the first required book was safely in his hands.

“Let’s go, angel,” Crowley murmured behind him.

Aziraphale frowned as he studied the inside cover and noticed a damp spot.

“I hope you take better care of those diaries than you have this book,” he sniffed at Shadwell, “and that boy – he deserves better treatment than what you give him too…”

“GAH!” Shadwell exclaimed in disgust, kicking the leg of the coffee table as sending tea sloshing out if the cups and onto the stained, chipped wood. “Ye soft bastard! Boy and book are both in one piece now mind your business, get yon demon there and get out of my flat, ye great southern pansy!”

Aziraphale opened his mouth to retort but didn’t get the chance before Crowley was moving past him in a black blur. He was lightning fast, crossing the floor to Shadwell in the blink of an eye, hands grabbing the front of his moth-eaten jumper and spinning the man about before slamming him roughly into the wall. Shadwell let out a yell of terror and shock as he was spun about; his beady eyes wild.

“Apologise,” Crowley growled at him. “Apologise to him now.”

Aziraphale stared, his heart pounding in his chest. He was very used to such insults – had heard them shouted and hissed and whispered at him over many years but this…this might actually have been the first time anyone had ever defended him.

Shadwell glanced at Aziraphale and swallowed.

“I…I’m sorry, Yer ‘Onour…” stammered Shadwell.

Crowley shook him sharply like a cat would with a rat, and Shadwell squeaked in response.

“That’s better. And if I find out you’ve continued to treat young Newt here so horribly, I promise you’ll regret it.”

The bespectacled boy’s jaw dropped and Aziraphale had to hide a smile as Shadwell nodded vigorously.

“Aye…I swear.”

Crowley snarled at him again, his warm honey eyes burning with anger as he looked over the top of his glasses. Slowly, Aziraphale stepped forward and put a hand on Crowley’s arm.

“That’s enough, dear,” he murmured.

Crowley glanced at him and then let Shadwell go suddenly, causing the man to stumble. Slipping past Aziraphale to the door, he could hear the sound of Crowley taking two stairs at a time as he headed wordlessly for the front door.

“Well, it was lovely to see you again, Sergeant Shadwell,” he said brightly, “and lovely to meet you, Newt.”

“Goodbye, Mr Fell,” murmured Newt, still in shock as Aziraphale breezed out with his Nostradamus clutched to his chest.

Crowley was holding the car door open for him as he exited the Finchley flat; patiently waiting. Aziraphale’s stomach fluttered as he walked down the path and onto the pavement by the Bentley.

“You know,” he murmured, “you didn’t have to defend my honour, Mr Crowley. I’m quite used to it.”

“You shouldn’t have to be,” Crowley muttered darkly, casting a glance back towards Shadwell’s flat. “I don’t care for language like that. He didn’t have the right…none of them have the right…”

He trailed off as Aziraphale lightly placed a hand on Crowley’s arm again and looked at him.

“Thank you,” Aziraphale murmured.

Behind those dark glasses, he could feel Crowley’s eyes studying him. Aziraphale wondered what he was thinking, wondered why he’d defended him so fervently.

“Get in the car angel,” Crowley murmured.

 

____

 

Crowley was worried he might have overreacted. He’d disliked Shadwell on sight and the feeling had only grown more intense for every minute he’d been in that flat. He hated the way Shadwell had treated the boy, and how rude he’d been to all of them. Insulting Aziraphale had been the last straw and Crowley was now very concerned he may have given himself away.

It wasn’t that he was embarrassed or ashamed to be homosexual, its just that…well…loving somebody of the same sex could get you arrested and imprisoned, and Crowley liked not being in jail. It was dangerous to make your feelings known to anybody and he’d become very good at hiding them. It was so hard to hide them when he was with Aziraphale, though. He was under Crowley’s skin and in his head and he couldn’t escape it.

The bookseller sat quietly in the passenger seat with the first book of prophecy resting in his lap, his thumbs gently stroking over the cracked leather cover. They’d argued in Shadwell’s flat too – Crowley had seen how desperate Shadwell had been to get hold of those diaries but he’d tried to bully Aziraphale into telling him why he’d wanted the Nostradamus. Crowley had changed the game plan to put Shadwell on the back foot but he’d panicked Aziraphale in the process, forgetting for a moment that Aziraphjale wasn’t so good with change.

Aziraphale was humming along to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy when Crowley cleared his throat.

“Listen,” he said, softly. “I’m sorry I changed the plan back there. I just…we weren’t getting anywhere with him and I thought I should try a different tactic.”

He glanced to the side to find Aziraphale’s blue-grey eyes studying him in the fading daylight. Heaven save him, but he loved the way Aziraphale’s eye colour shifted with the light – sometimes a pale grey in the early morning; a bright blue by lamplight in the evening; the colour of a stormy sea at dusk. They never seemed to be the same colour twice and they were always breathtaking.

“I’m sorry too,” Aziraphale murmured. “You have far more experience with these kinds of things – I should have just accepted it.”

Crowley frowned.

“No, don’t do that.”

“What?”

“Don’t just accept something because somebody else has more experience than you,” Crowley explained, “or because that’s the way things are. If it doesn’t feel right, you should question it; go with your instincts and push back – don’t just accept what people say about you – not Gabriel, not Shadwell, not anybody.”

Aziraphale stared at him.

“You sound…cross with me,” said Aziraphale, quietly.

Crowley cursed himself. His tongue had run away with him again and it was a sure way to get into trouble.

“I’m not cross with you, angel” he replied gently. “I’m just saying don’t accept things as given if you don’t agree with them. Ask questions. Push back. You’re not afraid to push back, Aziraphale – its one of the things I like most about you…”

Crowley bit his tongue as Aziraphale quickly looked away and stared pointedly at his knees. Crowley wondered why he kept doing this – kept just saying everything he felt or thought when Aziraphale was around and making a fool of himself.

Pulling onto Tottenham Court Road, Crowley frowned too see a cordon up ahead and police flagging down the small trickle of cars. Fuel was rationed these days so pretty much the only vehicles on the road besides London busses were official cars and goods vans.

“What the Hell is going on here?” he muttered as a uniformed policeman spotted the Bentley and waved at them to pull over. Crowley rolled down the window.

“You’re going to have to leave your car here and take shelter on the tube, guv,” the copper said.

Crowley glanced at the sky – it was barely dark.

“Already?” he asked. “It’s barely gone six.”

The policeman gave an apologetic shrug.

“They say the bombers have already taken off – its going to rain by midnight so I suppose the bastards decided to get an early start.”

Aziraphale looked positively horrified.

“I only live in Soho,” he protested, “it’s only ten minutes away – my bookshop has a basement shelter.”

“My orders are to get everyone down in a shelter immediately, guv. No exceptions.”

Aziraphale threw him a desperate look and Crowley sighed, pulling out his Security Service ID paper from his inside pocket.

“Listen, we’re Security Service,” he told the copper, showing his identification.

The policeman gave an apologetic shrug.

“You could be the King himself mate, you’ve still got to go down the bloody tube.”

Aziraphale looked very put out and Crowley didn’t feel much happier as he pulled his Bentley over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. That car was his absolute pride and joy and he swore to himself that if a bomb landed on it, he’d march to Berlin and kill Hitler personally.

“Come on then, angel.”

“Must we?” replied Aziraphale in a hushed whisper as Crowley made to get out of the car. “I’d feel much safer if we could make it back to the bookshop…”

“We can’t,” Crowley responded, gently. “We’ll be fine down the tube.”

That didn’t seem to encourage Aziraphale in the slightest as the bookseller shut the car door and hurried after him, wrapping Nostradamus in his coat to keep it hidden from prying eyes.

“Balham,” Aziraphale hissed at him.

“Excuse me?”

“Balham tube station – October 14th 1940. A bomb penetrated the road and tunnel of Balham tube station and blew up the water mains, killing sixty-six people.”

Crowley blinked at him. He remembered that – it had sparked a whole parliamentary debate over whether underground stations should be used as public shelters but in the end, the people had decided to use them with or without the government’s consent.

“And then Bank station back in January,” Aziraphale continued as they approached Goodge Street, following the foot traffic. “The direct hit caused a crater 120 feet by 100 feet and the road above the station collapsed and killed fifty-six.”

“How do you remember all this information?” Crowley mused, impressed.

He recalled Aziraphale rattling off bible verses word-perfect the night they drank several bottles of Chateauneuf-de-pape and had wondered how he’d managed to retain it all.

“Eidetic memory,” muttered Aziraphale. “The point is, underground stations are not as safe as people seem to think.”

“Duly noted,” Crowley said, “Now get down the bloody tube angel, before the bombs start falling.”

Goodge Street station was packed. Although the calibre of the locals in the West End and particularly Fitzrovia was admittedly higher than those in the East of London, being crammed like sardines onto the platforms of the underground stations did nothing for the manners of the well-bred. In the end, people were people and survival was the overriding instinct.

Even here, people had set up a pitch earlier in the afternoon and there were so many bodies it looked like a sea of corpses piled on top of one another. The heat was unbearable, and the smell of so many sweating bodies mingled with that of emergency toilets set up in various parts of the station made it worse. It was completely disgusting and Crowley fully sympathised with Aziraphale’s wanting to get home instead of spending the night in this God-forsaken tube station. A bookshop basement sounded far more preferable.

They managed to find a spot by the wall - barely enough for the two of them to sit side-by side, but the green and cream ceramic tiles at least were cool on their backs. Modesty and propriety were mostly done away with by the evening’s residents – children lay naked on blankets and both men and women stripped down to their undergarments in the stifling heat. Crowley made do with rolling his shirt sleeves up to the elbow and opening several buttons on his shirt, stashing his tie in his pocket and bundling his jacket behind his head to use as a pillow.

Aziraphale in contrast lost his garments much more slowly, and Crowley felt himself grow hotter with every item removed; flustered like an Austen heroine.

“Its hotter than Hell down here,” muttered Aziraphale as he loosened his bow tie, leaving the strip of tartan fabric draped around his neck as he fought to unfasten the top button of his shirt.

“You have no idea,” Crowley said under his breath.

“Pardon?”

“Yeah, it is,” Crowley replied, louder. “You’re going to end up fainting if you keep all those layers on, you know.”

Aziraphale shot him a look, his eyes taking in Crowley’s open collar and rolled sleeves. Crowley could see him debate with himself about the disadvantages and merits of disrobing in public, but in the end the advantages must have won out because Aziraphale gave a heavy sigh and began to work open the buttons of his waistcoat.

Crowley really did love Aziraphale’s hands. They hadn’t done a single day’s hard labour in their life and as a result were soft and smooth, fingernails neat and well-kept. He had the most beautiful wrists – elegant and defined and fully bared now that Aziraphale had rolled up the sleeves on his pale blue shirt to reveal his forearms with fine white-gold hairs that glinted when he moved the right way under the harsh lights. How he could get so hot and bothered over a bit of Aziraphale’s bared skin, Crowley had no idea – he was surrounded by hundreds of half naked people and yet it was a Soho bookseller that he couldn’t tear his eyes away from.

He watched as Aziraphale set his waistcoat to the side and retrieved the large leather book of prophecy, carefully examining the cover with a concerned frown. His hands were large and his fingers deliciously thick; softly running up the book’s dry, cracked spine and testing the give with his thumb. He took such care and attention with the book, caressing it like one would a lover; smoothing over the leather.

Crowley usually burned hot – living in the moment with whatever warm, interested body was available and willing at the time. He was used to passions running hot and acting fast; used to everything from attraction to climax going at lightning speed. With Aziraphale, it was more like a smouldering fire – no immediate attraction, no flash heat and burning desire; but an ache and a longing and a deep need for something that went beyond getting what he could in the moment. It wasn’t just Aziraphale’s stormy eyes and white-blonde curls, softness and warm skin that had Crowley weak at the knees but also his kindness, intelligence, and his courage. He was getting to know the whole man, and he was falling hard or everything that he was.

The glint of gold caught his attention as Azirphale gently leafed through dry, crackling pages and Crowley’s eyes were drawn to the signet ring on Aziraphale’s little finger.

“Is that…a family thing?” Crowley asked. He’d noticed something similar on Gabriel’s hand when the SIS agent had grabbed his jacket in anger a few days earlier.

Aziraphale looked down at his hand and splayed out his fingers, the gold of the ring catching the light.

“Yes,” he murmured, holding his hand out for Crowley to study.

He was too afraid to take Aziraphale’s hand in his own.

“Is that a lion?”

“A gryphon,” Aziraphale replied quietly, “On a crowned shield, framed by feathered wings. The gryphon is supposed to denote strength, military courage and leadership as well as intelligence.” He gave Crowley a sad smile. “It suits my siblings better than it ever suited me.”

“What are you talking about?” murmured Crowley. “You’ve got strength, courage, and intelligence – I’ve seen them. That’s every bit your sigil as well as theirs.”

Aziraphale looked away and dropped his hand back in lap, continuing to study the pages of his book.

“You are very kind to me Crowley.”

Crowley’s heart began to hammer against his ribcage.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he muttered.

Aziraphale opened his mouth to counter but a noise erupted from his stomach instead, causing the bookseller to blush furiously in embarrassment.

“Hungry, angel?” Crowley asked, a grin spreading across his face.

“Starving,” mumbled Aziraphale. “I’ve not had anything since lunch and I expected to be home for dinner…”

“I’ll find you something,” he replied immediately, already getting to his feet.

“What? In this place?”

“Leave it to me,” Crowley beamed.

He’d spent enough time around Aziraphale already to know how much he liked food, even the awful excuse for meals that wartime rationing allowed. He couldn’t have his asset going hungry, and he began to weave his way through the bodies in search of families with picnic hampers to see if he could bargain or scrounge something edible.

 

____

 

It felt like Crowley had been gone for hours, leaving Aziraphale alone on the platform surrounded by strangers in varying states of undress. Aziraphale didn’t remember being so uncomfortable or so alone in his whole life. He wished he was back home, in his bookshop with decent food and some tea, safely tucked away in his converted basement shelter with his most rare and expensive books.

Damn those German bombers to Hell. Aziraphale hadn’t heard a single shell drop and he must have been stuck in that underground station for at least thirty minutes. He most certainly could have made it home before now. He’d only been in a public shelter once before – right at the very start of the Blitz and he’d promised himself he’d never go there again. His senses were overwhelmed and he could feel the sweat dripping down his back, sticking his shirt to his skin and without Crowley’s grounding presence, he was starting to panic.

“Here you go,” Crowley’s voice said cheerfully above him and Aziraphale looked up happily just as something dropped into his lap.

Crowley was standing, grinning at him; his hat tipped at an attractively rakish angle on his head and his grey shirt open several buttons at the collar to show flushed, pale skin.  He was holding an enamel mug in his hand, and Aziraphale glanced down to see a small waxed paper package resting in his lap.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Crowley beamed as he gracefully folded his legs and sat down next to Aziraphale in the narrow space, keeping the mug level.

“Sandwiches,” he said, sounding very pleased with himself, “And tea – for you.”

He offered Aziraphale the mug and Aziraphale accepted it gratefully, wrapping his hands around it and breathing in the familiar scent. Crowley settled himself back down, his shoulder bumping against Aziraphale’s gently; dark glasses hiding his honey eyes that were almost certainly watching Aziraphale’s every move.

“Where did you get these?” Aziraphale asked in wonder, picking at the wax paper bundle.

“Bloke over on the next platform,” replied Crowley, “He’s got a huge hamper of food and he’s selling it.”

“For how much?”

Aziraphale’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. There were always people out to take advantage of others in times like this.

“Two shillings and sixpence.”

Tea almost spurted out of Aziraphale’s nose.

“Two-and-six?” he spluttered. “For a sandwich and a cup of tea? That’s extortionate!”

“I can give them back if you don’t want them.”

“I didn’t say that,” Aziraphale murmured, holding his sandwich defensively.

Crowley gave him a smug grin and settled back against the wall, pulling his hat forward over his face as he tilted his head back. Taking another sip of tea, Aziraphale swapped the mug for the paper package and unwrapped it, his nose twitching at the savoury scent – Marmite.

Aziraphale had never been a huge fan of Marmite, but at this point he was hungry enough to eat his own left hand and there were four thick sandwich halves just sitting there. Hungrily, he tucked into one and munched carefully, stealing a glance at Crowley.

“Where’s yours?” he asked, noticing Crowley’s lack of food with a frown.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Crowley replied.

Aziraphale’s frown deepened. In the short time he’d known Anthony Crowley, Aziraphale had never seen him eat a single thing.

“When was the last time you ate?” Aziraphale enquired.

Crowley twitched, removing his hat from his face and sliding his dark glasses down to the edge of his nose. He looked guilty.

“I can’t really remember,” he replied. “Days just sort of…blend into each other, you know?”

Aziraphale shook his head and picked up a thick sandwich half, placing it on Crowley’s knee to much protesting from the intelligence agent.

“Eat it,” Aziraphale told him firmly. “I’m not going to have you collapsing on me – you have to keep up your strength. If you can’t remember the last time you ate something then it’s been too long.”

Crowley grumbled, but obediently picked up the sandwich and took a delicate nibble.

Aziraphale could never understand how people couldn’t live to eat. Before the war, it was one of Aziraphale’s favourite pastimes – dining out at the Ritz or Savoy with smoked salmon and scrambled egg with champagne for breakfast, or delicious steak au poivre for dinner. Even now, Aziraphale had learned to make the most of ration cooking with the recipe books brought out by the Ministry of Food to make decent enough meals.

It took Crowley almost twice as long to finish a single sandwich half as it did for Aziraphale to finish the other three and wash it down with cooling tea. It wasn’t the heartiest meal, but it filled the gap and at least his stomach wasn’t making embarrassing noises anymore.

All around them, people were beginning to doze off in the underground station’s heat and Aziraphale could quite happily have joined them. Beside him, Crowley tucked his dark glasses into his pocket, rolled his jacket into a makeshift pillow, and put his hat back over his face; his eyes just visible and lightly closed. Aziraphale could have looked at his profile for hours.

He might have dozed off, or lost himself in thought – all Aziraphale really knew was that he came back to reality when the bombs started dropping. Even under the ground in Goodge Street station, Aziraphale could hear the shrill whistle of shells hurling through the air towards the ground and then, as they hit the street above, the whole station shook. Dust and plaster from the ceiling  peppered the people below, and hardly a soul looked up; so desensitised to the almost nightly bombing raids, this was now routine for most Londoners.

Aziraphale didn’t think he’d ever get used to it and he blindly threw his hand out in panic as the floor shook beneath him, making contact with cool, smooth skin. One of Crowley’s warm honey eyes fluttered open.

“Sorry,” Aziraphale mumbled, moving his hand away only to grab at Crowley again when a second bomb hit the street above and made the lights flicker dramatically.

Cool fingers wrapped around his, squeezing gently and Aziraphale looked up to find Crowley’s hat in his lap and both eyes fixed on his face.

“You can hang onto me if you want,” Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale’s heart raced and he could feel the blood pounding through his veins. Crowley’s touch grounded him, but it had always previously been done in the privacy of Aziraphale’s bookshop with no witnesses. Now, Crowley was holding his hand in the presence of hundreds of people.

“What if somebody sees?” Aziraphale whispered desperately.

Crowley looked at him for a long moment and then, without letting go of Aziraphale’s hand, he leaned over and covered them with Aziraphale’s waistcoat.

“There,” he said quietly. “No one can see – no one can judge.”

Another shell exploded above ground and Crowley gently squeezed Aziraphale’s hand. He felt heat rise in his face but felt a great deal less afraid, even as Crowley closed his eyes and rested his head back against the wall again, never letting go for a second.

 

____

 

 

It must have been close to three in the morning when Aziraphale woke to the sound of heavy boots clattering on the station steps. His head was resting on Crowley’s cool shoulder, their fingers still entwined beneath Aziraphale’s waistcoat and he felt Crowley move; head turning towards the noise and the light of torches flooding the platform.

“We need volunteers,” a voice called from the stairs. “A building collapsed on Whitfield Street with people inside – we need help to clear the rubble.”

In an instant, Crowley’s smooth, cool fingers were gone as he raised his hand.

“I’ll go,” Crowley replied, already standing while Aziraphale still blinked sleep from his eyes. All around them, other men were slowly getting to their feet as Crowley gathered his jacket and hat.

“Why do you have to go?” Aziraphale asked, indignant at the loss of Crowley’s touch.

Crowley gave him a soft, lopsided grin.

“People are trapped angel – I’m not going to leave them to burn. You just stay here where it’s safe, yeah?”

Safe.

Aziraphale remembered the few minutes Crowley had left him alone to go find food and the panic that had set in. He didn’t feel safe in this place, surrounded by strangers.

“I’ll be damned if I’m staying here by myself,” muttered Aziraphale, gathering up his discarded clothing and his book. “I’m coming with you.”

Crowley grinned at him and chuckled, cheerfully picking his way through the bodies on the platform and towards the firefighters’ torches; Aziraphale following him, not knowing what he was in for once they surfaced, but realising that he’d rather walk into the mouth of Hell at Crowley’s side than be left behind.

 

Chapter Text

The morning dawned bright and the sun streaming through the Bentley’s windows highlighted the copper in Crowley’s hair as he drove them back to Soho. Aziraphale could barely tear his eyes away from him – soot streaked across his face and his hair hanging in his eyes; out of place from spending the night in the hot underground and then braving the flames before dawn as he assisted firefighters with rescue efforts. Aziraphale didn’t think Crowley had ever looked more beautiful.

The fierce flames had terrified Aziraphale and he’d hung back, doing other jobs like running hoses and taking care of scared children and distraught mothers while Crowley had been in the thick of it. For hours Aziraphale had watched him scramble about on burning piles of brick, moving rubble with his bare hands until his fingers bled and then carried on until there was somebody to pull free from the collapsed building. Those same bleeding, dirty fingers gripped the steering wheel carefully as they drove down Charlotte Street.

“You know, my dear,” Aziraphale said softly; his heart fluttering in his chest as Crowley turned tired honey eyes onto him, “what you did back there – it was really very…”

“Don’t say it, angel,” murmured Crowley, softly shaking his head.

Aziraphale’s brow furrowed.

“Say what?”

Crowley looked at him, pointedly.

“You know what. Don’t say it.”

“You mean ‘heroic’?” asked Aziraphale, deliberately.

“Tsssss…” Crowley hissed, grimacing. “I told you not to say it.”

“Why not?” he replied indignantly. “It was heroic!”

Crowley’s face twisted further and he stared very hard at the road ahead.

“It’s not heroic to just…do what needs to be done,” he muttered. “Heroism is for children.”

Aziraphale stared at him. Crowley was obviously uncomfortable with his praise, although Aziraphale couldn’t understand why. He sniffed.

“Well, I think you were a hero.”

“Can you stop it now?” Crowley asked; a tint of desperation in his voice. “Please?”

“Fine.”

He sighed and smoothed over the cover of Nostradamus as Crowley turned his attention back to driving. Whatever he said, Aziraphale thought him nothing short of wonderful and he tried so hard not to stare at his profile as they drove in comfortable silence.

It had been a rough night and Aziraphale had only made it through with Crowley by his side. The intelligence agent had soothed his fears and held his hand tightly as bombs dropped on the street above them; thumb gently stroking over the back of Aziraphale’s hand. He’d fallen asleep with his head on Crowley’s shoulder and woken up with Crowley’s fingers still linked with his. His head swam with wild thoughts and worse – with hope. There was nothing about Crowley that hinted at his sexuality – at least…not in the ways Aziraphale might suspect. He supposed that Crowley dressed a little better than most men his age – the cut of his suit was tighter than current style dictated and yet it was brand new; his hat always tipped at an angle where others did not. The book he’d chosen to read from Aziraphale’s shop had been Oscar Wilde…but choice in style and literature didn’t define sexuality. Did Crowley’s gaze linger on him when he glanced in Aziraphale’s direction? Probably not, and he’d likely only held Aziraphale’s hand the night before to stop him from being a trembling mess.

He wanted to hope, but the truth was that he was reaching. He wanted Crowley to be like him because…well…because he was falling in love with him, against all common sense and decency.

The Bentley turned down Broadwick Street, just around the corner from his shop and Aziraphale spotted a familiar-looking bottle-green feathered hat in the crowd of commuters. He sat up sharply.

“Oh my god,” he said, with all thoughts of Crowley disappearing from his mind.

“What?”

Crowley glanced at him, his brow furrowed.

“It’s Rose Montgomery,” he breathed.

It was definitely her – a petite woman with blonde curls spilling over the shoulders of her navy suit; the feathers on her hat ruffling in the breeze.

“Get down,” Crowley hissed.

He reached over and grabbed the shoulder of Aziraphale’s overcoat, pulling him roughly to the side. Aziraphale’s head landed unceremoniously in Crowley’s lap; far too close to be at all appropriate considering his musings just a moment ago. Crowley didn’t seem to care as he pressed his foot to the accelerator and raced past her.

“What is she doing here?” Aziraphale whispered.

“Probably checking up on you,” murmured Crowley. “I’m surprised it’s taken her this long – so far she seems to have just left you to your own devices instead of breathing down your neck like me. I wonder if your brother has given her an assignment that’s keeping her away from you as much as possible.”

Aziraphale hadn’t even thought about it. He’d been in contact with Crowley almost every day since this had all started, if not in person than at the very least a phone call; but he’d heard nor seen anything from Rose Montgomery since he’d met Mr Harmony over a week ago. It had never occurred to him to wonder why not.

“I’m going to drop you off on Poland Street,” Crowley continued as he sped down Broadwick. “You should just get to the door as she’s coming around the corner.

“What do I say to her?” asked Aziraphale as his heart raced with anxiety.

“Just tell her the truth,” he replied, “well…most of it – the best way to fool somebody is to stick as close to the truth as possible. Change only the smallest details so you don’t lose track of what you’ve said.” Crowley pulled the Bentley sharply to the side and nudged Aziraphale’s head up with his knee.

“What about you?” Aziraphale asked.

He knew Crowley couldn’t be there to hold his hand through this one, but if he could just have Crowley nearby…

“Don’t worry, I’ll figure out something,” Crowley said softly. “Now go!”

Aziraphale moved as fast as he could manage and the Bentley sped off the second the door was closed. Hugging the book to his chest, Aziraphale hurried back the way he’d just come and walked fast down the street. Crowley had been right – he reached his door just as Rose Montgomery’s hat came into view.

“Mr Fell!” she hailed him brightly, waving over the crowd of morning commuters.

Fishing his keys from his coat pocket, Aziraphale fixed her a charming smile as she drew closer and he unlocked his door with one hand whilst keeping Nostradamus close.

“Captain Montgomery!” he replied cheerfully. “How absolutely delightful to see you. To what do I owe this exquisite pleasure?”

The pretty young woman beamed at him, eyeing the book in his arms.

“Oh, I just wanted to check in,” she murmured, “I see you’ve made progress.”

“Yes,” replied Aziraphale, looking around him. There was no sign of Crowley anywhere nearby. “Should we go inside, my dear? Away from prying eyes.”

Ushering Rose Montgomery into the bookshop, Aziraphale closed the door behind them and inhaled deeply. The scent of old books and leather and wood and soft velvet immediately flooded his senses and made him calmer. This was his home, his world – the one place on earth he felt like he was in control. The familiarity of his bookshop seeped into his veins – he knew every nook and cranny, every book and scroll and manuscript within these walls; it was where most safe and even with a Nazi agent standing before him, Aziraphale felt more confident than he had in the past sixteen hours.

Sighing gently, Aziraphale shrugged off his coat, switching the book from one arm to the other as he did so, not wanting to let go for a second. Montgomery watched him keenly, still eyeing Nostradamus in his grasp. What was it Crowley had said? Stick as close to the truth as possible?

“Beastly night,” he said conversationally as he hung up his coat. “I was on my way back from Finchley when they made everybody take shelter in the underground. I did tell them I was only ten minutes from home and a basement shelter, but they forbade it. I’ve spent the entire night afraid to let this go.”

Aziraphale placed the book on the table and Rose Montgomery eagerly stepped forward to look at it.

“That’s marvellous,” she breathed; her eyes drinking in every detail of the front cover. “I’m impressed that you retrieved the first book so quickly.”

Of course she was, thought Aziraphale. The other poor sods she’d recruited had ended up dead because they weren’t fast enough or good enough to get the job done. Aziraphale’s only saving grace was that he was exceptional at tracking down the rare and antiquated, and now Montgomery knew that.

“I sold this one to a fellow last year – I only had to offer him something else relevant to his interests in order to get it back.”

Rose opened her mouth to reply, but above them on the bookshop’s second floor there came a bump against the wooden floorboards and the sound of something rolling a short distance. Aziraphale froze as he looked up and saw the toe of a snakeskin shoe for a split second before it disappeared again behind a bookcase. Montgomery frowned and turned her head in the direction of the noise.

“That’ll be the…er…cat,” Aziraphale said quickly.

He didn’t have a cat. He’d never had a cat, but it was the only thing he could think of at such short notice. Cats jumped around didn’t they? Knocked things over?

“Sounds like a big cat,” mused Rose Montgomery.

“He is a bit,” Aziraphale laughed nervously. “Mischievous bugger – likes to walk along the bookshelves and knock things off.”

He was deviating too much from the truth now – something Crowley had specifically told him not to do. Then again, he hadn’t been expecting Crowley to turn up on the second floor of the bookshop, making noises and arousing a Nazi agent’s suspicion. This one was definitely all Crowley’s fault.

“What’s the cat’s name?” Montgomery asked politely.

Aziraphale said the first name that came into his head.

“Anthony.”

He had no idea if Anthony was a suitable name for a cat. Aziraphale in fact had no idea what people named their pets, but Rose seemed satisfied with it as she turned her attention back to Nostradamus.

“Do you have any leads on the other books?”

“Some,” Aziraphale admitted, his eyes glancing to the second floor again for a split second before concentrating on Rose’s face. “I’ve reached out to a few contacts here and there – I’m mostly just waiting for responses.”

She nodded.

“Well, I may have a lead for you myself,” Rose murmured, reaching into her purse and pulling out a flyer.

Aziraphale felt his interest pique as he took the paper from her and scanned the print.

“Christie’s?”

“The auctioneers,” she confirmed. “Yes, they have just advertised their lots for next week and there are rumours of a few rare books in there.”

Aziraphale frowned.

“Wasn’t Christie’s bombed a few weeks ago?”

He distinctly remembered reading it in the newspaper and having an eidetic memory meant that he retained information that he read, verbatim. Rose Montgomery gave him an indulgent smile.

“The King Street address did,” she replied, “but they’re carrying on business as usual over at temporary premises on Oxford Street and at St James’.”

Aziraphale considered this information. It had been quite some time since he’d been to a good auction, but he was familiar with the staff at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and he was quite sure he’d be able to coax a pre-viewing of the collection before it went to public auction.

“I’ll make a call,” he said, “See if I can find out if they have anything we need.”

Rose Montgomery beamed at him.

“Splendid,” she replied. “Well, I must be going – I’m afraid I have a very busy case load that I must get back to. Nazis to catch and all that.”

Aziraphale hid a smile – Gabriel was a sod, but he was holding up his end of the agreement he’d made with Crowley by keeping Montgomery busy and out of Security Service’s hair as much as possible. He was grateful for that at least.

“Have your people found anything out about the location of the other one yet?” Aziraphale ventured. “The other Nazi, I mean.”

A small voice in his brain told him he should have kept quiet; let it slide and leave Crowley and his division to worry about the location of the third Nazi, but he couldn’t help himself. Montgomery had brought the subject up after all.

She looked caught off guard for a second as she blinked at him with large doe eyes.

“Uh…Manchester,” she replied haltingly. “We think he might he hunting down artefacts while the other is acquiring books of prophecy.”

Aziraphale nodded politely, storing that information for later.

“Well, let’s hope you track him down,” he said. “In the meantime, I’m going to keep Nostradamus downstairs in my basement shelter so it’s safe and sound -the first to start off a nice little collection.”

He beamed at her – a specially selected disarming smile and she seemed to recover, regaining her composure as she tossed glossy golden curls over her shoulder.

“You’re doing marvellous work, Mr Fell,” she told him, her voice dripping with praise. “I wish you luck with the auctioneers.”

Bidding him farewell, Captain Rose Montgomery breezed out of the bookshop, leaving the bell tinkling sweetly at her exit. Aziraphale was at the door in an instant, turning the locks and making sure the blinds were firmly down over the windows the moment she cleared the front step. Turning, he sagged against the door in relief and let out a long, shaking sigh.

“Meow.”

Aziraphale sharply looked up to find Crowley leaning over the wooden railing of the bookshop’s second floor; the sunlight from the dome window above filtering in shafts and illuminating him. He looked Heavenly and it took Aziraphale’s breath away.

“You nearly gave us away!” he called breathlessly up to him. “How did you get up there?”

Crowley grinned at him and pushed away from the railing, keeping a long-fingered hand on it as he descended the stairs.

“I climbed the drainpipe outside and jimmied a window open,” he replied, sounding very pleased with himself.

“Still breaking into my home then,” Aziraphale joked. “Old habits die hard.”

“More difficult than you’d expect with hands like these,” Crowley said, wiggling his bloodied fingers.

Crowley jumped the last few steps and tipped his hat from his head, skirting around Aziraphale to knock it onto the coat stand. With a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to push it back from his eyes and hissed as the hairs snagged on sensitive cuts.

“Let me see,” murmured Aziraphale.

“Oh, I’m fine…”

“Anthony,” he said firmly, but gently. “Let me see your hands.”

Crowley reluctantly held them out for inspection. Hours spent picking through rubble had taken the skin off the tips of his fingers, leaving them raw and cut. Scaling a drainpipe had opened up tiny wounds that that just begun to close; his fingernails chipped and torn away. Aziraphale grimaced.

“They look painful.” he murmured. “I should run you a bath and get some iodine for those cuts,”

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Crowley replied gently.

Aziraphale blinked at him.

“But I want to.”

“I don’t need a bath, angel,” insisted Crowley, pushing his hair back from his face again. “Just…point me in the direction of a basin and I’ll sort myself out.”

“A bath would be better…”

I don’t need a bath!” Crowley responded, loudly.

Aziraphale sighed. Crowley was so stubborn! It was absolutely no trouble for him to run Crowley a bath and the man deserved to immerse himself in hot, scented water after the night he’d had. Aziraphale just wanted to…care for him…and Crowley wasn’t letting him.

“Well, I’m not letting you leave here without sorting your hands out, and at least let me get you a clean shirt,” Aziraphale said firmly. “I can send yours out with my laundry – it’s no trouble.”

Crowley looked at him for a moment and Aziraphale could feel the penetrating gaze of those honey eyes from behind dark lenses.

“Fine,” Crowley sighed.

 

____

 

The living quarters of Aziraphale’s bookshop were small but comfortable. Running off from the back room were three small steps that led up to a bedroom containing a large bed layered with pillows, blankets, and a thick yellow eiderdown; a mahogany wardrobe and matching dresser lined the opposite wall, and the only other furniture in the room was a worn chair, covered in pink velvet on which sat a neat pile of freshly laundered socks. The bathroom was beyond that, and Crowley watched as Aziraphale filled up the basin with hot water directly from the tap while he searched the cabinet for iodine and cotton swabs.

Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror, Crowley grimaced. He was usually well put together, taking extra care to make sure his hair was slicked back just-so and that his clothes were clean and pressed in all the right placed. At this moment, he looked completely dreadful – his face streaked with soot and dark circles under his eyes where several nights of little sleep were catching up with him; his hair dirty and sweat-soaked and falling into his eyes.

“Put your shirt in the laundry hamper,” Aziraphale said gently as he turned off the hot tap. “I’ll go find you a clean one while you wash up.”

Crowley nodded, but waited until he was alone in the bathroom before slipping his ravaged shirt over his head. Aziraphale’s fussing made him uncomfortable. He didn’t understand how anyone could be so unconditionally…kind…and it honestly irked him. It wasn’t because Crowley didn’t want Aziraphale’s kindness – quite the opposite in fact, because he wanted it so much it hurt. He was just very afraid that allowing himself to accept that kindness would open a floodgate he’d never be able to close.

Grabbing a bar of rosemary-scented soap from the side of the sink, Crowley splashed his face with water and began to scrub, the hot water quickly turning grey and the basin streaked with blood. He plunged his head into the water and worked the soap through his hair, biting his lip to contain the hisses of pain as it spiked through his cut fingers.

Aziraphale had been right – a bath would have been better, but Crowley had stubbornly refused and now he had to do the best he could with the basin. Squeezing the water from his hair, Crowley reached for the soft, fluffy white towel Aziraphale had left for him and patted his face dry. His reflection was cleaner this time; soot and ash washed away from his face, neck, and forearms.

Rubbing his hair dry, Crowley padded through to the bedroom to find it empty; a single pale blue shirt lying neatly on top of the yellow eiderdown. He marvelled at the softness of it against his skin; the thickness of the cotton. It must have been an expensive shirt with a high thread count – the type that only people with money could afford from Saville Row tailors’ shops. Blue wasn’t Crowley’s colour – it clashed with red hair and light hazel eyes, and the shirt was several sizes too big but Aziraphale’s scent was embedded into the fibres and it enveloped Crowley completely. He didn’t want to ever take it off.

The faint sound of a Schubert string quartet floated in from the next room, and Crowley found Aziraphale in the shop’s back room, stoking the wood burning stove for the kettle. He smiled as Crowley descended the three small steps from the bedroom.

“Better?” he asked.

“A bit,” Crowley replied. “Thanks for the shirt.”

“It’s no trouble dear.”

Aziraphale’s grey-blue eyes avoided Crowley’s as he fussed around, pulling out a chair for Crowley to sit as he grabbed the bottle of iodine and cotton swabs he’d brought from the bathroom. Crowley thought better than to argue as he sat wordlessly and held his damaged hands out for Aziraphale to inspect.

He’d been running on adrenaline for several hours but now Crowley was dog tired and aching all over. They hadn’t been able to save everybody – despite the rescue efforts of the firefighters and volunteers from Goodge Street station; despite hours of cutting his fingers to shreds hauling bricks and wood, three corpses had been pulled from the wreckage. It was such a terrible waste of life – they’d had a public shelter just down the road but an entire family had decided to stay in their own home instead. They’d probably done it several times before, confident that no bomb would drop on their property and they’d lost their gamble.

Crowley hissed sharply as Aziraphale dabbed an iodine-soaked cotton swab against the skinned pads of his fingers, his hand jerking in Aziraphale’s grasp.

“I’m sorry,” the bookseller murmured sympathetically.

“’S alright,” Crowley mumbled, trying hard not to flinch as the yellow-brown liquid seeped into his raw wounds. “I’ve had worse.”

Aziraphale’s hands were soft on Crowley’s skin; those gorgeously thick fingers of his gently working away to cleanse the cuts. His warmth seeped down to Crowley’s bones, soothing him just as it had the night before in the shelter when the falling shells had frightened Aziraphale and Crowley had thought nothing of reaching over and taking Aziraphale’s hand in his.

Crowley had figured out early on that Aziraphale responded well to touch – nothing heavy handed, but Crowley could command his attention with a touch on the wrist or the back of his hand, as long as it was skin on skin. Crowley used it as an excuse to feel Aziraphale’s warmth and the thrill of the bookseller’s bare skin against his own. He’d never expected to wake up with Aziraphale’s fingers laced with his own under the cover of a soft velvet waistcoat. Crowley could feel his hands start to tremble at the memory of the touch, the sheer intimacy of it.

“My dear, are you alright?” asked Aziraphale; his large hands enveloping Crowley’s own.

“Yes,” Crowley gasped. He took a deep breath to steady himself and forced himself to look up into concerned grey-blue eyes. “I’m just…exhausted.”

Aziraphale’s expression softened.

“I know the feeling. The lack of food won’t help you much either – I’ll make you something.”

“I’m okay…” Crowley started but paused when he saw Aziraphale’s lips purse.

“If you say that one more time dear boy, I swear to God I shall smite you!”

Crowley bit the inside of his cheek to stop the smile that threatened to rise on his lips. It was tempting – Crowley had rather enjoyed watching Aziraphale go Biblical on his brother. Instead he sighed and conceded.

“Breakfast would be lovely,” he replied.

He watched as Aziraphale stood and began to busy himself with making coffee, tea, and something edible. Crowley was half glad, half mourning the loss of Aziraphale’s touch; wishing he could have stayed there with Aziraphale’s hands around his all day. It didn’t do him any good to think this way – he had to resist the ache in his chest and the butterflies in his stomach, no matter how hard. Whatever this was…whatever he felt for Aziraphale, it could never work between them with the world being what it was.

Sighing heavily, Crowley pushed his damp hair back from his face and reached for the flyer Montgomery had left.

“So,” he said, forcing the thought of Aziraphale’s hands out of his mind. “Christie’s?”

Aziraphale glanced up from heaping a spoonful of tea into his pot.

“Yes, the auctioneers,” he replied. “Funny how she brought that up, do you not think?”

Crowley skimmed the advertisement and shrugged.

“Maybe,” he murmured, “or maybe it’s a test.”

“A test?”

“You got the first book,” Crowley replied, “that’s more than any of the others managed and in far less time. Maybe this is just the Nazis testing your abilities. She did say there was a rumour of rare books being put up for auction – she didn’t mention if any of those were books of prophecy, which means either she really has no idea what’s going up for sale, or she knows exactly what’s in those lots and she’s waiting to see how fast it takes you to find that out for yourself.”

Aziraphale made a small noise of acknowledgement as he put a spoonful of coffee in a cup and filled it with hot water, stirring a few times before handing it to a grateful Crowley.

“You have a point,” Aziraphale murmured, “I know people – if I made a few phone calls, I could probably find out by the end of today if they have anything interesting.”

Crowley grinned – there was no doubt in his mind that Aziraphale could do this.

“I’ve never been to a posh auctioneer’s before,” he mused. “I’ll have to go with you – find out what all the fuss is about.”

“So you think there’ll be a book on our list?”

“Of course there is,” Crowley replied, quietly.

They would have to be careful – Rose Montgomery was clever and manipulative, and her Nazi spy ring seemed to be a half step ahead of H Division. She’d slipped up though – Aziraphale had cleverly caught her off guard and she’d let slip that Mr Glozier wasn’t in London. He didn’t know if there’d been any truth to Manchester, but it was worth getting his team to check it out. There were Security Service agents all around the country, in every major city. They’d track him down sooner or later.

“Here you are,” Aziraphale said brightly a few minutes later; putting a small plate on the table in front of him. The smell of friend bread and warm butter wrapped around Crowley’s senses and his stomach grumbled appreciatively.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Egg-in-a-basket,” replied Aziraphale, “Bread, fried in butter with an egg in the middle. It’s quite delicious, I assure you.”

Crowley breathed in deeply, his mouth watering. Aziraphale had used his single egg for the week on him, and it seemed like he’d used a fair amount of his butter ration too just to make Crowley breakfast. He made a note to bring his own egg and butter rations next time so that Aziraphale wouldn’t have to do without.

“Thank you,” Crowley murmured, his heart fluttering at Aziraphale’s warm, gentle smile.

“My pleasure, dear.”

 

____

 

Crowley must have been exhausted because he’d been passed out on Aziraphale’s settee for the last six hours, long limbs refusing to be constrained by the narrow seat and the short length. He’d sat down not long after he’d finished breakfast and had fallen asleep only moments later, slowly sliding sideways until he was lying down on the soft velvet, snoring gently.

Aziraphale had taken the opportunity to make some enquiries at Christie’s, spending the morning on the telephone to the auction house and to several independent collectors he knew. No matter how hard he tried however, his eyes kept going back to Crowley.

He couldn’t get over how stunning Crowley looked in his sleep – how the soft light picked out the copper in his hair like a fiery halo; the light dusting of palest brown freckles that danced across his nose and his high cheekbones. Crowley looked so much younger in his slumber - the creases and lines on his brow and around his mouth smoothed out; care and worry-free. It made Aziraphale’s heart quicken to watch him; the soft rise and fall of Crowley’s chest as he breathed and the quiet noises he made whenever he stirred.

Once, Aziraphale had reached out as he passed and tentatively smoothed Crowley’s hair back from his face, watching pale eyelids flutter and feeling the butterflies in his stomach at Crowley’s contented sigh. He could have stared at him all day, and it took far too much effort to get a grip on himself and get to work.

Over the morning, Aziraphale had learned that Christie’s was holding its first auction since the King Street premises was lost to a German shell in Spencer House by St James. Several calls to a few old acquaintances and fellow collectors had also confirmed the rumour that a first edition Robert Nixon may be floating around and up for auction. This was very good news indeed, but also confirmed Crowley had been correct – Rose Montgomery had known about it all along.

It was early afternoon when Crowley awoke; shifting on the settee as Aziraphale pottered around, rearranging some shelves. He watched Crowley’s eyelids flutter open to reveal unfocussed honey-coloured eyes; blinking in the strong sunlight that filtered in through tilted blinds.

“Good afternoon, dear,” he murmured kindly. “Did you enjoy your nap?”

Crowley frowned and passed both hands over his face and through his hair.

“Afternoon?” he mumbled into his palms. “Shit…how long have I been asleep?”

Aziraphale smiled.

“A little over six hours. It looks like you really needed the rest.”

Crowley groaned as he hauled himself upright and blinked.

“You should have thrown me out ages ago.”

“Why would I do that?” asked Aziraphale, surprised.

He was generally a solitary creature, but he adored Crowley’s company even when the man was passed out in his bookshop. Crowley had been like a work of art, there to be admired.

“I dunno,” Crowley muttered as he rubbed the back of his neck, “I would throw me out of I was hanging around.”

“Well, it’s a good job I’m not you,” replied Aziraphale. “I’ll make you some coffee.”

He didn’t stick around to hear Crowley protest – he’d heard enough protest for the day and was going to dote on Crowley as much as he damn well pleased for the rest of the afternoon. It took the intelligence agent a few moments top pull himself together, but eventually he joined Aziraphale at the table just as the kettle boiled off; his borrowed blue shirt untucked and hanging off one pale shoulder.

Crowley’s skin was flushed from sleep and his eyes bright; hair dishevelled and soft and sticking up a little at the back from being slept on whilst damp. Aziraphale thought he looked positively dreamy.

“Well,” said Aziraphale, trying to distract himself from the strip of Crowley’s bare skin revealed by the oversized shirt, “I’ve had a rather productive afternoon.”

“Have you?”

“Yes…you were right – there is a book of prophecy going up for auction.”

Crowley gave Aziraphale a lopsided grin as he accepted a cup of hot black coffee.

“Well, there’s a big surprise,” he murmured. “So we’ll be attending an auction then?”

“It seems very likely,” replied Aziraphale, “although these Nazis had better come up with the funds – a first edition Nixon is going to be incredibly expensive.”

“Well, Harmony did say that money was no object – maybe you should contact him and ask him to front you the money?”

Aziraphale shuddered at the thought.

“I’d rather just pay for it out of my own pocket than deal with Nazis again.”

Crowley rolled his eyes at him.

“You’re a double agent, angel. A triple agent, really – you’re working for the Security Service who are double crossing a Nazi who is pretending to double cross other Nazis whilst actually working with them. You’re at the centre of this – it doesn’t work without you and your job is to maintain contact with all the involved parties. Neither Montgomery nor Harmony know that you know they’re working together.”

Aziraphale groaned and buried his face in his hands. His head hurt and this was all so complicated. The only thing that made sense in all of this was Crowley and his constant reassurance that Aziraphale would be just fine.

“I wish this was all over,” he groaned.

Crowley reached over and wrapped cool long fingers around Aziraphale’s wrist, making his pulse quicken at the touch as always. Aziraphale lowered his hands carefully so as not to dislodge Crowley’s gentle grasp on him.

“I know,” Crowley murmured. “We’ll get through it, I promise.”

Aziraphale believed him. He always believed him. Staring into warm honey-coloured eyes with cool fingers on his skin, Aziraphale would believe anything at all.

“Come on,” said Crowley eventually, looking away and breaking the spell, “we need to take your mind of this – do something fun.”

“Like what?” Aziraphale asked, feeling breathless.

Crowley shrugged and stood up, making a beeline for the Gramophone that was still playing Schubert’s String Quartet no.14.

“I dunno…do you have anything more modern? Something upbeat that we can sing along to, or dance to, or…anything?”

Aziraphale let out a small, surprised laugh – he hadn’t danced to anything for about fifteen years.

“It’s mostly classical,” he confessed as he watched Crowley drag out a stack of records and flip through them, “Some Al Bowlly and Vera Lynn…”

Crowley grimaced.

“Vera Lynn? Christ’s sake angel, I’m going to have to get you some better music. Count Basie or Glenn Miller perhaps – or is that too avant-garde?”

He raised a dark auburn eyebrow, his mouth quirking into a half smile and Aziraphale snorted.

“I’ll have you know, I was quite avant-garde once upon a time!”

It was many years ago – back in the 1920s when Aziraphale had been a Bright Young Thing of London’s social elite, much to his family’s horror. He’d been rather bohemian once…before he’d chosen a quieter, more solitary life.

Crowley looked at him, his head tilting to the side.

“But not any more?”

“I suppose not,” replied Aziraphale. “Too much of an old soul these days – nobody ever asks me to dance anymore.”

“Really? Crowley asked softly, his honey eyes studying Aziraphale carefully for a moment. “Do you want to?”

Aziraphale’s heart skipped a full beat.

“What?”

Crowley slid a glossy black record out of its protective cover and placed it gently onto the turntable, taking great care when lowering the needle. The first gentle bars of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ drifted from the gramophone as Crowley turned back to him and held out a long-fingered hand.

“Come on, angel,” he said, gently, “I don’t really dance so this is a one-time offer.”

Aziraphale stood, frozen and staring at Crowley’s outstretched hand; his fingertips still tainted with the iodine Aziraphale had dabbed onto his wounds. The sound of his beating heart almost drowned out the soft flutes and piano intro of Vera Lynn’s beautiful song. It had been so long since he’d danced with anyone. He wasn’t even sure he remembered how.

“Going once…going twice…”

“YES!” Aziraphale said, too fast and too loud. “I mean…yes. That would…I would like that. Very much.”

Crowley’s smile was warm as Aziraphale took his hand and allowed himself to be drawn in.

God help him, but Crowley may have been even more gorgeous up close. Aziraphale could smell the rosemary soap he used on his hair and skin, breathing in gently as he stepped closer. He marvelled at Crowley’s height, the slimness of his waist and his shoulders, and the soft amber of his eyes reflecting the light as Crowley glanced away.

His hand lay carefully on Aziraphale’s waist, his touch too light for Aziraphale’s liking - almost like he was afraid to exert any pressure; their fingers gingerly entwined.

“If you’re going to lead, you’ll have to be a little firmer than that dear boy,” Aziraphale murmured. “I won’t break, I promise.”

He felt the soft, warm exhale against his ear as Crowley laughed, and suddenly Aziraphale was being held tighter; Crowley’s hand slipping around to the small of his back as Vera Lynn began to sing. Aziraphale’s heart hammered in his chest, faster than the tempo of the music.

That certain night
The night we met
There was magic abroad in the air
There were angels dining at the Ritz
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square

Crowley felt solid and stable against him; his skin, cool even through his shirt as Aziraphale’s hand slid up Crowley’s arm and around his neck, fingers playing gently with his collar and occasionally brushing the small strip of skin between shirt and hairline. He wondered if Crowley could feel his heart beating too fast.

The moon that lingered over London town
Poor puzzled moon he wore a frown
How could he know we two were so in love
The whole damned world seemed upside down

Aziraphale’s world certainly did feel upside down as their feet shuffled together in time. Crowley seemed to be closer than before; his cheek resting against Aziraphale’s temple and breath ghosting across his ear.

Ah this heart of mine
Loud and fast
Like a merry-go-round in a fair
We would dance cheek to cheek
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square

It felt so natural to close his eyes and wrap both arms around Crowley’s neck, feeling Crowley shift to accommodate him, sinewy arms enveloping Aziraphale’s waist. His shoulder was so comfortable as Aziraphale rested his head against it, burying his face into the crook of Crowley’s neck and breathing in a faint residue of a spicy cologne. If the world stopped turning, he wouldn’t notice. If a bomb dropped on them at that moment, Aziraphale wouldn’t have cared because he was already in heaven; wrapped in the embrace of a beautiful man and swaying gently to a beautiful song.

Our homeward step was just as light
As the dancing feet of Astaire
And like an echo far away
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square

That night in Berkeley Square.

As the last bars faded, Aziraphale became acutely aware that they’d stopped moving and that they were just standing in the middle of the floor, his fingers feathering gently through the ends of soft auburn hair and Crowley’s hands resting across Aziraphale’s back. They both froze in the same instant and Aziraphale felt an embarrassed flush race to his cheeks.

Aziraphale dropped his hands from the back of Crowley’s neck like he’d be scalded; mortified as they awkwardly disentangled.

“Oh...God,” Aziraphale mumbled as he took a very large step backwards and tugged at the soft, warn velveteen at the bottom of his waistcoat. It wasn’t nearly as comforting as it should have been. “So sorry, dear boy. I don’t know what came over me…”

“’S alright,” Crowley replied gently, his face burning almost as much as Aziraphale’s as he rubbed the back of his neck where Aziraphale’s hands had been just a moment before. “My fault.”

It hadn’t been Crowley’s fault at all. Not in the slightest, but Aziraphale didn’t know how to say so without revealing far too much. Instead, he stood dumbly; thumbs rubbing over waistcoat buttons where they would much rather have been grazing Crowley’s soft, cool skin.

Crowley suddenly laughed; a small breathless sound that made Aziraphale look at him sharply.

“I guess I’m more tired than I thought,” Crowley said, giving him a lopsided grin, “I asked you to dance and then almost fell asleep on you!”

Relief flooded Aziraphale’s veins and he allowed himself a nervous laugh too.

“Yes, me too,” he lied. “I could almost feel myself nodding off.”

He could pass it off as tiredness couldn’t he? His head on Crowley’s shoulder and face buried into his neck – they could all be taken for falling asleep.

“I should probably go home,” Crowley murmured eventually, reaching for his jacket and hat that Aziraphale had placed over the back of the chair, “Let you get some rest.”

Aziraphale didn’t want him to go home.

“Alright,” he found himself agreeing.

Heaven help him, but he’d made such a fool of himself. He watched as Crowley tipped his hat onto his head and tilted it at its usual angle, knowing he should reach out and stop him; knowing he should ask Crowley to stay.

“See you later, angel.”

“Goodbye…” Aziraphale breathed as Crowley gave him a small smile and opened the door. “Crowley?” he added, quickly.

Crowley stopped with one foot over the threshold and turned to look at him. Aziraphale’s heart skipped another beat.

“Yeah?”

This was his last chance to ask Crowley not to go; to stay with him and drink wine or dance some more.

“Thank you,” was all he could say, and Crowley grinned at him.

“No worries,” he murmured in reply.

Crowley stepped out of the door and closed it behind him, leaving Aziraphale alone with his heart beating fast and feeling the loss of Crowley’s touch. He should have asked him to stay.

Chapter Text

Crowley didn’t make it any further than Whitehall. He’d had every intention of going home but then he remembered how angry Beezle had been with him the last time Crowley had been out of contact for longer than expected. A lot had happened in the last twenty four hours and he needed to touch base with the rest of the division who had been working to track down the third Nazi as well as delve into Montgomery’s background.

The office was deserted when he arrived, and Crowley was still exhausted so he fastened his jacket up to hide the borrowed pale blue shirt he was wearing and sat in his chair with his feet on the desk, reclining with his hat over his face to shield his eyes from the lights.

Aziraphale was on his mind. How could he not be after that dance? Crowley didn’t really dance much – tradition dictated that men danced with women and since women were really not Crowley’s thing, he’d never really seen the point in getting good at it. He knew some basics, but mostly avoided it where possible – until Aziraphale had mentioned that nobody had asked him to dance for years. In that moment, the only thing Crowley had wanted to do was dance with him. He’d held Aziraphale in his arms for a few brief minutes, feeling the softness of his body under his hands; breathing in the scent of his clothes and his hair and his skin. Aziraphale’s arms had wound around his neck and his thumbs had brushed the strip of skin just above Crowley’s shirt collar and Crowley had almost ceased to function. He’d been in heaven as a tired Aziraphale rested his head on his shoulder and began to drop off to sleep. Crowley had never wanted to let him go.

Crowley must have fallen asleep in the quiet office, because the next thing he knew he was being rudely awakened by a glass of cold water being thrown in his face. He gasped and spluttered as he almost fell out of his chair, feet clattering to the floor as Hastur howled with laughter in the corner of the room. Wiping water from his eyes, Crowley found himself surrounded by his whole division, all looking amused.

“Well, look who finally decided to show up,” drawled Beezle, a smirk playing about her lips. “We were starting to think one of the Nazis had killed you.”

“Or a bomb had dropped on your head,” added Ligur.

“That wouldn’t be too far from the truth,” Crowley muttered as he took his pocket square from his top jacket pocket and carefully wiped his face, wincing a little as the pressure hurt his damaged fingertips.

Dagon chuckled as she placed a mug of steaming black coffee in front of him and Crowley made an appreciative noise of thanks as he stowed away his pocket square and tried to figure out a way of picking his drink up without pain. Beezle’s smirk turned to a frown as she grabbed one of Crowley’s hands and inspected the skinned fingers and torn nails; the grazes across his palms.

“What happened to you?” she asked, curtly.

Crowley sighed.

“It’s a long story.”

He started with Shadwell, and Aziraphale trading him the set of handwritten diaries in exchange for the Nostradamus but he left out the part where he roughly shoved the man against a wall for insulting the bookseller. He told them about being pulled over on Tottenham Court Road by police and having to spend the night down in the tube until the air raid was over. Crowley conveniently left out the part where he’d held Aziraphale’s hand the whole time, enjoying his warmth and his softness as they sat with their backs against a cool wall, pinned in like sardines.

He told them about driving Aziraphale back to the bookshop and seeing Montgomery waiting for him; of scaling the drainpipe with his damaged hands from digging people out of rubble and of overhearing talk of the third Nazi being in Manchester. Crowley kept to himself that he’d fallen asleep in the soft, warm shirt Aziraphale had loaned him – the one he was still wearing – or of dancing with the bookseller to Vera Lynn in the tiny back room; wanting nothing more than to tilt Aziraphale’s face towards his and kiss him as they swayed gently.

H Division were incredibly interested in the information Montgomery had let slip and Crowley pushed thoughts of Aziraphale from his head as he attempted to wrap his hands around his coffee mug.

“Manchester?” repeated Beezle.

“That’s what she said,” Crowley replied, wincing as the heat seared his skinned fingers. “She could have just been saying any old shit but…I don’t know. She seemed too surprised to be able to lie convincingly in that moment. Of course, she could also be a bloody great actress…”

“Well she fooled that idiot Archangel into believing she was a good, upstanding British citizen for long enough,” muttered Hastur from by the window.

“Either way,” Beezle interjected, “we’ve hunted the whole of London for that bastard Glozier and we’ve found no trace of him here. Montgomery said he’s hunting down ancient artifacts in Manchester so let’s put feelers out to our people there – see if they’ve seen or heard anything. On that note, contact Security Service agents in other cities that may have a strong history of artifacts coming through – York, Cambridge, Oxford…Edinburgh maybe? He might have moved on from Manchester by now, so we need a lead.”

Hastur, Ligur, and Dagon all immediately jumped to work; diving into filing cabinets and rifling through papers to find phone numbers and names of contacts. Crowley blew gently on his coffee and glanced up at Beezle.

“So,” she murmured, “this auction at Christie’s next week…”

“Yeah,” replied Crowley, digging the flier from his jacket pocket, “Aziraphale already made some phone calls – apparently one of the books of prophecy we’re looking for is going up for auction.”

Beezle’s dark eyes narrowed.

“Really? Aziraphale made phone calls.”

Crowley flinched. She’d already had a go at him before about being too familiar with his asset and he was still carelessly name-dropping.

“Anyway,” he muttered, pretending he hadn’t heard the stress she’d put on Aziraphale’s name, “I think we have no choice but to attend and get that book before anyone else can.”

Beezle looked at him for a long moment, her expression unreadable.

“Hastur and Ligur are going with you,” she said, finally.

Crowley made a face.

“What? Why?”

“Because Christie’s will be big and busy and Harmony might show up – or any Nazi for that matter. It’s a highly public place, there could be Nazi agents we don’t even know about keeping an eye on Fell; making sure he’s not with a British spy or that he’s actually actively seeking the books that Nazis are paying him to procure.”

Crowley’s stomach plummeted. What was wrong with him? Three weeks ago, this was the first thing he would have thought of and now…he’d just been thinking about what a fun day it could be, watching a fine art auction with Aziraphale. Crowley had gone soft – too soft, and in so short a time. He’d let himself get far too close and it was dangerous – for him and for the Division.

“Alright,” he conceded with a heavy sigh. “So, be there and keep a weather eye out but…stay at a distance.”

“That’s what we do,” Beezle replied pointedly.

She was right of course, but keeping Aziraphale at a distance was now bordering on impossible. Picking up a pencil, Crowley dragged a notepad towards him and accepted a file Dagon passed him. He might be putting his head down to work, but his heart was still beating to A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale had spent several days carefully restoring the first edition Nostradamus he’d reclaimed from Mr Shadwell. It upset him greatly that the man had let the book fall into such terrible disrepair – the heavy leather cover stained and cracked down the spine; the pages spotted with mold and mildew.

With the utmost care and precision, Aziraphale had started a process of gently cleaning the leather cover, making sure it didn’t get too damp or over-saturated before treating it with several thin coats of beeswax which he allowed to sink into the leather before gently buffing it. The book’s pages were a little more difficult and time consuming to clean – Aziraphale had to insert a sheet of wax paper between every damaged page before dabbing at the spots with hydrogen peroxide. It made his eyes sting and it was painstaking, but the work was a blessed distraction.

Crowley had not been around since Aziraphale had made a fool of himself, dancing to Vera Lynn in the bookshop’s back room; his fingers gripping Crowley’s collar and head on his shoulder. Crowley hadn’t seemed to mind at the time, with Aziraphale passing off his momentary lapse in judgement on tiredness; but as more days passed with no contact he was highly concerned that he might have overstepped a boundary.

Aziraphale had fallen in love so fast and so hard he barely knew what to do with himself. Every glance was wonderful and yet painful; every touch set his heart racing and yet it ached because he’d fallen for a man he could never possibly have. At least…he thought so. When he’d first met Crowley he’d been sure the intelligence agent was as heterosexual as could be but…doubt had begun to seep in at the edges. There were times where Crowley glanced at him; times where their skin made contact and it was electric – like they both came alive in that instant.

Crowley had held him. That afternoon when he’d held out his hand and invited Aziraphale to dance with him; he’d held Aziraphale so tight with such certainty, his lips brushing the tip of Aziraphale’s ear. It had felt so right being in Crowley’s arms but it had been almost four days since then and he was doubting himself.

Crowley had called eventually. His voice sounded…normal…and Aziraphale didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. He certainly hadn’t been awkward, or sounded uncomfortable. It was almost as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened…as though Crowley hadn’t been reliving every moment since he’d taken Aziraphale’s hand in that tube station like he had been. Why would he?

In the end, Aziraphale was just glad to hear from him even if it was just to confirm arrangements for the auction at Christie’s.

He woke early and washed without ceremony before choosing a shirt of duck-egg blue and a bow tie of light tartan. Aziraphale of course donned his favourite waistcoat, enjoying the comforting velveteen beneath his fingers as he fastened each button and the familiar weight of his pocket watch as he slid it into place. He checked his reflection in the old, ornate mirror over the dresser, frowning as he teased fluffy curls into place with a smidge of pomade and wished for the millionth time in the last year that his hair was more manageable; less…poofy.

Somehow, he knew Crowley would be sitting at the table in the back room before he even saw him – dark glasses firmly in place as he scanned the page of a book; two small packets containing tea and butter on the table beside him, and an egg. Aziraphale’s poor heart leapt with joy as Crowley looked up and gave him a lopsided smile.

“Morning, angel,” he murmured. “I finished Dorian Gray, so I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed another book.”

“Of course not,” Aziraphale replied softly as he rounded the table and picked up the cold, empty teapot.

It was strange – he owned a bookshop but wasn’t overly fond of people actually touching or even buying his books, unless of course they were willing to pay a lot of money. Crowley was somehow different. Right from the start, Aziraphale had never minded Crowley borrowing one of his precious first edition Wilde’s from his own personal collection.

Smiling, Aziraphale leaned forward to see what Crowley had chosen to read his time and his smile suddenly faltered.

“Crowley…?”

“Hmmm?”

Crowley glanced up from the book. It wasn’t really even a book – it was a notebook, bound in red leather and containing pages upon pages of handwritten poetry. Aziraphale had received it anonymously five years ago, smuggled out of Spain where the author’s works had been banned by the Franco government for their homoerotic undertones. He had a few of the author’s works – a selection of plays and poetry, all of which had been secreted out of the country and found their way into Aziraphale’s collection; but this one was special.

Out of all the books in Aziraphale’s shop, he’d least expected Crowley to pick up this one for despite it being written in the author’s own scrawling hand complete with ink blots, it was also written entirely in Spanish.

“Do you…understand what it is you’re reading?” he asked, confused.

A slow grin spread across Crowley’s face and he reclined even further in his chair as he rested the book on his knee and looked at Aziraphale, his thumb keeping place between the pages.

“Did you think I’d pick up a notebook by a Spanish poet if I didn’t understand a word of Spanish?” Crowley inquired, playfully.

“So you do…understand Spanish?”

“Yes,” Crowley replied. “Why? Don’t you?”

Surprised, Aziraphale sat down heavily in the empty chair.

“I confess, I do not,” he sighed. “This one was sent to me directly several years ago – not long before I learned the author had been murdered by his government.”

Crowley’s grin vanished; his face suddenly becoming serious. He looked at the handwritten book in his hands and ran his fingers over the cover.

“What was his name?”

“Federico Garcia Lorca,” Aziraphale replied quietly. “I’ve never known what the poems in that book were about.”

Crowley inhaled softly and took off his dark glasses, stowing them in his top pocket before carefully picking up the book again and gently turning a few pages.

“I want to weep with my pain and tell
you - so you'll love me and cry for me also
in a nightfall of nightingales
with a knifeblade, with kisses and with you.

I want to kill the only one to witness
the assassination of my flowers
and transform my weeping and sweat
into an everlasting heap of dry wheat.

That ‘I love you, you love me’ yarn
should never run out, let it always be burnt
by the decrepit sun and the old moon.

What you don’t give and I don’t ask
for is taken by death that leaves not
even a shadow on shuddering flesh.

Aziraphale could barely breathe as Crowley stopped and looked at him with those beautiful honey eyes of his, his mouth twisted into a rueful half-smile.

“Or at least, that’s the gist of it,” Crowley murmured. “My grasp of Spanish is largely conversational only.”

Aziraphale swallowed and looked away, his eyes fixing on the table as he mulled the poem over in his mind – a poem of love for another man; a love that hurt, so full of yearning and desperation.

“It’s beautiful,” Aziraphale whispered. “Are they all like that?”

“More or less,” replied Crowley as he closed the book at placed it gently on the table.

Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s eyes on him, studying him carefully. Part of Aziraphale hated it when Crowley watched him like this; scared that Crowley could see into his very soul and lay bare every thought and feeling that passed through him. Aziraphale was already hanging on a knife-edge, falling head over heels in love with the man with each passing day and unable to tell him. It was almost unbearable.

“Well,” said Aziraphale brightly as he pushed the thought from his mind. “I really will have to get you to translate them for me some day.”

Crowley grinned at him again.

“Honestly, they sound better in Spanish.”

The kettle began to whistle merrily and Aziraphale welcomed the opportunity to do something productive, sliding from his chair to take care of the tea. One thing really was gnawing at him, however.

“How do you know Spanish?”

That playful look crossed Crowley’s features again as he propped his feet up against the leg of the empty chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Do I not look like the kind of person to speak another language?”

Aziraphale felt his cheeks grow hot.

“I didn’t mean…well…that is to say…”

“I’m teasing you, Angel,” Crowley murmured.

The softness in his voice and the way Crowley was looking at him with such fondness made Aziraphale feel weak. He wasn’t used to having the kind of relationship where one was gently and playfully teased.

“There are a lot of agents coming out of Spain,” explained Crowley. “Since it’s a neutral country there’s a little more freedom to pass information and, of course, get information from the other side. One of my first assignments was running Spanish double agents.”

“Ahhhh!”

It was strange – Aziraphale felt as though he and Crowley had been doing this forever already when it had only been a few short weeks since they’d first met. It hadn’t really occurred to him that Crowley had been a spy for years, that he’d had many other assignments…other assets. It made him feel slightly sick to think that someday soon this would all be over and Aziraphale would be just another closed case as Crowley moved onto the next. He didn’t enjoy that thought at all and, his eyes falling on the extra rations sitting on the table, moved to change the subject.

“You know you didn’t have to replace my rations from the other day,” he said as he cut two thick slices of the horrible National Loaf and reached for Crowley’s butter ration. “I was more than happy to make you breakfast.”

Crowley looked at his feet.

“I know,” he murmured, “but I never use them and they’d only end up going to one of my neighbours anyway so…”

“I might as well have them,” Aziraphale finished, smiling.

Crowley looked at him.

“Yeah.”

Aziraphale’s smile widened. It was funny – this was the second time Crowley had gifted him rations and the second time he’d seemed rather flustered about doing so. It was really very sweet.

“Thank you,” he replied, graciously.

Crowley smiled warmly at him.

“My pleasure.”

 

____

 

 

Crowley glanced at Aziraphale sitting in the Bentley’s passenger seat and smiled to himself as Aziraphale hummed excitedly to himself, his fingertips tapping out a beat on his knees. His eyes were a bright sky blue, wide and looking about as Crowley sped down Central London’s streets on the way to the auction. He was possibly the most adorable thing Crowley had ever seen and it gnawed at his insides to think about the conversation he’d been putting off all morning. Reluctantly, he turned down the wireless and took a deep breath.

“Y’know, angel…”

“Yes, my dear?” Aziraphale asked, turning to him instantly with a smile as bright as sunshine.

Crowley had to concentrate very hard on not crashing the car.

“Uh…” he stammered and then cleared his throat, turning his eyes back to the road, “there’s something I need to tell you. When we get to the auction…you’re going to have to pretend to be on your own.”

Aziraphale immediately looked crestfallen and Crowley felt miserable.

“My division pointed out that there could be more Nazi spies at Christie’s – people we may not know about since we’re assuming this ring is just Montgomery, Harmony and Glozier, but they could be running their own agents. We decided its too risky for you to be seen with me.”

“Oh…” said Aziraphale quietly, his eyes dropping to look at his hands which were now still in his lap.

It almost broke Crowley’s heart.

“I’m still going to be there,” he murmured, reaching over to gently pluck Aziraphale’s coat sleeve, “and two more of my division’s agents will be there. Somebody is always going to have eyes on you Aziraphale – don’t worry.”

Aziraphale looked up and gave him a small smile.

“Oh, I’m not worried,” he replied, “it’s just that that…well…I was rather looking forward to showing you around your first auction of fine arts and…”

Crowley felt his mouth twitch into a smile and he couldn’t stop the amused laugh that escaped his lips. Azirapahle looked sharply at him.

“What?”

“Oh angel,” Crowley replied, grinning. “This will definitely not be my first fine arts auction – just my first legal one.”

Aziraphale blinked at him.

“Whatever do you mean, dear boy?”

Crowley chuckled.

“Well, it wasn’t all gambling and horse races back in the day, you know,” he explained. “Every so often, the Serpents dabbled in a bit of black market art dealings. Actually, it was the only part of that life I actually enjoyed.”

He stole a side along glance at Aziraphale, watching the bookseller’s face turn from surprise to outright delight as he started to laugh.

“Oh my Lord,” Aziraphale chortled, “how wonderfully scandalous.”

Crowley grinned. Aziraphale had never judged Crowley for his shady past – he’d been understanding and sympathetic, and now he was finding the thought of black market fine art positively amusing. Crowley had always liked art – paintings and sculpture, sketches and pottery – he liked the differences between artists and eras; the mediums used. Not that he could ever call himself an expert on the subject but…he enjoyed it – enjoyed looking at it and the way it made him feel. Besides, he knew for certain that Aziraphale Fell had dabbled in the black market once or twice himself – it was one of the few things they really had in common.

The auction was being held in Spencer House, a beautiful neoclassical aristocratic palace in St James. The Earl Spencer was leasing the property to Christie’s after their King Street address had been bombed and Crowley couldn’t think of a prettier place to hold a fine art auction. He’d parked the car a distance away so that he and Aziraphale could make their separate ways inside; keeping the white-blond curls always in view as they made their way with the crowd up the large driveway and into the building.

Oh, but Crowley liked this place! Spencer House was packed to the rafters with art – on the walls, lining corridors; in the grand halls and in the many small drawing rooms. The main auctions were being held in the Great Room and in the Dining Room – neither of which had any original furniture or art left, and were instead filled with rows upon rows of chairs facing a small, hastily constructed dais. Many were already taking seats but Crowley was too enthralled to do anything but move around.

Other state rooms were open to public viewing, many holding paintings and sculptures that were to be auctioned that day and Crowley happily moved from room to room, drinking in the stunning architecture as well as the items for sale. His favourite room by far was the Palm Room – pale green and tinted pink with carved and gilded palm trees and a frieze of griffins and candelabra. It was ostentatious and Crowley loved it.

He wished he’d been able to go around the house with Aziraphale. Crowley had so much he wanted to say, so much to comment on and he knew that Aziraphale would happily have chatted about the décor and the art and the architecture for hours with him. As it was, he had to pretend - pretend that he wasn’t accompanying the bookseller; pretend he wasn’t constantly looking about him for a glimpse of white curls or a flash of tartan; pretend that he didn’t naturally gravitate towards wherever Aziraphale was in a room.

Crowley spotted him over in the corner of the Library, perusing the shelves with a look of deep concentration. He moved away deliberately but somehow, not ten minutes later, locked eyes with Aziraphale over a Grecian vase. The bookseller smiled at him – a small, coy movement of his lips before glancing away and Crowley felt the heat rise to his cheeks as he turned and walked out of the room. It was like Aziraphale was the sun and Crowley was orbiting him; moving far away only to be inexplicably pulled in time and time again.

He was surrounded by sculptures of all shapes and sizes of stone and marble, dark and light and rosy pink. Crowley walked through them, soaking up the details of carved bodies and animals, faces that were lifelike and some that were not. One drew his attention more than any other, hidden at the back on it’s own – a statue of an angel with his wings outspread, nude with his face tilted towards heaven. The expression on the angel’s face was…melancholy, but kind – an old soul with a young face; one who had seen the suffering mankind could inflict on each other, but loving them all the same. The sculptor had poured so much love into his carving, depicting smooth skin and soft flesh; the curves of the angel’s hips and thighs and the roundness of his stomach; the gentle curl of his hair.

The angel reminded him of Aziraphale.

Shaking his head, Crowley sighed deeply. Aziraphale was everywhere, even when he wasn’t. He was in Crowley’s head, curling around his senses like smoke and Crowley was losing the strength to resist. Turning on his heel, he left the room with the sculptures and moved swiftly down the corridor, glancing into rooms as he passed. He hadn’t seen Hastur since he’d arrived, nor Ligur in fact. He told himself he was searching for Aziraphale to check on him, to make sure he was alright and not panicking; to have eyes on him in case Hastur and Ligur had been delayed.

He spotted white-blond curls over the crowd and made a beeline for them, pushing past people in his haste. Aziraphale was standing before a large painting, his blue eyes drinking in the details on the canvas of a man in white, an apple in his hand and a large black red-bellied snake coiled around his shoulders. Crowley swallowed hard as he took several tentative steps, drawing him level with Aziraphale’s shoulder. His hand brushed against Aziraphale’s – a ghost of a touch, but still enough to feel the warmth of his skin and that small jolt of longing as he ached to take Aziraphale’s hand in his own.

“Angel,” he murmured, loud enough only for Aziraphale to hear.

He felt blue eyes glance at him for half a second before they turned back to the painting.

“Hello,” was Aziraphale’s barely audible response.

Aziraphale had made no effort to move away from his touch and the realisation made Crowley’s heart beat hard in his chest. He swallowed hard and stared at the painting; he could see Aziraphale in this one too – in the stormy blue-grey eyes of the subject; in the fairness of his hair and the softness of his body and the loneliness of his expression. It was a strange painting but somehow it struck a chord within Crowley.

Carefully, he glanced back over his shoulder, scanning the crowd to see if anybody had noticed how close he was standing to Aziraphale and suddenly he locked eyes with Hastur. Crowley’s stomach plummeted – of course Hastur would show up now, right at this second when Crowley’s hand was grazing Aziraphale’s hand in a room full of potential Nazi spies when he’d been explicitly told to keep his distance. Crowley sighed.

“See you later,” he murmured, and dragged himself away with a great deal of effort. He could feel Aziraphale’s eyes on him as he walked around the outskirts of the room, pretending to look at the art as he made his way to Hastur.

His colleague did not look pleased.

“What the bloody hell are you playing at?” muttered Hastur as he intercepted Crowley beside an insipid pastoral scene.

“Nothing,” Crowley hissed back at him. “He gets nervous – he panics. I was just checking on him.”

Hastur scowled at him and Crowley did his best not to feel guilty.

“Ligur is in the Great Room now. I’ll tail Fell from now on – you’d best stay out of the way.”

Crowley huffed as Hastur moved off, skulking away in his beige mackintosh with the collar turned up. He looked completely ridiculous and out of place in Spencer House. Even Crowley with a snake tattoo on his face fit in better than Hastur.

Casting one last glance over his shoulder at those white-blond curls still over by the same painting, Crowley sighed and moved away once more. As much as he hated to admit it, it was probably best that he stayed away until this auction was over, so Crowley headed into the secondary auction room to bide his time.

The lots being sold in the Dining Room were less expensive than in the Great Room, but still well beyond Crowley’s price range. It amazed him that there were people in this country who still had cash to burn while there was rationing and utility all over the place. It struck him that Aziraphale was one of those people – even without the Nazi funding, he came from an old moneyed family with a healthy fortune of his own.

All the same, Crowley enjoyed himself as he watched small statues, pottery, books and artwork be auctioned off, one by one. Several pieces piqued his interest and he almost bid on an interesting book labelled ‘Demonology and Magic: A Conjuration Manual’ but it was in Latin, which Crowley didn’t speak, and in the end it went for far more than Crowley could afford from his own pockets.

“The next item is a first edition of ‘An Ideal Husband’ by Oscar Wilde…”

Crowley suddenly sat up straighter in his chair as the Bid Caller announced the lot. An assistant brought out a book that was obviously very well loved – the cover worn and faded with years of handling. Aziraphale already had every first edition of Wilde there was and most of them were in much better condition than this. What was so special about this particular copy?

“…with a dedication on the front title page that reads ‘With all my love, Oscar’…”

Oh, thought Crowley. Aziraphale doesn’t have one of those.

“…and is believed to have been given by Wilde to one of his many lovers – although we can only speculate as to whom it may have been.”

There were a few audible titters from around the room and Crowley cast a glance across the Dining Room – most people seemed disinterested in the scruffy book. It certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the other books auctioned that day, but Crowley would have thought the handwritten dedication inside would have had collectors frothing at the mouth. Were they really all such snobs as to turn their noses up at something so special?

“I shall open the bidding at five pounds.”

The silence in the room was deafening. Crowley rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. Five pounds was a lot of money – his week’s wage and precisely the amount of the bank note sitting in his wallet. Nobody in the room moved a muscle and the Bid Caller frowned.

“Any takers at five pounds?”

If five pounds hadn’t been such a significant amount of money, Crowley would have snapped it up in an instant but it would leave him with nothing, not even money for rent. He bit his lip.

“No takers at five pounds,” murmured the Bid Caller. “I lower the starting bid to three pounds – any takers at three pounds?”

Three pounds was better – he could afford rent at least, and possibly coffee for the week. Food would be far more difficult but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d lived on nothing until the next pay. Slowly, he raised his hand. The Bid Caller looked relieved.

“Three pounds, sir!” he announced, happily. “Do I hear an increase on three pounds?”

Please don’t, thought Crowley desperately. A woman in a veiled hat looked as though she might consider bidding against him for a moment but then seemed to think better of it. Sweat prickled at Crowley’s brow.

“Three pounds then, going once…” the Caller proceeded, as though desperate to get this one over with and onto the next, “…going twice…SOLD to the gentleman in black. Thank you, sir!”

Crowley exhaled in relief. He’d won. Three whole pounds spent on a book, but it was a book Aziraphale would love. Certainly not the prettiest or in the best condition, but it was special and…well…it meant something. From Crowley to Aziraphale, it meant everything.

 

____

 

 

The skin on Aziraphale’s little finger and the side of his hand were still tingling where Crowley had brushed against him; his heart still thudding loudly in his chest as he allowed himself to be swept along with the crowd migrating into the Great Room for the main auction. Although he’d glimpsed Crowley several times during his perusal of the lots, he’d never expected him to turn up right beside him – not after Crowley had told him they had to stay separated.

He’d been so disappointed when Crowley told him he’d have to do this alone; not because he couldn’t, but because he very much enjoyed Crowley’s company. All Aziraphale had wanted since the day he’d reclaimed the Nostradamus was to spend so much more time with Crowley and he had thought that maybe, finally, he’d get the chance today. Alas, it was not to be but still Aziraphale found it difficult to get Crowley off his mind so he could concentrate on the auction.

Robert Nixon was most certainly one of the books up for auction – Aziraphale had glimpsed it on display in the library behind a glass screen, and it seemed in far better condition than the Nostradamus he’d retrieved from Shadwell. Unfortunately, it was the only book of prophecy up for auction today, so Aziraphale’s hope of killing more than one bird with the same stone was dashed. Never mind, he thought. It really just gave him more opportunities to spend time with a certain British Intelligence Agent.

He had to endure a good hour of other items being auctioned before they came to Nixon; watching beautiful sculptures and stunning paintings go for extortionate amounts of money until it was finally his turn. Robert Nixon was very old – a large tome bound in dark leather, the pages made of vellum – dating back to the fifteenth century. The bid caller droned on about its history in brief and then opened the bid at five hundred pounds.

“Seven hundred,”Aziraphale called immediately, before a single other person in the room had even attempted to bid.

The bid caller blinked at him.

“Seven hundred,” he confirmed slowly. “Do I hear eight?”

A hand raised to Aziraphale’s right and he countered instantly.

“One thousand pounds!”

A ripple of quiet exclamation passed through the room and Aziraphale smiled to himself as the bid caller peered at him doubtfully and then glanced at his superior standing off to the side.

Aziraphale knew what he looked like to the general public – a frumpy, forty-year old man in a well-worn waistcoat and white-blond hair that refused to conform to style – and he didn’t look like a man that could afford to spend a thousand pounds on a book. Luckily for him, he was well known by the head auctioneer, who stepped up and whispered something into the bid caller’s ear.

His smile widened as the man immediately straightened and confirmed Aziraphale’s bid.

“One thousand bid from Mr Fell. Do I hear two thousand?”

Aziraphale countered with three. He must have seemed quite mad, bidding against himself but he was having an absolutely wonderful time and he was doing it all for one very simple reason – Hitler wanted Robert Nixon, so Hitler was going to have to pay through the nose for it. He was purposely driving up the price of the book so there was less money for the Nazi war effort. Well…every little helped.

In the end, the caller ended the bidding at five thousand pounds, since Aziraphale was the only bidder for the book at that point. He felt very proud of himself as he stood and went to give his details to the auctioneer to arrange payment and delivery of it to his shop. Two books of prophecy down - only four more to go.

Crowley was waiting for him on the corner by St James’ Park, hat tipped over his right eye as he leaned on the Bentley’s bonnet. Aziraphale’s heart leapt at the sight of him.

“You got it then?” Crowley called as Aziraphale crossed the road towards him.

“How do you know that?” Aziraphale asked, surprised - Crowley hadn’t even been in the room during the auction.

“There were two other members of my division in the room with you,” Crowley explained with a grin. “They filled me in on everything while you were off arranging payment.”

Aziraphale had quite forgotten about the other intelligence agents, even though Crowley had mentioned them earlier. Sometimes he forgot that Crowley belonged to a whole division, since his agreement in Nightingale had rested on the condition that Crowley be his sole handler. He had to admit he was a little disappointed Crowley already knew.

“Did they tell you that I bid five thousand pounds for it?”

Crowley’s grin widened.

“They did,” he replied. “Ligur thought you mustn’t have any idea how auctions worked when you kept bidding against yourself.”

Aziraphale chuckled.

“I wanted to make sure those bastards paid as much as possible for their book,” he murmured.

“I know,” Crowley replied fondly. “I always said you were clever.”

Aziraphale felt the colour rise in his cheeks and he looked at his shoes, lowering his face to hide his blush. He didn’t receive too many compliments these days and it turned his stomach to butterflies.

“Yes…well…” he said softly, “now we have two books on the list.”

There was a long second before Crowley responded.

“Yes…we do…”

He looked at Aziraphale with an unreadable expression before pushing up from the bonnet and striding to open the Bentley’s passenger door.

“So,” Crowley said brightly, “What now?”

It had been a long day and Aziraphale of course was hungry. His stomach gurgled softly in confirmation.

“Might I possibly tempt you into dinner?”

“Anywhere in particular that you fancy?” asked Crowley.

Aziraphale didn’t need long to think – he already had his favourite place in mind.

“What about the Ritz?”

Crowley burst out laughing.

“Oh angel – if only I had that kind of money.”

“I have that kind of money,” murmured Aziraphale. “I owe you one – how about I pay for dinner and you pick the wine?”

Crowley’s honey eyes narrowed for a second as he looked at Aziraphale, and then they softened as he smiled.

“That sounds nice,” he said.

 

____

 

 

Although it wasn’t the first time Crowley had ever been inside the Ritz, it was definitely the first time he’d eaten in the restaurant. It was a far cry from Arthur’s café in Soho where he’d bought Aziraphale lunch on the first day they’d met. There, it had been fish and chips with a meat pie on the side and a slice of fruitcake. Here, there were dishes Crowley had never even dreamed of eating – poached egg on artichoke bottoms with a truffle cream; halibut with grapes, celery, and a champagne sauce; and Rum Baba with pineapple and vanilla.

Crowley had never been a great lover of food to begin with – mostly he ate to live and that was the extent of it, and although the food at the Ritz was a calibre above everything else he’d ever tasted, Crowley could still never clear his plate.

“Are…you going to finish that?” Aziraphale asked, indicating Crowley’s half-eaten fish with a delicate fork.

Crowley immediately pushed it across the table.

“Go ahead,” he murmured.

Aziraphale looked delighted and dug in, as though he hadn’t already eaten his own, plus one and a half starters. Crowley loved how enthusiastic Aziraphale was about food. It didn’t seem to matter what it was he ate he always seemed to tackle it with the same enthusiasm and enjoyment. It was refreshing, and yet so completely bizarre.

By rights, the two of them should have nothing at all in common beyond Operation Nightingale and yet…they had been talking for ages – ever since they’d pulled away from Spencer House. Crowley had gushed about how much he’d loved the architecture and décor of the palace, and Aziraphale had told him about the history of the place. They had discussed the art they’d encountered and talked about their favourite pieces at length. He loved hearing Aziraphale talk; listening to the soft rise and fall of his voice, and seeing the brightness of his eyes as they shone clear blue in the gentle light of the Ritz dining room.

Crowley couldn’t understand how suddenly this anxious, curly-haired, tartan-loving bookseller could become everything in the world Crowley never knew he wanted. But God, how he wanted Aziraphale – he was sure of that now.

He wanted to say ‘I’m in love with you’…but that was too much; too monumental. Crowley had never courted anyone before in his whole thirty five years, but he wanted to court Aziraphale. He wanted to sit and talk to him for hours on end about anything and everything, just as they were doing now. He wanted to do things for Aziraphale that would make him smile, like letting him finish half an entrée…or giving him an extra tea ration.

Crowley realised with a jolt that he was staring as Aziraphale mopped up the last of the halibut and popped it into his mouth with a contented sigh.

“Mmmm…delicious,” he murmured.

“Uh huh,” Crowley managed, and reached for the dark bottle in the ice bucket. “More champagne?”

“If you’d be so kind, dear boy.”

Crowley’s drink of choice had been Moet, which paired beautifully with the white fish. He carefully poured Aziraphale a fresh glass, but decided against topping up his own. He was already three glasses down on half the recommended food and he still had to dive Aziraphale home. Besides, the more alcohol was in his system, the less inhibitions he had…which was probably a bad thing given the surge of feelings he was having.

 A waiter took away their empty plates and Aziraphale smiled as he murmured his thanks. Taking a sip of champagne, he leaned in, conspiratorially.

“Did you know,” Aziraphale said quietly, “that the Ritz’s basement is home to a rather…racy establishment?”

Crowley felt a smile rise to his lips.

“Yes, angel,” he replied, “I know all about that place.”

It was colloquially known as the Pink Sink, and was notoriously the best gay bar in London. He watched Aziraphale’s eyes widen and his mouth drop in surprise, and felt the need to clarify as he felt his cheeks grow hot.

“I’m Security Service,” Crowley added hastily. “London’s luxury hotels are a hotbed for nefarious activity and a haven for spies – it’s my job to know these places exist.”

“Oh…” Aziraphale breathed. “Have you ever…visited?”

Crowley deliberated for a long moment before responding.

“Once or twice.”

It wasn’t a lie – the Pink Sink was full of the armed forces’ officers, all of a peculiar persuasion and Crowley had indeed been there a time or two…not strictly on business.

Aziraphale leaned in further, glancing about him to make sure they were free of eavesdroppers.

“What is it like?” he asked in a hushed voice.

Loud, thought Crowley, and packed to the rafters with people drinking and smoking; swing music playing at such a volume you had to lean in close and shout into the other person’s ear. The more alcohol that was drank, the wilder the party became until it was a sea of drunken bodies who no longer cared who saw them doing whatever the hell they wanted with whomever the hell they wanted.

He’d last been there at Christmas the previous year and had accidentally deviated from his evening’s mission, ending up pinned against a Greek style pillar by a handsome naval officer until Beezle had pulled him away.

“Messy,” Crowley replied eventually. “You wouldn’t like it.”

Aziraphale sat back, looking disappointed as he picked up his champagne flute again.

“That’s a shame,” he murmured, “perhaps if I were ten years younger. All the nightlife in London these days seems to cater exclusively for the young.”

Crowley began to laugh.

“You talk like you’re some decrepit old man! I thought you said you used to be avant-garde!”

“I did!” exclaimed Aziraphale, “but that was twenty years ago!”

“You can’t be so much more different.”

“Pfft!”

Crowley laughed again.

“Tell me about it,” he said softly.

Aziraphale’s blue eyes narrowed slightly, but he smiled and held his glass out for Crowley to top up.

“Fine,” Aziraphale conceded, “but you’ll need to top me up first, dear.”

 

____

 

 

Over dessert, Aziraphale regaled Crowley with what he believed to be truly scandalous tales of his youth.

Growing up, Aziraphale had always been an odd duck even amongst his own family and was either ignored or mercilessly teased at school for his quiet nature and studious ways. Where other boys tended to be raucous and rough, Aziraphale hated dirt and violence and loudness, often finding solace in books.

University had been an entirely different kettle of fish. It had been the beginning of the Roaring Twenties and the country was on it’s way up and out of recovery after the Great War. Aziraphale had read Literature and History, and had been adopted by a group of the more bohemian scholars of his college. Still odd and bookish, he’d somehow felt less out of place amongst them that he really should have, and spent many a weekend tagging along to parties in the winter where there was food and copious amounts of champagne; and summer picnics by the river where young men and women both went skinny dipping together to cool off in the hot weather.

Aziraphale loved the way Crowley looked at him as he talked; those honey eyes as soft as the smile that played on his lips as he leaned in as though Aziraphale was the most interesting person in the whole world. He missed being looked at this way; missed feeling like he was a person worth knowing. It made his heart ache as he remembered the first time he’d felt this way – an age ago, at a party when Aziraphale had drank enough champagne to lower his inhibitions and strike up a conversation with one of Gabriel’s friends.

He’d been beautiful – tall and dark, and they had flirted and danced, and he’d looked at Aziraphale as though he was the most fascinating creature. Aziraphale had taken a spectacular swan dive from light flirtation to being royally fucked against a large mahogany bookcase in the family library; soft lips whispering beautiful words into his ear.

That one hadn’t ended well. Gabriel had caught them in the act and Aziraphale had spent the rest of the weekend with his head in his sister Michael’s lap, sobbing his heart out while she stroked his hair soothingly and said nothing. Aziraphale had vowed from that moment on that he’d never rush into anything; never let passion override reason, and he’d gone back to his books and his study, becoming odd and quiet once more.

Aziraphale felt his face grow hot at the memory and he took a hasty gulp of his drink, giving Crowley a watery smile. Thankfully, he hadn’t said any of that aloud.

“Goodness, I think I might have had a little too much of this champagne,” he murmured. “It’s making me sleepy.”

“Maybe I should get you home,” Crowley said softly, “It’s been a long day.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed. “It has.”

Aziraphale finished the last of Crowley’s Rum Baba and then paid the bill. His heart fluttered in his chest as Crowley pulled out his chair for him, and then held open the car door like a perfect gentleman.

For all they had talked over dinner, they drove back to Soho in a very companionable silence with Crowley throwing him a warm smile every time he glanced over to find Aziraphale staring at him. He could hardly tear his eyes away from Crowley’s profile – from the straight nose and those high cheekbones with their light dusting of freckles; that auburn hair tinted with apricot in the fading light of the sunset, and the lines of concentration on his forehead as he watched the road ahead.

The brief journey home passed like it was a dream, Crowley pulling his Bentley into the narrow alley behind Aziraphale’s bookshop. He opened the door for Aziraphale again and they walked quietly to the back door, side by side, Crowley’s shoulder only just brushing against his. His stomach was a storm of butterflies when they stopped and Crowley turned to look at him, honey eyes searching his face.

The air between them was heavy with things Aziraphale desperately wanted to say; Crowley standing close to him and for one brief second it felt as though Crowley might lean in, might take Aziraphale’s face in his hands and kiss him. Aziraphale inhaled sharply and Crowley took a half-step backwards, breaking the spell with a small smile.

“Oh…” he murmured, “I almost forgot – I got you something today.”

Aziraphale’s traitorous heart thudded hard against his chest, sending blood surging through his veins and he desperately tried to gain control of himself as Crowley reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, pulling out a small package wrapped in brown paper and string. Aziraphale looked from Crowley to the package, and back again as Crowley handed it to him.

“I…I thought you might like it,” he said hesitantly as Aziraphale pulled the string and pushed away the corner of the brown paper to reveal an old, battered copy of Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’.

“Crowley…” he breathed.

“I mean…I know you already have a first edition,” Crowley continued quickly, “a..and this one isn’t…y’know…in great nick but…I just thought…it needed some love and care…and you could give that.”

Aziraphale could barely breathe for the feeling that his heart had swollen so much his chest could barely contain it. Crowley had bought him a book…for no reason at all. It was possibly the most precious gift he’d ever been given.

“Thank you,” he managed; his voice more a cracked whisper.

Crowley gave him a small smile and nodded.

“S’alright,” Crowley murmured, rubbing the back of his neck. “I…well…”

Aziraphale glanced up from the book in his hands and Crowley sighed, giving him a soft smile.

“G’night, angel.”

Whatever it was, Crowley had decided against saying it and Aziraphale was too much in shock to pursue it. He ran his hand over the worn cover as Crowley made his way back to the Bentley and then, without really knowing why, Aziraphale flipped it open.

With all my love, Oscar.’

It was written in Wilde’s own hand, scrawled across the title page as bold as day and Aziraphale’s heart skipped a beat as he looked up again, just in time to see Crowley glance back over his shoulder as he slid into the driver’s seat of the car.

The breath left Aziraphale’s lungs in a gasp of realisation. Crowley was courting him – or at least, he was trying to – the extra rations, the book; Wilde and Lorca; the touches and soft looks and the dancing in Aziraphale’s back room. Crowley had been trying to communicate something to him this whole time and only now, as he looked at the dedication in the book he held in his hands, watching Crowley drive off into the growing darkness, did he realise what Crowley had been saying to him: I am like you…and I like you.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale had barely slept. He’d tossed and turned for most of the night, his mind replaying every single interaction he’d had with Crowley since the day they got the list – those honey eyes watching him softly through a haze of Chateuneuf-du-pape; cool fingers stroking soothing circles on Aziraphale’s wrists; holding his hand under the cover of his waistcoat during the air raid; Crowley offering his hand and pulling Aziraphale close as they danced to Vera Lynn.

He thought of the extra rations Crowley had brought him and the way he’d readily allowed Aziraphale to finish his meals. He thought of the beautiful poetry Crowley had recited to him, and of the Wilde he’d bought at Christie’s with the dedication on the title page and wondered how in Heaven he’d managed to miss all of those signs.

Admittedly, he hadn’t so much missed them as dismissed them as his own flights of fancy; of wishful thinking. However, the more he thought about the way Crowley looked at him and the way he spoke, the way he was always finding ways to touch Aziraphale even if it was only a graze…he was absolutely sure he was right – there was something between them that wasn’t in the slightest bit imagined.

Aziraphale had to speak to him, to clarify things and to hear the words from Crowley’s own lips. His heart pounded in his chest as he imagined how it would possibly go – sitting on the velvet settee, side by side in the narrow space and turned towards each other with knees brushing; a quiet confession of feelings on either side and a kiss…soft and sweet and lingering, tentative at first but then…

They would laugh, breathless and giddy, foreheads touching and fingers intertwined. Aziraphale could see it all in his mind – perfect and romantic and slow. Nothing to hurry; nothing to rush.

Eventually, Aziraphale gave up on sleep and ventured through to his back room, laying the stove and lighting it in order to make tea and fry the egg Crowley had brought for him. He ran has thumb over the smooth shell and smiled to himself – one egg a week as ration and Crowley had given Aziraphale his, along with butter and another packet of tea. Aziraphale recalled Crowley’s slight stammer each time he’d given a gift; usually so sure of himself Crowley had become nervous, rubbing the back of his neck and unable to meet Aziraphale’s eye as though waiting for a rejection that Aziraphale never gave.

Pouring a decent pot of tea, Aziraphale took out the battered Wilde that Crowley had bought him and studied it carefully. It’s condition wasn’t that of neglect like the Nostradamus had been, but that of love – the leather cover was smoothly split at the top and bottom of the spine, with shiny marks from oily fingertips dotting the edges. The pages inside were dog-eared and soft – a sign they’d been read over and over, and they carried the faintest scent of cologne that mingled with the leather and old paper. Whoever this book belonged to, they had loved it very much…and very probably the man who’d written it too.

The metallic clack of the letterbox broke Aziraphale from his reverie and he pushed himself up from the table, making his way to the front door where a small envelope lay on the floor, postmarked from Southend-on-Sea. Aziraphale brightened and carried it to his desk to tear the envelope open with his sharp letter knife. He’d been expecting some correspondence from an old acquaintance from that part of the country regarding books of prophecy, and his eyes scanned the letter hungrily for information.

He was almost at the bottom when the telephone rang, making him jump. Heart in his mouth, Aziraphale dived for it.

“Hello?” he answered, breathlessly.

“Angel,” replied Crowley’s soft voice. “It’s me.”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale exclaimed happily, the butterflies in his stomach waking up and beginning to flutter once again. “I’m so glad you called my dear! I’ve just this very moment received news…”

“Aziraphale…” Crowley interrupted him quietly, his voice sounding serious.

The butterflies suddenly plummeted like lead to the pit of his stomach and a wave of nausea washed over Aziraphale. Something was wrong.

“What is it?” he asked, concerned.

“Something’s come up,” Crowley replied. “I’m not going to be able to make it over this week – I have to go away for a little bit.”

Aziraphale sat down heavily in his desk chair, his letter dropping to his lap.

“Where?”

He felt quite sick. Crowley sounded so serious and it frightened Aziraphale, as did the long pause on the other end of the line before Crowley replied.

“Manchester.”

Suddenly, Aziraphale understood the seriousness in Crowley’s voice although he didn’t feel in the slightest bit relieved.

“Glozier,” he murmured. “You’ve found him.”

“We think so,” Crowley replied. “Our contacts in Manchester tracked him down and tailed him for a bit but our division has to go and…check things out – see what it is he’s after.”

Rose Montgomery had mentioned artefacts and Manchester was a main port after all – there could be black market goods coming in there all the time, although Aziraphale had no idea what kind of artefacts Hitler believed would win him the war. Between that and books of prophecy, it seemed he was clutching at straws.

“I see,” Aziraphale said heavily, his fingers finding the buttons of his waistcoat for comfort. “How long will you be gone?”

“Probably until the end of the week,” murmured Crowley. “I’m leaving Dagon in charge over here – she’ll be the one looking after you. If there’s anything – Montgomery…Harmony…another book – call her and she’ll deal with it.”

Aziraphale’s heart sank. He’d hoped that he’d still be able to keep in contact with Crowley at least, and he had lunch scheduled with Gabriel for the end of the week. Even if he couldn’t have Crowley with him during the meal, he’d thought he’d at least be around afterwards so that they could talk about it over wine and music…

“Alright,” he said, trying not to sound dejected. “Perhaps she can get the ball rolling on something while you’re away? I just received a letter from an acquaintance in the same business as me in Southend – he says he has a first edition Binns he’s willing to sell.”

“Southend,” repeated Crowley. “It’ll take a few days to get that paperwork sorted – the coastline is on lockdown with checkpoints all over the place. We’ll get it sorted though…I’ll take you myself when we’re back, I promise.”

Aziraphale’s heart bobbed up again slightly, buoyed by the hope of a promise. Crowley bid him farewell and Aziraphale replaced the receiver back in the cradle, sitting back with a heavy sigh. It was ridiculous, but Aziraphale had rather thought that Crowley would take him along when they found Glozier, although there was absolutely no reason for it. Aziraphale wasn’t even a damn spy! The very thought of being wrapped up in the centre of all this espionage could send him into a panic attack, so he’d be the least helpful person on that kind of mission.

Still, it was going to be a whole week until he saw Crowley again and the idea of it made his soul ache. It wasn’t fair – Aziraphale had just realised Crowley’s feelings towards him and now he’d have to wait to talk to him about it. This week was going to feel like an eternity.

 

____

 

 

Crowley sighed heavily as he hung up the telephone, pinching the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. He hated this so much, hated having to leave Aziraphale behind with only a hasty phone call to explain why.

The order had come directly from Morningstar – Crowley and Beezle were to proceed directly to Manchester and look into the Glozier business. They only had time to gather relevant documentation and some clothes to see them through before they had to set off.

Dagon was digging around in the office safe, pulling out different sets of identification papers and rolls of bank notes while Beezle wrestled with a pair of stockings. It was bizarre to see Beezle looking so…feminine, wearing a dress and lipstick, her black hair pin-curled and wrapped in a scarf to keep the pins in place. She looked even more surly than usual.

“God damn it!” she cursed, throwing her hands up in the air in defeat. “I’ll never get the hang of bloody garter belts! I swear, next time just put a wig on Hastur and he can be the fake wife for a change!”

Hastur looked up from his paperwork in the corner.

“To be fair, Beez – Ligur would make the prettier fake wife.”

“I would,” agreed Ligur, giving Beezle a wink. “I’d look stunning in a garter belt.”

Beezle gave them both a look of utter disgust and went back to wrestling with the stocking clip.

“Come here,” said Crowley gently, crossing over to her and dropping to a knee. “I’ll do it for you.”

Her hands fell to her sides, her eyes narrowing suspiciously as Crowley’s fingers deftly snapped open the clasp and he looped the delicate silk of her stocking into it, snapping it shut again. He repeated the action for the rest of the clips until her stocking was finally secure. When he looked back up, Beezle was scowling at him.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Crowley replied as he stood. “Why?”

Beezle pursed her lips, eyes narrowing further as she scrutinised Crowley’s face.

“Nothing,” she said eventually, dropping the skirt of her dress back over her knees and standing up.

Her hands full of papers, Dagon bustled over and lay them all out on Crowley’s desk.

“Right,” she murmured. “I’ve got three different marriage certificates, identifications, and ration cards – take your pick.”

“Ladies’ choice,” Crowley muttered.

This wasn’t the first time he and Beezle had posed as a married couple. In actual fact, they’d gotten quite good at faking it over the past couple of years and they bounced off each other rather well. Of course, this was about to be the longest stint of pretending to be married that they’d ever done, and the prospect of spending a whole week in the company of Beezle…in the same room…and the same bed…was giving him a headache.

Beezle selected a marriage certificate dated 1937, and a driver’s license and ration cards that made them both the same age. Crowley supposed that if they were going to be together for a whole week, it might be too exhausting for them both to pretend being sickeningly in-love newlyweds. That one was only fun when you could stop after a couple of hours.

“I wish I could be the fake wife for once,” Dagon sighed wistfully as she slipped the documents into a leather wallet, along with twenty pounds in bank notes.

“No you don’t,” Beezle muttered, pinning a fuzzy hat over her black curls. “You’d have to pretend to be attracted to Crowley and believe me, that’s hard work.”

“Exactly,” Crowley cheerfully chimed in. “I mean Beezle barely manages it, and she’s a superb actress.”

It earned him a punch in the arm from Beezle, but a smile from Dagon who passed over Beezle’s jacket and the wallet of false documents.

“Besides,” he added, “I really need you here – to keep an eye on the terrible twosome over there.”

And Aziraphale, he added silently. Especially Aziraphale. It was almost as though Dagon had read his mind.

“Don’t worry about the asset,” she said brightly. “I’ll make sure he’s still in once piece when you get back.”

“Thanks Dagon,” Crowley replied with a half-smile.

“Alright,” Beezle drawled, interrupting them. “Enough of this – we need to get on the road.”

It usually amused Crowley to see Beezle tottering around in high heels but he couldn’t even find it in him to smile as he loaded the Bentley with their suitcases and watched her stumble into the passenger seat, cursing Satan himself. He wished he could drive through Soho; wished he could stop off at Aziraphale’s bookshop and talk to him properly, to see his face one more time before he left for Manchester.

With a sigh, he dropped into the driver’s side and slammed the door shut, turning the key in the engine.

“Right,” he muttered. “Here we go.”

Driving to Manchester was rather slow going due to the many wartime measures put in place by the government. In order to stymie the flow of information and travel by potential enemy spies, there were no road signs to give travellers an idea of where they were, and many roadblocks in place manned by members of the Home Guard.

Although Crowley and Beezle could pass the roadblocks with relative ease with their official military paperwork, they were having to navigate the entire way by maps which were spread out all over the Bentley’s back seat in sections ready for Beezle to grab when they needed one. H Division’s files on Glozier and the other Nazi agents were balanced on her knee as she researched while Crowley drove.

Every so often she would say something and Crowley would murmur an acknowledgement, although he wasn’t listening to a single word. His mind and his heart were still in Soho, in Aziraphale’s bookshop.

“Greta Kleinschmidt.”

“Bless you,” said Crowley, automatically.

Beezle shot him a confused look.

“What?”

“You sneezed,” Crowley replied, glancing at her for the first time in an hour.

Beezle was looking at him like he’d just grown an extra head.

“No I didn’t, you absolute moron! Greta Kleinschmidt – its her name!”

Crowley frowned.

“Whose name?”

“Rose Montgomery!” Beezle practically shouted in frustration. “Her birth name is Greta Kleinschmidt – she’s German born. I don’t know how the hell SIS missed that one, but they really need to vet their potential agents a whole lot better than they do.”

“Oh,” Crowley murmured.

Shutting the file with some force, Beezle turned to fully look at him.

“You haven’t been listening to a damn thing I’ve said, have you?” she said, crossly. “What in the Hell is up with you?”

“Nothing,” Crowley repeated for what must have been the tenth time that morning. “I’m just…”

“Tired,” Beezle finished, scathingly. “You’re always tired these days. I wonder if it’s more than air raids keeping you up at night.”

Crowley felt his face heat up, but kept his eyes solidly on the road ahead. He could feel her dark eyes studying him closely, and he knew she’d noticed his blush.

“Hastur said you broke protocol yesterday – you approached Fell.”

Crowley sighed.

“I wondered how long it would take before you brought that up,” he muttered.

“You were specifically ordered not to do that.”

“I know,” hissed Crowley.

Beezle fell silent for a moment, still watching him. She wanted to know why, but no answer Crowley could give her right now would be the right one. There was no right answer – he’d disobeyed an order, even if it was just for the briefest moment and he’d done it because he just couldn’t stop himself.

That was the truth of it – Crowley just couldn’t control himself when it came to Aziraphale anymore. The bookseller’s pull on him was too great and Crowley just couldn’t pinpoint the moment he got in this deep. He knew it was stupid and dangerous but…he couldn’t help it. He’d held Aziraphale in his arms, he’d felt the softness of Aziraphale’s hair against his cheek and breathed in his heavenly scent, and damn Crowley to Hell but he felt he might die if he could never have that again.

It terrified him completely, more than any encounter with any Nazi or enemy agent ever could because Crowley had never met this version of himself before. A long time ago, he’d come to terms that he’d always be alone; that the age they lived in would never accept him and because of that he could never risk attachments to anyone. No man was worth going to jail for.

Except…he’d been wrong. Meeting Aziraphale had turned Crowley’s entire life perspective around and for the first time ever, he believed he’d found somebody worth the risk. He’d never done this before – he didn’t know how; how to court somebody, how to tell them how he felt, how to just exist within somebody else’s life. It was the best, and somehow the worst possible feeling in the world and his head was so full.

“Take a left up here,” murmured Beezle eventually, folding up her road map again.

Crowley nodded and did as he was bid, relieved that Beezle had chosen not to pursue matters further for now. He would be okay – he just needed time to think, to process all of this and come to terms with it and then he’d be able to concentrate. Crowley just needed a little time.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale ran his fingers over the worn cover of the book and wondered how many times Oscar Wilde’s lover had done the same thing. Probably thousands, he thought – if they had been anything like him they would have found it impossible to put it down, holding onto that physical connection to the person they loved.

The shrill ring of the telephone made Aziraphale jump and his heart started to beat faster as he reached for it, hoping beyond hope to hear Crowley’s voice again on the other end.

“A.Z. Fell and Co,” he said, breathlessly into the receiver.

“Good afternoon, Mr Fell,” came the response, the voice lightly accented.

Aziraphale’s stomach dropped.

“Mr Harmony,” he replied, feigning brightness. “What a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Aziraphale gripped the edge of his desk for support as he lowered himself into the chair. It wasn’t pleasant at all, speaking to an actual Nazi on the telephone and Aziraphale had promptly thrown up into his wastepaper basket the first time he’d had to do it. It left a bitter taste in his mouth dealing with these people, but he had to remind himself he was doing his country a service…and if it hadn’t been for these Nazis he would have never met Crowley.

“I am calling to see how you’re getting on with the books we asked you to acquire,” Harmony said. “Is the list getting any shorter?”

Of course, thought Aziraphale. Of course they were checking up on him. Crowley had believed them to have knowledge of the Nixon at Christie’s, and thought it might have been their way of a test. He’d won the book of course, outbidding himself to drive the price up.

“As of yesterday, I have two books in my possession – Nostradamus and Nixon,” Aziraphale replied, “with a potential seller of a Binns to be confirmed.”

“And what about Agnes Nutter?”

Aziraphale frowned. Just the mere mention of that book was enough to send him into a cold sweat.

“Nothing yet,” he said carefully.

For a book that was supposedly non-existent in print, Aziraphale knew a fair amount about The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter. He knew it had been commissioned to print by Bilton and Scaggs in London, and that it had never sold a single copy of its first edition, causing the publisher to burn all of its stock after Agnes’s death. There was a rumour that only one copy survived the purge and remained within her family, but nobody had tracked it down to this day.

“It is very important that we have that book, Mr Fell,” Harmony told him, “more so than any of the others.”

“I understand,” replied Aziraphale. “Rest assured Mr Harmony, I shall do my very best.”

“I’m sure you will, Mr Fell. Payment will be arranged shortly for the books you have acquired so far.”

Mr Harmony bid him farewell and Aziraphale replaced the receiver, feeling decidedly queasy. The Nazis were desperate to get their hands on Agnes Nutter – the Holy Grail of prophetic books. Nobody had ever seen it, but it was the only book of prophecy rumoured to have entirely accurate prophecies.  Aziraphale had no idea how that rumour had started if nobody had ever in fact owned a copy.

He started to wonder if it was true – if every copy of the book truly had been destroyed without a single one ever having been sold. Surely somebody must have read it in order to start such conjecture. There was only one way to find out – he’d have to visit Bilton and Scaggs’ office in Fleet Street to take a look at their catalogue for that year.

Getting to his feet, Aziraphale took his hat from the coat stand and shrugged on his overcoat. He didn’t have to wait for Crowley in order to pay a visit to a publisher’s office. He was quite capable of doing that by himself, with or without a Security Service handler.

 

____

 

 

Crowley was feeling much more like himself by the time they reached their destination and was able to perform exceptionally well for the benefit of the hotel reception clerk as he checked them both in as Mr and Mrs Beeley. Their journey had been long and they’d had to double back on themselves a few times so they were both very relieved to get out of the car for the day.

Beezle practically crashed through the hotel room door, already ripping her shoes from her feet and hurling them onto the bed in disgust.

“Ugh, I can’t believe I have to spend the whole week wearing these things!” she fumed, collapsing into the chair and massaging her toes.

Crowley closed the door behind them and grinned at her.

“You shouldn’t torture yourself – why don’t you just wear brogues like Dagon?”

Beezle threw him a withering look.

“No offense to Dagon, but she dresses like a spinster librarian. That’s why she’s never the fake wife.”

Crowley snorted and shrugged off his jacket, hanging it over the bathroom door before reaching for his suitcase. Beezle was already in the process of stripping off her feminine clothes, dropping her dress, stockings, and girdle where she stood with absolutely no concern for Crowley. He wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in Beezle, in the same way that Beezle wasn’t interested in him and they were both very aware of it.

Beezle was the only person alive he trusted to keep his secret. He hadn’t meant for her to find out – it had been Christmas 1939 and the two of them had been sent to investigate a potential Nazi spy. They’d been caught up with the crowds and found themselves in the basement bar of the Ritz and Crowley had never experienced anything like it – hundreds of people just like him, most of them in uniform being as brazen as could be. He’d drank too much, been swept up in the freedom of it and the elation and had forgot himself.

Beezle had caught him red-handed, pinned to a wall by a naval lieutenant sucking purple marks onto Crowley’s collarbone and his hand down the front of Crowley’s trousers, all manner of indecent noises spilling from his lips lost in the loud music.  It could have been disastrous for him and it might have been if he’d been with anyone but Beezle. She’d got him out of there fast, stumbling drunk and protesting but he was grateful in the end. It was the closest he’d ever come to getting caught – all it would have taken was for the wrong person to see him. He’d purposely been nothing but careful ever since, never letting his guard down until he’d met Aziraphale.

Crowley knew Beezle had gone way beyond suspicion about his feelings for Aziraphale – she wasn’t stupid, she knew and Crowley was just waiting for her to come right out and say it. She was biding her time.

 “So,” she said, dragging a men’s blue-and-white pajama top from her suitcase and shimmying into it, “It’s too late to do anything about Glozier tonight. The intel says he’s spending a lot of time visiting the docks, so maybe we should check on that in the morning.”

“Maybe he’s hoping to meet a nice sailor in a Kreigsmarine uniform one day,” replied Crowley.

Beezle snorted as she climbed under the covers and pulled her stack of files towards her to review.

“It wouldn’t surprise me – there have been reports of U-Boats in the Irish Channel lately.”

“That’s not really what I meant,” he muttered underneath his breath as Beezle focussed on her files.

Crowley stripped down to his underwear in a perfunctory manner, absently folding his clothes and stowing them away in the case before pulling out the items he needed for his bedtime ritual. All that driving had exhausted him and he hadn’t exactly had the best sleep the night before, with Aziraphale weighing heavily on his mind.

Crowley was on autopilot as he washed and brushed his teeth, trying not to notice the dark circles under his eyes and the extra lines that seemed to have appeared on his forehead and around his mouth with no warning at all. If he looked closely, he probably could have found some grey hair appearing between auburn strands. Today Crowley felt and looked older than he was, and there was a deep ache in his chest that just refused to shift.

“That’s not your shirt.”

“What?” Crowley looked up sharply, suddenly tuning in again and becoming aware that he’d moved from the bathroom back to the bedroom.

Beezle was sitting upright, her dark eyes scrutinising him.

“That shirt – it’s blue. You never wear blue. That’s not your shirt.”

Crowley looked down at his hands and saw he was holding the shirt Aziraphale had loaned him, his thumbs gently rubbing over the soft, well-worn cotton. He didn’t even realise he’d packed it, or that he’d picked it out of his case and stood staring at it in full view of Beezle.

“Uh…”

He had no defence, no excuse to give her. Beezle was staring at him in disbelief and he knew what was coming. He couldn’t stop it.

“It’s Fell’s isn’t it? That’s Fell’s shirt. Oh for Christ’s sake, Crowley…please tell me you didn’t…”

“What? No!” Crowley interrupted her. “No, it’s not…it wasn’t like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like what you’re thinking!” he countered. “I…my shirt got dirty the night of the air raid. He let me borrow one of his to go home in and I’ve just not given it back yet, that’s all.”

Beezle looked dubious.

“So you didn’t sleep with him?”

“No!”

“But you want to,” she said bluntly.

Crowley blushed and looked at the ceiling.

“For Christ’s sake,” he muttered.

It wasn’t like that. Well…it was…and it wasn’t. It’s not like Crowley hadn’t thought about it because he had – he’d definitely thought about Aziraphale’s mouth on his, and those gorgeously thick fingers tangled in his hair; the weight of Aziraphale’s body over his and the exquisite feeling of soft velvet skin under his hands. But it wasn’t just that – he wasn’t only interested in the physical and he didn’t know how he could explain that to Beezle – that Aziraphale meant more to him than any back alley dalliance.

“CROWLEY!”

Why does it matter?” he hissed, desperately.

“BECAUSE IT DOES!”

Beezle threw one of her shoes at him and he ducked to avoid it colliding with his head. It bounced harmlessly off the floor and rolled to a standstill as Beezle sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose as though to ward off an impending headache.

“You like him,” she said, quietly and more calmly than before. “I know you like him and that’s a problem, Crowley. A massive problem if you can’t keep it under control…”

“I can,” Crowley replied quickly.

It was a lie. He could feel his control slipping away from him more with every passing hour but he couldn’t risk Beezle knowing that. She’d remove him as Aziraphale’s handler and he’d never see him again…

“Really,” said Beezle doubtfully.

“Yes,” Crowley told her firmly. “Yes, I like him – I’ll admit that, but it’s not a problem. I can still do my job, I swear to you.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, “because this isn’t just about you and him. This is war, Crowley – it’s serious. We’re fighting to protect our country from the enemy here; we’re protecting Fell – our asset – from the enemy. We can’t afford to fuck this up because of your feelings towards one bloody bookseller.”

Crowley looked away. Just the thought of Aziraphale being in danger made him feel sick, but the thought of not being there to save him was even worse. He knew the dangers, he knew the risks but he also knew he couldn’t stop himself from falling head over heels for Aziraphale. Crowley knew he was going to have to keep it together, just for a few more weeks so that he could be there to protect him; to keep Aziraphale safe.

“I know,” he murmured finally.

Beezle looked at him for a long moment, her dark eyes narrowed and expression unreadable. Despite his heart pounding in panic and his palms beginning to sweat against the soft blue fabric of Aziraphale’s shirt that he still held in his hands, he remained resolute. He couldn’t let her see the truth.

“Fine,” she sighed eventually, collapsing back against the pillows and pushing her black hair back from her face. “I trust you.”

You shouldn’t, Crowley thought as he slid Aziraphale’s shirt over his head, breathing in the faint scent of cologne that lingered between the cotton fibres and feeling comforted by the softness against his skin. His heart ached with Aziraphale’s absence and he climbed into the bed beside Beezle, already counting down the minutes until the end of the week and he could see Aziraphale’s face again.

 

____

 

 

Bilton and Scaggs had been a bust. Aziraphale had spent several hours in the publisher’s Fleet Street office trawling their catalogue from the year Agnes Nutter’s book was published. Records did indeed show that no copy was sold and every single one was in fact destroyed accept from the author’s own.

Aziraphale had refused to be defeated however, and the next day had taken himself directly to the Public Record Office on Chancery Lane. He couldn’t find any surviving copies of Agnes Nutter, so the only course left to him was to track down Agnes’ own book by finding her descendants.

Smoke from the night’s bombing raid hung in the damp early April air as Aziraphale picked his way through Central London. There had been a bombing raid almost every single night since the Blitz had started in September 1940 and Aziraphale was surprised every time he emerged from his home on a morning to find London still standing and people going about their business as usual. He fully expected to get up one day and find the whole city reduced to rubble, but somehow the city kept going.

Most of the raids concentrated heavily on the residential areas of London in an effort from the Luftwaffe to break the spirit of the British people, but bombs had damaged palaces and libraries, offices and churches in the process. Aziraphale almost breathed a sigh of relief when he found the Public Records Office still standing and completely undamaged.

“Excuse me,” he addressed the clerk politely, “this is an incredible long shot, but I was hoping to search through marriage and birth certificates from…oh…the late sixteenth century through to present day. Is that possible?”

The clerk blinked at him.

“You are joking,” she said, her expression baffled.

“Unfortunately not,” Aziraphale replied. “It really is quite important.”

The desk clerk blinked at him again and sighed.

“You are aware that we’re in the middle of a war, sir?”

“Yes, that hadn’t escaped my attention,” murmured Aziraphale.

“Then you must surely understand that we can’t keep so many important records on site,” she replied, haughtily. “Copies of the entire country’s history would be lost if a bomb hit this place.- most documents were sent away to protect them.”

Aziraphale sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He should have anticipated this, but he wasn’t about to give up.

“I understand,” he said, patiently. “What I’m asking is…is there a way to get hold of the documents I need? If I give you the information I have, are you able to requisition the documents and recover them from their current location?”

The clerk sniffed at him.

“It would take several weeks.”

“That’s quite alright my dear,” he replied. “I’m happy to wait.”

She frowned at him over her desk, studying Aziraphale’s odd mix of attire from his tartan bow-tie to his worn waistcoat and his relatively new and pristine overcoat; the mess of white-blond curls that refused to conform to style even with the assistance of pomade, lightly fluffed by his hat. Admittedly, Aziraphale wouldn’t know what to make of himself either if he was in her position.

Eventually the clerk nodded and opened a drawer, taking out a sheaf of forms and handing them over.

“You’ll have to fill these in,” she muttered, “in as much detail as possible. I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to find everything you need or what condition it’ll be in if we do find it.”

“I’m sure you’ll do your very best,” Aziraphale said kindly as he took the forms.

A few weeks was really more than he wanted to wait. He had the feeling that if he had Agnes Nutter in his possession then the Nazis would be satisfied with just that and then leave him alone. He didn’t even need to find the other books! Alas, tracking down Agnes’s descendants was a last-ditch attempt for get hold of the book, if it even still existed anymore. The likelihood of even finding the right branch of the family as like finding a needle in a haystack, but it’s all Aziraphale had.

He had to at least try.

 

____

 

 

“He’s not even doing anything!” huffed Beezle as she fidgeted in her seat. “I’m sick of this – it’s been days now and he’s done nothing at all interesting.”

Crowley rolled his eyes and reached over to take one of the folders from her lap.

“He’s waiting for something,” he muttered.

“Well, I wish he’d stop waiting and start doing,” Beezle groused. “I’m sick to death of heels and girdles, and I want to go home.”

Crowley glanced at her and gave her a half-smile before turning back to the papers and photographs in his hands.

Over the last few days, he and Beezle had been everywhere Glozier frequented – they had eaten in the same cafes, visited the same pub, walked in the same parks, and even turned up at the same church he liked to go to although it had taken Crowley a fair amount of time to step over the threshold for fear he’d spontaneously combust.

Most of the time, Glozier made trips to the docks. It had taken Beezle all of ten minutes and a flash of stocking-top to convince a couple of dockhands to spill the beans on the strange balding gentleman they’d seen around in the last few weeks.

It appeared that Glozier had been the recipient of several crates from Ireland and that he’d paid off a sympathetic customs official in order to avoid import inspections. As for what was in the crates, Crowley could only guess – Beezle suspected guns or grenades, but Crowley wasn’t so sure. Montgomery had said Glozier was hunting for artefacts and it was rather common knowledge that Hitler had an obsession with the occult. Since Harmony was on the case of finding prophetic books, or at the very least getting Aziraphale to find them on his behalf, maybe it was probable those crates did contain artefacts of some description.

He’d thought of Aziraphale almost every waking minute since he’d been in Manchester. Everything seemed to remind him of the bookseller from quaint little cafes on cobbled side streets that sold large thick slices of homemade cake, to the stained glass windows of the Cathedral, to the wine he and Beezle drank with dinner the night before.

At least the nights were quieter up here. Although Manchester and other major British cities were getting a share of Luftwaffe bombings, the majority of raids still seemed very focussed on London. Of course, that just made him worry even more about Aziraphale. Crowley remembered how scared he’d been in Goodge Street Station, jumping every single time the lights flickered or the sound of a bomb exploding in the street above penetrated the ground.

Even though he knew Aziraphale had his own basement shelter and was relatively safe there, he couldn’t stop himself from being concerned. At least he wasn’t alone in worrying for somebody he cared about – he may not have been able to contact Aziraphale, but Beezle had also been out of contact with her partner too.

He’d learned of Beezle’s secret the same night she’d learned of his, after she’d dragged him out of the Pink Sink and taken him home, feeding him water and bread to sober him up. Crowley had been terrified that Beezle would rat him out and hand him over to the police until she sat down next to him and took a photograph from her purse of a pretty, round-faced blonde woman – Violet.

Crowley and Beezle kept each other’s secrets and rarely brought up the subject, except when it bled into their work lives. He could completely understand Beezle’s desire to get back home as soon as possible. Crowley was also tired of endless hours sitting in the Bentley as the tailed Glozier from place to place.

“What even is he waiting for?”

Crowley sighed.

“Buggered if I know,” he replied.

Beezle looked at him, her expression turning mischievous.

“Do you want to go find out?”

Glozier was drinking coffee in a café as he had every afternoon since they’d arrived and possibly every afternoon before. Crowley was bored of following him, bored of waiting. He grinned at Beezle.

“What are you thinking?”

Beezle returned his grin.

“That customs official down at the docks – the one Glozier paid off…”

“You think he’d be willing to part with some information?” Crowley asked lightly, already turning the key in the engine.

“I’m sure we could…persuade him,” Beezle replied.

Crowley chuckled and put the Bentley in gear, pulling away and heading in the direction of the docks.

The trick to getting away with being somewhere you weren’t supposed to be, Crowley thought, was to act as though you did. If you held your head high and walked with a purpose, people rarely stopped to ask questions. Of course it didn’t always work, but luckily Beezle and Crowley knew exactly where they needed to go and who they needed to see.

“That’s him,” Beezle murmured, holding up a photograph as a man stepped out of the customs building.

He had a weasley look about him – a pinched nose and sharp chin, eyes shifting this way and that as he crossed the yard.

“Oh, yes,” Crowley replied softly. “He’s definitely got the look of a Nazi sympathiser.”

“Come on.”

Beezle stepped out from behind the building and started walking swiftly across the yard, Crowley following her and veering off to the right as she hailed the hapless customs official.

Crowley always marvelled at Beezle’s acting abilities. Usually surly and generally angry with the world, Beezle could turn on a charming smile like switching on a light. He’d seen her giggle flirtatiously and speak sweetly, and would always remain impressed at her politeness.

Now, she beamed at the customs official as she approached him, making a show of looking inside her purse for something as he turned towards her.

“Can I help you with something, Miss?”

“Yes!” Beezle enthused, “please! I’m afraid I must have gotten a little lost. I’m looking for…oh it must be in here somewhere…”

His attention was entirely focussed on her that he failed to notice Crowley coming up behind him until it was too late. He wrapped an arm around the man’s chest, pinning both arms to his sides as Beezle whipped out a short, but very sharp and dangerous looking knife which she held to his throat.

“Oh,” she murmured, her voice suddenly a lot less sweet, “here it is.”

The poor customs official squeaked in terror as Crowley manhandled him into an alcove, hidden from view from the rest of the dockyard.

“Really, Bee?” he said, lightly. “The knife already? Did you not want to try good old fashioned intimidation first?”

“No,” murmured Beezle. “I find extreme violence to be the best motivator.”

The man looked about him in panic, his shifty eyes finding their way back to Beezle’s knife.

“You must forgive my wife, sir,” Crowley told him cheerfully, “she can get very enthusiastic about this sort of thing.”

“What do you want?” the customs official squeaked again. “I…I don’t have any money…”

“We’re not here to rob you, you moron,” Beezle droned. “A little birdie told us you’ve been accepting bribes from Nazi agents – letting a crate or two slide by inspections?”

Beezle looked positively even more terrifying than usual, balancing the point of the knife on her index finger. Somehow her pin-curled hair and red lipstick, frock and high heels, looking so completely and utterly feminine made Beezle more intimidating than ever. Obviously, it had the desired effect on the official.

“I…I…don’t…I wouldn’t possibly…”

“Listen,” Crowley said soothingly as he effortlessly slipped into the good guy role, “We know you didn’t mean to collude with Nazis…”

“…but you did…” murmured Beezle.

“It was just some guy…asking you to look the other way…”

“…which you did…”

“…and you thought there was no harm in letting a couple of crates slide…”

“…except there was…” Beezle chimed,

“…and now you’re facing the rest of your miserable little life in jail for treason…”

The customs official stiffened in Crowley’s grip.

“Wait…what?”

“Oh, yes,” Beezle confirmed with a predatory smile. “That’s what happens when your country is at war and you conspire with the enemy.”

The weasley man looked beside himself with fear.

“No!” he shrieked. “I didn’t mean to! I didn’t know! He said they were just religious relics from Norway and Finland and Ireland, and he didn’t want to risk seizure so he paid me to skip the customs checks! That’s all, I swear!”

Crowley grinned at Beezle. He did so very much enjoy it when they didn’t resist.

“That’s all?” Beezle asked. “You don’t know where he’s storing his crates? Or where they’r going? Because according to our information, he signed for all of these crates…but they never went anywhere.”

The customs official swallowed visibly.

“You know, Honey-Bee,” Crowley said sweetly, “I think he knows exactly where they are…and where they’re going.”

“I think you’re right,” muttered Beezle, flicking her fingernail with the point of the knife.

“ALRIGHT!” the terrified man conceded. “I’ll tell you! I’ll show you where the crates are, just please don’t hurt me!”

As much as Crowley liked to believe he was a reformed soul these days, he did still enjoy a bit of good old fashioned intimidation. Some people were just so easy to crack – like eggs – one tap in the right place and they’d spill everything like the poor customs official. He remembered thinking Aziraphale would be easy to crack, but he hadn’t – he’d put up a fight and that had fascinated Crowley. Aziraphale had fascinated him.

With the knife hidden but pressed into his left kidney, the customs official led them across the dockyard to a storage warehouse and let them in. It was deserted, and he pointed them in the direction of a collection of crates to the far right side by the wall.

“They’re meant to be loaded onto a small fishing boat tonight,” the customs official told them in a small voice.

“Let me guess,” Beezle droned, “you were paid to look the other way for that too.”

The customs official said nothing, still keeping a wary eye on Beezle’s knife as Crowley moved over to the crates and prised them open, one by one. There were no guns, no grenades, no poisonous gas canisters. It appeared that his suspicions were in fact correct and Glozier had been spending his time in Manchester smuggling artefacts in through Ireland.

Everything in the crates had something to do with the occult, or a link to Hitler’s obsession with an Aryan race. There were stone tablets and scrolls, gold and silverware, and a strange wooden wheel carved with Nordic runes -absolutely nothing to risk national security.

“I was right,” he called to Beezle, “Looks like we came all the way here to confirm that nothing at all exciting is happening here.”

He held up a golden goblet for her to see, and he could have sworn a look of disappointment crossed over Beezle’s face.

“Spectacular,” she muttered.

Crowley replaced the crate lids and walked back over, slinging an arm casually over the custom’s official’s shoulder.

“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Crowley said quietly, digging a pound note out of his pocket and holding it out between his middle and index finger, “you’re going to make sure these crates get on that boat tonight, completely unheeded, and if anybody asks you…we were never here.”

He slipped the note into the official’s top pocket and stepped away as Beezle added,

“If you say a word to anyone, I promise I will come back and gut you like a fish.”

“She will, and she can,” Crowley confirmed. “I’ve seen her do it.”

Nodding furiously, the customs official took his money and ran, leaving Crowley and Beezle to saunter out of the warehouse and make their way back to their car. Beezle looked even more annoyed than usual.

“I can’t believe we spent a week following that bastard just to find a bunch of crap in boxes.”

“I can,” muttered Crowley. “Morningstar sent us up here to find out what he was up to – we’ve done that, and you know what, I’m actually really glad it was mundane. Now we can go home.”

Beezle grimaced.

“I’m still disappointed that it wasn’t guns.”

“I’m not,” said Crowley, “Can you imagine how much longer we’d have to be here if it was?”

“Yeah,” Beezle replied with a sigh as she slipped into the passenger seat and shut the door behind her, “You’re right. Let’s go home.”

Home…

Crowley’s heart felt lighter than it had done all week. He was going home, back to Aziraphale’s smile that could light up a room and his laugh that made Crowley’s knees weak; back to the comfort of the bookshop with its warmth and it’s smells, the crowded overflowing bookcases and that small velvet settee. He couldn’t wait.

 

____

 

Aziraphale really didn’t know what he did with himself before Operation Nightingale. He’d spent most of his week at a loss of how to fill in his time, wandering aimlessly around his bookshop and rearranging shelves that hadn’t been sorted in years. He’d dusted long-forgotten scrolls and devised a new cataloguing system for his merchandise, and possibly drank his body weight in tea.

He didn’t ever remember feeling quite this lonely. Aziraphale had accepted his solitary status many years ago and had thrived on his own, seeking out companionship whenever he needed it. It amazed him how involved Crowley had become in his daily life in such a short space of time. Aziraphale missed him – missed his soothing presence and his gentle teasing, missed those honey eyes and his mischievous smile. Most of all he missed talking; conversations they could keep going for hours. The silence in his life this week had been almost deafening.

Aziraphale was almost glad when the end of the week finally arrived, bringing with it his scheduled lunch with Gabriel. They hadn’t spoken since Aziraphale had all but thrown Gabriel from his bookshop after he’d insulted Crowley, the day Aziraphale had found out his brother was a section chief at SIS and Montgomery’s superior. Their deal had been that Aziraphale keep Gabriel up to date with the particulars of Operation Nightingale and in return, Gabriel would do everything in his power to keep Montgomery busy at SIS so she couldn’t interfere with the Security Service’s investigation. So far it seemed to be working.

Gabriel had booked a table at Claridge’s, and Aziraphale was sure he’d done it just to annoy him. Once, Aziraphale had adored Claridge’s – it had been the centre of wonderful parties back in Aziraphale’s university days, all bright new art deco interior and full of fresh youth. It held some wonderful and yet very painful memories for him and he was sure Gabriel was doing it out of spite.

Well, if Gabriel was going to be petty, then so was Aziraphale. He’d made sure to wear his favourite waistcoat – the one Gabriel had insulted a few weeks prior – and was determined to order the most expensive thing he could find. Taking a deep breath, Aziraphale walked up to the table where Gabriel was waiting for him.

“Gabriel,” he said stiffly.

“Aziraphale,” his brother replied in a similar tone, barely looking up from his menu.

So, Aziraphale thought – it was going to be like that. With greatest dignity, Aziraphale slid into his chair.

“How are you?”

“Fine,” murmured Gabriel. “Yourself?”

“Fine.”

A waiter floated past, artfully placing a menu in front of Aziraphale whilst filling up his and Gabriel’s glasses with water.

“How’s business?” Gabriel asked, still casually perusing the menu.

“Perfectly well,” Aziraphale murmured as the waiter moved off again. “How is…spying?”

That earned him a glance from Gabriel, his eyes narrowing sharply as he looked at Aziraphale over his menu.

“It’s fine,” he muttered tightly. Aziraphale felt like he’d struck a nerve and was vaguely pleased with himself until Gabriel countered with, “How’s Crawly?”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale corrected him immediately.

It was Gabriel’s turn to look pleased with himself.

“Yes…that snake…”

“Gabriel, we’ve been through this,” Aziraphale said quietly, fighting to keep his cool.

“It doesn’t mean I have to like it,” his brother muttered.

“No,” replied Aziraphale, “no more than I have to like meeting you for these less than delightful little chats.”

Gabriel opened his mouth to respond but shut it quickly again as a second waiter appeared to take their order. Aziraphale was determined to be as petty as possible.

“We’ll have the gravlax with dill and mustard sauce to start,” he said, turning to the waiter with a dazzling smile, “and the mushroom Wellington.”

“Very good sir,” murmured the waiter. “Would you like a recommendation for wine?”

“No thank you,” Aziraphale said politely, “we’ll have a bottle of Krug – the 1928 vintage.” Gabriel spluttered slightly on his water, eyes going wide as Aziraphale added, “My brother is treating me to lunch today.”

Their waiter smiled and nodded, and Aziraphale took pleasure in Gabriel’s reddening face.

“The 1928 vintage?” he hissed. “Have you any idea how expensive that is?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale replied serenely, smoothing his napkin out over his lap, “and you can afford it.”

A muscle twitched in Gabriel’s jaw and Aziraphale bit back a smile. That would serve him right for choosing Claridge’s over the Ritz or the Savoy.

“Fine,” Gabriel gritted. “So…you’re here to update me on Security Service’s progress. What do I need to know?”

Over a delicious gravlax, Aziraphale told Gabriel about acquiring Nostradamus, and the auction at Christie’s the week before where he jacked up the auction price for Robert Nixon. He dug into his mushroom Wellington with relish as he informed his brother also of the potential seller for Binns, and his visit to the Records Office to hunt down Agnes Nutter’s descendants.

Gabriel frowned.

“I’ll see what I can do with the records,” he said. “Put in a word of some kind.”

“I appreciate the offer,” murmured Aziraphale before draining his second glass of Krug, “but I’m not sure it’s a good idea. I mean, if Captain Montgomery gets wind that you’re helping me search then…well…I don’t think it would look good for us.”

Gabriel was silent for a moment, pushing his mushroom Wellington around his plate.

“I suppose you’re right,” he conceded with a sigh. “You know, Aziraphale…I’m only trying to look out for you…”

“Yes, well…you don’t have to,” Aziraphale replied tartly. “I’m being quite well taken care of by an excellent team of Security Service agents.”

Gabriel sighed again and looked at his wristwatch.

“Alright Aziraphale,” he murmured. “You win. I need to get back to work now but…feel free to order yourself dessert. It’s paid for.”

Aziraphale couldn’t help but feel a little stung as Gabriel stood and pulled on his light grey cashmere overcoat, extracting a roll of bank notes from his inside pocket and handing them to the Maitre’d as he walked out without a backwards glance.

There was still Wellington and potatoes dauphinoise left on Gabriel’s plate and Aziraphale shamelessly pulled it towards him, happily finishing it off and washing it down with a third glass of Champagne. The 1928 was a truly superb vintage and he made sure to save just enough of it to take home with him. It may end up being a little flat by the time Crowley returned from Manchester, but it would still taste delicious and he wanted to share it.

Aziraphale sighed as he ordered dessert and thought of Crowley, who had allowed him to eat almost his entire dessert when they’d dined at the Ritz. He remembered Crowley as he’d walked Aziraphale to the back door of his bookshop, how he’d awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck and stammered over his words, endearingly. Crowley had been about to tell him something and then changed his mind – Aziraphale had never stopped to wonder why at the time, but now he’d had a week to think about it and he wondered if his idea to talk to Crowley about the way he felt was a good idea.

He was sure Crowley had feelings for him, just as he had feelings for Crowley…but there was a reason he’d changed his mind on Aziraphale’s doorstep and opted to bid him goodnight instead. Perhaps Crowley just wasn’t ready yet and the last thing Aziraphale wanted to do was push things prematurely and drive him away. Crowley was too important to him and Aziraphale didn’t want to lose him through carelessness.

No…he would wait for Crowley to be ready, for him to make the first move. As much as he wanted  it all to happen, it was the only proper way of doing things. Aziraphale would keep quiet, and wait.

 

Chapter Text

It had been another disturbed night. All nights seemed to be disturbed these days and Aziraphale wondered when, if ever, these terrible bombing raids would cease. Almost every single night for the last six months the air raid sirens had sounded at some point during the night, forcing Aziraphale awake and out of bed to make his way to the shelter in his basement. He’d made it very comfortable down there with extra pillows and blankets and things to read and tins of food in case he got hungry, for although most raids were over in a couple of hours or so, there had been a few that kept him down in the shelter all night.

The past night’s air raid had been a mercifully short one and Aziraphale had been back in his own bed by two in the morning, happily sliding beneath his thick eiderdown and back into its comforting warmth, asleep again in moments. It was quite late when he finally awoke – well…late for him. Aziraphale was usually up at the crack of dawn, before the streets got busy but when his eyelids fluttered open this time he was very aware of the noise of traffic and people hurrying past on the street outside his window.

He supposed he was sleeping in lately not from lack of rest, but from the fact he didn’t really know what to do with himself with Crowley away in Manchester. It had been almost a full week and Aziraphale felt a little lost without him which he readily admitted was completely ridiculous. He’d gone for years doing quite well on his own before Crowley had turned up and there was absolutely no reason why he couldn’t manage a week without him.

Except…Crowley had become a huge part of his life in such a small amount of time. Aziraphale missed him – missed feeling his presence in the bookshop as he lounged about in the chair and on the settee; missed the smell of coffee brewing in his home; missed the way Crowley looked at him with soft golden eyes and the feel of cool fingers on his skin; missed his company and talking to him about whatever took their fancy. It made him feel lonelier than he ever had, his heart aching.

Still, Aziraphale continued his daily rituals – he washed, he dressed, and he moved through to his back room to fix tea and breakfast. Every day he’d descended those three little steps, hoping that when he reached the bottom and cleared the dividing wall that he’d see Crowley sitting at his table, feet propped up on the edge of the other chair, dark glasses covering his eyes, a book in his hand and a cup of freshly brewed coffee steaming in front of him. His heart would bob in his chest until he saw the chair empty and then it would sink again, leaving him as cold as the room he entered.

It was empty again today.

Sighing heavily, Aziraphale reached for his new tea ration and opened up the packet, dumping a heaped spoonful into the pot before lighting his stove and putting the kettle on to boil. He was hungry, but he didn’t feel like his usual breakfast of National Loaf with the barest spread of butter and preserve. Aziraphale had waited in line for his weekly rations the day before and had his egg and bacon and cheese – he usually went all out the morning after ration day, using them all up in the heartiest breakfast but…then he had to go back to bread and preserve.

Aziraphale stood, fiddling absently with the tea packet as he contemplated his breakfast when he heard a familiar, soft voice behind him.

“Hello, angel.”

His heart, which had found solace somewhere in his stomach suddenly soared like the rising sun, flooding his body with warmth and joy as he turned quickly.

“Crowley!” he breathed, face lighting up like the dawn.

Crowley was leaning a shoulder against the door frame, long legs supporting his angle and his hands casually in his trouser pockets. His black suit was immaculately pressed, hat tipped over his left eyebrow and looking more handsome than the Devil himself, a soft smile playing about this lips.

Aziraphale felt himself take an involuntary step towards Crowley, his heart wanting nothing more than to race across the room and throw his arms around Crowley’s neck; to bury his face in the crook and breathe him in; to feel Crowley’s arms wrap around him and hold him tightly. He stopped himself, his pulse racing as he forced his feet to stay still because he couldn’t do that. It was too much – the last time Crowley had seen him Aziraphale had been standing on his doorstep, only just becoming aware that Crowley may have feelings for him. He couldn’t just hurl himself at the man – it was far too sudden and Crowley was still so guarded. Aziraphale was terrified such a gesture would only send him running.

Instead he satisfied his hands with rubbing the worn hem of his waistcoat and grinned at Crowley like an idiot from the other side of the room.

“When did you get back?” Aziraphale asked, breathlessly.

“Last night,” murmured Crowley.

“Oh.”

Aziraphale couldn’t stop smiling; couldn’t stop his heart from pounding as Crowley looked at him with soft honey eyes and smiled back.

“I hope you don’t mind me popping in for breakfast,” Crowley said gently, taking his hand from his pocket carefully and holding up a small brown speckled egg. “I brought my own.”

Aziraphale glanced away and bit his lip for fear his smile might split his face in two, it had grown so wide. Breakfast – Crowley wanted to eat breakfast with him, not just sit there whilst Aziraphale ate…but actually join him in the act and for some reason it made Aziraphale blissfully happy.

“I’ve got some smoked salmon in the pantry,” he replied, inclining his head in that direction, “and some Krug champagne left over from yesterday’s lunch with Gabriel. I could make us a Savoy Special?”

Crowley raised a dark eyebrow.

Leftover Krug?” he mused. “It was just…lying around at the end, was it?”

“Oh, alright,” Aziraphale admitted with a coy smile, “I forced Gabriel to order the most expensive bottle Claridge’s had and then I brought it home.”

Crowley’s smiled turned into a full grin.

“God, I missed you,” he laughed, shaking his head fondly.

Aziraphale stopped breathing in the same second Crowley realised what he’d said. It had slipped out along with the laugh – something he hadn’t even thought about saying and Aziraphale ducked his head to hide his smile as they both blushed.

I missed you too, Aziraphale thought as he watched Crowley through his eyelashes; fighting to recover from his slip-up.

“Uh…Savoy Special sounds great,” Crowley said eventually.

He pushed away from the door frame and crossed the floor to hand Aziraphale his egg, the brush of Crowley’s fingertips against his sending Aziraphale’s brain into overdrive – Crowley’s skin was still so cool against his; so soft.

Oh, but as they moved around the small stove in the bookshop’s back room, Aziraphale realised that this was what he’d missed so much – familiarity. They’d only known each other a few weeks, but everything about having Crowley here at breakfast time felt like they’d done it a hundred times. They danced this dance so well – Crowley dropping butter into the frying pan as Aziraphale scrambled the eggs, moving in the limited space with ease and grace as they worked together to make a meal with stolen glances and shy smiles punctuating their activity.

It was clear to Aziraphale that their whole dynamic had shifted, now that he knew. He could see it now, oh so clearly – the way Crowley looked at him with soft eyes and an even softer smile; the way he found every excuse to brush against him as the moved around each other. It made Aziraphale dizzy and breathless to see Crowley lowering his barriers around him, inch by inch. How could he have been so blind?

Still…Aziraphale had promised himself he’d let Crowley make the first move when he was ready. These defences of his might have lowered, but they were still there – the way Crowley had flustered after telling Aziraphale he’d missed him; had blushed, looked away, and deflected. He wasn’t ready yet and Aziraphale wouldn’t push it.

“So,” Crowley said as they both sat down to their smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, with a glass of champagne each that was only slightly less sparkling than the day before and just as delicious, “I was wondering if you had anything planned today?”

Aziraphale gently chewed his forkful of buttery scrambled egg, lightly flavoured with chives. He shook his head and swallowed.

“Nothing,” he murmured. “Why? Do you?”

Crowley smiled.

“I thought we might make that trip up to Southend,” he replied. “See about that book…maybe make a day of it?”

Aziraphale had almost forgotten about going to Southend-on-Sea. He’d received the letter from his old acquaintance the very morning Crowley had left for Manchester, and Crowley had promised him over the telephone that they’d go together as soon as he was back.

“A day of it?”

“Yeah…” replied Crowley, avoiding Aziraphale’s gaze as he reached for his glass of Krug, “Nobody ever gets to go to the seaside these days and I thought since we have to go up there on business anyway we could maybe…take advantage of it?”

Aziraphale smiled as Crowley’s eyes flickered towards him for a brief second. This was definitely courting.

“I think that would be wonderful,” he murmured.

 

____

 

 

Crowley hadn’t felt this good in ages, driving along with Duke Ellington’s ‘Take the A Train’ playing through the wireless and Aziraphale by his side. Southend wasn’t anywhere near as far away as Manchester – just over an hour’s drive away from London, or at least it had been before the outbreak of War. These days it took a little longer to navigate without road signs and with checkpoints, but as far as Crowley was concerned the longer he was in the car with Aziraphale, the better.

He was still kicking himself for his earlier slip up of telling Aziraphale he’d missed him. It had just slipped out with his laugh and Crowley had been grateful that Aziraphale was polite enough to ignore it. Crowley was still coming to terms with the strength of his feelings towards Aziraphale and they still scared him but…seeing the way Aziraphale’s face had lit up upon seeing him again had made Crowley’s knees turn weak and if he hadn’t been propped up against the doorframe, he surely would have keeled over.

Crowley still wasn’t sure how Aziraphale felt about him. He was sure that Aziraphale enjoyed his company; his presence; his conversation…and there had been moments between them – how Aziraphale had held onto his hand all night during the air raid; they way he didn’t pull away whenever Crowley touched him or brushed up against him and almost leaned into the contact; the way his soft fingers had lightly brushed the skin on the back of Crowley’s neck and the end of his hair while they danced.

The thought drove him to distraction on an almost hourly basis. Crowley wasn’t used to intimacy or affection; he just didn’t know if this was the way Aziraphale was or…if Crowley’s feelings towards him were reciprocated. Crowley had dropped so many hints over the past few weeks, desperately trying to put feelers out and gage how Aziraphale felt about him but…he didn’t know if Aziraphale was picking up the message. He’d never said anything.

There was a ten mile exclusion zone around the south east coast of England and had been since the declaration of war in 1939. They had already been stopped once at a checkpoint on the A127 where police had checked their identity cards and then waved them on. Closer to the coast, the checkpoints were manned by military personnel.

“How many checkpoints are there?” Aziraphale murmured as the Bentley slowed, entering the exclusion zone checkpoint.

“I have no idea,” Crowley mused, reaching into his inside jacket pocket for the special military documents he needed for them to enter.

He rolled the window down as an armed MP approached.

“Are you aware this is an exclusion zone, sir?”

Crowley grinned at him.

“I certainly am,” he replied cheerfully. “Anthony J Crowley – British Security Service. I have clearance to pass.”

The MP didn’t look amused as he held out a hand.

“Identification papers please – yours and your friend’s.”

Aziraphale looked uncomfortable as he handed Crowley his identification to give to the MP, and Crowley gave him a reassuring smile. The MP quickly scanned Aziraphale’s civilian papers, glancing briefly at his face. He spent a little longer scanning Crowley’s government identification, checking his photograph too but then he opened up the document procured from Morningstar and his eyes went wide. Crowley’s grin broadened as the MP hurriedly refolded the document and all but threw it and the identification papers back at Crowley as he waved to the MPs manning the roadblock.

“Yes, sir,” the MP muttered apologetically, throwing Crowley a smart salute. “Sorry, sir. Carry on, sir.”

“Thank you!” Crowley replied with even more cheer as he hit the accelerator and the car sped off through the checkpoint. “God, that never gets old,” he murmured, casting a glance at Aziraphale.

The bookseller was staring at him with a mixture of surprise and confusion.

“What?” Crowley asked.

“He saluted you,” Aziraphale replied.

“Yeah…?”

“The minute he read that document, he saluted you and called you sir.”

A slow smile spread across Crowley’s face.

“Yeah. I love it when that happens.”

“You’re not military,” murmured Aziraphale, still evidently confused, “why did he salute you?”

Crowley looked at him again, raising an eyebrow as he suddenly understood.

“You don’t know…”

“Know what?”

Crowley grinned as he pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator and the Bentley zoomed past the line of military vehicles and personnel.

“The Security Service is a little different to the Secret Intelligence Service,” he explained, “because we’re mostly recruited from civilian sources, not military or from the cream of the upper classes. The whole charade works because we look just like everyone else. Anyway, we’re still officially a branch of the military without being enlisted so…technically, my rank within the Service in a time of war is equivalent to an Army Major with the power to call on any and all appropriate military resources.”

He beamed at Aziraphale, watching as his jaw visibly dropped and Crowley couldn’t help but laugh as they sped off down the road to Southend.

The small seaside town had changed dramatically in the last couple of years. When Britain declared war on Germany, the entire south-east coast had been declared out of bounds to all except the locals and those with official business. The government thoroughly believed that, if the Germans were to invade, it would be on the south east coast and so they had fortified the beaches and moved in a large military presence to defend it.

The south-east coat was no longer the cheerful holiday destination it used to be – the seafront was quiet and desolate, with kiosks and beach cafes all closed and shuttered; the amusement park was closed and boarded up, the famous rollercoaster and caterpillar rides now silent and unmoving. The pier had been taken over by the Royal Navy, the HMS Leigh moored at the pier head, and many barrage balloons were moored on the mud flats off shore, their stout cables providing a deterrent to low flying aircraft. Not that they seemed to have worked all that well, as the evidence of bomb damage throughout the town was incredibly noticeable – a product of the Luftwaffe’s hit-and-run type raids, often on their way to or from bombing London.

“It’s…not how I remembered it,” Aziraphale said quietly, looking out of the window at the silent streets and the grass growing through cracks in the pavement.

“Yeah,” replied Crowley, in a matching tone, “it’s…changed since the last time I was here too.”

Southend had always been a bright and vibrant seaside town, full of people and chatter and music that could be heard playing from the amusements park or the bandstand or from accordion players on the Eastern Esplanade. The most noise now came from the swish of trolleybus pantograph arms.

Smoke curled in the air as they drove down High Street, Crowley slowing down as he peered out of the windscreen at the smouldering shops up ahead. He glanced at the passenger side and bit his lip at Aziraphale’s crestfallen expression.

“Good Lord…” Aziraphale murmured with evident upset. “The shop was just…at the end…”

It wasn’t there anymore, Crowley was sure of that. He stopped the car just short of where the bomb damage started and turned off the engine just as Aziraphale opened his door and began to hurry away. Crowley rushed after him.

“Aziraphale!”

He was either ignored or Aziraphale was too preoccupied to hear as he raced down the street, almost at a run and halted in front of a burnt-out husk of a shop, smoke still rising from the charred timbers, the brick still radiating heat from the extinguished fire.

Crowley guessed this was their intended destination – the bookshop belonging to Aziraphale’s old acquaintance, now reduced to rubble.

“It’s gone,” Aziraphale said, his voice barely above a whisper as he stared at the smoking remains, “all those books…all that history…all gone.”

They were too late.

Crowley watched Aziraphale guiltily – those stormy grey-blue eyes unable to look away from the wreckage of the blackened husk of the bookshop; his expression a mixture of horror and abject misery. Crowley could only imagine what was going through Aziraphale’s mind, but he guessed he was thinking about how easily this could be him. Every day they lived with the very real possibility of waking up to their homes being destroyed in a bombing raid and Aziraphale’s entire life was tied up in that shop of his. It contained carefully curated wonders of literature; priceless scrolls and manuscripts – it was a matchbox just ready to be struck, and if it was ever hit Aziraphale would lose everything.

Slowly, Crowley approached him and reached out, carefully wrapping his little finger around Aziraphale’s as he drew level. Immediately, Aziraphale turned to look at him with eyes brimming with tears.

“I’m sorry, angel,” Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale sniffed and his free hand delved into a pocket for a clean handkerchief. Crowley told himself that this was not the most appropriate time to notice that Aziraphale’s warm finger hadn’t unwound from his and, in fact, had given a very gentle squeeze. He swallowed hard.

“I feel like…this is my fault,” Crowley told him, softly.

Aziraphale frowned.

“What?”

“You got the letter about Otwell Binns a week ago,” explained Crowley, “and I went off to Manchester and told you we’d come when I got back. If I’d told you to go on your own, or sent Dagon…”

Aziraphale’s little finger tightened around his and he shook his head vigorously.

“No. No, my dear boy…none of this is your fault.”

“But if you’d got here even yesterday…”

“Anthony,” Aziraphale interrupted him quietly. God help him, but Crowley felt weak every time Aziraphale used his first name; always like a soft command that compelled him to obey. “We both know this had nothing to do with you, or me, or whatever we did or didn’t do – it could have been anybody, or anywhere, or any time. We’re human – we have no control over this; over what survives or is destroyed; who lives or who dies. We’re at the mercy of God’s ineffable plan.”

Crowley looked at his feet, heart hammering and Aziraphale’s finger still entwined with his own.

“I don’t think God has much to do with this anymore, angel,” he muttered.

Aziraphale made a small noise that neither confirmed nor denied his agreement and Crowley sighed as they continued to stare at the ruined shop. Crowley didn’t want to move, didn’t want to let go of Aziraphale’s finger and lose the warmth that seeped into his very soul but they couldn’t stay here. With immense effort, he let go.

“We should check with the hotel at the top of the street,” he mused, “see if we can find out what happened to the owner.”

“Yes,” agreed Aziraphale as he blew his nose loudly. “Hopefully the poor man wasn’t inside when…”

He trailed off, and covered the half-choked noise that left his lips with his handkerchief under the pretence of blowing his nose again. Crowley didn’t comment. He personally couldn’t think of a death more horrible than being trapped inside a burning building, with the heat searing your skin and the dense, choking smoke filling your lungs. It made him shudder as they began walking back up High Street in the direction of the Royal Hotel at the top of Pier Hill.

“Are you alright?” asked Aziraphale, kindly.

Crowley gave him a tight smile.

“Yeah, angel,” he replied, “just…I’m sorry we didn’t get your book.”

Aziraphale sighed heavily.

“Yes…well…I’m sure I’ll find another Binns somewhere, it’ll just take a bit of time to hunt down. I’m just sorry you drove all the way out here for nothing.”

Crowley stopped walking as they hit the top of the street and raised his eyebrows as Aziraphale glanced back at him in surprise.

“We didn’t come here for nothing,” he said with a lopsided smile, “we’re at the seaside, angel – I told you we’d make a day of it.”

Aziraphale’s short laugh was bitter as he looked out at the sea.

“A day of it? Look at this place, Crowley – it’s bleak.”

In a few short steps, Crowley had joined him and followed his gaze out to sea where he could just make out the distant Maunsell anti-aircraft forts. Looking down at the beach he could see the foreshore was lined with large wedge shaped concrete battlements surmounted by coiled barbed wire, making access to the sand impossible. It was probably mined anyway.

“Alright,” Crowley admitted, “so the town is pretty grim these days. What do you say we drive up the coast a little way? You brought sandwiches, so we can find a nice little hilltop and have a picnic? All we need to do is find a donkey and we’ve got a perfect little day lined up.”

Aziraphale’s lips quirked up at one corner.

“I should have invited Gabriel,” he mused, “He’s the biggest ass I know.”

Crowley felt himself break into laughter as Aziraphale’s smile widened. Christ, but he really had missed Aziraphale’s razor-sharp wit…and everything else about him. Aziraphale smiled at him in the early April coastal sunshine, his white-blond hair like gold as the breeze ruffled his soft curls and Crowley’s heart pounded in his chest. If only Aziraphale knew how beautiful Crowley thought he was; knew how much he loved Aziraphale’s eyes and his smile and his laugh; how attractive his intelligence and wit were; how his kindness made Crowley feel weak, but his fierceness made him hot under the collar.

“Come on, angel,” he said, fondly, “Let’s go see what happened to your friend.”

 

____

 

 

They enquired at the Royal Hotel about his old acquaintance and discovered that he’d been taken to the nearest hospital after sustaining minor burns and some smoke inhalation. Satisfied that he was going to be alright, Aziraphale had allowed Crowley to drive him away from the now-dismal and deserted seaside town of Southend-on-Sea. Once away from the bomb-damaged buildings and concrete gun turrets, the coastline turned green and pretty once again, and not five miles out from the town they found a good place to stop.

“Ever been crabbing, angel?” Crowley asked as he pulled off the road and stopped the Bentley on the grass verge.

“I beg your pardon?” Aziraphale blinked.

“Me neither,” grinned Crowley, turning off the engine.

They were overlooking a small crop of grassy sand dunes that led down to a rocky shoal, spotted with small seawater pools. Here, there were no barbed wire or concrete blockades or anti-aircraft guns; only fresh salt air and sunshine, seagulls calling overhead and sand spinning in the breeze.

“I must confess, my family never really did seaside trips when we were children,” Aziraphale said as they got out of the car, “it was all countryside and hunting.”

The sun was fully out now with barely a single cloud left in the sky, the warmth of the day soaking into Aziraphale’s bones. He watched as Crowley shrugged off his jacket in the usually warm April sun and stooped to take off his shoes.

“What are you doing?”

“Well, you can’t go crabbing with your shoes and coat on,” Crowley said, cheerfully.

“I thought you said you’d never been?” countered Aziraphale with a raised eyebrow.

Crowley chuckled, rolling up his sleeves to reveal pale, freckled forearms that made Aziraphale salivate.

“You go jumping in rock pools and you’re bound to get a bit wet,” he said. “Are you coming?”

He straightened, sleeves and trouser cuffs rolled up; hat, jacket, and shoes abandoned by the car.

“Oh…alright,” Aziraphale conceded as he began to strip off his coat.

He followed suit with his shoes and socks, rolling up his trouser legs and shirt sleeves as he followed Crowley over the grassy dunes and towards the slippery rocks.

Crowley seemed to move with grace as he hopped from one rock to another, but Aziraphale was unsteady, throwing out his arms and grabbing for anything to steady him and finding Crowley’s hand.

“Don’t let go!” Aziraphale said urgently as his toes slipped against the damp seaweed.

“I won’t,” Crowley murmured with a small smile, giving Aziraphale’s hand a gentle squeeze.

With Crowley’s assistance, he slipped and wobbled his way along the shoal to the edge, where the salt spray of the waves licked at their bared skin. In the distance he could see the barrage balloons moored offshore at Southend and hear the distant rumble of the guns at Shoeburyness. He glanced at Crowley, standing next to him on the slippery rocks, his grip still tight on Aziraphale’s hand.

“Do you think they’ll invade the south east coast?” asked Aziraphale.

He’d never really given it a great amount of thought until now – the idea of the Germans mounting an invasion from the sea. He supposed it was the logical choice with Britain being an island; the only way to really invade was from the sea.

“Nah,” Crowley responded quietly, his honey eyes scanning the horizon, “they don’t stand a chance.”

Aziraphale frowned.

“How could you say that?” he said, surprised. “They’ve taken over most of Europe already – their army is an unstoppable force!”

Crowley looked at him and gave him a lopsided grin.

“Their army might be, but their navy doesn’t stand a chance against ours,” he replied. “The pride of the British military is the Royal Navy and it always has been – the German military’s pride is the Luftwaffe and even then, our RAF is giving them a damn good fight. They’d have to overrun the RAF and then get past the navy before they even get anywhere near our shores and even then, do you really think we’d just lie down and let them?”

Aziraphale tore his eyes away from the barrage balloons and studied Crowley’s face – his straight nose and sharp chin, high cheekbones and golden eyes. He looked so serious, so resolute. Aziraphale remembered Churchill’s speech after Dunkirk, about fighting Nazis in the streets.

“You really believe the people of this country would fight off armed German soldiers with shovels and broom handles?”

Crowley looked away, back out to sea.

“To protect the people they love?” he murmured, his grip on Aziraphale’s hand shifting. “Absolutely.”

Aziraphale swallowed hard. He was no fighter – God knows he’d spent his entire life actively avoiding a fight, but he was a protector and he knew without a shadow of a doubt, standing there with Crowley’s hand in his, that he’d do anything to protect what he loved.

Crowley’s skin was cool as always against his own, his long fingers lightly wrapped around Aziraphale’s hand in a steadying grip; grounding him and preventing him from slipping on the rocks. Aziraphale felt like his pulse was racing, his skin searing at Crowley’s touch until Crowley gave him a playful tug. He was grinning when Aziraphale looked back up.

“Want to go find some crabs?”

Aziraphale smiled.

“Perhaps some cockles…”

“Ugh,” Crowley made a face.

“What?” Aziraphale laughed, cautiously sliding from one rock to another, still holding onto Crowley’s hand. “We could have them with our picnic – you can eat them raw, just like oysters.”

“I’ve never eaten an oyster…” Crowley mused as he followed Aziraphale along the rocks; long legs moving gracefully.

Aziraphale blinked at him.

“No? Well…let me tempt you to join me for a dozen of them once this blasted war is over and we can get back to normality.”

He felt a slight tug on his hand and turned his head to see that Crowley had stopped and was looking at him with an unreadable expression before breaking into a smile.

“Alright,” Crowley murmured.

The seawater in the rock pools was cold and the sand, soft between Aziraphale’s toes as he paddled happily; digging into the pool beds with his heels in an attempt to unearth cockles. He couldn’t remember the last time he had so much fun – it reminded him an awful lot of those long hot summers at university, swimming in the river and feeling the lush cool grass of the riverbank under his skin. He felt happy and free, like there wasn’t even a war going on and that the town not five miles away was overrun by army and navy and gun turrets and land mines. He was paddling in a rock pool with Crowley on a beautiful spring day and everything else paled in comparison.

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…” he began to sing.

Crowley looked up from his own rock pool and raised an eyebrow.

“Oh no, don’t do that.”

Oh, I do like to be beside the sea!” Aziraphale continued, louder.

Crowley groaned and covered his face with a hand.

“God, I hate that song…”

Oh, I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom…”

“There isn’t a prom anymore angel, the Luftwaffe bombed it.”

WHERE THE BRASS BAND PLAYS…”

“This is so humiliating…”

TIDDLY-OM-POM-POM!

Crowley laughed – a gorgeous, throaty sound that went straight to Aziraphale’s stomach and set those pesky butterflies off again; his singing trailing off as Crowley’s head tilted back, exposing the long smooth line of his throat. Aziraphale looked away quickly as the urge to press his lips against the exposed skin became suddenly overwhelming, and he kicked at the sand to distract himself.

As much as Crowley had protested against Aziraphale’s singing, he looked positively delighted as he hopped from his rockpool…and promptly slipped on the wet, slimy seaweed into an adjoining pool. He gave a shout as his feet plunged in…and the water kept going up all the way to his knees, saturating his black wool trousers that he’d carefully rolled up to his calves.

Aziraphale couldn’t contain the bark of laughter that escaped him at the sight of Crowley, knee-deep in salt water with a look of open-mouthed surprise. Aziraphale clamped a hand over his mouth.

“Are you laughing at me, angel?”

Aziraphale shook his head as he continued to stifle his giggles, watching a mischievous grin appear on Crowley’s face.

“You are,” Crowley continued, his grin widening, “you’re laughing!”

“No, I’m not,” mumbled Aziraphale from behind his hand, still giggling.

“Right, that’s it,” Crowley said, sloshing through the knee-deep water towards Aziraphale, “You’re coming in here too.”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“Oh, don’t you dare, you fiend!” squeaked Aziraphale as he began to back away.

Crowley lunged for him, long fingers wrapping around Aziraphale’s forearm and tugging with surprising strength. Aziraphale found himself pulled from his little pool and onto the slippery rocks, his toes scrabbling for purchase on the seaweed as he teetered precariously on the edge.

“No!” he found himself laughing as he grabbed at Crowley’s arm with both hands, bracing himself as he pulled back. “No…no…NO!”

Crowley cackled as he snaked a hand around Aziraphale’s waist and yanked, pulling Aziraphale off balance and off the rocks. Aziraphale landed with a shriek as the cold water soaked him up to his knees, Crowley’s laughter in his ear as Aziraphale twisted in his grasp.

“Oh, you absolute devil!” gasped Aziraphale glancing down at his sodden trousers before looking up again and straight into gorgeous honey eyes.

Aziraphale suddenly became hyper aware of how close they were. Clutching each other’s forearms, Aziraphale could feel the goosebumps raise on his arms where Crowley’s long fingers rested on his skin. The laughter died on their lips as they stared at each other, the space between them electric and sizzling. He watched as Crowley’s pupils dilated, swallowing golden amber in a sea of black as his eyes flickered downwards towards Aziraphale’s mouth.

Aziraphale’s heart hammered in his chest, pulse racing and hands trembling as he breathed in Crowley’s air. He could feel the flush across his skin; feel the heat radiating from his own body in waves, marvelling at how quickly it had changed from playful teasing to…this. It would be so easy, Aziraphale thought, to reach up and place his hand on Crowley’s cheek – a small gesture but so intimate, so romantic…so unmistakable in its intention.

He bit his lip, sinking his teeth hard into his own flesh as Crowley continued to stare at him, not moving an inch. Aziraphale had sworn to himself that he would let Crowley make the first move; let Crowley come to him. Aziraphale wanted him so badly, but he wouldn’t push – he had to wait until Crowley was ready.

Aziraphale didn’t know how long they stood there, staring into each other’s eyes and breathing one another’s air, but it was Crowley who finally broke contact. Aziraphale was left gasping for breath as those honey eyes tore away from his, casting a glance back at the sea as his hands relinquished their hold on Aziraphale’s forearms.

“I think the tide might be coming in,” Crowley murmured, “we should probably get back to the car.”

Aziraphale swallowed, squeezing his hands into fists to quell their shaking.

“Yes,” he replied. “I think you may be right.”

Crowly looked at him once more before climbing out of the rock pool, salt water streaming down his bare legs as he turned and offered his hand to help Aziraphale out; which he cautiously accepted. Hand in hand, but making a deliberate attempt not to look at each other, they slipped their way over the seaweed-strewn shoal back to the grassy dunes beyond.

 

____

 

 

Crowley cursed himself as he stepped off the rocks and let go of Aziraphale’s hand, flexing his fingers at the tingle of residual warmth from Aziraphale’s skin. He tried to concentrate on the prickle of grass under his bare feet as he tried to get his breathing under control; to slow his heart that was beating so fast he thought it might beat right out of his chest.

He had known the moment he’d seen Aziraphale that morning in the bookshop that something was different between them; that something had changed since he’d gone to Manchester. Crowley had hoped Aziraphale had finally figured it out; that he’d realised what Crowley had been trying to tell him for weeks and then they’d ended up within inches of each other, close enough to close the gap and…

Crowley had let the moment pass. He’d looked into those stormy eyes, huge and dark and watched Aziraphale’s teeth drag slowly over his own lip, and…he had waited. Crowley had been out of his depth, in unchartered territory. He didn’t know what he was doing with this and he really needed Aziraphale’s guidance; needed…something…that would tell him that it was okay, that Aziraphale was happy for Crowley to lean in and kiss him or…

It was no good now. The moment had passed and he was left trembling as he reached the Bentley with Aziraphale following silently behind him. With a deep breath, Crowley reached for the tartan blanket and hamper Aziraphale had packed for them and plastered a smile on his face as he turned around.

“Lunch?”

Aziraphale breathed a visible sigh of relief as he returned Crowley’s smile.

“Yes! Please…I am starving.”

They lay the blanket on the ground and weighted it down with stones. Crowley turned on the car’s wireless and lay out in the warm sub, rolling his sodden trouser legs back down to dry as Aziraphale dug into a thick stack of Spam sandwiches and placed a large bottle of ginger ale in the space between them. Bing Crosby sang about having a Pocketful of Dreams as Crowley cradled his head with his hands and stared at the wisps of cloud in the sky above him.

“Oh…I like this one,” Aziraphale said fondly.

Crowley glanced at him, still with his shirtsleeves and trousers rolled up; white blond hairs all over his body shining like gold in the sun.

“Yeah,” he admitted quietly, “me too.”

Aziraphale looked down at him and smiled softly, making Crowley’s heart flutter.

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” Aziraphale continued.

“What is?”

“Dreams,” he clarified. “We all have them and we have them from childhood, but they evolve as we grow older or when our priorities change.”

Crowley looked back at the sky.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he replied softly.

He felt the blanket shift as Aziraphale reached for the ginger ale and again as he set it back down as Bing continued to serenade them from the Bentley.

“Did you always want to own a bookshop?” Crowley asked, turning his head to look at Aziraphale.

The bookseller paused and gently set aside his sandwich, dusting crumbs from his waistcoat as he pondered his response.

“No,” he said eventually, “It’s really just something I sort of…fell into.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow.

“How do you fall into buying a bookshop?”

Aziraphale smiled at him and leaned back, supporting his weight on his hands as he looked out to sea.

“Quite simple really,” he replied quietly. “I never really got on with my family – we had…conflicting values, but it was always known that once we reached the age of twenty-two we could have our share of inheritance. My brothers and sisters all did as the family wanted and kept it all within the estate but…I wanted to get as far away from them as possible. I took my share of the money and I ran to London where I knew nobody and I…figured things out from there.”

Crowley noted the sadness in Aziraphale’s voice and rolled onto his front, reaching out to gently pluck at the light, damp wool of Aziraphale’s trousers and was rewarded with a small smile.

“You built it up yourself,” Crowley murmured.

“Yes,” replied Aziraphale with a hint of pride. “I needed somewhere to live and something to do, and I read literature at University – books were things I knew and was very familiar with, so it seemed logical. I made some very good investments and built up a reputable business.”

Crowley felt his heart glow with pride. He’d known right from the start that Aziraphale was tougher than he looked and although he wasn’t from the crime-ridden underbelly of the city like Crowley was, it must have taken a great amount of strength to break away from the security of an old family like his.

Aziraphale took a deep breath and beamed down at him.

“What about you?” he asked.

Crowley had to laugh.

“What? Did I always want to be a spy?”

Aziraphale’s cheeks flushed.

“Well…no…I…I didn’t quite mean…”

“I know,” Crowley interrupted him softly. “I’m teasing.”

He gently plucked at Aziraphale’s trouser leg again, smiling. God help him, but Aziraphale was so beautiful when he was flustered, all pink skin and bright eyes that didn’t know where to look. It made Crowley want to kiss him all the more.

“I didn’t really want to be anything when I was growing up, except not poor,” Crowley admitted, looking away. “That’s really all there is – not wanting to live with nothing. I never really thought I’d escape the gang life once I was in it so…I guess this whole Security Service business had been pretty good for me.”

In more ways than one, he added silently. Crowley picked at the soft wool of the tartan blanket, aware of Aziraphale’s eyes watching him.

“What about after the war?” Aziraphale asked, quietly.

Crowley looked up at him again and frowned.

“I try not to think about that,” he murmured. “The end of the war that’s…that could be a long way off and I don’t even know if I’ll survive it, or what kind of world I’d be living in if I do…”

“Humour me, dear,” replied Aziraphale. “Let’s just say that the war is over, we’ve won, and we’re free to do whatever we like.”

Crowley bit his lip. He was a man who lived in the day, trying not to think too far ahead in case it all went wrong, but he had sometimes thought of what he might want if the day ever came when all of the fighting and dying was over.

“I want to get out of the city,” he admitted softly. “Get away from the noise and the people and the dirt – go somewhere quieter, like the country.”

“The country?” Aziraphale repeated.

“Yeah,” Crowley murmured. “I just…keep thinking of a nice quiet cottage at the edge of a village somewhere, with an open fire and a garden where I can grow…everything - roses and fruit trees and vegetables and herbs - just…peaceful.”

He blinked up at Aziraphale, the sun lighting up his hair like a halo.

“That sounds lovely,” he replied.

“Yeah.”

Crowley didn’t know why it was so easy to talk to Aziraphale; why he wanted to talk about things he’d never spoken of to anybody before when they were together. He felt vulnerable around Aziraphale and somehow that honestly didn’t frighten him as much as it should have; as much as it would have if it was anybody else. He wanted to open up, he wanted Aziraphale to know him and he wanted to know everything about the bookseller too.

It was wonderful to be like this with him – no Nazis, no books; just Crowley and Aziraphale, sharing sandwiches and ginger ale and talking about everything they wanted out of life until the sky began to turn pink at the edges.

“We should probably go home,” Crowley said reluctantly, clambering to his feet and dusting off the sand and grass that clung to his clothes. “Try to get back before the air raid sirens go off.”

It had been a gorgeous day – sunny and unusually warm for early April – and the Luftwaffe would most certainly be flying that night.

“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed heavily, “and I should probably get immediately onto finding another Binns, seeing as this one went up in flames.”

Crowley smiled and offered his hand to help Aziraphale to his feet. The warmth of Aziraphale’s fingers against his skin set Crowley’s pulse racing once more, and he felt light-headed and dizzy at Aziraphale’s proximity once again. He could smell that familiar soap and cologne and it made his mouth water, his body leaning involuntarily towards him even as Aziraphale turned away with a small smile and proceeded to pull up the tartan blanket.

Crowley took a deep breath and rubbed the back of his neck, flustered. This was going to be a torturous drive home.

 

____

 

He didn’t know how he made it home without crashing the Bentley; Aziraphale in the passenger seat with his sleeves still rolled up, drinking the rest of the ginger ale from the bottle and happily humming along to Glenn Miller on the wireless. He’d caught the sun across his nose and his cheekbones; skin tinted rose and radiating warmth from his whole body. Aziraphale was the most stunning person Crowley had ever known and his body ached for him.

After a brief farewell, Crowley had at full speed back to his flat in Camberwell; already stripping his jacket off as he climbed three flights of stairs to his small, top storey, south-facing room; struggling to open his door with trembling hands.

After a brief fight with the keys he was in, tossing his jacket on the nearest surface as he kicked the door shut behind him and raced to the window, pulling his tie loose. The cool evening air did nothing to relieve the heat that coursed through his veins.

“You fucking coward,” he cursed aloud, grabbing the chipped pitcher he used to water his house plants and filling it up with water. “You could have kissed him…you should have kissed him! He was right there – it was the perfect moment and you just…”

Crowley trickled the water into the soil slowly, his free hand grabbing the edge of the windowsill with force. Aziraphale knew – he had to know by now, it was impossible for him to not. Crowley felt it; felt the shift in their dynamic and seen the way Aziraphale’s gaze lingered on him for longer and he was just as reluctant to move away from Crowley’s touch as Crowley was from his. There was something there on both sides and yet…neither of them had done anything about it. A shred of doubt still remained in Crowley’s mind that Aziraphale felt the same about him.

He set the pitcher down heavily and took a gulp of fresh air. It was driving him mad – he wanted Aziraphale so badly; wanted the feel of Aziraphale’s skin under his hands and the softness of his lips. If only the world wasn’t conspiring to keep them from doing this. If only he wasn’t a spy…if only there were no Nazis and no danger to Aziraphale’s life. If only…

Crowley was too worked up to think. Aziraphale was wrapped around his brain and coursing through his blood and he was powerless; helpless. He slammed the window shut and drew the curtains aggressively before turning towards his sleeping quarter, already tearing off his clothes and leaving a trail across the floor in his wake.

He knew what he needed, and he was just glad that he was alone in the privacy of his own home so nobody would know how desperate he was. Crowley kicked off his underwear and reached for Aziraphale’s sky blue shirt, bringing it up to his nose and inhaling deeply. He’d worn the shirt for almost every night for the past week and he was honestly surprised that any trace of Aziraphale still clung to it, but as he breathed in the scent of Aziraphale’s cologne curled like smoke around his senses and Crowley groaned aloud, the sound smothered by soft cotton.

He was half hard as he slid his arms into the shirt and climbed onto his bed, leaving it open and falling off his shoulder as he arranged his pillows into the optimal position and reached for the small glass jar of Vaseline in his drawer.

Crowley was good at this by now – an expert at bringing himself to orgasm. It was something that required time and patience, a soft comfortable bed and the privacy to explore and experiment and fantasise. Sex for Crowley involved none of these things – always done with the majority of clothes on, always fast and hurried and slightly painful. It was something he did when he needed to feel something; to be manhandled and roughed up and filled. It was an itch to be scratched, but it was never a release.

Positioning a pillow under his hips, Crowley lay pack and dipped his finger into the jar of greasy jelly; taking a deep breath as he hitched up his knees, planted his feet firmly on the mattress, and slid his hand between his thighs.

The breach was delightful; slick and cool, and Crowley gasped as he buried his free hand into his hair. It took no time at all to work himself open, his finger sliding deeper and deeper as he gently fucked himself. He bit his lip as he added a second finger and imagined it was Aziraphale’s hand; his gorgeous thick fingers sliding inside of Crowley’s body; twisting and drawing back and pushing in deeper.

Crowley whined, loud and desperate into the empty, dimly-lit room as his fingers finally brushed against it – the part inside him that was the source of so much pleasure and he had to fight the urge to close his knees at the delicious pressure he felt when he pressed it with his fingers. Now he’d found it, he couldn’t move too far.

He tugged at his hair, digging his nails into his scalp as his fingers rubbed back and forth over that swollen bud inside him, and he allowed his mind to wander. He thought back to that afternoon at the rock pool with Aziraphale’s face so close to his, his eyes a fathomless sea of navy that Crowley wanted to drown in. He imagined leaning in and pressing his lips to Aziraphale’s and feeling their softness against his; of his hands cupping Aziraphale’s face as those lips parted and allowed him access, tongues pressing against each other gently.

The pressure inside him grew more insistent and all Crowley had to do was think of Aziraphale’s hands pushing through his hair, tugging at auburn strands as they kissed and he was there; a wave of heat washing over his body and spreading out through his limbs as he trembled and gasped; pressing his knees together as he rode through the intense pleasure that seemed endless.

Crowley forced himself to settle again, fingers still working inside his body as he continued to chase the next one. In his mind he was on that tartan blanket with the warm sun at his back and Aziraphale underneath him; kissing a long line across sun-blushed skin as he worked open the buttons of a duck-egg blue shirt. He tasted sea-salt on his tongue; felt the vibrations of Aziraphale’s moan of pleasure against his lips and he was there again, his body convulsing as wave after wave of pleasure coursed through him.

He could feel the sweat on his body, beading at his hairline and soaking into Aziraphale’s shirt; he was trembling and his pulse raced; the dull throb of overstimulation seeping in but he wasn’t done yet. In his mind he slid his knee between Aziraphale’s thighs, still working his way across smooth collarbones as his nails raked through the fine white-gold hairs that covered Aziraphale’s chest and trailed down. Aziraphale’s hands were in his hair, guiding Crowley to where he wanted his mouth most and Crowley groaned at the delicious tugs and pulls that sent shockwaves down his spine. His own hands pulled soft cotton away from a woollen waistband, snaking underneath to feel the softness of Aziraphale’s stomach and the way it yielded under the pressure of his fingertips.

Aziraphale’s name was on his lips like a prayer and Crowley couldn’t tell if was imagining it or if it was real as the last pressure wave broke and flooded his body. He knew he cried aloud, his voice deafening to his own ears but he didn’t care. Crowley was washed with pleasure; pins and needles in every extremity as his own fingers finally slid free of his body and he allowed himself to tremble through the aftershocks.

It was a while before he came back to his senses; lying curled onto his side with slippery thighs and a thin film of sweat over his skin and in his hair. Aziraphale’s shirt was ruined – covered with pearlescent streaks and Crowley knew he had no choice no but to get it laundered.

He dragged the pillow that had been under his hips towards him and wrapped his arms around it, sighing gently as he closed his eyes. He knew he should wash, but he couldn’t bring himself to move just yet; to strip off Aziraphale’s shirt and rid himself of the scent. He wasn’t ready to lose that yet and he snuggled further into his pillow, allowing sleep to finally overtake his exhausted body.

Chapter Text

Aziraphale loved his morning rituals. He enjoyed the security of routine; the comfort that came from knowing that no matter what happened with the war, this was the small part of life that he had control over.

He washed, dressed, and pottered through to his back room as always, ready to make tea and start breakfast. The spare chair at the table was empty but Aziraphale still smiled as he remembered how Crowley had surprised him the day before, turning up with an egg and helping him make a Savoy Special. It had been so intimate, the two of them working around each other in the small space around the tiny stove; eating together and drinking the rest of the Krug from Claridge’s.

Aziraphale’s nose and cheeks still held the heat of mild sunburn from the warm April day spent outside, sitting on the grass and sharing a picnic together. The romance of it had not escaped Aziraphale’s notice, and if he was honest with himself his head was still reeling from that almost-kiss.

Crowley was so beautiful up close – with those honey eyes and golden freckles dusting his pale skin. Aziraphale could have stared at him all day if he’d been able; mapping those freckles like the constellations as Crowley lay on the grass, staring at the cloud wisps above him. Aziraphale couldn’t help wondering…if he had only leaned in and pressed his lips to Crowley’s…

The sound of the telephone ringing in the main shop brought him back with a jump and he left the kettle on the stove to boil as he went to answer it.

“A.Z. Fell and Co,” Aziraphale trilled into the telephone receiver as he swiped at a speck of dust on his desk.

“Hello, my darling,” came the reply in a soft, musical Edinburgh accent.

Aziraphale’s heart filled with joy.

“Robert!” he exclaimed happily. “My dear – how are you?”

Mr Robert MacClahn was possibly Aziraphale’s oldest and dearest friend in the world. When Aziraphale had been a lost young man, freshly cut loose from his family and alone in London for the first time, it had been Robert that took him under his wing. A good fifteen years older than Aziraphale, Robert had been his rock – providing him with advice and support; enrolling him into the Gentleman’s Club on Portland Place that set him up with a social circle of men with similar tastes and interests and…peculiarities.

Yes, they had slept together once or twice very early on until they both realised that wasn’t what either of them wanted from their relationship. From that, it had evolved into something very deeply platonic and almost paternal; Aziraphale basking in the kind of love and warmth that had never been shown to him by his own family; a kind of acceptance that came with no caveats. Eighteen years later, at forty years of age, Aziraphale still craved and revered this friendship.

On the other end of the telephone, his friend chuckled.

“You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?”

Aziraphale’s smile slipped, his mind racing. What could he have possibly forgotten? It wasn’t Robert’s birthday, he was very sure of that and he was positive that there was no other special occasion looming on the horizon.

Robert’s laughter grew at Aziraphale’s resounding silence.

“Obviously you’ve been far too busy to help an old man pick out a new dinner jacket!”

Aziraphale clapped a hand to his forehead as he remembered.

“Oh, gosh! The dinner!”

Their Gentleman’s Club hosted a monthly formal dinner for its members and it was always very popular, especially since the War. Although rationing affected the dishes served and the courses had been cut from eight to three (one of which being Aziraphale’s beloved cheese course), members came from far and wide to partake in the one shining beacon of social normalcy. Aziraphale rarely attended the club these days with the exception of the dinner which he always looked forward to immensely, but since becoming embroiled in espionage and books of prophecy it had been the furthest thing from his mind.

“Don’t worry about it, my love,” laughed Robert, “I already went and got my jacket without you.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale replied, deeply disappointed in himself, “my dear, I can’t apologise enough.”

“It’s fine,” his friend insisted. “What’s had you so busy lately, anyway?”

Aziraphale sighed and sat down in his desk chair, cradling his chin in his hand as he stared out the window to the street outside. So much had happened since last month’s dinner and the last time he’d seen his friend. Robert was the one person in the world he told everything to, but he could never tell him about this…at least, not the whole truth of it.

“Oh,” he sighed, “I’ve just had a very demanding client of late – they want several books and I’ve been pulling favours from all over the country.”

“You poor lamb,” Robert sympathised. “I hope they’re paying you well.”

“They are,” replied Aziraphale, heavily.

“Are you still coming tonight?”

“Absolutely,” Aziraphale said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

He could almost hear Robert’s smile through the telephone line.

“Wonderful – and will we be complimenting each other?”

Aziraphale broke into his own smile. It was something they had done for years – cufflinks, pocket watches, handkerchiefs and accents, all perfectly matching the other down to the finest detail.

“Don’t we always?”

Robert gave a contented chuckle.

“Very well my darling, I shall see you tonight.”

“Until tonight,” Aziraphale replied, smiling as he began to lower the receiver. Suddenly, he was struck by a though and jammed the telephone back to his ear. “ROBERT!?”

He thought for a split second that his friend had hung up, until he heard Robert’s confused and slightly alarmed response.

“What is it, darling?”

“You used to have a first edition Ignatius Sybilla, did you not?”

The image of the red leather bound volume had entered Aziraphale’s mind just as he’d gone to hang up. He remembered it, sitting on Robert’s library bookshelf many years ago. Robert was a collector, although not generally of books – he collected things of aesthetic beauty and Aziraphale distinctly recalled the exquisitely carved leather cover in intricate detail.

“I did,” Robert responded, cautiously.

Aziraphale took a deep breath.

“Do you still have it?”

There was a pause; a sigh. Aziraphale held his breath, heart thudding against his ribcage.

“I believe so,” he replied, eventually, “although I confess I’ve not seen it for some time. Why do you ask, darling?”

Aziraphale let out the breath he’d been holding in relief.

“I’ll tell you all about it tonight, dear,” he murmured.

Putting the telephone down, Aziraphale sat back in his chair and smiled to himself. If he could convince Robert to sell him Ignatius Sybilla then he could cross another book from the Nazis’ list and be one more step to freedom. Picking up the telephone again, he excitedly dialled the number he had for Crowley’s division.

 

____

 

 

Crowley sat with his feet upon the corner of his desk, cradling a cup of coffee in his hands as he related the previous day’s happenings to the rest of H Division. Dagon sat with a notebook on her knee, scribbling furiously as Crowley talked; Hastur and Ligur both sitting by the window as usual whilst Beezle glowered at him. Crowley hated the way she studied him these days, and he was quite concerned she would pick up on some residual afterglow from last night’s endeavours.

“So it just…burned?” Ligur said, referring to the Southend bookshop.

Crowley nodded.

“Wasted bloody trip then,” groused Beezle.

“Yeah, somewhat.”

Of course Crowley didn’t mention anything about the picnic or the rockpools, or about how he didn’t kiss Aziraphale when he had the opportunity. He guessed Beezle would have been happy to hear that hadn’t kissed the Soho bookseller, no matter how much he had wanted to.

Although he had slept remarkably well and was aching in the best way, Crowley’s mind was still so full. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Aziraphale’s face – his eyes sol big and dark; lips parted and pink; his white-blond hair like a halo in the brilliant sunshine. He’d been so close, breathing Crowley’s air and Crowley had turned away like a coward, too afraid to close the gap and press a soft kiss to those gorgeous lips. He was angry at himself, but also a small part of him was angry with Aziraphale too. The bookseller had to know how Crowley felt about him by now – Aziraphale could have kissed him and didn’t.

Crowley took a sip of his coffee as the harsh, tinny ring of the telephone echoed in the small, crowded office and Dagon ceased her scribbling in order to pick it up.

“H.E. Ells Investigations,” she answered in her breathy secretary voice that always made Crowley want to laugh. “Oh, Mr Fell!” Dagon exclaimed, her voice instantly normal again. “Yes of course, he’s right here.”

Beezle’s eyes narrowed as Crowley stood and moved to take the phone from Dagon. His pulse began to race as he raised the receiver to his ear, aware of everyone watching him.

“Yeah?”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale replied, delightedly. “I have excellent news – I’ve just been on the telephone with a dear old friend of mine who has a copy of Ignatius Sybilla!”

The sound of Aziraphale’s voice made Crowley’s stomach kick up a storm of butterflies, and he imagined the look of excitement on Aziraphale’s face, and the way he would be twisting the telephone cord around his finger.

“Does he?” replied Crowley, more coolly than he felt. “That’s great – the quicker we get these books in the better. What’s his name?”

He motioned to Dagon to pass him a pencil.

“Robert MacClahn, but Crowley dear…there’s really no need to go delving into his background. Robert has been my dearest friend for eighteen years now, and besides I shall be seeing him tonight anyway.”

Crowley hastily scribbled the name on the paper and passed it to Beezle as he frowned.

“Why?” he asked. “What’s happening tonight?”

“It’s the monthly dinner at my…social club,” Aziraphale said, hesitantly. “I forgot all about it and Robert just called to remind me.”

“A dinner?” repeated Crowley for the benefit of the division. “That sounds like fun. What social club is this?”

Beezle raised an eyebrow at him. Crowley hated doing this – when the room was full of people; all eyes on him; making sure he asked the right questions and got the information they needed. It was so much easier when it was just him and Aziraphale, when they could talk about anything and it felt natural and organic, not like this. This felt like he was manipulating him again.

“A Gentleman’s Club on Portland Place,” Aziraphale replied.

Crowley wrote that down too and slid the paper across the desk where Dagon picked it up and passed it to the terrible twosome by the window.

“Right…so, is there a dress code? Do I need a new pocket square?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the telephone and Crowley started to wonder if the connection had been lost.

“Crowley…I’m afraid the dinner is members only. We’re not allowed guests.”

Aziraphale’s tone was cautious, as though he had chosen his words carefully. It felt like a knife to his gut – members only, no guests allowed. Was it really no guests or did he just not want Crowley there? Was Aziraphale trying to hide something from him?

“A…ziraphale,” he said softly, catching himself just before the word ‘angel’ slipped out in front of his entire division, “you know what the rules are – you can’t go into any of these book deals alone.”

On the other end of the telephone, Aziraphale laughed and it felt like the knife twisting.

“My dear! I’ve been going to this club since I was twenty-two years old; I attend every monthly dinner, and Robert is my very best friend. I assure you, I’m in absolutely no danger from anybody there.”

Crowley bit his lip and frowned. Whatever may have happened – or not happened – between them over the last few weeks, Crowley was still Aziraphale’s handler and he couldn’t possibly handle if he couldn’t get through the door. He had to wonder if Aziraphale had done this on purpose; maybe as a punishment for not taking the leap and kissing him the day before. He took a deep breath and avoided Beezle’s eye.

“So…what time is the dinner?”

“Well,” sighed Aziraphale, “since the beginning of the Blitz, it’s been starting early. Around five o’clock so dinner will be over by the time the air raid sirens start going off.”

“Five o’clock,” Crowley repeated. “Right…great…I’ll, er…I’ll come pick you up – drive you there. We can…go over some protocol on the way.”

“Splendid!”

Crowley still felt uneasy as he put the phone down, sighing as Beezle perched on the edge of his desk.

“What was all that?” she asked.

Crowley leaned back in his chair again and scratched the back of his neck in an attempt to get rid of the prickly feeling in his skin.

“Aziraphale got a call this morning from an old friend who may have a copy of one of the books we’re looking for,” he explained, heavily. “Apparently there’s a members-only dinner tonight that he forgot about and his friend is going to be there.”

“I don’t like that,” Beezle muttered.

“Me neither,” sighed Crowley, “but it’s an event he attends every month and it would be suspicious if he didn’t go, considering we told him to go about his daily life as normal. Have we checked out his social club before, Dagon?”

She opened her mouth to respond but was silenced by a snort from the far side of the room. They all looked up to find Hastur and Ligur hiding their faces behind the files they held, shoulders shaking. Crowley frowned.

“What the Hell is the matter with you two?”

Hastur lowered his file, biting back a grin.

“That Gentleman’s Club,” he said.

“What about it?”

Ligur and Hastur exchanged another glance and started snickering again. Dagon rolled her eyes at them.

“It’s a club that was started about a hundred years ago, exclusively for…people like Fell.”

Crowley stilled; their giggles making his skin crawl. He may have been content all these years hiding in plain sight but he’d always hated it when people like him and Aziraphale had been sneered at or laughed at or referred to as something odd or lesser. He knew Hastur and Ligur and even Dagon to a lesser degree didn’t realise what they were doing or saying hurt him, but somehow that just made it all that much worse.

“What?” he said, deliberately, “People who own bookshops?”

“No…” Dagon said, glancing at the smirking pair in the corner, “they mean men who are…you know…”

“You mean homosexual,” Crowley finished her sentence, coldly. “It’s not a dirty word, you can say it.”

His tone was harsh and his face stony. Hastur and Ligur’s snickers faded on their lips, eyes lowering to the floor as they had the grace to look ashamed of themselves; Beezle and Dagon exchanged glances as the atmosphere inside their office grew icy.

“Sorry,” Dagon murmured, her pale eyes shifting towards the pair by the window. “We know you’re fond of Fell – we didn’t mean to be disrespectful…”

“Well, you were,” Crowley snapped. “He’s our asset, he’s putting his life on the line so we can do our jobs and at the very least he deserves respect. From all of you!”

“Crowley!”

It was Beezle, her voice full of warning. Crowley bit the inside of his cheek as anger bubbled up inside of him.

“I need some air,” he muttered, standing up suddenly and pushing his chair away as he crossed to the door, trying not to run.

It never usually mattered – his sexuality – not around them. They were his division, his team and they trusted each other – they had to. Spying was as dangerous a game as fighting on the front lines, but whereas on a battlefield you knew the person next to you was on the same side, the same couldn’t be said for the intelligence services. As Rose Montgomery had proved, double agents could be anywhere and any spy’s life could potentially be in the hands of the enemy. Crowley trusted his team with his life as they trusted him but…this wasn’t the same thing.

Beezle was the only one of them that knew for certain - she kept his secret and he kept hers, but the others…the way that spoke sometimes about Aziraphale…about people like Crowley…it made him so angry.

“You shouldn’t take your frustrations out on them.”

Crowley had halted on the whitewashed stone steps leading down to their poky basement office, watching the hustle and bustle of Whitehall in the morning. He turned at the sound of Beezle’s voice and saw her standing at the bottom, looking up at him with her arms folded over her chest. Beezle always looked fierce and annoyed, her black hair cut short and hanging straight, dark suit jacket and trousers making her look thoroughly androgynous.

“Why not?” Crowley huffed.

“Because they’re idiots and they don’t know any better,” she said, “and because the person you’re really mad at is Fell.”

Crowley felt like he’d just been slapped, her words almost knocking the breath from his body.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered, looking away.

“Yes you do,” Beezle quietly replied. “For the first time since this whole thing started, he’s going somewhere you can’t, and that drives you mad. This is a place he’s comfortable and he’s with a person he knows and trusts, and he doesn’t need you holding his hand. Not this time.”

Crowley stared hard at his shoes, trying hard to ignore that his stomach felt as though thousands of worms were wriggling and squirming around in there. He hated that Beezle made sense – that this was truly the source of his uneasiness; that he had no way of protecting him if anything went wrong.

“He’s getting good at this,” continued Beezle. “I think he’s getting a taste for it.”

“Yeah,” Crowley sighed, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“Who knows – maybe after all this, we can recruit him.”

“Don’t you fucking dare,” he muttered darkly.

Beezle’s mouth quirked upwards at the corner for the briefest second before she came to join him, leaning against the wall at the top of the steps.

“You know,” she said after a moment, “those old buildings usually have service entrances.”

Crowley looked at her sharply.

“What?”

Beezle blinked.

“You know…for the staff. Service corridors too so the same staff can move around the building without the patrons having to see them.”

Crowley’s eyes narrowed as his brain connected the dots.

“What are you saying, Bee?”

“Nothing at all,” she replied innocently. “I’m merely talking – what you take from that is entirely up to you.”

Crowley bit back a smile. He knew exactly what he could do with this kind of information.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale hummed along to Al Bowlly as he brushed dust and lint from his black dinner jacket. Formalwear had become much more relaxed since the Depression and even more so now there was a war on. Fabric wasn’t being rationed just yet, but fewer bespoke suits were being purchased these days due to the nation’s new views on thriftiness. Most tended to use their older suits and Aziraphale had to admit that he preferred his comfortable, familiar attire over purchasing something new.

Nobody wore white tie to the Club’s formal dinners anymore and the dining room was usually an eclectic mix of tails, dinner jackets, and tuxedos along with a smattering of military uniform. Aziraphale’s favourite dinner jacket was one he’d had for years – black velvet with silk lapels and a strip of his favourite tartan under the collar and in the lining. It was his own colours – a gift from Robert for his twenty-fifth birthday, where he had commissioned a tartan to be created just for Aziraphale. From then on, he’d had as many items as possible made in the Heaven's Dress tartan and determined to include it wherever he could.

Crowley would look sensational in black tie, concluded Aziraphale. A black dinner jacket with wide lapels that would broaden his shoulders and a nipped in waist that would accentuate his slimness; the long satin stripe down his trouser leg making him look even taller. Aziraphale could imagine walking into the club with Crowley on his arm and every man in there turning to stare at the beautiful redhead; Aziraphale proudly showing him off.

Robert would love him, of that Aziraphale was sure. They both had a gentle way of teasing about them, and Robert would find Crowley to be roguishly charming. The three of them would sit together and drink wine, and Robert would tease him about finding a toy boy, and Crowley would join in with that sardonic smile that made Aziraphale go weak at the knees.

One day…

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear a dark colour before.”

Aziraphale spun around in the middle of brushing his jacket to find Crowley standing in the doorway to his bedroom, his hands in his pockets. Like Aziraphale, Crowley had caught yesterday’s sun across the bridge of his nose and it had turned his freckles to rose gold.  The sight of him made Aziraphale’s heart soar as always.

“No,” Aziraphale said, breathlessly as his face broke into a joyous smile, “but it is black tie, so needs must.”

Crowley’s golden eyes looked him over, taking in Aziraphale’s crisp white shirt and black silk vest; giving Aziraphale an appreciative nod.

“It suits you,” Crowley murmured.

He hadn’t moved from the doorway, not even to take his hands from his pockets. The air between them was tense and Aziraphale supposed it was because of what had happened between them the day before. Crowley had almost kissed him and Aziraphale had desperately wanted him to, but Crowley had held back and turned away, leaving Aziraphale yearning.

What was holding him back, Aziraphale didn’t know but he had determined to wait until Crowley was certain; until he made his move. Aziraphale had his little domestic fantasies to tide him over until then.

“Be a dear and pass me those cufflinks,” Aziraphale responded with a smile, feeling his cheeks heat up as he indicated the small black box on the dresser.

Crowley looked at it but stayed rooted to the spot for a moment, as though he were determining if he should move or not. Aziraphale had the awful thought that he might not, but then Crowley took a step forward and plucked the box from the dresser; a dark auburn eyebrow arching gracefully as he looked at them.

“A thistle entwined with a rose?” he asked.

Aziraphale couldn’t resist smiling as he took the box and looked at the cufflinks fondly.

“It’s a sort of long-running joke,” he explained. “My friend Robert always used to jest that he was a prickly old Scottish thistle and I was his soft English rose. We ended up getting the thistle and rose motif on pocket watches and handkerchiefs too, and we always wear them to formal dinners at the Club.”

He chuckled to himself as he deftly fixed the gold cufflinks into place, not noticing the twitch in Crowley’s jaw.

“I see,” Crowley said quietly, “a good friend, is he?”

“Oh yes,” Aziraphale beamed. “He’s a truly wonderful man.”

Crowley returned his smile, although it was a little tighter than it normally was; his eyes not quite meeting Aziraphale’s. He stood by and watched quietly as Aziraphale finished dressing for dinner, slipping the gold rose-and-thistle watch into his vest pocket, and sliding the embroidered handkerchief into his jacket pocket. Aziraphale rather enjoyed the feel of Crowley’s eyes on him, watching his every movement.

“How do I look?” Aziraphale inquired as he straightened the lapels of his black dinner jacket.

Crowley looked over him again, his face and eyes betraying nothing.

“Like you’re ready for dinner,” he murmured.

Aziraphale smiled at him as he draped a white silk scarf around his neck.

“Oh my dear,” he chuckled, “I most definitely am!”

 

____

 

 

Crowley loved having Aziraphale in the car with him. There was something strangely intimate about being in the enclosed space together; elbows brushing and Aziraphale humming along with the wireless. He loved how, at first, Aziraphale had frowned at jazz and blues, but now he was cheerfully drumming out a beat as Ella Fitzgerald sang It’s Only a Paper Moon – an old song that Aziraphale was admittedly familiar with, but Ella could make anything sound better.

There had been a moment back in Aziraphale’s bedroom where Crowley had felt a fleeting moment of jealousy over Robert MacClahn and those stupid rose-and-thistle cufflinks Aziraphale was wearing. Not that he believed there was anything romantic between Aziraphale and his friend – more like Crowley was envious of the kind of friendship they had, where they could buy each other matching accessories because of a personal joke. It was a strong friendship with the kind of intimacy Crowley could only ever wish for, and that was what he’d envied – that Robert MacClahn knew Aziraphale in a way Crowley didn’t.

However, he was an adult and jealousy was for children. Crowley was in love with Aziraphale and it was heart warming to see the bookseller all happy and excited, looking nothing short of gorgeous in his black-tie formalwear. He had to bite his lip to stifle the wistful sigh he felt bubbling up in his chest, and he forced himself to concentrate on the road and not how bright the dark velvet made Aziraphale’s eyes look.

“So, this book,” Crowley said, clearing his throat, “you friend definitely has it?”

Aziraphale looked guilty.

“Truthfully dear, I’m not sure,” he confessed. “He used to have it – I remembered seeing it in his library but he said he hadn’t seen it for a while. I’m hoping he’s had a good search today and managed to unearth it.”

“Right,” murmured Crowley.

Aziraphale had always been going to go to his Gentleman’s Club monthly dinner, he reminded himself – this wasn’t a meeting specifically to buy or retrieve a prophecy book, but instead a social event where he might have the added bonus of coming away with something more than a full stomach.

“You can’t tell him what it’s for,” Crowley added quickly, glancing at the passenger seat.

Aziraphale frowned at him.

“My dear boy, what do you take me for?”

“I just mean…” Crowley paused, searching for the right way to word it, “I know he’s an old friend and you trust him, but he can’t know – we can’t risk endangering him too.”

Aziraphale glanced down at his well-manicured hands and sighed.

“I know,” he murmured. “All I’ve told him so far is that I have a very demanding client who wants to collect several books of prophecy – nothing more.”

“Good,” Crowley replied.

He pulled onto the unusually wide road of Portland Place and drove along the rows of large and beautiful Georgian buildings that housed embassies, colleges, and hotels as well as private residences and, of course, Aziraphale’s Gentleman’s Club. Built from red brick and white limestone, the club wasn’t in the slightest bit discernible from any other building in the location – it was all very discreet, the only thing advertising it at all being the gentlemen that stepped out of Hackney cabs garbed in black tie, and trotted up the white steps.

“I’ll pick you up when you’re done, okay?”

Aziraphale turned to look at him, a fair eyebrow raised.

“That’s several hours away! What on earth will you do with yourself?”

Crowley grinned at him, reaching over the space between them to gently adjust Aziraphale’s slightly crooked bow tie.

“Oh, I’ll find some way to amuse myself,” he murmured. He felt the cool smoothness of the black silk between his forefinger and thumb for a second longer than what may have been proper before withdrawing. The heady scent of Aziraphale’s cologne wrapped around his brain, making him feel dizzy and it was all he could do to give Aziraphale a small, encouraging smile. “Good luck – I hope still has the book.”

Aziraphale returned his smile and sighed.

“I hope so too.”

Crowley watched him as he exited the car, walked the short distance to the correct building and disappeared with the others up the limestone steps. He already knew exactly what he was going to do with his time, and he revved the engine, pulling off with a screech of tires as drove away from the front of the building.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale did enjoy the energy of the monthly dinner.

Many of the club’s patrons frequented several times a week, congregating to partake in brandy and cigars and to share news about the War. Most came to escape unhappy marriages - a necessary charade for most of their class that Aziraphale had been lucky enough to escape. The hefty annual fee of the club ensured privacy and the assurance that whatever happened in its guest rooms between patrons stayed behind closed doors. Aziraphale hadn’t used one of those rooms for many years now; his involvement in so-called club activities tailing off around a decade ago, but he never missed the formal events.

All around him, old friends milled about and chatted excitedly; embracing and kissing without a care in the world. Aziraphale headed directly to the bar and found Robert enjoying a gin martini by the window, his face lighting up as he hailed Aziraphale over.

“My darling wee lad!” he called; his lilting Edinburgh accent cutting through the chatter with gentle ease.

“Robert!” Aziraphale greeted him fondly.

At fifty-five years of age, Robert MacClahn was growing portly; his hair, grey and slicked back from his face; full greying whiskers on his cheeks streaked with white. He had a ruddy complexion and kind blue eyes that radiated warmth and mischief, and an infectious smile. Beaming at Aziraphale, he patted the teal velvet of the chair beside him.

“Sit down my darling and let me get you a martini!”

“You’re very kind,” Aziraphale chuckled as Robert flagged down a waiter.

It felt like far too long since he’d seen his friend – almost an age and so much had happened in that time; so much he couldn’t say. Robert did quiz him, gently probing for answers as to Aziraphale’s whereabouts for the last month and Aziraphale remembered to stick as close to the truth as possible, reinforcing the story of his demanding client and the mission to find every book of prophecy on the list.

“I see,” Robert said thoughtfully as he drained his second martini, “and one of the books you need is Ignatius Sybilla?”

“It is,” replied Aziraphale who was taking far more time to sip his own drink. “I would completely understand if you don’t want to sell it, although I’m in a position to offer you any price you ask.”

Robert frowned.

“Any price? What peculiar kind of client do you have that has unlimited funds?”

Aziraphle stared hard at the twist of lemon peel in his drink.

“Oh my dear – you know I can’t tell you that.”

Robert studied him carefully and Aziraphale felt himself colour. He knew that Crowley was right – that no matter how much he trusted Robert he could never let him know the truth about the books, but still he hated having to hide the information from his oldest and best friend.

“I suppose that’s fair, sweetheart,” Robert said gently, breaking into a smile. “I understand the need for confidentiality. As it happens I did find my copy of Sybilla this afternoon, although I must confess I had forgotten quite how beautiful the cover was – very intricate details…”

“If you don’t want to sell it…”

“Oh my darling, don’t be ridiculous!” Robert exclaimed. “I would give you the shirt off my back Aziraphale – you know that! If you need Sybilla for your demanding client, then you can have him. I am more than happy to let it go…for you.”

Aziraphale smiled warmly and reached out to give Robert’s hand a fond squeeze.

“Thank you.”

Robert’s heavy hand patted his own as he returned Aziraphale’s smile; the dinner gong ringing behind them.

“Aha!” he announced. “Time for victuals!”

Chuckling, Aziraphale finished his martini and joined Robert in the mass exodus towards the dining room.

Dinner as always was delicious – a consommé of mushroom to start, followed by braised ox cheek with root vegetables, and a sherry trifle for dessert. Since the war had started, formal meals had been cut from eight courses to three and serving both meat and fish in a single sitting was now banned. Aziraphale found he didn’t miss the first course of egg and caviar, but he lamented the loss of the cheese course now that the only available cheese in the country was National Cheddar.

Aziraphale ate and drank heartily; he laughed and joked and listened intently to Robert’s anecdote about being fitted for a new dinner jacket in Saville Row, thoroughly enjoying himself. He only wished that he could have brought Crowley with him.

“What’s his name?” Robert asked suddenly, smiling over the rim of his wine glass.

Aziraphale blinked.

“I’m sorry?”

Robert’s smile widened.

“My wee darling,” he said softly, “It’s been years since I’ve seen you this happy – you’re laughing more, smiling more; your eyes are all bright and sparkly like a wee bairn at Christmas. So…what’s his name?”

Aziraphale blushed deeply, feeling the heat spread across his face and down his neck. Robert knew him too well – the kind of friend who would bring you a cup of tea before you even knew you wanted one; reading the behavioural cues and acting accordingly. Aziraphale knew he’d been radiating happiness all evening but it still surprised him that Robert had come to the most accurate conclusion.

“Anthony,” murmured Aziraphale after a moment.

Robert gave a triumphant chuckle.

“Anthony,” he repeated. “That’s a good name, I like it. How long has this been going on, then?”

Aziraphale took a hasty sip of his wine and forced himself to meet Robert’s eyes.

“Not long,” he admitted quietly. “It’s…all very new and incredibly complicated…”

“It’s always complicated for us,” Robert gently interjected. “He’s not…married is he?”

“Oh good Lord, no!” Aziraphale said, “He’s just…guarded. Very guarded and nervous and hesitant but…Robert, I’m very much in love with him. Just his barest touch makes me weak and he has the most beautiful, hypnotic eyes. He’s thoughtful and considerate and sweet, although he tries to hide it and gets flustered every time he brings me a gift. I…find him very easy to talk to and I miss him terribly when he’s not around. He’s absolutely lovely.”

Smiling fondly, Robert reached over the table and took both of Aziraphale’s hands in his.

“He sounds delightful my darling. I wish you all the luck and love in the world with your Anthony.”

Goodness but it felt so wonderful to tell somebody how he felt about Crowley. He’d been keeping it all inside and felt he might burst with how much he was in love with the man, feeling it bleeding out around him. It was a slow kind of torture to not tell Crowley how he felt, but now Robert knew and it was like a great weight had been lifted from Aziraphale’s heart, leaving him lighter.

He just hoped Crowley wouldn’t take a great deal longer. He didn’t think he could take much more of being silent.

 

____

 

 

Anthony J Crowley was in his element.

After dropping off Aziraphale, he had parked his Bentley around the corner and doubled back on himself, taking the limestone steps to basement level and walking right through the service entrance. As in Manchester, Crowley always thought it best to act like he belonged there and nobody batted an eyelid. He swiped a white jacket from a peg and picked the lock on a door to one of the service corridors, shrugging on the serving livery as he slipped inside. He left his own jacket by the door as made his way carefully through the dim corridors.

The lights were electric but they were old and barely illuminated the dusty floor and the cobwebs on the walls. He could tell the service corridors were rarely used these days.

Crowley had an enormous amount of fun. Almost every room in the building had a service door which was locked – if Crowley had felt like it he’d have been able to pick the locks and snoop inside, but unless the room contained Aziraphale Fell he wasn’t particularly interested. What was interesting was the small view-hole in each door that gave a restricted view of the inside of each room. Crowley absolutely used this to his advantage.

It was fascinating to see how the other half lived – the rich and powerful men of this country all congregating in an exclusive and expensive establishment; all hiding their invertedness from the outside world. In the bar, Crowley could have sworn he saw the son of the Prime Minister hanging on the arm of a Marquis; and over in the corner was a well known cabinet minister drinking martinis with a young man who looked half his age. If he’d been anyone else, he might have made note of this information for blackmailing purposes; but no man deserved to have his sexuality used as a weapon against him.

Crowley flitted from spyhole to spyhole, watching the minor nobles and judges and government officials and sons thereof hobnobbing with aperitifs in hand until a gong sounded somewhere in the building. Crowley tracked the exodus through the walls, listening to the chatter and following its direction until it became stable and loud again. He pressed his eye to the spyhole and looked through.

His heart leapt as he spotted Aziraphale sitting with an older gentleman whom he supposed was Robert MacClahn – older, greying, and whiskered, but with kind eyes and a beaming smile. There was a boring speech before the first course and Crowley zoned out, concentrating instead on how good Aziraphale looked in his black tie formalwear. He had to confess he’d watched Aziraphale from the doorway of the bedroom earlier that evening as Aziraphale had dressed; admiring the cut of his trousers and the way his silk vest skimmed his rounded hips.

Aziraphale was beautiful – his smile was like sunshine, lighting up the room as he laughed; his blue eyes shining in the candlelight of the dining room. Eye pressed to the spyhole, Crowley watched Aziraphale’s expressions as he ate; watched how his eyes closed in bliss with each mouthful, as though every bite of food was the most exquisite he’d ever tasted. His white-blond hair was like a shining halo, drawing Crowley’s eye time and time again, no matter where else in the room he might try to look.

Crowley felt as though he could watch Aziraphale forever.

The course was cleared and Crowley watched as the staff changed all the wine glasses and poured fresh for the next. Robert MacClahn used the opportunity to engage in conversation, and Crowley watched from the service corridor as Aziraphale blushed prettily into his wine glass. As much as he hated it, Crowley couldn’t stop the small spark of jealousy that rippled through him as MacClahn took both of Aziraphale’s hands in his. It wasn’t so much jealousy of the person – more like jealousy that it wasn’t him taking Aziraphale’s hands in his own in the middle of a crowded room; that it wasn’t him making Aziraphale blush so beautifully. Crowley wanted to do that – to be able to just exist with another person in full view of the rest of the world; to exist with Aziraphale.

He had never wanted this much in his entire life; never ached and longed for anything or anybody in his life as much as he did for Aziraphale. Crowley didn’t know if he could stand it any longer, despite what Beezle had said; even though the world was a hostile place that would never leave them be. He was in love with Aziraphale and he wanted to drown in it; to fall into its depths and let it take him over; to be surrounded and held in its certainty. It’s all Crowley wanted.

Crowley moved as the dessert course was brought out. Aziraphale had been right – he was in absolutely no danger in this place and Crowley really needed some air to clear his head. Perhaps he could take a brief walk about Marylebone until it was time to pick Aziraphale up; take in the early evening air as the sun began to set.

He made his way carefully through the maze of the service corridors, retracing his steps as he kept a hand on the cool wall. Crowley had almost made it to the stairs when he heard something like a cry of anguish coming from beyond the walls. Curiosity understandably piqued, Crowley pressed his ear to the wall and listened, and upon hearing a second cry he searched for the service door.

What he saw through the spyhole into the room beyond was definitely not a man in distress – more like a man in ecstasy. Crowley was in the corridor outside of one of the guest rooms; black tie formalwear strewn across the floor and mixed with staff livery – a white jacket like the one Crowley wore lay not far from the door. The sumptuous bed in the middle of the room was empty but the floor was occupied.

The cry had seemingly come from a man on his knees; his faced pressed into the large bearskin rug beneath him, muffling the sounds spilling from his mouth; hands balling up in the fur as the man behind fucked him slowly and deliberately. Crowley felt his own breath hitch as he watched hands smooth over naked skin; caressing exposed thighs; over bare sides and across the trembling, moaning man’s back and shoulders; fingers sliding into his sweat-drenched dark hair.

Crowley’s mouth was dry and his hands shook. He knew he shouldn’t be watching, that he should tear his eyes away but he couldn’t. He’d never known sex could be like that – slow and deliberate; naked and vulnerable and uniquely intimate; an experience he was quite unfamiliar with. Crowley wanted this – wanted to be the one bare and on his knees, shouting his ecstasy into the rug with Aziraphale behind him.

He stuffed his fist into his mouth and bit down hard on his knuckles to stifle the moan that bubbled up in his chest. Sweat prickled at the back of his neck and he was hard inside his trousers, feeling the strain of the fabric being pulled tight at his crotch. Crowley forced himself to step back away from the spyhole, taking large gulps of the stale corridor air. He needed to get out of there immediately; to get some fresh cool air and quench the fire raging inside him.

Taking the stairs two at a time, Crowley left his staff livery at the bottom and grabbed his jacket from the floor as he burst out of the service corridor. With his cheeks burning and without a backwards glance, he practically ran from the building and into the cool April evening. He had to get himself under control before Aziraphale got into the car, or God knows what Crowley might do.

 

____

 

“What’s the matter with you?” Aziraphale asked, frowning.

“What?” snapped Crowley, staring intently at the road, “Nothing.”

Aziraphale had left the Gentleman’s Club feeling like he was walking on air, finding Crowley’s Bentley waiting for him in almost exactly the same place as he’d left it. Immediately, he had launched into conversation, telling Crowley about Robert being more than happy to sell him his first edition Sybilla, and about the meal and the wine…

In fact he’d been talking for a full seven minutes before he realised Crowley hadn’t uttered a word. He hadn’t even looked in Aziraphale’s direction.

Crowley’s cheeks were flushed; his auburn hair dislodged from its slicked-back style as though Crowley had ran his hands through it several times; his knuckled white from gripping the steering wheel too hard.

“Well something is the matter,” Aziraphale pressed. “What’s happened?”

“Nothing,” Crowley repeated through gritted teeth.

Aziraphale pursed his lips. Crowley was definitely lying – before Aziraphale had gone into his club, Crowley had been smiling and watching him softly with his gorgeous golden eyes; straightening Aziraphale’s tie gently. Just a few hours later, it was like Aziraphale was sitting with a completely different person.

“You’re upset with me.”

“Whatever gave you that impression?”

“The fact that, when I left you earlier everything seemed fine and less than an hour later you’re not speaking to me, you won’t even look at me...”

He saw a muscle twitch in Crowley’s jaw and immediately Aziraphale’s heart sank.

“I’m not upset with you, angel,” Crowley replied tightly. “Just leave it, okay?”

Aziraphale huffed and turned his face away to look out of the window, frantically running through everything he might have said or done that could have upset Crowley or angered him. He felt quite put out by it all – he’d had such a lovely evening and he’d been so looking forward to talking to Crowley about it. Aziraphale had planned to invite him in, for the pair of them to sit on the settee with a glass of wine in hand and talk about…oh anything – Sybilla or Wilde or Whitman; of art or sculpture; of love.

Now, he folded his arms crossly as Crowley continued to not look at him; not even a glance.

“Have I done something?” he asked; unable to bear the heavy silence.

“No.”

“Or said something?”

“No.”

Aziraphale made a noise of frustration and sat back heavily; arms still folded. He just didn’t understand why Crowley was being this way. People didn’t just stop looking at you or refuse to talk to you for no reason. If he could just get Crowley to say something then he could fix it; make whatever it was right again. It made his heart hurt to think Crowley was somehow angry with him.

Any further attempts to coax an explanation from Crowley only resulted in one-word answers and more of that heavy silence that made Aziraphale want to cry. He was beside himself by the time the Bentley rolled to a stop outside of his bookshop. He cast a cool glance at Crowley, who still refused to tear his eyes away from the road.

“Fine,” huffed Aziraphale, “be stubborn and silent if you want but I’m going inside. If you want to tell me what all this is about then you can bloody well come find me.”

Aziraphale felt Crowley’s eyes on him finally as he exited the car and slammed the door, but he refused to look back as he opened his shop door and went inside.

Soft lamplight greeted him and Aziraphale sighed heavily as he sagged heavily against the solid wood, feeling as though he might cry. In one fifteen minute trip his mood had gone drastically downhill – less than an hour ago he’d been telling Robert how in love he was with Crowley; how sweet and kind Crowley was, and now…

Aziraphale crossed to his desk, shrugging off his dinner jacket and placing it over the back of the chair before reaching for the crystal decanter of Scotch and the glass he kept there. Why was Crowley being so closed off and cold? Aziraphale just couldn’t understand it and as he took off his cufflinks and unfastened his bow tie, he came to the conclusion that somehow it must be his fault.

The shop bell tinkled merrily and Aziraphale turned to see Crowley enter, close the door behind him, and lock it. He looked wrecked - auburn hair sticking up at the back and hanging forward into his face; his honey eyes wild as he watched Aziraphale from the door. Suddenly all of Aziraphale’s anger and frustration melted into concern.

“Crowley?”

Golden eyes stared at him, unblinking as Crowley took a tentative step forward and then changed his mind. Aziraphale frowned.

“My dear? Are you alright?”

Crowley nodded…and then shook his head. He turned back towards the door and then seemed to change his mind about that too.

Something was evidently distressing Crowley – the way he paced back and forward; the way he stopped and opened his mouth as though to say something before promptly turning away and pacing again. He ran a hand through his hair, tugging absently at it as he moved; restless as a caged animal.

“Anthony!”

Crowley stopped at the use of his first name, hands dropping lifelessly to his sides as his eyes met Aziraphale’s. He looked hunted; lost; Aziraphale’s heart going out to him as he crossed the space between them in a few deliberate steps, crowding Crowley’s personal space. There was only an inch or so difference in their height, just enough so that Crowley’s lips grazed the tip of Aziraphale’s nose. Reaching out, Aziraphale took Crowley’s cool hand, threading their fingers together as he breathed in the spicy scent of Crowley’s cologne.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Aziraphale whispered, “Tell me what I can do.”

Aziraphale looked up, watching Crowley’s eyes flutter closed and feeling the shakiness of Crowley’s breath ghosting across his cheek. He was so beautiful this close – his honey eyes huge and dark, his skin flushed and dewy with the prickle of sweat at his brow. He could feel Crowley trembling against him...or was it Aziraphale that was trembling? He couldn’t be sure anymore.

It was like they were back at the rockpool, so close and the air between them, heavy and sizzling. Aziraphale forgot that he’d been mad at Crowley; forgot that Crowley hadn’t spoken to him or looked at him all the way home bcause Crowley was looking at him now and the longing in his eyes was unmistakable.

Aziraphale wrapped a forefinger around the wine red silk of Crowley’s tie, feeling the soft coolness against his hot skin as he ran his finger down slowly, and then back up. He could feel Crowley’s fingertips ghosting over his side, like he was afraid to touch; begging for permission.

“Angel, I…”

Their lips were so close – all Aziraphale had to do was tilt his head slightly and that would be it. Oh how he wanted it…how he needed it.

Aziraphale wound the tie around his hand and pulled gently, closing the inch gap and bringing Crowley’s lips to his.

It was the barest touch; the lightest pressure but it was soft and perfect and felt so right. The kiss lasted only seconds, both of them drawing a shuddering breath as Aziraphale drew back. They stood, just breathing each other in; Crowley’s nose brushing against Aziraphale’s cheek as Aziraphale’s free hand scratched a long line down the front of Crowley’s shirt, eliciting a gasp from his lips, and Aziraphale was certain now that it was Crowley who was shaking; waiting for Aziraphale to decide what it was he wanted.

Aziraphale’s fingers reached the waistband of Crowley’s trousers and they slipped easily beneath it, eliciting a sharp gasp from Crowley’s lips as he sagged forward against him. God it had been maybe a decade since Aziraphale made a man go weak at the knees with such a small, simple action and the power of it was intoxicating. From that second on, Aziraphale could not possibly be held accountable for his actions as he pulled Crowley back in for another kiss.

From the second Crowley’s lips had touched his, Aziraphale had known it would never be enough and now there was no force in Heaven or Hell that could close the floodgate that had opened. All those weeks of glances and touches; all that want, and longing, and yearning for Anthony J Crowley had come to a head and now they were here, with Crowley’s long fingers slowly sliding into Aziraphale’s curls and Crowley’s mouth on his. Aziraphale wanted him so much – wanted to feel Crowley’s hands all over his body and Crowley’s mouth on his skin.

He tugged at Crowley’s jacket, pulling it down over his arms as he backed Crowley up against a bookcase, smothering Crowley’s gasps and sweet keening sounds with his mouth. He buried his hands into soft auburn hair, twisting the strands around his fingers as Crowley’s hands found his sides, winding around Aziraphale’s back and pulling him in close. A small voice inside his head warned him to slow down; vaguely reminding him of another beauty and another bookcase and what happened when Aziraphale let his desires overtake him; but then Crowley moaned softly against his lips, the vibrations travelling all the way to the pit of Aziraphale's stomach. Crowley's mouth found the underside of Aziraphale's jaw; teeth gazing his skin and the thought was lost to heat and desire; pleasure and pure want overriding reason.

It was exhilarating and wonderful and still not enough. Aziraphale needed more of him and he felt a growing desperation as their kisses grew more heated and messy; hands pulling at clothes. With great effort, Aziraphale pulled himself away and stood panting as he took in Crowley’s debauched look – hair a mess; skin flushed; lips pink and swollen. Taking a step back, Aziraphale extended a hand; an invitation for Crowley to take it and go with him. Breathing heavily and with dark, lust-blown eyes, Crowley linked their fingers together and allowed Aziraphale to lead him toward the bedroom.

Chapter Text

They left a trail of clothes from the bookshop through to the bedroom - Crowley’s jacket at the base of a bookcase; their shoes toed off and abandoned by the desk; Crowley’s tie and shirt with Aziraphale’s vest strewn about the back room. They had made their way, stumbling through the building’s private rooms, not making it more than a few steps before they had to stop and reach for each other; lips meeting in frenzied kisses; hands tearing at clothes to be rid of them as fast as possible.

Crowley’s back had hit almost every bookcase on the way to the back room, Aziraphale’s teeth nipping at the underside of his jaw with small, appreciative moans. Aziraphale had in turn been pushed against the table in the back room as Crowley relieved him of his vest and pushed the suspenders from his shoulders. Crowley’s lips were already swollen from kissing but he couldn’t stop – Aziraphale’s tongue tasted of brandy and his skin smelled divine and Crowley just wanted to drown in him.

Crowley had no idea how long it took them to make it to the bedroom, but he knew that the rest of their clothes were lost quickly, littering the floor. Aziraphale’s hands reached for him again, pulling him onto the bed and pushing him back against the pillows. Crowley’s fingers buried themselves into white blond curls as Aziraphale immediately began kissing a wet trail from Crowley’s mouth across the line of his jaw to his ear, taking the soft earlobe between his teeth and gently tugging.

Crowley inhaled sharply - the wetness of Aziraphale’s mouth and the ghost of ragged breath against his ear driving him crazy; eyes rolling back in his head as he arched up against Aziraphale’s body as Aziraphale’s fingers linked with his, pinning one of Crowley’s hands against the pillow by his head. Aziraphale was hard against his thigh, and Crowley stood proudly to attention himself as Aziraphale licked and sucked and kissed down his neck.

Never in his life had Crowley experienced anything like this. Nobody had ever seen him naked before; never wanted anything more than the fastest possible fuck – nothing but an itch to scratch and then move on. He didn’t even remember what any of them looked like; but Crowley would never forget what Aziraphale looked like up close – Hell could freeze over before that image ever left his mind.

Crowley’s breathing was ragged, punctuated by short gasps and long moans as Aziraphale’s mouth travelled down and across his chest, slowly; taking his time as though charting a course; mapping each and every freckle that marked Crowley’s skin. Both of his hands buried into Aziraphale’s soft curls, feeling the silkiness of the strands between his fingers as he pulled Aziraphale back up into a kiss that was fast and messy; Aziraphale’s body stretching out over his; a knee sliding between Crowley’s legs. Aziraphale felt like heaven and Crowley might have felt ashamed of the noises spilling from his lips and the way his body arched involuntarily into Aziraphale’s; hands grabbing whatever part of Aziraphale’s body that he could just to get him closer except…he could never be ashamed of this.

Crowley's arms wound around Aziraphale’s neck, an ankle winding around his calf; pulling him in. He could feel the downy hair on Aziraphale’s chest and stomach grazing his skin as they moved against each other and it was everything Crowley had ever dreamed of. Aziraphale’s body was exquisite – heavy over him; soft and warm. Aziraphale’s flesh yielded to his touch and Crowley dug his fingers into thick thighs and soft buttocks; drawing Aziraphale in further.

He lost himself entirely in the pleasure of it; feeling nothing but skin against skin; his body being worshipped by Aziraphale’s mouth and hands and the soft, breathy noises of delight he made between kisses; like Crowley was something delicious to be savoured. Aziraphale manouvered Crowley to just where he wanted him - side by side, pressed against each other in a tangle of legs with Aziraphale’s nails scraping languidly down his back, and his stomach, damp and streaked with precome - both his and Aziraphale’s as they slid against each other. Crowley’s hips rolled involuntarily, rutting against Aziraphale’s hip as he chased the delicious pressure.

His fingertips dug into the soft flesh of Aziraphale’s hips; breathing in each other’s hot air with sweat-slicked skin under his hands; Aziraphale’s teeth digging into his bottom lip gently. Crowley loved this – he didn’t know how he’d survived so long without knowing what it felt like to be this way with somebody. All those years avoiding opening up to anyone and now he felt like his entire soul was bared on the cool yellow eiderdown for Aziraphale to take. Crowley was lost in it all - in the sweet pressure building slowly in his thighs and the pit of his stomach; his hard, aching cock sliding against Aziraphale’s and trapped between both bodies.

Aziraphale was whispering something that Crowley just couldn’t make out; pressing sweet words into his mouth with soft kisses like a prayer. Crowley teetered on the brink; so close to orgasm as Aziraphale’s thick fingers slid into his hair and gently tugged. A sharp gasp left his lips, swallowed by another kiss as the pressure inside him tightened. It wouldn’t take much to send him over; his limbs trembled with pleasure and sweat pooled in the creases of his joints. With a choked cry, Crowley felt the pressure within him break, flooding through his stomach and thighs in a wave of heat as his cock pulsed in the space between their joined bodies.

He was aware of his name, whispered against his own lips and nails digging into his skin as Aziraphale reached his own climax seconds later, following Crowley over the edge until they were both gasping; breathing each other’s hot air as they both trembled through the aftershocks of orgasm; clinging onto each other. Aziraphale’s fingers trailed lightly up Crowley’s sweat-drenched spine and Crowley buried his face into Aziraphale’s shoulder, pressing a soft kiss against flushed skin.

When he finally opened his eyes, he found himself staring into a stormy grey sea; Aziraphale looking back at him across the pillow. There were no words to describe how Crowley felt at that moment, looking into the eyes of the man he was so desperately in love with; still tangled in his embrace. A smile came to his lips and he let out a small huff of breathless laughter.

“Well,” he murmured, “that was a thing.”

Aziraphale smiled back and closed the gap between them, nuzzling gently into Crowley’s neck and pulling him close.

“It was wonderful,” Aziraphale whispered against his skin.

Even though he was already hot and sweat-drenched, Crowley could feel the heat rise to his cheeks again. It had been wonderful – Crowley following Aziraphale’s lead just like he’d needed to; losing himself in the feel of Aziraphale’s body against his and those strong fingers leaving bruises on his skin. He smiled into white-blond curls.

“You know,” Crowley murmured, “for a minute back there, I thought you were going to have your wicked way with me up against one of those bookcases.”

He felt Aziraphale’s breath on his skin as he huffed a small laugh.

“For a moment I almost did,” Aziraphale replied, his lips moving against Crowley’s neck.

Crowley felt himself grin.

“Not that I would have minded,” he said, “but I’m really glad we made it to the bed.” He groaned softly as Aziraphale’s lips pressed against his neck, slowly working a line of kisses up his jawline. “Ohhhh…I’m a big fan of the bed…”

Aziraphale’s body shook with laughter against him; those thick fingers tracing lines up and down the ravaged skin of Crowley’s back. His body was covered in scratches and bites and bruises, and God help him but Crowley had never been happier as he snuggled closer to Aziraphale’s warmth; an ankle hooked over his calf and his hands feathering through soft curls.

Crowley had never done this before either and he found he loved lying there, tangled in Aziraphale as their breathing slowed and synchronised; fingers tracing gentle patterns on skin and Aziraphale’s hair soft against his chin. He wished they could stay like this forever.

“I’ve wanted to do that for…oh, I don’t know how long,” Aziraphale whispered.

Crowley smiled into white-blond curls.

“What took you so long?” he asked.

Aziraphale paused and then shifted in Crowley’s arms, raising his head so that Crowley was looking into deep navy eyes.

“I…I didn’t think you were ready,” replied Aziraphale.

Crowley stared at him in surprise and then began to laugh.

“Oh fuck,” he breathed, “angel, I’ve been wanting to kiss you since the night we got drunk and you showed me all your bibles!”

Aziraphale’s eyes widened.

“That was…that was right at the beginning!”

“Yeah,” Crowley replied, grinning. “You rolled up your sleeves and loosened that bow tie and I was a goner.”

Aziraphale swatted his arm playfully, just as he had on that night.

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“It’s true,” Crowley murmured, pulling Aziraphale back in, “You had me locked in right from the start. I just…I didn’t know if you felt the same.”

Crowley remembered the exact moment he fell head over heels for Aziraphale Fell – sitting on the settee and watching him sway slowly to Carroll Gibbons as he perused the bookshelves and sipped his wine. Crowley had been drawn to Aziraphale’s bravery and his intelligence and the way he refused to just take things lying down; but looking at Aziraphale as he relaxed; loosened clothing and flushed cheeks; those bright eyes and coy smile and the warmth he radiated as he’d sat next to Crowley on the settee – he’d known he’d never be the same again.

Aziraphale’s eyes softened and his fingers traced the side of Crowley’s face; trailing over his cheek and across his jaw, tenderly.

“Oh…my dear…” Aziraphale whispered.

Crowley leaned into the touch, eyes fluttering closed as Aziraphale leaned in and kissed him, soft and slow and Crowley lost time in that kiss with Aziraphale’s lips against his; a touch of tongue in between languid brushes of lips until they fell asleep still wrapped in each other’s arms.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale stirred, vaguely aware of his cheek pressed against cool skin; arms wrapped around a slim, lithe body. He was naked, pressed flush against Crowley’s back and he smiled to himself as he realised how well they fit together. Aziraphale opened his eyes slowly, blinking at the dull lamplight that barely illuminated the room and pulled Crowley closer, listening to his steady breathing as his chest rose and fell.

It still felt like a dream – having Crowley in his bed. He had reacted so beautifully to Aziraphale’s ministrations; Crowley’s body arching up against his as Aziraphale kissed and sucked his way across pale, freckled skin; the moans that spilled from his lips as Aziraphale rutted against him; the way he’d tugged at Aziraphale’s hair and grabbed his thighs to pull him in closer. It had felt incredible and Aziraphale had taken everything Crowley had given him with reckless abandon until they were both spent and trembling in each other’s arms.

By the dull light of the bedroom lamp, Aziraphale could just make out the red welts that marred Crowley’s otherwise perfect skin; marks that Aziraphale had made in his passion and he gingerly touched them with his fingertips as a pang of guilt ran through him. Aziraphale had left his mark all over Crowley’s body - scratches on his back, purple marks on his neck, bite marks across his chest. He had been quite a selfish lover, too caught up in the feel of Crowley’s body beneath his own and the taste of him on his lips to think of anything but his own pleasure.

Aziraphale pressed a kiss to Crowley’s freckled shoulder, and then another; feeling the smooth cool skin against his lips as he kissed across Crowley’s back in apology.

“Hmmmm....?”

Crowley stirred, mumbling sleepily as Aziraphale continued to kiss over his shoulders and into the crook of his neck. Crowley pressed his back against Aziraphale’s chest and sighed happily.

“Mmmm...s’nice...” Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale smiled against his skin, pressing one more kiss just below Crowley’s ear before Crowley rolled onto his back; gazing up at Aziraphale with hazy golden eyes.

“Why’d you stop?” Crowley groaned softly.

He was the most beautiful thing Aziraphale had ever seen in his life; auburn hair spread out over the pillow, copper highlights dancing in the lamplight and contrasting dramatically with the white bedding. Aziraphale felt breathless just looking at him; his fingertips reaching out to gently stroke over the vivid marks across Crowley’s chest.

“I’m sorry, dear,” he murmured. “I seem to have made quite a mess of you.”

Crowley’s honey eyes flickered down and a slow, sleepy grin spread across his face as he gently slid his own fingers in the spaces between Aziraphale’s and squeezed.

“It’s nothing I didn’t enjoy, angel,” he replied.

Aziraphale felt himself smiling back as he leaned over to place a soft kiss on Crowley’s lips.

“You’re sure?” Aziraphale whispered, and Crowley nodded in reply as he reached up to pull Aziraphale in for another kiss.

God help him but Aziraphale didn’t ever want to come up for air. He loved the way Crowley’s fingers curled in his hair and the small, sweet noises he made as they kissed; barely audible but just enough to display his pleasure at feeling Aziraphale’s lips on his. He could happily have kissed Crowley until the world ended.

“I have a confession to make,” Crowley murmured as they finally broke apart.

“Oh?”

Aziraphale raised his eyebrows as he propped his head up on his hands; watching Crowley bite into his lower lip gently.

“This is the first time I’ve ever woken up in somebody else’s bed.”

Aziraphale blinked.

“Oh…” he replied.

Somehow, the revelation didn’t surprise him. Crowley was a very guarded person and he came from a wildly different background to Aziraphale who had seen his fair share of waking up in beds other than his own, especially in his youth. He’d never really thought how different it was for men like Crowley who kept their peculiarities a secret from the world through necessity. He was sure there had been no discreet Gentlemen’s Clubs in Crowley’s world to help him safely explore his sexuality.

Aziraphale cleared his throat.

“And?” he asked, “How are you finding it?”

Crowley smiled at him, reaching up to stroke an errant curl back from Aziraphale’s forehead.

“I could stand to do it again,” Crowley replied.

Aziraphale felt the laugh bubble up in his chest and he covered his mouth to suppress the giggle that spilled from his lips. Crowley caught his wrist; long cool fingers wrapping around his skin.

“Don’t do that,” he said softly, “I love your laugh…”

I love you, thought Aziraphale as he stared deeply into those gorgeous honey eyes; feeling the blush rise to his face. God, he was so in love with Anthony J Crowley that he couldn’t think straight. All Aziraphale wanted to do was kiss him; touch him; wrap himself arouhd Crowley’s body and feel his heartbeat against his bare chest. He didn’t know how he would possibly be able to function outside of this bed ever again.

They kissed; soft and slow with hands in hair and gently stroking bare skin until their lips were numb and it became impossible to ignore the prickle of dried sweat and ejaculate on their skin and the rumble of hunger in Aziraphale’s belly. With a groan, they pulled apart and embarked on the mission of washing and dressing; stealing kisses as they moved around each other.

Aziraphale pulled on a clean shirt and trousers with a comfortable warm sweater as Crowley set about the task of finding the clothes he’d abandoned throughout the premises the night before. It was a delicious sight, watching Crowley’s long, lithe body in full view; pulling on his clothes item by item; bites and bruises and scratches slowly disappearing under various layers. It made Aziraphale’s mouth water to watch him and all he could think about was getting to do it again; to get Crowley back out of those clothes and his mouth back on that freckled skin; making new marks in different places.

He loved how familiar they were at breakfast; they way they moved easily around each other as they made tea and coffee, and cut bread. Somehow, the brush of hands was even more electric; the feel of Crowley’s shoulder bumping against his no longer sending butterflies swarming in his stomach, but sparking an altogether hotter sensation further south. Aziraphale felt like he was going feral; now he’d had a taste of Crowley’s skin and felt that body undulate beneath his own, Aziraphale wanted it again and again and again.

“So…” he said as they sat down to breakfast, “what are we doing today?”

Crowley looked at him over the rim of his coffee cup, studying Aziraphale as he spread butter over his slice of National Loaf.

“I…er…I need to go to work…” Crowley said quietly, rubbing the back of his neck.

Aziraphale groaned.

“Oh, of course,” he replied; disappointed, “My dear, I forgot.”

“I won’t be there long,” Crowley said with a lopsided smile. “I just need to update them on what happened yesterday at the club, and if you got the book….”

Crowley trailed off and frowned.

“What?” asked Aziraphale.

Did you get the book?”

Aziraphale paused and slowly lowered his bread back to his plate. Of course – he’d left the club the night before only to find Crowley acting strangely. They had spent the entire car journey back not speaking, and then when Crowley had followed him inside…well…there had been very little time or in fact a need for talking. Aziraphale had completely forgotten about it all.

“Yes,” he breathed, “Robert found his copy of Ignatius Sybilla and he’s going to drop it around for me in a few days.”

Crowley smiled and took a small sip of hot black coffee.

“Good,” he murmured. “My division will be happy we’ve crossed another one off the list.”

Aziraphale felt like he was slowly coming back to earth with a bump. Since the minute he’d kissed Crowley he’d been in a blissful little bubble where only the two of them existed but now in the light of day it was still business as usual.

Except…Crowley’s ankle rested against his and their knees brushed under the table. Crowley’s amber eyes lingered on him for longer than they had done before and the cheekiness in his smile constantly reminded Aziraphale that they had seen each other naked and been pressed against each other less than an hour earlier. It was business as usual, but it wasn’t – it had changed…they had changed and overnight; gone from unsure about the other’s feelings to knowing for certain that there was something real and wonderful between them. Aziraphale couldn’t wait to explore it all further.

 

____

 

 

Crowley had never felt this good in his entire life.

He parked the car outside of the Whitehall buildings and took the stairs two at a time to the basement office that housed his division. Crowley couldn’t stop beaming; couldn’t stop his heart from soaring as he entered the building; his body unable to contain the afterglow.

It had been the most incredible night and Crowley was still getting his head around the fact that he’d been kissed and undressed and pulled into a bed by the man he was crazy about. He had never experienced anything like it before and all he knew for certain is that he wanted to experience it again…so many times.

All his life he’d avoided getting close to anyone; avoided falling in love but here he was now, so very in love with Aziraphale Fell that it radiated from him and made him dizzy. It had taken him so much effort to just get to work; so reluctant to leave Aziraphale’s warmth and his softness and those blue-grey eyes that looked at him hungrily over the breakfast table. He’d still been stealing kisses as he walked out the door.

Four pairs of eyes turned on him as he breezed through the door and cheerfully knocked his hat onto the coat stand.

“Good morning, everybody!”

Dagon smiled brightly at him, returning his greeting even as Hastur and Ligur exchanged glances.

“You’re cheerful,” observed Ligur.

“Am I?” Crowley replied with a grin and a shrug, “Oh well – it’s a nice morning.”

Beezle looked at him with narrowed eyes; her arms folded across her chest but Crowley didn’t care. Nobody was going to take away his happiness today and she could be as suspicious or judgemental as she pleased.

“If you say so,” Hastur mumbled; stubbing out his cigarette on the wall outside the window.

Crowly chuckled and graciously accepted a cup of freshly brewed coffee from Dagon as he sat down at his desk and tried to listen to the the briefing from his team. It was hard listening to Ligur and Hastur drone on about their reconnaissance on Mr Harmony when he could feel his skin still tingling beneath his clothes from the scratches and bites Aziraphale had marked his body with.

Fuck, but it had felt so good to have Aziraphale’s soft, warm weight over him and his hot mouth all over his skin; driving him wild…

“Crowley!”

“Hmm?” Crowley glanced up from his coffee, aware that he was grinning and everybody was staring at him expectantly.

“Somebody had a good night,” Haster muttered from the corner as Beezle shot him a warning look and rounded on Crowley.

“Fell’s club,” she said, impatiently, “Did you manage to get inside?”

“Uh…yeah,” Crowley replied, forcing himself to sit up straight and concentrate on work. “Yeah, there were service corridors like you said – I managed to have a good sneak around the place but if I’m honest there was nothing interesting. Just a bunch of rich toffs eating dinner.”

He’d spent most of his time watching Aziraphale’s face through a spy hole; flushed and beautiful as he enjoyed his meal and his conversation through the evening, unable to hear anything that was said.

“What about the book?” asked Dagon.

“Yeah, this Robert has it. Aziraphale says he’s going to drop it by the bookshop in a few days time.”

Beezle’s eyes narrowed again and Crowley ignored her pointedly; turning back to his coffee. He only half listened to everybody else’s reports on the various aspects of the operation; his mind otherwise occupied by better thoughts. He’d spotted a florist halfway down Lexington Street and was seriously considering calling in on his way back to Aziraphale’s bookshop.

Flowers were a rare luxury these days – all the available land in the country was being used for farming and there was very little space for anything else. Flowers were only ever bought these days fopr weddings and funerals and christenings, and they could be very expensive but…Aziraphale was worth it. Besides, Crowley had noticed the empty vase sitting on the large mahogany table in the middle of the bookshop that was just begging to be filled.

He managed to make it through the rest of the morning feigning minimal interest in what his colleagues had to say, and tried not to leap up too quickly when Beezle dismissed everybody. Knocking his hat back onto his head, Crowley hurried out of the door and was halfway up to the street before Beezle caught up with him.

“Crowley, wait!” she called.

He sighed and stopped, turning to greet her with a smile.

“What’s up Beezle?”

She looked concerned; a frown etched onto her brow and Crowley’s stomach plummeted. Beezle always got that look when she was about to lecture him on something. She folded her arms across her chest and took a deep breath.

“I don’t want to lecture you…”

“Oh really? That’s surprising…”

“But,” she continued, pointedly, “something is up with you today. You’re far too happy.”

Crowley shrugged.

“I’m not allowed to be happy?”

“I’m not saying that,” Beezle replied quietly, “but I know you, and you’ve got this glow about you today…”

“I have no idea what you mean,” said Crowley with a cheerful smile.

He knew what she was getting at – he had that post-coital glow and he knew it. He couldn’t hide it and goddamn it but he didn’t want to. Crowley was happy and he wanted to bask in the contentedness of being in love without Beezle sticking her nose in.

Her frown turned into a scowl.

“Fine,” she muttered, “I just want to make sure that you’re being careful, whatever it is you’re not doing. You’re not the only person at risk here.”

Crowley sighed. He didn’t this today and he certainly wasn’t going to let Beezle ruin his good mood. Crowley deserved to be happy; he deserved to be loved no matter what anybody else in this world thought, and that included Eleanor Beezle.

“Everything is fine,” he replied dismissively as he turned and continued up the steps, “Don’t worry so much.”

 

____

 

 

The florist was a small shop squeezed inbetween a newsagent and a shoe shop on Lexington Street in Soho. Before the war, the shop would have been overflowing with fresh flowers; bouquets in buckets of water spilling out onto the street outside but with a severe shortage of land, there were now far fewer flowers around.

Crowley knew absolutely nothing about flowers, except that they looked pretty and smelled nice. He had a very green thumb when it came to house plants and would have loved to grow something more than that – one day maybe he would, but for the time beijg his knowledge of flowers was limited. The florist – a middle-aged woman in a chequered frock – beamed at him the second he walked through the door, latching onto her valuable customer instantly.

“Hello my dearie!” she hailed. “Can I help you with anything?”

Crowley looked around helplessly; his hand immediately raising to rub the back of his neck as he always did when he felt nervous or out of his depth.

“Hi,” he replied hesitantly, “yeah, I’m…looking to buy some flowers for…”

Crowley halted, unsure of what terminology to use. He’d never done this before either, and he was absolutely clueless on how one would refer to the man you loved, when loving a man was a crime in itself.

“Sweetheart?” the florist offered, helpfully.

Crowley breathed a sigh of relief.

“Yes,” he agreed, “I…uh…I don’t know anything about flowers. What’s good?”

The florist straightened her skirt and smiled at him.

“Well dearie, that all depends entirely on what you want to say.”

“Say?” repeated Crowley.

She nodded.

“You can say an awful lot with flowers,” she said. “They can be used to convey joy or sorrow; happiness or anger. There are flowers for births, and deaths, and marriages; flowers that send the receiver a warning or a secret message; and so many different kinds of love.”

“Oh…” Crowley replied dully. “It all sounds very complicated. Maybe I should just…”

“Tell me about your sweetheart,” the florist said kindly. “I can put something together for you if I know more about your relationship.”

Crowley rubbed the back of his neck furiously, feeling a blush rise to his face. All he’d really wanted was to walk in and get a bunch of pretty flowers for Aziraphale. This was well beyond his comfort zone.

“Well…I…”

“Obviously, you’re very much in love,” the florist said indulgently, picking out a red chrysanthemum and then a forget-me-not.

Crowley gave a nervous laugh.

“Is it really that obvious?”

“Oh dearie,” the florist chuckled, “it’s coming off you in waves!”

Crowley’s blush deepened and he shuffled from one foot to the other, uncomfortably. The florist continued to another bucket.

“Does your sweetheart return your affections?”

He thought of Aziraphale earlier that morning; his skin flushed and his eyes bright as they lay together and kissed; of the words he’d whispered into Crowley’s skin like a prayer and the gentleness of his fingers as they caressed Crowley’s body.

“Yes,” he replied; unable to hide the smile that rose to his lips.

The florist selected a small white jonquil and added it to the other flowers in her hand.

“And is your love beautiful?”

“Absolutely,” Crowley murmured.

A calla lily was added.

“Tell me, dearie,” the florist murmured as she perused her stock, “how did the two of you meet? Has it been a smooth romance?”

“Not really,” Crowley admitted. “I…didn’t think we’d ever be together. It took us both so long to realise how we felt about each other, but…it happened and now I can’t imagine my life without h…er.”

The florist beamed happily and added lily-of-the-valley and white violet to the bouquet, along with a red rose in full bloom. Crowley had absolutely no idea what any of those flowers meant, but it was a very pretty bouquet that she cut, arranged, and wrapped in white paper; tying it all off with a ribbon.

“She’s very lucky lady, your sweetheart,” the florist said as she handed him the bouquet and Crowley managed a smile as he paid her.

He wished he could tell her that no woman would ever be getting these flowers, and that they were intended for a man – the purest, most wonderful, beautiful man Crowley had ever known. With his bouquet in hand, he headed back to the Bentley; desperate to get back to his angel.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale didn’t really know what to do with himself after Crowley had left. He’d washed his breakfast dishes and tidied up, putting away all the discarded clothes from the night before. He then decided to open for business, if only to do something with his mind other than daydream about Crowley’s naked body against his own.

Was it normal, he wondered, to be at the age he was and be absolutely unable to think of anything else but sex? Aziraphale had been in a self-imposed celibacy for years and never really given sex a second thought until now and suddenly it’s all he could think of. It was like he’d been starving and never realised until he’d tasted it once again and now his appetite was insatiable.

Aziraphale idly watched the handful of customers that pottered around the shop, glancing at the shelves, largely ignoring him as he stood to the side of a bookshelf full of gothic novels. None of them had any idea that the unassuming, rather frumpy bookseller and pushed a British intelligence officer against almost every single one of the bookcases they were perusing; stripping him of his clothes and kissing every single inch of revealed skin as they made their way to the bedroom.

They had no idea that Aziraphale wanted to do it again.

“Psst!”

Aziraphale started at the sound and straightened, glancing around him for the source. He thought it might have been a customer trying to get his attention, but there was nobody in the vicinity.

“Psst! Angel!”

At the mention of his nickname, Aziraphale turned and peered through the open doorway of the back room to find Crowley standing there; a large bouquet of flowers in his hands. Satan preserve him but Crowley was a handsome devil, even still in clothes he’d worn the day before – black pin-stripe suit that accentuated his slim waist and broadened his shoulders; that dark red tie Aziraphale had wrapped his hand around and pulled Crowley down to kiss him…

His heart skipped a beat at the sight of him and began to hammer hard against Aziraphale’s ribcage at Crowley’s smile. Instantly, Aziraphale regretted opening up for business and seized the small brass bell from the nearby table, ringing it vigorously.

“Alright!” he announced loudly as three or four heads turned to look at him in alarm, “Shop is closed now! Goodbye! Out you go!”

Aziraphale shooed his customers towards the door, cutting off any objections and physically removing a book from the hands of an older gentleman who begged to purchase it before Aziraphale herded him out the door. He’d never been a big fan of actually selling his books, although the did it on occasion and very reluctantly so he could pay the bills; and he wasn’t that desperate for the money that he couldn’t afford to sell this one. Tossing the book onto his desk, Aziraphale gave the last customer a curt farewell before slamming the door and quickly turning the locks and pulling down the blackout blind to obscure the disgruntled faces from view. With a sigh of relief, Aziraphale turned back around.

Crowley had emerged from his back room, flowers in hand and an amused grin on his face.

“Well, that was fun,” he said brightly, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bunch of people more confused than that in my life.”

Aziraphale smiled back at him. Christ, had Crowley always been this beautiful?

“You brought flowers,” Aziraphale found himself murmuring; taking a few tentative steps forward.

Crowley bit his lip and looked away, bashfully. Aziraphale loved the bashfulness.

“Uh…yeah,” Crowley replied, “apparently flowers have meanings…”

Aziraphale’s smile widened as he stepped forward to take the bouquet, taking note of each flower in the spray – red chrysanthemum, red rose, and forget-me-not for true love; jonquil for affection returned; a calla lily for beauty. Lily-of-the-valley told him ‘you make my life complete’, while the white violet invited him to take a chance on happiness. Aziraphale knew all about the language of flowers and his heart soared at the meaning of the bouquet.

“Yes,” he whispered, “they do have meanings.”

Aziraphale looked up into Crowley’s honey eyes, filled with uncertainty, as though unsure of his gift. Moving close, Aziraphale slid a hand around to the back of Crowley’s neck and gently pulled him into a soft kiss.

“Thank you my dear,” Aziraphale murmured, “they are perfect.” He felt Crowley smile against his lips and kissed him once more before stepping back. “I should put these in water.”

“Yes,” agreed Crowley quickly, his hand going to the spot on the back of his neck that Aziraphale had just been touching, “that’s…a good plan.”

It had been so long since Aziraphale had had flowers in his bookshop. A beautiful ceramic vase had sat unused for almost two years on the large mahogany table in the middle of the room, and Aziraphale happily hurried to fill it with water so that he could arrange his stunning bouquet. His eyes kept flickering to Crowley as he placed his flowers in the vase; long, lithe body leaning casually against a nearby bookcase as he watched Aziraphale with a smile. Aziraphale loved the way Crowley watched him; loved having those honey eyes fixed solely on him and nothing else.

“See something you like, Mr Crowley?” Aziraphale asked, coyly.

Crowley laughed and glanced away, his cheeks colouring slightly.

“Definitely,” he murmured.

Aziraphale placed the last flower in the vase and looked at him, steadily.

“Well then,” Aziraphale replied, quietly, “why don’t you come over here and kiss me?”

For a second, Aziraphale wondered if he’d said the wrong thing. Crowley blinked at him in surprise and Aziraphale opened his mouth to apologise for being too forward when Crowley began to move, swiftly crossing the room and skirting the table gracefully; long fingers reaching to cup Aziraphale’s face as Crowley pulled him into a kiss.

Oh, how Aziraphale loved kissing Crowley. How his heart soared as he melted into the touch of those cool hands; knocking that stupid, rakishly-angled hat from Crowley’s head as he wrapped his arms around Crowley’s neck and dug his fingers into that dark auburn hair.

“I’ve been dreaming about doing this all day,” Aziraphale groaned softly against Crowley’s lips; letting out a shuddering breath as Crowley’s arms wrapped around his waist; cool fingers snaking underneath his comfortable sweater.

“Hmmm?”murmured Crowley in response.

Aziraphale was desperate to feel Crowley’s bare skin against his own again; pressing his body close as Crowley pulled him in by the small of his back. Aziraphale’s hands trailed over Crowley’s shoulders and down his chest; fingers tightening around the lapels of his jacket.

“I just…want to get my hands on you…” Aziraphale breathed, “…want to taste you…”

He tugged gently at Crowley’s jacket and nipped at his bottom lip, delighting in the small groan that bubbled up in Crowley’s throat.

“Fuck…”

Aziraphale smiled.

“Is that a request, my dear?” he murmured, pushing Crowley’s jacket from his shoulders and letting it fall to the floor.

Slowly, Crowley nodded; his breath ghosting hot and fast as he allowed Aziraphale to pull gently at his clothes.  

“What do you like?” Aziraphale whispered.

Crowley’s eyes were huge and dark; his flushed skin turning the freckles across his nose and cheekbones to rose gold as he bit his lip.

“I don’t know,” admitted Crowley. “I never really…I mean…you’re the first person I’ve ever done anything like this with…”

Aziraphale felt suddenly dizzy, like the breath had been knocked from his lungs. Crowley had never been this vulnerable with him before; this open or honest and now Aziraphale could see it all laid bare in his eyes and the uncertainty in his voice. Aziraphale had always been very sure of what he liked; had been given the chance to experiment in comfort and safety, and he couldn’t imagine having so limited a knowledge of himself. Crowley deserved the chance to discover all the little pleasures and more than a few of the bigger ones for himself, and Aziraphale was more than happy to help.

“Well,” murmured Aziraphale decidedly as he slid his hands back around Crowley’s neck; fingers feathering gently through the ends of soft auburn hair, “I think we’re going to enjoy finding out.”

Chapter Text

Aziraphale adored the way Crowley looked during sex.

He’d made short work of Crowley’s clothing – jacket and trousers lay abandoned on the floor and his shirt was hanging open, displaying the galaxy of red and purple marks surrounding golden freckles on his chest. Aziraphale had Crowley’s hands pinned by his head, their fingers interlinked as he stared deeply into those honey eyes with blown pupils; their lips barely brushing as they breathed each other’s air.

Aziraphale had pushed Crowley, mostly naked, onto the bookshop’s narrow velvet settee and stripped off his own trousers and underwear before climbing on top of him, straddling Crowley’s lap and relishing the feel of cool skin against his thighs and warm velvet under his knees; the smoothness of Crowley’s hard cock against his belly.

He moved slowly; gently rocking against Crowley’s body and delighting in the way Crowley’s eyes fluttered and his breath hitched at every increase of pressure.

“Good?” Aziraphale whispered.

Crowley swallowed audibly and gave a shaky nod.

“Yesss…”

Aziraphale groaned softly and lowered his head to nip at the underside of Crowley’s jaw; thrilled by the way Crowley turned his head ever so slightly to allow him easier access.

“God, you’re so passive,” Aziraphale murmured against cool skin and Crowley nodded again. “Do you like this? Do you like having me on top of you like this; pinning you down?”

He rolled his hips a little firmer; grounding against Crowley’s cock and feeling Crowley arch upwards from the settee and into the pressure.

“Yesssssss…” Crowley hissed. “I love it…I really…love it…”

The heat in the pit of Aziraphale’s belly coiled and tightened at Crowley’s admission and Aziraphale groaned again; burying his face into the crook of Crowley’s neck and breathing him in.

God but he loved this – he loved the way Crowley responded to his touch; loved the way Crowley looked at him with nothing short of wonder and adoration; loved the sweet sounds he could pull from Crowley’s lips by just changing his angle slightly.

Aziraphale had always preferred to be on the receiving end when it came to sex. He was selfish that way – a hedonist to his core; always seeking out the maximum amount of pleasure. Before Crowley, that had always meant being the one worshipped; of lying there and taking every last drop of ecstasy his lover was prepared to give him until he was sated.

This was something entirely new for him – being the giver, but he’d never experienced pleasure like it. Crowley was the most responsive lover he’d ever had – he was sensitive; leaning into every touch and every kiss; his whole body begging Aziraphale for more and Aziraphale wanted to give him everything. There was so much to show him; so many different ways to make him moan and tremble and cry out Aziraphale’s name and it made it cock ache to think of doing them all for Crowley.

“What do you want?” Aziraphale asked him; pressing a kiss behind Crowley’s ear just to hear the soft moan he made. “Tell me what you want, my dear.”

Crowley squirmed in his grip; hips tilting upwards to chase the pressure of Aziraphale’s body moving over him so achingly slow.

“I want…” gasped Crowley, “…to get my hands on you…”

Oh, but Aziraphale wanted that too; to feel those cool fingers caressing him and in an instant he relinquished his grasp on Crowley’s hands; burying his fingers into silky auburn hair instead. Those beautiful long-fingered hands immediately found Aziraphale’s thighs; fingertips digging into his ample flesh with a soft groan.

“Fuck…” Crowley murmured as he squeezed and dragged his palms over Aziraphale’s hot skin, “I love your body…”

Aziraphale moaned as Crowley grabbed firm handfuls of his buttocks; gently squeezing as he pulled Aziraphale closer.

“You do?” he asked in surprise.

He’d been rather lean in his youth, but years of enjoying too much good food, too much wine, and too many sweets had padded him out in all the wrong areas. Crowley’s slim, lean body excited him but he’d never dreamed his own excess of flesh could excite Crowley in the same way.

“So soft…” Crowley groaned against Aziraphale’s shoulder, still digging his fingers into pliable flesh, “…warm…feels so good…”

Tugging gently at soft auburn strands, Aziraphale manoeuvred Crowley so that he was looking into those gorgeous lust-darkened eyes. Crowley was so beautiful – lips parted and hot breath ragged against Aziraphale’s skin; a rose flush covering his cheeks and spread down to his chest. He could feel the dampness against his stomach where his shirt had been dragged up with the friction and he slowly removed a hand from Crowley’s hair and slid it between their bodies; thumb sweeping gently across the head of Crowley’s cock.

Crowley moaned, arching into his touch and almost whining when Aziraphle took his hand away, raising his thumb to his own lips and gently sucking off his prize of the small clear droplet of pre-ejaculate; relishing it’s sweet taste on his tongue as Crowley’s hands dug more firmly into his skin.

“Do you know what I’m quite fond of, my dear?” Aziraphale asked him softly, rolling his hips forward just to hear Crowley gasp.

“W…what?”

“The Greeks,” he murmured, “the creators of democracy and many, many delights…”

He pressed a kiss to Crowley’s lips, soft and slow; his fingers tracing a line down Crowley’s bare chest to his navel.

“What are you talking about, angel?”

Crowley’s brow furrowed in confusion for only a second before it smoothed out again; his head falling back against the back of the settee as Aziraphale wrapped his hand around Crowley’s cock once again, feeling the smooth skin against his palm; its girth and heaviness.

“Oh…” Aziraphale whispered against Crowley’s lips, “The Greeks were masters of sex – in particular, they had a wonderful non-penetrative method that I’ve always adored…”

He stroked upwards, adding a small twist to the head that made Crowley whine so sweetly; hips tilting upwards into Aziraphale’s hand.

“Mmmm…oh…” Crowley stammered, trying to pull Aziraphale further into him, “…ssssounds good…”

Aziraphale could feel sweat dripping down the back of his neck, pooling at the base of his spine and the backs of his knees as the heat in his belly coiled tighter.

“Do you want me to show you?” murmured Aziraphale.

Crowley looked at him; eyes big and dark and hazy as he carefully nodded.

“Yes,” Crowley breathed.

Aziraphale smiled.

“Stay right there,” he replied, “don’t move a muscle.”

His hips ached from straddling and it pained him to move; biting into his lip as he slid from Crowley’s lap in the most dignified manner he could muster, hoping Crowley was too distracted to notice. Naked from the waist down, Aziraphale hurried to the back room, making a beeline for the cupboard that held all his rations. He was looking for something very particular – a small glass bottle of olive oil he’d bought the year before, primarily for a recipe he’d discovered in a magazine but at this moment it was about to be put to far better use.

Crowley was still sitting exactly where Aziraphale had left him; shirt open and displaying all the beautiful marks Aziraphale had left across his neck and chest; legs splayed and cock standing proudly to attention. It made Aziraphale’s mouth water.

“If we’re going to do this,” Aziraphale murmured, crossing the room with his little bottle in hand, “we might as well do it the way the Greeks intended.”

Crowley bit his lip, allowing Aziraphale to gently push him back and to the side so he was lying on the narrow settee. It wasn’t an ideal setting for this – too short and too narrow but Aziraphale was too far gone to relocate them now – he needed to feel that gorgeous cock between his thighs; feel Crowley writhing beneath him again, and as soon as possible.

Pouring a small amount of oil into his palm he settled between Crowley’s legs, wrapping his hand around smooth hard flesh once again and delighting in Crowley’s sharp gasp that dissolved into a long drawn out moan as Aziraphale stroked upwards slowly, adding pressure and twisting at the head.

“F…fuuuuuck…” Crowley groaned, softly as his head hit the arm of the settee with a thump.

God help him, but Aziraphale felt so powerful like this and it made him giddy; Crowley pulling Aziraphale up and over him.

Crowley’s cock fit perfectly between his thighs and Aziraphale couldn’t help but moan softly in pleasure as it slid smoothly against his skin; rubbing against his testicles and across the sensitive strip of skin at his perineum, sending shockwaves up his spine.

“Oh…my dear…” he whispered breathlessly against the shell of Crowley’s ear.

It felt divine and it wasn’t long before Aziraphale was lost in it; mouthing at the underside of Crowley’s jaw and down his throat as he moved slowly.

It didn’t take Crowley’s body long to tremble beneath him again. Aziraphale fit perfectly between his thighs; one long leg draped across Aziraphale’s calf like an anchor; slim fingers pulling him in by the backs of his legs and buttocks. Aziraphale moaned softly as Crowley buried his face in the crook of his neck; hot breath ghosting across his skin. He realised with a jolt that Crowley’s hips were moving; rocking against him and fucking his thighs with enthusiasm. Aziraphale wasn’t really even doing any of the work anymore and he relinquished his control readily, enjoying the sensation of Crowley’s slick cock between his thighs hitting all the right spots and the bite of Crowley’s fingernails on his skin. His own cock was achingly hard and leaking, trapped between their bodies as they moved against each other.

“Fuck…angel…” Crowley moaned hotly against Aziraphale’s skin.

The profanity somehow made it better; hearing Crowley lose all sense of propriety as he moved between Aziraphale’s slick thighs.

He felt Crowley tense; his breathing becoming harsher and more ragged; moans, high pitched as he neared his orgasm and it drove Aziraphale wild. Just a slight increase of pressure had Crowley tipped over the edge; the backs of Aziraphale’s thighs becoming warm and wet with streaks of white. Aziraphale pushed himself up to look at Crowley’s face – hot and flushed; sweat beading at his hairline and panting hard.

“C…Crowley…” Aziraphale whispered as he took himself in hand; fist tight and working fast to bring himself to climax, looking into Crowley’s eyes and spilling hot all over his smooth stomach.

Long, slim fingers pushed through Aziraphale’s hair; soft lips kissing his through sharp breaths as their pulses slowed. The come-down was almost as blissful as the build-up with Crowley’s long legs still wrapped around his thighs and his lithe body still pressed flush against Aziraphale’s until it became far too cramped on the narrow settee and their skin grew cool and sticky.

“So,” Crowley eventually murmured between kisses, “that was the Greek Method?”

Aziraphale couldn’t help but giggle and felt Crowley’s lips curve into a smile against his.

“Yes,” he replied, attempting to manoeuvre himself around to get a better look at Crowley’s face, “How did you find it dear?”

Crowley grinned at him; his forefingers gently wrapping around one of Aziraphale’s white-blond curls.

“I think…I’d be happy for you to do that to me forever.”

Aziraphale gave him a smug smirk.

“I’d be happy to comply,” he murmured, leaning in to kiss Crowley again. “Did you know that was Oscar Wilde’s preferred method of intercourse?”

“Of course you would know that,” Crowley laughed. “Did you learn that from a book?”

“Hmmm,” Aziraphale hummed, gently nipping at the underside of Crowley’s jaw, “no, it was my Harrow education.”

Crowley laughed harder.

“It looks like I went to the wrong schools,” he replied.

Aziraphale loved hearing Crowley laugh. It warmed him to his core to hear the throaty sound of pure unadulterated joy. Aziraphale only wished he was funnier.

His back and hips began to ache from the awkward angle he was at – knees still on the settee, feet on the arm, and trying not to put all his weight onto Crowley’s body. Still, those gorgeous hands were feathering through his hair and soft lips pressed kisses to his temples and Aziraphale just didn’t want to move even though he desperately needed to.

Thankfully the telephone gave him an excuse.

“Noooooo,” Crowley groaned, wrapping his arms around Aziraphale’s waist in an attempt to stop him from getting up, “just leave it.”

Aziraphale blinked innocently at him.

“What if it’s Captain Montgomery?” he replied lightly, “or Mr Harmony?”

Crowley made a face and reluctantly relinquished his hold on Aziraphale who groaned in discomfort as he heaved himself up from the settee and gingerly lowered his feet to the floor. His joints screamed in protest and Aziraphale decided he was far too old for sex on little sofas. Not that this fact was going to stop him.

Still half naked, except this time with ejaculate and olive oil coating the backs of his bare thighs, Aziraphale crossed the room and lifted the receiver.

“A.Z. Fell and Co,” he answered cheerfully.

“Mister Aziraphale!”

The voice on the other end was female with a disguised East London accent, as if she’d spent many years deliberately dulling the dialect in order to sound more sophisticated. She sounded quite familiar.

“Speaking,” he replied with a frown.

“Mister Aziraphale, this is Madame Tracy,” the woman replied. “I do apologise for the delay in getting back to you but I’ve been away on…business.”

Ah, now Aziraphale knew why she sounded familiar. Madame Tracy was the medium he’d met several years ago who had owned a first edition of Mother Shipton. He’d contacted her several weeks ago had presumed she’d moved or sold the book or…well…the darker alternatives during the trying times of the London Blitz didn’t bear thinking about.

“Oh my dear Madame Tracy!” he said, delighted, “How lovely to hear from you – I was concerned you had moved address.”

Madame Tracy gave a light, sweet laugh.

“No, Mister Aziraphale, I’m still here. Now…what was all this about my book?”

Aziraphale explained the situation as well as possible without getting into matters of national security. He was getting rather good at this now; following Crowley’s advice of sticking as close to the truth as possible to make the story believable.

“My client would be prepared to pay you handsomely for your inconvenience,” he added.

From what he remembered of her from their brief meeting years earlier, Madame Tracy was a very nice woman, if a rather sub-par medium but he couldn’t hold that against her as she was so congenial.

“Well…if you put it that way Mister Aziraphale, then I think you and I had better meet personally to discuss it further.”

“Absolutely, my dear,” Aziraphale replied. “If you are free this afternoon, perhaps I can pop around with my associate?”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

Depositing the telephone receiver back into it’s cradle, Aziraphale scribbled down a confirmation of Madame Tracy’s address and a time, and turned around.

Crowley was still reclined on the settee; still completely naked except for his shirt hanging wide open at his chest; auburn hair a complete mess from having Aziraphale’s hands in it and skin still carrying a residual flush.

“Oh my,” he breathed, “aren’t you the most gorgeous thing?”

Crowley laughed, running a hand through his hair and causing butterflies to kick up a storm in Aziraphale’s stomach.

“Shut up,” Crowley chuckled, “who was that then?”

Aziraphale could have pushed Crowley back on that settee and had him all over again but he restrained himself with a sigh. As much as he would have loved to shut himself away and make love to that beautiful man over and over again, they had things to do; things that couldn’t be ignored.

“A medium in Holborn,” Aziraphale replied, “I believe your team have already done their research on her as I gave her name along with Mr Shadwell’s a few weeks ago.”

“Oh, right,” Crowley murmured, still reclining shamelessly, “Yeah, she checked out alright. Is that our plans for this afternoon then? A trip to Holborn?”

“I believe so. Although,” Aziraphale grimaced slightly as he carefully moved his leg, “I may need a bath first.”

A slow, almost dirty grin spread across Crowley’s face.

“Is there room in there for two?”

Aziraphale bit his lip, eyes roaming over Crowley’s body unabashedly.

“I think we might be able to squeeze in.”

 

____

 

 

Speeding through central London with Aziraphale at his side, it still somehow felt like a dream.

With his angelic dimples and white-blond curls; his sensible shoes, dated but immaculate clothes, and his love for tartan accessories, Aziraphale Fell definitely did not look like the kind of man who would push you down on a settee in the middle of a bookshop, strip you naked, and bring you to a spectacular orgasm with his thighs. And yet, that had definitely happened.

Crowley’s limited experience with sex was very quickly being broadened and over the past twenty-four hours he’d learned so much about himself that he’d never known before. He’d learned that he liked it slow – he’d never done anything slowly in his life and a fast fuck was all he’d known before now; yet the exquisite feeling of skin on skin and a gentle, building pressure that coiled and tightened until it snapped in a rush of heat drove Crowley wild.

He’d learned that he loved having his arms gently pinned above his head; he loved the delightful sting of nails and teeth dragging across his skin; the teasing roll of hips that made him gasp and moan; the kissing…

Oh, Crowley loved kissing. He could kiss Aziraphale all day if he could, feeling those soft lips against his and chasing those sweet noises that Aziraphale made. It was nothing short of Heaven and Crowley was truly happy.

Aziraphale’s hand gently rested on his knee as they drove towards Holborn, warm and heavy through the wool of his trousers and comforting. He loved the contact – so familiar and so natural to him after all these weeks of longing for Aziraphale’s touch. For the first time in his life, Crowley dared to dream of the possibilities; of that little country cottage with it’s garden and somebody to share his days with.

“Oh…I love this one,” murmured Aziraphale, taking his hand from Crowley’s knee for just long enough to turn up the car’s wireless.

Crowley smiled as he recognised the long instrumental introduction.

“Of course you do,” he replied, shooting a glance at the passenger side as Frank Sinatra crooned.

 ‘Fools rush in
Where angels fear to tread
And so I come to you my love
My heart above my head

Though I see
The danger there
If there's a chance for me
Then I don't care

Aziraphale had the same glow about him that Crowley did – his grey-blue eyes as bright as a clear summer sky and his fair skin carrying a light flush that wasn’t all the product of seaside sunburn; dimples more prominent as he smiled and hummed along with Frank. Crowley still couldn’t wrap his head around how hard and how fast he’d fallen for this man who seemed so far from his type, and yet Aziraphale was so perfect and they somehow worked together. Crowley loved him with his whole heart and nothing else mattered.

They pulled up five minutes later in front of a row of Georgian terraces that had seen better days. A far cry from the slick and polished buildings on Portland place, these yellow-brick flats bore soot damage and weathering – the hallmark of a less prosperous area.

Aziraphale’s hand still rested gently on Crowley’s knee as he turned off the engine and sighed.

“This is it?” asked Crowley, dubiously.

“Yes,” replied Aziraphale, “Second floor flat.”

Crowley frowned, looking over the ill-repaired building and then shrugged.

“At least there’s no dead pig this time.”

Aziraphale laughed and squeezed Crowley’s knee affectionately.

There was no answer when they rang the bell.

“She definitely said this afternoon?” Crowley asked.

“Of course she did, Anthony,” replied Aziraphale with an annoyed scowl as he tried the bell again. “Do you really think I would have dragged us all the way down here if she’d said anything else.”

Crowley pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb.

“How old is this Mrs Tracy?” he asked. “Maybe she has memory loss and forgot we were coming?”

“Madame Tracy,” Aziraphale corrected him gently, “and I very much doubt she’s senile, dear boy – she can barely be much older than you or I!”

“Hmmph,” muttered Crowley as he jammed his hands in his pockets.

He wondered if Aziraphale was even aware that there were five years difference in age between them. Age had never actually come up in conversation before, although Crowley knew Aziraphale’s birth date from the file Division H had on him. Crowley had envisioned an elderly grandmother from Aziraphale’s description of Madame Tracy and now his mind was wondering what kind of woman he was actually going to meet.

“Coo-ee! Mister Aziraphale!”

Crowley and Aziraphale both turned to find a woman coming toward them; tottering on high heels and carrying a string shopping bag in her hand. Her hair was blonde and stylishly curled above her shoulders; pearls at her throat and in her ears; clutching her pink coat closed at the chest as she hurried towards them. She had to be at least fifty.

“Close in age to us?” Crowley hissed to Aziraphale. “Angel, I’m actually insulted!”

Aziraphale shot him a sideways glance before breaking into a smile, focussing on Madame Tracy.

“Ah, my dear!” he greeted her warmly.

“I hope you haven’t been waiting long,” she replied as she bustled up to the door and fished her keys from her pocket. “I’ve been away, see – I needed to pick up one or two essentials for tonight.”

Crowley’s eyes shifted to the string bag in her hand, expecting to see a loaf of bread and a pint of milk; possibly a few vegetables. Instead he saw several thick paraffin candles and when he thought was a silk scarf. Both auburn eyebrows arched gracefully upwards as he looked back at Aziraphale who seemed completely oblivious to the shopping bag.

“No of course not, we’ve just arrived.”

Madame Tracy squeezed past them and through the door, her blue eyes settling on Crowley for a second and her lips lifting into a coy smile before she disappeared inside, calling for them to follow. Crowley let Aziraphale go first, holding the door for him and being rewarded for his gentlemanly efforts with a great view of Aziraphale’s rear as he went up the stairs to the second floor flat. Crowley bit his lip, remembering how Aziraphale’s buttocks had felt in his hands; the soft flesh yielding easily beneath his fingertips. What he would give to get his hands on them again…

“…must apologise for the state of the place,” Madame Tracy was saying ahead of them as she opened the door to her flat, “I’ve been away for a couple of weeks and it’s gone a bit damp without any heat…”

The smell of burning incense and sage assaulted Crowley’s nostrils as he entered the flat’s parlour; heavy and cloying and sticking to the back of his throat. There was something else too – something organic and sweet. It took Crowley a moment to realise it was the scent of leather and he wondered what kind of medium had the need for silk scarves and leather.

“So,” Madame Tracy announced cheerfully as she hung up her coat and turned back to them, “who’s this you’ve brought with you Mister Aziraphale?”

Aziraphale beamed proudly.

“Ah, this is my associate, Mr Crowley,” he said.

Crowley held out a hand politely for the Madame to shake, which she did although in a shamelessly coquettish manner as she took her time looking him over. Aziraphale’s smile slipped and he cleared his throat loudly, forcing Crowley to bite back a smile.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Crowley greeted her.

“And you,” she replied, finally letting go of his hand but her blue eyes lingered for a few seconds as she passed him and walked over to Aziraphale with a knowing smile.

Crowley looked around him and took note of his surroundings. The parlour they stood in was very…pink. Silks were draped over every lamp, giving the room what he was sure was meant to be a soft, rosy glow but just made everything look unsettling. A large round table stood in the middle of the room, covered in layers of lace and housing a crystal ball in the centre; a pack of tarot lying to the side.

A squashy sofa piled high with faded pink cushions sat against a wall at the far side of the room beside a draped window; sunlight filtering in over the open suitcase that lay there with contents spilling out.

“Well, Mister Aziraphale,” Madame Tracy murmured as Crowley squinted to make out the suitcase’s contents, “I must say, I’m very impressed?”

Aziraphale frowned slightly.

“Impressed?”

Madame Tracy threw a coy smile over her shoulder at Crowley as she passed Aziraphale and whispered in his ear.

“You won’t need much firm handling with that one – he already enjoys being on his knees.”

Her whisper, Crowley was certain, had been pitched just loud enough for him to hear. He saw Aziraphale’s blue eyes go wide in shock and his fair cheeks turn scarlet. Crowley turned away quickly, feeling his own cheeks beginning to heat up and determined not to meet Aziraphale’s eyes. Madame Tracy had been hailed by Aziraphale to be a terrible medium but Crowley would be buggered if the woman didn’t have canny intuition – she hadn’t been the slightest bit incorrect with her statement.

“So, about this book…” Tracy continued, like nothing untoward had been uttered.

Aziraphale looked grateful that the subject had been changed to something more comfortable and immediately launched into a patter about his client and that he was in a position to pay highly for her volume.

Crowley turned his attention back to the open suitcase on the heavily cushioned sofa.

There were clothes, obviously. Well…more like nightwear and lingerie from what he could make out, spilling over the sides. Clothing was normal, but then…Crowley was sure that was a length of silk rope coiled and tucked neatly down the side, and by that cushion was most certainly a short, thick riding crop.

Horses were not a common thing in central London these days, and Crowley was beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that fortune telling wasn’t Madame Tracy’s only source of income.

“Would you like a reading while you wait, dear?”

Crowley snapped back to reality to find Madame Tracy smiling coyly at him; Aziraphale sitting in a high-backed chair by the window with a large book balanced on his knee, engrossed in feeling the cover for damage. Crowley remembered him doing something similar in the tube station at Goodge Street – his thumbs testing the give of the spine; thick fingers running delicately over the leather.

“Sorry, what?” Crowley asked with a frown as he tore his eyes away from Aziraphale to focus on the Madame.

She moved to the round table in the centre of the parlour and sat down, reaching for the tarot deck which she immediately began to shuffle.

“He’s going to be there for a few minutes,” she replied; her smile never slipping, “I’ll do you a reading while you wait. No charge.”

Crowley eyed the tarot deck in her hands doubtfully. He’d never gone in for that sort of thing – fortune telling and divination – a relic of the Victorian era that had all been parlour tricks and cons. It wasn’t Crowley’s scene, but one more look over to the window and he found Aziraphale carefully turning each delicate page over and scrutinising the paper. He shrugged.

“Why not.”

Madame Tracy smiled indulgently as he sat down opposite her; watching her hands cut the desk again and again; her movements smooth and fluid. Finally, she placed the card deck in front of him.

“Split the deck into three piles,” she instructed in a firm but gentle voice, “and think of a question you want answers to.”

Crowley raised an eyebrow. There were so many questions he wanted answers to – the outcome of Operation Nightingale; if he would ever make it to the end of this damn war…

His eyes shifted towards Aziraphale once again as his hand hovered above the tarot deck. Yesterday, Crowley might have asked if Aziraphale felt the same way about him or if anything would ever happen between them, but he now knew the answer to both. What was uncertain to him was anything past this point – there was a whole world against them and a whole war to survive.

With a deep breath, he did as he was bid. Madame Tracy beamed.

“Good,” she praised. “This is a very simple reading – the three piles represent your past, present, and future. All three cards together will hopefully answer your question.”

Carefully, she reached out and flipped the top card on the first pile.

“The Magician,” she murmured, tapping the card with her forefinger. “In this position, the card reveals that your self confidence and ability to communicate may have brought you success in your love life. Relying on your skills will attract others to you who are interested in you as a person.”

Crowley blinked. Up until he’d met Aziraphale, he’d had no love life to speak of but…he did truly believe that Aziraphale was interested in who he was as a person – they had as many things in common as not, and never once had run out of conversation.

Madame Tracy flipped over the second card.

“The Moon - there will be a challenge to the stability of your relationship. You must use your past experiences to determine the best course of action to reach a resolution.”

Crowley’s heart skipped a beat although he didn’t know why – after all, he didn’t believe in this stuff, but it scared him to think of the beautiful blossoming relationship he had with Aziraphale being challenged.

Finally, she turned over the third card.

“Justice - in this position, the card reveals: stay true to yourself, and no matter the odds, you will get what you deserve. Do not be moved to bitter feelings and let justice work itself out in the long run.”

Crowley’s mouth felt dry; his palms, damp. He told himself over and over again that he didn’t believe in this – that Madame Tracy was just very intuitive and she’d somehow already picked up that there was something between him and Aziraphale the second they’d walked through the door. She was just playing on that, and none of it was real.

“Right,” he said, his voice not feeling quite as strong or as confident as he wished.

Madame Tracy studied him closely with inquisitive blue eyes as she scooped the cards back up and started to shuffle them again.

“It’s a good reading, dear,” she murmured.

“Yeah…”

Crowley looked over at Aziraphale and found those grey-blue eyes looking back at him, curiously and he felt himself blush. How long had Aziraphale been watching him? Had he heard any of the reading.

Smiling, Madame Tracy turned away to focus on Aziraphale again.

“Is everything in order, Mister Aziraphale?” she asked cheerfully.

Aziraphale returned her smile.

“Yes my dear – absolutely tickety-boo!” he replied. “How does fifty pounds sound to you?”

Madame Tracy let out a small gasp, and even Crowley almost fell off his chair. Fifty pounds was three months’ worth of his wages, and God only knew how long it took for Madame Tracy to earn that much.

“Oh, Mister Aziraphale,” she breathed, “I think that would do quite nicely.”

Crowley watched almost in horror as Aziraphale reached into his inside coat pocket and brought out a thick sheaf of bank notes. Fifty pounds was an extortionate amount of money to carry on your person and Aziraphale only handed over half of the notes, putting the rest back in his pocket. The man truly knew no fear if he was confident wandering around London with a small fortune in his coat.

Madame Tracy rolled the notes up tightly and reached down the neck of her neat sage-green sweater, presumably to tuck them safely inside her brassiere. Crowley supposed it was about as safe a place as any to store fifty pounds.

“Well, Madame,” Aziraphale declared happily as he stood up, clutching the book to his chest, “it’s been an absolute pleasure doing business with you.”

“And you, Mr Aziraphale,” she replied, smoothly standing up and holding the tarot deck out to Aziraphale who blinked at it. “Choose a card before you leave – something to take with you.”

Aziraphale glanced briefly at Crowley and then hesitantly reached out, turning over the top card in the deck. Crowley felt his stomach seize at the sight of the Grim Reaper, robed and hooded with a scythe ready for reaping souls.

“Death?” Aziraphale whispered shakily as his face drained of colour.

Madame Tracy just smiled.

“It’s a good card, dear,” she assured him. “It means change - life is full of it. For better or worse, you have to let it happen - trying to stop it... it never ends well”

 

____

 

 

“You don’t really believe any of that stuff do you?” Crowley asked as he put his foot down and sped away from Madame Tracy’s flat, “The tarot, I mean.”

Aziraphale had been absently tracing patterns on the cover of Mother Shipton and looked up, grey-blue eyes studying Crowley as he drove.

“No,” he murmured, “no of course not. As lovely a woman as Madame Tracy is, she’s not a very talented medium – I attended one of her séances a few years ago with my friend Robert and…well…she was definitely fishing. But she’s incredibly pleasant, and we did have an excellent conversation about prophecy and divination which is how I discovered she was in possession of Mother Shipton.”

Crowley kept his eyes on the road.

“Yeah…I’m sure all her income comes from her séances, angel,” he murmured.

Aziraphale frowned.

“Whatever do you mean, dear boy?”

“Well…” Crowley said, trying to bite back a grin, “she said she’d just got back from a business trip, right?”

“Yes,” replied Aziraphale slowly.

“You don’t usually pack lingerie, silk rope, ball gags and riding crops for holding séances and card readings.”

Aziraphale blinked at him, realisation slowly dawning and a hand moving to cover his mouth.

“Oh my!”

Crowley’s grin was full now.

“Intimate personal relaxation and stress relief for the discerning gentleman.”

Aziraphale started to giggle behind his hand.

“Oh my,” he said again, “I had no idea!”

“I spotted them in her suitcase,” Crowley replied.

 “Well…” Aziraphale chuckled, “I only hope she’s better at that line of work than she is at séances!”

Crowley cackled. He’d known his fair share of sex workers through the years and he’d seen much worse. Madame Tracy even seemed like she’d be quite a gentle dominatrix, and rather in tune with what her clients needed from her. She was probably very well paid for it and she was certainly very intuitive. Crowley thought about what she’d whispered to Aziraphale back in the unsettlingly pink parlour and wondered if she’d said it just to gage a reaction. Why had she said it at all?

“Do you always carry that much money with you?” he asked, trying to drive the thought from his mind.

Aziraphale smiled at him.

“Not always. Usually it’s only about twenty pounds.”

Crowley laughed.

Only twenty pounds,” he replied, “Oh angel, you and I have very different ideas of what constitutes petty cash.”

He’d taken twenty pounds with him to Manchester and that had been more than enough to pay for a hotel for himself and Beezle, plus their meals for the week and any little bribes they’d needed to pay. They’d come home with change.

Crowley dropped Aziraphale off around the corner from the bookshop and then drove the Bentley around the back, parking it in the alley and unlocking the bookshop’s back door with the key Aziraphale had given him several weeks ago.

He loved the smell of the place – old leather and vellum; dusty paper and wax and heavy mahogany; tea and wine and comforting velvet. It smelled like home; like Aziraphale and Crowley breathed it in deeply as he shut the back door behind him.

Aziraphale was in the centre of the room, bathed in sunlight that caught his halo of white-gold curls as he placed the book on the table with care. His coat and hat were already hanging up and he was still wearing the comfortable sweater he’d put on that morning.

God, but Crowley adored the man – with his dimples and curls and sweet smile that made Crowley’s heart melt, Aziraphale was like an angel who’d come into Crowley’s life and turned it all upside down; changed it all for the better.

“One more book closer to this whole ordeal being over!” Aziraphale said happily, his face bright and glowing as he crossed over to where Crowley watched him by one of the tall mahogany bookcases. “We should celebrate – should I put the kettle on? Or maybe get a bottle of wine…?”

Crowley reached out and caught Aziraphale’s wrist, drawing him in and silencing him with a kiss.

“I know the perfect way to celebrate,” Crowley murmured. “You know, Madame Tracy was right about one thing – I do enjoy being on my knees.”

Aziraphale’s eyes widened.

“You heard that?” he gasped.

Crowley nodded, biting his lip to suppress a grin as he crowded Aziraphale back against a tall mahogany bookcase. Aziraphale’s hands went immediately to Crowley’s waist – thick fingers pulling him in by his hips.

“Mmmhmmm,” he confirmed, leaning forward to press a kiss against Aziraphale’s lips.

Crowley used his tongue to work open Aziraphale’s mouth and was rewarded with a soft groan. He smiled into the kiss and pressed himself closer; reaching up to tug on Aziraphale’s bowtie so that it came undone and could be pulled away.

His mouth moved slowly across Aziraphale’s skin, from the corner of his mouth to the patch behind his ear that made Aziraphale suck in a breath and his fingers tighten around Crowley’s hips; digging into the fabric of his trousers. From there, he kissed down Aziraphale’s neck, over the artery working fast to pump blood to his brain, and then down his throat, pausing to suck delicately on the collarbone while his fingers worked open the buttons at Aziraphale’s shirt collar.

“Oh, my dear…” Aziraphale whispered breathlessly, tilting his head to give Crowley better access.

Aziraphale made the most delicious noises, moans that caught at the back of his throat and were smothered before they became too full. Crowley felt Aziraphale’s chest rise and fall heavily: watched him bite his lower lip so hard it could break the skin. Slowly, Crowley sank to his knees, his eyes never leaving Aziraphale’s face; drinking in the soft flush across his cheeks and those plump, wet lips; eyes almost navy as they watched Crowley’s every movement.

“Oh…that’s gorgeous,” Aziraphale murmured, reaching to cup Crowley’s face with a soft hand.

The compliment went straight to the pit of Crowley’s stomach; starting the coil of heat that went straight to his cock as he leaned into Aziraphale’s touch and let out an involuntary moan. Aziraphale’s thick thumb traced the outline of Crowley’s lips slowly, feeling them give under the gentle pressure. Crowley closed his eyes and his lips parted, allowing Aziraphale’s thumb to slip between them.

He heard Aziraphale’s soft gasp as he sucked on the thick digit, relishing the taste of Aziraphale’s skin on his tongue; quiet moans rising unbidden in his chest. Satan preserve him, but Crowley loved this; loved being on his knees as Aziraphale’s feet; worshipping him like a supplicant and receiving his Communion.

Aziraphale drew back his thumb and Crowley whined, his mouth suddenly empty. He opened his eyes and looked up and Aziraphale’s damp thumb hooked under his chin and tilted it.

“My boy, I can’t begin to describe how beautiful you look on your knees like this way.”

Crowley whined again, his cock giving an involuntary twitch inside of his underwear. This was entirely new – the ache between his legs growing more intense with Aziraphale’s praise of him. It was something he’d never known he was into but God damn it, he wanted more.

Long fingers reached up, hooking into the waistband of Aziraphale’s trousers.

“May I?” he asked, his voice sounding broken to his own ears.

He didn’t dare move, waiting entirely for Aziraphale’s permission. Slowly, Aziraphale nodded.

“Yes, “ he whispered.

Aziraphale watched with dark, heavy eyes and Crowley pressed a kiss to his stomach, over the soft wool of the beige sweater, and kissed his way down to the waistband. Crowley’s fingers worked at the buttons, slipping them through button holes one at a time, slowly and carefully; pushing the woollen fabric apart and revealing white cotton underwear.

Previously when Crowley had done this with other men it had been fast and frenzied; fingernails scraping skin in a desperate fumbling attempt to push aside clothes as fast as possible. It had always been like that, but the tiny voice in the back of Crowley’s head was telling him to make the most of this time; to take it slow; to relish it. Aziraphale wasn’t like anyone Crowley had ever been with – he was special; he was perfect and Crowley wanted that face burned into his memory forever.

The outline of Aziraphale’s cock was visibly straining against the white cotton underwear, and Crowley’s mouth watered in anticipation. He pressed a soft kiss to it; watching as Aziraphale’s head fell back against the mahogany shelf of the bookcase; his mouth dropping open with a sweet exhale. Crowley ran his lips along the length; enjoying the feel of the cool cotton against his skin; the firmness of Aziraphale’s flesh beneath. He desperately wanted it in his mouth; his cock throbbing with sheer want and he carefully pushed aside the white cotton.

Hard flesh stood proud and not quite flush against Aziraphale’s stomach, and Crowley dipped his head and pressed his tongue to the glans, running it slowly along the slit. This time, Aziraphale didn’t even try to quash the sound that spilled out of his mouth, loud and guttural. It went straight to the base of Crowley’s belly and he felt his own cock leak in response. He did it again and this time Aziraphale buried the fingers of one hand into Crowley’s hair, the other wrapping around a bookshelf by his head.

A cascade of Oscar Wilde first editions clattered to the floor but Aziraphale didn’t seem to care; his hips arching into Crowley’s tongue.

“Oh…yes,” gasped Aziraphale, “like that – just like that.”

Crowley obeyed, taking his time running his tongue from tip to base and back again; swirling it around the engorged head; flicking it softly over the delicate fraenulum and delighting in every sound Aziraphale made, and every time his fingers tightened in Crowley’s hair.

He looked up along the length of clothed torso to find Aziraphale still looking at him, taking in everything that Crowley did. Aziraphale smiled at him. Crowley smiled back, and then dipped his head forward to take the head of Aziraphale’s cock into his mouth. The smile dissolved into an open mouthed-gasp and Aziraphale’s back arched, hips lifting up and pushing him further into Crowley’s mouth.

It was everything Crowley had ever dreamed of – thick and heavy against his tongue; stretching his lips as his mouth accommodated it. Crowley breathed in the musky scent of Aziraphale’s skin; pheromones and rosemary soap; relished in the salt-taste of his silky-smooth cock. It was heavenly and Crowley couldn’t stop the sounds of bliss coming from deep inside his chest.

His lips moved up and down the shaft, tongue dragging along the underside. Every so often he would stop at the top and give the head a long, hard suck which made Aziraphale elicit a low growl that would blur into a moan when Crowley’s mouth slid down again.

“Oh my darling,” Aziraphale whispered breathlessly, “Oh my sweet boy…my perfect…”

Crowley could feel his own moan vibrate around Aziraphale’s cock; could feel his own leaking inside his trousers that were now uncomfortably tight and restraining. Crowley wished he could do this forever, even when his jaw started to ache and his scalp was sore from Aziraphale’s fingernails, and his belly was coiled so tight it could explode. He could feel Aziraphale’s thighs shaking under his hands and he knew how close the end was.

“Yes…oh, Crowley…oh yessssss…”

He didn’t want it to end, and yet at the same time he was desperate to feel Aziraphale’s release; to taste the bitter-salt ejaculate as it pulsed down his throat. He was on his knees worshipping Aziraphale and he wanted his Communion.

Crowley…”

Aziraphale reached his orgasm with Crowley’s name spilling from his lips in a breathless moan; thick fingers tightening so hard in Crowley’s auburn hair that it made his eyes water. It was hot and delightful on his tongue, and Crowley swallowed every drop of it like Holy wine.

He was breathless and shaking as he slid his way back up Aziraphale’s body; ignoring his knees screaming in protest and the ache in his loins.

“Oh, my God…” Aziraphale murmured as Crowley pressed heated kisses against his jaw. He slipped a hand between them and pressed it against Crowley’s own hardness over the black wool of his trousers. “How close are you?”

Crowley hissed at the contact; his cock throbbing in anticipation.

“I think I’m right on the edge,” he admitted, blurrily.

“Then come here.”

Aziraphale kissed him; tongue darting between Crowley’s lips and tasting himself on Crowley’s tongue as he slid his hand beneath the waistband deftly.

The sweet sound of the bookshop’s joyfully tinkling bell sounded at the front of the store as the door opened and somebody stepped inside. Panting hard, their eyes snapped open and they stood, frozen as a voice called out.

“Hello? Mr Fell?”

 

Chapter Text

Aziraphale’s fingers immediately ceased their attempt to slide down the waistband of Crowley’s trousers as he stared, horrified, into shocked honey eyes. Neither of them dared to move; noses still brushing and both breathing heavily as the bookshop door closed and the sound of high heels rang out on the hardwood floor. He knew that sweet, charming voice and it made Aziraphale’s blood run cold.

“It’s Montgomery,” he whispered.

“Fuck…” mouthed Crowley.

They couldn’t stay frozen like this, even obscured behind a bookcase as they were. 

“Mr Fell?” she called again and Aziraphale quickly removed his hand from Crowley’s trousers.

“Just a moment!” he called back, trying to sound as cheerful as possible.

Crowley flattened himself against the bookcase as Aziraphale hastily stuffed himself back inside his own trousers. He couldn’t read Crowley’s expression as he looked at him; auburn hair sticking up in clumps from where Aziraphale’s hands had been in it just moments ago; lips swollen and red and still wet.

“Is everything alright?” Montgomery asked in a concerned voice, the sound of her heels getting closer.

“Tickety-boo, my dear!” Aziraphale insisted.

He fastened his last trouser button and quickly stuffed his loose bowtie in his pocket; shooting Crowley one last glance before scooping up a handful of Wilde first editions that had fallen to the floor. With a deep breath, he stepped out from behind the bookcase and plastered a disarming smile on his face.

Captain Rose Montgomery was standing by the centre table, running her hand over the copy of Mother Shipton that sat there. She looked up at him and smiled sweetly.

“There you are!” she exclaimed, her eyes taking in Aziraphale’s lack of tie, open collar, and flushed face, “You look quite flustered, Mr Fell. Are you ill?”

Aziraphale swallowed and placed his small stack of Wildes onto the table beside Mother Shipton.

“Goodness no, my dear,” he reassured her, “I was just picking up some books that had fallen to the floor. I’m not as young as I used to be – lots of blood rushed to the head!”

Montgomery smiled at him indulgently.

“Anthony?” she asked.

It took Aziraphale a lot longer than he liked to realise what she was talking about – the last time Montgomery had been in his bookshelf he’d invented a mischievous cat to cover for the sound of Crowley falling through an upstairs window.

“Yes,” he replied breathlessly, “that…pesky cat up to his usual tricks!”

Aziraphale resisted glancing over his shoulder at the bookcase that hid Crowley from view; desperate to know what Crowley was doing and thinking but terrified to draw attention to him.

He couldn’t believe he’d left the door unlocked. Aziraphale cursed his own stupidity and carelessness; his lack of foresight. 

Since the moment he’d first kissed Crowley only the night before, Aziraphale had been living in a bubble where the War didn’t exist; where there were no double crossing secret agents or Nazi spies; where he wasn’t a security service asset and Crowley wasn’t his handler. For twenty four hours they had just been two fools in love; desperate for each other and nothing else mattered.

He should have foreseen that something would happen once they got back to the safety of the bookshop – that they would kiss on the settee or start tearing each other’s clothes off in the middle of the room. He should have locked that door.

But here he was, face to face with Secret Intelligence Service’s rogue agent while his Security Service lover hid behind a bookcase. One wrong move and it would be over for them both.

He watched Montgomery turn her attention back to the large prophetic volume on the table, her delicate fingers tracing the edge of the leather cover.

“You’re doing excellently, Mr Fell,” she crooned, giving him an indulgent smile. “You’re such a wonder – getting all of these books in record time, and first editions too. How have you managed it?”

God, how Aziraphale hated her – with her golden curls and her innocent eyes and sweet voice, she truly believed she was manipulating Aziraphale into unwittingly betraying his country. If it hadn’t been for Crowley, she would have succeeded.

“Luck, and money,” he replied with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “I’ve found that Mr Harmony pays generously for his merchandise.”

“Indeed,” she replied softly. “And speaking of Nazi spies, have either of them tried to contact you lately?”

She was testing him, Aziraphale knew. Crowley had told him all about the tactic – she already knew the answer and she wanted to see if Aziraphale would lie to her.”

“No, not for some time…what do you think that means? Do you think they’ve given up pursuing the books? Gone back to Germany?”

As if Aziraphale would be so lucky.

“Oh no, Mr Fell,” she laughed, “they’re still here, don’t worry about that – just biding their time until you contact them about completion. They’re still sending you money, are they not?”

Aziraphale nodded. The arrangement he’d made with Mr Harmony was that he’d leave a note tucked under a bench bracket in St James’ park whenever he’d had to purchase a book. That same amount would turn up in a thick envelope by courier a few days later. 

“Well then,” Montgomery said with an air of finality.

“I have most of the books on the list,” Aziraphale blurted; the words tumbling hurried from his mouth. “It shouldn’t be too long now until I have the rest.”

Rose Montgomery’s eyes lit up.

“That’s excellent news Mr Fell,” she replied, “Perhaps we should start planning for a handover – a safe meeting place away from prying eyes; somewhere that can hide a few of my agents so that we can take down those nasty spies when it comes to it.”

There was really only one place he could think of from the top of his head – unpopular and largely quiet; abandoned completely once the air raid sirens started going.

“St Anthony’s church,” he said quietly, “a tiny place just off Soho Square – you have to go down a side street to access it, but…it’s an old church; very quiet and secluded.”

“That sounds like the perfect kind of place,” murmured Montgomery; her eyes glinting. “Alright then, I’ll update Head Office and see what we can get in place. Hopefully it won’t take you much longer to get those last couple of books.”

He gave her a tight smile as he guided her back towards the door; careful not to hurry in case she became suspicious.

“I’m chasing up every avenue,” he assured her.

She bid him a brief farewell and left; stepping out into the dark streets as Aziraphale shut the door behind her and, this time, locked it.

“Shit!” Aziraphale hissed; his head hitting the windowpane as he beat his head against it once; twice; thrice. “Shit…shit…shit…SHIT!”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, angel.”

Aziraphale turned around; bracing his back against the door and clasping his hand over his mouth as Crowley emerged from behind the bookcase; his dark auburn hair tidier than it had been; the flush across his cheeks thoroughly dissipated. Aziraphale felt his hands beginning to shake as the adrenaline slowly seeped from his veins; his legs growing weak as the enormity of the situation hit him like a freighter.

“That was…close,” he uttered in a trembling whisper, “too close.”

“Yeah,” Crowley murmured, running a hand through his hair and flattening one or two errant strands. “I’m so sorry, angel.”

Aziraphale frowned, pushing himself away from the door with effort and carefully crossing the floor towards him.

“What? Why are you sorry – what for?”

“Because this is my fault,” Crowley replied.

Aziraphale stopped in his tracks, mouth dropping open in surprise. Crowley looked much like he had the night before when he’d followed Aziraphale inside after the formal dinner – rubbing the back of his neck frantically, his beautiful golden eyes hunted. 

“What?” Aziraphale repeated, “No! No, of course it isn’t, don’t be ridiculous…”

“But it is my fault angel,” said Crowley, desperately, “This wasn’t supposed to happen - we weren’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to take care of you and make sure you didn’t come to any harm. It was supposed to be a job – protect the asset, Crowley; make sure he doesn’t get into trouble, but then I met you and you’re just…you…and I loved that, and suddenly it wasn’t just a job anymore – it was something so much more than that, and I was told time and time again to keep my distance. I wasn’t supposed to fall for you.”

Aziraphale’s breath hitched. They hadn’t talked about their feelings for each other at all since they had first kissed. Perhaps they’d both thought there would be more time; that they’d get more than one wonderful, perfect day to just be together. Crowley had never had to say it – Aziraphale had known; perhaps not at first but definitely since Manchester and Crowley hadn’t had to say a word to him. But to hear that admission now, under these circumstances, it was like a sword through his heart.

And now Crowley was trying to take all the blame as though Aziraphale hadn’t been thinking about fucking him through the mattress since the beginning. It took two to tango and they had danced around each other for weeks; had been wrapped up together and in each other for the past twenty four hours and Aziraphale had certainly not been an innocent bystander in all of this.

“This goes both ways, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, carefully. “I fell for you too...”

He’d more than fallen – Aziraphale had swan-dived into love with Crowley; had been taken over by it; consumed by it and he couldn’t imagine being without it now that he knew how Crowley’s body felt against his and how Aziraphale’s name sounded on Crowley’s lips at the moment of climax.

Crowley gave a small whine of distress; his long legs taking him around in a tight circle as he tugged at his hair.

“I should have been stronger,” Crowley hissed, “I shouldn’t have followed you inside last night – I should have gone home and let you be mad at me for it. I should have turned and walked away from you...”

“It was me who kissed you!” Aziraphale exclaimed in frustration.

He knew he bore some responsibility for this – he knew Crowley had been struggling with his feelings and Aziraphale had sworn to himself not to make the first move and yet he did. He’d pushed Crowley over that edge by wrapping his hand around that wine-red tie and pulling him into a kiss…

Crowley shook his head, desperately.

“I should have stopped it,” he whispered. “I was told...I was warned to keep my distance and not get to close to you, but I didn’t...I couldn’t and I’ve put you in danger. I’ve put us in danger and Operation Nightingale and now...”

“Anthony!”

Crowley’s mouth closed with a snap, just like Aziraphale knew it would. Using Crowley’s first name always made him stop; made him pause and pay attention, and at any other time Aziraphale might have delighted in the power it had over him. Crowley looked at Aziraphale with those beautiful warm honey eyes; waiting.

Aziraphale’s stomach felt like lead; round and heavy; dragging him down towards the pits of Hell. Crowley was right and Aziraphale hated it – they had become lost in each other’s orbit; so infatuated with one another that had forgotten how they’d come together in the first place; forgotten the purpose that had brought a former Whitechapel gangster and a Soho bookseller together. Too wrapped up in blossoming feelings and growing familiarity and intimacy, they had lost sight of the mission.

“We can’t do this, can we?” Aziraphale finally murmured.

Golden eyes shimmering, Crowley shook his head.

“No, angel,” he whispered, “we can’t.”

They had grown bolder over the last few weeks and with it, grown more careless; become reckless. Captain Rose Montgomery had walked in on them and that could have had disastrous connotations for Operation Nightingale; but if it had been a customer…it would have been the end for both of them before it had even begun. 

One look at Crowley and Aziraphale knew he was thinking the same thing; knew they’d both come to the same conclusion – being together was too dangerous. There were larger things at stake here than their happiness – they were both fighting in their own way to stop the enemy succeeding on home soil; to keep their country and their people safe. 

“It’s not fair,” Aziraphale whispered, taking a tentative step towards Crowley, “I just…we just…”

“I know,” Crowley replied as his hands dropped to his sides and balled up into fists, “but I can’t…I don’t know how I can be with you and keep you safe against Nazis.”

A sound bubbled out of Aziraphale’s chest that was somewhere between a choked laugh and a sob. Crowley was across the floor in an instant, gathering Aziraphale in his arms just like he had when they’d danced to A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square; his touch instantly grounding; the coolness of his body seeping through Aziraphale’s clothes and into his skin. Aziraphale clung tightly to him, fists balling into Crowley’s jacket as he pressed desperate kisses against the small black snake tattoo by Crowley’s ear.

“It’s not forever,” Crowley promised him; lips grazing Aziraphale’s temple as long slim fingers stroked through Aziraphale’s hair, “I can’t give you up forever – I won’t…”

Aziraphale felt his own tears fall; sliding hot down his cheeks and leaving wet salt tracks on his skin. He felt like his heart was breaking and yet Crowley’s words gave him hope that they would make it through this; that he wasn’t losing Crowley.

“You can’t get rid of me,” whispered Aziraphale.

He felt Crowley’s shoulders shake with what might have been a laugh, and then those beautiful long fingers were cupping Aziraphale’s face and tilting his face upwards into a soft, tender kiss. 

“I’d never want to,” Crowley murmured against his lips.

God, Aziraphale loved him so much it hurt. Just a few short weeks and Crowley had gone from some rogue on his doorstep to Aziraphale’s everything. There was so much more for them – there was a future full of love and happiness; Aziraphale felt it in his soul. Their relationship had to halt here and now but it wasn’t the end – Aziraphale would walk to Heaven and challenge the Almighty Herself if She tried to keep them apart.

____

 

 

Crowley had driven around Central London for hours, drinking from a bottle of cheap whisky he’d procured from a pub on the edge of Soho. He was heartbroken and miserable, unable to face going home alone to his cold empty flat and unable to go back to Aziraphale’s warm, comfortable bookshop. Bombs had begun to drop all across the city and Crowley had to find somewhere to pull up, so he had driven to Soho Square, down a side alley and parked up next to the church Aziraphale had mentioned to Montgomery.

St Anthony’s was crammed down at the end of a dingy alleyway – an old, dark stone building that looked as though it had been here since the dawn of time and the rest of the world had just been built around it. The church looked cold and uninviting; empty and desolate. The perfect place to meet a Nazi spy ring, really. 

Crowley took a sip from the bottle in his hands and grimaced at the fire of the liquor; the burn in his throat and down into his belly. St Anthony, he thought – his namesake and patron saint of lost things. Oh, and Crowley did feel so very lost sitting there in his silent Bentley, drinking whisky from a bottle as bombs fell across the city and the emptiness inside of him grew.

He could still feel the touch of Aziraphale’s skin on his; still taste Aziraphale on his tongue; smell his scent of books and velvet and rosemary soap. His neck and chest still tingled at the bruises Aziraphale had sucked there and the bite marks he’d left. Aziraphale had thoroughly claimed Crowley as his own and then…Crowley had had to give him up.

He passed a hand over his eyes, wiping away the tears that welled there. Crowley could barely see straight anymore with the mixture of misery and alcohol in his system. He’d fallen in love so completely. After a lifetime of believing it would never happen for him, Aziraphale had turned Crowley’s world upside down; had brought his walls crashing down like Jericho and showed him another way. Weeks of dancing around each other until finally…finally…getting their hands on each other and it had been passionate and slow; Aziraphale worshipping him and Crowley returning that worship like Aziraphale was the only deity he ever wanted to pray to.

Crowley had grown careless with Aziraphale in his head and beneath his skin and that sunshine smile saturating him until he basked in it. What would he have done if Montgomery had caught them; if she had walked just a few more paces and found a British Security Service Agent on his knees before the man she had believed to have recruited? She was probably armed; would have taken a pistol from her purse and shot both of them dead in a heartbeat; Aziraphale’s blood pooling out and seeping into the pages of the Oscar Wilde first editions he’d knocked to the floor…

His stomach lurched at the thought and Crowley swiftly opened the door of the Bentley to vomit a good measure of cheap whisky into the gutter. Drawing a hand across his mouth and ignoring the fierce burn in his throat, Crowley knew they’d done the right thing by agreeing not to pursue their relationship until the Nazi spies were captured. But God only knew how long that would be; how long it would take Aziraphale to find the last books and how long Crowley would have to sustain himself by playing these last twenty-four hours over in his head.

“’Sssss’not fair,” Crowley slurred to himself, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes to ward off a fresh wave of tears, “’ssss jussst…not…”

Crowley knew he couldn’t sit in his car all night. He was half drunk on cheap whiskey and needed to not be alone, and before he’d met Aziraphale a half drunk and miserable Crowley would have gone in search of a willing body to fill that void for just a few moments but now…

He didn’t want anybody else but Aziraphale. The thought of anybody else’s hands on him made Crowley nauseous; the thought of anyone else’s mouth on him made his skin crawl. This went so much deeper than the physical – he’d opened up to Aziraphale, he’d let his guard down and let the bookseller see his soul and now Crowley was left open and bare and raw and so very alone without him.

He might have passed out, or lost track of time but by the time he regained some control over himself, the sound of bombers and screaming missiles had gone and all that was left were the faint sirens in the gloom. Throwing his half-drank bottle of whisky onto the passenger seat, Crowley put his foot down and sped off in the direction of Islington. There was only one person in the whole world right now that he could talk to; only one person who knew about who he was and she was going to kill him for showing up at her door…but he had no choice.

It must have been close to three in the morning as Crowley stumbled up the stairs; head swimming and feet slipping as he bumped into walls and missed his footing once or twice, clattering loudly on the bare wood until he reached a door painted a gentle lilac. He almost laughed at the sweetly feminine colour, except he was too miserable to laugh, and instead he hammered loudly on the door.

“BEEEEEEEEEZ!”

He beat his fist against the wood, using the door to support his weight as he tried to ignore the dizziness and the nausea from the cheap spirits swimming around his otherwise empty stomach. 

“BEEZLE!” Crowley tried again. “PLEASE, BEE! OPEN UP!”

The door was solid under his hands and Crowley sagged against it, resting his forehead against the lilac wood; cold and comforting. Perhaps he could be content to stay there for the rest of the night, supported by Beezle’s front door?

No sooner had the thought entered Crowley’s mind, the door was pulled sharply open and he lost his balance; toppling forward onto his knees and staring up at an apoplectic Beezle in her blue and white striped men’s pyjamas, short black hair messy from sleep.

“What…the…actual…fuck, Crowley?” she hissed dangerously, dark eyes burning like coals.

He blinked at her and managed a watery smile.

“Hi, Bee,” Crowley said blurrily.

A few raised voices from the lower floors made Beezle look up and she snarled at him.

“You woke up half the fucking building,” she growled, hands shooting out to grab the front of Crowley’s jacket and hauling to his feet with surprising strength for such a small woman, “Get inside.”

Crowley allowed himself to be manhandled into Beezle’s flat; his limbs loose as she bundled him onto a squat couch and slammed the front door behind her, locking it. Crowley’s head swam at the brisk movement and he squeezed his eyes shut, clinging to the arm of the sofa to steady himself. 

“You’re drunk,” Beezle stated; the disgust in her voice evident.

“Yep,” replied Crowley, simply.

“How do you even know where I live?”

Crowley blinked at her.

“Are you saying you don’t know where I live?” he asked.

Beezle’s mouth pressed into a thin line. What kind of spies would any of them be if they couldn’t figure out that kind of information? She huffed and folded her arms across her chest; glaring down at him.

“Fine then,” she replied, “so are you going to tell me why the fuck you’re yelling and hammering down my door at three in the morning? We’ve only just got back to bloody sleep!”

Crowley stared at her, the ache in his chest almost unbearable and drowning out even the feelings of dizziness and nausea.

“I fucked up, Bee.”

His voice came out as a broken whisper and he could feel the tears start to prickle at the corners of his eyes again. Beezle leaned in dangerously.

“Define ‘fucked up’.”

Crowley swallowed. He had to tell her – as the Division’s co-leader, she needed to know and damn it but Beezle was the only person he could possibly tell without risking everything. The worst she could do was kill him and at this point Crowley thought he would rather welcome oblivion.

“I slept with Aziraphale,” he admitted.

Beezle’s expression went through so many emotions in the space of a few seconds – surprise turned to disbelief, which turned to realisation and then to anger. For a second, Crowley really did expect her to hit him; her tiny balled fist colliding with his face.

“FOR FUCK’S SAKE!”

Her voice was loud in the small living room and Crowley flinched as it echoed off the walls. Beezle’s dark eyes flared with unbridled fury and somehow, in the darkness of the living room she seemed to grow in stature so it felt as though she towered over him.

“Ellie?”

A gentle woman’s voice interrupted them and Beezle whipped around to face it; suddenly diminishing before Crowley’s very eyes. Beyond her, standing in the living room doorway was a woman wearing a peach nightgown; the silk clinging to the curves of her thighs and the roundness of her stomach; blonde hair pinned in neat rows of setting curls. Her large green eyes were full of concern as she looked from Beezle to Crowley and back again.

“It’s alright love,” Beezle said to her softly, “you go back to bed – I’ll be along in a bit.”

Violet – for the woman could only be Beezle’s wife – stepped into the room instead of turning around; wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the early morning chill in the room.

“Is he alright?” Violet asked.

“No,” replied Beezle; a hard edge creeping into her voice again as she turned back to Crowley, “he’s an absolute moron.”

“Thanks,” Crowley replied with another watery smile.

Beezle’s eyes grew steely again.

“Don’t bloody test me,” she hissed before turning back to Violet; voice slipping back into softness, “Don’t worry about him – he’d just an idiot I work with. You just go back to bed.”

Crowley watched the exchange with a heavy, aching heart – the softness in Beezle’s voice that he’d never heard before; the way she tenderly reached out to rub Violet’s arm; the way they both looked at each other.

He’d been so close to having that himself; to having a life with somebody else and that closeness and familiarity and intimacy. It had been so close that Crowley could still taste it on his tongue – that unspoken future and that cottage with its rose garden and vegetable patch.

The sob that racked his chest was loud and desperate as he wrapped his arms around himself. Violet’s green eyes shifted from Beezle to Crowley, and Beezle sighed in defeat.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” Violet murmured.

Crowley could hear her bare feet on the floorboards as she shuffled out, leaving him alone with Beezle again. The rage had dissipated from her dark eyes but she still looked annoyed.

“What the bloody hell were you thinking?” she said eventually.

Crowley sniffed loudly, rocking gently in his seat as he tightly hugged himself. He felt so wretched; so pathetic sitting here in Beezle’s living room. How had it been only that morning when he sauntered into the office like he was walking on air with Aziraphale’s scent still clinging to his skin. It felt like an age; so far away from now.

“I wasn’t,” he admitted, “He kissed me and…all my resolve just cracked.”

“You promised me that wouldn’t happen,”

“I know,” Crowley whispered, staring intently at his knees.

Beezle sat down heavily next to him and ran her hands through her short black hair.

“How long has this been going on – you and Fell?”

“Since last night,” Crowley murmured.

Beezle gave a derisive snort,

“That explains why you were in cloud cuckoo land this morning – freshly fucked and high as a kite.”

Crowley looked balefully at her.

“I love him, Bee…”

Beezle stared at him for a moment; dark eyes searching his face as she sighed heavily.

“Fuck’s sake,” she muttered.

In the kitchen, the kettle whistled and Crowley could hear the sound of Violet humming a gentle tune and the clinking of china as she looked for a cup. 

“Are you telling me you didn’t feel this way about her?” he said, nodding his head towards the humming in the kitchen. “You don’t feel like every time she walks into the room, it lights up; or when she looks at you a certain way that your heart is going to burst because of how wonderful she is? That you could spend eternity just staring at her because she’s like sunshine and fresh air, and you’d still never have enough?”

Beezle looked at her bare toes and wiggled them slowly against the hard wood floor.

“Of course I bloody do,” she muttered, “the difference is Violet is a nurse; she not a Security Service asset and I’m not her handler who has to keep her alive while we double cross three Nazi spies.”

Crowley sighed and sat back, sinking into the cushions of the squashy sofa as he dug the heels of his hands against his eyes again. He was exhausted; drained; his head swimming.

“That’s why we broke it off,” Crowley replied miserably, “earlier tonight – I realised how much danger I’d be putting him in if we did this and I…I couldn’t…”

“That’s the first sensible thing that’s come out of your mouth since you got here,” muttered Beezle.

They both looked up as Violet re-entered the living room wearing a thick cardigan over her silk nightgown, and carrying a plain china cup and a blanket.

“Here,” she said kindly, “I’ve made you some chamomile tea to help you sleep, and a spare blanket. You’re in no fit state to go anywhere, so I’m going to need you to drink this tea and then sleep off the alcohol, alright?”

Crowley accepted the cup with murmured thanks. The brew smelled comforting and the heat from the china seeped into his skin, reminding him of Aziraphale. Tea was the last thing he wanted but he took it anyway because Violet had kindly made it for him – a drunken man with a snake tattoo on his face who she’d never met before. Violet didn’t know his name or who he was besides somebody who worked with her wife, and yet she hadn’t questioned his presence or his state. Violet had just made him tea and fetched a blanket.

He watched despondently as Violet hauled Beezle to her feet, focussing on the soft expression in Beezle’s eyes as she looked at her wife; the way their hands stayed linked for a few seconds after Beezle was upright again. Crowley’s heart ached.

“I’ll deal with you tomorrow,” Beezle said to his as he blew unsteadily on the steaming tea in his hands.

“I can’t wait,” Crowley muttered.

He deliberately didn’t watch the two women as they left the room and retired to bed, still holding hands. Crowley drank down his too-hot tea and scalded his tongue in the process, too tired and miserable and drunk to care. Setting the cup aside, he wrapped himself up in the warm blanket and collapsed on the heap of embroidered cushions that sat piled up by the sofa’s arm; welcoming the darkness of sleep that enveloped him.

 

____

 

 

Aziraphale would have been lying if he’d told anyone he didn’t weep after Crowley left the bookshop that evening after one last tender goodbye kiss. He’d curled up in his basement air raid shelter as the bombs dropped all over London, cocooned in a nest of blankets with the Wilde gifted from Crowley. Aziraphale ran his fingers over the worn leather cover; feeling the softness of the well-read pages and wondering how many times the book’s original owner did this. He passed a good few hours in his shelter mulling the past twenty-four perfect hours over in his head and how his relationship with Crowley had surged forward only to come to a resounding halt so very soon.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t every day you found somebody in this world with whom everything just clicked into place; where everything felt right. It wasn’t fair that it was illegal for Aziraphale to openly love who he loved, and it wasn’t fair to finally find somebody who loved him back and then have to give him up almost immediately.

Damn Rose Montgomery, and damn the other two Nazi bastards too. Damn this whole bloody war and the ridiculous laws that kept people like him and Crowley from just living their lives. Damn all of them to the deepest circle of Hell. If it wasn’t for Nazi spies and Operation Nightingale then he and Crowley may not have ever had to call it off…

…but on the other hand, if it hadn’t been for the whole sorry mess he would never even have met Crowley. Aziraphale couldn’t think of his life without Crowley now – the intimate moments of making breakfast; of driving in Crowley’s Bentley with the wireless playing; of Crowley borrowing his books; of their conversations on art and literature and history and architecture. They were so similar in many ways and yet different in many more.

He didn’t sleep much that night – not even when the all-clear sounded and he crawled into his own bed under an eiderdown that still carried Crowley’s scent. Aziraphale had wrapped himself up in it and breathed it in, allowing himself to relive the memories of the night before with Crowley’s body keening into his as they made love to each other.

Aziraphale rose early and carried out his usual morning rituals that ended, as always, with tea and bread in the back room with his small stove taking the chill out of the morning air. He had come to a conclusion somewhere in the night that he would get immediately to work of finding the last book on the list – Otwell Binns that he’d failed to retrieve in Southend after it had gone up in an incendiary bomb.

The sooner Aziraphale tracked down another first edition Binns, the sooner he could arrange a meeting with the Nazis and then Crowley’s division could arrest them. After that, there would be no reason why he and Crowley couldn’t be together – or at least no immediate danger to bother their lives and to the future of the country. There would always be risks for people like them, but Crowley was worth every single one of them.

Aziraphale opened up his shop for lack of anything better to do. He never got many browsing customers in this day and age – rare and antiquated books were not usually a thing the average Londoner had interest in; their money being put to better use elsewhere. Normally the customers who came into the place were older and slightly pompous, or else simply taking shelter from the weather. At least the latter weren’t actually trying to buy books.

He sat at his desk by the window with a fresh cup of tea and dragged a list from the top drawer, flattening it out against the solid mahogany top. He’d compiled it when he’d first been recruited – a list of book dealers and families with extensive estate libraries like his own, scattered throughout the country. He’d only contacted a couple on the list before he’d received a letter back from his unfortunate acquaintance in Southend about the Binns. Aziraphale sighed and ran the list again, putting a mark against the most likely sources.

He was deeply engrossed in his letter-writing with the bell above his shop door tinkled sweetly and he leaned back in his chair to protest at the invasion; his voice dying on his lips as he was met with a familiar smile.

“Hello, my wee darling!”

A spark of happiness flickered in Aziraphale’s heart as Robert walked through the door looking very distinguished in a new wool coat of burgundy; a cane in one hand and a book-shaped package in the other.

“Robert!” Aziraphale sighed in relief, “I can’t even begin to express how wonderful it is to see you.”

The appearance of his best and oldest friend in the world was both unexpected and incredibly welcome. Aziraphale needed somebody familiar right now.

Robert MacClahn beamed at him.

“You know how to flatter an old man, Aziraphale!” he chuckled.

“You’re not old,” replied Aziraphale, fondly.

Robert grinned as he closed the door behind him and placed his cane and hat on the coat stand as Aziraphale stepped forward to help him. Cheerful blue eyes surveyed the room with interest as Aziraphale took the package from Robert to allow him to shrug off his coat.

“Oh!” Robert exclaimed as he spotted the vase of the round mahogany table, overflowing with the bouquet Crowley had brought him, “Look at those! Red rose in full bloom and chrysanthemum; forget-me-not and white violet! Somebody loves you!” he said, playfully.

Aziraphale froze the instant the words left Robert’s lips; his heart seizing in his chest like somebody had reached inside of him and squeezed it in their fist. He felt his smile slip from his face and tears prickle at the corners of his eyes as Robert noticed the change in Aziraphale’s countenance.

“Oh, my darling,” Robert said, crestfallen, “I’ve gone and said the wrong thing, haven’t I?”

“No,” replied Aziraphale shakily, valiantly fighting back the tears that threatened to fall, “It’s just…it’s only…I…”

In an instant Robert had taken charge, taking the large book-shaped package from Aziraphale with one hand, placing it on the table by the vase whilst taking Aziraphale’s elbow with the other and steering him gently towards the back room and a chair.

“Now,” he said softly, helping Aziraphale sit before easing himself into the chair opposite with a concerned frowned, “tell me whatever is the matter, my wee darling.”

Aziraphale could feel his hands shaking as he fondled the buttons on his waistcoat, feeling the soothing soft velvet beneath his fingers. He looked at Robert with his kind eyes and concern, and Aziraphale wished he could tell him everything – about Montgomery and Glozier and Harmony; the truth about the books of prophecy and about Crowley and his division. He wished it wasn’t dangerous for Robert to know about Operation Nightingale; that he could tell his most trusted friend everything that that happened to him over the last few weeks, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

“It’s…it’s complicated,” Aziraphale managed.

Robert’s frown deepened and he reached out, taking one of Aziraphale’s hands in his own.

“What’s complicated?” he asked, “Who are the flowers from? Your wee man?”

Aziraphale laughed – a half-choked sob of a laugh as he reached into his waistcoat pocket for a handkerchief to bad away the tears that still threatened to fall.

“Anthony,” Aziraphale said softly, “Yes, they’re from him.”

“Did you have a fight?” Robert pressed, squeezing Aziraphale’s hand, “Has he hurt you in any way?”

“Oh, good Lord no,” Aziraphale replied, shaking his head insistently, “nothing at all like that…”

“Then what?”

Aziraphale blinked at him; his head grappling with his heart as he fought between his need to talk to somebody about Crowley and his desire to keep Robert safe.

“I wish I could tell you, my dear – I really do! But…it’s a matter of National Security.”

Robert’s frown slowly smoothed out and he sat back in his chair, still holding gently onto Aziraphale’s hand.

“Oh, my wee darling,” he murmured, “what have you got yourself mixed up in this time?”

Aziraphale had a habit of being unfortunately dragged into things – mostly cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but becoming embroiled in a Security Service double-cross of a Nazi spy ring was really the icing on the cake.

“I wish I could tell you,” Aziraphale whispered, “I want to tell you…”

Robert sighed.

“Alright,” he murmured, “So…your beautiful bouquet is from the man you said you’re in love with, and something has happened between the two of you that’s made you terribly upset. But you can’t tell me what’s happened because it’s a matter of national security?”

Aziraphale nodded and Robert sighed again, studying Aziraphale with keen blue eyes.

“He’s intelligence service, isn’t he – your Anthony? The books…your demanding client that pays well - you’ve been recruited by the intelligence services to procure books of prophecy and Anthony was your contact.”

“Handler,” Aziraphale corrected him without thinking; not even realising that he’d just violated the Official Secrets Act.

Robert’s expression softened further.

“You fell in love with your handler,” he murmured, sympathetically, “Oh, my wee darling boy.”

The tears began to fall then, under Robert’s sympathetic gaze and his hands, comforting and heavy over Aziraphale’s own. He knew he shouldn’t say anything but he trusted Robert unreservedly and had done for eighteen years. If there was one person in this world Aziraphale could trust to keep a secret, it was Robert MacClahn and so he told Robert about Crowley.

He told him about those hypnotic amber eyes and the cool fingers that rubbed calming circles on his skin. He told Robert about the way Crowley had acted towards Gabriel and Shadwell; about the night in the tube station holding Aziraphale’s hand as bombs dropped above them and Crowley volunteering to dig people out of the rubble. Aziraphale told Robert about how they had danced to Vera Lynn; about the gifts of rations and Wilde; about the trip to Southend and then finally…finally…about how he’d kissed Crowley after the formal dinner and how blissfully happy they last twenty four hours had been until…

“We were almost caught,” whispered Aziraphale, tearfully, “If we’d been seen together then…it would have all been over, so we agreed…”

“To break up,” Robert finished, gently.

Aziraphale nodded. It was such a weight off his chest, telling all of this to Robert even though she shouldn’t have done so. Robert would never betray him, Aziraphale knew that and he’d desperately needed to tell his friend about this – about Crowley.

“Oh sweetheart,” murmured Robert as he clasped both large hands around Aziraphale’s. “You did the right thing. I know it’s painful right now because you love him and he loves you but…you can’t be together when you’re embroiled in espionage. You need to keep each other safe so you can fall back into each other once the danger has passed.”

“I know,” replied Aziraphale, “but it’s not much of a consolation when my heart feels like it’s breaking in two.”

Robert gave him a soft, encouraging smile.

“Luckily, I know something that eases a broken heart – it’s not a cure, but it does help for a short time.”

Aziraphale blew his nose on his handkerchief and sniffed away the last of his tears; his eyes feeling swollen and sore.

“Oh?”

Robert’s smile widened.

“A champagne lunch at the Dorchester,” he replied.

Aziraphale couldn’t stop the smile that appeared on his lips. Robert knew him so well; knew that no matter how bad things were and no matter how upset Aziraphale might be, he would never say no to lunch. Food was a language they were both fluent in and for Aziraphale especially it was comforting and soothing; it filled voids and sparked joy. Robert was entirely correct – lunch wouldn’t fix everything, but it would soothe the edges of his pain.

“That would be wonderful, dear.”

Chapter Text

Crowley shuffled awkwardly in the back of the 1939 Vauxhall; legs too long to fit comfortably behind the two front seats that currently occupied Hastur and Ligur who both huffed in annoyance at the movement of the car. His dark glasses slipped sideways as he slid across the back seat and Crowley carefully righted them with a sigh. It was strange – he’d spent over half of his life obscuring his eyes from the world with dark glasses, but over the past few weeks Crowley had been wearing them less and less; his walls and barriers slowly lowered. They said the eyes were the window to the soul and Crowley had allowed his to be bared completely for one wonderful person. Now he was shielding it again; dark glasses firmly back in place.

It had been almost a week since Crowley had left Aziraphale’s shop; almost a week since he’d drunkenly hammered on Beezle’s front door and spilled his heart out to his colleague about how he’d fallen completely in love with the Soho bookseller that she’d forbidden him to fall in love with. It wasn’t getting any easier with time – he missed Aziraphale terribly; missed the familiar routine they had going; missed their conversation and banter; missed the kissing and those warm hands on his skin and those thick fingers in his hair; missed wrapping his legs around Aziraphale’s hips and pulling him close under that yellow eiderdown.

It was incredible how much he could miss something he’d spent less than a day doing.

Crowley had woken up under a warm blanket with a pounding head and a roiling stomach with a blonde in a nurse’s uniform standing over him holding a cup of steaming coffee and two alka-seltzer dissolved in a glass of water. He’d been exceptionally grateful for Violet that morning – she’d sat with Crowley while he nursed his hangover and listened to him talk about Aziraphale and their poorly-timed romance for what seemed like hours. Unlike Beezle, Violet had been incredibly sympathetic, and had soothed Crowley’s woes with kind words and more coffee.

Damn him, but Crowley liked Violet – her kindness and sweetness reminded him of Aziraphale, and he envied the woman who could turn Beezle from hard and scary to soft in a matter of seconds. In the end, he had left Beezle’s flat feeling slightly less hungover and reluctantly promising Violet he would come over for dinner soon, although he had the feeling Beezle might kill him if he actually turned up for it.

The Division had been a little confused at first when Beezle had announced that Crowley would be shadowing Hastur and Ligur for a while, while she and Dagon dealt with Aziraphale. Dagon had been incredibly concerned that Crowley and Aziraphale had fallen out somehow, and Beezle had allowed her to believe it stating that a change of scenery was good for them, and that Crowley would be back to normal soon.

Crowley hated it.

Hastur and Ligur spent all day and every day in exactly the same manner – they sat in a plain grey Vauxhall and watched Harmony’s flat until the Nazi left, and then they followed him as he carried out his various daily chores until he returned back to his flat. It was boring and tedious and it left Crowley feel like he was crawling in his own skin; desperate to move and get his teeth into something. He’d never been as good at lurking as Ligur and Hastur; never been content to just sit and wait. It made him long to be back with Aziraphale even more, because even when it was just the two of them in the bookshop, life was so much more riveting than it was in this uncomfortable car with the gruesome twosome.

Crowley shifted again; flopping to the side and rolling onto his back with his legs stretched above him with his feet resting on the soft felt of the roof. Ligur growled low in his throat like an angry dog.

“I swear to Satan, if you don’t sit still I’m going to put my fist through your face,” Ligur muttered.

Crowley sighed.

“Sorry,” he replied, “It’s just so cramped back here. I still maintain my Bentley would have been more comfortable for a stakeout.”

“Flashy bastard,” groused Hastur. “That car is far too recognisable Crowley, and you know it.”

Crowley sighed again and resisted the urge to shuffle further. Admittedly the plain grey Vauxhall 12 was inconspicuous and could easily blend into the limited traffic of wartime London, but a week sitting in the back had given Crowley aches and pains in places he hadn’t even known existed and he certainly would never have had to suffer this way in his own car. He didn’t understand how Hastur and Ligur could lurk like this day after day, just watching and waiting. Crowley longed for just a little bit of excitement.

It arrived a little over an hour later in the form of a telegram boy on a bicycle. After resisting movement for as long as possible to avoid being punched in the face, the discomfort in Crowley’s back and legs had grown too much to bear and he’d shuffled upright again. Ignoring the murderous look Ligur cast over his shoulder, Crowley’s sharp eyes caught sight of the young messenger as he cycled in front of the Vauxhall, bumped up onto the pavement, and dropped his bicycle to the ground as he rapped sharply on the door of Harmony’s flat.

“Hello,” Crowley murmured, nodding his head in the direction of the young lad who could only have been around fifteen years in age, “is that normal?”

Hastur and Ligur both sat up straight in their seats; their movements almost identical as they followed Crowley’s gaze.

“A telegram?” Hastur asked. “No…it’s not a regular thing. He’s had one or two over the last six weeks, but that’s all.”

Ligur shook his head in agreement and Crowley grinned to himself.

“Well…that’s interesting.”

The three of them watched as Harmony opened his front door, took the envelope from the telegram boy, tipped him, and retreated back inside with a furtive glance up and down the street.

“Have you ever read them?” Crowley asked as Harmony’s door closed again.

Hastur turned in his seat and frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean: have you ever broken into his flat and read his telegrams when he’s not there?”

Ligur twisted in his seat and stared at Crowley in the same surprised manner as Hastur; as though Crowley had come up with something truly groundbreaking right there on the spot.

“No,” Ligur murmured, thoughtfully, “We’ve never thought of that.”

Crowley’s grin widened.

“Good job you have me here, then,” he replied, cheerfully.

Hastur and Ligur were good agents but they had no imagination which limited their powers somewhat. Crowley on the other hand had an abundance of imagination and he’d spent almost an entire week letting it atrophy in a car with these two. It felt good to feel that little spark of excitement once again.

Harmony emerged again five minutes later with his coat and hat on, walking at a brisk pace as he crossed the road and headed down the street with no attention paid to the three intelligence agents watching him from the grey Vauxhall. Crowley clapped Ligur on the shoulder.

“Alright then – Ligur, you follow Harmony; Hastur, you come with me.”

“Come where?” Hastur asked in surprise.

Crowley was already halfway out of the car and had to resist the urge to sigh as he turned back to Hastur.

“Inside,” he clarified. “We’re going to look for that telegram.”

“What if he’s taken it with him?”

“We’ll never know unless we look,” Crowley called back over his shoulder as he exited the car and closed the door behind him.

God, it felt good to stand and stretch his legs.  He could feel the adrenaline start to pump through his veins as he hurried across the road to Harmony’s flat, barely checking to see if Hastur was following before fishing a lockpick from his jacket pocket. He remembered with a sudden ache in his chest how he’d done this to the back door of Aziraphale’s bookshop before Aziraphale had gifted him with a key. Crowley still had the key, although he hadn’t used it since the night they’d agreed to put their newly budding relationship on hold.

The lock was open in seconds and Crowley swallowed his rising misery back down as he ushered Hastur inside the flat and closed the door, trusting that Ligur was already in pursuit of Harmony.

The little Whitechapel ground floor flat was nothing remarkable. There were no Swastikas or portraits of Hitler up on the walls; no Nazi emblems or propaganda lying around – absolutely nothing that would give away the fact that Harmony was a Nazi spy. Of course there wouldn’t be – no Nazi spy with half a brain cell would decorate their safe house so blatantly. In fact, it was barely decorated at all.

Crowley scanned the room in front of him – a single chair and a coffee table were the only visible furniture, with the latter being piled high with old newspapers. An electric heater sat cold by the wall and the place carried a faint smell of damp and mould. Obviously Harmony hadn’t planned to stay long enough to make the place more homey.

“There’s got to be two months worth of newspapers here,” muttered Hastur as he picked up a couple from the top of the pile and scanned the headlines.

“They’ve probably been communicating through the ads,” Crowley replied quietly, not liking the way his voice echoed off the bare brick walls.

Hastur frowned.

“If they have, then why suddenly send a telegram?”

Crowley scanned the room again and, finding nothing else of interest, headed in the direction of the kitchen.

“That, my esteemed colleague,” he murmured, “is an excellent question.”

The kitchen was as sparsely decorated as the living room – a table with a single chair; one cup, one plate, and one fork. On the table however, was an opened telegram envelope and the yellowish telegram slip next to it, emblazoned with the Royal Mail stamp.

“I’ve found it,” Crowley called to Hastur as he leaned closer to the table to look at it.

Harmony seemed to have left in a hurry, only minutes after receiving the telegram. Crowley scanned the surface of the table and the telegram, memorising the placement and searching for any hairs or marks that might alert Harmony to the fact that his property had been touched in his absence. Thankfully, it appeared he’d been in too much of a rush to put these measures in place.

Whatever was in that telegram must have been important enough to warrant an immediate response.

Hastur appeared behind him, peering down at the telegram over Crowley’s shoulder.

“What’s it say?”

Crowley frowned, lowering his dark glasses to the tip of his nose in order to get a better look in case he had been mistaken.

“Nothing,” he replied. “It’s complete gibberish.”

The telegram contained several short sentences and none of it made any sense; going on about goldfish and markets.

“Some type of code?” Hastur asked.

“Must be,” murmured Crowley, “but it’s nothing I’ve ever used before. We need to get this to Dagon – have you got your notebook?”

Hastur hummed a confirmation and dug into the pocket of his beige Mackintosh to unearth a battered black notebook and a nub of graphite pencil. Quickly, Crowley scribbled down the random words in the exact same sequence as they appeared on the telegram, getting Hastur to read it back to him twice until he was satisfied everything was correct.

“Come on, let’s get back to the office and get this to Dagon,” he said, handing Hastur’s notebook back.

Dagon was one of the best code-breakers Crowley knew. If anybody could make sense of the telegram, it would be her.

 

____

 

Aziraphale wasn’t entirely sure his shop had ever done as much business since he’d opened in 1923.

Soho wasn’t the most obvious place to open a bookshop in London. Most literary establishments found a home in Bloomsbury – a fashionable and prestigious area near Fitzrovia and Regent’s Park, and a far cry from seedy Soho that housed more dens of iniquity than bookshops. The area was slowly getting better with more shops replacing the less desirable establishments in light of many being lost in other areas of London to bombings. Homes and shops were becoming more desirable in this day and age, cleaning the area up slightly.

Aziraphale had never expected to do a lot of business off the street. For the last eighteen years, most of his business correspondence had taken place via telephone enquiry, or letter, or the odd agent who had visted on behalf of a client. With his own fortune and steady income from the richer clientele, he’d rarely seen the need to open up his shop to the general public and the more traditional inhabitants of Soho hadn’t been the sort to seek rare and antiquated books.

The amount of foot traffic in the past week had therefore rather surprised him, considering he’d only really opened his doors to fill the quiet void left by Crowley’s absence.

Aziraphale missed him.

Even when they hadn’t seen each other every day, they had talked; their check-ins with each other most often evolving into full conversations over the telephone, where Aziraphale imagined Crowley reclining at his desk in much the same manner as he did at the table in Aziraphale’s back room; feet propped up on the nearest surface and long limbs spread out gracefully as he lounged.

This was like when Crowley had spent the week in Manchester tracking down Mr Glozier, except it was so much worse this time, because now they knew each other far more intimately than they had a few weeks ago.

Aziraphale knew deep down that they’d made the right decision not to pursue their fledgling romance until Operation Nightingale was complete, no matter how much that decision hurt them both. He hated it and there wasn’t a moment that passed where Aziraphale didn’t want to call Crowley up, to beg him to come by the shop so that Aziraphale could wrap his arms around Crowley’s slim frame and hold him close; so he could push his fingers through soft auburn hairv and kiss Crowley until he felt dizzy…

And this was precisely the reason why Aziraphale didn’t call – he didn’t know if he could contain himself if he was in such close proximity to Crowley again this soon.

So Aziraphale went through the motions on autopilot, ignoring his heartache and longing and pouring himself into work. It was approximately ten-o-clock in the morning when his telephone rang; it’s shrill, tinny sound cutting through the silence of the bookshop and making Aziraphale hurry to make it stop.

“A.Z. Fell and Co,” he murmured with less than his usual enthusiasm.”

“Mr Fell?” replied an unfamiliar voice. “I’m calling from the Public Records Office,” they continued, “I understand you put in a requisition for some documents a few weeks ago.”

Aziraphale felt himself brighten.

“Yes,” he said; enthusiasm returning, “that’s correct.”

The clerk on the other end of the telephone remained disinterested, speaking as thought they were reading from a script.

“This is just to inform you that your records are here for you to view.”

“Excellent!” Aziraphale enthused. “I shall be along presently! Thank you!”

The clerk bid him a formal and rather bored farewell and Aziraphale replaced the reciever, suddenly thrumming with excitement.

The one book the Nazis desperately wanted above all others was ‘The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter’ – a book that had been all but obliterated from time with the rumoured exception of a single copy, believed to have been given to Agnes’s daughter and son in law after her death. Aziraphale had already exhausted Bilton and Scaggs’ archives and confirmed that no copies survived their purge, and so he had determined to track down Agnes’s descendents. It was a long shot that the book had even survived the last three hundred and fifty years, but Aziraphale wasn’t known for giving up easily. He wasn’t defeated until Agnes’s descendants told him from their own mouths that the book didn’t exist.

Less than an hour later, Aziraphale was hurrying down Chancery Lane towards the Public Records Office building, carrying a handbag loaded with paper and writing supplies. He recognised the clerk as the same one from his last visit.

“Good morning, my dear,” he greeted her, warmly. “I received a telephone call this morning informing me of some documents for viewing.”

The clerk blinked at him and pulled out a series of forms. Aziraphale resisted the urge to sigh, and wondered why everything involved so much paperwork these days as he dutifully signed and dated them all. He was shown to a room containing long benches with bright lamps at intervals where a handful of people sat, pouring over documents in silence. Aziraphale selected a spot and sat patiently as his documents were brought out – ledgers and rolls of birth, death, and marriage certificates, plus three hundred and fifty years of census reports. There were so many!

“I beg your pardon,” Aziraphale said softly to the clerk as she turned to leave, “but I didn’t realise there would be so much to go through.”

She looked at him blankly.

“You asked for everything pertaining to an Agnes Nutter – this is everything.”

Aziraphale supposed she had a point, but Nutter was not a very common English name. Surely there couldn’t be all that many descendants with that name in particular.

“I see,” he murmured.

“You’re going to need gloves…” the clerk began to say, but Aziraphale cut her off with a polite smile.

“Ah yes – I brought my own, dear,” Aziraphale replied, pulling a pair of white cotton gloves from his handbag.

The clerk remained unimpressed and turned away, leaving him to get on with it.

He was proven horribly wrong about the amount of descendants within moments. As he searched through the early records of the seventeenth century, it was clear that Agnes Nutter had been the last of her name; her daughter Virtue having married a man named John Device. The Devices had seemingly been exceptional at procreation and Aziraphale soon had filled pages upon pages of the Device family tree spanning three hundred years.

It was a painstaking process that took hours; Aziraphale’s neat and precise handwriting detailing the branches of the Device family before going through a process of elimination.

If the book existed at all and was kept in the family, Aziraphale presumed it would pass to the eldest child of each generation. Several of the eldest family members either dies in infancy or childless, and so Aziraphale would have to pass to a new branch and trace the descendants of that line instead. Aziraphale was in fact so engrossed in his task that he worked right through lunch and afternoon tea; his stomach not even complaining once as he poured over the documents until the sky outside began to grow dark and a bell chimed fifteen minutes until closing.

With a flourish, Aziraphale triumphantly underlined the name he’d just copied from the 1939 census – a Mr A Device from Tadfield, Oxfordshire; a stonemason, married with one child. This was it, he thought. He’d been there for almost seven hours and this was the fruit of his labour – the most likely descendant to have Agnes’s book. Aziraphale carefully blotted the ink and packed away he things, excitedly.

He hadn’t thought he’d even get this far when he’d put in his request a few weeks earlier; had been almost sure looking for the descendants of Agnes Nutter was a fruitless venture, and yet now the Nice and Accurate Prophecies seemed within his grasp.

Aziraphale exited the Public Records Office and hurried down the steps, making his way back down Chancery Lane and towards the nearest red telephone box. His eidetic memory had ensured Aziraphale knew the number and he didn’t even think as he picked up the receiver and gave it to the operator; fishing change from his pocket to pay for the call; his heart hammering in his chest.

“H.E. Ells Investigations,” came the falsely sultry greeting.

Aziraphale shoved a coin into the slot.

“Miss Dagon!” he enthused.

The sultry tone was immediately dropped; the voice that had been soft and breathy, suddenly much deeper and more normal.

“Mr Fell!” she responded, cheerfully. “Is everything alright? It’s not time to check in yet.”

For the past week, Miss Dagon had been handling Aziraphale, which largely involved him calling in twice a day and reciting a bunch of code words that proved he was perfectly fine and not under duress. He’d done the same thing during the week Crowley had been away in Manchester and he’d grown to rather enjoy talking to Miss Dagon in Crowley’s absence. None of their conversations had ever been in depth, but she seemed genuinely interested in him and his wellbeing.

“Perfectly well, my dear,” Aziraphale replied. “By any chance is Crowley there?”

There was a short pause on the other end before she spoke again, her voice sounding almost amused.

“Yes, he’s right here…”

Aziraphale could hear a hushed conversation and a shuffle on the other end before Crowley’s voice.

“Aziraphale?”

His voice was soft and it made Aziraphale’s heart skip a beat. Oh it felt like so long since he’d heard Crowley speak, and his voice was every bit as wonderful as he remembered. His nervous fingers immediately sought out the smooth velvet of his waistcoat buttons to soothe himself as he took a deep breath.

“Crowley,” he breathed. “I think I’ve found Agnes Nutter.”

 

____

 

Crowley and Hastur had taken the tube from Whitechapel to Embankment and walked the short distance from the station to Division H’s poky little basement office in Whitehall. Ligur, unsurprisingly had beaten them there in the Vauxhall which he had parked outside on the street and was sitting talking to Dagon as they entered.

“Where did he go?” Crowley asked Ligur, shutting the door behind Hastur.

“The Post Office,” Ligur replied, fishing his notebook from his coat pocket. “He sent a telegram to Manchester – the clerk gave me a copy in exchange for ten bob.”

“Nice to see integrity in London’s Post Offices,” Dagon muttered as she took the notebook from Ligur and glanced at the copied telegram.

Crowley perched on the edge of her desk and frowned.

“The telegram we found in Harmony’s flat was gibberish,” he murmured, watching as Dagon scribbled down a few key words on fresh paper with a pencil she took from her neat chignon. “What does the response look like?”

Dagon held out her hand and Hastur passed over his notebook with the copy of the original telegram. Her pale eyes danced across the pages as she compared them; her teeth biting into her lower lip.

“It’s simple word replacement,” she replied. “See, in the first telegram Glozier is saying ‘Being goldfish. Have had to bring market. Be in knife.’ – he’s obviously not referring to goldfish and markets…”

“Obviously…” Hastur muttered.

Dagon ignored him and frowned.

“Both telegrams have a series of numbers at the beginning – this has to be the reference. It’s either a book or…”

“A newspaper?” suggested Crowley.

Dagon brightened.

“That might be it,” she said. “We have the date, and then the other numbers must be the page and line.”

Ligur stood up.

“I’ll go fetch a newspaper,” he sighed. “Which one?”

“A National one,” Dagon replied. “It has to be one they can get in both Manchester and here in London.”

Crowley thought back to Harmony’s sparse living room and the pile of newspapers on the coffee table.

“Try the Observer,” he told Ligur. “All the papers in the flat were the Observer.”

It didn’t take Dagon long to crack it once she had the right tools. They had all been taught basic code breaking techniques but Dagon was the genius in that particular area and Crowley never failed to be impressed by the speed and ease in which she accomplished such tasks. Her pencil scribbled furiously as she picked out the key words in the newspaper and broke first Glozier’s telegram, then Harmony’s response in less than ten minutes.

“I have it!” she announced triumphantly, sliding the finished products across the desk for Crowley to see.

Glozier’s message said: ‘Being watched. Have had to move quickly. Be in touch.’

Crowley frowned.

“Damn it,” he replied. “Whoever has been watching him in Manchester has been careless – we need to get onto our contact there and tell them to switch teams immediately before he disappears. We can’t afford to lose him now we’re so close to finishing this.”

Two books – that’s all Aziraphale had left to acquire and one of them was most likely a red herring anyway. The chance of them finding an existing copy of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter was so slim they would sooner find a needle in a haystack, which left only Otwell Binns to find. None of it would mean a damn thing if Glozier disappeared before they could arrest him.

“What about Harmony’s response?” asked Ligur as he got up to find Manchester branch’s details from the filing cabinet.

Dagon waved the piece of paper, gently.

“He’s telling Glozier to sit tight. It seems like they’re working on a plan to get him to London.”

Crowley nodded.

“It looks like we might have to get in touch with Archangel,” he murmured, reluctantly. “They might try to use Montgomery’s role in SIS to get forged documents to him, so they’ll have to watch her like a hawk and do what they can to prevent anything getting to Glozier until we’re ready for him.”

As much as he seriously disliked Aziraphale’s brother, Crowley had to admit when his powers were limited. Gabriel Fell could do a much better job at deterring Montgomery from within SIS than any of Division H could outside of it. They needed to use every resource at their disposal and unfortunately if that meant using Aziraphale’s arsehole brother, then that’s what they’d have to do whether Crowley liked it or not.

He busied himself with paperwork and barely noticed the telephone ringing or Dagon’s ridiculous secretary voice until she said Aziraphale’s name.

“Mr Fell!” Dagon responded, cheerfully. “Is everything alright? It’s not time to check in yet.”

Crowley immediately stopped working, watching Dagon as her pale eyes fixed on him while she listened to Aziraphale on the other end.

 “Fell wants to speak to you,” she mouthed, and Crowley nodded. “Yes, he’s right here…” Dagon said aloud.

She grinned as Crowley rounded the desk and held his hand out for the phone.

“I thought you two weren’t speaking,” she whispered.

“I never said that,” muttered Crowley as he took the receiver from her and ignored her knowing grin. “Aziraphale?”

 “Crowley,” Aziraphale replied, breathlessly. “I think I’ve found Agnes Nutter.”

Crowley’s stomach turned to butterflies at the sound of Aziraphale’s voice; his heart fluttering in his chest. It felt like so long since he’d heard Aziraphale speak and it made him dizzy.

“Really?” he asked, feeling as breathless as Aziraphale sounded.

“Yes,” said Aziraphale, excitedly. “A few weeks ago I requisitioned some documents from the Public Records Office to see if I could track down Agnes Nutter’s descendants and Crowley…I think I’ve found them. There is a Mr Device in a village called Tadfield in Oxfordshire who seems the most likely to have that book.”

Crowley smiled at Aziraphale’s excitement. He could almost see him, standing there with the phone pressed to his ear and fingers playing with the worn buttons on his waistcoat as he thrummed with happiness.

“That’s great, angel,” Crowley replied.

“It is!” enthused Aziraphale. “We must go as soon as possible.”

“We?” repeated Crowley.

“Of course!” Aziraphale replied. “We started this journey together, dear – it’s only right that we see it through to the end.”

Crowley felt warmth spread through his body. God how he’d missed Aziraphale; missed being with him, and spending time with him. They’d given each other space to breathe this past week; space to heal and come to terms with putting whatever they had together on the backburner until the Nazis had been arrested, but Crowley longed to be with him again.

“Alright,” he murmured. “Tadfield it is, then.”

He put the telephone down moments later and looked up to find Dagon, Hastur, and Ligur all watching him with identical idiotic grins on their faces.

“All made up now?” asked Dagon; amused.

Crowley felt his face grow hot.

“Shut up,” he muttered.

Chapter Text

It was far later in the day than Crowley would have liked to set off for the Oxfordshire village of Tadfield. He and Beezle had suffered through a meeting with Morningstar that had taken hours; updating the head of the Security Service of their progress and also informing him of the need to liaise with Archangel at SIS pertaining to keeping Montgomery away from any SOE contacts that might forge documents for Glozier in Manchester.

He’d headed to Aziraphale’s bookshop as soon as he could; his mind a mixture of nerves and excitement for seeing Aziraphale again after a week and a half. It hadn’t been nearly as awkward as it might have been – Aziraphale had been waiting for him, already wearing his coat and hat, and carrying a notebook and a tartan biscuit tin ( just in case , he’d informed Crowley). His smile when Crowley had turned up had been like sunshine coming out from behind a cloud and it had taken every ounce of self control Crowley possessed not to run to him, gather Aziraphale up in his arms and kiss him dizzy.

The bookseller now sat next to him in the Bentley, blue eyes taking in the scenery as they drove through the countryside and fingers tapping a rhythm against his knee. Crowley was happy that their conversation had flowed almost as easily as it always had; Aziraphale excitedly telling him how he’d traced Agnes Nutter’s family line to the descendant currently living in Tadfield. Aziraphale’s resourcefulness and cleverness never ceased to amaze him. 

“…and so I finally found a Mr A Device living in Tadfield village in the 1939 census. That was only two years ago, so there’s a very good chance he’s either still living there or there’ll be somebody who knows where he lives now!”

Aziraphale turned to him with a joyful, beaming smile and Crowley’s heart fluttered as he smiled warmly back.

“That’s amazing, angel,” he said, softly. “I always said you were clever.”

Aziraphale visibly wriggled with happiness, his cheeks flushing pink, and Crowley had to force his attention back to the winding country road ahead. It would have been so easy to reach over and take Aziraphale’s hand in his and to gently squeeze it to show his affection…but they’d promised each other not to. It was too hard to keep their hands off each other once they touched and it was too dangerous for them right now.

They drove a little way further in companionable silence, Aziraphale humming softly along to the songs on the wireless until the opening bars of Al Bowlly’s ‘Did You Ever See a Dream Walking’ began to play.

“Oh,” said Aziraphale sadly, “It’s such a shame about Al Bowlly, isn’t it?”

“Hmm?” Crowley asked.

Aziraphale motioned towards the wireless with his hand.

“Well, he was killed last week,” Aziraphale explained, “when a bomb hit the street right outside of his house. He was coming back from giving a concert at the Rex Cinema in High Wycombe – got the last train back and was just walking down the street towards his home in St James when a Luftwaffe parachute bomb detonated.”

“How do you remember all of that?” Crowley murmured in amazement.

“Eidetic memory,” Aziraphale muttered in reply.

Ah yes, Crowley remembered now. Aziraphale had one of those brains that remembered everything he read, verbatim; allowing him to recite the information back perfectly. Crowley had first experienced it when Aziraphale had told him all about his bible misprints, rattling off verse after verse; and again at Goodge Street tube station when he’d told Crowley about all the deaths that had occurred at tube stations doubling as bomb shelters.

“I think I remember reading about it,” Crowley said, gently. “Shame – wasn’t he one of your favourites?”

“He was,” replied Aziraphale, mournfully. “It’s silly isn’t it?” he continued, looking fully at Crowley. “I was deeply upset when I’d heard he’d died. Hundreds of people already have died in the wretched Blitz and I’ve never shed a tear for them and yet, one singer dies and I’m somehow affected by it! It’s ridiculous!”

“No its not,” Crowley reassured him. “You might not have known him personally, but you knew who he was, and his work touched you. In a way, you knew him better than anyone else that’s been killed over the last few months. It’s not silly at all.”

He cast a quick sideways glance at Aziraphale and gave him a lopsided smile. He could feel Aziraphale’s blue-grey eyes linger on him even when he turned his attention back to the road. 

“You know,” Aziraphale murmured, “it’s a shame you’re wearing those dark glasses again, my dear. You have such beautiful eyes…”

Crowley swallowed.

It was something he was still struggling to get used to – accepting compliments. Nobody had ever called his eyes beautiful before. Crowley remembered vaguely a priest once telling his mother that his eyes glowed with Hellfire, that they were demonic. He couldn’t have been much older than six at the time but the memory stuck with him. His eyes had always been an unsettling kind of hazel; flecked with yellow tones that most people had quite visceral reactions to, but Aziraphale…

Aziraphale thought they were beautiful and God, Crowley would do anything to make Aziraphale happy. Slowly, he slipped the dark glasses from his eyes and folded them with one hand; sliding them into the top pocket of his jacket.

“There you are,” Aziraphale said, softly. “Absolutely stunning.”

“Shut up,” Crowley murmured, affectionately; feeling the heat rise to his cheeks.

Tadfield village was picturesque – exactly the kind of village you’d imagine when one thought of the English countryside. Grey stone cottages sat amongst rolling meadows and golden farmland, backing out onto an extensive green forest. Even the dark grey clouds that loomed over them couldn’t diminish the village’s beauty as they drove along the narrow road, passing a pretty church and a quaint village hall until they got to the small green.

“How lovely,” murmured Aziraphale as Crowley brought the Bentley to a stop.

Tadfield wasn’t exactly busy, but the villagers were coming and going from place to place and many stopped and stared at the car as Crowley climbed out and looked around. Four children stood whispering in a circle at the edge of the green, casting glances at his car over their shoulders and he couldn’t help but grin to himself. He had to admit, his Bentley was a good-looking car. Hastur had called it conspicuous and Crowley supposed he was right – it certainly never failed to turn heads wherever it went.

“Right,” he mused, turning to lean on the roof and taking his dark glasses from his pocket again as Aziraphale clambered out of the passenger side, “what are we looking for?”

“Jasmine Cottage,” replied Aziraphale.

He smoothed out the wrinkles in his coat as he stood and straightened his bow tie before reaching for his hat and closing the car door.

“Mr Device, Jasmine Cottage. Got it.”

A distant roll of thunder rumbled overhead and Crowley frowned at the sky. The clouds seemed darker than they had earlier and he could smell rain in the air. He only hoped the oncoming storm would hold off until they were back in London, or at least on their way home.

“Excuse me?”

Crowley and Aziraphale both turned in the direction of the voice and found the group of four children had moved from the edge of the green and were now crowding around the car. Crowley raised an auburn eyebrow.

“Hello,” he said as he slid his glasses back into place and surveyed the children from behind them.

Three boys and one girl stood in front of him, all around the age of eleven. The one who had spoken was a bespectacled boy with tidy brown hair.

“Excuse me,” he repeated, “but is this your car?”

“No, I stole it,” Crowley replied, not missing a beat.

He bit back a grin as the kids gasped. Crowley had always liked kids – he liked that they questioned everything; liked their imagination and their ability to create whole worlds in their minds. They were clever and funny and interesting in a way most adults were not. He leaned casually against the Bentley’s bonnet, watching four pairs of eyes widen.

“Actually,” piped up a boy with dishevelled hair and dirty knees, “stealing is illegal.”

“Is it now?” mused Crowley. He glanced over at Aziraphale whose eyes were as grey as the sky above them; his smile, knowing. “Alright, what if I said I liberated it?”

“Isn’t that just the same thing?” asked the girl; her black hair in two braids.

Crowley grinned at her.

“Not if I took it from a really bad person who didn’t deserve it.”

The children seemed to consider this for a moment, passing a look between each other.

“I suppose that’s fair,” said the fourth child who had been silent up until now. 

He was a boy with soft chestnut curls and inquisitive blue eyes, and by the way the other kids turned to look at him when he spoke, and their nods of agreement, Crowley guessed this boy was the leader.

“Yeah, I thought so too,” Crowley murmured in agreement.

“Actually,” said the first boy, “you sort of look like a bad person.”

Crowley started to laugh and folded his arms across his chest as the girl hissed ‘ Wensleydale! ’ at him and the boy shrugged in response.

“I suppose I do, a bit,” Crowley agreed. He glanced over his shoulder to Aziraphale who was watching the entire exchange with interest. “What do you think, angel? Am I bad man?”

“Absolutely not,” murmured Aziraphale with a small smile that made Crowley’s heart flutter.

He swallowed and turned back to the children, turning on his most charming smile.

“I’m not a bad person, but I am the police,” he said, extending his hand in greeting. “Anthony J Crowley, and this is my associate Mr Fell.”

The children looked at his hand and then glanced at the boy with chestnut curls who took Crowley’s hand and shook it with enthusiasm.

“Adam Young,” the boy replied, “and this is Wensleydale,” Adam indicated to the bespectacled boy, “Pepper,” he introduced the girl, “and Brian,” who was the grubby-kneed boy.

“Nice to meet you all,” Crowley said with a grin.

“And you, Mr Crowley,” Adam Young said, politely; blue eyes roaming appreciatively over the Bentley’s bodywork.

“Do you have a badge?” asked grubby-kneed Brian.

“Yep.”

Well, it wasn’t so much a policeman’s badge than a Security Service identification card, but it did the job - especially when you had to requisition military and civilian resources.

“What about a gun?” asked Wensleydale.

Both of Crowley’s eyebrows shot up.

“A gun?” he said, incredulously. “What is this, the Wild bloody West? I’m a copper, not a cowboy!”

The kids giggled, passing a look between them. In truth, Crowley had handled a gun, and well before his Security Service firearm training at that. They were all authorised to carry one but…Crowley didn’t like guns. He had one – a service revolver that was safely stored in the Bentley’s glove compartment for if the occasion ever arose, but he preferred to do his violence the old fashioned way – by hand. 

“What about you?” asked Pepper, looking beyond Crowley to where Aziraphale stood on the other side of the car. “Are you a policeman too?”

Crowley noticed him start as the young girl addressed him and he flushed an ever so pretty shade of pink. Aziraphale had been largely quiet since the children had appeared; content to watch and listen to Crowley talking to them. He seemed rather flustered to have been spoken to and Crowley noticed Aziraphale’s hands instinctively reach for his waistcoat buttons.

“Me?” Aziraphale replied, haltingly. “Oh…gracious, no. I’m…a bookshop owner.”

All four kids immediately looked disappointed.

“Oh.” said Pepper.

“Actually,” Brian piped up thoughtfully, his head tilted to the side as he studied Aziraphale’s camel coat, worn waistcoat, and tartan bowtie, “you don’t look anything like a policeman. You look like an accountant.”

“I want to be an accountant!” Wensleydale brightly interjected.

Crowley’s grin widened as poor Aziraphale looked wildly from one child to the other, seemingly out of his depth. Obviously Aziraphale wasn’t quite as thrilled about inquisitive children as Crowley was. 

“So,” said Pepper, her brown eyes scrutinising Aziraphale as she spoke, “what exactly do you do ?

“Do?” Aziraphale echoed in confusion.

“Yes!” enthused Wensleydale. “Do you follow him around and write stories about his crime-fighting adventures?”

Aziraphale blinked.

“Like Dr Watson in Sherlock Holmes?” added Pepper.

“Well…no, but…”

“Do you do tricks?” asked Brian, scratching an ear with a dirty finger.

The other three children turned to stare at him.

“Tricks?” repeated Adam Young, “What are you going on about, Brian? He’s not a dog!”

Brian shrugged.

“I thought Watson was a Wizard.”

“You’re thinking of Gandalf,” said Wensleydale. 

Crowley bit the inside of his cheek hard in order to stop himself from laughing as Brian emitted a small ‘ah!” of realisation and Pepper shook her head in despair. 

“Actually,” Aziraphale said, fishing around in his coat pocket, “I have dabbled a little in magic – I know one or two tricks.”

Crowley blinked at him in surprise as Aziraphale unearthed a shilling, looking rather pleased with himself. Four pairs of young eyes suddenly brightened and fixed on Aziraphale as he came around to Crowley’s side of the car, waving his hands dramatically and dropping the shilling on the grass.

“Oops,” Aziraphale murmured. “I’m a little out of practice. Let me try…”

Crowley did not fail to spot the look that passed between the four children as Aziraphale picked up his coin with a bright smile and waved his hands again.

“As you see, the coin has disappeared!” Aziraphale announced, holding up his hands to show empty palms. “But oh! What’s this, here?”

Aziraphale stepped towards Pepper and made as if to take the coin out from behind her ear, but then fumbled and the shilling fell to the ground again. Crowley cringed and stole a look towards Adam Young who was watching, expressionless. The children looked thoroughly unimpressed as they watched Aziraphale bend to pick up his coin again and Crowley kept his eyes on Adam, waiting for his reaction. The way the kids all looked towards him for guidance told Crowley that they would rip Aziraphale to shreds with a single word from Adam and Crowley only hoped they’d be kind.

“It was in your ear!” announced Aziraphale to Pepper.

Crowley held his breath.

“Very good,” Adam said politely.

Crowley breathed a sigh of relief as the other three began to agree, nodding and praising Aziraphale’s magic trick with the same politeness. Adam Young gave Crowley a small nod and Crowley returned it with gratitude. That had to have been more humiliating than Aziraphale’s singing at the rock pool and damn him to Hell but Crowley would not have enjoyed defending Aziraphale against a pack of intelligent feral children. There might have been blood.

Aziraphale on the other hand looked delighted; a pink flush across his cheeks and a beaming smile on his lips.

“Why thank you,” he said, graciously. “I have another if you’d like me to show…”

“Oh, I think these children might have pressing matters to attend to, angel,” Crowley cut in. “By my watch it appears to be almost tea time, and it feels like there’s a storm coming in.”

The children threw him relieved looks as Aziraphale tried not to look too disappointed that he wasn’t going to be able to try out a second magic trick. Crowley might not have been able to save him a second time.

“Yes,” agreed Adam Young, “we should all be getting back home now.”

Crowley tipped his hat in acknowledgement.

“Out of curiosity,” he said as all four children turned to make their escape, “you wouldn’t know where Jasmine Cottage is from here?”

Adam turned around and gave Crowley a small smile.

“Of course – it’s just up the lane until the road turns into a sharp bend, and it’s on the corner.”

“Brilliant,” replied Crowley. “Thanks for all your help.”

The children waved goodbye and picked up their bicycles from the other side of the green before cycling off down the lane. Crowley turned to Aziraphale and grinned.

“Well, that was interesting.”

Aziraphale let out a long sigh.

“Interesting is certainly a word…” he mused.

Crowley looked at Aziraphale fondly.

“You don’t have much experience with children, do you?”

Aziraphale grimaced.

“Is it that obvious?”

“A little bit,” Crowley replied.

Aziraphale sighed again, his fingers gently fumbling with his worn waistcoat buttons again.

“I just…never know what to say to them,” he admitted, quietly. “They’re always just so full of questions and energy and…more questions.”

Crowley laughed.

“Questions are good, angel. You want kids to ask questions and not just accept the world people tell them exists. Kids are smart – you just need to talk to them like they’re people; just smaller. You were a kid once, surely you remember how it is?”

“Not a child like them ,” Aziraphale murmured, glancing down the lane to where the four could just be seen in the distance.

Crowley grinned at him.

“Yeah, I have to admit I can’t picture little Aziraphale Fell, son of Lord and Lady Fell of Fell Manor traipsing around the countryside with dirty knees and windswept hair.”

Slowly, Aziraphale turned to him with wide eyes.

“You’re making fun of me,” he said, uncertainly.

“Teasing, angel,” Crowley replied with a grin. “It’s called teasing. Do you not like it when I tease you?”

Aziraphale looked at him for a moment before smiling gently.

“Actually, I rather do like it,” he said softly. “Also,” he added after a short pause, “it’s not ‘Fell Manor’. It’s ‘Angels’ Rise’.”

Crowley burst out laughing again.

“Oh God, really? ‘Angels’ Rise’? How pretentious is that?”

“Quite,” Aziraphale replied, attempting to bite back a smile.

Crowley cackled again and nudged Aziraphale’s shoulder with his own.

“C’mon,” he chuckled, “let’s find Jasmine Cottage.”

Thunder rumbled overhead as they followed Adam Young’s directions and walked up the lane. It seemed louder than before; closer; and Crowley could have sworn he felt a fat drop of rain his shoulder as they walked side by side.

Tadfield village was really quite beautiful. When Crowley thought about moving out of London at the end of the war, the image he conjured up in his mind was very much like what he was seeing now – small stone cottages with extensive gardens; narrow lanes; so much space and green that one never saw in the city. Something about the place resonated with him; made him feel at ease and, strangely, at home.

“It’s very lovely,” murmured Aziraphale, as though reading his mind. “One can almost feel the love in this place.”

“Love?” repeated Crowley, glancing at him.

Aziraphale nodded. Crowley supposed he was right – he definitely felt something surrounding the village as they walked through it. The houses were all perfect; their gardens all beautifully kept, and even the public spaces seemed to be well cared for. Nothing seemed neglected or forgotten; everything…loved.

“This must be it,” announced Aziraphale as they rounded a hairpin bend in the lane and came across the cottage in question.

“Must be,” Crowley murmured.

He pushed open the little gate and allowed Aziraphale to go first down the path. Thunder rolled again and Crowley turned his collar up instinctively against the energy in the air that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Crowley had never been a great lover of storms.

Aziraphale was already at the door before Crowley was half way down the path, politely knocking and bouncing excitedly on the balls of his feet.

“Anyone home?” asked Crowley as he approached; leaning to peer in through a window.

Everything seemed to be rather quiet inside, and Aziraphale knocked again with a little more impatience.

“I do hope they’re not out,” he muttered.

Crowley frowned and cupped his hands around his face as he pressed his nose to the glass, trying to get a better look inside. The windows had nets up that made it very difficult to see anything inside with any detail; He certainly couldn’t see any movement.

“I don’t think anyone is home, angel.”

“Drat,” muttered Aziraphale. “It would be just my luck for us to come all the way out here only to find they’re out for the day.”

“Why don’t we ask at the pub?” Crowley suggested. “Pub landlords know everybody – maybe they can point us in the right direction.”

Aziraphale seemed to relax slightly at that, giving Crowley a small smile as he nodded.

“Yes, let’s do that,” he agreed. “Perhaps we could get a little something to drink whilst we’re there.”

Crowley grinned at him and they began to head back up the garden path. Waiting at the gate was an older gentleman with a dog, frowning at them.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Crowley, mildly. “Can you?”

The man pursed his lips and looked Crowley over, his eyes taking in the black suit, snakeskin shoes, and the tattoo partially obscured by dark glasses. Crowley could tell the man was less than impressed with what he saw.

“R.P. Tyler,” the man haughtily introduced himself, drawing himself up to his full height which was still shorter than Crowley stood, “Neighbourhood Watch. Can I help you two gentlemen ?”

Something about the way he said ‘gentlemen’ prickled Crowley, but he bit back a scathing retort in favour of taking out his government identification.

“I hope you can,” Crowley replied, lightly. “Anthony Crowley, British Security Service and this is my associate, Mr Fell.”

R.P.Tyler’s attitude changed very suddenly as he looked at Crowley’s identification, as Crowley suspected it would.

“Oh,” he murmured, “and how can I help the agents of His Majesty’s Security Service?”

His eyes fell on Aziraphale as the bookseller stepped forward; obviously more impressed with Aziraphale’s appearance than he had been with Crowley’s. Tyler even managed a polite smile.

“My dear chap,” Aziraphale began, “would you be so kind as to tell us if a Mr A Device still lives at Jasmine Cottage? It’s a matter of very great importance that I…that we …speak to him.”

Mr Tyler frowned.

“Archie?” he said. “I’m afraid Archie Device died in September last year – killed in a Luftwaffe raid on Tadfield air base where he was helping to fix the stonework on some buildings up there.”

Crowley glanced at Aziraphale and his stomach clenched to see the bookseller’s face drop. He’d been so cheerful ever since they’d left London; so full of hope that they’d find the Nice and Accurate Prophecies but now he looked crestfallen to find out the person he’d been looking for was dead.

“But,” Aziraphale continued, “he had a wife and a child! Surely they still live here?”

Tyler shook his head slowly.

“I’m afraid not,” he replied. “After Archie died, his wife took the daughter to go live with relatives in America. She thought it would be safer over there for them both because they’re not involved in the war.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale had gone very pale.

“Did you ever hear any of them mention a book?” he pressed, desperately, “An old family heirloom?”

Mr Tyler looked apologetic.

“I’m sorry, no.”

Aziraphale let out a strangled noise and reached out, grasping the sleeve of Crowley’s jacket and Crowley grabbed him in alarm. Aziraphale looked quite queasy, like he could possibly faint.

“Easy, angel,” he said softly; steadying him with both hands.

“Goodness me is he alright?” asked R.P. Tyler.

Honestly, Crowley had no idea. Aziraphale had had such high hopes and Crowley had just watched them all be dashed in a few simple words. He felt horribly guilty – he’d known this was a fool’s errand and he should have said so instead of indulging Aziraphale’s fantasy of finding the Holy Grail of prophetic texts in a small Oxfordshire village.

“He will be,” Crowley murmured, “if you’d just be so kind as to direct me towards the pub, I’d be eternally grateful.”

 

____

 

How could he have possibly been so bloody stupid? Ever since he’d first conceived the thought of tracking down Agnes Nutter’s descendants, Aziraphale had hoped…no…he’d honestly believed it could work. He’d believed with his whole heart that he’d found the one person in the whole world who had the single, rare copy of the Nice and Accurate Prophecies; and that all he had to do was give them the right offer.

In all his musings, Aziraphale had imagined his biggest problem would be getting Mr A Device to part with the book that had been in his family for three hundred and fifty years. Aziraphale had even been prepared to make a copy of his own, compensating the family generously of course. Never in his search had he even thought it would end like this.

The Device he’d come looking for was dead, and his spouse and child gone across the sea without ever having mentioned the book to anybody in the village. It didn’t exist. The Nazis had impressed upon Aziraphale that this was the most important book and now he would never be able to get it. In the first few days after Crowley had recruited him, Aziraphale had suffered nightmares of being murdered by Montgomery and Glozier and Harmony for not upholding his end of the bargain and now those thoughts were back. He was going to get shot, he just knew it.

Except Crowley was there with him, just like he had been the day Aziraphale received Harmony’s list and had gone into a panic regarding Agnes Nutter.

Aziraphale came back to himself with Crowley kneeling in front of him and rubbing soothing circles with cool thumbs on the insides of his wrists; grounding him. When Aziraphale looked up from his hands, he found himself staring into beautiful fathomless pools of swirling gold and amber, leaving him breathless but no longer thinking about Nazis.

“It’s alright angel,” Crowley murmured, so softly Aziraphale wondered if he’d imagined Crowley speaking at all. “I promised you I wouldn’t let them hurt you and I stand by that. Nobody is ever going to harm you as long as I’m still standing.”

Crowley’s auburn hair was darker than normal – wet, with droplets falling off the ends that fell into his face. Aziraphale realised with a jolt that he too was wet through; his clothes sticking to his skin and making him shiver. The storm clouds that had threatened them all afternoon must have finally burst and Aziraphale had been too distressed to notice.

Aziraphale realised then that he was indoors, in a bar full of RAF airmen who kept glancing in their direction. Crowley had him tucked in a corner on a stool, as far away from prying eyes and ears as possible. That must be why he’d spoken so quietly.

“I feel wretched,” Aziraphale muttered, miserably. “How could I have been so stupid as to think...”

“Hey,” Crowley cut him off; thumbs still rubbing circles on Aziraphale’s wrists, “don’t do that. You’re brilliant - you worked it all out; followed all the leads and followed it through to the end. The result is not your fault.”

“But the Nazis...”

“We’ll deal with them when we have to,” Crowley whispered.

He reached up and brushed a sodden curl away from Aziraphale’s forehead, gently. Aziraphale’s stomach fluttered at the tenderness of the gesture; the concern in Crowley’s honey-gold eyes as he watched him.

“I promise I’ll never let them hurt you.”

Aziraphale could have kissed him then. Right from the start, Crowley had been able to calm him; had been able to make Aziraphale believe that everything would be alright. Even here and now, in Tadfield’s village pub when he felt like all hope was lost, Crowley gave him that tiny spark just by being close. If Aziraphale could believe in nothing else, he could believe in Crowley.

Something cool and smooth was pressed into Aziraphale’s hands and he tore his eyes away from Crowley’s beautiful face to look at it.

“Scotch?” he murmured, staring into the depths of amber liquid.

“Close enough,” Crowley replies with a lopsided grin.

Aziraphale tentatively brought the glass to his lips and took a sip. The whisky burned his throat and set a fire in his belly, but it was strangely soothing, despite not being the smooth 21 year old Glenlivet he was used to. It calmed his nerves and he was grateful.

“Can you take me home?” he asked.

“Of course, angel,” murmured Crowley.

He kept his head down as Crowley thanked the publican for his help, steering Aziraphale gently through the mass of airmen and villagers with a hand on the small of his back towards the entrance. Aziraphale felt humiliated enough without having to acknowledge people watching him slink out.

The rain that had threatened to fall all afternoon was now coming down in torrents as they made their way back to the Bentley and drive out of Tadfield; the sky growing darker every second with a mix of dark grey storm clouds and the late hour. Aziraphale could only guess at the time. They hadn’t set off for Tadfield until rather later than they should have and he wondered if they would possibly make it back to London before the air raid sirens sounded. Then again, with the weather being the way it was, he doubted the Luftwaffe would risk flying that night.

Thunder cracked overhead and lightning zigzagged across the sky in a blaze of white light, illuminating the Bentley and casting shadow across Crowley’s profile. Aziraphale had always rather enjoyed storms but only when he was safe inside and watching from a window; not so much driving in one. He was thankful that Crowley seemed to be driving at less than his usual breakneck speed along the narrow, wet country lanes.

 

The sky lit up again with a flash and a crack that sounded like an explosion right above the car. For a second, the road ahead was illuminated just enough that they could see the shadow of an enormous fallen oak lying across the road. Aziraphale flung his arm out and grabbed hold of the soaking wool of Crowley’s jacket in panic.

“Watch out!” he cried.

“I saw it!”

Crowley slammed on the brakes and Aziraphale’s heart stopped as the car slid sideways on the wet road; tires screeching as the force of coming to a sudden, complete stop knocked the breath from his lungs. Aziraphale was left gasping; his knuckles white as he gripped wet wool.

The tree was wider than the car and lying right across the road, having smashed through the hedgerow as it fell.

“Must have been knocked down by the storm,” muttered Crowley.

Aziraphale found himself nodding in agreement.

“Is there any way around it?” he asked.

Aziraphale knew just by looking at the felled oak that there was no way they could get around, and two of them couldn’t lift a tree that size. They were pinned in by hedgerows and Aziraphale had a sneaking suspicion that this was the only road in and out of Tadfield village.

“No,” Crowley replied, softly. “We’re going to have to go back.”

 All Aziraphale wanted was to go home. He was drained, both physically and mentally and he craved the familiarity and comfort of his own home; the smell of old paper and leather and mahogany, and to feel a hot cup of tea in his hands. The rain had soaked through everything – his wool coat had been drench downpour and his shirt underneath it was sticking to his skin. Aziraphale was cold and wet and thoroughly miserable, and the last thing in the world he wanted to do was go back to Tadfield.

Unfortunately, it was their only option. They couldn’t go forward and it was now fully dark and far too dangerous to find an alternative route in the storm.

They got even wetter running back into the village pub, even thought Crowley had parked the Bentley almost right outside. A fire crackled in the stone fireplace and the smell of malt beer and wet wool enveloped them with the warmth. The airmen from earlier were gone, leaving only a smattering of villagers brave enough to still be out in weather like this; and the publican gave them a surprise look as they re-entered, leaving puddles on the floor.

“We thought you’d gone home!” he said.

“There’s a fallen tree,” Crowley replied; shaking the water from his hat. “The whole road is blocked, and I can’t find another way out of here in this storm.”

The pub landlord frowned and swore under his breath.

“You’d have to go north,” he said, “but it’s a long way to go in the dark – if you didn’t know where you were going, you’d get lost.”

Aziraphale liked that idea even less than he liked the thought of staying overnight in Tadfield. Fuel was rationed as much as everything else, and if they ran out of petrol searching for the road to London they would be dead in the water; stuck in the middle of nowhere.

Crowley leaned both elbows on the bar and pushed his soaking hair from his eyes with his hands. He gave the publican a lopsided smile.

“I don’t suppose you have any spare rooms in this place do you?” Crowley asked.

The landlord shook his head, ruefully.

“The Luftwaffe hit the base a couple of weeks ago,” he replied. “We’ve got half the airfield billeted here until they repair the barracks.”

Aziraphale shivered suddenly, feeling his whole body give an involuntary shudder; teeth chattering. He could feel the skin all over his body come up in gooseflesh and knew he had to get out of his wet clothes before he caught a chill.

“Can anyone in the village put us up for the night?” Aziraphale asked, as politely as possible through chattering teeth. “I would be happy to compensate for any food or fuel we use.”

“You can stay in Rose Cottage if you like,” suggested the landlord’s wife, appearing from nowhere with a tray of empty glasses. “It was my mother’s house but she died a few months back and nobody wants to buy a house in the middle of a war, especially not when you’re down the road from an air base.”

Aziraphale felt a rush of relief. A cottage sounded incredible at that moment in time; a welcome post in the storm.

“Oh my dear, you are quite the life saver,” he told her, giving her the most charming and grateful smile he could muster through his trembling. “Would it be too much to ask if you perhaps have any food to spare? Again, I would be more than happy to compensate you for whatever we use.”

The publican’s wife gave him a kind smile.

“I’m sure there’s half a corned beef pie in the pantry somewhere,” she replied.

Aziraphale glanced at Crowley to find the intelligence agent watching him. At least, he presumed Crowley was watching him for those dark glasses were back in place, but he could feel the gaze of those beautiful honey eyes fixed on him.

He’d barely looked or spoken to Crowley since they’d left Jasmine Cottage; too wrapped up in his own thoughts and his own misery to do anything much but wallow. He might have been utterly despondent, but Aziraphale was happy that Crowley was with him and he managed a small, weak smile that Crowley returned instantly.

It only took a few moments for the publican’s wife to return with half a meat pie and a flask of tea to see them through the evening, along with a set of keys and directions to Rose Cottage on the edge of Tadfield village. Aziraphale thanked her profusely and insisted on giving her a ten shilling note for her troubles.

Rose Cottage was the last house in Tadfield, but Aziraphale didn’t pay much attention to it’s appearance as he and Crowley raced from the car down the garden path; Aziraphale protecting the pie from the rain with his coat while Crowley unlocked the door.

“Get in, angel,” Crowley said above the howling of the wind as he ushered Aziraphale in front of him and into the dry.

The cottage smelled slightly of damp and disuse, but it was dry; all the furniture covered in dust sheets. It was incredibly dark inside, heavy drapes blocking out the light and Aziraphale blinked, reaching out instinctively and finding Crowley’s cool hand.

“I can’t see a thing,” Aziraphale murmured.

Crowley squeezed his hand gently.

“Give me a second,” he replied, softly, “the publican’s wife said there were candles on the table and oil lamps…”

With a gentle twist of his wrist, Crowley’s hand slipped free of Aziraphale’s and his outline could just be made out as he felt his way around the dark. Aziraphale was left standing alone wet and shivering in the pitch black until suddenly, there came the strike of a match and a soft orange glow illuminated the room.

Crowley made fast work of lighting the oil lamps, plus several candles; passing a lamp to Aziraphale. They were in the cottage’s kitchen – an old-fashioned wood burning stove in the corner and a deep trough sink that looked to at least have taps.

“Good lord,” murmured Aziraphale, “it’s like being thrown back in time. What on earth did we do before electricity?”

Crowley grinned at him; a flash of white teeth in the gloom.

Aziraphale had made sure to modernise his own home as soon as he had been able. He was sure his bookshop had been the first place in Soho to have electric lights and plumbed water as Aziraphale refused to be without his comforts. He barely remembered a time without them, although he did still use a wood burning stove for heat and to cook.

“I should make a fire,” said Crowley. “She said there was still wood and paper in the sitting room, so I’ll see what I can do. Why don’t you find some blankets and get out of your wet things?”

“Yes,” Aziraphale said gently, “I think that would be best.”

He took his oil lamp and ventured up the stairs into the single bedroom. Blankets were found in the blanket chest at the foot of the bed, and despite the chill in the air, Aziraphale gratefully peeled off his wet things, hanging his coat to dry over the bathroom door and draping his shirt and trousers over a chair and a banister respectively.

Aziraphale chose a soft lambswool blanket that smelled only slightly of mothballs and wrapped it around himself, feeling instantly warmer. Gathering ad many blankets as he could carry in one arm, Aziraphale took up his oil lamp again and ventured back down the stairs, into the sitting room.

Crowley was kneeling at the hearth, holding a page of newspaper over the fire to trap in the oxygen and help the wood and paper ignite behind it. He was still dressed; his black wool suit clinging to his lean frame and his auburn hair dripping into his eyes.

“You’re going to catch a chill in those sodden clothes, my dear.”

Crowley looked up and gave him a gentle smile.

“Don’t worry about me, angel,” he murmured.

“But I do worry,” replied Aziraphale with a frown.

The sheet of newspaper began to singe in the middle and then caught alight, signifying the fire was ready. Crowley sighed and tossed it into the flames before hauling himself to his feet with one hand on the mantle.

“Alright,” he said, softly.

Aziraphale tried not to watch as Crowley removed his clothes, one by one. He tried not to notice those wonderful shoulders as Crowley stripped off his wet jacket and hung it over a nearby chair; valiantly attempted to avoid staring at that narrow waist as he slid off his trouser braces and pulled his damp shirt over his head. Aziraphale averted his eyes away from the sight of bare, creamy skin and golden freckles that covered his bare arms and chest and shoulders; only turning back when Crowley had wrapped a blanket around himself and sat opposite Aziraphale on the layers of eiderdown and blankets he’d spread over the floor by the fire.

“Feeling any warmer?” Crowley asked him.

“A little,”

Those honey eyes danced in the firelight, turning gold and amber and hazel all at once as they calmly studied Aziraphale in the low light.

They had been together all day and this was the first time Aziraphale felt like he and Crowley had actually been alone. Their drive had been filled with idle chit-chat; Aziraphale full of excitement about what he may have discovered in Tadfield. Since learning of the death of Archie Device, Aziraphale had barely uttered a word and Crowley hadn’t pushed him to speak.

“You must think me a terrible fool,” Aziraphale muttered as he reached for the meat pie and unwrapped it from it’s protective cloth.

Crowley’s gaze softened.

“Don’t be silly, angel.”

“But that’s just the thing – I was silly,” replied Aziraphale. “I was so sure I’d find Agnes Nutter here. So sure…”

“You were hopeful…”

“I was naïve,” Aziraphale said, quietly. “It was a fool’s errand from the start and I shouldn’t have put so much faith in it.”

He stared hard at the pie, noticing it had already been cut into slices ready to be picked up and eaten. His stomach wasn’t grumbling half as much as he would have expected it to at this time of day.

“Don’t beat yourself up over it, angel,” Crowley soothed. “It was a good bet that just didn’t work out. It’s not your fault.”

Aziraphale heard a soft laugh leave his own lips, tainted with melancholy.

“You are kind to me, Crowley. Anybody else would tell me I’m a complete idiot, but not you.”

Crowley dropped his gaze.

“That’s because I don’t think you’re an idiot,” he said quietly. “I think you’re…brilliant.”

Aziraphale could feel the heat rise to his face.

He realised that this was the first time they’d been truly alone together since their break up. They had never really spoken about it; never spoken about their feelings for each other because…well, Aziraphale supposed it would hurt too much at this point. Why torture themselves when they couldn’t be together the way they wanted to? All Aziraphale knew was that he was completely in love with Crowley and ached for him with his entire soul.

They ate silently and Aziraphale couldn’t help but notice that Crowley gave him the lion’s share of the pie and all of the cooling tea. That was the way Crowley loved – through these small acts of service; through gifts and letting Aziraphale have his fill. God help him, but Aziraphale thought he could never be full until he could have Crowley completely.

The afternoon had been nice; it had been easier than he’d thought – talking and joking and teasing like nothing had ever happened. Now they were truly alone together and Aziraphale wanted nothing more than to reach for Crowley in the firelight; to lie back on the nest of soft eiderdown and blankets and pull Crowley on top of him; to feel cool skin against his own again.

“I miss you,” Aziraphale whispered before he could stop himself.

Crowley looked at him desperately.

“Angel…”

“I miss you,” Aziraphale repeated, louder.

Crowley sighed and pushed his hair back from his face with one hand.

“I miss you too,” he said softly.

“It’s not fair,” continued Aziraphale. “It’s been such a dreadful day – I failed to find the one book the Nazis were adamant about and I’m scared . I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight for wondering what might happen next and…and…”

And I just want your arms around me , he thought. He needed to feel Crowley’s skin on his; needed the touch that never failed to ground him; to soothe him but they had agreed…

There was a rustle and the blankets moved as Crowley slid across the eiderdown towards him; wiry arms encircling Aziraphale and drawing him close as though Crowley had read his mind. It was everything Aziraphale had wanted and he flung his arms around Crowley’s neck desperately, the blanket slipping from his shoulders as he buried his face in the crook of Crowley’s neck and breathed him in.

He breathed in Crowley’s spicy, heady scent of black pepper and sandalwood in his cologne; slipping his hands across smooth, bare shoulders and causing Crowley’s blanket to slide to the floor with his own. Crowley’s hands were on him; long-fingers smoothing down Aziraphale’s sides to rest at the round of his hips. His touch was blissfully cool on Aziraphale’s skin and yet it ignited the fire in him that he’d tried so hard over the past week and a half to dampen.

“I need you,” Aziraphale found himself whispering against Crowley’s rough-smooth cheek. “I need you to touch me; I need you to kiss me…”

His lips ghosted over Crowley’s cheek; noses brushing gently as Crowley’s breath hitched and long fingers tightened on his hips.

“Angel…”

It was desperate; soft; neither a protest not an acknowledgement, but Crowley wasn’t stopping him; he wasn’t moving away. Aziraphale’s lips brushed the corner of Crowley’s mouth; hands sliding down over his bare, freckled chest.

“Please…” Aziraphale whispered, “please…”

That was all it took to break Crowley’s resolve and suddenly those smooth, long fingered hands were on his face; cool on his heated cheeks as Crowley kissed him long and deep and slow. Aziraphale moaned into it; pulling Crowley in and pressing his body against that lean frame and smooth, cool skin.

Crowley gently eased him back against the soft, cool silk of the eiderdown; hands resting on the side of Aziraphale’s neck as he continued to kiss him. God, but it felt like Heaven to Aziraphale who made space between his thighs as Crowley settled over him; pushing his hands through still-damp auburn hair.

The weight over him was perfect; the drag of Crowley’s cool hands down his chest and over his sides, grounding. All of Aziraphale’s misery and his fear melted away under Crowley’s touch until all that was left was Aziraphale’s desire for him and that sinful mouth on his.

I’m yours, Aziraphale wanted to say. Everything I am and everything I have is yours to take and I give it willingly.

Crowley’s mouth moved slowly down, pressing a long line of gentle kisses down the side of Aziraphale’s neck and across his throat. There was no hurry to them; Crowley taking his time as he kissed every inch of exposed skin he could get to; pulling sharp gasps and soft moans from Aziraphale’s lips.

He kissed across Aziraphale’s collarbones and down the centre of his chest; long fingers gently scraping through the fuzz of white-blond hair that trailed down to Aziraphale’s navel. Crowley kissed over Aziraphale’s stomach, spending an extraordinary amount of time pressing his lips against the roundness and feeling it yield against the soft pressure of his mouth.

Further still Crowley kissed, down over Aziraphale’s hipbone and into the crease of his groin that caused Aziraphale to gasp and his fingers to tighten in Crowley’s hair.

“Oh!” he breathed, as he felt a wicked flicker of tongue before it was smoothed away by the soft press of lips. “Oh, my dear…your mouth is divine …”

Crowley hummed gently against the top of Aziraphale’s thigh; nuzzling into the excess of flesh; his breath hot as he breathed Aziraphale in. Aziraphale was hard and aching; his cock dripping against his stomach as Crowley continued to press his soft kisses down the inside of Aziraphale’s thigh. He longed for the feel of that hot, wet mouth enveloping him again; swallowing him down like in the bookshop, but the tease of Crowley’s mouth kissing him everywhere but where he desperately wanted it was blissful.

Aziraphale groaned softly; feeling sweat prickle in places he never knew could sweat as Crowley pressed a soft kiss to the instep of his right foot and then moved over to Aziraphale’s left; beginning his journey back up. The fire continued to crackle in the hearth, casting their shadows on the wall and giving Crowley’s pale skin a glow like alabaster. Crowley could have been carved from it – perfect and smooth, cool and beautiful, come to life as Aziraphale scraped his nails across Crowley’s back as he worked his way back up Aziraphale’s body.

He could feel himself beginning to tremble with want; his thighs shaking as Crowley’s lips continued to kiss back up and over him; up towards Aziraphale’s cock which was aching more than before.

“More,” Aziraphale gasped as his fingers pulled and tugged at Crowley’s hair in an attempt to get that gorgeous mouth where he wanted it.

Crowley moaned, soft and drawn out against Aziraphale’s left hipbone, and Aziraphale had a clear second of thought to realise that Crowley always made that sweet noise when his hair was pulled; that Crowley liked that. The thought disappeared in an instant as Crowley suddenly drew back, his comforting weight gone as a cry of protest left Aziraphale’s lips to be replaced by one of surprise as Crowley flipped Aziraphale onto his stomach with surprising strength.

“Ohhhhh…” he groaned; burying his face into the eiderdown as Crowley’s hands stroked up the backs of his thighs with gentle pressure and over the rise of his buttocks, pressing a kiss to the small of Aziraphale’s back.

Aziraphale’s fists bunched up in the cool silk as Crowley eased Aziraphale’s legs apart again, continuing his worship of Aziraphale’s body with kisses across the backs of his thighs. He could feel himself pushing back as Crowley’s mouth reached the crease at the top of his thighs, his body practically begging Crowley not to skim over this part of him; to spread him open and use that wicked tongue until Aziraphale was moaning and begging to be fucked.

God help him, but Aziraphale desperately wanted Crowley to fuck him. He wanted Crowley to work him open; to fill him with that gorgeous cock and hold him down, pounding into him until his toes turned numb and he spilled his climax, hot and sticky across the covers. The tease of Crowley’s mouth on his skin just wasn’t enough for him anymore.

“More,” Aziraphale gritted out; still pushing back into Crowley’s touch as soft lips grazed his right buttock. “I need more, my dear… please …”

Aziraphale was desperate and begging now, but he didn’t care one bit as Crowley groaned his assent into Aziraphale’s ample buttocks; pulling Aziraphale up to his knees by his hips, and long-fingered hands trailing up through the fuzz on Aziraphale’s stomach to draw him flush against Crowley’s chest.

He turned his head instinctively, lips searching for Crowley’s as he reached back and buried his hand into soft auburn hair once again; moaning softly into the kiss. Crowley’s cock was hard and leaking as Aziraphale found himself pulled back into Crowley’s lap; hard flesh sliding with delightful ease between his thighs.

Fuuuuuck …angel…” Crowley breathed against the shell of Aziraphale’s ear; causing shivers down his spine.

Long fingers entwined with Aziraphale’s right hand; his left still buried in Crowley’s hair as he ground down against him.

“Yes,” Aziraphale whispered, “oh yes… please …”

It was gorgeous – the drag of Crowley’s cock between his thighs, hitting all the right spots as it brushed against the sensitive skin of his perineum as Crowley pulled him down into his lap as his hips moved up. It was almost as good as the real thing – Crowley’s hot breath on his neck and the slap of skin on skin punctuating the sharp gasps and moans of pleasure from them both.

Aziraphale loved it. Sweat pooled in the crooks of his elbows and the space behind his knees as they moved together in a perfect rhythm – a slow, undulating roll of hips; pressure and speed building with the coiling heat in their bellies.

He cried aloud when Crowley’s hand finally… finally wrapped around his cock, long fingers encircling it and smearing the clear precome over the head with his thumb.

“Crowley…” Aziraphale moaned desperately.

He was chasing the orgasm now; fucking into Crowley’s hand and slamming himself back down against the snap of Crowley’s hips. Nothing could stop Aziraphale now from taking what he wanted; what he needed. He could feel Crowley’s thighs start to tremble against his own; hear his sharp, ragged breaths against his ear and feel his hips stutter.

A…ziraphale …” Crowley whispered reverently as he tensed; fingers tightening against Aziraphale’s as his orgasm hit him; spilling hot and white between Aziraphale’s thighs.

It was enough to send Aziraphale over the edge – his name said like a prayer against his ear, and as Crowley’s hand faltered he took over with his own; falling forward as he stroked himself, fast and rough and desperate to follow Crowley into climax. He came with a wordless shout; painting the pink silk eiderdown white as he trembled through it; his entire body shaking as he collapsed, spent.

Crowley rolled onto his back, out of breath and pushing sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes. Aziraphale shifted onto his stomach, attempting to avoid the wet patch he’d created as he watched Crowley carefully. He was beautiful like this – the dying fire making the copper highlights in his auburn hair dance; his pale skin covered in a rose-gold flush; honey eyes shining. Aziraphale didn’t think he’d ever been in love with anyone the way he was in love with Crowley.

“We shouldn’t have done that,” Aziraphale murmured.

Crowley’s head rolled to the side, the light catching his eyes and lighting them with their own personal fire. He gave Aziraphale a soft, lopsided smile..

“Probably not,” he agreed.

“I’m glad we did,” confessed Aziraphale.

This was nothing in this world, not in Heaven or in Hell that could ever convince him it had been wrong. Making love to Anthony Crowley was the closest he would ever get to seeing the face of God – perfect and beautiful and pure, and when Crowley smiled at him it was like the light of Heaven ran through him.

“Me too,” murmured Crowley.

Aziraphale smiled, his fingers reaching out to tentatively tough Crowley’s bare shoulder. Crowley wouldn’t have done it, Aziraphale was sure of that. He would have given Aziraphale space; given him the one bed to sleep in while he spent the night downstairs; determined to protect Aziraphale from himself.

But Aziraphale had also known that Crowley wouldn’t resist him. Aziraphale had been naked and begging; lips brushing Crowley’s and he’d known Crowley could not refuse that, because Aziraphale wouldn't have been able to.

“I...tempted you into it,” Aziraphale said, quietly.

Crowley laughed softly; his smile, the most beautiful Aziraphale had ever seen as he turned onto his side and pressed a soft kiss to Aziraphale’s bare shoulder.

“Yes,” he murmured, “you are quite tempting. Like a delicious slice of angel cake...”

He made a soft noise – almost a moan as he ran his palm over the damp skin of Aziraphale’s back; lips curved into a smile as he pressed kiss after kiss to Aziraphale’s shoulder. Aziraphale couldn’t stop the giggle of delight that bubbled up in his chest.

“Stop it,” he replied, smiling.

“‘It’s true,” Crowley insisted with one more kiss. “Besides...this doesn’t count.”

Aziraphale frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” replied Crowley as he reached out to stroke an errant curl back from Aziraphale’s forehead, “we’re in the middle of nowhere. Nobody knows us here; there’s nobody following us or watching us. We’re existing outside of reality until the morning.”

Aziraphale heart skipped a beat as he realised that Crowley was right. It was almost like the universe had conspired to make sure this happened - that they’d end up stuck in an Oxfordshire village in a storm, soaked to the skin so they’d have to remove all their clothes; where the pub’s rooms were full so they had to stay in the most secluded, empty cottage in the village where nobody would disturb them. It could even be taken for divine intervention.

“In that case,” Aziraphale murmured, reaching out and pulling himself over to Crowley’s side of the blanket nest they had created, “I want to have you as many times as possible before the dawn.”

Crowley smiled again, his hands sliding up into Aziraphale’s white-blond curls as Aziraphale pulled him in by his narrow waist.

“You’re going to be tired in the morning, angel,” he whispered against Aziraphale’s lips.

Aziraphale’s stomach gave a delighted squirm as he kissed Crowley tenderly.

“God, I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Aziraphale had barely caught a wink of sleep. He had spent the entire night tangled up in Crowley’s long, lean body; Crowley’s lips on his skin; his hands in auburn hair. They had existed in a bubble, knowing they had only until the morning to get as much of each other as possible before they had to go back to reality, and they had definitely put the time to good use. Aziraphale was aching in all the best ways, exhausted but blissfully happy.

The fire had died hours ago and the room was cool; the pale light of dawn peeking around the edges of the heavy drapes that concealed them from the outside world. Aziraphale kissed Crowley’s bare shoulder; scraping his teeth across the golden freckles and delighting in the groan it elicited. He must have done that a hundred times during the night, and it still felt as thrilling as the first time.

“If you do that again, I’m going to have to ravish you,” Crowley murmured, opening one honey eye.

Aziraphale smiled into pale, creamy skin.

“We can’t have that,” he replied, softly. “I’ve had you up all night – I’m afraid if you ravish me, you may not have any energy left to drive us home.”

Crowley laughed; the sound tinged with the same exhaustion Aziraphale felt.

“I’m not sure I have the energy now.”

Aziraphale kissed his shoulder again and sighed. His skin felt sticky with dried ejaculate and sweat and saliva from Crowley’s kisses, but there was no possibility of properly washing before getting home. He realised with a jolt that their nocturnal activities had made an absolute mess of the blankets that they’d borrowed, and he groaned in despair.

“What’s wrong?” asked Crowley with a frown.

“I’m going to have to wash the blankets before we leave,” replied Aziraphale with a grimace.

“Why?”

Aziraphale blinked at him.

“Well, I can’t very well leave them in the state they are now!” he exclaimed. “Can you imagine the publican’s wife? She allowed two strange men to stay in her dead mother’s cottage on a stormy night, only to come in the next day to find all the the blankets completely covered in…”

“Alright angel, I get it,” Crowley interrupted him, rolling onto his back with a sigh. “I suppose we should clean up. I only hope our clothes have dried…”

They wrapped themselves in dirty blankets as they set about the task of getting dressed; their clothes mostly dry but the cuffs and collars still clinging to moisture. Aziraphale found a bar of laundry soap under the sink and set to work hastily scrubbing the stains out of the eiderdown they’d lain on and the blankets they’d wrapped up in. He would have been mortified if the publican’s wife had stumbled upon covers stained by his and Crowley’s lovemaking. They wouldn’t have kept a very low profile if they’d left them in such a state.

Crowley helped him to lay out the wet blankets to dry and then they gathered their things together, moving as slowly as possible to make their time alone together last as long as possible. The sun was visible in the sky by the time they were ready to leave, and Crowley reached for him one last time; pulling Aziraphale close.

“This is it,” he murmured. “As soon as we walk out of this door, it’s back to reality.”

Aziraphale sighed and straightened Crowley’s collar gently, placing a soft kiss on his lips.

“I wish we could stay longer,” Aziraphale whispered. “Just one more hour…”

“One more day…”

“One more week,” said Aziraphale, “or forever. Can we just stay here forever?”

Crowley smiled against Aziraphale’s lips; arms winding around his waist and holding him tightly.

“Angel, if I could stay here with you forever, I would.”

Aziraphale kissed him tenderly; fingers feathering through soft auburn hair. One day , he thought to himself – one day there would be no Nazi spies; no more war. One day they would have the luxury of locking themselves away from the world and just be together without a worry or care for anybody else. Aziraphale was as sure of that as he was his own name, and it was about the only thing that would help him make it through.

“Come on,” Crowley said softly, “let me take you home.”

It was incredible how different the world looked the morning after a storm. They day was dawning bright and cloudless; birds chirping in the trees and rabbits lolloping about the grass, chewing on the dandelions. The garden was full of trees in early blossom of pink and white - and roses…so many roses of every colour just beginning to bud at the end of April. By May the garden would be in full bloom, and again by September. Aziraphale could only imagine how beautiful it must be.

“Are you alright, dear?” he asked, noticing Crowley staring around him; wide-eyed.

Crowley gave him a lopsided smile.

“You know when I told you one day I want to get out of the city and move to the country?”

Aziraphale raised an eyebrow.

“Yes?”

“Well,” Crowley continued, softly, “this is exactly the kind of place I imagined – the quaint cottage; the rose garden; everything down to the little white gate.”

They hadn’t really taken any notice of what the place had looked like the night before; too busy running out of the rain but now they could see it in all its glory – the pale stone glowing in the early morning sunshine against the backdrop of hills and green woods. Aziraphale had to admit, it would be a beautiful place to retire.

They took to North road out of Tadfield, presuming that the South road was still blocked by the fallen oak with the hour still being early. It took a fair amount of time to loop back on themselves, using Crowley’s road maps to guide them in lieu of all the country’s road signs being removed in 1939. How the government expected anybody to navigate, Aziraphale had no idea – although, he supposed that was the point of it all.

Aziraphale couldn’t stop himself nodding off once or twice on the journey home with the wireless playing quietly in the background. They didn’t speak much, but the silence between them was so much less tense. Aziraphale felt much more at peace with their situation now than he did before; more sure of the fact that he and Crowley could and would make it through this. It had felt like divine providence, like the Almighty Herself had wanted them to have that one night together; like no matter what happened, Aziraphale and Crowley would always fall back to each other; like they were meant to be.

Crowley looked so tired as he drove; honey eyes focussing on the road ahead. It reminded Aziraphale of the first time they did this – driving back after the air raid and seeing Crowley covered in soot with his hair everywhere and thinking he was the most beautiful creature on God’s earth; knowing that he was falling hard and fast. He still thought Crowley was the most gorgeous person he’d ever laid eyes on and he was even more in love with him than he ever believed he could be.

They would be alright. As soon as Operation Nightingale was done with, they would be alright.

Aziraphale sighed as the Bentley reached London’s outer limits, knowing their time together was running out. Before he knew it, Crowley was turning down the little alley that ran behind his shop and coming to a stop. Aziraphale didn’t want to let him go just yet.

“Come in for coffee,” he murmured. “Please.”

Crowley looked at him with a lopsided smile.

“Coffee?” he repeated.

Those warm honey eyes studied him and Aziraphale felt his cheeks colour.

“We haven’t had any breakfast yet,” Aziraphale explained, “I thought perhaps we could have some together before…you have to go to work.”

Crowley’s smile grew.

“Just coffee?” he asked, “because I can’t have sex with you again, angel. You’ve worn me out and I’m afraid I just won’t do it!”

He was teasing – Aziraphale recognised the mirth in Crowley’s voice and smiled, coyly.

You would , he thought; looking away. Aziraphale wondered how he’d become this person; how he’d gone from quiet, unassuming, and bookish to having a British spy wrapped around his little finger. Crowley would drop to his knees in a second if that’s what Aziraphale wanted and he still couldn’t fathom how he had that kind of power over him, or why it thrilled him so much.

“Just coffee,” repeated Aziraphale.

Crowley huffed a short laugh and ran his fingers over his hair.

“Alright.”

The air in Soho felt heavy with smoke and ash as they stepped out of the car; colder and denser than the fresh clean air they’d been breathing in Tadfield, and Aziraphale shivered.

“Cold, angel?” teased Crowley as Aziraphale opened the back door. “Maybe we should huddle together for warmth?”

Aziraphale started to giggle, but the sound died on his lips as warmth from the back room hit him full in the face. Lamps were lit, the stove was on, and none other than Aziraphale’s eldest brother lounging in the chair Crowley favoured; a steaming cup of tea by his elbow and Aziraphale’s tartan biscuit tin lying open next to it.

“Gabriel…”

Gabriel’s eyes filled with contempt as they moved from Aziraphale to fix upon Crowley who walked in just behind him; lips curling into a snarl.

“I knew it,” Gabriel said; his voice low and dangerous. “I knew something was going on with you and this…this… snake .”

Aziraphale stiffened, hearing the door close behind him as he balled his hands into fists. ‘Snake’ seemed to be Gabriel’s favourite word for Crowley and Azirphale resented it.

“What are you doing here, Gabriel?” he asked, curtly.

He could feel Crowley’s hand through his coat, gently resting at the small of his back and Aziraphale was glad of the gentle, grounding pressure; of knowing Crowley was facing Gabriel with him. Gabriel leaned back in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched them both.

“My job,” replied Gabriel. “You asked me to come, remember? Presumably because you need my help with Rose Montgomery…”

“Your rogue agent,” Crowley interjected, and Gabriel snarled again.

Aziraphale remembered now – Crowley had asked him to set up a meeting with his brother because H Division were worried Montgomery would try to obtain forged identification and travel documents for Glozier before the Division were ready for him. Aziraphale had left a message with Gabriel’s secretary asking to meet, but he’d heard nothing from his brother.

“I presumed we’d go to lunch,” Aziraphale said, icily.

“After you fleeced me for Claridge’s most expensive bottle of Krug last time?” scoffed Gabriel. “Highly unlikely.”

Aziraphale remembered that Krug fondly – he’d brought most of the bottle home with him and shared with Crowley the next morning over smoked salmon and scrambled egg like they were dining at the Savoy.

“That doesn’t give you the right to break into my home,” sniffed Aziraphale.

“Well, I presumed you’d be here,” Gabriel retorted, tapping the tartan biscuit tin with his finger. “You’re always here – you rarely leave this place. So when I turned up this morning, expecting to find you holed up with your books and your tea and your…whatever it is you eat for breakfast,” Gabriel waved his hand, dismissively, “imagine my surprise at finding it dark and cold and locked up, like you hadn’t been here all night.”

Aziraphale could feel Crowley’s fingers tighten in his coat and Aziraphale wanted nothing more than to take his hand and lace those fingers with his; to soothe Crowley’s concern.

“So I let myself in to check that you hadn’t had a heart attack and died during the night,” Gabriel continued; glancing down at Aziraphale’s belly that he had poked and prodded the last time he’d been in the shop; taunting Aziraphale about his weight, “but you weren’t here at all. I called his Security Service division and they told me you’d gone on a book hunt to a place called Tadfield and got stuck there overnight. So I waited here, curious to see if you’d come in alone or…”

Gabriel trailed off, looking towards Crowley again, disdainfully. Aziraphale felt heat prickle at the back of his neck, recognising it immediately as anger.

“It’s not your concern who I invite into my own home,” he hissed, balling his hands into fists by his sides.

Gabriel stood up quickly, knocking the biscuit tin to the side with a clatter and causing Aziraphale to start. He felt Crowley shift to his side; an arm moving protectively in front of Aziraphale’s body as Crowley instinctively put himself between them; honey eyes burning like embers. Aziraphale’s heart fluttered in his chest even as he put a gentle hand on Crowley’s arm to get him to stand down.

“It’s alright, dear,” he murmured, ignoring the disgust that crossed Gabriel’s face for a split second and the sneer that replaced at as Crowley stepped back again. “Maybe you should go home,” Aziraphale quietly suggested, “I can handle my brother.”

He could tell Crowley was conflicted and understandably so. Gabriel was bigger, broader, more muscular than Aziraphale and he could be intimidating, but Aziraphale had never been in any physical danger from his brother. Gabriel had always preferred using others to get their hands dirty on his behalf, but he could be verbally cruel and cutting and Aziraphale didn’t want Crowley getting a fist to his face for trying to defend Aziraphale from that.

Aziraphale gave Crowley’s arm an encouraging squeeze and saw in those honey eyes the very moment he conceded.

“Alright, angel,” Crowley replied. “I’ll call you later.”

Crowley threw one last glance in Gabriel’s direction before opening the back door and leaving. Aziraphale sighed heavily and turned back to Gabriel who regarded him with an air of disdain.

“My my, Aziraphale,” Gabriel murmured, “You certainly have that one well trained – like a dog at heel.”

“Don’t…”warned Aziraphale.

“You used to have standards,” continued Gabriel, unperturbed. “It used to be minor nobility and Cabinet Minister’s sons, but now you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one Aziraphale – a former criminal and a substandard spy…”

“He’s an excellent spy,” Aziraphale spat, “and since when did you pay so much attention to my personal life?”

“Since you started having sex with your handler,” Gabriel spat back. “I can smell it on you – on both of you – you reek of it! Three Nazi spies are murdering and plotting against the British Empire on our own soil, and you’re off gallivanting in some little village in the middle of nowhere, fucking the man who is apparently in charge of the whole operation! It seems like you’re more interested in your little tryst than your duty to King and Country!”

It was like a slap in the face to Aziraphale and it stung. Gabriel always did have a way of getting under his skin; of making him feel guilty except…he refused to feel guilty for falling in love with Crowley. That man was the best thing to happen to Aziraphale in so many years and his brother had no right to question his loyalty to his country over it.

“I love him,” Aziraphale said simply. Gabriel scoffed, rolling his eyes Heavenward and Aziraphale drew himself up straighter. “I love him,” he repeated, “ and he loves me, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you or anybody else in this world.”

“Love?” Gabriel sneered. “Love makes you weak, Aziraphale.”

“How would you know?” Aziraphale shot back. “You’ve never loved anybody but yourself.”

Gabriel stilled, his grey-blue eyes turning cold as steel.

“Listen to me, Aziraphale,” he said, finally, “You’re playing with fire – this is dangerous business; it’s serious and if you carry on like this with Crawly…”

“Crowley.”

“…you could end up seriously hurt, or worse.”

“Oh Gabriel, stop trying to pretend you’re concerned for my wellbeing,” replied Aziraphale.

“You’re family,” Gabriel said, quietly. “There’s nothing more important to me than family, Aziraphale.”

That was true. Family was Gabriel’s biggest concern – he’d do anything to protect it, or at the very least, protect the family’s reputation. God help anyone who dared sully the name of Fell – Aziraphale had stepped out of line and had been ostracised; severed from the family and left a Fell in name only with Gabriel dropping in now and then to make sure Aziraphale was keeping his head down.

He’d kept Aziraphale’s secrets and made sure inconveniences to the family were kept as far away as possible. Gabriel was the family’s enforcer, the one who knew everybody’s weaknesses and how exactly to get them to toe the line.

Well, Aziraphale was done with it. He was a grown man, and perfectly capable of making his own decisions and living with his own mistakes. He loved Crowley, and he knew they hung on a knife edge with the Nazis; that anything at all could give the game away and have dire consequences for them all. Aziraphale could and would do what needed to be done to bring them all to justice, and he didn’t need his brother’s judgement on that.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” he said, coolly, “Now, if you would kindly leave my home…”

Gabriel silently studied him for a few seconds before sighing, reaching to retrieve his hat from the table with a shake of his head; leaving without another word or a backwards glance.

Aziraphale sank down into the vacated chair, letting out a shaky breath as he reached to take a shortbread round from his biscuit tin. He’d eaten five before he realised he’d evicted his brother without even discussing the matter of preventing Montgomery getting hold of documents for Glozier.

____

 

There hadn’t been anyone in the Whitehall office, which was odd but not overly concerning to Crowley. He wasn’t particularly in the mood for a lecture from Beezle about staying out all night with the asset, or for Dagon’s raised eyebrow and the quirk of her lips whenever Crowley mentioned Aziraphale’s name.

Crowley had already been home, washed and changed his clothes and come back out to the office. He’d needed to clean away the evidence of his night with Aziraphale before he came into contact with anyone; washing the smell of sex from his skin with reluctance. The night they’d spent together in Tadfield had been perfect – Crowley had explored every inch of Aziraphale’s body and had learned what made him gasp and keen and cry out in pleasure.

They had been limited in how far they could go, but Crowley had discovered so many new and different ways to make love with someone; to use his mouth and his hands on every part of Aziraphale’s body and have those gorgeous, soft hands with their deliciously thick fingers touching him in return; making Crowley moan and beg for more. He had come back to London exhausted but elated and then…

Neither of them had been expecting Gabriel Fell to be waiting for them in the back room of Aziraphale’s bookshop. Crowley had known they’d had to reach out to him regarding Montgomery and Glozier, but he’d thought it would be another lunch meeting between Aziraphale and his brother like the last time; inconspicuously sharing information that wouldn’t be accidentally intercepted by Nazi spies.

Gabriel Fell rubbed Crowley up the wrong way. He was elitist, he was a snob, and he looked at Crowley as though he was dog shit on the bottom of Gabriel’s handmade Oxford shoes. It was incredible to think he and Aziraphale were related in any way at all, never mind brothers. He had none of Aziraphale’s warmth or his empathy; none of his kindness or humility; none of his intelligence or his resourcefulness or…anything at all. They were like night and day, and Crowley felt nothing but anger when he thought of Aziraphale having to grow up in a house full of bastards like his brother. Aziraphale deserved better.

Crowley was restless – still angry with Gabriel for showing up the way he did and bursting the bubble he and Aziraphale had been in since the night before; head still swimming with the memories of what they had done together. Crowley wished he had somebody to talk to; someone that he could tell about Aziraphale and his feelings for the bookseller that he was still trying to come to terms with himself. Everything about this was still new to Crowley and he just wanted a friend to discuss it with…

A thought entered his head as he made his way back to the Bentley. There was one person – somebody who had brought him coffee and sat next to him as he poured his heart out; somebody kind and sympathetic who had invited him for dinner and offered friendship freely.

Oh God, but Beezle would kill him if he reached out to Violet. He was probably the only person who knew how hard Beezle had worked to keep Violet completely separate from her work life, and they he’d already gone and violated that by showing up drunk and unannounced at their flat. Crowley was already on thin ice with Beezle. It would be completely and utterly stupid of him to go to Guy’s Hospital and meet Violet as she went on her lunch break.

But he did it anyway.

Even London’s hospitals hadn’t been spared from the bombing. Both Guy’s and St Thomas’s suffered visibly from damage but the staff carried on regardless – nurses, doctors, porters, and volunteers working around the clock to treat both wounded civilians and soldiers fresh from the front with severe injuries; all under the threat of more nightly air raids. In Crowley’s opinion, these people were all true heroes and had nothing but the utmost respect for each and every one of them.

He parked the Bentley by the main gate, leaning against the bonnet and he checked the time and watched as small groups of nurses began to file out, their blue-grey uniforms and white pinafores covered by navy capes; the flashes of red lining making a brave and bold statement against the bomb-damaged backdrop. Crowley didn’t have to wait too long before he spotted her – blonde hair neatly pinned into place below her white nurse’s cap; chatting animatedly with her companions.

Sharp, green eyes met his and he watched her conversation falter, wondering if he’d made an enormous mistake until she smiled and waved at him, bidding her friends a quick farewell before bounding out of the gate to meet him.

“Crowley!” she exclaimed, happily. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Crowley almost sighed in relief. The two nurses Violet had been with were now whispering to each other, casting glances in his direction and he couldn’t help but grin.

“Well, I was going to see if you fancied having lunch with me…but if it’s going to cause a scandal…”

He inclined his head towards the two women and Violet looked over her shoulder, turning back to him with a devious grin.

“Are you kidding?” she replied, delightfully. “I would love to cause a scandal – besides, being seen going to lunch with a handsome man means they won’t try to set me up with anybody else for at least two weeks. You’d be doing me a huge favour.”

“Handsome?” Crowley repeated, raising an eyebrow.

Violet chuckled.

“Darling, with that hair and those cheekbones, of course you are!”

Crowley beamed at her and pushed himself smoothly from the car bonnet, moving to open the door for her.

“Well in that case, lets cause a stir.”

Violet chose a very sophisticated tea room facing out over London Bridge which seemed very poular with hospital staff. Tea was served in china pots; small triangular sandwiches and little cakes sat on three-tier stands; clotted cream and butter in glass dishes. Nurses sat side-by-side with soldiers and airmen and sailors and civilians, chatting and laughing and eating. Crowley and Violet could easily have passed for a perfectly normal couple.

Crowley realised with a sudden ache in his chest that Aziraphale would love this little tea room.

“Are you alright?” asked Violet once the tea and coffee had been brought to the table.

Crowley gave her a soft smile.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Look, I’m sorry for showing up out of the blue. I didn’t…I mean…if I’m out of line…”

“No,” Violet said, gently. “I’m always very pleased to have lunch with a friend.”

Everything about her was completely genuine, from her smile and her voice, to the way her fingertips comfortingly patted the sleeve of Crowley’s jacket. He’d been drunk and a hopeless wreck the first time she’d met him, and the next morning he hadn’t left much of a better impression of himself and yet somehow, Violet still considered him a friend.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

Violet smiled at him and reached to pour herself some tea.

“You’re welcome,” she replied, “although something must have happened for you to seek me out. Am I right?”

Crowley looked down at his cup of coffee.

“Yeah…”

“Is it Aziraphale?”

Crowley had told Violet all about Aziraphale the morning after they had called a halt to the relationship that had barely even started. He’d sat next to Violet on a small sofa, cradling the cup of coffee she’d made for him and the whole story had poured from him like a dam bursting; all the thoughts and emotions he’d tried so hard to keep hold of, spilling over and out into Violet and Beezle’s sitting room.

Friends, just like love, were an entirely new concept to Crowley. Up until now, Beezle was the closest thing he’d really had to a friend and even then, her primary job was keeping him from doing something stupid and ending up in jail. Beezle was tough on him and God knows that’s what Crowley needed most of the time – somebody who refused to accept his crap – but he was glad of Violet’s gentleness that day. Crowley had needed empathy and she’d given it freely.

He gave her a small smile.

“It’s nothing bad,” he murmured. “It’s…quite the opposite, really.”

Violet raised her china cup of steaming tea to her pillar-box red lips and quirked an eyebrow.

“Ellie said the pair of you had gone on a mission to some little village,” she said mildly, “and that you’d called her from the village pub to say you got stuck there.”

Crowley blinked; surprised that Beezle had divulged that kind of information. Usually, Beezle went well out of her to ensure her work and personal life never crossed…but he also supposed he’d injected himself into the middle of Beezle’s personal life and she’d had to tell Violet something about why a drunk moron was crying on their sofa. She was obviously keeping Violet updated on the situation.

“A tree fell in the storm,” replied Crowley, “completely blocking the road out.”

Violet took a pointed sip of her tea; green eyes still fixed on him.

“How very inconvenient.”

Crowley laughed and Violet’s red lips curled into a smile.

“Not so much,” he murmured.

She chuckled and set her cup back down in its saucer, tucking a wayward curl behind her ear with her free hand.  He couldn’t help but see Aziraphale in the gesture and he glanced away.

“So,” Violet mused, “exactly how many times did you transgress?”

“Oh…I lost count,” Crowley replied, softly.

They looked at each other and broke into identical grins; both beginning to chuckle.

“Well, at least things aren’t awkward between you,” she laughed.

It had actually surprised Crowley how not-awkward things had been with Aziraphale. Slightly strained, perhaps; the weight of the unsaid still hanging between them, but it had been just like old times.

“I’m just…so weak when it comes to him,” Crowley murmured. “I can’t resist.”

He reached out to gently run his forefinger over the cool white china of his coffee cup, looking up to find Violet smiling softly at him.

“You love him,” she said; her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s all still so new for you both and the timing was…”

“The worst,” Crowley grumbled.

“Possibly,” agreed Violet, “but it’s natural to feel so overwhelmed by it.”

Crowley looked at the table.

“Is it?” he asked. “I’ve never done this before – I’ve never been in love before and its…it’s wonderful and it’s terrifying. “I want to wrap my arms around him and never let go because I’m so scared to lose him.”

Violet gave him a small smile.

“I’m afraid that feeling never goes away,” she murmured. “At least, not for me. Maybe it’s this bloody war – the Blitz. So much death and destruction, and anybody could be next. Ellie does the work she does and every day I’m worried she won’t come home…”

She trailed off and Crowley reached out, wrapping his hand around hers; surprised at how small it was in his own.

“Believe me when I tell you, Violet – Bee would burn the world down to get back to you. Every single mission I’ve ever done with her, Beezle’s motivation is just getting home to you. She’s tough and she’s damn scary sometimes, but she loves you more than anything.”

Violet smiled at him, bright and beautiful, and she squeezed his hand in return.

“She’s never been scary to me,” Violet murmured.

Crowley grinned.

“You have her wrapped around your little finger,” he replied. “She’d do anything for you.”

“Like you would for Aziraphale.”

It was a statement not a question, and Crowley looked away from Violet’s keen green eyes. Aziraphale did have Crowley wrapped around his finger, and Crowley was astutely aware of it. He supposed he had more in common with Beezle than he ever really imagined.

“How do you do it?” Crowley asked, quietly. “How do you two manage to keep it all hidden from the world and still be so completely together?”

Violet shrugged.

“It’s difficult. As far as all my friends at work are aware, I live with my cousin. They’re always trying to set me up with men and I have to politely decline every time. I wish I could tell them how very much I’m unavailable, but nobody would understand. And yet the moment we’re home together, nobody else matters. We can shut the door and block them all out so that it’s just us and we’re happy.”

Crowley smiled. It’s all he wanted – since the day he’d met Aziraphale; the day he’d realised he’d fallen so hard and there was no going back, all he’d wanted was wake up every morning and share that silly breakfast ritual with him; to sit and drink wine on a small settee and listen to Aziraphale talk about his favourite books. Crowley wanted to go to bed next to Aziraphale every night and wake up with that angel in his arms every morning; to just exist with him in their own world.

“If it helps,” Crowley said as Violet finished her tea, “I’m happy for you to use me as a pretend boyfriend. I mean…if it’s going to stop people trying to match make…”

Violet beamed at him.

“I’ll bear it in mind,” she chuckled. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” replied Crowley. “Now, I should probably get you back to Guy’s before Matron makes you scrub out the kidney bowls for being late.”

“Good point,” Violet agreed. 

Crowley paid for tea and was a perfect gentleman as he escorted Violet back to the hospital; the Bentley causing quite the stir again as he screeched to a halt outside Guy’s gate and jumped out, holding the door for her.

She waved at him from the top step before disappearing in a swirl of blue and red cape, leaving Crowley ginning to himself. It was good to have a friend.

 

Chapter Text

Three full nights of sleep alone in his own bed had restored Crowley’s energy to maximum. He’d needed the rest just as much as he’d needed that one blissful night with Aziraphale, even if Aziraphale was the reason he needed the rest.

Crowley cheerfully filled his chipped pitcher at the sink and watered the small collection of house plants that were somehow still lush and green and thriving. One day he would have a whole garden, just like the ones in Tadfield village. Crowley didn’t know much about flowers or trees or vegetables, but he had a green thumb and he could learn. Aziraphale’s bookshop had to have one or two books on gardening that he could read, and he would grow everything he possibly could. His life would be filled with colour and he’d bring Aziraphale fresh flowers every day, just to see his face light up with happiness.

He shrugged on his jacket and grabbed the keys to his Bentley, closing the door to his flat and taking the stairs two at a time. Crowley began to hum happily to himself – ‘A Pocketful of Dreams’ – the song that had played on the wireless when they’d gone to Southend and picnicked on the cliff’s edge. The tune died on his lips the second he stepped outside the building, for sitting cross-legged on the bonnet of his car was Beezle.

It was strange how terrifying such a small woman could be, with her short black hair and her men’s pinstripe suit; sitting on his car, glaring at him. There was only one reason why she’d turn up like this at the crack of dawn outside Crowley’s flat. He was in so much trouble.

“We need to talk,” Beezle said, quietly.

Crowley blinked, confused at the lack of malice or rage in her voice. He supposed she wasn’t picking her nails with a knife, so that was at least a good sign.

“Talk?” replied Crowley. “Why does that not fill me with good feelings?”

“I don’t know,” Beezle murmured, turning her head to the side. “Have you done something wrong, Crowley? Do you have something to feel nervous about?”

Crowley said nothing. There was no point in lying to her – Beezle was here; she knew what he’d done, although Crowley wasn’t entirely convinced his actions had been ‘wrong’. He wasn’t about to admit it either. Beezle sighed heavily and uncrossed her legs, sliding from the bonnet of the car.

“Well, I didn’t come all the way from Islington to Camberwell so I could freeze on your Bentley. The least you can do is give me a lift to work.”

He watched Beezle as she made her way to the passenger side, waiting patiently for him to unlock the doors. Crowley was baffled. There wasn’t a chance in Hell that Beezle had crossed the whole of London to show up for a chat. Crowley was in a lot of trouble but Beezle hadn’t punched him in the face yet, and that unnerved him more than anything. With a deep breath, Crowley unlocked the door and slid into the car.

They drove in silence for a little while, Crowley stealing glances at Beezle who stared solidly ahead.

“I can’t fucking stop you, can I?” she said, eventually.

“What?”

Beezle rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed.

“You and Fell,” Beezle clarified. “I won’t be so naïve as to think you kept your word when the two of you were stuck in Tadfield, and I’m not going to pretend that anything I say or do is going to stop you. I can tell you until I’m blue in the face that what you’re doing is stupid; that it’s dangerous; that it can get you and him and all of us killed. And you can tell me over and over that you know all this, but you won’t stop, will you?”

Crowley stared hard at the road ahead.

“No,” he murmured.

“No,” Beezle repeated.

She was right. Crowley had told himself; told Beezle; told Aziraphale that it was over until they’d apprehended the Nazi spies, but he’d been powerless to resist when Aziraphale threw his arms around his neck and had begged Crowley to touch him; to kiss him; to make love to him. Crowley wouldn’t stop because he couldn’t.

“I love him.”

“I know,” sighed Beezle, “and if this was any other time, I’m sure I’d be thrilled for you. God knows I’d rather have you stick with one person than screwing whoever you could find in a back alley, Crowley, but Jesus…”

“I’m not going to disagree that it was bad timing…”

Beezle scoffed.

“That’s a fucking understatement,” she growled. “You’re an idiot – a stupid, reckless moron…”

“For Hell’s sake, Bee – say what you think,” Crowley muttered.

Beezle’s fist hit the dash and she looked at him, dark eyes blazing.

“You are a moron,” she hissed, “and you are putting the whole division and this operation at risk, and there is nothing I can do to stop you. Just know Crowley, that if this all goes south because of your relationship with Fell, I’ll be holding you fully responsible.”

Crowley sighed, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel.

“That’s fair,” he murmured.

He wasn’t sure what was worse – getting punched in the face or the resignation in Beezle’s voice. Crowley thought he might have preferred getting punched, because this almost felt like Beezle was giving up on him; like he was a lost cause. Maybe he was.

They drove the rest of the way to Whitehall in silence; Crowley manoeuvring the Bentley through roadblocks and diversions caused by the night’s bombing until they reached the office. It was still very early as he parked the car outside of the building that housed the division’s poky little basement office, with only a handful of people on the street. Crowley sighed heavily as he climbed out of the car.

“Crowley?”

Crowley turned at the sound of Beezle’s voice and immediately found himself shoved roughly back against this car door; Beezle’s fists bunched up in the lapels of his jacket.

“Ow! What the Hell?”

“Just one other thing,” she said, dangerously, “Don’t take my wife out to lunch behind my back ever again.”

Crowley opened his mouth and promptly shut it again. Of course Violet would have told Beezle about their lunch. There’s no reason why she wouldn’t – Violet was honest and open, and it’s not like Crowley had asked her not to say anything.

“Er…sorry,” Crowley muttered.

Beezle glowered at him for another few seconds and then let him go; stepping back as Crowley straightened out the creased she’d made in the wool.

“I’ve been waiting three days for you to tell me and you didn’t,” continued Beezle. “I can’t stop you talking to Violet but you should have told me. For some reason she likes you, although God only knows why – she’s far too good for you.”

Crowley smirked.

“To be fair, Bee,” he replied, mildly, “she’s too good for you too.”

Beezle narrowed her eyes and for a second Crowley really did expect her to hit him. Then her mouth quirked up at the corner.

“Yeah, well…don’t tell her that.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Crowley murmured.

Dagon was on the phone when they walked into the office; Hastur and Ligur lurking nervously in the background. The atmosphere in the room was heavy and serious, causing the hairs on the back of Crowley’s neck to stand up.

“What’s going on?” he mouthed to Dagon who raised one finger, indicating that she’d be able to tell him in a moment.

Beezle shot him a concerned frown.

“Right,” Dagon was saying to her counterpart on the other end of the telephone. “Tell your people to stay on him – keep low, don’t lose him. Give me five minutes.”

Dagon pressed the phone to her shoulder and looked at them, seriously.

“What’s happened?” asked Beezle.

“It’s Glozier,” replied Dagon. “Our people in Manchester are on the line – apparently he’s just bought a train ticket to London and he’s at the station with suitcase in hand. He’s on the move.”

“Shit,” muttered Crowley.

“Wasn’t Archangel supposed to look into preventing travel documents from getting to him until we were ready to move?”

“Maybe Montgomery had already sent them?”

This was too soon. They weren’t ready for Glozier yet and Aziraphale hadn’t even got all the books. The Nazis were obviously spooked – they knew Glozier was being watched in Manchester and they’d hurried to get him out of there as soon as possible. They hadn’t managed to prevent him getting forged documents, but Dagon’s quick code breaking had awarded them opportunity to switch the team watching Glozier before he went to ground. They still had track of him at least.

“Tell them to get somebody on the train with him,” said Beezle. “Crowley and I will get on the next train from King’s Cross and we’ll intercept him halfway up the line.”

Dagon nodded and immediately put the phone back to her ear, relaying the instructions to the Manchester branch.

“This isn’t good,” Crowley muttered.

“No it isn’t,” replied Beezle, “but the best we can do now is make sure we don’t lose Glozier between Manchester and here.”

“Right.”

Crowley felt uneasy about the whole thing; something about the situation not sitting right with him. Beezle was right though – it was the best they could do at short notice. Fishing his car keys back out of his pocket, Crowley swallowed the unease and followed Beezle back outside.

 

____

 

“I seem to have run out of options,” Aziraphale sighed into his mimosa.

Robert had invited him for breakfast at the Savoy with the offer to help him run through his list of potential Binns again. Several of the first editions he’d managed to track down had been of terrible quality, many of them missing pages or suffering irreparable damage that even Aziraphale’s skills could do nothing for.

He supposed he could have purchased a substandard Binns. Aziraphale didn’t really believe the Nazis would make it as far as leaving the country with the books – Crowley and his division would apprehend them well before then, so it wouldn’t matter what the books looked like…

But then again, if the Nazis checked the books and Aziraphale hadn’t supplied the proper editions in the best condition, what was to stop them shooting Aziraphale in the head? Even with Crowley and his people surrounding them, Aziraphale was sure at least one Nazi could shoot him dead before H Division could get to them. It was best not to risk it – doing the job properly bought him time and, hopefully, his life.

Robert blinked at him from across the table, carefully loading his fork with light and fluffy scrambled eggs.

“There is one place you haven’t tried, darling,” Robert murmured.

Aziraphale looked up from the list and frowned.

“No there isn’t,” he replied. “I’ve exhausted every option on that list.”

“This one isn’t on your list.”

Aziraphale stared at him, realisation slowly dawning on him. There had been one source he’d purposely left off the list – a source he had refused to consider, even as a last resort. Of course he’d expected to find a suitable copy of Binns from somewhere else and that strategy had failed. Still, the thought of going back there filled Aziraphale with dread.

“No,” he said simply. “There has to be somewhere else.”

“There isn’t,” Robert replied, kindly. “You already said you’ve exhausted all your other options.”

“I’m not going back there,” sniffed Aziraphale, stubbornly.

Robert sighed and put down his cutlery, reaching for his own mimosa.

“My wee darling,” he replied. “I know that place doesn’t hold the best memories for you, but it’s the only source you’ve yet to tap.”

A knot began to form in Aziraphale’s stomach at the thought of it.

“I doubt they’ll even let me through the front gate,” muttered Aziraphale.

“Oh, Aziraphale!” Robert exclaimed in frustration. “How long do you want to drag this out for? You said yourself, you wanted this whole ordeal over as quickly as possible so you could…get on with your life.” Robert sighed and then leaned in, lowering his voice. “Think about your wee Anthony – if you get this book, it’ll all be over and you two can finally be together.”

That one struck a chord with him. Aziraphale adored Robert and he adored that his friend knew him so well – the disadvantage being that Robert knew the right buttons to press to spur Aziraphale into action. His stomach squirmed uncomfortably.

“I haven’t been back there since…”

“I know,” Robert said, soothingly, “but it’s worth a try. Angels’ Rise is your last hope to get this book.”

The thought of going back to his family home filled Aziraphale with pure dread. His split with the family had been…messy. On his twenty-second birthday, Aziraphale had been given a choice – he could toe the family line; stay within the security of the family who would love and embrace him as long as Aziraphale was the person they wanted him to be…or he could be true to himself and be cast out. Aziraphale had chosen the second option, taken his inheritance, and run off to London with a small chunk of the family’s estate library. He’d been told to never come back.

His family’s love had been entirely conditional and the moment Aziraphale had disobeyed and decided to choose his own path, he’d been cast out; cut off. It had been difficult without them, but he’d found Robert and the Gentleman’s Club on Portland Place, and then his bookshop. Aziraphale had made something of himself; he’d built a life he largely enjoyed, and more recently had found somebody he wanted to share the rest of that life with.

The estate’s library held so many books; mostly first editions. The Fells liked to collect first editions and let them sit gathering dust on the shelves, unread. As a boy, Aziraphale had spent many a lonely hour with those books, avoiding his siblings or his parents or the fencing lessons they were all forced into taking. Aziraphale knew there was a copy of Otwell Binns on those shelves – he’d seen it..

He also knew that going to Angels’ Rise was like walking into a nest of vipers.

“I can’t,” Aziraphale said helplessly. “It wasn’t on the list because it’s not an option! I’m not welcome there.”

“I’ll go with you,” replied Robert.

“Oh my dear, I think that would just make the whole thing worse. No offence.”

“None taken.”

Robert went back to quietly eating his breakfast as Aziraphale polished off his mimosa and flagged down the waiter for another one. The last thing he wanted was to go back to Angels’ Rise but it seemed like he had no choice. Robert was right – he just wanted this whole ridiculous ordeal over with so he and Crowley could start their relationship properly. If Binns was still in the estate’s library then he could contact Harmony and get this handover set up so that Crowley could arrest them and throw them in jail. It could all be over in days…if he just had the courage to go back to Angels’ Rise.

“I can take you if you’d like,” Robert offered, gently patting Aziraphale’s hand, “I’ll drive you there and wait in the car.”

Aziraphale’s free hand went to his waistcoat buttons. Knowing that Robert would be waiting for him in the car ready to make a quick getaway was a comfort. All he had to do was make it to the library and back without anyone seeing him, but given the fact that he had an abundance of siblings that would be no easy feat.

“Perhaps,” Aziraphale began, hesitantly, “there may be one of my siblings willing to help in this endeavour.”

Robert raised his eyebrows.

“Oh?”

He wasn’t even going to consider talking to Gabriel about it – only three days ago, his brother had made it very clear what he thought of Aziraphale and Crowley, and although he knew he’d have to speak to Gabriel sooner rather than later, he wasn’t about to ask for his help with this. There was another sibling he had in mind.

It was a long shot, but Aziraphale was getting into the habit of taking long shots these days. Out of all of his siblings, there had been only one other who’d kept in contact. They didn’t speak much these days…in fact Aziraphale couldn’t quite remember the last time they had spoken, but Aziraphale held a sliver of hope that their relationship still mattered enough.

Michael had always been the quietly rebellious Fell. She’d never stepped out of line with what the family wanted – not directly – but Aziraphale had never forgotten how Michael had been the only one to comfort him after that fateful New Year’s party all those years ago. Gabriel had caught him in the library with a particularly gorgeous young man who had fast been evicted from the house after blows from his brothers, and Aziraphale had spent the rest of the weekend crying with his head in Michael’s lap while she stroked his hair and said nothing.

After he’d left, Michael had still exchanged letters and telephoned; they’d even met for lunch once or twice, but it had been years now since their last interaction. Aziraphale wasn’t even sure if Michael was the same person anymore; if the family had squashed every ounce of rebelliousness from her by now.

“I will telephone my sister,” he said, finally. “Perhaps she can assist in some way.”

 

____

 

The train carriage was blessedly full, which awarded Crowley and Beezle more cover. They had taken an express from London to Birmingham and then changed lines to intercept the train coming through from Manchester. Crowley had spotted him in a second class carriage – round and balding; so incredibly unassuming. Glozier certainly didn’t look like a Nazi or even a spy for that matter.

“Let’s split up,”Beezle had said. “I’ll take one end of the carriage and you take the other – that way, we have him boxed in.”

It was a sound plan. If Glozier got up to move, one of them could tail him whichever way he went but still Crowley felt uneasy. They were improvising, and whilst Crowley was very good at improvising, this whole thing was risky. Crowley tried to think of what might happen when they all reached London. Perhaps Harmony would meet Glozier off the train, in which case they would have two of their spies right there. He and Beezle could arrest them and then they could send somebody after Montgomery.

The only reason they hadn’t already arrested any of them was because they were too spread out – if they’d taken in one or even two of the Nazis it still gave whoever remained the chance to go to ground and even escape. The Division had needed them all together before they could move in and it was happening far sooner than anticipated. Crowley hadn’t even had the chance to tell Aziraphale…

He realised with a jolt that he hadn’t been staring into space like he’d thought, but right at Glozier…and Glozier was staring back. Cold eyes watched him over a newspaper and Crowley looked away, quickly; cursing himself for his carelessness. The whole point was not to draw attention to himself – hopefully, Glozier would go back to his newspaper and think no more of it.

Crowley glanced up again and his stomach sank like a lead balloon. Glozier was still watching him; newspaper now lowered to his lap as he looked at Crowley through narrowed eyes, as though trying to place him. He should have told Dagon to come, or Ligur. Beezle looked radically different to when they’d followed Glozier around Manchester – she wasn’t wearing a frock or lipstick and her hair wasn’t curled, but Crowley…was distinctive with his height and his red hair; his dark glasses and, of course, the small serpent tattoo just by his ear.

Something in Glozier’s expression told Crowley he’d made a connection; that he realised he’d seen Crowley before and that being on the same train was not a coincidence. Crowley had blown it.

He watched as Glozier set aside his paper and stood up, walking down the aisle towards Beezle. Crowley got up to follow him and saw Beezle shift in her seat; dark eyes darting from Glozier to Crowley as they came towards her. Glozier didn’t glance back.

“Crowley!” she hissed as he passed her.

He watched Glozier open the door that connected the carriages and walk through it before glancing at Beezle.

“I think he recognised me,” Crowley murmured, “If I’m not back in five minutes, come find me.”

Crowley ignored Beezle’s hushed protests and hurried through the connecting door, just in time to see Glozier slip through the one at the other end of the carriage.

Shit , thought Crowley. They’d all worked so hard on this operation and now Crowley had fucked it up at the last minute by staring. He hurried down the aisle to the other connecting door, emerging in another carriage. Crowley didn’t know what he was going to when he finally caught up to Glozier – subdue him; arrest him, probably…and then there was the matter of trying to apprehend the others. The plan would have to change, and fast to ensure the other two Nazis didn’t get away…

Crowley was too preoccupied with his thoughts, hurrying to catch Glozier as he disappeared behind door after door that he forgot to be careful. Pulling the door to the baggage car open, Crowley was hit squarely in the face with something large and heavy; stars bursting behind his eyes before the world went black.

 

____

 

Aziraphale walked slowly up the white chipped limestone driveway of Angels’ Rise, trying desperately to control his breathing as he got closer and closer to the house. ‘House’ was a loose term. In truth it was more like a small palace – the grey-white stone glimmering in the spring sunshine; tall windows reflecting the light; exquisite alabaster angels looking down on him from above. Angels’ Rise was truly beautiful, but Aziraphale felt sicker with every step he took towards it.

He thought back to earlier that day, and his telephone call to his sister Michael.

It’s always lovely to hear from you, Aziraphale,” she’d said, demurely, “but I get the feeling this isn’t a call to catch up. What do you want?”

Aziraphale had felt the guilt flood him. He’d left it so long since his last contact with Michael and she was right – the first time he’d called her in years and it was to ask a favour.

“I need your help,” he’d said, quickly explaining as best he could about his quest to find a first edition Binns.

Michael’s silence had been deafening; a few seconds feeling like hours.

“Gabriel says you’ve managed to get yourself in a spot of hot water,” she’d said, eventually; her voice as calm as the sea on a summer’s day. “Is that true?”

Aziraphale silently cursed his older brother.

“Gabriel likes to stick his nose in where it’s not wanted,” Aziraphale had muttered. “It is a situation and I’m getting good help to handle it, but I really need a first edition of Binns so the situation can end.”

Michael had said nothing and Aziraphale had sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger.

“Please, Michael,” he’d added, softly. “You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

“Alright,” Michael had replied. “Come to Angels’ Rise at two o’clock this afternoon. There’s a small window of time where the house is empty – we should be able to get you into the library and find the book before anyone else comes back.”

Aziraphale had thanked her and Robert had driven him to the far side of Kent, dropping him off at the gate before retreating to a safe distance until Aziraphale was ready to go again.

There was still a risk of course that Michael wouldn’t be telling the truth; that he was walking into a trap where his more violent-minded siblings were waiting for him to punish him for turning his back on the family then daring to ask for a favour…

The front door opened and Aziraphale flinched until Michael appeared, alone. His sister always had been one of the most elegant creatures Aziraphale had ever known and she hadn’t changed over the years, standing there in a pale grey skirt and ivory silk blouse; her dark blonde curls piled high on her head, and blue-grey eyes watching him as he made his way up the driveway.

“Aziraphale,” she greeted him calmly.

“Good afternoon, Michael,” replied Aziraphale; his heart hammering in his chest.

His sister gave him a demure smile and stepped aside, allowing him access to the house he hadn’t set foot in for eighteen years.

Everything was exactly the same.

Aziraphale followed Michael through the atrium and down a long hallway with a grey and white marble floor and floor-to-ceiling gilded mirrors lining the white walls. Aziraphale had always hated that hallway – the mirrors were meant to make everything seem bigger and brighter, but he’d always felt as though he was being watched; every action reflected back on him with nowhere to hide or escape. It made him incredibly uneasy.

Angels were everywhere – statues in the hallways; carved into the marble fireplaces; staring down at him from the ceilings. They were even incorporated into the furniture, always watching. Aziraphale guessed it was supposed to be comforting to have angels watching over the house and the family, but he’d always longed for just a moment away from their scrutiny.

“This place never changes,” he murmured.

Michael gave him a brief smile over her shoulder.

“No,” she agreed, “but you have.”

Aziraphale’s fingers immediately went to the soft velvet hem of his waistcoat as he tugged it down self-consciously.

“Is that bad?”

“No,” murmured Michael; her smile warming as she halted in the corridor and turned, reaching for his hand. Aziraphale sighed in relief as he gently squeezed her fingers and smiled back. “I never thought you’d set foot in this place again,” she continued. “It took a lot of guts to come back.”

Aziraphale shrugged.

“I seem to be finding courage these days that I never knew I had,” he replied, softly.

Michael raised a perfect eyebrow.

“Has that got anything to do with the fellow you’ve been seeing?”

Aziraphale felt like the wind had just been knocked out of him and he stared at her, open-mouthed.

“How do you know about that?”

He knew the answer before she said it.

“Gabriel,” Michael said with a shrug. “He wouldn’t go into a lot of details, but he does absolutely hate your new boyfriend.” A smile played on her lips. “Obviously you have to keep him.”

In a way, Aziraphale had always known that Gabriel reported back to the family about him. He also had no doubt that, even though he’d not formally met with his brother for almost two years before he was roped into Operation Nightingale, Gabriel had kept tabs on him through SIS. The whole family were bound to know something about the man their invert brother had taken a shine to, but his sister’s smile pleased Aziraphale greatly.

“I plan to,” he replied, quietly.

Michael turned away, hiding her smile as she continued down the bright corridors with their tall windows and echoing marble floors towards the library.

It had always been Aziraphale’s favourite room in the house – darker; unmirrored; stuffed with mahogany bookcases and neat rows of leather-bound volumes. The library had been his sanctuary away from his rowdy and militaristic siblings; his own small corner where he could breathe easy. The smell of it was so familiar and yet, even the library held bad memories for him now.

Stepping inside, the memory of that night all came flooding back – the sound of chatter and music being shut out as he was pushed up against the heavy mahogany door; his hands buried in soft dark hair as hands pulled at his clothes and soft lips pressed against his throat; head swimming from so much champagne. Aziraphale remembered the adrenaline rush and the giddiness; the fire that burned inside of him and the ache in his loins as he pulled his lover further into the maze of bookcases and out of sight; the drag of his trousers and underwear against his skin as they were pushed down to his knees; the cool slickness of a wicked tongue between his buttocks as he was expertly spread open.

Gabriel had caught them mid-coitus; obviously drawn to the library by the loud moans that bordered on screams of ecstasy spilling from Aziraphale’s lips as he was gorgeously fucked against the bookcase. It had been the best night of Aziraphale’s young life until his older brother had dragged his lover from him by the scruff of his neck and thrown him into the brightness of the mirrored hallway to where Sandalphon and his other brothers were waiting; his sister Uriel holding Aziraphale back.

Only Michael had stayed out of it; picking up the pieces of Aziraphale’s broken heart and holding him until he finally stopped crying. He hadn’t gone near the library since.

“Are you alright?” Michael asked him; pulling Aziraphale firmly back to the present.

“Yes,” he breathed. “I just…want to find this book as quickly as possible.”

Michael nodded.

“Where do you remember seeing it?”

The Fell estate library had no logical system to it; no way that one could easily find the book they were looking for. Not one Fell seemed to be able to properly code or catalogue a library and Aziraphale certainly didn’t have the time to do it for them, but he somewhat remembered the chaotic order to it. He remembered seeing it in one of the bookcases furthest from the door. In fact, he realised with a jolt, it was on the exact bookcase Aziraphale had been fucked against that fateful New Year’s Eve. He realised the only reason why he knew the family even owned a copy was because it had been right at his eye level as he’d clung to the mahogany shelf.

“Over here,” Aziraphale muttered; feeling a blush rise to his cheeks.

He could see it very clearly in his mind – the pristine black leather spine and the title in vivid gold lettering; the book sitting on the shelf just where the tip of Aziraphale’s nose nudged against it with every thrust into him. He supposed his eidetic memory finally came in useful for something.

“Somehow I thought it would be harder to find,” said Michael with surprise as Aziraphale pulled it from the exact shelf he’d expected it to be on.

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale murmured, not about to divulge exactly how he knew its location.

A quick flip through proved that the copy was indeed a perfect first edition of Otwell Binns with all the pages accounted for. Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief and hugged the book to his chest. It was all over now. The last book was in his possession and Operation Nightingale was in its end phase. Within days Crowley’s division could arrest Montgomery and Glozier and Harmony, and then Aziraphale and Crowley could finally begin their relationship properly. No more longing; no more stolen moments; no more wishing things were different. They could finally be together.

A door suddenly slammed somewhere down the corridor and Aziraphale jumped.

“What was that?” he whispered.

Michael frowned.

“Sandalphon,” she murmured, glancing at her wristwatch. “He’s here early. We should have had at least ten more minutes.”

Aziraphale glanced at her, impressed that she knew the comings and goings of family members so well.

“What should I do?”

“I’ll distract him,” Michael replied, “and you go to the end of the hall and take the service corridor out the back.”

Aziraphale nodded. He was very familiar with using the service corridor as an escape route, having used it several times in his childhood to get away from Sandalphon in particular. Another older brother, Sandalphon had a particular penchant for violence and Aziraphale had been his favourite victim.

“Michael,” Aziraphale hissed, and she paused with her hand on the door.

“Yes?”

Aziraphale gave her a small, grateful smile.

“Thank you.”

Michael smiled back at him and then she was gone, closing the door behind her. Aziraphale heard her greet their brother and stayed with his ear pressed to the door until their voices faded and eventually disappeared. With Binns clutched to his chest, Aziraphale hurried from the library and hastened down the hallway; navigating his way by memory through the service corridor and out into the grounds.

 

____

 

“Crowley!”

Beezle’s voice sounded distant, like a dream Crowley was emerging from; the dark veil slowly slipping from his consciousness.

“CROWLEY!”

She was shaking his shoulder and Crowley suddenly became aware that he was on the freezing cold floor of a moving train, just a split second before pain exploded behind his eyes and he saw stars again.

“Oh…… fuck !” groaned Crowley.

He could feel that his nose was broken by the dull throbbing in his face and he tasted blood in his mouth. Slowly, Crowley peeled his eyes open to see Beezle kneeling next to him with a frown of concern etched into her brow.

“What happened?” she asked.

Crowley groaned as Beezle gripped his hand and pulled him upright. In a burst of hot pressure, Crowley felt his nose start to bleed again and he frantically dug in his pocket for a handkerchief.

“Glozier cracked me in the face,” he replied, thickly. “I was too busy trying to catch up with him and worrying about how I was going to detain him that I lost track of the carriages. I didn’t realise we were in the baggage car until he knocked me out with a suitcase.”

He gingerly pressed his handkerchief to his nose to staunch the flow.

“Shit,” muttered Beezle. “I think we’ve lost him.”

“What? How?”

“The train stopped a couple of minutes ago at Birmingham,” she replied. “That’s when I got up to come find you and I didn’t pass him on my way through.”

Crowley hit the carriage floor in frustration. Glozier must have switched trains when they’d stopped after finding out he was discovered…

His stomach suddenly plummeted and he began to pat down hos pockets again, his panic growing.

“What is it?” asked Beezle.

“My identification,” Crowley replied. “He’s taken my identification. He knows who I am – my name, who I work for…”

Beezle stood quickly and turned, violently kicking a large brown trunk across the floor.

“FUCK!”

Crowley sagged heavily against the wall. It was over – all of their hard work; all of the weeks spent tracking and watching the three Nazi spies only for them to fall at the last hurdle.

“I’m sorry,” he said, weakly; his whole face throbbing and making him feel dizzy and sick. “This was all my fault…”

“No,” Beezle interrupted him with a sigh, “it wasn’t. I could have told Ligur to come with me, or Dagon. There was every chance he could recognise you, especially being on such high alert. We were in too much of a rush, we just didn’t think about it.”

Crowley looked at her, running a hand shakily through her short black hair as she sat heavily on the trunk she’d just kicked.

“What are we going to do?” Crowley asked.

Beezle sat back against the side of the carriage and sighed.

“There’s nothing much we can do until we get to London,” Beezle replied. “We have to hope that Hastur and Ligur still have eyes on Harmony. Maybe we can get him that way.”

“We have to warn Aziraphale,” said Crowley. “If Glozier knows we’re onto him, he’ll presume Harmony and Montgomery have tails as well. They might try to move on Aziraphale…”

Beezle looked at him, her expression unreadable. Crowley didn’t want to think about Aziraphale being in the dark about this and wished there was some way he could get a message to him from the train. The panic and dread sat heavy in the pit of his stomach, making him feel sick. He’d promised Aziraphale that nobody would hurt him…he’d promised…

 

____

 

Aziraphale hugged the copy of Binns tightly to his chest as Robert pulled up in front of the shop. He’d been holding it all the way back from Angels’ Rise, still in a haze of disbelief that he’d managed to get the last book on the list and avoided being beaten to a pulp by Sandalphon. He felt light and happy; the weight of the books and the Nazis lifting from his shoulders with every passing moment. He couldn’t wait to tell Crowley, because this time when he wrapped his arms around Crowley’s neck, he wouldn’t ever have to let go.

“Are you sure you just want to go home?” asked Robert, gently. “If you liked, we could go for dinner? I think we have a couple of hours before the sirens start.”

Aziraphale turned to him and smiled.

“That’s very kind of you, my dear,” he replied, “but I think home is the best place for me. There’s so much to do.”

His friend smiled back at him and reached out to squeeze Aziraphale’s hand.

“I hope this all ends quickly, wee darling. You deserve all the happiness in the world.”

Aziraphale gratefully returned the squeeze.

“Thank you.”

He waved as Robert drove off and turned to unlock the door to his shop, frowning as he heard his telephone begin to ring within. Quickly, he turned the key and pushed open the door, making his way through the dark room by following the shrill noise.

“A.Z. Fell and Co,” he said as he picked up the receiver; sliding the Binns onto his desk as he reached to turn on the Tiffany lamp.

“Mr Fell,” came the familiar German-accented voice.

Aziraphale’s stomach turned to lead.

“Mr Harmony,” Aziraphale replied; his voice coming out croaky.

His heart hammered hard against his ribcage; bile rising in his throat. Aziraphale had only just obtained the last book – did Harmony know? If he knew Aziraphale had the last book, then how did he know? It had been a spontaneous trip to his family home in Kent – had Harmony followed him, or had somebody else follow him? If Aziraphale had been followed to Kent, then had he been followed to Tadfield too? Did Harmony know about him and Crowley?

So many thoughts raced through his mind at once that he almost didn’t realise Harmony was speaking again.

“…time frame has changed, Mr Fell,” he was saying. “I want you to hand over the books tonight.”

“Tonight?” Aziraphale repeated. He glanced at his watch. “But the air raid…”

“Will provide the perfect cover for our meeting,” Harmony responded, calmly. “Nobody will be around to disturb us, as we require absolute privacy. Do you have a place in mind, Mr Fell?”

He did. It was the first place that had come into his head when Rose Montgomery had asked the same question a few weeks ago.

“St Anthony’s church,” Aziraphale replied, quietly, “just off Soho Square.”

“Very well,” Harmony agreed. “Bring all the books with you to the church at eight o’clock. We will have your compensation waiting for you.”

Aziraphale slammed the receiver back in the cradle and reached for the wastepaper basket, expecting to vomit, but nothing came up. All his panic and his anxiety remained heavy in the pit of his stomach and he sucked in air for a good few minutes; clinging to the desk for support.

He needed to tell Crowley. He needed to get a grip on himself and call the division; let them know what was happening.

Aziraphale took a deep breath and dialled the number he knew by heart, listening to it ring and ring…and ring. Miss Dagon should have picked up by now. Somebody should have picked up by now. Where were they all?

He put the telephone back down again and tried to think. If Crowley had been there, Aziraphale was sure he would have told him to call Rose Montgomery. The rogue SIS agent would certainly already know that Harmony had set up a meeting. Aziraphale had to act like he still had no idea about them working together and telephone Montgomery about it. Then he would try the division again. He’d have to keep trying to reach somebody. He couldn’t do this alone.

 

____

 

“Nobody is answering,” Beezle muttered; slamming down the receiver in the telephone box at King’s Cross station.

“Where’s Dagon?” Crowley asked, frowning.

“I don’t know. I told her to go find out what happened with Archangel and Montgomery and the documents. Maybe she’s still not back from that?”

“In that case, I’m calling Aziraphale,” replied Crowley, already picking up the receiver. “He needs to know what’s happened.”

Beezle looked at him for a second and then nodded, but Crowley wasn’t really waiting for her permission.

He’d cleaned up the blood from his face on the train, but the panic was still there; the worry that Aziraphale was in danger and Crowley couldn’t do anything about it. It had taken all of his willpower not to run for the bookshop the second they’d arrived in London, only waiting because Beezle had asked him to.

Aziraphale’s telephone only rang once before he picked up.

“Hello?”

Aziraphale sounded breathless but Crowley’s heart leapt to hear him.

“Angel, it’s me…”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale interrupted him, sounding relieved. “Thank God, I was getting so worried! I’ve been calling the division for hours and nobody is responding!”

Crowley frowned.

“Yeah, I know but…”

“Harmony telephoned,” continued Aziraphale, quickly, “he wants to meet tonight for the books.”

Crowley’s blood ran cold and he looked at Beezle, who frowned at the panicked expression on his face.

“Harmony wants to meet tonight?” he repeated for Beezle’s benefit, watching her eyebrows shoot up.

“Yes,” Aziraphale confirmed. “Very soon, at St Anthony’s church. I’ve been holding off as long as possible, hoping to get in touch with the division but…”

“Listen, angel,” Crowley interrupted him. “Don’t go anywhere. Stay where you are, and I’ll come to you.”

Aziraphale sounded very worried when he answered.

“Crowley, what’s going on?”

Crowley pinched his nose between his forefinger and thumb and flinched, forgetting it was broken and still throbbing.

“We’re rumbled,” confessed Crowley. “This morning we got word from Manchester that Glozier was about to get on a train to London, so I went to intercept him. He recognised me and switched trains before we knew what was happening. He got my identification, angel – he knows who I am and who I’m working for, and by now it’s highly likely both Harmony and Montgomery know Security Service is after them.”

Aziraphale was quiet on the other end for a second.

“Do you think they know about my involvement?” he asked.

“I don’t think so, but I don’t want you going anywhere without me, angel. At this point they’ll probably want to tie up loose ends and that means you.”

Aziraphale was silent again. Crowley looked at Beezle, helplessly and wondered what had happened to Hastur, Ligur, and Dagon. They needed to find the rest of the division, to gather reinforcements and move in on the Nazis before they could hurt Aziraphale…

“How long will it take you to get here?”

“I don’t know,” replied Crowley, honestly. “Maybe twenty minutes if Beezle can…”

“That’s too long,” murmured Aziraphale. “I’m already running late for this meeting. If I stall any longer, they’ll be gone and all this hard work will have been for nothing.”

Crowley’s blood was ice in his veins.

“Don’t,” he begged.

“It’ll buy you some time to find the rest of your division,” insisted Aziraphale.

“Angel, please. Stay where you are until I get to you…”

“I’ll be fine,” Aziraphale replied, softly, “but my dear…please, do hurry.”

“Aziraphale!”

The line went dead and Crowley remained frozen to the spot, staring at the receiver in his hand.

“What’s happened?” pressed Beezle.

Crowley blinked at her, his heart hammering in his chest.

“Aziraphale has gone to meet the Nazis alone,” he said, “to buy us some time to get backup.”

Beezle punched the side of the telephone box just as the air raid sirens began to sound, drowning out her shout of frustration.

“That stupid bastard,” she growled.

Lights were already starting to go out everywhere; police whistles shrill in the distance as they hurried to usher people into shelters.

“I have to go,” Crowley murmured. He slammed the receiver down and pushed past Beezle, onto the street. “Take the car – find the others, or get backup from wherever you can and bring them to St Anthony’s church off Soho Square.”

He threw her the car keys and she caught them easily.

“Crowley,” Beezle called to him as he went to turn.

“Yeah?”

Beezle gave him a small smile.

“Go save him.”

Crowley nodded and took off at a run down the dark street, hoping he could make it to St Anthony’s before the Nazis decided to eliminate their loose end.

 

Chapter Text

Aziraphale took a deep breath as he pushed open the heavy wooden church door. This was by far the worst idea he’d ever had, but it wasn’t like he had much of a choice. Crowley’s division had had a plan, but circumstances had changed and now they were improvising. Aziraphale had made the decision to go alone to meet the Nazis and buy the division some time to intercept them; facing his fear of being shot dead and placing all his hope in Crowley making it to him in time. It made Aziraphale feel sick, and he could feel his hands shaking, but he had to sell this.

He’d met Rose Montgomery outside the church, resisting every urge to hit her square in the face with his bag of books. She had given him her usual indulgent smile; had reassured him that everything would be fine in her sweet, soothing voice. Aziraphale had known it was all lies, but at least she seemed to believe he was still clueless as to her involvement with the other two Nazis.

The church was illuminated by candlelight, casting long shadows on the walls and the floor as he stepped inside, removing his hat as he did so. He could see Harmony at the front of the church by the altar – tall and skinny, balding and bespectacled. Beside him, lighting candles was a man he’d never seen before, but he presumed this was Glozier. Aziraphale didn’t really know what he’d expected, but this Nazi was just as unassuming as the first. Both turned to look at him as Aziraphale slowly made his way up the aisle; bag of books in hand.

“Mr Harmony,” Aziraphale greeted them. “Mr Glozier.”

“Mr Fell,” replied Harmony; his accent sounding more pronounced than it had on the telephone. “You are late…but not to worry. You have the books for the Fuehrer?”

Aziraphale lifted his bag into view.

“Yes, I do. Books of prophecy - Otwell Binns, Robert Nixon, Mother Shipton. First editions, as requested.”

“What about the other book we told you to bring us?” Harmony asked; still preoccupied with lighting candles nearby. “The Fuehrer was most definite that he needs it. It has the prophecies that are true. With the true prophecy book, the war is as good as won.”

“The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch,” Aziraphale replied. “No luck. I'm afraid that is the Holy Grail of prophetic books.”

It wasn’t as though Aziraphale hadn’t tried to get hold of a copy. He remembered the lengths he’d gone to, first by visiting Bilton and Scaggs publisher’s office then requisitioning the records and poring over census reports; birth, death, and marriage certificates to trace her descendents. He’d done everything possible to acquire the Nice and Accurate Prophecies, hoping to read them himself to see if there was anything that could help turn the course of the war…assuming her prophecies really were true of course.

“The Fuehrer also wants the Holy Grail,” mused Harmony as he opened the bag to inspect the stack of books inside, “and the Spear of Destiny, should you run across them.”

Aziraphale gave him a tight smile. Books he could do. Artefacts were definitely not his area.

“Why are there no copies of Agnes Nutter's book?” Glozier asked, speaking for the first time. His voice was surprisingly accentless. “We have made it clear that money is no object. You will be a very rich man.”

“The unsold copies of The Nice and Accurate Prophecies were destroyed by the publisher, which is, well, all of them,” Aziraphale told them. “It never sold a single copy.”

The Nazis looked at each other, neither seeming very pleased at the revelation. Aziraphale swallowed, nervously; willing Crowley and his division to be quick.

“These volumes of prophecy will be in Berlin by the end of the week,” replied Harmony as he casually leafed through the pages of Nostradamus. “The Fuehrer will be most grateful.”

“You have been exceedingly helpful, Mr Fell,” Glozier added.

Aziraphale watched as he pulled a gun from inside of his jacket; Harmony following suit.

“Such a pity you must be eliminated,” Harmony murmured, “but take heart - just another death in the Blitz.”

The sight of the gun did make Aziraphale swallow hard; all of his worst fears about the whole operation suddenly swimming to the surface. His worst nightmare – the one that he’d had more than once since being recruited by Crowley – was being shot in the head by the Nazis, and now it looked like that very nightmare was about to come true.

Thankfully, he still had cards to play.

“That's not very sporting,” he replied, trying to sound as calm as possible.

“You do not appear worried, my friend,” said Glozier, raising his eyebrows.

“He's not worried.”

Just in time , thought Aziraphale. Rose Montgomery appeared at his side, revolver drawn. He knew it was all an act – that she was going to turn on him any moment and he’d be in for the fight of his life, but the longer he could draw this out, the more time it gave for Crowley to get to him.

Harmony frowned.

“Who is she?”

What the Hell. At this point he might as well go for it – be as enthusiastic as possible and sell it to them all.

“She, my double-dealing Nazi acquaintance,” he said, gleefully, “is the reason why none of those books are going back to Berlin, and why your nasty little spy ring will be spending the rest of the war behind bars. Let me introduce you to Captain Rose Montgomery of British Military Intelligence.”

Montgomery shot him a smile.

“Thank you for the introduction,” she murmured; her gun levelled at Harmony, who slowly raised his hands.

Oh, but she might have been admirable if it wasn’t for the fact that she was a Nazi; that she’d been playing him for weeks only to betray him. Aziraphale was lucky he was wise to her plan.

“Our side know all about you two,” Aziraphale continued. “She recruited me to work for you, and now she's going to tell you that this building is surrounded by British agents, and that you two have been…what is that lovely American expression? Played for suckers.”

“Yes, about that…”

“Right! Everyone! Come on! Round them up!”

In truth, Aziraphale had hoped at that point that H Division had arrived, and that the Nazis were surrounded by Crowley’s people. He looked around him, peering into the shadows and praying that he’d see Security Service agents with guns drawn moving in to arrest all three Nazis. Unfortunately, Aziraphale found himself still alone as Harmony and Glozier picked up their guns again; his blood turning cold.

“Allow me to introduce Fraulein Greta Kleinschmidt,” said Harmony as Montgomery turned her own gun on Aziraphale. “She works with us.”

Aziraphale’s eyes widened at the sight of a revolver aimed right in the middle of his forehead. He’d expected it, but he really had thought he’d be able to drag this whole thing out for just a little longer. This was it – Crowley had tried to warn him not to come alone; to wait for him and for the division but Aziraphale had really believed he could do this. Now he was going to die in this dingy little church and he hadn’t even told Crowley he loved him.

He looked from Montgomery to Harmony to Glozier; all wearing identical smug grins. Aziraphale squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the inevitable…and then the church door opened with a heavy thud. Aziraphale’s eyes flew open again as they all turned their heads to see a tall, dark figure making their way up the aisle.

“Crowley.”

 

____

 

He was out of breath by the time he reached St Anthony’s; his lungs fit to burst and his ribs aching from the effort it took to suck in air. Crowley had no idea what he was going to find in there – he might already be too late and he’d find Aziraphale lying on the ground with his brains blown out; blood soaking into the cold stone floor and the gentle fawn wool of his coat…

Crowley also realised as he pushed open the door that he’d left his own service revolver in the Bentley, and he was walking into a situation completely unarmed. He held his breath; heart thudding in his chest in fear of what waited for him in the church.

He saw four figures, all of them definitely alive and his heart soared as the soft candlelight glinted off Aziraphale’s white-blond curls as he turned. Crowley had arrived just in time. He could figure something out – he had to figure something out. That SIS traitor had her gun pointed at his angel’s head and Crowley was going to make damn sure she regretted it. Nobody was going to hurt Aziraphale while Crowley still breathed.

Crowley .”

His name slipped from Aziraphale’s lips; the relief in his voice, evident to everyone who heard it. All three guns immediately trained on Crowley as he walked up the aisle as casually as he could; like he was out for an evening stroll.

“Hi, angel,” Crowley replied, cheerfully. “Having fun yet?”

Fun isn’t exactly the word I would use,” Aziraphale murmured, taking the opportunity to back away from Montgomery.

Crowley gave him his most charming smile and turned his attention to the three confused Nazis.  

“Evening, everyone,” he greeted them. “Lovely night for a spot of murder and betrayal, don’t you think?”

Crowley had never seen Rose Montgomery up close before now. She was small, slim, and pretty; looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. He supposed that’s what made her effective – she looked non-threatening and sweet, luring those other poor booksellers to their deaths with her innocent air. Harmony and Glozier both looked the same as they always had – older; balding; unassuming.

“Anthony J Crowley, British Security Service,” said Glozier and Crowley tipped his hat in acknowledgment, watching as Glozier took Crowley’s stolen identification card from his jacket pocket. “How is your nose?”

“Broken, thanks,” replied Crowley, mildly.

He heard a small gasp from Aziraphale and his eyes darted to him. Right now he needed Aziraphale to make himself as invisible as possible and leave all the talking to him. Crowley could probably talk for England if it was made into a sport, and he needed the Nazis to focus on him and not the bookseller. Carefully, Crowley inched over a step and felt a great deal of pleasure of watching all three Nazis move with him.

Glozier shrugged.

“I cannot say I am sorry.”

Crowley gave him a cold smile.

“Oh I’m sure. You caught me off guard on the train – I won’t give you a second chance.”

To his right, Montgomery started laughing – a high, shrill sound like she’d just figured out a joke made at her expense.

“The famous Anthony?” she chuckled, still pointing her gun at him. “I must say, you really are much bigger than most cats.”

“Greta Kleinschmidt!” Crowley responded jovially, enjoying the slip of her smile at the use of her birth name. “ I must say, you really are much more of a Nazi than most SIS agents.”

The smile slid from her face completely, and she adjusted her grip on her gun. Crowley took another careful step away from Aziraphale and all three Nazis once again followed him; their focus on him entirely.

“Oh yes, Greta,” continued Crowley as he inched over again, “We do know all about you – your boss actually gave us a lot of useful information himself. Did you know you were trying to recruit Archangel’s little brother?”

Montgomery - or Greta Kleinschmidt as she really was - smirked.

“Of course,” she murmured, “he gave me the idea to target the gullible fool in the first place.”

Anger flashed through Crowley with searing heat.

“He’s not gullible,” he growled, “He’s been playing the lot of you like a fiddle from the start, working for us; making you all think he didn’t have a clue what was going on. He’s clever and he’s brave, and not one of you realised that.”

Harmony rolled his eyes and turned to the stack of books he’d began to take out of a large brown leather bag.

“Oh, you are very irritating,” he muttered, waving his hand dismissively. “Kill him.”

Glozier and Montgomery both steadied their aims; the hammers on both pistols clicking back.

“You don’t want to do that!” objected Crowley. “In…about a minute, a whole Security Service division will burst through those doors to arrest all of you. Now, you can kill us – I’m unarmed, I can’t stop you but…if you do kill us, it’s going to be so much worse for you. Right now you’re already looking at three murder charges for the other booksellers that didn’t make the cut, but you can probably cut a deal as things stand. If you kill us, there’s nothing that’ll stand between the three of you and the noose.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Crowley could see Aziraphale inching behind Harmony. Whilst all their attention was focussed on Crowley, Aziraphale had been slowly moving into position as though reading Crowley’s mind – without a weapon, their only chance was to take somebody by surprise and there was a lot of heavy objects by the altar. By keeping the Nazis’ attention on himself, Crowley had awarded Aziraphale the opportunity to get his hands on one of them.

The sound of German bombers could be heard roaring overhead, closing in on the city and preparing to drop their payload across London. Every pair of eyes momentarily glanced up.

“You expect us to believe you?” said Glozier as he refocused on Crowley.

“It doesn’t really matter if you believe me or not,” Crowley replied. “If my boys don’t get you, it looks like yours might.”

There was a loud thud and they all turned as Harmony slumped to the floor; Aziraphale standing over him wielding a heavy silver candlestick.

“Oh my,” Aziraphale murmured.

Crowley seized his opportunity. He lunged for Greta Kleinschmidt, twisting her revolver from her grasp as he wrapped an arm around her throat.

“Sorry, Leibling,” Crowley said as she struggled against him. “Nothing personal, you were just the closest.”

He cocked the revolver and aimed it at Glozier, who had been about to turn his own gun onto Aziraphale.

“Ah-ah!” warned Crowley. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Are you alright, angel?”

“Much better now you’re here,” Aziraphale replied, giving Crowley a small smile.

The ground shook beneath their feet as a bomb landed somewhere in Soho with a loud explosion. Aziraphale cried out and steadied himself against a wooden pew; Crowley resisting every urge to look at him and see if he was alright. Taking his eyes off Glozier could be the death of them both.

“So, what now?” spat Greta, still struggling against his choke-hold.

Crowley tightened his grip on her throat and she wheezed. He could have happily snapped her neck in that moment.

“Well, that depends,” replied Crowley. “See, I was rather counting on my people showing up by now but the Luftwaffe seem to have waylaid them…and those bombs are dropping awfully close…”

“We should get out of here,” murmured Aziraphale, hastily packing up the books.

Another explosion racked the district, knocking them all off balance and Crowley realised with horror that the bombs were being dropped right over their heads. Aziraphale was right – they had to get out of there, and fast.

Aziraphale knelt at the side of the large marble altar, stuffing the large leather-bound volumes back into his bag; Harmony still unconscious at his feet. Crowley didn’t know what to do – he had to get Aziraphale to safety but he couldn’t leave three Nazi spies to escape into the night. Shooting them would be his only option and Crowley really didn’t want to do that – killing three people in cold blood would not only sicken him to his core, but Aziraphale would never look at him the same way again and Crowley wouldn’t risk that.

In that moment, the decision was taken out of his hands – the faint whistle of a falling missile the only warning they got before a High Explosive bomb crashed through the church roof and detonated.

 

____

 

Aziraphale!

The ringing in his ears was so loud, Aziraphale could barely hear Crowley call his name. He tried to open his eyes, but stars danced behind his lids; pain blossoming at the back of his head. Aziraphale groaned aloud.

“Oh, angel…thank God!”

Aziraphale felt a cool hand at the back of his neck and warm lips on his as Crowley kissed him; long fingers smoothing back his hair. He tried opening his eyes again, slowly prising them open and ignoring the pain that came with it until Crowley’s face came into view; streaked with dust and soot; looking both relieved and desperately concerned.

“What happened?” Aziraphale managed to croak.

“Bomb,” Crowley replied, simply. “I thought you were dead…”

Aziraphale blinked. Shadows danced across Crowley’s face and his tears sparkled in the light of the flames that surrounded them.

“Not yet…”

He heard a choked laugh from Crowley’s lips and then he was being kissed again; cool hands on his face.

“We need to go,” Crowley whispered. “Can you stand, angel?”

“I can try,” replied Aziraphale.

It was a Herculean effort to even sit, never mind stand. Aziraphale touched his hand to the side of his head and his fingers came away red and sticky with warm blood. That explains the headache, he mused as Crowley took Aziraphale’s weight and lifted him to his feet.

He didn’t remember the bomb hitting the church. He remembered stuffing the books of prophecy back into their bag; remembered crawling halfway under the altar to retrieve Mother Shipton that had dropped to the floor and then…everything had gone black.

“The Nazis…” murmured Aziraphale, weakly.

“Don’t worry about them,” Crowley replied.

Aziraphale closed his eyes again and stumbled with Crowley’s help until his legs gave way beneath him. Immediately, Crowley was on his knees beside him and gathering Aziraphale in against his chest.

“Stay with me, angel,” he said softly into Aziraphale’s hair. “We made it out, okay? You’re safe. You just need to hold on while I get help. Can you do that for me?”

Aziraphale nodded, or at least he hoped he nodded, as even the effort it took to move his head caused him blinding pain. He groaned at the loss of Crowley’s solid body against his; wishing he could have just wrapped his arms around Crowley’s neck and curled up close.

Prising his eyes open once again, Aziraphale realised they had made it out as far as Soho Square and onto the main street. He could see Crowley in the orange light of the flames that engulfed the surrounding buildings as he flagged down the ambulance that screeched into the Square, and marvelled at the efficiency with which he gave instruction.

A car that looked remarkably like Crowley’s Bentley followed the ambulance and Aziraphale tried to focus on the four figures that emerged, but the effort made him throw up into the gutter. He squeezed his eyes shut again, drifting in and out of consciousness as he was manhandled by the ambulance drivers onto a stretcher and covered in a blanket.

Aziraphale gasped as a cool, long fingered hand slid into his own and he forced his eyes open once more to find Crowley gazing down at him.

“You’re going to be alright now, angel,” he murmured. “They’re going to take you to hospital.”

There were so many questions swimming around in Aziraphale’s head – what had happened to the Nazis; if Crowley was hurt; who the people in the Bentley were…

“The books…?”

Crowley smiled at him and Aziraphale felt the weight of his brown leather bag being pressed against his side next to him on the stretcher.

“All there, angel,” Crowley said gently. “I’ll see you later.”

Aziraphale felt Crowley’s hand slip away from his; that beautiful, angular face fading from view as darkness crept in around the edges of Aziraphale’s consciousness again. It hurt to fight it; stars bursting behind his eyes again and his stomach churning. He wanted to beg Crowley not to leave him; to come with him to the hospital, but his words failed him as he slipped into the darkness again.