"So," Crowley said, as they sat in the back of the bookshop, the evening after the Trials, "how long do you think it'll be before they try something else?"
Aziraphale winced at the thought and sank back further into his chair. "Hopefully quite a while. I did tell them to leave you alone."
"Hmm." Crowley tried to pour himself another glass of wine, but found that the bottle was nearly empty. He glared at it until it remembered that, actually, it did have some more in it after all, which he then poured out. "And you think they listened?"
"I should hope so." Aziraphale gave the sort of smile Crowley had previously only seen directed at the backs of retreating customers. "I was splashing rather a lot of holy water around at the time."
Crowley had to very quickly remind his corporeal form that it wasn't allowed to choke. No, he didn't care that he'd just inhaled half a glass of wine. He didn't need a wind-pipe anyway, a demonic body shouldn't even have tearducts, and, their own side or not, if he started spitting up wine all over Aziraphale's books of prophecy (brought out earlier in the night, in an attempt to see if any of them had gotten anything right), he would risk being thrown out of the shop.
"You... you what?"
"I splashed holy water at them," Aziraphale said, with a smile that would have been called wicked if it wasn't being worn by an angel. "I didn't hit any of them, of course, but you should have seen them jump!"
"Angel..." Crowley tried and failed to suppress a smile of admiration, "Angel, they torture people."
"Not if they're worried about being doused in holy water, they don't. You'd be surprised at how eager they are just to wrap things up quietly and pretend it all never happened then. Besides," he added after a moment's thought, "it served them right. They weren't being very nice about you."
Crowley decided not to point out that the hosts of Hell were... well, the hosts of Hell, and therefore would probably take being described as 'not very nice' as, if anything, a rather weak compliment. He settled for shaking his head. "Honestly, Angel. Splashing holy water around, asking Beelzebub and that lot for a rubber duck, getting bloody Michael to miracle you a towel," his grin widened at the thought— it was still the funniest thing he'd heard all century, "I didn't think you had it in you."
Aziraphale reddened slightly and looked away. "Well... I didn't really."
"Have it in me." Aziraphale took another gulp of wine, and looked up again. "It wasn't me doing it at all. It was... that is to say, I was trying to be you."
Crowley considered telling Aziraphale to sober himself up, on the grounds that this was most likely the drink talking. Then decided against it, on the grounds that what the drink was saying sounded rather interesting, and he wanted to hear it. This may or may not have been a suggestion from Crowley's own drink, which was being rather persuasive, especially since it had the support of every other drink Crowley had had over the past few hours.
He raised an eyebrow, glad that he'd taken off his glasses earlier in the night, so that the effect was more obvious. "What d'you mean?"
"Just that." Aziraphale looked embarassed. "I knew that if I wanted to keep them from discovering our little ruse, then I would have to pass myself off as you as effectively as possible. So I just did whatever I thought you would do in that situation, my dear. You see," he added, "it wasn't really me doing it at all."
There was a pause while Crowley's ill-prepared brain struggled to decide which flaw in that reasoning it was going to point out first. Aziraphale waited patiently while Crowley spluttered through "Angel that's not– I mean, that's utterly– you can't–" before finally settling on "I don't splash holy water at people!" as being, if not the most important of the points he'd been about to make, then at least the simplest.
"Well obviously not!" Aziraphale brushed this aside in a manner that suggested that he thought that Crowley was deliberately missing the point. "But you know how you are."
Crowley wished he had his glasses on. "How I am?"
"Yes, yes, you know." For someone who had clearly been having some trouble getting his words out only a few moments before, Aziraphale suddenly seemed awfully keen to get on. Crowley guessed from experience that this was just the angel's way of getting an awkward subject over and done with. "All..." he waved a hand in the air, as if hoping that the word he was looking for could be found floating around his head. "Debonair."
"And dashing. All that running around saving... people... and sneaking around behind Hell's back and carrying out all those complicated schemes of yours. Like those James Bland films you like to watch."
"Oh, you know the one I mean. The one in the suit with the magic car. Like that. You don't care what people think."
Crowley, who had spent the past 6,000 years in a state of almost nonstop panic over what Hell and Aziraphale thought of him, and owned a very expensive top-of-the-range laptop because he was worried about what humanity might think of him, wondered if Aziraphale might have gotten confused and was talking about a different person after all.
"You are, dear boy. You faced Satan armed with nothing but a tire-iron."
"I had a flaming sword. It was quite different." Aziraphale shrugged off the fact that he too had stood up against the King of Hell as if it were an insignificant detail. "You were handed the Antichrist and your first thought was how you could save the world. You ran out on consecrated ground to save a friend— and managed to be fairly witty while it was burning your feet, I might add— and you came up to an angel on the wall of Eden and made small talk. You are absolutely the most amazing person I have ever met, and so, you see, anything at all impressive that I did while in Hell can really be put entirely down the the fact that, at the time, I was pretending to be you."
Crowley considered this, finished his glass of wine to see if that made things seem any clearer, and then considered it again. This conversation in itself was probably going to have to be filed under 'flaming sword moments', he decided— really, Aziraphale might at least give him time to breathe between them.
"Angel," he managed, "that's not–" That's not how it works, he wanted to say. It was never me. I couldn't stand up to them even when I was me. It was all you, Aziraphale. You had it in you all along.
And Aziraphale would nod, thank him, change the subject, and then go on as he always had done, stubbornly refusing to recognise that he could ever be anything more than what Heaven thought of him.
Crowley gulped. "I tried to be you," he admitted.
"Oh," Aziraphale said, not looking especially pleased with this, "well. I suppose you would have had to, yes. Still, I do hope you didn't make me look too ridiculous up there."
This time Crowley really did choke. Aziraphale leant over and patted him on the back until he stopped coughing, and then looked pointedly at the few droplets of wine that had landed on his copy of Mother Shipton's prophecies ("A muste have for any would-be prophete or prophetess" it said on the cover) until Crowley sighed and miracled it clean again with a wave of his hand.
"Ridiculousss?" he said at last. "What do you mean, ridiculous?! What do you take me— why would you—? For... sssomeone's sssake, you were brave, Aziraphale!"
"Ah." Aziraphale refilled his glass from a bottle that really should have been empty by now, but seemed to have momentarily forgotten that fact, and took a sip. "No, my dear, that was you."
"I'm not— I mean, not like that." Crowley shook his head, already regretting the last two drinks. "Tryin' to be you, wasn't I? Couldn't go around being like me. Wouldn't be here if I'd done that. They'd've seen through me."
"So what were you like then?" asked Aziraphale, looking interested, if a tad apprehensive still.
Crowley paused. "Well, like I said, brave, mainly," he said. "Only not just brave... noble." He made a face that was very remeniscent of the one Warlock used to make whenever he was confronted with a vegetable. Well, he had only forsaken evil that morning, after all. Some habits were going to take a while to break.
"... Noble?" Aziraphale said, setting down his drink and politely ignoring the fact that his friend was grimacing like he'd just swallowed a wasp.
"Er, yeah." Crowley just about succeeded in regaining his composure. "Tried to be, anyway. Acted polite, managed to avoid swearing or threatening to smash their heads in. Tried to talk 'em out of it, actually. Reminded 'em they were supposed to be the good guys. Didn't work. Didn't think it would, but I thought that you'd have wanted to at least give them a chance to do the right thing. After all," he added, "that's what you're always trying to do."
"Well, I am an angel, dear boy."
"Nah, not what I meant." Crowley waved a hand as if to physically knock Aziraphale's words out of the air. "Them up there," he jabbed a finger at the ceiling, "they're a bunch of wankers, they are. You should have seen them today. Arseholes, the lot of them. But you... you actually care." He shook his head. "You wouldn't even jump ship when it looked like the whole bloody world was going to blow up in our faces. Too busy trying to think up ways to save the humans. And you know what else?" He grinned, "you only went and actually managed it. Even though you got fucking... fucking discorporated, you still got us both to that airbase. I mean, you possessed someone. I didn't even know angels could possess people, and you did it!"
Aziraphale blushed. "Well, I'll admit that it was a bit of an experiment. I was fairly sure that it would be alright, my lot and your lot being of the same basic stock— as it were— but there was a slight chance that..." he trailed off and winced at the thought of whatever might have happened. Crowley leant over and topped up his drink for him, and while he was at it, refilled his own.
"You're mental, you are!" he said with the air of someone bestowing a great compliment, "Utterly and incurably. Experiment!" He laughed aloud. "I don't know where you get off telling people you aren't brave, angel. You're the most insane bastard I've ever met. And what's weirder is that you've somehow spent millennia hanging out with those arseholes in Heaven, and even more time watching humans do various unspeakable things to each other, and yet you've still come out the other end as someone who'd chuck everything away to save the world."
He looked away, suddenly embarassed. "To be honest, my main fear is that I didn't pull it off," he admitted. "Sss'not entirely my fault if I didn't— Gabriel was being a right git— but I think I might have ssslipped a bit, going into the fire. Still, overall, I hope I did you proud."
He felt a warm hand on his, and looked up into smiling blue eyes . "My dear boy," Aziraphale said, "I'm sure you did splendidly."
"I may also have breathed Hellfire at them," Crowley confessed.
Aziraphale's face looked like it was Christmas, and snowing, and some stranger had just dropped off an entire boxful of rare signed first editions. "Oh," he said, sounding like he was trying very hard not to laugh. "Did you really?"
"Yep." Crowley smirked. "They jumped."
There was a moment of silence while they both considered this, and then the back room of the shop erupted in a chorus of angelic and demonic laughter.
1This wasn't the first time he'd had this problem around Aziraphale. The angel had a habit of going along doing exactly what you thought he'd do until you got complacent, and then suddenly doing something completely insane that you'd never have expected. In his head, Crowley called them 'flaming sword moments'.[return to text]
2But the higher-ups insisted on putting them in anyway, for those occasions when their underlings displeased them and couldn't weasel out of it fast enough. Apparently it made things more... fun.[return to text]
3Unsurprisingly, they hadn't, although both angel and demon had a lot of fun checking. Aziraphale did have his suspicions about a stray comment Nostradamus had made to him back in 1560, but still wasn't entirely sure whether the prediction had been about the failed apocalypse, or a rather disappointing lunch the two of them had a fortnight later.[return to text]
4Definitely a flaming sword moment.[return to text]
5Especially after having seen how Heaven treated Aziraphale. Serve them right, indeed.[return to text]
6Crowley had, in fact, invented the concept of raising an eyebrow a few thousand years before. The idea had quickly spread, and generations of humans had made themselves intensely frustrated while trying to imitate him without the necessary demonic ability to reject the laws of physics. Crowley had got a commendation, though it came back to bite him every time he had to explain a particularly suspicious report to Beelzebub, who had picked up the expression immediately.[return to text]
7Crowley let that one pass. Over the course of his long existence he'd learned that some things— like circumventing Armageddon, switching bodies with an angel and freeing the two of you from Heaven and Hell forever— only seemed impossible at first glance and were actually merely improbable, while other things— like getting Aziraphale to understand and appreciate James Bond— were actually impossible and had to be accepted as such if there was to be any hope of maintaining personal sanity.[return to text]
8For a while, he'd kept it on his desk, but the thing had chosen to be Unhelpful the first few times Crowley had tried to use it, so now it lay in a far corner of the flat, where it could properly contemplate the past mistakes that had led it to this point. Crowley went back to using his fax machine which, while supposedly not as intelligent as a computer, still had the brains to know what was expected of it and to do what Crowley wanted as quickly as possible and without any complaints about what it was technically capable of doing. [return to text]
9The ten... twelve... twenty— however many it had been since Crowley stopped counting three hours ago— before that had been fine, but he definitely felt that the two after them had been a mistake.[return to text]
If Warlock was possessed of all the facts, he might have pointed out that the real Antichrist grew up without a magic nanny, and frequently used to refuse vegetables, or hide them under his plate, (or rearrange reality to retroactively make it so that they had never been bought, although he was trying to cut down on that sort of thing now) and yet had somehow managed to survive past the age of eleven. To which Crowley would have replied, "well, yeah, but he still didn't get to command the armies of Hell, did he?" and then told Warlock to go off and eat a carrot or something.[return to text]