The bookshop was small, and dusty, and empty, and not the sort of place that Crowley would usually choose to visit, except for petty demonic activity like disrupting the filing system or scribbling in the Bibles(1). This particular bookshop, however, contained an angel that Crowley hadn’t seen for fifty-odd years, so when he’d spotted the angel in the street he’d slipped in afterwards.
The inside of the shop was dark and the shelves seemed to stretch around forever - Crowley would have said the shop was bigger on the inside, if he didn't already know the man with a monopoly on that trick. It took him a while to track Aziraphale down, sitting in a chair in the corner - completely engrossed in a book, as he often was. When Crowley clapped him on the shoulders and shouted “Boo!” right behind his head, Aziraphale predictably jumped and gave a satisfying shout of surprise, dropping the pile of papers that had been balanced on his lap.
When Aziraphale had gathered his fallen papers (and dignity) and Crowley had finally stopped laughing(2), Aziraphale gave his Adversary a smile which spoke of both exhaustion and patience. "It's good to see you again, Crowley. I haven't heard from you since you left for France."
The accusation was plain in Aziraphale's face and in his voice, if not in his words, and Crowley grimaced. "Yeah, well, managed to stir up a bit of trouble," he replied, sheepishly. "Got a bit out of hand. Fancy a drink?"
"Sorry, I can't right now - I promised I'd watch the shop. Maybe tonight?"
"Liar. You just don't want to put the book down. Honestly, angel, it seems like every other time I see you you're in a bookshop or a library."
"When you haven't burnt it down," Aziraphale said pointedly.
"That was before the Arrangement - it doesn't count. Besides, I said sorry, and honestly, I didn’t realise the fire would – oh, forget it. But really, angel - a grotty bookshop in London? I can't think of many worse places to be."
"Well, I can't think of anywhere better."
"Honestly, you and your books should just get a room. What's so great about it anyway?" Crowley leaned over and tried to grab the book from Aziraphale, but Aziraphale held on tight - within a moment, each of them had one end of the book in his hands. Crowley reached out with his other hand and grabbed the cover page of the book, which was decorated with a beautiful illumination.
"The child shall be cut in half," Crowley intoned - he'd had few opportunities to show off his spectacular impersonation of Solomon over the years(3) and wasn't going to miss the opportunity - and Aziraphale let go with remarkable speed, never willing to be an accomplice to damaged books.
"Thank you," smirked Crowley, and Aziraphale glared daggers at him.
"You are a child, Crowley."
"I know, I know. Now, what's this - William Blake: is he any good?"
"He's a genius. Mad - he has these very strange visions, and all sorts of rather unsettling opinions - but a genius nonetheless."
"The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," Crowley read from the cover. "Funny title." Crowley scanned the first few pages, absentmindedly reading aloud. "The sneaking serpent walks in mild humility - respectfully disagree, thank you - Those who restrain Desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained - couldn't have put it better myself, I'll have to remember that one. Is he allowed to print this stuff?"
Aziraphale sniffed dismissively. "The art is very good."
"Right, because you're the kind to just look at the pictures. Ooh, it's your old friend Milton. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it. You a fan of that line, angel?"
"I told you he was a madman."
"I don't know, there was a grain of truth behind it. Remind me, Paradise Lost - wasn't that the one you -?"
"You know full well that it was, and I'll have you know that he was trying to justify the ways of God to men, with the best of intentions."
"Too bad he was such a monarchist about it; no wonder they've all taken it the wrong way. Come on - doesn't all this talk about republics make you think? Don't you ever wonder what the Big Guy did to deserve all that divine adoration?"
"He's God," Aziraphale replied, rather less sure than he’d always been.
"And Louis was king," Crowley countered. "Didn't help him, did it?"
"And that's exactly the reason why all this Republican stuff is such a bad idea! You get civil wars and beheadings and Terrors, and people die. Well, I suppose that was your influence, but it was still a tragedy waiting to happen."
"Nothing to do with me," Crowley insisted, not sure why it was so important for Aziraphale to understand this. "Robespierre is a two-faced creep(4), that Mr Incorruptible, and if I hadn't come back to London then I'd have ended up on the guillotine myself. The point is, even when a great poet writes several books worth of brilliant poetry, under divine inspiration from an angel who really cares about books, God still looks like a bit of a -"
Aziraphale hurriedly covered Crowley's mouth with his hand, before he said something really bad. "Wile thwarted," he shrugged at the indignant look on Crowley's face, withdrawing his hand.
"Whatever," Crowley huffed, but he didn't continue the sentence. "You've got to admit that Satan is clearly the hero in there, especially when he's in Eden – some very nice lines in there, more or less spot on – but still –"
"My dear, are you still angry that I couldn't convince him to put you in there?"
"Angel, I will be angry about that for as long as we both shall live. But you could buy me a drink or ten, that'd go some way towards making it up to me."
"You cannot keep bringing this up," Aziraphale insisted. “This is the last time that is going to work on me.”
“Of course it is,” Crowley grinned, and stood up, leading Aziraphale out of the bookshop into the bright sunlight.(5)
"I'm thinking I ought to go and meet this fellow," Aziraphale confessed as they walked along the street.
"We should crack the wings out" Crowley suggested. "Give him a vision to really remember."
"I'll have to be a lot drunker before I'll agree to that," replied Aziraphale.
"That, my friend," Crowley answered with a grin, "can easily be arranged."
(1) One antique copy of the King James Bible, currently buried within the archives of a prestigious British university, reads the following in Genesis 3:1 - “1. Now the serpent was more subtil than any
beast of the field fallen angel which the Lord God had made. He was also the best looking, if you must know.
(2) These two things took about the same length of time, although Crowley had to be prompted by a stern look from Aziraphale.
(3) There was a dinner party in Jerusalem, but that didn't count because Crowley was so drunk at the time that he actually discorporated from the alcohol poisoning later that night: not a story he'd ever repeated to anyone.
(4) Robespierre had outmanoeuvred Crowley; Crowley had been suffering from the complacency of a mildly intoxicated man-shaped being who is convinced that he is both the cleverest and the most evil man in the room - neither of which turned out to be strictly true.
(5) Aziraphale still had the book in his hands – Crowley assumed that he’d forgotten he was still holding it, and didn't mention it, crediting himself with a successful temptation.