The duke and his associate set up operations in an old abandoned textile warehouse that happened to be equidistant between the Principality’s Soho bookshop and Crowley’s posh, uptown flat. There, they set to work devising a master plan to foil the serpent’s slippery “scheme” to “Fell” the angel. It took them three days and three nights to formulate anything that could be of use, and then spent the next three months waiting for all of the supplies to be gathered together.
They used the lax time during this waiting period to keenly observe both the angel and the demon in their daily lives, discovering patterns in their routines, odd habits, peculiar quirks, anything that might be of use. Hastur, as the primary instigator of this operation, did his best to reserve his powers in anticipation for the Final Showdown, and spent much of his time locked in the warehouse at night, exercising occult rituals to build himself up while Ed barked encouragements.
It wasn’t quite as inspiring as Rocky IV, but it was close enough.
During his time spent away from the home base, Ed found that it was easier to escape notice as an animal rather than a human, and that being a dog was actually quite enjoyable. People were always nice to him, if he were nice to them and refrained from biting their ankles (which, he discovered, was a nearly insatiable urge). He learned that if he acted pathetic and whimpered that he could get just about anything he wanted, everything from being cuddled against the bountiful bosom of a sexy young blonde to free food that bested anything Hell had to offer. He was particularly fond of marshmallows.
The cars and lorries were frightening at first, but Ed soon learned the significance of stoplights and crosswalks, and passers-by remarked how adorable it was to see a Chihuahua standing patiently with a group of people on the sidewalk and waiting for the cross lights to change. He hitched rides on busses and taxis and even a motorbike once, and soon the imp had become very comfortable in urban London. It was better than Dis, at least.
Keeping tabs on Crawly and his angel friend was terribly easy since Ed was small and could creep about in very close vicinity without being seen. He eavesdropped on their conversations and brought back information to Hastur, who was so pleased with how smoothly things were going that he eventually (and grudgingly) granted Ed’s single wish and went out and got a doggy sweater for him.
Chihuahuas were susceptible to the cold as it was, and coming from a nice hot place like Hell made it even worse when faced with the biting chill of a wet night in March.
“Ed, my fine, flea-bitten comrade,” said Hastur to the dog one evening, “tonight is the night we put Operation Salvation into motion.”
“Oh boy! What’re we gonna do?” Ed yipped excitedly, springing off of the 19th century sofa that the duke had conjured as part of a Victorian living room set to make the warehouse more habitable.
Hastur grinned maliciously as from his seat in the dark red wingback chair.
“Crawly has business to attend in Amsterdam. He’ll be leaving tonight and staying away for two whole weeks. And what is it that we have learned from his prolonged excursions from Angleland?”
“Ooh, I know this! When Crawly returns he and the angel always dine out someplace fancy and binge drink for hours afterwards.”
“But what’s that got to do with starting the plans tonight?”
“Everything. We’re counting on a domino effect, see. Crawly will be out of his home by ten o’clock and on a flying machine to Deutschland. Step one of our plot begins there.”
“Where? Doysh land?”
“No you imbecile, the serpent’s quarters,” snapped Hastur, “and that confounded automobile of his.”
He reached over to take a black velvet drawstring pouch from the small table beside his chair. A heart-shaped skull was emblazoned onto one side, and he swung it back and forth from his finger like a pendulum.
Ed stared at it worriedly, bulbous eyes appearing to bug out even farther. “Is that what I think it is, boss?”
“Oh yes,” the duke replied with malevolent darkness in his voice. “It’s the key to our victory.”
A Fortnight & Five Days Later
Crowley wasn’t going to step foot into Amsterdam or another coffee house for at least a decade, he decided that of his own free will the moment he was out of the city and en route to the airport. The smell had followed him all the way from Frankfurt Main to Heathrow and was so strong that he was actually stopped and inspected several times by airport security. Luckily for Crowley it wasn’t against the law to reek of marijuana so long as he didn’t have any on his person or was rendered impaired*. (*Though if the authorities would have tested him they would have been disturbed to discover that he didn’t actually have blood at all, but liquid hemp with bits of blood mixed in. Crowley himself had been forced to stay a few days longer than anticipated simply because the reefer had refused to run out.)
After several suspicious looks from security, he found his way through the crowded terminal and caught the Heathrow Express back into central London. Needless to say he got even more suspicious looks from the passengers, and also a seat by himself. Of course, Crowley would have gotten one of those regardless of the way he smelled, but he began to feel just the tiniest bit self-conscious at the unwanted attention, and scowling back wasn’t helping very much, either.
Whenever he went out of the country for any length of time, Crowley always left the Bentley at a medium-security garage for safe keeping, even though the fact that being a demon lent him the peace of mind that no sane, God-fearing human being would dare to lay a finger on his precious car. No need for alarms or special locks, that was just the way it was.
Or how it used to be, at least. It was a shame that such people were growing fewer these days, and Crowley was almost tempted to chide his associate into doing a better job of putting the fear of Hell into people, since often those who didn’t believe in God neither believed in Satan, and what could a respectable demon expect from attitudes like that?
So Crowley kept the Bentley in a garage just to be cautious. He had also learned enough about psychology back in the mid-twentieth century to know that he was probably exhibiting signs of aberrant paranoia brought on by a fierce love of his possessions, which made him a little sick, to be brutally honest. Demons didn’t love, it was common knowledge, but lusting after an automobile didn’t exactly make Crowley feel any better than loving an automobile in the first place. He at last decided that he had simply grown so used to the Bentley that it had become more or less a part of who he was, and that it was perfectly acceptable to love himself in every selfish, egotistical aspect. That line of thought cheered him up greatly.
The train arrived at Paddington not a moment too soon and Crowley disembarked, much to the collective relief of the other occupants who were probably more concerned by the fact that the young man “didn’t seem quite right” rather than if he “smelled like a hippie”. From there he walked the short distance to the high-end, multi-level parking garage, tossing his keys into the air and catching them as he went.
He flashed his exclusive membership card at the security guard in the kiosk and strode whistling to B-Level, Block 4, Space 19. The Bentley seemed to snap to attention as its master approached and Crowley smiled, trailing his hand along the perpetually perfect and smooth, shining black finish in an very friendly gesture of greeting.
“Miss me?” he asked.
The Bentley didn’t reply, but Crowley knew well enough.
He opened the door and slid into the driver’s seat with familiar ease, tossed his coat on the passenger’s seat, and then suddenly paused. The car appeared to sigh -it didn’t of course, cars couldn’t breathe- and relax, and the demon could feel the comfortable warmth of tender appreciation as the seat seemed to liquefy against his body, holding him gently and lovingly.
“What is this?” he said beneath his breath.
Crowley’s outer senses registered that the leather was cold and hard, but his mind told him precisely otherwise; it was on sheer impulse that he closed his eyes and suddenly recalled that summer in 1956 when he had, for no real reason, driven out into the middle of nowhere in the English countryside, parked on a grassy hill, and fallen asleep in the backseat with the top dropped down. Just because he could.
He remembered the sun on his face, the warm, pliable leather seat as soft as a down mattress beneath his back, the cloud-speckled blue sky up above, the sweet scent of grass in the air. The breeze was clean and cool, and he had slept for hours. When finally he opened his eyes again he was gazing up at a million billion stars, all gleaming silently as if watching over him and his Bentley.
His Bentley. He had never known such pleasure could be received from a heap of gears and dials on four wheels. But somehow on that day, he loved it. He loved it.
And now, in this cold, dark garage in a jungle of concrete and iron, Crowley wanted to go back to that day. He needed to go back to that day, right now, right here, and nothing was going to stop him.
Eyes opened once again. He still held the keys gripped tightly in his fist. There would be impressions in his palm later. He drew in a short breath and reconsidered starting the engine with his powers. Not this time. He wanted to do it. Manually.
Crowley opened his hand and, with a jingle, slid the key into the ignition. It felt good. Why oh why did it feel this good? He took the key out and did it again, more slowly this time, feeling every familiar tooth on the metal surface click into place.
It made his head swim. He loosened his tie and undid the first few buttons of his shirt. Why is it so suddenly warm? he wondered vaguely. But he didn’t really care why. It felt wonderful all the same.
He turned the key in the ignition and the car rumbled to life, purring and sending little vibrations into his seat. He began to breathe heavily.
He sat back and placed his hand on the familiar leather knob of the gear stick, clutching it firmly. His lips trembled. He loosened his grip and slid his fist up and down the long metal shaft slowly, staring at his movements with relaxed fascination. Oh, it felt splendid to do this, almost as if he were doing it to himself. Every inch of his skin was prickling, each hair standing on end as if the barest amount of electricity were running over his body.
“Oh… oh-” Crowley panted softly, feeling his senses dance off into that swirling grey area between sleep and wake. “What do you… want me to…”
And then the lights went out.
A rhythmic tapping on the glass brought Crowley out of a dreamless state and into the dull coldness of semi-cognizance. He gasped, and his breath showed in a small misty cloud from his lips. He was positively freezing. And it was dark.. The only illumination came from a lighthouse on the shore of his consciousness, guiding him from a tumultuous sea of Void and into the safe harbours of-
The security guard tapped his torch against the window of the Bentley, and Crowley shot back into reality with fearsome speed. He sat up. He was completely naked but for his wristwatch, and lying on the backseat. His clothes were strewn over the seats and on the floor. Even his sunglasses were off.
“Everything all right in there?” the guard inquired.
Crowley snatched his shirt from off the floor and winced as the torchlight shined into his eyes. Dilated pupils shrank down into tiny slits and he quickly put his hand up to cover both the light and the proof of his inhumanity.
“You wasted or something?” the guard asked again.
“Ah, just an headache,” Crowley rattled. “Fever. I’ve got the flu. Thought I’d, ah, have a bit of lie down before driving, you know.”
“Shouldn’t drive when you’re stoned. S’bad idea.”
“I’m not stoned.”
“Then what’s that smell?”
“I just got back from Amsterdam. Look, why am I having to explain myself to you? I pay your salary, now shove off.”
The security guard made a disgruntled face, but lowered his light and walked away. Crowley sighed in relief and sought out the rest of his scattered clothes, putting them all back on in a few seconds, sunglasses included.
The Bentley wasn’t running. He was almost certain that he had started it, and manually. And then what? Had he blacked out? What was going on here? Had he just imagined the whole ordeal?
Crowley made a strange face as he crawled into the front seat. Why is everything so damned sticky? he wondered. And what was that fleshy, musky scent hovering under the odourous cloak of weed? Then the truth struck him like lightning when he realised: it was his sticky.
The horror only mounted when he discovered that it was all over the interior of the Bentley—seats front and back, dash, doors, floor, windows, even the canvas top.
“I had sex in my car,” he murmured to himself. “I… I had sex with my car.”
Crowley didn’t know how it had happened, but it had. It had to have. What else could possibly explain him waking up, disoriented and nude in the backseat, with a floor-to-ceiling paint job of his own… his own-
He didn’t want to think about it. No, this was all just some kind of pot-induced mind trip. Two litres of Elmer’s glue exploded inside his car. He had taken off his clothes to air out the smell and fallen asleep. A bad batch of ganja. Yes, that was it. Everything was perfectly explanatory.
But even Crowley didn’t believe himself.
The Bentley started up with a growl and sped out of the garage with infernal speed* towards west London. (*Precisely 78 mph.)
The first thing he did when he walked into his flat was strip completely naked and toss his clothes into the oven. Disposing of unwanted items using hellfire could be quite messy, which was why Crowley always preferred to use his oven as an incinerator. It wasn’t as if he had any other use for it, anyway.
There came a small “fwoomph” and then the cannabis-scented garments were no more.
His houseplants (now an exclusive collection of various speciaes of angel wings) bashfully bowed before their master, revealed in all his unclothed glory, as he stalked by them and went straight into the lav. There came the sound of running water and rummaging within the cabinets.
Several minutes later, Crowley shut off the tap and sank himself into the hot water of the ornate, claw-footed porcelain bathtub. He surfaced a few moments later and slicked his dripping black hair off of his forehead. And then, taking up a bar of expensive soap and a loofah, set to work.
Crowley didn’t bathe often, chiefly because he there was no need when cleanliness was only a thought away, but in rare cases it simply had to be done. Nothing in his power seemed capable of ridding the organic odour from his person, and at last he decided that maybe a scorching, human-style bath would help to rid him of his human-acquired smell.
He would have preferred an authentic blood bath like the ones customary of his people back in the good old days, but virgin blood was hard enough to find in the rapidly declining morality of modern times, let alone enough to fill a bathtub. Crowley vaguely recalled some high-end “health” spa Down Below that had a nice virgin blood-soak-and-sauna package that took years off the old hide, but only exclusive members were allowed such privileges and thus the top nobility were the only ones who had that enviable, glowing, infernal complexion.
Crowley sawed away at his chest with the loofah and tried to remember the last time he had been forced to scrub the stink off of himself. It was ages ago, at least a century or more. Ah, yes, 1735. Some idiotic woman in Paris had practically doused him with a vat of the most vile-smelling cologne he had ever had the displeasure of catching whiff of. He might as well have been sprayed by a skunk for all the trouble it caused him; he had been forced to burn his entire wardrobe and soak his skin in everything from mud to crushed tomatoes and vinegar. It was weeks before he got the smell out of his skin, and it took even longer to wash out of his hair. He had seriously considered scalping himself or purposely getting discorporated just to get a new body. It was an awful experience, truly nasty and bothersome.
But, he also remembered with a flush of warmth, it had been quite enjoyable to lounge about in extravagant Turkish baths on a regular basis, wearing nothing more than a towel, or even less.
He finished lathering his upper half, rinsed, and set to work on the rest.
Crowley wouldn’t go so far as to say that he was a nudist, but every once in a while he found it extremely satisfying to spend some quality time in his own skin, to feel liberated and unhindered by clumsy, weighty threads. He liked clothes, don’t get him wrong, they were fantastic and he preferred to wear them rather than not, but perhaps it was a characteristic inherent in his serpentine scales that made him so comfortable with being naked.
He began to scrub more gently as the loofah travelled down his slick, soapy belly.
And being a man -or at least a man-shaped creature- of mortal temper always had its advantages. There were fascinating accessories and gadgetries that were an endless source of personal entertainment regardless of basic functions.
When driven into manual cleaning processes all that time ago, Crowley had finally decided to take the opportunity to, on his own, explore everything that being in a man’s body had to offer, and was rather surprised to discover that there actually was some truth to that Newton chap’s so-called “scientific law” about every action having an equal and opposite reaction.
Afterwards he had wondered why he’d never thought to try out all the bells and whistles of his mortal raiment sooner, when there was such fun and curious states of hedonistic delirium to be had. Much debauchery ensued from that time henceforth until Crowley had at last worn out the novelty and resumed using his body for more regular activities, such as walking and talking and committing various despicable acts of soul-tainting transgressions against mankind.
But he hadn’t forgotten those bygone bath days, and right now the pleasantly warm feeling in the pit of his belly was going to make sure that he never did.
Crowley suddenly awoke from his meditative reverie to find himself already out of the metaphorical harbour and flying at full sail, top mast, out to sea.
“God bless it,” he swore softly.
That was the thing about mortal bodies. If you didn’t pay close attention to your thoughts they’d always take things the wrong way and leave you in a very uncomfortable situation. And after having to wipe himself off of the whole interior of the Bentley, Crowley didn’t exactly feel like giving his recalcitrant flesh the satisfaction of getting the better of him a second time (even if the Bentley had been the one “bringing it” in the first case, so to speak).
He set his jaw and thought, go away.
I don’t feel like it.
The good ship Venus* failed to agree that Crowley didn’t feel like it, and hoisted the Jolliest of Rogers in bold defiance. (*A subtle nod to the classic work of fine poetic literature known as “Frigging in the Rigging”.)
Curse this body and its bloody mechanics. Why wasn’t it listening? It had always listened before. Had he lost control of it somehow? It must be the weed. It had messed him up good, and now he couldn’t even make his own body obey commands.
Stop it, he ordered.
But it was so tall and admirable.
Not now. I don’t want to.
It would be a terrible shame to let a beauty like that fade away rather than go out in glory with a tremendous bang. A real pity.
“The hell with this,” Crowley muttered and, abandoning the loofah, commandeered the craft and proceeded to give the deck a good swabbing. He was very thorough and straightforward, mincing no details in his effort to bring down the main mast. His own resentment somehow seemed to fuel a climatic typhoon such as he had never experienced before, and in those final swashbuckling moments it was a rush to abandon ship, every seaman for himself. The crew shot into the violent waves of the rolling, merciless sea and were lost. A few moments later the storm subsided and the good ship Venus sank beneath the waves.
Crowley sighed, leaned his head back on the edge of the tub and put a hand over his eyes. It had been an especially excellent sinking, he conceded, but he hoped that it wouldn’t happen again for a while. He had things to do and places to-
How could he have possibly forgotten?
He pulled the drain plug and stepped out of the bath, toweled off, and went to find something loose to wear. Just in case. He painted himself with body spray (not that he was trying to impress anyone, he just wanted to be 100 certain he was rid of that telltale scent), dressed quickly, and grabbed his keys. On his way out he passed by the decorative mirror hanging on the living room wall and paused, staring at his reflection.
Even with his hair still damp and a face that was tired and dark from jetlag and juana, he thought he was looking extremely hot tonight.
Crowley was admittedly narcissistic, but never to the extent of doing a double-take at his own reflection. No wonder he had been acting so strangely. His body knew a good deal when it saw one.
“Fuck you,” he muttered to his reflection, slipped on his shades, and walked out.
It was absurd of him to expect Aziraphale to be patiently waiting when he arrived at the angel’s Soho bookshop, but it was even more absurd to find the shop empty at this hour of night and a note on the counter addressed to the demon that read:
I don’t know where you’ve gotten to and I don’t frankly care. You should run off without telling me more often. I have enjoyed the peace and quiet immensely without you around to aggravate me. If I ever see you again you’ve got some explaining to do.
Crowley scoffed, crumpled the note in his fist and tossed it behind the counter. He sulked a moment, tapping his finger on the polished wood and wishing Aziraphale were here now so he could make a snarky comment and slam the door on his way out. After much consideration he finally decided the best thing would be to pretend as if he had never been at the shop in the first place, and he hopped over the counter to fetch the note and restore it to its original state.
It was only after he kneeled down to retrieve it that he noticed three other similar crumpled pieces of paper lying nearby. Curious as always, Crowley unfurled each one and realised that the scathing script he had previously read was originally part of a limited edition series that had probably started two weeks ago.
They were, in order as far as the demon could discern, as follows:
Sorry you caught me while I was out. I received an urgent business call yesterday and had to travel to Calais. With luck I’ll return either Friday night or early Saturday morning. Ring me if I don’t see you first.
P.S. Stay out of the wine cabinet. There’s a bottle of Bordeaux that I’m saving for our next night out and I’ll know if you’ve tampered with it.
You just missed me. Will be back shortly. If you come by later this afternoon I’ll be here. Hang about if you’re not too busy.
Where on Earth are you? If you’re reading this, don’t leave. I’ll be here shortly.
Crowley sighed heavily and stood to his feet, feeling annoyed, offended, and the tiniest bit remorseful. But mostly annoyed and offended. Since when did he have to run his entire schedule by Aziraphale for approval before going somewhere? Where did the angel get off trying to tie him down like that, as if they were bloody married or something equally ridiculous?
Crowley made a mental note to remind Aziraphale that he was a demon after all, bound to nothing and nobody (at least on Earth), and still free to do whatever he pleased to whomever he pleased whenever he pleased wherever he pleased. And no meddlesome, encroaching angel was going to slap a ball and chain to his ankle, by G- Sa- the power vested in him.
The demon passed his hand over the wrinkled paper of the more recent letter like an iron, smoothing it out to its perfect crispness once again. He mulled on the audacity of his associate as he stared at the handwritten ink. And then he frowned.
It was unusually messy penmanship for Aziraphale, and the letters were shaky. He must have been very distraught when he had written it.
For a single moment, Crowley imagined the angel scribbling this final message for him, his eyes shadowed by his furrowed brow, nostrils flared slightly, his lips pulled thin with muted indignation as his pen scratched noisily across the paper with haphazard speed. Maybe there were even a few tendrils of wavy blond hair falling into his eyes, just enough to make him look like a cape-clad madman sitting at a pipe organ and hammering out Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
Crowley was unable to restrain a murmur of laughter in his throat at the thought of Aziraphale pulling a Phantom of the Opera in the back room whenever he was away.
That was the thing about Aziraphale. He could never stay angry with him for more than a few minutes. Holding grudges was the angel’s job. We’re like elephants, he had said once. We never forget.
And then Crowley had made a catty reply about angels and elephants with the words “your”, “fat” and “arse” in too close a proximity of one another in the same sentence, and Aziraphale had promptly decked his halls with boughs of knuckles and laid him in such a way that the demon would prefer to never to be laid again: on the floor with a reeling head and a bruised jaw.
Crowley sauntered into the back room and sat on the comfortable sofa with the three old notes still in hand.
If he had only known Aziraphale had a mean right hook, he never would have said anything about Fat Bottom Angels. That was nearly two thousand years ago, if Crowley’s memory served him correctly. What a poncy, prudent prat the Principality was back then. Of course, being immortal beings, little had changed between them since then. The only difference was that they had agreed that taking literal stabs at one another’s mortal corporations was getting them nowhere, and that perhaps working together might be more rewarding than keeping track of how many times one managed to snuff the other. It had appeared to work quite well for both parties thus far; verbal debates were far better than physical ones, and it was much less awkward to get off track in conversation rather than to pause in the middle of a duel to the death to ask again what it was they were fighting about.
The demon and the angel had both concurred that it was a sensible, mature solution on their respective behalves, and that if only their superiours would adopt a more diplomatic method of negotiating with one another then perhaps everyone, especially mankind, would benefit from it.
Crowley stretched out on the sofa and put his boots up on one arm, if only for the reason that he knew Aziraphale would kill him if he saw him doing it. He held the crinkled notes to his chest as he stared up at the ceiling and thought.
Why am I still here? he wondered vaguely. I don’t want anything to do with him when he’s pissed off at me. I must be suicidal.
He finally reached the conclusion that he had nowhere else to be, that he was shagged, fagged and jetlagged, and he wanted to eat someplace nice and have a drink with a friend afterwards. He wanted this enough that he was willing to face Aziraphale’s temper, even if he had to apologise to him. It was almost madness, Crowley having to beg pardon for something he wasn’t even aware of doing.
Some demon I am, he thought disdainfully. Whipped by an angel. I’m not whipped. I just don’t want to be on his bad side.
No one in their right mind would, for that matter. Few aside from Crowley had ever had the pleasure of witnessing the full extent of Aziraphale’s wrath. It made for quite a spectacle but the angel only rarely ever let himself go like that, which was fortunate for any poor creature caught in the immediate vicinity. Crowley himself had been the target the angel’s discontent on a small number of occasions in the past, and while the demon wasn’t a fair sight to behold when riled, it was nothing in comparison to a righteously angry Aziraphale.
The bastard, he thought with a languid smile. But that’s why I like him so much.
Gradually Crowley began to sense the first feeling of peace and calm since he had gotten back to England, and it wasn’t much longer before he was fast asleep and breathing gently through his nose with a slight whistling. He slept soundly with the air of one who had been blessed with a guiltless conscience, and while Crowley certainly didn’t possess such a thing, he slept as if he did.
And he looked almost innocent.
“…and then the Baby Bear said, Someone has been sleeping in my bed too, and she’s still in it.”
Crowley grunted and batted open his eyes, wincing when he realised that his sunglasses had been removed. He heard a familiar chuckle and turned his head to see Aziraphale sitting in a chair pulled up to the sofa’s side, swinging Crowley’s shades by one temple idly. He had his legs crossed, leaning forward slightly with one elbow on his knee and his chin resting in his hand as he stared at the demon with slight amusement.
“Guten Morgen,” said Aziraphale, “oder, guten Abend.”
Crowley sat up blearily. “Mmh, wie lange hast-” Pause. Blink. “-you been sitting there? And give me those.”
The angel handed the sunglasses back to their owner and said, “Not very long. Enjoy your stay in Amsterdam, my dear?”
Crowley slipped his shades back on and frowned. “How do you know I was in Amsterdam?”
“Your return flight tickets are sticking out of the glovebox of your car, which is currently blocking the hydrant out front, I might add,” he said, “and you still smell like C.S.”
Crowley blessed out loud. “I incinerated my entire suit.”
“The car must be holding the scent.”
The demon made another dissatisfied grunt and resumed his horizontal position on the couch.
“I see you found my notes,” said Aziraphale, nodding to the pieces of paper that Crowley was still holding.
“What, these? Yeah. Lot better than that last one, I must say.”
“Ah. Read that one also?”
“Yeah. You still wish I was gone so you could enjoy the peace and quiet a bit longer?”
“Perhaps,” Aziraphale admitted, then added with a modest smirk, “but I would rot of boredom before long anyway.”
“So you’re not angry with me then?”
“In your dreams, Crowley. I’m furious with you, but that doesn’t mean I have to be so bloody minded about it. Besides, I’d like very much to know how you plan on making it up to me.”
“How does gluttony and boozing sound?”
“You mean dinner and drinks?”
Crowley shrugged. “Same difference.”
“Oh, we will be by the end of the night.”
“Well do hurry, would you? All of the nice restaurants are going to be closed soon.”
Crowley stood up and grabbed his coat. “Not for us, they won’t.”
“…and that’s really all that happened,” he concluded, finishing off the rest of the lamb souvlaki and setting down his fork.
Aziraphale daintily dabbed a napkin to his mouth and took another sip of Vidiano. “My my,” he said with airy sarcasm, “you certainly have a piquant for the bizarre, old boy. I daresay I’ve never heard of the words ‘industrial-fuck-metal’ used to describe even German music, but if it’s anything like what you’ve told me, I’m certain that you’ve made the members of Chemical DeathChrist* very happy with their record deal.” (*A fictitious band in this story but not altogether deviant from the standard names of goth-industrial groups.)
“Oh, they’re not as bad as you think. It’s all stage appearance, really. Very friendly, generous people.”
“Ah.” The angel nodded. “They didn’t charge you for the marijuana, did they.”
“No. They were very generous.”
“Honestly, Crowley. You’re over six thousand years old and lighting up as if you were a junk-rock teenage anarchist.”
“That’s punk-rock, angel.”
“I know, you silly nit. I was making a point.”
“Taken.” The demon rested one of his well-formed cheekbones against his palm and gazed at Aziraphale with an unglamourously whimsical smile. “Now then,” he said, “do tell about your undoubtedly wild and stirring adventure in Calais. But not too much excitement! I’ve a faint heart, you know.”
A napkin flew across the table and landed on his face. He chuckled and tossed it aside.
Aziraphale grudgingly grinned and threaded his fingers together, elbows unceremoniously resting on the tabletop. “Well,” he started, and then proceeded to divulge to his not-quite-so-significant other the business matters he had accomplished in France. When he had adjourned his recount, the two man-shaped creatures reached the conclusion that they had yet again come to a nice equal balance in the end, and that everything as defined by the terms of their Arrangement had been conducted accordingly and successfully.
“To wiles stirred,” said Aziraphale, raising his wine glass.
“And wiles thwarted,” said Crowley, and clinked their glasses together.
They shared a chocolate galaktoboureko for dessert and finished the rest of the wine by one o’clock. Aziraphale thanked the Greek Garden staff for staying open so late (even if they had all been compelled by divine or occult powers) and Crowley even left a tip, and not just one of his spiteful half quid tips, either. Aziraphale saw but pretended he hadn’t because he knew Crowley got huffy and defencive when caught being charitable. But he gave the demon’s knee a gentle pat once they had started on their way back to Soho, and that really said it all, everything from ‘I saw that, you benevolent rascal’ to ‘I’m glad you’re here with me, dear chap’.
But everything wasn’t warm and fuzzy on Crowley’s end, unless it was concerning the state of his mind at the moment, though the words ‘hot’ and ‘blurry’ would be wholly more accurate. He managed to conceal these blustery inner thoughts by feigning smiles and making small talk and pretending to be interested in what Aziraphale had to say, but that voice in the back of his head that he had been able to suppress for countless centuries had begun rapping at the door again, and it had been growing more insistent during the course of the evening until it had reached the point of harassment.
It wasn’t a nice voice, and it was saying things that Crowley didn’t like at all. Well, he did like what it was saying, but he didn’t want to like what it was saying. There were certain things that even demons knew were wrong, big red lines that were laid down and marked DO NOT CROSS AT X-MAS OR EVER, but that voice was telling him to go for it, egging him on, tempting him, if you will (if you can withstand the irony of that assumption).
And deep down inside him, perhaps not too far from where a tiny spark lived alone in the overwhelming darkness, Crowley felt truly awful.
“Aren’t you coming in, dear?”
“Nnh,” the demon fidgeted. “I think I’d… it’d be best if I went home.”
“I thought you wanted to stay for drinks?” Aziraphale lingered with his hand on the door latch as the Bentley idled in front of the bookstore. “I still have that Bordeaux I’ve been saving. Or we can shoot Amaretto Flames and get devastated if you prefer something more exciting.”
“It was a nice evening.” Crowley smiled wearily. “I’d like to remember it in the morning.”
“Yeah, positive. I’m just. Still just a bit jetlagged and need to catch up on some sleep.”
“You can always sleep here if you don’t feel like driving back tonight,” the angel offered kindly. “I’ve got that upstairs room, and you know mi sofa es su sofa-”
“Azir-” Crowley began sharply and then shut his mouth, tightened his hands on the wheel and lowered his voice to a dark murmur. “Please don’t make this more difficult that it already is.”
The angel frowned, perplexed. “Make what more difficult? Are you feeling all right, Crowley? You look unwell.”
“I’m fine. Probably the weed. Just want to get some sleep.”
“Well,” Aziraphale said a trifle despondently, “all right then. If you insist.”
He stepped out of the Bentley and shut the door, then leaned in through the window.
“Sweet dreams,” he said softly.
Crowley swallowed dryly and did his greatest impression of a granite statue to date. “Thanks,” he said, “but I don’t need them.”
Aziraphale looked offended. Then Crowley reached up and pulled his sunglasses down to the end of his nose, and gazed at the angel without a spoken word. And then Aziraphale didn’t look so offended anymore.
He stepped back from the kerb and watched the Bentley pull away with a rumble and vanish into the night like a gleaming black phantom.
Not far away, a tall man in a dark coat was walking his relatively tiny dog down the street at this ungodly hour of the night. It certainly was ungodly, and not just because the dog turned its head towards its owner and said, “Why didn’t he stay? It didn’t happen like it should have!” in a raspy, high-pitched voice.
“Patience, Ed,” replied Hastur smoothly, gazing at the shop front with a frighteningly collected expression for a murderous cretin. “Just give him time. It’ll happen sooner or later. Now come on.” He gave the leash a tug. “We’ve got more work to do.”
Crowley sank down onto his bed, not even bothering to get under the covers. He felt as if he had been running a low-grade fever all night, one that only worsened when he arrived at his flat; while stripping down to his skin seemed like a good idea, he was aware that whatever it was that had been in his system earlier was still in there, and even demons knew when to exercise a little restraint in the matters of self-indulgence. The clothes would have to stay on for tonight.
Crowley grabbed a nearby pillow and clutched it to his chest, folding himself about it in a foetal position which, while certainly not an inherent reflex in the early beginnings of his life, felt somehow appropriate given the current state of his mental and physical being.
“Lord I will never smoke again,” he moaned, then buried his face into the pillow and closed his eyes.
A few moments later he was breathing softly at regular intervals, a sure sign that sleep had overtaken him. But during the still hours of the night he twitched and jerked occasionally without waking, made quiet noises in the back of his throat, whimpers and groans that betrayed the presence of fitful dreams stirring the dark of his subconscious.