Author's Note: This story was originally written for lj user bethbethbeth for the 2008 Good Omens exchange. I hope you like it. :)
Also, this is historically accurate as far as the events in this fic go and the dates and many of the happenings.
Aziraphale, in general, was a consistent sort of fellow. The bodies he inhabited tended to be consistent, too, in looks and in contour (slightly round at the edges). Nevertheless, there'd been a few times throughout history where his body had been lean. (1) One of these occasions was in 1940.
The angel simply hadn't been eating. Of course, that alone wasn't enough to slim him down—after all, technically he didn't have to eat just like he didn't have to breathe—but he was also worn out. Though one wouldn't have known it to look at the state of London, he was performing nonstop miracles.
The raids had started in September and at the end of December all the Londoners—including Aziraphale—had come to the realization that this was going to be a drawn out affair. As the first bombs had pummeled England, the Metatron had warned Aziraphale to limit his amount of interference with current events. This was quite a shame because otherwise all of the Luftwaffe would have realized they didn't quite feel up to the task of bombing innocent civilians and would have flown back to Germany to reconsider their lives, perhaps over a nice cup of tea. Food would have been readily available as would clean water. As it was, he did his best. (2)
Equally as vexing was that Aziraphale had no one to commiserate with—he hadn't seen Crowley for quite some time. Generally they increased the amount of their business meetings—luncheons and dinners—during times of war, as long as they happened to be in the same area. (3) Had the demon gone overseas? Was he otherwise out of town? Had he gone to a shelter Aziraphale hadn't Blessed and gotten discorporated? (Getting a new body was often a drawn out process.)
Honestly, it shouldn't have bothered him that the demon was missing, unless he was solely concerned about what kind of trouble he was causing and not what kind of trouble he was in. Then again, 'shouldn't' was far too often in Aziraphale's vocabulary when it came to Crowley. Their…association with one another, other than the obvious Enemies thing, was somewhat mysterious. No one word could describe them—not even Adversaries which was, technically, the only thing that ought to fit. The word 'Arrangement' came closer, but it wasn't merely that, either. Their correlation was complicated, and it reminded Aziraphale vaguely of the sensation novels that were so popular in the 1860s. The ones that were full of giant coincidences the plot depended on (4), villains in disguise and mistaken identities (5), the realization one never knows what will happen next, and one giant conglomeration of unexpected twists and turns and emotions (including shock, disbelief, hope, horror, sympathy, fear, affection, anxiety, and everything in between). There isn't a word that captures all of that, but that's sort of like how he saw himself and Crowley.
Clasping his hands together in his lap, Aziraphale derailed his train of thought and concentrated on the skies far above the shelter he was in and the fires creeping closer a few blocks down. He sucked in the muggy air as if he needed it, as if he could suffocate or hyperventilate or have other breathing problems, which, thanks to his vigilance, no one else in the shelter suffered from.
They were packed in tightly. Not for the first time the angel thought about some of the sensible people that had sought refuge in the London Underground, which was just as packed but also cooler and safer. In fact, that was why Aziraphale went to the smaller shelters, the present one being little more than a large root cellar.
It was silent in the shelter, except for the sound of people breathing, the occasional cry of a child, and the subdued meows and barks from the few pets carried with their owners. The explosions above them were quite audible, though the antiaircraft guns sounded small and far away. The whole experience had become a routine for all of them—the men, women, children, and even the animals. As if to prove this, a cat leapt from the lap of his owner onto Aziraphale and commenced to knead his sweater. He didn't mind—the sweater was already a write-off as he had dirtied and damaged it beyond repair earlier while helping a distraught family search through the wreckage of their house for their missing child (who had miraculously come out none the worse for wear, except for being dirty.)
The raids happened night after night. Sirens wailed, black curtains were drawn, lights were put out, people scrambled to shelters, shifted over, made room, listened for the German planes buzzing overhead. Then the muffled fire of the antiaircraft guns came (there were too few of them), and the bombs fell with a flash and tore buildings, houses, and people apart. The danger of horrible gases replacing the air was constant, so everyone had a gas mask with them at all times, even the children on their way to school.
The angel couldn't help but feel that there was something horribly wrong with the fact that all of it had become a routine. Many of the people even brought blankets and pillows and tried to sleep in the shelters. Aziraphale never slept, but he did sometimes wish that he could take a break, could escape the bombs and fire and rubble and screaming people (he felt profoundly guilty after he thought that).
Huddling underground was only something Aziraphale did on his nights off, after all. The rest of the time he donned a helmet marked with a large 'W' and patrolled the streets as an ARP warden, also known as an air-raid warden.
It was much worse for the angel then. He still had to do the miracles but instead of comforting and protecting people in the dark (where he couldn't see what was happening to his city), he had to walk among the city and see it torn to shreds. He was supposed to call out "Put out that light!" or "Cover that Window!" during the blackouts, but he was also responsible for patrolling the streets during air raids, putting out fires and helping the wounded. (6)
It brought to mind something F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "An Egyptian proverb. The worst things: to be in bed and sleep not, to want for one who comes not, to try to please and please not."
Well, he had just about all of those covered. As many blankets and pillows that were all over the shelter, he might as well be in bed, and though he never slept it was undeniable he wasn't currently going to get any rest. He also wanted to comfort all of London, which counted as pleasing, and as for wanting someone who was gone…
Aziraphale shook his head and absently stroked the soft fur of the cat in his lap as he continued miracling. No, the old man in the corner was not going to die of a stroke; no; the Luftwaffe pilot above was not going to release a bomb on the house next door; no, their city block was not going to burn down. No, no, no, no.
"Sir? Excuse me, but is Blackbird bothering you?"
Aziraphale started and turned as best he could in the cramped place to meet the eyes of a young woman, probably no more than sixteen or seventeen. Luckily, he could see in the dark (perhaps not as well as his counterpart Crowley could, but well enough). She wore a stitched-from-scratch-cloth dress and had messy brown hair that had once been in the style all the young people wore (so far as Aziraphale could tell, since he never really took much notice of fashion) poofed up at the front, but her pompadour had long since deflated. What he really noticed was her sad eyes but bright, friendly smile and the way she was sitting protectively with an older, worn looking woman who was probably her mother.
"You are a sir, aren't you?" the girl continued. "It's hard to tell in the dark."
"Er, yes," he replied, still distracted by Blessings.
"Is Blackbird bothering you, sir?"
"Oh," Aziraphale replied, relieved he wasn't going to have to add curing a delirious, rambling woman onto his list of things to do. "No, I don't mind."
She nodded in the dark. Paying slightly more attention to her, he noticed how thin she was. Only an angel could have heard the low growl that her stomach gave, but he heard it.
"I have some bread and cheese here. I've already eaten," he fibbed. "And I can't eat any more. Would you like some?"
He refused to feel guilty for the fact he miracled the food into existence. He'd tried to produce food naturally; really, he had. "Dig for Victory," the posters proclaimed, and as Aziraphale didn't have a backyard, he had tried earnestly to create a few window-box gardens. Since it wouldn't have been fair otherwise, he'd resolved not to 'cheat' or use any of his abilities.
None of the plants lived. He tried everything short of real miracles to get the plants to survive, but they refused. It was really rather annoying. Crowley was good with plants, and he'd once said he didn't do anything but talk to them. Aziraphale tried that too, but the one living mini-tomato plant fell over after the earnest, beseeching talk he'd given it and after that he gave up on the garden idea. He could help in other ways and honestly, he really was digging for victory—or at least digging for reserve strength so that he could help. Constant miracles were exhausting.
"You're certain?" The girl hesitated and looked suddenly younger—fifteen, maybe.
She accepted the miracled cheese and bread and split both of them in two with a glance at the sleeping woman, putting one half of both in her handkerchief. The girl quickly ate her half of the bread, and most of her cheese, though she offered what was left of it to the cat, which instantly left Aziraphale's lap to eat it. "Thank you. I'm Sophie Davies. And you've met Blackbird."
Aziraphale smiled and couldn't help but return her good cheer. "Yes, Blackbird and I have been acquainted," he replied. "My name is Mr. Fell."
A bomb exploded nearby and Blackbird let out a cry. Sophie held him close and began to sing low under her breath. "We'll meet again, don't know how, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day..."
She was doing it to calm the cat, but it also steadied Aziraphale's nerves as well. He hadn't been sure how much longer he could hold out, miracling constantly like he was. He wasn't sure if his human body could die of stress and/or exhaustion, but he was probably going to find out. But with her singing, he felt stronger. Not everyone had lost hope. It was people like her that he was trying to save.
"Keep smiling though, just like you always do, till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away."
Her quiet crooning worked. The cat calmed down and Aziraphale leaned back against the dirt wall, more relaxed than he'd been for days.
And then suddenly he wasn't relaxed at all. The peaceful atmosphere was interrupted by a sudden outcry.
"Ow, that's my hand!"
"Eek! It's on me!"
"Oh Lord is that a rat?"
And so on went the general outcry, which was punctuated by a hysterical sounding clucking noise and the yapping of a dog.
As the small dog—a terrier, judging by the barks—barreled over people, Sophie snatched her cat and held him tight. Aziraphale had been making sure Blackbird didn't run away or scratch Sophie, so he ended up rather surprised when he had a face full of feathers and small, excitable dog.
There was a chicken in the shelter. Aziraphale hadn't realized that people had chickens in the city, but there was one on his head so it was obvious they did. The terrier had evidently discovered it and decided it would be prudent to cause mayhem by chasing it. He calmed the dog, sent it back to its owner, and pried the chicken off his head. It flapped its wings and ended up in his lap.
The angel stared at the bird in dismay and it stared right back at him with its beady black eyes. He Thought at it; it should have clucked its way back to its owner but it just glared at him and hopped off his lap. Aziraphale concentrated again, but the chicken just scratched at the ground, tossing dirt onto the angel's trousers with what he could have sworn was scorn. Either he was more tired than he thought, the little blighter was somehow a Blessed chicken, fowl in general were impervious even to Heavenly Will or they were innately Contrary. He was convinced of that last one when he reached up to straighten his shirt and grasped a distinctively wet part of the garment. In the excitement, the chicken had defecated on his pullover.
Aziraphale sighed. It was going to be another long night.
1. For instance, he'd been thin during the 14th century for sure, and the Spanish Inquisition had rather taken away his appetite.
2. An example was when a plane flew over a ruined house that had two children crouching inside of it. The German pilot released an incendiary bomb directly over them. The pilot was rather surprised when he looked back and didn't see an explosion. He was even more surprised when his controls jammed and he was forced to abort the mission. (He later retired from active flight duty and suddenly had an urge to drink large amounts of tea, give to charities, and repent his sins.)
A rain of streamers and candy was what fell on the children who had instantly started scooping up the goodies. A nearby widow, who had just happened to go above ground to make certain her curtains were closed for the black out at that same moment, discovered the orphaned children, ran outside to fetch them, and took them to her cellar. (They became quite a happy little family, and the widow eventually remarried an injured veteran who helped her raise the children in a good home environment.)
When Aziraphale did intervene, he tried to be thorough.
3. Strangely enough, they frequently were in the same area…
4. Oh, you're staying in Jerusalem for awhile? Hello there, didn't expect to see you in Siam. How delightfully unexpected to see you in England, etc.
5. 'I swear, angel, if I'd known it was you, I'd never have discorporated you—at least not so messily.'
'And what about my Presence? How, pray tell, did you miss that?'
'We're in Jesus' hometown for Chr-Somebody's sake, everything feels holy!'
6. Generally he said, in a loud tone of voice, "Turn off those lights, if you please" and "Your window ought to be covered, dear."