It was the dawn of December 30, 1940, and one of the most destructive air raids of the London Blitz was still going on. Judging from the sky, it was going to be a bright day. The dawn itself was made even brighter by the flashes of shells and bombs and the glow of the fires. The acrid smell of explosives was in the air. If one inhaled, ash and dust invaded one's nose.
It was a good thing that the man-shaped being making his way out of an underground (literally) black market didn't have to breathe. Despite the steady rain of ash, the figure in the Zoot suit was immaculate. He didn't even glance up as bombers droned overhead, the bombs fell and exploded, the flames crackled, sirens blared, and people shouted. There were not enough fire engines. (1)
More than 1500 fires had started all over the city and though it was two days later, the flames were still not out. The disaster would become known as the Second Great Fire of London, which extended beyond the city proper, down from Islington all the way to St. Paul's Churchyard. Most people weren't aware of the specifics yet, but two supernatural beings were. One of them, Anthony J. Crowley, had finished his business for the day and ended up walking in the direction of Soho. (2)
Crowley stopped a few blocks away from a certain bookshop and watched a couple of air-raid wardens fight the spreading flames. Every two minutes or so, a new wave of planes flew over. The motors were loud, vibrating, terribly upset bees in the sky above them. In comparison, the anti-aircraft guns were merely intermittent, mild, and muffled shots. It was like fighting an ogre with a toothpick. The demon spotted his counterpart among the volunteers.
Aziraphale was apparently on duty as a volunteer warden, wearing coveralls, an ARP armlet, and steel helmet. Usually the angel was well-kempt, if a little rumpled, and he was always clean (other than the occasional layer of dust when he got immersed in a novel). Thus it was strange to see him in working clothes with ash, dirt, and sweat all over him. Crowley decided to watch awhile longer before he announced his presence.
The house in front of Aziraphale was ablaze and he scurried forward, lugging a sand bag onto his shoulder. He tossed the bag over the blaze, fighting the fire just like all the other wardens, though it seemed his sandbag happened to squelch more flames than most of them.
"Oi!" Crowley finally yelled. "Aziraphale!"
Aziraphale nearly dropped the sandbag he'd just hefted. "Crowley! You startled me."
The Serpent rolled his eyes. Aziraphale was fighting a fire started by an incendiary bomb with a bunch of sand in the middle of a city that had bombs raining down on it, wearing only a metal hat for protection, and yet it was a yell that had startled him. "Hello," he said as he walked up to the angel.
"I haven't seen you for awhile," Aziraphale said. "I thought perhaps you'd left the country."
"And not tell you?" He asked with exaggerated innocence.
Aziraphale glanced away and tossed more sand onto the fire.
Crowley frowned a little, looking almost guilty. "I've been around. It's not like Germany needs my help to be malicious."
No one else would have noticed the faint tone of disgust and resignation in his voice, but he wondered if Aziraphale had detected it. They both had a lot of practice reading each other.
"So what are you doing?" Crowley asked, although he knew the angel was an air raid warden.
"That ought to be fairly obvious." Aziraphale tossed another bag full of sand on the fire and the flames reared up, causing the angel to stagger backward.
Crowley caught his arm and steadied him. "I see it, I just don't believe it. You as a warden? Tell me you're joking."
"I most certainly am not," Aziraphale said in the huffy tone of voice he used when he was simultaneously offended and hurt. He stepped back and looked at his work—the fire was out.
"I need help down here!" another warden yelled.
Aziraphale ran toward the voice. Crowley watched him, the coals of the fire lighting up his sunglasses, before he followed.
The warden was trying to contain a young woman who was apparently determined to go inside a house that, though not on fire, was badly damaged structurally.
"My cat's still inside!" she shrieked, twisting away from the man.
"You can't go in there," the warden insisted.
The young woman kicked the man in the shins and ran for the front door. "Blackbird's inside!"
Aziraphale did a double-take. "Oh, Sophie…! Wait, dear."
Apparently the angel knew her. He reached out as she passed him and gently took hold of her arm. Knowing Aziraphale, he was about ready to Soothe her, but she kicked him as hard as she could in the kneecap.
"Oof," Aziraphale groaned, surprised.
The girl—Sophie—darted into the house.
"Some warden you are," Crowley said with amusement. "How are you supposed to fight fires and win if you can't even control a kid?"
The angel gave him another affronted look and went in after her.
"Aziraphale!" Crowley exasperatedly called from outside.
And then another wave of planes came. At least 24 bombs dropped at once and suddenly the house next door was on fire, collapsing into the one Sophie and Aziraphale were in, tearing into it and making it even more unstable.
"Gas masks!" the warden yelled.
Crowley narrowed his eyes—sure enough, poisonous gas had been dropped.
The demon let out a string of blesses. And waited. Aziraphale was an angel. He could take care of himself. He'd be coming out any second.
The first floor of the house caught on fire, but Aziraphale still didn't appear.
After a few more moments, Crowley snarled and stomped inside. "Aziraphale?"
Crowley walked through the house, not bothering with a gas mask. If the humans wanted to see him with one on, then they'd see him with one on.
He stopped, seeing Aziraphale with the girl in his arms, the cat on top of her, and both of them unconscious. The angel was literally holding the house together—the beams were floating over his head, having stopped in the process of falling. Aziraphale was also keeping the air clear, trying to heal Sophie and the cat, trying to stop the fire from spreading, trying to control where the bombs landed, and probably a bunch of other miracles. He was on his knees.
Crowley looked at him. "You are a blessed idiot."
"Can't…do it all…and move…please take them outside."
The demon snorted.
"Crowley…please…" And the angel gave him a particularly pleading look.
Instantly putting gasmasks on Sophie and her pet (which was surprising because cat gasmasks weren't exactly common), Crowley grabbed them. "Fine. But you owe me."
Aziraphale nodded. "Go on, I'll be out in a minute."
Outside, the warden shouted, "Fire's spread, this block's a goner!"
Crowley exited the house, put Sophie down, and made sure both she and the flea bag were alive and well. He was surprised when suddenly, at the same time, the recently arrived fire brigade began to conquer the flames and the house behind him collapsed.
"Angel," Crowley gasped, instinctively moving toward the rubble before shaking himself. Aziraphale was discorporated, not Ended, and it didn't matter one way or the other. If the stupid prat wanted to kill himself than that was no—the demon stopped his inner tirade. Crowley could still feel the angel's Presence; he was alive under there.
Rolling his eyes again, he made sure all the humans were occupied before he shifted the rubble and pulled out a mangled angel. It looked like every bone in Aziraphale's body was broken and he was bleeding from countless injuries. His blue eyes were wide and unfocused—said body definitely had a concussion.
"Ow," Aziraphale said, in the same kind of voice one would use to announce that the weather was nice or the sky was blue.
"Have I told you lately that you're an idiot?"
Aziraphale only moaned in response.
"Go on, angel. Heal thyself," Crowley said.
"Can't. Takes too much…energy. Need to help…city…" He broke off to suck in a gasp. "If I heal, I…might pass out."
Crowley let out an exasperated sigh. "You're going to lose consciousness any way if you don't. Stop the major miracling until you're finished, and then start over."
Aziraphale shook his head and then let out a small noise of pain. "I owe it to them. To do as much as I can do until the fire's…under control."
"Thank you…for the…help," Aziraphale said, clearly dismissing him.
"Stubborn wanker," Crowley muttered. "Look. I'll watch the city and keep up the magic Helping while you heal, if it'll stop you from moaning and groaning like a sissy."
"Would you?" Glassy, concussed blue eyes met black shades.
"Sure," Crowley said. He smiled a smile that showed off all his teeth. "Of course that means you'll owe me two favors. Deal?"
Finally, Aziraphale stopped miracling and began to Heal. Not surprisingly, the angel blacked out. As a demon of his word, Crowley took over the angel's protective duties. The fire on the street went out. He started to saunter away, but he hadn't made it far before he glanced back at Aziraphale's prone form.
Amazing how innocent he looked. Angel or not, it was an odd notion considering the fact Aziraphale hoarded books, often got pissed with a demon, had an Arrangement with a demon, and didn't mind lying by omission. Nevertheless, he was somehow innocent. Possibly because he was an angel—though Crowley certainly couldn't remember radiating Innocence like that even before he Fell—or possibly because Aziraphale honestly never meant any harm and tended to think that nobody else did either. Unconscious and out in the open, the angel would make an easy mark.
Crowley hesitated. Finally he walked over to him, hefting the unresisting form over his shoulder—no way he was carrying him in any other 'nicer' way—and headed for the book shop. No one but him was going to mess with Aziraphale, who was really, really going to owe him for this.
1. There also weren't, in the opinion of many people, enough bottles of alcohol available for when the Blitz was over.
2. The Bentley was safely stored in a concrete vault underground. Crowley could ensure it wasn't damaged, but it might get dirty, and it was better to err on the side of caution.