Story Notes:Written circa 2005.
Mr. A Ziraphale owns a bookshop in Soho as most of you undoubtedly already know. But perhaps you don’t know that there is a crawl space above the bookshop just small enough for you to wedge yourself up in through the trap door in the ceiling (cracking a few ribs if your angle’s just right) and become so saturated with asbestos that if you died and went to Hell you still wouldn’t burn.
Aziraphale certainly didn’t know about the crawl space, and he had owned the place for years. It was just one of those things where on Day One he moved a bookcase directly underneath the little latch-hook door and never bothered to see if he had blocked anything. The thought never entered his mind that his shop had to have an attic somewhere.
But “out of sight out of mind” as the saying goes. For years and years Aziraphale lived on in blissful ignorance, the shop surviving a fire*, an Apocalypse, and half a century’s worth of dust and mildew. The angel was a terrible housekeeper, but only because he felt he had more productive things to do than to pick up a feather duster or give some of his texts a decent burial.
Aziraphale had resumed his collecting shortly after the Sunday That Almost Wasn’t, and had himself a nice little stockpile of books that weren’t just about prophecies and Armageddon anymore (though his still enjoyed them) but a nice little bit of everything, traditional and contemporary, old and new alike.
He also invested (not much) in a battered old sofa that looked absolutely wretched but was a divine place to sit. Aziraphale liked to stay up nights with a book and lie across the sofa with a blanket draped over his legs, sipping tea or perhaps something a bit stronger. His equivalent of sleeping, he had said to Crowley when the demon had inquired why the angel had dragged a dead heifer into the back room of his shop.
Crowley was always trying to talk Aziraphale into moving uptown somewhere to a place that actually was big enough to swing a cat in (not that either of them would, it was just a saying) but the angel was adamant about staying in the quaint and slightly dilapidated little book shop. It wasn’t much –it never really was- but it was home away from home for Aziraphale, and he liked it.
But all of that was about to change all too soon, and a man’s (or angel’s) castle would become his bane.
*The fact that it survived a fire could probably be attributed more to the asbestos than any amount of miracles.
The first thing Aziraphale began to notice was the guano* but he didn’t know it was guano until some time afterwards.
While on the rare occasion of dusting the upper bookshelves he was disturbed by the presence of what looked like moistened mouse droppings scattered on the tops of the books. He spent the better part of an afternoon cleaning the excrement from his top shelf books and placing Havahart® traps along the baseboards.
Two months later the traps were still empty and the books of the upper shelves had a blanket of black crap on them. It was most bothersome because the scat stuck to the pages and the spines and discoloured them, and as a serious book collector Aziraphale placed a high value on the condition of his texts, some of which had been around even longer than the Pope. You can imagine his dismay.
So he spent another afternoon cleaning off the top shelf books and setting up some miniature Victors, also going around the baseboards with caulk to seal up any cracks or knotholes where mice could crawl in and enjoy the free rent.
About a month later Aziraphale began to hallucinate. Rather, he thought he was beginning to hallucinate.
He was comfortably lounging on the Dead Heifer sofa late one night and enjoying a nightcap with Virginibus Puerisque when he suddenly felt as if something or someone was in the room with him. Looking up from his book, he gazed about himself for a few moments before shrugging and resuming his appointment with Stevenson.
Then he heard a faint flapping. This time he got up and went up front to see if he hadn’t left a window ajar, which he hadn’t. He attributed the sound to either the mice or the brandy and returned to the Heifer, settling in cosily once more.
A few moments later something flew past his head fast enough and close enough to give his hair a good tousle, and he dropped his book. Thoroughly convinced that he was not alone and perhaps a little bit more than creeped out, Aziraphale jumped to his feet and turned on all the lights.
He spent the remainder of the night and early morning searching for whatever the UFO had been and found nothing. He stopped with the nightcaps after that and switched to decaf tea or instant cappuccino instead.
Later that week he chanced to bump into his good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) friend Crowley who was fortuitously conspiring to stir up some trouble down in Piccadilly Circus for no apparent reason other than pure personal entertainment. They ended up lunching at a popular bistro in Soho Square and whiling away the day in each other’s company.
Crowley had been on a “business trip” in Rome for the past few weeks, working on some sort of mischievous political project or another in an attempt to compensate for his un-demonic behaviour during the course of the Almost-Apocalypse; he had in fact been trying to evade persecution for the past two years** and was so far succeeding.
But he had dearly missed Aziraphale in all the fear-induced excursions he had been taking, and finally deemed his debt to Hell was more or less paid for, at least for now.
**Whether his superiours had it in for him or not, he wasn’t going to take the chance.
It wasn’t all that difficult for Crowley to entice the angel to a good old fashioned sloshing like what they used to do on nights of Pre-Armageddon yore, and that evening they hit every pub between Regent and Charing Cross (and just about every other postbox, hydrant and lamppost in that vicinity as well). Luckily Aziraphale was still cognizant enough to ward off any serious accidents while riding shotgun to an intoxicated demon behind the wheel of a speeding ‘26 Bentley.
They returned to the bookshop sometime after 2 AM, still staggering and giggling, and spent the better part of a half hour getting reacquainted with each other on the lumpy Dead Heifer sofa. Everything was progressing towards a fairly memorable night until Crowley draped his arm on the back of the couch and was introduced to Mr. Victor, whom had fallen from the top of one of the bookshelves without somehow being set off.
Immortal beings don’t feel pain or pleasure on a human level unless they let their guard down or they really want to feel it, and right then Crowley had both his guard and his fly down. When that metal bar snapped hard over his knuckles his reaction was the same as any other mortal’s:
“Aaauugh! Shit fuck!”
With his motor skills hindered by the alcohol Crowley felt the pain a lot longer than was truly necessary for a being of his stature, but once he had cleared his head and remembered that it was all just in his mind, he was mostly all right. A little too sober for his own liking and perhaps a trifle miffed by such an unpleasant assault, but otherwise all right.
He tossed the trap away disdainfully and demanded to a swiftly-sobered Aziraphale, “What the hell was that all about? Some kind of barbaric Medieval contraceptive?”
“It was a mousetrap,” said the angel, “and I’m sorry. It must have fallen from off the shelf. I’ve been having a bit of a rodent problem lately.”
“What was it doing on the shelf? You’re supposed to keep them along the floor. That’s where mice live, in walls and places like that.”
“I’ve set traps near the baseboards but they haven’t taken the bait. Besides, all of the droppings are on the top shelves.”
Crowley didn’t look convinced. “That doesn’t sound right,” he said. “I’d better have a look.”
He collected himself and began to investigate the back room of the bookshop, much to Aziraphale’s chagrin. The angel sulked while Crowley stood on chairs to examine the shelves and perform a thorough inspection with all the proper muttering-under-the-breath and complicated peering-with-pursed-lips-and-one-eyebrow-cocked and of course the obligatory chin-rubbing that would have made Holmes and Watson proud.
After what seemed like a long time (at least long enough to have played the “Jeopardy” theme song in its entirety half a dozen times) Crowley turned to a cross-looking Aziraphale and beamed.
“From what I’ve managed to deduce,” he stated, “you’ve got mice, all right.”
“Brilliant, my dear,” the angel said laconically. “Now go back in time about four months ago and tell it to me, and I will pretend to look surprised.”
Crowley grinned covertly. “Not just any breed of mice, angel. You’ve got the flying ones.”
“Bats? That’s preposterous. Bats are rural creatures. This is London, for Heaven’s sake. It’s a concrete jungle out there.”
Crowley dropped himself down onto the sofa and replied, “Are you kidding? Bats are everywhere. As long as there’s food to be had those little buggers are at the front of the line. They particularly like roosting in old buildings, and London is full of them. This shop here is prime real estate as far as our little flying friends go.”
Aziraphale scowled. “They may be your friends,” he muttered, “because they’re certainly no friends of mine.”
“Maybe not, but if you’ve got enough of them you might want to consider opening up a restaurant.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“A restaurant. Bats are considered a delicacy in some Indonesian countries, and I hear that aside from being beneficial to one’s health they’re also delicious.”
The angel made a slightly disgusted face and Crowley brightened.
“Oh, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! Bats are a key element in the balance of nature and a good diet. Lots of essential vitamins and stuff. They’re like flying mini chickens, only tough greasy red meat. Second best to crow. You can prepare bat all sorts of ways: baked bat, bat kebobs, filet of bat, bat burgers, ground bat, roasted bat, deep fried bat, broiled bat, bat soup, sautéed bat-”
Crowley was running out of fingers to count on, so he just used them over again.
“-bat gumbo, bat casserole, bat slaw, bat smoothies, bat salad, batwing chips, bat pot pies, bat sticks, chocolate covered bat, bat biscuits, bat hors d’oeuvres, lemon bat, bat pitas, bat stew, stir-fry bat, bat jerky-”
He paused and looked at Aziraphale, who was turning green around the edges.
“That’s about it.”
“Are you concluded?”
“For the moment, yes.”
“Does this place have an attic or a basement somewhere?” Crowley asked.
“No. At least,” said Aziraphale, “I don’t think so. I mean, there really isn’t enough room for an attic, is there? There’s a small cellar out back but it’s boarded up and not even connected to the main building. I still say it’s mice.”
“Okay, okay. Suit yourself. Though I should let you know that I spent a fair portion of 13th and 14th centuries haunting the belfries of Gothic churches and inciting bats to riot with torches.” He chuckled. “When they all came flooding out of the steeple during service, the whole congregation would go mad and think it was some sort of curse. A lot of churches were abandoned during that time thanks to me and my little bat mates.”
“Clever. You must have been bored.”
“Terribly. I’ve never been so bored in all my immortal life,” said Crowley. “But in any case, I spent enough time hanging around bats -pardon the pun- to know when they’re afoot. Aclaw. Awing. Whatever. But you’ve got bats, Ozzi.”
“Splendid,” Aziraphale sighed. “I suppose I ought to find out where they’re all coming from then, oughtn’t I?”
“Later,” Crowley insisted with a slight grin. “You’re not going to let a few harmless guests spoil our evening, are you?”
“Actually, yes, I am. It disturbs me to no end to have a crowd of hellish creatures inhabiting my living space.”
He smiled and added, “One is already quite enough.”
The angel didn’t tell Crowley he thought that the idea of bats living in his shop was utter rubbish. All he really wanted was an excuse to excuse himself from his friend’s company before their company got too friendly. It had worked, at least; Crowley had dejectedly wished Aziraphale a good night and good luck with the bat business, and maybe it wouldn’t be too much of an atrocity if they met for dinner sometime next week?
Aziraphale finally consented before ushering the demon out the door rather hurriedly and setting up a few more Victors.
Two weeks passed. The traps were still empty, and the shit was piling up. Aziraphale was most disconcerted by this and actually began to think that Crowley had been right after all. But there was no way in Heaven (or Hell) that the angel was about to admit that, not after the gloating display of superiour knowledge as performed by one A.J. Crowley, Lord of Guano, Haunter of Belfries, Bat Expert and Chef Extraordinaire. Aziraphale would rather face an infestation of the horrible little creatures than to entertain the demon’s ego so readily.
Thankfully Crowley seemed to have forgotten all about the bats when they dined together at a well-known French restaurant in Knightsbridge one evening as part of their belated plan for a small get-together. He chatted enthusiastically about some hilarious events taking place west of the Big Pond while Aziraphale sighed and shook his head and tried to keep a stiff upper lip about it.
After the Port had been finished off they took to Hyde Park and spent a great deal of time dancing about less than light topics of conversation while promenading along the banks of the Serpentine. Somewhere between the talks of predestiny and soul mates versus free will and true love they ended up in the Bentley where Aziraphale shyly declined Crowley’s offer of going back to his flat for a few drinks, suggesting that they instead nip back to Soho for a more modest cup of tea. It wouldn’t have been his choice but it was better than the alternative* as far as his angelic soul was concerned.
After they had parked the car outside of the bookshop and disembarked onto the front stoop, Crowley tapped the angel’s shoulder and pointed upwards. A single bat swooped high over their heads and cut a sharp turn, zooming off in search of dinner. Aziraphale returned his eyes from the sky in time to see the demon bestow him a golden-iris gaze from above the rim of his sunglasses with a Grade-A, wily smirk painted on his face.
“It could have come from anywhere,” he said adamantly, unlocking the front door and hoping that his demonic companion would leave it at that.
This was Crowley he was talking about, so of course he was wrong. He knew it, too.
“Ah, excuses, excuses,” the dark haired young man beamed as he followed Aziraphale into the shop. “I do so love excuses. The wilder, the funnier. You hear every kind of excuse there is to hear down in Hell, and believe you me, I’ve-”
Crowley stopped in mid-sentence and looked around. The angel grimaced and waited for The Question to pop itself.
“God bless it,” the demon murmured. “What happened here?”
“I assume you’re speaking of the new curtains?”
Crowley made a strange face. “That too, but what captured my attention first off is the disturbing number of mousetraps you seem to have… and what is that smell?”
“What smell?” Aziraphale shrugged innocuously.
“Come on, you have to smell that.”
“I honestly don’t smell a thing. What’s it smell like?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Piss, paper and ammonia. Look, if you’re lying to try and cover up something, I’m going to get to the bottom of it one way or another-”
“I’m not lying!” Aziraphale lied as sincerely as he could. “If you have such a problem with this place then it’d probably be best if you left.”
“Are you kidding, angel? It’d take you a month to clean all this shit up by yourself. See? It’s all over everything: the sills, the shelves, the desk, the counter. Seems to me like your bat problem has escalated into a crisis of epic proportions. Look, if you’re too vain to admit that you need help I’m just going to roll up my sleeves and help you anyway. I don’t mind at all. I practically lived knee-deep in guano for years, so if you-”
Aziraphale had to shout to derail the runaway train of blathering issuing from the demon’s mouth, unable to stand these wild accusations of conceit and Crowley’s unabashed boasting.
Especially the boasting.
“My dear,” the angel reiterated calmly when he had gained his attention, “I do not have a bat problem. I have a rodent problem which I am entirely capable of handling on my own.”
“Are you in denial or something, Aziraphale? You’ve got bat shit flowing out of your windows. You’ve probably got an entire colony living somewhere in this very building! How you’ve managed to remain ignorant of their whereabouts positively astounds me.”
“Of course you would know, wouldn’t you?” Aziraphale snapped. “After all, it’s only been six hundred years since you were dubbed the great Lord of All Bats. You’re still an expert, aren’t you?”
“Why are you being so hostile? I’m only trying to help you!”
“I don’t need your help, Crowley. I am quite fine on my own. Besides, I am an angel and therefore better-suited for the disposal of these creatures –if any are indeed present- than you are.”
“Now just what are you implying by that?”
“Oh, don’t be so naïve. You’re a demon. These are bats we’re talking about. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together.”
Crowley was quiet for a moment before he inquired, “Forgive my mathematical ignorance, but how exactly do these numbers add up?”
Aziraphale sighed. “You’re of the same mould, dear boy.”
A blank stare.
“Unholy clay. Forged in sin and darkness.”
“What? That’s utterly ridiculous. I’d laugh at you if you weren’t being so serious about it.”
“Laugh all you want. I’m being practical.”
“Nonsense. Your practicality is based solely on superstition. Bats and demons have no connection to each other whatsoever-”
“They are the children of the night! Bats and demons are mates, you said it yourself when you were bragging about your past exploits. Peas in a wicked pod.”
“You’re starting to sound like that old loon Shadwell.”
“Call me what you will,” said Aziraphale, “but mark my words, the last thing I need is a sympathetic old friend trying to help his damnable ‘pals’ out of a tight spot. You’d better be off now. It’s getting late.”
“You’re just afraid of bats, that’s what your problem is. You’re bloody terrified of them. That’s it, isn’t it? You don’t want me to see how scared you really are of them.”
“Absurd,” Aziraphale huffed. “Angels fear nothing.”
“Maybe so,” said Crowley, “but who’s to say you haven’t developed an irrational phobia over the years, strictly attributed to your meat suit?”
“Your mortal flesh, angel.” He grinned. “Get your head out of the gutter.”
“We’re all in the gutter,” Aziraphale quoted, “but some of us are looking at the stars.”
“Wilde, eh? I suppose I can rest my case now after you spilled that one.”
“Well you can take your case and rest it someplace else. I’ve got a lot of cleaning to do and you’re staunching it by remaining here, so if you wouldn’t mind removing yourself I might be able to finish sometime before tomorrow, thank you.”
Crowley, perturbed and perhaps a bit offended, left without another word and slammed the door on his way out. It shook the window shutters, and Aziraphale winced. The demon could be supremely bloody-minded sometimes, perhaps even more so than the angel. It was little wonder they got along with each other so well, but when they had their disagreements it was something from which to flee.
*And the alternative didn’t actually involve any drinking at all, because “going back to my place for a few drinks” in Crowley’s dictionary is always followed by a conjunction and any number of colourful synonyms for a well-known and enjoyable mortal activity that over the course of centuries he had developed a certain degree of fondness for.
Aziraphale didn’t allow their little argument to affect his mood though he admittedly knew he’d been a bit of a knob about the whole thing; it was just that he couldn’t bear to have Crowley’s omniscient smirk haunting him for the next thousand or God only knows how many years if he gave in and asked for the demon’s expert assistance. If anything were to be done about it Aziraphale would do it himself, he decided. No sense in dragging others into the matter.
The angel cleaned some of the droppings off of the most frequented surfaces in the shop and tried not to be melancholy. What he needed was a hot cup of tea and a good book. Yes, that should set him right and encourage him to forget all about his spat with Crowley.
A few moments later Aziraphale kicked off his shoes and settled onto the expired bovine couch with a blanket, Grange Andantium’s Encyclopaedia of the Endtimes (one of his favourites), and a cup of tea resting on the adjacent sofa table. After five minutes of flipping pages and sipping decaf Darjeeling he was perfectly comfortable and cosy.
At least until he looked askance and saw the bat waddling across the sofa cushions with its wingtips dragging behind its hairy, hunchbacked body.
Aziraphale’s whole demeanor changed; he went from the stereotypical character of the average middle-aged reserved Englishman complete with dry humour and conversational tediousness to the terror-stricken persona of a teenage American girl when presented with the knowledge that her date for the seniour prom had just stood her up.
Before he could even reconcile his thoughts he had lashed out with the ponderous, colossal text and brought it down on top of the miniature monstrosity with a wet crunch.
Aziraphale gasped involuntarily and froze, unable to believe what he had just done. It was as if it had been a long-instilled reaction in him to reflexively exterminate any life around him whose existence was a direct threat to his personal comfort.
With a mounting feeling of dread, Aziraphale dared to lift one corner of the book just enough to peer beneath it. He caught a glimpse of utterly unresurrectable blood and fur and dropped it as if it were fire, feeling as spiritually sick to his stomach as he could get. His horror did not help to quell his queasiness when he gloomily recalled a verse somewhere in Matthew about God being keenly aware of every creature on His earth, right down to the smallest sparrow.
“Fuck me cross-eyed,” the angel swore softly, wringing his hands. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”
He had no choice. He had to clean up the results of his terrible crime and hope that God was too busy to call him on it. He thought of excuses to tell his superiours in case of any interrogation as he wiped off the slimy remains sticking to the book and wrapped the corpse in the bloodstained blanket.
It had been Aziraphale’s favourite blanket but considering the weight of sacrifices he was willing to part with it to avoid any holy wrath.
He put on his coat and -with the knotted blanket in tow- hailed a cab out to Green Park where he dug a 30 inch deep hole in the hard sod with his bare, clean, immaculately-groomed, manicured hands and buried the entire wad of cloth. The angel conducted a brief if somewhat archaic funeral service, sprinkled dirt, and blessed the ground until it was hallowed enough for Christ to set foot on*. And then, with a heavy heart and dirt caked under his nails, Aziraphale walked back to his shop in the dark. On the way it began to rain, and he had forgotten his umbrella.
“Overkill” was unquestionably the word of the day.
*Aziraphale thought that perhaps if he made a convincing show of his remorse that it would save him any future problems at the office.
Despite his ostentatious display for the sake of his job on that fateful night, Aziraphale truly did feel sorry for squishing the bat. It didn’t alter his disgust or abhorrence that he felt for the little beasts, but he knew they had as much a right to live as any other of his Boss’s creatures and decided that the only way he could remove the risk of any more bloodshed or possible unemployment was to try and get rid of all the bats in a practical, humane way. And that meant finding out where they had been coming from and securing it so that nothing, bat or mouse, could ever get there again.
It took the angel a full week to finally find the trap door to the attic. He had had to move every single piece of furniture in the shop to do it, and the years of disturbed dust hung so thickly in the air one practically needed SCUBA gear simply to breathe without coughing up sediment. Of course, Aziraphale didn’t need SCUBA gear; he had only to remember that he didn’t really need to breathe at all and he was totally unaffected (aside from some minor eye irritation and a perpetual dust cloud following him around for the next three hours).
There were jagged holes gnawed about the edges of the trap door large enough for a bat to squeeze through, if not two or three at once depending on their size, and Aziraphale grabbed a torch and held it between his teeth like a cutlass and ascended the six-shelf bookcase as if he were a pirate scurrying up the rigging to the crow’s nest.
Perched precariously on the creaking wobbly shelf, the angel wrestled with the small padlock until it came free with a click and the trap door swung open. Three years’ worth of bat poo showered down on him like a putrid faecal rainfall. It got in his hair and on his clothes and it smelled so foully that he probably would have thrown up if he didn’t possess the power of Mind Over Matter, at least in the vague and worldly aspect.
Brushing himself off as best as he could and getting sorer by the minute with these bothersome little beasts, Aziraphale crammed himself halfway into the narrow opening and shined his torch up into the asbestos-basted rafters.
What looked like ten thousand pairs of beady eyes set onto rows upon rows of rustling, live cocoons greeted his horror-stricken gaze, and he dropped his light with a clatter.
The noise set the once-sleeping bats into a screeching frenzy, and in his panic to wiggle out of the attic door opening he kicked a whole row of books to the floor and set the entire shelf he had been standing on to rocking. The little beasts took flight and began swarming, stirring up insulation dust and asbestos powder until you couldn’t see through the air even if you had a torch that wasn’t lying useless and forgotten where you had dropped it.
Aziraphale found himself swimming in bats from the waist up. They got tangled in his hair and they clung to his shirt, hissing and screeching and flapping and scratching and crawling all over him with their disgusting little hairy bodies and leathery wings and cold rodent feet.
In all his six thousand and two years* the angel had never screamed quite like he screamed the day when he discovered that Hell was actually above him rather than below.
Aziraphale broke two of his mortal ribs while frantically attempting to dislodge himself from the opening, and once he had slipped free he went reeling backwards down onto the floor. His biggest mistake had been reflexively reaching out to grab the bookcase he had been using as a stepladder, which now let out a blood-curdling squeal before toppling down onto him, dropping loads of books on the way down and breaking many more bones under its crushing weight**.
The bats came roaring down out of the opening like water from a fire hose, and once they discovered that they had no place to go they began to fly about in circles until the angel felt as if he were trapped at the bottom of a hairy whirlpool.
Rather than trying to extricate himself from out from under the fallen shelf, Aziraphale tucked himself completely beneath it and peered out at the chaos taking place in his beloved shop.
He needed help. Badly. And there was only one other being he could count on to save both him and his shop.
Aziraphale reached out to grasp the long wire that ran along the baseboards and promptly had a rat-sized Victor snap shut on his fingers. Reminding himself that it was all in his head, he dislodged the trap and gave the wire a firm tug; the telephone sitting on his desk across the room clattered to the floor with a musical ring, and after reeling it in beneath the safety of the bookcase he dialed a number he knew by heart like the back of his hand (or at least some other part of him) and waited for an answer.
*This tale takes place in the year 1998.
**But all sustained injuries were of no great trifle since Aziraphale was an angel after all and perfectly capable of taking care of himself.
The phone on Crowley’s nightstand rang thrice before a bare arm snaked out from under the covers and picked it up.
“Huh?” the demon mumbled, lying completely concealed within the wad of luxurious satin comforters.
“Crowley!” came the overjoyed if somewhat terrified voice of Aziraphale. “Oh thank God you’re home!”
Crowley sat upright and blinked himself awake. “That you, Oz? What’s the matter? You sound hysterical.”
“Crowley, I need you! There’s- …were you sleeping?”
“Nah, I was just,” he sighed, “lying in bed with my eyes closed and the lights off.”
“It’s the middle of the day!”
“Siesta, then. There’s what now?”
“Erm, I uh…”
“Does it have anything to do with that racket in the background? What is that noise, anyway? Are you all right, Aziraphale? You sound muffled.”
“Uh, I’m fine, really. I just… oh, damn it all. You were right, Crowley. There are bats here. You were right and I was wrong. And I did lie to you. I am afraid of them! I’m so sorry!”
“Now, now, don’t get strung out about it, angel. Just tell me what’s going on.”
“They came in through the attic. There’s a bloody great cloud of them churning above me like a maelstrom. I’m underneath a bookcase right now. It fell on me.”
“What! Are you hurt? Are you all right?”
“Of course I am, don’t be ridiculous. I just… erm, I would really appreciate it if you sort of… drove over here and helped me out of this mess, perhaps?”
“Hmm, helped you out, eh?”
“Name your price,” Aziraphale said gravely. “I’ll do anything.”
“Well, you have been a total prick lately,” Crowley admitted, running a hand through his dark hair. “I suppose that if you’d reckon yourself and allow me to show you what you’ve been missing all these years I’d be willing to forgive you.”
“Just kidding, just kidding. Sheesh. Lighten up a little, would you, angel? You know I’d do anything for you if you asked me.”
“Save the sweet nothings for after the heroic rescue. If I have to endure twenty minutes of screeching, defecating hellions flying all about me you can forget about receiving any forms of gratitude for your chivalry.”
“Right. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Not that fast! You’re going to kill someone!”
Four minutes and fifty five seconds later Anthony J. Crowley kicked open the unlocked door of the Soho bookshop, let out a surprised shout, and hit the floor. The bats that had once settled themselves were thrown into a conniption as the blasting sunlight invaded the dark interior of the store, and they began to riot again.
Like a soldier dodging enemy fire (or a snake just being a snake) Crowley scrabbled across the room on his belly, calling for Aziraphale. At last he found the fallen bookcase and tried not to laugh at the expression on the angel’s face when he helped lift the shelf off of him.
“Crawl with me!” he shouted over the din of the roiling bats.
Aziraphale didn’t know how to crawl properly. He probably couldn’t do a decent slither either but Crowley didn’t hold it against him as they pulled themselves through the war zone and finally out of the door.
It was fortunate that there weren’t many people nearby concerned by the fact that two grown men were dragging themselves down the front steps of an establishment whose windows were caked with a layer of shit and something was storming about inside. This was Soho, after all.
Crowley sprang to his feet and slammed the door shut, then helped the wobbly, disoriented Aziraphale to his feet. The angel immediately threw his arms around him and would not let go. Crowley didn’t seem to mind; after what he had just seen and endured, he felt compelled to have something holy in direct contact with him.
“Yeah,” he asserted for the sake of humour, “I’m pretty sure it’s bats.”
Aziraphale laughed weakly and laid his head upon Crowley’s shoulder as he gazed at his infested home. “They need to be removed,” he said with meek resolution. “They’re going to wreck everything.”
“What do you want me to do, angel? It’s not like I have any power over them.”
“No,” he said, “but maybe if you had a few burning brands you could drive them out like you used to do in the belfries. I don’t have the emotional fortitude to go back in there, old chap.”
“Well, I don’t want to set the place on fire. I suppose if I just opened the door and herded them out with a broom or something it would work. You’re going to have to let go, though. I can’t go in there with you draped all over me.”
Aziraphale reluctantly loosed himself from Crowley and clasped his hands together in anxiety as he watched his friend slowly open the door to the lair of guano and disappear inside. He heard the beasts begin to shriek and rage with especial fervour, and something heavy fell with a terrific bang.
Seconds later Crowley came barreling out of the shop amidst a torrent of flying, chattering nocturnal rodents. His hair was disheveled and his shades were hanging by one ear. Like Aziraphale, he had scratches on his face, neck, hands, and any other place where bare flesh might be showing. He looked desperate and harassed.
He bolted to Aziraphale, grabbed him by the elbow, wrenched him over to the Bentley parked on the curb and fairly tossed him into the front seat. The bats in the meanwhile were seething overhead in their agitation. Crowley threw himself into the car and slammed the door shut with his foot.
There was a rather uncomfortable moment when the angel struggled to worm his way out from underneath Crowley and only succeeded in providing a pretty convincing example of what fully-clothed coition would be like. The demon however was too concerned with any stray beasts that might be crawling about on his person to take (triumphant) notice of the compromising position he had Aziraphale in.
Sitting up quickly, he started the ignition with little more than a thought and slammed the Bentley into reverse.
“The hell with this,” Crowley uttered. “I’ll call animal control or the national bat society or something and pay to have those little bastards removed. You can stay with me for the time being.”
He backed up at 90 mph before leaving a patch of molten rubber on the asphalt and tearing off down the street.
To say that they were travelling at the speed of a bat flying out of Hell would be perfectly adequate.
Aziraphale sat up and combed his hair back into place with his fingers. “Oh joy,” he said with lifeless enthusiasm at Crowley’s generous proposal. “I suppose there was no way you could have planned this from the beginning? Planting the bats in my attic and using your demonic powers to urge them to do your bidding? Driving me out of my own home and into your dark, serpentine den of salacious iniquity where I shall lay helplessly entwined at your mercy in the very coils of your depraved, immoral embrace?”
Crowley took off his sunglasses and rubbed the dust from his eyes. “For fuck’s sake angel, I’m not that horny. Give me a little credit, would you?”
“Sorry. I can’t help it.”
“It’s okay. I forgive you.”
They both heaved a huge sigh and said nothing for a while, dodging through traffic on Oxford Street and trying not to dwell on the fact that neither of the representatives of Heaven and Hell seemed capable of handling a small bat infestation without injury to both person and property.
Then Crowley asked somewhat uneasily, “Do you think we ought to go have our shots? They might have been rabid, you know.”
“Rabies is a brain disease. It shouldn’t affect our immortal nervous systems,” Aziraphale answered smartly.
“How certain are you?”
Crowley shook his head. “Fairly isn’t good enough. I need a straight answer, yes or no.”
“I don’t know,” Aziraphale said wearily. “Look, if you’re so fond of your body you might as well go ahead and get the vaccination just to be on the safe side.”
“I don’t want to get the shot if I know for certain that I don’t need it.”
“Why? Are you afraid of getting a shot, Crowley? Need I remind you that pain is all in the mind?”
“Damn it, angel, I know that. The pain doesn’t frighten me, it’s the bloody needles! I can’t stand nee-”
Crowley stopped short when he realised just what he had said. The angel smiled sweetly, if a bit gloatingly.
“My dear,” he oozed affectionately, “am I mistaken, or did I just hear you say that you have a phobia of needles?”
“You’re mistaken,” the demon grouched, hunching over the wheel. “I’m not afraid, I just don’t like them.”
Aziraphale leaned against him and said, “Well, love, I believe this makes us even.”
Crowley turned and offered up a timid grin. “Truce, then?”
The angel smiled apologetically. “Truce.”
They both sighed again and mentally put the whole incident behind them, turning their eyes to the scarlet sky of sunset while Handel’s Concerto Grosso No. 7 in B Flat Major played in the brand new CD player that had been installed in the Bentley last year.
“Let’s just keep the needles thing between you and I, okay?”