Books bend space and time. One reason the owners of those aforesaid little rambling, poky secondhand bookshops always seem slightly unearthly is that many of them really are, having strayed into this world after taking a wrong turning in their own bookshops in worlds where it is considered commendable business practice to wear carpet slippers all the time and open your shop only when you feel like it.
Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!
It was at precisely 8:02 on a Tuesday evening that Crowley first discovered the true power of miracles.
It was the fourth of November, if one really needed to know, in the year most mortals thought of as 1941; but some Wiser Ones, and those celestial beings that bothered to keep track, knew it to be five thousand, nine hundred and forty-five years after the Creation of the Earth. But, counting is boring anyway, and has very little to do with the rest of the story, so on we go, with little to no maths to complicate the journey.
On that Tuesday evening, Crowley decided that he quite liked miracles after all, what with the wreckage of a church burning around him (and not even burning in a way that anyone Below would have been even a smidge proud of him for, not when it was a bomb that dropped and the only casualties people who were so far gone on Evil that it wasn’t any sort of victory to claim their souls to begin with), and with the angel smiling at him in such a way that it drowned out every last one of the stars above, and even dimmed the flames that surrounded them.
“Crowley,” the angel gasped delightedly, plump but elegant fingers skimming the spines of books that looked too boring to read, “You didn’t. ”
“I did, yeah.” Crowley shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged, pretending the soles of his feet didn’t still burn like he’d crammed them up against the bloody sun for a fortnight.
It was very much in line with Aziraphale’s normal state of being that the angel didn’t seem to notice the demon was wobbling back and forth on his feet in discomfort. Per usual, his indifference to the suffering of another only made Crowley more endeared to him. “Like I said: demonic miracle of my own.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale hung the basket from his elbow and clapped a hand to his mouth. To Crowley’s intense amusement and mortification, tears swelled in the angel’s preternaturally large, blue eyes. “Oh, this is so kind of you!”
“Easy now,” Crowley warned him, tilting his head back to study the angel with as cool and repulsed air as possible. “Not too late to throw the lot into the fire.”
Without waiting for a huff of indignation or a coo to the contrary from his old friend, Crowley shrugged and turned away from the angel, sauntering through the flames as though surveying the damage wrought to the once-holy structure. When he was clear through to the other side, he tilted his face up to the stars and closed his eyes, letting his hair brush the top of his shoulders; no matter how hard he squeezed his eyes shut, the sight of Aziraphale’s smile remained, gentle and sweet and delicious, a vision burned clear through his retinas in a way that promised an annoying level of permanence.
Four Earthly years later, Crowley returned to the angel’s side to wreak another miracle, and this time, he knew full well the effect it would have on himself.
It was selfish, he reasoned. The reasons he had for doing this were selfish, even if it made another being happy -- the race of excitement in his veins, the increased ballooning of sentiment and pleasure in the space behind what would be his heart if he’d had one -- Crowley was only doing this because casting this kind of miracle was the closest thing he’d ever seemed to have gotten to getting high.
Let the other demons keep their psychedelic mushrooms and opium. Crowley had discovered miracles, and that miracle was making an angel smile.
“Oh!” Aziraphale jumped slightly, blue eyes widening from shock, wide enough to swallow Crowley whole like the sky that caught him when he Fell. “You scared me.”
Crowley wagged his fingers with a powerful disdain, smirking behind his dark glasses. Aziraphale regarded him with a crossness that was as boorish as it was adorable -- more adorable, in fact, than an entire squad of puffins wearing matching velvet hats and honking a tune of happy birthday (which had, coincidentally, happened once in the history of the universe, just, not on Earth, and certainly not in this particular solar system).
“How may I help you?” Aziraphale asked primly, straightening out the non-existent wrinkles in the fabric of his fine overcoat.
Crowley reached out and helped brush out some of the imaginary wrinkles, to which Aziraphale ruffled his feathers and huffed a few times, despite relenting to the assistance. It was, after all, more important to look prim and put-together than to keep a valid distance between himself and the demon with whom he had formed the Arrangement; Crowley understood this, and Crowley took advantage of this when and where he could.
“Nothing to help, angel.” Crowley extended the wrapped parcel towards him. “Just a delivery today.”
“You’re not going to ask me for more--” he lowered his voice and leaned towards Crowley in a way that would not inspire any less suspicion to passersby and eavesdroppers, but would most likely attract more attention, “ Holy water. Are you?”
“No, not that at all.”
“Then what?” Aziraphale took the package gingerly and examined it, holding it up to the light of the sun despite the total lack of transparency offered by the paper it was wrapped in.
“Something I found.” Crowley tapped the package before tucking his hands into his coat. “Go on.”
Aziraphale slid a finger under the brown packing paper, and Crowley watched the movement hungrily, his eyes flickering between the sight of the paper being peeled back slowly the way a very ill-prepared Irishman might peel his sunburn after a day at the lakeside (there were, perhaps, more pleasant metaphors for Crowley to construct, but as a demon, he was not in the business of searching for more pleasant metaphors -- but if he continued to watch Aziraphale with this much intent, he might, hell forbid, have to start doing just that), and the angel’s face.
The small volume made its appearance at last, and Aziraphale hefted it in his right hand, the fingers of the left trailing over the lettering.
“Animal Farm?” Aziraphale read aloud, his cheeks pinkening like a ripe apple; Crowley wondered why his hunger spiked at the thought, a hot dagger of it in his throat.
“It’s new,” Crowley said in a bored voice, as though he’d just stumbled across it. “I stumbled across it a few blocks over in a shop window. Going to be a big hit, they say, figured you might want a first edition sooner rather than later.”
Then, the miracle.
Aziraphale lifted his eyes from the book in his hands and smiled, terrible and full and real, like the sun stretching across the planet for the first time, let there be bloody light, and Crowley let the feeling of it spill across the back of his tongue like a fine bourbon.
“It’s wonderful,” Aziraphale said, more breath than voice, his eyes widening slightly with an earnestness so blinding it hit Crowley like a rebound high or perhaps rather like the 5:15 train from Liverpool.
“It’s about Communism.” Crowley tapped the book jauntily, peering at Aziraphale over his glasses. “A bunch of adorable farm animals murder each other. You’ll hate it.”
Aziraphale thanked him anyway, and Crowley did a very competent job of rolling his eyes and pretending like he had only purchased the book to torment his friend with a story about cute barnyard creatures falling in love with Stalin and murdering each other.
The next time he stopped by Aziraphale’s living space, however, he couldn’t help but notice the pristine first edition of Orwell’s Animal Farm, propped up and on full display; he also couldn’t help the flush of pride that washed down his spine. Pride, the father of all sins, born of his desire to see an angel smile, coming to roost in his body and preen and fuss with plenty of chance to feed itself.
Maybe he wasn’t too far off the mark with this miracle nonsense after all; he hadn’t even been this tempted when he Fell.
In 1950, Crowley found another book that appeared fussy enough for an angel to love. He debated bringing it right away to the angel, for fear of seeming desperate or overly interested in getting his next hit of miraculous smiles, but then the thought occurred to him that if he didn’t bring the book to Aziraphale, the angel might go out and buy it for himself, and while he might smile, it wouldn’t be Crowley making him smile, and that sort of smile just wasn’t the same and couldn’t be consumed in quite the same way, with the same relish, with the same appetite.
“Angel!” Crowley tapped on the window of the bookshop and waved merrily at his friend. “Something for you!”
The door swung open a moment later as Aziraphale beckoned for him to come inside hastily.
“Honestly,” the angel moaned, dithering and waving his hands. “Anyone could have seen you!’
“No one did.” Crowley wished he wasn’t wearing his glasses so the angel could see how impressively he rolled his eyes.
“But they could have!” Aziraphale turned his massive blue eyes on him, and Crowley froze to the spot. “You could have been seen! We could have been found out!”
“What’s the worst that could happen to you if we get found out?” Crowley leaned against a full bookshelf with a thump and crossed his arms, ignoring the way Aziraphale flapped his hands and fussed at him for doing so. “Are they going to discorporate you?”
“Perhaps.” Aziraphale sighed, his blue eyes no less limpid, no less omnipotent. “It wouldn’t be painful, knowing them -- But Crowley -- what would they do to you ?”
“They’re demons ,” Aziraphale twisted his fingers together, real, true agony on his sweet features. “They could -- could torture you, or hurt you, or maim you -- and -- I - I couldn’t bear to see my friend hurt like that. I just couldn’t!”
“I didn’t know you cared, angel,” Crowley commented, truly touched.
This felt different than the smiles Crowley had begun to hoard, the moments of spiky, possessive, jealous hunger that could be fed only by making Aziraphale coo and preen over the latest publication.
This felt like warm honey, manna, water in the desert, the heat of divinity that Crowley hadn’t felt in millennia.
“Y-yes, well.” Aziraphale clapped his hands together and rocked back and forth anxiously for a moment. “One does worry. Especially about fr--” He cut himself off, staring at the floor and still rocking back and forth. “Anyway.” He held his hands out appeasingly, something in his eyes telling Crowley not to push the moment that flew back and forth between them like a bridge neither was brave or strong enough to cross just yet. “What brings you in here today?”
“New book.” Crowley extended the parcel lazily. He’d wrapped it even more this time, if only to prolong his agitated savouring of Aziraphale struggling to open it. “For the shop.”
He should buy a camera, he decided, so he could take photographs of the way Aziraphale’s hands, still pudgy and elegant all those years later, looked as they delicately tore through the wrappings.
“C.S. Lewis!” Aziraphale beamed delightedly. “Oh, he is a good one, isn’t he!”
“Regretfully.” Crowley found his own lips curling upwards as he took in Aziraphale’s obvious joy. “I don’t know how a wardrobe can be a main character, but I’m sure he’ll find a way to make it work, so that it’s not completely stupid.”
Aziraphale tsked mightily. “The wardrobe isn’t a character, it’s part of the story! And the Witch is completely wicked, or so I’m told, and the lion is meant to be God, and --”
“So it’s sacrilege?” Crowley pressed his lips together and hummed appraisingly as Aziraphale fussed and denied. “That’s good. That’s very good.”
“Oh, stop it,” Aziraphale shook his head sternly at Crowley, but when he peeked over a minute later, the smile had returned, wrinkling his nose and filling the corners of his cheeks out like pushing the curtain back on some great, ineffable performance.
Crowley let himself bask in it a little while longer, a snake at the gates of Eden once more, until he remembered to contrive a reason to leave.
By 1955, Crowley had deposited all three Lord of the Rings novels into Aziraphale’s care, and in turn, had collected three brilliant smiles. He found himself wishing that once, just once, he might be one of the spines of Tolkien’s novels, so the angel’s fingers might stroke him with a hint of the care he showed to his beloved books.
Not to be called soft, Crowley returned in late 1961 with a novel about soldiers in a war, a soldier who was done with fighting, all the men who fought and died alongside him filling up the rest of the book with a tired, bleak sort of humor that Crowley found sufficiently dark.
The angel had smiled and preened happily enough when he brought it by the first time, but when Crowley returned a few weeks later to discuss who would handle that business going on in America, he didn’t see it on display with the other proud novels that had been gifted to the angel over the years.
When asked about it, the angel blushed and ducked his head, looking away.
“Yes, well, it was a very good book, it only--”
“It only what?” Crowley lifted his eyebrows in amusement, glad for the glasses that hid the surprising hurt he felt. “Heller’s not really your scene?”
“Well, no.” Aziraphale admitted, huffing slightly and smiling at Crowley with a shyness not typically assigned to gifts. “It was …. It was so sad, Crowley.”
“You don’t like sad books?” Crowley blinked in confusion, slotting this information away in his mind, where he kept a fairly accurate and nice catalogue of all things Aziraphale ( likes: fine wine and crepes, dislikes: practical jokes and sad books). “I thought you liked all books?”
“To look at, yes,” Aziraphale allowed. “But reading sad books is altogether different than looking at sad books, wouldn’t you say?”
Crowley couldn’t; he’d always liked the tearjerkers.
Next came the first edition of All Creatures Great and Small, offered as an apology when Crowley incidentally incited a riot on the streets of London, all over a packet of crisps, a pidgeon, and a man’s favored toupee.
“I’ve been looking for this one.” Aziraphale sniffed from his chair, examining the contents of the package (the wrapping paper had been bright blue this time, not the dull brown paper that Crowley had used for years, but a bright blue that still couldn’t quite match a pair of eyes).
“It’s a bit rubbish.” Crowley shrugged, glaring at the floor.
“It’s my favorite,” Aziraphale said quietly, and Crowley looked up at him, long and hard, for a silent eternity.
When he turned to leave, he heard a soft “ thank you, ” and it wasn’t until the doors of the bookshop closed behind him that he realized that Aziraphale hadn’t smiled.
That was the night he came up with the idea of the M-25 motorway, and he was pleased to announce that he felt not a speck of guilt at all, thank you very much.
He needed to get his Falling in somewhere, after all.
He did not give Aziraphale the copy of The Satanic Verses -- Crowley went back and forth, back and forth on it for almost eight full days, pleased by the idea of the shade Aziraphale might turn at the title, afraid of the idea that Aziraphale might never open another package from Crowley again if he read the title.
“It’s not really about Satan,” he would assure him in his mind. “Not at all - it’s actually a very thoughtful, introspective piece on--”
Hell. Crowley couldn’t do it.
The book remained, unwrapped and ready to be given, hiding away in Crowley’s desk for when he felt braver.
Aziraphale smiled brightly again at Infinite Jest, and laughed delightedly at the implications of the title.
It was certainly a victory.
Crowley had even read this one, as he’d had a few months to waste while Aziraphale cleaned up the mess, per the arrangement, floating around eastern Asia.
There was one passage, that caught his eye, that he’d even read a few times over to consider the way it sank into himself, the words emblazoned on molecules of his borrowed body in a way he’d never stopped to consider books capable of:
What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? Without deciding? You just do; you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?
When Aziraphale had the book for a few weeks, Crowley popped by, invited himself to lunch as rudely as he knew how, and, mid-bite of the sandwich that the angel had assuredly made for himself, asked, “What did you like best about it?”
“Are you -- are you asking me about a book?” Aziraphale asked, the smile on his face different than the Gift Smile, as Crowley had taken to calling it, but no less brilliant, no less appetizing.
“Yeah, well…” Crowley shrugged and sprawled back in his chair, trying to effuse nonchalance and probably failing. “I liked this one.”
“I think the part that has stayed with me the most is…” Aziraphale hummed, resting his utensils on the table for the moment as he thought, truly thought about it, his eyes suggesting he were miles away, and perhaps he was.
Crowley watched, not hiding the hunger on his face.
“The part where he talks about the kinds of depression.” Aziraphale nodded with a smile. “I found it so very Human. Delightful. Everything becomes an outline of the thing. Objects become schemata. The world becomes a map of the world. I don’t know the feeling myself, but at that moment, I thought I did.” He smiled peacefully and returned his gaze to Crowley. “And you?”
“And me?” Crowley stirred, a strange disappointment in his breast.
“Your favorite part?” Aziraphale’s smile faltered, became a little more bland.
“Oh, yeah,” Crowley waved his hand. “Same thing. Schemata and all that. Funny word.”
They returned to their lunch, but Crowley found his hunger worse than ever.
When Twilight came out, Crowley was walking through a busy thoroughfare with Aziraphale, and when he pointed the book out -- “Do you want that one, angel?” -- the angel had laughed and laughed.
“My dear, of course not.” He chuckled and patted Crowley’s arm. “Sweet of you to ask, though.”
Crowley’s disappointment at not being able to get the angel a Gift was tempered, more than tempered, by the name that had slipped, seemingly without thought, without care, from the angel’s lips.
And in that moment, he knew.
If Aziraphale were God, Crowley never would have fallen for a thousand and one countless reasons that didn’t seem to be as important as they were vital, unchangeable.
Crowley was summoned to the angel’s shop a year or so before what would soon be known as the End of the World, or at least, the Attempted End of the World That Was More Inconvenient than Anything Else.
He walked in, striding past the handful of customers not warded off by the angel’s intense attempts at driving away customers, straight back to the office, hands in pocket, eyebrows already raised at the nervous expression Aziraphale wore.
“What is it, angel? I was just about to ruin some teenager’s iPhone.” Crowley sighed, thinking fondly of the havoc it could have wrought.
“I just.” Aziraphale’s hands lifted anxiously, fingers waving like stalks of grain stirred by the wind. “I just -- I ---”
“Something for you.” Aziraphale nodded and grabbed a parcel from his desk.
He held it out expectantly, and Crowley stared at it.
“A gift.” Aziraphale nodded again and held the package out further.
The wrapping paper had weiner dogs on it. Crowley had mentioned liking them all of one time, perhaps eighteen years ago.
The weiner dogs were wearing birthday hats. An odd detail to focus on.
“A gift for you! Go on, take it!”
“Why did you get me a gift?” Crowley frowned in consternation, finger slipped under the paper slightly. When the angel didn’t answer, he slit the paper open anyway and pulled out the box inside.
“I was reading a book, and --” Aziraphale began nervously, but for a moment Crowley could only stare at the boxed set of Queen’s complete collection.
“I like Queen,” he said off-handedly.
“Yes!” Aziraphale clapped his hands delightedly, and Crowley looked up at him to see him wearing a smile so brilliant, it outshone every possible god he ever could have served; it nearly bowled him over, that smile, and it was a thousand times more potent than any Gift Smile, any Pleased Smile, any Teasing Smile that Aziraphale had ever given him.
He’d done nothing to deserve it.
It sat, wrong and cold and strange, at the back of Crowley’s heart.
“You like Queen, and I - I was reading a book, and--”
“You were reading a book on Queen?”
“Well, no.” Aziraphale’s smile faltered. “A different book. Non-fiction, you’d probably find it boring. Or ridiculous.”
“I --” Aziraphale blushed and looked down, but his eyes betrayed him, flitting to his desk, where a book sat, bookmarked and post-its hanging off of it like drowning people off a sinking ship.
Understanding Love Languages.
“I realized, all those books you gave me, you were -- gift-giving is yours, and … I thought… I should … I should give you a gift because that is the language you speak, so to .. to say...” Aziraphale faltered again, no doubt at the way Crowley had frozen, fingers clenched around the CDs.
“You think I gave you those books because I love you?” Crowley said slowly.
“Well…” Aziraphale twisted his hands together nervously. “Yes.”
He pitied him, then. He actually pitied Crowley, like he was better than him, like he was smarter and more together, and not pathetic enough to fall in love with someone who--
But he wasn’t in love with Aziraphale, that would be--
“That’s not it, angel.” Crowley smiled at him coldly, and Aziraphale wilted. “Don’t feel bad. I’ll stop giving you books if it makes you uncomfortable."
“It doesn’t make me--” the angel clapped his hands to his face and made a very frustrated noise indeed, “That’s not -- I--”
“It’s not my love language, ” Crowley drawled casually, tucking the CDs under his arm and shrugging. “It’s just not. I’m a demon. We don’t have love languages.”
Aziraphale smiled -- a heartbreaking, small, timid, shy smile that made Crowley feel worse than he had a moment ago, which he hadn’t actually believed possible.
“Right. Of course. Excuse me.”
And he walked past Crowley, leaving his own bloody shop, leaving his own bloody demon, who realized that he’d probably made the only mistake of his existence that he’d ever truly label a mistake.
Crowley didn’t really see him again until the Apocalypse that Wasn’t, and then it became the Apocalypse that Was, and suddenly, suddenly, horribly, terribly, Crowley found himself in a burning bookshop, pages and pages curling in on themselves and pieces of ash that used to be books, that used to belong to the angel he most certainly loved, books he had given the angel he most certainly loved -- his way of saying it when he didn’t know what he was saying to begin with -- floating around him, and Crowley sank to his knees and sobbed brokenly, the tears carving down his face, cutting away at him in a way that holy water wouldn’t be able to accomplish.
“My best friend,” he sobbed, pounding the collapsing floorboards.
He grabbed the book of prophecy on his way out, and, so quickly he didn’t even have to think about it, he grabbed the small, well-worn, well-loved copy of Animal Farm that was placed reverently in the window.
Later, he would open the book, three bottles deep into his despair, and see an inscription in familiar, looping angel script.
From my dear Crowley, Aziraphale had written. Not for sale.