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some new beginning

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Aziraphale’s bookshop no longer felt like home.

It was an odd sort of discomfort, the kind human associate with ghost towns and small towns in the eerie hours before dawn, that strange feeling that someone just walked over your grave. Aziraphale, being an angel and lacking both mortality and a body, should be immune to such nonsense but, clearly, the rest of himself hadn’t quite caught on with the programme.

Everything around him was as it should be, no soot or scorch marks smudging the walls, and even the pile of books he hadn’t had time to sort before the world had almost ended had been shelved neatly, following Aziraphale’s personal system.* Reality had been rearranged, and the bookshop was a constant reminder of it. It itched, like a bad rash in the back of his brain, and made him more uncomfortable than any celestial being had any right to be.

“It feels… spooky. Something horrible happened there, and then it un-happened, and the dissonance’s driving me mad.” He put his head in his hand. “I can’t sleep. I keep thinking… what if it’s not real?”

“You don’t even like to sleep,” said Crowley, quite reasonably. “And you don’t need it. You’re an angel. A.. temporarily out of work angel? Still. You’re not a mortal.”

“I’d like being able to sleep, if I wanted to. Theoretically. It feels good.” Aziraphale tapped morosely against his glass. Crowley, who’d once slept sixty years straight, didn’t disagree.

“It just doesn’t feel right, that’s what I mean. It’s not home.”

Crowley made a face. “If you say so. I killed a duke of hell with holy water in my flat and I feel perfectly fine.” Then. “Would you like one of my plants?”

“Pardon?”

“One of my plants. You could use it.”

Crowley kept saying that word, but it still didn’t seem to make sense. Aziraphale asked again, just to make sure. “Plants?”

“Yes, plants! Look. They’re very… homely.” Crowley made an expansive gesture with his hand. “They’re good for you. And they grow really well if you have a chat with them every once in a while.”

He looked very earnest under his sunglasses, and Aziraphale couldn’t think of a reason to say no. The next morning, Crowley appeared at his doorstep very early with an armful of luxuriant potted plant.

“Pretty, isn’t she?”

It took Aziraphale an instant to realise Crowley meant the plant. He nodded.

“Yes?”

“Yeah,” said Crowley. “Very pretty. She knows what’s good for her. There you go.”

“But— I don’t—”

Aziraphale received the vase, baffled, and looked at it. The plant had long narrow leaves that grew tall and almost fully vertical, streaked pale green along the sides. “How does it… how do I keep it?” he asked. “What does it need? How does it work—”

“Oh she’s a nice one,” Crowley said. “Sansevieria trifasciata. Doesn’t need much. Little water, little sunshine. Just make her feel welcome.”

That didn’t seem very hard, Aziraphale thought. And so he cleared a space for his new plant, nestled comfortably in a nice corner next to a window, and spent the next week distracting himself by tracking down some nice leather-bound first editions, and researching all he could find on the sansevieria trifasciata, which he soon learned was commonly known as ‘snake plant’. He was pretty good at watering it, not that it seemed to need much, but he thought the plant was looking a little lonely, all by itself among the stacks of books.

Another week passed, and Aziraphale visited all of his favourite restaurants to celebrate the fact that they weren’t in imminent danger of being destroyed. He sold some books he didn’t especially mind parting with, and the earnings almost made up for the cost of one of the first editions he’d bought. His last customer of the week was a young woman who carried a heavy backpack and had the tired look of students everywhere, and kept staring around wide-eyed.

“I can’t believe I didn’t know this place was here! I kept thinking it was closed,” she said. “And so cosy, too.”

“Is it?” Aziraphale had thought so, before the fire. It just it didn’t feel much like it at the moment. Perhaps he kept the shop a bit too cosy, even. He ought to clean up a bit.

“Here,” he said. "Your change.”

“Thank you. Have you got a bag?”

Aziraphale didn’t have enough clients to require that he should stock bags. He shook his head. “I can give you a bookmarker if you’d like? It’s got flowers on it.” He held it up. “Roses, see? Fifty pence.”

The girl took the bookmarker. She looked very enthusiastic about everything. “It’s so nice to find a privately owned bookshop in this neighbourhood. Oh, I hope you never close.”

Aziraphale had no intention to close, but he had no intention to sell too many books either. He made a note to himself to change up his opening hours from now on, just in case.

The next customer to walk in was not a customer at all. It was Crowley, who said they should get tea, and hovered next to Aziraphale’s shoulder as he closed up the shop.

“So, how’s Sally?” he asked, watching Aziraphale munch on a biscuit. Aziraphale’s eyebrows raised.

“Sally?”

“You know, my plant. Your plant,” said Crowley. “How’s that going?”

Aziraphale, who valued the importance of clarification, said, “You’ve named your plant Sally.”

“Well, she’s your plant now. Call her whatever you want. It gets them to pay attention, so they’ll listen to you when you speak.”

“Well, she’s fine,” Aziraphale said. Then he thought about it. “A little… I think she could do with some company.”

Crowley scoffed. “She’s a plant. They don’t need company.”

“Like angels don’t need sleep?”

“All right, I’ll bring you another one. Happy?” said Crowley. “Now drink your tea.”

The next plant Crowley brought him was a bamboo, and in the days to follow Aziraphale would read everything he could find on how to place his plant in the precisely correct spot, and how to find the vase that would ensure maximum harmony between the elements. For now, he looked to the plant to Crowley’s face. “What do you call this one?”

“Oh, call her whatever you want. It’s your plant now.”

Aziraphale thought about it. “Well,” he said. “I think I will call her Scylla.”

“Scylla?” Crowley would have blinked behind his sunglasses, if he had the kind of eyes that could blink. Since he didn’t, he let the rest of his face do the blinking for him. “Like the monster?”

“Like the water nymph,” Aziraphale reprimanded, like a pedantic schoolteacher. “She wasn’t always a monster.”

“All right, sure. Let me unload this here.” Crowley looked around, “Where do you want me to put it? Bit crowded, here.”

“Where… Uh, there! Let me…” Aziraphale scrambled to push away a small stack of books and gestured for Crowley to put the potted bamboo next to the potted snake plant.

“Remember who you’re dealing with, and don’t play any of your tricks,” Crowley said, stern, and Aziraphale’s eyes went very wide before he realised he had been scolding the plant.

Then Crowley straightened up. “There,” he said. “See? This place’s feeling better already.”

And, surprisingly, it did. Maybe it was because it looked visibly different now, if barely, or maybe it was Aziraphale who spent more time fussing over his plants and less worrying about the uncanny after-effects of reality warp.

Two months after the failed Apocalypse, he found Crowley waiting on their usual bench. He was fidgeting.

“Tell me… have you heard from your guys lately? ‘Cos I haven’t heard from mine at all.”

“No.” Aziraphale shook his head. “I haven’t.”

“Great! Radio silence,” said Crowley. “Guess we’re safe.” And then, “Have you, uhm. Are things better?”

“Things?”

“You know… things. The bookshop, how’s it feeling? Still spooky?”

Aziraphale looked away. There was a particularly enterprising duck swimming rather boldly directly in his field of vision, fiercely determined to beat all its fellows for the biggest pieces of bread. He watched it for a while.

“Bit better, I guess,” he said. Crowley gasped.

“Angel! You’re not supposed to lie.”

“Well, it’s not that bad. I don’t really sleep much.”

Crowley looked pained, remembering that time Aziraphale had refused to take his advice of sleeping for a decade or two and had powered through that whole bloody boring mess of the fourteenth century. Crowley, very sensibly, had taken thirty years off.

“I’d offer you another plant,” he said, “but I think it’d get lost in the clutter.”

“I don’t— I don’t have clutter.”

“You can barely walk around with all those shelves. And the back room’s a disaster.”

“I’ll rearrange the shelves!” Aziraphale said. “I’ll take some things down to the back room. Come by over the weekend and we’ll figure it out.”

Weeks passed. Slowly, a growing amount of potted plants made their way from Crowley’s flat to Aziraphale’s bookshop and, eventually, to the apartment right above it, consisting of a very comfortable bedroom where Aziraphale rarely slept, a bathroom with a clawfoot bathtub, and two smaller rooms that had lost their initial function and now resembled warehouses. There was also a kitchen with a very expensive oven, because Aziraphale kept meaning to learn how to cook one of these days, though he’d never quite got around to start doing it.

“I’ve got cookbooks at my place,” said Crowley, one evening, poking his head into the kitchen to admire the pristine cooking area. The counters were wood and the tiles of a warm ochre colour, and something about the room gave it the appearance of something well-used and much-loved, even though that oven probably had never even been opened. Maybe it was all the takeaway boxes left on the table that did it.

“Cookbooks,” Aziraphale said. “Really.”

“Yeah. I have many. Well, a couple.”

“But you don’t eat, Crowley. And I’ve never seen you touch a book since you invented those… Kindle things.” Aziraphale shivered at the word. Crowley grinned.

“Honestly, those were pretty harmless,” he said. “But yeah, I never touch them. I’ll bring them to you. Get started on the whole… cooking business.” And then, “Anything you’d like?”

Aziraphale frowned. “Well, whatever you’ve got at home'll be fine. Thank you.”

“Right, right. I’ll bring them to you.”

Crowley did not, in fact, actually own any cookbooks.* But he thought Aziraphale could use something to do, and telling a lie to accomplish a kindness made sure the good and the demonic would even out. It was a middling lie, not the sort that would lead to anybody’s damnation, except the annoying woman in this stupid store several hours from London who couldn’t seem to understand what he wanted.

“For the last time,” said Crowley, as patiently as any demon could. “I just need earlier editions than these. Don’t you have anything that’s been gathering dust for a few years? Doesn’t have to be nice, he wouldn’t expect me to own any nice books. Doesn’t have to be expensive either, but I really don’t care. And absolutely nothing secondhand.”

“We don’t carry secondhand books here, sir.”

“Excellent. Just give me a new one that is old. Not old-old, just… not new.”

“We don’t carry those either, sir. All books in our lifestyle section are up-to-date editions.”

Crowley made a sound in his throat that was perhaps too close to a hiss. “Alright, fine. Just… I’ll take that one,” he pointed. The cover showed a blonde woman with a very white smile, and in front of her a spread of artfully arranged entrées that somehow managed to taste minimalistic just by looking at them. It was the kind of food that the kind of human Crowley pretended to be would eat on a lunch break from his soul-sucking office job, then immediately feel guilty about consuming.

“Wait, actually, he’d hate that. That one with… all the oil bottles, and the cake one.”

The woman didn’t move. “You can pick those up yourself, sir,” she suggested. “And bring them to the cash register. Will that be all?”

Will that be all?” Crowley mocked behind her back once she’d walked away. “Will that… be… all,” he muttered. “Idiot.”

He left the store with his brand-new cookbooks, and changed the date inside so that they’d look like slightly older editions he could pretend he’d had laying around his flat forever. There. Foolproof gift.

The next time he saw Aziraphale he brought him the new books, along with a slightly-smelly 1844 edition of Hannah Glasse he thought Aziraphale would like, to go next to his Mrs Beeton's, then wandered around the shop while Aziraphale rifled through the pages. The back rooms and the first-floor bedroom were cluttered with vases, and the green bastards seemed to like it better here than they had at Crowley’s flat. He didn’t count a single wilted leaf between the lot of them. Traitors.

“You know, the light in here could be better,” he told Aziraphale, who was still looking through the index of the cookbook with all the oil bottles on the cover. “Are you going to try that?”

Aziraphale looked taken aback. “Well, I. I don’t have any food at home.” Then he thought about it. “But, I guess… humans have those things called farmer’s markets? I’ve never been to one.”

“I don’t think you’re missing much.”

“I could go tomorrow,” Aziraphale said. “Check it out, buy some food.”

“Yeah,” said Crowley, half-hearted. He shouldn’t be disappointed, he thought, it as if he and Aziraphale went together to places. Not often, at least. More often lately but…

“Oh, who cares,” he muttered to himself.

“What was that?”

“Just thinking,” said Crowley. “‘Bout, you know. Things.”

The next day Crowley caused a minor disaster in the Tube, involving a near-accident, water leakage, and two broken trains. After all, he might be in the Boss’s bad books at the moment, but one simply couldn’t get over millennia of demonism in a few weeks even if he’d truly wanted to.*

 

The next thing he brought from his flat over to Aziraphale’s was a special lamp to simulate the rays of the sun, that wasn’t really optimal furnishing for the home of a demon to begin with. Besides, it would help Aziraphale with all his new plants, since the light in the apartment over the bookshop came filtered through heavy curtains and hidden behind several rows of shelves and assorted knickknackery.

After that came the statue. Well, the first statue.

Although, to be precise, first came the dinner. Aziraphale had been practising his cooking, and while Crowley wasn’t privy to the efforts he was given to understand it was going somewhat better than Aziraphale’s adventures in stage magic. Besides, it had taken him the better part of thirty years to learn how to cook, although that had been before electric ovens or even modern cuisine had been invented, so he wasn’t about to criticise.

When Aziraphale invited him to dinner, he’d been expecting they’d go out somewhere and he would watch the angel eat. Every restaurateur in Soho knew Aziraphale, it felt like, and in the last few months some of them had begun to recognise Crowley as well, always greeting him when they went to dinner together.* This time though, Aziraphale was waiting for him inside minus his coat, and there was an intriguing smell coming from the flat abovestairs. Crowley watched Aziraphale gather his resolve and announce, “I’ve made us steak.”

Us? Crowley wanted to say. Instead what left his mouth was, “Steak?”

“Well, it’s quite hard to botch up cooking steak, I’ve found. And roasted potatoes.”

Crowley couldn’t remember the last time he’d had steak. He was about as fond as eating as Aziraphale was of sleeping, but he practised it significantly less often because it was more fun to get his body calories from alcohol. On the rare occasions he ate something it was some sophisticated delicacy Aziraphale insisted he just must try, or something absolutely obscene and mouth-watering that looked like a heart attack on a plate, because gluttony was a tried-and-true sin,* but something as common and commonplace as a steak dinner wasn’t exciting enough for Crowley to bother with. Perhaps Paris, 1793, had been the last time. But he nodded, and he let Aziraphale lead him up the stairs to the kitchen, where the table had been cleaned of old takeaway boxes and two plates and two glasses and, if Crowley wasn’t mistaken, one of Aziraphale’s best bottles of wine.

“I think this could’ve been better,” Aziraphale mused some time later, gesturing with his fork. “But not bad, do you think? I think the herbs were a nice touch.”

“I liked it. Thank you. Really, I’m very flattered,” said Crowley. “No one’s ever made me dinner before.”

That was true. He’d been wined and dined over the centuries, including by several monarchs and one Pope, but always the kind of meal where you hired someone else to do the cooking. The word hung there in the air between them, uncomfortably truthful with all they weren’t saying, until Crowley snapped his fingers to get the bottle to pour them both a refill, and said, “You got the herbs at the farmer’s market? How’s that going? I wouldn’t wake up that early if they threatened me with an exorcism.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Aziraphale said, and the fondness in his voice was unmistakable. Crowley held very still, and breathed.

 

After the dinner came the statue. Aziraphale had stopped complaining about his shop feeling spooky or unsettling or unreal in any way, but one more trinket to take his mind off things couldn’t hurt. Besides, Crowley wasn’t about to cook him dinner. This way they would be even.

The statue was small as far as Renaissance masterpieces went, the practice model of a more illustrious work, something famous and biblical Crowley had never bothered keeping track of, and may very well have been destroyed. But it was a pleasure to look at, smooth marble worked into delicate folds of cloth, carved flesh that looked like It ought to be soft to the touch, and Crowley had owned it for five centuries and hardly ever remembered he had it. He figured Aziraphale would appreciate it more than he did, if he could only find it among all the books in the shop.

So, he brought it to the shop one day, no big deal and no ceremonies, and Aziraphale’s eyes widened slightly in surprise when he saw it.

“Crowley, what’s this?”

“An old statue. You like old things. I thought it could go in the back, with all your rubbish there.”

“It’s not rubbish—” Aziraphale began, but Crowley waved him off.

“Very valuable ancient rubbish that you’ve hoarded over the centuries. How about that? This place’s almost a museum,” he said. “It’s like a donation, except there’s no risk you’re going to paint over the naughty bits. Not that there’s much to look at.”

“Humans don’t do that anymore,” said Aziraphale, absent-mindedly, reaching out to touch it. “Crowley, this is… shouldn’t this be at your place?”

“Nonsense,” he said. “We’re changing the look around here. Besides, I’m never there anyway.” And then, after the briefest hesitation. “I guess, you’ll have me to invite for dinner more often, so I can admire my statue.”

 

The first time Crowley slept in Aziraphale’s bed, he did so alone. They’d returned late in the evening,* shared a drink or two, then Aziraphale stood up and went to muck around with his books. Crowley, who was feeling pleasantly drowsy, glared at him with something near disgust.

“I can’t believe you’re not tired.”

“I was tired, now I’m not. It’s a perk of angelic—”

“Oh, shut it,” Crowley said. He stood up as well, if not as steadily. “You know what, if you’re not going to sleep in your bed, I’m going to. Sleep is the greatest human invention. It’s div—” He caught himself. “Wicked. And now, if you’ll excuse me.”

He disappeared up the stairs, and didn’t return down until mid-morning. Aziraphale was in the shop with a rare customer, making amiable conversation and subtly influencing the man away from an old Dickens Aziraphale had no intention to part with.

When the man had left, empty-handed and slightly confused, Crowley crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against one of the pillars. “You know,” he began.

“Oh, God.”

“I don’t want to rub it in! But listen,” said Crowley. “I think I understand now why you can’t sleep. Why is your bed like that.”

Aziraphale, who didn’t have much use for his bed, still felt a certain protectiveness over it. “Like what?”

“It should… look, you’re an angel! It should be soft as clouds,” Crowley said. And then, quickly, to avoid giving the impression he’d thought overly much about the feeling of that particular bed, he went on. “Do you subscribe to fourteenth-century ideals of mortification of the flesh? Some kind of Puritanism? It’s a disgrace.”

Aziraphale thought about it for some time, and then said, “No.”

“Bu—”

“I don’t see how—”

“You need a new mattress. How long have you had that for, anyway? You didn’t keep it in shape, I can tell you that.”

“I wouldn’t sleep there anyway!”

“We can talk about it later,” Crowley said.

To his delight, Aziraphale didn’t object.

Since he was already there, Crowley followed Aziraphale out to lunch. And then dinner. And then there was one afternoon, about a week later, or perhaps two, when Aziraphale noticed something new on one of his desks, a shiny, dangerous-looking machine that certainly hadn’t been there before.

“Is that a…” Aziraphale rummaged through his brain for an educated guess. Three-dee printer? No, too small. Ex-box? He had no idea what an Ex-box was supposed to look like. “Console?” He didn’t know what that was either, but it sounded more right than the other two.

Crowley’s look, from under his glasses, was nevertheless still faintly amused. “That’s my computer, angel. I brought it over from my place.”

When? Aziraphale wondered, but it didn’t seem important. Instead, “I have a computer, you know. It doesn’t look like that at all.”

“That’s because your computer is twenty years old,” said Crowley, although that was a lie. Aziraphale’s computer was only seventeen years old, and he knew that perfectly well, because he’d got it for him.*

“Well, it works wonderfully for what I need it to do.” Helped, occasionally, by a little drop of angel juice, especially around tax season. On the desk, Crowley’s black computer hissed threateningly.

“That sounds like it’s about to take flight,” Aziraphale said.

“Nonsense. It’s just… hacking somewhere it isn’t supposed to hack into. But it’ll look like some student in Thailand is doing it. Don’t worry about it.”

The computer was, after the Bentley and some of his CDs, Crowley’s most prized Earthly possession: he used it often to carry out many semi-evil activities of the petty variety, and it would get tricky to miracle it back if something were to happen, because electronic files and demonic magic didn’t mix very well. Everything else, he made for himself.

Clothes, for example. Crowley, unlike Aziraphale, appreciated a variety of styles and changed his looks quite often; also unlike Aziraphale, he was encouraged by his bosses to use frivolous miracles for selfish reasons, which he did often and gladly. He conjured most of his clothes out of thin air;* they never quite fit properly, but Crowley had uncharitable opinions about the kind of people who resorted to obsessive tailoring*, and didn’t mind.

Even so, some times he’d find something he liked enough to buy it, or swindle a salesperson into thinking he’d paid for it, which was nearly the same thing. Material objects tended to pile up over the years, and a couple of outfits for every decade filled a handful of boxes. By then they’d both caught up on what was happening, although of course they weren’t talking about it, and when Crowley said that perhaps he ought to bring some of his things over, Aziraphale offered to help him.

“Why do you even have these?” he asked, holding up a pair of trousers with unfortunate flares that hadn’t seen the light of the day since the Seventies. They were seeing it now, and the light of the day revealed that they were actually a very dark red, instead of the usual black Aziraphale had been expecting, leathery, and would probably take half an hour to put on.

“Well, you never know what’ll come back into style one day.”

“Hopefully not… that,” Aziraphale said, folding the trousers neatly and putting them into the box. His eyes fell on the open doorway, and the picture on the wall in Crowley’s study. He cleared his throat. “Are you, uhm. Are you taking that?”

“Oh, Lisa,” Crowley said. “Yes, I — I think I ought. She’s nice to look at, don’t you think? Clean sketch. Better than the final product.” Then he said, “Leonardo signed it for me, on the back. Friendly chap, I always thought.”

“Yes, very nice,” Aziraphale agreed. “He’s in Heaven now, you know.”

“Good for him.” Carefully, Crowley removed the framed sketch from the wall, and laid it on top of the clothes in the box. “I hope he likes boring music.”

And when they got back to the bookshop, they hung the sketch on a clean bit of wall next to Aziraphale’s art history section, and sometimes as customer would wander in, as they unfortunately tended to, and make some noises about what a good copy it was, how cute, and who was the artist?

“Oh, you wouldn’t know him,” Aziraphale said, with a small smile, and then he’d go in the back and make himself a cup of tea.

 

Things took a sharp turn, predictably, around tax season.

“So, believe it or not,” Crowley began, walking into the shop, “I’ve heard from Beelzebub. Could’ve gone worse, I guess.”

“Oh, did you?” Aziraphale said, with what Crowley thought was a surprising lack of reaction. He was staring at the screen of his rickety old computer with a look of extreme attention.

“Yeah, she wasn’t that unpleasant. I think you scared her.”

“That’s very good,” said Aziraphale, absent-mindedly.

“What about you? Is that a message from Gabriel you’re staring at, or…”

“’Course not. It’s taxes.”

“Oh,” said Crowley. “Oh, Satan. Well, good luck with it.”

Tax collection had been a joint effort between Heaven and Hell. Aziraphale had come up with the idea of taxes in the first place, out of some lofty aims of redistribution and social responsibility, then Crowley had come along and invented tax loopholes, corporate welfare, and trickle-down economics. They’d both gotten commendations from their respective bosses.

“So I’m looking at these forms,” Aziraphale was saying, “and well— do you even know what I’m talking about?”

“Vaguely, yeah,” Crowley said. “I’ve got a guy for that.”

Crowley’s guy was a low-level demon who worked out of a cubicle in the slightly-less-damp side of the Infernal Basement, wrote down all of Crowley’s various Hellish businesses as contract work for internal administration purposes, then forwarded all the necessary to Earthly collection authorities. Hell was a legitimate corporation on Earth, registered in the Caymans, and everything was quite above board, if sufficiently complicated to give any tax inspector a headache.* Of course, Crowley’s reports to Hell were fudged to begin with, but the bosses encouraged that sort of initiative.

“So, what is it?” Crowley asked. “Are you getting investigated? That’s not my fault. Humans came up with audits all by themselves.”

“No, it’s…” Aziraphale brushed non-existent lint off his waistcoat. “They want to know how many people live here.”

“Oh,” Crowley said. “Well, couldn’t you…” But there wasn’t much to say. He trailed off, looking at a speck of light dancing against the shelves slightly on the left of Aziraphale’s face.

“I put down ‘two’.”

“Oh,” said Crowley, again. “You did?”

“Well, you’re living here, aren’t you. I mean, your alien computer is here, and your… stupid disco outfits, and your bloody plants—”

“Hey, the plants were a gift,” he said, which wasn’t very good as far as retorts went. “I’d let you keep them if you told me to go away. But you didn’t. Say I couldn’t live here, I mean.”

“Of course not,” said Aziraphale, in the sort of tone that strongly implied he thought he might be talking to an idiot. “I wouldn’t. I like… look,” he said, “it’s just that we’ve never— talked about it.”

“Yeah, well. We’ve never been very good at talking, have we?”

Somehow, it was the right thing to say. Aziraphale gave him a long look that was aiming for serious, but the corners of his mouth kept twitching, and then he started laughing and Crowley did as well, and his heart felt lighter with every breath.

“So you know that—” said Aziraphale, at the same time as Crowley said, “Should we maybe—”

They both paused. Then Aziraphale smiled again, a fleeting grin, and said, “You know, when we were on that bench, in Tadfield, I thought—”

There was a clattering from the end of the shop, the creak of the door opening, the sounds of the city on the other side. Then a woman’s voice rang, high and cheerful. “Good morning!”

“Oh, lord,” Aziraphale said, and Crowley had a lengthy moment of thinking very seriously that slaughtering an innocent human woman would probably get Beelzebub to leave him alone for at least the next year.

“Sir?” said the woman. “I’m Ms Sullivan, we spoke on the phone? You said you’d have my order ready by—”

“Excuse me just a moment,” Aziraphale said, and then he walked off to where the woman was standing, inpatient and imperious in her designer coat, and snapped his fingers in front of her face. There was some quiet whispering and she left, looking rather more shaken.

“So that’s taken care of,” Aziraphale said. “Sorry. Customers, sometimes they come in.”

Crowley’s eyes had gone slightly wide behind his sunglasses. “Did you do something very wicked,” he asked, “because if you did, then I’m—”

Demurely, “Don’t be ridiculous. She’s just going to come back tomorrow.” And then he said, “She thinks she left something on the stove. And she’s going to have a headache for the rest of the day.”

Crowley walked across the room and kissed him.

It wasn’t seamless, or very elegant. It was the kind of kiss of two people who’ve been waiting for this moment for the longest lifetime, until the edges of the fantasy fade into dream, and they aren’t quite sure that all of this will not disappear at any moment. It was desperate, and kind of messy, all trembling hands and shaking breaths, and when they pulled back Crowley found Aziraphale staring at him with a reverence that shook him to the core.

Crowley thought that perhaps he ought to say something. He wasn’t very good at saying what was on his mind, except for the memorable occasion of his Fall, and certainly not now, after centuries of thinking and feeling and swallowing down his every words.

He breathed. It felt like drowning.

“Well,” he said, eventually. “That's a lot better than talking.”

 

— coda —

 

The last thing they took from Crowley’s flat was The Statue. No, not the one that had already made the move. The other one.

It was large and unwieldy and it showed an angel and a demon wrestling, supposedly, something about the neverending fighting of Good and Evil. The angel was supposed to be winning, although angels and demons weren’t that different when it came down to it, and it was hard to tell on a glance which one was which.*

Crowley also wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be fighting, or something else. Neither had Aziraphale the first time he’d seen it, which was how they’d proceeded to get roaring drunk and, eventually, accidentally buy it.

It was another of those things they never spoke about. Crowley had kept it stored in the walk-in closet in his flat and never looked at it if he could help it, until now.

“I didn’t remember it being that big,” Aziraphale said, circling around it slowly. “You know, that’s not going to fit in the Bentley.”

“Nevermind the Bentley, it’s not going to fit at the shop. You’re going to have to put some rubbish into storage, or… miracle up a few square metres. I don’t know,” said Crowley. “We’ll figure it out.”

He tapped on the statue with his finger, softly, to make it lighter.

“You know, I still can’t believe that you—”

“You know,” Crowley began, in the same tone, “it takes two, angel. you were there. Do not put the responsibility of this on me only.”

Another light touch and the statue shrieked, going from ‘extremely unwieldy’ to ‘moderately bulky’, and it managed to fit into the Bentley with only slightly more difficulty than Anathema Device had.

There was some negotiation about where to put The Statue. Crowley, rather devilishly, thought that it would be perfect in the main room of the bookshop. Aziraphale, very sensibly, suggested they put it in the back, even though there wasn’t really much space there anymore.

Eventually, of mutual accord, they ended up putting it in the bedroom.

 


 

* Which pre-dated Mr Dewey’s by a few centuries. It was needlessly intricate, the kind only a twisted otherworldy mind would come up with and, while Aziraphale could find every book in his shop drunk and blindfolded, nobody else could. This made it a very good way of scaring away potential clients.

* However, surprisingly, Crowley knew how to cook. It all went back to the bloody fourteenth century, when he’d started picking up all sort of hobbies since it was either that or being bored to death. He’d also learned how to forge an axe, build various furniture, and do crochet. Aziraphale had no idea.

* Crowley didn’t.

* Crowley found this very odd but, since Aziraphale wouldn’t like it, refrained from causing his usual brand of low-level unhappiness-through-mayhem whenever they went out for dinner. However, he made a point to park his Bentley where he shouldn’t, to feel better about himself.

* He particularly enjoyed consuming such deep-fried or triple-chocolate-decked masterpieces in front of people who were trying to diet, thus ruining their mood for the whole day.

* They’d gone to the theatre. They were both fond of musicals, and Crowley could sit through a tragedy if he really put effort into it, but would complain plenty afterwards. Aziraphale called cinemas ‘going to the pictures’, and once took such outrage at Crowley’s choice of film** that he walked out mid-screening and didn’t speak to him for six months.

** Mars Attack! Crowley’d had a hand in producing it, though the studio didn’t know.

* Crowley also got Aziraphale his mobile phone. It had originally been a gag gift, and Aziraphale had started using it only when the model had gone well out of the market. It was too old to have a network connection but somehow it did, because Aziraphale enjoyed what he called ‘the cupcake game’. It was his favourite out of Crowley’s technology-related inventions.**

** Crowley’s favourite technology-related invention was the comment section on the Daily Mail website. He always read through it when he was having a bad day.

* And dutifully reported on it in his memos to Head Office. He wrote it down as ‘inciting envy and vanity among human onlookers.’

* Such as Gabriel.

* ‘Giving headaches to tax inspectors’ was also part of Crowley’s job description, so it was a glowing success all around.

* Except, of course, for the wings: wings of demons are often better groomed. No, they don’t know why either. Possibly Beelzebub might.