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First Editions and Birds of Paradise

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Aziraphale was having his lunch break, the sign on the door flipped to “Closed” and a torn out notebook paper with the words “Out to Lunch,” written in a very neat hand, taped in front of it. The sandwiches on his plate were without crust, his thermos of iced tea placed on his desk where he wouldn’t accidentally knock it over, and a plastic container of salad, now empty except for a few dregs of Cesar dressing and a small silver fork, sat next to them.

The strains of Spring emanated from his record player, his favorite of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It suited the ambiance of his dusty shop, stacks upon stacks of books, the shelves long since overflowing. He never sold any books, he didn’t need to. The shop had been inherited from his great-uncle Terry, and was more a glorified book case than an actual shop. Most of the books were far too rare and valuable, and Aziraphale had more than enough in savings and from lecturing at the local universities to be able to live comfortably without having to sell any of his prize possessions.

His great-uncle was a wonderful man who had spent his life traveling the world and tracking down first editions of the rarest books, from as many cultures as had written word to write books with. He would regale Aziraphale and his cousins with his tales whenever he was back in England, and all the children in the family loved him, but Aziraphale was by far his favorite. Great-uncle would always bring him a book, and ask him about himself, but, unlike most adults, he wouldn’t just ask out of politeness, he would actually listen to him.

He was the closest thing Aziraphale had to a father, his mother having had him out of wedlock and died in childbirth, leaving him to the none too tender care of her older brother Gabriel and his wife Michel and his much older cousins. Always the last one picked for games, teased for the softness of his frame, he retreated into the sanctuary of books and linguistics, and Great-uncle was his guide and tutor.

After graduating university, sponsored entirely by his now retired and invalid Great-uncle, he set off on his own journey of discovery, hunting down and collecting rare and wonderful books, and sending them back to England.

  

It was on his journeys that he met Crowley for the first time.

 

It was in a garden of a prince, somewhere abouts in the Middle East, a beautiful oasis in the otherwise lifeless desert, whom he was attempting to buy or barter a rare copy of some religious text off of. He was marveling at the beauty of one particularly vibrant flower when he heard footsteps approach. Assuming it to be the prince, he said, “These really are the most stunning flowers I’ve ever seen! I wish the climate in London wasn’t so dreary, it would kill them.”

He turned around and it wasn’t the prince, but in fact a tall, thin man with shockingly auburn hair that cascaded in sinfully lush curls down his shoulders. He seemed a few years younger than Aziraphale, but not by much. For all the heat of where they were, he was wearing a black on black three piece suit, clearly designer, and possibly bespoke, if the way it clung to his angles and curves was any indicator. His eyes were hidden by dark glasses, perched on his beak-like nose, his lips, sinfully red and plush, were curled into a knowing smirk as he placed his hands on his hips with all the swagger of a man who knew what he wanted, and got it. “I’m glad you like them, angel. They’re a bitch to maintain, never had a plant as susceptible to disease and spots like this one but it's always worth it when they finally bloom.”

He reached out his hand, beautiful, long, and pale, with beautifully manicured nails, “The name’s Crowley, exotic plants is my business and our prince is one of my most loyal customers. He mentioned some English scholar being here for some dusty old scroll or other, was quite excited to meet you too. I never understood the fuss for all that but,” he paused, and even with the glasses obscuring his eyes, it was painfully obvious he was checking Aziraphale out, “Seeing you, I might just convert to the nerd-side of things…. You have a name, Angel?”

Aziraphale blushed, reaching out his own hand to be met with a surprisingly strong grip, which he returned in kind. “My name is Aziraphale,” he laughed softly, “I was, in fact, named after an angel.”

Crowley smiled, something more genuine this time, their hands still connected, “What a wonderful coincidence, Aziraphale!” He paused then released Aziraphale’s hand, returning his own to his terrifyingly narrow waist, “I might just have to stick to calling you angel, that’s a bit of a mouthful.”

“I don’t mind at all, Crowley. Your accent leads me to believe that you’re from London?”

“Scotland, actually, went to school in London, had to divest myself of that accent pretty quick if I wanted to get anywhere, especially in “high society,”” he said those last words mockingly, a drawl tripping over his tongue, his fingers making air quotations, “which I am, well working for them, at least.”

“Ah, I’m Welsh, actually, well, my mother’s family is Welsh, but I’ve been based in London for oh, what’s it? Ten, fifteen years now. I’m really not in Britain any longer than I have to be, much prefer to be traveling, you see.”

Crowley was nodding along, attentive in a way Aziraphale had only ever seen in someone who wanted something from him. He took off his sunglasses, pocketing them in his suit, revealing bright green eyes with flecks of gold dancing in them.

“Well, lucky for me you happened to travel to my little project paradise.” He was standing close, much closer than was proper, “Now, I believe,” he took Aziraphale’s wrist in his hand, gently rubbing at his pulse with his thumb, “that we should ask for drinks to be sent to my room, so we can better,” his gaze was searching, hopeful, with just enough of a flicker of apprehension to convince Aziraphale of his genuineness, “get to know each other?”

Aziraphale bit back a gasp, slipping his wrist free from the taller man’s grasp and entwining their fingers together, “I would be most… amenable, Crowley.”

They met again, this time in Sydney, two years later, purely by chance, and they sank into the hotel bed with an intimacy that they hadn’t even realized they were missing; each touch so familiar it felt like they had never been apart.

It continued in a similar pattern, they would meet in the far corners of the world, as if drawn to the other, and would spend the day, or once, quite memorably, the weekend, site-seeing and fine dining, ending their excursions with a passionate tumble in one of their hotel rooms, or, once when they both had had far too much to drink, the middle of a field in Southern France. Sometimes they would only go weeks without seeing the other, sometimes years would pass, but they always seemed to find each other. As odd as it would seem, it never felt like they had been apart, they fit together so naturally.

 

Then Great-uncle had taken a turn for the worse, and Aziraphale found himself settling into the guest room of his flat above the bookshop in Soho, all travel plans readily abandoned. He was by his side when he died, a peaceful rasp of an exhale, almost indistinguishable from the crinkle of the pages he was reading from. The book tumbled from his hand onto the floor, his form relaxed in his plush armchair, looking more as one asleep than one passed on. 

Aziraphale had picked up the book, placing it gently on the table, then called the hospital. The funeral was simple, but well attended, with his friends from all over the world coming to say their final farewells. Aziraphale was quite numb through the whole process, accepting condolences with a blank look in his eyes and a newfound weariness to his stride.

There had been a bit of drama with his family, in regards to great-uncle’s will. The drama being that his aunt and uncle had demanded their share of great-uncles possessions, and the unfortunate fact that great-uncle has made sure that it would all go to Aziraphale. It was a long and draining process, but great-uncle’s proprietor was the best of the best and after a few years they had no choice but to leave him be and after nearly fifty years, Aziraphale was finally free from the relatives who had abused him.

 It took a few more years to settle into a routine with the shop, another few to get back into the habit of traveling, but not quite as far as he used to, and never for as long. Aziraphale was effectively retired, aside from the occasional venture to acquire a rare book, or to deliver a few lectures on the art of preserving old works to the local universities and museums. 

He spent his days reading and researching, sipping on his favorite imported tea and munching on the most delicious biscuits from a small shop down the road run by a young lesbian couple who would always give him an extra one because they liked his stories.

He was a bit of a living legend, at least, to the regular attendees of the local library, and to those who’ve attended his lectures. His daily stroll took him all over London, endearing himself to every living creature he met along the way with his cheerful demeanor and gentlemanly habits.

Aziraphale was content, he was, in fact, the most content he had ever been in his life, and if on occasion he would do a double take on the street whenever he caught a glimpse of auburn and feel a sharp pang of longing, well, that was no one’s business but his own.

Well, people would try and make it their business. They obviously meant well, and when setting him up with their newly-divorced aunts didn’t seem to work, they tried to set him up with their newly-divorced uncles, which was perfectly fine, he just wasn’t interested in either. Now most people knew to leave him be, but on occasion he would have to field the uncomfortable questions of “Isn’t it about time you found yourself a wife?” or “I know a guy who’s just your type, would you like his number?”

That one had demanded a proper answer because, “How on earth do you know my type, Anathema?”

She had laughed, “You’re kinda obvious, you know? Redheads… although not the blondish ones, you always do a double take with auburn hair.”

He had conceded to one date to appease her, although it never got past lunch. The man was too… young, well not technically, but he had been lacking a certain “worldliness” in his perspective and while Aziraphale had enjoyed himself he hadn’t bothered going on any dates since then.

So there he was, having lunch in his shop. He gazed idly out the window, observing the moving trucks come and go from the shop across from him. It had been being reformed over the past few months, converting a quaint (moldy) old clothes shop into a horridly modern looking (minimalist) monstrosity of cement and steel.

He assumed it was going to be one of those fancy brand outlets and wasn’t looking forward to the inevitable pop music and heavy bass that would blast out of it to attract the less respectable youths, but oh well. Soho was becoming more modern by the day and it wouldn’t do to be a bitter old man about it, although he really couldn’t get into the music.

The workmen were maneuvering plants, lots of them, from the trucks into the shop, far too many plants to be decorative, “A florist then? But what an unusual aesthetic choice. Although that would explain why the plumbers had been installing misting machines all over the place… how odd.”

A particularly vibrant flower caught his eye, causing him to stand up suddenly, bumping against the table and making it rattle, “It can’t be!”

Donning his suit jacket and coat, he checked his reflection in the bookcase glass before laughing a bit self deprecatingly, “Look at yourself, all flustered at the possibilities!”

He left the shop, locking up behind himself only out of habit, then bustled his way across the street to where an all too familiar voice was shouting out orders.

“Careful! Those saplings are worth more than you could make in your life, even if you sold your organs on the black market.”

 And there he was, standing in the center of the shop directing the workers around like a conductor would an orchestra. Wearing the same bespoke black on black suit as the day they had first met, his hair was short now, gelled up into a stylish quiff but still that startling shade of auburn Aziraphale had been unable to find in anyone else. He had hardly aged, maybe just a few more wrinkles lining his face, and his eyes were, as always, covered by his ridiculous sunglasses.

 

“Crowley!” And if Aziraphale’s voice was a bit to breathy and his smile a tad bit too wide, he didn’t care.

Crowley started, turned bodily towards him, pocketing his sunglasses.

“Aziraphale!” He sauntered over, gesturing around him, “What brings you to London, darling?”

Aziraphale blushed, having forgotten how intense the other man’s gaze could be, “I’ve been running the bookshop across the street for the past decade or so! It’s been far too long, my dear.”

“I’ll say it has, and we clearly have a lot to catch up on.” He stopped till they were standing far to close than was probably proper, but neither of them seemed to care. Crowley grabbed Aziraphale’s hand, entwining their fingers as he brought it up to press against his lips.

“I missed you, angel.” He whispered softly.

“I missed you too, my dear boy.” The old pet name slipped out easily, as if he had been using it for years.

They got lost in each other’s gaze, simply breathing in the same air, tethered to the other by the white knuckled grip of their weathered hands, as if worried it was all just an illusion.

 

“Ummm, sir? Mr. Crowley? We’ve finished unloading the last of them, could you just sign here, please?”

 

Crowley blinked, turning away from Aziraphale and signing the form without stepping away or letting go of his hand.

 

 “Yeah, thanks guys. Good job with the uhh, the plants and stuff.” 

 

“Right sir, have a good day sir.”

 

Aziraphale beamed, “Oh we do intend to!”

 

The workmen exited the shop, leaving just the two of them, and the plants. The smell of exotic flowers is already beginning to permeate the air and with the door shut the sounds of the street are muffled that, paired with the plants blocking most of the view out the shop window, creating a wonderful illusion of privacy. 

Crowley grinned slyly, familiar in his foxiness, “You’ve got your scheming face on, angel. Something on your mind?” 

“Just all the ways I want to have you, back in my flat, and possibly on that counter over there.” 

“Why Angel! You kiss your lover with that mouth?” Crowley was full on smiling now, delight and wanting dancing in his gold and green eyes.

“Not yet I don’t.” Aziraphale closed the distance between them and pressed their lips together. He stepped back and smiled sweetly, mischief playing across his features.

“Now I have.” 

They both laughed, then sank back into the familiarity of each other’s touch, hands tugging at hair, stroking cheekbones, kisses staying chaste, but still so hungry. 

Aziraphale rested his head on Crowley’s shoulder, tucking his face into the crook of his neck. Their arms were wrapped so tightly around each other it hurt. 

“I feel like we’ve both missed so much, wasted so much time…” Aziraphale’s voice cracked a bit. 

There was a shakiness to Crowley’s voice as he rasped, “Oh hush, angel. We’ve got the rest of our lives to make up for it don’t we?” 

“That we do, my darling. Let me take you to lunch?”

“Sweetcheeks, you had me at “let me take you.”” 

Laughing, they exited the shop, it was, after all, the first day of the rest of their lives.