As a rule, the angel Aziraphale did not get bored.
His endless capacity to occupy himself had been developed and perfected over six long millennia, the latter two of which had been spent almost entirely full-time on Earth— a place where, he would have been the first to tell you, it was almost impossible to not be constantly entertained, if you played your cards right.
Aziraphale loved to eat alone, read alone, go to plays alone; stroll through parks by himself with nothing but his thoughts and the gentle ambient burble of humanity around him for company. He loved to take himself out to the cinema, he loved relaxing in his armchair with a cup of something warm; and he treasured the rare times he had absolutely nothing to do, and could therefore sit around doing absolutely nothing. (Even when that occasion was being locked up in a French prison. He’d had his own cell— a blessed luxury!)
If he were a mortal man, he might be one categorized as an introvert : ebullient and friendly, to be sure, quite often overly so, but reliably in need of a good deal of “me-time” to recharge after any kind of social situation, even the most enjoyable ones such as doing the gavotte.
And me-time was not something he’d ever lacked for— at least until the exigencies of Armageddon forced him into an entirely new phase of his relationship with the Adversary.
His association with Crowley had begun as prickly familiarity, based on once-a-millennia encounters, and had settled into a reliable friendship of at least a dozen meetings per decade, after the Arrangement. Once they’d both firmly established London as their home base that frequency rose to thrice yearly, perhaps even four or five times, if Aziraphale was feeling particularly fearless.
The arrival of the Antichrist, however, and the subsequent handshake agreement, had changed everything. It meant eleven years of true partnership, of daily calls and weekly dinners and co-rearing a mediocre child and finally, after so very long, beginning to spend the kind of time together, one-on-one, that would normally send Aziraphale running for the dark and quiet comfort of his bookshop’s backroom, his maximum reached.
But very early on, Aziraphale was able to confirm something he’d long half-feared and half-hoped: Crowley was the exception to his rule.
It wasn’t as if he’d had, before that, the opportunity to discover that he never got the urge to shoo Crowley out the door so he could get back to his book. He’d never really known it was possible to spend endless hours around someone else and not feel that awful battery-drained sensation, that feeling of your mouth running dry of words and your brain sputtering to nothing but a low growl of it’s time to go. This feeling had been such a reliable constant throughout six millennia of association with countless angels and humans that its stark absence in Crowley’s extended presence was almost scary to Aziraphale, as if it were some kind of demonic trick; it took the whole first year of their plan to pass by in this manner before the always-stubborn angel would admit to himself that, no, it was just that he really really liked Crowley. And he wanted to be near to him, always. And that being near to him was different than being around anyone else he’d ever known.
So when Crowley installed himself into more or less permanent residency at the bookshop, post-Apocalypse and post-Ritz (they’d kissed in the lobby and done other things besides in a luxurious suite on the fourth floor, it was very romantic, Crowley had cried), Aziraphale had been overjoyed. It was everything he could’ve asked for and more. He imagined how long he’d spent stifling daydreams of this very scenario, trying to rip them up into little pieces and bury them somewhere deep inside— but now it was his reality, his every day. His Crowley.
And nearly a month into cohabitation, Aziraphale wasn’t tired of him. He still treasured each and every glimpse of Crowley, asleep in the morning light. He thrilled at Crowley’s footfalls sounding from above his head as he did the shop accounts at his desk.
Just because he hadn’t gotten sick of Crowley, and very possibly didn’t have the capacity to, didn’t mean he hadn’t absolutely had it up to here with the demon’s antics— or, as it were, the utter lack thereof.
Because while Aziraphale had slipped quite easily back into his usual routine, with the added bonus of a delightful number of hours per week devoted to certain earthly pleasures, Crowley hadn’t seemed to be able to find his post-Apocalyptic rhythm yet. Apart from grocery runs and regular visits to the plants back in Mayfair, he was barely leaving the shop. A large and impossibly thin television had appeared in the parlor of the upstairs flat, and Crowley would spend hours just scrolling through the available options, finally picking something to watch, then changing his mind five minutes later and returning to the endless menu.
Worst of all, he’d go days without driving the Bentley.
He was quite visibly aimless, and Aziraphale hated to see it. He realized he’d been harboring the unreasonable expectation that, upon moving in with him, Crowley would develop the same kind of faculty of self-amusement that had long sustained Aziraphale— he’d start reading novels, maybe, or begin to enjoy Windows 98 Solitaire.
But that was nonsensical, he knew now. Just because they had admitted their devotion to one another, and cleaved themselves from the control of their Head Offices, didn’t mean that Crowley would suddenly become a different person. Didn’t mean he’d derive any less pleasure from structure, from purpose, from his own sense of self— one that had always been highly dependent on what he did, for and to others, rather than who he was.
Anyway. Something had to be done.
“I’m taking a stand.”
Crowley lifted his gaze to Aziraphale in front of him, who had his hands on his hips, and was looking disapprovingly down at the sprawled demonic form occupying the full length of his backroom sofa.
“I can see that,” Crowley said, “standing straight up, you are.”
“No! I meant, I’ve had enough of— enough of whatever this is.” The angel waved a hand in Crowley’s direction.
“I’m on my phone,” protested Crowley. “Look, have you heard of this thing called TikTok? Absolute genius, the most annoying app ever created—”
“Please!” Aziraphale sputtered. “You have been doing nothing but lying about and taking up space for the last three weeks. And you know I love you, darling, and I treasure having you around, but I simply cannot abide this laziness. It doesn’t become you at all. ”
“Well, that’s on you for shacking up with a demon. I’m just doing my job. Embodying one of the seven deadlies, and that.”
“You’re not,” said Aziraphale. “This isn’t capital-S Sloth. This is wallowing.”
Crowley blinked at him, from behind his shades. “Pardon?”
Aziraphale crossed the room and sat down on the sofa, right on top of Crowley’s legs, which the demon made no effort to move out of the way.
“My dear,” he said, “don’t think I’m not in the same boat. I haven’t received a single miracle mission or blessing assignment from Head Office since our little escapade. But you don’t see me puddling myself over the furniture like a great immobile blob of Jello in response.” He gave Crowley’s thigh a reassuring squeeze.
“Well— you’ve still got a job, ostensibly,” retorted Crowley. “A shop to run. Whereas I’m... funemployed . As they say. Look, I can be your new shop pet. Your house-husband. I’ll putter around and scare the customers away for you.”
“That’s very sweet of you to offer, but highly unrealistic. I know you, and I know you need something to do, ” said Aziraphale, as gently as possible. “Something real. If I could give you an assignment, I would, but—”
“Who are you trying to be, my schoolteacher? Save it for the bedroom.”
Aziraphale flared his nostrils at Crowley, trying to will the demon into some semblance of receptivity. “Crowley, I’m quite serious. You must find something to occupy your time.” And now, yes, here he went: he dialed in the eyes. Made them big and wide and glistening. Cinched the brows together, just a smidge. Corners of the mouth, standing at attention, ready to do God’s work and rise to a smile.
“It would make me so happy to see you restored to full productivity. It really would.”
And there it was. Crowley sat up, dropped his phone onto the coffee table, and heaved a great sigh. “Alright, alright,” he said. “I’ll figure something out. Promise.”
And Aziraphale cranked up the wattage of his grin, and it would never get old, it truly never would, how not only was his smile matched by one from Crowley, but now it was always met seconds later with Crowley’s lips meeting his, warm and welcoming.
As it were, Aziraphale was already sitting on top of Crowley’s legs, so it was barely a matter of inches for Crowley to lean forward and wrap him in his arms as they kissed.
“Can’t this be my job?” whispered Crowley into Aziraphale’s ear, lifting a hand to run it through his sun-white curls. “Come on, angel.”
Aziraphale buried his face in Crowley’s neck, pressing his lips to the radiant warmth of the demon’s skin. “You’re not getting out of this with a temptation,” he murmured, half-convincingly.
Crowley brought Aziraphale’s face back up to his own. “Whatever you say,” he said to Aziraphale before kissing him again, and he meant it.
Crowley may have made a big show of rebelliousness, initiating the Arrangement and all, but at the end of the day, he had always consistently depended on assignments from Downstairs and the structure of his demonic lifestyle to keep him occupied. After all, it was no use making the mischievous effort to skive off if there was nothing to skive off from.
He thrived on his regular presentations to Beelzebub and her assembled cronies; despite the waves of sullen uninterest he never failed to feel radiating off the lot of them, it was always a thrill to just be standing up there doing his thing, the thing he was good at, in front of all those people.
And he was good at it. Even discounting his campaign of exaggerations to Head Office, he genuinely was highly skilled at temptation and disruption of the hellish variety. From the Tree of Knowledge all the way up to the infestation of BT Tower, Crowley’s various schemes were ingenious, inspired, and always well-executed with a bit of iconic flair. Even if nobody downstairs really understood what he was getting at, Crowley was his own number one fan, and he was proud of his work.
He especially enjoyed the in-person temptations, the long-term ones, where he’d insinuate himself into the life of some duke or dignitary, get to know their quirks and qualms intimately, so that when it came time to make his move he could slide in like a hot knife through butter. He took his time with these gigs, twisting the humans around his fingers until they were strung up like marionettes, only needing the tiniest push to trip themselves over into transgression.
And then, afterwards, when he was waiting for the next assignment to ooze up, he would get bored. Viciously, painfully bored. Those were the moments in which he was most likely to seek out Aziraphale (or “accidentally” “run into” him, as he so often justified it), who without fail would be off doing something on his own, perfectly content. It was something Crowley loved desperately about him, the way he had his own little world. He could hardly believe, even now, the way he’d let Crowley into it, so graciously.
Crowley had hoped that simply being around Aziraphale would be enough to alleviate the shameful emptiness he felt at the loss of demonic purpose. Surely, the attainment of his very heart’s desire, so long forbidden, would have sent him into a permanent state of existential satisfaction.
But that would have just been too damn easy.
Without work assignments to kvetch about, to rail against, to try and interpret to their creative maximum in the pursuit of sinful artistry, he had to admit to himself that Aziraphale was right. It was quite possible that he was just a little bit bereft.
Sure, he’d short out a few traffic lights and send a few key-fobs down the sewer grates on the way to and from Sainsbury’s, but that was just instinct. It was natural. Like how Aziraphale couldn’t go a day without charging the dying phones in the pockets of his shop’s patrons. Really, it was the big-picture stuff he was missing. The abstract goals. The sense of direction. All that paperwork to avoid doing.
Aziraphale had let Crowley know in no uncertain terms that he had to make a change, so a change would have to be made. He was sure he could figure it out. It just might take a little bit of experimentation.
The next morning, Crowley sauntered downstairs from the flat into the bookshop proper, looking rather pleased with himself. He was carrying… a messenger bag? Aziraphale was unused to seeing the demon encumbered by such accessories. His blazer had been replaced by a black denim jacket lined with red satin, and his shades were looking squarer than usual.
“I’m going freelance,” Crowley announced proudly.
Aziraphale tipped his head to the side, trying to parse this proclamation. “Freelance? Like freelance chickens? You’re going to run about in a field?”
“That’s free- range chickens, Aziraphale, free-range,” Crowley managed to choke out with a straight face. “Freelance is, er, self-employment. Being your own boss. Setting your own pace.”
Aziraphale motioned to Crowley’s bag. “What’ve you got in there?”
“Laptop,” explained Crowley, “and a tablet, and a notepad, bunch of pens. Chargers—”
“You don’t need chargers,” Aziraphale pointed out. “Just like you don’t need petrol.”
“I know, angel, but it’s about appearances. This is what a freelancer carries. This is what a freelancer wears.”
Aziraphale nodded, ostensibly in approval, and Crowley turned to leave, but then the angel couldn’t help but call after him:
“But what exactly are you going to do?”
“Ah— you know.” Crowley waved a hand. “Um. Spreadsheets, I think.”
For a few days, it all seemed to be going alright. Crowley would kiss Aziraphale good morning and then leave, messenger bag in tow, off to wherever it was freelancers hung out and did their thing. (Aziraphale, for his part, couldn’t quite shake the image of a bunch of denim-jacketed humans running about in a field.)
It was nice to think of Crowley having something to do. And it must be said, Aziraphale had missed missing Crowley. With the demon constantly around, his long-strengthened internal pining apparatus had atrophied, but here at last was a chance to give it some exercise. He’d missed that little flutter that came with seeing Crowley for the first time in a while, even if one day’s eight-hour “a while” was a far cry from the 500-to-800-year “a while” of their first few millennia on Earth.
But then, about a week into Crowley’s new life as a freelance demon, Aziraphale was on his way back from the tailor when he passed a cafe, and glimpsed a familiar form slouched in a corner booth.
Lingering unobtrusively at the window, he peered in and saw that Crowley had his laptop open in front of him, but his feet were up on a chair and he was leaning back, playing on his phone. He looked like he was doing whatever the opposite of work was. This hypothesis was confirmed when Aziraphale entered the cafe and Crowley glanced up, saw him, hastily put down the phone and pretended to be typing something.
“I don’t think this is working out, dear,” said Aziraphale practically, seating himself at Crowley’s table. “Have you actually done anything here that’s at all different from what you were doing back home?”
Crowley pressed a hand up against his face, and gestured uselessly with the other one at the computer screen.
“I don’t know!” he groaned. “I’ve been coming here every day, I’ve said, Crowley, you can do it , just do it, make a temptations checklist, make a cursing spreadsheet, do some research on the people who really deserve to wake up with a burst blood vessel in their eye, that sort of thing, but I just end up back on Candy Crush—”
He trailed off in a stifled cry of frustration. Aziraphale’s hand was automatically at his back, rubbing it in loving circles.
“I was a good demon, right? I mean— I was good at my job? Wasn’t I?”
This was quite a loaded question, but Aziraphale didn’t see the harm in doing what it took to comfort his distressed life partner, even if it required the kind of tacit approval of Crowley’s occupation that Aziraphale had strenuously avoided giving for so long.
“Yes. You were very good. The best, darling.”
And Crowley smiled at him so impossibly gratefully, and Aziraphale was smiling back, but he was also putting quite a bit of effort into restraining a deep sigh that went a bit like, Back to the drawing board, I suppose.
They tried to work it out that night, over a daring prix-fixe menu at a new place in Shoreditch.
“Why don’t you open up a shop? Next to mine, oh, that’d be wonderful. That terrible vape store has been there for far too long, I’m sure people wouldn’t mind if it suddenly went out of business and was replaced with something better. Something a little more bespoke, don’t you think?”
Crowley hummed a bit, contemplating. “But what would I sell? Gotta sell something, in a shop.” He remembered who he was talking to. “Or at least pretend to.”
“Well, let’s think about it. What do you like? ”
A pained expression floated across Crowley’s face, giving Aziraphale cause to consider that he might not have ever been asked this question before, by anyone else or even by himself. This was the tricky thing about the whole “free will” business only entering the equation six thousand years deep into conscious existence.
“I like… going to dinner with you,” Crowley offered.
“ Other than spending time with me, let’s just take that as given, my dear.” Aziraphale patted Crowley’s hand encouragingly. “Ooh! What about gardening? You could open a plant store, a nursery of some kind—”
Crowley bared his teeth, shaking his head. “Absolutely not,” he said. “You really think I’d be able to bear handing off plants to any old sod who walks in off the street and hands me their money? Even when I can tell they don’t know their sansevieria from their spider plant, and would have either one dead within days? No way, angel.”
“I see,” said Aziraphale. “Perhaps… some kind of art dealership? You do love art.”
“Yes, but can either of us stand the type of people who buy it?”
They lapsed into a comfortable, contemplative silence. Aziraphale had finished the rest of his salmon and was halfway through Crowley’s when he paused, fork in mid-air.
Crowley looked at him expectantly, clearly ready to shoot down whatever he might say next.
But Aziraphale was lit up in the full flush of a genius idea.
“What about driving?”
Let us use our imaginations, for a moment.
Let us imagine you are an American university student on exchange in London. You are meant to be meeting your rich British cousin across town for a concert that starts at 9pm, but your idiotic roommate has sexiled you from your shared room so she can fuck (or “shag,” as she’d say) the brainlessly beautiful rugby player from down the hall you’ve had your eye on all semester. It’s especially terrible because you know very well she’s got a boyfriend back in Manchester who’s texting her constantly.
Anyways, you’ve left your wallet in the room, and you can’t leave without it because it’s got your ID, and the door is locked and you can hear them jackhammering away in there like rabbits and you want to throw up, you really do.
It’s a quarter to 9 by the time she unlocks the door with a guileless post-coital smirk and lets you in. You grab your wallet with as much malice as possible, carefully avoiding the eyes of Joey Davies, whose abs are unfortunately glistening in the sickly fluorescent light from overhead as he pulls his shirt back on.
You’re definitely going to be late. You’re going to be late and your rich British cousin who you desperately want to impress is going to be snobby about it, and probably tell her father, who will tell your mother, who will forget about the time difference and call you at two in the morning to reprimand you about something which is really about her problem with her family and how they look down on her for moving to rude America and having rude American kids. Et cetera, et cetera.
The Uber app is telling you it’ll take 29 minutes to get to Camden. It looks like there’s some kind of promotion being applied to your account, though, because it’s offering an UberBlack for only £6.66. If you’re going to be late, you think, you might as well be late in style, so you select the disturbingly cheap Black option.
A few seconds later and you get the little Driver on the way alert. Squinting down at the screen, you pull up the profile. Driver name of AJ, driving a Bentley, license plate NIAT RUC. Rating: five stars.
The car pulls up, and wow. It’s old. And really expensive-looking— you’ve had a few Uber rides in a Tesla before, and you thought that was peak, but this is something else. The window rolls down, and you hear a male voice from inside: “Ride for Talya?”
“That’s me,” you say, grateful as always when a driver confirms the ride without you having to do that awkward duck-around to check the front plate. You clamber into the passenger seat and reach to pull the door closed, but it swings shut by itself. Weird. Old car, but maybe refurbished with modern automation systems?
The inside of the car is cool and dim, and it smells just a little bit like fire — one of those new avant-garde scents from Le Labo, probably. You look over at the driver. He’s wearing sunglasses. This concerns you slightly, being that it’s nighttime, and he’s driving, but you remember the five-star rating and relax just a bit. Besides, there’s something about such a well-tended coif on a man of his age that inspires a certain amount of trust.
You check your phone as he pulls away from the curb, noting the time and involuntarily letting loose a groan.
“You alright?” AJ asks.
And you’re not normally on board with the whole “small talk with the Uber driver” thing, but something about AJ’s tone of voice unfurls the spite deep within your chest, and you can’t stop your annoyance from gushing out in a torrent.
“I’m gonna be late,” you say, “and that is the last thing I need right now. It’s my roommate’s fault, I mean, how inconsiderate can you get, she knew that I had plans—”
You realize, now, that this car is suddenly going fast. Very, very very fast. It must be pushing seventy miles per hour— no, eighty — no, ninety— in central London, which should be impossible, is impossible, except you can see the speedometer from your seat, the luxuriant leather of which you are now holding onto for dear life.
“You’ll be on time,” says your driver, as you stutter into silence, your breath driven out of you momentarily by the acceleration. You would have doubted him a moment ago, but now, you’re not so sure. “So your roommate— what’d she do?”
And so, raising your voice over the muted whoosh of the city passing by outside, and the classic rock blaring from the stereo, you begin to recount the misdeeds of one Harriet Harle, beginning with tonight’s inconvenient lockout and proceeding from there in a reverse chronology of flatshare torment.
AJ is a fantastic listener, wincing and booing at all the right moments. You’ve just reached that time a week ago when Harriet used up the last of your expensive curly-hair shampoo, and she doesn’t even have curly hair, when you’re interrupted by a jangly ringtone. You see the screen of AJ’s phone light up, displaying a photo of a smiling man with blonde hair. The contact name is Aziraphale, which has got to be some sort of strange in-joke or nickname.
“Sorry, it’s just my husband—”
“Oh, go ahead,” you say immediately, a warm, bubbly feeling rising in your chest, one that neatly cancels out the adrenaline rush still coming courtesy of AJ’s very loose understanding of “ten and two.”
AJ answers the call. “Angel,” he says, “got a passenger. What’s up?”
“Oh, how lovely! Have you got me on speaker? Hello, Talya! Anyway, I was just wondering, I know we own a melon baller, but I’ve gone through every kitchen drawer and it’s a total no-show—”
“On your desk, under last Sunday’s Times but on top of the letter from Adam, you started using it as a paperweight ages because you thought its form had aesthetic balance.”
“Yes, of course, that’s right! Thank you, darling, I don’t know how I could’ve forgotten. These truffles are going to be marvelous, they’ll be ready when you get back. Happy driving!”
Wow. Love is real.
And right then, as AJ’s husband hangs up, you’re pulling up to your destination. AJ has gotten you there, improbably, in eleven minutes. Not only are you on time, but your rich British cousin’s jaw drops with envy when she sees you step out of the shining Bentley in front of the venue. That’s fucking right, Charlotte. Go and tell Uncle Robert all about it, why don’t you.
You turn around to wave goodbye to your driver, but he’s already zooming away at ludicrous speed.
You give him five stars.
You enjoy the concert, trying not to spend too long wondering how his husband knew your name.
And the next morning, when your wretched roommate comes sobbing into the kitchen, clutching a letter from the dean that says she’s been expelled for plagiarizing her term paper, and somehow Billy in Manchester found out about Rugby Joey and broke up with her over text, you just sip your coffee, nodding in the most convincing facsimile of sympathy you can muster.
You get the strangest urge, then, to close your eyes, picture the shadowed face of your driver from last night, and whisper a soft thank you.
You don’t, though. Because that would be bizarre.
And when you do give in to the temptation to open up your app and look for the record of the ride, it’s gone. No Bentley. No AJ.
But that £6.66 most definitely did leave your bank account. And Harriet, within a week, is definitely gone, back to Manchester. Her parents paid off the rest of her lease; you have the flat to yourself.
And it’s glorious.
As far as human companies go, Uber is reprehensible enough in the scheme of things for Crowley to feel comfortable engaging in an ongoing professional association. The whole gig economy deal is one of those things he wishes he’d come up with, anyway.
And it’s wonderful, it really is, to see the look on the faces of each human passenger as he floors the gas and sends the Bentley careening down a side-street that shouldn’t, by any means, be able to accommodate it. It’s always the same look, the same gasp of disbelief and fear that activates the deep pleasure centers of his demonic hindbrain. It was their own choice to get into the car, after all, tempted by a cheap fare.
Crowley always has a story to tell Aziraphale when he gets home, a new tale of woe straight from a passenger. Then, he can get down to the real work, and spend a nice long while orchestrating the perfect smorgasbord of maledictions to place upon those who have wronged said passenger.
He doesn’t know how long he’ll last with it, but for now, it keeps him busy. Which keeps him content. Which keeps Aziraphale very, very happy indeed.
So if you ever find yourself in London, running late or steaming mad or dealing with something completely idiotic, and you see that strange £6.66 discount fare pop up, give it a tap, and wait for an enormous black Bentley to pull up to you on the corner.
You’ll meet your driver, and he’ll go very, very fast. It’ll be as if the acceleration unlocks something inside of you, because soon you’ll be letting loose all of your built-up fermented irritation, in a steady stream of a rant. And your driver will just listen, and nod, and wince in sympathy, and you’ll start to feel just a little bit better.
If you’re very lucky he’ll get a call from his husband in the middle of the ride, and you’ll hear them chat about the bookshop he runs (aww) and the groceries he’s off to pick up (so cute) and the details of their upcoming trip to the South Downs (ugh, jealous).
He’ll drop you off on time no matter what, and you’ll feel compelled to give him a perfect rating despite his objectively insane driving.
And you’ll tell your friends, and they won’t believe you.
But you’ll know, and you’ll never forget, that somewhere out in London there exists the best Uber driver you’ve ever had, and he lives above a bookshop with his husband, who loves him, and who must have, by now, gotten quite used to how fast he likes to go.