There’s a demon in his bookshop.
Aziraphale should do something about this. He should—he should smite him. It would be the Right Thing to do. The Holy Thing. But a large, red, bold and italicized NO stamps itself across his chest at the mere thought of lifting a hand against the creature, and so instead they’ve been standing on either side of the counter, warily considering each other over The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The demon seems to be in the same predicament as Aziraphale. It’s impossible to read his expression; he’s so still, like he’s been carved from granite. Sunlight filters weakly through Aziraphale’s dusty windows, highlighting the sharp line of his cheek, down to his thin frown. His unblinking yellow eyes are fixed on Aziraphale’s face, more curious than—well, than murderous.
Over the centuries, Aziraphale has come across his share of demons. None of them have been like this. The few demons who had dared to cross him had been more animal than man, and had either immediately tried to burn him with hellfire, or had tripped over themselves to run away.
“Angel,” this demon accuses, somehow managing to hiss the word despite the lack of sibilant letters.
Aziraphale tips his chin up, wondering why his heart had stumbled strangely at the title. It’s what he is, and has been so for millennia. Coming from this demon, though, it has the feeling of—of an endearment, somehow, which is just foolish beyond all words. “Serpent,” is what his mouth says, but then his teeth click shut around the word.
The demon’s eyes widen. “You know me then?”
Aziraphale shakes his head.
The demon deflates. It’s the only way to describe it—his entire body sags, like all his strings have been cut. He catches himself against the counter, then slides down it to lean insouciantly against the surface. It’s more awkward than casual, with his long legs sprawled out like that. The demon no longer looks at Aziraphale. His odd yellow eyes have cut down to the floor, the skin around them pinched with irritation. Or—disappointment. “Well, fuck.”
The thing is, Aziraphale still has his memories. He remembers standing at the Eastern Gate, watching Adam fight off a newly aggressive lion with his flaming sword. He remembers Noah and his Ark, and Cain and Abel, and the Son of God, &c., &c.
He has six thousand years of memories, but certain ones are—off. His memory is eidetic, and although he’s gone through and culled the boring ones, there are some he’s kept that have missing pieces. Little blips. Standing by himself in the garden, a wing extended, sheltering—his memory ends abruptly. Or that time in Rome, with the oysters and—again, there’s a hiccup. And that other time, that oddly treasured memory of when the church he was in during the War had a bomb dropped on it—the ending is just gone. Heavens, the entire failed Armageddon is nothing but a fuzzy blur, skipping around disjointedly. He remembers taking Adam’s hand, then looking over his head at—at—
“So, to be clear, you have no idea who I am,” the demon says.
“And I have no idea who you are.”
“You don’t?” Aziraphale is mildly surprised when his heart plummets. How very odd.
“Not a clue,” says the demon, pushing himself to his feet again. He’s all barely contained energy, large fluctuations of his entire body to illustrate his thoughts. He’s—
—busy, and so very—big. It’s a strange thing, because Aziraphale’s never been one to associate with such flashy characters, and yet—and yet—
“I don’t know why, but I feel like I know you,” the demon says.
Aziraphale blinks, then tears his eyes away from the demon to frown down at the counter. “I know what you mean.”
“No, it’s more than that.”
Aziraphale tilts a glance back up. The demon’s face has slipped from its granite, fixed look, into internal concentration, his eyes slightly unfocused and eyebrows scrunched.
“Oh,” says Aziraphale, faintly. That, too, sounds right. Whoever this demon is, he’s important to Aziraphale. “But I don’t know you.”
Somehow, the words feel like the biggest lie he’s ever told (not that he’s told many, since he’s an angel, and angels are Good).
“Don’t you?” the demon asks.
Aziraphale doesn’t know what to say to that. He sucks in a deep breath and exhales through his teeth. “I think you should leave.”
The demon blinks. It’s the first time he’s blinked during their entire interaction. “Excuse me?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” says Aziraphale, primly. “You’re a demon.”
“Well!” The demon smacks his hands against the counter and pushes away, all in one fluid movement. “You tell an angel he’s important and he tells you to sod off. Just bloody typical.”
“We can’t be important to each other,” says Aziraphale. He can feel the Old Testament Righteousness bubbling up in his chest. “You’re a demon. I’m an angel.”
The demon cocks his head to the side. A small, entirely wicked smile sketches the corners of his mouth. It’s quite unnerving—he looks like he’d like to take a chunk out of Aziraphale’s throat. Aziraphale folds his arms over his chest. “You should leave before I change my mind and really do smite you.”
“You said,” the demon says, grin widening.
“I said what.”
“You said we can’t be important to each other.” He leans over the counter, yellow eyes glinting so that they’re nearly golden. “You think I’m important, too.”
“Fuck,” says Aziraphale.
The demon flings a hand out at Aziraphale, pointing triumphantly and nearly stabbing him in the chest with his finger, what with how close they’re standing. The counter isn’t enough of a shield to protect Aziraphale from the demon’s wild movements. “Aha! You cursed! I knew I wasn’t wrong about you!”
Heat spreads up Aziraphale’s neck, to his cheeks. “Out!”
The demon sweeps a gracious bow at him, though it’s completely ruined by his cheeky wink. “Sure thing, angel,” he says, and saunters out.
If Aziraphale thought that banishing the demon from his bookshop meant that it would be the last they’d see of each other, he was sorely mistaken. Not two days later, he’s sitting at his favorite bench in St. James’ Park, throwing frozen corn at the ducks. They largely ignore him, preferring the less eco-conscious attaché who’s chucking pieces of bread at their heads.
The bench creaks as another body settles onto it. Aziraphale tenses. Somehow, without looking, he knows exactly who’s sitting beside him.
“Give me that,” says the demon, taking the bag of corn from him.
Aziraphale’s hands hang in the air for a moment. He lowers them to his lap, balling his hands into fists on his thighs. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. This is my bench.”
Aziraphale bristles. He squares his shoulders, ready for a fight. “Your bench? I’ll have you know, I’ve been sitting on this bench for decades now. If it’s anyone’s bench, it’s mine.”
“I’ve been sitting on this bench since it was first installed in St. James’.”
“Well, you can’t sit here now,” says Aziraphale, moodily. He tries to grab the corn back from the demon, but since he’s a demon, he snatches it away.
“Oh come on, angel. It’s too beautiful a day for all this righteousness, don’t you think?” He takes a handful of corn and scatters it to the ducks. They obligingly swim over, the traitors.
“I am not righteous,” says Aziraphale, righteously. Then he deflates a little. “Besides, you started it.”
The demon’s wearing sunglasses today, but somehow Aziraphale knows that he’s watching him out of the side of his eye, one sharp corner of his mouth twitching into a smirk.
“Oh, fine.” Aziraphale slumps against the back of the bench, wringing his hands together on his lap. He can’t help but to glance around, wondering who could be watching them right now, but also wondering why it mattered. He’d made it perfectly clear whose side he was on during the Armageddon—and it hadn’t been Heaven’s. He was sure Heaven hadn’t forgiven him yet, especially not after he and—not after—
“What is it?” the demon asks, nudging him lightly with his elbow.
Aziraphale shakes his head, more to clear up the weird static that’s fuzzed his memory. “It’s nothing.”
Anyway, he’s already declared that he’s no part of Heaven, and yet he hasn’t fallen. So, then. So what if he consorts with a demon? All things considered, it really does seem like the least of his transgressions.
“Why are you in London, anyway?” asks Aziraphale. If anything, maybe he can use this opportunity to gather more information about the demon. Always good to have ammo, just in case.
The demon seems happy enough to oblige. “I live here, of course.”
“You live here,” repeats Aziraphale, slowly. “And you’ve been sitting on this bench since they’ve installed it. You don’t know me, but I’m—important to you.”
“Woah woah,” says the demon, waving his hands. “I said that you’re important, not that you’re important to me. There’s a pretty large distinction, angel.” That slow grin of his stretches across his face again, the one that makes Aziraphale’s heart thump against his ribs. “If I recall correctly, you’re the one who said that I’m important. To you.”
Aziraphale can feel his cheeks blaze red. He snaps his eyes away from the demon and back to the ducks, glaring at them so hard that they waddle furiously away, muttering to themselves about how he was the one throwing corn to them.
“You can have the stupid bench,” Aziraphale snaps, flustered, and gets to his feet.
A long arm snakes out and the demon’s hand wraps around his wrist, stopping him. He’s looking at him over the tops of his sunglasses (dangerous, there are pedestrians around, what is he thinking), yellow eyes oddly serious. “Haven’t you wondered at all? Why we don’t remember each other?”
How can I remember you if I don’t know you? Aziraphale wants to say, but can’t make himself. It’s not right. “No,” he says, which is still a lie, but at least not as big of one.
Unfortunately, know him or not, the demon sees right through him. He lets go of Aziraphale’s wrist and tips his sunglasses back up with one finger. “Liar,” he says, dropping his arm across the back of the bench. His smirk is back, but it’s strained and a little twitchy. “So, which side do you think did this to us? Yours or mine? Because mine is definitely pissed off enough to pull something this awful.”
Aziraphale sinks back down onto the bench, folding his hands between his knees. This time, the demon’s the one who can’t seem to look at Aziraphale.
One of the demon’s eyebrows makes appearance over the top of his sunglasses. He tilts his chin towards Aziraphale.
“I—may have angered Heaven enough for them to do—whatever it is they did,” Aziraphale admits.
“Oh good,” the demon says, with a huge sigh. He irritably chucks a kernel of corn at a nearby duck. “So it could be either of them.”
“What did you do to make them angry?”
“Oh, you know.” The demon waves a hand. “Disobeyed direct orders, stopped the End of Days. Just a normal Saturday.”
“Funny, that,” says Aziraphale, faintly. “Me too.”
The silence between them grows tense. A sudden, spooky feeling makes the hair on the back of Aziraphale’s neck stand on end. He darts a glance at the sky, then to his feet. “Do you think—they’ll try something else?” he whispers.
The demon’s still slouched against the bench, perfectly at ease, except for the fingers of his left hand which drum a nervous tempo against his thigh. “Hmm,” is all he says. Then he turns to face Aziraphale, grinning with a sudden wild energy. Aziraphale leans back. “Tell you what. I’ll share joint custody of the bench with you.”
“What?” Aziraphale blinks. “But what about—”
The demon waves a hand. He’s probably meant for it to look careless, except he nearly smacks Aziraphale in the face in his enthusiasm. “Never mind them. Even if they do try to do something—what of it?”
“What of it?” Aziraphale repeats, voice going an octave higher. “What do you mean, what of it. Aren’t you at all concerned?”
“Of course I am,” the demon snaps. “But what are we supposed to do about it? Fuck off to Alpha Centauri?”
Aziraphale’s teeth click shut.
“So.” The demon smacks both his thighs with his hands, then leans into Aziraphale’s space, all grins again. “I’ll take Monday through Wednesday. You can have Thursday through Saturday. We can alternate Sundays. Sound good?”
“Fantastic,” says Aziraphale, then drops his head into his hands with a groan.
It’s strange. When neither Heaven nor Hell make a move, Crowley finds himself returning to the bookshop again and again, like he’s being drawn in by the angel’s gravity. His flat still feels right, with its sharp, stone lines and terrified plants, but there’s just something about the bookshop. Or rather, about the angel.
Even stranger, the angel continues to let him. No, he doesn’t just let him, he initiates. On one occasion, Crowley’s puttering around the bookshop, idly poking at books and wondering why the angel’s carrying such titles as Blood Dogs of the Skull Sea and Biggles Goes to Mars, when the angel sighs and snaps the book he’s been thumbing through shut. When Crowley doesn’t immediately acknowledge him, he sighs again, this time with emphasis.
“Did you need something?” asks Crowley, politely.
“If you insist on loitering in my shop after hours—”
“The shop’s been closed since ten ack emma, angel.”
“—then the least you could do is go to lunch with me.”
Crowley slowly pushes Blood Dogs of the Skull Sea back onto the shelf, then lowers his hand. The angel’s not quite looking straight at him; rather, he’s wringing his hands together and darting short glances in his general direction. Which makes Crowley wonder if he actually had heard him right. “Lunch?” he repeats, just in case.
“I was thinking The Ritz,” says the angel. “It’s my favorite.”
“Interesting,” murmurs Crowley. “It’s my favorite, too.”
The angel sighs a little, then smiles. “Oh, wonderful. Shall we then?”
It’s not just The Ritz. There’s also the angel’s best wine, drunk late into the night. And then there’s St. James’ Park, sitting on their jointly owned bench and throwing frozen corn at the ducks, since the angel refuses to feed them bread because it’s bad for their health or some such nonsense.
Crowley is a demon. He’s a demon who is very good at his job, for all that he’s also rather rubbish at it. He’s innovative, and smart, and thinks Big Picture. It’s earned him several commendations from Downstairs. Being a demon, of course, means that the angel is his Enemy. He should be plotting ways to destroy him with hellfire, or at least fudge his accounts. But every bit of his considerable essence rebels at the very thought of hurting this angel, even if it’s just adding an errant zero on his tax return.
Maybe that’s why he hasn’t really tried to find out who the angel is or what exactly he means to him. If he knows, then that means he’ll have to give up this tentative new friendship and be his Enemy again. He thinks maybe that’s why the angel doesn’t push so hard, too. They don’t even know each other’s names. The angel doesn’t ask, and neither does Crowley.
It’s—more, too. Crowley doesn’t understand it, but often he’ll find the angel watching him, a curious glint in his blue eyes. He never fails to quickly look away when he realises that he’s been caught, usually to do something completely obvious, such as stare blankly to the left of the window or, on one memorable occasion, to read a book upside down.
Maybe, he thinks. Maybe all it’d take is a little push.
And so temptation it is. Crowley is, after all, a demon who’s good at his job.
“What’s this, then?” the angel asks, cocking his head to the side. The bookshop’s closed, as usual, and so Crowley’s taken some liberties with the angel’s desk. It’s now a table fit for The Ritz, complete with a pristine white table cloth, candles, a bottle of Romanée-Conti, and one serving of tiramisu with two forks.
“Dessert,” says Crowley, holding out a chair for the angel.
The angel considers him out of the corner of his eye, then appears to come to a decision. Crowley isn’t sure if it’s a Decision with a capital D, but he figures he’ll know by the end of the night. “How can I resist such a—” He stumbles, but Crowley can hear the unspoken word. Temptation. The angel glances at him suspiciously, but Crowley keeps his expression as innocent as a lamb. Or a lamb in wolf’s clothing, whatever.
Circling around the table, Crowley takes the chair across from him and picks up the wine. He warms his fingers with a small amount of fire, then slides them suggestively up the neck of the bottle. The cork dutifully pops out. When he looks back at the angel, he’s watching him intently, pupils blown wide.
“Wine?” Crowley asks, brightly.
The angel clears his throat, then pinches the stem between his fingers and lifts it to Crowley. Crowley pours him a liberal amount, then fills his own glass.
“I’ve been thinking,” says Crowley, relaxing back in his chair, wine glass cradled in one hand. “Have you heard anything from—” He points a finger at the ceiling.
The angel finishes his sip of wine, then dabs at his mouth with his napkin and shakes his head. “Not a peep. And you?”
“Nothing at all,” says Crowley, smiling at him. He tamps down the grin that’s trying to break through. No need to scare him off with one of his wilder grins. Someone like the angel requires a delicate touch. “It seems like we’re completely off their radar.”
The angel sighs a little, smiling back. “It’s probably wrong of me to say, but I’m actually—relieved. Gabriel’s a bit of a, a—”
“Well, I was going to say a tosser, but that works too.”
Some of Crowley’s grin spills through. He sets his wineglass back on the table. “You know, since both Heaven and Hell have gone silent, I have to say, angel, that I’m glad we’ve found each other,” Crowley says, earnestly, and reaches across the table and touches the angel’s hand.
“Begone, vile tempter!” shouts the angel, and then smites him.
All things considered, it’s a rather gentle smiting. Crowley isn’t even discorporated, just tossed out of the bookshop in a whirlwind of righteous, angelic fury. Picking himself up from the sidewalk, he dusts off the front of his suit and tries to stride back into the shop.
“Oh, that’s just—you warded me out?” shouts Crowley.
The angel’s response is to be pointedly silent.
“Oh alright, I’m sorry, is that what you want to hear, angel? I—I misread the room. I thought—well, it doesn’t matter what I think, does it?”
“Must be a lover’s spat,” a woman whispers to her friend as they walk behind Crowley. He snaps his head towards them and hisses. They scurry away with muttered exclamations about kids these days.
“Go away, demon!” the angel shouts back from the entrance of his store.
Crowley flings out both his arms. “Where am I supposed to go? Anytime I go anywhere, I always end up back here.”
He lowers his hands again, feeling a little lost. It’s true, isn’t it? He’s been chugging along in his life, happy and carefree after the Armageddon, but for some reason he can’t seem to stop pestering this incredibly uncool angel.
They stare at each other over the threshold of the bookshop’s entrance. The angel has one hand on the doorknob, the other resting on his hip, like a scolding school teacher. Crowley slides his hands into his pockets and resists the temptation to scuff his foot.
“I’ll—go,” says Crowley, uncertainly.
The angel pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. “No, it’s alright.” He waves a hand, both as a beckoning gesture and to dismiss the ward. “You can come back in, but there must be boundaries, my dear.”
The endearment just slips out of the angel’s mouth. He looks as startled as Crowley feels, big blue eyes going wide.
I knew it. I knew I didn’t misread things, Crowley thinks. “I won’t tempt you again,” he promises.
“Good. That’s—good,” says the angel, hesitantly, like he has no idea what he wants.
They don’t even make it through dessert.
“This is wrong,” the angel says, but he has Crowley pressed up against the wall and one hand rucking up his shirt. “You said—you promised—”
“I never tempted you,” Crowley breathes into his ear, scrambling at his ridiculous bow tie. “This is all you, angel. This is us.”
“Oh,” the angel exhales against Crowley’s cheek, hot and damp. His breathing is ragged, quick little pants of air, like a scared rabbit. Crowley should slow it down. He’s going too fast for the angel, he can tell. But then the angel kisses the corner of his mouth sweetly, so fucking sweet that Crowley surges against him, kissing back too hard and too hungry. The angel makes a soft sound into Crowley’s mouth, and Crowley aches, tears springing into his eyes for some damned reason.
“I have you,” the angel says, and it almost sounds like I love you, but that’s crazy, they don’t even know each other—
“Angel,” Crowley begs, and the angel covers his mouth with a deep kiss.
The angel’s hand is in his hair, pinching the end of one tuft, like he’s curious about the texture. Crowley pushes back into his hand while simultaneously cuddling closer, wrapping every one of his long limbs around the angel. He can’t get enough of him. He wants to crawl right into the angel’s soul and make a home there.
“Were we like this before, do you think?” the angel asks, a little nervously, but still sliding his fingers through Crowley’s hair, like he’s taking comfort in comforting him.
Crowley lifts his head, resting his chin on the angel’s chest. “Must have been. Didn’t need to make all that much effort, did we?” He smirks, self-deprecating. “You must have been desperate to hop into bed with a demon.”
The angel snorts messily at him, which is somehow the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard. “I was about to say the same to you. Can’t imagine why someone like you would want a dowd like me.” Then his smile fades and his lips press into a small frown. “Unless, of course, your endgame was always to tempt an angel—”
Crowley plants his hands on the bed and shoves himself up, arms bracketing either side of the angel’s head. “No,” he says.
The angel studies his face for a long moment, then smiles at what his finds there. He nods. “Quite right, my dear.”
A little shiver goes up Crowley’s spine, and the angel’s smile goes devious. “Oh, ready for another round, I see.”
I love him, Crowley thinks, and he knows it like it’s a simple fact. He has to wonder what in the hell—what in heaven’s—what in the somewhere he’s done that’s made him go and fall in love with an angel.
The next morning, Crowley carefully crawls out of the bed. The angel immediately curls up into the cool spot he’s left behind, one hand by his mouth, fingers slightly curled. He’s snoring quietly, little huffs of air. Crowley reaches down, smoothing an errant curl from the angel’s forehead. Blue eyes blink open, and the angel automatically smiles up at him, small and sleepy.
“Goodness,” he says, voice gravelly with sleep. “I haven’t slept in decades.” He rubs his eye with the heel of his hand, then yawns into his shoulder. “Are you off, then?”
It takes every ounce of his considerable will not to crawl back into bed with the angel. He’s so soft and vulnerable, and how the hell is Crowley supposed to resist? “I’ll be back tonight,” he murmurs, caressing the side of his cheek. “Just off to visit a friend. Long standing appointment.”
The angel turns his face into his hand, pressing a soft kiss against his palm. “Mmm. Maybe I’ll wait right here for you to come back.”
“Go—Sata—Someone. Don’t say that.”
The angel grins up at him, just a little deviously, and Crowley has to take his hand back and step away, or else he really is going to dive back into bed with the slightly improper angel until the next Armageddon.
“Demon,” the angel says, and Crowley turns back to him. He’s sat up, blankets pooled around his waist. A stream of early morning sunlight catches on the dust motes around his face. Crowley blinks. He never wants to forget this moment. “Did we do the right thing?”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
He makes it to Tadfield in record time, figuring that if he drives as fast as he can to get there, the sooner it will be that he can leave. It should concern him how badly he wants to get back to the angel. Crowley has never been dependent.
And yet—it doesn’t concern him. Not at all. He’s not sure what that says about him.
Tadfield is as perfect as it ever is. It’s an unusually beautiful spring day. The birds are hopping from branch to branch, singing their little hearts out. The flowers are blooming, but there’s no pollen in the air. The bees are buzzing, but none of them sting. Not for the first time, Crowley wonders if it’s Adam who’s changing the climate, or if the climate is changing itself to suit Adam. Really, it could go either way.
Adam’s waiting for him in Lower Tadfield, Dog sitting patiently by his feet. He jogs up alongside the Bentley, smile splitting his scrappy young face. Crowley didn’t know Adam before Armageddon, but somehow he seems much more centered. Happy. Relaxed, even. At home in a body that was never really meant to hold a soul as large as his.
“Hi, Mr. Crowley,” says Adam, standing on his tiptoes to peer into the Bentley’s back window. “Didya bring me anything?”
“It’s not your birthday, brat,” says Crowley, putting the car into park. He opens the door and bounds out, slamming it shut behind him.
“Huh,” says Adam, sidling up to the driver window. “You’re by yourself?”
“I don’t see you with your cronies,” sniffs Crowley.
Adam waves a lazy hand. “The Them have schoolwork. I finished up early.”
Crowley tips a look at him over his sunglasses. “Did you cheat?”
“But seriously, why are you by yourself?” Adam asks, stumbling a little to keep up with Crowley’s long strides, Dog bouncing around his heels. Crowley keeps a good distance between himself and the hellhound. Sure, it looks like your average terrier mutt, but Crowley won’t be fooled, not he. He’s seen what a hellhound could do to a demon.
Crowley shoots a sideways frown at Adam. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I just thought the two of you would come together,” says Adam, shoving his hands in his pockets and shrugging his shoulders, all in one move only the youth could gracefully pull off. “‘e’s coming down on is own, is he? Didn’t want t’drive in the Bentley? I thought I’d fixed it up good enough.” His lower lip juts out a pout.
“It’s all right and tight,” says Crowley, distractedly. “I just don’t follow. Me and whom? Surely you can’t think I would have driven down with Shadwell, of all people.”
He quirks his lips into a smile to share the joke, but Adam abruptly stops walking, squinting curiously up at him. “What happened to you?”
“Oh, you mean like stopping the End of Days for little to no credit? Not much since then, I’m afraid.”
“No,” says Adam, dismissing the entire Armageddon with the carelessness only a twelve-year-old can manage. “I mean—there’s this whole chunk of you missin’. Like it’s been scribbled out, or somethin’.”
“What do you mean?” asks Crowley, a little nervously.
Adam leans forward, bracing his hands on his knees, and squints at Crowley—into him.
“Sstop that,” hisses Crowley, folding his arms over his chest protectively.
“Oh, I see,” says Adam, leaning back on his heels smugly, like he’s just solved some great mystery all by himself. “Aziraphale is gone.”
The thing about Adam is that he possesses so much more than either angels or demons. It’s what makes him so human. At Crowley’s blank question, his smugness collapses into sympathy. “That’s not right at all,” he says, shaking his head. “You should remember him now.”
And so, Crowley does.
Aziraphale doesn’t stay in bed for the whole day. It’s a little too slothful, even by his standards. Instead, he makes himself a mug of hot cocoa and heads downstairs to do inventory. He’s drawing a mark in his moleskine when there’s the quiet sound of his entrance door shuffling open, and then clicking shut again.
Aziraphale doesn’t look up from his notebook. “I’m very sorry, but we’re closed for inventory.”
Aziraphale whips around, accidentally flinging his moleskine up in the air in surprise. “Oh dear,” he says, all aflutter like he’s some sort of cherub. He bends down and quickly swoops the notebook back up, a pleased blush springing to his cheeks. “Demon! I didn’t expect you back so soon.”
The demon’s wearing his sunglasses, which is a little odd. He doesn’t normally wear his sunglasses indoors, at least, not when it’s just him and Aziraphale. Aziraphale takes a step towards him, then hesitates. The demon’s leaning casually against the doorframe, hands in his back pockets, but there’s something forbidden about his posture. He’s too still. His normally animated face is carved from stone, like the first time they’d met, just weeks ago.
“Aziraphale,” the demon says.
When Aziraphale had been sucker-punched in the stomach during the failed Armageddon, it had knocked all the wind out of him. He hadn’t been able to breathe again for several seconds. Odd, since angels don’t need to breathe. Odder still that he’s breathless now. The demon is across the room, not touching Aziraphale, but hearing his name from his mouth feels like a sucker-punch.
“O-oh, you know my name,” says Aziraphale.
The demon nods once, a short, jerky movement.
“Demon?” says Aziraphale, uncertainly.
The corners of the demon’s mouth flinch. He opens his mouth, tries to say something, and then closes it again. A muscle in his jaw jumps. Finally, he looks away, his sunglasses pointed to his snakeskin boots.
“I’m sorry,” he says. A chill trickles down Aziraphale’s spine at the wounded note in his voice. “Believe me when I say I’m so fucking sssorry, Aziraphale.”
Aziraphale wonders if this is what it’s like to be cut off from Her grace.
He’s been closed out. All the demon’s devilish grins and wide gestures are long gone, replaced by bright yellow CAUTION tape. He’s erected an impenetrable barrier between them, effectively cutting off the easy connection that had developed over the past couple of weeks.
“Whatever for?” Aziraphale whispers, although he’s not sure he wants to hear the answer.
The demon swallows, throat clicking. He rolls his lips together, and Aziraphale thinks he’s going to explain everything. But then he turns away from Aziraphale, back to the door. “I’ll call you,” he lies.
“Wait—” Aziraphale takes a desperate step towards him, but the demon lifts up one hand and Aziraphale’s feet stick to the ground. He flails gracelessly for a moment, his moleskine sailing out of his hand. A gentle force pushes him back before he can fall on his face. The demon drops his hand, closing it into a fist at his side.
“I don’t understand, ” Aziraphale pleads, certain that if he lets the demon step out of his bookshop, he’ll never see him again. “Why are you doing this? If I’ve done something to offend you, I’m sorry—”
The demon laughs. It’s the worst thing Aziraphale has ever heard. “You have nothing to apologize for.” The demon smiles at him, which isn’t all that much better than the laugh. “Trust me, it’s better this way.”
The force holding him in place doesn’t release him until several minutes after the demon’s slunk out of the shop. Aziraphale rushes to the door, flinging it open, but the street is empty of lanky, yellow-eyed demons. He slumps back into the bookshop, closing the door behind with a shaking hand.
The moleskine is sprawled open in the middle of the floor. Aziraphale crouches down to pick it up. Scrawled at the top of one page in craggy blank ink are the words: ADAM WILL HELP.
Crowley sits in the driver’s seat of his Bentley, gripping the top of the steering wheel with both hands but not driving anywhere. The Bentley’s engine rumbles sympathetically at him, as if to say tough luck, mate, but you did the Right Thing.
The Right Thing.
Crowley thumps his head against his headrest and squeezes his eyes shut.
All the memories Michael had tampered with (because of course it was fucking Michael) play in a projection reel behind his eyelids. Aziraphale, lifting his wing as Crawly sways close for protection, but also for warmth, and something more even then. Aziraphale, beaming at him over oysters in Rome. Aziraphale, eating his first roll of sushi, eyes fluttering shut in startled delight. Aziraphale, dead, and Crowley’s world ending just hours before the Armageddon. Aziraphale, alive again, picking up his flaming sword. Aziraphale, Aziraphale, Aziraphale.
Crowley’s been so careful with their relationship, never stepping over any lines, cultivating and maintaining boundaries between the two of them. He’s never let himself feel anything more than fondness for Aziraphale, too fucking scared that he’d fuck it all up and lose the only being he can call a friend.
Crowley slowly lowers his head until his forehead is pressed against the steering wheel, between his trembling hands.
Who the hell is he kidding. He’s never just been in fondness with the angel. He’s been head over heels, arse over tea kettle, in love with Aziraphale for millennia, and he has absolutely, royally fucked it all up anyway.
Aziraphale paces the floor of his bookshop, clenching and unclenching his hands at his sides. When he gets to his desk, he stops. Looks down. His moleskine is sat open next to a copy of 101 Things A Boy Can Do.
ADAM WILL HELP.
Aziraphale stares down at the notebook for several seconds, then abruptly rips himself away and stomps up the stairs to his flat. A minute later he stomps back down, a box tucked under one arm. He sets the box on his desk, then rolls up a threadbare rug. He foregoes the incense this time and takes the candles from the box, setting them in their proper spots and lighting them with a match that never burns down to his fingers. Stepping back, he presses his hands together and lifts them to his chin.
“Hello there, I’d like to place a call.”
The connection is much quicker this time, a ray of light streaming down from his ceiling and into the circle straight away. Aziraphale links his fingers together, palms sweating in anticipation. This is the first time he’s reached out to Heaven since the Armageddon-that-wasn’t, and there’s a fifty-fifty chance this is will end in tears or discorporation. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and anyway Aziraphale has a Reputation upstairs—although he’s not entirely sure how he earned it.
“Thank you for calling Heaven, this is Ana speaking. To whom may I direct your call?”
That’s new. Instead of an Oz-like head frowning down at him, there’s a curly-haired angel sat at a desk, wearing a headset, looking pleasantly bored out of her skull. Of course Heaven would take one of Hell’s worst creations and run with it. Of course.
“Personal Assistant?” asks Aziraphale.
“Administrative Assistant,” Ana corrects, primly. “There’s room for growth.”
“Jolly good,” says Aziraphale, though he wonders what role she’s hoping for. There isn’t exactly a lot of opportunity for promotion within the ranks of Heaven. “I need to speak with a—with a higher authority. Uriel, preferably.” He pauses. “Not Metatron. Or Gabriel.”
Cheerful muzak floats out of the beam. Aziraphale frowns down at the circle. Did he call the right place? He hadn’t accidentally dialed Hell, had he?
Aziraphale startles slightly. Out of all the angels to answer his call, Archangel Michael is the last he’d have expected.
“Th-thank you for taking my call, sir,” stutters Aziraphale. While he may have given Heaven the two fingers during the Armageddon, millennia of intimidation is hard to get over, and Michael has always been the most terrifying Archangel. Gabriel only wished he were half as scary as her.
“What do you want, Aziraphale.”
“Yes, well.” Aziraphale clears his throat. Squares his shoulders. Smiles feebly, before giving it up. “I need to talk to you about a demon.”
The corner of Michael’s eye just barely twitches, but it’s enough. Aziraphale knows, with bone deep certainty, that somehow, this whole mess is Michael’s fault. Blood rushes up to his face, pounding in his ears.
“What have you done to him?”
Michael presses her lips together, clearly surprised at his sudden vehemence. Honestly, Aziraphale isn’t quite sure where that came from, either. An oh dear, I’m dreadfully sorry works its way up to his teeth, but he swallows it back and instead frowns at Michael in a way that he hopes conveys how deeply disappointed he is with Heaven as a whole.
“Nothing that hasn’t already been undone,” says Michael, boredly, although she’s watching him under her eyelashes. If her wings were out, they’d be ruffled.
“I need to speak with him. It’s dreadfully important.”
Michael rolls her eyes in a very unangelic way. “Heaven is not your personal dating service, Aziraphale. I have no idea where your demon is.”
“But you know who he is,” says Aziraphale.
Michael’s lips thin, but then she shrugs delicately and pulls an envelope from an inside pocket. She tosses it to his feet. The top of the envelope pops open and several photos scatter out. It’s—them. Him and the demon. There are far more pictures than could have possibly been taken in the one week they’d known each other. Aziraphale tears his eyes away from the pictures to frown a silent question at Michael.
“Oh alright,” says Michael, petulantly. “Anthony J. Crowley. Demon. Original tempter. Your—whatever.” She flips a disgusted hand at him. “Heaven and Hell decided that making you forget each other would be a fitting punishment for your crimes during the Armageddon.”
Oh, brilliant. The demon had been wrong. It wasn’t Heaven or Hell. It was both of them. “Nice to see you can work together on something.”
“Quite,” says Michael, dryly, straightening the front of her jacket. “I trust that’s all you need.” She swings around, effectively putting an end to their conversation.
Michael glances over her shoulder at him, then turns fully, her eyes widening.
Aziraphale folds his hands together and cocks his head to the side. “If I were doing something wrong, really wrong, don’t you think I would have fallen already?”
Michael sneers at him, but then her eyes dart over his right shoulder. He stretches his wings. He doesn’t need to check to know that they're still a brilliant, untainted white.
“Toodle-pip,” he says, wiggling his fingers at the archangel as the beam fades away.
“Your call has been disconnected,” says Ana’s disembodied voice. “Have a wonderful day!”
Aziraphale exhales a long breath, then shakes himself off, wings flapping clumsily behind him and knocking into a stack of Susan Glaspell’s works. He catches them with a quick miracle before they can spill to the ground, then clicks his tongue and tucks his wings away.
Michael’s left the pictures scattered by Aziraphale’s feet. He crouches down, shuffling through them curiously, and then picks one up. It’s of him and the demon, sitting on their bench in St. James’ Park, but ages ago: the demon’s hair is to his shoulders, copper red ringlets. Aziraphale smooths his thumb over his face.
Crowley’s lying face first on his couch, contemplating sleeping through the century. Maybe in a hundred years he could look Aziraphale in the face without feeling as if his heart’s being stomped on like a snake in the wrong garden. Again.
Actually, probably best to make it two centuries. To be safe.
His plants are rustling nervously in the other room, probably wondering why he hasn’t yelled at any of them for a couple of days. He’d been tempted to take his anger out on a particularly spotty rubber plant when he got home, but instead he’d said, “What’s the point?” and had faceplanted onto his couch. He hasn’t moved from this exact position in hours.
“Oh, my dear.”
Crowley lifts his face from the cushion to blink at the intruder. Aziraphale is kneeling in beside the couch, the corners of his eyes crinkled with worry.
“You—you shouldn’t be here,” says Crowley, stumbling over his words a little.
Crowley plants his hand on the cushion and pushes himself up to stare at Aziraphale. It still hurts to look at his face, but there’s a faint prickle of hope somewhere behind his third left rib. “You remember?”
Aziraphale shakes his head.
Crowley flops back down to the couch.
“Oh, come now,” says Aziraphale, poking his shoulder.
Crowley rolls onto his back to glare up at the ceiling. He can’t bring himself to look at Aziraphale. All consuming guilt is not an emotion he’s particularly fond of. “How do you know my name, then?”
“I had a conversation with the Archangel Michael.”
That’s—interesting. Actually, that’s bloody mad. Crowley sits up, glaring at Aziraphale. “So—what, you just rang up Archangel Michael, like”—he holds up his hand to his ear, pinky and thumb extended like he’s on the phone—“yes hullo there, it’s the bloody Principality who stopped your Great Plan in its tracks sometime, oh, last year. Remember me? Wonderful! Have time of a quick chat?”
“More or less,” admits Aziraphale.
Crowley hangs up his hand-phone. “Are you mental?”
“I needed to find you, and I wasn’t about to call Down There,” says Aziraphale. “Did you know that Heaven has an Administrative Assistant now?”
“What, really?” says Crowley, then shakes his head. “Hold on.”
“Poor thing believes there’s room for growth,” sighs Aziraphale.
“Aziraphale,” Crowley snaps, before he can further derail the conversation. “What are you doing here?”
“I did try to call, but you never answered.”
“That’s called a hint, angel.”
Aziraphale leans back on his heels, hurt. “Do you like me so little?”
Crowley savagely shoves himself upright, swinging his legs off the couch and nearly kicking Aziraphale in the process. He kind of wishes he had. “I love you,” he snarls. “But when you remember, you’re going to hate me.”
“Good heavens,” Aziraphale says, blandly. “I never realized what a right bastard I am.”
Crowley blinks. “What?”
“I mean, to hate you because you love me is rather awful of me, don’t you think?” he asks, reaching up to cup the back of Crowley’s neck. Crowley’s eyelashes flutter, but then he determinedly refocuses on Aziraphale’s face and scowls. “You think you know yourself, but there you go.”
“You’re only a little bit of a bastard,” Crowley says, because he can’t not protect Aziraphale, even if it’s from himself. Then he shakes his head. “You don’t undersstand,” he hisses. “I tempted you.”
“I beg your pardon. You tried to tempt me, and then I smote you.”
“You wouldn’t have gone to bed with me if I hadn’t tried to tempt you in the first place,” Crowley insists, stubbornly.
“I thought martyrs were ours.”
Crowley hisses at him, stung, and rears back, but Aziraphale catches one hand in both of his before he can escape. He considers shifting into a snake and slithering off, anyway.
“I’m sorry, my dear. That was incredibly unkind of me.”
“Don’t disssmiss this, Aziraphale.”
“I would never.” Aziraphale lifts Crowley’s hand to his face, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “Has it occurred to you that I went to bed with you because I love you back?”
Crowley shakes his head.
Aziraphale sighs. “No, because that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?”
“You don’t love me. You have never loved me, at least not in the way I love you.” Crowley flails his free hand, accidentally smacks Aziraphale’s wrist, and then grabs onto it like a lifeline. “I can’t—I won’t lose you when you regain your memories and realize that your idyllic belief in our whatever is just one big fat lie.”
“You won’t lose me.”
“Then why would I want them back?”
Crowley stares at him, then closes his mouth with a quiet click of teeth.
“If—If restoring my memories means I’ll lose what we have right now, why in Heaven’s name would I want them back?” Aziraphale demands, almost desperately.
Crowley swallows thickly. “Aziraphale—”
“Tell me to leave, my dear, and I’ll go.”
The moment stretches between them for an eternity. Crowley has known Aziraphale for six thousand years, and yet he’s never seen this look on his face, the stubborn tilt to his chin, belied by an underlying hint of resignation, and filled with an emotion Crowley refuses to name.
And Crowley really is weak, because instead of telling Aziraphale to get the hell out and only come back once his memories return, he shakes his head, and damns himself for yet another eternity.
Aziraphale’s face breaks out into a radiant smile, shining down on Crowley through parted storm clouds. Even as he looks away, Crowley still basks in the warmth of it.
He really is the absolute worst.
Crowley barely visits the bookshop anymore. Maybe that’s how it’d been before—maybe, actually, they only saw each other on occasion. Maybe Crowley really did wear his sunglasses all the time, even if it’s on the rare occasion Aziraphale’s managed to tempt him in the bookshop with some wine. When Crowley eventually agrees to meet with him at St. James’ Park—a neutral ground, Aziraphale thinks—he sits as far as he can on the other side of the bench, one leg actually off it, foot braced on the ground to keep him from tumbling to the grass.
But one afternoon, when Aziraphale manages to convince him to try a new seafood restaurant specializing in oysters, Crowley forgets himself. He’s just sucked an oyster from its shell, the corners of his mouth tipping up in pleasure. “Delicious. Like that one time, when we were in—”
Aziraphale hesitates over his oyster. Suddenly, he desperately wants to hear what comes next. “We were in…?”
Crowley looks down at the table, fiddling with the stem of his wineglass. “Rome. 41 A.D.,” he says, voice flat.
Aziraphale lowers his fork and rests his arm on the table. His memory of eating oysters in Rome rearranges itself, filling in the blanks, placing Crowley across from him at the table, like now. Maybe he had longer hair then, like in Michael’s picture, and none of those infernal sunglasses. Aziraphale wonders if that’s how Crowley looked back then, although that wouldn’t really be following the trends of the time. His hair was probably cropped short. “You were with me? At Petronius’?” says Aziraphale, unthinking and eager.
Crowley smacks his wineglass down next to his plate so hard that some of the wine sloshes out of the top. “I can’t do this. I thought I could, but I can’t.”
“No, Aziraphale,” Crowley snaps, then spins around and storms out of the restaurant, leaving Aziraphale with nothing but oysters that now taste like ashes in his mouth.
Aziraphale closes the door behind him with a quiet click, then stands there for a long moment, hand resting on the doorknob, staring blankly into the shop. The evening sun casts long shadows over the floor. Aziraphale has never felt so alone. He drops his hand to his side and shuffles into his shop, to his desk.
ADAM WILL HELP.
Crowley has bolded and underlined his message to Aziraphale. Aziraphale touches the corner of the notebook with the tips of his fingers, then shuts it with a snap.
It pops open again.
“Yes, yes, I get it,” says Aziraphale, moodily. He sinks down into his chair and rubs his temples. He wishes, rather desperately, that he still had The Nife and Accurate Prophefies of Agnes Nutter. He knows, deep down, that he needs to restore his memories, but he just wants to know what would happen if he does.
When he does.
The front door bangs open and Aziraphale’s head jerks up, hope blooming in his chest. Could it be—?
The hope curdles into disappointment, but Aziraphale still manages to dredge up a smile for Adam as he slouches into the shop, hands in his pockets and curls in a disarray. He’s grown since Aziraphale had last seen him, nearly as tall as Aziraphale now, but still awkwardly lanky.
“Oh, hello there, my dear boy. I wasn’t expecting you in London.”
Adam grins at him, boyish and bright. “I know you weren’t. Surprised you, didn’t I?”
Aziraphale climbs to his feet to clap Adam on his shoulder, his own smile broadening into a grin. “You certainly did. Can I get you a cup of cocoa?”
“I’m just stopping by. My dad’s waitin’ outside. I told him I heard you had a copy of Blood Dogs of the Skull Sea.”
“I do, but I can’t possibly part with it,” says Aziraphale, instinctively.
Adam laughs at him.
“Oh, very well, you young scamp,” says Aziraphale, cheeks coloring slightly. He goes to the shelf where he’s been keeping Adam’s additions, then pulls out the copy of Blood Dogs of the Skull Sea. Adam has to tug it out of his hand for him to finally release it.
“What are you really here for, besides to pilfer my books?”
Adam tucks the book under his arm, oblivious to Aziraphale’s slight wince. “I got to thinkin’—if Mr. Crowley lost you, maybe you lost Mr. Crowley, too.” He peers at Aziraphale, squinting a little, and then nods to himself. “Yep. I was right. Of course.”
“Of course,” repeats Aziraphale, faintly.
“Sorry, I woulda come earlier, but I had a test in Maths. An’ Wensleydale says I shouldn’t help, but I just kept thinkin’ that it’s not right, is it, if you’re missing Mr. Cr—”
“Adam,” Aziraphale interrupts, before Adam can do something particularly dreadful, like give him back his memories. “If it’s all the same to you, I would prefer you not restore my memories.”
Adam looks dumbfounded. “Why not?”
Aziraphale drops his eyes to the counter, fussing with a biro until it’s lined up with the edge of the table. “I’m not sure I like the Aziraphale-with-memories very much. He doesn’t seem very—good.”
“You’re an angel,” says Adam, with heavy emphasis, as if Aziraphale needs to be reminded. “You havta be good. It’s your job.”
“Sometimes, you can be good on a whole, but you may not have always been good to a single person.”
“Hmm,” says Adam. Aziraphale looks back up at him, leaning his elbows on the counter. “Right, sure. I guess everyone makes mistakes, even angels. But I always thought you were s’pposed to fix the mistakes an’—an’ do better, when you mess up. Learn from them. Your mistakes, I mean. Not, um, start over.” He pauses thoughtfully. “Unless you really messed up and accidentally started the Armageddon. You didn’t start another Armageddon, did you?”
Aziraphale stares at him for so long that Adam shuffles from foot to foot, expression growing concerned. “You didn’t, did you?”
“Oh—oh damn,” Aziraphale curses. “No, I didn’t start another Armageddon, but I’m afraid I did mess up dreadfully.” He takes off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. Angels aren’t prone to headaches, so maybe it’s shame that’s thumping painfully behind his eyes. “If it’s not too much to ask, can you—can you restore my memories?”
“Sure thing,” says Adam.
Aziraphale sits at his desk for a long time after Adam trotted out of his shop; he’d shouted something over his shoulder about how his dad was waiting ‘else he’d stay longer, but not to worry cos the same thing happened to Mr. Crowley when Adam restored his memories an’ he was fine after an hour or so.
The evening sun struggling through the dusty window is swallowed by the night. Streetlight flickers on, smudgy, casting long shadows over the bookshop’s floor. Eventually, even the normal bustle from pedestrians and traffic trickles down to the occasional car motoring by.
Aziraphale gets to his feet and leaves the shop.
Crowley sits on his throne, elbows on his desk and head in his hands. He wants, desperately, to rush to Aziraphale’s bookshop to beg forgiveness, but he won’t. He won’t. He’s not wrong about this. If Aziraphale actually knew who he was, there’s not a chance in Heaven or Hell that he’d want this—this relationship with Crowley. He’d made that abundantly clear over the centuries.
From the other room, his plants rustle sadly.
“Oh, don’t act like I haven’t watered you in weeks. It’s only been a couple of days.”
The rustling becomes more adamant.
“Alright, alright. Don’t get used to the attention,” mutters Crowley, getting to his feet. He can feel sorry for himself and yell at his plants at the same time.
He’s just picked up his plastic plant mister when his door slams open so hard that it actually rips off the hinges. Crowley stares, dumbfounded, plastic mister pointed at the door as an avenging Principality storms into his flat, blue eyes flashing furiously.
Oh, Crowley thinks, distantly. He remembers.
He staggers back a step, but Aziraphale is on him, hands fisted in the front of his shirt and knocking him into the wall. Gently, because even when he’s in a rage, Aziraphale is always gentle with Crowley.
“I stopped!” Crowley yelps, voice going high with panic. “As soon as I remembered, I stopped! I would never—mmph!”
Aziraphale puts a stop to his babbling by yanking him away from the wall and kissing him soundly on the mouth, harsh and clumsy, his teeth digging painfully into Crowley’s lower lip. He’s pouring everything into the kiss, what feels like six thousand years of everything. The plant mister tumbles out of Crowley’s hand, landing in a quiet thump on the floor. He slides his hands up Aziraphale’s chest to wrap his arms around his neck, and he’s just getting with the programme when Aziraphale abruptly rips away.
“Of course I love you!” shouts Aziraphale.
“Oh,” says Crowley, still dazed from the kiss, then shakes his head and scowls at him. “How the hell was I supposed to know? I’m not a bloody psychic!”
“I told you!”
“Yes, but only when you were operating with faulty data!” Crowley grabs his shoulders and shakes him lovingly. “I didn’t know, Aziraphale.”
Aziraphale’s anger melts into something softer. He presses his forehead against Crowley’s, closing his eyes and releasing a slow breath through his teeth. “Oh, Crowley. I am so very, very sorry. I didn’t want to lose you, and was convinced I would if I had my memories restored.”
Crowley’s heart thumps painfully in his chest. “Dammit, angel,” he says, which he means as, Yes alright I forgive you, but only because I know you won’t stop bothering me if I don’t but comes out more like, Of course I forgive you because I am disgustingly in love with you and will probably forgive you for every big and small transgression until we die a fiery but inevitable death during the next Armageddon.
Aziraphale pulls back just far enough to cup Crowley’s face in his hands and look him deeply in the eyes, because he is a gigantic sop. “I do, you know. I love you. I love everything about you. I have loved you, dearly, for centuries. Millennia.”
For a moment, Crowley is incapable of doing or saying anything. He’s unprepared for the explosion of happiness in his chest and is, for the moment, completely beset. Which is why he’s just gaping at Aziraphale, eyes wide and jaw unhinged.
“Oh, quite flattering,” says Aziraphale, grinning at him, the same joy that’s overwhelming Crowley reflected in his eyes.
“Shut up,” snaps Crowley, then flings his arms around him, grabs the back of his head, and kisses him fiercely.