Start out up high. Start out looking at Earth in her entirety.
Now zoom in. Closer, closer, yes, I know it’s not as nice up close, but we’ve got to get down to the nitty gritty here, we’ve got to head to—
There’s the curve of the Serpentine, we’re almost there—
In on a neighbourhood, on a building, on a window, zip in quietly and be careful, because if he knows we’re here I can’t say what he’ll do.
Him, I mean: that one over there on the leather sofa. The one all in black, with the red hair and the sour expression, coiled up on himself with his shoes on the leather (imagine!), staring darkly at something he’s holding, something small and defenseless.
Does he look like trouble? He’d be pleased to hear you say it.
He’s a demon. His name is Crowley. And he is trouble. Most days, anyway. Flat tyres, stuck zips, late trains, bank cards that won’t work when they just did at the shop down the road, long queues, rude gestures out car windows – that’s all him. Sort of, anyway.
Not what you were thinking of when you imagined a demon? You expected pitchforks, probably, or at the very least horns and a tail. Look, that’s old-school. And Crowley is not old-school.
What he is, at the moment, is irritated. You see, even a clever demon like Crowley gets stymied sometimes. There are problems even he can’t crack.
One of them is in his hand.
He sniffed at it. The scent was lovely. The pastry was light and flaky. The filling crumbled at a touch to sticky sweetness underneath. He sighed and nibbled a corner.
It was delicious.
“Damn it,” he said, and thumped the sofa, and took another angry bite. “How’m I supposed to compete?”
He slid a sour look at the neat little plateful of Nanaimo bars perched cheerily on his table, contrasting with the gunmetal gray. The plate was pink and had flowers on it, because of course it did.
Perhaps we’d better establish a bit of backstory. Bear with me.
Once upon a time there was a garden—
Oh, you know that bit?
All right. Then let’s skip ahead to the part where Crowley has been in love for… oh, ages. Longer than you or I could ever quite understand, so let’s just say: long enough.
Yes, demons can love. They’re angels, after all, just gone a bit sooty and resentful. But given the right circumstances, the right entity… yes, they can love.
If you asked Crowley about it… well, first, he’d kill you. But assuming you somehow got past that part, he’d admit that he’s a bit frustrated by the whole thing. Love is not his style. He’s more of a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of demon. In and out, slay ‘em with style, leave ‘em wanting more. He likes to cause trouble and leave while the sirens have just started to wail.
Love is none of this. Love is hanging around. Love is sorting out the trouble, or worse yet, not causing it in the first place. Love is doing nice things instead, things to make the other entity smile, things to make it say “Oh, my” or “Thank you, Crowley” or “Oh, really” in that particular tone of voice it has that makes Crowley want to wriggle.
Wriggle! It’s unbecoming of a demon. He hates to think of what the others would say. Screwtape, in particular, would have some Words for him on becoming entangled with…
One of Them.
Yep: Crowley’s in love with one of the Good Guys.
And the Good Guy in question adores butter tarts with an unseemly passion. Enough to speak wistfully of them when they aren’t around. Enough to ask Crowley to drive at ridiculous speeds across miles of English countryside to storm a bake sale, taking no prisoners. Enough to devour the butter tarts on the way home, leaving crumbs on the seat of Crowley’s car (the car hadn’t minded terribly, which was unusual in itself). And enough to leave one for Crowley, saying archly, “Perhaps after you actually try it, you’ll understand.”
Crowley is now glumly staring at this butter tart, letting its flavour spread across his forked tongue, and thinking: How do I become a butter tart?
He huffed an irritated sigh and devoured the rest of the butter tart in one gulp, massaging his throat to help the bump go down, and then he drummed his fingers on his thigh.
Aziraphale Wanted him. He was sure of it. He could feel the Want. Feeling Want was what he did. Everyone Wanted things – humans, demons, even angels – and as he’d gotten to know Aziraphale better and better over the centuries he’d tuned in more and more finely on the angel’s wavelength, picking up every little distortion: Clothes. Shoes. Ooh, cake. Books. And the occasional flash of: Crowley.
The first time it had happened – when had that been, anyway? Some while ago, anyway, he’d been sporting bare calves and how often did that happen for men, fashion-wise, not nearly enough in his opinion, excellent calves he had – but anyway, he’d been slinking up to Aziraphale, tempting without thinking much about it, keeping a hand in as it were, and he’d caught it, strong and loud:
Crowley, the angel’s mind had sighed, Wanting, and then Crowley had watched, gobsmacked, as the angel had pulled himself together and pretended it had never happened.
That had been fun. A little win for Hell. And Crowley hadn’t minded it either. Flattering, really. Not to be made more of than it warranted, even if Crowley did think about the angel more than he wanted to admit, did follow him around to make sure he was all right, well: it was a one-off.
Except it wasn’t.
Crowley, again when he’d been biting into a ripe mango, and Crowley, Crowley when he’d pulled some minor temptation into existence which had, perhaps, furthered the angel’s cause somewhat, no need to dwell on it, and Crowley Crowley Crowley rising in intensity over the centuries until sometimes when he was with the angel he was almost deafened with it, and he could just, just reach out, just satisfy the Want—
(Not to mention his own.)
But that would ruin everything. He knew that. The angel Wanted. But the angel wouldn’t admit it to himself. And Crowley yanking it up out of him…
It was that Love thing again. It made that impossible. Embarrass a human into desperate lust? Oh, why not; the poor creature would be relieved, really, and then chalk one up for Crowley. But if he did that to Aziraphale…
“Gnaaah,” said Crowley, and licked his fingers.
A little more background, just so that you understand. Of course Crowley has, in theory, centuries, millennia, whatever you prefer to work on this knotty little problem. He’s been trying to unravel it for a good two thousand years or so now, so clearly he’s got some time. And he’s immortal, and so is the angel. No problem, right?
You see, recently, there’s been an Armageddon, except it didn’t quite—
Wait, you know that bit too?
I’m not sure why I’m even telling you this story.
Fine. Suffice it to say that Crowley has recently realized that eternity isn’t always as long as it seems, and that even angels and demons march to an unseen, Ineffable schedule. It could happen again, he figures. The whole damned (blessed?) thing could happen again. And he’s almost certain, next time, to be given absolutely no forewarning, seeing as how well he managed to cock it up this time around.
He could lose his chance. He and the angel could end up on opposite sides. Or, perhaps, on no one’s side at all. And no matter how it worked out, nothing would ever be the same. No more little restaurants, no more discos…
No more butter tarts.
And so his resolve has been rather stiffened by the whole thing. He’s ready to take his chance, to make his move.
He’s just absolutely baffled as to how.
He’s going to, he figures, have to make the angel reach out on his own. And, knowing the angel in question, this will mean making the angel fall in love with him.
In love. With him. A demon.
He’s not even sure how to get started.
Crowley pulled a face, stuck out his tongue, reeled it back in.
All right. It was time for a list. Lists helped.
He grabbed up a notepad, a pen, both of which could be used to write underwater. He briefly considered drawing a bath, but: nah. Too much flash even for him.
All right, now: what did butter tarts have that he didn’t? What about a butter tart made it tempting enough for Aziraphale to dial up his own personal demon for an errand?
They were sweet, certainly. He wrote that down scratchily: Sweet.
And rare. Couldn’t get proper ones, as Aziraphale said, unless you went to the colonies. Canada, to be specific. Crowley was a bit neutral on Canada. Poutine was all right, but the rest… meh.
He wrote down Rare and Canada?, and then sucked on his pen, and then scratched out Canada because that was asking a little much.
Flaky, all right, but how could he be flaky? A line went through flaky. He tapped the page.
Hmm. ‘Decadent’ leapt to mind. Well, all right, he had that one locked up: shameless and sinful, that was him. Obviously wasn’t enough on its own, was it, so what else?
Absentmindedly he miracled his tea warm again and took a sip to rinse his mouth of the lingering thick sweetness. One of those tarts could last him an afternoon. Even Aziraphale had groaned regretfully upon finishing his plateful. Too much, I think, he’d said, and Crowley bit his pen and wrote Too Much, and underlined it twice.
It was interesting that Aziraphale hadn’t been able to stop eating them. He craved them, didn’t he. To the point that he’d eat them even if they were the kind he didn’t especially like. Crowley would wave away even the most sinful dessert if it had those little chopped nuts on it, because eurgh, little chopped nuts, but Aziraphale would choke his way through a butter tart even if it had raisins in.
Raisins. Gah. Both angel and demon agreed that raisins were a waste of perfectly good wine.
All right, anyway, Aziraphale would eat butter tarts even when he knew very well it wouldn’t work out well for him, so: Sweet. Rare. Too Much. And: Addictive, he scrawled, and narrowed his eyes at the page.
He could do this. He could make this happen. It’d take time, of course, but what plan worthy of its salt didn’t? How long had he put into the M25, anyway? A couple of good years, there, and that meant something even if a day was as a thousand years and a thousand years was as a day. So there was no rush. He’d take his time. He’d plan it out. He’d be a delight even an angel couldn’t resist.
His brows creased. He pointed a finger, and another butter tart popped into existence, perched on the arm of the sofa. He sniffed it, flickered his tongue out to taste the air. He nibbled it.
He sighed. It wasn’t nearly as good.
No miracles, then. He was going to have to do this properly. No cheating.
“Nnnngh,” said the demon Crowley, and pitched the inferior tart into the woodchipper.
Now, pull away from Crowley. Come up and away with me, swooping over London, to a rather different area of town. Less posh. More… interesting.
Soar over the clothiers and confectioners, the sushi bars and sex shops, and let’s dip downward towards this building on the corner: older, a bit shabby. The windows are dirty. There’s a sign in the window indicating that it is, very definitely, closed. This doesn’t matter to us: let’s slip in here between the locked front doors, stretching ourselves out thin, and usher ourselves into the sanctum sanctorum of a being who could smite us both with a look if he felt tetchy enough.
Don’t worry. He’s a big softy, really.
Meet the angel Aziraphale. He’s reading. Hush, don’t bother him – not that he’d hear you. When he’s reading, he’s somewhere else. Today he’s… hmm. Apparently he’s on the planet Barrayar. Let’s leave him there for now, and instead let’s explore his shop.
You’ll notice the mug with angel wings, filled with cocoa. Yes, he is that precious. Couldn’t you tell from his clothes? He likes his little pleasures, this one. He’s surrounded by them: every book in here is one of his favourites, every blessed one. He’s read them all. Yes, there are a lot of them. Angel, remember? He’s had the time.
Notice the well-stocked wine cupboard in the kitchenette, and the capacious refrigerator filled with treats. He’s a bit of a gourmand, this angel. Does that surprise you? Not very angelic? Nonsense: as long as you get the miracles managed, you’re a perfectly adequate angel. This angel finds he’s much sweeter-tempered on a full stomach, and so that’s all that matters.
Ah – yes, you’re putting it together. Yes, this is the angel in question, the one who makes Crowley wriggle on his sofa, the one who makes him feel things that are decidedly undemonic.
Let me know when you’re done giggling.
All right? Good. Now let’s go back out again – trust me on this, there’s a point to it. Look down the street. Look who’s coming, whistling irritatingly, making passers-by wince. He’s cut in front of two old ladies and has stepped in the way of a now quite irate cyclist. If he was eating something, he’d drop the wrapper in the road. He’s not eating something, he’s instead wrestling with an enormous bouquet and a big box of candy, but trust me on this: he is, honestly, a jerk.
Yes, that’s Crowley. Let’s see what he does.
Crowley was trying, desperately, not to sneeze.
Apparently his corporation was allergic to this particular type of flower, all big and yellow with pollen dripping everywhere. He’d never tried to grow this one. Some kind of lily. Very showy, he’d thought. Very ‘announcing one’s presence’. Declared one’s intentions, this kind of bouquet.
Sweet, was what he was going for. A bit of oomph, yeah, but mostly sweet. He’d walk in with the bouquet and present it to Aziraphale, and Aziraphale would clasp his hands together adoringly and say oh, Crowley, and he’d wiggle, and say for me? Really? Oh, how sweet!
And Crowley would hate it, of course. Every second of it. Gosh, yes.
He sneezed again.
He’d tried menacing the flowers. Pollen less or else, sort of thing. But the flowers had already had the worst thing possible happen to them, as far as they were concerned, and had developed what was, quite frankly, a rather demonic attitude. Crowley was somewhat impressed.
He brushed pollen off his coat and peered in the window of Aziraphale’s shop. He couldn’t make anything out; it was filthy. Par for the course, then.
All right, then. Bouquet. And box of choccies. And his most winsome smile. He checked it quickly in a car mirror, tucked away the teeth. Yeah, that was better. That had lover-boy written all over it.
He knocked at the door.
Right. It was Tuesday after 2 pm. This particular shop was closed. Still, opening hours didn’t apply to him. He knocked again.
“We’re closed,” came the sharp reply from inside.
This wasn’t what he’d envisioned. He should have planned better. He had ages to get this right. He should, probably, have thought about what day it was.
He adjusted the bouquet, which was drooping in a mutinous sort of way, and leaned in close to the door. “It’s me,” he said, trying for a blend between loud enough to be audible and just this side of cloying.
There was a pause long enough for him to wonder how things would work out if he popped the lock with a bit of demonic chutzpah. Not well, he figured.
The door opened. Aziraphale peered out, blinked, smiled. “Oh! Crowley!” Angelic eyes passed over him affectionately, took in the flowers, the chocolates, blinked again. Aziraphale frowned.
“What is all this?”
No, really not what he’d envisioned.
“Hi, angel,” he simpered. “Just passing by and thought of—”
Aziraphale was staring at him. “Is something wrong, Crowley?”
“I… what? No! Course not! I was just passing by and thought of—”
“What have you done?” said the angel Aziraphale, crossing his arms and tapping his foot.
Oh, now that was not fair. “I haven’t done anything!”
“Flowers? Really? Whatever you’ve done, it’s a bit much to just assume that I’ll help you out with it—”
“I said I haven’t done anything—”
“I see chocolates. Are those chocolates? Oh, what have you been up to, you’d better come inside,” and Aziraphale yanked him in. Crowley stumbled over the doorstep, getting an accidental noseful of large obnoxious flower, and sneezed tremendously.
Aziraphale closed the door behind them and stood before him, hands on his hips. “Well? Out with it.”
“I—Look, there’s nothing—” said Crowley, wiping his nose.
“So you just happened to be wandering around SoHo, and just happened to buy a bouquet of enormous yellow flowers and praline truffles, and just happened to think I might like them.”
When Aziraphale said it that way, it did sound really, really stupid.
He went with it anyway, found his winsome smile, slapped it on.
Aziraphale leaned away from him and gave him a distrustful side-eye, which Crowley felt was a bit much.
“The last time you brought me flowers and chocolate, you were being chased by an angry mob.”
“Four pedestrians and a bicycle delivery man hardly qualifies as a mob, angel—”
“I’m not just a source of refuge, you know! I do happen to have my own affairs to tend to!”
Oh, really. “And what might those be, oh retired angel of the Lord?”
Aziraphale’s mouth pursed. “You know Tuesday is a reading day.”
“Wha—Aziraphale, every day is your reading day.”
“Tuesdays are for speculative fiction,” said Aziraphale, holding up a hand and ticking off the fingers. “Wednesdays are romances. Thursdays are holy books and prophecy. Fridays are history. Saturdays are—”
“All right! All right! I’m sorry! Although I have no idea what for, seeing as how I’ve brought you flowers and chocolate!”
Aziraphale glared at him. “Look: are you in trouble? Of course I’ll help, whatever is is, only I do wish you’d—"
“Of course I’m not in—is it really so hard to believe that I just brought you flowers?”
Aziraphale raised his eyebrows.
“Aaargh,” said Crowley, and rubbed his face. “I thought you’d like it. I’m being thoughtful.”
“I can see that,” said Aziraphale carefully, as if he was tiptoeing across a greased ice-skating rink. “But I don’t quite understand why.”
Oh, that stung! “Do I need a reason?”
“Well, it’s hardly your usual style.”
“Maybe I’ve gone off my usual style! Maybe I’m trying something different!”
“To what demonic end, pray tell?”
“I—look, to no demonic end, this has nothing to do with Downstairs, you know damned well that I’m daemonium non grata—”
Leave these two to argue for a moment. They do like it so, after all.
Now: do you understand what’s happening here? How a demon who can sense Want might trip himself up when he’s dealing with an angel?
What do angels deal in?
Yes, smiting, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Yes, divine announcements, but no one is pregnant, I promise.
Wrestling? Can you imagine him wrestling?
All right, keep thinking about what angels are supposed to be very, very good at, and in the meantime I think Crowley is just finishing his sentence, so pull the camera back in and focus:
“—is it really so hard to believe that I just thought you might like them? That I just thought, well, look at these, aren’t they pretty, think I know an angel that could use some brightening up?” He stretched the last words, distorting them, and bared his teeth.
Weirdly, Aziraphale relaxed.
“And you’re quite sure you’re not in any trouble? Because you know—"
“I wanted to bring you flowers, angel,” hissed Crowley, regretting the whole thing. “I thought it’d be nicccce.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, blinking, and was suddenly bashful. “Well, then. Ah… thank you,” and as he said thank you he smiled a small smile and looked up under his lashes. “It was sweet of you.”
Crowley had no idea what had just happened, but as cool was important, he nodded back in a very cool way that involved no wriggling on the spot whatsoever.
“Well,” said Aziraphale, turning his attention to the flowers, “they are lovely. Let’s get these into a vase. I do, ah,” and he looked at Crowley, “have the afternoon set aside for reading, but… you can stay if you like?”
And so Crowley found himself perched on a stool, sipping tepid cocoa, watching Aziraphale pop truffles into his mouth and ignore him completely in favour of a story about spaceships. Well, mostly ignore him: every now and then he’d get a sideways look and a batting of lashes. No Want coming off him, but still: sweet, Crowley thought in a self-congratulatory sort of way. That’s me. Got it in one.
Next came rare. He had an idea already.
Now, let’s skip ahead some ineffable amount of time. Trust me, you won’t miss anything: these two move very, very slowly.
Let’s watch as the trees turn red and orange and the people come and go; watch the shorts become leggings and the iced lemonades become pumpkin spice frappuccinos. Fall is here. Slow it down now: the Earth is turning, and time is passing, once again, at a rate of one second per second.
Look over the London streets, to pavements with trees bending low and leaves mucking up the gutters. A city is an education: edify your senses. See bicyclists pass, and cars, and busses. Listen to the birds, and the people, and the clanging of distant bells. Smell the wet leaves and the Tube… oh, dear, perhaps don’t smell the Tube. And let’s skip the taste bit, yes?
As for touch: that’s not our department. That’s Crowley’s current area of interest. He’s rubbing his fingers together, wherever he is. His other hand has got a bottle in it, but the fingers that are free are imagining the feel of old broadcloth. He’s not consciously aware of it, not really, but after six thousand years, his body has developed something of a mind of its own.
All right. Now that we’ve set the mood, let’s dial in a bit closer. Focus, focus: near the park, a few streets over, through the traffic and the tangle of people shopping with intent… there.
Do you see him? That blond coif; that combination of fabrics that suggests well-worn upholstery and, yes, old broadcloth; the polish of those shoes…
That’s our angel. And our angel is getting annoyed.
See him standing on the pavement outside the restaurant. See him tapping his foot. Ooh, he is upset; he’s just crossed his arms. He’s waiting for someone and he is put out about it. Perhaps they’re late. Perhaps there’ll be some smiting.
Who could it be?
Can you guess?
All right, thought Crowley.
He’d been standing around the corner for about twenty minutes now, letting Aziraphale work himself into a really good stew. The vibrations of angelic irritation were washing over him. Someone somewhere was burning leaves—no, actually, that appeared to be happening spontaneously in a nearby gutter. Good. The angel had a mad on.
It was time now. He looked himself over once more, quickly: yep, looking good. Better than good. Sinful. With a lovely bottle of something potent and potable in his hand as the finishing touch, ready to be cracked for a minimal corkage. Really, he was a treat.
An errant lock of hair drooped above his eyes; he glared cross-eyed at it, and it leapt back into place.
He strolled down the street, louche and lazy, eyes locked on his angel: yes, he tried to say with his walk, with every sauntering step, yes, I’ve been away, but I’m back, angel, and you’re about to have more than you can handle; I’m a rare treat, I’m sweet and hard to find and—
Huh. Something a bit different about the angel today. What was it…?
Aziraphale caught sight of him. His eyes widened. There was a little flicker of Want. Ooh, this was the good stuff. Crowley did not wriggle.
The Want tasted strange, though. Tasted a bit like… whoops. Hmm.
“Crowley. You… you demon,” said Aziraphale, voice spiking high as the Want spiralled red and prickly. “Where have you been?”
This was almost purely Angry Want. Caused no end of trouble. A little bit of irritation was okay, but this was much too hot. He had to soothe things down a bit, get back to that nice smooth Want that he could work with, could tickle into a nicer shape.
He blinked, let the moment stretch out, smiled. “Why, angel,” he said, smooth as he knew how, which was pretty damned smooth, “I didn’t know you cared. Here,” and he held out the bottle, “this is for you.”
Aziraphale looked at it, confused, then back at Crowley.
“Don’t you dare try to charm me, you— You—”
Hmm. That was definitely still Angry Want. Less Want now, too, lots more Angry. He wiggled the bottle back and forth, nice bottle, good stuff, as he placated: “What? Twenty minutes past, that’s hardly a damning offense.”
“Twenty minutes past today. The last two times you didn’t turn up at all.”
“I’ve apologized for that—”
“Oh, have you!”
Um. He had, actually. A bit airily, perhaps, but still he’d done it—oh, wait. “I left messages on your phone. Didn’t you get them?”
Aziraphale glared at him, uncomprehending.
“You have checked your voicemail, right?”
Still glaring, with Want fading rapidly, and Crowley threw his hands into the air, minding the wine:
“Angel, I showed you how, I even offered to do it for you—”
This is a very old conversation. It has been going on as long as there has been technology. Crowley is what we like to call an early adopter. Aziraphale is what we like to call a late adopter; who has, in fact, missed the appointment entirely and has now shown up forty minutes late with a croissant and an insouciant attitude. He isn’t so much stupid when it comes to technology as he is simple: if it will overcomplicate his existence, then he doesn’t see the point. Crowley tries to show him, he really does, but Aziraphale figures, not entirely wrongly, that the Good Old Ways are Best, and if he really needs to learn how to do something new, he can pout at Crowley until Crowley sets it up for him. Aziraphale does not need voicemail. It will only encourage people to expect him to return the call. He feels much the same way about call display. Crowley should really know better, as this point, than to expect Aziraphale to check his messages. In fact, perhaps Aziraphale isn’t the one being simple here.
At any rate, we’re missing a very nice argument.
“I don’t see the relevance of this particular topic of conversation,” said the furious Principality, beginning to glow and emitting no Want at all. “And none of this explains why you are repeatedly missing our appointments.”
Damn. This wasn’t going properly so far. All right, focus: rare, he reminded himself. Not to be taken for granted. He shrugged, ran a hand through his hair, wiped the hair wax off on his leg in a casual sort of way. “Sorry, angel. I’ve been busy.”
Aziraphale gaped. Crowley waited a moment, then went on: “Got some new hobbies. Lots of people to talk to. You know how it is.”
Aziraphale’s mouth was still open; Crowley noted with interest that he’d finally miracled that cavity he’d been complaining about. Gold filling, of course. Still nothing word-wise; all right, then. “And at the end of it all, I mean, what comes of trying to control a demon?” He waggled his brows. “I’m made to break the rules.”
Aziraphale shut his mouth and bit his lip. He glowed a little brighter. Crowley smiled at him, firmly pushing down the urge to squint. He was safe behind his sunglasses: the occasional preventative miracle was just sound planning, he felt, and that way there was no mucky business with accidental blindings when Aziraphale was being a bit irrational, as it looked like he was going to be now. How did he manage to bug his eyes out like that…?
“Control—? The rules—?” said Aziraphale, his voice squeezed tight. “I’m sorry, what rules?”
Crowley shrugged, examined his fingernails: “Society hasn’t got a hold on me. I’m like the wind, angel.”
Aziraphale looked as if he couldn’t decide whether to shout or be sick. “Did you really just say that?”
“Look, I’m just saying I can’t be predicted. Here one day, gone the next. You never know, Aziraphale.” Crowley raised his hands, flicked the fingers outwards: “Whoosh.”
“’Whoosh,’” said Aziraphale, his voice flat. “’Whoosh’ is not a good reason to miss our lunch appointments.”
He hadn’t said ‘dates’. Damn. Crowley tried not to feel disappointed. “Sorry. Something came up. You know how it is.”
“I do know that it is perfectly reasonable to send notice. Especially for the third time.”
“Hey,” Crowley said, and smiled semi-apologetically. “You can’t expect me to be around at your beck and call. I’m a hot commodity. Everyone wants me.”
Aziraphale said, explosively: “Pshaw!”
Crowley was briefly impressed: he’d never actually heard anyone say pshaw. He’d thought it was one of those phrases that turned up in books about idiot heirs and sociopathic butlers.
“I am sorry,” he said. “Don’t get all bent out of shape.”
“Bent out of shape,” said Aziraphale, sprouting three extra eyes, and Crowley, not to get out of the habit, blinked.
“Tone it down, angel, you’re going to scare the—”
“Don’t you tell me to tone it down,” said the angel in three separate voices, all harmonizing. Oh, shit. He was for it. How had this gone so wrong?
“Look, I said I was sorry—”
“Oh, are you! Oh, well, that’s all right, then,” said Aziraphale, all pupils shrinking to pinpoints. “How foolish of me to think that you might look forward to our lunches! How ridiculous to not consider that you might have better things to do!”
Oh, shit. He’d miscalculated. He wasn’t, after all, really a butter tart. A butter tart didn’t have to give a shit how Aziraphale felt about it. It just had to sit there and be appetizing, and wait for Aziraphale to sidle up to it in an amorous sort of way. But he, Crowley, who was absolutely not smitten, was really just sort of used to Aziraphale and kept him company so that neither of them got bored—he did not have the kind of guarantee of continued interest that a butter tart could feel quite sure of.
Aziraphale was almost frothing, and Crowley didn’t like it. And worse still, he felt bad about it. The whole thing was embarrassing.
Normally he’d never—well, he’d almost never—look, usually he had a policy against this kind of thing, but he did know one sure way to stem the torrent of fury:
“I’m sorry. You’re right. Absolutely, you’re right. Can’t imagine what I was thinking. I’ve been the king of all arseholes, and I’m enormously, hugely—”
“You don’t mean it,” chorused Aziraphale, shrill as a horde of Valkyries (who lived one Heaven over) and sharp enough to shred the eardrums. Crowley covered his eyes against his Cherenkov glow, amazed as always that the humans didn’t seem to pick up on this. Passersby continued on their ways to wherever they were going, murmuring “a bit warm for autumn” and “I do wish I’d brought my sunglasses” as if there wasn’t an ethereal throwdown happening mere feet away.
“I do. I’m really sorry. And I won’t do it again.” Hadn’t worked anyway, had it. He was a lot of things, was Crowley: disrespectful, sarcastic, downright rude when he felt the urge, but he wasn’t dumb.
Aziraphale narrowed all five eyes at him. Crowley put down the bottle to spread his hands wide—
“Don’t put that down on the pavement, you stupid man,” said Aziraphale, suddenly entirely contained in his corporation once again and glowing only a little bit. “It’ll get all shaken up. If you won’t treat it properly, give it to me.”
“That was the intent,” said Crowley warily, offering the bottle. Aziraphale took it two-handed, glancing sourly up at him, then made a little round-mouthed ooh of surprise.
“Why, this is—is this really all the way from Niagara? How’d you come by this?”
“Had to travel a bit,” lied Crowley, who had bought it off the internet. “May’ve been gone, but I didn’t forget you, did I.”
Aziraphale made a dismissive noise, but it was one of his pleased dismissive noises, one of the ‘go on, tell me another’ noises that reassured Crowley that perhaps he hadn’t cocked things up entirely. “They do the most lovely Rieslings. Hmm. Well, then.” He patted the bottle, pleased, and it chilled itself ten degrees obligingly.
Aziraphale’s glow had now faded entirely, and Crowley looked him over – much easier now. He blinked away the sunspots. Something was different – Crowley hadn’t been sure, and then he’d been too busy trying not to get exorcised to have a good look, but now—
“Aziraphale, what are you wearing?”
“Oh,” said the angel, briefly forgetting the bottle and looking down at himself. “I… ah… I purchased these the other day. Dungarees, I do believe they’re called.”
“Not by anyone in this century, angel. Jeans. You’re wearing jeans.” It was weird. Not bad weird, necessarily. But Aziraphale didn’t give up on fashion easily. Fifty years, a hundred… he didn’t much care what all the humans were doing; as long as it had a bit of showy business, it was something Aziraphale would wear with pleasure.
These jeans were straight out of 1952. They had no showy business whatsoever. They puzzled Crowley.
Aziraphale shifted, uneasy as Crowley stared. He slipped the bottle from hand to hand. “They’re not at all comfortable, are they.”
“You’ve got to break them in first,” said Crowley, tipping his head to one side. “Or else spend up a bit. Get ‘em pre-worn in, sort of thing.”
“They tried to sell me a pair that were halfway worn out! Really: very nearly ripped at the knees! I’m not a fool, and I told them so.”
“Mmm-hmm,” said Crowley. “A bit tight around the hips, are they?”
“Just observing, angel, just observing. You’re standing a bit…” Well, a bit like Aziraphale’s legs were being strangled by his own bottom, honestly.
“I’ll get used to them,” said Aziraphale primly. “Enough talk about my trousers, please.”
“Whatever. Let’s get our table.”
“Forty-five minutes past now, angel. It’ll be long gone.”
“And when has that ever mattered?”
Crowley nodded: point. “You sure you’re going to be able to sit down in those?”
“Oh, do shut up and follow me.”
Rare, he thought as he followed Aziraphale’s blue-cotton bottom up the stairs. Hadn’t quite worked out. Could be fine-tuned, though, he figured. Rare and sweet at once, that was definitely the ticket. Oh: and too much was next. All right, then… too much it would be.