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If Not Now, When

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Crowley hated Soho.

He hated its historic storefronts and its cool little restaurants and its lively queer scene. He hated everything about it, everything that made it what it was, because it should’ve been the perfect place for him, only he was too miserable to enjoy it. Bloody Dowlings, deciding to go back to America and effectively put him out of a job. Bloody Anathema and Liz, convincing him to come out here with them, once he didn’t have anything tying him down anymore. And of course bloody stupid him for accepting. Now he was stuck sharing a nice little flat with his two best mates in a place where nobody but the three of them had ever known him by his birth name. It was awful.

Crowley was pretty sure he understood the concept of happiness. It just never seemed to be anything he could keep hold of himself.

He was here anyway, though, and he might have been drifting through a series of crap jobs, but the savings from his past career as a nanny still had his finances looking okay. He might have been edging towards forty, but he still had his health. His looks, too, presumably, since he got flirted with enough that it was frankly irritating. Still lonely as hell, though. Who wanted to bother with someone who was just in it for a pretty face?

“You’ve got the highest standards of anyone I’ve ever met,” Anathema had scolded him at one point. “You could have practically anyone you wanted, and you’re still single. How does that even work?”

“Don’t want just anyone,” Crowley had grumbled. “Should be the right person.”

Anathema had snorted. “Meet someone at work. Have a conversation with a customer. I don’t know. I’m just tired of watching you mope.”

Which, easy for her to say. She and the Lizard had been dating since back when Liz had been an entirely different reptile. Back when they’d all been barely more than kids, still figuring out what the hell they were. No queer YouTube community to turn to back then, and “asexual” had been for amoebas. Or maybe robots.

The conversation with Anathema had been a couple weeks ago. Since then, Crowley had tried talking more with the customers at his current job, barista-ing at the Clover Cafe, just in the hopes someone would spark his interest. Nope. All still irritating gits. Or they didn’t bother to talk to him, which was equally useless. Or they were just taken already.

Like, at the moment, there were three regulars in line. The first one was the pretty 30-something woman (Hallie) with a kind smile, fantastic natural hair, and an enbyfriend she loved very much — no go there. The second was the guy (Jeff) who, Crowley knew from experience, wouldn’t shut up about the latest diet he was on, which, boring, talking about all the stuff you’re not letting yourself enjoy just because some article in Men’s Health said so.

The third was the weird guy (Aziraphale, and what kind of name was that) who ran a bookshop a block over. Probably around Crowley’s age. Barely talked to him at all, and dressed like a historical re-enactment geek with a thing for tartan. White-blond hair curling around his head like a halo, which Crowley would’ve assumed was bleached on anyone even slightly less out of step with the idea of fashion. Little bit short. Lot bit fat. Not that Crowley was judging. Honestly, if he ever found himself at a point in his life where he thought his opinion on other people’s bodies mattered, then he hoped someone would kick him square in the face. There was already enough of that in the world from people like the Men’s Health git.

Bookshop guy was one of the quiet polite ones who Crowley didn’t mind because he didn’t hang around being an irritant. He would buy his coffee (cream, three sugars), and his food (usually two scones, but it varied), and then he’d leave. Human interaction on easy mode.

Thing was, bookshop guy’d already been in that morning. It’d only been about five minutes ago, in fact. He was back in line again, coffee still in one hand, although his food (one of those giant blueberry muffins the owner usually baked on Thursdays) was gone.

“Welcome back,” Crowley said as bookshop guy stepped up to the counter again. “Finished the muffin already?”

Bookshop guy gave Crowley a sharp look, like maybe he got a lot of comments like that. Actually, he probably did, and not just innocent gaffes from idiots like Crowley. Bloody Men’s Health types. “And if I have?”

Crowley shrugged. “Can’t sell you another, ‘cause that was the last one. Couple of scones instead?”

It was a good answer, apparently, because the little bit of fire in bookshop guy’s face flashed over into a bright smile. “That would be splendid. Thank you.”

Crowley glanced over at Aziraphale (might as well think of him by his name if they were going to be having a conversation) as he started bagging up. “What did happen? Drop it? Owner’ll want me to clean it up if it’s on the pavement out front, so it doesn’t rot there.”

Aziraphale’s round cheeks went faintly pink. “I gave it away.”

“Um.” When he’d first started transitioning, Crowley had passed better with his eyes hidden, so he’d just started wearing sunglasses constantly while in public and never really stopped. So Aziraphale maybe couldn’t tell that he was staring at him from behind the dark lenses. He was, though. “You what?”

“There’s a lovely young lady who visits my shop sometimes when she needs a quiet place to study for her classes. I ran into her on my way back, and... well, I could positively hear her stomach growl. Seems she never got a chance to eat breakfast. So I gave her mine.”

“Huh.” A third scone found its way into the bag. No reason, really. Maybe Crowley felt like encouraging generosity. “Nice of you.”

The pink in those cheeks was a lot less faint now. “I try to be kind, is all. Someone has to be.”

“Yeah,” Crowley agreed, and rang him up for two scones.

Aziraphale thanked him and left again. He must’ve made it back to his shop without running into any more hungry urchins, because he didn’t come back a third time.

Crowley made the mistake of mentioning the occurrence at dinner that night. Anathema started grinning around a mouthful of lasagna and didn’t seem interested in stopping. Liz got all goony and started asking questions about Aziraphale, as if Crowley knew more than three things about him.

“Look, he’s some bloke who sells books and eats scones. If you’re gonna try to matchmake off that, then good luck.”

Liz exchanged a look with Anathema. “Is he cute? He’s probably cute.”

“Not my type,” Crowley grunted. He hadn’t dated a man in a while, but back when he did, they were mostly like him — skinny black-wearing types with extremely cool attitudes. He couldn’t even imagine what bookshop guy would look like in black. It’d be weird with those angel-halo curls of his.

“Anyway. It was sposed to be a happy story, is all. Random act of kindness.”

“Sure, sure,” Anathema relented. Crowley got just enough time to put one bite into his mouth, and then she smiled innocently. “So. Vanessa been in this week?”

Friday and Saturday were normal enough days, with a few customers coming in who Crowley was willing to talk to, but not many, and not bookshop guy. Sunday afternoon it started pouring rain. Business pretty much died off after that, so Crowley didn’t even wait until closing to start cleaning up. That put him just heading out the back door, both hands loaded down with bin bags, when the front door jingled.

“Be there in a sec,” he called without looking. “Sit down if you like meanwhile.”

“Oh,” said a voice which he recognized almost immediately. Cultured, fussy. Bookshop guy. “Would you like any help?”

“Not unless you’ve got an umbrella, no. No need for anyone but me to get soaked out here.”

There was a musical little hmm noise, and when bookshop guy’s — Aziraphale’s — voice sounded again, it was right behind him. “As a matter of fact, I do. It seems that you have your hands rather full, though.”

Crowley looked back over his shoulder, noting both the identity of his visitor (curly blond hair, ridiculously anachronistic waistcoat, bow tie for some unfathomable reason — yep, confirmed, that was Mr Aziraphale T Bookshop Guy), as well as the large white umbrella which that visitor wielded. “Yeah, well. Maybe I can... um.”

“If I may?”

Crowley shrugged. Sure. Whatever would get the rubbish out without him also taking an impromptu shower.

Aziraphale stepped up next to him in the doorway, opening the umbrella out into the back alley. “Ah. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to move back a bit... not enough room for me to get by.” Then, when Crowley shuffled back inside: “Here we go, then. Those bins over there?”


Aziraphale walked outside beneath the umbrella, holding it so it could shelter Crowley as he followed. It was ten or twelve steps to the bins. In this rain, Crowley should’ve been drenched in the time it took him to get over there, sling everything in, and run back to the doorway. But Aziraphale kept the umbrella angled perfectly to shield him from the deluge. He didn’t even have to rush.

“This is way better than going it alone. Thanks, mate.”

“Of course. My pleasure, really.”

They were standing close enough beneath the umbrella that neither really needed to raise his voice over the downpour. Close enough that once Crowley was done filling the bins, he turned around a little too quickly and bumped up against Aziraphale’s protruding stomach as he went by.

They got straightened out easily enough, nobody landing on their arse or anything like that. Aziraphale walked him back in, shook the umbrella off toward the back step as Crowley washed up.

“Sorry,” Crowley said when it happened, and “Think nothing of it,” Aziraphale replied.

“Close up, will you?,” Crowley said as he was soaping his hands, and Aziraphale did so with another of those melodic little hums. Crowley maybe spent a little extra time at the sink, thinking about that bump and wondering why he was thinking about it. But soon enough he was thoroughly washed and dried.

“Great,” Crowley said. He was back on his side of the counter, Aziraphale was on the other, and everything was normal again. “What can I get you? Warning, it’ll probably be on the house.”

Aziraphale’s eyes went skittery at that, like it was hard to actually look at Crowley. “Yes, well. Perhaps you’d better not. The owner might not appreciate your making it a habit.”

It took Crowley a second. “Right. Right, the, uh, scone on Thursday. Well. You know. I didn’t want you still hungry after helping out that nice young lady.”

A little smile flitted over Aziraphale’s face. “Oh. Thank you.”

“Yeah.” And because he refused to let there be any awkward pauses here — how could there be, there was nothing to be awkward about — he went ahead with the script. “So what’ll it be?”

Aziraphale ordered his usual coffee, cream and three sugars, the same decadence which sounded terrible to Crowley but which Aziraphale presumably enjoyed. He also asked for the last scone and one of the remaining Danishes. Crowley tried to throw in the other Danish without him noticing.

“Ah — Crowley, my dear fellow, I —”

Holy hell, but his name coming out of Aziraphale’s mouth felt strange. It was right there on his nametag, and plenty of other customers had used it, but he and Aziraphale had never been on an actual name basis in all the months Crowley’d been working there. He wasn’t even sure how he’d managed to switch from thinking of him as bookshop guy so quickly.

“It’ll just get thrown away anyway,” he said, instead of anything that was actually going through his head. “I’m closing up in like twenty minutes. Nobody’s gonna come in before that.”

Aziraphale tilted his head. “Have the place to yourself, then?”

“Yeah, we do.”

We? Whatever. It’d been a long, boring day. His brain obviously wasn’t firing correctly. “That’ll be, uh, six pounds three.”

Aziraphale paid, and wished him a pleasant evening without quite meeting his eyes. Well, of course, now that Crowley’d gone and made everything weird. “We”. Sure.

The huge white umbrella fwooped into place outside the front door, and Aziraphale and his angelic curls disappeared into the gloom.

Nobody else came in, just as predicted, which gave Crowley twenty minutes to think about nothing. Unfortunately, his brain was actually more interested in thinking about something, and the something was what happened outside.

The side of his hand, his forearm, had bumped against Aziraphale’s wide belly, just for a second. Barely long enough for it to even register. And it wasn’t like he’d had any expectations of what it would feel like, seeing as he hadn’t expected to touch Aziraphale at all.

Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure he’d ever actually touched a fat person’s body before. What little of his family he’d ever met was as skinny as he was, and he’d never dated anyone who was more than average-sized. Never had any fat friends, either. Now he was kind of questioning how he’d managed that all these years. It’d be like never befriending a single queer person, despite the fact that they obviously existed. After a certain point, it stopped feeling like coincidence and started feeling like maybe something deeper was going on. He didn’t like the implications. Didn’t want to think about them just yet.

So. No expectations for the experience, but he was still mildly surprised at how Aziraphale’s body had actually felt. Soft, of course. His hand had actually sunk in, just a tiny bit, before he’d moved it away. But there’d been a kind of firmness to it, too — it wasn’t like it was just amorphous jelly all the way down.

He was trying very hard not to compare it to anything, because what the hell kind of exceedingly creepy person would compare a stranger’s belly to a really good memory foam pillow, but damned if that wasn’t what kept coming to mind. Fine. Whatever. He’d be creepy about it. And maybe he’d even think about how warm that stranger’s belly had been, while he was at it. Or about how during the entire excursion, he’d been able to smell Aziraphale’s cologne. Sort of papery and spicy and floral.

Crowley was suddenly very, very annoyed at Aziraphale for having given away his damned muffin. That had apparently made him interesting. Crowley had already had plenty of experience in how things ended up once he got interested in anything, in anyone, whatever form that interest took: bad. They would end up bad. He would end up alone, sooner or later, pointlessly drifting through life. And anything beyond the basic concept of happiness would, once again, elude him.

Between the interest and the end would only be wasted time.

He glared at the ceiling. “Fuck it. Time to find a new job.”