As if it were ever in any doubt, Pippin Galadriel Moonchild was a success. With a first-class English degree from Durham, and a work ethic that put even the best LinkedIn humblebrag to shame, Pepper had travelled the world as an overseas correspondent with the BBC. In her childhood, Pepper had always thought Adam’s love for Tadfield quaint. Tales of Amy Johnson and Ann Bancroft permeated her earliest memories, mingling with Famous Five adventures, the combined force of which ensured that Tadfield was the last place Pepper wanted to stay. Too small, too English, too… safe. Strange to hear the village gossip, then, that Pepper was not only returning, but had purchased a small cottage adjacent to the last remaining Post Office in an English village. Everyone in Pepper’s life – and she didn’t entertain the comments of strangers – knew better than to ask if she was returning to Tadfield to “settle down”, ideally with a “nice man”. Her desire to have a space to call her own was one borne of faceless hotels, united in their garish carpets, generic pictures and ghastly ‘cuisine’. Pepper saw a future of Liberty print bed linen and Penhaligon’s candles, a fish kettle (whether she knew how to use it or not) gracing her marble worktop and a summer house at the end of her garden.
That future required gainful employment; despite a healthy savings account, ‘location, location, location’ was never truer than in Oxfordshire. With the same speed and decisiveness an ordinary person might decide on a pair of new shoes, Pepper decided to turn to scriptwriting. Her summer house became a studio, in which her thoughts kept returning to the best adventure she knew of, one that Johnson and Bancroft couldn’t hold a candle to: The Them.
Aziraphale was positively ruffled by the volume of new customers visiting the bookshop recently. The only saving grace was, the majority seemed to be wearing tartan. How thrilling, to be back in fashion! he thought. What was quite the opposite of thrilling was, without question, the people. Often in twos and threes – usually with the aforementioned tartan, or, bizarrely, in sunglasses, regardless of the weather – they came in, looking at the books, yes, but also looking at him. He had overheard comments such as, “Check out that waistcoat, it’s
IDENTICAL,” and “I wonder where they found him? Reckon he works for Amazon?”
Aziraphale was aware of Amazon – what bookseller was not? – but found the thought of books in faceless warehouses so utterly depressing that he refused to even contemplate the thought of attempting to make a purchase, let alone working for them.
The combination of tartan, sunglasses (which reminded him of Crowley, of course, not that he would ever explain to Crowley why he loved the summer months so, beyond ice cream being more readily available…) and the perpetual question, “Do you have good omens?” made Aziraphale curious. He had established, from a gaggle of customers that marvelled (and took pictures of) his cufflinks, of all things, that good omens was, in fact, “Good Omens”, a popular book and recent television show. If Aziraphale was in the book selling business to sell books, he could have made a fortune from this one title alone, it would seem! He wondered, though, whether he had over-miracled the shop, as, when quizzed further about the premise of the book, his would-be customers often became bashful, or exclaimed that - SURELY! - he must know better than them, and beat a hasty retreat, mumbling about an “immersive experience”, or “cheaper online, anyway”, even though, on this occasion, he would have liked them to stay. It was very flattering to have recognition that he was a connoisseur of all things literary... but it only served to fan the flames of his curiosity.
Even if he had cared to, it would be near-impossible for Aziraphale to compare his prices to those of Amazon on the hulking brick he called his computer. Once a year, he miracled it into life, which was quite enough for him, thank you very much (Aziraphale was always prompt with his tax returns, and had nearly been reduced to tears when online submission became mandatory). Why would you forgo the scents, sounds and sensations of a shop? When he had broached this with Crowley, Crowley had looked at him, aghast, and prattled on about germs and noise and “what if they don’t have what you want?” and... well, Aziraphale wouldn’t be asking him to join him for a stroll down Regent Street any time soon, put it that way.
He did, however, care to use his computer to explore this “Good Omens” phenomenon more closely. Starting his computer was a miracle and a wait, so Aziraphale made his customary cocoa. He chose the big, blue “E”, as Crowley had shown him, and waited, whilst Bing loaded. A cursory search for “Good Omens” returned many links about television (Heaven forfend!) and news of a petition involving something or someone called “Netflix”. Trying again, with “Good Omens plot”, Aziraphale was rewarded with a Wikipedia entry:
“It is the coming of the End Times: the Apocalypse is near, and Final Judgement will soon descend upon the human species. This comes as a bit of bad news to the angel Aziraphale (who was the guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden)...”
Aziraphale dropped his cocoa, the tiny wings on his mug breaking irreparably as they met with the edge of his antique desk. Aziraphale paid no heed, reeling from the ever-growing certainty that he was VERY FAMILIAR with this story. Fingers flying across the keyboard as fast as an annual internet user could manage, Aziraphale, desperate to be wrong, searched for more information. Searching “Aziraphale story” made him wish he had turned the cursed thing off and banished it to Alpha Centauri. “Aziraphale is in love with Crowley in Good Omens,” written by someone called Mary Sue, hit him with a force usually only associated with Gabriel’s most acerbic comments.
Feverently assailing every blue underlined section as Crowley had taught him (Crowley!) to find new material, Aziraphale had no time to pause and examine the implications of this revelation. He was down the rabbit hole now. Once, many moons ago, Aziraphale had explained to Crowley (who he was resolutely not thinking of, presently) that he found his methods of expression a little difficult to follow. Many of these articles were the same, requiring Aziraphale to search in a separate window (Crowley never expected him to need more than one tab) for terms like “shipping” and “fanfic”.
When the “Organization for Transformative Works” came up as a result, Aziraphale was so relieved to see something that sounded like a leading authority that he could even overlook the erroneous “z” in “organisation”. Searching within a website for the first time (a non- celestial miracle if ever there was one), Aziraphale resumed his search for “Good Omens”, expecting, as one would of an organisation, contact details, terms and conditions - in fact, ideally, a cancellation policy for this farce, and memory erasure, to boot. That, he did not find. Instead, he found a website full of stories about... himself. Or, at least, someone very much like him, but doing things that he had most certainly never done.
In a way that he hadn’t pored over text since Agnes Nutter, Aziraphale devoured AO3. It felt like the authors had seen into his dreams – his soul – and bared all for the world to see. Not only did they seem to know his deepest, darkest secret, they all had the fantastical notion that Crowley felt the same way. The first time Aziraphale encountered a scene in which his clumsy declaration of love was met with “Angel, I’ve loved you since Eden,” his belly did a strange flip-flop that had nothing to do with the fact he hadn’t eaten for an hour.
Clicking on the underlined words “First Kiss”, he was delighted to discover there were hundreds, if not thousands, of iterations of that scene. They often took place in the very room in which he now sat, which was… exhilarating. Sometimes he was the first to confess his love, sometimes it was Crowley… but it was always, always reciprocated.
To Aziraphale, it seemed like tags (which, he learnt, set the expectation of a text) were the very epitome of modern parlance: bewildering. “Denial is a river in Egypt” (he knew this, and couldn’t see what on Earth it had to do with the content of the story itself). “Love is a spare pot of marmalade” (he didn’t agree with this, finding quince jelly a more palatable option). “I will go down with this ship” (when there was not the merest hint of water, never mind an actual vessel, in the whole piece).
After several glasses of red wine (yes, it was three in the afternoon, yes it was a Wednesday, but cocoa just wasn’t going to cut the mustard here), Aziraphale began the ‘Explicit’ section. Here, there were stories that went (improbably!) beyond the first kiss, into activities he had only dared to contemplate alone, in the dead of night, after Crowley had gone home and he had drunk just enough that his imagination (and his hand) ran wild.
Some of the tags remained unclear (“BAMF Aziraphale” was a prime example), whilst others were as clear as day (“wing kink” left little to the imagination). One tag flummoxed Aziraphale beyond all others. “PILLOW PRINCIPALITY?!”, he thought. He knew that he had chosen a softer body than he could have, but ‘pillowy’ he most certainly was not. It took him three stories before he understood that, actually, he might have preferred his initial assessment of the situation.
Over the course of hours, of days, Aziraphale learnt the difference between crack and smut, edging and rimming, a service top and a power bottom. The more he read, the more amused he became by the speculations of the authors. Yes, Crowley had wasted a miracle cleaning his jacket (his heart skipped at the thought) but usually, Aziraphale just unbuttoned, like everyone else.
Aziraphale was midway through a particularly steamy story involving chains in the Bastille when a surge of demonic energy (and a bell above the door) alerted him to Crowley’s presence. He managed to minimise the browser window, but the computer was still visibly on when Crowley slunk into the back room.
“Just doing my accounts,” Aziraphale announced, trying (perhaps too hard) to sound breezy.
“Wouldn’t have thought that would take long,” Crowley said, slouching on the sofa. “When did you last sell a book?”
Aziraphale declined to answer that, busying himself instead with fetching some wine, painfully conscious of glaring Windows 95 logo drawing attention to an incriminating minimised window mere feet away from where Crowley sprawled. And, oh... how he sprawled. Fantasies involving Crowley draped over that sofa were not exactly new to Aziraphale, but, having spent several days immersed in graphic descriptions of said fantasy, it was rather distracting to now be presented with the reality. It was a true miracle his hands didn’t shake as he handed Crowley his glass.
Safely seated across the room, Aziraphale searched in vain for the words to describe how he had spent the last few days. The natural thing to do if you find something amusing, perplexing or endearing is to share it with your best friend. But what if you find something bewildering, yearning, hankering... arousing?
If only Crowley were in the habit of reading books, he might have discovered this “Good Omens” phenomenon himself, sparing Aziraphale the need to bring it up. But he couldn’t possibly have known, or he would surely be gleefully relishing his newfound fame, instead of recounting the entire week he had apparently spent gluing coins to pavements.
It was a childish tale, but Aziraphale was content to let Crowley talk, leaving him free to look and his mind to wander. Crowley was especially beautiful when talking animatedly about his particular brand of evil, which was really no more than low-grade annoyance. He had removed his sunglasses, providing Aziraphale with the perfect opportunity to enjoy the intensity of his serpentine eyes. He thought about how those eyes were described in fanfiction and had to conclude that writers did them a disservice.
About Aziraphale, though, writers were overly optimistic. In reality, he fell short of the standards fanfiction held him to. Not forthright, not about this, and too daunted by the crushing weight of six thousand years to do anything to change the course of their relationship now. But, he could wonder. What might it be like to be possessed of the confidence he sometimes exhibited in those stories? What would happen if he crawled into
Crowley’s lap, right now, grabbed his face, and kissed him? He knew what he hoped would happen next, but, in reality, Crowley would be so shocked he’d probably unleash some demonic curse that would discorporate him, or at least leave them both dishevelled for far less enjoyable reasons than Aziraphale hoped.
“You’re quiet tonight,” Crowley observed, interrupting the flow of Aziraphale’s thoughts.
“Oh, thinking about a book I read earlier,” said Aziraphale, skirting dangerously close to the truth.
“Well, that’s better than thinking about accounts, I suppose.”
Aziraphale’s gaze flickered guiltily to his computer. He took a large gulp of wine and, emboldened, added, “In fact, I was thinking I might write one.” He half expected Crowley to ridicule the idea, as was his wont whenever Aziraphale picked up a hobby, but instead he looked somewhere between amused and intrigued.
“You should,” he agreed. “I might even read it.”
No you most certainly will not, Aziraphale thought as he gave a noncommittal hum.
After Crowley left that night, Aziraphale, fuelled by newly vivid fantasies involving a demon sprawled over a dusty bookshop sofa, returned to his computer. He had come to think of himself as something of a leading authority in this odd online subculture (although, no matter how often he saw it, “Bottom Brian Clough” would continue to confound him). After all, who knew the machinations of angels and demons in love, if not Aziraphale himself? He cracked his knuckles, and began to write.