One thing Aziraphale was glad of, was that he’d never actually seen his bookshop burn. He’d been given the news by the one soul he trusted most in the universe, loved most in the universe. He’d concentrated very hard in manifesting in front of Crowley and it had worked. It was the first thing that had gone right in quite a while. And although he hadn’t been able to see Crowley’s face, he’d heard the pain in his voice when he broke the news about the shop. He’d loved him for that, for Crowley’s empathy. Heaven always said demons couldn’t feel anything other than anger and lust. They were wrong.
But now, Aziraphale stood in his new and improved bookshop, taking care of business. There were some new additions to his shop, some Just Williams that hadn’t been there before, in fact, a lot more children's books than before. Bless Adam. They’d all learnt a valuable lesson on what it means to be human.
Not much had changed since they’d averted the end of the world. He and Crowley still met up, went out to luncheon, attended matinees and took walks in the park. They both had much more free time now. He thought he’d get bored of devoting his life to enjoyment, but it hadn’t bothered him yet. It was nice to retire, and Crowley seemed to think so too. Of course, this new freedom brought a problem with it, one so trivial, it almost seemed silly. Now that he was no longer in fear of Heaven finding out about their friendship, he had no reasons to push Crowley away. This was a good thing but it made a few revelations come to light. He could no longer ignore the fact that he desired Crowley. Romantically, physically. The demon moved him. Brought him to the pique of strong emotion and kept him there. Because nothing was ever consummated. Sometimes, Crowley would look at him in a certain way, and Aziraphale would wonder if his feelings were reciprocated. But then, logic would rise up and tell him no, he was only seeing what he wished to see. They were friends, nothing more.
He'd taken a break for a little while, and sat, enjoying a nice cup of tea. It was peaceful.
Oh. He had a customer. Drat. He pasted a polite smile on his face and looked up and froze.
The man approaching his counter looked like a normal human. Well, not normal, he was extremely attractive. His coffee-coloured skin was offset by his deep black curls. He grinned, showing perfect white teeth. His eyes reminded Aziraphale a bit of Crowley’s, they were golden too, but with normal human pupils. Although the pupils were blown wide. He walked over (he had a slight limp) and waved, to get Aziraphale’s attention.
But the scent hanging around him, in his clothes, his hair, his skin was evil. He was a demon.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” Aziraphale said, keeping his voice level. He wished Crowley was there. Aziraphale wasn’t a weakling, he could take care of himself but he always felt safer with Crowley beside him.
“I come from downstairs,” His voice was heavily accented, although where the accent was from was anybody’s guess. “I was looking for humans. For fun!” He grinned again. Other than the fact that his teeth were perhaps a bit too sharp, he’d easily pass for human.
“Looking for humans?” Aziraphale didn’t bother pretending that he was one, this demon must have picked up his angelic essence immediately. “Why? I suppose your lot hunt them for sport,”
The man shook his head and his curls spun. “No, no, never for sport. For fun!” He leant over the counter and his gaze travelled up and down Aziraphale’s body. “For lust,” He spoke English but Aziraphale got the impression he didn’t spend much time talking or perhaps he spoke a lot of languages and couldn’t remember the grammatical rules for all of them. Perhaps he was simply better at communicating non-verbally. There was only one demon he could be.
“Yes! You know me!” He seemed pleased.
“I know you’re the prince of Lust. I’ve not met many princes before, just Beelzebub. Oh, and Satan himself...does he count?”
“You are not afraid, little angel?”
Aziraphale bristled more at the ‘little angel’ remark than the subtle threat. “I’m not. Now, I’m running a business here so unless you’re planning to buy something-”
Asmodeus slapped a book down on the counter. Aziraphale reached for it and - oh, good Lord. Kama Sutra by Vātsyāyana . He hadn’t realised he even had a copy of that here. It might not have been his, perhaps Asmodeus carried a copy everywhere.
“Tell me something,” Asmodeus said. “Why does nice angel give off such strong feelings of lust? I pick up your energy from mile away,”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,”
Asmodeus shot him a reproving look. At once his face seemed to change. Black horns pushed through his curls, his eyes darkened and his hands, which were resting on the counter, grew fearsome talons. He idly dragged his fingers up and down the counter, scratching deep grooves into the wood while Aziraphale watched in horror. Several seconds passed where all that could be heard was the scratching of Amodeus’s claws. He wasn’t just drawing random lines, Aziraphale realised. It was a crude drawing of a snake.
“The Original Tempter,” Asmodeus said. Seeing the look on Aziraphale’s face, he laughed softly. “Relax. He is not knowing of your feelings. He does not have the nose for it. But Asmodeus? He smells it here,” he ran one taloned finger along the side of Aziraphale’s neck. Aziraphale shivered.
“If you’ve come to gloat- ”
“No, no…” Asmodeus was shaking his head and those curls were flying again. “I help. You are businessman, I am businessman, I sell to you. You are happy, Asmodeus is happy and the serpent Crowley is none of the wise,”
“None of the wis er, ” Aziraphale corrected him. Asmodeus didn’t seem bothered that he’d been chastised, he was staring dreamily at Aziraphale’s lips. “What could you possibly have that I would want to buy?”
Asmodeus straightened up, all business (and smiles). “Very good, I show you. Demonic artistry!” He clicked his fingers and they were in Aziraphale’s bedroom.
“Wait, I don’t-”
“Hush, holy thing,” He reached into the black bag he was carrying and pulled out a doll. He passed it to Aziraphale. It was about the length of Aziraphale’s forearm, head to toe, and was very well made and surprisingly heavy for a child’s plaything. Its hair were short strands of red wool, its face was made of cream-coloured corduroy. The head felt firm, perhaps sewn inside was a golf ball or a ball of tightly-wadded fabric. Its mouth a straight black line of wool. It wore a black jacket, grey collarless shirt, black jeans and black shoes and a grey scarf. It’s eyes were marbles, translucent yellow with thin black slivers inside.
“A doll of Crowley. Very nice. I’m not sure why you think I would want this -”
Asmodeus tutted and then cleared his throat to speak. When he spoke, he ignored Aziraphale completely and spoke only to the doll. “Crowley doll, wake up!”
Something pushed Aziraphale backwards, some unseen force and he fell heavily, grunting from the impact. A shadow fell over him. Crowley. Crowley, his dearest friend, his secret love, was standing there, perfectly still, staring ahead with a strangely blank look on his face. Behind him stood Asmodeus, arms folded, grinning like a proud parent.
“Is good, no? Looks like real thing. What are you thinking?”
“Crowley, what’s going on?” he held out his hand but Crowley didn’t help him up, so he staggered to his feet, a little offended.
Crowley didn’t respond. He hadn’t moved at all. This was very worrying.
“Silly angel, I keep telling you, is not Crowley. It is Asmodeus’s toy. The doll...”
At that, Aziraphale hunted on the floor. The doll had been wrenched from his grasp as he fell and it was no longer there, that was true. But this was impossible...wasn’t it? You couldn’t make a living doll that looked so...perfect. He voiced this and Asmodeus seemed to take it as a compliment of his skills.
“Is very convincing, yes. It is my first effort, but is very good. I thought you try it? Tell me if you like it? Demons do not love, little angel. Is sad but is life. But you are soft angel, being of love. You could pine for demon who thinks nothing of you or you could... indulge, ”
“And if I do this, I’ll wake up tomorrow in a pool of sulphur with two black wings?” Aziraphale said, cocking an eyebrow.
“No. It is not sin, you will not Fall, it is like, uh, kissing a photograph. This is not real Crowley, this is doll. See?” He rapped his knuckles on Crowley’s forehead. His fingers made a hard sound. Aziraphale flinched but Crowley didn’t.
“I could never betray his trust like that,”
Asmodeus looked politely puzzled. “Is not betraying anything! Is like kissing photograph! Crowley is demon, Asmodeus is demon, same thing. Crowley not mind. Trust Asmodeus!” He tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially.
“And why are you helping me?”
“I need test run. To know if it works. I do not want give to other demons, they use it for war effort. Asdmodeus wants his inventions used for pleasure not...uh, boring things,”
“And you’re just going to give it to me?” Aziaphale said skeptically.
Asmodeus grinned at the double entendre, and Aziraphale blushed. “The doll, I mean. You’re just going to hand it over?”
“No, little one. You pay,”
“Pay with what?”
Asmodeus pushed on Crowley’s chest and he obligingly took a few steps backwards. Asmodeus made his way to Aziraphale and smiled down at him. Aziraphale swallowed. The demon was very tall.
“I have had humans, demons, something I think was abominable snowman once! But no angel. Never an angel,”
“So you’ve got a list of species and you want to cross me off?”
“You make it sound cold. Clin- i -cal…” His breath drifted on Aziraphale’s face. It smelt rich, spicy. It made him think of embalming, which should have repelled him and yet…he felt dizzy, the floor was unsteady beneath his feet. He grabbed Asmodeus’s lapels for balance.
“I don’t think-” he whispered.
“Gooood…” Asmodeus cooed, nuzzling Aziraphale’s neck. “Don’t think-”
His lips were close, so close Aziraphale could feel his warm breath.The demonic scent was so strong, it reminded him a little of Crowley although Crowley’s unique brand of wickedness was so familiar, it was reassuring. This strange demon’s scent was overpowering like strong perfume, it invaded his nose and his throat, made him want to take deep, unpoisoned breaths outside.
“I shouldn’t-” He hardly knew what he was saying. This was wrong, it was a betrayal but wouldn’t it be worse to pine for Crowley, to make him think he had nothing more than beautiful pure friendship with Aziraphale only for Aziraphale to secretly harbour these sinful feelings for him? Wouldn’t it be kinder in the long run for Aziraphale to rid himself of these feelings by using them up on the doll, so he would be free to let their friendship return to its natural state? “Oh, alright!”
Asmodeus stepped back and he could breathe again. “Excellent! You will not regret. Crowley doll will do anything you desire, however there are rules. First, never show him to anyone. I do not want people knowing of this power yet. Not until I can refine. Second, give him clear instructions. He is not understanding of sarcasm. Third, turn him back into little doll when you are done. Two Crowleys running around will cause suspicion. To wake him up, you say “Crowley doll, wake up!” To send him back to sleep, you say “Crowley doll, go to sleep!”” This last bit was directed at Crowley. This time, Aziraphale could see the effect. A puff of smoke and Crowley was gone and the little doll was lying on the floor. Asmodeus bent, displaying a shapely arse (Aziraphale averted his gaze) and scooped the doll up, cradling it in his arms.
“Most important, it is not real Crowley. It cannot hold conversation with you. It cannot think for itself. It cannot learn from mistakes. Do you understand?” His tawny eyes were burning into Aziraphale’s face.
“Good!” Asmodeus was smiling again. He seemed possessed by the same manic energy as Crowley, maybe it was a demon quirk. His sudden changes in mood were disorientating, Aziraphale felt like he had whiplash.
“You take doll, have fun. I will be back in two days for payment,” he winked. “If you like it, you keep it, Asmodeus can make more for other customers. If you not like, please tell,”
“I - uh, fine,”
Asmodeus clicked his fingers and they were back in the shop. He turned to go, but then swung back and stroked the side of Aziraphale’s face. “Pretty angel.” Then he was gone.
Aziraphale stood in the shop, staring down at the little patchwork doll. He could hardly believe he’d signed up for this. He’d faced Satan before but this truly felt like a deal with the devil.