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The Road Not Taken

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Aziraphale waited three days before curiosity got the better of him. For three exhausting days he tried to pretend that nothing had happened. But even an angel who was very good at telling falsehoods could only lie to himself for so long. He knew what he had done. He'd taken certain liberties with his corporation — he'd masturbated — to the sound of Crowley's voice.

And it had been wonderful.

He wanted to do it again. He wanted, if at all possible, to search for another audiobook — a different one, where the story would be a surprise and the things Crowley said would be new and unexpected.

He sat down at the computer and looked at it, then fiddled with the mouse for several minutes. He spent some time rearranging the desktop icons one by one. Then he got up and grabbed a book he'd been meaning to reread. But it was no good. A few minutes later he was back at the computer, opening the browser, and searching for the name C.J. Anthony.

He sorted through pages and pages of irrelevant results before he decided to include the words audiobook read by in front of Crowley's pseudonym.

It confused and annoyed him that the results were full of audiobooks narrated by people other than the one fictitious name he was seeking. He didn't like that he could so clearly ask the device for one thing in particular and then not receive what he'd requested. He felt a strong desire to speak to the internet's manager.

But of course he knew that wasn't an option. No one managed the internet. The internet just happened to everyone and it was horrible.

It hadn't been a heavenly initiative, that was for certain. Crowley would have loved to claim it as one of his. Unfortunately for him, most other demons weren't even clear on the concept of a computer, so the explanations involved in taking credit would have been prohibitive. Aziraphale had empathized fiercely with that dilemma. Both their head offices were terrible when it came to understanding earth in all its nuances.

He sighed at the computer, but that didn't do anything to alter his search results.

"This simply isn't working!" He said aloud in absolute frustration.

("Course not, love. You have to put the quote marks around it to find an exact phrase."

Crowley would explain it to him as easy as that, but it wouldn't happen for another fourteen years and by that time Aziraphale wouldn't need pre-recorded narrated books anymore because he could have the actual Crowley on hand whenever he wanted. But of course he didn't know any of that in 2006.)

All Aziraphale could do at the moment was click through his search results until finally, at last, on page fifteen he found one more item that actually was read by C.J. Anthony.

He didn't hesitate to order it, even though it wasn't an audiobook at all. It was something altogether perplexing.

Crowley had been feeling restless ever since he'd dropped the audiobook in the post. The question that kept him awake at night was whether Aziraphale had listened to it and then whether he'd listened to enough of it to get to the part he probably should have edited out but didn't — the part that was essentially a lust and love confession all wrapped up in one cringeworthy cassette tape.

He was sorely tempted to drop in at the bookshop on the pretense of calling in a favor of the Arrangement variety. But actually as an excuse for going to lunch, which would secretly be an excuse to scan the shelves in search of the audiobook. Because what if Aziraphale really hadn't listened to it? What if he had just been ordering a whole lot of audiobooks without paying any attention to what they actually were? Maybe he'd try selling them to people in hopes they'd leave his first editions alone. That sounded like something Aziraphale would do.

If that was the case, then Crowley wanted to find out. He'd wait until Aziraphale wasn't looking, and he'd steal the book back and destroy it.

He was still working to convince himself to drop in on Aziraphale when it happened: another order arrived from A.Z. Fell.

Crowley's first thought was He knows.

He knows it's my store and he's buying things on purpose...

He didn't even remember he'd listed another fake audio product in his fake online store.

He had a lot of fake products. He liked coming up with them while he was drinking, because it was a good tactic to keep his mind occupied. It was often how he prevented himself from calling Aziraphale and confessing all his feelings.

He'd added pages and pages of fairly typical household appliances: blenders and coffee grinders, microwaves and air conditioners. And then, because it amused him, he added ancillary parts for them, sold separately and packaged bizarrely.

For example, if you wanted the 18cm replacement air filter for the Spark 9 Air Purifier, you had to buy it in a multipack with seven other varieties of filter. Three of those alternate filters were for other in-home air purifiers, another three were automobile air filters made for different cars, and the last was a single extra-large coffee filter for brewing one industrial-sized vat of coffee in the Magnum Series Stainless Steel Caffeinator. It was a wretched way to sell a product if you wanted lots of people to buy it, but a very good way if you were a curious demon who wanted to know if anyone would even try.

And of course he never sold anything anyway.

Bad reviews didn't affect him. He'd invented the server-side miracle — a few lines of code that identified poor reviews and replaced them with glowing recommendations. The host company had named him a platinum star seller. They'd even sent him a certificate with an embossed metallic star on it. Which, you know, he'd kept.

A few days later, Aziraphale received his purchase. It arrived on CD, packaged neatly in a large envelope lined with bubble wrap.

"Congratulations on your purchase of this excellent Model X2-VR7 Food Processor. You've made the right choice here, my friend, I promise."

Crowley's voice was as smooth and confident as a television advertisement. But he also sounded amused, just a little. Aziraphale, who knew him better than anyone, could absolutely tell.

"Now, let's take some time to embark together on a brief but memorable journey through the instruction manual for your brand spanking new apparatus."

The food processor itself had not been part of the purchase. Just the CD of instructions, read aloud by one C.J. Anthony. It was the only other online product Aziraphale had found when he'd searched online for that name, the pseudonym that he now knew — very well indeed — was actually Crowley.

It was a strange thing to purchase, but also a strange thing to sell alone without the actual product. Curiosity got the better of him — he refused to stop listening.

"It comes complete with accessories enclosed: the metal chopping blade, the plastic dough blade, a metal slicing disc..."

Crowley continued to read the accessories, and only paused for a moment to confess to his listener that he had no idea what a stem adapter could be. Aziraphale, who did not actually own a food processor, wasn't sure either.

"First thing to do is find a good flat surface, like the floor or a table. Place the box on it and open the lid starting with the side flaps."

Then, there was a short pause, the sound of papers shuffling, and Crowley's voice, muttering to himself, followed by a hiss.

"This is very sspecific. Who writes these things?!"

The audio cut out entirely and there was a long pause in the recording. When it returned, Crowley's voice was suave once more. He sounded completely composed.

"You'll find the instruction booklet at the top of the box. Remove it."

This was followed by another pause, and then the sound of pages fluttering, like an instruction booklet being tossed across a room to thump gently against a far wall.

"Now, this will be the same instruction booklet we're currently, er, engaged with, so... It's clear from the outset that you're the sort of individual who approaches motorized, bladed devices with caution. That's understandable, I think, when it comes to the advanced food processor..."

"But, you know, there's such a thing as being too cautious. About life in general, I mean. About the... the people you care about. Just keep that in mind. A bit of life advice for free. There's something to be said for taking chances... But, definitely not with these razor sharp circular blades. Let's proceed delicately with the rest of the unpacking..."