There was a woman in Aziraphale’s shop.
It happened sometimes; it was only natural, after all. He ran a business, and occasionally customers would show up, wanting to…custom. While this wasn’t as big a problem as it had been before the Armageddon’t—Aziraphale had been making an effort to stock books he could actually sell—he still didn’t really like it. There was a knee-jerk reaction to it that Aziraphale hadn’t quite managed to overcome.
So he fought off the twitch and smiled pleasantly at the woman and informed her he would be happy to help her if she needed anything.1
She returned the smile and told him, “I’m fine, thank you.” Aziraphale watched nervously as she wandered through the shelves, picking books up nearly as carefully as Aziraphale would, closely examining them, then setting them gently back on the shelves. Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief when she smiled at him and left without buying anything.
She came back the next day, and the day after that, and every day that week. She never bought anything and was always careful and polite. By the time the weekend had rolled around, Aziraphale was beaming, his faith in the good of man temporarily restored.
Crowley stopped by the shop on Saturday afternoon, hoping to tempt Aziraphale to lunch. “Good morning, angel,” he said as the bell above the door announced his presence. It wasn’t morning, of course, and Crowley was aware of that, but the inaccuracy bothered the angel.
Not today, though. Aziraphale grinned at him and said, “Good afternoon, Crowley.”
Crowley frowned and leaned against the counter. “What are you so pleased about, angel?”
Aziraphale continued to beam and said, “Oh, nothing, nothing.”
Crowley shook his head and was about to ask Aziraphale—tempt, that is—to lunch when a woman came around one of the bookshelves. Crowley jumped as she started talking. “Is this an actual first edition signed by Oscar Wilde?”
“Er, yes,” Aziraphale said.
“Oh my,” the woman murmured, walking back around the bookshelf.
Crowley turned to Aziraphale. “There is a woman in your shop,” he said.
“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed.
“There is a woman in your shop.”
“I heard you the first time, dear.”
“There is a woman in your shop, touching the signed first edition Wilde I got for you, and you’re grinning like a bloody idiot!”
“Shh,” Aziraphale reproved. “She’ll hear you.”
“Oh, well,” Crowley said sarcastically, “we can’t have that.”
“She’s really very nice,” Aziraphale told him.
“This is not like you,” Crowley accused.
The woman came out from behind the bookshelf again. “Thank you,” she said, “I’ll see you on M—” She stopped, appearing to see Crowley for the first time. “Oh. Hello.” She looked at Aziraphale quizzically, then said, “Have a nice day,” and left.
“Oh ho,” Crowley said. “I see how it is, angel.” He grinned. “A human woman, eh? Well, I can’t say I’ve never been that road—”
Aziraphale spluttered indignantly. “Pardon me?”
“No, no,” Crowley said, still grinning like a…crocodile, “I understand completely. It happens. Small bookstore, attractive, bookish human woman…well, maybe I don’t understand completely…”
“My dear boy,” Aziraphale said, the very picture of offended, “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course not,” Crowley said, not letting up on the grin. “Of course not. Lunch?”
“Oh, that sounds lovely, dear, thank you. Let me just—hmm.” Aziraphale stopped and frowned. He dithered for a moment.
Crowley sighed. “What is it?”
“Well,” Aziraphale said, “the store is supposed to be open at the moment…” Crowley looked at him exasperatedly. Aziraphale ignored him and went on, “Of course, the woman who just left is ordinarily my only—”
“Come on, then,” Crowley said impatiently, holding the door open for him.
Aziraphale beamed at him as he walked out to the somehow legally-parked Bentley. Crowley blessed under his breath as the door locked itself behind him. Holding doors open, next thing you knew he’d be rescuing cats stuck in trees and helping old ladies cross the street. Aziraphale was far too much of a good influence on him.
Crowley dropped Aziraphale off in front of his shop several hours after most people would have considered a reasonable lunch to end. Of course, Crowley never had a reasonable lunch2 if he could help it.
“Thank you, dear,” Aziraphale said as he climbed out of the car. “That was lovely.”
Crowley grinned. “Don’t mention it,” he said. After all, it was only right that he should encourage gluttony in his angelic fr—counterpart. That, and he didn’t know anyone else with the same taste in fine wines.
Aziraphale watched Crowley drive away and noticed, with some pleasure, that Crowley hadn’t even tried to hit that man crossing the street. He continued to smile to himself as he fumbled with the large, old-fashioned key to his shop. Technically, he should open the store again, as it should have been open the whole time he was at lunch, but he’d recently gotten in a volume of Milton he hadn’t had occasion to read for the last few decades and he was looking forward to spending an afternoon with it.
He was closing the door behind him when the woman appeared and knocked on the glass, badly startling Aziraphale.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he opened the door again to let the woman in, “did you forget something?”
“Er, actually,” the woman said sheepishly, “I was hoping to take another look at that first edition Wilde.”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, fighting off a stab of worry (looking twice could mean buying). “Certainly.”
So the woman took another look at a gift Crowley had given Aziraphale man Christmases ago, while Aziraphale stood by the register doing the crossword and trying not to think of excuses to refuse to sell the book.
Eventually, however, the woman came up to the counter holding Biggles Goes to Washington, priceless first editions nowhere in sight.
“I have a friend who collects these,” the woman said as she fumbled in her wallet for the money. “I don’t...” She trailed off as Aziraphale handed the children’s book back to her in a bag.3 “Who was that man earlier?” she asked. “He seemed upset.”
“Crowley? He’s always like that,” Aziraphale told her.
“Oh,” she said. “How do you know him?”
Aziraphale honestly had no idea how to answer that. A few humans had asked throughout the centuries (millennia, really), but Crowley was always there to make up some ridiculous—and usually terribly embarrassing—lie, and Aziraphale had never given it a thought. “Er,” he said. “Through work.” Which was true.
“He’s a bookseller too?” the woman asked, looking taken aback.
“Er,” Aziraphale said.
The woman shook her head. “I suppose you never now,” she said, taking her bag. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” And she walked out of the bookstore, apparently believing Crowley also ran a bookstore.4
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale said.
It had been a long time since Aziraphale had been friends with a human. Oh, he visited Tadfield once in a while to take a godfatherly gift to Adam, but that wasn’t at all the same.
The woman (whose name, Aziraphale had learned, was Marissa) was at his shop so often he was beginning to wonder if he should pay her. On the infrequent days that another customer dropped by, she would tell them to be careful, glare at them until they left, and put the books back in their proper order on the shelves.
It was as though Aziraphale had a clone to run the shop, leaving him free to read and drink cocoa and solve all the puzzles in the Times.
She even brought in the mail one day.
There was a kind of conversation that Aziraphale could only have with Crowley. Doing the same job for opposite sides, as it were, let them understand each other in a way that no one from either of their sides could, and in a way that was far beyond that which a mortal was able to. After all, working against each other for six thousand years was not something anyone else in Creation could understand.
However, Crowley did not have the same appreciation for literature Aziraphale did. In fact, Crowley tended to dislike any literature he didn’t have a hand in creating (he had gifted Aziraphale several volumes of Wilde and Dante, for example, and kept several shelves of trashy romances hidden away in his apartment, but couldn’t stand The Wizard of Oz).
Marissa did not.
It was rarely indeed that Aziraphale met a human he could have an intelligent conversation with, and even more rare that said person had the same tastes in reading material as he did.
He quite liked having her around nearly every day.
They were deep in a conversation about the merits of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets (118, in fact) when the bell over the door made a very odd noise.
“Oh, angel!” Crowley called as he walked through the door. “I believe you owe me a dinner—” He brought himself up short as he saw Marissa standing at the counter, almost ridiculously close to the angel.
Marissa blinked at Crowley as Aziraphale said, “Oh, hello, Crowley. Do I? But I’m afraid I have to stay here until it’s time to close.”
“Oh no!” Marissa said immediately, looking at Aziraphale. “You go on, I’ll lock the door behind me.”
“No,” Aziraphale said, “I couldn’t ask you to do—”
“You’re not!” she insisted. “I’m offering. You go off with your Mr. Crowley, I’ll take care of the shop.” She came around the counter and started pushing him towards the door Crowley still stood in front of. “I insist,” she said, pushing them both out the door.
“Er, but I—”
She closed the door behind them.
Aziraphale turned to look at Crowley, bewildered. “Dinner, did you say?”
“Right,” Crowley said, opening the door of the Bentley. He looked over at Aziraphale. “Do you get the feeling...?”
“Yes,” Aziraphale said, not needing Crowley to finish the question.5 “Yes I do.”
They climbed into the car and shut the doors. Crowley said, “That’s...”
“Indeed.” Aziraphale looked rather troubled. “You don’t...”
“Of course not,” Crowley said, sounding hardly hasty at all. “Of course not.” He did, though. He really did. It was not the first time he’d thought about doing such a thing with the angel, but he was fairly certain it was the first time someone else had thought about him doing such a thing with the angel.6
Crowley stopped by several times over the next few weeks, and Marissa was there every time. And every time, she made some comment or pushed them out the door together or something, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that she was, indeed, trying to set them up.
Her clumsy attempts would have ordinarily been hilarious to such a seasoned tempter as Crowley. However, the angel’s increasing flusteredness was not, in fact, encouraging, no matter how inept the matchmaker was.
It was simply difficult to take amusement in someone else’s incompetence when said incompetence was making him wish she were a little less ineffective at convincing the angel that taking up with Crowley wasn’t such a completely terrible idea.
Mostly Aziraphale seemed to find the idea absurd and a little appalling, and terribly embarrassing.
Which, you know, wasn’t at all insulting.
At Aziraphale’s suggestion, Crowley had taken to dropping by in the mornings, which did involve getting up at a reasonable hour but meant he ran less risk of running into the woman.
Crowley couldn’t understand why Aziraphale still liked the bloody woman when she flustered him so.7
So Crowley had dropped by one disgustingly fine morning to say hello and certainly not to do anything nice, and he and the angel were taking, when he happened to glance out the window and see that horrible woman walking towards them from the other side of the street.
Unable to think of a better solution, Crowley dove over the counter and tackled Aziraphale, so they were both safely hidden.
“My dear,” Aziraphale started to whisper, but Crowley shushed him.
The bells over the door tinkled. “Hallo?” Crowley heard her call. “Mr. Fell? That’s odd. The door was open, so he must...” The voice trailed off, presumably as she either walked away or realized she was talking to herself.
“My dear,” Aziraphale whispered again, this time quieter than most humans could hear but well within audible for those of angelic stock, “why didn’t you just lock the door?”
Crowley had been in such a panic, that hadn’t even occurred to him. He simply hadn’t wanted to set through another terribly awkward episode of “let’s ignore the mortal who wants to play matchmaker.”
Though now that he thought about it, being squashed up next to the angel in the tiny space behind the counter wasn’t exactly what he would call “better.”
He tried not to think about it and concentrated instead on listening to the woman moving around the shop—sounded as though she was looking into the back room now, why on Earth was she allowed to go in there?
“Crowley,” Aziraphale whispered seriously as Marissa called for Mr. Fell again. Crowley looked over at him. “I love you.”8
Crowley squirmed uncomfortably. “Do you have to bring that up now?” Honestly, sometimes it was as though the angel took classes in how to make things as awkward as possible. He really shouldn’t be allowed around people, Crowley thought.
“I think so,” Aziraphale said, frowning and looking quite worried. “It felt like the thing to do.”
“Sometimes,” Crowley muttered through his teeth, “you are too angelic for my own good.” The woman’s footsteps put her somewhere on the other side of the shop, and Crowley was fairly certain he had just heard her take a book off a shelf and open it. No wonder Aziraphale liked her, she was as single-minded as he was about books.
Aziraphale shook his head. “Crowley,” he said again, still frowning, “I don’t mean in the way—at least, I don’t think—” He cut himself off, said, “Oh, bother,” and leaned over to kiss Crowley.
It was not, disturbingly enough, the kind of chaste kiss one would tend to expect from an angel. It made Crowley want to ask when and why (and with whom) Aziraphale had learned to kiss like that. It made another part of him want to panic and push Aziraphale away because really there was no way the angel knew what this meant. It made another, perhaps wiser or possibly simply more selfish, part of Crowley tell those other parts to shut up and enjoy it while it lasted.
Eventually, Aziraphale pulled away. “Sorry,” he said, looking away immediately, “I didn’t—I mean, that wasn’t—”
“Right,” Crowley said with a sinking but not entirely unexpected feeling. Of course it wasn’t. The angel had probably just confused the appropriate responses to a situation again. He did that from time to time. Crowley remembered one particularly painful instance when he’d managed to mistake what that minister had clearly intended as a friendly gesture for a challenge to a duel, and...
Well, at least this one wouldn’t end in discorporation. Probably.
“I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” the angel babbled on, turning rather redder than usual. “I’m sure I overstepped something, but I honestly wasn’t—”
“Wait,” Crowley said, “uncomfortable?”
“Well, yes,” Aziraphale said. “Here you are, trying to avoid just this, and—”
“I was trying to avoid an annoying human woman,” Crowley said, “not kissing you. If I was really trying to avoid that, I would avoid you entirely.” And reciprocating generally wasn’t considered the best way to discourage a behavior, at least as far as Crowley knew.
Aziraphale looked back over at him. “Oh,” he said. His lips were in just the right place now, so Crowley leaned in and kissed him again, quickly and showing far more restraint than the angel had.9
“Oh,” Aziraphale said again after Crowley pulled away. “Don’t I feel silly.”
Crowley almost said something scathing to that, but then he remembered that he seemed to be in a quite agreeable position at the moment, and he didn’t want to bollocks it up. So instead, he said, “So do I,” and kissed the angel again.
Now, Crowley wasn’t one to kiss and tell10, but it was a good thing they didn’t actually need to breathe. It was no wonder he didn’t hear the woman walk over, give a quiet little surprised gasp, and sneak away.
He did hear the bells over the door tinkle and pulled away from Aziraphale to look in the direction of the door. He didn’t hear anything and looked over the counter. When he saw no one was there, he slid back down to the floor next to the angel.
“So,” Crowley said, grinning just a tad more widely than should have been physically possible, “it’s all turned out all right. In the end, I mean.”
“I suppose so,” Aziraphale said, looking over at him and smiling just angelically enough that it didn’t quite hurt Crowley to look at. After a moment, though, the smile faded and Aziraphale said, “I must admit, I’m a little worried about what will happen when my side finds out. Or your side, for that matter.”
Crowley hadn’t thought of that.
Adam smiled when Marissa called him and told him that she may have set up that bookseller Adam had recommended to her when she was still living in Tadfield. She quite liked the bookseller and even though it had been her idea, now she was a little worried about whether it was a good idea. The man she’d set him up with was somewhat dangerous-looking and she wasn’t entirely certain the bookseller would be safe with him. One of those flash criminal types, you know.
Adam smiled and said, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be all right."
1 It wasn’t precisely a lie; Aziraphale would have been perfectly happy to help her with anything, so long as it didn’t involve buying one of his books.
2 Or anything else.
3 Part of Aziraphale was relieved that it was only one of the Mr. Biggles books, and part of his brain was saying “But that’s a first edition as well!”
4 Little did the angel know that the woman was quite certain Crowley was the owner of the type of bookstore with darkened windows that sold exclusively “Adult” books.
5 It’s incredible what six thousand years’ acquaintance can do to a conversation sometimes.
6 This was, of course, entirely wrong.
7 In hindsight, this should have been a Clue.
8 As a rule, angels did their best to love everything, or at least do a convincing job of pretending that they did. Aziraphale was better at it than most angels, which probably had some effect on his difficulty with smiting properly. He had informed Crowley of this fact several times before, and it had never ceased to make Crowley’s demonic skin crawl.
9 They really were terrible influences on each other.
10 Absolutely untrue.