Crowley looked at Aziraphale. Aziraphale looked back.
“Are you quite sure,” Aziraphale began. The scepticism dripped from every word, landing with a squelch between them.
“Yes,” Crowley said quickly. He was, in fact, not sure at all, but now was not the time to lose face in front of the Adversary, even if the Adversary was less about the whole hereditary enemies thing these days and more about having a spot of lunch with an old chum. There were just certain things you didn’t let go of, even if you did save the world together.
Aziraphale gave Crowley another look. Crowley ignored it.
“It’s really very simple,” Crowley went on, hoping that once they got started, it would actually be. “It’s just a lot of insert tab a into slot b over and over again, looks like.”
“What if the wrong tab a goes into the wrong slot b?” Aziraphale wanted to know.
“That’s what the diagram is for, so you know which goes where.” Crowley looked at the diagram again to double-check it. “That seems about right.”
There was a pause as they both studied the diagram together. After a moment or two, Aziraphale reached out and adjusted it so that it was right-side up.
“Why are we doing this again?” he asked. It was not the first time he had asked.
Actually, for having agreed to the whole thing in the first place, he was being a bit of a tit about it. Crowley suspected that Aziraphale knew he was being a bit of a tit about it, and that he was just using the whole end-of-the-world business as an excuse to get away with it. It only made Crowley double-down on his determination.
“Because,” Crowley said shortly. “We decided—together, I might add—that if we were going to vouch for humanity, we ought to know a thing or two about how they really live. I suggested it, you thought it was a good idea, and we’re sticking with it.”
“I thought it was a good idea because I was six sheets to the wind,” Aziraphale grumbled under his breath, and then he sighed. “Fine. I’ll read off this, you go ahead and do the tab and slot bits.”
“It’s a two man job,” Crowley pointed out.
“We’re not men. Not really.”
“No, but we’re doing this as men, so come on. Cheer up, angel. You might even enjoy it.”
And Crowley gave him his winningest, temptingest grin. Aziraphale hated that grin, Crowley knew—he’d told Crowley once that it gave him the heebie-jeebies, which had been a mistake, because then Crowley knew he could use it to get Aziraphale to do whatever it was that would make him stop using it.
One of the perks of being a demon, of course, was that Crowley felt no obligation to use the tools available to him in any way approaching sparingly. He grinned a little bit harder.
Sure enough, Aziraphale folded. “Fine,” he snapped. He wrestled himself up out of his armchair and stood next to Crowley, picking up a little plastic baggie full of screws and washers and wooden dowels and glaring down at a collection of pressed particleboard masquerading as a potential bookshelf. “Looks like we start by sticking the dowels—that’ll be tab a—into the holes on the sides of the individual shelves. Slot b.”
“Right,” Crowley said, folding himself into a complicated knot of legs on the floor and pulling the shelves closer to him. “We’ll have this bookcase built in no time, and then we can get on with the rest of the List.”
The List was exactly what it purported itself to be, which was a list.
Crowley’d gotten the idea from some film he’d seen ten or so years ago, which he’d really only taken note of because people had started talking about it with the sort of great annoyance that only excessively schmaltzy displays of unrelatable sentiment could inspire in people that had to live in reality, with things like bills and Tescos and friends that said oh yeah let’s get together sometime but didn’t actually mean it. The film itself had been perfectly horrible and only seemed to get more horrible with age—Crowley had actually taken credit for it in a report three years after it had been released, when the horribleness seemed to reach some zenith—but the premise itself had actually not been bad, which was probably why the film seemed so terrible by comparison.
The premise was simple: you were supposed to write a list of all the things you wanted to do before you died, which was supposed to be called a bucket list, and then you crossed them off using someone else’s money. Crowley couldn’t remember what buckets had to do with it, but that wasn’t the point anyway.
“But we’re not going to die,” Aziraphale had said, when Crowley had first proposed starting a list of their own over drinks the week after Armageddon. There had been a lot of drinks after Armageddon—it had just seemed like the thing to do. “We have always just sort of done whatever we wanted.”
“No,” Crowley had disagreed, “we’ve done what they expected us to do. Heaven, Hell, whomever. Tempting and thwarting and all that. Always working toward the ineffable plan, which if you think about it was pretty stupid, considering nobody ever knew what the plan actually was.”
“That’s ineffability for you,” Aziraphale had said.
Crowley had been getting quite worked up by then. “Well, it’s bollocks. I mean, how many times have you had to stop doing whatever you were doing in order to go do what you thought they wanted you to be doing? And then what did they get? Hm? Half-hearted tempting and thwarting, that’s what. Craftsmanship went out of the game a long time ago, which isn’t to say that we were bad at our jobs.” He paused. “Though, actually, we were. But that was because neither of us really wanted to be doing it, now did we?”
He had looked expectantly at Aziraphale, who seemed to have lost track of what Crowley was saying halfway through and had instead been making the whisky in his glass do a swirl. “I just want to read my books,” he had said forlornly. “Is that so much to ask? To read a book?”
That had not been at all the point Crowley was trying to get at, so he had said, very loudly, “Anyway,” and pressed on. “We should make a list of things they like doing. We already know what we like, right? I like sleep, and good wine, and—and—”
“Vintage cars,” Aziraphale had supplied.
“My vintage car,” Crowley had corrected. “And you like books.”
“And little antique shops. And good restaurants. And tartan. Oh, and—”
“And snuffboxes, yes, I know. Point is, angel, the point is, we know what we like. We know what we think is worthwhile down here. But who’s to say that we won’t have to explain it to someone else again, see? Who’s to say that the Antichrist won’t grow up and decide he’d rather burn the world down than to, you know, pay the tax on the car or what have you? Gets sick of queuing at the bank? No, we’ve got to be prepared.”
There was a certain look that Aziraphale wore occasionally—a pinched sort of moue that looked like he’d just taken a very large mouthful of cinnamon—which meant he thought Crowley was being ridiculous. He had put it on.
“Hang on,” he had said. “You want us to do human things?”
“Not just doing human things, we already do a lot of that,” Crowley had said, gesturing wildly. He had felt that Aziraphale was just on the cusp of getting it, or at least of giving in, mostly because Aziraphale pretty commonly wore the You’re-Ridiculous look immediately before sighing and agreeing to an ill-advised lunch at the Ritz. “Doing human things the human way. Trying to really understand what about the way humans do things makes them the way that they are, with all that contradiction and so on. What about the human experience makes humans so…well, human.”
Aziraphale had made the whisky in his glass swirl in the other direction, frowning at it. Then he had sighed, and groaned, and said, “What sort of human things?”
Crowley had grinned.
They did not have the bookcase built in no time.
They had it mostly assembled in about three hours, which felt surprisingly like forever to a couple of immortals, and then Aziraphale went to stand it upright. It promptly wobbled, then wibbled, then slammed itself back down to the ground with an ominous crack.
Crowley sat down next to it like a puppet with cut strings.
“You know,” he mused, “I always thought that Hell was working overtime unnecessarily, and this is a prime example. Perfectly good bookshelves are built everyday, but no. Humans have to invent IKEA, and IKEA has to invent flat-packed furniture, and we end up with this. Satan should just call it a day, really. He can just sit back, relax, and wait for the BILLY bookcases of the world to fill the underworld right bloody up.”
Aziraphale frowned. “You’re not giving up, are you?”
“Aren’t you?” Crowley asked glumly.
Aziraphale thought about it. They could give up, but then they’d have failed to do something that millions of humans had managed to do over the years, and that was a bit embarrassing. And Crowley had been so pleased when he’d brought the thing into the bookshop, and now he wasn’t at all pleased, not even a little, and, well. What was the point of saving the world if you didn’t even get to be pleased with yourself afterwards?
He sighed, and stuck out his hand. “Come on,” he said. “We can get this, and then I’ll treat you to sushi.”
Crowley looked at the offered hand for a moment. “Can I make an octopus piece wiggle at someone?”
Aziraphale made a much bigger show of thinking about this than he had about thinking over Crowley being pleased, just because it wouldn’t do to let the Adversary think he was going soft. “I’ll let you do one,” he finally offered.
It was worth it to see the grin split Crowley’s face. “Deal,” he said, taking Aziraphale’s hand and letting himself be pulled to his feet. “Let’s do it.”
So maybe it had taken a few minor miracles, but Crowley had to admit that it was worth it to see Aziraphale’s face light up once the bookshelf was standing on its own accord. He had insisted Crowley remove it from his bookshop immediately before any of his other bookshelves got ideas about pressed particle-board, but still, it had been a nice moment.
It had also been worth it to make the octopus bit wiggle and watch the chaos spread, even if Crowley did have to take the Yelp app down for several days afterward just to be sure the story didn’t spread—it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault, after all, and it was the best sushi this side of London.
Aziraphale was a bit pink, and he’d left his bow tie—which he’d taken off sometime around realising that they’d put one side of the bookcase on upside-down—at the shop. Crowley had lost his sunglasses somewhere and had to keep swiping the waiter’s memory whenever he came by with another tray. They’d both had quite a lot of sake, and then they’d both had quite a lot of champagne.
“So,” Crowley said, spreading the List out onto the table in between their glasses. “First one done. What do you think?”
“I think,” Aziraphale said sagely, waving his chopsticks and absolutely failing to pick up a piece of sashimi, “if you have done the first one, it only makes sense that, after that, you’ve got to do the second.”
Crowley took Aziraphale’s chopsticks and used it to stab the elusive bit of salmon, then handed it back to Aziraphale, who was just drunk enough not to be aghast by it. “You want to keep going with it then?”
“Of course,” Aziraphale said, as if to say, obviously. “It would be bad form to stop after just one.”
“Good,” Crowley grinned. He couldn’t stop grinning. He didn’t even really want to.
Aziraphale grinned too, and then he took a long sip of champagne and toasted Crowley with the sashimi. “To conquering IKEA,” he said, giggling through his mock-solemnity. “If ever humans got close to recreating the sense of divine bliss, triumph over IKEA furniture is definitely it.”
“Blasphemous,” Crowley said, laughing, and then he tapped Aziraphale’s sashimi with his bit of tuna roll and leaned back in his chair a little, trying to look blasé instead of drunk on bubbly and shared victory. “To humanity,” he toasted, as coolly as he could.
Azirphale’s eyes softened, and he set his champagne glass down in favour of slipping his hand over Crowley’s, which made Crowley suspect that as coolly as he could meant not very cool at all.
He didn’t mind, really. Aziraphale’s hand was warm.
“To humanity,” Aziraphale agreed.
He looked at Crowley. Crowley looked back.
Then the waiter slipped by and dropped off another pitcher of sake, and Aziraphale took his hand back. Crowley cleared his throat and busied himself looking at the List. “Perfect,” he said, rubbing his hands together. He could still feel Aziraphale’s warmth on his skin. “Now: what’s next?”