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A Machine for Living In

Chapter Text

The bookshop was open.

This was a first in the weeks that Crowley had been haunting the neighborhood. He’d started with the street views, of course, but by now he’d been inside most of the stores on the block. But the bookstore—the most important one, of course, being next to his site—had been stubbornly closed every time he’d been by. The hours sign in the window was no help—not only was it entirely obscure, but he’d deliberately come by at hours that it strongly suggested would be fine, and found the sign on the door still reading “Closed.” He’d tried calling a couple of times to check on the hours personally, but with no more luck. The first time the phone had just rung and rung, without even an answering machine clicking on. The second time someone had actually picked up, but only to inform him curtly that they were definitely closed, hanging up before he could get a word in edgewise.

He knew the outside of the building well by now. Georgian, with pale bricks on the upper floors, the ground level painted a dark, rather old-fashioned red. The façade had to be original, he thought, particularly the columns on either side of the door. Rather more faithfully maintained than most of the shops on the street, although not precisely in better condition. It looked more like benign neglect that somehow miraculously hadn’t led to disaster, rather than real restoration work. The signs were painted in gold, the style suggesting that the owner both understood the original period of the building and was deliberately fostering it. Purveyor of books to the gentry, indeed.

When he’d first set eyes on the building, he’d been rather unusually inclined to like the proprietor. It wasn’t Crowley’s style at all, but at least it was style, which was more than could be said for so many buildings. The longer this game had gone on, though, the less kindly he felt. His bosses were already starting to hint that a few preliminary designs for the client should be forthcoming soon, but he really couldn’t move forward properly without at least some idea of what the bookshop was like.

He hadn’t had particularly high hopes this time, but when he turned the corner there was an Open sign, clearly visible through the dusty window. He hurried towards the door, determined to get inside before the apparently apathetic proprietor managed to close again.  The glass was dusty, the shades half pulled-down, but the door opened smoothly enough. A bell dinged as he stepped in, but there was no other sign of life. 

He was surprised by the space as he stepped into it. A circular archway led into a tall, surprisingly light-filled foyer, two stories tall. The center was open, ringed by a balcony that was supported with pale columns that echoed the front façade. It had to be virtually unchanged from the original build, Crowley thought—no renovations to modernize to any more recent standards. His fingers itched to start sketching a few ideas; it was nice, sure, but it also had so much potential.

The light coming in through the oculus slanted through the dust that hung in the air. Crowley paused just shy of the arch and pulled his smaller sketchbook out of his black messenger bag, along with a pencil and a bit of kneadable eraser. He started sketching in rapid lines; the arc of the arch, the pillars and balcony beyond.

“Hello?” A voice sounded, finally, from somewhere in the depths of the bookshelves that stretched off in cramped rows in all directions. “I’ll be with you in just a minute.”

Crowley grunted back some kind of acknowledgement, currently focused on the proportions of the columns. They were rather elegant, actually; simple in a way that most modern ornament tended to blow right past. The room quickly took shape under his fingers, rough circles indicating the tables stacked with books and vague shading suggesting the shelves beyond. 

It was rather more than a minute later when someone emerged. Crowley barely looked over as the man stepped out from between the shelves; he’d finished his first view and moved right into the circular foyer, sketching a view upwards toward the balcony. 

“Oh,” the man said, sounding rather taken aback. “Can I help you?” 

Crowley finished the lines of the brass S that was tacked onto the front of the balcony before turning. “Ah, sorry,” he said, not sounding the least apologetic. “I was just doing a bit of sketching.”

“I could see that,” the other man said. He was maybe a few years older than himself, Crowley thought. The primary effect, looking at him, was beige; that was largely his coat, Crowley realized, although the shirt and vest, of all things, that he was wearing did little to dispel the effect. Pale curls topped an uncertain smile.

“And are you A.Z. Fell?” Crowley asked, trying one of his more charming smiles.

“Yes,” the man said, eyes still on Crowley’s notebook. “I’m the owner, Mr., ah. . .”

“Crowley,” Crowley answered, holding out his hand. Fell took a few steps towards him and shook it. His hand was soft, and a little bit damp.

“A pleasure, Mr. Crowley,” Fell said, sounding uncertain about whether he actually believed that.

“If you don’t mind. . .” Crowley trailed off, looking down at his page and then back up at the railing of the balcony. “I won’t be in your hair for long.”

“Mind? I, er. . .” Out of the corner of his eye, Crowley could see that Fell was now watching his hand as he refined a line. He started counting in his head. Three, two, one. . .“If I may ask, what exactly are you doing?”

“Just a bit of sketching,” Crowley said again, still watching Fell’s reactions out of the corner of his eye.

“Yes, but. . . why?”

“Oh, didn’t I say?” A narrowing of Fell’s eyes suggested that he wasn’t entirely convinced by the surprise in Crowley’s voice. “I’m with LCR Design. I’m just getting myself acquainted with the area.”

“LCR Design?” Fell said, trying to place it. “Oh, I saw that name—” He stopped dead, staring at Crowley with horror. “In the window next door,” he said.

Right, someone probably had gone and started putting their logo up all over the site already. “Yeah, probably,” Crowley agreed. “They bought up a couple of the buildings.”

“You’re—you’re—” Fell’s horror only seemed to be growing. “You’re a developer,” he accused.

“Not personally,” Crowley protested. “I don’t own the site. I just go where I’m told.”

“What exactly are you, then?” Fell asked, voice edged. 

“I’m the architect,” Crowley said, waving his notebook in a vaguely explanatory way.

Fell’s eyes narrowed. “Ah, so you’re the one who will be designing whatever bland monstrosity they put up? Let me guess. A beige box with a pop of color? No,” he amended, looking Crowley up and down, eyebrows pinched and expression unimpressed. “Perhaps not. A big glass box, is that it?”

“That’s not exactly—” Crowley tried.

Fell glared. “It doesn’t matter, I suppose. It’s not like I have anything to say about it, is it? Anyway, you may leave, now.”

“Leave?” Crowley said, disbelieving. “You’re kicking me out?”

“I’m very sorry,” Fell said, completely insincerely. “But we’re closed.” 

Crowley let himself be ushered outside, still not entirely sure what was happening. Common enough for the neighbors to be a bit miffed about the disruptions of construction, but nobody else in the neighborhood had seemed to have any objections to losing two utterly unremarkable buildings in the middle of the block. What was Fell’s problem, anyway?

Well, it didn’t really matter. He had his sketches now, and enough of a glimpse inside the bookstore to have some sense of it. He’d have liked to get to know it better before he tried to design a complementary building for next door, but he supposed he could take what he could get. It didn’t seem like he had any choice in the matter anyway.

**

It was about a week later when Crowley was back in the neighborhood. Delays over permissions and other things that he found boring, and so hadn’t paid any attention to, had postponed the project anyway, and his boss had, fortunately, dropped the pressure for a quick design. Still, the project had wormed its way into Crowley’s head, and he was having a hard time putting it down. So here he was, back on Greek street, taking another look at the elevation across from the site and considering rooflines.

It was a chilly and damp day, and when he found his fingers growing stiff with the cold he decided a break was in order. He ducked into the nearby bakery, intending to get a cup of coffee. He was abstracted—the roofline question really was an interesting one, and he hadn’t yet come to a satisfying conclusion—but when the man in front of him in line stepped up and spoke to the woman behind the counter, he recognized the voice, and it caught his attention. From the back all he could see was a head of blond curls and another beige coat, but it was unquestionable the unfriendly Mr. Fell.

Crowley gave his own order and stepped aside to wait at the other end of the counter, still standing behind Fell. “What I don’t understand,” he said in a low voice, as Fell’s head snapped around to look at him, eyes widening, “Is what’s so bad about a little bit of re-development.”

“You again,” Fell said stiffly. “Still hanging about, are you?” 

“You’re going to have to get used to me,” Crowley said drily. “We haven’t even come close to breaking ground yet, and I’m going to be making site visits through the entire build. You’re right next door, you’ll be seeing me around.” 

Fell twitched, and Crowley didn’t even try to hide his smile. “You can’t tell me you’re terribly attached to two completely mediocre shop buildings that were butchered by a post-war reno,” Crowley said dubiously. Surely a man who worked in such a painstakingly preserved building had to have better taste than that.

“That’s not the point,” Fell snapped. 

“What is it, then?” Crowley asked, frowning. If he’d had the chance in the first place, he would have tried to ask the bookseller about his opinions on the neighborhood; not that he was going to be bound by them, but neighbors had a perspective that he couldn’t get just from some visits and sketching, and sometimes it was valuable.

“It’s the. . .” Fell trailed off. “All the fuss. Noise, and machinery, and first you’ll be tearing them down, and while they may not be particularly nice buildings, they have been there for a while and they work just fine. But by the time you’re done they’ll be too expensive for businesses like old Mr. Sebastian’s, which means it’ll be another fancy boutique or electronics store or whatever, and then in twenty years it’ll all be to do again. It’s just such a nuisance and a waste,” he finished, a trifle petulantly. “And all for the chance for a developer to make a few pounds.”

“More than a few,” said Crowley, who wasn’t up on the specifics of the deal but had a pretty decent idea of how much property in Soho was worth, both before and after.

“Fine,” Fell said. “I guess it’s going to be a major disturbance and they’ll make a great many pounds. I don’t see how that makes it any better.”

Crowley shrugged. It wasn’t his job to win the neighbors around, not really, and especially not when they were as prickly as Fell was. “Can’t stop progress,” he said with a shrug, stepping forward to grab his coffee as it appeared on the counter.

“You never can, can you,” he heard Fell say, mostly to himself, as he turned and left.

** 

Crowley glared down at the tracing paper spread across his desk. He was supposed to be sketching in options for the window styles on the upper level, but instead there was a niggling question at the back of his brain that just wouldn’t be silenced.

The bookstore. It had a balcony level, which meant that there had to be a way to get up there. But what was it? It wasn’t in any of his brief sketches. He closed his eyes, trying to remember, but he wasn’t sure he’d actually seen it, in his curtailed visit to the store. There wasn’t much space; a narrow stair in the back? A spiral staircase tucked behind some of the shelves? 

He didn’t need to know, he told himself firmly. It was entirely possible to design a building without knowing what kind of stairs the neighbors had. He frowned down at his paper, sketching an arched fanlight over the hypothetical door. No, definitely not. What was he even thinking?

He hadn’t had a chance to look much at the furnishings of the shop, either, being too distracted by the bones of the building. It was packed full, that much he remembered from his first impression; little round tables filling the front, shelves jammed in around the edges, all stacked high with books. And little knick-knacks, statues and such, he thought, but he couldn’t remember any of the details.

Oh, what the hell. He wasn’t going to get any work done if he couldn’t focus, and he wouldn’t be able to focus while he obsessing over stairs, of all things. Nor had he sketched the oculus in nearly as much detail as he could have wished. It was a notable feature of the place, he couldn’t be expected to work in ignorance of it. 

Even if the bookstore were closed, he thought as he grabbed his bag and let the office assistant know he was going to be out, he might be able to see some of it through the windows. Enough to answer at least a couple of his questions.

To his surprise, when he arrived on Greek street the sign on the bookstore’s door read Open again. Who know how long that would last, he thought wryly, once the owner realized who had dropped in. Fell didn’t seem that dedicated to rapid customer service, though, so maybe he’d get at least a few minutes to look around.

When he pushed open the door, however, he found that he wasn’t alone. Two other people were browsing among the shelves, studying the rows of books. That would make it a bit harder for Fell to just close, he supposed. The man himself was nowhere in sight.

 Crowley absently noted some of the details of the furnishings. Round tables everywhere, the round arch, the balcony; conscious or not, the man had a motif. Statues perched in the oddest places. The dominant accent tone was definitely brass, he thought, from the sign painted outside to the cherub statue in the middle of the foyer and the inexplicable candlesticks everywhere. Surely open flames were the last things one would want in here.

The stairs were what he really wanted to see, though. And then, hopefully, the view down from the balcony, if he managed to get that far undetected. He thought it was likely to be nearer the back, maybe towards the center of the building. He skulked through the narrow aisles between the shelves, ignoring the books. He hit one dead end, but re-traced his steps and had better luck the next time. The shop went surprisingly far back. It had to occupy almost all of the building, he thought.

Two more turns and he got lucky; there, right in front of him, was a narrow spiral staircase. It was made of wrought iron, and looked like the concept of a safety hazard made solid. It had to be an original; Crowley couldn’t imagine that any recent renovation would have been allowed to keep such a piece.

He whipped out his notebook and started sketching rapidly, not sure when his luck would run out. He managed to get an impression of the entire stair uninterrupted, and edged closer to get some details of the ironwork. It would be good enough to prompt his memory, at least, he thought, ready to try his luck upstairs.

When he looked up, though, it was to see a figure in a pale suit standing halfway down the stairs, holding a stack of books and staring at him.

“You again,” Fell said. He sounded more resigned than truly angry, which Crowley thought was at least the better part of the bargain.

“Hi there,” Crowley said, trying a patently insincere smile.

Fell balanced the books rather precariously against one hip to take off his glasses, tucking them into his pocket, and sighed. “What are you doing here?”

Crowley waved the notebook in an explanatory kind of way. “A few architectural elements I missed the first time,” he said. “On account of your early closing.”

Fell gave him a repressive look. “If I let you stay, will that keep you from tearing up my street?" 

“Nope,” Crowley said, popping the p. “On the other hand, kicking me out again might hurt my feelings. I get to decide what goes up next door; you might want to keep that in mind.”

Fell sighed again. “What do you want, Mr. Crowley?”

“The view from the balcony, a study of the oculus, and a peek at your back room,” said Crowley promptly.

Fell frowned at him. “Sketch the main areas all you like,” he said, which was honestly rather more of a concession than Crowley had hoped for. “But stay out of my office.”

This time, Crowley was effective at hiding his smile. “Thanks ever so,” he said, only a bit sarcastically.

Fell didn’t seem to notice the tone. He did twist his way down the rest of the stairs, set his books on an already-overburdened side table, pick up another, only slightly smaller stack, and hold up his free hand to gesture Crowley up the stairs. Crowley flashed him another insincere grin and made his way up. His first impulse, to take them two at a time, was stymied by the tight curve. He nearly stumbled anyway when he heard footsteps behind him, following him up.

“You don’t trust me unattended?” he asked as he reached the top and turned to see Fell a couple of steps behind him.

“The best view,” Fell said, ignoring the provocation, “Would be from over here.” He wound his way through the shelves, and Crowley followed. It was mildly less labyrinthine than downstairs, mainly because there wasn’t nearly as much room to make blind alleys, but something about it still defied all logic.

“With this kind of customer service, I can see why you’re so swarmed,” Crowley muttered as he followed. He stopped complaining, though, when they reached the balcony. Fell had, somehow, unerringly chosen the perfect spot for him; he had an excellent view down, just catching the arch by the door and two of the pillars. He glanced up, and had a pretty good view of the oculus, too; diamonds of clear glass fitted together into a shallow dome, while across it panes tinted two shades of gold picked out a star. Crowley, glancing down from the points of the star to the brass letters on the balcony, realized that it was a compass rose.

He set his notebook on the railing and started to sketch the floor below. He was aware that Fell hadn’t moved far; a glance showed him studying the books on a nearby shelf. It wasn’t terribly convincing, especially since he was still carrying the armful of books he’d clearly been headed somewhere with.

“I’ll be a little while,” Crowley said, glancing between the lower level and his notebook. “There are a few views I want, and as long as you’re not anticipating such an early closing today, I’d like to take a little more time. I promise, I’m not here to steal your books.”

Fell frowned. “I said you could sketch the main areas,” he said, sounding mildly offended. “I’ll be open for another hour or two, I suppose.” 

“Well, aren’t you just an angel,” Crowley drawled. Fell startled, fumbling the book he was holding, which fell on his foot. He crouched to retrieve it, darting quick glances back up. Crowley, who honestly hadn’t meant that much by the remark, frowned at him, now thoroughly distracted from his work.

There was always the chance of someone taking the remark too seriously, or in the wrong way, and getting righteously offended, but something—well, everything—about Fell suggested that that wouldn’t be the case. Of course, it was also possible that he’d taken it that way, and was something other than offended. Crowley, watching Fell dart what he apparently thought were covert glances at him, couldn’t decide himself exactly how it should have been meant. He wanted to try it again, though. He was pushing his luck, perhaps, but he’d never been that good at backing down from anything as interesting as this bookseller.

Fell, recovering from his fluster, re-settled his stack of books. “One does try to be neighborly,” he said, drily and in total defiance of all his previous behavior.

“One does?” Crowley asked. Fell didn’t rise to the bait, but finally drifted away, settling into a rustling a few shelves away. Crowley let his attention drift back to his work, making some more leisurely sketches of several angles of the lower floor before moving on to the oculus.

Fell didn’t stay away for long, though. He drifted back through a few minutes later, shuffling through a stack of books a few feet behind Crowley, who twitched but didn’t turn around. “So,” he said, rather abruptly. “What is it going to be over there when you’re done, anyway?”

“Oh, you know,” Crowley said vaguely. “Shops, flats up top. All in a building that’s interesting enough to catch the eye, but not enough to break the budget.”

“I still don’t see what the point of it all is,” Fell said.

“Revitalizing urban spaces,” Crowley said automatically, still mostly focused on the oculus. “Maintaining the vibrant culture and economy of the city.”

“It’s Soho,” Fell said, disapprovingly. “It’s already perfectly vibrant.”

Crowley shrugged, still not paying a lot of attention. “Well, then, it’s probably about the money.”

“Of course. It must be profitable, or your lot wouldn’t be doing it,” Fell said stiffly.

“It isn’t all me,” Crowley protested. “Besides, you run a business. Surely you’re not entirely opposed to turning a profit.”

Fell sniffed in response, not deigning to reply.

 “I’m surprised your landlord didn’t sell,” Crowley mused. “I’m sure they offered for the building. There would be a lot of possibilities with the whole corner lot included. 

“I don’t have a landlord,” Fell said. “I own the building.”

“You do?” Crowley asked, looking at him in astonishment. “The whole thing?”

 “Yes. The shop’s been in the family for, well, several generations. Bought the building outright when it opened, and it’s been ours ever since.” 

“Really,” Crowley said, intrigued. There weren’t that many multi-generation family-owned businesses around the area anymore. He was surprised that it wasn’t more widely known; most people would be actively advertising that kind of thing. People liked history, and romance, and all that rot. There wasn’t even an “Est. 18—” or whenever sign on the door, which was the minimum he would have expected. A number of things about the building began to make more sense, though. 

“How much did they offer?” Crowley asked, already running estimates in his mind. The building was, in all honesty, probably worth a moderately-sized fortune. He’d never imagined that Fell owned the building himself. 

“I don’t know,” Fell mumbled, looking away. “I returned the offer unopened.”

“You what?” Crowley asked, turning to stare at him in disbelief and nearly dropping his notebook over the balcony railing. 

“I never opened it,” Fell said again, looking at him almost defiantly. “So I don’t know how much they would have given.”

Crowley kept staring. It was almost unbelievable. With what that shop was doubtlessly worth, Fell could be quite a rich man. And it would have been worth more as a package with the others; he probably wouldn’t get such a good offer again. “Why on earth not?” he asked, finally.

Fell looked away. “Like I said, it’s been in the family for generations.” His voice was becoming defensive. “I like my shop. There aren’t enough bookshops left, I don’t want to do away with another one. Besides, it’s a fine old building and I won’t have it torn down.”

It was ludicrous, was what it was. And yet Crowley couldn’t help the smile spreading across his face—and he wasn’t laughing at the bookseller, that was for sure. “Do you want to get lunch?” he asked, words coming out without conscious thought. “I mean,” he backpedaled, “Some day this week, maybe?”

“Why?” Fell asked, a look of genuine confusion on his face. Crowley pretended, very hard, that it wasn’t a little bit charming.

“It’ll be my treat, I can put it on the company card,” Crowley improvised hastily. “A chance for me to learn more about the locals, and you to get some comments on record.”

“I see,” Fell said. His face had lost some of its habitual expressiveness; Crowley couldn’t tell what he was thinking now. “A working lunch. I can tell you all about my opinions on the neighborhood.”

“Exactly,” Crowley said, trying to carry his earlier enthusiasm even in the face of this rather odd neutrality. “You’ve worked here for years—you have to have some thoughts.”

A spark crept back into Fell’s eyes. “I suppose I do, at that,” he murmured. “But, forgive me, why do you care? You know I don’t want your building going in, and you didn’t seem to care much about that; why ask my opinions at all? For that matter, why are you here sketching in the first place?”

“Buildings exist in context,” Crowley explained. “You can’t just think about them in isolation. Whatever I design is going to exist here, on this street. Which means it has to work with the buildings around it.”

“Oh,” Fell said, looking mildly surprised. Crowley considered taking offense, but decided to take pity. Mostly.

“I could just put in a, what was it, big glass box, but what’s the fun in that?” he asked. He was delighted to see a faint blush spread over Fell’s cheekbones. “Before I start designing, I need to know what else is around so that I can take it into consideration.” 

“Such as?” Fell asked, looking interested despite himself.

Crowley grinned. “Well, for example, take your store. You have those columns out front, and more inside. Now, I could pick up that motif, elaborate on it in my own design. Columns along the front, or next to the main door. It could help it integrate into the neighborhood. But I’d need to be careful with that; these here are so simple, if I put in something with an elaborate design it will look vulgar in comparison. If I put in too many it’ll cheapen the element, and make yours stand out less, which would be rather rude to do to a neighbor, especially a beautiful old building like this. If I make them larger, it’ll make your building look smaller in comparison; that could be useful or not, depending on the effect that I want to go for.”

Fell was staring at him now, clearly surprised. “Oh,” he said again. “Dear me. I had no idea so much thought went into this.”

“It doesn’t have to,” Crowley said with a shrug. “Plenty of firms do just put up something that matches current trends, with maybe a nod to the neighborhood. But that’s why they hired me; I like to work with a fairly strong sense of place.”

“And you’re modest about it, too,” Fell murmured. Crowley debated mentioning the shelf of awards in his office in his own justification, but decided not to. Not yet, anyway. “So,” he asked, smirking at Fell. “Lunch?” 

**

Fell—Aziraphale, as he’d requested instead, although he hadn’t blinked when Crowley said that he preferred his last name to Anthony—turned out to be an absolute font of information about the block. “As I said, the family’s been here for a while,” he said casually when Crowley mentioned it, and went back to his meticulous recounting of the various shops, restaurants and clubs that have filled the area over the years. He might not have had the architectural vocabulary to describe everything, but his memories were so precise that his answers to Crowley’s questions were almost as informative as he could wish.

More than the buildings, though, he knew the stories about the people.  As he was talking, he seemed to gradually forget his dislike of Crowley, growing absorbed in the history of people who’d lived there before he could even have been born. Crowley didn’t usually care that much about most people, given how boring they were, but he found that he was happy to pick at the remains of his food and listen to Aziraphale talk. He eventually worked his way to more recent history, where he seemed to remember his grudge sufficiently to spend rather a long time emphasizing how lovely old Mr. Sebastian had been, how he’d worked so hard at his pharmacy until he finally retired, how he’d hoped to leave the shop to one of his children, and how much the neighborhood would miss having a useful kind of shop there. He spent rather less time eulogizing the hair salon that had been in the next shop over; from what Crowley had heard already from other residents, even the best intentioned of neighbors might find themselves hard put to find much good to say about the woman who had run it. 

Crowley tuned out some of Aziraphale’s praises of the pharmacy (he had to restrain himself from asking exactly how useful an old bookshop was to the neighborhood) to idly consider elements of the old pharmacy that could complement a new design. A bit of green on the signs, perhaps, or maybe a subtle cross design in the panels over the ground floor windows.

Somehow even in the midst of his storytelling Aziraphale had found time to eat his food, apparently with great enjoyment. Crowley, distracted as he was with listening to Aziraphale, jotting down the relevant pieces of information for later, mentally revising his design, and watching Aziraphale’s hands and expressive face, did dimly recognize that his lunch was excellent. The bookseller had good taste.

“Oh, but forgive me, I’ve just been talking away,” Aziraphale said, breaking into Crowley’s train of thought.

“Not at all,” Crowley said, automatically. “I told you that I wanted to hear about the area, after all. I haven’t done much work in Soho before, so the background is great.”

“And what have you worked on before?” Aziraphale asked politely. “Any buildings I would know?”

“Well, my last job was in Clerkenwell. Mixed-use offices and flats, that one was.”

Aziraphale stared at him. “That enormous block of concrete that they just put up on the corner of ------ Street?”

Crowley nodded, pleased. “That’s the one.”

“That was your work?” Aziraphale’s voice was rising in indignation. “Replacing that rather lovely Victorian with that?”

“It wasn’t a ‘perfectly lovely Victorian,’” Crowley said, stung by the remark. “It was an overwrought disaster that was falling to pieces where it stood.”

“Fine, it needed some work, but they said that they were going put in something in keeping with the neighborhood,” Aziraphale complained.

“It is!” Crowley said. “Half the neighborhood is post-war Brutalism*, angel.” Aziraphale gave an odd little twitch at the pet name again, but he didn’t look like he objected. “If they wanted pseudo-Victorian, they should have said so.”

* A particularly common plague in London. Aziraphale had always grudgingly admitted that they had in fact needed to replace the buildings damaged in the Blitz with something, but did it have to be that? Crowley, on the other hand, had been taken with a school group to see a show at the Barbican at a particularly impressionable age, and had never looked back. He’d snuck off at intermission, and spent the second half of the show roaming around, looking at everything. Even at the time, he’d know that it was worth both the scolding and never knowing what happened to that rather annoyingly musical family and their governess.

Aziraphale took a last bite of his food, closing his eyes as he savored it. Crowley shamelessly took the opportunity to watch him, admiring the way the shadows from his eyelashes fell across his cheeks. He opened his eyes and Crowley immediately looked away, down at his own plate. “Are you telling me that they didn’t ask for that?” 

“Well. . .” Crowley trailed off. “They weren’t very specific in the original call for proposals.”

“And what, nobody noticed?”

Crowley shrugged. “They gave us the contract. That was probably just someone running the numbers—concrete is cheap. They put up a bit of a squawk when one of the owners actually checked the designs, but by then we already had the contract, and nobody cared enough to pay for me to re-do it all.”

Aziraphale stared at him. “Hard to believe that that’s how things get done around here,” he murmured. 

“Is it, really?” Crowley asked rhetorically. “What have you got against Brutalism, anyway?”

Aziraphale frowned. “All those bare walls and big, empty rooms. It’s so. . . big. Cold. Impersonal. Even the name! I don’t understand how anyone can stand it.” 

Crowley thought back to what he’d seen of the bookstore. No, he could see how his building wouldn’t be Aziraphale’s style. “They’re busy offices,” he said. “Their work is complicated. I thought the architecture shouldn’t be.” 

“I suppose,” Aziraphale sniffed. “You’re not the first I’ve heard say something similar.”

“And you didn’t agree with it before, either, did you?” Crowley asked shrewdly. “Bit much, though, to go criticizing someone’s work as cold and impersonal if you haven’t even been inside to see it, though, isn’t it?” 

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, looking away. Crowley thought he maybe even turned a little pink. “You’re quite right, I was very rude. Forgive me.”

Crowley smirked at him. “So you should let me take you on a tour, so that you can be informed about how to insult me.”

Aziraphale looked up at him, startled. “Oh! Really? I—I—no. I mean, thank you, but I really shouldn’t impose on your time like that.”

Crowley swallowed a stab of disappointment. “It’s not an imposition,” he said, lowering his glasses enough that he could look at Aziraphale over them, hoping that his sincerity would show even through his habitually sardonic tone. “I wouldn’t have offered if it was.”

Aziraphale’s glance was flickering between his face and his own hands. “Really? You’re sure? I mean, if you are, I’d be honor—happy. Happy to, if you’re sure want to spend your time showing me around.” 

“It’s a date,” Crowley said, smirk deepening as Aziraphale definitely blushed that time. “Let me know when you’re free and we can make an afternoon of it. Or a morning. Or an evening, I guess, I really don’t know what kind of hours you keep at the bookstore.”

“They’re, ah, fairly flexible,” Aziraphale said, still faintly blushing.

“Great. Wednesday, my lunch break? I’ll pick you up.”

“Sure,” Aziraphale murmured. He looked nervous but not, Crowley thought with a sense of some triumph, unhappily so. “I’ll see you then.”

Chapter Text

By Wednesday, Crowley had had plenty of time to second-guess himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Aziraphale. He definitely did. And it wasn’t that he didn’t want to go on a date with Aziraphale, because he was pretty sure he wanted to do that, too. But. . .

Crowley had a healthy ego. He’d be the first to admit it. But even to him, a first date (if it were, actually, the first date, but he’d explicitly called last time a working lunch, so it probably didn’t count. But was this one a date at all? He’d said the word, surely it should be, right?) spent admiring his own work seemed perhaps a touch egotistical. Of course, sometimes egotistical could work out. And, he reminded himself with a laugh, there was no guarantee that Aziraphale would be admiring anything.

Maybe that was the trouble. He was used to showing off his work, of course—you couldn’t design works that changed the face of a neighborhood without knowing that people were going to see them and have opinions—but it didn’t usually feel this personal. He wanted Aziraphale to like it, he realized. Partly to challenge the superiority that he saw sometimes his eyes, the dismissiveness with which he’d talked about “big blocks of concrete”. Show him that he didn’t necessarily know everything already.

But there was a chance that it was also a bit more personal than that. He did want to surprise Aziraphale. Maybe about more than just architecture.

He wore his favorite suit to work that morning and then debated for most of the drive over to the bookshop before tugging his jacket off at a traffic light and dropping it in the backseat, leaving him just in the charcoal grey shirt and silvery tie. A few minutes before noon he pulled the Bentley up to the curb in front of the shop, ignoring the No Parking lines.

He stepped out of the car. Through the front window he could see Aziraphale already hurrying to the door—almost as if, he thought in satisfaction, he’d been watching the street in anticipation. Aziraphale flipped the sign on the door to read “Closed” and stepped out. He visibly stopped in his tracks to admire the car, and Crowley felt a surge of pride.

“Goodness,” Aziraphale said. “I haven’t seen an automobile like that in—well, hardly outside of a museum, I should think.”

“It was my great-grandfather’s,” Crowley said, sliding a possessive hand across the hood. “He left it to me.”

“And you’ve kept it in perfect condition,”  Aziraphale said, looking approvingly at it.

“Well?” Crowley said with a tilted eyebrow. “Shall we?”

“Oh, just let me lock up,” Aziraphale said, turning to do so, “And I’m all yours.” He was in an outfit similar to what Crowley had seen him in before; old-fashioned beige coat, still with the waistcoat and bowtie. It managed to work on him, though, more than it would on most. His shirt, today, was grey-blue that was several shades lighter than his eyes, Crowley noticed. As a whole ensemble, it should have been horrifying. When was the last time that anyone had worn a waistcoat? Crowley should have been cringing at the thought of being seen in public with it. And he was, perhaps, but he was also working hard to repress a smile.

Crowley crossed around the front of the car to open the door. Aziraphale darted a little look up at him, a small smile on his lips, and slipped inside. Crowley crossed back to his own side, trying firmly to remind himself that he was a grown man, one who had been smiled at plenty of times before and was quite definitely immune to it by now.

“Goodness,” Aziraphale said, after a few minutes. “You’re, er, fearless about driving in the city, aren’t you.”

“Can’t let the traffic get to you,” Crowley said, glancing over. Aziraphale’s hands were clutched tightly in his lap, but he wasn’t showing any other outward signs of distress, so Crowley didn’t bother to slow down. “Drive you mad, otherwise.”

“Yes, quite,” Aziraphale said tightly. “Do—bicyclist!—don’t feel obliged to entertain me, though. If you want to focus on the road.”

Crowley laughed. “You’re fine, angel,” he said, watching out of the corner of his eye for the flinch. It was barely noticeable this time, he saw with satisfaction. “There’s a café on the first floor of the tower,” he said, easing around a corner on a yellow light. “I thought we could look around the building a bit and then get a bite there, if you like.”

“Sounds perfect,” Aziraphale said. “If we get there in one piece,” he murmured, not quite quietly enough to go unheard.

“I won’t get us in an accident,” Crowley said. “Couldn’t do that to the car, after all.”

“Obviously,” Aziraphale agreed, his small smile returning.

They pulled up to the building a few minutes later, turning into the carpark under it. Crowley wouldn’t let them take the elevator up to the lobby, though. “Should always come in the front door, the first time,” he said decisively.

Out on the sidewalk, Aziraphale looked up at the building, a dubious frown on his lips. “Brutalism is named for the material,” Crowley said, remembering Aziraphale’s previous comment about the name. “Raw concrete is béton brut, in French.” 

“Ah,” Aziraphale said with a smile. “So it’s yet another thing we can blame the French for.”

Crowley laughed. “If you like. Concrete really lends itself to clean, strong lines, so that’s a lot of what you’ll see.” He raised an arm, pointing out the massing of the building, the strong vertical lines reaching toward the sky, the staggered balconies outside the apartments on the upper floors. Aziraphale followed his pointing finger, following his explanations and asking the occasional question.

“Come on,” Crowley said eventually. “Let’s go on inside.”

He held the door for Aziraphale, following him into the lobby. It filled the entire front half of the first floor, a vast open space. Windows ringed it almost the entire way around, letting in as much light as could be had at ground level in the city. The floor was covered in pale grey stone, which reflected the light back up into the room. There was little to block the space, aside from the handful of massive structural columns and the large, curving concrete stairs. 

Aziraphale looked around. The animation that had come out during their drive and persisted through the explanation of the outside of the building had shut down. “It’s very nice,” he said, perfectly polite and equally insincere. 

Crowley frowned at him. It wasn’t the reaction he’d been expecting, to be honest. Most people seemed to find the space welcoming enough, if a little empty. And no matter what Aziraphale’s opinions were, Crowley had expected him to be honest about them. “It gets better,” he said, grabbing Aziraphale’s elbow and tugging gently. Aziraphale startled a little at the touch, and Crowley nearly dropped it, but managed to get ahold of himself. It was hardly an intimate touch, and besides jumping away would just make the moment more awkward.

Aziraphale followed him across the lobby, anyway. The back wall was also solid windows; but rather than another sidewalk, they looked out into a glassed-in courtyard. Crowley held the door again, waving Aziraphale through.

The effect was rather like stepping directly into a jungle. Despite the lingering chill outside and the general fogginess of the day, it was still bright enough and warm under the glass. The entire space was filled with broad-leaved green plants, broken up only by the occasional bright flower. Water was flowing somewhere, although it wasn’t visible from where they stood. Paths wandered away in several directions, with picnic tables wedged in here and there; although you could tell from the outside that the courtyard wasn’t large, it wasn’t evident from where they stood. 

“Oh, this is lovely,” Aziraphale said, with a genuine smile this time. “I’ve always been rather fond of a garden.”

“Windows only do so much,” Crowley said, feeling unaccountably relieved at the smile. “I thought about a real outdoor space, but then you could only use is for a few months of the year. Seemed a suitable compromise.” 

Aziraphale darted a glance at him, a gleam of humor in his eyes. “An architect who thinks of human comforts. Will wonders never cease.”

Crowley rolled his eyes theatrically enough that the gesture was intelligible even through his glasses. “Come back inside,” he said. “There’s a set of offices that aren’t occupied yet, I’ll show you those.” 

They wandered through the office suite. Crowley pointed out the features that he thought were interesting—the issue of lighting, windows, and glare on computer screens had been a particularly interesting one, but he was fairly pleased with their results—and tried not to over-interpret each of Aziraphale’s expressions. He seemed happier than he had in the lobby, at least.  Aziraphale, for his part, commented on touches that he liked—the decoration on the front of the reception desk, the spaces for plants, the texturing on the walls at the ends of the hallways—and listened to Crowley’s explanations with good grace. 

“It’s not as—grim,” Aziraphale said as they left the suite. “As a lot of the others. Even when they were new, so many of them were just depressing. Or, at least, they always looked it from the photos.”

Crowley shrugged, turning away before he let himself smile. “I try to learn from other people’s mistakes,” he said, heading off to a bank of elevators. “Want to see one of the flats?”

He swiped a card over the reader, and Aziraphale huffed out a laugh. “What, they give the architect access privileges ongoing?”

“Something like that,” Crowley said, letting his glasses slip down enough that Aziraphale would be able to see his wink. The doors opened with a chime as they reached their floor. Aziraphale gestured Crowley out ahead of him, following down the hall.

He opened a door with another swipe of his wallet and held it. Aziraphale took a few steps in and then stopped, staring around. “Is this, what, a show room, then?” he asked absently.

“No,” Crowley said, watching him out of the corner of his eye. “It’s mine.”

“Yours!” Aziraphale turned towards him, clearly startled. “You live here?”

“I do,” Crowley said, strolling forward and pretending to wipe a speck of dust off of an end table. “I needed a new place and, well, I knew I liked this one.”

Aziraphale was looking around the space with new interest, and Crowley found himself feeling nervous again. “There is a flat for showing,” he said, vaguely aware that he was starting to babble. “We could have seen it. But they put the most atrocious sofa set in it, and the kitchen really isn’t right at all, and they’ve got the plantings all wrong, and, well. If I wanted to show you it done right, I thought I should show you this one. Mine.” 

“Thank you,” Aziraphale said, and if his insincerity in the lobby had been uncomfortable, it was nothing compared to his earnestness now.

Crowley shrugged awkwardly. “Like I said, it’s the only one I trust to have been done well.”

Aziraphale drifted further into the living room. It was austere, in its way, but it would be hard to describe it as cold. The wood floor reflected the light that came in through the tall windows along one wall, throwing gold light back up to the high ceiling. The furniture, all simple lines in shades of grey and black, was striking against the lighter grey of the walls. 

At the corner of the outside wall, a few steps led down to a slightly sunken level, lined with grey stone. The space was filled with matching concrete planters, which in turn held tropical plants. Large leaves in a wild variety of shapes and every shade of green strained towards the windows, arrayed to catch every bit of light. Aziraphale moved towards them, ignoring the rest of the room.

“Now I can see where you got the inspiration for downstairs,” he said quietly, reaching a hand out to gently touch the purple underside of a velvet-soft leaf. 

“It’s not really the same,” Crowley said instantly. “That’s professional, there’s a service and everything. All I did was make the space for it.” 

“Still,” Aziraphale said, not elaborating. He studied a few of the plants, admiringly. “They’re growing very well.”

“They had better be,” Crowley said, scowling at them while Aziraphale was still safely facing the other way. “The room is designed to have something there. It would throw off the whole balance if they didn’t. Not that the idiots making up the model flat wanted to hear about it. Even fakes would have been better.”

Aziraphale, who responded with a sympathetic noise, had discovered the balcony door next to the plants. He glanced back at Crowley, who nodded, and pushed it carefully open. The mist from earlier had thickened to something closer to a drizzle, but Aziraphale didn’t seem to care as he stepped out. Crowley followed, although he was careful to keep himself under cover, just leaning against the open door to watch.

The balcony was surrounded on three sides by a hip-high concrete wall. The entire interior was ringed with deep built-in rectangular concrete planters, about half as high as the wall. It was still too early for there to be much, but the few perennials that Crowley had put in last fall were visible along one side, protected from the wind by the wall but still looking, Crowley thought sympathetically, rather cold and miserable. It would be good for them, though, he thought. Unlike him, the plants needed chilling.

Aziraphale turned back towards him, beaming. “It’s going to be beautiful,” he said, gesturing around at the bare dirt, apparently speaking on pure faith.  “What are you going to put in?”

Crowley shrugged. “Not sure yet,” he said. Hopefully he sounded more as if he hadn’t spent much time thinking about it, rather than as if he were still trying to decide among the half-dozen ideas that he’d sketched up. “Ornamentals of some kind. Might do small evergreens. Easy to keep it up in winter, you know.”

“I do hope there’ll be at least a few flowers,” Aziraphale said, with a smile. Crowley instantly mentally discarded half of his sketches, trying to remember what flowers he’d included in the others. It might have to be back to the drawing board.

“Might do,” Crowley said with a shrug.

The drizzle wasn’t enough to soak Aziraphale, but he wasn’t entirely unscathed, with water droplets clinging to his curls. They weren’t heavy enough to weigh them down, but as he moved to look out at the view again they caught even the meager light, a sparking corona around his head.

This was massively unfair, Crowley decided. Who was supposed to be impressing whom today, anyway?

“What did they put in?” Aziraphale asked, turning back and nearly catching Crowley in his stare.

“What?” Crowley said, feeling wrong-footed and a little lost. 

“In the model flat,” Aziraphale clarified. “Instead of the plants.”

“Bookshelves,” Crowley said, still a bit distracted.

“Ah,” Aziraphale said, brightening. “That’s not too bad, then.”

“Oh, they didn’t have books on them, of course,” Crowley said sarcastically. “Well, I don’t know, maybe one or two. Mostly it was, you know, knick knacks and stuff. Stock photos in frames. Maybe a succulent in a pot.”

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, nose wrinkling in distaste. “Never mind, then. Maybe for the best; light might be good for the plants, but it won’t do the books any favors.”

“Someone on the next floor down stuck their exercise machine there, so it could be worse. You can see it from the street.” The shoulders of Aziraphale’s jacket looked to be getting rather damp, now. “Come back inside,” Crowley said, standing aside. “The balcony’s boring this time of year, anyway.” 

Aziraphale smiled at him, surprisingly sweet, and obediently followed him back into the room. He glanced at the sofa briefly and then away, distracted by the art. Crowley lingered by the window, suspiciously turning over a leaf that seemed to be thinking about allowing some sort of mildew to grow on it. Perhaps the plant needed a little help, he thought, reaching under the shelf for the mister with the anti-fungal spray. He spritzed the leaf and the ones around it, letting his usual threats going unvoiced for the sake of his guest.

Aziraphale had drifted into the next room while Crowley was frowning at the plants. A muffled noise came from it, and Crowley’s head snapped up. No, no, he hadn’t thought this through, he thought in a sudden panic, hastening his habitual saunter as he made for the study.

Aziraphale was ignoring the large marble-topped desk, the sleek drafting table under the window, the over-sized printer, and the art on the walls, all of which should have impressed him, if there were any justice in the world. Instead he was staring at Crowley’s thrice-damned desk chair, the hand over his mouth only partially muffling his giggles.

He looked up at Crowley as he came in, eyes dancing as he glanced from him back towards the ornate gold chair. “This,” he murmured, “Is not quite what I was expecting.” 

“It’s ironic—I mean—it’s an old joke,” Crowley finished lamely. Aziraphale was circling the chair now, staring at it in apparent astonishment. A very vivid, very indecent image involving the chair and Aziraphale popped into Crowley’s mind. It took him by surprise, but he squashed it firmly, with a mental note to come back and revisit it later, some time when he was quite alone. “Raw concrete is, like I said, about being unfinished. The honesty of the material, and all that, which is why you don’t cover it up. Like this building. When you use simple materials, but high quality, you don’t need to hide them. You shouldshow them off. But sometimes that’s most apparent in contrast. So you have an object like this, with the self-evident façade masking the structural—" 

“My dear,” said Aziraphale, and that knocked the breath out of him. “You do know that you’re babbling, right?”

“You asked, angel,” Crowley said in revenge. This time, though, the pet name didn’t earn him more than a flicker of a glance and the hint of a smile.

**

“Thank you,” Aziraphale said, as they walked back down the ramp to the car. “I learned a lot. And had a lovely time,” he added hastily.

“Good,” Crowley said. “I don’t get to give personalized tours that often, at least not to anyone other than the VIPs. It’s more fun with someone who cares about other things than property values.”

“I can only imagine,” Aziraphale said, sounding disapproving. “You’re right,” he added after a pause. “It’s not as cold as I expected. Nicer all around, actually.”

It should have sounded like faint praise, but the evident sincerity meant something. And when Aziraphale said “nice” it meant more than when most people did, somehow. “Thanks,” Crowley said, and meant it. 

“I do still hope,” Aziraphale said with a sidelong look, “That it’s not exactly what you’ll be putting up on my block.”

“Nah,” said Crowley. “It would stick out like a sore thumb.”

Aziraphale looked relived, which was vaguely insulting; did he really think that Crowley had spent so much time trying to get into his shop if he was just going to ignore the surroundings entirely? “I’m glad to hear it,” he admitted. “I was rather dreading living in its shadow. Do you know yet what it will be?”

“Still in preliminary planning,” Crowley said vaguely. “But you don’t need to worry too much about shadows; they won’t let us build too high, so it won’t be that much bigger than what’s there now. The rest is still up in the air, a bit." 

Aziraphale could apparently sense his reluctance to talk about the details, and dropped the subject as they reached the car. He didn’t make much conversation during the drive, aside from a few unnecessary remarks about cars or pedestrians who were in places where they honestly didn’t belong. 

Too soon, Crowley had pulled up in front of the bookstore again. He hopped out of the car as soon as it was parked; Aziraphale stayed put, letting Crowley circle the car to open his door again, smiling down at his lap as he waited.

“Thank you, again,” he said as he slid out of the car. “You have a lot of patience for an unappreciative audience.”

Crowley grinned, leaning against the car. “That just means that there’s more opportunity to convince you that I’m right.”

Aziraphale’s smile grew, but didn’t take the easy bait. “I had better get back to work,” he said, glancing over at his shop. “I’m sure I’ll see you around?” 

Crowley nodded. “I’ll be by,” he promised.

“Can’t seem to keep you away,” Aziraphale said, but he was smiling as he turned and headed for the store.

Oh no, Crowley thought as he watched until after Aziraphale had disappeared inside. This was probably not good.

Chapter Text

The bookshop sign read “Closed,” but Crowley could see lights seeping out from under the drawn shades as dusk set in. Acting on a hunch, he knocked on the door. 

A voice sounded faintly. “We’re closed!”

Hah, gotcha. It did rather follow that someone who answered the phone to say that he was closed would respond to the door the same way. Crowley knocked again.

A moment later the door opened, and Aziraphale appeared in it, a flood of light spilling out around him. “We’re quite definitely clo—” he started, before he made out Crowley’s face. He stopped himself, huffing out a sigh. “What is it now?” Aziraphale asked, but there was a trace of humor in his voice.

Crowley smiled back up at him. “I need a book.”

“You—” Aziraphale stared at him, obviously surprised. “A book?”

“Yes, a book,” Crowley said. “I needed a book and I thought, oh, I know a bookshop, I’ll go there! That is what you do, after all,” he said. “Sell books.”

“Oh!” Aziraphale said, as if the idea had never crossed his mind. “I mean, yes, of course, it is a bookshop.” He didn’t continue, and he didn’t step aside to let Crowley in.

“Exactly!” said Crowley cheerfully.

“The thing is, we’re closed,” Aziraphale said. “I can’t just go letting people in whenever—”

“Here you go,” Crowley said. He stepped up to the door—closer to Aziraphale than he’d quite realized, but it couldn’t be helped, and he didn’t regret it—reached a hand around the door, and flipped the sign to Open. “That’s all right, then.”

“Oh!” Aziraphale protested, glaring. “Come back tomorrow and we can discuss whatever it is that you’re looking for.” 

“Or you could just make a quick sale now.”

Aziraphale frowned faintly, eyes darting off the side and then back. “I doubt I have it in stock, anyway.”

Crowley tipped his head so that he could look at Aziraphale over his glasses. “You don’t even know what book it is, how can you know that it’s not in stock?”

“I have a rather specialized collection, you know,” Aziraphale insisted. “If you’ll tell me the titles, though, I can take a look and phone you tomorrow. Or,” he added, brightening a little, “If it’s just a quick reference that you need, you’re welcome to stop by and just take notes on the relevant parts.”

“I knew it!” Crowley said, cackling. “I knew it! You don’t want to sell me a book at all.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Aziraphale quickly. “As you so astutely observed, I own a bookshop.”

“You hoard books, is what you do,” Crowley said triumphantly. “Tell me the truth, angel. Do you ever sell any?”

“I do!” Aziraphale protested, flushing. “Sometimes,” he added, starting to break down into a smile of his own. 

“Once a year or so?”

Aziraphale was smiling outright now. “A little more often than that.”

“I knew it,” Crowley said again. “Nobody with an actual interest in making a profit would keep the kinds of hours you do.”

“They suit my convenience, not the reverse,” Aziraphale said primly. 

“You know, if you lined up every other shopkeeper in the world and told them that there would be construction on their block, the first thing they’d worry about is the effect on the foot traffic.” 

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, face brightening a little. “I hadn’t thought about that.”

Crowley laughed again. “It’s a wonder that you stay in business, is what it is.”

Aziraphale huffed a faint laugh, eyeing Crowley closely. There was a brief pause, and Crowley wondered if he’d pushed a bit too far. 

“Have you eaten yet?” Aziraphale asked, abruptly. “Only I just got take-away, and there’s far too much food for one,” he added quickly, cheeks coloring.

Crowley was caught by surprise, but he didn’t think it showed. “Only if you’re going to let me into the building,” he drawled.

“I may be closed for business,” Aziraphale said, “But not for dinner with a friend.” He flipped the sign back to Closed and stepped back inside the shop, holding the door open for Crowley to follow. He did, trying not to think too much about Aziraphale’s phrasing of what was doubtless intended to be an innocuous statement. Dinner with a friend was a good thing. Wasn’t it?

Aziraphale led him through an aisle of shelves and back. “The hallowed back room?” Crowley asked, looking around. It was even more crowded than the rest of the bookshop, the shelves packed with books, statues, and other items, while the desk was piled high with books and papers. “I thought I wasn’t allowed back here.” 

“Well, I can’t call you a serious customer, who are usually the ones back here,” Aziraphale said. “But as I said, the rules are different for friends.”

“Do a lot of entertaining back here, then, do you?” Crowley asked, not sure what he wanted the answer to be.

“Not particularly,” Aziraphale said, looking thoughtful. There were, in fact, a surprising number of take-away containers on a small table, and a very promising smell in the air. Aziraphale disappeared behind a shelf for a minute and returned with a second plate and a bottle of wine.

“Dining at the office?” Crowley asked, accepting the glass that Aziraphale handed him. He sipped it, pleased but not entirely surprised to find that it was particularly nice. “That’s not generally a good sign.” 

“I do suppose I spend a lot of my time here,” Aziraphale admitted. “It’s rather easy to.”

“Where do you live?” Crowley asked, and then regretted it. A sip of wine wasn’t nearly enough to explain being that blunt. “I mean,” he tried to correct course, “It must be nearby?”

“Oh, there’s a flat upstairs,” Aziraphale said easily. “Nothing large, but it does for me." 

No wonder he was so concerned about the effects of construction on the block. Crowley wondered if it would be too hopelessly forward to ask for a tour. He’d shown Aziraphale his, after all. Maybe better not. But possibly an offer would be forthcoming. “And yet you’re eating down here.”

“I was going to get a little more work done after,” Aziraphale said, gesturing at one of the stacks of books on the desk. “I have a few new pieces to evaluate. I believe that the copy of The Moonstone in particular is a very nice specimen.”

“An exciting evening indeed,” Crowley drawled. 

“I enjoy my work,” Aziraphale said, a shade defensively. “The company isn’t unwelcome, though,” he added hurriedly, as if Crowley might think that he’d just invited him in out of obligation. “Just unexpected.”

“That’s me,” Crowley said cheerfully. “Unexpected and a delight.”

Aziraphale smiled but didn’t reply, busying himself serving a plate and handing it to Crowley, who accepted it readily. He’d eaten something for lunch, he thought, but he couldn’t remember for sure, and anyway it seemed like a long time ago now. A bite, and another, and he’d already been impressed with Aziraphale’s taste in restaurants, but this was something else. 

“This is amazing,” he said, watching as the resulting smile lit Aziraphale’s face. “Where did you get it from?”

“There’s a wonderful little place on the next block. Fortunately, it’s far enough away that it should be spared the carnage,” Aziraphale said pointedly. 

“Look,” Crowley said, trying not to laugh, “If you invited me in just to make digs about my job—”

“I have no problem with architects as a profession,” Aziraphale said primly, eyes dancing.

“Just with us actually trying to do anything—” 

“But I do think that you should be presented with the consequences of your actions,” Aziraphale said, ignoring the interjection. Crowley dissolved into laughter, Aziraphale watching him with an expression that could only be described as fond.

Even when they weren’t talking about the neighborhood or architecture, the conversation flowed easily, Crowley was happy to find. It didn’t take much encouragement to get Aziraphale talking about the various people he’d seen at the estate auction he’d been to earlier, and he only allowed himself a few minutes to rhapsodize about his newest finds. Crowley told a few work stories, holding his boss up as an example of why Aziraphale was so lucky to be self-employed. Aziraphale opened a second, equally nice bottle, and kept on pouring.

Somehow, Crowley found, the conversation had worked its way back around to architecture. A chance remark of Aziraphale’s got Crowley going on about post-war modernism and utopian ideals. He spent what, had he been sober, he would have realized was much too long explaining how the Barbican was designed for democratic, communal living. Aziraphale didn’t seem bored, though, watching and nodding as he talked.

“That’s why I got started with it all,” Crowley admitted. Oh, he’d definitely had more wine than he should have. “So I could make things like that.”

“Uplifting the masses through big concrete towers?” Aziraphale asked drily.

Crowley waved a hand. “Something like that. Except not really, because it doesn’t work. But. . .” he trailed off.

“Mmm?” Aziraphale said encouragingly. 

“The way I see it,” he said, slouching even further down into the couch, “People are people. You can’t change that. Silly to try. But you can make it easier to be, you know, better people. Well, I don’t know about better, but happier. Being in a, a, good building should make every minute of their lives just a little bit easier. A little bit more pleasant. And, and that—” he waved his hand, fingers fluttering through the air—“Ripples,” he said, as if it were a profound insight. “It’s all little ripples.”

“Ripples,” Aziraphale murmured, caught up in watching Crowley’s hands as they moved. “Spreading out to affect every bit of their lives.”

“Exactly!” Crowley said triumphantly. “Make a building that’s ugly or uncomfortable, and it’ll all be bad ripples. Make something that people like to be in, and it’ll be good ripples.”

“Like the ducks. Butterflies? It’s something with wings,” Aziraphale murmured.

“Hmm? What’re you on about, wings?” Crowley asked, turning to look at him with a furrowed brow.

Aziraphale shook his head, dismissing the point. “So you’re improving every bit of their lives by making a big fancy building that you like,” he said. “That’s a bit egos—egots—egosistical of you.”

Crowley shrugged, not bothering to deny it. “Can’t be in my business without wanting to show off a bit.”

“Ripples,” Aziraphale said, sighing, and fell quiet. 

“ ’s a machine,” Crowley said.

“What is?” Aziraphale asked, brow furrowed.

“All of it,” Crowley said, waving vaguely. “The house. The offices. This bookstore, god help us all. They’re all just machines, angel, and we live in them. Or work in them. Or maybe both,” he said darkly, glaring suspiciously at the sofa, which had the air of a piece of furniture that was often misused as a bed. “If you’ve got to have a machine, might as well be a good one. Like my car.”

“I still don’t see,” Aziraphale said, following some internal line of thought, “What’s wrong with a nice Victorian.” 

“I take you on a personal tour of my building—which has been nominated for several awards now, you know—and you’re still on about a nice Victorian?” Crowley asked, indignant and laughing. “There’s gratitude for you.”

“Oh, I am grateful,” Aziraphale said, turning his wide blue eyes on Crowley. “I had a lovely time. Did I tell you that?” 

Crowley swallowed, caught in that gaze. “You did,” he said, letting his smirk relax into something a little more genuine. The moment stretched, and he grabbed for a less hazardous topic. “So, tell me, why so many Bibles?” he asked, waving at the shelf across the room. “Surely you only really need one.”

Aziraphale simultaneously gave him a quelling look and a happy little wriggle. Crowley was glad that the sunglasses, ridiculous as they probably looked under the circumstances, were covering his expression, because he was pretty sure that it revealed more than he wanted to. Aziraphale launched into a description of his collection of mis-prints that had Crowley almost falling out of his chair for laughing, and both philosophy and architecture were abandoned for the evening.

**

Over the next week Crowley went to work every day, to work meetings, and out to drinks with friends, all the time carrying the bookshop and its owner as a solid presence in the back of his thoughts. The smallest thing could make him think of Aziraphale—but so far, all in vain. He’d been hit with deadlines for another project, and besides he’d gotten about all he could from sketching in Soho—he had no excuse to be in the area all week.

It annoyed him, and that made him start to think. Maybe it was time to move past needing an excuse for being in the area. A reason to be at the bookshop would be just as good. Better, even. 

On Thursday he left work, got into the Bentley, and drove straight to Soho. He was ready to ignore the closed sign again, but the shop was actually open when he pulled up. He could see Aziraphale through the window, sorting books at one of the tables. “I’m sorry, but we’re just about to—Ah, Crowley," he said as he turned to look at the opening door, a smile lighting his face. “Do come in and turn the sign to closed, will you?” 

Something warm kindled in his chest as he did so. He didn’t even try to put it out this time, just let it sit and slowly grow. “I won’t be keeping you?”

“Not at all,” Aziraphale assured him. “I just didn’t particularly want to be interrupted by any more customers.”

A brief pause. Crowley’s new-forged nerve was weakening a little, and he reached for the excuse that he’d said he wasn’t going to use. “There were just a few more things I was hoping to sketch,” he said, fishing for his notebook.

“Certainly,” Aziraphale said, with an easy wave of his hand. “Oh, had you wanted to do the back room, too?”

“Yeah, sure, that would be great.” 

Aziraphale gave him another easy smile. “I suppose there’s no harm in it, after all. Make yourself at home.” 

Crowley had committed himself now, so he dutifully took out his notebook and started drawing. There were a few interesting touches back here, and he got drawn into it for a while before remembring why he’d come. “Any exciting weekend plans?” he asked into the silence. 

“Mmm?” Aziraphale said absently. After a few minutes of Crowley’s silence his attention had clearly drifted back to some large brown book on his desk, and eventually he’d pulled his gloves back on and resumed paging through it.

“Weekend plans,” Crowley said, more shortly than he intended. The warm bookshop was pleasantly cozy, much nicer than the chill outside or even his own rather utilitarian office, but he still couldn’t bring himself to relax into it at the moment. “Have any?”

“Not particularly,” said Aziraphale, still sounding mildly distracted, but at least he was in the conversation. “I might open for a few hours on Saturday. You?”

“That new restaurant down the way is having a special tasting dinner Saturday night,” Crowley said. This was, inexplicably, harder than last time. It lacked the ambiguity that had provided his thin layer of deniability, he supposed. Plus, this time he’d had plenty of time to plan ahead, rather than improvising in the moment. It wasn’t helping. “You’d mentioned wanting to try it; I thought maybe you’d like to go?”

The rustling of turning pages stopped completely. A moment passed, and then another. Crowley risked a glance; Aziraphale was sitting very still, looking down at his desk, but his hands had stopped moving. Crowley wished he was turned so that he could see his expression.

The silence stretched a moment longer, and Crowley was the one who broke. “Or not,” he said quickly. “You’re probably busy. And a tasting menu isn’t everyone’s choice. The review in the Guardian last week said that the place was inconsistent anyway. There’s no rush to try it out—”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale said quietly, and Crowley broke off mid-word. “I—it’s very kind of you to ask—” 

“I’m not asking to be kind, angel.” It came out before Crowley could stop himself.

Aziraphale tried to smile at him, and in the attempt Crowley saw the demise of whatever hopes he’d had. “Still,” he said. “I do appreciate it, my dear, really I do, but I just don’t think. . .”

Crowley tried not to flinch at the endearment. Bad enough to be turned down, but this wasn’t helping. “Come out with me again,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be Saturday—another night, we can do whatever you want.”

Aziraphale closed his eyes, looking like he was gathering his strength. “Thank you,” he said, speaking carefully. “But no.”

“You want to,” Crowley said, absolutely certain that he was right. “You do.”

“That’s not the point,” said Aziraphale.

“It’s the entire point!” Crowley said. “That’s the entire point of—of—dating,” he said, hating the word itself and whatever his voice was doing as he said it. “Do you want to? Then do it!”

“It’s not that simple,” Aziraphale insisted. “There are other factors to consider. It’s not a good idea.”

“Why not?” Crowley demanded.

“I can’t explain it all,” Aziraphale said, squirming. “Just, trust me. There are things you don’t know.”

“If it’s such a bad idea, why did you go out with me the first time?” Crowley asked, changing tacks lightning-quick. “Or invite me in last time? Nothing’s changed since then, and you were happy enough then.” 

“I’ve never been particularly good at denying myself pleasures,” Aziraphale said unhappily. “Even when I really ought to.”

“And why,” Crowley asked, sarcasm creeping into his voice, “Ought you to?” 

Aziraphale wouldn’t meet his eyes. “There are things you don’t know,” he said again. “About me, and us, and—and all of it. I—I really can’t explain, Crowley, but just believe me. It’s for the best. It’s best for you if we don’t. . . carry this any further.” 

“I’m not asking—I’m not asking you to run away with me or anything,” Crowley said, frustrated. “Just to go on another date. Dinner and a show. A walk in the park. Whatever you like, angel, just name it and I’m there.” He hated how desperate his voice sounded. There was no way he could care this much after two dates that weren’t even that, apparently.

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said, and his voice sounded just as wrecked as Crowley’s. It was a cold comfort. “I, I, I can’t. I just can’t.”

“Fine,” Crowley snapped, hurt and confusion rising in his throat. “No, I reckon you’re probably right. It is for the best.”

“Yes,” Aziraphale agreed, gaze fixed on his hands, which were twisting tightly. “Just look at us,” he said, gesturing between them. “It was never going to work out anyway.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Look at yourself,” Aziraphale said, with a gesture that took him in from styled hair to snakeskin shoes. “I hardly think I’m your usual type.”

“My type?” Crowley said, disbelievingly. “I think you look great.”

“We have nothing in common,” Aziraphale went on, as if he hadn’t spoken. “Not to mention that you’re with them. You have to know that it wouldn’t work out.”

A heavy cold feeling had settled in Crowley’s chest. It didn’t go at all with the cozy warmth of the bookstore. Maybe that was the point. “Yeah,” he said, finally. “It wouldn’t.”

He set his teacup down carefully on the over-crowded table, casting around for his bag and jacket. He didn’t bother putting it on, but just slung it over his other shoulder before heading for the door. 

Behind him he heard Aziraphale say, quietly, “Goodbye.” Crowley didn’t stop or turn, just left.

Chapter Text

Crowley gave himself one day off work to sulk in bed, refusing to get up or answer his phone. It was less satisfying than it had been when he was twenty-two, but there was still some pleasure in telling the rest of the world to fuck off and leave him alone, even if there was nobody actually around to hear him say so. 

He did give in and go into work the next day, where he spent a good part of the morning rounding up every piece of paper in his office that related to the Soho project and then shoving them into the back of his least convenient drawer. There were other projects that he’d been neglecting that needed attention, after all.

While he was waiting for his computer to boot up he found himself sketching. A stark, unadorned concrete box with windows that looked like a fortress, which maybe had the footprint of the Greek Street site, and about the maximum height that the city would allow. Even in miniature, it loomed. He started at it for a long moment before ripping that piece off of his roll of tracing paper and stuffing it on top of the others in the drawer*.

*There were a few other similar drawings that found their way into the drawer over the following days. A co-worker spotted the one where the entire façade was covered with columns, all just perceptibly larger than the ones on the bookstore. Crowley passed it off as joke, but he did notice that he got odd looks for a few days. Of the variations on giant glass boxes, the less said the better. 

He couldn’t put if off forever, of course. Sooner or later he was going to end up back in Soho, and thanks to a scheduled site visit with half a dozen other members of the team, it was sooner. It was a miserable day for it, too, cold for the time of year, and not made more pleasant by the rain that started up when they still had an hour left. Crowley kept them inside for as long as he could, and was very grateful for the umbrella that the office assistant had shoved into his hand as he was leaving. It wasn’t large, and his feet were damp, but at least the rest of him was relatively unscathed.

He was heading back to Tottenham Court Station, cursing his decision to take the underground instead of driving and trying to ignore the unpleasant sensation of his rather soggy socks, when he saw a familiar head of pale curls appear, slowly rising up the escalator. Crowley’s first impulse was to turn tail; duck into a shop or something before he was spotted, wait for the coast to clear. But instead he found himself frozen, watching as Aziraphale—Fell—no, Aziraphale—reached the top of the escalator.

A cold drip on the back of his neck called him back to himself, and he quickly fumbled his umbrella back to a better position. He didn’t make any move to leave, though, still watching as Aziraphale stepped off the escalator and stopped abruptly, staring in dismay at the scene outside the glass. He was, Crowley realized, carrying a stack of books, tied up with string but no other protection.

Aziraphale had moved on from staring in horror and gotten as far as opening the door and peering out, as if with hopelessly misdirected optimism that the rain might be lighter than it appeared through the window, oblivious to his effect on the flow of foot traffic. One passing commuter knocked into him, sending him stumbling, and the next took a few seconds to tell him off. Crowley watched as Aziraphale stiffened in annoyance, fumbled both the door and the books, nearly dropped the books, and stepped backwards onto the foot of someone who had crowded up behind him. In the end he seemed to give up and let the crowd push him out the door, edging carefully along the front of the shelter so that he and the books were still tucked under the overhang. 

He was so focused on the rain, still steadily falling on his outstretched hand, that he didn’t notice Crowley separate himself from the stream of pedestrians until he was standing right next to him.

“Waiting for a miracle?”

Aziraphale jumped and spun, eyes wide. For a moment, he looked almost scared, but it eased almost instantly as he recognized who was speaking to him. “Crowley!” he exclaimed. After that first startled glance he seemed to be having trouble making eye contact. “What are you doing here?”

“Carrying an umbrella,” Crowley said drily. “You?”

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, looking upset. “I forgot mine. And I have these books,” he added, lifting them up as if Crowley might have missed them. “And people are being very rude,” he added with clear disapproval.

“Why on earth don’t you have an umbrella?” Crowley asked.

“It wasn’t raining when I left,” Aziraphale protested. “And the radio didn’t say anything about rain this morning.”

“The radio?” Crowley said skeptically, raising an eyebrow. Aziraphale just peered at him in confusion, though, and Crowley dropped it. “Allow me.”

Aziraphale looked up at him, and seemed to notice the umbrella for the first time. “Oh!” He said again. “Oh, Crowley, that’s very nice of you—“ Crowley made a scoffing sound before he could stop himself, but Aziraphale just ignored him and carried on, “But weren’t you going into the station? You don’t really want to turn around and go all the way back.”

“I don’t think you get to be an authority on what I want,” Crowley said, a too-sharp edge to his voice. Aziraphale flinched away, and he immediately regretted it. “Come on,” he said, shifting his tone lighter. “Unless you want to spend all night standing here blocking traffic.”

Aziraphale’s brows were pinched in a little worried frown, but after one more hesitant look up at Crowley he took him at his word, stepping out from under the overhang and into the shelter of the umbrella.

It wasn’t, in fact, a very large umbrella. Even if he had been wanted to walk entirely pressed up against Aziraphale—impossible, due to the books, which at least saved him the decision—a decent part of Crowley would not have been under it. As it was, the umbrella was managing to protect the books, most of Aziraphale, and the edge of Crowley’s right shoulder. 

Aziraphale didn’t notice right away, distracted as he was by making sure that the books were safely under cover and carefully wiping off the drop or two or water that had landed on the top of the stack. It took a while for him to look up enough to be able to see Crowley’s really rather impressive self-sacrifice.

“Oh,” he said, dismayed. “Oh no, you’re getting soaked, Crowley. Look, I’ll just duck into a shop and wait until it’s done—”

“It’s not going to stop any time soon,” Crowley said. It had started coming down rather harder as they walked, in fact. “I’ll dry. The books won’t.”

“You could carry the books under the umbrella, and I could walk—”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Crowley interrupted, but gently. “No point in us both getting wet. Besides, would you really want to trust me with the books?” 

“I, er, well,” Aziraphale said, clearly trying to get an affirmative past his lips, but getting stuck. “You do, in general, seem pretty responsible with—”

“It’s fine,” Crowley said. “Really. I don’t mind it. I might buy you an umbrella, though,” he said, trying to turn the subject.

“I have an umbrella. It’s just not here.” 

“They have a lot of different patterns, at some of those stores,” Crowley added, glancing out of the corner of his eye to catch Aziraphale’s look of horror. He was certain, somehow, that the only umbrella that Aziraphale could possibly own was a large black one, probably with a curled handle. “Could get you one of the ones that says I heart London. Saw that in a window near here. Or maybe one of the ones that looks like a union jack.” 

“Crowley!” Aziraphale said, scolding. “I’m not a tourist!”

“Then you shouldn’t act like one,” said Crowley. “Forgetting your umbrella, really?” 

“Yes, I suppose it was rather foolish of me,” Aziraphale said, but he didn’t sound too upset about it.

“Not to mention holding up foot traffic at the station,” Crowley went on. “Standing in the doorway like that. Surprised nobody got violent.”

“I couldn’t just go out into the rain!” Aziraphale sounded shocked. “The books! Anyway, there was no call for people to be rude.”

Crowley hummed in response, taking a quick step to put himself between Aziraphale and the sheet of water that a passing car sent surging up.

“Well, I do appreciate the rescue,” Aziraphale said as they turned onto his block. “It wasvery kind of you.” Crowley made a reflexive noise again, and Aziraphale looked at him sidelong. “Should I say thank you?” 

“No need,” Crowley said quickly. “Really.” 

Thankfully, Aziraphale let it drop. Crowley saw him to his doorstep, holding the umbrella and the books more or less patiently as he fumbled in his pockets for the keys and unlocked the door. As he turned to take the books back and doubtless send Crowley on his way, his eyes swept him up and down. Crowley could imagine what he was seeing; wet hair now plastered across his forehead, jacket soaked enough to be heavy on his shoulders, and shoes squelching.

“Oh!” Aziraphale said, still staring at him. “Oh dear, you’re completely soaked. Do come in.”

Crowley waved a hand impatiently. “I’m fine. It’s just a bit of damp.”

Aziraphale was frowning, determination in his gaze. “It’s almost dark, and it’s just going to get colder. You’ll catch your death. Do come in for a bit and warm up.”

The chill of the day did seem to have soaked in through his jacket with the rain. “I’m fine.”

“Nonsense,” Aziraphale said briskly. “I won’t hear of it, not after the way you saved me just now. Come along, now.”

Crowley found himself ushered into the bookshop without conscious thought, directed by just the lightest touch of Aziraphale’s hand on his elbow. Aziraphale took the books from his hand and set them carefully on a table, and then took his umbrella and set it by the door. Crowley realized that the hand that had been holding it was stiff from the cold, and thought that perhaps coming in to warm up had been a good idea. 

“Do take your coat off,” Aziraphale was fussing gently, off to the side somewhere. “I’ll hang it in front of the heater.” Crowley managed to shrug it off with a minimum of undignified struggling. Aziraphale took it out of his hands and set it over a chair that he stationed in front of the radiator. The shop had had some updating at some point, then, Crowley noted absently. He stepped over to it himself, enjoying the warmth against his face.

Turning to feel the heat against his back, he caught Aziraphale staring outright. Suddenly the soaked and clinging shirt didn’t seem so bad, after all. Crowley allowed himself a smirk. He could tell the moment that Aziraphale’s eyes, travelling slowly up his body, saw that he’d been found out; the other man jerked, blushed bright red, and started stammering something about towels. Crowley just regarded him, eyebrows rising, until Aziraphale was rescued by a whistling sound and he bustled off, muttering about the kettle.

“Something warm will do you good,” he said, shoving a mug into Crowley’s hand. “Do you want a dry shirt? It won’t be exactly your size, but it would be warmer.”

Crowley considered it for a second; stripping off his clinging shirt before Aziraphale could even look away, artfully turning aside to let Aziraphale look his fill without fear of being caught. Wearing Aziraphale’s shirt home to his flat, where he could look at it, just ever now and then, for a few days before returning it and reminding Aziraphale of the whole situation again.

It would have been fun, if he’d done it before he’d pushed too fast and ruined everything. Now, though, the thought just made him tired. “I’m fine,” he said shortly, and then felt bad at Aziraphale’s little wince. “A chance to warm up a bit is really all I need.”

“I’ll at least get you a towel,” Aziraphale said, bustling off to rummage in some other corner of the office, returning with something white and impressively fluffy. Crowley rubbed it roughly over his hair—there was nothing left to salvage, sticking up every which way could hardly be worse than plastered flat—and then patted over his torso. He wasn’t quite above a few strategic stretches, he found, knowing that Aziraphale was still watching. 

But he was starting to warm up, and the tea was hot, and he was back in the bookshop with Aziraphale, and it was, in fact, what he’d been wanting every day of the two weeks since he’d last been here. Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing, and he was going to savor it while he could. 

“Thank you again,” Aziraphale said. “I don’t know what I would have done. There are a couple of quite nice signed editions of Isabella Bird’s, and what I think is a mint copy of Roosevelt’s first book, complete with the dust jacket—” He kept it up for a few minutes, chatting about the estate sale full of rare travel books, several of which he hadn’t been able to resist. It made for a soothing backdrop as Crowley drank his tea.

“Sorry, I’m just going on,” Aziraphale said eventually. “How are you doing, my—that is, what brought you to the area today?”

“A meeting next door,” Crowley said with a jerk of his head. “They only needed me for ten minutes of it, but I got to stand around for the full two hours.” 

“So matters proceed apace,” Aziraphale said, not sounding pleased about it.

“If you mean, is the construction still going to happen, the answer is yes.” 

“I do hope that you still feel welcome here,” Aziraphale said abruptly. “Even if. . . ” he looked away. “You’re always welcome to stop by for a cup of tea. Or a drink.”

“Thanks,” Crowley said, a little shortly. But once again, watching Aziraphale’s face fall was enough to make him relent. “I like coming by here,” he said, offering a small truth in return for the invitation. “I’m going to have plenty more site visits, I might take you up on that.”

Aziraphale smiled at him, a genuine one. “Do, please. I’ve enjoyed our little talks.”

Crowley managed to get out some noise of vague assent and then negotiated the necessary routine of how it was getting on, he should be going, yes he was warm enough now, thanks for the tea, no need to thank him in return, reclaimed his jacket and umbrella, and escaped.

He paused for a moment, out on the sidewalk, to look at the now-empty buildings next to the bookshop. No, he decided eventually. A brutalist fortress wouldn’t suit the place at all. With a half-hearted shrug, he turned and headed back towards the underground.

**

Crowley was ostensibly in the area for work today. He had, in fact, had an on-site meeting with the structural engineers earlier; afterwards he had discovered that he had a miraculous break in his schedule and stopped by the bookstore in the expectation, immediately proven correct, that Aziraphale would provide him with a cup of tea and a comfortable sofa to sprawl across.  It was close enough to what he really wanted to be worth having, at any rate.

He’d been there for about half an hour, complaining about the incompetence of preliminary assessors who couldn’t even be trusted to assess the stability of a foundation, and whose inaccuracies would require either a complete re-haul of the current plan or the infusion of quite a bit more of the client’s money. Aziraphale had demonstrated more forbearance than he usually showed for the topic of imminent construction, and had let him rant uninterrupted by anything other than the occasional noise of encouragement or disgust, as appropriate.

A rustle at the door announced the arrival of the afternoon post through the slot. Aziraphale collected it and carried it over to the desk, sorting it as he absently agreed with Crowley that anyone who couldn’t tell the sound concrete from bad should be sentenced to a decade offiling permit paperwork. His face shifted to something much less pleasant when he reached the bottom envelope, and Crowley stopped his gleeful description of eternal torments in the middle of a word. 

“What is it?” he asked, sharply. He’d never seen quite that expression on Aziraphale’s face.

“Nothing to worry about, my dear,” Aziraphale said, in an unconvincing attempt at calm, setting the envelope on his desk, aside from the others.

Crowley leaned over and grabbed for it before Aziraphale could stop him. It was fairly heavy; it had to contain several sheets of paper. What caught his eye, however, was the logo in the top corner. It was one he was deeply familiar with, at this point, appearing as it did on almost every official piece of paper about the Soho job. “Why are Ludlow’s people sending you mail?” he asked, slowly.

“I presume,” Aziraphale said, still affecting to be unconcerned, “That it’s another offer.”

“Another offer? For the building?” 

“Presumably,” Aziraphale said, looking at the letter with some distaste. 

“I thought you said you turned them down.”

“I did,” said Aziraphale. “But they do seem rather determined, I’m afraid.” 

“Have they been bothering you?”

“A couple of letters, a phone call or two,” Aziraphale said. “Don’t look like that,” he added, at whatever expression was on Crowley’s face. “It’s a minor annoyance, that’s all. I just wish they’d take no for an answer.” 

“I didn’t know they were still after the building,” Crowley said. “It would be a completely different design if I had the whole corner; we’d have had to start with that plan from the start, or at least run a contingency all along. You really can’t do this kind of thing and not even tell your architect. We’re about ready to start taking down the other two, after all.”

“Oh, you are?” Aziraphale said, with an expression of distaste. “I do hope the dust won’t be too bad.”

Crowley leveled a pointed look at the generous layer already coating the shelf behind him, but Aziraphale didn’t deign to notice it. “Give it here,” he said instead, gesturing to the envelope Crowley held. “I’ll just put it in the recycling, since sending it back doesn’t seem to have done any good.”

“Not so fast,” Crowley said, letting his head fall back on the couch as he retreated with his prize. “You may not care, but I want to know how much.”

“How could it possibly matter, when I have no intention of selling?” Aziraphale asked in mild protest, but he made no attempt to stop Crowley from sliding a finger under the flap and pulling the sheets out. 

He flipped back to the last sheet, read the bolded number, read it again, and whistled. “They’re not kidding around, are they,” he said, impressed despite himself. 

“What?” Aziraphale asked, reaching for the paper. “How much is it?” 

Crowley twisted on the sofa, keeping it out of reach. “Ah, ah. I thought you didn’t even want to know?”

“I’m not a saint, Crowley,” Aziraphale huffed, exasperated. “Of course I’m curious.” 

“It possibly could matter, if it’s a high enough number?” Crowley asked snidely, but he did hand the paper over when Aziraphale reached for it again. 

He flipped to the same page and stared at it for a long moment. “Oh,” he said faintly. “That is rather a lot of money, isn’t it.” 

“You could retire, on that,” Crowley said. “Buy yourself a nice cottage in the country, never have to work again.”

“Nonsense,” said Aziraphale, still staring at the number on the paper. “I like London, and I like my shop. I told you, I have no interest in selling.”

“You’d never have to let another book go again,” Crowley said, no longer sure why he was even talking about it like this. It wasn’t like he wanted Aziraphale to close up and move away; he’d just gotten comfortable in the bookshop, and he was still holding out hope that with a bit more time, Aziraphale would talk himself back around. “Just put them on fancy walnut shelves in a pretentious room that you call a library and enjoy having them around. No customers coming in to touch them. I saw you, you know, when those teens were in here the other day, pulling every other book off the shelves.”

“Some of those Eliots are quite delicate,” Aziraphale said, irritated again at the memory. “I should probably move them to the back. It would have to be quite a large cottage, you know,” he added with a gleam of humor and a glance around at his shelves. “No, I don’t think it will do for me.” He dropped the papers into the recycling bin without even a wistful look. 

“Suit yourself,” said Crowley, who was feeling like he’d been well served for reading someone else’s mail, but rather relieved at the final outcome.

**

The next time Crowley poked his nose into the bookshop, Aziraphale appeared to be in the middle of doing his accounts. How much bookkeeping he could have, when he almost never seemed to sell anything, was a bit of a mystery to Crowley, but nevertheless he was sitting bent over a book, paying such close attention that he didn’t notice Crowley’s intrusion into his back room until he cleared his throat.

Aziraphale didn’t startle, though, just turned and smiled as he saw him. “Ah, Crowley!” he said. “I was just thinking about you.” 

“Were you?” Crowley asked, leaning against a shelf and regarding Aziraphale.

“I have something that I think may interest you,” Aziraphale said. “But you can’t have known that,” he added, disappearing somewhere into the shop. “What brings you around?”

“I came by to ask what you think about pediments,” said Crowley, “But it’s not particularly pressing.”

“With sculptures or without?” Aziraphale’s voice floated back out of the shelves.

“Do you have a preference?” 

“They’re always nice, but perhaps a touch anachronistic these days,” Aziraphale said, emerging with a small stack of brightly colored volumes in his hands. “Besides, I thought the honesty of the materials was supposed to speak for itself without obstructionist ornamentation.”

Crowley shrugged. “Rules were made to be broken.”

Aziraphale flashed him a smile. “Seems like it might stand out a bit, but I’m not here to tell you your job.”

“Really?” Crowley drawled. “Seems like you’ve had a fair few opinions to offer.” 

“You’re the one who came into my shop and asked me what I thought about the neighborhood,” Aziraphale retorted. Crowley considered this something of a revisionist history, but before he could protest, Aziraphale was holding up a hand to stop him. “Don’t let’s get distracted arguing, or I’ll forget to show you what I found.”

Crowley felt his lips twitch. “Indeed.”

Aziraphale smiled and set the stack of books on the coffee table in front of him. Crowley leaned forward, interest already piqued. He didn’t read much on his own time, but like almost any architect he had a distinct weakness for books about his field, and—

“They’re reproductions of Le Corbusier’s sketchbooks,” Aziraphale said, unnecessarily. Crowley could read, after all. “A rather rare edition.” 

Crowley’s fingers itched to touch. “Do I need those gloves you wear?” he asked, nodding towards the desk with what he thought was particularly impressive self-restraint.

“Oh, no,” Aziraphale said, and before he’d finished the words Crowley had the first volume in his hands. “They’re not old or fragile. Or particularly valuable, in all honesty.”

He was absorbed almost instantly, studying the drawings and annotations. Aziraphale settled back into his work, and the bookshop settled into quiet companionability, broken only by the sounds of scratching pens and turning pages.

“Crowley.” Aziraphale’s voice, soft but insistent, eventually broke into his concentration. “Come, put the books down for a minute.”

“Oh,” Crowley said, surfacing. “I’m sorry. Has it gotten late?”

“Not at all,” Aziraphale said promptly. “You’re more than welcome to stay as long as you want. But for now, just come have a cup of tea with me.”

Crowley set the book aside with only a touch of reluctance, watching as Aziraphale set the kettle to boiling. He was chatting, quietly, catching Crowley up on the recent news of the neighborhood that he’d missed now that work didn’t bring him there as frequently.

“But how about you?” Aziraphale asked, setting a mug of tea on a coaster in front of Crowley, and settling down into the chair across from him. “Aside from work, how are you doing?”

The question took a moment’s thought, but Crowley ended up telling him about the excellent play that he’d seen that weekend; he found himself recommending it to Aziraphale, but refrained from so much as suggesting that he’d be happy to see it again himself. They chatted for a bit about the play, other productions of Coward that Aziraphale had seen, and completely avoided any heavier topics. 

 Aziraphale didn’t miss his wistful little glance back at the books when the tea was finished, though. “I won’t keep you,” he said, clearly amused.

“It’s just, I shouldn’t stay too late, and I wanted to at least look through the 1940’s,” Crowley said.

“Well, as to that,” Aziraphale said, suddenly busying himself with clearing the tea things, “You don’t have to worry about having enough time.”

“I don’t want to keep you,” Crowley said, well aware that it was past the time when most people had headed home from work.

“No,” Aziraphale said. He seemed to be steeling himself for something, eyes darting from the mugs in his hands, to the stack of books, to Crowley’s face. “It’s not that. I mean, I want you to have them.”

“What?” Crowley had to be misunderstanding him.

“They’re for you,” Aziraphale said, seeming more certain of himself now that he’d managed to say it once. “You’ll appreciate them more than they will be here.”

“I can’t—” Crowley started. He had, eventually, figured out how much some of the books in the shop were worth. Aziraphale had no business giving him that kind of gift. “I can’t take them,” he said, gently. “It’s too much—”

“You’d be doing me a favor, really,” Aziraphale interrupted. “As I said, they’re not particularly valuable, really. And I certainly have no intention of starting a section on architecture, so they’ve just been taking up room on the shelves.”

“Right,” said Crowley, looking around at the quantity of shelves and the overflowing tables, in which four volumes would hardly make a difference.

“Please,” Aziraphale said, quietly. “I want you to have them.” 

And Crowley wanted them. For their own sakes, but also just to have something of Aziraphale’s with him. In his home or office, where he could look at whenever he wanted. “Thanks,” he said finally. “They’re beautiful.”

Aziraphale beamed, and it was almost too much. “Not that you need to take off just yet,” he said easily. “A glass of wine, perhaps?”

Crowley agreed, accepting the glass and picking up the second volume of the set. No need to rush, now, after all.

Chapter Text

“Aziraphale!” Crowley called as he stepped into the shop. He glanced around, but there weren’t any customers visible. Good. “Aziraphale, look what—”

“Crowley.” Aziraphale appeared in the door to his office. His arms were folded, and he looked angrier Crowley had ever seen him before. That was fine—he wouldn’t stay upset about whatever it was once he’d tasted the pastries that Crowley had found. The closest to Parisian that could be found in London, his co-worker had assured him, and from the one he’d sampled on the way over, he believed it.

“Aziraphale!” he said, waving the bag at him. “Just look, I came across a bakery today, and they seem to do the most amazing things with—”

“Ah,” said Aziraphale, his voice getting even colder. “Another bribe, is it?”

“Bribe?” Crowley asked, confused.

“Isn’t that the plan?” Aziraphale hadn’t moved from his spot, blocking the entrance to the backroom. “Make friends with the bookseller? Or maybe, even better, more than friends? Come creeping back around, and around, and around, until eventually he has to start to like you. Lets you in. And then, what? Wear him down? Convince him? Tempt him with how much money he could have, how easy life could be? Well, you were too slow. They gave up on you.”

All Crowley could do was stare. A pit had opened in his stomach, and it yawned wider with every word. Whatever was going on, it was possible that some pastries might not be enough to fix it. “Aziraphale!” he said, loudly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about." 

“Really?” Crowley hadn’t known that Aziraphale knew what sarcasm was, much less how to use it so viciously. He uncrossed his arms, grabbed something from the shelf next to him, and strode forward. “I got this in the mail today,” he said, thrusting a piece of paper towards Crowley.

He took it automatically and glanced down. He barely had time to make out the logo for the City of Westminster and catch the words “development and renewal” and “compulsory purchase order” in the first paragraph before Aziraphale had snatched it back out of his hands and was speaking again, voice rising. “No idea, you say. You didn’t know that this was coming? Your bosses just forgot to mention that they were going to take away my shop, no matter what it took.”

“No,” Crowley said, desperate now. “I didn’t. Aziraphale, I promise you. I didn’t know.” Aziraphale stared at him. He was, as usual, an open book, and Crowley could see, underneath the anger, a willingness to be convinced. “They didn’t tell me,” Crowley said, more urgent now. “I—I would never have—trust me, I didn’t know.”

It almost worked. “Trust you?” Aziraphale said quietly, meeting his gaze, and for a moment Crowley thought it was going to be fine. But then he tore his gaze away, staring down at the floor, lips tightening. “Why would I trust you? We’re not on the same side of this,” he added, before Crowley could interrupt. “And we never have been.”

“Sides?” Crowley tried to protest. “It’s not about sides—”

“I should have known better than to ever let you into my shop,” Aziraphale said. He didn’t really sound angry any more, just sad. “It’s been lies since the first day, hasn’t it? Anything so that your clients could make another few pounds. And I gave you my books!”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Crowley said, starting to get irritated himself. “I haven’t lied to you.”

“You were the one who told me that they couldn’t add another lot without telling the architect from the beginning.”

“Yes—” Crowley said, scrambling. “I did, but I was just surprised that they were still trying, that was all. I swear to you.”

“You tried to tempt me,” Aziraphale said. “What you said, about that cottage, with the books, that was all a—a trap. I wouldn’t have even opened the offer if it weren’t for you. But you wanted to make sure I knew exactly how much money it was, didn’t you.”

“No, Aziraphale, that wasn’t—” Crowley tried desperately to collect his thoughts. What the hell, maybe honesty would work. “I don’t know why I said any of that. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t want you to sell the shop.”

“Sure.” Aziraphale’s face was hard, trying to hold onto his anger. “Just a coincidence, was it?”

The anger was just a veneer, Crowley realized, barely covering a deep, deep well of panic. Aziraphale thought he was going to lose the bookshop, and he was just barely hanging onto his control right now. “We’ll figure this out,” Crowley tried to promise. “We won’t let them do this. Please, I can help.”

“You’ve done more than enough.”

“Aziraphale, just listen—” 

Aziraphale glared at him, and Crowley felt himself take a step backward involuntarily. “I’ve listened to you enough. You only ever came here to take it away from me. I should have known from the start that you—you never—it was all a trick, and it was all a lie, and I’m not going to listen to a word that you say.” 

“You’re wrong,” Crowley snapped, finally pushed too far. “I didn’t lie, and I don’t even care what happens to your, your blasted bookshop. You and it can both go to hell for all I care.”

Aziraphale just stared at him for a long moment. Crowley started to want to take it back, but he didn’t get the chance. “Get out,” Aziraphale said quietly, eyes drifting down to fix on Crowley’s feet. “And don’t come back.”

“Fine,” Crowley said. “I don’t know why I ever bothered, anyway.” And he left.

**

Going straight from the scene in the bookshop back to the office was not, perhaps, the brightest notion that Crowley had ever had. He’d rarely had a bad idea that he wasn’t ready to commit to, though. Good with follow-through, he was pretty sure he’d gotten that on a performance review sometime.

He didn’t bother to stop at his office, striding directly into his boss’s without even bothering to knock. Lionel looked up as the door opened. “Crowley,” he said, sounding surprised. “Do we have a meeting?” 

“When were you going to tell me?” Crowley asked, ignoring Lionel’s gesture towards a chair. 

Lionel frowned. “Tell you about what?” 

“The Soho project,” Crowley snapped, aware that his tone was slipping out of his control. “Compulsory purchase of the bookstore? Really?”

Lionel’s confusion cleared. “Oh, did Ludlow talk to you about that? Our lawyer wasn’t entirely sure, but his said it was at least worth a try.” 

“I was just over at the site. The owner of the bookstore just got the letter, he told me.” Crowley knew that his voice was giving too much away, but he couldn’t quite control it.

Lionel made the face of a man contemplating an unfortunate and awkward situation that he was glad to have avoided. “They’ll be paying him through the nose for it, I’m sure. Lawyer said that, since they’d already offered, they’d probably have to give him that instead of market value.” 

“They—” Crowley started, but wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence. “It’s a family business, you know,” he said, finally. “They’ve been there for generations.”

Lionel shrugged. “He’s probably ready to move on, then. Look, for the kind of cash they’re offering, he’ll be able to buy himself a nice new place, get on with the rest of his life. We walked past on the first site visit with Ludlow—it’s not like he’s doing that much with the place right now.”

Crowley just stared at him. Lionel continued, still oblivious, “It’s all due to you, you know. Remember, right at the start, before he turned down the first offer, and you made up those sketches of that modernist option that took the whole corner? Well, one of Ludlow’s people dug up that design a few weeks ago and he fell in love with it. The book fellow wouldn’t take any of their offers, so then their lawyers suggested this. I guess he gets a chance to challenge it, but he hardly seems like a very worldly fellow.” He smiled lazily up at Crowley, still apparently not registering his expression of rage. “So get back to that version, ok?”

What Crowley should do—what he’d always done, when faced with a boss who was incompetent, or didn’t care, or had bloody terrible ideas—was smile, and agree, and then go off and undermine those plans in any way he could. It had been a successful strategy so far. Here he was, after all, making a lot of money and winning awards at one of the best firms in London.

He took a deep breath, and then another. Walk away. What he should do was walk away. “Lionel.” His boss looked up, finally registering that something was off. “Go fuck yourself." 

And he walked right back out of the building.

**

Crowley barely slept that night. All he could think about was how to explain to Aziraphale what had happened. How could he possibly convince him that he hadn’t betrayed him like that?

The next morning, a Friday, brought him no closer to a plan, but abruptly that didn’t matter. So far he’d done better while improvising, anyway. He didn’t go to work—there didn’t seem to be any point, he’d clean out his desk later—and by mid-morning he’d pulled the Bentley up in front of the bookshop.

Before he’d even turned off the engine, an indistinct figure had appeared in the door, flipping the sign to read Closed and visibly turning the bolt. By the time Crowley had opened the car door, the shades across the front had all been drawn.

Well, that was clear enough.

** 

For the first time in his life, sulking wasn’t satisfying. He’d tried a nap, which had naturally turned into sitting in the dark brooding. But even that wasn’t helping. He kept wanting to do  something, but there wasn’t anything to do. Come Sunday afternoon he found himself flipping through the beautiful volumes of Le Corbusier, not seeing anything, and decided he had to get out. A drive, perhaps, would be just the thing to work some of his lingering restlessness out of his system.

He was heading for the bookshop again—no real hope of getting in, this time, but a vague thought that maybe just staring at it for a bit would help—when he caught sight of a familiar figure on the sidewalk, only a few doors down from the shop.

Crowley screeched to a halt and leapt out the door before his brain had even finished processing what he was seeing. “Aziraphale! Angel!” he called. The pedestrians on the pavement around him stopped to look. Mostly tourists, he thought, but there was his usual barista from the coffee shop, and the owner of another business down the block. They were eyeing him with suspicion; well, it was clear which side the neighborhood was taking. Crowley couldn’t blame them. He just hoped that Aziraphale would accept a surrender. He’d happily be a prisoner of war.

Aziraphale had, at least, stopped and turned to watch him instead of hurrying away. It was better than a locked door. “I’m sorry,” Crowley said, managing to bang his hip against the car as he rounded it, but ignoring the impact. “I swear, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. Please,” he ended, not even trying to hide the desperation in his voice.

Aziraphale looked at him, face working. Crowley decided it was time to push his luck. “Let me at least explain,” he said. “Just, just hear me out. It’s only fair, isn’t it, to listen to me instead of just writing me off?”

After an agonizingly long moment Aziraphale gave a tiny, jerky nod. “Come in, then,” he said, gesturing towards the bookshop. “No need to take up the sidewalk,” he added, which Crowley took to mean that he’d noticed the onlookers too, given his usual disregard for the flow of traffic. 

Once inside they stared at each other awkwardly. The words had dried up on Crowley’s tongue.

“Well?” Aziraphale demanded eventually.

“What do you want me to say?” Crowley managed. “Tell me what would convince you, and I’ll do it.”

“I have nothing to say to you,” Aziraphale said, stiffly. “I believe I was perfectly clear.”

Crowley swallowed hard, and managed to find some words. “Would you just listen to me?” he asked. Despite his efforts, he could hear the edge to his voice. “I swear, angel, I am telling you the truth.”

“And why should I believe you?”

Crowley let out a frustrated huff. “I don’t know. Don’t you think you know me better than that?"

Aziraphale wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I don’t know you, not really,” he said. “We’re not—we’re not friends. And we’re certainly not anything else, either!”  

“Come on, angel,” Crowley said. Aziraphale stiffened at the endearment, and Crowley could have kicked himself for letting it escape. “Would I have spent so much trying to get in here to sketch the bloody bookshop if I was just plotting to tear it down?”

“A trick,” Aziraphale said, stiffly. “To get in and talk to me.”

“Come on,” Crowley said, a little of his own irritation bleeding through. “You’re clever. You’re so clever. Stop being an idiot, would you?”

Aziraphale shot him and odd, sideways look. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

“If I wanted to, what, sneak in and make friends with you, why would I come in and tell you that I was the architect for the project? You hated me from the start. If I wanted to get you to trust me, I could have come up with a better story than that. Anystory would have been better than that.”

Aziraphale seemed to be softening. “Yes, but you would have needed an excuse. . .”

“I could have come up with a better one!” Crowley threw his hands up in exasperation. “Just moved into the neighborhood. A student sketching buildings for class. A pizza delivery man with the wrong address. Even a customer! If it were a trick, why on earth would I have told you from the first who I worked for?” He put every ounce of persuasion he had into the words. “Come on, you know it doesn’t make sense.”

Aziraphale’s eyes were fixed on him now. He wanted to be convinced, Crowley could tell.

“I have been nothing but honest with you,” Crowley promised. He was rather amazed to find that the statement was almost entirely true. “Even when it would have been a hell of a lot easier not to be. Trust me. I only want to help, I promise.”

Aziraphale’s face crumpled, all at once. “Oh, Crowley,” he said. His eyes were gleaming with what Crowley was mildly horrified to see were tears. “I—"

It was a mark of Crowley’s hellish luck during the last few weeks that this was the moment the door opened with a cheerful little jingle. It was notthe time for an interruption, Crowley thought, and turned to send the intruders on their way.

Aziraphale beat him to it, though, recovering his composure almost instantly and sweeping forward. “I’m very sorry,” he started. “We’re closed, I must not have locked the door—”

It was two rather large men in ill-fitting black suits, who didn’t stop as Aziraphale bustled towards them. “We’re here to discuss a little business with you, Mr. Fell,” one of them said. The one of the right was a little taller, and had a tie in an improbably ugly shade of green; the one of the left was a little shorter, balding, and had skipped the tie entirely. Crowley had a suspicion that the night was going south quickly.

“As I said, we’re closed.” Aziraphale’s voice was still calm, but from behind him Crowley could see tension in the set of his shoulders. He didn’t like this any more than Crowley did.

The men had made their way into the middle of the foyer, encroaching on the edge of Aziraphale’s personal space. “We won’t take up much of your evening,” the shorter one said. “But our employer doesn’t feel that there is time to waste.” 

Aziraphale eyed them for a long moment. “Crowley, why don’t you make yourself comfortable in the office while I take care of this? I won’t be long, I’m sure,” he said, almost convincingly casual. 

Like hell was Crowley going to leave him here alone with these two. He propped a hip against a table and leaned, watching them lazily. “Nah,” he said, trying to match Aziraphale’s tone. “I’m good here.” 

Aziraphale flashed a momentary glare over his shoulder, but turned his attention back to the other two when Crowley showed no sign of budging. “And what can I help you with, gentlemen?” 

The taller one looked pointedly around the shop. “Our employer has made some significant investments in the neighborhood,” the other one said. “He is, however, getting concerned about the rate of return. He would like to make sure that there are no additional delays.”

Aziraphale blinked at them. “I don’t see how that concerns me,” he said mildly.

“There are certain inevitabilities.” Again, the pointed look around the shop. “In the name of progress. Regrettable as some of them may be. You might as well accept that. Now.”

“I do believe I understand you, gentlemen,” Aziraphale said. “However—"

The taller one reached into his jacket, and Crowley tensed, but all he brought out was a folder, from which he extracted a stack of papers. “Just a few signatures, that’s all we need,” he said, interrupting Aziraphale, who accepted the papers as they were thrust at him, glancing down to read.

“Ah, yes. A declaration of my decision not to contest the compulsory purchase order, and an agreement to sell to Mr. Ludlow immediately.”

“As I said, inevitabilities,” the shorter one said. He seemed to have shifted closer to Aziraphale without actually moving. Crowley was still leaning, trying to look casual, but his pulse was racing, as was his mind. How was he going to get Aziraphale out of this? No matter his apparent unconcern with the current situation, he’d nearly panicked at just receiving the letter. He wasn’t going to just sign the documents. Crowley had to do something, but what?

Aziraphale shifted his weight slightly, but his voice was still calm as he replied. “I’m afraid not.”

“Come on, Mr. Fell, there’s no point in making this any harder than it has to be, is there?” the other one asked. He’d edged closer, too, and the two of them were now nearly flanking Aziraphale. Crowley’s skin itched with the urge to do something.

“No,” Aziraphale said, firmly. “I’m afraid you’re wasting your time here, gentlemen. I’m not signing anything.” He looked up at the one who’d just spoken. “Looming at me is not going to help your case, either. I’m afraid I have to ask you both to leave.”

The two intruders shared a glance, and then there was a gun in the shorter one’s hand. Without conscious thought, Crowley had started to lunge forward. The tall one was suddenly in front him, though, holding up a cautioning hand. “You sit down,” he said. “And just stay nice and quiet.”

The other man had a gun, and he was still standing right next to Aziraphale. Despite all his screaming instincts, Crowley folded his legs under himself and lowered himself to the floor. The goon backed off a bit, focus back on Aziraphale.

“If incentive is what you need, we can provide it,” the one with the gun was saying. “There doesn’t have to be any unpleasantness, Mr. Fell. Sign the papers, and we’ll leave you to enjoy your evening.”

“I told you,” Aziraphale said, still very firm. “I’m afraid I can’t do any such thing.”

The goon scowled, irritation starting to leach into his voice. “You’re in no position to refuse. Nobody has to get hurt tonight, if you will cooperate. If not—well, gun violence is on the rise in London. A shop full of valuable books, an owner who forgot to lock up. Well. Such a shame when things like this happen in such nice communities.”

“You don’t want to shoot me,” Aziraphale said. “Please. It would be remarkably inconvenient.”

Crowley, who felt strongly that inconvenient was something of an understatement, slowly started to raise himself off the floor. Aziraphale must have caught the movement out of the corner of his eye; he darted a sharp, repressive glare in his direction, before turning back to the intruders.

“Sign the papers and we won’t have to.” 

“I have no intention of signing anything,” Aziraphale said calmly. “But really, you have no idea how very awkward it would be—”

Awkward was perhaps even a less apt word than inconvenient, Crowley reflected irrelevantly as he got his feet under him and slowly stood to his full height. The attention of both of the goons flipped to him. Aziraphale took the opportunity to glare again, vehemently mouthing the words, stay down! 

“Sit back down,” the taller of the two said. “You don’t need to be involved in this.”

“Gentlemen,” Crowley said. “Is this worth it? Ludlow can’t be paying you more than a fraction of what he pays his fancy lawyer, and you’re the ones doing the hard work. And taking all the risks. The police get veryserious about gun deaths, you know. Do you really want to—” 

“Shut it,” the shorter one growled. Suddenly, the gun was aimed straight at him instead. Crowley found himself momentarily frozen, caught staring down into it.

“Leave him alone,” Aziraphale said, sharply.

“Oh?” the shorter one said. “And why should we do that?”

“He’s not involved in this.” Aziraphale’s voice was starting to lose the steadiness it had had all along. The one with the gun, who seemed overall quicker on the uptake, scented blood.

“Is that it? Care more about the boyfriend’s skin than your own?” He gave an unpleasant smile, still aiming his gun firmly at Crowley.

“I said, he’s not involved in this." 

“Sign the papers,” the taller one said, “Or we’ll start on him and then get to you.” 

Aziraphale’s eyes went flat, a new kind of determination firming his expression, and Crowley knew he wasn’t going to sign the damn papers. It’s just a shop,angel,he thought desperately, wishing he could hear him. It’s not worth getting yourself hurt over it. Or me, for that matter.

“Crowley.” Aziraphale’s voice was soft and commanding. “Do be a dear and close your eyes for me for a minute.”

Crowley felt a sharp jolt of disbelief. “Close my eyes! Aziraphale, what—he has a gun, I’m not going to—" 

“Do it. Now,” Aziraphale snapped. And then— 

The light in the shop changed. It shifted. A second set of shadows overlaid the ones cast by the lamps overhead. The light became golden, the shadows a deep, pure blue.

And there, in the middle of it, stood Aziraphale. It was unmistakably him; the same terrible beige coat and tartan bowtie, the same blue-grey eyes and pink lips. But something glowed, around his head, above his pale curls; too bright to look at itself, but not blinding if you looked at his face instead*, casting the pure golden light into the room. And from his back appeared two enormous feathered wings. Crowley thought that they were probably white, but in that light they were highlighted with gold and edged in blue.

* A small part of Crowley’s brain insisted that this was impossible, that this wasn’t how light worked, but was squashed by his eyes, which insisted that it was, in fact, happening. 

In his hand, he held a sword. 

If you had described a scene like this to Crowley just a few hours ago, he would have said that it was a trick. Obviously it was a trick, because nothing like this existed, in the real world that he inhabited. But even the human brain, as stubborn an organ as one is likely to find, can sometimes be convinced of new things, when there is no other choice. This was real. It was, perhaps, more real than anything Crowley had seen before in his life. Human eyes could play tricks*. Other senses could be fooled. But there was, simply, no doubting the presence in front of him.

*They do it all the time, in fact, starting with telling your brain that you’re actually seeing much of anything coherent at all. 

Crowley fought back the urge to fall on his knees, or maybe his face, holding himself upright through sheer bloody-mindedness backed up with a healthy dose of spite. His lungs burned, and he realized that he’d forgotten to breathe. He managed to take in a stuttering breath, but it took almost all the strength he had. 

Aziraphale was looking at the men. One had lost the battle and was collapsed on his knees, but the other was upright and still managing to point the gun at him.

Go,” the angel said, and it was less a request and more a statement of how the world would be. The one who had fallen to his knees scrambled away, but the other held fast. Aziraphale took a step towards him, his wings sweeping up and back, raising the sword before him. It should have looked ridiculous, a sword raised against the very professional-looking gun that the goon was holding. It didn’t.

Go,” Aziraphale said again, and his voice was the voice of a whole host, and the sword was deadlier than any bullet could ever be.

The men broke, both scrambling for the door.

Aziraphale watched them leave, the door slamming shut behind them. He relaxed a little, lowering the sword to his side and letting his wings fall until the tips brushed the floor. He turned to Crowley, and visibly huffed when he saw him staring back at him.

“Crowley,” he said. His voice was back to normal, exasperation and a hint of fondness replacing underlying celestial harmonies. “I told you to close your eyes.”

“Ngk,” Crowley said. He swallowed, and tried again. “Aziraphale—"

“Would it have killed you to just do as I said, for once?” Aziraphale asked, exasperated. 

Crowley thought about asking him what was going on—what Aziraphale actually was—but he figured that he honestly already knew. “Angel?” he managed after a moment.

“Well, yes, actually,” Aziraphale said. He made a slight motion with his hand, and the sword disappeared. The light seemed to be dimming a bit too, although he was still glowing. “I don’t really spread it about, though.”

“You—you have a halo,” Crowley said. The thought struck him as faintly funny, but he was still too stunned to laugh.

“Oh, I suppose I do,” Aziraphale said, raising a hand like he was going to pat his hair before thinking better of it and letting it fall again. 

He shifted a little, and then his wings were folding, disappearing into nothingness behind him. The light dimmed, again, and then it was back to the usual glow of the bookshop. It was both a disappointment and deep, deep relief to see Aziraphale standing there, looking normal again. Crowley tried to take a step towards him and stumbled, knees still feeling weak. Aziraphale caught his arm and lowered him onto the sofa.

He heard Aziraphale mutter, “Oh, what does it matter,” and then a warm mug was abruptly pushed into his hand. It tasted of tea plus a shot of something stronger, when he automatically raised to his lips.

“Do drink up, my dear,” Aziraphale said. He seemed to realize that he was hovering, and retreated far enough to drag the chair over in front of Crowley and perch in it himself. His shoes, the only part of him that Crowley could see in his current position, looked disarmingly normal. Nothing to tell you that they were, what, angelic?Crowley could feel his thoughts trying to actually wrap themselves around the situation, and hurriedly spoke to distract himself. 

“You know, I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.”

“Oh? Er.” Aziraphale shifted uncomfortably. “No, I don’t suppose you have.”

He still sounded like himself, and something inside Crowley eased. “So you’re, what? Sent down to earth to answer prayers? Protect people? How does all this work, then?” 

“Well. Not so much on active duty, at the moment, actually,” Aziraphale said. 

“No?” Crowley asked, fascinated.

“There were a few, well, differences of opinion, policy disagreements, that sort of thing,” Aziraphale said, turning slightly pink. “It was more of an amicable separation.” 

Crowley looked sideways at him, automatically skeptical. “This I have to hear. How does an angel manage to piss God off so much that you get let go for it?” 

“Not God!” Aziraphale said, affronted. “Or, at least, I don’t think so. I haven’t heard anything directly from Her for a while now.” Crowley nodded, trying to pretend that this was a perfectly normal conversation with his—whatever they were—rather than an angel inadvertantly telling him God’s pronouns. “It was Management, really. The Archangels.”

“Ok,” Crowley said. “So what did you do to them?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Aziraphale protested. “There were a few minor matters, nothing that important really, but—”

“How long have you been a, what, free agent?” Crowley asked.

“Well, it all started about, er, six thousand years ago,” Aziraphale said.

“You were fired six thousand years ago.” This was making all of Crowley’s workplace stories look awfully tame, he reflected.

“No, I mean, it all. And I wasn’t fired! There was just a minor situation—" 

“Yes?” Crowley asked when Aziraphale seemed uninclined to continue.

“Well, you see, I was supposed to be guarding the gate,” Aziraphale said, like it was a full explanation.

“What gate?”

“The Eastern gate.” When Crowley continued to look blank, Aziraphale let out a nervous chuckle. “Of Eden, of course.”

“Eden,” Crowley said, flatly.

“Yes,” Aziraphale said. “And, of course, well, everyone knows what happened. And I told them at the time, I said that I thought the demon had just, you know, done that thing where they pop up through the ground—like mushrooms, you know—and hadn’t come through the gate at all, but Michael said that it was my job to stop that sort of thing from happening, and Gabriel said that I wasn’t a very good guard, and that they’d have to give me a less, well, critical job.”

The conversation had taken on such a level of unreality that it had actually swung back around towards perfectly believable. It was impossible to believe that Aziraphale could be making it up. Nobody who was pretending to be an angel would make it about workplace politics. Or make Archangels, whose names even Crowley recognized, sound like such pricks.

“And then there were a few other things,” Aziraphale said. “I mean, I know Her plans are ineffable, and I don’t expect to understand them all the time, but even just a few hints here and there would have helped. The flood. That whole business with that nice man from Uz, for another, and all just to win a bet. At least I only had to take care of his flocks that time, myself,” he said, a bit more quietly. “Plenty of wars. And—and nobody actually needed to die for them to be forgiven.” 

“So you, what, quit?” 

Aziraphale shrugged. “Not right away. But it all built up over time, as these things do. Eventually I decided I’d officially had enough of Heaven, and we agreed to leave each other alone. With an unspoken understanding that, if I wasn’t acting as a Heavenly Agent, I’d pass for human.”

“And when was that?” 

“Oh,” Aziraphale said, a bit vaguely. “Must have been sometime in the eleventh century or so.”

“So you’ve been, what, pretending to be a human bookseller for nine hundred years?”

“Well, I only opened the shop at the turn of the last century. No, the century before,” Aziraphale corrected himself. “I keep forgetting that we’re already in a new one.”

“Of course. It’s only been thirteen years, after all,” Crowley said drily.

“Thirteen really isn’t all that many, you know,” Aziraphale murmured. “In the scheme of things. Anyway, my dear, I would prefer if you could keep all this to yourself. Hopefully,” his eyes darted upwards, “Nobody will have noticed my little show just now, and we can keep all this quiet.”

“Angel,” Crowley said, even drier now. “You do know that if I told anyone about this, they’d lock me up?”

“Yes, well,” Aziraphale said primly. “Even more reason not to, right?”

“Right,” Crowley agreed. Even after all the revelations of the night, he still couldn’t keep his eyes from straying to Aziraphale’s lips as they relaxed into a little smile.

Yeah, he was definitely not less attracted to Aziraphale now. Crowley flashed back to the image of him standing, wings spread protectively, completely unafraid. No, tonight was definitely not going to help him get over his feelings. 

“You’re, er, taking all this rather well,” Aziraphale said abruptly.

“Hmm?” Crowley asked. 

“Most humans, well—well, most can’t really deal. I’m rather surprised that you didn’t run screaming. Or faint. To be honest.”

“Faint!” Crowley muttered indignantly, ignoring how his knees still felt a little weak. “A couple of wings and a halo aren’t enough to make me faint, angel.”

“Mmm,” Aziraphale said severely. “There was a reason I told you to close your eyes, you know.”

“Not just so you could keep your celestial secrets?” Crowley asked sarcastically. 

“That’s not—” Aziraphale sputtered indignantly. “Maybe a little,” he admitted after a moment. 

“So you weren’t going to tell me,” Crowley said.

The feeling in the room shifted abruptly, Aziraphale looking sad and guilty. “I’m really not supposed to let anyone know,” he said.

“What, that you’re an immortal, ageless being? You didn’t think I’d ever notice?” Crowley asked bleakly.

“You wouldn’t have,” Aziraphale said, very quietly. “Not if I didn’t want you to.”

“Oh, that’s even better!” Crowley could hear his voice rising without his consent. “You were just going to, what, make me forget that I’d ever known you? Sorry, my dear fellow, I know we’ve been friends for a few decades now but it’s gotten inconvenient, why don’t you just pop off and forget that I ever existed? Is that the sort of thing that you do?

“I told you it was complicated,” Aziraphale snapped. “I told you it was a bad idea to—to get too involved with me.”

Crowley stared fixedly at his hands, listening to Aziraphale get up and move away. He could feel tremors trying to start in his knees, and firmly clamped them together. Perhaps the events of the evening were catching up with him a bit, after all. Yesterday he’d have been upset enough just (just?) to have a gun pointed in his face, not to mention finding out that Aziraphale wasn’t even human. What a ridiculous statement to even think. A few minutes passed, his thoughts churning. Footsteps returned, and a teacup on a saucer was thrust under his face. He grasped it automatically, fingers curling around the warmth.

He could see Aziraphale’s knees as he sat back down in the chair. He sipped his tea in silence, while Crowley stared down into his cup.

“I didn’t want to,” Aziraphale said quietly.

“I got that,” Crowley snapped.

“No.” Aziraphale sounded frustrated now. “Not that. I didn’t want to lie to you. I didn’t want to make you forget me.”

The fight left Crowley all at once. “But you didn’t have a choice.”

“I did,” Aziraphale insisted. “I shouldn’t have let it get that far in the first place. I shouldn’t have—”

Crowley felt chills run up his spine. “Angel,” he said quietly. Aziraphale stopped to listen to him. “How long is it since you’ve had a. . . friend?”

Aziraphale looked at him for a long moment, eyes more remote than Crowley had ever seen. Suddenly, even without the wings, it was easy to believe that he was thousands of years older than any human. Before Crowley could really start to get worried, though, he snapped out of it with an abrupt shake of his head. “It’s been a long day for you,” he said briskly. “You must be exhausted, I shouldn’t keep you up any longer.” 

“Aziraphale—” 

The angel ignored him, pushing himself up from his chair, looking around and fussing out loud. “A bed, though, that’s the problem.”

Crowley thought about protesting, but the adrenaline seemed to be wearing off, leaving him feeling rather limp and dull in its absence. Whatever Aziraphale had doctored the tea with was probably helping too. “A bed?” 

“I don’t have one,” Aziraphale said, sounding worried. “And the sofa isn’t really big enough, is it. You’re longer than it is.” 

“You don’t have a bed?” Crowley asked. “Where do you sleep? You wouldn’t fit on the sofa any better than me.”

“Evil never sleeps, so virtue is always vigilent,” Aziraphale said distractedly. He glanced at Crowley and apparently saw his confusion, because he added, “I don’t sleep, my dear.”

“Oh,” said Crowley faintly. He had, perhaps, reached his limit on surprises for the day. “So that flat of yours upstairs. . .”

“There are some rooms up there,” Aziraphale said. “But I’ve never really used them, I think they’re still empty. The shop has everything I need. Perhaps I should just take you home,” he added. “You must have a bed.”

“The Bentley—” Crowley started, automatically. 

“You’re in no fit state to drive,” Aziraphale said firmly. “And I can’t myself, very well, so I wouldn’t try in your beautiful car. Probably be even more of a menace on the road than you are. But I’m as capable of calling a cab as anyone." 

His head was starting to swim a little bit, but he could imagine it; waking up tomorrow in his own bed, in his own flat, as if everything was normal. He didn’t much like the idea. “The sofa’s fine,” he said firmly, cutting off Aziraphale wondering out loud where he’d written down the number of that cab company. “I’ll be perfectly comfortable. If I won’t be in your way,” he added, quickly.

“Not at all,” Aziraphale said, eyes warm as he looked down at him. Crowley realized that he was already slumped fairly far over, and just let himself slide further down until he was more or less horizontal. If the sofa was too short for him, he couldn’t tell it now. Footsteps moved away and returned, just as a blanket was gently settled over him.  

Lips brushed his forehead. “Sleep well, and dream of whatever you like best,” a soft voice murmured, and that was the last Crowley knew for a while.

Chapter Text

Crowley woke slowly. He was warm, and felt surprisingly refreshed and peaceful. No alarm. That was why this was so much nicer than his usual morning. And he had the vague impression of nice dreams. Also the beam of sunlight falling on his chest, which was bright but also pleasant in its warmth.

Wait. No alarm. Why hadn’t there been an alarm?

That thought woke him more quickly, and the realization that his bedroom windows faced north and didn’t get direct sunlight finished the job. He sat up, an unfamiliar blanket pooling in his lap.

Oh. A wood desk covered with piles of books and papers met his eyes, underneath the window that was letting in the sun. He was in the bookshop. On the sofa, which explained why, despite his general feelings of well-being, his spine specifically was, perhaps, not as happy as it could be.

“Ah, you’re awake,” a voice said, and he turned to see Aziraphale standing in the entrance to the back room. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah,” he said automatically, staring at the other man. Or, rather, not. The events of last night re-played themselves in front of his mind’s eye. Not a man. Right, then.

Aziraphale was watching him, fingers knitted tightly. The tension in his face as he waited for Crowley’s reaction was enough to assure him that he hadn’t, in fact, dreamed the events of last night. “You’re not—” Aziraphale started, and then didn’t seem to know how to finish.

“It’s fine,” Crowley said, and found that he meant it. It was all still unexpected, but somehow as he slept the pieces had started to sort themselves, and now it almost felt natural. It wasn’t as hard to picture Aziraphale as an angel as it should have been, and he found that he could ignore the larger cosmological implications for now. “You’re fine.”

Aziraphale didn’t do anything so obvious as heave a breath of relief, but he did let his hands settle, and his lips softened. “Some tea,” was what he said. “Let me get you some.”

Crowley didn’t figure that there was any point in protesting, and it sounded nice enough, so he sat and watched Aziraphale plug in the kettle and then pour. He took the cup, reassured the fussing Aziraphale that he wasn’t going to expire of starvation if he wasn’t fed instantly, and then wondered frantically what to say into the ensuing silence.

“I’m sorry,” Aziraphale said, finally. 

Crowley lifted an eyebrow. “For what, exactly?”

“Lying to you,” Aziraphale said, not meeting his eyes. “Yelling at you. Getting you involved in last night’s mess at all.”

“That one wasn’t on you,” Crowley drawled. “You weren’t the one with a gun.”

“Still, the rest of it,” Aziraphale said, still sounding worried. “I never meant—that is, I did mean to deceive you, but—”

“I get it,” Crowley said, taking pity. “Doesn’t seem like you had much of a choice.”

Aziraphale looked relieved. “I’m reallynot supposed to tell anyone,” he said.

Crowley found himself frowning. “But what are they going to do to you?” he asked. “If you break their rules, I mean. I thought you didn’t work for them anymore.”

“Well, I mean, I don’t,” Aziraphale said, hands fidgeting with his own cup of tea. “But—”

“But what?” Crowley asked. He tried to imagine any set of orders that he’d follow for 900 years, and failed*. 

*Crowley did not respond well to being forbidden to do as he pleased, sometimes to the surprise and displeasure of bosses, ex-boyfriends, and, on occasion, the laws of physics.

“My dear,” Aziraphale said, and they were really going to need to have another conversation about what it meant that he kept saying that, weren’t they. “I’m—I’m still an angel. I can’t just—just disobey.” 

Crowley frowned. “I thought that was the point of quitting. I’ve never kept listening to any former boss of mine, I can tell you that.”

Aziraphale shifted in his chair. “Yes, well, these aren’t your typical employers. I’m still—that is—I’m not really in a position to do that.”

Crowley shrugged, deciding that the issue could wait. “Well, I’m not planning on listening to any recent ex-bosses myself.” 

“Recent ex-bosses?” Aziraphale asked, frowning. 

“I may have quit my job.”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale exclaimed, sounding truly dismayed. “Did you really?”

Crowley made a frustrated gesture. “There’s no excuse for taking this building out. They can’t honestly claim that it’s in disrepair, and it’s not like the neighborhood actually needs renewal. You were right, the compulsory purchase order is bullshit. I’m not going to work with it.”

“Oh, my dear—”

“By the way, I’m sorry,” he said, turning to Aziraphale. This conversation had been forgotten last night, but it was still important. “I apologize, for all of it. You were right, it was my fault. Back at the start I did a few hypothetical sketches, and some of them included this lot. That’s how they got so set on getting the building.”

Aziraphale looked at him for a long moment. “I forgive you,” he said, finally. “But I won’t if you don’t get your job back.”

“What?” Crowley asked, squinting at him. “Angel, I took a principled stand here. For you.”

“And I appreciate it, but they still have the buildings next door! And maybe my poor shop too,” Aziraphale exclaimed. “If you’re not designing it, who knows what horrors they’ll put up.”

“I see,” Crowley said, smirking. This was actually going to be ok. “You’re scared of a giant glass box.”

“Of course I am,” said Aziraphale impatiently. 

“And you trust me,” Crowley said triumphantly.

“Of course I do,” Aziraphale said, and then seemed startled to have said it. “You seem to care at least a little bit for those of us who have to look at the thing,” he tried to backpedal, but Crowley was laughing too loudly to hear.

“Yes, yes, we all know I’m brilliant at my job,” he said. “But I want to know more about yours.”

“You know about my job,” Aziraphale said. “I run a bookshop.” 

“Your other job,” Crowley clarified. “What do you do? Did you do, I guess. Are you a guardian angel?” he asked, smirking. “Following children around and keeping them from running out in front of cars?”

“No,” Aziraphale said, a trifle stiffly. “Or, rather, that was never my main job.”

“Oh,” Crowley said, thoroughly distracted now. “But tell me, do, how many children have you saved?”

Aziraphale ignored the question. “Technically, I’m a principality,” he said, with a certain amount of hopeless dignity. Crowley failed to stifle another laugh. “We’re tasked with guiding nations and the peoples of Earth.”

“Nations and peoples, is it?”

“Keeping them on the path towards righteousness,” Aziraphale said, and then collapsed in on himself slightly. “Well, supposedly. Mostly it seemed to be minor blessings, the occasional miracle, trying to nudge people to make the right decision. It wasn’t all that interesting, to be honest.”

One part of that statement stuck out. “Miracles?”

Aziraphale shrugged casually. “A fortunate event caused by divine power.” 

“No, I know what miracles are,” Crowley said. “You can do them?”

“Of course,” Aziraphale said, as if it were obvious. “Well, I could. I’m really not supposed to anymore. I could get in quite a bit of trouble, if they noticed.” 

Another forbidden skill. Crowley felt the impulse to poke at that one too, but put it aside for now. They didn’t need a repeat of the earlier conversation just yet. “What kinds of things do—did—you do?” 

“Mostly fairly small ones,” Aziraphale answered. “Signs of the Almighty’s favor, healing the sick, signs of the Almighty’s disfavor, moments of religious ecstasy, intervening as necessary to get events to come out right.” He made a face. “The occasional smiting, although that was going a bit out of style even before I left.”

Crowley had the impression that it was something of a relief to be able to talk about any of this. Aziraphale had been keeping quiet for a very, very long time. “Oh?” he asked. “So what was the last miracle you did?”

Aziraphale, unexpectedly, flushed. “Oh—I—that is—a mug of tea,” he mumbled.

Crowley stared. “A mug of tea?”

“You can’t have forgotten already!” Aziraphale said. “It was just last night.”

Crowley did, dimly, recall a mug of hot tea that had apparently appeared out of nowhere. He hadn’t been focused on it at the time. “You used a miracle to make me tea.”

“You’d had a bit of a shock!” Aziraphale said, turning even pinker. “I didn’t want to leave to put the kettle on.” Crowley just stared. “I was thinking about using one to keep the books dry, the other day,” Aziraphale admitted. “I was more tempted to than I had been in years. But then you turned up, and I didn’t have to,” he added with a smile.

“Glad to have been of service,” Crowley murmured.

Aziraphale’s face went soft. “I’m not used to being rescued,” he said. 

“You’ve been alone for six thousand years,” Crowley said quietly, remembering last night’s conversation.

“No, not at all,” Aziraphale hastened to reassure him. “Not really. There’ve always been humans, after all. Quite a lot, after a while.”

“Humans who couldn’t know what you were,” Crowley pointed out. “And who you couldn’t know for more than, what, a decade or two?" 

“There’s always been a couple of demons around, too.”

“Demons?” Crowley asked, temporarily diverted.

“Oh, yes.” Aziraphale’s tone was casual. “There are always a few around. Leading humans into sin, and all that. You couldn’t think it was just angels, now.”

“I suppose not,” Crowley said, cynically. “And you spent a lot of time hanging out with them, did you?”

“Oh, not at all,” Aziraphale said. He looked rather shocked at the suggestion. “They’re servants of Hell. Half of my job was keeping them from tempting the humans. Thwarting their wiles, that sort of thing.”

Crowley firmly sat on the part of his hindbrain that found the thought of Aziraphale thwarting far hotter than it should have. It took quite a lot of subduing, actually, but he managed to push it to the back of his thoughts, at least. “So not exactly friendship material either.”

“And there are other angels, of course,” Aziraphale said. “Not many on Earth, most of the time, but the Archangels and others up in Heaven.”

“Right,” Crowley murmured. “The Archangels, who you get along with so well that you quit your immortal job.”

“There’s at least one other angel stationed on Earth. I haven’t met them, though,” Aziraphale admitted. “Been avoiding being noticed, if I can. And I think maybe Gabriel and the rest told them to stay away from me. I don’t think they consider me a good influence.”

“So, in summary, there hasn’t been anyone who’s known who you were, or who you’ve known for more than a decade or so, in the last six thousand years.” Thinking back to their first few meetings, Crowley couldn’t keep up any sense of indignation any more for the way he’d been let in, and then rejected. He’d been the one to keep after Aziraphale, after all. It was hard to blame him for giving in, after all this time.

“I’ve hardly been unhappy,” Aziraphale said gently, looking closely at his face. “And there have been an awful lot of humans, too. I’ve known a good number of them. Even if it wasn’t—wasn’t long-term. A limited time doesn’t make the relationship meaningless, you know.” 

A limited time. That was one way to put it, Crowley supposed. It should bother him, perhaps, but he found that it didn’t really. It wasn’t like his life would be any shorter than otherwise, even if it was almost nothing in comparison. And Aziraphale certainly didn’t act like someone who thought of Crowley as like a child, no matter their respective ages.

And surely, now that he knew, he wasn’t going to forget Aziraphale, was he? Or whatever he’d said would happen to anyone who started to wonder. No, Crowley decided, he was planning on sticking around 

He looked up and saw that Aziraphale was watching him closely, starting to look concerned by the silence. “What are you thinking about so carefully, my dear?”

“You really could do it?” Crowley asked. Aziraphale raised an eyebrow at him, and he realized he’d better specify. “Make me forget. Or not notice. Isn’t that the kind of, er, miracle that you said you’re not supposed to do?”

Aziraphale sighed. “It’s not a deliberate miracle,” he said. “More of an automatic defense thing. If you started to wonder too much about some things, you’d just, well, stop. Eventually you’d just forget.” 

“And that actually works on people?” Crowley asked incredulously. “They don’t even realize that they’re not thinking about it? I think you’re overly optimistic on how well it would have worked on me, angel. I’m paying a lot of attention to you, I’d notice if you never got any older.”

“It already has,” Aziraphale said, with a dry little smile. “You’ve never once thought, for example, ‘oh, that’s an odd name.’”

Crowley frowned for a moment. An odd name. What, Aziraphale? He supposed it was a bit—his thoughts because very much clearer, all in a moment. Aziraphale was a bloody ridiculous name. Nobody had a name like that. It should have been one of the oddest things about the angel, and yet he’d never paid it a second thought. Treated it like he’d been named Joe, or Tom. 

“I don’t think I much like you playing around with my thoughts like that,” he said, trying very hard to keep his voice even and calm.

“I can’t turn it off,” Aziraphale said, a note of apology in his voice. “It’s automatic, like I said. Part of my Arrangement with Upstairs. But now that you know, there shouldn’t be much cause for it to kick in.” 

They lapsed into a silence, Aziraphale frowning at his now empty cup of tea. Crowley had plenty of questions left—what had Aziraphale done with himself on Earth for all of those years, what was this whole Heaven and Hell thing about anyway, had he ever been to see the old St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Crystal Palace before they were destroyed, was secretly being an angel the only reason he’d said that they shouldn’t date—but all of them except the last one seemed frivolous at the moment.

“Aziraphale,” he started, a little hesitant. Aziraphale fixed his eyes on him, listening politely. “When you said that you shouldn’t, because there were things I didn’t know—is this what you meant?” 

Whatever Aziraphale had expected him to say, that clearly wasn’t it. He blinked at him for a moment. “I—yes,” he said, finally. “It seemed like too big of a secret to keep from a, a, er.” He floundered, not finding the right word. 

Yeah, that would have been a nasty shock, when it eventually came out. “But now I do know, so—"

“Wait. Crowley. Just—”

He didn’t want to give Aziraphale another chance to avoid answering him, but the angel looked like he was about to panic, and that probably wouldn’t help either. “Yes?”

“It’s complicated,” Aziraphale said. “It’s not a simple thing and—”

“I know.” Crowley’s voice was rough at the edges. “I don’t care.”

“I don’t think we should talk about this right now,” Aziraphale said, voice a little sharper.

Crowley swallowed his first cry of why not? And when, then? Hurrying Aziraphale wasn’t going to help. “What should we talk about, then?” he managed after a minute.

“You should probably go home,” Aziraphale said. Crowley felt a stab of entirely unwarranted hurt, and it must have shown on his face, because instantly Aziraphale was comforting him. “Just for now. It’s not that I don’t want you here, my dear, because I do. And—and I’m not saying no to the other thing. But there’s been a lot for you to take in. Take—” Aziraphale swallowed. “Take a couple of days to think it all over. If you don’t want to—if I don’t see you here again, I’ll understand.”

“That’s not going to happen, angel,” Crowley said, trying to catch his eyes. “I’m not going to disappear on you.” 

“Well,” Aziraphale said, smiling unconvincingly and still avoiding Crowley’s gaze. “Take some time to think, anyway. And get your job back,” he added in a more familiar, gently scolding tone. “I can’t let just anyone take over the block.”

“Fine,” Crowley said. It was clearly not going to do him any good to argue. “Two days. I’ll bring you lunch on Wednesday, how does that sound?”

Aziraphale’s smile was a little more sincere this time. Crowley wanted to convince him that he wasn’t going anywhere, but probably the only thing that would actually do that was showing up on Wednesday. “Perfectly lovely,” he said. “I’ll be trying to figure out what to do about this,” he said, waving vaguely at the letter from the city, still sitting on his desk. “So we’ll both be keeping busy.” 

Crowley still didn’t really want to leave. But loath as he was to admit it, Aziraphale probably did have a point. And he was becoming increasingly aware that although the back room of the bookshop had many amenities, they didn’t include a shower. He wasn’t going to be a particularly pleasant companion for much longer.

He allowed Aziraphale to usher him to the door where, feeling daring (after all, Aziraphale wasn’t saying no), he leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. Aziraphale startled just a hair, but when Crowley pulled back he could see a light flush and a barely-repressed smile on his face. Crowley himself had to turn his own face away quickly, calling out a jaunty, “See you on Wednesday, angel!”, and barely prevented himself from whistling as he made his way out to his car.

 

**

 

He hadn’t slept much in the two nights since the one he’d spent on Aziraphale’s sofa. There was work to catch back up on, after all. And the peace of that night seemed to linger with him—he felt like he barely needed to rest. If he closed his eyes, it was the back room of the bookshop that he saw. When he did slip from that into sleep, it was to dreams of Aziraphale on the sofa, which were pleasant in a rather different way, even if the details were vague when he woke.

He’d drifted off again while trying to decide what restaurant might impress Aziraphale for lunch the next day. When he woke, it was with another idea, fully formed and ready at the forefront of his thoughts. Apparently he’d been working on a completely different problem in the back of his mind, and now he had the answer.

He didn’t think twice before dialing the bookshop. 

“A.Z. Fell and Co, we’re quite definitely—”

“Angel!” Crowley interrupted, before he could hang up. “Aziraphale?”

“Crowley?” Aziraphale’s voice said, sounding confused, and then, more sharply, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Crowley said, concern rising at his tone. “Why? Is anything wrong?” 

“Not at all,” Aziraphale answered. “But do you know what time it is?”

Crowley glanced at his watch. Oh. No wonder Aziraphale had been worried. “Doesn’t matter, you don’t sleep,” he said dismissively. “No, angel, I figured it out!” 

“Mmm?” Aziraphale said, inquiringly.

“How to save the shop.” 

“Oh!” Aziraphale said, sounding brighter. “Oh, really? Because I’ve been thinking and thinking, and aside from far too many miracles that someone would definitely be bound to notice, I haven’t been able to figure anything out.”

“You can stop worrying about it,” Crowley said, pleased with himself. “It’ll work, I know it will.”

“You can tell me all about it tomorrow,” Aziraphale said firmly. “Now, my dear, I may not sleep, but I know that you need to.”

Crowley made a vague scoffing noise. “There are a few more things I need to—”

“Go to bed, dear,” Aziraphale said. Over the phone it didn’t have the same weight as the command would in person, but it was still fairly convincing. “We can figure it all out in the morning.” 

Crowley put the phone down and considered the tabs open in his browser and the stack of papers he’d compiled. He sighed, closed the laptop, and set the papers aside. Aziraphale maybe did a point, he supposed.

 

**

 

11:00 was maybe a little early for lunchtime, Crowley admitted, but the wait for the food had been shorter than he’d thought it might be. Not that he’d probably needed to leave the office at 10:30 for his “lunch meeting.”

Until they talked, Aziraphale would still be worrying about how to handle the CPO. It was really a favor he was doing, arriving early. In any case, Aziraphale didn’t seem to mind—he was standing in the door of the shop before Crowley even got out of the car, and held it open for him with a smile. The sign, Crowley saw, was already flipped to read Closed.

When Crowley turned to look at him, Aziraphale was eyeing the sack he was carrying greedily. “That smells divine,” he pronounced. “What is it?”

“It’s good to see you too,” Crowley said drily. Aziraphale didn’t get flustered, though, just smiled gently at Crowley. 

“And you too, my dear.” There was a hint of relief in his voice, and Crowley realized that he really hadn’t been sure that he’d come back, even after last night’s—maybe this morning’s— phone call.

“I stopped at a Polish place on the way,” Crowley announced, sauntering into the sitting area and setting the bag on the low table.

“Lovely,” Aziraphale said. As he passed Crowley he paused, turned, and leaned over to kiss his cheek. He turned away, looking nearly casual, although the color in his cheeks gave him away. Crowley allowed himself a smile and began pulling containers out of the bag as Aziraphale fetched plates.

Aziraphale seemed content to enjoy the food in silence. Crowley was more than happy to enjoy Aziraphale; the food was fine, but watching him taking pleasure in it was the real treat.

Finally he set his fork down with a gentle clink, and turned his attention to Crowley. “Crowley, my dear,” he said, and Crowley was helpless not to smile at him. “You said that you had an idea?”

“About the bookshop, yeah.”

Aziraphale looked just as relieved as he’d sounded over the phone. “I’m so glad. I haven’t had any idea of what to do.”

“Right. So, what did your lawyer say?”

Aziraphale blinked at him. “My lawyer?”

“Yes,” Crowley said, sarcastically. “Your—hang on. Tell me you have a lawyer.”

Aziraphale frowned. “Why would I need one? It’s not like I’m in trouble of anything. They said I could appeal, or object, or whatever. I can explain about the building as well as anyone else. Better, I’m the one who’s been living here. I’m quite certain that if I just explain the situation clearly, they’ll have to see that it would be quite unnecessary, and unquestionably the wrong thing to do,” he finished, clearly trying to sound confident and unconcerned.

By the time he’d reached the last sentence Crowley had managed to get through the necessary amount of staring in horror and had his phone in his hand, stabbing viciously through the contacts.

“Crowley, what are you—”

Crowley held up a finger, poked his screen with his other hand, and held the phone up to his ear. It rang a couple of times. “I need Nicholson,” he told the receptionist who answered. “Fine, ok. Tell him that Crowley called, will you, and that I need him to call me back right away. Tell him that he still owes me that favor. He’ll know what you mean.”

He stabbed the button to end the call and looked up to see Aziraphale looking reproachfully at him. “This is a bit heavy-handed, you know,” he protested. “I really don’t see that I need—”

“I know you don’t,” Crowley interrupted him, “But you’re wrong. You absolutelyneed a lawyer, and Nicholson is the best at property law in London. And he owes me, so he’ll do it if he knows what’s good for him.” 

“I appreciate you trying to help,” Aziraphale said, clearly trying to be patient. “But I don’t think that it’s necessary.”

“The problem is that you’re thinking about this like an angel. You need to think like a human.”

“Bureaucracy wasn’t a human invention, you know,” Aziraphale said.

Crowley huffed. “Oh, we get to blame Hell for that one?” 

“Heaven, actually, I believe,” Aziraphale said mildly. “Although Downstairs has, of course, made their own refinements. My point is, I know what I’m doing.”

“You may be able to handle Heaven’s rules, angel, but this is different. This is you versus some people with a great deal of money and, apparently, a willingness to see you dead—”

“Discorporated. It’s just a body.”

“Dead, as far as they know. And there are a great many laws and regulations around this, none of which you are familiar with. Nicholson is. He’s going to help you,” Crowley said with absolute finality and a steadfast refusal to be distracted by this new tidbit.

Aziraphale gave him a long look, and Crowley thought that he was going to argue back on pure reflex. “Trust me,” he said, cutting it off before he could start. “Would it kill you to just do as I say, for once?” 

Aziraphale, recognizing his own words from the other night, gave a twitch and a smile. “You said you had a plan. Was it just bullying me into accepting your lawyer?”

“Right, the plan,” Crowley said, reminded. “And no, it wasn’t, because it had never occurred to me that you’d been so dim as to not have a lawyer yet.”

“Crowley—”

“The plan,” Crowley said again. “How old is this building?”

Aziraphale frowned vaguely. “I can’t recall exactly. I wasn’t the first owner, it wasn’t brand new when I bought it. I have the paperwork somewhere. . . ”

“And when, exactly, was that?" 

“1791. No, 1792,” Aziraphale said with a happily reminiscent smile. “It was a few years later that I opened the shop. Had to make it perfect first, of course.”

“Right. And what changes have you made since? Any renovations?”

He thought about it for a moment. “I had the heating put in in 1894, I think. And the water closet added, at the same time. Wiring for the electricity, some years later.” 

Crowley nodded. “Anything else?”

“I painted a few times,” Aziraphale said. Crowley glanced at the wall, and looked back to see him looking a little abashed. “It’s been a little while,” he admitted. 

“Nothing else, though?” Crowley asked. “No major work on the building? No structural repairs, nothing?”

“No,” Aziraphale said. “It’s always been just fine. Why, is something wrong?” he added in sudden alarm.

“No, no, not at all,” Crowley hastened to reassure him. “I just needed to know. Although it’s a bit unlikely, honestly, no matter how well built it was to start with. Buildings do need repairs, eventually.”

“Not mine,” Aziraphale said, smugly. 

“Honestly.” Crowley rolled his eyes. “For how much you keep insisting that you’re not allowed to do anything except live like a human, you seem to have a lot of little work-arounds.”

Aziraphale didn’t look repentant. “I’m not human,” he said, calmly, but watching Crowley carefully. “It does matter."

“Right,” Crowley said, and decided to ignore that for the moment. “And you’re not planning any major renovations or anything, right?”

I’m not,” Aziraphale murmured. 

Crowley nodded. “You should apply to have the building listed,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it’d be a shoo-in.” 

Aziraphale looked confused. “What list?”

“Historically significant. You know, the buildings that get those plaques because they’re old.”

The light of recognition kindled in Aziraphale’s eyes. “I have seen those. But aren’t they for important buildings? It’s just a bookshop.”

“It’s a shop that’s been practically untouched since 1790-whatever. Trust me, they’ll think it’s plenty important.” 

Aziraphale shrugged, but accepted his assurance. “Very well. But why?”

“You can probably stop the CPO without it,” Crowley admitted. “Lionel as good as told me that they know they don’t have a legal leg to stand on. The objection should be upheld, especially with Nicholson on your side. But getting it listed will help make sure. And once it is, it’ll be almost impossible for anyone else to try the same thing. It’ll be harder for you to make any changes, but since you don’t want to anyway, I can’t imagine it’ll be too much of a hardship." 

“Oh!” Aziraphale, looking delighted. “Really? You think it will work? I’ve been so worried.”

“It will work,” Crowley said, putting as much confidence as he could into his voice. “If you’ll listen to Nicholson,” he added for good measure. A bit of insurance seemed necessary.

Aziraphale pouted, but nodded. “Very well,” he said. “If you think it best.”

“I do,” Crowley said firmly. “I’ll make sure he gets in touch with you soon.”

“Thank you.” A new thought apparently occurred to Aziraphale, and he looked at Crowley with something like alarm. “But should you be involved? Surely your job won’t want you to help me out. You did get it back, didn’t you?”

Crowley smirked. “Didn’t have to. Nobody even noticed. Thought I was out at meetings on Friday and Monday. May get a comment about communicating more professionally with superiors in my review, but otherwise it never really happened. And they’ll never know that I helped you out. It’ll be fine.”

Aziraphale sat back in his chair, obviously relieved. Crowley wished that they were both sitting on the sofa. He was just about desperate enough to try the arm-along-the-back-of-the-sofa trick, and there seemed a decent chance that Aziraphale wouldn’t be familiar with it.  Or, even better, the lean-over-and-kiss-him-senseless trick. But that might be a little too much to start with, he supposed. 

“Thank you,” Aziraphale said, and then his face dimmed again. “I do mean it. You’ve so, so, kind to me.” He hurried on, not giving Crowley a chance to protest. “Since the beginning, really. And I—I haven’t been, have I." 

Part of Crowley, remembering the look on Aziraphale’s face the last time he’d thrown him out, wanted to agree. But, despite himself, he did understand. “You had your reasons,” he said. “You didn’t have any real cause to trust me, after all.”

Aziraphale smiled sadly. “You were right, though,” he said. “I should have known you better.” 

Forget the sofa, Crowley didn’t want to have this conversation sitting still. He rocked to his feet, paced the length of the back room once, and stopped in the doorway, facing Aziraphale but safely backlit himself, probably only visible in profile. “The bookshop is important,” he said. “You had to protect it.” 

Aziraphale’s face softened, then firmed again. He got up himself, edging far enough sideways around Crowley that he had to turn his face into the light again. “Still. I—I haven’t really deserved you, but—"

He couldn’t help it, anymore. Crowley reached out, gently, and guided Aziraphale into a kiss.

It didn’t last for a particularly long time; they were both leaned forward somewhat awkwardly, for one thing, and besides Crowley hadn’t actually asked, and didn’t want to push it too much. When he pulled back, just a little, he could see that Aziraphale’s eyes had fluttered closed. He opened them, looking soft and a little bit surprised.

“Oh,” Aziraphale said weakly. “Really? I mean, even though I'm—”

“Trust me, angel,” Crowley said, and he let himself lean into the endearment, enjoying the face that Aziraphale made, “The fact that you are an occult being of unimaginable power has in no way diminished—” 

This time it was Aziraphale who stretched out to kiss him. It was still all too brief, though, and he was talking even as he pulled back. “I’m not occult,” he was protesting. “I’m—”

Crowley, deciding that enough was enough, pushed him gently back against the bookshelves, where he couldn’t escape quite so easily, and set about making sure that by the next time Aziraphale could speak, he would have been quite thoroughly distracted.

 

** 

Soho, London

Some months later

 

The scaffolding had been down for some time now, but Crowley had extracted a promise from Aziraphale that he wouldn’t go over and look closely until Crowley had a chance to show him personally, even it was inevitable that he’d catch sight of it before then.

It was a pleasant, sunny day when he sauntered into the bookshop. In in all honesty they could have gone any time in the past week or more, but somehow Crowley’s schedule hadn’t had a break until today. It had been grey and rainy for the past week, besides, and it really would make a better first impression in sunlight, anyway.

“Angel!” he called, and Aziraphale appeared out of the shelves, holding a book. “Put that down, and come see my building,” he demanded.

Aziraphale clucked gently, but he did set the book down on a nearby shelf. “I was wondering when you’d be by,” he said. “It’s been rather harder to avert my eyes than I anticipated, I admit.”

“No more,” Crowley said, holding the door and then steering Aziraphale across the street, where they could see the whole building more clearly. “Time to look your fill.”

The walls of the ground floor, where the shops would be, were solid glass. For now, before any interior walls had been installed, you could still see straight through to the alley out back. Blindingly white concrete swooped out over it, three stories that seemed to be floating on the glass below. The front was folded in subtle ripples that cast blue-tinted shadows across it in the morning light.

“Well,” Aziraphale said, staring at it for a long moment. “I suppose it’s not entirely a big glass box, at least.” 

“You’re a bit fixated on glass boxes, you know,” Crowley muttered.

“I like the white,” Aziraphale said. “It’s a change from grey."

“I’m glad there’s something that meets your approval.”

“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale said, leaning into his side. “You know I don’t know anything about buildings. Just tell me what to compliment and I’ll do it.”

“You don’t need to know anything about architecture to know if you like it or not.”

“Well, it’s going to take some getting used to. It’s a nice change from a construction site, at least,” Aziraphale said, a glint in his eyes. Then he relented. “It’s rather lovely, my dear,” he said, more sincerely. “I don’t know how you managed to get concrete to look that weightless.”

“Wasn’t easy,” Crowley said, appeased. “Come on, take a closer look,” he added, steering them towards the building. 

An asymmetric panel swept up the face of the building in an elongated, pointed oval; another, in a similar shape, mirrored it on the other side. Both were textured with long, sweeping lines that followed the gentle curves. 

Aziraphale peered up at it, and recognition lit his face. “Feathers,” he said quietly.

Crowley didn’t bother to hide his smile. “You think so?”

Aziraphale’s eye flicked to the trio of round windows, ringed in brass, that made a row on the right side of the first floor, and back to the gleaming white panels. “Crowley.”

“Yes, angel?” 

He turned to look at him, eyes wide and a little reproachful. “My dear, tell me you did not build a, a, a deliberately symbolic building in the middle of Soho!”

“Symbolic,” Crowley said, musingly. “What does it make you think of?”

“Crowley!” 

He laughed quietly, pulling Aziraphale in front of him and draping himself over his back, chin hanging over his shoulder. “I wanted it to reflect the neighborhood,” he said. “And what’s the most important fixture of the neighborhood?”

“Oh, it’s Soho, there are too many—”

“You,” Crowley said, right in his ear. “It’s the people who live here who make it, really. You’ve been here for so long. It’s your neighborhood as much as any of theirs. More than, perhaps.” 

“You’re ridiculous,” Aziraphale said, but the emotion in his voice wasn’t annoyance. Crowley watched his face out of the corner of his eyes as he smiled and blinked hard.

“So, do you like it?” Crowley couldn’t resist poking.

“It’s hardly subtle,” Aziraphale said. “You forget, I’m not supposed to—”

“Do you really think that anyone else is going to look at it and go, ‘oh, there must be an angel living next door?’” Crowley asked sarcastically. “I think we’re safe on that front.”

Aziraphale sighed, and didn’t argue. “I do like it,” he said, after a pause. “It’s beautiful, my dear.” 

“Good,” Crowley said, brushing a kiss against his hair. “You’re the one who has to look at it.”

Aziraphale turned his head, stealing a real kiss. “It’s nearly as good as what was there before,” he added, the glimmer of a laugh in his eyes. “Hardly brought down the neighborhood at all.” 

“Just you wait, when it starts to win awards, I’m going to put them all on a shelf over the bed,” Crowley said. “Where you’ll have to look at them every time that we—”

“Crowley!” Aziraphale yelped a protest.

Laughing, Crowley let go of his shoulders and took his arm instead. “Come on, angel,” he said. “Close up the shop, I’m taking you out to dinner.” 

Aziraphale smiled, and followed him.