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A sweet world

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The world, Anthony J. Crowley knew, was a harsh, unforgiving and bitter place. You had to make your way through life by pushing obstacles out of the way, you see? And it did not matter if those obstacles turned out to be living, breathing people. If you wanted to live, truly live, you had to push them out the way, should they refuse to move.

 

He pushed more than enough, during his life. Which was why he was where he was, and not sitting in the middle of a street begging for scraps. It was why he had his sleek, modern flat, and his sleek, modern suits he’d drowsily slide into during the mornings, getting ready for the day. It was why he could afford to just delegate whatever annoyance he wanted out of his way, now, and only do what he wanted to do. Why he was one of the head honchos at his office, instead of a sad, desk drone hoping to one day climb the ladder while being stupid enough to ‘play nice’.

 

He had no time to waste ‘being nice’. That was why, as he groggily squinted at the closed door with a big, blocky letter-ed notice taped on it, he could already feel his nerves fray.

 

He liked this place, for a given meaning of the word like, because the people in there knew what to do. It had only taken a couple of visits for them to know. No small talk, no ‘oh, the weather is so nice today’, no asking him what he wanted repeatedly. A couple of visits and all the people working in there knew exactly what he wanted and how he wanted it. The moment he put a foot inside in the morning they’d snap to attention, make his coffee, and ring him up.

 

Three minutes, top. Silent, efficient, no added bullshit. Crowley was a man who appreciated that.

 

(One could argue that he could just make his own coffee, if he did not want to bother with human interaction. But that was stupid. Crowley had a kitchen because his flat came with it, not because it saw any real use. Why bother with things such as brewing coffee or making your own food when you could just have other people do that? It was a waste of time for him. And so he had other people do that, instead.)

 

But the door was closed, and the notice was on it, and he did not have enough caffeine in his body to deal with this, now.

 

He must’ve stared at the stupid notice stupidly taped on the stupid glass long enough that the door opened just a tiny bit, and a— Someone in a full on hazmat suit poked their head out.

 

“This Starbucks is currently closed, sir,” they said, voice coming muffled through the mask on their face, but the annoyance clear in their voice. Crowley owlishly blinked from behind his sunglasses.

 

“Fuck,” he then whispered with passion, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Just needed a bloody coffee—“

 

Maybe the person under the hazmat suit could sympathise with that, because their voice had softened considerably as they said, “there is a coffee shop-bakery just down that alley.” They pointed with a hand clad in bright yellow rubber gloves. “Went there myself before starting— Damn good coffee, if you ask me.”

 

Crowley squinted toward the alley and sniffed. “Thanks,” he said, because he was not a caveman, and basic manners were basic even for no-nonsense men like him. The hazmat-clad person nodded and retreated inside, like it was no big deal.

 

Crowley’s brain wasn’t caffeinated enough to even ponder why the fuck someone in a hazmat suit was inside the Starbucks he’d been getting his morning coffee from for the past three years. He made his way toward the alley, feeling like the noise of traffic was already muted the second he stepped off the main sidewalk in the pleasantly shaded space between the two buildings.

 

He glanced up at the sign swaying just slightly in the light breeze. A white feather sitting on top of a chocolate cake, with the words ‘Heaven’s Cake’ in a cursive font sitting under it. The front was but a modest entrance, wooden frame painted a light aquamarine shade. There wasn’t even a proper storefront per se, just the door with a handmade sign turned on the ‘we’re open!’ and a thin, tall window that allowed a brief glimpse of the inside.

 

Crowley stepped in, a bell chiming pleasantly above his head, a smell of indistinct sweetness attacking his nose.

 

“I will be right there!” a cheerful voice immediately called from somewhere in the back, as Crowley took a look around. The inside of the bakery was painted in the same colour as the entrance, with flowery ceramic tiles framing the midway point of the walls. The person who called this place a coffee shop-bakery was being generous. There was just enough space in the tiny interior for the glass covered counter displaying a variety of baked goods, a till in the corner and chalkboards with hand-written prices hanging behind it. The small strip of free flooring hosted two tiny, rounded wooden tables with flower-pattern printed napkins on top of them and all of four cushy chairs. There was a glass pane separating the corner near one of these tables from what had to be the— baking room, Crowley supposed, going by the counter he could see where some kind of dough was left in a flour-y lump and the ovens behind it. It was just as tiny as the rest of the place was.

 

A man emerged from the single door near the till, patting both hands on a white and blue striped apron. He had a smudge of flour on his round cheek, and fluffy curls that also distantly reminded Crowley of flour, or cotton candy possibly, on top of his head.

 

“Good morning!” the man chirped, with a smile that could light up an entire room. “It is such a beautiful day, today, isn’t it?”

 

Crowley managed to hold back the pained groan he could feel rising from the depths of his throat. Small talk and joyfulness. It was too early for this. Morning people were insufferable.

 

“D’you make coffee?” he asked instead, or maybe grunted. The man hummed.

 

“I certainly can,” he commented lightly, turning around and opening an aquamarine painted cupboard. Crowley noticed the modest electric kettle sitting under said cupboard, along what must’ve been some kind of coffee machine, maybe? There were too many levers and— parts that seemed to require a human hand for it to function. It looked like it came straight out of some kind of steam-punk novel. “What is your pick? Although I’m afraid I am lacking when it comes to those sweet concoctions that they use in Starbucks.” He commented as he turned around with some glass jars full of powdery substances in various shades of brown.

 

Crowley launched him a look, which was probably clear enough despite the sunglasses, because the man smiled clearly amused.

 

“You are hardly the first person who came in here after meeting a closed door on the other side of the road,” he commented lightly. “So, coffee?”

 

“Black. Americano. With more caffeine than water.”

 

The man chuckled knowingly. “A bland of robusta will probably work best, then,” he said, tugging one of the jars toward himself and turning around to start trafficking with the machine and its too many levers with practiced ease. “Not a morning person, huh?”

 

Crowley grunted.

 

“I don’t have a batch of cinnamon rolls this morning,” the man continued airily as a gurgling noise started to rise, along with a heavenly scent of freshly brewed coffee. “I should’ve probably thought about making some, considering the situation… Still, I may tempt you to some higashi. Those traditionally go with a cup of tea, but I personally find their delicate taste actually makes a very good contrast with a strong coffee— Or if you want something more filling I just finished preparing a sponge cake with a nice chantilly—“

 

Those were too many words, some of which Crowley had never heard in his life. Resisting the temptation to just let his forehead collide on the glass covering the counter and start snoring, he managed to utter, “No, just the coffee.”

 

“Only a cup of coffee, on an empty stomach?” the man questioned and tutted like a worried grandma, as he turned around and started pouring the coffee in a ridiculous ceramic mug with angel wings, which he then delicately deposited on top of the glass along with a saucer. “I insist.”

 

Crowley was just about to growl, maybe something about how he was not interested, how he did not appreciate people trying to force any sale on him, how he did not have the time to stop and sip his coffee, needed a paper cup or something— But the man immediately added “It’s on the house.”

 

Crowley blinked owlishly as the guy just took a rectangular shaped slice of sponge cake with a generous serving of cream in the middle and a cute, pink flower made of more cream decorating the top out from the display and put it down by the mug. 

 

And he was still not caffeinated enough to protest or ask why, so he grabbed the saucer, careful not to spill a single drop of coffee, and the plastic little plate with the slice of cake, and dragged them toward one of the tiny tables, sitting heavily in the surprisingly comfortable chair.

 

The first gulp of coffee was the best moment of the day, usually, but that day even more so. Crowley could immediately feel the richness of it spreading in his mouth, with just the right amount of bitterness. He glanced down at the cup, and noticed how incredibly black the coffee was. It was one intense, solid shade, not looking watered down at all.

 

And he had never been one to eat much, if at all, during the mornings, but admittedly the slice of cake looked rather enticing. Picking it up gingerly -didn’t want to stain his suit with cream, after all- he bit into it.

 

It was soft and spongy, just the right amount of moist, with the rich taste of the cream melting in Crowley’s mouth.

 

He was this close to moaning in pleasure.

 

After that he felt like he was finally waking up, and yet was still a dreamlike state. It was quiet in the tiny bakery, save for the soft, relaxed music playing in the background, to which the man on the other side of the counter was humming along as he washed the pot he just used. Some of the rare sunlight somehow made its way there despite the fact the place was squeezed in the alley, blades of light painting golden rectangles on the white-blue parquet. The smell of indistinct sweetness, mixed with the still steaming cup of coffee, wasn’t overpowering anymore.

 

Slightly befuddled, Crowley finished his cake, and then slowly emptied the mug, feeling vaguely mournful once he reached the bottom. He quietly took the empty cutlery back to the counter.

 

“Looking quite more awake already, aren’t we?” the man commented, but it wasn’t sarcasm nor cold teasing. It felt more like a sort of— affectionate observation.

 

“…’t was a good coffee,” Crowley muttered, taking out his wallet. “And cake too.”

 

The man beamed as he rang Crowley up for a price that, in Crowley’s opinion, was probably nowhere near enough of what this man should be asking of his customers. When he stepped out he almost felt like diving right back in, and possibly sitting there, in the surprisingly comfortable chair, with the smell of baked sweets and coffee and the relaxing music for the rest of his day.

 

And later, when Crowley had to chase away the taste of good coffee that pleasantly lingered in his mouth all morning once his customary lunch was delivered in his office, he still wasn’t quite sure what the hell had happened, inside the bakery.

 

 

He might find out soon, though, because as he traced the same steps he traced every morning for the past ten years, the day after, he noticed his usual place was still closed. Of course it was.

 

He did not need any person poking their head out to direct him somewhere else, though. He crossed the road, and dove into the alley, through an aquamarine painted door.

 

“Oh, hello,” the man with the cotton candy hair welcomed him, smiling, with another striped apron and a rag he was using to clean the glass covering the counter in hand. “Same order?”

 

Crowley grunted affirmatively, causing the man to chuckle as he primly folded the rag and circled around the till, washing his hands in the tiny sink before taking out the same jar as the previous day to start trafficking with the coffee machine.

 

“Starbucks’ still closed,” Crowley managed to croak as he ambled toward the counter. There were yet again rows of baked goods on display, and he distantly noticed that they looked different from the previous morning. The sponge cake was missing, for one, Crowley registered almost mournfully.

 

“I’d imagine it will keep being closed for a while,” the man replied as he finished brewing and served the coffee in the same mug as the day prior. “Messy situation, that was— I feel for poor Marianne, she is such a nice young woman—“

 

“Who?” Crowley asked over the rim of the mug he was being handed. The man pointed a raised eyebrow at him.

 

“Marianne? The manager? If you usually go there you must’ve met her— Curly hair, very tall—“

 

Oh. Yeah. Her. She was usually the one making Crowley’s coffee.

 

There was something Crowley couldn’t quite pin-point, some kind of disconnect— It occurred to him, after his third sip of coffee.

 

“Why would you care about them closing up? Aren’t you competing with them?”

 

“I wouldn’t say that,” the man replied vaguely. “We— how can I put it— We cover different corners of the market, isn’t that what you young ones say these days? I do like to brew the right coffee or steep the right type of tea to go with my pastries, but it’s hardly my main focus. Besides, the individuals working there aren’t the ones leading a giant corporation, they are just— people. I certainly do not wish for them to lose their job.”

 

That, too, took a while to sink in. Crowley almost spluttered when he fully grasped the meaning of those words. “Wait— Losing their jobs? Do you think they might not reopen?”

 

“Well, it isn’t looking promising. There’s an entire infestation going on, if they cannot get rid of it soon enough the shop might just close down permanently.”

 

“Infestation?” Crowley muttered, curling his nose. The man huffed.

 

“Honestly, for a regular you seem awfully uninformed. It was well known that they were having some issues days prior to the closing!”

 

Crowley’s nose curled some more. So, what if he didn’t know? It was not his fault he couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the inane chattering that seemed to never end—

 

The man sighed, before adding, “Well, if black coffee is all you want I can certainly make that for you. I just hope I won’t start getting hordes of tourists asking for caramel frappuccinos or something—“

 

“Why not? You could seize your chance,” Crowley replied, putting the now empty mug back on the counter. “Grab those customers.”

 

“I have never been interested in making those elaborate drinks.” The man shrugged, taking the mug back. “This is a bakery, not a coffee shop.”

 

“But— That would be a good profit—“

 

“I do just fine with the way I run things now,” the man cut him off, not unkindly but curtly nonetheless. “Can I do something else for you?”

 

As he went out, nothing but coffee in his stomach, Crowley felt almost disappointed the man hadn’t tried to tempt him with another pastry. Just a tiny bit.

 

 

For almost a week he stopped by ‘Heaven’s cake’ to grab a cup of coffee, glancing at the still closed entrance of the Starbucks as he dove into the alley. Kept forgetting to ask cotton-candy-hair-man if he had a cup to go, too. He was always too semi-asleep whenever he went, to remember to do that.

 

It was, admittedly, a nice habit he was taking up. Whenever he’d step into the bakery the guy would welcome him with a smile and go make his coffee right away, except for the occasional morning when he was already busy with another customer. And even then, he’d get to it as soon as possible.

 

A couple of times Crowley felt hungry enough to ask for a pastry recommendation, which caused the man to light up like a joyous lamp and launch himself into what sounded like convoluted explanations about whichever sweet might go nicely with his cup of coffee. And both times he ended up giving in with a little laugh when Crowley asked him whichever sweeter pastry he had at hand -sometimes a nice sugar rush was what he needed along the coffee-. He proposed a slice of what he called a revani one time, and, one morning when Crowley had been particularly zombie-like, a curiously shaped pastry he called a babbà, sliding it over the counter with a wink.

 

(Crowley had understood why once he bit into it and the liquor-like flavour exploded on his tongue.)

 

It was just— Nice. The Starbucks was merely convenient, what with it being on the way, ensuring he’d get his fix done right every single time. 

 

It was convenient, but it wasn’t nice.

 

Heaven’s cake and its owner were nice. It was quieter, the music soft and relaxing. It was kinder on the eyes with all those soft tones of blue. There were those little details that made it feel more personal, like the heart leaf philodendron sitting on a shelf near the door, long vines framing it that Crowley only noticed on his fourth visit. And the price chalkboards behind the till with the little doodles of the daily pastries the guy must draw painstakingly each time. The very small library with some curious choices of books sitting between the two tables, free to be read by customers.

 

And the ever changing selection of pastries. Cotton-candy-hair-man apparently wasn’t content with making the same every day, no. Crowley had overheard him talking with another customer, one morning as he sipped his usual coffee, enthusiastically explaining how he adapted to what he had at hand on the daily. He always had at least two or three foreign pastries, happy to share where he bought the difficult to find ingredients whenever asked.

 

Sometimes he was already behind the counter when Crowley arrived, and sometimes he was visible on the other side of the glass, working on some dough or decorating the freshest batch of his baking. Nonetheless he’d always look up with blue-silver eyes at the chime of the bell, and smile openly, crows feet deepening at the sides of his eyes.

 

He was always as cheerful as he was soft-spoken, puttering around his tiny bakery and chatting away even if all Crowley offered were grunts or half-formed words. He never seemed put-off by that, explaining what he had made that morning in case Crowley felt like taking a bite of something as well. He’d ask him if he liked to try some new blend of coffee he just got, or maybe a nice cup of tea, but never seemed angry or disappointed whenever Crowley declined in favour of his usual cup of black.

 

And Crowley couldn’t stop feeling off center, that Sunday morning, as he looked at the ceiling of his bedroom. Six days. For six days he went to grab coffee in the bakery and he was already feeling like he ought to go that day, too, for some reason.

 

He had no reason to. Office was closed. It was Sunday. Sundays were for sleeping until noon and then going out and eating at whichever place he liked, then wander all afternoon, splurging on whatever he felt like doing that day, and going out for drinks and drinking so much that he might even get lucky and— And—

 

And start the week anew, slightly hungover more often than not. Grind his way through another week of being good at what he did. And getting to another Sunday and wasting the hours away while he waited to go back to work—

 

Not that Sunday. That Sunday he was already awake by the time the clock struck eight in the morning.

 

He hadn’t seen that specific time on a  clock during a Sunday in literal years.

 

He tried to go back to sleep, he really did, but he just— Couldn’t.

 

And he kind of wanted to go grab coffee at ‘Heaven’s cake’ again. At least, if he had to be up at such an ungodly time, might as well do so with a good coffee in him.

 

He didn’t bother with one of his usual suits, that morning. Slid into one of his informal dark jeans instead, put on a simple white button-up and his tailed coat, and off he went.

 

(He did not even ponder the possibility that the bakery might be closed. Even if it was Sunday. Nothing was ever closed, when Crowley wanted to go there.)

 

The Starbucks was still shut off, the same notice taped on the door. He ignored it, plunging into the now familiar alley, and almost crashing against an old lady who suddenly turned as well.

 

“Sorry,” he mechanically said, looking down. She was considerably shorter than him -most people were- and she blinked up, her mouth forming a small ‘o’ before she smiled.

 

“You must be the young man Aziraphale told me about!”

 

Crowley stared. There were too many words in that sentence he couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of. Like ‘young man’ (he really wasn’t all that young anymore), and Aziraphale (was that some kind of swear word?) and the fact that someone was apparently speaking about him to complete strangers.

 

Not that he had the time to possibly ask what in the world was she talking about, because she deposited a surprisingly strong grip on his elbow and proceeded to drag him further down the alley.

 

“I was so glad when he told me—“ she continued, as if Crowley had given even a single sign he was actively interested in this conversation. “I know he likes his job, but really, all his regulars are old witches like me, he needs some nice friends—“

 

The entirety of Crowley’s being was probably projecting an expression that must’ve felt like a giant, question mark shaped neon sign, until she stopped in front of the bakery, let his arm go, and proceeded to open the door chirping, “Good morning, Aziraphale, dear!”

 

Oh, Crowley thought flatly, blinking as he followed in, so that wasn’t a swear word. It was a name.

 

And so it was, that the cotton-candy-hair-man label was finally replaced by something more substantial. Said man popped his head out the door in the back with a smile, then noticed Crowley, and blinked.

 

“Oh… Hello,” he said, sounding strangely breathless.

 

 

It had taken him, admittedly, a few instant to really register who had stepped into the bakery along Mrs. Kent.

 

Aziraphale was a creature of habit, you see? He had his routine, his set way of doing things and approaching people.

 

And he had gotten used to seeing Mr. Redhead under a certain light. 

 

The first time he’d stepped inside the bakery it hadn’t been hard to guess why he was there. Businessmen in hand tailored suits really weren’t the sort of clientele his bakery tended to attract. And his suspicion got confirmed as the guy drowsily worked his way through an order with grunts and single words, dark smudges under his eyes visible even despite the sunglasses.

 

And Aziraphale hadn’t meant much when he first offered the slice of sponge cake, that morning. It was just that the guy was— Well, he looked like a strong wind might knock him over. So tall and thin, with a slender waist hugged by his suit jacket, he looked like he really ought to be eating more. It had just been a sort of instinctual need, offering him the cake.

 

And it had been nice when Mr. Redhead complimented it even though, in retrospect, maybe he was only trying to be courteous.

 

And so a new routine was set, as Mr. Redhead had no choice but to come to Aziraphale for his morning coffee. He’d always come in with those sunglasses stapled on his face, a frown tugging his thin mouth down, red hair collected in a bun behind his head. He’d come in with a different tailored suit every day, carefully and gratefully sip his coffee, occasionally getting a nibble, and got out.

 

And Aziraphale, well— The flesh is weak, as they say, but Aziraphale wasn’t stupid. For how much he found Mr. Redhead very attractive, and for how much Aziraphale daydreamed while kneading the dough about how he might look if he took off those glasses and let his hair down, he never ever considered the possibility of it really happening. Aziraphale just so happened to be the closest source of coffee available now that the Starbucks on the other side of the road was closed, and that was it.

 

That was why, as Mrs. Kent got in followed by a tall, lithe figure, it took Aziraphale some seconds to realize.

 

It was him. Mr. Redhead. Out of his usual suit, only a pair of jeans faded on the knees covering his long legs and snakeskin boots at his feet, instead of dress shoes. Just a white button-up shirt hugging his slender waist, buttons left opened up on his collarbones. And a long, form-fitting tailed coat that made him look even taller than he was, and—

 

His hair. Oh, that went even beyond Aziraphale’s wildest imagination. Those locks looked so soft and luscious left free to fall on Mr. Redhead’s shoulders, curling slightly. The fiery shade of them jumped even more to the eye, that way.

 

And speaking of eyes… No sunglasses to be seen. Only a pair of amber coloured eyes looking right back at Aziraphale, framed by short but dark eyelashes.

 

What was with this man and having such beautiful, uncommon features?

 

Mrs. Kent was chatting away, and Aziraphale forced himself to get back to reality, hoping the warmth he could feel on the tip of his ears wasn’t the blush he thought he might be sporting.

 

“The order is ready, of course,” Aziraphale interjected gently, knowing Mrs. Kent’s tendency to ramble. Better than asking her to repeat herself and making a fool of himself. “Would you be taking it right away?”

 

“Oh, of course, of course,” she replied, rummaging in her purse. “Thank you again for making everything on such a short notice.”

 

“No trouble at all!” he replied with a smile, diving again into the back and taking just a second to catch his breath, before fishing the already boxed order out of the fridge and re-emerging in the main room, putting it down gingerly by the till. “Will that be all?”

 

“Yes, indeed— I better get going,” she said, handing him her card. He rapidly rang her up, and as he gave the card back she smiled at him, and winked. “Thank you so much, dear.”

 

“Have— a good day?” he called after her, almost questioning, and his eyes met Mr. Redhead’s as he looked at Mrs. Kent marching out with her box with surprisingly self assured steps. “…Hello,” he added once she was out, and promptly felt silly. He’d already said hello!

 

“Hi,” Mr. Redhead replied, and there was something different to him… Aside from the obvious. He just— Seemed to move slower, less in a hurry. “So— Your name’s Aziraphale?”

 

Aziraphale stared back. “Yes— How’d you—“

 

“ ’s what she said,” Mr. Redhead replied, distractedly nodding toward the door. “Are you talking about me to people?”

 

Aziraphale’s breath hitched. Oh, this was humiliating.

 

“Just— You know. Shared the fact I sort-of gotten a new regular, lately,” he replied, proud of his voice for not betraying too much nervousness, even if he was sure he was blushing.

 

Mr. Redhead silently looked back with those curiously amber eyes, expression not betraying a single thing.

 

“I’m Anthony,” he then said, abruptly. “—Crowley. Anthony Crowley.”

 

“Oh,” Aziraphale replied, hiding both hands behind his back and nervously pulling at the strings of his apron. “That is— Nice. Nice to meet you, I mean— I suppose it’s silly I never properly introduced myself—“

 

“Never came up,” Anthony replied with a shrug, distractedly running his fingers through a strand of his curly hair. Oh, Aziraphale could kill to run his fingers through that hair… “I, um—“

 

“Coffee?” Aziraphale proposed after a long, awkward beat of silence.

 

“Yes, please,” Anthony replied, sounding vaguely like a man who was desperately hanging onto a lifeline.

 

 

Crowley was having some— Middle-age crisis. Or crisis of faith. Or something. He wasn’t sure.

 

For six days he’d gone into that bakery, and never thought much of it. He noticed details, like the cotton-candy curls, and the blue-silver eyes, and the general softness of Aziraphale. Little things like the way he spoke about his work and how he proposed new things.

 

But they were just— Pieces. Little fragments he never quite put together, too tired and too preoccupied with what he’d have to do at the office that day, to pay them more than passing attention.

 

But as he went in, that Sunday morning, he felt like he was finally seeing the entirety of the forest, and not just the trees.

 

And the forest, to continue onto this particular metaphor, was very very beautiful.

 

So soft, and pretty, and Crowley would very much love to grab it and hold it close and sink his nose into those curls and find out if they’d smell as sweet as he was imagining—

 

Ok, maybe that wasn’t the best metaphor. But he’d very much like to touch Aziraphale all over, and maybe have a taste of those soft-looking lips?

 

He desperately tried to reign back his tumbling thoughts as Aziraphale busied himself in a familiar manner. This was not the moment to— To go through whatever moment his stupid brain was having.

 

Being attracted to a man was not exactly new, for Crowley, but he tended to have a— Type. Being attracted to a cute, soft looking baker with curls like fluffy clouds?

 

Yeah, that one was new.

 

“Here you go,” Aziraphale softly said, sliding the customary winged mug over the counter and seemingly avoiding Crowley’s eyes. “I’m— Surprised to see you here, today. I thought… Well, I ought to not make assumptions, I suppose.”

 

“Assumptions?” Crowley asked, knowing he wouldn’t be able to drag much more than that out of his throat. Aziraphale launched him a close-lipped smile.

 

“I just— Imagined you’d only come by during work days.”

 

“You are not wrong,” Crowley muttered into the mug. God, the coffee Aziraphale made always smelled so good… “I just— Woke up, and felt like grabbing a coffee…”

 

“Should I feel flattered?” Aziraphale asked, and there was a familiar amused teasing in the question. Crowley looked up.

 

“Well… You make very good coffee—“ he said, bouncing a knee slightly. “And pastries. Good coffee and pastries, huh— What do you have today?”

 

Aziraphale’s smile widened. 

 

 

Crowley was going back home with a loaf of bread. Sourdough, Aziraphale called it.

 

It was ridiculous. His kitchen had basically almost never seen any kind of real food, through the years. The closest thing to something made with yeast had been the occasional bottle of beer. 

 

But Crowley was walking, with a paper bag in his arms, a loaf of sourdough bread in it.

 

He hadn’t meant to. He just… drank his coffee, ate a franzbrötchen Aziraphale took out of the oven under his eyes. And then just sort of— hung around, talking with Aziraphale, as the occasional customer came and went, some grabbing just the stray pastry, indecisively humming and awing over the vast choice, some to collect their custom orders like the old lady did.

 

Aziraphale would take care of them, sweet and courteous, and wishing them a good day as they left, and then turned back to Crowley and they’d resume their conversation, and not even once he give a single sign that he thought Crowley had long overstayed his welcome.

 

They spoke about the heart leaf philodendron and how it seemed to be flourishing. About the decor (Crowley hadn’t been surprised to find out that Aziraphale personally painted every piece of furniture and the wooden frames of the entrance), and Aziraphale’s choice of free reads available for his customers. Aziraphale seemed to be as enthusiastic about books as he was about his pastries, happily launching himself into a thick discussion that shifted from topic to topic with surprising ease, while Crowley lounged on one of the chairs and Aziraphale went about his work.

 

It was just so— simple, talking with Aziraphale. So natural. It had never been natural, for Crowley. People were a puzzling mystery to him, most of the time, and he’d honed his ability to steer conversations where he wanted, to get what he wanted from them, over long, painstaking years.

 

He’d never felt like this, before. Never knew what it meant to just— click, with someone.

 

When the clock struck noon and more people started to pour into the bakery to grab loaves of freshly baked bread Crowley had almost felt annoyed, like they were intruding in his moment. But he was being ridiculous, he knew. Aziraphale had a job to do, and Crowley couldn’t pretend to have the man’s attention exclusively pointed onto himself.

 

So he decided to get up from the chair as Aziraphale busied himself serving customers. Got in line. Aziraphale blinked at him when he got to the till.

 

“I suppose I should try some too,” Crowley said, not quite looking at him in the eye. “Besides, it’s almost lunchtime.”

 

“I suppose it is,” Aziraphale replied, eyes crinkling in a smile. “What can I give you?”

 

Crowley shrugged. “Whatever you think it’s best.”

 

And Aziraphale had looked at him as if he knew, but he still complied, bagging the loaf of bread for him.

 

“See you tomorrow, then?” he asked after telling him it was sourdough bread, and ringing him up.

 

Crowley didn’t know if he had imagined the hopeful tone in Aziraphale’s voice.

 

“Of course,” he had replied, pocketing his wallet, and then making his way out the bakery with a loaf of bread he didn’t need, and a strange fluttering feeling in his chest.

 

He was ridiculous. What was he supposed to do with the bread, now? He had nothing to eat it with—

 

Maybe he could feed the ducks at St. James. That always cheered him up, even if vegetable scraps from his lunch was what he usually brought to them.

 

But as he strolled in, opening the paper bag, the mouth-watering smell hit him. How could something so simple smell so good? He sat down on the first free bench he could find, and gingerly broke a piece off the loaf. It came away with an enticing crackling sound, revealing a soft, steamy inside. 

 

It was still warm.

 

He couldn’t help but sigh and close his eyes as he launched the piece in his mouth, chewing. A mix of crunchy and soft, a simple yet rich flavour exploding in his mouth. He had no idea bread with absolutely nothing else could taste so good.

 

A duck quacked, and when he opened his eyes it was staring at him almost expectantly.

 

“Sorry,” he replied, vaguely muffled, and broke another piece, launching it in his mouth.

 

He ate almost half the loaf, before giving up to the fact he was completely full, and sat there in contemplative silence for a long, long time.

 

 

“What the fuck is up with you?”

 

Crowley looked up from his computer screen and tilted a single eyebrow. Beelzebub -that wasn’t their real name, but it’s what everyone called them in the office building, for good reasons- strolled into the office like they owned the place. Annoying.

 

“What.”

 

“You’re— different,” Beelzebub commented, squinting as they rested their hip against the edge of the desk. They poked at the empty cupcake wrapper, which had contained a blueberry muffin with a swirl of butter-cream on top, at some point during the morning. “The guys downstairs are starting to get— ideas, about you.”

 

Crowley tilted an eyebrow (again).

 

“They are thinking that they might come to you for help,” Beelzebub continued. “You know what that means for me, right? We had them whipped into compliance, and then you start coming in in the mornings all cheery and shit, and now they are getting hopeful again. When you slithered through looking like a miserable asshole things were so much better—“

 

“Well, it’s your job to keep your team focused, not mine,” Crowley curtly interjected, grabbing the wrapper —it was pink, with magenta pois— to throw it in the small trash can near his desk. “Anything else?”

 

Beelzebub glared at him, and he made a show of looking back with a still tilted eyebrow, before turning to his screen and starting typing, clearly disinterested. He did not look up until the door of his office closed, and he was alone once more.

 

Crowley looked down at the wrapper in his trash can, feeling the silly need to fish it back up, and resisted it.

 

He had turned more… Cheery, as Beelzebub said, hadn’t he?

 

It’s not like it was a conscious effort. It had just— happened.

 

He kept going back to ‘Heaven’s Cake’ for coffee, morning after morning after morning, the weeks rolling over each other, turning into months. And he kept going even when the Starbucks actually opened its doors again…

 

And at some point, well. He just realized he liked spending time there, before going to work. The Sundays where he’d leisurely sit around and let Aziraphale feed him pastries just weren’t enough, especially when he forced himself to spend some of those away, just to make sure he didn’t look like a lovesick, needy idiot.

 

(He spent most of those Sundays hunting for books to leave in the tiny bakery library. It was a full-time occupation, trying to find used copies of interesting books. He couldn’t bring new stuff, you see, that would betray him— But used copies made sense. He could just say that he had them lying around and hadn’t read them in ages, and he might as well leave them at the bakery. And Aziraphale would always smile in that way. It was worth it.)

 

It just wasn’t enough, those fleeting minutes he’d grab for himself before gloomily going to work… And so, at some point, he just realized that if he went to bed earlier he could wake up earlier, and properly eat breakfast at the bakery. Take his time. And before he could even realize it, he suddenly was going to sleep at responsible times, and waking up with an actual appetite, and he could just sit in the bakery and have his sweet breakfast with his even sweeter company and— And—

 

And he just. Changed. Beelzebub had a point. He was different.

 

He was just— happier. The hours he spent in the bakery every week made him happy. Stepping into the bakery, with his soft blues and soft music made him happy. Talking with Aziraphale, listening to him talk with other customers, made him happy.

 

Aziraphale made him happy.

 

Aziraphale, who had of his own volition started to always send him to work with mid-morning snacks (“What if you get peckish?”) and hand-made sandwiches for lunch. Aziraphale, who smiled so brightly every morning, as if every single time he was pleasantly surprised to see Crowley back there. Aziraphale, who happily went about doing his work all the while chatting with Crowley, not ever looking like he was annoyed by his presence.

 

Crowley wasn’t quite sure what the relationship between them should be classified as, but it was certainly something more than a baker and his customer and that— That made him happy.

 

He felt more lively, like he had more energy. Waking up in the morning did not feel like a chore anymore, and going to sleep wasn’t dreadful. He felt healthier and more stable and people did not annoy him as much as they were used to anymore.

 

He had changed. So slowly, bit by bit, without him even realizing.

 

And he was fine with that.

 

 

Not much looked different than any other Sunday, as Crowley sat on one of the chairs in the bakery, laughing as Aziraphale recounted a bit of confectioner sugar mishap he’d experienced the day prior. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for the sudden darkness that fell into the bakery as if a giant had stepped in front of the entrance, blocking any light from coming in—

 

It wasn’t a giant, but something was certainly blocking the light. Something that turned out to be a group of maybe twenty teenagers suddenly pouring in with an explosion of chit-chattering, and Crowley just barely managed to catch a glimpse of the flabbergasted expression on Aziraphale’s face, before the poor guy had to rush and start serving this sudden influx of customers. Crowley felt almost crowded against the wall, pondering if he maybe ought to step out, when a group of four teens slid between their peers to come claim the other three chairs, all of them clutching their freshly claimed pastry. The one with a pair of rounded glasses made an outraged noise.

 

“I want to sit down too!”

 

“Well, my feet are hurting, we walked the entire morning—“

 

“Mine are hurting too!”

 

“We’ll take turns,” another boy said in a calming tone, emerging from a giant semla with cream on the tip of his nose. “This is really good, though, isn’t it?”

 

“It is—“ the only girl of the group convened, tight curls bobbing around her head as she nodded. “ ‘room’s a whole lot smaller than I thought it would be, though.”

 

“Yeah well, they probably used some fish-eye lenses in the video, so like, it looked bigger on the inside or something—“

 

Crowley frowned, curiosity piqued. He launched another look at Aziraphale -or tried to, awfully hard with all those heads in the way- and then turned toward the teens.

 

“What are you guys talking about?” he interjected easily, when the conversation lulled as they all took a bite out of their pastries. The one with rounded glasses shifted his weight and pouted at one of his friends, who was currently smearing chocolate all over his face, and then said “well, I didn’t care to come here just because of that video—“

 

“But you were hungry. Yes, we know,” the girl replied with an eye roll. She turned toward Crowley. “LipToTrip showed this bakery in her latest video—“

 

Who?”

 

“She’s a youtuber—“

 

“He doesn’t know what a youtuber is, he’s old,” chocolate boy said, licking one of his fingers.

 

“Oi,” Crowley replied, half amused and half ticked off. “I know what youtube is, you brat.”

 

“Yeah, well,” the girl continued primly, taking one of the napkins to clean her fingers. “She’s super famous so— Basically our entire class wanted to come try this place.”

 

Crowley glanced at Aziraphale again. The poor guy looked frantic. The boy with the semla nodded at glasses boy, got up so he could sit, and then commented matter-of-factly “he’s not used to having so many customers all at once, isn’t he?”

 

“No, he’s not,” Crowley confirmed with a lopsided smile. Poor Aziraphale. At least the storm should be over soon. 

 

“Well, that might be troubling,” semla-boy continued airily. “I’m pretty sure three other classes are coming here as well—“

 

“Maybe our entire school, actually.”

 

Crowley made a choked noise.

 

 

Aziraphale kind of wanted to just collapse in one of the chairs as the last three pastry-in-hand-teenagers happily trickled out of the bakery to join the bigger group, leaving the room suddenly empty but for him and Anthony. He felt slightly like he somehow survived a hurricane. A very rowdy, noisy hurricane that left his counter bereft but for the stray, sad looking pastry peppering the empty trays.

 

“What just happened?” he managed to breathily ask, and Anthony let out a somewhat tense chuckle, leaning over the counter.

 

“Did you let a woman record a video in here, by any chance?” he asked, gaining a confused frown.

 

“I did,” Aziraphale confirmed, dabbing at his face with a napkin to dry off the fine sheen of sweat that had appeared as he hurried up and down the counter to serve everyone. “What does that have to do with—“

 

Anthony quietly turned his sleek smartphone toward him, and Aziraphale blinked, finding himself looking at— well, himself, and the nice young woman who came in a couple of weeks prior. He did remember her, she had been very kind, complimenting him for his work and asking if he was alright with being filmed.

 

The confusion must be plain on his face, because Anthony chuckled again. “Congratulations. You are youtube famous.”

 

“I’m… I’m what?”

 

“Didn’t you— Didn’t you know why she wanted to film?”

 

“She just said that— She said she wanted to show the bakery to everyone. I assumed she was making a vacation movie for her family?”

 

“Oh. Oh, Aziraphale,” Anthony sighed, sounding fondly amused. “No, she’s a vlogger. She makes videos of her trips and shares them on the internet— And now you have a whole school wanting to come in.”

 

“I suppose that does explain— Wait, a whole school?!” he choked out, once the words truly sank in. Anthony made a slightly concerned humming noise.

 

“Got to talk with some of those kids. It’s what they said,” he turned, looking at the almost empty counter. “…Will you be alright?”

 

“Oh, I— I mean, I have some stuff ready in the back, I just need to bring them out, but—“ Aziraphale wrung his hands, eyes sliding between the empty trays and the door leading to the backroom. “I have some things to take out of the oven soon and— I’m not done decorating— Oh, this is a disaster, I cannot possibly do that and serve another huge group at the same time—“

 

With an almost comical, right on cue irony, they could hear the buzzing of multiple voices approaching from down the alley. The expression on his own face, Aziraphale imagined, would probably look not too out of place in a horror movie.

 

“You need help,” Anthony said, matter-of-factly. Aziraphale was tempted to possibly throw a dirty rag right in his stupidly beautiful face.

 

“I’m aware,” he commented back acidly. “I do not exactly have a— A summoning circle to get myself a convenient handyman at will—“

 

“I could help,” Anthony continued, looking at him with a quiet, earnest expression. Aziraphale’s mouth fell shut.

 

“I— I mean, I couldn’t possibly ask a customer to—“

 

“What if you ask a friend?”

 

They stared at each other, as something in Aziraphale’s chest did a triple somersault. Anthony’s expression betrayed nothing but a quiet willingness to step in and help.

 

And the voices were getting closer.

 

“…Alright,” Aziraphale gave in, knowing he really had no other choice. “I— There are clean aprons in the first drawer right under the till, and gloves here— I mean, you are— Are you sure—“

 

But he was already being pushed -gently- out of the way, toward the door to the backroom. Anthony took a hair tie out of his pocket, somehow managed to tie his fiery curls back with practiced ease -and Aziraphale’s belly did not feel warm at that, not at all- and swiftly pulled one of the aprons out the drawer, tying it tightly on his slender waist.

 

He may have looked more attractive than he had any right to be.

 

“Well, what are you waiting for?” he teased, tilting an eyebrow in a manner that had long grown familiar, for Aziraphale. The door opened with a jingle. “Get on it, boss.”

 

Despite the anxiety he could feel gnawing at the start of his stomach, Aziraphale kicked into gear. He rapidly brought whichever trays he had luckily ready and then left Anthony at it, diving in the backroom to take care of what needed to be done. He kept an ear out, just in case Anthony had troubles and needed him to step in—

 

But it quickly became clear he had no reason to worry.

 

“That’s a Koláče with plum and apricot.” Aziraphale heard him confidently explain. “I would recommend an oolong tea.” Aziraphale heard him reply to a question, and looked up to see Anthony take the right jar out of the cupboard and start steeping the tea after like he did that every other day. He heard him joke casually with the young customers, and demand attention with surprising kindness to make sure the rowdy bunch were respecting the queue, and didn’t even needed to be called whenever Aziraphale was done preparing another batch of sweets, popping his head in to grab the tray and put it on the counter.

 

At some point Aziraphale just stopped glancing up worriedly. There was clearly no reason to, the knot of anxiety in his insides finally relaxing as he focused on his work fully, trusting that Anthony wouldn’t need the help. It took more than three hours for the constant coming and going of customers to finally taper down to a trickle and then nothing at all. Which, Aziraphale had to admit, was right on time, because he was seriously close to running out of absolutely everything.

 

They both sort of waited for five full minutes after the last young man left the bakery, glancing at the door, before finally relaxing when it was clear that the storm had passed. Aziraphale felt like he had flour everywhere, at that point, and Anthony’s tight knot of hair collected on the back of his head had somewhat gone a little loose, strands escaping and giving him a disheveled air. Aziraphale watched, amused and a little dazed, as Anthony’s shoulder dropped down while he heaved a deep sigh, and let out a huffy laugh when Anthony circled the counter to drop heavily on one of the chairs.

 

“I’m going to be honest,” he then said, amber eyes twinkling with tired amusement. “I don’t know if I can survive another hour like that.”

 

“Well, that is alright,” Aziraphale replied, walking into the main room and heading for the entrance door. He turned the sign on ‘closed’, lowering the blinds too, for good measure, plunging the entire bakery into a soft yellow light. “Because I literally do not have anything else to serve anymore, even if I try to go as fast as I can.”

 

“Oh, thank god,” Anthony whispered with passion, gaining a little laugh. And then Aziraphale turned, looking at him splayed on the chair like a very tired but satisfied scarecrow, and something just went warm in his chest. 

 

If Anthony hadn’t been there… There was no way Aziraphale could’ve dealt with this on his own. But Anthony had been there, readily offered his help… And what brilliant help it had been. 

 

Aziraphale… Well, he had been intimately convinced that Anthony was just kind enough to humor his quirks and idiosyncrasies in the past months. That he had been listening to Aziraphale talking about his work, yes, but not listening that much. That he was a nice friend, letting him ramble about his pastries, not that— not that he was apparently committing everything to memory.

 

But he had done so well. He had been able to explain everything to the sudden wave of customers, whenever asked. He operated the kettle and coffee machine with no trouble, used the right blends, knew where to find clean mugs and where to put the used ones and how to work the till. Like he had been working with Aziraphale for months, and hadn’t just sat there, letting Aziraphale feed him pastries while their relationship shifted from a simple exchange of goods to something much deeper and pleasant.

 

Aziraphale would’ve been happy with just that. He would’ve been happy with keeping their routine, with Anthony’s quiet presence in the mornings and his company during the occasional Sunday. He would’ve been happy with just that, would have not asked for anything more.

 

But Anthony had been there, offering his help. ‘What if you ask a friend?’, he said. A friend. It was what they were, wasn’t it?

 

Aziraphale should be happy. But a sudden hunger had opened in him like a black hole, a hunger that could not be sated easily, he knew.

 

He should be happy that Anthony had become his friend. But he wanted so, so much more.

 

“…Are you alright?” Anthony asked softly, shaking him out of his musing. And Aziraphale looked at him, gulped around a knot in his throat as he tried to smile, nodding briefly.

 

 

Crowley slowly stood, feet sore. He wasn’t used to standing for so long, and was definitely gaining even more appreciation for Aziraphale’s ability to stand around for hours on end as he worked.

 

He was also slightly confused. He could tell that something was wrong with Aziraphale. He quietly watched as the guy collected the very few pastries that survived that unexpected assault on a single tray.

 

“I think you should get these home with you, if you want,” Aziraphale suddenly said, airily. “I mean, I’d offer you compensation—“

 

Crowley made a noise.

 

“—But I won’t expect you to accept,” Aziraphale continued, a lopsided smile pulling at his mouth. “So— If you want, I mean— You can get these. Go home, rest. You really saved me, today—“

 

“I don’t know if I’d be able to eat all of those on my own, although I am tempted,” Crowley replied, distractedly tugging a stray curl behind his ear. Aziraphale was looking at him, but he looked away the second Crowley met his eyes. “What are you going to do?”

 

“Oh, well— Backroom is a bit of a mess,” Aziraphale admitted, almost coy. “I really ought to clean up— And also prepare some things for tomorrow—“

 

“Wha— After the day you just had, you want to keep working?” Crowley frowned, astounded. Aziraphale shrugged.

 

“It’s not that I want to, but I need to,” he replied easily. “A clean shop is important. And if I don’t make the proper preparations, I won’t have anything to sell, tomorrow.”

 

“Oh,” Crowley said, feeling slightly embarrassed. He really knew nothing of what was needed to run a bakery, didn’t he? “You know— Maybe you could hire a bit of help—“

 

“I doubt it will be needed. Today was just… An exceptional case.”

 

“But still. You know, word of mouth and all that— You will very likely see and increase in customer numbers.”

 

Aziraphale huffed a small laugh. “It’s just— It was just a one time thing, I’m sure. Who would care so much about my tiny little place?”

 

“Well, those kids did. And all your regulars. I do,” Crowley almost choked on his own words, but rapidly recovered, adding, “You could expand. Get a bigger shop, hire some help—“

 

“I’m quite content with my current shop, dear, I assure you.”

 

“But,” Crowley frowned, mind going a mile a minute. He could just see it, Aziraphale could really become more well known if he wanted to. His baking was so damn delicious. A bigger shop could work, with more tables and seatings, some nice cheery girl taking care of the till while Aziraphale did his thing, baking away to his heart’s content. “I mean, it’s just— A waste, you could easily expand, find a more central position— Earnings could skyrocket—“

 

His mouth closed when Aziraphale’s hand gently landed on his forearm, stopping his muttering. Aziraphale smiled at him, a little fold between his eyebrows.

 

“You know, Anthony— Not everything has to go— Bigger. I may not be swimming in money, but this place is my place. I worked hard on it, worked hard on myself, and I’m happy with it. I don’t need to expand, or try to grab more customers— I do just fine right now, and I’m content. I want nothing more from my job.”

 

Crowley did not reply, staring back. The confusion must be clear on his face, because Aziraphale let out a huffy little laugh.

 

“Have you ever done something for the simple pleasure of doing it, Anthony?” he asked. Crowley was puzzled.

 

Had he ever? He couldn’t really recall. All his life— He’s always been running after some goal, some objective. All his life he’s always spent his ‘free time’ aimlessly, waiting to go back to the running, the grind, the target to meet.

 

Aziraphale huffed softly and then tugged at his sleeve. “Come with me. I will teach you how to make bread.”

 

“You— What?” Crowley babbled, confused, as he let myself get guided in the backroom. He was familiar with the space, since he could always watch Aziraphale work in there through the glass wall, but it was the first time he stepped past it. It was warm, and that peculiar smell of yeast hung heavily in the air.

 

It was also a mess, as Aziraphale said. Dirty bowls piled up in the sink, some sac a poche (that was how those things were called, Crowley was pretty sure) lying around completely emptied. Flour was just about everywhere, as was the sugar, cartons of eggs full of empty shells messily on top of one another—

 

“Goodness gracious,” Aziraphale laughed as they took the spectacle in. “I usually have the time to clean up between a batch and the other— Well, I’ll start on that while you prepare the dough, huh?”

 

Crowley blinked as he was placed in front of a counter and handed a clean bowl. He looked down at it.

 

“I— I don’t know how.”

 

“That’s what I’m here for,” Aziraphale replied, sounding amused. “I’ll tell you what to do. I need to make some whole wheat loaves for tomorrow—“

 

“Whole what?”

 

“The bag that’s— Yeah, that one. Weight scale on your left—“

 

And so Crowley quietly followed the instructions, still feeling a bit confused, as Aziraphale puttered around behind him, throwing away the egg shells and washing the bowls, cleaning up and drying the trays while explaining to Crowley what he was supposed to do.

 

He was pretty sure he must be making a mess, but Aziraphale would sometimes peer at his work from over his shoulders and hum, impossible to decipher.

 

“Now, you need to knead— Push down with the heels of your hand and then fold the dough toward you—“

 

Crowley grunted. It was surprisingly hard. The result of his work was extremely sticky and somewhat rubbery, and seemingly refused to flatten the way it did when Aziraphale would do that. Aziraphale appeared behind his shoulders again, chuckling.

 

“Don’t be scared,” he commented, amused. “You won’t hurt it. Use your body weight to help yourself, it’ll be easier, just—“ and then his hands were on Crowley’s back, pushing forward gently, on his shoulders, pressing down. And then he circled around Crowley’s waist and gently took his hands, moving them so the heels of Crowley’s own were fully sinking in the sticky softness. “Now push down, like this— See? And now you can fold—“

 

Aziraphale’s hands were unbearably warm, solid and firm around Crowley’s, and Crowley breathed in slowly. Aziraphale was all up against his back, his breath caressing his neck as he spoke.

 

“Just keep going like this, you have the movement down,” he murmured gently, almost right in Crowley’s ear, and Crowley knew that goosebumps were rising on the back of his neck.

 

But Aziraphale moved away, and went back to cleaning up, and so Crowley took a shivering breath, and focused on the dough, and— And it was, admittedly, nice. The way the soft thing gave in under his hands, the repetition of the gesture— It was strangely relaxing, and he belatedly realized that he actually made that. That he started from basic components and put them together and now a thing was coming out of it. That Aziraphale would then bake it, and sell it to someone who would then bring it home, share it with their family, distractedly thinking nothing as they fed themselves with something Crowley had made, of all things.

 

“…Oh,” Crowley said, feeling like some kind of understanding just clicked in his mind.

 

“What, dear?”

 

“Nothing, I—“ Crowley looked down at the dough. It looked like everything had mixed in it nicely. He turned around and blinked, surprised to find a much more clean space. “Oh, you’re done?”

 

“Basically. Just need to clean up the counter you are working on,” Aziraphale replied as he dried his hands on a rag and approached. “Good job on that one! Now we just need to leave it be, tomorrow I can bake it.”

 

“You need to leave it be for so long?”

 

“Depends on the type of bread you want to make— Some preparations only need a few hours, others might take a day or even more— I have some doughs that I prepared two days ago resting on that rack over there—“

 

Two days?!” Crowley spluttered, gaining a hearty laugh.

 

“Time and patience,” Aziraphale then said, nodding sagely as he fished a clean rag out of a drawer and carefully cradled the dough Crowley made in it. “And precision— Bakery is all about that. Knowing when and how to make the right preparations. It is not hard to learn in my opinion, but it requires a slower pace. Maybe that is why I like it so much. I like my life the way it is now. Slow and peaceful. You understand, now, don’t you?”

 

Crowley looked at the racks where lumps of dough were hiding. Two days. Aziraphale made them two days ago, knowing he’d have to wait before seeing any real results. Time and patience.

 

“A bigger shop wouldn’t be quite as peaceful,” Crowley replied slowly. “It would probably be a bit like today was but— Every day.”

 

Aziraphale hummed in agreement.

 

“Yeah, I— I think I get it, now.”

 

That won him a gentle smile. And then Aziraphale tugged him toward the sink. 

 

“Here, wash your hands— Use this soap, it’s the best one to get off all that stickiness. Here— Like— Make sure to wash between your fingers properly,” Aziraphale said, taking his hands again to guide him through motions that must’ve come as natural as breathing to Aziraphale, by that point. “And under your nails— Unless you want your hands to smell like yeast for the next few days—“

 

Time and patience, Crowley told himself as Aziraphale maddeningly ran his fingers through Crowley’s own. Time and bloody patience—

 

Well. They’ve spent plenty of time together. Literal months. And Crowley had never been a very patient person, if he had to be honest.

 

“Aziraphale.”

 

“Mh?”

 

“Sorry about this,” Crowley choked out, raw, and then tugged Aziraphale toward himself, and kissed him.

 

 

Time stopped making sense and Crowley did not care that Aziraphale’s hands were drenching his shirt even through the apron, as he fisted his fingers in a tight hold over his chest. He made a little noise, drowned in Crowley’s mouth.

 

Crowley himself was surely drenching the back of Aziraphale’s shirt as well, hands firm on the small of his back, keeping Aziraphale in a hold the man clearly cared not to be freed from anytime soon.

 

Aziraphale mouth was sweet. Of course it was. He was always sampling the things he made, plunging teaspoons into the bowls of cream to make sure they tasted right, licking the dough away from his fingers once he was done mixing— Which other taste could Aziraphale possibly hold, if not sweet?

 

“Ngh—“ Aziraphale muttered in his mouth, and shivered, and then pushed slightly against Crowley’s chest. “ —ait— Not—“

 

Crowley distantly registered something was being said. His brain did not care exactly to find out what, though.

 

“N— ‘nthony—“ Aziraphale pushed more firmly, and his mouth came free with a little pop. “Wait! No snogging in the back room! That is terribly unhygienic! ”

 

Crowley felt his heart sink for a second, and then registered the words properly, and then hopefully asked. “…Is snogging somewhere else alright?”

 

Aziraphale’s response was to wiggle out of Crowley’s hold, drag him by one hand out in the main space of the bakery, push him on one of the chairs to then straddle his legs, and lean in to resume the snogging.

 

Crowley was more than alright with that.

 

 

 

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

Crowley frowned right back at Beelzebub, who was also frowning at him, clearly confused.

 

Neither of them certainly expected to meet there, of all places.

 

“Is this your new job?” Beelzebub finally gave in, asking that with a tilted eyebrow. Crowley huffed.

 

“Nah. I’m here for the reason most people usually come to these sort of places,” Crowley shrugged, raising his left hand to show off the ring. Beelzebub gaped.

 

“You’re getting married?”

 

“Mmmh… What about you?”

 

They rolled their eyes. “Just running an errand for the boss. You know how he is.”

 

“Can’t even be bothered for his own wedding, huh,” Crowley chuckled, shaking his head. “Glad I’m missing that one.”

 

They fell into silence as Crowley distractedly browsed the laminated pages, just waiting. Finally, as he expected, Beelzebub piped up, unable to hold their curiosity. 

 

“And who’s the chick that made you lose your mind, huh?”

 

Crowley smiled a sly smile, just as Aziraphale emerged through the door with the binder still in his arms and marching down the room with the gait of an irked duck.

 

“Dear, this is outrageous!” he spluttered, indignant. “A thousand and five hundred pounds— For a simple three layered cake! Granted, these cakes look beautiful, but— I can make a five layers one easily, and decorate it myself— Oh, hello,” he said, blinking, when noticing Beelzebub who was staring at him with saucer-wide eyes.

 

“Pet, we’ve spoken about this,” Crowley chuckled, sneaking an arm around Aziraphale’s waist and pressing a kiss on his forehead. “It’s your wedding. You are not going to sneak in the kitchen to decorate your own cake on your own wedding.”

 

“But— Oh, alright, but we are not paying a thousand pounds for a cake.” Aziraphale sighed, leaning against him. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

 

“Of course— My fiancé, Aziraphale,” Crowley grinned brilliantly as he pointed at the entirety of Aziraphale with his free hand. “Aziraphale, this is an— old coworker of mine—“

 

“Oh,” Aziraphale interjected, a bit cold. He squinted. “An old coworker. Well, a pleasure to meet you, but I’m afraid my fiancé and I have still quite a lot to do, today, if you don’t mind.”

 

Crowley laughed, letting himself get dragged away.

 

The world could be sweet, after all.