Aziraphale didn’t know why Crowley kept dropping by the shop. He certainly wasn’t there for the books. He was decades younger than the average customer, and he never bought anything, although he could probably have afforded a half dozen first editions without checking the price tags. He wore five hundred quid jeans with artful tears manufactured into them, and stuck shiny new safety pins into his designer shirts. When he was hungover, which was most of the time, he hid his eyes behind stylish sunglasses. He might have passed for a punk to someone who had never seen a punk, but he still went by his last name like the public school stereotype he was desperately pretending he wasn’t.
Crowley had moved to the city a few months earlier when he’d started uni, although by his own account, delivered in dribs and drabs while leaning artfully against Aziraphale’s sales counter, school was mostly an excuse to go clubbing every night. He announced with perverse pride that he’d yet to open a book for any of his classes. He seemed so much younger than Aziraphale remembered being at his age, still practically a child. His thin veneer of cool constantly cracked to reveal earnest fascination or sudden, cackling laughter. It made Aziraphale want to take him under his wing and protect him from the world.
Early on, it seemed like Crowley mostly came around the shop to argue. He’d worked out almost immediately that Aziraphale was religious, and he loved drawing him into debates about the existence of God. They were the same arguments the atheists had made unsuccessfully a quarter of a century ago when Aziraphale was at uni, but Crowley made them with an endearing degree of enthusiasm. He’d follow Aziraphale through the shelves as they talked, circling him with an exaggerated strut that should have been ridiculous, but somehow fit him perfectly. His curious fingers would inevitably find their way into some book as he talked. He’d turn it over, caressing the cover, and run a single painted nail down its spine.
They kept getting closer without Aziraphale ever quite intending it. They’d be in conversation, and then suddenly it was time for tea, and it was only polite to offer Crowley some. Once Crowley got an invitation to the back room, he decided he had the right to go sauntering back there whenever he wanted. Aziraphale would come upon him unexpectedly, lying on the sofa while he stared at his phone, his body curved in a serpentine twist that suggested an unusually flexible spine, his long legs hooked over the armrest. Aziraphale’s heart leapt every time. He told himself it was surprise.
Sometimes over tea Crowley told stories about his adventures in the club scene, his successful conquests of Jack, Samuel, Harry, Luke, and a dozen other names Aziraphale couldn’t keep track of. Crowley always gave a few too many details, like he was trying to make Aziraphale uncomfortable. Bar bathrooms, molly, poppers. He watched with keen eyes for any sign of disapproval. Aziraphale did his best never to give one. “I just want you to be safe,” he’d say. It was true. He worried about Crowley. For all his money the boy seemed very much alone. Questions about his family never elicited any response beyond the bitter comment that Crowley had “asked too many questions,” and didn’t expect help from that quarter beyond the money he was entitled to.
Aziraphale kept to himself the ache he felt when Crowley talked. It was a sour pain that might almost have been jealousy, if he had any reason to be jealous, but was mostly a silent envy of the youthful freedom that Crowley enjoyed, and that Aziraphale had missed because he’d been born into a pious family and a different era.
The first time Aziraphale brought out a tin of biscuits with the tea, Crowley raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth only to close it again, as if he’d thought of a joke and then decided not to say it. He devoured the biscuits, though, so Aziraphale started to feed him more often: sandwiches, cakes, crisps. Crowley looked amused every time, but he ate what he was given, and Aziraphale thought it had to be for the best that he didn’t live entirely on espresso and vodka. He was so skinny. Aziraphale found pleasure in making food for someone else, trying out cake recipes Crowley might be tempted by, and learning to make deviled eggs after watching Crowley eat a half dozen from the grocer. It was lovely to share meals, after eating alone for so long. Crowley never said ‘thank you,’ but he did once shove a box of macarons into Aziraphale’s arms as he entered the shop, muttering something about having “found” it, as if perhaps it had been lying on the pavement outside, instead of purchased at the French bakery down the street.
Crowley usually arrived around 3 or 4 on the days he came, which seemed to be shortly after he woke up, and before he went out for the evening. When he walked into the shop out of a rainstorm at 9 a.m., it was obvious to Aziraphale that he’d been up all night. He was wearing a black leather skirt and red stockings with doc martens, and his thin black shirt was soaked to the skin. He’d been growing out his hair, and it had started to frizz, springing up in messy red curls against his cheek. When he ran his fingers through it glitter shook out and sank into Aziraphale’s rug. Crowley stretched and leaned back against the bookshelf across from the sales counter, the back of one arm thrown across his sunglasses, his posture exhausted.
“Never,” he said after a pointed moment of silence, “ever, do shots of bubblegum vodka.”
“I wasn’t planning to,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley’s lips twitched up into a smile, his eyes still hidden behind his arm. “No, I’d guess not.”
Aziraphale made tea, as he was a great believer in its healing powers, and brought it to Crowley. Up close, the pale skin on his arms had broken into goosebumps, and there was red glitter smudged high on his cheekbone. Aziraphale resisted the urge to wipe it off. “You’re sure you’re all right, dear boy?” Aziraphale asked instead, as he handed over the steaming mug.
Crowley dropped his arm, and contemplated the mug’s winged handle from behind his glasses as he accepted it. “My guardian angel, eh?” He paused, and looked, as he sometimes did, like he’d been about to say something he’d thought better of. “I’m tickety boo, as you’d say. Just had a long night. I was walking by and . . . I wanted to see you, I guess.” He looked away and took a hasty swallow of tea, like he regretted offering even that much.
He drank the rest of the tea in silence, while Aziraphale bustled about, opening up the shop. By the time Aziraphale circled back, Crowley was asleep on his feet, the mug forgotten on the shelf behind him. He startled when Aziraphale said his name.
“I’d better go,” he said, smoothing down his hair in a way that only shed more glitter.
“Oh, but it’s still raining!” Aziraphale protested, and realized as he said it that all he cared about was keeping Crowley a little longer.
“I won’t melt.” Crowley turned to leave, but Aziraphale stopped him at the door, holding out an old umbrella.
“At least take this,” he said. Crowley gripped his wrist with one hand as he accepted the umbrella with the other. His fingers lingered just below the edge of Aziraphale’s sleeve for an instant, and they were warm against his skin. Crowley had never touched him before.
“I didn’t even know they made tartan umbrellas.” Crowley said it like it was a joke, but his smile was dazzling. Aziraphale watched him until he disappeared beyond the sheets of rain.
That night Aziraphale found red glitter on the inside of his wrist. He ran his thumb across it, and couldn’t bring himself to wipe it away.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and regularly resurfaced by denial. Aziraphale wasn’t a kindly, sexless bookshop owner feeding biscuits to a lost boy. He was a lonely middle aged man lusting after a teenager, and he had no idea what to do about it.
The safest course would have been to stop allowing Crowley to spend so much time around the bookshop. Temptation avoided was better than temptation resisted. But Aziraphale couldn’t find the heart to run Crowley off when he’d done nothing to deserve it. Besides, if Aziraphale were entirely honest with himself, he couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing Crowley again.
Aziraphale tried to carry on with the friendship as if nothing had changed. Nothing had changed, after all, and nothing ever could. But Aziraphale had always been terrible at lying to anyone but himself. He was awkward and distant around Crowley, stumbling over his words and turning his eyes everywhere but Crowley’s face.
Crowley seemed uncertain how to respond to the sudden change in Aziraphale’s demeanor. He picked arguments about religion and politics more aggressively than ever, circling closer with each pass, looking tense and unhappy. The stories of his nightly adventures got more pointedly graphic, like he was trying to push Aziraphale into a reaction he wouldn’t give. And then at other times Crowley was uncharacteristically conciliatory, offering to organize a new shipment of books or helping Aziraphale in the kitchen. He even said ‘thank you’ when Aziraphale brought him tea, which was entirely unprecedented. It was like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to pick a fight or avoid one. But he kept coming around.
Aziraphale wasn’t surprised when he found Crowley asleep on the sofa in the back room. Crowley had been slipping in unannounced more and more frequently. He didn’t quite hide, but he’d begun to stay out of Aziraphale’s way, lurking among the maze of bookshelves out of line of sight of the register, like he might be cast out if he took too much of Aziraphale’s attention.
It was just after closing, and Aziraphale had come back with a glass of wine and a book to pass the evening. He knew he should wake Crowley and send him on his way. Instead he sat down in the chair across from the sofa, and allowed himself to look at the boy in the way he couldn’t have when he was awake. There could be no harm in that, surely? It was a tiny indulgence, and no one else would ever know.
Crowley was sprawled out, face half buried against the armrest, feet decisively placed on the sofa cushion where they weren’t allowed. His sunglasses had been discarded on the table. His mouth was parted in sleep, flushed and inviting, his red lashes heavy against his cheek. His face was softer like this, without the humor and cunning that gave it its sharp edges. Aziraphale allowed himself to imagine brushing a finger across the satin texture of his lips, and then what it would be like to ever so gently pressing his own lips against them. He imagined how it might feel to slip his tongue into the warmth inside.
Aziraphale’s eyes traveled down,to where Crowley’s black t-shirt was rucked up, leaving a vulnerable line of skin exposed above the waistband of his jeans. It looked lusciously smooth, except for the light trail of copper hair that started just below his navel. Aziraphale wished he could follow it. He wondered what the sharp angles of those denim clad hips would feel like under his hands. He pictured stroking his way down those impossibly long legs.
When he glanced back at Crowley’s face, a single amber eye was cracked open, watching him intently. His heart stopped.
“Now I know what a macaron feels like,” Crowley said with a smile. He didn’t shift from his exposed position, just continued to fix Aziraphale with his gaze. “You look like you want to eat me.”
Aziraphale wanted to bolt out of the bookshop and never return. He wanted to deny that he’d allowed himself to feel anything so terrible. He wanted to apologize to Crowley, and God, and the family he didn’t talk to, and possibly several random acquaintances at the association for hobbyist magicians.
“I didn’t!” Aziraphale said, in a state of full panic. “And I can’t! And . . . and I’m so sorry, Crowley. Terribly sorry. Perhaps you should go.”
Crowley pulled himself into something closer to a sitting position, and his expression turned from amused to earnest. “Aziraphale, please breathe. You know I feel the same way, right? I didn’t think I was being subtle here.” Aziraphale had known, at some level, why Crowley kept seeking him out. But it opened a world of possibilities too frightening to consider.
“You don’t understand what you’re saying,” Aziraphale insisted. “It’s wrong. Wrong for me to feel this way, wrong to even talk about it. My friends have children your age, for Heaven’s sake.”
Crowley sighed. “It’s not wrong. We’re both adults—” Crowley cut off Aziraphale before he could say what he meant to. “We are. I’m not a child. I make my own decisions and I run my own life. You didn’t lure me into the back of your van with a lollipop. And we’re single. And your friends and your friends’ fucking kids will never know, and they couldn’t do anything but frown about it if they did.” Crowley hesitated, and then offered the rest in a quieter voice, his eyes pointed toward the dusty rug. “I know how I look, like a spoiled rich kid who’s never been told no. But I understand what it’s like to want things you can’t have, and to live with that. And I’m telling you, we can have this.”
Aziraphale struggled with himself. It would be so easy to take the few steps that would put him by Crowley’s side. Easy, and also unthinkable. Crowley was too young to understand the thousand ways that any relationship between them would be doomed. In the end, his conscience won, and he shook his head. “You’re a nice boy. So very nice. It’s wrong for me to take advantage of you, even if you can’t see it right now.”
With a single motion Crowley sprung from his seat and slithered into Aziraphale’s lap. Aziraphale reflexively tried to push him off, but there was a surprising strength in the hands pressing into his shoulders and the legs straddling his thighs.
“I’m not nice,” Crowley hissed, pressing his face so close their noses touched. “I know what I want, and I’d bet a hundred quid I’ve fucked more men than you.” Aziraphale suspected that Crowley’s stories of sexual conquest were inflated, but if even a third of them were true it was a bet he’d win.
When Crowley kissed him, it was softer than his words suggested. His tongue pressed lightly at the seam of Aziraphale’s lips. Aziraphale allowed one arm to come up around Crowley’s shoulders, and his loose curls brushed against Aziraphale’s wrist, making him shiver.
Crowley pulled back after a long moment and tapped Aziraphale’s nose with his finger, playful and just the slightest bit mean. The nail was dark red, and Aziraphale couldn’t help but imagine the vivid color against other parts of his body. “You’re so stubborn. You know what I think? I think you like telling yourself that it’s wrong.” Aziraphale started to object, but Crowley slid his hand between Aziraphale’s legs and pressed against the growing hardness there. He held the crimson thumb and forefinger of his other hand slightly apart in front of Aziraphale’s face. “Just the tiniest bit?” The hand resting on his erection stayed where it was, heavy and unmoving.
Crowley nuzzled against Aziraphale’s cheek, lips brushing his ear. “Been a bit of a missionary project for you, haven’t I?” he said, his tone sultry. “With your tea, and your biscuits, and-“ Crowley stumbled over his words, his confidence suddenly slipping, and after several moments concluded, in something more like his usual voice, “and your stupid tartan umbrella.” Aziraphale could feel the warmth of the blush spread across Crowley’s face where it was pressed against his own.
Crowley tugged at Aziraphale’s bowtie while he began to rock his hand against Aziraphale’s crotch. “A little lost sheep for you to lead back to the fold. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? Someone nice- “ he hissed the word contemptuously – “A good little boy you could serve tea and steer away from sin, looking up at you with his big sad eyes for guidance. Someone sweet for you to save. Not a cocksucker who tells you off for your bullshit, hmm?”
“That’s not –“ Aziraphale said, but Crowley’s clever hands and the graze of his teeth against Aziraphale’s earlobe cut him off.
“Mr. Fell,” Crowley said with a mocking lilt, his lips tantalizingly close to Aziraphale’s, but not quite kissing, as his hand fumbled with Aziraphale’s zipper. “Whatever shall I do? I’m just a poor little lad cast out on the cold London streets. I have no means to care for myself, just a pretty mouth and prettier arse. Why, I don’t even know the meaning of the word fellatio.” His hand snaked its way inside Aziraphale’s fly to wrap around his cock, and Aziraphale bucked up into the grip.
“I need a good Christian man to take me in hand, don’t I, Mr. Fell?” Crowley asked, as he drew Aziraphale’s hand to rest against the bulge in his jeans.
Aziraphale had been repeatedly disappointed in his own moral limitations recently. He was, perhaps, more relieved than he should have been to discover that he had no sexual interest in Dickensian waifs, real or imagined. He was hard entirely because of Crowley’s voice in his ear, and Crowley’s hands on his body. The words he was whispering meant nothing.
Aziraphale brought his free hand to cup Crowley’s face. “You’re wrong, darling boy. I don’t care at all what you’ve done, or what you haven’t. You’re still nice.” Crowley tried his best to roll his eyes, even as he ground against Aziraphale’s hand with breathless urgency. “Nice, and good, and sweet,” Aziraphale said. “Whatever terrible things I’ve done, I never imagined you as anyone else. You deserve to know that.”
Crowley rocked against his hand a final time and gasped, collapsing against Aziraphale as he shuddered through his release, his face buried in Aziraphale’s shoulder.
Crowley’s hand froze on Aziraphale’s cock for a long moment, and then began to move again, rough and erratic. It took only a couple of quick pumps before Aziraphale came all over Crowley’s pretty, red-nailed hand. He felt like he should probably be embarrassed at how quickly the whole thing had happened, but he just couldn’t find the will. Not with Crowley crumpled and lovely in his arms. He held the boy for a long time in silence. It felt safe, and cozy, and unnervingly intimate.
Aziraphale gradually came back to himself enough to wonder about the moral consequences of what he’d done. Perhaps it would be best for both of them if, painful as it sounded, he broke it off?
But then Crowley lifted his face away from Aziraphale’s shoulder just long enough to fix him with amber eyes, and said with a brilliant smile, “You’ve got a bed upstairs somewhere, don’t you?”
Aziraphale decided his moral quandaries could wait until tomorrow.