How early was too early to show up to a lunch date?
Crowley found himself asking that question constantly throughout the morning. As he chose which outfit to wear and styled his hair, changed his outfit, went to check on some of his plants at the shop. Came back to his duplex, waved ‘good morning’ to Anathema through the window. Changed his outfit for the third time. The question always lingered.
How early was too early?
The last thing Crowley wanted to do was seem desperate or pathetic. If he showed up thirty minutes prior and Aziraphale walked in to see him already settled, what would the other man think? It wasn’t as if Crowley didn’t have anything better to do with his time, he was just so utterly and completely nervous, he could barely think straight.
“I should just cancel,” the man muttered to himself as he paced back and forth across the concrete floor of his basement. “This whole thing is a terrible idea anyway. He’ll see right through me. If not today, then the next time we go out. Or the time after that. Might as well quit while I’m ahead.”
No amount of reasoning could force him to pull the trigger. Even if Crowley had wanted to jump ship, he realized the only way to get out of it would be to march down to the bookshop and tell Aziraphale to his face, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to do that. Crowley didn’t have a phone number to call or an email address to contact. He had nothing but a date, time, location, and the promise that he would be there. The only way he was getting out of this lunch would be to stand Aziraphale up, and no matter how frazzled he became, Crowley knew he would never be able to stomach such a horrid act.
He may be a supervillain, but he wasn’t cruel.
“Any plans for today, sir?”
The question, and proximity of the voice asking it, nearly caused Crowley to jump out of his skin. He whirled around and found himself face to face with Minion. The plant was riding atop their faithful Segway, one root wrapped firmly around the handle as they steered it around. A small tray had been bolted to the front where Minion could place various tools and other items they wished to carry around. Right now, Crowley could see evidence the plant had been making upgrades to their suit - a mechanical device of Crowley’s own invention that allowed the sentient plant to walk around like any other life form. Various nuts, bolts, and screws lay strewn about along with the strangest assortment of tools he’d ever seen.
“No,” he answered far too quickly to be even remotely believable. “Nothing set in stone. Might head over to the shop for a bit. See how the plants are getting on. Grab some lunch, or something. Maybe some tinkering this afternoon. Who knows?”
“Right,” Minion responded, wheeling around to the other side of Crowley’s desk and the multitude of drawers by his right leg. The villain wasn’t entirely sure what his companion was looking for, but he knew by now not to get in Minion’s way. “Is that what you want me to tell Beelzebub when they inevitably call later this afternoon?”
Crowley groaned. For a few blissful minutes, he’d managed to forget all about that annoying pest of a villain. This entire week had been spent at his shop, leaving Minion to mind the lair back home. Normally, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all, but Beelzebub was determined to have him be a part of the next phase of their plan. And for the life of him, Crowley couldn’t understand why.
“Absolutely not,” he replied, making it very clear Minion was, under no circumstances, to allow the villain any knowledge of Crowley’s whereabouts. “I don’t want you to even answer the phone while I’m out. Let them stew for all I care. They deserve it, for trying to ruin my vacation.”
That last bit was more of a formality than anything else. Crowley honestly didn’t care what Beelzebub was up to, so long as they left him out of it. He knew that eventually, Beelzebub would track him down and he’d either have to go along with their insane plan to infiltrate The Host or find some other reason he couldn’t participate. Avoiding the problem had been working well so far, he might as well keep trying until something changed.
“But sir?” Minion protested and Crowley quirked his eyebrow at the plant. They cut off abruptly, stems shaking slightly as if they were carefully contemplating their next words. Which they should, if they wanted to keep all their leaves. “It seems as if Beelzebub has something big planned for the superheroes. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?”
Crowley sighed, trying not to feel too self-conscious about how close Minion was getting to the root of the problem. He was a villain. He should want to do villainous things, and breaking into Host Tower certainly counted as such. The problem was, after fifteen years of this, Crowley could hardly be bothered to care . The only thing that he actively enjoyed about being The Serpent was his interactions with Principality. It was obvious, based on their last conversation, the hero did not feel the same.
Well, if Principality couldn’t be bothered to care, then neither would he.
“Until Beelzebub brings me in and tells me exactly what they plan on doing and why I should care, I’m not interested,” Crowley stated in a tone that was very much final. “And I will have that conversation on my terms. Not anyone else's.”
Silence fell between the pair as Minion found whatever tool they were looking for. The machine whirred back to life as they started to wheel away, only to pause and look back, the smallest, uppermost leaves lifting upward as if they were looking straight at the supervillain. “If that’s what you want, sir.”
It was what he wanted. Or, rather, talking to Beelzebub was not what he wanted. Crowley didn’t actually know what he did want, other than to get away from home for a bit and spend a nice meal with a kind and very handsome bookshop owner.
All in all, he made it to the café with ten minutes to spare.
The first time he passed by, peeking in the window as he casually strolled down the street, Crowley didn’t see any sign of Aziraphale. He checked his watch, flashed his eyes once more over the two wide glass windows at the front of the café, and then turned the corner, looping around the block to have another go at it.
On the third such loop around the block, he spotted the blonde haired man, hand on the café door, just about to pull it open. Internally, Crowley cursed himself. If he’d been just a bit earlier, he might have timed it so he could have held the door open for Aziraphale. The other man seemed like the type who would appreciate a gentlemanly gesture like that. Based on his clothes - a similar colored tan suit with a deep green bowtie this time - Crowley assumed Aziraphale was an old-fashioned type. Someone who appreciated polite conversation, doors being held open, and all that other stuff. Acts that weren’t necessarily in Crowley’s wheelhouse, but ones he found himself wishing he could do, just so that this kind man might like him, just a bit.
“Oh Crowley!” Aziraphale greeted with a smile as Crowley entered the building a few steps behind him. As he looked over at the other man’s face, butterflied erupted inside his chest. Honestly. How was he supposed to even think let alone say anything interesting when Aziraphale practically lit up like that? Eyes crinkling, dimples appearing in the center of his cheeks - it was completely unfair how attractive he was. Crowley was absolutely doomed. “So glad to see you!”
Crowley nodded his head silently as his eyes drifted toward the menu behind the counter, not comprehending a single word written in chalk there. It was difficult to be hungry when his stomach was currently twisted in knots, lodged in his throat, making it impossible to say a single word, let alone eat. Had he smiled back at Aziraphale? He must have, or he would seem like an absolute wanker.
He had to say something. Crowley had to say something right now that was clever, and funny, and showed Aziraphale that he was glad to be here, without seeming too desperate. If he came across too desperate, Aziraphale might lose interest. He had to seem cool. Put together. He could do this. All he had to do was take a deep breath and -
“How was your walk?”
How was your walk? What the hell was wrong with him? Was he trying to make an absolute embarrassment of himself? Biting back a groan, Crowley turned to look at the other man who beamed at him while the line shifted forward and they followed along with it.
“Oh, it was quite splendid, actually!” Aziraphale responded, not looking put out in the least by Crowley’s complete and utter awkwardness. “I’ve been up for a while, you see, trouble sleeping and all, so I took a walk through the park to clear my head. Have you ever been to the park in the early morning?”
Aziraphale paused, and after a few seconds, Crowley realized he was waiting for a response. Quickly, the man shook his head and his companion continued. “This time of year, there’s usually this layer of mist that hangs around until mid morning. One would think it would give off an almost spooky feeling, but the atmosphere is actually quite mysterious. It reminds me of some of the fantastical tales I used to read as a boy.”
He was talking a lot, which Crowley hoped was a good sign. Maybe Aziraphale was a nervous talker. There was no reason to believe he’d be nervous in a situation like this, except, well, he had been on his way back to the shop the other day after they’d said goodbye. Crowley hadn’t stopped much to analyze their previous interactions, for fear that he might find obvious signs that Aziraphale was simply being a kind neighbor.
“You - uh, you read a lot as a kid then?” For a moment, his voice wavered, sticking in his throat like peanut butter to the roof of his mouth, but Crowley pushed past the sensation. He wasn’t about to let Aziraphale grow bored with him because he couldn’t bring himself to speak. Crowley may be a handful. He was fickle, bouncing from one thing to the net without rhyme or reason. When some idea captured his attention, he could vanish for days, not even responding to Anathema to let her know he was alright. He could be selfish, and inconsiderate of others, not to mention he was a literal supervillain.
There were many reasons for Aziraphale to lose interest in him. Being boring was not one of them.
“Oh yes!” Aziraphale responded as they reached the counter. “All the time. My life was a rather dull one, you see. Both my parents worked and while I liked the daycare I attended before and after school, the other children could be...quite rambunctious at times. I much preferred to sit in my comfy chair and be whisked away into other worlds.”
Crowley remained quiet as Aziraphale turned away to place his order, realizing with a rapidly increasing heartbeat, that this might be his chance to take charge. If he did nothing, they might still have a perfectly enjoyable lunch, and that might be all it was. A lunch. Not a date.
And that was what Crowley really wanted. He wanted this meal to be a bonified date. He wanted there to be no way for either one of them to misread the situation. And the only way to do that was to take charge of the situation right now.
“I’ve got it,” the red-haired man cut in as he quickly placed his order, stopping Aziraphale in his place. He reached for his wallet, ready to pay for the both of them before the other man could get a word in edgewise.
Turning toward Aziraphale, Crowley shot him a wink, hoping it came across as flirtatious and not arrogant or creepy in any way. “You can get the next one.”
Aziraphale’s cheeks flushed in the most charming way and Crowley could hardly focus on anything else. He simply smiled as the other man’s response went in one ear and out the other, keeping close to his side as they took their seats and waited for their food to be ready.
“So!” Aziraphale started, leaning forward slightly in his seat as he unfolded the napkin in front of him and placed it gingerly on his lap, reaching a single hand up to straighten out the silverware on either side of him - fork on the left, knife on the right. “A plant shop? What prompted you to take on quite an endeavor?”
Crowley shrugged, leaning back ever so slightly in his chair. “I’ve always liked gardening, I suppose,” he answered, not really wanting to go into all the details of his very unique situation. “Seemed like the thing to do, being on vacation, and all.”
He winced internally, already regretting opening his mouth. Aziraphale was sure to catch onto that. He should know by now to be more careful with what he said, but it had been so long since Crowley had interacted with anyone else in his normal life besides Anathema. At least, on a more personal level than saying ‘hello’ as he passed by people in the grocery store. If he didn’t reign in his tongue, he was sure to let something slip.
“Vacation?” Damn. Not even a second to figure out what he should say next. “Are you only here temporarily?”
Was that a hint of...disappointment Crowley heard in Aziraphale’s voice, or was he imagining things? Surely, Aziraphale didn’t actually believe he’d moved here to temporarily open up a plant shop, only to leave several weeks later? He may bounce from project to project faster than a cricket avoiding capture, but he wasn’t a complete idiot.
“No,” he assured the other man as their food was brought over by someone from behind the counter and placed on the table in front of them. “That’s not what I meant - ‘vacation’ probably was the wrong word. I just meant I needed a break from my usual line of work.”
“Oh.” Aziraphale smiled and Crowley felt the room brighten around him. “What sort of work do you usually do?”
“I’m an engineer.” Technically, not a lie, but even the half truth made Crowley’s stomach squirm. This was a bad idea. Normally, he could lie with ease. As a city-wide villain, he had to or he’d have been put away years ago. This stomach-curling, nausea was new though. Aziraphale was just so kind. So genuine and trusting, it physically hurt to lie to him. Which was going to be a problem in the future. If they even had a future.
“Mostly mechanical, though I’ve been delving a bit into software development recently. Got tired of doing the same old thing. Do you know anything about mobile games?”
Aziraphale shook his head and Crowley could have slapped himself. Of all the people he could be out with, of course Aziraphale wouldn’t be the type to play mobile games. He probably didn’t even own a mobile phone, by the looks of him.
“I’m afraid not,” he admitted somewhat apologetically, confirming Crowley’s suspicions. Keeping up with the times is a bit difficult for me. My work issued me with a newfangled watch a year or so ago that is also some sort of communication device, and I have a rather dreadful time with it.”
Crowley frowned. “You have a smartwatch as part of being a bookshop owner?”
A soft chuckle emerged from the man’s chest and Crowley’s heart glowed. He hadn’t meant to make Aziraphale laugh, but he was glad for it, nonetheless.
“No, my dear.” Crowley’s cheeks colored splendidly at the term. So much for keeping his cool. “I’m afraid I only tend to the bookshop on my off hours. I’m also a volunteer rescue worker.”
Good Lord, this man was the whole package. Handsome, kind, thoughtful and self-sacrificing. If he had superpowers, he’d be a bloody hero - and not one of those pretentious assholes that made up The Host. A legitimate hero, like the ones Crowley had grown up reading stories about.
“In other news, after their successful encounter at First National Bank yesterday afternoon, the hero Archangel has announced that The Host will be holding a press conference at the end of next week to announce a new hero being added to their ranks.”
Crowley could not have held back the groan if he tried. It slipped out between his clenched teeth as amber eyes took in the scene unfolding on the tv behind the bakery counter. The screen was small and partially obscured by the cashier, but Crowley could still see the right half of a news reporter standing downtown in front of the bank that Beelzebub and the others had attempted to rob the previous day.
With everything said and done, Crowley was extremely relieved he hadn’t taken part in the skirmish. For a fight that only lasted twenty minutes, the contractors and construction workers in this city now had weeks of repair to replace the shattered glass and broken walls inside the building. It had been an all out brawl - one of the worst in recent memory - and honestly, with both Hellfire and Stormfront there, it had been a miracle all of them had made it out alive.
“Not a fan of a new cape in town?”
Crowley turned back toward the man sitting opposite him. Aziraphale was still seated as prim and proper as always, his hands folded neatly on his lap under the table, back straight, shoulders square. His face held the hint of a smile, one eyebrow quirking upright as an amused grin tugged at his lips. A wave of anxiety hit him like a truck. Even though all signs pointed at the opposite, there was still a chance that Aziraphale was like all the other civilians in this city - a fan of The Host. Lining the streets every time one of them decided to speak. Filling his home with collectibles and merchandise and comics about fights that never even happened.
It was a completely plausible concern. One that had a chance of ruining anything here between them, if there even was anything. Crowley hoped there was, but then again, he knew very little about the bookshop owner. Finding out that Aziraphale was just another face in one of those cheering crowds might be enough for Crowley to call this whole thing quits. He may be on vacation, but he was still a villain. He had been, for fifteen years now.
It wouldn’t do well to forget that.
“It’s not that I mind having someone new, necessarily, ” Crowley backtracked, trying not to seem too suspicious. What a disaster of a first date this would be if Aziraphale found out he was having lunch with one of the most wanted criminals in the city, hiding in plain sight. “I’m just not super jazzed about all my magazines being overtaken by articles about this new hero. And about how that’s all the news will be talking about for weeks. No more sweet human interest stories about rescuing baby foxes out of wells or baking the world’s largest pepperoni and pineapple pizza. Just some new teenager who doesn’t quite fit into those big hero boots.”
Another smile flashed his way as Aziraphale lifted a hand to sip at his tea. “You forgot about all the new merchandise and press conferences and publicity stunts and the dozens of advertisements that go with them.”
He was joking . Crowley’s eyes widened as relief washed through him. Aziraphale was dreading this new superhero just as much as Crowley was, perhaps more so.
“ You hate The Host too?” he asked, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward, as if adjusting his position would allow him to hear Aziraphale more clearly.
The blonde man chuckled. “Hate is a strong word, but I will say I find their antics, hero and villain alike, to be quite tiresome. And that’s on a good day.”
Oh, thank the heavens. Aziraphale wasn’t some crazy fanatic after all. He was a sane, normal human being who, like Crowley, had grown tired of this twenty-year long cat and mouse game. If Crowley hadn’t been enamored with the blonde-haired man before, he certainly was now. He could feel his heart thrumming inside his chest and quickly reached for his drink in an attempt to alleviate the sudden dryness in his mouth.
What did he do now? He liked Aziraphale, really liked him. How long had it been since he’d had romantic feelings for someone? What was he supposed to do with them? From what he could tell, this date was going well so far, but he still had plenty of time to mess it up. Knowing him, he probably would.
“Did you want to go together?” Crowley found himself asking as the reporter continued to drone on about the event. It wasn’t exactly the ideal spot for a second date, but it could be fun. There were sure to be some parties around town they could hit if the weather was nice, and it might be interesting to speculate on the way there what this new superhero might be like. Were they a boy or girl? What kind of powers did they have? Who did The Host intend on pairing them with for training? Who would be their nemesis?
All perfectly valid questions that were much more fun to speculate about with someone else. The last time this happened, Crowley and Minion had stayed up all night in their basement, planning a grand welcoming event full of villainous shenanigans. Minor ones, of course. Just enough to get the new hero’s feet wet. He’d obviously be abstaining from such actions this time around, but spending more time with Aziraphale sounded just as grand.
Aziraphale’s face fell and Crowley knew immediately he’d said something wrong. What could it have been? Was it the specific act of asking the other man on a second date? Had Aziraphale realized already that they weren’t a good match? Or had something else tipped the scales? Crowley wanted to backtrack, but he couldn’t see how. Not when he had no clue what was going on in the other man’s mind.
“Too many people for me, I’m afraid,” Aziraphale answered in a tight voice, and Crowley wondered if there was a story behind that sudden flash of anxiety. He didn’t press, however, choosing to turn his gaze to the partially eaten food in front of him, no longer as hungry as he had been moments before.
“I would, however - “ Crowley looked up suddenly at the brush of soft skin against his own. Aziraphale was leaning slightly forward in his chair, hand resting gently over Crowley’s as he smiled softly at the villain. “Love to see you again after this, if you’d like.”
Once again, Crowley’s mouth went dry. His eyes widened, heart feeling like it was about to explode all over the table and ruin their moment. “Yeah,” he managed to croak, wishing he didn’t sound so much like a dying frog in that moment. “You, uh, you want to go on a second date?”
There. He’d said it. The words were out in the open now. No taking them back. It was time to see where Aziraphale’s intentions truly lay.
He beamed, squeezing Crowley’s hand once before returning it to his lap. “Very much so. I do believe,” he continued, after a moment, blue eyes training on the wide smile that had found its way onto Crowley’s face. A smile that wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Crowley was sure of it.
“I am supposed to ‘get the next one’,” he said with a wink and Crowley’s heart was gone. If he wasn’t so afraid of messing up what was obviously an invitation for a second date, he might have leaned in and kissed the other man, but somehow, he held himself back. Now wasn’t the time. He’d have another opportunity, because Aziraphale was, right now , in this moment, asking him on a second date.
“Isn’t that right?”