Actions

Work Header

The Temptation of the Serpent

Work Text:

Crowley didn’t know how it had happened.

It had all seemed perfectly harmless, and then things had just…got out of hand. She had made them get out of hand.

Crowley hesitated outside the door to Aziraphale’s bookshop, which they had shared as a home since Crowley had moved in the previous spring. His mind was skipping guiltily back to the last time he had been at the bookshop, only earlier today. Aziraphale hadn’t been there, but Crowley hadn’t been alone.

After a long moment, Crowley dropped his hand to the knob and let himself in, the bell over the door tinkling ominously as he did so. Crowley thought it sounded like an alarm.

Here he is, Crowley imagined the bell shrieking, the traitorous, no-good, fool demon…

“I’m home,” Crowley called as he carefully closed the door behind him, wondering if Aziraphale could hear the guilt in his voice.

You haven’t really done anything wrong, he thought to himself with a sort of forced reassurance, but the churning in his stomach begged to differ.

Crowley was still trying to convince himself when there was the muffled sound of several books hitting the ground, followed by the emergence of Aziraphale’s head from behind a nearby bookcase.

A smile spread across the angel’s face as he saw Crowley, but when, a heartbeat later, it faded just as quickly as it had come, Crowley was convinced the angel had sensed his guilt just by looking at him.

He waited for the tongue-lashing to begin, but, instead, Aziraphale’s head swivelled to look back the way he had come. There was another sound of several somethings falling over, and a couple of books tumbled onto the floor, past the edge of the bookcase and into Crowley’s line of sight.

Aziraphale glanced down at them as he picked his way clear, emerging from behind the bookcase and gazing back down the length of the aisle in what looked like disappointment. What he was doing back there was anyone’s guess; usually Crowley would have asked and gone to investigate, but today he didn’t trust his voice not to betray the churning in his stomach.

After a long moment of staring at whatever wreckage lay behind the bookcase, Aziraphale gave a long, resigned sigh and returned his attention to Crowley.

“How was your day, my dear?” Aziraphale asked as he walked over.

Crowley’s mouth was dry, but he forced his tongue into action, aiming to keep his tone casual. “Er—normal,” he tried, voice sounding strained even to his own ears. “The usual.”

“Hmm,” Aziraphale agreed, reaching him and planting a kiss on his cheek. The guilt in Crowley’s stomach intensified as Aziraphale found his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“How—how was your day?” Crowley asked nervously, wondering distractedly if Aziraphale could feel that his hand had gone a little clammy.

“Went to that rare books fair in Temple that you mentioned,” Aziraphale said, sounding quite happy to have the subject raised. “There was a chap with a first edition De Re Metallica, and another with a gorgeous three-volume set of Vasari, but frankly their prices were far too high…”

Aziraphale kept talking, but Crowley’s attention had been arrested by the bookcase over Aziraphale’s shoulder. In a flash, he remembered the way the woman’s fingers had trailed over the books’ leather-bound spines, red nail varnish standing out starkly against pale, manicured skin…she had not been at all what he had thought.

She had been something else entirely.

Crowley must have been staring at the bookcase quite intently, because it took a moment of silence from Aziraphale and a squeeze of his hand for him to realise that Aziraphale was looking at him askance.

“My dear?” the angel queried.

Crowley felt the first thrill of panic run through him, and he knew he’d been found out. “Y—yeah?”

“Are you all right?”

Crowley didn’t want to look Aziraphale in the eye—surely it would only confirm his guilt—but he forced himself to do so for a brief moment, and was surprised to see the concern in the angel’s expression.

“Uh—yeah, of course,” Crowley stammered, quickly darting his gaze away again. “Just a—uh—long day, is all.”

Aziraphale made a sound of understanding and let go of Crowley’s hand to gesture for him to follow him. “Come have dinner, then; it’s already in the oven, should be done in a few minutes.”

“You…made dinner?” Crowley asked, wondering nervously if his voice sounded as flat to Aziraphale as it did to him.

“Your favourite,” Aziraphale confirmed, leading the way to the stairs at the rear of the shop.

“…really?” Crowley said weakly, trailing a pace behind.

As Aziraphale led the way upstairs, Crowley realised in a flash of horror that he had forgotten to return Aziraphale’s hello kiss.

I suppose it would have been more of a Judas kiss anyway, he thought wretchedly to himself.

He kept his eyes trained on Aziraphale’s back as they climbed higher, wondering miserably why he had put himself in this position. If he had just kept his head down, if he hadn’t let her flatter him, if he had just said no…why hadn’t he said no?

He could have been gearing up to have a lovely dinner with his angel, but no, he’d had to go and ruin it all in a moment of weakness. What he and the woman had done couldn’t be undone, and he knew Aziraphale would be furious when he found out.

They reached the top of the stairs and Aziraphale led the way into the kitchen, cheerfully unaware of the damage Crowley had inadvertently caused. The upper floor of the bookshop had had to be heavily renovated and refurbished (not to mention deep-cleaned) when Crowley had decided to move in, and the update had included a fully-functioning kitchen. The existence of such a place in the bookshop had put all sorts of culinary ideas into Aziraphale’s head, and the two of them had been experimenting (albeit with rather pathetic results) with cooking their own food for a change. Aziraphale, who had some experience due to his previous acquaintanceship with François Massialot in the 1720s, had proved the more successful. He was usually too busy with his books to cook, though, making this an aberration from the usual routine.

“It’ll be done in a mo,” Aziraphale said, glancing at the timer as he strode towards the cooker. Crowley, feeling worse than ever, sank into his chair at the small table they’d managed to manhandle into the space, and which Aziraphale had already set. He’d even taken the time to light the short candle in the centre, though a match or lighter had probably not been involved.

“So…tell me more about the book fair,” Crowley said pathetically, fishing around for any means available to direct Aziraphale’s attention to something other than how much he was sweating.

“Well,” Aziraphale said, brightening, “I had a long talk with a man selling a first edition of the collected works of Thomas More, and, let me tell you, he didn’t know the first thing about it…”

Crowley looked down at himself as Aziraphale continued talking, wondering if he’d need to miracle the sweat stains out of his shirt, and that was when he saw a long strand of light brown hair clinging to his sleeve. Crowley froze in horror, staring at the damning piece of evidence and hoping fervently that Aziraphale hadn’t seen it.

He shot a terrified glance at the angel, but at that moment Aziraphale paused in his story to turn and check their dinner in the oven. In the moment that his back was turned, Crowley seized the strand of incriminating hair from his sleeve and cast it away from him, towards the floor, as quickly as he could. For extra measure, he blinked and it incinerated itself in a tiny flash of flame and a faint trail of smoke.

He threw his attention back to Aziraphale as the angel snapped the oven closed and turned back to face Crowley, picking up his narrative where he’d left off. “I mean, the man thought More had written the thing because he was divinely inspired—what a load of rubbish if I ever heard it. The man was desperate for money, that was all—”

Again, despite Crowley’s best attempts to keep his attention from wandering, he found himself sidetracked, this time by how much he didn’t want to lose Aziraphale. Here he was, looking unaccountably gorgeous if a little peeved as he launched into a fresh rant on authorial intent, and Crowley had never felt luckier to be with him.

How could I have allowed myself to jeopardise that?

But surely, the optimistic part of Crowley thought hopefully, if he just explained himself, he could make Aziraphale understand that his intentions had been wholly honourable, and it wasn’t his fault, per se. Surely the woman had to bear some of the blame—she had misled him, after all, and tricked him with false intentions.

Aziraphale would understand, he thought, a little desperately. Aziraphale wouldn’t…do anything rash, would he?

Then something even worse occurred to him: the woman had not only tricked him, she had tempted him. He had been tempted by a woman. Crowley felt his fragile hopes plummet to the bottom of his stomach. If he tried to shift blame onto the woman, would Aziraphale even believe him? Could Aziraphale even conceive that some human woman had successfully tempted the Serpent?

The timer on the cooker buzzed and the angel silenced it with a wave of his hand, wrapping up his lecture as he did so. Crowley watched nervously as Aziraphale drew a glass pan from the oven, its gently-browned contents sizzling appetisingly as he rested it on the hob.

“Could you bring our plates over here?” Aziraphale asked, tugging the book-patterned oven mitt off his hand and fishing a spatula out of a nearby drawer.

Crowley did so, feeling like he was walking to the gallows. The scent rising off the chicken was absolutely delicious, but it just made his stomach queazy. “Smells great,” he offered, the half-lie leaving an even worse taste on his tongue.

“The apples look a little less disintegrated this time,” Aziraphale commented as he worked the spatula under one of the chicken breasts. “I put it in for a little less time; looks like it did the trick.”

Crowley made a noise of agreement, looking down in despair at the first plate, which Aziraphale was piling high with apple-scented stuffing around the piece of chicken. His stomach was such a knot of worry and guilt that he didn’t think he’d have been able to eat a microwave dinner he made himself, much less a meal home-cooked by Aziraphale.

He thought about telling Aziraphale that he wasn’t very hungry, or perhaps that he wasn’t feeling very well—which was true enough—but he knew it would only encourage further questions. And, even if it didn’t, the thought of Aziraphale hovering concernedly at his elbow, offering comfort and perhaps even miracled cures was enough to keep his mouth shut.

Instead, he plastered a thankful smile on his face and took their filled plates back to the table, where he gave Aziraphale the fuller of the two.

Then he took a seat and tried to come to terms with the strong, apple-dominated scent rising from the stuffing-filled chicken.

As Aziraphale took his own seat, Crowley regretfully picked up his fork, not feeling as though he’d be able to eat a single bite. While Crowley had been out and about late this afternoon, panicking slightly and trying to rid himself of the knowledge of what he had done, Aziraphale had been here, diligently making Crowley his favourite meal for no reason other than that he must have wanted to do something nice for Crowley.

Crowley’s stomach tied itself into increasingly Gordianesque knots as he poked half-heartedly at the ring of apple sitting artistically atop his piece of chicken. As it had baked, he knew that it had (with the aid of additional apple juice) infused both the chicken and the stuffing with its flavour. It was, in some ways, a dish steeped in temptation.

Crowley had never felt less tempted in his life. As he had discovered, it was admittedly less fun being on the receiving end.

He’d tried to put her off the idea, he really had…but then things had happened so quickly, and the damage had been done before he could regain control of the situation…

He poked miserably at his chicken with his fork, and when he glanced at Aziraphale he saw that the angel was already well into his plate. Crowley reluctantly picked up his knife and started sawing a piece of chicken off. The meat cut smoothly under the knife, and Crowley knew it must taste truly delicious.

After a moment of staring down at the piece he’d cut off, he convinced himself to put it in his mouth. The juices flooded his tongue pleasantly, but the apple flavour soured in his mouth and made his stomach shrivel in dread, the temptation of Eve too bright in his memory.

Crowley forced himself to swallow, but it didn’t clear the taste from his mouth. He wondered suddenly if the woman’s name had been Eve. He didn’t think so. He thought she might have told him her name, but he had forgotten it. He didn’t think it had been Eve, though. He would have remembered if it had been.

“Crowley?”

Crowley looked up quickly, hastily trying to bury the guilty expression he was sure was scrawled on his face.

Perhaps he was better at hiding it than he thought, or perhaps Aziraphale was misinterpreting it, because the angel only looked concerned, a thin vertical line appearing between his eyebrows.

“I’m fine,” Crowley said automatically, blindly cutting himself another piece of chicken. “It tastes great.”

Aziraphale frowned at him, and Crowley had to take another bite before Aziraphale returned his attention to his own plate. When Crowley was certain the angel wasn’t looking, he miracled away a quarter of his stuffing.

Though it felt like lying in the worst way, Crowley miracled away the rest of his dinner in thirty-second intervals, miming eating while taking pains to touch as little of his dinner as physically possible. Whenever Aziraphale looked up, however, he was forced to actually eat whatever was on his fork, meaning that he had to stomach a few more bites, feeling awful each time he did so.

Unfortunately, the only distraction from the treachery he was carrying out now was the one he had committed in the past.

Seeing her the one time, Crowley thought unhappily to himself, that was okay, right? Anyone could have done that. But seeing her the second time—that was a mistake. Crowley gazed down at the meal Aziraphale had lovingly made for him. And why, why did I take her back to the bookshop? He remembered the bookcase downstairs again. Things had definitely gone too far.

It would have been different, he was certain, if Aziraphale had been home. If he hadn’t been away at that book fair, he would have surely come across the two of them, and the crisis might have been averted…or at least Aziraphale would have understood that Crowley had been acting in good faith.

When Aziraphale had finished eating and Crowley had finished miracling away his dinner into whatever void accepted miracled-away objects (well-fed tonight), Aziraphale stood up to take Crowley’s plate.

“Oh, I’ll do that,” Crowley said hastily, the thought of watching Aziraphale wash up as well too much to bear.

“I was just going to miracle them clean,” Aziraphale admitted.

“I can do that,” Crowley insisted, standing up and reaching for Aziraphale’s plate.

Aziraphale gave him a strange look, but allowed his plate to be relinquished.

“Thank you for making dinner,” Crowley said, edging past Aziraphale and trying to keep himself between the angel and the plates, lest Aziraphale notice the suspiciously regular sides to the small remaining piece of chicken on Crowley’s plate. “It was excellent.”

“It was no bother,” Aziraphale said, watching as Crowley miracled the plates clean with a one-handed, dismissive motion.

“I think the shorter cooking time helped with the apples,” Crowley said, trying to scrape enough talking points together to carry out a conversation as he put the plates back in their cupboard.

Aziraphale made a noise of agreement, and when Crowley turned back around he saw the angel leaning with his back against the table, two wine glasses in his hands. “Wine?”

Crowley’s mind immediately conjured the image of his drunken self blabbering the details of the last two days’ events to Aziraphale, and his stomach clenched uncomfortably.

“Er,” he said, briefly considering agreeing and keeping himself sober through miracles, but it seemed even more dishonest than miracling away his handmade dinner. “Not really feeling it tonight, sorry.”

The smile on Aziraphale’s face faded slightly, and Crowley felt his stomach sink, if possible, even lower.

“Okay,” Aziraphale said, miracling away the wine glasses. “How about a film? We could do that Illinois Jones one you keep talking about.”

“Indiana Jones,” Crowley corrected automatically, the sinking feeling intensifying. Crowley had been trying to get Aziraphale to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark for weeks, but the angel had always weaselled his way out of it. That he was now agreeing to watch it could only mean that he had noticed that Crowley was acting oddly, and was trying to cheer him up.

Crowley gazed at Aziraphale’s hopeful expression—he even had the nerve to look like he wanted to watch it, the bastard—and simply could not understand what exactly had been so damn important that he had risked all of this.

“That’d be great, angel,” Crowley said, perhaps a bit more softly than he’d intended.

Aziraphale brightened and headed towards the living room with what was almost certainly exaggerated enthusiasm.

Crowley followed more slowly, feeling worse than ever.

The living room had been converted from the second bedroom, mostly with furniture from Crowley’s Mayfair flat. Crowley was fairly certain the furniture from his flat hadn’t been his (it had come with the place), but Aziraphale had simply assumed otherwise, and had carted a great deal of it off before Crowley or the building supervisors had been able to convince him otherwise.

Aziraphale located the appropriate disc from Crowley’s ever-growing collection and, after several false starts, hit the right combination of buttons on the DVD player (apparently through sheer dumb luck) to encourage the already-outdated device to extend the disc tray.

Crowley picked up the remote from its place on the sofa (originally the uncomfortable white one from Crowley’s flat, but which had inexplicably grown thicker, more comfortable cushions en route from Mayfair to Soho), and turned his flat-screen telly to the appropriate input.

They had the film up and running in no time, and Aziraphale immediately joined him on the sofa, pulling Crowley down into a sitting position next to him.

“This is the one where he steals the American Declaration of Independence, right?” Aziraphale asked.

Crowley bit back a sigh, but it was without his usual long-suffering overtones. “Not even the right franchise, angel.”

Aziraphale made a noise of disappointed acceptance and settled down as the film started.

Though Crowley had long been anticipating watching Indiana Jones with Aziraphale, mostly to see his reactions, he simply could not keep his attention on the screen. He was hyperaware of the arm Aziraphale had put around him, and the way he had automatically leaned towards the angel, both falling into their regular positions. If he focussed, he could count Aziraphale’s breaths by the faint rising and falling of his chest near Crowley’s head.

That Aziraphale trusted Crowley was patently obvious, but for the first time Crowley was beginning to wonder if that trust was misplaced. He had been a fool, and because of it he had—however unintentionally—hurt Aziraphale.

Feeling Aziraphale breathing soundly next to him, Crowley could already anticipate him protesting that he hadn’t been hurt, but that was because he didn’t yet know that he had.

And therein lay an implicit choice, Crowley realised with a flash of dread. He didn’t know how much his interactions with the woman would affect his and Aziraphale’s relationship, but it would certainly have an impact, and a negative one at that. Which begged the question…what if he just never told Aziraphale?

The thought was tempting—tempting, again, he, the Serpent, was being tempted—but he knew it wasn’t practical. The woman would likely be back tomorrow, and then Aziraphale would find out, one way or another. Surely it was better for Aziraphale to hear it from him first?

Crowley stirred against Aziraphale, turning slightly and starting to sit up further, opening his mouth to confess the damning truth of what he had done, but Aziraphale chose that moment to speak.

“That is not at all what the Ark of the Covenant looks like. What even is that on top?”

Crowley felt his planned words die in his mouth. His eyes roved to the screen. “Angels,” he said instead, watching as the light glimmered dramatically off the gold-encased box that Indiana and Sallah had just found. “Probably.”

“Hrmph,” Aziraphale said, or something like it. Crowley might have thought Aziraphale would find the superfluous decorations flattering, but he supposed the historical inaccuracy was too much to forgive. “I can’t believe you like this film, Crowley, just look at what they did to those poor snakes.”

Crowley gave a grunt of agreement, but he barely heard Aziraphale’s words, mind already returned to whether or not he should tell Aziraphale the truth of what he had done.

“And, frankly, the cultural representations are appalling,” Aziraphale continued with a derisive sniff. “Have you seen how they portray the native Egyptians? Post-colonialism at its finest, I suppose…”

Not now, Crowley thought to himself, feeling his courage dwindle. Don’t tell him now. Aziraphale just looked so happy, there with his arm around Crowley as he elucidated all the reasons why Raiders of the Lost Ark was in fact a terrible, awful, no-good film that Crowley should never have made him watch in the first place, and Crowley simply could not bring himself to ruin that.

As the film continued, Crowley began to think that holding his tongue might have been the right thing after all. He didn’t know for certain if the woman would show up tomorrow, and, if she did, maybe there was some way he could head her off. Surely he could explain things and convince her to leave, or, if nothing else, he could use a small miracle to compel her to go away and never speak to him or Aziraphale again. Maybe he could just place a spell over the front of the bookshop early tomorrow morning, so that no one would feel inclined to enter it, under any circumstances.

That sounded like it might actually work, and it meant that Aziraphale would never have to know the full extent of Crowley’s sins. He’d have a stressless, customer-free day, and Crowley could stay with him and make it up to him, even if Aziraphale didn’t know what it was Crowley was making up for. He could cook Aziraphale a nice dinner, and help with the bookshop, and surely there was some part of their rooms that needed the attention of a miracle-equipped handyman.

By the time Crowley, beginning to think things might turn out all right after all, turned his attention back to the film, Indiana Jones was busy punching a Nazi through a windscreen as he drove off with the Ark.

The film wrapped up twenty minutes later, and as the credits rolled Aziraphale immediately launched into a short lecture on the exact nature of divine power and the types of attacks at its disposal, which, though numerous, decidedly did not include Nazi face-melting. Crowley, too worn out to construct any sort of cohesive counterargument, was happy to just listen to the familiar sound of Aziraphale’s voice.

When Aziraphale finally finished, sounding out-of-breath but vindicated, he seemed to realise that Crowley had only been half-listening. “My dear?”

“Sssorry,” Crowley said, forcing himself to sit up and trying not to look as tired as he felt. It wasn’t even nine yet, but he felt emotionally spent and was still anxious about the next day. He dropped his gaze to the floor. “I know it’s early, but I think I’ll just turn in.”

He didn’t think he could sleep, even though he was tired, but he also didn’t think he could withstand another activity with Aziraphale, particularly if the angel kept being kind to him.

“You’re sure you’re feeling all right?” Aziraphale asked again, but Crowley waved away his concern as he stood, feeling very much like he was deliberately hiding something from Aziraphale and hating himself for it.

“Just tired is all,” he lied.

Aziraphale still looked a little concerned, but he allowed Crowley to leave without any further questioning. Crowley reached their bedroom, changed into his pyjamas without delay, and was crawling under the covers of their shared bed in under five minutes. His was the side furthest from the door—since Aziraphale tended to wake up first, it meant he didn’t disturb Crowley quite so much—and he rolled onto his side so he was facing the wall. With any luck, by the time Aziraphale turned in he would assume Crowley had already fallen asleep, regardless of whether or not it was true.

This plan was foiled, however, when Aziraphale crawled in next to him not ten minutes later. Crowley didn’t shift from his position with his back to the angel, but that didn’t seem to deter Aziraphale one bit.

Crowley felt the mattress dip behind him, and then Aziraphale’s arm slipped over his waist.

“Feel better, my dear,” Aziraphale murmured into his ear, and Crowley felt him plant a kiss in his hair. “I love you.”

Crowley barely breathed as Aziraphale settled more comfortably into the mattress behind him, keeping his arm draped over Crowley’s stomach. His breath gently tickled the back of Crowley’s neck.

Crowley bit his lip, wanting to tell Aziraphale that he loved him back but not wanting to give away that he was still awake, in case Aziraphale would want to talk to him. Besides, he didn’t know if he even had the right to say it anymore, not with what he had done.

He was still fretting over it when, despite the early hour, he heard Aziraphale’s breathing steady out, and guessed the angel had fallen asleep. Though he would have liked to do the same, his stomach was still churning too viciously for him to even consider sleeping anytime soon.

He’d decided that the best course of action was keeping his mouth shut, but, as he stared at the darkened wall in front of him, he found himself having second thoughts. What if he couldn’t stop the woman in time? What if she was persistent, and showed up days, weeks, maybe even months later? And, even if he could somehow prevent her and Aziraphale from ever meeting, ought he to?

Clearly it was in his best interests to never speak of what had happened, and bury it if he could, but…

Crowley’s hand shifted through the blankets to find the hand belonging to the arm Aziraphale had draped over him. Aziraphale trusted him. Even if Aziraphale never knew, could Crowley live with the knowledge that he had lied and hidden the truth from Aziraphale, and that he had broken that trust?

The question ate at Crowley the more he thought about it, and he began to have the somewhat panicked realisation that it might, in fact, not be something he could live with, or at least not something he would want to live with. And, if Aziraphale ever betrayed his trust in a similar way, wouldn’t he want to know about it? Surely he would be able to forgive Aziraphale for something like that.

Serpent, woman.

Crowley hesitated, fingers gently brushing against the back of Aziraphale’s hand.

Fifteen minutes later, Crowley couldn’t take it any longer. He twisted, turning so that he was facing Aziraphale, who was also on his side, eyes closed serenely and mouth hanging open.

Crowley prodded at Aziraphale’s shoulder, hoping he wasn’t doing something he would regret.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley hissed, prodding him harder when the angel failed to respond. On his third hard prod, Aziraphale’s mouth snapped closed and he made a displeased noise deep in his throat. He rolled onto his back, as though trying to evade Crowley’s annoyances.

“Come on, you, you—oaf,” Crowley hissed, switching to gently shaking Aziraphale’s shoulder. Now that he’d made up his mind, he just wanted it to be over.

A few moments later, Aziraphale finally came to, eyes blinking open blearily and one hand awkwardly blundering against Crowley’s chest.

“Aziraphale,” Crowley said urgently, keeping his hand on his shoulder.

Aziraphale seemed to wake further, blinking and sitting up a little. Each delicate swirl of the angel’s tangled hair was visible to Crowley in the darkness, but he imagined that to Aziraphale he was little more than a set of yellow eyes gleaming in the darkness. Luckily, this didn’t seem to unnerve Aziraphale in the slightest.

“Whassit?” he mumbled, hand finally locating Crowley’s arm and giving it a sleepy pat.

“I need to tell you something,” Crowley said.

Aziraphale blinked and licked his lips, his movements slow. “Can you tell me in the morning?”

“It’s important,” said Crowley, who wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t have changed his mind by then.

Maybe it was the nervousness in his voice that did it, but Aziraphale nodded sluggishly and made an effort to sit up a little further. “Fine,” he said as he sank back against his pillow, voice still sticky with sleep. “What is it?”

Crowley opened his mouth and hesitated. Now that the moment was here, he found his lips understandably reluctant to form the damning words.

“The other day—I really should have—I tried—there’s this woman,” Crowley blurted out, nervously adjusting his grip on Aziraphale’s shoulder and wondering how much longer he would be able to enjoy it.

“She—and I know I shouldn’t have, I couldn’t stop her—I’ve been feeling awful about it all day—I didn’t want to tell you—”

Aziraphale, perhaps picking up on the distress in Crowley’s voice, made a better effort to sit up, now in a sort of half-slouch on one elbow, watching Crowley intently.

“But she—she said she liked my car, and I thought that was nice, so I invited her for a spin—where was the harm in it, really?—I didn’t realise at the time, I swear—but I knew she had money, and I should have stopped it there—and we were just driving around—but then—”

“Crowley,” Aziraphale interrupted gently.

Crowley, not yet at the damning part, broke off nervously as Aziraphale steadied his hand on Crowley’s arm.

“Take a moment to breathe, and start from the beginning.”

Crowley took a breath as directed, surprised by how much he needed it. After a few breaths, feeling slightly calmer now that he knew he was having out with it, he started over.

“Yesterday, I was out with the Bentley and I stopped at Grosvenor Square because I was going to mess with the Americans as they moved embassies, and there was a woman walking by who said she liked my car. It’s not every day someone knows how to really appreciate the classics, and really that should have tipped me off, but I just didn’t see the harm in it, and she didn’t imply anything else—”

“Breathe,” Aziraphale reminded him.

Crowley drew another deep breath before continuing, nerves on edge. “So I took her for a ride, just a short one, and we talked about the car. She knew a lot about classic Bentleys, sounded like she knew someone with a couple. Then I dropped her back off, and she said we should meet up again the next day—so today. I didn’t see why not, and she was nice enough to talk to, so I said sure. Then this morning I met up with her again, and I mentioned that you had a rare books shop in Soho, and she thought that was pretty cool. And then—I know I shouldn’t have, because you were out—but she just wanted to take a little look around—”

All at once, Aziraphale’s demeanour changed. Gone was the comforting hand on Crowley’s arm, and he’d sat nearly bolt upright, staring at Crowley with eyes fully clear of sleep, ice-blue irises sharp and horrified.

“You—you let some woman into my shop?" Aziraphale demanded.

“I didn’t think it would come to anything,” Crowley cried. “I thought she just wanted to look around, but then she was actually interested, and I told her she couldn’t afford anything because everything was really expensive, but then it turned out that she’s a literal billionaire, and those Bentleys she knew a lot about were hers—”

The look of utter betrayal on Aziraphale’s face was just as much of a bullet to the chest as Crowley had thought it would be, but at least he was freeing himself of his secrets at last.

“How—how could you?" Aziraphale rasped in anger. He’d started moving away from Crowley across the bed, as though the demon had inflicted physical harm. “You let a billionaire customer into my bookshop?" The unspoken I thought I could trust you seemed entirely present as Aziraphale shot from the covers on the far side of the bed, staring back at Crowley like he was seeing him in a whole new light. “While I was out?"

“I’m sorry,” Crowley wailed, floundering closer across the choppy sea of blankets. “I swear, angel, I didn’t mean it. I never would have done it if I’d known—”

“She could have told all her billionaire friends about us, or—or—” All the colour drained from Aziraphale’s face. “Did she—did she buy something?"

“No!” Crowley said quickly, reaching the edge of the mattress just as Aziraphale turned and sprinted through the doorway in the direction of the stairs.

“No, she didn’t!” Crowley called after Aziraphale as he staggered from the bed and sprinted out of the room.

He followed Aziraphale down the stairs, the sound of Aziraphale’s heavy, urgent footfalls preceding him.

He found Aziraphale standing in the middle of his bookshop looking very much like a comic book hero about to enter battle. His stance was wide, hair still disheveled from sleep, fleece pyjamas swathing his solid frame as he gazed around at his bookshelves in horror, evidently torn between which one to spring to first.

“She didn’t take anything, I swear,” Crowley gasped out as he reached the bottom stair and stepped onto the bookshop floor. “Once I realised what had happened, I told her she had to leave right away, and I had urgent business. I shoved her out of the shop myself.”

This didn’t seem to reassure Aziraphale in the slightest, and he kept looking back and forth between the bookcases, as though looking for the incriminating signs left by human hands. “Which bookcase?” he demanded. “Where was she looking?”

“She didn’t take anything,” Crowley tried again.

When Aziraphale turned and glowered at him, Crowley shrank and pointed at the bookcase near the door where she had started looking at the books in earnest.

Aziraphale glared daggers at Crowley and marched over to the bookcase in question. He then proceeded to look through every single title on the bookcase and the two adjacent to it on either side.

Crowley, sensing that this would take some time but feeling it was his duty to be present, sat down on the floor and curled his arms around his knees, waiting for Aziraphale to finish.

When Aziraphale finally did, it looked like his stormy mood had only abated slightly, though he did appear to be willing to believe Crowley now.

“You shoved her out of the shop?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Crowley confirmed, unfolding himself from the floor and standing up, bones creaking in protest. When Aziraphale squinted at him suspiciously, Crowley added an honest, “I swear.”

Aziraphale folded his arms, the arms that had been wrapped around Crowley so recently. “You realise she could have taken something very valuable, right? Like the Gutenberg, or the first edition Ulysses, or the Ramayana.” Aziraphale took a single step towards Crowley, and Crowley had to force himself not to take a matching one backwards. Aziraphale narrowed his eyes, voice dropping half a register. “She could have taken the Buggre Alle This Bible, you realise that, right?”

Crowley swallowed. “Yeah, I know. I’m really sorry.”

Aziraphale glared at him a moment more, and then some of his anger seemed to dissipate. He kept his arms folded, but his gaze softened a little. “So if she didn’t take anything, why did you tell me?” he asked at length.

Crowley swallowed again, nervously this time. “Because when I was shoving her out of the shop, she said—said—she might be back…tomorrow.” Crowley braced himself.

“You—you invited the rich customer back?" Aziraphale asked, sounding appalled and upset all over again.

“No,” Crowley hastily corrected, noticing the genuine distress on Aziraphale’s face. “Never. She just said she might be. But because she might show up tomorrow, we need to…you know…take precautions.”

This turned out to be exactly the right thing to say, because Aziraphale immediately shifted the target of his anger from Crowley to the unnamed, billionaire would-be-customer. “You’re absolutely right,” he declared, and marched over to the darkened shopfront.

He miracled a piece of paper into his hand and slapped it authoritatively against the glass of the shop door, beyond which lay the darkened Soho street, punctuated by distant lights.

“We will not go out tomorrow,” Aziraphale dictated as Crowley crept over to the shop door to look at the piece of paper. “Not for the whole week, actually, to be safe. We must not leave the shop unguarded.”

Crowley, afraid to draw attention back to himself by speaking, just made a faint noise of agreement. He lifted the edge of the paper Aziraphale had added to the shop door, reading it upside-down with some difficulty.

“We’re…moving to Milton Keynes?” he asked, puzzled.

“No,” Aziraphale said, miracling more of the same notice into his hands and sticking them to every available window. “We’re staying right here, but Ezra Fell’s Rare Books is moving to Milton Keynes, no moving sale, everything must stay.”

“Oh,” Crowley said. He would have thought this was an overreaction, even for Aziraphale, but he knew the angel well. The real reason they’d left Cilicia in the thirteenth century hadn’t been because of the earthquake; it was because someone had stolen Aziraphale’s favourite copy of the Diamond Sūtra. They’d never been to Turkey since.

“Yes, oh,” Aziraphale said, slapping more notices to the shop windows. When he was done, he came back and ground to a halt in front of Crowley. The look he gave the demon was approaching frigid, as though he was determining whether or not he still wanted to be associated with such a customer-friendly entity. Crowley, sensing he was about to be sentenced for his crime, shivered a little despite himself. He fixed his eyes on one of the buttons of Aziraphale’s fleece pyjamas and waited to be cast from Aziraphale’s presence until the angel calmed down, be it five days or five years.

“You are sorry?” Aziraphale asked curtly.

Crowley, for whom forgiveness had never been so easily obtained, looked up in surprise. Aziraphale appeared serious, so Crowley nodded eagerly. “Very, terribly sorry.”

Aziraphale frowned at him, as though suspecting insincerity. “You won’t do it again?”

Crowley could have grinned in relief, but didn’t want to press his luck. “I won’t do it again,” Crowley swore. “Ever.”

Again Aziraphale surveyed him, and then his chilly demeanour started to thaw. “All right,” he said, and, very much to Crowley’s surprise, wrapped the demon in a hug.

Crowley actually made a faint noise of surprise, and then hastily hugged Aziraphale back, almost giddy with relief. He still felt awful about having betrayed Aziraphale’s trust in the first place, but he had never imagined he would be offered such immediate forgiveness.

“I love you,” Crowley said quietly as Aziraphale started to pull away, just so that he knew.

Aziraphale eyed him again, but this time he looked almost exasperated. “I love you, too,” he said, and waved his hand in the direction of the shop door. Immediately, five new locks sprang into being, firmly securing themselves.

“But don’t think that lets you off easy,” Aziraphale continued sternly, taking Crowley gently by the arm and steering him back in the direction of the staircase. “You’re sleeping on the sofa tonight, and you’re making breakfast, lunch, and dinner all week, you understand?”

Crowley, who thought that, where Aziraphale and his books were concerned, this was the very definition of getting off easy, hastily agreed.

“Now I need a new name for the shop,” Aziraphale grumbled to himself as they headed back up the stairs. “Maybe ‘A. Z. Fell and Co.’…or do you think that’s too close…?”

“I’m sure that’d be fine,” assured Crowley, who was happy to agree with anything Aziraphale had to say just then, and who was also wondering almost hopefully if he was the ‘Co.’

Once they reached the first floor, Aziraphale accompanied Crowley to the living room, as though to make sure he slept on the sofa as directed.

“There,” Aziraphale said firmly as Crowley sat down. Aziraphale saw him looking up at him and crossed his arms, apparently for added severity.

“I’m sorry,” Crowley offered again.

Aziraphale sighed and unfolded his arms. He leaned over and kissed Crowley on the cheek. “It’s fine,” he said, sounding resigned. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Thank you for not kicking me out,” Crowley said, hoping that by saying so he wouldn’t remind Aziraphale of what he usually did in this situation.

Aziraphale sighed again, sounding almost disappointed in himself. “Yeah,” he said heavily, his tone implying that he would have very much liked to, had something else not held him back.

“I love you,” Crowley said again, because it seemed to keep him on Aziraphale’s good side.

Aziraphale smiled faintly. “I love you, too,” he said, and leaned over to give Crowley another kiss, as though he’d forgotten that he’d already done that. “Good night, my dear.”

“Good night.”

Aziraphale swept out of the room, switching off the light on his way out.

When he was sure Aziraphale was gone, Crowley let out a long breath, hardly able to believe that things had gone so well. He’d just miracled up a blanket for himself when the light flickered back to life and Aziraphale’s head emerged from around the doorframe. He looked affronted.

“And I made you dinner!"