A peculiar thing happens in Aziraphale's shop on August 13th at precisely two in the afternoon.
A man comes in looking for a book.
That’s not the peculiar part.
People attempt to buy books at Aziraphale’s shop all the time. They’re mostly unsuccessful, but the opportunity is theoretically there.
The peculiar part comes when this man - a statuesque, ruggedly-handsome man in a finely tailored, tan suit, aubergine shirt, and silk tie; a man who looked like he would be equally as comfortable touring the Savannah on holiday as he would be making corporate decisions in a board room – flirts with Aziraphale.
Aziraphale can be oblivious to those things, but the only people who seem to have eyes for him anyway are older women, mainly widows and divorcees, not searching for an exciting good-looker for their next relationship, but a reliable, stable, respectful man that they can talk to about books and music; who will take them to fancy restaurants on Friday nights and play Canasta with them on the weekends. A nice, non-threatening man who likes to garden and do crossword puzzles and cuddle, who won’t make too many demands on them physically. And even then, by the time Aziraphale figures them out, the women in question have already gotten bored and gone, leaving Aziraphale secretly grateful that he didn’t have to part with another one of his precious first editions.
Flirting happens to Crowley all the time. That Aziraphale notices. Women and men alike wander in off the streets to gawk at him. He’s a demon. He appeals to the baser instincts of mortals and that draws them to him. But he also happens to be stunning (in Aziraphale’s opinion, at least).
Aziraphale sees himself as having the appeal of an old couch – quaint and comfortable, familiar, convenient when you need a place to rest your bum but not the sort of thing you’d get excited over if the doorbell rang and you saw it sitting on your front stoop.
But the man who comes in, with his Rolex watch and his hundred dollar haircut, doesn’t so much as even make eye contact with Crowley.
He only has eyes for Aziraphale.
“Hello,” he says in a voice so smooth it slips through his lips and into Aziraphale’s ears without him needing to breathe too hard. “My name’s Ryan. I called earlier about purchasing a first edition of The Velveteen Rabbit? You said you had a copy?”
“Oh,” Aziraphale says with a startled gulp, but he doesn’t know why. He’s not sure why the tone of this man’s voice makes him swallow like that. Or why the way he looks at him makes the apples of his cheeks and the tips of his ears go pink. “Yes. Yes, I do. Excuse me for not fetching it prior to your arrival. I wasn’t sure you were serious about picking it up.”
“Yes, I am. It’s very important to me. I’ve been looking for one everywhere.”
“Then you’re in luck!” Aziraphale rises off his stool with a hop. “Because I do indeed have one.” He strolls through the rows of shelves, hunting down the copy Adam had so conveniently magicked up for him after the Apoca-no-go. He hums while he walks, suddenly in a chipper mood as he scans the spines in the children’s section.
As happens quite a bit when Aziraphale’s in the stacks, he gets the feeling that he’s not alone. And he’s not. There’s a general presence that seems to haunt his shop, one that he hasn’t sorted out yet. And, of course, there’s his husband, napping on a chair off to one corner that gets neither too much shade nor sun. Aziraphale peeks over his shoulder, curious if his husband may have woken up and decided to slither behind him, but it’s not him.
And Aziraphale smiles bashfully to himself.
“You know, many people would simply download a book like this,” Aziraphale says when he finds what he’s searching for. “I’ve heard you can find it online for free.”
“True, but reading a book online doesn’t compare to holding it in your hands. And a first edition has probably been held by many people, read to many children, and just generally loved to pieces. Kind of like the velveteen rabbit. Wouldn’t you agree?”
From behind the stacks, Aziraphale sees Crowley peek out, glaring over the rims of his Valentino shades. The angel’s eyes brighten at the sight of him. He’s about to summon him over, but he blinks, and his husband disappears in the quarter-second it takes for his eyes to open again.
“Yes, I would definitely agree.”
“Of course, it may not necessarily be that way with every book. You have to make a connection with it.” Ryan takes the book from Aziraphale, two of his fingers brushing the back of Aziraphale’s hand when he does. “They’re kind of like people that way. After a while, you develop a relationship with it. It becomes important to you. And you never want to part with it.”
“Oh, that’s … that’s beautiful,” Aziraphale says. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard it described that way before, but it’s true. I feel that way about all my favorite books. I do hope your little one feels the same way about this one.”
“Oh, I’m not married.” Ryan flashes his vacant ring finger along with a brilliant smile. “Don’t have any children. I’m sorry to say that this book is simply a gift from me to my inner child. It’s the key to something I’ve been missing, something that I’m hoping to get back.”
“That’s charming. I hope whatever it is that you’ve lost, you find it again.”
“I do as well.”
They talk as Aziraphale rings him up – about books, about music, about the trinkets Aziraphale keeps around the shop and the history behind each one. They briefly talk about Ryan’s job as CFO of a brand new startup that’s skyrocketed within the past year, but they mostly talk about Aziraphale’s shop and his passion for the written word. No other customers come in, or if they do, Aziraphale doesn’t notice. He pulls Ryan up a chair and offers him a cup of tea, hoping Crowley will eventually join them, but he doesn’t go looking for him. Crowley seems to relish his eight hour naps in Aziraphale’s shop.
Far be it for Aziraphale to interrupt him.
As the day drips on, Aziraphale starts to notice the change in the quality of the light as shadows lengthen across the floor. He glances over at the clock on the wall to see if his suspicions are correct, and he gasps.
“Oh, my dear! It’s five o’clock! I didn’t notice the time! Oh, I do hope you aren’t late for anything!”
“Not at all. It was my day off. And I can’t imagine a lovelier way to have spent it than sitting here, talking to you.”
“That’s very kind of you to say.”
“I’m just curious,” Ryan says, gathering up his book in the brown paper bag Aziraphale supplies him, “what are your hours? I didn’t see them posted on the door. It would be nice to know, just in case my inner child convinces me to buy another book from my past.”
“This store is mainly a pet project of mine, so my hours are a little, shall we say, erratic ...”
“That’s adorable,” Ryan says.
“B-but …” Aziraphale stutters at the interruption “… I should be here tomorrow. Offhand I can’t think of any reason why I won’t be.”
“Excellent!” Ryan smiles, distinctly pleased as he squirrels his purchase behind him. “Then I’ll be back tomorrow. 2:30. Nice snake, by the way,” he says, pointing to a spot behind Aziraphale’s head. “Is it real?”
“Quite.” Aziraphale peeks over his shoulder, relieved to see that Crowley hadn’t slipped out of the bookshop and driven off without his noticing, but worried since he only transforms into a snake when he’s agitated.
And from the way he flicks his tongue, eyes wide, shifting uneasily in place, Aziraphale can tell he’s highly agitated.
That makes him dangerous.
“Uh, no …” Aziraphale walks Ryan to the door, eager to close up shop and get things with his husband ironed out. “Red-bellied black snake.”
The smile on Ryan’s face drops straight to his knees. “Aren’t those venomous?”
“Only if they bite you. Thank you so much for stopping by. See you tomorrow. Mind how you go.” Aziraphale practically tosses the poor man out onto the sidewalk but he has no way of explaining to him that it’s for his own good. Aziraphale barely has the locks thrown when he feels the snake rise up behind him, transforming into the human form of his demon husband.
“Ssso, isss thisss going to be a thing now?”
Aziraphale sighs. He loves his husband. He truly does. But he can be so temperamental sometimes, even for a demon. “Why whatever do you mean?”
“Men dropping by your ssshop and making eyesss at you? Eating up all your time?”
“One man.” Aziraphale chuckles. “And my dear, people stop by every day simply to throw themselves at you. Do I bat an eye?”
“But I don’t care about them. None of them make my voice go all quivery like that man made yours.”
“I do admit that maybe I got a little carried away,” Aziraphale confesses, putting a hand to his flushed cheek. “See, I’m not use to getting that sort of attention. It was nice for the moment, but I don’t think it’s something I could handle every day.”
“Yeah? And why’s that?”
“Because I’m afraid I’m not very good around people. I prefer the company of my books and my music … and my ill-tempered husband.”
“But that’s the kind of bloke you fancy, right?” Crowley presses. “Someone who talks to you about books and music, and dresses in expensive clothes …”
“You dress in the most expensive clothes I’ve ever seen!” Aziraphale points out with an incredulous laugh.
“You know what I mean!” Crowley says, gesturing with a frustrated hand. “His clothes have … ffffwwwpppp … colors in them!”
“I see. Yes, I guess that does make a difference.”
“I knew it.”
“Ugh! Listen to me, you stupid old snake!” Aziraphale loops his arms around Crowley’s neck, forcing his eyes on him. “The bloke I fancy, as you so eloquently put it, is the one who’s known me my entire existence. Who drinks with me and goes out to lunch with me. Who fights beside me and stays with me, even when I call him ridiculous. Who comes back even when he threatens to run away.” Crowley’s eyes drop to his feet, unable to look at his angel while he’s being reminded of his less-than-stellar attempt to persuade Aziraphale to abandon Earth and join him out in the stars … which ended with his saying he’d go off on his own and never think about him again. “I don’t care if we don’t talk about books. It’s enough that you sit beside me while I read and hold my hand. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Why in the world would you think I’d want someone else when I have the best possible person for me already?”
“’dunno.” Crowley shrugs. “All we do is hang out here lately. I think, maybe, I was afraid you might be getting bored with me. That tying yourself down to a domesssticated demon might not be what you signed up for.”
“Bored with you?” Aziraphale snorts. “After 6000 years, you think I’d get bored with you now? You seem to forget that during the decades we weren’t together, my time was spent here. You were the one jet-setting around the world. By rights, I think you should be getting bored with me. With my life.”
“Oh, no,” Crowley says, sliding closer. “You, my darling, could never get boring.”
Aziraphale raises a skeptical brow. “You forget, I’m much better at detecting sarcasm now than I was 6000 years ago.”
“That wasn’t sarcasm.” Crowley snakes his arms around his husband’s waist. “I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than here, wasting my days with you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that. But maybe it is time we take a vacation.”
“Yesss,” Crowley hisses happily. “Go to all the old haunts, relive the glory days.”
Aziraphale rolls his eyes. “Otherwise known as last month.”
“You pick first. We’ll go anywhere you want to go. We can pack up my Bentley and leave tonight.”
“Well, tomorrow night.”
Crowley grimaces. “Why tomorrow night?”
“Ryan said he’d be back at 2:30 tomorrow and ...”
Crowley grabs Aziraphale’s collar and (carefully) pushes him up against the nearest wall. He presses him there with his body, tries his hardest to be intimidating, but it doesn’t dim Aziraphale’s grin a single degree.
It never does.
“Not … funny … angel.”
“No?” Aziraphale’s gaze drifts to his husband’s lips the way it always seems to when Crowley has him in this position.
“No,” Crowley says, accepting the invitation of those baby blues and kissing his angel softly. “Not one little bit.”
“You can tell me all about it when we hit the road,” Aziraphale says. “And we’d better make it quick. We’re burning daylight.”