WARNING: Aboriginal or Torres Strait readers are advised that the following may contain the names of or references to deceased persons.
It is not often that a human is daring enough to lay a curse upon a supernatural entity. In fact, it has only happened twice in all of history: the first time was in the Australian outback, when Djalu, the leader of a small tribe camped out that night in the shadow of a gum tree grove, became so frustrated with a low-level demon that was harassing him* that he laid a curse on the demon on the spot. For the rest of eternity, the unfortunate demon would be hounded by a pack of spectral dingoes, which would bear the demon to the ground and consume it if they ever caught up**. Afterwards, Djalu might have been very pleased to hear that for several centuries Hell swore off Australia entirely, with the official party line being “We’ll just stay out of there, everything on that rock can kill you.”
[* Hell had given orders to the demon to terrorize the man and his people into paranoia and murdering one another. Unfortunately, they sent a minor crossroads demon to do the job, and said demon had less experience terrorizing and rather more experience engaging in long, boring, and convoluted negotiations, thus the trouble. ]
[** It was a really good curse, actually. The result was that the demon wandered Hell forever after at a brisk walk, unable to rest or stop, and would occasionally get eaten, mostly when Duke Hastur was in a Mood and felt like waylaying the other infernal just to watch the show. Theoretically, the curse could one day be broken, however the demon was never able to stand still long enough to talk to anybody that might have given them a hint. Dagon, being Lord of the Files, was well-aware of how to break said curse, but frankly she found it all very funny and was disinclined to help. ]
The second time someone cursed a supernatural entity, it was in the heat of the moment. Local principality and former Angel of the Eastern Gate (retired) A.Z. “Aziraphale” Fell was working in his bookshop, steadfastly guarding all of the books within against any kind of customer, when a witch came into his shop. He didn’t know she was a witch, unfortunately, because otherwise he might have avoided the entire series of events which would complicate the next few hours of his existence.
The witch was an unassuming older woman, dressed all in black as is traditional, although the massive lime green backpack and errant clumps of pet hair did something to offset the entire image. When she stepped into the shop, Aziraphale immediately noticed the pet hair and frowned imperceptibly. She’d hardly crossed the threshold when a clump broke loose, drifting off her coat-tail and down to the floor. He frowned less imperceptibly.
“I’m sorry,” he said, primly, “we were just closing.”
The woman’s eyebrows crept up, her brow furrowing. “Oh? Well, I won’t take more than a minute of your time, young man.” She strode to the register, and set her hands on the counter, folded neatly. Aziraphale couldn’t help but notice the silver rings that adorned every finger. Very occult, he thought, before dismissing the entire line of thinking. “I am looking for a very particular book, I was hoping you might have it.” A tuft of hair drifted off of her shawl. He scowled.
“We probably don’t, you could try the Waterstones down the street -”
“It’s a very old book,” she cut in, her voice firm. “Waterstones down the street will not carry it.” When Aziraphale didn’t respond, she elaborated. “It’s called ‘ The Fair Jilt ’. I’d like an early-edition copy for my husband.”
Aziraphale looked puzzled. “Interesting choice of book. I … do believe I have a second-edition copy of it somewhere, however. But I’m afraid the price -”
“Is?” she demanded.
“We only accept cash.”
“And you are asking how much?”
“Ah … £20,000.”
“Twenty thousand?” she asked, flatly. “You’re serious?”
“It’s very old,” he replied, muttering and defensive. “Very valuable.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and cocked a hip. “I don’t think it’s worth £20,000. I’m sure I could get it for less at auction.”
“Probably,” Aziraphale agreed. “Almost certainly, in fact. So I’d suggest you start there.”
“Listen.” She swung the backpack off her shoulder - more pet hair cascaded to the floor and Aziraphale cringed - and deposited it on the counter. “I have £5,000 in cash with me today. That’s more than a fair price for a second edition. I’m prepared to hand this cash over to you, in exchange for the book.”
“Good for you, but the price is still £20,000.” He stood up straighter, and fiddled with his cuffs. “I’m afraid the price is quite firm.” He sniffed. “I believe there is a rare books auction in two weeks’ time in Wales, if you’re so inclined, and they may have a copy there.”
“I would like it today .”
“And I would like £20,000.” He stared her down across the counter. “As I said, dear lady, the price is firm.”
She pursed her lips, and idly picked at the zippers on the backpack for a moment. “My dear husband …” she said, distantly. “He really would like this book very much.” Aziraphale didn’t respond. “Are you married, Mr. Fell?”
“I hardly see how that’s relevant,” but he moved to cover the ring on his left fourth finger, anyway. The woman noticed.
“My husband,” she said, her voice low, “fell in love with me during our English Literature class, years ago. We were reading The Fair Jilt . It was during a class discussion, a moment when our eyes met -”
“It sounds lovely, but as I said, we were just closing, and if you’re not going to be paying the price of the book I’m afraid our business here is done.”
“When did you fall in love?” she demanded as he rounded the counter toward her, prepared to bustle her out of the shop. “Do you remember the moment?”
“I don’t,” he replied, shortly. “Ma’am, please, I’m asking you to step outside. The store is now closed .”
She glared at him for a full ten seconds, before swiping her backpack off the counter and turning to storm towards the door. “What kind of person doesn’t remember the moment they fell in love?”
“This kind, it would seem. Have a splendid afternoon.” He propped open the door for her, gestured for her to step outside. “I do hope you find your discount rare book.” She stepped out of the shop and the door snapped shut. As the lock ground home, her eyes widened.
“The cheek!” She spun to the closed door, and raised her fist. “Never have I encountered such rudeness! You inconsiderate cretin!” She dropped her hand, the better to adjust the backpack on her shoulders. “Such nerve,” she grumbled. “Married … yes, sure . Can’t imagine what kind of person would put up with him.” She started back down the street the way she’d come. “And he doesn’t even remember falling in love.” She stopped, hands on the straps of her backpack, and stared fixedly at the sidewalk. “I wonder … was it a lie?”
There was an alley nearby, one of the many hidey-holes of London, and suddenly the woman spun on her heel to march down it, into the protected cubby offered by a dumpster. She grinned as she did so, pulling a stick of chalk out of her pocket. “Well, I suppose it won’t be now, hm?”
The routine these days, years after narrowly avoiding Armageddon, was well-established. Aziraphale worked at the shop three days each week, enough to justify keeping the storefront visible rather than miracleing it unnoticed: the days were Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Often on Tuesdays, Crowley would take him to the shop in the Bentley, and then spend the day out doing whatever it was Crowley did all day* before returning in the early evening to pick him up.
[* Most times, he could be found lurking in one of London’s many museums, posing as a guide and informing visitors of facts that sometimes were unexpected and true but usually, absolutely and completely ridiculously false. ]
The day the witch visited was a Tuesday. As was typical, at around five o’clock, the black Bentley rolled up in front of the shop, and Aziraphale stepped out of the doors. He locked up behind him, double-checked to make sure, and then joined Crowley in the front seat.
“Dinner tonight?” Crowley asked. It was a routine, it was comfortable, and Aziraphale didn’t need to think much when he responded in the affirmative. “Any suggestions?” He hummed and hawed as he thought it over for a minute, and after a moment’s thought and some quick directions, the Bentley was off, out of Soho and speeding toward the edge of the city, where there was a particularly unique little Italian place that Aziraphale sometimes had a craving for.
“Good day?” Aziraphale asked, noting the demon’s comfortable slouch and the cheerful Queen song playing on the radio. “Anything interesting?”
“Nah, just relaxed mostly. You?”
“Well, fairly good .” He made a face. “This positively unpleasant woman came in just before closing and insisted she be allowed to buy a book.”
Crowley gasped. “Oh, the nerve.”
“Mhm. I priced it quite out of her range, I’m sure, and then she started in on how that was surely too much to charge and the like.” He sighed. “I suppose it did have some sentimental value for her, but that’s quite irrelevant.”
“Is it?” He made a noise. “I’m sure one book wouldn’t kill you.” He looked over to Aziraphale, eyebrow raised. “What was the sentimental value?”
“Oh, something about her and her husband falling in love while studying the book in some class or another. She wanted to give it to him for their anniversary, I think.”
Crowley winced. “Ouch, Aziraphale. You couldn’t let her have that one?”
“I gave her alternative places to look for the book and - watch the road !” He lunged across the seat, toward the steering wheel, but Crowley had looked back and jerked the wheel to the right, narrowly avoiding the terrified pedestrian. “Oh, God.” He sank back and closed his eyes, took a few deep, soothing breaths. “Oh, Crowley. I do love you but I wish you would -” and then he stopped. His eyes got very wide, and he made an unusual noise. Crowley, eyes fixed on the road, fought down the urge to look over.
“What was I saying?” He frowned and shook his head. “I … did you hit someone?”
Crowley slowed down, the better to give Aziraphale a wary look. “No. Uh … you’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yes. Just -” he raised a hand to his temple. “Just a bit of a headache, I think. Hm.”
Crowley watched him for a minute more, before turning back to the road and accelerating to his usual highly-illegal speed. “Alright. Where did you want to go, again?” He rattled off the name of the restaurant they had agreed on earlier, and Crowley nodded. “Okay. Will do.”
If his head bothered him any more, Aziraphale didn’t say anything about it throughout dinner. He ate, as he usually did, with great enthusiasm, while Crowley watched and made a significant dent in the restaurant’s espresso supplies. Topics of conversation, as always, ranged from the mundane to the philosophical, from yesterday to last millennium. They were nearly through dessert, Crowley off on some rant about the food in eighth-century Germany, when Aziraphale, once again, got a strange look on his face.
“What?” Crowley pulled up mid-story, eyebrow raised. “What’s that look about?”
Aziraphale shook his head. “Oh, I … it’s just … you said I was the one who convinced you to eat at that tavern in the first place?”
“Yeah. Yeah, same thing you always do, where you act all innocent and then tempt me into some lunch .” He cocked his head. “You don’t remember?”
“I’m afraid I don’t.” He scowled. “It’s so strange, I remember being in Germany around that time, and I remember the tavern , which is even more strange, but I don’t remember ever being there with you.”
Crowley didn’t respond right away. He just stared at Aziraphale for a second, then looked to his coffee, and then tightened his hands around the cup. “I’ll try not to take that personally,” he mumbled, “seeing as it was before the Arrangement -”
“No, Crowley.” Aziraphale reached out, across the table, and grabbed Crowley’s wrist. “No, it’s not you, Crowley, you know how I feel, even before the Arrangement, in eighth century Germany, even. I love you -”
He stopped short again, rocking forward, elbows onto the table and hands clenched to his temples. A low, pained hiss slipped out between clenched teeth.
“Right, something’s wrong with you.” Crowley snapped, and they were back in the Bentley, under the dim glow of the streetlights, Aziraphale huddled with his head in his hands in the passenger seat. Crowley leaned over him, indelicately prying up one of the angel’s eyelids. Aziraphale swatted him away. “Did you get a concussion or something?”
“Of course not.” He glared at Crowley, one eye cracked open just wide enough to make his disapproval clear. “You didn’t pay. Or tip the waitress*.”
[* Although tipping is not as essential in the UK as it is in the States, Aziraphale had heard about the practice after one of Crowley’s jaunts across the pond, and thought it a rather nice idea. He’d taken it up since then, although since Crowley had never really been specific about the details of tipping, he assumed standard practice for decent service was 80%, a solid B, and Crowley had never bothered to check to see if that was correct. They were a very popular table at their local haunts, needless to say. ]
“It’s taken care of.” And, with a wave of his hand, it was. “What’s going on with you? Migraine? Cluster headache? Trigeminal neuralgia?”
“No - what? Trident what?” Crowley shrugged, his knowledge of neurology thoroughly exhausted. “No, it’s … it’s fading now, thank God.” He took a deep breath and leaned back into the seat, eyes still closed. “You’re right. Something’s wrong.”
Crowley nodded. “What?”
“I don’t really know.” Another deep breath. “I still can’t remember the tavern in Germany. Perhaps I was trying too hard, my head feels a bit fuzzy -”
Crowley thought about it, lips pursed. “You forget anything else?”
The angel did look at him them, flat and disbelieving. “Anything in particular?”
“I dunno, s’your memory.”
“I’m 6000 years old, Crowley, I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten.”
“Oh, honestly, I’m not doing this with you.” When Crowley continued to watch him, expectant, he huffed. “Yes, of course I remember Eden. I failed to stop you from inciting original sin and then gave away my sword. Bit hard to forget.”
“Okay, good. Good.” He slid back to the driver’s side, although he was still watching Aziraphale warily. Silence settled over the car. “The ark?”
“ Crowley .” And then he blinked. “The ark.” The only sound, for a long time, was the angel taking slow, deep breaths. “You were there. Before the ark left.”
“And on it.” He leaned in again. “You remember I was on it, right?”
Aziraphale was breathing deep, but Crowley could hear the shake in his voice. “Afraid not.”
“ Shit .” He wrenched the keys in the ignition, and pulled out of the parking lot, fishtailing around the turn onto the lane. “I had forty kids with me, Ziraphale, how could you forget that?”
“It’s awful.” He made a frustrated noise. “I know there should be a memory there, but I can’t … it won’t come to me.” In an uncharacteristic show of anger, he slapped the dashboard. “Bugger it!”
“Watch your profanity.” In spite of himself, in spite of everything, Crowley smirked, just for a second, before the expression fell back off his face and he turned solemn again, watching the road with concentration rarely seen while he was driving. “Nothing again, though?”
“Well, no, but it was hours between the first two.”
Crowley guided the car off of the road, tires bumping along the grassy shoulder for a few yards before the Bentley rumbled to a stop on the deserted stretch of country lane. He had barely put the car into park before he scrambled into Aziraphale’s lap, sniffing at his throat. “Dear,” Aziraphale started, trying to ignore the twinge that prompted between his eyes, “I hardly think this is the time.”
“Not that.” Slowly, he sniffed up Aziraphale’s throat and cheek, forked tongue flicking out and scenting the air as he went. As he drew even with the angel’s ear, he paused, and took a few extra seconds to re-scent. “Hang on.” And then his hands were on Aziraphale’s cheeks, not in a sweet, soft way that the angel had gradually become familiar with over the past few years, but in a firm, business-like sort of way that very clearly communicated, ‘ Don’t move .’ Crowley buried his nose in the angel’s white-blonde hair.
“I don’t suppose this is the new shampoo?”
He didn’t deign to answer, instead taking a few deep whiffs of scalp before resting his angular chin on the crown of Aziraphale’s head and letting his tongue flick out a few more times. Then, in the silence of the car, he hissed. Had Aziraphale been human, he probably would have bolted for the hills at that point. It wasn’t a very nice hiss: having been around the Serpent of Eden for the past 6000-odd* years, the former Guardian of the Eastern Gate had gotten rather more familiar with the wide-ranging variety of hisses Crowley was capable of both in and out of snake form. Hisses, Aziraphale had found, could be surprisingly emotive.
[* Very odd, at times. This being one of them .]
This one, for example, suggested that if the source of said hiss were to find a convenient target any time in the next few minutes, that target would suddenly find itself with two brand-new puncture wounds and a bloodstream full of Hellfire and all-natural anticoagulant.
Instead, he asked, in his most steady and mild tone, “Something wrong?”
Crowley slid back to his side of the car and, very deliberately, shifted back into drive. “Curssssssse.”
“You’re hissing, love. Argh!” He leaned over as he cried out, which rather unfortunately prompted Crowley to stomp on the brakes, causing Aziraphale’s already-sore head to bonk into the dash. “Ow, bless it, Crowley! You don’t have to add insult to injury!”
“Sorry! Sorry, just …” Behind the sunglasses, Crowley’s eyes were wide, full of fear and panic. “What’s gone this time?”
“I don’t bloody well know, do I?” Aziraphale grumbled, rubbing the lump already forming on his scalp until the swelling thought twice and receded. “Eden, that time in Mesopotamia when, ah, in the desert … don’t remember you being at the ark … did I see you between then and Yeshua?”
Crowley thought it over. “Yes. Twice. Not for very long either time, though.” He waved a hand. “Ran into each other on business.”
“Yes! Yes, I remember! Yes, Cairo, when they completed the pyramid, and then again in Athens, what, 1000 years later?”
“Can you believe we used to go that long without seeing each other?” Crowley frowned. “Whole millennia!”
“I can’t,” answered Aziraphale, completely honestly. “But yes, I do recall. And then Golgotha, I remember that -” he wished he didn’t “- and the oysters in Rome …”
“I couldn’t ever forget that awful armor,” he mumbled in reply. “I hope that never makes a comeback.”
“Agreed.” He wriggled his nose thoughtfully as he watched Aziraphale, the Bentley idling quietly on the roadside, awaiting instructions. “Anything after that sticking out?”
“No, although … everything’s just so foggy .” He shook his head, as if trying to clear out purely-metaphorical cobwebs. “Especially as time goes on, the middle ages isn’t so bad, I remember the fourteenth century -”
“ Urgh .”
“- Yes, I know, but then Shakespeare.” He blinked. “We saw some of Shakespeare’s plays together more than once, didn’t we?”
“Way more, yeah.”
He winced and raised his hand to his temple. “Yes, we did. Macbeth, I saw that alone, you never liked the gloomy ones.”
“I saw Hamlet with you. Sort of.”
Aziraphale’s face fell. “Ah. That’s the one.” He looked over, sheepish and frightened . Crowley could have whimpered if he hadn’t at that moment needed to be the strong one. “They’re all memories with you.”
“I’d noticed.” He looked back out of the front of the car, away from Aziraphale, his mouth twisted into a snarl. “You didn’t see any angels recently or anything, did you?”
Crowley shook his head. “Right. Let’s think about this. It’s happened three times now - what started it?” He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “First time was after I picked you up at the shop.”
Aziraphale shifted through his own recollection, which was hazy - the process of trying to recall the conversation was tiring, like he was swimming through sludge or running in sand. He blinked. “We talked about the restaurant. I gave you directions, you started driving, we were having a conversation, and then it just happened.”
“About the lady at the shop.” Crowley nodded. “Right, and then you criticized my driving right before it happened.”
“Yes. Yes, and then the second time, at the restaurant …” He shook his head. “I wasn’t criticizing you that time, was I?”
“Nah. Reassuring me, more like.”
“Although the third time -”
“Love.” Crowley’s eyes widened. “Love!”
“What about it?”
“First time, when you criticized my driving, you said ‘ I love you, but’ . Second time, you were saying it wasn’t me, not personal, you love me. Third time, you called me ‘love’.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to speak, to point out that that would be a very strange curse indeed, but Crowley clapped his hand over his mouth instead, and his voice died away with a surprised and muffled little noise.
“Don’t talk. You never know. Something happens when you say the word love.”
“That can’t be it.” The angel pushed the demon’s arm away, and frowned at his own knees, hands folded in his lap. “No, it’s not, because I can say love just fine without anything happening.” He ignored Crowley’s squeak of indignant panic. “See? Love. I love, you love, he/she/it loves.” He got a bit bolder. “I love crepes, I love sushi, I love a good book, I love a nice night in when the weather’s poor, I love magic.” He shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s not the word love, my dear boy.” He winced, and rubbed his eye with the heel of his hand.
“Just a twinge. Not like the other times.” He looked to Crowley. “Could you tell anything about the curse?”
“Nah, just that it was there. You’re sure you didn’t see any angels today?”
“Who else would curse an angel, though?” Crowley shifted discontentedly. “No demons?”
“And it’s something with the word love. Gotta be.”
Aziraphale thought it over, his head aching terribly the entire time. “I think … Is it something when I talk about you, specifically?” They shared a look. “It is,” he said, as Crowley nodded. “It is when I talk about you. When I say -”
“Best not.” The demon sat back. “Right. Right, well, next step, I suppose, is figure out how to break it.” He fumbled for his phone, patting his pockets until he realized he must have tossed the thing onto the dashboard at some point. “Call Anath -”
“No!” Aziraphale leaned over, the better to swipe at the screen of the phone and try to abort the call*. “No, just … let’s think this over. Don’t bother her at this hour.”
[* This was fairly fruitless, since Crowley used voice recognition mostly, but the effort was there just the same .]
“It’s eight at night,” Crowley pointed out, reproachful.
Aziraphale huffed. “And she is with child.”
“ Barely .”
“The point stands.” He tugged at his waistcoat, the worn fabric comfortable and reassuring under his hands. “Right. I could try to break it, if we could go back to the shop and find the right book. Oh, but I’m not certain the books are … Well, I took some of the more occult ones to the cottage when we moved, so perhaps there? Oh, bother.” He rested his chin on his hand, tapping his lips idly. “I’m afraid I don’t have any idea of where to start.”
Crowley had been quietly watching him as he’d pondered it over and, when Aziraphale seemed content to think quietly for a moment, he added, very quietly, “Angel, if we break it ourselves, we might never figure out who did it in the first place.” He put the Bentley into drive, and pulled onto the road, before executing a neat three-point turn and starting to navigate back north, toward London.
“What’s that? Crowley, d - uh, Crowley. I said I wasn’t certain the right book would be at the shop.”
“No, I heard that.” There was something about his tone that made Aziraphale feel a little worried. Perhaps the underlying cheer, the calm, or the way that he was smiling now, half a grimace, his sunglasses flashing in the streetlights. “But you weren’t cursed when I dropped you off this morning, and you were cursed when I picked you up. So at some point , while you were at work, someone cursed you.”
“Well, yes, but Crowley, I don’t really think it’s necessary to find whoever did the curse in the first place tonight.”
“Why not? So they can come back and finish it off tomorrow? No, we’ll find them tonight.”
Aziraphale opened his mouth to argue, had a retort prepared and on the tip of his tongue, but then he took a long look at Crowley and thought better of it. Tonight then. And he would go along, just to be sure nothing too … demonic took place. “But we don’t have the faintest of who could have done it, dear boy.” He yelped, and sat back, eyes screwed shut. “Oh, that was hardly a love confession ,” he grumbled to the unseen curse. “I call everyone that.”
“Might be the way you said it, intention behind it, you know. Mystical stuff.” Crowley pulled onto the highway. “So who did you see today?”
“No one. Well, no one I knew. A few browsers came into the shop.” Aziraphale never used the word ‘customers’. ‘Customers’ inferred he might consider selling something to them. No, ‘browsers’ was better, more apropos. “I didn’t recognize any of them.”
“What about that woman at the end of the day? That wanted the book?”
“What about her?”
“Maybe her?” Crowley glanced over, and when he caught Aziraphale’s flat expression of disbelief, he shrugged. “I dunno, just throwing it out there. You probably didn’t land in her good graces.”
“She was a perfectly ordinary woman. Well, a bit rude, but aside from that she was perfectly ordinary.” They drove in silence for a moment. “How do you intend to find the person?”
“Sniff ‘em out, I suppose.” He hummed along with the music for a bit. “I mean, I can pick up on ill-intent and malice, right? And if I know who it originated from I could track it.”
“Even if you’ve never seen the person before?”
Crowley shrugged. “It’ll be easier if I find where she put the curse on you.”
“I do think it’s a bit rude you keep assuming it’s the same woman,” Aziraphale pointed out.
“Well, angel, let me narrow down what we know.” Aziraphale winced and pressed himself back into the seat, hands braced on the door and Crowley’s arm, because Crowley himself had taken both hands off the steering wheel, the better to tick his points off on his fingers. “One, the curse was placed on you some time today. Two, you were rude to a very determined woman today. Three, you denied her the book she was looking for that would remind her of times with her love and four, every time you say anything even approaching a confession of genuine affection toward me, you lose some memory of the two of us.”
Silence. Well, mostly; there was the sound of the Bentley rumbling down the road, of course, and the smooth caress of Crowley’s hands as he took hold of the wheel once again, and the ever-present soft background of Freddy Mercury - it’s you, who helps me forgive - but neither spoke for a moment. Aziraphale swallowed, his bow tie bobbing up and down with his Adam’s apple as he did. “You know, Crowley,” he said at last, as the buildings surrounding grew taller and the traffic thicker, “you really are quite perceptive, sometimes.”
“Well,” Crowley hedged, suddenly bashful. “I can be. When I need to. When it directly involves me or, ah … things that are important to me.”
In the rearview mirror, Aziraphale could just catch a glimpse of his own reflection as he leaned over, cheeks pink and lines at the corners of his eyes crinkled up. He took Crowley’s hand off the wheel, twined his fingers through the demon’s, and let their hands come to rest against Crowley’s hip. “That’s … well. Best not to say.”
“Gotcha,” said Crowley, and he gave Aziraphale’s hand a little squeeze. Seconds later, when Crowley swerved between two cars on the highway, barely zipping through the gap without hitting anything, Aziraphale squeezed back, although it was not loving or gentle, and might have broken a human’s bones. Fortunately, his demon was not human.
“Maybe,” Crowley said, as they slowed just enough to take a turn without rolling over, “there’ll be a clue in the memories you lost.”
“Maybe.” Aziraphale paled under the lights of oncoming traffic. “Oh, dear. I do hope … well, do you think if the curse is broken I might get them back?”
That seemed to not have occurred to Crowley, because his frown deepened to a scowl when Aziraphale asked. “You’d better,” he concluded. “Else I really will be having a word with this person. You can wait in the car.”
“I might do just that.” He thought about it, eyes closed, and willed himself not to be motion sick from the combination of closing his eyes and Crowley’s driving. “So the three memories are an apparent dinner we had in Germany in 8th century, being on the ark with you - I remember the rest of it just fine - and seeing Hamlet with you for the first time.”
“So gloomy,” Crowley murmured. “Never would have got off the ground if I hadn’t pulled that miracle for you.” Aziraphale’s mouth dropped open into a surprised little gape. “What? You think of something?”
Aziraphale nodded, and looked to Crowley urgently. “Only that! That miracle you did to make Hamlet a success.”
“What about it?”
Aziraphale looked away, although he didn’t let go of Crowley’s hand. “All of those memories, Crowley, the three of them, were all moments in our ah …” He thought hard about how to put this, considering what he would be trying to say. “In our association -” but even that caused a twinge of pain at his temples “- when I realized just how very -” He stopped, because Crowley shushed him. When he looked over, he could tell Crowley was wide-eyed and worried in spite of the glasses.
“Not another word,” Crowley said quietly.
He nodded. “Best not, you’re right.” He relaxed, too, because Crowley pulled his hand up to his face and took a beat to kiss the angel’s knuckles.
“Know what you meant, though.”
“I’m very glad for it.”
“When this is all over … you think we could go through some of the, ah, other memories that might be endangered at the moment?”
“If you like.” In spite of himself, Aziraphale grinned. “It might be rather a long list.”
Crowley shrugged. “I can make the time.”
They rode the rest of the way to the bookshop with only the sounds of the car and the crooning of Freddy to fill the silence between them. Well, that and the inordinate amount of soppy, unspoken affection between the two. It wasn’t unpleasant, but Aziraphale was still relieved when the Bentley finally parked in front of his shop and Crowley released his hand, the better to leap out and stalk toward the doors. He hadn’t even made it halfway across the sidewalk when he stopped and grimaced. Aziraphale climbed out behind him. “Already?” he asked, closing the door and patting the car absently on the hood. The lights faded out and the engine might have sighed, if it could have*.
[* It could, and it did. Sighing was not a factory-installed component of the Bentley 3.5L, but after spending nearly 100 years in the company of a demon, the Bentley had picked up a few extra add-ons that hadn’t been standard in the 1920s. ]
“Can’t be sure,” Crowley said, stalking up the stairs and swinging the door to the shop open. “But someone out there was angry - oh, yes.” He stood in front of the register where the woman had been mere hours before, hands in his pockets, head back and eyes closed, forked tongue flicking in and out, scenting the air. “Yes, they were here first. I can’t believe you can’t feel it, angel. It’s strong .”
Aziraphale stood politely in the doorway, hands clasped in front of himself. “I could certainly tell she was upset when she left.”
“Yeah, but that’s not a patch on this.”
“Do you think you can find her?”
Crowley scented the space in front of the checkout desk a few more times, and then nodded. “Think so. Come on, angel.” He grabbed Aziraphale’s hand as he walked by. Bemused, Aziraphale followed, pausing only to pull the door to the shop closed and listen as the lock obligingly clicked itself closed. That done, Crowley hung a left, weaving with long legs through the crowd and down the street with Aziraphale at his side. “She went here -”
“Really, you don’t know it was the woman from the end of the day.”
“Not for certain, but I can surmise.” They turned into an alley. Aziraphale skirted the dumpster there with clear disdain, although he did spare a little wave at the familiar rat dragging a slice of pizza away towards their base in the old cellar below the bookshop. She squeaked in reply, her little voice muffled by the pizza. Aziraphale was so busy smiling at her, wondering if she would appreciate or take offense at a miracle to just transport the pizza for her, that he didn’t notice until he walked into Crowley’s shoulder that the demon had stopped.
“What - oh.” On the wall, a circle and a series of complex sigils was still glowing faintly in the evening light, as if drawn with radium. The smell of flowers lingered in the air, although the wind and the alley traffic - rats or humans or cats or whatever - had long since scattered any petals there might have been. In the center of the circle, there was a crude drawing of a person, presumably Aziraphale judging by the curls drawn where hair ought to be, but the intent was clear enough. He recognized it: a spell to forget love. Aziraphale reached out a hand, and made to smudge a few of the sigils, but Crowley stopped him.
“Give me a minute.”
“But I could break the curse. Have this all over with, and -” he studied the sigils, brow furrowed “- and yes, if I smudge that one there first , I’ll be able to add another there …” He patted his pockets for the stick of chalk he usually carried. “I should be able to get my memories back, if I just … now, where did that chalk go?”
“Well and good, angel, well and good, but not until I have a chance to get a fix on who did this.” And then, unceremoniously, Crowley vanished, replaced by a long red-and-black snake which reared up and started to sway back and forth in front of the circle, tongue flicking repeatedly in and out. The rat, only halfway across the alley with her pizza at this point, fled. Aziraphale absently waved a hand and the pizza vanished, re-appearing in the rats’ bunker a few yards away.
For a few minutes, Aziraphale watched, and eventually Crowley slowed. Calmed. There was a stillness before he transformed again, and a slick noise that always reminded Aziraphale of flesh on silk sheets, and then Crowley was standing there, hands in his pockets, like he hadn’t just shape-shifted in the middle of an alley. He sniffed. “Got it. Do your thing, angel.”
“Shouldn’t we go?” He gestured to the mouth of the alleway. “Before - ah - before you lose the scent?”
“I’m a demon, not a bloodhound. It’ll hold.” He put a hand out toward the drawing. “You said smudge this one?” Aziraphale nodded, and Crowley drug his palm across the chalk line, rubbing the meticulously-drawn symbol into nothing more than an inert white smear on the brickwork. “Right, get them back. You really have to remember that tavern in Germany: I told you this joke and I don’t think I’d ever seen you laugh so hard, and I can’t quite remember the punchline but you really liked it .”
With a nod, Aziraphale set about drawing a new sigil just to the right of the one Crowley had rubbed away. This symbol was more intricate, more careful, and it glowed not with the sickly pale yellow light the rest of the circle had, but with a rich gold. Gently, careful not to smudge the chalk, Aziraphale traced a finger clockwise around the circle itself, and then said a few words. Golden, blindingly-bright light blazed forth, and Crowley jumped away, backing up until his shoulders bumped into the alley wall opposite.
It was beautiful, even if it was Holy enough that Crowley felt distinctly uncomfortable being near it. And then, unceremoniously and perhaps even with a hint of a grin, Aziraphale snorted and spat onto the crude drawing of himself in the center of the circle. Crowley made a face. “Eugh.”
“Yes, yes. Not the most dignified way to target the spell, but definitely the fastest. Now …” He made another mark with the chalk, this time through the line of the circle, and said something else, something soft and ancient in a language Crowley hadn’t heard anyone besides Aziraphale speak in an eternity. The gold light suffused the alleyway, just for a minute*, and a warmth oozed through Crowley’s bones. Aziraphale’s too, if his happy sigh and contented expression were of any indication. And then, as suddenly as it had started, it was gone. The two of them stood in the alley, watching each other.
[* Although no one in the street would remember that part, in a few minutes. That is, if they had even bothered to assume it was anything other than two men playing with an LED light behind a dumpster for some reason .]
Aziraphale was the first to move. He grinned, and he laughed, and he patted Crowley on the shoulder. “Yes, it was a very good joke.”
Crowley felt the tension that he’d been holding across the top of his shoulders ease, and he returned the angel’s smile, his own grin crooked and lazy and easy. “Knew you’d like it. You did when I told it, anyway. Or you acted like it.”
“It was very genuine, my dear boy.” And then he kissed Crowley square on the lips. It was a surprise, and the demon made a very un-demonic squeaking noise when they first connected, but when his brain caught up with the physical world he thought, Oh, well this is alright then , and relaxed into it. “Shall I try it again?”
“Try what?” he murmured between kisses, his long fingers finding their way to Aziraphale’s hips. “Your shop’s just over there, we should -”
“I love you.” The both stopped and looked at each other, Crowley’s eyes wide enough to catch the light from the street and shine behind his glasses, and Aziraphale’s half-lidded and placid. “There we are. I love you, and that’s that.”
“Not a twinge.”
“Oh. Good,” he said, and he leaned down for another kiss. “You know,” he went on, breaking apart from Aziraphale and letting his forehead rest against the angel’s, “we ought to keep moving if I’m going to be able to find this witch.”
Aziraphale sighed. “We could forget about whoever cast the curse. I could do a very light smiting from here, just with this sigil.”
Crowley blinked. “Easy, tiger. Bit much, don’t you think?”
“No, no, not that kind of smiting. Put a blight on their houseplants, or something.”
“ Woah . Uncalled for.” He raised a hand to his chest and feigned shock. “And they say I’m the demon.”
“It’s practically my duty as an angel.” He frowned. “Even if I am retired. That was a cruel curse to put on someone, can you imagine if we were human?”
“Which is why I think a bit of menacing wouldn’t go amiss, yes?” He offered his elbow to Aziraphale, who frowned up at him for a moment before he sighed and looped his arm through. “Practically my duty as a demon,” he added, as they stepped out of the alley. Crowley paused then, glanced left and right, licked his lips, before he finally strode off further down the street, away from the bookshop.
Aziraphale kept pace, taking note of the twists and turns Crowley led them through on their walk through London. It was a long walk, and Aziraphale was just beginning to wonder if they shouldn’t have possibly taken the Bentley instead of following on foot, even if it meant stopping every so often to ensure they were on the trail, when Crowley stopped abruptly in front of a building. And hissed.
“Good girl, Lassie,” Aziraphale said. It earned him a dirty look, but no more than that.
“In there.” He bounded up the stairs to the entrance, Aziraphale tagging along behind, and held the door for the angel. “In you go.”
“Where am I going?” Crowley paused.
“Good point,” he said then, and ducked in ahead of Aziraphale. “Right. Up the stairs and then … again, and then here .” They drew even with a battered door, possibly wooden and possibly not, and Crowley raised his hand to knock. Before he could, Aziraphale placed a staying hand on his wrist.
“Do be gentle.”
The look Crowley gave him over the rims of his glasses would have been intimidating enough, Aziraphale thought, even without the snake eyes. He frowned. “We’ll see.” Crowley knocked.
It was a moment or two before the door opened. Behind it, they could hear someone talking, indistinct at first and then more clearly as they approached the door. “- you don’t have to stew it for that long, it’s just an hour or so that you can boil it and -” The door opened. The woman standing there - and yes, Aziraphale realized, his frown deepening, it was her - froze.
“Uh,” she said, at last.
Crowley smiled in a not-very-nice way. “Mind if we have a word?”
Her eyes darted from Aziraphale, to Crowley, to Aziraphale, to the apartment behind her. “This isn’t … this isn’t because you changed your mind about the book, is it?”
“Didn’t think so.” She nodded, and looked back to Crowley. “You’re a wizard?”
“Definitely not. I’m not that nice.” His smile grew thinner, more acidic, and she took a step back into her apartment.
“I don’t invite you in,” she said, voice shaking, and then her hand darted out and she grabbed a container of salt. In a smooth, practiced movement - had she done this before? Oh, dear - she poured a line of salt across the threshold. Crowley scowled at it. “Stay out there, whatever-you-are.”
“I was going to anyway,” the demon grumbled. “I just wanted a word .”
“Uh-huh.” Emboldened by her salt line, she stood up a little straighter. “This is your husband, then?” She addressed Aziraphale, her arms crossed over her chest. “I must have got the sigils wrong; you should have forgotten him entirely.”
It was Aziraphale’s turn to smile now, and although he had the sort of face that was made for warm, comforting smiles, he nevertheless was capable of quite drawn ones when the situation called for it. This situation being just one such instance. “Actually, it was quite a good spell. It would have worked wonderfully, on a human.”
Her face fell. “Oh, no.”
Idly, Aziraphale reached out a foot and smudged the salt line, brushing some of it off to the side before he stood straight again and tapped the toe of his shoe a few times on the floorboards, shaking the remaining salt loose. “Yes. Quite.”
Crowley leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed, shoulders slouched like they had just run into an old friend and were having a casual catch-up. “Throw curses around often, do you?” He jerked his chin toward the back of the flat, presumably the kitchen, from which the sounds of cooking were coming. “Your better half know about it, hm?”
“Yes.” She stepped back again, swallowed, and moved to slam the door. Aziraphale caught it with a hand and the door froze. She tried again, but it didn’t budge. “I could call him in -” He made a show of sighing, and shooting Crowley a look.
“There will be no need - as he said, we’d just like to talk. Now, in regards to the curse you attempted this afternoon, I’m inclined to let you off with a warning.”
“First offense, and all,” Crowley added.
“Yes, dear, quite right. However , I would strongly advise that, in the future, you take the effects of your magic under more careful consideration, hm?” He tutted. “A curse like that, a memory curse, is a terrible cruelty. And to cast it so carelessly, with such flimsy justification?” He shook his head. “Fortunately, we are the forgiving sort.”
Crowley flashed his fangs. “He issss.” The woman gasped. “Lucky you.”
“Now, dear.” Aziraphale patted him on the arm, made a show of smiling soppily up at him. “As I was saying, we are the forgiving sort, so on this occasion I’m inclined to look the other way. That said …” He steepled his fingers and leaned in a little, still smiling broadly. Somehow, that smile on the angel’s friendly face was more terrifying than Crowley’s fangs had been. “Going forward, I think it would be best if you limit your magic to less vindictive circumstances, yes?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“After all, we are to love one another, are we not? Magic and the understanding thereof is a gift granted to few, and to use such power for petty personal gain is at best unbecoming and at worst, well.” He stood straight, and for just a moment, a halo of light might have glinted around his head. “Practically sinful, I should think. And I’m sure you’re not as bad as all that.”
“No, sir,” she replied, shaking her head slowly back and forth. “Yes you’re … you’re right. I’m sorry.”
“Hmph,” said Crowley.
“May you be forgiven,” said Aziraphale. He sniffed the air, and smiled even more broadly, easy and relaxed. “And may you have a wonderful meal. It smells positively scrumptious.”
She blinked. “Uh? Oh. Uh. Thank … you?” She opened and closed her mouth a few times, obviously unsure of how to proceed. “I … would you like to come in and have some?”
“Oh, we couldn’t possibly impose.”
“We already ate.” Crowley stood straight and moved to Aziraphale’s side, leaning one bony elbow on the angel’s shoulder. “More’s the pity.”
Aziraphale looked to Crowley, nodded, and then turned that beautiful, awful smile back on the woman. “Very well. That was all - I think we’ll be going now. Ah! No, there was one more thing, can’t believe I almost forgot. My good lady, don’t ever let me see you in my bookshop ever again .” He clasped his hands and nodded encouragingly. “Am I understood?” She nodded mutely. “Very well. That was all. Have a lovely evening.” He turned away, catching Crowley’s hand in his own as he did. “Come on you old serpent,” he said, just loud enough to be heard.
The were halfway back down the stairs when they heard the door slam. “You know,” Crowley said conversationally, “every time I think I couldn’t possibly find you any more fantastic, you go and prove me wrong?” He laughed. “I barely had to do a thing back there!”
“It really was a very nasty curse. The terrible effects on myself aside, as a force of good in Soho I certainly can’t stand for that kind of malice in my neighborhood. And it wasn’t all that difficult to address, was it? Just a conversation.”
“Now I understand why the mafia leaves you alone,” Crowley answered in an amazed sort of tone. They exited the building together, still hand-in-hand, before Crowley said anything else. “You think she’ll try anything like that again?”
And then, with a sense of comedic timing that only occurs in books, films, and around supernatural beings who have certain expectations about the way the world should work, a window opened and a crystal ball was forcefully launched out of it, plummeting down to the alley next to the apartment building and shattering into a million shards on the pavement.
“Doubtful,” said Aziraphale.
Crowley laughed a little, dropping Aziraphale’s hand only to wrap his arm around his companion’s shoulders. “With all that business at the restaurant, you didn’t get any dessert, angel.”
“You’re right.” His face fell. “Ah, well. I suppose I have some biscuits back at the cottage.”
“Talk about spoiling the night.” Crowley heaved a rather dramatic sigh. “Witches, am I right? But you know, I’m thinking about it, and if we head back down this street instead of how we came -” he went on, steering Aziraphale along, “- I think there might be that little patisserie we used to go to sometimes with the fiddly little macaroons or whatever.” He waved a hand. “Little sandwich biscuit things. Macarons or macaroons? Which is the one with the sandwich?”
“Macarons, Crowley.” He leaned into the demon and allowed himself a happy little sigh of contentment. “What a lovely coincidence. I’m so glad you remembered.”
“Yeah. Me too.”