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The Demon's Fun Day Out at the Park with a Picnic

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Alan wasn't afraid of Nick the way other people were, but he was still afraid. He thought that one day Nick was going to do something terrible with his powers, and that no matter what he did, he wouldn't be able to fix it. Nick understood that. He'd done things Alan thought were terrible without meaning to upset Alan, because he didn't know how to be human and both of them knew it. As fears went, Alan's were reasonable.

He was still wrong.

Even unfettered, all Nick really wanted was to make Alan happy. He didn't think about this too hard, not with words, because no one had ever given Nick the words for it. Nick was fine with this. The world had been a bigger, freer place before Alan and Dad had taught Nick words and made all the words mean something. Nick liked that wanting Alan to be happy didn't come with words, because when he said, "He's my brother," or "Sometimes I try to be human for you," he was saying things that only covered a little of the vast, free space in which Alan was his and Nick was going to make everything okay.

This scared Alan too, whenever Nick tried to explain it, so mostly Nick didn't say anything, the way both of them sometimes liked it.

If Nick had known how to say it, though, he would have told Alan that Alan didn't need to be afraid Nick would enchant or possess humans in order to make Alan's life better, because he understood now that this made Alan unhappy. He would have told Alan that Alan needn't worry about Nick wanting to set other demons free, or about raining down fire and terror on the world, or doing any of the things Nick had done and delighted in doing over the millennia when he had been only Hnikarr. Nick was different now. He thought of kingdoms ravaged to desert because magician-kings had summoned him without laying the proper wards, and he only felt restless, because there were so many things about him that Alan could never know.

If Nick had known how to say it, he would have told Alan that all he wanted was a day out in some park. In London, maybe: St. James', because there were lots of bookshops there, so Alan might go to one beforehand and pick up books to read over their picnic lunch. The lunch would be made by Alan, of course, and they would eat it on the old checkered blanket that had survived all their moves so far. Mae and Jamie could come on the picnic too, because by now the way Alan and Mae acted around each other was interesting rather than irritating, and because Jamie mildly amused Nick and would compliment Alan on the food.

"That cloud looks like a rabbit," Jamie would say, and Alan would make some joke about the cloud next to it looking like a tortoise. Nick would think of pointing out they were just clouds, mostly in order to irritate Jamie and Mae by being literal, but instead he would try to think of something himself, and say, "That one looks like a sheep," without actually looking at the sky, because if he looked up, he'd miss the brilliant smile on Alan's face.

After lunch, Mae and Jamie would go back home to their mother, and all three of them would be safe and happy, because Nick would be watching them. Nick and Alan, meanwhile, would collect the remains of their picnic and go strolling along the path by the pond, feeding the last of the bread to passing ducks -- or, at least, Alan would feed them, and Nick would stay far enough away from the pond that the ducks would dare come near for scraps. Alan would be able to keep up easily with Nick, and wouldn't ever get stiff or sore or tired from all the walking.

That was where everything fell apart, of course. Alan always said no when Nick offered to fix his leg, and he always became calmer and more patient the angrier Nick became. Nick knew that none of them were safe enough for a picnic: not him, not Alan, and certainly not the Crawfords. He couldn't make it happen. A safe day out with the only people in the world that Nick liked, the only people who were his, and Nick couldn't do it unless every magician in England was dead, every magician in the United Kingdom, in Europe, in the whole damn world, and when that was done the other demons would lose their doorways and come for him, and they would never be safe.

Nick thought all this and scowled at his reflection in the window. They were driving to a new place today, which would be no safer than the old one.

"If you could be anywhere," Alan said quietly over the radio, in that hopeful voice he got on those rare occasions that he tried to engage Nick in games to pass the time in the car, "where would you be?"

Nick didn't know what Alan expected him to say. Nick didn't know what Alan wanted him to say. Nick still didn't really know how to say anything but the truth, though, so he said, "I'd be in a park with you and Mae and Jamie, having a picnic."

From the look on Alan's face, Alan hadn't expected Nick to say that, nor even known it was what he wanted to hear. He was smiling, just as brilliantly as Nick thought he would if the picnic was real.

After a moment, Nick smiled back.