Crowley had certain expectations about working in America. Like the fact that people would probably politely thank him for damning them; or the fact that everyone drove everywhere and if he got a decent spot of road rage going he could be amused for hours; or the fact that he would, for once, get to eat his own desserts. It was one of the hazards of going to eat with Aziraphale. He’d barely have got one forkful of whatever dessert it was into his mouth when the thing would be begged or more usually simply stolen from him. He never complained about this for a number of reasons. First, he knew the angel was too embarrassed to order a second dessert for himself not matter how happy he was to eat Crowley’s, and Crowley was more than happy to encourage him to hypocrisy and theft. Second, it gave him the opportunity to give Aziraphale a look of amused condescending pity, which he knew drove the angel mad. Not that it stopped him, the cake-thieving bastard. Third, Aziraphale served as an object lesson for what happened if one lost all self-control and started eating too much dessert. It wasn’t that Crowley didn’t have a healthy appetite, but he liked looking good more.
On this fine morning, Crowley had other expectations. He’d been back and forth across the country, causing havoc, making pictures of the Holy Family appear on tortillas, stirring up bigotry and hatred and encouraging people who were so rich that they would never be able to actually count all their money agitate for tax cuts that came straight from the tiny budget allocated to looking after the destitute. Now, he wanted to kick back and enjoy the finer aspects of American culture. Specifically, he wanted to go to Disneyland. He wanted to go on the rides, he wanted to eat a disgusting amount of candy floss and then go on a roller coaster so he could test his theory that he had a cast iron stomach, he wanted to buy overpriced kitsch and make Aziraphale wear it or display it. Most of all, he wanted to tempt Mickey Mouse into committing acts of public depravity with Goofy.
He finally got to the head of the queue, and gave his most evil smile to the cashier, who recoiled in terror.
When he left at the end of a long and perfectly satisfying day hysterical holiday makers were hanging upside down from derailed roller coasters, weeping children were begging their parents to explain why Mickey and Goofy had been hauled off by the cops, there wasn’t a wisp of candy floss left in the place, (1) and he had a large variety of tasteless tat to inflict on Aziraphale. That night he slept the sound and peaceful sleep of the unjust who’ve got away with absolute murder.
The next morning Crowley was rudely awakened by his radio alarm.
“CROWLEY. CROWLEY. DO NOT THINK YOU CAN IGNORE US, CROWLEY.”
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM HOLDING IN MY HANDS, CROWLEY? YOUR LAST SUBMITTED TRAVEL EXPENSES. PERHAPS YOU CAN EXPLAIN THE SECTION WHERE YOU STATE THAT DUE TO DOCTOR’S ORDERS YOU MUST TRAVEL FIRST CLASS?”
Crowley sat up, fast. Shit. Accounts were on to him. Again.
“Ah. Well. There’s a terrible risk of developing deep vein thrombosis on long flights, and, er, ah – first class has more leg room and, um, wider aisles to walk round in. It’s terribly important to walk round during a flight, you see. Anyway, doctors do recommend that, so I thought, well then, first class is the only safe way to fly, and -.”
“YOU HAVE WINGS, CROWLEY. WHY PRECISELY WOULD YOU TAKE HUMAN TRANSPORTATION AT ALL?”
He glared at the radio in hatred. Penny pinching, small-minded accountants were the same everywhere.
“It’s a very long flight. I wouldn’t have been fit to start work for days if I’d flown myself. It’s actually cheaper to pay for the first class ticket than to pay the extra on the hotel bill -.”
“AH YES. THE HOTEL BILLS,” the radio said unctuously. “WERE THERE REALLY NO CHEAPER HOTELS, CROWLEY? AND DO YOU NOT PERHAPS FEEL THAT ORDERING ROOM SERVICE A MINIMUM OF TWICE A DAY MIGHT BE . . . EXCESSIVE?”
“Look, I pay for this sort of thing out of my own accounts,” Crowley said. “I appreciate that you have an interest in the general flow of money, but –.”
“AND WE MANIPULATE THE STOCK MARKETS TO PROVIDE ‘YOUR’ ACCOUNTS WITH SAID MONEY. SPEAKING OF WHICH, CROWLEY, PERHAPS YOU CAN EXPLAIN WHY IT IS THAT EVEN WHEN YOUR SHARES SHOULD RISE AND FALL – TO GIVE THE IMPRESSION OF NORMALITY, YOU UNDERSTAND – THEY CONTINUE TO RISE? HAVE YOU BEEN INTERFEREING IN OUR WORK? AGAIN?”
“No?” Crowley said.
The radio spat a bored string of static at him.
“WE’D LIKE YOU TO CALL IN TO US IN PERSON, CROWLEY. WITH YOUR PAPERWORK FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS. HERE ARE YOUR DIRECTIONS.”
He flopped back on the pillows, the information in his mind giving him a headache. Bugger. How serious was this going to be? Accounts liked to throw its weight around, but was fairly far down the infernal hierarchy. Or was that ‘up’? he wondered. Whatever. A certain amount of bureaucratic pain was headed his way, and his specially doctored accounts were thousands of miles away. He certainly wasn’t going home to get them and coming back again. He picked up his mobile phone and began to dial. Hmm. Would this be more expensive that going through the hotel? Probably. A show of economy wouldn’t hurt, he supposed. He picked up the handset and rang reception.
“Hello? Yes, I’d like to place a call to London, England, please. What? London. It’s only the bloody capital city. Thank you.”
It rang and rang. The angel was most likely wondering what the odd ringing noise was, he thought. Bloody stupid idiot. Come on, come on. Pick it up, hold it to your ear, you incompetent bloody mor-
“Aziraphale! Hello!” he said in as cheerful a tone as he could. “Yes. Yes, I’m still in America. Er. No, actually they’ve been able to phone Europe for quite some time now. Azir- yes. The weather is very nice. But listen – what? Oh, well that’s too bad, but you weren’t really expecting England to beat Pakistan, were you? I don’t care if it is an English game; I’ve been telling you for years that the English are crap at it. Anyway, what I’m calling about – it’s 8AM. Yes. In. The. Morning. Aziraph- no, wait, Az- - this is important, AZIRAPHALE! Will you shut the hell up for just one bloody second? No, I will not bloody apologise! No, don’t you dare hang up on me, you stupid bloody angel – no, no, don’t – ALL RIGHT, I’M SORRY I BLOODY SWORE AT YOU.”
He took a deep breath. Talking on the phone to Aziraphale was frequently frustrating, but the angel had clearly been inhaling the fumes from some of his rarer books this time.
“Sorry,” he said in a quieter and calmer tone. “I’m under a bit of stress right now, and I really need you to do me a favour. Please. OK, I need you to go to my flat and get the red set of account books out of the safe. The red ones, OK? Have you got a pen? Right, the combination is – oh, really? I’ll want you to find a convincing explanation for knowing that. I need the books right away, OK? I’m being summoned Below in person for a little chat about finances. Nah, apparently all that pentagram stuff’s out of fashion at the moment. There’s some physical gateway to Hell further down the coast. I’ll be booked into the local Holiday Inn,” he said in tones dripping with fury. “So I’ll pick them up there. OK, it’s the Sunnydale Holiday Inn, got that? No, no, no, don’t post them. DHL them. OK, thanks, ciao.”
He lay back, exhausted. Maybe he should go back to sleep. He sighed. Seductive though the thought was, he really should get up and pretend he was a hardworking minion of Evil. There was a knock at the door.
Well, he might as well enjoy his breakfast, he thought. It’d be the last good one for some time.
* * *
Crowley was in an exceptionally black humour as he sped down the highway. In an attempt at economy he had rented a compact car. He’d even put up with the assistant’s remarks that British people found such pathetic vehicles more comfy and pleasant to drive. He felt like he was driving a hairdryer with wheels. On top of it all, it was white. He was driving a tiny, white, automatic transmission car. He wanted to kill someone. He shot off the highway at the Sunnydale exit and zipped through the town. He gritted his teeth. He was in a car that zipped. He screeched to a halt in the Holiday Inn car park and beat his head off the steering wheel a few times. Then he calmly took himself and his bags into reception to see what other horrors Accounts had in store for him.
“I have a reservation. Name of Anthony Crowley.”
The receptionist looked, but didn’t seem hopeful of finding anything. Crowley was not surprised in the slightest.
“What was the name, sir?” she asked after pretending to look in the computer files.
“Crowley. ‘Crow’ like the bird, ‘ley’ like – like ‘ley.’ First name, Anthony.”
“We’ve got a Tony Crolly, but no -.”
He was not going to lose his temper. He was not going to rip her head off her shoulders. Not before he successfully checked in, at any rate. Finally she accepted that it probably was his reservation and handed over the key. He stalked off to his horrible non-luxury room and kicked the armchair into the wall. Then he lay down and thought of absolutely nothing for an hour or so. When that got tedious he went out to explore the town. There had to be something to do until those damn books got here. He was not impressed by what he found. It was so cheery and quaint. He was strictly a city-demon, he thought. Small town life held no attractions for him. Finally he just sat in a hideously fake-trendy open fronted coffee shop, flipping a coin. Heads, every tenth passer-by tripped and fell. Tails, another random coffee shop customer got a bad case of the runs. He figured that the lawsuits would have the place closed by teatime.
He had an uninspiring dinner in the cheapest restaurant he could find, and strolled around afterwards wishing he could get the taste out of his mouth. The town felt different after dark. Malicious. Dangerous. Evil. It was quite relaxing. Maybe someone would try to mug him. That would be really relaxing. Despite his best efforts at looking rich and harmless, however, he found himself unmolested. Sighing he trailed back to the Holiday Inn. There was a chance the books had arrived, he thought, walking up to the desk.
“Hi. I’m in room 217. I was wondering if a package had been delivered for me?”
The evening shift receptionist checked under the lip of the desk.
“No, sir. Let me see if there’s a record of it being sent up to your room.”
He checked the computer.
“No, sorry, Mr Crolly. Nothing came for you.”
“Crowley,” Crowley said despondently. “My name’s Crowley.”
He spent an uneasy night. Accounts wouldn’t put up with too much of a delay.
* * *
The books hadn’t arrived by the next morning.
He wandered round the town, anxiously checking back with the hotel every half-hour. What had Aziraphale gone and done? Even now his accounts were no doubt heading towards Ulan Bator. Blessed idiot. He could at least find out where the gateway was. He stood in the street, cars swishing past on either side, and concentrated. Ahh. What passed for the sweet familiar stench of home. He walked along, too worried to do much in the way of tempting. He couldn’t quite even get the energy to encourage a young man who really, really wanted to snatch an old lady’s bag, if he could just get up the nerve. He found himself standing outside a school. How very odd. Surely this couldn’t be it? It certainly felt like he was in the right place. He checked one last time with the hotel, which he’d long since put on speed dial.
“Hello, this is Anthony Crowley again. Room 217. No. Crow-ley. Has a package – still hasn’t? Thanks.”
He resisted the urge to jump up and down on his phone, and went into the school. The corridors were full of bright, cheerful, energetic children, all of whom failed to register his presence. Crowley regarded them with deep hatred. It wasn’t that he didn’t usually like children, (2) but he hated everybody right now. He followed the feeling of evil up to a pair of double doors, noting in bemusement that this seemed to be the school library. Perhaps it was a Satanist school that Below hadn’t told him of, he thought, pushing the doors open. Bloody Satanists. There were more children inside, gathered round an adult. There was a strong feeling of occult whatsits in the air, and a scattering of occult whatsits on their table. This had to be the place. As he watched, one of the kids did some pathetic magic and lifted a paperweight into the air. Crowley shook his head sadly. It was a Satanist school, and this must be some remedial class. He wandered over and peered at the open books on the table.
“Excuse me,” he said politely, becoming visible to them. “I’m a bit lost and I was wondering if I’m in the right place?”
They all jumped, and the paperweight crashed to the ground. The kids made various boring sounds of alarm that he filtered out. He smiled encouragingly at the teacher.
“This is where the gateway to Hell is located, isn’t it?”
The man looked very startled and fiddled with his glasses as the kids made more boring noises.
“W-w-w-what? Er, um, this is the High School. Were you looking for Sunnydale University? Because you’ll want to go b-back through town, and -.”
A number of thoughts meandered through Crowley’s mind as the man wittered on. English; probably gay and I know how to handle that. He gave the man one of his most charming smiles.
“Come on, you can tell me. I know it’s here, I can feel it. How do you open it?”
The blonde kid was making a lot of noise in his ear. It was remarkably annoying. He waved a hand at her.
“Not now, kid. You’re pissing me off.”
He was incredibly surprised when she half lifted him off the ground and slammed him down on his back across the table.
“As I was saying,” she said, an unpleasantly strong hand clamped on his throat. “Did the Mayor send you? Just deliver your message and get out.”
“Huh?” Crowley said. “The Mayor?”
“Don’t play dumb,” she said, tightening her grip on his neck.
With her other hand she twitched his sunglasses off. He barely closed his eyes in time, and tried to think what colour would look most natural. When he opened his eyes again they were blue.
“Look,” he said. “You seem to be a credit to your teachers, but could you let me up? I just want to open the gateway to Hell.”
That didn’t seem to be the right answer, he reflected as she squeezed hard enough to make him see black spots. He decided that, even though it was beneath him to fight a kid, it wasn’t like he’d have to leave anyone alive to tell tales. He twisted in her grip and whacked her a good one in the solar plexus. She retaliated by lifting him by the neck and slamming his head back on the table. Crowley’s curses were cut off as he realised that a bottle had fallen over and liquid was spilling towards his head. Shit. Oh shit, he could feel it was sanctified. In panic he gave a twist that would have been impossible for anyone without a fully double jointed spine and got out of the bloody kid’s grasp. He skidded a good ten feet and got back up, angry.
“What is wrong with you people?” he yelled. “Is this how you usually treat visitors?”
He began to revise his theory that they were Satanists when they picked up a variety of crosses to keep him at bay. He rolled his eyes. Whatever. Well, they could still be civil.
“Look,” he said, taking a step forward, “I just asked – shit!”
The blonde girl had a bloody great axe, and seemed to know how to use it. Well, two could play at let’s-get-incredibly-violent, and he had an idea that he was better at cheating. The axe-haft suddenly began burning, and the metal glowed white hot. She dropped it, so she wasn’t completely stupid. Then she rushed him, and kicked at him. Except he was better at cheating, and simply wasn’t there, and then was behind her. She made a sort of surprised noise as he grabbed her, and went very still as she felt the claws digging into the skin over her jugular. The other kids had spread themselves out and looked like they had been about to run in. Everyone froze.
“Good kids,” he said sarcastically. “You really don’t want me to break the skin. Now. Can we start this over, please? You – teacher. Tell me how to open the gateway.”
“Don’t, Giles!” she yelled.
“Let her go!” the dark haired boy yelled.
In horror Crowley saw that both of the boys and the other girl had bottles of holy water. They threw them at him from different angles. Fuck, he thought as his hand jerked in fright. The girl made a surprised noise as the claws sank in. Crowley shrank back, trying to use her body to shield himself, and hissing in fear. Shitshitshit.
There was a delicate tinkling noise. It hadn’t been him who’d yelled, Crowley realised. He opened one eye and then the other. There was a perfect ring of shards of ice all around him. It was a bloody miracle. Which meant – he looked over at Aziraphale standing in the doorway, and regretted every unkind thought he’d ever had about the angel. He was still holding the girl, he realised, and she didn’t seem to be quite dead. Wow, most humans went down with the barest scratch. Aziraphale gave him a significant look. Right, yes, she was more useful alive. He healed her.
“What is going on here?” Aziraphale asked, walking into the centre of them all.
“Back!” the red haired girl yelled, waving a cross in his face.
Aziraphale looked slightly puzzled, and gently shooed her aside.
“Excuse me, my dear. Now, can someone please explain what’s happening? Oh, for Heaven’s sake, girl, put that down!”
He took the cross away from her. She seemed surprised by that. The blonde girl elbowed Crowley in the stomach. He was definitely surprised by that. She ran over to her friends, and he contented himself with sauntering over to Aziraphale.
“Hi,” he said casually. “Nice timing.”
It wasn’t that he was hiding behind the angel, he told himself. He was guarding Aziraphale’s back. At least until he was sure they hadn’t got any more holy water.
“Now, for the third time,” Aziraphale began, a touch testily, and stopped. “Rupert? Good Heavens, Rupert Giles, is that you?”
“What?” Crowley and all the kids chorused.
“Ezra? G-good Lord, it must be ten years! You haven’t changed a bit.”
“You know this guy?” Crowley whispered.
“Yes. I met him through the book trade,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley glared at the back of the angel’s head. He knew when Aziraphale wasn’t telling him the whole story. The kids were loudly demanding how this Giles guy knew Aziraphale and getting the same half story. Hmmm.
“Who is this man, Giles, and what is that thing behind him?” the blonde girl was asking.
“How did you do that – that thing with the ice?” the red haired girl asked Aziraphale.
“Thing?” Crowley snarled.
“Eyes. Claws,” Aziraphale murmured. “Well, dear child, it’s – not too easy to explain. Rupert, could we talk?”
The blonde girl marched up to Crowley. She wasn’t carrying any holy water that he could see, so he scowled and didn’t back down.
“How come you’re walking round in daylight?” she asked. “Has the Mayor got some way of sun-proofing his vampires?”
Crowley opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He tried again.
“Are you a wizard? You must be a wizard, what else can you do?” the other girl asked Aziraphale.
“No, I most certainly am not,” Aziraphale said in an offended voice. “I wouldn’t dream of dabbling in the dark forces. I’m an a-.”
“Yes. He’s a wizard,” Crowley broke in. “Any other questions? No? Good, let’s answer some of mine, then. Now, about this gatew-.”
“So if you’re a wizard,” the blonde girl said, “What’s he?”
“He’s not a crispy critter, so he’s not the average vamp,” the dark haired boy said.
“I’ll bloody tell you what I am –.”
“All right, I’m a wizard,” Aziraphale said loudly. “And this – is my familiar spirit.”
Crowley looked at him in deep annoyance.
“Yeah? Well -,”
“Be silent, I command you,” Aziraphale said, trying to suppress a smile. “He’s not a bad fellow, but he does tend to go on a bit. Rupert, a word with you, if you please.”
They went into the library office, and left Crowley with the kids. There was an uneasy silence.
“So – you’re a familiar spirit, hey? How’s that working out for you?” the dark-haired boy asked.
Crowley looked him in the eyes until he started to shift from foot to foot. He took petty enjoyment in it and wondered if the boy would be able to look away.
“It’s not that I want to break into this macho pissing contest, but you could start answering some questions,” the blonde girl said.
He gave her the silent stare treatment too, but she sighed and looked away.
“Guys. Boys, vampires, spirits. All the same.”
“Maybe he can’t talk without his master’s permission, Buffy,” the red haired girl whispered.
All the kids suddenly grinned. Crowley blessed under his breath. He’d let his annoyance show. Bugger. He was too used to the sunglasses, that was it. Speaking of which . . . he looked round, and found the mangled remains on the floor. The blonde girl winced.
“Oh, sorry. They look like they were expensive.”
He laughed in surprise. First she tried to kill him, and now she apologised for breaking his glasses. Kids.
“Not a problem,” he said, holding them out. “See? Good as new.”
He put them on, and felt much more secure. Time to try catching flies with honey.
“Listen, I’ve been having a rough couple of days. I’m sorry about the fight,” he said politely. “My name’s Crowley. Anthony Crowley.”
“Buffy Summers,” she said warily. She indicated the others. “Willow Rosenberg, Xander Harris and Oz.”
“It seems kind of funny, spirit guy here having two names and Oz having one,” Xander said.
“There’s a difference between what your name is and what you call yourself,” the quiet boy said. “So is that your name or just what you call yourself, Anthony?”
“It’s my name,” Crowley lied. Oh, this is one to watch, he thought.
“So, if we did a summoning spell with it we’d be able to call you up?” Willow asked eagerly.
“Well, I’m already here,” Crowley pointed out mildly. Interesting kid, he thought. That kind of hobby should be encouraged.
“So, Anthony,” Buffy said. “Why do you want to know about opening the Hellmouth?”
He smiled apologetically. There was the most unpleasant sense of goodness coming from her. Horrid child.
“You’d have to ask Ezra.”
“See? I told you he needed permission,” Willow said in a stage whisper. “How does he call you up?”
On the phone, Crowley thought sarcastically.
“Oh, you know, the usual way – magic circle, mystic phrases, that sort of thing.”
“The book says that magic circles are for summoning good spirits,” she said excitedly. “He’s a good spirit!”
“If that’s the case what’s with the claws, and vamp eyes and – I hope you’re not self-conscious about this, Anthony – the forked tongue?” Buffy said, obviously not convinced.
“We can’t all be petite blondes,” he grinned. He waggled his fingers at her. “No claws, see? And they’re snake eyes. I’m sure Willow here can tell you that snakes figure highly in many cultures as symbols of wisdom and learning.”
The girl blushed and preened a bit under his smile. This one’s the chink in the armour, he thought, as she leaped to his defence chattering on about symbols of immortality and learning and healing.
“So, you’re saying you’re a snake?” Xander asked.
“I’ve got legs, don’t I? Have you ever seen a snake with legs? And what’s all this about vampires?” he asked.
They told him. At length. Bugger. He knew what they meant now. Those bloody semi-demonic parasites. They gave the forces of Evil a bad name, and made some of the demons he knew look almost of average intelligence in comparison. Well, that explained the arsenal on the table.
The office door opened, and the teacher looked out.
“Buffy, could you come in here for a moment?”
Crowley resolved that he was going to slap Aziraphale silly if he wasn’t forthcoming about this.
“So, you’re vampire hunters?” he asked Willow.
“Oh no, no, we’re just the back up, Buffy’s the Slayer,” she said.
The boys didn’t seem too happy about her saying that. Shake the tree a little, see what fell.
“Really?” he said, politely dubious. “Isn’t that – awfully dangerous for a young girl?”
“Hey, she whupped your ass, spirit guy,” Xander said angrily.
He made an apologetic gesture, looked vaguely embarrassed.
“She did seem quite strong and fast. Of course, the US schools insist on a lot of athletics, don’t they?”
“It’s because she’s the Chosen One,” Willow said proudly.
“Will!” Oz said.
Crowley shifted slightly so he was between her and the smart boy.
“Yeah? Who chose her?”
“The Forces of Good, the Powers that Be,” Willow said, ignoring Oz’s protest.
Crowley took the sunglasses off so that he could suck on one of the earpieces in a show of harmless bemusement. And also so the girl could meet his gaze. Look into my eyes, little bird, he thought.
“Tell me more,” he said softly.
Her breathless recitation was interrupted by Oz putting himself bodily in between them.
“Leave her alone, man.”
“We’re just talking,” Crowley said neutrally, leaning back. There was something off about this boy, something not quite human. Crowley longed to be back in London and not to have to put up with all of this. Aziraphale and the other two came back out of the office. They were all smiles, Crowley noted sourly. Aziraphale and Giles shook hands, and made boring statements about keeping in touch more.
“Come along,” Aziraphale said cheerily to Crowley.
Crowley hopped to it, like a good familiar.
* * *
He managed to stay quiet until they were well off school property.
“First off,” he said. “Don’t you ever call me your familiar spirit again. Second, why the hell didn’t I get those books this morning? And third,” he grinned, “Thanks. I could have kissed you.”
“Well, thank heavens you managed to retain your composure,” Aziraphale said dryly. “You hung up before I could ask you what you meant by DHL, Crowley. I thought I’d better bring them myself.”
“They’re back at the hotel. You can have some lunch first, surely?”
“Yeah,” Crowley said unenthusiastically. “I was thinking of McDonalds. I saw they have burgers for 49 cents.”
“Oh, Crowley,” Aziraphale said in pity. “It’s not as bad as that, is it? Come on, my treat.”
Over a far better lunch than he’d thought he’d get, Crowley vented his fury and worry about the upcoming audit. Aziraphale listened sympathetically and asked if there was anything he could do.
“There’s a second bed in my room. Want to split the costs?” Crowley said bitterly.
“Well, if you need money, you know you only have to ask. In fact,” Aziraphale said delicately. “I can think of a way you might be able to get out of your current embarrassment.”
“Yeah, how?” Crowley said eagerly.
“You could – contract out.”
Crowley looked at him dubiously.
“Contract out? Wait -,” he looked around and lowered his voice. “Are you suggesting I go on Heaven’s payroll?”
Aziraphale raised an eyebrow, took a sip of wine. Crowley gave him a flat stare.
“You’re trying to recruit me. You want me to become a double agent. Have you any idea what they’d do to me if they found out I’d even said those words?”
“One has to try occasionally. Never mind, it would upset the balance we have here anyway. We might both find ourselves out of a job. Do you want me to have a look over your books?”
“Yeah. I need to know if there’s anything that leaps off the page. And by the way,” he said with a snaky grin, “When were you going to tell me about the Slayer and her Watcher, and oh let’s see, the Council of Watchers back in England?”
“Ah,” Aziraphale said. “Would you like dessert?”
“Aziraphale, I’m waiting.”
“I’ll want something in exchange. Promise?”
Crowley nodded and listened open-mouthed to Aziraphale’s brief history lesson. He then called the waitress and ordered the most expensive dessert and dessert wine he could see. He waited till they arrived, and put an arm protectively around his plate to repel boarders. He felt he needed rich food to deal with this.
“You’ve kept this demon hunting gang going for millennia without telling me. I’m hurt. And rather impressed. Nice work, Aziraphale.”
“Well, it mainly kept itself going. Venerable institutions do that. I just have to give it a little nudge every so often. And I’ve never told them about you.”
Crowley shook his head in astonishment. The angel just bumbled round looking so inconspicuousand harmless. And every so often you got a good look at that rare malicious smile and thought oh, yeah. It was the sort of moment that would have made him glad they were both on the same side, if they only had been. He decided to order some brandy as well, it would serve Aziraphale right.
“They don’t know how to open that Hellmouth,” Aziraphale said. “Your people will have to do from their end.”
He sighed and absent-mindedly got a forkful of Crowley’s dessert before Crowley could stop him.
“Are you sure you want to go down? Will they let you back up? Your body isn’t going to survive, don’t forget. They could string you along for ages before giving you a new one. If they ever do.”
“Thanks for the pep-talk,” Crowley muttered.
“Can’t you get some sort of representation? There must be quite a few lawyers down there.”
“They’d have to have some sort of official status. That cuts out any legally minded human souls. And who do I know down there any more? It’s been so long and I haven’t exactly kept in touch. I’m not asking Hastur to represent me, that’s for sure.”
He felt miserable, insignificant and scared. The angel was right; he wouldn’t be back up soon. They could have their hooks into him for all eternity. He hadn’t done any special little jobs for powerful people recently, and could think of no favours to call in. The big boys had had their fun in the ancient world and had kept him busy doing all sorts of interesting little side projects, but now it was all bureaucracy and departmental directives. You couldn’t really get a favour out of a departmental directive the way you could out of an embarrassed Duke of Hell. And to be told he’d have to ask them to please let him come down to be subject to their limited but unpleasant imaginations – there just wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to drown his sorrows. He summoned up a smile when he saw Aziraphale’s expression. He wasn’t going to have him sit there and feel sorry for him.
“Let’s go cook the books some more,” he said gamely.
* * *
They headed back to the school late that night. Aziraphale was still saying he shouldn’t go, he was still pretending it would be a quick drop into the office and back up again. Shit, 6000 years and this was the way he had to go back.
All in all, it was a welcome bit of stress relief when they were jumped. The fight didn’t last long after he ripped the head off one of the vampires and the others realised they shouldn’t have taken Aziraphale on. There was a lot of crying and begging as they were cast out in short order and their bodies crumbled to dust. The angel brushed himself off fastidiously.
“How did you do that?”
They exchanged a weary look, and turned round.
“Miss Summers! How nice to see you again,” Aziraphale said.
She took a few steps back, looking quickly to the side. Crowley followed her line of sight, saw her annoying friends hiding in the bushes.
“Are you going back to the library? I told Giles you two were up to something.”
Crowley ran at her before she finished, and pushed her into Aziraphale. Then he took a running jump into the bushes, figuring they wouldn’t have time to prepare.
“Hi, kids,” he grinned as they shrieked, and snapped his fingers.
Their faces went quiet and blank. Exactly how children should be, he thought.
“Right, up we get. None of you saw anything unusual here. You certainly didn’t see us.”
He paused, and bent down to whisper in Willow’s ear.
“You’re a special girl, you should work really hard at your magic. Don’t let others get in your way. Seek out knowledge at all costs – knowledge is power, and people who don’t think that aren’t worth much. Good and evil are just labels stupid people put on things, and you’re not stupid, are you, sweetheart?”
He grinned cheerfully at her.
“Remember, it’s better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
She had a little smile on her face. Oh yes. He might be going down, but he was taking others with him. He herded them out to where Aziraphale had already done some memory wiping. They sent the kids off, and got back to business.
The library was full of a malignant sense of presence.
“It must be hard to study in here,” Aziraphale said, shivering.
Crowley plugged in the radio he’d taken from his room. Here went nothing.
“They won’t get in contact if someone else is here,” he said.
Aziraphale nodded and held out his hand. Crowley shook it, and watched the angel leave. He turned the radio on.
Light rock played quietly. It was the most demonic station he could find.
“Er, hello? Anyone there?”
“CROWLEY,” the radio said. “WE HAVE BEEN WAITING, CROWLEY.”
“Yes, well, the thing is, I don’t know how to open the gateway. I’m here, ready to come see you, but I need you to do the honours.”
“THIS RECALCITRANCE WILL DO YOU NO GOOD, CROWLEY. REST ASSURED THE EXTRA COSTS OF THIS WILL BE ADDED TO YOUR RECKONING. YOUR ACCOUNTS FOR THE LAST FIVE HUNDRED YEARS MAKE FOR FASCINATING READING. YOU HAVE BROUGHT YOUR COPIES WITH YOU?”
Crowley blessed them viciously. He’d got the last fifty years in his books, figuring they wouldn’t be satisfied with a mere five years. Five hundred. Lying bastards. He was more or less convinced no such records had ever existed.
“IS SOMETHING WRONG, CROWLEY?” the radio asked, with deeply satisfied malice. “DON’T WORRY, NO DOUBT WE CAN COME TO SOME EQUITABLE ARRANGEMENT. WE HAVE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS LITTLE CHAT, CROWLEY. WE HAVE BEEN LAYING IN SUPPLIES. WE HAVE BEEN SELLING TICKE-.”
“CROWLEY,” the radio interrupted itself. The tone had no less malice, but more self assured authority.
Crowley took the precaution of going to his knees. He very much did not want to know whom this was.
“WE HAVE A MISSION FOR YOU, CROWLEY. YOU WILL LEAVE IMMEDIATELY -.”
“LORD,” the radio whined in supplication, “THIS POOR EXCUSE FOR A DEMON HAS BEEN SUMMONED FOR AN INTERNAL AUDIT. WE WILL BE MOST THOROUGH, LORD. WE WILL RETURN HIM TO DUTY IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE. ALTHOUGH THE SUBJECTIVE TIME WILL BE SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT, CROWLEY, WE ASSURE YOU.”
“Lord, I’m most eager to serve you, most eager to immediately depart on your vital mission!”
“SEE THAT HE IS READY BY MORNING,” the authoritative voice said. “AND ABLE TO TRAVEL. HE MUST BE FIT TO GO OVERSEAS.”
Seas. Seas. Crowley’s mind was screaming at him. Seas. Fish. Fish. Dagon.
“Lord! Please! I’m ready to go right now! Lord Dagon can tell you that!”
He held his breath as the radio went silent. It was a very old favour to be calling in. Dagon might have forgotten, might no longer care that once upon a time he’d been in a spot of trouble with finances himself. It had been Crowley’s very full and very embellished report on the need for the temple of Dagon to be rebuilt to really quite remarkable standards after some bozo destroyed the first – and much more modest - one that had smoothed things over. All the big boys preferred dealing with other powerful individuals and looked down on the hoards of faceless (3) bureaucrats. Please, please let this guy be old fashioned and a snob, he thought. The radio crackled into life again.
“CROWLEY,” it said. “NICE TRY. WE’RE SURE THAT IN MILLENNIA TO COME WE’LL ALL LAUGH AT THIS. BUT WE’RE NOT SO SURE ABOUT YOU. YOU LITTLE SNAKE; DO YOU THINK YOU CAN ESCAPE US? DID YOU REALLY THINK YOUR PATHETIC LITTLE PL-.”
“HELLO? CROWLEY? WAS THERE SOMETHING YOU WANTED?”
“DAGON. THIS CREATURE IS UNDER INVESTIGATION BY ACCOUNTS&FINANCES. IT SUGGESTED THAT YOU MIGHT RECOMMEND IT FOR IMMEDIATE DUTY INSTEAD.”
“AH. ACCOUNTS&FINANCES. PULING PEN-PUSHERS THE LOT OF THEM, ALWAYS HOLDING BACK THE MARCH OF EVIL WITH THEIR COST ANALYSES AND FLOWCHARTS. I HARDLY THINK WE NEED TAKE THEM INTO – HEH – ACCOUNT, DO YOU?”
“LORD! WE PROTEST! WE FULFIL A VITAL FUNCTION! WHY WE HAVE CUT SPENDING IN YOUR OWN BUDGET BY ALMOST 30% OVER THE LAST THOUSAND YEARS!”
“OH YES. SO YOU HAVE. DAGON, I FEEL IT WOULD BE MOST COST-EFFECTIVE TO AMALGAMATE ACCOUNTS&FINANCES WITH YOUR OWN DEPARTMENT. IF THAT’S ALL RIGHT WITH YOU?”
“LORD! THIS IS MOST IRREGULAR! WE MUST REGISTER THE MOST STRONG OBJEEEEEEEEEEEE.”
There were some interesting noises. Crowley listened to them with fascination. It seemed as if they really had been laying in the supplies for him.
He knelt up straight.
“YOUR INSTRUCTIONS, CROWLEY.”
And there they were, straight into his mind, and the radio began playing light rock again. Crowley curled up on his side and shook with relief. After a little he shook with giggles as well. He felt he was due a little hysteria under the circumstances.
“CROWLEY. PSST, CROWLEY,” the radio said quietly.
Crap. Back on the knees.
“GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU. I NEVER COULD ABIDE THOSE MEALY-MOUTHED PUDDLES OF SLIME. THAT WAS MOST – SATISFYING,” the radio murmured.
It sounded like it had had a very good meal. Crowley shuddered.
“Oh, good,” he said.
“WELL, MUST DASH. FEEL FREE TO CALL THIS ONE IN, CROWLEY. OH AND CROWLEY?”
“TRY NOT TO BE TOO EXTRAVAGANT FOR THE NEXT WHILE. JUST UNTIL THINGS SETTLE DOWN.”
He turned the radio off, and walked out of the library. By the time he’d got to the front doors he had stopped trembling. Aziraphale was pacing back and forth on the steps, looking very worried.
“Hi. I told you it’d be OK,” Crowley said casually. “Guess what?” he went on with a grin, “I’m going to Hawaii!”
“That’s nice,” Aziraphale said in surprise. “Why?”
“Well, it’s pretty funny,” Crowley laughed. “There’s this cult see, and they’ve taken to making pilgrimages up volcanoes where they – actually, you probably don’t want to hear this.”
“Probably not,” Aziraphale agreed. “But don’t forget you owe me information.”
“Come with me,” Crowley said, full of expansive fellow feeling. “It’s a nice place, and will do you more good than hiding away in that musty old shop.”
“Well, I’m awfully busy right now -.”
“Oh, come on. If you’re around I can’t do anything too bad, now can I?”
“If you say yes I’ll give you your presents now instead of making you wait till I get back to London.”
“Presents? How nice! You’re very thoughtful, Crowley.”
Crowley grinned. No sooner escaped the torments of Hell than up and tempting. Damn, he was good. Bad. He meant bad. He took out his mobile phone and rang the local airport.
“Now, we have to be economical, I’m sorry to say. No wild luxury.”
“Oh, that’s quite all right with me.”
“Shh. Hello? Hi, yes, I need to speak to a travel agent. Hi. I want to go to Honolulu tomorrow and then on to London. Yeah, two tickets, business class. Hell, leave ‘em open, we might stay a while. And we’ll need a hotel – any suggestions? OK, sounds good, two rooms please. Nice ones. Let me give you my card number - - and the name is Crowley, Anthony J. Do you need me to spell that? No? Great. Thank you very much.”
Aziraphale was laughing helplessly.
“My dear, I begin to see their point about you. What are you like when you’re not being economical?”
Crowley just smiled pleasantly. He was already imagining making Aziraphale wear the things he’d bought in Disneyland.
He had long since decided he was especially eager to see the angel in the Little Mermaid tee shirt and shorts.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
(1) Although he had displayed remarkable fortitude on all the roller coasters, it was the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party that had finally defeated Crowley’s digestive system. Hoards of heroic cleaners had spent hours beating back semi-aware demonic vomit.
(2) Although he could never eat a whole one.
(3) But not, as Crowley was well aware, clawless.