Chapter 1: Escape
The move down south had supposed to have been Aziraphale’s big adventure. It had been his idea to go live with Gabriel down to the small town out in the west and it had taken a great deal of convincing and sweet talking to be given permission to go. He had imagined that living with his brother would give him more freedom and had spent the entire train ride down daydreaming and reading over his books. The disappointment he felt when he arrived in the dusty little down was ineffable.
Gabriel and his posse meeting him at the station and immediately escorting him back to Gabriel’s home, a large house just on the edge of town. Shown to his room and told not to leave without Sandalphon Uriel Michael or Gabriel himself. Aziraphale was rather put out by the whole thing and found himself spending most of his time reading. As he always had. Simply dreaming of daring escapes off into the desert.
That had been how it had started. Just daydreams. But now with the prospect of living out said fantasies so close, Aziraphale could not resist the temptation.
His first attempt had gone incredibly poor. It was shameful had bad it had gone and as it turned out, bed sheets made a very poor rope down from one’s bedroom window. It had ended with Aziraphale laying in the dirt nursing a sprained wrist. Sandalphon had been the one to find him and dragged the younger Fairfax brother back inside to Gabriel.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Gabriel asked him, keeping his voice polite to mask the frustration.
“Well,” Aziraphale started to come up with some excuse as to why he had fallen out his window, wrapped up in a bedsheet and nearly broken his arm. However he found himself interrupted by Sandalphon from behind him.
“Don’t you know how dangerous it is out there? Gangs, drought... Someone like you would hardly last two seconds,” he told him and there was a threatening tone to his voice that made Aziraphale shudder.
“He’s right. The Yellow Sign has been more active than ever. You’re lucky your train wasn’t stopped by them,” Gabriel warned. “Just last week they robbed a supply train. The conductor barely made it out with his life.” The engineer and several passengers had not been so lucky.
“And two weeks before that they took the heir to the Pulcifer company for ransom. His poor wife had to give away most of their fortune just to get him back,” Sandalphon added helpfully. All of this was true of course except for the last part. Anathema Pulcifer had not spent their fortune for Newt’s safe return, instead opting to go get him back herself. After the whole ordeal, the pair had moved up north to the city; Anathema deciding it safer for her husband.
“Oh my…” Aziraphale said, not particularly startled by any of this information as he read about these sorts of things all the time. He found it rather exciting. Being swept off by criminals and fantastic rescues and the adventure of it all.
“Can you promise me you’ll listen when I tell you to stay inside?” Gabriel asked him, raising a brow at his younger brother. He only wanted to keep him safe. If anything were to happen to Aziraphale, Gabriel would be absolutely beside himself.
“Of course, Gabriel. You needn’t worry about me, I’ll behave myself,” Aziraphale responded, having no intention of keeping this promise. The concept of staying up in his room did not appeal to him whatsoever.
But his promise seemed to satisfy Gabriel who nodded and clapped his hands together. “Alright then!” he announced and looked at both his brother and his deputy. “Sandalphon, stay here with Aziraphale. See to his wrist, make sure he stays inside,” he said, giving the both of them a warning look at the last bit before going back out to ride into town.
Aziraphale sighed miserably as Sandalphon wrapped up his sprained wrist, putting it in a splint just to be sure before taking Aziraphale back up to his room to leave him to his own devices. There would be no more attempts at escape for the time being. It was no worry though. He could wait out a sprain.
Two weeks later, much to Gabriel’s dismay, he tried again. This time in the dead of night and it turned out that bedsheets could make an excellent rope if one simply tied them together first. Dropping to the ground, this time on his feet and with no injury to his person, he breathed his first breath of freedom. Aziraphale made it into town, investigating his new home quite freely and enjoying himself a great deal more than when he was accompanied by an entourage of guardian angels breathing down his neck.
He decided it wouldn’t be such a terrible idea to introduce himself to people when he noticed down the street, the orange light from the tavern was still on and he could hear the faint sound of piano music and laughter. It hardly seemed like a bad idea at all. Though it hadn’t occurred to him at all that Gabriel had not come home yet.
About four solid seconds after he stepped inside the tavern, he heard a familiar voice. “Goddammit Aziraphale,” came the tired and irritated voice of Gabriel from a table where he sat with the rest of his posse.
He was firmly taken back home and up to his room, only to be sat down and lectured by his brother for making a second escape. The same warnings as before and the promise of a lock on the window in future. Which left Aziraphale feeling particularly distraught, but he could only sigh and agree.
“You need to stay inside,” Gabriel told him. “There’ve been sightings of the Black Viper around here. If he got his hands on you, I don’t think I’d ever see you again,” Gabriel told him, desperate for his brother to actually listen.
This sparked Aziraphale’s interest which was Gabriel’s big mistake. “The Black Viper?” he asked. That name certainly sounded like a character straight out from one of his books. “What have they done?”
“People say he’s killed hundreds of men. That he’s the most notorious outlaw you’ve ever seen and he’s got eyes like a snake. That he dips the bullets in his gun with the venom from rattlesnakes. No man has ever fought him and lived,” Gabriel said, telling Aziraphale about the legends surrounding the outlaw. “He’s wily and clever. I need to keep you safe.”
Aziraphale however, was absolutely enchanted by the idea of such an outlaw. It really was a fantastical idea that a person like that existed. “Oh dear… He sounds like a real villain, doesn’t he?”
“I’m only doing this for your own protection, Aziraphale.” Gabriel sighed, knowing his brother well enough to realize the chances of Aziraphale actually listening were incredibly slim. “Goodnight,” he told him before leaving the room.
This left Aziraphale with his own thoughts. How absolutely romantic it would be to be swept off on some adventure by such a terrifying character. Though he doubted such a thing would happen to him. Nothing interesting ever happened to him and that wasn’t much fun at all.
Still, he went to bed with thoughts of the Black Viper in his head, dreaming achingly of some dark figure taking him away to some extravagant adventures.
The next morning, Aziraphale woke up to the sound of someone at his widow. The locksmith, just like Gabriel had promised. Aziraphale bemoaned the loss of his one route of escape and spent the entire day, wiling away the hours, thinking up ways he could potentially get away from the house and his brother’s constant watch.
It was another week before he tried again, this time using an entirely different approach to ducking out from Uriel’s careful eye. He had been allowed to go into town for dinner with the woman as his guard, sitting in the tavern with her. For once, he only picked at his food as his mind raced along the plan in his mind. He didn’t really have a solid plan other than ‘book it at the first sign of trouble’.
It seemed almost like fate that some man had decided to take it upon himself to flirt with Sergeant Shadwell’s wife. Almost divine intervention that Sergeant Shadwell had too much to drink and was very much in love with his wife. Shadwell was known for starting fights while sober so starting one while drunk and jealous was inevitable. The second the sergeant started swinging, the whole tavern fell into chaos much to Aziraphale’s delight.
Uriel decided that stopping a bar fight was a more immediate threat to Aziraphale, she got up and went to join the fray in an attempt to bring back the peace. Aziraphale himself, could not have been more pleased by this turn of events. Luck seemed to be in his favor, he decided as he got up to his feet and walked out the door. There was a bounce to his step as he strolled down the road, knowing that there would be no Gabriel to stop him this time.
He was just outside the bank when he heard a distinct clicking sound just behind him and the heavy fall of two pairs of footsteps. He stopped in his tracks and was just about to turn around when he felt something pressed up against the back of his head.
“You move an inch and I shoot,” warned a gravelly voice and there was a low chuckle from a second party.
“This is a lot better than a bank robbery, ain’t it Hastur?” came the voice of the second man.
“Practically gift wrapped, Ligur,” said the one holding the gun, presumably named Hastur. “You’re the sheriff’s brother, ain’t you?” he asked, pressing the gun closer against Aziraphale’s skull.
“Oh my, there’s no need to be so rough, gentlemen,” Aziraphale said without turning around. “And yes, I am, I’ll have you know. And if you have any intention of sending me back to him I shall be very cross.”
This answer seemed to surprise the duo and behind Aziraphale they shared a confused look. There was the sound of whispered arguing before Aziraphale felt one of them reach over his head and there was fabric wrapped around his eyes, blindfolding him. “No, you’re coming with us,” Ligur informed him and the feeling of the gun against his head vanished and a rough hand grasped his upper arm, pulling him along.
“If I must,” Aziraphale sighed, trying to seem like he wasn’t excited by the fact that he was being kidnapped.
He could feel himself being pulled onto a horse and the sound of shuffling as one of the pair joined him. “If you fall off, we’ll shoot you,” warned the voice of Hastur who seemed to be the one sharing the horse with Aziraphale.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Aziraphale said and held on tight as they rode off.
The desert was hot and miserable, Aziraphale came to realize. He was thirsty and uncomfortable and this was decidedly nothing like what happened in his books. Being kidnapped was terrible. Not to mention that his kidnappers were incredibly unpleasant and they smelled twice as bad. Like someone had taken a toad and dropped it into a burning pile of shit then left the remains in the sun for three days. Needless to say, he was having a bad time sitting on the back of that horse, still blindfolded and leaning against Hastur.
Though he supposed it could be worse. As much as Aziraphale missed his books and bed and nice meals, this was far more exhilarating than sitting in one’s room for days on end with no hope of leaving.
“And I do believe Hamlet loved Horatio, just a bit.” Aziraphale had decided to entertain himself, seeing as he couldn’t go anywhere or watch his surroundings, by telling his captors about the books he had read. Namely, at the moment, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “Horatio certainly did love Hamlet. The man was prepared to kill himself to follow Hamlet into the afterlife, though it would never happen, seeing as the act of ending one’s own life was a sin. And Hamlet, well he told Horati--”
“Would you stop talking for five seconds,” Hastur interrupted him, jerking the horse to a halt and nearly causing Aziraphale to topple over onto the sand. “You can walk, if you keep chattering like this,” he warned. “Or we could just shoot you to shut you up.”
“Oh, there’s no need for that at all. You could have just asked politely.” Aziraphale frowned and decided it would be in his best interest to keep quiet now. Being shot in the desert wouldn’t suit him at all. Very anticlimactic.
“We aren’t polite,” Ligur added in, “we’re outlaws.”
Aziraphale nodded seriously in agreement. “Right you are, dear boy. Absolute ruffians. I’ve never been more terrified in my entire life.”
Not that Aziraphale could see it but Hastur and Ligur shared a look then and the two had been riding together long enough to be able to be able to read one another’s looks with incredible accuracy. Hastur’s look said ‘ I wish we had stuck to the bank robbery, can we kill him? ’ and Ligur’s responding look said ‘ it’ll pay off in the end, and if he gets too annoying we can kill him ’. Hastur nodded as if this fact bothered him but dug his heel into his horse’s side and continued onwards in silence.
Aziraphale couldn’t see anything from behind his blindfold but from what he could see, as the time passed, was that the world was getting darker. Night would be upon them soon and he wondered if they would continue to ride on through the night. He opened his mouth to ask this but was interrupted by the voice of Ligur.
“Are we breaking for camp?” he asked as if he had been reading Aziraphale’s thoughts. “Or riding through the night?”
“We’re still too close to town.” Aziraphale could feel Hastur shaking his head. “We keep going.” The two outlaws could keep going all night, with just enough energy to keep riding through some of the morning if they so desired. It was all the same to them, though Aziraphale very much wanted to stop for the night.
He decided that this would be best kept to himself and that his role as a hostage did not warrant request making. Aziraphale imagined that asking this would end with another threat or the act upon the earlier threat of being shot and remained silent.
They continued through the night, Aziraphale eventually finding the ability to sleep against Hastur’s back despite the fact that he smelled like someone had drowned a rat in olive oil and piss. As he drifted off he could hear the snippets of conversation with words such as “ransom” and “leave him in the dirt” and “the boss”. None of which seemed too concerning to him as he fell asleep.
Aziraphale awoke to the sensation of falling and then the thud of hitting the sand. “Wake up,” came the rasping voice of Hastur from above him and Aziraphale felt the blindfold being taken off his face. Bright sunlight blocked his vision and he closed his eyes, blinking to adjust to the sudden light. “We’re breaking before we take you back to the boss.”
He coughed as he sat up, still adjusting to being able to see. The town was miles behind them now, he imagined and his thought process was interrupted by Hastur roughly pulling him to his feet. Aziraphale’s hands were jerked behind his back and there was the sensation of rope being wrapped around his wrists, binding them together.
“This seems a bit dramatic, my dear fellow,” he commented, wincing when the rope was pulled too tight. “I have no intention of running and if I did, I’d have nowhere to go.”
“Better safe than sorry. And shut up,” Ligur added as an afterthought as he climbed down from his own horse.
They pitched a little camp there among the rocks. Ligur and Hastur took turns taking watch, one sleeping while the other would make sure everything, including their hostage, was secure.
Aziraphale decided to take this opportunity to look around at his surroundings. There was nothing. Nothing but sand and rocks for what appeared to be miles and the only thing he could see on the horizon was distant mountains and the heat radiating off the sand as the sun warmed it. For one brief moment, he considered making a run for it but that would only end up with him getting shot or tackled or, in the off chance he got away, dying of thirst. It would not be worth it. So he merely sat quietly in the sand and waited until the two outlaws were ready to ride again.
Uriel had taken her sweet time telling Gabriel that his younger brother was missing. She did not particularly care for the younger Fairfax brother and thought all he was good for was causing trouble. If he vanished into the desert, it would be no skin off her back. Except that it would be since Gabriel still cared about his brother. Unfortunate. The morning after it happened, she told him.
“He’s what ? And you waited to tell me until now?!” Gabriel shouted upon hearing the news, his voice booming in the sheriff’s station. “You had one job , Uriel! One job!”
“I’m aware but there were issues at the tavern that posed a more immediate threat. He was gone before the matter was settled,” she informed him for the second time, keeping her tone even and cool.
Gabriel took a deep breath and got up from his desk, calming himself down before clapping his hands together and there was a smile on his face that made Uriel nervous. “Organize a search party. We don’t have any time to lose at all,” he told her and walked towards the front door, grabbing his hat from where it hung on the wall.
She sighed as if this fact bothered her. Chasing after some doozy city boy lost in the desert was a pointless task but she followed him just the same, cursing Shadwell internally.
After a whole day of riding and into some of the night, The Yellow Sign Gang and their now less enthusiastic hostage broke for camp once again.
They sat around the campfire in silence, Hastur and Ligur warming their hands by it and Aziraphale wishing he could do the same. He much preferred being blindfolded to having his arms tied up. The rope rubbed against his wrists so uncomfortably and he hardly enjoyed being picked up by Hastur to be put back on the horse. It had been a terrible day, being tied up on a horse sitting with a man who stunk like he had died ten years ago and someone had forgotten to tell him.
They sat there in silence by the fire, Hastur and Ligur sitting on opposite sides of Aziraphale to make sure he didn’t try anything funny despite the fact that he promised he wouldn’t do anything. There was no point in running away if there was nowhere to go. And that was the trouble of it, he realized as he sat sandwiched between the Yellow Sign Gang. He liked adventure but he would have much rather liked to be in charge of what was going on. And that was not the case here at all.
Aziraphale’s thoughts were cut off by the ringing sound of gunshot and the sensation of something flying past his head. The trio turned at the sound of it and behind them in the darkness stood a tall black stallion with an equally ominous rider on top. Suddenly Aziraphale’s enthusiasm for his predicament was back.
“Well,” Ligur said and got up to his feet as the mysterious newcomer climbed from his horse, “if it isn’t the Black Viper.” Aziraphale let out a little gasp then. This was who Gabriel had been talking about. “Finally come crawling back to us?” he asked as the Viper approached silently.
There was a moment of silence as the Black Viper approached, the only sound being the jingle of his spurs and the fire crackling.
“Have you been following us?” Hastur asked, getting up himself to face the Viper, Ligur doing the same and leaving Aziraphale sitting in the sand, still trying to turn himself around.
The Black Viper nodded in response and didn’t say anything.
“Beelzebub would pay us a lot for your head on a plate,” Ligur told him and it seemed that had been his fatal mistake. Quick as a whip, the Viper fired his pistol again, this time shooting Ligur in the chest. It all happened so fast, Ligur seemed confused as to what was going on at all and it was only when he looked down and saw the blood blossoming on his shirt did he realize. “Well shit,” was all he said before collapsing backwards next to Aziraphale in the sand.
It took Hastur only a brief second to register what had just happened before he was pushing Aziraphale out of the way to get to Ligur, kneeling beside him and pulling the other outlaw into his lap. “No. No, no no,” he muttered to Ligur as he pressed down on the wound, soaking his hands in his partner’s blood. There was no use but he tried nonetheless. “You’re not dying on me, you bastard.”
“Not worth it. Camp’s too far,” Ligur wheezed out and despite his proximity to the fire, felt himself growing cold.
“I ain’t quittin’ you!” Hastur told him, growing increasingly desperate as he couldn’t stop the flow of blood. “You son of a bitch, I ain’t quittin you.”
It was sad to watch this, Aziraphale realized, laying there in the sand. A man was dying and he was right next to him. He hadn’t even realized the Black Viper walking towards them and continued to be unaware until the man himself grabbed ahold of him, hoisting him up to his feet. Aziraphale, dumbstruck into silence, looked wide eyed at the Viper who looked back at him through shaded glasses and was dragged away from the fire into the dark.
Aziraphale was in the middle of being thrown onto the back of this new horse by the Viper when Hastur screamed. It was an inhuman noise, like that of a wounded animal.
“You motherfucker!” Hastur screamed at the Viper, getting up to his feet. His hands and pants were soaked in Ligur’s blood and it looked black in the light of the fire. “I’ll kill you for this! I’ll kill you!” He fumbled for a moment for his pistol but was stopped by another shot from the Viper, the bullet going into Hastur’s thigh and he let out another unearthly scream.
The Viper said nothing and climbed up on his horse, Aziraphale slung over the back of the saddle, as Hastur fell to the ground, writing in agony. They left him there, riding off into the dark of night with the glow of the firelight behind them.
yes that was a reference to brokeback mountain