“See, thing is-”
Crowley’s words elude him- as they have a habit of doing, the sneaky buggers. He watches the white lines in the middle of the road streak by, feels the tarmac roaring beneath the car. It’s a rainy evening and they’re driving home from a restaurant north of Watford that Aziraphale has been banging on about for months. Since the world had ended- and then promptly not ended- the angel’s zest for food hasn’t lessened in the slightest. In fact, it’s only gotten bloody zestier, as if their near-apocalypse experience has made Aziraphale realise that life is too short. Even an immortal life such as his.
Crowley loses his track of his thought entirely. “Thing is…”
“You were talking about-”
“KINDLES!” Crowley exclaims, taking his hands off the wheel to celebrate this eureka moment. Aziraphale straightens out beside him nervously and grabs a fistful of his corduroy trousers. Crowley slaps the leather of the steering wheel enthusiastically as he continues, “Kindles. Are not. Demonic! We didn’t come up with them- that was all you, I’m certain!”
“Why on earth would I invent the Kindle, dear boy? Do you even know me at all?”
“You-plural, not you-singular. Angels you, Heaven you.”
“Well, I certainly didn’t sanction it.”
“Alright but- listen- what’s the problem with kindles? Why’re- what’s the problem? I mean really, it’s a book, isn’t it. Just a book on a screen. What’s the problem?”
“The problem-” Aziraphale begins confidently, bordering aggressively. Then the wind appears to be knocked out of his sails. “Well,” he tries again, a little weakly. “The problem, the problem lies therein. In that. Well-”
“See! See, it’s clearly a good thing, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about- all these people going ‘oh, ho-ho, oh dear, books aren’t physical anymore, what a travesty! Let’s all- grab our pitchforks! And lament the loss of our children’s education’.” He adds a mocking, whinging voice to this last bit.
Aziraphale tuts, stretches his legs out in front and crosses them.
“No, you’re wildly misinterpreting the argument, Crowley.”
“You know it’s true, don’t deny it! People are only against them because humans don’t like change- they get all squirmy and anxious about it. As if, you know, as if the transition from a physical book to a little screen is the end of the world- and! Now that they’ve actually had a taste of the apocalypse, they really haven’t gained any more perspective, have they? I mean, you’d think they’d start worrying about global warming properly, but instead they’re just sad about kindles and- oh! That’s another thing, kindles aren’t paper! Less deforestation! Clearly- listen, come on, that’s got to be angelic work.”
Aziraphale pouts and averts his gaze, brows slightly raised in indignance.
Crowley snorts. He notices the lines of the road streak by a little slower, presses down on the accelerator.
Crowley flicks his gaze over to Aziraphale, who’s turned his whole body towards him in his seat eagerly. A smug finger pointed in his face.
“What? No,” Crowley shakes his head. “You- don’t try and argue with me on this, I’m absolutely certain-”
“Amazon! Kindles are owned by Amazon, notoriously corrupt!”
Crowley scowls, rolls his head wearily. “No, angel, they weren’t always bad, we only got to them a couple of years ago. You can’t argue that-”
“Amazon. Invented. Kindles! Thereby, kindles are evil. The end, full stop. Fin.”
“That’s just- you’ve been around long enough to know that’s not how it works.”
“And you can’t honestly argue that books are bad just because they’re made of paper. Books are knowledge! Books are the weapons against the armies of ignorance! Righteous tools-”
“Righteous tools,” Crowley snorts.
“Against the dark forces of evil!”
“Not this bollocks again. Look, books are fine, books are all well and good, but not everyone’s into them, are they? Times are changing, angel, you can watch things like Netflix or whatever it’s called and, listen to podcasts and- the way people share knowledge is different now. Listen, I love knowledge, love the stuff. You know I do, I was the one who got Eve to eat the apple after all, but even then, even then I’ve never really read books, unless I really have to, the only reason I read Pride and Prejudice is because I love you, and admittedly, yes, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever put myself through- actually, I think trying to read A Tale of Two Cities was what really did it for me, Charles Dickens- Christ alive, did you ever run into Dickens, angel? Miserable sod.”
Crowley drums his fingers against the steering wheel expectantly. The road side lights cast an orange glow in the car- brightening and darkening, brightening and darkening as they drive past one after another. Aziraphale is silent.
And it’s only then that Crowley realises his mistake.
It dawns on him the way a glass fills up slowly with water in the washing up bowl and sinks to the bottom. Slowly, then a sinking feeling. And then hitting rock bottom.
He keeps his eyes on the road. His fingers tight on the steering wheel.
“Don’t,” he snaps. “Don’t. Just don’t. Alright?”
“I said don’t.”
Quiet fills the car. There isn’t even the sound of Freddie Mercury to assuage the nauseating pain in his stomach, the feeling of his throat closing like he’s having an allergic reaction. He wants to cry. He wants to cry for the first time in a very, very long time. He blinks away the feeling, and holds himself together with pure will power, just like he held together this car a few weeks back.
Only, he’s been holding himself together for roughly six thousand years. It’s getting close to too much. His metaphorical knees are buckling. Atlas only wishes he were as resilient as Crowley.
Aziraphale exhales- a long, shaky breath. Crowley doesn’t turn to look, can’t bear it.
Besides, he’s known him- loved him long enough that he can see him in his mind’s eye easily. Eyes sometimes dreamy, brows sometimes pulled together in concern. Lips sometimes twisted in disapproval, sometimes beaming with so much unreserved joy that Crowley has to tease him. Just so he doesn’t end up gazing, bathing in the brightness of that smile.
And then Aziraphale huffs to himself- a determined little noise that sets Crowley on edge. And he’s already too close to the edge to handle. He’s only just got a hold of himself as it is, hands shaking on the wheels and knee bouncing. The threat of tears still there, threatening to make him choke on his breath- it gets stuck in his throat.
“Crowley,” Aziraphale says. So gently.
That’s almost what does it- it’s almost what makes Crowley lose control, teeth grinding painfully and eyes stinging. The motorway stretching out in front of them, empty. Time stretching out even further.
Then the angel speaks again. “You can go faster, Crowley.”
The words trickle through his brain slowly, like drops of water building at the rim of a tap. Then- drip. Understanding. Crowley’s throat clicks as he swallows, painfully.
“That is- of course, only if you want to,” Aziraphale rushes, waves his hands desperately, “You can- drive- go- uh, you can go as slowly as you like, only, don’t feel obliged to go slowly on my account. Anymore.”
The angel clears his throat. And Crowley turns to look.
He’s smiling. He looks absolutely bloody terrified, eyes a little wide and watery just like that day-
You go too fast for me, Crowley.
-except now he’s smiling. A quiet, wobbly smile to himself as he stares out of the rain streaked window. Crowley watches the way the orange street light passes through his silver hair, making it appear more like brass. He watches him bite his lip, then continue.
“We could. Oh, I don’t know. We could do that picnic we talked about. Or, perhaps a walk through Wimbledon Common. Together. Or.” He pauses. “Or, if you wanted to, you could drop me off and come in for a night cap. I have some rather nice port hiding somewhere in my office.”
Aziraphale turns to meet his eyes. A look filled with welcome and kindness and understanding. Light catching his face like a Vermeer painting. And Crowley lets himself stare.
“Eyes on the road, my dear.”
He only realises that his mouth is hanging open when he tries to forumlate his next words. He shuts it, then says, “What?”
“Eyes on the road, Crowley. Before we both get discorporated.”
It takes another moment to register. But then his head snaps forwards and he looks ahead again, the road continuing into the dark towards London. He can feel all the air rush out of him like a balloon. And then something else replaces it- something lighter than air, something that makes his mind feel like it’s drifting to another plane. Something weightless.
“Picnic,” Crowley eventually says, nodding to himself. He scratches his chin nervously. “Picnic then walk. Or, walk then picnic.”
Because- and Crowley can’t quite believe himself for this- he thinks a night cap might be a bit too fast for him.
“Lovely,” Aziraphale says. The word comes out in a whisper. “You can pick me up at midday tomorrow. If that’s-”
“That’s.” Crowley stalls. Nods his head compulsively like a nodding car-toy. “That’s. Yeah. Midday’s good. Midday it is.”
“Angel,” he replies seriously, business-like.
There’s a moment of hesitation. Aziraphale breathes deeply beside him, like a man stepping off the train from London to Cornwall, taking in the countryside air for the first time in years.
“I do love you. An awful lot.”
Crowley continues to nod. But he can feel the facade slip. He can sense his bottom lip wobble, so he clamps his jaw tight shut. To no avail. He continues to drive them down the M25, although at this point he could be in St James’ Park, or in the middle of a desert, or on another planet- his mind is entirely elsewhere.
It’s not a conscious decision to stretch out his hand over the gear stick towards Aziraphale. It’s something desperate in him, something needy and disbelieving. He feels Aziraphale take it without pause, his clasp warm in his own.