Adam came home for the holidays from his third year at university with a lot of reading, an old clanger of a kombi van (it was basically a clubhouse on wheels, how was that not amazing), and his boyfriend, Warlock.
(Adam had come out to his parents when he was fifteen. “You know, I think I like girls and boys,” he had said, in the even, considering way he had. Mrs Young – who might have had an adventurous girlhood – just replied “Oh? That’s nice dear, I’m about to put on a load of laundry, is your dirty football shirt in the hamper?” Mr Young – who was a tad traditional – had chewed furiously on his pipe stem, gone out to have A Good Think down at the country pub, and the next day the bumper of his car was, for the first time ever adorned with a bumper sticker. R P Tyler humphed when he saw it. “Piff-lag? What’s a piff-lag?!”)
Adam had met Warlock at a university writing group. Adam liked writing fiction, and to be honest he still thought the more dinosaurs, pirates, detectives and aliens in one story, the better. In his spare time he was tinkering with something he thought might be a good first book in a series of children’s books. (Five years from now, it is indeed going to be a very successful children’s series. It is acclaimed for combining wonderfully imaginative plots with themes about friendship, forgiveness and belonging. They even make a TV mini-series based on it.)
Warlock was a bit of a poet. He’d never grown out of the floppy hairstyle he’d had when he was eleven, and a tendency to slightly overwrought poetry came with the territory. The thing was, when he stopped trying so hard, his poetry was actually slightly fantastic. Between his childhood in England and America and some very complicated father issues, he had a lot to say. (Three years from now, his debut book of poetry is going to make a small but critically-lauded splash. He will win awards. His mother will be proud when her friends congratulate her, his father slightly pleased but baffled. Neither of them will actually understand what the poems are about.)
So, Adam and Warlock had met, and even though they had very little in common – Adam was studying literature and theology, Warlock political studies and, oddly, biology – they immediately got on like a house on fire. They were, in quick succession, drinking acquaintances, then meet-up-after-class friends, then hang-out-all-weekend friends, and finally, after a bit of liquid courage and a blushing mutual confession, boyfriends. Unfortunately, given that they were both twenty-years-old and full of love and testosterone, both their marks suffered for a whole term and their flatmates got fed up with walking in on unexpected amorous encounters. (“You’re using up all the hot water, you wanker!” “Guilty as charged for boooottth, oh fuck!” “Adam just use your own room, Jesus Christ. I need to get to my shift!” “Nope, not him-yes, there.” “Adam!!!”)
Anyway, they’d been together for a year and had settled into that curiously comfortable kind of relationship, Adam’n’Warlock, which all their friends just knew meant that this couple were in it for the long haul. Most of their friends and classmates were breaking up, making up and making out with different people on a fairly regular basis, but Adam and Warlock were it. Everyone just knew.
So, Adam was taking Warlock home with him for the holidays to meet his parents and – more importantly – meet his dog and see Tadfield.
(When Adam had first mentioned his village to Warlock, the other boy had made a “Hm!” of recognition. “Is that the place a bit further out past Oxford? ‘Cause I was actually born there, in a tiny rural maternity hospital run by mad nuns. Mom used to pull it out all the time when she wanted Dad to do something, you know “You abandoned me to give birth by myself with the nuns!”
“Yeah, that’s the place,” said Adam, who had absorbed a bit of the workings of the Infernal Plan back when Hell was trying its best to make him want to destroy the world. He put together ‘Nuns’ and ‘American diplomat’s son’ and came up with ‘oh shit’. “Hey, when’s your birthday? Wouldn’t it be funny if we were there at the same time?”
Warlock told him. Adam found that it wasn’t as funny as he’d hoped it would be. Part of the reason it had taken him this long to take Warlock to Tadfield was a tiny, resentful fear about taking someone who was, technically, his parents’ biological child home to meet them, and what if they just knew and liked him better? It took Adam a while to think about this and decide that it was okay. If nothing else, he was absolutely sure that Dog wouldn’t like Warlock better.)
As they drove into Tadfield in Adam’s kombi van, he told Warlock stories about his childhood. Warlock had, of course, met the Them, but hadn’t heard all the stories about their adventures. Warlock, in turn, told Adam about his own childhood in England, including his very odd (but still beloved) Nanny and the funny gardener.
Something about the descriptions pinged something in the back of Adam’s brain, and he encouraged Warlock to tell more stories about them until Adam was sure. And then, because deep down Adam was still a little devilish (a rapscallion! his father said; mischievous! his mother said; a little shit, said R P Tyler, when no one could hear him swear), he took out his phone when they were stopped for a driving break and sent a text to his old friend Mr Crowley, inviting him and Mr Fell to stop by and have tea while Adam was home, they could meet his boyfriend, would Saturday afternoon suit?
Yeah, why not, haven’t got anything better on, the phone dinged in reply. Then Adam could tell that Aziraphale had managed to get hold of the phone because it said (in several, oddly-broken up messages because Aziraphale actually thought character count still mattered) Dear Adam, We would be Very Delighted to Visit, and Saturday would Suit very well. Please do let us know if we can bring a [cake emoji] oh how sweet it’s a little picture of a [cake emoji]! With all Affection, Your Friends Aziraphale and Crowley.
Adam and Warlock arrived on Thursday. To Adam’s relief, his mother immediately liked Warlock, but not too much. She was welcoming and friendly and, after the boys had told her about the funny coincidence of where Warlock had been born, had fondly remembered Warlock’s mother and told him to give her Mrs Young’s regards. Adam’s father had been a little stiff at first but shook Warlock’s hand seriously and later quietly told Adam he thought he’d found himself a very nice young man.
Dog (technically getting on in years, but without even one grey whisker on his muzzle, enjoying keeping Tadfield in line in his master’s absence, particularly the uppity kittens of that old orange tom down the way), spent a good few minutes seriously sniffing the hems of Warlock’s jeans and Warlock’s offered hand before deciding that this human was acceptable. For now. He did give a little growl and let his eyes flash red for a moment, which was Hellhound for if you hurt my master they will never find your body, and it will be because I ate it and your soul is screaming in Hell, and then I will eat your soul too.
On Saturday, Adam – who really was a little shit, and slightly proud of it – set up the little table in the garden outside with a teapot and cups (he may have been twenty, but he was also English), a plate of Mum’s biscuits, and settled back with Warlock to wait for his guests. He’d only told Warlock that they were old friends of the family he liked to catch up with now and then. From his perspective, the resulting afternoon was entirely worth it.
Aziraphale felt quite cheerful as he walked with Crowley around the corner of the Youngs’ house into the garden. (After popping his head in to properly greet Mr and Mrs Young, of course. Lovely couple. Mrs Young sometimes sent him muffins.) Crowley was sauntering slightly ahead of him, so Aziraphale nearly walked into him when Crowley abruptly wheeled on one heel and stood shock still with his back to the garden. “What…?” asked Aziraphale, trying to peer over Crowley’s shoulder. He could see Adam – growing up so nicely! – and another dark-haired young man who must be the boyfriend.
“Does anyone there look familiar? I am going to kill Adam, he’s done this on purpose!” Crowley hissed – literally, in his sudden consternation his tongue was flicking a little and Aziraphale suspected that behind his glasses his pupils were a little larger than usual.
Aziraphale frowned. “Well, Adam of course. And-“
“Nanny Ashtoreth?” came a disbelieving – and American – voice. “Is that you?”
Crowley made a sound like a muffled sneeze and Aziraphale felt the demonic miracle as Crowley’s appearance changed slightly. Not to full-Nanny – Warlock had already had a glimpse of Crowley’s outfit after all – but his outfit shifted ever so slightly from just cooler than you to middle-aged-but-still-stylish-ex-nanny-with-a-penchant-for-black. The black jeans were still black, but higher waisted and rather less worn; his jacket transformed slightly to a fitted blazer; the black shirt now a neatly tucked-in black blouse accented with a tasteful string of pearls. His short hair settled into a stylish slightly curly swoop that was no-nonsense but now decidedly feminine, and his thin lips were accented with a dark rose lipstick.
Crowley turned back around, but not before widening his eyes meaningfully at Aziraphale and flicking them down Aziraphale’s suit.
“Warlock, darling, can that ever be you? What a lovely surprise!” said Crowley in a soft Scottish accent. Aziraphale took a moment to work a quick miracle of his own. Oh dear, he couldn’t go full-sideburns, could he? But his pants became slightly baggier, he took off his coat (not risking a miracle on that!) to reveal a knitted vest and checked shirt rather than his waistcoat.
Warlock was standing, and greeting Crowley with pleased astonishment. “Gosh, Adam, your old friend is my Nanny Ashtoreth! What an amazing co-incidence! I haven’t seen her since our family left England when I was eleven. Nanny, how have you been?” Crowley managed to direct that particular American ebullience into a handshake rather than a hug, and sat down at the table.
“Adam, you never mentioned your young man’s name,” he said through gritted teeth. Aziraphale hurried over gently press one hand on Crowley’s shoulder.
“Young Master Warlock!” Aziraphale said, West County accent coming back easily, before Crowley could curse Adam. “Do you remember your old gardener?”
This time, Warlock was nearly speechless. “Brother Francis? You…that is…you’re….you look well?” (Warlock was a diplomat’s son. Polite niceties for every social situation were bred into him, even if he was absolutely flabbergasted.)
“I had a haircut,” said Aziraphale, and sat quickly.
“And some dental work,” said Crowley, with a sharp look at Aziraphale. Oops, forgot about those blasted teeth! On the other side of the table Warlock was slowly sitting, still staring at Crowley and Aziraphale.
“Oh, isn’t this a nice surprise!” said Adam brightly. “Tea, anyone?”
Aziraphale accepted, and nudged Crowley’s ankle with his foot until the demon smiled tightly and took a cup too. “So, young Warlock. You’re studying at the same university as Adam?”
“Oh, yes. Mom and Dad wanted me to go to college back home, but I really thought I’d like to come back here for a while. Really stretch my wings, you know?”
“What are you studying, dear?” asked Crowley. Aziraphale felt a little conflicted – he’d loved Warlock of course, as he loved all humans, and had grown a little fond of the boy in his own right in the few years they’d spent working at his house. But, he still smarted a little from the terrible reaction to his magic act, and he had to be honest with himself that once the whole Armageddon had failed to happen and he’d checked that Warlock was safely removed back to America with his family, he hadn’t really given the boy a second thought.
Crowley, on the other hand, had spent a lot more time with Warlock, raising him, singing him to sleep, playing games – even if those games were with the goal to prime him to destroy the world. Crowley had been happy enough to keep in touch with Adam, but Aziraphale caught him a few times looking at Warlock’s profile on that Face Book (it wasn’t even a proper book!).
“Oh, it’s a bit of a mixed bag,” said Warlock. “I’m doing political studies-“
“Oh, politics and leadership, very good,” said Crowley, with a side look to Aziraphale that meant See, that’s my influence.
“-and biology.” Aziraphale’s meaningful look at Crowley meant And mine too, reverence for all living things, no doubt! “But what about you two,” said Warlock. “I didn’t know you knew each other outside of work.” A sudden thought struck him. “Wait…are you together?”
“Oh, sure,” said Adam. “They’re such a sweet couple, really.” Aziraphale thought he understood Crowley’s earlier sentiment, seeing the glint in Adam’s eye. Really!
“Did you get married?” asked Warlock, eagerly. Clearly, he found this a rather romantic notion.
Aziraphale brought his hands under the table, and quickly twisted off the gold ring he wore on his little finger – had worn, since he first had a corporation - palming it under the table to press it into Crowley’s hand. Crowley looked at him for a moment, startled, then took the ring and slipped it onto his left ring finger, bringing both hands up to lace nonchalantly on the table, ring catching the light.
Aziraphale sat back with a small satisfied grin. And Crowley thought that his slight-of-hand skills weren’t any use!
“We did, yes,” said Crowley. “Once he had a bit of a shave, that is.” The grin dropped off Aziraphale’s face. That was a bit rude, Brother Francis was a fully realised character!
“Wow! I would never have imagined it!” said Warlock.
“It was a surprise to all of us,” said Aziraphale. “But God works in mysterious ways!”
Crowley’s expressed fixed for a moment, and Aziraphale felt a kick on his ankle. Ow! Across the table, Adam tried to cover a snigger.
“Tell us more about how you’ve been, Master Warlock,” said Aziraphale, trying to turn the conversation around. “How did you meet our young friend Adam, here?”
Warlock happily started chatting, with Adam chiming in too at intervals – this was clearly a well-worn and familiar story. Crowley tilted his head slightly towards Aziraphale, and lifted one hand to scratch his nose, using the movement to disguise his muttered question. “What do you think, angel? Of the two of them?”
Aziraphale sighed happily and murmured back. “Oh, it’s very nice. They’re in love, and it’s going to last.” If this last statement had been emphasised slightly with a little angelic blessing to ensure it was true – well. Aziraphale was very fond of Adam, and Warlock was probably owed something from them for his odd upbringing.
Across the table Adam and Warlock had finished their rundown of how-they-met, their studies and what papers they were working on. Warlock was clearly still fascinated by his nanny and gardener’s love story. Aziraphale supposed it would come across rather romantic to the young.
“Are you still a nanny?” asked Warlock.
“Oh no, we’re retired,” said Crowley. And with a slight wink to Aziraphale. “We’re both quite enjoying getting along without instructions from head office.”
“How old are you anyway?” Really, Americans could be so brash! “’Cause you don’t really look older than I remember. But I suppose kids aren’t the best at judging that sort of thing?”
“Really dear, I thought I would have taught you better than to ask a lady her age!” said Crowley sternly. “We’re young enough to still enjoy ourselves, and that’s enough of that.”
Adam had abruptly stopped smirking for a moment. Aziraphale stifled a smile of his own. Crowley-as-Ashtoreth had the ability to be absolutely terrifying. Crowley-as-Crowley had a tendency to the dramatic, but Ashtoreth just went very quiet and severe. It was oddly attractive, Aziraphale thought, and then was surprised at himself. Where had that come from?
“Sorry, Nanny Ashtoreth.” Warlock hung his head contritely. Aziraphale reached over to pat Crowley’s had approvingly and then just let his hand…stay here. Crowley turned his hand slightly so he was holding Aziraphale’s on top of the table. They deliberately did not look at each other. Observant Adam looked thrilled. “I’m happy for you, I really am. I wouldn’t have guessed that you two would end up together, what with all that ‘Don’t listen to him, listen to me,’ but I suppose it makes sense.”
“…it does?” asked Aziraphale, slightly faintly.
“Well, sure. I think I remember sometimes when I’d wake up and go to find Nanny, I’d find you two sitting and talking. And you both looked…happy in a way I don’t think I saw at other times. Relaxed.”
“Oh, really,” said Adam. “This is so interesting!”
Aziraphale and Crowley sat in mutual mortification, but they didn’t let go of each other’s hand. Aziraphale could feel his ring, warm and smooth around Crowley’s finger, and found he rather liked it.
“Oh yes,” said Warlock. “Actually, I don’t know how I missed it. Opposites attract, I guess! Nanny Ashtoreth,” he confided to Adam, “was always telling me to grind the world under my heel, and then Brother Francis-“
“Just Francis is fine, really,” said Azriaphale faintly.
“-would tell me to have reverence for all living things. We’d spend ages looking at all the slugs and birds in the garden. That’s what got me interested in biology, really.” Aziraphale shot Crowley a quick victorious look. Warlock took a biscuit and sat back, looking thoughtfully at the angel and demon. “Yeah. I wouldn’t have called it, but there’s just something about you two, you know?”
“I totally agree,” said Adam quickly. “I hope we’re as happy as you when we’ve been together that long.”
“What, six thousssand years?” hissed Crowley out of the corner of his mouth to Aziraphale, while he smiled at the boys and took a sip of tea.
At the same time Aziraphale murmured behind a biscuit, “Ninety years?”
“What.” said Crowley, very quietly.
“Oh, dear,” muttered Aziraphale, and quickly took a bite of the biscuit.
Perhaps with a subconscious sense of self-preservation, Adam and Warlock didn’t pursue that line of conversation, and instead allowed Aziraphale to turn it back to their studies, the health of their parents, Dog’s antics, and the weather.
After a socially appropriate amount of time, as early evening approached, Aziraphale and Crowley made their farewells. Warlock paused after offering handshakes, then quickly darted in to hug a surprised Aziraphale. Crowley was hiding a smirk at poor startled Azirphale’s face before one of Warlock’s long arms reached out and pulled Crowley in with an “oomph”.
“I was a shit when I was a kid,” said Warlock quickly and quietly.
“Language!” said Crowley, who approved of swearing in principle but who as a Nanny had encouraged young Warlock to express his disdain of his fellow humans in a more eloquent way.
“-but you were so kind to me, even if you were kind of weird, and I didn’t say it at the time but thank you. And I am really happy for you both, you deserve it.”
“Oh,” said Aziraphale, touched. “You’re very welcome. We’re both awfully proud to see you grown up into such a fine young man.” He paused, and prodded Crowley, who cleared his throat roughly and nodded.
“What he said,” muttered Crowley. He would have denied it to the end of the universe (again) but he was very glad he had glasses to cover his eyes, which were not suspiciously shiny.
Back at the Bentley, Aziraphale and Crowley waited until they were safely inside before Crowley miracled his usual clothing back with a sigh of relief. “I always forget how uncomfortable bras are.”
Aziraphale was patting his knitted vest. “You know, this is actually rather ni-“
“Nope!” said Crowley. “You are not doing vests.”
“Very well,” pouted Aziraphale, and miracled his waistcoat back. Crowley was holding his left hand up, fingers spread, and Aziraphale heard him sigh slightly before moving to pull Aziraphale’s gold ring off his finger. “Oh, um, you can keep it on if you want,” said Aziraphale quickly. Crowley just stopped and looked at him for a moment, and the angel felt a blush rise on his face.
“Well, it seems appropriate for you to have something after six thousand years.”
Now Crowley blushed – unlike Aziraphale he was just too cool for it to show on his face, but the tips of his ears turned a little red. “You’ll have to forgive me, apparently I’ve only had ninety years to come up with something for you.” His tone was a little sarcastic, but Aziraphale knew him well enough to hear the slightly shaky sincerity underneath.
Aziraphale smiled at Crowley. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll come up with something! Only appropriate if we’re marr-“
“We are not really-“
“We could be.”
Crowley sat for a moment with jaw dropped, then visibly gathered himself and gestured his hand at the Bentley, the engine rumbling obediently to life, and moved to put the car into gear. “Thought about his, have you?”
Aziraphale put his hand on top of Crowley’s where it sat on top of the gearstick. “Not as such but-“ Crowley snorted. “But, I liked it. When those boys thought we were together, like that. I already do everything with you, and there’s no one else I’d rather…that is to say, I think it would make me very happy if I could call myself your spouse. Husband, I suppose, given our corporations, but-“
“Yes,” said Crowley in a hoarse voice. He cleared his throat. “Yes. I’d like that too.” He was looking fixedly at his hand on the steering wheel, but under Aziraphale’s fingers his other hand turned upwards to grip tightly.
Aziraphale couldn’t help himself, and beamed with delight at Crowley. “Oh, my dear.” He reached over to Crowley’s other hand and pulled it slightly towards him, gently swivelling Crowley in his seat until they were facing each other, then reached up – slowly, so Crowley could stop him if he wanted – to pull off Crowley’s glasses. “I’m so very glad.”
Crowley stared at Aziraphale a second, some emotion at the corners of his lips, before with a small needy noise he lunged forward to press his lips to Aziraphale’s. The angel was a little surprised, but all too glad to return the kiss. He hadn’t really had much practice at this kind of thing, but he was very pleased to find that it all seemed to come rather naturally. And the wide bench-like seats of the Bentley made it gratifyingly easy for Crowley to move over and straddle Aziraphale’s lap, which was really quite a nice development. Goodness, this ‘being married’ thing came with quite a few benefits, didn’t it?
Making their way back into the house, Adam and Warlock were slightly surprised to see the Bentley still parked outside, then amused when they realised the windows were steamed up and vague shapes could be seen moving within.
“Oh, gross!” said Warlock. “I mean, I’m happy for them, but they’re old!”
Adam elbowed Warlock, then reached down to hold his boyfriend’s hand. “Aww, c’mon, I think it’s sweet. Hey, tomorrow can we pop out to the stationers up in the village? I just remembered I never sent them a ‘Congratulations on your wedding’ card.”
“Isn’t it a bit late for that?”
Adam grinned. “Nah. I think they’ll like it.”