Errands. Errands, Crowley had always thought, were the source of much of the insidious, low-level wrath in the world. Here you are, on a day off, perhaps heading out for a picnic with your best angel at your side, but first you had to take a bloody detour into central London to drop off paperwork that somehow just couldn’t be magicked into the correct files and instead required you to randomly add at least two hours and untold psychic tons of frustration to your morning. It was enough to make any demon move to Timbuktu.
“Ah good,” Crowley said, pulling the car up into an empty space directly in front of the rather imposing-looking building he needed and throwing the car heavily into park, “parking. Wait here, I’ll be back in a tick, and then we’re out of this town for the day!”
Aziraphale, ever observant, noted the fact that they spot he had parked in looked very official with a variety of painted stripes and signs saying the equivalent of “Do not even THINK of parking here” but Crowley was out the door in a flash and running inside before he could even form the first word.
He settled back in the passenger seat and helped himself to a biscuit from the tartan tin he’d brought along, and closed his eyes for a moment while he waited.
A tap at the window startled Aziraphale out of his reverie. Outside, a stern-looking chap in a bright yellow vest and black hat gestured at him to roll down the window.
“May I help you?” Aziraphale said politely.
“Nice car,” the man said, “but you can’t park it here.”
“Oh, I assure you, I didn’t,” said Aziraphale brightly. “My friend did, he’s just popped inside for a moment to pick up something from the clerk – or drop something off, I really can’t recall -- and we’ll be out of your way in a jiffy as soon as he gets back.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but this is an official government spot, and you need to move this car right now,” the parking enforcement officer said, “or I’m going to have it towed.”
“Oh my,” Aziraphale fretted, looking at the keys that were swinging from the ignition in an almost taunting manner. Crowley never used the keys, preferring to start the engine with a snap instead, so they mostly hung there as decoration. He did like an authentic experience in his vehicle. “He’s most particular, my friend. No one else is allowed to drive his car. I’m afraid he’ll be frightfully angry.”
The officer looked incredulously at the strange man in the passenger seat for a moment.
“Well,” he said slowly, “he’s going to be pretty ticked off if you let his Bentley get towed, too, isn’t he? Now shove over and move the car. Tow truck’s already on the way.”
Flustered, Aziraphale slid over and reached for the key. The Bentley tormented him with a little spark of static electricity that made him snatch his hand back guiltily.
“Come now,” Aziraphale muttered. “Do you want to be towed? I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to let me do this!”
The car offered no further protests.
Contrary to popular opinion, Aziraphale did know how to drive. Or rather, he knew the book equivalent of how a car worked and what the driver needed to do. He’d driven once or twice in the past eighty years, not well perhaps, but he hadn’t discorporated anyone either. He hadn’t driven the Bentley, true, but he had read a number of books about the Bentley and how it worked. What he lacked was just the practical application of all of that knowledge.
Which, he thought with a swallow, was what he was apparently about to get.
He turned the key with a large and alarming grinding sound, slid it into gear, and with a silent plea to the Bentley to please for the love of all that is good or evil help him out a little bit here, eased out into traffic. A few cars blared their horns at him rather nastily, but no one ran into them, so that was rather a win, as far as Aziraphale was concerned.
Unfortunately, there was no further parking anywhere on the block, so Aziraphale’s immediate hopes to just move the car a few feet were quickly extinguished. Same with hoping to just put it around the nearest corner. Nothing in sight. So with little other recourse, he decided to just slowly drive around the block and hopefully end up right in front of the building as Crowley emerged, where he could maybe somehow quickly throw it into park and hide the fact that the car had been driven at all.
It was a reasonable plan, wasn’t it? Aziraphale was sure it could work.
Getting around the block in midday traffic was quite a slow proposition, though, especially when one was nervously driving at approximately half of the current speed limit. He had just turned a particularly hairy corner when he was startled by a sudden POP noise and Crowley appeared in the passenger seat, carrying with him the slightest whiff of sulfur.
“What in the bloody hell are you doing, angel?” Crowley growled. “Pull over, right now.”
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
In which a rather large snit is had.
Aziraphale quickly pulled over as far as traffic would allow, to a cacophony of horns and curses from his fellow drivers, and then watched helplessly as Crowley hopped out of the car before it even came to a full stop and made his way around to the driver’s side, enthusiastically offering his middle finger to everyone who was protesting. Aziraphale nervously scooted left to the passenger seat and ceded the drivers seat to him.
“My dear, I can explain – “
“No, you can’t, because there’s no good enough explanation for you to have taken off in my car!” Crowley hissed, throwing the car into drive and zooming recklessly back out into traffic while hitting the horn aggressively. “Just decide to go for a little joy ride, did you?”
“Of course not!” Aziraphale protested. “I didn’t want to drive your car! I had to!”
Crowley spared him a quick and nasty glare with one eyebrow crooked up mercilessly. “Oh? And why’s that?”
“The traffic officer was going to tow it! I tried to make them wait for you, but they insisted I move the car.”
“They shouldn’t have even noticed it,” Crowley said, unimpressed. “The Bentley knows to make itself inconspicuous.”
“I think you parked in a government spot – someone important. Really my dear, they were quite strict!
Crowley rolled his eyes. “You could have called me. You do have a mobile, you know!”
“I didn’t think of that,” Aziraphale acknowledged. Somehow using the phone as anything other than a camera or place to look up cute cat pictures and recipes rarely occurred to him.
“Or - you know, just smoothed out their minds a little bit so they overlooked it. Fixed it!” Crowley continued, clearly moving into ranting mode. “What’s the point of having a supernatural entity as a partner if he won’t use his powers to get your car out of trouble?”
“What’s the point? Of me?” Aziraphale said hotly. “And besides, why should I mess about with the man’s brain when you were the one who parked illegally?”
The demon made a long sound of indistinct rage that sounded something like “GAHHHHHHHARGH” and which quite clearly indicated that this had been the utterly wrong thing to say. Aziraphale looked over and saw that he was clutching the steering wheel hard enough to turn his knuckles white.
“I didn’t want to drive it,” Aziraphale repeated, voice tight. “I just thought you’d be even angrier if I just stood there and let it get towed.”
“Yes, I would’ve been.” Crowley was in no mood to be soothed. “Still doesn’t give you a pass.”
“Plus, look!” Azirphale gestured around the front seat. “All in one piece. No dents, no scrapes. I did fine!”
“You’re bloody lucky, is what you are,” Crowley said darkly. “I saw how you were driving!”
Aziraphale blinked. “You did not! You apparated right into the car and I pulled over immediately.”
“Well – I heard the horns being honked at you, and I know you were creeping along at like ten miles per hour endangering yourself and everyone else on the road.” Crowley barked out a harsh laugh. “If I hadn’t popped up when I did, someone probably would have murdered you just from the road rage.”
Aziraphale huffed. Clearly his driving skills were not about to be appreciated in the least.
“So I shouldn’t have driven it, and I shouldn’t have let them tow it,” Aziraphale repeated. “Am I to understand that there was no correct course of action, then?”
Crowley stared straight ahead and deemed that unworthy of an answer. He could think of at least three perfectly fine courses of action that the angel had apparently not even considered.
Aziraphale sniffed and turned to look out the passenger window. “Well that hardly seems fair.”
They drove in silence for a while as they headed out of central London and onto the motorway heading north of the city. Crowley maintained a steely silence and Aziraphale, now quite irritated in return, did the same, watching the scenery go by while playing the conversation over in his mind.
They reached their destination after another dismal half hour had passed – a gorgeous stretch of park land with very few visitors. Crowley parked the car on the side of the road and got out without a word to the angel, who took his time stretching and exiting the passenger door.
“So,” the angel said. “Are we still picnicking?”
“We’re here, aren’t we?” Crowley snapped. “Of course we’re picnicking.”
Aziraphale sighed and adjusted his cuffs in a long-suffering manner before he reached in to grab the hamper out of the back seat. By the time he’d retrieved it, Crowley was already stalking off across the hill in front of them.
“I have had just about enough of this particular snit,” he said to no one in particular, then trudged off after him.
I'm not sure why I decided to cut this chapter off before they manage to work things out -- perhaps I'm feeling contrary, as it originally carried all the way through the whole picnic. Rest assured, more is on the way soon!
Also, thank you so much for reading and commenting! I've been having a serious bummer of a week this week and both returning to writing about these two dorks and reading your comments are making me feel a lot better!
In which Aziraphale reads a book, Crowley dangles menacingly from a tree, and they eventually have a heart to heart.
Crowley headed over the first hill and through a copse of trees until he came to a lovely place with an expansive view. He stopped and turned expectantly to Aziraphale, who drew to a halt before him.
“Voila,” the demon said, waving his arms grandly and sketching a bow that somehow came out intensely mocking. “Your picnic site.”
The angel dropped the basket with a sigh and took a step towards Crowley. “My dear boy, I’m going to have to insist you at least try to behave like an adult here. If you’re upset with me, talk to me about it, don’t just –” he gestured around futilely – “stomp around like some kind of drama queen and glare.”
Crowley was too much of a snake to let himself be cowed that easily. He raised an eyebrow. “Drama queen? Really Aziraphale? That’s just rich.”
“What else should I call your current behavior?” Aziraphale shot back.
Crowley gave a loud, insulted sniff and brought the conversation to a close by dropping into snake form. He slithered over to the base of a nearby tree and coiled up.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Aziraphale said. “Fine, then. You sulk if you like, I’m going to have lunch.”
He sat down, turned his back on Crowley, and set about unpacking the hamper. First, he spent at least five minutes smoothing the blanket out until it was perfect, then he pulled out a lovely bottle of Beaujolais, a few cheeses, dark and luscious purple grapes and dried apricots, and a container with a variety of little finger sandwiches. Finally, he conjured himself up a lovely volume of poetry he’d been working his way through. He leaned back, snapped a linen napkin into shape in his lap, and began reading. He utterly ignored his companion.
Crowley tried to abide this, but if there’s one thing a snake in the midst of a snit can’t handle, it’s being ignored. He stewed and watched the angel settle in, then he set about a variety of ways to regain the attention that he felt was rightfully his.
Crowley slithered up the tree and hung from a branch that nearly reached over the blanket, hissing menacingly as he swayed in the breeze.
Aziraphale placidly took a sip from his wine glass and held it up to the sun to enjoy the beautiful gold tinge of the liquid inside.
Crowley conjured himself a rattle tail, which he shook fiercely. This was new and unprecedented in his snake form, and he was sure it would at least garner him a glance.
Aziraphale serenely turned the page in his book and helped himself to another sandwich. It looked like a delicious one, too.
Crowley curled up in the meeting of two branches and buried his nose in his coils, trying to burn a hole in the angel’s collar by glaring balefully down at his neck. Any moment now, there would be steam arising from the spot he was focused on, he was sure.
The angel and his collar seemed blissfully unconcerned by this assault. Aziraphale rolled his shoulders contentedly and reached for a grape.
After twenty minutes of this, Crowley was ready to admit he was feeling somewhat ridiculous. Also, it was no fun being a prat if no one was watching. Instead, he was forced to watch his anger and resentment melt into a vague sense of embarrassment.
Crowley slithered back down to the grass and reassumed his human form. He sat there for a moment, unsure of what to do next.
“S-s-s-sorry…” he said quietly.
Aziraphale must really have been into his book, Crowley thought, because it was like he didn’t even hear him.
He stood up and walked around to the far side of the blanket, where he sat down sheepishly and waited for Aziraphale to look up.
“I’m sorry, angel,” he said, after a few minutes passed with no reaction. “I guess I’ve been kind of awful.”
“Yes, you have,” Aziraphale said pleasantly, continuing to read.
Crowley ground his teeth for a moment. “I said I apologize…”
“Oh, meant it, did you?” Aziraphale said, brightly.
“All right, all right,” Crowley said. “I did. I’m sorry. I know you didn’t just take the car on a joy ride.”
Aziraphale offered him a perfectly bland smile. “That’s nice, dear.”
Crowley thought for a moment. What did the angel want besides the apology he'd already offered? Seriously, he thought, trying to get inside the feelings of others and not just be petty and vengeful was really the most exhausting thing in the whole bloody world. He made a mental note to have a sulk about that later, when he was alone. Why couldn’t love just mean that the other person constantly understood you and never demanded anything challenging in return? That, he thought, would be absolutely swell.
“Thank you?” he offered. “For not letting the Bentley get towed? That… that would’ve been a lot worse.”
The smile he got this time was more genuine. Until, that is, it morphed into a troubled expression. Crowley watched the transformation and worried about what was coming next.
“I should apologize too, my dear,” Aziraphale said.
“Don’t strain yourself,” Crowley mumbled, unable to stop himself.
Aziraphale frowned for a moment, then decided to let that one go. “You’re right that I should’ve just called you – or used a miracle or something. I could’ve tried harder to sort it out.”
Crowley tried to pick his words carefully. “Well… ” he said finally. “I mean, I’d have done it for you. If someone came for your books or something. I wouldn’t have just -- ” he tried for a clever metaphor but failed utterly “—taken them out for a drive around the block.”
Aziraphale absorbed that for a moment. “No, you wouldn’t have, would you? You would've just -- ” he mimed a snap of the fingers. "All fixed."
Crowley shrugged. “To be fair, though, I’m better at making quick decisions than you are.”
“You are, you really are.” It certainly hadn’t taken Crowley six thousand years to decide to commit to a relationship, Aziraphale thought. He’d always been the one holding everything up. He was the ditherer, constantly weighing the pros and cons of things until the moment had nearly passed him by. “I’m slow," he admitted sadly. "I’m slow and I’m soft and I must drive you mad.”
“No. You don’t." Crowley frowned. "Don't put yourself down, angel. I happen to like you exactly that way.”
Aziraphale smiled a little. “I’m so very glad.”
Crowley leaned forward and helped himself to a glass of the Beaujolais, and investigated what remained of the sandwiches. He refilled the angel’s glass too, while he was at it.
“What do you think?” he said finally. “Can we salvage a bit of this day?”
“I’d very much like to,” the angel said, sounding hopeful.
Crowley slid a hand onto Aziraphale’s thigh and leaned in for a kiss. “Let’s start here, then,” he suggested.
Aziraphale did his best to let his lips answer.
Managing one’s demonic boyfriend, Aziraphale thought, was mainly a matter of knowing when to push and when to give a little. Even if he could try the patience of a saint sometimes.
We are not done yet, my friends. Stay tuned for ... du du DUH... a driving lesson. And there will be sheep. And Crowley will be exceedingly patient, while Aziraphale is exceedingly prim. I promise you a more light hearted and fun chapter.
There will be a delay of a couple days before the next chapter posts - it's 75% written, but tomorrow is my father's birthday and I will be out and about with no time to finish it until at least Friday. Saturday hopefully at the latest!
Thank you for reading and commenting!
In which Aziraphale prefers to drive in straight lines only, Crowley is unusually patient, and an old conversation comes to light.
Managing one’s angelic boyfriend, Crowley thought, involved always keeping them a little on their toes.
“Here,” Crowley said, tossing the keys to Aziraphale on the way back to the car when the picnic had drawn to a close several hours later. “You drive for a bit.”
Aziraphale sputtered. “That – that is not at all funny, my dear. I thought you were done with –”
Crowley made a placating gesture. “I’m not having a go at you,” he said, “I’m serious. You should probably know how to drive, in case something ever happens to me.”
“In case something happens to you?” Aziraphale echoed. “What does that mean?”
“I dunno,” Crowley said, “what if I get hurt? Or what if you have to come rescue me somewhere?”
“I can’t imagine I would need to rescue you by driving,” Aziraphale pointed out, reasonably. “I can just apparate if needed, you know.”
“Work with me, angel,” Crowley groaned. “You are one of exactly one people I have ever offered a driving lesson to. Are you going to take me up on it or are you going to be all… all pedantic?”
Aziraphale actually pondered that one for a moment. Pedantic seemed safer, all things considered. But, nonetheless, Crowley was making a genuine offer, and they were out in the middle of nowhere on easy to peruse roads with limited traffic, so perhaps this would be all right.
“All right,” he said reluctantly. “But no yelling. The least bit of yelling and I’m driving directly into a hedgerow.”
Crowley crooked an eyebrow and remained neutral on that point.
Aziraphale got behind the wheel and carefully fastened his seatbelt, then smoothed things and touched things and adjusted things and did everything he could think of to delay the inevitable. Finally, with a nervous look at Crowley, he turned the key, a little more gently this time than he had earlier, and was relieved when it started up to a quiet purr without grinding.
“Ok,” Crowley said, “now pull out slowly and smoothly onto the road.”
Aziraphale did so, a tad jerkily perhaps, but once they were off the grass and back onto the road itself it felt a little easier. He eased the car into gear and set off at a stately 15 mph, back ramrod straight in the seat.
“A little faster,” Crowley said, mostly patiently.
Aziraphale eased it up to 18 mph.
“A little more.”
“More?” Aziraphale said nervously. “I’m approaching twenty, for heaven’s sake.”
“The speed limit is sixty, angel.”
“Well that’s simply ridiculous and unnecessary,” Aziraphale huffed. But he did press the accelerator a bit and get it up to twenty-five.
All went well for a few minutes – Crowley bit back his comments and gave the angel a while to just get used to the feel of driving and hoped he’d get less speed-adverse he did. Instead of prodding him to speed up, he watched the angel as he ever-so-slowly relaxed his death grip on the wheel and subtly inched his shoulders down from their position up near his ears.
“That’s good, angel!” Crowley said encouragingly, as he watched the speedometer pass thirty.
Aziraphale gave a brief, pleased smile before massively and suddenly slamming on the brake with enough force to send Crowley, who of course wasn’t wearing his seat belt, scrambling into the dash.
“What?? What on earth was that?” Crowley shouted.
“There was a SHEEP!” Aziraphale exclaimed.
Crowley’s eyes narrowed. “Where, exactly?”
Aziraphale flushed the most beautiful shade of pink. “Over there,” he mumbled, pointing off about twelve car lengths from the driver’s side door. “In the, uh, meadow. Absolutely nowhere near us.”
Crowley looked incredulously at the solitary ewe, unconcernedly chewing grass and blinking in their general direction. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You nearly discorporated me because there was a sheep in a meadow, doing absolutely nothing?”
Aziraphale stiffened his back rather primly. “She startled me!”
Crowley took a deep breath. He took another. And then, just to be certain, he counted to ten. “Okay, angel,” he said, “it happens, I guess. Take a good look around before we get moving again, okay? Fields, trees, bushes, a few sheep, the occasional bird – nothing to worry about. Okay?”
Aziraphale looked confused. “Aren’t you taking over?”
Crowley shook his head. “Nope,” he said, biting back the voice that was screaming for him to do exactly that. “You’re going to figure this out. Just try not to hit the brake so hard if you get startled again. Have to be gentle with her.”
Aziraphale sighed deeply and eased the car into motion again. This time went a little easier. He managed to get up to a decent rate of speed at nearly 40 mph, and he even relaxed a little and began to look like he was enjoying himself.
“Very good, angel!” Crowley said after a bit. “Now let’s try turning a corner – up there onto that side lane.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary,” Aziraphale said.
“What, so you’re only going to drive in straight lines, angel?” Crowley snarked. “C’mon, it’s easy. Slow down, put on your signal, and turn the wheel. You turned corners in mid-day London traffic, after all, of course you could do it here.”
“I was terrified turning in London mid-day traffic!” Aziraphale said. But he did flash his blinker and take the right-hand turn at a complete crawl. Then he slowly applied the brakes and drifted to a stop.
“Well!” the angel said, turning the ignition off and dusting his hands together in a thoroughly self-satisfied manner. “That was quite invigorating! Thank you ever so much for the driving lesson!” He reached for the door handle and made to get out.
“Angel, what are you doing? You drove for all of five minutes!” Crowley looked askance at him. “You aren’t giving up, are you?”
“Ah, well, no, not giving up, but that’s really quite enough excitement for me for one day, my dear,” Aziraphale said with a genuine smile, “and honestly I prefer for you to do the driving.”
He was using his stubbornly polite voice. Crowley knew from stubborn, and there was no moving his angel once he had his mind made up. Shrugging, Crowley scooted into the driver’s seat and the angel got out and circled around.
“You sure?” Crowley offered one more time.
“Oh yes, sure as anything. Be my guest!” Aziraphale said, fastening his seat belt and leaning back comfortably in the passenger’s seat. “Good to know that I’ll know how to do it, though, if we ever need me to.”
Crowley rolled his eyes just a little, and made a mental note to repeat this driving lesson a few dozen more times over the next few months. The angel would get the hang of it.
They drove in silence for a while, listening to music from the radio, before Crowley leaned forward and turned it down.
“What did you mean, earlier?” Crowley asked.
“What did I mean about what?”
“When you said you were – what was it? Slow and soft and mental?”
Aziraphale huffed. “I’m fairly certain I didn’t say mental.”
Crowley grinned. “Perhaps I added that one. But the rest of it, what did that mean?”
Aziraphale shrugged. “Oh I don’t know – I should think it was rather obvious. You’re the one who said I don’t make quick decisions well. We both know that’s true.”
Crowley made a noncommittal hrm. “And the soft part?” He had been mulling this one over for a while now. The look of pain in the angel’s eyes when he said that had been palpable. He couldn’t remember ever having said anything that would have made the angel think that he thought him weak or soft. Where had that come from?
Aziraphale kept his eyes rather determinedly on the passing scenery. “Oh, I don’t know. Can’t really remember what that was about.”
Crowley watched from the corner of his eye as Aziraphale rather unknowingly rolled out his entire string of poker-face fails. The angel’s biggest enemy was his body language – he couldn’t lie convincingly, although God help him, he certainly tried. When Aziraphale was attempting to lie, he had a number of rather easily identified tells. One, he had a hard time making eye contact. Number two, he always fidgeted his hands in a particular way where he nervously touched each fingertip to his thumbs, from the first through the pinky and back again. Number three, he always flushed just the tiniest bit, right at the tip of his ears.
“You’re lying, angel,” Crowley said quietly. “Tell me the truth. I can tell there’s something to this.”
Aziraphale glanced at him, startled. How on earth did he always know? It wasn’t at all fair to have someone know you so well that you couldn't dissemble if you needed to.
“Well?” Crowley asked.
“Oh my. It was just a passing comment that someone made to me a while back, I suppose. Pointed out that I was a bit of a pudge. Not in fighting trim, as it were.” Aziraphale straightened his shoulders self-consciously. “Certainly not worth getting upset over when it’s essentially true.”
The Bentley, left to its own devices for several minutes now, decided now was a good time to pull gently over to the side of the road and let this conversation develop at its own pace.
Crowley cleared his throat and his voice was gravelly when it emerged. “Who?” he asked.
Aziraphale looked over at him. “Who what?”
“Who s-s-s-said that to you, angel?”
“Now Crowley, it’s no point in getting all worked up over –”
Aziraphale swallowed. “Gabriel.”
Crowley slammed a fist into the steering wheel. He hated that son of a bitch for so many reasons, and now here was a brand new one he hadn’t even known about. He took a moment to savor the ardent, burning rage he felt – someday, somehow, he was going to get a chance to let Gabriel know just what the fuck he thought about him and the way Gabriel had always treated and spoken to his angel. But that day was not today, and with a rather high degree of self control, he wrenched his focus back to his lover on the other side of the car.
“’Ziraphale,” he said, voice tight, “you are NOT soft. You know that, right?”
Aziraphale blinked a few times and tried to come up with the power of speech. “I am! Just look at me!”
Crowley looked and looked hard. “Okay, you’re not all sharp and pointy like me. So you have a little meat on your bones and your clothes are a bit fussy! That doesn’t make you soft.” Crowley took a breath and tried to organize his thoughts as the angel looked dubious.
“Aziraphale,” he said, “I’ve seen you fight. I’ve seen you preparing to threaten Lucifer himself with your flaming sword. I’ve seen you defending me, defending Adam, defending the whole bloody Earth. I was there when you when you warded off a mugger that one time the park, and I saw you when you thought someone was going to hurt me, and I’ve seen you when someone tries to take away the last piece of cake when you wanted it.”
Aziraphale let out a little involuntary laugh at that last bit.
“And let me tell you,” Crowley continued. “You are a motherfucking BAD ASS when you are truly and absolutely ready to be. You are bloody terrifying. Just because you choose to wrap your secret , thousand-eyed, four-headed, true self in this cozy, mild mannered shell does not for ONE SECOND mean that you aren’t just about the scariest bastard around when someone comes between you and the ones you love. And if Gabriel can’t see beyond the exterior, then I just hope that sometime he gets to see that holy wrath pointed his way. Because believe me, he would wet his angelic pants if you ever truly decided to turn your ire in his direction.”
Crowley stopped, panting raggedly with the sheer emotion of his words. Aziraphale just stared at him, eyes wide in shock. They regarded each other for a moment, chests rising and falling in synchronicity.
“You really think that about me?” Aziraphale said, quietly.
“Um, yes?” Crowley said, hoping this wasn’t some kind of trick. “I’d be proud to fight beside you in any kind of battle. I’d be bloody afraid to fight against you. I’m rather sure that if you ever really decided to, you could pretty easily kick my spindly ass.”
Aziraphale looked scandalized. “But I would never!”
“Well I should hope not!” Crowley drawled. “I like my ass in one piece. But you probably could.”
Aziraphale blinked at him for another moment and then, abruptly, smiled and let out a long breath. “Thank you, my dear,” he said. “You’re quite good for the angelic ego, when you want to be.”
“You’re welcome,” Crowley said. “And if that bastard says anything else to you in the next hundred years, you let him know he’s going to have me to answer to.”
Aziraphale reached over and laid a hand on Crowley’s knee. “That won’t be necessary, love, but thank you all the same.”
Crowley felt a wash of love so powerful that it was almost unbearable. The urge to run and hide from such overpowering emotion was almost more than he could fight – but for his angel, he could do it. He picked up the angel’s hand and pressed it to his lips for a moment, swallowing down the emotions to a more manageable level, and then hand-waved the car back into traffic.
“Let’s go home, angel,” he said gruffly. “I’m suddenly needing to be back in the bookshop.”
Thanks very much to all of you who are commenting - several of the conversations we've had in comments have shaped this chapter a little bit and led me to write the discussion about the "soft" comment, which honestly I've always had in the back of my head to try to get down on paper.
One thing I'm trying to draw out in their developing relationship is just that it's not always easy to find yourself to be known. We all write relatively easily about all the ways a new relationship is exciting and delightful - the butterflies, the attraction, the kisses - but it's harder to write about the ways that intimacy can be excruciating. How hard it can be to find yourself known and understood, even when maybe you'd rather be able to pull the wool over someone's eyes, or allow some illusions to linger. So anyway, I keep folding in little bits of that here and there because a) it makes me perversely happy and b) it's more real, right? These two = the real thing, all the way.
Probably just one more chapter, and likely short. In a few days! I only ever start posting a story when I'm at least halfway through it, so I know it's not going to evaporate and leave me with nowhere to go, which is why the first couple chapters come out so quick, but then I slow down at the end.
Thanks for reading!
In which Aziraphale and Crowley decide to try out Frederick's traveling case on a nice drive to the beach. Which, of course, doesn't turn out exactly like they'd expected.
Have you missed Frederick? He decided to make an appearance in this story after all.
Two months later
“You know,” Aziraphale said tentatively at breakfast one morning. “speaking of the car, I think it’s time we try out Frederick’s traveling case.”
Crowley looked up from his scone with a smirk. “Were we? Speaking of the car, I mean? I don’t actually think we were.”
Aziraphale gave him a look. “Well perhaps not, but I was thinking about the Bentley, with all the driving lessons you’ve been putting me through.”
It was true, Crowley had held firm to making sure the angel knew how to drive reasonably well and had been taking him outside of town once or twice a week for at least the last month, forcing him to practice. While they had both agreed that perhaps in-city driving wasn’t ever going to be the ideal environment for him, the angel had slowly become a relatively decent Sunday-in-the-countryside type of driver. He had shown himself capable of toddling along, if not at the speed limit, at least adjacent to it, and in a mostly reliable manner. They were both beginning to relax a little and feel more comfortable with the angel behind the wheel.
“I was just thinking that we should give it a test run,” Aziraphale continued, “before we go off on a long trip anywhere. Make sure he’s comfortable, doesn’t hate being in the car or anything.”
Crowley crooked an eyebrow. “If he hates the Bentley, he’s going to have me to answer to.”
Azirphale tsked. “Now, now. There’s no point in pretending aggression – I know how much you two like each other and I have the photographs to prove it.”
Crowley left that one alone, knowing he was beaten. He wandered out into the shop where Frederick was napping. “What’dya think, snake?” he drawled, leaning over Frederick’s basket. “Want to go for a drive?”
Frederick blinked at him warily. What on earth was a drive and why would he want to do such a thing? Nonetheless, he’d learned over time that the pointy one sometimes had rather fun ideas, and that it was worth paying attention to his suggestions, just for sheer entertainment value. Frederick uncoiled a little and did his best to look a little less sulkish than normal.
“Why, he looks downright happy about the idea,” Crowley said, frowning. “I’ll be damned. Okay, angel, where’re we going?”
“Let’s take a drive out to the coast. Maybe have a late lunch somewhere and then head back into London in the evening. If he handles that well, we’ll work on an overnight trip somewhere next.”
“Right, right,” Crowley said. “Wouldn’t want to rush things.”
Aziraphale dug out the unused carrying case from under his desk and carefully dusted it off. The luxurious tan leather gleamed softly, the tartan straps were supple and stylish, and he took some time to test out the heating system before he was satisfied. Luckily, Frederick seemed to take to it immediately, curling up in the back end of it and staring placidly and rather expectantly out the window at the two of them. The angel clicked closed the door and checked the small digital thermometer readout to make sure the case was a pleasant temperature for the snake.
“All right,” the angel said, “I think we’re ready to go!”
When they reached the Bentley, Aziraphale fussed like a mother hen getting Frederick and his carrier settled in on his lap. Crowley declined to comment on this, knowing that no force in the universe could stop Aziraphale from meticulously tending to his little friend. Instead, he tried to patiently wait for the whole ten minutes it took for Aziraphale to be satisfied before they could move the car even an inch.
Finally, with Aziraphale’s blessing, they got on the road.
Crowley rolled his eyes and gamely tried to answer Aziraphale’s many, many nervous questions as they drove.
“Crowley, I think you’re going too fast for him,” Aziraphale reproved.
Crowley ignored him. He was courteously keeping his speeds under eighty, for pete’s sake. What more did he want?
“Do snakes get carsick?” the angel asked a few minutes later, peering into the side windows of the carrying case. “He looks a little green.”
“How would I know?” Crowley said, nonetheless slowing down a tiny bit. “I’m never in snake form when I’m driving!”
“Can snakes throw up?”
“Quit worrying, angel – he’ll be fine.”
A few minutes more passed. “How would I know if he was carsick?”
Crowley looked over. “Is he doing anything unusual?”
“No, he’s just lying there.”
“Aziraphale,” Crowley snapped, "enough. He’s a snake. He’s sleeping. Let him be.”
Aziraphale leaned back in his seat and tried not to fidget. Perhaps Crowley was right.
After what Crowley considered to be two full hours of unrelenting nattering on about Frederick’s every need and facial expression, they finally arrived at the dunes in East Sussex, where even Aziraphale had to admit that Frederick appeared to be peacefully asleep and no worse for wear from the ride. They chose a relatively unpopulated spot along the five miles of sandy beach and climbed out over the dunes to find an ideal location for spreading out a blanket.
“Now Frederick,” Aziraphale admonished. “I’m going to let you out of the case now, but there will be no slithering away and hiding, do you understand?”
YEAH WHATEVER, FINE… the snake thought sleepily.
The angel reached into the case and pulled a sleepy Frederick out. The little snake blinked and took a bewildered look around, scenting the air with his tongue. It was bright and warm here, and oddly salty, and there were birds – he could definitely smell birds. He thought perhaps he might like to swallow a bird, if he could find one of the right size. Perhaps one of those large, squawky white ones that seemed to be everywhere. He coiled up on Aziraphale’s neck and took a good look around, strategizing. This was looking like a promising day.
Aziraphale busied himself with laying out the lunch they’d fetched along the way, and then removed his coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves so he could enjoy the breeze a little. They were on the coast, after all.
“Glass of wine, dear?” he asked, smiling at Crowley.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Crowley answered.
“Angel,” Crowley said, nudging him with his foot about an hour later. “Wake up.”
Aziraphale roused himself from the spot where he’d been dozing after lunch in the sun and pushed up onto his elbows. It took him a minute to place the sand and the sound of waves and where exactly he was. Oh, yes, the beach. “What? What is it?”
“It’s Frederick,” Crowley whispered. Aziraphale gave him a sharp look. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’ve been watching him! But you might want to see this.”
Crowley gestured quietly towards the other end of their blanket, where Frederick had edged himself off the fabric and had buried himself partially in the sand, with just his head and part of his upper body visible. He turned and looked at Crowley and Aziraphale, his pupils unusually widened, and then looked back towards the sand just a bit beyond him, where a rather large seagull was foraging.
“What’s he doing?” Aziraphale whispered.
“He’s hunting,” Crowley said under his breath. “And I think he wants some help.”
COME ON, POINTY GUY, HELP A SNAKE OUT, Frederick sent.
Crowley broke off a few pieces of bread and tossed them out towards the seagull, who gobbled them up and stepped a little closer to the blanket.
“He can’t eat a seagull!” Aziraphale said, his voice still low. “It’s almost twice his size!”
“I know, I know,” Crowley said, “and we’ll stop him before he gets the shit kicked out of him, but let’s let him have a little fun first.”
Frederick sent them a disapproving look.
“It’s almost like he understands us,” Aziraphale said.
OF COURSE I UNDERSTAND YOU, YOU MORON, Frederick thought, and returned his attention to the enticing, juicy-looking seagull. It glanced nervously at the two creatures on the blanket and stepped just a little closer to get the last of the bread crumbs –
Which was when Frederick attacked. He unhinged his jaw and catapulted himself up out of the sand, landing with his mouth on the top of the seagull’s head. The seagull, utterly gobsmacked, hopped away and shook itself fiercely, dislodging the snake and throwing him to the sand. Frederick, not daunted in the least, moved more quickly than either Aziraphale or Crowley had ever seen and relaunched himself at the bird’s midsection, while the seagull kicked and pecked at him. After a few seconds they were all but rolling on the sand in a brawling, heaving mess of feathers and scales.
“Crowley –“ Aziraphale said, his voice quickly moving up through the registers towards frantic.
“All right, I’m on it, stepping in now! Hey! Back off, bird!” Crowley said, clapping loudly and waving his arms as he rushed over to intercede. The seagull flapped a good twenty meters away where he groomed his ruffled feathers and cast a stink eye on all of them, and Crowley reached down and picked up a thoroughly disgusted snake who turned to him and bit him on the thumb rather hard.
“Ow!” he shouted. “He bit me!”
THAT’S RIGHT, DUMB ASS, shouted Frederick. I’LL BITE YOU AGAIN IF YOU EVER COME BETWEEN ME AND A BIRD.
“Give him to me,” Aziraphale said, holding out his hands. Crowley did so, sinking back down onto the blanket and licking off his puncture wounds.
“That was very good, Frederick,” Aziraphale said, holding Frederick gently and running a soothing hand down his back and sides, checking for wounds, “except for biting Crowley. You’ll have to apologize for that later.”
The snake hissed at him, petulant.
“You almost had that bird, though,” Aziraphale said. “Certainly gave him a run for his money! I’m sure you would have won the day, given a little more time.”
Frederick preened a little and allowed himself to be soothed. He continued to watch the seagull, still wondering how it would have tasted.
“Perhaps,” Aziraphale said, observing how bird and snake were still eyeing each other intensely, “it would be a good time to go home.”
“I think you’re right,” Crowley agreed.
They packed up quickly and headed back to the Bentley. After they stowed everything away, Crowley turned to the angel and dangled the keys in front of him.
“Want to drive most of the way back?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Why,” Aziraphale said, considering it for a moment, “I think I would like that!” He gave Crowley a big grin, and Crowley immediately stood aside and ceded the drivers door to the angel.
“You’ll have to hold Frederick, of course,” Aziraphale added.
“Frederick will be just fine in the back seat,” Crowley said. “Plus he’s still a little bitey, I think.”
“But Crowley, he might be lonely!”
“He’ll be fine,” Crowley said. “Look, I’ll even put a seatbelt around his case. And we both know you’re not going to drive fast enough for him to be in any danger.”
“Oh very well,” Aziraphale said.
Crowley watched as the angel opened the glove compartment and took out the special driving gloves he’d bought just for the occasion. Because of course driving required special wardrobe accommodations, in Aziraphale’s world. Crowley felt himself awash in an almost effervescent fondness watching his fussy love pull on his specially-stitched glove and hop behind the wheel. He quickly adjusted everything, turned the ignition, and put it smoothly into gear as he pulled out into the road.
And then they were off, an angel, a demon, and a snake, headed for London, to the soft strains of Freddy Mercury.
And that's the end of part five! A couple of notes:
1. Thank you all so much for reading and commenting! I love hearing from you! There will be more soon in the series - I have a few ideas started so stay tuned, and if you're not subscribed to the series page, click on the series link to go there and do so, and you'll get a mail every time a new story starts in the Serpent and Seagull universe.
2. Random snake fact in case you're wondering about the thing about Frederick's pupils -- I’m told, via the rather surprising amount of things I’ve had to learn about snakes for this series, that the only time snakes really dilate their pupils is when they’re hunting. While that may not be true for every snake species in the world, that's true for Frederick. Also, I'm still seeing Frederick as a relatively small snake, under two feet long. Perhaps a little small for his species. Perhaps he's the runt of the snake litter. He's a noodle. A sulky, grumpy noodle.
3. If you're curious, I based Frederick’s movements when he fought the bird on a number of videos, but this one was the best. I can’t believe how quickly a snake that wants to eat a bird can jump around!
4. For those of you who are curious, Frederick’s carrying case looks a lot like this one, except that it’s tan and has more of a defined bottom because it has a heating element. This one, once sold on Etsy and featured on the cover of Vogue, cost something like $1800 and if you think for one second that Aziraphale didn’t spend at least that much on Frederick’s carrying case you’re completely incorrect – of course he did: