There are only so many times you can listen to the Sound of Music sound track on loop. Aziraphale had reached that limit around two hours ago.
They had been driving since the crack of dawn but Gabe was behind the wheel, still belting out the lyrics as proudly as ever. “Can’t we listen to something else? Literally anything else?” Aziraphale asked, leaning his head against the passenger side window. It was cool and damp against his temple. As soon as they had passed into the north, the heavens had opened and a thick fog enveloped the car. It was Aziraphale’s job to tweak the temperature stop the condensation creeping up the windows. He had been slacking.
“Oh come on Azi, you love the Sound of Music.” Gabriel smiled, shifting down a gear to creep through the fog.
“No. You and mum love it. I endure it.” He sighed. Gabe’s smile only grew.
“So you’re going to get to uni and restyle yourself as some put upon emo? Are you going to be a goth?” He asked in joyous scandal.
“No one says emo anymore ... though I don’t see why not. You went away and became a prick.” Aziraphale teased.
“Ooohh he’s going to be sarcastic.” The elder brother smiled. He turned the radio on instead and they sat in comfortable silence for a while.
“You know ... it means a lot to mum that you agreed to even go to uni, especially that we both decided to pick the one her and her mum went to...” Gabriel said after a while.
“Yeah well ... anything to make her happy I guess.” He said, keeping his eyes on the slowly moving blanket of cloud.
“But will it make you happy Azi?” He asked, grey eyes flicking across the car to search Aziraphale’s. He looked at the neglected book in his hands quickly.
“I mean I’m not going to be heading up any societies or being an ambassador like you or anything.” He said “I just want I see a bit of the world, maybe write some more. Plus I’ll have you there if I need anything.” He said. It was very rational, very rehearsed. Gabriel was appeased.
Aziraphale longed to spend the last few hours of the journey dipping into the recommended reading and consciously avoiding any more important conversations. “So what do you want to do first?” Gabe asked, unable to stew in the silence.
“I don’t really know. What are the options?” He asked.
“Well I think we’ll get there too early for you to get your room but Michael went a day early to get our house sorted, he should be in with keys for the rest of us. We could go there and hang out for a bit? I’ll take you to the accommodation office and get you sorted out later on?” He offered.
“Don’t you have tours or something to run?” Aziraphale asked.
“I’m working one of the freshers events tonight for a few hours, tours start tomorrow.” He answered, missing the sarcasm in his little brother's tone.
“Are you sure your lot won’t mind me hanging around?” Aziraphale asked, anxiously squeezing the battered paperback in his hands.
“No way! They’re dying to meet you and Uri is really looking forward to seeing you again.” He said. Aziraphale couldn’t help but notice him blushing a little as he mentioned the only girl in his house.
“That would be really nice.” He lied. Finally Gabriel let him escape into his novel.
* * *
Compared to his expectations of a student house, Gabriel’s third year digs were refined. Tucked away from the main bustle of the town, it sat on a quiet street. It had a front garden that was more of a cubby hole and a long, narrow alley ran down the houses side to connect it to the back garden. Someone had already lined the way with potted plants at regimented intervals. “Uriel's already here.” Gabriel beamed. He pulled the car up and killed the engine. A face appeared in the bay window and the front door opened.
“You’re late.” A boy drawled from the doorway as the pair crawled out of the cramped car. His brown hair curled artfully up over his forehead as he smirked at them. “We’re two hours early, Mike.” Gabriel smiled. He headed straight for the door and hugged him. “This is my little brother.” He added as they pulled back. “The prodigal son.” Michael smirked. There was no mistaking Michael, even in those blurry nightclub shots on Gabriel’s Facebook, his smirk was omnipresent. He was good looking and he knew it.
“Hi.” Aziraphale squeaked.
“Come on in, lads.” Mike said, pushing off the doorframe so they could get in and shelter from the drizzle.
“Who’s here then?” Gabriel asked innocently, as though he hadn’t already made his mind up that Uri was somewhere in the building. Aziraphale head the impression he only and do he could react visibly to the news.
“Sandy just text, he’ll be here in an hour, hit traffic round Birmingham.” Mike said, wrinkling his nose. He started counting people off on his fingers. “Matty is here but he’s gone for milk. He’s bagsied the other room on the top floor. Closer to god and all that. You, me and Uriels parents just left.” He said
“Oh, I was kind of hoping to take that other room up there.” Gabriel frowned.
“Sorry bud, he pretty much demanded it.” Mike shrugged.
“GABRIEL!” The call came as they entered the cozy living room. Uriel had been sitting on the squashy old couch but she hopped up, wrapping Gabriel in a hug. Aziraphale was surprised, only he and mum ever used his full name, even then he responded to it begrudgingly. When Uriel used it his whole face lit up. It was sweet. “Oh and little Azi! It’s so good to see you again, did you have a good summer?” She asked, hugging him too.
“Oh er ... yeah, lots of reading.” He stammered, the warmth of the greeting taking him by surprise.
“I’m so glad you’re here. Tea?” She asked, breezing away again.
"You've met?" Mike asked, flopping down next to where Uriel had arranged Aziraphale on the sofa.
"Only once, she came to see Gabriel just after you all finished classes." Aziraphale frowned, not sure why Gabriel wouldn't have mentioned it. Uriel was pottering loudly around the kitchen so Michael raised his voice. "Funny how I didn't get an invite." He grinned wickedly. Gabriel launched a cushion into his face with an expression that promised retrulibution. Michael only laughed as Uriel started ferrying mugs of tea into the room. Aziraphale confirmed his opinion of her. She was nice enough, she was certainly pretty, bit she was regimented I'm a way that made Gabriel look laid back.
Aziraphale spent a few surprisingly pleasant hours on the squashy couch, just watching his brother enjoying his friends, plied with tea and custard creams. It was easy to see himself fitting innocuously into this little eco system. He didn't want to be attached to his brother, bit it was nice to know he had a friendly haven to escape to. There were a few bangs that announced the arrival of Matty, who nodded to him but soon escaped up to his room, Gabriel glaring after him. No more was seen of him, but the banging continued from the third floor. Uriel was effervescent, Michael was letcherous, Gabriel was fair, Sandy was late and, when he arrived, abrasive. It was his shrewdness he used to distract people from his faults that instantly rubbed Aziraphale the won't way. He was watery eyed and insisted calling people out was just his blunt personality. He was also boring. Aziraphale slipped away into Gabriel’s ground floor bedroom soon after his arrival. He settled himself on the sill of the bay window and wondered if he’d be lucky enough to have a few Uriels and no Sandy’s in his flat when he was assigned it.
“Hiding?” A coy voice came from the doorway behind him. Michael only seemed at home when he had a doorframe to lounge on.
“Watching Gabe trying to wrestle all those cases.” Aziraphale said, looking back out to where the elder boy was valiantly refusing Uriel's help by trying to carry all three of his suitcases at once. He felt Michael lean closer as he too peered out and laughed. “You two really are nothing alike, are you?” He asked. Aziraphale blushed, toying with the sleeve of his jumper.
“Not really, no.” He said. Michael made a noise of consideration then pushed off the window. “See you soon, kid.” He said, sauntering out. Aziraphale leaned his head against the window until his omnipresent blush receded. Gabriel finally bustled into the room and threw the cases down. He was drenched. “Ready to get your flat?” He asked breathlessly.
* * *
The accommodation office had been an overwhelming blur. There had been passports shown, reference numbers lost and hunted for. Gabriel had pulled rank, twice. In the end, Aziraphale had been driven to his new flat by his brother. They looked up at the grey monolith in strained silence. “I knew a few people who got assigned to this place in first year ... they said it was really nice.” Gabriel said. He didn’t sound convinced. “I went to a party here too. Can’t remember much of it though.” He added.
“I shouldn’t have come.” Aziraphale said quietly. The building spoke of foreboding. It was not a place that felt loved, certainly not like home. He suffered a sudden pang as he thought of their low wooden kitchen table, their mother's soft voice.
“Come on, Azi. You’ll be fine.” Gabe said in a more buoyant tone. “Let’s go give it a look at least. If you hate it you can stay with me until we sort you out.” He said. Aziraphale nodded and stepped out into the rain. Gabriel and he each took a case and marched up to the tall gates that surrounded the block and its little splash of greenery. Aziraphale gravitated towards the little garden that pooled around the squat tower block. The plants were greener than any he had ever seen, dark and heavy with all the copious rain they drank up. Something in the back of his mind hoped things might not be so grim as they seemed.
Once they got inside, things continued to look up. There were long banks of postboxes around the walls of the foyer and a bored girl in a shockingly pink polo shirt looked up from the reception cubby as they entered. “Hey Gabe, what you doing out here in the sticks?” She asked. “Hi Tracy, dropping my little brother off. He’s up on 12.” Aziraphale was beginning to wonder if there was anyone at this university who didn’t know Gabriel. The last thing he wanted to be known as was somebody’s little brother. After a brief and baffling chat in which Aziraphale managed to gather that they were sharing a philosophy module, she called the lift for them and promised Gabriel she’d be keeping an eye out for ‘Little Azi’. He cursed internally.
To Aziraphale’s surprise, Gabriel put the case in the lift beside him and stepped back out. “You’ve got this, little brother. Call me if there’s anything you need. I’ll see you on the tour tomorrow?" He asked.
“Er yeah ... thank you Gabe, for driving and everything.” He said lamely. Gabriel smiled like he knew what Aziraphale was trying to say and he let the lift doors close between them. Aziraphale took the handles of each bag in his hand as he trundled up to the top of the building. He said a quiet prayer for what he was about to walk into.