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There goes the neighbourhood

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Illustration by Mjazilem of Aziraphale and Crowley in front of a backdrop of roses.

Artwork by Mjazilem, on Tumblr


They had been settled in their cottage in the South Downs for a scant three months when they received the notice. It was conspicuous in that their postbox was primarily for show. All bills were managed through the internet, (Crowley’s doing, Aziraphale couldn’t be bothered to keep up with that sort of thing) and the postman often found that he’d misplaced any junk mail or flyers by the time he had reached the cottage door. Strange, he’d think as he moved on to the next house.

So the notice was an event, and upon retrieving it, Aziraphale unfolded it with a flourish over the wooden kitchen table. Crowley watched Aziraphale silently read the words there, as his eyebrows stitched together and his lips curved into a near farcical frown. 

“What?” Asked Crowley.

“They’re putting in a resort development, just to the west of us. Townhouses, and a summer water park, and a hotel.” He looked stricken.

Crowley bit the inside of his cheek. “How close?”

“Too close,” muttered Aziraphale, eyes scanning the small print. “There’s going to be a meeting at the Council early next week, a chance to offer comments, challenge the application. I think I’ll go. Would you like to join me?”

“Ngk,” said Crowley. “You’re better at that stuff than I am.” 

Aziraphale had fallen into the daily glad-handing and neighbourliness that came with small town life like a fish to water, as if he hadn’t spent the last several centuries as a staple in one of the most urban neighbourhoods in London’s city centre. He did the church fairs and the chatting in the shops and the remembering of people’s names. Crowley, for his part, much preferred to stay close to the cottage, and near his garden in particular. There, he’d cultivated an impressive array of (and an intense obsession with) his roses.

“Quite right,” said Aziraphale, smiling indulgently. “I’ll go to the meeting and report back.”

Crowley nodded and rose from the table. He gazed out the window that stood over their kitchen sink, framing the horizon to the west, where everyday they could see the sun paint the sky in deep and vibrant hues as it set. Their view would be altered if the development went forward. “Will it be loud, you think?” He asked distractedly, shoving his fingers into the shallow pockets of his jeans.

“Will what be loud, my darling?”

“The construction.”

“Oh, they won’t get that far,” Aziraphale said, sure as anything. He refolded the notice, placed it gingerly in the centre of the table. “Don’t fret, Crowley. I’ll take care of it.”

Ever since they had started living together, first in London and now here, Aziraphale had noticed several facets of Crowley’s moods and behaviours that he hadn’t previously been privy to. He was a lot less tolerant to noise then Aziraphale had anticipated. Stressful situations, or even ones where he was mildly put out (like when it rained when he wanted to be outside in the garden), would provoke rocking and the flicking of his long thin fingers at nothing in particular. Any interruption to his routine would end with a distracted and discontented mood and an eventual nap. 

The quiet of their new home had helped, as did being off Hell’s payroll, but Aziraphale knew that a development on their doorstep, bringing with it lots of temporary people, would not be a welcome introduction to their lives or Crowley’s piece of mind (to say nothing of the view). It was Crowley who had suggested the South Downs, Crowley who needed the routine of his roses and silent nights near the sea. All Aziraphale needed was Crowley. He was determined to maintain this life for him.

He watched Crowley saunter into the parlour room lost in thought, and listened to the telltale whirr of the record player starting up. Would it be The Velvet Underground or Tchaikovsky this time? After a beat the familiar notes of Candy Says floated through the doorway. Ah, The Velvet Underground.

When Aziraphale returned from the meeting at Council, Crowley was waiting for him inside the door.

“What’d they say?” He asked eagerly, hovering inches behind Aziraphale as he hung up his coat and hat on the stand in the corner. 

“Well, no one from the community is pleased, so that was recorded and rightly so. Every speaker was against the application.” Aziraphale unlaced his wingtips, and slipped his feet into tartan slippers. “There was a solicitor from the development company there to make their case, and I’m terribly sorry to say he wasn’t very well prepared.” He retreated to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of wine, Crowley on his heels.

“What do you mean by that?” Asked Crowley sharply. Aziraphale sometimes forgot that Crowley liked things spelled out these days. He wanted things spoken plainly.

“It means the poor chap got up to make his presentation and it appears that he didn’t have any of his supporting documents. His posters, his notes on the development. Forgotten, very inconveniently, at his office back in London.” Aziraphale sipped his wine, eyes sparkling.

Crowley’s mouth dropped open in recognition. “You?”

Aziraphale nodded once. “They have to reschedule the whole approval process now. What a shame. It’ll take months to get this sorted.” He smiled at Crowley, reached out to stroke his cheek and Crowley leaned into Aziraphale’s palm as if he were a particularly loving cat. “See?” Said Aziraphale, all fondness and victory. “What did I tell you? Nothing to worry about.”

In the weeks that followed the public meeting, Crowley and Aziraphale decided to celebrate, and took a weeklong trip to Paris so that the angel could visit an exhibit at one of the city’s lesser known museums. He had asked Crowley if he wouldn’t prefer to stay home, but he didn’t. They had spent 6000 years with separate agendas and their being together was still fresh enough that a short separation was not an option either of them relished. 

Aziraphale’s exhibit was of rare books (no surprise there) and medieval texts that showed depictions of monsters and beasts. He hovered over the glass display cases, tastefully and skillfully lit, studying images of the grotesque and strange, the oddest figures humans could imagine. Crowley followed along behind him, playing a game on his mobile that Aziraphale couldn’t even begin to understand the appeal of (something with candy? It was very loud, at any rate). An interesting exhibit, Aziraphale concluded, though perhaps not worth the trip on its own. 

On their way out, another gallery caught his eye, and he ambled in. It was a small but detailed recreation of the wall paintings at Lascaux. Aziraphale giggled, scanning the gallery for any humans wandering about, and finding it empty. “ The paintings at Lascaux are thought to be from the early Magdalenian cultures, aged at approximately 17,000 years old… UNESCO World Heritage Site ,” read Aziraphale from the display, eyebrows climbing up his forehead. “Do you hear that Crowley? 17,000 years!” As he looked over his shoulder at his demon, hoping he’d share in the joke, the phone clutched between Crowley's fingers let out a series of high pitched whistles and Crowley made a noise of complaint and did several complicated swiping motions over his screen.

Aziraphale smiled indulgently and looked back to the informational plaque. “They do like their stories,” he muttered to himself.

The rest of the trip was museum free, spent mostly in the city’s little known but charming cafes, sampling an extraordinary amount of France’s finest vintages. After a few days, when Crowley was getting antsy, they went back under the Channel, and back to the cottage.

Aziraphale had been overconfident, had severely underestimated the tenacity of the legal department of the development firm. 

Upon their return, Crowley was immediately out in the garden to inspect the state of the roses after they’d been left without strict direction for a week. Then he was back inside in a flash, frantic with anxiety.

“There’s a backhoe!” He exclaimed, gesturing wildly out the kitchen window. “A backhoe! And builders!”

Aziraphale finished unpacking the boxes of pastries they had brought back with them, secure on his lap the whole drive home, and went to see what Crowley was on about. There was indeed a backhoe on the horizon, and men in construction helmets and high-vis jackets mucking about in just the spot the development had been planned for. That seemed, to Aziraphale, to be a bit presumptuous on the developer’s part. Didn’t they have to reapply to council? Didn’t there have to be another public meeting where citizens would line up to have a word?

They went to check the mailbox for any notices and found it empty.

“That’s odd. I’ll go check with Kendra and Martin,” said Aziraphale starting to walk down the stone pathway to the road.

“Who’s Kendra and Martin?” Asked Crowley from the doorway.

Aziraphale stopped. “Our neighbours, just 200 yards down the way.”

“Don’t know them,” Crowley shrugged.

“Yes you do. You’ve met them several times.”

Crowley shrugged again.

“She teaches at the village school. He used to drive a lorry?” Aziraphale searched for more identifying details. Crowley’s face was blank. “They have that wisteria on the archway that you wax poetic over every time we walk by.”

“Oh!” Said Crowley, recognition flickering on his face. “It’s a nice wisteria.” And with that he retreated indoors, leaving Aziraphale to his investigation.

He returned some thirty minutes later bearing bad news. “They’ve somehow accelerated the approval process. The builders are starting work next week. Everyone who attended the meeting was updated by e-mail. E-mail! Can you imagine?” 

Crowley rocked back on the couch, rubbed his arms, let out a strangled little groan. “This is why we left London, to get away from the construction.”

Aziraphale nodded. That was one of the reasons, anyway. “I’ll think of something. I’ll put something together for dinner while you relax. Why don’t you go see if your roses need some bossing about?”

Crowley shot a dark look at Aziraphale but got up from the couch and stalked off from the garden to do just that.

A few days later Crowley leaned over the sink as he rinsed the breakfast dishes, eyes narrowed behind his dark glasses. “There’s no work happening over there this morning,” he said absentmindedly. 

“Is there not?” Asked Aziraphale in a tone that would’ve suggested to anyone listening closely that this wasn’t news to him at all.

But Crowley wasn’t paying attention, not really. “They’re all ambling around not doing anything.”

“Mhm,” said Aziraphale, smiling as he brought his mug of milky tea to his lips. “How curious.”

Crowley turned and leaned against the countertop, eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What did you do?”

“Me? Not a thing.” His blue eyes were bright with mischief.

Crowley slithered into the chair next to him, leaned in close. “C’mon, angel. What do you know?”

Aziraphale put down his tea, and indulged in a conspiratorial glance out the window. “Word around the village is that all the equipment - the diggers, backhoes, dumptrucks, that sort of thing - has suddenly stopped working. And as it turns out, they all need the same sort of part. And - this bit, so odd, because what are the chances - the part is on backorder and is only made at a factory in Indonesia! It’s monsoon season there now so everything is moving so slowly and, well, I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a hiatus on the work until they can sort it out.”

Crowley’s gaping mouth quirked into a smile, and he dropped his forehead to Aziraphale’s shoulder.

“It might be months before anything can go forward.” Aziraphale took another drink of his tea and gently laid his head on Crowley’s. “Goodness knows they may give up on the project all together.”

“Thank you,” Crowley murmured into the worn fabric of Aziraphale’s waistcoat.

“For what? Just a spot of bad luck for the developers.” Reaching down, he took one of Crowley’s hands in his and held it firmly. “What do you say we take out the Bentley and go for a drive down the coast. We can roll the windows down, if you’re feeling up for it?”

Crowley hummed his affirmation, and within the hour they were gone, enjoying the sound of the ocean lapping up against the land, and also the sound of silence from the build site.

There were four blessed weeks of quiet. Just as it had been when they moved in. Before the heat of the day burnt off into the cool of night, Crowley and Aziraphale would sit in the garden, a bottle of wine or two between them, and watch the sun set over the empty construction site. This was still novel, to relax with no one looking over their shoulder. The city had been excellent for access to work - well, access to a population in need of various miracles and temptations. But there was none of that here.

For four weeks they settled back into their routine of books and gardening and drives and records. The occasional dinner out and countless bottles of wine.

And then one morning, Crowley was roused out of his sleep by the sound of a dump truck rattling by. He rolled out of bed, and moved to the window, flinging open the curtain. Aziraphale was nowhere to be seen, but that wasn’t suspect, he was often up and out of bed hours before Crowley. A dump truck was on the road beside their cottage, driving away from the construction site. The tarp covering whatever was in the back wasn’t quite held down, and it flapped violently in the wind. Dust blew out from underneath it. 

There was a rumble from down the road, and another truck was following. They thundered and clanged and Crowley dropped the curtain shut.

Suddenly Aziraphale was at the door to the bedroom, half out of breath. “I’m going to look into it,” he said, anticipating Crowley’s next words.

“It was supposed to take months to get the parts,” whined Crowley, flopping over onto the bed and pulling a pillow over his head as the sound of another truck thundered by.

“I don’t know what’s happened,” said Aziraphale to himself, Crowley long past listening.

What they found out, of course, was that large developers with very deep pockets and a lot of will could procure parts when they needed them, even if the factory was under water, even when it was a bizarrely large number of the same parts. It had taken them just under a month to pick up where they left off.

In the weeks that followed, Aziraphale searched for solutions to hinder the work, and found himself lacking. He hadn’t tried a properly large miracle for some time, hoping to avoid any heavenly interference as much as possible. Perhaps nothing would happen. Given Crowley's recounting of Aziraphale's trial he suspected the Archangels and associated parties would be keeping their distance for as long as they could. Regardless, it would do no good to draw attention.

He considered miracling up job offers for each of the workers on the site for something more lucrative in other industries, but that was an awful lot of work and he knew there would be more chaps to replace them if the money was good. He mused about flooding the site but the side effects for nearby farms could be very negative, and the whole flood business seemed a little too biblical for his tastes these days. One ran into the same issues with a vermin infestation. Aziraphale was stuck.

While he pondered and paced, Crowley’s anxieties mounted with each dump truck that trundled by. It was not uncommon for Aziraphale to find him under multiple quilts in bed wearing noise cancelling headphones, listening to the same album over and over to drown out the sounds of construction. Other days he’d be out at all hours, gingerly removing the dust from the leaves of his roses that had been kicked up by big tyres. 

One afternoon he came in, forehead slick with sweat from the hot sun, his black clothes coated in a thin film of dirt. “It’s impossible,” he said at Aziraphale (not to him, at ), throwing his gardening gloves down on the kitchen bench. “It’s constant. There are two or three lorries driving by an hour. The roses are filthy, smothered. I can’t keep up with it. They’re in awful shape and it’s not even their fault!” Crowley gestured widely out the window at the rose bushes. Aziraphale had noticed a distinct lack of hollering at them in the last week or so. “If this keeps up, they’ll all… they’ll all die.”

Crowley breathed hard through his nose. Frustrated. A bull ready to charge but with no set target. 

“My dear,” started Aziraphale, but Crowley waved him off.

“I’m going to go shower.” He slipped off his garden shoes and went round the corner and up the stairs. Aziraphale stood at the foot of the stairs and watched after him. Listened for the shower turning on, then eventually off. Waited for soft footsteps to pad into the bedroom. It was only mid-morning but he suspected Crowley was going in for a nap given recent frustrations.

Only when he heard the creak of the bedposts, did he follow.

He hated seeing his demon like this, keyed up and tense, unhappy. As he climbed the stairs he cursed his inability to fix it, to find ways to make life more bearable for him here, a place he had so badly wanted to be.

In the bedroom Crowley had slipped between the sheets, and had pulled the blankets up to his chin. Aziraphale said nothing, but took off his waistcoat and hung it up in the wardrobe. He took off his cufflinks and dropped them on the bedside table.

“May I join you?” He asked.

Crowley turned his face towards Aziraphale, and with his sunglasses off, the strain around his eyes was apparent. “All right,” he said.

Aziraphale climbed between the covers, and pulled Crowley gently to him, laying the demon’s head on his chest. With well manicured fingers he lightly scratched Crowley’s scalp, and was pleased at how Crowley leaned into it.

“We could,” Aziraphale quietly said into Crowley’s hair, “use some small miracles to keep the dust off your flowers, perhaps.”

Crowley grunted, gave his head a barely perceptible shake. “Nah. They’ll go too far the other way then. Get spoiled. It’s the principle of the thing.”

“All right then.” Aziraphale closed his eyes, willed an idea to come to him. “We’ll think of something.”

Crowley released a defeated sigh. In minutes, Aziraphale felt Crowley’s body grow heavy and slack with sleep, and he allowed himself to follow.

He woke up in the early morning hours, before the sun had risen, but there was the suggestion of dawn’s glow on the horizon. He was alone, and groggy. He usually never slept this long, and often went several days without sleeping at all. The quilts had settled into the space Crowley had been and the room was dark. Aziraphale looked over to Crowley’s bedside table and his sunglasses were gone.

“Crowley?” He called, and received nothing in response. Odd, waking up without Crowley was not normal, and he didn’t relish the sensation of the empty bed. He rose and went down to the kitchen and was relieved to find a chicken scratch note there on the table.

Out for a walk. Back soon. - C.

Well, that was unconventional. Crowley didn’t care much for walks. Much preferred to take the Bentley out. But that was fine, Aziraphale supposed. Crowley was under a lot of stress and walking could help, probably.

He made himself some tea and carried on waiting for his serpent to return. 

The sky was turning a lovely shade of pink when Crowley stomped in through the kitchen door. He wore a high vis jacket and was, as yesterday, covered in dirt.

Aziraphale stood. “What happened to you? And where did that jacket come from?” 

“This old thing?” Crowley said, smiling. “I’ve had it forever.” He took it off and tossed it over a kitchen chair. “I’m off for a quick shower then what do you say, angel? Brunch in the village? At that bistro you like?”

Aziraphale was caught quite off guard. “Oh, well. Yes, that sounds lovely.” What had prompted this sea change in Crowley’s mood, and what of the dirt caked into the seams of his jeans?

They went out for brunch to the bistro Aziraphale liked. Crowley had several increasingly complicated coffee concoctions while Aziraphale enjoyed his quiche. There was a mischievous and self satisfied smile playing on his lips but he remained coy about his morning activities. Eventually, after Aziraphale had polished off a pain au chocolat that Crowley insisted they order, they meandered back home.

The day continued as normal as a day got for the both of them. Aziraphale settled into a book, Crowley parked himself in front of the television. Then abruptly, in the afternoon, the noise from the construction site stopped. No beeping of vehicles backing up, no jackhammers, no lorries trundling down the road leaving the cottage vibrating in their wake. Just peaceful silence.

Aziraphale walked to the kitchen window and looked towards the site. There were people milling about but no real action. Odd, he thought, very odd.

The next afternoon, the second quiet day, they had decided to take advantage of it and spend time in the garden. Aziraphale had taken his book outside, rolled up his sleeves in the warm sun. Crowley was poking around his lilies, as happy as Aziraphale had seen him in weeks, months even. 

The demon had stayed mum on his early morning excursion from the previous day, shrugging and saying he’d been “around.” Aziraphale knew better than to take Crowley’s words on the matter at face value, but opted to let him obfuscate for now.

Their companionable silence was broken when Kendra from down the street leaned over the fence. 

“Good afternoon Ezra, Anthony. Did you hear what happened down at the development?”

Crowley tilted his head towards Kendra in a subdued nod of greeting, but otherwise stayed at his post between the flowers. Aziraphale walked to the fence to greet the older woman, hair tightly permed and linen sundress wrinkled with wear.

“Hello Kendra, lovely to see you. What was that you were saying about the development? We had noticed it was very quiet over there.”

Kendra was vibrating with excitement. “You’ll never believe it, but Martin went over to see what was happening, you know, when the lorries stopped and what have you. That man can’t leave well enough alone. That’s why I married him. Kept asking for so long. Anyway, anyway, sorry, but Martin went over and some of the builders - nice lads really, if they weren’t destroying the village - the builders told him first hand-”

Aziraphale nodded politely. Kendra could go on.

“- that they’ve found historical artifacts on the site. And, if you can believe it, a cave!”

Aziraphale stood up straight. “A cave?”

“Yes, Ezra! A cave!” And then, in her excitement, her voice dropped into a hoarse, conspiratorial whisper. “With ancient paintings in it!”

Oh. Oh ho ho.

“Anthony,” called Aziraphale over his shoulder, “did you hear that, love? Kendra says they’ve found a cave on the build site. With paintings in it.”

“Is that right?” Crowley yelled back, keeping his eyes in the dirt, his hands pulling out weeds.

“They’ve had to stop construction immediately. Shut the whole thing down. Probably for good. If it’s a historical site the Council will have to preserve it.” Kendra looked mightily pleased with herself, not only in the possible outcome, but in being the person who got to communicate this extremely juicy news to her neighbours. “There’ll probably be something in the paper about it, but I thought you should know, given your view has been mucked up.”

“Yes, thank you, Kendra. Much obliged.”

Kendra continued on down the road, looking for more neighbours to spread the word to.

Aziraphale walked over to Crowley, knelt down beside him, careful not to muddy the knees of his trousers.

“Why, a cave with paintings. Sounds very much like, oh, what was it?”

“Lascaux,” said Crowley, fingers deep in the soil.

“That’s right. You were paying attention.”

Crowley looked up over his sunglasses, and Aziraphale could see a golden sliver of his eyes. “I’m always paying attention, angel.”

“Of course you are. And how many miracles did you use to execute this particular plan?”

“‘Bout a year’s worth.” Crowley laughed through his teeth, finally abandoned his weeding to sit back on his heels and look at Aziraphale properly. “But, no dust on my roses.”

“No lorries screeching past at all hours.”

“And our view.”

“Yes, my dear,” said Aziraphale, running his thumb across Crowley’s cheek. “Our view.”