Crowley’s in the car park above the beach when he hears three things in quick succession: the hiss of an angry woman, a girl’s gasp, and the snap of a bone. Whipping his head around, he pinpoints the source: a woman and a girl, who’s holding a child who starts to cry when they see the girl start to cry. The woman is holding the girl’s wrist.
He hears the woman whisper viciously, “When your father,” over the girl’s teary, “Ow, ow, let go. Don’t cry Freddo, it’s okay darling,” as he strides over.
“What are you doing?” he demands of the woman, approaching the group from the side. “Let her go.”
Both the woman and the girl turn to him, and, bizarrely, the woman pales and the girl cries, “Dad!” when they see him. The woman lets go of the girl’s wrist, and Crowley doesn't miss the way the girl cradles it as much as she can while still holding Fred with her other arm.
“You’re not Alec,” the woman says, eyes narrowed as she takes a closer look at him.
“Crowley,” he responds, raising an eyebrow over his sunglasses. He’s about to ask who the Heaven Alec is, but the girl interrupts him.
“Uncle Crowley,” the girl says firmly, and that’s weird, but no more weird than her calling him dad was.
“I didn’t know Alec had a twin,” the woman says suspiciously.
The girl’s reply is scathing, now that she’s decided Crowley’s her backup, “There’s a lot you don’t know about him.”
Crowley ignores the by-play and runs his hand through Fred’s curls. The poor boy’s been crying this whole time. “You’re alright, Fred, dear,” he says, with a hint of Suggestion, and Fred stops crying. Fred pops his thumb in his mouth and lays his head down on the girl’s shoulder, sniffling.
Then Crowley reaches for the girl’s wrist, pausing for permission before cradling it gently in his left hand while he strokes it with his right. He turns to look at the woman, “You broke her wrist,” he says softly. Dangerously.
“Nothing she didn’t deserve, with that smart mouth,” the woman says. She and the girl look surprised. “That’s, what, I didn’t,” she sputters.
“Thank you for your honesty,” Crowley replies, still in that soft voice. He may have had something to do with it. * “Do you know one thing I can’t stand?” he continues, as he looks down and strokes the girl’s wrist one more time, healing it. The girl gasps and stares up at him. His head is bowed and he can see her over the tops of his glasses so he knows she can see his eyes when he glances up at her and winks. She gasps again. “I can’t stand when people hurt children. It makes me angry.”
* He did.
He lets the woman feel a tiny fraction of his fury, and she’s nearly bowled over with the force of it. A quick miracle keeps her upright, and she looks shaken. She recovers quickly and says, “Daisy, let’s go.”
“No, I told Ellie I was bringing Fred to the beach.”
Fred pops his thumb out of his mouth long enough to agree, “Beach.”
“What do I care what you told that blasted bitch?!” the woman screeches, “We’re going home.”
“Actually,” Crowley butts in, “we’re going to the beach.”
“Fine, you do whatever you want!”
“Oh, but you’re coming with us,” Crowley says silkily, sauntering in a circle around her. “Got to tell Alec what you did.” She doesn’t look happy with the prospect.
“He’s not at the beach,” Daisy says.
“I’m sure we’ll run into him sometime,” Crowley shrugs. *
* Crowley expects that Alec would be there eventually, and so he will be.
Crowley pauses just behind the woman’s shoulder. “Not ssso confident now, are we?” he hisses in her ear. “Can’t wait to ssssee how you try to explain thisss away.” Straightening up, he walks back over to where Daisy is gathering up a bag.
“Give him to us,” Crowley says, taking Fred from her arms. Daisy looks a little nervous, but Fred goes easily, reaching for Crowley’s glasses at the same time. “Ah, we should leave those where they are,” he gently redirects Fred’s wandering hand. “Don’t want to go scaring anybody. Else,” he corrects.
They head toward the stairs down to the beach, and Crowley uses a miracle to compel the woman to follow behind.
“He hates being called Alec,” Daisy says as they walk down the stairs.
“Isn’t it my job to annoy him, as his brother?” Crowley says with a sunny smile. Daisy looks like she isn’t sure whether to laugh or not. “What’s he prefer to be called, then?”
“Would he make his own brother call him Hardy, you think?” Crowley muses, bouncing Fred gently. “Wouldn’t my surname be Hardy, too?”
Daisy glances back hesitantly at the woman.
“She can’t hear us,” Crowley assures her.
“She hurts him, too,” Daisy blurts out in a rush.
Crowley raises an eyebrow.
“He thinks I don’t know, but she’s treats him awfully, tells him he can’t do practically anything or eat or go anywhere and she hates Ellie and takes it out on him, but that’s not fair because they work together and it’s not like he can just avoid her--!”
By this time they’ve reached the bottom of the staircase and Crowley pulls Daisy in with his free arm. The poor girl’s so worried and upset that she just clings to him and buries her face in his chest and cries. Crowley holds her, stroking her hair and making soothing noises while Fred pats her on the head, until she pulls away, embarrassed.
“Sorry, carrying on like that.”
“Not to worry,” Crowley soothes, miracling a handkerchief and handing it to her. “A bit of a cry never hurt anything.” He puts his arm around her shoulders and steers her further down the beach.
“I just,” she starts.
“Consider it handled,” Crowley interrupts.
“How?” she nearly wails. “I’ve been trying!”
Crowley remembers all over again why he adores children, they try so hard to help. “Well, she hurt you; if that doesn’t do it, and it should,” he adds sternly, “then I’ll give him a good bollocking.”
“You won’t hurt him?”
“Nah,” Crowley gives her a squeeze. “Words only. Promise.” What kind of words, if it came down to it, Crowley won’t make any promises about.
“Okay,” she says. Then she takes a breath, and asks in another rush, “What are you?” She looks up at him, a little abashed, but clearly not taking the question back.
“What do you think I am?” he asks, amused.
“Fae?” he responds, “I haven’t got that one in a long, long time.” He removes his arm from Daisy’s shoulders and puts Fred down at a likely looking spot. The boy immediately starts digging in the sand. “No, not fae.”
He can’t help it, he throws his head back and laughs. Finally, he gathers himself enough to answer, “No, not an angel. You’re closer, though.” Then he remembers the woman. “Oi, don’t go far, but you can wander,” he says to her and she stalks away. She doesn’t get very far, but she tries.
Daisy watches the exchange and guesses, much more shrewdly this time, “Demon?”
Crowley slides his glasses down just a bit and smiles at her, “Got it.” He pushes them back up and waits to see what she does, sliding his hands into his pockets.
“You don’t seem evil,” she says slowly.
“What is ‘evil’, anyway? I mean, really,” Crowley asks, and he’s kind of serious. Evil can be so many different things!
“Well, it’s not being good,” she counters.
“Are you so sure that someone evil can never do good?” he counters back.
She opens her mouth, but closes it without saying anything.
Then Fred stands up and demands that they help him build a castle, so they get a bit distracted.
Crowley’s got sand in places he’d rather not think about when Daisy brings the conversation back around to good and evil. “What’s your job, then? Being a demon.”
“Wellll, that’s a bit complicated. I’m retired, sort of. But before I retired, my job, most demon’s jobs really, was temptation.”
“Yeah, tempt humans into doing the bad thing, to secure souls for my side. My old side,” Crowley corrects himself.
“Why not just make them do bad stuff? Seems easier.”
“Ah, that’s the thing.” Crowley smiles at her as he constructs a sand tower, “Humans have free will. Doesn’t count if they’re compelled to do it; they have to choose. My job was to set up that choice.”
“How? Like, what did you do?”
“Well, in 2008 I took down the whole London-area mobile network. Millions of pissed-off people all taking it out on each other and making everyone else’s day worse. Some of them didn’t, of course, but some of them did. The M-25, too, that one’s all me.”
“The M-25!” Daisy exclaims, “Everyone hates the M-25.”
“I know,” Crowley says with relish. “Took quite a lot of effort, that. ‘M pretty proud of it.”
“And all demons do that?” Daisy looked worried.
“Mmm, not so much. Most demons are, well, not that bright. Hastur thought tempting a single priest and the ten-year-wait for his soul was how it should be done.” Crowley paused, “Which, I suppose in the old days, when there were only a few million humans, mind, that might’ve done, but there are way too many humans now for that level of inefficiency.”
“Inefficiency,” Daisy repeats flatly.
Crowley shrugs. “A job’s a job. Might as well be good at it.”
“I guess,” she replies dubiously. “So what do you do now that you’re ‘retired’?” He can practically hear the quotes.
“Mostly I drink wine with Aziraphale and drive my car really fast. Sometimes I still glue 50p pieces to the sidewalk and laugh when people try to pick them up.”
That made Daisy giggle. “Who’s Aziraphale?”
Fred barges between the two of them, stomping on the towers they’ve been building. “Roaaaaar!”
“Fred!” Crowley cries, grabbing the boy and tickling him. “I was working on that!”
Fred laughs and Crowley lets him go so he can get back to his stomping.
“Aziraphale’s my best friend.”
“He’s a demon, too?” she asks, while trying to protect the beginnings of her new tower from Fred-zilla.
“Nah, he’s an angel. None of the other demons are really people you want to be friends with.”
“So he does good, like you do evil?”
“Sure. Aziraphale’s a right old bastard, though. Does his good deeds, but Someone help you if you try to buy one of his books or delay his dinner reservations. Why he thought opening a bookshop was a good idea, I’ll never know. He’s retired, too.”
Daisy’s about to ask something else, but they both hear someone calling across the beach.
“Dad!” Daisy breathes, as two people come down the beach. One of them is Aziraphale, and as the two people get closer, Crowley understands why Daisy and the woman thought he was Alec Hardy. They look uncannily alike, to the point where he’s trying to remember if he had any children at any point. He doesn’t think so, but he’s, worryingly, not entirely sure.
Hardy stomps over and scowls, looking extremely unimpressed to see a strange man playing with his children at the beach. He does a comical double-take after getting a better look at Crowley’s face, which is amusing.
“Crowley!” Aziraphale exclaims, somewhere between admonishing and relieved.
“Hullo, Angel,” Crowley says, standing up and dusting himself off. “Oi, you!” he calls to the woman, who’s hovering as far away as she can, “get over here.”
Crowley doesn’t miss the small shiver of fear that goes through Hardy when he realizes that the woman is here. He doesn’t like it. Daisy must see it, too, as she rises and goes to stand by her father, who puts his arm around her. Fred is oblivious, as toddlers often are.
The woman walks over, chin up but mouth pressed closed.
“I think you’ve got sssomething to tell our Hardy, hmm,” Crowley hisses at her, moving in a slow, wide arc behind her.
“Oh dear,” he hears Aziraphale murmur.
She says nothing.
“Go on, then,” he whispers.
She still says nothing.
“Zoe,” Hardy starts, but Daisy elbows him and Crowley gently shushes him. Aziraphale watches with a pinched, disapproving expression.
“No? Shall I tell him for you?” He can see her tremble slightly, but she still refuses to speak. “Alright, then. Hardy, I’ll tell you what she’s done,” he croons in her ear, “she broke your daughter’s wrist, she did.”
Hardy is immediately furious, Crowley can feel it. He tugs Daisy closer and glances down at her hands before looking back up. Smart man. He cares about his daughter but he knows the threat is still here. Aziraphale looks even more disapproving.
“That is unacceptable,” Hardy spits, and is that a Scottish accent Crowley hears? Hardy tugs Daisy behind himself as he continues, “I put up with a lot of shite from you, but you lay a hand on my daughter, that is unacceptable!”
“She wasn’t even sorry, were you, Zoe?” When she’s still silent, he asks again with a bit of force behind it, “Were you?”
“No,” she grits out, glaring daggers at Crowley for being forced to tell the truth. “She was being a right little--,” she begins before Crowley puts a finger to her lips.
“Now, now, that’sss not very nicssse,” he hisses, “None of usss need to hear that, I think.” Crowley turns to look at Hardy, “Tell me, brother,” and oh, Hardy’s face is a picture, “Does she have things at your place?”
Daisy answers before Hardy can say anything, “Yes.”
Crowley snaps his fingers. “All neatly boxed up and waiting on the steps for you, my dear,” he says to Zoe.
“You can’t do that!” she snaps.
“I think you’ll find I did,” he replies, “But you’re right. Only Hardy can properly break up with you. I mean, I’m fairly certain he did, but it can’t hurt to be sure.” He looks inquiringly at Hardy.
“Yeah, we’re broken up.” Hardy’s glaring at him now. Rude.
“Run along, Zoe, go pick up your things,” Crowley says sweetly. “And don’t get any ideas,” he adds. “I’ll know, and you will Regret It.”
Aziraphale steps forward then and touches Zoe’s forehead. “May you never be successful in love,” he blesses her.
“Oh, angel, you are a bastard,” Crowley grins.
They all watch Zoe depart toward the car park. She might trip on the steps and scrape her hands on the way. Aziraphale elbows him, but Crowley is unrepentant. That does remind him that Daisy said Zoe had hurt Hardy, too, and the implication was physically, among other things. He gives Hardy a once-over and then snaps, healing him.
Hardy immediately straightens up from where he was examining Daisy’s wrists, despite her assurances, and demands, “What did you just do?”
“Dad, it’s fine,” Daisy’s saying, but he ignores her and gets in Crowley’s face.
“What did you just do to me?”
“Nothing bad!” Crowley protests.
“He’s fixed you, right?” Daisy interjects. “He did it to me, see, Dad, my wrist’s not broken anymore.”
That only serves to make Hardy angrier, that he’d done anything to the man’s daughter, even something good.
“And why’ve you got my face?”
“I think,” Aziraphale says, trying to separate Hardy from Crowley without actually touching either of them or moving at all, really, “that perhaps we should all take a moment to, to calm down.”
Crowley rolls his whole body and groans. “Aziraphale, never in the whole history of telling people to calm down has that ever calmed anyone down!”
Fred chooses that moment to start crying, which distracts everyone. Both Hardy and Crowley reach for the boy, but Crowley lets Hardy pick the boy up, not wanting to start another argument.
“Ach, wee Fred, it’s alright,” Hardy says, cuddling the boy and rubbing his back. “Just some shouting, it’s alright now.”
They all stand there awkwardly for a bit, anger defused, but otherwise at a bit of a loss.
“Uncle Crowley helped me, Dad,” Daisy says. “He’s not that evil.”
Crowley groans again. Children. So useless.
“‘Uncle’ Crowley?” Aziraphale asks, raising his eyebrows, thankfully cutting in before Hardy could latch onto “not that evil.”
“What? Daisy said it, not me!” Crowley protests. “‘Sides, they both thought I was him,” he gestures at Hardy, “when I came over. Easier to go along with it.”
“Why do you look like me?” Hardy asks, clearly still very suspicious but less visibly angry than before.
“If anything you look like me,” Crowley says mildly. “And I dunno. I don’t think I had any children.”
“How could you not know?” Hardy demands, still rubbing Fred’s back.
“It’s been a long time! I can’t be expected to remember every single thing I’ve ever done in the history of the Earth!”
Aziraphale looks intrigued, which is not something Crowley wants to deal with right now. Unfortunately, Daisy comes to the rescue.
“How long is a long time?” she asks.
“Ngk, erm, uh,” Crowley grasps for something to say, scratching his ear and looking askance at Hardy. Adults, especially suspicious ones, tended not to like hearing that occult beings existed. “Dunno, really.”
He’s saved, actually saved this time, by the appearance of a woman in an eye-searing orange anorak.
“Mumma!” Fred cries, trying to climb over Hardy’s shoulder. Hardy scrambles to keep from dropping the boy, just barely managing it, as the woman arrives and plucks Fred from Hardy’s arms.
“Hello my love. Did you have fun with Daisy today?”
“Zee!” says Fred, pointing at Daisy.
“And you found Hardy, and,” she does a double-take when she sees Crowley, “and you never told me you have a twin!” she accuses Hardy, whacking him on the arm.
“I don’t,” he replies sullenly, glaring at Crowley once more.
“What do you call him, then?”
“I call him Uncle Crowley,” Daisy says, grabbing Crowley’s arm and hanging off it, clearly being a shit to irritate her father.
Crowley rolls his eyes as Hardy grimaces at her and the woman raises her eyebrows.
Aziraphale steps in, “Yes, well, I’m Aziraphale, and this is Crowley.”
“Ellie Miller,” the woman says.
“Daisy, Hardy, Fred,” Crowley finishes, for Aziraphale’s benefit. Aziraphale rolls his eyes at him.
“Dad, can Crowley come for tea?” Daisy asks. “Please?” She lets go of Crowley and goes to hang off Hardy instead. “He helped us! Come on,” she wheedles.
“Helped you with what?” Ellie asks sharply.
Hardy mutters “nothing,” as Daisy says, “he ran Zoe off.”
Ellie looks very interested in the part where Zoe’s gone, but Aziraphale says, “Tea sounds lovely,” before she can say anything.
“Fine,” Hardy capitulates, before things devolve further.
“Yes!” Daisy cries, punching the air. “Ellie you should come, too.”
Hardy sighs as Ellie smiles mischievously. “Bloody fantastic,” he grumbles. “The kitchen’s not big enough for seven.”
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Aziraphale smiles.
Both Crowley and Hardy raise an eyebrow at him.
“That is weird,” Ellie says, looking at them.
They look at each other, realize they’re making the same expression, and scowl.
“Very weird,” Ellie says again.
As they all turn and head toward the car park, Aziraphale says quietly, “I think you may need to reevaluate whether you never had any children, my dear.”
“Shut up,” Crowley says.