“Shit,” Crowley said. It wasn’t the sort of town a man should swear in, probably, looking as picturesque as a postcard. The only things which had probably changed in the last fifty years were one or two business names and the colour of the brick. There was an ice cream parlour that still advertised a damn soda fountain. Stepping back in time had not been a part of the plan. No matter how many newspapers he read - behind bars or in front of them - it still felt like 2005. This place, though, felt more like 1955.
Yet this was where his car had decided to begin rattling. Had to be the transmission. He got out to check under the hood, unable to touch with the engine still hot, but a visual inspection gave him nothing. Sighing, he returned to the driver’s seat to turn the key. The engine sputtered, but it didn’t catch. “Shit,” said Crowley again, with blasphemous feeling. It only sputtered at the second, third, and fourth attempts.
For a third time, this one soft and miserable, Crowley said, “Shit.”
Then he got out of the Bentley. It would be a bitch to push alone, but he’d done it more than once in his life and he certainly hadn’t gotten soft and doughy in jail. Too much free time, not enough good food, and plenty of fear. It had been Hell.
Unfortunately, God didn’t seem to be done tormenting him yet. As he reached the back and began to push, there was a single crack of thunder. The clouds abruptly opened and he resigned himself to getting wet until he realized that he wasn’t. He looked up, baffled to find an umbrella held aloft. It was attached to a hand, which was attached to a person.
Behind dark lenses, Crowley blinked twice just to be sure he wasn’t seeing things. It was a man who had nothing to fear when it came to becoming soft and a little doughy. He probably had nothing to fear at all just based on the small smile and their location. Between the clouds and his sunglasses, it was impossible to tell his eye colour, but comfortable lines crooked from them and Crowley could tell they were twinkling. And was his hair white? It was difficult to tell, but it was definitely fluffy and curly. He looked like a friendly little sheep in human form. A lamb with a halo, which was definitely a trick of the light. He’d long given up on something like angels.
He realized that he’d been staring too long when the man cleared his throat and those twinkling eyes glanced away, but couldn’t think of a single thing to say. When the fuck had he last made small talk with anyone? 2005 probably.
“Seems to me you’re batting on a bit of a sticky wicket, there.”
“Christ,” was the only response he could think of. It wasn't quite as bad as “shit,” but just as blasphemous. “What bloody year is it? Swear I’ve gone back a good seventy.”
The friendly little sheep of a man looked a little less friendly at the blatant irreverence, still plenty sheep with the way he puffed up a bit, but he exhaled on a little huff and decided to cut him some slack. Possibly. “It’s the year 2020, my dear fellow. You haven’t perhaps injured yourself when your car stopped working? Didn’t hit anything did you?” If there was legitimate concern in his tone, it was hidden behind quite a bit of cheek for a man wearing a threadbare waistcoat and a tartan bowtie. And spats.
“Not that I remember.” He grinned, the curve of his lips almost foreign feeling. A bit of cheek wasn't unwarranted. “Just need to get the old girl over before some knucklehead comes ‘round not paying attention. Exactly what I need today.”
“Or worse. You might be accosted by our neighborhood watch.” The twinkle was back in his eyes, perhaps the grin doing its job in winning him over. “Self-appointed, of course. Might I lend you a hand in moving the ah… old girl?”
He gestured to the Bentley with the hand not holding the umbrella, the sleeve of his beige coat covered in darkened splotches where the rain dampened it. He paid it little mind, hardly noticing that he was exposed to the rain by continuing to shield Crowley with his umbrella. If anything he made sure it covered as much of him as possible, without leaning too far into his personal space.
It twisted something in Crowley’s heart, something unfamiliar or long forgotten. He brushed it aside with a shake of his head. “S’fine, angel. I’ve been musclin’ her about as long as I can remember. Though if you wanted to go turn the wheel a bit, that’d be grand.”
It might have been a trick of the light through his sunglasses, but the faintest trace of colour etched itself across the man’s face for a moment. “Ah, yes. Right. Whatever will be of the most help to you, good sir.” He cleared his throat again and struggled a bit as he fiddled with the umbrella, realizing it would benefit neither of them in their respective roles. He closed it and tucked it under his arm. “Turn the wheel… towards the kerb?”
“Well, I don’t want her in the middle of the street, do I?”
“No, I suppose you don’t,” he agreed, and his face also agreed that it had been a ridiculous question, pinched the way it was.
He went around to the front of the car and reached in through the driver’s side. The tyres squelched as they turned on the gravel-littered road, rough in patches and probably hadn’t been repaved since well before 2005. As soft and doughy as he’d seemed just standing there in the middle of the rain, he completely stiffened up as soon as he made contact with the car, as if he’d never touched a machine like it in his life. His grip on the steering wheel was ginger and cautious, though that could have been because he recognized how vintage the Bentley was.
“This is quite the old girl,” he mused. “What year is this model?”
“1933. She was my granddad’s originally and now she’s mine. Only about twelve hundred 3 ½-Litres like this were made, but the way they were built at the time makes her one of a kind.” There was pride there and a deep well of affection even as he pushed the sleek lump of metal as close to the edge of the road as he could, wary of any scrapes or scratches from passing motorists. “There we are. Think that’s alright. Put that umbrella of yours back up now, angel. You’ll get soaked through.”
“Were you heading anywhere in particular?” he asked, effectively ignoring him as he did put the umbrella back up, but made sure it covered more of Crowley. “Somewhere to wait out the rain and telephone for assistance?”
Crowley hooked his thumbs in his pockets, giving in with a brief shrug. “The plan was to drive until I ran out of petrol and see where I was, so I was supposed to be waiting out the rain on the road. For the other, nah. No one to call. I've got tools in the boot, so I'll... wait in the car. Tinker when it lets up.”
“Oh, good heavens, no.” He looked offended by the very idea. “Come with me. I’ve got a shop just down the lane here. You can wait there and- wait, tools you said? You- you maintain this lovely little thing yourself?” His eyes widened, more of an awed sparkle in them than a twinkle now.
“'Course. Redid the whole engine a while back.” A long while, but it still got his chin to lift with a touch of pride. “The tune-up I did before heading out of London didn't really cover everything like I'd thought, though. Obviously. Sounds like the transmission, but she won't turn over so could always be a battery issue or any other thing. And you've gone all politely interested, so you don't know a thing about an engine.”
“Not a single thing,” he agreed with a smile. “I’m afraid automobiles aren’t quite my specialty. But heirlooms and antiquities are, so the obvious care and love you feel for your car is something I am very much interested in, Mr.- oh, I’m afraid I haven’t caught your name.”
He'd been in the papers months back upon release, several pages in. Just a blip on the radar, no one championing his cause but himself, so there was no worry of being recognized by name in a town so small. “Crowley. What d'you mean you specialize in antiques?”
“Well, you see, I- oh, but we should get out of this weather. It is a bit damp.” He glanced up and down the road, satisfied with the lack of traffic on this drizzly day, then motioned for Crowley to follow him. “It might be better just to show you. Come along, my dear fellow. My shop’s only a little more than a five minute’s walk from here. Your dear car will be quite alright until it dries up a bit. Then we can see about getting her into the workshop and give you a place to tinker that isn’t on the side of the road.”
The offer was too surprising, too genuine, for him to think better of following. Besides, he knew how to quickly judge character and the angelic sheep thing still fit. “Would you really? I'd... actually appreciate that.”
If the man could soften further, he did, smile nothing but kind as he stepped close to keep them both under the umbrella as much as possible. He led the way to the edge of the small town - if town could even begin to describe wherever the hell Crowley had ended up - onto a country road. Verdant fields and rolling chalk hills stretched on ahead of them, and a wooded grove cropped up that seemed to have decided to grow around the village nestled near its trees. Before they ventured too far into the countryside, what appeared to be a little farm popped up around the bend, tucked behind some trees.
There was a sign posted near the road. “Divine Restorations & Repairs” was painted on worn, white wood in gold cursive lettering. There was a fence in front with a gate that connected with an old stone wall on the eastern end of the property that wrapped around the back. Also on the eastern side was a large, two-storey farmhouse built from flint and brick with charming blue shutters and a weathervane at the top. Beside it, a little footpath led up to what had once been a barn. It still looked vaguely barn-ish, save for the sign posted above the broad doors that matched the one off the road.
The man unlatched the gate and held it open for Crowley, making sure he was through before closing it up behind him. “Normally we leave the gate and doors open,” he said, gesturing to the barn. “But it’s the lunch hour, you see, so everything’s locked up for the time being.” He took an old keyring out of his pocket, fiddling with it one-handedly while the umbrella wavered unsteadily from side to side in a distracted grasp. “Oh. Er, would you mind?” He offered the umbrella to Crowley.
“Sure.” He held it, watching him flip through keys. “Were you coming from or heading to lunch?”
“Heading to, but it doesn’t matter.” He waved him off, then let out a triumphant ‘aha!’ as he found the right key and fitted it into the padlock on the doors. “After you.”
Crowley stepped in, closing the umbrella as the lights were switched on behind him. They illuminated work benches, several stations covered in ghostly cloths to hide or protect the project beneath. There was a different level of clutter at each section, different tools and materials laid out and waiting for their owner to return. Every inhale was something new: old leather and sawdust, paint and polish. Definitely a busy business, but quaint and cosy. “Nice place. Sounds like I owe you lunch, though.”
“Well, I couldn’t very well leave you out in the rain. It’s cold out. And wet.” He removed his coat and hung it on a rack near the door to keep from dripping all over the floor. “But I suppose if you’re offering… no, but wait. First things first. Tea. I’ll put on some tea, that should warm us up nicely. Please feel free to make yourself comfortable. Sit anywhere you’d like.” He gestured broadly to the various workstations. “Oh, and we do have a telephone; are you certain there’s no one you need to reach?”
“There's nobody,” he replied, a little flat and final as he shrugged out of his blazer and hung it next to the tan coat. “Where's your spot, angel? Wouldn't want to put anybody else out.”
“Ah, do you see the antique, guillotine paper cutter over there? And the book press on the table? That’s my workspace. I restore and bind books,” he told him, a bit of pride puffing him up. “The workstation across from mine is also open at the moment. Right now it’s just sort of a hodgepodge of spare parts and tools. It was where our clockman, Mr. Milkbottle, used to work, but he’s since moved on to other opportunities. How do you take your tea?”
“Splash of milk when I get a choice.” He wandered over to the free station, more intrigued than he'd admit. He picked up a pivot reaching tool, phantom pricks of gears denting his fingertips. Sacrifices had needed to be made, and these tools had been among the last. Holding a stranger’s made a tiny ache blossom somewhere in his chest, suspiciously close to his heart and quickly banished. “Not enough work for him in this little place?”
Bustling over to a kitchenette area with a table and a few mismatched chairs, the angel of a man set about filling a kettle. There were two, an electric one and an old, copper bellied kettle that was set on a hot plate once it was full enough. The electric one went untouched.
“Small towns and villages aren’t suited to everyone,” he replied as he fetched two mugs and the milk from a mini fridge. “He enjoyed the work, but wanted to be closer to family, I believe. Far be it from me to begrudge someone that.”
There was something in the tone. Subtle, right at the edges. It made Crowley smile. “Left you in a spot, didn't he?”
His shoulders sagged as he looked over at him almost helplessly. “You can’t imagine how many people need their clocks fixed. Or anything with tiny gears. Not to mention it’s such a specialized field. Not just anyone can read the witness marks to trace the original intent of the clockmaker, you know.”
He could absolutely imagine, trying for a sympathetic pout, but it was marred by an amusement obvious even with the sunglasses still covering his eyes. This angelic sheep had given up hiding his upset over it so easily and there was just something so bloody sweet about that. “And the older something is, the fewer things you can find on what to do. Don't have a replacement lined up yet?”
“Not yet.” There was a very real pout in the set of his lips now, but the whistle of the kettle effectively distracted him from it. “I’ve suggested putting adverts in papers that have a bit more reach than our local news, but… I suppose the suggestion fell on deaf ears. Oh, but that’s not very kind of me, is it?” he sighed, mugs filled and milk added to both while the tea bags steeped and he considered how else to put it. “They did hear what I had to say, they’re just of the opinion that the only people who’d want to come work in Tadfield are people already living here. Despite the fact that two of our current employees are recent transplants to the area. That, and they want to exclusively advertise online. Apparently that’s what all the competitive markets are doing these days. But nevermind, I apologize. I don’t mean to bore you with ‘shop talk,’ as it were. Here you are. Splash of milk was certainly an option.” He handed him his tea, smile returning as Crowley took it.
Crowley leaned his hip against the worktable and took a sip, reevaluated. He'd assumed the man owned the shop from the way he'd spoken about it, but perhaps he was just a manager. “I don't mind, really. I did ask,” he pointed out. “Besides, not every thought needs to be nice, angel. It'd be a bland world if they were.”
“Yes, well, I wouldn’t be much of an angel if I wasn’t thinking nice thoughts,” he replied, but something in what Crowley said set him at ease, the lines around his eyes losing some of their depth. “It’s really not as bad as all that though. I’m mostly left to my own devices here. Free to set the business hours as I choose and hiring is typically left up to me. And I still get to restore books and reunite them with their owners in tip-top condition. It’s not a bad arrangement at all.”
“Doesn't sound so bad,” he agreed. “Really is a nice place, y'know. Rustic and warm like this is kinda what you want from somewhere that fixes heirlooms. Like if an old barn can be restored, why can't the family Bible or whatever.”
He lit up, the warm lights above creating another halo of sorts about him. “Yes, precisely. Oh, I’m so glad you think so. That was exactly my thinking when I spruced things up a smidge. It’s family-run, but there was a period of time where it did… languish, a bit. When changing hands, you see. But with a little care and attention to detail, it’s as if it came back to life. Good as new!”
Oh, angel was definitely accurate. It was almost distracting. “Your family or...?”
“Oh, yes. My grandmother actually started all of this. She had quite the knack for restorations. There wasn't a single thing she couldn't bring back to its former glory. Even clocks.” He smiled wistfully, considering the workspace. “She was very proud of it. I can only hope she'd feel that way still if she saw it today. I think she would.” He sipped at his tea, pleased with the flavor and strength of it.
“I haven't seen it bustling with all the workers, but I can see there's plenty of projects. And you're obviously in love with it. I can't imagine she'd be displeased.” He didn't quite know where the reassurance came from, not normally one to jump to soothe anyone. Something about this man... “Giving a damn goes a long way.”
“Oh, really?” As if those simple words had been all it took to brighten his entire day, the man smiled like he'd been given the sun. “Well, thank you. It does bother me, from time to time, but that's very kind that you think so.” His gaze darted away when he realized it had been lingering for a second or two too long, hiding the remnants of his smile behind his mug. “Mm. Oh, right, well as you can see there's plenty of workspace if you wanted to bring your car in. It's a ways to push, but I'm certain Newton and Sergeant Shadwell will be happy to help get her here. They're my woodworkers.”
“If the starting issue is just the battery, I might be able to start it with a jump. I've got a tester and a type of portable charger, but if it's more than that, yeah. Wouldn't mind an extra pair or two of hands.” He really hoped it was just a dirt issue. Gunk build-up in the transmission after sitting too long, battery corrosion from the same. He was running out of funds too fast to be able to afford too many parts. “I'll figure it out anyway. Always do.”
“You certainly do seem prepared, Mr. Crowley. We have some spare parts that we’ve collected over the years for older vehicles. They might not be what you need, but you’re welcome to look through them,” he offered. “We’re certainly not making any use of them now.”
It might've been polite to refuse, but Crowley had never been known for politeness. “Might take you up on that, depending on what she needs. S’pose I should've taken a better look before I left, but...” He shrugged and straightened, wanting to explore the space a bit more before lunch ended and the workers began to shuffle back in.
“Well, it was raining. And from the looks of things, it's quite the downpour now,” he pointed out, heading back over to the kitchenette while Crowley glanced up at the skylights. Rain pelted onto them in a thick, consistent sheet. Grand. The book binder rummaged around for a bit, putting together a plate of crackers and two kinds of cheese he found in the mini fridge. A pear was also cut up, then a small bunch of grapes were added for colour and a tiny dollop of sweet onion jam.
He set them at the spare workstation with a “help yourself,” nibbling on some West Country Farmhouse Cheddar to start. “It's likely for the best you found shelter when you did.”
Crowley had meant the check should've happened before he left London, but didn't correct him. No need to get into it. He returned to the table to steal a cracker, glancing over with a wry smile. “Right. Make me feel worse about making you miss a meal,” he teased. “D'you always fuss so much over strangers, angel?”
“Well, it's rude to eat in front of guests without at least offering,” he huffed, though he wasn't too put out as he popped a grape into his mouth and hummed appreciatively. “And I wouldn't call you a stranger, per say. We're well on our way to… acquaintances, I should think.”
“Oh, acquaintances. Impressive.” He ate as if he'd never seen food before, Crowley thought, watching him very carefully select another grape. Like every single bite was an experience. Maybe, for him, it was. “I still don't know your name. Probably should do if we're going to take such a big step.”
He nearly choked on said grape. Patting his chest firmly, he managed to swallow past it. He was a little pink in the cheeks, though whether that was from the choking or embarrassment was anyone's guess.
“Oh, I- Dreadfully sorry. I- ahem. I haven't told you my name?” He sounded absolutely scandalized. “I can't believe I haven't made a formal introduction. Well, better rectify that at once. I am- ah… Well it's a bit of an odd name… My family is quite religious, you see and- ah. Right, just get to it. My name's Aziraphale. Aziraphale Fell.”
It was odd, yes, but it was the sort of angelic pomp that suited this man. “It's interesting. Very you, really. S'pose I should say my first name's Anthony, but I usually prefer Crowley. Without the mister, mind, and the only ones who call me Anthony are the ones I don't care much for.”
“Oh. Well, then… Crowley,” Aziraphale spoke his name the way someone would try a new wine, letting the vowels flow off his tongue with care as he tested the name without the honorific, “it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He offered his hand to shake it, apparently the proper way to seal a greeting in his mind.
Crowley chuckled, but took the offering for a firm shake. “I've had more benefits than you have so far, so I'd say so.”
“One doesn’t need to benefit from another to take pleasure in their company,” he replied, relinquishing his hand to pick out another cracker, this time with a bit of Stilton. “Besides… you have promised me lunch. I’d say that’s quite the benefit.” The smile that pulled at his lips leaned more towards playful as his gaze flitted away.
The sentiment alone made him so different from anyone Crowley had associated with since he'd been a stupid, aching teenager. The playfulness - the openness of it - was another layer, so far removed from the exhaustion of people who just plain refused to have experiences or emotions not mired in darkness. Enthusiasm was interesting and Crowley was so tired of being bored.
“You'll have to tell me what you like. And where to go, for that matter. You don't seem like the sort who gets simple takeaway. You probably have your seat, smile at servers, and somehow know all their business by the end of your appetizer.”
From the way Aziraphale kept his gaze averted as he chewed more than confirmed that he was right on the money with that assumption. “I do get takeaway sometimes,” he defended eventually. “But it’s not the same experience as eating out somewhere. And yes, maybe chatting with the servers is nice, too. They do such hard work, they deserve some appreciation. More often than not I walk down to the pub in town and eat there. They make the most sublime pear and parsnip soup in the winter months, and their black pudding is positively scrummy.”
“I'll take your word on that, but I wasn't criticizing you. It's hardly a bad thing to be the sort of person others are willing to talk to, is it? And it's refreshing to be around someone like you.”
Aziraphale looked at him for a moment, eyebrows gently arching. “Oh… right then. My apologies for misunderstanding.”
“S'fine. Just didn't come out right, I s'pose.” He shrugged, setting his mug down. “Can I ask why you've got a sticker-covered Lambretta behind your station? It can't be yours.”
“Hm? Oh!” Aziraphale looked over at it, the powder blue scooter just poking out from where it was wedged behind his guillotine paper cutter, half covered in a beige drape. “Oh that. You’re right, it’s not mine at all. It belongs to one of the other workers here - Madame Tracy. She specializes in our fabrics. Upholstery and leather and the like. It gave out on her on her way in to work one day, so we brought it in here. I’ve been meaning to contact someone to come out and fix it, none of us are particularly adept at repairing vintage vehicles. It’s a 1966, you see. Very delicate thing. But she’s had it throughout her youth and can’t bear to part with it yet.”
Crowley hummed, wandering over to peek beneath the drape. “A '66 Li 125 Special's probably got a, what, 49 cc engine? Guessing it's a three geared, two-stroke deal, considering the time. Biggest issue with a two-stroke engine is that they need the right mix of oil and petrol to lube up the piston and cylinder and all else. If you get the balance wrong, it can gum things up. Bet it's top speed was about twenty... four? kilometers an hour before it finally gave up, but the top speed should be double if the engine's treated right. Even nowadays.”
Aziraphale stared at him, wide-eyed and very much intrigued by everything he was saying… Even if he only understood about- well, none of it. “I suppose working on your Bentley has made you quite familiar with these old machines. Is it still possible to salvage? In your opinion?”
“Eh, possibly. I'd have to open it up and take a look. But it's not just the Bentley, angel.” Crowley looked back at him with a small shrug and pride tucked in the quirk of his lips. “I worked in a garage for a few years,” several different ones over several years, “so I've got a good amount of experience working with all sorts of things. If it's got a motor, I can fix it.”
“Oh! Well, my dear fellow, perhaps if it wouldn't be too much trouble… would you mind taking a look? If you wind up staying in town long, that is. I'm afraid none of us are very knowledgeable about this sort of thing. Dear Newton would likely make it implode upon glancing at it, bless him. And the Sergeant…” He made a face like he'd eaten an entire lemon and shook his head as if nothing more needed to be said.
“Right.” Crowley chuckled, uncovering the scooter. The colourful stickers were one thing, but it gleamed besides. A scrape here and there from time, but it was well taken care of. “I don't mind having a look now. It'll give me something to do until the rain stops anyway.”
Aziraphale was practically beaming at him now. “Thank you. I honestly can’t tell you how long it’s been sitting there. Here, we can move it…” He turned around in a circle, surveying the workspace before landing right where he was standing at the unclaimed workstation. “Well, I suppose here is as good as anywhere.”
He went to help Crowley move the scooter so it was less crammed in a corner and more open to being examined. Once it was settled, Aziraphale started rummaging through the bins and boxes piled in a metal shelving unit that he called, “the supply corner.” It was more than overflowing with spare tools and parts, some relegated to piling up on the floor. Despite the chaos, he knew exactly where everything was, labels on the bins up to date and colour-coded. He found an extra toolkit among them and brought it over.
“In case you need a tool or two, you’re welcome to use anything in here.”
“Right.” He opened the kit, mostly concerned with screwdrivers and spanners considering the size of the scooter. “Wish I’d thought to grab my things out of the Bentley, but this should do. If it is an oil to petrol issue, the cleaning’s gonna be the most important thing. Clockman didn’t happen to leave brushes, did he?”
“He didn't, but I have my grandmother's set. I've kept them in good condition.” Aziraphale clasped his hands behind his back, obviously doing his best not to hover or fidget, but couldn't help observing him as he went through the tools, gaze lingering on his face curiously. The sunglasses finally must have registered, but he refrained from commenting on them when they didn't seem to impede his vision. “I keep them at my station. You're welcome to borrow them.”
“That normal practice here? Lending tools and parts between coworkers?” Crowley picked up a small spanner to start taking the old scooter apart, already dreading some of the inevitable corrosion on bolts and nuts and ignoring the gaze he felt on his shades.
“Well, if one of us has something the other needs, it’s not uncommon to offer assistance. We try to have an open, friendly environment. But of course, there are certain things that are not to be touched. Some of my equipment is antique itself, so if handled improperly it could be disastrous. In those cases, I simply offer to help them out. Collaborate, so to speak.” Aziraphale tore his gaze away to consider his workspace, then fetched a cloth for him in case there was a mess of oil to be found.
“It's not the wrong way to handle a place like this. I'm sure you get projects that overlap.” Crowley smiled easily, and lifted the scooter up as if it weighed nothing so he could settle it on the table. He pushed down the kickstand, pleased when it stayed steady. “If I do need the brushes, I'll treat them well. You wouldn't happen to have hemp seed oil handy, would you?” he asked, taking the offered cloth and immediately fitting it into his back pocket. “I've got my own recipe for a solid gear and engine cleaner. That's the only ingredient that's a bit...” He waved a hand, the word slipping away from him as they too often did. At least he hadn’t started stuttering or hissing at him.
“Ah, it’s quite possible that it's one of the assortments that Sergeant Shadwell and Newton keep on hand. They’ve garnered quite the collection. Madame Tracy and Anathema are always recommending new oils and techniques for them to try. Sometimes one would think they’re the experts,” he chuckled to himself, then gestured towards the woodworking station. “I can check. Of course we’d have to ask permission before using it, but just to see if they have it.”
“Alright. Need four other things. Could write them down if you'll check? Some o'these are bound to be rusted on, so the sooner I can get them cleaned, the better.”
Aziraphale fetched a notepad from his desk, the 19th century restored roll top crammed beside his work table to create an L-shaped sort of nook. The fountain pen he picked up to write with looked even older than the desk. He jotted down the quick list and was pleased to inform him that they did have all he required. There was a bottle of Fairy dish soap in the kitchenette and plenty of rubbing alcohol used between the entire shop. The baking soda and white vinegar would also be easy enough to obtain.
“I’m certain there’s some over here, but if I can’t find it, then I’ll just pop over next door and grab some.” He waved idly in the direction of the farmhouse on the property as he picked through the containers in the supply corner. “I know there’s some in the kitchen.”
“Alright.” He was amazed that Aziraphale was actually trusting him. All he'd seen of him was a broken car, which just made him want to sigh. He'd likely need the cleaner for the Bentley’s transmission too, but he'd worry about it later. For the time being, he'd do what he could to repay the kindness and unexpected measure of trust and get this old scooter running again.
By the time everything was gathered, his vest and shoestring tie were on the stool, his sleeves were rolled up, and both tyres were set aside. “Looks like no one's done a bloody tune-up on this thing in twenty years,” he muttered. “Brakes need to be adjusted, but the electrical doesn't look bad.”
“Oh! Well, that’s good then, isn’t it?” Aziraphale asked, flitting over to him. His gaze caught on the fabric bunched at Crowley’s elbows, then traced down an intricate tattoo of feathers and gears on his inner right forearm, to his bony wrists and long-fingered hands before darting away to inspect the scooter and its separated tyres.
“It means a lot less work anyway.” Thankfully. Electric work always took ages. “It definitely needs a thorough cleaning, probably a new air filter, and gear oil to lubricate nearly all of it. But I know I can get it running. The only thing that'll make it start tomorrow or in a week is the filter. One for a scooter this old would need a special order, but I'll clean the one she's got and we'll see.”
A sigh of relief escaped him as he clasped his hands together. “How wonderful. Madame Tracy will be thrilled to bits to hear that. If it’s a part you need, I can place the order for you. I have made connections with various suppliers over the years, so one of my contacts should know where to get it.”
“Then I'll let you know once I get my hands on it. Got an air blow gun 'round here, by chance? Or the compressor, at least. I've got a gun in the Bentley.”
“We have a six gallon compressor that should do the trick. It’s mostly used for spray painting jobs.”
Crowley looked over at him, grinning suddenly. “How many miracles do you have tucked into this little place, angel?”
He returned the smile, preening a bit as he swayed from side to side. “One never knows when they might be in need of an air compressor.”
Just then the barn door opened, the sound of rain splattering against the grass and the whistling wind infiltrated the warm sanctuary as two coated figures hurried in. “Cooee, Mr. Aziraphale!” a woman’s voice rang out, high and melodic and cheerful as could be despite the downpour she’d just bustled in from. “Now don’t tell me you spent your lunch hour cooped up in here reading.”
“To be quite honest, my dear lady, I should say that would be time better spent than venturing out in that weather now,” Aziraphale pointed out, tone nothing but warm as he turned to greet the newcomers. “I hope you didn’t walk all the way from town in that.”
Vibrant red hair, too bright to be anything but synthetic, was revealed as the woman’s hood was lowered, relatively dry given the conditions outside. “Nonsense! Newton stopped by and picked us up. Bit of a tight squeeze, but we made it work. He’s still out with the car. The latch for the boot’s giving him trouble again, bless his soul,” she clucked, unfastening the buttons of her garish, checkered print cape coat, pausing as she hung it on the rack and noted the black blazer beside the familiar beige coat. “Oh! Well, who do we have here?”
“Some Southern wretch puttin’ ‘is ‘ands on ye’re two-wheeled death trap.” The man who’d come in with her drew himself up, impressive only in just how unimpressive he was with his battered and patched coat and suspicious gaze. “Sunglasses on insi’e. Like some sorta... sorta vampyre.”
“Not quite,” was Crowley’s dry reply.
“Sergeant, Madame, this is Mr.- er… this is Crowley.” Aziraphale glanced between the three of them, smile faltering for a moment only to quickly brighten as he shared the good news. “He’s had experience working in a garage, and he’s offered to take a look at your scooter.”
“Oh my, I didn’t know you had someone stopping by to work on it! See, isn’t that nice, Mr. Shadwell? No need for such hostilities, now.” She patted him on the chest in an attempt to soothe his hackles.
“No need?” He only looked more scandalized. “No doubt 'e ‘asn’t even been interrogated properly.” Aziraphale was sent an accusatory look as Shadwell marched his suspicious self across the floor, his coat dripping just a little. Crowley only swallowed a laugh because Aziraphale looked ready to protest and apologize before he’d made it three steps. “How many nipples ha’ ye got?”
His brows rose, as did a hand when he shrugged. “Who’s to say, really?”
The apology that had been poised on the tip of Aziraphale’s tongue was silenced as his eyebrows lifted as well, impressed by Crowley’s quick response to such a forward question. Apparently he needn’t worry about his ability to handle Shadwell. “Well, now that that’s settled,” even though absolutely nothing was settled, “Sergeant, please go back and remove your coat before you form a puddle in the middle of the shop.”
“Settled?! He did nae answer the question!” His gaze and accusatory pointing both aimed at the intricate lines of ink on Crowley's inner forearm. “And he’s got a tattoo-”
“Three of them,” Crowley supplied unashamedly.
“Three?! So ye’re lettin’ some tattooed bellend touch the Jezebel’s death trap?! He’s probably ‘round town jes to seduce women into ‘is wicked ways. I won’t stand fer it.”
Crowley made a considering sound. “As long as men are still up for seduction, that’s alright.”
Shadwell spluttered, gearing up for more tirades when firm feminine hands began to wrest his coat away. “Fer God’s sake, woman!”
“You can still defend women’s virtues and the Lambretta without your coat, Mr. S,” she tutted, the look in her eyes all too fond nonetheless. “Don’t mind him, dear. I for one have no problem dealing with bellends.” Her long, false lashes fluttered meaningfully before a grin threatened to split ruby red lips. “Tattooed or otherwise. Now then,” she successfully tugged the coat free from Shadwell’s shoulders. “I really do appreciate you looking at that old thing. Have you figured out what’s wrong with it?”
Crowley grinned at her. This was not a woman who needed her virtues defended. “So far, I’ve found out that it’s dirty and under-serviced.”
“Well, isn't that odd,” she hummed, folding the coat over her arm as she considered that. “Usually, in my experience, if something’s dirty, they’ve been well-serviced.”
It shocked Crowley enough to have his laugh bursting free, head falling back and a hand pressing against the workbench in support as he just let the carefree sound go. It had been too long since he’d felt that real bubble of a solid chortle. He’d needed it, so Madame Tracy instantly cemented herself on his good side. “Just one of the things that makes mechanics different from our fellow man.”
“Oh, I like him, Mr. Aziraphale.” Madame Tracy grinned at him. “What a lucky find.”
“Yes, rather…” He almost appeared a bit dazed, gaze lingering on Crowley for perhaps a beat too long, his hands fluttering nervously as he tried to figure out what to do with them. “But, ah, right. Should we see how Newton’s getting along? It has been quite some time and with the rain and all-”
The barn door rattled again as two more people shuffled in. “Sorry,” the bespectacled man managed, wincing when the latch slammed a little too loudly in his attempt to close it. “Sorry…”
Madame Tracy was the first to look away from them. “No, I think he’s gotten along just fine, dear.”
Shadwell muttered something that could’ve been either “I need a drink” or “I freed the pink,” and Crowley really wouldn’t have been surprised by either, watching him stalk towards the kitchenette. Probably one of those “means well” types he normally stayed far away from, but the quirkiness was intriguing. No one had ever asked him about his nipples quite so... gruffly. He had yet to make a judgement on the new pair until the young man clumsily knocked off his own glasses in his efforts to take off his jacket. That judgement was a simple awkward.
The girl carried herself better at least, not nearly so apologetic as she tossed a damp umbrella into an umbrella stand. Casual, he thought, but then she looked at him and only decades of training to not give a damn kept his back from straightening. It wasn’t a normal look. It went around and through him, and he absolutely did not like it one bit. He wasn’t about to be judged by some girl that looked half his age even if she did seem satisfied by what she saw.
“His trunk’s leaking,” she announced with an eyeroll and some of Crowley’s apprehension slipped away. An American. Ah.
“Oh dear,” Aziraphale sighed, caught between sounding sympathetic and exasperated.
“I think I need to replace the hatch seal,” the man murmured, sheepish as he fiddled with his glasses, trying to clear the raindrops from them on his coat and only succeeding at smearing the wet around. “Well, not me, exactly. Just find someone who can. Shouldn’t be too expensive.”
“Roughly forty pounds depending on the vehicle and how much you need, but it’s never the parts. It’s the labour.” Crowley leaned against the worktable, unsure if he was willing to believe that he could possibly be steady enough to handle woodworking. He glanced at Aziraphale, a brow arching. He was a soft touch, perhaps, but would he hire incompetence?
“Oh- er… hello.” He blinked at him, then took Crowley’s presence in stride. “It’s a 1990 Reliant Robin. It’s called Dick Turpin.”
“Right, so... Maybe try taking it to a scrapyard and buying an actual vehicle.”
“Crowley!” Aziraphale gasped, eyes wide and mouth forming a perfect, shocked “o.”
“Oh, but he is a bit right, dear,” Madame Tracy chimed in, trying for sympathy, but it definitely seemed more like pity when she looked at the young pair. “Wasn’t it just last month the windows stopped working, Newton?”
“Actually that was two months ago. And they’re fixed now.”
“One of them is. The other one squeals when it rolls down.” Anathema patted Newt’s side and wandered closer to the newcomer. “You’re working on Madame Tracy’s scooter?”
“Where’d you come from?”
She was as direct as Shadwell, but her questions were logical. It was a different game. “England. Where’re you from?”
“America,” she shot back, and his lips quirked. He liked her.
“How unfortunate for you.”
Her head tipped out of acceptance, amusement, or both, and she smiled at Aziraphale. “Where'd you finally find someone?”
“Ah…” Aziraphale exchanged glances with Crowley, seeming to honestly consider, “on the side of the road,” as an answer, but ultimately decided against it. “It was just good timing. A stroke of good fortune that we crossed paths when we did.”
It had been that, Crowley quietly agreed. “Right. Since they’re your people, you can ask about the oil. Then I can get everything mixed up and get back to work.”
“Yes, of course. Sergeant? Might we, perhaps, borrow a bit of your…” Aziraphale looked around, in search of his notepad which he promptly found on the worktable. “Ah, hemp seed oil? For the scooter.”
“Ye mean fer the vagabond,” he grumped, pouring an indecent amount of condensed milk into a cup of sugar. If asked, he would call it tea. “Bet he’s in the mafia.”
Aziraphale frowned at him. “Now that is rather uncalled for.”
“It’s ah… actually Anathema’s?” Newt piped up, raising his hand as several sets of eyes turned his way, none quite as intimidating as the pair he couldn’t see behind tinted lenses. “Well, it was. She gave it to me to use on the wood… yeah, he can use some.”
“Wonderful. Thank you, my dear boy.” Aziraphale sent another sour look at Shadwell while the man slurped at his abominable beverage, then joined Newt to pick out the correct bottle from his workstation.
“Not a problem. If it’ll help get Madame Tracy’s scooter up and running again.”
Awkward, but harmless. He’d be an easy mark, a distant part of Crowley’s mind whispered. He didn’t think he’d ever completely get rid of that voice, but it was nice to know the impulse to do anything with it was gone. He just took the ingredient to his cleaning concoction when it was offered. Maybe, if only for the novelty of getting his hands on a legendary piece of junk, he’d have a look at his anything-but-Reliant Robin.
But that was getting ahead of himself. Those were almost stay thoughts, and he had no intention of staying. He couldn’t just stick around and work on things for free with his funds dwindling. He didn’t even have a place to stay, though had to think of that fast considering the state of his Bentley. There was probably an inn in town. He could afford a few days, considering the size of the place. If he had to get the filter ordered for the scooter, he’d stay at the inn and then...
They’d just see. His life was very much in flux now, and he could frankly do anything he wanted. He could stay. He could leave. It was so bloody nice to not be scheduled down to the last minute of every day, but part of him was still struggling to get used to it again.
And maybe a lot of him was scared. At least in London there’d been crowds to get lost in, though it was the crowded nature of it that had helped drive him out. He didn’t really know what he wanted, he realized as the day wore on and Madame Tracy’s scooter started to show signs of gleaming silver rather than rusted browns. She’d pointed this out with a gasp and Crowley had caught Aziraphale smiling at him, looking up from his station behind tiny round spectacles that would’ve looked absolutely ridiculous on anyone else. The antique frames suited him, though. Crowley had smiled back.
Maybe he did know at least one thing he wanted, but that thought was dismissed before it could really take hold. He was different and that was all, the only draw. He’d ignored more than different in his life, so he continued to brush it away throughout the day until he had himself convinced that he was imagining any sort of attraction, deciding firmly that he was just interested on a basic level. Crowley’s experience was more along the line of one-offs and this small town fussy man wasn’t the sort for a one-off. He was misconstruing possible friendship. Aziraphale was this way with everyone and it was being in jail for so long that had warped his perception. Obviously.
Nevermind that he hadn’t been entangled with anyone in far longer than those fifteen years. Nevermind that this pull wasn’t quite what he remembered attraction feeling like.
He had himself convinced that he was imagining things by the time the rain finally stopped, clouds still looming when Newt and Shadwell were coerced into helping him move the Bentley. He may as well not have had either of them, though, Shadwell’s version of helping involving plenty of insults and vague gestures and Newt’s pushing ginger at best, nonexistent at worst - worst being all three times he tripped over his own feet and introduced himself to pavement.
Which Crowley was very happy to share, complete with sound effects, with Aziraphale as they walked through Tadfield afterwards. It took on a different hue at night, the stars brighter and more plentiful than he’d ever been able to see in London and the brick businesses closed with darkened windows. No need for security lights in such a small place, apparently. Easy marks, he thought, almost annoyed at them. But there was something warm and comforting in it too, in being in a place that thought itself so safe.
That, he didn’t tell Aziraphale.
“Are you sure it’s safe to let the boy handle things like hand saws? Shocked he’s got all his fingers, really.”
“I know it might not seem like it, but Newton does have quite the eye for detail and the patience to work on restoring some of the more intricate wood pieces that come in,” Aziraphale defended, lips pulled up in an amused smile. “As long as he doesn’t handle anything vaguely electric. He shorted out the entire shop once just by plugging in a phone charger for Anathema when she was in the middle of a project, and the whole house as well! And he’s not allowed to make tea. Even though we have a kettle that isn’t electric, the hot plate is, unfortunately.”
“Explains the car, then. Anything with all these modern gadgets I've heard about would probably never work for him anyway.”
“Probably not,” Aziraphale agreed, slowing as they approached the inn. In a town this small, it and the pub were one and the same, the rooms tucked up above. The Discerning Duck was the only business left with its lights on, warmth spilling out into the fall evening alongside some hearty chuckling from pleased patrons. “Well, here we are. It’s small, but rather quaint. The owners are lovely.”
“I'll take your word for it.” Crowley gazed up at it, hands sinking into his pockets, but didn't go inside just yet. “Listen, angel, I'm absolute rubbish with gratitude and all that, but... Y'know. 'Preciate what you've done today. Kinda nice being trusted without fighting over it for once.”
Aziraphale tore his gaze away from the pub and inn, studying Crowley’s profile in the dim light as it played off his angles and the sunglasses still perched on his nose. “Of course, my dear fellow. I can’t really say that I did much though. Offering you shelter from the rain after your car broke down is only the very least I could do. And you haven’t given me any reason not to trust you. You’ve done us a great favor as well, at least for Madame Tracy and I. It was very kind of you.”
He turned his head to try and hide the way his lips wanted to curve. “Shut up.”
The pleased smile that shone on the man’s face let him know he took no offense. “Well, we open officially at nine in the morning, so you’re welcome to come by around then to start working on your Bentley. I don’t know how early of a riser you are, just if you wanted to get started on the old girl, as it were. I don’t want you to feel as though there are any obstacles. Time-wise, at least.”
“Right. I'll be there, then. I still owe you lunch.” Because his impulse control could only be rivaled by a toddler, Crowley took one of the hands Aziraphale seemed to constantly speak with unless he remembered to clasp them and kissed the back. “See you in the morning, angel.”
A warm flush darkened his cheeks as he stilled, lips parted when his breath hitched. He seemed struck speechless for a beat or two, not even trying to find his words. Then he blinked rapidly and sucked in another breath, this time to steady himself. His fingers twitched, even after Crowley released his hand, his gaze dropping to it in wonder.
“Jolly good. Yes. Rather.” His wide-eyed stare snapped back up as he cleared his throat, hand jerking in an awkward semblance of a wave. “Tomorrow morning, yes. Good night, Crowley. Mind how you go.”
Crowley was at least seventy percent sure that was a good reaction, tempted to slip his glasses down to see the blush properly. “Right. ‘Night, angel,” he replied, stepping away instead, towards and into the inn.
Alright, so perhaps he was a smidgen attracted to him, but there was something to be said about soft and sweet. He hadn’t had much of either in his life, after all, but he’d have to be careful. Soft and sweet likely meant easily hurt and that was something he genuinely didn’t want to cause. Not to him or to this small, sleepy town. He’d help with the scooter, get the Bentley running, and go.