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Riverside Rendezvous

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“Crowley, darling, I do wish you would at least tell me where we’re going!” Aziraphale shouts over the roar of the Bentley’s engine as they zoom through the countryside. He scrabbles for purchase at the door and the roof of the car, trying to find something to hold onto.

The Bentley’s speedometer climbs well past 90, the lush scenery around them is nothing but blue and green blurs, the occasional bit of wood or stone interspersed in browns and greys. Crowley is incapable in this moment of taking his foot off the gas or slowing down. His entire being is thrumming with anxiety and nerves just below the surface, and no amount of planning and wishing and running it over in his head again and again and again has worked to squash it. So instead, he pushes the pedal harder.

Stupid nerves, stupid wants and stupid desires. This whirlwind of the past year has made him somehow more anxious than he’s always been. Leave it to life to finally give him everything he’s wanted but still leave him stumbling and wrong-footed on it all.

“You’ll see when we get there, angel, I promise you’ll love it, worked really hard on it,” Crowley says as he takes a hairpin turn around a sharp corner, “It’ll be fun!”

“Yes, it always is with you, but really could you please slow down just a little?”

The tinge of fear in Aziraphale’s voice goes straight to Crowley’s heart and controls his foot against whatever say he has in the matter. He eases off the gas, and the car slows to a more respectable 75. Aziraphale tugs at his bowtie and his cuffs while Crowley watches. Crowley has always watched, but now it’s encouraged. Almost expected, really. Aziraphale catches him and smiles, sunshine lighting up the passenger seat, settling some of Crowley’s nerves.

They’ve been going slow, in the human sense, ever since the world didn’t end. Whispered confessions in the dark of a bus to Oxford, headed for London. A plan and an escape, and then after…well, after was after. A brush of hands across a wine glass stem, a head on a shoulder on the backroom sofa, soft kisses traded in the fading daylight.  Suddenly there was a bright and shining angel taking up space in his flat where he had never dared to take up space before. Soon enough, several new plants had taken up residence in the bookshop, tartan blankets appeared on his sleek black leather sofa, a blending of their lives that came about as naturally as breathing.

It was an otherwise ordinary day, while Crowley was shelving books he'd never owned onto a shelf in his flat that he was also sure he'd never owned, that it hit him. This was what he wanted. The tartan, the pungent aroma of strange teas, the old books left on the coffee table and the nightstand. The long nights on the sofa, curled up together. Bright mornings waking up next to each other. He wanted to stand next to Aziraphale, wash the dishes the human way while Aziraphale dried them the human way. He wanted matching coffee cups, and matching towels in the bathroom, and a pair of chocolate brown brogues under the key rack by the door.

Crowley had always known he was in love, that he would go to the ends of the Earth if Aziraphale so much as asked, but he never thought he’d get to have anything, much less this. But he realized, in that crystalline moment, he didn’t just want to be with Aziraphale; he wanted to be Aziraphale’s — singularly and specifically.

So he worked up a plan, put it into action, and now they’re in his Bentley, on their way to the riverbanks of the south of England. His heart has forgotten how to beat properly, thumping a rhythm that it shouldn’t be capable of. The box in his jacket pocket is a heavier weight than it has reason to be, weighted not just with velvet and cardboard and silver but with the weight of questions and decisions and all of the things that go with them. 

Crowley has always been very good at questions, not so good with answers. The potential answer to this one terrifies him. 

Aziraphale prattles on happily from the passenger seat, pointing out the scenery and the cute little houses as they get closer to their destination. He reaches over, twines their fingers together and Crowley’s heart stops entirely. He’s so gone and in love that it hurts sometimes, but a good kind of hurt. The kind of hurt like when you start laughing and someone you care about laughs with you. And your laughter feeds and builds off of each other until your side is in pain and you can’t breathe anymore. A good and deep hurt that’s beautiful in its aching.

God he’s become a hopeless romantic in his old age.

The winding roads take them further into Hampshire, past the greenery and the farms, until they reach the River Meon. It had taken Crowley weeks to find this particular secluded place, nestled amongst the trees along the river. A haven surrounded by wild plants (but not so wild as to be above his persuasions). An alcove just for them, tucked away from the rest of the world. 

He pulls the Bentley to a stop, squeezes Aziraphale’s hand as he brings it to his lips. He softly kisses those well-worn knuckles as Aziraphale looks out at the sparkling clear water. The sunlight dancing on the river is a match for the sparkle in the angel’s eyes and Crowley is, not for the first time, thankful for his sunglasses. He’s not sure this is the kind of thing he could look at straight on; blinding like a solar eclipse.

“It’s beautiful here, what a lovely little place you’ve found.” Aziraphale’s voice has a breathy sort of wonder to it, the kind that lets Crowley know that he approves even more than his words. 

“Seemed nice enough,” Crowley says over his own internal screaming; ever trying to play it cool and nonchalant even when that isn’t how he feels. “Ready for the mystery to be revealed then, angel?” 

Aziraphale quirks a questioning eyebrow at him, Crowley fails to suppress a giggle as he jumps out of the car, quickly making his way around to open Aziraphale’s door for him.

“After you, dove,” Crowley says with a sweeping gesture of his arm, earning him a reproachful look. But Aziraphale all but wiggles as he takes Crowley’s hand, stepping out of the car and onto the soft grass. “Be back in a moment,” Crowley says, kissing Aziraphale’s cheek quickly, “Have to get the surprise out of the boot.”

“I must say I’m quite curious,” Aziraphale says as Crowley rummages around in the boot of the Bentley before pulling out an old picnic basket. One of the old wicker numbers, vintage because Aziraphale likes vintage things. Crowley holds it up in one hand as he closes the boot, watches his angel’s eyes soften. “Oh, Crowley …”

“Thought maybe we could finally have that picnic.” Crowley joins Aziraphale again, offering his arm. “Satan knows we go to the Ritz enough.” That night in 1967 sticks in his mind, as it always does. Maybe someday we could go for a picnic, dine at the Ritz. It had been a promise, along with the holy water. A promise from Aziraphale and a question. Wait for me, I’ll catch up eventually, just not now.

Aziraphale smiles as he loops his arm through Crowley’s, “Yes, my dear, I think we’ve waited for that picnic long enough.”

The walk to the bank is leisurely, as most of their walks are these days. Crowley feels like he’s floating rather than walking, the tandem energy of nerves and happiness warring inside of him. The ring-box in his pocket feels like it’s burning him, just begging to be brought out and placed on an angelic finger. But not yet, there’s more to be done.

Crowley resolves not to overthink it too much, to enjoy this moment. The soft rustle of the grass under their shoes, the feel of Aziraphale pressed in close to him, the lilt to the angel’s voice as he talks about the last time he was in Venice, back in the 1820s; Crowley commits all of it to memory, not wanting to miss a moment of this day, wanting to carry it with him for the next six thousand years.

He guides their steps, charting a course for what he had left here the day previous. He finds it right where he left it, because it wouldn’t dare not be. A little rowboat, just the right size for two.

“Look! A little boat,” Aziraphale says with an air of wistfulness, “Wouldn’t it be lovely to take a boat out? The water is so nice and calm today.”

“I have good news for you, then,” Crowley says as he presses a kiss to Aziraphale’s temple, “Because that’s our boat.”

There’s an audible gasp of delight from the angel next to him, and Crowley allows himself half a moment of pride at a job well done. He lives for these moments, lives to make Aziraphale happy and to give him what he wants. Always has, for as far back as he can remember. Ever since this shining angel shielded him from the rain in the early days of the world. He’s been a goner for quite some time.

“A picnic on the water, Crowley, that sounds positively delightful,” Aziraphale says as he hurries just a bit ahead, runs his hands along the coarse wood frame of the boat, taking it in. He pauses, just for a moment, and turns back to Crowley. “Darling, it’s not that I don’t love all of this, but is there a special occasion I’ve forgotten?”

“Does it need an occasion?” Crowley asks as he secures the picnic basket in the back of the boat. “Can’t it just be Thursday?” Aziraphale scrutinizes him a bit, appraising him like one of his many tomes. Crowley smiles and takes the angel’s hands in his, threading their fingers together and pulling him close, kissing him like he means it. He always means it, always cherishes it.

“Well, I suppose Thursday is as good of a day as any for a picnic. Oh, how romantic, a picnic on the water. Ah! I know just the thing I need for this…”

Aziraphale snaps his fingers and he’s suddenly holding a straw boater hat, straight out of the 1920s. A dorky thing, complete with a blue ribbon. He turns it over in his hands before finally placing it jauntily on his head and looking up at Crowley expectantly with open arms. “Well, how do I look?”

Crowley suppresses a laugh. It’s a ridiculous thing, completely unnecessary. They’re celestial beings, they don’t get sunburns or even too warm if they decide they don’t want to be. But Aziraphale is smiling and clearly proud of himself, and Crowley’s heart is full to bursting. He wraps his arms around Aziraphale’s waist and nuzzles his face into the crook of Aziraphale’s neck, “It’s perfect, angel.” 

He breathes in deep before they part, taking in the book dust and bergamot that follow Aziraphale around. Lets his head swim with it. Every sense is focused on committing things to memory today. 

Crowley climbs into the boat before taking Aziraphale’s hand and helping him in. He pushes the boat off from the shore, no real destination just drifting aimlessly in the midday sun. Aziraphale lazily drags his hand through the water as they drift, staring out at the scenery with a faraway look of delight. Crowley wishes for a moment that he had the old hand of one of the great impressionists. That he could daub the colors onto a canvas and recreate this — the look on Aziraphale’s face, the blues and pinks of the water, the bright greens of the foliage near shore, the deep browns of the boat.

Crowley doesn’t have an artist’s hand, but Aziraphale has never cared about that. So instead, he delves into the picnic basket. Egg and cress sandwiches, Aziraphale’s secret favorite, made by Crowley’s own hand. There’s an assortment of fruit and fancy cheeses for them to nibble, and a bright Riesling to go with them. They indulge slowly, pouring each other wine and feeding each other while enjoying the scenery and the company.

The meal is perfect, it wouldn’t dare be anything less. They talk about this world, of other meals they’ve shared. It’s free and easy, as conversation always is with them. Crowley likens it to being wrapped in a warm blanket, a feeling of comfort and home that can only come when someone knows you —really knows you.

The sun starts to set over the water as they polish off the last of the wine, the golden hour casting a honey glow over everything. Crowley isn’t sure if it’s the food or the company that has him feeling so warm and hazy; truth be told, it’s probably the wine. Just enough liquid courage to swallow down the lump in his throat.

Crowley’s hand finds his pocket, a passing habit over the past several hours, patting it and making sure the box is still there. He takes a deep breath, rehearsing his words for the fiftieth time in his head, and stands.

“Crowley, what are you doing?!” Aziraphale shouts as the boat tips from side to side under Crowley’s sudden movement.

“S’alright, angel, it’s important!” Crowley turns away from him to dig into his pocket, fingers tracing the black velvet of the box. “You can do this, you can do this…” He mutters to himself, feeling quite like he’s going to be sick. Or turn back to a snake. Maybe both.

“Crowley, are you alright?”

“Great! Good!” Crowley says a bit too quickly, kicking himself at the crack in his voice, “Tickety-boo, as you would say.”

He doesn’t need to see Aziraphale’s face to feel the concerned look the angel is radiating. No time like the present. There’s a familiar voice in the back of his head. Buck up, it says with bright shining eyes and a smile that can barely be contained by it’s face. He takes a deep breath, wraps his fingers around the box, and turns. But his legs get tangled up, still unused to being human after all these centuries, he falters and stumbles—

—And lands in the water with a loud and resounding splash, scaring off two very offended ducks and an extremely perturbed otter who had been swimming nearby.

“Crowley!” Aziraphale reaches for his hand to pull him back into the boat, but only manages to capsize it further. They find themselves both in the water as the picnic basket and Aziraphale’s straw hat float by them.

The moment stretches, and Crowley is terrified he’s ruined something, until Aziraphale starts to laugh. Bright and loud like bell chimes, crinkling the corners of his eyes, lighting up Crowley’s world. Crowley can’t help but laugh, too, as they tread water together, cackling like maniacs.

“I’ve warned you about those snake hips of yours, dear,” Aziraphale says between laughs.

“You’re the one who turned the boat over!” Crowley watches water drip from Aziraphale’s golden curls, reaches out to push them off his face. A snap has the boat steady in the water, a small miracle to keep it from tipping again as they climb back into it, all the while laughing like kids.

Another demonic miracle has the boat heading back to shore, while an angelic one assures that they are dry. Aziraphale leans against his chest as the sun sets below the horizon, past the green fields and the goats all the same. Crowley wraps his arms around him and nuzzles his nose into the angel’s hair.

“Sorry I ruined our date,” he says softly. Aziraphale doesn’t know the half of it, but Crowley still feels the apology necessary.

“Nonsense, darling,” Aziraphale says as he nestles his fingers between Crowley’s, and Crowley marvels not for the first time on the fact that they fit together perfectly. “It was splendidly fun, and I wouldn’t trade one single moment for the world. Perhaps we can come back another time, for another picnic?”

He looks up at Crowley expectantly, and Crowley has always been powerless against this. “Of course,” he says as he leans in for a kiss, “Whenever you like.”

They make it back to dry land just as the stars come out. The picnic basket, hat, and wine glasses all find themselves quite suddenly transported into the Bentley’s boot before they pull away from the shore, heading back to London.

Crowley watches as Aziraphale dozes, head pillowed against the passenger window. Watches Aziraphale sleeping peacefully, a rare moment in time that he gets to witness now.

The question can wait for another day, this day has been perfect as it is.